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under the sheets (and her umbrella)

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Waking up, Yeji still feels the same.

 

Except for today. Today, she feels her heart pound against her chest and she doesn’t know if she’s nervous or excited. It could be both.

 

She hurriedly checks the date on the calendar to see if she didn’t miscalculate anything. She’s right, today’s the day. Stumbling out of her bed, she opens her blinds to let the sunlight kick in, then she proceeds to the bathroom to take a quick shower. She didn’t bother to eat, grabbing her keys and her wallet, she’s off. Dropping by the flower shop, she buys a bouquet of dahlias. She sighs as she gets out of the shop. It’s been such a long time since she last visited. Her academics had been taking up most of her time along with the late-night and weekend training for soccer, and of course, working part-time at this small café near their campus.

 

Yeji hopes she would understand.

 

It was a peaceful thirty-minute walk. The wind blew gently against her skin making her grasp on the bouquet tighter. A few more steps on the familiar path, and she’ll be reaching her destination soon. She looks around and sees the same old trees, and the grass was cut shorter than when she last visited. For newcomers, they’ll definitely be confused about where they’re supposed to head to, but Yeji has been here almost every day a few years back when she wasn’t busy. Mr Jeon, the bodyguard, greets her with a warm smile.

 

“It’s been a while,” he says.

 

Yeji returns the smile, making her eyes disappear slightly. “It has been.”

 

She slowly makes her way towards her mother’s tomb and sets the bouquet down. She settles down on the grass and sighs. It’s been six years since she passed, and Yeji feels so… empty. Things hadn’t been the same ever since, except for the loneliness and emptiness that’s growing within Yeji’s heart.

 

She remembers the mornings she had with her where she makes her breakfast, but now she’s stuck with eating slices of bread and cereal when she wakes up earlier. She remembers the afternoons she had with her where she’s there to greet her and give her snacks before she does her homework, but now she comes home to an empty dorm and homework she doesn’t have the will to do. She remembers the evenings she had with her where she makes dinner and they both talk about how their day went, but now she’s stuck with no one to talk to and sometimes, she doesn’t even eat dinner.

 

Yeji sheds a tear – she misses her mum dearly. Caressing her tombstone, she just wishes she was still here. She would want her there during her most important events. She wants someone who would cheer her on during her soccer matches, someone who would look after her when she’s sick, and someone who would remind her to bring her goddamn umbrella every day because she’s so forgetful. Come to think of it, Yeji just wants someone to be there for her. She spends another hour sitting on the newly cut grass before leaving to go to her training. She bids Mr Jeon farewell and tells him to take care of his health.

 

Training starts in thirty minutes so Yeji decides to jog back to her dorm instead of walking as a quick warm-up. She quickly runs up the stairs and grabs her duffle bag; she doesn’t dare to be later for training. Despite being the team’s star rookie player, she didn’t have any right to show up late just because she wanted to – well, not even the team captain did that. Luckily, the dorm wasn’t far from the university’s soccer field so she makes a run for the lockers to change into her training clothes.

 

Once Yeji sets foot on the field, she’s a whole new person. She still feels the same, but this makes her feel giddy as the adrenaline rushes through her veins. With the feeling of the ball brushing against her feet, the smell of the grass and the sun kissing her skin she feels lighter making her forget the emptiness inside.

 

The training lasted for four hours, but Yeji being a stubborn kid remains on the field to jog a few more laps – she always did this, her coach and teammates didn’t mind. They knew she had been through a lot and soccer helped her uplift her mood even just for a little bit, even just for a few hours she wanted to feel at least something. Her heart is pounding against her chest, her legs and feet start to numb so she slowly stops. She can feel her heart beating louder; it was ringing in her ears. She can feel the sweat roll against her cheeks – she doesn’t wipe it, she lets it be. Grabbing her water jug from the bench, she settles down on the grass. She lays down with her eyes closed, arms and legs sprawled on the ground as she feels the grass underneath, tickling her, making her feel something.

 

Opening her eyes, the clouds seemed darker than before. The wind blew harshly making her shut her eyes closed. Soon enough, she feels something – droplets of rain pressing on her skin. She doesn’t open her eyes; she just feels the wet grass underneath as the rain continues to pour.

 

She gets up and proceeds to the shower room. Immediately, she strips out of her training clothes and turns the knob on high heat – she loved the rain, but she can’t afford to be sick tomorrow. Then she remembers; she fucking forgot her umbrella. Great.

 

Turning off the shower, she changes into her work clothes. She takes a look outside – the rain was pouring heavily than before she braces herself, getting ready to run to avoid being wet and being fired from her job.

 

“Hey,” a pink-haired girl greeted her. Was she here even before? Yeji didn’t notice. “Where are you going?”

 

“To work,” Yeji answered. “Were you here earlier? I didn’t see you.”

 

“Yeah, I was watching you from the bleachers. You’re really great at that,”

 

“Thanks,” Yeji smiles. “I need to go now, or else my boss would kill me.”

 

“Without an umbrella?”

 

Yeji scratches the back of her neck. “Yeah. I forgot to bring mine.”

 

“I have mine,” the girl opens her umbrella. It was maroon. “I can walk you there.”

 

Yeji could’ve sworn that she felt something; something different. “Oh, I don’t want to bother you. I could ju-“

 

“You can’t run. I won’t allow you to,” the girl puts her arm on Yeji’s shoulder. “Let’s go.”

 

Locked under the shorter girl’s hold, she didn’t bother to argue; she didn’t even try to withdraw from her touch. Yeji’s left arm found its way to the shorter girl’s waist. “Is this okay?”

 

The other girl nods. “Lead the way.”

 

Yeji would like to thank her past self for purchasing a waterproof duffle bag. The umbrella wasn’t fit for two people and a duffle bag, but nonetheless she was thankful that this girl randomly went out of her way just to offer her warmth and an umbrella. They both reached the café in no time since it was only a few buildings away from the field. Yeji’s right shoulder was soaking wet, but she’d prefer this than being wet from head to toe.

 

“Thank you…?”

 

“Ryujin.”

 

“Thank you, Ryujin,” Yeji shoots her a heart-warming smile. “You’re too kind for a stranger.”

 

“I may be a stranger to you, but you’re not to me,” Ryujin says. “What time do you get off?"

 

"10 PM," Yeji fixes herself. "Don't wait for me."

 

"I won't. I'll come back at 10 PM."

 

With that, Ryujin leaves without another word, leaving her dumbfounded. She scratches her head and sighs she felt something, and she wanted more.

 

Entering the café, Yeji was a whole new person once again. She rushes towards the employee's locker room and sets her duffle bag by her own locker. She fixes her hair to make herself look presentable for their customers even though they could care less. These people came in for the coffee, not for the barista or the person behind the counter. However, there are some who tried to shoot their shot, but Yeji's just too oblivious to even acknowledge their coffee-deprived and flirtatious asses. She'd rather focus on making drinks.

 

Stepping out of the locker room, she heads behind the counter and before she begins her work she cracks her knuckles which were a bad habit of hers. Of course, to her, it was an indication that she's ready for whatever will be coming towards her way. 

 

The café wasn't as busy as it usually was. Finals were over and it was a rainy night. The only people there are those who seek peace and warmth because of the place's ambiance and the smell of freshly brewed coffee — who doesn't love the smell of coffee?

 

Yeji stares at the window; the droplets were becoming huge each minute that passes by. She automatically assumes that nobody would dare to come to the café with this gloomy weather. She hopes Ryujin was already in the comfort of her home, under the sheets, and not thinking about picking her up later tonight. It was only 8:30 PM, she figures that the rain might have subsided once her shift ends. She curses herself for not packing her homework so she had at least something to do. But right now, all she can do is just bear with having nothing to do as she stares out the window.

 

Five minutes left until her shift ends, Jeongyeon, her co-worker, arrives. They both head to the locker room and have a little talk like what they always do.

 

Repressing emotions was Yeji's thing. Though she knows it can be quite tiring for her heart, making her feel heavier than before, the weight gets lifted when she speaks with the older girl. With Jeongyeon, she was able to express herself even though she still finds it difficult. She tries to open up. She admits that she's not entirely good at words. So most of their talks consisted of Yeji throwing random phrases to express how she feels, or she says a color and Jeongyeon would immediately understand. Not having her older sister by her side made the weight on her heart and shoulders feel heavier, but when she met her co-worker, she felt something. She felt warm all over, urging her to talk to her, to be with her, or to simply hug her. Yeji's beyond thankful for her.

 

Today, however, Yeji doesn't tell Jeongyeon about the pink-haired girl who offered her umbrella. She thinks that once she talks about her, she'll have a hard time not thinking about her. So, she doesn't elaborate much about her day, telling her that today it felt green — she was hopeful.

 

Exiting the locker room, she bids Jeongyeon farewell and she's immediately met with Ryujin who's patiently sitting and waiting for her by the door, the maroon umbrella at hand.

 

"Ready to go?"

 

Yeji smiles and places her hand on the shorter girl's waist like what she had done earlier.

 

The rain continued to pour down, and Yeji felt it get stronger with each step they both took. She feels her grip get tighter. Looking over at the girl, she smiles at how she feels comfortable with her. She then looks up, eyes meeting with the maroon umbrella. Then she looks down seeing the other girl’s arms tangled also with her waist. How can she feel so much already with just a simple gesture? It’s been a while since Yeji was looked after for, but she’s terrified that tomorrow she won’t get to feel again.

 

They reach Yeji’s dorms and she offers Ryujin to stay the night, seeing as the winds got harsher when they arrived. The latter agreed, saying she didn’t have classes in the morning. Walking up the stairs, Yeji grew confused. The pink-haired girl was there during her training earlier today and she figured she had classes in the afternoon. Does that mean she cut class just to see her? It can’t be. Yeji proceeds to ask as she unlocks her door.

 

“Did you have classes today?”

 

Entering, the two of them remove their shoes and Yeji sets her bag under her bed. “Yeah. I had classes in the morning, then I came to watch you train. I always watch you train after class.”

 

That made Yeji even more confused. “Why?”

 

“Because I’ve liked you for a while now, dummy.”

 

Yeji could feel her heart beating rapidly, her cheeks heating up, and this weird unfamiliar feeling in her stomach. She wasn’t in the soccer field right now; there was no ball brushing against her feet. She wasn’t running against the grass until her legs and feet gave out. She wasn’t in the cafe where she cracks her knuckles and is ready to serve their customers. She wasn’t feeling nervous because she might take the wrong order. She wasn’t feeling stressed because of the workload her professors gave her. This was someone confessing to her, and it made her feel something.

 

“As a friend?” Yeji blurts out.

 

Ryujin giggles. There goes Yeji’s heart again. “More than that.”

 

Yeji smiles then turned her back to get Ryujin some clothes seeing as she didn’t change hers from before. She did mention she came to watch her after class. Handing her the clothes, Ryujin excuses herself to go and get changed and Yeji does too.

 

After changing, Yeji’s cheeks heat up once again. There was only one bed. Ryujin was okay with it while Yeji gulps. They both settle down on the bed, tucking in the sheets, and Ryujin asks. “Is it okay to cuddle?”

 

Yeji feels like she couldn’t handle more for today, so she simply nods in response, feeling the shorter girl’s arms snake their way through her waist — securing her safely. She hopes tomorrow she can still feel her.

 

-

 

Waking up, Yeji feels different.

 

She can feel someone breathing with her, arms still tangled on her waist.

 

The rain was still pouring and Yeji received a text from her coach saying that today was game day. Yeji jolts up from the bed, checking her calendar. Shoot, she completely forgot. She didn’t miscalculate the death anniversary of her mum, but she totally forgot that she had a game today. She curses herself for not writing it down on her calendar. Luckily, their coach always sends a text two hours prior to the actual start of the game.

 

She wakes the other girl up saying that she needed to go and that she can stay here if she wanted to. Explaining that she forgot that today was their big day.

 

Ryujin nods as Yeji makes a commotion in her room. “Don’t forget your umbrella. You’re really forgetful.”

 

There goes Yeji’s heart again. “I don’t have one. We’re going to play in the rain anyway.”

 

She nods in response once again. “I’ll come and watch you in a bit.”

 

“That would be nice.” Yeji smiles, bidding her goodbye before she rushes through the university and to the field once again.

 

The rain always felt nice against Yeji’s skin. These types of games were her favorite; she just hopes she doesn’t get sick today. Although she doesn’t have classes today because she’s excused, she did have a workload back in her dorm. She wonders if Ryujin would still come with her right after they crush their opponents.

 

Fourteen minutes left and the bleachers were already packed with people. Despite the weather, many still came to see them and cheer them on. Usually, Yeji would lie low and sit at the benches with a heavy heart that no one actually comes to see her play. Today, however, her heart feels less heavy. The loud screams from the crowd were drowning her thoughts, and for the first time in two years that she’s been playing, she smiles. Yeji scans the crowd for a certain pink-haired girl and spots her immediately, maroon umbrella in hand, wearing Yeji’s hoodie that’s exclusive for student-athletes — good Lord it suits her . Ryujin’s smile gets wider as she sees the other girl looking at her. She shoots Yeji a thumbs up and forms a heart with her two arms. 

 

Their coach calls them up for a quick huddle, saying her usual encouraging words, and reminding them of the game plan. Yeji takes a deep breath and cracks her knuckles. It was their first match of the season and their opponents were pretty tough. Yeji closes her eyes and looks up, feeling the droplets of rain press against her skin.

 

The game began with Seulgi, their team captain’s heavy attack. They’ve placed their players over into the opponent’s half which was working out very well at first until the ball was passed to Yeji and the opposing team’s players were all crowding her. She then kicks the ball powerfully to Lisa who ran immediately near the goal making the score 1-0. The opposing team tried to score in the first half but the ball was declared offside.

 

During the second half of the game, Yeji became furious when Tzuyu from the opposing team kicked a goal and she wasn’t able to defend the goal, so did their goalkeeper, Moonbyul. The adrenaline was still kicking in, and Yeji felt her face heat up from anger; she was sure that they were about to lose the second half of the game. During the timeout, her teammates complained because of the rain, making Yeji feel angered once again.

 

Nearing the end of the match, their team wasn’t in trouble, but the enemy team was cutting through their defenses a little better. They took at least three dangerous shots towards their goal but Yeji managed to defend all of them. At their last attempt to score a goal, Yeji hits the ball with her head sending it flying to the other side of the field. Momo catches the ball with her chest and passes it to Seulgi. Yeji runs near the goal and no opponents were guarding her, making Seulgi pass the ball to her and she scores a goal.

 

The crowd roars with overflowing joy and excitement. Yeji stands there, not able to process everything that happened until she was tackled to the ground by her teammates. She did it. They did it. The rain felt even better against her skin and the warmth of her teammates’ arms, theirs doesn’t feel like hers, and her mind wanders to that certain pink-haired girl once again. After a few words from their coach and a few photos, Yeji immediately heads to the bleachers to find Ryujin.

 

She was standing there, wearing her hoodie, and the maroon umbrella above her head. Yeji opens her arms to hug her and the shorter girl crashes into them.

 

Waking up, Yeji feels the younger girl’s breath against her skin and she could say that her warmth is everything she wants to feel for the rest of her mornings, afternoons, evenings, and for the rest of her life.