Suyeon grins like the star of a whitening toothpaste commercial. Yoobin notices this when she rises from her seat, head of the table, and shouts "Cheers!" The entire table erupts into clinking glasses and Yoobin listlessly trades greetings with the girls around her, only looking at one person.
"What's with you tonight?" Minkyung asks, raising an eyebrow. "Distracted? How very unlike you."
"Just tired," she replies, but truly there's more depth to that than she hopes they can hear in her voice. Tired of hiding.
"Want me to drive you home?" Kyungwon asks from beside her, worry folded around her eyes.
"No," Yoobin says quickly. "You can drink, I absolutely won't be the one to stop you from that."
"I was hoping you'd say that," she says, and grins. It's kind of like something she's seen before, but the feeling is different, the stirring in her stomach isn't back, the urge to look away from the brightness isn't there. And like the end of the playlist of her favorite tracks, her gaze loops back around to Suyeon.
"Prez looks pretty today, doesn't she?" Yoobin says, thoughts barely filtered through the haze of a few drinks.
"Isn't she always, though?" Yebin turns her head to look at Suyeon, chatting with Jiyeon and Yuna on the other end of the table. "Isn't she so cool?"
Suyeon laughs loud across the table, deep voice rumbling in a way that would normally be completely unflattering but only serves to tighten something in Yoobin's chest.
Yoobin tells herself it’s not just her that feels this way. “It’s just so easy to love her,” Jiyeon will say later as their club’s current vice president. “And she loves what she does and loves who she leads.” The re-election vote is unanimous, and Yoobin feels an unjustified swell of pride.
But she’s not thinking about any of those reasons tonight.
Yoobin runs in the morning, which is a habit she picked up running regularly for school competitions. The easiest way to get in her exercise is running to and from school instead of taking the bus. It is a noteworthy detail that halfway up the route her path and Suyeon’s converge.
The first time she met Suyeon coincidentally it was a nice surprise, but after the second time it just gave her butterflies in the stomach and unrealistic expectations, so she told herself to stop thinking about the chances.
In front of her is a stretch of houses and to her left is a series of local shops and behind her -
“Hey!” Suyeon says, suddenly right at her shoulder. Yoobin nearly trips over her own feet.
“Hey,” Yoobin echoes.
Suyeon looks effortlessly put together and yet she still has the nerve to ask: “Why do you look so pretty today?”
“Please,” Yoobin says, waving her hands, clamoring to put up a front of modesty and placate her beating heart. “It’s nothing.”
“Your face is red though?” she teases.
“It’s from running! And the shock of seeing you so unexpectedly.” Yoobin winces, finding her own explanation completely unbelievable, like it’s the first time they’ve seen each other here, like she doesn’t know Suyeon’s schedule like the back of her hand.
Suyeon cracks a smile. “Glad you like me so much.” Yoobin's lack of reaction is telling.
She thinks about it the whole way home from class. When she walks in the door of her apartment she’s still surprised to see Jiho instead of Sujeong, who she had been rooming with for almost a whole year.
It was a lucky coincidence really, because neither of them had ever seen the other on campus. Yoobin just happened to be trying to sublease and earn money back while Jiho had been scanning corkboards for roommate wanted ads. “How did we run in completely different social circles?” Yoobin had asked. Jiho shrugged.
“You look flustered,” Jiho observes. Yoobin’s face is red, and her hair is frizzy from the run.
“I kind of am,” Yoobin says, and leaves it at that. Jiho retreats to her room.
They’re walking their bikes home from fundraising in the park when Suyeon stops in the middle of the road and says, “Hey, can we talk?” It feels like her heart is going to stop.
"I can't do this anymore," Suyeon says. Nudges the kickstand on the bike with the tip of her shoe. Oh, Yoobin thinks.
“Is there something,” she asks, “between us?”
It takes everything she has not to look away. Yoobin’s throat dries up and she can’t speak, just stare. Suyeon’s face falls in the shadows, the sun streaking warm colors behind her.
“I'm not going to say anything if you won't say it back, I think you know by now how I am," Suyeon says, always too sincere for her own good. "I think you know how I feel."
“I know,” Yoobin says. “But it’s not that easy.” I’m not ready.
"I’m leaving, you know. I’m transferring."
Yoobin looks at Suyeon, eyes glassy with the reflection of the sunlight shining within. She opens her mouth, aware Suyeon’s heart will sink again for the last time:
"It’s really bad timing."
►► fast forward
That was three years ago, and everything has changed except this: Jiho is still Yoobin’s roommate. Yoobin wishes this weren’t the case, because Suyeon comes hurtling back into her life in the worst possible way: right next door.
Yoobin wakes up to the sound of a crash in the hallway. Before 6 it is hard to say she is ever really awake, even if she’s wandering around in the kitchen. But this startles her enough to make her abandon her tea and open the door.
The first re-impression Yoobin makes is in her pajamas. And in front of the apartment to her left is a cart full of boxes, and her college classmate Yoonsun, and her-
Suyeon is struggling with the key. Laughing at the same time.
Yoobin leans against the doorway as coolly as possible and says, “Our neighbors had a lot of trouble with that lock. Try holding it down while you press the key in.”
Suyeon turns her head-
“I see the apartment next door has finally gotten occupants,” Jiho says.
Yoobin sighs. More than anything, she wanted to get it together by this stage of her life. But she doesn’t want to work two part-time jobs forever, she doesn’t want to live in this dingy apartment forever, and she definitely wants to be able to let go of old feelings. There just wasn’t enough time.
Over three years enough things come up that there are plausible excuses to change housing. The closest Yoobin came to moving was an impulse decision from Yebin to move out of her four-person suite in their final year of university. “Let’s get a place together!” Yebin told her then, and Yoobin almost broke her routine carved into stone right there. But Yebin wanted to move in the middle of the rental month, and all their friends were out of town, and Yoobin couldn’t bring herself to tell Jiho, so Yebin moved back home and that was the end of that.
Two months became three years of awkward dinners, recurring arguments, maneuvering around each other's schedules and changing behind closed doors because it was easier than trying it with someone new. Their friends already had their own places and nothing about their lives had changed after graduation - but it was still a convenient spot even though secretly both of them had wanted the excuse to leave.
“I said hi,” Jiho continues. “And the one girl said she knew you? Ji Suyeon?”
“We knew each other alright,” Yoobin says faintly. “Through school clubs.”
Observing the troubled look on her face, Jiho clarifies. “She actually said you have history.” So much for proving she’s alright on her own.
“Hey Jiho,” Yoobin says. “If... I had to, could I pretend you were my girlfriend?”
Yoobin picks at her nails, another terrible habit she was supposed to grow out of before graduating university.
“If I had to,” she repeats. “Like- I don’t think I will, but if this girl asks I might need to say something. To save my self-esteem.”
“What’s wrong with telling the truth?” Jiho asks incredulously.
“It’s scary.” It’s far too scary.
“Jiho,” she says on the walk to the grocery store, “do you want to have dinner first? Or watch a movie? I’ll treat you.”
“Are we doing that rom-com cliche thing where we pretend to be lovey-dovey” - Jiho's nose scrunches up at this - “just so that you can get the girl you like jealous?”
“It’s not a date. It’s a friend... thing.” The wind blows uncomfortably into their faces.
"I figure we should get to know each other better anyway. Like." She struggles to find the right words. I want to hang out with you."
Jiho bristles. "It sure sounds like you don't. You see me every day, anyway."
Hands behind her back, tote bag dangling from her fingers. Yoobin grits her teeth. "Believe it or not. I enjoy your company."
Yoobin sets her pride on the ground floor. "Please."
“Fine,” Jiho says, twisting around, her hair swinging around behind her. “Then do me a favor and don’t offer to pay. This isn’t a bribe.”
Jiho scans the concession stand staff and even takes a second trip to the bathroom before the movie starts just to confirm Suyeon isn't working that night. Yoobin rolls her eyes all the way to their seat.
"She’s a graduate student in music, you're not going to see her here. She doesn’t have the time."
“You sure know a lot about her,” Jiho remarks.
“We’ve talked. We’ve known each other for a long time,” Yoobin says defensively. “This is kind of bare minimum.”
“Bare minimum isn’t telling someone you’re dating someone you’re not just to make her jealous.”
“Like I could ever make Suyeon jealous,” Yoobin says, “even if I wanted to.” The expression on her face betrays her insecurity.
“Did you tell her I was your girlfriend?”
“No,” she says.
“Hey,” Suyeon says, standing at her front door. “Can we talk?”
Jiho isn’t home, so Yoobin invites her in.
“I think,” Suyeon says carefully, “that we both know this still isn’t the right time or place.”
Yoobin swallows. It’s always her, trying to clear the air. And it’s always Yoobin left not knowing what to do except tell the truth.
“In an alternate universe it would have been you,” Yoobin says. “It would have been you.”
“I liked you a lot,” Suyeon says, “you know?” Yoobin sees unparalleled sincerity in her eyes. “You were so organized and goofy at the same time. Everything about you was beautiful to me.”
“I can almost guarantee I liked you more,” Yoobin reminisces. “I just wasn’t brave enough to do anything about it.” At this moment she realizes she has grown more in the past three years than she thought.
The air conditioner turns back on and the rush of air audibly blasts through the vents. “It would be so easy, now,” Suyeon says, “if you weren’t already in love with someone else.”
Yoobin thinks she’s the only one awake at 1AM until Jiho knocks on the door and barges in with a pillow gripped in one hand and a comforter in the other, face pale.
“A spider,” she says, already setting up camp on the floor. Jiho folds the blanket into a sleeping bag shape, so she can lie on it and be covered at the same time. “A huge one. I can’t go back there unless you kill it. I tried screaming your name, but you didn’t come. It’s gone now, somewhere under the bed.”
“Headphones,” Yoobin says, playing with the cord around her neck. “I really hope the neighbors weren’t up.”
“It’s just Suyeon, she won’t mind--”
“Maybe try not to be so flippant, she could still get mad.”
Jiho lies down, then immediately sits back up. “Why is your carpet so lumpy?” She runs her fingers over the knots in the weaving and groans.
“Your floor is like that too,” Yoobin retorts. “You’ve just never tried to sleep on it.”
“Why would I sleep on my own floor?”
“Why would you come in here and sleep on mine?”
“I TOLD YOU ABOUT THE SPIDER ALREADY.”
Yoobin shuts her laptop and pushes her desk chair in. “Hey, can you turn off the lights?”
“No. You’re already standing up,” she fairly points out, before Yoobin flops onto her own comforter on the other side of the room. Jiho’s head is resting right below the switch. “This floor is the worst.”
“Hey,” Yoobin says. “Just sleep on the bed.”
Yoobin just looks at her, not saying anything. Jiho flicks the light switch off and fumbles in the dark, trying to recall the positions of the mattress and the clothing trip hazards in the way.
“Just don’t be too noisy or I can’t sleep,” Yoobin says, back to the wall. Jiho lies precariously close to the edge of the bedframe.
“I’ll try not to be too annoying.” She ruffles her pillow for effect.
“Rent is due soon, you know,” Yoobin reminds her, and Jiho stops, lets the crickets outside fill the space of sound.
“Hey,” Jiho says after a long time. “Can I ask you something?”
All she can hear is the sound of Yoobin’s breathing. In, out. In, out.
Jiho frowns when she goes to the basement laundry room and sees Suyeon in a tee and gym shorts putting quarters into the dryer. At the same time she’s almost glad she lost rock-paper-scissors to Yoobin five minutes ago, right over the basket of dirty clothes. Not that she would ever admit that to anyone.
Suyeon doesn’t notice her until she yanks the neighboring washer door open and starts tossing in clothes.
“She really likes you, you know,” Jiho says offhandedly, pouring in an unmeasured cup of detergent. “So please don’t play with her heart.”
“I was under the impression you’re the one whose attention she was trying to get,” Suyeon replies, and the nonchalant tone of her voice is infuriating to Jiho.
“She knows everything about you,” Jiho says, voice even. “I have to hear about it every day.”
Suyeon smiles at that, but she looks somewhere past Jiho’s shoulders, somewhere she can’t see. “Yoobin is the kind of person who wants to keep her friends separate but ends up talking about them to each other anyway.”
Jiho brings her high ponytail close to her face, running her fingers through her hair. “I know, isn’t she exasperating?”
“You actually remind me a lot of her,” Suyeon says, and braces for impact.
The washer starts running. “Do I?” Jiho asks quietly.
“Yeah,” Suyeon answers, lifting a basket of clothes to her hip. “Yeah, I know it sounds crazy, but you do.”
“Suyeon thinks you like me,” Jiho says point-blank at the kitchen table. Yoobin almost drops the pan of sunny-side-up eggs in her hand. “I think you should correct her if she’s mistaken.”
“...If she is mistaken then I should,” she agrees, not turning her head away from the stove.
“I also don’t think you should be cooking breakfast for someone you don’t like. Every day. It’s misleading,” Jiho adds.
“We are roommates, Jiho.”
“Flatmates,” Jiho says, annoyingly particular as usual. “Still.”
“It’s less work for me to do it for you than for you to try and end up burning the food,” she says. “I’d rather do it for you.”
A chill settles into her voice. “And that’s the only reason why?”
“...It’s unfortunately not,” Yoobin says, pushing eggs that are now scrambled around the pan.
“Will you tell Suyeon she was wrong?”
Yoobin sighs. “I like you.”
“Oh. Well. That’s great,” Jiho says, standing up to meet her at the kitchen stove. “Congratulations.”
“I can’t stand you, do you know that?” Yoobin asks to her face.
“I wish I couldn’t stand you,” Jiho says, “but the truth is I really, really like you.”
Yoobin flushes with color. “Kim Jiho? Honestly? I don’t believe it.”
So she says it again, again, and again: “I like you, Bae Yoobin. I like you. I really like you.”
“I’m still up,” Yoobin mumbles. She doesn’t sound awake at all. Jiho can only assume half her face is smashed into her pillow.
“Oh, are you?” Jiho reaches out into the black until her pointer finger feels the warmth of Yoobin’s forehead.
“Don’t get brave, Kim Jiho,” she says, half-slurred.
“You know I will just because you tell me not to.”
“Hate you,” Yoobin mutters.
The blinking blue light from Yoobin’s laptop charging shines intermittently on her face. Jiho closes her eyes.
“I feel such a longing I can’t put into words.”
Yoobin rolls over in her sleep, and Jiho wonders if she imagines her asking, “For what?”
Still, she answers: