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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. 

 


 

Chapter Text


 

(I want a better life for you and for the others.)

Flashes of images come and go in Jihyo’s mind but they’re too fast to be coherent, too quick for her to grab a hold of. She sees faces—faces she can’t recognize but just know—flickering like faulty light switches. One second, she sees them. The next, they’re gone. It’s as if she’s being shown a slideshow of somebody else’s life because when she sits back and looks at these images, there is familiarity but no recognition. She stares, trying to decipher them, but it’s like a math equation gone wrong. She knows there’s a problem but she’s forgotten how to solve it.

(And what is a better life for me?)

That voice. Jihyo looks at all sides but the images have disappeared. There is only darkness. She walks around, not knowing if she’s going forward or backward. She waits for the voice to come back. 

(Not this.)

Jihyo runs. She runs after the voice because even though she can’t remember who is speaking—who the person behind that voice is—she knows that she’s important. Despite how blind she is to her surroundings, Jihyo continues to run, following her heart—because that’s where this person belongs.

A name resurfaces for a split second and a blinding white light spills out of nowhere—

“—unnie,” Jihyo calls, hand stretched out, hoping that she can reach her—

There is silence.

And then—

“You’re not supposed to be here.”

Somebody is directing a flashlight straight into her eyes. Jihyo blinks, trying to adapt to her surroundings, and raises a hand to fend off the bright light. When she comes around, the surface of a table comes into view. Then she sees a man standing in front of her. A security guard? Wait, where is she?

“The library closed two hours ago,” the guard says, dropping the flashlight he’d been directing at her face, “You need to leave.”

“Sorry, sir,” Jihyo says, straightening her back and rubbing at her eyes. The dream she had—the one with the voice—is starting to fade away. She tries to hold onto it. But the more she looks, the more she realizes that most of the dream has already gone.

Now,” the guard says impatiently.

Jihyo hurriedly grabs her things—her scales, her rulers, her tracing paper—and shoves them into her bag. A quick look at her surroundings confirms what the guard basically just told her. The library is now closed, towering shelves of books illuminated only by the overhead lights in the ceiling. She had spent much of the afternoon here, trying to catch up on her plates. She must’ve fallen asleep halfway through. With a stiff nod at the guard, she leaves the building.

When she emerges into the streets, she sees that it’s already half past seven in the evening. She presses a hand against her eyes, realizing that she hasn’t eaten anything for dinner. When she thinks this, her stomach rumbles immediately. She could head home where her mother would surely set aside some food for her but at the same time, the trip back to her house could take at least an hour. And she’s hungry now

Maybe there’s a place nearby where she can grab a bite to eat. She decides to walk around in search for one. In doing so, she stumbles across a small restaurant selling tteokbokki. It’s almost hidden, especially with how inconspicuous it looks on the street. But there are already a few people sitting outside and eating with their friends. Jihyo orders a quick meal and finishes it within record time. She doesn't like eating alone. It gets too lonesome. 

(She can’t help but feel as if she shouldn’t be alone when eating her meals...)

She's already forgotten her dream at this point. 

Maybe it’s time to go home. Jihyo pays her bill and moves to stand up. When she looks at the tables full of people her age spending time with her friends, a deep ache in her chest suddenly starts up. She’s never minded being alone. Sure, she has her own fair share of friends but she has never felt the need to spend time with them unless it was part of school. 

And yet the ache persists. 

Ever since she woke up today, she’s been feeling off. Like things are wired differently. She didn’t feel this way yesterday… or the day before. Nothing significant happened to warrant such a change in her attitude. But she feels it every single moment since she opened her eyes. Like there’s somewhere she’s supposed to be. Or somebody she should be with. It reminds Jihyo of all the times she tries to study but can’t do so until she finishes off doing something else. 

“Can I help you, unnie?” 

Jihyo breaks off from her thoughts and realizes that she’d been staring at a table full of high school kids. She shakes her head, smiles at them and awkwardly walks away. The nagging feeling lingers but she pushes it away. Maybe she should sleep it off. After all, she had an exam today. One that nearly used up her brain cells. 

She’s about to head to the nearest bus stop when she spots a noraebang a few blocks away from where she’s standing. 

Something akin to a feather tickles the back of her brain. 

She walks away from the bus stop and enters the noraebang. Once she's inside, she finds the usual: soundproof rooms with people inside, all presumably singing to their heart's content. There's a small glass window that allows you to peek inside. Jihyo doesn't get the chance to look into the nearest one before the person at the counter clears his throat and catches her attention. 

"You going?" he asks with a bored expression, gesturing around the place, "We've got vacant rooms everywhere." 

Jihyo frowns. "That doesn't sound like a good thing."

The man shrugs. "Beggars can't be choosers, I guess." 

Jihyo pays for an hour and is escorted to a room nearest the kitchen. Upon entering, she is met with bright flashing lights directed straight at her face, which immediately makes her head hurt. She wonders if she can ask them to turn it off. She wouldn't mind singing in the darkness, provided that she can actually see the lyrics on screen. 

There's already a song playing when she takes a seat and grabs the microphone off the table. It's Only Longing Grows. Jihyo pauses, frowning to herself. She's heard this song before but for some reason, when she thinks about it now, she sees a girl writing words on the wall—words she can't decipher from where she's standing in her mind's eye. 

"What's going on with me?" she mumbles, taking the book of songs and placing it on her lap. She rubs the bridge of her nose. She can't understand where these sudden images are coming from. 

Focusing on the task at hand, Jihyo lets her mind wander as she looks for songs to sing to. When she was younger, she always liked singing. It was something that relieved her stress. Her parents once enrolled her in a model competition as a kid. When she didn't win, her father just smiled, patted her head and told her that it was okay. "Maybe you're meant for something else," he had said with fondness coloring his tone. 

When she has time, Jihyo likes to sing at noraebangs. It doesn't matter if she's alone. It doesn't matter if there's nobody to sing with. Because she likes to sing, even if there's nobody who will listen. 

Her head starts to hurt again, like needles prickling the sides of her brain. She flinches and groans, putting the microphone down. In her mind's eye, she sees three girls seated in front of a karaoke machine, staring at the screen. She feels the ghost of a wide smile playing on her lips at the sight of them. These are her girls—her mem—her what? One of them has blonde hair and she's looking over her shoulder to smile at Jihyo—

(I tried my best to forget her.)

A name. There's a name on the tip of her tongue. A name. But she can't get it out.

The image trickles away like sand in between her fingers. Within seconds, it's gone. There is nothing left. 

Jihyo sits alone in the middle of the room, frozen in shock. Despair fills her bones. Why does it feel like she's just lost something important? Like she's walking up a staircase and there's a hole right in the middle that she doesn't know about. When her foot falls through, her heart lurches in agony. There is a sudden, painful realization at what has happened but she just sits there… 

Jihyo doesn't know who those girls are. She doesn't know why it hurts to try and remember that blonde girl. She doesn't know her.

So why does it feel like she just lost someone important to her? 

Jihyo sighs. Maybe she should've gone home earlier. The exam was one of the hardest things she's studied for. So she picks up the microphone and searches for a song. 

A Late Night in 1994. 

Jihyo smiles at the title. One of her go-to songs when she wants to wallow in her sadness. She’s so excited to start singing that she doesn’t even stop to question what’s there to be sad about. She goes to input the song number and waits for the music to change. When it does, she brings the microphone to her lips, eyes closed shut, and starts to sing: 

 

Tonight I couldn't

tell you with words

forgive me for writing

my feelings on a paper

 

(She sees herself, sitting in a room with a tablet in front of her. She writes down the lyrics of the song she's singing right now. For what occasion, she doesn't know.) 

 

For some time

I was crazy to the point I was afraid

I don't know if I regret

this image of me

 

(She sees a young girl with a mole under her lip reaching out to tuck Jihyo's hair behind her ears.) 

 

But my dear

it would be good to forget everything else

and remember only this

 

(An image resurfaces—two girls with a small brown dog in between them. They are smiling at each other, stuck in their own world. Jihyo doesn't mind being a bystander.)

 

Do you know how much

I love you?

Love you

 

(She sees herself reaching up and wiping away the tears of a girl taller than her. Her heart aches. Their maknae is too pure—)

 

All alone in an empty room

I remained alone

 

(But, Jihyo thinks to herself, I wasn't alone.)

 

Only then I might understand

your absence

 

(Jihyo holds onto a hand that's shaking. It's okay, she hears herself whisper, looking up and seeing moles scattered like constellations on a night sky, we'll always be nine.)

 

But my dear

it would be good to forget everything else

and remember only this

 

(Jihyo sees eight other girls walking in front of her and stretches out her hand to hold onto them.)

 

Do you know how much

I love you?

Love you

now goodbye

 

(Just as her hand is about to touch their backs, the girls disappear.)

The ache in her chest deepens as the song ends. Jihyo opens her eyes and finds herself alone in the noraebang. She drops the hand holding the microphone down to her side and stares at her score.

A perfect 100.

The images in her head vanish.

When Jihyo leaves the noraebang an hour later, she spots a group of people out on the streets. Most of them are boys, smoking together. But she can see that they're huddled around two girls. Fear grips her heart. She hopes those two will be okay. 

"You sure you ain't an idol?" she hears one man ask, "You scored like three perfect 100s back there." 

Jihyo looks away and checks her phone. There's a message from her mom, asking her where she is. She turns away, tapping a reply on the screen, but she can still hear the group behind her. 

"Would you really see her working as an intern if she was an idol, you dumbass?" another man asks, hitting his friend over the head. 

The sound of a girl's loud laughter gets carried by the window and reaches Jihyo's ears. She freezes. That laugh… it sounds strikingly familiar. She's about to look over her shoulder and see if the laugh belongs to someone she knows when her phone lights up with a call from her mother. 

"Fuck," she mutters, realizing how late it is. Her mom only calls when she's really worried. Any mother would be if their child didn't reply to their messages. 

So, without looking back, Jihyo makes her way to the nearest bus stop.

(Behind her, Nayeon continues to laugh with her co-workers.) 

 


 

Kang Kyoungmi—the director of the indie film they’re working on—laughs like a hyena when she’s really in the mood. Nayeon, who is diligently taking notes about what a stage manager is saying regarding the wardrobe choices, glances over her shoulder and spots the director deep in a conversation with an actress whose back is turned to her. Wait, is that—?

“Hey, you listening, kid?” the stage manager calls her attention, snapping his fingers, “Eyes back here. We ain’t giving you an allowance just for you to zone out on me.”

“My apologies,” Nayeon mumbles.

She continues to write down the stuff she needs to pass onto the wardrobe department even though her eyes continue to flicker to the side, hoping to catch a glimpse of the actress. She’s pretty sure it’s the same one from yesterday—the one she was told to give the script to. Gong Seungyeon. Their exchange was very brief—just a simple passing of the script while Seungyeon was getting ready for make-up. They didn’t even exchange formalities. The studio was quite hectic. As she recalls this, Nayeon feels a sting of familiarity.

“Anyway," the manager says, "while you’re out doing your tasks, bring me back a steaming cup of black coffee, got it?” 

Nayeon bites back an annoyed sigh. “Yes, Manager-nim.”  

After he leaves, Nayeon takes some time to rub her temples. God, working as an intern in an indie film is annoying. The amount of respect producers expect out of everybody, even if it’s just over a cup of coffee, makes Nayeon wonder why she even pursued film studies in the first place. But it is her passion. She has to suck it up. 

Nayeon heads to the wardrobe department, knowing that she has a list of instructions that she needs to pass to them. She passes by a cameraman carrying his equipment over his shoulder and the sudden image of a girl with short dark hair doing the same thing flashes across her eyes. She nearly stumbles but rights herself at the very last second. The image fades within the next several seconds.

“Just tired,” she tells herself with a slight shake of her head, “You did go party out last night, Nabongs.”

She’s been feeling very off since yesterday morning. Like there’s something she can’t shake off. It’s the same feeling she gets when she realizes that she’s worn her shirt inside out and she can’t rest until she’s fixed it in the nearest bathroom. But her shirt isn’t inside out. Nor is anything out of place. She just feels… off. It’s hard to explain, no matter how many time she tries to figure it out.

Maneuvering through the different hallways of the studio, Nayeon consults the list of things she has to tell the people in the wardrobe department. But in doing so, she doesn’t watch her step and ends up bumping shoulders with a woman passing by her. The clipboard in her hand falls to the ground and skids a few feet away from where she stands. 

“Oh, sorry!” she’s quick to say, bowing deeply to the woman she just bumped into, “I should’ve looked at where I was going.”

“It’s okay.” The woman replies and it’s only then that Nayeon realizes she bumped into the actress she had seen talking to the director earlier. “I was also on my phone.” Seungyeon raises her phone and waves it around, a smile on her face.

Before Nayeon can pick up her clipboard, Seungyeon does it for her. “You also seemed like you were in a hurry,” the actress says, handing Nayeon her list. 

“Yeah,” Nayeon answers, unable to keep her eyes away from the actress standing in front of her. Nayeon probably looks like a college student who hasn’t gotten any sleep the past few weeks compared to Seungyeon. Oh well. That’s what actresses are supposed to do—make you feel unpretty. And this particular actress is extremely pretty with dark shoulder-length hair, warm eyes and a wide comforting smile. 

(That smile… Nayeon searches her mind for anything similar and comes up with nothing.)

“Thank you,” Nayeon immediately says when she realizes that Seungyeon picked up her clipboard for her, “I guess I’m just not feeling it lately.” 

Seungyeon nods understandingly. “I understand.” She looks around. “Indie films require a lot of work since there’s not a lot of budget to work with. You can’t be choosy with the people you work with as well.”

Nayeon nods as well, cracking a small smile. “I’m surprised you’re working an indie film. I’m sure that there are lots of companies that want to work with you.”

Seungyeon shrugs. “It’s just a cameo. Plus, I owed the director a favor,” she answers, winking at Nayeon, “Don’t tell anybody that. I trust that you can keep a secret.”

There’s familiarity here. The kind of familiarity you feel with a friend from childhood. Nayeon feels a nagging sensation in the back of her mind. She knows Seungyeon. Not because of her movies. But because of something else… there’s something or someone tying them together. She just doesn’t know it yet.

“Your secret’s safe with me,” Nayeon replies, smiling.

The two linger in the hallway for a few more seconds. It’s as if there’s something left unsaid. The overall feeling Nayeon felt since yesterday—the one that keeps screaming at her that something is wrong—intensifies. Something is wrong. Something needs to be said.

Nayeon doesn’t know what… 

“I should get going,” the actress says, bowing deeply, “Excuse me.”

Nayeon steps aside, her eyes fixed on the floor, as Seungyeon starts to walk away. The restless feeling continues to prickle at her skin. She holds the clipboard tight enough that her knuckles start to whiten. Why is she feeling like this? Why did it start yesterday? Why does she feel like something is so wrong—like she’s seconds away from making a huge mistake—?

“Wait,” she hears herself saying, “Gong Seungyeon.”

Seungyeon turns, raising her eyebrows. “Yes?” she asks.

“I…” Nayeon looks up, holding Seungyeon’s gaze. “I’m…”

She doesn’t know what to say. Why did she stop her?

The actress smiles gently. She must be confusing Nayeon for an embarrassed fan. “Yes?” she asks, stepping forward and placing her hands behind her back.

“I’m…” Nayeon shakes her head, feeling as if she’s coming out of a daze, “I wanted to ask… have we… have we met somewhere before?”

Had this been another life, Nayeon would’ve slapped herself for even daring to think that a famous actress such as Gong Seungyeon would even so much as look at her way.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Seungyeon looks surprised. “Oh,” she says, her eyes shifting to the sides, “I’m not really sure. I think I would remember your face if we did.”

The crushing disappointment Nayeon feels deep in her chest is something she only felt once. It was during film school. She had submitted an entry for the Busan International Film Festival after balancing her studies and trying to get a cohesive film together. The theme was about family. She had written the story, paid for everything, hired people to help her and even edited the video herself hours before the deadline. At the end of the day, her film wasn’t even shown during the festival and it had crushed her very soul.  

And now, Nayeon feels the same weight in her chest when she hears Seungyeon’s words. For some reason though, it’s worse. Like there’s also somebody’s hand wrapped around her neck.

“I see,” she murmurs, swallowing the lump in her throat in the hopes that she can breathe a little easier; it doesn’t work, “I’m sorry for wasting your time.”

“It’s okay,” Seungyeon replies, tilting her head to the side, “Have you heard of the Blue Angel Volunteers? My sisters and I usually spend our free time there. It’s possible that our paths might’ve crossed then.”

Nayeon is familiar with the organization. Some idols and actresses always made news each time they were spotted volunteering. But she’s never joined, always kept busy by her work.

“Oh, I don’t volunteer there,” she answers, scratching her cheek, “I’ve heard good things about it, though.”

“Yes, you should come with, if you have time.”

“I—I will think about it.”

Seungyeon’s smile widens. “Maybe I’ll see you then.”

The two of them are interrupted by Seungyeon’s phone ringing. The actress smiles apologetically and gestures that she’ll be going now. Nayeon nods, her mind still trying to solve a puzzle that she doesn’t even have the complete pieces to. Perhaps it’s for the best. If Seungyeon herself doesn’t have the same pressing feeling that they know each other, then maybe Nayeon should let it go. There’s no rational explanation as to why she’s thinking of people that she doesn’t even recognize or why she’s trying to form connections when there aren’t any in the first place.

She looks back at her clipboard and walks away to complete her tasks.

(Behind her, Seungyeon answers the phone: “Hey, Jeongyeon-ah. What’s up?”)

 


 

Jeongyeon stops watching the funny dog video saved on her phone when it’s her turn at the counter. “Two servings of gochujang tteokbokki to go please,” she says to the woman standing behind the cash register.

The woman nods, fake customer-smile firmly in place. “Is there anything else you want to add?”

“Hmm.” Jeongyeon scratches her cheek, deep in thought. “Maybe some cheese kimbap.”

(Cheese kimbap?)

Jeongyeon’s head whips to the side, caught off guard. Who said that? But there’s nobody behind her. And it definitely wasn’t the woman she just ordered from. Besides, the voice didn’t sound similar… What she heard sounded higher when it came to the pitch. Like it oozed sweetness and honey.

Jeongyeon takes another quick look around the restaurant but there’s nobody within the vicinity that the voice could’ve belonged to. Everybody else is just eating their food.

“Ma’am?”

“Huh?” Jeongyeon turns to the woman, mouth slightly agape. “Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

The woman smiles politely and points to the register. “Here is the total amount.”  

Jeongyeon pays for her food and is told that it’ll take at least five minutes to prepare. So, she takes a seat by an available table near the window and looks out onto the streets of Hongdae. As usual, there’s people everywhere, going from one place to another with their family and friends. The sight makes Jeongyeon feel nostalgic for her own family, especially her sisters. She can’t remember the last time they were all complete at a family gather. Seungyeon is busy with her movies and Seoyeon has overseas business trips to attend to.

Sometimes, Jeongyeon feels like she should be doing more with her time. But these nagging feelings are probably the effect of her family’s constant criticism about her quitting college to work at a small bakery. They might not agree with her choices but it’s what Jeongyeon wants.

A simple life.

No attention. No stress. No worries.

(And yet, the thoughts persist: I should be doing something else…)

Jeongyeon checks her phone again and isn’t too surprised to find a text from Seungyeon. She had reached out yesterday just to ask her older sister how she was doing. The stress of being the entertainment industry is something Jeongyeon can’t even begin to imagine. She wants to be there for her sister during those hardships.

 

Unnie # 1 (10:54 AM)

HEY do u think we should volunteer at the dog shelter again

Little Sister 💚 (10:55 AM)

Aren’t u like busy

Little Sister 💚 (10:55 AM)

            Being one of the most talented actresses in this generation??? ㅋㅋㅋ

Unnie # 1 (10:56 AM)

Flattery gets u nowhere jeong

Unnie # 1 (10:56 AM)

N e way i have some free time next week wanna squeeze it in?

Little Sister 💚 (10:58 AM)

Yeah sure its not like i have a busy sched anyway lmao

Unnie # 1 (10:58 AM)

Great! i’ll contact the blue angels again xx

Little Sister 💚 (10:59 AM)

kk gtg btw my food is here

Unnie # 1 (11:01 AM)

Pig

Little Sister 💚 (11:02 AM)

If im a pig so are u cause we’re related ㅋㅋㅋ

 

Jeongyeon fondly rolls her eyes and puts her phone away. Then she goes to pick up her takeout bag from the counter and leaves the restaurant. Once outside, she searches for her bike and finds it near the gate fence where she parked it at earlier. Good. The last time she ate at this place, one dude tried to steal her bike. Thankfully, she caught him in time and he scurried away before she could call the authorities.

She hangs the takeout bag on the handlebar, unlocks the bike from the gate fence and then hops on it. Before she leaves for the bakery, she plugs in her earphones and plays Day6’s Time Of Our Life. It’s one of her favorite feel-good songs, one that makes her feel like she’s on top of the world and there’s nothing that can bring her down. If she had to pick, she’d probably be a Wonpil stan. Seungyeon once took her and Seoyeon to a concert and the whole event is something Jeongyeon would pay to experience all over again.

The concert… Jeongyeon remembers the flashing lights, the gigantic screens, the crowd of screaming fans. It was so surreal. She wonders what it was like for the band—seeing so many people attend their concert and know their songs by heart. Of course, Jeongyeon will never know. She’s a nobody, after all.

The second Jeongyeon thinks this, a series of images come to mind. A sea of people clapping for them, an announcer’s voice in the background declaring them as winners, a small girl with short hair and tears in her eyes walking up to the microphone and speaking on behalf of them.

(Thank you so much. Even saying it 100 times isn’t enough.)

But who is them?

The image vanishes and Jeongyeon finds herself staring at the sidewalk.

“Whoa,” she mumbles, reaching up and rubbing at her eyes, “That was weird.”

She pays it no mind. Perhaps the images were from a movie she had watched a while back. With a shrug of her shoulders, she makes her way to work.

When she arrives at the bakery, she breaks out into a wide smile at the sight of the brown dog from two days ago. He’s been waiting for her ever since she fed him. It doesn’t bother her that he’s getting used to it. After all, he just wants some food.

“Hey, buddy,” she calls, dropping her bike in front of the entrance and taking the takeout bag with her. This time, she came prepared.

The dog whines softly, sitting up on his haunches and waiting for her.

“I still haven’t come up with a name for you,” Jeongyeon murmurs, dropping on the dirty pavement and opening the first container of tteokbokki. She pats the dog on the head once before sliding the food under his nose. At once, he starts to devour the rice cake dish, making sloppy noises the entire time. When Jeongyeon looks over her shoulder, she sees his tail wagging happily.

Her heart feels warm and full.

Sometimes, she wonders what it’s like to be a dog. They’re always so good at expressing how they feel, even if it’s just with their tail. Jeongyeon doesn’t really know how to express herself. Maybe she should learn a thing or two from this small guy sitting next to her.

If there’s anybody who knows what it’s like to have a simple life, it’s a dog.

Once the dog finishes eating, she takes the container and throws it in the trash. Then she waves at him, gesturing to the back of the bakery. “I’ve got to go now,” she says, knowing that he’ll understand, “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

The dog barks once and then scurries off. Jeongyeon doesn’t watch him go. She knows he’ll be back tomorrow morning.

It’s another regular day of being a baker. Jeongyeon diligently starts working at the back, focused on following the right measurements and kneading the dough to perfection. A few minutes after she arrives, Joowon shows up to help. When the first batch of bread is already baking in the oven, they open the bakery. Then the owner Yeongmo arrives to man the counter.

Jeongyeon expects it to be another simple day at the bakery.

(Things are bound to change.)

As the hours progress and the regulars come and go, Yeongmo informs Jeongyeon that she needs to be somewhere. “I’ll be quick,” the owner says, smiling apologetically at her, “I’m sure you and Jowoon can handle it, yes?”

Jeongyeon waves her boss away with a grin. “We’ll be fine,” she says, already pushing Yeongmo out the door and into the parking lot while the customers are still enjoying their bread, “See ya, unnie!”

Yeongmo laughs and shakes her head. “Don’t be afraid to call me if you need help, okay?” she says, pulling out her car keys from her purse.

“You act like we haven’t been left alone in here before,” Jeongyeon points out with a smug grin, “I could handle this place with one eye closed.”

“Please don’t—you might get robbed.”

The two of them laugh. Yeongmo has always been somebody Jeongyeon is comfortable enough to joke around with. Thank God the older woman feels the same way.  

Jeongyeon waves goodbye at her boss and returns to the bakery. Once inside, she rearranges everything on display and cleans up the tables left behind by the customer. Other than bread, they also offer cups of coffee and tea. It’s not like what other popular bakery chains offer, such bubble tea or frappes. But Jeongyeon knows that people don’t come here for the aesthetics. They come here to enjoy fresh bread and hot coffee.

This is why she likes working here. It’s comfortable. It’s homey. It’s simple.

Everything that she could possibly want.

It’s about five in the afternoon when Jeongyeon hears the front door opening and a fresh pair of footsteps walking inside. She’s busy rearranging the cookie jar so she calls over her shoulder, “Welcome to Maybell Bakery, I’ll be with you in a second!” She doesn’t get a response, which is expected from a customer. The first thing they do when they enter is to check out what’s on display, after all.

Jeongyeon tries to quickly finish the task of rearranging the cookies, not feeling the weight of a heavy stare burning holes on her back.

(Behind her, Jihyo stops dead in her tracks and remembers.)

 


 

Chapter Text

 


 

Momo dreams.

Most of the time, she dreams of an airport.

She doesn’t know which airport exactly, having been in so many airports during her entire life thanks to her career in food. But it’s familiar, like she’s been here before. Or maybe she’s only been here once and something happened here that made it so hard to forget. Because she knows that she’s dreamed of this place for as long as she can remember… like this is something worth coming back to every single time she shuts her eyes and tries to rest.

It’s always the same dream.

Momo enters the airport with her luggage in hand. She can feel her parents’ presence behind her but it also feels like they’re at the far end of a tunnel. She knows they’re there but she can’t see them. Her heart is racing but for what reason, she doesn’t know. All she knows is that she’s supposed to be in this airport. There’s somewhere she needs to be—someone she needs to be with.

All Momo has to do is find her.

The dream always changes halfway through. Sometimes, she’ll catch a glimpse of a girl walking through the crowd, seemingly looking for someone as well. Each time Momo spots the girl, she tries to move past the people standing in her way. But for some reason, the more she approaches, the more she can feel them pushing her back. There are other times where Momo sees the girl just leaning on the wall, arms crossed and eyes closed. Like she’s tired of waiting. Momo blinks and the girl is gone. As if she was never even there in the first place.

Her dream starts with her entering the airport, knowing that she has to find someone.

She never does, always waking up before she has the chance to truly find her. 

(On the other side of the country, Sana also wakes up from the same dream.) 

Momo wakes up from another one of these dreams when she hears her alarm ringing. She reaches out, fumbling for her phone, and quickly shuts the sound off with her eyes glued shut. It’s another day—a new day to wake up, cook breakfast, walk the dogs, watch the latest drama, experiment with new food, make dinner for her older sister and then head to work. Her mind is so used to this routine she doesn’t question it. However, this time, when she gets out of bed, the first thing she does isn’t to freshen up. Instead, her body moves on its own accord.

She stands in the middle of her bedroom, her hands on her hips and her feet firmly planted on the ground. Then she takes a deep breath and starts stretching. After she finishes with the usual stretches, she continues exercising, not really thinking too much about which move to follow up with because her body already knows what to do. After a beat passes, she starts dancing.

It’s odd. Her entire life, it has always been Hana who loved to dance, who was always updated with the latest pop choreographies, who knew what she wanted and worked tirelessly to achieve it. On the other hand, Momo was happy to wait for her after every practice just so that they could try some new street food she just heard of. She was always happy when it came to food, which is why she spent all her time trying new dishes and perfecting them in her free time.

Whenever Hana came home exhausted from dance school, Momo was always there to offer her whatever she had been working on that day.

This is the way it always has been.

But recently, Momo finds herself dancing too.

“This is stupid,” she tells herself with a frustrated sigh and forces her to limbs to stop moving, “I just need some fresh air.”

She goes on with her day but persistent thoughts continue to plague her mind. It's been like this for a while now. Like her brain is at war with her body. She knows what to do but the unsettling feeling that this isn't what she's supposed to do haunts her. 

Each time she picks up a knife, the rest of her arm wants to resist. Each time she sits on the couch, her legs feel like they want to go somewhere else. Each time she does something related to her usual routine, her body just doesn't want to do it. 

What the hell is going on? 

It reaches the point where she feels such a disconnect that she asks for a day off from the restaurant. "I think I have the flu," she tells the head chef, "so I won't be able to make it to dinner service." 

"It's okay," the chef informs her kindly, "It happens. Take care of yourself, kid."

Hana also texts her a few minutes later, saying that she's going to eat dinner with a couple of friends from high school. This leaves Momo sitting idly in the living room with nothing to do and nobody to talk to. She’s used to this, though. But for some reason, it feels like she isn’t. It has always been her and Hana but there are many times in her life where her older sister isn’t around too. 

Thank you for telling me things, she suddenly hears her own voice in the back of her head, and for being an unnie to me. 

This time, a different girl pops up in her mind. Not the same girl from the airport. Somebody… younger. Blonde hair. Warm eyes. Gummy smile.

Where have I seen you before? 

(Thousands of miles away, Mina sits inside a train compartment and remembers the same memory.)

Momo decides to get something to eat so she rises to her feet. In doing so, her three dogs—Lucky, Pudding and Petco—stand up from their respective places as well. She giggles at their obedient but curious stances. "I'll be back," she promises, grabbing her coat from the rack and pulling it on. 

She pushes another thought away—the thought that there's something missing when it comes to her dogs as well. 

Once she's out in the streets, Momo heads to her favorite restaurant. She usually takes the bus to get there faster but this time, she wants to enjoy a nice walk. There's a lot on her mind so maybe some fresh air will help clear it. She plugs in her earphones and picks some random song from her playlist. She's too troubled by her own thoughts that she doesn't even pay much mind to what she's listening to. 

When she gets to the restaurant, she orders her favorite, pays the bill and takes the bus back home. As she sits in the very middle of the vehicle and looks out the window, something flashes in her mind. 

It's a memory but she doesn't particularly remember it. She sees the inside of a plane with rows of people settling comfortably in their seats. Momo sits by the window, glancing at the outside world, before her eyes sweep around the inside of the aircraft. Her gaze lands on the opposite aisle, where she sees the same girl from before, earphones plugged in and eyes downcast. At the sight of her, Momo's heart races. 

I know you, she thinks and her mouth goes dry, you are precious to me. 

Momo shakes herself from the memory and sees that she's back in the bus. This is her stop. Once the bus halts all movement, she quickly gets up and leaves the vehicle. Then it's a few more minutes of walking before she arrives at her apartment. 

When she's home, Momo makes sure to feed the dogs first and then to start setting up her camera. It’s been a while since she filmed herself filming a mukbang. She doesn’t necessarily have a huge following, compared to some people, but it’s a good start. Besides, the revenue she gets from her YouTube helps pay off some bills.

Momo prepares her set-up—the camera and the tripod in front of her, her food on the table and then some refreshments on the side. Then she makes sure to keep all her dogs in her bedroom so that they won't disturb her. Once everything has been prepared, she takes a seat in front of the camera and starts recording. 

"Hi, everybody," she greets with a smile, "Welcome back to my channel, where I eat food and talk about my day. I'm Momo but you can call me Momoring. That's what my parents call me anyway. Today, I didn't prepare much, if I'm being honest. I just went out, bought my favorite food and decided to do a Mukbang video." Then she drinks a glass of Coke, finishing most of it in one go. 

Momo doesn't have the fancy equipment other people have but she doesn't really mind. The reason why she started this side hobby is to speak her mind while she's on camera. It even feels like a part of her is used to this already—turning a camera on with no particular topic set and just sharing whatever comes through her head. It's another odd feeling, especially when faced with the fact that she's only been doing this for a year. 

She starts with the sushi. "Do you guys have weird dreams sometimes?" she asks the camera, her eyes fixed on the red light, "Not like one of those dreams where half the things don't even make sense but the ones where… it's almost like a memory." 

She chews the sushi slowly as she mulls over her next words. "I don't really remember much about the dream," she admits, "but I do know that it was important." 

Why was it important? Momo asks herself as she moves to prepare the omasum she bought. 

"It was important because somebody was there," she says, looking up at the camera as if it holds all the answers in the world, "and that somebody was important to me too." 

Momo tries to recall that girl again but the only image she has in her mind is fading away—disappearing behind a cloud of smoke and vanishing right before her eyes. Momo could chase after her but she knows it would be futile. Because much of what she remembers from her dream is already gone. 

Just like her.

"Do you also have those dreams, On—?" Momo stops short, confusion striking her into silence. The chopsticks in her hand nearly slip from her grip but she manages to pick them up just in time. 

Moko shakes her head, feeling more confused as each second passes. "Sorry," she mutters, smiling at the camera, "I forgot what I was going to say there. Anyway, do you guys also have those dreams?" 

No answer, of course. Momo is used to this. The second she looks into a camera, she doesn't feel as lonely as she used to be when she was without it. 

Momo picks at the plate of omasum she prepared. In the back of her mind, she thinks of another girl. This time, one with long light brown hair and red earphones plugged in. She looks over at Momo, eyes twinkling, and asks, “Have you ever seen them before?

Something in Momo’s chest burns

“I don’t know,” she says out loud, playing around with the food still on her plate, “I think I’m forgetting something important.” 

 


 

Mina looks up from the plate of cookies the butler had given her the last time he entered the room and fixes her gaze on the steady rise and fall of her Grandfather’s chest. She’s sitting next to him in his bedroom, where the Myoui patriarch has been confined for nearly a year, and holding the book Kokoro in her hands. She was reading a paragraph out loud when the sight of his hand twitching in front of her caught her eye. Now she sighs, sorely disappointed when her Grandfather doesn’t move again, and continues reading the passage:

 

“I am a lonely man," he said again that evening. "And is it not possible that you are also a lonely person? But I am an older man, and I can live with my loneliness, quietly. You are young, and it must be difficult to accept your loneliness. You must sometimes want to fight it."

"But I am not at all lonely."

"Youth is the loneliest time of all. Otherwise, why should you come so often to my house?"

Sensei continued: "But surely, when you are with me, you cannot rid yourself of your loneliness. I have not it in me to help you forget it. You will have to look elsewhere for the consolation you seek. And soon, you will find that you no longer want to visit me."

As he said this, Sensei smiled sadly.”

 

Mina closes the book and reaches up to rub the bridge of her nose. Her Grandfather doesn’t move. He hasn’t been doing much of anything lately. She hoped—against everything else the doctors have told her—that by reading one of his favorite book, she could coax a reaction from him. But other than the twitch of a finger, there has been nothing. Just silence except for the quiet beeping of the machine that keeps him alive… but not alive.

She checks the time. The train is going to leave soon. Putting the book back into her bag and rising from her seat, Mina approaches the bed, ignores the machines standing dutifully by her Grandfather’s side, and leans down to press a soft kiss on his forehead.

“I’ll be back, ojiisan,” she promises, “Next week.”

Nothing. Not even the slightest twitch of his mouth. Mina tries not to let the disappointment wash over her but ends up drowning in it instead.

When she leaves the room and heads to the front door, the butler Haru is there, waiting for her. 

“Did you forget anything, Mina-san?”

Mina is quick to shake her head, wanting nothing more than to leave the vast emptiness of her grandfather’s mansion behind. Each time she comes in for a visit, she is only reminded of the lonely life the patriarch in her family leads. And even though she wants nothing more than for her Grandfather to open his eyes and greet her with a warm smile, she knows she would rather spend her Saturdays elsewhere.  

“Your grandfather would be very pleased that you dropped by for a visit today, Mina-san,” Haru goes on with a polite smile. He is a few years older than Mina and has been serving the family as the head butler for a while now. 

“Yes,” she says, adjusting the straps of her bag, “I haven’t seen him for a while and I didn't have any classes today." 

Haru bows. "That's very kind of you." 

Mina offers the butler her own polite smile. "I'll be going now. Please take care of my Grandfather, Haru-san.”

"As you wish, Mina-san." 

Mina looks over her shoulder at the large empty mansion, thinks of her grandfather's declining health, and turns away. Once she leaves the estate, she releases a sigh of relief she doesn’t realize she'd been holding in. The clouds are dark, which means it will rain soon. Thankfully, she always comes prepared. As she heads to the nearest train station, she takes out her compact umbrella from her bag and leaves it in her hand just in case the showers suddenly start. She passes by a couple of girls heading home from university and finds herself staring when they share an inside joke and laugh. Something in her chest starts to ache. It feels a lot like longing. But what she’s longing for, she doesn’t know. 

(On the other side of the city, Sana laughs with her girlfriend but feels the same pang in her chest.)

Mina doesn’t like to think of herself as an antisocial person but she’s never had that many friends to begin with. There are her high school friends, whom she keeps in touch with on occasion. Of course, she also has her college friends but she only meets up with them when she needs a partner to practice a few steps with. Other than that, she keeps to herself. She doesn’t like to do much. The world always seems to be moving too fast for her and she’d rather stay in one spot than allow herself to be swept up in it.

Visiting Grandfather’s mansion in Osaka isn’t something she planned on doing for today but her parents had insisted, especially after they heard news of his already declining health. It won’t be long before he’ll pass on, which is something Mina has already accepted the past few months. It’s difficult to think of the elderly man clapping after every performance she had on stage when she was a toddler, and reconcile that image with the same man lying in bed, tubes attached to his body, and relying on a machine to keep him breathing.

Mina’s throat tightens. Grief is something she isn’t used to, especially when nobody has even died yet. The heavy weight on her chest is almost unbearable and she has to stop walking on the way to the train station to raise a hand to her eyes and wipe the impending tears that have filled them. Grandfather would laugh if he saw her like this. Death happens to the best of us, he had told her a year ago, back when he didn’t have a tube down his throat. Mina touches her own throat and inhales deeply. She’s okay. Nothing has happened yet. Grandfather is still here.

A few blocks before she reaches the train station, the downpour starts. Mina stops under the shade of a tree and clicks open her umbrella. The weather immediately cools. She stretches her hand forward, closing her eyes at the sensation of rain dropping against her skin. It’s a comfort she doesn’t realize she needed until she pulls her hand away and crosses the short distance towards the station.

The station is full, filled with people seeking shelter from the rain and students heading home. Mina brushes shoulders with strangers, keeping her head ducked down and putting her umbrella away once she’s out of the downpour. According to her watch, her train will arrive in ten minutes. So, she searches for a bench to sit on and when she finds one, she lets out a soft sigh and pulls Kokoro out from her bag. She has time to read, she thinks.

She thumbs through the pages and picks a random chapter:

 

One day, during the flower-viewing season, Sensei and I went to Ueno. I remember that day well. While we were going there, we happened to see a good-looking couple walking close together, beneath the flowering trees. The place being rather public, they, rather than the flowers, seemed to be the object of interest for many people.

"They look like a newly married couple," said Sensei.

"They seem to be pretty fond of each other, don't they?" I said, in an amused tone of voice.

There was not even a trace of a smile on Sensei's face. He began deliberately to walk away from the couple. He then said to me:

"Have you ever been in love?"

I said no.

"Don't you want to be in love?"

I said nothing in reply.

"It isn't that you don't want to fall in love, is it?"

"No."

"You made fun of that couple, didn't you? But actually, you sounded to me like a person who is dissatisfied because he has not yet been able to fall in love, though he wants to."

"Did I sound like that?"

"Yes, you did. A person who has been in love himself would have been more tolerant and would have felt warmer towards the couple. But—but do you know that there is guilt also in loving? I wonder if you understand me."

I was surprised, and said nothing.

 

A nagging sensation persists in Mina’s mind. She closes the book, feeling a headache ringing inside her skull, and rubs at her eyes in the hopes that it will go away soon. It doesn’t. The words reverberate in her ears, like the slow ticking of a clock hand pressed right against the sides of her head. Do you know that there is guilt also in loving? When she thinks of those words, she can’t help but feel as if they’re important, somehow. Of course she’s read them before, has listened to Grandfather read them out loud to her first, and yet this is the first time she feels so… affected by them. She closes her hands into fists, takes a deep breath, and tries to ground herself. But the sensation doesn’t leave her, not until—

Mina hears a voice: “Sana-chan!”

The voice itself is unfamiliar but the name—Mina’s heart jumps into her throat all of a sudden. She clambers to her feet, Kokoro dropping onto the floor in front of her. However, it is in that same moment that her train arrives and the doors open to spill out hundreds of commuters, eager to get home and be with their families. A sea of strangers swarm all around her and the voice she heard earlier gets lost in the loud thrum of the train engine and the murmur of the crowd. She tries to stand on her tiptoes, searching and searching. But she doesn’t recognize anybody in the crowd. They are all unfamiliar to her.

Mina has never felt so devastated. She hasn’t experienced grief yet but she imagines this is how it must feel. A gaping hole inside her ribcage has opened up, revealing a pain so intense that she finds herself stumbling back on the bench, trying to catch her breath. Her left hand comes up to clutch at her heart, almost as if she can squeeze the agony into non-existence. Sana-chan. She knows that name. She’s heard it before. She’s said it before. But no matter how hard she tries, she just can’t remember. Who is Sana-chan? Where did she hear that name? When did she say that name?

(Far, far away, Momo stops what she’s doing and asks herself the same question.)

Shaking her head, Mina forces herself to grab the fallen book off the floor. The train will leave soon. She has to go home. There are things to do, a dance recital to prepare for, a family waiting for her. With seconds to spare, she manages to squeeze inside the already full train, clutching her belongings to her chest. Thankfully, a man stands up to offer his seat for her.

Mina turns her attention to the world outside the train and freezes.

On the other side of the window, standing on the train platform, are two girls, hands loosely intertwined between them. The first one is taller with her hair tied in a ponytail. Mina’s eyes glaze over her for only a few seconds, branding her as nothing more than a stranger, before they move to the second girl. Then her heart stutters, falls and breaks into a million pieces. And she can only sit there and watch as it happens.

They seem to be pretty fond of each other, don't they?

A memory—is it a memory?—resurfaces but for some reason, it is upside down. The girl comes into view then, grinning broadly at Mina. She reaches up, gently parts Mina’s bangs, and presses a soft kiss on her forehead. In the back of her mind, a question can be heard: Do you wait for it? And the answer that bears fruit is this: Yes, I do. Yes, I always wait for it. What will Sana do now?

Mina inhales sharply. “Sana-chan,” she breathes out. Yes. This is her. Sana-chan. The girl standing right there—so close that Mina can wave her hand, call out her name, and be seen—this is her Sana.

Sana—who has the same brown hair cascading down her shoulders, the same warm eyes that never stop being so expressive, the same wide smile that can soothe all of Mina’s worries—is there. Mina tries to stand up but the train suddenly starts moving. The momentum catches her off guard and she falls back in her seat. The people around her grumble, annoyed at the intrusion of personal space. She shouldn’t have gone in. The doors have slammed shut. The train which she had been waiting patiently for earlier now feels like a prison cell.

Mina tries to search for Sana again but she can no longer find her since the train has already hurtled on. The panic sets in. Because she can feel it happening. The further away the train takes her away from Osaka, the faster her memories of Sana slip from her mind—like trying to catch sand with open hands. Do you wait for it? The question comes back.

Yes, Mina thinks, closing her eyes and trying to hold on to what still remains, yes, I do. I will wait. Please find me, Sana-chan. Please. I will wait for you.

The train leaves Osaka and Mina forgets again.

 


 

Sayaka doesn’t forget to kiss Sana before they part ways. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she promises, wearing a shy grin that shows off the adorable dimples that Sana fell in love with in the first place. 

“Thanks for dropping me off,” Sana tells her earnestly. The two of them stand in the intersection leading to Sana’s house. They’re still holding hands. 

“Of course, Sana-chan.” Sayaka giggles. “I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Okay.” Sana’s mouth curls into a grin as she leans forward to steal another kiss. “Stay safe. I love you.” 

“I love you too.”

There’s something wrong here. Sana can’t pinpoint it exactly, even though the image before her is familiar. The adoration in Sayaka’s eyes, the bright smile on her lips, the way she doesn’t take her gaze off Sana even as she slowly walks backwards. Sana should be used to this somehow. But for some reason, she isn’t. It’s almost as if she expects to be rebuffed. Like her affection should be outright rejected. But it isn’t. Instead, it’s welcomed with open arms. It shouldn’t be though… 

Sana shakes her head, turns around and heads home. The street leading to her house is alive with kids playing around with their friends, dogs following after their owners, parents yelling at their children to stay safe. There’s a smile on her face that is difficult to erase. She loves visiting home, especially when things at the university dorms can be so tense and difficult to deal with. She tries not to think too much about the endless pile of homework she left on her desk and finds herself standing in front of the gate leading to her house. 

“Sana-chan, is that you?” her mother calls from the kitchen upon hearing the door open. Sana takes off her shoes and hops over to give her mother a hug. 

"Missed you, okaasan," Sana murmurs. 

Her mother pulls back to cup her cheeks, beaming brightly. "I’m making your favorite," she coos, "Head up to your room and I'll call you once dinner is done. Your father will be coming home as well." 

Sana nods, tightening her grip on her bag as she heads upstairs to her room. It is exactly as she's left it, even though her mother did clean up every now and then. She drops her bag on the floor, plops down on the neatly made futon and just lies there for a few minutes. She’s tired but she doesn’t want to sleep. Not yet anyway. 

She thinks of Sayaka, as she always does when there’s nothing on her mind. After all, she’s known her girlfriend since they were children. They’ve been together for so long she can scarcely remember a period in her life where Sayaka wasn’t there. She is her best friend, her closest confidant, her lover above anything else. Lover has always been a beautiful word for Sana. When she thinks of it now, amidst a world that has gone quiet, Sayaka is the first person to pop up in her eyes. 

Minatozaki Sana and Akari Sayaka. A perfect pair. Lovers

Sana rubs at her eyes, frowning. There’s something wrong. She doesn't know what it is. But it doesn’t seem… right. Forcing these thoughts out of her head, she turns on her back and stares at the ceiling. Outside, she can hear the sounds of children laughing. It keeps her mind awake as it fights off her body’s need to rest.

(In Tokyo, Momo pauses in the middle of leaving her apartment to head to work, feeling the same restlessness in her bones.) 

She isn’t used to not doing anything. 

Her phone rings suddenly. It is Sayaka. 

“Hello,” Sana answers with a soft smile. 

"You sound tired," her girlfriend notes dryly. 

Sana sighs and fixes her gaze on the window outside. "Maybe," she mumbles, "I was pretty sleepy on the train earlier." 

"You should rest," Sayaka urges—ever the most thoughtful girlfriend anybody could ever ask for; "I'll call you again later, okay?" 

Sana nods and then says, "yes," when she realizes Sayaka can't see her. The two talk a bit about how their families are doing. Before the call ends, Sayaka whispers, "I love you" and for some reason, Sana doesn't say it back. It doesn’t feel right. If Sayaka notices, she doesn’t mention it. When Sana drops her phone, the turmoil in her chest hasn’t gone. She decides to watch a few Youtube videos in the hopes that she’ll forget about it later on. The first thing on her recommended list are a bunch of ASMR videos, such as ear cleaning, people whispering and even a Shiba Inu munching on some vegetables. She scrolls through them, trying to decide what to watch to pass the time. She decides on the first thumbnail that catches her attention: ASMR ICHIRAN RAMEN (JAPANESE NOODLES) MUKBANG (No Talking) EATING SOUNDS. She makes the volume is at its maximum level and watches the video. 

Half an hour later, Sana realizes she’s fallen asleep when she hears soft whispering coming from her phone. Craning her head to the side, she sees that the sun has moved from its earlier position. From the kitchen, her mother calls out her name. She stands up, rubbing at her neck, and picks up her phone. 

As expected, the Youtube algorithm has shown her a different video this time. It’s no longer the ASMR Ichiran Ramen video she had been watching earlier. Now, it’s something else. At first glance, it’s just a girl enjoying the usual Japanese cuisine such as sushi and omasum and talking to an invisible audience. The camerawork is a bit sloppy compared to the other ones that Sana has watched. She has half the mind to exit out of the app when her eyes fully focus on the screen.

Then her entire world stops. 

Do you guys have weird dreams sometimes?” the girl asks. Her dark hair is tied in twin pigtails and she’s wearing her glasses that reflect the glare of her camera. She seems to be in casual wear with minimal make-up on. And yet, Sana’s throat tightens. You are the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen, she thinks to herself. 

The girl chews on a sushi roll. “Not like one of those dreams where half the things don't even make sense but the ones where… it's almost like a memory,” she adds, seemingly deep in thought.

Sana’s mother calls out to her again but she doesn’t move from her spot on the bed, transfixed on the video. 

I don't really remember much about the dream," the girl says, "but I do know that it was important.

Almost like she’s watching it happen from an outside perspective, Sana raises her hand and rewinds the video. At the start, the girl waves at the camera, her eyes bright and her smile wide. “Welcome back to my channel, where I eat food and talk about my day. I'm Momo but you can call me Momoring. That's what my parents call me anyway. Today, I didn't prepare much, if I'm being honest. I just went out, bought my favorite food and decided to do a Mukbang video." She sounds calm and steady, as if she’s been doing this for a while now or that she’s born for the camera.

Tears slip past Sana’s eyes and drop on the screen. 

Momo.

“Momoring,” Sana whispers. The name brings back a memory she’s not sure she’s seen before but seems painstakingly familiar. In her mind’s eye, she sees Momo sitting across her in a restaurant next to the beach… It looks like Hawaii but Sana is positive she’s never been to Hawaii before. And yet, for some reason, she knows that it’s Hawaii. Momo points a fork at her, smiling brightly. “The food is good, right?” she asks. 

Then the memory disappears, leaving behind a gaping hole in Sana’s chest. 

Her name is called out again. 

On screen, Momo fixes her eyes on the camera. Sana’s entire body starts trembling. It is as if Momo is looking into her very soul. She is talking about her dream again. “It was important because somebody was there and that somebody was important to me too,” she tells the camera.

(At the same time this is happening, Mina tries to remember who Sana-chan is and why she feels so important to her.) 

Sana doesn’t finish the video. Instead, she clicks on the channel name: MUKBANGS WITH MOMORING. She doesn’t know what she’s looking for but she skims through the content, trying to find something—anything that can bridge the sudden blank slate in her brain that she’s positive holds the answer as to why she’s crying over a random girl she saw on Youtube. There are less than ten videos that have been uploaded. Most of them are mukbang videos. Sana clicks on the ABOUT section. Her heart starts to race when she realizes that Momo has added a link to her Instagram page. 

When Sana is redirected to hiraimomoring_96 on Instagram, she is met with hundreds of pictures about the girl’s life. It is almost overwhelming. At the sight of all the pictures, Sana’s fingers start shaking uncontrollably. She hasn’t stopped crying. For the third time, she hears her mother calling out for her but she doesn’t respond. Not now, okaasan, she thinks, feeling as if she’s on the edge of discovering something life-changing. She curls her hands into small fists, takes a deep breath and returns to finding out more about this girl.

Momo has a sister. That much is certain about five pictures in. Sana can’t help but feel like she knows the sister too. When she checks the tags, she sees that the sister’s name is Hana. Hirai Hana. Sister to Hirai Momo. Sana’s lips curl around the name, repeating it over and over again until it feels embedded on the tip of her tongue, until she’s held onto it tight enough that it won’t slip past her unnoticed. 

Sana exits the app and searches Momo’s name on Mixi. 

There are a few hundred matches and Sana skims through them all, her heart racing so fast it feels like a horse has kicked through her ribs. When she recognizes a picture that belongs to the Hirai Momo she’s looking for, there is a sudden, stinging clarity that strikes her right there and then, completely halting her from clicking on the profile. What am I doing? She asks herself, hearing her mother call out her name for the fourth time that night. Why is she searching for a stranger’s name, trying to find all possible details about her, all based purely on a gut instinct?

“But you’re not a stranger,” Sana whispers almost pathetically, her gaze fixated on Hirai Momo’s smiling face. 

She clicks on the profile: 

 

NAME: Hirai Momo (平井 もも)

ID: 190925 

SEX: Female

CURRENT ADDRESS: Tokyo, Japan

BLOOD TYPE: A

BIRTHPLACE: Kyotonabe, Kyoto, Japan

HOBBIES: Cooking, drawing, playing with my pets, spending time with my sister, making and editing Youtube videos, walking on the beach, taking pictures of the world around me, watching TV, exercising, sometimes I enjoy dancing with my sister, crafting recipes, experimenting with food, travelling to other places in Japan.

SELF-INTRODUCTION: Hi! My name is Momo but you can call me Momoring! I enjoy the simple things in life. I love my family, friends and most especially my dogs: Petco, Pudding and Lucky. I work as a sous chef in a restaurant in downtown Japan. I’ve never been with anybody before but I think I would be a good girlfriend (^艸^). One day, I would love to travel to other places in the world and enjoy the food there. But for now, I have a personal goal which is to visit every inch of Japan and taste all the cuisine found here. I hope you have a good day!!!

 

Sana finds herself staring too hard at the “I’ve never been with anybody before” line, her throat tight with an emotion she can’t explain. Is it disbelief? Is it confusion? Is it an overwhelming sadness that threatens to blur her eyes with more tears? Before she can figure it out for herself, the door to her room suddenly swings open, revealing her mother who looks both worried and annoyed. 

“Sana-chan,” her mother says, her expression changing to alarm, “why are you crying?” 

How can Sana explain? How can she look her mother in the eye and tell her that it feels like she’s just lost the most important person in her life? Despite never having met that person in the first place? So, she doesn’t. Instead, she wipes away her tears, forces a smile and lies through her teeth: “There was something in my eye.”

She looks back down at her phone in hand, staring hard at Momo’s smiling profile picture, and switches it off.