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Firefly Waltz

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Music Hyperlink: Your Song, by Sam Kim & Kwon Jinah & Lee Jinah & Jung Seunghwan.


 

You had to be kidding. Yena was at least half-sure that she was currently being pranked. With an apprehensive gaze she stared up at the building standing before them, its fluorescent sign flashing in neon pink: ‘Love Motel’. Knowing Yuri, the implication behind the name probably didn’t even cross the younger girl’s mind. But Yena… Yena was an adult, for goodness’ sake, and when her especially keen eyes spotted couples discreetly filtering in and out of the hotel, pawing at each other, unable to keep their hands to themselves, she felt a sudden urge to cover Yuri’s innocent eyes. 

 

“Are… are we really staying here tonight?” Yena asked warily, glancing over at Yuri.

 

“It’s the only place nearby that doesn’t need any pre-booking,” Yuri replied, checking her phone again. “Is it not okay?”

 

“It’s, uh…” Making eye contact with a couple, Yena pulled her hoodie up and over her face and inched closer to Yuri. Yena would consider it lying if she said she didn’t mind sleeping at this very seedy-looking motel, but she caught Yuri’s wide yawn and immediately admitted defeat. “Let’s just go in and get some sleep.”

 

The motel owner was exactly like the guests who stayed at his motel - unkempt hair and scruffy beard, wearing a thick jacket that stank like old cheese, and paused after every few words to cough violently or chew on his unlit cigarette. The worst part of him, Yena decided, was the way he leered at Yuri, his gaze perverted as if undressing the girl in his mind. When his gaze shifted to her, she flinched.

 

“Lesbians, huh?” he said, grinning and showing off his tobacco-blackened teeth. “Never had y’all here before. If you two ladies feel like you need a little something extra…” He trailed off and gestured to himself with a jerk of his brow.

 

Under the counter, Yena balled her hands into fists, but held back. “We just need a place to sleep for tonight.”

 

“That’s right, ‘sleep’,” he sneered, making air quotes with his fingers. “You know, a lot of people here ‘sleep’ really loudly.”

 

When Yuri opened her mouth to ask what he meant, Yena shook her head. “Don’t talk to him.” She shifted to stand in front of Yuri, stepping in the sleazy motel owner’s line of sight. She pulled out some money and slapped it down on the counter. “One room for the night.”

 

Grabbing the notes, he thumbed through them and smirked. He scrambled through a drawer and, coming out with a set of keys, flipped them at her. “You be wanting the change?”

 

“No, I don’t,” Yena snapped, catching the keys in mid-air. Grabbing Yuri’s wrist, she tugged her towards the lifts. “Good night.”

 

The second the elevator doors closed after them, Yuri tugged on Yena’s shirt. “What did he mean by “sleep loudly”?”

 

Yena shook her head again. Was Yuri really this innocent to not know what that sleazy man meant, or was she one of those few lucky people whose minds didn’t instantly swerve into a ditch at even the slightest insinuation? “It’s nothing. He was just being a weird pervert.”

 

“Ah.” Yuri winced. “That’s kind of… gross.”

 

Yena nodded wisely. “Most men usually are.”

 

But she soon found out what the motel owner meant after entering their room. Yuri was taking a shower, leaving Yena to lounge on the king-sized bed. As she was fiddling with her phone, a loud thump on the wall startled her. She gaped at the moans and expletives that followed, and she hurriedly fished out a pair of earphones. The second Yuri stumbled out of the bathroom, Yena stuck her earphones into Yuri’s ears before she could notice the lewd sounds coming from next door. 

 

“What?” Yuri blinked at the sudden action. “Why? What happened?”

 

“It’s noisy outside.” Well, it wasn’t a lie, per se. Yena just decided to leave out what kind of noise it was exactly. “You should listen to some calming music to sleep.”

 

“Um? Okay?” Although she fixed Yena with a confused stare, Yuri complied. She climbed onto the bed, shifting to one side so Yena could share the bed together. Yuri nestled under the blanket, burying herself in bed until she was almost completely hidden. Her eyes peeked out of the blanket like a meerkat as she watched Yena busy herself around the room, grabbing towels and extra clothes and arranging them on the floor. When Yena grabbed the free pillow on the bed and tossed it onto the floor as well, Yuri sat up in bed. “What are you doing?”

 

“Making a bed,” Yena simply stated. She settled down on the floor, on top of the makeshift mattress of sorts, and grinned up at Yuri. “It’s actually quite comfortable, you know?”

 

“But-” Yuri patted the empty space next to her. “There’s space.”

 

There was space, yes. But the idea of lying down next to Yuri, sharing the same bed and blanket, breathing in her scent, basking in her warmth, being so close she could almost hold Yuri in her arms for the whole night  - it was too much for Yena. Just their close proximity during the two-hour train ride from Seoul to Busan was already maddening. How she yearned to touch Yuri’s hand, hold her like the night she cried… But Yena couldn’t. It felt wrong somehow, like she was crossing a line that shouldn’t even be touched since that night.

 

So she just gave Yuri a smile of acknowledgement but shook her head. “It’s alright. I’m good with sleeping here.” Going on her knees, she leaned over and poked Yuri between her furrowed eyebrows, soothing out the lines that settled themselves there. “And don’t frown, you’ll get wrinkles.”

 

“But-”

 

“No buts.” Yena got to her feet to turn off the lights, throwing them into darkness before Yuri could continue to insist on sharing the large bed.  “Goodnight, Yuri. Sleep well.”

 

#

 

It was way past midnight, edging into the unholy hours of dawn, and Yena hadn’t slept a wink. Lucky for her, the banging and intense moans from adjacent rooms had stopped, leaving her with some peace and quiet. Yuri had taken her instructions to heart and was now lightly snoring. Propping herself up on her elbows, Yena craned her neck up, sneaking a peek at the sleeping girl.

 

She spied the outline of Yuri’s profile, long eyelashes and button nose briefly illuminated by the neon sign of the motel that continued to flash erratically outside. Her mouth was open, drool leaking out - just like her infant self in that family portrait back in the house, Yena recalled with faint amusement. She also noticed tears running down Yuri’s cheeks, flowing across her nose bridge, pulled by gravity. Yena lifted her fingers, leaning over until her hand was a breath away from Yuri’s cheeks - and there she trembled in mid-air before clenching her fist and withdrawing her hand.

 

How a woman could be so magnetic in her sleep, Yena would never know.

 

Her gaze trailing down, she noticed Yuri had kicked off her blanket in her sleep, exposing her legs, barely covered by her shorts, to the cold of the room. Now this, Yena could do. She reached out silently until she had Yuri’s blanket in her hands, tucking the sleeping girl in. She the earphones out of Yuri’s ears, pausing to listen to the soothing ballads playing through it before turning it off and placing it aside.

 

Then, lying back down on her makeshift bed again, Yena stared up at the ceiling of bright pink fluorescence and half-shed moonlight, and waited for the sun to rise again.

 

#

 

“We’re going to be late!” Yuri yelled as she sprinted down the stairs, her bags swinging all over the place and hitting unfortunate commuters. A good few meters behind her, Yena was trudging along, sleepwalking and mumbling to herself in her exhausted state. Her bag dragged on the floor, dangling from her hand as she shuffled her feet to their designated platform.

 

She was pretty sure they weren’t late, anyway. Sure, she might have woken up late this morning, but it was only because sleeping in a (love) motel was a bit discomforting for her. Yuri certainly didn’t have any qualms about it, though, and Yena assumed it was because the younger girl was too innocent to be affected by it. So now here she was, forcing her drooping eyelids to stay open, her face left devoid of makeup in their rush to leave. Rubbing her eyes, she glanced around, looking for a notice board that displayed the train schedules.

 

“Yena! Hurry up!” Yuri turned back in search of her zombified companion. Confused, unable to find her quarry, Yuri jogged back to see Yena hovering around a flower shop, fingers casually caressing petals of blue and orange and pink and white. “Yena! What’re you doing?”

 

“Hm?” Yena glanced up at the sound of Yuri’s voice and grinned at her before turning to the male shopkeeper walking towards her. She quietly pointed out a few flowers to the shopkeeper. Nodding, the shopkeeper plucked out the flowers Yena selected and headed to the back to wrap them up.

 

“What are you doing?” Yuri asked again, walking towards Yena.

 

“Flowers,” Yena yawned, rubbing her eyes cutely.

 

“Why are you buying flowers? We’re running late-”

 

“No we’re not,” Yena drawled. She leaned back, slightly drunk with tiredness, and nodded at the train schedule flashing on a nearby board. “We still got time.”

 

Peering at the board, Yuri noted with satisfaction that Yena was, in fact, right. Pleased that they were allowed an extra half-hour of time, Yuri nudged Yena. “I’m going to get some food, then. Is there anything you want to eat on the train?”

 

She was probably going to end up sleeping on the train, but at the moment, Yena’s stomach was in desperate need of something to fill it. “Kimbap sounds good,” she mumbled. She fished some money out of her wallet and offered it to Yuri. “Can you help me buy some?”

 

Yuri gently pushed the money away and patted her hand. “It’s my treat. A thank you for accompanying me this weekend.”

 

Yena stared at Yuri’s retreating back, a silly grin stretching itself across her face. When the shopkeeper returned, small bouquet in hand, he raised a brow at her expression. “Is she your girlfriend?”

 

“What?” Yena blinked rapidly and hastily crossed her arms in an X-shape. “No, no, of course not, not a girl, I-”

 

“Are you sure?” The shopkeeper handed her the bouquet and leaned in when she took them. “My boyfriend would say you two were definitely dating, though.”

 

“Your… your boyfriend?” Yena gaped at him. He winked back at her and nodded proudly.

 

“No one would deliberately pick these flowers out for someone else without dating them,” the shopkeeper proclaimed. One by one he pointed out the flowers in the bouquet. “White lilies are pure; red chrysanthemums show love; pink roses, grace and gratitude. And acacia blossoms,” he brushed his hand over yellow flowers, puffed up like dandelions, like tiny suns attached on stalks, “acacia blossoms symbolise hidden love.”

 

“Hidden love?” Yena murmured as she left the shop to look for Yuri. When she found her, a warmth spread through Yena’s chest, and a lovestruck giggle threatened to spill out as she watched Yuri order food with a hungry glint in her eyes. 

 

Purity, grace, gratitude. 

 

Hidden love. 

 

Even without realising it Yena’s heart had sought out the flowers, her feelings manifesting themselves into flora. Holding the bouquet close, she tiptoed towards Yuri, sneaking to stand behind her and leaning over until Yuri noticed her. 

 

“You scared me!” Yuri yelped, nearly leaping back into Yena in shock, one hand against her rapidly beating heart. Her eyes swept over the flowers in Yena’s hands, gaze softening at the delicate artistry of the arrangement. “Oh, wow.”

 

“Here.” Yena stuck them out, proffering them to Yuri as if confessing.

 

“Hm?”

 

“For you. I bought them for you.” Yena all but pressed the bouquet into Yuri’s hands, chuckling at her flummoxed expression. With Yuri’s hands full, Yena accepted the packs of kimbap, eggs, and tteokbokki laid out by the old woman who ran the snack shop with a polite bow.

 

“Wait,” the shopkeeper called out just as she was turning away, “come back, I have something for you.”

 

“Yes, ma’am?”

 

The shopkeeper smiled and beckoned her over. “You’re a very sweet girl,” the old woman crooned. She plucked out two hotdogs, freshly deep-fried and oozing cheese from the sides. Yena could feel her mouth water just from a glimpse of them. The shopkeeper wrapped them up and handed them over to Yena, her smile gummy. “Here, have these on me.”

 

Yena stared at her hands, wrinkled from age and hard work, lines that could never be erased, sunspots scattered across the old woman’s skin. “Ma’am, I can’t…”

 

“Of course you can,” the shopkeeper insisted, dumping the hotdogs into Yena’s hands and wagging her finger sternly. “You know how rare it is to find someone as polite and sweet as you and your friend over there? You two should eat more, you know. You’re too slim!”

 

Yena bit her lip to stop herself from laughing. Sparing a glance back at Yuri, she smirked when she caught the younger girl laughing with her hands over her face. “Then I can’t say no, can I? Thank you, ma’am. We’ll eat them well.”

 

She jogged back to Yuri, holding her newly-attained treasure aloft. “I have food!” Yena crowed, exaggeratedly posing, her limbs out at awkward angles, plastic bags of food sliding down her outstretched arms.

 

Yuri rolled her eyes, a pink flush spreading across her cheeks. “Keep it down,” she hissed, “you’re so embarrassing.”

 

“I live to be embarrassing,” Yena declared with a straight face. Shooting Yuri a teasing smirk, she skipped ahead. When she was sure that there was a good distance between them, she started to sprint. “Last one on the train has to buy drinks!” she shouted, cackling at the flabbergasted shriek behind her. 

 

By the time they found their seats in the train, both girls were winded beyond belief. Yena leaned back in her seat, panting away, wiping away the sweat from her face. It was totally worth it, however; she managed to get the window seat first, though she did end up moving over and giving it to Yuri when she finally boarded the train. 

 

“I… can’t believe… you did that…” Yuri complained between huffs and puffs. Her body was slumped against the window as she pressed her flushed face to the cool windowpane in an attempt to cool down. She hugged the bouquet of flowers that Yena had bought for her, cradling it like a pillow.

 

“I’m… so hungry…” Yena reached in one of her bags for the hotdogs that the shopkeeper had given them for free. She held one out towards Yuri, letting the deliciously oily fragrance of the hotdogs fill the train. “Eat them while they’re hot.”

 

“Oh, thanks.” Yuri accepted the hotdog as well as the coloured packets of sauce that Yena held out. She started to tear one open, then stopped and squinted at it. There were no words on the packets, no drawings or images that indicated what kind of sauce it was. One had to be mustard, she knew, and the other ketchup, but…

 

“Yena.” Yuri tapped her shoulder and held the two packets up. “Which one’s what?”

 

“Um, this one’s ketchup” - she pointed to the red packet on Yuri’s left - “and the other’s mustard.”

 

“Of course, thank you. Darn colours,” Yuri mumbled under her breath. 

 

“Why, are you colourblind?” Yena asked innocently, munching into her hotdog. She paused when Yuri gave her a meaningful look. “Oh. Sorry.”

 

“Don’t be. You didn’t know.” Yuri bit into her hotdog and chewed thoughtfully. “I wish I could see colours again, though. Everything was so much more convenient. The world was so rich and expressive then.”

 

“If you don’t mind me asking, how did you, well, stop seeing colours?” Immediately after she asked that question, Yena crouched in her seat, feeling as if she was starting to pry too much. She blamed her lack of sleep for her callousness, and started to apologise.

 

“It’s a long, depressing story,” Yuri sighed.

 

Yena pursed her lips. “Well, we are going to be stuck here for two hours. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to tell a sad story,” Yena said, smiling softly at Yuri. “I’m always here for you, you know that.”

 

Yuri mulled over it for a while, then leaned back in her seat. She placed the hotdog down, careful not to spill any of the sauce on her flowers. “Where do I start?”