It's currently July 5th. The time, 06:44 am. Early summer and the weather predicted to be sunny with a chance of clouds.
Yet, as you look out from your car window, only dark grey clouds greet you. Stretching on for miles and miles on end. You see no sight of the clear blue skies you were promised by the weatherman. A sigh escapes your lips. Maybe the world is trying to say something to you. About reasons and why you shouldn't be here. But it's not like you have a choice. Or maybe mother nature somehow sensed your mood and decided to make it worse.
Well, whatever. It's not like you expected anything anyway.
Leaning back into the driver's seat, you gaze wearily at the large building in front of you. Terminal 2 of Incheon International Airport. You furrow your eyebrows. Another flight and the fourth one this year alone. Or is it five? You lost count somewhere after the tenth flight in the first year of your job. You would think that you would've gotten used to flying all the time after five years. But you're not.
A flight to London. A project had begun at the company's branch over there in collaboration with the Seoul branch. So, you were asked to fly over to hash out the details with the team there. Your team had already flown over to London a week ago. You had to delay your own flight there because of an important meeting with another one of your clients.
"Why am I doing this?" You whisper out to yourself and sigh.
You know you sound dramatic. After all, you are only going to ride a plane, but it's not that simple to you. You hate flying. Anxiety and dread filling every single cell of your body the moment you walk into those flying death machines. Your stomach twisting in all sorts of ways and filled with what awfully feels like an inky black sludge.
You hate it.
In all honesty, you could've just flat out refused to fly all the way out to London. The company won't mind anyway. Your team is fully capable of doing the whole thing by themselves. Not to mention that you're already supervising a few other projects here. So, you're plenty of busy. However, instead of doing that, you had just nodded your head and said a simple okay. Why? You don't really know why. You just did. Maybe it's because you have a habit of saying yes with no regard for your own well-being. Or maybe it's because you wanted something different than your usual routine. After all this time though, you're not so sure if the latter is true anymore.
You've thought about quitting the job altogether in one of the few times you let your mind wander. Useless thoughts always come to you whenever you let it. Thoughts like what would happen if you stopped giving a damn. Just leaving everything behind and take the first train away to the middle of nowhere. You wouldn't have to think of papers and contracts. No more talking to people you hate. No more working overtime in a job that your parents had decided for you. Just start anew and find a decent job that doesn't require you to fly in a plane every two months or so.
You look up to the sky. Rain looms over in the distance.
Those thoughts never went too far. Soon distracted by the next email you have to write. The next report to review. The next project to supervise. But whatever, it's not like you have anything specific you want to do anyway. Nothing except escaping. From work. From your co-workers. From that depressing place you call home. You wonder what that says about you.
You know well about what that says about you. But you'd rather fly in an airplane ten times over than face it. This... husk of a person that you had become after she left. This person you promised her you would never be.
You shut your eyes. It hurts. Your chest hurts. But then again, it's been hurting for a long time now. You're used to it.
Your eyes catch sight of a bird flying in the distance. You faintly wonder where it's going. Back to its nest? To its family? Does it even have a family? Why is it even still flying in such bad weather? Perhaps it doesn't care. Just doing whatever it wants, whenever it wants.
You feel your chest getting heavier.
Opening your car door, you get out and go to the back of your car. You open the trunk and take your suitcase out. Locking your car, you go inside the terminal. There's still approximately four or so hours until your flight. In hindsight, you didn't really have to come this early to the airport, but you had nothing better to do at home anyway. You'll just wait in one of the shops here and try your best to calm your nerves. Maybe get a cup of coffee in the meanwhile—wait, never mind. That's a bad idea. Caffeine is usually a welcomed source of energy for you, but not right now. You don't need your heart racing even faster when you step into that death trap. Vomiting is not high on the list of things you want to experience within the next six hours.
After checking in and going through customs, you wander aimlessly in the airport. You look around the enormous hallway. Despite the early morning, people are still as busy and lively as they can. Briskly walking to and fro around you.
You walk past a man sitting on one of the many benches. A bit worn from the years but not too old. Perhaps thirty, perhaps forty. You're not sure. You were never really good at guessing people's ages. A phone against his ear, and a gentle smile on his face. You can't really hear what he's talking about nor do you really care honestly. He's just another stranger in this sea of people. But somehow you know that he's talking with someone that he loves dearly. The affectionate smile on his face and his hearty laughter confirming your guess.
It makes you smile.
Rather than being jealous, you prefer just living vicariously through them. It's less exhausting than holding onto hatred. You know you should stop though. You know it's not healthy for you, but you don't know what else to do. It reminds you of a conversation you had with her.
The words she uttered still ringing clearly in your ears.
"That's not a way to live, Chae.” She frowns. Twisting her body to look back to you.
"Then why?" Her finger moving lightly across the window's frame. Her gaze looking back out onto the sunset.
"Because it's enough for me." You look down instead. You look at the orange and red painting on your bedroom floor. In your dark room, a soft yellow glow permeates your room. You watch the light and shadows mixing. Your bare feet in the shadows. Almost touching the light.
"I want you to be happy, Chae."
"I am happy, Eunbi." You have a good-paying job. More money than you ever need. You get to eat well. Your house is a nice apartment in the center of the city. You have friends that care for you and a great girlfriend. You're living the life. You're happy. You're definitely happy.
Yet why does it sound like a lie even to your own ears?
"You're not.” She looks back at you. Her back against the dying light of the sun. A golden crown around her. You can't see her face. It's too bright.
"No, you're not.” She cuts you off. "One day, you're going to wake up and realize you're miserable. That you're not happy. That you haven't been happy in years."
"That won't happen." You frown.
"It will," she says confidently. Her voice, hard. "Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not in a few years. Maybe not even in the next few decades. But it will happen, Chae. You're drowning. But you don't realize you're drowning. And when you realize that your lungs are filled with water instead of air... I'm just scared that it'll be too late for you."
Your eyebrows furrow. You feel the stabs that come with each of her words. Yet you can't acknowledge the ugly truth it comes with. You refuse to look at it. You refuse to meet her eyes.
"What—" You swallow hard. Jaws tense. Gaze fixed to the floor. To your feet in the shadows. Your voice nothing but a whisper. "What do you want me to do?"
"Do what you want, Chae. Not what your parents want." You feel a hand on your head. Softly ruffling your hair. "You define your own happiness."
You stay silent. Your mind running amok. Are you happy? You think you are. You think back to your parents. No, you definitely are. Eunbi's worried about you. But it's honestly unwanted. You're happy. You're fine with where you are. Your parents are proud of you for coming this far, and that makes you happy, right? You also have Eunbi. She's the best girlfriend you could ever dream of getting. You love her, and she loves you. This is fine. Great even. You're happy.
You're definitely happy. This is enough. Wishing for more would only be selfish. You're happy with this. You are.
"Tell me, Chaewon." Your eyes sting with what scarily feels like tears. "What makes you happy?"
You didn't have an answer for her then. And you still don't have an answer now.
You've come into terms that you're not happy. Far from it. Why would you fantasize about running away if you're happy? But are you going to do anything about it? No, not really. The water has been in your lungs for as long as you can remember that you don't really know how to get rid of it. You're not really sure if you want to get rid of it in the first place. What happens when the water is gone? Will you be able to breathe freely? Or will you suffocate with the air? You don't bother finding out. It's fine as it is.
Your previous smile drops. You sigh.
The blues are really getting to you today. Well, it always gets to you, but more so today. Getting more and more sentimental by the minute. Is it because it's still early in the morning? Or is it because of your reluctance to fly? Maybe both.
Though, now that you think about it, you've always been more sentimental whenever you're at an airport. There's something about this place. An in-between place for worlds. Limbo on earth. A beginning and an end. You find yourself thinking a lot more inside these glass walls. You look outside to the somber grey clouds. Truly befitting of limbo.
You walk away.
A cafe enters your vision. The Monarch, the sign above it reads. With a butterfly in its design, you think it's a bit tacky. But whatever, it's fine you think. The interior of the place is nice enough, and you've been going here ever since your first flight anyway.
You order your tea and sit at a table there. You lean back in your chair and go back to people watching. You like doing that. It's fascinating. You get to see little tidbits of their lives just from observing them. In a way, it's a bit like playing detective.
For example, that woman standing across the hallway with her back to you. She wears an expensive-looking coat and sunglasses perched on her head. High heels and her head held high. She must either be very self-assured or putting up a front. But from her body language, you're leaning on the former. She talks to her phone fiercely. A working woman perhaps? Either the CEO or an investor most likely. Or maybe a GM? You suppose trying to guess her occupation is like squeezing water from a stone.
But you are sure of one thing. She's a loving mother. How do you know? Well, she hangs up her phone the moment a little boy comes up to her. Gently patting his head and kneeling down to his eye level. The little boy hugs her tightly, and she laughs softly in response.
Taking a sip from your tea, you think it tastes a bit odd. A little bittersweet. Despite the two teaspoons of sugar in it, there's still a hint of bitterness to it. Well, it's fine. You drink it again.
Only to be coughing it out the next second in surprise. Hot coffee spills onto your white shirt. You quickly stand up, knocking your chair over in the meanwhile. And fuck, the tea definitely went down the wrong pipe. You put your hand over your mouth as you continue to cough your lungs out.
"Oh, god! I'm so, so sorry!" A panicked voice exclaims near you.
Then the next thing you know, the voice is pushing tissues onto your chest. You flinch back in surprise. You know she's trying to help—at least you think that they're a girl from the sound of their voice—but thrusting tissues to your chest while you're still dying from chocking on tea doesn't really help right now. Maybe later when you’re not coughing to the next century. Thanks though, lady. It's the thought that counts, right?
"I really didn't mean to spill my coffee on you!" Yeah, you kinda figured that out. "Hot coffee nonetheless! It's just that I wasn't really paying attention to where I was going—which I really should, but it's been a habit of mine ever since I was little! And you know the thing about habits and how they're hard to break and what not! But still, that doesn't excuse me for spilling my coffee on you and I'm so sorry—"
You're still coughing, but it's not that bad anymore. In any case, it seems like you're not gonna cough your lungs out after all.
Now, you're just watching her trying to clean your white shirt in vain. Those coffee stains aren't going anywhere. You're going to need a lot of bleach. But more importantly, rather than worrying about your white shirt, you're more stunned than anything really.
Wow, how much can this lady talk? She's practically talking 50 miles per hour. You wonder how long she could ramble for any given amount of time. It's pretty amazing actually. Plus, you think she's one of those gorgeous models. Or maybe an idol? Definitely a celebrity though. Her pink hair and beautiful face give it all away. But then again, her plain attire and lack of mask or sunglasses make you think twice. So, just a really pretty lady?
At this point, you're not even that mad about the fact that your chest is burning from her coffee. Well, the fact that she looks like she's about to cry also helps.
You grab her hands and smile lightly at her.
"It's fine," you simply tell her.
"B-But I spilled my coffee on you! Hot coffee!” She stutters. You feel like you can see the cogs in her head working overtime. She bites her lower lip, and her eyes practically spinning from how much she's looking back and forth from the coffee stain and your face. You find her a bit endearing.
"It's not a big deal." You smile a bit more.
Noticing the trouble, an employee comes and starts cleaning the spilled coffee and tea on the floor. Another employee asks if you're fine and you say yes. They offered you a refill free of charge, but you say no. You don't really want to sit around wearing a wet shirt. You look down. It's a bit troubling. While you could salvage this with an ungodly amount of bleach, you should probably just buy another one from the duty-free shop here. Oh, well. It wasn't like this shirt was expensive anyway.
You pick up your bag and move to leave. However, a hand grips onto your wrist, preventing you to leave. Looking back, you see the hot coffee lady that may or may not be a celebrity looking at you with determined eyes. A slight blush on her cheeks. Curiously, you raise an eyebrow at her.
"I know you said it's fine, but, I, um, I want to make it up for you," she awkwardly says. You notice how she constantly opens and closes her left hand. Must be a nervous tick of hers.
"How?" You slightly tilt your head to the side. Curiosity bubbling within you. Don't people usually walk away in this situation? Embarrassed and thankful that you let them go? You already said it's fine too. Why is she still here trying to make it up for you?
"Well, um, I could—I could, uh," she quickly looks around. Her eyes going to and fro in panic before finally stopping. She quickly looks at you again. "I'll give you something to wear!"
"Are you going to buy me something or...?"
"Um, well, I was just planning to give you mine, but b—buying something works too!” She laughs nervously. Her words coming out in rapid-fire without breathing. "That was a bit stupid of me. Why would you want something I own? You probably don't want to wear something that belongs to a stranger. Haha, what was I think—"
"Hey," you put your hand on her own. Still holding your wrist tightly. An amused smile on your lips. "breathe."
She takes a deep breath, and you chuckle a bit.
"I'm fine wearing something you own," you reassure her.
"O—Okay!" Her voice squeaks and you laugh softly. She clears her throat in embarrassment. She quickly tugs you out of the cafe and towards the bathrooms. "Let's—Let's go."
You let yourself get dragged by her. It's curious. You're curious. She's an interesting person. You like her.
Once you get to the bathroom, she quickly opens her backpack. You stand next to her. Watching her in amusement. Her hands are a bit shaky from the nerves. She pulls out a plain green hoodie from her backpack and gives it to you. Leaving it on the sink, you start to unbutton your ruined shirt. There's no one else in the bathroom beside you and her, so, it should be fine. Actually, now that you think of it, it's a bit of a miracle that no one else is here. You wonder why. You don't get far into your thoughts when her voice interrupts your mind.
"Woah! What—What are you d—doing?!" Her voice shakes. Her hands covering her eyes. You raise an eyebrow at her.
"Changing," you simply answer her.
"You can't change like that in the open!" You furrow your eyebrows and look around.
"No one's here."
You snort at that. She has to be the biggest goody two shoes you've ever met. Or—you can't clearly see it with her hands blocking her face, but you see a glimpse of the furious blush on her cheeks—she swings that way. Something tells you it's the latter. You pay no attention to her and quickly change into her green hoodie.
"Looking at another girl's body doesn't necessarily mean you're cheating on your girlfriend," you tease her a bit while changing.
"I—That's n—not—I don't have a girl—girlfriend," she stutters.
"Is that so?" You hum in response. Pushing your head through the collar, you can smell the detergent she uses. It smells nice. There's jasmine mixed in there too. You wonder if it's her natural body smell. Wait, ugh, what are you doing? Smelling a stranger's clothes? Really, Chaewon? You're being a creep. Stop that.
She keeps rambling, but you're not really paying attention to that. You look down at the sleeves of the hoodie. You frown slightly. Stretch your arms forward, you frown deepens. Yeah, they're still hanging loose from your hand. This hoodie is basically engulfing your body. You look into the mirror. You look so small in this. Well, better than nothing, right? You glance at her. It's only now that you notice how much taller she is than you.
"It's just that you're really pretty and I just get really nervous around girls like you. Like wow, have you seen yourself in the—" You tap her elbow to stop her rambling. You try to not let her words get to you. Has she been rambling about this the whole time you were changing? Albeit, you only changed for a minute, but still. That's a whole minute spent on talking about how pretty you are. You try to ignore the burning heat on your ears. For a panicked gay, she's one smooth talker.
You can't underestimate the innocent looking ones.
"I'm done changing." You rub your neck. "You can look now."
"Oh.” She sighs, relieved. Slowly removing her eyes, she looks at you in her hoodie. You wonder if it was possible but her face just became even redder. You're a bit worried if enough blood is circulating in her body.
Is she okay?
"What the fuck? Why do you look so cute?” She says it fast and under her breath. You probably wouldn't have heard it if the bathroom wasn't so empty. But it is and you hear it as clear as day.
You're starting to doubt her status as a panicked gay. First impressions can be deceiving.
It's not the first time someone has complimented you like this. In fact, with your face, you get them all the time. To the point that you get annoyed by it. But this is a bit different. People who compliment you always have some sort of motive behind it. They always want something from you whether its money, getting into your pants, a favor, or some other bullshit. She's not like that. At least, you don't think so. Not if you're judging from the way she's panicking right now.
"Wait, I—I didn't mean to say that out loud!" Her hands flailing around in an attempt to explain herself. Not that she needed to explain much though. It's pretty clear she's a clumsy flirt. You're just amazed that a person like her exists in the first place. Things come out of her mouth without her even realizing it. You wonder if she even has a filter.
You laugh softly. Yeah, she's pretty amusing. You're starting to look forward to hearing what comes out of her mouth next.
She stops her rambling, but you can still see her hands opening and closing. She looks down embarrassed and you feel a tiny bit bad for the girl. Maybe you shouldn't have laughed, but you don't think you could've stopped yourself. You pull up the sleeve of the hoodie and hold your hand out to her. Slowly, she looks up to you. An apprehensive look on her face. Still a blush on her cheeks.
"Kim Chaewon. That's my name." You smile at her amicably and introduced yourself.
Logically speaking, now that she's given you her hoodie, both of you should be going your separate ways. Leaving this short encounter as nothing but a funny story to tell your friends. But somewhere in you doesn't want to let her go. Not yet. You want to spend more time with her. You've only known her for a few minutes and you think this is the most you've smiled in a short period of time. At least, in a while.
"Oh, um, I'm Minjoo.” She hesitantly holds your hand. "Kim Minjoo actually."
"So, we have the same last name?" You slightly tilt your head.
"I guess so.” She chuckles.
“So, Minjoo." There's a small spark flaring up in your stomach as you think of spending more time with her. You faintly wonder what it means. Whatever, you don't care. You'll think about it later. "Care for a cup of coffee?"
Waiting in line at a famous coffee shop, the one with a mermaid on its logo, you learn a few things about her and her life. Her job for example. Contrary to your belief, she's a teacher. Apparently, the pink hair was a dare from a colleague, but the kids like it. So, she just kept it. You wonder a bit if she could actually be a teacher with that clumsy nature of hers. But when you hear that she's actually a kindergarten teacher, suddenly, it makes more a lot more sense. Wait, wouldn't that actually be worse? Don't tiny children need to be handled more carefully or something?
"Oh, and there was this one time that one of the children shoved me into the sandpit! They were playing hero and they decided I was the monster.” She laughs cheerfully.
Never mind. Apparently, the teacher is more in danger than the students.
"Which reminds me! I was almost stabbed by Yeojin—one of my students—last semester.” She smiles fondly at the memory. "Ah, good times."
Okay, never mind again. The teacher is apparently dying almost every day.
"I never knew being a kindergarten teacher could be so dangerous." A hint of confusion in your eyes, and an amused smile on your lips. "Should I be worried?"
But she laughs mirthfully at your question. Her hand going up to rake her hair back. You can't describe it well, but there's a sense of ease in her. Her smile relaxed, and her body light. A leisure step in her legs. It's completely different from her earlier panicked state. A complete one-eighty, and it's just as—if not more—charming as her stuttering. There's a sudden sense of want within you. More. You want to see her more of her sides.
"No, no," she pockets her hands into her jeans. "only Yeojin is like that. She has a knack for stealing knives for some reason. The rest of them are relatively normal."
"All of them get into trouble one way or another." Her eyes shine with a fond gleam. It sends warmth to your own chest. Even without seeing the kids or knowing Minjoo for long, you could see how much she treasures the little critters. She'll probably make a great mom in the future.
You wonder if you would be one too.
You quickly push that thought away. No worth in contemplating useless thoughts. It's still far into the future. You'll think about it then. However, there is one thing you hope for when the time comes. You hope that you won't end up like the tyrant of crushed hopes and bruised egos that are your parents. Pushing their high and mighty ideals onto you as if they're doing some sort of noblesse oblige. They're the ones who made you like this. And you pray to the gods you were forced to believe in that your child would never end up like you.
A being floating aimlessly through life. Living in a constant lull. Just accepting the waves as they come. Not bothering to swim or surfacing. Complacent.
"Hello! What would you like today?"
The voice of the cashier wrenches you out of your short stupor. The sounds of the airport coming back to you in full force. As if the water was gone from your ears. You shake your head subtly. You should be paying more attention to your surroundings. It seems as if you've been on auto-pilot for the past five minutes. Minjoo doesn't seem to have noticed your absence. That's good.
"I'll take an iced caramel macchiato. Tall and decaf please."
While she orders you take a moment to look at the menu. You feel like changing things up from your usual black tea. Not that you had drunk a lot of it. But you're feeling like trying something different today. A bit unusual for you to feel this way—very unusual actually—yet you don't mind this change. You think it might have something to do with the girl next to you.
"Green tea lemonade," you say once you've decided. "Grande."
"Okay, one tall iced caramel macchiato, and one grande Green tea lemonade. Under whose name would it be?” She smiles as she holds the cup and black marker ready.
"Chaewon," you quickly say.
"Ms. Chaewon, is it? Understood. Would you like to order anything else from the menu?” She asks while writing on the plastic cup. "The ham and cheese sandwich is particularly popular here."
"No, thanks," you refuse her.
"Alright, that'll be eleven thousand and three hundred won." You take out money from your wallet and hand it out to him. All before Minjoo could react. "Thank you! Your drinks will be ready in a moment. You can take it from that counter. Have a good morning!"
You nod at him before walking away to the pickup counter. You put a five hundred won coin into the tipping jar as you pass it. Minjoo quickly moves to walk next to you. A slight pout on her lips. She complains about paying for her own drink and you just shrug back at her. You smile as she keeps complaining—whining really. It's amusing. A bit endearing too.
"You could've used that money for yourself," she reasons with a frown.
"I wanted to treat you."
"But I'm the one who spilled coffee on you earlier."
“And you already gave me your hoodie," you say as you lightly wave your hand. Showing the green hoodie off by doing so. The overhang from it swaying left and right. For once, an easy smile comes to your lips. "We're even."
"It's not really even if you're—"
"Just take it, Minjoo." You roll your eyes playfully at her.
She squints her eyes at you.
"Fine, but only cause you're cute."
"And so, I've heard."
You laugh softly, and your ears burn a rosy pink. Getting used to her nonchalant and unconscious flirting should be your first priority. Otherwise, your heart would be running a marathon at every single thing she says. Which is not exactly what you call ideal. Not when you know that this will probably the first and last encounter you'll have with her anyway. Or maybe not? It doesn't have to be. Perhaps you should ask for her number. You like talking to her and she seems to like talking with you too. It wouldn't be weird if you did, right?
When the hand ticks it's last tock for this encounter, you'll ask her.
Picking up your drinks, you both decide to walk around the airport instead of sitting down on one of the tables. Minjoo talks your ear off about anything and everything. You learn a few more tidbits about herself. How she prefers coffee over tea but always buys decaf. Preferring the hot over the cold. Liking amusement parks but always getting scared of the rides. A hopeless romantic who hasn't had a girlfriend in years. You doubt the last one because of how much of a big flirt she is. A clumsy flirt, but a flirt regardless. She has to at least have some admirers.
But how do you know all of this within an hour? Well, the girl never stops talking. If you were amazed earlier, your mind is blown right now. How does she never run out of things to say? Does she have a database inside her mind for conversation topics?
You just walk quietly beside her and sip on your iced tea. Honestly, you really like hearing her talk. Her voice is nice, and surprisingly, you're not bored with listening. She makes things sound so much more interesting that you can't help but listen. Her eyes lit up in a certain way whenever she talks about things she likes. Her facial expressions changing so quickly that it's almost hilarious if not cute. You haven't said a word in ten minutes, but it's fine. You're having fun.
It's no wonder she could already have you enamored within minutes.
"Which is why I now carry a band aid with me everywhere. You can't be too cautious. Who knows when a stray thumbtack would appear? I've learned my lesson. Plus! It helps with my job too. The kids would often get injured and, um, and... yeah."
You raise an eyebrow at her when she quiets down. She looks down at her coffee and her left-hand fidgeting. Closing and opening again. She's nervous. Why?
"Um, you probably don't care about any of this." An awkward laugh comes out of her mouth. "I've been rambling for a while now, and I, uh, I should probably, um, you know, shut up."
You frown. Why would she think that? On the contrary, you would love for her to keep talking. There's a sense of comfort and ease in you when you hear her voice. It's soothing. Other noises tend to dim and hers amplified. Like your body is telling you to pay attention to her. Only her. And just like you said before, it's interesting. She's interesting. It's fine.
You tell her just that.
"It's fine." You give her a small smile. "I like it when you talk."
"You do?” She stops in her tracks and looks at you with wide eyes. As if you had done something unthinkable. You notice her shoulders are a bit tense. Hm, would it be too much if you touched her a bit? Well, whatever. You pull up the sleeves and touch her arm lightly. An effort to make her relax. You hope it works.
"Yeah," you look into her eyes hoping it would convey your sincerity. You wonder how many people told her to shut up. Rude. They clearly don't know how charming her voice can be.
"Why?” She steps a bit closer to you, and suddenly, you can smell the jasmine even stronger. Then again, jasmine had been ubiquitous ever since you put on her hoodie.
The sound of people chatting, children's laughter, and complaints from grumpy old people fade even more into the background. Only being able to faintly hear it. Why are you so affected by her? You've only met her for an hour. It's borderline crazy.
(You don't know whether you like having to look up to see her or hate it with a passion. You'll reserve that judgment for the future.)
"It's fun.” Somewhere deep in you tells you that you're wrong. It's not just fun. It's something more than that, but you can't put your finger on it. What is it? You settle on this answer for now. "You're very entertaining."
"I—I am? Are you sure you're not mistaking your feelings of deep annoyance as something else?"
You chuckle at that before shaking your head.
"No, definitely not."
"Oh." A smile slowly blooms on her face. Her eyes turning into crescents. Her lips stretching to a big wide grin. You chuckle a bit. She kind of looks like a bit of an idiot. But it's cute.
You wonder if the constricting feeling in your chest is from your usual dissatisfaction with life or something else. It must be something else. Otherwise, why does it feel so sweet in the back of your tongue? You feel the water in your lungs decreasing a bit and being replaced. Curiously, it's not air. There's only a small amount of them, but you can feel it. It's petals. Your lungs have flower petals in them, and somehow, a sense of dread spreads all over. You were already reluctant to breathe in air, and now, you're expected to breathe with flower petals? That's crazy. At least, with air, you more or less know what to expect. But what about flowers? You don't know anything about flowers.
You're scared you're going to suffocate.
"But, um," but then her voice comes through clearly through the water. She looks at you a bit meekly. "what about you? We've only been talking about me. I want to know about you too."
You push the dread down, down, and down. Pushing it back into the recesses of your mind. You don't need to have an existential crisis in the middle of your conversation with her. You force yourself to relax—not that hard considering the smell of jasmine around you—and you both start walking again.
"I'm not that interesting." You shrug. "I wake up. I work. I eat. I work. And I sleep."
"If you think about it like that, then I'm the same. Come on, you're definitely more than that.” She bumps her shoulder against yours lightly. An easy grin on her lips. More than that, huh? You severely doubt that. "What about your flight? Where are you going?"
"London," you tell her while looking around the hallway. Your mood sours. Reminded of your eventual need to board the flying death trap. "A business trip for a project."
"You don't look too happy about that," she remarks noticing your lack of enthusiasm. Not that you have that much in the first place.
"No, I'm not." You sigh.
"Then let's talk about something else," she cheerfully suggests. You look back at her and there's a soft smile on her face. "What makes you happy?"
Somehow, just somehow, you swear that you heard Eunbi's voice when she said that. Your mind flashes back to that evening in mid-August. You feel like you could still smell lavenders in the air, and the citrus still in the back of your tongue. The ghost of a ring hanging heavy on your finger.
"I don't know." You instinctively say. Your hands moving to touch your neck. But then you make your mind slow down. Look around. You're at the airport. Not your room. You're talking to Minjoo. Not Eunbi. You take a deep breath and shrug again. "I guess pizza makes me happy."
"Pizza?” She looks at you amused. "Really?"
"Yeah, they're tasty."
"And you looked so elegant too when I first saw you. All white shirts and power heels. Never thought you would name pizza as something that makes you happy.” She laughs and you laugh lightly. You see how stupid it sounds in retrospect. "Shouldn't have judged from first impressions."
You would say the same for her.
"Don't get me wrong. While I like those fast-food pizzas just fine, I'm talking about the true Italian pizzas.” She snorts at what you said.
"A true Italian pizza? Pretentious much?” She teases you.
"Oh please, I don't even need to impress you. You're already smitten," you shoot back at her. A blush creeps up her neck, and you laugh.
"Pft, no, I'm not!” She tries to deny, but you remind her of her past remarks.
"Says the person who kept talking how pretty I was while gay panicking." You give her a teasing and amused smile at her.
"That was—I wasn't—You were—I just—" she sputters. Her hands fidgeting by her sides. You grab one of her hands. Is it weird that you're already comfortable touching her? Well, whatever. It makes it easier to breathe anyway. Now, if only those damned flower petals would stop appearing.
"Relax." You grin at her. "I'm teasing you."
She huffs. Eyes avoiding your own, yet her hand grips yours back.
"You can't blame me. You're really pretty," she sulkily admits with a pout.
"Thanks." You tug on her hand so that she would look at you. Once your eyes meet hers, you tilt your head slightly to the side. "You're really cute too."
She brings the back of her hand to her mouth, covering it. Her cheeks still flaring intensely with a heavy blush.
"This—this is unfair," she complains.
"Good afternoon passengers. This is the pre-boarding announcement for flight KE633 to Bali." The announcement resounds loudly and clearly despite the busy hallways. Both of you looking up to the speakers closest to you. "We are now inviting the passengers with small children, and any passengers requiring special assistance, to begin boarding at this time. Please have your boarding pass and identification ready. Regular boarding will begin in approximately twenty minutes. Thank you."
"Oh, uh," she looks back at you and smiles a bit apologetically. You're not sure if the disappointment in her eyes is real or if you're just imagining things. "that's my flight."
"Already?" You didn't want to part with her so soon.
"Sorry.” She smiles a bit. "I was having fun talking to you."
"Yeah, me too." You return her smile. Your hand coming up to your neck nervously. Should you do it? Would she be creeped out? She shouldn't be though. It's not like you're asking something weird. Ah, whatever. You're gonna do it. You want to spend more time with her. "Hey, can I walk you there?"
"Sure." Her eyes light up, and you want to believe that she doesn't want to leave you as much as you do.
The walk there was short. Way too short. But she makes the most out of it. Asking you as many questions as she can about you. While you don't think you're particularly that interesting, she seems to severely disagree with you on that. Listening to your every word like all of it was the most important thing to her at the moment. She continues to be more and more endearing. You also don't miss how her hands haven't left yours.
You don't forget to ask for her number on the way there too. She seems almost excited to give it to you. Exchanging promises of contacting each other in the meanwhile. You would be a fool to not do so.
"So, I guess this is... goodbye?” She asks you a bit unsurely. You could say a lot of things. But none of them really sounds right. So, you settle for something simple.
"Does that mean I'll see you again?” She asks you.
"You will." You give her a reassuring smile.
"Promise?” She holds out her pinky finger to you, and you can't help but chuckle. A cheeky grin on her face.
"Promise." You link your finger with hers. She looks straight to your eyes. A soft look in them. She often gave those same eyes to you in the hour you've been together. You feel like you should know what it means. But even after an hour with her, you still don't have a clue.
You don't remember if you said anything back or not. But you clearly remember watching her walk away from you. Your mind fogging up with memories of an older time. Minjoo's words ringing loudly in your ear, yet her voice overlaps another one. A lighter and more mature one. You know you're going to see Minjoo again. You both promised each other after all. You should feel excited about the future. Yet why is it that you can only feel regret flowing through your veins? The back of your tongue tasting the bitter taste of iron and medicine.
Your mind irrationally screaming at you. For you to chase after her. To do it. Just do it! Chase after her for fuck's sake!
But you can't. Your legs freezing in place. God damn it, Chaewon! Snap out of it! She's not her. She's not Eunbi. You sigh. What are you doing? Vicariously living through people is one thing, but this? Projecting her into Minjoo? You need to get your head straight. You look at her one last time.
You walk away.
The skies above are still grey. It should start raining soon. You hope it won't be a storm. You don't think you could handle flying in a storm. The amount of turbulence would be enough to make you cry. You're not ashamed to admit it. You swear that these flying deathtraps are going to be the death of you one day. That is if you don't die by your cousin's hand first.
But it's not like you were being irresponsible or anything. Hyewon is more than capable to handle the team anyway. Plus, you already told your personal assistant about your plans. Which is why you can worry about the airplane crashing in peace while you sit in your business class seat. You don't really think that's how the word 'peace' works, but your mind is spinning too much for you to care about that right now.
“Ladies and gentlemen, all cellular telephones and other portable electronic devices, such as CD players and laptop computers, must be turned off and stowed for departure. Thank you.”
God damn it, Lady. You're trying to panic in peace and she's out there giving out announcements that you don't need. You already turned your phone after calling your PA. Wait, doesn't that mean that you're another step closer from the plane flying off? Maybe you shouldn't have turned off your phone? Ugh, what the fuck are you even thinking about? You feel your heart rapidly beating, and oh no, the water is getting murkier and murkier by the second. Sweat quickly forms on your neck, and you don't think you're making any sense right now.
A cool hand holds your own. You grip it as tightly as you can. Sorry stranger, but you're going to need as much comfort as you can. Oh god, you can feel your stomach twisting and turning sickly. The water turning into an inky black sludge. Waves of it crashing violently and coating your insides with black ink. Bubbling up and up and up and—
"Hey, you okay? You're kinda crushing my hand right now." Oh, right. She's here with you. You forgot about that between the black bile rising up in your stomach and the spinning of your head.
"Oh, yeah, just fucking rainbows and sprinkles over here, Minjoo. For fuck's sake, does it look like I'm okay?" You snap back at her, and she just laughs. Rude. Maybe you shouldn't have moved her into business class just to be with you. But then you hear the sound of another announcement from the crew about the departure. They're explaining the safety thingies or whatever—look, you're not really listening, okay? Fucking announcements. But then you feel the plane moving, and oh yeah, fuck that. You thank every possible god out there for being with Minjoo right now. You're fucking glad.
Plus, you're also just grateful you could get into the same plane as her.
You were in the middle of walking away from her when the thought comes to you. It stops you in your step and makes you think. If she's not her, then isn't that why you should chase after her in the first place? Eunbi isn't here, but she is. You could never have another chance with Eunbi again, but you could with her.
Though, even that thought is ridiculous. Logically thinking, you would still have a chance with her even if you leave her here right now. But a voice tells you—a voice that sounds eerily similar to Eunbi's voice. That if you don't follow her now—if you don't take the step now—it would only lead to regret and sleepless nights. And maybe, just maybe, you should stop thinking logically for once.
“I want you to be happy, Chae.”
Impulsive is a word that's never been used to describe you. If anything, you've always been doing things by the book. Always floating with the currents and just accepting where you end up and what you get. Drowning in the safety of being in your own comfort zone. Never surfacing up. Always in the shadows of the sea, and never trying to go into the light. Fearing the light would burn your skin, and the air suffocating your lungs. You think. You always think about whether something is worth getting burned or not. The answer always ends with no.
But then you turn around and you see her. Standing in line for a country you've never heard of. And suddenly, it's like you're filled with twenty-six years of impulsiveness, urging you to follow.
Follow her. Don't let go of her. Not yet. An hour isn't enough. You want more. You need more.
You think too much. Maybe you should stop thinking for a while. Just a tiny while. That's okay, right?
“Do what you want, Chaewon.”
Your legs move.
It's crazy. You know fully well how crazy you are for doing this. Your mind rushing with all sorts of possibilities and outcomes. But, somehow, you care for none of them. You already made the decision to not think logically anyway. You walk to her as if you were in a trance. Your eyes fixed to her. Only one destination in mind. You would have to apologize to Hyewon later, but really, at this moment, you don't care about anything else. Besides didn't Hyewon said you needed a vacation? Time away from work with absolutely no worries? This is it, isn't it? This ridiculous idea is exactly what you need.
You take your phone and quickly dial in a number.
"Hello, Ms. Kim?"
"Baekho," you quickly greet your personal assistant. "Cancel my flight to London now."
"Is there something wrong?" His worried voice coming through the phone. You quickly dismiss his worries.
"No. I just decided I needed a vacation. Book a flight to Bali. Preferably the latest one right now."
"You can even use our connections with Korean Air, Baekho. I don't care just do it." You quickly say. You're aware you're pushing him, but you want that flight now.
"I understand," he quickly says. "I will quickly make the calls."
"Thank you, Baekho. And tell HR I'm going on a vacation for a month."
"Certainly. Would that be all, Ms. Kim?"
"Also, you'll be getting a bonus at the end of this month." The least you could do for troubling him about this.
"Tha—Thank you! I'll be sure to get the nearest flight for you, Ms. Kim!" And with that, you hang up your phone.
You walk the last few steps and tap her shoulder. A surprised look on her face. Well, you can't blame her. You just said your goodbyes a few minutes ago.
"Hey," you call out to her. A small grin on your face.
"Chaewon?” She smiles at you. All while looking mildly confused. You chuckle a bit. "What's up? Did you forget something or...?"
"I didn't. But, um," you rub your neck nervously. You haven't really thought out this far yet. Then again, you didn't really think in the first place when you decided to do this. What do you say to her? 'I wanted to be with you so here I am'? If you want to commit social suicide, then sure. She'll definitely fling herself at you the moment you say that. Being creeped out? No, she would never!
Okay, sarcasm aside, you really do need a plausible excuse for whatever it is you're doing. Come on, think, Kim Chaewon.
"My flight got canceled." More like you canceled your flight, but eh, she doesn't need to know that. You feel a bit bad for lying to her, but it's way better than looking like a crazy woman.
"Oh, wow, that sucks.” She frowns, feeling bad for you. On the other hand, you don't feel any speck of remorse in this situation. Not one bit. "What're you going to do?"
"Normally, I would book another flight to London. But..."
"But?" Curiosity bubbling behind her eyes.
"I'm feeling a bit impulsive today." You grin at her. You're telling the truth and nothing but the truth though here. For some reason, you have been really impulsive today. First, you had asked her to get coffee with you. And now, you're doing this. She makes you more impulsive, and you think the petals she put in your lungs have something to do with it. "I'm going to Bali with you instead."
You wince subtly at the slip-up, but she doesn't seem to mind. Rather, she seems to be quite happy about it if you're judging by the way her eyes light up. The way a smile slowly makes it into her lips. From the corner of your eye, you see her hand opening and closing again. As if excitement is bubbling quickly within her and she's trying her best to contain it.
"Really." You nod. "If you don't mind, I was thinking of spending my vacation with you."
"I don't mind!” She quickly exclaims. Only to get embarrassed and cover her mouth with the back of her hand. A slight blush on her. "I—I mean, yeah, I, uh, I don't mind. I'm going to be traveling alone anyway. I wouldn't mind the extra company."
"That's great." You giggle softly. You can't tell if she's really excited that you're coming with her or if her mouth really blurts out everything in her mind. You think it might be a combination of both. At least, you hope for it to be. You slightly tilt your head to the side. "What hotel are you going to be staying at? Might as well get the same one."
"It's, um, it's at Mercure Hotel," she quickly says. You nod, and before you could ask more about it, your phone rings with a call from your PA. You look at her apologetically, but she reassures you that it's fine.
"Hello? Ms. Kim?"
"Yes, Baekho. Did you get my flight yet?" You say as you cross your arms nonchalantly.
"I have. The earliest flight available for you is currently in the process of boarding. Flight KE633. A business class seat with Korean Air," he informs you.
"Flight KE633 you say?" You raise an eyebrow. Isn't that Minjoo's flight? You see her looking at you very attentively. You cover your phone with your hand and ask her in a quiet voice. "Your flight?"
She quickly nods up and down. You chuckle a bit before going back to your conversation with Baekho.
"Yes, Ms. Kim. If you tell me where you are, I could get a crew to come and get you."
"I'm already standing near the boarding line. I'm also wearing a plain dark green hoodie."
"I understand." You hear him talking with someone else in the background. Detailing what you look like and where you are. Most likely to the crew. "They'll arrive there shortly. Have a good flight, Ms. Kim."
"Oh, and Baekho? One more thing." You look at her and grin.
"Yes, Ms. Kim?"
"Search for a Kim Minjoo in the passenger list.” She looks at you confused. "Upgrade her to Business class. I want her next to me."
Her eyes widen comically, and you have to stop yourself from laughing out loud. She starts complaining quietly about how you shouldn't have and that it wasn't necessary. How you should save your money for more important things. Her hands lightly slapping your shoulder over and over again. You ignore all of it.
"Certainly." You hear him typing in the background. And then he asks you a bit unsurely. "Um, is—is she the reason for your sudden vacation?"
"She is." You chuckle when you see her pouting and glaring at you.
"I see. Then I hope you have a great vacation, Ms. Kim." He pauses for a while, a bit hesitant, before speaking again. His voice filled with relief? You're not too sure. "You deserve it, Ms. Kim."
You smile at that.
"Would there be anything else? Your hotel?" He asks you eagerly.
"No, that won't be necessary for now. I'll call you again later when I need you."
"Alright. I wish you a safe flight, Ms. Kim."
"But seriously though. You okay?"
"No, I'm not." You had gripped her hand all throughout the lift, and now even in the air, you're still doing it. Heck, you're holding it even tighter. Closing your eyes, the sound of a baby crying comes to your ears. Yeah, you know the feeling, Kid. "I don't really like flying."
"Scared we might fall?" You nod and open your eyes. Looking back to her, there's a small smile on her face. There it is again. A glint in her eyes that you can't describe.
"These things are flying death traps and you can't convince me otherwise." You grumble and her smile widens. What is she thinking in her head? If she's thinking anything close to 'cute' and 'you' within the same context, then you're going to hit her.
Lightly, of course. Because you're not cruel like that.
"Statistically speaking, an accident happening on an aircraft is only one in a million."
"And millions of planes are flying every week. What's to say I'm not boarding the one," you retort quickly and she laughs again. "I'll have you know that this is a serious issue and I will not let you and your—"
She tries to take away her hand, but you stubbornly hold it back. You don't know if you're being rude, but you don't really care about that right now.
"Chaewon, I need my hand.” She chuckles, and you just shake your head stubbornly. Cause fuck no. You need her hand. "Just trust me."
You've only met her for an hour—you guess it would be three now—and she thinks you already trust her? Well, god damn it, she's fucking right. Call yourself crazy, but you trust her with your life. Albeit, you might not be in your right mind right now. But whatever, you trust her. So, you let go of her hand. Slowly. Very slowly. While you might trust her, you're still scared out of your wits. Actually, never mind, can we go back to hand-holding? Please? You felt way safer then than now. This is torture. Can Minjoo hold your hand again? Please? Pretty please? Pretty, pretty please? Oh, God, did the plane just shake a bit? Your chest constricting painfully, and it feels like you're suffocating. For fuck's sake, Minjoo please just hold—
But then she tugs you closer. Her right hand securely holding onto your waist. The warmth of her body next to yours. The feeling of her chest moving softly up and down. Her hair tickling the back of your neck. With your face tucked between her neck, you could only smell jasmine, jasmine, and jasmine. Somehow, it keeps the black ink from taking over you. Your chest feels a lot lighter, and you can breathe again. Slowly, your hands come to grip the front of her shirt. The black bile slowly going back down. Your mind slows down, and the murky waters clear. Your breathing calms.
"Better?" Her voice like a calming moonlight in the dark. You cling onto it like a lifeline. You nod weakly.
Apparently, she had pulled up the armrest between both of you so she could get a better hold of you. Okay, yeah, maybe her doing that and not holding your hand for a while was worth it. Because this is definitely better than just holding hands. If your mind was a bit clearer, you would've registered the fact that you're effectively cuddling with her. But right now, you're just enjoying your blissful ignorance. No need for gay panic right now.
You snuggle further into her.
"You're really cute right now.” She giggles softly. "Like a tiny kitty."
You huff and pinch her side. She yelps in surprise. Good. She deserves it for calling you that. But then she starts laughing, and you don't know whether to pinch her again or just plain punch her in the stomach. You're leaning towards the latter.
"I'm not tiny," you hiss quietly instead. You're not that scared anymore, but you still feel a bit sick. "You're just freakishly tall."
"Actually, I'm just average—ow!“ You pinch her again. Harder this time. But to your annoyance, she laughs again. "Tiny whiny kitty."
"I swear to god. Once we get out of this airplane, you are so dead, Kim Minjoo," you threaten her. You try to inject venom into every word you spit out. It doesn't work.
"Full name? I'm honored, Kitty."
"I will fucking kill—" Oh, God. The moment you feel another turbulence, you immediately shut up in the middle of your sentence.
A fucking storm. It just had to be a storm, didn't it? Your hands gripping onto her shirt even tighter. Pushing yourself even closer to her. At this point, you're not sure if you're even sitting on your seat anymore. But do you care? Nope. Oh, no, you can feel the black bile coming back up again. Creeping up your stomach little by little. Mother nature was disagreeing with you this morning, but now, it seems like she hates you.
"Hey, it's okay." Her thumb soothingly drawing circles on your side. You feel her chin resting on your head.
You faintly wonder if she's fine with you being so close to her. Your face practically squished into her neck, and you're pretty sure you're taking at least half of her seat. But she's the one who pulled you closer, so, it should be fine, right? Maybe you should give her a proper apology when the plane lands.
"Is it always this bad?"
"No," your voice muffled by her neck. "there's a fucking storm and I never fly when there's a storm. Cause fuck that shit. Also, I usually have a pill for this but I fucking forgot it."
"Is that what you were looking for earlier?” She asks referring to your frantic searching in your bag earlier.
"Yes." Thunder deafeningly roars, and oh, god. Oh, god. When will this torture end?
"Anything I can do to help?” She gently asks. She's already helping you so much by letting you cling to her like this. You don't know what else she can do to help if you're being honest.
"You're already helping." You try to focus on her voice, the warmth of her body, and the soft touch of her hand. Block everything else but her. You gradually soften your grip on her shirt, and you circle your arms around her waist instead.
"But still." You wonder if the ache in her voice was only your imagination or not.
Moments pass by and you flinch every time you hear thunder. A flight attendant had come by earlier. Asking if you were okay or something along those lines. You think Minjoo said something back to her, but you weren't really paying attention to her words. Only feeling the vibrations from her chest as she speaks.
You try to remember how long the flight would take. How long your torture would last. As far as you remember, this is a direct flight without any layovers. Okay, so, how long? Ugh, how is it that you can't remember? Didn't the captain say it a while ago? Then again, you were too busy panicking back then. You pray to god it wouldn't be too long.
"Hey, Minjoo," you softly call out to her.
"How long is this flight?"
"Around eight hours with the delay. Why?"
Oh, for fuck's sake. Really? Eight whole fucking hours? In this fucking death trap? Is it bad that you're hoping that you'll pass out somewhere along the way?
"You can sleep," she chuckles. Apparently, you had said your thoughts out loud. "But please don't pass out."
"You can't fucking stop me, Minjoo. Passing out would be a sweet release from this nightmare."
"Alright, how about this?" You feel her adjusting herself below you. "I can blabber my mouth, and you can fall asleep while getting bored of my stories."
"Jokes on you. You're fucking interesting so—hah! It won't work."
"Do you become a potty mouth every time you're like this?"
"Only on Fridays." You've calmed down enough to make jokes. You've successfully drowned out the rest of the noise beside her. Not hearing the thunder really helps. Now, if only the occasional turbulence would stop too. Well, it had stopped a while ago, but who knows? It might come back.
You feel her laugh more than actually hearing it. The sound of it bringing another wave of calmness into you. Pushing the black bile even further back down. Turning the black ink back into plain old water. Okay, water is fine. You like it when the water's there instead. Surprisingly—or unsurprisingly—the petals in your lungs also help in calming you.
"So, do you want to hear me talk or not, Princess? Didn't you say you liked to hear me talk?" You don't even try to push down the blush bubbling up to your ears. Not like she can see it anyway. But you wonder a bit. Does she have a thing with nicknames? First, it was Kitty, and now, it's Princess. While you don't really mind the latter, you're definitely going to punch her stomach the moment she says the former.
(You won't ever admit it. The fact that you actually like both nicknames. Never. You would never admit it even if someone points a gun at your head.)
You nod, and immediately, she goes on to talk about everything and anything that comes into her mind. From more stories about the kids that she teaches to comments about the other passengers aboard. She tells another story about Yeojin. Her favorite student in the kindergarten. She talks about how she's not supposed to have a favorite child but how she can't help loving that kid at the same time.
Her voice. Her scent. Everything about her. All of it just calms you down even more. You don't think you're aware of anything else but her now. You listen to her every word with your eyes closed. If you were to take out the fact that you're on a flying death trap while a storm is raging outside, this is actually isn't too bad. Far from it. You feel more petals appearing in your lungs. At this point, you think it had become a whole flower. Back in the airport, you had dreaded their existence in your lungs. But now, you're not too sure about that. They had helped you breathe too earlier.
Maybe the flowers aren't too bad after all.
Turns out, you did end up sleeping on the plane after a while. Minjoo had made you feel so comfortable that she had actually managed to lull you to sleep. You don't know how the hell she did it. Airplanes are the bane of your existence. Being on one is the same as being in hell for you. Kim Chaewon does not get comfortable in an airplane. Much less to the point of making you sleep peacefully. But Kim Minjoo somehow managed to do it and you have half a mind to think that she used some sort of magic.
Of course, you know better than that. But it amazes you nonetheless.
For the most part, you had stayed asleep for most of the flight. Only waking up a few times in the middle of it, and every time, you would be greeted with the smell of jasmine and a soft voice.
"Sleep, Chae." You would often hear her say. A gentle tone to it. You wonder when she made that nickname too. "I'll wake you up when we get there."
And so, you do just that.
You dream of a small apartment and a place filled with the scent of home. You dream of a nonexistent place. You dream of a place you long for. You dream of home.
The first thing you did after landing at Bali was getting the fuck out of that flying death trap. Thanks for getting you all the way out here, but you don't need to spend more time than necessary in there. Granted you couldn't just tackle everyone out of your way. So, you just settle for the ever so effective tapping-your-shoes-impatiently-while-glaring-at-the-person-in-front-of-you tactic. Though, on second thought, you might've elbowed a few people on the way out.
We don't pay attention to that.
You both quickly go through customs and baggage claim. Well, as fast as they can process your documents that is. But you suppose that's fine. You're not in a hurry anyway.
When you finally step out of the airport and into the foreign air, you feel a bit weird. You can't really describe it well. It's freeing, yet somehow, you feel bittersweet at the same time. You wonder why. Looking up at the sky, you notice how dark it's gotten. The sunset here is a bit different. A bit more melancholic you think. Maybe it's because of the atmosphere. Maybe it's because you're still standing in limbo. Or maybe it's just you.
People walking in their own time behind you. Faces foreign and unfamiliar. You put your hands into your pocket and breathe.
"Now, we go to the hotel I booked," she says next to you. Apparently, you had said that aloud. You feel your ears getting warm. Turning towards her, you're greeted by her stupidly endearing grin.
"That's the one.” She takes out her phone. Most likely to pull up its address. A second later she looks up. An excited glint in her eyes. "Come on. Let's go find a taxi, Princess."
You nod, and before long, both of you are in a taxi on your way to the hotel. The drive is relatively silent. For once, Minjoo isn't talking much. You don't mind though. This is nice too. Silence doesn't always mean it's awkward. If anything, it's really comfortable right now. You look out the car window and to the sunset. You've always loved the sunset. Lots of memories tied with it. The sun and stars being your ever-faithful witness to all the bad and good memories.
Yet despite all the memories, your mind always flashes back to that one particular memory. Always that one.
“What makes you happy, Chaewon?”
Does this make you happy? This whole thing with Minjoo? Maybe. You don't really know yet. You glance to your right hand. The one leaning on the car door. The one in the shadows. The one that you're slowly moving up. Your fingertips on the edge of the shadows. Barely touching the light. You wonder if it's time to leave the shadows.
You snap your attention back to the real world. Back to her.
"Yeah?" You turn to look at her. "What is it?"
"I was just wondering. But do you know anything about the hotel we're going to?” She looks a bit nervous. You glance down. Her left-hand opening and closing again. Why is she nervous?
"Minjoo, I barely know anything about this country besides its name." You give her a small smile. "So, no, not really. Why?"
"Nothing, it's just—um—well, I, uh, I don't know if you'll like it?” She lets out an awkward laugh.
"And why do you say that?" You raise an eyebrow at her.
"Well, you see. This hotel isn't exactly a five-star hotel—not that it's bad or anything like that! From what I've seen of the hotel, it's actually a pretty nice hotel! It is a four-star hotel for a reason. But then again, I only had internet pictures to go off and you know how it goes. Only taking pictures of the nice places and—"
"Hey," you try to hold back the grin from forming on your face. You hold her right hand from gesturing wildly. You lightly squeeze it. "breathe."
She takes a big breath reminiscent of that time in the airport. You chuckle and she holds the back of her hand against her mouth.
"It's okay, you know? I don't mind staying anywhere you picked."
"B—But I picked this hotel on the assumption that I'll be staying there alone—oh my god! I picked the room on the assumption I'll be alone! There won't be any room for both of us to sleep in the same room—wait do you even want to sleep in the same room as me? I know we practically cuddled on the plane but that was because you were having an attack and I didn't really know what else to do so—"
"Minjoo," you give her an amused smile. "what did I say earlier?"
"To breathe?” She squeaks.
You only raise an eyebrow at her. Just like that, she deflates again. Though you notice that her shoulders stay tense. Scooting a bit closer to her, you rest your head on the car seat.
"First of all, no, I don't mind sleeping in the same room as you."
"Second of all, it's okay. Don't stress about it, Joo—can I call you Joo?” She quickly nods her head up and down. It brings another smile to your lips. "Great. Anyway, I would stay anywhere with you. Even a shitty motel is fine for me."
"You're just saying that," she says with a pout. A slight blush to her cheeks.
"I'm not," you reassure her.
"You're gonna be sleeping on a cramped bed that may or may not have good bedding for a month. A full month!” She emphasizes and you just chuckle in response.
"And I'll be spending it in good company."
"I'm not going to win this, am I?” She slumps back into her seat and sighs. You look down at your joined hands. She had intertwined them while you weren't looking. Sneaky woman. You rub the back of her hand with your thumb. Your smile deepens.
There it is again. The flower. You're scared that you're getting a bit too used to it being there. That you're starting to enjoy its presence in your lungs.
"I wasn't aware this was a game in the first place, Miss Kim."
"Hardy har har.” She laughs sarcastically, and it makes you giggle softly.
Then there's a pause. A comfortable one. The low hum of the car's engine, the tires on pavement, the faint murmur of the outside world, and the occasional sound of the car's signal light accompany you. It kind of feels like both of you are in your own bubble. Her hand squeezes yours and you look up.
"I think," she starts softly. "I think I'm a little bit crazy."
"Just—" Another pause. There's that look in her eyes again, and you can't help but wonder again. "Nothing."
"You can't leave me hanging like that."
She doesn't reply again. Only giving you a mysterious smile and those same eyes again. You wonder if you really want the answer behind them. You wonder if the appearance of another flower is a good thing or not. You wonder if you're crazy for wanting to drown in flowers.
You spend the rest of the ride in silence.
When you do get to the hotel, you're faced with rejection and apologies. Apparently, the hotel is fully booked because of some hot-shot politician from some country came to have a vacation with the whole family or something like that. You think it sounds a bit ridiculous and you're about forty percent sure that story is full of bullshit. That doesn't take away the fact there's no room left for you and Minjoo to stay at though.
You're not too bothered by it to be completely honest. You'll just have to find another hotel to book a room at. Or maybe a resort? That doesn't sound half bad either. But you don't think Minjoo would allow you to book a room in a resort though based on her reaction thus far. Hmmm, maybe you could book an Airbnb instead? Not the shitty ones though. You're talking about the good ones. The ones that cost a bit more money. It doesn't cost as much as a resort though. So, Minjoo would probably approve, right?
You need to ask her about that.
Speaking of Minjoo though, you glance at the girl in front of you. Still talking—nay, complaining about the lack of customer service, and wait a second, what did she say? You see while it may be unwillingly but you travel a lot around the world. Additionally, you also went to an international school in your teenage years. Thus, you can confidently say that you understand English pretty well. Fluent even. So, you understand everything that Minjoo is saying to the receptionist in broken English.
"Do you not have eyes? Can you not see this Goddess next to me? Are you saying that you don't have a room for her?” She says incredulously to the woman at the desk.
Uhhh, what the fuck?
"I'm sorry, Ma'am. But the room was originally booked under your name and due to the circumstances—"
"I don't care about your lousy excuses! All I'm saying is that you people have no taste! Because—"
Is—Is Minjoo arguing with them by using your, uh, beauty? You—You have no words. Absolutely none. You don't know if you should be embarrassed or flattered by her. You're leaning on the former right now. You know you said she looked like an idiot when she's grinning, but you didn't know she was like this. Not that it's a bad thing. Actually, never mind. Who are you kidding? This is freaking embarrassing. Can the earth just swallow you whole right now? Please?
"Minjoo," you meekly call out to her.
"Not now, Princess. They clearly have no eyes and I'm determined to make them—"
You know? You thought that you were the weird one for being attracted to someone a lot in the span of a day, but Kim Minjoo is clearly determined to win that title away from you. A red-hot blush creeps up your neck and ears. My god, must she use that nickname in public too? Not that anyone would understand since you are speaking Korean to each other, but you do! And that's more than enough to make you feel flustered.
"Kim Minjoo." Grabbing her shoulder, you hiss to her. A stabbing glare in your eyes, yet the rosiness of your ears takes any sort of edge away. "We are leaving. Now."
She deflates and pouts like a sulky little puppy. Gritting your teeth, you apologize to the receptionist and drag her the fuck out of there. With your luggage in one hand and one Kim Minjoo in the other, you leave that hotel as fast as you can.
In the end, you did end up staying at an Airbnb. You got lucky and found one by the beachside—or more like, you got one with its own private beach. Expensive? Of course, it was. But Minjoo doesn't need to know that. At the very least, it was way cheaper than booking a room at a resort. So, you were still saving money. In a way.
She wouldn't let you pay all of it yourself though. So, you let her pay half of the fake amount you told her. Which is actually just twenty-five percent of the actual price. But again, you don't mind.
Regardless, you both now have a place to stay for your month-long vacation. Originally, you were supposed to room together with her because of the room she booked. But now that you're staying at this place, there wasn't a real need to room together anymore. Especially now that there are two separate bedrooms available. Being the gentlewoman you are, you let her take the one with the ocean view and take the other one for yourself.
She hugged you as thanks and you try to ignore the skip in your heart. Damn flowers.
"Hm?" You don't look up from your laptop. Still concentrating on the report your team had sent you to be reviewed. So far so good. But there are still a few things to nitpick. They'll still need to revise some of it. This particular client is a bit picky.
"Where's the milk?" You hear her ask from the kitchen. Her voice muffled by the walls of your apartment.
"Bottom shelf on the door. The second one from the left. Where it usually is." You answer loud enough so she could hear you. She only hums in response.
Continuing to read the report, you furrow your eyebrows. Such a small mistake, yet it could have some dire consequences. You'll need to scold your team for this later. It could've cost the whole project. That being said, you won't forget to compliment them too. They did a great job here. Just still a bit clumsy in certain places. You suppose that's why they have you though. To catch all their mistakes before it becomes irreversible.
Another minute into the report and you hear footsteps coming over to you. The door of your office opening behind you. You had smelled her first before seeing her. Lavender. Your favorite scent.
"You didn't find it?" You ask while still typing on your laptop.
"No, I did." You feel a hand on your shoulder and you finally look away from the screen. There she is. The love of your life. Your fiancé. You can't help but smile at her. She gives you a kiss on the cheek. It becomes a little bit easier to breathe when you're breathing in lavender. "But it was empty. I'm gonna go out and buy some more."
"Do you want me to come with you?" You try to stand up, but she just shakes her head.
"No, it's okay. It'll be quick anyway." Leaning forward, she captures your lips into a kiss. You can't help but deepen it a little bit. Hands automatically going to her neck. Pulling her in a bit closer. "I'll see you later, Chae."
"Come back soon."
"I'll only be gone for fifteen minutes.” She chuckles against your lips. And you frown childishly.
"Fifteen minutes too long." You roll your eyes.
"We're getting married in a few months. You're going to be stuck with me forever. I think you can handle me being gone for fifteen minutes.” She gives you another kiss. This one a bit softer. A bit longer. As if she's trying to tell you just how much she loves you. You love her too.
"Can't we just get married tomorrow?"
"And throw all of that planning to waste? No siree. I've wasted too much time picking the right cake for our wedding.” She grins.
You giggle softly at that.
"Alright. Get going then. I want to have cereal tomorrow morning," you joke while pushing her away. "Get to it, Ms. Kwon."
"Aye aye, Mrs. Kwon.” She winks at you while walking away.
"Not yet, Eunbi." You glare at her playfully. "It's still Ms. Kim to you."
"Yet!” She shouts from the living room and you laugh at that. God, you can't express how much you love her. What did you do to be able to marry this woman? You don't think a thousand years of karma would still allow you to marry her. Guess you'll just have to treasure her more then.
Being with Eunbi is like being at the beach. Where sand and the ocean meet each other. You're the ocean and she's everything surrounding you. The sand. The palm trees. The clouds. The air. The air. You could always breathe easy with her. Well, the therapy sessions help too. But you like to think that she plays a more significant role in letting you breathe freely. Words can't express just how grateful you are to her.
Maybe you should order food from her favorite place tonight. You would've cooked her food, but god knows how much you can't cook.
"See ya later, Chae!" And soon enough, you hear the door of the apartment opening and closing.
You go back to your laptop soon after. The report still has some reviewing left to do. You should quickly finish it. Spending the rest of the evening with Eunbi sounds much better than just sitting on your desk doing office work. However, not even ten minutes into it, you get a phone call. An unknown number. That's nothing too odd. You get calls from unknown numbers all the time. Prospective clients needing your services, someone in the office needing your help, HR, or even your boss—because truth to be told you still haven't saved his number. So, you answer your phone without a second thought.
"Ms. Kim Chaewon?" An unfamiliar woman's voice comes through.
"Yes, this is her," you confirm.
"We're from the Hangim Hospital and we're here to call you about your fiance, Kwon Eunbi. She has been in a—"
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
Snapping your eyes open, you immediately turn your head to the offending sound. Oh, it's just your phone. Reaching out to it, you immediately turn off your alarm. You slump back to bed. Tension leaving your body. Rubbing your face, you sigh. God, how long has it been since you last dreamt that? A few months you think. But then again, you never really did forget about it. You close your eyes. That day plays over and over again in your head. It feels like it was just a moment ago that you laughing with her.
You feel the water in your lungs moving around uncomfortably. Restless. Rain pouring down into the turbulent ocean. A sad downcast. You can't breathe again. But you're used to it.
Opening your eyes, you're greeted by an unfamiliar ceiling. What the—you're not in your room. Where the hell—Oh. Right. You forgot about your vacation for a moment. You sigh again. Snap out of it, Kim Chaewon. Stop thinking about it. You need to focus on the present.
Turning to your right, you see out through your window. A tropical forest as far as the eyes can see, and a clear blue sky above it. It's nice you suppose. But you don't really feel like getting out of bed today. Though, you doubt she would let you mope around all day.
It's been two weeks or so since the start of this impromptu vacation with a vacation—although, you don't think Minjoo counts as a stranger anymore. A friend at the very least, and a... really close friend at the very most? Now that you think about it, you don't really know how your relationship stands with her. You've never really discussed it and why would you? It seems like an awkward thing to ask someone you've met for only a few weeks. Then again, you've done plenty of crazy things with her at this point. Case in point, the fact that you're even here right now. You don't think you ever want to ask her though. At least, not anytime soon. Hearing the word friend from yourself already feels wrong. You can only guess how you would feel if she says it herself.
You feel like you're getting a bit crazier the more you think about it.
In any case, you've been traveling Bali and experiencing all that it has for the past weeks with her. It was a bit exhausting but in a fun way. You had gotten closer to her by a wide margin during that time. During your visit to the safari, you had learned that she apparently has a thing for tigers. Often telling you how cute they are and how she wanted to touch their soft paws even though she knows that she'll probably get mauled in the process. Yeah, you felt it in the beginning, but she's a unique one. The fourteen-year-old inside of you wants to call her a loser at every chance you get so badly. You manage to hold it most of the time, but sometimes, it slips out.
"Hey!” She leans back from the edge of the safari car to look at you. "Excuse you but I'll have you know that tigers are freaking cool!"
"I said what I said." You grin teasingly at her. She glares at you with a pout and it makes you laugh harder. She looks away and watches the tigers instead. Sulking. You stop laughing, but you don't stop smiling her way. Leaning on your hand, you nudge her feet lightly. "You're an adorable loser."
You see a blush creeping up her neck.
"Does that make it better?" Your smile deepens.
She just huffs in response. You snort and shake your head fondly. Looking out the car, you watch the tigers slowly getting farther away. The guide taking both of you to another part of the safari. You wonder what animal you're going to see next.
"You know," she starts quietly. A bit embarrassed. "you're a bit like a tiger."
(You didn't really know how to reply to that. In retrospect, it sounded cringy as heck. But for as horrible as that line was, you remember how warm your ears became.
While visiting Tanah Lot, you talked a bit more about your lives back in Seoul. You told her about your company, and she talked more about the kindergarten. More stories about Yeojin and some gossip about her coworkers. How apparently Yuri—the one who teaches the class next door and one of Minjoo's best friends—just got married to a famous dancer. She mentions the name Choi Yena, and wait a second, isn't that Hyewon's friend? Huh, the world is smaller than you thought. When you told her that, you both transition into talking about your friends.
You told her of the time your cousin had gotten into a literal food coma. Hyewon was so drunk at that time that she had forgotten the fact that she had already eaten a whole pizza. So, she proceeded to order two more pizza and devoured them all by herself. The clean up the next morning wasn't pretty. Not to mention the fact that she had ruined your leather sofa.
She tells you of the time in university with her friends. A story of how she met her other best friend, Wonyoung. She had been lost on her first day of the semester despite having been there for two years. She didn't know where her new class was at, and a kind first year had taught her the way. Minjoo had been so embarrassed by that accident that she avoided Wonyoung for a month every time she saw her on campus. Apparently, they had only gotten closer because Minjoo had tripped in front of her and Wonyoung took her to the infirmary.
“So, you were really clumsy even then."
"I'm not that clumsy."
"You might wanna check that again.”
Somewhere along the way, you had found out where she lives. All the way on the other side of the city. Somehow it brings a tiny frown onto your face when you first heard it. It still does now. And noo, you're not going to move near her when you get back. You might be crazy enough to follow her all the way here. But you're not that crazy.
Might be subject to change though. After all, you can't measure insanity.
However, you did promise her that you would visit her often, and she too made the same promise. You wonder if this means that she likes seeing you as much as you do with her. You'd like to think that it does.
All this time, however, you've never mentioned her. Not even once. Not in passing. You don't think you could handle talking about her. No, not yet. You could barely talk about her to your therapist. Much less to her.
You'll leave that topic for another time. A much later time.
As you thought more of what you and Minjoo did for the last two weeks, you start to feel the water calm down. The lone flower in your lungs helping to soothe the raging ocean. You watch the swaying of leaves outside your window. Taking a deep breath, you wait for the sea to become completely still. You wonder what you're going to do today. You've already gone to most of the tourist spots. Maybe to the beach? Or maybe—
"Princess!" The door to your bedroom swings open. A bright-eyed Kim Minjoo stands there with her white shirt and short jeans. Grinning excitedly. "Let's go to the market today!"
Well, that answers your question.
You turn your body towards her. It's been a few minutes since you've woken up, but you still a bit groggy. Drowsily looking up to her, you just groan in response. You're still not used to how she could be this enthusiastic in the morning. As a night owl, you're baffled by her existence.
"Come on, kitty. Rise and shine.” She walks over to sit on the edge of your bed. You close your eyes again. At this point, you've become used to all the nicknames she has for you. Or rather, you've forced yourself to get used to it.
"It's still nine," you whine.
"You mean it's already nine."
You feel the bed shift under you. You don't bother to open your eyes. But then jasmine takes over all of your senses and the flower can't help but dance in joy. You squint one eye open.
"Does the princess need a wake-up kiss?” She teases while hovering above you, and suddenly, you're filled with two very different wants. On one hand, you want to grab the collar of her shirt and just pull her down. You would kiss her and catch her off guard. On the other end of the spectrum though, you want to punch her stomach so hard that it leaves her reeling on the floor. You don't really know which one you want to do more right now.
So, you settle on doing the more sensible thing.
"Kim Minjoo, I swear to god you will not leave this bed without a mark on your face."
"From your lips?"
"From my hand."
Lightly threatening her with bodily harm.
She immediately pulls away and sits upright. Her hand protectively holding her cheek. She looks at you with horror. You just snort at that. Rolling your eyes playfully.
You don't know what is it with Minjoo nowadays. She's been acting a bit different. Granted you haven't really known her for long. But she's been flirtier. More than usual, and with more purpose too. You don't know when she started doing this. You think it may be some time after the first week. This whole thing had cost you a few restless nights trying to figure out what it means and what brought upon this change, but you've since given up. You're never going to arrive at an answer unless you as her directly, and are you? Hell no.
Whatever. It's not like you hate it or anything anyway. If anything, you actually quite like it.
Sitting up on the bed, you lean on your arm and raise an eyebrow at her.
"Are you supposed to be my prince charming or something?"
"Well, no.” She pouts defeatedly. Only for it to turn into another grin a second after. "I could be one though."
"Uhuh," you try to sound nonchalant, but you can already feel your ears getting hot. Her grin widens and you just know she saw your ears. "try again, loser."
"Challenge accepted, Princess." Her eyes glint mischievously and you ready yourself for whatever nonsense will come out of her mouth.
But then her eyes change, and oh, it's them again. It's those eyes again. Although, it's mixed with something else. She scoots closer and you see her left-hand opening and closing. She comes even closer. If the jasmine wasn't strong enough before, now it's all around you. Filling you from head to toe.
"Can I get a morning hug, Princess?” She grins nervously.
You don't really think you could've refused even if you wanted to. You just let your hands reach out to her and she takes it as a yes from you. Her bigger figure engulfing your tinier frame. Maybe it's because of your oversized sweater, but you feel a bit smaller than usual. You wonder if you could bury your head into her neck. You know you had done it before on the plane here. But that was then. You never really had done that again ever since.
You just settle for resting your forehead on her shoulder. The flower in your lungs dancing happily from the distance—or lack of distance between you two. You think it's a bit easier to breathe right now.
"Does this mean I pass?" Her voice lilting joyfully.
She chuckles in response, and you both feel and hear it. An experience you hadn't felt in a long time. You miss it. You miss it a lot actually. The water in your lungs starts to become rowdy again. God damn it. Can't they just let you enjoy something in peace for once? You hug her a bit tighter. You hope she won't mind, but the jasmine helps. Apparently, she doesn't mind because she too pulls you closer.
You wonder what she could be thinking of right now.
"Hey, Chae?" Her voice, next to your ear. It's soothing you think.
"Are you," she sounds hesitant. What does she want to ask? "Are you okay?"
The question immediately tenses you up. Were you that obvious? You thought you were hiding it just fine though. She couldn't have seen through your facade. Forcing yourself to relax, you try to calm the waves even faster.
"What makes you think I'm not?" You ask her. Your voice coming out quieter than you like.
"I—I dunno. It's just that you seem a bit, um," An unsure pause. "sad."
You don't answer her. You don't know how to answer her. It's complicated and you don't know how to—well, you do. But you don't think you can—it's just really hard and you don't think—you don't think you're ready yet.
"Do you, uh, do you want to talk about it?"
"No," you shake your head. Voice nothing but a whisper. Your hands clutch on her shirt tightly. Knuckles white. "not really."
"Oh, okay.” She hugs you even tighter. "That's okay."
Her hands rub your back comfortingly. Rocking you gently.
You didn't let go of her for a while. You couldn't. While you never shed any tears, a storm still rages on in your chest. Jasmine was the only thing holding the dam back. But once you did let go of her, you couldn't stop the overwhelming guilt that washes over you.
For being sad mostly, but you don't say that. You don't say anything really. You just shrug and look down. Fiddling with the bedsheets in idle guilt as opposed to opening your mouth. Shoulders curling in and head down.
You hear her sigh. A twitch in your fingers.
You don't answer her. You don't look up. Why must you be like this? You're on vacation for goodness sake. It would be a different story if you were alone, but Minjoo's also here. You're ruining her vacation too. God damn it.
"Chaewon, look at me."
You still don't move. Unable to look at the woman in front of you. Guilty. But then a hand cups your face and you're forced to look up. A worried look in her eyes. A sad smile on her lips. Oh no, you can feel the water coming up. Your eyes sting.
"You don't have to be sorry for being sad, Chae."
"You have feelings for a reason. Do you feel guilty when you're happy?" You meekly shake your head. "Then you shouldn't feel guilty when you're sad too. You should feel your feelings, Chaewon."
A pregnant pause.
"Okay," you whisper.
Your hand meets hers.
The market was crowded from the moment you arrived there. People coming and going. Walking to and fro all around you. It makes you a bit dizzy, and honestly, you're afraid that you'll get lost in this sea of people. But then she holds your hand, and suddenly, you're not so afraid anymore.
"Can't have you lost, can we, kitty?"
"I will end you," you threateningly say while sticking closer to her.
"Aw, it's okay, Princess. I'm your prince charming after all." Puffing her chest up, she says it so smugly that you roll your eyes.
"Can I get a refund?"
"No, can do, kitty," she says with a mischievous glint in her eyes. She kisses your hand and what the fuck? Did she—Did she really just do that? In front of this crowd? Granted no one is looking at both of you, but still! Your eyes widen and you can definitely feel your ears getting red hot. "You're stuck with me, Princess."
"Remind me to not follow some random pretty girl from the airport next time." You walk away from that spot. This is getting too embarrassing for you. You can't handle this much cheesiness in the span of a minute. But you don't take your hand back. Hell, no. Why would you do that? You like holding hands with her.
Oh, God. You're starting to sound like a fourteen-year-old.
"Wait, did you just call me pretty?” She asks loudly from behind you. The market is quite noisy.
"I plead the fifth."
“So, you did!"
"I will neither confirm nor deny anything."
Both of you spent the time there looking at all the various wares available in the countless shops there. A maze of intricate patterns, statues, wood, cloth, and silver. Wandering aimlessly through the sea of people. Guided only interest and mindless conversation. Looking at whatever catches your or her eye before going back into the current.
This time around, you both stop at a woodworking shop. Objects of all sorts of things gathered in this shop. All made out of wood. From the hand fan to the intricately carved statues. You see a small pendant of the sun. Made out of light-colored wood. It's pretty. It reminds you of Minjoo. Maybe you should buy it.
You turn to face her and wow. Suddenly, you feel your chest tightening sharply. Yet strangely, it doesn't hurt. A strange mix of lightness and heaviness swirling around in your chest. You subtly take a sharp breath. You knew Minjoo looked pretty—you thought she was a model when you first met after all—but when did she start looking this pretty?
Taking a deep breath, you try to not look as surprised as you feel. You're very well aware of how stupid you sound right now, but it's just different right now. You can't really put your finger on it but it just is. Her soft pink hair swaying lightly in the wind. Eyes excitedly looking at the shop's wares. The smell of jasmine mixes with the other scents of fresh fruits, warm spices, and the musky wood in the market. Yet even amongst all those other scents, jasmine remains dominant. It's almost like your body is telling you to pay attention to the girl in front of you and only her.
You don't deny it.
She looks so much more breathtaking today, and, oh. When did that get here? since when did the lone flower become two? Was it this morning? Or did it happen long before today?
Gripping tightly on your sundress, you look away from her. It would take an idiot to not realize what's happening and you're certainly not one. You know you like her. It's pretty obvious to all parties involved at this point. You also know that she likes you back. Well, at least to a certain extent. Why would she do anything that she does with you if not for that? The flirting, the compliments, the blush on her cheeks, the flirting, and have you mentioned the flirting?
But honestly? You feel scared. A heaviness settling at the bottom of your stomach that scarily feels like dread.
There's only been one other person who ever made you feel this way. A person who you thought would never leave you. It was Eunbi. And look where that got you now.
So, yeah. It's a bit understandable why you would feel scared.
But then she calls out to you.
She calls out to you in that gentle voice of hers and you can only feel jasmine, jasmine, and jasmine. The wave of dread recedes and you don't feel so scared anymore. Whatever. Fuck it. The whole point of this thing with Minjoo is for you to do whatever the hell you want, and so, you're going to do just that. You're going to fling yourself headfirst into this sea of jasmine with no regard for the future and no one is going to stop you. Why? Cause god damn it, this actually makes you feel like you're not drowning for once.
“Do what you want, Chaewon.”
Turning your head towards her, the sight that greets you manages to make your chest even tighter. A big soft smile on her face as she gently calls to you again.
"Princess, look at this.” She grins while holding up a wooden dolphin statue. Patterns intricately carved into it. You have to admit it. It's pretty amazing.
"That's cool." You chuckle.
"Are you gonna buy it?"
"Hmmm," she looks at it some more before putting it down. "no, I don't think so."
"Are we going to buy anything in this market?"
"Maybe?” She grins before looking down at your hand. "Are you going to buy that?"
You look down and see the sun pendant. Oh, right. You forgot about it.
"Yeah, I am."
Soon after that, with most of the stalls visited and nothing else to see, both of you left the market. Even until the end, Minjoo never did end up buying anything.
It was hot there though. The market. With the number of people there and the tropical sun? You were more surprised that neither of you complained about how hot it was. Now, though, you think you could do with something cold and refreshing. And her bright idea for that was to go to an ice cream shop.
You immediately googled the nearest one.
Sadly though, they didn't have mint chocolate flavor. And so, here you are. Standing in front of the menu. Glaring—thinking hard while looking at the menu.
"What do you want?" You hear her ask beside you.
"I don't know. I never really ordered anything besides Mint Choco," you say while glaring—looking at all the ice cream types. "I never realized how many ice cream types there are though."
"Yeah, but you're my type."
"You're not going to stop, are you?" Looking at her smug self, you squint your eyes playfully at her.
"No," she steps a bit closer to you. Her left hand going around your waist. For as smooth as she's being right now, you can still feel her hand fidgeting. Adorable. "I don't think so."
"Hmmm, is that so?" You say seemingly unaffected. But then you lean closer to her and whisper it to her. "Good."
Hah, take that, Kim Minjoo. Get a taste of your own medicine.
"Did you just—"
"Can I have a scoop of matcha please?" You smile at the worker in front of you. You wonder what they're thinking with you and Minjoo like this. If you think about the number of couples that come here—apparently this shop is popular with couples—you feel a bit sorry for acting like this. Good luck, Ice cream server guy. One day, you can get a girlfriend too.
Not that Minjoo is your girlfriend or anything. But she might be? You don't know. You hope though.
"Would you like that in a cup or in a cone?" He smiles amicably at you. Yet somehow, you can just smell the fact that he's single. Again, sorry, ice cream server guy.
"In a cup. Thanks."
He starts serving your ice cream, and you look at Minjoo.
"You're not gonna get one too?"
"I was just thinking of sharing yours." A big stupid grin on her face. Like a loser. A really adorable loser.
"Get your own cup, Kim."
"But I want your cup, Kim," she fires back and what the fuck does that even mean? Okay, you know exactly what it means. But oh my god, you don't know why, but it just sounds so wrong.
You groan and bury your head into her shoulder. She just laughs and kisses your head and what the fuck she just kissed your head. You are going to fucking combust at this point. The flowers are dancing wildly at this point and you can do absolutely nothing to calm them down. Not that you want to do it in the first place.
...for the third time, sorry, ice cream server guy.
"Here's your ice cream, Miss! That'll be forty-five thousand rupiahs." He's still smiling at you but you can just feel the 'oh my god why is this couple doing PDA in front of me' vibes coming off of him.
"Thank you." You quickly take the ice cream and pay him. You pull Minjoo towards the exit too.
"We're not going to stay in here?” She asks you confused. "There's AC though."
"I feel sorry for him," you mutter.
"Let's go to the beach, Joo."
Instead of going to any of the popular beaches, both of you decided to go to the private beach back at the house. Fewer people and there are more trees there to block out the sun. Plus, you kinda want to spend more time with Minjoo. Alone you mean. You're not planning on doing anything. It's just—you don't know—you just do.
Setting down a picnic blanket on the soft sand, you both sit there and talk for hours. Or not talk actually. Silence is good too. Like right now. With Minjoo's head on your lap, you just enjoy the tranquility. Peace. The calmness of the waves. Both the one in front of you and the one in your lungs. Raking your fingers along with her hair.
"You know," her voice softly resounding through the silence. You look down to see her eyes closed. "when I woke up on the morning of July fifth, I didn't expect to be spending a month with you."
"Well, you didn't know me back then, did you?" You smile softly at her. "I still remember the coffee thing."
"Ugh, do we have to talk about that embarrassing incident?” She whines and you giggle softly.
"No, but for the record," you stop stroking her hair and she opens her eyes. "you were adorable back then."
"Wha—How is me spilling coffee on you adorable?” She sits up before twisting her body to look at you. A pout on her lips.
"You were stuttering."
"And that's adorable to you?"
"Pretty much." You reach out to stroke her hair again. You like her ridiculous pink hair. Despite the bleaching, it still manages to be soft and fluffy. She leans into your touch. Oh, you feel a few new petals in your lungs. You wonder if you're going to have a third flower in your lungs soon.
"I disagree with that.” She moves a bit closer. Her hands resting beside your thighs.
"Mhm," she leans forward. Jasmine overwhelms your senses and you don't think you can think straight. Hands circling her shoulder. "I think you were way cuter."
"What—" she leans even closer. Her breath on your lips. "What were we talking about again?"
"Does it matter?" Her eyes looking down, and your heart rate speeding up.
"I suppose not." Your voice nothing but a whisper against her lips. She hums before finally kissing you, and it feels oh, so warm. Never mind the third flower, she grew a bouquet in your lungs. Honestly, you won't really mind if she grew a whole meadow in your lungs.
It's warm and it feels like she put the whole sun in your chest but you don't mind any of it. It doesn't hurt. You're starting to think that Minjoo could never hurt you. You know you've only known her for a few weeks. You know how crazy you sound. After all, you don't know how things will go in the long run, but you think you're willing to find out.
When she pulls away, you see them again. Those eyes again. Now, you're starting to understand what they mean. The flowers jumping in hope and excitement.
"Can I kiss you again?” She asks you suddenly and you can't help but laugh.
"You already kissed me and now you're asking for permission?" Playfully raising your eyebrow at her.
"I—Well—It—It was in the spur of the moment!” She stutters.
“See." You pull her in close again. Her hand moving to hold your waist. "I told you your stuttering is cute."
"It's not though!"
"Do you want your kiss or not?"
So, you kiss her, and she kisses you, and honestly, you don't think you can count the amount of kisses you both had that afternoon. You just know that you'll remember that day forever.
The kisses and the flowers she grew in your lungs.
"I don't think I have one," you suddenly say.
"What?" Her voice sounding from next to your ear. She had positioned herself behind you. Embracing you from behind while you sit between her legs.
"A type," you say reminiscent of the time at the ice cream shop.
"You're so different from her." You look at the sand beside your feet.
"Eunbi." Her name slips out of your mouth so naturally that it almost didn't hurt. Almost.
She looks at you confused. Of course, she is. You've never mentioned her before now.
"Who is she?"
“She," you let out a sad smile. Eyes cast down. Rain appears in your lungs. "she was my fiancé."
A pause. You don't look up from the sand. Fingers burying themselves into the soft warm sand. You miss her.
You wonder what kind of expression Minjoo is making right now. You don't dare to look.
"Let's go back."
The walk back is silent. Neither of you saying anything. Letting the soft sound of waves and distance birds filling the silence between you two. She holds your hand tightly. Almost as if she's afraid. Afraid that you would just float away. Slipping right through her fingers. That's not true though. Why would you want to leave her? You walk a bit closer to her. The back of her hand caressed by your thumb. You kiss her again, and again, and again. Until she smiles that big goofy smile of hers.
You're not going anywhere.
So, please don't leave too, Minjoo.
Later that night, you sit on the terrace alone. Sitting on the steps of the stairs. Doing nothing but watch the endless ocean in front of you. Despite the water in your lungs, looking at the sea has always been comforting to you. A bit ironic you think, but true nonetheless.
Your mind wanders. You think of Minjoo. You think about your friends. You think about everything you've done so far. You think of her. You notice how it doesn't hurt as much anymore. Your chest no longer stinging with every breath. Huh, when did that started happening? Is it because of the flowers in your lungs? Or is it because of something else?
"Do you think stars could feel lonely?"
Your head snaps up towards the voice. She stands there beside you. Head looking up to the stars. A blanket on her shoulders. Since when was she here?
"Yeah, the stars.” She nods lightly while bringing her hand up. Reaching up to the stars. You watch her hand. "They're all floating alone in space. Lightyears away from their siblings. And the universe does everything to keep them apart."
"Um, I don't think the stars have any feel—" She looks down at you with a childish pout and it brings a small smile to your lips. "Well, I think—I think they have planets to keep them company, Joo."
"Do they?” She looks back up to the heavens.
"I don't think the planets are going anywhere. The stars keep them in orbit," you explain a bit. Somehow, it feels like both of you are talking about something else. Something a bit deeper than childish thoughts and lonely stars. "Pulling them close with gravity."
"Like this?" You watch her as she moves closer to sit next to you. She tugs you closer. Engulfing your body with her blanket. Her arms around your shoulders and your own around her waist. You giggle softly.
"Yeah, something like this."
She kisses you and you wonder. Is warmth contagious? Because it sure does feel like it when she holds you like this. Her warm body and gentle voice. She just draws you deeper and deeper into her.
She really does feel like the sun.
"Where are you going?"
You look at her confused.
"To sleep?" An eyebrow raised.
"Oh, uh, right." A complicated look on her face. Her left-hand opening and closing again.
"What is it, Joo?"
"Well, I was just thinking that we could, uh, we could sleep together? Tonight?" The back of her hand against her mouth. A rosy flush on her cheeks. You can feel your own heartbeat skipping. The flowers swaying in happiness. "I—I mean! You could always say no though! No, uh, no pressure of anything! We—We might be, um, you know, but! I understand that you may not be comfortable with me yet or—"
You just chuckle and push her inside her room. Closing the door after you stepped in.
You're not going to waste the opportunity to have a good night's sleep. Convinced that jasmine could protect you from whatever horror lies outside the bed. She quickly shuts up, but the blush doesn't disappear though.
You fall asleep with arms around you. Drowning in jasmine.
However, while jasmine did protect you from the horrors beyond the bed, it couldn't protect you from your own mind.
"What is it, Chae?"
"Are you happy?"
She turns to her side to properly look at you. A soft smile on her face.
"I am.” She brushes your bangs away. Letting her fingers linger on your skin. She kisses your forehead, and you feel your heart getting warmer. It's a little bit easier to breathe. It's always like that with her. You love her. "You make me happy."
Yet why is it that you're still not happy even though you're with her?
"I'm sorry," you whisper out. You feel the water constricting your lungs again. It's close to overflowing. The dam cracking. Your eyes sting. God damn it. Why are you always like this?
"Not being happy." You hear your own voice cracking. She frowns and cups your face. You can't help but lean into her soft touch.
"That's not your fault, Chae." Her voice nothing but a whisper. Like the gentle and warm sunlight. Your chest feels like a warm day in summer. Nice cool waves against the hot sand.
"But it's not fair to you." You feel a tear slipping out.
"It might not be.” She wipes your tear away. A sad smile on her lips. "But I still love you. Do you?"
"Of course, I do."
"Then it's fine.” She kisses you softly. You try to convey all of your love for her into the kiss. She whispers against your own lips. "I want you to be happy."
You know she wants you to be happy. It's been the only thing she wants ever since she realized the water in your lungs. It's hard to live without the water in your lungs though. But for her—you would try for her. You've been trying. You've been talking with your therapist. Slowly, but surely, the water drains from your lungs. You wonder if you're being too slow. Eunbi says otherwise, but you're not sure.
"You know I'll do anything for you, right?" Her eyes, full of affection and love.
"I know." You would do anything for her too. Anything.
She pulls away and sits up on the bed. Her hand softly ruffling your head. You try to sit up with her, but she shakes her head. You stay lying down, watching the moonlight crowning her. Just as the sunlight had done before. You get the sudden urge to reach out to her. But then she moves away before you could even move your hand.
"Eunbi?" You finally sit up on your bed. You watch her as she makes her way across your bedroom. "Where are you going?"
"Chaewon," she stands by the doorway. Since when was it open? Did you forget to close it when you came into the bedroom? "If you're not happy with me, then I'll leave."
"What? No. What are you talking about?" You immediately leave the bed, but somehow, you can't step an inch closer to her. What's happening? "I don't want you to leave."
She puts one foot out the door. Why is it so bright? What happened to your living room? Why can't you see it? And more importantly, why can't you fucking move?!
"You'll be happier without me.” She turns away from you and to the blinding light.
No, wait! God damn it! Why won't your damn legs move?! She's about to leave for fuck's sake. You need to go after her! You need to go after Eunbi! You want her with you—you need her with you! Wait, Eunbi! Don't—Don't go! You feel the water growing violent in your lungs. You can't breathe, and it hurts. It fucking hurts! Please, Eunbi. Don't go. Please. Not yet. Not when you're not—you still haven't—you can't live without her. You still need her!
You wake up with a sudden gasp. Sharply taking in the cold air. Odd, you can only feel the water in your lungs instead of air. Cold sweat running down your back. You feel rustling next to you. You pay no attention to that. Where are you? Where's Eunbi? Why isn't she next to you? Where's your fiancé? You need her with you. Where is she?
You feel a hand on your back and flinch back. You snap your head towards the voice. Who is she? Why is she on your bed?
"Hey, hey," the voice calls out to you softly. Slowly approaching you. "Princess, it's just me."
Minjoo? Is that Minjoo?
"Yeah, it's me, Princess." The moonlight cascades down from the windows. Lighting her face up. Oh, it really is Minjoo. You exhale sharply. It's Minjoo. The flowers in your lungs dance in relief.
Hands reach out and you immediately rush into her embrace. Jasmine. Jasmine. Jasmine. Oh, god. You can finally breathe again. Your hands clutching tightly onto her hoodie. A sob wrecking out of you. Her hands wrapped around you so securely. You feel so, so warm, yet so empty at the same time. Why is that? But then you remember your dream and you wail even louder. Oh, right. Eunbi is gone. She's gone. You thought you had gotten over it. You thought. You had hoped if you ignored the emptiness long enough, you would be fine. Hoping that time would heal your wound.
Time had only put more water in your lungs.
Minjoo whispers into your ears. Her words as soothing and as comforting as the moonlight that surrounds them. You feel so sorry. Here you are with her and you're crying about your dead fiancé. Eunbi's name wrenched out from your lips. You wonder what Minjoo is thinking right now. You wonder if she's going to leave you. You wonder if everyone you love is going to leave you.
"Don't leave me," you desperately sob to her. "Please don't leave me. Not like her. Please don't leave me. One was enough. One was enough."
"I'm not going to leave you, Chaewon," she whispers to your ear. But you violently shake your head. Lies. All fucking lies. Eunbi said that to you too. She promised. She fucking promised that she wouldn't leave you too. Look at her now. Six-feet deep into the ground, and reduced to a voice that haunts your mind. Everywhere you go her voice is still there in your head. Telling you to be happy. For fuck's sake, you don't know how to be happy! You're not even sure if you deserve to be happy anymore.
“Tell me, Chaewon. What makes you happy?”
Shut up! You don't know god damn it! You don't fucking know!
How are you supposed to know? Even when she was with you, you were never happy. Your starting to doubt if you could even be happy in the first place.
You would rather stay down here in the water. You would rather stay drowning. Eunbi filled your lungs with air. You weren't drowning when you were with her. But then she was gone and you drowned. You drowned and you kept drowning. There wasn't a point to go to the surface anymore. She wasn't there waiting for you. She's gone. She's gone and you couldn't follow her there.
What's the point in surfacing up if there's no one waiting for you?
But then you hear Minjoo.
"Princess, please come back to me. Come back, Chaewon."
And suddenly you're back in the bedroom. You're not drowning in the sea.
Minjoo. Would Minjoo wait for you up on the surface? Would she wait until you're ready to surface again? You want to be with her. God damn, how much you want her. But does she want you back? Will she ever be happy with you? You're a mess. She really shouldn't stay with you if she ever wants to be happy, and you want her to be happy.
"Why?" Your voice is hoarse from crying. Your head weakly laying on her shoulder. "Why are you still here?"
"What do you mean?"
"I'm crying about my dead fiancé, Minjoo." You laugh bitterly at yourself. "Why are you still with me?"
"Because I care about you, Chae.” She moves you so that you're sitting on her lap. Rocking you back and forth. "I'm not going to leave you just because you miss someone you love."
You ask the moon. You ask him if you're even worthy to have Minjoo with you. If it's okay to have the sun’s affection directed toward you. You gather the flowers in your lungs and you hold them close to your heart. You love her.
Oh, God. You love her.
You don't even know when it happened. When had you fallen for her? Why hadn't you realized it? Maybe you were too busy drowning in jasmine to realize. But now that you do, you can't help but notice how much you love her. You Minjoo so much. She's not Eunbi. She's most definitely not her. But you suppose that's what makes the flowers grow in the first place. You can breathe so much easier with them there. You had feared if they would suffocate you when they first appeared. You thank the gods for proving you wrong.
"I'm sorry," you whisper out.
"It's okay." You feel a kiss pressed onto your head. "I'm here for you. I'm here."
Yeah, she's here. She's here. You wish upon all the stars willing to listening to you. Please don't take her away from you.
"It wasn't cancer," you say once the tears dry. Your head still leaning on her shoulder. Tucked between her neck. "It wasn't some incurable disease or anything like that. Heck, it wasn't even a big accident."
You take a deep breath. You remember it so clearly. Two years isn't enough to make you forget. You don't think time could ever heal your wounds.
"October two thousand eighteen. Saturday of the third week. I had work to do, but I wanted to spend more time with her. So, I just did it at home. We were planning on watching movies and just chilling out together. Our wedding was in a few months. The planning was tiring both of us. It was supposed to be our time together."
You swallow the lump in your throat. Forcing the water to go back down.
"But then we ran out of milk. I think she wanted to make hot chocolate. I don't know," you defeatedly say. "The box was on the counter when I came back from the hospital."
Clenching on the bedsheets, your knuckles turn white.
"Fifteen minutes she said. 'Only fifteen minutes and I'll be right back'." An ugly pause. "she never did come back."
You tightly close your eyes. Wiling the tears back from coming out.
"It was a DUI. I got the call not even ten minutes from the moment she stepped out of our apartment door. She was conscious when I got there. Barely hanging on to her life." You remember it vividly. You remember the smell of medicine and of foul iron. You remember the sound from the monitors. You remember the taste of blood when you kiss her for the last time. "I couldn't do anything. The doctors couldn't do anything."
Your breath hitches in your throat. You remember her holding your face for the last time.
"I said I loved her. That I always would. I kissed her one last time, and she—" A loud sob breaks through your whole body. "she said goodbye."
“I love you. Don't forget to eat dinner, Chae. I'll see you later, okay? I love you.”
"And that was that."
You feel the arms on your waist pulling you closer. Holding you tighter. A hand rubbing circles in an effort to comfort you. Breathing deeply, you let the flowers comfort you. You can't help but curl into yourself.
"I didn't go to the funeral." You let the tears flow down freely. You're too tired to hold them back now. "I just—I couldn't do it."
She doesn't say anything. You doubt she could've said anything to make you feel better anyway. Instead, she gives you a kiss on the head, and she sings. She sings a love song. She sings a nostalgic song. She sings a song of longing. With tears running down, you listen. You let the tears drain the water in your lungs. You let the song comfort you.
Just like letters on the sand
where waves were
I feel you’ll disappear
to a far-off place
I miss you again and miss you more
In my diary
All the words
I can’t show them all to you
It’s that I love you
Tonight, I’ll send the glow of a firefly
Near your window
I hope it’s a good dream
You miss her. You miss her a lot. You needed Eunbi. She was the one that gave you air. The one that made you feel free. But you're starting to think that maybe—maybe you don't need her anymore. You'll love her. You'll always love her. Nothing will change that.
It's been two years, Chaewon. You don't need me anymore. You have her with you. Let me go, Chaewon. It'll be fine. It'll be okay. You'll be okay.
I want you to be happy, Chae.
Maybe you didn't need Eunbi anymore. Maybe you hadn't needed her for a long time.
Maybe it’s time for you to move on.
"Why do you like me?"
You hum in thought. You've thought about it before, countless of times actually, and your brain would come up with various reasons. You've always had a reason to like something. Hyewon is honest to a fault, but that's also the reason why you like her. Eunbi worried too much about everyone, but you appreciate her compassion. Phones are nice because it makes your life easier. Pizza is delicious so you like it. And Minjoo's the same for the most part.
Her hair is nice and soft. She's the prettiest person you've ever seen. She's also really nice and compassionate. Her hands always feel really nice when you hold them. Her laugh is cute yet dorky. Her eyes wrinkle and her nose scrunch a bit whenever she laughs, which by the way, makes it one hundred times more endearing. These are the reasons your brain comes up with to explain why you like her. But in reality, the reason is much, much simpler than that.
“Tell me, Chaewon. What makes you happy?”
You think you can finally answer Eunbi now.
"You make me happy." You shrug nonchalantly and rest your head on your arms. A lazy smile on your lips. You reach out and tuck her hair back.
Minjoo takes hold of your hand. You can see the swirl of emotions in her eyes. You wonder if she knows how much weight those words carry for you. Does she even know that she's the one who let you breathe again? Does she know she's the one who saved you from drowning? She says that you like her, but that's a bit wrong. You wonder if it's too early to say that you love her.
Whatever. You're going to do what you want.
"I love you."
"We just met a few weeks ago."
"I know." You grin. "Didn't stop me from falling, did it?"
"You're the one who likes this crazy girl."
"I wouldn't think of it."