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People May Say We’re In Love

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It starts with an annoying tickle in her throat. Mina rubs the side of her neck uncomfortably, looking into the bathroom mirror. Of course I'm getting sick, she thinks to herself. She coughs absentmindedly, a rattle present in her throat. She hasn't been sick in years and she kicks herself. Shouldn't have stayed out on the porch the other night. Now I've probably got pneumonia or something worse.

She sighs, adjusts the velvet lavender robe sitting lazily on her shoulders and kills the light above the sink, sending the room into darkness, save for the bright moon outside. It shines eagerly through the curtain less window, making itself known. Letting everyone know how important it is to have the moonlight when everything else is so dark.

How nice it must be to be so relevant in the world.

The bedroom, however, is lit better, and Mina can tell this as she walks out of the door to the bathroom, shutting it lightly and silently. It's become a habit to keep it closed when she's alone.

The dim glow of her bedside lamp illuminates the room nicely from where she stands. It drapes it's warm glow over the bookshelf, the hickory dresser, the closet door... but she can still see shadows, twisting and forming her worst nightmares. Why does the glow remind her of how alone she is, how vulnerable? You're imagining things again. Snap out of it, Mina.

She moves to sit on the edge of the bed, grabbing her lotion (it's Nayeon's favorite scent) and squeezing the tube out on her leg. She sets it back down, too lazy to click the cap closed. The lotion feels cool and refreshing on her slightly sweaty body and she tries to relax into it. Suddenly, she's struck with a short cough and she recoils, putting her hand to her chest. Her throat feels dry and sore and her chest is aching.

Mina is worried. She hardly ever gets sick and when she does, it's really bad. Being a writer who works from home, she does have more flexibility when she's sick, but she's already behind on her current novel and refuses to be even more behind with her schedule.

She wanders back into the bathroom, feeling around in the cabinet for a familiar bottle. Cough syrup. She's certain she can get rid of this pesky sickness by tomorrow. She downs some and leaves the bathroom, deciding to keep the rest on her bedside table, just in case her symptoms don't cease by the next day, though she's sure that they will.

Mina looks over to the clock which reads 1:48. She briefly considers calling her wife to ask her if she's been feeling sick too. They saw each other less than a week ago and it's possible it spread. But she doesn't want to bother her so late.

Her wife, who is away on business in a different part of Japan, might not appreciate being called anyways. She works hard, and is probably already fast asleep. She doesn't need a phone call right now. Especially with the bad news of her spouse catching a slight cold. Speaking of.

Mina coughs, louder and a bit harder than before. She tastes blood and winces. Still, it's certainly nothing to worry Nayeon about. Mina knows that she gets busy... of course she knows. She's an important person and works harder than anybody else that Mina has met. And she knows that she does her best to come home when she can. Even if it doesn't seem like enough.

She really needs to hear her voice. I should just wait until tomorrow.

Before she can think too hard on it, she's picked up the phone, dialed Nayeon's number, and has begun to anxiously await her answer as the phone drones on annoyingly.

Brring. Brring. Brrrring.

There's a shuffle, a giggle under a breath and then there is her voice.

"Hello?"

It's not groggy like she expected and Mina smiles widely at the one word, gladly accepting it over not hearing her voice at all. It's only been a week and she hopes that she isn't being too needy.

"Hey baby... It's me." Mina wraps a loose thread around her finger, pulling at it until her finger is red.

"Mina?" She sounds happy. Tired, but happy. Why does she feel so relieved? Like Nayeon would have been anything but happy.

"Yeah. I know it's late. I just wanted to..." She thinks on it and decides not to disclose the information about her wellbeing. Besides, she's sure that she'll feel better by tomorrow. It's nothing to worry about, really.

"Just wanted to hear your voice."

There's a too long silence before Nayeon speaks again. "Well, here I am."

It's a lackluster response, bare minimum. But Mina feels her heart soar nonetheless. Then suddenly she's doubled over in coughs.

"Baby, what's going on? Are you sick?"

Mina can barely hear her over the sounds of her basically hacking her lungs out. Nayeon sounds worried and that's the opposite of what she wanted. I don't want her to worry about me.

There's something stuck in her throat and she tries to swallow it down before realizing how painful it is. It's not something that she can just swallow down. It's far too big and keeps coming up to the surface.

"I'm— I'm fine. I gotta go." Mina quickly says and doesn't wait for a response.

She hangs up, shakily pushing the end call button and rushes back into the bathroom. She barely gets the light on before she leans over the sink, small drops of blood leaving her open mouth.

She reaches her hand in between her lips and down into her throat, horrified at what seems to be happening to her. She pulls out — well, it looks like a flower petal. It's small, blue and Mina doesn't recognize where it could have come from.

There has to be an explanation. And not the obvious one I'm thinking of. Anything but that.

She's shaking all over, but her breathing is back to normal and the tickle in her throat is gone. She washes out her mouth with some water, feeling better after pulling the offending petal out of her throat. She throws it away, desperate to forget it's existence.

Everything is fine.

•••

Nayeon comes back home on a Friday night.

She's tired but gives Mina a loving smile anyways, kissing her cheek and hugging her when she makes it through the front door.

"Did you get a new perfume? I like it!" Mina asks and Nayeon does a minuscule double take before nodding vigorously. If Mina was telling the truth, she would say that she doesn't like the perfume. It smells foreign and too fruity for Mina's taste.

Mina smooths her new dress that she bought just to get her wife to compliment her, giving Nayeon a huge smile and leading her into the kitchen. She made dinner, spent three hours making all of Nayeon's favorites. It's a special occasion after all. They haven't seen each other in almost three weeks. Sure, there's been phone calls but it's not the same. Not even close.

"I already ate..." She looks regretful as she looks over the spread, a decorative candle in the middle of the table and Mina forces a smile, pushing down her painful disappointment.

"That's fine... I'll put it in the fridge."

Nayeon nods, going to sit down on their loveseat.

Mina notices even more constricting pain in her chest but she pushes it further down, grimacing a bit. She turns around so it's less obvious and hurries to put the still warm food away, tasting some of it as she covers it. She hasn't eaten but it's humiliating to admit.

When she finishes, she decides to get some dishes done since her wife is too busy or too tired to be with her. All she wanted was a nice evening after being apart for so long. It never goes the way she plans.

Mina scrubs at a fork, unsure what her end goal is as it's already clean. She looks down at the cutlery like it's offended her and feels tears prick at her eyes. She tries not to think about Nayeon and how she knows just how the night will end until she feels a pair of arms wrap around her waist.

Mina smiles hesitantly, turning around slightly to look at the love of her life.

"You're beautiful, Mina." Nayeon sweet talks her and it works. Goddammit, why does it work? Mina forgets that she's been alone while Nayeon has been away for weeks. She forgets that she worked so hard to make food just for Nayeon to have already eaten without her. She forgets that she's been too busy for a phone call longer than five minutes. It suddenly doesn't matter because Nayeon thinks she's beautiful.

"I bought this dress last week... I thought you'd like it." Mina fishes for the compliment she's been waiting for all night and Nayeon bites.

Nayeon grabs her arm softly, getting her to drop the fork and sponge. She spins her around slowly to face her, still holding onto her waist. Mina giggles, a blush starting to decorate her cheeks.

"It looks perfect on you." Nayeon brushes stray hair from her lover's face softly and Mina lets out a breath she didn't know she was holding. She loves me. I knew she did.

Nayeon leans in softly, kissing her with the intent to fix all their problems. All the late nights when Mina was alone and scared, wishing somebody was there to hold her. All the short phone calls because Nayeon was too busy to talk long. All the times when Mina doubted that they were still in love.

It's all fixed because of one kiss. Then multiple.

Nayeon pushes her against the sink, hips moving against hers, hands now in her hair and maybe this will fix everything too.

And it hurts to breathe against her lips but she does it anyways. Because isn't that what people do when they're in love?

•••

A glass of wine, a dark kitchen. Loneliness creeps through every crack in the ceiling, in the floor. Mina takes another guilty sip, more like a gulp. Her doctor told her not to drink so much but here she is again. Labored breathing, a burning in her chest with every inhale and exhale and pain, pain, pain.

She coughs, a low, pained sound and pulls another flower petal out of her throat, coated in blood or wine, she's not sure which. It's not the first night like this, and it's certainly not the last.

Nayeon is supposed to be home by now. Mina guesses that she forgot. Maybe she got held up. It happens a lot lately. But Mina still finds herself waiting by the door for hours, praying that she'll come home. Even if all they do is retire to the bedroom to avoid having an inevitable fight. We can just kiss and make up, right?

Part of her needs Nayeon to come home. Her heart and soul yearns to be in her arms. She just wants the pain to go away and being with Nayeon is the closest she gets to feeling normal again. Or whatever 'normal' was.

Whatever, whatever, whatever.

Mina feels tears falling and she gasps loudly in frustration. She is sent into another coughing fit, blood dripping out of her mouth and it tastes vile. All of it does. She feels a scratching in her throat and pulls out a small stem. She isn't shocked, she knows what this is.

But she doesn't know when Nayeon stopped loving her. And she doesn't know why. She just knows that she has. Somewhere between the first time they kissed and the last time they kissed, Nayeon had decided she didn't love her anymore.

Mina wishes she could pretend that she did.

Maybe Mina just isn't good enough for her. Maybe she tries too hard and succeeds too little. Nayeon wears a new lipstick now, even though Mina preferred the other one. She smells different now, looks different, acts different. Her new normal is annoyed, annoyed at her, and Mina starts to think Nayeon likes being away from her. When did their love become a burden? When did the affection become a chore?

The blood and tears and wine mix together, staining her chin, staining the tablecloth and she yells, throwing her half empty glass of red wine against the wall. The glass shatters loudly, shocking her and the rest of her tears fall silently and she shakes. She wipes her face but they keep coming. A steady stream of regret and sorrow and the loss of the one person she loves more than anything. She grabs the bottle she had been refilling her glass with and drinks directly out of it. Her hands are shaking.

Maybe this is the new normal.

Mina doesn't move from her place at the table all night, holding on to the small chance that Nayeon will come home to her. She doesn't.

•••

"I'm afraid there isn't much I can do." There are the words Mina has been dreading but knew they were coming nonetheless. And that's why she doesn't cry. She knows the score, she knows how this will turn out and she almost laughs. Not because it's funny, but because it isn't.

"Are you sure?" Nayeon is in a panic and her voice wavers. She drove overnight when Mina revealed to her that she could no longer get out of bed without a nauseating pain and a constriction in her lungs. Why couldn't she come to me when I needed her before?

Mina has been collecting the flower petals under her bed. Each time she spits one out, or coughs one up, she puts them in her little wooden box. She got it from her late grandmother and has cherished it forever. It's too bad that it is now a shrine, a token of what's still to come.

She has enough small, blue petals now to make up a dozen or more flowers, though they are stained with dried blood. She keeps the box underneath their bed because she likes to lay on top of them, as a reminder of all the broken promises and forgotten love. She lies on top of them now as she feigns ignorance, letting the doctor be baffled and letting Nayeon suffer. What a cruel fate.

"We'll run some more tests," the doctor says hesitantly, "but I can't promise anything. There's nothing we can do if we don't know what we're up against."

A few tears leave Nayeon's eye. Mina tries not to care, tries to treat her with the same benign neglect that she's been receiving, but she does care. She cares so much. Anger fills her up but she ignores it, clenching her fist but giving Nayeon a sad smile.

Mina takes her hand in hers and traces a small pattern on her palm to calm her down. It works and Nayeon starts to breathe more evenly.

"I'll get back to you if we find anything new."

The doctor excuses himself, convinced that his work here is done. Nayeon gets up to sit beside Mina on the bed, burying her face in the crook of her neck and breathing her in. Mina knows that she still smells the same, even if Nayeon doesn't. A part of her is glad that she can still be a comfort and a part of her is angry that Nayeon hasn't been able to be the same. People change, that is obvious.

"I'm gonna take a couple weeks off from work." Nayeon speaks up after more than a minute of silence. She speaks evenly and Mina can't believe what she's hearing.

"You don't have—" Mina starts before being interrupted by lips on hers. They're soft and she hates herself for being able to get lost in them so easily. There is so much poison laced within this lip locked promise.

"I want to." Nayeon pulls away and looks at her intensely and for a second, Mina almost believes her.

Almost.

•••

Unfortunately, good things never last and Nayeon is called back into work earlier than she had wanted to be.

Or at least that's what she tells Mina.

10:08 pm: i miss you, come see me?

Nayeon lies awake in their bed, debating on whether or not to go see her. She looks over at her wife, sleeping peacefully. She's gotten paler than usual and her hands are always cold. Mina relies on her to keep her warm and be her light when it's gotten too dark. Nayeon wants to, she really does. But...

But there's someone else she craves. Someone with warm hands and a soft smile. Someone who she hasn't seen in over a week. She misses her body, misses her touch. She misses everything about her. But she can't do this to Mina...

Nayeon gets up, like she's on autopilot. She doesn't even change out of her pajamas, just grabs her car keys and shuts the door softly behind her, making sure not to wake her sleeping beauty.

The drive is short and Nayeon knows it well as she sometimes will leave a day early for work trips just to go see her. The familiar neon lit sign greets her from the side of the road and she pulls into the parking lot of the hotel.

10:27 pm: i'm in room 106 :p

There's a little guilt, a little pain that bubbles up in Nayeon's chest. (Nothing like Mina's pain however. Nayeon's is the kind that arrives with doing something she knows is wrong. The kind that will pass.) She thinks of Mina waking up alone.

I'll go back. It's fine. She won't wake up alone.

As soon as Nayeon opens the door to room 106, Sana opens it. She wears a big t-shirt and her hair is up in a messy ponytail. She has on a huge smile and Nayeon can't help but return it. Sana wastes no time in pulling Nayeon in the room, attaching their lips before whispering into her ear.

"I missed you."

I missed you more.

•••

"I have to get back now."

It's two o' clock in the morning and Nayeon is cuddling into Sana's side. The room is dark but it doesn't feel dreary the way it does in her home. It doesn't smell like blood and the room isn't kept dark.

"No," Sana whines, pulling her closer, "no you don't."

Nayeon smiles, planting a kiss on Sana's forehead.

"You know I love you, but I have to go."

Mina wakes up in a cold sweat, blood spilling over her swollen bottom lip and she doubles over in pain. She can't breathe, she's lost the ability.

"But," Sana whispers, putting her lips over Nayeon's again. "You'll miss me too much." She giggles against her lips and Nayeon groans, nodding her head.

"You're so right."

She crawls off the bed, gasping for air, searching for a breath. She barely makes it to the bathroom before she starts vomiting out those little blue petals that she's come to know and hate. The pain has never been this bad.

"Please stay a little longer, sweetheart." Sana bats her eyelashes jokingly.

"Only for you." Nayeon gives her another kiss before settling down against her again.

She passes out from the pain seconds later. Right before she does, she has a singular thought. Something that somehow hurts worse than the excruciating pain in her lungs and throat.

Why isn't Nayeon there to help her?

•••

Nayeon has apologized about a thousand times since that night. Mina doesn't have the energy to argue.

'I'm sorry' doesn't matter when you're close to death anyways.

To be fair, Nayeon hasn't left her side since. She makes her food (that she can never seem to keep down), she cleans her up, entertains her when she's bored. She's taken an extended break from work.

Mina kind of wishes she would just leave.

Sometimes, when Nayeon thinks that she's asleep, Mina can tell that she wishes she was somewhere else. Anywhere else. And it's more painful than not having her there at all.

The wooden box gets heavier everyday along with her heart. It's gotten harder to hide the petals from Nayeon, who refuses to leave her side. You're only here because you feel guilty.

Mina has been in pain before. When she crashed her first bike and skinned her knees raw. When she got her ears pierced for the first time (then again and then once more). When she fell down her basement stairs and got a concussion. When her boyfriend of two years left her for someone else.

When she noticed that the love of her life didn't love her so much anymore. When she was pushed away by somebody who promised to stay by her side

When her life got cut short by the person she wanted to have a long life with.

She thinks that Nayeon knows it's almost over. Sometimes Mina will hold her breath for an extended period of time, looking over to see if Nayeon notices or cares. She definitely notices. Mina wonders if she's somewhat glad. If every time she stops breathing, Nayeon rejoices. She wonders a lot of things that she'll never get answers too.

"How are you feeling?" Nayeon feels her head with her free hand, the other carrying a cup of water.

Mina doesn't respond. Doesn't even look her way. Nayeon sighs in frustration. "What's your problem?"

This is hilarious because what isn't Mina's problem?

She giggles. "For starters, I'm fucking dying."

Nayeon sets the glass of water down angrily and the liquid splashes around a bit, getting on the dresser.

"You're not dying! Stop talking like that!" She screams and Mina flinches.

"I-I'm sorry. This is just hard for me." Nayeon looks down, ashamed. "It's hard to watch the person I love turn into a ghost of who she used to be."

You don't love me. And that's the problem.

•••

Sana kisses Nayeon hungrily, grabbing at her body in all the ways she knows drives her crazy.

Nayeon, for her part, is a million miles away. She can't stop thinking. She's haunted by another girl at the moment.

When Nayeon left, Mina was fast asleep, or dead. She barely moves anymore and will sometimes stop breathing in her sleep. Her lips are chapped and stained with her own blood. She has nightmares, horrible nightmares that result in her screaming herself and Nayeon awake. It's something out of a goddamn horror movie.

The house is filled with death and all Nayeon wants is to get away from it. It's gotten to the point where looking at Mina's cold, pale face makes her sick in fear. She's scared of her, of what she's become. What Nayeon has turned her into.

She pulls away from a confused Sana. "I... I can't do this."

Sana, with her warm body, nothing like Mina's cold and stiff one. Sana with her bright smiles, her beautiful laugh. Everything Mina has had taken from her. Nayeon gets out from under Sana quickly, running to the hotel bathroom. It smells clean and Nayeon thinks again of how her own bathroom smells like blood and vomit with a slight tinge of the sickly sweet flowers drifting in from outside.

She hurls into the toilet, her body shaking and convulsing. Is this what Mina goes through every day? The pain in her heart doesn't stop and she pounds her fists against the toilet seat.

Sana has come rushing in behind her by this point and Nayeon just can't do this anymore.

She lets out a low groan, reminiscent of Mina when she tries to get out of bed. Stay in bed, beautiful. What do you need? I'll get it for you.

Her head spins and she doesn't even notice that Sana is holding her from behind, playing with her hair and shushing her. She cries. She cries with everything she's got locked up inside her, she screams and she howls, like a deranged animal. She can't control it. She thinks of Mina, alone and afraid all the time. She thinks of all the times she's let her down and now the universe is punishing her baby yet again.

"Please don't kill her," Nayeon screams and sobs, pulling at her hair. "Please don't take her from me... Don't hurt her. Don't, please!"

Sana is crying now, crying at the pain and anguish she hears in Nayeon's voice. Crying at the way Nayeon is screaming until her voice is raw. She just wants her to just tell her what's wrong. Baby, baby, what's wrong? God, please tell me, I'm so scared.

I miss you. Why don't you ever come home to me anymore?

I need you, I'm scared without you.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

Nayeon can't breathe, like she's forgotten how to. She paws at her throat with her fingers and scratches at it. There's blood under her nails but she keeps going, desperate. For what? She's unsure.

Sana is terrified. She's cradling her broken lover in her arms, helpless and afraid.

They stay like that for hours. Nayeon, sobbing and pleading to an invisible source, and Sana, holding her and just wishing for it to end.

She's never been more scared in her life.

•••

"Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Nayeon looks over to Mina, who's fallen completely asleep. She had said, "Please read to me, I need to hear your voice," as if Nayeon isn't the reason for her anguish. Of course, she obliged.

She's refused to leave her side since that last night with Sana. She told her everything, about Mina, about her mistakes. About all the pain. And then she left her, because Mina is more important. Sana was heartbroken but honestly, Nayeon couldn't find it in her heart to care.

Mina's eyelids are swollen, her cheeks flushed while the rest of her is colorless. She leans down to give her a forehead kiss (Mina always says those are her favorite of all the kisses). Nayeon feels a stream of hot tears leaving her eyes. How can I ever let you go? Why do I have to?

She gets up slowly and quietly to put the book away before her thoughts can carry her to a darker place. She tiptoes to the other side of the room, glancing over at Mina now and then to make sure she's still sleeping soundly. That's when something catches her eye from under the bed. It's small, wooden and she's extremely curious as to why it's hidden underneath the bed.

Nayeon kneels down slowly and reaches underneath the frame. The wooden outside feels uncomfortable against her hands but she continues to pull it out anyways. Upon further examination, it appears to be a wood box. There are initials Nayeon doesn't recognize carved into the side, a lock in the middle. Fortunately, it isn't locked.

So she opens the box.

No. No, no, no.

She's frozen in what can best be described as paralyzing fear. Tens, no, dozens of little blue petals decorate the inside of the box. Every one of them is covered in blood. The smell is unlike anything she has ever known. She gags.

Nayeon realizes that she recognizes the petals well. They're from her favorite flower, a blue lobelia. Her mom used to grow them in her backyard and she gave one to Mina on their first date. They've been her favorite ever since.

She remembers a nervous Mina coming to the door after an equally nervous Nayeon had knocked. It was a high school relationship. They were awkward but Nayeon knew from the moment she met her... Mina is someone special and Nayeon's going to love her with all her heart.

But sadly, that promise was soon to be broken. The withering, bloody petals have proven that much.

Nayeon knows what this means, of course she does. She's heard the stories, she's heard the rumors. She even knows some of the symptoms.

Suffering from a one sided love is painful.

But I love her.

"You weren't supposed to see that until later."

The voice shocks her and Nayeon looks up, tears leaving her eyes at a quickened pace. She doesn't even bother wiping them away. What's the point when more will follow?

"Mina... Please say it isn't true." Mina isn't crying, she's just looking over at Nayeon sadly, like she feels bad for making her cry. She continues to be selfless even when she has every right to be selfish.

"It's okay, really. I've accepted it."

Mina is sent into a coughing fit just from talking and Nayeon rushes to her side, her heart clenching at the sight of her endless pain. It's my fault.

"Here, drink some water."

Mina shoves the glass away.

"No... You know... know it's time." She says between vicious coughs and Nayeon shakes her head vigorously. "It can't be time, I'm not ready."

Mina stops coughing.

No, no, no.

"Mina, no. Mina, please. Stay with me, baby." Nayeon grabs her face, her hands shaking. I love you.

"Mina, I love you! Please don't leave me, I need you!" Nayeon wails, gripping onto her hands with an iron like strength. I love you.

"Do you hear me, universe? I love her! Don't take her away from me." Nayeon screams, tears landing on Mina's cold face. She doesn't move, doesn't make a sound and Nayeon brushes her hair back.

Nayeon thinks of her face when she would come home after a long time. She thinks of her smile whenever Nayeon would compliment her. She thinks of their shared kisses, when Mina would make her laugh. Her undying love. Nayeon breathes her in but she doesn't fucking smell the same. She smells diseased, like she's rotting from the inside.

It's a stupid thought, really. To want someone to smell the same so badly. It's a comfort (one that Mina understands all too well).

Nayeon looks at Mina's face, breathing heavily and shaking so hard she's almost unable to keep herself upright.

She's alive, she's just sleeping. She'll wake up soon and be all better because I love her and I told her so.

Nayeon climbs into bed with Mina's cold body, bringing the book with her. She strokes her hair, and covers her with all the blankets she can. You always would hog the blankets. It's okay, I know you got cold.

"I'm sorry I stopped reading. I'll keep reading if that's what you want. I'll do anything for you to smile." There is no movement. She's just sleeping.

She begins reading to Mina again, holding the book with one hand, and her cold hand in the other, trying to warm it up.

It never gets any warmer. But Nayeon holds it anyways.

It's all that she can do.