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burning light (when i look back, it's you)

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“If you weren’t TWICE, where would you be right now?” 

The question is posed by Sana while they’re in the living room of their dorm. Bottles of soju sit on the coffee table while the rest of the girls perk up at the question. Nayeon is lying on top of Momo on the floor while the younger girl watches Boo sleep with large, adoring eyes. Mina and Jihyo are seated next to each other on the couch. Chaeyoung, who gets very sleepy when she’s drunk, mumbles incoherently in her spot next to Sana. Jeongyeon stops in the middle of teaching Dahyun and Tzuyu the mechanics of Animal Crossing and is the first to ask, “Is it that time of night for you to be asking these questions?” 

Sana giggles and reaches for her shot glass. “It’s just a thought.” She isn’t drunk yet. If she was, she’d be trying to kiss one of the members by now. Instead, she’s at the stage of inebriation where she asks random questions—questions she thinks of in the middle of the day and brings up when they’re all huddled together and tipsy on a few shots of soju.

Momo goes over the question. “Maybe I’d be a chef,” she says, giggling when Boo’s tail starts wagging, almost as if he’s in the middle of a dream, “I like cooking! You guys tell me that I’m getting better at it.” 

Nayeon, who had one drink too many, yells, “You’d be the bestest chef of all time, Momo-yah!”

Tzuyu shushes the eldest member and points at Chaeyoung who flips over and mumbles, “Unnie, you’re so loud…”

From her spot on the couch, Mina quietly says, “I’d continue ballet.” At Jihyo’s interested hum, the younger girl shrugs; “If I wasn’t an idol, I’d be at college pursuing it.”

“You seem to have given it some thought,” Jihyo says, taking another sip of her bottle. She handles her alcohol well and is often the one looking out for the others. 

Mina looks back down at her phone in hand. “I had a lot of time to myself.” She doesn’t mention that she considered other options while her members were away for tour… a tour she had missed.

Now it’s Dahyun’s turn to think over the question. “I’d be in college too,” she says, cheeks flushed from all the alcohol she drank. Her skin gets all red when she’s drinking too much but she rarely gets loud like Nayeon or touchy like Sana. 

“What would you be studying?” Tzuyu asks. 

“Korean literature,” Dahyun replies, smiling when she recalls that this is the same answer to that one interview they had, “Maybe piano. It depends.” 

All nine of them hum as silence envelops them. Then Jihyo says, “Maybe I’d just go after what my dad does.” 

“Architecture?” Jeongyeon asks. 

Jihyo nods. “Who knows? Maybe I’d be good at it. I never really tried anything else.” 

The words are met with a chorus of murmurs. Tzuyu looks at her unnies and says, “Of course I would be a vet. I’d be disappointed if you guys thought I’d be anything else.”

The others laugh. It’s kind of a knee-jerk reaction to everything their maknae says. Chaeyoung wakes up at the noise, sitting up while blinking tiredly at them. She was the first to pass out. She doesn’t like the taste of alcohol but she drinks it anyway. “I want to be an artist,” she says firmly. As expected from Chaeyoung who always knows what she wants. The girls nod at her response. 

Jeongyeon stretches her arms over her head and makes humming noises. “When our old girl group fell through,” she began, glancing at Nayeon and Jihyo, “I seriously considered being a baker. I still know how to make bread. Like the ones with cheese inside. And of course, melon pan! I know how to make that!” 

“Would you give me free bread if I asked?” Tzuyu asks with a straight face. 

Jeongyeon laughs and reaches out to pat their maknae on the head. “Of course.”

Tzuyu beams.

Nayeon sighs out loud. “Well, if you’re going to ask me, I’d definitely be in the film industry.” She nudges Momo. “Right, Momo-yah? You told me before that we could even be professional ASMR vloggers! You said that the camera loves me!” 

Momo lets out a startled laugh. “I don’t remember saying that.” 

Nayeon pouts. “Ah, you’re no fun.”

Jihyo checks her phone and sighs when she realizes what time it is. “Come on,” she says, rising to her feet and stretching her limbs. She points at the soju bottles lying on the floor. “Time to clean up.”

The rest of the members groan but stand up as well. Jeongyeon is quick to hop on her feet but nearly stumbles when she loses her balance. Thankfully, Mina manages to keep her upright. Dahyun and Tzuyu grab Chaeyoung by the arms and pull her up. Meanwhile, Jihyo places her hands on Sana’s waist to stop her from falling over in a wild, giggling mess. Momo gently takes Boo into her arms and quickly puts him away, lest he gets trampled over by the other girls wanting to clean up ASAP. 

Nayeon looks at her members, smiling to herself. She loves moments like this—moments where they can relax, drink alcohol and enjoy the little things. She watches as Chaeyoung holds onto Tzuyu to stay upright. She watches as Jeongyeon and Dahyun dutifully start putting the bottles in a trash bag. She watches as Momo and Mina clear away the empty cartons of food they had ordered earlier and wipe the coffee table clean off any spills and messes. 

Jihyo appears by her side holding a broom in one hand and Sana’s waist in the other. “You’re on broom duty,” she says. Sana had somehow grabbed a soju bottle before it was cleaned up and is now drinking it cheerfully. 

Nayeon whines and doesn’t accept the broom, “I was on broom duty yesterday!” 

“Nope,” Mina is quick to point out, “That was me.” 

“Traitor,” Nayeon shoots back, feigning offense. Nonetheless, she takes the broom and proceeds to clean up. 

They have filming for another CF tomorrow so they need to wake up at seven in the morning just to get their hair and make-up ready. When Dahyun checks the time, she sees that it’s only a few minutes after 10 PM. It’s way too early to be heading off to bed but there’s nothing they can do about it. They have schedules, after all. This is the life they chose. Less time to play, more for work. 

After everything has been cleaned up, they all head to their own spaces. Nayeon heads to her room first, followed closely by Jeongyeon and Mina. Momo and Sana take turns cuddling with Boo as they shut the door behind them. Dahyun helps Tzuyu carry Chaeyoung back to their room while Jihyo is the last to enter hers, watching all her members carefully. Once everybody is all settled, she nods to herself and heads to bed. 

In their respective rooms and under the comforts of their blankets, the girls take a moment for themselves. 

Nayeon plugs in her airpods and listens to Sasha Sloan.

Jeongyeon rubs the back of her neck and reminds herself that she has a doctor's appointment tomorrow morning. 

Momo coos at Boo when he licks her cheek, giggling to herself.

Sana smiles when she hears Momo’s laughter on the other side of their room. 

Jihyo asks Mina if she can play some classical music. 

Mina nods at her roommate’s request, eyes fixed on her phone. 

Dahyun stands up and checks on the maknaes’ room one last time. Just to be sure. 

Chaeyoung is already fast asleep. 

Tzuyu follows her roommate’s example mere seconds later. 

The world stills.

It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. It’s home.

 


 

(One member brings her hands together and wishes for a better life for the other girls.) 

 


 

The clock strikes midnight. 

Her wish is granted. 

 


 

The first thing that registers in Jihyo’s mind when she wakes up is this unsettling feeling in the pit of her stomach that something is very wrong. She raises a hand to rub at her eyes and lets out a tired yawn. When she opens them a second later, she finds herself in her room. For some strange reason, she expected something different when she woke up. She doesn’t know what exactly but she feels as if she’s woken up in some sort of dream and her mind is still trying to catch up to her reality. 

She looks around. Her room has remained relatively untouched over the years, despite having an interest in other things as she grew up. There’s not much in it. Just the usual study desk that’s been sitting next to the window. Architecture supplies—a large scale, two drawing tubes, cases filled with various pencils, and rolls of tracing paper—are placed haphazardly on top of the desk. The same old posters of Wonder Girls greet her from their respective spots on her wall. A closet stands right by the door leading to the bathroom, full of clothes her mom usually picks out for her.

Everything looks normal… 

(Almost too normal.)

Still, Jihyo feels like there’s something wrong… She’s pretty sure something is missing here. As she leaves the comforts of her bed and pads towards the center of the room, she tries to pinpoint what it could be. A part of her thinks that maybe one of her little sisters took away a stuffed animal that was always on her table but she knows that’s not it. It’s not an object. Something bigger… like a person. 

Jihyo finds herself shaking her head. From what she can remember last night and she can remember most of it as clear as day, she didn’t have any friends over in her room. So why is she feeling like this? Like there’s somebody’s face she should be seeing first thing in the morning…

But Jihyo has always had her own room… She’s never shared with anybody before, not even with her little sisters. 

Jihyo shakes her head, slaps her face lightly, and walks to the bathroom to freshen up. 

After all, she has an exam that afternoon. She has other stuff to deal with. 

 


 

Sana stretches her arms over her head and lets out a much-needed scream. The people in the room jump at the sudden noise and only turn away when Sana throws them a sheepish smile. Of course, they aren’t used to Psych majors suddenly screaming right after they’ve just finished their exam for the day—the same exam that has kept Sana awake for the past several nights. 

“Ah! Time to catch a break!” Sana says to nobody in particular, hyping herself up. She waves at the friends she’s made in this class and hurries out of the room. The people she passes by all smile and shake their heads at her bubbly personality. After all, when Minatozaki Sana walks in the room, she brings sunshine with her. 

Once outside the building, Sana smiles at her surroundings. It’s nice to see other students enjoying the lovely weather they have this morning. She can tell that today’s going to be a good day. 

She’s in the middle of contemplating what she should do for today when familiar arms snake from behind her and wrap around her middle. “Sana-chan,” a girl’s voice greets sweetly into her ear, “How was your exam?” 

For a split second, Sana suddenly remembers the feeling of doing the same thing. But to someone else. In her mind’s eye, she remembers stepping up to a dark-haired girl wearing a bright yellow dress. She remembers pressing her chin against the girl’s left shoulder. She remembers the smell of flowers filling her nose. It’s familiar but she doesn’t recall having ever walked up to a girl in a yellow dress. And yet the memory persists, just sitting in the back of her mind… like it belongs there. 

There’s a name on the tip of her tongue. “Sayaka-chan,” she says, smiling at the woman hugging her from behind, “The exam was okay, I think I aced it!” 

(For some reason, this isn’t the name she expected to utter.) 

Sayaka lets go of her and takes a step back. “That’s great, babe,” she says with a wink, “Perhaps we should celebrate with lunch? My treat!” 

Sana nods eagerly. “Babe,” she coos, “You know me well.”

When Sayaka intertwines their fingers together, the smile on Sana’s face falters. Their hands fit together perfectly. But for some reason, it feels… strange. Like there’s somebody else’s hand she should be holding. Like there’s somebody else she should be with… The feeling is similar to when Sana finds an old mitten from her childhood days and tries it on, only to realize that it no longer fits. 

Sayaka tugs her along and Sana smiles up at her again, pushing away these strange, insistent thoughts filling the back of her head. 

 


 

Nayeon has to physically stop herself from rolling her eyes at the scene unfolding in front of her. The two lovers are holding hands—the girl desperately not letting go despite the boy insisting that it’s already over between the two of them. The rest of the crew watches carefully, looking out for any script mistakes or things that can be changed. Nayeon’s stomach rumbles at the realization that she hasn’t eaten for breakfast and lunch is still a few hours away.

“Please don’t do this,” the girl says, tears in her eyes.

The boy roughly pulls his hand away. “I can’t be with you,” he says, looking to the side. Unbeknownst to the girl, he is also crying. 

“We can fix this!” The girl yells, already near hysterics.

Nayeon checks her phone. It’s nearly ten o’clock.

“There’s nothing to fix!” The boy takes a step forward, away from the girl. “It’s over between us! Why can’t you put that into your head already?” 

Before the girl can respond, the director yells, “CUT!” 

Nayeon flinches at the volume of his voice. He’s always been rough when it comes to his craft. As he stands from the director’s chair and approaches the two actors, Nayeon makes sure to slink back in the shadows. After all, she’s just an intern. There’s no reason why she should be standing in his warpath. 

“Hey, where’s the goddamn coffee?” One producer yells.

Nayeon looks down at the cup holder she has in hand—the one that currently has four lukewarm coffees just waiting to be picked up by their respective owners—and hurries to the said producer. When he sees her approaching, he scowls. “Took you long enough,” he sneers, picking one out of the cardboard tray she’s holding. When he takes a quick sip, his scowl deepens. “It’s not even hot anymore.” 

Nayeon bows her head, biting her tongue to stop herself from murmuring the profanities circling her head. Of course, the coffee would’ve been hot if they allowed interns to interrupt their focus during shoots. But she decides not to tell him that. After all, she’s only here for the experience.

“My apologies, PD-nim,” she says. 

The producer—Mr. Lee, Nayeon remembers—just shakes his head and then passes a script to her. “Give this to the new actress who just came in the other day,” he says, “It’s a new script. Tell her she needs to get her ass on it ASAP. We’re shooting her cameo later.”

“Yes, PD-nim.” 

He stalks off, still grumbling about his coffee. Nayeon lets out a tired sigh. This is what she gets for working in indie films—ones that don’t have well-known producers as part of the crew. She puts down the coffee tray and takes a peek at the script she’d been given. 

There’s a sticky note on the upper left corner, one that has the name of the new actress who just came in: GONG SEUNGYEON. 

Nayeon pauses, eyes fixed on the name. 

She recognizes the name. After all, Gong Seungyeon is a famous actress in the media. She’s starred in countless dramas, like Are You Human? and Introverted Boss. Who would’ve known that she’d be interested in this indie film that practically has no budget? 

But… there’s something else. Something in the name that has Nayeon staring at it for longer than necessary. If she doesn’t move soon, she might get yelled at by a producer. But she is frozen, eyes fixed on the name. Gong Seungyeon. Why is it familiar? And not the kind of familiar you’d associate with a celebrity’s movie that you watched before. But the kind of familiar that makes Nayeon think of an old friend… one she might’ve possibly forgotten already…

(It’s a relationship that’s hard to explain.)

Perhaps she’s just hungry or going crazy. After all, it's been a few hours since she last ate. Whatever the case, she has better things to do than worry about some actress. So she sighs, shakes her head and gets back to work. 

 


 

The bus suddenly shakes, jolting Dahyun awake from her 10-minute nap. She lets out a low groan as she tries to rub the stiffness away from her neck. When she raises her eyes and looks around, she sees that she’s still a long way from her destination. Cons of living so far away from the university. Dahyun has to wake up early and leave early if she wants to get to her classes on time, even if her class technically starts at 1:30 PM.

Her stomach starts to rumble. Maybe she should grab some lunch first before entering the campus. She mentally checks the allowance her mom had given her earlier and deems it enough to buy some ramyeon. 

The bus halts at a stop, opening its doors to let more passengers in. Dahyun barely looks up, having already pulled her phone out of her pocket. From her peripheral view, she sees other passengers choosing where to sit. Once everybody is settled, the bus starts again. 

Dahyun thinks about what she has to do today. She has two lectures for the afternoon. After that, she has to meet up with a few classmates for a group project. Maybe she can even drop by the cafe near the school and grab a chocolate drink. Or she could even stop by the music building and ask to play the piano. 

The bus jolts, possibly driving over a manhole, and Dahyun accidentally drops her phone. It lands under the seat in front of her and she bends down to pick it up. When she settles back in her seat and brushes away her fringe, someone catches her eye. 

Sitting a few seats in front of her in the opposite aisle is a girl. A short girl with dark hair that curls around the nape of her neck. She has her back turned to Dahyun so her face isn’t visible. And yet, despite this obstruction, Dahyun stares at her. She’d consider it creepy if she isn’t gripped with a sudden—almost painful—feeling that she should know her from somewhere. Which is strange. Because Dahyun prides herself in recognizing people and remembering important things. There's no way she'd forget a friend. 

Dahyun continues to stare at the girl.

(Or someone morelike a sister… or a brother?)

"That doesn't make any sense," Dahyun mumbles. 

And yet, Dahyun's chest aches the more she looks at the back of the girl's head. Maybe, just maybe, if she sees her up close, then she'll be able to identify her…? For some reason, it bothers Dahyun that she can’t see her face. 

So Dahyun grabs her bag, grips her phone tight and moves to change seats. She pretends to be on a lookout for her destination, even though her eyes constantly flicker to the girl. Her heart is racing for reasons she can't explain. When she finds a seat by the window directly adjacent her target, she takes a deep breath and looks to the side—

The bus lurches to a stop again. Dahyun, still in the middle of settling in her seat, stumbles. Her temple hits the back of the seat and a dull pain flashes right between her eyes. She yelps, rubbing at her face. When she finally manages to right herself, she quickly searches for the girl. To her dismay, Dahyun realizes that the girl must’ve gotten off at this stop. 

“Wait, wait,” she murmurs to herself, hurrying to look out the window. She spots the girl walking away, looking down at her phone. She had strange clothes—almost vintage-like, Dahyun isn’t quite sure how to describe it. As the bus starts up again, Dahyun can’t understand the sudden turmoil she feels. She places her hands on the glass and watches the girl disappear around a corner. The ache in her chest deepens. She can’t fathom why it feels like she just lost something important to her…

 


 

Chaeyoung looks up from her phone when a waiter arrives by her table. 

"Your iced americano and strawberry shortcake," he says, depositing her order on the table.

“Thank you,” Chaeyoung says cheerfully as she immediately digs into the food. It’s nearly noon so she considers this her brunch. She woke up late today—a normal occurrence for an art student working on her assignments back home. Since she’s moving to France soon, she’s been extra busy in complying her requirements. It’s a hassle. She thinks she deserves some much-needed time for herself.

The café she frequents is very popular in the afternoon but since it’s still early for the regulars to arrive, the place isn’t quite as packed. It gives her a semblance of peace and calm. Chaeyoung reaches into her bag and pulls out her sketchpad, along with some colored pens. Even though she’s already good to go in her dream school in France, it doesn’t hurt to add more to her portfolio.

Chaeyoung quickly begins to draw whatever is on her mind, plugging in her earphones so that she can listen to some music. As her playlist plays Visions of Gideon by Sufjan Stevens, her right hand moves on its accord. She hums, watching as a picture gradually forms right in front of her eyes. It’s always a calming experience—feeling the pencil in her grip, pressing on the paper to get the desired effect, adding more details to the overall sketch.

Thirty minutes later, Chaeyoung stops drawing and sips her iced americano. When she takes another look back at her drawing, she pauses. Her heart jumps in her throat. The pencil in her hand drops.

She drew a girl holding an umbrella.

A sudden, pressing weight behind her eyes suddenly overwhelms her. It’s worse than a migraine—something that Chaeyoung is already familiar with. She takes off her earphones and rubs the bridge of her nose, squeezing her eyes shut to stop the world from spinning. When the pain starts to ebb away, she refocuses her attention on the drawing.

The girl with long, blonde hair is holding an umbrella with her right hand. Her eyes are focused up to the sky. She’s wearing a long-sleeved jacket with stars embroidered on the front. She is beautiful. One of the most beautiful people Chaeyoung has ever drawn.

(Puzzles, she hears a voice in the back of her head, because we complete each other.)

She tries to search for a name but her mind comes up blank.

There is nothing.

With a deep frown and a slight shake of her head, Chaeyoung puts her earphones back in and resumes coloring the girl, bringing her to life with a few chosen shades.

 


 

Jeongyeon takes off her earphones and hops off her bike. A quick look around the neighborhood tells her the usual: kids playing on the streets, people hurrying to the nearest bus stop, some stray dogs looking for scraps. She frowns when a tiny sleek brown dog approaches her, large wide eyes begging for food. 

“Hey, buddy,” she says, reaching into her bag and taking out her packed lunch. She opens the container, picks out the largest slice of beef she can find and drops it in front of the dog. He doesn’t hesitate, devouring it in one go and looking up to ask for more.

Jeongyeon smiles gently and proceeds to give him the rest of her lunch.

The bakery is still closed when Jeongyeon arrives. She uses her key to push the back door open and steps inside. The smell of fresh dough and coffee from the other day still lingers in the air. It's like a warm blanket wrapping across her shoulders and keeping her safe. This feels like home. 

She drops her bag off at the back room and moves to prepare the bread for today. They usually open around noon but she doesn't mind getting here early. Once her hair is up in a clean net and her apron is tied around her waist, she washes her hands thoroughly under the sink and goes through the pastries she has to make. 

Jeongyeon likes her job. When she dropped off from college to be a fulltime baker, her parents had initially been against it. Even her older sisters, Seungyeon and Seoyeon, thought she could do better in modelling or even anywhere else as long as she had a degree. But all Jeongyeon wants is a simple life—a life where she can do what she wants with a routine in place. When she worked part-time at this bakery during high school, she fell in love with the process. 

The bakery she works at is quite small but well-known. It’s called Maybell Bakery. She’s known the owner for years now—a woman named Kim Yeongmo who taught her everything she knew. Sure, their bakery isn’t popular like all the other chains in Seoul but it’s enough to sustain a living. Jeongyeon pays her bills while doing what she loves. It’s enough and she’s happy about it.

The back door suddenly opens. Im Joowon walks in. He’s the other baker Yeongmo hired a few months ago. He’s nice and soft-spoken. When he spots Jeongyeon already working, he is quick to deposit his belongings and approach her. 

“Did you just arrive?” he asks. 

“Yup,” she replies, “I’ve already started on the soboro bread.”

“Okay. I’ll get on the melon pan.”

Jeongyeon stills. 

(Would you give me free bread if I asked?) 

“What did you say?” she asks Joowon. 

Her co-baker frowns slightly. “I’ll start working on the melon pan?” he repeats. 

“Oh.” Jeongyeon feels very cold. It’s like the temperature in the room has suddenly dropped. But if that happened, then her bread would be affected. After all, they can’t grow under colder temperatures. She shakes her head and looks back at the dough she just kneaded. Maybe she’s just catching a cold or something. 

She glances up at the clock and catches the hand move just in time for it to signal 12:00 NN. 

 


 

It’s 11:00 AM when Tzuyu closes the front door behind her.

She whistles for Gucci and grins happily when he comes running towards her from behind the couch. The dog is quick to jump into her arms and lick at her face. The gesture is always a nice welcome every time she steps foot into the Chou mansion. Tzuyu just got home from her only class of the day and has already resigned herself to Netflix and Chill for the remaining hours.

“Hello,” she says with a contented sigh, nuzzling her face into Gucci’s fur, “Where’s your little brother?”

She whistles again, searching for another dog in the vicinity. A few seconds later, she hears barking and another pair of paws running towards her. From the kitchen emerges Wutzu who quickens his pace when he sees his owner standing in the living room.

“Hi, baby,” she greets, bending down so that her two dogs are gathered up in her arms, “I hope you didn’t miss me that much.”

Not expecting a response, Tzuyu heads to the kitchen while struggling to balance her babies. After a few minutes of them playfully nipping at each other, Gucci finally has had enough and barks at his owner. Tzuyu, sensing what he wants, bends her knees so that he can drop to the floor. Then he walks off, presumably to murder his 8th stuffed toy that month.

Wutzu stays put in Tzuyu’s arms as she finds a note from her mother on the fridge door: There’s food on the table. Just reheat it. Love you! Xoxo – Mom.

“I don’t understand why she never texts me first, Wutzu,” Tzuyu tells her dog, folding the note neatly in half and putting it in her back pocket. Then she heads to the dining room where she finds a bowl of beef noodles waiting for her.

Wutzu smells the food and nearly jumps out of Tzuyu’s grip just to have a bite.

“Ahhh,” Tzuyu says, clicking her tongue at him, “Bad dog.” Wutzu has always been rebellious—the complete opposite of Gucci who does whatever he wants but still sticks to the training Tzuyu had given him.

She puts Wutzu down on the ground, finally freeing her hands so that she can heat up her lunch. When she rises to her feet and watches the dog running away from her, a sudden image flashes across her mind, bringing with it some sort of pain she hasn’t experienced before. It’s intense enough to make her stumble back against the corner of the table and take a seat on the chair behind her. Her chest suddenly grows heavy, as if some stones were weighing it down. Frazzled, Tzuyu clings to what she saw.

The image in her mind consisted of a white Pomeranian dog running into the arms of an older-looking girl with short brown hair. The memory of the girl’s bunny smile fills Tzuyu’s mind. But she doesn’t know where it came from. It felt less like a sudden eureka moment and more like a memory…a memory she knows is important.

(I thought about the puppy’s name for like three days.)

Tzuyu can’t recognize the voice in her head.

“I’m just hungry,” she tells herself, shaking her head, “It’s nothing.”

She stands up, grabs the bowl of beef noodles, and heads to the kitchen. As the seconds pass by, the pain fades and the image vanishes. But the heaviness in her chest doesn’t go away.

 


 

Momo pokes her head out of the kitchen. “You’re back early, onee-san,” she tells her sister, having heard the apartment door open and close.

Hana shrugs, putting her bag on the table and entering the kitchen to find Momo preparing a feast for them. “I cut it early.”

“Ah.” Momo smiles at her. “Were they that bad?”

Usually, when Hana ends her dance classes early, it means that she’s frustrated at her students to the point that she’d rather regroup and start again the next day. But now, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Hana is smiling, eyes warm and posture relaxed. “No,” she answers, “A few people caught the flu so there wasn’t much we could do.”

“I see.” Momo points at what she’s cooking. “I didn’t expect you to be back so soon. I’m still frying the tempura. Can you set the table?”

“Okay.”

The two sisters work in unison. Ever since they moved out of their parents’ house to pursue their careers—Hana in dancing and Momo in cooking—they’ve built a routine with each other. Because Hana works in the day for her dance classes, Momo stays home and prepares their lunch. And when Hana gets home late in the afternoon, Momo is already at the restaurant she works at, powering through dinner service. The only person they get to see outside of their co-workers is each other.

“Can you buy something for me before you head into work?” Hana asks once everything has been set.

Momo hums noncommittally. “What is it?”

“Just a blue outfit. I need it for a performance next week.”

“What kind of outfit?”

Hana takes a step close and searches for something in her phone. Then she shows the screen to her little sister and points at the image. It’s a completely blue suit, starting from the top straight down to the pants. “I’ll send you the picture to your phone,” Hana says, stepping away, “You’re coming, right? I’ll also reserve you a ticket.”

Momo is frozen.

(I want you to sing while I dance.)

Hana looks up, frowning at her. “Momo-chan?”

There’s something burning. When Momo looks at the pan, she realizes that her tempura has turned black. She quickly extinguishes the flame and sighs at the mess. She doesn’t know what got into her. For some reason, seeing that blue outfit reminded her of someone… somebody she was close with… Trying to come up with a face in her mind is like trying to remember the answer to a question on her exam but only remembering the page it was in.

“Sorry,” she says, shaking her head and throwing the burnt tempura away, “I’ll buy it.”

“Thanks,” Hana coos, reaching up to tickle Momo under her chin, “I’ll pay you some other time.”

 


 

Mina wipes off the sweat from her chin and sits up groggily from her bed. From her bedside table, she can see that it’s already nearing 1:00 PM. The curtains do little to fight off the sun peeking through the window, lighting her room with an orange glow and hurting her eyes a bit. She can’t even be bothered to draw the curtains properly, opting to hide her face under her pillow instead.

Oh, to wake up with a fever—Mina was supposed to be practicing today. Instead, she’s stuck in bed with a body temperature higher than 37 Celsius and a sore throat. Her mother had already dropped by earlier that morning to give her some soup and medicine, but they’ve done little to soothe the fever.

Mina picks up her phone and scrolls through her news feed. She can’t force herself to go back to sleep. Not when it feels like her throat is equivalent to the Sahara Desert. She already drank two glassfuls of water her mother had left on the table earlier but she’s too tired to get more from the kitchen.

So, she stays in her bed, huddled between her pillows and blankets. Her body feels too warm, but shivers run through her bones. This is why she hates getting sick. Her favorite place in the entire world feels too uncomfortable for her now.

Mina lets out a tired sigh and drops her phone on the bed, her gaze fixed on the penguin keychain attached to it. She closes her eyes, trying to force herself to sleep. Nothing happens. Just her getting more restless the more she stays awake. So, she opens her eyes again and plays with the keychain, hoping that the boredom will be enough to soothe her to sleep.

(If you compare Mina with an animal, she’s a penguin.)

Mina frowns, her movements stilling as a voice in her head fades away. Where did that come from? The voice in her head didn’t belong to her—it belonged to somebody she can’t even identify, especially in the current state she’s in. She takes a quick look around her room, thinking that somebody might be with her right now, but she’s alone. For some reason, this unnerves her more than a possible burglar waltzing right through the door.

Has she always been alone? Mina doesn’t think so.

Mina looks down at the keychain, tracing the shape of the penguin.

(Should I say that she gives me vibes to protect her?)

“Who…” Mina rubs her eyes, trying to remember, trying to match a face with the voice, trying to desperately grab something that’s already out of reach. “Who are you?”

There is no response.

The voice in her head doesn’t return, leaving Mina with a heavy feeling in her chest. Because for some reason, she feels as if she's never been truly alone...

Until now.