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They say there are two types of death a person experiences in their life. One is the final death where your body no longer functions as it should, where they say your spirit leaves your body. And the other is that moment when you’re still alive but you already feel like it’s probably better in hell. Or be lost and drowning in the Bermuda Triangle.

Of course, Wendy just made those two things up. Or maybe not. The last few days have felt like the second death explained above, except this one happens everyday.

“You look like you need coffee,” Joy says as she sits across Wendy and gently slides her a large mug of her usual coffee: a cappuccino but with more espresso and less steamed milk.

“You know what I need, Joy?” she asks hypothetically and then answers her own question, “Money!”

“Everyone needs that,” Joy makes a point as she sips from her own cup of coffee. Hers is black, like her soul as Wendy would often suggest. “Drink your coffee,” she tells Wendy.

Wendy does what she’s told. She grabs the mug resting on the table and takes a sip. Releasing a heavy sigh, she looks around the coffee shop. It’s nearly 10 in the morning so, basically, the morning horde of white-collar millennials are done getting their quick coffee fix. There are only a handful of people seated by the tables and they’re either reading the paper or looking at their laptops. Yay free Wi-Fi!

Red Flavor, a three-year old coffee shop located at the heart of the Yongsan district, has been Wendy’s second home. Well, third if you count her actual home in Cheongdam which she rarely visits anymore. Anyway, Red Flavor serves the best cappuccino in town and also because she co-owns it with Joy, her bestfriend in the whole wide world.

They met when they were eight and have been attached at the hip since then. They went to the same school together and only took different paths when it was finally time for Uni.

Joy took up business while Wendy went to medical school because… well, if you come from a long line of doctors, you’re going to be a doctor, too.

Right after Joy’s graduation from business school, they put together this coffee shop with Joy’s business savvy and using the money Wendy’s father left for her before he died. Three years in, Red Flavor was able to establish itself as one of the neighborhood’s staple cafes.

It has an Instagram-friendly interior design with its brilliantly crafted vintage feel. Along with the wooden counters, tables, and chairs, the brick walls also add to the overall feel of the place. There are shelves attached to the wall with random objects placed on them.

If you ask Wendy, this is exactly the place you’d go to if you’re too proud and impatient to wait for the long line to dissipate at the Starbucks right across the street. Or if you need to Instagram a coffee with a beautifully designed latte art on it—this is the place.

If you ask Wendy, and also Joy, they hate how this whole thing is designed. But it makes money. You hang out at a certain place for long periods of time, you begin to forget how awful some things are.

“Six months, Wendy,” Joy pulls her out of her reverie. “Six months, you’ll attract new customers to the café and eventually make enough money to buy out the building owner.”

“I cannot believe I am sinking this low,” Wendy mutters as she takes one more sip from her cup.

“You know what they say, your low is someone else’s high,” Joy says with a smile.

“Go to hell.”

“Of course I will, I won’t let you get comfortable in there alone.”

“Bold of you to assume I’m going to die first,” Wendy banters.

Joy was about to muster up a great comeback when the door to the coffee shop swings open and in comes Chanyeol, Joy’s older brother. He manages a lopsided grin the moment he sees them both, “You both look horrible.”

“Brother of the year, right there,” Joy rolls her eyes as she signals to Momo, the morning shift barista. Upon seeing Chanyeol take his seat with them, she nods and starts preparing his usual drink. It’s hard to miss him enter a room with that police uniform and all.

“Big day, huh?” he asks Wendy.

Wendy releases a breath, “I am so poor.”

Chanyeol laughs, “Oh come on, Wendy, that’s not true. You just don’t want your mom’s help. Plus, what’s the worst that could happen?”

She looks him in the eyes, “I’m about to date the biggest bitch in high school. Tell me, what’s the worst that could happen?”

Joy and Chanyeol only laugh at her.

“Wendy, may I remind you that Irene was not the biggest bitch in high school. You were,” Joy makes a point. “You were kind of a snob. You’re only saying she’s a bitch ‘cause she never gave a damn about your popularity. Well, she didn’t appear like she cared about anything at all but still.”

Wendy could only roll her eyes.

Chanyeol butts in with a small laugh, “Also, she’s no longer high school Joohyun.” He reaches out to the table next to them and grabs the paper resting on it. It is today’s Chosun. He turns the pages until he reaches the Entertainment section.

He clears his throat playfully as he reads today’s Entertainment headline: “’Irene Bae: The Homecoming Queen’—she’s Irene now.”

Joy smiles, “You’re no longer the Queen, Wendy.”

“Of all people.”

Chanyeol ignores their banter and proceeds to reading the first few paragraphs of the headline, “Irene Bae, star of the Hollywood hit dystopian trilogy The Red Summer and a Lee Soo-Man International School alumna, is set to come home for the filming of her upcoming TV show, Russian Roulette.”

He glances at Wendy before he continues, “Russian Roulette stars Bae as Margaret Winters, a young and clever homicide detective who stumbles into new evidence that unlocks several doors to a past she’s been running away from. The filming starts on October in Dongjak.”

“Sounds just like every detective show I’ve ever known,” Wendy shrugs.

Joy grabs the paper from her brother. “This is my favorite part,” she says and then reads, “The highly anticipated TV show boasts a star-studded lineup which includes Yook SungJae who recently wrapped up the Daesang award-winning KBS2 thriller, That Day Long Ago.”

“Damn, I loved that show,” Chanyeol says.

“You guys are not helping.”

Chanyeol continues, “Look, I’m just saying. They’ll pay you for dating her, you being linked to her will draw attention to the coffee shop—“

Joy interrupts, “—and me.”

“—so, there’s no reason to freak out.”

“Not to mention,” Joy unfolds the paper and raises it right in front of Wendy, “look at her. She’s fuckin’ gorgeous.”

Wendy didn’t want to admit but the half-page photo of Irene that came with the headline story highlights the girl’s best features. She’s gorgeous but then again, the situation is fucked so yeah.

Just bury me alive now.

.

Aside from Asan Medical Center where her mom works and Severance Hospital where she’s currently serving her first year as an Intern, she’s never really been inside any of the fancy buildings in Seoul.

So sitting inside this office located on the 34th floor of some office building is quite a new thing. The girl who escorted her to this huge conference room was friendly enough to give her a glass of water and was also nice enough to open the blinds. The windows are thrice her height and it gives her a nice, inviting view of the Gangnam District and wow .

It’s so inviting that she might actually jump right out of the window if this meeting doesn’t turn up well.

She hates to admit it but while Red Flavor isn’t on the verge of bankruptcy, it isn’t making enough money to stop real estate developers from trying to buy their space from the city. Sure, they’re earning enough to run the shop but since there’s been a boost in Yongsan’s population over the last few years, residential developers are now looking to buy land everywhere and Red Flavor’s prime location has been one of their targets.

On top of that, the coffee shop is Wendy’s only source of income aside from what little she gets from her internship. Any chance of financial support from her mother has gone out the window the day she decided to keep the café running.

Long story short, her mom wasn’t exactly supportive of the idea of keeping it running after her father died. But Wendy, ever the stubborn daughter, decided to keep it. After all, it was the only thing she has left of her father.

She wasn’t going to lose it without a fight.

She’s standing by the window, taking a Snap of the breathtaking view when she hears the glass door of the conference room slide open.

She turns and sees who she can only assume is Jessica Jung, Irene Bae’s manager and defender of the world.

“Hi,” Wendy greets nervously. She bows out of habit and the other woman does the same.

“We’ve spoken on the phone, I’m Jessica,” she introduces herself.

The manager gives Wendy a look from head to toe and then smirks.

God, even her smirk is intimidating.

Wendy can only hope that she liked what she saw.

Jessica is wearing a pair of black skinny jeans topped with a plain white shirt, a red scarf, and a black leather jacket. Her brown boots extend to her calf. Her golden brown hair that has streaks of blonde is freely let down. Her skin is glowing even under the fluorescent light of the conference room.

This is an LA thing, that much Wendy knows.

But there’s something about Jessica that seems so intimidating. Just by looking at her, you know she’s someone smart and knows her craft well. Everything about her screams fuck with me and I’ll hunt you down and kill you myself .

Wendy prays she can’t read minds.

“You’re prettier in person,” Jessica comments nonchalantly. She smiles and even her smile scares Wendy. But the compliment sort of throws her off.

“Thanks?” she asks, unsure if that was really a compliment.

Jessica takes a seat and gestures for Wendy to sit as well.

Slightly nervous, Wendy takes the seat across Jessica which is probably a bad decision because if Jessica decided to throw a chair at her, it wouldn’t take much to hit her.

She really, really hopes Jessica can’t read minds.

“So, one of our researchers ended up finding you.”

“You know, that’s one of the questions I have coming in here,” Wendy says. She tries to square up her shoulders the way Jessica does so perfectly but she can only guess she’s failing miserably in pulling it off. “Why me?”

“When we thought of this publicity stunt, we had three things in mind,” Jessica starts. Does she even blink at all? Is she human? “We needed someone who’s pretty, smart, and poor.”

“I am honestly flattered,” Wendy is amused at how flattered she is by those three qualities. She is pretty, come on. She is smart, of course. And yeah, she’s poor by the mere definition of I can’t pay my bills anymore .

Jessica continues, “We thought we’d spice it up and find someone from Irene’s hometown and bam , you just seemed to pop up in every place we looked at.”

“What places are those?”

“Just the school.”

“Great,” Wendy mutters. “So you needed someone from the school?”

Jessica adjusts on her seat, looking just about ready for a throwdown, “Okay, Wendy. Let me just walk you through this quickly, okay?”

Wendy nods because really, she doesn’t know how she ended up here although she knows very well that she needs to be here.

“There’s a casting coming up for a big movie next year,” Jessica starts. “This movie is a lot bigger than The Red Summer. Let’s face it, Red Summer was big but the audience were primarily teens. We need Irene out of that box. That box is great but with the talent Irene has, we could make her a Kate Beckinsale, an Angelina.”

Wendy listens attentively. If she’s gonna do this, she’s gonna do this right.

“To land that role, we need to convince the market and the producers that we’ve taken Irene out of that box. We need to create the vibe that Irene has grown out of her role in The Red Summer but not the way Miley grew out of Disney, you catchin’ my drift here?”

Wendy nods again, “So basically, you need to make her a little more edgy? And what better way to make her more edgy than to have her date a girl, right?”

“I know how this sounds, Wendy. But her coming out party a few months ago wasn’t a gimmick. The rumors have been circling around since the paparazzi feasted on her makeout sesh with Jan Olsson on the set of Red Summer last year. We just confirmed what the public already knows.”

Wendy rolls her eyes, “Her speech at GLAAD was nice.”

“I wrote that speech.”

“You write good speeches. You should work for the President.”

Jessica lets out a laugh. “You’re weird, I like you. Look,” a pause, “We’re already making her a little edgy by landing that role on Russian Roulette. That show has so much potential to give Irene a darker twist. The writer at the Chosun Ilbo will pay for writing that shitty synopsis. But my point is, we just have to make her grow up more. The people need to see her out with someone not from the business.”

“I get it, I do.”

“But?”

Wendy shrugs, “I don’t know what to say or what I’m actually worried about. I just have a feeling this isn’t going to end well.”

“How bad can it be, really? We’ll pay you. Your coffee shop will attract new visitors once this story blows all over the Internet and after six months, you’ll break up. It’s not very complicated. As big as it seems, nothing happens in show business that people like me can’t control,” Jessica reassures her.

Wendy lets out a deep breath, “Whatever. It’s not like I have much of a choice.”

Jessica smiles, “Don’t worry. Before you know it, it’s over.”

“Fine.”

Jessica nods contentedly as she stands, “Great. So we were able to bribe Principal Cho into inviting your batch for a reunion. In our narrative, that’s where you and Irene met again and decided to catch up since she’s back in town.”

“You’ve planned this down to the very last detail, haven’t you?”

“Honey, we’re just getting started.”

“And Irene? She’s on board with this idea?”

“How do you think we tracked you?”

“Was it her idea to have me for this?”

“I lied about the researcher part.”

“I don’t like you.”

“Good,” Jessica says with a smile. “The dance is on Saturday. We’ll mail you the dress by Thursday.”

“I have my own dresses.”

“No, not Vera Wang, you don’t.”

Ugh.

“I thought I was poor?”

“A girl will do anything to be noticed by her crush, right?”

“She said that? That's the story we’re going for? That I had a crush on her?” she cries in sheer frustration.

Jessica just laughs and walks out of the conference room. Wendy is left there alone. She no longer feels like she wants to jump out of the window, more like she wants to push Irene out of it.

Deep inside, she wonders how the hell Irene remembers her. Is it the poor? Or is it the pretty and smart?

Well, a girl can hope.

.

Saturday Afternoon

“Wow,” Joy manages. Her eyes dart on Wendy from head to toe. “I can’t remember the last time you dressed up.”

Wendy rolls her eyes, “Neither do I.”

She looks at herself in the full-body mirror. The dress Jessica sent her is a silver cocktail dress with a plunging sweetheart neckline. The fitted bustier top is designed with baroque-inspired rhinestone beading. It finishes off with a dramatic flared skirt which hangs about two inches above her knees.

“I look—“

“—young,” Joy finishes her sentence with a cackle. “And datable,” she adds.

“You can stop insulting me anytime now.”

“Never,” the brunette says with a wink as she walks to stand behind Wendy. She looks at Wendy in the mirror. “Are you ready for tonight?”

“To meet Irene?”

“That and also, you know. It’s the first time you’re going back there since—“ she doesn’t finish the sentence. She knows Wendy will get it.

Wendy opens her mouth to say something but no words come out. It’s almost eight years since high school; eight years since Rosé.

“It’s been eight years,” she echoes.

“That’s not exactly an answer to my question,” Joy counters, ever not one who takes her bullshit.

“I’m ready,” Wendy says quietly.

Joy smiles warmly, putting an arm around her shoulders. They’re looking at themselves in front of the mirror. “For what it’s worth, from where she’s watching, I’m sure her jaw will drop seeing you tonight,” Joy nods, a proud smile gracing her lips.

“I bet her jaw has dropped more than once for the last eight years with all the fucked-up things I’ve done.”

“Yeah, that’s more likely to be it,” Joy says with a laugh. She lightly taps Wendy’s cheek before she steps away from the smaller girl, “Good luck meeting her tonight. Please introduce me so she can introduce me to Sungjae, my future husband.”

“You’re delusional.”

“I am but so are you,” Joy laughs as she untangles herself from Wendy. “I am going now because I have to look decent enough to stand next to Irene Bae later.”

“You’re not the one who’s about to fake-date her.”

“Yeah, but she’s about to fake-date you which means I have to be her fake-friend. And Instagram can’t recognize fake,” she finishes and then completely vanishes from Wendy’s room.

Wendy releases a heavy sigh. There’s no going back now.

.

Reunion

Lee Sooman International School does not look the same. She can’t say she’s surprised that it looks different now. After all, it’s been eight years. After she graduated, she never really looked back. High school was nice but if she’s going to be honest, she has more bad memories from it than good.

Judging by the lack of people walking down the halls to the gymnasium, she’s sure she’s already late. She doesn’t bother walking any faster. She’s not thrilled about this event. She’s nervous and sad, and also a bit angry—because that’s what life does to you after high school. It just kinda makes you angrier at everything.

Walking the halls of the school is an interesting experience. The place doesn’t look like the way she left it but the feeling is the same. It’s like coming back to your childhood home after years of living across the country—you don’t remember dates but each room you pass by brings back memories.

Some of them good, some of them bad; but for Wendy, those memories are a bit odd. It’s like the Wendy Son that spent three years inside these four walls are way behind her now. She’s no longer that girl. It’s like the memories belong to her but she cannot remember who that girl is.

She passes by the glass cabinet that holds the school’s competition titles—because like every poorly written TV show she knows, the main protagonist refuses to take a different way to the gymnasium although she knows this hallway holds awful memories for her.

She stops by the glass cabinet and stares at it for a few moments. Under a huge National High School Music Championships trophy is a small banner that reads: In Memory of Rosé Park.

Wendy’s heart breaks again; just like the way it did on that fateful day.

Rosé was going to an exclusive music school in LA on a full ride. She was going to be one of the best musicians this school has ever produced.

But such is life, shit happens.

She decides to keep walking because that’s what she’s been doing for the last eight years. She was able to muscle through six years of med school at Seoul National University and was able to pass the KMLE—sure as hell she could make it through this night and the next six months.

Walking into the gymnasium is like surrendering yourself to the devil.

The seniors of the current batch are everywhere, looking young as Wendy will never be again. Then, there are familiar faces from her batch.

Some of them she still remembers. Thanks to Facebook, you get to stay in touch with people without trying too hard.

“Look who’s here,” a man’s voice distracts her thoughts. “Wendy Son, her royal highness.”

Wendy rolls her eyes good-naturedly, “Oh Sehun.”

Sehun walks to her and pulls her in for a quick hug. He’s one of the few people she considered a friend in high school. That time was a weird time. It’s not even the food chain thing.

High school is a lot like the apocalypse in the sense that you have to stay with people you trust. Sehun, though most people found it weird, was one of those people. He isn’t part of the cool circle. He didn’t give a damn about the high school food chain. 

She smiles at him.

“It’s been a while,” he says. “You want me to get you a drink?”

Wendy laughs, “I was hoping your first words to me in such a long time wouldn’t involve you getting me drunk.”

Lanky as ever, he runs his hand through his hair, “Look at all these people. No way you can survive this without alcohol.”

“I know,” she agrees. “But I’ll pass for now. I am looking for somebody.”

He shrugs, “I’ll see you around then. But the next time I see you, we’ll drink.”

“Great.”

Sehun walks past her to greet some other familiar faces. She scans the crowd and tries to look for someone in particular. It wouldn’t be hard to find her in this crowd. She’s Irene Bae after all.

She walks around a couple more moments until she finally spots her.

Irene Bae is standing by the corner of the room with a couple of people Wendy doesn’t recognize. The lights on that corner of the room are quite dim but even in poor lighting, Irene Bae shines. As cliché as that sounds.

Her long dark hair is swept to the side, thus highlighting her facial features especially that jawline. She’s wearing makeup so light that Wendy would’ve easily missed it. She’s wearing a white, sleeveless fitted crop top paired with a black flowy, floor-length skirt. She dons it so casually with an air of confidence that can only be learned with the lifestyle and popularity she’s had over the last few years.

Wendy doesn’t know what causes her to stop on her tracks. Maybe she’s star-struck? She doesn’t know. All she knows is that something about Irene Bae takes her breath away.

She notices that Irene isn’t much involved in the conversation happening around her. She could see her nod and acknowledge those people talking to her but her face doesn’t reveal much. She’s not smiling. She’s not frowning either. She has an impassive expression on her face which makes her all the more regal.

Maybe Wendy will die once she smiles.

Wendy swallows the lump that has formed in her throat.  She starts walking up to her without taking her eyes off the woman. After all, she’s supposed to have a crush on her.

She’s already close when Irene catches her eyes. Again, her expression doesn’t change but you could see a glint of recognition.

After what seems like forever, they’re standing face-to-face, Wendy and Irene about to begin telling a lie.

No one speaks for a while until one of the girls Irene’s talking to acknowledges her presence.

“Son Wendy?” she hears one of the girls say. She briefly takes her eyes away from Irene and looks at the girl who just called her name.

Soojin. She remembers Soojin. She’s one of the newspaper girls. She always interviewed her when the choir had national competitions.

“Soojin, hey,” she greets with a smile.

“I’m so glad you still remember me,” Soojin beams.

“I can never forget you barging into our practice room just to interview me. Worst days of my life,” she jokes. It’s not a joke. She hated Soojin. She hated the newspaper girls.

Soojin laughs as she gestures to the brown-haired on Irene’s other side, “You remember Miyeon?”

No. “Yes, I remember,” she lies. “It’s nice seeing you again.”

Miyeon only nods and smiles.

“And of course, Irene. I bet she doesn’t need any introduction,” Soojin says.

Wendy smiles, “Yeah, no need. It’s all over Chosun.”

Irene lets out a tight-lipped smile, “Hello, Wendy.”

Something knocks the air out of Wendy’s lungs. For a moment there, she forgets how to breathe. Irene’s voice is low and teasing. Like they’re existing in a bubble only they know about.

“Irene,” she greets back. It’s all she can manage.

“I’m surprised you acknowledged me this time,” Irene says, again with that smirk and that teasing tone. “You ignored me all of high school.”

Wendy swallows. She hopes Irene can’t see how much she affects Wendy. “Well, I ignored a lot of people in high school. That’s what happens when you’re popular. But I bet you already know that,” she bites back.

Irene nods, impressed.

“I’m actually here to get you to Principal Cho. He’d like to speak with you about the donation you made to the school,” Wendy says effortlessly. She remembers Jessica’s line from their conversation earlier:

This is how you’ll get her alone.

“Right,” Irene recognizes the cue. She turns to Soojin and Miyeon, “I have to go with her for a bit but I’ll catch up with you later.”

The two girls nod as Irene makes a move and stands next to Wendy. They start to walk alongside one another without saying anything.

The silence between them isn’t exactly uncomfortable. But it is tentative. They stay silent as they pass by a couple of seniors who look at Irene like they’re about to faint. Wendy can’t judge them. She almost fainted back there.

They reach the hallways and head toward the direction of the Principal’s office. It is when the gymnasium is out of sight do they stop and stand right in front of the other.

“I didn’t think you’d agree,” Irene states. Her voice isn’t warm. It isn’t cold either. It’s just devoid of any emotion at all.

“I didn’t have much of a choice,” Wendy retorts. “How do we do this?”

“When we go back there, you’re going to ask me to dance and I will agree,” Irene tells her.

“Great.”

“Right.”

Silence settles between them again and that’s when it gets awkward.

To break the tension, Wendy asks the first question she could think of, “You’re really on-board with this kind of shit?”

“I didn’t have much of a choice either.”

“Jessica said you’re the one who brought up my name. You know what’s so weird here? We never talked at all. We went to the same school but that’s just about it. For my name to pop up in your memory eight years later seems a bit random to me.”

“I kept in touch with some people from high school. They told me about the coffee shop. I figured you could use the money.”

“I’m not buying it.”

“Not forcing you to,” Irene deadpans. “You’re getting more from this than I do, so I don’t think you get the right to complain.”

“I have a few rules—“

Irene interrupts her with a laugh, “You don’t get to make the rules here.”

Wendy is honestly taken aback by this girl’s attitude. Is she like this all the time? Is she this—

Now it finally clicks in her head.

Wendy huffs, and then lets out a smug smile, “It finally makes sense.”

Irene looks at her, waiting for her to continue.

“You’re saying that I’m getting more from this than you do but that’s not true, is it?” Wendy spats, moving a couple of steps back so she could take a good look at the girl’s expression and body language. “You could’ve chosen anyone, anybody. LA, heck, Seoul is a huge place. Tons of people would jump at the chance of being your fake-girlfriend. But there’s just no one out there who needs the money badly enough to tolerate you.”

As expected, Irene doesn’t confirm nor deny what Wendy has said.

“Because the rumors are true,” Wendy says with a laugh. “You are an asshole.”

Thanks to hours of reading blogs and forums about Irene, the girl’s attitude problem no longer surprised her.

“You don’t know me.”

“And here I thought I was special,” Wendy says, now feeling like she has the upper hand in this conversation. “But really, you’re just running out of options because no one can stand you.”

Irene doesn’t answer and only looks at her with that emotionless face of hers. It irks Wendy even more so she only shakes her head and walks back to the direction of the gymnasium.

“Where are you going?” Irene asks.

“I need a drink,” Wendy says because what else can she do?

“Hey, come back here, we’re not yet done.”

“Nope. I’m not drunk enough for this.”

As Wendy serves herself a drink, she tries to ignore that weird feeling bubbling in her stomach.

Fake-dating Irene Bae could either be the best decision she made in her life. Or the worst.

/

Chapter Text

/

“Good morning, Ms. Bae,” the concierge greets as he escorts Irene to the executive elevator.

They walk in a similar stride, him being a couple of steps ahead of Irene.

Behind Irene is a scene of super stardom: a horde of paparazzi being held away by the glass walls of the building and being told off by the increased security around the area. They click away at their cameras anyway—after all, the starting rates for a photo of Irene Bae these days would cost like a month of salary.

Since the news broke that breakout star Irene Bae is headed to her hometown to film a new TV series, there’d been so much anxiety and excitement within Korean media platforms. From broadcast TV to social networking sites, everyone is on edge about her career move.

It’s not everyday that a rising Hollywood star actively chooses to film something overseas even if she used to live in that country, especially not when her career is just starting to take off. But her role in Russian Roulette is something she’d always imagined doing. It’s dark, it’s edgy—and it is representative of her roots. Although her character is American, the entire story will be shot in Seoul with a full Korean cast and crew. The director is a Korean-American woman who Irene holds so much respect for.

It was a no-brainer to take on this role. Six months. She’d be in Seoul for six months.

There’s a lot of anxiety that comes with it. When she left Seoul eight years ago, she hadn’t once looked back, everyday doing her best to actively push this place out of her mind.

Ding!

The sound of the elevator pulls Joohyun out of her thoughts.

The lift gently halts and Irene hears a robotic female voice, announcing her arrival at the building’s 34 th floor. She steps out and she’s instantly greeted by a taller woman, dressed in a classic pencil skirt and blazer combination, her smile just about genuine enough to make Irene feel comfortable.

She bows, “Hello, Ms. Bae.”

“Jeongyeon,” she greets Jessica’s assistant.

She manages a timid smile, returning the polite bow. She’s been back in Seoul for a little over a week now and re-learning the customs has been an interesting experience.

Of course, eight years in Los Angeles is nothing compared to the 19 years she spent growing up in Korea but that’s still eight years of getting used to a new culture. She had to learn how to stop bowing, omit honorifics, and basically retrain her brain to get used to a different kind of lifestyle. You do something for so long, it becomes your new normal.

“I’ll show you the way to the conference room. They’re waiting for you.”

Something knocks the air out of Joohyun’s lungs. As they walk toward the conference room, she asks, “Who’s they?”

“Ms. Jung arrived with your sister.”

“Tiffany?”

The assistant nods. She continues, “Son-uisa seonsaengnim arrived so much earlier. She mentioned heading straight here from the hospital.”

Irene swallows an invisible lump in her throat at the mention of the other girl.

Dr. Son. Son-uisa seonsaeng-nim.

The formality didn’t escape her. It blows Joohyun’s mind away when she thinks of the girl she first met in high school. That tiny, boisterous piece of sh—

“Have a good meeting today, Ms. Bae,” the assistant interrupts her thoughts as they arrive by the conference room. She pulls the door open and Irene walks in, bracing herself for what could be the longest hour of her life.

.

“There she is, my perfect little sister,” her sister, Tiffany, announces as soon as Joohyun steps inside the big conference room. She stands gleefully, extending her arms to the sides, her eye smile rivalling the sun as usual. Always, always so extra.

She’s standing across the room, the huge conference table in between them.

Joohyun doesn’t say anything and merely quirks an eyebrow.

“Ah, still the mood-killer,” Tiffany shakes her head smilingly.

Sitting next to Tiffany is a somber Jessica, her head ducked with her full attention turned to her phone.

Across the two older women is Wendy, her eyes shifting between Tiffany and Irene, an amused expression plastered on her face. She clears her throat, “The fantastic gays. I can’t believe we’re all gay.”

Tiffany laughs so loud it echoes throughout the conference room. Joohyun also noticed a subtle smirk threatening to slip out of Jessica’s mouth. It makes her roll her eyes before she eyes her sister again.

The older woman points at Wendy smilingly. “I like her. She’s funny and I told her we’re engaged.” She lifts her hand and showcases a huge diamond ring resting on her finger.

Wait, what?

“What?” Joohyun exclaims, almost too dramatic. “When? How?”

“Last night,” her older sister grabs her purse before she rounds the conference table. Once she’s standing next to Joohyun, she places a small kiss on Joohyun’s cheek. “She proposed inside the hotel elevator on the way to her room.”

What the—

Out of desperation, she turns to Jessica, “Jess?”

“Ask her,” the ice princess merely flicks her wrist toward her fiancé.

“I’m going now because you have a meeting. I’ll be at Jess’ office. I only came here to make sure you’ll show up at lunch. I’ll tell you everything later,” Tiffany says and the next thing Joohyun knows, she’s out of the conference room.

God. It’s barely eight in the morning.

It’s only when Tiffany is out of the picture that Joohyun’s attention is drawn back to Wendy. The whole story of that proposal can wait.

She notices a couple of books sprawled on the table and an iPad resting amid the small space that the doctor claimed while a white coat is hung by her chair. Joohyun then takes in Wendy’s appearance—a simple pair of jeans and a blue button-up shirt. Her short, dark hair is up in a half bun; the bags under her eyes are visible, like she hasn’t gotten any sleep.

Still, she glows. In a bizarre way, she glows. But she won’t say that out loud.

Joohyun snaps into full Irene mode, “You look like somebody died.”

Wendy’s head snaps to her direction. For a moment there, her comment is met with a sharp glare but that quickly fades and is replaced by an annoying, sarcastic smile.

“Funny you say that…” Wendy opens. The shorter girl grabs the iPad and pulls out a picture of a guy Irene hasn’t seen before, “…because he did. He let a concussion go unchecked for four days. You wanna know why he got a concussion?”

Irene only rolls her eyes as she takes a seat next to the doctor. She could’ve sat anywhere else, really, but her body chose to sit here.

Wendy doesn’t back down and continues to quip, “Somebody punched this guy so hard that he fell. Probably because he said something about his appearance.”

Jessica chuckles, “That comeback took too long to arrive.”

“Ugh,” Wendy groans. “I know, I’m off my game. I’m just so tired.”

Joohyun eyes the other girl again, “What time did you arrive here?”

“Six-thirty.”

“Why would you do that?”

Wendy glares at her again, “Who the fuck schedules a meeting at eight in the morning when I specifically said I do 16-hour shifts on Mondays?”

Joohyun shrugs and points at Jessica. The manager only responds with a quirk of an eyebrow, as if challenging Wendy to question her.

The short-haired girl only sighs, “You’re both very scary. Whatever. I used the extra time to catch up on my readings. What’s up with this meeting? Can we get down to it so I can go home and sleep?”

Just as Wendy finishes her statement, Jessica’s secretary walks in with a pen, a notebook, and a couple of envelopes at hand. She takes a seat next to her boss.

“We’re just going to set some things straight,” Jessica starts.

Wendy chuckles, “Funny none of us is.”

Jeongyeon almost laughed but was quick enough to draw it back. She masks it by opening her notebook and starts making notes.

“I have your contract here,” Jessica grabs one of the envelopes Jeongyeon came in with and slides them across the table towards Wendy who takes it and starts pulling the papers out.

Joohyun can’t help but stare at the other girl. She seems different from the Wendy she knew in high school. Even in a state of disarray, this Wendy seems confident. Not that she ever lacked confidence; it just seems more… well-placed now.

The arrogance that she came to associate with the girl is now replaced with a certain kind of respect. Of course she will never, ever, say that out loud.

“The check is also inside that envelope so if you could just sign the receipt. The next payment will be made next month,” Jessica states.

Looking at the contents of the envelope, Wendy nods. “I’ll sign the receipt, but I’ll have a lawyer go through the contract first. I’ll send it back by the end of the week.”

Wendy grabs a pen and signs one of the papers.

Joohyun is impressed.

After signing, she slides the paper back to Jeongyeon who tucks it under all the documents in front of her.

Jessica nods, “Smart, pretty, poor, and filled with trust issues. I see how it is.”

“Sounds like a catch,” Irene remarks, her voice flat and emotionless.

The comment gets Wendy’s attention. The girl looks at Joohyun, genuine curiosity evident in her eyes, “I don’t understand you at all.”

Joohyun returns the stare. Now, it’s a staring contest and if there’s anything everyone knows about Irene, it’s that she never backs down from a challenge. Nothing really goes on in her head in the span of the time she’s looking into the doctor’s eyes.

She takes Wendy in. That warmth settles at the pit of her stomach; the way her heart reacts to the girl; the way her breath hitches—it’s unfamiliar but it’s not new. It’s as if she’s experienced it before.

She doesn’t know how long they’ve been staring at one another until Jessica clears her throat.

“Kids, we’re not in high school anymore.”

Both women snap out of their staring contest but Joohyun feels haunted by the other girl’s dark brown orbs. She mentally shakes the thought away.

When she gets the two women’s attention, Jessica starts, “First things first, Instagram.” She turns to Wendy, “I was going to tell you to follow Irene on Instagram but it turns out, you already do.”

Joohyun smirks, a feeling of victory rushes through her.

Wendy rolls her eyes at Irene’s reaction, “Of course, I do. She starred in The Red Summer . We used to host viewing parties for that.”

“You didn’t need to sound so defensive,” Joohyun asserts, a teasing smirk escaping her lips.

“You don’t have to comment on everything,” Wendy bites back, annoyed.

“Oh God,” Jessica actually sighs. Irene could see the slight stress in Jessica’s demeanor as she takes a deep breath and releases it slowly, as if attempting to calm herself down.

“Going back,” the manager tries after a few moments of silence. She turns to Irene, “It’s time to post it.”

“Fine.”

Joohyun fishes her phone from her purse and starts browsing through the photos they took during the night of the reunion. Jessica set an alarm on her phone that night: Take a Selfie with Wendy in Good Lighting! Make sure you’re smiling like you mean it!

She didn’t take many pictures that night. Aside from a couple of faces she remembers and the old dance hall behind the music room, nothing in that school feels familiar. She doesn’t connect to it, no emotional attachment to it whatsoever.

Irene finally spots the picture she took with Wendy when they were dancing—all part of the script, she reminds herself. It’s been the plan all along. Take a picture for the benefit of this lie.

It’s a high-angle selfie, their faces close and their smiles wide. She prepares the photo on her Instagram dashboard and types up a caption: Nice catching up with such a pretty face. Hope to see you around more often, Dr. Son!

She tags wendy.son who she was instructed to follow last night.

“Done,” she says looking back up at Jessica.

Wendy’s phone lights up, alerting her of a notification. The doctor picks her phone up and stares at the post. She turns to Irene and smirks, “Aw, you didn’t have to say I’m pretty but okay.”

Irene rolls her eyes. Her head is starting to ache at the amount of times she rolled her eyes today—and it’s barely nine in the morning.

Before Irene could muster up a retort, Jessica gives her assistant some instructions, “Monitor the stats of that post and check Twitter from time to time to see if it gets traction. Once somebody tweets about it, make sure the fan site hypes it up.”

“Will do.”

“You’re paying for a fan site?” Wendy asks.

Jessica doesn’t confirm nor deny. She merely moves on to the next topic, “I’ve laid out everything we need from you during our first phone call. Everything we will ask of you is in the contract so just review them.”

Wendy nods.

“The rules are simple, Wendy. We tell you to show at some place, you show up. We tell you to post something on Instagram, you post it. We tell you to hold Irene’s hand, you hold it.”

For some reason, although that statement wasn’t exactly directed at her, Joohyun’s heart skips a beat. Again . She can’t explain it. But just like that feeling when Jeongyeon mentioned Wendy for the first time today, Joohyun feels air momentarily leave her lungs.

“I got it,” Wendy agrees quietly.

For a moment there, Irene wonders how desperate a person must be to end up in a situation like this. But then again, she’s in this situation, too.

“Can I also add a few rules?”

“It depends.”

Joohyun clears her throat, “Should I have a say—”

Wendy cuts her off, “My workplace is off-limits. No gimmicks, no staged appearances at the hospital.”  

Jessica nods, “We can work with that.”

Jeongyeon quickly writes everything down.

“No spontaneous paparazzi sightings after my ER shifts.”

“Are you scared to be pictured next to me looking like that?” Joohyun asks laughingly.

“One more comment about my post-ER shift appearance and I will seriously swing, I swear to God.”

Joohyun only laughs, truly enjoying pulling at Wendy’s strings.

“Anything else?” Jessica asks.

“Sundays are for me. No schedules on Sundays. It’s the only time I get to study,” Wendy says and Joohyun instantly notices the change in tone. She’s serious about this rule, serious about her profession.

“Okay, Doc,” Jessica agrees, her English spilling out casually.

“That’s all,” Wendy finishes. She turns to Joohyun, her gaze hinting at a challenge, “Any rules you want to set, Ma’am?”

Joohyun pauses. She thinks of all the rules she hasn’t demanded yet. But all she can think of has been penned down to the contract. What she says next is completely unscripted, “Don’t fall in love with me.”

She doesn’t have a reason or an explanation why she said that. It was completely impulsive.

There’s this long, agonizing silence that follows her statement. For a split second, all she can hear is her own heart beating like a drum against her chest. Then there are the voices in her head screaming loudly at her. What the fuck did you just say?

But this moment of intense tranquility is suddenly replaced by the loudness of Wendy’s laugh.

“Oh my gosh,” Wendy manages in between laughs. “Okay, okay. We definitely won’t have a problem with that.”

Joohyun didn’t mean to feel this way but something about Wendy’s reaction sort of stings.

.

The meeting drags on.

They’ve laid out everything they needed to: their activities and where these activities fall in the timeline.

In the timeline Jessica prepared, Wendy and Irene have gone on many dates, met each other’s friends, publicized their relationship, and eventually broke up because Irene has to go back to LA and Wendy just doesn’t believe in long-distance relationships. Wendy being a doctor makes so much sense because nobody invests in an education like that just to drop it all for love.

Irene has zoned out multiple times during this meeting. She would, from time to time, chance a glance at Wendy who is attentively listening and asking appropriate questions. She’d give it to Wendy, she’s thorough.

Thinking about it, all of this seems like a good plan. It’s scary how it all ends up favoring Jessica's endgame. She has this all figured out down to the very last detail. Maybe that’s why Joohyun has kept her as her all this time.

Of course, apart from the fact that she’s dating her sister. They’re actually going to get married soon. Wild.

“Okay, just one last thing,” Jessica utters, getting to their final agenda.

“You said that five topics ago,” Wendy snaps back, her voice now raspy in sheer exhaustion.

Joohyun can’t help but actually feel bad. Of course, she’s not going to say that out loud.

“Just—” Jessica sighs. “Wendy, the entertainment business is a terrible place to be involved in especially if you’re a private person. Once Irene’s fandom latches on you two getting closer, they will dig.”

A certain kind of fear creeps up Joohyun’s spine—she’s been in this business long enough but she still hasn’t gotten used to it. There are stalkers, creepy followers, and tabloid writers who are just waiting to dig a scandal big enough to destroy her. Every move Irene makes is calculated, well-thought-out, and safe. It’s hard but you get used to it.

You do something for so long, it becomes your new normal.

Wendy shrugs, “I don’t have any secrets.”

It renders Irene speechless how Wendy takes it so nonchalantly, like there’s no real risk to her reputation.

Jessica squints like she doesn’t believe any word Wendy is saying.

“Look,” Wendy starts. “The worst thing I can think of is them learning about my family.”

“What about your family?”

“That we’re extremely, motherfucking-ly rich.”

Despite herself, Joohyun chuckles.

“Don’t act like you haven’t done the background check,” Wendy tells Jessica and once again, Joohyun is blown away by how easily she can level with her manager. Jessica is easily the scariest, most intimidating person Joohyun knows. For Wendy to simply breeze through that is pretty amazing.

Joohyun tries to recall what Jessica told her about this Wendy as a result of their background check.

Wendy is basically a chaebol heiress. Their family owns over half of the shares of one of the largest, if not the largest, hospitals in all of South Korea. On the side, they also own a couple of smaller hospitals outside of Seoul. Hospitals. Plural.

“No one’s going to suspect that I’m dating Irene for the money,” Wendy concludes.

“Will this cause a stir with your family’s image?” Jessica asks. Irene knows Jessica has been curious about this since they found out who Wendy truly is.

South Korea is quite conservative—no, not quite— a lot conservative; and a chaebol daughter dating a girl? This will hit the news faster than the speed of light—which actually is in favor of Jessica’s plans. The bigger this news is, the edgier it gets.

“It will be a disaster for them,” the doctor states. “I don’t care about any of that. My family and I are no longer talking. A chaebol daughter is desperate for money—that should tell you something. Don’t worry, that’s not something Irene’s fan sites can find out through the Internet.”

There’s a certain toughness to Wendy’s voice now, as if she’s used to being out of touch with her family.

“Was it hard to adjust?” Jessica questions, now just firing questions out of sheer curiosity.

“What is this? A press conference?”

That’s when Irene decides to butt in, “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. No need to be snappy about it.”

“Then I won’t answer.”

Jessica shrugs, easily dusting off the attitude, “Exes we should know about?”

That momentarily stops Irene. She knows about Park Chaeyoung; knows that this is not an easy topic to skate through. She was about to stop Jessica from fully getting into the topic but before she could say anything, a cold, distant Wendy responds to the question.

“Just one,” she says. The shift is so visible. That chill, easy going girl from earlier is now replaced by this stiff, defensive woman, a woman with a past she’s trying to cope with. In that moment, Joohyun felt like she could trade anything to get clued in on the girl’s thoughts.

Wendy continues, “And none of you are allowed to say anything or make a statement on my behalf. If my ex’s name gets dragged into it, I will deal with it myself. Sue somebody if I have to.”

“Woah, okay,” Jessica tries to ease the tension. She, too, might have felt the shift in Wendy’s mood.

When nobody else says anything, Wendy stands up and smiles. All of a sudden, that girl from earlier is back, like a switch has been flipped. “Anything else?” she asks as she starts gathering all the medical documents she has on the table.

“Nope, that’s it,” Jessica replies, her tone hinting at the conclusion of the meeting.

“Then, I’m leaving.”

Jessica turns to Irene, “You don’t have anything until lunch so feel free to head back to your place. Just make sure you show up later. Your sister will kill me.”

Irene nods, her peripheral observing Wendy as the doctor gathers her stuff. She turns back to Jessica, “You have got some explaining to do.”

“What? That I proposed in an elevator?”

Wendy snickers and makes a side comment, “A lesbian mess.”

“Shut up, Ms. Son,” Jessica bites. The manager then turns to Jeongyeon, “Will you please call the Valet and ask for Ms. Son’s car to be brought up front?”

“I didn’t bring a car.”

“How are you going home?”

“I’m taking the bus,” Wendy says, picking up her backpack and swinging it on her shoulders. Something about those small gestures feels so, so familiar.

The doctor grabs her white coat and hangs it up on one arm.

Jessica turns to Irene, “Drive her home.”

The command shocks Irene. Oh God.

Just the idea of being alone with Wendy for a long period of time absolutely scares the fuck out of Joohyun so she reacts in this big, messy way. “What? I don’t want to!” she exclaims.

“Wow, okay,” Wendy manages, raising an eyebrow as if the whole reaction truly surprised her. “You didn’t have to be so rude about it. I don’t want a ride from you either way.”

“Wait,” Joohyun’s body finally catches up with her brain. “I—I didn’t—”

Before Joohyun could even finish her sentence, Wendy is out of the room.

“What is wrong with you?” Jessica asks her.

“I—” Joohyun stutters. “That’s not part of our script. We don’t have to start pretending right away.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t need to be so crass about it, you pig.”

.

Moments Later

Irene is driving out of the building, trying to push that meeting to the back of her mind.

She thought of going back to her place to catch up on reading her script. The first official table read is in two days and she hasn’t really committed to her character just yet.

Margaret Winters is brave and tough in crisis situations. Joohyun is almost always scared and tends to shut everything—and everyone—out. The only connection Joohyun has with Margaret is Irene ; because like Margaret, Irene likes to wear a mask. This mask is here to protect Joohyun, to make everyone believe that she’s this perfectly put-together woman who has overcome the adversities of moving to a different country at the age of 19 and working hard to achieve her dream of becoming an actress.

Irene carries the fame and the lifestyle. Joohyun nurses the scars.

As Irene takes a right, she spots a familiar figure by the bus stop.

Wendy .

Joohyun’s hand trembles a bit, flashbacks of their moments earlier are coming back to her if only to mock her. She did act weird around the other woman.

See, Irene handles Wendy well with perfectly placed jabs to counter the doctor’s wit and humor. But Joohyun’s a mess—like she’s in high school again, watching that choir performance with Wendy in the center, belting a high note that brings the house down. That tiny, talented piece of sh—

She hits the breaks right in front of Wendy who seems to be reading something on her phone.

Irene lowers the window of the passenger seat.

“Wendy,” she calls out.

The girl in question looks up at her, shoulders slacked in obvious exhaustion. That big backpack also isn’t helping her posture.

“Come on, I’ll drive you home,” she offers.

Wendy only looks at her, studies her for a moment before she pockets her phone. The doctor grips on the straps of her backpack and shakes her head. “I’m good. I don’t need you to gloat about me catchin’ a ride with you. Thanks,” she said, her every word intended to bite but her tone lacks the venom.

There’s something in Wendy’s eyes, a certain sadness. It affects Joohyun more than it should. She wants to ask if she’s okay but—

“I won’t gloat about it, you ass,” is what she says instead because she’s really, really terrible with emotions.

Wendy rolls her eyes, “I don’t need your help.”

Irene grips the steering wheel, trying to control her temper.

“I’m trying to do something nice here.”

“Just say, I’m sorry for being rude earlier and that would’ve been fine.”

“I—”

Beep!

A bus honks at Irene. She really needs to get out of the bus lane or she will be fined.

“Just go. That’s my bus,” there’s a certain finality to that tone that settles it for Irene.

“You know what? Fine!” she exclaims, as she presses the button to roll the window back up.

If you asked her, she wouldn’t be able to explain the frustration. She hits the gas hard and over-speeds away from the girl.

.

Freshman Year, Lee Soo-man International School

It’s the first day of school and though every moment of the past year has led her to this very day, Joohyun can’t help but feel the fear seep into every part of her body.

She doesn’t belong here—that much she knows.

She hails all the way from Dalseong-gun, a small rural town somewhere south of Daegu. It’s a quaint town with a small population. It’s very unusual for someone from that town to just pack their bags and attend an expensive international school in the middle of what could be one of Seoul’s most expensive neighborhoods.

But she’s here; because her parents sold every land they owned just to secure her school fees.

She doesn’t live in this area. This neighborhood is only for South Korea’s wealthiest. She lives with her aunt and her aunt’s daughter at a quiet neighborhood about 45 minutes out of Cheongdam. She got to stay there for free because the Hwangs are nice.

It’s crazy, she thinks, how big her parents’ dreams for her are, how much they are willing to give to see her happy. She’d mentioned once about dreaming of working in America and they couldn’t be happier that their daughter had a dream larger than the size of her body.

So here she is, a high school freshman for the second time.

She already attended a local high school in Dalseong for a year but this school demands that every student takes up all general subjects from the first year, including nine units of English, so they could ease into the new system the following year. With her uncredited units from her old school, she’s back to her first day in high school. Only this time, she’s a year older than her classmates.

As she makes her way to the school gates, she notices that she’s the only one walking by the sidewalk. She takes the sight in. It’s very early in the morning so the air smells fresh. A row of trees are lined up within the whole block, their leaves and branches towering over the street. It’s a nice day to be out. The breeze is cool against her skin, gently tapping against her overpriced school uniform.

Joohyun looks around and spots a steep curve ahead, a dangerous blind curve. She notices how the cars passing by would slow down a bit and then would speed up again once they get past it. She also observes how fancy all the cars are. They pass by her and she follows some of them with her gaze until these cars make a right to enter the school’s drop off area.

It reminds her of her reality. She doesn’t belong here at all.

The fear creeps up to her again. What if they all hate her? What if they give her hell for being older than them? What if they notice that she’s not like them?

As she neared the school’s gate, she thought of running back home. She thought of just going back to her parents’ house and giving it all up. But she thinks of omma and appa, and she recalls how their eyes shine of something so akin to hope and love. She remembers them telling her to never be scared. That she can only achieve things if she tries.

You can do this, Joohyun.

She lets out a brave sigh. There’s no turning back now.

“Hey,” she hears a small voice call out from behind her. She turns her head to search for the owner of the voice and there, she spots a girl donning the same uniform as hers, running up to her with a bright smile on her face. As she runs up to catch up with Joohyun, the wind gently blows her long, light brown hair. She’s glowing.

Joohyun has read about angels descending on Earth and it must be super similar to this.

“Your bag pocket is unzipped,” the girl says when she finally catches up with Joohyun. The shorter girl matches her pace.

“What?”

“I said,” she pauses, gently grabbing Joohyun’s wrist to will her into a stop. She moves behind Joohyun and she feels the other girl fumble at her backpack. “Your bag was unzipped but I just closed it. I was afraid your bus card would fall off.”

“Oh, thank you,” Joohyun manages, her heart beating a mile a minute. She’s not familiar with the way her body is reacting to this stranger.

“Come on, let’s walk inside together,” the other girl gently grabs her wrist again as they resume walking. “I’m Seungwan, by the way.”

“What?” Joohyun manages. She thinks she heard her but Joohyun can’t focus on anything right now other than the sound of her heart beating madly against her chest.

The girl, Seungwan, eyes her curiously, her dark brown eyes observing Joohyun in a way that makes Joohyun’s stomach churn. “Do you have a hearing problem? Do you want me to talk louder?”

“Nn-no,” Joohyun stutters. “I—”

Seungwan then speaks again, her voice a notch louder. She yells, “I said, my name is Seungwan! What’s your name?”

It was so loud that it made Joohyun flinch. Seungwan is so weird. She laughs.

Seungwan also laughs.

“You can talk to me in your normal volume. I’m Joohyun,” she introduces herself, her body finally catching up with her brain.

“That’s a nice name and you’re very pretty,” Seungwan says casually and Joohyun, once again, feels her breath hitch.

They’re silent for a while until they make a right to the school’s entrance. That’s only when Joohyun notices the shiny, expensive-looking black car following slowly behind them.

“Is that your car?”

Seungwan nods, “I told them to drop me off a block away so I could walk.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s a fine day to walk outside,” she states, like everything is just so simple.

They stop on their tracks by the time they reach the drop-off area. A couple of kids are being sent off by their parents in their luxurious cars and Seungwan stands in the middle of it all.

Joohyun observes her.

With the way her skin is glowing, her nicely pressed school uniform, and the way her hair shines against the sun, she’s sure that Seungwan belongs to this crowd. But it’s her eyes and her smile that make her stand out.

She’s different, Joohyun decides. She could still feel her heart banging loudly against its cage, threatening to jump out.

“Joohyun?”

“Hmm?”

“You’re going to break some hearts around here.”

Joohyun chuckles, “What?”

Seungwan laughs, “That’s what my father told me to say to pretty girls.”

Greasy Seungwan.

A guy in a suit with an impassive expression on his face hands Seungwan her backpack. The girl hangs the backpack on her shoulders as she smiles at Joohyun one more time, “See you around, Hyun.”

Hyun.

“You too,” she manages.

Seungwan winks at her before turning around and heading in the opposite direction.

Joohyun is left standing there, her heart still doing that weird thing and her stomach performing wild somersaults.

She doesn’t know what this feeling is. But she knows this moment will stay with her for a very, very long time.

.

They never really talked or interacted after that. They both found their own cliques and existed in their own worlds. Up until today, Joohyun wonders why their paths never crossed again. She was the first person to ever make Joohyun feel at ease in that school.

Too bad the first day was also the last day.

As Joohyun sits across Jessica and Tiffany inside this fancy restaurant, she tries to match Seungwan from freshman high school years ago to the doctor at the bus stop earlier. They’re the same person, the same set of eyes and the same set of smiles. But there’s a certain sadness that’s been etched into it now.

Maybe it’s the tremendous loss she’s experienced. After all, you don’t lose a person you love and come out unscathed.

She gets it, she does.

Young Freshman Joohyun couldn’t have known that years later, the steep curve she spotted on the first day of school would be where she would lose her parents.

It was on Graduation Day. Her parents were running late. Joohyun was waiting inside the auditorium, eyeing two empty seats she reserved for her parents to witness all their hard work come into fruition.

Then there was a loud crash, two cars slamming into each other, instantly taking the lives of everyone on scene.

When people ask her what her favorite high school memory was. She only remembers the first day. Everything else sounds like a crash.

“Joohyun-ah!” Tiffany snaps her out of her walk down memory lane.

“What?”

“Where did you just go?”

Joohyun shakes her head, trying to refocus her attention on her (adoptive) sister’s story about Jessica’s proposal. How the elevator felt like the perfect place and the night felt like the perfect time. How Jessica’s eyes would light up whenever Tiffany would laugh. It’s nice to see a love like that unfold in front of her.

They’ve skated around their feelings for years and the relationship hadn’t been easy with Jessica in LA and Tiffany running an entertainment company here in South Korea.

But as Jessica would always say, some things just work out —and Joohyun hopes that it’s true for her, too.

Tiffany continues to blabber about the engagement and how Joohyun is definitely her Maid of Honor, about how a spring wedding would be perfect in LA. Joohyun is happy for her, really. But her mind is still stuck on Seungwan, on Wendy—on the girl who made young Joohyun’s heart beat so fast she thought she was having a heart attack.

Her phone buzzes and her screen lights up with a message from Jessica who is sitting right across from her. She looks up for a brief moment and exchanges subtle looks with her manager. Jessica only eyes her phone, urging her to read the message.

You okay?

She starts typing, a lie easily flowing past her fingers. Yeah.

As she turns back to her sister who’s now looking up for spring wedding ideas on Google, she thinks about her situation once again.

Fake-dating Son Seungwan could either be the best decision she made in her life. Or the worst.

/

Chapter Text

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Wendy doesn’t know how long she’s been staring at the magazine until she feels movement on the space to her left. She looks up after what feels like a lifetime to see Joy with a knowing smirk on her face.

“You know they’re not going to jump out of that magazine even if you stare at it forever, right?” she asks Wendy as she places a mug of the doctor’s usual coffee on top of the table, just amid all the mess the doctor has made—a pile of medical journals and case notes.

Wendy pouts for the briefest of seconds before she sets the magazine on top of her books and sighs heavily. “I’m proud of them,” she mutters, her shoulders slacking.

Red Flavor isn’t too packed today. It’s pretty unusual for a Friday afternoon but today, it’s a blessing in disguise. One of the attendings assigned her some advanced readings on one of the surgical patients in Pediatrics. This attending, Dr. Choi Siwon, is Wendy’s mentor and at the same time the bane of her existence.

As an intern, she really doesn’t get to decide which specialty she could focus on so at the moment, she’s just bouncing from one service to another, trying to test which one suits her best. She’s leaning toward Peds but Dr. Choi isn’t making it easy for her.

That magazine also isn’t helping her resolve.

“You can call them,” Joy interrupts her thoughts.

“Pfft—” Wendy huffs, trying her best to stall a conversation she knows is coming.

Her attention is drawn back to the magazine.

It’s the latest issue of Forbes Asia with a man and a woman on the cover. It’s a low-angle shot with the subjects standing back-to-back, their eyes boring into the low-angle camera—making them seem tall, proud, and unattainable. The man’s hands are on his pockets, his hair side-swept, and his black-and-white suit looking as expensive as it can get. The woman, on the other hand, has her hands crossed at her chest with her dark, wavy hair up on a high ponytail. She’s wearing a long, black skirt topped with a white long-sleeved turtleneck, her clothes looking just as expensive as the man’s.

On the bottom part of the magazine, the title of the cover story reads:

The Future of South Korean Healthcare
The Son siblings on what it means to lead a medical empire

“This Jongin looks too serious, I remember the pranks we used to pull on you,” Joy comments, a hint of sadness coloring her tone. It’s barely there but it’s there.

“Naeun would’ve hated this shoot,” she says; a lazy, nostalgic smile escaping her lips.

For a moment there, Wendy allows herself to reminisce about Jongin and Naeun back when everything was easy. The three of them used to get along so well.

There’s Jongin, the eldest of them three—used to be the ring-leader of the many pranks they pulled on each other. But as the first-born son, he kind of grew out of his youth quickly and was forced into an adult role even when he was barely legal. He’s their mom’s favorite because he knew—knows—how to follow rules.

Wendy thinks he grew up too soon.

Then there’s Naeun, the cool and hip middle child who perfectly sauntered the thin line between following the rules and breaking them. With their age difference being a mere three years, she understood Seungwan the best: knowing when to encourage her and when to knock some sense into her. She wasn’t omma or appa’s favorite but she was Seungwan and Jongin’s favorites. That was always enough for her.

But Naeun wanted the same thing as her parents, to become a world-renowned surgeon; and by the looks of it, she’s getting there. Wendy feels a pinch in her heart, knowing she couldn’t be there to tell her sister how proud she is of her.

Then, there’s maknae Wendy—came out as a lesbian sometime during her high school days, turned down an opportunity to work for her mother alongside her siblings at the hospital they own, and continues to refuse to sell a dying business.

Yup. That’s her. Just a disaster all on her own. A “hot mess” as her mother nicely put it before she basically disowned Wendy because she’s not the daughter her parents raised her to be.

To top that, her father left her a large part of his estate, the biggest percentage out of all the siblings. Jongin and Naeun weren’t even surprised. Wendy was always their dad’s favorite, trusted her the most to make wise decisions. He was Wendy’s biggest fan.

He used to think Wendy doesn’t get enough credit for the things she brings to the table: her smarts, charms, and her sense of humor.  But this didn’t sit well with her mother who got the littlest share amongst all of them.

A sense of humor can’t run a hospital, Seungwan.

Growing up in the Son household was hard especially when you’re the odd one out.

“I miss them,” she admits quietly, her eyes finding her siblings’ cover photo once again. They look like the people they said they’d be.

She still remembers the last time she saw them: a sunny afternoon at home when she signed the papers that would evenly distribute her shares between Jongin and Naeun.

Jongin had asked her repeatedly if she was sure. Those shares were the only reason her mother still wants her around. But Wendy saw it as an out.

It was her chance to flee from a life like that. She didn’t need an excessive amount of money. She didn’t feel the need to be part of their family business, or what Forbes Asia calls the Future of South Korean Healthcare. So she only kept whatever amount of money her father left for her. She needed to pay for med school and used the rest to put up Red Flavor.

In exchange, Jongin traded off the house they own in Jeju while Naeun gave her the vacation house in LA. Ridiculous isn’t it? Like a game of Monopoly. But this is real life. Trading off properties and dividing business shares is a normal Thursday afternoon in the Son household. That used to be Wendy’s life.

Not anymore.

Obviously.

“Just call them. Meet up here. They don’t hate you as much as your smug mother does—”

“Hey! That’s still my mom.”

Joy laughs, “No, that’s your mother. A mom would never let her child go so deep into debt to the point that she doesn’t shower anymore.”

Wendy’s eyes widen at her friend and then consciously looks down at her own appearance. She’s wearing a pair of grey sweatpants, a white hooded sweater, and a pair of white sneakers. She thinks she looks decent.

“I look okay,” she argues.

Sooyoung nods, unconvinced, “Sure.”

“Yah!”

Joy only giggles, “You better cleanup all of—” she vaguely gestures at all the reading materials on top of Wendy’s table—“this.”

Wendy rolls her eyes good-naturedly, “Fine.”

“I asked Yerim to bring some decent clothes for you.”

“What is your problem with what I’m wearing right now?”

Joy stands up and smirks, “Nothing. I mean,” the taller girl looks at Wendy from head to toe, “this is fine, I guess. But do you really want to get papped next to Irene looking like this?”

Wendy opens her mouth to say something but no words come out. In Jessica Jung’s words, today is the day, Wendy.

Friday night is acoustic night for Red Flavor which means there’s going to be an acoustic set tonight and in Jessica’s timeline, this is where Irene and Wendy would first realize that there’s something between them that they could potentially explore. Like in movies, when the two main protagonists share a moment and one of them thinks, shit shit shit shit. It can’t be.

Wendy rolls her eyes.

Everything in Jessica’s plan sounds like something straight out of a Netflix rom-com. The irony is, she says it with a stone-cold expression which makes it funny and infuriating at the same time.

So it goes like this: Irene will be attending the acoustic night. Irene posts a couple of Instagram stories. She tags Wendy and Red Flavor’s Instagram account. Then the paparazzi will show up a few minutes later just as Wendy is walking Irene to her car where they’ll be pictured holding hands, looking at each other like the other puts the sun in the sky everyday.

Easy, convenient, and works for both parties.

It’s a brilliant plan.

“Wendy dot exe stopped working,” Joy’s voice pulls her out of her thoughts again.

“What?”

Joy eyes her, “Nothing, I was just asking if you want to invite Irene over for our dinner tonight.”

“What?”

The younger girl shrugs, “I mean, I don’t know. Before all of these, we knew her in high school.”

“Barely.”

“Still,” Joy gives her a smile, “Don’t be an asshole. The girl probably doesn’t have a lot of friends here in Seoul. I can’t even remember who her friends were in high school.”

But Wendy does. She remembers the girls she used to see Irene with.

Joy speaks up again, “It’s your choice. But I’m preparing a mean tteokbokki tonight and I read on Twitter that it’s her favorite.”

The younger girl laughs, proud of herself, before she disappears to the kitchen. Wendy is suddenly reminded of their weekly Friday night dinners: herself, Joy, Chanyeol, Chanyeol’s girlfriend Seohyun, and Yerim, the one who claims to be the spawn of the devil himself.

Wendy turns back to her messy table and starts clearing her things up. She picks up her journals one by one, mentally reviewing all the things she learned about stricturoplasty. The magazine catches her eye once again but before she could dwell in those feelings again, she grabs it and quickly shoves it into her backpack.

As she continues to clear up her table, she contemplates the idea. It wouldn’t hurt to invite Irene over. After all, they did know each other in high school. They weren’t close but they knew each other.  The decent thing to do is to catch up, to invite her over because—

Ugh.

Why is she even overthinking this?

You know what, fuck it.

Wendy grabs her phone resting on top of the table and punches a text message. She could’ve called but she’s not that desperate, duh. A text message is subtle, like she’s leaving it up to fate if Irene reads it on time or not.

Do you have anything planned tonight?

She hits send and puts her phone back down. Whatever is supposed to happen, will happen.

She resumes putting her things away, willing her mind to once again recite everything new she learned about her case. It works for a while, thinking about her 10-year-old patient and how this surgery is his only chance at life. But the distraction doesn’t last long because she would often glance at her phone, anticipating a response.

Frowning, Wendy picks her phone up a couple of moments later and checks the status of the message.

Read.

Wendy rolls her eyes. Did Irene ignore her? Wendy doesn’t know what she did to—

Swomp.

Her phone lights up and alerts her of a new message. Nevermind her rambling, it’s Irene.

Did you forget about the acoustic night? We’re supposed to meet up for that.

Wendy rolls her eyes but she responds immediately. No. You know the lengths Jessica went through to make sure I didn’t forget. My friend was just wondering if you’d like to come over for dinner before the acoustic session.

This time, the response from Irene doesn’t take too long. Which friend?

Wendy grabs her backpack and starts walking toward the small storage room where she leaves her personal stuff. She types. Sooyoung, if you remember her. From high school. Her brother and her brother’s girlfriend will be there, too. And a teenager Sooyung and I are close to.

She feels dread creeping up her spine as she anticipates Irene’s response. Those three dots that indicate that Irene is typing are just mocking Wendy to no end.

Okay.

Well, that was anticlimactic. Wendy shrugs to herself. Acoustic set is at 9. Dinner is at 7. See you.

It was already sent before she could stop herself. “Shit!”

Wendy mentally chastises herself. See you? Who says ‘see you’? Only the people who wants to see the person they said ‘see you’ to, idiot.

“Shit,” she mutters, this time a little louder. Her phone beeps again.

See you.

Okay, well.

She really can’t explain why that made her smile.

.

“You’re terrible at this,” Chanyeol quips, eyeing his own cards as he looks down at the cards laid out in front of Wendy.

Wendy squints suspiciously at him, pondering her next move. There only two ways this game could go. She could hit Chanyeol with one of her attack cards and if he doesn’t have a card to counter it, she wins. If he does, she loses.

Chanyeol smirks lopsidedly and it drives her insane. Wendy takes a look at her own cards again. “I just need a win,” she whines.

Beside her, Yerim chuckles, “Your cards look like Joy cursed them from hell.” The teenager points at one of her cards, “Drop this already.”

“No! What if he steals it?”

“If he steals it, you lose. If you do what you’re planning to do earlier and he doesn’t counter it, you win. If he counters, you lose. You either win or you lose, come on, stop being a wuss.”

Wendy gasps dramatically, “I am still your unnie.”

“I don’t care. Make a move so we can start a new game already!”

“Stop pressuring me!”

Yerim came in a few minutes ago with a frown on her face and a set of new clothes for Wendy which the doctor has already changed into—a pair of slim-fit, dark-colored ankle trousers, a white sweater, and a pair of black slip-on shoes. Joy approves of this look. In her own words, she looks paparazzi-ready now.

Joy walks in with Seohyun trailing behind her, both women carrying a tray holding all the food they cooked for dinner.

“You’re too loud,” Joy shushes Yerim to which the teenager responds with her signature scowl. “You’re disturbing the customers.”

They’re seated by the far end of the café near the windows. In way, they’re separated from the other customers but it’s a shared space so there can only be so much noise.

There are more customers now, most of which are college students with their backs hunched over books and laptops. Just a couple of hours ago, Wendy was in the same situation. Now, she’s just trying to win one game of Monopoly Deal against the self-proclaimed King of Monopoly Deal himself.

“Has he won yet?” Seoyhun asks as she and Joy set the trays on the table. They both start moving around to prepare for dinner.

Wendy looks up at Seohyun, “Unnie, I thought you believed in me.”

Chanyeol chuckles as his girlfriend pats the top of Wendy’s head, ruffling her hair a bit, “As a doctor, sure. But in this game? Not really.”

God, Wendy doesn’t know how Chanyeol managed to get somebody like Seohyun but she’s not complaining. Seoyhun is the world’s most perfect woman, too bad she’s stuck with Chanyeol.

“Just take your damn turn already, Wendy,” Joy tells her. “We need to set the table.”

They’re all watching her next move. Chanyeol is eyeing her behind his set of cards. Yeri is huffing frustratedly beside her. Joy and Seohyun are impatiently waiting so they could set the table for dinner.

Wendy looks at the deck of cards that’s yet to be in play. It’s a huge deck, there’s a good possibility that the deadly card is still in there.

Fuck it.

She slowly lifts one of her cards. It would force Chanyeol to swap one of his which would complete Wendy’s collection and make her the winner.

She could feel Yeri suck in a breath. For somebody who hates to care, she’s truly invested in whether Wendy will win or not.

Before she could put the card down on the table, they hear the café’s door swing open. Wendy misses who just got in, too engrossed in her turn.

She puts pushes the card toward Chanyeol.

“Give me the green one,” she tells her opponent. If Chanyeol doesn’t counter it, Wendy wins.

Chanyeol smirks, quirking an eyebrow.

“He’s bluffing,” Yeri whispers.

God, I hope so.

There’s a long stretch of silence that takes place where the only thing you can hear are the sounds of mild, indistinct chattering from the regular customers and the faint whirring of the espresso machine that the barista just started.

Fucking Chanyeol and his winning streak.

Finally, after a few seconds, he smiles in defeat as he throws his cards to table. He raises his hands in a form of surrender, “You got me there.”

Wendy shrieks, “Oh my God!”

Yeri actually claps, “You’re so lucky he had worse cards than you.”

“Woooh!” Wendy stands up and throws her hands up in the air. It’s only when she’s on her feet does she notice the person that’s been standing behind their group the entire time. Her eyes grow wide at the sight of the woman dressed in a fancy pair of black pants and a form-fitting, black turtleneck sweater. The look is finished with a pair of white sneakers.

It’s Irene, her hair up in a neat bun, looking like she’s ready to sweep everyone off their feet.

Wendy forgets how to function for a moment. It’s as if everything slowed down and all that’s left is Irene, standing in the middle of this café while everything around her just blurs out.

Irene is just staring back at her and Wendy wonders if the world slowed down for her, too.

“Oh my gosh,” it’s Joy who breaks the silence. “She’s totally your lucky charm, Wendy.”

All of a sudden, the world is back to its normal pace.

All her friends are quick on their feet, walking over to Irene to greet her and introduce themselves. Irene flashes a smile, greeting everyone, and learning their names. Wendy stays glued on her spot, still taking the other woman in.

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

.

The dinner goes unexpectedly well.

Joy has driven the table discussion jumping from one topic to another, smoothly transitioning from the weather to movies to TV shows—and God! Wendy doesn’t know how she ended up being friends with the world’s most extrovert person but she’s thankful nonetheless.

Sitting next to her, Irene is mingling well. She nods, smiles, and engages with ease and a confidence that can only be learned when your lifestyle is comprised of meeting strangers everyday. Across them sits Joy, Chanyeol, and Seohyun while Yerim is on Wendy’s other side.

Every now and then, Wendy reminds herself that they’re acting. Only Chanyeol and Joy know about the arrangement. Seohyun and Yerim are clueless. To them, Wendy and Irene are just two old high school acquaintances meeting up again to catch up.

Irene raves about the food. She almost cries at the first taste of the tteokbokki that Joy prepared. She talks about how she missed authentic Korean cuisine. Even though there are tons of Korean restaurants in the US, she claims that nothing ever really tastes like the real thing. Joy brags about her skills while Seohyun accepts the compliment with a shy smile.

Even Yerim, who claims she hates people, seems to like Irene. They talk about clothes and shopping, and some random Hollywood actor who Yerim likes and Irene has happened to have met in the past.

Thanks to Chanyeol, they discovered that Irene is a great Uno player. They promised to play a game the next time they meet, Chanyeol not believing one bit that Irene could beat her. Irene responds with a mischievous ‘We shall see’ and that’s all it takes for Chanyeol to almost bring out his Uno cards right there and then. If Seohyun hadn’t stepped in and said something about it, the nerds are probably already on their card game right now.

Wendy notices how comfortable she feels next to Irene in this scenario, a striking contrast to the Irene she met at the school and the Irene she had a meeting with a week ago. This Irene seems human, like she’s somebody Wendy could have a proper human conversation with.

This comfort resonates well. Although it’s Joy who’s driving the conversation, Wendy and Irene managed to exchange a few words to each other in between, sharing the same opinions about certain topics or passing the food around.

Wendy can’t help but notice how accommodating Irene is.  She grabs food for her, serves her a piece or two of something far from her reach, filling her glass with water—Wendy thinks she does this unconsciously because the Irene she met a few weeks ago seemed cold, distant; didn’t seem like she’s capable of caring for other people. Clearly, there’s a lot about Irene that she’s yet to learn. But this is a promising start.

Wendy wonders at the back of her mind how much of this Irene is real.

Overall, the dinner was pleasant. But it’s only when Joy brings up high school do things get really interesting.

See, this is how it goes.

“I’ve always wondered why we never got to be friends with you in high school,” Joy starts and Wendy almost chokes on her drink.

Irene only manages a small smile, “We had different circles, I guess. I found it hard to be friends with the cool kids.” She accentuates the last two words with a shaky laugh.

“You were cool?” Yerim asks as she turns to Wendy, tone laced with so much teasing. “I wonder what happened.”

“Yah!”

The rest of the table occupants just laughs at their antics.

Wendy rolls her eyes, “We weren’t cool.”

Joy nods, “The cool kids were…” she pauses to think of some names, “…definitely Lisa, Sowon—”

“—Amber and Wheein,” Wendy adds. “I could come up with tons of names.”

Irene rolls her eyes, “I know them, obviously, but you guys were—everybody wanted to be your friend.”

“What? That’s not true, unnie,” Joy argues, really looking like this is news to her.

“We clearly have different versions of high school,” Irene states calmly, leaving Joy still in awe. She turns to Wendy, “But we had one moment, didn’t we?”

“Just one? in all three years?” Seohyun asks.

Irene nods, “First day of school.”

Wendy smiles, genuinely this time. How could she forget?

Joohyun was the first person she met who didn’t seem to care about the fancy car, the bodyguards, and the fact that somebody is carrying her backpack for her. All her life up to that day, every kid she encountered talked about their big houses and their cars and their expensive vacations. And then there’s this kid, walking outside the school with her backpack hanging loose as if she’s having a good walk.

Wendy remembers finding it strange that there’s a student walking outside the school because no student ever walks to school—at least not in the schools she’s attended. So there was that oddity but Wendy also remembers a gut feeling, a strange comforting feeling that rested wildly in her stomach.

In that moment, before the second she approached her for the first time, the stranger felt important; like she was going to change young Seungwan’s life forever.

“Yeah, we did,” Wendy affirms. “We had a moment.”

All of a sudden, Wendy finds herself lost in Irene’s eyes again. Wendy hears nothing. She sees nothing but Irene’s eyes staring right at her, as if she has questions that only Wendy could answer.

It’s the second time that day that Irene caused Wendy’s world to stop on its tracks.

No one speaks or moves for a few seconds until Chanyeol clears his throat.

“We better get ready for the set,” he announces, a knowing smile escaping his lips.

Wendy and Irene both quickly snap out of their moment with the actress standing up in a haste. Panicked, she volunteers, “I’ll cleanup.”

“No, silly,” Joy says, managing a small laugh. “You’re a guest.”

“It’s fine, I insist.”

“Are you sure? Yerim always cleans up,” Joy remarks, earning a groan from Yerim.

Irene laughs, “It’s fine. You guys can setup for the acoustic session.”

Seohyun chimes in, “Wendy will help you out.”

“What?” Wendy complains.

“What?” Seohyun challenges, using the ever-popular unnie tone.

Nobody ever, ever fights with that tone. “Fine,” Wendy gives in, “but only because I’m scared of you.”

“Ah, she’s afraid of something after all,” Irene chuckles.

“Whatever,” Wendy rolls her eyes—and they’re back to square one.

.

Soon as they’re done clearing the table, they make their way to the kitchen. There’s somebody who washes the dishes so Wendy’s thankful they don’t have to spend a lot of time by themselves.

Dirty dishes at hand, Wendy leads the way and uses her body to hold the door open for Irene. There are only three people inside the ample kitchen: the cook and two more kitchen staff who alternate between tasks including washing the dishes.

“Sunghoon-ssi, where should we put these?” Wendy asks one of the staff, gesturing to the dishes they both have at hand.

The man in question nods to the general direction of where the sink is, “Just put them over there.”

Both Wendy and Irene make their way to the sink and then gently places all of the used plates and glasses on the deep sink.

“Is it really okay to leave them there?”

Wendy nods, “Don’t worry about it.”

Irene glances at the dirty dishes one last time before she turns her back and starts walking toward the door.

Wendy follows suit but her words find her before they make it out of the kitchen, “We had two moments.”

Irene stops on her tracks and turns to Wendy, “What?”

“In high school,” she continues. “We had two moments.”

“What?”

“Do you have a hearing problem? Do you want me to talk louder?” Wendy says, replaying that moment on the first day of high school.

Wendy could see Irene fighting a smile.

“What were you saying?”

Wendy smiles, an unexplainable sadness sitting at the pit of her stomach, “You forgot, didn’t you?”

“About what?”

“You totally forgot.”

Irene stands there, looking seriously puzzled. Wendy feels a slight pinch in her heart. That moment from a few years ago felt big at that time.

“Nothing,” Wendy says instead.

“Seriously?”

Wendy only chuckles, shaking her head. Maybe it doesn’t really count. It was a long time ago. Things like this shouldn’t matter. She tells herself these things as she continues to walk out the door, leaving Irene behind.

.

Later that Night

The acoustic session rolls around pretty quickly. New and regular patrons of the sets have filed in, filling in every seat in the house.

Chanyeol is on his third song, perfectly capturing the room with his voice. Guitar at hand, he fills the room with an acoustic version of a popular OST. The audience are mostly quiet. Save for mild chattering, they’re actually watching his set. It amazes Wendy how he never really lost that charm. He might have taken a different path but music is in his blood.

Meanwhile, Joy is busy helping out Momo by the bar while Seohyun has volunteered to wait tables since their only waiter is out sick. Yerim is sitting with two of her friends at a different table.

So that leaves Wendy and Irene by the same table they had during their dinner, sitting on the same side but settled one seat apart. They’re far from the small, makeshift stage but the surround sound system encapsulates the whole ambience in this strange, comforting way. The mood lighting also works, making the whole place feel calm, romantic, and easy.

Red Flavor’s Friday Acoustic Night is popular among couples. That explains why most of the guests are seated in pairs; couples with hearts in their eyes, hands tangled with one another with no intention to let go. It’s a nice sight, Wendy must admit. It’s nice to know people have memories like that at their café.

Doctors like her keep people from dying. But it’s moments like this do people get to really live—next to their loved ones, whispering promises of forever that may or may not happen but who cares, right? Right now, they’re happy; and if there’s anything Wendy has learned her entire life, it’s that right now is all that matters.

“Do you still sing?” Irene asks, snapping her out of her thoughts.

“Sometimes,” Wendy responds, her mind reeling back to the moment they had earlier. Wendy keeps her eyes toward the general direction of the stage. She tries to focus on Chanyeol.

She wonders if she and Irene look odd in a place clearly enveloped by love. Two strangers, pretending to be lovers, seated one seat apart their bodies stiff with unfamiliarity and unfinished businesses.

The moment earlier? The one they had in the kitchen? They don’t talk about it, not really.

Although Wendy could feel Irene’s eyes on her the entire time as if she’s dying to ask some questions, the younger girl ignores it. Irene isn’t pushing and Wendy keeps pulling away. That memory is from a long time ago. There’s no need to dwell on it.

“I always thought you were going to take up music.”

“I almost did,” she admits. “But shit happens.”

Irene doesn’t say anything nor does Wendy. She thinks she detached from the topic too fast. She hopes Irene doesn’t take it personally.

Only the music could be heard and perhaps, the loud beating of Wendy’s heart pounding against her chest. There’s something so big about this moment. She just couldn’t figure what.

“Thank you for inviting me to dinner. It was nice.”

Wendy manages a smile as she finally looks at the girl, “They like you. You acted your part very well.”

“What? That’s not—”

Irene’s sentence is cutoff when a man in a dark tracksuit approaches their table. Wendy recognizes him as Irene’s handler.

“It’s time to go,” he says. “The car is waiting out front.”

This is it.

Wendy nods as she stands and offers her hand to Irene, “Let’s do this.”

Irene looks at the doctor’s hand for a moment and then shifts her eyes back to Wendy’s face.

“I’m not gonna bite you.”

“I—”

“I’m messing with you, come on. There’s a horde of paparazzi outside, we better put on a damn good show.”

Irene actually smiles this time as she takes Wendy’s hand, “Okay.”

If you ask her, Wendy won’t be able to explain the way her heart jumps a bit. She takes a look at their joined hands and there’s that gut feeling again. Like the first time they met, it feels like everything… makes sense.

There’s a bitterness that fades in the background and is replaced by something else. It feels like years of questions and missed opportunities and…

Shit shit shit shit. It can’t be.

.

Soon as they step out of Red Flavor, flashes of white instantly hit Wendy’s eyes. A horde of paparazzi—maybe about 10 people or more—have flocked to their storefront, aggressively taking pictures of Irene.

They slowly close in on them, yelling Irene’s name in hopes that the actress would chance a glance at them for that one perfect shot. Irene’s van is on the other side of the street so they would have to walk.

Clever. Wendy thinks.

They could’ve totally parked right outside the café but of course, Jessica wanted drama. She wanted Irene and Wendy to be seen. That short walk from the café to the van was a calculated risk she was more than willing to take. Jessica is truly that bitch.

By habit, Wendy walks ahead of Irene, pulling her hand gently behind her to keep her close. Her handler is walking by Irene’s side, making lame efforts to protect Irene. He can’t block the paparazzi. This is, after all, the kind of attention they asked for.

Wendy grips Irene’s hand tight as the paparazzi moves closer and closer. A few more strides, she thinks. She feels a sudden rush of protectiveness, an unexpected wave of need to shield the girl from these assholes. And God, this is the first day of this lie. How is she going to survive the next six months?

“Hey, look at me,” Irene calls out quietly behind her.

The doctor obeys, turning her head to spare Irene a glance. The actress is smiling at her and for a moment, Wendy forgets—because Irene has an unmistakable look of bliss on her face, as if Wendy puts the sun in the sky everyday.

Wendy’s breath hitches but she gathers the voice to ask, “Why are you smiling?”

“We have to look happy,” the other girl says, her voice hushed. And then all of a sudden… all of a sudden, Wendy remembers.

The act. The lie.

She smiles back, hoping it comes out alright. She hopes they see hearts in her eyes. She hopes her smile doesn’t expose that slight, unexplainable pinch in her heart.

She could hear cameras clicking here and there. Somebody must have gotten the exact moment they smiled at each other. It’s over now.

A few moments later, they reach the van and the handler rushes to slide the door open. Wendy guides Irene, keeping their hands linked, as the actress hops up the van.

“Thank you,” Irene manages.

Wendy only nods, letting go of Irene’s hand. She was about to turn around and walk back to the store when she hears Irene speak up again.

“It was a week after the first day of school,” she opens, loud enough for Wendy to hear but not enough for the paparazzi standing a couple of meters from them.

The doctor gives the actress a look, willing her to continue.

“You approached me at the cafeteria and asked if I wanted to sit with you.”

“And you said no.”

“Wendy, that hardly counts. Your friends were laughing behind you.  How was I supposed to take it seriously?”

A bitter chuckle escapes Wendy. The bitch didn’t even count that moment. Freshman high school Seungwan is seething.

“Of course, it counts. I asked you.”

“It could’ve been a dare or something worse.”

“Is that what you thought of me back then?”

Irene, suddenly self-conscious, looks around and notices the paparazzi still waiting around for her.

“We’re seriously not doing this right now.”

There it is again, the staring contest. This time, Wendy ends it by looking away, “I guess not.”

“Why does it matter now, though? Why did you bring it up earlier? Why say anything at all?”

Wendy swallows an invisible lump in her throat. The first thing that comes to mind are the could’ve  beens. But she can’t say that because the past is gone now—and Wendy spent years learning how to not dwell on what ifs and could’ve beens. “I don’t know why I brought it up,” she mutters; and it feels like a lie.

“We could’ve been friends, you know,” Irene states, her voice laced with a certain kind of sadness.

“Maybe. Who knows?” she detaches so quickly that it renders the other girl speechless.

Wendy takes it as her cue to return to the café.

“Have a safe trip back home,” she bids goodbye, turning on her heels and walking away. That’s only when she manages to release a sigh she didn’t know she was holding.

She hears the van start and drive away, its tires screeching gently against the pavement.

It’s day one and her suspicions still hasn’t changed. Fake-dating Irene Bae could either be the best decision she made in her life. Or the worst.

/

Chapter Text

/

Freshman Year, Lee Soo-man International School

Joohyun’s first week has been… well, how do you say it nicely…

Hell.

It’s been hell.

All the kids are rich, unrelatable, and utterly scary to hangout with. Her classes are great and maybe, if her world had been a little different, she’d actually enjoy going to this school but that’s not her life right now—and God, what if this is how the next three years would be? What if this is her new normal?

She had a life in Dalseong. It wasn’t an extravagant life by any means but it was a good life. She went to a small school where everybody knew everyone—which makes it a community, and there was never a day that Joohyun felt alone and neglected.

But she has an ambition bigger than Dalseong. Her endgame is grander than what a small town could give her.

So that brings her here, sitting amid a cafeteria full of kids she couldn’t relate to, alone and just waiting for the day to end so she could go home. What a terrible way to live—to be so young and already feel so tired.

Joohyun looks at her lunch. It’s Wednesday—and everyone knows the lunch ladies love Wednesdays so the food isn’t actually bad: pumpkin soup, apples, breaded shrimp, white kimchi, fish cake soup, and a sorry excuse for a bibimpap. All things considered, this lunch is quite okay.

She sighs heavily as she takes her chopsticks out and starts digging in.

Sitting by the end of the room by herself, it’s easy to watch her surroundings. It’s early in the school year but cliques are already starting to form everywhere. The seemingly cool kids; the kids who read books even during lunch; the troublemakers with their messy hairs and uniforms, and loud laughter—it’s funny because all these cliques everywhere and somehow, somehow Joohyun still managed to fail at finding herself a group she could identify with.

“Hey,” a sweet, familiar voice interrupts her pity party. Joohyun looks up and Lord, if this is the sweet salvation she’s been asking for, then take her already.

Standing in front of her is that girl from the first day of school, Seungwan. She has that smile on her face and for a moment, Joohyun forgets how to breathe. The girl has a tray of her lunch at hand, as if waiting to be invited.

“Hi,” Joohyun manages, feeling the air gather at her throat. It’s stupid. Why does her body react like this to somebody she hardly knows?

“Is it okay if I sit here?” Seungwan asks.

Without thinking, Joohyun nods, “Sure.”

Seungwan grins happily, setting her tray on the spot across Joohyun and gleefully takes a seat.

“I noticed that you’ve been eating lunch by yourself this week,” Seungwan opens; and Joohyun likes the feeling of being seen, of being acknowledged; to not be the only one reeling in her sadness. “I hope you don’t mind me joining you.”

Joohyun only shrugs, unable to find the right words. She’s guessing she appears and cold and detached but she’s really just terrible at small talk.

“I mean, I’m not saying I’m joining you because I think you’re alone. I’m joining you because I want to and not like…” she’s rambling and Joohyun is fighting the urge to smile, “…in a charity way. I don’t think you want me to join you because why—”

“That didn’t make sense at all,” Joohyun comments.

Seungwan laughs, “I know. You’re so pretty. I think I’m melting.”

Joohyun actually laughs, slightly taken aback by the compliment, “You’re so weird.”

“I know.”

Silence falls upon them once more with only the cafeteria’s noise surrounding them.

“Do you plan on joining any clubs?” Seungwan asks her, breaking their momentary dead air. She pulls her chopsticks out and casually starts eating her food.

“I’ve thought about joining the dance club.”

The other girl smiles, a million-watt smile Joohyun doesn’t think she could ever get used to, “Ah, a dancer. I think it suits you.”

“How about you?”

“I’ve thought about joining the Math club.”

“Why would anybody do that?” Joohyun laughs.

Seungwan pouts, “I’m good at it.”

“Do you want to?”

Seungwan looks away for a second, “I mean, I’m good at it.”

Joohyun shakes her head, “Not the answer to my question. Just because you can doesn’t mean you have to.”

The other girl pauses for a moment, probably considering what Joohyun just said. And then she speaks up, “You know what, you’re right. I’m not going to join the Math club. I’ll join the choir instead.”

“Are you any good?”

“Pfft—” Seungwan huffs, smug. There’s a confident smile on her face and Joohyun decides that confidence looks good on her. “Am I any good?”

“Are you asking me?”

“No! I’m repeating your words for dramatic emphasis.”

“Well? Are you?”

“My dad said I can sing.”

“Isn’t that what all dads say?”

Seungwan squints at her, “I’m sensing a sarcastic nature to this conversation and I love it.”

Joohyun only chuckles.

The silence that falls upon them this time is comfortable.

For the first time since school year started, she feels her anxiety slowly fade into the background. Maybe… just maybe, it’s all going to be okay.

They settle for focusing on their meals for a few moments but as expected, it’s Seungwan who breaks their solace again.

“It’s weird, isn’t it?”

“What is?”

“This place,” Seungwan says, animatedly gesturing with her hand. “It’s ridiculous.”

Joohyun quirks an eyebrow, not picking up on what Seungwan is getting at. But she could sense the girl’s youthful energy. Irene is 18, Seungwan is 17.  They’re too old to be considered young but still.

“Everyone seems like they’re in a rush to grow up,” Seungwan continues, her voice is a little quiet this time. “I can’t keep up with them.”

At this, Joohyun had to be curious. She’s seen the girl around multiple times. She’s one of those cool kids with equally cool friends who walk around the school as if they own it. She’s also heard that Seungwan is one of the richest, if not the richest, student in this school.

Some things are not clicking—and Joohyun’s habit of self-preservation kicks into overdrive.

“Why are you sitting here with me?” she asks, unable to keep that accusatory tone to herself.

The other girl didn’t seem to be bothered by it, “I told you I’ll see you around. I like to think I’m woman of my words.”

There’s a proud smile on her face.

“Are you making fun of me?”

Seungwan’s expression falls, “What?”

Honestly, Joohyun doesn’t know where this is coming from. All she knows is that Seungwan represents everything she’s not—and it scares Joohyun that this will hit her right back in the face. You don’t belong here, Joohyun.

“I just wanted to sit with you, that’s all.”

Joohyun observes the other girl. Something seems different about her. She isn’t like any of the students Joohyun has met. It puzzles her and scares her at the same time.

“I feel like you’re judging me,” the younger girl says, again breaking the momentary silence.

“I am.”

Seungwan laughs it off, “It terrifies me how honest you are.”

Joohyun only rolls her eyes.

Why is Seungwan not pulling away? Why is she still here? Why isn’t she thrown off by Joohyun’s attitude?

“Anyway, I was wondering…” Seungwan stutters, “I mean, I..”

“Get it out.”

Seungwan puffs her chest out, as if she’s gathering a significant amount of courage, “I just, I don’t like seeing you alone. Would you like to join me and my friends for lunch tomorrow and maybe, all other tomorrows?”

The younger girl has a comic, hopeful smile on her face.

Joohyun thinks that maybe this is the answer to her misery. She likes her enough and she seems to be genuinely interested in getting to know her. That’s a rarity in this place.

Maybe, Seungwan is her answered prayer. She’s not particularly religious but hey, if there’s a higher power listening to her every night, thank you.

Joohyun was about to say yes and accept the other girl’s invite when she hears laughter behind them, a couple of tables back. Seungwan turns to them and smiles at them, waving at them happily. The group of students—all four of them—laughs even harder at her antics.

She knows these people: Park Sooyoung, Oh Sehun, Kim Seolhyun, and Jackson Wang.  

They are the kids your parents warn you about.

“No,” Joohyun says, her voiced laced with a certain finality that she didn’t mean.

Seungwan’s mouth forms an ‘o’, a look of genuine hurt etched across her face. “No to just tomorrow? Or to all of the tomorrows?” she asks again, like she’s clinging to whatever amount of hope she can hold on to.

“To all of it.”

“Why?” the younger girl asks. This time, she’s been stripped away of any hope she was holding on to earlier.

Joohyun only shrugs, “I’m trying to set my boundaries with people.”

Seungwan chuckles bitterly, “You barely have people.”

“Exactly.”

It’s amazing how the lies are just seeping out.

“Oh, wow,” Seungwan manages, her voice cracking. “Okay.”

The other girl stands up and picks up her tray, “You know what’s the thing about boundaries? They don’t keep people out, they lock you in. They trap you into this whole idea that you can do your whole life alone but guess what, Joohyun. You need people.”

Joohyun swallows an invisible lump in her throat. She doesn’t respond.

How exactly do you respond to that?

Seungwan walks back to her friends and as she watches her go, Joohyun feels like she missed something very important—an opportunity, maybe.

.

“You seem lost in thought.”

It’s Joy who pulls her back to present time.

She looks up at the girl distractedly, “Hmm?”

Joy chuckles as she places a glass of coffee in front of Irene. It’s her favorite—sweetened cold brew coffee.

The café owner sits next to Irene, resuming whatever she was doing before the actress arrived.

There are piles of paper on top of the table, an old calculator, and a laptop. When she got here a few minutes ago, she saw Joy buried in inventory reports and budget plans.

It’s Tuesday, a slow late afternoon for Red Flavor. She’s supposed to meet Wendy here for another one of their social media stunts. This time, Irene will be posting a picture of Wendy on her Instagram with her caption hinting at a slight attraction to the girl.

In Jessica’s timeline, this is where Irene is supposed to be seeing her new friend in a different light. This is also supposed to be the point where the general public will start to notice how frequently Wendy appears on Irene’s social media accounts.

“I could sit on a different table if you want. You seem busy,” Irene says.

“No, it’s fine,” Joy says with a smile, picking up a blue highlighter pen and uses it on an item on the paper in front of her. “I wasn’t getting anywhere all that much anyway.”

Irene eyes the pile of documents and then shifts her attention to Joy. She looks tired, a striking contrast to the Joy she interacts with around Wendy.

“How’s Red Flavor?” she asks, knowing that Joy is dealing with their books. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Not good,” Joy responds, a defeated sigh escaping her. She leans back on her chair, stretching her arms upward. “It’s just not adding up. We’re doing pretty good in terms of income, we’re getting enough customers. But the price of rent shot up this year because the landlord is shit and wants to sell his building. Everyone we know in this building is already moving out. We’re putting away any extra money we get to pay for rent. Even Wendy’s salary is going to rent budget.”

“Why don’t you just move someplace else?”

“That’s what I told Wendy. God, I love her,” the entrepreneur manages a small smile. “But she’s so stubborn. She won’t give this place up.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

Joy chuckles, “That’s just who Wendy is.”

“Are you getting new customers since I got papped here?”

Joy grins, “Yes and more importantly, our Facebook page is getting tons of engagement. We’re also performing better on Naver. Things like this usually pay off in a week or two. You have very passionate fans. One of your fans even asked what drink you ordered.”

“No way!”

“They did but I told Momo not to tell anyone about it.”

“Thank you.”

“I mean, we could tell them but they’d have to pay,” Joy laughs and it causes Irene to laugh as well. “We have this coffee beans that no one ever buys. I could tell them you like that drink. It’ll get sold out in days.”

They laugh at this. Joy tells Irene more details about their online engagement and weird encounters with some fans who have managed to visit the café. She never underestimated Jessica’s knowledge of these things but it’s still surprising how everything is working according to plan.

As the actress sits across Joy, she realizes that she feels comfortable around the other girl. She has a way of making people feel included and relaxed. It’s such a breath of fresh air. Joy also has this no-nonsense attitude that Irene appreciates so much. People like to bullshit their way around her and it’s easy to get used to this but this woman is different. She now understands why Wendy and Joy are friends despite the obvious differences—they seem to balance each other out.

For a moment, she wonders what its like to have a friendship like that.

Joy starts to put her things away, probably giving up on really getting anywhere with their inventory report. Irene stays silent and sips on her drink.

After a few moments, Joy speaks up, “Wendy told me you offered to drive her after your meeting two weeks ago.”

“Ah, that,” Irene responds with a nod.

“And she said no and was basically an ass.”

“Well, I was a rude to her first so that was payback.”

Joy chuckles, shaking her head, “No, unnie. Wendy doesn’t have a mean bone in her body to have the energy for a payback. She was in a sour mood. It’s her family.”

“What about?”

The taller girl has finished clearing the table off and stocks everything into a large envelope placed by one of the chairs.

“I think your timing sucked because she just got terrible news when you pulled up by the bus station.”

“Oh,” Irene manages, remembering that Wendy was looking at her phone when she rolled the windows down. She did notice the unmistakable sadness in her eyes. That’s why.

“There’s this big event this Saturday. Like the Oscars for doctors.”

Irene laughs at the reference.

Joy laughs at her own analogy before she continues, “Wendy’s dad will be honored there for a research he led back then that, uhm,” she pauses to think, “led to a medical breakthrough last year. Something about insulin control for kids with diabetes. It was his life’s work and his partner finally followed through using his research.”

“That’s amazing.”

Joy nods, “Uncle Jinho was a very smart man. Wendy got that from him.”

Irene actually smiles, finding it endearing.

“Anyway, she appealed for an invite but the Doctor Oscars declined her request.”

“That’s terrible.”

“It’s her evil mother, I’m guessing. She controls everything.”

“Do you know the name of the event?”

“Ah, wait,” Joy mutters as she fishes her phone from her pocket. She browses through it for a second before she reads it aloud to Irene, “It’s the Chon Dung-Jun Research Institute Innovation Awards.”

“I see.”

“So, yeah. That’s why she was in a mood. Don’t take it personally.”

Irene shrugs, “I didn’t.”

“Good,” Joy smiles as she gathers her stuff. “I’ll just put all of these in the back room. I’ll come back with Uno cards. I’m challenging you to a game.”

The actress chuckles, “I hope you’re ready to lose.”

Joy laughs, “Oh, Chanyeol would hate you.”

The girl then turns her back and walks to the back room.

Now left alone, Irene gets her phone from the pocket of her coat. She really doesn’t have an explanation for her further actions. All she knows is that no daughter ever has to be deprived of the chance to honor her father.

Out of curiosity, she looks up Chon Dung-Jun Research Institute Innovation Awards. The search results point her to a website which she clicks.

She reads on and realizes it’s actually a big event not just for Korea but for the global medical community as well. This award must be a very big deal.

She sees a section in the website where they state their participants and again, without ever really knowing why, she clicks on it and reads through the page. There’s a list of companies invited for the event. For quite a while, nothing really stands out to Irene.

She keeps scrolling and scrolling until she spots a familiar company name. She almost gasps.

An idea crosses her mind. This is the thing about Irene, once she sets her mind into something—good luck stopping her.

She quickly pulls up her messaging app and sends her manager a text.

Jess, are you still in touch with Yuri-unnie?

Sending this, Irene feels anticipation hit her nerves. She drums her fingers on the top of the table, waiting for Jessica’s response.

After a few seconds, Jessica replies. This is so random, Irene. But yes, I’m still in touch with her because she’s heard about you coming to Korea.

Good, good—Irene thinks. Do they still want me to carry their brand?

Not a second later, Irene’s phone rings. Jessica is calling her.

Lord, help her.

.

She picks up after the fourth ring.

Jessica’s voice booms from the other line, “This better be good, Irene, I swear to God. I stepped out of an investor meeting. What’s up?”

Irene releases a breath, “I’m asking you, does keenlens still want me to endorse their brand?”

“They never stopped wanting you to carry their brand. Especially now that you’re here. They’re expanding in the US.”

She thinks the higher power is being nice to her because… what a turn of events.

“That makes me the perfect endorser because I’m a—”

“—popular actress in the US who happens to be Korean,” Jessica finishes the sentence for her. “I knew you were going with that.”

Irene chuckles, remembering one of Jessica’s infamous interviews with a magazine where she uttered those exact words. But she quickly returns to the topic, “I’ll endorse them. I’ll do a couple of ads with them in one condition.”

“Hold up, what?”

“You heard me.”

“I thought you didn’t want to do cfs?”

“I’ll do it one condition.”

“What is it?”

“There’s a thing on Saturday. I want Wendy to get invited to that.”

“Wait, Wendy? Doctor Wendy Son? What’s this have to do with her?”

“It means everything to her,” she says softly.

“Oh.”

“Can you get it done?”

She hears a chuckle from the other line, “Can I get it done?”

“Are you repeating my words for dramatic emphasis?”

“Absolutely,” Jessica affirms. “Let me make some calls.”

“Thank you.”

Jessica lets out a sigh, “This better be important. Or I’ll make sure Tiffany never stops annoying you about encouraging me to speak to my ex again.”

“Yuri-unnie is hardly an ex.”

“An ex-almost but still. You know how jealous your sister gets.”

Irene laughs, “She’s become allergic to Kwons after learning you dated two Kwons in your life.”

“And yet, I’m engaged to a Hwang.”

Irene cringes, “Ugh, I’m done. Just update me, okay?”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

.

Moments later, Irene finds herself winning a game of Uno against Joy.

“You’re really good,” Joy states, hurling the cards to the table. “You won three times.”

Irene laughs, “I’m really lucky.”

“It’s always luck with these card games, isn’t it?”

“It is.”

Their banter is interrupted when Joy’s phone beeps. She picks it up from its space next to the cards and reads through her messages.

“Wendy just texted me,” Joy tells her, looking at her phone and then at Irene. “She’ll be late. Then there are many expletives in her text message that I’d rather not say. It’s that doctor she hates. He made her do post-op rounds.”

Irene can’t help but smile at this. An image of a frustrated, pouty Wendy crossed her mind.

“It’s fine.”

Joy nods, “She says she’s sorry.”

“Tell her it’s okay. I’ll wait here.”

“Didn’t you say you have an appointment later?”

“I’m just meeting a friend,” Irene says. “Is it okay if we meet here?”

Joy eyes Irene curiously, “Which friend?”

Irene laughs at the look Joy gives her.

“Is it Sungjae?”

There’s a sparkle in her eyes that Irene finds so… she has no word for it. But considering Joy hasn’t even met the guy and she’s already so infatuated…

“Unfortunately, it’s not Sungjae. We’ve met once at the table read last week. We aren’t friends yet.”

“Well then, who is it?”

“Seulgi.”

Joy’s eyes widen so big that Irene thought her eyes were going to bulge out, “Kang Seulgi?”

Irene nods.

“Kang Seulgi as in Bad Boy Kang Seulgi? As in sijaghalge bad boy down Kang Seulgi?” she sings a familiar part of that popular song.

Irene laughs, “Yes, Song of the Year Bad Boy Kang Seulgi.”

“Oh my God!” she shrieks and Irene had to laugh.

Joy is truly something else.

.

An hour passes and this time, Irene finds herself trapped between Seulgi and Joy who seem to be enjoying their newfound company.

Irene should’ve guessed they’d click easily.

Seulgi, despite her idol status, is very shy and is easily embarrassed by attention. Especially in settings like this where Seulgi is not idol Seulgi but just somebody who wants to get a snack with a friend—Seulgi finds it hard not to get flustered by the looks she’s getting from the customers around them.

But Joy… Joy is an absolute blessing. She distracts Seulgi with stories about her dog upon learning that the idol likes dogs. They bonded about Joy’s dog Haetnim, with the owner just showing off photos of him for about 20 minutes. They talk about music, fashion, and some new drama that Irene hasn’t heard of before.

She’s known Seulgi awhile now.

It’s been four years since the idol debuted but she’s known the girl since her trainee days. She’s under CSY Entertainment, one of the three biggest music labels in South Korea, which is ran and co-owned by Tiffany. That’s how they know each other.

“So you got a callback by accident because they got it mixed up?” Joy clarifies.

Seulgi nods, “I wasn’t supposed to get called back but the secretary messed it up. So I went to the second round of auditions—”

Irene butts in, “—and nailed it so hard, CEO Choi was blown away.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” Seulgi manages, a smile gracing her lips.

“Well, some things just work out, don’t they?” Joy says, staring at Seulgi with a sweet smile.

Seulgi returns the grin and Irene doesn’t miss the hint of red coloring her cheeks. She’s blushing as she nods, “I guess some things do.”

Hmm. Interesting.

Just as Irene was examining the way Seulgi reacts to Joy, the door to the café swings open.

Irene turns to the general direction of the door and upon seeing the person who just got in, her heart just does it again. Like she’s 18 again and it’s the first day of school and this kid walks up to her, a giant smile plastered on her face.

Her heart beats faster than it should and she feels it pounding against its cage, as if it’s telling her something she’d known all along but refuses to acknowledge.

Wendy has just entered the store, walking toward them with that million-watt smile that sometimes still haunts Irene in her sleep. All those what ifs—they age over time but they never go away.

She’s in a pair of faded jeans topped with a casual, pastel pink button-up top with its long sleeves rolled up by her elbows. She accents it with a pair of black Nikes and a white baseball cap.

Irene hasn’t experienced it before this but as it turns out, all those slow-motion scenes in movies actually do happen in real life.

She’s is definitely having a k-drama moment.

“I’m sorry for being late, my attending decided that it was a good day to be an ass,” Wendy apologizes. There’s a strain to her voice, perhaps because of exhaustion.

Irene stays silent, at loss for words and unable to tear her eyes from the doctor. If Wendy noticed it, she doesn’t mention it.

Wendy turns to Seulgi and politely bows.

Seulgi stands up and returns the gesture. The doctor then extends her hand to Seulgi, “You must be Seulgi. I mean, you’re definitely Seulgi. I obviously know you. I hear your songs a lot on the radio and also buy some of them. I mean—”

“—oh God,” Joy laughs, effectively interrupting Wendy’s rambling.

“And you must be Wendy,” Seulgi says laughingly, shaking Wendy’s hand. “Joy has told me about you.”

“Only good things I hope.”

Wendy settles her bag on the floor and then takes a seat next to Irene who’s still silent.

“Yeah, impressive things, really. She also told me you’re probably going to ramble a lot when you meet me.”

Joy laughs loudly—a sound that ultimately pulls Irene out of her catatonia.

“Are you okay?” Seulgi asks her.

“Yeah,” Irene nods, sighing.

Wendy eyes her for a moment; and that’s when Irene starts to wonder if she truly sees.

.

The four of them end up getting dinner altogether.

Joy stepped out at some point to cook some meals that’s not in Red Flavor’s official menu. She prepares hobakjuk after Seulgi mentioned that she was craving it, and a haemul pajeon because she likes to show off.

As they rave on about how Joy’s cooking, Irene learns that Wendy is better at cooking than Joy. The café owner insists that Wendy is the best chef she knows and it was actually her who taught Joy how to cook. The doctor was pretty humble about it, saying she hasn’t cooked in a while because of her crazy schedule.

As they sit next to each other, Irene thinks of the progress she and Wendy have made since the first time they’ve met again.

Aside from that moment they had in the kitchen and when they got papped for the first time, they’ve never really had a moment alone. The few times they were left alone were forced and short.

She also notices how cautious Wendy is around her. She doesn’t start conversations and only talks to Irene when she needs to, or when the discussion calls for it.

She could even go as far as saying she interacts with Seulgi better despite the fact that they’ve just met. It hurts just a bit but then again, maybe that’s what you get when you turn down a (most likely) genuine invitation for a friendship on top of having a reputation to be an asshole.

All of that considered, she concludes that they’ve made no progress at all.

Maybe, Wendy is her karma. After all, the universe has a way of paying you back for all the things you did and maybe this is it. Maybe, she really is an asshole.

Maybe, they’re right about her.

“Hey,” Wendy’s voice interrupts her internal pity party.

“Yeah?”

“Joy and I are getting dessert. Do you want cake or ice cream?”

“Ice cream,” she blurts. Though a cake would also be good right now.

“Are you sure? You don’t sound sure.”

“I also want cake?” she says, or asks.

Wendy chuckles, “I’ll get you both. I’ll eat whatever you don’t pick. Sound good?”

“Okay.”

The doctor nods, “Gotcha.”

Joy and Wendy disappear to the kitchen which leaves her with Seulgi—and there’s a smile playing on her friend’s lips that’s just not sitting right with Irene.

“What?”

Still with that knowing smile, Seulgi says, “You’re acting weird.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are,” her friend insists. “You’re shy around Wendy.”

What?

“What?”

“You weren’t like this when it was just me and Joy. And you’re certainly not like this with Jennie and I.”

“I’m not shy around her.”

“What’s up with you two?”

Irene tries to recall the rules of their arrangement. Wendy wanted to tell Chanyeol and Joy but Jessica insisted that they’re the only ones she can tell about it to. Irene, on the other hand, has no intention of letting anyone know about… this. Except her sister of course, but said sister is dating her manager so it’s not like she had a choice.

It’s embarrassing enough to have to resort to this. But she also has all that high school stuff to deal with. Telling them about this lie will lead to them digging up some truths she’s not prepared to talk about so no, not even her bestfriends can know.

“Nothing’s up between us. Don’t say things like that.”

It’s all an act. It’s all an act. It’s all act.

She repeats it until her brain processes it.

“Okay, okay,” Seulgi concedes. “You just seem different around her. Not in a bad way. Just,” a pause, “different.”

.

Their conversations resume soon as Joy and Wendy return with their dessert.

Seulgi got herself a dark chocolate ice cream while Joy got herself a coffee-flavored one. Irene got her ice cream and is splitting the slice of tiramisu with Wendy who didn’t get any dessert at all because the sugar keeps her up and she needs to get up early tomorrow for her rounds.

The conversation flows smoothly amongst four of them. Probably to the eyes of an outsider, they’d seem like a normal group of friends having a really great night. And there’s a warmth that washes over Irene in that very moment.

She’s never had a moment like this with her friends in LA. They’re all great and Irene loves them but you know that feeling you get when you’re with people and it feels like everything is okay, and you don’t feel any pressures from your world outside? That’s exactly how this feels like. She’s not Irene, the rising Hollywood star.

She feels like Joohyun again.

Irene has spent eight years trying to fill this giant hole in her heart with fame and hardwork, and the paycheck that grows bigger and bigger every time she gets casted on a show. And yet, despite achieving the success she thought would fill this hole, she finds herself alone at night trying to find a word for the loneliness she’s feeling.

Maybe, having your dreams come true is just a slow, melting realization that it’s not what you thought it would be.

As a familiar SES song plays smoothly through the speakers around the café, Irene recognizes this feeling. Right now, she doesn’t feel that hole in her heart. Right now, she feels full and at peace—like she could sit there beside Wendy and all these people, and she’d be okay.

She wants to laugh at the irony because she’s sitting here beside a person she only got reconnected with to fake a relationship. There’s a café owner who she won’t even meet had the situations been a little different. And then there’s her bestfriend, a popular idol in an industry marred by the need to be perfect all the time.

Yet, somehow it fits.

Weird.

As she refocuses her attention back to her companions, she learns that Seulgi had asked about Wendy’s work. She could tell that Seulgi wasn’t only asking for small talk. She’s genuinely curious. Being a nerd herself, Science has always fascinated Seulgi.

Wendy starts talking about a patient that one of her attendees assigned to her. She’s a middle-aged woman who got her leg amputated because of severe trauma. She went in last week because she was feeling pain in the body part she no longer has. A phantom limb pain.

Joy and Seulgi are absorbing her words as Irene watches Wendy talk.

When she starts talking about the patient’s recommended course of treatment, Irene sees her eyes sparkle of something indescribable. You know what they say about people when they’re talking about something they’re passionate about? This is what they mean by that.

She doesn’t stutter. She sounds sure. She sounds like she cares.

She’s sincere, and concerned, and genuinely motivated to use what she knows to make sure this patient feels better. She wants to make sure that she goes home without the threat of feeling that pain again.

And it takes Irene’s breath away how Wendy just… glows.

It’s like Irene is 18 again and she sees Wendy up on that stage, hitting a very long high note and the crowd loses it. They jump and cheer for her but Irene remains seated, staring in awe at what just happened because that wasn’t just a talented girl nailing her part very well. That was a 17-year-old girl who wasn’t even old enough to experience whatever she was singing about and yet, she feels; and fights, and she sang with all of her heart and soul.

And Irene is just at a loss for words again.

That’s when she decides to take her phone out to film Wendy for her Instagram Story. The screen would never capture what the eyes see for real but it’s close. She captures about 10 seconds of Wendy just talking and puts the clip on mute.

She adds a caption: your mind fascinates me.

.

A few minutes later, Seulgi leaves and Joy escorts her to the front to keep people away from her. Patrons of Red Flavor have already recognized her and it’s probably the Tweets that got a couple of fans flocking over to the store.

Idol Kang Seulgi and Actress Bae Joohyun hanging out at a local coffee shop? That’s not an opportunity fans would pass up on.

“I’m leaving soon, too. Jessica is picking me up. She’s nearby.”

“I see,” Wendy nods as she stands up and starts clearing their table up. “Wait, we haven’t posted anything yet.”

Irene smiles, “I already did. I tagged you and Red Flavor.”

“Really?” Wendy asks, genuinely surprised. She fishes her phone from her pocket. She stares at her screen for a while as she clicks around her phone’s screen. “Oh, okay. You posted it already.”

Irene prays, to whatever higher power there is, that Wendy doesn’t pry about the caption. She was being melodramatic, okay?

After mulling over it for a second, Wendy pockets her phone.

“I’m next, right? We’re going on that amusement park thing and post a picture on my Insta.”

“Yeah, that’s the plan.”

Wendy only nods and continues with her task.

Irene thinks she should say something, apologize maybe. For what? She’s not sure. But she feels the urge to address that thing at the cafeteria a long, long time ago.

“Hey, Wendy.”

The doctor turns to her, “Yeah?”

“I—”

Wendy quirks an eyebrow at Irene’s stutter.

I’m sorry for being an ass and for not trusting you. I want to try again to be friends with you.

These are the words plaguing her mind. But instead she says, “Nothing. I just wanted to say thanks for accommodating Seul. I’m certain she had fun.”

It’s what she says because she’s really, really terrible with emotions.

“I’m sure Joy had the most fun. I think she has a crush,” Wendy says laughingly.

This makes Irene laugh as well. “Yeah, she definitely has a crush,” she utters, but she couldn’t tell whether she’s still talking about Joy.

Heh. A crush.

.

On the car ride home, Irene is seated next to Jessica on the backseat of her manager’s luxurious car. They’re with a driver and a sole security personnel, both of whom are silent.

Traffic isn’t particularly bad at this hour but it’s pretty slow. As she gazes outside, she can’t help but notice how alive Seoul is even at night. Every inch of the street is covered by lights and billboards—and the city feels fast.

Despite its shocking contrast with the overall environment in LA, Irene doesn’t feel threatened by it. It feels familiar. Seoul has definitely changed during the eight years she was away but parts and sparks of it still feel familiar. Maybe, this is what home feels like.

She feels her phone buzz. Instinctively, Irene pulls her phone out. Wendy has just sent her a message.

Did you mean what you said in your caption?

Irene feels her heart do that again. She doesn’t think she’ll ever get used to the way her body reacts to Wendy.

She takes a deep breath as she types up a reply. She thinks of clever ways she could respond to it. But she settles for something simple. She can do text messages. She’s not a mumbling mess behind a screen.

It wasn’t part of the script.

Gosh, she’s so dramatic.

“I have an update for you,” Jessica tells her, interrupting Irene’s internal struggle.

“About the thing on Saturday?”

Jessica nods, “You keep saying it’s a ‘thing’. I found out it’s actually a very important event in the nerd community. It’s like an Oscars for doctors.”

“What the—Joy said the exact same thing.”

Her manager shrugs, “Anyway, because it’s a very prestigious event, I wasn’t able to get Wendy an invite.”

Irene feels dejected, opening her mouth to say something but no words come out.

Jessica makes a face, “Wow. Is this really important to you?”

Irene sighs, almost stomping her foot, “I was trying to do something nice.”

“Well, I’m not done.”

The actress turns to Jessica so fast she thought she got whiplash. Hopeful, she says, “Just spill.”

Jessica chuckles, “I didn’t get Wendy an invite but I got you in with a plus one.”

Irene gasps, her heart beating against her chest. With a grin, she asks, “So, Wendy could still go?”

“Yes, it was hard bargaining with Yuri. But eventually, I got her to cave. We’ll just have to announce your collaboration with keenlens by Thursday so no one will be shocked that you’re attending the thing on Saturday. They weren’t allowed to invite somebody randomly but with your ties to their company, they were able to add you last minute.”

“You’re brilliant, Jess.”

“It was all Yuri,” Jessica states. “So, you’re walking the red carpet with Wendy—”

“The what?”

“The red carpet.”

She was so excited for Wendy’s opportunity to attend the event that she forgot the part where it is a public event and they’ll be seen together and—oh God.

A victorious smile appears on her manager’s face and that’s where it gets scarier, “Think about it. It’s your first event together and it’s not your event. It’s a doctor’s thing and you’re there, and then people will read into it.  They’ll say you care about her stuff. It fits the narrative so well, Jesus.”

It scares Irene how she was able to turn this whole thing into their favor.

Jessica continues, “The connection to the collaboration will be there but trust me, no one will be talking about that once they see you and Ms. Son together. I’m already shaking in anticipation.”

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

She doesn’t say anything anymore, her mind is just playing different scenarios. A public event. Two people pretending to have a blossoming relationship. Wendy’s family.

This is starting to get more and more complicated and God!

Fake-dating Son Seungwan could either be the best decision she made in her life. Or the worst.

/

Chapter Text

/

THANK GOD IT’S [PITY PARTY] FRIDAY

Wendy often wonders if the universe’s number one goal is to set her up for failure.

When she first agreed to this arrangement, she thought, how hard can it possibly be?

Taking pictures with Irene and getting seen in events with Irene would be the small cost she’d pay for attracting new customers to Red Flavor. If it goes well, the actress gets the role and she gets to buyout the building owner. It was simple enough.

Besides, after all that she’d been through, she doubts there’s something else that would shake her core.

Fake dating Irene Bae? It was supposed to be this simple, linear thing where nothing goes wrong and everybody wins.

But guess what? The devil has other plans.

Ring!

Her phone rings for what feels like the hundredth time that day. She fishes it from her pocket and when she sees the name Irene Bae on the caller ID, she hits the Decline button and puts the phone back into her pocket. She lets out an irritated huff in the process.

“I see we’re still ignoring the giant elephant in the hospital,” Jisoo comments, eyeing Wendy’s phone laid on top of the table before looking back up at Wendy who is certainly not eating her food, just picking at it with her chopsticks.

They’re having lunch by the busy cafeteria of the hospital where everything moves in such a fast pace. Nobody is having a break even when they’re having a break. Something about it calms Wendy down.

At least the world has bigger problems.

Wendy only shrugs, not addressing Jisoo or the elephant in the hospital.

“Okay, I can respect that,” her friend nods, and then decides to move on to the next topic. “Anyway, do you already know whose service you’ll be on staring Monday?”

Wendy squints at her friend, “No.”

Jisoo is a third-year resident; and one of the only two people who didn’t run for the hills after learning who she is.

See, being a Son has had its fair share of pros and cons. Right now, it has more cons than pros.

When they hear about the family name, the expectations soar unbelievably high. That’s what happens when you come from a long line of doctors who’ve done some really revolutionary work.

The family name alone carries so much power and reputation which makes it tough because all Wendy wants to do is cure people, to help people; to keep families and couples together. And if there’s even just an ounce of intelligence she got from her father, she wants to use that to make sure nobody goes through the pain she experienced.

She doesn’t want the expectations that comes with her family name but she has long made peace with the fact that this is going to be her life forever.

So she learned about the next best thing and that is to surround herself with people who see past the name; people who see really see Wendy.

Jisoo is one of those people.

They’ve met on Wendy’s first day as an intern and though they’ve only known each other for less than a year, Wendy could tell they’re going to be friends for a long time. She’s funny and brilliant, and best of all, she gets Wendy.

She doesn’t ask a lot of questions, doesn’t expect Wendy to have all the answers. The only expectation she has of Wendy is to bring her lunch every Friday; and Wendy’s gotten used to preparing any chicken recipe she could think of just to cheer the other doctor up.

The ER is a battlefield, Wendy.

“You’re on your last three months as an Intern, Dr. Son,” she drags on the honorifics playfully. “You can’t get comfortable in Pediatrics.”

“I’m not comfortable there,” Wendy argues, eyes wide in sheer terror. “At all.”

Jisoo scrunches her nose, “Is it the kids? I hate kids.”

“No, it’s not even the kids. It’s the adults.”

“The parents?”

“No!” Wendy throws her hands in the air out of sheer frustration. “The doctors. The attendings.”

“Ah,” Jisoo nods, probably also remembering who Wendy’s been working with for the last few months. “I heard they’re terrors.”

“They are.”

“Well, just your luck, you’re on Dr. Im’s service starting Monday.”

Wendy’s eyes grow wide, “What?”

Jisoo nods, “Apparently, the attendings do the kai bai bo where the winner gets to choose which resident they want in their service. Dr. Im chose you.”

Wendy pauses to think. She and Dr. Im are quite close, having known the older doctor through Naeun a few years back. She’s the other person, apart from Jisoo, that keeps her sane in this place. She sighs, “Of course, she would. We’re—”

“Not because you’re friends. She never picked me ever and we’ve known each other forever. She thinks I walk slow.”

Wendy laughs, nodding, “Yeah, you are a slow walker.”

Jisoo rolls her eyes, “Looks like you’re on Trauma for the next three months.”

“But I’m an intern?”

“The only intern in the Surgical Department. They can’t exclude you.”

“Why would Dr. Im even pick me?”

“Wendy, give yourself some credit. Even if you’re basically a mess in all the other aspects of your life, you’re calm in very stressful situations. The ER is perfect for people like you.”

“That’s a compliment but also an insult.”

“A complisult, exactly.”

“And you’re still in Cardio?”

“I’m still in Dr. Lee Donghae’s service. At this rate, I’m going to be in Cardio forever.”

Their conversation is interrupted when Wendy’s phone rings again. Wendy lets out a sigh before she looks at her phone, sees the same caller from earlier, and hits the Decline button once again.

“I learned the hard way that nothing good comes out of ignoring your phone calls.”

“I want time to stop and just, you know, let me not deal with it,” Wendy sighs, her eyes never leaving her tray of food.

“You know what,” Jisoo says, struggling between words as she tries to chew the last bit of food left in her mouth, “I don’t get you at all.”

Wendy doesn’t even bother to say anything. She lets the cafeteria’s noise drown out her thoughts.

She thinks it’s funny how everyone just seems to just go on with their lives around her while her world feels like it’s slowly losing its balance, tipping over and almost shaking Wendy on the process.

Jisoo continues, “You said you wanted to go and now that you have an invite, you actually turned it down.”

“You don’t understand.”

“Try me,” her friend challenges, the stern look on her face tells Wendy she’s not kidding around.

“I—” she sighs, “It’s just not how I wanted to show up there, you know.”

Jisoo only looks at her as if willing her to continue.

“They’re honoring my dad and my whole family will be there, and I’m there as somebody’s date. It feels—”

“What?”

“Wrong.”

“Just last week, you were whining about not being able to go and also just last week you said you’d do anything to get in—what happened to that?”

“I know I should be thankful that the odds seemed to have worked in my favor for the first time in my entire life but I just—” another sigh, “I don’t want people to talk about me or my relationship with Irene Bae. I just want to be my father’s daughter.”

“You’re always going to be your father’s daughter,” Jisoo states matter-of-factly. “Only this time, you happen to be dating an international superstar.”

“We’re not dating,” Wendy mutters absent-mindedly. Suddenly recalling the terms of their arrangement, she quickly adds, “At least not yet.”

Jisoo grins, “So you two are like, a thing, but not yet a full thing?”

“Is this really the time to gossip?”

The other doctor shrugs, “You started it. I’ve been dying to get intel since I saw you on Irene’s Instagram. I was just scrolling through my feed and imagine my surprise when I saw your face on Irene’s account. I was like, holy shit, my friend actually has life outside of work.”

“You follow her? You don’t even follow me.”

Jisoo laughs, “I already see you everyday. I don’t want to see your face on my screen when I’m relaxing on my off days.”

“Touché.”

“I’m very smart.”

Wendy manages a small smile, grateful for Jisoo’s sense of humor that never fails to cheer her up.

“Look, Wendy,” Jisoo starts, her expression changing from playful to serious.

“Here we go,” Wendy braces herself. “You have your serious unnie face on.”

Jisoo rolls her eyes good-naturedly, “I’m just saying that this is an extraordinary chance for you to be there. All the doctors here would probably date just about anybody to even get the chance to breathe the same air as the doctors in that event. I literally heard Dr. Ok say this the other day.”

Wendy only listens. It’s not like she doesn’t already know these things.

Jisoo continues, “I know how much you hate it when Dr. Im and I say it but you’re a Son. You have every right to be there and honor your father’s work. I didn’t know him but from your stories, I’m sure he loved you very much and you being there, it’s what he would have wanted. No tragedy could ever change that. Not even your mother.”

This is where she actually softens up.

You have every right to be there.

She hasn’t felt like this in a long while. Maybe, that’s what she needed to hear.

Sensing that she hit a nerve, Jisoo lets out a satisfied smile. “Take the next call she makes,” the doctor advises. “Listen, maybe. Don’t be an ass.”

Wendy doesn’t say anything, still contemplating her choices. Part of her wishes Irene would call again.

Jisoo was about to switch topics again when the double doors to the cafeteria swing open, and in comes running one of the nurses from the Surgical Department. He runs toward where Wendy and Jisoo are seated.

He comes to a full stop in front of them, heaving and struggling to catch his breath. He has drawn a significant amount of attention from the other people in the cafeteria.

“Park Jisung, what are you doing here making a scene?” Jisoo asks, eyeing the nurse comically. The three of them are quite familiar with each other. They work with each other often so there’s an air of familiarity.

He breathes heavily as he looks around and gestures to everyone apologetically.

Jisung bows to the two women before speaking up. He turns to Wendy, “Front desk is paging you. You gotta go there real quick.”

“Is there an emergency? I’m not on ER today.”

“No emergency,” he says. “There’s somebody waiting for you at the hospital lobby.”

“Who?”

He continues to breathe heavily.

“Aish!” Jisoo whines, running out of patience. “Who is it?”

“Irene Bae.”

“What?” Wendy shrieks.

Jisoo grins in excitement.

Jisung nods, “Irene Bae is waiting for you at the lobby.”

Motherfucker.

.

The walk to the lobby was surprisingly short but still just as agonizing. The moment she turns the corner leading to the front desk, she sees a scene she didn’t imagine witnessing in her entire life.

Irene Bae, rising Hollywood star and currently the reason of her stress, is standing right in the middle of her workplace. She looks out of place even though she’s just in her everyday clothing—a plain white shirt and pair of faded jeans, topped with a gray, checkered coat and a pair of black ankle boots. Her dark hair is let down and Wendy doesn’t miss the pair of round eyeglasses the woman is wearing.

The look suits her but of course she isn’t about to say that out loud because her heart rate is going thrice the normal rate and wow, can the ground just open up and swallow her right now because—

“Dr. Son,” a voice calls out her name just before she gets to Irene. She turns to her left and sees Dr. Im Yoona, standing behind the front desk with a knowing grin on her face. “You have a visitor.”

“The elephant in the hospital,” Jisoo adds, snickering and almost choking on air. “She’s actually in the hospital. Oh my gosh.”

“Yeah, I just—” Wendy manages a tight-lipped smile. She gestures towards the general direction of where Irene is.

“Yeah, you go deal with that,” Jisoo encourages her but Wendy doesn’t miss the tone laced with so much teasing that she knows she won’t hear the end of it come tomorrow.

Wendy lets out a sigh, her hands balling to a fist at her sides.

Which part of no gimmicks at the hospital was hard to understand? She said it in Korean and in English for good measure—and yet, here they are: in the middle of the hospital lobby and Wendy can’t lash out because they’re supposed to be in the pre-dating stage and Jessica said that this is the point in the timeline where they’re both supposed to be really smitten with each other and can’t stop thinking about each other—and God! It’s hard to be like this when you’re mad and seething, and just absolutely—

“What are you doing here?” Wendy asks as she gets to Irene. She tries to say it in the most neutral way possible.

Her friends and colleagues are here. Hospital staff, nurses, fellow doctors, and even the families of the patients she sees on her rounds—they’re here, they’re trying to be subtle about looking but they’re looking.

“You weren’t picking up.”

“For a reason.”

“Is there somewhere private we could talk?”

“Oh yeah, sure, let me just use my office because I’m an intern and I totally have my own office—”

“You can use my office,” somebody interrupts from behind Wendy.

She shifts on her feet until she’s on Irene’s side, facing the owner of the voice. It’s Yoona and Jisoo—standing next to each other. They’re grinning in this bizarre way. It’s as if they have the upper hand in this situation.

Seeing them, Irene immediately bows.

Jisoo smiles, “Hi, I’m Kim Jisoo. I work with Wendy and we’re also friends.”

The resident extends her hand and Irene returns the gesture, shaking the other doctor’s hand, “Irene.”

YoonA shakes the actress’ hand as well, “I’m Yoona. They call me Dr. Im when we pretend that we respect each other.”

Irene manages a laugh and Wendy notices how she relaxes immediately, as if the tension from earlier has dissipated from her body.

Wendy forces a smile, “She was just leaving.”

“What?” Jisoo asks, “She just got here.”

Irene nods, “Yeah, I just got here.”

“Are you two fighting?” Yoona asks, carefully eyeing Wendy and Irene.

Wendy swallows an invisible lump in her throat, “What? No. I—” she stutters, “I just—”

“I caught her by surprise, is all,” Irene jumps in, her voice soft and apologetic. She completes it with a smile. “I’m sorry for causing a scene.”

It wasn’t entirely a lie. She did catch Wendy by surprise but the doctor guesses it’s the actress kicking in. It’s too polished, too practiced to be real.

“Oh, no,” Yoona shakes her head. “That’s fine. Wendy just doesn’t get a lot of visitors so that’s where the surprise actually is.”

Jisoo nods, “I mean, apart from you being Irene Bae.”

Wendy’s two friends laugh at it and Irene manages a small laugh as well—and suddenly, Wendy is lost. Why isn’t everybody seeing how serious this situation is? They weren’t supposed to bring this lie here.

Soon as the laughs die down, Irene turns to Wendy and manages a shy smile, “I just wanted to see you.”

She says it so softly that it makes Wendy’s breath hitch. Irene is looking at her like she means it, like she missed her; and God, Wendy’s entire body almost believes it. Wow.

Acting.

Wendy physically shakes her head, hoping to shake her thoughts away. She swallows again as she turns to Yoona. Muttering under her breath, she pleads, “Can we really use your office to talk? It won’t take long and I swear it wouldn’t happen again.”

“Pfft—” Yoona dismisses with a huff, as if it’s no big deal, “I hardly use that office. Go. You know where it is.”

Wendy nods, taking Irene’s hand as she leads her to the elevators. She swears she heard Jisoo giggle.

Send help, please.

.

Soon as they make it inside Dr. Im’s office, Wendy slams the door behind her.

“What the hell, Irene?” she snaps, glaring at the other woman. “Was I not clear when I specifically and so nicely articulated that I don’t want any gimmicks here?”

“You weren’t picking up! How was I supposed to reach you?”

“I don’t know? Don’t try at all?” Wendy argues. “When a person you’re calling isn’t picking up after many attempts, it means they don’t want to talk to you.”

“Why?”

Wendy was about to open her mouth to say something but no words come out. Why is she mad at Irene in the first place?

“Why are you avoiding me?” Irene asks again when the doctor wouldn’t speak up.

“Oh my gosh,” Wendy mutters. She wants to pace around the room but the office is small, just enough for a desk and a couple of chairs, a wall for scans, and a file cabinet. “You really have no understanding of the world outside of your own, do you?”

“What?”

“Is this a joke to you?” Wendy asks, voice laced with accusation.

A genuine look of hurt crosses Irene’s face, like she really doesn’t understand Wendy at all.

Wendy lets out a heavy sigh, “My father’s legacy, this whole event—is this a joke to you?”

“What? No—”

“Because it may just be another one of those opportunities for you? But this is my life, Irene.”

Silence.

Irene is just looking at her like this is confusing for her, too. Wendy’s heart feels like it’s being ripped apart in pieces because the memory of her dad still haunts her sometimes; and then there’s Irene, who she can’t figure out. Irene, or Joohyun, who didn’t want any business with her in high school; who she’s fake-dating now for reasons that at this moment seem so small. And when will she stop making bad decisions?

She feels the tears pooling at her eyes.

No. No. No.

She can’t cry in front of Irene.

Wendy lets out another breath, stepping back and putting a healthy amount of distance between her and the actress. She gestures with her hands in surrender, “I just don’t think you understand how important this is to me. For you to just decide that this is going to be part of the lie we’re telling and I—”

She stops her speech altogether, now breathing heavily. She thinks she’s having a meltdown.

“And I am in pain,” Wendy concludes. Her tears finally fall, and she is quick to wipe them off with the back of her hand.

Irene suddenly looks like a big realization just hit her.

When she wouldn’t say anything, Wendy continues, “Look, I know you want this whole thing to work so bad but I just—it hurts, okay? It hurts.”

Irene covers her face with both of her hands, sighing heavily as she takes a seat on the nearest chair she could grab.

“I—” her voice cracks and as she pulls her hands away from her face, Wendy could see Irene’s lips trembling. “I—I’m sorry.”

“What?”

“I didn’t even think about that,” Irene says, her voice low with guilt. “I just—” she actually stutters.

Wendy could sense Irene’s struggle of getting her words out. It’s like she’s trying to think of what to say next or how she’s going to say it.

However, in a matter of moments, she sees Irene square her shoulders up. It’s as if she gathered an insane amount of courage to say the next few words, “I knew it would mean a lot to you. From the brief time that we’ve reconnected, you’ve always spoken so highly of your father and contrary to what you said, I do understand how important this is for you. I get it.”

She says it softly and gently, like she means it; her voice is low, as if the imaginary glass around her would break if she talks to loud. For a moment there, Wendy catches a sight of the girl she met on the first day of high school.

Joohyun.

Something stirs in Wendy’s stomach seeing her like this.

You know how when you’re trying to remember a place and something sticks out—as if that memory is incomplete without it. Like that old lady you see watering her plants in the morning when you’re walking to school. Or the old man who owns the store where you buy your snacks during weekends. Or the kind, homeless man you happen to pass by when you go to church.

They aren’t the people you have memories of but they complete a picture—and that’s exactly what Joohyun is to Wendy. All those years of nursing a hopeless crush that never turned into anything because maybe that’s what happens when lines are drawn early.

Yeah. She knew it was a crush soon as she saw Joohyun walking by herself. It was odd and unusual but Wendy felt a spark soon as they started talking. Wendy doesn’t believe in love at first sight but she believes in that spark.

But then again, that spark never turned into a fire. So.

“I didn’t think much of it until Jessica mentioned it. I didn’t do it for the show.”

Hold on, so Irene was sincere about this whole thing?

The doctor waits for Irene to continue. She could tell the actress has more to say but it also seems like she’s closing herself in.

They’re silent for a while, both women absorbing everything they’ve learned today about their situation, about themselves.

Wendy lets out a heavy sigh as she walks over to Irene and takes a seat across her. The room is cold and dark, and it somehow matches the mood they’re in. The doctor doesn’t know how to process this.

Was she too committed to painting Irene as the bad guy that she didn’t even stop to consider her true intentions? What is her actual problem with Irene, really?

This whole thing is confusing because why would even Irene do that for Wendy? Why would she bother? They’re not exactly friends.

Why would she care?

When Wendy wouldn’t speak up, Irene turns to her. “I could call Jessica and cancel. Do you want me to cancel?” she asks, now putting the ball on Wendy’s hands. After all, this is about Wendy.

The doctor studies Irene for a moment. She weighs her options but eventually, she actively chooses to believe her. It’s a decision Wendy makes, to believe in the best out of people.

“I’m sorry for being an ass,” she blurts.

Irene looks up at her, a hint of recognition slowly appearing on her face.

Wendy sighs, shaking her head as if she’s trying to shake everything out of her system, “It’s unfair of me to lash out on you. I’m sorry.”

A smile slowly appears on Irene’s face, “What?”

“Don’t make me repeat it.”

Irene shrugs playfully, “I didn’t hear it.”

Whatever tension or somber mood was in the air earlier, it’s all gone now.

Wendy once again swallows an invisible lump in her throat. That’s probably her pride. “I’m sorry I was an ass,” she repeats.

Irene chuckles, managing a small, genuine smile, “I could’ve consulted you first. I guess I didn’t realize I was ambushing you.”

Silence wraps around them comfortably for a few seconds. It amazes Wendy what talking could do.

In that moment, Wendy decides to take a chance. “Let’s do it,” she says, determined to face this head on. “Let’s show up.”

“Are you sure?”

Wendy nods, sporting a look of slight horror, “I’m a little scared and I feel like I’m going to throw up but all things considered, I’m fine. I’m sure.”

Irene nods, “I’ll be there with you. I mean it’s not much, but I could throw a mean punch if you want me to.”

This time, the doctor actually smiles, “No punching.”

“No punching,” Irene repeats, nodding.

“Hold on, I don’t have a dress yet.”

“Bold of you to assume Jessica hasn’t picked one for you yet.”

They’re not friends, not really. But there’s a spark.

.

SHOW TIME SATURDAY

By the time the limousine comes to a full stop, Wendy is sure she’s about to have a panic attack.

She’s thinking of a gazillion reasons to run, to not go through with this ridiculous plan but deep down, she knows that there’s no turning back now. Unless of course something happens. For example, she seizes for no reason, or she bangs her head on the car’s window and she blacks out for 10 hours—no, no, that would be disastrous. She’d probably have damaged her brain if she did that and then, that’s a whole new problem on its own.

And wow, how is she able to come up with new problems to escape another problem? It must be a skill and she must be really good at it.

“Are you okay?” Irene interrupts her internal rambling.

“Irene, I’m a cat,” she says heavily and… randomly.

“Oh,” Irene is looking at her like she doesn’t understand at all. That’s okay, Wendy doesn’t understand what she just said either. “Okay? Cat.”

“I… create…” she says slowly, “….emergency situations to get out of stuff.”

“What?”

“I will climb a tree and when I can’t climb down, I will create an emergency situation.”

“I’m not following.”

“I’ve thought about ten different ways to jump out of this car during the 20 minutes we were in transit.”

Irene chuckles, “Or you could just tell the driver to stop.”

Wendy shakes her head, making a face, “Not the point.”

Irene only shrugs.

The doctor observes the girl sitting next to her.

Irene is calm and collected. It’s like she’s been doing this all her life. Well, she has been attending red carpet events her entire life but that’s besides the point.

Wendy was about to start rambling again when her phone buzzes. It’s probably their group chat again. She fishes her phone from her small pouch and checks her notifications.

Seohyun: Don’t trip on the red carpet.
Joy: She probably will though.
Yerim: 5000 won says she trips.
Chanyeol: Weak. 10,000 won says she trips on her own feet.
Joy: 20k says she will trip on her own feet and then drag Irene along with her.

The rest of the chat goes on with just all her friends trying to come up with scenarios where Wendy eventually embarrasses herself. It’s funny because she’s used to it and it’s not like she hasn’t given them any reasons to make speculations like this.

She’s had a number of embarrassing moments in public. Sometimes, it’s completely just self-sacrifice to make her friends laugh; most days, she’s just really clumsy and totally a rambling mess in front of people.

Wendy doesn’t respond to their messages, too caught up in the fact that in about a few minutes, she’s about to step out as Son Seungwan: doctor, daughter of two of the most influential doctors in the history of South Korea, and a potential love interest for a popular Hollywood actress.

Sometimes, Wendy wonders who the fuck is writing her life story because this is just a disaster waiting to happen.

In another chat window, Joy sends her a message.

Hey. I know I clown you a lot but you know that I love you, right? Don’t screenshot this. I will deny this and probably move somewhere without Internet. To Hawaii, maybe.

Wendy manages a laugh. Of course, Joy loves her. She never doubted that.

They’ve known each other since they were eight, been through a lot of shit together; whether Joy likes it or not, she’s stuck with Wendy for life.

She responds in an instant. I’m so nervous.

Joy is also quick to respond. It’s going to be a disaster, Wan. But if it’s any consolation, you’ve been through worse stuff.

Wendy doesn’t miss the way her friend uses her childhood nickname. It’s sweet; and it’s obvious Joy knows when to use it. She sends a reply. Oddly comforting.

She sees the three dots moving indicating that her friend is typing up a response but before she could read Joy’s reply, a knock on their tinted window grabs her attention. It’s their go signal. They’re about to step out of the vehicle into the red carpet.

Wendy feels a hand on her arm; a slight, comforting touch that somehow calms Wendy down.

“Are you ready?” Irene asks, her gaze meeting Wendy’s.

Wendy doesn’t look away, “No.”

Irene gives her a small, genuine smile, “I got you.”

They’re not friends, not really.

But in that moment, Wendy believes her.

.

It’s Wendy who steps out first.

Soon as she steps out of the vehicle, she feels all eyes on her. Cameras start clicking in her direction, the flashes blinding her just a bit. She could see them all whispering about her and she knows they’re talking about how this is the first time they’re seeing the youngest Son at a public event.

She wasn’t there when the new exclusive wing at their hospital opened. She wasn’t there when Jongin was announced as the new Chairman and CEO of the hospital. She also wasn’t there when her mother was awarded a lifetime achievement award for a surgery she did.

Her family’s press release has always been consistent: their heiress is a very private person, opting to live a life away from the spotlight. Wendy’s been okay with that, thankful for the lack of drama.

But today she’s here; for whatever that means, she wants to be really here.

Wendy is wearing a black, off-shoulder tea-length evening dress. The top part hugs her small figure well while the wide bottom part of the dress completes the simple, yet elegant vibe. She’s wearing a nude-colored pair of high heels, her short hair up in a low-bun. The look is finished by a pair of pearl earrings, her light makeup accentuated by a blush and a subtle tint of dark eyeshadow.

She remembers Jessica raving about her look. Of course, there were a couple of well-mannered insults here and there but that’s not something that unnerves Wendy. You don’t look like you, Wendy. That’s always been our goal.

A couple of beat passes and it was finally time for Irene to step out. Nobody knows they’ll be attending the event as a pair.

Wendy extends her hand to Irene who takes it gently as she steps out of the car.

Soon as the cameras start clicking toward Irene, that’s only when Wendy truly sees how she looks tonight. She was too preoccupied earlier to really care about anything aside from her impending doom but looking at Irene right now, Wendy can’t quite believe she’s real.

Irene decided to match Wendy’s black dress with the same color but hers is a lacy, form-fitting dress that ends just a little short of her knees. The arms are covered by the laced sleeves but her legs are perfectly exposed with a pair of stilettos that effectively completes the sexy and sultry look. Her hair is let down on one side, exposing a jawline that could probably end Wendy just by looking at it. She’s beautiful—that’s all Wendy could say.

But what takes Wendy’s breath away is the confidence that Irene so effortlessly exudes. Soon as she stepped out of the car, Wendy instantly sees her change. She’s replaced by this seemingly perfect, no-nonsense woman who knows who she is and who carries herself with such dignified self-assurance that makes it hard to look away.

It’s probably not a good time to drool.

Irene captures the room naturally and judging by the way the photographers are screaming her name and asking for her attention, Wendy is sure she’s not the only one taken by her. At this point, if Irene asked her to jump, she’d ask how high and then she’ll jump even higher than what was asked of her.

It’s the way her dress hugs her figure, or the way her lips are slightly pursed, or the way her gaze switches from one direction to another—whatever it is, it makes Wendy’s breath hitch. Whatever it is, it’s sending Wendy a sensation at the pit of her stomach; something she hasn’t felt in a long time.

They get the cue to walk the red carpet and that’s when Irene turns to her, their hands still gently linked together. The actress smiles at her, one that reaches her eyes and Wendy… Wendy melts just a bit.

It’s like on that first day of high school, when she felt her heart drop and she felt taken.

Side-by-side, they walk the red carpet, stopping in the middle as prying eyes and cameras follow them closely. With her heels, Wendy stands a bit taller than Irene and it weirdly makes sense. As the actress slides her arm around Wendy’s waist to pull her closer, Wendy notices how fitting it feels; how all of it feels easy like coming home at the end of a very long day; how Irene pressed close to her just makes sense.

Wendy doesn’t question it, doesn’t make much of it. But this time, she feels that spark catch a bit of a fire.

.

The red carpet walk passes quickly.

Irene carried them both through most of it. She led the whole façade—the way she gripped at Wendy’s hand, the ways she subtly pivots them to another direction, or the way she reminds Wendy to smile. But what stood out the most was the way Irene’s hand never left hers, a constant warmth that reminded Wendy that they’re in it together. It sucked and Wendy’s not used to the attention but Irene being there made the whole thing bearable.

For a moment, Wendy wonders what the photos look like. She pushes the thought away because she knows her friends will be feasting on it tomorrow.

She’ll probably take a look at them, too. Just out of curiosity, of course.

.

Everything else passes in an agonizing blur.

Soon as they were led to their seats, Irene introduces her to Kwon Yuri, CEO of keenlens, a brand of contact lenses that Irene’s apparently endorsing now. The tea is really with the fact that the CEO had a history with Jessica and Irene almost smacks her head for asking too much questions. It’s just that Yuri isn’t anything like Tiffany at all and it got Wendy curious.

What? She needed something she can use against Jessica. Imagine getting the upper hand against the smartest, evilest, most intimidating woman in the world.

Aside from that, the night is so far uneventful. It’s a dinner-ceremony so they were seated in round tables with a fancy five-course meal setup.

There were a couple of boring and predictable opening remarks. There was a video presentation of the most cutting edge, most daring surgeries and medical discoveries that happened in the last decade. Nothing has been out of the ordinary. Even the people who knew her father and had the audacity to ask about how she is—it’s something she already expected. Thankfully they were polite enough not to ask why she wasn’t sitting by the Son family table at the front.

From where she is, she could see where her entire family is seated. It’s been a while since she’s last seen them. Her mom, four years ago. Jongin and Naeun, two years ago.

She thought it would hurt seeing them seated very far away with no empty chair reserved for her. But she feels nothing, not even a tiny pinch. It’s quite unexpected and at the back of Wendy’s mind, she’s still waiting for the other shoe to drop; but right now, she’s thankful that the storm hasn’t come yet.

As several other awards are being given, Wendy chooses to watch the girl beside her. Irene seems comfortable even though Wendy has already noticed people looking her way and recognizing her. She knows how to react to people when they approach her. She knows how to engage with the three people they share the table with even though it’s the first time she’s met them.

Of course, Wendy already knew this. She’s an actress and has attended events like this her whole life. She knows how to operate in situations like this the same way Wendy knows how to do a perfect continuous suture.

Still it surprises Wendy how easy Irene does it, how natural she is at it. It’s when Wendy realizes that she really doesn’t know a lot about the other girl’s world. She knows bits and pieces, knows about the stretches they’d go to land a role; and yet, she’s clueless about what it takes to face the world with a smile that never falters.

She makes a mental note to ask Irene about it someday but for now, color her impressed.

Wendy appreciates how Irene doesn’t even look bored. She listens and asks questions when the terms get too technical, or when the doctors who come up on stage become too smug. She teases Wendy about the nerdy jokes but she doesn’t make fun of her for laughing too hard she almost chokes.

It’s almost like she’s trying to understand whatever she can take from Wendy’s world. She even asks Wendy to explain one joke that truly brought the house down and the doctor spends almost ten minutes trying to tell her why it’s funny.

Under normal circumstances, this would’ve been an okay night.

But you see, it was only boring until it wasn’t anymore.

.

“Seungwan,” she hears an all-too familiar voice calling her by the name she hasn’t used in years.

It’s dinner time and naturally, everyone uses this opportunity to roam around and mingle. The first thing she does is panic internally.

Where are the people they’re sitting with? Those three people are suddenly nowhere to be seen, leaving a lot of room in the table for whoever wants to join them or talk to them.

The second thing she does is imagine the situation as the emergency room. Somebody’s going to die if she doesn’t react in a calm and collected manner. She gathers herself, takes a deep breath, and then stands to face the person who had just called her attention.

“Oppa,” Wendy bows, showing a sign of respect for Jongin.

He studies her, eyes scanning Wendy for any hint of remorse or anger, or perhaps any clue as to what she’s thinking. He’s way taller than Wendy but it’s not the height that’s so scary about him. It’s not the fancy three-piece, all-black suit or the brushed-up hair.

There’s something about him that just makes you feel unwelcome and it’s weird seeing him like this. Wendy (Seungwan) remembers him as the playful older brother who liked to tease her and play pranks on her. Jongin and Joy got along very well because they saw Wendy as an easy target. Now, he looks like someone Wendy barely knows.

It’s heartbreaking. It makes her wonder what would have happened if she stayed.

“I didn’t think I’d see you here.”

“I didn’t think I’d be here either.”

Omma would like to speak to you.”

“Then she can come here and talk to me herself.”

“We were able to secure a private room backstage.”

“For what? So you could all corner me and call me names again?”

“I’m trying, Seungwan.”

“Trying what?”

Okay, now she feels something.

Anger? Sadness? Who knows? All she knows is that she missed her brother but the guy in front of her is a robot, almost too mechanical to even come close to the brother she knew. She had expected there to be something, even just a little bit of warmth. No matter how far she had roamed from home, there’s always going to be a part of her that yearns for their love, their acceptance.

Without taking her eyes off her brother, she feels Irene move on her side. The other girl is now standing next to her, lacing their hands together.

What the fuck is she doing?

“Hi,” Irene opens, the smile on her face almost wiping out the tension between them. How does she do that?

He turns to Irene and politely bows. The actress does the same as she extends her hand to the guy. “I’m Irene, I’m came here with Seungwan,” she introduces herself—and Wendy doesn’t miss the name she used.

A lopsided smile graces her brother’s face. There it is, a glimpse of the brother she loved so much. He shakes Irene’s hand quickly then turns back to Wendy, “I’ve always admired your choices in life.”

What the fuck?

Irene chuckles and Wendy sees a blush creeping up her cheeks.

He turns back to Irene, “I’m Jongin. Aren’t you from the high school?”

Irene nods, “Yes. Seungwan and I went to Lee Sooman together.”

He smiles once again, like he cares; like he’s happy for whatever he thinks is developing in Wendy’s life; and God she missed him so much.

“I’m glad to see you healing,” he tells her; and Wendy believes him. He’s the one who carried her home the night Rosé passed. That’s something she can’t ever change or erase, or forget.

Jongin was about to say something when somebody blazes past him and engulfs Wendy in a big hug.

Yeodongsaeng!

It’s Naeun—and despite herself, Wendy can’t help but relax to her touch.

As her older sister pulls away, the older girl grabs Wendy by the shoulders, holding her in place as she eyes her from head to toe. Then she turns to Irene, “You got her to dress up.”

Irene manages a small laugh.

Everything always happens so fast with Naeun.

Her sister extends her hand to Irene, “I’m Naeun. I’m sure you already know that.”

Irene bows, “I’m Irene.”

“I know!” Naeun nods enthusiastically. “Doctors from my surgical unit at Asan showed me the articles.” The older woman turns back to Wendy, “Are you dating now?”

“What? I—” Wendy stutters. It’s always Naeun who throws her off her game.

“No,” Irene smiles and then adds, “At least not yet.”

The script. Wendy recalls how Jessica crafted all of this.

Naeun’s eyes are wide as she tells Wendy, “What’s taking you so long?”

“Stop saying things like that, unnie,” Wendy tells her, embarrassed.

Irene and Naeun laugh. Wendy could swear she saw Jongin break into a smile.

Naeun speaks up again. God, she just wouldn’t stop. “Welcome to the family,” she tells Irene and Wendy almost chokes.

Irene chokes out a laugh as well but this one’s a bit panicked. This is the first time tonight that Wendy saw her resolve get shaken up. Wendy should’ve known it would be Naeun who cracks Irene’s façade.

Naeun points to herself, “I’m the good one. Seungwan is only mildly mad at me but he—” she pauses as she points to Jongin, “—he sided with Omma so he’s the bad guy.”

“Unnie, what are you doing?” Wendy asked, eyes wide and obviously scandalized.

Irene is just in a state of shock at this point.

Naeun shrugs, “Are we really going to pretend she doesn’t know? Or doesn’t have a slight bit of an idea?”

When Wendy wouldn’t answer, Naeun continues, “Anyway, the real boss evil is our mom. If you got married today, she’d be the evil mother-in-law. Not that she’d be invited to the wedding.”

Nobody says anything for a long time. All three of them—Jongin, Irene, and Wendy—are just standing there, each one has a look of unadulterated shock on their faces. Naeun could be so shamelessly blunt.

Naeun laughs at the way everyone’s looking at her. “You should see your faces,” she snickers. “Anyway,” she pauses and then her expression changes. She’s serious but not hostile, “Omma wants to speak with you.”

Wendy feels Irene take her hand again, squeezing it gently as if reminder her that she’s there.

I got you.

Wendy sighs, “What does she want from me? I’m just here to honor appa.

“Seungwan, you can’t keep shutting her out,” Jongin says.

“Watch me.”

Jongin huffs in frustration. He shakes his head and gives Wendy a final look of utter disappointment before he turns on his heels and walks away. Every step he takes away from Wendy breaks her heart but she’s used to this. When you’re treated like trash for so long, you start to get used to the feeling.

Naeun gives her a look.

“What?” Wendy shrugs.

“You’re too harsh on him.”

“Why aren’t you?”

“Because I’ve seen him struggle with all of this.”

“Well I struggled, too.”

That renders Naeun speechless.

Suddenly, the whole atmosphere has changed. They’re on opposite sides again. None of them says anything for a few seconds; Naeun processing the implications of what Wendy just said, while Wendy stands her ground.

It was a reminder of the days that her sister wasn’t there for her and the older woman knows it.

Irene clears her throat, “Hey, can you come with me to the bathroom? I think I need to fix my dress.”

Wendy nods absent-mindedly, looking away from her sister and then shifting to Irene. The actress communicates with her eyes, as if pleading for her to slow down.

“Okay.”

Irene turns to Naeun, “It was nice meeting you but we need to go.”

“Seungwan, don’t walk away,” is what Naeun says.

“It’s too late for that now, isn’t it?” Wendy snaps then lets herself be dragged by the hand toward the general direction of the bathroom.

Her heart is heavy with sorrow but something about the warmth of Irene’s hand on hers grounds her.

.

“Are you okay?” Irene asks her as they reach the bathroom. Irene lets her hand go for the time since they walked away from Naeun and Wendy can’t help but miss the feeling of their hands linked together.

“Yeah,” Wendy nods. “Considering all that just happened, I’m doing fine.”

“It’s almost over, anyway. After the dinner, they’re announcing the award for your father. And then it’s done.”

Wendy doesn’t say anything and only stares at herself in the mirror.

Irene stands awkwardly behind her, looking at her through the mirror. She doesn’t look like she feels pity for the situation Wendy is in but more like she’s concerned, as if she wants to do something to help her out.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“The punch is still on the table. I could just head over to their table and punch, I don’t know, who do you want me to punch?”

This time, Wendy laughs, “Stop it.”

Irene laughs with her, “I can only imagine the headlines.”

Wendy pauses to think, “Irene Bae punches Asan Medical Center Chairman and CEO for no particular reason.”

“I’ll survive that. Jessica will know what to do.”

“Jessica always knows what to do.”

“Some days, I’m so convinced that Jess only manipulated my sister into marrying her.”

Wendy chuckles, “I wouldn’t put it past her.”

Silence envelopes them for a while. It’s the comfortable kind and Wendy basks in it.

“Are you ready to go back now?”

“Yeah, one last stretch.”

Irene smiles, extending her hand to Wendy as if willing her to take it.

I got you.

She takes it because why the fuck not.

.

Moments later, Wendy finds herself watching another video presentation.

It narrates the journey his father went through to get the research done—the clinical trials, the amount of time he spent doing research on insulin levels, and the kind of passion he held to make sure kids never have to suffer. The video documents his hard work but more importantly, it speaks about the respect his coworkers have for him. There were a couple of testimonials about his work ethic but what stood out the most to Wendy was how everyone didn’t even talk about his intelligence or the revolutionary work he has done.

In the end, what they all talked about was his heart. He didn’t care about the prestige of the family name he carries.  He didn’t care about the money as much as he cared about what his hospital does with it. They all talked about how good of a man he was; and that his heart was what made him a great doctor.

In that moment, nothing else outside of Wendy’s world exists. It’s like she’s a kid again, looking up to her father as he talks about the vision he has for the hospital—for it to be a home where the ailing kids of South Korea can find a place that would fight for their lives, to fight the battles that are bigger than them.

For the first time since her father passed, the memory of him doesn’t make Wendy feel hollow. Instead, it makes her feel full. It makes her feel like all of it wasn’t for nothing.

After the video, they call for her mom to accept the award and give a short speech. Wendy can tell it comes from a script but she could also tell that it’s true. They did have a happy home when her father was still alive and before Wendy basically burned it all to the ground. Her mom is cold and condescending, but she wasn’t heartless.

If it was Wendy delivering the speech, she’ll talk about him being the only person who really understood her. He was her father, her mentor, her friend—and best of all he was her protector. When she was with him, she felt like nothing could hurt her.

The first thing he did when Wendy came out was hug her. He told her he loved her and that he didn’t understand but he was willing to listen, to be educated; to still be the man who walks Wendy down the altar no matter who she’s marrying. He even laughed and asked if there was a march happening soon.

“He seems like an amazing man,” Irene tells her, squeezing her hand under the table.

Wendy doesn’t know when hand-holding became a thing. But she understands that this night is big, not just in the scale of this lie, but just in Wendy’s life in general. She appreciates Irene being there. She appreciates the warmth she seems to radiate.

Right now, she doesn’t care if the girl is doing it for the show. She’d been here for Wendy the entire night and if it all happens to be a lie, then Wendy will gladly take it. She’d taken worse hits before. She can survive this.

She’ll wake up in the morning and maybe reevaluate her judgment but right now is more important than tomorrow.

“Hey,” Wendy calls out softly.

Irene turns to her, tearing her eyes away from the stage momentarily, “Hmm?”

Wendy sees Irene’s eyes glistening, as if she had been crying, too. It’s as if she cared. It puzzles Wendy to no end but right now, she once again chooses to believe the truths of this moment.

One, Irene is here. Two, Irene is the reason she was able to get in in the first place.

Third, Irene is here; and sometimes, all a person needs is someone who’s here.

“Thank you,” Wendy says, her heart beating loud and fast for reasons she doesn’t understand. It’s gratitude but it also feels like a surrender.

Irene manages a small smile, a blush creeping up her cheeks, “Don’t mention it.”

Both women turn their attention back to the stage.

Her mother’s speech is done and as they all rise to give her father a round of applause, she catches Naeun and Jongin’s eyes from across the room. Her siblings give her a small smile and a nod; and Wendy returns the gesture.

It’s a white flag. A ceasefire. It feels like a fresh start.

In the face of everything she’d lost, maybe some of it will manage to find their way back.

As this thought crosses her mind, her instincts reel back to the girl standing beside her.

Irene is glowing in this place, like it’s exactly where she belongs: right in the middle of Wendy’s world.

She shakes her head to shake the thought away.

Lord, help her.

Fake-dating Irene Bae could be the—

You know what?

Fake dating Irene Bae… isn’t so bad after all.

.

Chapter Text

/

Roughly Eight Years Ago
Los Angeles, CA

Two weeks ago, she had to bury her parents.

A week later, she had to pack her bags and move to a new country and start a different life.

‘It would be good for you’ is what she remembers Tiffany saying.

Irene believed her because despite her being so overly dramatic, her sister always has the best intentions at heart. Besides, there was nothing left for her in Korea. No lover, no friends to leave behind; and sometimes, Irene thinks that maybe it was the universe’s plan all along.

Maybe, the reason why she’d spent all these years alone was because the universe was preparing her for this—barely 20 years old, living a whole new life, and just trying to get through each day without crying.

She sighs for what could be nth time that day and it’s barely eight in the morning.

Looking at herself in the full-body mirror, she sees a doe-eyed version herself who seems to lack the edge she needs to make it to Hollywood. She’s heard about how tough it is to get in, how small her room of opportunity is, and it scares her how this all could mean nothing.

Maybe, she should have just stayed in South Korea.

Irene is not naïve. She knows she’s pretty. She knows what her face alone could be capable of in the Korean entertainment industry. She knows that given the right platform, all she’d need to do is smile and nod, and say yes to everyone around her.

She already had a photoshoot with the company that Tiffany works for. That photoshoot was a hit. They were willing to prepare her for a solo debut. They were willing to give her the world.

But is that really the life she wants?

When she left Daegu to go to school in Seoul, she thought she knew what she wanted. She thought she knew where she’s headed. But after what was basically a hellish high school experience and her parents’ death, everything she knew about her life suddenly changed.

It’s like everything is upside down and her world is hanging on its axis, ready to tip over and altogether fall apart. She needed a fresh start somewhere far away from all the pain.

After all, you cannot heal in the same environment that made you sick.

She told Tiffany all of this and her sister had been nothing but supportive. She pulled out whatever pending contract she had with the company and promised Irene that she would do anything to help get her a break in Hollywood.

(A few years later, the entertainment company Tiffany works for would face a massive lawsuit and that’s where she and her bestfriend would swoop in to take over the C-suite positions in the company. It would then be rebranded as CSY Entertainment and they will take the kpop world by storm.)

Tiffany would reach out to a friend who is based in Los Angeles: Jessica Jung, who was just starting her talent management firm.

(Irene would also learn much later that Jessica and Tiffany were each other’s greatest loves that didn’t work out at first. But they reconnected because of Irene and years later, they’d get back together. Sometimes, Irene finds peace in this. Maybe her tragedy can be somebody else’s opportunity.)

So that brings her to today, two weeks after her parents’ death; two weeks after high school. She’s prepping for her first Hollywood audition inside her own room in Jessica’s apartment somewhere in Downtown Los Angeles.

It’s a small room, the smallest out of the three rooms in the house. One’s for Jessica while the other room was converted into an office. The firm doesn’t have an office of its own yet and Jessica’s technically the only employee with two interns working for free.

(Later, Blanc & Eclare Talent Management will rise as one of the top talent management companies in Los Angeles.)

The room is small but ample, enough for a bed, a closet, and a vanity. She has a small study space by the corner of the room next to the large windows. Just like the rest of the house, her room’s design is simple yet elegant. The ceilings are white while the walls are painted with a color Jessica called taupe. It’s a light color that Irene can’t tell for sure if it belongs to the gray family or the brown family but nonetheless, it works. And it makes the entire room feel light and homey.

There are two large casement windows on the opposite sides of the room and they illuminate the small space quite nicely. It’s a great contrast to the room she used to have in Seoul. That one’s small and dark—this one feels more like her, as if she’s coming to that realization herself.

Her phone beeps, effectively pulling her out of her reverie. She picks it up and sees a message from one of the Interns from Jessica’s company.

I’m on hazard across the street. Let’s go.

It’s time.

She looks at the mirror one last time.

The role she’s auditioning for is a high-school teenager who is smart and good at Math, and somebody who would eventually become an academic rival for the main protagonist. Yeah, it’s one of those typical Asian stereotype roles but whatever, it’s not like there’s a mass of opportunities waiting for her.

She opts for a simple, off-shoulder white top and a light-colored, high-waist denim pants, completed by a pair of white shoes. Yesterday, she had a haircut and decided to add bangs; which works with the look she has on for today. A part of Irene thinks she’s too pretty for the role. But nobody has to know she thinks this way.

Satisfied and ready to go, she grabs her purse and walks out of the room and of the apartment.

See, this is where it gets interesting.

Jessica’s apartment is on the fifth floor and as she takes the elevator, she shares it with a middle-aged white guy in an oversized plain blue button up and a pair of cargo shorts. He has more hair on his face than his head and with his height, he towers over Irene in a very intimidating way.

“Where are you from?” he asks, his voice booming in a way that would haunt Irene for years.

Irene looks at him, trying to think of an answer. Did he mean which floor she came from or did he mean from what country she’d flown from? Is it obvious that Irene is new here?

When she wouldn’t answer, the guy asks another question, “Do you speak English?” He speaks slowly, as if trying to make a point.

To this, Irene fights the urge to roll her eyes. She’s taken five course levels of English from Elementary English to Advanced. She’s taken more English classes than Math in all three years she attended LSM International. Of course, she speaks English.

Before Irene could muster up a response, the elevator dings signaling that they’ve reached the Lobby. Everything that happens next happens so fast, it’s hard to believe it was real.

The man gets his wallet from the back pocket of his shorts and takes out two one-dollar bills. With a smug smile on his face, laced with a certain disgust, he hands the bills to Irene and then says, “Take it. Go back to where you came from.”

Then, he exits the lift like nothing happened; as if he didn’t just do that to young girl who’s been in the city for barely a week.

Irene, knowing exactly what just happened, stands frozen in place. She’s heard stories about things like this. But Jessica and Tiffany told her that this place isn’t quite like that; that this city’s greatest strength is diversity. They said that California is safe, that she wouldn’t experience those things here. But here she is, barely a week into staying in Los Angeles and already doubting if she truly made the right decision.

She didn’t realize how truly damaging these attacks are. She thought she knew what to do: shake it off and believe that not everyone is like this. After all, everyone’s been nice to her so far. This must be an isolated incident.

However, it feels like she’s back on the first week of high school all over again: alone and out of place.

It’s too much to take but she’s on her own now. Tiffany is in Seoul. Jessica is somewhere, busy growing her company. She has no one but the intern named Casey but she guesses he doesn’t care about her enough.

Nobody’s gonna swoop in and save the day. So she tackles her day head on.

She’s alone in this.

That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

.

She doesn’t get the part she auditioned for.

But that’s the day Irene swore to herself that she wouldn’t let anybody get in her way. That’s also the day she decided that if she’s going to rely on anybody, she’d rather rely on herself. She’s been through shit by herself and survived.

Los Angeles shouldn’t be any different.

.

Right jab.

Left jab.

Breathe.

And repeat.

Irene’s glove-covered fists connect with the punching bag, the huge object barely moving but Irene feels her body react to the impact. It’s freeing, the way she could release everything she’s feeling and call it a workout.

With the newfound rush, Irene finds herself back to the present, the memories from eight years ago fading swiftly in the background.

As she finishes an entire round, she huffs heavily and then plops on the nearest Monoblock chair. She takes off her gloves and puts them down on the floor. Then, she grabs the bottle of energy drink and takes a big gulp.

Training for Russian Roulette is hard. It’s an action series which means there are a lot of running and punching and throwing people over fake tables and chairs. She also does about 80% of her stunts which is something that surprised a lot of her Korean co-stars but Irene loves the rush she gets from doing these overly physical sequences.

She’s spent the last three days shooting some scenes outside of Seoul and today, she’s back in the city and trying to catch up with her training. She’s bought new training clothes (a black sports bra and a pair of dark gray leggings) just to motivate herself—which is odd because with or without motivation, she has no choice but to go in and train.

Irene wouldn’t exactly call herself a fitness buff but her line of work requires her to look a certain way for her to portray her role properly. She keeps a regular training routine: an hour of gym once a week and an hour or two of boxing twice a week.

It keeps her physically balanced, sure, but it also keeps her sane. These days, staying sane is the most important thing she needs. Finding a gym where she can continue this routine is a priority. The home she leases has a gym but she rarely uses it, finding it dull and completely demotivating.

Mr. E is a boxing gym located somewhere in Yongsan District. It’s old and rustic; and that’s just how Irene wants it.

It’s housed inside a tall residential building and if you go up the rooftop, you will get a majestic view of the Han River. And yes, the gym is conveniently located 15 minutes away from Red Flavor. If you ask Irene, she’d tell you it’s a coincidence.

She was just about to step into the boxing ring for one last round of shadow boxing when her phone beeps. A new message, she recognizes.

She walks over to the other side of the room where her gym bag rests atop a makeshift table made of wooden boxes. She takes a seat on top of the boxes and grabs her phone.

You’ve been added to a group chat.

Irene squints at her phone. She never, ever, gets added to group chats.

Funny enough, the group chat is named: People I Tolerate.

Wendy: You really added her. You piece of shit.
Joy: What? She needs to know.

Weirded out by Joy’s reply, she intends to respond but first, she checks who the members of the chat are. Park Joy. Son Wendy. Park Chanyeol. Seo Juhyun. Kim Yerim.

Okay, these are all Wendy’s friends.

Irene: What do I need to know?
Yerim: OMG. I’m friends with Irene Bae.
Yerim: <image>
Chanyeol: Good use of the meme.
Seohyun: Memelord.
Wendy: Stop enabling her. Oh my God. I’m sorry, Irene.

Irene laughs at her friends’ antics.

Hold on.

Are they her friends now? Just because they added her to a group chat doesn’t mean they’re friends now.

Joy: Yerim, shut the fuck up. Stay on message.
Yerim: Sorry, I got carried away.
Joy: Anyway, Irene. We were wondering if you would like to join us tonight.
Yerim: We’re going to this place in Myeongdong that serves meat and it’s honestly the best thing Seohyun tried. So she says.
Seohyun: I don’t say that lightly.
Irene: In Myeongdong?
Wendy: ONLY IF YOURE FREE! AND YOU KNOW, IF THAT’S OKAY WITH YOU SINCE IT’S MYEONGDONG AND IT’S PRACTICALLY—
Joy: A suicide mission because you’re popular and all. That’s what Wendy keeps saying.

The group chat fires up so fast that, for a moment, Irene finds it hard to catch up.

She was typing up a reply when a notification pops up.

Joy added Kang Seulgi to the group chat.

Wait, what?

SEULGI: Aw, I’m being tolerated. Thanks, Joy.

Irene laughs at the way Seulgi references to the group chat’s name.

Joy: I already told Seulgi about the plan on a separate chat.
Wendy: I HAVE TO GO BUT IRENE, DON’T BELIEVE ANYTHING RIDICULOUS THEY TELL YOU ABOUT ME AND NO ONE’S FORCING YOU TO COME TO THIS THING TONIGHT! OH MY GOSH
Yerim: There she goes. Another one bites the dust.
Seulgi: What’s up with her? Why was she yelling?
Joy: Well, that’s exactly why we’re going out tonight.
Chanyeol: She’s assisting on her first surgery today. Right now, actually.

Irene’s eyes grow wide at this. That’s big.

Irene: Are you coming tonight, Seul?
Seulgi: Yes, unnie. I already asked my manager and he said I can go as long as I cover up.
Joy: Does that really work?
Seulgi: <shrug emoji>
Joy: Well, if it goes South, Chanyeol is there. He’s Police. So he can punch them.
Chanyeol: Not the way my job works but okay.
Seohyun: As long as nobody does anything embarrassing to draw attention to us, we should be good.
Joy: Tag her, unnie. DRAG HER
Seohyun: @Yerim
Joy: Lmao!
Seohyun: @Joy
Yerim: Back at you, Satan.

Irene can’t help but smile at their exchange. Is this what she missed out on all these years?

She was, again, about to respond when the door to the gym opens and in comes Jessica Jung in an outfit that clearly doesn’t belong in a place like this.

She’s in a black, tight-fit sweater and a pair of black pants. The look is finished by the pair of black, high-heeled calf boots. Her hair is up in a neat ponytail and honestly? Irene has never seen anyone this out-of-place inside a gym. It’s almost too funny.

Irene snorts at the way her manager’s face scrunches up in disgust. She hates gyms, doesn’t understand why people even ever.

“Try to at least be subtle about your loathing,” she comments.

Jessica rolls her eyes, “You have a gym at home. Why would you ever come to a place like this?”

“Because it’s better?”

“No, it’s just darker and dirtier.”

“Well, it does the job better than the gym at home.”

“Whatever,” Jessica ends the discourse with an eyeroll. “I came here to ask you if you’ve checked Twitter yet.”

“No?”

“You’re missing out.”

“On what?”

Wenrene is trending #7 worldwide.”

“Wen—” Irene stutters, not catching up on the unfamiliar word. “What?”

“Wendy plus Irene, Wenrene!” Jessica announces as if it’s the best news ever. “Your fans came up with a ship name.”

“What?” Irene gasps, as she turns back to her phone. This time, she ignores their group chat and then opens her Twitter app. True enough, her notifications are blowing up.

Turns out, the fansites have finally released high-quality images of the night Wendy and Irene attended the Doctor Oscars.

There were a few photos released that night but since the event isn’t actually an entertainment event, those photos were limited and didn’t exactly highlight their interactions. These were the photos from newspapers and online sources but those photographers really don’t quite get why this is so big.

But of course, Jessica had her people on it. She had her own fansites following the two throughout the night and made sure they captured the important moments. She didn’t leak the photos right away knowing that Wendy’s appearance as a chaebol daughter alone could spike up interest from the general public.

She waited out for people to naturally uncover who Wendy is, build up the hype over this mysterious person, and then drop the photos of them looking all lovey-dovey.

Now that the photos have been released and now that they know who Wendy is—no matter how little they know about her—all Jessica needed to happen was for the fans to put two and two together. And boy, they did.

A couple of very dedicated fans made a thread of all the times the two have been seen together and the times they’ve posted about each other on social media. By this time, Wenrene have interacted enough in public and on social media that these threads actually make sense. They somehow even found Joy, Yerim, and Seohyun’s Instagram accounts and found the posts that had both Irene and Wendy in it.

They look like “evidences” of the two’s budding relationship and the public is feasting on it. If the fans on Twitter are any indication, Jessica’s plan is going exactly according to plan.

“Wow,” Irene manages, looking at the Tweets people have tagged her into. “This is crazy.”

Jessica laughs maniacally, and that’s saying something because it’s Jessica. “It’s going so well, it’s better than I ever imagined!” she shrieks, the most amount of emotion Irene’s seen on her in a while.

Irene turns back to her phone and once again scrolls through Twitter.

@sicayourshit Are they friends? Are they dating? Spill the tea, sis.
@KellyO Nice to see Irene out with somebody not from the industry. Suho was a nightmare and I didn’t even date him.
@Nica09 THEYRE DATING. THIS IS THE ONLY THING I WILL EVER TALK ABOUT IN THE NEXT FEW DAYS.

It’s crazy how many people are screaming at the potential of them being in a relationship. It’s funny how they’re all feeding off of everything Jessica has given them. She didn’t really realize it at first but now, everything makes sense.

Hollywood websites are reporting on it now and she’s sure they’re all reaching out to their PR department for comments. It’s amazing to see it all unfold right before her eyes.

As she scrolls deeper into the wenrene tag on Twitter, she comes across the photos that the fansites released.

There’s a couple of photos of them walking the red carpet: two beautiful, well-dressed women showing up together to sweep everyone off their feet. With her heels, Wendy stood a bit taller than her and Irene never really noticed it that night but looking at the pictures, she notices an air of confidence that seems so unique to Wendy.

Her black dress, her nude heels, the way her hair is scrunched up in a low bun, and the expensive-looking earrings—Wendy looks regal. She looks like she belongs in a place as high-class like that.

She can’t believe she’s thinking it but looking at their pictures, they look good together. Like, she’s not even kidding. They look like they fit right next to each other and it’s such a foreign concept. The thought of it feels funny, yet it sends a certain sensation down at the pit of Irene’s stomach.

Standing next to Wendy, Irene looks like… she belongs; and this unfamiliar feeling makes the actress’ breath hitch.

She shakes her head to shake the thoughts away. She can’t be thinking of things like this. She can’t delude herself into thinking that there’s something there when there’s clearly nothing.

She switches from her Twitter app to her messaging app and pulls up her chat with Wendy.

I heard you’re assisting on a surgery for the first time. Good luck!

She sends it before she changes her mind. There’s nothing wrong with wishing a friend luck. Not that Wendy needs it. She’s smart, and brilliant, and composed; and if there’s anything who will do well assisting a surgery, it’s her.

Why am I overthinking this?

Remembering the other group chat that’s still blowing up at this moment, she looks up at Jessica who’s grinning at her phone in this evil, conniving way.

“Jess.”

“Hmm?” Jessica hums, not even sparing Irene a glance.

“Can I go out tonight with some friends?”

That’s when Jessica looks up, “Friends?” She quirks an eyebrow to emphasize her utter disbelief, “You have friends?”

“Fuck off.”

Jessica manages a sly smile, “I mean, if you mean Seulgi, you’ll just use her name and you won’t even ask me. So, which friend? Are they real?”

Irene rolls her eyes, “Wendy’s friends.”

“Oh,” Jessica manages and then shrugs. “It still doesn’t add up why you’re asking me. You never ask my opinion on anything.”

“We’re having dinner in Myeongdong.”

Jessica’s eyes bulge wide, “Do you have a death wish?”

Irene feels the need to defend her idea, “I’ll cover up! I’ll go without makeup, then wear a mask and glasses. It should work.”

“Yeah, because that always works.”

Irene just rolls her eyes at her manager’s sarcasm.

“What’s up with you?” Jessica asks, eyeing her with a quiet curiosity that sends shivers down her spine.

“What do you mean what’s up with me?”

Jessica shrugs coldly, as if she already has the answer to her question. “You seem different,” she states.

“Different, how?”

The other woman merely shrugs again as if there’s something she’d rather not say. “I don’t know.”

“Is it bad?”

“No, just different.”

That’s the exact same thing Seulgi said when they were in Red Flavor a couple of weeks ago. She wonders for a brief moment what is it that Seulgi and Jessica saw in her that made them say those things.

Her mind wonders for a few seconds before their silence is interrupted by the sound of the gym doors opening, revealing Tiffany in a short, white dress and without any coat on. She has a thin binder book in one hand and her phone on the other, her small bag swung on her arm.

It’s October.

“What the fuck are you wearing, Tiff?” Jessica asks, bewildered. There’s contempt but there’s also concern.

Tiffany stops on her tracks, looks at what she’s wearing, and then looks back up at them as if she saw nothing problematic about her outfit.

“What?”

Irene snickers, “Aren’t you cold?”

“No,” Tiffany shrugs, resuming to walk the short distance between her and her fiancé. She pecks Jessica’s cheek and Irene has to smile, watching Jessica’s resolve fall apart. It’s very subtle. You wouldn’t even notice it if you don’t know Jessica that well but it’s there—how she softens up when Tiffany is near, how she relaxes as if everything is fine in the world; and God, Irene would kill for a love like that.

Tiffany sifts through the binder book and pulls out two sheets of paper. Each paper has different sets of colors arranged in a palette.

“Rose gold, powder, dusty blue, eucalyptus, and desert rose,” she asks, holding one sheet of paper up. She then shuffles the other sheet of paper up front, showing it to Jessica, “Or barely blush, sage green, fog, slate, and cotton?”

“What?” Jessica asks, confused.

“The colors, Jess,” Tiffany reiterates.

“Pick whatever you like.”

“But it’s your wedding, too.”

Irene laughs, finding it endearing that Tiffany is so excited for the wedding. It’s a spring wedding in California and Tiffany’s Type A personality is showing six months prior.

“Tiffany, I just want to get married. If we have to do it in neon colors, then go for it.”

“Aww,” Irene can’t help but coo. “Fuck, Jess. Who are you? I don’t know you anymore.”

“Shut up.”

“I won’t, like ever,” she chuckles and then turns to Tiffany, “Do you have a date yet?”

Tiffany nods, “I didn’t want to change our anniversary date so we’re already going for civil marriage on March and then go for the ceremony on April.”

“What?” Irene reacts, turning to Jessica, “You’re really going to marry her twice?”

Jessica only huffs softly, rolling her eyes to which Tiffany responds with a grin.

Her sister explains, “I’ve always dreamed of getting married at the Taglyan in Spring. But also want to keep our anniversary date which is March 30.”

“And I just want to get married,” Jessica says.

Something piques Irene’s interest, “Wait. March 30? A day after my birthday? Why am I only learning this now?”

Jessica sighs impatiently, “Remember when you celebrated your birthday in Santa Monica?”

Turning to Tiffany, she counters, “But you left early that night.”

“Well, she came back in the morning, knocked at my hotel room at seven, and asked if I would like to be her girlfriend.”

Tiffany laughs, moving behind Jessica and wraps her arms around the girl’s waist, “Then I left again because I had a meeting and had to fly back here in the afternoon.”

Irene doesn’t know which she should react to first: the fact that Tiffany asked Jessica to be her girlfriend and then literally left for another country hours later or having to stomach this blatant display of affection. Or that Jessica isn’t even fighting the way Tiffany is being sweet and touchy.

Either way, she can’t handle it, “Ugh.” She hops off the makeshift table and grabs her gym bag, “I’m gonna go puke now.”

“Hold on,” Jessica stops her, pulling away from Tiffany’s hold. “Are you really going with Wendy’s friends tonight?”

Irene nods, her mind made up.

“Are you sure?”

Tiffany butts in, “Since when did you ask for permission?”

“It’s Myeongdong.”

Tiffany shrugs, “Just cover up.”

Jessica gasps dramatically, turning to her fiancé in sheer disbelief, “Tiff!”

“What? Idols do it all the time. As long as you don’t draw much attention to yourself that’ll be fine.”

“See?” Irene gestures to Jessica. “Listen to your fiancé.”

“Seulgi is coming with them. She tells me everything,” Tiffany adds.

“Isn’t that worse?” Jessica asks, now starting to really be concerned. “Irene and Seulgi in the streets of Myeongdong. Tiff, please tell me you find it ridiculous, too.” The last sentence is in English so that means she’s serious.

Tiffany nods, “It is but they’re adults. Seulgi has been chatting with this girl Joy a lot for the last few weeks and Irene’s making friends. Like, in what world does that happen randomly?”

“You’re unbelievable, Tiffany.”

Irene is sensing a fight coming so that’s her cue to go. “Now that we’ve established that I’m going with them tonight, I’m bouncing. Don’t fight here, okay? The owner will come in at the end of the hour. By the way, about the colors,” she pauses, pursing her lips to the general direction of Tiffany’s binder. “The first palette is prettier but the second one look more like Jessica and Tiffany. All pink energy with a touch of darkness. The darkness is Jessica, how she sucks all the energy out of the room.”

“Fuck off, Irene.”

She winks before she leaves the couple. They’ll probably going to have a long discussion about it—about Irene going to Myeongdong. Not the wedding colors. Tiffany will have to decide on that on her own.

As Irene drives home, she smiles to herself.

She’s actually looking forward to this thing tonight.

All of a sudden, the world doesn’t seem so sad anymore.

.

After much discussion from Joy and Yerim, they finally decide on a meeting place. Chanyeol suggested that Irene and Seulgi can’t get there before them. So he coordinated everything to make sure that the gang is already there by the time their two celebrity friends arrive.

So there Irene is, walking toward the meeting place. Hands in the pockets of her coat, Irene looks around and tries to feel out if somebody had already noticed her. It’s already dark, only the artificial lighting from lamp posts and stores are illuminating the area but it’s still bright. The streets of Myeongdong really do come alive at night.

It’s been years since she stepped foot here. It feels home. She feels like Joohyun again.

She opts for a pair of black jeans and a pair of black ankle boots, topped with a white, knitted sweater. Her long, gray coat completes the look along with a baseball cap and her round glasses. She thanks whatever higher power there is because it’s actually quite normal to wear a mask around this time of the year.

If you don’t notice the ridiculous effort put into hiding, she thinks she seems pretty normal. She blends well with the crowd and she doesn’t remember the last time she felt like this.

Invisible.

She rounds a corner and soon as she does, she instantly sees the group she’s about to meet up with. They’re complete now, just waiting for her.

She sees them in pairs.

Chanyeol and Seohyun, holding hands. Joy and Seulgi talking, with the latter seemingly telling a funny story in this silly, animated way. Yerim is playing a game on her phone with Wendy watching over her shoulder.

Something about it warms her heart.

She’s never had people she can call her own. Aside maybe from Jessica, Tiffany, and Seulgi, she’s never had a clique. She’s operated all her life thinking that each person she meets is temporary: here for a short period of time, and then disappears. Ever since she rose to fame, Irene has accepted the fact that her life would be a revolving door of temporary relationships.

It wasn’t until she went back to Korea that she felt this sense of longing; of wishing for something more permanent. Irene can’t decide if that’s a good thing or not. So she shrugs it off.

Maybe this longing is temporary, too. Just like everything else.

“There she is!” Joy exclaims soon as she sees Irene walking to them.

Irene smiles although the mask covers her face. Everyone in the group turns their attention to her, their smiles warm and welcoming. It’s like they’re meeting an old friend. Irene’s insides melt just a bit, wondering if this could’ve been her life had she accepted Wendy’s friendship when she first offered it.

But this is no time for what ifs and could’ve beens.

“I’m sorry I made you wait,” she apologizes as she gets to them. “Had to be dropped off somewhere less crowded. I didn’t realize how much attention my manager’s car could draw.”

Wendy chuckles, “You can’t drive a Genesis around and expect people not to look.”

“I know,” Irene nods smilingly, eyes locked with the short-haired girl.

For a moment, Irene forgets that they’re with the doctor’s friends. Suddenly, it’s just Wendy who exists.  Her brown eyes, the way her short hair frames her face, and the way her lips are curling up into a smile that feels genuine—Irene is quite captured.

This moment, this connection lasts for about a few seconds before Yerim’s voice pops their bubble.

“Okay, we better head to the restaurant before this staring becomes more intense.”

Joy smacks her head so hard she yelps a bit.

.

A few minutes later, Irene finds herself seated across Joy and Seulgi, the charcoal grill between them oozing heat.

The place Seohyun picked is small and unpopular. Unlike the bigger Korean barbeque restaurants you’ll find in Myeongdong, this place isn’t crowded. There are only a couple of chairs and tables situated outside by the storefront and you’ll have to go inside, approach the counter to get meat and side dishes. That’s where their other companions are.

The place is two blocks away from the main shopping streets of Myeongdong so there aren’t as much people walking around. Even if they occupied the seats outside, it’s still relatively peaceful and Irene basks in the feeling of being able to sit outside casually like this.

The night is cool and the city breeze feels perfect, albeit a little cold for her liking but it doesn’t dampen her mood one bit.

She observes her two other companions. They’re seated close to each other, laughing at something on Joy’s phone. It’s a bit dark but Irene doesn’t miss the slight blush on Joy’s cheek. It’s impossible to see through Seulgi with the mask she’s wearing but she also doesn’t miss the way her eyes sparkle a bit.

For a moment, Irene wonders if she’s seeing things.

It’s a few seconds later though that their bubble pops when Joy decides to show her what they were laughing at on her phone.

“Unnie,” Joy starts, extending her phone to the actress only to reveal a photo of her and Wendy during the night of the Doctor Oscars. “You two look so good together.”

Irene doesn’t take the phone and only looks at the photo. It’s one from the red carpet where Irene’s arm is snaked around the doctor’s waist while the other is smiling bright at the cameras. Irene’s attention is on Wendy, her eyes mirroring the same sparkle she thought she saw in Seulgi just a while ago.

Before she could process this, Joy pulls her phone back and laughs, “Yerim Tweeted this and captioned it, ‘if ya girl doesn’t look at you the way Irene unnie looks at Wendy unnie, then that’s not love bitch.’”

The caption ensues a whole new round of laughter from both Seulgi and Joy, and Irene only pouts in response. Irene doesn’t even remember looking at her like that. As far as she’s concerned, it’s a normal stare. There’s nothing there about heart eyes or anything like that.

Irene wonders why Joy is teasing her. She knows about the arrangement, knows that all of this is just a show.

When their laughter dies down, it’s Seulgi who goes next. This, she’d understand. Seulgi doesn’t know.

Seulgi grabs her phone, fumbles with it for a bit, then pushes the device toward Irene to show her another picture. This time, it’s a picture of them inside the venue. It’s from the event’s official photographer and it’s posted on various Korean social networking sites.

Wendy and Irene are seated closely together. Wendy’s attention is drawn toward the stage while Irene is looking at Wendy smilingly. It’s the same look from the red carpet photo only this time, the picture is a bit darker yet the smile she sends Wendy’s way shines all the same.

Had she been looking at Wendy this way the entire time?

Seulgi pulls her phone back and gives Irene a look. They’ve known each other for years, even though half her face is covered by a mask, Irene knows that Seulgi is trying to tell her something. Irene wanted to ask, to clarify but the moment is cut short when the rest of the group return with trays of food and drinks.

Wendy sits next to her as Yerim takes the open space on her other side. Chanyeol takes a seat next to her sister while Seohyun sits across him.

Irene’s thoughts about the photos are temporarily drowned out by the mass of topics being discussed as they start cooking and eating. They go from random TV shows to movies, to Yerim’s classes, to Seohyun’s students, to Seulgi’s comeback, and other things.

She’s always wondered about how Yerim got into their group because she’s way younger than them. Tonight, she learns that two years ago, Yerim ran out of their house after her dad beat her up. She ran and ran until she stumbled upon Wendy who was just closing up Red Flavor.

Yerim’s situation at home is sad and Irene feels rage seeping through her just thinking about it; but part of her thinks that maybe, Yerim running into Wendy that night was the universe’s way of making things work.

Wendy had taken her in since then, opening Red Flavor and her own home for Yerim when things at home become out of hand. She has a key to Wendy’s apartment and Yerim jokes that everyone in their building thinks she’s the one living there and not Wendy who only goes home to sleep and shower.

At some point, Joy whispers that Wendy is the one sending Yerim to school, taking care of her allowances and extra school fees that her parents can’t quite cover. Wendy’s been silent all along, embarrassed of the way her friends are hyping this up.

This story warms her heart up, how selfless Wendy is; how good her heart is to take Yerim in and not ask questions. She admires Wendy for her heart but she also admires Yerim for her resilience. It makes her want to take care of her, too. For a brief moment, she wonders if she could help out but knowing Wendy, Irene’s sure the doctor has it covered.

At this point, Yerim’s already part of their little family—and something about that resonates so wildly with Irene. In a way, they’ve taken her in, too; a lost soul that didn’t really quite belong anywhere. But tonight, Irene feels a sense of belongingness she hasn’t felt before.

It’s dangerous, she decides. Because she’s only in Seoul for a few months before she goes back to the life waiting for her in LA. So, she makes a mental note to remind herself of boundaries, to not get used to things that feel good because everything, absolutely everything, is temporary.

“Hey,” it’s Wendy who pulls her out of her reverie.

“Yeah?” she turns to her, shaking her head lightly as if to truly come back to this moment.

“It’s not that I’m not glad that you’re here but I’m honestly quite surprised,” Wendy opens. Then, the word vomit begins, “I mean, I’m truly glad that you and Seulgi joined us but it’s quite risky. Myeongdong at night is like the worst place to be for people like you but I guess the cover up works? I did recognize you though but maybe that’s only because I know it’s you? I don’t know, I mean—”

“Breathe, Wendy,” she interrupts laughingly.

Wendy altogether shuts up, managing a shy, tight-lipped smile. She shifts on her seat uncomfortably as she brushes her hand through her hair. It reminds Irene of a high school boy. She doesn’t know why.

“I’m just—I’m glad you and Seulgi joined us,” Wendy says when she finally composes herself.

She merely smiles at Wendy before she tries to look at how the rest of the group is doing. Joy, Seulgi, and Yerim are talking about this cooking game where there’s time management involved while Seohyun and Chanyeol are the ones busy cooking meat for everyone, having a silent discussion on their own.

Everyone seems to be having a great time so she decides to just go with it.

“Well, I heard that some doctor assisted on her first surgery today,” Irene manages, a playful smile gracing her lips.

Wendy ducks her head, shaking it lightly as if to dismiss how big of a moment it was. “That’s nothing,” the doctor downplays it.

“Hey, you studied six years for that then studied another year to pass the exam. Then you’re almost done with your first year of internship which is basically just school but more realistic. Can’t call that nothing.”

“How did you know all of those?” Wendy asks her.

“I don’t know, isn’t that common knowledge?”

It’s not. She looked it up.

“I guess so,” Wendy shrugs and Irene is thankful she doesn’t pry. “To answer your question, it went well. The patient is in recovery.”

“Were you nervous?”

Irene watches Wendy think for a moment. She chooses that moment to stuff some meat and some vegetables into her mouth, its rich taste hitting her senses. It’s really delicious and Irene is glad she came with them.

“Nervous, no. Not really,” Wendy responds after a couple of seconds. “I was excited to get in there. I mean, I literally didn’t do anything except to handle the drainage tube and close but I mean, you know, I—it’s not a big deal.”

“You closed?”

Wendy nodded.

“I don’t know much but I do watch Grey’s Anatomy a lot and isn’t closing a big deal on your first year?”

Wendy turns to her and looks at her pointedly, “That show is so inaccurate. Please don’t make medical decisions based on that show.”

Irene laughs, “You missed my point.”

“I made a very urgent point that might save your life in the future.”

“That wasn’t the point, though.”

“Still a valid point.”

“Do you watch it?”

“I do. But only when Joy does just to make sure she doesn’t believe everything she watches,” a pause, and then, “Yerim, too. They like American dramas so much.”

“You’re still missing my point.”

“The point being?”

“That you closed?”

“Ah, yeah,” she nods shyly. “We had this thing two weeks ago, like a contest of who can perform the cleanest vertical mattress—”

“Vertical what?”

“It’s a suturing technique.”

“Ah, I see.”

“I think, I did pretty well.”

“Did you win that contest?”

“I did.”

“Wow. So that means you’re good—”

“At doing a vertical mattress, yes.”

Irene was about to respond when Joy turns to them with a look that saunters between intense disbelief and highly scandalized.

“You two flirt in a very, very weird way. I’m about to lose my appetite. I just had to say it. I can’t take it anymore,” Joy says and doesn’t wait for a response. The rest of the group laughs at her comment and then moves on with their business—eating and talking.

Now weirded out by Joy’s comment, both Wendy and Irene fall into a comfortable silence. Irene only laughs it off, the actress in her kicking into action. She turns her attention back to her food and tries to ignore the sudden surge of need to hold Wendy’s hand.

It was the only thing that makes sense in that moment but she doesn’t push through with it. Instead, she busies herself with the food and hopes that the urge fades.

Why would they hold hands? That’s not a thing.

Wendy joins in the group’s conversation and everyone kind of just moves on from that moment.

Their group begins to talk about random topics, literally anything that comes up. At some point, Chanyeol gets a couple bottles of soju and starts giving everyone drinks. Irene has had similar nights out like this in LA, sharing food and drinks with friends; but none of those felt like this.

None of those felt like home.

As she laughs at yet another joke Yerim makes, there’s a warmth that settles permanently in her heart. She looks around her and she smiles.

Seulgi is blending in well, easily forgetting the chaos of her idol life. Joy is being her usual self, kind of snappy and always so easily irritated with the smallest of inconveniences but Irene guesses that it’s what makes her so… her. Then there’s Yerim who likes to annoy everyone and always gets into arguments with Joy but she’s also very sweet in her own way; also very smart for her age.

Seohyun who’s a really good unnie and who also reminds her so much of Jessica and Tiffany when it comes to the unnie stuff. She’s smart and straightforward and Irene wishes she was half the woman Seohyun is. There’s Chanyeol, who is charming and cool—and easy going in all the ways. She could see why Seohyun would fall for him. She roots for them both because they bring out the best in each other; and gosh, Irene would kill for a love like that.

Then there’s Wendy.

Wendy who’s funny and sweet; and imperfect in all the ways that makes her human. Wendy, who wears her heart on her sleeve. Wendy, whose scars are there for her see and it doesn’t make her any less awesome, any less smart, any less wonderful.

Irene’s always wondered how it would be like to have people. She thought she’s had that in LA.

She has Raven, and Clarke, and Octavia, who are so awesome in their own ways but they don’t get her like this group does.

It shocked Irene to the core to realize that despite everything she has achieved in her life, there’s been something missing all along: people. Community. A sense of belongingness. Somebody who would look at her like she isn’t a tragedy. Somebody who would look at her and not see her sadness as a flaw. It’s only been a few weeks with this people and yet it already feels like home.

Perhaps, it’s never about the time you’ve spent with each other but about chemistry, about the way people fit.

Sitting next to Wendy, Irene can’t quite believe how something could feel so easy.

.

It’s close to midnight when they decide to call it a night.

Seulgi has already been picked up by her manager, taking Joy with her to drop her off at home; while Yerim got a ride with Seohyun and Chanyeol. So that leaves Wendy and Irene, the doctor walking the actress to where her ride is waiting.

The night has only gotten colder but Myeongdong is still bright and alive.

“You posted stuff on Instagram, didn’t you?” Wendy asks, her hands tucked inside the pockets of her coat.

Irene nods, “I tagged you in them. Jessica has been reacting to them with the 100 and fire emojis.”

Wendy laughs, “It’s scary how much followers I’ve gained since the awards night.”

“I guess being associated with me has its share of pros and cons.”

“Isn’t that true for anybody?”

Irene only shrugs, she really can’t argue with that logic.

They walk in silence, matching each other’s pace perfectly. Irene can’t help but smile at the peace she feels in heart in this very moment. It’s a new feeling. It’s like uncovering a whole new part of herself once again.

“Hey, thanks again for coming with us tonight,” it’s Wendy who breaks the silence first.

Irene shrugs, “I don’t mind. I should be thanking you and your friends. I really had a nice time. I’m sure Seulgi did as well.”

“Yerim and Joy make quite the pair, don’t they?”

Wendy laughs, “Oh, imagine seeing them everyday. It’s like I raised them. Pretty sure they’ve taken years off my life.”

Irene laughs at that, remembering how the banter never really stopped with Joy and Yerim around.

“Do you miss it?” Wendy asks, her voice a little lower than usual.

“Miss what?”

“Seoul.”

Slightly taken aback by the question, Irene shifts her eyes and looks around. A lot has changed since she was able to walk the streets of Seoul like this. There are more lights, more people; there’s just so much more than she remembers and part of her can’t identify with all these new stuff. But there’s also part of her that knows it by heart.

That no matter how much things have changed, Irene knows that it’s how things stay the same.

“I guess?” she answers, quite unsure. “It’s hard to miss something you hardly remember anymore.”

“That makes sense.”

“But I like being here. It’s,” she pauses, bracing herself for the truth, “a surprise how much I actually like it here.”

“Coming back… is it how you expected it to be?”

“Quite frankly, no,” Irene says, releasing a heavy sigh. “I was expecting bad memories to just come flooding in.”

“Are they gone?”

“The bad memories? No,” another sigh, “Some things stay with you for a very long time.”

“I get that.”

Silence falls upon them once more. This time, it’s tentative. It’s as if they have more words to say; as if the words are floating around them, waiting for them to pick it out and form a full, coherent sentence.

Irene spots the car a few meters from them, “That’s my ride.”

All of a sudden, Wendy halts them to a stop. She shifts on her place until she’s standing in front of Irene. There’s a valiant look in her eyes, something similar to that moment they had at the school’s cafeteria.

“Can I ask you something?” Wendy starts and Irene swallows an invisible lump in her throat.

She nods.

“I know this is very random and it’s probably not that important anymore, and you know, we’re older now and certainly not in high school anymore. I mean, it’s been years and a lot has changed—”

She’s rambling again.

“Wendy, breathe.”

“—oh,” Wendy manages, an embarrassed smile gracing her lips.

“Get to your point.”

“Well, I—” she stutters, “We have this thing, in Jeju, a few weeks from now. Just the gang. We go there yearly just to chill. I was wondering if you’d like to come with us. I mean, you don’t have to answer now. I’m sure you have other things going on. It’s just that—you’re alone here in Seoul and you’ve mentioned that this place brings you back so many bad memories—”

“Wendy—”

“—and I think you need people.”

Flashbacks of that fateful day at the cafeteria come back to haunt her. It’s like a repeat.

Wendy is heaving by the time she finishes her speech but she isn’t done.

“It’s not much, us. We’re just normal people. The two of us reunited for this shitty arrangement but all the things that this city reminds you of?” she meets Irene’s eyes, and the actress feels her sincerity, her honesty, her need to be there for Irene. “You don’t have to go through it alone.”

You don’t belong here, Joohyun.

There it is again, that voice.  Those words. Those things ruined a lot of things for Irene.

She knows that this invitation means more than just an invitation to a trip in Jeju. It’s a new beginning; a fresh start—a second attempt at a friendship.

You don’t belong here, Joohyun.

Irene squares her shoulders up.

That’s the thing about the voices in our heads. They may be loud. But we’re still in control.

“Yeah, I’ll go with you.”

Wendy smiles, wide—a mix of shock and happiness; mostly happiness. And Irene decides that she likes this look on Wendy’s face. She’s shining, bright and happy.

“Really?”

“I’ll make time.”

“That’s amazing!” Wendy almost shrieks.

“Thank you for inviting me.”

A warm smile appears on Wendy’s face, “It’s a long time coming, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, long time coming,” she smiles. “I—I should go,” she announces, making her way to the car.

“Yeah, yeah, take care, unnie,” Wendy manages. She waves at her shyly, the smile never leaving her face.

Irene mimics the same smile throughout the drive home.

As the group chat blows up with the pictures everyone is sending, she feels her heart burst with a kind of happiness she hasn’t feel in years. Maybe, ever.

Seulgi sends her a picture of her and Wendy, seated close to each other earlier that night. This time, it’s Wendy who’s looking at her as if she put the sun in the sky.

Irene wonders if she’s seeing things.

It doesn’t matter, does it?

All she knows is that fake dating Son Seungwan… it’s not so bad after all.

/

Chapter Text

/

Wendy isn’t pessimistic. She would say she’s cautiously optimistic about everything in general.

She knows how to enjoy the really good stuff in life but she also knows when to stop herself from being too happy about it. Per experience, the universe has a way of taking back everything it gave you—the good, the bad, and the things in between.

She’s learned the hard way that the world turns as it should; and sometimes, the bad things have a way of grounding you.

That’s why—

“I mean, it’s too good to be true,” Wendy mutters, propping one hand under her chin and resting it against the desk while she uses her other hand to continue scrolling through her phone.

She’s by the nurse’s station near the entrance of the Emergency Room, silently thankful that today’s a slow day. There’s a teenage guy with a sprained ankle, a woman in her mid-20s with mild to moderate stomach pain, an old lady with mild breathing issues, and other really mild stuff that they were able to handle quite smoothly.

Standing across the station counter is Dr. Kim Jongdae, who insists on everyone calling him Dr. Chen because there’s so many doctors in this hospital whose last name is Kim.

He’s an attending from Orthopedics, a really good doctor and mentor. They’re not particularly close but they get along; mainly because of Jisoo but that hardly counts because Jisoo gets along with everyone.

“Maybe there’s a lot of things you don’t know about her yet,” the other doctor offers with a lopsided grin.

“Something’s just not clicking, you know,” Wendy insists with her eyebrows knotted, her eyes trained to her phone. “I did my research. There’s so much articles about her being a bitch and a huge diva. There’s just too many for it to be not true.”

“It’s celebrity life. Those articles are like the surface of what their world is like, much like medical dramas,” Chen tells her. “They look realistic but they aren’t even half of the real thing.”

Wendy sighs and then puts her phone down, she looks up at the guy, “You have a point.”

“For example, have you seen a medical drama where one of the doctors is dating a popular Hollywood actress?” he teases.

Wendy rolls her eyes, and then remembers the script, “We’re not dating.”

“Yet,” a familiar voice butts in. It’s the Head of Trauma herself, Dr. Im Yoona. She joins them, an easy smile gracing her face.

Chen straightens up upon seeing her, blushing a bit. Yoona and Chen also not that close but they get along; and also, Wendy’s quite sure he has a crush on her. But then again, everyone’s a tiny bit in love with Yoona.

“What’s up? What’s the tea?” she asks, putting mild emphasis on the second sentence, trying to act cool.

Wendy cringes, “You’re spending way too much time with Jisoo.”

Yoona laughs, “The first time she asked me to spill the tea, I was drinking coffee so I said, ‘I’m not having tea, it’s coffee. And why would I spill it?’  I’m pretty sure she laughed at it for a week.”

Both Chen and Wendy laugh at the story.

Yoona glares at them both, “Stop laughing.  Spill the tea.”

It only makes Wendy cackle.

Smilingly, Chen turns to Yoona who takes the seat next to Wendy. “Dr. Son here is trying to convince herself that something is inherently wrong with Irene. Something that cannot be seen on the surface.”

Wendy’s eyes widen, “Not inherently!”

Chen continues, “She’s trying to connect the Irene she knows with the Irene she’s read about online.”

“I did my research,” Wendy argues.

Yoona nods, “So you’ve said a million times.”

The Ortho guy shrugs, “She thinks that her and Irene’s friendship progressed too quickly and that’s not supposed to happen because—”

“—in what world does that happen, unnie?” Wendy cuts him off, turning to Yoona. “I hated her.”

“Did you?” Yoona eyes her.

It stops Wendy altogether. Did she?

“Well, no,” Wendy answers her own wondering. “I mean, I’ve read articles about her being mean and all, and I didn’t know her that well in high school to really know if they’re true or not. So I just had this pre-set notion of hating her.”

“Do you think she’s mean?” Yoona asks; and Wendy feels like she’s on a thesis defense.

“No?”

“Well then, what’s your problem?”

“Unnie,” she almost whines. “Have you ever met someone who’s just… I—” she stutters, unable to find the words.

Chen adjusts on his place, now facing Wendy so his attention is fully on her. He squints at her, “Are you finding it hard to believe that there’s nothing wrong with her?”

“What?” Wendy sort of panics.

The guy clears his throat, “Could you think of something you don’t like about her?”

Wendy thinks for a moment, again panicking when she couldn’t think of anything.

Sure, Irene is cold and aloof at first but when you get past the ice façade, it’s easy to see how soft and caring she is. And sure, she has this intimidating aura about her but when Irene smiles, Wendy is convinced that she could stop wars. She laughs like a kid at the littlest of things and it’s so, so easy to make her happy.

Plus points for the actress’ competitiveness—whether it’s a simple card game or any betting game, you can count on Irene to give it everything she’s got. It’s also so funny how much of a sore loser she is when she loses. She hasn’t known the girl for long but this? She finds it incredibly soft and endearing.

But best of all, Wendy is astounded by how sensitive Irene is when it comes to the people around her. It’s like she’s taking mental notes and cares silently, doing little things to accommodate everyone and make sure they’re comfortable. When she sets her heart onto something, she’d be willing to burn everything to ground to make sure she gets it.

Irene’s a strong, tough, and independent woman who has a softness you’ll only see if you look hard enough; a soft, tender heart just waiting to be seen.

So, the short answer is no. Wendy couldn’t think of anything she doesn’t like about the girl. Sure, she’s so headstrong about her opinions and about the things she wants but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And sure, they fight and argue a lot but they’re just two different people with conflicting ideas. Again, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

The long answer is probably composed of essays and poems about how sorry she is that she didn’t try again to be friends with her in high school.

“We’ll take that as a no,” Yoona concludes laughingly when Wendy wouldn’t say a word. “So the articles you read were inaccurate. Aren’t you glad about that?”

See, Wendy’s not particularly pessimistic. She’d say she’s cautiously optimistic. “I am,” she says, “I’m just finding it hard to believe that—”

“—that she’s perfect?” Yoona finishes her question with a look.

Wendy doesn’t know how to respond to that so she doesn’t say anything.

The thing is, Irene isn’t perfect. But maybe she doesn’t have to be.

.

“Incoming!” a voice—urgent and commanding—booms throughout the ER; and that’s all it takes for the three doctors to stand up and move in a lightning bolt quickness. They suit up—walking over hurriedly to where their surgical gowns are. They wrap up the green, disposable material over their scrubs (dark blue for Yoona and Chen while Wendy dons a light blue set); then they go for the gloves. All of that in the span of a minute or so.

The familiar sound of the gurney’s wheels rolling against the rubber tiles of the emergency room hits Wendy’s senses like no other. She doesn’t believe them when they say she’s built for moments like this but she can’t deny the rush she feels.

It’s incredibly tragic, isn’t it? To find fire in other’s suffering—but maybe that’s just how the world turns.

“Multiple blunt trauma protocol in place,” Yoona announces and everyone—nurses, hospital staff—moves accordingly. Her voice roars over the sound of the ER—chattering, machines, and even the loud sob coming from the patient’s companion.

“Tachycardic and hypotensive en route. Obvious head and chest injuries,” one of the medics recite as they run to where the patient is.

The female patient is in bad shape. Conscious but in a really, really bad shape. Her head is wrapped up in gauze, blood obviously seeping out of the white sheet. She’s strapped securely to the gurney, a neck brace keeping her head steady. There’s an oxygen mask to assist her breathing. Her arms and legs are bruised, too; tons of scratches now covering her pale skin.

All Wendy sees are blood and wounds—and her hand shakes a bit, thinking that this patient’s life is now in their hands.

Yoona takes a quick look at the patient, then gently pats with both hands the patient’s chest and stomach area, “She’s hemorrhaging.”

“That blood, is that coming from her chest?” Dr. Chen asks, now standing on the patient’s other side as they all move to roll the patient in toward another section in the ER.

“It’s from her chest,” the medic affirms.

“Dr. Son, get her vitals and setup a chest tray,” Yoona instructs and Wendy moves accordingly. The patient coughs in sheer pain and blood comes out of her mouth. As Wendy moves to the patient’s side, she hears Yoona throw out more instructions. This time, it’s directed to one of the nurses, “Page Cardio and Neuro.”

A nurse runs out to follow her orders.

“What happened?” Yoona asks the medics when they finally reach the severe trauma area of the ER.

As Wendy moves around to perform her task, she can’t help but notice the patient’s companion: female, about the same age as her. The other woman has injuries of her own but she seems fine as far as phyiscals go. She’s crying, hard; her shoulder shaking in sheer emotion.

She keeps her distance but her gaze is fixed on her injured companion, eyes glistening in tears, her sobs echoing the pain she feels.

“Car crash. She went through the windshield,” Wendy hears somebody say and for a moment, she freezes; memories of blonde hair and brown eyes start haunting her memories.

She can deal with a lot of traumas in this hospital but a car crash is a whole different animal.

.

THE NEXT DAY

“Are you sure you still want to go?” Joy asks her, the whirring sound of the lift echoing in the middle of their silence.

Staring at her reflection on the well-polished elevator doors, she blinks rapidly and shakes her head as if to keep herself awake, “Yeah, yeah.”

“I don’t know why you agreed.”

“I don’t know why I agreed,” Wendy affirms with a sleepy nod.

Since moving to the Trauma service for the last quarter of her internship, her Emergency Room shift has switched to every day of the week and being in the ER only means one thing: longer hours. Which means right now, she’s standing inside the elevator with three hours of sleep and a wenrene social media stint waiting for her. It’s a Saturday—her first free day of the week but she’s here; and God!

Joy is beside her, almost bouncing on her feet because—

What if we saw some idols there? Oh my God!

The elevator dings and Wendy chances a glance at the digital screen that indicates they’ve reached the seventh floor. The elevator slowly opens, revealing a smiling Jeongyeon who bows at them soon as they see them.

“Dr. Son, it’s nice to see you again,” she greets them as Wendy and Joy step out of the lift.

Wendy shakes her head a bit, “Stop with the formalities, you can call me Wendy.”

Jeongyeon nods, “Wendy-ssi?”

“That’s okay,” Wendy agrees then turns a bit toward Joy. “By the way, Joy, this Jeongyeon. Jessica’s assistant.”

Joy smiles, raising her hand to wave at the assistant, “I’m Wendy’s bestfriend.”

“Nice to meet you,” the assistant returns the pleasantries.

Jeongyeon leads them along a narrow hallway, and as they make the short walk, Wendy mentally recalls why they’re here: inside CSY Entertainment’s headquarters somewhere in the middle of Gangnam.

Some big magazine landed a joint Seulgi-Irene photoshoot which will take the entire day inside one of the dance studios of the entertainment company. As Jessica’s story goes, Wendy will visit Irene on set and will post various behind-the-scenes activities focusing on Irene. Jessica wants the public to know that Wendy is part of Irene’s life now, both personal and professional.

Then, their day will end with a selfie: just to drive the shippers crazy.

It’s a great publicity stint—she remembers Jessica saying over the phone. Wendy doesn’t get it but she goes for it anyway. She has long stopped questioning Jessica’s plans.

They reach CSY’s dance studio and soon as Jeongyeon pushes the double doors open, Wendy and Joy are greeted by a dozen of people walking to different directions, busy with their tasks. The assistant bids her goodbye to them and quickly exiting the doors they just used to get in as she just dropped off two kids on their first day of school.

Clueless, Wendy looks around the busy room.

For a moment, it overwhelms her.

The opposite end of the room is set up with tons of lights and a made-up set that looks like a really (really!) small maze. The walls are dark with different patterns and lines. She’s only seen this kind of concept in high-end fashion magazines so maybe this shoot is actually quite a big deal.

On another side of the room is a makeshift dressing room where, Wendy assumes, Irene and Seulgi would change their wardrobe at some point of the day. She’s familiar with the shoot environment. She’s had photoshoots before, when she was a kid; back then when business magazines would feature them. It’s not as elaborate as this but it’s close. She always hated these things.

There’s the camera people, the wardrobe people, the set design people—and then there are the makeup people. By the right side of the room close to the windows, a long table is setup and it’s by that long table does Wendy spot Irene, sitting on a tall chair wearing a white robe.

Her eyes are closed and Wendy can’t help but notice the way her chest rises up and down in slow, steady breaths. It’s as if she’s used to this; it’s as if she’s had years of practice. There are two people hovering around her. One is doing her make-up and the other one is in-charge of her hair.

She looks regal which is weird because she’s literally sitting there.  She isn’t even wearing anything fancy, just a plain white robe. Yet, Irene looks like she belongs.

You know that feeling when you look at a person and it seems like they really have their shit together? Like, you’re not particularly jealous or bitter but wow, you wish you look the same when other people look at you; but deep down, you know you don’t look like that all? That’s how Wendy feels in that exact moment.

She looks at Irene from across the room and suddenly, it doesn’t feel like high school anymore.

The last few weeks have felt like a reunion: two high school acquaintances, meeting again.

But today, in this very moment, it doesn’t feel like that. It feels like she’s seeing this brand new person for the first time.

“Where’s Seulgi?”

“What?” she asks distractedly as she looks around.

Gosh, she’s been so focused on Irene that she didn’t even notice that Seulgi isn’t even there.

Joy, on the other hand, looks both lost and fascinated with everything. They’re standing by the far end of the room and the room is so busy they doubt anyone noticed them.

So maybe, this is how Irene’s world really looks like: fast, busy, and too caught up into its own abyss to stop or wait for anyone.

A couple of seconds pass and nobody really pays attention to them until the double doors open once again and in walks three women who, even without uttering a single word, draws everyone’s attention.

Walking in are Jessica, Tiffany, and a tall, gorgeous woman Wendy doesn’t know—all dressed in fancy-looking clothes. Wendy didn’t really know what the expression dressed to kill means but she thinks she understands now.

They’re talking in hushed voices as if they’re talking about something incredibly confidential and yet, everyone in the room turns to them. So that’s how real power looks like.

“That’s Choi Sooyoung,” Joy whispers.

Wait? THE Choi Sooyoung? One of the two women who took the entertainment company under their wing amid a huge tax and bankruptcy crisis and turned the company around to make it one of the three biggest entertainment companies in South Korea?

You mean, she’s in the same room as THE Choi Sooyoung and Tiffany Young?

(Well, she’s known about Irene’s sister but truly seeing her inside the building she owns with the business partner she’s running this empire with—that’s just a whole new level of awesome Wendy couldn’t fathom.)

Wendy’s eyes are wide as she utters, “You mean the CEO?”

Joy nods, equally just as star-struck.

It makes Wendy smile—being surrounded by strong, powerful women who’ve done great things and proved a lot of people wrong. Being surrounded by these kinds of women, in an industry that largely underestimates the femme fatale, it’s quite empowering; and at the back of her mind, she’s glad that Irene has grown up with them.

“Wendy!” a voice—unmistakably Irene’s—pulls her out of the feminist book she was about to write in her head. She turns to where the voice is coming from and what she instantly sees is a grinning Irene, walking over to her. “I didn’t realize you’re here.”

“Uh—” she stutters, heart caught in her throat as Irene stands in front of her. She’s breathtaking—is what her mind screams and well, Wendy’s whole body listens. She’s literally having a hard time breathing, “I, uh—”

“Is she okay?” Jessica asks as she joins them, her voice laced with teasing. She knows what’s up because she’s Jessica. Behind her are the CEOs, Tiffany and Sooyoung.

Joy cackles, “Oh, she’s having a mental breakdown.”

“A what?” Irene asks.

“Not an actual mental breakdown. She’s not used to being surrounded by gorgeous women; which is weird because I surround her everyday.”

They all laugh at that; and Wendy thanks the heavens for blessing her with a friend like Joy.

Since Wendy already knows Jessica and Tiffany, the real introductions only happen between Joy, Jessica, and Tiffany. They all get introduced to the entertainment mogul, Choi Sooyoung who insists on going first-name basis with them.

Wendy has to bite her tongue trying not to say anything about being in the same room with Tiffany and Sooyoung at the same time. It was quite a revolution a couple of years ago: two women rising up in an industry where women were believed to under-deliver.

Then there’s Jessica, Irene, and Seulgi (who just joined them)—also making their own marks.

Jessica, a Korean-American woman who started her own talent management company in the confines of her house. Now, the same company is one of the most influential talent management firms in the US. Her talents are mostly Asian women and they are all making great strides in Hollywood.

There’s Seulgi—an accidental idol; a woman who has flourished in an industry that demands perfection everyday. Yet, she thrives by not giving a fuck, by redefining standards; by telling young girls around the world that you can be a visual, a singer, and a dancer all at the same time because why would you let anybody define who you are? We are only as good as we believe we could be so why draw a limit?

Then, there’s Irene.

Wendy’s mind short circuits just thinking about her.

.

Wendy and Joy sit by the sidelines, watching the whole shoot unfold in front of them.

They watch Irene and Seulgi change into different hairstyles, makeup, and clothes. They get into the set and they take pictures, each one just as great as the last one. It fascinates Wendy how everything is so organized and practiced, and everything is just happening so, so fast that she forgets to take photos and videos for her Instagram.

That’s fine because Joy is there. She took Wendy’s phone and posted a couple of great shots on her Instagram Stories, putting witty captions and funny GIFs. She can only guess Twitter is already feasting on it—and Wendy can only think: wait until they see our selfie at the end of this day.

.

Wendy and Joy are in the middle of talking about a drama when the producers announce the first long break of the day. Soon as they hear the word break, Wendy sees Irene and Seulgi jump off their seats and make their way towards them.

There it is again, her heart being caught in her throat—because Irene’s hair is let down, the suit from the last photoset still hugging her figure so perfectly like it’s a well-organized crime.

It has to be unlawful, being this beautiful.

“Hey,” it’s Seulgi’s voice that reminds Wendy to breathe again. “I’m sorry, this is so boring.”

Seulgi takes a seat next to Joy while Irene just gravitates toward Wendy.

“How long is your break?” Joy asks no one in particular.

“An hour,” Irene replies.

“Oh!” Seulgi exclaims, turning to Joy. “Do you want to hear it? The studio is just upstairs.”

Joy’s whole expression is a mix of excitement and shock, “Oh my God!”

“Hear what?” Wendy sort-of whines because why does she suddenly feel left out between Joy and Seulgi?

Ignoring Wendy, Joy turns to Seulgi, “Will you let me hear it?”

“Of course!” Seulgi stands, taking Joy’s hand and dragging her gently out of the room.

Great. Now, it’s just Wendy and Irene.

Wendy pouts, turning to Irene, “What are they going to listen to?”

Irene chuckles, seeing the look on Wendy’s face, “You look like somebody took your candy.”

“I want to listen to what they’re listening to.”

Irene smiles, resting her back on the couch. There’s a decent distance between them and Wendy doesn’t know when she started feeling this thing where she just wants to scoot closer to Irene.

“It’s Seulgi’s comeback.”

“What?!” the doctor shrieks. “Joy gets to hear it and I don’t?”

Irene laughs, actually laughs, “No, you don’t get to hear it.”

“But why would she let Joy listen to it? Is Joy someone special or—oh,” she pauses soon as the words were out of her mouth.

With a knowing smile, Irene nods, “Exactly.”

Wendy unconsciously looks at the direction of where Joy and Seulgi disappeared to before she turns back to Irene, “Oh—do they even realize it?”

“I don’t think so.”

“It’s going to hit them in the face, isn’t it?”

“It will.”

Wendy thinks about it for a couple of seconds. Maybe, something good will actually come out of this lie. Whether it’s Irene’s career, or Wendy buying out the building owner, or maybe Joy and Seulgi, she likes to think that amazing things can come from terrible lies.

“How was your ER shift?” Irene asks, breaking the momentary dead air.

Wendy sighs, her thoughts floating back to that car crash victim. “We lost her,” she admits quietly, sinking back to couch. They’ve exchanged a couple of messages during the day so Irene already has an idea of what went down at the ER.

The doctor rests her back against the leather seat, unconsciously scooting closer to the actress.

“I’m sorry,” Irene empathizes.

Wendy shakes her head, “She lost too much blood and her head and lungs were injured so severely, keeping her alive would only make her suffer more.”

Irene doesn’t say anything.  She takes Wendy’s hand and wraps it with both of hers, her thumb drawing patterns on Wendy’s skin. It’s comforting, and it’s scary how Wendy kind of relaxes to it. It’s as if she’s been waiting for this since she got here.

Suddenly, she feels the weight of her ER shift slowly unlatch from her shoulders.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Irene asks after a couple of moments.

Wendy sighs heavily, “Not really.”

“I see. So, do you want to know where Seulgi was earlier?” there’s a hint of playfulness on Irene’s voice that makes Wendy turn to her.

“Is it gross?”

“It is,” she laughs and then tells Wendy all about it.

They spend the rest of the hour just talking and laughing.

For the first time in eight years, she feels memories of blonde hair and brown eyes slowly fade into the background.

.

The shoot goes on for what feels like forever.

Between Irene and Seulgi’s small breaks and Joy’s random fangirling, Wendy has managed to nap for a couple minutes or so, keeping her energy up. They decided to stay for the shoot with Wendy just randomly pulling out some case notes from her phone, going through them and tries to remember as much important details as she can.

Some things you learn best in calm, some in storm—literally. Like, she has case study notes from a snow storm two years ago where a patient was stabbed in the chest with an icicle.

Anyway.

Feeling the need to rest her eyes, Wendy stands up and looks around. Seulgi is having her solo photoshoot while Irene is nowhere to be seen. Wendy assumes that she’s probably just washing her face for a make-up change.

The doctor lets herself out of the room leaving Joy who’s busy watching Seulgi’s shoot. She has hearts in her eyes and for a moment, Wendy tries to recall the last time Joy was this fixated on somebody. The thought makes her cringe. That was Taehyung a year and a half ago; and Wendy feels rage just thinking about it.

Anyway.

Wendy reaches the hallway, puts her headphones on, and then does some stretching. She does this all the time at the hospital when she’s stressed or when she’s been reading at the lab for too long.

A few moments later, she realizes that Irene hasn’t come back and there’s something that tugs at her chest. Something urges her to check the bathroom and if there’s anything she’s learned from her mentors, it is to trust her gut.

She makes the short walk to the ladies’ room and finds it empty.

Hmm. Odd.

She then goes back to the studio and notes that Irene still isn’t in the room. The feeling in her gut intensifies. She doesn’t know what it is but something tells her she needs to find Irene soon.

She walks around the floor and even tries to check her phone to see if Irene left her a message.

Nothing.

A couple of minutes more, she spots Jessica and Tiffany talking silently by the lobby next to the elevators. She walks over to them and once within earshot, she catches a small part of their conversation.

…just tell the producers she stepped out for a bit, Jesus, Tiff,” she hears Jessica say in English, punctuated by an exasperated sigh.

They both shut up soon as Wendy gets close as if attempting to hide whatever they were talking about. Something about it doesn’t sit right with Wendy.

“Have you seen Irene?” Wendy asks as she approaches the two older women.

To their credit, both Jessica and Tiffany don’t even flinch at the question. They maintain a neutral expression as they turn to her.

“She’s on a break,” Jessica answers, voice never wavering a bit.

Just relying on her gut, Wendy decides that no. Jessica doesn’t get to boss her around like this. Not today.

“She’s been on break for, like, 30 minutes,” Wendy states. “The producer has been yelling out the instructions the entire day. I know she’s not supposed to be on break. Where is she?”

“Wendy,” Jessica inhales through her nose. “When I say she’s taking a break, she’s taking a break.”

When she realizes that there’s no breaking Jessica’s resolve, she turns to Tiffany. She pleads with her eyes, silently hoping Tiffany will clue her in.

It takes a few seconds before Tiffany takes a deep breath and says, “Rooftop.”

“Tiffany!” Jessica scolds, her voice a notch higher.

Now, this is where she gets convinced that something is happening.

“What?” the CEO argues with her fiancé. “Joohyun needs to talk to somebody.”

“That’s not your decision to make.”

“That’s not your decision either.”

Wendy could sense a fight coming but that’s not her problem anymore.

“I’m just gonna go find Joohyun,” Wendy excuses herself as she bows, Irene’s Korean name slipping past her tongue quite effortlessly.

She walks away from the two women and finds the elevators. As she presses the button to the “RD” floor, she feels anticipation creeping up her spine. Thanks to the building’s speedy elevator, she’s up the 31st floor in no time.

It doesn’t take a lot to find Irene.

Soon as she gets in, she sees the actress sitting on the floor right across her. Her back is against the wall, her legs stretched in front of her. She’s wearing the black dress from the shoot but her hair is slightly mussed, her eye makeup smudged by tears.

Wendy runs toward the girl and quickly kneels by her side.

Taking a closer look, she sees Joohyun sweating like crazy, her hands and knees trembling.

She’s having a panic attack.

“Joohyun,” Wendy breathes, taking her friend’s hands in her hers in an attempt to calm her down.

“I—” Joohyun stutters, looking up at Wendy with glassy eyes and that—that’s what ultimately breaks Wendy’s heart.

The doctor takes a seat next to the actress, never letting her hand go. “I got you,” she whispers as her thumb traces random patterns on the back of the girl’s hand.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” Joohyun tries. Her words intending to push Wendy away but her voice lacks the bite.

“I’m not but I’m already here and there’s no way I’m leaving you,” Wendy tells her firmly.

Joohyun doesn’t say anything and neither does Wendy. A few moments pass and the cold settles between them relentlessly. That’s only when Wendy decides to let go of the girl’s hand but only to take her jacket off and put it over the girl’s shoulder.

“I’m fine,” Joohyun says, her voice shaking a bit. But Wendy takes it as a good sign when the girl pulls Wendy’s jacket tighter and closer to her body.

“No, you’re not.”

Silence.

It envelopes them for a while and in between their timid silence, Wendy thinks of the girl next to her. She’s had her shit together the entire day, a picture of a girl who’s strong and independent; somebody you can’t help but look up to. She looked happy, ecstatic even. It’s as if there’s nothing wrong in the world. Yet here they are.

To say that Wendy is surprised would be an understatement.

Joohyun’s bitter chuckle breaks their silence, cutting through the sound of the breeze hitting them cold in their faces.

“You must think differently of me now.”

Wendy turns to her, focusing on her face. She thinks about Joohyun’s statement and decides that no, she doesn’t think of her differently now.

“No,” she utters because it’s the truth. “I just realized that there are a lot of things I don’t know about you.”

“Is that bad?”

“Of course not.”

“Are you going to doctor me?”

“No, I’ll just sit here and be with you until you feel better,” Wendy tells her. “I mean, I can’t do that because that would be unethical. I’m a surgeon and not a psychologist. You know, we don’t have to talk if you don’t want to. But I mean—we could, if you want. Or I could just talk. I mean—” she pauses, a bit out of breath, “I could talk all day but you already know that and I—”

This time, Joohyun actually laughs, “Wendy.”

Embarrassed, Wendy stops talking altogether, “I’m sorry.”

Joohyun shakes her head, “Don’t be. You’re cute.”

Wendy only smiles, feeling a sigh of relief when she feels Joohyun relax next to her. She’s stopped shaking and Wendy feels her breathing starting to normalize.

“I—” she stutters but Wendy feels her square her shoulders up, gathering her strength. For what, Wendy’s not sure. “It doesn’t happen a lot.”

By it, she means this. And by this, she means the panic attacks.

Joohyun continues, “I just—it happens very randomly. My therapist says it’s not random. That I have triggers but I don’t know what they are. I’m still trying to figure that out.”

“That’s okay.  You’re allowed to have days like this.”

“I just—I got this, you know,” the actress says, her hand curling around Wendy’s tightly. The doctor clasps her hand back as if to say, I’m here and I got you. “I’m okay. Most days, I’m okay. It just gets too overwhelming sometimes.”

“The universe is a little shit sometimes, isn’t she?” Wendy chances a glance at the other girl. “One day, you’re swimming and the next day you’re drowning.”

Joohyun nods, a smile escaping her lips, “What a little shit, she is.”

Wendy lets out a small laugh.

Joohyun speaks up again, “I don’t know what to do when this happens. I don’t know how to stop it.”

“The thing is, you can’t stop it,” Wendy says. “Some days, these things come without a warning and it’ll take you by surprise how absolutely overwhelmed you are by this whole world and that’s okay. Some days, you’ve got to sit by yourself and take it all in.”

“I just feel so powerless, you know. When it happens, I feel like I’m so weak for—”

“I’m gonna stop you there, okay?” Wendy shifts on her seat until she’s facing Joohyun. She looks the girl in the eyes, “You’re doing your best, Joohyun.”

If the other girl is surprised at Wendy’s use of her name, she doesn’t show it.

“It doesn’t feel like it.”

“It’s easy to discredit ourselves despite all the progress we’re making but I’ll tell you this. Let me tell you this, Joohyun, you’re doing your best and you might think that goes unnoticed but try to remember how many times you’ve picked yourself up off the floor. Think about the number of times you’ve washed away all your messy makeup and put yourself to bed—albeit in tears but you did, anyway. By yourself, without asking anyone else for help.”

Joohyun merely looks at her, eyes glistening with tears that don’t quite fall.

Wendy continues because she doesn’t know how to stop, “Think about the times you’ve said no to any unhealthy ways you could’ve dealt with this, or the number of times you’ve treated yourself with love and kindness. Have you forgotten about the times you’ve made peace with your anger? With your imperfections? Joohyun, you might think these are small things compared to the vastness of the universe, but if these things feel big? Then they are. The world doesn’t get to decide what moves you, you do.”

It’s a whole speech and Wendy doesn’t know where the eloquence is coming from but for the life of her, she can’t spend another second without telling Joohyun all of this. “You’re taking care of a body that sometimes doesn’t feel like its your own and you have to give yourself credit for that. When days like this happen, remind yourself that you’re doing the best that you can. That doesn’t make you weak, Joohyun. You know what that makes you?”

Joohyun doesn’t answer but she holds Wendy’s gaze steady, anticipating a continuation.

“It makes you a force to reckon with. It makes you a fire—and nothing; nothing can make fire feel afraid.”

She’s out of breath by the time she finishes her whole speech but there’s tons of feelings burning in her chest. There’s a spark in Joohyun’s eyes—a kind she’s seeing for the first time as if Wendy is her beacon of hope—and the doctor decides that despite the tears brimming in her eyes, the girl in front of her is easily one of the strongest people she knows.

Wendy doesn’t think hell is a destination. She thinks hell is something you carry around with you and this woman has carried her personal hell with grace, strength, and a tenacity that makes her so strong and brave. And God, it’s breathtaking how brave Joohyun is.

They don’t say anything for a while but Wendy feels something shift between them. She doesn’t quite yet know what it is but it’s important.

Years from now, when things are all different, Wendy will always look back to this moment as the point when everything started to change.

.

“Thank you for agreeing to this sit-down interview,” the reporter says, a gentle smile gracing his lips. Wendy recognizes him. He’s been observing the shoot the entire day, taking notes and typing away at his laptop.

Across him sits Seulgi and Irene, now makeup-free and dressed in casual wear. The shoot has just wrapped but the magazine secured a short interview for their cover story spread.

The actress feels okay now. After Wendy’s TEDTalk episode at the rooftop, Joohyun started to calm down. She was able to compose herself before she went back to the shoot. When she returns to the studio hand-in-hand with Wendy, she puts on a brave face—a smile, Wendy thinks, for the days when she’d been resilient enough to keep going.

Wendy and Joy are still sitting on the couch they’ve hogged for the entire day, front-row seats for the magic (or disaster) that was going to happen. Jessica, along with the CEOs Tiffany and Sooyoung, is standing by end of the room. Far enough not to distract the interview but also close enough to step in just in case the reporter asks questions that they didn’t agree on.

For a moment, Wendy’s eyes lock with Tiffany’s across the room. The older girl acknowledges her with a nod and a smile. Wendy thinks she just secured an invite to their wedding.

The doctor learns that the interview questions were pre-screened. There were strict guidelines on asking questions for the interview. Seulgi doesn’t want to talk about her lovelife while Irene is more private about her past.

The interview starts lightly.

They talk about how Seulgi and Irene met, how they became close; and about the things that they like about each other. Seulgi talks about her comeback, Irene talks about her upcoming TV show.

There was nothing odd about the interview until the reporter decides that he has a death wish.

“So, Irene,” he starts, his body language shifting from relaxed to something more aggressive.

See, Wendy reads people well. When she recognizes the sign, she perks up on her seat, dedicated to paying more attention. He doesn’t seem physically violent, that’s the first thing that crosses Wendy’s mind.

But cruelty comes in different forms.

“We heard that you’re quite the diva,” he continues, a smug smile plastered on his lips. He tries to laugh it off, “There are many evidences of you being rude to the staff and to your fans.”

In her peripheral, Wendy sees Jessica ready to jump in and maybe shred the guy in pieces but Irene merely gives her manager a look. I got this­—is what the look says, so other woman backs down. But Wendy could see she’s prepared for a war. What a woman, she is.

“Evidences?” Irene inquires with a steady voice.

Next to Irene, Wendy could see Seulgi’s shoulders stiffen. She, too, is ready for war.

“There are articles written about you on the Internet. They all say the same thing, that you’re really awful to work with.”

“Such strong words,” the actress comments, still calm and collected. “However, I do believe that we all have different experiences with people. Your experience might be different from others even though it’s basically the same scenario. It’s all about perspective.”

“Is it, really?” he prods.

“Yeah,” Irene nods, still composed. “What were they saying about me being rude? How was I rude?”

“They say you like to order people around, that you have many demands.”

The actress nods, “Could it be that I was just being firm about what I need to do my job well? Could it be that I was just being very specific?”

“Well, you don’t have to order people around.”

“You mean, ask them to do the job they’re supposed to do?”

There’s silence around the room, a heavy silence wrapped in tension so thick, Wendy could cut it with her fingers.

She tries to recall the events of the day.

Wendy has spent almost the entire day just watching Irene operate in her world. She tells her staff what to do, what she needs, and she’s very keen on details. She’s in touch with every creative aspect of the shoot and isn’t afraid to voice out what she likes or doesn’t like.

Maybe, that’s where all those articles are from. Irene’s a strong-headed woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to say it.

In front of the camera, she’s strong and fierce; and she has an aura that says she has her whole shit together but off-camera?

Off-camera Irene is Joohyun. If you look hard enough, she’s soft and accommodating.

Indeed, there are people assigned to get Irene everything she needs but never, ever, in the stretch of the entire day did Wendy hear her stop saying ‘please’ or ‘I’m sorry I can’t get it myself, I’m stuck here on makeup for the next 20 minutes.’

She’s firm about her demands but she asks nicely. She might not be as smiley and giddy as Seulgi but she’s nice. In a uniquely Irene way, she’s nice. Taking into account the moment they had at the rooftop, Wendy admires how willing Joohyun is to put others before her; how, despite her struggles, she’s still willing to be nice and not use her condition as an excuse to be an ass.

So Wendy doesn’t get what this guy is ranting about and he better stop before—

“Touché,” he concedes, and Wendy feels a slight relief. “You’re right. I’m sorry for attacking you like that,” he apologizes, doing a complete 180.

Shady.

Irene only nods but Wendy could tell she’s uncomfortable now.

“Just one last question,” he insists. “What was that about earlier?”

Why isn’t anybody stopping this guy?

“What do you mean?”

“When you disappeared from the shoot.”

At this point, everyone is on the edge of their seats, ready to step in if it goes south.

He continues, “You just disappeared in the middle of the shoot and the staff had to rearrange the schedule to accommodate this unprofessional behavior.”

What the fuck?

Irene takes a deep breath and releases it slowly, as if making an effort to calm herself down. “I needed to take a breather,” she admits. “It has been a long week. I just needed to catch my breath for a moment.”

“Does that happen very often?”

“Does what happen very often?”

“I mean, you, walking out of a set to,” he then raises his hands and gestures an air quote, mocking Irene’s answer, “take a breather.”

It’s Jessica who snaps, “Stop it.”

“I’m just asking questions.”

“No, you’re attacking her and I’m going to make sure that you no longer have a job tomorrow,” is what she says and it’s scary how the words coming out of Jessica’s mouth could might as well be reality.

But see—Wendy could have just not said something. She could have just sat there and ate her food but no, the Universe decides that it’s time for things to change.

“She’s allowed to have bad days,” Wendy starts, her voice low and sincere. There’s an anger bubbling at the pit of her stomach, a need to guard Irene from this asshole.

They all turn to her; all of them: the reporter, Seulgi, Joy, Tiffany, Sooyoung, Jessica, and Irene. They all turn to her, their eyes wide in mixed shock and confusion.

“She’s allowed to step out when things get overwhelming and you have no right to call her out like this,” she says.

“But in the middle of the shoot?” he argues. “She could’ve just waited.”

“You think that if she had a choice, she would walk out in the middle of all of this? You think that,” she mimics the guy’s air quotes, “if she could just wait, she would walk out and let an asshole like you see through a moment like that?”

At this point, the reporter is just stunned and speechless.

Wendy takes it as a cue to continue, “So she needed time to think. So she needed somebody to be there for her, what the fuck is wrong with that? Do you know that being able to feel safe with other people is perhaps the single most important aspect of mental health? That safe connections with people is fundamental to a meaningful and satisfying life?”

She could see everyone’s faces. She could hear the wheels turning in their heads. What the fuck is Wendy doing?

“Say something,” she demands, moving one step forward. It’s the body of language of somebody asking for a fight; a challenge, a dare: come closer and you will feel my rage.

The reporter? He’s just staring at Wendy like he doesn’t understand anything so, yeah, Wendy would just keep talking.

“There are many studies of disaster response around the world that have shown that social support is the most powerful protection against becoming overwhelmed by stress and trauma,” she almost cringes at herself for sounding so… doctor-y.

Wendy clears her throat, suddenly feeling like she needs to add proper citation. So she does because she’s a responsible human being, “That’s from a book by Bessel van der Kolk. Look it up.”

Joy chuckles loudly and then, quickly makes an attempt to hide it.

“You know what? I don’t know what you’re saying. I’m just asking questions,” the reporter says defensively, truly believing that he hasn’t done anything wrong.

“You say that but that’s not true. You already have a story in your head and you came in here trying to craft this whole thing so it becomes your business. I know people like you. You only care about your story and the money you make off of it but you refuse to see the girl’s struggle even though you’ve sat and observed the entire day,” she goes off because that’s what she does.

“I can’t help it if I saw things and wanted to confirm. Why are you slandering me?”

Wendy chuckles bitterly as she takes a few steps forward. It all happens so fast.

Suddenly, she’s right in front of him, towering over him.

Everyone kind of shuffles in their places. Jessica, Tiffany, and Sooyoung all surge forward in an attempt to stop Wendy. Joy and Seulgi also try to catch up but it’s Irene who gets to her first.

The actress takes her hand as if stopping her from doing anything she’d regret but she’s already here.

There’s no stopping now, “I’m slandering you? You? You, who have just spent the last few minutes attacking her?”

He stands, throwing his hands in surrender, “You know what? This interview is done. I’ll make sure the media knows all about this tomorrow.”

They’re standing face to face now but Wendy? Wendy is on fire.

“You do that and I’ll make sure you never get a job ever again. You have no idea what I’m capable of,” there she is. Son Seungwan: the chaebol daughter in her coming out so naturally in times like this. She’s bluffing but who cares?

“Who the fuck are you, then?”

“I’m—”

A friend. A doctor. A human rights advocate. A feminist. A singer. A struggling business owner. A chaebol daughter.

She thinks of many ways she could answer that question but none of those seemed as relevant as the next few words she’s going to say.

A beat.

And then all at once.

“I’m her girlfriend.”

And that—that’s how everything changed. The selfie be damned. They probably won’t need that if Dispatch has anything to say about it.

Wendy releases a nervous breath.

Fake dating Irene Bae is, clearly, a disaster waiting to happen.

/

Chapter Text

/

Los Angeles, A Couple of Months Ago
Back when everything was so fucking simple

“I’ve got an idea,” Jessica saunters in, the sound of her stilettos echoing in Irene’s ears.

Irene had been enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon, lounging around in the comfort of her own home. She’s sitting by the veranda of her room, basking in the soft afternoon glow of Los Angeles. She’s been here awhile but it never gets old.

She’s had the entire day planned: she was going to read a book, catch up on the episodes of Grey’s Anatomy she’d missed while she was filming, maybe even cook a nice meal for herself.

With all the filming she’s done the last few months, it’s something she hasn’t done for a long time. So when she learned that she has the weekend to herself, she’d pictured a chill, quiet afternoon at home.

But soon as Jessica sent her a text saying, I’m dropping by—she threw away all the plans she had and prepared herself for any crazy idea her manager has. After all, Jessica never drops by unplanned. Unless of course, she has a boulder to drop on Irene’s head which, per experience, always manages to hit the actress right in the face.

“What is it?” Irene asks, eyes rolling to the back of her head because Jessica and I’m dropping by, and I’ve got an idea are a deadly, deadly combination.

“Remember when the producers said you weren’t edgy enough for that film role you like so much?”

Of course, how can she forget? How can she forget the day when the film’s producer basically said, ‘yeah she’s good but that’s just not enough’—yeah, she remembers.

See, Irene is used to rejections. As far as she’s concerned, she’s handled them well in all the years she’s spent in this cruel industry. So no, it doesn’t bother her much that the producers didn’t think she was edgy enough for it.

What bothers her more is that she actually wants it—she wants that role. Not only does that project have the potential to elevate her career, it’s actually something she wants to do. It’s not the role of the Asian bestfriend. It’s not an Asian lead role that only materialized because of the pressure to push diversity in every corner of Hollywood.

It’s a Sundance, a BAFTA, and a Cannes visibility all at once—and see, Irene isn’t a sucker for awards but having a lead role in a film featured in these festivals is something she’d always dreamt of.

So is she salty about not being edgy enough? No.

Is she salty about not getting the role?

Absolutely.

“What about it?” she asks curiously.

“You’re going to date somebody,” Jessica announces, quirking an eyebrow as if it’s the world’s most unique idea.

“What? No,” she shakes her head. “Hard pass. I’m desperate but I’m not that desperate.”

“No, you won’t be dating them for real, Irene,” the manager insists. “It will all be fake.”

“What? Like I would fake-date somebody for exposure? That’s not—”

“It’s just a couple of pap photos together, social media stints, public appearances—Irene it’s not a lot.”

“It sounds like a lot. And no one in their right mind would agree to fake-date me. You know everyone hates me.”

Jessica sighs softly, “Not true. They don’t hate you. They just think you’re awful to work with.”

Irene turns to Jessica pointedly, “How is that helping?”

“Okay,” Jessica gestures with her hand to try and calm Irene down, “Stop belittling yourself. They don’t hate you. They just don’t get you.”

Irene huffs, “Still not helping.”

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter because it’s not going to be anybody you’ve worked with.”

“Doesn’t matter who it is, I don’t like—”

“—it can be somebody from your high school. In Korea.”

That stops her altogether because—“What?”

Irene’s attention is now fully on her manager. Jessica grins, perhaps knowing she struck a chord, “I thought about it. I even called Tiffany and she agreed that it’s a great plan.”

“You called unnie?” Irene asks, perking up on her seat. Her interest is piqued because one, Jessica hardly ever asks anybody about her plans and second, she asked Tiffany. That’s equivalent to swallowing her pride altogether.

Her manager nods, “You know Tiffany. She would never agree with my plans in any other circumstances but this one makes sense to her.”

“I’m listening,” she sighs. If it made sense to Tiffany, it’s probably not that crazy.

“Okay,” Jessica begins. She pulls a chair next to Irene and takes a seat, her body turned to the actress as if she needs her to listen to every word she’s going to say. “We’ll do the whole fake-dating thing when you return to Seoul to film Russian. Think about it, you’ve been away from home for so many years. Then you come home for the first time in eight years. You meet an old friend and boom—that’s a love story for the ages and the public would absolutely fall for it. Plus points if the girl is cute and totally shippable.”

Shippa-what?”

“Forget that, grandma,” Jessica dismisses. “The point is, this kind of opportunity doesn’t come very often. She will not be someone from the industry because the people are getting harder to fool these days. She’s someone you’ve known before. She’s going to be a cute little normal person with no sense of the entertainment industry and boom—there’s the sound of my phone ringing because you’ve just landed the role.”

“How is that going to help me be more…” she cringes as she says, “…edgy?”

“The person you date changes the way people look at you. You date a white guy, nobody would give a fuck. You date a white girl, probably some people will care but the interest will fade soon as Taylor Swift starts dating somebody new. But you, dating a girl from high school after years of being apart, the public will fucking swoon, Irene.”

Irene only looks at Jessica and weighs her options.

Jessica takes her silence as the cue to keep talking, “Nobody wants to admit it but everyone’s a sucker for happy endings.”

The actress bites her lip and releases a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. “So it’s somebody from Lee Sooman?”

“Yes, it could be anybody. We can try and ask them, see if there’s anything we can offer them. Money usually does the trick.”

“This is crazy, Jess.”

“It is, I know,” Jessica nods. “But when you re-signed with the agency, you made me promise to get you the moon. This is me, setting up the Apollo for you.”

That brilliant analogy makes Irene smile.

Now, Jessica relaxes. She sits back on the chair and looks toward the skies. There’s a calm smile on her face and Irene hates that she probably already won this discussion.

After a couple of moments, Jessica turns her head to Irene and looks her in the eyes, “I know you have somebody in mind. I can track her if you want me to.”

Irene doesn’t say anything, not feeling the need to deny whatever Jessica thinks she knows. Jessica knows a lot of things about her; some days, she’s convinced that Jessica knows her better than she knows herself. This very thought scares the hell out of her.

“Can you do that?” Irene falters, her lips trembling a bit.

“Have ever let you down?” Jessica asks, a lopsided grin escaping her lips.

“You don’t want me to answer that.”

Jessica rolls her eyes, “I’m serious, Irene. I can get ahold of her. I just want to know if you’re sure. You will be opening a can of worms with this one.”

“I don’t know.”

“Think about it,” Jessica tells her. “But just until Friday because I have personal deadlines.”

“Ugh.”

.

Fast-forward to today and Irene is still deciding if it ever was a good decision. It’s probably not one of her best ones but she’s here today—and God, it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

It was supposed to be simple. The days were supposed to pass very quickly but no, the days are dragging on for too long and this whole thing is getting out of hand. When Jessica promised her the moon, she didn’t realize that it was going to be a long, bumpy ride. She’s never been there but she already hates the outer space.

“I just want to understand the thought process, Wendy,” Jessica states, a serious look plastered on her face. Her voice is low but commanding, owning the room without needing to raise the volume.

They’re in the same conference room where all of this started: inside a conference room at the 34th floor of some tall skyscraper somewhere in Gangnam.

She’s sitting across Jessica who has an eerily calm look on her face, that calm-before-the-storm look that Irene knows so well.

Next to Jessica is Jeongyeon—strong and brave Jeongyeon—who has lasted a full five years working for Jessica. She’s looks stiff sitting next to her boss, knowing exactly what’s going to happen.

Then there’s Wendy who is sitting next to Irene. She’s in a simple pair of jeans and a long-sleeved, closed neck white sweater, a hair tie barely keeping her hair back. She’s wearing a pair of round glasses and that new addition makes her look so much doctor-y now. If it was just appropriate in this situation, Irene would’ve teased her for it.

“Somebody had to shut the guy up,” Wendy argues. She’s not yelling but her tone doesn’t lack the courage. There’s strength in the way she says the words; it’s as if she isn’t going to back down even if Jessica unleashed hell right there and then.

“You mean you tried to solve one problem by causing another problem?”

“I think you’re failing to see the big picture here, Ms. Jung.”

Oh, the formality. Okay.

Irene locks eyes with Jeongyeon from across the room. The air in the room is thick with pride, two tireless warriors going head to head with no signs of wear.

It’s been two days since the incident with the reporter and just this morning, Jessica was woken up by a call from no other than Dispatch, warning her about the news they’re about to drop at 6PM today. So no, this isn’t exactly Jessica’s favorite day.

Jessica lays back on her chair, a sarcastic smile escaping her lips. She gestures with her hands as she leers, “Enlighten me about this big picture here, Ms. Son.”

“Look,” Wendy starts. “He was harassing her with words and mean things. You can’t just expect me to just sit there and do nothing.”

“What do you think you did here? What do exactly do you think you achieved here?”

Wendy opens her mouth to say something but no words come out. Irene sees Wendy ball her hands to a fist so tight she could see her knuckles turning white. That’s when Irene chooses to step in.

“Jess, it’s done. There’s nothing we can do now but make a new plan on how we’re gonna go from here—“

“We did have a plan, Irene,” Jessica looks at her, eyes devoid of any emotion.

“Then, let’s just make another plan,” Irene simplifies and really, she’s skating on thin ice here. There’s nothing Jessica hates more than getting her plans ruined.

“I just can’t make a plan only for Ms. Son here to swoop in riding her white horse in an attempt to save day,” she tells Irene and then turns her attention back to Wendy, “I don’t want to waste any more time here. So Wendy, if you’re not going to do things as I say, you let me know because it would be better for the both of us to cut our losses early.”

Wait, what? Is it really that serious for Jessica to consider call this whole thing off?

“Jess, I don’t think we—“

Wendy cuts her almost-panic. “If you’re looking for an apology, you’re not going to get it because I’m really not sorry. He deserved that and you know it, too,” the doctor says, her voice laced with a certain stubbornness Irene is seeing for the first time.

The manager releases a heavy breath, shoulders slacking a bit. Irene takes that as a slightly good sign. Jessica tells her, “I’m not trying to persecute you, Wendy. I’m not asking for an apology, I just want to understand.”

“What’s so hard to understand? I just—“ she quickly looks at Irene before locking eyes with Jessica again, “It’s just not who I am to just stand around when my friend is being attacked like that. You may be used to it, Jessica? But I’m not.”

“We could’ve gotten back at him in a different way, you know? Lose the battle, win the war.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t play games when it comes to the people I care about.”

It’s silence that follows Wendy’s proclamation. It’s so silent that for a moment, Irene fears that they might hear how loud her heart is beating.

Wendy cares about her and the girl said it so casually, words spilling out of her mouth as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. It takes her aback how Wendy could expose her heart like that like it’s second nature.

Something in the air has changed and Irene can’t pinpoint exactly what it is.

“Let me tell you about my big picture, Wendy,” Jessica says offhandedly and see, this is just the beginning. She perks up on her seat, straightens her back, and meets Wendy’s gaze, willing it to stay locked with hers. “I get why you felt the need to do that and honestly? I respect you for that. Kind of hot, if I’m going to be honest but now, your little outburst has Dispatch up our asses and I could offer them nothing in exchange of not dropping the bomb at 6PM today.”

Jessica stands and Irene doesn’t understand how she manages to keep Wendy’s attention on her but the doctor’s eyes stays trained on her. Her manager takes a deep breath and walks over to the side where the big windows are.

Outside, the view of the city awaits them, uncaringly beautiful in its stillness; as if their world inside this conference room isn’t about drop 34 floors down.

There’s a couple moments of silence before Jessica turns back to them and continues, “We wanted it to be believable that’s why there’s a timeline. Something that makes sense, something that looks legit. Now, Dispatch is about to break the news that you two are dating with pictures from the shoot where you two look all coupl-y, and honestly? If this was four months into this whole thing, I would’ve appreciated the spectacle but right now? Right now, not really so I hope you understand where I’m coming from because you lose nothing here, Wendy. We will still pay you because we signed a contract but this whole thing lowers the risk of this lie working in the face of the producers we’re trying to convince.”

Wendy lets out a sigh as she shakes her head. “I didn’t think it would escalate like this,” she admits.

Irene takes her hand and squeezes it, assuring her of… what, the actress isn’t sure but it made sense to her, holding Wendy’s hand to tell her they’re on the same team.

“When you burst like that, things are only bound to escalate.”

“Jessica,” Irene cautions. “There’s no use in doing this. Let’s just think of how we can spin this.”

Jessica smirks sarcastically, “Let’s? I’m the only one doing the planning here—“

“Well that’s your job, isn’t it?” Irene retorts.

For the first time since this meeting started, Irene sees Wendy break into a smile. She tries to conceal it but she brightens up a bit and honestly? Jessica is already probably plotting Irene’s murder in her head right now but if she dies today because she decided to oppose her manager, then it would’ve been worth it seeing Wendy smile like that.

So dramatic, Irene.

Jessica was about to say something when the door of the conference room slides open revealing Tiffany who walks in heaving a bit. It’s rare to see Tiffany in this state. She’s always so composed, so together, but right now, she’s looks like she’s panicking.

“Nobody panic,” she announces… panicked. She stands by the doorway, her eyes wide as she stares at the occupants of the room. She presses her hands to the jacket of her all-white suit and takes a deep, rugged breath.

There’s only one person in the entire world that can get Tiffany like this—and God! Irene hopes, prays, summons all gods known to man, that this is not what she thinks it is.

Her sister turns to her and says, “Joohyun.” Irene doesn’t miss the name she used, or the way she says, “Our mother is here.”

Of course—of course, her gut feeling was right. Shit.

Irene’s first instinct is to look at Jessica.

See, Jessica is a tough woman. Hardly anything ever scares her—probably even death herself couldn’t even shake the woman. But Tiffany and Joohyun’s mom? That’s a whole different story.

Soon as Irene sees the scandalized look on Jessica’s face, she’s suddenly reminded of her own impending doom.

“She wants to have lunch with the both of us and wants you,” she points at Jessica, “to join us.”

Jessica visibly swallows, “Does she already know?”

There’s a quiver in her voice and if this was happening to somebody else, Irene would’ve laughed but this is happening to her, too.

“That we’re engaged?” Tiffany clarifies but then answers her own question, “Of course, Jess. I called her the morning after you proposed.”

As Jessica ponders her fate, Irene turns to Wendy and sees her calmly sitting there, cluelessly looking around the room. She shifts her gaze from a wide-eyed Jessica then to Tiffany who looks like she’s barely keeping it together; and finally, she looks at Irene who only gives her an awkward, tight-lipped smile.

It was the exact moment that Tiffany chooses to say, “And Joohyun? I might have told her you have a girlfriend and said girlfriend is here with you and Jess. So now, Wendy’s coming with us to lunch.”

“Unnie!” Irene shrieks, standing up from her seat. “Why would you do that?”

That’s when Wendy finally catches up, “Wait? What?”

Tiffany shrugs, “I already booked a private room at the restaurant just across the street. She’ll be there in 20 minutes.”

Shit.

Irene turns back to Wendy who now looks paler than she was earlier, her eyes hinting a bit of panic but overall, she’s holding it together fairly. In that moment, Irene wishes for the ground to open up and swallow her because maybe getting sent to the core of the Earth would be better that watching her adoptive mother meet her fake girlfriend before Dispatch reveals their “relationship” at 6PM.

If you ask Irene how her day is going, she’d say that this probably isn’t her favorite day.

.

See, Irene wouldn’t say that her mom is scary.

Irene started living with the Hwangs when she moved to Seoul from Daegu to attend Lee Sooman International. The woman took her in when she lost her parents; and then went as far as legally adopting her so she can become an official sponsor of her move to LA. The woman supported her all the way, making trips to LA multiple times a year just to visit or attend her movie premieres and cast parties.

Not to mention the fact that the woman raised Tiffany—shiny, happy, and always so optimistic Tiffany—so she must have done something really right.

So no, Irene wouldn’t say that her mom is scary but she holds incredibly high standards for the people her daughters date.

This is the reason why Jessica is terrified of her and also the reason why Joohyun has never introduced any of the people she dated.

But shit happens—and here they are today.

As the four of them make their way to the restaurant, Joohyun looks up. See, she’s not particularly religious but Lord, this is the perfect time for the ground to open up and swallow her whole.

.

“So, let me just recall,” Wendy states carefully as she turns to Joohyun. “She’s actually your aunt because she’s your mom’s sister. But she has legally adopted you so she’s basically your mom, too.”

“Correct,” Irene affirms, pacing back and forth within the small space between the door and the round table.

It’s a fancy Chinese restaurant and it shows by the way the entire room is designed elegantly in shades of gold and white. There’s an expensive-looking, diamond-clad chandelier hung in the middle of the room but Irene eyes the fire alarm switch just in case she needs it. Just like Wendy the cat, Irene too could exit this whole lunch if she just created an emergency situation.

Wendy is sat on one of the chairs next to the round table, her eyes narrowed in confusion. But she isn’t freaking out so maybe, she’s doing the best out of all of them.

The doctor continues to put the puzzle together, “So, she and Tiffany lived in Seoul almost their entire lives but your mom decided to move back to Daegu six years ago or two years after you moved to LA because she thinks Seoul is getting really crowded.”

“That’s correct.”

The doctor nods her head in understanding, “And she’s here today for a few days because she wants to celebrate Tiffany getting engaged and you getting a girlfriend.”

“Yeah,” Joohyun confirms and again swallows an invisible lump in her throat.

It’s really not too late for that hole in the ground.

Wendy lets out a determined breath and then rubs her hands together, “Okay, I think I got it.”

Irene sees her look around and for a moment, the actress wonders why Wendy isn’t panicking at all. But then she’s reminded that Wendy is good in crisis situations. This is nothing compared to what goes down at the emergency room but this is a disaster situation all on its own.

She charges it to the fact that Wendy has never met her mother. (Which, now that she thinks about it, is worse—and please, if this is somehow a bad dream, this would be the perfect time to get woken up.)

Tiffany is sitting next to Wendy, somehow calmer now but she still seems anxious (if the way she clings to her phone is anything to go by.)

Jessica isn’t faring better because she, too, is pacing back and forth—her face showing no signs of weakness but Irene knows that she’s equally just as nervous because it’s Tiffany’s mom. They’ve met a hundred times in the past but her manager is convinced that the woman doesn’t like her at all. Jessica is also convinced that if there’s one person in the world who could talk Tiffany out of marrying her, it’s her; and there’s nothing that terrifies Jessica more than the woman’s disapproval.

“Stop pacing around,” Wendy tells Jessica and also Irene. “Why are you so nervous?”

Irene gives Wendy a look, “Why aren’t you?”

Wendy shrugs, “I’m just as anxious as you. I just don’t waste my time pacing around when it does nothing but tire me out.”

“You’re meeting my mom, Wendy,” Irene emphasizes. “As my fake girlfriend, you should at least be a little bit nervous.”

The doctor shrugs, “Moms and dads usually like me, I mean—I’ve never had a bad experience with any of my friends’ parents before. I’m very likeable.”

Irene rolls her eyes good-naturedly, “Well, you haven’t met my mother.”

“I’m certain she’s not worse than my mother so I’m sure I can manage,” Wendy asserts and then smiles, “Don’t worry, Irene. Your mom will like me.”

And maybe, just maybe—that’s the thing that scares Irene the most.

.

The next thing Irene knows, her mom—all 5-foot-flat of her, Ms. Hwang Hyegyeong—is sitting across her next to her Tiffany. Jessica is on her fiancé’s other side, trying to keep her resolve intact by busying herself with the food.

Her mom is in an elegant, short-sleeved dress accented by an expensive-looking set of pearl necklace. Her short hair is curled up neatly, revealing a matching set of earrings. She looks like one of those k-drama mothers who end up being awful to their son’s girlfriend and really, none of this helps Irene’s resolve.

Her arrival was anticlimactic. She was civil to everybody and everyone acted nicely; which makes sense because her mom isn’t really awful but you know? She’s still a mom and she’s here with her eldest daughter’s fiancé and her youngest’s girlfriend. So, you know, it’s a bit of a situation.

Wendy is sitting next to Irene, still calm and composed as ever (which should be a good thing because hello) but Irene can’t help but feel a bit annoyed. Meeting the parent should be a bigger deal than Wendy’s making out to be. She’s supposed to be nervous or something. And granted, they’re not really dating but Irene’s expecting at least a little bit of care from Wendy because hello, she’s supposed to be meeting her girlfriend’s mother.

This is a big deal—again, they’re not really dating but still.

She’s rambling in her thoughts. God.

“So you proposed to Tiffany in an elevator?” their mom asks Jessica who almost chokes on her food.

Irene almost facepalms.

To be honest, it’s no big deal. Tiffany still would’ve said yes even if Jessica popped the question next to a dumpster but the thing is, everyone who knows Tiffany knows she’s this big hopeless romantic who expects everything in her life to turn out like a Disney movie and yet, there was the biggest question of her life, being asked inside a moving lift.

It’s a questionable choice but Irene knows Jessica knew what she was doing. The challenge now is to be able to articulate all of that when her knees are shaking in front of her future mother-in-law.

“I did,” Jessica affirms and then nods gently.

Irene almost laughs, the sight of Jessica chickening out in front of her mom is something that never gets old.

“Mom, it was very romantic,” Tiffany tries, a soft smile gracing her lips. Perhaps, nobody would understand and no one would actually call it romantic but if Tiffany says so, then it is romantic. “I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to be proposed to.”

“Does the elevator hold special meaning to your relationship?” the older woman inquires.

“Not necessarily, it just felt like the right time,” Jessica responds. She smiles bravely, standing her ground.

“How do you know it’s the perfect time? You’ve been together for how long now—”

“…five years, omma,” Tiffany fills the blank.

“—why now?”

“We’ve talked about getting married before but the timing always felt off,” Jessica explains. She sets her chopsticks on the chopstick rest before she looks up and tries to seek the older woman’s gaze. “I’m in the US, she’s here in Korea. Now we’re here and we’re in a place in our relationship where we can really decide how we can manage our life together.”

“How do you plan to manage being married when you’re not even in the same country?”

“I’m moving here,” Jessica announces. “For good.”

What?

“What?” Irene gasps.

What the fuck? This is news to her.

“When were you planning to tell me all of this?” Irene questions, trying her best not to attack Jessica—especially not in front of her future in-law—but she could’ve used a warning. “You’re dropping me?”

Tiffany chuckles, “Calm down, sis.”

“I can run the agency from here,” Jessica reassures her. “Jeongyeon will be promoted as your Manager and she will course everything through me. I’ve prepared her for this.”

“But—”

Irene’s whining is interrupted when she feels Wendy’s hand reach out for hers under the table.

The doctor turns to her and smiles, “I’m sure Jessica knows what she’s doing. She’s one of the smartest people I know, she’ll make good choices. Don’t worry.”

What a moment, Irene thinks, when she sees Jessica look up with a hint of recognition on her face. They were going head to head earlier and now, Wendy just backed her up in front of her future in-law. They were foes but now, they’re in this together.

That calms Irene down. She shifts her focus to the bigger task at hand: to get through this lunch with both Jessica and Wendy’s limbs intact.

They spend a few more minutes just talking about the upcoming wedding. All the while, Wendy backs Jessica up in small, subtle ways that somehow keeps every topic from escalating. Her mother asks tough future-related questions, Jessica tries to answer it the best that she can, and then Wendy backs it up by hyping the other girl up.

Irene thinks that for somebody who doesn’t have an acting background, Wendy is doing her part very well.

She even jokes around and makes fun of the engaged couple which makes her mother laugh—and now, Irene finally understands why the doctor wasn’t exactly nervous in the first place. This Wendy is charming, polite, and gentle in all the ways that’s just so her and it blows Irene’s mind away that she almost seems comfortable in her role: as Irene’s girlfriend in such intimate family lunch.

Irene sees her mother eye Wendy curiously; and this, this is where… you know that part in a huge rollercoaster where you’re at the highest point and the car slows down a bit and then it drops you in an instant? That part where it feels like your soul left your body for the briefest of seconds?

Irene doesn’t really have a word for that but that’s how she would describe all of this.

“So, Wendy,” her mother starts, now shifting her attention from Jessica and Tiffany to Irene and Wendy; and the actress could swear she saw her older sister smirk just a bit. “It’s Wendy, isn’t it?”

Wendy nods, her body language just exhibiting an impressive amount of politeness that Irene hasn’t seen on anyone she’s ever dated. Not that she’s dating Wendy. Well, they are fake-dating but still.

“I go by Wendy but you can call me Seungwan. I respond to both names,” she says with a smile.

They’re all still eating but Irene noticed how Wendy slowed down a bit, turning most of her attention to her mom. There’s a kind, warm smile on her face and despite herself, Joohyun almost believes it.

“Seungwan sounds like a boy’s name.”

“I get that a lot.”

“Is that why you decided to go by Wendy?”

“I’ve been Wendy since I started studying. I studied my first three years of Elementary school in Canada so I had to have an English name and it just kind of stuck when I moved back here.”

“I heard from Tiffany that you’re a doctor?”

“Yes, Ma’am. I’m an Intern at Severance.”

Joohyun sees a look on her mother’s face that tells her she’s quite impressed.

“Yonsei?”

“It’s part of the Yonsei University Health System, yes.”

“What’s your specialty?”

“I haven’t really decided yet but I’m leaning toward General Surgery.”

“Why?”

“It’s how I’d get more hours in the ER.”

“Interesting choice.”

Wendy nods, “I’ve been told I’m great at crisis situations so I’m thinking I could capitalize on that.”

“Have you always wanted to be a doctor?”

“Quite honestly, no,” Wendy answers with an air of effortless grace and poise. “I remember wanting to pursue classical music when I was younger but that changed a lot as I got older. I come from a long line of doctors so I thought, why not?”

Her mom’s full attention is on Wendy now, like a hawk, “Didn’t you just feel pressured to follow their footsteps?”

“Hmm,” Wendy glosses over the question for a moment. She grabs a napkin and wipes a non-existent smudge on the side of her lips before she gently puts the napkin back on top of the table. Well played, Irene thinks. She bought herself time.

Irene raises an eyebrow, impressed.

“I wouldn’t say I was pressured,” Wendy continues, slow and careful, “But I’d have to admit that the decision to follow my parents’ footsteps was largely influenced by the environment. I’ve seen what they’ve done, how many people they were able to help, and sure, my family isn’t perfect but they’re all hard-workers. It wouldn’t be a bad way to live my life following that mold.”

She says that whole, neatly worded speech without a hitch. There’s a hint of healthy self-assurance oozing out of her even in just the way she picks her words. And that’s where it hits Joohyun hard: Wendy isn’t acting right now.

She’s in full rich-kid, chaebol mode not because she needs to be but because she is. The way she moves, the way she speaks, the way she eats—it all adds up.

All this time, Joohyun had two versions of Wendy in her mind. First is Seungwan, the chaebol daughter. The kid she knew in high school who ruled the school with her charm and her smarts. The second version is the one she met just a couple of weeks ago. The compassionate doctor who’s a little rough on the edges. The one who’s struggling but manages to keep a heart of gold.

Joohyun has always tried to separate the two but in this very moment, she learns that they’re the same person; each version managing to co-exist peacefully alongside each other, making Wendy such a unique force of nature.

The actress tries to recall all the times they’ve interacted since she returned to Korea. She notes a few things.

Despite being a blabbering mess, Wendy is actually so… refined. Sure, in front of her friends, she’s always so hyper, and nervous, and sometimes clumsy. But overall, Wendy carries herself with a kind of sophistication that you only learn when you’re raised like that.

Irene and Wendy are similar in the way they carry themselves but everything Irene knows, Irene had to learn. But Wendy? Wendy was born in it. Wendy’s charm and class are ingrained so deep in her roots that it’s easy to miss sometimes but it’s there. In all the little things she does, it’s there. She’s really (fake) dating this girl.

Wow.

Joohyun’s internal enlightenment is interrupted when her mother decides that it’s time to make this lunch even more nerve-wracking than it already is.

“You do know that it’s the first time she introduced somebody to me, right?” the older woman asks Wendy.

The doctor smiles but she shakes her head gently, “I didn’t know that.”

“A couple of years ago, she talked to me and asked me to be patient because I wouldn’t be meeting any guy or girl soon. But she promised me that when the day comes that I meet somebody she’s dating, it’ll be because that person is the one.”

“Omma!” Joohyun whines, embarrassed. Fake-dating or not, that’s not something you reveal! That was their secret!

There’s this awkward tension in the air that lasts for about a couple of seconds until Jessica clears her throat to say something.

“Auntie, I’ve met all of the people that Joohyun has dated and I could honestly say that this one is different,” Jessica averred and then manages a thin smile, her eyes boring so deep into Joohyun’s as if she knows something that the actress doesn’t.

Joohyun looks away, turning her attention to Wendy who still has that indescribable look on her face. It’s like she’s content, like she’s home; as if she knows this world like the back of her hand. If that statement from Joohyun’s mother scared her, the doctor did a good job not showing it.

Just when the actress was sure that Wendy isn’t going to say anything, Wendy grabs her hand from under the table and places their joined hands on top for everyone to see. For what reason? Joohyun isn’t sure.

“Well, Joohyun is one of the best people I know. We haven’t been dating for long but I think,” she pauses as she turns to Irene and meets her eyes, “I think, I’d be the luckiest girl in the world if I end up spending the rest of my days with her.”

Irene looks away, ducking her head because she can’t bear to look at Wendy any longer. She sounded so sincere. She sounded like she meant it and God! It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

“You’re blushing like crazy,” Tiffany tells her and Joohyun looks up to glare at her sister because she doesn’t. need. to be. teased. right now!

Their mother laughs at their antics but continues to pry, “Why do you like my daughter?”

At this question, Irene had to panic, “Omma!”

Jessica and Tiffany are just laughing by now.

Her mother only smiles but doesn’t take her eyes off Wendy, “It’s a valid question.”

Wendy nods smilingly, “It is.”

Irene turns to Wendy, “You don’t have to answer.”

They don’t have a script for this. It isn’t like the other questions like how did you meet or when was your first date. Those questions are easy to answer, easy to fabricate, but this one? This one is a trick, like the universe decided to play games on Joohyun today and this is the card she’s being dealt with. To top it off, this question is coming from a woman who knows her and would know if Wendy is just making stuff up.

So no, Wendy doesn’t have to answer. She can’t because there’s probably nothing she likes about Irene. And maybe, that’s what scares Irene the most.

But of course, Wendy chooses fight over flight.

“There’s plenty of things to like about her,” the doctor begins, eyes darting to Irene for the briefest of seconds before turning back to the older woman. “She’s strong. She’s talented. She’s uncompromising. She inspires me to be better everyday. I could go on all day.”

Joohyun’s mom only stares at Wendy as if what the doctor said wasn’t enough and her fake-girlfriend picks up on this mood.

So, Wendy continues because that’s what she does, “But I think what strikes me the most about her is how incredibly soft she is. I didn’t expect just how easy it is to make her smile, how she laughs at the smallest of things, and how she appreciates the little stuff in life—and all of that is easy to miss if you only look at the Irene the public figure. Irene is so tough and strong, and so independent. And I’m so glad she gave me the chance to get to know her more.”

The doctor gently turns to her, a light blush coloring her cheeks. She meets Joohyun’s eyes and there, the actress sees something so sincere, as if she means everything she’s saying and it takes Joohyun’s breath away to think that somebody could look at her like she’s more than her past; like she’s more than a tragedy; like she could be something more.

Wendy is looking at her like she put the sun in the sky and this is not good. This is all an act.

Joohyun takes a deep breath and reminds herself that she cannot want it. She cannot allow herself to want this; to want somebody who looks at her like this.

But Wendy isn’t done, “Everyone likes to think that being soft is a bad thing; that somehow, being soft makes you not cut out for this world. But I think it’s admirable to stay soft in a world that tries everyday to turn us into heartless monsters. And meeting Joohyun, seeing the woman behind the actress, just proves to me that you can be strong and soft at the same time. I see people fight for their lives everyday and I know how certain experiences can harden you. I know how easy it is to choose to protect your heart but in the end, your tragedies don’t define you. It can influence you, sure, but we’re more than the sum of our heartaches. I learned that from Joohyun. I carry that with me everyday.”

Wendy is out of breath by the time she finishes her speech but her eyes stay glued to Joohyun. There’s a light smile on her face, and it drives Joohyun crazy how that simple smile could make her heart beat this fast.

She remembers the first day of high school. She remembers wondering why the stranger had such an effect on her. Now, she sits across the same girl who’s no longer a stranger and it finally hits her.

Joohyun thinks she finally understands why her heart reacts to Wendy like this.

Holy. Shit.

.

The rest of lunch goes swiftly.

Her mother pries a bit more about Wendy and Irene’s relationship before she switches her attention back to the other couple. It was Wendy who navigated through her mom’s tough questions, answering each query with such poise and wit. It didn’t feel like an interrogation. It truly felt like Wendy was sincere in trying to ease her way into Irene’s family.

Irene watched in awe as Wendy slowly won her mother’s approval. The older woman didn’t even have to say it. She could see it in the way she responds to Wendy. Her mother likes her (fake) girlfriend—that entire statement alone sends dread down to the very pit of Irene’s gut.

They’re all now by the restaurant’s spacious lobby waiting for her mom’s ride to arrive. She’s wants to stay at her hotel and rest for a bit. She’s meeting a friend tonight and will make her trip back to Daegu tomorrow.

Wendy and Jessica are huddled a few feet away from them, talking in hushed voices. Irene finds it funny that the two share a unique bond now. Just this morning, they were about to rip each other’s head off but at lunch, they were allies. There has to be a silver lining in that.

Joohyun smiles a bit, looking at her manager and her (fake) girlfriend before she turns her attention back to her mother who is still giving Tiffany pointers on how to handle her wedding.

“Let your guests know early that you’re inviting them,” the tiny but intimidating woman reminds Tiffany. “They’re going to have to book flights and hotels. So give them time to do that.”

Tiffany sighs impatiently, “I got this, omma.”

“Who’s going to be your Maid of Honor? Is there such things as Maid of Honor in gay weddings?” her mom asks without any hint of malice.

Tiffany laughs, “Yes, omma. Sooyoung is my maid of honor.”

“Hey!” Irene protests. “What about me?”

Tiffany rolls her eyes good-naturedly, “You and mom will be walking me down the aisle.”

Joohyun grins, touched, “Oh, I like that.”

“Okay, well then tell Sooyoung to come see me when I visit the city on December,” their mom tells Tiffany.

“I will,” Tiffany nods.

“And you,” the woman turns to Irene and the actress knows it’s her turn to get some last-minute reminders. “You bring Wendy to our Christmas Day dinner at home, okay?”

Find a way out, Irene. Find a way out.

“If she’s not on duty, maybe she can go. But you know how her job is like, you asked all about it during lunch,” Joohyun teases with a smile.

“You know I’m just looking out for you, darling,” the older Hwang stresses softly, giving Irene a warm, concerned look so full of love that the actress can’t help but soften a little. “I worry about you.”

“Why? You should worry more about Tiffany, she’s marrying Jessica.”

Tiffany gasps playfully, “Hey!”

Their mom only laughs, “MiYoung is tough and I could tell Jessica loves her so much. So I’m not really worried about your sister but you,” a pause, “You’ve never introduced anybody to me and all I know is that you’ve dated some people with really questionable backgrounds. I use the Internet, too. I just didn’t know what to expect when MiYoung said you have a girlfriend.”

It’s Tiffany’s turn to back her up because really, with everything that happened today, Irene is running out of words to say, “Don’t worry about her, omma. Irene is strong.”

“I know but honey,” her mom looks at her, this time with eyes that’s almost pleading, “Life’s too long to live it alone.”

Irene feels a pinch in her heart.

Since the fateful day she lost her parents, Irene has been in this thing she likes to call a survival mode. When you’re in survival mode, the goal is to just get through the day without falling apart, without crying; to just make it through the day in one piece. When you suffer a loss like that and move to a new country without any idea of what to do; when you’ve felt like you’ve died before you get to really, truly live, you simply don’t have space for people.

She’s operated her whole life alone and the words community, friends, special someone, and people just always felt so vaguely unfamiliar to her. She has a tight circle of friends, of people she’s learned to trust over time but still, Irene likes to process her sadness and her tragedies by herself.

She focused on her career. She focused on getting good at her craft because at certain periods of time, she was convinced that it’s all she has; that in the end, her career is all she has to show for.

So she jumped from one temporary relationship to another, never making an effort to stay. Between fight or flight, Irene has always chosen the latter. After all, it’s easier to walk away than watch somebody else go.

She’s been okay. For the last eight years, she has been okay being in survival mode. She’s even convinced that she can do this her whole life but coming back to Seoul has changed that.

Life’s too long to live it alone.

Irene can’t help but turn her attention to Wendy. The doctor is across the room, now laughing at something Jessica said. They seem okay now and Irene is glad they’re getting along again.

Wendy must have felt her staring because the other girl turns her head toward her direction, their gazes meeting softly. The doctor smiles at her and it shakes Irene to the core how she melts at the sight of the girl’s smile; how she wants—needs—this smile to forever haunt her dreams because maybe then, her nightmares would be replaced by memories of the sun, of the girl who looks at her like she hung the stars in the night sky.

They both don’t look away and Irene takes the sight of the other girl in. Wendy is glowing, enveloped by the light seeping through the windows behind her and Irene feels her hand shake a bit, realizing just how this woman changed everything slowly and all at once.

“Don’t let her go,” her mom’s voice interrupts her thoughts. It’s only when does she tear her eyes away from Wendy and turns back to her mother.

“Wh—what?” she stutters, a little out of breath for some reason.

A knowing smile escapes her mother’s lips, “I could tell that she really cares about you. I hope it works out between the two of you.”

Irene swallows a lump in her throat.

This can’t be happening to her.

.

At exactly 6PM that day, Irene and Wendy are inside Red Flavor; Wendy with a mug of warm, peppermint tea while Irene is sipping on a glass of mango juice as she scrolls through her phone. Next to them are Joy and Yerim also both busy scrolling through their phones with their iced coffees long-forgotten now.

At exactly 6:05, Irene’s phone starts to blow up.

@baeqin THEYRE DATING! THEYRE DATING! NOT A DRILL. THEYRE DATING!!!!!!!!!!!!
@chloroice MS IRENE BAE DATING A CHAEBOL. YA GIRL HAS TASTE
@intocamilla  you ever feel the world rub your singleness to your face? irene and wendy look good like HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE GOD CREATED US ALL EQUAL when u have a whole wenrene
@swetha i don’t even know wendy personally but i trust her w irene’s heart
@renebaebaesear fucking hate Dispatch for doing this to celebs BUT IM ALSO FUCKING HAPPY WE GOT THIS NEWS? My morals are certainly down the drain but whew what an upgrade @irenebae

Irene reads through some of the Tweets and finds it hard to believe that they’re so supportive. Her fans are just freaking out and the reception has been quite positive (and a little funny).

“They like you,” Irene tells Wendy, looking up from her phone and shifting her attention to the girl. Wendy is just calmly sitting there, a smug smile plastered on her face. “Why are you smiling like that?”

Wendy shrugs, “Nothing.” She chuckles.

Irene can’t help but smile, “What?”

“It’s all just so funny,” the doctor says, a twinkle in her eyes tells Irene she’s not freaking out. “I can’t even look at my phone because my Instagram is blowing up.”

The actress only pouts playfully, giving Wendy a look, “You’re so entertained by all this.”

“It is entertaining. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was only trying to hold my shit together in front of Jessica this morning because that woman is really scary and nothing about her concealed rage is funny but I’m glad your fans are ecstatic about it.”

Irene eyes Yerim for a bit, making a mental note not to give any hint about the fake-dating thing. All Yerim knows is that something happened at the shoot, Jessica reprimanded Wendy, and now Dispatch is breaking the news.

She doesn’t ask too many questions which is great for both Irene and Wendy.

“The memes are so funny,” Yerim says in between laughs. She leans closer to Joy and shifts her screen toward the older girl. Joy takes a look at whatever is on the phone and laughs.

“Oh my God!” Joy laughs. “Retweet it! I’ll retweet it from you.”

At this, Irene had to smile. Them getting exposed by Dispatch is bad. Like, it should be such a terrible  moment right now but as Irene looks around, nothing seems out of place. Aside from maybe Twitter, nothing in her close proximity feels like the end of the world.

Wendy is sitting there, just having a drink while her two other friends are on their phones, laughing at memes. Inside this little coffee shop, it feels like nothing could hurt her and suddenly, this whole thing doesn’t feel like it’s caving in on her anymore.

All of a sudden, this whole supposedly big thing is just a thing that happened, now something they just have to move past. It’s no longer this big deal that’s threatening her future and her sanity. Is that what happens when you have support? When you have people who you know has your back no matter what?

Irene doesn’t know what home feels like but it must be close to this.

“So, what’s the plan now?” Yerim asks them, her eyes shining of something else entirely. Surprisingly, it’s not mischief. Yerim truly, absolutely ships them.

Irene lets out a breath and manages a small smile before she gives Wendy a quick look. Wendy only gives her an encouraging nod. “Now, we post a selfie,” Irene says simply.

“That’s it?” Yerim asks, voice laced with disappointment. “No grand gesture of confirmation? No press release? That’s just bonkers.”

“Yerim!” Joy warns, “They’re your unnies.”

“Who are now dating each other!” she stresses. “Wendy unnie truly got a girlfriend. The awkward, blabbering cute little ass truly got herself a high-quality girl. That’s like the plot twist of the year.”

Oh, Irene thinks. If only she knew.

Joy shrugs, turning to Wendy, “There were a couple of insults but hey, she called you cute.”

Wendy only laughs and Irene grins, “She called me high-quality.”

“Damn right, sis.  You are,” Yerim hypes her up and Irene can’t help but laugh just a bit more.

They spend a couple more minutes just looking at Tweets until Joy was called up to the kitchen and Yerim went with her to get ice cream.

At 6:37, Wendy and Irene are left alone for the first time that day.

“What a day,” Irene sighs.

“Mine hasn’t even started yet,” Wendy states, “I had near-death experience confronting the Devil  Incarnate herself. Met your mom. Got my relationship exposed to the whole world. All of that and I still have a 12-hour night shift at the ER waiting for me.”

Irene chuckles as she pulls her chair and scoots closer to the doctor who also moves her own chair so they meet halfway. “I’m sorry you had to go through this all day.”

“Psh,” Wendy dismisses light-heartedly. “Don’t be. It’s fine. It’s not like you guys didn’t warn me.”

The actress doesn’t say anything further and just sips the last of her mango juice.

Then, of course, it’s Wendy who breaks the silence.

“You know I’m not sorry, right?” Wendy says, her voice low and sincere.

“What?”

“For defending you,” the doctor articulates; and there it is again, that warmth settling at the pit of Irene’s stomach. She wishes Wendy would just stop looking at her like this. “I mean, it all could’ve been better without Jessica’s death glare but if I could travel back in time, I’d still do it.”

“Th-thank you,” Irene drawls out. Wendy is looking at her in the eyes, saying a million things Irene can’t quite understand. “No one’s ever did that for me.”

“Do what?”

“Defend me? Stand up for me,” Irene replies. “I was handling it though. I could’ve called him out myself.”

“I know. You’re very articulate and also very scary. But you didn’t have to go through that alone. I got you.”

Irene looks at Wendy one more time, just taking the sight of the other girl in. She’s cute, Irene thinks; and immediately regrets it. She tries to divert the conversation, “You think I’m scary? If you only saw how you looked like when you stood up to that guy. Now that was scary.”

Wendy chuckles, “No, I mean—your eyes have fire in them when you’re like, super mad. You remember that Red Summer scene where everyone’s basically in a dream sequence and you were in a cult?”

“The one with the pizza guy?”

Wendy nods enthusiastically, “That one. The blade scene where you looked at the camera with such scary eyes before you slashed the other character’s neck open. I had nightmares!”

Irene laughs, “The way you described the episode made it seem like a it’s such a shitty show. Like a B-movie or something.”

“That was such a good scene though but nothing will beat the circus finale. The whole thing started with somebody asking are you ready for this but nobody was ready! I wasn’t!”

The actress lets out another laugh, “You’re actually a fan of that movie! Wow!”

Wendy chuckles, using one hand to rub the back of her neck, “I loved that show.”

Why does she have to be so charming?

After a few seconds, Wendy goes back to being serious, “I mean it. I got you.”

No, no, no, no.  This can’t be happening.

“Thank you. I know we basically just ruined everything but I really appreciate what you did.”

Wendy smiles, “Not everything.”

“What?”

“Jessica’s new plan.”

That reminds Irene, “Oh.”

The selfie.

Their first-ever couple selfie which Irene will post in her Instagram along with a long-ass caption about how she’s glad to be reunited with her high school crush and how glad she is that the things we lost have a way of coming back to us. Something to that effect; basically a Luna Lovegood caption if she had an Instagram account.

“Well, let’s do it,” Irene releases a breath as she grabs her phone resting on top of the table.

She was already halfway to unlocking her phone when she feels Wendy’s hand on her. “I’ll post it,” the doctor tells her.

“Wh-what?”

“The photo and the caption, I’ll do it,” Wendy inclined.

Uncertain, Irene eyes her, “That’s something Jessica wouldn’t approve of.”

“Oh, she already did,” Wendy says, matter-of-factly. “I spoke to her about it.”

“Oh?”

Wendy nods, “Earlier, when we were waiting for your mom’s ride at the restaurant’s lobby. I had an idea and she said that it was a brilliant plan. Even suggested I pursue a career in PR crisis management.”

“That’s just so her.”

“You know that look in her eyes when she’s so convinced that something’s going to work?”

“Oh, that look. I know that look, that’s a scary look.”

“Yeah. She was like,” the doctor pauses and then mimics Jessica the best that she can, “What better way to respond to a scandal than putting the fire out on your own. Think about it, Wendy. We will not respond via a formal press release but through you, who is not in this business which makes it a declaration of love instead of it being a confirmation. Your credibility alone holds down our fort. Brilliant, Dr. Son. Have you ever considered a career in crisis management?”

Irene lets out full belly laugh at Wendy’s impression of Jessica. It’s perfect. “Oh my God!”

Wendy laughs, too, “I know. So, shall we take that selfie?”

“Okay, okay.”

Wendy grabs her phone as Irene scoots closer to the other girl. Wendy moves closer to her side, leaning back a little to make room for the actress who instantly relaxes soon as their bodies make contact.

The doctor stretches her hand, the phone’s camera pointed at them. Through the screen, Irene could see the two of them, squished so close to each other and you know what? All those Tweets earlier that say they look good together? She finally gets that.

Wendy and Irene look good together.

Like, shit. Wow!

“You ready?”

“Yeah,” Irene affirms as she nods gently, boring her eyes to the camera. She flashes a soft smile, the smile she uses when she has a scene with her love interest but this one? This one, Irene is certain, is not acting.

But see, the night isn’t over yet.

Soon as Wendy hits the shutter button, Irene feels soft, warm lips on her cheek, lingering for a moment and then it’s gone.

Wendy just kissed her on the cheek.

Wendy. Kissed. Me.

That sensation crawls throughout her body like a memory that will forever remain with her. She freezes for a split second before she slowly turns to other girl, mouth agape in sheer surprise.

This isn’t part of the plan.

Irene turns to her left only to find Wendy’s face just inches apart, so close that she could almost feel Wendy’s warmth breath on her face.

Irene’s breath hitches, her heart banging against its cage, and her mind going crazy. Their faces are so close that if Irene wanted to risk it all, it wouldn’t take a lot to kiss her.

Not that I’m thinking of kissing her. I’m just saying that it wouldn’t take much if I wanted to. But I’m not thinking about—

Wendy in this proximity is breathtaking. Their eyes meet for the briefest of seconds and Irene finds herself lost in a sea of brown orbs and gray specks. She thinks about the way Wendy looks at her and it drives Irene crazy just how much she wants to bask in the other girl’s attention; how she wants to be center of her world. No, no, no, no. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

Then, the moment is broken when Wendy darts her eyes towards Irene’s lips; and since they’re so close, Irene is sure she heard the sound of the doctor’s breath getting caught in her throat. Wendy quickly looks away, a blush creeping up her cheeks.

Irene swallows a lump in her throat, pulling away to put a healthy distance between them. She wants to ask what was that, why did you do that—but all that comes out of Irene’s mouth is a shaky smile, followed by a whimper.

It’s suddenly so awkward and even to the best of her skills, Irene can’t—for the life her—pull the actress card and make it seem like its nothing.

Wendy, great as ever in handling crisis situations, just smiles lopsidedly, her hand unconsciously finding the back of her head, “I’m going to post this with a cheesy caption. Is that okay?”

Is it okay for Wendy to post a picture of her kissing Irene on the cheek? Is it okay for her to say something romantic to confirm their relationship? Sure, okay.

Is it okay for Wendy to create all of this illusion and make Irene feel something? Hell, no.

This lie was just meant for the producers and the fans. Nowhere in Jessica’s plan did it say that Irene was going to believe it, too. Now, she’s here, feeling things she wasn’t supposed to feel. How do you undo all of that?

Despite her inner turmoil, Irene nods. She takes a deep breath, “Post it. Give the people what they want.”

And soon as the words were out, she knows it’s over for her, too.

.

Irene is on the way home when a particular Instagram notification catches her eye.

wendy.son tagged you in a post.

With her hands still trembling from all the things that happened today, she opens the post in question.

Eight years ago, I met a girl on the first day of school. She had a certain bounce on her steps, like nothing bothered her. It was a strange, but welcome, thing to see. Like a breath of fresh air when the windows have been shut for far too long. We talked for a bit as we walked to school. There I was, talking to a really beautiful girl, unaware of how she was going to change my life. We went separate ways and never really got the chance to turn that spark into a fire but here we are, fast forward to today. Isn’t it funny how things just work out? That maybe, the reason why she and I didn’t happen before was because we were supposed to happen today.

I’m not thrilled that an online tabloid got to break the news before we did but yes, @irenebae and I are together, together. I don’t always get this lucky but hey, look at that, I got a girlfriend whom I adore and treasure so much. Thank you so much for respecting our privacy and our relationship

P.S. Please stop tagging me on edited pictures of her and your favorite kpop boy.

Wendy ends the post with a heart emoji and a rainbow emoji. She reads the words over and over. Holy shit.

I like Wendy.

She really, really likes Wendy. Like that.

Shit.

Fake-dating Son Seungwan is, clearly, a disaster waiting to happen. (Or is it happening already? Who knows?)

/

Chapter Text

/

Some 10 Years Ago
Lee Sooman International School

Seoul in August is a 5/10 on a good day. The number of tourists in the city, the sweltering heat, the humidity—all of these things add up to a particularly terrible experience. Aside from the incredibly low prices of patbingsu and subakwachae around Hongdae and Myeongdong, nothing about this season excites Wendy.

On a bad day, Seoul in August is a 4/10—there isn’t much difference except it rains when the sun is also scorching hot. You’d expect that it’ll cool down a bit but no, it only gets hotter and stickier.

It’s not like Wendy is complaining. She’s lived here all her life and unless she gets superpowers, there’s really nothing she can do about the weather; it’s just that, Jesus Christ—it’s eight in the morning, on a day approaching the end of August, and she’s already convinced that this is how hell feels like.

So no, the first day of her second year in high school isn’t her favorite day, like, at all.

She looks around the room. Around 24 other students are sitting quietly, taking notes as if their life depended on it. It’s a Math class, one of the two math classes they have this semester—and it’s just so ridiculous. (Like why can’t those two Maths just exist as one Math? They’re all just numbers. Ugh.)

Anyway, it’s the usual suspects. It’s the same 24 classmates she’s had since last year. Their hair has grown longer and some have grown taller but everyone basically looks the same. Nothing out of the ordinary. Even Teacher Ryong—lanky, dark-rimmed glasses, and a lot of khaki pants—still looks the same as when he taught them Basic Algebra last year. (Honestly, all these Maths?!)

As Wendy gazes at the weather outside, not particularly paying attention to the syllabus being discussed, she wonders if South Korean private high schools ever get plot twists—like in those American TV shows for teens where a high school is almost always involved.

Will they discover that one of the athletes is actually a good singer and they’ll go and join him as they build a show choir? (It’s probably going to be Doyoung.)

Will one of the cool girls go missing and her four friends will embark in a mystery-filled adventure where they’ll find out that one of them has a twin and she’s the one who caused it all? (She mentally lists all the cool girls in school and concludes that it’ll be Sowon who will go missing and Wheein will end up as the one who has a twin.)

Anyway, she can only dream. Forget about plot twists.

Wendy has lived a good, quiet life with no unexpected turns and she’s okay with that.

Swoosh—

The front door of the classroom slides open and in comes a girl, dressed in the school’s three-piece uniform (a plaid, black-white-maroon skirt; a white, short-sleeved button up; and a vest with the same color as the skirt). Her long, blonde hair sways with her when she bows (too low to be considered normal) as she apologizes profusely for being late.

I’m sorry, I’m late,” she says in English as she bows repeatedly. It’s almost too funny. And is that an Australian accent?

The entire class turns to her including Teacher Ryong who’s looking at her like he has no idea what’s happening.

Wendy observes the girl. She’s Korean but she doesn’t look local.

“Who are you? Do you speak Korean?” Teacher Ryong asks, insisting on his mother tongue. He sets his whiteboard marker on top of his desk before he walks closer to the student who seems to be glued to her spot by the door.

I’m Park Chaeyoung,” the girl introduces herself, an embarrassed smile escaping her lips as she shifts her body slightly toward the class. She then switches to their native tongue, “English name is Rosé. I’m a transfer student from Australia.” Her Korean sounds a bit rusty but she’s fluent, Wendy concludes.

Teacher Ryong shakes his head, “I’m not expecting a new student today. Are you sure this is the correct class?”

Wide-eyed and practically blushing by now, the transfer student hastily reaches out to the pocket of her skirt and pulls out a small piece of paper. She unfolds it, reads quickly through it, and then asks, “This is the Choi Jinri Historical Building, isn’t it?”

Her English flows so well, Wendy finds herself in awe. But—

Nope. Wrong building.

If she’s headed for that building, it only means one thing—

Without waiting for the teacher to answer, the student fires another question, “And this is Class 11-002?”

Teacher Ryong shakes his head gently, “Ms. Park, this is a second-year class.”

—she’s a freshman.

Park Chaeyoung truly just barged into the wrong class, in the wrong building, on a different year level. Wendy can’t help but smile at the thought of it.

“Oh,” she manages, a tiny smile escaping her lips.

The class laughs and Teacher Ryong shakes his head as he turns to the back of the room and seeks the gaze of one student in particular.

“Joohyun,” he calls out. “Will you please walk Ms. Park to her class?”

The girl keeps a straight face but makes a move to stand up anyway. She’s the eldest amongst them, maybe that’s why the teacher asked her to do it. It’s the first day of school so they don’t have their assigned class leaders yet.

Wendy observes Joohyun, feeling a slight pinch in her heart as she remembers how the girl turned down her offer for a friendship. It would’ve been such a great bond. But now, they’ll never know.

She quickly shrugs off her internal self-pity to raise her hand, grabbing everyone’s attention. “I’ll do it, Teacher Ryong,” she volunteers, her English flowing out nicely. There’s a wide grin on her face as she looks at the lost student.

Wendy sees the transfer student’s eyes grow wide in recognition. She must have felt relief when she realized that somebody else speaks her language. (Later on, Rosé will realize that almost everybody in the school speaks good English. But that’s a first-day advantage Wendy will take again and again.)

Teacher Ryong turns to Wendy, “Are you sure, Ms. Son?”

Wendy nods, “Yes, I’ll walk Ms. Park to her class. I’m sure Joohyun-ssi wouldn’t mind if I did it instead.” She looks at Joohyun as she finishes her second sentence.

The girl in question only nods, her stoic expression still in place as she returns to her seat. Damn, Wendy thinks. She really can’t crack her.

Teacher Ryong nods and then turns back to the new student. He smiles and then in English says, “Ms. Park, Wendy will walk you to your class. Teacher Woo is very accommodating, I’m sure she’ll understand why you’re late.”

The Australian smiles and then bows, “Thank you, Sir.” She turns to Wendy and then smiles once more, this time softly, “And thank you, Wendy, for volunteering.

There’s a sparkle in Park Chaeyoung’s eyes and that—that’s how Wendy knew she was fucked.

It’s my pleasure,” she says as she walks over to the girl.

See, Wendy doesn’t really believe that plot twists happen to people like her but maybe, just maybe—this is the day that changes her mind.

.

“Stop pacing, you’re making me dizzy,” Joy tells her, snapping the doctor back to present time.

“This is a bad idea,” Wendy mutters but doesn’t stop pacing.

Both Joy and Wendy are by Red Flavor’s kitchen, the large industrial kitchen island in the middle of the room separating them. Joy is prepping some ingredients, chopping off a large piece of meat into tiny squares while Wendy… Wendy is barely keeping it together.

This is a bad idea sounds like something you’ve said a lot these last few years. We should put that on the list of things we’ll engrave in your headstone,” the taller girl says with a chuckle.

Ignoring her friend’s mockery, Wendy sighs, “They want to meet Irene.”

“What were you expecting? That you make a public declaration like that and everyone at the hospital would just not care?” Joy asks, looking up at Wendy.

The doctor gives her friend an incredulous look, “Uh, yes.”

“Did you think that when you decided to date Irene, that no one on your side of the world would react? That nothing would change?”

Wendy eyes her friend who keeps her attention to her task. There’s something in Joy’s tone that Wendy can’t quite decipher—like she knows something Wendy doesn’t.

“I was hoping it wouldn’t be much of a deal,” Wendy replies although she knows it was a rhetorical question.

“Then you’re dumber than I thought,” Joy deadpans and Wendy pouts playfully.

“I’m not dumb. I had an idea and went for it—”

Joy chuckles before she goes off. “Your solution to buying out the building owner is to date your high school crush who didn’t want anything to do with you who is also now a popular Hollywood actress. I thought that sentence was crazy but hear me out, pal—” she pauses before giving Wendy a sarcastic smile, “—your solution to Dispatch revealing your relationship was to make a very public, very cheesy declaration. And you’re expecting your co-workers to say nothing?”

Wendy gasps dramatically, feeling called out.

“I wasn’t expecting nothing. I was expecting a few questions, maybe?” she drawls out, uncertain. “I totally wasn’t expecting the Chief of Surgery Kim Taeyeon herself to come up to me and say, hey, if you could bring your girlfriend tonight that would be great—like, what the hell?”

“Don’t all the doctors bring their special someones to gatherings like this?”

Wendy huffs, hopping on one of the counters. She swings her legs absent-mindedly as she says, “Not everyone. Yoona-unnie is coming with her husband, who I’m meeting for the first time. Jisoo-unnie is single so I doubt she’s showing up with someone. The rest, I don’t know.”

Joy turns to her and gives her a tentative look before the girl turns back to chopping more meat, “You better get your shit together because this soirée is starting to get to my nerves and I better not see you mess it up.”

The doctor can only manage a half-hearted smile.

Every now and then, doctors of the Surgical Department gather for dinner for socials. Most of the time, one or two of the doctors would host it either because of a birthday or some other life milestone.

Tonight, Yoona and some other doctor from Plastics are hosting the dinner and it was Yoona’s idea to rent out Red Flavor for the entire night for the get together.

That’s how Wendy ended up here with a very stressful Joy (who took it upon herself to lead the cooking because she wanted to make sure that Wendy’s colleagues won’t be disappointed.)

“I didn’t think this through,” Wendy admits quietly.  

The taller girl laughs as she shakes her head. “Do you remember when—” Joy starts as she sets the knife she was holding aside and stretches her back. She groans in relief before she turns her attention back to Wendy, “—we had an all-nighter, 3rd year high school, and you got so bored you decided it would be a great idea to jump into the pool at 1AM just to keep yourself awake?”

Wendy remembers that, of course she does. “Yeah? Where is this going?”

Joy rolls her eyes smilingly as she grabs a pot from the shelf above her head and then walks over to the other side of the room where the large stoves are. Wendy hops of the counter and follows suit in small, hurried steps. She moves on the space next to Joy but keeps herself far enough to allow some room for the girl to move around.

The taller girl continues, “You got sick for days and we didn’t get to finish the project. Lucky for you and everyone in our group, I’m cute so I got us a deadline extension.”

“You told the teacher your sister had chicken pox and we left our project inside her room; and that your mom won’t allow us to go in until they’ve disinfected the room.”

Joy laughs, “It worked, didn’t it?”

Wendy only glares at her.

The other girl starts the stove and starts mixing all the ingredients she finished prepping earlier.  She continues, “Anyway, Rosé got real mad because you were so reckless and when you were asleep the night when your fever was so high, she asked me something.”

“You never told me this.”

Joy only shrugs, “She asked me if you’ve always been like this.”

“Like what?”

“She asked if you’ve always had a habit of diving headfirst into situations. You know, act now, think later.”

Something about that hits Wendy hard. She wonders for a brief moment if that’s true about her but then—

“That’s not true,” Wendy counters, giving Joy a look. Then, she looks up, as if she’s talking to the heavens, “That’s not true, you know.”

She misses the way Joy smiles at how Wendy still sometimes talks to Rosé as if she’s still there with them.

Wendy turns back to Joy, “I think while I’m at it.”

“Exactly,” Joy nods. “Which is not good because you always have to pause and think before you do anything. Especially for an adult who has real-life responsibilities. Patients, a restaurant, a girlfriend—” she air quotes the last word, giving Wendy a knowing look.

“I—” she tries to muster up a response but no words come out.

Joy is right.

She really didn’t think this through.

When she accepted this whole fake-dating thing? She didn’t think it through. She saw an opportunity to grow Red Flavor and buy out the building owner, she took it. When she felt the need to kiss Irene on the cheek and post that picture on Instagram with a cheesy ass caption—she didn’t think it through.

See, Wendy is a jumper. She acts based on guts, on feelings; on things that make sense at the moment—and does she regard consequences? Not necessarily.

Per experience, it all turns out okay. She gets a check every month for fake-dating Irene. She gets trauma patients out of immediate danger.

Most of the time, it all turns out the way she wants it to; except lately. Because lately, everything about this whole fake-dating thing feels like it’s spiraling out of control. And maybe, if she’d just listened to Jessica, maybe she will not have her colleagues on her back, insisting she introduces her to them.

Tonight.

Her internal rambling is interrupted when Joy speaks up, “Wan, can I ask you a question?”

Her friend’s serious, knowing tone is what gets Wendy’s attention. She turns back to Joy and sees her now leaning on the kitchen counter, one hand holding a spatula while the other hand in on her hip. There’s a look on Joy’s face that tells Wendy she knows something but probably doesn’t want to tell her about it.

“What?”

“Did you really have to kiss her on the cheek and post it with that caption? Like was it really necessary to be that extra?” Joy wondered.

Wendy shrugs, “At the time, it felt right. I mean, I wanted it to be believable. Dispatch was doing something big—”

“—and you thought that the best response was to do something equally as big?”

Wendy doesn’t answer the question and instead just looks at Joy who also just looks at her. It’s like her friend is trying to tell her something but she just can’t figure out what.

To be honest, the kiss wasn’t planned. She totally didn’t tell Jessica about it when she mentioned it to her. But it had been a long day and Irene was glowing under the warm light of Red Flavor that night—so no, it wasn’t planned but it felt right. And sometimes, you gotta go with what feels right.

She gravitated towards Irene like it’s the most natural thing in the world; as if the universe was calling her to do it.

Was it necessary to be that extra?

No. They could’ve totally posted a regular selfie and it still would’ve had the same impact.

Did she want to do it? And will she do it again?

Yes and yes.

“I don’t know, okay,” is what Wendy says because how do you explain all of that?

“Hmm, okay,” Joy nods, not sounding even just a bit convinced. She straightens up her back and then makes a move to turn back to the pot still heating up by the stove. “Just be careful,” she warns.

“Of what?”

“People might have different interpretations of your actions.”

“People?” Wendy echoes. If she isn’t lost before this part of their conversation, she is now. “The general public ate that up.”

“I’m totally talking about the general public, yes,” Joy finishes, her tone implying that she absolutely isn’t talking about the general public.

“Oh come on, Sooyoung,” Wendy whines, putting an emphasis on the other girl’s Korean name.

Her friend turns to her pointedly, “Don’t Sooyoung me.”

“You’re being annoyingly vague and confusing,” Wendy picks up a fight.

Joy chuckles sarcastically, “I’m being vague and confusing? That’s like the pot calling the kettle back.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying—”

Riiiing.

Joy was cutoff by the sound of Wendy’s phone ringing. Somebody is video-calling her.

Distracted, Wendy fishes the phone from the pocket of her pants and looks at the caller ID.

“It’s Irene.”

Joy seems to have calmed down immediately and only gives Wendy a thin, knowing smile. “You better pick it up. Who knows what kind of mixed signals you’re gonna give next.”

“What?”

Her phone continues to ring like it’s insisting on being answered so Wendy gives in. She turns to Joy and tells her, “We’re not yet done,” before she moves toward the door.

“Oh we’re done,” she hears her friend say before she exits the room.

.

As Wendy steps out of the kitchen into the main space of Red Flavor, she moves to the tables next by the windows where their group always sits. She reaches out to brush her bangs aside and quickly checks her reflection on the glass pane of the window. She looks okay, she thinks.

She doesn’t know why she suddenly felt so conscious about the way she looks but that’s a thought for another day.

Wendy swipes the answer button and holds the phone up so the camera captures her face properly. Soon as she does, her screen reveals a barefaced Irene, her round glasses framing her face well. Her hair is up in a ponytail, her forehead slightly covered by her bangs.

“Hey,” the actress greets from the other line with a wide smile.

Wendy can’t help but smile, too. “Hey,” she manages.

It’s been a week and a half since the Instagram post and although the Internet has calmed down a bit, she knows the buzz is still there. Today, they’re supposed to fan the flame with a screenshot of their video-calling session. Irene will post it on her Instagram, get the fans hyped, and Jessica will get the reaction she needs.

At this point, Jessica’s the only one having fun.

Irene has been away for filming while Wendy has spent all her time at the hospital. Thinking about it now, the night of the reveal was the last time they saw or talked to each other; except for the occasional nagging from Jessica in the group chat she made for the three of them—well, four, if you count Jeongyeon who never says anything.

“It’s been a while,” Wendy comments.

Irene nods and then smiles, teasing, “Aw, did someone miss me?”

Wendy rolls her eyes laughingly, “I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to,” Irene says and then winks.

Wendy has to laugh, “Someone’s in a good mood.”

Irene chuckles as she shuffles for a bit. Wendy notices the change as she moves to a brighter part of the room. The actress presumably takes a seat (judging by the way the screen moves), fumbles with her phone for a while as if she’s looking for something to hold it up.

After a couple of seconds, the phone steadies up as if it’s been put against something sturdy.

“Look, no hands!” Irene then jokes, showing Wendy both of her hands as the phone holds steady.

Wendy only laughs at the other girl’s antics. Now that the phone has been placed on what looks like a small coffee table, Wendy now has a good view of Irene’s surroundings. It looks like she’s in a fancy living room, her background showing a bit of black leather sofas and wall designs Wendy can’t quite gather.

The new view also reveals Irene in a loose white shirt.

“So, I’m posting something today, right?” Irene asks.

Wendy nods, “Yup, your turn now.”

“Okay, smile then,” Irene says as she reaches out for her phone.

“What?” Wendy asks.

“I’m taking a screenshot,” the actress says and hearing that, Wendy actually smiles. After a second, Irene says, “You’re cute.”

Wendy feels her face heat up. She can only wish she’s not blushing.

Silence takes over them for a moment. Irene is just looking at her and Wendy can’t find the words to describe how the actress looks at her. Something has changed in the way she gazes at her. Her smile, the softness in her eyes—something has shifted and Wendy can’t tell what it is.

“Are you okay?” she asks, because it’s the logical thing to do.

“Me?” Irene makes a face as if genuinely surprised by the doctor’s question.

Wendy lets out a lopsided grin, “Unless there’s another person there with you, yeah, I’m asking you.”

“Oh, well,” Irene chuckles to herself, “I’m okay. Why did you ask?”

Wendy shrugs, “You just seem different.”

“That’s probably the lack of sleep. I got in at 2 this morning,” Irene pouts sadly.

“No, I didn’t mean bad different. Good different, like,” a pause, “you’re glowing.”

“Oh,” Irene grins sheepishly. “That’s the Korean skin care making its way back to my routine.”

Wendy laughs, really laughs. She likes this cool, laid-back, and jokey Irene. She doesn’t see it very often but it’s such a delight every time she shows up.

Silence envelopes them for a while. It’s a bit awkward and Wendy doesn’t understand why everything suddenly feels tentative, like someone has to say something or they’ll just have to hang up—because why would they keep talking?

They’ve taken the screenshot; they’ve done their jobs. There’s really no other reason to stay on the line except—

Wendy really, really wants to keep talking to her, ask her about how filming has been, know about how the girl has been for the last week and a half; but the thing is, Wendy doesn’t know where or how to start.

How do you strike up a conversation like that? How do friends do that? And why is it suddenly so awkward?

Thankfully, it’s Irene who breaks the silence.

“I gotta post this now, I should probably go,” she hesitates.

Doyouhaveanythingplannedtonight?” Wendy makes a go at it, her words rushed and abrupt. Joy would have a field day about this.

“What?” Irene asks, eyes wide in confusion.

“I—uh,” didn’t think this through but we’re here, so, “There’s this thing tonight with uh—the doctors. They’ve been asking about you since I posted that photo on Instagram and today my boss, literally the Chief of Surgery, came up to me and said that it would be great if you went to this thing tonight which is, you know, totally optional—”

She’s cut off when Irene laughs, “Wendy, breathe.”

“—oh,” Wendy lets out a heavy breath.

“This thing, where is it?”

“Here, at Red Flavor. It’s just a small dinner, just some of the doctors and their wives and boyfriends and girlfriends—I mean, if you’re not up for it, it’s totally fine. I mean, it’s not part of our plan—”

“—I’ll go.”

“What?”

Irene smiles, the kind that reaches her eyes, “You’re such a dork. I’ll said I’ll go.”

“Really?”

Irene nods, “It’s inevitable. People in your life would ask about your relationship and I’m gonna have to meet them.”

“Has everyone saw this coming except for me?”

Irene eyes her, “You can’t just expect people around you to look away.”

“Yeah, exactly what Joy said.”

“So, what should I wear?”

Wendy shrugs, “It’s a casual night out so don’t fuss too much about it? I bet you’ll look good even in a garbage bag so, you know. Just be you.”

“Okay,” Irene affirms. “Thanks for implying that I’d look good in anything.”

The doctor huffs laughingly, “Don’t let it get to your head.”

“Oh, I’d let it get to my head. It’s already there.”

They laugh for a bit more and then goes on and talks about their day. They stay on the line for a couple more minutes just talking about everything and nothing—and Wendy cannot remember the last time it felt this easy with somebody.

Sure, the early part of this conversation was awkward, but the call has flowed smoothly as time passed. It’s only when Irene was rambling non-stop about the action scenes she’d filmed does Wendy realize how much she missed the other girl.

Friends miss their friends all the time, right?

“—so I just went and punched him but I actually hit him!” Irene says; and Wendy only catches the last part because she was so busy trying to put it all together in her head.

Wendy laughs along, hoping Irene doesn’t notice that she was out for a short while there.

“I missed you, you know,” Wendy says without warning. She says it because it felt right. She says it because it’s true.

She also pushes Joy’s accusations so far down her subconscious.

Irene was taken aback for a second and then Wendy sees her expression change. Her happy, smiley aura is suddenly replaced by something else. It’s not sad or angry, but it’s also not very positive. She looks like she’s trying to figure Wendy out but what’s there to figure out?

She missed her and it makes sense to let the girl know about it.

“I uh—I gotta go,” is what Irene says with a hesitant smile. “I’ll see you later.”

“Uh, of course, see you,” Wendy nods, lifting her hand up to manage a small wave. A few seconds and her phone’s screen goes dark.

What just happened?

.

Wendy goes back to work, assists attendings, makes rounds on all of Dr. Im’s patients—with the weird, nagging feeling at the back of her mind.

Something’s changed between her and Irene.

She just couldn’t figure out what.

.

That Night

The day passes faster than Wendy would’ve liked.

If she could somehow pause time then maybe she wouldn’t have to deal with her colleagues meeting Irene—especially her unnies Yoona and Jisoo. They’re loud when they tease her and yeah, Wendy is used to being the center of attention but this isn’t the kind of attention she’s been trained for all her life.

Maybe, the universe was preparing her for this gathering because it was a rather easy day at the ER. There weren’t a lot of severe cases, just a couple of broken bones and a few stomachaches. It’s like the universe truly saved her energy because the bitch knew Wendy will need it tonight.

Well, the universe can go fuck itself.

“You look constipated,” a voice interrupts her thoughts.

“Joy, this isn’t really a good time.”

“Oooh, someone’s in a sour mood.”

Wendy only rolls her eyes as they both turn their attention to the other side of the room where the long table is being setup. Momo and one of the waiters are designing the room, lining up all the small tables to form one long table good for about 10 to 12 people.

The table is covered by a deep green table cloth, topped with a few accessories in the colors of brown and peach. There’s also a couple of long-neck glass jars, each with three pieces of white roses to complete the overall rustic look and feel.

To top it off, they’ve turned off the fluorescent lights and left the overhead string of yellow light bulbs to match the calm of the night.

“The setup looks great,” Wendy comments, smiling slightly.

Joy shrugs, “That was all Momo. I wasn’t planning to do anything but she insisted on designing the place. She thinks your colleagues would appreciate it.”

Wendy doesn’t say anything and lets silence envelope them for a while. After a few moments, Joy breaks the silence and of course, what comes next is an insult.

“Are you wearing this tonight?” Joy asks.

Wendy turns to her friend and sees the judgement on her face. The doctor then looks down at her choice of clothes tonight—a pair of skinny jeans, a pair of ankle boots, a black sweater—and sees absolutely nothing wrong with it.

“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”

Joy rolls her eyes hopelessly, “You’re insufferable.”

“What did I do now?” Wendy almost whines, feeling attacked. Joy is really testing her today.

“Wendy, you’re introducing Irene to your colleagues. You think Irene is going to show up in a pair of sweats and call it a day?” she asks sarcastically. “She’s going to look good tonight and you’re going to stand next to her looking like this? How do you not know how dating works?”

The doctor swallows, “Maybe because I haven’t really dated anybody for, I don’t know, eight years?”

Yup, she really went there. She really pulled out that card because honestly? She’s tired of all the weird things happening today and she doesn’t need any more of Joy’s unsolicited advice.

Joy spreads her arms to her sides, shrugging as she makes a point, “Well maybe it’s about time you start dressing up again. Maybe, that’ll get you started.”

Yup, Joy also went there. She really pulled the maybe it’s time to move on card.

“You don’t wanna go there, Sooyoung.”

Their dialogue stops there. The girl in question doesn’t say anything but she keeps her eyes on Wendy. The doctor returns her gaze. Now, it’s just two, long-time friends on the verge of a conversation they’ve avoided for so long.

Their intense staring lasts for a few seconds before Wendy looks away, unable to stand the way Joy is looking at her like she wants to understand, really understand, why Wendy hasn’t dated anybody since Rosé passed.

Giving up on their moment, Joy lets out an audible sigh, “I’m gonna call Yerim. I’ll tell her to bring some clothes for you.”

Keeping her eyes trained on the front of the room, Wendy only nods. It’s pointless to argue with Joy.

She always ends up being right.

.

Yerim comes thru with Wendy’s new set of clothes. She comes and goes in a matter of half an hour and the next thing Wendy knows, she’s now donning a pair of faded jeans, a nice, knitted sweater, and a cute little beanie straight from the teenager’s closet.

She looks nicer, she admits. With her short hair let down and the light makeup that Joy insisted on putting on her face, she now looks Irene-ready; like, she could totally stand next to the actress without breaking a sweat.

By the time 7PM rolls around, over half of the invitees are already in. They’re scattered around the room in small groups, each with a champagne glass at hand, talking about everything and nothing at the same time.

Wendy spots Dr. Chen with Dr. Lee Sungmin from Plastics and his girlfriend whose name she already forgot. She also sees her former mentor Dr. Choi Siwon with his wife Yooyoung and Jisoo’s current mentor Dr. Lee Donghae who is with his girlfriend Dara (who looks so much like Jisoo, it’s almost so creepy).

The others, including the Chief and Irene haven’t arrived yet; and as Wendy listens to yet another one of Jisoo’s stories about her most recent case, she feels a slight relief that at least, she doesn’t have to face her impending doom just yet.

“Then they put the baby back in!” Jisoo concludes her story, obviously amazed. Wendy recalls the case she was talking about. It was that pregnant woman whose baby’s heart has grown outside of his body—an ectopia cordis repair. It’s a rare case so naturally, everyone’s been talking about it. Long story short—they delivered the baby, put the baby’s heart back in his body, and then put the baby back in the mom’s womb.

It was a three-surgeon effort: Dr. Siwon, delivered the child; Dr. Donghae placed the baby’s heart inside his body, and then, Dr. Sungmin closed using a skin flap grown from the child’s own skin. Jisoo was chosen as the fourth surgeon, assisting throughout the case from pre-op all the way to post-op.

Yoona is listening attentively and so is her husband Choi Minho who has served in the army as a doctor multiple times. Looking at the couple, Wendy can’t quite believe they’re real. How can two people be so good looking? She just doesn’t understand. Unreal.

Jisoo goes on about the case a bit more, answering the couple’s questions. A lot of it is technical and Wendy is amazed at how Jisoo seems to have a grasp of it all. There’s no surprise that Jisoo learns fast. She’s smart and works equally just as hard. Imagine scoring the second-highest score in her batch of KMLE passers—a genius, she is.

A few more moments pass until the door to the café opens and in comes the Chief herself, Kim Taeyeon—the youngest doctor to ever become Chief at Severance, and one of the most brilliant Neurosurgeons in the country. Wendy is still in awe that she gets to be her boss. What a gem to be around this woman.

Interestingly, she has someone in tow with her. Someone Wendy knows very, very well.

“Holy shit,” she mutters, a smile slowly drawing on her face upon seeing the other doctor with the Chief.

“Everyone,” the Chief calls for everyone’s attention. It’s amazing how she commands the room with an air of confidence without the arrogance. Despite her tiny frame, the Chief exudes a presence that’s hard to ignore.

The Chief reaches out to the much-younger doctor next to her, pulling her gently to her side as if introducing her to everyone. “This is our new Intern, Kim Sejeong. She’s transferring from Seoul Medical.”

Everyone reacts with oohs and ahhs. Seoul Medical Center has always ranked higher than Severance the last few years so yeah, believe it or not, rivalries are not just for sports teams.

“Hi, I’m Sejeong,” she introduces herself and Wendy has to smile. It’s been a while since they’ve last seen each other.

The Chief takes Sejeong around the room, introducing her to every single small group that has formed. Wendy follows their movement with her eyes and at some point, their gazes meet and the other girl smiles at her—familiarity oozing in the way her lips lift up to a smile, her eye smile twinkling and shining above the warm lighting of the café.

Finally, the pair gets to where they are and Wendy can hardly contain herself.

“Dr. Kim Seojeong, this is Kim Jisoo, a third-year resident,” she gestures to Jisoo who grins wide and in return, Sejeong bows respectfully. The Chief then gestures to Yoona and Minho, “This is Dr. Im Yoona, the Head of Trauma and her husband, also a doctor, Minho.”

The couple acknowledges Sejeong with a smile and the younger doctor bows with extra intensity, recognizing the two other doctors’ seniority. Finally, the introductions shift to Wendy.

The Chief smiles at her playfully, “And I don’t think introductions are necessary here?”

Wendy shakes her head with a grin she’s struggling to keep at bay.

“You know each other?” Jisoo asks.

Sejeong nods, “We went to med school together.”

“Wait!” Jisoo squeals excitedly. “You’re Sejeong—the one with the photographic memory?”

The Chief turns to Sejeong with an amused smile on her face, “A photographic memory?”

Sejeong grins playfully, “I remember stuff easily?”

“Pssh—” Wendy dismisses, “Understatement of the year. She remembers everything, absolutely everything just by taking one glance at it. It’s amazing.”

Sejeong laughs softly, a blush creeping up her cheeks. “It’s nice to see you again, Wendy.”

“Yah!” Wendy bubbled as she makes a move to give Sejeong a quick hug. “It’s been such a while. I’m excited to work with you!” she expressed as she pulls away.

Wendy misses the way Yoona and Jisoo exchange looks, recognizing something in the air between the two old friends.

“Okay, well, I’m going to leave you two and I’m gonna get myself a drink,” the Chief quips before she walks over to the bar and serves herself a glass of wine.

As she disappears, they—Wendy, Jisoo, Yoona, and Minho—turn their attention back to Sejeong.

“What made you transfer to Severance?” Yoona asks.

“Chief Kim made a very compelling offer,” she replies. “And also, Severance has the best Neurosurgery program in the country. I can’t pass up the opportunity of working under the guidance of Dr. Dong and The Chief.”

Wendy observes her former classmate as she goes on and talks about the decision to transfer programs. It’s very unusual to transfer to another hospital in the middle of your internship year so that in itself is a wonder.

They were quite close when they were in medical school, years of never-ending study sessions and comparing notes, and convenience store dinners when the readings got too long and the semester got too demanding. They only started drifting apart during their fifth and sixth year when they had different hospital learning schedules.

After med school, they both took a year off to study for the KMLE but Sejeong moved to Gwangju for her review while Wendy stayed in Seoul. They still talked from time to time but that communication slowly faltered until it was non-existent.

No hard feelings, Wendy thinks. Sometimes, people drift apart and that’s okay. Because also sometimes, they find their way back.

Wendy smiles proudly, “I can’t believe we’re now working in the same hospital!”

“I’m excited, too.”

Sejeong is funny in this awkward, adorable way. She’s not going to have big punch lines the way Yerim or Joy would but her childish reactions to everything is just so funny sometimes. She’s also big on horror films and gory slasher movies; something that didn’t really make sense to Wendy at first, but as she spent more time with the woman, the more she understood the charms of such art.

Her former classmate sticks with them as they all wait for the other doctors and their plus-ones.

By the time dinner is served, Wendy already had a glass of wine, an unexplainable warmth in her heart having Sejeong back in her life, and a bubbling sense of anticipation at the pit of her stomach.

I’m walking toward Red Flavor—is what Irene’s text says, sent just about 10 seconds ago.

“Showtime,” Wendy mutters to herself, downing the last bit of her wine in one go.

.

A few moments later, the door to Red Flavor opens and in comes Irene—in all her elegant, wonderful, and absolutely stunning glory.

See, nothing is graceful about the last few weeks of fall. It’s late in November and it’s all about the coats now, the sweaters. It’s the season of lazy fashion, of oversized coats, and baggy boots.

Some people might pick this time as their least favorite season to dress up but what Wendy sees when Irene walks in is the complete opposite of everything she thought she knew about the way people are at this time of the year.

She’s in an all-black set of clothes—a long, black coat; a pair of black pants, and a black, slimfit turtleneck sweater. She tops it with a pair of expensive-looking calf boots and finishes the look with her hair swept to the side, a cute little beret hat making her look cute and elegant, and somehow intimidating at the same time.

What a sight—Wendy thinks, suddenly feeling proud that she’s (fake) dating this woman.

She excuses herself quickly from their small group and walks over to Irene. Soon as the actress sees her, her face lights up. She smiles. No—she beams, her smile reaching her eyes.

The sun? Jobless.

“Hey,” Wendy greets, her movement tentative.

How do they do this? They haven’t really talked about how they’d act around other people.

Wendy’s back is turned from the rest of the room but she doesn’t have to see to know that they’re looking. Irene’s arrival has certainly caught their attention.

“Hey,” Irene greets her back, the smile on her face still there like it’s permanent.

The next thing Wendy knows, Irene is leaning toward her. There’s a split second there that Wendy didn’t know what to do but her mind quickly catches up. She instantly gets what Irene is doing. So she goes for it, thinking she knew what was happening but guess what?

Dr. Wendy Son’s resolve is just about to break.

The actress lifts up a hand and brings it to Wendy’s face, capturing the side of her jaw perfectly like she’s been doing it her entire life. Then, slowly, the actress places small, lingering kiss on her cheek and for a moment, Wendy forgets how to breathe.

Her breath hitches as she captures the other woman’s scent—a mix of tea-tree blossom, and apples, and a serving of pumpkin spiced latte. It reminds Wendy of autumn when it is not busy punishing everyone with the cold.

The kiss on her cheek was quick but that’s when the doctor realizes that Irene is autumn.

Fall.

Cold and harsh on certain times of the day but if you look hard enough, there’s warmth and comfort in the way bonfires light up during this season, or the smell of hot chocolate when it’s late at night; or how the outside smells like Earth.

There’s coldness in the way this season is the time of falling, when leaves break away from their homes—the old, playful trees now bare while its leaves are on the ground, scattered lifeless but still full of color.

Irene has a coldness, a harshness she built over time because of everything she’s been through and yet, she’s also warm and nice, and so, so beautiful. And in that moment, Wendy wishes for Irene to see herself the way Wendy sees her. Maybe she’ll see herself in a different light; maybe, she’ll learn to appreciate herself even more.

“You look—” Wendy breathes, not really having any words to follow through with.

Irene smirks playfully, “—like I’m ready to meet your super highly educated workmates?”

Wendy manages a small laugh, “Is this what this look is going for?”

The actress laughs, “Do I look like the non-Sciencey girlfriend who doesn’t have a college education but still makes more money than some of you combined?”

This time, Wendy laughs loudly, unable to stop herself. Playful, jokey Irene is here to stay and she loves it. “If that’s what this look is going for, you definitely nailed the part,” she affirms.

Irene nods proudly, smoothening the front of her coat with both of her palms. “This whole outfit costs more than your monthly salary,” she… jokes? At this point, Wendy isn’t even sure. The outfit does seem expensive.

Wendy laughs again, “I don’t doubt that for a second.”

“You ready to meet them? I’m already apologizing in advance because they’ll probably ask tons of questions and just, you know, warn me if I need to support anything you say. Like, we didn’t talk about this—”

“Wendy, they’re looking at us, breathe. We got this,” Irene tells her, grabbing her hand then turning them both around to face the room.

Here we go—Wendy mutters under breath.

Everything passes them by quickly. Wendy takes Irene’s hand and walks her around the room, introducing her to her colleagues. They were all civil, making a couple of comments about how beautiful the actress is in person and how they’re glad to finally meet her.

Dr. Siwon mentions the Instragram post once, telling them how surprised he was. Something about the way he interacts with Irene irks Wendy so much and it doesn’t help that the actress is such a great socializer. Wendy makes it a point to leave Dr. Siwon’s presence quickly, dragging Irene by the hand bringing her over to where her friends are.

Soon as they get to them hand in hand, Jisoo grins widely, already embarrassing Wendy before she even gets a word out.

“Hi, Irene!” Jisoo greets enthusiastically. “I hope you still remember me!”

Irene smiles politely, bowing slightly to acknowledge everyone in the small group. She then responds to Jisoo, “Of course, I remember you, Jisoo-ssi.”

The resident smiles once again before she shifts the attention to Yoona who also gives Irene a warm, accepting smile. “Hey, Irene. This is my husband, Minho.”

Irene bows politely, “Nice to meet you. You make a lovely couple.”

Wendy can’t help but smile at the exchange. It’s a bit awkward but it’s also nice to see Irene make her way to the hearts of her friends at work.

Jisoo speaks up again and Wendy can’t be more thankful for the extroverts of the world.

“This is Sejeong,” Jisoo manages, pulling the said doctor closer to them.

Sejeong smiles, extending her hand to Irene.

“She went to med school with Wendy,” Jisoo adds, and somehow, after that sentence, something in the air changes. “It’s her first official day at Severance.”

Irene quirks an eyebrow, her shoulders stiffening up a bit. “Hi, I’m Irene,” she extends her hand to Sejeong, which the girl quickly shakes before she lets go with a smile. Irene continues, “I’m Wendy’s girlfriend.”

Wendy almost chokes on air. Throughout the course of their introductions to Wendy’s colleagues, the g-word was never used. With the others, it felt automatic, like it didn’t need to be said.

But somehow with Sejeong, Irene acted differently.

In a small moment of panic, Wendy looks up—a mistake she shouldn’t have made because what she sees are the amused faces of both Jisoo and Yoona as they look at Irene who’s staring at Sejeong like her former classmate ate all her Halloween candy.

What is happening?

“I know. I saw the Instagram post, you guys look good together,” Sejeong tells Irene who only responds with a curt nod.

Wendy lets out a sigh.

Something tells her it’s gonna be a long night.

.

The next thing Wendy knows, she’s sitting by the table passing around dinner and having light conversation with her coworkers.

In all fairness, they’ve kept the medical jargons to a minimum in respect to the non-doctors in the room. They switch from one medical topic to another, the conversation flowing smoothly amongst the professionals.

At some point during the course of the dinner, the conversations are divided into their own small groups so naturally, Wendy finds herself trapped with Irene in a situation she mentally calls: The Kim Jisoo Show.

“So, okay, let me get this straight,” Jisoo coughs amid chewing something. She really has no decency at all. “You,” she points at Sejeong, “placed second in the KMLE?”

Sejeong nods politely, “I did. It was totally unexpected.”

“I say that, too,” Jisoo says with a playful shrug, casually reminding everyone that she, too, placed second in the KMLE.

Wendy interjects, “No, you don’t, unnie. You brag about it every second you get.”

“What? I placed second. In a batch of a God knows how many students, I placed second. I would brag about that until I die; that’s it. I already peaked,” the resident jokes.

They laugh at her little joke and see, this is where it all starts to get really, really interesting.

Sejeong smirks, “Well, how about we hear from a first-placer—”

Shit.

Wendy gasps audibly in an attempt to stop Sejeong’s statement. They don’t know about that.

“Wait, what?” it’s Jisoo who clarifies first.

“You, what?” Yoona follows suit.

Sejeong’s eyes grow wide, surprised by Jisoo and Yoona’s reactions.

Thank God this conversation is locked to their small group because otherwise, everyone would know that—

“You’re a top-notcher?” Yoona asks, her face showing how this is news to her.

“They don’t know?” Sejeong asks Wendy, one hand rising up to cover her mouth in surprise.

It’s Irene’s turn to inquire, “You topped the bars?”

Jisoo glares at her, “You mean the entire time I was bragging about placing second, I was bragging it to a top-notcher?” The doctor gasps dramatically, “You traitor!”

Wendy manages a guilty grin, “Maybe your scores were higher, we’re from different batches?”

“So you’re a top-notcher!” Yoona states, as if waiting for Wendy to confirm.

“Y-yeah?” she admits; her secret’s finally out.

“Wow,” Irene looks at her, an amused smile gracing her lips. “I knew you were smart but I didn’t know—”

“I just got lucky,” Wendy says quickly, cutting the other woman off. “All the questions were in my study booklet.”

Irene laughs, shaking her head. Wendy feels the actress take her hand. Irene gives it a clasp, letting her know she’s supporting her amid this very, very dramatic reveal.

“How come I didn’t know about this? I’m your superior,” Yoona asks, genuinely confused.

Minho, who’s sitting right next to her, laughs. He gestures to Wendy, “Maybe she didn’t want you to know about it. Also, that info is public domain. The news sites roll the Top 10 out hours after the examination. Why didn’t you know about it?”

Yoona gives him a playful glare, rolling her eyes to dismiss his (valid) argument.

Wendy tries to appease the situation, “Only HR and the Chief know about it.”

“Why?” Yoona asks. “Why wouldn’t you want us to know?” this time, her voice is a little lower, a bit serious.

Wendy shrugs, “I wanted to be judged based on merit. Being a KMLE top-notcher tells you nothing about me except that I studied real hard and also got a bit lucky.”

“No, dumbass,” Yoona smiles, “It also tells me that you’re a hard-worker.”

“It also tells me that I have to shut up now about being a second-placer,” Jisoo pouts.

Wendy laughs, “No, you’re fine, unnie. I just don’t like talking about myself in that context.”

Jisoo turns to Sejeong dramatically, “You’re my friend now and you’re going to tell me Wendy’s weirdest study habits.”

Sejeong laughs, “I think I don’t want to be in any more trouble with Seungwan than I already am.”

“You call her Seungwan?” puzzled Irene as she looks at Sejeong with an unreadable expression.

“Uhm, yeah,” Sejeong nods before turning to Wendy, alarmed. “Is that okay? Do you go specifically by Wendy now? I didn’t—”

“Anything’s fine…” Wendy affirms tentatively. At this, she earns a glare from her (fake) girlfriend and that ultimately makes her feel like she said the wrong thing. She adds, “…I guess?”

“Oh what a mess,” Jisoo mumbles with a chuckle which also makes Yoona laugh.

“What’s that?” Wendy asks, not understanding what made her friends laugh.

“Nothing,” Jisoo dismisses her.

The Kim Jisoo Show goes on for the rest of the night with just the resident questioning Sejeong about Wendy’s study habits, how she deals with stress, and—funny enough—she also asks about Wendy’s study booklet.

Through it all, Irene sits in silence, just listening. She reacts and comments at the appropriate moments but Wendy has a feeling that her mood has since changed. Playful, jokey Irene is nowhere to be seen and Wendy has troubles understanding why.

.

The socializing continues after dinner.

Now, everyone’s once again separated into groups, wine glasses at hand talking about everything and nothing at all.

Their group sits by the far end of the room, this time joined by the Chief herself. As the night gets deeper, the conversations are starting to get personal.

“Oppa,” Jisoo opens, her show still running strong. “I’ve known you both quite a while now but I never really prodded about your relationship.”

“Thank you?” Minho playfully responds, earning a laugh from the group.

Jisoo turns to Wendy pointedly as if scolding her for laughing along, “What? You don’t want to know how they got together?”

Wendy’s eyes widen comically, feeling attacked, “I want to, unnie! I just wouldn’t force them.”

“Am I forcing them? Do you see me pointing a knife at either one of them or me threatening to skip Yoona-unnie’s rounds if she won’t tell me?”

The banter makes their companions laugh, an ecstatic energy spreading throughout their small group.

Once the laughs die down, Jisoo continues to prod. She turns back to the couple in question, “So? How did you two get together?”

Minho turns to his wife and Wendy sees the stars in his eyes as he tries to recall that day. Yoona, on the other hand, meets his gaze and in there, Wendy sees the sparkle, too. For a moment there, she wishes for a love like that.

It reminds her of the first day of her second year in high school when love walked in: her blonde hair flowing smoothly, her eyes shining of something that would forever change a young, unsuspecting Seungwan. That was so long ago now but the feelings linger at the pit of her stomach.

Her eyes dart toward the woman who’s hand she’s holding right now. The actress’ attention is on the other couple, anticipating their answer. Wendy wonders if she, too, wishes for a love like that.

“That was a long time ago. We met during our Internship year at Asan,” Yoona opens with a warm smile. “But I do remember that something clicked that day. It’s as if my whole being knew, before I even realized, that he was going to be in my life for a really long time.”

“Love at first sight?” Sejeong asks, a hopeless romantic tone seeping out so easily.

Minho shakes his head laughingly, “Oh no, she hated me.”

Yoona laughs, “I didn’t hate you. I hated your guts. You’re smart and you’re arrogant; and you show off all the time.”

“That’s you!” Sejeong laughs, playfully pointing at Wendy.

“What? Me?” Wendy wonders, a laugh freely escaping her. It’s good to have Sejeong around, a familiar face just to ease things up.

“In Med school, you were so good at everything.”

Minho nods enthusiastically, pointing at Wendy, “She’s me.”

That earns him a playful punch in the arm from his wife.

“No, I wasn’t,” Wendy denies humbly. She feels a blush creep up her cheeks.

Sejeong smiles, “I didn’t mean that in a bad way. I meant that you did everything with grace and such ease. You always had this tenacity and drive. You’d have two hours of sleep and you’re still the first person in the lab the next day. I admired that so much about you.”

There’s silence after Sejeong’s praises.

They’re all just watching the way Sejeong talks about Wendy and for a moment, Wendy sees something different in her friend’s eyes; a shine, a different kind of life and she wonders if that’s always been there.

It’s only when she feels Irene let go of her hand does she tear her eyes away from the other girl. As the rest of her friends continues to pry Sejeong about Wendy, Wendy’s eyes are on Irene. She notices the way Irene crosses her arms at her chest, sinking in to herself. There’s an unreadable expression on Irene’s face and something about it pinches at Wendy’s heart.

Wendy feels like she did something wrong but what is it? She’s just standing there and listening to her old friend but somehow, she feels guilty.

“You okay?” she whispers; and Irene only nods.

The coldness of her response reminds Wendy of the days when autumn ends and winter begins.

.

The night soon ends and the next thing Wendy knows, she’s standing next to Irene by Red Flavor’s storefront, waiting for the actress’ ride to arrive.

It’s nine in the evening, going well into 10 and it’s somehow gotten colder.

Irene has been silent all night and if she’s going to be rational, Wendy would think it’s pretty normal. It’s not Irene’s turf. These are people she just met. Of course, she wouldn’t be as social as she normally is.

If she’s going to be rational, Irene’s behavior could be tagged as normal; but something in her gut tells her there’s something else going on.

The actress doesn’t say anything as they wait outside for her ride. She’s just standing there, eyes focused elsewhere, staring at nothing in particular.

It’s eating Wendy up—this cold shoulder. She knew, deep down, that Irene had this in her—this ability to turn her feelings on and off as easy as flicking a switch. But what Wendy didn’t expect is how much it would affect her.

“Hey,” Wendy opens carefully, silently hoping that this goes well for her. “Are you okay?” she asks because it’s the right thing to do.

Irene turns to her and again just nods.

Wendy takes a deep breath, “You say you are but I don’t believe you.”

That’s what gets Irene’s attention. “What?”

“You’ve been silent the entire night,” she starts. “Not just silent. You’ve been giving me the cold shoulder and I know we don’t know each other that well but I’m not dumb.”

A hint of recognition crosses Irene’s face. Her eyes widen up a bit, a soft gasp escaping her. It’s as if she’s been caught.

“I’m just not in the mood,” Irene lets out an excuse—a lame one, Wendy would argue.

“Did I do something wrong?” she asks—and it feels like they’re fighting (which, they’re not because why would they fight?)

“What?” Irene asks, alarmed. “No. I—” she stumbles on her words and it’s really just becoming more and more confusing.

“Let’s have a hashtag,” Wendy tells her.

“A what?”

“Let’s call it the Hashtag Honesty Hour,” Wendy proposes. “When you use it, I’m not allowed to judge you or say anything if you don’t want me to.”

“What kind of deal is that?”

“When you say that before you say anything, it means that the Honesty Hour is on. No one gets to judge you about anything you say.”

“I don’t get it—”

“Joohyun, I’m giving you a chance to be honest with me. I would never judge you. I’m the last person in the world who would judge you but if you need additional assurance, I would gladly give that to you. Anytime. So, here’s our deal. During honesty hour, anything you say will be taken by face value. I won’t say anything if you don’t want me to.”

Irene doesn’t say anything but keeps her gaze on Wendy. It’s as if she has so many questions, so many things she wants to know, and she’s all trying to find the answers on Wendy’s face.

“I—”

Hashtag Honesty Hour, I hate handling car crash cases at the hospital,” Wendy admits. She feels vulnerable just saying that out loud. She lowers her voice for some reason, afraid that if she says the next words loud enough, her heart will break the way it did a few years ago when—“You know what happened to Chaeyoung. Everybody at the school knows what happened to her. But I was the last to know.”

“What?”

“Her parents didn’t even tell me. I was informed hours later, after they’ve cremated her. There was no service, no gathering of friends. I didn’t get to say goodbye,” she narrates, doing her best to keep her voice from shaking.

“I—”

“You don’t have to say anything. It’s honesty hour,” Wendy cuts her off, eyes trained at nothing so far away.

Silence envelopes them for a while and Wendy doesn’t need to look at Irene to know that she’s staring.

“I didn’t know what to do. I had all that love in my heart but I had no one to give it to. I was in a limbo for years. Even during med school, I was still somebody’s girlfriend but I don’t have that person anymore. And it was tough waking up everyday like that—” Wendy’s voice shakes at the end of her sentence.

She stops speaking because if she continues, then the tears will come next. But it was Irene who says the things she couldn’t.

“But you do wakeup again, everyday,” Irene fills in the silence with words that Wendy’s spent the last few years trying to find. “And everyday it feels like getting that call again.”

Wendy nods, an odd feeling of familiarity crashing over her. Maybe, there’s something comforting about a shared pain. She mutters, “I save all these people everyday because a part of me thinks I could’ve saved her, too.”

Tears are starting to pool at her eyes so she tries to blink it away. Memories of that fateful day still haunt her. Memories of blonde hair and blue eyes, and voice so soft—they sometimes still visit her.

Irene releases a breath but doesn’t say anything.

“Your turn.”

“What?”

Hashtag honesty hour,” Wendy encourages, a small smile escaping her lips.

Irene squints at her, “I didn’t agree to that deal.”

“Well, too late. I already had my heart and soul bared just now so…”

Irene chuckles softly, “Thank you for trusting me with that.”

Wendy only shrugs, “I trust you, Joohyun.”

“You’re getting used to calling me with that name.”

“And you’re trying to change the topic but okay, I won’t force you to say anything—”

“No—I—” she stutters. “I just—” Irene takes a deep breath and then releases it slowly, as if she’s bracing herself for something big. “I just don’t belong there.”

Confused, Wendy asks, “Where?”

“There,” Irene points at something behind her.

Wendy follows her gestures and concludes, “At Red Flavor?”

Irene only chuckles, shaking her head.

“Wait,” Wendy is struck with a realization. “With my colleagues?”

Irene nods, “In your world.”

“Joohyun—”

“Shhh, honesty hour,” Irene silences her with a smirk. Look how fast her hashtag bit her back. Irene shrugs as if it’s no big deal before she continues, “I always have this… fear, you know.”

Irene pauses and this is where Wendy just listens.

“Of not belonging in places,” she explains vaguely. “I’ve spent the last eight years fully convinced that I’m going to spend my entire life trying to find my place in this world. And I will just wither without finding it.”

Wendy struggles in trying not to say anything because that’s not—

“But the last few weeks I’ve been here in Seoul with you, with Joy, Yerim, and your group of friends, it felt like I was finally finding it. That maybe, I had been wrong. But tonight, it felt like I was in a brand new territory and I didn’t know how to operate in a place like that. Kinda felt like high school again. High school was just worse by one strand of hair.”

“Do you know what made you feel that way?”

Irene shrugs, acting like she doesn’t know it but Wendy knows she does.

They’re silent for a while with Wendy just fighting the urge to make another speech but it’s #HonestyHour and she made the rules. Damn it.

“Anyway,” Irene turns to her. “Sejeong. She knows you a lot, huh.”

How did this conversation get to Sejeong?

“We went to med school together,” she utters out loud what she’s sure Irene already knows. She’s struggling to keep up with this change of topic. “Nothing bonds people together better than four science classes a day.”

“I’m sure you’re happy you get to work with her again.”

“I am,” Wendy nods, now starting to get really confused.

“Good for you.”

Wait. Is she… is she…

“Hyun,” she calls her out, a slow, playful smile escaping her, “Are you…”

Joohyun glares at Wendy, “What?”

“Are you jealous?”

Joohyun’s glare intensifies and God, she’s cute, “What? Of Sejeong? No!”

Wendy laughs, giving her friend a teasing look, “Oh my God, you are!”

“No, I’m not!”

Wendy doesn’t say anything but keeps giggling. She doesn’t understand why Joohyun would ever be jealous of Sejeong but it’s funny and cute, and Wendy feels something at the pit of her stomach. Ugh.

“Your Hashtag Honesty Hour sucks!” Joohyun tells her and then pouts.

Giggling, Wendy tries to compose herself, “I’m sorry. I’ll stop laughing. I just find it ridiculous that you’d ever be jealous of anybody when you’re you.”

“I didn’t place second in the KMLE. I don’t have a photographic memory. I didn’t go to med school with you. I wasn’t a varsity player for Archery in high school, I’m not a lot of things—”

“—but you’re you. You’ve won awards for acting. You’ve raised thousands of dollars for typhoon victims in third world countries. You support medical and food missions in Africa every year. You aced the bullseye on an archery exhibition game when we were seniors. You’re not a lot of things Sejeong is but you’re a lot of things that are just you. And that counts far more than the things that you’re not.”

Wendy is out of breath by the time she finishes her speech. Irene’s eyes are on her. But she’s not yet done.

“And that thing you said earlier, about not belonging in places?”

“It’s Honesty Hour, you’re not allowed to say anything—”

“—please, please let me just say one thing.”

Irene takes a deep breath and then nods, “Just one thing.”

“You don’t have to belong there, Hyun. With my colleagues? That’s not your world. It doesn’t have to be your world. You don’t have to be everything for everyone. You just have to be you for you and the people who love you, people who are there for you.”

“That’s not just one thing.”

Wendy altogether ignores her because she knows she already struck a chord, “Who cares if you don’t belong to a world of super highly educated doctors? You’ve got friends here. You have me, Joy, Yerim, Chanyeol, Seohyun-unnie, Tiffany, Jessica—and tons of other people that have your back. Joohyun, you don’t have to spend your entire life trying to find your place. You could just sit here and look around, and realize that you already found it.”

They’re outside, the cold wind brushes past them and for a second, Wendy gets chills at how the porchlight makes Irene look soft; how the streetlights make Irene shine. Once again, Wendy wishes for Irene to see herself the way Wendy sees her. Maybe, that’ll change her mind about the way she sees herself.

“I know this whole thing started off with a lie, literally a lie. But I like to believe that we can stumble upon good things even amid difficult situations, diamonds in the rough—surprises that the universe sometimes like to throw us. And I think this is it. I meant it, Hyun—maybe the reason you and I didn’t become friends before is because we’re supposed to be here today. You’ve got me and our friends; and you may not belong there with my super highly educated workmates but you belong right here. Next to me, here in this little coffee shop in Seoul but it’s up to you to decide if that’s enough.”

It’s quiet and cold and who, in their right mind, would wait this long outdoors in the dead of the night—but standing here makes sense. Because Irene is glowing under the radiance of the lights around them and there, Wendy feels the urge to kiss her.

“How do you always know the right words to say?” Joohyun asks, stepping closer to Wendy.

This is where it hits Wendy altogether. Everything Joy’s been saying, the changes she’s seen in Irene, the way everything with Joohyun feels natural and the way she just refuses to think—it all makes sense now.

She feels it again—that thing she felt when she saw Joohyun walking to school with her little backpack and the bounce on her steps. Her heart does that again: somersaults that make her feel like she’s floating.

Was it love at first sight? No.

But something clicked. Something fell right into place.

Wendy understands now.

“I just know,” Wendy says, also moving closer to the other girl.

Their voices are low, almost down to a whisper, but Wendy could feel her heart beating loudly against her chest. Memories of blonde hair and blue eyes fade in the background, like a silent melody that keeps on playing but never gets too loud.

Right now, Irene is in front of her. And right now is all that matters.

“I want to kiss you,” Wendy says because it’s true. Wendy says it because it makes sense.

Joohyun’s breath hitches but she meets Wendy’s eyes anyway, their faces mere inches apart, “I dare you to.”

Wendy releases a breath she didn’t know she was holding, “This would change a lot of things.”

“A lot has been changing already.”

“Okay.”

Joohyun nods, “Okay.”

Wendy places a hand under Irene’s jaw to pull her closer and slowly, she leans in. She closes her eyes and in a matter of seconds, she feels Joohyun’s lips on hers—warm and soft. Wendy kisses her because it makes sense. She kisses her because she wants to.

Wendy kisses her and she feels Joohyun kissing her back and it feels—nothing like the movies.

Kissing Joohyun feels real, steadying. It feels like years of questions finally getting some answers. It feels like a new beginning.

Pulling apart, Wendy keeps her eyes on Joohyun’s. She’s out of breath not because they’ve kissed for a few seconds but she seems genuinely taken by the kiss. There’s a blush on her cheeks and with her lips slightly parted, Wendy wants to kiss her again.

But she knows Joohyun’s ride is here. It probably got here when they were kissing but stopped a couple of meters from them, probably not to disturb their moment.

“My ride is here,” Joohyun says, slightly out of breath.

“Yeah, I figured,” Wendy nods, a smile slowly drawing on her lips.

There’s a smile on her face when Joohyun says, “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah, see you.”

Joohyun places a quick kiss on her cheek before the actress walks to her car; and soon as the van drives away, Wendy releases a deep breath.  And that’s how she knows she’s fucked.

Fake-dating Irene Bae is, definitely, the plot twist of Wendy’s year.

/

Chapter Text

 

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Maybe it was the universe’s plan all along—for Irene to be caught in this cobweb of a disaster where it ends with her having her heart broken. That’s how it’s been for the last eight years and to be honest? She’s not even a tad bit surprised that she’s in this situation again.

“Okay, so let me get this straight—” the woman from the other side of her screen starts, munching on a handful of potato chips, a glass of half-empty orange juice sitting right to her. It’s Jennie, one of the talents under Jessica’s management and one of Irene’s closest friends. “So this whole thing with the chic doc, it’s fake?”

Irene nods furiously as she stands and starts to pace back and forth within the small space separating her bed and the table where her iPad is currently propped on. Jennie follows her with her eyes, the smile gracing her lips hinting at something ridiculous—as if she’s entertained by the panicked state Irene’s currently in.

 “It was fake,” Irene stresses.

“Past tense.”

Irene nods, “Now? I don’t know—I kinda feel like I like her.”

I kinda feel like I like her—Irene your thoughts are out of whack.”

“Try being inside my head,” Irene stops on her tracks to give her friend a look; to which Jennie reacts with a chuckle.

“Okay, chill,” Jennie says with a small laugh. “So, this Dr. Son is the girl you kept talking about when we discuss high school. The charming little sunshine you met on the first day of school. Your first high school crush now your fake girlfriend, and also now someone you think you like. Like, legit.”

Korean. Korean. Korean. And then English. She will never, ever, understand how fast Jennie got used to Los Angeles slang but she admires it.

Legit,” Irene confirms, cringing at her own choice of words.

“I finally got you to say legit like a true Angelino,” Jennie teases with a smile.

“Shut up,” Irene stops pacing altogether and takes a seat in front of the tablet. “Tell me what to do.”

“Irene Bae asking me to tell her what to do—tell me again what I did in my past life to deserve this—”

“Jennie!”

Jennie merely laughs, “Irene, I can’t tell you what to do. You said you’re not sure who kissed who first which means she also had intentions. In my book, that screams I like you, too and I don’t know what you’re fussing about because girlie is easily the most gorgeous person you’ve dated. The smartest, too. And yes, both sentences are a dig on Suho but the boy can’t solve a math problem to save his life so—”

She ends her whole rant with a nonchalant shrug and it drives Irene crazy.

The actress lets out a heavy sigh and then weighs in on what Jennie just said.

Does Wendy like her?

The doctor did kiss her back and it didn’t feel forced. It felt real, almost too good to be true and for a moment, Irene wondered if that’s how all kisses should be because if it is, then she’d certainly missed out.

“I think I’m going crazy.”

Jennie rolls her eyes as she adjusts on her seat, pulling whatever device she has propped on what looks like a kitchen counter closer to her. “Be honest with me, what’s really going on?”

“What?”

“This isn’t you,” Jennie states. “You’re pacing. Your choice of words is subpar. Your thoughts are all over the place. You are on Facetime with me at 7AM your time. And I am eating chips at three in the afternoon because life is too short for salad.”

“I had to tell somebody. Or I will just go crazy.”

Jennie nods, “The Irene I know, or the least the Irene you want people to see, would have handled this situation a lot better than this.”

It stops Irene altogether. Is she being weird? Is she overthinking it?

Jennie is right. What is she even scared of?

“What are you even scared of?” Jennie utters the question like she just read Irene’s thoughts.

“I don’t know.”

Jennie shakes her head as if refusing to accept what Irene just said, “Nuh-uh.” She waves her point finger at the screen, dismissing her friend, “Don’t give me that bull. Tell me something real. I’m not some TV reporter you could just smile and nod at. What are you scared of?”

Irene just stares blankly at her friend, blinking a couple of times as if she doesn’t have an answer.

“Irene—”

“I’m just scared. I don’t know why—” Irene says hurriedly to cut what she knows is another lecture from Jennie. “I just—” she breathes through her nose, trying to compose her thoughts, “I feel—”

“What?”

“I feel light with Wendy,” she admits quietly, breathing the word light in such a fragile way that it comes out like a whisper. “When I’m with her, I don’t feel like a burden. I don’t feel terrible about myself. I feel like I’m someone so easy to be with.”

She knows it’s poetic—the way she talks about all these things—but it’s true. Every time she’s with Wendy, she doesn’t feel the weight of the world on her shoulders.

When she’s with Wendy, she can breathe.

She continues, “Jen, you know me. I don’t feel this easy with anybody. But everything just comes easy with Wendy and it’s—”

“—good,” Jennie finishes her sentence for her.

“What?”

Jennie lets out a warm, sincere smile, “All of these things you’re saying? They’re good things, Irene.”

“I—I know—I just—” she pauses, looking at her friend through the small screen of her tablet. She doesn’t know what to say or how to justify the voices in her head telling her it’s time to run.

“Flight response,” Jennie interrupts her thoughts.

Irene only stares at Jennie, waiting for her to continue.

So, Jennie continues, “When something happens, you run.”

“You’re not my therapist,” Irene scowls at her friend to which Jennie responds with a laugh.

“But I’m your friend and I’ve known you long enough to know when you’re itching to run.”

“I don’t—” a pause, “—run.”

Jennie rolls her eyes with a sigh, “’Rene, you’re convinced that the universe is conspiring against you being happy.”

Irene shrugs, pouting, “It’s not like the universe hasn’t given me any reasons to doubt its intentions.”

“Yeah, but has Wendy?”

“Has Wendy, what?”

“Given you any reasons to doubt her intentions?”

Oh. Tacky.

When Irene wouldn’t speak, Jennie continues. “And no, that one time at the cafeteria in high school where her friends were laughing behind her—that? That doesn’t count.”

Irene thinks this one over.

Well, actually, no—she doesn’t think it over because she’s sure Wendy has done nothing to make Irene question her intentions. It’s just that some people are wired differently, and Irene is wired in such a way that makes her doubt everything—especially the good stuff.

When something good happens, she stands in the corner and waits for the next bad thing to happen. She’s not comfortable with being happy. She’s not comfortable being comfortable because if there’s anything she’s learned all her life: it’s that bad things will always happen. And the bad things will always find a way to ruin whatever happiness you have.

“This silence tells me that no, Wendy hasn’t given you any reason to doubt her intentions. Am I right or am I right?”

Irene lets out a defeated sigh, “You’re right.”

“Then it’s all good.”

“It’s not that simple, Jen.”

Irene breathes through her nose. She keeps her eyes closed as she braces herself for a long-ass explanation on why all of this is not that simple, Jen. Meanwhile, her friend only looks at her with a certain look of disbelief, munching on a bag of chips, entertained by all of… this.

“Okay, so let’s say I confess,” Irene begins. “I go in and I tell her I like her. What happens next? What if she doesn’t like me like that? What if she does and it doesn’t work? What if she sees who I really am and she decides that she doesn’t want all of that?”

She fires what if after what if, feeling a certain fear settle at the pit of her stomach.

Jenny sighs, letting out a sympathetic smile, “You’re thinking too far ahead. First of all, there’s no way to know for sure unless you ask her. You could sit here in front of me all day and ask all your questions but I’m not the one who has the answers. Irene, it could go either way. She either likes you or she doesn’t.”

“That didn’t help at all.”

“No, think about it,” Jennie persists. “Let’s say she likes you and you both skip into the sunset holding hands, and being all disgusting and lovey-dovey—” a pause, “—or she doesn’t like you. Irene, I’m not one for romanticizing your pains in the past but if there’s anything you’ve learned from everything you’ve experienced it’s that you’ve faced worse heartbreaks before and yet, you’re still here. You survived. And you will survive this.”

It works, Jennie’s entire speech. Irene somehow calms down.

“Thank you for coming to my TED talk,” Jennie says with a satisfied smirk, knowing well she hit a nerve.

Irene rolls her eyes good-naturedly.

“’Rene, this is the first time I’ve seen you be like this about someone. It has to mean something.”

“I don’t know what to do.”

“Here’s what you’ll do—you’ll be nice to yourself. It’s hard to be happy when someone is mean to you all the time.”

“I don’t—"

“The entire time we’ve been talking, you’ve only talked about the negative things that could happen. You keep talking about the bad stuff. You’re like—what if it doesn’t work out? Or—what if it all goes to shit? But what if it does work? What if, for some reason, the universe decides that its done fucking with you and finally gives you a break. Let’s imagine you get the girl. Let’s imagine you find a way to make it work.”

Jennie is looking at her with sincere, hopeful eyes and this earnestness is what captures Irene.

Her friend releases a satisfied sigh, “Picture this: your crush likes you back,” there’s a cheesy smile on her face; and it’s so contagious that Irene finds herself smiling, too. “What a concept, right?”

Smiling, Irene says, “I’m just not used to this.”

“To what?”

“To having hope. I don’t think I deserve any of this.”

“I feel like you should start paying me your therapist’s fee but let me just say this—you’re too hard on yourself. Everyone deserves to be happy, Irene. Even you.”

Irene lets out a sigh, still hesitant to buy into whatever idea Jennie is selling. She knows she’s being stubborn, knows that she’s probably way over her head.

Jennie sighs, “What is it again? What are you thinking?”

“I just—”

“Let it out.”

“I don’t know—” Irene says, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be simple. I wasn’t looking for anything.”

“I think, this is the most predictable plot in the history of love stories. Like, I don’t know how you didn’t see this coming. This is literally every Korean drama coming to life.”

“You’re not funny.”

“Not trying to be,” Jennie quips. “You said you weren’t looking for anything—that’s the best kind.”

“How is that the best kind?”

“You weren’t even looking for anything, and suddenly you have something. I don’t think you stumble into good things just to walk away from it.”

And it’s those words—damn—it’s those words that truly render Irene speechless.

.

Later, Irene finds herself inside Jessica’s office—her manager sitting across her with a look of disbelief on her face as she stares at something on her computer screen. Jeongyeon is right across the actress, signature pen and notebook at hand; her expression neutral, as if she’s used to this.

Next to Irene is calm, cool, and collected Wendy. There’s a smile on her face to counter Jessica’s mood—and honestly, Irene doesn’t know what to feel or who to be or how to act in this situation because all these feelings—my God—

“You two are on a roll, wow,” Jessica scoffs. Her eyes are still on her laptop as her finger taps on the Next button on her keyboard.

She’s looking at the photos Dispatch just sent her: of Irene and Wendy kissing.

Because yes, that actually happened. It wasn’t a dream or some strange illusion. They actually kissed—it doesn’t matter who made a move first. Someone initiated it and the other kissed back. It’s so simple yet so complicated.

But that doesn’t matter now because Jessica is probably a hair away from snapping both them out of existence—and God, why can’t Dispatch just shut the fuck up.

There’s just silence altogether. Jessica is looking at the pictures. Wendy is just trying to stop herself from laughing. Jeongyeon is being her typical, silent self. And Irene—Irene is just trying to get through this in one piece.

After a few moments, in a weird twist of fate, Jessica smiles. Jessica, the devil herself, actually smiles before she turns to Irene and Wendy.

“You’re going off script,” she states, looking at Irene dead in the eyes. “I like it.”

“What? No lectures?” Wendy asks, amused. “I was preparing for Category 5 Hurricane Jessica.”

Jessica gives them both a look, quite insulting to be honest, as if she’s taking offense at the assumption that she’s this huge of a bitch. “After going through all of that Instagram revelation, are you expecting me to react badly to a photo of you two kissing?”

“Jess, this isn’t in our plan,” Irene prods.

Honestly, she doesn’t know what kind of reaction she was expecting from Jessica. She’s expecting everything except this cool, laid-back woman in front of her. She was supposed to ask questions, react, or even tease them about this whole thing—because hello! Why isn’t she reacting to the fact that they actually kissed?

Two people who are supposed to be fake-dating just kissed, off-script—and in public. Where is the outrage?

“None of everything that’s happened is in my plan,” Jessica notes, that weird smile still plastered on her face. She relaxes back on her chair, putting her hands together to make a point, “I wish I could take credit for the brilliance of everything that’s happening here but all of this, it’s just you two. You’re unstoppable in ruining my plans for the better.”

Wendy squints at Jessica, “There’s a lot of words there that sounded like an insult but ended up as a compliment. I’m so confused.”

Jessica smiles. In this creepy, seemingly evil way, she smiles. “I’m not going to offer Dispatch anything. I’m just gonna let them leak this out and we’re all just going to ride the waves as we go.”

“It scares me how calm you are about this,” Irene ponders.

“What? Aren’t you glad that I’m finally approving of your life choices for once?”

“Aren’t you going to ask why we kissed?” Irene finally gets it out.

“Oh—that?” Jessica utters, teasing, “That’s not my business.”

“Wow,” Irene breathes. “You’re not being uncharacteristically nice.”

“Uncharacteristically? I resent that. I’m always nice.”

“In what planet?” Wendy banters.

“Not this one,” Jessica quips back. “Anyway, I’m just saying—you two kissing isn’t my business. You know whose business it is?”

Irene and Wendy fall silent, anticipating a follow through.

Jessica nods, a mischievous smile gracing her lips, “Tiffany.”

Irene lets out a heavy sigh, “God, don’t even—”

“Oh, you won’t have to deal with her until she comes back from Switzerland but you have to know, she’s going to ask you questions.”

Wendy chuckles, “You two are so weird. You talk like I’m not here.”

“Oh we’re gonna get to the talk but right now, I just called you in to see your faces when I tell you about Dispatch. It was entertaining so thank you, both, for making my day.”

“I’m convinced that there’s a special place in hell for you,” Wendy banters smilingly.

“I hope they prepared a red carpet ‘cause I ain’t going in without special treatment,” Jessica bites back.

Irene doesn’t have the energy, really, to put up with this weird, newfound bound between Wendy and Jessica so she just—“Is there anything else, Jess? I just—we’ll be late for our flight.”

“Right, the Jeju trip,” Jessica recalls. She stands, giving the two a sarcastic smile, “Well, you two enjoy your trip and don’t forget to call ahead if you did something else that would have Dispatch calling me at 3AM. At the rate you two are going, we’re gonna get Dispatch out of business soon.”

“I’m really confused,” Wendy mutters under her breath.

Just as Wendy and Irene are making a move to leave, Jessica speaks up again, “Hey, Irene. Could you stay behind for a bit? Jeong, could you please accompany Wendy in the lobby for a while? Feed her, entertain her, I don’t know—”

“I’m not a dog,” Wendy says, rolling her eyes good-naturedly as she motions for Jeongyeon to follow her out the door.

A few moments later, Irene finds herself alone with Jessica whose expression changes soon as the two are out of sight. She’s serious as she gives Irene a look.

Irene eyes her, “So, the lecture is solely mine?”

“Why does everybody think I’m the lecture type?” the older girl asks, a look of disdain visible on her face. “I just want to pull you back to present time.”

“What?”

“Irene, I don’t know what’s happening between you and Wendy but I know that it’s messy right now. So sort that out.”

“I—,” a pause, “I don’t know.”

Jessica looks at her, this time with care; this time, she lets her worry show, “She’s Wendy and she’s here. And in a few months, you’re going back to LA. Just don’t put yourself—or her—in a situation where you both lose.”

“Jess, I—”

Jessica quickly shakes her head, as if she doesn’t need an explanation, “You don’t need to explain anything. Not to me, at least. Just sort it out, okay? Be careful.”

.

Irene stays silent as she sits on the plane next to Wendy as they make their way to Jeju.

They’re finally going on this trip and Irene can’t help but think that the timing sucks. She was looking forward to this trip, looking forward to finally get some down time. But now, sitting on this business class seat with the rest of their friends, she feels like she’s being forced into a situation where she needs to deal with this shift of things with Wendy—and God, why can’t she catch a break?

Why can’t she just sulk in her room in Seoul and not deal with all of this?

They’ve never talked about it, not really.

It’s the first time they’re seeing each other since that night—and that was two days ago. There were no messages or phone calls, or anything that would pass up as communication about the events that transpired.

For a second there, Irene wondered if it really happened; if it was just a good dream that she had to eventually wake up from. Yet, there’s a part of her that believes it was real—that she kissed Wendy and the girl had kissed her back.

She knows it’s real because she still feels it: the feeling of Wendy’s lips on hers. It’s soft and warm, and sincere; and it made Irene feel like nothing could harm her; that as long she’s by Wendy’s side, she’s invincible; as long as Wendy’s there, she’s not alone.

Is she in too deep? Probably.

Most likely.

She turns to Wendy who’s sitting right next to her.

The girl has a book in one hand and a highlighter pen on the other. She uses the highlighter pen from time to time, marking some things she also utters out loud. It’s one of her study materials again—and it makes Irene smile how hardworking Wendy is. She realizes how this is one the things she truly admires about the girl.

“You know,” Wendy interrupts her thoughts without looking up from her book. “It’s rude to stare.”

There’s a subtle tone of playfulness to it that makes Irene chuckle, “Really?”

Wendy looks up from her textbook and instantly finds Irene’s eyes, “You’ve been staring at me for a while now.”

Irene gasps dramatically, “No, I’m not.”

She’s pretty sure she’s blushing now. Goddamn it.

Wendy smiles lopsidedly, wiggling her eyebrows, “Okay”—and Irene melts at the sight of it. Slightly. Only slightly.

“I’m not staring,” the insists, willing herself to look away. She settles for the TV in front of her, trying her best to focus on it. It’s not even on but she stares at it anyway.

“I’m just saying, I can’t stare at you if you’re already looking at me,” there’s the big punch line, delivered in the doctor’s low, playful voice.

“Yah!” there’s a violent reaction from the seat behind them, followed by a made-up gagging sound; then some giggles. It’s Yerim who’s reacting and then it’s Seohyun who’s laughing.

Irene can’t even react at that line but something about it makes her insides churn so dramatically. She likes to think that she doesn’t believe in the whole butterflies-in-the-stomach thing but it’s getting harder to stick with this idea since Wendy’s been back in her life.

In that moment, Irene is convinced that she’s forever going to be that 18-year-old girl on the first day of school, too dumbstruck at the mere presence of the girl who holds the sun in her smile, and the stars in her eyes.

What am I even thinking?

She just settles back on her seat without saying anything.

Are we flirting?

Are they really doing that? Are they really at that point?

Irene doesn’t know what to do. She’s never been in a situation like this. She’s always had the upper hand. She dictated the tempo. Now, she’s just completely lost because what is she supposed to do?

“Why are you staring at that TV, it’s not even playing anything,” Joy comments from across the aisle. This comment is followed by a loud chuckle from Wendy who then covers her face with her book as if she’s trying to hide how entertained she is by Irene’s hard luck.

“I—” Irene stutters. Wow, she’s really off her game. “I’m thinking of something to watch.”

From the seat next to Joy, Seulgi comments, “You usually browse it and then you decide. Unless you’ve got telepathy going on, I don’t think you’d come up with anything just by staring at it.”

Joy and Seulgi both laugh at her antics. Defeated, Irene sighs and sinks further into her seat.

Beside her, Wendy is laughing and her eyes are shining.

Yeah, Irene’s been having quite a day but Wendy is laughing and her eyes are shining—so maybe, everything will be alright.

.

To further Irene’s hard luck, the car rental company they signed up with failed to give them a van large enough to hold all of them. So instead of all of them being in one vehicle with Chanyeol on the driver’s seat, they’re group is now split in two.

Joy was quick to drag Seulgi and herself with Chanyeol and Seohyun so now, Irene is in the passenger seat across Wendy with Yerim at the back, sitting there so quietly with a mischievous smile on her face; as if she knows the state Irene is in.

Driving away from the airport, the sight of Jeju City disappears behind them as they drive toward the sun slowly settling low in the sky.

Irene’s never been to Jeju but she’s heard about how beautiful the sunsets are. Locals and tourists alike flock to the island all-year long just to experience it.

Irene has dreamt of that, too: to sit by the side the of the beach—a cup of warm drink at hand—and watch the colors burst in the sky, as if there’s nothing else she needs to worry about.

If she’s lucky, she’d have someone by her side, telling tales about the about the scars of the past, while looking forward to the future. You could say Irene’s a romantic, maybe. But who isn’t?

“We’re stopping by Jusangjeollidae,” Yerim tells Wendy.

Wendy nods with a smile, “Ah, great idea.”

It’s all she says before she rolls her windows down. They’re now driving by the countryside so there aren’t a lot of cars around. Yerim, as if on cue, reaches out to the car’s dashboard to turn the music up. There’s an old song playing on the radio and both of her companions start singing along to it.

Yerim is loud, and funny, and jolly as she sings along to the familiar melody.

Meanwhile, Wendy bops her head slightly as she sings along under her breath, her eyes focused on the road. There’s a smile on her face—quiet and warm—and as the breeze blows through her short hair, Irene feels herself fall deeper.

It’s odd how Wendy could just sit there and drive, and sing along to a song Irene’s not sure she still knows but there’s something about it that feels like… Irene can’t exactly explain. But it’s that feeling you get when you’ve been away for so long and you’re finally coming back home.

Irene smiles as she looks ahead.

In a few moments, she feels Wendy’s hand reach for hers, clasping it together.

See, Irene could just pull her hand back. She could just not let Wendy do this to her. Irene could run like Irene always does but the thing is, she doesn’t want to.

So she clasps the doctor’s hand back and allows herself, just this once, to feel her feelings.

She has questions but maybe those questions can wait.

.

It doesn’t take long for this car ride to be interesting.

“So, Irene—” Yerim starts and she knows she’s in for the ride of her life.

Here we go—she thinks as she eyes the teenager from the rear-view mirror. The kid has a playful smile on her face like she’s been waiting her whole life for this moment.

“What happened between you and Suho?” Yerim fires.

“Yerim!” Wendy warns but keeps her eyes on the road.

“What? You guys are girlfriends. I’m sure you’ve talked about it.”

No, they haven’t. Not really. Because it’s all fake.

Wendy doesn’t even flinch or hesitate as she lies, “Yes, of course, we have. But you can’t just ask her that.”

“Of course, I can. We’re friends. She follows me on Instagram.”

Irene chuckles. Had the circumstances been different, she would have been offended by this question. But it’s Yerim and yeah, they’re friends. She follows her on Instagram.

“It’s okay,” Irene jumps in.

“See?” Yerim claps back at Wendy with a slight, close-lipped smile before she turns back to Irene. “So what happened?”

“It didn’t work out,” Irene says simply, a textbook answer to the most predictable question of all time.

“That’s it? It just didn’t work out?” Yerim pries. “You two were like—you were perfect for each other,” she says and then quickly turns to Wendy, “No offense, unnie. I mean—”

Wendy only shrugs, unaffected.

It’s what urges Irene to continue. “He had different priorities. I just wasn’t one of those.”

“Wait, what?” Yerim asks, truly engrossed in this topic now. “He dumped you?”

“No, I broke it off but mostly because we both knew it wasn’t going anywhere. He had stuff going on and I had a lot on my plate, too. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

“Like a wrong place, wrong time kinda thing?”

“Hmm…” Irene hums, thinking back at her relationship with Suho.

He wasn’t all that bad. Sure, he barely had time to spend with Irene; and sure, he got involved in many public scandals involving alcohol but their life behind the cameras was okay. It wasn’t great by any means but some days, he did his best. Some days, he just didn’t care. But he did like Irene; the actress is convinced that he loved her. At some point, maybe.

But Irene knew she deserved better.

“It’s not like that. I think, he’s just simply not the one,” she states.

“Oh,” Yerim manages, looking away with steep contemplation in her eyes, as if she’s trying to understand what that meant.

Irene smiles. The girl is young and precious; and deep down, the actress hopes that the universe doesn’t break Yerim as much as it did her.

“I just didn’t see a future with him,” she concludes.

“Ah, that makes sense,” Yerim nods as if everything finally made sense. But of course, she’s not done, “So, do you see a future with Wendy?”

The car goes into a hard, abrupt stop—so sudden that Irene hears it screech along with Wendy’s loud, high-pitched scream, “Yerim!”

The teenager laughs, “What?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“What?” Yerim asks again. She really doesn’t see anything wrong with what she’s asking. “You’re dating and getting old, and you seem like you fit together. I don’t know why you’re so scandalized by my questions.”

“I—” Wendy stutters.

“Yerim, be nice to her,” Irene laughs and then teams up with Yerim. “She’s having a day.”

Yerim pouts, “Wendy-unnie, do you not wanna know the answer?”

Wendy turns to Irene, hesitation draw all over her face. Honestly, Irene doesn’t know what to do. Being alone in the car with Yerim is a terrible, terrible idea.

“Irene-unnie, do you think Wendy is the one?” Yerim prods, a mischievous smile on her face.

“You don’t have to answer that,” Wendy says coldly as she resumes driving; an interesting change in mood.

“I think it’s too early to tell,” is the answer that Irene settles for—a textbook answer to a surprise question.

Yerim makes a face, not convinced; and it’s probably the actress in her or just her insatiable need to be believable that makes Irene do a follow-up.

Do you think Wendy is the one?

The question resonates in her mind.

She adjusts on her seat and looks away, her eyes following the direction of the sunset. And as she sees red, orange, and pink melting in the sky, she utters what could be the truest words she could think of.

Do you think Wendy is the one?

“I don’t know but I want her to be.”

It’s honest. Vulnerable. Non-textbook.

.

The whole damn thing is also very scary.

This is what Irene realizes as she hops of the car after they park at their first stop. The sun is about to set now, the mid-December breeze accompanying the burst of colors of the sky.

“Come on, we have to hurry,” Yerim says, jumping a bit as she hurries to the other group’s car parked just a couple of meters from them.

Irene sees her instantly find Joy and Seulgi—dragging them both by the hand and leading them toward the entrance of the park.

“I’m sorry about her,” Wendy apologizes with a timid smile. The actress only responds with a shrug to dismiss Wendy’s worry.

Irene smiles as she watches the girl round the car and make her way to her. It’s only when Irene allows herself to really look at Wendy.

The doctor is in a pair of high-waist denim shorts with a thin, plain black shirt tucked inside. She tops it with a cream-colored cardigan, a white cap with the FILA logo, and a pair of white shoes. (Jennie would probably say she’s ogling her at this point but Irene refuses to use that word even in her thoughts.)

Irene thinks Wendy must be cold. Jeju is a lot warmer than Seoul even at this time of the year but wearing shorts this short must be a crime when it’s 13 degrees out. (And God, Irene. Stop looking at her legs.)

“Aren’t you cold?” Irene asks. Mentally shaking her thoughts away.

“Nope. I have a very high tolerance to low temperature. Are you cold?” Wendy asks the question back, eyeing what Irene is wearing.

Irene is in a simple pair of denim pants, a pair of black, high-heeled ankle boots, and a black, tight-fit sweater. Her long hair is let down, swaying gently with the wind blowing past them.

The actress shakes her head, “I’m good.”

“Here, take this,” Wendy says as she takes her cap off and hands it to Irene.

Irene pouts. She didn’t really want to put on a disguise. “There aren’t so many people here,” she argues.

Wendy chuckles, “Because this is the parking lot, Joohyun.”

That name.  She doesn’t think she’ll get over Wendy calling her by that name.

Irene hesitantly takes the cap. She fixes her hair for a bit before putting it on. Just as she was done, the doctor is then handing her a mask.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Irene whines.

“Look at Seulgi!” Wendy insists, which brings Irene’s attention to the popstar who’s hurriedly being led to the entrance by Yerim. True enough, Seulgi is all covered up.

“Well, that’s only right. She’s like the biggest solo artist in this country.”

Wendy manages a smile as she grabs Irene’s hand and forces her to get the mask. “You starred in three movies that ran in Korean cinemas for weeks. Don’t even fight me about this.”

Irene only pouts again, taking the mask and putting it on.

“Happy?” she asks, her voice a little bit muffled by the damn mask.

Wendy grins, “Ecstatic.”

Irene rolls her eyes good-naturedly.

“Let’s go?” Wendy invites.

“Oh, I thought we were just going to stay here in the parking lot,” Irene banters.

Wendy laughs as she shakes her head and takes Irene’s hand, “Shut up.” The doctor then leads them to the entrance of the park.

Something good and light swells in Irene’s chest as she hears Jennie’s words at the back of her mind.

What if, for some reason, the universe decides that its done fucking with you and finally gives you a break. Let’s imagine you get the girl. Let’s imagine you find a way to make it work.

Imagine.

.

Jusangjeollidae Cliff is one of the main attractions in Jeju. It’s a small park situated by a cliff overlooking the vast ocean.

Their group walks over to where the viewing deck is. It is surrounded by rock pillars shaped like cubes or hexagons of various sizes and almost seem as if stone masons had carved them out. According to Yerim, these rocks formed when the lava from Hallasan Mountain erupted into the sea of Jungmun. It’s cool and it’s interesting—and to top it all off, the deck is directly facing the sunset making the view even more breathtaking than it already is.

Fortunately, there aren’t a lot of tourists today, just a handful of people taking pictures here and there.

Irene is leaning by the wooden railings of the deck and standing beside her is Wendy, her eyes glued to the view in front of them.

From where she is, she could hear Joy, Seulgi, and Yerim laughing to themselves and taking pictures one after the other. Chanyeol and Seohyun are also standing by the railing of the deck, hand-in-hand as they take in the view.

“Jongin used to drive Naeun and I here when we were young,” Wendy breaks the silence. Her voice is gentle atop the mild chattering around them, just loud enough for Irene to hear. “I spent some of my summers here in Jeju.”

“Some?”

“I spent a lot of my summer breaks in Canada.”

“I see,” Irene responds, nodding in understanding. “There’s this really huge lake in Daegu that we used to go when I was young. It was really big and there were a lot of activities happening here and there. That’s the largest body of water I’ve seen until I graduated high school,” Irene laughs to herself.

Wendy laughs with her, “And then you moved to Los Angeles.”

Irene nods, “And then it’s California for eight fucking years.”

Wendy nods but stays silent.

Irene ponders if this is the right moment to ask Wendy about them. She opens her mouth to say something but no words come out. She feels her heart hammer against her chest.

But what if that kiss meant nothing? That it was just a thing that happened? That they were just caught in the moment?

She tries to recall the conversation she had with Jennie, tries with every bit of her soul to believe the words her friend told her but something still holds her back. Wendy can’t possibly like her.

Wendy didn’t like her then. What’s making her think Wendy could like her now?

.

It’s already dark by the time they arrive at their home for the weekend: the Son family’s vacation home.

As Irene gets off the car, she instantly sees the house towering over her—a modern, two-storey structure made (mostly) of glass. It’s big, about as big as some of the houses she’s seen in her neighborhood in Los Angeles. It looks expensive and well-taken care off; it’s oozing of wealth and luxury.

It’s the kind you see in magazines. Honestly, the word “house” doesn’t cover it.

“It’s a fucking mansion, right?” Joy comments as she approaches her.

She’s right. It’s a fucking mansion.

While everyone is busy loading their things off the cars, Joy gives her a bit of a history. “I think I was ten when Uncle Jinho brought us here,” she starts. “You know how kids talk. They always said that Wendy was rich and all but I didn’t believe them until we came here.  That’s when I started to realize that yeah, I am friends with fucking chaebol.”

Irene recalls what she knows about Joy and Wendy’s friendship.

They met when they were eight: two different worlds colliding at a public park somewhere in Seoul. Joy studied in a different school back then, couldn’t possibly afford the private grade school Wendy was enrolled at.

But when high school rolled around, Wendy’s parents insisted on paying for Joy’s education just so she could study in the same school Wendy’s in because young Wendy just wouldn’t shut up about it. By the time they went to Uni, their friendship was rock-solid—they’re basically sisters, Joy being the youngest Son at that point.

“She doesn’t show off that much, doesn’t she?” Irene asks, turning to Joy.

Joy shakes her head, “When she first went to our house—our entire house about the size of her parents’ bathroom—” she laughs, “—she fit right in. My parents couldn’t believe it when I told them she was the daughter of the people who owned the hospital I was born at.”

Irene laughs, “Oh my God.”

“Yeah. You know, we would always exchange lunch boxes.”

“Why?”

“She loved my mom’s cooking,” Joy recalls. “And I loved her super expensive lunch sets. It was win-win.”

The two women laugh at the memory.  As they stand there, something in the air changes—and that’s the exact moment Joy decides it’s time to address something that’s long overdue.

“You want to know why we were laughing that day at the cafeteria?”

Irene turns to Joy so abruptly, anticipation bubbling within. Joy doesn’t need to say which day it was. Irene just knows.

Joy looks at her sympathetically, “She couldn’t stop talking about you since she met you on the first day. She was building up the courage the entire week just to approach you and talk to you. She even practiced her speech in front of us.”

Irene swallows an invisible lump in her throat. She imagines Wendy—young and hopeful Wendy—puffing up her chest and gathering the courage to talk to her.

“I guess she felt brave that day she approached you at the cafeteria,” Joy tells her. “When we saw her talking to you, we could tell how excited and nervous she was. She was shaking her feet too much.”

“I—” she stutters, “I don’t remember ever seeing her so nervous.”

“She hides her nerves well,” Joy nods. “But we were so happy for her that we kind of teased her. I guess you took that the wrong way.”

“I—”

“—didn’t know, that’s fine. It was a long time ago,” Joy continues. “But for what it’s worth?”

Irene braces herself. She knows Joy is about to say something that’s going to change her forever.

“You’ve had her since day one.”

That and Joy joins her friends, unloading stuff from the back of their cars.

Irene stays glued to her spot, looking at Wendy who’s engaged in a very animated conversation with Seulgi.

You’ve had her since day one.

And once again, Irene wonders what would’ve happened if she just gave Wendy a chance.

.

The night passes them by quickly.

Irene spends the entire night trying to enjoy their company. What Joy said changes the narrative—or confirms it—that high school Joohyun was actually a bitch who didn’t know how friendships work. It’s something she’s known all along but actually learning the truth about that day kind of sucks.

That was a long time ago and there’s nothing she could do to change the past but she likes to think that the present gives her an opportunity to show that she’s no longer that person—more to herself that Wendy.

They spend the night with food and drinks, and light conversation.

They set up a couple of table and chairs outside, by the patio facing the sea. The patio is well-lit with modern lamp posts surrounding the ample-sized area. You don’t exactly see the ocean from there but you could hear the waves lapping against the docks and you could smell the fresh sea breeze.

The night is a bit chilly but Chanyeol assembled a mini bonfire just a couple of feet away from where they’re seated. They go for grilled meat—pork and beef—with tons of side dishes Irene has surely missed.

Wendy and Joy were the ones who did the cooking, both happy to be of service to their friends. Seohyun was the one in charge of the table setting with Irene assisting. While Chanyeol was occupied by lighting up the fire, Yerim and Seulgi got busy with taking pictures and helping out in whatever little way they can.

As dinner rolled around, they gathered around the table sharing food and stories under the stars with the sounds of the sea accompanying them. They tell stories about anything and everything, and Irene can’t help but feel warmth settle at the pit of her stomach.

Despite everything that’s changing, these people have become her friends. Wendy was right—this may have started as a lie but yeah, good things could come out of some bad things. And that’s what Irene wants to hold on to.

Dinner goes on for what feels like hours until everyone decides to do their own things. Seohyun and Chanyeol retire early but not before reminding everyone they’re going for a horseback riding early the next day.

Yerim also decides to head to the room she shares with Joy and Seulgi, saying she has to call a friend from school. Everyone, of course, teases her—is that what they call it these days—but the teenager only laughs and rolls her eyes. (It’s just Saeron, she says.) But Irene notices a blush on her cheeks and a twinkle in her eyes—and Irene thinks she knows.

Joy and Seulgi pull their own chairs and place it by the edge of the patio, facing the dark vastness of the ocean. They sit closely together, their conversation hushed and drowned by the sound of the waves.

Wendy and Irene sit by the fire, like it’s automatic; as if going to bed early isn’t an option.

Their own bottles of beer settled next to them, they sit in front of each other, basking in their quiet company. The silence goes on for a few minutes. Irene bites her tongue, doing her best not to ask questions.

She doesn’t know if this is the right time or if there’s a right time ever because Jessica is right. She can’t put Wendy in a situation where they both lose.

See, Wendy is the sun; and Irene is crashing into her in full speed. She woke up this morning thinking that wherever this whole thing goes, it’s going to end in flames.

“So what really happened between you and Suho?” Wendy asks—in a sudden twist of fate, Wendy asks her a question she’s spent all her life mastering how to answer.

“What?” Irene clarifies because there’s no way she heard her right.

“You heard me,” Wendy says, a slight smile gracing her lips. She brings the bottle of beer to lips and—goddammit­­­! Those lips—God!

So Irene goes for defense, “Really, Seungwan? That’s the topic you want to start with?”

Wendy chuckles, “Seungwan. That’s new.”

Irene rolls her eyes, determined to not let this comfortable silence be completely distracted by stories about her ex-boyfriend.

“Don’t dodge,” Wendy speaks up again when Irene wouldn’t say anything.

“I’m not dodging.”

“So? What happened?”

“You sound like Yerim.”

“You’re dodging.”

“You’re insufferable,” Irene sighs.

Wendy cocks her head to the side, agreeing with Irene, “I’m persistent.”

The actress sighs once more, giving Wendy a look, “It’s the same answer I gave Yerim earlier. It just didn’t work out. I wasn’t lying.”

“I’m not saying you were lying. But you didn’t give her the whole truth either.”

Irene opens her mouth to argue but no words come out. It’s like Wendy can read her.

The doctor takes her silence as an affirmation. Wendy shrugs, “I mean, you’re not obliged to answer. I got curious, is all.”

For a moment, Irene eyes Wendy. She’s looking at Irene with eyes so soft that the actress wonders if it means something, or anything at all. Wendy is sincere and something in Irene’s gut tells her that it’s okay to tell the doctor whatever she’s thinking.

“I’m convinced that I’m unfit for a relationship,” Irene finally gives in.

Wendy makes a face like she’s so surprised by this confession but she doesn’t say anything and allows Irene to expound.

So, Irene does.

“I just—I’ve spent so much time alone by myself. I know how to survive alone. I’m used so used to being alone that a lot of times, I think I’m better off like that. I find it extremely hard to stay in relationships because I’m used to just being by myself,” she says in one go.

She feels relief seeping through her lungs. It’s the first time she’d uttered that out loud.

“So, you what—ended your relationship with him because you just wanted to be alone?”

Irene shrugs, “I don’t want to phrase it that way but that’s the simplest way to put it. I just—I like spending time alone. I’m completely fine with that, happy even. He just wasn’t someone I liked enough to sacrifice the solitude I have when I’m just by myself.”

“Hmm,” Wendy nods in understanding but she doesn’t say anything more.

“Does that satisfy your curiosity or…”

Wendy squints as she takes one more sip from her bottle of beer, “Yeah, I mean totally get it.”

“You look like you’re in a lot of thought.”

“I just don’t think you’re unfit for a relationship.”

“Well—I don’t know how to explain all the baggage I have with me.”

Wendy shakes her head, “I think you just haven’t found the person who can carry that with you.”

“It’s unfair to ask someone to carry your baggage with you.”

“You wouldn’t be asking them,” Wendy counters. “With the right person, you won’t have to ask. They’ll just come in and hold your hand, and all of a sudden, it’s not so heavy anymore.”

Wendy’s voice is low and soft, and something about it just calms Irene down. Wendy is there in front of her, a beer in one hand and Irene’s heart on the other. Her face is lit up by the fire burning in front of them and in another setting, Irene wouldn’t even consider listening to the idea that Wendy is selling.

But with Wendy, it makes sense. All of it feels, real. It’s as if she could have that, too: somebody to hold her hand and make everything feel not so heavy anymore.

There’s a part of Irene that is completely sold, like 100% I-could-have-somebody-like-that-too-and-I-am-willing-to-hold-out-hope kind of sold. But you know—Irene is stubborn, and she’s Irene. And it usually takes a lot to make her believe.

She shrugs, “Whatever—I mean, maybe you’re right. Maybe, there’s someone out there who could magically make all the hurting go away—”

“It doesn’t have to go away, you know,” a pause, “—that pain.”

Wendy?

Wendy is relentless.

“Some traumas, they don’t heal,” she starts. “Some traumas cut so deep that they become a part of you. It alters the way you live your life, the way you understand things. Some traumas, they hurt so bad that you could still feel them long after it’s done. So what doctors will tell you—and I know this because I’m obviously, you know,” she laughs, “…a doctor—and I—”

And she’s rambling.

“Wendy.”

“Right—“ she breathes. She looks at Irene and continues, “What I’m saying is, some kinds of pain don’t heal. You get used to it and then you move on. Still, you try to live your best life believing you could go your life wired in a certain broken way. But if you’re lucky—you’ll find someone who doesn’t see that as burden. If you’re lucky and I mean if you’re the luckiest person in the world, you’ll find someone who sees all that pain and still doesn’t look at you like you need fixing.”

It takes Irene’s breath away how Wendy just knows what to say; how she could recite all of Shakespeare’s sonnets and Irene would just swoon. Her heart hammers against her chest. Wendy is challenging everything she’d spent the last eight years trying to believe.

It’s like Wendy is seeing through her. She feels bare.

She feels seen.

For the first time in a really, really long time, Irene feels seen.

She doesn’t say anything because really, what do you say to that? Once again, Wendy manages to render Irene speechless.

Wendy grins, somehow knowing she affected Irene.

Silence embraces them with only the waves of the sea and the burning of wood could be heard. It’s quiet Irene, Irene thinks—not just with their surroundings but also up there in her head.

There are no voices. Just silence altogether; and it’s unnerving how her whole body just feels at peace here. Next to Wendy.

“You should be nice to yourself,” Wendy breaks the silence and something churns in Irene’s stomach. It’s the same words Jennie told her.

Is she too hard on herself? Is she too mean to herself?

Irene tries to wrack her brain up for answers but nothing comes out. So she asks Wendy, “What does that mean? Why does everyone keep saying that?”

“Okay—” Wendy perks up on her seat and focuses entirely on Irene. “If you had a friend who spoke to you in the same way you sometimes speak to yourself, how long would you allow that person to be your friend?”

For a split second, Irene processes the question and then—oh.

“Oh,” she manages; and it hits her altogether.

“You keep talking about how you’re unfit for a relationship and you’re this, and you’re that—and all that shit, and it makes me think that you don’t believe you deserve to be loved at all but you know what I think? I think that you’re amazing, and strong, and beautiful, and a lot more than the adjectives I already said—and I hope,” she pauses to take a breath, “…my God, I wish you find somebody who will make you fall in love with yourself, too.”

And Irene just couldn’t hold it anymore.

She lurches forward, her whole body and soul finally giving in.

In one quick motion, she grabs Wendy’s face with both of her hands and kisses her. She doesn’t know how they look like or what position they’re in but all of a sudden, she feels Wendy deepen the kiss as her arm snakes around the actress’ waist.

Wendy guides her up so she’s sitting on the doctor’s lap.

They continue to kiss, every inch of Irene’s body feeling like it’s on fire. Wendy is kissing her gently like she’s making promise. Wendy is kissing her like she’s willing to be everything Irene needs her to be; and for the first time—maybe ever—Irene feels herself not minding the company.

She doesn’t want to be alone. Not anymore.

All of that bullshit about being alone? She doesn’t want any of that. If she could spend more time like this with this woman beside her, then sign her up.

See, Wendy is the sun; and Irene is crashing into her in full speed. She woke up this morning thinking that wherever this whole thing goes, it’s going to end in flames.

But right now, she decides she doesn’t mind getting burned.

/

“Please tell me they’re not making out,” Seulgi says, her eyes shut close.

Joy can’t help but laugh. Seulgi is soft and cute—and sometimes, Joy thinks it’s tragic how she never really sees but hey, some stars just aren’t aligned like that. And that’s okay.

Joy turns her head and sees that indeed, Wendy and Irene are kissing.

Irene is on Wendy’s lap with the doctor’s arms wrapped around the actress’ waist. They’re kissing but Joy could see a hint of smile on her bestfriend’s face. Wendy is finally kissing another girl, someone she knows she’s liked for a really long time. Finally, Wendy has allowed herself to be happy again.

Just seeing Wendy like this, tears immediately brim at her eyes. She hopes to God Seulgi keeps her eyes closed.

She tries to keep her voice from shaking as she says, “Yup. Don’t look at them now. It’s disgusting.”

Seulgi laughs as she settles back on her seat. She opens her eyes but she doesn’t peek at the couple behind them.

Joy and Seulgi continue to sit there in silence, just staring at the nothingness of the ocean in front of them.

Far away, just below the moon, there’s a huge star twinkling like it’s singing a melody. It’s bright, shining in the faintest pink Joy has seen.

She smiles and whispers under her breath, in a voice only she can hear, “You can let her go now, Chaeng.”

She hopes Rosé would hear.

Joy lets out a deep breath, part of her lets Wendy go, too.

She fishes her phone from her pocket and looks up a group chat she hasn’t visited in a while. She types—Wendy motherfuckin’ got the girl. Closure for the cafeteria event of the century. Sehun, Seolhyun, and Jackson can all finally close this chapter.

Wendy is the sun. Irene is the moon. Here they are today: a total eclipse of the heart.

There’s a smile on her face as she puts her phone back into her pocket but before she could completely do so, her phone beeps.

Seulgi chuckles, “Who emails you on a Saturday night?”

Puzzled, Joy lifts her phone once more and just like that, Joy realizes that the universe isn’t done fucking with everyone in this story.

We have to talk about Seungwan and Joohyun.

That’s all the email says.

It’s from Jessica Jung, a message sent to everyone who should never be sent a single email to except when this time has finally come.

Tiffany Young. Son Jongin. Park Sooyoung.

Swallowing an invisible lump in her throat, she chances a glance at her two other friends who are now just sitting next to each other, laughing and holding hands, their eyes shining with something some people would easily call love.

Joy looks away, drawing her attention back to the star just below the moon. Not just yet, Chaeng. Not just yet.

Irene Bae fake-dating Son Seungwan—that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

/

Chapter Text

/

If you ask her, Joy would tell you that she doesn’t really believe in destiny.

That’s bullshit.

She’s a woman of action, a woman who believes that if there’s something you want in this life, the only way to get it is to actually stand up and do something about it. If there’s something you want so bad, you cannot leave it to chance because only cowards do that.

However this isn’t a rule she’s so hard-set on—after all, nothing about the rules we set for ourselves are black and white. So in a way, she also believes that the universe likes to throw things our way to make sure we’re able to become the best version of ourselves we can be.

That one day in August when she was eight-years-old was a giant proof: the universe won’t let you go to war alone.

Well, the proof was actually tiny because it was Wendy. Tiny young Wendy who had a bounce in her step so light that meeting her felt like sunshine.

Yeah, she was eight and Joy didn’t really understand such things but she remembers seeing Wendy in that playground and though she didn’t know exactly who she was, she decided.

We’re going to be bestfriends.

Young Joy walked up to Wendy and introduced herself—an offer of friendship that Wendy didn’t even bother to question.

Their friendship officially started when Joy helped Wendy climb up the monkey bars. She was taller and stronger. Wendy was, well, let’s say she was cute. Wendy immediately falls by the time she reaches the third bar and Joy laughs at her so hard her sides started to hurt.

But here’s the thing—Wendy would come back the next day and the day after that, and so many more days after that. She would walk across the playground with a fierce look on her face. She would get up the monkey bars and try again and again. And again until she eventually crosses the motherfucking monkey bars.

Joy stood there all along, watching Wendy fall and stand up again. Sometimes, Joy would offer a hand and in all of those times, Wendy would take her hand with a grateful smile. Girl’s got no bit of pride whatsoever.

And maybe that’s how she knew.

Park Sooyoung could conquer the world with Son Seungwan by her side. After all, we all need a friend who knows how to get up after falling; someone who knows how to do it again and again, and relentlessly each time.

So yeah, Joy doesn’t really believe in destiny but she doesn’t have any explanation for the way their worlds collided that day so maybe, Wendy is an exception to this rule. And Joy is absolutely fine with that.

Flash forward to today and Joy, for the first time, ponders how different her life would’ve been if she didn’t meet Wendy.

“This better be fuckin’ good—” she mutters to herself just as the elevator doors open.

Stepping outside, a familiar face—Jessica’s assistant—greets her with a smile. “Good morning, Sooyoung-ssi,” Jeongyeon bows.

“Hi,” Joy returns the gesture.

“This way,” Jeongyeon ushers her through a narrow hallway until they reach what looks like a conference room. “Ms. Jung and Ms. Young are already waiting inside,” she says and then leaves.

Joy takes a deep breath as she grabs the door handle and slides it open.

What she sees surprises her to no end: Jessica and Tiffany in the middle of a yelling match.

She doesn’t hear what they were arguing about because soon as she they feel her presence, the two women stop arguing altogether, both turning to her with a startled look on their faces.

“Should I just come back?” trying her best to sound unaffected.

Jessica, who seems a bit rattled, shakes her head, “No. Come in.” She gestures for Joy to sit, “Take a seat.”

Joy walks in, keeping her eyes trained on Tiffany who is watching her with a strange look in her eyes. Tiffany takes a deep breath and releases it slowly as if trying to gain her composure back. The older woman smoothens out the top of her sleeveless, all-white jumpsuit with the palm of her hands as she pulls a chair and takes a seat directly across Joy.

Joy would give it to her; Tiffany always looks expensive.

It has been a while since they’ve last seen each other and no, the day of Irene and Seulgi’s photoshoot doesn’t count.

“It has been a while, Sooyoung,” Tiffany greets, a sad smile drawing up her lips.

Joy only purses her lips in acknowledgement of the other woman’s greeting.

The game plan for today is to act nonchalant, to do her best to keep her guilt at bay. Maybe that’ll make up for all the terrible things she did.

They did.

It’s the day before Christmas, a start to what could be a harsh, brittle winter. It’s supposed to be a season of pure joy and generosity but inside this room, it feels like a replica of the outside: cold and condescending.

Nobody says anything for a moment, all three women just sitting quietly in their places. Tiffany is across Joy, shoulders obviously stiff. Her fiancé—young, formidable Jessica—is sitting as far away from her as possible, looking like she has no clue what’s going on.

As Joy muses on about everything that led her to this day, she observes Jessica. She’s only met the girl once but she’s heard all the epic Jessica tales from Wendy. She’s looking fierce in the black-and-white dress she’s wearing. Her long, golden-brown hair shining just the right amount against the rays of light slithering through the large windows.

But it’s her eyes that give her away. Girls who are icy and firm only become trouble when you make them angry and boy, right now? Right now, the bitch is angry.

See, Joy totally gets it, Jessica’s anger. She doesn’t know exactly what went down between the lovebirds but if her math of the last few years adds up, Joy is sure they’re about to hit some really tough roads ahead.

Then, there’s Tiffany. They’ve met a grand total of two times—once when she and Wendy visited during Seulgi and Irene’s photoshoot, and also once that fateful day years ago when they decided that their love for their sisters is enough to bear a burden of a lifetime.

Tiffany is wearing white today, always, always so bright and shiny. But just like Jessica, there’s an indescribable heaviness in her eyes. Part of Joy gets it.

After all, they’re carrying the same amount of load. Joy probably just knows how to fake it better.

This is going to be one hell of a day.

As they wait for one more person, Joy concedes with the fact that this was going to happen at some point. If there’s anything she’s learned from all the American dramas she’s watching, it’s that no secret stays hidden forever—even those that come with good intentions.

Interestingly so, the universe just had to choose this day—out of all days—to fuck with all of them. Tonight, the gang is scheduled for their annual Christmas Eve dinner. Herself, Wendy, Chanyeol, Seohyun, and Yerim will be at Red Flavor to celebrate the occasion.

But hear this out: Wendy invited Irene. So, Irene is coming and so will Jessica and Tiffany because per Irene, it would be nice to switch things up this year.

Well, Irene. Things aren’t just about be switched up. Things are about to stir, honey.

A couple of minutes pass until it all finally comes together.

The door to the conference room opens and in comes Son Jongin, making the tension even thicker. He looks around before his eyes land on Joy. He manages a small smile, dipping his head just a bit to acknowledge her.

Joy only gives him a look, not letting her defenses slip. He may have once been like a brother to her but now, he’s just someone who brings nothing with him but nightmares.

He’s in an all-black set of suit, so fitting for the mood. Jongin takes the seat two spaces away from Joy. He takes the surroundings in but somehow, his gaze finds Joy once again and this time, he lingers on her a bit longer—as if trying to establish a connection.

Something about it feels familiar and that’s what softens Joy for the tiniest bit. She’s known him for as long as she’s known Wendy. They used to be family.

That’s the reason Jongin is here because despite it all, Wendy is still his younger sister. He loves her—in ways many people will probably not understand but part of Joy gets it. That’s why they’re all here: Tiffany, Jongin, and Joy. They all get it.

They all understand that sometimes, it is impossible to love deeply without sacrifice.

It’s Jongin who speaks up first, his gaze now finding Tiffany.

“I thought we agreed that we will tell nobody,” he recounts. He’s calm, eerily so; which means shit is about to go down.

“I didn’t tell her anything,” Tiffany defends herself, her voice a notch lower than what usually suits her character. “She found out.”

Jessica, still unyielding and scary, clears her throat, effectively grabbing everyone’s attention. “Did you all really think you could go on your entire lives pretending this is all okay?”

And the yelling match resumes.

“Jess, we discussed this,” Tiffany fires. “We all believed that it was the right thing at the time. We made this decision trying to protect the people we love.”

Oh, okay.  They’re speaking in English now.

Protect?” Jessica scoffs. If it was just possible, Joy is sure Jessica would be firing lasers with her eyes right now. “You?” she points at Tiffany and then at Joy, “And you?”

Joy takes a deep breath, intent on keeping her composure intact. Tiffany was right: it felt right at the time.

“You both think that lying to their faces will protect Joohyun and Seungwan? You think that it wouldn’t come back one day and bite you all in the ass?”

Silence.

Tiffany is ridden with guilt. Joy is carried by pride.

It’s Jongin who tries to reason, “Ms. Jung, it doesn’t have to—”

“And you?” Jessica cuts him off, her tone laced with so much contempt. But Joy doesn’t miss the hurt. Whatever Jessica is feeling right now, it’s because she cares about Joohyun and Seungwan.

“Wasn’t it enough for you that you lied to your sister’s face but you also just had to throw in some money there to make sure everything remains a secret? How does it feel, huh? Do you get off thinking it’s your money that runs CSY Entertainment now?”

“Jess!” Tiffany stands up, shouting, her eyes filled with unshed tears.

Jessica turns to her fiancé, “What, Tiff? Is it suddenly hitting you what it really took for you to get to where you are?”

Ooooh.

Once again, silence.

Everything around Joy is moving like a scene in a movie.

It’s like when you’re watching a movie adaptation of a book you’ve also read. Somehow, you knew it was gonna come but it still isn’t what you imagined.

“What do you want, Ms. Jung?” Jongin cuts through the chase. “Let’s get to the bottom of this.”

“What do I want?” Jessica repeats, her tone cutting through the air as if she’s throwing every word at each and every one of them. “This is not about me, Sir. This is about Joohyun and Seungwan and how you all have lied to them for God knows how long and now what?”

“Jess, you need to calm down,” Tiffany puled.

Jessica chuckles bitterly, turning pointedly to Tiffany, “Why did you let me reunite them?” Then it’s back to Joy, “Why did you let Wendy agree to this whole fake-dating thing?”

Joy just shrugs. She doesn’t have to explain anything. She doesn’t answer to anyone.

It’s Tiffany who tries to reason with Jessica, “I agreed to this plan because Joohyun is lonely, Jess.”

There it is—a pang of pain creeping up her chest. Joy swallows an invisible lump in her throat. She and Tiffany may not be on the same page about almost everything but this one? This one she gets because Wendy is lonely, too.

Or was.

“And you think pairing her up with Wendy is gonna somehow make all of her loneliness disappear?”

“I was hoping they could help each other heal.”

“Tiff, that’s sick.”

Tiffany starts pacing, “Jess, we can’t tell them.”

“Why not? Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t walk up to them right now and tell them everything?”

“Because it will destroy them,” Jongin chimes in, his voice cracking. It’s the first time in a very long time that Joy has seen his resolve break.

Maybe he’s still human after all. A terrible human being at that, but a still a human nonetheless.

“What good will it do?” Joy finally speaks up, careful in picking her battles. “They found each other and they’re happy now. Isn’t that what we all want?”

Jessica scoffs, the look on her face is of pure disgust. “I don’t know how you all live with yourselves.”

“We bear it so they don’t have to,” Joy tells her. “None of this has been easy, you know. You weren’t there. You didn’t see your bestfriend in the whole world lose the love of her life. You weren’t the one who carried Seungwan to bed because she was crying so hard, she almost passed out. Jongin did that.”

Jongin turns to her, his eyes reminiscent of the brother he used to be. It’s an unspoken agreement: right now, they’re allies. They’re both acting with Seungwan’s best interests at heart. Nothing about this life is black or white.

Tiffany follows through, “And Jess, I know you love Joohyun but you don’t know the hell she’s been through.”

“Oh my God,” Jessica lets out a sigh. “You’re all convinced that you’re saving them. That’s sick.”

Jessica stands up and walks over to where the large windows are.

Outside, it’s gloomy. They’re 34 floors above the ground, overlooking the city. It’s the day before Christmas and Joy isn’t really big on holiday wishes but right now, she prays that this doesn’t mark the end of everything.

But all four of them in this room, slowly uncovering secrets of the past, is a giant clue: what goes around, comes around.

After all, how many times have you slammed a door shut only to find it swinging back to you? This is the door they’ve closed years ago finding its way to hit them all right in the face.

/

It’s noontime on the day before Christmas.

In all the glory of her light blue scrubs and the white coat that has her name on it, Dr. Wendy Son walks down the halls of the emergency room with a smile on her face because hey, it’s halfway through her shift and no severe cases have come in yet.

If this goes on for the next six hours, she will definitely make it to Christmas Eve dinner.

There are less doctors today: about half of the attendings and some of the residents are out for their paid time-offs so everyone who’s coming in are divided into three shifts. So now, Wendy is on a ten-hour shift overlapping with Dr. Im and another resident.

It’s a Tuesday morning in the middle of December. Thankfully, the cases today are mild: mostly colds and flu.

As she walks across the room, she looks around and recalls some of the cases she has. From where she’s at, she could see a couple of occupied beds with their blue curtains not drawn out.

Bed #2: a 28-year-old woman with a history of tuberculosis complaining of fever and productive coughing. She’s waiting for her x-ray results.

Over to her right is a 57-year-old male complaining of mild chest pains and mild cough. He, too, is waiting for his x-ray results. Meanwhile, Bed #5 houses a 13-year-old boy who’s nursing a fever and productive coughing.

Bed #7, hmm—she’s new. Probably just got in: a woman, probably in her late 30s or early 40s. She has long, dark hair and Wendy notices that she still has all of her winter clothes on.

Wendy makes a mental note to check on the lady again later. A nurse would page her if they need her.

She chances a glance at the Nurses’ Station and there she is: Eum Soo-hyo, Head Nurse and one of the more tenured nurses in the hospital. She’s known for being quite the terror; not to the patients but to the interns and residents. (Wendy is convinced that Nurse Eum hates her.)

The doctor continues to walk across the room until she reaches one of the consult rooms and gets in. Seeing the books and binders on top of the round table, she sighs, “More readings.”

With no new cases, Wendy found a much-needed free time during her shift. So, she chooses to spend it here inside this small but nonetheless well-lit room, accompanied by a bunch of blue binders and tons of readings to catch up to.

She gets right into it but it only takes around fifteen minutes before her study session gets interrupted.

Whatchu doin’?” she hears a sweet, familiar voice as the door to consult room opens. It’s Sejeong, greeting her in a sing-songy tone.

“Studying?” she responds, gesturing at the tons of materials spread on the table.

“For what?” the other doctor asks she closes the door behind her and takes the empty seat across Wendy. Sejeong peeks at one of the binders on the table and then reads aloud, “Disaster and Mass Casualty Triage.”

“The trauma certification drill,” Wendy gives Sejeong a look as if judging her for not knowing about it.

“What’s that?”

Wendy gasps dramatically, “How come you don’t know this?”

Sejeong only shrugs as she pulls out a small paper bag from the pocket of her coat. She fumbles with it for a bit and then reveals a half-eaten donut. The girl munches on it quite comically and it almost makes Wendy laugh. She hasn’t changed one bit.

Odd, Wendy thinks but she ignores it and focuses on the more important matter.

“Every year, all the interns and residents of this hospital go through a drill to get certified in handling mass casualty incidents. We’re a Level One Trauma Center so it means we’re one of the hospitals that will setup triage in case of a disaster or a mass casualty incident,” she’s out of breath by the time she finishes her explanation but she pushes through, “So this,” she taps at the binder Sejeong just looked at earlier, “…has all the protocols the hospital has depending on the severity of the incident.”

“I didn’t know there’s such thing,” Sejeong comments, puzzled by the whole thing. “When is this?”

“In March.”

Sejeong laughs.

“What?”

“With all these reading materials, one would think the drill is happening tomorrow,” Sejeong teases with a laugh.

Wendy playfully pouts, “Well, I like to be prepared. I don’t cram. I don’t have photographic memory unlike some people I know—”

“Seungwan, come on. It’s a drill. It’s not a written examination. You don’t need to memorize all of this.”

“I’m not trying to memorize it,” Wendy says hesitantly.

Sejeong only raises an eyebrow.

“Okay, fine!”  Wendy surrenders. “I’m trying to memorize it but I can’t. I’m reading some other medical journal and right now, everything is just messy up here,” she admits, pointing to her head.

“You’re overworking yourself. Just get familiar with the triage for each incident size and go from there, everything else is presence of mind and proper knowledge of medicine—which are both something you’re very good at so don’t worry too much.”

“Why are you so calm?”

Sejeong grins, “Because the drill is months away and also because I will just copy everything you’ll do.”

Wendy laughs, “That’s so silly.”

“I’m serious,” Sejeong nods comically. “Remember that time in skills lab—”

“You spent all your time with the anastomosis and I—”

“You stopped the bleeding and moved on to the liver lacerations,” Sejeong nods. “That’s the kind of call a trauma surgeon makes. I could never think beyond one thing unless I’ve gone through it very thoroughly and delicately.”

“I can’t remember much from that day except that you got thrown out because you had the gall to talk back to the instructor,” Wendy laughs as she relaxes back on her chair. She really, really likes having Sejeong around.

“That’s the moment I decided I wouldn’t specialize in trauma,” the other doctor nods with a laugh.

“I think you made a good choice. Neuro is hardcore.”

“Pssh—trauma is hardcore. I can’t imagine working in a high-stress environment everyday.”

Their conversation is interrupted when the door to the consult room opens and in comes two more doctors: Yoona and Jisoo.

“You know what’s hardcore?” Jisoo starts. “Peds,” she answers her own question as she plops on the seat next to Wendy, slamming a tablet on the table. Yoona follows suit, sitting next to Sejeong.

They laugh at Jisoo’s sentiment. Just last week, she got transferred to Pediatric Surgery after almost a year in Cardio.

Jisoo mellows down, “My patient is a four-year-old girl with a soft tissue sarcoma, a suspected fibrosarcoma. And I had to walk her to all of her diagnostic imaging and she cries and she’s scared all the time. I—”

All of a sudden, there’s just silence in the room, all doctors feeling the impact of the situation of Jisoo’s patient: a four-year-old girl with cancer.

“I’m sorry,” Wendy says after a few moments.

Jisoo shakes her head, blinking her tears dry, “I told the Chief I don’t ever want to go to Peds. She asked me why and I said—”

“I hate kids,” both Yoona and Wendy say, mimicking Jisoo’s voice.

Jisoo rolls her eyes in exhaustion, “That’s exactly what I said and maybe that’s how I ended up in Peds anyway.”

“We really just came here so she could release all that,” Yoona tells them, eyeing Jisoo. “She’s taking the kid to more labs today.”

Jisoo only shrugs dismissively, acting tough. After a few seconds, she shakes her head, “I also came here to ask about you—” she gives Wendy a playful glare.

And just like that, the somber, mellow atmosphere is replaced by Jisoo’s boundless energy. For a second, Wendy wonders how the doctor manages to bounce back so fast every damn time.

“—you haven’t told me anything about your fancy Jeju getaway. Spill the tea!”

And yup, it’s always at her expense but okay, she’ll take it.

“There’s no tea to spill,” Wendy tries.

Jisoo shakes her head, “You promised me you will tell me everything.”

“I made no such promise.”

“Uh, you did.”

No, she didn’t.

“No, I—”

Yoona cuts her off with a laugh, “Just give her a bone to chew on, Wendy.  She’s not going to give up.”

“That’s right. I won’t give up until you give me something.”

“What—”

“How was Irene with your friends?” Jisoo frames another question.

“Why are you so interested?” Wendy stalls.

Jisoo shrugs, “I don’t know. You’re in a relationship now—that has to be a big deal.”

“Why?”

“You, Dr. Wendy Son, is finally dating. We haven’t known each other that long but I know that’s a big deal.”

Wendy thinks it over.

Are Irene and I dating now? Like, for real?

Well, to Sejeong, Yoona, and Jisoo they are dating.

They think Wendy and Irene are all good and really in a good place right now. But they don’t know about the real relationship—that one is progressing more and more each day and wow!

This is actually very complicated.

Is the real relationship different from the fake one? Does she really have two relationships with Irene? How is one different than the other? Or is it just one thing that turned into something else?

Wendy’s brain can’t process it. How come she never thought about this?

Is there a book somewhere that  tells you what to do next when you’re supposedly fake relationship actually develops?

“Earth to Wendy!” Sejeong breaks her internal monologue.

“She was okay,” Wendy says nonchalantly.

“Oh no,” Jisoo gasps dramatically.

“What?”

“The way you said it—was she boring? Didn’t your friends like her?”

“What? No! I mean, yes!” Wendy stammers. “Of course, they liked her!”

Irene wasn’t just okay—she was amazing.

During that weekend in Jeju, Irene was completely Joohyun. No pretenses. No walls. She’s just somebody who’s having an amazing time with her friends and god, seeing Irene in that light is breathtaking.

She spent the whole weekend having silly fun with Yerim and Seulgi. She beat Chanyeol multiple times in Uno and Monopoly. She bonded with Seohyun over cooking. She had soju with Joy until they were the only ones left standing.

And though she was dragged from one place to another the entire weekend, she still seemed attached to Wendy. Despite being pulled to different directions, she somehow never left Wendy’s side.

By now, Wendy has memorized Irene—the way she laughs, the way she smells sitting next to the doctor in front of a bonfire, the way her eyes shine when she’s smiling. It’s all etched in Wendy’s memory and something about it still makes Wendy’s heart skip a beat.

They’ve held hands and sat together for so many times during that weekend that sometimes, even though it’s been just two days since they came back to Seoul, Wendy finds herself missing Joohyun.

 How do you go eight years without someone and just completely lose your resolve in one weekend?

“You know what—” Wendy shakes her head, pouting. “I’m not going to enable you with an answer.”

Besides, there’s nothing to tell. It was a simple weekend getaway at a nice island with the most amazing views. They kissed, multiple times.

But that doesn’t mean anything. Does it?

They haven’t really defined what they are. Is that even still necessary these days?

Wendy doesn’t have any answers right now but all she knows is that she really, really likes kissing Joohyun.

“So dramatic,” Jisoo comments.

“Ugh,” Wendy groans as she starts gathering her stuff. That’s only when Yoona notices the binders on her desk.

Yoona chuckles as she grabs one binder and instantly recognizes it, “Are you studying for the drill?”

“No?” Wendy denies.

Sejeong laughs. Wendy glares at her. The other doctor raises both of her hands as if surrendering.

“You’re crazy, Wendy. The drill is three months away,” Yoona teases.

“I know that. I’m just preparing.”

Their banter is interrupted when Sejeong’s phone beeps. She grabs it from the pocket of her white coat and checks the message out. After a second, she goes, “Well, that’s me. Gotta go, Wan. Duty calls.”

Sejeong winks at her before exiting the room which leaves Wendy now with just Wendy and Yoona.

“She’s fun, that one,” Yoona tells Wendy.

“’Course she is,” Wendy agrees. She stands up as she resumes collecting her things.

“Hey, hey!” Jisoo stops her. “You don’t get to walk away. You need to tell me stuff.”

“Can you please, please just let this one slip?” Wendy pleads. “It’s the day before Christmas. Let this be your nice gift for me.”

“Me? Doing something nice for you? Not possible.”

A phone once again beeps and this time, it’s Jisoo’s. She fishes her phone from the pocket of her coat and peeks at the message she just got. She then sighs heavily as she turns back to Wendy.

“You’re lucky I got paged. Bye, Trauma people, Peds is calling. Gotta go do some hardcore stuff,” she says before she turns to the door.

“Hey, Jisoo-unnie,” Wendy calls, stopping Jisoo for the briefest of seconds.

“Hmm?” Jisoo turns to her, the heaviness visible in her eyes.

“If it’s beatable, she’ll beat it. You’ll be there every step of the way,” Wendy says with a warm, encouraging smile.

Jisoo processes for a moment. Wendy thinks she hit a nerve but her friend just rolls her eyes and says, “Whatever, Dr. Son. I’ll be back here and ask you more questions.”

She leaves after that.

Yoona and Wendy just smile at each other.

They both know Jisoo’s gonna be fine.

She’s okay. She’s Jisoo.

.

After that whole ordeal with Jisoo, Wendy’s day goes back to normal. Yoona goes home and Wendy is about to do her patient rounds. Stepping back out to The Pit, as what they call the ER, she looks around and sees the same old faces.

No new cases. She notes.

Her phone beeps just as she was approaching the nurse’s station. She grabs it from the pocket of her coat and checks out her new message.

It’s from Sooyoung.

Pyogojeon or hobakjeon?

Wendy pffts to herself.  What kind of question is that?

Her reply is quick.

Hobakjeon. Who even suggested pyogojeon?

Sooyoung’s reply is quick, too.

Irene. She’s already here. She’s helping me cook.

This makes her smile.

Wendy has spent the last eight Christmas Eves with Joy and Chanyeol with Yerim and Seohyun coming into the picture at a later time. But this year, given some recent developments in their relationship, Irene is joining them along with Jessica and Tiffany. So now, their little family has gotten bigger and honestly?

Wendy is thrilled for the change.

Before she loses focus, she types up a reply.

No, Sooyoung. Just cook whatever Irene likes. I’m fine with anything.

She knew that response was a mistake soon as she sent it because—

You’re fucking whipped.

Wendy decides that she doesn’t want to enable Sooyoung further so she slides her phone back to her pocket. She just hopes that the ER stays this way because as long as it’s calm, maybe she can actually make it to dinner.

“H-I-S please,” she requests as she stands by the Nurse’s Station. H.I.S as in Hospital Information System. It’s where all patient records are digitally stored.

It’s Head Nurse Eum who hands her the tablet about the same size as regular iPad. Wendy starts scrolling through patient records and notices nothing urgent. That’s good, she thinks. As she looks up, ready to hand the tablet back to the nurse, something catches her eye.

It’s the woman in Bed #7. She’s still in the same state as she was earlier, if not worse. She’s paler now and Wendy sees the way her left hand is holding on to her right arm as if it’s in pain.

A bad feeling creeps up Wendy’s spine.

The doctor walks over to Bed #7, the H-I-S tablet at hand, and carefully approaches the woman.

“Hi, Ma’am,” she opens. “I’m Dr. Wendy Son, I’m monitoring ER cases at the moment. How are you feeling?”

The woman, lying helpless in bed looks up to her. Her eyes are red and watery as if she’s been crying and Wendy instantly notices the drops of sweat on her forehead. This woman is in pain.

“I—” the woman tries to speak but it’s obvious that she’s struggling. “Something is really wrong with my arm.”

“You mind if I take a look?”

The woman shakes her head as she adjusts on the bed to go in a sitting position. Wendy helps her remove the two layers of jacket she has, revealing a sweater underneath. The woman rolls it up and soon as Wendy sees the woman’s right arm, she knew something wasn’t right.

Her arm is pale, as in sheet-of-paper-white kind of pale.

“Is it okay if I touch it?” Wendy asks.

The woman only nods.

Wendy extends her hand to gently touch the woman’s arm and almost flinches when she feels that that it’s cold. As in ice cold.

She mentally drops a couple of curses as she moves to check the woman’s pulse. Soon as her fingers hover over the fold of the woman’s wrist, she feels nothing.

She has no pulse.

“Ma’am, may I know what your name is?”

“Jong EunHa.”

“Ms. Jong, can you move your arm? Just up and down. Like this,” Wendy instructs as she moves her arm gently up and down.

She waits for the woman to follow suit but she doesn’t. “I can’t,” the woman cries, tears falling down her face.

“Okay, EunHa, calm down, okay? Let me just go over your records.”

Wendy starts scrolling through the tablet and finds the patient’s records.

“I see that you were here last night.”

EunHa nods gently, “They said something about my COPD that’s why I couldn’t breathe. They gave me some medicine and discharged me. But this pain in my arm started.”

COPD. Hmm.

So, there’s a damaged lung tissue probably due to being a chronic smoker. But that doesn’t explain the arm so Wendy reads further through her records. Nothing stands out for a while until she catches a report of a blood work from last night.

Her lactic acid level is at seven. It’s about triple of where it should be which means that there’s a part of her body that’s not getting any blood flow.

“EunHa, has nobody attended to you since you got in today?”

The patient shakes her head sadly, her lips slightly trembling.

Wendy looks her in the eyes, “I’m sorry about that, okay? Let me just check on something and we’re going to get you the help you need. Just hang tight, I’ll come back.”

EunHa nods weakly, “Thank you, Dr. Son.”

The doctor then walks over to the Nurse’s Station and speaks to Nurse Eum.

“How long has she been here?” Wendy asks.

“Who?” Nurse Lee asks, not even looking up at Wendy.

“The patient at Bed #7.”

With an exasperated sigh, Nurse Eum looks up reluctantly and takes a glance at Bed #7.

Wendy could feel the resistance. Nurse Eum is good at her job and but she’s also notorious for calling out interns and young residents when she feels like they don’t know what they’re doing.

The Head Nurse shakes her head dismissively, “Three hours tops.”

“Three hours? I’ve been here the entire time and she wasn’t in there earlier.”

“She was in the waiting area outside. She requested to be let in because she wants to,” she air quotes with her hands, “lay down.”

She doesn’t understand why Nurse Eum is acting this way. “And nobody has attended to her yet?” asks.

“No. It’s not an urgent case.”

“How do you know that when nobody has checked on her yet? I need somebody to do some basic vitals and blood work right now. I need someone assigned to her case. Now.”

Wendy likes to think that she said that with enough conviction but Nurse Eum doesn’t even flinch.

She merely gives Wendy a tired, sarcastic smile and says, “Dr. Son, a piece advice? Take a look around you. It’s Christmas Eve and it’s cold. Some people would do anything just to get off the streets, okay?”

What the fuck?

“What did you say?” she asks because there’s no way—

“I said, she’s not an urgent case. We’ll page you if we need you.”

“You know what—nevermind,” Wendy dismisses her as she calls the attention of the other nurse behind Eum. “Hey, Nurse Min?”

“Yes, Dr. Son?”

“Will you please get Ms. Jong in a gown and get her on a monitor. And also get an I-V started?”

“Dr. Son, you do not have authorization,” Nurse Eum argues, her voice a notch higher.

At this point, they’re about to make a scene.

But Wendy isn’t about to back down. Not when someone’s life is on the line. “I will page for Dr. Im but for the meantime, can we get the woman the care she needs?”

“You are violating a protocol, Dr. Son. You’re just an Intern. Get Dr. Im first and then maybe, we’ll listen.”

This is not happening to her.

“Nurse Eum, listen to me,” this time, Wendy isn’t playing any games. “Dr. Im is already halfway home. The next authorized doctor is on a surgery. By the time any of them get here, that woman would have gone hours without blood flow in her arm which elevates the risk of her losing her entire arm. So Nurse Eum, when I say we push fluids now, we will push fluids now.”

The tension is thick—each side having their own set of moral codes, trying to get the other to follow. Wendy is serious, dedicated to saving the woman’s arm. She doesn’t know what’s happening but she needs to buy this woman time until an authorized doctor gets here to run tests.

Right now, Nurse Eum isn’t giving her that.

“Protocols, Dr. Son. Protocols.”

Wendy balls her hands to a fist, her knuckles turning white, “When have the rules become more important than the people it’s designed protect, Nurse Eum? Every second we waste gets us closer to getting that woman’s arm amputated so pick a side.”

There’s silence between them now and every other person in the ER has probably felt the tension, too. Wendy knows for sure that she’s taking a huge risk here but she knows no other way.

All of a sudden, a male nurse comes up to her—Park Jisung—and salutes her like a soldier.

“I’m here, Dr. Son, what do you need?”

Turns out, he is exactly what everyone needed—just somebody who is brave enough to stand up and follow what Wendy started.

“Admit her, get her in a gown, and start IV. Also get me a doppler,” Wendy says hurriedly, a rush of urgency filling her entire body.

“On it, Dr. Son,” Park Jisung says and then starts running around to get things done. Wendy almost smiles. He didn’t really need to run but hey, Wendy appreciates the enthusiasm.

Nurse Min, who was reluctant to follow her orders earlier steps out of the Nurses’ Station, and asks, “What do you need me for?

“Call Dr. Im and tell her to come back here stat. Dr. Byeom will be in surgery for the next two hours. I need an actual surgeon here.”

The nurse nods, “On it.”

Soon as Nurse Min heads to the table where the phones are, Wendy turns back to Nurse Eum and gives her a look.

The Head Nurse responds with a stern look. “If you turn out to be wrong, Dr. Son, I can’t imagine the ramifications.”

“If I’m right, Nurse Eum, then we would have done our jobs and saved that woman’s life.”

.

About half an hour later, Wendy finds herself on the phone with Dr. Im, pacing back and forth within the small space of the ER consult room. She was just here earlier, nonchalantly reviewing notes for a drill set to happen three months from now.

She was calm and happy, and even skipping through her shift but now? Now, she’s at a loss.

What a turn of events.

“Okay, Dr. Son, talk to me,” Dr. Im commands. She’s on her way back but the she’s stuck in traffic.

“EunHa’s arm is ice cold. She has no pulse in that arm and her lactic acid is seven,” Wendy reports.

“Something is blocking her blood flow.”

Wendy releases a heavy sigh, “We don’t know for sure.”

“What’s your recommendation?”

“Uh—for you to get here as fast as you can?”

“Dr. Son, she’s your patient. You’re the one on the ground. By the time I get there, it might be too late. So Wendy, I need you to pull your shit together and tell me. What are your recommendations?”

Wendy thinks it over.

She needs to order tests to know for sure what’s going on. Only then will they be able to diagnose and recommend a course for treatment. She can’t waste time. Literally, every second she wastes thinking it through, is a second that EunHa’s arm isn’t getting any blood.

Breathe, Wendy.

This is what they all say she was born for, a crisis situation where she’s able to do her job well. She’s smart. She’s read enough books, watched enough walkthroughs, listened enough to her instructors—there’s no way she could fuck this up.

“Wendy—”

You got this.

“We need a CT Angio of her chest, abdomen, and pelvis. I want to see what’s going on with the circulatory system.”

“Why?”

“It might not be limb ischemia but we might be looking at an aortic dissection.”

There’s just silence on the other end, the faint sound of traffic hitting Wendy’s senses like no other.

“Dr. Im?”

The suspense is killing her.

“Go ahead, get her to CT.”

“Yes!” Wendy shrieks.

“I’ll call the desk and give authorization.”

“Thank you, Dr. Im.”

“Don’t thank me yet.”

Wendy runs out of the room. She didn’t really need to run but hey, maybe the enthusiasm could get her somewhere.

.

A few minutes later, Wendy finds herself pacing back and forth by the hall outside the CT Scan Room. Her patient is being prepped and will soon be wheeled in.

She’s in no way panicking but she recognizes the severity of what she’s done. She bypassed the Head Nurse by ordering tests she’s not authorized to do, almost stages a coup with Nurse Park and Nurse Min, and calls for a CT when she’s not even sure what’s happening.

Dr. Im is not here and Dr. Byeom is still in surgery. She really has no one but herself to rely on this one and right now, that is not very comforting.

Without even thinking about it, she fishes her phone from the pocket of her coat and dials a number she now knows by heart.

“Seungwan?” Joohyun’s gentle voice echoes from the other line and God, something about it instantly eases Wendy.

“Joohyun,” she mutters, swallowing an invisible lump in her throat.

“Is everything okay?”

Wendy could hear her concern. In this soft, gentle way, she could hear the way Irene cares; the way she senses that something is bugging Wendy.

“Yeah, I—” Wendy stutters. “I just needed to hear your voice.”

Joohyun doesn’t say anything immediately but Wendy feels her smile.

“What happened?”

Wendy sighs, “I—I just have this patient and I’ve broken tons of rules for her. And I’m scared that I’m wrong because if I am then—I—it will change her life. And I’m just—I don’t know.  I just went with my gut and ordered some tests. I just—I’m so scared that I might have wasted all our time when we could be doing something else, something better than this and I—”

“Seungwan, just breathe.”

She didn’t even realize she was rambling, “I’m sorry.”

“No,” Joohyun tells her. “These tests you ordered, do you have basis?”

That’s a good question.

Still pacing, Wendy nods, “Yeah. With the data I have, it’s the only logical next step.”

“Then that’s settled. You ordered the tests according to your logic and knowledge,” the girl on the other line affirms, her voice soft and careful. “It’s what you felt was right.”

“You’re right.”

“’Course I am.”

Wendy chuckles, a smile escaping her lips for the first time since learning about the case.

When she wouldn’t say anything, Joohyun speaks up again, “Now, about your gut feeling, give me a number. How often are your gut feelings right?”

Another good question—wow! Bae Joohyun is on a roll.

“About 90% of the time?”

“You sound unsure.”

“Because I was trying to be humble?”

She hears Joohyun chuckle, “What’s the number when you’re not being humble?”

“100%,” Wendy utters with certainty. “It would be so wrong to say this but I’m never wrong.”

Joohyun laughs heartily, “Oh, wow. Okay, Dr. Son.”

This makes Wendy laugh as well. She stops pacing.

The doctor then finds the nearest bench and takes a seat. “In my father’s words: your gut won’t lie to you—which if you’re going to think about it, it’s absurd! Who, in their right mind, would base a life-or-death decision on their gut feeling? Like, who will make decisions based on their intestines?”

“Seungwan-ah, focus.”

Wendy lets out a sigh, “You know who will? Me.”

Joohyun chuckles again.

The doctor continues, “I’ve listened to my guts my whole life.”

“So your gut is 100% accurate?”

“Absolutely. It’s scary how accurate it is.”

“There she is—that confident, arrogant little piece of—”

“—hey!”

Joohyun laughs, “You know, I have this vivid memory of you during the school choir’s recital on our second year.”

“What? How’s that—”

“Listen—” Joohyun cuts her off. “You were in the middle and you were already the lead singer then, and I don’t remember that song but I remember the last part when you belted out the high notes like it’s nobody’s business. You were this little ball of confidence and arrogance, and you just—did it. You nailed it because you knew you can.”

Wendy remembers that recital—that part in the end wasn’t in the original arrangement but she insisted to do it. She knew it would make their performance unforgettable and with sheer persistence, she got their choir master to agree.

“Everyone got up to clap, didn’t they?”

“Not everyone,” Joohyun corrects her. “I couldn’t stand. I didn’t have the strength. I was floored in awe. You’re amazing when you do things just because you know you can.”

Oh, wow.

But Joohyun isn’t done yet.

“So all of these things about gut feeling? Just go with it. Just do it when it makes sense because that’s what makes you good at what you do. It has gotten you this far and it’s gonna get you even farther. I don’t know about medicine but you do, you’re the one who knows what’s best for your patient.”

The whole speech, it works.

Wendy’s confidence has been somehow restored. “Thank you, Hyun.”

Just in time, the elevator opens and in comes EunHa in a wheelchair, being assisted by Nurse Park.

“I gotta go, Joohyun. Thank you for—” she lets out a breath, “—for being you.”

“Now, go save her so you could come home and have dinner with us. Okay?”

Home?

“Okay.”

Home sounds good.

.

Wendy takes a deep breath as waits she for EunHa’s scans to be completed.

She’s seated next to the male CT technician inside the CT Control Room. There are two large monitors in front of her as well as a large console board she assumes is what you press when the scans are ready. She’s never operated one but she’s seen the technicians do their jobs and no, she’s not about to obsess over what the buttons are for.

Through the viewing glass in front of her, Wendy could see the entire Scan Room with EunHa in the middle, lying on the examination table below the CT Gantry stiff and probably scared as hell. She’s a lot better now with the fluids they’ve pushed but she’s still not out of the woods.

Wendy presses one of the buttons in the console board. It’s the only button she understands. If you press it when you speak, you will be heard on the other room.

“Are you okay, Eunha?”

“It’s a bit tight here but I’m fine. Thank you, Dr. Son.”

“Just calm down, okay? This will be over soon.”

“Dr. Son?” EunHa calls out hesitantly.

“Hmm?”

“Is it okay if you called my husband? I listed him as my emergency contact.”

Wendy manages a small smile although Eunha couldn’t see her. “One of the nurses already did that. He could be on his way.”

“We had a fight last night,” EunHa starts, sorrow lacing her tone. “We’ve gone through some rough patches lately and it’s just been too much, I thought it was going to be easier if we just separated but I love him. I don’t want to give up on us just because it’s been hard.”

This makes Wendy smile. Oh what a concept.

“You got someone, Dr. Son?”

Wendy’s eyes widen as she chances a glance at the technician who’s also smiling like an idiot.

“Uhm,” Wendy swallows an invisible lump in her throat.

Does she have someone?

The doctor lets go of the Talk button for the briefest of second before she puts it back on and responds, “Yeah, I do.”

She doesn’t know if EunHa smiles but something about the atmosphere tells Wendy that she did.

“You believe in soulmates?” her patient asks.

Interesting question. Hmm.

Also, she doesn’t know.

Does she believe in soulmates?

Joy would kill her if she found out she’s even entertaining this question.

“I actually don’t know EunHa. I haven’t given it much thought,” is what she says because it’s the truth. “How about you?”

“Oh, I do believe in soulmates,” EunHa responds quickly.  “I think Min-Jun is my soulmate.”

“How do you know?” the doctor asks, participating in this conversation.

What?

Don’t blame her. The scans aren’t up yet, might as well establish a rapport.

“I don’t know but I think, a soulmate isn’t just someone you want to do cool stuff with. I think a true soulmate is someone who makes an ordinary day fun. A lot of people make all these really big plans with their person but you know, fuck that.”

Wendy laughs.

EunHa continues, “Choose someone who could take you to a grocery store and still have a blast with, someone who doesn’t make you dread Mondays because it’s the two of you no matter what. Suddenly, you look forward to everyday, even the most mundane of days.”

As she listens to the wisdom being imparted to her, Wendy’s mind can’t help but go to Irene and that alone makes her smile.

“That’s wonderful, EunHa,” Wendy says, a warm smile gracing her lips.

“The scans are up,” the CT technician alerts her as they both turn to the monitors. The images are slowly rolling down the device.

Second by second, the images are getting clearer and clearer and soon as she recognizes the images, she’s absolutely floored.

“That can’t be right,” she mutters, moving closer to the monitors to take a closer look. “That’s weird.”

Wendy takes a look at the scans once again and this time, she tries to wrack her brain up with all the things she knows about—

“—that’s the pulmonary embolism, right?” Wendy asks, fishing a pen from her chest pocket and points  it a particular part of the scan.

The CT Technician nods.

In a second, a third person joins them. “Okay, what’s happening, Dr. Son, walk me through it,” Dr. Im comes in just in time, the door swiftly opening and closing behind her.

She quickly rounds both of them and sits on the technician’s other side, her eyes instantly finding the scans.

It doesn’t take her long to realize what’s going on. After a few moments, she goes, “Oh, wow.”

“What?” Wendy asks nervously.

Dr. Im turns to her, “You ever heard of a paradoxical embolism?”

A what?

“A what?”

“This case is extremely rare. What’s happening now is she had a blood clot that passed from her venous system that got into her arterial system.”

Wendy gasps, “Two blood clots.”

Dr. Im nods.

You see, in the most common cases, one would have a blood clot in either the venous system or the arterial system but not both.

“If this got of further out of hand, she’d lose her arm. So good call, Dr. Son.”

Whew.

Relief washes all over Wendy’s body.

Nurse Eum could suck it.

“Your recommendation?” Dr. Im asks when Wendy wouldn’t say anything.

Wendy thinks it through.

What’s next? What’s next?

With a determination she hasn’t quite felt in a while, Wendy takes a deep breath as she says, “An emergency embolectomy.”

“For what?”

“So we could go in and remove the blood clot in her arm.”

Dr. Im smiles proudly, “You’re right. Prep her for surgery now.”

Wendy nods as she stands up but before she could move any further, Dr. Im speaks up again.

“And Wendy?”

“Hmm?”

“Good job. You’re scrubbing in with me.”

Wait, what?

Wendy beams, “Thank you, Dr. Im.”

“You made a good call with an urgency that saved this woman’s life. You earned it.”

Whew.

You earned it, Dr. Son.

Merry Christmas.

.

Hours later, Wendy finds herself inside the Doctors’ Locker Room, sitting by herself. It’s ten in the evening and by now, it’s clear. Wendy has officially missed Christmas Eve dinner with her friends for the first time in eight years.

But all that matters is the surgery went well. Despite the fact that all Wendy did was stand there and watch Dr. Im be the badass trauma surgeon that she is, it still feels like a win. This is her first official case and something clicked into place.

Maybe, this is what she’s here for.

Maybe the lives she saved could make up for the lives she couldn’t.

She looks up, practically a reflex now, as Rose crosses her mind. She knows she’s proud of her.

Exhausted and relieved at the same time, she checks her phone for the first time since this afternoon and what greets her are messages from her friends asking where she is or if she’s coming to dinner.

She’s been so busy since EunHa’s case surfaced that she just forgot about her phone. From the other tests that they did, to prepping the patient for surgery, and the surgery itself—Wendy found it impossible to find time to check her phone.

Or eat.

Her stomach grumbles but no, she still needs one final trip to EunHa’s room to make sure she’s doing well.

Exhausted, she skips all of her friends’ messages and jumps right to Irene’s. She sent Wendy three messages.

Your friends are ridiculous.

Does Yerim always eats this much? We could put her and Seulgi up in a contest.

I hope everything went well. I miss you.

Irene misses her.

Explosions. Butterflies. God, Irene has no idea of the effect she has on Wendy.

Wendy smiles as she types up a reply.

Surgery went well. Sorry, I missed dinner.

She sends it and as the message goes into Delivered mode, Wendy takes a long look at it. Something’s amiss. The message feels incomplete.

Smiling, she types a follow through.

Wish I could be there. I miss you, too.

There.

Now, it’s complete.

.

As she walks in to EunHa’s room, she sees man sitting on the side of the patient’s bed, holding her hand. He’s looking at her as she lies unconscious, the sound of the machines attached to her echoing inside the room.

She assumes this is Min-Jun.

“Hi,” Wendy says to make her presence known as she walks over to the side of the EunHa’s bed.

The man immediately stands up and bows to her repeatedly.

“I’m Doctor Son. I—”

“Doctor Son, thank you,” he cries. “I’m Min-Jun. One of the nurses told me that it was you who saved my wife’s life. Thank you, Doctor.”

Wendy shakes her head, smiling slightly, “It was a team effort. I just made a call at the right place and time.”

“Sometimes, that’s all it takes.”

“Right place, right time,” Wendy nods. Sometimes, that’s all that it really takes. “Has anybody come in to tell you what happened?”

“Yes, Dr. Im already came in and told me everything.”

The doctor only nods to herself then proceeds to the task at hand.

As Wendy goes around to check for EunHa’s vitals through the monitors and logs it into the H-I-S tablet, Min-Jun sits back down and grabs his wife’s hand once again. “She’s gonna be okay, right?” he asks, uncertain.

Wendy glances at him for a second before turning back to her task. “She will be okay, Min-Jun. Dr. Im is one of the best surgeons in this country. She was able to remove the clot and with proper medication, she’ll be okay.”

Silence embraces the room for the next few moments and it wasn’t until Wendy is done with her task does Min-Jun speak up again. “I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

Wendy only listens.

“She’s my soulmate, you know,” there are tears in his eyes but he laughs through it. “It’s funny, I don’t even believe in soulmates but it just makes sense.”

Wendy chuckles, “She did tell me about the whole soulmate thing when we were in CT.”

It only hits the doctor just now that during one of the scariest moments of her life, EunHa was thinking of Min-Jun. What a concept, she thinks, to have a love like that.

“Did she ask you if you have someone?”

“Yeah, she did.”

Min-Jun laughs, wiping the tears off his cheeks, “She asks that question to everyone we know and then she will tell them about me. It’s embarrassing when I’m there and she’s like—Min-Jun is my soulmate.”

Wendy scrunches her nose, “Yeah, it was a bit cheesy but it was cute.”

“We had a fight last night and she went to her mom’s house. She never came home today and I thought that was it. I was convinced that she finally got tired of me and decided to leave me.”

“She loves you, Min-Jun. I’ve only met her today but I know this. She never once stopped talking about you.”

He sniffs, managing a small smile, “I never really believed in the concept of soulmates or finding the one. If you’ve been through enough relationships, you start to suspect that there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong.”

“That’s deep,” Wendy comments, at a loss for the proper words. How do you respond to that?

“Then I met her and my God,” he laughs, the love he has for EunHa seeping through every inch of his being. “She’s so stubborn and she’s cold a lot of times with all these walls, you know? It was so hard to get through to her.”

Sounds familiar, Wendy thinks but she doesn’t say anything.

“She had issues, I had issues,” Min-Jun continues. “The two of us, we weren’t designed to work. What were the chances, right? I didn’t think we could work against all the odds against us but here we are.”

“Must be nice,” is what Wendy says, again taken by the love that he so effortlessly exudes when talking about his wife.

The guy nods, “The day I asked her out, I just thought, I had to try. I had to take the chance because chances like that, man, that has to mean something.

The doctor releases a breath she didn’t realize she was holding, the thought of Irene lingering at the back of her mind. Min-Jun’s words echo in her mind, repeating itself as if begging to be heard.

Chances like that, man, that has to mean something.

.

Driving home, Wendy concedes with the fact that yeah, she missed Christmas Eve dinner and she didn’t get to see Irene. Still, she decides to head toward Red Flavor’s direction. After all, Joy did say they left her some food.

Yerim already ate most of what I cooked but drop by RF before going home. I saved some for you.

Uh, food sounds good just about now.

The silence gives her time to collect her thoughts after a long, stressful day.

She thinks of Irene because, well, that’s all she ever does lately. She thinks about what they are to each other, what they could be for each other.

Wendy’s short drive from the hospital to the café is plagued with the pros and cons of them really dating each other—which is odd because it’s probably too early to overthink this. They’ve only just begun. They haven’t even really talked about what this all means.

Right now, they’re just two people who like to kiss each other. Right now, they’re just two people who’ve found each other at the right place and time.

And it hits her all at once.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

.

The sight that greets her as she parks her car across Red Flavor is a bit of a surprise.

Through the glass windows of the café, she could see everyone still inside, huddled by a long table in the middle of the room, laughing at what looks like an intense round of Monopoly between Chanyeol and Joohyun.

She checks her phone and sees that it’s almost midnight. They’re all supposed to be home now, celebrating with their families. Did they stay for her?

Wendy couldn’t help the smile that draws from her lips as she walks toward the café, her eyes never leaving the scene. Joy instantly sees her as she pushes the door open.

“The late, Dr. Wendy Son,” Joy announces, a huge grin plastered on her face.

The tall woman walks over to her and gives a quick, one-armed hug while her other hand clutches a half-full glass of wine. She seems buzzed; which is okay, drunk Joy is fun.

Everyone in the room looks up to her, smiling as she approaches them. It was Joohyun’s smile she sees first, lighting up the room like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

“You didn’t have to wait for me,” Wendy tells Joy.

Joy shakes her head, “Nonsense. Traditions change, Wan.”

“No, they don’t,” Wendy argues. “They don’t change, that’s why they’re called traditions.”

Seohyun butts in, “Well, they evolve. That okay for you, smartass?”

Wendy smiles as she walks over and takes a seat next to Joohyun who instantly grabs her hand and interlaces their fingers.

Joy then walks over to the bar where Yerim is. They’re taking shots. Those two are gonna be wasted later.

Chanyeol, who’s sitting across Irene, eyes the game they are playing, “You know, Irene, now that Wendy’s here, you could just give up.”

Irene laughs, “Not a chance.”

.

For the next few minutes, everything goes on smoothly.

Wendy gets to eat a proper meal, Irene joins her as she eats dessert (of course, after beating Chanyeol in the game). Seohyun starts a karaoke session and is joined by Joy and Yerim who are both slightly buzzed.

It’s a nice moment, Wendy thinks. And she’s glad they decided to change the tradition and waited for her. God knows she needed this after the day she’s had.

As everyone goes on with their business around them, Wendy and Joohyun are sitting alone by the long table. Wendy’s munching on some sweet potatoes while Irene is silently sipping on her glass of wine.

“This is nice,” Irene mused, a smile gracing her lips. “Thank you for inviting me.”

“I’m glad you’re here.”

“I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.”

“You’re cheesy,” Wendy teases.

Irene chuckles, a blush creeping up her cheeks, “It’s the wine.”

The doctor scrunches up her nose, “Yeah? Just the wine?”

“Uh-hmm,” Irene nods, pouting like a child. “Just the wine.”

“Okay.”

Irene laughs to herself, embarrassed. Wendy melts into a puddle seeing Irene this soft and open, and—dare she say it—happy.

Not long ago, they barely talked, hardly liked each other. They decided to go into a fake relationship out of different individual needs. And yet, here they are today.

Irene is happy. Here. With her.

It’s strange, isn’t it? How drastically things can change in a matter of weeks.

“Hey, by the way,” Wendy says as something crosses her mind. “I’ve been meaning to ask—not that you being here isn’t enough—it totally is. You being here makes this all more meaningful but you know, I—”

“Seungwan, what is it?”

“Yeah,” Wendy shakes her head, distracted. “I meant, aren’t Tiffany and the Devil herself supposed to be here?”

Something in Irene’s eyes changes. Suddenly, Wendy sees a certain kind of sadness, an inconsolable heartbreak that comes from somewhere deep.

Irene only responds with a sigh as she downs the rest of her wine in one gulp.

“What’s wrong?”

“Uh—” Irene starts hesitantly. “Jess called their engagement off.”

What?

“Oh my God,” Wendy gasps. “That’s—when?”

Jessica and Tiffany, the picture of a love fulfilled just got… unfulfilled. If they’re doomed, then what awaits Wendy? And the rest of us, really?

“This morning?” another heavy sigh. “Tiffany called me this afternoon to tell me and said she wants to be alone. She went to mom’s. I wanted to go there but she insisted I join you, said she wouldn’t see me anyway.”

“Is she okay?” Wendy asks then instantly feels stupid for asking such question.

Of course Tiffany is not okay.

You don’t stumble into a love like that just to call it off.

“No,” Irene confirms what Wendy already knows. “Tiff—she’s tough but Jess is the love of her life. I don’t know how she’ll come back from this.”

Wendy sighs, suddenly feeling weighed down by this news, “Have you heard from Jessica? I feel bad. I called her Devil earlier.”

Irene chuckles sadly, “She sent me one text after I tried calling her at least 12 times after Tiff told me. She said, I’m fine. Don’t bother checking up on me.”

“That’s so her.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you know why?”

Irene shakes her head gloomily, leaning toward the table to grab the bottle of wine settled in the middle. She pours herself a glass full and then looks up at Wendy, “You want some?”

Wendy nods, giving in. She didn’t really want to drink but it seems she needs one. “Yeah, I need a drink,” she breathes, grabbing her own wine glass. She drinks what’s left of her water and then gestures it toward Irene.

The actress then fills it up just enough.

What happened that was so bad that Jessica had to call their wedding off? It has to be something big—it has to be life-changing big for someone to decide that love just isn’t enough anymore.

“You think they’ll make up?” Wendy asks, sipping from her glass.

Irene shrugs, “I don’t know. But they’re Jessica and Tiffany. I saw them fall in love, saw them fight over the stupidest things and in English. So, I don’t know—I’m holding just a tiny bit of hope that maybe, they’ll talk it out. And maybe, they’ll get back together.”

Wendy doesn’t respond. Jessica crosses her mind, wonders for a second how she’s holding up. She knows girls like Jessica. They don’t ask help because—a lot of times—they don’t even know they need help.

The doctor makes a mental note to call her, ask how she is. She doesn’t know if Jessica has friends here in Korea. If Wendy’s all she’s got, then, she’ll drop by her apartment and bring her wine. They’re friends anyway, no matter how many times Jessica tries to deny it.

“I’m sorry I had to be the bearer of bad news,” Irene says.

“Oh no, I asked. It’s okay—it’s just sad, is all.”

Silence embraces them for a couple of minutes. They sit by themselves in quiet company, just watching their friends have solid fun with the karaoke.

After a few moments, Irene remembers something. “Before I forget—” she stands up and walks over to one of the seats away from them and grabs something from her bag.

It’s a small box, about the size of a fist, wrapped up in a very Christmas-y manner.

“Hey, we said no gifts—” Wendy whines.

Irene smiles, “I know but I got this way before we started… this. So I thought I’d just give it now.”

“That’s still a gift!”

Irene only grins as she extends the gift to Wendy, “Merry Christmas, Seungwan.”

Wendy rolls her eyes smilingly as she extends a hand to get the gift, “Fine. But only because you’re cute.”

Irene blushes, “Whatever—open it!”

“What? Now?”

Irene nods enthusiastically.

“Okay—” Wendy gives in.  She carefully places her glass of wine on the table and then proceeds to tearing the wrapper up.

Irene is grinning like an excited puppy.

As the wrappers come off, a brown, generic box is revealed. Wendy removes the lid of the box and what she sees almost makes her cry.

Inside the box is a blue surgical cap with small, hand-drawn caricatures of Joy, Yerim, Seohyun, Chanyeol, and Irene.

“Irene this is—” she says, overwhelmed.

“It’s not much, I know. But I couldn’t think of any gift to thank you for everything so I looked up how a surgical cap looks like and I started to sew.”

Wendy looks up, eyes wide in surprise, “You—you made this?”

Irene nods, “Pricked my fingers tons of times but yeah. I also drew the caricatures and got them printed. Well, Jeongyeon did. She knows people.”

“Wow—” Wendy breathes as she takes a look at the gift again.

“Did you like it?”

Wendy looks up at her and meets her hopeful eyes, “This is perfect. Thank you, Joohyun.”

“Yey!” she celebrates in a small voice, leaning over to Wendy to give her a quick kiss on the cheek.

This is it.

There’s no point in stalling anymore.

Right now, they’re two people who like kissing each other but there’s gotta be more than just that, right? There’s gotta be more to all of this because that’s the only thing that can explain this feeling in Wendy’s chest.

It’s like the first day of school again. She’s still so drawn to this woman like she was all those years ago. That moment passed them by. There’s no way the universe allowed them to cross paths again just to let the chance slip away again.

“Joohyun, can I ask you something?”

“Hmm?”

A beat.

And then all at once.

“What are you doing with me?”

Joohyun’s eyes widen for a bit, feeling the true weight of Wendy’s question. Joohyun’s not an idiot. She knows what Wendy is asking. She knows what kind of answer Wendy needs.

Between them, there’s just silence. Everywhere else, there’s noise.

There’s the sound of Joy’s obnoxious, drunk singing. There’s Yerim’s loud laughter. There’s Seohyun, trying her best to sing over Joy, at least to salvage that popular girl group song. There’s Chanyeol, teasing everyone with his phone filming the whole thing.

But Joohyun and Seungwan are in their own little bubble. There’s no sound between them but the silent weight of the question still in the air.

What are you doing with me?

What are they doing? What are they to each other?

Joohyun pulls back and stares right into Wendy’s eyes. Wendy doesn’t see any doubts there. And that’s the thing, you see. Joohyun trusts her.

With all of her, Joohyun trusts her. If Joohyun had a fully loaded gun, she’d confidently hand it to Wendy because she knows the other girl won’t shoot at her. She knows—trusts—that Wendy won’t hurt her. And this is a lot scarier.

When Joohyun wouldn’t speak, Wendy continues, “I’m asking because I spent all day wishing time would slow down because that’s the only thing that could save my patient’s life. I spent all day ruled by chaos and chance—and what were the chances, right? I was randomly doing patient rounds and ran into her and what would have happened if I didn’t? Or what if I ordered the wrong test? Joohyun, we lived so many different lives before we ended up in each other’s paths again. All it took was a moment of ill fortune for both us to find each other once more and I want to know what we’re doing because I don’t believe this is all random.”

A shit-ton of words and Wendy didn’t even stutter once. Beat that.

“Wendy, I—” Joohyun stutters. “I’m scared.”

“That’s good,” Wendy tells her, pulling her chair closer to the other girl. “Because I, too, am scared as fuck. But a wise man once said that when it feels most scary to jump, that’s exactly when you jump.”

Joohyun squints playfully at her.

Wendy nods, “It’s from a movie but you get it, right?”

The other girl nods gently, smiling ever so slightly. “I don’t know what I want exactly out of this but I’m sure that I—” she stutters. But then, Joohyun takes a deep breath, puffing up her chest as if gathering all the courage in the world. “I’m sure that I’ve got real feelings for you. I think I always have. I know that I want us to be more than this…”

There it is, the hint of uncertainty.

“But?” Wendy completes the thought.

“But I’ve rushed through all of my relationships and none of those relationships worked, obviously,” Joohyun states. “I want to take this slow, get to know you. I want you to get to know me. I want you to get to know the real Joohyun. I want you to fall in love with her.”

“What exactly does that mean?”

“Let’s just go with it. I won’t see anyone else. I don’t want you to see anyone else.”

Despite herself, Wendy smiles.

“What?” Joohyun laughs.

“Nothing.”

“What? Seungwan, I could get territorial.”

Wendy tries her best to stop herself from laughing. She’s cute. “So, in American terms, we’re like, dating?” she asks.

“I don’t know the terms.”

“Okay, grandma. We’ll just go with it, nice and slow. Take one day at a time.”

“Is that okay with you?” Joohyun asks, cautious.

Wendy nods, “You already had me when you said that I can get to know the real Joohyun. I won’t say no to that.”

The doctor is aware that there’s so much that could happen and if we’re all going to be honest with ourselves, it all boils down to chance.  And Wendy has learned that life has always been about grabbing chances when they come around.

“I want to go grocery shopping with you.”

“What?”

“Nothing,” Wendy says, trying to pry EunHa’s words out of her mind. “I’m saying that it’s pretty scary, this whole thing. But I’m not about to let you go again. At least not without a fight.”

“You’re so cheesy,” Joohyun says with laugh.

“But I’m also cute,” Wendy argues, pouting a bit.

“That you are,” Joohyun affirms, grabbing Wendy’s hand and locks their fingers together. “So, this dating thing—does the rules say something about kissing?”

“Ooooh,” Wendy teases. “Let me think,” she says, inching closer to Joohyun’s face. She pecks Joohyun’s lips really quickly—“I don’t think I read anything about kissing—” she kisses her again, a smile drawing from her lips—“So,  I think this is okay.”

“Yeah?” Joohyun asks as she, too, playfully gives Wendy’s lips a quick peck. “Hmm, I like this dating thing.”

“You should do more rom-coms.”

Joohyun laughs loudly, gently punching Wendy in the arm, “Shut up.”

An idea crosses the doctor’s mind, “So, since you already breached the terms of our no-gifts agreement, I will give you a gift.”

“What? Seungwan—”

Wendy doesn’t let her protest and instead stands up to run to Seohyun who’s by their karaoke console. She whispers something to the older girl before she walks over to the still overhyped Joy and takes the mic from her.

The taller girl whines for a bit but she lets it go.

In a minute, a familiar background song plays. Wendy is beaming as she walks over to an embarrassed (but nonetheless secretly liking it) Joohyun. The microphone in one hand and perhaps, Joohyun’s whole heart on the other, the doctor starts to sing.

There you see her
Sitting there across the way
She don't got a lot to say
But there's something about her

Wendy sings her a Disney song because why not?

And you don't know why
But you're dying to try
You wanna kiss the girl

Fake-dating Irene Bae—well, it’s not fake anymore.

/

Chapter Text

/

LEE SOOMAN HIGH SCHOOL
Senior Year

When you think about it, no one really warned us about what it means to really grow up.

They used to ask us ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’, expecting us to give an answer about our ambitions and aspirations. But that isn’t really the correct answer, isn’t it?

When you’re seven and living in a small town, growing up means turning ten (and maybe getting a little bit taller because lining up by height really sucks when you’re the smallest in the class).

At ten years old and hearing your parents talk about their kid not having enough personality to make it out there, growing up means getting the courage to talk to your classmates or actually have friends (and maybe also grow out of your resting bitch face because that has gotten you to trouble more times than not).

When you’re 17 and about to become a high school freshman for the second time, growing up means accepting the fact that your world has changed and all you have is you. In a sea of cold, unfamiliar faces, all you have is you and that should be enough.

And now, you’re 19, a senior in one of Seoul’s most prestigious schools and suddenly, growing up just means having the right mindset to get through this year and finally out of this hell hole.

“I don’t know what I was expecting when I joined the Gardening Club,” Miyeon comments, aggressively pushing soil down a small pot using a small garden shovel.

“You should’ve just gone to Arts and Crafts,” Sana tells her, carrying a small flower pot from one side of the greenhouse to the other. Sana Minatozaki is one of Joohyun’s closest friends in this school—well, closest friend is kinda pushing it because they aren’t really very close but hey, they’re friends so maybe we can call her that.

Miyeon only shakes her head, intent on finishing her task early.

The three of them are inside the school’s greenhouse, completing their first session for the week.

Joohyun observes her companions. They’re all wearing typical personal protective equipment for gardening (gloves, protective goggles, and a black apron) over their Physical Education uniforms, their long hair tied up in a neat ponytail.

Miyeon is obviously very annoyed but nonetheless still very focused. Sana is calm as ever, just breezing through her task of carrying around flower pots from one side of the greenhouse to another. She’s usually very chill, so it doesn’t surprise Joohyun that she seems to be enjoying this.

Meanwhile, she’s by the center table doing an inventory of all the flowers that Sana keeps carrying around.

“I don’t know why you chose this, Joohyun,” Miyeon wonders.

Joohyun doesn’t hate Gardening. She would’ve gone to the Drama Club but there’s also so much people there. So, that’s a no.

Joohyun shrugs, “I’m comfortable here. I don’t know why you followed me.”

Miyeon only rolls her eyes, “Because you write good English essays so naturally, I’m going to stick with you until we graduate. So I can, you know, graduate.”

Joohyun only laughs as she grabs one of the clipboards on top of the table and starts moving around the greenhouse to check if Sana is grouping the geraniums and petunias accordingly.

Each student in this school is required to join a club to, according to the handbook, expand their social circles. Tons of extra-curricular activities are available and everyone can attend to activities on their own time.

She chose this club because nobody ever volunteers for Gardening.

Everyone’s in Music, in Dance, or in Arts and Crafts. This year, there’s been a spike in enrollees under Cosmetology. So no, Joohyun isn’t going to those because there’s too many people.

You know the subject that doesn’t have many people in it?

Gardening.

You know the time that students in this school are not busy with their extra-curricular activities? It’s 2PM on Wednesdays because that’s when the beloved Baseball Team practices and being cute and awesome so naturally, almost the entire student population is watching them.

That’s why they’re here at 2:23 in the afternoon on a Wednesday, just completing their club duties in peace.

Save for Miyeon’s occasional quips about how utterly uncomfortable her gloves are, the Greenhouse remains quiet for a few minutes. That is until a fourth student makes her presence felt.

“Uhm, I’m looking for Joohyun-sunbaenim?” a small, shy voice comes in from the entrance of the Greenhouse.

They all turn to the owner of the voice and soon as Joohyun sees the student, she thinks, what are the chances?

It’s Park Chaeyoung, now more popularly known around the school as Rosé.

Still in her regular uniform, Rosé has a piece of paper at hand, looking around the room like she’s actually glad to be there.

Sana breaks the silence with a chuckle. She turns to Joohyun and teases her, “Joohyun-subaenim, that’s you. You are now a Gardening sunbaenim.”

Miyeon laughs so hard she almost falls off her chair.

Joohyun glares at her two friends, fighting the urge to laugh.

Rosé walks over to where she is in small, hurried steps. Soon as she stands face-to-face with Joohyun, she bows respectfully and smiles. “Ms. Lee asked me to come here and get you to sign these,” her hoobae says as she hands her a piece of paper. “I’ve signed up for the club. Today’s my orientation and that’s my attendance sheet. Ms. Lee can’t be here so she’s asking you to show me around.”

Joohyun stands there, partly stunned because she knows Park Chaeyoung. Everyone in the school knows who she is.

“Aren’t you in Music Club, too?”

Rosé beams, “Yes but there hasn’t been many activities there for me because the seniors are usually the one who performs lately. I thought I’d spend my time where I could be useful.”

Joohyun doesn’t know what to say. The thing is, she knows who this girl is. She remembers her from last year, when she so adorably walked into the wrong class.

The thing is, she knows exactly who she is.

“Aren’t you Seungwan’s girlfriend?” Miyeon asks, her eyes now showing interest.

Joohyun sucks in a breath, the slight mention of Seungwan shaking her ground. Seungwan. Seungwan. Seungwan.

The younger girl blushes, putting up a hand to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “I am,” she affirms, nodding with a smile. “I didn’t know people knew.”

Joohyun chuckles bitterly, “It’s a small school.”

“I am only just realizing that,” Rosé affirms with a tight-lipped smile.

“Well, I don’t know what Ms. Lee is talking about when she said I should show you around because—” Joohyun shrugs as she gestures at the whole Greenhouse, “—this is kind of it.”

Sana chimes in, “There’s a couple of beds outside. That’s where the vegetables are.”

Rosé lights up, “Really? Can I see?”

Joohyun laughs, amused at the girl’s interest in Gardening, “You actually seem interested.”

“We had a garden at home in Australia. My mom and I spent a lot of time there,” she narrates.

Joohyun nods, convinced.

“Come on, I’ll show you the vegetables,” Sana opens an invitation to which Rosé responds with an enthusiastic nod.

She turns to Joohyun, asking for permission. The older girl just nods at her before taking her pen out. She signs the paper and hands it back to Rosé. “After your little tour, make sure you help Sana sort the flowers out.”

Arasso, Joohyun-subaenim.”

.

Joohyun and Rosé will see each other at Gardening three more times after that.

In one of those instances, Seungwan drops by the greenhouse to pick her up.  She charms her way into Miyeon’s and Sana’s heart, making them laugh while Joohyun stands at the farthest end of the room, looking at the girl. Their eyes would meet and Joohyun would look away, a certain kind of pang settling permanently at the pit of her stomach.

A spot at Drama Club will open up weeks later and to this day, Joohyun still tries to convince herself that Rosé wasn’t the reason she left Gardening.

.

It’s midday and to say that Irene is exhausted would be an understatement.

She’s been filming all day—since 5:30 this morning—running around, pretend-fighting people. Her scenes included jumping off a moving car, a practiced stunt but a stunt nonetheless; had to take it nine times, too, for different camera angles. That’s just one of the many things she’s already done and it’s barely one in the afternoon.

Sitting in front of the vanity mirror inside her ample-sized trailer, she’s being made up by two of the show’s stylists. One’s working on her hair and the other is assigned to her face. She’s still in her set clothes: a pair of black pants paired with a white, tight-fit shirt, and a pair of calf-high boots. Her leather jacket is somewhere out there, discarded for the mean time.

They’ll be picking up the shoot in an hour so for now, she’s resting—a much needed break from the day it has been.

Along with her and the stylists, inside the room is Jessica. It’s a small room—just enough for a full-size vanity, a small kitchen, and a long sofa—so it’s not hard to miss how the older girl is behaving. She’s silently sitting by the long sofa just across Irene, scrolling through her phone. She hasn’t spoken much since she came in earlier—just there, existing.

She’s sad, that much Irene can tell.

See, Jessica’s always been silent. She’s intimidating. It’s as if a scowl is permanently etched on her face but she’s rarely sad. Yet, she’s here and Irene can’t help but chance a glance at her from time to time, still trying to find the right words to say to her.

Christmas passed silently.

Gone were the plans of getting together at her Mom’s home. Instead, Irene drove to Daegu alone, their Christmas festivities limited to a simple dinner and tons of wine. Their days would always end up with Tiffany’s sobs echoing inside their home, her heartbreak shattering the whole house even in its sturdiness.

Often times, Irene would lock eyes with her mom but they don’t have the answers. There are no right words to say to someone who’s going through something like that of Tiffany’s—to have your greatest love fulfilled, only to lose it.

Tiffany’s pain is obvious: her tears and her sobs; and the way she sat outside every morning even if it’s cold, hoping that Jessica’s car would pull up by the driveway and finally come home to her.

With Jessica, however, Irene has no idea. She knows that Jessica went back to the US for the holiday and spent her break with her sister in California. Then, she came back to Seoul on the first day of the new year—and now they’re here.

She’s been radio silent. No texts, no calls. No loud sobs or cries of help. She doesn’t know if Jessica sat outside her patio and waited for Tiffany. She doesn’t know about how Jessica’s really doing and that’s what bothers her.

She’s her friend, too—family, even. It breaks her heart that Jessica’s here, no signs of heartbreak, whatsoever. And it’s scary, how capable some people are of holding all that pain and sadness inside, and act like they’re not falling apart.

“Spit it out,” Jessica voices when she catches Irene stealing a glance at her through the vanity mirror.

“What?”

“You’ve been staring at me through the mirror for God knows how long—just spit it out.”

“You can’t blame me,” Irene argues, turning on her seat so she’s facing Jessica. “You sent me one text over the holidays. One.  You said, Got to Krystal’s safely. Have a lovely Christmas, Joohyun—and that’s it. No calls, no text. You didn’t even pick up when I tried to call you.”

Jessica only responds with a shrug, not feeling the need to explain.

“And now, you’re you—you’re the same old, cold Jessica and—”

“—what? Do you want me to visit your set, looking like I just called off my engagement?”

Irene squints her eyes at Jessica, trying to figure out what she’s getting at. She looks at her stylists and politely asks, “Can you give us a minute?”

The two ladies nod and bow at her as they quickly exit the trailer.

“That wasn’t necessary,” Jessica states.

Irene only sighs as she hops off the chair and walks over to where Jessica is, gently taking the seat next to her manager.

“Jess—”

Jessica shakes head, finally looking up to look Irene straight in the eyes, “Irene, don’t.”

“I’m worried about you.”

“Don’t be, I’m fine.”

“You say that but you and I know that’s not true.”

“You have no idea how I’m feeling.”

“Jess, you seem—”

“—what?” Jessica cuts her off, challenging her to find the words for whatever she thinks of this version of her.

“This isn’t you.”

Jessica makes a face, an expression with cold sarcasm. It’s as if she doesn’t even know what Irene is talking about, “What do you mean?”

“You called off your engagement with Tiffany.”

“I know.”

“How are you still here? How are you not somewhere else trying to save your relationship?”

Jessica shakes her head, “There are things you can’t fix.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Irene, let’s not do this.”

“Do what?”

“Right now, I’m your manager, okay? Do not talk to me about your sister. I’m not going to force you to pick a side.”

“Sides? This isn’t about sides. Tiffany is my sister and you’re my friend—and this isn’t right.”

Jessica smirks lazily, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Then talk to me, Jess. What happened?”

“Trust me, Irene, you don’t want to know.”

“What—”

But of course, that’s exactly the moment the universe chooses to interfere.

Jeongyeon walks in with a large backpack hung on her back, the sound of the door opening and closing interrupts their conversation. Both Irene and Jessica turn to her with different expressions: Jessica looks relieved while Irene looks like she’s ready to rip Jeongyeon a new one.

The assistant stops on her tracks, studying the two other women. She has a funny look on her face, her eyes wide in sheer confusion.

“Should I—should I just come back?”

Irene was about to say yes but Jessica beats her to it, “No, Jeongyeon. We weren’t discussing anything important.”

Irene huffs, her shoulders slacking in defeat.

Jeongyeon shuffles on her feet, walking over to where they are. She pulls one of the empty chairs nearby and sits across them.

“Did you get it?” Jessica asks.

The younger woman nods as she grabs her backpack and starts pulling out a couple of softbound documents—a bunch of screenplays, Irene recognizes—and hands each of them a copy.

“What’s this?” Irene queries, eyeing the scripts in front of her.

Jessica lifts a hand, putting two fingers up as if making a peace sign, “Two project pitches.”

Irene turns to her, “What? Are we entertaining new projects now? I’m not even done filming yet.”

Her manager nods, “I’m just giving you a copy so you can study them. I haven’t committed to anything yet.”

Sighing, the actress starts scanning through the scripts. “Not even a title?”

“They’re both in the very early stages of the production.”

“Who’s offering?”

“One’s from Netflix and the other’s from KBS.”

See, if this was in another time, a Netflix Original would’ve ultimately piqued her interest but right now, that’s not what’s got her attention.

“KBS?” she clarifies, perking on her seat.

Jessica only nods.

“When did we start entertaining more Korean projects?”

Her manager gives her a look, quirking an eyebrow as if letting Irene crack the code.

“What?” Irene asks, clueless.

“Are you telling me that given the recent developments in your life, you haven’t thought about extending your stay here?”

It takes a moment for Irene to truly grasp what Jessica is trying to say and when she finally understands—

Oh.

Irene opens her mouth to say something but no words come out.

Has it ever crossed her mind? Sure, a couple of times.

Lately, she’s been thinking about how her new relationship with Wendy would change once it’s time for her to go back to LA. It’s January and she’s set to return to the States by the end of March. With her filming schedule, there’s really not much time left.

Has she given it serious thought? Not really.

Not because she doesn’t want to but more because she knows that if she starts thinking about it, she’s going to want to stay and no—staying in Seoul is not in her plans. Heck, a few months ago, that wasn’t even an option.

But here she is, about to listen to a KBS pitch because Wendy, Wendy, Wendy.

Jessica interrupts her thought, “Should I just tell KBS not to—”

“What’s the pitch about?” she cuts the other girl off, ignoring the smug smile on her manager’s face.

The manager shakes her head gently, gesturing for Jeongyeon to discuss.

“The KBS pitch is a romcom.”

“No, no, no—” Irene cries, waving a hand as if to dismiss the idea.

“Didn’t your girlfriend say you should do more romcoms?” Jessica teases. It’s weird how Jessica could tease her without smiling. It’s kinda creepy, really.

“I don’t want to do romcoms.”

“Oh, so no disclaimer about the girlfriend part?”

“Jess!” Irene cries.

“What?”

“Stop teasing me,” Irene whines, almost close to pouting.

Jessica chuckles, “I’m not teasing you.”

“Ugh!” she groans. She turns to the assistant and urges her to continue.

The assistant nods, “It’s about a girl who gets pregnant and reaches out to an old friend because she needs to get away from her life.”

“It sounds like trash,” Irene comments.

“It’s barely a synopsis. The writer said she wouldn’t go through with the project if you won’t be onboard with it.”

“Oh?” Irene manages, surprised. “Who’s the writer?”

“Sana Minatozaki.”

Irene gasps, eyes and smile wide in sheer joy. “Oh my—”

Jessica finally cracks a smile. Here she is again, mastermind Jessica Jung playing her cards right.

“I didn’t know she writes for TV.”

“After her first two feature films, KBS got her under contract to write two TV shows. This is supposed to be her first.”

Irene takes a look at the script again, now genuinely considering it. She doesn’t want to say no to Sana but it’s a longer series and it’s shot entirely in Seoul. Plus, it’s a romcom. Those are things that—a couple of months ago—are not even up for discussion.

“You don’t have to give an answer now,” Jessica says, effectively calming her inner turmoil. “But you have to know the money looks really good.”

Irene glares at her.

Jessica just shrugs, “I’m just saying, they’re really willing to pay up.”

“Okay, okay,” Irene breathes, nodding.

Silence envelopes them for a while. Irene is trying to take this all in.

She’s only learning, just now, how things have changed; and it completely blows her mind away how one person could undo eight years of self-preservation.

She’s spent all her life, living on her own, just doing things for herself and not for anyone else.

The plan was like this: she films Russian Roulette for six months. On the side, she’s going to do some magazine shoots, have appearances on one or two variety shows. At the same time, she’s going fake-date somebody. And after six months, it’s all done.

She’s going to fly back to Los Angeles and go back to her old life. Russian will be successful. It will be all over the news and the Internet. She will get that role in that big movie and win a ton of awards.

But obviously, something happened and now—

Staying in Korea a bit longer actually doesn’t sound so bad (because Wendy, Wendy, Wendy).

“This silence tells me that the KBS offer hit a nerve.”

Irene releases a heavy, frantic breath, “Well—it’s surprisingly thoughtful of you to put it into consideration.”

“Surprisingly? I’ve spent eight years of my life trying to get great projects for you. Don’t get surprised now,” Jessica argues, the longest sentence she’s spoken since she arrived earlier.

“That’s not what I mean.”

Jessica only chuckles, turning back to Jeongyeon. “Go through the next one,” she commands.

Jeongyeon bows as she shuffles through the scripts. After a few moments of shuffling around, she reads, “Working title is Kingdom Come to be directed by Ruben Fleischer.”

“Zombieland?” Irene digs, unable to process everything she’s hearing now.

Jeongyeon nods, “Yes, it’s about five students who will get caught up in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Approximately 13 episodes.”

That’s interesting.

Irene turns to her own copy of the pilot screenplay and flips through the pitch until she finds the logline. She reads aloud, “It happens in this order: she arrives in New York. Her crush notices her. The world ends. And Mackenzie doesn’t know how to feel about it.”

Jessica laughs just hearing the complete logline.

“It sounds like a romcom,” Irene observes.

“A zombie apocalypse romcom—Irene it sounds amazing. Plus, it’s Netflix. You’ve got an audience right away. The Internet loves you.”

Irene squints at her manager, “I’m guessing I’m not Mackenzie.”

“’Course not—who names an Asian Mackenzie?”  Jessica quips. “No, Irene. You’ll be the crush.”

“Oh,” she manages. “Is Mackenzie going to be a guy?”

“Are we accepting queer roles now?” Jessica asks, an eyebrow quirked for clarification. She’s clearly interested.

Irene shrugs, “I don’t know? I just figured you’d want to do more queer roles because of my recent coming out so—”

“Irene your sexuality is not a PR stunt,” Jessica states softly.

The actress only gives her a look.

The older woman rolls her eyes, “Okay, I might’ve used it to our advantage, but you know that I will never do anything you’re uncomfortable with.”

Irene nods, believing Jessica. There’s no doubt that Jessica’s always had her back.

When the actress wouldn’t respond, her manager clears her throat and coaxes, “So? Queer roles?”

Irene lets out a sigh, “Sure.”

Jessica smiles, satisfied, “Nice.”

“You like the idea.”

“I’m all about diversifying your portfolio. And we’re done with comfortable. The uncomfortable is where great things happen.”

“Okay, Yoda.”

“You don’t even get that reference. You just heard it from Jennie.”

Irene only rolls her eyes.

Jessica smirks, “So just read up on the scripts and let me know what you think. I need your feedback in two weeks.

The actress takes a deep breath, her mind now going into overdrive. You see, it doesn’t matter which project she chooses.

Each of the choices is an uncharted territory and really, Irene isn’t very good at dealing with change.

.

“Cut!” the director yells, an exasperated sigh following shortly after.

From her place in the middle of the set, Irene releases a heavy breath as she stands up from the sitting position she was in. It’s their sixth take of the same scene without any relevant progress.

The actress looks around and notices that everyone’s looking at her. From the camera crew to the production assistants, and even the logistics people are staring at her, probably puzzled about why the hell she couldn’t fucking cry.

The scene is set inside what’s supposed to be a hotel room. Irene is still in her clothes from earlier, her body now covered with made-up bruises and a prosthetic wound lacerating down her thighs. The scene follows the end of a very long day for her character (Margaret) who, in this episode, learns about the awful truth about her parent’s death.

There’s a hollow ache in her chest, a phantom pain that visits her every time something like this comes up. There’s no escaping it and though Irene likes to think that she’s found a way around this pain, there are days when it hits really hard.

“What’s happening, Irene?” the director—Kim Yongsun, or Solar as she insists on being called—asks she approaches the actress. “Do you need to take a few minutes?”

Sighing, Irene shakes her head, “No, no, no. I can do this. I just—”

“Irene, it’s okay if this scene feels a lot for you.”

Denial seeping through her veins, Irene shakes her head frantically, “No. I’m just finding it hard to connect with Margaret right now, is all.”

From the corner of her eye, she sees Jessica standing by the far end of the room. Her manager is looking at her warily, her eyes giving away what her whole body refuses to. Her concern is obvious, perhaps because she’s the only one in this room who really gets it.

“Solar, uhm—” she clears her throat before gathering up the courage to ask. “Is crying really necessary in this scene? Can we think of another way to show her grieving?”

“’Rene, we’ve talked about this. This is the only time we’re going to see Margaret be vulnerable. I need you, right now, to make her human.”

Irene nods, fully grasping what the director is asking of her. “Can I take five, then?”

Solar nods, “Okay. We’re ahead of schedule, anyway.”

“Thank you.”

“Irene, you got this, okay?”

“Yeah,” she drawls out, forcing a smile.

Solar responds with a sympathetic smile before she turns to the rest of the crew and announces, “Let’s take 15, everyone!”

The crew sort-of moves and shuffles around, each person moving on with a task at hand. Solar walks back to her chair in front of the monitors and gets back to studying the script.

Irene, meanwhile, slowly makes her way toward Jessica.

“Rough day, huh?” the manager muses soon as Irene is within earshot.

The actress only shakes her head, letting out a heavy breath. “I don’t know what’s happening,” she states, her eyes finding the middle of the set, trying to figure out why she can’t act this scene out properly.

With her history, you’d think that Margaret’s backstory would be a piece of cake to act out but it’s proving to be one the hardest scenes she’s ever had to film.

“I need a drink,” Irene grumbled, frustration now truly settling in.

As they walk back to Irene’s trailer, Jeongyeon catches up behind them.

“I got an update from Wendy, Ms. Jung. She’s pulling up by the parking lot as we speak.”

The mention of the doctor’s name ultimately stops Irene on her tracks.  She turns to Jessica pointedly as if asking for an explanation. Wendy’s not supposed to do a set visit today.

Jessica chuckles, amused at the way Irene just reacted, “What?”

“Why is Wendy here?” Irene asks. Not that she minds—in fact, she’s feeling absolutely delighted.

“I need her to sign something. She’s collecting her payment for this month so I asked her to come here.”

Oh.

Right.

They’re still fake-dating.

When Irene wouldn’t say anything, Jessica urges her to continue walking toward the trailer. “I know this all feels like a honeymoon right now but you can’t forget we’re still working on something here.”

Irene’s insides start to churn.

It’s a cold, bitter reminder at no matter how great this situation is, it still all started with a lie.

.

Back inside her trailer, it doesn’t take long before a production assistant knocks on the door and yells, “You’ve a set visit, Ms. Bae.”

Irene beams, her smile reaching her eyes.

She stands from her place on the long sofa and hurries to the door, completely losing her resolve to maintain a cold, stoic image. Fuck that—she hasn’t seen Wendy in over a week. No one can blame her for this enthusiasm.

The actress pulls the door open and soon as she does, she sees Wendy walking toward her with a smile on her face. The girl is looking cozy in jeans, white t-shirt, and a pair of heeled calf-boots with a black, full-length puffer jacket hugging all of her. There’s a red, oversized bag hung on her shoulder and it’s that red bag that makes it so… her.

How is it possible that one person could have this effect on her? Her day is suddenly brighter, her heart now full. Forget everything that’s happened today.

Wendy is here and that’s all that matters.

Wendy, Wendy, Wendy.

Soon as the doctor makes it to her, Joohyun opens the door wider while her other arm welcomes Wendy in for a quick hug.

“Hey,” Wendy breathes as she accepts the hug, one arm snaking around Joohyun’s waist.

The actress shakes for a bit, recognizing how intimate it is. She responds by landing a quick kiss on the woman’s cheek, feeling Wendy relax to her touch.

It’s only when Joohyun realizes just how much she missed her. This hits her so sudden that when Wendy pulls away from their hug, Joohyun freezes. She stands there, her eyes fixed on the doctor as if taking her all in.

Joohyun tries to memorize her face, the way she gazes back at her softly, her smile from earlier still plastered on her face. For a moment, the actress wonders if this is what it’s like to truly like someone; if this is what it’s like to fall.

“Joohyun,” she hears Wendy’s call her attention and that’s all it takes for her to snap out of her trance.

“Yeah?”

“You okay?”

Joohyun nods, smiling, “Yeah, I’m just glad to see you.”

Wendy actually blushes, a hint of red now coloring her cheeks as she ducks her head slightly, “Sap.”

Feeling confident now, Joohyun winks, “A cute one?”

The doctor chuckles, “Definitely.”

They both laugh at their own flirting, for a few seconds existing in their own little bubble. Joohyun feels her heart flutter. Up until this day, she didn’t know it was possible to melt under someone’s gaze.

See, Irene’s not particularly religious but she throws in a prayer just in case—help me, God. Wendy, Wendy, Wendy.

“Aish!” Jessica grumbles, and just like that, the bubble is popped. “I’d say get a room but we’re filming so—”

“Shut up, Jess,” Joohyun rolls her eyes as she grabs Wendy by the wrist and gently drags her further inside the trailer.

The manager stands up, gesturing at Jeongyeon to follow suit. “We’re gonna grab some coffee and get the documents from my car, enjoy your alone time while it lasts.”

There’s a certain tone of grim in her voice that sounds like a warning for something bigger—as if Jessica knows something she doesn’t—but for now, Joohyun chooses to ignore it. She’s probably just imagining it.

Jessica and Jeongyeon are gone in a matter of seconds which leaves Joohyun and Wendy alone.

The doctor looks around as she places her bag on the sofa, “So this is where the magic happens.”

Joohyun shakes her head, walking to the sofa and takes a seat. “No, the magic happens on the set. I just sleep here.”

“Oh, like an on-call room?” Wendy asks, shrugging out of her jacket and then takes the seat next to Joohyun.

“Yup.”

Silence embraces them for a couple of moments, both women just taking each other in, both acknowledging that Wendy is in Irene’s world right now, a place she hasn’t been to before and something about it feels big.

It isn’t like when she visited the photoshoot or the first time they met at Jessica’s office. This one is different because Wendy is visiting Irene’s filming set holding the actress’ heart in her hands. She’s here, on the very first few days of the new year, not as Irene’s fake-girlfriend but as Joohyun’s someone.

The silence drags on for what feels like forever until Wendy scoots closer to Joohyun and takes her hand, wrapping it in both of hers as she brings it up to her lips to kiss it slowly and gently.

“I missed you,” Wendy whispers softly, her warm lips sending an electric sensation all over Joohyun’s body.

“Me too,” Irene breathes, equally as soft, afraid to break whatever’s building up between them.

It’s sweet, intense, and altogether unnerving how Wendy just manages to make Joohyun’s insides churn. It’s like that feeling on the first day of school when she met Seungwan for the first time but this one feels more real, hungrier—the taste of wanting when you already know what it feels like.  

Butterflies? No.

Somersaults? No.

For now, Joohyun cannot exactly tell what. But maybe, she doesn’t need to name it just yet.

“Can I kiss you?” Joohyun asks, a bit awkward but she had to. She can’t just sit there and not kiss Wendy.

The other girl chuckles, shuffling on her seat so she’s facing Joohyun, “So polite—” the doctor cuts her own sentence off, lounging forward to kiss Joohyun on the lips.

Their lips brush softly and delicately like butterfly wings. There are noises in Joohyun’s head, previously loud and condescending, now being silenced by the way Wendy is kissing her. There are words she knows they’re supposed to say but as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

Joohyun’s heart is racing, her heart being moved by two forces: fear and excitement—because things are changing and this kiss holds all the evidences to show how far they’ve come. And Joohyun’s always been terrible with change, always feeling the need to run because she can’t stand around and watch her world burn to the ground.

But happiness soon effaces the two other feelings and suddenly, there’s warmth in the places where her heart once stood cold and abandoned. Years of grieving and abandonment issues now being confronted by this gentle force that tells her: you’re not a tragedy.

For a few moments there, Joohyun absolutely, completely believes it.

I am not a tragedy.

Wendy deepens the kiss further and Joohyun willingly responds, pulling the girl by the hips to bring her closer, their breaths shallow in exhilaration.

They kiss like that for a couple more seconds and with each moment that passes by, Joohyun finds herself wanting more. She wants to tug the other girl impossibly closer, feel her heart throbbing against chest. She wants to kiss her like she’s never been kissed before, erase memories of past lovers, of pain that doesn’t know how to heal.

She wants more and more—so it’s her who breaks the kiss, pulling her lips away from the other girl.

Out of breath, Joohyun forces a shaky a smile as she puts their foreheads together, “If we don’t stop now, I won’t be able to.”

Wendy nods, heaving, “I understand.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Wendy puts a quick, chaste kiss on her lips before she fully backs away, smiling to herself. She uses one hand to brush through her slightly ruffled hair and uses the other to straighten up her clothes. But her smile remains intact and it makes Joohyun smile, too.

“What are you smiling about?”

How do you recover from that?

“That’s definitely the highlight of my day,” Wendy giggles. “You are the highlight of my day.”

“Cheesy,” Joohyun remarks. “How was work, by the way?” she asks, now just realizing that Wendy is in the same clothes in the picture she sent yesterday when she said she’s heading for work.

“Long,” Wendy replies, sinking on her seat. “Sixteen long hours.”

“You could’ve just rescheduled with Jess, you know.”

Joohyun stands up as she heads over to the small fridge on the other side of the room.

“I wanted to see you,” Wendy admits, casually bearing her heart out for Joohyun to see.

The actress only smiles to herself as she grabs a bottle of soda from the fridge and hands it to Wendy. “Your lines are getting old, Wan. Where do you even get them?” she teases.

The doctor points to her heart, “From here.”

“Yah!”

They both laugh at the greasiness of it, both women just enjoying each other’s company.

After a few moments, Wendy breaks the ice, “Is Tiffany back in Seoul?”

The actress nods, “Yeah, she got back yesterday but she’s staying at Sooyoung-unnie’s house.”

“That’s good. Might take her mind off things if she’s not alone,” Wendy comments, popping the bottle of soda open.

“Yeah, I’ll try to drop by when my schedule clears up.”

“How’s the other lovebird doing?”

“Not any better. She wouldn’t talk to me.”

Like Lord Voldemort who gets summoned when you speak his name, the other lovebird walks back in with Jeongyeon in tow. She has two cups of coffee in her hands and passes one to Joohyun. “They’re re-lighting the set so you’ve got ten more minutes,” she tells her and the actress responds with a grin.

Jessica turns to Wendy, “You done getting your lady kisses on?”

“Jess!” Joohyun scolds her manager, her eyes wide. Scandalized.

Jeongyeon chokes on air, her face red as she tries to keep her composure.

However, the doctor only laughs at Jessica’s question, scooting closer to Irene to make space for the older girl, “Not gonna dignify that with an answer.”

Jessica rolls her eyes, “I didn’t get you coffee. You look like you need sleep.”

“I do—I mean, it’s not like I was up all night saving lives.”

Jessica only smirked, a sign that she’s impressed by the comeback. “I’m surprised you made it here  today.”

Joohyun takes this chance to stand and take a seat on the chair by her vanity mirror, physically distancing herself from Wendy because hey, she’s not clingy!

Yes, she is. But she can’t let Wendy see that. What if she—

“This is literally the only time I can see you this week without having to switch shifts with another doctor,” Wendy explains.

“Uh-hmm,” Jessica nods as she gestures to Jeongyeon.

Like clockwork, the assistant reaches for her bag, takes out a brown envelope and hands it to Jessica. Jessica then pulls out a couple of sheets of paper from the envelope and gives it to Wendy.

“What? No small talk?” Wendy jokes, chuckling as she takes the documents from Jessica.

“You want me to treat you like a baby?” Jessica bites back.

“Not the one who needs to be baby-d,” the doctor implies, taking a pen out from her bag. “You look horrible,” she remarks playfully, not looking up from the documents and starts signing each page.

“That bag is hideous,” Jessica tries but her tone lacks the venom.

Joohyun and Jeongyeon only watch them. It’s a weird friendship (?), really, but it’s the first time today that Jessica looked like she’s up for talking.

The Wendy Son Effect, Joohyun guesses.

Wendy laughs as she hands the signed papers back to the manager, “Funny you say that because—” she pauses as she reaches inside her bag and pulls out a bottle of wine. “—this hideous bag just carried a gift for you.”

It happens so fast—all of it.

One moment, Wendy and Jessica are in the middle of a playful banter and the next minute, the doctor is actually breaking through the manager’s walls. Joohyun knows Wendy is capable of doing this to people but to see it happen right in front of her?

That shit is breathtaking.

Jessica’s eyes dart back and forth between the wine and Wendy’s face, waiting for a punchline whatsoever. But Wendy trudges through.

“You can take it home with you or we can drink it together,” she offers, now donning a nice, genuine smile.

Joohyun sees the moment it hits Jessica what the doctor is really offering: company, friendship, a shoulder to cry on if she wants to.

Jessica rolls her eyes, “I’m at work.”

“No, you’re not. She—” Wendy points at Joohyun, “—is at work. You’re just sitting here.”

“That’s my job,” Jessica quips. She takes a piece of paper—a check—from the envelope and hands it to Wendy. “You can go now, you know. I don’t have time for this.”

Wendy shrugs, using her hand that’s not holding the wine to take the check and slide it in her bag. She then takes grabs Jessica’s arm and forces the bottle into her hand. “Well, I have time today. So, we’re drinking.”

The doctor then turns to Jeongyeon, “Do you want to drink?”

“I can’t,” the assistant responds, shaking her head and making little gestures with her hands.

Jeongyeon gestures between her and Jessica, “We have a deal. I can’t drink if she drinks and vice-versa. Someone has to drive the other home.”

“Oh,” Wendy manages. “That’s a very thoughtful deal.”

The assistant only nods before she stands, “I’ll get you ladies some glasses.”

“Thank you.”

There’s just silence again and Joohyun uses that moment to observe the two women in front of her. One’s a stone-cold, seemingly heartless woman who’s hurting in ways Joohyun couldn’t even imagine. She hides it well, years of practice making it believable each time.

Then, there’s Wendy: all smiles and warmth, easing her way into the darkness of Jessica’s feelings. Wendy’s a literal sunshine, a breath of fresh air—

“Fine,” Jessica concedes, her shoulders slacking in defeat. “I’ll drink with you.”

—and maybe, that’s exactly what Jessica needs.

“Yey!”

Joohuyn only smiles, thinking how lucky she is to have this girl in her life.

Wendy. Wendy. Wendy.

.

Irene walks back to the set with a slight smile on her face, her chest swelling with lightness. She’s feeling a bit better now, ready to walk back in and try again.

“Sometimes, all it takes is one person, yeah?” Jeongyeon remarks with a teasing grin plastered on her face. The taller woman is walking next to her, matching her pace perfectly.

The actress merely responds with a smile, tucking some stray hair behind her ear.

“Dr. Son called Ms. Jung a lot during the break,” the other girl reveals.

 “Really?”

The assistant nods, “Ms. Jung called me once and said she’s turning her phone off because an annoying smurf keeps calling her. I figured it was Dr. Son because after she shut her phone off, Ms. Jung’s email started blowing up.”

Irene laughs, her fondness growing further for this annoying smurf.

“She was sending inspirational quotes and links to songs about getting over a heartbreak,” Jeongyeon laughingly recalls.

“Oh my God,” she breathes laughingly. “Did Jess see them or even acknowledge them at all?”

“She might have listened to a couple of songs or two.”

“That’s amazing,” Irene gushes.

It prompts the actress to think of how, despite rendering a 16-hour shift at the hospital, Wendy still managed to drop by today. Of course, there’s the wanting to see Irene but there’s also wanting to be there for Jessica no matter how many times the older girl tries to resist it. She’s relentless.

But soon as these thoughts settle in, soon as her whole body and mind start rejoicing at the fact that she has this girl in her life, certain doubts start to plague her mind.

This is too good to be true. Wendy is too good to be true.

Wendy is good-hearted, pure, and full of sunshine. Wendy doesn’t deserve to get pulled into this mess. Wendy deserves someone who doesn’t run, someone who doesn’t bear the weight of the world on her shoulders.

Wendy deserves better and Irene is convinced that she doesn’t fit that criteria.

Irene tries to drown these thoughts away, tries to convince herself that maybe there’s a universe where she deserves Wendy, tries to convince herself that this is that universe.

She tries to keep her hopes up though, the first time in a long time that she’d done her best to believe, to fight her demons.

But that’s the thing about the demons under our bed, they’re almost always there.

.

They reach the set just in time. She notices the minute difference in the lighting setup. It’s a bit more somber now, the actress secretly commending the wise directorial decision.

Solar approaches her and carefully asks, “You feelin’ okay?”

“I’m feeling better,” she replies. “I’m really sorry about earlier—”

“—shh,” the director dismisses her worries. “You were obviously uncomfortable and really, I empathize, it’s just that this job has a way of making you numb to the things you’re uncomfortable with.”

“I’ve never done a scene like this.”

Solar turns to her, eyes wide in surprise. Her reaction doesn’t faze Irene. It is surprising. She’s been in the industry eight years and not one crying scene about her dead parents? Imagine the hoops Jessica had to go through to make sure her scripts were free of that.

“I know,” she validates Solar’s surprise. “It’s just that scenes like this hit some very specific things in my past that’s still sore up to this day, so…”

“Irene, I—I’m—”

“No, I mean—” she stutters. She chuckles bitterly, “We tried convincing the network to take this part out of the script. But you know, something’s gotta give.”

Solar is speechless, that much is obvious. Perhaps, she’s pieced it together and she’s only now just learning why this scene is particularly hard for Irene.

The surprise is Irene’s fault. The truth is nobody in this industry knows what happened to her parents. Heck, none of her friends do.

Only Jessica and Tiffany know what really happened and has fought tooth and nail all these years to keep her parents out of media talk. Everyone else has assumptions but Irene never confirmed nor denied everything. Even with Solar just now, she wasn’t very specific.

Irene has decided long ago that it’s better if she kept this private, afraid that if they knew, they’d ask—and if they ask, she’s gonna have to relive that day again.

“I don’t know what to say,” Solar laments.

The actress shakes her head sadly, “You don’t have to say anything. I just thought you should know. Since I was able to run from this type of scene for as long as I’ve been in the industry, I never really had to explain to anyone. But now I’m here and I have no choice.”

She accentuates this admission with a forced laugh, hoping it would make it all go away.

“I see you, Irene. Thank you for telling me,” the director smiles. After a few beats, Solar speaks up again, “Did you know what when Britney Spears filmed the iconic diamond-clad body suit scene in the music video of Toxic, the only other person in the room was the director? It was literally just Britney and the director who were left in the room.”

“What?” Irene puzzled, totally not understanding what’s Britney got to do with all of this.

Solar, enthusiastic, expounds, “It was a real see-through diamond suit and she was almost naked so the director wanted to make the set comfortable for her.”

It takes a moment for Irene to fully process what Solar is saying and when she does—

“No, no, no Solar. I appreciate it but there’s no need,” she beseeches. “I—I was uncomfortable but I’m willing to try again now. I don’t want the staff to think that—”

“Irene the uncomfortable I was talking about was tight-fit superhero costumes, or wigs, or kissing scenes not heartbreaks. Not childhood traumas.”

“Solar, I—I’m thankful, really. But I don’t want you all to adjust because I’m here with a sob story and being a crybaby. I’m uncomfortable but I’m gonna get through it. I’ve spent eight years of my career skipping these scenes, I think it’s about time I suck it up.”

The director chuckles gently, “Irene, we’re not cutting the scene off. You’re not skipping anything. Millions of viewers will still see you shred your heart out in this cut but here, today? I have power to make this easier for you. You trusted me with that truth, I’m going to take care of it—even if that means sending the whole crew to a break and operating the camera by myself.”

Irene is speechless—honestly, how many times are people going to surprise her today?

She’s heard of Solar, has heard of the many great works she’s done and how loved she is by the people she works with. Irene has high expectations coming in but nothing could’ve prepared for this.

When she wouldn’t say anything, Solar continues, “It takes time but at some point, you’ll realize that speaking about your discomfort can do wonders. Maybe somebody’s listening. Maybe they’re willing to move heaven and earth for you.”

She thinks about Jessica and Tiffany.

The director smiles one last time before grabbing her megaphone and starts yelling out instructions. She tells the crew to have a break and then says something about converting the scene into a single-camera setup.

As everyone starts to clear out to leave just her and Solar, she decides she has powers, too.

.

And boy does she use this power right away.

Soon as she gets the chance during a short, five-minute break, she grabs her phone and punches a text to Tiffany.

Can you hook me up with a real estate agent? I need a really good one.

Tiffany’s response is quick. Like a real estate agent here in Seoul?

Anticipation bubbling up at the pit of her stomach, she responds quickly. Yes.

I’m sure Sooyoung knows some people. What for?

Biting her bottom lip, she takes a deep breath. This is probably not a good idea but—Wendy, Wendy, Wendy.

I’m thinking of buying a building.

.

LATER THAT NIGHT
Parking Lot

“Are you sure you can drive?” Irene asks for what feels like the nth time.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Wendy affirms as she loads Irene’s bags on the trunk of her car. Soon as she’s done, she shuts the compartment door down and gives the actress a grin. “You ready?”

Irene only squints at the girl, trying to examine her. She just went on a full drinking session with Jessica. How is Jessica completely wasted to the point that Jeongyeon had to drive her home—and Wendy seems fine?

The doctor laughs, “Oh, come on.”

She rounds the car until she’s standing by the passenger side. She pulls the door open and gestures for Irene to get in.

Chivalry, it seems, is not dead.

“I barely got anything to drink,” Wendy claims. “I had one half-a-glass and then Jessica finished the rest of the drink.”

“You promise?”

“I promise,” she swears. “Now, come on. It’s getting real late. What would our fans think if they found out I can’t even drive you home on time?”

Irene only chuckles as she hops in the car. Wendy shuts the door gently and skips her way around the car and into the driver’s seat.

They stay quiet as Wendy starts the car, the engine revving silently as they speed away from the filming location.

“You have a nice car,” Irene commends. “Expensive.”

Irene usually doesn’t pay attention to such trivial things but it’s a really nice car. How many broke doctors do you see driving around a luxury sedan? It’s the ones you usually see in k-dramas when the oppas are rich. It’s not the latest model, probably a few years old but it’s obvious that it’s been well-taken care of.

“It’s an old model.”

The actress rolls her eyes good-naturedly, “Saying it’s an old model doesn’t eliminate the fact that’s it’s top-of-the-line Lexus.”

Wendy manages a soft smile, as if she just recalled a fond memory, “I got this as part of my dad’s last will. Jongin and Naeun wanted to keep it but I fought them on it.”

“Your Dad has taste.”

The doctor laughs softly, “That, he has. Joy used to tease me that while she I seem to take mostly off my Dad, she wonders where that taste went.”

Irene laughs heartily, “You’re not so bad”

“Oh, how can I have bad taste when I’m dating you.”

“Yah!”

They both burst into laughs at that, effectively breaking the unexplainable tension building up in Irene’s chest.

What follows is comfortable silence as Wendy turns the music on. She keeps the volume down, the sound of a ballad love song being drowned out by both the traffic of the city and the silence between them.

Their silence feels tentative, the events of the day now weighing heavy on the actress’ shoulders.

She was able to do the scene successfully. It took her four takes and tons of encouragement from Solar but they got their perfect shot: Margaret crying her heart out and grieving the death of her parents. She thinks it’s amazing how she could act out something she isn’t sure she’s already done.

Grieve? Maybe.

Repress? Most likely.

Or maybe, she’s just really (really!) good at her job.

“You okay?” Wendy asks, the car coming to a halt as they approach a red light. The other girl turns to her softly, her eyes just exuding warmth and support: two things that, a couple of months ago, were something Joohyun didn’t even dare to dream of.

“Yeah, just processing,” she replies, letting out a breath.

“Tough day?”

“I’ve had worse,” she downplays it like a pro.

The light turns to green and Wendy sets the car into motion again, her eyes focused on the road in front of her.

“What do you do when you have a long day?”

Joohyun thinks it through, “Hmm… I…” okay, wow that’s a tough question to answer on the spot, “Sleep?”

Wendy chuckles, “We all sleep at the end of a long day. I meant, what do you do to alleviate all that stress?”

“Ah,” she manages. “I put on a warm bath and listen to music.”

“How posh.”

This makes the actress laugh, “What about you?”

“I bake and then I send them all to Yerim’s house,” she cackles. “Then, she sells it to her classmates.”

Irene bobs her head, impressed, “That kid is going places.”

“I don’t doubt that for a second but hey! The pastries have gotten good reviews, too. So credits to me, too.”

“Wow, she’s pretty, she’s smart, and she bakes. How am I dating you again?”

“I’m—what? The first one you said—I’m…” Wendy banters playfully.

Irene only rolls her eyes, “Don’t let it get to your head.”

Reminiscent from their conversation weeks ago, Wendy says, “Oh, it’s already there.”

Laughter once again envelopes them and with each second that passes, Irene feels lighter. She starts to have hope that maybe, she can chase away the demons under her bed.

Something warm and light swells in her chest. It’s blooming the way flowers do during springtime. It’s an unfamiliar feeling but all the ways still very, very welcome.

They drive for a few more minutes, exchanging stories about their day. It’s nice and it’s a welcome change, to have somebody ask her about her day and be really interested to listen. The boys she’s dated only asked for the heck of it but Wendy listens.

She wants to get to know Irene’s world, wants to be a part of it. And it shakes Irene a bit because how—what in the world did she do to deserve someone like her.

The wheels turning in her head must’ve been so obvious because a couple of moments later, Wendy says, “You’re in your head again, aren’t you?”

“Hmm? No, I—” she tries to find the words to say but gives up mid-sentence because this is Wendy she’s talking to. She’s safe.

It’s okay, Joohyun.

“It’s okay, Hyun,” Wendy tells her. “You can tell me what you’re thinking if you want to.”

They’re driving by the highway now, cars speeding past them like time is running out. It seems like the entire world is in a hurry. But see, all Joohyun wants is to stay here in this car, next to Wendy, for as long as she can.

“I just—have you ever had a good thing happen to you and you just,” she stutters, “—your mind just refuses to believe it?”

“I can’t say I relate but go on,” Wendy encourages gently. She keeps her eyes on the road but her hand crosses the space between them to grab Joohyun’s hand, giving it a squeeze and never letting it go.

“I don’t know,” she starts, her hand absent-mindedly making its move to lace their fingers together. “Today was amazing, you know. It started off really rough but then things started to go my way and part of me—I always feel guilty when I feel—when I feel…”

She struggles to get the words out but in true Wendy fashion, she fills it with words as if she can read Joohyun’s mind.

“Happy?”

“Yeah, that,” she responds simply. “It’s almost like I’m uncomfortable of being… that. A lot of people have said again and again that I deserve to be that but I don’t know. I don’t know if I believe that and I’m so scared that this feeling is never gonna go away.”

This is the first time she’s ever been this honest to herself, and to anyone.

Wendy listens intently as Joohyun pours her heart out. Her driving has slowed down a bit, taking the outside lane to keep pace.

She continues, “I’ve always felt like the good things are just a set-up for the bad things. Like the universe gives you the good stuff just to take it from you in the end.”

“Did you feel that a lot today?”

“Yeah.”

“Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?”

Irene huffs smilingly, “You’re the good thing that happened to me today.”

At this admission, Wendy tries to keep a straight face. She really, really tries but the smile breaking out from her lips is unstoppable.

Irene shakes her head, “You’re infuriating.”

“What?” Wendy acts innocent. “Irene Bae, star of numerous blockbuster films, just said that I, Wendy Son—a peasant—made her day. How did you want me to react?”

“I don’t know? Properly?”

“That’s a proper reaction, I smiled!”

“You’re teasing me.”

All of a sudden, Wendy’s expression changes. She gets that look in her face when she’s about to do something really, really spontaneous. “You mind if we take a little detour?”

“What is it this time?”

“I know I said our fans might get mad at me for keeping you out this late but I think they’d let this slide.”

“Where are we going?”

“Do you trust me?”

“That’s not an answer to my question.”

“Do you trust me, Bae Joohyun?”

It doesn’t take Joohyun long to answer, “Yes, Ms. Son. I trust you.”

“Then, that’s all that matters.”

.

Ten minutes later, Irene finds herself by the sidewalk of a long bridge standing above the Han River right in the middle of the city. The entire bridge is lit, shining in the brightest of yellows as its light reflects off the quiet murmur of the river below them.

Their car is parked nearby, its hazard lights blinking rapidly to warn the cars passing by them.

It’s cold, making them both shiver under their layers of clothing but the brittle weather doesn’t take away the fact that it’s a beautiful sight to see. The whole city lights up far away from where they are, its brightness embracing the unfathomable darkness of the body of water it surrounds.

Behind them, cars are speeding past, honking occasionally at the car that’s poorly parked on the side.

“Is it even legal to stop the car here?” Joohyun asks, her voice a notch louder to make sure Wendy hears her voice above the noise surrounding them.

“I don’t know,” Wendy responds, shrugging. “I’ve always gone here on foot.”

“We might get caught!”

“We might.”

“That’s not very comforting.”

Wendy giggles as she takes Joohyun’s hand and leads her to the railings. They lean on it as they gaze at the view in front of them.

“Joy, Chanyeol, and I used to go here when we were younger,” Wendy narrates. “We would scream at the top of our lungs about the stupid things that made us upset and I just thought I’d bring you here.”

“This is very cheesy and also very irresponsible.”

“Yes, but science has also proven that screaming makes you feel better. Dr. Arthur Janov invented the Primal Scream Therapy back in the 1960s. It allows you to face your repressed feelings from a past trauma and access it in a safe and healthy way.”

Something about that whole speech just feels so… Wendy.

“You’re not my therapist.”

“I’m not but I care a whole lot about you and I’m not doing this as a psychotherapy. This is me telling you that healing’s a long and excruciating process. It doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen as soon as your foot lands on the city you’ve ran away from for so long. It doesn’t happen soon as you kiss the girl you’ve always wanted to kiss,” Wendy accentuates it with a playful wink before she continues, “—but you gotta listen carefully to the way you’re healing.”

Wendy takes a long deep breath as she turns to the vastness of the river in front of them. She puts her hands on the railings and leans on it heavily as she screams, “Suck it, Nurse Eum!”

It’s loud and it’s funny, and the sound is gone as quickly as it came about. It’s as if Han River swallowed it whole and kept it so deep that it’s no longer allowed to hurt her.

Giggling, Wendy turns back to her and Joohyun watches in awe as Wendy’s face lights up with something unexplainable. From this proximity, it’s easy to see the way she’s changed. But her smile is the same: still unwavering, still warm and sincere.

“You have to give your healing a space to do its work. Give yourself the room to feel grief when you feel like it but you gotta give yourself the permission to feel joy when those rare moments call on you.”

Joohyun feels tears prick at her eyes, moved by the words Wendy is telling her.

“I don’t know how much you’ve lost but I know you’ve lost a lot and maybe, that’s why you’re skeptic. Maybe that’s why you refuse to believe the good things when they happen and that’s okay. It’s normal to feel this way. But you’ve trusted me enough to tell me things I’m sure you’ve never told anyone and that only means that you’re making progress. You are starting to trust people around you. You’ve let Joy, Chanyeol, Seohyun, and Yerim into your life so much so that you spent Christmas Eve with them. That’s also progress.”

As the doctor lists all the obvious signs of her progress, Joohyun starts seeing it, too. Other people have been telling her similar things all her life but there’s something about Wendy that makes her believe it.

Wendy has always had a way of finding good and believing in light despite the all the darkness she’s seen. And maybe that’s what affects Joohyun the most: the pure magic of her undying hope.

“It’s okay to have negative thoughts about the progress you are making. It’s okay to be a little uncomfortable. Growing up is uncomfortable but that’s the only way you can tell that you’re moving towards something. So be patient with yourself and let your strength take you where it can. Your pain is not a prison, Joohyun. You can’t let it cage you forever.”

Tears are falling down her cheeks before she realizes it. She feels brave, brazen. “That night at Red Flavor, when you kissed me for the first time,” she starts and sees Wendy’s expression soften, “—why did you kiss me?”

Without a beat, Wendy replies, “The same reason I just randomly brought you here: if something calls on me, I answer. It was bursting out of my chest and I had to set it free. I believe that the universe has mysterious ways of pulling you to where you exactly need to go. All you need to do is let it.”

“What does that even mean?”

“That I wanted to kiss you since the first time I met you,” she admits, honest and brave. “I never had that chance until that night at Red Flavor. I wasn’t gonna let it go.”

Despite herself, Joohyun smiles. She lifts up a hand to wipe her tears off her cheeks. “You’re something else, Seungwan.”

Wendy merely grins as leans in and gives Joohyun a kiss on the cheek, “Now, scream.”

Joohyun nods as the turns to the river, her hand grasping the railings. She takes in a breath, deep and heavy. She doesn’t know what words to say. There are no words for everything that she’s feeling. But she lets Wendy anchor her as she sails through it, allowing the girl’s bravery to affect her.

Courage bangs in her chest, calling on her, and so she listens, “You can this, Joohyun! You can do this!”

It’s loud and it’s out there, and Joohyun hopes that the universe is listening.

“Suck it, Nurse Eum!” Wendy screams again.

“You can do this, Joohyun!”

They end up in fits of laughter and Joohyun once again feels tears brim at her eyes. This time it’s not sorrow. It’s not grief. It’s the feeling you get when you realize that you’re on to something real; when you finally get ahold of something you’ve never even dared to dream of.

Joohyun thinks she’s on her way to believing.

Fake-dating Son Seungwan could just be the beginning and end of everything.

/

Chapter Text

/

If you ask him, Jongin wouldn’t exactly say that running a multi-million-dollar hospital is his dream. It’s not.

Did he always want to be a doctor? Sure. But did he want to become the Chairman and CEO of the largest hospital in all of South Korea? No. Not really.

His dream is to build a wing in their hospital dedicated to a free clinic for those who cannot afford extended healthcare. That was the dream he used to have with his siblings. It’s something the three of them had in common: a drive to do something bigger than themselves.

Naeun and Seungwan used to have stars in their eyes just thinking about the lives they could change with this clinic. But that was then.

And this is now.

Right now, the only thing he wants to do is decently follow the footsteps of his late father. He knows those are big shoes to fill and he knows he can never measure to the man that he was, let alone the doctor that he was but Jongin tries.

He likes to believe he tries hard enough.

“Good morning, Sir,” he hears the familiar voice of his assistant, respectfully greeting him from her place behind her desk just outside his office. She’s much older than him, worked for her father for 12 years until he passed. And now, she’s walking Jongin through a world she probably knows better than him. “Your sister is already waiting inside your office.”

He stops in his tracks just a step shy of the door of his own office, using this time to take a deep breath. Naeun’s surprise vists are rarely pleasant. It’s either she has bad news or she’s there just to piss him off. Right now, he prefers neither.

“Bring me my usual coffee and get Naeun some tea,” he tells her and she nods immediately, shuffling on her feet to do what she was told.

Jongin pushes the door open and instantly sees Naeun sitting by the lounge area of his huge office, her legs crossed and her eyes focused on whatever she’s looking at on her phone.

“I heard you got your ass whooped at yesterday’s board meeting,” she opens, a teasing smile gracing her lips as she looks up at him.

“Good morning to you, too,” he acknowledges her as he walks over to where she is, taking the seat across her.

As he settles on his seat, he realizes that it’s the first time he’s ever sat on this part of the room. From this sofa lounge, he could see the entire room: the workspace where his desk is, a small conference area good for about 5 to 10 people, the pantry that’s unobtrusively tucked into the corner, and the sliding door that leads to the bathroom and his walk-in closet.

He looks around and takes this chance to admire his father’s knack for interior design. The black-and-white furniture are bold statements that standout against the dark, custom wood-paneled walls. It’s both plush and masculine, accented by the use of warm wood paired with leather and soft carpets.

The big, floor-to-ceiling windows illuminate the whole room and sometimes, Jongin still thinks there’s not enough light to brighten up a room that makes profit off on other people’s suffering but that’s just life, right?

“Do you know why I’m here?” his younger sister asks, an infuriating smirk plastered on her face.

“To bitch about me getting my ass whooped at the board meeting yesterday?”

She gasps dramatically, feigning ignorance, “I would never.”

He lets out a heavy sigh, “Whatever, why are you here?”

“If I didn’t have a surgery scheduled in an hour, I’d beat around the bush but you know—doctors like me, we gotta do surgeries,” she says, sarcasm sharp on her tongue like it’s her sport. It’s a dig on him, about how he barely steps into the OR anymore.

He’s a doctor, too—but he can’t save lives and run a hospital at the same time. Does he like it? He’s not sure. Not that his opinion matters.

“I’m here to talk about Seungwan,” she states.

“You’re always only here to talk about Seungwan.”

She purses her lips and bobs her head in agreement, “True.”

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he tells her, running a hand through his hair. “I’ve done my best to talk her into coming back, she doesn’t want to.”

“No, you didn’t do your best,” she counters. “You reached out to her twice and called it a day—our dog did better than that.”

Jongin doesn’t say anything, couldn’t think of the proper way to respond to that.

Naeun has always been tactless. The fact that Jongin is older than her doesn’t even bother her. He thinks Naeun’s where Seungwan got her grit.

Naeun takes his silence as a way to continue, “Manen sat outside her room for a week, waiting for her to come out. You called her once and tried talking to her during Dad’s awarding and then nothing—that’s not your best.”

“I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Her birthday is coming up and I’m personally going to try to get her not to sign.”

Ah, that. How could he forget?

See, this is how it is: buried six feet under, their father is still controlling their lives.

As part of his father’s private will, the Son siblings all got their respective inheritance: money, real estate, investments, and of course, their own percentage of hospital shares.

Seungwan predictably got the most hospital shares of them all which means that when their father died, the youngest Son became largest shareholder of the hospital. It means that if it all went according plan, Seungwan would actually be in Jongin’s seat: Chairman and CEO of Asan Medical Center, the rightful heiress of the Son medical empire.

But Seungwan also predictably didn’t accept this.

She distributed her 25% to both Jongin and Naeun who both originally got just 10% each.

Ridiculous? Absolutely.

Who—in their right mind—would give 25% shares of the largest hospital in the country to somebody who’s still in medical school, to somebody who’s still figuring her life out?

Jongin still feels bitter sometimes, his pride bruised because everyone expected it to be him but his father had other plans.

On the other hand though, both him and Naeun weren’t even surprised. Not really.

Seungwan has always been their father’s favorite and if Jongin’s going to be completely honest, Seungwan is the smartest of them all. Seungwan has the brain—and the heart—to run this hospital but she was also very young when their father passed.

What really surprised them though is that their father knew exactly that this was going to happen and his private will was ready for it.

There’s a clause in his will that states that if Seungwan decides to transfer her shares within three years from the time she officially got it, she will have to sign a document—every year—that authorizes this transfer.

This document has to be signed on her birthday, every year, until she turns 30. In any case she changes her mind before she turns 30-years-old and refuses to sign the transfer documents, then those shares are still hers.

So, in theory, Jongin and Naeun are just temporary keepers of the shares. They’re still Seungwan’s if she decides not to sign the transfer documents on her birthday.

This was their father’s way of making sure that Seungwan gets to really think about walking away from this family.

They’re not perfect, far from it actually, but family is still family (and business is still business). The Sons just wouldn’t go down without a fight.

“Have it your way,” he tells her, completely giving up on the possibility that it’s going to be him who brings Seungwan back to them. “I doubt it would make any difference.”

Naeun shrugs, “I gotta try. I might be your last chance to save this family, older brother.”

“If you manage to do so, maybe you should run this hospital.”

“Oh, no,” she shakes her head dismissively, truly and absolutely disgusted by the idea. “I’m fine with saying I own this hospital like, that’s a true badass thing to say. But to run it? Oh boy—that’s not my cup of tea.”

“It’s not for everyone,” he concurs.

“That’s what the Board would say,” Naeun jests, quirking an eyebrow for emphasis.

At this, Jongin had to mentally restrain himself from walking out. It’s a jab at his current state as the Chairman and CEO, a big punch in the face about his performance.

There’s been an unrest with the board members in the last two years: with them being unimpressed of his executive decisions. This—plus the fact that he was never really the one his father entrusted the hospital with—puts the family in such a dangerous strife.

How could the board trust someone whose own father didn’t even trust enough in the first place? He could die trying but he will never be good enough for them.

Jongin’s advisors are convinced that the board is planning to stage a coup, to band together to oust him. If all the board members commit to that, they’ll be speaking for the majority of the shareholders—which means they’ll succeed in ousting him; which means their family will lose control of their own hospital.

Which means he would fail his father.

He swallows a non-existent lump in his throat, looking away from his younger sister but his eyes find his executive desk in the middle of the room.

For a moment, his mind wanders.

He imagines his father, prim and proper, sitting proudly on his seat, his experience and achievements signified the by the lines on his face. He’s always been well-dressed and he carried himself with class and tact. He was quite the man, quite the doctor, and Jongin knows he’s never going to be half the person that he was.

Then his mind shifts to true heir of that seat.

For a brief moment, he pictures Seungwan in that same spot, slightly terrified but all the ways still holding her head up high as she claims what’s supposed to be hers. She would’ve been the youngest Chairman and CEO in the history of hospital empires.

As he entertains these thoughts, all the more he feels like he doesn’t belong.

It’s been four years since he assumed the position and sometimes, the board members still look like they’re waiting for the universe to announce that it’s been a prank all along—that the legendary Chairman Son Jinho was just out for a few years playing golf.

“We need to get Seungwan back,” Naeun reiterates, this time more seriously. She knows her comment struck a cord.

Jongin knows she means well. She’s all tough love but it’s still love nonetheless.

Plus, it’s true.

Reconciling with the youngest Son will bring the Board’s trust back. Getting Seungwan not to sign the transfer document just might be their last lifeline.

“I think I’ve gone past the point with Seungwan where she could forgive me,” he concludes wearily.

“You know what I think?”

Jongin only gives her a look, willing her to continue.

She smiles, “I think you’re severely underestimating Seungwan’s capability to forgive.”

That stops him for a bit, suddenly reminded of her sister’s heart—how she’s the only human out of all of them. Perhaps it’s the reason their father trusted her the most: as noble and as melodramatic as it may seem, Seungwan’s heart is always in the right place.

“Well, we’re about to find that out sooner or later.”

Naeun squints her eyes at him, “What do you mean?”

“Ms. Hwang wants to buy out my shares at CSY Entertainment.”

Naeun processes for a few seconds—it’s been a while since they last talked about this, since they last spoke of this name. When it hits her, she gasps, “As in Tiffany Young?”

Jongin only nods and let’s silence stay afloat between them.

Amidst the silence, his assistant enters the room, serves them both a mug, and then leaves them just as quickly. It’s as if she knew they needed to be left alone.

Naeun continues to stare at him, her eyes wide in pure shock. “Why?” she asks, her voiced laced with caution.

“Her girlfriend found out about the deal and now, she wants to correct her mistakes.”

The woman only stares at him, completely and utterly flabbergasted. Naeun being speechless almost never happens but when it does, it means it’s big. It means it could be something devastating.

“Her girlfriend—you mean, Jessica Jung?”

“Yes, her,” he confirms.

They both don’t say anything for a couple of moments.

Both Jongin and Naeun know the infamous Jessica Jung. They both know how ruthless she is—how absolutely firm she is with her morals. They know because they’ve done a background check long ago.

They both know that if there’s someone who can break this case open, it would be her.

Now, they’re here and there’s absolutely no stopping it.

“It won’t be long until Seungwan finds out,” he voices out what he knows they’re both thinking.

“Fuck,” she manages, releasing a heavy breath. “What are you planning to do?”

“I don’t care about my shares at CSY. It’s small. Ms. Hwang is only buying it to keep me out of the company. What I want to know is what she’s planning to do after.”

“You think she’ll tell Joohyun?”

Jongin shakes his head, “I don’t think she’s that brave.”

“Ms. Jung, then. What about her?”

“That one’s a different monster,” he reckons. “I’m convinced that the only reason she didn’t tell them right away is because Joohyun and Seungwan are dating now, for real.”

Naeun chuckles, “Someone’s subscribed to Dispatch.”

“Seungwan’s private detail are working very hard.”

“That’s still happening? I thought you were gonna stop after she graduated Med school?”

“She will always be a Son no matter how far away she tries to run from home. She’s one of the richest people in this country, her life is always in danger.”

Naeun nods, impressed, “My, my—number one: you supported Omma with disowning her. Number two: you’ve been lying to her for eight years. And number three: you’ve been following her around with private security. You’re really giving Omma a run for her money at the top of the Seungwan’s Most Hated Persons list.”

“All done with pure intentions at heart,” is all he says. He doesn’t feel the need to defend his actions to her. She knows he loves their youngest sister. Maybe he had questionable ways of showing it but it’s still love nonetheless.

“You think the end justifies the means?”

“I don’t know, Naeun, but I think good intentions have to count.”

Naeun only shakes her head as she stands up and pats him on the head, “You tell yourself that, brother. Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

Her sister leaves and as the door shuts behind her, Jongin thinks that maybe—just maybe—the endgame is here.

.

Saturdays are crazy.

Imagine you’re on the way home after a long day at school and it starts to rain. You realize you didn’t bring an umbrella so you try to run to the nearest shed you can find. But it’s an open road and there’s no establishments nearby. So, you just run and run until a car passes by and splashes you with water from a deep puddle.

You finally reach home, your clothes and school things wet from the rain—and then the sun comes out.

Imagine all that stress and multiply it by ten: that’s how crazy Saturdays are.

“I can’t believe this is happening again,” Wendy hears Chief Kim Taeyeon say from a few feet away.

She’s in hour nine of her 16-hour shift and is just stepping out from one of the on-call rooms after a short nap. She’s walking back toward the ER when she spots Sejeong, Jisoo, Dr. Im, and the Chief huddled near the ER’s Bulletin Board discussing what looks like an announcement sheet.

“What did they give me?” she hears Sejeong ask as she approaches them.

“You got four-point-two,” Jisoo tells her, her eyes trained on the sheet of paper.

“Out of 10?”

“Out of 10,” Yoona confirms—to which Sejeong responds with a gasp.

“That’s mean,” she comments, and then proceeds to pull out a cookie from the pocket of her lab coat. Sejeong with food is always a sight to see.

Wendy approaches them, a look of confusion drawn on her face—whatever’s on that announcement sheet is surely interesting. “What are we looking at?” she asks when she reaches the group.

Sejeong turns to her and immediately beams, extending her hand with the half-eaten cookie as if to offer a bite. Wendy only shakes her head smilingly, turning down the offer.

“It’s about time she joined us,” Yoona quips playfully as they all turn to her.

Wendy immediately bows to them all respectfully, secretly bitter because they’ve all just come in looking fresh and ready for the day. Meanwhile, there she is looking like garbage in her probably already stinky light blue scrubs and her rumpled white coat.

The Chief turns back to the bulletin board and unpins the sheet of paper they were looking at earlier. “This—” she starts, “—is every doctor’s nightmare.”

They all start walking down the hallway as Chief Kim hands her the white sheet of paper.

Wendy takes a look at the paper: GRADING DOCTORS FROM THE SURGICAL DEPARTMENT

What?

She continues reading and below the title, she sees a list of the names of all the doctors within their department with a set of numbers next to their names. By the bottom left of the paper reads: BY THE NURSES OF SEVERANCE MEDICAL CENTER

Wait… is this what she thinks this is?

She’s only heard of this from Naeun’s stories.

Chief Kim inevitably gives light to her wonders, “Every year, this paper comes up in every department bulletin in the hospital and no one knows who posts them. What everybody knows—because when you’re the Chief, people talk—is that the nurses complete an online survey at the end of every year, to rate their experiences of working with the doctors.”

They turn a corner, all five of them striding down the hall with the Chief leading them. Well, she, Sejeong, Dr. Im, and the Chief are striding—can’t say the same for Jisoo who’s half-running behind them because she walks so slow.

Dr. Im then completes the puzzle, “The numbers you see there are the doctor’s average rating based on four categories: Intelligence, Know-How, Cooperation, and Potential.”

Confused, Wendy clarifies, “Cooperation?”

“How easy you are to work with,” Chief Kim explains. “A lot of doctors dread that list because you all know that if the nurses don’t think you’re good, they won’t respect you and sometimes, it shows.”

“Oh, okay,” she nods, finally getting it. A secret sucker for validation, her eyes instantly look for her name and there it is.

SON WENDY (General Surgery) – 5.2

“Five-point-two?” she gasps quietly. What the fuck does that mean?

“I got a four-point-two,” Sejeong tells her, seemingly unbothered.

Wendy’s eyes immediately scan for her colleagues’ names.

KIM, JISOO (Cardiothoratic Surgery) – 4.3
KIM, SEJEONG (Neurosurgery) – 4.2
KIM TAEYEON (Chief of Surgery) – 8.9
IM YOONA (Head of Trauma) – 9.2

She thinks the ratings for Dr. Im and the Chief are quite fair.

Chief Kim is undoubtedly a master of her specialty but she’s stubborn and decisive—and sometimes, she can be incredibly difficult to work with. Dr. Im, on the other hand, is not only a great surgeon but she’s also very easy to work with.

What she doesn’t get though, are the ratings for Jisoo and Sejeong who, she knows, are both skilled and unproblematic to work with.

Also—what the fuck is up with her rating? Who did this?

She turns to Sejeong, who has another whole cookie in her hand, and asks, “How are you taking this lightly?”

Sejeong only shrugs, “I’ve been here two months. They haven’t seen me recite the periodic table in one breath.”

They all laugh at that, momentarily breaking the tension that was slowly building up because of the list.

She then turns to Jisoo as if to ask how she feels about it but the other doctor beats her to it by giving her a look.

“What?” Jisoo asks, followed by an exasperated sigh.

“How do you feel about the list?”

“It’s a list, Wendy,” she dismisses. “You can’t please everybody.”

“Damn right,” the Chief cheers.

If Sejeong and Jisoo aren’t bothered by it, then maybe she shouldn’t be this worked out, too—but 5.2?

She releases a breath, trying to get over the rating she got. Breathe, Wendy. Breathe.

They continue to walk toward the ER—the list in her hand now slightly crumpled at the edges by how hard she’s grasping at it.

She takes a look at it again.

Intelligence. Know-How. Cooperation. Potential.

Four categories and she didn’t even score a six?

Sure, she’s not perfect—she’s an intern for God’s sakes—but 5.2?

FIVE.

POINT.

TWO.

Wendy was about to say something again, perhaps to protest, when Dr. Im’s phone rings. By look on her face when she sees who’s calling, Wendy concludes right away that it’s the Emergency Front Desk.

The older woman takes the call, gives an affirmative response, and the next thing she knows—

Dr. Im stops on her tracks and turns to all of them, “A number of Category 2 trauma patients are coming in, multiple-vehicle collision.”

Shit.

It’s as if on queue, they all run toward the emergency room.

As they reach The Pit, a nurse runs toward Chief Kim to give her a rundown on what they can expect. Simultaneously, they head toward the Personal Protective Gear section, take off their white coats, and start putting up everything they need for days like this: the yellow surgical gown, a face mask, and a pair of gloves.

Wendy reaches out to the pocket of her scrubs and pulls out her surgical cap—the one Irene gave her—and feels at ease for the briefest of seconds. She’s reminded of the girl’s smile and that gives her comfort.

However, real life catches up just as quickly and the next thing she knows, she’s out by the ER’s ambulance bay, waiting for the patients to arrive.

As she puts the surgical cap on and ties the strings behind her head, she could hear the sirens wailing from afar. It’s hour nine of her 16-hour shift and it looks like she’s in for quite a ride.

Have I already said that I hate Saturdays?

I hate Saturdays.

.

Loud and blaring, the sound of the ambulance overpowers everything else as it pulls up by the driveway of the ER.

Sejeong and The Chief run toward the first case, meeting the medic just in time as they push the ambulance doors open.

“Unidentified male, dragged by a truck,” Wendy hears the medic recite as they roll down the gurney from the ambulance. She tries to peek at the patient from where she’s standing but she couldn’t see much from all the medic, doctors, and nurses surrounding the gurney.

She can’t move from her spot. The next case is coming up very soon and she could be on it. All she can do is listen.

“He’s clamped down so we can’t intubate,” the same medic tells the doctors.

One look and The Chief says, “The skull’s bashed in.” She looks at Sejeong, “This is going to take a while, kid.”

From what little she could see, Wendy is sure that aside from a severe trauma to the head, the patient’s face is also injured to the point that he’s unrecognizable.

“Didn’t the truck stop when they hit him?” The Chief asks, now assisting on rolling the patient gently inside the emergency room.

“Driver didn’t know until he was halfway down the block,” he replies. “This guy saved a kid who was crossing the street on a green light. Other cars tried to avoid them and that’s why all the crash happened.”

The Chief nods and continues to pat down the patient’s body to check for obvious injuries. After a few seconds, just before they get to the door, she tells the nurse next to her, “Page Ortho, we might be looking at a severe avulsion injury to the left forearm.”

“Right away, Doc.”

The first case is gone soon as it got in but not even five minutes later, the next ambulance comes in.

This time, it’s Dr. Im who runs toward it but before she can completely disappear into her case, she turns to Jisoo and gestures to Wendy with her fingers, “She’s yours for the next case.”

“Okay, Dr. Im,” Jisoo nods and then turns to Wendy. “A 5.2 and 4.3 working together, what’s the worst that could happen?”

The older woman smirks as she concludes her sentence and Wendy hasn’t quite yet processed how to feel about it.

Kim Jisoo delivering a well-timed self-deprecating joke? That’s not her brand.

Before she could respond, Wendy overhears Dr. Im’s case: an 11-year-old boy with obvious head injuries, no airway, subcu emphysema­—if he doesn’t get intubated and operated on in the next hour, he will die.

Wendy sucks in a deep breath as her eyes follow the boy being wheeled into the ER, followed by Dr. Im who instantly fires quick questions at the medic about the boy’s condition.

Jisoo and Wendy stand there in the middle of chaos, three nurses behind them, just waiting for the next case to come in.

“I think I deserved at least a six,” Wendy says out of nowhere, finding no other words to say.

“Now, Wendy? Really?” Jisoo quips, looking at Wendy begrudgingly.

“I’m just saying—"

“—choose something else to talk about,” the resident tells her dismissively, intent on changing the topic.

Wendy realizes in that moment that maybe, the list means more to Jisoo than she admits. It’s a survey answered by the very people they work with everyday. It has to mean something.

Dr. Kim Jisoo, one of the most brilliant doctors in this hospital, got a 4.3 in her third year as a resident. What future awaits Wendy and Sejeong, then?

She wanted to ask Jisoo another question but another case rolls in quickly, the loud sound of the sirens disrupting whatever Wendy was trying to process in her head.

Jisoo runs toward the ambulance. “What do we got?” she asks the medics as they pull the gurney out of the ambulance.

“This is SunHee, she’s 16,” the male medic tells them, eyes darting between the two doctors. “Her sister tried to avoid the other cars in the pile up but ended up losing control of the steering wheel.”

“Where’s the sister?” the resident asks, pulling her stethoscope out to check on the patient’s chest area.

“She refused transport but is on her way now with a passerby.”

Compared to the two other cases that rolled in, this one seems milder. Except from her bandaged right arm, she doesn’t have other severe injuries. No signs of trauma to the head or the face. No obvious injuries on the legs either. She’s also awake, so that’s a very good sign.

“Vitals are good but she broke her right arm and maybe a couple of ribs.”

Oof—now that maybe is where the trouble is.

Jisoo nods as she gestures to the general direction of the ER, “Let’s get her to Bed Three.”

As they assist the patient inside the room, Wendy tries to assess the patient’s situation. It’s very common for car accident victims to get injuries to their arms or legs. Her arm is really swollen so she probably has a radius and ulna fracture, probably from using her forearm to shield herself from hitting the dashboard.

Really, compared to the two other cases, Wendy would say she got lucky.

.

“Dr. Son, do an initial assessment,” Jisoo tells her, or should we say Dr. Kim because she’s being very, very serious right now. Moments like this remind her that she’s in a teaching hospital and no matter how casual she is with Jisoo, she’s still—technically—her boss.

It’s also in this moment does she realize that this is the first time she’s working with Jisoo on a trauma case.

She’s scrubbed in with her before on a coronary artery bypass graft surgery (or cabbage as what most doctors would call it) but that one’s a very different environment than this one.

Dr. Im always tells her that trauma surgeries always reveal a doctor’s character and this case, in lieu of The List™, just might be a revelation she didn’t see coming.

Wendy only nods, proceeding to pat the patient down by her abdominal area. After a few seconds, she notices that the abdomen seems okay, “Abdomen is soft.”

“Is—is that a good thing?” the teenager asks, struggling to get her words out.

“Yes, it is,” Wendy assures her, an encouraging smile gracing her lips.

General assessment always looks for internal injuries, something hidden. You can usually tell that by the tenderness on certain parts of the body but this time, it seems that her abdomen, liver, and spleen are out of danger.

One of the nurses assisting them—of course the forever Hashtgag TeamWendy Park Jisung—then recites his observation. “BP is 85 over 60. It’s been dropping,” he says, his voice laced with urgency and concern.

Dr. Kim takes the patient’s hand and then places the back of her hand on the neck, “She seems cold to me.”

“Yeah, she seems pale,” Wendy agrees.

Her blood pressure is dropping. She’s pale and cold to the touch. These are all indicative of an internal bleeding that may lead to hemorrhagic shock. These are all very, very bad signs.

“My chest hurts so bad,” the patient grunts in discomfort.

“Is it worse when you take a deep breath?” Dr. Kim asks.

“Yeah, it’s way worse.”

Dr. Kim turns to Nurse Park and tells him, “Get me a portable chest x-ray STAT and then order a full set of CT scans and a urinalysis.”

“On it,” he nods and then runs off to do everything he’s tasked to do.

As he disappears, another male nurse comes up to them. “Dr. Kim, you’re needed on Bed Thirteen for a consult.”

“Sure, sure,” she croaks. She then turns to Wendy, “Monitor her BP and page me soon as those scans are up.”

“Yes, Dr. Kim,” she acknowledges, releasing a breath she didn’t know she was holding.

“And calm down. You can’t be Wendy the Head Nurse Slayer if you’re not thinking on your feet,” Dr. Kim tells her with a slight laugh before she follows the other nurse to Bed 13.

Wendy smiles a bit, that’s the Jisoo she knows.

.

Thirty-minutes pass by and the scans are still not up.

Wendy looks around and finds the whole ER busy. Doctors you wouldn’t normally see in the ER are here assisting, too, which tells you that this is definitely no ordinary day.

After her patient came in, there were five more patients that needed help. Sejeong, Dr. Im, and the Chief are headed to surgery now, their cases being the most severe and life-threatening out of all the patients that were brought here.

Now waiting by the Nurses’ Station, and now free of the surgical gown, Wendy fishes her phone from the pocket of her scrub top, and checks her messages one-by-one.

There are messages from Irene that were sent early this morning; messages she wasn’t able to respond to because—well, she’s got a bit of a situation here.

Good morning, SONshine.

Get it? SONshine? Because your last name is Son?

Okay, well ignore me all you want. L

I’m kidding. Have good day at work. It’s a beautiful day to save lives.

No matter how hard she tries to conceal it, she smiles—no, she beams. She re-reads the messages over and over but still couldn’t, for the life of her, believe that she’s actually dating this girl—a kind, beautiful girl who makes Grey’s Anatomy references on the regular.

Maybe, she fought a war and saved an entire nation in her past life. No way anybody gets this lucky for no reason at all.

She starts typing her reply. Crazy, crazy day at work, sweetheart.

She types—and then immediately deletes it. Sweetheart? What is this, the 80s?

She begins with a new message. Crazy day at work, Hyun. (Well, that’s better, Wendy.) Sorry, I wasn’t able to respond to your messages. And wow, SONshine? How clever. Nobody’s ever thought of that before in the history of the world. (There, that’s more like Wendy.)

She hits send and then types a message again.

It’s a beautiful day to save lives, indeed. But not as beautiful as you. ;)

Bam!

Case closed!

Son Wendy did it again!

She laughs to herself at her own punchline, imagining just how Irene would absolutely hate it and love it at the same time.

“You’re smiling on a day when we have a lot of trauma patients at the same time,” a voice interrupts her thoughts—Sejeong. “Doctors are really psychopaths.”

“You’re back?” Wendy asks, puzzled because she’s supposed to be headed for a surgery with The Chief now.

“I am,” she says with an enthusiastic smile. She’s out of her surgical gown and is now just in her scrubs. In one hand, predictably, is a cupcake.

Wendy doesn’t even question it anymore.

“I mean, aren’t you supposed to be on surgery with The Chief?”

“Ah—yeah, we can’t operate,” she says casually. “He has severe cardiac trauma so he needs to get that sorted out first before we operate on his brain injury.”

“What kind of cardiac trauma?”

Sejeong takes a bite of her cupcake and then responds, “Suspected aortic transection after the detection of a mediastinal hematoma.”

The mortality rate of that condition is low. Oh God.

“They’ve called in a specialist from Samsung Medical. They’re prepping the OR now for a bloodless aortic transection.”

Wendy gasps, “Bloodless—what?”

How is she missing this? That’s rare—probably never happened in the history of this hospital ever. Why isn’t she in the gallery to watch this miracle happen?

“Have I mentioned that he’s a Jehova’s Witness so we can’t give him blood?”

“Aish—Sejeong-ah! That’s the information you just happened to forget?”

Sejeong grins, “Sorry?”

“Aish!” she huffs in frustration. Why does Sejeong always gets the nice cases?

“Aw—you’re pouting.”

Wendy rolls her eyes, “Shut up.”

“For what it’s worth—I think you deserved at least a six.”

Oh, right—The List™.

“It doesn’t bother me at all,” she states dismissively. “It’s a list.”

Sejeong only looks at her as if she knows something Wendy doesn’t.

“What?” Wendy confronts.

“Nothing.”

“Say it.”

“I’m not saying anything.”

“You’re thinking of saying something.”

Sejeong shoves the rest of the cupcake into her mouth and shakes her head frantically. She then stands hastily and fetches her phone from her pocket. “Oh—look at that—” she says, barely audible because of the food in her mouth, “I got paged—”

She then scurries away from Wendy and disappears out of the ER.

“Her phone didn’t even make a sound. Idiot,” she whispers under breath as she slacks on her seat in defeat.

 The List™ doesn’t bother her.

Of course not.

No, it doesn’t bother her at all.

.

A few more minutes pass and this time, Wendy is done waiting.

She stands up, about to follow-up with the scans when somebody approaches her: ChoHee, SunHee’s older sister.

“Doctor Son, is my sister okay?”

“ChoHee, hello—I’m sorry you’ve been waiting a while. I was just about to get up and follow-up with her scans.”

The younger girl nods, out of breath, “It wasn’t my fault. I was careful—we—"she stammers, “—we were wearing seatbelts, I—”

“ChoHee,” she calls and gently steps closer to the girl, “—you need to calm down, okay? Her vitals are stable so we have room to find out what’s going on.”

The other girl just nods again but this time, Wendy notices that she’s heaving and sweating. She quickly takes a once-over and finds no wounds or scars, or any obvious injuries.

“ChoHee, are you okay?”

A certain feeling creeps up Wendy’s spine—she’s got a really bad feeling about this.

“I—I’m okay,” ChoHee assures her. “I—I just want to know—” and the next thing Wendy knows, ChoHee is falling into her unconscious.

“Somebody help!” Wendy screams as she tries to keep both of them from falling down, supporting the much-taller girl’s full weight as she slowly lowers them both to the ground.

Nurses rush toward them with urgency.

As they load her up the gurney and bring her to the closest bed, Wendy gets a feeling that her day really has just started.

.

Soon as ChooHee’s body is settled on the bed and two nurses are assisting them with the routine, Wendy asks for a scissor and immediately cuts up the patient’s shirt.

Dr. Kim appears by her side just in time and soon as they see what’s underneath her shirt, they all gasp in shock.

“Oh, God,” Dr. Kim lets out a panicked breath, her eyes trained on the patient’s upper body.

Her abdomen is covered in bruises but it’s her chest area that worries Wendy the most. You can barely see the true color of her skin with the bruising that has formed just above her breasts.

She turns to Jisoo and sees her frozen in place, eyes wide and her hands are shaking.

“Dr. Kim?” she calls for her, intent to snap her out of her thoughts.

The other doctor doesn’t respond. ChoHee might not have a lot of time left.

Wendy takes a deep breath and tries to recall everything she knows and everything she’s read about injuries like this.

After a few seconds, she grabs her stethoscope and gently puts it over ChoHee’s chest, listening for anything that may clue her in. The signs are there—the bruising, her shortness of breath, and the fainting.

It points her to a lung injury, probably a pneumothorax: a puncture to the lung that can cause it to collapse.

Feeling a sense of urgency, she turns to one of the nurses—completely forgetting that she’s not really the one in-charge here—“Hook her up to the monitors. I need an ABI, a CBC, CMP, urinalysis, and a portable chest x-ray.”

Wendy recites it one breath, so fast and precise that for a moment, all the nurses freeze on their place, turning to Jisoo for approval.

Oh, right.

“Dr. Kim?” one of the nurses tries to call on her.

“What?”

“Are Dr. Son’s orders approved?”

Wendy sees Jisoo swallow, her eyes now showing nothing but uncertainty. “Dr. Kim, I’m looking at lung injury.”

“Do—do we need to intubate?” the other doctor asks, her eyes steady on Wendy as if she has all the answers. Jisoo trusts her. That’s a start.

She shakes her head, “No. Her airway is clear.”

“Okay—go get Dr. Son everything she ordered.”

One of the nurses shifts of her feet and runs to order all the tests Wendy requested.

“I’ll just—I’ll step outside—and just, uhm—” she stutters. “Page me when you have her scans,” she says and then walks out of the ER.

Wendy follows her with her eyes as she completely disappears in the midst of the crowd.

She’s known Jisoo for almost a year now. She’s always been strong, always knows what to do, and always so resilient. Wendy has seen her lose a patient or two but she has always come back stronger than ever, always willing to do better each and every time.

Something’s up with her and no, Wendy isn’t going to let her go through it alone.

.

Wendy runs through the hallways of the ER floor to find Jisoo. She fails.

She checks the ambulance bay, no sign of her. She even tries the back part of the ER where the old medical supplies are but to no avail.

With how slow Jisoo walks, you’d think it’s easy to catch up with her but that doesn’t seem to be the case now.

Wendy is out of breath by the time she gets back to ER hallway, consciously looking around her and hoping to find her friend.

Jisoo froze.

On a high-alert medical case, she froze. Just by the way she acted around the patient when it became obvious that she’s in danger, it’s easy to make this conclusion. But Wendy doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand it.

This is so unlike her.

Still confused and with no answers, Wendy makes the decision to head back to the ER. ChoHee’s scans will be up soon and she, at least, has to be there to hold down the fort.

She hurries, her steps quick and urgent. With situations like this, time is very important.

Turning the corner, she bumps into The Chief who immediately backs away to avoid worsening the impact.

“Hey, slow down,” The Chief tells her, giving her an incredulous look.

“Hi, Chief,” she bows respectfully, her breath short and fast.

“Why are you running?”

“I have to get back to my patient.”

“Sung ChoHee?”

Wendy nods.

“Her scans won’t be up for ten more minutes, chill,” she attempts to calm her down and only then does Wendy realize how out of breath she is. She’s nearing the end of her shift, which means she’s been here for almost 16 hours, just trying to be the best doctor she can be.

AND THEY HAD THE GALL TO GIVE ME A FIVE-POINT-TWO?

“I—” she heaves, “I was looking for Dr. Kim. She stepped out and I’m worried about her.”

The Chief bobs her head to the side, as if inviting Wendy to go to a certain direction, “Walk with me.”

“What?”

“Dr. Kim is going to be fine. She needs her space. Come on,” she invites as she starts walking to the other direction. “They restocked the ER vending machines. I’m looking to score on the banana milk.”

Wendy doesn’t respond, her mind going a hundred miles a minute. She thinks of Jisoo. She thinks of SunHee. She thinks of ChoHee. She thinks of how she could help them all and right now, she feels absolutely helpless.

“How are you feeling?” The Chief asks as they reach the vending machines at the end of the hall. She immediately pulls out a bill and starts making her purchase.

Away from the ER, this place is eerily quiet. It is next to the fire exit and away from the floor lobby. How come she never frequents this place?

There are unused gurneys parked in front of the vending machines and soon as The Chief gets her purchases from the Pick-Up Box at the bottom of the vendo, she walks over to the one of the gurneys and sits on it.

She’s a bit tiny so her feet dangle in air and The Chief swings it for effect. The older doctor pats the spot next to her, inviting Wendy to sit next to her. Though hesitant, Wendy follows suit and hops in on the gurney, feeling her body start to settle down.

“I’m okay,” she answers the question, quite unsure of her own words. It feels like a lie now that the weight of the day is starting to reign on her.

“Here,” The Chief hands her one of the two boxes of banana milk she bought. “Have some.”

“I—”

“I insist.”

“I—okay,” Wendy caves in. She takes the drink from the other doctor and pulls the straw from the back of the pack. She punches the straw into the box and starts sipping on the drink.

“Jisoo is the only doctor here now that didn’t have a shiny recommendation letter coming in,” she shares. “We weren’t exactly looking for new Interns that year but she went up to me while I was having my lunch at the cafeteria and told me, I want to be an Intern in your Surgical Department, Dr. Kim.

This makes Wendy smile. She didn’t know this.

“She had already been accepted to several other programs but this is the only place she wanted to work at. I grew suspicious because it was kind of stalkery, really—so I asked her how she knew me. She said she researched and found out I’m the Interim Chief of Surgery. I asked again how she knew when I was gonna have my lunch and she said, ‘I didn’t—I waited out here and hoped for the best.’”

Wendy instantly softens, the thought of Jisoo waiting in the cafeteria without any assurance that she was gonna come across the person she’s looking for.

When she doesn’t say anything, The Chief continues, “Unlike majority of the doctors in this country, Jisoo came from a poor family, worked her ass off to get a full ride at Seoul University and had to work while studying so she can afford the dorms. When I asked her, ‘What if I don’t accept your application?’, she said, ‘Then I will come back next year and try again.’”

“That’s so—her.”

The Chief nods, “Jisoo is tough, brilliant as hell. But she has been working her ass off since Med school. A list like that could shatter a person’s confidence. Imagine working that hard all your life and still not meet everyone’s expectations.”

Oh.

“I see,” Wendy realizes. “That list—it’s mean.”

“It is,” The Chief agrees, a sad smile painting on her lips. “But every job comes with things we don’t like. Sometimes, you just gotta suck it up.”

Wendy chuckles bitterly, not meaning to but it comes out anyway.

“What?” the older woman asks with a smirk.

Wendy shrugs, “Can I speak to you honestly?”

“By all means.”

“I think it’s easy for you to say because you got an 8.9,” she states, trying her best to sound nice.

“That’s true but I didn’t just wake up one day and got that rating. I worked hard for it.”

Understandable. Of course, she’s the legendary Dr. Kim Taeyeon. How am I even questioning this?

“I—I know, I get it,” Wendy concedes.

“Do you?”

Wendy turns to her, confused, “Do I what?”

“Get it?”

“Uhm—”

“—how do you feel about the list?”

The younger doctor shrugs, nonchalant, “It doesn’t bother me.”

Chief Kim raises an eyebrow, “Really?”

Wendy just shakes her head, looking everywhere but The Chief.

She uses this moment to asses her own feelings about it.

If you think about it, she never really got the chance to process it. Since learning about The List™, she has been running around to tend to her patients and do other tasks that other doctors told her to do.

In fact, since yesterday, she hasn’t sat by herself to think about anything at all because Fridays and Saturdays are the worst days to be assigned to the ER. But she shows up every damn time, welcoming all the challenges they’ve thrown at her with open arms.

She has been working her ass off since they accepted her as an Intern. She hasn’t stopped studying, never slacked off even just for one minute for the last 11 months.

So how does she feels about The List™? She absolutely fucking loathes it.

Wendy releases a breath she didn’t realize she was holding, releases the firm grip she’s had on the bedding beneath her.

Finding no words for everything she’s feeling, she doesn’t say anything. Maybe, Chief Kim will drop the subject. Maybe, somebody will page her and let her walk away from this conversation with her dignity still intact.

“Naeun and I were from the same class,” Chief Kim reveals when Wendy wouldn’t say anything. It makes Wendy turn to her so fast, it might have given her whiplash.

The Chief chuckles at Wendy’s reaction, “I was the nobody from Jeonju and she was the hotshot from a very known family. I beat her in every class we had together. Not that she was lazy. She works very hard but I was just smarter, faster, and everyone rooted for me. Short story—”

“—she hated you.”

The Chief nods, “For the first two years, she did. But she never once talked ill of me, never once confronted me. I think she respected me.”

Wendy keeps her eyes trained on the other doctor and sees her smile a bit, as if recalling a fond memory.

“On our third year, I noticed how Naeun stayed longer at the labs. She rendered extra hours at the library. She took extra work from our teachers. She overworked herself. Still—I beat her, in every subject, every program, every procedure. I was better than her. It was when we were in fourth year did she confront me.”

“What did she say?”

“She said—I’m going to hire you someday as the Chief of my own hospital.”

Wendy laughs, thinking just how in-character that is for Naeun.

“That’s when I realized what’s going on,” she says and then turns to Wendy, “I see it in you everyday.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re second in the list of interns in the history of this department with the most number of hours spent at the labs. Twice every week, I see you practicing different suturing techniques on the skin of a banana. When you’re not running the ER, you’re out there, watching medical documentaries and reading new journals. You started studying last December for a drill set in March,” a pause, “You do all of these things because you think you need to prove something.”

Wendy shakes her head, denial seeping in, “That’s not—”

“I’m not saying you do not want to get better because I think you do. I think you’re very dedicated to your work. I just think that having that last name makes you feel like you have to be the best all the time.”

To that—Wendy doesn’t have an answer. She doesn’t say anything. Instead, she looks away from The Chief and tries to keep her emotions at bay.

“Coming from a family that powerful can make everyone think like everything’s been handed to you so your tendency is to overcompensate. You overwork yourself so you don’t get labelled as a slacker. You go for the number one spot everytime to prove everyone that you’re more than your last name. You try to be more and more so they know you belong here.”

“I—” she sucks in a breath, not really knowing how to react to all of these.

“I’m not going to say that the list means nothing. It’s coming from the people we work with everyday so it’s something that might be worth looking at. I’m saying that you don’t have to beat yourself up for it.”

“It doesn’t bother me,” Wendy maintains. “I think I’m more disappointed of myself than I am upset at the nurses. I just—I don’t know—”

“We hold certain expectations of ourselves,” Chief Kim says, her voice warm and sincere. “We have a list in our head of things we want to do or achieve and when we don’t accomplish these things, we think of ourselves as failures. When we don’t reach our personal standards, we jump to the conclusion that we didn’t do our best.”

Wendy doesn’t have words for the way she’s feeling.

No one has ever spoken to her this way, managing to calm her anxieties and also seeing where it’s coming from. She didn’t think she needed this guidance until she sat here and listened to her.

“I appreciate your hardwork, I really do; and so do the doctors around you. No one is thinking you’re not working hard enough. But there will be some days when you gotta throw in the towel and accept that you’ve reached your limit. No one’s going to judge you for missing one volume of the medical journal you’re subscribed to.”

This makes Wendy smile, “Chief Kim, wh—why are you saying all these things? Aren’t you supposed to say I keep up the good work of studying hard? Maybe work harder?”

“Because if I didn’t stop you, you’ll see this list as a judgment of your performance and you’ll log more lab hours, suture more bananas—when in fact, you’re doing just fine. You’re working hard enough. I don’t want this list to make you think that you’re less than the doctor that you are. You clock in and you clock out—and you do your best every day. That sounds like 9/10 to me.”

Wendy’s eyes light up, getting the validation she didn’t think she needed.

Chief Kim smiles, “You only get a nine because I’m the only 10 in this place.”

The younger doctor laughs, “Of course.”

The older doctor hops off her seat, sips the last of her banana milk, and tosses the empty pack onto the nearby bin. She then lifts a hand and gently pats the top of Wendy’s head, “You’re allowed to be a masterpiece and a work-in-progress at the same time. Remember that.”

Touched, Wendy smiles at The Chief, “Th—thank you for this. I didn’t know I needed it.”

The Chief smiles and nods, “Now—go back to your patient and be the doctor Jisoo needs right now. You make everyone around you better, Wendy. You and Naeun have that in common.”

She winks and then disappears back into the hallway, leaving Wendy with a lighter heart.

Yeah, she really needed that.

.

Wendy runs back to the ER but not before she punches a text to Yeri.

I think I need to bake tonight. Please get my usual supplies from RF. I promise, I’ll let you sell the cookies.

.

Wendy gets back to the ER just at the same time Jisoo does.

Both doctors head straight to ChoHee as a nurse catches up to them and hands Dr. Kim an H.I.S. tablet.

“It’s her scans,” Dr. Kim states and then proceeds to read on the results. “No broken ribs. No pneumothorax—”

Seeing her vitals on the screen, Wendy informs, “BP is dropping.”

It takes Dr. Kim a couple of seconds before she says, “Keep her fluids open.”

“How about a CT scan?” Wendy explores.

Dr. Kim shakes her head, “No, no. She’s still unstable.”

Nothing comes in after that. She could see that while Jisoo is doing better than she did earlier, she still hasn’t fully caught up.

Wendy tries to think. They need to see what’s happening inside her chest now without moving her. Only one thing can do that—

She turns to the nurse, “Can you get me the bedside ultrasound now?”

It’s as if the nurse understood how truly urgent this is, she doesn’t wait for Dr. Kim’s confirmation. She shuffles on her feet quickly and not even a minute later, she comes back, rolling the equipment with her.

When it’s obvious that Dr. Kim doesn’t have any concrete plans so far, Wendy takes over. She takes the tub of ultrasound gel and spreads it over ChoHee’s abdomen area. She gently runs the transducer over the patient’s abdomen and keeps her eyes on the monitors.

“Spleen looks good,” she states. “Liver looks good.”

A nurse interjects, “BP is still dropping. 74 over 55.”

Shit. What the fuck is happening?

“Jesus,” Wendy mutters, now running out of ideas.

She looks up to Jisoo who still looks lost.

It dawns on her just in that moment that this right here is where the real work begins.

After all the lab hours, after all the bananas you practiced every suture on—this is when you pick yourself up to give everything you got because otherwise, it all means nothing.

A few seconds later, one of the nurses spots something by the right side of the patient’s neck: a bruising just below her ear. “Doctor, look at this. Her veins are distended.”

Wendy inches closer to it and releases a heavy breath, “We need to take another look at her heart.”

She grabs the tub of gel and spreads it over the chest area this time and repeats the same procedure. What she sees in the monitor almost makes her panic.

“Oh my God,” she breathes, feeling her heart bang against its cage.

There’s fluid that has developed around the patient’s heart and that fluid shouldn’t be there. This isn’t something that happens very often but it’s always, always a life-or-death situation.

Distended neck veins. Muffled heart sounds. Low blood pressure.

She turns to Dr. Kim, now sure of her diagnosis, “She’s got cardiac tamponade.”

See, around your heart, you have a sac. It’s called the pericardium. Natrually, there’s a tiny amount of fluid in it. When you have a cardiac tamponade, fluid fills the space between the sac and the heart which puts pressure on the heart, not allowing it to pump correctly.

Still, Jisoo is rendered motionless and Wendy is sure that they need help. “Page Dr. Lee Donghae, say he’s needed here STAT,” she tells the nurses.

Dr. Kim shakes her head, “He’s still in surgery. He won’t be out for at least 20 minutes.”

Her heart beating against her chest, “Jisoo, she doesn’t have 20 minutes.”

She rids of the formalities. Right now, she needs her friend to get it together.

“What about Dr. Im?”

One of the nurses responds, “She’s in surgery.”

“What about Chief Kim—”

“Jisoo, stop!” Wendy snaps, her voice firm and commanding. “There’s no one else here who can help her but you.”

“I—”

“Fuck that list!” she curses. Wendy makes momentary eye contact with the nurses to make a point. “You and I both know that you’re better than that.”

Jisoo swallows visibly, firing back at Wendy with the same amount of conviction, “What do you want me to do?”

“You’ve been in Cardio for most of the last year, you tell me what to do.”

“I—” she stutters.

“Jisoo, listen to me,” Wendy is absolutely not playing around. “I need you to go back here in this moment and get your head out of that dumb list. ChoHee needs you to be her doctor right now.”

“She needs to be in surgery that’s—”

“No time for that,” she dismisses her quickly. “We need a procedure fast enough to resolve this and save her life.”

“This is very complicated—”

Done with all her excuses, Wendy just blurts it out, “She needs a pericardiocentesis and you know it.”

“Wendy that’s a risky procedure—I’ve never done that before.”

“But you know how to?”

“I do but—”

“Jisoo,” she interrupts her. “Quit making excuses and be a 10 right now. ChoHee needs you to be better than a four-point-three, please.”

This procedure is quick but also very risky. To draw the fluid out from around her heart, a needle will be inserted right into the patient’s chest. The thing is, you want that needle to go through the sac of the heart but not into the muscle of the heart.

Any doctor who performs this procedure should be precise. Quite literally, there’s no room for mistakes. If that needle goes elsewhere other than the sac of the heart, the patient dies.

“Wendy, I could puncture her lung, or hit her coronary artery—or the fucking heart itself,” she argues.

“But you know how to do it, right?”

“Yes.”

There’s just silence between them after that. Wendy is done stating her case. Jisoo knows there’s no other way.

A couple of beats pass with Wendy and Jisoo just staring at each other. Wendy throws in a prayer, asking whatever higher power there is to give Jisoo her courage back. Right now, all she can do is—

“Jisoo, I will be right here with you the entire time—let’s show them what a five-point-two and four-point-three could do.”

Something in Jisoo’s expression changes. It is replaced by a certain brand of courage, the fire in her eyes is back. Wendy secretly smiles to herself as she shuffles around and preps the patient.

There she is. Kim Jisoo, a four-point-three about to do a pericardiocentesis.

God bless, God bless.

.

Once the catheter is ready, Jisoo assigns everyone around her their own roles. One of the nurses monitors ChoHee’s vitals while Wendy holds the ultrasound probe connected to the monitors. All Wendy needs to do is to hold this probe around the area where the heart is. This probe will help Jisoo see where she’s at as she inserts the needle.

“You got this,” she whispers, letting Jisoo knows that she believes in her.

Jisoo takes a deep breath as she holds the catheter by the patient’s chest, holding it steady to make sure it goes where she wants it to go. Wendy bites the insides of her cheeks, feeling the tension rise. She does her best to keep the probe steady. It’s what’s guiding Jisoo to do her job properly.

A few seconds pass and the next thing Wendy knows, the needle of the catheter has penetrated the skin and the monitor shows it slowly going into the direction of the sac.

It doesn’t take long before a nurse says, “BP is rising.”

Wendy turns her head to take a look at her vitals. It takes all of her not to jump and celebrate her friend’s breakthrough. “Heart rate’s rising,” she states, looking up at Jisoo with a slight smile.

That’s the thing with this procedure, it works quickly. The patient can start improving even if you’ve just removed a small amount of blood.

Jisoo finishes the procedure and then turns to one of the nurses, “Page Dr. Lee Donghae and tell him about the situation. The patient’s out of the woods but she still needs surgery.”

“Got it, Doctor,” the nurse nods and then leaves to do what was asked of her.

The older doctor releases a sigh, relief obviously washing over her. There’s just silence again between them, with Jisoo looking at her like she’s thankful for whatever Wendy’s done. The younger doctor only smiles at her warmly as if to say it’s no big deal.

Another nurse comes up to them and hands Dr. Kim SunHee’s scans. She studies it for a moment and then turns back to the nurse, “Go and page Ortho, I’ll be with you in a sec.”

“Got it, Doctor.”

Soon as the nurse leaves, Wendy asks, “How’s SunHee?”

“No injuries to the spine but she needs to get her ribs fixed.”

“I’ll page Cardio—”

Wendy is already prepping to go and do the task but Jisoo interrupts her, “Wendy—”

“What?”

The resident gestures at the clock, “Go home.”

It’s only when she realizes: it’s almost the end of her shift.

“But I still can—”

“No, Dr. Son,” Jisoo shakes her head, putting an emphasis on the formalities. “Take a rest and come back tomorrow. I need Wendy 5.2, the Head Nurse Slayer in full 100% capacity tomorrow.”

Wendy smiles, touched. Jisoo isn’t very affectionate, isn’t very vocal about her feelings. The younger doctor thinks this is the best thank you she’s gonna get from her and that’s more than enough.

“Okay,” she concedes, throwing in the towel for the day. The words of Chief Kim lingers at the back of her head.

“You were a rockstar today, Wendy,” Jisoo tells her. “I wouldn’t have come up with that diagnosis that quickly.”

“I just did my job, is all.”

“Well, you’re very good at it.”

“More than a five-point-two?”

Jisoo chuckles, “Absolutely.”

.

So, that’s how Wendy’s Saturday shift went.

She plops on her sofa, basking in the comfort and the softness of the furniture. It has been a long, long day at work and now, Wendy’s only goal is to bake some cookies and take all of her stress away.

The doctor chances a glance at the clock.

6:13, it says. Yerim could be here in a minute.

Wendy pulls her phone from the pocket of her jeans. She smiles to herself as she punches a text to somebody she hasn’t spoken to in a while. I diagnosed my first cardiac tamponade today.

The reply is fast. Wow, sis. I’m proud of you. Did the patient survive?

She did.

Good job, kid.

You didn’t tell me you and Chief Kim go way back.

There was a slight delay in her sister’s response but it comes anyway. Ah, Taeyeon. Remember when I was in med school and I always talked about somebody who, I was sure, was the spawn of the devil?

That was her?!

She was an absolute beast. I can’t believe it took you this long to figure that out.

Thinking about it, this is one of the more pleasant exchanges she’s had with her sister in recent years. I can’t believe you didn’t me.

We haven’t really got the chance to chat, have we?

It hits Wendy in that moment that she hasn’t really spoken to Naeun since she gave her shares to them. They all know it was her way of cutting them all of from her life. Wendy isn’t mad at her, not really, but Naeun picked a side and she didn’t pick Wendy’s.

She misses her, it’s true. But it’s not enough to repair whatever time has wrecked between them.

Wendy doesn’t respond to the message, doesn’t see the point in it. She figures she, too, has faults for how her relationships with her siblings fell apart. She could wallow in it but maybe not today.

Wendy was about to get up and get a change of clothes when the doorbell rings.

That’s odd. Kim Yerim never rings the doorbell.

The teenager has a key and she’s loud when she comes in to make sure Wendy knows she’s arrived.

Puzzled, Wendy walks to the door and as she peeks through the peephole, her heart starts beating fast. She’s confused for a couple of moments, unable to process what she just saw.

Her hands shaking a bit, she pulls the door open and what greets her is a smile, rivaling the sun.

 “Hey,” the girl on the other side greets her, a bag of groceries in one hand and a luggage on the other.

“Joohyun,” Wendy breathes, taking the sight of the other girl in. The actress looks like she doesn’t have any makeup on, the red on her cheeks obviously influenced by the cold outside. She’s wearing her signature round glasses, her hair up in a loose bun.

She’s wearing a gray turtleneck sweater; its knitted fabric hugging Joohyun in all the right places. The high-waisted denim jeans match the heeled ankle boots, making the girl look taller than she actually is. The look is finished by a black coat that not only looks expensive but also looks custom-made for the girl.

It’s criminal, Wendy thinks, for someone to look this good without even trying.

Whew. It looks like her day isn’t over yet.

Holywood superstar Irene Bae is outside peasant Wendy Son’s home.

In what kind of alternate universe does that even happen?

.

Frozen in place, Wendy blinks a few times for good measure.

Has the stress of the day finally got to her? Is she hallucinating? Did she die and went to a place where Irene just casually drops by her house with that smile on her face?

A few seconds pass and when it’s obvious that Wendy has completely forgotten how to function, Joohyun clears her throat and calls Wendy’s attention, “Wan.”

Her deep voice is what eventually pulls Wendy back, “Joohyun—what—”

“I was shopping with Yerim when you sent her a message.”

“So many things in that sentence that I want to clarify—”

Joohyun nods, a tight-lipped smile gracing her lips, “—but maybe we could start with letting me in because these are heavy.”

Wendy eyes the bag of groceries and realizes the fact that she hasn’t let her in yet.

“Oh my God, my manners—” Wendy gasps quietly and then quickly moves around to take the bag of groceries from the girl’s hand. She pulls the door wider and steps aside to make way for Joohyun to enter the small space.

That’s also when she realizes—“Shit, my house.”

Wendy panics.

See, she doesn’t panic a lot. In fact, she’s very calm in crisis situations but this is a different kind of crisis. This is a very, very personal crisis because Joohyun is inside her home and fuck, when was the last time she actually cleaned?

“Joohyun—I—”

Oblivious to her inner panic, Joohyun steps inside the house and heads straight to the living room where she parks her luggage just next to the huge houseplant resting beside the sofa. This is when the girl looks around the house calmly, her face showing no signs of pleasure, or disgust. Or anything really—which is not good because what is she thinking?

It takes a couple of moments before Joohuyn says, “Your house is nice.”

Nice?

That’s good… right?

Now feeling a bit conscious, Wendy looks around her own place as well.

See, Wendy wouldn’t say her place is big.

It’s not.

It’s a one-bedroom apartment in a building nestled between Red Flavor and the hospital with a couple of convenience stores nearby, and a park just a couple of blocks away. It’s quite expensive if she’s going to be honest but she likes it because it’s simple. It’s liveable. But most of all, she likes it because the place isn’t plagued with bad memories.

Well that—but also, Joy knows the couple who owns the building so they gave her a healthy discount.

Entering the front door, it doesn’t take a long walk to see just about the entire apartment.

A short and narrow hallway will lead you to the living room, revealing a sensibly curated design dominated by pastel colors that cover a neutral-colored surface. In the words of the interior designer, this design follows a modern, mid-century Nordic inspiration. Whatever that means.

There’s a lone, powder-blue sofa placed against the wall and in front of it is the wall-mounted TV set plus a mid-sized bookshelf that holds most of Wendy’s textbooks from medical school. Next to the sofa is a large, thriving houseplant. Its green leaves match the pastel mint green walls, accented by beige carpets and retro furniture, as well as other design accents in the same powder-blue shade as the sofa.

The huge windows obviously illuminate the space during the day but by nighttime, it’s the floor-length curtains—color-matched with the beige carpets—that takes the scene.

To the left is the small kitchen with just enough counters for one person to cook, the L-shaped structure strategically utilized for counters and other large equipment. The wooden overhead cabinets are a nice touch and Wendy appreciates the space but those cabinets are high.

(She thinks Joy did it on purpose so she’s always reminded of her giant friend.)

Wendy also doesn’t have a real dining table. Instead she has a dining bar that separates the kitchen from the living room with two tall chairs serving as the main seats for anyone who wants to eat. Yerim always complains whenever she eats here with Wendy and Joy because she always ends up getting banished to the living room.

While the living room was dominated by green, another pastel color rules the kitchen as sunny light yellow pops here and there.

Pastel colors are the heart of this interior design. From the living room’s mint green to the kitchen’s sunny yellow, all the way up to the soft red and powder-blue accents, Joy said it gives the place a lightweight feel that is also not boring.

Joohyun grins as her eyes find the kitchen, “Your fridge is yellow.”

Wendy chuckles as she chances a glance at the furniture in question, “Sooyoung had it painted, said a commercial, metallic design doesn’t fit the mood.”

“She designed this?” Joohyun asks as she shrugs off her coat, walking over to the nearby coat rack and hangs it along with some of Wendy’s stuff.

Wendy responds with a nod as she walks over to the kitchen to place the bag of groceries on top of the counter. She peeks at it for a bit, quickly inspecting if the bag has all the ingredients she asked Yerim to bring.

Satisfied by what’s in the grocery bag, she walks back to where Joohyun is: now standing in the middle of the living room, still looking around the place.

The doctor smiles, “Can’t quite believe it, huh?”

“I guess I expected something else?”

Chuckling, Wendy makes a guess, “What—were you expecting boring white walls and dark curtains?”

“That’s my living room,” Joohyun claims, laughing. She then shrugs, “I guess I really didn’t have expectations. You’re the only doctor I know.”

“Oh, did you expect my house to look like a hospital?”

Joohyun laughs, the sound of it making waves in Wendy’s heart, “I don’t know what I was expecting, really,” she turns to the doctor and locks eyes with her, “I stopped making assumptions about you a long time ago. I’m never right about them, anyway.”

If it was just possible, Wendy is sure she’s already melting by now.

Focus, Wendy.

“Not that I’m not delighted that you’re here but—” she pauses, stepping closer to Joohyun and puts her hands on the girl’s waist. The actress responds by wrapping her arms around Wendy’s neck, bringing their faces so close to each other that she could already feel Joohyun’s breath on her skin, “—how are you here? What’s with the surprise visit?”

“I told you, I was shopping with Yerim earlier.”

“I didn’t know you and Yerim are shopping buddies now.”

“We’re not—well, we weren’t,” Joohyun chuckles, “We bumped into each other at COEX earlier and I don’t know how it happened, the next thing I knew, I was buying her new clothes.”

“Oh no, you fell into her trap.”

“What trap?”

“She flashes her doe eyes when she wants something and the next thing you’ll know, you’re buying her things.”

“Oh—that’s probably what happened. That kid is a con artist.”

“So lucky of her to randomly run into you.”

“Wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not random,” Joohyun smirks. “Anyway, she told me about your text, that you needed baking ingredients and I figured it must’ve been a long day because Baker Wendy is also Stressed Wendy.”

The doctor nods, impressed, “Somebody’s paying attention.”

“I always pay attention.”

Silence envelopes them both, a subtle hint of tension rising in the air. Joohyun brings her face closer and rubs her nose against Wendy’s, and the doctor instantly feels lighter. It’s as if Joohyun has taken the day’s weight off her, the actress’ mere presence doing wonders on Wendy’s whole well-being.

Then, Joohuyn kisses her—and Wendy just… allows herself to get lost in it.

She feels Joohyun step closer to her, their bodies now pressing against each other. One hand travels from the back of her neck to the side of her face, guiding Wendy’s movement so their paces match. Joohyun’s other hand stays wrapped around Wendy’s neck, her hold firm and steady as if she’s urging Wendy to stay in place.

Wendy tightens her grip on the girl’s waist, pulling her closer to her with caution. She holds her just tight enough to let the other girl know she’s got her.

They kiss for what feels like eternity, the spark of a newfound bond making them feel young and carefree—as if nothing else in the world matters except for that very moment; and Wendy, just for a couple of seconds, allows herself to dream.

Maybe, there’s a place where she and Joohyun are the ones destined for each other. That maybe, there’s a universe where they end up finding each other at the end of their red strings of fate. Maybe, if she got lucky, that universe is this universe.

Maybe, this universe will allow them to be happy.

Joohyun pulls away from the kiss blushing and out of breath but she’s smiling—and God, there’s nothing Wendy wouldn’t do just to see her like this.

“Now, Chef Wendy, are we going to bake or what?”

Wait?

“You’re staying?”

Joohyun makes a face, as if she’s surprised that Wendy hasn’t figured it out yet, “What—you thought I just dropped by to give you the groceries?”

“You didn’t?”

The older girl shakes her head as she untangles herself from Wendy and walks to the kitchen, “I wouldn’t pass up the chance to taste the infamous cookies that Yerim smuggles.”

“Hold up—” Wendy eyes the luggage resting next to the houseplant, “—why do you have a luggage with you?”

Irene winks at her before she responds, “I’ve a flight tomorrow and I’m heading straight to Gimpo Airport.”

Wait. Wait. Wait.

Did I hear that right?

“Does that mean, Joohyun, that you’re—”

“—staying the night?”

Wendy only nods.

“Yes, Seungwan. I’m staying the night.”

What the—

Maybe this is it—maybe, this is what a mini-heart attack feels like. There’s no such thing as a mini-heart attack. It’s probably a temporary blockage to the coronary arteries—but that’s not the point!

The point is: Irene Bae is staying the night. At Wendy’s house.

The point is: Wendy hasn’t spent the night with a girl in a very, very long time.

The point is—

Fake dating Irene Bae… could just be the beginning and end of everything.

/

Chapter Text

/

“Yes, Seungwan. I’m staying the night.”

Two sentences, six words—that’s all it takes for Irene’s whole resolve to completely fall apart. This is not how she saw this day ending. She wanted to see Wendy, sure. Drop by to help her bake, know about how her day went. But to stay the night?

That’s not Irene—that’s not the Irene she trained for eight years to think before doing or saying anything. That’s not the Irene who has learned to guard her heart with walls so solid that breaking through it is just near impossible.

But today—it seems—that she’s once again that girl from the first day of high school, with this uncontainable need to get close to the sun.

Yes, Seungwan. I’m staying the night.

No, she wasn’t. She wasn’t supposed to. She’s supposed to head to Jessica’s hotel, get a printed copy of her new script, and leave in the morning.

She didn’t even think about staying the night—well, no. That’s a lie. She thought about it but didn’t think it was a real possibility. But Wendy asked. The idea was right there. Wendy brought it up first.

So here she is, taking that opportunity to spend more time with the girl because—it was Wendy who said it, right? If it’s bursting out of your chest, you have to set it free.

If anything, this is all Wendy’s fault.

Ugh.

Actually, no. This is all Yerim’s fault.

That tiny little spawn of the devil, she—

.

EARLIER THAT DAY

“Just tell her we met by chance,” Yerim suggests, her eyebrows shooting high playfully.

“I can’t believe I’m letting you talk me into lying to Wendy,” Irene acquiesced. “This is a bad idea.”

Yerim gives her a smug, lopsided smile, “There are no bad ideas, unnie. Just people who don’t know how to execute.”

“That’s not—”

“Anyway, so,” the younger girl cuts her off. “A gift?”

“Yes.”

All her life, Irene has prided herself in her ability to keep herself from falling apart. That sounds so sad, she knows. But if you really think about it—this is the one skill she didn’t need a workshop for. She attended acting workshops, modelling workshops, and tons of other workshops to make sure she’s keeping her pace in Hollywood but this?

There’s no workshop out there that prepares you for the shit real life throws at you but hey, Irene has done it. All those heartbreaks have taught Irene how to keep herself together even when she’s a strand of hair away from falling apart.

She’s poised. She’s calm. She’s put together.

None of those things are true on the inside but at least on the outside, no one can touch her. She’s indestructible and being indestructible has brought her to heights of Hollywood success that not even young Joohyun could’ve possibly dreamt of.

She spent all her life playing by the rules she laid out herself and she’s done an awesome job really putting them in place.

Until today.

Or the last few months, really.

Lately, it feels like all these rules and all the walls have been thrown out the window, and all that’s left is her. She’s standing in the middle of the playing field trying to win a game she’s not sure she knows how to play but she follows her heart anyway.

A stupid, stupid way to play any game but here she is, bearing her heart out for everyone to see.

Since coming back to Seoul after eight years of being away, Irene went from a hundred to zero in a couple of weeks.

Suddenly, she’s a blabbering mess. She’s a flustered 17-year-old. She’s letting herself get papped kissing a girl. And she’s here today with a mischievous teenager because she can’t, for the life of her, think of a proper gift for Wendy for the girl’s upcoming birthday.  

They’re sitting by the corner-most table inside a high-end coffee shop, their overpriced milkshake and iced latte sitting untouched in front of them. Irene is in the most casual pair of jeans and shirt she could find, topped with the Celebrity Disguise  Starter Pack: a baseball cap, a facemask, and her beloved pair of round specs.

It’s ridiculous how no one has figured her out yet.

“Do you have any idea what kind of gift you want to get her?” the girl sitting across her asks with a grin as she grabs her drink and takes a sip. Or a gulp. (Yerim is so shameless, it’s hard to explain the way she acts.)

Irene tries to think of it but just like the tons of times she’s thought about this, she comes up empty. Imagine having all that money and still be unable to think of something.

Plus, the timing is also really bad. She’d be out of the city for the next two weeks and has a lot of filming schedule in the days leading up to the girl’s birthday. This is the only time she has to pick a gift.

Irene shakes her head helplessly, “No ideas.”

She could tell Yerim is trying her best not to roll her eyes, or laugh. Or both. “Unnie, you’re hopeless.”

The actress—now just a complete mess of a human being—opens her mouth to say something, probably to generate an argument but nothing comes out.

It’s true.

She’s hopeless.

When she wouldn’t say anything, Yerim quips, “Lucky you, I’m here to save the day.”

“Did I really get lucky?”

Yerim gasps, feigning offense, “Unnie! Don’t believe everything that Joy-unnie tells you about me. Contrary to popular belief, I am a nice person.”

Irene nods, slightly terrified but she puts her faith on the younger girl anyway, “You are a nice person who wants—”

“—a brand new MIDI keyboard, yes. If I end up producing music in the future, I’d credit you as the first person who invested in me and my talent.”

It’s scary how fucking smart this kid is.

“So,” Yerim continues. “What kind of effect do you want this gift to have on her?”

“What do you mean?”

“Wendy-unnie isn’t big on material gifts. You could give her a rubber-ducky and she’d still post seven pictures of that on Instagram taken on different angles,” she shares.

Irene doesn’t respond.

It’s not that she doesn’t already know this about the girl. It’s just that she wants to give her something anyway—not just any gift but a gift she will remember.

Yerim takes her silence as a cue to continue, “So what it all comes down to is how do you want to affect her.”

“Surprisingly philosophical.”

The teenager bobs her head, proud of herself, “I am very smart.”

Irene shakes her head, laughing at the girl’s antics. “I just want to make her smile, you know. When she sees that object, she’ll smile.”

“That’s disgusting—I love it,” Yerim says as she stands, grabbing her drink in the process. “Come on, I’ve got an idea.”

.

Shopping with Yerim is a success—and surprisingly fun. Or it’s fun and surprisingly a success.

Either way, she feels good about the gift they picked. Yerim is a godsend. She’s cool, confident, and one with too many side comments but she cares. Spending this day with her was such a delight (even though the equipment she bought for her cost way more than the one she got for Wendy.)

“You’re smiling,” Yerim comments, slightly out of breath as they cross the parking lot. She’s too tiny for the box she’s carrying but that doesn’t seem to bother her. She did just get a brand new keyboard, a pricey one that is, so the load should be the last thing on her mind.

“You are, too,” Irene fires back, smiling at the girl.

“You got your gift, I got my MIDI. We both have wins today.”

“Right.”

They reach Irene’s car in a few moments and as Yerim loads the box into the backseat of the car, she says something that truly warms Irene’s heart.

“Thank you, unnie,” the teenager smiles gently. After closing the backseat door, she hops on the passenger seat, gratitude shining in her eyes.

Irene, who’s already strapped in by the driver’s seat, turns to her in surprise.

Yerim rolls her eyes, “I’m just a brat but I’m not ungrateful.”

The actress laughs as she starts the car up, the Carpathian grey Range Rover revving up to life. “I just bought you that because you said you’d credit me,” she banters.

The younger girl giggles softly, “You and Wendy-unnie really fit together so disgustingly well. Joy-unnie was right.”

Irene couldn’t stop the laugh that escapes her, “And why is that?”

She shrugs, “I don’t know. There’s just something about you that just feels like—” she pauses to think, “—I cannot put it to words. I just—I’ve had an image in my head of the girl she was finally going to date and it’s you. I mean, of course, I didn’t see it’s going to be this Hollywood star but who you are as a person. I’ve been imagining someone like you.”

“That’s—”

“I never met Rosé,” Yerim drops the name casually and Irene’s heart stops for a moment. “But Joy-unnie always tells me stories about her. I bet she’s pretty and nice. Quite perfect. Maybe, that’s why she was taken away so early.”

There’s a profound pain that clenches at Irene’s heart. It’s weird how Rosé is no longer here but somehow, it feels like she’s still orbiting Wendy’s world. She’s nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

What’s weirder is the fact that it doesn’t make Irene feel mad or jealous. It’s just… sad. No matter how you look at it, there’s no erasing the fact that Rosé is someone Wendy loved and lost. Lost love cuts deep.

At least that’s what the movies tell her.

“In Joy-unnie’s stories, though, there’s one particular thing she said that kind of stuck with me.”

Irene turns to the younger girl, willing her to continue.

“She described Rosé as someone who deserves Wendy.”

Now, something about that stings. The scars of the past pounding against her skin.

Yerim turns to her with a smile, “I see that about you. When I see you two, as disgusted as I am of how you look at each other, I feel like I don’t need to worry about her anymore.”

And you know, Irene just melts. Yerim being vulnerable is rare but it’s also very raw and it affects Irene in ways she didn’t expect.

Before she could react, Yerim’s phone beeps. It breaks the emotional tension that was building up inside Irene.

The younger girl takes a couple of seconds to read her message before she turns to Irene who’s still processing. Unaware of Irene’s processing, Yerim barrels through another topic, “Unnie, can you drop me off at Red Flavor instead?”

“Uh—sure,” Irene nods, choking back whatever questions or thoughts she has about what the girl said. “Change of plans?”

“Wendy-unnie asked me to get her usual baking supplies. Must’ve been quite a day at the hospital.”

And this is where the devil starts making its work.

.

The devil being Joy and Yerim who—moments later—are sitting in front of Irene inside Red Flavor, urging Irene to do something that’s going to push her further away from her comfort zone.

“It’s too soon,” she states. No. No. No.

Unnie,” Joy starts. “It’s the 20th century. No one’s going to judge you for coming over to the house of the girl you’re dating.”

Yerim butts in, looking at Joy, “First of all, wrong century.” The girl then turns to Irene, “And even if someone does, fuck ‘em.”

Both Irene and Joy gasp lightly at the swearing—

“What?” the teenager looks at them incredulously. “You guys swear all the time.”

The next few seconds are a mess of chaos with Joy and Irene just resenting what Yerim just said and then it all stops. Both the older girls shut up at the same time and the teenager laughs at them in amusement.

“Okay, can we go back to the topic now?”

The actress pouts but she gives in, her shoulders slacking in defeat while Joy perks up in excitement—two, polar-opposite reactions to what is actually a simple, utterly harmless suggestion:

For Irene to deliver the baking ingredients to Wendy’s house.

Deep-down, she knows it’s not much.

In the grand scheme of things, there shouldn’t be that much of a fuss. But the thing is, she wants to. She wants to do it so much. She wants to drop by Wendy’s house, surprise her, and spend some time with her after a long day.

She wants it so bad.

But Irene has spent all her life not allowing herself to want things. And this. This is the game she knows how to play: the never-ending cycle of self-preservation that doesn’t exactly keep her safe. It only locks her in and traps her.

She knows this but you spend eight years trying to convince yourself of something, it eventually becomes your truth.

“It’s too soon,” she repeats, more to herself than Joy and Yerim.

“You already said that,” Joy argues. “Try another excuse.”

Irene fights the urge to roll her eyes. Joy isn’t letting her rest.

“I don’t want to startle her, or make her uncomfortable.”

Like on autopilot, Joy and Yerim turn to each other as if asking who’s going to do the talking. Joy rolls her eyes and sighs as she says, “Fine, I’ll take this one.”

Beaming, Yerim pushes her chair back and stands up, “Okay. Do well, unnie. I’m gonna go get ice cream.”

Joy lifts a hand and opens her palm as Yerim hits it gently with hers. It seems like they’re a tag team and it’s the older girl’s turn now to go play with the child. In this case, the child is Irene.

 “Look, unnie,” the younger girl starts once Yerim disappears. “I get it.”

Irene squints, “Get what?”

“You’re scared.”

Taken aback by the sheer straightforwardness of her words, the actress is rendered speechless. She keeps her eyes on Joy with one part of her wishing she’d stop and rest her case. A larger part of her, though?

A larger part of her just wants, for once, to gather up the courage and do whatever the fuck she wants.

Joy relaxes on her seat but she keeps her eyes on Irene, “I mean, I would be, too. Wendy may be tiny but if you get close to her, you will instantly feel how much she’s willing to give if she decides to go all in. And for some people, that could be overwhelming.”

That—that makes Irene feel seen.

“It’s not that.”

“Sure,” Joy bobs her head, unconvinced. “What is it, really?”

“It’s just too soon.”

Joy rolls her eyes in frustration, “It’s not a big deal. Wendy will not mind.”

“You don’t know that,” she says, starting to run out of points to argue with.

“I know it, though,” Joy counters relentlessly. “She likes you and trust me, she likes having you around.”

Joy seems so sure. She sounds certain that Irene feels her whole body start to believe it.

When she wouldn’t say anything, Joy prods, “Do you like to be around her?”

The answer is a no brainer, “Yeah.”

“That wasn’t so hard, wasn’t it?”

“It’s not that simple.”

“It is, though. If you rid yourself of all the excuses you’re so used to making, then maybe you’ll see that it’s that simple. You want to see her, she wants to spend time with you. That should be reason enough to go see your girl.”

Your girl.

Something about that just feels right.

“Has Wendy told you that it was me who convinced her to fake-date you?” Joy asks.

Both of their eyes stray momentarily to the direction Yerim went to. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget where this all started. But the teenager is an easy reminder.

The question came out of nowhere that it takes Irene by surprise. “What?” she mutters, her eyes locking with Joy’s. When their gazes meet, Irene feels a certain kind of sadness she can’t fathom. It’s the first time she’s felt this around Joy.

It’s as if the girl is being held back by something, like she’s holding something heavy inside her heart. Irene doesn’t know what it is, doesn’t know if asking her would help.

“Why?” Irene asks instead, breaking eye contact with Joy. She couldn’t bear to look at the heaviness in her eyes. “Why did you support all of this?”

Joy swallows and purses her lips, like she’s keeping her feelings at bay, “Because she was lonely—and there’s a tiny part of me that knew and was sure, that you could change that.”

“Are you right? Has that changed?”

The girl only lets out a sigh and lopsided smile, “Why do you think I keep pushing you this much?”

“Because you’re you?” Irene grins playfully.

Joy laughs, rolling her eyes good-naturedly, “Well that—and also because it’s the first time in a very long time that I’ve seen Wendy so…. light. Like she’s no longer carrying the weight of the world on her back. And I think a large part of that is because of you.”

Irene has no words. What do you say to that?

“You’re scared, I know. But trust me,” a pause, “There’s so many things you should be scared of in this world and none of those is Wendy.”

That’s an odd thing to say. “What does that mean?”

Joy shrugs, “All I’m saying is you make her happy and if she makes you makes you happy, then it should be simple.”

The actress finds herself, for the nth time, speechless. Something about Joy is changing. She can’t pinpoint exactly what it is.

The girl stands up, her body language tells Irene that this conversation is over. “I’m gonna go find Yerim at the back before she bags all my ice cream and brings them home to her sisters. That would be her third free tub this week.”

Irene just smiles, for now letting it go. She eyes the shopping bag on the counter just by the bar.

Looks like she’s visiting Wendy tonight.

.

PRESENT

A visit.

That’s all it’s supposed to be but she just had to run her mouth and listen to her heart—and now, she’s staying the night.

“You know you can’t bake wearing that, right?” Wendy says behind her as they walk toward the kitchen. It’s not a long walk so she’s already by the counter by the time she looks at what she’s wearing.

She’s dressed casually but she’s sure Wendy is talking about the shoes.

Irene turns to her and sees her smiling. “What?”

“What?” Wendy echoes, the infectious grin still plastered on her face.

“Why are you smiling?” Irene asks, also mirroring the grin.

Gosh. She’s such a cheeseball.

“You’re smiling, too,” the other girl tells her, her smile getting even bigger.

“Stop doing that.”

You stop doing that—actually, no,” Wendy says as she steps closer to Irene. “I don’t know why you’re smiling but keep smiling. You have a nice smile.”

Nice? I get paid millions just to smile, you know that right?”

Wendy laughs, light and full, “A bit arrogant but plus points for the truth. You have a nice, million-dollar smile.”

“That’s more like it.”

“Now, come on. You got a nice smile but that expensive smile can’t bake,” she dismisses. Wendy then points to a door adjacent to where they are. “That’s the bedroom. Go get changed. You can also bring your stuff in there.”

“You’re the boss,” she nods.

As she makes her way to the room, Wendy calls her name out. “Joohyun.”

Irene turns to her, “Hmm?”

“Thank you for coming here,” Wendy says, her smile doing things to Irene’s heart. “It’s a nice surprise.”

“Just nice?” she banters playfully.

“Great surprise?”

“That’s better. I am, indeed, a great surprise.”

Wendy’s laugh echoes within the room and it makes it mark in Joohyun’s heart.

You make her happy and if she makes you happy, then it should be simple.

.

Wendy’s room is a stark, dramatic contrast to the entire house. What was all light and pastel colors have changed into muted earth colors.

The change piques Joohyun’s interest and she can’t help but look around as she rolls her luggage into the middle of the room, just by the foot of the bed.

The entire room is painted in pallettes of brown, yellow, and warm white.

From the door, you will instantly see the queen-sized bed covered in pearl white sheets and mildly patterned ivory comforters. Her pillows, three of them, are in the faintest shade of yellow.

Wendy’s bedroom isn’t that big so Joohyun is impressed by the way the wall behind the bed is converted into big shelving where you could see more of the doctor’s books neatly organized by height. The shelves are arranged in this unorthodox way where they look like they’re placed randomly and yet, the misalignment makes sense.

It doesn’t look too frail or dangerous so plus points for the thought put into safety.

To the bed’s right is a tall, double window covered by a light curtain in the same shade as her pillows. Drawn to the sides are a pair of darker-colored curtains Joohyun assumes are for the days when she has to sleep in.

On the bed’s other side is a wooden, medium-sized study table. Just next to the table is a floor lamp with its shade facing the top of the table. There’s an open book resting atop the table and next this book are two more open books with visible highlights in them.

This makes Joohyun smile.

As she looks around the room, she realizes that this is exactly how she pictured Wendy’s place to look like—all warm colors but still full of life. It’s in that moment does she wonder why her bedroom looks different than the others, makes a mental note to ask about it later.

After all, they have time.

There’s no rush, Joohyun. She tells herself.

Letting out a soft sigh, she walks over to the bed and sits carefully. It’s soft and comfortable, and it’s obvious that it’s expensive. Joohyun chuckles for a bit—it seems that for someone who claims to be broke, Wendy is doing quite well.

The actress reaches for her phone from the pocket of her jeans and checks her messages. She smiles upon seeing Seulgi’s and Jennie’s name on her Inbox, sending her messages of love and support (and tons of I’m really happy for you).

She’s told them about her insane idea and even tried to get her friends to talk her out of it but both women just screamed in excitement, both very thrilled to see Irene putting herself out there.

While Jennie’s support is all loud and fun (get it girl!), Seulgi’s encouragement is more subtle.

Wendy is nice and I could tell she has a good heart. She’ll be good for you. I know you’ll be good for her, too.

And that strikes Joohyun in ways she doesn’t understand. It confuses her how one person could be both happy and scared at the same time—and maybe it makes sense.

Maybe you can’t be happy without being scared to lose it.

It’s just that it’s the first time in her whole life did she ever want to stay happy. It’s the first time in her whole life did she think that maybe, when it all comes down it, all of this is worth it.

Wendy. Wendy. Wendy.

.

It doesn’t take long for them to fall into a rhythm.

After Joohyun got changed into more comfortable clothing, she walks back into the kitchen and finds a grinning Wendy, wearing a cute blue apron and already with a spatula at hand. The doctor—now the baker—hands her a pink apron and they begin with the tasks at hand.

Those cookies aren’t gonna bake itself, unnies. That’s what Yerim sent in their group chat, and Joohyun had to laugh, feeling a certain warmth settle permanently at her heart. She’s almost 29 and she’s only learning about the true meaning of company—and that includes a snarky little teenager who’s playing cupid and thinks she’s being subtle.

Joohyun doesn’t really bake but she isn’t completely clueless. Wendy moves around and teaches her so effortlessly that for a moment, Joohyun gets lost in the way the other girl is so at ease. It’s like she’s calm and happy, and just purely enjoying Joohyun’s company.

In between working with the ingredients, they exchange stories. From how their day went to some light-hearted memories from the past, everything went smoothly and even Joohyun is surprised at how easy everything is with Wendy.

Minutes (probably even hours) pass by and everything feels light—two, fully grown adults enjoying each other’s company without any agenda. It’s easy to be around Wendy, like Joohyun could perform her worst dance steps and Wendy would not judge. Heck, she would even dance along with her. Probably even with worse dance steps.

Nothing is ever easy with Joohyun. Ever.

She’s heard enough words from people she dated about how difficult she is but Wendy doesn’t seem bothered. Wendy seems to really, genuinely like being around her. This idea feels so foreign and from time to time, Joohyun reminds herself to close her eyes and believe it.

This is Wendy we’re talking about. Warm-hearted Wendy who, Joohyun knows, would give her the world if she asked.

She’s safe.

“Do you ever stop thinking?” Wendy asks, effectively pulling her out of her thoughts.

“What?”

Wendy chuckles as she reaches out to the back of her neck to take her apron off. They’ve just put two batches of chocolate chip and butterscotch walnut cookies in the oven and now, the waiting game begins.

“I asked if you ever stop thinking,” Wendy repeats as she walks over to Joohyun to assist with her apron.

“When I sleep?” Joohyun jokes and earns a chuckle from Wendy. She turns around and allows Wendy to slide the neck strap of the apron above her head. The next thing she knows, she’s apron free and the pink little thing sits atop the table just next to Wendy’s.

Heh. Even their aprons look good together.

“Well, you should definitely stop thinking when you’re around me and start spitting them out, you know. You can talk to me.”

“I know,” Joohyun says, kissing Wendy on the cheek. “It’s nothing. I was just lost in thought, that’s all.”

“You’re okay?” the other girl asks as she stands in front of her, finding her eyes and keeps their gazes locked.

Joohyun nods, placing a kiss on top of Wendy’s nose, “I’m okay. It doesn’t happen very often but right now, I’m okay.”

Wendy smiles, “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Great!” Wendy chirps as she grabs Joohyun by the hand and leads her to the living room. “Now, let’s take that selfie before Jessica appears at my doorstep and redesigns my home with her rage.”

.

Wendy posts the selfie on her Instagram and captions it with: Hello, God? I think, you’re missing an angel. She’s right here with me.

And the Internet loses it. The comments under Wendy’s post becomes an instant riot.

@.yerimiese I just puked in my mouth
@._imyour_joy @yerimiese our work of art
@.joohyunthusiast THEY LOOK SO HAPPY???????!!!!!!!!!!!!!
@.trashpamore OH MY GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOODDDDDDDDDDDD U LOOK SO GOOD TOGETHER
@jennierubyjane I have finally reached peak bestfriend. Already stalked your girl’s Instagram. @renebaebae also, girl. That IG name is a terrible handle
@seungwankyut I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU TWO ENDED UP TOGETHER BUT I WANT IT TOO
@.dearwenseul the caption akbfjkasfjksahfjksfh

A particular comment, though, instantly gets Joohyun’s attention.

@.clean_0828 cute!

Something violent boils at the pit of Joohyun’s stomach. She knows who owns this account. Of course, she does. She already did the stalking soon as she met her. It’s Sejeong and she’s too close to Wendy than Joohyun likes.

No, she’s not gonna do anything (yet) but she’s keeping her eyes open.

Seeing Sejeong’s comment turns out to be the right push. Joohyun posts a picture of Wendy that she took while the girl was baking earlier. She looks cute smiling into the camera.

Joohyun captions it with: Not a lost angel, I’m right here in heaven. ;)

And again, the Internet just fucking loses it.

@.jessicajung i don’t know if you got hacked or not but I’m certain this is purely you
@.magnifishon ARE THEY HAVING A CONTEST
@.yerimiese unnie this is not fun
@._imyour_joy disgusting
@.OliviasKookies the most gorgeous one Irene’s ever dated? Fight me? No? That’s what I thought

It’s funny and entertaining. Also somewhat confusing because their posts are purely for Jessica’s purpose but it’s real for both of them. Whatever that means, that’s probably a discussion for another day.

Their notifications are blowing up but it’s the last thing they care about right now.

.

The next thing Joohyun knows, they’re on the sofa by the living room, sharing a box of authentic Italian pizza, a side of fries, and pasta. (Wendy eats a lot.)

Joohyun is sitting while Wendy is laying down, her head resting on the actress’ lap.

They’re watching a classic Korean rom-com that Joohyun used to think was so corny but now? Now, she doesn’t mind. Rom-coms are nice. There’s a reason they hit the box office all the time.

“Why don’t you do rom-coms?” Wendy asks in the middle of the movie. She looks up at Joohyun with a look of pure curiosity.

Joohyun tries to think about it. Why don’t I do rom-coms?

“I don’t know?” she replies with the only answer she can think of.

“Hmm…” Wendy hums, turning her attention back to the television. “Do you think rom-coms are way below your acting ability?”

“No?”

Wendy looks up at her again, “You don’t sound sure.”

“I’m not?” she says. She lifts a hand and runs it on Wendy’s hair. “I don’t think it’s my brand.”

“So based on the movies you’ve done, you’re more like the badass Asian chick who can do karate?”

Joohyun laughs so hard she thinks she could’ve woken up the entire building. “Have you ever seen me doing karate in my movies?”

“No?” Wendy laughs at her own musings. “You’ve done some martial arts and so many fights scenes, non-Asian people only call that karate.”

“Point.”

“I’m just saying, you should do more rom-coms.”

“Are you serious?”

Wendy nods, “It would be something different.”

“Are you saying I’m a one-dimensional actress?” Joohyun asks, feigning suspicion.

“I’m saying you should show them that Irene can be soft, too.”

“I don’t care if they know that or not,” Joohyun says matter-of-factly. “The most important people in my life know and that’s all that matters.”

‘You know and that’s all that matters’ goes unsaid.

Wendy nods, convinced, “Point.”

The doctor lifts herself and settles for a sitting position next to Joohyun. She grabs the remote and puts the movie on pause. “What’s your dream role?” Wendy asks, turning to Joohyun like she’s asking her something that’s been on her mind for a long time time.

Joohyun chuckles, puzzled by the look of curiosity in Wendy’s face, “Why do you ask?”

The other girl shrugs, “I don’t know. I feel like every actress has a dream role.”

The actress, for a moment, wonders if this is the first time anyone’s asked her that question. She doesn’t remember ever thinking about the answer. It’s also not something she has thought about in the past.

“That’s a great question—and one that I don’t have an answer for.”

“How come?”

Wendy sure is inquisitive. Maybe it comes with the territory.

“I haven’t thought about it,” Joohyun replies with the best truth she can give her. “I’ve always gotten the roles I wanted, maybe that’s why I haven’t given it thought.”

“Okay, let me rephrase the question,” she says as she perks up on her seat. “If you could have any TV or movie role right now, what would that be?”

“Thank God you didn’t pursue a career in tabloid because you’d be so annoying as hell,” Joohyun quips, laughing. But then, she gives it thought. “Can it be two dream roles?”

“It can be 500 dream roles but that would take all night.”

Wendy has a contagious smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye that just takes Joohyun’s breath away. For the briefest of seconds, she forgets how to breathe.

“The first one that came to mind is a serial killer.”

Wendy’s eyes widen. She’s both shocked and entertained at the same time. “That’s… a choice.”

Joohyun laughs, “I know. But I think I’ve always been very curious about the way the mind works and how a lot of the things we do are processed internally, and we don’t even know it.”

The doctor nods, “That’s true. Our brain contains billions of nerve cells and patterns that coordinate thoughts, actions, emotion, behavior, movement, and sensation.”

And it’s all just so… Wendy, that Joohyun finds herself smiling. She scrunches her nose, “You’re cute.”

“And smart,” Wendy adds or corrects? Or both.

“And smart.”

Well, it’s both. Wendy is cute and smart. Joohyun wins.

“Thank you,” Wendy bobs her head playfully. “Now, what’s the other one?”

“Hmm… I’ve always wanted to be in a post-apocalyptic film where I am the fearless leader of a tribe and I will fall in love with the leader of the rival tribe.”

Wendy’s eyes light up with excitement, “That’s so specific but hey, I would watch that.”

“’Course you would.”

Laughter keeps them occupied for a couple of moments. Wendy throws in a joke and Joohyun laughs like it’s second nature. It’s like Joohyun’s entire body is designed to respond to Wendy almost always positively.

There’s this tiny voice at the back of Joohyun’s mind that’s screaming at her to run. That this is too good to be true. That the universe is designed to give and then to take; and sometimes, if you’re unlucky, the universe will only know how to take and take, and take.

She looks at Wendy and she feels her heart break for young, clueless Joohyun who only wanted love but didn’t know how to ask for it.

But then, she also feels her heart swell with something she cannot spell. It’s strong and powerful, and loud. The feeling is so loud that it takes over whatever voice is telling her to run.

Right now, all she wants to do is stay and stay—because maybe, Joy is right.

You make her happy and if she makes you happy, then it should be simple.

“Have you always wanted to be an actor?” the other girl asks; which (again) takes Joohyun aback. Wendy doesn’t hold back, that’s for sure. “I mean, if you don’t want to answer, it’s fine. I guess, I’ve always wondered.”

Joohyun pauses to think. Did I always want to become an actor?

“Does anyone ever really grow up and think, ‘I want to become an actress’?”

Wendy shrugs, “I don’t know? Is that sarcasm I sense?”

Joohyun smirks, “No, I just—I don’t know. Your questions are hard.”

“I’m sorry—”

“—no, I—”

Wendy starts to ramble, “I only know you from high school and you’ve always been kinda shy. Except maybe when you became part of the Drama Club. So, I was just a bit surprised when Joy told me that one of our classmates has become a Hollywood actress. You weren’t the first one that came to mind.”

By now, Joohyun’s used to the chunk of sentences that Wendy just casually spits out.

“Who was the first one that came to mind?”

“Irrelevant to this conversation but it was Lisa,” she replies. “She was always so loud about pursuing a career in entertainment.”

“She owns a popular studio in Gangnam now, right?”

Wendy nods, “Again, irrelevant to this conversation. But yes, she owns a huge studio and has also choreographed several girl groups but—we’re talking about you. Not Lisa.”

“Hmm…” she ponders. “If you asked me in high school if I’ve wanted to be an actor, I would’ve said yes. But then, if you asked me if I wanted to start my own business and sell overpriced samgyupsal to tourists, I would’ve also said yes.”

Wendy just keeps listening and Joohyun finally feels at ease talking.

She continues, “I don’t think I knew exactly what I wanted to be back then except acting is the only thing that came easy to me.”

The doctor softens. She’s looking at Joohyun like this is all so inspiring for her.

“Being on stage and not being me even just for a couple of moments, I was—am—comfortable with that. Now that I think about it, I think it helped me survive high school.”

“That makes sense.”

Joohyun turns to her, chuckling bitterly. She feels a need to defend her choices, “It does? You don’t think it’s ridiculous that I made a career of not wanting to be me?”

Wendy gives her a look as if she’s offended by whatever Joohyun is insinuating, “I don’t think of you that way. I think your career is hard and important. And takes a lot of hardwork to master, just like every career there is. Plus, not wanting to be who you are is a normal feeling. I think it’s smart that you made a career out of it.”

“Really? No long speeches about how truly great I am? Isn’t that what all you people say, that I’m not as damaged as I think I am? That I—”

This time, Wendy looks at her like she’s shocked at how the conversation progressed. As if what Joohyun said really hurt her.

It’s when Joohyun realizes what she’s doing. Self-preservation. It’s her insatiable need to protect herself even when she’s not being attacked.

“I—Wendy, I—I’m sorry.”

“No, I—” Wendy scoots closer to her and puts an arm around her shoulders. The girl then puts a soft kiss on Joohyun’s temple. She whispers, “Hyun, it’s just me. You don’t have to defend yourself to me.”

“I know,” she sighs.

Silence embraces them for a while and during this moment of solace, Joohyun allows herself to feel Wendy’s presence next to her. She allows herself to feel the patterns Wendy is drawing on her arm. She allows herself to feel the lingering sensation of Wendy’s lips on her skin.

She breathes a little easier as she tells herself to trust the woman beside her. Her progress is small, maybe so, but it’s still progress.

This is the farthest she’s gone when it comes to trusting people.

“I didn’t initially want to be a doctor,” Wendy opens up when Joohyun wouldn’t say anything. Her voice is quiet, vulnerable—it’s as if she’s sharing something very important. Delicate. “I know I told your mum that I always wanted to pursue classical music and that’s not necessarily a lie but that wasn’t the whole truth.”

Joohyun turns to Wendy and sees her deep in thought. She’s staring at the television, her face being lit up by the screen. The movie on pause is long forgotten now.

“I hated that everyone in the family is a doctor. I thought I didn’t want to be one because that would be too obvious,” the doctor continues. “Up until high school, I was so sure I wasn’t going to pursue medicine and was going to take up music. But things happened and now, I’m here.”

“What changed then?” Joohyun asks, feeling an unexplainable dread creep up her spine.

Wendy looks at her and for a moment hesitates—and Joohyun thinks she knows what changed.

“Rosé.”

There it is.

Once again, tentative silence fills the room. Wendy is hesitating, Joohyun is curious.

Joohyun sees Wendy swallow before she turns to her and asks, “Is it okay if I talk about her?”

The actress smiles sympathetically, “Is it okay with you to talk about her?”

Wendy nods and smiles. Something about her smile is different, like she’s recalling a painful memory from a time that was good. “She was…” a pause, “She’s the first one who told me that it’s okay to be very, very, very rich.”

The doctor punctuates it with a soft laugh and Joohyun can’t help but join in. She didn’t know Rosé long enough to have any assumptions about her but even in the brief moments they shared, she knows that she’s one of the good ones.

“She’s a funny girl,” Joohyun remarks.

Wendy chuckles, “She was. But she was serious when she said that. It’s okay to be very, very, VERY rich, Wendy. What she meant was it’s okay to take the road that everyone in my family has travelled on because it doesn’t matter if I am a Son. It’s just a last name. It’s what I do with it that matters.”

“That’s deep.”

The doctor nods, “That’s when I realized what is it that I want to achieve in life.”

Joohyun manages a small laugh, “Oh, this is that conversation?”

“It’s always that conversation.”

“And what is it that you want in life?”

Wendy looks at her and keeps their gazes locked, “I want my life to matter. Not in a Nobel Peace Prize kinda way or save-a-country-from-war kinda way but in a way that one person is less lonely because I’m here in this world.” There’s a long pause before the doctor looks away, “Does that make sense?”

Joohyun nods, inspired, “Yeah. It was profound but it made sense. It’s nice.”

They’re quiet for a few seconds, just letting the sentiment sink in. Perhaps it’s the mood, or just the bout of honesty she’s gotten from Wendy that Joohyun feels encouraged to open up, too.

“After I landed my first role, Jessica made me write a speech,” she starts.

Wendy turns to her, “A speech?”

Joohyun nods, “I was just 20, I think. And after we got the call, she handed me a laptop and told me to write my Best Actress speech for the Oscars.”

The actress laughs at the memory which also makes Wendy laugh, both charmed and weirded out by Jessica’s gesture.

“I didn’t understand what was going on but I did it anyway because Jess’ first rule is: do what I tell you to do even if I tell you to jump in front of a moving train. Especially if I tell you to jump in front of a moving train.

Wendy chuckles, “That’s so brutal.”

“And also so very her, right? It’s all about trust with Jess. You give her the world and she’s going to give you the universe. So I sat down and wrote a speech. It took me days to finish it because I took it seriously. I wasn’t dumb. I know I wasn’t going to win any awards with a character involved in a TV show’s B-plot but I took it seriously because—”

“—you’re you, and you don’t do anything half-assed.”

Joohyun manages a laugh, “That’s right. So in writing that speech I realized that all I want in life is very simple. I just want to be happy.”

She pauses and then looks away. Memories of Daegu and Lee Sooman International, and the last eight years come crashing down on her. She sees old versions of her that no longer resemble the person she is now. But she still sometimes feel them, see them.

Sometimes, she is them. Young, hopeful Joohyun from Daegu. Lonely, snarky Joohyun from Lee Sooman International High School. Cold, distant Irene from a Hollywood blockbuster film trilogy.

They’re parts that make up a whole but they don’t entirely cover the Joohyun that sits here today—a tad broken in some parts, a bit sad about four days a week at best, but she’s becoming a full person now. She’s no longer just someone with a past. She’s no longer someone who has lost so much.

Who is she? She doesn’t know. Not really. But she’s certain that her ultimate wants in life have not changed.

Joohyun just wants to be happy.

Quite vague, quite broad—but dreams are not always specific.

“When Teacher Goo made us write that essay in second year about our aspirations in life, she gave me a failing grade and said that being happy is not an aspiration. I think what she was really asking for in that essay was a career but society’s always told us that they’re the same thing. So I addressed that in my fake Oscars speech. I talked about how all my life I’ve been told that everything will come easy to me because I’m pretty.”

A slow, shit-eating grin slowly draws on Wendy’s face, “Well, look at us. I’ve struggled about being rich and you’ve struggled about being pretty. We’re so relatable.”

Joohyun laughs heartily, “Shut up. So I was saying, everyone just kind of brushes everything aside and says that it doesn’t matter what I do. That I’m gonna achieve everything in life because I am pretty. At some point, you realize that people look at you and see that all you are is a very pretty girl with nothing to show for but your face.”

“Is that why you moved? To the US?”

Joohyun nods, “I could’ve debuted as an idol. But I wanted to prove something. I wanted to go to a place where no one thinks I’ll have it easy. Kind of masochistic really, but I also wanted to escape. After losing my parents, I didn’t think I could be happy again. So I re-upped my entire life in Los Angeles with that mentality: that I’m incomplete, unhappy, and pretty.”

This time, Wendy doesn’t say anything. Instead, she grabs Joohyun’s hand to remind her that she’s there, that she hears her. And that she’s listening.

Deep down, Joohyun also doesn’t miss the fact that Wendy is only the fourth person in her life that she’s spoken to about her parents. “Spoken” really takes it too far, more like “mentioned” but that, in itself, is a personal feat.

“I don’t know what else I wrote in that speech but Jess printed out a copy, and told me to hold on to it forever. She said it will remind me of the only motivation I need to do whatever I want to do.”

“That’s so philosophical of her.”

Joohyun nods, “I’ve kept it ever since and brought it with me everywhere even if there were times it was hard to believe that I could ever be happy. You know what’s really ironic, though? I left that note on my other bag before I flew back here.”

Wendy gasps quietly, her eyes wide at the sheer turn of Joohyun’s story.

“I almost panicked when I thought I had lost it but after a few weeks back here in Seoul I realized something. I didn’t need it. I held on to it for eight years until it was time to let it go. Coming back here, I realized that maybe being happy isn’t a destination. That it’s not something you wake up to someday and poof! You have it. You’re happy, you’re done. Your journey is over. Happiness isn’t like that at all.”

Joohyun turns to Wendy and meets her eyes before she continues, “I am beginning to realize that true happiness isn’t something big or something you work for all your life to get to. It’s the small little moments, something that’s already here. The sunset, the cup of tea or coffee at the start of the day. The times you spend with friends. A warm hand you can pull close to you when everything gets loud and overwhelming. Took me eight long years to understand why happiness isn’t an aspiration.”

She breathes, “It’s not something you work your ass off for. It’s something that comes easy, like baking cookies after a long hard day. For a teenager to sell at school.”

Wendy’s face lights up with recognition and Joohyun’s heart is doing all sorts of acrobatic somersaults. She hadn’t planned on making that analogy but it came so easy, so natural. Maybe it was meant to be said after all.

Then, there it is again, that silence. It’s not awkward but it does feel tentative. It’s as if words are floating around them and all they need to do is pick them up to form sentences.

See, escaping these kinds of moments is easy for Joohyun. All she needs to do is stand up and dismiss whatever vulnerability was slowly unfolding. If she’s going to be honest, this is why it never worked out with all the guys she dated in the past.

She hates talking about herself. She hates talking about her dreams, her aspirations. She hates bearing her heart and soul for another person to see. All those times, she thought the problem was her. That she’s too defensive, that she’s too closed in.

But she’s just starting to realize that maybe, it wasn’t all her fault. That maybe, all those failed relationships wasn’t just on her. That maybe, all it takes is someone who sits and listens, and doesn’t get turned away when she lashes out.

All her life she watched people come into her life and go pack their bags when it becomes too difficult. Somehow, Wendy feels different. She persists but she also takes her time getting to know Joohyun. She’s patient and kind, and she doesn’t take any of Joohyun’s crap.

Wendy is here and present; and best of all she tries every single day to make Joohyun feel like it’s okay to be just… Joohyun. Confident, vulnerable, goofy Joohyun who is also sometimes too sad but that’s okay because everyone’s a little sad in their own ways.

Everyone’s sad and hurting in different ways and Wendy gets that. She understands the depth of emotions a person can have but she also knows that a person’s sadness doesn’t define anyone. That we are more than just the sum of our heartbreaks. That we are more than the person we think we are on our bad days.

Wendy understands that Joohyun is more and more—and it’s only now that Joohyun starts to believe it. With Wendy she is more.

Isn’t that what all a person needs in this world? Someone who stays. Someone who believes in you. Someone who sees you.

Someone who makes you fall in love with yourself, too.

“Can I ask you a question, Wan?” Joohyun swallows an invisible lump that has formed in throat. She gathers all her strength and thinks of Seulgi’s words, and Joy’s words. Even Yerim’s words.

She’s good for you.

You’re good for her.

It should be simple.

Wendy only nods, probably sensing the great amount of bravery in Joohyun’s voice.

She started the day whining about how all of this is too soon. Now, she can’t stop thinking she’s waited long enough.

“I—” she stutters. “I don’t know how—” a pause. “I don’t want to date you anymore.”

Wendy’s eyes widen, confusion drawn all over her face, “What?”

“That thing we said in December about dating, about going slow, about figuring it out—I don’t want that anymore. I’m leaving in March, maybe the first week of April—and I don’t want this dating thing anymore.”

Shell-shocked, Wendy keeps her eyes on her. Her gaze is intense, like she’s holding hope at the base of her throat as she holds on to every word Joohyun is saying, “Are you ending this?”

A beat.

And then all at once.

“I don’t want us to be this because this is tentative. What this is is: let’s see what we’ll do when you have to leave for the States. What this is, is: let’s date because we’re here and it’s convenient. That’s not what I want, Wan. I want us to try to make it work even when I have to leave. I want us to talk about next summer and next Christmas, and maybe next year. I don’t know—I just—” she breathes. “I no longer want to be just someone you’re fake-dating and eventually dated because that’s what all the movies and books tell you. I no longer want to wake up everyday wondering if this is the day this ends because it was just time. I want you. I want to have a relationship with you.”

There’s a moment there where Wendy was just upset, thinking that Joohyun was ending things between them but then a moment of clarity washes over her. She realizes in a matter of seconds what Joohyun is asking of her.

Then, her eyes just shine—and slowly, her lips curl up into a smile. A smile that’s in some sort of trance but also with a little disbelief because—

“Bae Joohyun, Hollywood actress and future winner of multiple Oscars, are you asking me to be your girlfriend?”

Joohyun nods without any hesitation because Wendy deserves better. Wendy isn’t someone you date because it’s there and it’s convenient. Wendy is someone you commit to because she stays, and stays—and Joohyun, for the first time in her entire life, feels that maybe she could have that, too.

Love. And warmth. And constant happiness that she doesn’t need to constantly chase or seek.

And maybe she could be that, too. Someone who trusts and gives and takes, and tries.

“Yes, Seungwan. I’m asking you—would you like to be my girlfriend?”

Joohyun lets out a nervous sigh.

Fake-dating Son Seungwan was definitely just the beginning of it all.

/

Chapter Text

/

9 Years Ago
Lee Sooman International High School

“Would you like to be my girlfriend?” Wendy asks into thin air, her attention split between her question and the football in front of her.

“Nah,” Sooyoung (or Joy as she insists on being called) says, shaking her head. “Feels a bit tacky.”

With this comment, Wendy turns to Joy quickly, “How is that tacky? I’m simply asking her to make it official.”

“Exactly,” Joy says as she adjusts on her seat, stretching her back. She’s seated by the bleachers, clothed in their usual uniform while Wendy stands by the lawn in her football training uniform. It’s a typical white top and white shorts pair, finished with high socks and Wendy’s favorite blue football shoes.

Practice is in 30 minutes and she hasn’t warmed up yet. She’s definitely going to regret this later.

“Do you even still ask that question these days?” Joy challenges nonchalantly.

Wendy lets out a small gasp, “Of course.” Before she had this conversation with Joy, she was sure about this whole thing but now? Now she’s just— "Wait, do people still ask that question?”

It’s officially Day 100 of dating Rosé and Wendy’s about to pop the question—the girlfriend question.

She’s sure that couples are supposed to make it official by way of asking that question but it’s no secret that this tradition has been highly influenced by Western practices these days. Now, she’s really confused.

“I don’t know, ask him,” she gestures at someone behind Wendy and as she turns, she sees Jackson jogging toward them, sporting the same football uniform but sweatier and dirtier.

“Hey,” he greets them, panting. The boys’ team has just wrapped up their training. “Yo, you wanna go to that tteok-bokki place later? The one Sehun keeps talking about?”

“I’d go, but she wouldn’t,” Joy hints, pertaining to Wendy. “She’s going on a date and she’s going to ask Chaeyoung to be her girlfriend.”

“Huh?” Jackson breathes, wiping the sweat off his forehead. “People still do that?”

By the look on his face, Wendy could tell it’s a genuine question.

Wendy rolls her eyes, “What is up with you guys?”

She darts her attention between Jackson and Joy who both just looks at her. They both shrug, leaving the decision to her because it’s up to her in the end anyway.

“Just ask her and if you’re done with your date, join us,” Jackson says simply, shrugging coolly. “If she says yes, tag her along.”

“Whatever,” Wendy dismisses, she picks up the football with her foot and starts tossing it using her toes. It distracts her for a while as silence dawns on the three of them.

“I sense something else, Wan,” Joy muses. “Talk to us.”

“It’s nothing—”

“Come on, man,” she nudges Wendy, encouraging her to talk to them. He then switches to English, “We don’t judge. We’re bros.

Joy glares at him, threatening him in fast, fluent Korean, “You say the word bro again and I’m going to break your legs.”

Jackson just laughs it off, knows Sooyoung is all talk and no harm. Except of course if you cross her, or Wendy for that matter. The girl is scary when she’s being protective.

“I just—” Wendy hesitates. She looks up at her friends, tossing the ball one final time and before it hits the ground, Wendy gives it a nice kick. She sighs, “What if she doesn’t say yes? What if this is all just a phase to her, you know? I don’t know if I can handle that.”

“Dude, have you seen the way she is around you? That girl is in love with you,” Jackson states, unafraid of being soft and vulnerable. It’s one of the things she likes the most about the guy. He might be cool and he uses the word dude and bro more often than Joy likes, but he’s quite the man and you can count on him even on topics like this.

Wendy looks at him and he responds with a soft, encouraging smile. She manages a hesitant smile, “I—I don’t know—”

“She seems to really like you,” Joy adds. “And if she has feelings for you, then it has to be the easiest yes in the world.”

The easiest ‘yes’ in the world.

What a concept.

“Boom! She nailed it,” Jackson cheers playfully. “You’ll be fine, Wan. And if it doesn’t go well, then, we can go to a karaoke instead and we’ll let you sing all the sad songs you want to sing.”

“And then I’ll come find her and break her arms,” Joy says with enough conviction to change the mood.

Both Jackson and Wendy burst out laughing.

 

“Well,” Jackson breaks after their laughs die down. “I gotta get changed. See you after school, Sooyoung. And good luck, lover girl.”

Joy lets out a hearty laugh as Jackson jogs away from them and heads toward the general direction of the main building. As he disappears into the building, two new figures are seen walking toward them: one has a nice, warm smile on her face and the other one has a shit-eating grin that’s only meant to tease Wendy.

In a matter of moments, Rosé and Seolhyun are in front of them. The blonde is in their usual uniform but Wendy doesn’t miss the expensive-looking guitar case slung on her back. Music practice—Wendy thinks.

Seolhyun, on the other hand, is in the same uniform as Wendy, looking as out-of-place in the uniform as one person can be. She hates athletics—is not even the least bit good at it—but it gets her out of cafeteria duty. With Seolhyun, it’s all about outsmarting the system.

“I brought somebody with me!” Seolhyun announces, that teasing grin still plastered on her face.

“Hey,” Wendy greets, her eyes set on Rosé.

“Hey,” the other girl smiles shyly, her cheeks turning pink. She tucks a strand of hair being her ear, “You weren’t responding to my texts so I figured you’d be here. Just thought I’d drop by before music practice.

Seolhyun butts in, “She’s so nice and polite, and she smells good.” She then winks at Wendy, “I don’t know what you did to get this lucky but keep it up.”

Silence envelopes the four girls with Wendy and Rosé just staring at each other as the cool breeze of early fall blows past them. A couple of seconds pass and Joy finally breaks the silence.

“I mean, if you need a moment, feel free to—like—walk her toward the exit. I’m not moving from my seat.”

Park Sooyoung, a master mood-killer.

Seolhyun chuckles, “I’m gonna go up to Coach and ask him to lessen the freestyle sessions. Wendy’s just showing off at this point.”

The other girl runs toward the center of the field where some of their teammates are already gathered and warming up. Meanwhile, Joy just stares at them and gestures for them to walk toward the opposite side of the field.

“I’ll walk you,” Wendy offers.

Rosé nods and gives Joy a small wave before turning on her heels. Their paces match effortlessly as they head toward the same direction Jackson disappeared to earlier.

“Are we still on for later?” Rosé inquires.

Their hands are swinging side-by-side, almost touching but never quite. The tension between them slowly builds up, like in those movies when the two leads are on a date and the next obvious thing to do is hold hands.

It’s that scene, yes. Wendy would cringe if this isn’t happening to her.

It has been three or so months since they started dating but the feeling of just being next to the girl hasn’t changed. It makes Wendy giggly and excited, and… there’s no word for this but you know that feeling like when you just don’t want to waste any time being not around that person? It’s like that, but more intense.

“Yeah,” Wendy nods. “I found a place where we can eat after we go to Haneul Park.”

Rosé grins, the idea of food almost instantly livens her up. “Do they have bingsu? I hope they have bingsu.”

“Of course, they have bingsu.”

“Yay! I can’t wait!” she giggles.

Tentative silence falls upon them and at that moment, Wendy gathers up all the courage she has inside her to take Rosé’s hand and interlace their fingers. They’re at school and they could get in trouble but who cares? This is what she wants to do and she’s gonna do it.

The other girl freezes for the briefest of seconds but she goes with it anyway. Rosé relaxes against Wendy’s touch, their hands settling warmly against each other. The whole world is telling them that this kind of relationship is wrong—and maybe part of Wendy still believes that she’s gonna go to hell for this—but it feels right.

It feels so right and maybe it’ll be worth it in the end.

“It’s crazy how those American drama teenagers can just do PDA in the hallways, while us holding hands could get us expelled,” Rosé chuckles bitterly.

Wendy laughs, “They’re not gonna expel you or me. This school can’t go on without our family’s donations.”

“It’s weird how you hate being this rich and yet you use it every chance you get.”

“Hah! Well, I’m already suffering from the incredibly high expectations of the whole nation, might as well have fun with it.”

They stop on their tracks as they reach the exit of the field.

“You’re funny,” the taller girl tells her as she turns to her.

“And smart.”

“And smart.”

They once again just stare at each other for a few seconds before Rosé leans in ever so slowly and kisses her on the cheek.

Time stops and so does Wendy’s breathing. She knows exactly that she’s not dying but hey, this wouldn’t be a bad way to go.

“See you later,” Rosé smiles at her with a slight jump. It’s easy to see that she, too, is happy and excited. Young love—Wendy thinks. Deep down, she hopes to never lose this feeling. And if she does lose it, she hopes it comes back to find her.

Practice gets extra intense that day and Seolhyun bumps into her hard twice so Wendy’s body is actually so sore by the time it was time for their date. But they push their plans anyway.

They take a stroll down Haneul Park, their hands locked with each other; not a single fuck was given to anybody who tries to stare. They visit the restaurant, get their dose of brain freeze from eating bingsu, and at the end of the night, Wendy gets a yes.

They join Jackson, Joy, Seolhyun, and Sehun at the tteok-bokki place, and soon as her friends see them walking toward them, they all cheer in excitement because they know.

Wendy doesn’t take her eyes off her girlfriend the entire night as certain thoughts keep invading her mind. Behind each smile, each stolen glance, each whisper of I love you, you know—is a tiny sliver of hope.

She looks up at the sky one time and hopes that this is the easiest yes the girl has said.

.

The smell of food is what stirs Wendy awake.

Lying on her back, she wakes up to the sight of her living room ceiling as the sound of home cooking tingle her senses even more. She blinks a few times and just, for a couple of seconds, processes her environment.

She’s on the couch, her living room being enveloped by the rays of the light that have managed to seep through the dark curtains. She slept on the couch because after much debate last night, Joohyun eventually agreed to sleep in Wendy’s bedroom.

Which reminds her—

“Oh my—” she gasps as she gets reminded of last night’s events.

Joohyun stayed the night.

She quickly shoots up from her position and re-adjusts to a sitting position, her eyes scanning the whole room immediately. It doesn’t take her a lot to find the girl in question. Joohyun is standing by the kitchen, hunched over the stove with one hand on her hip as her other hand holds a spatula.

Wendy didn’t want to stare but… well, she does.

She takes a couple of seconds to take the sight of the other woman in. It’s an unfamiliar sight to wake up to someone in her kitchen… at least someone not named Joy. It’s unfamiliar to have company on a Sunday morning and yet, something about it makes sense. Like the whole universe has allowed this to happen because it just makes sense.

Do you ever get that feeling? That odd, often unfamiliar, feeling that comes out of nowhere where you’re just certain that you’re in the right place and time? Weird, isn’t it? How one thing can be so new but soon as your hands get ahold of it, you just know that it belongs to you.

Wendy is used to research, to finding answers in everything. But right now, she doesn’t even bother looking for an explanation.

Some things are just true.

“Hey,” she calls out, soft and gentle. She didn’t want to startle the other woman.

At the sound of her voice, Joohyun turns to her and upon seeing Wendy, the girl’s face instantly lights up. There’s a smile on her face that Wendy knows is just for her.

“Hey,” Joohyun greets her back.

Her voice is soft and warm, and comforting. It was barely a word but there’s something else that comes with it. Something is different in the way Joohyun looks at her. Wendy thinks she knows but a part of her is scared to admit what her eyes are telling her.

They say it takes the brain a while to recognize what the heart already knows. (Which is, technically, incorrect because the heart is just a muscle and it doesn’t have the same functions as the brain so that whole analogy is so scientifically wrong but—

“You’re spacing out on me already,” Joohyun teases, still with that look on her face.

“Oh no, I’m just admiring the view,” Wendy recovers smoothly. That wasn’t just a line, though.

Joohyun is in the most casual clothing Wendy’s seen on her. The actress is in a loose pair of black sweatpants and Wendy’s oversized gray Yonsei sweatshirt. Her hair is up in a ponytail, her hair free of any makeup.

So no, it wasn’t just a line. “You’re beautiful,” Wendy adds because some things are just true.

“You’re disgusting,” Joohyun rolls her eyes playfully, but a tinge of pink colors up her cheeks so Wendy still counts this as a win.

“What are you doing up so early?” Wendy asks as she stands up and walks over to where Joohyun is.

Joohyun chuckles, “Wan, it’s nine.”

Wendy’s eyes widen, a silent gasp escaping her lips, “What?” She quickly scans the room and finds the digital clock resting atop the corner table. It’s, indeed, nine in the morning. “What—are you still—your flight is supposed to be at seven!”

“Flight got cancelled,” Joohyun states simply, wiggling her eyebrows for effect. The girl turns around and brings her attention back to whatever she’s cooking—which Wendy would normally be curious about but there’s just so much going on! 

“So you—you’re staying longer?” she stutters a bit, anticipation setting her whole body in a disarray.

“Do you want me to?” Joohyun asks, turning her head toward Wendy and gives her a look. It’s more than a question, Wendy knows. She senses the need for approval.

Wendy shakes her head frantically, “I—I mean, I don’t mind.”

Joohyun squints her eyes, “You don’t mind?”

Again, she’s not just repeating herself for effect. Wendy knows Joohyun wants her to be truthful, to be straightforward; to be unabashedly honest so there’s no gray area.

So, she complies. Honesty is the best policy. “I—I would like that.”

“That’s better—” the actress nods. “I’ll stay here until tonight. Then, I’d have to spend the night at Jessica’s.”

“Oh,” Wendy manages, recognizing that it’s been a while since she last spoke to the woman. “How is she?”

“With the way Jeongyeon called me, I’m sure she’s not doing okay,” Joohyun answers with a hint of sadness coloring her voice. “Jess has been drinking for a week straight and Jeongyeon is worried. So, she asked me to accompany Jess tonight.”

“You want me to come with you?”

“Do you want to be around Jess like that?”

Wendy shrugs, leaning on the counter, “Jessica and I are friends. I know she won’t admit that and would probably even write ‘Wendy Son is the reason I’m dead’ on her headstone, but we’re friends. I want to be there for her.”

Joohyun nods, convinced, “Yeah, going together would be a good idea. She talks to you. You have this natural gift of making people open up to you. I would know.”

The doctor winks at her playfully, “That’s called charm. I’m very charming.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I wouldn’t argue.”

“Wow—no argument whatsoever from Bae Joohyun? Is it my birthday yet?”

Joohyun laughs, “Shut up.”

The actress shuffles across the small space as she adds more seasoning to the pot of boiling whatever on the stove.

Wendy giggles light-heartedly but goes back into a panicked mode when she spots the clock across the room. She can’t believe it’s mid-morning already. She sighs, “I can’t believe I slept in when I have a guest. I’m sorry—my manners are all over the place.”

“I’m hardly a guest, Wan. I’m your girlfriend.”

Oh.

Wendy tries but she couldn’t help the stupid grin that escapes her lips. She smiles—big, wide, and stupid—at the thought of this woman being her girlfriend. That for a moment last night, she was the luckiest girl in the entire world because she had the incredible chance of saying yes. Of being the person who gets to wake up to this.

“You have a stupid smile on your face,” Joohyun quips.

“You did this to me,” Wendy tells her. “I was okay and now I have a stupid smile on my face.”

“For what it’s worth, I was smiling so stupidly last night, too.”

“Heh—” that stupid smile. Again.

Silence envelopes them for a while, both women just getting lost in each other’s eyes.

On one hand, Wendy’s heart feels light. She’s happy. It’s like she’s floating.

On the other hand, there’s this feeling that tells her that this might be a bad idea. She doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, doesn’t know what the future holds. But not knowing about the future has never stopped her before.

There’s no reason to be careful now, especially not now. Not when she has a real chance with Joohyun—a real chance at a happiness that’s evaded her for so long.

“You’re staring,” Joohyun’s voice interrupts her thoughts.

Wendy shrugs, “I get to. You’re my girlfriend—which reminds me, I’m gonna go brush my teeth so I can kiss you good morning properly.”

The doctor then perks up on her place but before she could make a move, Joohyun speaks up.

“Go ahead,” Joohyun nods. “I’m almost done here anyway. After breakfast, we’re going to the grocery store.”

“What? Why?” Wendy stops briefly in her tracks, her statement could be better classified as a whine.

“I can’t even put together a decent breakfast because you’ve got nothing here,” Joohyun states, her eyebrows knotted. She bobs her head toward the general direction of the refrigerator—which ultimately reminds Wendy that said refrigerator may be yellow and cute and all, but it’s empty. Well, almost. Wendy can’t remember the last time she actually bought grocery items.

“I’m only here on Sundays and I only sleep in. I don’t have ingredients there because I have no use for them,” Wendy argues, pouting.

“Your pout won’t get you out of this, Wan. You should have at least something you can put together when you’re home.”

“But—”

“No buts—”

“Fine. You’re the boss,” Wendy nods as she starts skipping toward the bathroom.

“’Course I am.”

“I’m so lucky,” she says easily, like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Joohyun only smiles, shaking her head. There’s that blush again—and God, Wendy loves seeing her like this.

Wendy turns on her heels and walks toward the bathroom. But before she can complete her short trip, Joohyun calls for her name again

“Wan.”

“Hmm?” she hums, turning to the other woman.

“You do realize that we’ve broken both of the rules you’ve set, right?”

Ah

No gimmicks at the hospital.

No schedules on Sundays.

Wendy shrugs, “Those are stupid rules. Especially the second one.

Joohyun only chuckles

“You could take up all my Sundays if you like, even my weekdays, too.”

“We both have jobs, shut up.”

They both laugh at their banter, light and easy. Not to say Wendy didn’t mean it.

She absolutely meant every word of it.

.

It’s at that moment does she also realize that—holy shit

Joohyun had one rule.

That one’s probably been broken, too. But that’s a discussion for another day.

.

Wendy doesn’t remember the last time she went shopping at an actual grocery store.

She gets everything from Red Flavor and those she can’t get there, she just doesn’t get at all. There are two convenience stores inside the hospital and three more outside. If you think about it, there’s really no need for her to go to a huge store, pushing around a cart that she doesn’t know how to fill.

She also doesn’t have the time. To be honest, it’s the time aspect that really decides it all. But of course, Joohyun had other plans.

Wendy should’ve guessed things were bound to change. Not that she’s complaining.

“So as I was saying, I’ll be spending the entire week next week just studying.”

“Uh-hmm,” Joohyun hums, her eyes carefully scanning the racks. They’re on the cereal aisle with Joohyun taking point. She’s walking a couple of steps ahead of Wendy as the doctor pushes the cart around.

Joohyun has decided on everything so far because all Wendy wanted to buy was ramyeon, ramyeon, and more ramyeon. Of course, she would never tell her patients to eat ramyeon everyday but that’s the only meal her time allows her to prepare. Most of the real food she eats is cooked by Joy. Wendy couldn’t complain about that either because Joy is a fantastic cook.

It’s an irony, for sure, for a medical practitioner to not follow the rules they set for other people. But isn’t that true for any profession?

The actress loathed the idea of Wendy eating just processed food all the time so she decided that she’s going to cook food for Wendy in large portions so the doctor can just heat it up when she gets home. Wendy even had to convince Joohyun to go to the cereal aisle because the actress initially wanted her to eat granola and yoghurt instead.

“The cereal selection in this grocery is terrible.”

“This country isn’t big on cereal, Hyun.”

“I figured. So this test,” Joohyun picks up on their discussion as she decides on Kellogg’s Almond Flakes. She gets two boxes and places them in the already half-full cart. Joohyun then slides next to Wendy, effortlessly clinging to the doctor’s arm. Their paces match as they walk down the rest of the cereal aisle. “You have to pass this test to qualify for residency?”

Wendy nods, “Yes. If I don’t pass, I’m gonna spend another three months as an Intern before I get the chance to take the exam again.”

“I’m sure you’ll do well. What’s the exam going to be like?”

“Fifty-percent written exam and another fifty for practical.”

“Which one are you more confident in?”

The doctor pauses to think. “Hmm—” she breathes as they turn the corner and head to another aisle. “Practical exams are easier, I guess. But it depends on who will run them.”

“Expound, please.

“If Dr. Lim runs it, it’s easier. I know how she goes about her cases. But there’s a good chance that the Chief will run the practical. If Dr. Kim runs it, I’m in trouble.”

“Aren’t tests supposed to be standard, like, it should be the same no matter who facilitates it?”

Wendy shrugs, “I guess it’ll be pretty standardized but it’s easier when you know how the facilitator’s mind goes.”

“I see, okay,” Irene nods. “You’ll do well, I’m sure.”

As they turn to a new aisle, this time by the condiments aisle, Joohyun takes her phone out and pulls up her Notes app. This makes Wendy chuckle, “Don’t tell me you made a list.”

Joohyun laughs softly but doesn’t say anything.

“Hyun, did you go through all of my cabinets to make a list of all the things I don’t have in my kitchen?” Wendy asks, trying to stop herself from laughing.

Joohyun only laughs.

“Bae Joohyun!”

Joohyun shrugs as she turns to Wendy, she scrunches her nose, “You said don’t tell you.”

“Oh gosh.”

The actress giggles once more as she pulls away from Wendy, walking happily through the condiments aisle as she peeks at her list from time to time. At this moment, Wendy recalls a memory from months ago, words from her patient she didn’t know were going to make such an impact on her

A soulmate isn’t just someone you want to do cool stuff with. I think a true soulmate is someone who makes an ordinary day fun. A lot of people make all these really big plans with their person but you know, fuck that. Choose someone who could take you to a grocery store and still have a blast with, someone who doesn’t make you dread Mondays because it’s the two of you no matter what. Suddenly, you look forward to everyday, even the most mundane of days.

Well, they’re right here, actually having fun at a grocery store. Isn’t that something

“That’s everything.”

Wendy snaps out of her thoughts. Was Joohyun able to read her mind?

“Wh-what?”

“I said, that’s everything on my list. Do you have something else you wanted to buy?”

“Nope, everything I need is right here,” she responds with a smile, meaning every single word.

Recognizing what Wendy is implying, Joohyun smiles, “What’s gotten into you?”

They start walking again, this time heading to where the cashiers are.

“Nothing,” Wendy responds, smiling. “I’m just happy.”

“That we’re shopping to finally stack up the sad excuse you call a kitchen?”

Wendy laughs, “You’re so snarky. And no, that’s not the only reason. I’m happy ‘cause you’re here and I don’t think it’s random that your flight got cancelled.”

Irene turns to her as they get in line, two people ahead of them. She looks at the doctor softly. The actress has a mask on but she knows there’s a delicate smile gracing her face. Wendy notices a twinkle in her eyes, too—the kind she knows is reserved for her, and her alone. And something about all of it clicks—like, despite all the chances they missed in the past, or the times they spent apart, or whatever is waiting for them in the future; this moment is theirs.

Right now, Joohyun isn’t a popular Hollywood actress. Right now, Wendy isn’t a doctor with tons of baggage hiding in the shadows. They’re just two women, enjoying each other’s company—doing their best not to utter those three words yet. Is it too early? Is there a proper time to say it? Is it foolish to utter three important words when one is here on a temporary stay?

Wendy doesn’t know for sure but she knows it’s there.

In the way Joohyun’s eyes are twinkling when she looks at Seungwan; in the way Seungwan doesn’t mind that her Sunday routine has changed—it’s there.

Perhaps, love isn’t what saves you. Love, Wendy realizes, is what holds your hand as you save yourself. It cooks you breakfast on a Sunday, a day you usually spend alone. It takes you to a grocery store so you can take better care of yourself. Love has a list of all the condiments you don’t have so your shelves are filled with everything you need.

Love lines up with you at a packed grocery store in the middle of Seoul even if she runs the risk of being recognized. Maybe, love’s timing sucks and maybe, love’s a terrible freshman in high school—and maybe, love starts with a dying business and a desperate move for attention. But maybe love’s also just human with scars from the past but with hopeful eyes.

So maybe all that matters is that love is here—that for some reason, love found itself back in the city where Wendy is.

Now, Wendy isn’t sure she believes in destiny. She’s a woman of science and she’s trained all her life to believe that everything happens, happens because there’s a why, a what, a how. Not that the answers to those questions matter now.

Love is here. Love came back and found her.

.

“Hey, Wan,” Joohyun calls out, placing the bags of groceries on top of the counter. “Are you okay?”

“Hmm?” Wendy hums.

They’ve just arrived back at the apartment. After shopping, they went out to eat lunch at an old, local restaurant within the neighborhood. It was nice and quiet, and far from the life they’re both used to—which makes Wendy think that if it’s up to them and only them, this is how their life is going to be.

Wendy spent 20+ years building her life up with medicine, with Red Flavor; and up until this day, it didn’t include a Sunday quite like this—and yet, it feels so right. It’s like she’s craving for this kind of feeling all her life but just couldn’t put a name to it.

“Are you okay?” Joohyun pulls her out of her thoughts, repeating her question

Wendy, not understanding where Joohyun’s question is coming from, gives her a look, “Huh? I’m okay—I’m more than okay. Why do you ask?”

“You’ve been quiet.”

“You do understand that I don’t talk 24/7, right?”

Joohyun laughs, hurling Wendy an entire roll of kitchen napkins which the doctor easily catches, “I’m just not used to you not talking. Is something bothering you?”

“Bothering me, no—I was just—” she takes a deep breath.

Wendy then walks closer to Joohyun, the small space of the kitchen making it easier to close the gap between them. She stands in front of the slightly taller woman, takes both of her hands, then swings their interlocked hands together. “Had the situations been reversed, and I was the one who asked you to make it official last night, would you have said yes?”

“What kind of question is that?” Joohyun’s eyebrows are knotted in sheer confusion. “Of course, I would’ve said yes,” she answers easily, but firm and sure.

“Would it have been an easy yes?”

Now, that’s what halts Joohyun for a bit. “What?”

Wendy shrugs, “I don’t know. I was just wondering if it was easy making that decision.”

“What decision?”

“To be with me.”

Wendy lets go of Joohyun’s hands and takes a step back. She rests against the kitchen counter, eyes still locked with the other woman’s. She doesn’t know where this conversation is going, nor does she know if it’s leading somewhere good but she had to ask—memories from that day with Chaeyoung still plaguing her mind like it happened yesterday.

It became her standard for all the yes-es she’d said since then.

“Where is this coming from?” Joohyun asks, now sporting a serious expression on her face.

See, Wendy doesn’t exactly know how to answer that. You see, as the thought of love coming back to find her, her mind instantly wandered to the love she lost. Her time with Chaeyoung was short but Wendy would swear it’s one of the sweetest times of her life.

It began with a question, one she uttered at a local restaurant before they got their brain frozen by a wonderful serving of bingsu. Would you like to be my girlfriend?

Asking Chaeyoung was easy. Wendy was sure of her, of them. She knew, the day she asked her, that she could fight for their relationship. It’s complicated. Being in a relationship with another woman in a place where everyone has a clear-cut definition of love, it’s tough. It’s scary. But inside that bingsu store, nothing else mattered but the yes that followed.

To Wendy, it wasn’t just a yes, I’d very much like to be your girlfriend. It was a yes, I love you. It was yes, I’d follow you to the ends of the Earth if you asked me to. Young Wendy sure was a romantic.

It was a quick yes from Chaeyoung and she said it like it came naturally to her. She said it like she meant it. She said it like it was the easiest yes in the world.

Wendy shrugs, searching for any clues in Joohyun’s eyes, “I don’t know. I’m just curious, is all. Everything is so unique about all of this. The fake dating, the fact that you’re a world-renowned actress and I’m just… me.”

Joohyun lets out a deep, heavy breath. She walks over to Seungwan, walking a few steps to again close the distance between them. “That’s exactly what made me ask that question.”

“What?”

“You’re you. You’re just you—and you’re the only person in my life who can make me feel like I could just be… me.”

Silence.

Tentative silence embraces them with only the mild whirring of the heater disrupting their solace. They’re looking at each other’s eyes, both trying to convey what they’re still too afraid to say.

It was Joohyun who breaks the quiet. “Was it easy—” she begins, and Wendy knows what’s coming. “Was it easy saying yes to me?”

Now, Wendy finds herself on the other end of the question.

Was it easy to say yes to Joohyun?

She recalls everything that happened. She recalls hearing Joohyun’s question. She remembers panicking for a split second because it was sudden, unexpected. She certainly did not expect the night to end with Joohyun asking her to make it official.

Briefly, Wendy wondered how being girlfriends would change anything. They still have to put up a front. They still have to play by Jessica’s rules. Wendy still needs to buyout the building owner and Joohyun still has to leave at some point.

Saying yes doesn’t change anything. Saying yes doesn’t make things easier for them. In fact, it makes it harder. If she said yes, they’ll be committed to make things work between them. They will be required to put some work into the relationship, to each other.

How does one do that?

Wendy is only just realizing that the concept of the easiest yes in the world is absurd. Dating is harder in adulthood. Loving someone is hard when you’re both obviously nursing traumas that run deep; traumas that could influence the way you treat people and the way you let others treat you.

Saying yes is harder when you know you have a lot more to lose.

So, no. It wasn’t easy saying yes to Joohyun. But her yes was still quick, uttered with a smile and a heart full of so much more yes-es reserved for any questions that need it.

“No, it wasn’t,” Wendy tells her honestly, her voice soft and lacking any negativity. “It wasn’t an easy yes.”

Joohyun only smiles warmly, knowing that Wendy didn’t mean anything bad by saying that. Instead, she waits—because it’s Wendy. And Wendy knows what to say

“But I was sure of that yes,” Wendy reassures her. “I don’t need this to be easy to be sure of it. It doesn’t need to be easy for it to be real.”

The actress smiles wider, her happiness reaching her eyes. She then closes the gap between them, effortlessly meeting Wendy’s lips with hers.

Then, that’s all that matters goes unsaid.

.

Later in the afternoon, Joohyun and Seungwan are in the living room, quietly spending the rest of the day doing their own things. Joohyun is sitting comfortably on the big couch, reading a book. There’s a half-finished mug of hot cocoa next to her, taking small sips as she flips from one page to another.

Seungwan, on the other hand, is sitting on the floor with her legs slid under the small coffee table. In front of her are a laptop and three other books as she reviews case notes from one of her recent patients. She’s long finished her glass of iced coffee, the caffeine now charging her into studying.

This is her usual Sunday, except before she didn’t have a girlfriend who’s silently reading a book, content on just being… there.

Taking a break from about a two-hour long read, she stretches her back and cracks her knuckles. And as she surveys her surroundings, she catches sight of the other girl who’s calmly sitting on the couch, not an inch of stress visible on her face. It’s like she’s found comfort in this, too—in just being… here.

“You want me to refill your glass?” Joohyun asks when Wendy would keep staring but wouldn’t say anything.

“Huh?”

Joohyun chuckles, “You were sipping way too aggressively earlier, I figured you’d run out quickly. I can make you a new one. I mean, you have supplies now—”

They both laugh at the inside joke as Wendy scoots closer to the couch, dragging her butt across the floor. She takes one of Joohyun’s hands and kisses it, maintaining eye contact with the other girl who softens in an instant.

“Are you good with this?” Wendy asks.

“With what?

“This—I mean, this is how boring it gets with me.”

Joohyun only chuckles as she adjusts on her seat and kisses the top of Wendy’s head. “Sap,” she says playfully and then stands up. The yes, I’m good with this goes unsaid as she heads over to the kitchen and makes Wendy another glass of iced coffee.

And that’s how Wendy knew.

She is deeply, utterly in love with this woman.

.

Time passes by quickly and the next thing Wendy knows, it’s nighttime and she’s alone in the house. Joohyun had to leave and take the last flight out. There were some changes to her schedule and she had to fly in tonight so she could make the morning table read at the location.

It was obvious that Joohyun is used to the unpredictability of her job because when she got the call from Jeongyeon, she didn’t even flinch. She was sad to go and Wendy didn’t want to let her go but life catches up quickly just when you’ve learned how Could Nine feels like.

It’s fine. They’re girlfriends now—and as incredulous as it is, they’ve got time.

It’s 11:42 PM, Wendy is still on the floor, the coffee table still acting as the doctor’s study table with the same laptop and books from earlier. Amidst the light reading, she tries to contemplate what to eat for dinner. Late, late dinner.

Joy did invite her to Red Flavor, saying Yerim will be over too to grab dinner—but that would mean she’ll have to go out and God, just staying in sounds so nice.

She’s in the middle of a mental debate with herself when the doorbell rings. Startled, she jumps just a bit, her eyes finding the door immediately. Joy or Yerim would never knock. Seohyun and Chanyeol wouldn’t drop by without saying anything. It’s not Irene either because the girl sent her a message to let her know she’s already boarding.

Wendy stands up and walks to the door. She peeks at the peephole to check who’s outside and there she sees Jessica, looking not quite like herself.

The doctor pulls the door open and just by looking at the older woman, it’s easy to conclude that—

“You’re drunk,” she states, looking at Jessica who’s just standing there and trying her best to stay poised in her all-white suit but it’s her eyes that give her away. Her eyes are glassy and as she tries to focus on Wendy, her gaze seems to drift around the room, as if there are things floating all around her.

Wendy would laugh if this is a normal circumstance but she doesn’t miss the heartbreak in the older woman’s eyes. She’d been crying, her eyes and nose red from the outpour of emotions.

Jessica lets out a drunken chuckle, trying her best to keep her eyes on Wendy, “I c-can’t believe I w-would end up… h-h-here.”

Her voice is frail and it’s only when Wendy takes in the other girl’s entire demeanor.

She’s drunk, sure, but she also looks sad and worn, and pretty much just tired of everything. The doctor walks over to Jessica and envelopes her in a hug, to which the woman melts into almost automatically, as if she’d been waiting for a long time for something to hold on to; like a rock, to keep her from completely getting drowned in the sea of emotions she’s trying to keep at bay.

Wendy keeps her arms around the older woman for a few moments, glad that Jessica is allowing her to hold her.

“Come on, let’s get you inside,” Wendy says softly, tightening her hold on the other woman. Soon, before they even get to the door, she hears the older woman sniff. Her shoulders start shaking in an instant and what follows are loud sobs that echo within the halls.

It’s heartbreaking—and for a second, Wendy wonders what it took for Jessica to fall apart like this; to end up at the doorstep of someone who’s relatively a stranger, and allow said stranger to see through her.

Wendy manages to drag her inside, bearing the weight of Jessica’s drunken state and broken heart. As she shuts the door behind her, Jessica’s full weight falls heavy on her and she’s left with no choice but to lean them both against the nearest wall. They slide to the floor immediately and as they sit on the floor with their backs against the wall, Jessica sleepily puts her head on Wendy’s shoulder.

“I’m r-rooting for …you and sh-Joohyun, you know,” the other woman says. Her speech is a bit slurred but Wendy can still understand her. If she can understand patients in severe trauma situations, she can understand the mulling of a drunken woman.

“I know, thank you,” she plays along.

“But it’s not—” she coughs for a bit and then clears her throat, “—not gon-be p-pretty from here on out.”

“What do you mean?” Wendy asks, an unfamiliar kind of dread creeping up her skin.

“Nothing,” Jessica says, shaking her head almost too aggressively. “Thissssss issssss my r-rock bottom, Wendy.”

“Well, I’m glad I’m here at your rock bottom.”

“No, no, no—” Jessica lazily tries to lift her head to look at Wendy. “You,” she points at her, “—you are my rock bottom.”

“I should be offended, okay. But I’m not.”

“I’ve got no friends heeeere, no GIRLFRIEND, NOTHING—I only have youuuuu. And this is the WORST day of my LIIIIFFFeee.”

“Okay now, I’m offended but I’m still glad you came here.”

“Your house is very small.”

Wendy quickly looks around. Jessica hasn’t even spent a minute inside the house and she already has something to say? This woman is really something else. She responds, “I fake-dated your talent for money, you should already know this.”

“But you’re not poor—”

Wendy only chuckles. Drunk Jessica is a weird, blabbering mess.

“I-I l-love Tiffany,” Jessica says, albeit a bit unclear but still nonetheless matter-of-factly. She’s drunk but you could hear the love in the way she says Tiffany’s name. “She’s the love of my life,” she adds, no slurry, drunken pauses. Straight up facts—like it’s something she knows very, very well.

Unfortunately, you could also hear the heartbreak in there. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to go on with my life now—”

That statement is followed by tears and sobs that entirely shuts Wendy up. She’s seen so many losses in her life but this one hits different. For some weird reason, she feels connected to Jessica’s pain. She could feel it, too, that sense of loss. That feeling of not knowing what to do or where to go.

 

When you’ve built your whole life around someone and you suddenly lose them, recovery could take time. For some people, it takes forever. Wendy gets this, understands it to the core of her being. So, she doesn’t say anything. Instead, she pulls the other girl closer and puts an arm around her shoulders. She draws random patterns on her arm as she hums a familiar melody.

She does for Jessica what she wishes somebody did for her a few years back, back when she needed a friend who would just hold her; when she needed someone who understands what real loss feels like. Sometimes, people tell you they know what you’re going through but the truth is, they don’t.

Shared trauma is not pretty but right now, this is what she has in common with Jessica. And right now, she has something Jessica needs: an assurance—a living, breathing proof that no matter how devastating everything is now, better days are coming. That it’s possible to go through a heartbreak of this magnitude and still, somehow, be whole.

A break-up may seem small compared to death but death isn’t only physical. When you lose someone, in one way or another, a part of you leaves with them, too.

They stay like that for a few minutes as Jessica’s loud tears slowly fade into the melody of Wendy’s mild humming.

After a few minutes—probably close to an hour—when Jessica has finally stopped crying, Wendy attempts to stand up but she fails as Jessica clings to her even more.

“Jess, let’s get you to the bed. You can rest there.”

“Uh-hmm,” the older woman manages.

“Ugh—” the doctor struggles to move but she’s eager to get the other woman to bed. She squirms on her seat, trying to help herself up but what Jessica says next absolutely freezes her on the spot.

“Wendy-ahhhh,” Jessica mumbles. “Have y-you ever vissss-visited your ex’s grave?”

And Wendy just… stops.

She feels her hands go numb, her jaw dropping to the floor in sheer shock. That’s not a question she expected from Jessica—or anyone for that matter. She’s drunk, sure—but as Joy repeatedly says, drunk words are sober thoughts.

“Wh—what?” she feels her voice crack, memories from the day she heard the news come crashing down on her.

Jessica makes an effort to look up at her, her eyes barely open. But even in this state, Wendy could see something broken, something sincere—a kind of pain Wendy knows cuts deep.

“I’m shhh-sorry—” Jessica says, trying her best to look into Wendy’s eyes. “I-I’m sorry they weren’t kinder to you.”

She hiccups but even as her body shakes from the jump, she does her best to stay steady.

“What are you saying?” Wendy asks, this time with more valor. What the fuck does Jessica know?

In a matter of seconds, Wendy goes from shock, to scared, to altogether just angry. She knew Jessica did a background check but how deep did that background check go?

“When—” she hiccups again, “—when I wake up tomorrow, remind me of this—”

“What? No! We’re not going to sleep until you tell me what’s happening!”

“You d-don’t d-deserve it th-this way,” the older woman nods, successfully making eye contact with Wendy.

“Deserve what?”

“The truth.”

.

Meanwhile, across the city, Jongin is still in his office even if it’s way past midnight now. He’s sitting on one end of the conference table, his eyes fixated on the other occupant of the room: Tiffany Young, who’s seated by the other end of the table.

She has a somber expression on her face, her face devoid of any emotions that could clue Jongin in on what goes on inside her mind.

“You know that this doesn’t change anything, right?” he says, eyeing the envelope in front of him. That envelope holds the documents that state that he’s selling his shares in CSY Entertainment to Tiffany.

Once he signs it, Tiffany officially becomes the biggest shareholder in the entertainment company.

“I know,” the woman says firmly, nodding just a bit for emphasis. “But I have to start somewhere. I need to fix this.”

“Fix what?” Jongin asks, genuinely interested in Tiffany’s idea of “fixing things” because from where he stands, you can’t fix the last eight years; unless, of course, she has a time machine that can take them all back to that fateful day.

And even then, Jongin thinks he would still do the same thing. He would still make the same decisions.

Tiffany only lets out a breath.

Jongin thinks she sounds sad, worn, and just absolutely tired of everything.

Part of him gets it, she probably already ruined her relationship with her girlfriend by sticking to this lie and then there’s her relationship with her sister, too. That’s a whole new can of worms she probably wouldn’t want to unpack unless she’s absolutely ready.

But is anyone ever really ready for the day their whole life falls apart?

“To be honest, I don’t know,” is what Tiffany says, breaking the tentative silence.

Jongin nods as he grabs the envelope and takes out the pieces of paper inside it. He glosses over it for a few seconds before he looks up back at Tiffany, “I’ll have my lawyer review this before I sign but don’t worry I will keep my word. You will get your shares.”

The other CEO nods, releasing a heavy breath, “I should get going then.”

“What’s your plan?” Jongin asks. He asked because he had to.

“What?”

“After this, what’s your plan?”

“I will try to talk to Jessica, explain to her why I let you pay me to lie to my sister. And to Wendy. Probably also explain why I agreed to her crazy idea of bringing those two back together.”

“Why did you?”

Tiffany doesn’t answer the question immediately. Instead, her eyes find the large windows to her right, overlooking the city. It’s not the most spectacular nighttime view but it’s something—when you’re losing your grip on so many aspects of your life, a nighttime view just about anywhere could do magic.

Right now, it probably calms her to know that there’s a whole world out there and she’s probably not the only one who feels like she’s a monster; like she doesn’t deserve Jessica’s forgiveness. Or Irene’s. Or Irene’s parents’.

Jongin knows this because he feels it, too.

“Joohyun was lonely,” Tiffany responds, turning her attention back to Jongin. “She says she’s okay, that she’s let it all go but I know she hasn’t. She has questions about that day and I don’t think she’ll ever be truly happy until she finds out.”

“So, you agreed to your girlfriend’s idea of reuniting them even if you knew the risks.”

“I didn’t think it would get to this.”

Jongin chuckles bitterly, “That’s bullshit, Tiffany. You’re a smart woman. You knew very well that it would get to this and yet—”

“—I don’t need to explain shit to you, Mr. Son,” Tiffany puts an emphasis on the formality, just to remind Jongin of his boundaries.

“I apologize,” he said, slightly bowing his head.

“I’m not the one you should be apologizing to,” Tiffany states as she pushes her chair back and stands up.

“I don’t know if I have enough words for an apology of that size,” Jongin admits calmly as memories of the last few years flash before his eyes.

All the secrecy, all the lies.

His youngest sister has the biggest heart of anyone he knows but he isn’t sure this is something she can forgive.

The other woman nods, “I don’t think I have that either.”

Silence wraps the whole place for a few moments. Both Jongin and Tiffany are just looking at each other, bearing the weight of relationships they’re both yet to lose. Irene. Wendy. Jessica. Joy. And also probably everyone who was caught in this mess at one point.

“It’s the sign of the times, eh?” Tiffany manages a small, timid smile. Heartbreaking, bittersweet—a look you only see when you know something is about to wither.

“Sign of the times,” Jongin repeats.

He gets her. She gets him, too.

They’ve never seen eye-to-eye in a lot of things but what they have now is shared trauma. Shared trauma is never a good place to be in with anyone but what do you do when you both don’t have what you both need? When you don’t have a living, breathing proof to know no matter how devastating everything is now, better days are coming. That it’s possible to go through an event of this magnitude and still, somehow, win.

“Did you keep it?” Tiffany asks as she grabs her purse, ready to exit the room.

“Keep what?”

“Park Chaeyoung’s letter?”

Jongin nods, “I did.”

“Are you gonna give it to her?”

“When it comes down to it, I would have to.”

“All that pain we tried to get rid of to protect them, we never really got rid of them, didn’t we?”

“Nope, we didn’t.”

Tiffany looks away for a split second, eyeing the nighttime view outside the large windows. Jongin stares at it, too, finding comfort in the darkness of the city below them.

In a matter of moments, he hears the door of his office open and close. Tiffany has left.

He stands up and as he turns around, he sees the Chairman’s desk—a desk that wasn’t even supposed to be his but he’s here anyway. For a second there, he thinks it’s unfair. He didn’t have to be the one to bear all these but he had no choice.

His phone beeps, signaling a message coming through. He mentally shakes out of his inner turmoil as he fishes his phone from his pocket.

Jongin chances a glance at it. It’s Seungwan’s private detail, giving him an update for the day.

Ms. Jung is at your sister’s house.

He releases a breath. None of this shouldn’t have happened.

Son Seungwan fake-dating Irene Bae, that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

/

Chapter Text

/

Tiffany paces back and forth, anticipation bubbling wildly in her stomach. It has been weeks since she last spoke to her fiancée (ex-fiancée?), and she knows it’s about time she picked herself up.

And sometimes, picking yourself up means going to your ex-fiancée’s apartment unannounced, using the key she gave you when everything was still alright. After all, she hasn’t taken the key back just yet. Maybe, that says something.

Maybe, it means she still has a chance.

The serviced apartment is, predictably, empty. Tiffany guessed Jessica would busy herself with work because it’s Jessica—and busying herself with work is the only way she knows how to deal with things. (In a way, Tiffany finds comfort in knowing that she’s not the only one suffering.)

It’s about nine in the evening and she’s in the living room of Jessica’s apartment—a luxury serviced apartment sitting at the heart of Gangnam District. It stands next to a luxury mall, a popular casino, and the World Trade Center Seoul. You could tell—by the use of wood and marble—that this place is often rented by travel-savvy executives for long-term stays.

Jessica had moved into this place a few weeks after Irene has settled into her apartment across town. During the first few weeks, Jessica had alternated between Tiffany’s house in Cheongdam and her hotel situated not very far from her office in Samseong. Then, after a while, she realized she needed a more permanent way of living until Irene’s filming is over.

Tiffany had asked Jessica to stay with her. After all, Tiffany stays at Jessica’s house when she’s in Los Angeles. But the girl had other plans, saying she needs her professional life and her personal life to be separate. She’s here on a business trip, that had to be clear.

The whole one-bedroom apartment reeks of luxury and class. From the wooden floors of the living area to the marble countertops in the kitchen, to the sauna-steam shower and tub in the bathroom—all of it screams high-maintenance.

Luxury. Class. High-maintenance.

Three words that perfectly describe the very woman she’s here for.

But what strikes Tiffany the most is how the whole place, despite it being a temporary place for Jessica, still managed to smell like her. The bedroom smells like her perfume; the kitchen smells like it hasn’t been used in a while because Jessica likes to dine out; the bathroom smells like her shampoo and her favorite bath bomb.

Every inch of this place has Jessica written all over it, and if Tiffany’s going to be a bit melodramatic, the place has her own name written everywhere, too. She’s had tons of sleepovers here, too—days on end that Tiffany had opted to stay in bed with her (ex?) fiancée instead of running a multi-million-dollar entertainment company like what they expect of her every day.

Her toothbrush is still in the bathroom, sitting nicely next to Jessica’s. The mug she usually uses when she takes her nighttime tea is still in the kitchen, albeit untouched, but Tiffany is a believer of good things. Maybe, it’s still there because it reminds Jessica of her.

To Tiffany’s surprise, she found one of her shirts neatly folded on the bed, right by her side of the bed. It’s a serviced apartment, so the staff must’ve cleaned the place already but Tiffany—a believer of all good things—thinks that Jessica likes to sleep with that shirt next to her.

Maybe, it reminds her of Tiffany. Maybe, she, too, is just waiting for her to come home.

“What are you doing here?” her thoughts are interrupted by the sound of Jessica’s voice as the girl walks in through the door. It’s late and Jessica’s coming home from a long day at work. She’s tired, that’s a fact, but it’s easy to see that she’s also sad.

That’s what hurts the most—to see the person you love in pain and know that you’re the reason behind that suffering.

“Jess—” Tiffany mutters, stunned and speechless.

Jessica walks into the room, the door gently closing behind her. She’s in her signature winter look: an all-white pair of pants and sweater, topped with an oversized, dark-colored coat and a pair of black boots. Her hair is swept to the side, her makeup subtle with just a hint of red coloring her cheeks and lips.

Tiffany pauses for a moment, taking the sight of the other girl in.

They’ve known each other all their lives, lost their way for a few years, and then eventually found themselves back in other’s lives five years ago. Maybe, the universe works hard for two people to be together.

But also, maybe, the devil works just as hard.

“I told you, I needed a break,” Jessica reminds her, walking toward the middle of the room and places her small bag on top of the dining table. She shrugs off of her coat and it takes all of Tiffany not to walk to her and help her with it like she always does.

“I came here to talk,” Tiffany states, her eyes fixed on the woman who refuses to look at her.

“This is not a good time.”

“When is a good time?”

Jessica doesn’t answer right away. Instead, she disappears into the bedroom. She doesn’t close the door, and Tiffany takes this as a positive sign. Maybe, she’s not entirely shutting her out. She might be mad and convinced that breaking up is good for them but Jessica is not cruel, at least not to Tiffany. Never to Tiffany.

The other woman comes back into the living area minutes later, free of her boots and now just wearing a pair of indoor slippers. It’s cute and she’s tiny—and Tiffany has gather all her courage to fight the smile threatening to escape her lips.

“I don’t know, Tiff. You tell me—” Jessica shrugs, looking at her pointedly as she takes a seat on the couch. “—when’s the perfect time to talk about it?”

It’s a question and an accusation at the same time. Well, it’s not an accusation because Jessica knows the truth. It was more of, well, a question—something she knows Tiffany can’t answer without digging up everything from the past.

Tiffany’s not sure she’s ready for that.

When Tiffany doesn’t say anything, Jessica bobs her head, “That’s what I thought.”

A heavy silence falls upon them.

Jessica reaches out to the remote and switches the TV on. Tiffany, on the other hand, walks toward the couch. She sits next to Jessica but leaves a healthy amount of space between them. This is who they are now: two people who love each other dearly, being hit with the realization that love takes more than just love.

As they sit in uncomfortable silence, Tiffany thinks about how in other days, they wouldn’t have minded this silence. They used to spend their nights like this. Jessica catches up with the news, and Tiffany sits next to her doing some more work or just looking up random stuff online.

They’ve grown with each other, existing in their own little worlds outside of themselves but when they’re together, those two worlds neatly click together, as if they’ve been one all along. Tiffany acknowledges that what she has with Jessica is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, something you fight for.

It’s something you don’t just throw away because the past is a bitch, and it has a way of catching up to you.

“I’m the biggest shareholder in CSY now,” she drops, nervous and scared of what those words really mean. “I bought off Mr. Son’s shares.”

She feels Jessica hold her breath for the briefest of seconds. But the girl quickly puts up a defense. “Good for you,” is what Jessica says, her voice unwavering.

“I’ve paid my debts, Jess.”

Jessica turns to her with a stern expression, “You think this is about that?” The older woman pauses, blinks a few times before she continues. “You think that I called off our engagement because you had a debt?” the other woman asks, an eyebrow raised as she turns to Tiffany. Her voice is laced with heartbreak and disbelief. “Do you still not understand why we’re here, Tiff?”

Tiffany swallows an invisible lump in her throat. She thinks this is it—that make or break moment with the love of her life. “Jessica, I love you,” she says first because so many things can happen after this. “I don’t want to lose you.”

No—cut the bullshit, Tiffany,” the other woman says in straight, hard English. “Do you understand why we’re here? Do you understand why I find it hard to stomach the thought that you—” another pause. Jessica takes a deep breath as she stands. She turns the TV off before she stares right back at Tiffany, who’s still glued on her seat. “—I look at you right now and I feel like I don’t know you.”

“This doesn’t change the last five years, Jess.”

“It does, though.”

There it is—Tiffany’s biggest fear.

When we’re young, we all get asked: what is your biggest fear? They expect answers like heights, or spiders, or darkness—but Tiffany thinks she’s always had a peculiar answer to that question. Even as a kid, her fears were grander than those.

Tiffany was always scared of never learning how to ride a bike, thinking she’ll never reach farther places. She was always scared of reaching a certain age because they said you stop growing taller at some point. She was always scared that her legs would never be long enough to take the kind of strides she thought she needed to get to places quicker and a lot faster than the rest.

So no, Tiffany wasn’t always a fun kid. She was always thinking ahead, always working extra hard so she can achieve her goals in time (or earlier, if possible). Back then, she didn’t understand why people didn’t like her much. She had a few friends, sure. But she wasn’t someone you’d hang out with unless you have a death wish.

She holds herself to such high standards—and she expects the same from the people she chooses to surround herself with. She has a tight circle of friends, a number of for-keeps people she knows would walk through hell and back for her.

It took her time to accept that it’s okay if you don’t have many friends. It’s okay if you don’t have an entire village lining up to be on your squad. Growing up, she very slowly learned that you’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea—and that’s okay. What matters are the people who can run with you no matter how fast or slow you want to go.

Tiffany has had her share of relationships that didn’t last because they couldn’t keep up with her. She’s seen friends, and boyfriends, and girlfriends who walked away because she was too much. But Jessica—Jessica, she’s different.

Jessica is the only person in her entire life who never told her to slow down until she knows it’s time to rest.

The woman would go on Skype calls with her, even if it’s 2 AM in Los Angeles just to join Tiffany in preparing for the shareholder’s budget meeting. Jessica once flew to South Korea on a whim because Tiffany needed a date for a short-notice dinner with the former owner of CSY Entertainment. When the buyout was happening, Jessica was the only person who believed they were gonna make the sale.

There was a point when Tiffany lost all faith in herself but Jessica never faltered. Five long years and too many LAX-Incheon flights spent, Jessica is Tiffany’s only constant.

They match each other’s pace. They understand each other.

Maybe that’s why it never worked out with somebody else in the past—because love, after all, isn’t always about gazing into each other’s eyes. It’s about looking, and going, in the same direction. Jessica has been running alongside Tiffany tirelessly without any complaints. All she ever says is, “I’m here. What do you need?”

So, her biggest fear? Her biggest fear right now is change.

“It changes everything, Tiff.”

“How?” Tiffany stands her ground. “How does that change everything, Jess? I did what I had to do.”

“Taking money from Son Jongin—is that what you had to do?”

“Jess, you’re looking at me and all you see is someone who took money from somebody in exchange for a lie. You don’t see me, your fiancée, who did that because she needs to protect her sister.”

There it is again, that heavy silence—the sound of death, coming to their footsteps. It’s here to collect.

Jessica looks away, her jaws stiff in tension. They both know this talk was bound to happen. Right now, the only way is up, or six feet down the grave.

Sighing, Tiffany continues, “Jess, Joohyun’s family sold everything so she could go to that school. So, she could have a future. When I say everything, I meant everything. They left nothing to Joohyun when they died. She wouldn’t have survived Los Angeles—”

“—if not for that money.”

“Where do you think I was getting everything we paid your company for?”

Jessica looks away for the first time, breaking eye contact with Tiffany. She doesn’t say anything. Instead, she lets out a sigh and takes the short walk to the kitchen. Tiffany follows suit, anticipation bubbling in her stomach.

Silence once again envelopes them as Jessica goes through the overhead cabinets, sometimes standing on her toes so she can reach the higher parts. Her movements are swift, calculated—even with tension brewing, Jessica is calm and collected. She pulls out two old-fashioned whisky glasses. The woman then adds ice on one of the glasses and pushes them toward Tiffany, who takes a seat on one of the bar stools.

Like a dance they’ve been doing for so long, none of them questions it when Jessica pulls out a bottle of whisky. It’s one of those high-end, expensive brands, Tiffany notes; also secretly admires the choice. She’s never been fond of dark liquor, but she learned about its charms when Jessica introduced them to her. They have wine on the good days, then whisky for days like this.

Jessica pours a healthy amount on Tiffany’s glass then pours herself a half-full. The older woman doesn’t wait. She instantly downs the content of her glass in one go, wincing a bit at the sensation it makes as the spirit slides down her throat.

Tiffany can only stare, swirling the glass on her hand to allow for the ice to soften her drink a bit.

“Why?” Jessica asks and Tiffany thinks she doesn’t need further context to understand what her fiancée is truly asking.

She sighs heavily. Then, she uses this pause to drink. The bitter taste of the liquor reminds Tiffany of her fate, of the consequences of her actions.

“I wanted to help Joohyun,” she answers honestly. “Joohyun needed to get away from this place and Jongin’s money did that.”

“At what cost, then?”

“That didn’t matter to me. All I wanted was to make sure something good will come out of all that pain.”

“And you didn’t think—”

“—honestly, Jess? No,” Tiffany says firmly, cutting her off. “I didn’t think of the future. I didn’t think about what comes after. I didn’t think of the weight of that lie. I was willing to bear it because I love her. You do what you can for the people you love and sometimes, Jess, that means making the tough calls. That, at least, has to make sense to you.”

The other woman doesn’t say anything. She only stares at Tiffany like she’s trying to figure her out. Most days, Tiffany would be able to guess what’s on the other woman’s mind but this is not one of those days.

After a few moments, she speaks up, “You know what’s also love, Tiff?”

Tiffany doesn’t answer.

“Mercy,” Jessica says simply. “Now, she’s gonna have to go through that day again. When she finds out about the truth, she’s gonna lose her parents again. Sometimes, Tiff, letting people sit on their pain is mercy. Love.”

To that, Tiffany doesn’t have a response. What do you say to that?

They don’t say anything for a while, both women feeling the gravity of this moment. Tiffany thinks Jessica doesn’t understand. Jessica thinks she understands too much. Right now, they’re two adults who have very different understandings of the word love—which, you see, is where the trouble really is.

“I’m sorry,” Tiffany settles for an apology because there are no words left to say.

“I am, too.”

There’s no wavering in the other woman’s voice. She’s sure of where she stands in this; sure of the side she picked. Despite hearing the other side of the story, Jessica’s mind seems made up: Tiffany is the bad guy here.

“I don’t know how we can come back from this,” is what Jessica says next. Her gaze is on the countertop, head down in obvious sorrow. She’s worn and tired, and Tiffany feels tears prick her eyes.

A part of her couldn’t believe it—that she’s the one causing Jessica all of this pain; the other part of her is convinced that this is it. This is it for her and Jessica; end of the road, the final stretch before they run into a fork in the road and go separate ways.

Then, Jessica looks up and Tiffany sees her eyes brimming with tears. She tries to bite her lips as they tremble, her concealed feelings now catching up to her.

A beat.

And then all at once.

“I gave Wendy the girl’s address,” Jessica tells her, her voice steady despite the tears brimming at her eyes.

Tiffany’s eyes widen, her heart starts banging loudly against her chest, “That wasn’t your call to make.”

“None of this was you or Joy’s or Jongin’s call either but here we are.”

Tiffany’s hands shake a bit, thinking about how this will change everything. If Wendy goes to that address, she will be well on her way to uncovering everything. The thing is, Wendy isn’t stupid. They all wouldn’t be able to convince her that this was for the better. She sighs, “Joohyun doesn’t deserve this.”

“She deserves the truth,” Jessica says, as if both things are the same.

“I don’t know what good that will do.”

“You’re telling the truth, Tiff. That’s a start. I cannot let you live your whole life carrying this lie with you—”

“—that’s a choice I’m consciously making.”

Jessica huffs, putting her glass down. She presses both of her hands against the counter, her eyes now firmly on Tiffany. Now, she’s angry. “What about them, Tiffany?” she asks again, the switch to the Californian accent smooth and quick. “What about Irene and Wendy? What about the choices you refused to let them make?”

“Then, switch sides with me for a minute,” she challenges. “How do you tell Joohyun that her girlfriend’s ex is the reason her parents are dead?”

There it is—the sound of death arriving at their door. It doesn’t knock. It doesn’t announce its presence. It quietly sifts its way through the silence between them and waits until one of them leaves. Maybe, this is the only proper ending for them: complete devastation and heartbreak, like a hurricane after it destroys an entire town.

As Tiffany waits for an answer she knows isn’t coming, the truth becomes clear.

Bae Joohyun (fake) dating Son Seungwan is the reason both of them will soon learn, why storms are named after people.

/

Chapter Text

/

“What is your biggest fear?” the male reporter asks as he uses his point finger to push his round, dark-rimmed glasses up.

Irene raises an eyebrow, intrigued by the question. It’s not every day that you get that sort of question, at least not from Korean reporters.

“Wow, that’s so sudden,” she remarks, buying herself time. It’s a loaded question, one she could answer with the standard script she’s learned to memorize over the years, or she can get real about it. She’s been training herself to be more honest these days—more to herself than other people, but she guesses it’s a ripple effect.

She looks around the room. They’re inside her trailer: the reporter, Jeongyeon, and her two stylists. She’s on hour one of her half-day break from the shoot and she uses it to accommodate an exclusive interview with a magazine.

It’s another cover story but this time, it’s featuring some of the clothing and jewelry brands she’s endorsing. It’s an international release so a lot is riding on this shoot. It’s also one of the last few covers she’ll do here in Korea. Then, it’s back to Los Angeles; back to the life she put on hold.

There’s an unfamiliar pang of pain that lingers in her gut but she tries to press it down. This is not the time for that.

Irene looks back at the young reporter in front of him. For a moment, she scrutinizes him. He doesn’t seem hostile, doesn’t seem like he has any other agenda. Of course, learning from the mistakes of the past, Irene’s done the research. Everyone knows what happened the last time she was interviewed by a reporter, so it’s better to be careful. And somehow stalker-y.

The reporter has 10k followers on Twitter and another 5k on Instagram. He’s talked about the LGBT+ community in Korea, wrote articles about the Black Lives Matter and what they mean to the Asian community, and is also a big fan of Seulgi—so maybe, history won’t be repeating itself today.

She chances a glance at Jeongyeon who only gives her a small smile and a nod, encouraging her to answer the question.

With this, Irene instantly sees the stark contrast between Jeongyeon and Jessica. The latter would’ve just kept a cold, stoic expression; would’ve held her defenses up. But Jeongyeon is different. She’s careful, the way Jessica has trained her to be for five long years, but she’s also softer. The girl has also given her the freedom to deal with things her own way.

Jessica would catch a grenade for Irene. Jeongyeon would hand her a bat and let her swat the damn grenade away to hit a homerun. Probably a bad baseball reference but the point is there—if Jessica’s original plan pushes through and Jeongyeon is going to be appointed as her new manager, then the dynamic is definitely going to change.

Jeongyeon taking over isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing. It’s just… change. And Irene’s terrified of change.

“Irene-ssi?” the reporter, Yim Siwan, calls for her attention. He’s lanky, has got a bit of a smirk, but he’s a visionary. Irene appreciates how aware he is of the world outside.

Snapping out of her reverie, Irene blinks back at him, “Hmm?”

“Your biggest fear?” he repeats the question. “It’s okay if you don’t want to answer. It’s just that,” he tilts his head toward Jeongyeon, “Ms. Yoo said I should come in with interesting questions so I had to reframe the entire article. She said I should ask you compelling but not controversial questions so that’s what came to mind.”

Irene locks eyes with Jeongyeon across the room, acknowledging the intention. That’s actually pretty impressive.

“It’s the first time I’m being asked this question,” she starts.

The reporter only nods.

The actress, meanwhile, tries to search for an answer. But her mind wanders to one. She takes a deep breath as she starts, “My biggest fear is not finding a home.”

The reporter looks confused for a second, “Like, uhm, like—real estate?”

Irene laughs, “No, no, I mean—uhm—” Being honest is hard as fuck. “Like—you know after a long day and you go home, and you get that certain feeling? That you can be whoever you want to be, do whatever you want to do. There’s this feeling in your heart that is light, and warm, and—”

“—free?”

The word fits so well. She nods, “Yeah, that’s a great word. Free. Freedom. My biggest fear is to not find that.”

“I see,” he nods. “I hate to prod but can you expound?”

She breathes, “When I was younger, I was always this shy, quiet type girl who didn’t bother anybody. I was just there. I wasn’t one of those academically gifted kids. I wasn’t good at art. I wasn’t good at math. I dance okay on my good days and sometimes, I can sing, too. But I didn’t have like, you know, an identity. I was just… me. I didn’t think that was okay. I was always under the impression that I needed to be something more. I guess our society is designed to demand more from us even at a young age. All day at school, I tried and tried, and tried. Some days I succeeded and that felt good—but those wins weren’t as satisfying as finally coming home where I can just… exist.”

“It must’ve been tough, to be trapped in your own mind like that.”

Irene shrugs, “Up until recently, I don’t think I’ve ever made peace with that.”

“That you’re just… you?”

She nods.

“Even as a Hollywood star?”

Irene shakes her head, “It’s funny, right? You work hard to achieve something and when you finally get it, when you finally land on the moon, it’s just… you know, the moon. You have footsteps on the moon and a couple hundred million box office sales but you’re still just you.”

The reporter pauses for a moment, looks back at his handwritten notes, and then looks up at her again. “You said, up until recently, has anything changed recently?”

There it is, a stupid smile just escaping her almost automatically.

Wendy. Wendy. Wendy.

Irene quickly darts her eyes toward Jeongyeon who, this time, is also sporting a stupid, teasing smile on her face. It takes the actress a great amount of self-control not to roll her eyes at the teasing.

“People,” she says simply. “And being in the right place at the right time.”

The reporter only stares at her for a moment, probably expecting her to elaborate. But Irene keeps it at that—while honesty and being more open are things she’s working on, she also knows that there are things that are hers alone.

After a few beats, he smiles and then clears his throat, “Last question, Irene-ssi. What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever gotten from anyone?”

Something about the question takes Joohyun back to her days in Daegu—to a quiet Thursday afternoon the week before she travels to Seoul and become a high school freshman for the second time.

.

Dalseong-gun, Daegu
12 Years Ago

Joohyun sits by the porch, taking in the quiet of the late afternoon. The sun is slowly setting, giving the sky a tinge of orange and pink. It’s quite a view and Joohyun, who has a fascination for the sky, cherishes this very moment.

She looks around and observes her surroundings, memorizing the way her house looks. She’s sitting by the courtyard, the L-shaped hanok beautifully standing proud behind her. It’s one of the few traditional houses left in the county and Irene takes pride in her parents’ patience to maintain the house. It’s a bit more modern-looking now because of the renovations over the years but the charm is still there.

Their house sits in the middle of a field, surrounded by nothing but grassland and vegetation. To get to the main road, Joohyun would have to ride her bike for about five minutes.

In the morning, the majestic sight of the mountain surrounding the county greets Joohyun. At night, no other sound could be heard but the sound of nature. Ten minutes from their house, you get easy access to the river.

To get to Daegu’s city proper, she would have to travel for over an hour.

That’s how rural Dalseong-gun is—and that’s why it’s so crazy that once Sunday comes around, she’d be waking up in an entirely different city, an entirely different life. She’s still trying to wrap her head around that.

“Joohyun-ah, what are you doing here? It’s getting late,” a voice interrupts her thoughts.

It’s her mom, walking toward her. She has an apron over her plain t-shirt and loose cotton pants, topped by a lightweight jacket. Her hair is up in a “mom bun.”

“I’m just resting,” she replies with a smile.

“Are you thinking about your move?”

Joohyun doesn’t answer, knowing well that her mom knows.

“It’s going to be okay,” the older woman reassures her.

Joohyun doesn’t believe her, not really, but she nods anyway. Mothers are supposed to say that. “Uh-hmm,” she hums as a reply, her eyes finding the sky above her.

“I know you don’t believe me right now but I promise you, everything will be okay in the end,” she repeats like she’s very sure of it.

“I’m just nervous, I think,” Joohyun admits.

“Miyoung will be there to guide you. She made a promise to your father and I that she will take care of you no matter what. She’s family. You won’t be going through this alone.”

“I know, omma. It’s just that—I don’t know any other people there. I’ve been to Seoul a grand total of two times. I don’t know what the people are like. I don’t know what’s waiting for me there.”

“How about the things that you know?” her mother counters. Suddenly, the older woman pulls a chair next to her and sits, keeping just the right amount of distance between them. “Tell me the things you do know.”

“What?” she asks, lost.

“You told me things you don’t know but surely, there are things you do know. I, for one, know that I raised a smart and beautiful daughter who is a tiny bit scared of everything but she is brave, too.”

“How can you be scared and brave at the same time?”

“You can’t be brave if you don’t fear anything. Courage can only be measured by the things you confront,” her mom tells her, extending her hand to take one of Joohyun’s and rests them on her lap. Her mom’s hands are warm, a comforting reminder that she’s not alone.

Sometimes, when something big is about to come, it’s easy to forget that there are people who genuinely love us. Joohuyn is still learning her way around that.

She takes a deep breath, “I know that I am always honest.”

Her mom nods, “That’s a good start.”

“I know that I can be fiercely protective of my friends and I am a loyal friend.”

The older woman smiles and then looks at Joohyun. She looks at her like she’s proud of her, and it’s comforting to know that inside the four walls of this home, being just Joohyun is enough. “Tell me more,” her mom encourages.

“I know that I can stand up for myself. I have done it before and I can do it again,” she says, her confidence slightly restored. It works. Whatever this method her mom is doing, it works.

It’s so simple, yet it works.

“Remember these things everyday, child,” the woman says, giving Joohyun a look of pure love. She has laugh lines on her face, her eyes glowing of happiness. Her mom has lived a simple, happy life—sometimes, Joohyun wishes she could stay like this. She wishes she’s contented of staying here, in a small rural town one hour out of the main city of Daegu.

But also sometimes, she wonders how she can fit her big dreams inside her tiny body.

When she wouldn’t speak, her mom continues, “When you’re lost in the middle of things you don’t know, tell yourself things that you do know. It’s a big, scary world, Joohyun, and sometimes, the world isn’t always going to be on your side but you have you. As long as you don’t lose sight of that, you’re good.”

Joohyun doesn’t say anything, her heart swelling with pure love and nostalgia. Her parents gave up everything except for this tiny house to send Joohyun to that school. It must’ve been scary for them, too. But they made that choice and Joohyun isn’t going to let them down.

She’s going to make them proud.

At this point, Joohyun doesn’t exactly know what waits for her in Seoul. Or what kind of people she is going to meet. Or if she’s going to meet someone who will change her life. But what she knows is that she’s strong and confident, and a little too sad sometimes, but she’s Joohyun—that has got to be enough.

.

Something aches in her chest at the memory, her hand shaking a bit at the thought of her mother. Her parents had loved her dearly, giving every single bit of what they had to make sure Joohyun got a shot at the life she wants.

That was the best piece of advice she got, but it’s too personal. She can’t share that with the world. Some things are just hers.

Joohyun clears her throat, trying to rid herself of the feelings that’s slowly coming up. Managing a small smile, she says, “Always use sunblock when you go out.”

She laughs it off, dismissing the seriousness of the question. She hopes the reporter wouldn’t prod.

Luckily, he seems willing to take it with a grain of salt, “And who gave you this advice?”

“My manager, Jessica Jung. I owe her a lot for giving me skincare tips,” she jokes, quirking an eyebrow.

The reporter looks skeptic for a moment. It’s as if he wants to really pry for an answer but after a few seconds, he stands up and collects his recording device from the coffee table. He presses the ‘End’ button and then bows to Irene. “Thank you for your time today, Irene-ssi.”

“That’s it?” she asks smilingly.

He nods, “I got everything I needed.”

She bobs her head, as if to bow, “That was a nice interview. I’m looking forward to the article.”

He smiles, “I will do my best.”

The reporter shuffles for a bit and gathers the rest of his things. He then bows to everyone else in the room and makes his way out. Soon as he’s gone, Jeongyeon walks up to her.

“That was a nice interview,” she remarks.

“It was,” Irene agrees, nodding. “Thank you for giving him a hint.”

Jeongyeon only shrugs and smiles—another stark contrast to Jessica. The manager in question would’ve been smug, proud of her ability to steer things right to where she wants it.

“Has Jessica decided if it’s alright to call you my manager?” Irene asks as she stands from her place on the couch and then takes a couple of steps back to the vanity.

The other girl chuckles, “She’s insisting on the term, handler. She’s still your manager.”

Irene rolls her eyes, “We can’t go on like this, Jeong. She can’t avoid me forever.”

The actress sighs as the two stylists—as if on autopilot—start working on her hair and makeup again soon as she hops on the vanity seat. The handler stands behind them, looking at Irene through the mirror. “She’s adjusting to your new dynamic. You spent eight years with Tiffany at the center of your relationship. She’s gonna need time to maneuver through that change.”

“This is hard,” is all she can say; a deep, profound sadness kicking in unexpectedly. She chances a glance at Jeongyeon who is nice and good at her job. Irene sees them working really well together, eventually learning to walk this world with the same pace.

She just can’t make peace with the feeling that she’s losing Jessica. The manager has repeatedly said she’s not abandoning her, that she’s just changing how things usually work. But it feels bigger than that, more personal—and it hurts. She spent eight years running this whole show with Jessica at her side and then all of a sudden, everything is different.

Irene doesn’t know how to deal with that.

In a matter of moments, the door to the trailer swings open and in comes the woman in question: Jessica Jung, in an all-black suit and the perfect updo, sporting her signature scowl. Something about that feels comforting, a familiar face in the middle of a shifting ground.

“First things first,” Jessica starts, instantly catching her gaze through the mirror. “Netflix called and you have two weeks to make a decision. They already have a target production schedule but they can’t go on with the casting without a lead actress.”

“Okay,” Irene nods. Somehow, she’s used to how fast everything is when Jessica is involved. In Blanc, they call it the Jessica Jung Pace. The term ‘fast pace’ just doesn’t cover it enough.

“If you take the Netflix deal, they will be distributing Russian on their platform.”

“That’s a great offer.”

Jessica agrees, “But SBS also called and added stuff to the deal. If you take it, they’ll also be partnering with several streaming platforms to get the show distributed internationally. Didn’t specify which streaming platform.”

“Can’t I do both? Film one after the other?”

“Do you want to die?” Jessica asks with a straight face. Jeongyeon looks like she’s trying not to laugh.

When she wouldn’t say anything, Jessica continues, “The production schedule of both shows will overlap. They’re looking at a late-fall release this year, riding on the coattails of the presumed success of Russian.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Now, onto the real reason I’m here—” Jessica starts before turning her attention to the two stylists. “Can you give us a minute, please?”

The stylists nod and then quickly leaves the room.

All of a sudden, it’s just Jessica, Jeongyeon, and Irene. When this happens, it’s either just good or bad. Irene has a feeling it’s the latter.

“Have you checked Twitter yet?” the manager asks.

Irene shakes her head.

“Instagram?”

“No,” Irene shakes her head again. “I’ve been filming all day and entertained an interview the very first break I got. I didn’t have much time to check social media.”

Jessica nods, “Good – because unless you want to be upset, don’t check social media.”

“Why?” Irene asks, her interest now piqued. She extends her hand to fetch her phone from the top of the vanity but Jessica gently swats her hand. From her peripheral, she could see Jeongyeon already reading something on her phone.

“You’re trending.”

“Because?”

“Do you remember Yoon Doojoon?”

Nope, doesn’t ring a bell. “Who?”

Jessica rolls her eyes, “The guy who outed your relationship to Dispatch.”

Realization hits her, “Oh, that’s his name – what about him?”

“Well, after he dropped the bombed and Wendy countered with a great confirmation post, he went MIA. Today, after a few weeks, he went back in on Instagram claiming he spoke to several people you’ve worked with in the past and they’re all going on record about your attitude at work.”

Wait, what?

Joohyun doesn’t know where to start, doesn’t know how to take this all in. She’s not sure she understands what’s really happening.

“What?” is what she says because this is all happening so fast.

Jeongyeon steps forward, her eyes glued to her phone, “One production assistant from Red Summer came out with a statement on his Instagram.”

Jessica’s eyes grow wide, instantly reaching for her phone from the pocket of her suit and starts scrolling through.

Not a second later, Jeongyeon speaks up again, “Another stylist posted something, too.”

Jessica nods, her eyes on her phone. She found the post, too, “I remember her, you worked with her on a Vogue photoshoot last year.”

What the fuck is happening?

“What are they saying?” Irene asks, confused and overwhelmed.

Both women look up at her, turning their attention away from their phones.

It’s Jessica who speaks up first, “It’s not good, Irene, okay? Yoon Doojoon has some really strong words for you and so do the two other people who’ve released their own statements so far. I suggest you stay out of social media for a while. It’s only gonna get dirtier from here on out.”

“What am I gonna do?” Irene asks, the whole thing slowly sinking in.

Jessica turns to Jeongyeon who looks like she’s waiting for the older woman’s next steps. The manager doesn’t disappoint, instantly giving the handler clear-cut instructions on what to do next. “Head to the office, call Stacey from the US PR department—wake her up if you have to—and tell her to draft a statement on behalf of Irene. Then, call Yerin, tell her to get ready to work on translations,” she spits, fast and unwavering.

Jeongyeon nods and then turns back to her phone. Before Irene even realizes it, Jessica is onto her.

“You,” the manager points at her, “You’re going to call your sister and your mother. This is going to blow up and you don’t want them to panic. Then, call Wendy. People would come for her, too—actually, no. I will call her. I don’t want her to post anything grand on Instagram again—”

“No, no, no! Wait!” Irene cries, finally catching up. She turns to Jeongyeon, “Stop.”

The handler looks up at her, blinking. She’s probably confused about who, between Irene and Jessica, she should take orders from.

Slow the fuck down.

“Don’t call Stacey yet. Don’t make her write a statement on my behalf,” Irene orders, equally as firm as Jessica did earlier. “I’m a grown woman, Jess, I can make a statement on my own.”

Jessica shakes her head, “Hmm, no. Not like Stacey, you can’t.”

Irene rolls her eyes, “And don’t call, Seungwan. Today is her residency exam. I don’t want to bother her with this. I’ll call her later.”

The manager and the handler both just stare at her, as if waiting for any further instructions. When she wouldn’t say anything, Jessica shrugs, “So, what are you going to do then?”

“I need to see what they wrote about me.”

“It doesn’t matter, it’s not true,” Jessica insists.

“You don’t know that,” she ends, giving Jessica one final look. She then picks up her phone from the top of the vanity. “Where did he release his statement?”

“Instagram,” Jeongyeon responds. “I’ll send you the post.”

In a matter of seconds, her phone lights up with a notification from Jeongyeon. Irene quickly hits the link and checks what Yoon Doojoon wrote.

I am Yoon Doojoon. I used to write for Dispatch and other online magazines but I got fired recently because of one person: Bae Irene. I was the one who supplied Dispatch the story about her girlfriend, and because I asked questions, I got fired. Coming to that fateful day of the interview, I have heard rumors about her attitude at work. I have multiple sources that told me that she is difficult to work with and often mistreats the production staff. When I confronted her about this, she retaliated and claimed that I was lying. It seems that Ms. Bae doesn’t have a very high level of self-awareness. She is not aware of her actions, thus, she has no way to correct it. I would also like to talk about how her girlfriend treated me during that interview but I am convinced that she, too, is just defensive of the person she might not know very well. I have some things to say about Son Wendy but that can wait for another day.

During my time of unemployment, I used my resources to track people who may help me prove that Bae Irene isn’t the sweetheart she claims to be. They will be coming forward in their own ways and their own stories in the next few hours. Know that we aren’t doing this to persecute Ms. Bae. We deserve to be treated well and we might not be as popular, but we demand for respect. If Ms. Bae would like to have a dialogue, she knows how to reach me.

Along with the statement written in full Korean, there’s a picture of Yoon Doojoon interviewing a woman who’s back is turned from the camera. It doesn’t take a genius to tell that the woman in the photo is Irene.

Looking at the whole scenario, confusion starts to flood her brain. There were parts of the statement that are outright lies but there are also parts that, Irene isn’t even sure, if it’s true about her or not.

“That’s—”

“—bullshit,” Jessica finishes her sentence. “’Rene, don’t tell me you’re taking his word seriously?”

Irene releases a deep breath and then turns to Jeongyeon, “What did the two others say?”

Unsure, the handler turns to Jessica for approval.

Jessica rolls her eyes with a sigh. “Irene, you don’t need to—”

“Jess, I want to know.”

The manager shakes her head, looking at Irene as if she doesn’t agree with this at all.

“I’m a grown woman, Jess.”

“I obviously know that.”

“I know what you’re doing,” Irene says. “You can’t protect me from this.”

In this moment, Irene recognizes what Jessica doing. She’s trying to shield Irene from whatever is happening out there. She’s trying to give Irene a safe place to land. This is what Jessica does. This is what Jessica’s been doing for the past eight years.

Sure, she has a weird way of showing it, but she cares. Jessica may not be the softest person you’ll ever meet. She won’t be welcoming you with a smile or a hug, but Jessica will jump in front of a train for Irene. Her heart is always in the right place. She will always do what she thinks is right for the Irene.

There were a couple of times in the past that it backfired but Jessica stood her ground every time, willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the actress. Irene may not have many friends but she’s always had Jessica. That has always been enough.

“I just don’t want you to believe what they’re saying about you. I know you’re a grown woman, I watched you grow up before my eyes – which is why I know you have the tendency to take this to heart.”

“I don’t care what people say about me.”

“You do, though. We all care about what people say about us. In varying degrees but what people say about us affects us.”

“Suppose you’re right,” she nods. “But I still need to know.”

“You’re making it very hard for me to deal with you right now.”

Irene manages a smile, “Just send it to me.”

Giving up, Jessica rolls her eyes and takes a breath. She then turns to Jeongyeon, “Send her anything that comes up.”

Jeongyeon nods and then quickly turns back to her phone. This is followed by two more notifications on her phone and soon as she gets the links, she opens and reads them.

Isabella Jones. I worked with Ms. Bae on a photoshoot with Vogue last year. Upon meeting her, I admit that she seems very professional. She is also very pretty and very elegant. There is no doubt that she carries herself well. However, she can also be very uptight. For her first look that day, I worked on her makeup for two hours, trying to meet the production schedule. But after we were done, she said that she wasn’t satisfied with my work and asked me to re-do the whole look. Not only did she waste full two hours’ worth of hardwork, we also had to move the schedule to accommodate her demands. This is very insulting and disrespectful. I am not telling this story to ride on the bandwagon. I am telling my story in hopes that this will send a message to Ms. Bae. I don’t want this to happen to somebody else.

“Isabella Jones,” she reads the name, a heavy feeling slowly settling in her heart. “Isn’t she one of the more respectable stylists around?”

Jessica rolls her eyes, “The director asked for an 80s retro look. She gave you a 90s look. Prior to the shoot, she told us she is an expert on recreating era looks. We trusted her and she did a shit job. Halfway through the makeup session, you asked her about the color palette she was going for because unlike her, you did your homework. You knew about the color palettes of the 80s and she didn’t. Her reference was a TV show that aired in 1992. Gosh, what an incompetent jerk.”

Irene only nods. She remembers that day. She remembers calling her out because her vision doesn’t seem to match with what Irene thinks the director wanted. So, she said something. She just didn’t realize how it might’ve affected the makeup artist.

Without even fully absorbing the first two statements, Irene jumps on the third one.

Craig Miller. I’ve been part of all Red Summer movies and was tasked with the unfortunate job of accompanying Ms. Bae in all of her schedules. From shoot schedules and wardrobe changes, I was basically her assistant throughout the whole filming process. Absolutely one of the worst experiences of my life. While I admit that she is really good at her job and always laser sharp with her lines and acting, she was also very demanding. She is quite the diva and not in this cute, adorable way where it could pass as funny. She’s outright bitchy. I am not doing this for Clout. I just don’t want this to happen to somebody else. So, I really hope Ms. Bae is listening.

With each word, Irene feels her heart sink further. “Craig Miller,” she looks up at them, now genuinely lost. She doesn’t remember him.

Jessica and Jeongyeon speak up in unison, “Totally doing it for Clout.”

The handler explains, “He’s profited off of his relationships with big celebrities. He has a few thousand followers on Instagram and more on TikTok.”

“Doesn’t mean what he’s saying is not true,” Irene ponders.

“Irene, do you not remember him?”

“No?”

Jessica rolls her eyes, “He’s the guy we all thought was an Intern because he didn’t know where the buffet was. You asked him to help you with the lines but he left his copy of the script in his car.”

Jeongyeon agrees with a nod, “And he didn’t want to come back to the lot and get it because—”

This time, both the manager and the handler finish the sentence, mimicking the guy’s response, “I’m sorry, the parking lot is too far.

Oh, okay. Irene remembers now. That guy.

He was totally a pain in the ass to work with. He was supposed to assist Irene with everything but it was the actress who ends up assisting him because he doesn’t pay enough attention. He wasn’t all that bad but it’s obvious he wasn’t also very good at his job.

Still, Irene treated him the way she would treat any production staff, regardless of their capability to catch up with her. In her head, she was just being her uncompromising self. In her head, she’s convinced that it’s not her job to make room for anyone’s shortcomings. She didn’t know how that would affect anyone.

She stares at her phone blankly, thousands of thoughts rushing through her. How many more people did she hurt? How many more people had the worst experience of their lives working with her? How come she’s only learning this now?

The actress feels tears prick at her eyes. It hurts to know that this is how people see her. It sucks because you could walk the streets of the Earth all your life thinking you’re one thing but it turns out, you’re actually someone different. You realize that this other person is the real you, and that person sucks; you probably won’t even like you if you met you.

She looks up and sees Jessica and Jeongyeon looking at her with sad, wary eyes. They’re worried about her but what if she treated them that way, too?

“Have I—” she stutters, her chest tightening of sorrow. “Have I ever treated you in the way they all talk about? Ever? In the course of the last few years?”

Jessica rolls her eyes so hard, it might’ve rolled to the back of her head. “Irene, no—don’t do this. What they said—”

Riiiiiing!

The manager’s statement is cut off by the sound of Irene’s phone ringing. The actress’ eyes instantly find the caller ID, flashing on her scree: Son Wendy.

Wendy and her timing.

Something about seeing Wendy’s name and knowing she’s on the other side of that call just calms Irene. Suddenly, she needs to hear her voice; needs to know that she’s there. And that no matter what they all say about her, the doctor’s feelings wouldn’t change.

“I gotta take this,” Irene says, gesturing to her phone. “It’s Wendy.”

The two other women know they already lost this fight.

“Hey,” Irene greets, trying to make her voice sound like all of that didn’t just happen.

Hey, I called on my first free second. God, that was the most brutal four hours of my life.

This makes Irene smile. Wendy obviously hasn’t caught up on it all. Good—at least there’s a place in her life that hasn’t been touched by all this.

She hops off the seat of the vanity and walks over to the couch. As she takes a seat, she keeps her eyes trained on the two other women in the room who—after a few seconds—get the message and finally give her some privacy.

“Four straight hours?” she asks.

I’ve been here since seven.

“Wasn’t it supposed to start at 10?”

It was but they had to move it earlier because the Chief has an extracranial to intracranial arterial bypass procedure that will start around 12.

Irene chuckles, “I’m not even going to ask.”

She hears Wendy laugh.

Oh, don’t. It’s going to take me hours to explain it.

A pause.

How’s filming going? I was surprised you picked up.

“I’m on a long break. They need to make some changes to the set.”

Ah, I see. Have you eaten yet?

That reminds Irene, “No, I haven’t had the time.”

Oh, that’s not very good—hold on, you’re filming in the city, right?”

She nods, “Yes, I’m filming here in Sangsu-dong.”

Oh! That’s just 30 minutes from here. I’m also on a long break.

Irene instantly lights up. Her heart pounds against her chest at the possibility of seeing Wendy so spontaneously. “What?” is all she manages but she’s smiling.

She hears Wendy laugh.

You’re cute. I mean, I could tell you have something on your mind and the Chief will be in surgery for the next few hours so, I won’t be able to take the practical any time soon. I thought we could have lunch together. I’m running out of breath—oh gosh, I could go there.

“What—” Irene manages, again.

You said that already.

“I mean, wouldn’t that be too much of a hassle?”

No—I could use a break from Jisoo who is losing her mind in the ER.

A laugh.

And I want to see you. I don’t know if I will survive the practical later, but at least I got to see your face, right? Wendy with the win. I guess, you can call me, WIN-dy.

Joohyun cringes but she laughs, her heart suddenly feeling light. There it is, Classic Wendy who always knows what to say, who always knows how to sweep her off her feet.

“What if I go there instead?”

No—you have a free lunch buffet over there!

.

So that’s how they ended up seated across each other by a makeshift set of chairs and table right outside the actress’ trailer. They’re sharing a meal from the production’s lunch buffet, an unlimited set of nutritious meals that anyone, can grab some food from during breaks.

(It’s part of Irene’s contract to have all weekly menu sent to Jessica for review and approval.)

However, the mood isn’t as chirpy as it was earlier. While Wendy was driving to the set, Jessica called her and told her everything. So now, they’re eating but Wendy is also on her phone reading different tweets and Instagram posts.

Two more people came forward with their stories since the three people from earlier. A grand total of five people are saying the same thing: that Irene is a bitch, and she’s awful to work with.

Wendy seems serious; one hand has a pair of chopsticks that she uses to eat japchae while she uses the other hand to scroll through her phone.

“This is ridiculous,” Wendy finally looks up, instantly seeking Joohyun’s gaze. “Don’t believe everything they say.”

Of course, she would say these things. She’s Wendy. She’s her girlfriend. She’s on her side. That means her opinion of Irene is also a little biased.

Irene only shrugs, gently stabbing the bibimbap in front of her. Head down, she keeps her eyes on her food. She doesn’t have the appetite to eat. How could she go on normally after all of that?

Wendy’s presence surely lifted her spirits up but it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a whole list of people who think she’s an awful person.

“Hey,” Wendy softly calls out. “Look at me.”

Irene isn’t sure if she’s in the mood for any of Wendy’s lectures but she looks up at her anyway, meeting her eyes in search of anything that could make this go away.

“This does not define you,” her girlfriend says, every word punctuated with affection. It’s as if she believes it—that all of this doesn’t define Irene. “You’re not a bad person.”

“But what if I am, Wan? What if the decisions I made for myself made other people uncomfortable?” she asks, more to herself than Wendy. “We keep saying we want to be just ourselves all the time but a lot of times, we don’t know how that affects other people. This is the first time I’m being forced to step back and take a long look at how I’ve been acting around people. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but I somehow did—and no matter the intention, that’s still on me. I’m the bad guy.”

“You’re also just a person,” Wendy says matter-of-factly. “You made a decision to act a certain way and some people didn’t like it. That doesn’t mean that every other action you did in the past is bad.”

“Wan, you don’t know how it feels like, I—” she breathes.

“But I know you,” the doctor says with a small, encouraging smile. “I know that despite the façade, you have a kind heart. That you will never intentionally hurt anyone. I know that you have the tendency to put others before you—and it’s bizarre, how you show that you care, but you do. The reason you’re feeling bad right now is because you care. And I think that counts for something.”

“You’re only saying that to make me feel better.”

Wendy shakes her head, “Joohyun, it sucks to be in this position. You have five people who think that way of you but you’ve got me, Jessica, Jeongyeon, Seulgi, and rvjoohyunnie on Twitter who believes in you no matter what. That’s also five people who think highly of you.”

“Who?” Joohyun asks with a small laugh.

“I saw a lot of tweets of them defending you. Anyway,” a breath. “Focus, Joohyun.”

“Sorry—”

“All I’m saying is, and you’re the one who said this, we all perceive certain situations differently. How those five people interpreted their interactions with you, that says more about them than it does about you. Besides, I’m sure there are people who’ve had an amazing experience working with you. Maybe, your work will speak for itself.”

Joohyun only looks at Wendy, trying to convince herself that everything the girl is saying is true. In the process, she tries to get rid of that voice in her head that’s trying to tell her to sink back to herself, to just wallow in self-pity.

Maybe, she doesn’t exactly believe in herself right now. Maybe, she just doesn’t trust herself enough. But Wendy believes in her—and sometimes, all it takes is one person.

“Okay,” Joohyun says as she takes a deep breath.

“Okay?”

The actress only nods, not really sure what they’re agreeing on.

“Promise me you won’t let Joohyun believe that she’s a bad person.”

“That’s hard.”

“But you have to try,” Wendy tells her.

“Okay, I promise.”

The doctor nods, smilingly, “Then, that’s a good start.”

“What should I do then?”

“What do you want to do? Do you want to release a statement?”

“I have to.”

“Then, think it over. People will keep talking with or without your statement, so might as well think it through. Mean it.”

Joohyun doesn’t say anything further. Instead, her eyes find their hands still interlaced together on top of the table. In that moment, she realizes that this is something she didn’t have all these years, someone who will hold her and tell her things that she sometimes forgets when the world becomes too overwhelming.

In another time, an event of this kind would shatter Irene’s confidence to pieces but right now, she thinks she can overcome this. She thinks she has it in her to still hold her head up high at the end of the day.

“How about you?” she asks Wendy. “Yoon Doojoon name-dropped you, too. What if he comes after you next?”

A lopsided smile graces Wendy’s face, “He won’t.”

“You can’t be sure of that.”

“I am sure, though,” the doctor states confidently. “See, he made one grave mistake that topples the rest of his plans.”

“What?”

“He name-dropped me and I will say this with pure disgust,” Wendy clarifies. “I’m part of the 1% in this country. I’m a Son. You can’t threaten me in a public post without repercussions.”

Oh.

“Oh—”

With a tight-lipped smile, Wendy nods, “Yup—it won’t take long before my family gets to him. Don’t be surprised if he deletes his post not even 24 hours later.”

Joohyun chuckles, “I always somehow forget.”

Wendy winks at her, “Good—because I don’t want you to associate me with that kind of power, ever.”

“You think your brother will protect you from this?”

“They won’t be protecting me. They’re protecting them but I’m somehow always going to part of that, so it comes with the territory.”

“That’s so messed up.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Wendy kids, laughing. She pulls her hand back from Joohyun and as cliché as it is, Joohyun instantly misses the warmth.

They’re silent for a moment, this time really digging in on the food in front of them. When it seems like that part of the discussion is over, Joohyun speaks up, “Can you tell me about your day, then?”

Wendy beams, “Do you want me to bore you with all the details of my written exam?”

The actress laughs, a full laugh this time, “I wouldn’t want anything else.”

The doctor laughs, too, “Well then, let me start by complaining about the 25-item modified true or false section in the Hematology exam.”

.

Almost an hour passes and they’ve probably covered only half of Wendy’s exam. The girl really doesn’t know how to stop talking. At this point, Joohyun feels like she’s taken the exam, too. The slight strain in Wendy’s voice makes it evident that this exam is truly taking a toll on her but there’s also a sparkle in her eyes that tells Joohyun she’s handling this.

Joohyun, on the other hand, feels better.

Indeed, all it takes is one person. She only hopes she had that effect on Wendy, too.

She doesn’t know how far they’ve gone into their discussion but the next thing she knows, they’re talking about the other girl’s upcoming birthday celebration. Apparently, Joy has been nagging Wendy about finalizing her guest list so she can decide on how to arrange the tables.

“I told Joy hundreds of times, that I don’t want anything fancy. I just want to keep it small,” Wendy explains, this time munching on a brownie.

Joohyun nods, “Let me guess. She told you, small doesn’t mean cheap.

Wendy’s eyes grow wide, “How did you know?”

“She’s been nagging me, too, about nagging you about your guest list.”

The doctor rolls her eyes, “She’s insufferable. She wouldn’t stop bugging everyone until she gets what she wants.

“Sounds exactly like Joy.”

“Fine,” the doctor whines. “Let’s break it down—hospital people.”

Joohyun immediately turns to her phone and opens her Notes app. There’s a saved item there titled, Wendy’s Guest List. “Hospital people: Jisoo, Sejeong, Dr. Im plus one, Dr. Chen plus one, and The Chief plus one question mark.”

The doctor chuckles, “On point. Next, automatic people.”

“Joohyun, Yerim plus one, Sooyoung, Chanyeol, Seohyun, Seulgi,” Joohyun recites with a smile.

“Sounds about right. What’s next?”

“The Other People group but we don’t have names yet.”

Wendy nods, “Okay, add these people then: Seolhyun, Jackson, and Sehun.”

It’s Joohyun’s turn to be surprised, “Wait—what?”

The doctor laughs, “You should see the look on your face.”

“Those three? Really? They’re coming?”

Wendy nods, “Incidentally, Seolhyun is here in Seoul that week. Jackson, Sehun, and I have always planned to meet up but didn’t see the point since Seolhyun isn’t here.”

“Wow—how long has it been?”

“We kept in touch but didn’t really see each other since high school graduation. I saw Sehun once, and Jackson met up with Joy once but as a group, never. Grand total of eight—well, almost nine years now.”

“Wow,” Joohyun breathes, astounded by the idea that she’s going to see this group of friends again.

“Is that alright?”

Confused, Joohyun asks, “Why wouldn’t it be?”

Wendy shrugs, “You know, cafeteria event of the century.”

Joohyun laughs, “Ah, that. It’s been years. Besides, I got the girl in the end. They’d probably be celebrating.”

Wendy nods, “They did. In the group chat. Jackson made a gif of his reaction.”

This makes Joohyun laugh. Part of her is also excited to see them. Suddenly, high school isn’t that threatening anymore, “I’m looking forward to see them.”

“Ah, look at her—my strong, independent, no-longer-threatened-by-my-high-school-friends girlfriend.”

Joohyun laughs at this but a thought immediately comes to mind, “Oh, speak of the Other People group—I was wondering—but before I continue, I know this is your celebration so I really won’t mind if you don’t want me to invite this person. So, don’t say okay just because you don’t want to hurt my feelings.”

“Okaaaay.”

“My friend Jennie—”

“—your other bestfriend aside from Seulgi?”

That Jennie. She’s here in Seoul that week—well, she’s gonna be here for quite a while—but she’s been dying to meet you. So, I thought, I’d invite her to the party so you two can officially meet. You won’t have to worry about her feeling out-of-place. She’s very social. She can start a conversation with a plant and have fun. Plus, Seulgi will be there. And I think Jennie and Joy will just, you know, vibe. I mean—”

She’s cut short when Wendy laughs.

“What?”

“You’re cute.”

“So—can I invite her?”

“Of course, Joohyun. She’s your friend.”

“Okay, I’ll let her know.”

“I’m looking forward to meeting her.”

“Oh—I’m not.”

Wendy chuckles, “Why?”

“Jennie’s a bit overbearing and she will be asking questions. I dread it.”

“Well now, I’m only half looking forward to it.”

“Great, I don’t want you to be super enthusiastic about it. Jennie feeds off of that energy.”

“You talk about her like she’s the spawn of the devil.”

Joohyun shakes her head, “Joy still holds that title but I think Jennie is a close second.”

“Ah, maybe we should fear the day they finally meet.”

“We should, totally.”

They share a laugh, basking in the casualness of their conversation. However, it doesn’t take long before the bubble bursts.

“Speak of the Other People category, I have more people in that category that I want your input in,” this time, it’s Wendy who pokes at it.

“Who is it this time? The newspaper girls?”

Wendy laughs, “No, idiot. Jessica.”

Oh.

“I’m inviting her and Jeongyeon.”

“I don’t see any problem with that,” Joohyun says, confused. “You two are friends.”

“I’m just not sure if we will leave a plus-one seat for Jess.”

Oh.

“Tiffany.”

“Yeah,” Wendy nods, careful.

This part still stings. Jessica and Tiffany, now a separate unit. She still hasn’t made peace with that.

Joohyun takes a deep breath, “At this point, it’s safer to assume she would come without a plus-one.”

“They still haven’t made up?”

“Nope. It sucks.”

“Speak of Jessica,” Wendy says, Jessica’s name trailing off of her tongue. She pulls her phone out, scrolls for a bit, and then shows Joohyun a picture.

Looking at it, she could tell it’s an address, “What am I looking at?”

“Remember when I told you she dropped by my house drunk?”

Joohyun nods, an unfamiliar feeling bubbling at the pit of her stomach.

“She gave me that address in a piece of paper and said, I should go that address so I could learn about the truth.”

“What?”

“Weird, right?”

Joohyun takes ahold of Wendy’s phone and takes a closer look at the address, “It’s in Gangwon.”

The doctor nods, “I tried looking up the address, but nothing stands out. Looks like a residential area.”

“Have you tried asking Jessica about it?”

“I did but she didn’t want to elaborate. She said I should pay that place a visit if I want the truth, said I wouldn’t miss it if I saw it.”

“That’s creepy.”

“You know what’s weirder? She gave me this address after a long, garbled speech about my ex.”

“Oh,” she manages.

Park Chaeyoung. But what does Jessica have to do with her?

Wendy only nods, her lips forming a thin line Joohyun wouldn’t exactly call a smile. The doctor takes her phone back from Joohyun and, for a moment, just stares at the photo of the address.

The actress watches her girlfriend as she stares at her phone, a million thoughts running through her head. Joohyun thinks for a moment if she should ask, if she should prod. But the rational part of her knows she shouldn’t—no, that’s not the can of worms she should open. Not this early in their relationship.

Park Chaeyoung, a ghost Joohyun didn’t think she’d need to deal with.

When Wendy wouldn’t say anything else, Joohyun feels the need to break the silence, “What are you gonna do about it?”

Wendy shrugs, shaking her head. She sighs as she puts her phone back to the pocket of her jeans, “I don’t know. I honestly don’t want to think about this—not today, I still have that practical exam later. And I just—”

The doctor cuts her own sentence short, accentuated by an exasperated sigh.

“Hey, pause,” Joohyun interrupts. She stands up and then picks up her chair. She rounds the corner, places her chair next to Wendy’s. “If you don’t want to deal with this yet, it’s up to you. Focus on your exam today, okay? One at a time.”

Silence envelopes for a while. Wendy looks like she’s deep in thought.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Joohyun asks. Perhaps, this is what triggers for the dam to break.

“It’s just too much—you know,” the doctor sighs heavily, her shoulder slacking in exhaustion. “I don’t know much about Chaeyoung’s death. I’ve always had this feeling in my gut that there was something more to it. But I ignored that because in every place I looked at, it tells me one thing: the girl got into a car accident two days after I graduated from high school. That’s it. I, of all people, know that sometimes, people just die and none of us are prepared for it. And now, someone I barely know gives me an address and tells me to go there to find the truth about what? I don’t know. Who the fuck knows?”

Joohyun is entirely rendered speechless by the grief she spots in Wendy’s voice. So, she doesn’t say anything. Instead, she wraps an around Wendy, knows this is the only way she can be here for her.

It seems like this is affecting Wendy more than she’s telling Joohyun but the actress knows it’s not her place to question.

The new information she’s learned about Chaeyoung’s death is also making it hard for her to process everything. They all knew about Park Chaeyoung’s death through a social media post from one of her friends. But if Joohyun’s math of the timeline is right, that news spread throughout their circle six months after her actual death.

So, it’s messed up—Park Chaeyoung didn’t get the memorial she deserved. As she holds Wendy right there, she thinks it’s tragic how the people that loved her never really got to say goodbye to her.

They spend a couple of minutes like that—just holding each other. Joohyun wishes that being there for people can somehow heal them. She knows it doesn’t. She knows, by experience, that healing takes time. That sometimes, you don’t really heal at all.

Their moment is cut short when Wendy’s phone beeps, signaling a message.

The doctor pulls away from the hug as she gives Joohyun a small smile. “That’s probably Sejeong. I told her to text me when the Chief gets a sub for her surgery. I have an hour to get back to the hospital.”

“You better get going then.”

“I’m sorry to dump all of that on you—I just—”

“Wan, it’s okay. I’m just Joohyun. You can talk to me,” she says, placing a small kiss on the side of Wendy’s head.

Wendy manages a small smile, “I have to get going now. Will you be okay?”

Joohyun smiles, “I will be. Don’t worry about me. Will you be okay?”

“I’ll call you after the Chief murders us.”

She laughs, “Aw, you’d make for a pretty corpse.”

Wendy cringes, “Ugh, a line. Don’t ever do that again.”

“I learned it from you.”

The doctor only laughs as she leans in and places a soft, chaste kiss on Joohyun’s lips. Something about it still takes Joohyun’s breath away.

“Thank you for coming here today,” Joohyun says, smiling.

Wendy nods, “We’ll be okay.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

As they look at each other’s eyes, those three words cross Joohyun’s mind. She doesn’t say it, doesn’t go through with it but she feels it. She’s certain.

She’s into deep—100% in love.

.

Irene rests after Wendy leaves, telling Jessica and Jeongyeon that she will deal with things later. Jessica advised against it, said that the longer it takes for her to respond, the more time it will give people to attack her.

Social media is an awful place to be if you’re the one being called names. It’s great if you’re the one being held up on a pedestal but it turns against you when something like this happens. Irene never truly understood the power of social media but she knows that it can make or break a public figure’s career. She just didn’t think that she’d ever be on this side of the fight.

To clear her mind before the shoot resumes, she doesn’t check social media during her break.

She calls Tiffany and their mom to let them in on the situation. They’re worried, of course. But she also told them that she wants to deal with this on her own. Tiffany offered help, saying their company lawyers are more than capable to deal with this but she doesn’t need their protection. What she needs is time to reflect on her behavior.

Smoke indicates fire—and yes, it may not be as bad as those people painted it to be, but their concerns still came from somewhere. Whatever their intentions may be, some of the scenarios they talked about weren’t pure lies. These are real interactions she’s had with these people.

At some point, feelings were hurt; and no matter how much Irene didn’t mean it, that’s still on her.

The shoot resumes for the rest of the day and Irene focuses on what she does best: work her ass off. Solar reminds her to block out the noise, that she can’t let whatever is happening affect the great work she’s been doing so far.

The director also reminds her that the staff collectively disagrees with the claims those people are saying. Several staff members have even come up to her to cheer her on. It powers her through the rest of the shoot, giving her just about the right amount of motivation to get through the day.

Later, as she lies in bed late at night, she finally gathers up the courage to check social media.

She starts with Twitter and sees different reactions. She checks the Tweets with her name on it and sees messages and opinions of support. She also sees people claiming they’ve stopped stanning, some even uses her situation to compare her against other idols and actresses.

But it is when she switches to Instagram does it start to hit her.

Kim Yongsun. Hello, this is Solar. I am directing Russian Roulette and have been working with Bae Irene for a few months now. Working with her was a learning curve for me. She came to the set with a firm idea of who she is. It is rare to come across a woman like that, especially in the culture of South Korea where women are constantly told to act a certain way or look a certain way to be considered likeable. Being a woman in this industry is hard. We are put under a microscope. Our every move is being scrutinized. One wrong move and it can cost us our livelihood and our careers. But Bae Irene comes to work everyday with the same tenacity and drive, a fire in her eyes that I have not seen in a long time.

She comes to work at 4 in the morning to get her makeup done, sometimes even earlier with barely an hour of sleep. She steps on the set with a full script memorized, does 90% of her stunts, and at the end of the day would still have the strength to do retakes just because we weren’t satisfied of the first cut. All that without any complaints. So, if the woman demands for something, we give it to her. I have witnessed men act far worse with less credibility, and none of them are being called out for it. Some are even celebrated for it. Let us not persecute a woman for knowing what she wants and having the guts to ask for it. If our society calls men brilliant for doing basically the same thing, then why are we calling her a bitch for it?

Irene is astounded for a minute, reading and re-reading every word as she lets this validation pull back together every single piece of confidence that’s been stripped away from her.

Nobody asked Solar to do this. Nobody asked her to write a two-paragraph-long essay about this whole situation. Nobody asked her to post a picture of Irene, covered in fake debris on set, obviously exhausted from a long day of filming as she stands in the middle of room taking orders from Solar. But somehow, she did.

She found time in her busy schedule to stand up for Irene.

Still in a state of shock, she switches to her messaging app. She intends to send Solar a note to thank her for the wonderful words she posted about her. But before she could even start typing a message, a notification from Jeongyeon comes through.

It’s a link, and Irene instantly clicks on it. It takes her to another Instagram post. It’s a photo of Irene from the same Vogue photoshoot that the stylist from earlier was talking about.

Jamie Baker. I’ve worked with Irene Bae on a number of photoshoots, including the controversial Vogue shoot that everyone now knows about. That shoot was rescheduled twice. The first time we had intended to shoot, my wife went on labor. We were already at the studio when I heard the news. Irene was coming straight to the shoot from a filming schedule in Brazil. A photographer asking to reschedule on the same day of the shoot would’ve set off any other celebrity but not Irene. She understood, even offered to drive me to the hospital, and on the day we were finally ready to shoot, the first thing she asked me was, how was the baby? I don’t know what the fuck these people are talking about but Irene Bae is a champ.

Jeongyeon sends another link. This time, it’s a selfie of Irene and one of the camera crew members she’d worked with in Red Summer.

Matías Lopez. I was a gaffer in the set of Red Summer. The production was big and expensive, and it was obvious that a lot of the budget went to the set and equipment. None of that budget went to food. There was a separate buffet for the staff and the actors. One was more a more nutritious set while the other was, well, food. Everyone in the set knew this, including some of the actors. Ms. Bae, for some reason, wasn’t privy to this information. I account this to the fact that this is the first time she’s working with this company. She didn’t know how the whole thing works. She found that out one day when she dropped by the staff buffet in search for sweets. Two days after she found out, the menu changed. What was served for the actors became the same set of food that was served for the staff. I figured out later on that she personally requested to change this. She wanted to make sure that everyone in the set is being treated with the same amount of respect. She doesn’t know that we all know what she did, doesn’t want to take credit for it.

For the next two movies, word swirled around that she took a pay cut. Everyone else in the crew got a raise. I don’t think I need to expound further. Do the math.

Tears prick at her eyes as Jeongyeon sends more links. More people have posted their messages of support, people she’d worked with in the past. Some of them, she honestly doesn’t even remember. But she remembers their work and they remember hers.

Wendy was right.

Maybe, your work will speak for itself.

Amid the tears threatening to fall from her eyes, she smiles. Maybe, it’s not all bad.

Sure, it still warrants personal reflection on her behavior but these messages of support tell her one thing: that she’s not all bad. That she’s not the villain of this story.

She doesn’t know what’s gonna happen next or in what way she can change the effects of her interactions with other people but she knows this: there are people she’d affected positively.

There are people who count on her, who believe in her. There are people like Wendy, Jessica, Jeongyeon, Seulgi, Solar, Jamie, Matías, and rvjoohyunnie on Twitter who know—and believe—that there is good in the bad. That the messages from those five people don’t define her. That she is more than the girl they now comfortably call a bitch.

Another notification pops up and this one, Joohyun is sure, is going be the best one yet.

wendy.son tagged you in a post.

“I’m not everything I want to be but I’m more than the person I was yesterday, and I am still learning how to be me,” this was Joohyun’s closing statement in an essay writing exercise during our freshman year. She read this in front of the class and it took my breath away. It wasn’t the best essay written that day, I’d argue mine was, but hers stuck with me because it was sincere. Loads of people have posted something to defend her but I’m not gonna do that. I’m not going to say that she’s perfect. She’s not. I’m not. None of us is. The best thing we can do in this life is be sincere and kind. Some of us really overlook how hard that is sometimes, to be sincere and kind in a world that is not always nice. But Joohyun does that every day. You take away the talent, the face, and the box-office sales, and you still have a kind-hearted soul who sometimes struggles but she tries every day without stopping.

The best piece of advice my father ever gave me: if you meet someone like that, you don’t let her go. So, I guess Taylor Swift was right: it’s gonna be forever. Or it’s gonna go down in flames. I hope it’s the former.

That whole post is accompanied by a photo from their Christmas celebration. She’s standing victoriously in front of a sad Chanyeol who just got beaten in Uno. Yerim, Joy, and Seohyun are also in the photo, celebrating her win. Wendy, obviously, is the one who took the photo.

It says a lot, and it warms Joohyun’s heart to know that this is her life now. That she’s not alone. That maybe, she no longer has to fear not finding a home. She’s realized a long time ago that home is not a place but a feeling. However, she’s learned something else.

Home is also time.

For her, that time is here and now. Home.

She takes a look at the photo one more time. She doesn’t know what’s coming next, doesn’t know where this is going to take her but here’s what she knows:

Dating Son Seungwan could be forever. Or it could go down in flames.

/

Chapter Text

/

Wendy takes a deep breath as she steps into the hallway leading up to the conference hall. 
There are others walking past her in faster strides, their white robes stiffly following their movements. She’s familiar with these faces but she’s never worked with them before. 

As she walks down the pale, narrow hallway, she looks down at what she’s wearing. She’s not in scrubs—a welcome change, that’s for sure. She’s wearing a loose-fitting pair of black pants, a pair of white sneakers, and a beige button-up. 

What strikes her the most though is the white, knee-length white coat that now comes with an extra chest pocket with the logo of the hospital proudly embroidered to it. Just above the hospital logo is her name, embroidered in blue: 

외과학교실
손승완

Department of Surgery
Son Seungwan

She smiles a bit at it, the pain of internship and residency exam now behind her. Not that it’s going to be a painless journey from here on out. There’s the looming pain of bigger responsibilities just waiting for her. She sighs lightly.

It’s the first day of her residency. It feels big and uneventful at the same time.

“Look at her and her extra pocket,” says a familiar voice as a second and third person joins her short walk to the conference hall.

“Good morning, Dr. Im,” Wendy bows, giving the older woman a smile.

“Good morning, Dr. Son from the Surgery Department.”

Wendy manages a smile, thankful for the woman’s support. She couldn’t have had a better mentor than her. 

She turns on her other side sees Sejeong munching on a donut, a worried look etched across her face. The other girl is also donning the same white coat with a chest pocket, her name nicely embroidered to it just like Wendy’s.

“We get an extra pocket now,” Sejeong says, then takes a large bite on her donut.

“Are you okay?” she asks as they get to the door of the conference room.

Yoona pulls it open and as they step in, they see the medium-sized conference hall now almost full with doctors and some nurses, already seated and engaged in conversations with the people next to them.

The three women find a seat near the front and as they take a seat, she finds herself sandwiched between the two other doctors. It’s also when Sejeong takes another donut out of the pocket of her coat.

“How many donuts do you have there?” she asks, trying to peek at the other girl’s coat pocket.

“I have another one on the right pocket. Do you want some?” Sejeong offers as she turns to Wendy.

Wendy shakes her head, “No. Are you okay? Why are you stress-eating?”

“Why aren’t you?”

“What?”

“She’s nervous,” Yoona tells Wendy. 

“Wonder why Wendy isn’t nervous at all,” Sejeong says nervously. “It’s the first day of our residency and we’ve got real responsibilities now.”

Wendy chuckles, “Oh, I see. It’s going to be okay.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Just calm down,” she assures her, trying to ease the other girl’s internal (almost external) panic. She then turns to Dr. Im, “Do you know why the Chief called for a town hall meeting?”

The older woman shrugs, “Just a couple of announcements, maybe.”

Wendy doesn’t ask any other questions.

Instead, she looks around and tries to familiarize herself with the doctors in the room. She sees some familiar people and then there are people she’s never worked with before.

“Are these doctors from the other shift group?”

Dr. Im nods, “Oh yeah, they reshuffled the shifts so some of the doctors were put on our shift. Then the other attendings and residents from our shift got moved to the other shift.”

“Why?”

Dr. Im nods, “Who knows what goes into Taeyeon’s—sorry, the Chief’s—head.”

It’s at that moment, Wendy realizes that she hasn’t seen Jisoo. This realization makes her gasp, “Oh my, did Jisoo get transferred to the other shift?”

Like clockwork, a fourth person joins them, taking the seat next to Yoona. “I’m here, calm down,” Jisoo grins, then accompanies it with a wink.

“Oh that’s good,” Wendy breathes a sigh of relief.

“Is she okay?” Jisoo asks, bobbing her head toward Sejeong’s direction.

“She’s okay. She’s just nervous.”

Jisoo only shakes her head smilingly.

In a matter of moments, the entire room quiets down as the Chief walks in and steps behind the platform in the middle of the stage. The room has pitched flooring so, it appears that the Chief is looking up at them. Trailing her is her assistant, Lee Junho.

“Thank you all for coming here today, I’ll make it quick since all of you are busy saving lives,” she starts. “As you may have noticed, some of the doctors in this shift are not here and that’s because they’ve been moved to the second shift group. Some of the attendings and department heads have also moved.”

As the Chief addresses them all, Wendy recalls the schedules in her head. They have two core shifts: the morning shift and the night shift. Each shift has two starting times. For the first shift, some people come in at 8 AM and then the rest comes in at 1 PM. For the night shift, some people come in at 8 PM then the rest comes in at 1 in the morning.

While the two shifts overlap, there are people whose work schedules don’t exactly meet. That explains why she’s not familiar with some of them.

“May I ask those who are new to this shift to stand up?”

A couple of doctors, maybe about 10, stand up. 

“Welcome to the first shift,” the Chief welcomes them with a small smile. “Thank you, you may now take your seats again.”

The doctors follow suit.

“Now—you all know that the residency exam was conducted two days ago. Let’s congratulate our new residents. Please stand as I call your name. Dr. Kim Sejeong.”

The doctor in question hurriedly shuffles and stuffs her food back to the pocket of her coat. She wipes her mouth as she stands haphazardly, bumping her hip on the armrest. If it hurt, she does a good job hiding it.

Sejeong bows her head as she looks around the room with a small, tight-lipped smile. 

“Dr. Son Wendy,” she hears the Chief call her name.

Wendy stands up and does the same, just with a little bit more grace. 

The Chief smiles at them as she continues, “For the people who’s been in the first shift, you are all familiar with Dr. Kim and Dr. Son. But today, we are joined by two more first-year residents who served most of their internship year in the night shift. Please stand as I call your name.”

“Dr. Doh Kyungsoo,” the Chief calls as a guy from the far right of the room stands. He waves a hand and manages a small smile as he bows repeatedly to the entire room. Then, the chief calls another name, “Dr. Myoui Mina.”

The female doctor next to the guy stands. She manages a shy smile before she bows to the entire room. Wendy can’t help but stare. Her long, ash-blonde hair is up in a ponytail—and really, that’s the only thing Wendy can make of her appearance because she’s far from them but it’s easy to assume that Dr. Myoui is really pretty. There’s something about her aura that just screams elegant and pretty—does that make sense?

“Wow, she’s pretty,” she hears Jisoo whisper under her breath.

“Thank you, doctors,” the Chief says as she gestures for all of them to sit.

Wendy takes a seat, chancing one last glance at Dr. Myoui. Their eyes meet from across the room and they both manage a small smile before turning their attention back to the Chief.

Heh, that was weird. But also—hey, connection. Connection is important.

“This year, we’re going to do things a little differently. All first-, second-, and third-year residents are required to spend hours on all departments.”

A collective groan is heard all over the room.

Expecting the reaction, the Chief nods, “That means you don’t get to focus on a specialty until your fourth year. However, we’ve taken into account all your chosen specialties, so you still get to be in that service for three days a week or a total of 30 hours. The other three days, you will be in a different service depending on which one needs it. That includes 10 hours in the ER. Per week.”

Another round of collective groan is heard all over the room.

“We’re doing this to make sure that all our residents are equipped with experience and knowledge in all areas of surgery. This will also help you decide on a specialty once your turn to choose one comes.”

She pauses for a bit, looking around the room as if gauging everyone’s reactions. After a few moments, she continues, “Lastly, per tradition, we appoint Chief Residents for each shift group. I’m proud to announce your new Chief Resident, Dr. Kim Jisoo.”

Jisoo stands up calmly and bows to everyone.

There’s a warm smile on her friend’s face and Wendy feels pride just looking at her. 

“That’s all for today, thank you everyone for coming in.”

Jisoo, Yoona, Wendy, and Sejeong collectively hold their breath, remembering a bet from a few days ago.

 “Say it, say it,” Yoona says under her breath.

“Don’t say it,” Sejeong chants quietly, then takes a mouthful of what’s probably the doughnut that was on her right pocket.

The Chief smirks as she says, “Get back to work, everyone. It’s a beautiful day to save lives.”

“Yes!” Wendy cheers quietly as Yoona laughs. The two doctors exchange a high five.

“Bitch,” Jisoo breathes in frustration as she shakes her head.

“Free dinner sounds nice tonight, eh?” Yoona teases.

“I wanted to bet on her saying it,” Sejeong whines.

 “You still bet against your gut,” Wendy says, extending her hand to Sejeong with her palms up. “Pay up.”

“I’ll just buy you dinner,” Sejeong rolls her eyes, smacking Wendy’s palm gently.

“But it’s gotta be meat,” she says with a smug smile.

“You’re so cheap,” Jisoo comments, rolling her eyes.

As the doctors in the room start to head out, Wendy hears the Chief’s voice one more time, “Dr. Son, Dr. Myoui—you’re in my service today. We’ll have rounds in 30 minutes, suit up.”

The Chief then exits the room as her assistant follows her.

Dr. Im stands and then turns to Jisoo who takes a seat, “Who’s on my service today, Chief?”

Jisoo only smiles, “Sejeong and Dr. Doh is yours for the day until tomorrow.”

“The ER, oh my gosh,” Sejeong manages with a heavy sigh. 

Dr. Im chuckles, “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. I’ll just get some coffee downstairs, see you at the ER in 30.”

The doctor shuffles on her feet and then quickly jogs to another attending on the way out. 

As Dr. Im disappears into the small crowd, Wendy turns to Jisoo. “Congratulations! You deserve this—Chief Resident, wow!”

“Thank you,” Jisoo bobs her head with a smile. “Now, don’t piss me off or you will never be on Dr. Im’s service again. I will put you on Peds.”

“Noted, Chief,” Sejeong says, managing a small smile despite the nerves.

“Have you always known about the promotion?” Wendy inquires.

“It’s not a promotion,” Jisoo clarifies. “It’s basically additional work but one that would look really good on my resume. And I found out yesterday.”

“You should’ve said something. I could’ve baked cookies,” Wendy says.

“No need for that, look at her. Get her some water,” Jisoo says with a laugh as she points at Sejeong who looks like she just choked on her food.

“Okay, okay,” Wendy stands up as she takes Sejeong’s hand. Sejeong follows suit, managing a barely audible I’m fine. “Let’s drink some water, okay. You’re in the ER today. Don’t become the emergency.”

Jisoo laughs as she joins her two friends as they make their way toward the exit.

As they head toward the exit, Wendy only smiles to herself.

She’s a resident now.

“My hip hurts,” Sejeong says with a slight groan.

What a feat.

.

Wendy has always been good with people. Sure, she’s a blabbering mess and a lot of times a bit too talkative but she’s always been comfortable with making the first move or being the one who initiates conversation.

Today doesn’t have to be different, she tells herself as she walks to the residents’ locker room. She has at hand two cups of coffee, one for her and the other is an offer of friendship.

As she steps inside the room, she instantly feels the burden of her first day. It’s a busy room, a whirlwind of residents is all over the place as they gear up for their shift. Some are making light conversation, while others are quickly changing into their scrubs. 

It’s not her first time to be in this room. This is where they kept their stuff even as interns but walking in as a resident, as one of them, feels different. She finally understands what Sejeong was munching about earlier.

It definitely feels different, but also somehow, the same.

She walks over to her locker, nearly knocking into two residents who are on their way out. None of them seem to see her or mind her, all their attention is drawn to the day ahead of them. 

The locker room is pretty straightforward: rows of tall, full-height wooden lockers with electronic locks and a couple of benches here and there. It’s simple. The lack of any luxuries in the room keeps residents out of it. 

You can get those luxuries when you become an attending.

She places the two cups of coffee on top of the bench as she punches the code into her locker. Once it opens, she starts changing into her light blue scrubs. There’s no room for modesty in this place. They all change in front of each other.

It took a while for Wendy to learn her way around it but when you’ve got an ER to run, you forget there are other people in the room when you change into your scrubs.

Wendy thinks this whole locker room is a nice reminder. Out there, they are warriors. Some people would even call them heroes. Out there, they’re saving lives. But here? Here they’re just normal people who don’t even have a proper couch to sit on when the day is rough.

A couple of minutes later, she’s on her scrubs. She’s ready to roll, the white coat with her name on it fitting her quite comfortably. She has pens on her extra pocket—two pens. One from Seohyun and one from Yerim.

(She has an entire set of other pens kept in her locker. Joy knows she would eventually misplace pens so she gave her an entire set. Joy just knows her too well.)

Now, on to her next mission. 

She looks around the room as she takes the cups of coffee from the bench. It doesn’t take a while for her to find the person she’s looking for. Upon spotting the other doctor, Wendy smiles and then makes her way toward her.

“Hi,” she starts as she walks up to the woman who’s just about done putting her coat on. “Mina-ssi?”

The doctor turns around and soon as she sees her, she manages a smile and a small bow.

“I’m Wendy,” she introduces herself. “I know it’s Seungwan here on the coat but everyone calls me Wendy. Thought I’d introduce myself and get acquainted, so we won’t have that painfully awkward moment of not knowing each other when we start rounds.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Wendy,” the girl says softly. For a moment, Wendy is taken aback by how soft-spoken the other woman is. But it’s a welcome change from the usually booming and overbearing voices of her colleagues. 

Wow, being in the ER for the last quarter of her intern year really changed the way she sees things.

Wendy beams as she extends her hand with one of the cups to Mina, “I also bought you coffee—which I am now realizing is such an awful assumption. So, I’m sorry if I thought you drink coffee? Almost everyone I know here drinks coffee and thinks it’s water. I just assumed, I think? I can buy you any drink you want when we have a break from rounds if you don’t like coffee. Am I rambling? I think I am—oh my God.”

Mina laughs, taking the cup from Wendy’s hand, “Thank you, Wendy-ssi. Coffee is fine.”

“Oh,” a sigh of relief. “Great— sorry, I tend to ramble a lot.”

“Don’t be sorry, it’s fine,” she says. “Shall we walk to the Chief’s office together?”

“Let’s go.”

The two newly acquainted doctors head out of the room together. 

They’re quiet for a moment, both women busying themselves with their coffee. But of course, it doesn’t take a while for Wendy to break the ice.

“Is this your first time working with the Chief?” she asks. Small talk—small talk is good.

Mina nods, “Yes. I’ve always been under Dr. Jung Yunho’s service.”

“Oncology?”

The other doctor only nods.

“That’s hardcore. But only one service throughout your Intern year?”

“Yeah. We were supposed to be on a rotational program just like you guys on this shift but it’s different with cancer patients. It requires a lot of long-term patient care and cases are always monitored closely so Dr. Jung didn’t want to change Interns.”

“Ah, that makes sense. This must be quite an adjustment for you.”

“Quite,” Mina replies simply just as they step into the elevator. “And you’ve always been on this shift, right?”

Wendy nods, “I’ve rotated amongst different specialties. Cardio for a short time, then Peds, and then Emergency.”

“Oh, you’re that Wendy.”

“The Head Nurse Slayer?” she cringes.

Mina giggles, “You’ve made quite the headlines amongst nurses.”

Wendy sighs, “Ugh—I never intended to.”

“I know. No one intends to go up against Nurse Eum. You’re kinda badass.”

“Oh—I’m really not.”

Mina only laughs as they step into the elevator.  Just as they step in, three other doctors join in: Jisoo, Sejeong, and the other new doctor, Dr. Doh Kyungsoo.

“Wow,” Jisoo quips as she presses a button on the panel. “The squad is complete. You’re all headed to the Attending’s Lounge?”

The four younger doctors nod as the elevator doors slide close.

“We’re headed to the Chief’s office,” Wendy says.

“Sounds about right,” the Chief Resident remarks. “Do you know what the whole department calls you four?”

They all shake their heads.

“They call you the Four Jisoos.”

Both Wendy and Sejeong burst in laughter as the two other doctors manage a smile. 

Jisoo laughs, too, “It’s funny, right?”

“Why are they calling us that?” Wendy asks.

“Because you’re me when I was starting. I was in a promising intern class, the best they’ve seen in a while. Then, fast forward to today, I’m the only one left. Everyone else got pirated by another hospital. So now, you’re the Four Jisoos.”

Jisoo turns to them and eyes them briefly. Then, she points to Dr. Doh, “You’re Jisoo One.”

“Okay,” he accepts, nodding.

Jisoo then turns to Mina, “You’re Jisoo Two because you’re the prettiest. No offense to you three but look at her face.”

“No complaints,” Sejeong agrees.

“Kim Sejeong, you’re Jisoo Three. And finally, Son Wendy is Jisoo Four.”

“Why am I Jisoo Four?”

“Because you topped the bar, you don’t get to be number one here.”

“You topped the bar?” Mina and Kyungsoo ask in unison.

“Ugh—” Wendy groans.

The elevator comes to a halt. They hear a ding as the doors slide open. Their day is about to begin.

“Should we call it Jisoos One instead?”

“No!”

“Fine!”

.

The next thing Wendy knows, they’re inside the Chief’s office.

“I know you’re expecting a Neuro case today but it’s not a Neuro case,” she begins soon as the two residents step into the threshold. “Being a resident means you get access to our VIP cases and that’s exactly what you two are going to do today.”

Ah, a VIP case. 

In every elite hospital, there’s what they call a set of VIP Services. Hospitals like Severance are open to everyone but if you have money, a lot of money, you can be entitled to top-tier patient care no matter what kind of illness you have. This is the kind of treatment given to celebrities, high-ranking government officials, and more often, businessmen. 

Not that the services they offer to regular citizens aren’t top tier, it’s just that the VIP service is more personalized. It’s basically a hospital but with five-star hotel accommodation.

Wendy is all too familiar with this. There was a time when she herself was a VIP patient, her annual check-ups amounting to five times her monthly salary right now.

At Severance, there are only 15 VIP rooms and it’s located on the other wing of the hospital.

“I personally hand-picked you two because you’ve got the best bedside manners according to your superiors. So, I’m expecting a lot from you today Jisoo Two and Four, okay?”

Mina and Wendy exchange looks before they turn to the Chief and nod. 

“That nickname is going to stick, isn’t it?” Mina asks.

Wendy nods, “Yup, Jisoo has a knack for putting her name in everything.”

“Now, here,” the Chief says as she picks up a binder from her desk and hands it to Mina. “That’s the patient history. And those—” she points to a pile of binders on top of a small table at the other end of the room, “—those are my post-ops. Four are in the regular recovery rooms, one in the ICU, and one more in the VIP room. Review them for 20 minutes then start rounds. After an hour, come back here and we’ll head to our new VIP patient. Clear? Page me if anything doesn’t check out.”

“Got it, Chief,” Wendy affirms as Mina merely nods.

.

Doing the rounds with Mina was… different. The woman is quiet and only laughs when Wendy says something funny. She would engage enough in a conversation but would never be the one to initiate it.

Wendy decides that she likes it because their dynamic is unique. Mina is shy but confident. There’s a quiet self-assurance somewhere that puts Wendy at ease because there’s something about the girl that makes you feel like she knows what she’s doing. She’s decisive, precise, and Wendy finds herself just a bit in awe of her.

Their rounds went well. The patients are recovering as expected. Wendy takes it as a win, a tailwind to get them through the day.

“It can’t be that bad, right?” Mina asks.

They’re now walking down the hall to the VIP room about to meet their patient.

“I mean—” she follows through. “VIP patients aren’t always urgent.”

Wendy nods and shrugs, “VIP patients are generally non-severe cases. Could be just a check-up for all we know.”

“Our first day as residents and we’re basically pawns.”

“It still counts,” Wendy encourages her. “They bring money to the hospital which also gives us access to quality education.”

 “You sound business-y, like a CEO or something.”

“Huh—that’s funny. I know nothing about owning a hospital.”

Wendy laughs to herself at the irony of it. If Mina is weirded by it, she doesn’t prod.

Halfway to the VIP room, Wendy’s phone buzzes. She takes it from the pocket of her coat and checks her notification.

Park Sooyoung
Have you decided yet?

Seeing Joy’s message reminds her of a battle she’s yet to face. Not the first day of her residency, not her first case as a resident, not the VIP case; but the address in Gangwon that Jessica gave her amid a drunken stupor.

She told Joy about it and for someone who claims to be a go-getter, the other girl wasn’t very much of help. She was silent, too silent if Wendy’s going to be honest; and she tells her to figure out what she wants to do with it.

You’re a grown woman. You’ll know what to do.

The use of the nickname doesn’t escape her during that moment which is more frustrating because Joy doesn’t use that nickname lightly. It’s their tell that something is serious, like a code you use to signal that something is coming.

Sighing, she ignores Joy’s message and puts her phone back in her pocket. She doesn’t need this right now.

Not today.

.

Moments later, Wendy and Mina find themselves with the Chief, face-to-face with the VIP patient. The woman with long dark hair is sat up in bed, a gown almost making her appear too thin. Upon initial observation, she seems normal. Healthy, even. Nothing seems to be wrong with her.

Seong Jieun, 42, Wendy recalls from the case file they reviewed. She’s the most popular Pilates instructor in all of South Korea with a high-profile clientele and an average of 7 million YouTube views per instruction video. That’s why she’s here on the VIP wing.

Beside her is a man who looks worried. Baek Siwoo, the patient’s husband.

The Chief begins with the introductions, giving the patient a small smile, “Hi Jieun, Siwoo.”

The patient, Jieun, smiles up at them, showing her perfect teeth, “Dr. Kim.”

“How have you been?” Dr. Kim asks.

“Still with the headaches,” Jieun replies with a soft smile. She turns to her husband, “I keep telling you it’s just a headache.”

The husband turns to them with pleading eyes, “She says that but I just have this feeling that it’s more than that.”

Dr. Kim nods, “We’ll get to the bottom of this.” The Chief then introduces them, “These are the doctors who will be with me in this case, Dr. Myoui and Dr. Son.”

Jieun beams, “Hello, doctors.”

The two doctors only bow in acknowledgment.

The Chief clears her throat, “Dr. Myoui, please present the case.”

Beside Wendy, Mina pulls up an H.I.S tablet and starts reading through the case, “Seong Jieun, 42, was admitted last night for a headache.”

To be honest, Wendy wants to laugh. Her first case as a surgical resident is a headache. The VIP wing is run by money. People who have that kind of money can get admitted for a headache, or a pimple, or maybe even a dry patch of skin.

It dawns on her at that moment that this used to be her life. She once got treated by an attending—an attending—because she sprained her ankle during football practice. An attending got assigned to her mild sprain because she’s a VIP patient. That didn’t seem to matter before because they own the hospital but now? Now that she’s the one wasting a day of her education on a headache?

It just seems ridiculous.

Mina keeps presenting, “Four weeks ago, she visited the ER for a headache. She got a prescription for opiate analgesic and muscle relaxant for suspected trapezius muscle injury and referred head pain. No follow-up was done but the headache persisted. She has tried and got some relief with NSAID but discontinued use for personal reasons.”

Jieun interrupts laughingly, “Ibuprofen is bad for the liver.”

Wrong, Wendy thinks.

It’s not necessarily bad for the liver. Unless you’re abusing it or exceeding the recommended dose per day, NSAIDs are generally liver-friendly. However, they are bad for the kidneys. Really bad. So technically, she’s wrong that it’s bad for the liver. But it’s right that she stopped using it because of the risks associated with the kidney.

The Chief jumps in to give her the floor, “Dr. Son?”

Wendy nods, “The patient was admitted afebrile with normal blood pressure and pulse. There were no meningitic signs. An initial examination of the cranial nerves, peripheral nervous system, and spine was unremarkable. Basic hematological and biochemical blood tests were unremarkable.”

The patient turns to her husband and gives him an I-Told-You-So smile, “See? Unremarkable.”

Her husband shakes his head worriedly, “Are there other tests we can run just to rule out a more severe situation?”

The Chief smiles sympathetically, “Mr. Baek, the initial tests revealed that there’s nothing to look at here but a persistent headache. She has no prior history of migraine, head or spine trauma, recent travel, or the use of any anticoagulants.”

“Anticoa—what?”

Wendy clarifies, “Medicine that prevents blood clots.”

He nods and then sighs heavily, “There must be some other tests we can run. I know you base your call for further tests on initial results but I just—we need to do something else. I have a feeling this is not just a headache and just—”

He’s worried about her that’s for sure.

Siwoo turns to his wife and looks at her wearily. 

Jieun only smiles as she nods gently, “You worry too much.” The patient then turns to Dr. Kim and asks, “Is there anything else we can run? For his sake?”

Dr. Kim chuckles softly, “We can order a CT just to be sure.”

Jieun nods, “Let’s do it.”

The Chief turns to Mina and gives her some instructions, “Order for a CT and send the results to me once it’s up.”

“Right away, Chief.”

Then, it was her turn to get instructions. The Chief tells her, “Work with the patient on another physical exam.”

Another one?

“Sure,” Wendy nods.

Dr. Kim turns back to Jieun, “A nurse will be here in half an hour to take you to CT, and then while waiting for your results, Dr. Son will come back to do some physical exams.”

“Okay,” she nods.

They make a move to go but before they exit the room, Jieun calls her name, “Dr. Son?”

“Hmm?”

Jieun smiles apologetically, embarrassed, “I mean, it might be a total coincidence, but I’m very caught up in social media. Do you happen to be the Dr. Son that actress Irene Bae is dating?”

Oh my God.

“Uhm—”

The Chief clears her throat, “Ms. Seong, I’m sorry but the personal lives of our doctors are private."

“Of course, of course.”

They exit the room shortly after, relief washing over her. 

“Thank you, Chief,” she says with a heavy breath soon as they’re out of the room.

“I didn’t realize you were that popular.”

“Oh, please let’s forget that even happened,” she pleads.

Dr. Kim only laughs.

Wendy pivots them back to the case, “And not that I’m questioning your call but is there a specific objective in doing the physical exam again?”

“This round is for the husband. He’s worried. He needs to see that his wife is doing okay.”

“I see.”

“Part of patient care is making sure their family is at peace with our diagnosis.”

“Copy that, Chief.”

“Call me when the results are up,” the Chief tells them to which they respond with a nod.

Dr. Kim then turns her back and heads for the elevator. Mina then gestures to her that she needs to go and Wendy acknowledges her with a nod. The other doctor then leaves and heads for the Nurse’s Station.

Wendy is left standing there with nothing to do. She has about an hour before she can do the physical exam. Now what?

There’s the skills lab. There’s Joy’s text message. Between the two?

Skills lab it is.

.

A few minutes later, Wendy sits alone inside the Skills Lab as she practices how to do a purse-string suture. Hunched over the table with the silicone skin in front of her and a pair of needle drivers at hand, she tries to perform everything she knows about the technique.

She’s distracted but she tries her best, using the time at the Skills Lab to stall the inevitable. She’s gonna have to make a decision about the Gangwon address. She’s gonna have to tell Joy what she wants to do.

The truth is, she wants to go there and find out what Jessica meant when she talked about the truth. Wendy could drive up there and just get it over with but what if there’s something there? What if she finds out something she didn’t know before and what if that changes everything?

Wendy is used to facing her challenges head-on but something in her gut tells her that this is different.

“Jessica doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She’s drunk,” she says out loud as she fails in performing the technique. For a split second there, she believes it.

Ugh.

.

While waiting for Mina to finish with the patient’s CT, Wendy decides to visit Sejeong at the ER and when she gets there, she finds the doctor standing by the ambulance bay with Jisoo, Kyungsoo, and Dr. Im.

“Do we have trauma coming in?” she asks as she approaches the doctors already suited up in their yellow disposable medical gowns over their scrubs.

Dr. Im nods, “Three teenagers in severe respiratory distress. They’re 10 minutes out.”

“That’s a lot,” she remarks, pouting. She’s been out of the ER for a day and she already misses it.

“Aw, do you miss home?” she teases

Dr. Im laughs, “How’s your fancy VIP case?”

Sejeong turns to her excitedly, “Is it an idol? An actor?”

Jisoo joins in, “Oooh, a baseball player? Is it Lee JungHoo?”

Wendy sighs heavily as she responds, “I wish it’s as exciting as that but she’s a Pilates instructor and it’s a headache. Mina had to take her to CT so we can rule out something more severe.”

“Oh, pilates,” Dr. Im echoes. “Is it Seong Jieun?”

Wendy turns to her so fast, “How did you know that?”

“I’ve always wanted to be in her class,” Dr. Im says. “But her classes are really expensive.”

“Can you get us a discount?” Jisoo asks enthusiastically.

“Shut up,” Wendy calls her out.

Jisoo only laughs.

It’s Sejeong’s turn to get them back on track, “A headache is a symptom of a lot of things, maybe you guys will find something.”

“I doubt it, her initial physicals and blood work came back clear.”

“Sketchy,” Dr. Im remarks.

Wendy was about to complain again when Jisoo decides to switch to another topic, “Oh—did you hear?”

“Hear what?”

“That reporter who started the hate train against Irene, he deleted his post.”

“What?” Wendy gasps. She quickly fishes for her phone and soon as she gets ahold of it, she opens Instagram and goes to the reporter’s profile right away. True enough, the post that started it all has been deleted.

This only means one thing.

She quickly goes through her notifications and indeed, there’s a message from Naeun sent early this morning. Wendy must’ve missed it.

If this thing with Irene doesn’t work out, find someone else less controversial. He asked for 30 million won. It’s not much but you should’ve seen the look on Jongin’s face when he realized he had to pay him off. Made my week. 

Oh, so they paid him off.

When she looks up, she sees Jisoo looking at her with a grin. “Tell your girlfriend she doesn’t have to beat herself up,” the Chief Resident says. “She can come out of her social media hiatus now.”

“How do you know that?” 

Jisoo chuckles, “I follow her. Of course, I noticed. Tell her it’s alright. She can’t punish herself forever.”

Before Wendy could even acknowledge what the older woman said, the ambulances come blaring in. The three doctors, along with several nurses, now have to go do their jobs.

Wendy, on the other hand, has a phone call to make.

.

“Hey,” Irene greets her from the other line. Her voice is a little hoarse, probably exhausted from her three-day shoot. “How’s the first day of residency treating you?”

Wendy smiles as she shifts on her feet. She’s by the landing of the stairs of the fire exit, using what’s left of her waiting time to call Irene and check on her. “It’s just peachy,” she replies. “How are you?”

“Meh, nothing new. I’ve fake-punched someone, fake-shot them—it’s just routine at this point,” she prattles with a light laugh.

Wendy is silent for a moment, contemplating if she should really ask. Irene’s been a bit sad lately, too careful with her actions and with her words. It’s like she doesn’t know how to move around her own world anymore. She doesn’t go out as much, doesn’t post on social media all that much.

It’s like she stepped out of her own world.

It’s at that moment Wendy realizes that this incident changed Irene in more ways than one. It’s also the moment she decides that talking is good. 

“I heard the reporter deleted his post,” she starts, her tone low and careful.

Joohyun responds with a sigh, “Yeah—that happened. I don’t know how to feel about that.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. It feels too easy. Was it your brother who got him to take it down?”

 “I think so.”

“I see. Well, at least we know he’s not coming for you, too.”

“I don’t care about that. What he did was fucked up.”

“Doesn’t mean I didn’t deserve it.”

There it is. 

Despite the efforts of the people who have come forward to defend her, Joohyun still feels all this guilt. She hasn’t forgiven herself for what happened—and sometimes, that’s worse.

“Have you ever heard of the Four Agreements based on the shamanic traditions of the Toltecs?”

There’s a pause from the other end of the line, something about it tells Wendy that Irene just smiled, “What the—are you gonna get all philosophical on me now?”

Wendy chuckles, “No—I’m just asking. Have you ever heard of the Four Agreements?”

“Okay, I’ll play—no, Seungwan. I have not heard of the Four Agreements.”

The doctor smirks, “It’s from a book by Don Miguel Ruiz. It sold, like, millions of copies in the US. Anyway—this book focuses on four agreements that, according to the author, will guide you into finding personal freedom. He uses the ancient Toltec wisdom to teach us a way of life that allows us to make choices that result in happiness. The key concept is we don’t really see life at all. What we actually see is a life that has gone through our filter system—a filter system that’s built with our beliefs, expectations, agreements, and assumptions. I know there are so many words but Hyun, what if I told you that you could be happy no matter what is happening in your life?”

“Why are you saying this to me?” Joohyun asks, amused.

“In his book, the author asked: how many times do we pay for one mistake?”

There’s a sharp inhale on the other end of the line but the girl doesn’t say anything. This is how Wendy knows she’s listening. So she continues, because that’s what Wendy does.

“The answer is thousands of times. The human is the only animal on earth that pays a thousand times for the same mistake. The rest of the animals pay once for every mistake they make. But not us. We have a powerful memory. We make a mistake, we judge ourselves, we find ourselves guilty, and we punish ourselves.”

“Is that verbatim?”

Wendy chuckles, “Yes, I memorized it.”

“Wow,” the woman on the other end of the line utters with a forced laugh.

“He then discusses this with the Four Agreements: Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best. He says that the most important agreements in our life are those we make with ourselves. And in the last agreement, always do you your best, he talks about not necessarily being the best, but being your best. He also points out that your best may not be the same from one day to another. Do you get where I’m going now?”

“I think I do.”

“For sure, but I’m still gonna say it because I’m me,” Wendy says with a small laugh. “Fully knowing that you’re doing your best every day doesn’t only help with finding inner peace, it also stops those persistent and critical inner voices. If you just do your best, there is no way you can judge yourself. And if you don’t judge yourself, there is no way you are going to suffer from guilt, blame, and self-punishment. Also verbatim.”

“Do you think I’m punishing myself?”

“I do,” she replies honestly. “I also think that you’re compensating for the feelings you’ve hurt. You think that by isolating and punishing yourself, you’re somehow making it hurt less for them. But no, it’s all been said and done. Feelings were hurt. The only thing we can do now, Hyun, is our best.”

“I need forgiveness,” Joohyun admits. She doesn’t say anything else. Wendy thinks she doesn’t need to.

“Then it has to start with you.”

Silence embraces Joohyun’s end of the line. For a few seconds, Wendy allows Joohyun to have that moment for herself, a moment to take it all in. She has been running from this a lot lately but she doesn’t have to, at least not with Wendy. They’re in this together.

Finally, she hears the other woman sigh and Wendy hears every single piece of heartbreak in it. “I wasn’t prepared for all of that,” Joohyun remarks with a sad laugh.

“Too early?”

“Yes and no—I could spend all day listening to you cite books that match my inner turmoil.”

There’s a laugh and Wendy laughs, too.

“It’s okay, Joohyun. You’ll be okay,” she reassures her. 

“Thank you, Seungwan.” 

“Jisoo misses you on Instagram.”

This time, there’s a full laugh from Joohyun. Wendy basks in every second of it.

“She said that?”

Wendy nods, “Yeah, she said you haven’t posted in a while and you have to stop punishing yourself.”

“I do that a lot, don’t I?”

“You do,” Wendy agrees sadly. “But you know—Jisoo is just a representation of the actual portion of the population who feel happy when you’re out there. Your fans, your friends, me. I’m not saying that your social media presence is a measure of how you live your life but it’s part of it. You gotta start living your life again.”

“I’ll try.”

“Try what?”

“My best.”

“Then that’s good enough.”

“Is it?”

“That’s more than enough.”
.

There’s a smile on Wendy’s face as she walks back to the VIP wing. She feels relieved that she got to talk to Joohyun. She feels an incredible amount of privilege having access to the girl’s feelings like that. She’s a tough cookie to crack but she opens up to Wendy. That has got to mean something.

She’s headed for the Nurse’s Station to get ahold of an HIS tablet when her phone rings. She doesn’t have to check to know that it’s Joy. She sighs as she fetches her phone from the pocket of her coat. 

Seeing the caller ID, she confirms her assumptions. Joy is calling her. She had preached about not running earlier. Maybe, she owes it to Joohyun to take this call.

Sighing heavily, she makes a detour to the nearest restroom, finds an empty stall, and pushes the Answer button. 

“Sooyoung,” she greets. Her tone has warning laced with it. Joy will easily spot it. She’s her best friend.

“Oh, we’re at the call-her-by-her-Korean-name stage already.”

“What do you want?” she asks, annoyed.

“I’m just calling in to check on you. It’s your first day of residency.”

“I’m fine. I’m not doing anything groundbreaking or something.”

“You sound so fed up.”

“Well, I’m having a day,” she snaps, her tone sharp. “Give me a break.”

“I don’t deserve that tone. Don’t treat me like shit.”

Is she lashing out on Joy?

“It’s just—I’m sorry. I know why you’re calling and my answer is the same. I still don’t know what I’m gonna do with the Gangwon address. And I’m on the Chief’s service and I don’t know. My case isn’t that promising.”

“What do you mean?”

“She doesn’t seem to be in serious pain and I feel like I’m wasting my time—”

“—hey.”

“What?” she huffs in frustration.

“Where’s all this coming from?”

“Where’s what coming from?”

“Are you okay?”

“I am,” Wendy replies. “What makes you think that I’m not okay?”

“I just know. You also referred to your patient as a ‘case’ when she’s a person. And the Wendy I know would be glad that her patient is not in pain.”

Oh.

Wendy allows herself to breathe, to not think about Chaeyoung, and Jessica, and Gangwon; and the day of education she thinks is being wasted on a freaking headache.

“I—I’m sorry,” she says softly, slowly realizing that she hasn’t been compassionate today. She passed judgment. “I’m in my head today and I just—”

“Wan, is it the address?”

Although Joy can’t see her, she nods, “I don’t know what to do with it. You know me. I’m relentless. I chase after things when I want them. When something is in front of me, I jump at it. I don’t stop to think. I act on impulse. And right now, my whole body is telling me to go there and get it over with, but my mind knows better. I don’t have a name for this feeling.”

“You’re scared,” Joy states simply.

“No, I’m not,” Wendy denies as she rests against the nearest wall. She’s thankful that no one has come into the restroom.

“Yes, you are. You’re you and you don’t like not knowing. You’re scared that if you go there, you’ll actually find something.”

“What would you do, then? If some random girl came up to you and said, go to this address and find out the truth about your dead girlfriend—what would you do?” she challenges (yells), her tone pointed.

Joy doesn’t answer, though. She knows this not a real question. She’s also not scared of Wendy. Her silence is infuriating but all the more still valid.

After a few moments, Wendy sighs, “I’m sorry.”

“Have Chanyeol drive you.”

“What?”

“If you decide to go there, take Chanyeol with you. He’s not Irene. He’s not me. But he knows enough. He doesn’t really know Chaeyoung but he knows the story. He also has a stupid mouth so I know he can talk sense into you if you need it. It’s going to be less scary if you don’t go there alone.”

A beat.

And then all at once.

“You think I should go?”

“We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”

“Did you just quote Marcel Proust on me?”

“What? I read books, too.”

“Maybe, I’m scared,” Wendy admits quietly.

“It is scary but you’re you. It’s gonna eat up at you eventually.”

There’s weight to Joy’s voice that just hits Wendy unexpectedly.

“Thank you for calling me, I’m losing my mind.”

“Ew. We don’t do thanks. How about you apologize to me, Momo, and Seohyun.”

“Wha—”

“You didn’t drop by this morning. The three of us prepared you food for your first day of residency so you can share it with Sejeong and Jisoo. We’ve always talked about this day ever since you were in med school.”

“Yeah, I—"

“We went out and ate meat after Jongin came home from his first day as a resident. Things were still okay back then. On Naeun’s first day, she invited us for drinks. Everything wasn’t okay with you and your family then, but we met up with her anyway. No matter how big the problem is, this day is something you share with people you love. I didn’t want you to go through this day alone.”

Oh.

She has been preoccupied with everything that’s happening that for a moment there, she lost sight of what really matters. Maybe, she needs a lecture, too.

“I’m sorry.”

“Can you drop by later for dinner? Or are you still gonna be an asshole about it?”

Leave it to Joy to give her such a pep talk.

Wendy chuckles, “Okay, let’s have dinner.”

“Invite Jisoo and Sejeong over, too. And let me know so we can cook more.”

“Okay, can I invite two more people?”

“Who?”

“We got two new residents today. With Sejeong, we’re now called the Four Jisoos.”

Joy actually laughs, “I knew I can count on Jisoo to instantly make you her minion.”

Wendy laughs at that, her heart suddenly feeling light, “I’m sorry for being a little shit.”

“Whatever,” Joy dismisses.

“I just, I’m having a day. I know it’s not an excuse.”

“It’s just me, Wan. I can take it. Now, go be a doctor and stop judging people.”

There’s a laugh.

“Thank you, Sooyoung.”

“Ew again. Bye, see you later.”

That and the line goes dead. 

She takes a deep breath.

Don’t be a little shit, Wendy. Be a doctor.

.

After a few more minutes, Wendy is standing in front of Jieun as she sits by the edge of the bed, her feet dangling on the side. Mina is in the room with them, watching as Jieun passes test after test. Siwoo went out for a bit and grabbed some food to eat.

With a clearer mind, she can do her job better now.

The head CT came back clear. Her pupillary reflexes are normal. She can read from 6 meters away. So far, it all points to a normal, persistent headache.

“Alright, now we’re going to test your visual inattention, okay?”

Jieun nods.

“Just look straight into my eyes and I will raise both of my arms. If you could just point to the finger that moves.”

“Okay.”

Wendy lifts and stretches both of her arms and places her hands on either side, just about far enough from Jieun. She moves her fingers on the right. Jieun points to it. Wendy moves her fingers on the left, Jeiun points to it.

“Great,” the doctor remarks. “Now I’m gonna move my finger and you have to follow it with your eyes without moving your head.”

“Got it.”

Wendy lifts her right hand and sticks out her pointer finger. She moves it up slowly as she observes the way Jieun’s eyes are following it impeccably. She then moves it down slowly and the results are the same. She does the same using her left hand and finger pointer. The results are unremarkable.

Wendy turns to Mina, “Cranial Nerve exam is unremarkable.”

Mina nods as she takes the HIS tablet and adds some notes.

“You must think this is all silly,” Jieun mutters. “We mean no disrespect, doctors. I know you know what you’re doing. It’s just that, my husband worries. When he feels something in his gut, he won’t quit it.”

“We get it,” Mina says, giving Jieun an encouraging smile. “It’s scary to not have answers.”

Wendy only gives the patient a smile as she asks her to stand, “Now, I want you to get up and stand with your two feet together. I also need you to close your eyes.”

Jieun does what she’s told. She hops off the bed and puts her two feet together as she closes her eyes. As expected, she doesn’t become unsteady. 

“Thank you, Jieun. Now, walk from here to that end of the room,” Wendy instructs as she points to the other side of the room, “then, turn around and walk back here.”

Jieun nods and obeys Wendy’s instructions. She walks to the far end of the room as Wendy observes her closer. She walks back to where Wendy is and gives her a smile. 

“Do you not feel dizzy? Nauseous?” Wendy asks.

“No,” the patient shakes her head.

Wendy turns to Mina, “Peripheral Neurological Test is clear.”

After logging the results into the HIS, the doctors assist the patient back to bed.

“I’m scared, too, you know,” Jieun says as she settles on the bed and adjusts the covers so it rests just right by her waist. “We have a great life and with my lifestyle, I have this illusion in my head that everything is okay. If this whole thing doesn’t turn out okay, things will change. I don’t want my life to change.”
Something about that resonates with Wendy.

“I’m scared to not be okay,” the patient admits, her gaze darting back and forth between Mina and Wendy.

It’s Mina who picks up on it first, “You’re the one responsible for building your life to what it is right now. If there’s anyone who can put it back together if it at all changes, that’s you. You’re in control of your life and there has to be some comfort in that.”

Wendy only stares at Mina, taking in her words.

“Change is scary, I know. But living your life in fear is worse in the long run.”

Tears pool in Jieun’s eyes. 

Mina manages a small, empathetic smile, “Is there something you want to tell us?”

It takes a couple of moments before Jieun caves in, “I know I said I don’t remember when the headache started but I do.”

Wendy releases a breath she didn’t realize she was holding.

“I attended a Pilates reformer class and I felt something pop in the left side of my neck during a certain reformer maneuver. There was no injury so I didn’t think much of it.”

Mina turns to her and for a split second, their eyes meet. Both doctors know this has now become a lot more serious than it was first presented.

“What else happened?”

“I developed this headache maybe an hour later but it improves when I’m lying flat. So when I felt the headache, I would just lie down until it went away.”

.

“That’s impossible,” Jisoo comments, taking a mouthful of salad. “Subdural hematomas don’t just happen without any head injury.”

“But it’s the only thing I can think of that can explain the condition,” Wendy argues with a heavy sigh.

Wendy and Mina decide to head over to the cafeteria while waiting to report to the Chief who is in a quick Board meeting. There, they spot Sejeong and Jisoo.

“It’s an orthostatic headache that’s worse in an upright position. But her CT is clear and her physicals are great,” Mina repeats, more to herself than the doctors at the table.

“When she’s standing for a long time, does she feel nauseous, or does she experience vertigo?” Sejeong asks.

“At times, yes, but these are not consistent. That’s why she didn’t think much of it.”

Sejeong then closes her eyes as if she’s trying to recall something.

“What is she doing?” Mina asks, eyeing Sejeong weirdly.

Jisoo smirks, “Watch this, Dr. Myoui. You’re about to witness the future of medicine.”

Seconds later, something happens.

As if a eureka moment hits her, Sejeong opens her eyes and recites, “JAMA 2006. Volume 295, Issue 19.”

“What is she saying?” Mina asks, interested but also quite shocked.

“She just cited reference,” Jisoo says, impressed.

Wide-eyed, as if surprised by her own memory, Sejeong continues, “Schievink WI’s article on spontaneous spinal cerebrospinal fluid leaks.”

Wendy beams, amazed, “You are a life-saver.”

Mina’s jaw just drops, “Is it possible to be scared and impressed at the same time?”

“Yeah, that’s Sejeong for you,” Wendy stands and then bobs her head. “Let’s go dig.”

.

After doing a bit of research, Mina and Wendy run some more tests. They do an MRI and a CT Myelogram to get a better look at the patient’s brain. 

A couple of hours later, they’re back inside the patient’s room, this time with a diagnosis they’re confident in.

“You have what we call S.I.H. or spontaneous intracranial hypotension. It presents itself as a headache and in your case, occasional neck stiffness and arm pain,” the Chief discusses.

Siwoo gasps, “You mean, it’s not just a headache?”

The Chief shakes her head, “No. You were right, Mr. Baek. It’s not just a headache. Your wife has a CSF leak and further imaging showed that you have subdural hematomas, pachymeningeal enhancement, and downward displacement of the brain.”

Both Jieun and Siwoo look lost.

Wendy speaks up, “This means the leak causes lower pressure inside the skull and when that happens, the brain sags forward.”

“You mean my brain is sagging?”

The Chief smiles, “It is but that’s only because of the leak.”

“We did a CT scan before, why didn’t it show up?”

Mina clears her throat, “It doesn’t show up in a regular CT scan. The second CT we did was a CT Myelogram, it’s a more specific type of scan that uses an opaque dye to locate the spinal fluid leak. That, and the MRI, revealed that this is, indeed, SIH.”

Jieun takes a deep breath, “Is it serious?”

The Chief replies, “It is but you did the right decision of coming here. We’re lucky that Dr. Myoui and Dr. Son caught it.”

“Lucky?”

“SIH happens to one in 50, 000 people. It almost never happens.”

“One in 50, 000?” Siwoo repeats.

The three doctors nod.

“Woah,” Jieun releases a breath. 

“It’s an extremely rare case but luckily, we caught it early that at this point, it’s not even surgical. Dr. Son, what are the next steps?”

“We require that you go through a minimally invasive procedure called an epidural blood patch. In this procedure, your own blood will be injected into the dural sac. This blood will circulate throughout the sac which, in turn, will patch up the defect until it heals on its own,” Wendy breaks it down.

“After that, you will be required to take medication and be on strict bed rest for two weeks to a month,” Mina adds.

“And then I’ll be okay?” Jieun asks, uncertain.

“Then you can go back to teaching Pilates but I suggest you take it slow and be more careful this time,” the Chief reassures her. 

Both Siwoo and Jieun sigh in relief. There’s a smile on their faces that reminds Wendy about why she wanted to be a doctor in the first place.

“Thank you, Dr. Kim, Dr. Myoui, and Dr. Son, you guys make a great team,” Jieun smiles up at them, gratitude written all over her face.

“We’re just doing our jobs,” Mina says humbly.

“Well, you’re very good at it.”

“A nurse will come in and prep you for the procedure. I won’t be the one who will do this because it’s not surgical, but I will be there.”

“Thank you.”

As the three doctors exit the room, Mina whispers to Wendy, “We should probably treat Sejeong to a meal or something.”

“Yeah, food is great for her.”

“Good job today, doctors. You saved that woman’s life.”

Wendy echoes what Mina said earlier, “We’re just doing our jobs.”

“Well, you’re both very good at it. Buy Sejeong a whole box of cookies if you have to.”

.

Later that night, Wendy finds herself in the company of her co-residents inside Red Flavor. Joy, Momo, and Seohyun prepared a tasty dinner in celebration of their first day as residents. Jisoo is there, too, gloating about her appointment as Chief Resident.

Despite some bumps along the way, it was a great day. But as she exchanges stories with her friends and colleagues, she makes a decision. 

Living your life in fear is worse in the long run.

She’s heading to Gangwon tomorrow.

Alone.

She thought about bringing Chanyeol with her but she figured she owes it to herself to go out there and find out what Jessica is talking about. Her gut tells her that this is about Chaeyoung. It also tells her that this is going to change her life. 

Maybe the Park Chaeyoung chapter in her life isn’t nearly as finished as it seems to be.

The feeling is worse later when Joohyun joins them after her shoot. Wendy is happy; content, even. She doesn’t want her life to change. But as she sits next to Joohyun, she can’t help but feel like there’s a stretch of disasters coming their way.

Dating Irene Bae could be forever. Or it could go down in flames.

/

Chapter Text

The drive to Gangwon is, at the very least, quiet.

It’s a two-hour drive but after you’ve driven out of Seoul, it’s mostly scenic. For that part, Wendy is thankful. The peace and quiet, accompanied by the low grumble of the radio, has put her at ease.

At least for now.

She hit the road after calling in sick. She makes a quick pit stop by Red Flavor to get a to-go coffee but she doesn’t speak to Joy. She tells Momo to say she’s in a rush. She’s told no one about her plans.

She figured it’s best this way. Whatever she finds there, if she finds anything at all, then it’s hers first before it’s everyone’s business. There’s comfort in that. 

As she approaches the city of Chuncheon, her heart starts beating madly.

In a way, Gangwon nothing like Seoul. There are no towering skyscrapers but there are a lot of tall, residential buildings around. The city feels modern. It is not a rural town by any means so navigating wasn’t hard.

She wishes it was a little harder to find the address. That way, she’d be able to stall the inevitable. But no, the address is right in the middle of the city. As Wendy parks her car by the side of the road, the row of residential buildings greets her. In every block, there’s either a tennis court, a playground, or a park.

This must be a wealthy neighborhood.

As she hops off her car, she only takes her phone with her and reviews the address one more time. She then starts walking around, checking every building for its lot number, and not even 10 minutes later, she finds what she’s looking for.

She stands by the entrance of a tall, fancy-looking building with her heart pounding against her chest. Her whole body knows this is the place.

The next thing now is for her to get to the seventh floor.

She does it like every protagonist in every movie ever made. She waits until one of the tenants gets out of the building. Then, she rushes to the main door just as it was about to close and that’s her way to get in.

The whole plan works smoothly which only worsens the dread sitting at the pit of her stomach because if it’s this easy, then maybe what’s waiting for her is really bad. She acts normal as she gets into the elevator. She acts normal as she walks down the hallway of the seventh floor. And she acts normal as she comes face-to-face with the very home she’s looking for.

She looks around before she hits the doorbell, mentally noting that while the hallways are dull and pale, they’re also neat and well-lit. It pushes the agenda further that it’s a wealthy residential space. It’s not really hard to come to this conclusion after looking around.

Wendy stands in front of the door wondering what she would say. Why is she here? Who is she looking for? What is she expecting to find?

She doesn’t have an answer. All she has is a photo of an address written by a drunk woman who kept talking about the truth. How do you explain that to a complete stranger?

For a second there, Wendy thinks about leaving. She thinks about bolting because what the hell is she even doing here? Her life is good. She likes it as it is. Why does she have to drive two hours just to change it?

However, that wondering brings her to the same old voice in her head that tells her to go for it, to see what’s there. She doesn’t know what she’s looking for. Maybe, she’ll find something. Maybe, she won’t. Who knows?

Just by looking at the electronic door lock, Wendy knows right away that it’s a smart home. So she looks around the door and looks for a camera. Once she spots the camera, that’s when she hits the doorbell, she instantly steps back and allows herself a bit of distance from the door, just far enough for the camera to catch her.

It takes a couple of moments before a voice comes in through the intercom. 

“Who are you?”

It’s the voice of a young woman.

Wendy manages a small wave and a smile, “Hi. I’m Wendy. I’m from Seoul. I got this address from a friend of mine.”

There’s silence from the other end, a few seconds of absolute dread.

Then, the woman speaks again, “Who are you here for?”

Now, that’s not something she has an answer for but she opts for being honest. She can’t lose with that. “I honestly don’t know,” is all she says. It’s lame. But it’s also true.

There’s a beat before the door opens. It wasn’t until the door is halfway through that Wendy realizes what she wants. It’s in this moment does it hit her that deep down, she’s wishing that Rosé is here. That somehow, she’s alive. That she had been waiting for Wendy all this time.

Is that bad? Is it bad to wish that your dead girlfriend is still alive?

When the door opens, she sees a woman in sweats, sporting a short, blonde hair. She looks a lot younger than Wendy but just a bit taller. Wendy doesn’t know her and she’s pretty sure she’s never seen her before but it’s odd. Soon as their eyes meet, something about her feels familiar.

They stand there quietly as Wendy’s heart bangs against her chest. Something about this moment feels big. But there’s no feeling in the world that could compare to the way Wendy’s heart somehow stops upon hearing what the stranger says next.

“Do you know Park Chaeyoung?”

Wendy’s hand trembles. 

“I do,” she says, releasing a breath. “I know her.”

“I figured.”

.

 One Winter Nine Years Ago
 
 Wendy and Rosé are walking down one of the less crowded pathways in Haneul Park. It’s late and they’re alone, and logic tells Wendy they should go home. But the weather is nice and Chaeyoung’s hand is warm in hers.

“So you’re graduating,” Rosé says, clasping Wendy’s hand tighter.

“Yes, I am,” Wendy affirms with a nod.

“Have you thought about what you’re gonna do?”

“I know what I want to do,” Wendy emphasized. “I’m not sure my parents would agree.”

“What do you want to do?”

“Take a gap year, wait for you.”

Rosé blushes but she masks it with a chuckle and an eye-roll, “You think you’re so smooth.”

“No—I’m serious, babe. I want to take a gap year, help Naeun plan the private practice she wants to put together in California. And then, we can take up music together.”

“That’s very romantic, Seungwan,” Rosé swoons. “But I don’t know if my parents would like that. I’m going to take over the family business. Family comes first.”

Wendy rolls her eyes, “Oh—how can I forget. You’re the sole heir to the Park empire.”

Rosé only laughs and rolls her eyes.

“Your family business is so random.”

The taller girl punches Wendy in the arm lightly, “I’m sorry we don’t own the biggest hospital in South Korea. But an international shipping business is not random.”

“Wow, you sound like a CEO. I’m both impressed and turned on.”

“Seungwan!” Rosé scolds laughingly, embarrassed and scandalized.

Wendy laughs heartily, satisfied that she got a reaction.

Before she even banters, snow starts falling. The first snow.

Both women instantly fall silent, both knowing what this means.

“Let’s slow dance,” Wendy proposes as she brings them to a halt, stopping in the middle of this empty pathway. They’re surrounded by grassland that’s now being slowly covered in sheets of white.

“What?”

“Come on,” Wendy insists as she turns to Rosé and puts the girl’s hand on her shoulder. She then wraps an arm around the other girl’s waist as she pulls her closer. Once close enough, she starts swaying.

It doesn’t take a lot for Rosé to match Wendy’s pace and movement.

“You’re crazy,” Rosé whispers under her breath but she sways with her anyway. She doesn’t see her face but Wendy is sure that she’s smiling.

There’s a song that plays in Wendy’s head as they sway in the middle of this park that has become their spot.

Something always brings me back to you
It never takes too long

“I love you, you know,” she tells her, every part of her body practically feeling every single word.

“I know.”

“And I will always wait for you.”

“Always?”

“Always.”

.

There’s a lot of questions in Wendy’s mind. How did this stranger know Chaeyoung’s name? Do they know each other? How did they know each other? But what eventually gets her attention is that certain feeling of familiarity, that instant feeling of connection she feels with this stranger.

Is it possible to meet someone for the first time and feel like you’ve known them for years?

After a few seconds of just standing behind the door, the stranger chances a glance behind her as if watching out for someone behind her. When she didn’t see anyone, she steps of the house and closes the door behind her.

“My mom is inside, I don’t want her to know I’m talking to someone about Park Chaeyoung.”

Wendy opens her mouth to say but no words come out.