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how do you talk to an angel?

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Sometimes Dahyun wonders what kind of ceiling René Descartes was staring at when he came up with the Cartesian plane.

Was it just like the one she was staring at right now?

A dirty white pockmarked surface with visible water stains and fissures helplessly covered up by layers of dilapidated waterproof sealants, accumulated through time and time again roof leaks that a multi-million won-endowed private school somehow cannot find a solution to?

If René was here, would he be able to imagine a Cartesian plane on this too?

Dahyun squints at the obnoxious white, trying to get a hold of the intense boredom (and curiosity) the mathematician must have had to be able to come up with a two-line graph for data pairs from a bland surface.

She doesn't have any idea why Yves asked to meet here when they could have just met at the diner or any other cooler place that isn't school.

Meh. She's weird but I'm weird too so that's okay. We're already here so...

"You're gonna snap your neck if you don't stop that."

“Unnie.” Dahyun breathes out, unwavering in her stare down with the cracks of the ceiling. “When do you think will they ever move us to a new room?”

It was a helpless fit when the maintenance staff turned the small worn-down storage room at the end of the west wing hall into the official Student Welcoming Committee office early last academic year.

The only difference between the old storage room and the so-called office now is the old sofa Yves and Jiwoo contributed, brought over from the old journalism club's newsroom. It comes in handy when no one wants to use the creaky (and dangerous) table and when Dahyun just wants to sleep in peace because nobody ever goes to this end of the hall. Nowadays, however, it looks like it's two butts away from falling apart so Yves just drapes a white cloth over it and settles for the hazardous small dining table-turned-meeting desk as their new workplace now.

Aside from the creaky furniture, there are also the busted lights that always feel like Dahyun's in a rave party, the lone window in the room that never seems to open wider than half its ability to, and, of course, the leaky ceiling.

Everything about the Student Welcoming Committee screams half-assed by the frugal school, much to the honor Dahyun knows she's somehow obligated to feel considering how this organization was built in her concern, fought to existence by the great Student Council President Park Jihyo, so that Dahyun's sad welcoming (or lack thereof) will never repeat again, and to also help guide the new students of the esteemed (stingy) Apgujeong Private High School.

The entire summer break has flown by and yet the school still hasn’t decided to spare their tiny office room any attention and saving.

Dahyun feels really dejected now.

“Stop that. You need to stay alive if they ever do move us to a new room.” Yves, the oldest member of the Student Welcoming Committee (a pretty junior everybody else somehow ends up being too afraid to talk to), settles down on the head seat of the worn-down meeting table.

“If you continue staring at the ceiling, your blood’s gonna rush over to your head. Or you’ll just just snap your neck.” She shrugs. “You die in both ways.”

“That’s…" Dahyun gulps, craning her neck back to place. Okay now she gets why everybody else is afraid of Yves Ha. "That's scary, unnie…"

“It’s stupid.” Yves focuses on fixing a clump of papers, aligning the edges with the help of the table. She slides the clipped stack over to Dahyun.

“Now sit down properly. I only have a few minutes before my parents find out I snuck out. Again. I just have to talk to you about the new student arriving in a few days.”  

Dahyun does what she's told without sparing a second. She's known to be a good kid and the only student scary junior Yves doesn't bluntly ignore unlike everyone else. Dahyun would very much like to keep it that way and try not to ruin her chances with the only organization that's going to help make her college applications look spotless and perfect.

Yves nods her head to the clipped stack of papers in front of Dahyun. "Those are from the Principal Park."

It's a black-and-white photocopy of a slam book page, colorful and decorated with stickers of Kim Wansun and Michael Jackson, among other things, torn off at one side.

Dahyun immediately recognizes it from the Guidance office's, with how she used to stay over there during her freshman year answering Ms. Kwon's slam books. They make new students go over and answer. Judging from the unfamiliar scribbles of what seems to be shaky but neat handwriting, in one of those glittery pens Ms. Kwon collects, this must be the new student's slam book page.

"Mina Sharon Myoui?" Dahyun reads the first line. Her lips learn the unfamiliar name like a prayer, reciting over and over again until it slips off in such a graceful, wealthy sound, her slam book page's very own k!M dü3u sounds and looks like a disgrace now.

When Yves corrects her faulty pronunciation with her very own sultry, airy, and elegant voice, reading Mina Sharon Myoui with a slightly-off and intimidating Western accent, Dahyun feels even more awe-struck.

Can someone actually be named that beautifully?

"Principal Park asked if I could show her around at the start of the school, but I still have things to do with the talent show so I thought of giving you this one." Yves is normally in-charge of the older new students, considering how Dahyun is a squirming ball of nerves and the personification of embarrassment whenever she’s near a senior, let alone a senior with a pretty sounding name.

“You think her name sounds pretty?” Yves smiles.

Did I just say that out loud?

“Wait ‘til you see her then.”

Dahyun feels her breath hitch.

So here’s the thing: Girls are a hard topic. Confusing. It’s like approaching a ticking bomb and picking through the colored wires for the one to cut off, to stop the explosion. An intricate and fatal experience.

With girls, Dahyun is a mess.

Ever since transferring to this prestigious (cheapskate) school, all she’s ever got herself entangled with is a bundle of trouble and confusion because somehow, the girls in the city are far different than the ones she grew up seeing in the province. Suddenly, Dahyun's no longer a Tony Ahn and Andy Lau fangirl, and her Walkman has only ever played Kim Wansun and Mariya Takeuchi ever since. She likes to blame it on the city's upbeat lifestyle but everyone knows it's the people.

The girls in the city are always trouble.

"Why is she coming in so late?" Dahyun asks, interest caught when it dawns on her that this is the first student who’s decided to enroll so late in her high school years.

As far as she’s concerned, people usually try to avoid transferring schools in their senior years. Adjusting and adapting is a different kind of challenge when it’s high school and education isn’t your only obstacle to face. It’s even harder when you’re transferring to a school like Apgujeong High, whose students (seniors) only take into account all the superficial aspects of your life and use them as the deciding basis on whether you’re a Cher Horowitz or a Tai Frasier.

"I have no idea", Yves shrugs nonchalantly. She’s a Cher, it explains. Always has been. "All I know is that she must be pretty fucking loaded to enroll here so easily. She has dorms all sorted out and even has an entire room all to herself."

Dahyun's jaw drops. "The entire room?!"

Yves nods with a lopsided smirk, impressed herself.

"Woah…"

The dorm situations are pretty normal and sufficient for a province girl who lived sharing the same room with her parents and older brother for the entirety of her growing-up life.

The rooms are big at the dorm, enough for two to three residents. Dahyun shares hers with Jihyo–which is fucking cool–and their space is neat and clutter-free all the time. It's what you get when the Student Council President is your roommate.

Dahyun doesn't know much about how things work at the dorms but for this new pretty-named student to get one entire room for herself...she must either be really wealthy to afford the hefty rent (seeing as she isn't a scholarship-admitted student unlike Dahyun) or she just doesn't like sharing her own space with others.

Either way, this new kid is interesting.

Dahyun is already excited to meet her when the school year starts.

 


 

Fuck this shit. Dahyun wants to back out.

She’s normally a resilient person. Kim Dahyun never exits a fight unless when she needs to and someone’s already dying. Other than that, she’s able to withstand everything thrown her way. She falls down and stumbles a lot, but that doesn’t stop her from finishing whatever it is she has to finish.

It’s what Kim Dahyun is known for–other than the more obvious things she’s famous for (i.e. her eagle dance in the freshman orientation week last year that’ll probably make its way to the school yearbook, her glaring blonde hair that makes her stand out among all the other brunettes and colored streak clip-ons, so on and so forth).

This, however...Dahyun isn’t known for this.

 


 

(It starts with Jackson Wang. Because of course it does.)

It was pretty much an uneventful day, like all the other days when you live far away from home and all your other friends are older, more important people.

Dahyun spends her days out in the streets, looking for new places to hang at or cheap arcades to play in. By the afternoon, she goes with her Jeongyeon and Momo unnie to school for their summer training sessions, watching from the bleachers and just chilling with the latest volume of Neon Genesis Evangelion to read. 

This is the entirety of Kim Dahyun’s day, a consistency in her life that is somehow a source of steady comfort and assurance now.

The bleachers by the open field are empty this summer afternoon. The only people present are a few teachers and staff preparing for the academic year opening next week and the student athletes in their pre-season training sessions staying around.

Dahyun feels at peace the most during these times of solitude.

The sunset spreading by the horizon, past the outlines of the school buildings and behind the cotton clouds fanned out by the afternoon breeze; the sight of the soccer team training by the lush green field, her Jeongyeon and Momo unnie spearheading with their amazing athletic abilities. The final touch of perfection is her Walkman right beside her, flimsy lightweight headphones on the sides of her head, blasting the familiar intro of Sweet Caroline to her soul.

Dahyun bobs her head to the happy beat.

She decides to read her manhwa while waiting, to save time and be able to watch Sailor Moon without any hindrance when she gets back to the dorms later.

When she fishes for her thin comic book inside her bag however, the casualties left by the hurricane movements of her time-pressured haste has her pulling out the wrong clump of papers.

Mina Sharon Myoui’s pretty cursive handwriting greets Dahyun’s eyes, just when the chorus of Sweet Caroline plays.

It suddenly feels like she’s in a field of flowers.

Dahyun ends up forgetting about her manhwa. There’s something even more interesting, quite enthralling, with what she’s seeing, the brave answers from the likes and favorites page of Mina’s slam book entry.

Unlike the first few pages that only ask about general info like contact details (which Mina left blank, unfortunately) and home addresses (again, blank), this page is adorned with pretty cursive handwriting and scientifically-questionable, perfectly-drawn circles over the Choose Your Favorite! questions.

Dahyun finds out a lot about Mina Sharon Myoui even before meeting her.  

Her job as a welcoming committee member didn’t entail that she had to study every bit of information about the new student, let alone a senior. When Yves did this, she was all professional and outwardly friendly, never too warm to get personal but just enough to be acquaintances.

Dahyun didn’t need to know that Mina liked Jasmines and Angels Breaths, preferred Gap’s Grass over the Dream’s scent, watched the Love Letter more than once a month, and was head-over-heels in love with the two Itsuki Fujii in the film.

She didn’t need to waste her time knowing these, but she stays reading nonetheless, smiling at every heart drawn at the end of a name, at every unusual pick and interesting answer.

She hasn’t met Mina Sharon Myoui, yet somehow, Dahyun already likes her.

At the bottom part of the page is the most interesting portion of the entire slam book. A question of ideals and the likes.

What is your ideal type?

She’d probably describe someone from the boys’ basketball team, Dahyun thinks. With their virility overhyped by television, everyone suddenly thinks high school boys from private schools are like Asian counterparts of Leo, Devon Sawa, or Rider Strong when in reality, they’re really just a bunch of disgusting big babies. 

Dahyun’s nose scrunches at the sour taste of the idea.

She looks down at Mina’s answer, hoping she won’t be fooled like the rest.

(Spoiler alert: Dahyun doesn’t get to find out.)

Before she can even read a single word, however, an arm is thrown around her shoulders roughly, almost sending her falling down the bleachers and perfectly knocking off her headphones.

It’s sweaty and hard, as heavy as a bowling bowl from Park’s Alley, biceps the size of a compact disk. A wisp of strong men’s perfume blows its way to Dahyun’s face, sending her nose scrunching with a burning kind of sensation. Her nostrils feel like they’re on fire.

She already knows who it is.

“Oppa, ew!” Dahyun tries to move away but Jackson practically headlocks her in place, ruffling her hair.

“Is my Dahyunnie grossed out by her hyung now!?” Jackson pouts, feigning offense.

“Oppa, get off. You’re sweaty!”

There’s a glint of mischief in the basketball captain’s eyes, his fake kicked puppy act unable to hold down the cackle that slices through the peaceful stillness of a few minutes ago. Even a few of the cheerleaders and soccer players training on the field look up at them, attention caught by the rather boisterous laughter of the notorious Jackson Wang.

As if the unwanted attention isn’t enough, Jackson’s mischievous eyes notice the paper in Dahyun’s hands, the cause of her stern focus and sought privacy.

He grabs it quickly, because Jackson is just like that. Always has been the most annoying older brother friend in Dahyun’s entire life, and Dahyun’s naturally poor ability to react unsurprisingly leaves her frozen and jaw-slacked, because she’s also like every unfortunately pestered little sister in this narrative.

“What is this?” Jackson singsongs, eyes brightly scanning the paper.

Dahyun fights to get it back when it dawns on her, because no one is supposed to know there’s going to be a new student at least before the school year. Because no person also deserves to have their personal slam book pages in the wrong hands .

But Jackson is at least two heads taller, three times bigger, and a thousand and more ways faster and stronger than Dahyun, so she obviously loses the battle and only gets effortlessly–humiliatingly– shoved away with just one hand.

That goes on for about a few more embarrassing minutes before Coach Solji starts moving towards their way and Jackson decides he’s had enough fun tormenting his little sister. He gives it back with a sheepish smile. 

Dahyun doesn’t have the heart to punch his arm for the humiliation. She stomps on his foot instead.

Jackson doesn’t feel anything through the thick protection of his Reebok pumps but he pretends he does for Dahyun’s bruised ego, yelping and stumbling back.

It looks too scripted for Dahyun to care. She slumps back down on her seat with a huff, shoulders lagging when the exhaustion from getting the slam book pages back kicks in.

Jackson, unfortunately, continues to stay to keep her company.

(Any other day Dahyun would appreciate this. Jackson Wang is a big name in school, and everyone would love to be pestered by him. But now, this is the last thing she wants. Jackson is a big name but he’s also a big, loud mouth. )

He snoops over Dahyun’s shoulders. “That’s the new student?”

Ugh. Dahyun doesn’t answer.

Jackson lights up in amusement. He playfully begins poking at Dahyun’s shoulder, as if that would get her to give him the answer he already knows.

“It is then.” He gives in when Dahyun doesn’t. “You better be careful, okay?”

The change in his playful tone is uncanny, especially because it drifts to a tenor that sounds as if Jackson Wang is actually serious about something.

Dahyun can’t help but fall into the bait. “Be careful of what?”

Jackson is sitting with his muscular arms stretched out behind him, leaning back leisurely as his smirk drifts off to midair.

“The new kid. My boys know all about her already.”

Dahyun narrows her eyes skeptically at the basketball captain. Jackson’s little spies were all over town, doing errands for him. He was a mafia boss in the making.

“What are you talking about, oppa?”

“One of my boys told me she’s fucking loaded.” Jackson cocks an eyebrow up, playing Dahyun into his game. He knows getting one trivia detail correct is the only key to gaining Dahyun’s attention and trust.

 Dahyun hates how everyone knows she’s that easy.

“And your point is…?”

Jackson faces her altogether, lopsided smirk infuriatingly cheeky when he leans a little bit closer to whisper, “The new kid? She’s the daughter…of a Yakuza boss.”

Dahyun blinks. “A what?”

“You know? Those big crime syndicates in Japan? She’s Japanese, right?”

Dahyun isn’t sure but the surname kind of gave it away. “Um…yeah?”

“Then, yes. Yakuza Princess.” Jackson sits back up, certain. “My boys never do me wrong. Be careful, Fake Little Sister.”

The gears in Dahyun’s head move rather slowly, trying to grasp the information she’s just heard. Jackson Wang is a man of his words, according to her Jeongyeon unnie (given that only applies when he owes her something like mocha buns or a free ride with his sports car, never about Japanese crime syndicates) this, however, is something Dahyun just can’t comprehend properly.

Nothing about what Jackson said makes any sense in her head. She’s not left with anytime trying to understand it even more, when the shrill sound of the whistle blowing breaks through her muddled thoughts.

A few minutes later Jeongyeon joins them already, attractively rugged-looking and mildly disordered from her rigorous training session. Sweat sticks the fabric of her shirt against her stomach, outlining to-die-for toned abs.

Even through her disheveled glory, hair tied up in a ponytail and a towel wrapped around her neck, Dahyun’s Jeongyeon unnie is still as cool as ever, every girl and boys’ crush.

“Wangwang! What are you doing out here? Training done?” She asks towards Jackson, doing some sort of bro-shake with him. When she sees Dahyun’s little frown, it dawns on her. 

“Messing around Dahyunnie again, I see?”

Jackson snorts, waving his hand in dismissal. “Nah. I was just telling Dahyun about the new senior coming in.”

“Oh. Next week?”

Dahyun forgot. The new school year starts next week so Mina will also be coming in then. 

Suddenly, her throat dries up at the thought of meeting the new student, now a different reaction from before Jackson poisoned her mind into having double thoughts about the pretty-named senior.

“Kid? Are you okay?” Jeongyeon’s warm, fond-trickled voice snaps Dahyun out of her reverie. The esteemed soccer captain is already sitting down on the bleachers next to her gym bag, kicking off her shoes unceremoniously.

“Did Jackson say something stupid again?” She huffs, brows furrowing at the basketball captain standing in front, shrugging his shoulders innocently. 

“Uh, yeah…”

“It wasn’t stupid!” Jackson rebukes. 

“Something about the new student, I’m guessing?” Jeongyeon ignores his cries. 

Big surprise: Jeongyeon is an honorary member of the Welcoming Committee. Jihyo made her join as an unofficial school ambassador of some sorts—because parents like seeing students like Jeongyeon, all sporty, smart, and pretty, and more parents equals more profit for the school—but that doesn’t mean Jeongyeon joins the meetings or anything. She never does, to be honest. Her training schedules collide with team meetings and Yves has, more than once, expressed her desire to just set Jeongyeon free from the shackles of low-budget school org duties.

Despite that, oddly, Jeongyeon lowkey stays and keeps up to date.

“What did he say now?” Jeongyeon slips on her slippers, wiggling her toes in glee at the newfound liberty away from the confines of her socks. 

“Something about a Yakuza…” Dahyun puts the slam book pages back in her bag. 

“Yakuza!?” Jeongyeon exclaims, eyes throwing daggers at Jackson standing behind Dahyun. “And do you believe him?”

Dahyun hates that a part of her is questioning a lot of things now, connecting dots without her permission.

Her silence makes way for Jackson’s rebuttal. 

“What’s not to believe?” He says with much exasperation. He holds up his hand and begins counting his conjectures.

“One, she’s fucking rich. Dirty money from Yakuza business. Two, entire room for herself?” Jackson snorts. “Secrets! Yakuza things too! She probably has a knife set hiding under her bed. And three?” he trails off, narrowing his eyes suspiciously. “Isn’t it unsettling how she’s moving all this way to a new country, so late into her high school year, when she could’ve just...oh, I don’t know, transfer to some other better school there in Japan?” 

“Bullshit, Jackson.” Jeongyeon scoffs, breaking the noir tension between the jokester basketball captain and iffy little Dahyun. “You’re scaring Dahyun with your shitty jokes again.”

“I’m really not kidding!” Jackson looks like he’s on the burst of laughing and crying at the same time. 

Jeongyeon doesn’t believe him even more. “You know what? Just go back to your boys, Wang. I’m seriously going to kick your ass if you scare Dahyun off even more.” 

Jackson tries to say something else but Jeongyeon coils her fist to prepare a punch at his self-proclaimed perfectly-sculpted face, eventually sending him running off with a laugh. 

Dahyun’s too busy zoning out the entire time to notice anything, gulping a boulder down her parched throat as Jackson’s words finally strike her–the possibilities that pretty-named Mina Sharon Myoui might actually be a Yakuza Princess...

Oh no.

“Unnie.”

“Mm?” 

Dahyun stands up, walks besides Jeongyeon when they begin trudging down the bleachers.

“Can you come with me next week?”

“Where?”

“At the welcoming.”

Jeongyeon snorts. She pulls Dahyun close when they exit the field. “You’re seriously believing Jackson?”

Dahyun doesn’t answer. Her trembling shoulders when Jeongyeon wraps an arm around them are enough of one.

“He’s just joking around, Hyun. Don’t believe that clown.”

“Still.” Dahyun snuggles closer to her unnie. “I’ll buy you mocha buns for an entire month in exchange.”

Jeongyeon drifts off to pondering silence for a few seconds, contemplating the unfair negotiation. “You do know that you’re just putting yourself up for the shorter end of the stick, right? You don’t need to buy me mocha buns for an entire month because there’s nothing to be afraid of, Dubs. Jackson’s just messing with you.”

Dahyun stays firm, however. “I’ll do your homework too.”

That , Jeongyeon can’t decline. “Ooh....you’re good at this.”

Jeongyeon may be smart, but she’s a little bit lazy too. They’re all humans here (more like, messed up teenagers).

“So?” Dahyun looks up at the older, taller girl with bright hopeful eyes. “Please come with me?” And protect me just in case? Hopefully the need never rises…

Jeongyeon rolls her eyes with a defeated sigh. “Sure. Whatever. Mocha buns and homework for a month?”

“Deal.” Dahyun offers a handshake to seal everything close.

Jeongyeon reluctantly accepts with a shrug. “You do know you’re not the favorable one in this situation right?”

“It’s okay.” Dahyun knows. Somehow, it already feels like she’s losing way too much. It’ll be okay.

She pushes down the bitter feeling with a tight hold around her Jeongyeon unnie’s arm. “I have you.” You’ll be the one for Mina.

 


 

Jeongyeon’s innate valor is contagious. 

It helps knock a little sense into Dahyun’s timidity. 

Maybe this is why almost the entire school has a crush on unnie…

The courage sets its peak the night before their first day back in school when–obviously overlooking the fact that she’s going to meet the new pretty-named senior tomorrow morning as well–Dahyun realizes that she’s going to be a sophomore now. Not as ideally naive as her freshman self but also not as defeatist as the juniors and seniors. 

Sophomore year just hits right. Something tells Dahyun it’s going to be different this time. 

Exactly what kind of different? Dahyun hopes it’s the good one. 

She doesn’t have the heart and energy to deal with any more drama. All she wants for now is a lighthearted year, one where she can learn and enjoy herself, and hopefully still have all 206 of her bones intact by the end. 

UGH. Dahyun is promptly reminded again of her important obligations tomorrow. 

The small spark of courage inside of her is like a precarious pole standing alone in the middle of a heavy storm, unguarded and exposed. All it takes is a reminder of what’s to happen for it to come burning out.

“Unnie?” Dahyun mumbles, eyes still fixed on the latest episode of Sailor Moon playing in front of them. 

Jihyo sits right next to her on the floral chintz sofa, one leg tucked underneath the other that hangs limply on the edge of the cushion. Her attention briefly leaves her script for tomorrow's opening remarks, eyes drifting to her golden-haired roommate for a short warm glance, "Yes?" 

Dahyun feels bad for dragging her unnie here when she's clearly busy with other things. They're really not supposed to be staying up and watching a rerun of the new Sailor Moon episode in the dining hall. It's a big day tomorrow and they– she– will need all the energy in the world to survive it.

“Have you heard of the new senior?” 

Still, Dahyun couldn't sleep or even close her eyes for a single second. Her mind continues involuntarily trying to assess the situation and coming up with possible escape tactics–should the need rise (currently she's in Strategy #13, the one where she uses her nonexistent and clearly exaggerated martial arts skills to twist her attacker's arms and throw them over her shoulder)–to the point where even Jihyo had noticed her younger roommate's concerning sleepless and uneasy state. 

Mission Get Dahyun To Stop Overthinking had to be implemented by  means of dragging the younger girl down to the dining hall to watch some TV, Dahyun’s go-to stress management routines.

Jihyo doesn’t watch much, especially when it’s curfew time and it's a clear breach of dorm rules and an abuse of her Hall Monitor duties for them to be lounging at the dining hall so late at night, but this is Dahyun and the sunshine girl had always been a soft spot in Jihyo’s heart. 

For her, Jihyo would do anything. 

“Ah…” she trails off with a nod, closing her binder with a soft flap. Jihyo had been waiting for Dahyun to realize they weren’t watching Sailor Moon anymore–at least, she wasn’t–and that she had been zoning out the entire time.

“Is this why you couldn’t sleep?” 

Dahyun feels really bad now. 

“I’m sorry if I got you worried, unnie.” She hangs her head low, unable to hold back the downward tug at the corners of her lips. 

Dahyun absolutely hates having people concern themselves over her. To be a burden is the last thing she’d want and for all Dahyun cares, her only role in everybody else’s life is the bubbly side character or, to others, a nondescript prop in their show. 

“Hey, look at me.” Jihyo lifts Dahyun’s head up with a finger, softly brushing her thumb against Dahyun’s trembling chin. “It’s okay, Dahyunnie. If you’re comfortable to, you can tell me what’s bothering you.” 

Dahyun feels like drowning in Jihyo’s full, caramel eyes looking at her warmly, patiently. She waits in hopeful silence and Dahyun honestly thinks the world got too generous letting her path cross with such a wonderful person like her Jihyo unnie. 

“It’s just that…” Dahyun can’t find her own words. 

Talking isn't linear. Outside, everyone knows Dahyun is exceptional at it. Class presentations, music recitals. If talking was a talent, she would have been a professional by now.

But the thing is, talking used to be easy because there was a script. There was a fixed topic to explain, information already sewn together perfectly. All Dahyun had to do was interpret the information in her own elementary way.

Talking is easy, until you have to explain. How it happens and why it came to be... Outside, everyone knows Dahyun is exceptional at talking. Inside, however, she can’t even understand herself enough to know where to begin explaining. 

“Can I just ask…” Jihyo’s calm words interrupt the turmoil happening inside Dahyun's head. It helps that she interrupts. Dahyun doesn’t know how to talk all of a sudden. 

“Does this have any, even at the slightest, involvement of Jackson Wang?”

Dahyun’s eyes feel like rolling out of their sockets. 

Her reaction is enough for Jihyo to understand. 

“So it does…” she rolls her eyes, already imagining more than ten ways to kill Jackson the next time she sees him. “I should have known that jackass had something to do with this…”

“Unnie, he said...he said that the new student was…” Dahyun just wants the ground to swallow her whole. She feels stupid for believing, but also scared. “... dangerous…

“Sweetie”, Jihyo’s natural mom voice manifests itself. Her hand rests on Dahyun’s cheek, caressing it. “Don’t believe that son of a bitch.” 

Someday, Dahyun thinks, Jihyo would make the best mom ever

“Just because someone’s rich and from Japan doesn’t automatically mean they belong to a family of elaborate crime syndicates.” 

Dahyun sighs, feeling stupid because of course , she knows that. The rational part of her is absolutely sure Jackson’s just messing with her again. She’s always been the easier target especially when left without the protection of her unnies. 

It’s just that...hearing Jihyo say it clearly to her now, Dahyun feels even more foolish.

“From what I know, the new student used to be a ballerina.” Jihyo smiles, pulling her hand back. “She also came from a Catholic all-girls prep school in Japan. Those don’t scream heiress to a Japanese Crime Syndicate family to me.”

“Wha—how do you know all those stuff?!” Dahyun exclaims, confused because those weren’t in the slam book. 

Jihyo shrugs, smiling playfully. “Jackson’s not the only one with connections, Hyun.” 

“Unnie!”

“Fine, fine.” Jihyo stands up and stretches her arms out. “Yves mentioned them.”

Dahyun huffs bitterly, feeling betrayed that her Yves unnie didn’t mention those to her , the one actually meeting the new student tomorrow. 

“Anyways, contrary to how Jackson probably made you imagine the new senior is like, I actually see her as a sweet girl. You’ll have a blast showing her around. You know all the cool places in town!” Jihyo exclaims giddily and for once, Dahyun is actually sure of herself because that is true. 

“You can take her to Park’s Alley and go bowling or down at the funky roller skating rink and teach her how to roller skate. Show her the arcade at Deux too! Everyone loves it there. Or, you know, if she’s more of the chill kind, just take her to your favorite music store. The one selling the vinyls. She’ll probably fall in love with you if you do that.” 

“What…?” Fall in love? 

Jihyo chuckles sheepishly, realizing how much she had been gushing. “I mean, I gotta be honest, Dubu, you seemed so cool and adorable when you brought me there before. You were talking all about The Beatles, Neil Diamond, Depeche Mode... it was so cool. If only I... swung your way ...I would have totally had a crush on you.” 

She means it so platonically now, with a pat on Dahyun’s head to finish, that Dahyun doesn’t see anything beyond a supportive older sister in Jihyo, always trying to cheer her up when she needs it the most. 

“Thank you, unnie.” For everything.

Jihyo smiles, one hand moving down to grab at Dahyun’s own. “No prob, kiddo.” 

“We should probably call it a night though.” She pulls her up to a stand, using her other hand to reach for the remote and turn the TV off. “We have a big day tomorrow.”

Dahyun sighs, feeling her chest all easy and light again. Jihyo’s company is always a breath of fresh air. 

When they return back to their room and separate ways to unite with the soft covers of their respective beds, Jihyo turns on Dahyun’s nightlight in the middle nightstand and wishes her younger roommate goodnight. 

“Sleep tight, Dahyunnie.” Jihyo mumbles, acknowledged with a soft, sleepy hum. “Tomorrow’s going to be the start of something exciting for us all.” I can feel it.

Chapter Text

Dahyun presents her best self. 

Her favorite Benetton sweater is creaseless, neatly smoothen down to the T. The pleats of her uniform skirt are tightly folded and locked in place. Her loafers have been polished more than once, squeaky clean and shining. Her golden hair is down it’s natural waves, cascading squared shoulders. 

Outside she looks like the model student she always wanted to imagine herself as. Not Eagle Kim who eagle danced in front of the entire freshman year students on her first day at school; Not Dubu who makes the best facial expressions in the whole wide world (self proclaimed); Nothing of those. 

Today she’s Kim Dahyun, prim and proper, standing tall with her head held high, plastering on her brightest, most welcoming smile, ready to meet Mina Myoui.

“Are you still breathing in there…?” Compared to Dahyun, however, her Jeongyeon unnie looks just about as relaxed and easygoing as her usual self. 

The only unusual thing on her right now is the sweater tied around her neck like a makeshift cape. Dahyun will probably never understand just how unfair the world is for making it seem so easy for her Jeongyeon unnie. All she had to do was add a sweater to look preppy and respectable. 

“I’m just really nervous right now, unnie.” Dahyun replies under her breath, trying to refrain from getting another scolding glare from Principal Park.

It’s weird and amusing how he’s the one getting annoyed when he looks the most nervous out of all of them waiting in front of the main building’s tall doors. 

Jeongyeon clearly doesn’t care whether Principal Park gets mad or not. 

“Is she this important that we’re really waiting for them to arrive?” She huffs bitterly, fanning herself with her hand. “It’s really hot outside, Principal Park. Can we not wait in the foyer instead? Where there’s air conditioning?”

“Hush, Ms. Yoo.” Principal Park, of course, doesn’t relent. He stands tall, shoulders squared back and head held up high. He looks more like an in-command soldier than an overpaid principal. 

“They’re probably right around the corner—OH! THERE THEY ARE!”

Dahyun’s lagging shoulders snap back up again. A rush of adrenaline fills her system as a black vehicle looms by the school’s gate. 

Her hands suddenly feel clammy now, the nerves settling in like a bitch. 

The only thing keeping her grounded is the echo of the cheerleading team’s training music blasting from the PA systems by the field. Right now Irene Cara’s What a Feeling is nearing its end. 

Dahyun never had perfect vision, so when the car rounds the driveway and stops a few steps away from them, it’s only then she realizes it’s one of those rich-people cars owned by the villains in television soap operas (a black Mercedes Benz E500), a little off-putting when Dahyun remembers about the entire Yakuza Princess thing. 

A sophisticated middle-aged woman with a short dark brown bob cut hair steps out from the passenger’s seat first. She’s clad in a white blouse and loose trousers, quite a casual look compared to the one Dahyun had in mind of–presumably–Mrs. Myoui. 

(Later on Jeongyeon will ask her exactly what exactly did she expect to see from the wealthy Japanese matriarch and patriarch. In Dahyun’s mind she remembers of big, scary-looking armed bodyguards and a very old couple in obnoxiously wealthy clothing. Not this )

A pair of those small flimsy-looking sunglasses shade Mrs. Myoui’s eyes from view when she circles the car and opens the backseat door just as a middle-aged man steps out from the driver’s side. 

There’s a moment of silence while everyone waits calmly. 

Everyone but Dahyun. 

She’s already unable to keep her heart at bay, pounding hard against her chest. 

It takes about a second when the new student steps out of the car. 

In that exact moment, a gust of breeze blows by, sweeping long dark brown hair back. When Dahyun catches a glimpse of Mina Sharon Myoui , she feels her breath hitch. 

Mina walks towards her– them and suddenly, the beginning of Berlin’s Take My Breath Away plays in the distance. 

(The world couldn’t get any weirder at that moment.)

It’s like a classic. She was a classic. Every first love embodied. Mina walks with light steps, beside her mother and father, eyes looking far into the distance, avoiding Dahyun’s own that can’t seem to find anything else worth looking at but her.

Principal Park shakes hands with Mr. and Mrs. Myoui who share their sentiments and greetings in timid Japanese. Somehow, the attention drifts over to Jeongyeon and Dahyun who stand in silence together, one in envious calmness and the other in chaotic nerves. 

For Dahyun, nothing seems to be working out. While Principal Park talks to Mr. and Mrs. Myoui, they’re left in awkward silence with the actual new student who turns out to be the most beautiful girl she’s ever seen her entire life.

Is this even possible?

Mina Myoui has long, wavy, dark hair parted to the side with a pretty bedazzled hair pin clipped on the smaller half, holding it down. She’s already donned in the school uniform, Dahyun only realizes a little later on, after spending at least an entire minute just staring at Mina Myoui in utter awe. 

Now get this: the Apgujeong High school uniform for girls is a simple black plaid skirt strictly trimmed to the mid-thighs only , a white short-sleeved blouse tucked inside, and a black bowknot brooch clipped in between the collar leaves. For a year and a half Dahyun’s studied in the private institution, the uniform has been notoriously named a bland combination. While other schools get colored blazers and better patterned skirts, they get this. 

Naturally, the students exercised their bright and creative minds and began a youth movement of self-expression through their choice of accessories and extra layers of tops. It also became an excuse to flaunt their wealth of course. The popular girls began wearing sweaters and accessories from brands and designers like Benetton, Marc Jacobs, GAP, Ralph Lauren, all hoping they’d look like Miss Korea at the end of the day. Compared to them, the jocks couldn’t care less for their appearances. They wore their varsity jackets like armors and overly-sprayed themselves with Davidoff fragrances. 

Bottomline is, Dahyun has seen almost every kind of style pulled off with their school uniform. Chic? Grunge? Name it, she’s probably seen it and attempted to try it on. So it’s only shocking to see now Mina Myoui donning nothing but the plain and simple uniform in all its boring glory. It’s been so long since Dahyun last saw a student with just the uniform on and no sweater, cardigan or vest whatsoever. 

With Mina, however, she effortlessly pulls everything off. She looks like she’s more expensive than the entire school with the way she carries herself, calculated steps and gestures but a soft touch with her movements. 

There’s a ghost of a shy smile lingering on Mina’s lips when she catches Dahyun’s eyes for a split second. 

Dahyun, the ever hopeless little loser that she is, looks away too swiftly to notice. 

“Why don’t you girls show Mina around? We’ll be at the office if you need anything.” Principal Park says, breaking the silence shared between the three. Mr. and Mrs. Myoui share a smile directed towards them, nodding encouragingly at their daughter. 

Jeongyeon shrugs nonchalantly, leading the way when Mina smiles willingly and follows behind. Dahyun doesn’t leave without a ninety degree bow at Mina’s parents, in her head thanking them for giving the world their daughter. 

She walks behind Mina, feeling intoxicated whenever a gust of wind blows by and brings with it the faint scent of expensive flowers and sweet vanilla. 

If Dahyun could control the mixtape of the universe, Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely would be playing by now. 

“So…” Jeongyeon turns to face them. Mina stops in her steps abruptly and Dahyun almost collides with her. 

“Are you okay?” Jeongyeon laughs sweetly, noticing the surprised yelp Mina lets out along with a little jolt of her body. 

Dahyun’s standing behind Mina, unable to see her face. She tries to lean forward a little to catch a glimpse of it but a breeze blows by and something gets caught in her right eye, immediately sending it in prickling tears. 

With one eye down and the other barely able to function well, Dahyun logically arrives at the fact that the world might actually hate her. 

Because she doesn’t see what happens next. Doesn’t get to do anything about the hand Jeongyeon offers, and her ridiculously attractive smile when she introduces herself, “I’m Yoo Jeongyeon, by the way. Senior too.” 

Dahyun doesn’t get to do anything but listen from behind when a soft chuckle resounds and fills the silence with something mellow and sweet, and Mina takes Jeongyeon’s hand with her own soft one, mumbling back, “I’m Mina. But I guess you already knew that?” 

A trail of silence follows after that, light but meaningful that it feels like the two are still talking. When Dahyun finally gets the freaking dust particle out of her twitching eye, she sees it. 

Jeongyeon smiles fondly at Mina with the smile Dahyun knows . It’s the chic one. It’s the statement smile that explains the school girl crush nickname she has. It’s the one snap of a finger that gets everyone swooning. 

It’s unnie’s checkmate move.

Dahyun feels her heart drop.

And Mina’s smiling right back.

 


 

It oddly feels like she’s interrupting a moment. Their moment.

Jeongyeon walks with a jump in her steps Dahyun only ever sees whenever they walk together after another soccer game win. She talks with an excitement Dahyun only ever gets to hear whenever Jeongyeon rambles about the soccer jargon and her insights on Star Wars. 

When she shows Mina around, she dives right into telling her all about the secret passages and halls without student monitors, the weekly cafeteria menus and who to befriend whenever Mina wants something specifically done (answer: Jihyo). It’s not even part of the tour Dahyun’s grandly planned out for days. 

She excuses the crease on her brows and the pout of lips for the waste of her effort and sleepless nights, but everyone knows it’s not because of those. 

(The reason why is a jumble of words in Dahyun’s head, something she can’t make out and won’t be able to understand until a few more months later.)

Dahyun doesn’t even notice she’s been frowning at Jeongyeon and Mina walking ahead of her until someone roughly throws an arm around her shoulders and practically headlocks her. 

“Yo, why the sad face, little tofu?” 

On a different day, Dahyun would have totally attempted to push Jackson away for pressing his manly-stenched self too close to her, but today isn’t that. To be frank, she feels slightly thankful for his company despite the inflammation of her nostrils from his heavy cologne. 

“I can feel your glaring a mile away, sunshine ball.” Jackson says, concern in his tone despite the shit-eating smile on his face. “Care to tell your favorite hyung why you look like a kicked puppy?”

Dahyun doesn’t answer, because she doesn’t exactly know why herself. She just lets out a defeated sigh, realizing how she’s been wearing her emotions out on her sleeve so carelessly, very unlike her.

Jackson, however, has always been too smart for his own good. He just chooses not to use his brain power over frivolous matters such as his academic studies. 

(To be frank, Dahyun thinks her annoying Jackson hyung is probably the smartest guy in the entire school. He has the ability to understand past the shallow layers of human expression and actions. That’s why he has friends from everywhere. He’s like a leprechaun leaving trails wherever he goes.)

Eventually, his eyes drift off to the new person in front of them, leisurely chatting with Jeongyeon. Although their only view is Mina’s backside, Dahyun can already see Jackson’s eyes go wide, jaw dropping annoyingly.

“Who’s that?”

Dahyun rolls her eyes. This time she successfully removes Jackson’s heavy arm around her shoulders with a bitter huff. “ That is the new student. The one you totally scared me about!”

Jackson ogles at Mina first. It’s annoying. He looks like he’s a wolf eyeing his prey. 

“Oppa!”

“Oh?” Jackson doesn’t even spare Dahyun a look. He’s just smiling at Mina stupidly. “Are you telling me that’s Yakuza Princess? Apgujeong’s Most Dangerous Student?”

At the mention of the nickname, Dahyun feels her blood boil a little. It’s that nickname that started it all, her bad impression of Mina who eventually turned out to be this angel. Had she overcome her initial fear of the sweet senior, Dahyun wouldn’t have been this out of herself.

“Oooooh. I get it now…” Jackson squints his eyes and smiles cheekily, altering his shit-eating grin between the two girls ahead of them and Dahyun’s kicked puppy face. “Is my little sunshine tofu jealous the new student is snatching all of her unnie’s attention?”

What.

“What?” 

That’s not it...

“No worries, little kid!” Jackson waves off. “I’m actually here to steal Jeongyeon away from you.”

Dahyun looks over to Jackson’s other side and sees the gym bag hanging from his shoulder. “You guys already have training?” 

Jackson nods. “And a meeting with the athletic head. It’s gonna be a busy day for us and it’s not even the start of the season yet.”

Guilt fills up Dahyun’s system, the old little flame (of jealousy? Who knows) inside of her dying down. It kind of feels like, for a split second there, her better judgement had been clouded. Quite literally, Mina Myoui was intoxicating. 

Now, she’s back to her rationality. The old Dahyun. Jeongyeon unnie isn’t the bad guy here. So what if she’s more interesting and fun to be with? And she’s spontaneous and cool? And a lot of people love her because she’s just that wonderful? No one’s the bad guy here but me. 

Before Dahyun could even do something, Jackson’s already launching himself over at Jeongyeon, pulling off his suavest smile. “Jeong! You didn’t tell me you had a new friend…” 

Jeongyeon looks like she’s just about ready to throw a punch at the basketball captain’s face. She makes up for it with her introduction, “Mina, this is Jackson. The first face you should walk away from when you see it.” 

Mina lets out a shy laugh.

Jackson is unfazed, too entranced.

"Mina, right?" He grins cockily. "Aren't you tired?"

"What...?"

Jackson smirks. "Cause you've been running in my mind all night…"

A beat.

Dahyun thinks Jackson might have actually just traumatized Mina now. 

“Good job, Fresh Prince of Belair. Are you done now?” Jeongyeon flatly eyes the idiot in question. 

Jackson must have felt his own embarrassment (all Mina does in reply is chuckle awkwardly and look away) because he answers with a cringing smile, “Yup. Never doing that ever again.” 

“Good.” Jeongyeon rolls her eyes. “What are you doing here anyways? Besides terrorizing the new student, that is.” 

“I come picking you up.” He wraps his arms around Jeongyeon’s, pulling her close. “Meeting with the athletic board now. Team captains assemble.”

Jeongyeon groans. “Now? Really?” 

“Yup. Now come on before Coach whoops your ass.” He turns to Mina, smiling while he tugs at Jeongyeon’s arm. “Mina, I’m really sorry but I have to steal your tourist guide for a while. You have another one anyways. Little dubu–I mean, Dahyun! Come here!” 

It oddly feels like when her mom forces her to meet her friends from the neighborhood, the other ahjummas . Dahyun can’t help but feel a certain kind of warmth rush up to her cheeks, something inside her stomach coiling in knots. 

“H-Hello!” She stammers. 

The frown on Jeongyeon’s face morphs into a proud smile, reflecting the grin on Jackson’s own, and for a second there, Dahyun feels a surge of encouragement inside of her, willing her to get. her. crap. together. 

Said confidence lasts for a record of one and a half seconds before Mina turns to face her and meets her eyes, smiling the same beautiful one from earlier but now directed at Dahyun. 

At me. 

Dahyun feels like her heart just stopped beating.

Lord, honestly, you can take me now. 

Mina offers her hand shyly. “It’s nice to meet you, Dahyun.” 

Dahyun doesn’t even know if she’s worthy enough to accept it, but seeing Mina waiting is sacrilegious, she relents with a trembling hand.

Never mind, Lord. Dahyun thinks and decides: No, don’t take me yet.

Can I hold a hand like hers for the rest of my life first?

“Okaaay…” Jackson speaks up, ruining the moment and snapping Dahyun out of her unusual behavior. “That was probably the most unnecessarily long handshake I’ve ever seen my whole life.” 

Jeongyeon hits him. She looks between Dahyun and Mina, and then smiles somewhere middle. 

“We’re gonna go now then. See you guys later!” She hops off with Jackson beside her, dragging him away and leaving the two in different kinds of personal silence (Mina finds it comfortable, Dahyun feels like she’s about to vomit)

The moment Jackson and Jeongyeon are out of sight and Mina looks at Dahyun with an expectant little smile, all confidence in Dahyun's system flies out of the window. This is not the way she pictured meeting the new student. Not even close. 

Her mind is a jumbled mess and all it remembers is how soft Mina's hand was and how heavenly she smelled like, and how her hair looks so perfectly smooth, it could stand next to the most expensive silk in the world and no one would even notice a difference.

Oh my god. What am I even thinking about? 

"So…" there's a shift in the silence they share that wasn't there when Jeongyeon was around. Dahyun can see Mina fiddling with the side of her skirt, the weight of her upper body shifting from one leg to the other. 

Dahyun hates that her mind is short-circuiting right at the exact moment she’s with Mina. A few nights ago she had everything all planned out. She was going to show Mina all around school, tell her all about the weird and cool history of the campus (how there’s probably a ghost in the girl’s C.R. down the west wing and that no , you can’t ask the lunch lady to change the menu because she’s really grumpy most of the time) but now she’s all clammy and trembling inside and out, and this isn’t Kim Dahyun! This isn’t her! She’s cool! She has her crap together! 

“Uh...do you have anywhere in mind you...uh...wanted to see?” Dahyun manages to cough that one out despite the dryness in her throat when Mina’s smile widens a little more. 

“You’re the student guide, right?” She asks playfully. 

“Yeah, but…” Come on, Dahyun. Be cool. “The customer’s experience is more important.” She ends with a wink. 

That gets Mina laughing heavenly , eyes crinkling when she smiles. Dahyun feels like all the air inside of her was sucked out. 

“Mhm. In that case…” Mina purses her lips in thought. 

Dahyun unknowingly holds her breath in anticipation.  

“Can you take me to the garden?”

 


 

To be honest, Dahyun didn’t even know they had a garden. 

The thought never occurred to her because she didn’t have any home economics classes to use an excuse to garden. Her freshman year in school was also spent adjusting herself and adapting to the new, elitist environment. Don’t get her wrong, Kim Dahyun absolutely loves flowers and trees and nature in general, but life had become the biggest bitch lately, there was no choice but to set her interests aside. 

What had been planned a short while became the entire freshman year until Dahyun realizes she hasn’t had enough time for herself anymore, and the world is just moving too fast for her to get a grip and take a breath. 

Back in her hometown, their house had a pocket garden where she used to stay a lot just to get some air. With everything happening in school, the constant pressure to do well because she’s a scholar and the pressure to stay this effervescent bubble of sunshine because a lot of people depend on her, Dahyun always felt like she was slipping away.

In Mina’s company, it feels like a part of her old self is coming back. 

 


 

Dahyun’s lack of knowledge about a school garden ends up with them in the open field instead. 

Mina doesn’t seem to mind how “lost” her tour guide appears to be. She strolls behind Dahyun leisurely as they cross a section of the freshly-manicured field, making their way towards the only person Dahyun knows would be well informed enough about a certain school garden. 

The cheerleaders radiate their high spirits all over the field. The younger members are scattered about, playing and laughing around, while the others–the seniors and leaders–are busy going through what looks like choreographies. The freedom in their movements, Dahyun guesses, is possibly the result of one specific evil leader's absence. 

"Dahyunnie!" A certain high-spirited tall girl waves her hand over at Dahyun from where she stands, in the middle of a huddle with the other cheer team members. 

Unlike the other gorgeous athletes in their expensive cycling shorts and bralettes, Sana dons a well-coordinated and heavily-patterned leotard and leggings set, complete with a thick headband matching her high ponytail perfectly. All very retro and Sana-like.

Other than her, Dahyun can only recognize Jennie from the huddle. The feisty cat-eyed senior co- co captain , who may or may not be out to snatch the throne from Im Nayeon, is already eyeing her up and down with a dirty look. 

It’s only when Dahyun sees the other athletes out on the field also looking at her weirdly when she realizes what’s happening: No one approaches the cheerleaders in their territory so easily and here she is, freely doing just that. 

Dahyun suddenly feels the urge to have the ground swallow her whole. 

This much attention is too much and too uncomfortable. It feels like a thousand prying eyes watching her every move, relishing the great entertainment they’ll witness once the cheerleaders do to her what they’re great at doing to everybody else: asserting their dominance. 

This is why Dahyun absolutely doesn’t like these browbeating barbie dolls. They’re bullies behind their alluring perfectly-sculpted faces and well-built bodies. 

Thankfully, all but one. 

Sana Minatozaki is arguably the nicest person Dahyun has met her entire life. She’s like a walking candy cane, sweet, pretty, and everybody loves her.

When Dahyun sinks into the embrace of her favorite cheerleader, she feels safe and protected from the dirty looks and prying eyes around her. Like no one can lay a finger on her when she’s in Sana’s hold (probably because no one really can; Sana Minatozaki is that powerful and amazing). 

Beside Dahyun’s strawberry-scented golden hair, Sana catches a glimpse of Mina.

“Oh! Are you the new student?” She asks eagerly, not at one bit pulling away from hugging Dahyun. 

Mina nods with a small, shy smile. “I’m Mina—”

“Myoui!” Sana cuts too excitedly. “Mina Myoui, right?”

When she pulls away to take Mina’s hand and shake it, introducing herself exuberantly, Dahyun takes her time to look around and see no one is giving her the dirty looks anymore. The invisible protective shield of Sana Minatozaki’s friendship is up and running. 

Dahyun feels a little surge of confidence. Feels safe. Sana unnie’s a savior. She looks over to where Sana is gushing at Mina’s perfectness , pouring all sorts of flowery compliments at the new girl. And she doesn’t even know it. 

Sana talks all about how Mina’s face reminds her of constellations, with her freckles and moles she refers to as marks of perfection. Mina blushes away shyly, unable to hide the pinkness of her cheeks. 

Dahyun thinks it’s cute. 

Somewhere in the middle of Sana singing high praises for Mina’s ballet history (of which Dahyun proudly takes acknowledge that she already knew before everybody else did), Mina waves her hand at someone over Sana’s shoulders, a small, shy smile gracing her lips. 

Dahyun and Sana look over. 

It’s Jeongyeon with a wide, goofy grin plastered on her face, flailing her arms like those inflatable tube men in car wash fronts, jumping up and down beside Jackson who’s busy scowling at her weirdly. They’re standing by the soccer side of the field, probably waiting for the boys’ team captain. 

Dahyun stands in silence, witnessing the little moment shared. Sana, however–smarter than how she lets on–glances between the two, drawing an imaginary line to connect the dots, and then looks at Dahyun with a change of expression. 

It’s a small frown–a dip in between her brows that is gone within a second–unnoticeable on other faces but on Sana’s it’s quite almost impossible to dismiss. Her face is like a perfectly chiseled sculpture, the tiniest dent or change in her expression is visible to the naked eye. 

“I’m guessing Dahyun brought Jeongyeon along for you to meet earlier?” She has a knowing smile on, a twinkle of mischief Dahyun can’t pinpoint the reason to. 

Mina must have not gotten it too. She keeps her smile, shy and pure. “Yes. They showed me around.” 

“Ah…” Sana nods, trailing off. She turns to Dahyun with a skeptical look. “I’m guessing you’re also here for another reason?”

And then Dahyun remembers the garden. 

“Ah! Yes, unnie!” She exclaims. “Mina wanted to see the garden but I don’t have any idea where that is,” She lets out a sheepish laugh. “Would you happen to have an idea where it is?” 

Sana’s eyes shine like a thousand stars when she looks at a person. When she listens, she listens with all her heart, her ears, her mind. It kind of feels overwhelming at first, having all this attention to yourself. No one’s ever truly paid that much care to what Dahyun had to say. 

She treats every breathing person like they were rare flowers, needing all the care, love, and support in the world. And what’s even more amazing about it? It’s just really how she is. 

Sana thinks everyone is worth her time and space, and although before Dahyun pitied her about it ( how can you offer the world your whole heart, leave nothing for yourself, and think they’d return it back? ) this innocence and hopefulness, this lasting idea that the world deserves her heart, Dahyun admires Sana even more. 

It takes a different kind of strength to be kind. It’s hard to do it and even harder doing it out of heart, not expecting anything in return. Sana unnie is doing this every single day. She’s the strongest out of us all.

“There’s an old garden behind the dorm building.” Sana shrugs. “I don’t think anyone pays it a visit anymore though…” 

“Don’t we have a garden here inside?” 

“A greenhouse. But it only opens after lunch hours.” 

Mina looks at her leather wristwatch.  At a closer inspection of the luxurious-looking timepiece, Dahyun gasps.

“Is that the mood watch!?” 

She’s unable to hold her excitement at the sight of the limited edition Fossil timepiece. “I’ve been saving up to buy one but they were out of stock before I could even have enough money! Oh my god.”

Just looking at the simplicity of the design, the color–Mina’s at the moment is black, anxious/excitable and the way Mina effortlessly wears it like it was made for her, makes Dahyun wonder if she was ever fit to wear the thing in the first place, let alone buy one. 

“Anyways”, Sana clears her throat. “We’ll be starting practice soon. Would you girls be up for some drinks at the diner after school? To celebrate the first day of the school year and…” she smiles over at Mina. “To welcome you too, Mina! My treat.” 

(Sometimes Dahyun thinks she owes it to her Jeongyeon unnie for “adopting” her into their friend group. She gets social protection and free food too! In return they have her to laugh at when the going gets tough. It’s really a win-win situation, if we’re being honest here…)

“Uh...okay…?” Mina isn’t sure if it’s a question she’s asking herself or not, but Sana takes it. 

“Okay then! We’re set for Deux later!” She blurts out happily. “I better get going now! This training won’t start without me!”

Before Sana can leave ultimately, Dahyun brings up the N-word. 

“Is Nayeon unnie not around?” 

“We have no idea but she hasn’t shown up since a few days ago.”

“Is she at her boyfriend’s again?” 

Dahyun is asking this for the sake of her Jeongyeon unnie, no matter how the information presents itself useless to her (and no matter how much Jeongyeon tries to convince Dahyun she’s perfectly capable of being by herself) Dahyun knows sleeping alone gets lonely too. Jeongyeon gets lonely too.

Unfortunately, Sana nods. “It’s been a while, Dahyunnie. She’s used to it by now.” 

She , Dahyun knows, means her Jeongyeon unnie.

“So she won’t show up later?” There’s a certain type of hopefulness and tremble in her tone. It’s more like she’s wishing for it to happen and not asking for certainty. Who can blame Dahyun though? The last time there was a new student near Jeongyeon, Nayeon managed to get Yerin Baek kicked out. And Dahyun doesn’t want that to happen to Mina. 

“I can’t say she won’t, but the chances are very unlikely.” 

Dahyun nods, holding down the little complacency inside of her. “Okay then, unnie. Thank you!” 

Sana smiles, heart out on her sleeves. “Welcome, Dahyunnie!” She waves over to Mina standing a few feet away. “It was nice to meet you, Mina! See you later, okay?”

Mina nods with a wide smile from her place. It’s enough to send Sana giggling when she waves them goodbye one last time and joins her team to begin their usual rigorous afternoon training sessions.

Dahyun walks back to Mina with an apologetic smile. “So, a trip to the garden might not be possible for now but...do you have anywhere else you want to go?”

“Actually”, Mina mumbles as they walk out of the field. She keeps her eyes on her feet, watching the sunlight glimmer on the polished tips of her Haruta loafers. “I was just wondering if I was required to attend classes for today?”

“Well. No, actually. It’s kind of like your orientation-slash-welcoming day so you’re kind of exempted.”

They make their way to the main hall. “How about the introductions?” 

“Everybody sort of knows you already, unnie.” 

Mina looks at her. It takes about a moment for Dahyun to realize something. 

“Uh...I...I’m Sorry…” She stutters, feeling bad all of a sudden. Oh my god Dahyun. Can you get any more embarrassing? 

“Is it okay if I call you that?” 

“Call me what?” Mina doesn’t stop looking at her. There’s really nothing significant about her expression now. It’s unreadable. She looks like she’s amused and expecting something with the way the corners of her lips tug up a little. 

Dahyun feels like an organism under a microscope. So freaking exposed. 

“Unnie.” 

It’s weird. Dahyun’s been using that honorific for so long now because most of her friends are older than her, but it feels a little bit more meaningful when it’s Mina. Like a little bit more important.

And when Mina smiles, wide and perfect, and laughs, feathery and sweet, Dahyun thinks it also feels a little more enchanting than the others. 

“Of course you can, Dahyunnie”, Mina says. “Can I call you that too? What everybody else does.”

“Well, they also call me Dubu, Dubs, Tofu, Eagle, Eagle Kim, Little Golden-haired Walking Porcelain Doll, Sunshine Girl, The Next Gandhi, Tupac’s Biggest Rival—”

“Tupac’s Biggest Rival?” 

Dahyun sees the amused little smile on Mina’s face. The way she says it makes it sound incredulous but the entertainment on her face makes up for the slight tinge of embarrassment Dahyun feels.

"Yeah… they call me that too." I can play the rap game well. So what.

“I’ll just call you Dahyunnine, would that be okay?”

“Yes! That’s okay! Very much! I’d love that!” Dahyun only realizes her excitement when Mina laughs afterwards. 

When someone else mentions her name, it sounds pretty much like every other name. But when Mina says it, all sweet and elegant and feathery, Dahyun feels like being called by the heavens. She feels star-strucked.

By the time they arrive at the grand hall that connects all of the other buildings of the school, Dahyun asks where to. It’s almost lunch time and the cafeteria will be packed later because they serve special menus on opening weeks. If they want a good seat, they’ll need Jeongyeon or Sana. It won’t be a good idea to venture out to the arcades too because they might get in trouble for loitering in school hours despite their exemption. 

Dahyun is running out of fun ideas. She blames it on the way her head can only manage to focus on anything related to Mina. Mina’s beautiful smile. Mina’s silky hair. Mina’s soft voice. Mina, Mina, Mina.

Oh no.

“Dahyunnie? Are you okay?”

In her Mina-induced haze, Dahyun doesn’t realize the aforementioned was talking all this time. 

“O-Oh. Sorry, unnie. I...I was just thinking.” She shakes her head and plasters on  her biggest smile. “So? Have you thought of where you want to go next?”

They’re in the main hall now. Under the giant crystal chandelier, the warm white illuminating the room and the shimmering reflection of the crystals, Mina looks ethereal. And she’s just standing there, not even doing anything. 

Dahyun. This is bad. 

“Is it okay if I spend the day in my dorm?” 

"Well it's not not okay…" You can ask for the sun and the universe would still give it to you. 

Mina smiles. "Then, can we go there…?"

"Yeah. Of course."

You can ask me for the world, and while I won't be able to give it to you so soon, I'll offer you mine instead. 

 


 

"So...you like flowers?" 

It's a hopeless starter, quite awkward if you ask Dahyun, but her mind just wants to hear Mina's voice again.

They're just around the corner of the dorm building. It's been comfortably silent the entire walk. 

Mina looks down on shoes a lot. Or maybe her steps. Either way, it gives Dahyun a view of her profile. When she smiles, her cheeks bunch up. It's adorable.

"I love them. Back home, we used to grow all kinds of flowers in our backyard. We even had our own cherry blossom."

Dahyun’s knowledge of flowers is as lacking as her height, but she does enjoy the sight of them and the feeling of calm and beauty they radiate. Hearing Mina talk so wonderfully makes Dahyun want to fall in love with flowers too. 

“Do you grow flowers, Dahyunnie?” 

Dahyunnie. Oh my god. Am I dreaming?

“Uh...no.” She laughs sheepishly. They finally enter the building, walking through the lobby, past the unmanned front desk. Yumama must be out. 

“But Sana unnie makes paper flowers and teaches us from time to time. Is that enough?” 

“Paper flowers?” Mina repeats with a soft chuckle. “That sounds pretty too but real flowers are better.”

“Yeah? But Nayeon unnie has a pollen allergy and she isn’t allowed anywhere near one...” 

They begin climbing up the stairs. Mina’s dorm room is on the second floor. 

“Nayeon…” She repeats the name without much of a thought. Just trying to get the feel of saying it. “Is she...a senior too?”

It’s only around the time they’re standing in front of Mina’s door when Dahyun realizes what she’s done. She just accidentally revealed the name of the one person Mina should probably ignore for the rest of the school year. Mentioning her name will spark curiosities and curiosity killed the cat.

  Oh no. I don’t want Mina to be killed.

“Uh...who?” Feign ignorance, Dahyun. Internalize your role. “I didn’t say anything?” 

“But you just mentioned—”

“Oh, unnie.” Dahyun shakes her head in pretend-pity. Mina unlocks her door. “I think you’re just exhausted from the walking we’ve done. You’re hearing things now. Good thing we’re here. You should rest.”

“But I—”

Dahyun didn’t mean to lightly push Mina inside. “I’ll be upstairs if you need me! 4th floor! Door with many stickers!”

“Dahyun! Wait—”

She begins walking away. “Bye unnie! See you later!”

Mina’s voice fades with Dahyun’s hasty steps, running down the staircase as if the ballerina would be willing enough to chase after her.  

She doesn’t look back, afraid she’ll trip and afraid Mina won’t be there. 

When Dahyun reaches the ground floor, breathless and clutching at her chest, it’s only then she realizes she’s just ran down the stairs when she’s supposed to be on her way up to the fourth floor, ultimately wasting her time and energy. 

What makes it worse, when she looks back, Mina isn’t there. 

“Talk about weird, Dahyun…” Dahyun huffs bitterly to herself, stomping her way over to the elevators. It’s climbing down from the third floor. 

When the doors open and an empty ride presents itself, Dahyun steps inside and presses the button. It takes a few seconds for her to reach the quiet floor. She walks down the empty hall and unlocks her door, making her way to her bed and plopping down on it face-first, just to muffle the frustrated scream she lets out on her covers. 

Lately it feels like I have to face everything alone.

Dahyun wishes to protect Mina for as long as she can. 

She wishes to stop her from getting involved with the wrong people. 

When she witnessed how Nayeon had Yerin Baek kicked out of school under the pretense of personal difficulties –she made it sound so shallow–Dahyun knew the formidable cheerleader, all perfect and deceivingly beautiful herself, was the last person she should be hanging out with or being near to.

But it’s never as easy as it sounds like. Because Jeongyeon is someone to Nayeon, and Dahyun is...well, she doesn’t know what she is in that narrative but Jeongyeon’s someone to her too, in a complete she’s-my-unnie-and-I-got-her-back way. 

And Mina… 

Dahyun thinks she’s gonna be someone too. 

Exactly whose? She doesn’t know yet. 

(A part of her wishes she’ll never know, if that someone isn’t going to be her.)

But at that moment, as the doors of the elevator open and a specific cheerleader passes by in heavy stomps, still clad in the familiar hot pink cheer uniform and an oversized varsity jacket, Dahyun feels like she’s about to find out soon. 

She’s back?  

Dahyun had just gotten juice boxes for her and Mina from the snack store across the dorm building. She was going up to her room to grab a jacket for heading down to the lobby to wait for Mina. Classes had just ended and the street was packed with students on their way to hang out after school, to have their own small celebrations with friends to commemorate the beginning of the year. 

The cheerleaders and soccer athletes won’t be finished with their after-school training sessions until 5PM. So why the heck did Dahyun just see Nayeon pass by, clearly looking like she’s just about to kill someone? 

Dahyun’s spider senses tingle in a bad way. 

She may not be right for most of the time but her weird, unexplainable and probably-extraterrestrial senses are never wrong. 

Something bad always happens after this.

Dahyun gets her answer in the form of her biggest nightmare. 

It feels like history repeating itself. 

“Excuse me? Who are you?” Nayeon’s voice is pointed and laced with a sort of venom that’s not enough to scare someone off, but just enough to know she doesn’t mean anything good. 

Dahyun runs over to the scene. 

The door to Jeongyeon and Nayeon’s room is open, and Mina has just walked out of it.

Of all the sights Nayeon can be greeted with, it just happens to be Mina and Jeongyeon together she sees first. 

Dahyun watches from over Nayeon’s shoulders, the local university’s name printed on the back of her (boyfriend’s) jacket obnoxiously. 

Dahyun feels rooted in her place. There’s an urge to run over to Mina and shield her away from Nayeon, like pretend there are bullets and knives for her words (because knowing Nayeon, there probably are) and she’s like a flimsy little armor shield protecting Mina from getting hurt. 

But it almost never goes out the way Dahyun wants it to go. Because the fear and anxiety inside her prevails, and Dahyun’s lived a relatively uneventful life, managed to keep herself away from trouble for most of the time, and the bigger part of her now, the one that stops her from running over to be Mina’s knight-in-the-shining-armor, wants to keep it that way. 

Dahyun hates herself for it.  

Instead of being just like her Jeongyeon unnie, she cowers and forces her eyes close when Mina tries to speak but to no avail, in fear of seeing her little fantasy collapse so fast, in front of her very eyes.

It works a little bit in the end. Nothing happens. 

Nayeon doesn’t shout or curse at Mina, or throw knives with her words and burn holes with her glare. There’s an intense, heavy silence longer than anticipated, longer than necessary, and when Dahyun opens her eyes a little bit, she figures it out. 

She’s not anyone’s knight-in-the-shining-armor. Jeongyeon is.

Nayeon doesn’t start a fight. She looks at Mina up and down, as if trying to imprint every fiber of her being into her mind (for future purposes, probably), and lets out a bitter scoff before walking past her, making sure their shoulders roughly brush, and into the room she shares with Jeongyeon, closing the door with a loud thud. 

The three of them are enveloped in deafening silence, much like the aftermath of surviving what would've been a catastrophic storm.

Jeongyeon looks like she's having a bad headache, eyes shut tight and forehead creased. Mina's face remains unreadable, a mix of shock and confusion.

Dahyun clears her throat. "Unnie…" 

Jeongyeon looks up at her, a little surprise from seeing the sophomore so suddenly. Mina looks just about the same.

Dahyun's eyes naturally dart over to Mina, softening at her gaze. "Unnie? I thought we were going to meet at the lobby?"

That was the plan. Meet at the lobby and walk together to Deux's where Sana will treat them with very nice food (and probably some games too if Dahyun charms her unnie enough). The plan didn't include Mina emerging from Jeongyeon's room, Mina getting seen with Jeongyeon, and Mina getting seen emerging from Jeongyeon's room with Jeongyeon by Nayeon. Im Nayeon. The last person Mina should be getting entangled with.

"I went down early and tried looking for your room." Mina explains, avoiding Dahyun's soft gaze. She points at Jeongyeon's door. "You said the one with lots of stickers. When I knocked, it was Jeongyeon."

Snap. It was my fault. Dahyun feels like shi– poop. She feels like trash. She feels bad. Instead of being there for Mina, she's the one who throws her in front of the bus.

Pins and needles of hot tears prick at the back of her eyes, threatening to well up. Everything's definitely not going her way, no matter how hard she tries to keep it together.

Does the universe really hate me that much?

"I got off the meeting early and didn't join training anymore." Jeongyeon speaks up, snapping Dahyun out of her self-chastising. "Sana mentioned eating at Deux. I figured you guys are about to head there too?"

"Uh...yeah…" Dahyun stammers.

"I'll join then!" 

The blank look on Mina's face morphs into worry. "But what about—" her?

Jeongyeon waves it off. "Don't worry about anything, Mina." She smiles over at Dahyun. "We got you."

Dahyun wants to believe that. Mina looks like she's about to. But it's too hard believing it when they couldn't do anything the first time it happened. And Nayeon, god knows she's an untamed lioness, ready to devour anyone at the cost of her unconventional happiness.

Dahyun wants to badly believe her Jeongyeon unnie. She'll be the knight-in-shining-armor.

"Besides", Jeongyeon shrugs. They start making their way down the hall like nothing happened. Like they didn't just open the door to their (Mina's) doom. 

"Nayeon probably won’t show up later. She'll be too busy this entire season with the cheer team to bother any of you guys. Don't worry too much. Nothing bad will happen."

At the last part, she smiles over at Mina. 

(A little later on, Nayeon does show up.

Mina meets Momo, the quirky soccer co-captain who tries to impress her with french-fry fangs, and Jihyo, who plays all too well the great antithesis to Im Nayeon, grabbing Mina's attention whenever her eyes catch Nayeon's glare at the slightest. 

The night is fun and filled with laughter because of Dahyun, Momo, and Sana's burst of energies. Dahyun manages to convince Sana to treat them to the arcade too. 

It's all fun and games, and Dahyun tries to take Mina's worries away by showing her around the diner’s arcade area, all retro vibe and neon-lit, with Deux playing vibrantly in the muffled stereo system. 

“Unnie, do you know how the highest scorer in Donkey Kong got 872,300?”

Mina stands shyly by the side of the machine. She shakes her head no. 

Dahyun grins, flexing her hands in front of the pixelated screen. 

“Why don’t you find out from her yourself?” 

Mina doesn’t get it, tilting her head in confusion. It dawns on her once Dahyun points at the name on the topmost stand of the scoreboard, DUB. 

“You?” 

Dahyun feels a swell of pride in her chest. Pretty-named senior Mina Myoui acknowledged her most prized achievement in this lifetime: Donkey Kong royalty. 

“Yep.” 

She spends about the entire first half of the game trying to teach Mina her secret (and no, she does not use cheat codes; Kim Dahyun is a woman of all sorts but she is never , in a million times never , a cheater) and the second half of the game getting too immersed in beating her own high score. 

By the time Dahyun achieves 875,000 and erupts in celebratory hollers, she realizes Mina is no longer there.

When she follows the trail of Mina’s soft laughter and little surprised yelps, she sees her seated beside Jeongyeon, jamming on buttons and controllers and trying to beat Jeongyeon in an intense battle of Mortal Kombat. 

Somehow, getting the highest score doesn’t mean so much anymore. 

Dahyun returns to their table, shoulders slumped and face trying to fight a defeated pout away. Jihyo and Momo are busy talking about dropping by the video rental store to rent Love Letter (again) and watch when they get back to the dorms. Sana’s by the cashier, paying for their food and arcade. 

No one notices the gloomy sunshine girl sliding inside the booth. In her little bubble of misery, she doesn’t even notice Nayeon sitting right in front of her, chin resting on her hand, body facing the outside of the booth, staring at a direction of which Dahyun had just come from. 

It dawns on Dahyun there, as Nayeon stares far with an unimpressed frown at exactly where Mina and Jeongyeon are playing together, she and Nayeon have something in common after all. 

They were both reaching out for the flame that would burn them alive. 

In a painting of clear, detailed faces, Nayeon’s eyes can only make out Yoo Jeongyeon. Everything else is painted in motion-blur strokes, unreadable, unrecognizable, unimportant. Just Jeongyeon.

Dahyun is far from identifying Mina in a painting of faces, but she’s there, in vibrant colors and beautiful soft strokes, while everyone else is dull in shades of grey. 

Dahyun doesn’t know why she’s feeling this way. Flustered at every proximity, breathless when Mina smiles, melting when she laughs. It feels like her favorite ice cream on a hot, summer day. A cup of hot chocolate on a cold, winter night. Little, mundane things but the impression is there. The little comforts, the little happiness, all building up until it’s so big, Dahyun can’t just ignore it anymore. 

This is bad.

It proves to get worse, the situation it’s building up to be, when Nayeon stands up from her seat and all eyes turn to her. A flicker of worry reflects from Jihyo’s eyes as she looks up at the girl beside her. Dahyun sees the calm and composed leader grab Nayeon’s arm under the table, ready to hold her back. 

Momo watches in her own bout of worry, french fry in midair, halfway to her mouth. Everyone’s frozen, left waiting in bated breaths for the chaos that’s about to unfold. 

(At the back of Dahyun’s mind, she realizes she doesn’t like this version of herself. Out of control with her emotions and thoughts. This isn’t her. This isn’t how she’s supposed to be.)

Instead of a storm, Nayeon does the opposite. She leaves. 

It takes about a minute before everyone realizes what just happened. 

Nayeon never walks out. 

It doesn’t take much for Jihyo to understand whatever this was going to be, what was going to happen between Jeongyeon, Mina, and Nayeon. It wasn’t going to be like the past. It’s just like that with Jihyo. She isn’t the best girl in the world for nothing. 

This might be worse than before. 

What just hurts Dahyun a little bit, stings a little harder than it’s supposed to, is the fact that, in that narrative, she wasn’t even considered any part.  Jeongyeon and Nayeon. Mina and Jeongyeon.

The last part shouldn’t have hurt the way it did. Dahyun shouldn't have been affected even. 

Mina likes Jeongyeon more. Everyone does. Because if you have the best, why would you settle for anything less? 

Dahyun takes a deep breath to calm the hurling waters of her soul. She closes her eyes for a brief second; thinks of all the beautiful things in the world to focus more on. When Mina’s smile is all she sees, the hope for a calm is blown away like the spark of a candle on a windy night. 

This isn’t going to be easy. 

If I can’t be someone to her, would it be too much to ask for something else instead? 

Dahyun doesn’t have any idea who she’s talking to but she hopes the universe will hear. 

Can I have someone for me too?

 


 

A month later, another new student arrives. 

She keeps talking about a girls’ generation?

She’s small with a rebellious stance. She looks like she’s lost most of the time. She doesn’t even know S.E.S.

She’s weird, Dahyun thinks. They pick her up in the alley beside Deux.

Her name which means colorful flowers, Son Chaeyoung.

(The universe does grant wishes after all.)

Chapter Text

Here’s the thing about being the sun: 

You have to shine all the time. 

In all the ways possible, little or not, a lot of people depend on you. For your jokes to bring up the downest of moments; for your encouragement to those who feel like giving up in their battles; for your clumsiness to light up the tension. 

They don’t know, the almighty source of light can die inside too. 

They don’t know, you need a little head’s up too, someone to encourage you and make you laugh. Someone not to lift your weight for you but to walk with you while you handle your troubles. Someone to make everything a little less lonely, to make everything a little less overwhelming. 

Because they don’t know, it gets tiring shining for everyone too.

 


 

In the weeks following Mina’s arrival and Dahyun’s surprising crush , the golden-haired sunshine girl spends her time wallowing in guilt for feeling the way she does and forcing herself to get over whatever it is she’s feeling

Mina helps, in a way. She probably doesn’t even know she does.

It helps that the person you want to get over with unknowingly favors someone else’s attention and company. It helps that she doesn’t want to spend her time with you because she’s with somebody else, that she doesn’t look for you during breaks and doesn’t ask for you to come with her to places she can’t seem to remember or find. It helps a lot. 

It hurts a little bit but it’s okay. It works in Dahyun’s favor after all. It makes everything easier. It makes getting over her silly crush on Mina faster. 

It doesn’t help, however, that the someone Mina spends her time with is Jeongyeon, the same person Dahyun is attached to the hip to. It doesn’t help that they eat together at lunch, on the same table, or walk down the same hallways, and wait by the bleachers at the same time for the same person. 

So yeah, Mina helps but at the same time, makes the situation even harder for Dahyun. 

Being with Mina has become a rough game of tug-o-war, constantly pulling and getting pushed. She’s a wonderful person, beautiful inside and out, graceful and regal and ethereal and amazing. But Dahyun just can’t breathe in her space. 

She wants to stay away and cut herself some slack, but Dahyun is nothing without her Jeongyeon unnie.

Her days have always been spent with Jeongyeon, making jokes with her, going to the arcade with her, watching her training sessions, waiting for her afterwards, walking to the dorms with her.  Now with Mina in the picture, always doing those with Jeongyeon, Dahyun isn’t even needed in the narrative anymore. 

(In hindsight, she really should have known. 

If her sole purpose with her unnies is to make them happy and laugh, then she’s not going to be needed for long. 

There are a lot of funnier people, a lot of people who can make them laugh louder, who can make them smile brighter. One day her jokes will run out, her presence will burn out, and Dahyun will no longer be part of the story.

In the first place, she probably never was meant to stay for long.) 

Therefore Dahyun decides on the ultimatum. She won’t die if she doesn’t spend her whole days with Jeongyeon, the coolest senior to exist, her free pass to a bully-free high school life, her safe haven.

Yeah, she’s more likely to be made fun of now that she isn’t under the protection of her almighty unnies (because Momo has her own different schedule and they barely overlap, and Sana is with Nayeon a lot nowadays) and she’s most likely to look like a loner because oh my god it just occurred to me, without the unnies I basically have no other friends, but Dahyun will do with what she has. For the sake of figuring out this unusual feeling blossoming inside of her. 

For the sake of crushing it down and blowing it away. 

Dahyun just has to get used to being alone now.

She just has to last being with herself for the meantime.

 


 

Dahyun doesn’t last a week being alone.

Thankfully, Jackson Wang comes to her rescue.  Sort of.

 


 

Because it’s a school for the rich, of course when Nokia launched the colorful models of 5110, everyone was buying one. Dahyun has herself borne witness to her entitled schoolmates filling up the malls to get their own 5110. 

She’s a little stuck in time, however, because while her classmates parade their colorful new phones, she is still trying to navigate through the complexities of her Jazz pager. It’s the best thing she can afford for now, with the miniscule amount she’s saved from her monthly allowance. 

Everyone seems to be attracted to notice the social outcast situation because the moment Dahyun’s pager blares out an all-too-familiar beeping sound while she’s walking down the hall on her way to the library, all eyes glue to the small jurassic device clipped on the waistband of skirt, chain lanyard dangling with every step. 

It feels momentous for a split second, having all this attention to herself. 

The last time this happened, it was during the first day she walked down the hall beside Jeongyeon and Momo. The two seniors handled it so much better, not even batting an eyelash at the admirable gawking they’re getting, while Dahyun refused to meet anyone’s eye after noticing them the very first second, keeping her head hanging low the entire walk to her locker (she found out a little after that, Jeongyeon and Momo did notice the attention. “It was kind of hard not to, you know?” The soccer captain laughed sheepishly. They only didn’t act on it for Dahyun’s comfort and instead, walked her to her locker in safe silence.)

Now, however, it feels different. The attention isn’t of admiration and a slight tinge of envy anymore. The halls aren’t lined with students wishing they were Dahyun, the ones walking side-by-side the Yoo Jeongyeon and Hirai Momo. Now they’re of unpleasant looks and ostracizing hushed whispers, judging every step. 

Dahyun hears someone mention Jeongyeon’s name, ask why the hell is the sunshine girl without her sun, and that’s about all it takes for her to rush out of that hall, to whatever false sanctuary her feet take her.

The shrill beeping of her pager sounds like it's getting louder and louder and it feels like her ears are going to bleed any second now. Everything around her motion-blurs and all Dahyun can see are the metal doors leading to the gymnasium open like a beacon. 

In the wave of sweaty bodies trying to exit, Dahyun pushes herself through. To hell with her uniform getting all ruined and creased with the lack of spatial intermediates. There’s a heavy lump clogging her airways and a painful hammer trying to pound itself through her head. Wherever is okay as long as it’s a place no one can see her as her: the sunshine girl without her sun. 

The sounds of basketballs dribbling and rubber shoes squeaking against the wood planks fill Dahyun’s ringing ears. She runs without much care in the world, paying no heed to the basketball boys in their water break, bewildered at the sight of the blonde-haired girl rushing over to hide in the dark space below the bleachers. 

Dahyun falls on the floor, bottom burning at the hard collision. She thinks she just sat on her damned pager with the little shattering sound she hears, but that’s a problem to resolve for next time. 

Now, Dahyun simply focuses on clearing her head out. And getting rid of the painful twist in her chest. 

She closes her eyes and thinks of her parents who work hard to afford sending off an allowance for her every month–I’m here to repay them–she thinks of her brother who’s probably out working too just to bring her out to a sibling date every once in a while– I’ll bring him to a cool date too when I have my own money–she thinks of... come on Dahyun, think... a cute smile. Lips pressed softly together. Saccharine laugh as calm as a tranquil river on a beautiful day. Mina. 

A loud thud resounds. Dahyun opens her eyes abruptly. 

“Ow!” Jackson Wang rubs frantically on the side of his head, eyes shut tight at the pain spreading out. 

On a normal occasion Dahyun would’ve laughed. Or probably worried about a pending lump on the basketball athlete’s head. Now, however, she feels like all the energy had been drained out of her. 

She just looks up at the taller guy and follows him as she chooses to sit beside her, all while rubbing his head and whispering out random expletives under his breath. 

Akin to a miracle, finally at the company of someone not involved in the tumult of familiar faces and breathtaking smiles going on in her head, Dahyun feels like a gust of fresh air come along with Jackson’s appearance (a shocking feat considering that it’s Jackson Wang, troublemaking king).  

“Hey, kiddo”, Jackson greets. He’s all sweaty in his muscle tee, biceps in vain display. There’s a white towel wrapped around his neck and a basketball held under his arm. “The boys saw you running in here. What’s the matter?” 

When Jackson finally opens his eyes, blinded after the complete darkness he’s engulfed his vision in when the pain spreaded out, he squints at first to adjust and then sees the unusual look on Dahyun’s face. 

Unusual because it’s not her normal smile, all toothy grin and helplessly bright, nor her frequent quizzical frown reserved just for Jackson Wang. Right now it’s just a flat expression, dulled out. Very unlike his little sunshine friend. 

“Is something wrong?” 

Funny. Dahyun’s asking the same thing to herself. Is something wrong? So what if Mina prefers Jeongyeon? So what if she’s no longer as pivotal as she was before in her unnie’s life? So what if she...has taken a penchant over just about everything concerning Mina Myoui? 

Is something supposed to be wrong about that? 

“I don’t know, oppa.” Dahyun sighs just because. I just don’t know anymore. 

The knot in her chest is no longer there but it’s just empty inside now. She doesn’t know which one is better. Feeling something or feeling nothing at all. 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Jackson offers, so unlike him and alike all at the same time. He adds, sheepishly, “But it’s okay if you don’t want to! I’m all for comfortable silence if that’s what you prefer, kid.” 

Dahyun feels  a small smile tug at her lips. Jackson can be useful too when it’s needed. He just opts not to be in situations where it’s warranted. Dahyun understands why. It’s hard being in the company of someone with muddled thoughts. She wouldn’t want to be in her own company too, if that was allowed.

“Thank you, oppa.” In these times where neither one of them has anything quite comprehensive to say, Dahyun chooses silence. “But I’d rather just...sit here. I don’t know how to talk about it.” 

(Odd, really. An average person knows 20,000 to 35,000 words by the time they reach their adulthood, yet in those numbers and words, none can suffice to express the disorder of thoughts going on inside Dahyun’s head)

“That’s okay too.” Jackson lets out an awkward laugh. “Can I just ask you something then?” 

Dahyun quietly nods. It might help focusing on talking to him instead of indulging my thoughts...

“Does this involve, even at the slightest bit, Jeongyeon and that new student?” 

Oh. 

The silence answers his question. The slight pang at Dahyun’s chest returns. 

“They’ve been asking around for you, you know.” 

“What?” That, however, captures Dahyun’s attention. 

“Yeah.” Jackson nods, focusing on rolling the basketball around in the space between his lady legs stretched out, looking like a toddler playing on sand. “Yesterday, the other day, earlier today...they’ve been asking around like you were a missing person.” 

They’ve been looking for me? Why would they be looking for someone as insignificant as Kim Dahyun? Easily replaced, minor character Kim Dahyun? 

“Jeong would’ve dispatched the entire soccer team to look for you if only Coach Solji didn’t interrupt…” Jackson chuckles. Dahyun can  see it, Coach Solji probably scolding her unnie for even thinking of disrupting practice. 

“You’re like a little ghost, my friend”, Jackson smiles and decides awfully to wrap a sweaty arm around Dahyun’s shoulders. She tries to push him off but Jackson is naturally stubborn to a fault and a pain in the ass.

“I should’ve told Jeong to put up a wanted sign for you. Probably throw in a cash prize while she’s at it.” He frowns playfully at the missed opportunity. 

It’s a cringey attempt at making a joke–because why the hell would Jackson Wang, easily one of the richest students in Apgujeong High, want to make money out of looking for someone as unnoticeable as Dahyun–but it’s enough to make Dahyun laugh a little. 

“Did you...ask why she was...um...looking for me?” It’s kind of too vain for someone like her, Dahyun thinks. But it never hurts to try, right? To seek for validation? Because it’s only been a few days but Dahyun’s never felt this lonely and useless in a long time. 

Jackson purses his lips in an action of trying to remember. Dahyun waits in agonizing silence. 

“I think it was…” Jackson taps on his chin annoyingly , like some kind of knock-off Sherlock solving a riddle. 

“...because they miss you, kid.” 

Dahyun lets out a breath she didn’t even know she was holding. 

“They miss me?”

It’s a question she’s asking herself, but Jackson bothers to answer, “Of course they do!”

He ruffles her hair like an (annoying) older brother would to his younger sister. “Why wouldn’t they?” Then he smiles, oddly, familiarly. “It’s kind of easy to notice when it’s cloudy, you know?” 

Dahyun pauses. “What?” 

“It’s cloudy when the sun’s not out.” Jackson says matter-of-factly. “Like it has been without you, Dahyun. You are their sun.” 

It doesn’t sit right with her, as much as it should. You’re their sun. Dahyun doesn’t know why she feels the prickling of her own tears rush from the bottom of her eyes, displayed for the whole world to see. Weakness worn on her sleeves. 

“But I…” She looks down, unable to hold Jackson’s pitiful gaze any longer. Dahyun sees her own teardrop soak the fabric of her skirt. It breaks her even more. “I don’t want to be their sun.” 

Being the sun means constantly being happy and bright and perpetually okay for everyone. Dahyun knows her heart isn't strong enough for that. She isn't strong enough for that.

"If you don't want to, then that's fine."

Underneath Dahyun's puffy nose, she can see Jackson hold out his towel for her. She hesitantly grabs it, only after the risk of wiping snot on her uniform occurs to her. It's okay. Jackson's towel reminds her of the one she used when she was a baby. Those curity gauze towels. 

(Funny how someone as manly and big as Jackson Wang uses baby gauze towels. Another thing Dahyun can probably use against him one day…)

"You can be whatever you want to be, Dahyun…" He pulls her closer in a side hug that isn't as uncomfortable as Dahyun expected. "Whichever you prefer, as long as you guys are together, I think Jeong will manage."

Together? Suddenly, happily coexisting in the same space   as her Jeongyeon unnie and Mina, and simply bearing witness to their little blossoming romance, sounds just as torturing as sitting in a room and helplessly watching all the puppies in the world cry. It also sounds just as far-fetched as the idea of Mina ever reciprocating Dahyun's feelings back. 

"I don't think I can…"

"Hm. Well, that's okay too…" Jackson trails off. "Whatever decision you make, as long as you're comfortable with it, I think Jeong and the girls would understand."

He unwraps his arm off Dahyun's shoulders just in time as the basketball coach blows his whistle in the far distance, signalling the end of the team's water break.

"Tell you what", Jackson jumps up on his feet, holding a hand out for Dahyun. "Whenever you need someone to talk to or just a towel to blow snot on, tell me. Coolest fake brother Jackson oppa to the rescue!"

Dahyun can't help but chuckle at the senior's antics. It sounds like a completely impossible idea, an empty promise made just for her to stop crying like a child, but Jackson's smile says a lot even when it looks just as sly as his troublemaking grin, and that guy–for the mischief he's made out of–has never fallen short of his promises to Dahyun, his fake little sister.

"Thanks, oppa." Dahyun stands, puffing the dust she had managed to gather from her stay off of her. She picks up the shards of the pager squished from her earlier fall and places them in her pocket. "I just might take you up on that offer…" 

"It'd be my pleasure", Jackson responds with an earnest smile, walking her out of the area underneath the bleachers. "Youngji would absolutely love seeing another face other than mine. She keeps on saying she's had enough of this pretty—"

"Okay, okay. I got it." Dahyun laughs, interjecting before Jackson can even go on and on about his enamoring looks and how Youngji unnie mysteriously doesn't appreciate it. She takes a deep breath and just lets it all out when she adds, "Thank you, oppa. Really."

Really.

"No problemo, kiddo." Jackson ruffles her hair again. "I'm serious, okay? Just a call–" he sees the hanging chain from her skirt, its end flailing helplessly without the pager holding it down–"Or even just tell someone you're looking for me, I'll rush over." 

"Okay, oppa. I understand. Thank you." 

Jackson doesn't linger for long, not when the coach blows his whistle again just for him and Jackson decides no, today's not gonna be the day he's going to run another few laps as punishment (spoiler alert: he does) so he jogs over right after bidding Dahyun a quick farewell, all goofy smile and obnoxious wink. 

When Dahyun exits the gym, the halls are no longer cramped with students on their Nokias, ready to ostracize her and her lack of Jeongyeon unnie protection. Now it's just Mr. Lee, the hallway janitor, running his mop on the same portion of the corridor again and again, the walkman blaring an ear-piercing volume of Ben E. King's Stand by Me.

Dahyun lets the song play in her head as she walks down the empty corridor. She turns at the end of the hall and pushes open the doors to the library, feeling a lot better and less lonelier than before. 

 


 

For someone who believes that the greatest invention to have assisted in the evolution of mankind was the Tickle Me Elmo doll, Jackson sure was using a lot of headspace when he proposed his company to Dahyun. 

Normally, Dahyun would have just given him her thanks and went off, putting the offer at the back of her head, under a file that’s probably named “Someday, for emergencies” (because god knows how much Jackson Wang is capable of doing with his wealth and social power) but now, with all things considered, Dahyun feels like she’ll actually consider it. 

I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to be in the company of new faces, right?  

After much debating with herself, Dahyun does it. 

It’s never too late to begin anew. 

She wakes up extra early every morning, right before the sun can take its first breath, before Jihyo’s 5AM alarm could even go off, just to get ready for the day and avoid stumbling upon any of her unnies. 

It’s a different kind of challenge having to tiptoe around the dorm to prepare herself for class when her roommate is Park Jihyo, who, even at her sleeping state, is hyper-aware of everything around her, senses easily triggered by something as microscaled as a pin drop. 

In spite of everything, Dahyun miraculously makes it work. It’s a hard task but she manages with her light steps and ghost-like movements, clothes and bag always prepared the night before, placed underneath her bed for convenience (even the task of preparing everything is done at a calculated pace; she goes home right after her classes end and readies everything for the next day within the time frame of her arrival and Jihyo’s, because being Student Council President requires so much of her unnie’s free time after class hours, especially with the talent show coming up).

A part of Dahyun wonders in hindsight if she expected this to happen a long time ago, with how everything comes so instinctively to her. So easy, like second nature. Had she known all this time she was just a temporary fixture in her unnies' lives? Was she just blinding herself from the truth and praying it would never knock on her door? Hoping that the world would be so kind enough to give her this one time to be part of something special? 

Yeah. Dahyun thinks, as she slips her arms into the straps of her school bag and bids her sleeping Jihyo unnie another silent goodbye. A goodbye she's counted as her first this past week ever since the confrontation with Jackson; a goodbye that means she's finally coming into terms with the heartbreaking reality that she was never meant to stay with them for long.

She was never really a part of their story.

It’s okay. She’ll just have to get used to this new life of hers. For what it’s worth, her curiosity as a freshman and all the times she’s spent going around the campus instead of  socializing with her peers are finally paying out. 

Avoiding her unnies is no easy task, especially when all of them are these popular kids with a web of connections that are practically akin to hounds hunting for Dahyun inside and outside of campus. 

The most useful help Dahyun once considered a big inconvenience on her part is the gap in their schedules. On Dahyun’s breaks, her unnies were in class. Despite their afternoon training sessions that overlap Dahyun’s lunch break, she manages to dodge them effortlessly. 

The weeks that follow are filled with evading tactics that would humiliate even James Bond. 

There are days Momo and Sana would fossick through the halls and every corner and aisle of the library to look for Dahyun (thankfully, Dahyun is intelligent enough to know of course they would look at the places she frequents at when alone, so she avoids them at all cost and stays somewhere else); Then there were those particularly more challenging times when it were Jeongyeon and Jihyo who would look for her. Those days were the hard ones.  

Jihyo and Jeongyeon would look for her at Deux after classes, or visit the welcoming committee headquarters and ask around for her. One would think avoiding those two would be the ultimate challenge, and Dahyun thinks they’re not wrong. Of course it would be hard evading them when Jihyo is literally her roommate and Jeongyeon can just barge in at their dorm whenever she wants to. 

But, to Dahyun’s surprise, the only way out of this predicament is sleeping early, or pretending to at least. Because if there’s one thing Jihyo respects the most, it’s sleeping time. And whether they like it or not, they don’t bother Dahyun when she’s asleep. 

A part of Dahyun wishes they would wake her up, because then that would mean she’s important enough to be an exemption, but a bigger part of her, the one that just can’t face everything yet, wishes they’d just continue to leave her alone. Just allow her to easily slip through their fingers like sand. Then it would make this whole fiasco a lot faster to finish. 

Then Dahyun would be erased from their lives a lot less painfully. 

Then it would be so much easier to let go. 

 


 

Everything follows through smoothly. Life goes on for everyone. 

Dahyun’s evading tactics improve day by day until she’s established a temporary routine for herself. Long gone are her specific corner at the library and her table at the cafeteria during break.  She can’t risk hanging out there anymore, not when her unnies know about them. 

Lunch breaks at the cafeteria are spent underneath the bleachers in the gym. None of the athletes in their afternoon training sessions notice her coming in and out. She’s already there before they even begin, and out before they even finish. 

When her classes end early and she has no choice but to look for somewhere else to hang out because Jihyo is at the dorms, Dahyun crashes over at her Youngji unnie’s place, a new territory she’s come to make a temporary home out of. Youngji is nothing short of kind and hospitable. Honestly, Dahyun thinks she’s too good to be true. Jackson oppa is really too lucky…

Youngji studies in a different school, a senior as well, in a town about thirty minutes away from Apgujeong. Dahyun’s fortunate enough that the older girl doesn’t ask anything about her situation and how odd it is that she’s been third-wheeling a lot. 

In an odd and almost too-good-to-be-true way, things work out. 

It does, until it doesn’t anymore. 

Dahyun really should have seen it coming. The world doesn't have enough creativity these days. 

Of course it would be Mina!

Mina, who is the beginning of everything, of the chaos in Dahyun’s heart and the disorder in her head, and Mina, who will be the end too. 

 


 

It happens on a fairly sunny and normal day for Dahyun, as far as normal concerned her nowadays. 

It’s fifteen minutes until the end of her lunch break and she’s just finished packing up and cleaning after herself, wary to not leave any trace of her in her little safe haven underneath the bleachers in the gym. 

The girls’ restroom area in the gym is normally empty during this time because only the basketball boys use the gym in the afternoon and there are a lot more accessible restrooms scattered around the campus. Dahyun opts to do her lady business there, avoiding tactic and all that. 

She’s found great humor in her time there. Because the restroom is a lot less used, it’s more marred than the frequented ones maintained every once in a while and kept neat for visitors.  This also means the walls are adorned with vandalism. 

Dahyun, in spite of her good school girl reputation, entertains herself with these forms of expression. Of course, old habits die hard. She brings with her a marker every visit at her favorite stall and rectifies incorrect grammar structures or missing parts in a drawing (the other day she just added a nail to what looked like a middle finger…at least, she hopes it was a middle finger) and today, she’s correcting grammars. 

In the middle of finishing her third ‘you’re’, the doors of the restroom burst open, a loud thud resounding from the impact of the door and the wall behind it meeting in a hard collision. 

Out of instinct, Dahyun freezes and immediately holds her breath. 

Off-putting dainty laughter echoes in the room, followed by the sound of bags dropped on the floor and shoes squeaking against the tiles. When the speaking begins, Dahyun counts two girls and surmises they’re from the cheerleading team, just because of the almost obnoxious way they carry themselves (and because they’re outwardly talking about the cheerleaders’ afternoon training). 

Dahyun doesn’t recognize the two therefore allows herself to breathe again and resume correcting the structural errors of the words vandalized on the walls of the stall she’s in. 

It’s only on her fourth ‘were’ when a name is brought up and Dahyun freezes. Literally. 

“I feel sad for her, really…” The girl with a deeper, huskier voice says. The sound of a perfume spraying fills the short pause afterwards, followed by the strong whiff of Bath and Body Works’ Sassy Strawberry cologne. “She’s caught up in Nayeon’s inability to separate personal troubles and professional duties. Collateral damage.” 

Nayeon? Dahyun really shouldn’t be eavesdropping, but if she’s thinking right, then there’s only one person in the world–as of the moment, really–that can possibly get into Nayeon’s nerves this deep.

Dahyun gets her answer when the other girl, with a deceivingly lighter voice, counters, “She should’ve known better than to get entangled with Nayeon and Jeongyeon’s mess. No one comes out of that hellhole unscathed. Remember Yerin?” 

A snort resounds albeit not obnoxious. It’s pitiful. Dahyun remembers too. 

“I just think it’s unfair that Mina’s getting treated like this just because Jeongyeon didn’t choose Nayeon…”

There it is. 

A bag zippers up. The girl with the lighter voice remarks, “Well, we can’t do anything now. Nayeon’s made up her mind and I really don’t want to lose my chances at being center flyer just because I feel sad for the new kid. Mina’s just gonna have to suck it up , you know? No one ever said it was going to be easy around here.” 

“That’s something coming from you, Miss-Jennie-who-got-into-the-team-because-her-mom-had-connections.” 

“Excuse me. I got in because I was just as talented as everybody else was, Jisoo.” Dahyun could vividly imagine a roll of the eyes coming from Jennie. 

“Whatever. We should get going.” There are some shuffling sounds and the squeaking of rubber shoes again. “I bet Nayeon already sabotaged Mina’s tryouts. Her spirit’s gonna get crushed later when the results come out, with Jeong not around to protect her anymore. Poor kid.” 

“Yeah. Nayeon told us beforehand to not accept her to the team. That or face the consequences when she comes back.” 

A small chuckle echoes around before they’re gone, door closing again with a thud and silence engulfing the restroom.  

Dahyun waits for a few more seconds before she comes out of her stall at the farthest corner of the room. Her thoughts are all over the place, even more disordered by the surfeit of (unnecessary) concern and...that bitter feeling of anger again. 

Anger for injustice, she reasons out. She had always been a person for equity. This anger, the hot, burning feeling of it, is unfamiliar to her and absolutely not provoked by, even at the slightest bit, Mina’s unfair involvement in the mess of someone else’s life. 

It’s anger for abuse of power, she thinks to herself. For condemning someone who’s never done anything wrong but to pay kindness back with a gentle smile and a laugh that could melt everyone’s soul. 

Dahyun blames it on her desire to fight for the victims of injustice when she marches out of that restroom with a renewed sense of vigor and unparalleled confidence (very unlike her). All thoughts of avoiding her unnies are discarded, blurred away by one specific name taking up the forefront of her mind: Mina unnie, Mina unnie, Mina unnie. 

When she marches down the hall that opens to the field, students of familiar faces finally catching a glimpse of the sunshine girl who had been practically wanted for weeks now, Dahyun still continues. 

Amidst the uncomfortable stares she’s getting, the nerves that are finally settling in, she marches. Mina unnie, Mina unnie, Mina unnie. 

It’s only when the scorching afternoon sunlight hits her pale lithe body that the realization kicks in. 

At the far distance–not so far now considering how Dahyun’s body suddenly forgot how to stop itself from moving forward–Toni Basil’s Hey Mickey plays while a freshman waves around her pom poms in what looks more like an interpretative dance than a tryout routine. 

She stops finally, catching her breath. 

A few steps in front of her, over by the bleachers, seated on the first row, are her Sana unnie and the seniors from the restroom earlier, Jennie Kim and Jisoo, with Coach Hyojin and Im Nayeon nowhere to be found. 

Behind them are the other cheerleaders and the hopefuls scattered about, talking and laughing in groups. 

It’s easy to spot Mina even from afar, even if Dahyun doesn’t have the best eyesight in the world.

Generally, it’s hard not to notice her when she’s the only one all by herself, shoulders slumped and seated two rows above the panel of tryout overseers. Personally, on the other hand, Dahyun’s eyes are just naturally attracted to looking for Mina in a sea of strangers and unfamiliar faces. 

It’s not a trait to be proud of but— wait. 

A whistle is blown somewhere on the other side of the field, to the boys’ soccer team practicing for afternoon training. It catches Dahyun’s attention and snaps her out of her momentary surge of confidence. 

It’s like a bucket of ice cold water had been dumped over her head. 

What the hell am I doing here—

But trying to gather her thoughts then and there proves to be the wrong time because when her eyes drift back to the bleachers and the cheerleaders and no one’s dancing anymore, burning, she feels and sees, all eyes are actually on her now. 

“Dahyunnie!?” Sana’s voice rings. She’s always been the loudest and sweetest. But at that single moment, the rise in her voice was neither for relaying her affection nor expressing her sweet disposition; it came from shock and... worry?

Dahyun also only realizes it then. She’s out in the open, unprotected from the invisible walls of her little safe haven, and everyone sees her. Everyone is looking at her. 

She feels like she’s been stripped bare and defenseless for the whole world to see. 

For Mina to see.

“Kim Dahyun!” Sana shouts again. She never calls Dahyun by her full name. 

When she stands up from her seat and attempts to walk over to the shell-shocked girl, Dahyun’s fight or flight response kicks in. At the face of danger–or in this case, Mina and her unnies–she makes a run for it. 

Sana’s shouting from behind, followed by distant sounds of running and more shouting her name. 

Dahyun doesn’t hear anything else. She just runs and runs, and hides away from her fears and the angels that haunt her. 

When she reaches back to her hideout, engulfed in the temporary protection of her safe haven, Dahyun falls on the floor, unable to hold back the intense wave of clenching and prickling pain in her chest and behind her eyes. 

She hugs her knees close to her chest and hides her face from the world. 

Kim Dahyun, you’re all alone again.

 


 

The events that unfold afterwards fall in a chain reaction following Dahyun’s momentary lapse in judgement. 

Misfortune continues to play with her throughout the entire day. 

After classes, neither Youngji nor Jackson are available to hang out (Youngji is sleeping over at a friend’s and Jackson is pulling all-nighters at the local gym to train for the season) and Principal Park calls for an emergency early dismissal for all levels because of a leaking repair job to be done at the storage room down the hall of the west wing (also known as the official headquarters of the Student Welcoming Committee).

The worst news comes a little later: Scheduled after-school meetings and practices are also postponed for the day, and all students are advised to go home straight. 

Dahyun, in all the pitiful glory of her puffy eyes and red nose, hastily rushes out of her class the moment the last bell rings. 

It’s a stampede down the main corridor. Dahyun opts to use the Fire Exit in the opposite direction instead. Stairs aren’t a problem. Two flights of stairs would be a breeze

The apprehension that’s gnawing at Dahyun’s insides is caused by the possibility that her unnies beat her into arriving at the dorm, then that would narrow her chances at fake sleeping and she’ll be forced into a confrontation with, worst case scenario, all of her unnies—and god knows how scary Jihyo unnie is at interrogations!

The backdoor of the high school building is far less crowded than the main one but a lot of students still rush to get out. Dahyun is squished in between two freshman girls talking about passing by the video rental store to grab a copy of some American movie. 

The moment they finally get out and fresh air finally circulates in Dahyun’s lungs, she takes a deep breath and makes a run of it. A run for her life. 

As expected, the dorm building’s lobby is packed and there’s a small line of students waiting for the elevator.  

Dahyun, bless her quick thinking, looks at the parking space beside the building first, scanning for any familiar-looking Porsche owned by her one and only Sana unnie. There’s none, but that doesn’t ultimately rule out the possibility that her unnies are together right now, especially after what happened earlier. 

The route back to the building is different when you use the backdoor. It’s a little longer because it’s at the south side of the campus, and a lot more intricate with its alleys and turns, estimatedly taking up about five more minutes than the average time. 

(Whenever Dahyun experiences a bout of crying, her mind oddly works a lot better afterwards. 

Her mother used to say it was because crying made the heart feel lighter and the brain to worry less. Like a magic oil to ease the process of the bolts turning in her head. That’s why she’s able to think more clearly after crying. 

As a five-year-old kid who just lost her Cabbage Patch doll, Dahyun was prepared to believe everything her mother said.) 

Dahyun’s absolutely sure her unnies are already in her dorm, waiting for her like parents prepared to scold their child for coming home late. 

In that case, I probably shouldn’t go up?  

Dahyun looks around. She’s standing in a less crowded corner in the dorm building’s lobby, away from the bunch of students waiting for the elevator or just chit-chatting around. 

There are a few students eyeing her oddly. Dahyun assumes it’s only either one of the two: a) her entire face still looks puffy from the crying she’d done, or b) because she’s Kim Dahyun, probably wanted again especially for causing such a scene earlier. 

When she sees her reflection from the elevator doors sliding close in front of her, Dahyun thinks it’s probably both. 

A tap on her shoulder pulls her away from her self-pity and also scares the living daylights out of her. 

“AH!” 

“O-Oh, Dahyunnie?” Thankfully, it’s just Yumama.  “Are you okay, dear?” 

Dahyun’s probably overreacting when she says this but Yumama’s appearance is deus ex machina. 

She might just cry again then and there. 

“Hey…” Yumama reminds her of her mother. They’re probably the same age too. They don’t look alike that much but if a person with imperfect vision was subjected to look at them from about, ten to fifteen meters away, they’d assume they were twins. 

That’s why when Dahyun feels homesick, she goes to Yumama and imagines it’s her mother she’s hugging. 

“Yumama…” Right now, looking at Yumama is like looking at her mom, and her mother wouldn’t want to see her like this.  The thought itself is enough to send Dahyun’s lips quivering though, despite how hard she tries to nibble them to stop. “I...I’m sorry…”

“Hey, kiddo. Why are you crying?” Yumama holds Dahyun’s hands and pulls her into a suffocating embrace. “Shhh. Yumama’s here already…” 

It’s like Dahyun is drowning in the comforts of refuge once again, sought in the arms of someone she forces herself to think is her mom because only that would make this entire situation better. That, and probably chocolate. 

“Come on”, Yumama keeps one arm slung around Dahyun’s shoulders in a protective side-embrace. “I have some chocolates for you in my office. Let’s talk there.” 

Yumama’s appearance is deus ex machina.

Divine intervention. 

 


 

Or not.

It only occurs to Dahyun a few minutes later, in the (personally, awkward) silence suspended in the air of Yumama’s office, as she drowns in the equally awkward and quite intense looking from Yumama herself, that in here, within the four corners of this room, one way or another, she’ll have to come in terms with what’s been bothering her these past weeks. 

Unfortunately for Dahyun, it’s quite harder elaborating on her emotions than trying to solve the Riemann Hypothesis, and that speaks volumes when there’s a million dollar reward for the latter’s solution. 

The only reward she can get from trying to understand herself is a peace of mind. And for now, that’s actually better than a million dollars (keyword: for now).

“Can I make a quick guess?” 

Of course, give it to the adult in the room to make a guess out of the teenager’s emotional collapse.

Dahyun relents, wary but thankful nonetheless. The free choco pie makes up for the 1% battery her better  judgement is holding on to. 

“Is this a teenager thing?” 

Talk about quick guess…

The way Dahyun stops munching on her choco pie and just sits back with wide eyes kind of confirms the question to Yumama. 

“Ah...so it is.” She nods. 

Dahyun thinks it’s a different thing but it’s the same as well. The grasp of the teenager thing is quite broad if you ask her. 

Small crumbs of the choco pie fall from Dahyun’s mouth when she tries to speak. No word comes out and she’d rather not make a mess on the soft chintz sofa in the small receiving area of Yumama’s office, so she just closes her mouth again and shuts up. 

Mothers have their way of figuring things out, whether it’s to the T or not. 

“Are you doing…” Yumama inches closer,  “... drugs?”

Of all the speculations they could arrive at, she thinks of that.

Dahyun is this close to just flipping off the whole universe. 

She feels scandalized but more concerned at the fact that Yumama isn’t even, at the very least, executing an appalled frown. She’s smiling. Mischievous at that. As if they’re just talking about simple crushes and unrequited feelings–exactly what they’re supposed to be talking about–and not a minor’s potential involvement in recreational drugs. 

“What? How did you arrive to that conclusion—” 

“Jeongyeon and Jihyo have been awfully worried about you lately.”

At the mention of her unnies’ names, Dahyun’s throat dries up. Words begin to evaporate in the air. 

Yumama continues, “They’ve been telling me that you were hanging out with a senior boy recently. Keep an eye out just in case.” 

“They...they thought I was...I was doing drugs with Jackson oppa?” If Dahyun were to be a robot, this would be the point where her system is malfunctioning and she’s about ready to self-destruct. 

“Oh no. That’s on me.” Yumama chuckles sheepishly. Dahyun lets out a deep breath. “A lot of kids mention that senior boy for troublemaking. The other day I had to scold a few of his friends in front of the building for doing it there. I’m all for recreation but don’t do it where the cops might see you, kids!” 

Yumama sure is something huh?

Dahyun’s admiration for the older woman grows even more. Her mother would’ve handled the situation just the same. 

“I’m not doing drugs, if that’s what you’re thinking, Yumama.” She laughs, cheeks tear-stained and eyes, nose, and lips all puffy and red. “I won’t be a bother. You’ve got enough headache for a lifetime managing the dorms as it is.” 

Yumama smiles, warm and all motherly. If Dahyun cries again, she’ll blame it on the homesickness. 

“I have no troubles taking care of all you girls. Especially you and your unnies.” Yumama whispers the last part because of bias , much to Dahyun’s amusement. 

“You should go and enjoy your life right now.” She sits back with a wider smile. “Crash parties. Sleep in the morning. Go on an adventure. Fall in love. Get heartbroken. Don’t waste your time trying to make sense of things because it’s never always going to make sense. Life is a peculiar thing, my love. But it’s not a mystery for you to solve.” 

Behind her, Dahyun catches a glimpse–a blurry one–of a picture frame angled towards her, on Yumama’s desk. She makes out two women in high-waisted shorts and crop tops, posing by the back of a Volkswagen Kombi. 

Yumama always talked about life as if hers had already passed by. Dahyun thinks she understands why now. 

“You know, Dahyunnie…” Yumama stands up from her chair. She grabs another pack of choco pies (Dahyun’s betting she has one whole box of it under her desk, an unusual thing to have in an office but it's Yumama so…) and hands it over to Dahyun with a warm smile, going back to her seat. 

“You shouldn’t sacrifice your youth trying to grow up so fast.” She pats Dahyun’s head. It reminds Dahyun of her mother again. “You have your entire life ahead of you. Love and live every single bit of it.” 

Feeling all enlightened, Dahyun thinks she just encountered Gandhi in the body of Yumama. 

It’s like the air around her has been untangled and the weight in her chest has been removed. She can breathe, her heart can beat again, in a rhythm that doesn’t sound like it’s always running a marathon 24/7. 

“Oh, by the way, Dahyunnie.”

Dahyun only hums in acknowledgement, eyes staring at a far distance while her hands unwrap another pack of choco pies. 

“Choose the people you want in your life and keep them there.” Yumama smiles kindly, motherly. “Life’s a journey you shouldn’t traverse all by yourself.” 

“Got it.” Mom. Dahyun smiles for a split second before shoving the entire choco pie straight into her mouth. “Thank you, Yumama.”

"Don't be such in a rush, Hyun. Your Jihyo unnie's not gonna be like it if you finish the entire box of choco pies in one go."

Dahyun stops chomping on the food entirely. "Jihyo unnie?" 

What does she have to do with my choco pies?

"Yeah." Yumama nods, reaching her arm over to her desk to grab something. It's a post-it note. "She gave me this last week? Told me to give it to you when I see you...um...sad." 

Dahyun, cheeks all puffed and filled with the choco pie, takes the note.

Her Jihyo unnie's handwriting is distinguishable, all precise and neat, unlike her other unnie's whose penmanships are often compared to chicken scribbles.

In a remarkable strawberry-scented red glitter pen (Unnie's favorite, Dahyun remembers. She knows because she was the one who bought that for her Jihyo unnie), the note reads:

 

Mama, this is for Dahyun when you see her.
Please don't let her be sad too much.

-Jihyo

 

"Something tells me you guys are in a rough patch?” 

Dahyun thinks the rough patch is overstating it. The problem is really just with herself. Like it always has. 

"I just noticed how your unnies have been...coming home a lot with their shoulders slumped. Like they just lost an important game every single day. Then I also noticed you weren't with them lately, and then Jihyo gave me the box of choco pies…" Yumama trails off, wary. "I just put two and two together and assumed you guys are...not okay with each other lately?" 

Dahyun wants to tell Yumama no. This isn't the group's problem. Not her unnies. This is a matter for herself to resolve. But she can't quite say it out loud, not when the situation is exactly what Dahyun didn't intend for it to become.

She’s hurt her unnies. She’s been selfish. 

“Dahyunnie?” 

The weight of compassion and sympathy in Yumama’s words is like a needle poked at a balloon filled with water. The thoughts in Dahyun’s head is the balloon, and the water that splatters everywhere is her tears. 

She blames it on the motherly feeling Yumma radiates; how she looks at Dahyun with all the understanding and love in the world; on the fact that Dahyun never lies to her mom and she just misses home; on how lately everything has just been really, really hard. 

Dahyun looks down on the plastic rapper in her hands, crumpled and folded. 

Ultimately, she blames it on the damned choco pies. 

 


 

It takes about an hour more until a knock resounds from the door of Yumama’s office, and Dahyun’s little therapeutic heart-pour session comes to an end. 

She makes do with what she has, her sudden elementary vocabulary and the redundancy of the words “sad”, “I don’t know”, and “sorry” in her rant all about what has transpired these past weeks, everything about her unnies and Mina, and nothing about her feelings concerning the latter.

Speaking her heart has never been Dahyun’s best strong point, in spite of her prodigious mastery of the Korean language. Thankfully, Yumama seems to understand every bit of the verbal diarrhea she lets out. 

One of the juniors assigned to manning the front desk of the dorm lobby peeks inside the room and tells Yumama the boys are at it again in front of the building. 

Yumama sighs and utters an exasperated curse under her breath.

“Would you look at that…” She stands up and stretches her torso in a twist, body facing the wall clock behind Dahyun. “It’s almost dinner time. Will you eat alone, Dahyunnie?” 

Dahyun shakes her head, despite the fact that she will probably eat dinner alone. She’s already burdened Yumama with so much of her troubles. The best she can do is give the old woman her space to eat. 

Yumama nods at the girl by the threshold, who leaves them right after. 

“You should go eat real food when you go up, Dahyunnie. The choco pies won’t be enough for dinner.” 

“Thank you, Yumama.” For listening.

Dahyun grabs the wrappers of choco pies she’s eaten (a total of five; the box contains a dozen) and folds them neatly. Just so her hands can fidget with something. 

They both walk over to the door, Yumama leading. 

“You and your unnies”, she suddenly speaks up. It’s loud enough for Dahyun to get startled a little (she expected the conversation to be done) but not enough for the people they pass by to hear. 

“You guys should talk.” 

Talk. Dahyun can’t promise anything but she’ll definitely try. That’s probably where her night’s going to go as well. She can’t fake sleep her way now . Her unnies are probably upstairs in the dorm room as they speak, and even if they’re not, there’s still Jihyo unnie left to face. 

Yep. Talk. 

“Don’t let miscommunication ruin something so special like your sisterhood.” The heavy weight in her words tells Dahyun the lady in Yumama’s picture frame earlier isn’t just some lady. 

“Yes, Yumama.” Dahyun smiles. Small but baby steps. “I’ll apologize to Jihyo and Jeongyeon unnie later.” 

She hopes she’s hearing things when Yumama asks, “Just them?” 

But unfortunately, she’s not. 

Dahyun pretends she didn’t hear anything. She has strength to face her unnies now, but not enough just yet to face Mina.

They’re in the lobby now. Dahyun focuses on that instead. 

“Oh, Yumama. Where can I throw these?” Dahyun remembers the wrappers of choco pies in her hand. It’s strange how she hasn’t spotted a single trash bin down the hall they passed through. 

Yumama points to the back door at the opposite end of the hall. “We moved the garbage bins to the back for the morning collectors. You can throw them there, sweetie.” 

Dahyun only nods and then bids Yumama one last thank you before going on her way to throw the choco pie wrappers.

 


 

Much to how she’s navigated through every nook and cranny of the school, Dahyun hasn’t quite begun her adventure around the dorms yet. The back area of the building is new territory to her. She makes a mental note to remember in the future, should the need to not pass through the main entrance arise. 

The universe makes up for the hot summer days with the chilly nights. These days, Dahyun’s found great enjoyment in just wandering around with just the moon and the cold night breeze as her late night friend. 

In different circumstances, Jihyo would probably tell her it’s not safe outside so late, but it pays having someone as muscular as Jackson Wang to walk with at times. 

(At this point, Dahyun thinks it’s a miracle no one from school thinks there’s something between them, from how they hang out a lot.  

Whatever. A miracle’s a miracle. Unexplainable. And right now, Dahyun’s got too much in her head to even bother dwelling further.)

It takes a few more steps away from the back door to spot the color-coded garbage bins, placed right across the long wall of barbed wires and the growing bushes and climbing plants. 

Plastics are disposed of in yellow, Dahyun remembers. She throws them perfectly inside, mimicking a sad basketball player. Right after, she begins walking back. 

Until she hears it.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that hearing a woman’s crying at night isn’t a good thing, whether in the context of horror or just plain morals. If her mother was here, she would have told Dahyun to go check it out. Because she’s a good kid and the Lord will be with her in the face of danger. He will not let her get hurt. 

But because her mother is not around, Dahyun continues to walk away. 

Unfortunately for her, the whimpering gets louder, and she can imagine her mother’s 6-inch-tall angel version standing on her shoulder, probably telling her right now to go help out a poor soul. 

(Whether the poor soul means literally a poor soul of a person who’s departed or just figuratively a poor soul suffering an emotional breakdown, Dahyun will just have to find out.)

She makes the sign of the cross before going through the bushes, following the sound and walking (probably, most likely) to her own demise.

After what felt like an eternity getting poked at by twigs and shrubs, eventually, the wailing leads Dahyun to a torn down portion of the wire gate. 

She wished it was a dead end, then she’d just have to turn around and head back, forget there was ever an experience like this to think about. But no, there’s a pathway on the other side of the human-sized aperture cut through the wire gate, perfect for Dahyun to pass through. 

Oh dear Jesus. Today really isn’t my day, huh…

She lets herself debate for a good minute or two, whether she’ll be a good person now or not and just forget about it, but the 6-inch version of her mother is as loud as the real one, and before she could even think of avoiding death by stupidity, Dahyun’s already marching her way through. Reciting the Lord’s prayer as she walks.

She’s halfway through the Nicene Creed when the narrow path lined with bushes, shrubs, and pointy twigs come to an end. 

Dahyun gulps down a boulder in her throat. Her hands are clasped together in a praying position, eyes shut tight. The whimpering is louder now. 

Dahyun feels like her heart’s going to break through her ribs. 

Lord, if you’re listening to me right now, please let it be an angel. 

She turns to face whoever it is and opens her eyes. 

“Dahyunnie?” 

Oh. It is an angel. 

“Mina unnie?” 

 


 

It’s a small space enclosed by the tall shrubs Dahyun thinks are the same ones that lined the path she just passed through. There’s a big tree in the middle, surrounded by untrimmed grass and more bushes. 

It’s awfully eerie but Dahyun in her current situation probably wouldn’t be able to take note of that. Not when she’s seated beside Mina Myoui–a safe hand’s length of a space in between them–and all her mind could think of are a thousand and one ways to humiliate herself. 

In an effort to shut her mind up, Dahyun thinks of how pretty the tree is behind Mina. 

The attempt is futile. The split second her eyes land on Mina–accidentally, mind you–her mind just goes Mina, Mina, Mina…

“Um...do you...uh…” Freaking speak, Dahyun! “Uh...want a tissue?” 

Mina’s sniffing and wiping at her tears with the back of her hand–that looks too soft and pretty to be humanly possible–when she nods and–oh my god– looks at Dahyun in the eyes. “Y-Yes please.”

Dahyun averts her gaze. Looks at the interesting unmanicured bush in her other direction. She digs her hand in the pocket of her skirt. Feels the side of her uniform. The back and the front. Every nook and cranny. 

“Oh. Uh...I don’t have one.”  Oh my god, Dahyun. “Sorry.” 

Dahyun might as well just disappear then and there. She’s now officially the biggest humiliation in the universe. 

Thankfully, Mina only chuckles softly. Sniffs again. “That’s okay. Thank you for offering.” 

Dahyun is running on nothing but the near-unconsciousness insensibility from having Mina around, so she doesn’t stop humiliating herself even though she’s begging herself to already. 

“You can have this”, she offers her uniform sleeve instead.

Mina looks at her incredulously, a miniscule pinch between her brows. 

Dahyun wants to pull her arm back but all of her limbs just feel numb right now. She doesn’t take back the offer and just waits, arm still raised. 

This is worse than encountering a ghost, oh my god. 

Dahyun internally begs for Mina to just turn down the hand. Because her body and her mind aren’t on working terms and the only way for her to give up–and stop embarrassing herself–is if Mina declines it herself.

But Mina doesn’t freaking turn it down. 

“Thank you. But I’d rather…” Instead, she grabs Dahyun’s hand and holds it with her own. “Is this okay with you?” 

No, Dahyun wants to say. Please let go of my hand. 

“I’m sorry. Did that startle you?” It’s cold when Mina lets go. 

Dahyun ( Just take me now, please) looks for her hand again and holds them together. 

“It’s cold, unnie.” 

Don’t go. 

“We can hold hands.” 

Mina smiles at her for longer than she should.  Longer than necessary. Like she wants to say something but she can’t. 

Dahyun tears her eyes away before she says something she knows she’ll regret.

A minute of silence ensues, and all Dahyun can hear are the sounds of the crickets and the gentle blow of the breeze moving the bushes and leaves around.

Dahyun is satisfied with this. Just this. Her heart can’t handle another round of Mina. Her head is praying Mina doesn’t think of anything else. Their hands holding purely for the sake of body contact warmth is already causing detrimental effects to Dahyun’s heart. 

If Mina’s as nice as she portrays herself to be, then she wouldn’t do anything more to further break Dahyun apart. 

“Dahyunnie.” 

Still, Dahyun prepares her heart for the worst. 

“Do you hate me?” 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t prepared for that. 

Dahyun can hear her own heart stop beating. “W-What?” 

She makes the worst decision of her life when turns and faces Mina, who’s already looking at her back with sullen eyes.

“Unnie, I—” 

“Please don’t hate me.” 

Dahyun lies through gritted teeth, guilty. “What makes you say that?” 

Mina looks away. She thinks to herself and then glances down at their hands together. Dahyun prides herself for her interpersonal skills and her prodigious ability to read people, but Mina is just...a puzzle. Too hard to solve. Probably because it’s for me to. 

“Please just tell me what I did wrong.” Mina’s voice is soft and painful. Like rubbing salt on an open wound. 

Dahyun isn’t strong enough for this. “You didn’t do anything unnie.” It was me. “I was just...busy lately.” 

“Really?” 

Dahyun just nods quietly. Uncertainly. She won’t look anymore. It’ll only hurt worse if she faces the older girl, knowing to herself she’s lying shamelessly.

"Then why were you avoiding the others too?"

But Mina is setting herself up for her own heartbreak, Dahyun thinks. Because the more she prods, the lesser Dahyun is able restrain herself from just spilling all over.

"I figured it was because of me." The older girl whispers, soft and barely there. "Jeong said you guys were inseparable before I came into the picture."

Dahyun makes the mistake of looking again, but thankfully Mina is busy glancing down. She tries to rack her brain for any excuse but it's like a fire has been set, and all papers filed under excuses and reasons to use when your crush thinks you hate her have been burned to ashes and blown away.

"Like I said, unnie. I was just busy. That’s all." 

With the ashes of her better judgement come her manners too. Dahyun's voice sounds too pointy at the edges for her own liking and she hates that she couldn't even control herself. It's like everything is just slipping from her reach. Internal Chaos.

Mina glances over at Dahyun again. Their eyes meet and stay on each other for a good few seconds, with two different intentions. 

Dahyun's is a white flag being raised. A sign of giving up. She can no longer control herself and she hates it. Mina's is calculating and observing. Like a judge examining a performance, a cryptologist trying to decipher an ancient language. She's trying to read through Dahyun and Dahyun, for heaven’s sake, just can't look away. 

"I’m not... angry at anyone, unnie.” Dahyun chooses her words carefully. It’s like trying to tear apart the layers of a bomb just ticking to explode. “I was just...thinking of a lot of things lately. And I...I didn’t mean to make you guys think you did anything wrong. I just thought...it’s unfair to the unnies if they...if they saw me like this.” 

“Like what?” Mina, however, might just be the most challenging bomb to defuse. 

Dahyun feels like melting under the older girl’s gaze. Like ice cream out in the day, under the summer sun. 

“All not...very Dahyun like.” Not their sunshine girl. 

In the soft glow of the moonlight, Dahyun sees and hears Mina laugh. It piques at her attention. Did I say something funny? 

Mina smiles at her. “You don’t have to be a ball of sunshine all the time just to be their Dahyun.” 

“What?” 

“We all have bad days and good days, Dahyunnie.” Mina doesn’t realize her power, really, when she rests Dahyun’s hand on her lap and holds it in place. “And believe it or not, there are people out there willing to be there for you through all of that. Jeongyeon and the others don’t expect you to be this positive, happy, and trouble-free girl all the time. You’re their sun, but we’re all just human too.”

“Is that why you're here?" 

When fear strikes, we do what we can to save ourselves. Dahyun knows she's spilling everywhere, layers of her soul pared one by one to the world. In order to keep what's left together and to herself, she doesn't hold back anymore.

"What?" 

"You were crying, unnie. I found you here by listening and following the sound of you crying." Dahyun tucks her hand away from Mina's hold. Softly, with all the gentleness that's left in her. "Is that why you're here too? Because you had a bad day? Because we're all just human?" 

“Yeah.” Mina answers without any pause, instantly. The emptiness in her hold makes everything colder. She tucks her hands under her legs instead, hugging them closer. 

“A bad day. A bad start. A bad performance. A bad character...in my life...bad...but she’s just human too. So I couldn’t stay mad. I couldn’t get angry at her for being mean. And unfair. And bad. So I just cried.” 

There's a fraction of a second where Mina's voice, all soft and mellow, cracks. Like a small portion a whole had been chipped. Like a tiny speck almost unnoticeable. Because it's her, Mina unnie, the fog over the surface brought about by Dahyun's anger, is wiped clean. She can see again. She can feel again something that's aren't just bitterness and anger towards the universe's unfairness.

"Is that why you’re suddenly here?” Dahyun, in an attempt to forget about her bitter feelings from no longer than a minute ago, smiles and jests, “Did you horrifyingly hear a woman weeping too and followed the sound ‘til it lead you here, in this miraculously maintained-unmaintained secret garden no one probably knew ever existed until now?” 

It seems to work. Mina chuckles shyly, looking down on her knees. “I remembered Sana mentioning a garden behind the dorm building. Back in Japan, whenever I was sad, I liked to stroll in gardens and just be with myself to think. That’s why I looked for this place and found it.” 

“Like a secret hideout?” 

“Yeah. Like a secret hideout.” Mina smiles, playing with her shoes on the unmanicured patch of grass beneath them. “Sometimes facing the world gets tiring too.” 

Dahyun briefly wonders if Mina’s cheeks ever strain from smiling so much. She’s curious to know, does Mina’s heart ever get tired of understanding the universe too? 

“Was Nayeon unnie that bad?” It’s a joke that isn’t as well. They meet halfway. 

Mina chuckles but it’s not happy. She just sounds tired. “It hasn’t even been a whole month and she’s already out to get me. I’m almost certain it’s because of Jeongyeon?” 

“That’s the only explanation possible, yes.” 

“Figures.” Mina snorts. “Speaking of them...Dahyunnie, they’ve been worried about you.” 

Dahyun lets a breath out. “I knew that, unnie.” 

“Will you...talk to them?” 

Dahyun knows what to do now. She nods in certain silence. 

“If that’s the case, we should get going then.” Mina unwraps her hold and stands up gracefully. It’s only then Dahyun notices the older girl is still clad in jersey shorts and an oversized shirt. 

“It’s too cold here for us to stay out late.” Mina chuckles as she offers Dahyun a hand in getting up. 

The walk back to the dorms is blanketed by comfortable silence with the both of them talking every now and then. Mina tells Dahyun all about her attempt at cheer tryouts, where she danced a very passionate performance to Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance with Somebody. 

(“Everybody seemed to like it but when the voting came, it was only Sana who voted me in.”

Dahyun has half the heart to tell Mina all about what she heard in the gym bathroom, the very reason for her most embarrassing lapse in judgement the public had to witness.

She ends up just telling Mina, “It’s Nayeon unnie. Don’t let her get to you.”) 

They eventually end up in front of Mina’s dorm room on the second floor. It’s the first time Dahyun gets to properly see its inside after the last time she’s been at the place. 

She doesn’t go inside, despite Mina’s invite to. 

“I have hot choco here if you like?” 

Dahyun shakes her head. Mina’s been doing a lot of things to her heart lately and Dahyun thinks no amount of preparation can ever allow her the heart and head pragmatic space to ever accept an invite inside her crush’s room. 

“I’ll head up, unnie. I feel like the unnies and I will be up all night catching up with each other."

“Oh…” Mina nods. “Good luck then, Dahyunnie.” 

Dahyun smiles, small but sincere. “Thank you, unnie.” 

Mina stands by the threshold of her room, holding the door open. They look at each other for a confusing bout of about ten seconds, ten agonizing seconds that feel like an eternity of torture to Dahyun, before Mina clears her throat and stammers, “Uh...I’ll close the door now…?” 

Dahyun just nods with a patient smile. She doesn't wait for the door to close on her and just begins walking away, until Mina's voice stops her again. 

"Oh, Dahyunnie!" 

Dahyun turns around. She isn't that far to begin with, really, so Mina doesn't have to walk to her. She just stands by the door again, holding it a little open.

"The garden earlier…" 

"What about it?" 

"It can be your hideout too." Mina smiles. Lovely . "You know, when it gets tiring being around people. You can go there and think of it as your secret space and just breathe ."

Dahyun never thought a person could embody everything so nice and simple and beautiful in the universe until Mina showed up. She’s doing the world so much favor for just breathing oh my god…

“Thank you unnie.” 

They go their separate ways then, and Dahyun leaves whatever bitterness she’s been feeling there. The warmth in stomach spreads all over her body, to the tips of her fingers and her ears, painting her cheeks red like a wonder-stricken little girl. 

Mina Myoui is perfectly splendid. 

Dahyun is fucked. 

 


 

The step in front of the room’s door is awfully quiet. When Dahyun last checked the time–through a clock down the hall–it was already nine in the evening. 

Before Dahyun clocks in her keys to the door, she tiptoes over to the opposite one in front of theirs and sticks her ear to listen in. Suspiciously silent too in Jeongyeon and Nayeon’s dorm, she finds out. It’s suspicious because it’s not supposed to be this quiet and calm. 

When Dahyun turns her keys in and opens the door slowly, bracing herself for reality, she gets her answer. 

There have been more than one instance where her unnies sleep over at their dorm. Because the one Jeongyeon shares with Nayeon is almost always empty (Nayeon unnie has a knack for spending nights over at her boyfriend’s or Sana’s, much to everyone’s exasperation), and Sana and Momo unnie are always just following around when they’re not busy with each other, everyone stays and makes a mess out of Jihyo and Dahyun’s room. 

It’s no longer a shock to Dahyun when she sees the situation has turned out exactly like how she expected it to be.

All of her unnies are in their room, however, as if struck by a miracle, everyone’s asleep.

Is this some kind of revenge? 

Like a magic trick, all four of her unnies fit Jihyo’s bed, sprawled differently, in their own ways, positions that shouldn’t even be possible granted that Jihyo’s bed isn’t even that big, but they make it work because it’s them. Dahyun’s unnies. 

In the order of Jeongyeon, Sana, Momo, and Jihyo, Dahyun takes in the sight of her unnies sleeping like sardines in a can. Her bed on the other side of the room is unoccupied, untouched, and not even a tiny crease can be seen. 

It makes Dahyun’s heart ache.

In spite of everything, they still give her space. 

Even if they look like sardines in a can right now and Jeongyeon unnie is one move away from falling between the space of the bed and the wall.  

Dahyun feels her heart swell with all the love in the world. Her eyes glisten with tears at the overwhelming sensation of just being this loved. 

Without even thinking, Dahyun jumps over the sleeping bodies of her unnies, perpendicularly sprawling herself on top of them. 

“Unnieee~” She cries into the fabric of Jeongyeon’s pajama top, burrowing her face on it. 

Collective grunts greet her. There are movements underneath her–Momo trying to adjust her leg from the collision, Jihyo almost falling–but all in all, they let Dahyun rest and just cry her heart out. 

Dahyun can feel someone stroking hair (Jeongyeon unnie), two hands playfully patting on her back and her butt (Momo and Sana unnie, respectively), and someone just hugging her legs (Jihyo unnie). 

Even without words exchanged between them, everyone manages to understand.  

When Dahyun brings up her face to apologize to her unnies, all they do is wrap her in a big, warm hug in return. 

No other words can compensate for the amount of love and acceptance she feels with her unnies around. 

It’s in that moment, before they go back to sleep again (Jeongyeon moves over to sleep with Dahyun in her bed; Sana, Momo, and Jihyo stay on Jihyo’s), when Dahyun finally comes in terms with both her heart and her head: 

No high school crush is worth ruining this friendship for.

So she promises herself, with the universe as her witness and Jeongyeon unnie’s light snoring as background music, Kim Dahyun will set aside all of her feelings for Mina unnie for the sake of the people in this room. 

For her unnies and herself as well. 

Besides, this is just a high school crush, right?

It’s not like Mina unnie and I will end up together in the future or whatever…

Dahyun thinks time travelling would have to happen first before her and Mina would ever come true.

 


 

Eventually, everything goes back to normal. 

Dahyun walks down the hall every morning with Jeongyeon and Mina, eats at lunch with whoever is free, on her favorite table near the windows, and walks home with all of her unnies again.

It’s much like a happy ending in a fairytale story where everything goes back to normal or, in Dahyun’s case, gets better. 

She should have known it was just the beginning, really. 

No more than a week later, she’s already meeting a new character in her story. 

Dahyun only finds out on the same day about the sudden new student she’s supposed to meet. 

Jeongyeon is the one assigned to pick her up and tour her around but because of her soccer training, she gives this one to Dahyun. It’s like a payback of sorts. Dahyun was assigned to meet and tour Mina around, but it was her unnie who got the chance to. Now, it’s the other way around. 

It gets Dahyun jumping on her feet, of course. 

This means no classes for the rest of the day and a new friend!

Dahyun’s absolutely excited and prepared. She dresses up for this and even gets her hair a little changed up and styled in curls, inspired by that American actress on the magazine she saw the other day. 

It’s all anticipating until she and Jeongyeon find out the new student isn’t arriving in school directly and that they have to pick her up (more like find her) wherever the hell she is. 

It ruins the mood, Dahyun’s not going to lie. Jeongyeon became grumpy the entire time they walked around the streets of the town, looking for the new kid. 

Eventually they decide to split up for a more convenient and faster searching process. Dahyun checks the shops while Jeongyeon goes for the diner and cafe. 

It takes about fifteen more minutes of searching in daylight before Dahyun gives up and walks over to where she last saw Jeongyeon looking, somewhere near Deux. 

There, she finds them. 

“Unnie!” Dahyun shouts, a little too loud and excitedly it seems. The girl Jeongyeon seems to be talking to before she arrived shudders.

Jeongyeon doesn’t turn back to look at her, prompting Dahyun to just walk over to them. Whatever foot they’re getting off to, it doesn’t radiate a positive atmosphere from what Dahyun is seeing and feeling. 

From up close, Dahyun notices that the girl looks about the same age as her or even younger. She looks disgruntled. Her uniform is creased and her hair looks like she spent the night prior to this meeting partying and probably dancing to SES or something. Yeah, she looks like a Lee Hyori fan…

“This is Dahyun. Same year as you. She’ll tour you around.” Jeongyeon says flatly, patting Dahyun’s back. “I’ll be going. Dubs, call me if she’s dying. Other than that, don’t bother me.”

Dahyun chooses to ignore the nonchalance and crabby tone in her unnie’s words. She bids the older girl her farewell and watches her jog away, rushing to catch up with her afternoon training session, leaving the new kid to Dahyun’s hands. 

“So, as per proper introduction…” Dahyun presents her best smile in spite of the sour beginning. She fixes the collar of her long-sleeve and runs her fingers through her curls for today. “I’m Kim Dahyun or Dubu if you want to call me that. It’s a pleasure to have you in our school. You’re also quite lucky I’m the one available to tour you around. I’m actually the President of the Student Welcoming Committee.”

She doesn’t want to boast but it’s a proud thing to be a President of something. The Student Welcoming Committee, flooded in its headquarters, is Dahyun’s pride (as well as her pogs). 

“What about you?” Dahyun asks, turning to the new kid and, with a sudden surge of confidence, looping their arms together. 

She doesn’t look as happy as Dahyun is but Dahyun blames that on the first day jitters. 

First day jitters, she convinces herself that. Dahyun isn’t so sure if the same type of jitters encompasses blabbering something about time travelling and a band named Girls’ Generation, but she relents today. Maybe she’s the one who’s doing drugs?

Somewhere in between, Dahyun finds out her name is Son Chaeyoung. Pretty. 

Speaking of Chaeyoung… 

“Chaeyoung?” Dahyun calls out. The silence is deafening. “Are you okay?” 

Chaeyoung hesitates and looks like she’s thinking hard for her answer. She takes a little while to answer, stammering, "Uh...yeah...sorry about that.”

The worry in Dahyun’s eyes remains the same albeit now softening a little bit more. Her hand finds Chaeyoung’s and she holds it tight. “That’s okay, Chaeyoung…”

Dahyun offers the tour again as a time to breathe and loosen up. Get rid of the first day jitters. Chaeyoung takes the suggestion and they begin walking out of the alley.

In a weird and almost miraculous way of the universe, something about this Chaeyoung feels exhilaratingly familiar to Dahyun.

It’s not proper to say it’s like they’ve met before , in some alternative universe’s past, no. Dahyun feels more like she’s going to meet Chaeyoung again, some time in the future

She says and does weird things…

Dahyun thinks Chaeyoung is the universe’s answer to her prayer. 

I think we’ll get along just fine. 

Chapter Text

We all have that one teacher who spends most of their lecture hours telling tales of their lives rather than the tales of the class assignment.

Back in Obayashi, Mina remembers her Chemistry teacher would spend half of the time passive-aggressively ranting about her salaryman husband rather than teaching them all about the derivation of Avogadro’s number and how to use it in Stoichiometry. Most of the students in her class had to run on coffee and hazy memorizations of the formula just to pass their finals. 

When Mina’s parents were scouting for schools to transfer her to, they initially wanted an institution that wouldn’t leave their daughter running around sleep-deprived and on unhealthy diets just to pass exams. They talked to every Principal and subject coordinator just to make sure the program was the best for Mina. 

Apgujeong Private High wasn’t the best. Beneath the surfaces of marble and glorious crystal chandeliers, Mina could feel the volatile tension of teenage and adult drama everywhere. The only reason her parents went along with enrolling her here was because it was the thirteenth school they visited, and it was either this or the international boarding school in Jeju.

(Mina is not going to a boarding school.)

Therefore she will survive now. At all costs. Whether she’ll have to join all the possible extra-credit classes and clubs she can take or just let her study sessions steal hours from her sleep, Mina will make do with what she has to pass her Literature class and learn all about Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew without actually hearing about it and just entertaining their teacher's fawning over the cool horoscope fortunes at the back of the latest BOP magazine issue.

It’s only to Mina’s absolute fortune she’s not the only one in section 4-3 who intends to pass the class with effort. 

“Mitang, what do you think about Kate and Bianca?” Sana takes a fond liking to calling Mina that. Mina doesn’t mind a single bit. Although Sana’s natural affectionate disposition was a little overwhelming at first, she’s grown to understand that, no matter how impossible it seemed, such immense love could exist in a person. 

Unfortunately for Sana, Mina, as much as she wanted to, didn’t contain the same amount of patience and understanding as she did. And because the class had been like a room of panicking chickens with how loud they were being, Shakespeare’s comedy had long been discarded on her desk, alongside all her care in the world for trying to understand the misogyny they were supposed to be studying. 

“What about them?” All Mina’s occupied with this entire time is dreaming the taste of the famed mocha buns sold in the store across the cafeteria, thinking about it while doodling on her notebook and just waiting for time to pass until the bell rings for lunch break. 

Sana, seated beside her, is now halfway through Act II. Her copy of the comedy is already filled with penciled side notes and floral sticky bookmarks all over. 

Mina wishes she had the same zeal and diligence as Sana. 

“I mean, there’s this obvious strain in their relationship as sisters. Is it because of the differences in their personalities?” Sana asks, pencil tapping on the page she’s at, getting ready to write down more notes. 

Mina really wishes she had read the thing as devotedly as Sana did. She feels guilty for the rented copy of the 1967 adaptation sitting on her study table right now. 

“Um...I think it was more than that?” 

“What makes you say so?” 

Mina uncrosses her legs underneath the desk, facing Sana. “Well, I think that their dad also played a big role in the strain of their relationship?”

“Baptista Minola? Hm…nice insight...” 

Mina didn’t even know that was his name but she pretends she does and goes on, “Yes, him. Um. I think the way he was the only parent figure in their lives and he always chose Bianca and doted on her while forcing this idea on Kate that she had to be just like her sister to be loved and accepted too, kinda just fueled the fire in her, I guess?” 

“And that made her hate Bianca even more, no?” 

“Yes? But I think at that point she just hated everything as well. No one just understood her and loved for who she was. And when Petruchio came along, she thought he was his equal but then he just treated her like a rag.” 

“You seem like a big Shakespeare fan, Mitang.” Sana jots everything down diligently on her copy of the play. “You should’ve been here when Dahyun was scouting members for her all-woman ensemble of Dead Poets Society.” 

The name sounds familiar to Mina. “The 80s movie?”

“No, the club. She wanted to organize a literature club but no one seemed interested enough to join that’s why the idea was scrapped and she moved to Earth club instead”, Sana tells, reaching over for her pencil case–a cute pink spacemaker–for an eraser. 

Dahyun was also  a member of the welcoming committee and the newspaper org. She’s also a member of an Earth club? Wow. 

“I think you’re the Shakespeare fan…” Mina points differently, a little proud smile on her lips. “You’re the one here who’s asking and taking down notes.” 

Sana looks up for a few seconds. Her forehead creases with a quizzical expression that soon turns into a full-on smile, as if she’s also trying to wrap her mind around what Mina just said and its truthfulness. 

“Huh. Maybe.” Sana remarks, dignified with a quick bright smile, before moving away from her book and blowing away the eraser shavings over to Momo’s side, out of spite for not joining them in their discourse and instead indulging Ms. Hong and her BOP magazine horoscope lecture. 

“Kate Minola’s character just really reminds me of someone I know…”

Mina hums with a newfound sense of interest. “Who?” 

Before Sana could even answer, someone’s already calling Mina’s name out. 

“Miss Myoui?” 

“Yes, Ms. Hong!” She stands up rather curtly and speaks a little too loudly, pushing the chair back too abruptly it grates against the floor too hard, producing a shrilling sound that has both Sana and Momo wincing. 

The panic manifests itself in the way Mina fidgets with her fingers behind her back unknowingly. The trepidation flutters in her stomach not like the normal butterflies but rather, the flapping of giant eagle wings. 

Ms. Hong sits criss-crossed on top of the teacher’s desk, eyes not wavering from the magazine in her hold. “What’s your zodiac sign?” 

The uneasiness flushes away like toilet water after used. Mina honestly has no idea why she even expected Ms. Hong would ask her something Taming of the Shrew-related when the only literary piece she’s been meticulously studying this entire time is Leonardo DiCaprio on the front cover of BOP.

“Um...Aries?”

“Really?” Ms. Hong’s eyes light up like a child’s on Christmas day. “You’ve got the best fortune here! Lucky Arieses…” 

Mina really doesn’t know if she’s supposed to sit down already or not. Ms. Hong’s too busy scanning the horoscope page and the entire class isn’t really paying attention anymore. 

Mina turns to Sana and mouths discreetly, “Do I sit down already?” 

Sana just shrugs apologetically. “I think? Come on. Sit down.” 

Mina slowly lowers herself back down—

“OH! HERE YOU GO!” 

She stands back up again.

Ms. Hong waves the magazine page at Mina, as if she could see anything from where she’s standing in the middle row of seats. 

“It says here you’re going to meet your soulmate where the world can’t find you”, Ms. Hong reads out loud with much emotion. “How romantic!” 

How cryptic . Mina thinks. I don’t believe in fortune horoscopes, Miss Hong. 

She plasters a big smile nonetheless. “Oooh. Thank you for the...insight, Ms. Hong.” 

“Oh, pleasure is mine!” The thirty-something woman says with a dismissive wave and a delighted smile. “I hope you meet whoever this person is! You’re so young yet here you are, already meeting your soulmate.” 

Something tells Mina (and Sana and Momo) that Ms. Hong is taking this a little too personally. 

Mina stops herself from commenting anything else, sitting back down. Ms. Hong moves her attention away to class 4-3’s President, Jennie Kim, and tells her her horoscope for the day. “You’re gonna be facing an entity so dark today, you will be spiritually and physically drained.” 

“That’s oddly specific…” Jennie trails off, bemused. Ms. Hong just shrugs nonchalantly. 

(Jennie does face a dark and exhausting entity later that day. Im Nayeon makes sure she doesn’t see the light of next day after battering her during their afternoon practice.) 

The class resumes its pace as Ms. Hong busies herself with the front row girls, fangirling about Leonardo DiCaprio. 

Mina tries to her doodles on the back of her notebook until she feels a light tap on her shoulder. Momo’s arm is long enough to go over Sana’s shoulders and reach Mina’s. 

“Minari~” Momo pretends Sana’s not sitting right in between them. “You have the best fortune in the class…” 

“Really?” Mina tries not to be a let-down with how nonchalant she truly feels, trying to mask the . It’s not like she hated fortune-telling and things alike. It’s just that she was never keen on letting anyone decide for her, not even the universe. 

“What did Ms. Hong’s magazine say about your soulmate?” Sana butts in, raising a brow at Momo. 

Momo shrugs smugly. “She said I was going to end up with someone who’d be rich enough to feed me and my entire bloodline until the end of time.” 

Mina feels like she’s intruding something. She tries to comment something along the lines of Is her magazine really that specific? but Sana’s covering Momo from her sight and she’s already saying something else.

“Really now?” Mina could imagine a provoking arch on Sana’s perfectly-threaded eyebrows. 

“Yup!” Momo pops the last syllable. “And if that doesn’t happen, I’ll go to Plan B.” 

Mina unknowingly wonders out loud, “You have a Plan B?”

“Why the hell do you have a Plan B?!” But Sana’s voice is loud and powerful enough to thwart her curious question. 

Now Mina feels like she’s really intruding something. 

Momo doesn’t seem fazed with Sana’s offended burst, even at the slightest. She continues writing something down on her notebook (she’s been playing F.L.A.M.E.S. with Jisoo on her other side the entire time).

“We always need a Plan B, Satang…” Momo answers annoyingly calmly, in spite of the anger steam Mina can already see coming out of Sana. “We’re never truly guaranteed of the future!”

The Japanese girl in the middle visibly tenses.

“Okay, then”, Sana clenches her jaw. “Tell me, Momoring. What’s your lovely Plan B?”

Momo passes the torn-off page over to Jisoo again before facing Sana and Mina. It only occurs to her then, just as she faces Sana looking like she’s this close to digging her grave,  Momo’s fucked up. One wrong word and Momo’s gonna have to begin looking around for a casket and making calls about her life insurance. 

“Uh…” She takes in what could possibly be her last breath. Right behind her, Mina’s trying to discreetly shake her head no. Momo never had perfect eyesight. 

“I thought of...marrying someone who’s like...really, really old, you know? Really old but rich…” 

Sana glares at her flatly, unamused. “And you’re gonna wait for this person to pass away and then expect to get all of their wealth?” 

Momo makes the biggest mistake of nodding. 

This commences a lengthy scolding from Sana. Momo’s just thankful she doesn’t burst in anger, really. The Japanese heiress in the middle goes on and on about all the loopholes in Momo’s Plan B , how there’s no guarantee that whoever she decides to marry and suck wealth out of will treat her half as nice (as she does, Mina thinks Sana failed to add that), and how Momo will probably end up unsuccessful if she thinks of life the way she just did. 

Momo...did not expect such a lengthy and intricate scolding. Mina didn’t too. 

“So think again!” Sana ends with a huff and her arms crossed over her chest like a defeated child. “Because I don’t think anyone will ever take care of you the way I do!” 

And then she remembers Mina’s existence beside her, “...because we’re best friends! I won’t let...uh...anyone ever hurt you!”

Mina thinks it’s too obvious of a cover-up, like a poorly extinguished fire. It’s like cracking a joke no one understands, so the poor jokester has to explain and ruins the moment in the process.

Both Sana and Momo are great at everything else but pretending whatever they have isn’t as special as it really is. They’re not the best of actors but because Mina respects them too much and thinks they’re absolutely great and adorable together, she lets them believe whatever they want to believe; if it means their happiness and comfort then Mina will gladly pretend Hirai Momo and Minatozaki Sana are just two really, really close best friends. 

Mina thinks choosing Apgujeong was a good decision. Despite the fact that Ms. Hong will probably never teach them Literature properly and that they’ll probably get in trouble after this for being too loud, she thinks she’s in a good environment here with this school. That she chose well the people she wants to be around with. 

(A little later on, just as Momo thought she narrowly escaped her own Sana-induced death, she makes a mistake again. 

“Momo, I got it!” A husky voice joins in. Jisoo appears from Momo’s other side, holding up the latter’s ostentatious Barbie notebook. 

Sana rolls her eyes and faces the other direction, away from Momo, looking over the window on Mina’s side. 

Mina looks over at the commotion. Apparently, it’s about Momo and Jisoo’s F.L.A.M.E.S. result. 

Well, not them- them. Their game’s results. 

“We got A?” Momo pouts. 

As if struck by lightning, Sana’s act falters and she immediately weasels in, snatching the notebook from Momo’s hold. She glares at the page as if it’s done her the absolute worst (it probably did) and she’s now boring holes on it with her lazer glare (she probably is).

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN WE’RE JUST ACQUAINTANCES!?”

RIP, Momo. Mina thinks. It was good while it lasted.)

 


 

It was definitely good while it lasted. 

Mina's satisfied monologue earlier about picking Apgujeong and not regretting the decision one bit, lasts a good 15 minutes into lunch break before all hell goes loose.

It starts relatively normal, as far as normal had become in the simple routine their group had manage to establish ever since Mina decided Jeongyeon’s company was better than trudging the marble halls alone all year-round. 

In spite of the fact that Mina will probably never understand the division of Apgujeong’s high school cafeteria (separated by cliques exactly just like in the movies she used to watch) Mina thinks it’s better like this. She gets to join Sana, Jeongyeon, and Momo on the rare occasions that they get dismissed a few minutes early before their afternoon training sessions. 

On the odd days where Ms. Hong isn’t in a hurry to leave class to go chit chat at the faculty lounge, the student athletes are excused ahead of time and it leaves Mina all alone, waiting for the bell to ring before she can head over to the field and enjoy her lunch watching Jeongyeon and Momo lead charismatically and Sana dance with much vigor on the side.

 An established routine, you see. 

Today, it goes exactly the way Mina wanted to be—at least, the first fifteen minutes. 

They get dismissed from Literature early and Mina finds herself sandwiched between a pouting Momo, who projects her misery on the poor rice cake being awfully stabbed with a chopstick, and a busy Jeongyeon, drafting her due critical review of the Taming of the Shrew (because unlike Sana, Momo, and Mina’s section, class 4-2 has a Literature teacher who actually teaches!) Jihyo is nowhere to be seen because apparently, student council meetings were held primarily during lunch breaks, where the esteemed organization would eat at the equally-esteemed student council office.

It’s not weird anymore that Mina doesn’t encounter Dahyun the whole day, despite how she truly wanted to see the younger girl. A part of her thinks there’s something wrong, because Jeongyeon once mentioned being inseparable with the sophomore, but Momo tries to blow that worry away by telling her Dahyun rarely joins them for lunch because of her different schedule.

Mina tries to crush down the grim feeling Dahyun’s absence brings. 

It’s normal. She convinces herself. You’re not breaking anyone’s friendship, Mina. 

Halfway through finishing her mocha buns, Mina’s seatmate finally stops her childish grumping. 

“Mitang. Help me out”, Momo gives in. Her leg had been trembling against Mina’s the entire time. It was a little irritating but Mina didn’t have the heart to tell her that. 

“What can I do?” 

Sana doesn’t sit with them during lunch. Like I said, cliques. Sana belonged to a different social circle–the cheerleaders–and they occupied the table directly across Momo and Jeongyeon’s usual spot. 

Right now, Sana’s exactly in front of Momo, moping in her own space. (Mina thinks only she noticed that. Momo hasn’t lifted her head up from her plate the entire time, probably too guilty and sulky to even bat an eyelash at Sana).

“Look at this.”  Momo pulls out something from her pocket. It’s a piece of paper folded into four. She spreads it open on the table for Mina to see. 

Mina looks at the thing. Crumpled and all doodled up with random scribbles. Right in the middle of the paper she finally sees what’s been causing Momo and Sana’s little squabble this entire time. 

 

F L A M E S

Minatozaki Sana = 8
Hirai Momo = 7
                    _______
                       15

 

“It’s still A! This is the sixth time now and whatever I do, fifteen lands on A and I can’t just change the meaning of that, right?!” Momo exclaims exasperatedly and for a second there, anyone who’d overhear without context would probably assume they were talking about such a grave issue, like a questionable answer on an exam or a problem with the first letter of the alphabet. 

(Momo ranted like it was a matter of life and death and frankly, Mina believes it might just be for her)

Momo makes a show of reiterating the steps she followed that lead her to the infamous A and Mina honestly thinks this situation couldn’t get any more rudimentary.

“You did it the wrong way though?” She pulls the paper over to a clean surface and grabs Momo’s pen. “You should count the letters you guys don’t have together. Not the ones you crossed out. Then, you add them and count it on the F.L.A.M.E.S.” 

Mina rewrites Sana and Momo’s names and does the entire thing again. After arriving at a different sum and letter, and making sure to circle the result enough times for the world emphasis, she slides the paper back to Momo. 

“See? L. Lovers.” 

Momo stares at the piece of paper like she’s trying to decipher extraterrestrial codes and then looks over at Mina. She pauses for a beat, “Hm.” And then, “How again?” 

Mina laughs. “Wait. I’ll give you an example.” 

She uses the back of Momo’s folded paper and writes down her name and Jeongyeon’s nonchalantly. 

“So, I cross out the letters we have alike, right?” Momo nods from her place, listening diligently. Mina continues, “Then, I count the ones remaining. So that’s…” she counts the letters not crossed out and then arrives at, “6+4 is 10. So, I just do the FLAMES thing…and...there.” Mina encircles the letter she lands on.

“M. Married.” 

“You and Jeongyeon are gonna get married?” 

Mina goes rigid. Wait. What. 

Behind her, the sound of paper being crumpled resonates, another draft being discarded. Mina wishes it’s not what she thinks it is, but the universe decides to let Jeongyeon overhear exactly that moment. 

“What?” 

As if it couldn’t get any worse, someone else joins them and catches on at what Momo just said. 

Jennie Kim stands rigid less than a meter away. She looks at loss for what to say, like she’s just ruined a moment and heard something she wasn’t supposed to hear (because she just did). She takes a second longer to snap out of her thoughts and just slowly pulls her hand out to hand Momo a milk carton with a sticky note on the label.

“Uh, Momo? This...came from Sana…” 

Mina can hear the bellows of thunder at the back of her head, warning bells going off. 

Momo’s too busy with the chocolate milk that she doesn’t clarify what Jennie probably just heard her say. Mina, on the other hand, freezes at the realization that both Jennie and Jeongyeon were able to hear without any context. 

The moment she summons enough fear to try to clear things up, that no, I’m not going to get married to her? That was just a game. I don’t even know why I used her name to play with mine—

Jennie’s already walking away. 

Back to the cheerleaders’ table. 

Back to Nayeon’s side.

Momo squeals like a child at Sana's note. Something about doing the game again and arriving at a different, better answer. Honestly Mina doesn't know why she even bothered fussing about such a trivial pen-and-paper game. Now, unlike her happier seatmate, she's stuck with the desperate hope that Jennie Kim doesn't misunderstand the situation and tell Im Nayeon. 

She wouldn't do that. 

Right?

 


 

(“Have you heard of the new girl?” 

Jennie brings it up during lunch break before the afternoon training session, something about a new transferee from a prestigious all-girls school in Japan. 

Nayeon munches on a protein bar Sana managed to bring for the entire team. She doesn’t like being interrupted while eating. “Can you move to the part where this concerns me, Jennie?” 

The other girls are busy chatting about Leonardo DiCaprio in the latest BOP magazine. Sana is scribbling on a freshman’s slambook. The moment they hear their team captain’s cold, chagrined tone, all heads peer over to the seniors’ direction. 

Nayeon carelessly continues picking on the protein bar’s plastic packaging, unable to see the way Jennie hides the embarrassed flush on her face at the snide remark. She makes a junior scramble out of her seat next to Nayeon with just one cock of her eyebrow. 

Jennie takes  the chair and plops down on it. “It concerns you”, she inches closer and whispers, “Because it concerns Yoo Jeong—” 

The swift snap of Im Nayeon’s head could have easily broken someone else’s neck if they ever tried doing it and they weren’t as physically-conditioned as the cheerleading captain. 

Either way, it’s like watching a spiritual possession of some sort, the way Nayeon’s face falls just as fast as the movement of her head. “What the hell are you talking about, Jennie?” 

Sana immediately grabs Nayeon’s hand on the table. As if that could help. 

Jennie feels pride settle at the pit of her stomach. She now knows what gets their team captain riled up. 

“I’m surprised you didn’t have it figured out, cap.” She smirks. 

Nayeon feels like she’s about to blow up. Sana can feel the trembling hand in her hold. 

“Jennie…” the co-captain, rightfully, tries to tame things down. This has always been Sana’s main task in the team. 

Jennie, however, hasn’t always been the easiest teammate. Or maybe, Nayeon hasn’t always  been the easiest team captain. Or person, in general. Either way, Sana tries to repress the growing tension in the table. 

“I mean…” Jennie doesn’t even spare her a glance. She’s too busy plastering a smug look on her face. “Didn’t you ever wonder why you sleep alone in your bed now?”)

 


 

Wrong.

Mina Myoui’s worst nightmare manifests itself the minute Jeongyeon leaves. 

She should have known better than to let her go. 

Without Jeongyeon–the epitome of a human shield–the whole universe is ten times meaner and Im Nayeon is a thousand times more ruthless and unstoppable. Mina should have known better than to dance on the flames.

High school is a whole new level of power play. If you’ve got the popularity and the right amount of attitude then you can achieve total dystopian autocracy. It’s even more mindfucking when you consider the fuck — the fact that Apgujeong Private High School is every bit the high school cliche in the movies. The worst nightmare for people like Mina. 

It unfolds like this: 

Momo leaves lunch to get ready for practice. 

Mina makes do with an empty lunch table and a half-eaten metal tray of cafeteria food  all by herself. The sun glares down on the field at this hour of the afternoon and she honestly doesn’t know how the soccer and cheerleader people survive the heat. 

To keep herself away from a heatstroke, Mina decides to stay in the cafeteria for a few more minutes, bathe in the stuffy smell on expensive hand sanitizers coalescing with the stench of cafeteria food. It’s better than having to stay under the scorching sun and eat by the bleachers again. 

All Mina has to do now to avoid causing trouble. She decides in order to achieve that, she has to face away from the cheerleaders’ table and pretend she doesn’t feel the obvious glare Im Nayeon is giving her, drilling holes through the back of her neatly-ironed uniform like laser beams. 

Mina prays for a seamless lunch break and probably a stress-free school year too while she’s at that. She’s already halfway through her spicy rice cakes when the inevitable happens. 

There’s a screech of the chair getting pulled beside Mina. The terror from having to face people renders her practically frozen on her seat, unable to look at any other direction than her rice cakes. 

Please don’t be her. Please don’t be her. Please don’t be here. 

A warm cloth is draped around Mina’s shoulders. She looks down at it and sees the sleeves of a varsity jacket dangling. 

She lets out a deep sigh before turning around. “Thank god you’re here—” 

“Don’t thank God just yet, new kid.” 

Oh no. 

Nayeon towers over Mina’s figure like a really scary goliath. Mina feels just as small as she looks. 

“Why don’t you bring that to Jeongyeon?” Nayeon pats Mina’s shoulder and then brushes at the fabric of the jacket, fingertips light and a small cunning smile on her lips. “Tell her I’m giving it back.”

Mina does nothing but look at her. Other than the time at Deux on her first day, this is the first time she’s seen Nayeon up close and also the first time it’s just really them

Mina doesn’t make the mistake of looking at the people watching. 

“I think it’s only normal I give it to her new victim.” Nayeon smiles. The stark contrast of her tight-lipped grin and the way her eyes are practically devouring Mina whole at that moment makes Mina think Nayeon is fit for the limelight she stands under proudly. 

Im Nayeon has all it takes to make a great manipulator. Now Mina truly understands why she’s called the Queen Bitch. 

Before Mina can even register what’s happening, Nayeon’s already out of her sight, strutting out to the field, gym bag hanging on one shoulder. The other cheerleaders follow behind her like puppies, not making the mistake of even glancing at Mina. 

 


 

(“What did you do now?” Shouldn’t really be Sana’s programmed question whenever a gray cloud looms over Nayeon’s head when she’s in one of her bad moods. 

Nayeon ignores Sana by the threshold of the shower room and walks over to one of the benches, haphazardly throwing her gym bag away and casually unbuttoning her uniform without a care in the world. 

“Why do you always assume I’m the wrong one, Satang?” It’s a cunning bite back. Nayeon doesn’t mean most of the indignation she portrays, but a part of her still drowns in the resentment anyways. 

Whether she’s a mean bitch or not, when it comes to her real friends, Im Nayeon still gets affected. And she absolutely hates herself for it. 

Sana walks over to the bench and sits down cross-legged. She’s already in her training uniform–a spandex and sports bra set adorned with ostentatious neon geometric prints–and she helps Nayeon change into hers.

“Well, tell me.” Sana folds Nayeon’s uniform top neatly. “Are you not the one who just practically announced to the entire student body all about Yoo Jeongyeon’s new girl?”

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Nayeon shrugs.

Sana groans. “Come on, Nayeon! Are you literally going to torment another poor girl again? Mina at that?” 

“Mina, at that?” Nayeon repeats with venom, sly smile wiped out of her face as she turns to Sana. “Are you suddenly best friends with her now? Just because what? You guys are classmates?” 

“We’re seatmates, Nayeon.” 

“I don’t care.” Nayeon waves off. She slips out of her skirt and pulls down at the cycling shorts. “She should know better than to get caught in someone else’s mess.” 

Sana looks like a kettle about in her boiling point. “You know what!” She stands up, pointing a finger at Nayeon. This is the angriest she’s seen her friend be. “You’re such a shrewd!”

Unfortunately, even in her anger Sana still looks like a cute little Shiba Inu. Nayeon can’t help but smile. “That’s new. I’m used to Queen Bitch. Am I supposed to be some kind of Shakespeare character now?” 

“She isn’t even doing anything and you’re already out to get her! A shrewd! You’re a Kate!”

“Did you learn that too while braiding hairs and trading love stories with Mina, your seatmate?” 

“Ugh! I can’t with you!” Sana bellows, anger fueling even more. She gets up and storms off, leaving Nayeon drowning in the heavy tension of their argument. 

There are other members of the soccer and cheer team around her, awkward in the debacle they just witnessed, but they know better than to stay while Nayeon’s just getting ready to blow. Everyone runs out of the shower room. 

All on her own, the weight in Nayeon’s chest escapes and fills the air around her. Quiet and heavy with pain and...sadness.  This was the life she chose. And because of it, everything was taken away from her. 

Now she’s all alone again. )

 


 

The change comes in three waves. 

First. Down the hallways, everyone suddenly looks at her like they’re watching some kind of alien pass by. At first Mina dismisses this as the byproducts of hanging out with people like Sana, Jihyo, Momo, and Jeongyeon. But it happens even when she’s all alone. They look at her with pity and something akin to envy, and it irks Mina like an itch she can’t quite reach. 

She shrugs it away. Grace.

Second. It comes when they whisper around her so shamelessly. Mina could endure the looks, but she absolutely hated it whenever she’d walk into the room and hear a lot of students whispering around. It would’ve been okay if it was a type of hushed conversation but they would leer at her as well and it was infuriating. 

It’s one thing to endure the looking. It was a whole level of patience needed to abide by the shameless whispering. It totally didn’t help that Mina would always fall prey to her overthinking too. 

Still, she relents. Patience. 

Until no one would directly call her name out, Mina will simply assume this is just a normal high school thing. The aftermath of being friends with popular people. She will not overanalyze things again and get hurt along the process. 

She’ll give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Even if it means she’ll just end up making a fool of herself again.

The third attempt at breaking her, of course, becomes the last straw. 

It happens on the day of the cheer tryouts. 

(Under the influence of faux confidence and a decision made on a “spur-of-the-moment” thing, Mina decides she doesn't have anything to lose trying out for the esteemed team. 

In spite of the fact that the majority of the student populace refer to the cheerleading team as a “cult of bitches and god’s representative angel Sana”, the Apgujeong Eagles is an esteemed, multi-awarded team. 

Mina, as far as she’s concerned, came from a championed team too. And she loves cheerleading. So if it means casting aside her troubles with Nayeon just to do what she loves doing again, she’ll pursue it. Besides, Sana’s there too. She has one guardian angel present around in case Nayeon does decide to murder her or something…

Or something.)

So far, Mina had been all by herself. 

The closest and longest she’s gotten to company is Sana, who is only around because of the cheer tryouts, filling in for the MIA leader in Im Nayeon. Jeongyeon and Momo have been caught up in a whirlwind of meetings with the sports management because of the soccer teams pre season preparations. Jihyo is naturally busy. Mina thinks there’s not a day in the world where she doesn’t attend meetings with the organizations she’s joined. And well, Dahyun is…

Dahyun has been out of sight for quite a time now. 

At first, Mina paid it no heed. Everyone had something to do and, unlike her, the other girls’ lives didn’t just revolve around their friend group. Sana has cheer, Momo and Jeongyeon have soccer, Jihyo has the entire student body population to manage, and Dahyun probably majors in organization management with how many clubs she’s part of. 

They had friends outside of the group. Unlike Mina. 

So, inevitably, in spite of how shit she’s been feeling lately, Mina decides to make friends out of the usual people she’s with. Ultimately, it leads her to the cheer tryouts. Because she’s not good in leading people as Jihyo is (leadership runs in the girl’s blood), she’s not as athletic as Momo and Jeongyeon are, enough to join the soccer team, and Dahyun is nowhere to be found and Mina has been feeling really, really lonely these days. 

Cheerleading it is then!

Mina is only able to prepare for the big day the night before. She exercises in her room and tries to go through her old team’s routines. By the time she feels sore all over again, she decides to call it a night and just hope for the best. 

When the big day comes, Mina feels like she just woke up after fighting a bear. She regrets exerting too much the night before and now she feels even more like shit. It doesn’t help that Ms. Hong extends the class and both Sana and Momo aren’t around to keep her company. She only gets less than ten minutes for lunch break and only eats a mocha bun before she’s hurrying to the field for the tryouts. 

The moment she gets there, all panting and heart beating the same fast rhythm as the throbbing of her head, Jennie Kim makes her perform first. 

“What?” Mina asks the moment she catches her breath. 

“It says here you go first?” Jennie looks down on the clipboard in her hand. She’s sitting on the first row of seats, legs crossed. “It’s arranged alphabetically.” 

Mina has a problem with going first and last. She’s always been the type to stick somewhere in between. Always testing troubled waters before taking a dip. And besides, it doesn’t make any sense that she’s first when both her first and last name are in the middle of the alphabet? What the hell…

“If she doesn’t like to go first then that's okay, Jen.” 

Thankfully, Mina’s guardian angel comes to the rescue. 

Sana stands up from behind Jennie and joins in, not before throwing a subtle wink over at Mina. 

“There are other kids here, Jen. Let them go first. Mina”, the Co-Captain turns over to the disoriented girl. “Why don’t you sit over there first. We’ll call you when it’s your turn.” 

Mina could only smile back at Sana. Her heart is swelling with gratitude and she often forgets how to use her words when that happens. 

Jennie relents because it’s the Co-Captain’s orders. Sana goes back to their seats in the first row while Mina climbs a few rows up behind them, watching as a freshman makes her way over to the floor mats set up as a makeshift stage. She begins warming-up a little first while waiting for Jennie and another cheerleader to return from their last-minute restroom run. 

Mina tries to study and observe the girl’s movements in order to calm herself down, but it’s hard to focus on this when the whispering and the leering begin again, and the girls behind her are just unable to differentiate whispering from downright tittle-tattle.

If there was a photographer to capture the moment, Mina thinks this would definitely qualify as a stock image for textbook bullying. 

“It’s her. That’s the girl Minjung was talking about!” From the sound of the first girl’s light, animated voice, Mina could say they were younger and definitely thrilled to see in person the school’s hallway headline.

“Oh! She’s...hm…” the second girl trails off, humming in thought. Mina hates herself for continuing to listen. “I mean...Jeongyeon sunbaenim has taste, you know? I heard Yerin sunbae was pretty too.”  

What? Who was pretty too?

“I’m just...you know, shocked .” 

“Why?” 

The first girl lets out a deep breath. “How are they so comfortable with this? Being... out .” 

Mina feels like her throat is closing in on her and someone’s wrapped a plastic bag around her head. She can’t breathe. 

“I know, right? I mean, aren’t they at least...ashamed? I heard someone from the other class told their adviser and I bet it’s only a matter of time before Principal Park hears this and—” 

“Dahyunnie!?” Sana’s voice reverberates and for a heartbeat, Mina’s head spins even more.

She looks over to where everybody else is staring, and she sees Kim Dahyun there, in the flesh, standing, breathing, looking terribly lost. Mina can’t believe what she’s seeing. The “Sunshine Girl” has been akin to a mythical creature these past days, nothing but an illusion of the mind. Because the very first moment Mina saw the younger girl was also the longest one she’s had with her. Dahyun had been out of sight but never out of her mind.  

It absolutely drives Mina crazy , really. How she feels a large weight in her chest whenever she sees Dahyun and how it’s only gotten worse now that she hasn’t seen her at all. 

Mina thinks it has something to do with how Dahyun had been acting around her. It was always like she was walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around a ticking bomb. Mina hated it. 

In an absolutely unexplainable way, Mina could stand what other people thought of her but she couldn’t let Dahyun think the same way. No. Everyone but her.

She blames it on the fact that Dahyun’s an important person. Because Dahyun is Jeongyeon’s little bro. Her best friend. And Mina wants to appease the soccer captain. She wants to be on her good side. She wants to be with them forever. She’s found a little safe space when she’s with Jeongyeon and the girls. And Mina, as soft as they think she is, will do anything to make sure she stays with the girls. 

But she can’t actually do that, right? Not when one of them was clearly avoiding her. Not when Dahyun acted around her like she was some ghost. Like she never existed. 

Mina, for the life of her, can’t let Dahyun go just like that. 

“Kim Dahyun!” Sana shouts again, snapping Mina out of her thoughts. She never calls Dahyun by her full name. Whatever this is, it must be serious. 

The moment Mina takes her first step, Dahyun’s already running away. 

Behind her, the girls are whispering again. The last thing Mina hears is, “See? Even her friends are leaving already.” 

Mina thinks right there, a part of her broke. 

And whichever piece it was, Dahyun took it away with her.

 


 

Mina didn’t pass the tryout. 

Sana voted her in but it was a democratic decision and the entire team didn’t seem on board with passing Mina, as opposed to how their jaws dropped at her performance. 

To say that she was sad and disappointed was the understatement of the year. 

Mina feels like she’s living in the pause of a heartbeat, where she doesn’t really feel anything anymore and she’s just a walking pile of bones outside and hollowness inside. The day had gone by with a morose impression, like a beautiful performance getting cut off, endless winter nights and never the sun, leaves dead and dry, falling off a bare tree. 

Mina feels like she’s broken down and torn to pieces, and with every step she takes, her heart sinks even deeper, grows heavier. 

“Mina!” A voice calls from a distance. Judging by the sound of it, Mina’s guessing she’s by the field right now, running over to her. 

In a different situation, one where Mina had more energy, she would have ignored the call and ran away because the gossip around her has become terribly tiring to deal with; but right now she’s just really exhausted and the day’s been dragging for so long and she just wants to go to a quiet place where no one’s around so she can cry and wallow in her inability to feel sadness when it’s due. 

Mina doesn’t have time to run away nor does she have the heart to. Not when it’s Jeongyeon. 

“Hey, you!” Jeongyeon catches up with her, a little breathless, and rests an arm over her shoulders. “How was tryouts?” 

Mina can only shrug. The prospect of explaining how her day had already felt exhausting. She didn’t have enough brainpower to even think of the appropriate words to use that wouldn’t have Jeongyeon asking her the dreaded Why? What happened? So instead of responding with anything at all, she just shrugs. 

I honestly don’t know. 

“Oh…” thankfully, Jeongyeon is emotionally-adept to understand that. She’s also kind enough to remove her arms around Mina’s shoulders. People are already looking. 

They walk in terrible silence, watching the world go by on their way out of the campus. 

Before they could even pass Deux, bustling with students celebrating the early dismissal, Jeongyeon decides to break the silence. 

“Hey. Um…” She scratches the back of her head sheepishly, looking anywhere but at Mina. It makes her heart sink even more. “Do you want some milkshakes? I owe Momo fries for ruining her jersey earlier and I was thinking of buying some snacks too for some sleepover we’re having later.” 

Jeongyeon avoids Mina’s eyes. She looks down on the pavement, at her running shoes, and then at Mina’s slip-ons. 

“You can go buy.” Mina says, barely coughing the words out audibly. It’s only to her luck Jeongyeon’s within hearing range. “I’ll just wait here outside. It already looks too crowded in there.” 

Jeongyeon nods with a toothy grin before skedaddling off to Deux, leaving Mina all to herself, standing by the parking lot. 

It takes about a few minutes of silence before a loud thud interrupts Mina’s thoughts. It sounds like a heavy object just hit a car or fell on it. A painful grunt follows it, and then a voice complaining about letting her go. 

Mina wouldn’t have taken action but she could recognize that voice anywhere. It was the voice of the person who hated her the most. 

Mina takes a stealthy look around and sees Nayeon, pushing away a tall guy who seems crappy enough not to follow.  

To hell with what she’s doing, really. Mina is angry at the world right now, at herself the most, and a little bit at Nayeon too, but she isn’t heartless. 

“She said get off.”

Her voice sounds as exhausted as her body is, hoarse and cracking. Mina thinks she sounds as small as she feels. “Or do you want me to call someone to get you off of her?” 

Nayeon and the guy look at Mina for a few seconds, both with very different expressions. Mina thinks the guy looks like he’s choosing whether to take some action or scare off Mina, and Nayeon looks like her mind just short-circuited. 

For a second there, Mina could see horror from her eyes. 

Of course, it disappears at the face of Mina Myoui. 

“Go away, Myoui.” Nayeon barks before completely exerting all her strength in pushing the guy away. He stumbles back a little, holding on to the car behind him. 

Nayeon dusts herself off, brushing at her clothes. She’s in her cheerleading uniform although she was a no-show earlier at the tryouts.

Seeing as Mina didn’t even move a step and just continued looking at her in a way she didn’t like–full of pity–Nayeon finds a different kind of anger muster for the girl. An amusing sort of anger that makes her just want to break Mina’s innocent facade away. 

She does just that.  

“Did you want to join us too?” Nayeon walks over. Steps short, calculating. Mina wants to back away but her feet are glued to the ground. 

“Are you into that type of shit too, Miss Perfect?” 

Mina frowns at the nickname. She flinches away when Nayeon tries to take a strand of her hair. “What are you talking about, Nayeon?” 

“I don’t know, Mina. I really don’t.” Nayeon shrugs her shoulders, feigning ignorance. She points at the guy behind her, now stumbling away. “By the way, that’s my boyfriend, Dohwan. Don’t mind him. He’s just an asshole when he’s drunk.” 

“I see that.” Mina feels bemused at herself. She’s still got the energy to deal with this? 

Nayeon stays there, watching her with that smirk on her face that Mina just knows she’ll be having nightmares of ‘til the end of time. 

“You know…” Nayeon finally speaks up. “I never pegged you as that type. But the moment I saw you, I knew something was up.” 

“What are you—” 

“You’re not so perfect after all, no?” Nayeon takes one step closer. Mina feels her breath hitch. 

“Little Miss Perfect Mina Myoui…” 

Mina feels her entire body burn with anger the moment Nayeon says it. 

“Do you want me too?” 

Nayeon lives knowing which buttons to push just to spite Mina. 

“Or are you just into girls like Jeong?” 

Mina wants to launch herself at Nayeon. In a way that’s going to hurt them both but her more, because she’s already in pain inside and out. It’s just going to make it more satisfying now that they’re both hurting. 

But Mina doesn’t do that, of course. 

Jeongyeon steps in at the perfect time. Like always. 

“What the fuck are you doing, Nayeon?!” Her voice is loud and pointy at the edges, spiteful and biting. 

Jeongyeon stomps over, one hand holding a plastic bag and the other finding itself wrapping Mina's wrist, pulling her back, within breathing space. Away from Nayeon.

"Perfect timing, Jeong!" Nayeon singsongs in an evil kind of mirth. 

From a safe distance, Mina sees Nayeon's eyes dart over to where Jeongyeon holds her hand. For a heartbeat's pause, Mina sees it. The way Nayeon's demeanor changes. The taunting smile on her face wavers for a split second and her forehead creases to a small, almost unnoticeable frown. Then, Nayeon sees Mina looking carefully, with a gaze trying to tear her apart, layer by layer, and then she goes back to old self.

Mina just stays there, quiet, thinking of course, this is what it's about. Jeongyeon. She should have known.

"Did you know your little perfect ballerina isn't so perfect at all?" Nayeon taunts.

Mina thinks if she just knew, it wouldn't have gotten this worse. But it's too late now.

"Nayeon, what the fuck are you talking about?"

Nayeon moves closer to the two, smiling. 

"Perfect Mina, tell Jeong why you're here. Transferring all the way to a new country, running away from your past."

Mina hears nothing but the ringing in her ears. Sirens going off everywhere. She's never felt this way before. This immense anger.

Jeongyeon narrows her eyes at Nayeon. "Fucking hell, Nayeon", she sighs exasperatedly, running a hand through her hair.

"Oh no, Jeong. This one's good." Nayeon smiles over at Mina, who can only imagine her face as a target board at that moment. 

"Did you know Mina was expelled from her old school?" She scoffs, seizing Mina up and down. "Not so perfect anymore huh?"

"Nayeon, I don't fucking care if—"

"She was expelled for getting caught with a TA. In the fucking laboratory."

That takes just about it. Mina's hand swings before she can register what she's doing, quick enough that Nayeon doesn't know what's about to happen too. The sound it makes is deafening, and a horrified gasp leaves everyone's lips. 

Mina looks down at her palm, all red and trembling with the adrenaline and the ticking beat of her heart. Her chest hurts and her head feels like it's about to explode and everything is spinning around her. 

Nayeon just gapes at the Japanese girl, rigid. Her hand finds itself holding her cheek, and it only dawns on her then the shock and sting the slap leaves. 

Jeongyeon feels like an ice cold bucket of water had just been splashed across her face. 

The whole world stops right then. Mina makes the mistake of looking around–because she can’t face Nayeon and Jeongyeon right now without falling apart there–everyone else are suddenly pausing their lives to witness this. 

Im Nayeon, the Queen Bitch of Apgujeong, gets slapped across the face by the new kid, Little Miss Perfect Myoui Mina. And for what? For Yoo Jeongyeon? 

Mina trembles with the anger inside of her, seething and burning and spreading until she feels them with her own hands. Warm trickles of tears falling down her cheeks. 

She runs away before anyone can even see. 

 


 

Anger is the one emotion Mina never handled well. 

In the times when she would feel the most defeated, when she’d want to shout at the top of her lungs her frustrations with the world, the first thing her body would do was cry. 

When she’d rather be on the shouting end of an argument, expressing in words all the curses she could string up in a sentence to the satisfaction of the fire burning in her chest, her lips would quiver and her eyes would swell with tears, and before she could even get to the end of what she wanted to say, she would already be crying. 

Her lips would be trembling too much, no one would understand what she was saying. Her tears would be streaming too many, no one would take her seriously. And all they could look at her with was pity

Mina didn’t need that. She didn’t need pity . She needed someone to understand that she was angry . She was burning inside, tipping over hot, boiling water. 

Mina hated anger. It was her enemy. It was the one emotion she never handled well. With every encounter she had with it, she always ended up crying.

So whenever Mina was frustrated and angry and exhausted with the world and all it’s bullshit, she would run. To anywhere. Any place her feet could get her to. She’d find somewhere to hide and cry there all by herself. 

That’s how she got here. 

In a run-down garden of sorts at the back of her dorm building. It looked like a forgotten ornamental ground that probably once looked breathtaking. It would have once been a place for happiness and smiles and laughter. 

Mina was using it as a place to hide from the world and cry to it all her pent-up her anger. 

She just stays there, knees hugged to her chest, crying her heart out. This moment, right here, might be the loneliest she’s felt her entire life. With no one from home and all alone, Mina’s never felt this isolated with herself and the rest of the world in a long time. 

Even when it feels like she’s cried enough tears to fill a pail, Mina still sheds her sadness like a camouflage cape, like she’s done holding it back. 

These days have been really, really fucking shitty . Today was just the breaking point.

Mina stares at the nothingness before her, eyes puffy and preparing for another wave of tears. Before she gets to the crying, however, something happens. 

Someone, rather.

“Dahyunnie?” 

Even with her eyes half-blurred with the tears, Mina can still see Dahyun. There’s something about her that automatically projects a bright and happy atmosphere to Mina, but tonight, it feels like she’s dying out of her light too. 

When Dahyun calls out her name with a voice that trembles and breaks, Mina feels even more enraged with the world. 

“Can you sit here with me please?” Mina manages to ask in spite of her own scratchy throat. 

Dahyun stands still for a moment, as if deliberating, and it breaks Mina even more. 

Even when Dahyun decides to take a seat beside her, Mina’s brain only thinks of the pause in the younger girl’s steps when she walks over. The very first step and then a pause. If there was a door right there that would take her away from here, Mina thinks Dahyun would have taken it. 

Dahyun didn’t want to be with her, Mina understood that. She knew. Dahyun wasn’t avoiding Jeongyeon or the girls. They were practically the younger girl’s life. Her family in this place. 

Dahyun wasn’t avoiding them . She was avoiding her. 

Yet she does a great job pretending she wasn’t. 

Dahyun offers tissue to Mina for the tears (and a little bit of the snot) and Mina feels her heart ache. How could this person still be so kind despite what Mina probably did to her? 

“Oh. Uh...I don’t have one. Sorry.” 

How could she be so effortlessly adorable too? 

Mina giggles a little and wipes at her tears with the back of her hand instead. “That’s okay. Thank you for offering.” 

Kim Dahyun is a breath of fresh air. Mina thinks the reason why she felt like she was suffocating lately is partly because of that. Because Dahyun, in all the glory of her kindness and smile and good nature, was the breath of fresh air Mina was missing. 

 This is too good to be true. 

Can I hold her hand? 

“Is this okay with you?” 

Dahyun flinches a little when Mina’s hand meets hers, warm and soft. 

“I’m sorry. Did that startle you?” Mina lets go. She smiles apologetically, but her head is already sighing defeatedly. Oh.

There’s something about the younger girl that Mina can’t understand. It has an effect on her that she can’t quite grasp. Dahyun is nice company, and the first person who’s seen her angry tears and not look at her with pity. 

Dahyun is the first. 

When she lets her hold her hand, Mina feels like something in her chest loosened. A weight lifting up. Air in her lungs again. She can breathe. 

“Dahyunnie.” Please say no. “Do you hate me?” 

Mina can feel Dahyun’s fingers loosen their hold around hers. 

“W-What?” 

Mina holds them close for her and waits in silence, eyes glistening underneath the lights. Her heart’s beating too fast for her good and her tears are already preparing themselves. 

“Unnie, I—” 

Mina can’t lose her oxygen again. “Please don’t hate me.” 

The world has been pretty fucking shitty without you. 

“What makes you say that?” Dahyun asks, and Mina wants to scoff because everything! Everything makes her think that. All the avoiding and the nerves and the fact that Dahyun just won’t answer her question directly. 

“Please just tell me what I did wrong.” Mina doesn’t let her anger out on Dahyun. She doesn’t deserve it. 

“You didn’t do anything, unnie. I was just...busy lately.” 

Mina is a little too much of an observant to know Dahyun’s holding back with her words. 

Still, she relents. “Really?” 

Dahyun nods quietly, never meeting Mina’s gaze. 

“Then why were you avoiding the others too?” 

Mina can feel the tightening of her chest with every passing second Dahyun doesn’t respond.

“I figured it was because of me.” A tear slides down Mina’s cheek. “Jeong said you guys were inseparable before I came into the picture.” 

Dahyun sounds irked when she responds with the same excuse of being busy again. Mina figures it’s better not to prod. Her decision proves to be correct when Dahyun gives in and tells her why she’s been out of sight lately. 

It breaks Mina’s heart even more. 

“You don’t have to be a ball of sunshine all the time just to be their Dahyun.”

She pulls Dahyun’s hand over to her lap and holds it with her other hand, like a little sandwich. She tells the younger girl all about having good days and bad ones, and Mina honestly thinks the irony is funny. She’s just had the worst day of her life and here she is, telling someone about how to see the good and the bad and appreciate them both. 

What is wrong with me?

“Is that why you’re here too, unnie?”

The sad recognize each other, apparently. Because Dahyun’s sadness resonates with Mina’s pain. There is hurt in anger too. That’s why we cry.  

"You were crying, unnie. I found you here by listening and following the sound of you crying." When Dahyun tucks her hand away from Mina's hold, Mina feels empty again. "Is that why you're here too? Because you had a bad day? Because we're all just human?"

The way it leaves her lips makes it sound like Dahyun’s more frustrated than she is sad, and Mina understands. She feels that way too. 

“Yeah.” Mina remembers how her days have been, how she’s barely holding on to her sanity lately. “A bad day. A bad start. A bad performance. A bad character...in my life...bad...but she’s just human too. So I couldn’t stay mad. I couldn’t get angry at her for being mean. And unfair. And bad. So I just cried.”

Then, they talk about the garden. 

“Did you horrifyingly hear a woman weeping too and followed the sound ‘til it lead you here, in this miraculously maintained-unmaintained secret garden no one probably knew ever existed until now?”

And Mina’s promptly reminded of why Dahyun’s the sunshine girl. Of why she’s a breath of fresh air and whenever she’s with the younger girl, Mina feels light and warm. 

“I liked to stroll in gardens and just be with myself to think.” I want to hide from the rest of the world when I’m angry and sad. “That’s why I looked for this place and found it.”

“Like a secret hideout?” 

“Yeah. Like a secret hideout.” Mina chuckles a little, finding the comparison endearing and perfectly right. A hideout.  “Sometimes facing the world gets tiring too.”

Dahyun figures it out easily. Nayeon . She connects dots like a pro. Jeongyeon . Mina wishes she had half the astuteness, then she wouldn’t be here right now, hiding from the world and crying her anger out. 

Eventually they figure something out, and suddenly, Mina doesn’t feel all alone anymore. Dahyun smiles a little bit wider too, and Mina thinks it’s captivating if not entirely threatening because her heart is literally beating too fast at every sight of it. 

Stop.

When the world seems a tad less scarier, Dahyun walks Mina out. 

There’s something Mina wants to say but can’t exactly do so. One, it feels like it’s caught up in her throat, and two, she doesn’t know what it is. She just knows there’s something she has to say. She has something she wants to tell Dahyun. 

It might be rooting from the fact that Dahyun mentioned a magazine and Mina’s first thought is the stupid horoscope article Ms. Hong told her about weeks ago. 

Then, Mina remembers exactly what she wants to say to Dahyun, something about meeting her soulmate in a place where the world can’t find her, but the younger girls’ already about to leave. 

Think fast, Mina. 

“I have hot choco here if you like?”

Not too fast!

Dahyun shakes her head no. Mina feels her heart drop. Her throat tightens up and she feels sick. 

Dahyun tells her about talking to her unnies and Mina knows she doesn’t really have anything to use against that, right? She can’t tell Dahyun to wait for her to figure out how to use her damn words and spill her heart out everywhere. 

She wants to tell Dahyun.

“Oh, Dahyunnie!” 

 She really wants to. 

“The garden earlier…”

But Mina’s heart isn’t prepared for that yet. 

“It can be your hideout too.” 

Dahyun doesn’t deserve to be pulled into this mess too.

Mina will just have to forget about it. 

 


 

After that, the world becomes a lot less scarier to deal with. 

Dahyun doesn’t leave anymore. Mina wishes she could spend more time with the younger girl but the difference in their schedules just won’t permit her to and she really has to deal with the mess that is Nayeon and Jeongyeon first too. 

Thankfully a new kid arrives in town. Pretty weird if you ask Mina but who is she to say, really? She was also a new kid around. A new kid with the drama experience enough to write her own damn book. 

Mina regrets not being able to spend more time with Dahyun then but she’s already content with the younger girl staying around and just not avoiding her. 

So what if Dahyun makes her feel all light and warm again? That Dahyun appreciates her for who she is and doesn’t, at all, look at her with pity when she deals with her anger and emotions? That Dahyun is such an amazing person inside and out and that she has a weird POGS collection (Mina finds out a little later on, the younger girl’s a collector too!)

It’s a little alarming that Mina feels the way she does, but she convinces herself it’s just friendship.  

A beautiful friendship she should, at all cost, protect. 

Friendship. 

(Just like the result that comes out on Mina’s attempt at F.L.A.M.E.S.

Friends.

She plays for a second time just to be clear. For a fair result. 

Mina tries to do another method and frowns when it lands on E. Enemies?  

Really? Okay. Friends it is then.)

 

 

F L A M E S

Myoui Mina = 8
Kim Dahyun = 5
                    _______
                       13

 


 

(Mina never realizes the letter she missed.)

 

Chapter Text

Chaeyoung is weird, Dahyun thinks. 

The things that happen upon her arrival are even weirder. 

The new kid looks around with stars in her eyes, as if it's the first time she’s seen an avenue lined with arcades, video rental stores, pool houses, and all the fun temptations you see surrounding a school. She asks all the weird questions like who’s Tony Ahn and why is everyone wearing their hair up too high, and Dahyun has the half the mind to believe the smaller girl might actually be some kind of time traveler or just a really, really odd kid. 

I mean, who doesn’t know Tony!?

She’s also very unlucky, Dahyun surmises. 

She only got the memo on Chaeyoung’s living situation when they received the keys from Yumama downstairs. Ultimately, it makes Dahyun feel bad for the poor kid. It’s her first day in a new environment but then she’s just forcefully thrusted into the world of Im Nayeon and Yoo Jeongyeon’s mess, by ending up as the third roommate of the two most problematic people in school. 

As if the situation couldn’t get any more unfortunate, the first time Chaeyoung meets the entire gang, they’re raising voices at each other in the detention room, trying to compete over who gets to hurt more. 

Dahyun thinks everyone’s winning. 

It’s very unlucky and saddening, really, putting Chaeyoung in such a position so early on. If anything, it makes Dahyun want to stay by her side more. Because she deserves a good high school experience and Dahyun, more than anyone, knows how it feels like to not be “part of the show”. It’s also, partially, because, well, Dahyun thinks the best way to forget about her feelings for a certain someone is through focusing on something else. Someone else.

It seems like a fair move. Mina at the moment is fixated on trying to get through the issue she has with Nayeon, all sparked by the rumor the latter spread about her and Jeongyeon. Jeongyeon, on the other hand, is even more livid. Her relationship with Nayeon is already like a club sandwich, towering with layers and layers of unresolved tension and teenage drama. 

Dahyun is pretty much stuck with Chaeyoung, as Chaeyoung is stuck with her. 

She may be a little odd and a whole lot of bad timing , but Dahyun thinks it’s luck’s fault that she got to meet Chaeyoung. 

She just wished Chaeyoung would have chosen a better time coming into their lives. She should’ve walked in here at least a month ago, before The Incident happened, before Nayeon and Jeongyeon’s chaos began, before Mina happened. 

Everything would’ve been much better then. 

 


 

Dahyun moves around everyone in the best way she can. Because it’s times like these when she feels the most needed, the most useful. 

Jihyo looks defeated from the way she carries herself, shoulders slumped and steps dragging. She is already exhausted from having to deal with the entire student body and the nagging school administration, so Dahyun takes the role today and plays substitute. She’s always been the de facto Park Jihyo proxy, anyway. That is, in the absence of Yoo Jeongyeon. 

Before they leave the campus, Principal Park allows them to the clinic to get their fight marks treated. Dahyun’s the one who prepares the ice packs for Momo and Jeongyeon’s bruises,  the one who applies the antiseptic on Sana’s small scratches, and the one who delicately puts the bandage around Chaeyoung’s wound. 

Dahyun feels bad for pulling Chaeyoung into this. She’s already injured not even twenty-four hours into her first day. Not even the new student could save herself. It makes Dahyun frustrated with herself even more. 

The clinic is jarringly silent, just like the detention room before Nayeon and Jeongyeon erupted into another hurtful argument. 

Dahyun moves around to check on everyone, acting as the nurse after the last one from earlier had to clock out from duty hours. 

They’re all gathered in the general treatment area, a space of modern and lifeless white and blinding fluorescent lights. The deafening stillness and heavy tension in the air don’t help the situation. Everyone’s just sitting by the metal waiting benches near the doors, waiting for Yumama, waiting for the light.

“Why don’t you sit down, Dahyunnie?” Sana asks, dreary eyes looking forlornly at her. She’s sitting beside Momo, a blanket wrapped around them together. “You’ve been walking around so long. Your feet are gonna get hurt.” 

Dahyun’s tempted to join, the exhaustion is pulling at her lids and Sana is right, the soles of her feet feel like they’re burning with the friction, but she still needs to throw away the cotton balls she used for the wounds and fix the First Aid box they were permitted to use, and she doesn’t want to get the group involved in anymore trouble with the school administration, let alone the clinic and the grumpy nurses.

“It’s okay, unnie. I got this.” Dahyun forces a smile. She gets away with it. Sana’s honesty radar –something she uses to distinguish disguises from real emotions–mustn’t be working after all the exhaustion from the day’s drama. 

Dahyun gathers the used pads and tape skins in her latex glove-clad hand, the first aid kit in the other, and walks over to the nearest trash bin over the other side of the area. 

In her haze and exhaustion, she forgets to notice the other person in the room.

“Dahyun-ah?”  Mina sits criss-crossed on one of the beds far from the others, tending an ice pack on a bruise marring her forearm. 

Dahyun badly doesn’t want to notice Mina, to just pretend she didn’t feel like bursting into pieces at the mere proximity of the older girl. But Mina’s presence is blinding and all-encompassing, and Dahyun already feels guilty enough for disregarding her when she’s the one physically hurting the most.

Dahyun gives in. She throws the waste away on the designated bin before walking over to Mina. 

“Unnie…” Her heart sinks at the sight of the older girl. 

Dahyun wasn’t picking sides when she said Mina hurt most. Pain was subjective but the injuries Mina acquired were...the manifestation of Im Nayeon’s wrath. 

Mina has a few bruises on her forearm and one on the back of it, near her elbow. There are Band-Aids dispersed along her arms too, covering small scrapes and scratch marks. Her lids are puffy from the crying earlier and her cheeks are flushed in hues of red underneath the blindingly white light.

Mina had never looked so small in Dahyun’s eyes.

“Are you okay?” 

And yet here she was, asking someone else if they were okay.

How could you not like her? 

“I’m fine, unnie.” Dahyun smiles, the lie slipping off her tongue so easily now. Like second nature. 

She avoids Mina’s concerned gaze and notices the small tremble of the older girl’s shoulders. Dahyun remembers seeing a blanket from one of the other beds she passed by. “Are you cold, unnie?”

Before Mina could even respond, Dahyun’s already reaching for a blanket and draping it around the older girl’s shoulders, lips pressed into a taught smile. 

“There you go”, she mumbles. 

In her every movement, Dahyun feels Mina’s eyes follow, igniting a certain kind of warmth flourish and spread inside of Dahyun’s chest. The tip of her ears are already betraying her enough as it is, and her fingers are fumbling with each other behind her back. 

She looks every bit the awkward high school kid that she truly is. 

Sensing that Mina’s probably too exhausted to be bothered and Dahyun is just downright malfunctioning whenever she’s within the older girl’s space, Dahyun decides this is pretty much the best time to just excuse herself and disappear from Mina’s sight. 

“Uh...I’ll just...go ahead…” 

“Wait.” 

But the universe has other plans for her, of course. 

Dahyun halts in her steps, looks at Mina with raised eyebrows, hoping she doesn’t look too hopeful. 

Mina doesn’t say a word. She just gazes at Dahyun but not really at her, with a look that seems like she’s trying to decipher a code, head tilted, brows pinched together, all that.

Dahyun follows the trajectory of Mina’s gaze and lands on a shallow cut about a centimeter long by the side of her hand. A cut that Dahyun never knew existed until now, and never felt the pain of until she tried to touch it now. 

“Ow!” She yelps and begins blowing the pain away. Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch!

In a desperate attempt not to lose her cool in front of the older girl, Dahyun–despite the surge of tears (she never handled cuts well)–laughs uneasily over at Mina, “Haha. This tiny thing…” She looks up, trying to push down her tears. “I didn’t even know it was there! Hahaha.”

Mina reaches out for her hand. “Come here…” 

"No! Unnie, I’m okay!" Dahyun, however, tries her best to stay resolute. "This is just a small scratch. It doesn’t even hurt! Hahahahahahaha.” 

She doesn’t get to move away anymore when Mina grabs her wrist and pulls her down to sit on the space beside her. “I know it hurts, Dahyun. It’s a shallow cut.” 

Dahyun gives in and assures herself this’ll be the last time she does so. Give in, that is.

“I didn’t even feel it earlier…” She sighs in defeat, looking at the small gash while Mina puts down her ice pack and prepares a cotton swab of Betadine from the First Aid Kit Dahyun was holding earlier. 

“Probably because you were too busy taking care of the others that–” Mina holds Dahyun’s hand and looks into the younger girl’s eyes, “–you forgot to take care of yourself.” 

“Or…” Of course, Dahyun is like a stealthy little weasel when she tries to dodge these kinds of talks. “I just really didn’t notice, unnie...” 

“You can’t not though?” Mina focuses on the cut, dabbing the antiseptic-soaked cotton bud softly. “Shallow cuts hurt more than deep wounds because they don’t bleed.” 

That sounded way more complex to Dahyun than how it should have. 

“Do you know why paper cuts hurt so much more than they should?”

Dahyun honestly has no idea what the correlation is or where the conversation is even going, but Mina talks in such an alluringly soft and earnest way that just enchants her, she’s beguiled to listen with every fiber of her being. 

“The hands of a person are the most sensitive parts of the body and the ends of the fingertips have a lot of nerve endings that sense the pain. Paper cuts are small and shallow, and most of the time they rarely bleed...” Mina continues on dabbing at Dahyun’s cut, unaware of the way Dahyun’s staring at her intently. “But even with that, they still hurt. They’re still really painful.” 

Dahyun wonders just how someone could be so gifted at everything. Mina Myoui is literally talent, beauty, and brilliance all in one. God really has favorites?!

“Wow...unnie...I…wow.” She’s even at a loss for words. 

“Some wounds may look shallow. Some don’t even bleed. But they’re still wounds, Dahyun. They can hurt much more than what meets the eye.” Mina finishes the cut and unwraps a plain Band-Aid.

Dahyun is only left watching in silence as Mina places the Band-Aid over her small cut. She finishes it off with a light, almost feathery tap at the edges to secure the adhesive, and then proceeds to look at the younger girl dead in the eyes. 

“You were hurt too, Dahyun.” With the way she says it, Dahyun feels like being stripped bare, layer from layer. Vulnerable. Transparent. 

“You were just too busy taking care of other people, you forgot about yourself.” 

Mina doesn’t look like she knows she’s capable of such power. Dahyun should be scared and yet here she is, feeling even more pulled in. Hook, line, and sinker. She’s far too gone. 

“It wasn’t even bad, unnie.” She barely gets to mumble it across, feigning aloofness.

“Pain is pain, Dahyunnie. And sometimes…” Mina lowers her voice to a mumble, as if even she’s trying to hide away from the words she’s about to say. 

“Sometimes, we feel the real, bad pain from the smallest of things.” A bad score on a quiz? A missing pen? Running out of mocha buns? “Pain is pain. No one should tell you how to feel about it. How you should hurt.” 

Dahyun thinks whatever they’re talking about, it isn’t her small gash anymore. It’s a cut made on Mina, deep inside of her. A wound Dahyun won’t be able to heal. No one other than herself. 

“You don’t look so good yourself too, you know?” She doesn’t mean for it to sound a little too inculpating. Dahyun just thought, well, if she’s here taken apart layer by layer for the whole world to see, then Mina should be too, right? 

She seems to understand point-on what Dahyun is talking about because her eyes follow the direction of the younger girl’s frown and sees it land on her arm. She stills for a second, as if thinking of what to say, what excuse to use, but then realizes the situation and understands, there is no way she could keep pretending to be strong at the face of every important person in her life. 

Mina just smiles, quietly, sadly. “They look worse than they feel.” 

“You just said pain is pain.” 

“Well, these are bearable. I’ll just have to hide them with makeup or something.” 

“They don’t hurt?” 

Mina shakes her head. “Nope.” Yes. So much. 

“Okay.” Dahyun doesn’t believe Mina, but she’ll just have to. No one should tell you how to feel about it. How you should hurt. “If they do, my mom has this special ointment that she uses on me when I was a kid. I have it in the dorm. I could give you some.” 

Dahun will just try to be there while Mina takes care of it herself. She’ll be there for Mina not as a lovesick high school kid, but as someone Mina can call a friend. 

When Mina smiles back at her, Dahyun doesn’t feel that familiar out-of-cadence heartbeat anymore. She’s calm and collected, and she can look right into Mina’s eyes and assure herself, she’ll be there for the older girl. Because that would be much better than not having Mina in her life at all. 

(Besides, Dahyun has Chaeyoung now. Weird kids need a weird friend too.)

Jeongyeon arrives just in time, in Mina’s life and in this exact moment. She has a blanket wrapped around her shoulders too, a familiar patchwork one Dahyun recognizes as a throw blanket from Yumama’s office. 

“Hey”, the dashing soccer captain smiles her dashing, charismatic Yoo Jeongyeon Smile over at Mina’s direction before ruffling at Dahyun’s hair. “Yumama’s here. You two good to go?” 

Mina nods, standing up. She holds down at her blanket, nuzzling herself in, and follows behind Jeongyeon as they make their way out of the clinic. Dahyun finds herself the last one heading out. 

The sight that greets her in the hallway has her stopping in her tracks. 

Chaeyoung’s sitting down beside Nayeon, back pressed against the wall like the older girl, willingly sacrificing herself for the flames. 

Before she can even say anything, warn Chaeyoung of her impending doom just by sitting near the devil herself, the new kid is already eyeing her, nodding at her as if she could understand just how confused Dahyun’s head is at what she’s doing and assuring her she can do this. She’s going to do this. 

For a new kid, she’s awfully confident, Dahyun thinks. If she feels comfortable enough with setting herself up for disaster then Dahyun will just do what she does best: Damage control. She’s already exhausted enough as it is, acting as some human barrier while Nayeon tried to strangle Mina with her bare hands earlier. She doesn’t have the energy to human-shield her way for this again.

“I’ll pray for you then.” She mouths back instead, doing the Sign of the Cross as she passes, patting Chaeyoung on the head.

Dahyun spares the two one last look, gives Chaeyoung one last chance to save herself, but the new kid is already facing away, towards Nayeon. 

She’s actually doing it. Chaeyoung’s talking to the devil. 

Dahyun gives up, finally closing the heavy school doors behind her and walking over to Yumama’s station wagon waiting for them outside.

 


 

The drive back to the dorm is tense and silent.. Dahyun’s never felt that scared her entire life.

They rarely get to ride Yumama’s wagon and when they do, Jihyo makes sure it’s always filled with fun and laughter, as it should when riding it were a group of young girls with the energy amounting to ten nightclubs combined

Now it was just quiet and heavy, as if a cloud of tension had dropped below and covered them up like morning fog. 

Jeongyeon sat still by the passenger seat. Mina busies herself looking out the window while Sana was asleep on Momo’s shoulder by the second row. Jihyo and Dahyun exchanged forlorn breaths by the rear seats, facing the campus they were driving away from. 

The moment they arrive at the dorm, everyone moves around like a line of sad baby ducklings or kicked puppies. Mina’s the only one who leaves the group to use the stairs. Everyone else takes the elevator to the fourth floor. Even the ride up is agonizingly awkward. 

Somehow, an unspoken settlement is made within the group.

Momo lends a sleeping bag to Jeongyeon when Jihyo decides the best thing to do for now, in order to avoid furthermore damage, is to make sure Mina, Nayeon, and Jeongyeon are never in the same room ever again. Jeongyeon will be sleeping over at Jihyo and Dahyun’s for the meantime. 

(Momo’s dorm had long been off-limits to them. Somehow, it was only Sana allowed in there and everyone kind of just...collectively understood without being given any reason why. It’s Sana and Momo. Momo and Sana. That’s all they have to know to understand)

Dahyun’s the one who prepares Jeongyeon’s sleeping area, spreading the comforter on the aisle between the two beds while her unnies talk in hushed whispers by the hall. Nayeon and Chaeyoung are still nowhere in sight and frankly, Dahyun’s already on her seventh Hail Mary praying for her new friend’s life. 

Momo and Sana both press chaste kisses on her cheek before they leave to call it a (tiring) night. It's Casual day in school tomorrow and Sana still has to drive home. 

Jihyo and Jeongyeon take a while outside and the exhaustion just tugs down at Dahyun, unable to keep her awake the moment her body feels the comfort of her bed. She falls asleep first, with the radio playing Air Supply’s All Out of Love like a sick joke from the universe.

Jihyo thinks it’s for the better that their little sunshine friend didn’t stay up late and wait for them to go back. 

Dahyun wouldn’t want to hear Jeongyeon crying that night. 

 


 

It’s in these kinds of days when Dahyun questions who on earth thought it was a good idea to hold a club meeting at 7AM in the morning.

To make matters worse, Jeongyeon ended up sleeping beside her on her bed that night. Although Dahyun always enjoyed being in her unnie’s space, it had become a taxing feat trying to weasel her way out of the older girl’s spooning. Dahyun had to move around the dorm like some ninja just to avoid waking her unnies up, and on more than one occasion, almost tripped and fell flat on her face. 

Casual Day was an important day in school. It was only nine hours per month, a grand total of 108 per academic year, where every student was allowed the freedom to express themselves through their clothes and fashion (granted no one walked around naked). 

Dahyun had a streak of Best Dressed awards (although only achieved within her class of 36 other students but it’s the thought that counts, really) and this year was supposed to be her best one yet. She had a flapper dress prepared for god’s sake! 

But because of what happened last night and how her exhausted ass couldn’t even stay up a few minutes more to prepare her clothes and things for casual day, Kim Dahyun–Class 2-1’s Best Dressed student for fourteen months in a row–is dressed in a checkered overall and whatever thick-soled sandals she could easily slip on. Her hair looks like a bird’s nest and to top it all off, she’s also running late for the earth club meeting (and Kim Dahyun never runs late; she also has a streak of Punctuality awards she's proud of).

Yep, today is not her day. Something about it tells her it’s not going to be a good one too. 

 


 

If there’s one thing that Dahyun genuinely enjoys whenever she goes to school early, it’s the tranquility of the campus when it’s not imbued with overly-active hormonal teenagers and nosy teachers. When the PA isn’t blasting any classic 80s song from Coach Hyojin’s collections; when the rowdy basketball boys aren’t trying to turn the cafeteria into some underground fight club with how loud they are; or simply when there aren’t any people at all. 

Dahyun likes this. Quiet. Calm. Peaceful. 

Then, there’s Mina. And suddenly, Dahyun finds herself even more mesmerized. 

“You’re here early.” Mina notes, closing her locker lightly. Behind her, the morning sunlight spills into the windows, casting a divine backdrop that makes Mina look like she's in a movie still, immaculate and perfect.

She has a few notebooks in her hold when she faces a surprised Dahyun with a quizzical smile, “Is this why I never got to walk with you to school in the morning? Because you come here before they even allow students inside?” 

Dahyun chuckles at that, snaps out of her enchanted haze. “It pays to befriend the school keepers, you know.” 

Mina’s laughter echoes in the empty hallway, filling in the bleakness with bubbles of joy. Even the way she guffaws makes Dahyun’s cackle sound outlandish and poor.

“Good thing I already did, right?” The older girl walks over with meek steps. It’s only then Dahyun notices Mina’s still clad in...very un-Mina-like clothes for Casual day (assuming that someone as high society as Mina wouldn’t go to school in a mismatched tracksuit and crocs)

“Why are you here so early then, unnie?” Dahyun can’t help but wonder. “I’m here for a club meeting. Your classes don’t start ‘til 9AM?” 

“I came to pick up my things.” Mina lifts her notebooks in hand to show.

Oh. "You're not coming to school today?"

"I was thinking of not to…" Mina trails off sheepishly, looking down on the newly-waxed hallway tiles. "My arms kind of hurt and...I don't know. I just. I'm kinda not in the mood today?"

"Oh. I get that…" Dahyun nods. "Do you...want to hang out with me then?” 

“Oh...um…” Mina’s trail of uncertainty is enough of an answer to Dahyun. She’s not ready for rejection so early in the morning. 

“Or not! That’s okay! Just rest!” She fakes her smile, swallows the sour taste of dismissal down her throat. “Sometimes I just wanna stay in bed too and just sleep all day but Jihyo unnie wouldn't let that happen. She can get really stubborn, you know?"

The awkward tension doesn’t last long on Mina’s part. Dahyun, on the other hand, tries to stuff it away. They continue their talk while walking down the hall, to the door by the end that leads to the open field (for Dahyun) and another exit much closer to the dorms (for Mina). 

"She scares me sometimes…" Mina admits and Dahyun realizes this might just be the first time Mina sounded human to her. Of course. No mortal is immuned to the intimidation prowess of one Park Jihyo. 

"She scares everyone, unnie." Dahyun opens the door wide for Mina to pass through. They end up by the pathwalk that separates in two. This is where they part ways. “No one really gets past her.” 

Mina only laughs at that, thankfully, because if she said something else, Dahyun might have just skipped the Earth Club meeting then and there and just walk with the older girl and talk about their common friends, of good tales and quirky memories made long before they permanently became an ensemble of damage-control people. 

“I better head off now, unnie.” She points over to the bunch of students gathered by the field, seated on the lush greenery, probably looking through grass patches again. “Earth kids are already there.” 

“Yeah. Sure. Have fun!” Mina nods, watching as Dahyun jogs over to her clubmates. 

Dahyun doesn’t look back at Mina’s retreating figure. She thinks if she did, she might as well have ditched the Earth Club meeting. 

 


 

Mina thinks Dahyun is amazing. 

She thinks that the kindness in her heart is wonderful and spreading warmth to everyone who walks into her life. She thinks that Dahyun’s blonde hair is as bright as her personality. Her gentle words are as soft as her features. Her smile is beautiful and her laugh is contagious. 

Mina thinks Dahyun is like the pause of silence after lightning and thunder. The pitter-patter of rain. She’s the warmth of a good blanket on a particularly cold night. 

Dahyun is every bit the innocence and sincerely Mina wished to have. With Dahyun, it seemed like she was endless. The space in her heart could fit all the people in the world, and more. 

Mina thinks Dahyun is amazing.

She’s very lucky to have her as a friend.

 


 

Okay, so they did end up picking bundles of grass leaves again. Dahyun isn’t surprised nor is she exactly impressed.

She already has pieces of grass sticking out from her clothes. A freshman had to pluck out stray twigs from her hair (they had to look closely because there were only a few magnifying glasses to use). Whatever. It’s done now.

Dahyun will probably head to her locker to grab her books for class. It’s half an hour before Homeroom begins and she still plans to meet Chaeyoung to introduce her to their classmates. Yes. “Their”. God was kind enough to spare her this one. Now Dahyun has 37 classmates voting for her as Best Dressed. 

“Yo! Dubu!” 

Dahyun walks out of the gym restroom startling. 

She should have known Jackson Wang would be around. The Basketball team had been going the extra mile training for their pre-season minor leagues. It was like they lived in the gym at this point. 

Jackson is all sweaty when he runs over to meet Dahyun by the heavy metal doors. Still, he does that thing where he headlocks her and ruffles her hair like an annoying older brother. 

(Dahyun will never admit that she likes it. It’s kinda nice having a brother-like friend for once)

“Haven’t seen you in a while, little tofu. Where have you been? Good thing I ran into you now. I was just on my way to the dorms to steal something from Bambam.” Jackson is still in his training attire with a towel around his neck and his gym bag hanging from one shoulder. 

“By the way, I heard about the whole...Nayeon-Mina fiasco. Are you guys okay? Is Jihyo’s blood pressure still normal?” 

Dahyun feels bad for laughing at the last part. “Unnie’s fine, oppa. And...yeah. We’re um...still trying to fix things out in the group.” 

“Uhuh…” Jackson trails off, hesitant. They turn down the main hall connected to the gym, making their way to the stairs that lead to the classrooms. “And how about you? Did you fix things? About...you know…”

Dahyun feared it would be brought up again. It was like throwing a lit match to gasoline. But she didn’t exactly expect anything else from the older guy. After all, he was the only person who knew deep down Dahyun’s worries. 

“It’s...it’s hard, oppa.” And Dahyun knows all too well, Jackson was there for her when she thought she didn’t have anyone. It was only fair to be transparent with him. “I like her, you know? But I...I really think we should just be friends. She doesn’t even swing that way!” 

“You’ll never know?” Jackson shrugs and Dahyun eyes him with an incredulous frown. “I mean! You’ll never know the direction the ball will go if you don’t...swing the bat? Swing that way? I don’t know! I play basketball for a reason, sunshine.”

“I just want to keep what’s good, I guess? I don’t want to destroy my friendship with the unnies just because I had a stupid little crush.” 

“It’s not stupid if it makes you feel this way.” 

“It is stupid because it did.” Dahyun points out. “And I’d really not risk anything else. We can just be friends.” 

“I mean, you guys are best friends…” 

“Hm…” Dahyun purses her lips, unsure of the term just yet. “Not quite. That’s too much to say.” 

“You guys hang out a lot.” Jackson states matter-of-factly. “You’re like, two peas in a pod now.” 

“Because we belong to the same friend group”, Dahyun pushes Jackson away when he tries to ruffle her hair again. “And I just really want to get over her, you know? To get past this. But I don’t know how!” 

“I have an idea but I’m not sure if this’ll roll with you…” 

Truthfully speaking, Dahyun is afraid to consider whatever it is Jackson is thinking of suggesting. The last time she went through with one of his ideas, Dahyun almost ended up in jail (long story short, never sniff baby powder in your hand when you’re sitting by the side of the street. Cops think it’s Mary Jane)

But Dahyun is kinda desperate now. If she has to then she will. Just to get over her little crush on Mina and for her life to return back to normal. If she can’t do it for herself, then she’ll do it for Mina and Jeongyeon instead. They deserve better. 

“No violent reactions, okay?” 

Dahyun only raises an eyebrow. 

“Here’s my idea.” Jackson takes a deep breath.

Dahyun feels like doing the same. 

“Confess to her.”  

Dahyun feels like getting bitch-slapped. “Over. My. Dead. Body.” 

“I said no violent reactions!” 

“That was hardly a good idea, oppa! I can’t confess to Mina unnie! That’s...that’s bonkers!” 

"Wait a minute." Jackson halts in his steps. 

Dahyun stops to frown at him back. "What?"

"Mina? As in Sharon Myoui? Hot ballerina chick from 4-3?"

"Um? There are no other Minas I hang out with? I mean, Kang Mina sunbae is cool but...she's not really my type? Wait." Dahyun walks over to the frowning basketball captain. "Who'd you thought I was yapping about all this time then?" 

"I thought you were crushing on Jeong!"

Thank goodness the halls were still empty. Dahyun would have smacked Jackson then and there for being so loud. 

"What the–what made you think that?!"  

And for being so dumb.

Jackson is just as exasperated as Dahyun is. "I mean, close friends?! Same group?! Nayeon fiasco?! I really thought I connected the dots there!"

"Well. You didn't." Dahyun bites. She feels a bad migraine creeping on. "All the ranting I did sounds so stupid now." 

There's a trail of silence between them. Like the realization finally hitting them both. For Dahyun it's humiliation, for Jackson it’s everything finally making sense. 

And then, there's the muffled chuckles that become full-on cackling and wheezing.

"What's so funny?"

"Mina Myoui?" Jackson tries to catch his breath. "You couldn't have crushed on someone...I don't know, more achievable? Realistic?"

"Shut up, oppa!" Dahyun punches on a well-built arm. It’s like trying to hit a brick wall. "I'm already frustrated as it is! You're not helping! You said you'd help!"

"Sorry, sorry!" Jackson laughs, rubbing at the spot Dahyun hit. "Well, if it's hot ballerina chick Mina then I suggest you think of a more romantic confession—"

"I'm not confessing!"

"But it helps!" Jackson exclaims to rival Dahyun's burst. "It really does, kiddo! Don't confess for the reason of expecting something in return. Confess because you want to move on. And one way to do that is to confront the situation. You don't need to do it like how I did with Youngji. Writing letters and having her friends leave it on her desk and playing Spandau Ballet over my head outside of her window—"

"You did what—"

"Point is!" Jackson interjects, cheeks warming up at the memory. Dahyun eyes him suspiciously. 

"Confess. Do it how you're most comfortable with. You don't even have to let her know your feelings."

"Then what's the point if she doesn't find out?"

"Getting it off your chest. Accepting the situation. You fell for her, so what? Something like that." 

Jackson's becoming a little too convincing, Dahyun's scared. "Are you sure that's a good idea, oppa?"

"Well, it worked for me?" Jackson shrugs. "Youngji did find out though. And she kicked my ass at Deux for pestering her with the letters and the Say Anything move outside her house. Said I was no John Cusack and they almost called the police on me for trespassing."

"Oh my god—"

"But then we kissed outside Deux after that and bam! We're dating. Star-crossed lovers. Couple of the Year, no doubt." 

Dahyun...was not expecting that. "Wow…"

"I know, right? Anyways, you just have to be creative, Dubs. Romantic. You got all that!" Jackson grins cheekily, brows moving up and down annoyingly. 

Dahyun contemplates on the persuading suggestion. It made sense, even if Dahyun didn't know how it did and what sense it made. Confronting the situation sounded more pragmatic than just wishing the feelings would magically go away…

"Oh. Hold up." Jackson halts. They're a few feet away from the stairs now, and the first wave of students are rushing in already. 

Dahyun looks up at the tall basketball captain. "What now?"

"Mina, right?" 

"For the millionth time, yes." Dahyun groans.

"Nayeon-Jeongyeon, Nayeon-Mina, Mina-Jeongyeon? That Mina?"

"Way to summarize the situation, oppa. You could do a soap opera with that relationship web while we're at it." 

Jackson purses his lips. "Oh. You gotta be more creative if you're going up against Jeong. That girl's got some sleek moves."

"I'm not competing against unnie for—"

"Oh! How 'bout a mixtape? That's creative and cute!" 

Dahyun sees the rest of Jackson's friends waiting for him by the other end of the lobby. "What are you talking about—"

"Confess through a mixtape. You can use my recorder if you need. I already have an idea for the most fitting first song." Jackson waves at one of his guys, preparing to go.

Dahyun, on the other hand, can't believe the older guy is actually proposing a brilliant idea. Makes more sense than her pray-the-gay-away agenda. 

"You guys can even call yourselves that." Jackson grins that shit-eating smile, slowly walking away to his friends. "Make it the first song in your confession mix!"

Dahyun practically has to shout, "What is it?"

(You know that moment when two people try to talk in a crowded room? Everyone’s hustling and it’s noisy and rowdy. But the moment, the very moment, one of the two tries to say something really...personal...suddenly, the room stills and the hustle stops.)

"Bizarre Love Triangle! New Order!" Jackson laughs, unaware of the silence and all the eyes suddenly looking at them. "Perfect, huh? You guys are one heck of a Bizarre Love Triangle!”

This is that moment. And frankly, Dahyun never wanted to smack a person so hard her entire life (and probably thank them too) until this.

 


 

The walk back to the dorm is quiet and helpful for contemplating. 

Mina thinks of what’s been happening these past months ever since transferring. She thinks of how she could’ve done better had she chosen a different school.  Then she thinks of becoming the bigger person because no, her mother wouldn’t like it if she found out her daughter can’t stick up for herself. Im Nayeon doesn’t look like the type of person to easily get rid of her grudge against someone. 

Thankfully, Mina is. 

The universe, in its own subtle ways, seems to tell her to be the bigger person too. Because when Mina arrives at the dorm, the first person she sees is Jeongyeon.

“Mina…” it barely leaves Jeongyeon’s lips in a gasp. Mina is unsure how she heard her but she did. “I didn’t think you’d be late for first class.”

Mina hides with a soft, warm smile, the bitter taste clawing up her throat just by the mere mention of her classes and how she’s about to miss them. “I…I was kind of not sure if I wanted to go to school today…”

“Wow. Coming from you?” Jeongyeon teases. “I’m shocked.”   

Mina only shrugs her shoulders with a playful smile. She doesn’t know what to say, to be honest. Jeongyeon always leaves her like a flustered mess. It’s always something about the girl’s overall perfection that astounds Mina. How could someone like Yoo Jeongyeon exist? 

“I was planning on taking Chaeyoung out to this cool place.” Jeongyeon suddenly speaks up, pulling Mina out of her daze. “Do you…want to come with us?”

Mina hates that she doesn’t think twice. The old her would probably be glaring badly right now, unimpressed. Her perfect attendance record is at stake here. But with everything that’s been happening around her, and how Mina’s awfully trying to get rid of something else she can’t quite face just yet, for the sake of forgetting, Mina tries to make a new memory instead. 

“Sure. I’ll come with you guys.”

And Jeongyeon has always been just there for her.

 


 

As it turns out, the day unfolds just like how Dahyun expected it to be: Bad. 

The first thing that greets her in the classroom is an empty seat by the window, right beside her own desk. The seat is where Chaeyoung’s supposed to be sitting (Dahyun called dibs on it, kicking out her old seatmate, Jungwoo. It was beside her or beside Class President Soyeon’s seat, and frankly, Dahyun thinks the class would be better off with her and Chaeyoung together than separated.)

Because Soyeon knows everything walking in and out of the class, she’s the one Dahyun goes to for Chaeyoung’s whereabouts. She receives the worst answer in the world. 

“We have a new student?” 

Dahyun feels like her heart just dropped to her stomach. “What do you mean ‘we have a new student’? You didn’t know?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t?” Soyeon looks half-genuine, half confused with what she’s apologizing for. “But our adviser didn’t tell me anything about an incoming student?” 

“But—” 

Dahyun racks her brain for anything but it only dawns on her then how, in hindsight, no one in class ever mentioned or heard of a new student coming in. Unlike when Mina had transferred, she was already the talk of the town before she even arrived. With Chaeyoung, however, it’s like no one even knows she exists! 

“Is that why Jungwoo is sitting next to me right now?” Soyeon asks, not bothering to look up at the confused frown Dahyun’s sporting, instead continuing with the doodling at the back of her notebook. 

“Yeah. But.” Dahyun tilts her head. “I don’t get it. Where is she?” 

On her plastic watch it’s already less than five minutes ‘til the bell rings. Chaeyoung doesn’t seem to be the type of student who doesn’t care about her attendance record. 

“Maybe she’s lost?” 

“But I showed her around already!” The outburst is Dahyun’s low and out of pure, accumulated frustration. It’s even more embarrassing when she looks down and sees Soyeon eyeing her oddly.

Thankfully, Soyeon never judges. She just eyes people weirdly and then proceeds to go on her way. That’s why she’s the class president. She couldn’t care less whether the Woo duo (Jungwoo and Chanwoo) are at their shenanigans again or whether Eunbi is this close to strangling them both with her bare hands. So as long as no one’s dying then Soyeon’s good to go. 

“Maybe she’s with your other friends? Nayeon sunbaenim?” 

Then, the light above Dahyun’s head switches on. “Oh yeah! Right!” 

Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?

Dahyun sprints outside and makes a beeline for the staircase right beside their classroom. It’s only to her fortune (and misfortune) that the first person she sees is the exact person she’s looking for. 

“Nayeon! I was just coming up to go see you!” The name just kinda rolls off Dahyun’s tongue like acid. She feels guilty for her lack of honorifics, but then she remembers Nayeon hates her too and then the absence of “unnie” just feels okay again.

It feels weird seeing Nayeon without her cheerleading uniform, Dahyun thinks. It even feels weirder when Nayeon tells her she’s also looking for Chaeyoung and there is actual, genuine dread in her face. 

Ever since Chaeyoung came, everything’s becoming weirder and weirder…

“Have you seen Jeongyeon unnie?” The stupidity of the question only registers on Dahyun a beat after Nayeon eyes her with an are-you-serious look. 

Dahyun escapes the awkward situation by calling out for the first person she sees. “Jihyo unnie!” 

Of course, when it comes to saving the day, Park Jihyo is there. It’s almost like she has a sensor for when something is wrong. 

The Student Council President heads over to them, walking with authority every step of the way, the heels of her loafers hitting on the newly-waxed floors as if it had ever done her wrong. (Now Dahyun truly understands why Mina was intimidated with her at first glance. Jihyo looks like she could end you with just one gaze) 

“Next time you decide to Naruto-run yourself down the hall, make sure I don’t see it, Nayeon.” Jihyo says first, arms crossed over her chest. 

She eyes the two girls before her with an unamused signature look whenever her trouble senses kick in. “What happened now?” 

When Nayeon mentions Jackson Wang missing class, Dahyun sees thunderbolts light in Jihyo’s eyes. It makes her want to take it back when she adds Chaeyoung’s absence too. 

It doesn’t take much–or anything at all–for the three of them to connect the dots. It’s casual day. Jackson Wang is absent. Jeongyeon is gone. Chaeyoung is new around and naïve.

It’s the perfect day to skip classes.

“Fuck!” 

It’s the first time Dahyun’s heard Jihyo curse. That says a lot when they’re roommates and they spend more than half the day together. 

“Nayeon, go get Sana. We’ll need her car. Dubu, get Momo. She won’t ever live this down if we don’t bring her along. Meet me behind the west bleachers in ten.”

Jihyo’s already marching away after that, leaving both Nayeon and Dahyun outright jumbled, mouths hanging ajar and just watching the intimidating girl walk out of sight.

“Was that…a plan?” Dahyun eventually croaks out, visibly rattled with what she’s just witnessed and what she’s just heard. “Are we…are we sneaking out?!”

Nayeon doesn’t even answer. She runs back down to the hall and disappears into a classroom. Dahyun doesn’t have any idea what the fuck is happening but her feet are already sprinting down the hall, to the open field where Momo’s probably at. 

It’s the first time in her entire life that she’s cutting classes–or skipping in this case, since classes haven’t started yet–and she already feels like a rebel, all bad and bitchy (well, not bitchy. She’s still a nice and sunny girl). 

It’s only when they’re huddled up in Sana’s car that Dahyun realizes what’s happening, that she’s about to get an imperfect mark on her card, and that she’s about to get ripped off of her Punctuality award. 

She also realizes then, inside that floral-scented luxurious car, this is the first time in what feels like forever where they’re not forced into the same space, left breathing in the same tense air. 

This time it’s loose and chaotic, and the only tension in the car is Im Nayeon trying to make sure they arrive at wherever they’re trying to go in one piece, because while Park Jihyo is 99.9% a genius at everything, that 0.1% is her driving. 

“Where are we even going?!” Sana practically has to shout as she holds onto the handle for dear life. 

Jihyo’s sounds like she’s trying to compose the world’s most irritating piece ever with her consecutive honking. (Lesson learned: don’t ever let Jihyo drive again)

The honking eventually stops (thankfully) by the red stoplight. Sana’s panting for air, Momo looks like a scared cat, and Dahyun...well Dahyun feels like she’s seeing her life flash before her very eyes. It proves to be the worst decision yet, sitting in the middle, seatbelt-less, while Jihyo’s driving. 

Did I ever do the universe wrong to deserve this!? Did I ever curse someone to be this unlucky!? Am I actually going to—

“Wait.” Nayeon’s the only one who seems used to Jihyo’s driving. She’s composed by the passenger’s seat, not even flinching when Jihyo almost hit an old man. “The diner. It’s open early on weekdays, right?”

Geniuses must think alike because everyone in the car understands what Nayeon is trying to imply and all Dahyun says is, “What?” 

But no one answers her. They’re all busy holding on for dear life when Jihyo literally speeds down the driveway, heading to Deux. 

 


 

Honestly, as if the day couldn’t get any worse, it just does. 

It goes like this: Nayeon and Jihyo turn absolute monster mode on Jeongyeon. The moment they catch is brief, and Dahyun didn’t even really witness it, but she does see Baek Yerin in the flesh today, and she thinks it’s enough to know this is not going to end well. Sana and Momo rush inside the arcade to get Mina while Dahyun stays behind to “protect” Chaeyoung. 

The premise looks exaggerated on the outside, Dahyun thinks. They’re in an arcade, in the middle of the class hours, and Jihyo and Nayeon are reprimanding Jeongyeon’s ears off, and for what? For taking Mina and Chaeng to the arcade? For skipping classes?

Dahyun thinks the reasons in question are Jihyo’s justifications. Because that’s her job. She tries to make sure, as much as possible, no one in the group gets in anymore trouble. For goodness’ sake, she’s the student council president! 

Nayeon, on the other hand… Dahyun believes she doesn’t care about Jeongyeon being some kind of “bad influence” on Chaeyoung and, especially, on Mina. Nayeon’s the bad influence herself.  Dahyun thinks there’s more to her anger than the obvious. 

Dahyun knows there’s more. After all, this used to be her and Jeongyeon’s safe place. Back when they weren’t trying to strangle each other with hurtful words and ill-intended actions. Back to a time that seemed so impossible now, when the two were actual friends. Best Friends. (Sometimes, even more). 

And for Jeongyeon to bring Mina here, the day after they literally just fought, is like trying to burn Nayeon’s shattered pieces to the ground.  

Dahyun, for once, can feel the intensity of Nayeon’s pain. 

Because she feels it too. Like her ashes being blown away by the wind. And she doesn’t even get it. She doesn’t even know who she’s getting this pain from. 

Is it from Jeongyeon who brought Chaeyoung here, to this place, their place, and snuck her out when she never did that with Dahyun? Not once? 

Or is it from Mina? Who said she wasn’t feeling well for school when Dahyun asked if she wanted to hang out but then proceeded to come with Jeongyeon to their place?  

Dahyun understands it now, in a way, where Nayeon’s coming from. Even if she tries to push the bitter feeling down, the tinge of pain is still there. 

The only difference between Nayeon and Dahyun here is that Nayeon has the strength to fight for who she wants. Dahyun, on the other hand, chooses to walk away from hers. 

Because even without saying it, between who’s there and who’s not, Mina and Jeongyeon already made their choice. Both of them didn’t choose Dahyun. 

 


 

(The curtain that separates the front and backstage falls and the line blurs there.  

Dahyun begins losing her character 

This is where it ends.) 

 


 

It’s like watching a battle to see who gets to shatter more. Who gets to crumble and wallow in pain first. And while Nayeon and Jeongyeon are trying to fight for who gets to hurt the other more, within the confines of Sana’s car, between Mina and Dahyun, they don’t even have to fight.  

Dahyun’s carelessly slipping, and slipping, and falling hard. Fast. Hurting more. 

And Mina doesn’t even know.

She’s too busy trying to figure out something else. Trying to focus on other issues like, say, Chaeyoung’s onslaught of queries regarding the chaotic mess that is Im Nayeon and Yoo Jeongyeon’s relationship. 

“Do they hate each other?” 

Dahyun thinks that’s one way to say it. 

“Who? Nayeon and Jeongyeon?” Momo, from the backseat, is too wrapped up in trying to tune out the noise by covering an ear–the one she hears better with, the right ear–with the counterpart side of the headphones.

Chaeyoung nods silently, wearily. Dahyun feels bad for her and feels confused with herself too. Why isn’t she mad at Chaeyoung when she’s literally the person everyone in the group is trying to replace her with? 

“Given their past”, Momo shrugs nonchalantly, still busy with the Discman. “I wouldn’t say exactly that.”

The answer is as confusing as it gets. Dahyun wants to clarify it, make things easier for Chaeyoung to understand. Because whilst Dahyun feels an achingly bitter churning at the mere thought of everyone else choosing Chaeyoung and not her, she still feels this deep inclination to make things easier for Chaeyoung. To not let her get entangled in the mess as much as she is. 

But no words escape Dahyun’s lips. Not a fraction of a thought even occurs to her because she, herself, doesn’t greatly understand Jeongyeon and Nayeon’s relationship. 

Because ever since she could empathize with Nayeon’s anger, ever since she saw the layers of pain underneath the resentment on Nayeon’s face, Dahyun stopped trying to understand the complexities of their relationship. 

She stopped trying to make everything sound like it’s child’s play because it’s not. Because pain is real and encompassing, it’s bones crushing and breaths shortening, and chests hurting. It’s real hurtful ones spewn out one after the other, and it’s regret and a lot of it. And Dahyun has no place and no right to belittle the pain Nayeon’s feeling when she didn’t even have any idea of just how it hurt. 

She had long painted Nayeon in dark hues of black and tones of bloody red, in pointy edges and unfinished strokes. She had long carved her out to be this bad villain, the monster of the play. 

Little did Dahyun know, in the end, it was Nayeon she’d feel for the most. It was Nayeon whose pain Dahyun would grow to understand more.

It’s at Sana’s words, “You’re too young to understand”, when Dahyun snaps out of her thoughts. 

Sana’s trying awfully too hard dodging the topic. 

"Just tell her", Momo finally gives in,  arms crossed over her chest. "She isn't a kid, Satang."

They’re all trying awfully too hard sweeping the mess under the rug. 

"And besides, unnie", Dahyun finally speaks up from the driver's seat, in a tone she tries to soften the edges of. "She's going to be stuck with the two from now on. Chaeng's the one going to suffer the most."

Mina, however, doesn’t even try. 

“They’re each other’s booty calls.” 

The shock is apparent in the way the entire car stills in silence. Momo’s Discman isn’t even playing anything. Sana’s just staring wide-eyed in the open. Chaeyoung looks about the same. Dahyun, on the other hand, stuffs down the scoff threatening to slip. 

"Wait. Nayeon unnie has a boyfriend…?"

"She does." Dahyun answers, detached. "Look at where she is now though."

"But…" Chaeyoung trails off, looking like she just can’t comprehend the information she’s receiving. 

Dahyun wouldn’t blame her. It is a little bit of an information overload at the beginning. She tries to tell Chaeyoung it’s okay to be shocked and confused. Her initial reaction was just the same when she found out too (well, in Dahyun’s version, she found out on her own when she ran into Jeongyeon and Nayeon by the field, running around like they were the best of friends and not the enemies they portray themselves to be). 

But the person Dahyun’s trying to console is nowhere near the state of comprehension, absentmindedly staring at nothing and definitely not listening. 

Dahyun repositions herself on the driver’s seat, adjusting so that she can sit on her knees and face the person she was talking to. 

"Hey, Chaeyoung!" She exclaims, snapping her fingers in front of Chaeyoung's face. “Have you been listening to me?" 

Chaeyoung shakes her head out of trancet. "Sorry...I...I was just thinking of something." 

Dahyun sighs because of course . "I said, you asked about Nayeon and Jeongyeon unnie hating each other, right?"

“No? I asked if that was a possibility and you said—”

“Look at them.” Dahyun purses her lips towards the direction of battle of hurtful words happening in front of them. “That fight? That's not something new. It comes with the package whenever they see each other. And us?” Dahyun gestures to herself, Sana, and Momo. "We barely knew each other until they happened and suddenly, we were all working shifts in the Damage Control club. We know this. We know them. You asked if they hate each other?" 

Chaeyoung reluctantly nods.

"We used to hope that would be the case since it only made sense to fight when you hate each other. But after all of that, they return to normal." 

“And normal is?”

“They forget anything happened and return to ignoring each other and avoiding anything that has to do with one another.”

It’s always the same cycle over and over again. Ignore, Annoy, Fight, Ignore. The only difference this time is the way Nayeon and Jeongyeon are confronting each other right now, and the fact that Mina is present. 

And Mina, who used to be so used to keeping her silence and letting Jeongyeon and Nayeon be, now finally says something. 

 "You can't do that." 

And it’s the first time Dahyun’s heard it. The sharp edges in her tone. The dreariness. Chaeyoung, and everybody else in the car, looks visibly startled by the tone used as well. 

"You can't play cupid for them, Chaeyoung." The sternness in the usually timid girl silences the entire car down. "Not when Nayeon has a boyfriend and everytime Jeongyeon and Nayeon are together, all they do is hurt each other more."

All they do is hurt each other more.

Something in the situation and in the way Chaeyoung looks like a sad kicked puppy makes Dahyun want to lift the situation up. Makes her settle into her old ways, the one who tries to find the smallest of sparks and uses it to light up a dark moment. 

She doesn’t say much when Mina continues to talk, the longest she’s spared everyone her voice this day–including Dahyun herself–and just watches as Chaeyoung takes in the information, bit by bit. 

Dahyun notices something but can’t quite seem to point it out. There’s a sort of familiarity with Chaeyoung. She has a particular characteristic Dahyun has seen before. She has a penchant for wanting to feel something when a situation gets tense. Like it helps her ground herself, the sensation of touch. 

Dahyun’s seen it before, during one of the moments after the fallout between Jeongyeon and Nayeon, where she saw the cheerleader all alone, thinking quietly by herself. Nayeon was just staring at nothing and chipping her nails on the hard surface. Dahyun’s seen again and she’s seeing it again. Now, with Chaeyoung. 

There are things about the new girl she can’t understand. And it’s weird. Everything that’s been happening after her arrival has been nothing short of unfamiliar and new to them. 

Chaeyoung’s able to achieve things they all couldn’t do before. Like the confrontation right now. There are a lot of things Chaeyoung’s able to do, change around in the group, that Dahyun wasn’t able to. And it kind of makes sense now. 

This is why no one’s choosing her. She’s no different than the others.

 


 

Dahyun sweeps the shards behind her smile and the light tones of playfulness in her voice when she tries to cheer up Chaeyoung.  

This is where she’s good at. And with what she can, she will do it. 

Because even though it feels like Dahyun gets shoved back to being just another option every single day, these people are still her everything. 

They don’t deserve to fall apart like she does.

So Dahyun stuffs this away too, the shards and the pieces of herself she loses every single time. Every single argument. Every single occasion that proves to her yet again how hopeless she is. She jokes around with Chaeyoung and just focuses on doing what she can.

After a tense car ride, they finally arrive in Sana’s palatial estate somewhere in the richer, residential  side of Apgujeong. Dahyun genuinely feels like stepping foot on some kind of Royal Palace the moment Sana guides them inside. 

They pass through the kitchen door (one of the many other kitchens they have) and the entrance already looks better than Dahyun’s house—and this isn’t even the main entrance yet! 

Nayeon doesn’t follow them to the receiving area but Dahyun doesn’t even notice her absence with just how stunned she is at the massiveness of the place. Sana mentions a hall that leads to “the conservatory” and Dahyun honestly feels like her jaw is going to drop. “You have your own music college here?!”

Momo looks at her with a fond smile and pats her on the back, “No, sweetie. It’s just another one of the special rooms here.” 

Just another one?! 

Dahyun’s about to go drag Chaeyoung to the pool table she just saw in another one of the special rooms , but the girl in question is no longer in sight when turns back to her unnies. 

Sana seems to notice the confusion on her face because she quickly answers back, “She went to look for Nayeon.” 

Dahyun just nods. “Oh…” 

Behind her, she hears Jeongyeon comment something under breath. She’s beside Mina, walking over to the receiving area where they can hang out while waiting for the class hours to end. 

Dahyun just tries to ignore the bitter feeling in her chest and move past her issues. It’s not worth pursuing anymore or getting all problematic about. Besides, they have a bigger concern here. A concern of which Jihyo addresses the moment Chaeyoung leaves the room and suddenly, the act drops. 

“Is a compromise not enough this time?” The liveliness in Sana’s tone is wiped away like a switch flipped. She stands before Jeongyeon and Jihyo slumped on the chintz sofa, hands on her hips. “What happened out there?”

Everyone’s demeanors have changed, just like Sana’s. Momo hangs her head down and lets out a heavy exhale. Dahyun leans her head back on the edge of the wicker chair she’s sitting on, staring up at the giant crystal chandelier above them. No longer did her face sport the wide smile she had been tirelessly putting up since the ride to Sana’s. 

“Chae asked, you know.” Dahyun fills in the silence with a morose tone. All eyes peer over to her but she only continues to stare at the ceiling. “She wanted to help you two in fixing your issues out.” 

“What did you tell her?” Jihyo asks from beside Jeongyeon. The concern is etched in every bit of her tone. 

Dahyun sighs. “I tried to talk her out of it. Said something about how you’re already working on resolving the issues.” 

“But…?”

“But she’s a tough one.” Dahyun looks at everyone but Mina. 

Jihyo only looks at her with a raised brow, clearly overlooking what just happened. “And…?”

“And I told her to talk to Nayeon.” 

The entire room quiets down. One would assume it's another moment for everyone to use to collectively let out their own expressions of remorse and frustration at the circumstance. But no, they use it in silence, to take in the tense air, and just think. Of what has been happening and what’s to come. 

Everyone’s exhausted from everything. From all the fighting. From trying to hold everything together. Jihyo looks the most tired and annoyed, Dahyun can see it. It’s furthermore confirmed to them all when Jeongyeon slips in her words and tells them all, “We never asked for your help…” 

And really, the feeling of those words is like a hard slap across the face. It stings and leaves a mark. 

Jihyo isn’t having any of it. Instead of dealing with Jeongyeon, she moves on to another pressing matter. One that has everyone reacting—and Dahyun almost falling on the floor. 

Monetary prizes are really no big deal in a normal circumstance for Dahyun, but given how this time it’s 120,000 Won, well, it’s definitely a big deal! Dahyun will scour through every childish talent she has, and even find time to discover more, just to win that. It’s already enough to buy her a Nokia or even a new mixtape and more!

Momo also joins the group Jihyo, Nayeon, and Jeongyeon are required to form in order to join the group category of the talent show. With Momo comes Sana, who really doesn’t need the money obviously, and Chaeyoung really has no choice but to join because she’s basically an adopted member already. 

All that’s left is Mina. And frankly, no one’s expecting much. 

Dahyun understands if Mina doesn’t want to join. Nothing about joining the group–other than Jeongyeon–ever did her well. And Nayeon’s also a factor, for obvious reasons. Who in their right mind would join the same group as the girl who’s done nothing but make her life in senior high a living hell—

“Okay. I’ll join.” 

Dahyun falls from her seat. WHAT?

Momo helps in pulling her up, brushing her clothes. Dahyun doesn’t care about that. When she gets back to place, all she sees is Mina by Jeongyeon’s side, smiling at the soccer captain. 

It's a brief moment and a little thing to be honest, but Dahyun doesn’t forget about it. 

She feels bad for feeling the way she does but Dahyun can’t help it. She wants that too. She wants to be the one Mina chooses to sit next to. The one Mina chooses to smile at. The one Mina chooses. 

But of course that won’t happen. She’ll never be her Jeongyeon unnie. 

 


 

(“Okay. I’ll join.” 

Then, Dahyun falls. The thud doesn’t sound too painful but Momo reacts as if Dahyun had just fallen off a cliff. 

Mina stands up immediately and rushes over to Dahyun– almost. Sana beats her to it. She and Momo help Dahyun up. 

Mina backs down on her seat, worried. She feels a hand on her lap, patting at her knee. 

“It’s okay.” Jeongyeon assures her, eyes trying to say something Mina can’t quite understand. She purses her lips over to the sight of Momo and Sana helping Dahyun like two mothers coddling their child. “They got her. They’re like chickens to their baby chick.” 

It makes Mina chuckle. When she faces the girls, Dahyun’s looking at her. 

She doesn’t look long enough to meet Mina’s fond smile.)

 


 

The realization is the last push Dahyun needs to go through with her plan. She and Mina will never be more than friends and for Dahyun to move on, she needs to face her problems and emotions. 

That’s it. 

Kim Dahyun will confess.  

Chapter Text

So apparently, confessing to your crush is easier said than done. 

Exactly how do you confess your feelings for someone who is honest-to-god a literal angel on earth? It would have been easier done if Mina wasn’t a part of her tight-knit group of friends, or if Mina wasn’t somehow involved with Dahyun’s closest unnie, Jeongyeon. 

Dahyun could have whipped up a confession letter written using her favorite Anpanman stationery set, flowery words jot down in strawberry-scented glitter pen, adorable cursive with all the hearts and the loops; She could’ve sprayed the little envelope with her favorite baby cologne scent and asked one of the underclassmen to leave the note under her crush’s desk effortlessly, all done noncommittal.  

Had Mina been just another crush, fleeting and innocent puppy-love, Dahyun would have found resolve in this matter long before it could get this deep, before it could attach itself into her core and spread throughout her entire being. 

Had Mina just been another girl, just another unnie Dahyun has caught momentary admiration for, she would have immediately done something and didn’t let it plague her for this long. 

But Mina isn’t just another crush, just another unnie. Above everything else, Dahyun considers the older girl her own friend too. And she doesn’t deserve to be just another someone.

So Dahyun, in all the glory of her overachieving ass, sets the confessing bar high for herself to outdo. Because Mina Myoui doesn’t deserve anything less than the best and Dahyun knows better than to settle for average when she knows she can give the best too. 3

Dahyun spends her time in class writing down her plan and going through her options (of which she makes sure can fit into her budget so that she doesn’t splurge too much on this and leave herself underfed for the next couple of weeks).

She goes through everything down to the T and even draws a cute pros and cons chart at the back of her Stats book (which proves itself not a good decision after Mrs. Oh saw it and marked it wrong–something about choosing the wrong flowers). 

At the end of her gruesome week of weighing everything down and planning this damned confession, Dahyun realizes her best option is the last one she planned to consider: a playlist. Because a letter and flowers, as much as Mina deserves them and everything pretty in the world, are too cliche and overrated. 

After considering things, Dahyun comes up with the master plan: she’ll take Mina out to a friendly gathering of just the two of them–it’s not a date –and then give the tape to her then, as a friendly gift. 

She convinces herself it’s the greatest idea of a lifetime. That is, until the universe decided to stand against everything she planned to do. 

Dahyun first made the mistake of going to the records store a few days ago, the one across campus. Jackson had sported the biggest shit-eating grin on his face seeing her down the love songs aisle, all smug and excited at the same time, even going to the extent of buying Dahyun a set of blank cassette tapes himself. 

“You’ll bomb it, kid. I’m sure!” He reassures her with an encouraging pat on the back before sending Dahyun off back to the dorms, unbeknownst to himself how double meaning his words were and how much he probably jinxed everything up. 

By bombing it, Dahyun knew Jackson meant she’d do great, blowing up her inhibitions to pieces and overcoming them triumphantly. By bombing it, however, Dahyun did the exact opposite. 

She definitely bombed it, that’s for sure. Bombed her chances of ever confessing to Mina, that is. 

At every given moment Dahyun tries to finish her mixtape, something always happens and she doesn’t get to continue doing what she’s doing until a few more days later. 

She’s only been able to record one song in the past week since the fight at the parking lot and that’s Jackson’s heavily requested Bizarre Love Triangle, recorded after hours of waiting beside the radio in Yumama’s office, after Jackson had personally called in the station to request it. 

She doesn’t get to touch the damned mixtape for the next few days because of school. 

Principal Park announces that all the students involved in the talent competition will be exempted from their classes. You’d think that’ll give Dahyun the upperhand and the free time to proceed with her confession master plan but no. 

At the expense of no classes, Dahyun is drowned with her extra-curricular and organization duties instead. There are club meetings surging through her timetable like a tidal wave hitting the shore, leaving all her other plans in ruins. 

The only time she considers a breathable period for her is when she’s locked inside the ballroom-converted practice room with her unnies and Chaeyoung, planning their performance for the talent competition.

(Finishing the tape in the dorm is hopeless considering how Jihyo gets nosy when she’s bored–and recently, with her class duties out of the picture, boredom strikes her more often–and Chaeyoung’s temporarily their third roommate now, given that one night she...saw something she should not have seen. So really, the burst of energy in their room isn’t the type of sanctuary Dahyun can prepare a confession in.)

During the practice hours Dahyun should be considering her free time, where she can finally– secretly –finish the mixtape, she’s engulfed and pulled away by her duties to her unnies and the group, memorizing steps and “vocalizing”. 

It’s truly like the universe and timing have conspired to work against her favor and it’s frankly infuriating. 

Dahyun isn’t even asking for something great. All she wants is to confess and get everything over with, so she can be a great friend again to her Jeongyeon unnie and an honest friend to her Mina unnie. 

This is where all of the pent-up frustrations and helpless attempts at finishing the mixtape have left her: all alone, sitting down on the field of grass, sun shining down on her like a damned spotlight, staring into the unknown like a madwoman. 

“Earth to Dahyun? Still there, kid?” 

Of course, the first person to see her in this state is the only one who knows why. 

Jackson is like a giant tree shading the sun from Dahyun’s view. Hanging on one of his shoulders is his school backpack. 

He looks down at Dahyun with a teasing quirk of his eyebrows. “Aren’t you supposed to be in the practice room with the girls?” 

“Aren’t you supposed to be in class with your classmates?” Dahyun deadpans in return. The recent days’ frustration has affected her usual kindness and vigor. 

Dahyun’s unusual weariness looks enough to ring the alarm bells in Jackson’s head because he takes the space beside her and plops down on the patch of grass with a huff, bag haphazardly thrown by his other side. 

“Okay. Hit me. What’s gotten you this–OW!”

Dahyun draws her hand back, rubbing at her knuckles, feeling pins and needles. 

“You said to hit you.” 

“I meant tell me! Hit me up!” Jackson caresses the spot on his arm where Dahyun had just literally punched. “Why would I ask you to hit me?!”

Dahyun just shrugs nonchalantly, retracting back to the direction she was originally staring at. She feels nothing after that, just the jabbing pain and warmth spreading on the back of her hand. 

She should feel bad for hurting Jackson, but it felt cathartic afterwards and the satisfaction it gives her overpowers the guilt. Like one less punch to throw at the world. Besides, it doesn’t quite make sense how Jackson, who is as buff as a wrestler, cowers at the half-assed punch of a girl who’s as light as a feather. He’s really just being a dramatic child. 

“Anyways, hyung is here now to help you out”, Jackson says, interrupting the silence. 

From Dahyun’s peripheral view, she can see Jackson look at her, as if assessing the situation just from her profile, as if he’d magically come to the correct inference just by looking at the way she is right now. As if…  

“Is this about the c-word?” 

I stand corrected. 

“What makes you think that?” Never mind. He’s good at this. Dahyun glances at the older guy and casts a doubtful look, attempting to look as challenging as she can, which isn’t much because of her puppy eyes and soft features.

“Honestly?” Jackson shrugs his shoulders. “It’s the only reason I couldn think of.”

It takes about that–or maybe nothing at all–for Dahyun to give in to defeat. She’s always tried to uplift herself with encouraging words, tell herself that the situation wasn’t as futile as it seemed. But right now, just thinking about the future and how empty and filled it looked at the same time, Dahyun feels hopeless.

“I just don’t know if I’ll ever get to do this, you know?” She whines, falling on her back with a huff. The sun is blinding and piercing through her eyelids. “Every single time I try to do it, something holds me back. It’s like the universe is telling me I can never confess to Mina unnie. That I shouldn’t. Ever.” 

The orange hues she sees from the back of her eyelids, caused by the prodding sunlight, slides into a darker shade. When Dahyun opens her eyes, carefully, adjusting to the light again, she sees Jackson’s giant hand shading her whole face from the sun. 

“Are you done sulking now?”

Dahyun only wants to hit the older boy’s face even more. “I’m not sulking.” 

“You are.” Jackson rolls his eyes at her. “This is your sulking mode on.” He holds his hand out for Dahyun and the latter, in spite of the urge to throw another punch, takes it and sits back up. 

“I’m just frustrated, oppa. I can’t finish the tape and I’m dragging the group in practice! Momo unnie’s just not getting mad at me because she doesn’t get mad. But I swear, I think Jihyo unnie cursed me once for doing the wrong move.” 

Jackson finds humor in that and laughs, much to Dahyun’s chagrin. 

“It’s not funny!” 

“It kind of is, kid…” He tousles her hair playfully. 

Dahyun bats his hand away. “I’m suffering and your wiseness tells you to laugh at me?” She huffs, frowning even more. “You’re not such a great oppa now, aren’t you?”

“I’m laughing because you’re suffering a pain you inflicted on yourself”, Jackson reasons out, sounding so matter-of-factly that the younger girl is convinced she’s actually losing it now. She doesn’t understand a single thing he’s trying to point out. 

“What are you talking about? Do I look like I’m enjoying this? ” This suffering and frustration?

Jackson shakes his head. “I never said you were enjoying it.” 

“Then why are you saying I’m inflicting this on myself?” 

“You should be the one asking yourself that”, he shrugs with a pitiful crease of his forehead. “Why are you going to such lengths only to end up this frustrated when you know yourself, the person you’re troubling over doesn’t even want anything?” 

“Oppa, you were the one who told me to make a mixtape—”

“Yeah, but I didn’t think you’d get this riled up over it.” 

Dahyun sighs exasperatedly, running a hand through her hair with a huff. The frustration is building up inside of her like a volcano threatening to blow. “Mina unnie just doesn’t deserve something less than the best, you know? I don’t wanna look like a complete loser with my song choice, oppa.” 

“See? That’s why you’re this frustrated with yourself, Dubu”, Jackson says, a small, sad smile on his lips. “You’re trying so hard to be someone you’re not just to please Mina but you don’t even know what she likes.” 

“As if you know what unnie likes…” 

“As a matter of fact, I do. At least, an idea of it.” 

 “Then what?” 

Jackson turns to face Dahyun with a silly little smile, the one that’s cheeky in all its glory. Something tells Dahyun he’s going to say something stupid. 

“Just be you, Dahyun.” 

Yep. Stupid.

“So I should just record Tupac and some Ricky Martin, yeah? Maybe add Fuck Tha Police while I’m at it, right oppa?” It’s sarcastic, at least Dahyun thinks it is (despite the fact that those three songs are literally the only tracks she requests to be played on the radio back then), but Jackson isn’t having any of it. 

He nods, eyes genuinely lighting up. “Yeah! If that’s what you listen to, then go ahead! Show her the real side of you, as weird and quirky as it is.” 

“I’m gonna look like a complete loser to her, oppa. I can’t just–” 

“Since when will you look like a loser to her , Dahyun? Do you really not see how she acts around you?” 

Dahyun stops there, searches for a teasing glint in Jackson’s eyes but finds none. Her heart won’t be able to take this if he’s just fooling around and joking with her. “What do you mean ‘ act around me’ ?”

As a matter of fact, he actually looks  more shocked than mischievous. “Dahyun, Mina is something else when it comes to you. I mean, if I didn’t know that she had a crush on Jeongyeon, I’d think she liked you.” 

“What.” Oh no, there goes my heart breaking again. 

“She smiles when you’re in the room. She’d sit beside you during lunch, even when Jeongyeon’s around. And she laughs at all of your jokes, Dahyun! All of it!” Jackson flails his arms at the last part, to emphasize his point, Dahyun assumes, a point she’s taken offense from. 

“Is her laughing at my jokes shocking to you? I’ll have you know, I’m a funny person, oppa. I am—” 

“That’s not my point, kid.” Jackson cuts her off before the younger girl could even dive into a comprehensive explanation backing up her claim. “What I want to tell you is that you don’t need to be someone else you're not to impress Mina. And you don’t need to give her something big to make her happy, you know? She’s quite enjoying your presence as it is. Just you.” 

Silence spreads in the afternoon breeze, enveloping Dahyun’s thoughts whole. Long gone are the jittery feelings in her stomach and the headache attempting to pound through her skull. 

Slowly, she looks back at the view before her–the empty bleachers and the unoccupied field where she’s used to seeing the soccer and cheerleading team training on–and realizes she's not afraid of disappointing anyone anymore. 

Kim Dahyun is more afraid of letting herself down. Because Jackson’s saying words that hold her up high. So high, up in the mountains of expectations and blind hope that it’s scary. Because she knows, it’s the fall that’ll break her apart. 

“So…” She clears her throat. It’s unfortunate that, as much as Jackson’s little speech had sparked something inside of Dahyun, a tiny flame of determination, at the end of the day, she still has no idea what to do. “Do I...scratch out the mixtape confession…?”

Jackson just erupts into a fit of laughter. So much for being helpful…

“Ya, Kim Dahyun. Are you this dense?” He knocks on Dahyun’s head. “Are you that thick-headed that—” 

“Just tell me, oppa!” Dahyun groans. “I can’t handle anymore cryptic words!” 

“Cryptic?” Jackson scoffs at the word choice. Before he can even spring into another bout of motivational words, he catches a glimpse of the exasperated and desperate expression on Dahyun’s face. She’s pulling that puppy look again and it’s enough to Jackson (questionably) soft and sighing in defeat. 

“Fine.” He gives in. At the far distance, a bell rings, signalling Jackson Wang’s tardy ass and Chuu probably waiting with a late slip for him ready in the hall. He stands up and brushes off the grass leaves sticking to his pants. 

“Put whatever song you like in the mixtape. It tells her more about you. And Mina, believe it or not, likes you for you. As weird and unbelievable it sounds. You don’t need to pull off anything grand to impress her. Just...I don’t know…why don’t you take her to that movie showing this weekend? What was it again? The one with Nicholas Cage…” 

Dahyun just watches Jackson snap his fingers. She doesn’t know who that is. Probably an American actor. Jackson racks through the names in his head.

“Ah! City of Angels!” He exclaims. Finally, the frustrated crease on his forehead loosens and his eyes widen, like a light bulb going off in his head. “Youngji and I will watch it later after school. I heard it’s good. Take her to watch that.”

“Take her there. To the movies. Just us two. Like...a date?” Dahyun gulps a boulder down her parched throat just by the mere thought. 

Jackson shrugs his shoulders playfully. “Whatever you want to call it.” 

Dahyun hates the jitters that come back. He offers his hand for her to take. She grabs it. Pulls herself up. 

“What if she says no?” Dahyun hates that her hands are all clammy now, just thinking of the rejection she’ll have to face and the exhaustion from the smile she’ll have to force herself to wear. 

Jackson, however, winks at her, cocky grin all showing. “Oh, but what if she says yes?”

Dahyun doesn’t have it in her to hope again, seeing as how the group is busy with practice and she might not even have the time (nor the confidence) to ask Mina for a friendly trip to the mall to watch. 

“I’m not sure, oppa…” She trails off, uncertainty laced in every syllable of her words and in every note of her tone. She looks down, just realizing now how hot it is. “What if she–” 

“Stop downing yourself, Dubs”, Jackson interjects, hand resting on Dahyun’s shoulder with a light, encouraging tap. Like the (fake) older brother that he is. “You’re a cool kid. Everyone knows that. Even Mina. You’re the only one who doesn’t. Now go live like the cool, amazing kid that you are.” 

It’s short. Pretty cheesy, if you ask Dahyun. Like a quote ripped off one of the characters from those American sitcoms Jackson watches in the dorm’s dining hall when he drops by. 

It’s cliche. Too bland for Dahyun’s taste. But it’s enough to push a smile on her face, however small it is. A smile to get things done, little by little. We'll get there too. 

“Thank you, oppa.” Dahyun says, looking up at the senior. 

Jackson ruffles her hair. “No problem, kiddo. Now off I go. Chuu is probably gonna tell me on Jihyo now." 

He jogs while Dahyun walks and takes her time, appreciating the tranquility of the campus that only used to happen every once in a while. Lately it's been like this every afternoon, with the talent competition approaching and Principal Park's new exemption rule for the performing students.

When Dahyun reaches the end of the staircase that leads to the ballroom where they practice, a familiar voice calls out her name. 

It’s not Seungkwan’s distinct nasal voice that gives him away. It’s the bass booming from the stereo system behind them, blasting California Love, an unmistakable love for 2Pac that–other than Dahyun–only exists within the Gag Trio, Seungkwan, Hoshi, and DK. 

“Ya! Kim Dahyun!” Seungkwan calls out again, from behind a stall that looks like a recycled lemonade stand. “Come here! Faster! Faster!” 

Dahyun speed-walks her way over to the funny looking stall. It’s creative for a bunch of boys she remembers saying art is not their thing. There’s a board alarmingly nailed above their heads, displaying such colorful penmanship through the words FREE FORTUNE TELLING!! It’s real!! 

“Yes?” Dahyun greets with a pleasant, bright smile. It’s kind of weird and not-so as well how easily she’s able to push back down the jitters and the knots in her stomach from earlier, just so nobody can see her in her unpleasant side. 

Seungkwan leads the trio and stands in the center, wearing baggy clothes matching with DK and Hoshi’s denim ones. “It is with your pure luck that you just happened to walked by and we saw you , Dahyunnie~”

Dahyun only raises an eyebrow, playfully skeptical. “What is this about?” 

Hoshi bumps shoulders with Seungkwan, the latter hissing at him. They exchange low grumbles, inaudible enough for Dahyun not to understand anything, and eventually it’s DK who speaks up on behalf of them instead. 

“We were wondering if you wanted to participate in our fortune telling?” He asks, polite and smiling. “It’s for the talent show. We’re practicing.”

Well, regardless whether Dahyun believes in fortunes or not, she’s too soft to decline. Besides, the cheerleaders and soccer team are extending practice so Momo, Sana, and Mina are probably running late for the practice. Dahyun can indulge the trio a little. 

“Sure, why not?” She grins, laying down her bag on the floor. “Just please don’t give me any fortune about death or something…” 

I can’t handle another bad news. 

“Can’t guarantee, Dubu”, Seungkwan shrugs as he brings out a stack of shiny, pretty-looking cards that immediately has Dahyun on her feet, eyes lighting up like a kid on Christmas day.

“Those are really pretty cards!” She exclaims. Hoshi and DK chuckle behind Seungkwan. 

“Yeah. I got them from my—” 

“Oh, isn’t that Jeongyeon noona?” DK looks over Dahyun’s shoulders, the latter following his track and turning around. 

Jeongyeon is jogging over to them in her usual practice attire–sweatpants and a shirt. She still looks dashing though, no matter how laidback and effortless she seems.

“Unnie!” There’s a sudden surge of energy upon seeing her unnie, in spite of the exhaustion from earlier’s musing. Dahyun waves her hands in the air, as if Jeongyeon wasn’t already jogging over to them. 

She arrives quite breathless, the lack of conditional training finally getting into her. Dahyun would offer her water if she had one. She doesn’t have any. 

“You’re just in time, unnie”, she smiles, pointing to the cards. 

Jeongyeon catches her breath first, looking at everything displayed on the stand, before narrowing her eyes at the three boys standing before them. “Is this all even real?” 

“Of course it is, noona!” Seungkwan answers with an indignant gasp. “These are American cards! I bought them when I went with my mom on her business trip. I even got a certificate from the old man.”

When it comes to the trio, Jeongyeon gets protective. Dahyun knows this for a fact, because most of their encounters always end up with her losing some cash. Either failing a bet she’ll never win or playing a game the three will never lose. Dahyun gets why Jeongyeon grows wary whenever she’s around with the Gag Trio. Behind the cautiousness, however, they all know it’s just fun and games. 

Jeongyeon and Seungkwan get into a discourse about some man he got the pretty looking cards from, but Dahyun barely listens. All she focuses on is the bewitching pull of the spread of cards before her, like a hypnotic act.

She stares at the cards and her eyes land on one, just one. That single card by the middle portion that somehow manages to capture her attention and pull it in, despite the fact that all the cards’ behinds look exactly the same. 

Somewhere along the way, Seungkwan manages to convince Jeongyeon into joining Dahyun in the fortune telling and asks them to pick their cards. 

Dahyun, with no hesitation whatsoever, grabs the card she’s been drawn to for the past minute. 

There’s a sort of unpleasant tingling inside of Dahyun, the same feeling she always gets when she feels like there’s something about to go wrong. Despite that, she still holds onto the card and hands it over to Seungkwan, the clairvoyant, to “read”.  

The ominous little oh that escapes his lips is enough of a reassurance to Dahyun that her trouble senses are, yet again, correct. 

“Is it bad?” Of course it is. 

Seungkwan looks up at her, eyes saying a lot of nervousness contained within but he remains in his words albeit stammering, “Uh...we can’t say yet. It depends on the next two cards you pick.”

And so they pick more. Jeongyeon grabs a card with much more thinking than Dahyun ever did—given that she wasn’t magically enthralled by one single card, that is. She draws from the lower portion of the spread, flips the card over, and they don’t get a better reaction.

Seungkwan tells them to pick the last card. The mutual ominous reactions they've gotten from the three makes picking a card a little more challenging and wary to do, much to Jeongyeon's initial claim of not believing in fortunes. Their faces are both pensive, eyebrows knitted together and lips pursed, focused as if their lives depended on this last card. ( Because maybe it did)

But, just as luck would have it, divine intervention comes in the form of a loud, "Unnie!" 

Chaeyoung, though she might never know it, literally changed the course of Jeongyeon and Dahyun's fate.

For someone petite like Chaeyoung, she sure has the grip and impact of a boy when she runs over and literally launches herself at both Dahyun and Jeongyeon, fitting in between them, arms wrapping around their shoulders and pulling them closer.

The change in the apprehensive atmosphere is enough to convince both Jeongyeon and Dahyun that Chaeyoung should be the one to pick the last card, and so she does.

The reaction they get is a gasp from Seungkwan, and not the bad kind. More like, well, the shocked type. 

Dahyun thinks that's better than getting the forbidding little "Oh."

Jeongyeon makes Seungkwan explain their reading swiftly. Probably dumb it down too. They don't have a lot of time left before Jihyo starts noticing their unnecessarily long absence.

Seungkwan begins with Dahyun's card, a Knight of Swords that, in this context, meant destruction, charging at something aggressively, eager to achieve it only to end up ruining everything. Sometimes, the card depicted death itself.

Jeongyeon’s Four of Swords means stillness, like a time in life where everything feels like a pause. With the first card meaning aggression with a possibly destructive outcome, the Four of Swords can mean the moment of mourning that follows.

The third card, Seungkwan explains, defines everything. All roads lead to a bad outcome however, just like how Dahyun felt, Chaeyoung's chosen card changed the course of fate.  

Jeongyeon finds it weird how both she and Dahyun feel so relieved at the result, no matter how “unbelievable” it is. 

"So you’re telling us that something bad is going to happen to us but there’s going to be a good outcome?” Dahyun asks, just to clarify things.

“If you put it that way, yes”, Seungkwan replies as he begins collecting his cards again. “Nine of Cups generally mean wishes. In the future outcome, it means your heart’s fulfillment. If we read it by the sequence of your cards, it can mean that something bad will happen, but there will be good to it too.” 

DK peeks his head from the back, lips pursed in the direction of the shell-shocked-looking Chaeyoung. “This wouldn’t have been the result if she didn’t come, noona.” 

When they call Chaeyoung the lucky charm, Dahyun doesn't spare a second of hesitation to agree. 

Chaeyoung is their lucky charm.

 


 

Dahyun finishes her mixtape a few days after that. 

She records all the songs she likes and feels a certain sentimental attachment with, hoping and praying Mina doesn’t find them–and her quite old music taste–weird.

She writes a letter too, pours her heart out on her most prized Shin-chan paper, penned with the best handwriting she can ever churn out, using her favorite strawberry-scented glitter marker, folding the paper  and fitting it into the hóngbāo (for additional luck) alongside the cassette tape. 

Dahyun ends everything with a White Heather, tying a small piece of the flower she picked up from the garden around the envelope using one of the cute ribbons Jihyo keeps in her craft box.

Every since then, she brings the hóngbāo with her every single day, waiting for the perfect time to give it to Mina. 

(Spoiler alert: It never comes.)

 


 

Eventually, the days pass and Dahyun settles with focusing more on the bigger issue at hand: the friendly date.

She works her way around her schedule, meticulously testing the waters and picking what day to drop the question and when exactly to go. 

They’re already done with half of the song. It’s been almost a month since they started practicing and the arguments between Nayeon and Mina decrease by the day, miraculously. 

Everyone thinks it’s probably because they don’t have the power left to argue anymore, given the gruesome practice hours and the energy they burn during those; but Dahyun knows that something between Nayeon and Mina shifted, probably an unspoken neutral ground had been settled, and Jeongyeon and Nayeon are in quite better terms too, enough that there is absolutely nothing to even fight about anymore (aside from the petty things like who finished the water bottle first–for some unknown reason, the two share Jeongyeon’s water bottle–or who forgot to bring an extra towel–and for another unknown reason, they also share the same bag, Nayeon’s). 

Dahyun knew, somehow, Mina only ever stepped up when Jeongyeon and Nayeon were squabbling and cursing at each other. Just like Jihyo. But now that the two are, for the lack of better term, domestic now, Mina no longer joins in. 

Everyone in the group knows, might never actually say it, Jeongyeon chose Nayeon long before Mina ever stepped into the picture. It was them before Mina came, and it’s them, probably, hopefully, until the end. 

The most surprising thing here, for Dahyun at least, is the fact that Mina...didn’t look like she actually minded it. Being out of the picture. Not being tied with Jeongyeon. Not in her space. 

She existed in a world outside of Jeongyeon and thrived all by herself. 

Dahyun hates it, hates herself for associating the situation with herself. It was selfish of her but it was kind of hard not to think of how maybe , this was because... Mina might not like Jeongyeon unnie anymore.  

It’s blind faith, like leaping off a cliff to chase a beautiful butterfly and hoping some magical dragon would swoop in and catch her from falling. 

Dahyun knew she was setting herself up for another heartache should she blindlessly leap into this, but she thinks of all the things Jackson told her and what she’s learned from the short while Chaeyoung had been with them, and decides, she will jump into this. Blindfolded and hoping. Not assured of what’s to come. She’ll jump. 

So Dahyun figures out, during the day they’re practicing the steps for the bridge of the song. She’ll ask Mina out today. After practice. It’s just a friendly bonding to the movies. Nothing more, nothing less. And if she seems hesitant, Dahyun will just pitch in Jihyo too just in case. Force her to come with them to make everything look friendlier. 

Her head can only think of her words the entire time. What to use to clearly establish how this is definitely not a date but a friendly bonding ; how the words are arranged so that she won’t seem so desperate and nervous at the same; and everything else in between, her perfectionist side showing vehemently. 

The nearer the end comes, the more Dahyun feels her heart ready to leap out of her chest. 

Her palms are sweaty no matter how many times she wipes them on her sweats and her hands are shaking no matter how hard she tries to hold them down. 

Nayeon notices this because Dahyun almost gets every step wrong. 

“Dahyun, what the heck?” She snaps and nobody pays heed to the fact that this is the first time the cheerleader actually looks mildly annoyed. “You really just have to wait until Momo goes down and then do a pose and then kneel down too! It’s really just that simple?” 

They’re polishing the part where everyone forms into a line and does poses while Jihyo and Nayeon belt their notes for the last chorus. Initially, since they’re near the end, everyone just wants to get this over with too. 

Dahyun hates herself for getting in between that. 

“Sorry, unnie. I was just...distracted.” She holds her head down, unable to meet the disappointment in Nayeon’s eyes. “I-I won’t...I won’t do it again.” 

Nayeon just looks at her with a creased forehead, an impatient tapping from her right foot. 

Dahyun might as well pack up and go now because the feared cheer captain clearly doesn’t look amused with her and from Dahyun’s knowledge, whenever the infamous captain is unimpressed, whoever the cause of her annoyance is would most likely be scrapped out of the team. 

She braces for her dismissal but it never comes. 

In its place is a long, exasperated sigh instead, and when Dahyun looks up, a Sailor Moon squeeze water bottle is held out for her by an arm she follows the line of and ends up at the pedestal of Myoui Mina, chest heaving and a little sweaty and disgruntled, but still, beautiful in every sense of the word. 

“Drink water”, she says, barely audible but Dahyun hears it. 

Mina’s eyes are droopy from the practice they’ve been doing, but still, Dahyun feels a smile coming at her lips just at the sight of the older girl’s pretty eyes still gleaming bright and lovely.

She feels hypnotized to grab the bottle. How did Mina even know she already ran out of water? She probably doesn’t. She’s just doing this out of generosity. I look like a dying donkey. She noticed it. 

“Thank you, unnie.” Dahyun grabs the bottle, prays it helps calm her heart down because this shit ain’t slowing down any soon, not when Mina’s a few feet away from her and the girl’s sweat smells like vanilla and jasmines. 

Mina only looks at her, the ghost of the soft smile still lingering on her lips. She looks like she wants to say something but decided against it. She just looks in silence until Dahyun kind of figures, she might just be staring, and  so she proceeds to just drink the water on her own volition. 

The action must’ve snapped Mina out because the older girl turns on her feet and walks over to Nayeon, who’s just about to play the song again, and then moves closer–closer than usual–that Nayeon stumbles back a little, flustered at the proximity. 

Mina remains resolute, inching closer to the captain’s ear. It’s only then Nayeon realizes she’s going to whisper something and then just relents. 

A few seconds later, after a minute’s exchange of hisses, Nayeon ends practice. 

Everyone just looks at the two girls in front with wide eyes. They’re extending practice hours now with the performance nearing and Nayeon never abruptly ends training. She was like that here and in cheerleading. 

When Mina leaves her side, all eyes are on her, wondering what she just said and why she got Nayeon to end practice so fast. 

When she walks over to Dahyun, urging her to drink more water, everyone figures out why. 

 


 

As if the universe decided to play with her tonight, they’re the last ones out of the room. 

The moment Nayeon announced practice was off, everyone practically bolted out the door. Even Sana and Momo who were the most adamant ones at polishing the choreo, practically ran off together. Something about catching a TV show they wanted to watch at Sana’s place. 

Somehow, their youth triumphed over their urge to win the damned competition. Dahyun understands. It was a lovely Friday night and there wasn't much homework to do, and what more to celebrate the end of the week than going out and just chilling with your friends? 

It was a lovely Friday night, that’s for sure. Perfect for everything, perfect for a confession.

By some force of nature, everybody had their own plans. 

Sana and Momo were off doing their thing at Sana’s place, Jihyo and Nayeon had to meet up with some members of the Student Council to get updates on the event planning, and Jeongyeon and Chaeyoung were sleeping early. Chaeyoung had been really weak lately and Dahyun believes the reason Nayeon cut practice short was because of the younger girl. They all have a soft spot for her now. 

By some sick twist of fate, it’s Mina who ends up not doing anything tonight. She stays behind and waits for the sunshine girl. Dahyun doesn’t understand why, but the older girl insisted on making sure everyone was safely out of the room and she, well, she moved slower than the rest so Mina had to wait for her. 

“You didn’t have to wait, unnie…” She still says, even when they’re already walking down the staircase. “Now you’re stuck walking with me.” 

It’s already evening, moon gleaming above and the field lit up by the light posts around it. There are barely any students around during this time. It’s already near 7PM and the guards usually closed the gates at 5:30. They were only exempted because Jihyo was President and Nayeon was really persuasive. 

“I don’t mind”, Mina tucks at the string of her bag. She’s walking beside Dahyun really closely, Dahyun forgets the concept of giving space. 

Their proximity might be the one to blame for the little push that she gets too. Keyword: little 

“Um...unnie…” Dahyun practically mimes the word out with how low her voice is. Still, Mina hears. 

“Hm?” 

Dahyun goes through a thousand ways to ask Mina out, all in her head. Do you want to go watch something at the cinema? Are you free tonight? Would you like to watch that new English movie? Would you please accompany me to the cinema to watch a movie?

What comes out is a, “What do you call a birdcage that's not made out of nickel?” 

And Mina just…glances at Dahyun with a small confused frown. Because the question sprung out of nowhere and they were far from talking about birds nor cages. “What?” 

It’s not even the type of “what” that invited a joke. It was a genuine question of confusion but still, Dahyun proceeds, because she’s really bad at this and humor had always been the only thing that never let her down. 

“They call them nickelless cage. Get it? HA. HA. HA. HA."

Mina doesn't laugh and Dahyun feels betrayed by the universe. She prays for something to just swallow her alive right now and not face this humiliation, but then Mina asks, "Like...the American actor? Nicholas Cage?"

And Dahyun warily nods.

A miracle unfolds and Mina begins laughing at that, and Dahyun swears she hears the angels and the universe speaking to her in Mina's laughter. Soft, elegant, but genuine. It's like the universe saved her from her pride's self-inflicted demise. So this is how Jesus felt when he was resurrected…

"Are you a fan of Nicholas Cage?" Mina asks after her laughing fit.

Dahyun isn't but she nods nonetheless. It seemed like the best thing to do and it made sense, liking him. Mina lived in America for a few years and she came from a rich household. She probably has access to American shows at home so she'll probably know who Nicholas Cage is. Maybe if I like him, she'll think I'm smart and I have good taste. We'll have something in common and then—

"He has a new movie that's showing at the mall. Do you want to watch it?" 

What.

"What?"

Mina smiles sheepishly. They exit the campus and begin walking down the path back to the dorms.

"I saw the posters when I passed by the cinema the other day. I liked Meg Ryan from Top Gun and I've been wanting to watch her in a romantic film, but I didn't have anyone to come with yet. So…would you?" 

"You want...you want me? T-To come and...and watch with you? The movie?" Get yourself together, Kim Dahyun! Stop stammering!

Mina nods, chuckling. "I'd love to? Unless you're busy? We can watch it next time."

She wants a next time. She said she'd love to. DID MY NICHOLAS CAGE JOKE WORK?!

"No! NO! I'm free! Totally! Free! Unnie! We can go! I want to! I have absolutely NOTHING to do! I'd love you!"

 "You'd love me?"

Oh no. "I'd love you to watch the movie with me!"

Dahyun must be hallucinating because she can see disappointment flicker on Mina's face for a split second there. It's gone before Dahyun can officially call herself insane (much to her dismay and fortune at the same time).

They're a few feet away from the dorm building already and Dahyun only realizes it then when Mina says, "Okay. Let's just change and then we can meet at the lobby again and go?"

The younger girl can only mindlessly nod, still rattled by what just happened and what's about to come.

"Okay then. It's a date!" The older girl exclaims with a small, enthusiastic skip, and Dahyun might as well just pass out then and there because holy shazam she called it a date!!!

They walk towards the dorm and go their separate ways there, Mina going for the stairs and Dahyun waiting for the elevator. 

It’s when Mina’s no longer in sight Dahyun decides to make a quick detour to the garden, probably to thank the universe for this. It's in the silence of the small space and the subdued sounds of nature at night around her that the situation finally dawns on Kim Dahyun. 

Mina Myoui just asked her out.  

When it should've been the other way around, the prettiest girl in the whole campus (and probably the whole world too but that's just biased Dahyun speaking) just asked her out.

And she did it so smoothly? Without a second of hesitation? Like it was that simple? 

Whilst it took Dahyun weeks to get her shit together and she hasn't even formulated the proper words to say?

Mina just asked her out. 

And the weirdest, most never-in-her-wildest-dreams moment in that whole exchange was,

She called it a date.

Just when Dahyun thought of confessing to her crush, probably the most unrealistic crush she's ever had (and that's saying a lot when she had a massive crush on Seo Taiji before), it's Mina who asks her out instead. On a date. Just the two of them.

Holy shit. 

The universe has answered her prayers.

I'm going out on a date with my crush.

 


 

Truth be told, Mina could’ve handled the situation better. 

But Dahyun was there, adorable and beautiful and every bit the person that makes Mina’s heart run a beat of its own, and Mina’s instincts just kicked in and, well, she would rather risk it than regret it. 

So she asked Dahyun out. 

And now she’s losing her mind because of it. 

“So you brought me down here to…” Jeongyeon trails off, lips pursed as she scans Mina’s room and the clothes in disarray, stacked on her bed. “...pick an outfit?” 

Mina crosses the room back and forth, pulling out pieces she thinks of combining only to discard the idea right away. “Yes, now please, please help me pick out something. I can’t think of anything to wear!” 

To say that Jeongyeon is shocked would be an understatement. She’s at a loss for words seeing this frantic version of Mina, so far from the calm and composed image she’s carried out and known for. Before her is a version of Mina that Jeongyeon never thought she’d see in this lifetime. 

“Just wear whatever you’re comfortable with? A dress or something?” Jeongyeon settles for the edge of Mina’s bed, picking up a strap satin dress from the pile. She holds it up for Mina to see.“How about this?”

Mina stops in her steps, scans the dress, and frowns. “Good pick. But we’re just gonna watch the movies though.” 

“What? Then just wear something casual! Why are you even turning your entire closet upside down if you’re just gonna go watch a movie?!”

“Because!” It's the loudest Mina’s been with Jeongyeon. Frankly, it surprises them both. “I just want to look okay. I mean, I don’t wanna look snobby or something. Just. Me. Mina. Simple but not...effortless too?” 

“Then just go for something casual”, Jeongyeon shrugs, fishes for something underneath the heap of clothes on Mina’s bed. She pulls out a white jumper and bootcut sweats “This’ll do. And if it gets cold inside the cinema, just wear a jacket. Do you have one around here?” 

“Unfortunately, no”, Mina pouts. In her haste packing up a few months ago, she only got to bring expensive coats and her house wear. She never planned on going on dates in her stay here in Korea that’s why she never bothered to bring clothes appropriate for one. 

Jeongyeon walks over to the other side of the room, where a tall rack of shoes are displayed. She pulls out the most casual pair in the bunch of expensive-looking footwear. “Partner those with these. I’ll just go grab my jacket upstairs. You can use that instead.” 

Mina smiles, holding the clothes Jeongyeon picked for her. “Thank you, Jeong. I appreciate it.”

The other girl simply nods back, chic as ever, standing by the door. “No problem. Good luck with your date.”

When the door closes and Mina’s left all by herself, she realizes she could’ve just liked Jeongyeon instead. Continued liking the dashing girl who stood up and projected herself as a knight-in-the-shining-armor. It would have been more thrilling to like Yoo Jeongyeon. 

But her heart, it liked the calmness and the warmth that permeated whenever Dahyun was around. The younger girl was a breath of fresh air and she filled Mina’s lungs with butterflies. 

Love with Yoo Jeongyeon would be thrilling. Like a roller coaster ride.

Love with Kim Dahyun would be gentle. Like a calm blow of the spring breeze.

Mina always liked spring. 

 


 

The first thing Dahyun says when they meet at the lobby is: “Will we get picked up by your limousine?”

It was an attempt to jump-start a conversation however, all the blonde gets is a genuinely confused frown from the older girl (who, unfairly, still looks elegant and beautiful in casual pants and a jumper). 

“My limousine?” 

“Yeah. Like, the long cars? The ones for rich people? You know, the….uh…” Dahyun trails off, scratching the back of her head. 

Mina just continues to look at her,  clearly still confused. Dahyun gives up trying to explain, acknowledging her defeat. “ I...I was just joking, unnie…” 

Mina, probably for the sake of Dahyun’s pride, laughs at that. “Oh. I don’t have a limousine here , Dahyunnie. But…”

“‘ Here’?!”  

The reaction is amusing, Mina thinks. Dahyun looks like she’s just won the lottery and couldn’t believe it. “I was just joking too, Dahyunnie.” 

“Oh…” and then they just settle into a comfortable kind of laughter, making their way down the street, walking to the cinema a few blocks away. 

The nightlife in Apgujeong is filled with life, perfectly encapsulating the peak of 90s youth culture. Stores illuminated up by variegated lights and adorned with bright displays line up the two-way alley they walk through. People come and go from the high-end boutiques with designer paper bags hanging on their arms, walking towards the luxury cars that park along the sides of the street. 

This part of the district is where Dahyun thinks people like Mina and Sana would most belong. Where the chattering and carefree laughter of people who have more money than they know what to do with, blend in the humid seasonal air. 

This is probably where Mina would be most comfortable at. A place that exuded the familiarity of the lifestyle she lived and grew up with. It’s where she’d belong to, Dahyun thinks, but it’s not where Mina would want to be in. 

Because while Dahyun recognizes the remnants of orange tribe kids around them, obnoxious in their actions and flaunting off what little of the overall wealth they have, Mina doesn’t act the same. She doesn’t mind the bare minimum Dahyun can afford. She doesn’t mind how simple everything seems to be and Dahyun, god, she falls for the older girl even more. 

They eventually arrive at the movie theater and are greeted with a queue at the ticket booth. Dahyun stands in line for the City of Angels. 

Mina waits beside her, craning her neck to look around at the cinema hall. The ones in Japan don’t look much different than this. It looks like a mini-mall. There’s a long line of ticket booths when you enter the place, and posters of showing movies adorn the walls. 

Mina’s eyes land on the concession stand down the hall lined with the cinema rooms. 

She turns back to Dahyun with a brightened smile. “Dahyunnie, I’ll go buy some popcorn, you want?”

“Oh, yes. That’ll be nice, unnie!” The younger girl exclaims, pulling out her velcro wallet for some money, only to be stopped halfway. 

“I’ll pay, Dahyunnie. My treat.” 

Dahyun wanted to decline but before she could, Mina’s already off walking towards the concession stand. 

They meet in the middle. Dahyun pays for their tickets and Mina for their snacks. 

The movie starts at 8PM. Dahyun looks at her watch and sees it’s still ten minutes early but the doors are already open for them. When they enter cinema three, the seats are occupied mostly by teenagers and young adults. Understandable. Middle-aged people wouldn’t bother themselves watching a movie spoken in a language they wouldn’t understand, challenged by reading damned subtitles. 

Mina and Dahyun get comfortable on their seats positioned somewhere in the middle rows, where the a/c isn’t blaring right at them and the subtitles are of the right size. 

Dahyun holds their snacks together while Mina slides her arms into the jacket. 

When the lights turn off, it's like they enter a whole new universe itself.

 


 

Mina hasn't been completely honest. 

She doesn't like Nicolas Cage. She doesn't even know the guy. She remembers Meg Ryan because hers was the name she first read from the movie poster and remembered. She watched Top Gun but doesn't even know which one is Meg Ryan there.

Mina isn't an avid watcher of the romantic genre. She wasn't a Titanic type of girl. Mina was a Neon Genesis Evangelion kind. She didn't find entertainment from romance and happy endings. She wanted adventure and action.

But because of Dahyun, she'll relent. Even if it meant sitting through two hours of an English movie about an ironic story of a surgeon who saved lives and an angel who took them. 

Mina will do this for Dahyun. 

It's not like it's gonna be that bad, right?

 


 

Dahyun feels the exhaustion from the day seep into her bones before they even reach half of the movie. 

Her eyelids grow heavy and the comfortable gust of the air condition has her in a position totally perfect for slumber. She's quite ready to fall asleep now. 

And then Meg Ryan slaps Nicolas Cage. Twice. 

Dahyun jolts awake. 

"Wha–What happened?" She unknowingly mumbles, shaking the sleep away. 

Mina, who hasn't torn her gaze away from the screen for a mere second since the movie began, inches closer to whisper to her, "Seth told Maggie he's an angel. He also told her he loves her. She isn't taking it so well."

Dahyun looks over at the screen and sees an enthralling pair of deep, ocean blue eyes. Meg Ryan looks really pretty. And really sad too.

When the camera pans over to Nicolas Cage, the stupor drops and she's met with the actor's creepy way of talking. It's like he's high or something…

There's a few more shouting involved and Dahyun's convinced a fraction of her lethargy has been shaken off by the thunderous slaps from earlier. She decides to wash more of the sleepiness away just to make sure her allowance doesn't go to waste by falling asleep through the movie. 

"Unnie, I'll just go to the restroom", she whispers over to Mina who, in return, quietly nods and tells her to be careful on her way out.

The women's restroom is empty when she gets there with the help of a cinema guide who flashes the lights for her, illuminating the steps. Once Dahyun gets to the restroom, she splashes her face with some water immediately. 

Don't fall asleep.

Stay awake. 

This is three weeks' worth of allowance down the drain if you fall asleep, Kim Dahyun!

The realization must have worked because the exhaustion slowly slips away from her system, just by thinking of how broke she is. When Dahyun glances up to take a look at herself, she jolts even more awake at how awful she looks, bags under her eyes and water trailing down her face.

I need to wipe the water out. Did I bring my handkerchief with me?

Upon patting at the pockets of her skirt for her handkerchief, Dahyun feels something else. A hard, plastic object that's— oh my god.

She pulls out the hongbao from her pocket, its White Heathers crushed to smaller chunks after being pocketed. Dahyun remembers what she had been initially planning to do today: confess.

She realizes only then, staring at the fragments of the White Heather flower, she isn't ready to confess just yet. At least, not tell her feelings to Mina face-to-face, that is. She still doesn't know how to, not when her emotions for the older girl just feels too powerful to be limited to words. 

No. No, that won't do.

Dahyun paces back and forth the restroom until the door opens, and there reveals the girl that's been occupying her head and her heart, driving her to the borderline.

"Hey. I was worried you were gone for too long…" Mina trails off, walking over to where Dahyun is standing in front of the sink counter, a concerned frown on her face.

Dahyun feels her heart go loop-de-loop. "A-Are you gonna use the restroom too, unnie?"

"I might as well since I'm already here, I guess?"

"Okay. I'll go back to guard our seats then." It's a tactic to get out of Mina's space for a while. Because whenever the girl is present, Dahyun's head easily fails to remember the concept of rationality.

Mina just nods, although there is a pause that Dahyun feels the need to analyze. A pause where she just looks into the younger girl's eyes, down to the bridge of her nose, and then to her lips, all the while the crease of her forehead slowly fades away too. 

Dahyun kind of wishes she didn't notice it. Then she wouldn't be thinking of how Mina looked at her, all throughout the walk back to their seats. Then she wouldn't be empty-handed right now, decision-less, unable to think of a way on how to tell Mina her feelings— wait a minute.

What if I don't tell her at all?

Just like that, the engines in her head begin turning again.

Maybe I don't need to voice it out? I can just...give her the letter and the tape. 

Beside her, Mina's varsity jacket hangs on the backrest of her seat. Dahyun takes a look around first (the action doesn't do much considering how the entire cinema hall is practically pitch-black and barely lit up by the screen). Once the coast is clear, Dahyun then proceeds to grab the jacket and grope for its pockets. She finds two, left and right.

I'll just...leave the letter here then. When she reads it, she'll find out. Then it's like I confessed too. 

She lips the hongbao in the left pocket. Mina is right-handed.

Dahyun high-fives herself internally. In the short-lived mental calmness she is given, she decides to plan everything down to the T. 

She only sees three options and three courses of actions she can possibly take, depending on the what can happen today:

If Mina finds the hongbao tonight and reads it when they're together, Dahyun will just have to run away and avoid the older girl for a few days until she has enough confidence to face rejection.

If Mina finds out while they're not together, Dahyun will still avoid her for a few days until she has enough confidence to face rejection.

Lastly, if Mina finds out a few days later and asks to talk to Dahyun, Dahyun will still run off and avoid confrontation until she's ready to face rejection.

Same course of action for everything, really.  

Dahyun faces the fact that they'll have to talk about the confession one way or another, knowing how Mina isn't the type to just sweep the problem under the rug and pretend it doesn't exist. But in spite of the inevitable, Dahyun still wishes for some time for her to allow herself a confidence build-up, at least until she's ready to face her pending heartbreak.

Because while she finds her goal of getting over her feelings for Mina shining in the short-term run of things, Dahyun just sees pain in the long run. Pitch-black, ice-cold heartbreak for not being the one.

 


 

(Mina arrives from the restroom a little later on. 

She doesn’t wear the jacket for the rest of the night.

Dahyun doesn't know whether to feel relieved or not.)

 


 

They both finish the movie together. Dahyun is more awake and Mina more immersed than they both thought they would be.

Near the end of the film, Dahyun's almost in tears already. 

Seth has given up being an angel just to be able to touch Maggie. 

Then, the guitar strings play. 

And I'd give up forever to touch you. 

Dahyun's tears fall there.

“I don’t understand a God who would let us meet, if there’s no way we could ever be together.” 

Her heart feels like it’s getting ripped out from her chest. 

When the lights open and the ending credits roll in, the collar of Dahyun’s shirt is already soaked with her tears. She rushes to wipe them away, glancing in the opposite direction to hide her dramatic self from further humiliation.

“Hey…” There’s a light tap on her shoulder. Mina seems wary for a few seconds until she just lets her hand rest there comfortably. “Dahyun? Are you okay?” 

It’s a futile attempt trying to pretend she didn’t bawl her eyes out when the heartbreak-of-an ending sprung at her, out of the blue. Her eyes are already too puffy to pretend they’re normal and her snot is like a damned waterfall, racing out. 

Dahyun feels so freaking embarrassed. 

“Y-Yes, unnie?” 

When Mina sees the sight of her, her eyes grow wide in concern, forehead furrowing and the smile on her face wiped out in a nanosecond. “Hey. Why are you crying? What’s wrong?” 

Mina wants to talk to whoever’s done this to Dahyun. Just talk. And then maybe have her father’s men—

“The m-movie…” Dahyun whimpers, lips trembling even more when the familiar guitar intro plays as the credits continue to roll up. “It was…” her voice is shaking too much,  she honestly looks like a poor, upset child, “It was just sad, unnie…” 

The burning passion to confront whoever hurt Dahyun dissipates and is replaced by a sigh of relief, an action that makes Mina chuckle a little and feel guilty even more. 

“Hey…shhh…” 

The next thing that happens, Mina blames it on her natural instinct to comfort someone. Hugging Dahyun feels like nothing for a second, and then in the next, everything beautiful in the world all at once. 

Mina finds it weird how the first thing she thought about embracing Dahyun is: Wow, she’s so fluffy.

It makes her want to wrap her arms around the younger girl for the rest of her life. Oh how a dream it would be to just be able to hug her whenever she’d want to. Would that be weird?

Dahyun calms down at the contact. Her previous state of secondhand sadness from the tragic movie is replaced by a disorientation. She’s crying on the shoulder of her crush, wrapped in the older girl's arms. Mina even adds fuel to the fire inside of Dahyun when she begins stroking her hair, whispering hushed words to calm her down. It does wonders to Dahyun’s heart. 

They stay like that longer than they should.

When they pull away from each other, they’re almost the only ones left inside the cinema already. Neither one knows who initiated the distance first. At the lack of contact, it kinda feels awkward now. 

Mina doesn’t know where to place her freaking hands, both still wanting to hold a piece of Dahyun. 

Dahyun doesn’t know what to do with the idea of Mina holding her a little bit longer than she should.

They stay awkwardly in their seats until a theater staff comes in and tells them it’s already time to go. That gets the awkward atmosphere blowing away, replaced by quickly-muttered apologies and laughter afterwards. 

Dahyun feels weird laughing through her heavy eyelids and scratchy nose. Mina finds herself crossing out an item from her mental bucket list (29. To get ushered out of a place). Dahyun makes her want to do things she never thought she'd be able to do in her lifetime.

They do a bunch of other weird things afterwards. Dahyun doesn’t know where she got the confidence from but she manages to ask Mina out to get some ice cream, a subtle tactic done with the purpose of spending more time with the older girl. 

They find themselves sitting outside of a convenience store down a less crowded street away from the main avenue. 

Dahyun stretches her legs out as they sit on the concrete steps, licking ice cream on a chilly night, watching as the world passes by before them. Mina sits beside her, leg crossed on top of the other, digging a wooden spoon into her cup of strawberry ice cream. 

A few cars pass by in front of them. For the most part, only aged people walk around here. The young choose to crowd Rodeo drive at night. This sidestreet is like a detour from the usual hustle and bustle of Apgujeong. 

The crowdless state allows Dahyun and Mina to appreciate the beauty of the gentle night. Some time while they were watching, it had rained and caused the roads to glow a silvery glimmer with hues of orange, reflected from the lights from the lamp posts lining the street. 

It was beautiful. Heavenly. Just the two of them and the world.

"Dahyun-ah?”

“Hm?” 

“Do you think about the future?” 

Dahyun bites at her ice cream cone, head tilting at the spontaneity of the question. “Uh...sometimes, I guess?” 

Mina hums, taking a spoonful of her ice cream before asking again, “Do you wonder what it would look like for you?” 

Odd questions… 

“Well, I think mine’s gonna look pretty rad”, Dahyun answers with a smug grin, smiling just at the thought of her future, the party of the century just a few weeks away.

Mina can’t help but chuckle a little. “Why do you think that?” 

“Sana unnie’s party is gonna be super cool? Everyone’s gonna be there and–wait! You should come too, unnie! It’ll be super duper fly. ” 

The use of the slang word has Mina doubling over in laughter. When she glances over at Dahyun, she notices a little smudge of ice cream at the corner of the younger girl’s lip. She’s been too focused on getting a bite at the wafer cone that she hasn’t noticed how much ice cream she’s getting on her face.

Mina feels drawn to the little smudge, unknowingly reaching over for it and dabbing her pinky on the stain, lightly, ghost-like brushes of her finger on the corner of Dahyun’s lip. 

She doesn’t realize what she’s done until she pulls her hand away and Dahyun’s just staring at her like a deer caught in the headlights. 

Mina looks down on her finger, remembers how soft Dahyun’s cheeks felt and how her lips were really , really pretty and pink, and feels the heat rush up to her entire head. Oh god. What did I just do?!

“Uh...You...There was...um...a stain on your...ice cream. I mean, cheek!” Mina shakes her head in an attempt to snap out of her Dahyun-induced daze. She lets out a deep, frustrated sigh. “I meant, there was ice cream on your cheek and I...I just wiped it off. Sorry. Was that invasive of me? I didn’t mean to just barge into your space and—” 

“It...It’s okay, unnie.” 

Mina feels her heart fall back into a steadier beat. Fear had never striked her this much before but when Dahyun looked at her the way she did–eyes wide and mouth hanging ajar, as if she had just seen a ghost–Mina felt real fear there. She never felt this way until now. 

(The last thing she’d want is to scare Dahyun away with her emotions)

“You...you have something in...here too…” Dahyun inches closer to Mina’s face and Mina just stiffens, dropping all of her guard down as the blonde girl reaches over her cheek. 

Mina doesn’t feel anything. Not a touch, not a brush of Dahyun’s fingers. Nothing. 

When the younger girl pulls her hand back, instead, she does a peace sign. “Just kidding, unnie.” 

Truth be told, Mina doesn’t know what to feel for a split second there. Disappointed? Maybe. But then she catches Dahyun’s pale cheeks dusted in pink, the shells of her ears the same color. She hides her face behind her hands, unable to bear the embarrassment of what she just did. 

Mina’s disappointment fades away at the sight of how Dahyun’s all sheepish and cringing at herself. 

God. Can she get any more adorable? 

Mina could watch Dahyun adorably embarrassed forever and not get tired of it.  

“The future, unnie…” Unfortunately, the younger girl won’t have it the same way. Dahyun puts her hands down and resumes a moderately-serious face. “Were you asking about the next week type or the twenty-years-later kind of ‘future’?”  

Mina chuckles. “I was going for the latter but your answer was okay too…” 

“Oh.” Dahyun pauses and thinks. The future looks cool, with how society is progressing as of late. They might get  phones with holograms in the 2000s already. Oh my god what a dream. 

“I want to study really hard to make money and buy my own forest.”

“As in...an entire forest?” Mina gulps, wondering just how much she’d have to take out from her trust fund to afford that. 

Dahyun chuckles a little. “Well of course there’s gonna be a house too, unnie. But it would be really small. Fit for one person. And then the rest would be land, and I’d grow plants and trees and lots of flowers there. I’ll take in stray animals and feed them too. Just a sanctuary, you know?”

Mina feels bad for focusing on the smaller aspect of the answer but she couldn't help it. "What did you mean by fit for one person? You're gonna live all by yourself?"

Dahyun looks like she wants to say I said all those and all you got was that? and Mina feels even worse.

"I don't know, unnie." Thankfully, Dahyun just continues, thinking how, frankly, she really didn't know. Although she had seen the future as a time for her to work hard and achieve her dreams of a peaceful, rather domestic life, she never had really thought of the other aspects of it. Say, adult relationships and settling down with someone. "I just kinda saw myself all alone in the future. I don't think anyone will ever like me enough to tolerate me."

"You're a really simple person, Dahyun. You don't need someone to tolerate you."

"That's the thing. I'm simple enough that it's boring", Dahyun holds her head down. This is the first time she's opened up about her thoughts of the future (with the person she wants to spend it with). "People like thrill and something exciting. They want their relationships like cheetos. Hot, burning, and cheesy."

"You literally just said you wanted to grow your own forest  sanctuary and compared a passionate relationship to a hot cheeto…" Mina wants to laugh at the comparison but doesn't. The person she likes thinks no one likes her. What am I then?  "You still think you're boring , Dahyun?" 

The change in Mina's tone, from wistful and thinking to something determined and serious, has Dahyun looking up. She sees a small, almost unnoticeable pinch in Mina's eyebrows. Is she actually concerned about what I just said…?

"Maybe eccentric then…?"

The little frown fades away. Mina smiles with a drawn-out sigh sets aside her emptied ice cream cup. She moves to sit closer to Dahyun and–under the influence of faux confidence–takes the younger girl's arm and hugs it with her own, holding her close. 

"You are a really amazing and incredible person, Dahyun." 

They look out to the street and all the people passing by. It’s a gentle spring night. Dahyun feels like she can burst into flames with the warmth that permeates with Mina’s touch. 

“Am I really, unnie?” 

Mina snorts. "Unless you can find another person that wants a forest too, a small house that can fit all the stray animals you can help rescue together, and compares your relationship to a hot, burning, and cheesy cheeto, then yeah, I think you're probably better all alone then." 

"Yeah?" 

"Yeah." Mina nods, resting her head against Dahyun's own. "Because you deserve the love you always give to the universe. If they can’t give you that then you’re as good as an independent woman then.” 

“So it’s either finding someone who’ll love me enough or being all alone for the rest of my life?” 

“I’m sure you’ll find that someone, Dahyun.” Can it be me? “And until then, unnie will always be here.” 

Dahyun draws her head back from the comforts of Mina’s shoulder and looks up at the older girl, a sincere little frown on her face.

 “What if I never find that person in the future, unnie?” 

Mina, oh boy. She could drown in Dahyun’s eyes forever. 

“Then that means you already found them in the past.” 

 


 

They eventually call it a night but not without unknowingly crossing out one last thing from Mina’s imaginary bucket list. 

Yumama goes berserk whenever the younger girls stay out past curfew. When Mina checks her watch halfway into their second snack of the night, sharing a steaming cup of ramen together, she finds out it’s ten minutes before 10PM and ten minutes before they get in trouble with Yumama. 

In a split second, they’re up on their feet and running down the street, laughing while trying to make sure they beat the record and make the twenty-minute walk fit into ten. 

For Dahyun it feels like they’re in a world of their own. 

They pass by the side street for a quicker pace but even in the lack of crowd, all the elderly passing by give them bad looks for carelessly running into the night, probably looking like two weird kids trying to make sense of their youth. 

In the far distance, as if this was a scene ripped out of a movie, The Ronettes’ Be My Baby plays. 

Dahyun and Mina run for their lives. 

Through the night. 

Laughing (and breathlessly in love).

Them in their world. 

(Mina thinks if she can keep one moment in her life forever, it would be this.)

They save themselves from the nagging by a hair’s strand, arriving back at the dorms a minute before the clock hits 10PM. 

They’re breathless and a little disoriented from having run all the way from the theater back to the dorms. Mina feels like her heart is on fire and Dahyun could say the same, judging by how the older girl is laughing so loud even in her panting state. 

Oh my god. She’s so beautiful.

Yumama doesn’t see them rushing inside the elevator, running away from her. Once the doors close, they finally burst into laughter. The adrenaline rides inside their system until they reach the fourth floor, and by the time Dahyun stops in front of her door, she realizes Mina didn’t leave her side. 

“Unnie…” She trails off, still trying to catch her breath from all the reckless running and shameless laughing. “Your dorm...is on the...second floor. Why did...you come up here?” 

Mina holds up her jacket, “I was gonna—” 

“Oh? What are you two doing here?” 

But before she can even finish her words, the door behind them opens and out reveals Yoo Jeongyeon in bunny-printed pajamas (something Dahyun knows isn’t her unnie’s pajamas). She looks a little disoriented, hair tousled and face plastered with traces of sleep. 

Dahyun plainly points at her door, making a show by knocking on the wooden surface. “This is my dorm, unnie.” 

“Didn’t Jihyo tell you?” Jeongyeon runs a hand through her hair and yawns. “She’s sleeping over at Chuu’s for the night.”

“What?” Oh no. “Unnie has the key!” 

“Yeah. She does.” Jeongyeon deapans. “Sana and Momo are out for the night too. They’re probably asleep right now at Sana’s. Unfortunately, I can’t take you in right now too, kiddo. Nayeon’s growing a bad cold and Chaeyoung’s down for the night. I can’t let any more of you guys get infected.” 

Dahyun feels a bad headache coming. Is this what I get for having the best night of my life? 

“Where do I sleep then, unnie?” She whines, back hitting the door as she slides down on the floor. “I can’t sleep at Yumama’s office. As much as I love her, she snores loudly. Like, really loud…”

Jeongyeon looks just as afflicted as Dahyun. As much as she’d love to offer a space in their room, her two roommates are currently not in their best states to share the same air with someone and Jeongyeon would rather not risk it. 

Dahyun feels exhausted. After running all that far and laughing for so long, the adrenaline is finally dying down inside of her and reality is sinking in really fast. All she wants now is a nice good night with Mina to cap off the day, and tuck herself under her blanket 

That’s probably the best this night could get. Is she really asking for too much? 

“Why don’t you sleep over at Jackson’s and—”

“You can stay with me.” 

Both heads dart over to the meek voice.

Mina looks resolute, facing Dahyun. “I have enough space in my room for us. I can lend you some clothes too if you want.” 

Dahyun feels like this is the part of the movie where the cameras and the film crew show up and collectively tell her she’s being pranked because goddamn is this a dream? 

“Uh...er...unnie...I...I’m not—” 

“Oh, that’s better, Dubu. You can sleep over Mina’s for the night. She doesn’t mind.” Jeongyeon adds, further conflicting Dahyun. 

As much as she’d love to, Dahyun thinks she might not be able to get through the night sleeping in the same room as her crush. “I just don’t think it’s a good idea and—” 

“Why not?” Mina frowns, tone sounding a little displeased. “I have plenty of space in my room, Dahyun. And I think it’s a better plan than having you sleep over at Jackson’s or anybody else for that matter.” 

“I just—” 

“This isn’t something we should even be arguing about.” 

The air stills, and Dahyun isn’t sure what to make of how Mina sounds. Clearly serious. 

“I’d rather have you sleep beside me than at somebody else’s place, Dahyun-ah. It just...it doesn’t feel safe. Jeongyeon would agree. Right, Jeong?” Mina turns to the person in question, looking for back-up.

Jeongyeon, in her half-awake, half-asleep state, nods. “I second the motion!”

Dahyun is left sighing in defeat. There’s no point in arguing anymore. She doesn’t feel like wanting to hear that serious (scary) tone from Mina again and, well, what could go wrong right? 

That’s just about what it takes before Dahyun is walking down the staircase again, this time with Mina beside her. 

 

In her head she prays to everyone she can pray to above. Dear Lord, please help me get through this alive. 

She hopes they hear her prayer. 

 


 

Mina’s dorm room is even more spacious inside, as impossible as it seemed. 

It looks far different and more lived-in than the first time Dahyun has seen its inside. 

From where Dahyun stands by the door, she can see everything. The walls are plastered with mixed posters of Japanese, English, and Korean bands, some Dahyun knows, most she doesn’t. Beside her is a rack displaying all sorts of expensive-looking shoes ranging from slip-ons and ballerina flats to running shoes and suede heels. 

Mina hangs the jacket by the coat rack behind the door.  

Dahyun tears her wary gaze away from the jacket, afraid to cause suspicion.

Mina’s bed, a queen-size one, sits by the far corner of the room, right beside the window. There’s a study desk across to the said window, just beside the door, with a built-in bookshelf filled with encyclopedias and other books titled in English. A mint green bean bag chair sits in between the bed and the study table, over a faux fur carpet. Mina has her own bathroom and mini-walk-in closet. 

Looking at everything right now makes Dahyun remember just how well-off Mina really is, something she’s forgotten for a quick moment while they were sitting outside a convenience store earlier, sharing a cup of cheap ramen together. 

It slipped her mind for a while, that she was crushing on the modern-day princess of Japan.

“It gets cold at night. Do you want to borrow longer pajamas or…?” When no answer comes, Mina turns around. “Dahyunnie?” 

“O-Oh. Unnie. Sorry. What was it again?” Dahyun stands looking over her desk. 

Mina grabs one of her long-sleeve pajama sets, her favorite pink fleece one, and walks over to the younger girl, realizing she's looking at one of her most recent projects scattered all over her desk. “Do they look okay?” 

Dahyun feels a smile tug at the corners of her lips, a laugh threatening to escape. “What are they supposed to be first?” 

“I knew it.” Mina sighs in defeat, putting down the pajamas on her chair and grabbing the colored paper ornament on her desk. “It doesn’t look like a flower huh?”

“I’m sorry, unnie.” Dahyun doesn’t know why she feels this comfortable laughing at Mina but there’s a certain kind of satisfaction in knowing the older girl isn’t so perfect after all. “It kinda looks like a cut-out of a child's traced hand.”

“It’s supposed to be a paper flower.” 

(Let it be known here that Mina Myoui is absolutely perfect in everything else but making paper flowers.)

“You’ll get better when you practice more, unnie.” Dahyun quips in amusement. Mina just pouts at her, and it takes all the willpower in Dahyun not to hug her frown away.

“I’m still a practicing student, Dahyun. Besides, Sana was preoccupied with Momo the entire time she was teaching me.” Mina grabs the pajamas again and hands it over. “Now go take a warm shower. It’s cold out here. I’ll fix the bed for you.” 

Just like that, the bubble of ease and comfort pops. 

“W-What?” Dahyun feels like getting bitch-slapped by ice, cold water. Oh yeah. I'm sleeping here.

Mina walks over to her bed, pulling at the sheets. “I’m not gonna let you sleep on the floor, Dahyun.” 

“There’s a c-carpet—” 

“You’re gonna sleep on my bed.” 

“I...uh…” It feels like Dahyun’s about to collapse. “W-What about you?” 

“Well, if you’re okay with it, I was thinking of sleeping right beside you.” 

Dahyun can hear her own heart flatlining. Us? In one bed? Mina Myoui, the prettiest, sweetest, most perfect girl in the entire universe, wants ME to sleep beside her? Because it’s cold? She wants me to take the same bed? As her? Because it’s COLD?!

Dear Lord, you may take me now. 

“Dahyun? Are you okay?” Mina gazes at her with a soft, unguarded look.

Dahyun snaps out of her Mina Myoui-induced daydreaming, grabs the towel Mina’s holding out, and just sprints to the first door she sees. 

“That’s the closet—” 

She runs over to the other door. 

“You forgot your pajamas—” 

She bolts out of the bathroom again, grabs the pajama set neatly folded on the bed, and runs back inside the bathroom. 

The moment the door closes with a loud thud, Dahyun falls on the floor, clutching at fabric over her chest. She can feel her heart trying to break apart her ribcage. Her head feels like it’s spinning and being jackhammered all at the same time. 

Mina stands wide-eyed outside, just staring at the door, trying to take in what just happened. Dahyun ran around her room like she was The Flash. She couldn’t help but wonder why the younger girl had suddenly acted so bashful at the prospect of sharing a bed. Mina knew Dahyun shared beds with Chaeyoung before, as well as Jihyo and the other girls. 

Why is she acting like doing it with me seemed...scary? 

Ah. Whatever. Mina leaves her thoughts whirling away with the gentle breeze that  blows inside the room. She fixes the bed and puts more pillows on Dahyun’s side. Once that’s done, she grabs her change of clothes and dresses inside the cramped walk-in closet. 

Dahyun takes more time in the showers than Mina expected her to; she notices this as she waits outside, sitting on the edge of her bed, towel hanging on shoulder, anticipating for the time she can brush her teeth and wash her face already. 

It feels like Dahyun’s been showering for an hour now. 

With every growing second that turns into more and more minutes, Mina feels dread clawing up at her throat. The silence in the room is not helping at all, with only the soft sound of the water running from the bathroom and the gust of spring wind blowing inside. Everything fills up Mina’s head like water in a tub nearing its brim. 

She had always been one for patience, prided in her ability to stay composed in many nerve-wracking situations. Years of ballet taught her that. Patience and gracefulness in the face of inhibitions.

It must’ve skipped her now, however, as Mina fiddles with the hem of her pajama, introspecting on all her shortcomings in making sure her bathroom is danger-free enough for someone who has an above-average inclination to accidents like Kim Dahyun. 

Did I open the organic shower set? 

Is the water warm enough for her? 

Oh my god. 

Did I put a floor mat inside? 

(Dahyun thinks Mina's bathroom is cute. It reminds her of her cousin's overly baby-proofed house  when they welcomed her nephew a few months ago. 

There are even corner guards in unnie's sink and shelves! 

There are Mickey Mouse-themed bathroom sets and a penguin-shaped floor mat. It's like a mini toy store inside with all the themed decorations. 

Is she that clumsy to need all of this? Unnie's so adorable…

Dahyun dries herself up and grabs her change of clothes, a really soft flashy pink pajama set. It had familiar prints of two overlapping letter C's, and when she took a look at the tag, Dahyun felt her eyes roll out.

Oh god. Chanel pajamas?!)

Eventually she does come out of the shower, albeit a few more minutes after, as Mina's sanity hung on a thin thread.

She let out a deep breath of relief she didn't even know she was holding back, seeing Dahyun again. 

"It took you long enough…" 

The younger girl only chuckles shyly, walking over to the drying rack to hang her borrowed towel. "Sorry, unnie. Was just thinking, is all."

(Dahyun wasn't , really. She had been doing that for the first fifteen minutes already. 

What took her so long was Mina's shower gel. It smelled like jasmines and green tea, both really calming combinations of an aroma; Dahyun spent the entire shower lathering herself with it and rinsing repeat, for about more than five times.)

Mina just smiles tiredly and stands up from the bed, walking over to the bathroom to get her toothbrush and paste. She grabs another spare one from the cabinet underneath her sink, handing it over to Dahyun.

"Come here." 

In silence, Dahyun obliges. They stand together in the small space of the bathroom, right in front of the fogged up mirror, as Mina puts on the toothpaste on both brushes.

It's quiet and comfortable, like a kind of established familiarity between them, as if they had been doing this forever with each other.

Dahyun finds it magical how something so simple as brushing their teeth together in the small space of the bathroom feels like a sacred act shared only between lovers who've shared a life together for so long; Who've formed a bond that didn't rely on excessive acts of splurging on each other just to show their love for one another.

Dahyun always dreamt of that. Of this. 

They share soft laughter whenever she tries to say something with all the toothpaste foam in her mouth. Mina's giggles fill the space when they flicker water at one another. One moment they're chasing each other around the room, the next Mina tries to hold Dahyun still, one hand cupping her jaw while the other gently wipes at the splatters of water trailing down Dahyun's face.

"Stop moving", she mumbles, in a tone marked by amusement and another emotion Dahyun can't point out–isn't able to with how Mina's face is so close to hers. 

"You look like you took another shower." 

Dahyun fights the urge to snort. "Because you nearly used the bidet on me."

"But I didn't, did I?" Mina finally finishes wiping at her face. "Besides, you started it."

"Because you almost fell asleep brushing your teeth.” 

“It’s almost eleven o’clock, babe. For normal people, it is sleeping time.” 

Dahyun stills at the word. Mina must have felt it too, the way the younger girl turns rigid under her touch, because she draws her hands back and clears her throat rather awkwardly. “Uh. Yeah. It's kind of appropriate to feel sleepy now, Dahyun-ah.” 

She walks out of the bathroom first, over to the drying rack near the foot of the bed to hang the towel she used on Dahyun’s face. 

The blonde girl stays in the bathroom for a few more seconds, trying to reel in what the hell just happened. To be frank, she isn’t able to understand much of it. If Dahyun were to put into words what her mind would think of whenever Mina was around, it’d be simple. 

Her mind just goes: ASDFGHFKGDGKHFDGFOMYGOD.

In her head, it sounds like an engine dry heaving. It works like that now too, when Dahyun steps out of the bathroom after deeming herself sane enough, and walks in on Mina sitting up on the bed, doing stretches.

Was she wearing short shorts earlier?

Dahyun feels her throat dry up at the sight of Mina’s long ballerina legs stretched out on the bed’s surface, effortlessly reaching her toes with the opposite hand as she does a half-straddle stretch. Her silk pajama top rides up whenever she extends her arm out and Dahyun hates the fact that her eyes feel like they’re magnetically attracted to look at the small glimpse of soft, pale skin. 

Oh my god. I look like a creep. Dahyun, snap out of it! 

“You stretch every night, unnie?” 

Mina moves to extend her other leg, facing Dahyun. “Yes. It helps me sleep.” She pats on the empty space beside her, on the bed. “Come here.” 

Dahyun does what she is told to do. Every step she takes feels like a step closer to heaven. When she finally reaches Mina’s queen-size bed and feels the cold white sheets from the pads of her fingers, she feels like drawing in a deep, preparatory breath. 

She will need all the guidance and strength of the Lord for this night. 

“I’m sleeping on this side cause it’s colder here”, Mina states, finishing up her stretching. “Unless you want the colder side? Jeong mentioned before you didn’t like getting too cold.” 

Dahyun feels her cheeks blush. Mina’s movements and the gentle blow of the spring breeze circulating inside the room allows her a whiff of soft floral tones and the green tea shower gel, like Dahyun waltzed into a field of jasmines with soap bubbles floating in the air.  

“I’m fine here, unnie. Thank you.” 

Mina hums. She sits up properly and reaches over behind Dahyun to fluff both the younger girl’s pillows and hers. She returns back to her place again and quietly pulls at the comforter, drawing it over to cover her midriff and the rest of her lower body.

Beside her, Dahyun is silently sitting on the bed, cross-legged. 

Dahyun isn’t used to sleeping on a bed this comfortable. Mina’s bed felt like lying down on a bed of feathers and foam. It feels like resting on a thousand pillows that smelled really nice. In spite of this, however, Dahyun didn’t feel sleepy one bit. Didn’t feel the ropes of exhaustion pull at her eyelids or at her limbs, unlike when she was in the cinema earlier.

The two girls sit in silence, absentmindedly waiting for something they both don’t know. 

Dahyun looks around the room again, tries to let her eyes taken in everything else but the pretty girl sitting beside her. 

The room is dim at best. The only sources of light come from the window beside Mina, filtering the moonlight and chilly spring breeze through sheer curtains, and a warm white lampshade on the stand beside Dahyun, casting a soft, comfortable glow around the space. 

It’s Mina who decides to break silence. 

“Do you pray at night, Dahyun?” 

Dahyun makes the mistake of glancing at the older girl. 

The moonlight behind Mina, the gentle breeze that blows through her hair and the way she appears soft and unguarded waiting for Dahyun’s answer, makes her look like an angel fallen from the heavens, sparing Dahyun a minute of her precious time. 

Dahyun feels overwhelmed. 

“I...uh…” Just exactly how do you talk to an angel?  “Yes?”

Mina only nods wordlessly, unknowingly biting at her bottom lip. 

“How about you, unnie?” 

“Sometimes.” She shrugs. 

“When you want something?” 

“Maybe.” Mina looks away. Outside the window, the trees rustle softly along with the breeze. “I’m not as perfect as everyone thinks I am, Dahyun-ah.”

Everyone holds me up so high, I’m afraid I’ll fall hard with one wrong step. 

“Sometimes I forget to pray too.” Dahyun looks down, wriggles her toes to keep them warm from the cold air. “Only when I need something, I pray. The last time I prayed the most sincerely, I was a kid asking for superpowers.” 

A soft giggle fills the silence of the room. Dahyun can just imagine how breathtaking Mina’s smile is. She doesn’t want to see it. 

“What kind of superpower did you ask for?” 

“I wanted to time travel.” 

Mina wants to say she’s surprised but a part of her already anticipated it. “Like, travel to the past?” 

“To the future.” Dahyun finally looks up. She grabs the blanket she shares with Mina and pulls it over her legs. “My mom used to say I was born with a little bit of bad luck so I wanted to travel to the future and see my future self. Maybe talk to her if I could. To know if I was doing good. If I was okay.” If I was happy. 

“Did God grant your wish?” 

“It took me the next Christmas to realize God didn’t grant wishes. He just...sends someone to help you achieve it.” 

Mina feels a kind of comfortable warmth settle inside of her. It grows all over, and knocks on the door of her heart. She willingly opens it. 

“You sound like an amazing kid, Dahyun. Until now, you are.” 

Eventually, they choose to lie down already. Mina faces her side, turned away from Dahyun, while the younger girl lies on her back, looking up at the cracks of the ceiling, trying to count each and every one of them, waiting for her mind to come back to life. 

Lately, she’s been talking too much with her heart. Dahyun feels afraid, vulnerable, and cold. 

Her head needs to wake up. 

“What would you wish for, unnie? If God granted you one.” 

Mina wasn’t religious. She prayed with her family when she was a child, recited paragraphs she didn’t understand and prayed to a lot of people she didn’t know. Growing up, the faith dwindled into a small spark inside of her, barely even there anymore. 

Listening to Dahyun right now, all her talk about praying to God and the heavens above, it makes Mina want to believe again too. 

It makes her feel reckless at the same time, with a little surge of confidence, because if there was a god waiting for her above, he’d wait beneath her too, to catch her when she decides to jump for this

“I’d wish for the person I like, to like me back too.” Mina’s falling, and falling fast. “What would He want me to do?”

(Dahyun feels her chest burn inside. 

She shifts on her side, turning to look away. 

This was it. The consequences of her heart.) 

“He’d tell you go ask that person for yourself. Walk over to them and tell them your feelings.” Something I couldn’t do.  

Heavy silence hangs above them. Exhaustion was there, both in Dahyun’s body and in her head. She isn’t prepared for any more waiting and hoping and praying. Her head wouldn’t wake up and her heart was holding onto a thin line.

Dahyun decides to close her eyes already.

It takes a few minutes before there’s a shift in the bed,  Mina shuffling to lie on her other side. She’s greeted with the sight of the younger girl’s back, shoulder falling up and down with every gentle inhale and exhale. 

“Should I?” 

Then… 

“Would you like me back, Kim Dahyun?” 

Mina’s falling and she’s falling really, really fast, really, really hard.

Her answer comes in the form of silence. 

God doesn’t catch her.

 


 

The next morning, Dahyun wakes up to an empty bed. 

Sun trickles into the room from the window, warmth tapping at her exposed skin. Beside her, Mina’s space is neatly fixed, as if the older girl didn’t even sleep there. 

The day feels morose, probably because it’s raining, Dahyun thinks. Practice goes a little slower. The season carries with it a heavy atmosphere pulling everyone down. 

Mina only spares Dahyun a single smile for the rest of the afternoon, after Dahyun had thanked her for last night. 

They don’t really talk much after that. 

 


 

Mina heads back to the dorms later that day with Jeongyeon. 

“Before I forget, thank you, by the way.” She smiles faintly, stepping inside her room and reaching behind her door. “I didn’t use it the entire night. It wasn’t as cold as you predicted it would be.”

“Really? It was kinda cold in our room…” 

“Yeah? Well, it wasn’t in mine.” 

Without any other word, she returns the jacket back to Jeongyeon. 

 

Chapter Text

"There is no 'falling ' in love.
There is only spinning madly."

- And I feel like screaming the entire way down, nikka ursula.

 


 

Dearest Mina sunbaenim, 

This letter is the product of every after-class hours spent in Ms. Nam’s unofficial and uncredited English class during freshman year hahaha :D Please bear with my poetic diarrhea and my heart’s sap. Ehem ehem…Let’s begin :D 

Hello, sunbae! 

More than anything in the world, sunbaenim, I'm sorry for not being able to refrain myself from joining the likes of the general consensus of boys and girls as...admirers of the great Myoui Mina. 

You are such an amazing person, sunbae. You're like Woo Hee Jin in Feelings, pretty as the skies of the sunset and gentle like the soft touch of the first snow on skin. 

When you pass by the air smells like waltzing on a field of full-bloomed flowers in spring, and when you laugh it’s like listening to Lee Sun Hee's I Always Miss You all over again. I cried because it was so beautiful (the song and also your laugh too)

My clumsy, weak heart won't be able to handle falling for someone so perfect, so ethereal, so high up like a goddess on a pedestal. But look at me now, sunbae, trying to reach for the stars.

You're so much more than what people say of you and it honestly scares me. I like you now. Could it be any more possible to like you more? It is, apparently.

But halfway through I'll stop. Because there's a lot to risk liking you and I shouldn't be asking for more when I already have what I can have: us as friends.

I'm sorry I haven't told you this before. You’ll be leaving anyways, graduating and advancing to a bigger world and a tougher life. And you'll still be you but without me, though I don't think that'll affect you in any way. 

All in all, I just wanted to share this with you. More accurately, I just needed to take this out of my already clogged heart and give it a chance to breathe. You unknowingly gave me a chance to grow and become a slightly better human being.

I just wanted to give this piece another place to visit outside of my own heart. 

I hope we can still be friends, sunbae. Wouldn't it be so cool to be friends with the stars? 

 

Sincerely yours, 

K.D.

P.S. Sunbae, I made a pretty damn good mixtape u might wanna listen to it <3

 


 

As far as bad days go, the past few ones make up the worst for Dahyun. Even worse than her terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day back in freshman year 

(It was a world record for a bad day. 

Dahyun failed two exams she sacrificed many nights for, didn't pass the auditions for the band club–which was atrocious because above everything else, Kim Dahyun was a music prodigy–had bubblegum stuck in her hair after a rude kid spat it out from the fourth floor and Dahyun happened to walk by–talk about incredible bad timing–and for a final act, had to walk around in baggy donated clothes after her laboratory partner set her uniform on fire–"accidentally", although Dahyun doubts that. Minhyuk had a crush on her and everyone knows boys have a weird way of trying to get their crush's attention…) 

The past days have accumulated to become the ultimate worst now. Not in the sense that Dahyun had experienced questionable bouts of misfortune and ill-timing, rather because the people around her, those she loves with her whole heart and wish infinite happiness for, not feeling that wondrous lightness in their hearts. 

Dahyun should’ve known better than to hope her heaven would last. 

She feels the most affected when everyone around her is sad too. It's like she isn't doing her job, isn't being the sun they all perceive her to be. She has been feeling so useless being unable to help her unnies, unable to do anything about how fast things have improved paralleling how fast everything comes crashing down too. 

Jihyo tells her how she shouldn’t have been affected so much by how her control of things have, recently, felt like sand slipping through her fingers. 

She wouldn’t have been affected so much if only things hadn't been tearing her apart lately, from two different directions involving two different situations:  

Mina hasn’t been as lively as she was a few weeks ago and hasn’t been, for the most part, talking or even sparing Dahyun a glance. She thinks the confession thing has something to do with it

Chaeyoung, on the other hand, is growing weaker by the day and with every breath of the sun, the growing rift inside Dahyun fears that the worst is yet to still come.  

Dahyun fears that Chaeyoung, who had appeared and came crashing into their lives out of the blue, might be taken away from them just as suddenly too. She can’t have that. 

Chaeyoung appeared at the right time and the right moment. Dahyun is convinced she has a purpose in their lives. Be it to save them from their own misery, or help them see how better they all could be without it.

Dahyun found a best friend in Son Chaeyoung. She doesn't know what to do if the world ever takes her away.

 


 

Ironically, Dahyun kind of expected it. 

For everything to get worse. 

She had tied the knot of her metaphoric blindfold too loose to completely hide her eyes from seeing reality. Somewhere along the way, she figured it was useless blinding herself with it and hoping she wouldn't get hurt. 

Lately, expecting things to go right feels like wishing for something too impossible to happen. Like asking to end world hunger in a snap of a finger or try to keep her Tamagotchi babies alive for more than a month.

Chaeyoung is apparently allergic to pollen grains. Dahyun only finds out after her clueless self decided to bring her best friend to a garden.  

She feels guilty for thinking of the solution so selfishly but at the same time, the decision made sense. Mina's dorm was the nearest and they were way past curfew. If Yumama found them, that would only add more fuel to the fire and Chaeyoung might get dragged in trouble too.

Dahyun doesn't want to risk her bro. Besides, Mina probably has an entire clinic stuffed into a First Aid bag in her dorm. It would be a good idea to ask for her help and that's what brings Dahyun standing in front of the older girl's door now  (definitely not that she wants to see Mina again, just them , and probably, if she can, if her heart can, ask her about the confession…) 

I can do this.

I will do this.

Mina unnie needs to find out that I like her and that I am not afraid of accepting my feelings—

"Oh? Dahyun-ah?"

It only takes the sight of Mina in a silk strapped pajama dress for Dahyun's entire confidence to flush down the toilet.

"U-Unnie…?" It feels like sinning against the gods, looking so shamelessly at Aphrodite. "I...uh...err…"

Chaeyoung's wheezing behind her, breathing in jagged breaths. The sound of her heaving, holding on for dear life, snaps Dahyun out of her mind's short-circuiting.

"UnnieimjustgonnafindtheotherunniespleasehelpChaeyoungshesdyingithink–BUHBYE!"

Or not.

Dahyun speedwalks away, dipping before she is spared another second of looking at Mina's soft skin, bared in the cold night's breeze because of her ridiculously... dangerous -looking, heart attack-inducing silk strapped dress.

Seriously? You're panicking at your crush while your best friend's on the verge of allergy-induced death?!

Dahyun acknowledges this as a record low for her.  

I really have to get that confession, huh.

 


 

Dahyun, frankly, doesn't know why she's getting the other unnies. 

Handling Chaeyoung's allergy attack is something for the nurse or Yumama even, but somehow, Dahyun's first reaction to panic is to get her unnies' help. Because when they're around and together, no matter how big the problem is, everything's gonna be okay.

She gets Jihyo first because in the face of danger, you'd want the closest person to a god by your side. And also because Jihyo knows everything even when she doesn't. 

The older girl is in their dorm, wrapped in a blanket burrito on her bed, nose practically stuffed into her clam-shaped laptop. 

"UNNIE, CHAEYOUNG'S DYING IN MINA UNNIE'S ROOM!!!"

Okay, so maybe Dahyun shouldn't have exaggerated a little bit but the thought is the same and her panicking really isn't helping either. 

"What?" Jihyo, as expected, remains composed.

Dahyun has no time to explain. "Just go there unnie! I'll get Momo and Sana unnie here." 

Reluctantly, Jihyo gets off her bed and walks to the bathroom to probably grab her robe or something. Dahyun doesn't stay long enough to know. 

Next is Sana and Momo unnie. They come as a package now so all Dahyun really has to do is go to Momo unnie's dorm–which is exciting because this might just be the first time she gets to see the older girl's room in person.

Dahyun makes sure to knock first because respect, amidst a near-death experience is a good trait. Also because Momo has a senior roommate too that isn't a part of their group of friends, and because, for all Dahyun knows, she might walk in on something... private.

So she knocks.

As expected, it's a disheveled Momo who comes to answer the door. It's nearly pitch-black behind her, the room enveloped in darkness. So much for seeing the inside...

Momo's hair is all over the place and her eyelids are heavily dusted with sleep. Dahyun decides to be more gentle with her SOS announcing–but someone beats her first.

"Momoring? Come back to bed~"

Momo, as a side-effect of drowsiness, doesn't hold back anymore when she grumbles back in guttural Japanese, "It's Dahyunnie, Satang."

Now Dahyun doesn't understand Japanese well but it doesn't take a genius to piece out her name and her Sana unnie's. It doesn't surprise Dahyun anymore. Everyone knows, even without the two telling them, there had always been something more between Sana and Momo. 

"What is it, Dubu? It's like, midnight already?"

It's like, 10PM…?

"Unnie, it's Chaeyoung." One mention of the youngest's name and the sleep in Momo's eyes are suddenly shaken off. 

Sana emerges behind her almost immediately, looking the same state of disheveled. "Chaeyoung? What happened?"

"I'll explain later, unnie. But it's an emergency!"

Sana looks alarmed. Momo darts back to the room, probably to drape something over her Sailor Moon pajamas. 

"Okay  we'll be right down", Sana nods. "You go back there and don't leave her side, okay?" 

Dahyun didn't need to be told that to do it. She would never leave Chaeyoung's side. She just had to at the moment because she really had no idea what to do without the help of her unnie and seeing Mina was like getting the air sucked out of her. 

The universe must have heard her predicament because when Dahyun runs back down to Mina's dorm, all she sees is Chaeyoung standing in front of Mina’s desk table, the older girl nowhere in sight.

“Chaeyoung! Bro!” Dahyun doesn’t even give the girl a chance to react. The next thing she’s doing is embracing the air of her friend, relieved for multiple reasons but most of all, because she’s still alive. 

After a mini-scolding, Dahyun finds out Chaeyoung was actually trying to look at something on Mina’s desk. She finds out Mina has been practicing her paper flowers. 

Dahyun feels her chest tighten. 

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” She has no idea where she grabbed the last bit of courage from but it’s there, enough for her to muster up a longing smile. She reaches out for one of the garlands, all intricately cut and folded, designed and put up. 

“Mina unnie loves making these.” Dahyun remembers the very first paper flower she saw. She also remembers how it sits perfectly on her nightstand now, framed in one of her favorite Bugs Bunny picture frames. “She gave me one before.”

“She makes these?” Chaeyoung grabs one of the smaller works with a tiny focused frown. 

Dahyun smiles. “She learned how to make them from someone for an art project. I don’t know what it was but ever since then, she just fell in love making garlands out of paper flowers.”

Chaeyoung tries to say something again but a sneeze comes up and cuts her off, the air she puffs out blows the flimsy paper flower away, like a leaf flying on a windy day. Dahyun crouches down to grab it on the floor, almost getting stepped on in the process. 

Jihyo, Momo, and Sana arrive all at the same time, worried frowns on their faces. They look like they ran a triathlon before coming here. They all huddle around Chaeyoung, cooing at her, until Mina, Jeongyeon, and Nayeon arrive too, and the most worried one out of the bunch is the scariest one of them all. 

Nayeon looks like she just flipped a switch and suddenly became a mom. 

“Chaeyoung! Drink this”, she hands over a capsule and Mina hands the bottle of water. Chaeyoung doesn’t seem to hesitate any second further before chugging the pill down with the water. 

The antihistamines must’ve worked because, although the sneezing still persisted right after administration, it gradually faded until Chaeyoung could finally breathe properly again. It further proved itself effective when the youngest began yawning. 

“Is it drowsy?” Sana asks, yawning herself. 

Nayeon nods back simply, wrapping an arm around sleepy Chaeyoung’s shoulders. “We’ll go up now so that this girl can sleep. You guys should head to sleep too. Yumama won’t be happy seeing us all still up.”

They all nod at that. Nayeon and Jihyo bring Chaeyoung upstairs. Sana and Momo walk themselves out. Somehow, it’s Dahyun, Mina, and Jeongyeon all left in the room, and the two older girls are talking in hushed whispers in the middle of the room, Dahyun standing by the threshold, unable to think of where to go. 

Her mind tells her to just find another time to talk to Mina. She’s obviously too busy talking to Jeongyeon about something. 

Her heart, however, is pushing her to seize the moment. The very fact that she’s not leaving yet makes her obvious enough that she wants to talk too. If Dahyun didn’t, she would have left with everybody else. 

The moment felt like she was standing three feet away from a cliff. Her heart pushes her one step closer to Mina, tries to ignite the small spark of confidence inside of her while it still can. On the other hand, her mind stops her from taking the next step, tries to keep herself together before breaking under pressure even more. 

Dahyun is afraid of looking down from the cliff. Her head lets her imagine pointy spikes and rough surfaces ready to tear her apart if she takes another step. Her heart doesn’t have the strength to imagine a surface ready to save her.

In the end, Dahyun chooses to save herself. 

She takes a step back and leaves without a word, unable to see Mina’s lingering gaze chase after her ghost. 

Dahyun never gets to see what lies beyond the cliff: a trail to safe ground. 

 


 

The days and nights spent mulling over everything happening all at once weigh down on Kim Dahyun like rocks on her shoulders. The situation even gets worse.

By the time night of their last practice session before Sana’s party, Chaeyoung shows up in her worst state yet. Dahyun feels exhausted, emotionally and physically. She has the body of a teenager but has the stress and fatigue levels of a middle-aged woman in the middle of an existential crisis. 

The very second they all gathered inside the ballroom, the atmosphere had descended upon them like a heavy storm cloud. Not even a minute into their dancing and a fit of coughing resounds until it’s no longer dismissable. 

All eyes dart over to whoever’s lungs and throat are on fire and they see Dahyun gently rubbing Chaeyoung’s back, the latter pressing a towel over her mouth to hopelessly muffle the sound. 

When Nayeon sees this, her first reaction is to stop the music. 

They’ve all been running the routine to perfection for so many times, having the music stopped is already an ominous signal for them to start throwing the blame around. Someone accuses someone for mistiming and doing the steps wrong, and until Nayeon doesn’t call out the error, they just continue like a council in debate. 

Their noise and arguing–Dahyun doesn’t join in, she just stands and watches as the room spirals to chaos; Mina doesn’t join in too, she’s just sitting on the floor, legs stretched out before her, watching Momo point fingers at Jeongyeon for mistiming–overpowers their ability to notice who Nayeon walks over to and why she isn’t scolding them for another mishap. 

The cheerleader walks to Chaeyoung and they have a staring contest for a few seconds until Mina speaks to avert the attention to where it’s due. 

“Are you sick?” Her voice is airy with authority and a small spread of concern somewhere there. 

Dahyun sees from the distance– knows , really–how desperately Chaeyoung tries to disguise her sickness with exhaustion. It doesn’t work, not when all five of their unnies are crowding around her, scanning her up and down, and making conjectures about her health’s state. 

Dahyun just stands behind, a few steps away from the huddle, watching everyone worry simultaneously. 

It ultimately boils down to Jihyo and Nayeon’s final say, as leader of the group and leader for the performance. In the end, they decide to cut practice short, much to Chaeyoung’s tumultuous “NO!”

The sudden burst of energy knocks Chaeyoung off her feet. Fortunately, Jeongyeon is there to catch her. 

Chaeyoung, with the remaining emotional power within her, manages to convince the unnies she can walk  home all by herself. She thinks it works, because when she leaves, the girls resume going over the routine. 

Dahyun thinks it didn’t. They barely finish the song. Nayeon, for the first time since they began practicing, commits more errors than the entire group combined for the day. She’s too worried for the younger girl to proceed, and so is everybody else. 

Dahyun sees this and feels the same, yet wonders at the back of her head, do they think that way too when it comes to her? Did they notice how she had been, for the lack of a better way to put it, dimming in her natural light? Did anyone notice how she had been quieter than usual? More isolated from the crowd?

The answer lies in the way no one notices her silence. 

No one but one.  

“Yo kid, don’t tell me you’re sick too.” 

Nowadays, Jeongyeon acts and sounds like Jackson. Dahyun’s afraid she’ll go crazy too, being surrounded by so many Jacksons. It’s like dealing with a bunch of hyperactive five-year-olds. 

Jeongyeon squeezes–literally–the answer out of Dahyun. Eventually, she gives up and recedes, admitting to her unnie how everything she had worked hard for, spiralled down to a blackhole of chaos. 

“Everyone’s got someone, unnie.” Dahyun’s been smiling for so long that feeling sad feels unfamiliar to her by now. “Sometimes I feel like...I’m just a tag-along? Like someone just here to attend the weekly practices and disappear after that. Everyone’s got someone. Nayeon unnie has Sana and Jihyo unnie, and you have Momo and Mina unnie. I...I’m no one’s.”

The gloom on Jeongyeon’s face makes Dahyun want to take her words back, makes her want to automatically revert to her established character as the default comfort friend. But she can’t take them back now, not when Jeongyeon looks just about ready to smack whoever hurt Dahyun but can’t actually do it because it’s Dahyun herself who's hurt her own.

Jeongyeon just results in the comfort of assurance. “What are you talking about? You’re my someone, Dubu!” 

Dahyun regrets letting Jeongyeon know this because now the older girl is being all mushy and reactive, and her voice ends up being loud enough to echo around the room, gaining the attention of the other girls who, unfortunately, start making their way over to the commotion.

Receiving attention and thinking of what to do with it has always been one of Dahyun’s weakest points. It’s one way to get applauded for something, to attract eyes, but it’s a whole other thing to know how to react properly, aside from the compulsory appreciation. 

The next thing Dahyun knows, she’s thrown into a hug pile from her unnies, incited by Jeongyeon’s, “She said Nayeon’s favorite was Chaeyoung, Sana’s was Momo, Jihyo’s was Mina, and no one was hers!” 

Dahyun feels like getting choked by love and validation. It’s the best form of choking. 

It helps in lifting a boulder from her chest. She can breathe again, a little bit. Knowing Mina joined in on the hug, as awkward as it was for her, made everything feel a little bit better too. 

Eventually, after a quick ambushed photo-op session with the AV club and other school paper members, the practice session ends with Sana inviting everyone over to her house to help prepare for the party tomorrow night. Knowing her, there’s always going to be something more to just decorating and preparing. Probably a mini-party while they’re there. 

Dahyun immediately agrees. A part of her, the small ignited spark of determination brough by the assurance of her unnies, wants to find resolve in her remaining problem—the root of everything else: the invisible rift between her and Mina. 

Jeongyeon and Nayeon stay behind to take care of Chaeyoung at the dorms. Everyone understands. They’re like co-parenting Chaeyoung by now. 

They ride in Sana’s Pajero on their way to the Minatozaki mansion.Sana drives while Momo sits shotgun, and Dahyun calmly lets out a sigh of relief when Jihyo squishes herself between her and Mina at the backseat. 

They arrive within less than fifteen minutes, with how Sana maneuvers the side streets like it’s a racing track. It’s practically a near-death experience and Dahyun wonders if Sana will ever take driving lessons again when they’re older, feeling scared already for her future godchild should Sana continue going like this. 

The Minatozaki mansion is in its usual state of emptiness when they arrive. This time Sana explains about a two-week-long business trip in Geneva that has rendered her parents unable to spend time with their only child, resulting in an amount of guilt that is somehow curable by allotting their child more-than-enough funding for a “high school party”. 

It’s another thing that makes the Minatozakis That Cool Family™ in the block. They even pay for Sana’s extravagant Party of the Year celebrations. Dahyun could only dream of that amount of support from her parentals. 

“You guys can leave your bags in the car so that you won’t forget anything when I drive you back to the dorms”, Sana suggests as they step out of the Pajero, greeted by one of the house helpers in the Minatozaki residence waiting by the opened doors.

In the many times Dahyun has been here, it’s the  first time they enter through the main entrance, two white-paneled, arched doors held open for them. They’re greeted by the grand staircase that leads to the second floor foyer. To its left is the entrance to the formal dining area and down straight is the hall that leads to the main living room. 

They go through down the hall, experiencing a new kind of house tour as they never truly go through this part of the mansion. 

The living room looks different with all the furniture pushed to the sides, enveloped in plastic covers to protect the expensive chintz fabric from the accidents induced by clumsy, alcohol-dazed teenagers. There are long tables set up on both ends of the room. Dahyun’s assuming they’re for the food and entertainment system. 

“So...what do we have to do?” Jihyo asks as they all stop in the middle of the room, craning heads to take a look around, thinking of what more else they can add to spice up the living room and turn it into a “nightclub”, as per Sana’s wishes. 

“Well, I was planning on putting around lots of bright, lighting decors but dad already paid some guys to handle those. They’re coming by later…” Sana picks at her fingernails, lips pursing in deep thought. “So mom suggested we just put party decors. Like, hang them on the railings, scatter them around…” 

“Like, balloons?” Dahyun asks, already imagining the living room floor flooded with balloons. Imagine how many people would have their hearts stopping every time a balloon pops… 

Sana tilts her head. “Well...I was thinking more of like, flowers and things like that?” 

“But Chaeyoung…” 

“I know, I know. That’s why I had one of our helpers run to the store and buy lots of crafting paper! They’re in my room right now!” Sana perks up, eyes twinkling in animated crescents. 

Dahyun frowns a little, brows furrowed in confusion. “We’re gonna make...paper flowers?” 

From across the room, she feels Mina’s eyes fall on her. It takes an immense amount of self-control not to look back. 

“Sana, you know I’m not good with origami—” Jihyo chastises but Sana’s giggling cuts her off before she can even finish. 

“It’s just cutting, Ji! More cutting, cutting, cutting! And Momoring and Mitang already know how to do it so we’ll just teach you and Dahyunnie~” 

Jihyo doesn’t look convinced but she still lets Sana drag her upstairs, where they gather in Sana’s lavish bedroom, sprawled on the floor, sifting through a literal heap of crafting paper prepared for them. 

“Just curious Satang. How many art materials did you ask them to buy...?” Momo gawks at the stack of paper before her, piled high enough to reach below her knee. “Did you buy the store’s entire stock or something…?” 

All eyes avert to the girl in question, standing right in the center of the room, distributing colorful kiddy scissors around. Sana freezes halfway, takes in the waiting silence and all the eyes on her, and answers everyone with a sheepish giggle, hand scratching the back of her head. “Uh…” 

“Oh my god...” Jihyo laughs, delightfully amazed. “The daycare’s gonna need some paper for their arts and craft classes, Sana! You could’ve left at least a box or something…” 

“I did! We did! This is just enough to decorate the living room with.” 

“Whatever”, Jihyo scoffs with a playful roll of her eyes, reaching over for the pair of scissors handed to her. She settles down on the fur rug at the end of Sana's bed, grabbing a blue art paper. 

Once everyone’s got their pair of scissors and a housekeeper arrives with a basket of biscuits from the pantry, they begin their little arts and craft session. Mina, Sana, and Momo lead the group in making the paper flowers, Dahyun and Jihyo (more like just Jihyo–Dahyun already knows this but she’ll pretend she doesn’t) are stuck playing nursery kids listening to their teachers. 

About fifteen minutes into the frustrated silence of everyone in the room–because no matter how amazing Sana is at her work, making clean cuts is a task challenging for everyone –Momo runs over to the stereo system and plays deejay, MMMBop filling in the air and hyping everyone up. 

Dahyun is grateful the entire time. The vibrant pop music and Momo’s dancing for them has everyone up on their feet at times or at their throats, shout-singing to Uhm Junghwa’s parts in JINUSEAN’s Tell Me while Jihyo and Momo take turns at rapping. 

The entire fiasco has Dahyun temporarily whisked away from reality and her current predicament. 

It’s unfortunate how they’re not complete right now but they make do with what they have, and what they have is Momo perfectly dancing to Uhm Junghwa’s Invitation on top of Sana’s bed and Jihyo’s pretending to throw money (the scraps from their cut-outs) like she’s at a damned adults’ club, howling at the performer. 

It’s wild and Dahyun fears the possibility that tomorrow’s definitely going to be even wilder. 

It’s only natural and expected that they don’t finish their tasks and end up only with a few garlands of paper flowers worthy enough for decoration. 

By hour one and a half, there are plastic wrappers, crumbs of biscuits, and empty cans of Cola and root beer all over the room; the garlands are kept on top of a desk, away from Jihyo and Sana as they jump around and move their arms to the steps of S.E.S.’s I’m Your Girl. 

Momo is singing to her heart’s content at the back, plopped down on Sana’s bed, breathless after her earlier performances, holding up a hair brush as a mic. Unlike the three’s burst of energies, Mina and Dahyun are awkwardly neutral, seated on the opposite sides of the room, the blonde younger girl bobbing her head with the rhythm and the older girl simply smiling and faintly singing along. 

They’re pretty much drunk with energy and non-existent alcohol. It’s thirty minutes before dorm curfew when things finally calm down and Momo begins playing a string of slower songs, changing CD to CD in the stereo system, altering between Korean and Western hits. 

Now, Fin.K.L.’s Blue Rain is nearing its end and Dahyun, Jihyo, and Mina are picking up the litter everywhere in Sana’s room. 

By quarter to nine, Momo’s vomiting in the bathroom down the hall, Sana holding her hair up for her. She isn’t drunk but she’s managed to convince herself that she is, enough that she’s swallowed mentos and drank a can of coke right after. 

Jihyo grabs the overflowing trash bin and tells Dahyun and Mina she’ll just throw it downstairs. Mina nods. Dahyun almost does too, until she realizes Jihyo going downstairs meant leaving her and Mina all alone in the same space again and Dahyun, for the most part, has finally climbed back down from her temporary high earlier, making her conscious enough to feel real fear again. 

“Unnie, wait!” She unknowingly blurts out, stopping Jihyo halfway from crossing the threshold. 

Real fear is hard and cold and painful, like getting hit on the face by an iceberg, Dahyun thinks.  She isn’t exactly familiar with how that feels like–given how she has not been hit by an iceberg on the face yet– but she thinks about the Titanic, imagines she’s the ship, and convinces herself of the wreck that follows, how a gigantic floating mass of ice slices through and cuts.  

The ghost of a shudder runs down Dahyun’s spine. 

Maybe I should talk to unnie some other time? 

“Dahyun? Are you gonna come with me?” Jihyo speaks, just in time to snap Dahyun out of her thoughts. She’s still waiting by the threshold, holding the trash bin against her chest. 

Maybe I should? 

From where Dahyun stands, she sees Mina, standing too, unaware of what to do with herself. She looks smaller than before, and more awkward with her movements. There’s a slight second of hesitation at every action that involves Dahyun, at every answer and every thought. 

Dahyun hates knowing how they’re both aware of what’s happening between them. The uncalled-for awkwardness that just suddenly popped out of nowhere. The eggshells they walk on when they’re within each other’s space. 

Dahyun hates it. 

She wants to go back to how they were before. 

She wants to end this.

So she does. 

"Mina unnie." Saying her name feels unfamiliar and weird again. Mina  looks up at her. Dahyun feels like getting knocked out of air. "Uh...can we talk?"

Two pairs of eyes are blinking at her. It takes about a minute before Dahyun clears her throat and Jihyo, god bless her, must have understood something along the lines of a badly-staged ehem and proceeds to turn back to Mina. 

"Oh, okay then. I’ll just throw these out and uh...help Sana deal with fake-drunk Momo", she chuckles dryly. "You girls...um...have a nice talk, I guess?” 

Mina says something but it's too soft for Dahyun to understand and all she's really focusing on right now is Mina's smile, how faint it is and substantially bleak in comparison with the ones they shared before.

Before Jihyo leaves entirely, she throws a soft smile over to Dahyun, who can only plaster on a sad raise of her eyebrows in return, edges tugging downwards. The older girl puts down the trash bin and reaches for the knob, pulling the door close to give the two more private space. 

Once Mina and Dahyun are alone in the room, that's when the atmosphere drops and everything stills, like a movie scene in slow motion where Dahyun only realizes how, yet again, she's come to a battle unprepared. 

Instead of a shield and sword, she carries around her heart out on her sleeve, meek and small, beating for one Mina Myoui. The very girl standing before her, looking at her with moonlit oceans for eyes, deep and calm but very, very scary.

"You wanted to talk?" 

The older girl's voice sounds weak, a far contrast to the taut expression on her face, one eyebrow slightly raising in anticipation. 

Dahyun remains on her feet, frozen in place, standing a few feet away from the door behind her and a near meter distance from Mina in front. In case the faux confidence runs out and Dahyun realizes what she's doing is the exact opposite of what going the safe way means.

Normal Dahyun wouldn't do this. She wouldn't risk it. Who the hell am I now then? 

"Dahyun-ah?" 

The way Mina says her name sends Dahyun's insides twisting into a dead-end knot. There are a thousand feathers dusting at the walls of her stomach right now and truth be told Dahyun wants to laugh, let out a loud, incredulous guffaw because goddamn this is hard.

"Unnie...I...I just wanted to...uh...ask if…" Where to begin, Dahyun? So many things to say and yet she can't even form a straight sentence without stammering. 

Mina furrows her eyebrows, taut expression softening on her face. "Are you okay...?"

"U-Unnie...Do you...Are you…" Get a grip, Dahyun! She closes her eyes, not even attempting to hide the frustration on her face anymore. Her fists are clenched, nails digging crescent fissures on her palms. 

Dahyun takes a deep breath, and in one go she lets out all her jumbled emotions in the form of four words, "Are you mad at me?" 

Pause.

It feels like the skies have fallen over her head, like the high tides have washed her down and dragged her to the seas, deep and cold and dark and all alone. The cold waters she feels in her head, stealing all the oxygen in her lungs, make their way to the back of her eyes, pricking until they force their way out, trailing down her cheeks in the form of warm tears.

The silence stretches to an alarming length, and Dahyun nearly convinces herself she was just hallucinating Mina's presence all along and the older girl is actually nowhere in sight, but then a hand wraps itself around her clenched fist, fingers trailing down to unwrap the tense hold, and when Dahyun opens her eyes, she’s drowning all over again, in moonlit oceans deep, calm and very, very scary.

“I could never get mad at you, Dahyun.” Mina responds with a tone the same as her soft, concerned frown on her face. “What made you think that?” 

“I just...you haven’t…” Dahyun can’t get her words going. Not when Mina’s rubbing the back of her hand softly, the other thumb gently running through the trails of tears down her face. 

Dahyun takes a deep breath, a last resort to composing herself. It works a little bit. “It just felt like something was off? And...you seemed distant?” 

(At the back of her mind, Dahyun regards this as karma. For all the times she selfishly thought avoidance was the answer to sorting her thoughts out. Look at her now.) 

They sit down on the edge of Sana’s bed, Mina pulling the younger girl over to rest on the soft surface, knees barely brushing against each other. 

“I’m sorry if that made you think I was mad at you”, She doesn’t remove her hold on Dahyun’s hand. She just looks at the younger girl in the eyes and hopes she’s convincing enough. “I was just really...thinking about a lot of things and worrying about a lot too…” 

“Oh...okay…” There’s a little sigh of relief there, but not entirely. “Does that mean you aren’t upset about the letter?” 

“The letter?” 

Dahyun doesn’t know what pushes her to continue even though the confusion on Mina’s face is as apparent as looking through a waxed-clean glass door, but she does push through and further. 

“The one I left in your jacket the night I slept over…?”

Mina’s head tilts, eyebrows furrowing. “You left a letter?” 

Dahyun nods. 

The thought process stretches to a minute before a lightbulb is lit up and a switch is flipped in Mina’s head. Her eyes widen as a horrified gasp escapes her lips. Oh no.  

“Dahyun-ah...um...that jacket was Jeongyeon’s...” 

Dahyun feels her brain stutter for a moment. In the five-second-long glitch that occurs, every thought is wiped clean out of her head. “What.” 

Mina nods, hands falling from her hold on Dahyun’s. “Yeah. She lent it to me for the night but I didn’t wear it so I just gave it back the next day.”

If Dahyun could get into a tiny submarine and travel into her head, all she’d hear is faint elevator music playing in an endless loop, providing background music as an abysmal vortex sucks in all of her thoughts and hopes away into the darkness.

She can only stare on the uneven surface of the wall, small bumps and dips on the white plane, imagining the vortex there, ready to swallow her in. 

“...to me again—Dahyun? Hey, Dahyun-ah?” 

The mention of her name in that familiar gentle Mina tone snaps her out of her thoughts almost immediately. “O-Oh. Uh...sorry, unnie. What was it again?” 

Mina only takes in a short breath, hard frown softening at the sight of Dahyun looking so innocently out of her mind. 

“I asked if…” she trails off, tone fortified with all the tenderness in the world. Mina reaches out for the loose hair strand dangling by the side of Dahyun’s face. She tucks behind her ear gently, chuckling when dusts of pink embellish the younger girl’s cheeks so visibly. “You can just summarize what you wrote in the letter? What was it about?”

Summarize? 

Dahyun feels a bulldozer tear down her heart. The ruins freefall into the acid of her stomach, catalyzing a bitter reflux that crawls at her throat. Dahyun wants to throw up but there’s nothing. Her lips quiver instead, and before she can even get a hold of herself, her eyes begin blurring with tears too. Gravity pulls at them down almost instantly, just like how the universe drags at Dahyun. 

Summarize the entire content of my heart into a paragraph? Write down days worth of wallowing and trying to figure things out, put into the right words what I once thought was perfect already just to explain it all over again? Right from the start, go through the same frustrations and figure things out? 

“U-Unnie...I…” Dahyun can’t even speak properly, lips trembling too much, too fast. There isn’t a hint of sadness in her system. All she feels is a tight burning in her chest, telling her to shout on the top of her lungs her frustration and disappointment, of how her hard work had been flushed down the toilet once again , and here she is, having to suffer. 

Dahyun is frustrated. Disappointed. She’s angry. Livid. She’s brimming with rage. So much anger burning inside of her, all she can do is cry. Tears forcing their way out, gushing down in streams of strong currents. 

“Hey, hey…” Mina is rushing to wipe at every drop of tear, palm dabbing on Dahyun’s cheeks, unable to comprehend what’s happening and what she’s supposed to do. All she’s sure of is that she never wants to see Dahyun crying again. Never. In a lifetime, never. 

“I...I m-made a...playlist and…” Dahyun heaves for air. She feels like a child running to her mother after a bullying playmate. “And...I h-had everything w-written down...a-after days and days of not understanding a-anything about me...a-and my feeling...and…and…”  

“Hey, hey...Shh…” Mina can’t bear this sight. She pulls her hand to hold Dahyun’s face in place, cupping her jaw, thumbs stroking gently on warm, flushed skin. “Dahyun-ah, look at me. Shh.” 

Dahyun tries to find Mina’s eyes as if she were in a tunnel and hers were a source of light at the end. “U-Unnie…” She whimpers, lips trembling.

Mina feels her heart break apart.  

“You don’t have to tell me what’s inside the letter, okay?” She pulls Dahyun into an embrace, one arm wrapping around to hold her and the other resting on the back of her head, stroking gently, hushing beside her ear. “We can go to Jeong first thing tomorrow morning and get it back.” Hoping it is still there… 

Dahyun feels even more awful soaking Mina’s shoulder with her tears and her disgusting emotions. “U-Unnie, no. I...I have to tell you. It’s...I can’t just do it all over again. I don’t want to...I don’t want to go through all of that again because...because it was hard and...and sad and you…’ Dahyun feels another surge of tears. “You don’t deserve that, unnie.” 

“Well. Uh. How about the gist…?” Mina holds on to Dahyun, unwilling to show the younger girl her own frustration over the predicament. “We’ll get it tomorrow from Jeongyeon as soon as we can and—” 

“Unnie, I like you.” 

The patting on her head stops. 

Dahyun’s just so mad at the universe right now. For being so unfair. “That’s what I wrote in the letter. That I like you.” 

It’s like time stopped between them. There’s a rapid cadence Dahyun can feel and hear, and she’s sure it’s both of their hearts probably trying to make sense of all the words and emotions spilling all over the place at the moment. 

“What?” It’s Mina who speaks first, after a minute’s worth of silence. She pulls away from the hug and looks at Dahyun straight in the eye, as if trying to look for something in there. A flicker of witticism? A glint of uncertainty? Any sign that Dahyun’s not in her right mind and what she just said isn’t what Mina thinks (hopes) it is? 

Mina finds none of those in Dahyun’s eyes. All she sees are everything beautiful in the world, casted in a galaxy of darkness. 

“You like me?” 

“Yes.” 

“Since when?” Truth be told, Mina doesn’t even know why she’s asking. The answer wouldn’t affect nor do anything. She just probably wants to know how long she's been running around clueless.

“I have no idea when it started. But...uh…” Dahyun racks her short-circuiting brain for something. “But I realized I did when we were at the arcade and I showed you my skills in Donkey Kong. I...I never showed that anyone else. Even Jeong unnie.” 

Mina remembers that night albeit in blurred streaks. She draws in a hitched breath at realization of how long it has been. “That was my first week here! For that long you...liked me?” 

“Small crush, yes. And then...it just grew the more I knew you.” 

There’s a strange flutter of wings in her chest, and no longer do the searing pain of rage exist in her system. It’s replaced by something warm that permeates all over her body, from the tips of her ears to all over her cheeks and– god forbid –her nose. As if they wasn’t red enough yet after all the crying she’s done. 

“Dahyun…” When she sees the affectionate look on Mina’s eyes, Dahyun wants to shove her head against the wall. 

“Unnie, you don’t have to say anything.” First and foremost, she already anticipated this. Rejection won’t be as hard now, with how the prospect of one never sat far in her train of thoughts. “It’s really okay. That letter had more things to say but...well...yeah. I like you and you don’t have to like me back—” 

“But I do like you back, Kim Dahyun.” 

“—And rejection has always been a smooth sail for me. I can handle it pretty well even if you reject me. Although, there isn’t even anything to reject—”

“I’m not rejecting you…?” 

“—Because this is just me saying I like you, unnie. I’m not asking for anything else—” 

Mina can’t help but let the smile tug at the corner of her lips. She isn’t sure if Dahyun’s really not hearing her right now or if she's choosing not to. 

“—and I’m totally going to support you all the way if you like someone else. Heck, I can even set you up with whoever they are—” 

Mina chuckles. “I don’t like anybody else but you.” 

“—And yeah, unnie. That’s what...the letter held. I like you.” Dahyun exhales, after all that straight talk has her lungs on fire. Then, she hastily adds, “Oh, and I made a mixtape. I thought you might want to listen to the songs that reminded me of you. But it’s okay if you don’t. I totally get it. My taste can be weird sometimes.” 

“Yeah. I can see that.” Mina nods, smiling in pure delight. “I have weird taste too.” 

“Oh?” Dahyun's head perks up, face plastered with so much pure interest, Mina finds it hard to believe how this is all possible. “How weird?” 

“Well, for one, the person I like doesn’t seem to listen to me?”

Dahyun lets out the most dramatic horrified gasp. “How could they?! The audacity of that person!"

“Should I tell her?” Mina asks, feigning a thinking face as she plays into whatever it is happening before her. Dahyun acts like she just got zapped with amnesia that erased the last minute in her memory. 

“Yeah, unnie. You should. Be the better person!” Dahyun says, all-knowing with her resolute expression, even nodding at her own suggestion. 

“Hm. Okay. I like you, Kim Dahyun.” 

Mina isn't able to hold back the smile on her face at how Dahyun looks at her, like a deer caught in the headlights. 

“I’ve been trying to tell you that but you won’t let me. Even if you’re not asking me for anything, I’d still say yes.”

“Wait a minute. I…” Dahyun feels her throat constrict. Suddenly, she feels like she’s about to float away to the skies, losing oxygen slowly. 

“You like me?" She points to herself. "As friends, right? Because it wouldn’t make sense if you liked me.

“Why wouldn’t it?” 

“Because...you’re you, unnie! Myoui Mina. Miss Perfect. I’m...well...I’m Kim Dahyun.”

“Miss Sunshine Girl.” 

Dahyun can’t wrap her head around it. “You like me? For real?” 

The question finds Mina laughing softly as she nods. “Yes. For real.”  

“And all I had to do was...cry in front of you?” 

“Well, no. Not really. You just blurted out that you liked me and—” 

“I’ve been planning meticulously and double-thinking myself every single day and I even lost the letter I poured my heart out on and the mixtape I spent hours trying to record...just for me to cry out to you and tell you I liked you?! AND YOU JUST...LIKE ME BACK!?”

The gradual rise of her tone catches Mina stunned. She watches as every ascend of Dahyun’s voice also has her slowly standing up until she’s perfectly on her feet, looking just about ready to start the next revolution.

“Is something wrong with that…?” 

Dahyun averts her fiery gaze at her (which Mina finds kind of hard to take seriously when her eyes are swollen from the crying and her entire face is still red as Rudolph’s nose). “Unnie. You. Like. Me. You like me!” 

“Yes. I do.” Mina can't count how many times she's been saying it but it's been assured to her enough, she hopes it is to Dahyun as well. 

“I just…” Dahyum starts, the fire in her eyes waning to a small spark. She plops back down on where she originally sat, right beside Mina, knees brushing softly, naturally. 

"Wow. Unnie." She lets out a deep breath. “Are you really sure about that?” 

Mina can’t help but let out another laugh. “Sure about liking you?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Yes, Dahyun. I’ve never been more certain about someone my entire life.” 

Dahyun makes a sound somewhere between a snort and a whine. Mina isn’t sure whether it’s a good thing or otherwise because of the shocked expression on the blonde’s face. Whatever it is, Dahyun suddenly falls on the bed, lying on her back, letting out another one of those creatively confusing expressions of hers, this time a crossbreed of a scoff and a gasp. “Wow…”

Mina looks down at the younger girl, smile fading away as a scary thought crosses her mind.

"Dahyun-ah, do you... not want me to—”

“No! Unnie, no!” Just like that, Dahyun’s distinct vivacity is back. Her aggressive denial has Mina startling a little. Dahyun shakes herself out of it. “I just. I can’t believe it, unnie…” 

Mina watches the girl stare up at the ceiling of the room for a good few seconds before deciding the space beside her is the best place in the world to be. She carefully lies down there, legs dangling over the edge of the bed. There’s a safe distance between them, but not too far that their arms don’t brush against each other. 

“It’s not that hard to believe…” Mina mumbles, looking up at the fissures on the ceiling as well. “You’re the coolest, most amazing person I know, Dahyun.” 

Silence envelopes the room. Then, there’s a light shift on the bed. Mina can see Dahyun’s head turned to her direction, looking right at her profile. 

(Dahyun feels like she’s completely flown into the air by now. She’s too high up in the clouds, everything feels like a really, really good dream.) 

“Unnie.” 

“Hmm?” Mina turns to rest on her side to face Dahyun too, left arm folding to hold her chin up on her palm. 

"Does this mean…" Dahyun trails off, wary to finish her words. “Are we...?” 

Mina flushes at the implications, knowing all too well already what Dahyun wants to say. She knows just as much, what she wants to have too. But won't push for it unless they're both ready.

“We can be whatever you’re comfortable for us to be, Dahyun.” 

A pause ensues, Dahyun just blinking at Mina, as if trying to memorize her face right at that moment. They were close enough to do so, and if Dahyun would lean in closer, she might even be able to count each and every mole and freckle on Mina’s face. 

I can't believe she exists… 

“Unnie.” 

“Yes?” 

“What do we do now?” 

“We don’t have to do anything. Let’s just take this one step at a time and see where it goes.” Mina smiles and uses her free hand to reach for Dahyun’s temple, gently running her fingers through the loose strands again, tucking them behind her ear.

The action has Dahyun yawning. Mina takes this as their cue to check on the other girls who have been out of sight the entire time she and Dahyun had talked about things. 

“Why don’t we go see if they’re still around?” Mina drags herself up to a stand, holding a hand out for Dahyun. “Sana might’ve driven Jihyo home already. We don’t exactly have a ride back…” 

Dahyun takes her hand and pulls herself up too. They walk over to the door and open it just in time for a body to fall on their feet with a grunt. Dahyun nearly shouts, drowsiness washed away from her body. 

Momo’s sleeping on the ground like a baby. When Mina and Dahyun look, Sana and Jihyo are playing a random game of rock, paper, scissors. They act clueless and surprised to see Mina and Dahyun. 

“Oh? You guys are done? We just arrived here, no worries. We didn’t hear anything hihi …” There’s a reason why Sana joined cheerleading and not theater club. She wouldn’t be able to convince a child with her acting even if it were for her own life. 

“Dahyun? Did you cry!?” Jihyo blurts out a little too loudly, although Momo’s snoring has them reassured she won’t be waking up anytime soon.

“It’s nothing, unnie.” A blush stretches across Dahyun’s face. 

Fortunately, Mina just acts cool. “Satang, will we go back to the dorms already?” 

Sana nods, head bobbing a little too aggressively. “The car’s already waiting outside.” 

Mina hums, mumbles a soft word of gratitude before crouching down to help Jihyo carry a fake-drunk Momo by the arms, dragging her down the staircase carefully while Sana guides in front and Dahyun at the back. 

They arrive on the main floor in one piece. There’s a Chevy Astro waiting for them by the driveway and Dahyun briefly wonders just how many cars the Minatozakis own. They get inside safely, carrying Momo in with the help of the kind chauffeur that will drive them to the dorms. 

Jihyo seatbelts Momo in place, sitting by the second row while Sana takes shotgun, and Mina and Dahyun take the third. 

The ride back is silent with only the muffling of the engine as background music. It takes about fifteen minutes before they arrive, and it’s only to their luck that Yumama’s apparently busy taking care of something else, enough that she isn’t guarding the main entrance and the four easily sneak in. 

They all work on carrying Momo to her dorm room, where her roommate’s slumber is unhappily interrupted by their knocking. Once they’re assured Momo’s settled in, Jihyo walks to their room, leaving Mina and Dahyun standing by the door, left in the cliche bubble of teenage after-date awkwardness—even if earlier wasn’t, by any means, a date. 

"You should rest, unnie. We have a big day tomorrow."

The prospect of the party alone has Mina feeling dead tired already. She lets out a sigh, still contemplating whether to attend or not. 

“I’m not even sure if I wanna come”, she chuckles wryly. “I don’t have the energy to do all that socializing.” 

Dahyun gasps horrifyingly. “WHAT? Unnie! You should come! It’s the Party of the Year and you only have one chance in life to attend one of Sana unnie’s high school parties!”

Mina can’t help but chuckle at the serious concern in Dahyun’s tone. It sounds like they’re discussing more pressing matters and not a simple high school party. 

“I heard college parties are way wilder, you know.” 

“Maybe. Yeah. But you only get to be in high school once!” Dahyun exclaims, and then adds quickly, “Unless...you know, you repeat or something. But that’s beside the point! Unnie! You have to seriously come!” 

“I’ll be alone for the rest of the night. Even if I come with any of you guys, at the end, I’ll have to spend the party like a wallflower. I’m really not sure if I want to waste my time like that, love.” 

“But unnieeeee~” Dahyun whines, not loud enough to attract attention or disturb the other sleeping residents in the hall though. “Chaeng’s my date tomorrow but I’ll make sure you’re never alone! I’ll follow you everywhere if I have to!”  

Mina chuckles at the fervent determination Dahyun has in convincing her to attend. It’s really no use if she were being honest. One word from Dahyun asking her to come, she’d do it right away. 

Damn, Mina. How deep have you fallen in this? 

But of course, where’s the fun in giving in easily? Dahyun looks adorable like this. 

“I don’t know, love.” Mina trails off. “It’s just gonna be loud music and lots of sweaty teenagers. Nothing fun. Besides, parties are never good. Something always bad happens and I don’t really want to get involved with more trouble.” 

“Trouble can be fun too, unnie…” 

“I’m not sure about that but I’ll believe you, okay.” 

“Will you come if I say it’s a date?” 

Mina smiles. Now there you go. “This is no fun. You’re calling it a date so that I’ll come?” 

“A friendly date, unnie. Everyone outside our group still kinda thinks you and Jeongyeon unnie are something. I might get roasted alive if we jump right into this.” Dahyun pretends she isn’t hurt by the truth. A lot of people who have not seen how Nayeon and Jeongyeon have been together, how married they are by now, only know the stories about Jeongyeon and Mina. 

Although same sex relationships are still taboo in society, Jeongyeon and Mina look like a power couple, make such a beautiful tandem that somehow, majority of the younger batches are actually on-board with the idea of the two. 

It’s as messed up as Dahyun is affected by the situation. Because Jeongyeon and Mina are already so perfect on the outside, so ideal and easy for the world to romanticize, what will become of her, Kim Dahyun, whom everyone once thought was the Most Religious Student in the Freshmen Orientation, once they find out she’s actually the one who’s on mutual terms with Mina? 

They’re gonna think it’s blasphemy unless we somehow come up with a plan to discreetly deny the—

And then it hits Dahyun like a eureka moment. 

“Oh my god! Unnie! I have the perfect reason for you to come!”

Mina only cocks an eyebrow, waiting. 

“You can finally show everyone at the party that you and Jeongyeon unnie aren’t a thing!” 

“What? How?” 

As much as Dahyun is excited for this, exhaustion hits her like a buzzkiller and she yawns, big and unladylike enough that Mina chuckles and realizes, “We can figure that out tomorrow then.” 

Dahyun feels her eyes hooded with a magnetic pull for sleep, her body only realizing now how tired it’s been, how imperfectly timed, really, as if the eureka moment had used up the last of her energy bubbles and she’s now literally drained. 

“Tomorrow, unnie. Come. Please?” She utters, looking up at the eyes of the older girl standing away from the door. 

Mina smiles, reaches to pat Dahyun’s head. “Okay. I’ll come.” 

It’s enough for a closure to end Dahyun’s roller coaster-of-a-day. She yawns again. “I’ll see you tomorrow, unnie.” 

It’s goodbye but somehow, Dahyun doesn’t open the door yet and Mina doesn’t leave. 

For a second there they have no idea what to do with each other, just standing in the silence, waiting for something they both don't know. It's Mina who figures what it is first, and before Dahyun can even realize it, the older girl is leaning in, lips pressing against the tear-stained cheeks.

It's fleeting, soft enough that Dahyun doesn't even feel it at first and only realizes it's happening when Mina pulls away and her cheeks are the ones flushed in pink now, tongue ghosting over lips very quickly, almost unnoticeably. 

"Y-You should...uh…" Mina’s flustered state only allows her stammering and a lot of hand flailing, as if that would make the message easier  to convey. Dahyun just tilts her head, unable to meet halfway.

Mina blames this on the exhaustion and Dahyun's presence overpowering her rationality. 

She shakes her head, snapping herself out of her stupor, "You should put something cool over your eyes when you sleep. So that it won't get too swollen tomorrow when you wake up."

Dahyun smiles, feels a swell of warmth in her stomach. "Yes, unnie. I'll keep everything in mind.” 

She takes a small step forward to the door of her room. If she stayed there any longer within Mina's reach, she might not want to leave and that will cause serious ramifications from Jihyo who, contrary to how independent and mighty she seems, can never sleep peacefully without Dahyun around.

“Good night, unnie. 

Mina nods. It's final. Dahyun stays in her place and bids the older girl one last good night before watching her retreating away.

When Dahyun enters the room, she gets the shock of her life, like getting defibrillated. Jihyo is still awake, sitting on her bed like she’s meditating (but she isn’t) and only scoffs when she finally meets eyes with Dahyun. 

“So.” Jihyo starts. 

Dahyun walks slowly over to her bed, trying to make way through the suspenseful silence. 

Jihyo takes her time, still seated with her back straight as a rod. The suspense stretches out to awkwardness and Dahyun just wants to sleep but knowing Jihyo, she’ll never let her hear the end of it if she does. 

So Dahyun stays awake, lying on her favorite sleeping position–body down, cheek pressed against the pillow, one leg arched like she’s riding a horse, and arms stretched out the side of her head. 

She’s about to fall asleep again until—

“You and Mina huh?” 

And Jihyo isn’t able to dodge the pillow that’s thrown at her face for the first time. Dahyun doesn’t get to sleep for at least another ten minutes, being grilled by her unnie's questions. 

 


 

For most of Mina's life, she avoided parties. 

It wasn't that she wasn't invited. It wasn't a party if a Myoui wasn't there, regardless of the type of event the celebration called for. It was just that Mina didn't like going to parties, formal or informal. 

Her friends back in Japan, those she grew up with, found the circumstance odd. For most of Mina's childhood, she spent them performing in front of guests in the many lavish parties her high-profile grandparents used to host in their home in Denenchofu. Those events were so extravagant that most of them would even be featured in magazines.

Before she was even born, Mina was already a celebrity. Granddaughter of oil magnates, child of a renowned doctor and a brilliant lawyer, and her brother rose to fame in high school when he got in the national football team so young. 

Popularity and attention was attracted by a Myoui like second nature. That's why, growing up, Mina avoided adding more fuel to the fire. She tried to keep a low profile in high school but even that posed impossible considering how Kai was a hot-shot, cool kid and her family picture were on tarpaulins every special event in school. "Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Myouis!", "Special thanks to the support of Dr. Myoui Akira, Atty. Sachiko, and family for their donations!" It'll always say.

Eventually, Mina stopped trying. 

The first party she attended that wasn't a gathering of affluent families held in her grandparents' mansion was a party hosted by a popular senior whose name Mina would never ever forget. Although it had become just another party she attended, that night was remarkable for the person she met. 

Haruka Miyauchi was the baddest bitch in school. She was a senior while Mina was a sophomore. There were a lot of rumors about her. That she often hung out at the red light district; often smoked, and even had tattoos. She was every bit the bad girl image she held.

Mina didn’t know it was Haruka Miyauchi’s party they were going to. Sakura, her friend who had dragged her along, only mentioned the name “Miya”–which, in the end, Mina found out was Haruka’s nickname. 

There wasn’t much about the party that Mina remembers now. It was a party of wild kids, with lots of underage drinking and sex. The only thing that strikes Mina whenever she looks back on that night was the moment she met Haruka Miyauchi. 

What started out as genuine fear for attracting the personification of trouble, turned out to be a very good friendship that had soon sparked the beginning of Mina’s...questions about her sexual orientation.

Who wouldn’t like Miya? She was beautiful and, beneath the layers of how society had made her look out–all the rumors about her, this and that–she was a lovely person with a brilliant mind. They often talked about the universe, philosophy, and society. 

After graduation, Miya volunteered to work as a teaching assistant in Obayashi while Mina was a junior. 

They were just close friends, to be honest. As far as Mina was concerned, she was just confused. 

Until they kissed. Just an innocent peck on the lips, as fast as a blink could go, blamed on the curiosity of a high school girl, pushed by the moment. It was fleeting and innocent, friendly at most. But it was etched on the halls of Obayashi forever. 

All it took was one student to pass by at the right exact moment, for Mina's entire world to come crashing down.

Just as fleeting as the kiss was the whirlwind of chaos the both of them were thrown into. Haruka was taken out of the TA gig and Mina was forever stuck alone, traversing the halls of Obayashi that looked at her with a certain kind of disgust, as if she was not a person. As if she had sinned against the universe.

And for what? For liking a girl?

Mina wasn't expelled. She chose to transfer schools and her parents were supportive of the idea, understanding how Obayashi wasn't a safe environment for her anymore. Those who stayed continued to spread rumors about her getting expelled and moving to Korea to save face.

Mina never saw Haruka ever again after that. She also never attended parties too, reminded of what got her into the mess in the first place.

If someone told Mina she’d be attending a damned high school party again at the behest of another girl, the old her would have scoffed at the very idea. Parties were nothing but trouble. 

HA! Impossible!

Or so she thought. Because here she is now, sitting on the bleachers under the scorching afternoon sun, in a beautiful white long-sleeved dress that drops just a few inches above her ankles, waiting for Jeongyeon to round up her teammates in the locker room before they head to Sana’s place early to help set up more.

It takes about ten more minutes before Jeongyeon resurfaces, followed by Momo and the rest of the soccer team. They look like they’re marching for the Olympics, all wearing the familiar varsity jackets. 

Jeongyeon doesn’t say anything when they meet halfway. She just spares Mina a faint smile and then they’re off to the cars they’ll be riding with. 

A random cold gust of wind blows in, sending shivers down Mina’s spine. She glances at the girl sitting beside her at the backseat of a pick-up, and sees Jeongyeon mindlessly staring outside the opened window. 

The party hasn’t even started yet and Mina already feels her growing concern for the way Jeongyeon’s acting so early in the day. Nothing in her memory of the girl sparks an idea as to why Jeongyeon’s like this. Maybe it’s got something to do with what happened after she left last night with Nayeon?

Before Mina could even ask, they’re already rounding the driveway of Sana’s house. She doesn’t get to ask when Jeongyeon thrusts herself into the whirlwind of party preparations, moving around like an operated robot. 

“Did something happen?” Mina asks as her eyes follow Jeongyeon’s movements in the living room, carrying chairs and party decors around. 

Momo shrugs beside her, taking a sip from the drink she took from Sana’s fridge. The girl’s been here so many times, it’s like her home already. 

“She’s been like that since earlier. I think something happened between her and Nayeon?” 

“That’s the only probable explanation, yes.” 

Momo sighs. “I just wish they could have moved their fight ‘til next week or something? Tonight’s supposed to be a fun night! Our night! Now here we are again with those two.” 

“I knew it.” The insides of Mina curl into something bitter. “This party was doomed to begin with.” 

“Hey.” Momo frowns at her. “Don’t say that. Satang worked hard for this.” 

“I know that. It’s just…” Mina’s experiences from the past all unwind in her head again, like the moment after death where all her memories flash.

 “It’s just what?” 

Mina snaps out of her thoughts. Momo’s looking at her expectantly. 

Unintentionally, the ballerina’s gaze darts to the soccer captain moving around in the room. Jeongyeon’s face is void of any kind of emotion, literally stoic and robotic. Something in Mina twists. 

“It’s just that parties are never always fun, you know?”  

“You obviously haven’t been to Satang’s parties if you’re saying that.” 

Mina just chuckles at that, finding it a fleeting moment of fondness over how Momo’s always so assured when it comes to Sana. Always so confident when it comes to her. 

She wants something like that too. 

“It’s not Satang’s party that’s unsettling for me, Momoring.” She clarifies. 

Parties were never really the problem for her. 

“Then what?”

Mina looks down on the jacket hanging on her arm. Jeongyeon’s jacket. “It’s what happens afterwards that scares me.”

It’s always what happens afterwards that ruins people. 

 


 

The party hits its climax and Dahyun is still nowhere in sight. Mina can’t say she’s not disappointed. 

The only reason she’s here is because of the girl, now that she isn’t around, Mina just tags along Jeongyeon, decides if she can’t be with Dahyun, she might as well spend the night reasonably by making sure nothing goes horribly wrong. 

At one point, just when Mina felt the most worried about Jeongyeon’s inability to laugh the entire hours they’ve been letting Sana’s music bleed their ears off, Jeongyeon finally gives in and tags Mina along to meet someone by the gate, a friend of hers from soccer. 

It’s the first time the entire day that Mina got to see Jeongyeon’s genuine smile. She even got to hear her laugh a little.

The guy is tall, clad in a Yonsei University jacket. From the looks of it, he’s very muscular underneath. If Mina was into guys, he’d be a good candidate. 

When they meet, Jeongyeon shakes hands with him, even goes to the length of doing that bro-hug thing, and then introduces to Mina, “This is Dongwoon. We met at one of the leagues I played at.” 

Mina offers her hand for a shake. 

Dongwoon takes it with a gentle hold and a lovely smile. “Nice to meet you Mina.” He takes a good look around the party scene, the skies a blend of orange and blue, people all over the place, dancing to music that’s loudest as ever. “Word on the street,  kids from Apgujeong throw the coolest parties in town?” 

Mina just laughs, as genuine as she can make it sound. 

It’s Jeongyeon who answers with a playful smile, “You guys will be the judge that.” She turns to Dongwoon. “Mitang’s a transferee from Japan, Woon. This is also her first time attending one of Sana’s parties.” 

“Ah…” the taller guy bobs his head. “I suppose we better get going then? The party seems louder inside.” 

Jeongyeon just laughs (Music to Mina’s ears, really. This is the first time she’s heard it this whole  day) and Mina smiles in character. They make their way down the throng of people dancing to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, entering through one of the more hidden entrances at the back of the mansion where only a few people know.

They hang out by the breakfast nook of the formal kitchen, seated around a leather booth. Jeongyeon brings over some drinks from Sana’s bottomless stock of Hite beer. They make a simple toast, clinking their red solo cups in the air before chugging the drink down. 

“So, guys. What’s the plan for next year?” Dongwoon starts a conversation, glancing between Mina and Jeongyeon seated together. 

Mina finds it odd how Jeongyeon carelessly answers the question, “Still unsure, Woon. Prolly just gonna go run away or something. Marry a rich person and live off that.” When in reality, Jeongyeon’s the only one in their group whose future had been the most meticulously decided. 

She was offered a scholarship in Yonsei, right? 

It’s either Jeongyeon doesn’t want Dongwoon to know that or Jeongyeon doesn’t have to let him know, because it’s not what’s gonna happen. 

(Mina has always been smarter than how she looks. And she looks damn brilliant.) 

“How about you, Mina? Will you be staying here for college?” 

Both eyes turn to Mina, snapping her out of her skepticism. “Perhaps, yes. I’m really unsure as well.” 

“Enough about college and the future. We should just live in the moment now!” Jeongyeon exclaims rather hastily, fueling Mina’s suspicions even more. “Woon, how ‘bout you? How’s university been going? Any girls? A girlfriend? You’ve been all on your own for so long!” 

“Independency is the new cool, Jeong.” Dongwoon answers with a playful smug grin. “And besides, I’m too busy with soccer and school for a committed relationship. I’ll just be wasting someone else’s time.” 

“Dashing as ever with your chivalry”, Jeongyeon playfully rolls her eyes, much to Dongwoon’s chagrin. She turns to Mina. “Mina, Woon here is a baby boy. Always so gentle and romantic. At one point in time, I even thought I liked him.” 

“Yeah. Turns out she was just in it for the free rides and food.” 

“YA!” Jeongyeon laughs, reaching over the table to smack Dongwoon on the arm.

They enter in a comfortable fit of laughter and smiles, exchanging small talk, and Mina, for a second, wishes she could just have this for a while, forget about the storm brooding in Jeongyeon’s face when there’s a stretch of silence she’s left to think in and she does so, Mina assumes, thinking of whatever’s the problem with today. 

Eventually, their small bubble of fleeting bliss pops and Jeongyeon and Mina find themselves excusing their company from Dongwoon. Jeongyeon lies through gritted teeth, something about having to meet someone by the gates, but Mina sees the way Jeongyeon stares at a specific trajectory and narrows her eyes at a specific someone. 

Mina wishes it’s Nayeon so that they can fix whatever this is.

“No prob. I’ll just roam around too”, Dongwoon stands up, red solo cup in hand. 

Jeongyeon nods and they go their separate ways there. The breakfast nook is occupied by another group of boys from the basketball team and their respective girlfriends.

Mina traverses through the crowd, jostling into random people and even almost ruining her dress in the process, after one guy nearly tripped and splashed his cup of beer at her. 

“You should stay here. Wear the jacket over so you’ll protect your precious princess dress”, Jeongyeon attempts at a joke, but the way her face is flattened to a stoic expression just has Mina unable to crack even the smallest of smiles. She just nods and wears the varsity jacket. 

Jeongyeon spares her a meaningful, soft gaze, trailing off in her expression. She wants to say something but somehow she can’t. Like she doesn’t know how to. 

Mina understands. She tries to. “I’ll be here if you need me, okay?” 

This is Jeongyeon after all. 

She just nods back, silently, sadly, on the verge of a breaking heart. 

 


 

Mina finds parties boring. They’re boring because the reason why she’s here isn't here yet. 

Mina, in spite of how the nearly the entire population of Apgujeong Private High find her as one of the most interesting students to talk and gossip about in the halls, is basically a ghost in this crowd when she’s within proximity. 

At one point in her waiting time, she remembers Dahyun’s letter and checks the pockets of Jeongyeon’s jacket. The smell of fabric conditioner kind of gave it away earlier but she still hoped it was here. Unfortunately, she emerges empty-handed. 

I’ll just have to ask Jeong about it later then. 

Mina turns back to watching the world go by before her. 

Standing isolated from the crowd, her red solo cup near its empty state, eardrums a minute away from blowing off, random sweaty people bumping against her—now there’s a dog tapping on her shin—

Wait a minute. A DOG?!

Mina immediately looks down at her feet, mouth nearly at the verge of letting out the most ear-piercing scream ever when a head peeks  from the table sheets.

“Mina unnie?” 

Recognizing the familiar nest of blonde hair in disarray and that lovely voice that always has her heart racing, Mina lets out a quiet gasp. 

“Dahyunnie?!” 

Mina nearly says something, nearly crouches down on her knees and pulls Dahyun into an embrace because although they have only been separated a few hours, she had been living so lifelessly without the younger girl. 

But then another head pops up beside Dahyun’s and to Mina’s absolute shock (and slight happiness), it’s Chaeyoung looking all better than she was yesterday albeit the sweat beads pooling on the crown of her head. 

“Chaeyoungie!?” Mina steps aside to let the two younger girls get through. “What are you two doing?!

“We should ask you the same!” Dahyun exclaims, puffing at her denim skirt to rid the dust sticking. She looks at Mina up and down, noticing every inch of perfection in the older girl. Can’t help bu fall even more. 

Of course, she hides the way she swoons for Mina.

“What are you doing here looking like a poorly-disguised princess?” 

Mina looks down at her attire with a pout and just shrugs. “I didn’t know what to wear…?” 

She frowns a little and then subjects it to Chaeyoung whose staring is a little too obvious to overlook, with her eyes nearly bawling out of their sockets and her mouth hanging slightly ajar. 

“Chaeyoung, are you okay?” Mina can’t help but ask, looking at the younger girl with concern in her eyes. 

“O-Oh! Unnie”, Chaeyoung lets out an awkward laugh. “Um, sorry. Was just thinking…”

Mina just faintly smiles back, nodding with an almost unnoticeable confused frown. She moves on to asking what the hell happened and why the two girls were crawling underneath the tables. Dahyun answers back with an excuse at how long the line had been to the entrance, so they had to find another quicker way in. 

Chaeyoung asks about the party and Mina just fills them in casually, trying to act the same way she’s been before, in spite of the growing urge inside of her to be within touching proximity with Dahyun. A simple hug would do but— sigh— it’ll have to wait. 

Mina tells them all about how she’d gotten here and where the other girls have been. 

“How about Nayeon unnie? Have you seen her?” Chaeyoung asks, standing on her tiptoes and looking around. It’s hopeless. As much as Mina thinks the kid’s big in everything else (a big personality, a big heart, etc.), her height just falls short.

“Nayeon? I don’t think so.” Mina frowns. “But I did see her with the other cheerleaders earlier by the kitchen.” 

“Which one?” 

“The one where we went through before.”

“Okay. Thank you, unnie!” Chaeyoung smiles before attempting to walk away. Key word: attempting. Dahyun pulls her back to a stop. 

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“I’m just going to look for unnie.”

“You’re going to get lost in there!”

Chaeyoung looks frustrated and dismayed, sporting an adorable pout on her lips. She turns to Mina for back-up, and Mina feels selfish for her reasons but Dahyun did promise her some time together so she decides to go along with Chaeyoung now. 

Dahyun lets Chaeyoung go with a single nod from Mina. 

The moment the younger girl is out of sight, Mina feels like breathing again, drawing out air she didn’t even know was caged in. 

She puts down her red solo cup on the tables behind and glances at the blonde girl standing beside her, suspiciously craning her neck and standing on tippy-toes, fully taking in the sight of a Minatozaki party. 

Mina knows better than to believe the innocent act. She snorts. “You took long enough.” 

Dahyun remains looking at the deejay’s booth at the opposite end of the living room. “It was really crowded outside, unnie. And I had...kind of a fashion situation…? Back at the dorms.” 

Mina looks down at her attire. “You look beautiful though?” 

“I didn’t about an hour ago.” Dahyun scoffs. “I looked like I was going to a Great Gatsby party. Chaeyoung was just too nice to call me out on it.” 

Mina can’t help but chuckle, feeling a rush of fondness wash over her, pulling her to take a step to the side, to lessen the damned space between them, even for a little. “I was waiting for you for so long, you know.” 

Dahyun thanks the dim room and the variegated strobe lights dancing around for hiding the blush that dusts across her face. When Mina stands close enough that their hands brush, she feels her heart pound against her chest. 

“I’m here now, unnie. Don’t worry.” 

Those words are enough to let Mina feel air in her lungs again. She unknowingly lets out a relieved sigh. 

They stand there, in the comfortable silence of each other’s company. The dj browses through music in the booth, playing songs from different kinds of genres. The lights flash before their eyes, quite blindingly if you ask Dahyun. Different colors flare from different directions like laser beams, and high up on the ceiling, a disco mirror ball rotates, adding even more feel to the party.

At one point in time, Mina manages to sneak her hand behind her dress and reach out for Dahyun’s. It’s awkward at first. Dahyun’s hand is clammy from holding her cup of beer, and Mina jerked a little at the feel of the cool beads of water against her palm. 

Dahyun’s shocked. Her eyes glance at Mina warily, as if asking her “What are you doing?” and Mina kind of just answers with the way her fingers naturally lock with Dahyun’s, lacing through the spaces and holding it in place. 

In Dahyun’s hand, she holds Mina’s heart. All of it. 

They stay like that, standing together at the end of the room, holding hands hidden from the world to see. It’s normal, natural. Like breathing, like the beat of their hearts. 

They move around when they want to (It’s mostly just Dahyun) but they never let go. It’s weird, in a way. How this feels natural to them, like they’re not even holding hands. They just move where the other goes. 

Dahyun hums to the music from time to time, when she knows it. She turns around often too, looking through the drinks on the table. Mina turns around too when she does, not to strain their arms.

At one point, Dahyun finishes her first cup of beer and lets go of Mina’s hand. 

Mina feels empty all of a sudden, cold and alone. In the snap of a finger, adrenaline kicks in and her heart beats out of its rhythm. She immediately looks for the hand she’s holding and sees it’s holding a beer. 

Dahyun holds up the bottle of Hite and pours a small amount in her cup with so much focus, Mina can’t help but look as well. 

Up this close, Mina sees every bit of Dahyun, even under the colorful strobe flares and disco lights.  

Her hair’s not just an ordinary shade of natural blonde. It’s more bleached and wavy. Like she’s missed a lot of appointments with the hairdresser about bleaching maintenance. There are hairpins criss-crossed on the right half of her hair, holding back the loose strands but not the small baby fringes. 

Mina’s eyes trace down the bridge of Dahyun’s nose. Even in her profile, her skin still shines a pale, milky shade. Flawless and not a single smear, even without the makeup. There’s a tiny mole in between her brow and her eye. It looks like the type of mark that wouldn’t be caught at first glance, unlike the constellations on Mina’s face that are notably her best facial trait. 

Outside of Mina’s trance, a loud beat of drums play, making up the instrumental intro of a very familiar song. The crowds holler at the sound, and Mina snaps out of her staring when Dahyun turns around swiftly, eyes widening and mouth forming an “O”. 

The strobe beams are turned off and only the disco ball lights up the room, spinning to the beat.

“UNNIE! UNNIE!” Dahyun jumps in excitement, putting down her cup. 

Mina just chuckles. “YES? YES?” 

Dahyun holds both of her hands and sways with the rhythm. “I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS SONG!”

Mina is knocked breathless at the sight. Dahyun’s so beautiful. So, so beautiful. 

 

Looking in your eyes I see a paradise 

This world that I found is too good to be true

 

“Unnie! Do you know this song?!” Dahyun shouts amidst the loudness in the room. Mina just nods fervently. Yes she knows this song. Back then it didn’t mean anything to her. It was just another good song on the radio. Now, seeing Dahyun, suddenly, it means the world. 

 

Let 'em say we're crazy, I don't care 'bout that

Put your hand in my hand

Baby, don't ever look back

 

Every couple in the crowd dance together. Mina and Dahyun aren’t part of the crowd. They’re in their own world, laughing and swaying with the song. 

Dahyun’s eyes are closed, feeling every beat. She doesn’t see how Mina looks at her universe. How she looks at her. 

 

And we can build this dream together

Standing strong forever

Nothing's gonna stop us now

 

Dahyun sings it with her entire heart and her lungs. Mina falls deeper into this. 

“Nothing’s gonna stop us! Nothing’s gonna stop us now~”

Mina just laughs, a honey-coated melody to Dahyun’s ears. She opens her eyes and they just enjoy each other’s company, dancing and singing to the song until it ends and they return from their world together. 

Dahyun kind of wants to throw her shoe at the DJ for playing MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This right after, instantly ruining the romantic mood. 

It’s like a cold splash of water on her face. She realizes what she’s just done and suddenly feels shy all over. Thankfully, awkward with Mina has always been comfortable and lighthearted. Mina’s warm and nice, and pretty in that white dress and—

Jacket. Oh my god. 

“Unnie.” Dahyun calls under her breath, suddenly growing wary and standing closer. “Unnie. Is that Jeongyeon unnie’s jacket?”

Mina looks down at where the younger girl’s glancing at and then just nods hesitantly, unaware of where the conversation is going. 

There’s a hard-thinking expression on Dahyun’s face. It stretches on for a minute or two before her eyes widen, as if a lightbulb had been switched on in her head, and she just mouths something Mina’s not-so-clear eyesight didn’t catch.

“Nice jacket, unnie!” Dahyun shouts, much to Mina’s confusion, eyes meaningful as they try to relay a message Mina doesn’t get. “Where’d you get if from!?”

It takes about a whole minute for Mina to finally comprehend the situation, a record low if she were being honest with herself. The thing about clarifying my thing with Jeongyeon. Oh my god, Dahyun. You genius.

“It’s not mine”, she answers back. 

“Whose is it?! It’s a cool jacket!” 

“It’s Jeongyeon’s!” Mina tries to raise her voice. Somehow, it just cracks and she just flushes with embarrassment. 

“Are you two…” Dahyun gestures with her hands. “You know…?”

Something must have happened when Mina was thinking all about Dahyun earlier because right now, she doesn’t understand a single thing. Honestly. 

“Like, you know!” Dahyun shouts. “Dating!” 

“Oh.” Mina trails off with a light, awkward laugh. This is stupid , she thinks. Having to clarify something when she’s not entitled to do anything for those who talk about her behind her back. Mina wouldn’t have done any of this and just let everybody else think what they want to, but now this involves Dahyun. And she doesn’t want to hurt Dahyun. And if starting back from zero ground again is what it takes, she’ll do it. 

All for Dahyun.

Mina summons all of the energy in her voice box, readies for a shout that can at least be heard from a few feet’s distance so the people around them can have another thing to gossip about. 

Mina inhales and then exclaims, voice warring with the guitar intro of another song playing out loud. “No! We’re just friends!”

It’s damn bad acting, supplied by years of sleeping at school performances and declining offers to partake in the theater club. In spite of that, Mina thinks it worked. There are people who glance at her and Dahyun, and then back to whoever they were with, suddenly talking in hushed whispers. 

Mina declares victory. She turns to Dahyun, ready for a kiss or a hug (preferably the aforementioned but a hug will do for now), but she’s only greeted by the sight of the younger girl closing her eyes, forehead creased as she hums to the opening of a familiar song. She looks cute like this. 

Before Mina could even call her name out, because mentioning it wouldn’t work in this loud room knowing how inaudible her normal talking voice gets, a hand grabs at her wrist and yanks her away, almost inciting a startled scream.

She looks up at whoever it is. It only takes the back to know who.

It’s Jeongyeon. 

And she’s mad. 

 


 

“HE’S AN ASS, MINA! HE SAID ALL THOSE THINGS ABOUT NAYEON AND—”

But Mina couldn’t properly discern what Jeongyeon had been ranting about. They were shoving their way through the crowd, trying to get out and everything feels like crashing down on them. 

“Jeong, wait—ow!”

Mina can foresee a bad bruise around her wrist from the tight grip Jeongyeon has around it. She attempts to pull it back with all the force her alcohol-induced-frail body has, and though she does get to yank her hand back, it’s only because they’re outside of the mansion now, out in a part of the front yard that’s less crowded, and Jeongyeon almost forcefully lets her hand go. 

Mina rubs at her wrist. She can see the discoloration against her skin, shaped after Jeongyeon’s rigid hold around it. Mina hates it, the way her eyes feel compelled to well up at the trace of pain, so weak and enervated. She hates it more when she registers the twinging as a result of not the bruise forming around her wrist against pale, milky skin, but of the realization of the person who inflicted it. 

Jeongyeon...

When Mina looks up at the girl, the words hanging on her lips, waiting to be said, whirls away along the night’s cold gust of wind. Jeongyeon settles for a spot under a tree, on the patch of manicured grass, crouched down and hiding her face in her hands. 

In front of Mina is a girl far from the Jeongyeon she knows. 

Mina goes to her, settles down in the space beside her and almost lays a finger on Jeongyeon’s shoulder. Almost. 

The furious voice broke the silence like a knife had been sliced through, followed by a guy with a group of boys behind him, futilely holding him back. 

“YOO JEONGYEON!”

Mina immediately recognizes who it is. Nayeon’s boyfriend, Woo Dohwan.

 


 

That’s just about the last thing Mina remembers vividly before everything else became a blur. 

There’s a lot of shouting and hurtful words thrown in the air, and then a lot of grabbing and yelling and punches. There are people around who watch in delight at the world-class show before them, unfazed while Mina yells for some help and for someone to stop the fight. 

Maybe this was it. The ruins of the storm. 

Mina has never felt this useless and afraid in all of her life. She had witnessed a part of Jeongyeon she had never seen before, never thought existed. 

This Jeongyeon has a face the color of bloodshot red, veins protruding against skin in a whirl of anger and hatred. She moved with a weight on every punch, every throw, every jab. There was a name in her lips when she threw a kick and then got one back, and when she was equally as bruised as Woo Dohwan, there was a name in her lips she cried when it felt like they both had given up. 

The fight was over. 

And all Jeongyeon could say was Nayeon, Nayeon, Nayeon.

 


 

Dahyun has half the urge to find Mina, and another half to look for her bro. Both of those are squashed down to the pit of her stomach when her bladder contracts and the urge to find a restroom overpowers all. 

So she decides to keep Mission Find Mina and Chaeyoung behind and embark on finding the restroom first. She throws herself into the pack of hungry wolves–aka the kids filling up the dance floor–and goes through the maze-like structure of Sana’s mansion in hopes to find the lavatory before she makes an alcohol-induced humiliation of herself. 

Unnie can wait. I really need to go find a restroom.

The entire first floor is crowded like a concert hall after the program. The first restroom she sees is the one down the hall beside one of the kitchens. A long line is in the queue. 

Shit. 

Dahyun takes a deep breath and tries to tame down the fire burning in her bladder. She scans the crowd first, the entire room follows. 

There’s another door with a design similar to the C.R. door, down the other hallway. Dahyun makes a beeline for it, not sparing a second of hesitation when she shoves it open and barges in impolitely, unbeknownst to her, bulldozing into a private session as well. 

“OH MY GOD—”

“WHAT THE FUCK—””

Dahyun feels like a flash of sinful light has blinded her eyes, causing her to stumble back. One hand flies over to cover her line of vision and protect what’s left of her innocent, poor mind, and the other fumbles for the doorknob behind her. 

“I’m so sorry—” Where the hell’s the doorknob?!

“Get out!” 

“I thought it was a CR—” It is. There are about a hundred rooms in Sana’s house, why the hell did they decide on a restroom to have...some adult...baby-making session in? 

There are sounds of glass bottles clinking and rolling on the marble sink counter. Someone probably pushed them away when– dammit, Dahyun don’t think of those! Where the damn hell is the doorknob—

“There’s a restroom upstairs! Just go!” 

There’s the doorknob!

Dahyun immediately pulls the door open behind her and shoves herself out, immediately feeling her heart try to break out from her ribcage. When she finally removes her hand over her eyes, she opens them slowly and adjusts to the light. At the sight of people passing by, Dahyun shudders, feeling traumatized of what she had just subjected her vision to. 

Oh my god. 

For a split second there, she’s forgotten how she needs to pee and the only thing occupying her head is how the two voices she heard earlier, as well as the vague image of the figures she had seen, all sound and look the same as... Sana and Momo unnie…

Hmm…Interesting. 

Then the urge to pee is back again and Dahyun is thankful her head momentarily forgets the rated sight and focuses on the need to find a damned restroom. 

Knowing there’s no hope in waiting in line here and Sana probably made certain some of the rooms on the second floor are off-limits to the public , Dahyun races up the stairs and makes a beeline for the hall with fewer people around. 

I’ll just explain to unnie when I can. She’ll understand. 

The second floor is an endless hall of carpeted flooring lined by beautiful-looking doors that Dahyun probably needs to choose from, one where she doesn’t barge into someone else’s private sessions… 

Dahyun wipes a nonexistent bead of sweat on her forehead. Don't think of that now… 

She can't even breathe properly because one deep inhale feels like a stab at her anterior pelvic region, puncturing holes at her bladder. Instead she just focuses on taking jagged, momentary breaths with both hands on her hip, looking like a woman in labor with her light accelerated breathing. 

She looks down the corridor of doors and takes a look at her options.

Her alcohol-dazed head utilizes a half-assed filtration system. Most of the doors look entirely the same except for the glass french doors down at the end of the corridor, casting stained silhouettes of two figures, a boy and a girl, talking. 

Eventually, Dahyun results in eenie meenie miney moe-ing her way to finding the most restroom-looking door because all of the doors in this hall look the same, white wood with intricately carved patterns.

Just when she’s about to lose hope in all the good of the world, the universe decides to send one last light in her life.

“DAHYUN!”

Chaeyoung is everything to Dahyun. Her best friend, above all. But right now, right now , she really doesn’t need someone launching themselves at her and hugging the life out of her. Not when her bladder’s this close to bursting. 

“CHAEYOUNG! NO!”

But it’s too late. And the universe royally fucks her up. It’s a storm from there, of horrified shouting and blood rushing to the tips of her hair, out of humiliation for what her body has turned against her with. 

Dahyun feels like this , this is her record low now. Accidentally peeing in an indoor pot, in front of an opulent framed photograph of Sana unnie’s grandmother. 

Good lord. Have I fallen this low now?

There’s a short banter session exchanged between her and Chaeyoung, about staying put and why the hell did Dahyun just pee in a poor pot, in the Minatozaki matriarch’s bedroom of all places. They push everything aside at the mutual decision to hide the plant away, preferably in the backyard where it gets lost in a slew of other greenery. 

They rush down to the main area of the party where most of the invitees don’t even notice two girls sneaking out, one carrying a pot of plant with her. Everybody else must be just as drunk and hazy as Dahyun is because wow...is there even a party anymore? Where is everybody? 

“The party’s moved outside! There’s a fight going on!” It’s an overly-energetic guy that answers their question, just as he moves along the current of other kids rushing to the doors leading to the front yard. 

“Should we go check it out?” Chaeyoung asks, curiosity picking at her. 

Dahyun wants to see for herself the commotion as well, but the pot she’s holding right now is kind of heavy and she’s near the edge of losing her balance now, so maybe it’s a good idea if they handle this first. 

“After we toss this away.” She answers, going the opposite way of the current. 

It’s the perfect chance to anyway. Whatever’s causing the commotion outside, Dahyun feels grateful. 

 


 

“Let’s go home.” 

Mina feels like she was the one being punched in the gut when she sees Jeongyeon.When she holds her. 

There’s blood trailing down the side of her mouth, a bruise the size of a fist smearing her pale cheeks; there are gashes on her hand as well as more discolorations down the length of her arms from being tackled to the ground and acting as a shield to some of the hits thrown by Dohwan. 

By the time the asshole is hauled away by his friends, who can only do so much as flash Mina and Jeongyeon an apologetic nod of their heads, Mina is already pulling Jeongyeon up, coming to her rescue. 

There are tears pricking at the back of her eyes, threatening to spill at every grunt and painful groan Jeongyeon lets out as Mina tries to survey every bruise and cut. 

Jeongyeon just stands, knees trembling, head hanging down. The crowd vanishes around them. The show is over. But still, she’s washed over by a tidal wave of shame. 

Mina’s arms around her shoulders feel like a safety net she doesn’t deserve. Jeongyeon hides her face from the world, pressing it into the soft fabric over Mina's shoulder. 

They make their way out of the place. Away from everyone’s eyes and the rest of the world who have done nothing but hurt them. 

 


 

There’s a different kind of pain when you’re hurt and when the people you love are hurt.

Mina had never been one to deal with pain well, especially if it’s about those she loves.

When she was a kid, she fell off a swing and scraped her palm upon hitting the ground. It was painful and the sight of blood had her insides twisting. She was on the verge of tears, about to call her mother who was chatting with the other parents in the area, but then her playmate slid down the slide and hit her knee on the pole. She cried too and Mina, as if struck by lightning, forgot the scrape on her palm and ran over to her friend, and cried with her. 

It was a bruise, as small as a thumbprint, but she cried her eyes out worrying about her friend, about how the ice would make it hurt a little, how her skin wouldn’t be perfectly white and soft anymore. 

She worried about her friend so much, she forgot she was in pain too. 

Her mom would always worry about that thing about Mina. Always concerned herself with how Mina seemed to put everybody else before her. That playmate wasn’t even a close friend. Just someone she frequently saw at the playground in their area. 

“And what would you do if it was more than just a friend?” Her mother used to ask her. “What if it was someone you loved?”

For years, Mina could never find the courage to give an answer to her mother. 

Her mind couldn’t fathom the idea of such a thing. She didn’t have the slightest thought of what she was capable of doing if someone she loved got hurt. She didn’t want to think of just how painful it would feel. 

Mina never knew the answer and never wanted to find out. 

It was the universe that decided she should. 

When Dahyun ran up to them, paying no mind to the street she was crossing or the car that was approaching, Mina felt like her whole world had stopped moving. 

It feels like the threads of time had been unraveled and a piece of it was held in between a pair of scissors, ready to be cut. Ready to be removed.

It felt like she had been held at gunpoint, and she could no longer move a single muscle, think a single thought. Her heart ran on only one name over and over again. 

Dahyun, Dahyun, Dahyun. 

Mina nearly dropped Jeongyeon in her hold. 

“DAHYUN!” It was the loudest her voice had ever reached. It was a cry to the universe she wished it’d hear. “DAHYUN! NO!”

Not Dahyun. Please not her. 

And Dahyun heard it. She hears it clearly and she fucking stops running. Right in the middle of the road, snapped out of her stupor by the blinding lights approaching but rendered still in shock. 

Chaeyoung makes a beeline for her, to work as some kind of shield perhaps. She hugs Dahyun tight, and jumps with her out of the way, falling with a grunt on the asphalt road just as the car stops. 

Mina is frozen in place, held back by the universe. She closes her eyes and prays to wake up. Wake up, wake up, wake up! 

(“And what would you do if it was more than just a friend?”)

There’s a blow in her chest that she feels, like her heart is being swept away by the waiting pain and agony, ripping it into pieces slowly, tearing it apart. 

(“What if it was someone you loved?”)

If it’s someone you love, it’s like building a house and filling it with years of memories and happiness and laughter and tears; 

If it’s someone you love, it’s like making a home out of nothing at all, and watching it crumble to pieces before your very eyes in a split second. 

And the worst thing about it? 

If it’s someone you love?

You just watched. 

And you couldn’t save anything at all. 

 


 

Mina will never find an answer to her mother’s question. Even if she had to, she won’t. 

Because the car stops. A split second in time. A few feet away before it could hit.  

The car stops and Mina doesn’t lose Dahyun to the universe. 

It’s the least it could do. 

Losing Dahyun is something Mina thinks she won’t ever be able to handle. 

 


 

The driver of the car had the heart to call an ambulance. 

Because they were all just four teenagers still in shock of what just happened, leaving the two uninjured girls by the streets so late at night wasn’t an option for the paramedics to consider.

Mina and Jeongyeon ride in the ambulance as it tears through the slew of cars down the main road, speeding to the nearest hospital. Dahyun’s on the gurney, still collapsed with a non-rebreather mask over her face. 

Chaeyoung’s awake now but barely holding up after fainting from earlier too, from the shock of a near-death experience. Another paramedic works on the wounds on her palm, scrapes and a few cuts. 

Jeongyeon’s crying beside Mina, hiding her face behind her hands. Mina thinks it’s the entire night to blame, and how fucked up it had been to them. 

Mina doesn’t cry. She wants to but she can’t. Because everybody else is broken in ways she can’t help them with, doesn’t have the power to, and she shouldn’t be another broken person crying. They’ve had enough. 

When the ambulance arrives at the hospital, the paramedics pull down Dahyun on the stretcher and a doctor and a few nurses push her to the Emergency area. One of the nurses rushes out with a wheelchair for Chaeyoung and another one runs over to help Jeongyeon walk, with the bruises and wounds on her face and down her arm, they’d think she was the one hit. 

Mina doesn’t join them inside the Emergency area. Instead, she makes a beeline for the help desk and asks for any means to phone an overseas call. Thankfully, they have one.

It takes about a few rings before the familiar old, raspy voice answers the phone, “Doctor Akira Myoui speaking. Who is this?” 

“Papa?” All it takes is that one word for Mina to feel all of the emotions from earlier come at her. 

“Mina?” Hearing her father’s voice again feels like an embrace and Mina wants to just collapse. 

She holds back the tremble in her voice and the tears pooling in her eyes. “Papa, I’m at the hospital right now and--”

“What? Why? Did something happen? Are you hurt?” The onslaught of questions has Mina’s head spinning wildly. 

“I’ll explain it to you later, Papa. I just need to ask if you know someone at…” Mina looks over at the logo and name of the hospital on the wall of the help desk and reads it out loud to her father. “Papa, do you know anyone here who could help us? My friends are really hurt.” 

At the tremble in her tone, Mina knows her father is worried too and will probably work on this. She doesn’t normally capitalize in her family’s connections, has never done it to be honest. But this is real fear she feels, and in spite of how superficial the casualties may seem, Mina can’t take the risk. If she has to do this, then so be it.  

She can’t lose the people she loves. Not now. Hopefully, not ever. 

“Okay, okay.” Her father says, and Mina can almost see his nodding. There are muffled voices in the background, followed by a slew of commands from her father in Kansai dialect. He returns to the call, “I’ll have someone assist. What are the names of your friends?” 

“Kim Dahyun, Son Chaeyoung, Yoo Jeongyeon.” 

Her father repeats them to the other people in the background. He comes back to the call and asks if Mina’s alright, and as much as she’d love to stay in the conversation and cry to her father about how fucked up the night had been, she can’t. 

“Papa, I have to go.” Mina mumbles morosely. She hears her father let out a sigh on the other line. 

“Okay. Be careful there, yeah?” 

“Yes, Papa.” 

There’s a beat of silence and Mina nearly cracks, her first tear getting the best of her. There’s only so much she can do without the strength her parents give her. 

“I love you, Mina. Take care. Be strong. We miss you.” 

And that’s where she gives in. 

“I love you too, Papa. Please tell mama too.” 

There’s a hum on the other line and Mina waits another second before ending the call. She takes a deep breath and calms herself down again, wiping away the tears that stream down her face, before mustering up the courage to send another call. 

This time to Jihyo. 

Be strong even if it’s not for yourself. Do it for them, Mina.

The line starts ringing.  

 


 

That night, Mina doesn’t lose Dahyun to the universe. 

It’s the least it could do. 

Losing Dahyun is something Mina thinks she won’t ever be able to handle. 

But they do lose someone else. They lose Chaeyoung. 

As if the night couldn’t have gotten worse, Chaeyoung leaves them. 

And Dahyun..good god. 

Losing Chaeyoung is something Dahyun won’t ever be able to handle. But she has to. 

This isn’t goodbye, after all. She makes sure it isn’t. 

They all do. 

 

Chapter Text

Mina calls it “The Fallout”. 

The adverse side-effects of Chaeyoung leaving them. It’s almost like dealing with the five stages of grief. 

First, they deny. 

From the afternoon Dahyun had been discharged from the hospital up until a few days ago, everyone continued living normally, as if nothing had happened. It's partially because they can't afford to slow down anymore, with the competition in a few days.

They practice by day until class hours end, and then go back to the dorms routinely, like a bunch of zombies working a nine-to-five.

Nayeon, Momo, and Mina had to make big changes after Chaeyoung’s removal, altering places and a few formations because the imagery seemed pretty useless now that they were down a member. The entire group had to double their efforts to perfect everything again, to the point that even Nayeon was already growing sick. 

(The atmosphere in the converted practice room was as heavy as a storm cloud suspended above their heads. 

They had just finished a third run incorporated with the step and formation changes and the results were the same as the first two: unsatisfactory. 

Knowing how Momo, Nayeon, and Mina get obsessive with perfection and how recent hallway gossip proclaims them as contenders for first place in the talent competition–side-by-side the cheer squad and the Gag Trio's magic show–it's expected of the trio to demand another run-through, dance endlessly until they perfect the updated choreography.

But that doesn't happen. Of course it doesn't when it's Nayeon who calls for a time-out.

She’s bent down and holding on her knees, wheezing for air like she just completed a decathlon in less than an hour, which is weird because Nayeon could definitely do that if she wanted to, given her exceptional athleticism. She could probably sprint a hundred laps and still look like it was just a walk in  the park. 

“Are you sick?” Mina voices out everyone in the room's question, walking over with a water bottle in hand. 

She crouches down and hands it over while Jeongyeon stands by Nayeon’s other side, wiping at the beads of sweat on the cheerleader's forehead and brushing back the strands of hair sticking around her face. 

Jihyo joins them and saunters over, proceeding to shove her palm right on Nayeon’s forehead, looking more as if she’s slapping her than trying to check her temperature. 

She draws her hand back with a tilt of her head. “There’s no fever…?" Then she looks at Jeongyeon, “Has she been like this for a while now?” 

“You mean acting like she’s fifty?” Sana quips, a sassy hand on her hip. “She’s been like that ever since she started joining us for practice. She gets tired so easily just by standing and shouting at the girls during routine.” 

Nayeon tries to say something but she just ends up sounding like a dying whale. 

Sana elaborates, saying how Nayeon's been a thousand times grumpier and more impatient while supervising training, the poor underclassmen the recipient of her moody bouts. 

"She's been like that since a week ago", Sana huffs, clearly exasperated at having to deal with the wrath of the Supermega Bitch’s comeback.

From the other side of the room, Mina’s the one who connects the dots. “Isn’t that a few days after—” 

“I’M OKAY!” But Nayeon cuts her off, springing up to a normal stance again, the sudden motion causing her to stumble back a little. Thankfully Jeongyeon’s there to hold her in place. 

“I’m okay, guys.” 

Nayeon’s eyes are droopy, evident bags hanging underneath. Her face looks drained out of blood, lips an alarming pale shade and chapping surface. This is the first time people outside the cheer team have seen her in this state of disarray. 

Mina fears it won’t be the last. 

“Is this about…?” Jeongyeon doesn’t finish but everyone knows who she’s referring to. The way Nayeon’s eyes flicker from exhaustion to fury is enough to confirm. 

“Don’t.” Her tone is sharp and pointy at the edges. Then, upon realizing how everyone’s looking at her, Nayeon softens. She lets out a deflated sigh, “It’s not about the kid leaving, okay? It’s not. I just don’t feel well, that’s all.”

“You should rest then”, Sana suggests with a concerned crease of her forehead. She and Jeongyeon walk Nayeon over to the lone chintz sofa in the room and sit her down. “Perfecting the routine when you’re in that situation will only do us more harm than good.” 

“Besides.” Momo speaks up. “We already lost one member. We can’t lose another.” 

Nayeon frowns at that. “We didn’t lose a member. Chaeyoung—” it’s the first time she mentions her name again after a while. 

Nayeon feels the name grow unfamiliar in her tongue. She shakes her head out of it. “I mean, we didn’t lose her. She just had to leave.” 

“She left , unnie.” 

It’s the first time Dahyun has said a word and joined the group in conversation when she normally keeps her silence these days. Everyone feels compelled to listen to her, standing furthest from the huddle, by the corner at the other end of the room.

Dahyun looks so distraught, so lost. If Nayeon didn’t know, she would have blamed it on school. Dark bags under her eyes, heavy eyelids and cheeks almost sagging with the lack of emotion on her face. It’s hard to believe that Dahyun is the “Sunshine Girl” of the group when she looks like this. 

“Yeah, but we didn’t lose her—” 

“We did. She’s gone. She won’t come back." With each sentence everyone feels a stab at their chests. 

Dahyun only continues, unfazed. "She’s not here anymore so we just have to face the fact that we’re just seven now. And we have to do something about that or else we’re going to be stuck moping like this forever.” 

The speech has everyone silent. 

Nayeon feels another wave of nausea engulf her whole body, sending tingles to the tips of her toes and a jackhammer pounding at her head. 

She doesn’t have the heart nor the energy to counter Dahyun. The younger girl doesn’t look like she has the patience and will to argue too. They’ve all been moving around like a bunch of zombies, reasons of which they all find hard to believe is just one person. 

Another quarter of an hour passes by before Mina suggests they call it a day. No one argues.)

 


 

In the week of the talent competition, then came the second stage of grief: anger. 

Out of all of them, it’s Nayeon whose mood swings are like amusement park rides–always going up and down, around and around. One minute she’s livid, like a ticking bomb ready to explode, the next she’s a sobbing mess.

Frankly, the team can't take it anymore.

(Making the younger kids break down in front of the whole team when she supervises cheerleading practice is like a hobby by now. 

Back when Nayeon  didn’t attend training because of the restrictions from Principal Park, the kids feared Jennie the most. 

The feline-eyed co-co-captain adapted Nayeon's brutal training methods and even went as far as copying the way Nayeon would ruthlessly point out every small mistake. 

Mina had been one of the favorite recipients of the snarky comments however, being a fellow senior had tenured her. The underclassmen couldn't say the same for themselves.

You'd think once Nayeon joined them again, after her so-called "transformation"–somehow, word about the captain proclaimed that she had changed from being a Supermega bitch to a normal, kinder bitch now–she’d grow kinder to the rookies and underclassmen of the team too, but nooooo. 

The moment Nayeon returned, all hell broke loose.

No minor mishap is spared from Nayeon's scrutiny from where she stands in front of the laid-out training mats over the field, arms crossed over her chest, one eyebrow raised.

There are good days where Nayeon's not in the mood and just sits back silently. At those times, she's probably not feeling well, just like most of her days now. Then, there are bad days where the entire gym and field area are thrown into a whirlwind of chaos with Nayeon's loud shouting filling the air. 

It’s awful to the point that even Jennie flinches at her brutal comments, and she can get goddamn candid too.

Today seems to be an especially bad one because Nayeon's scolding a bunch of rookies, one of them being Lia, her supposed favorite underclassman.

The entire team’s on a two-minute water break now, the longest they have been given ever since Nayeon began joining practice again, and it’s only unfortunate for the rookies that the sourpuss captain is maximizing most of the two minutes by scolding them while the rest of the team–and by extension, the soccer girls at the other end of the field–witnesses.  

"I'm just saying", Sana side-whispers to Mina as they make their way to the benches. "Lia's her favorite freshman, Mitang. Kid's nice and a fast-learner. She's never gotten anything wrong! Even now!"

"Then why is Nayeon trying to crush them?" Mina creases her forehead, eyes glossed with pity at the sight of the three poor girls, head hanging low, getting yelled at. "For what?"

If she recalls it right, the routine had been executed flawlessly, as it should when it had been their 23rd run. Twenty-fucking-three runs of their seven-fucking-minute routine, in the span of a three-hour practice. Some of the sophomores are already calling it exploitation.

“She’s been snappy at everyone ever since Chaeyoung left, Minari. One of these days, we have to talk to her about it, whether she likes it or not”, Sana sighs, a troubled glance darting at the girl in question, whose scolding is finally coming to its end. 

“I feel so bad for them…” Mina frowns, looking at the trembling shoulders of the girl in the middle. “They didn’t do anything to get this kind of treatment. Lia did everything right and—” 

Her words are cut short when a figure breezes past them, the sound of whimpering trailing behind. Two other girls rush to help, and it’s only then Sana and Mina realize it’s Lia who had run off, crying. 

Sana’s almost ready to sprint after the kids and console the poor girl who had been nothing short of an energy pill to the team ever since her inclusion, but a firm grip on her wrist stops her from doing so. 

Sana looks down and sees Mina's perfectly-manicured fingers clasped around her hand, holding her back. She looks up at the girl and is faced with an unfamiliar expression of shock, eyes directed towards opposite from the direction the rookies had run off to. 

Sana looks and lands on the sight of Nayeon with her head hanging down, hands covering her face, shoulders sagging and trembling. 

“Is she...crying?” 

It’s like seeing Icarus fall before their very own eyes. 

Behind Nayeon, Jennie stands as if she’s frozen in place, one foot ready to spring in action but the other caught behind. Her eyes gaze warily between Sana and the other girls on the benches behind her, as if asking what should I do?!

Frankly, everyone’s asking the same question.

Im Nayeon is crying. 

The girl who imparted terror and wrath on any person she desired; the girl who can only show emotions between indifference and animosity towards everybody else that aren't her girls…

Apgujeong's Queen Bitch is crying.

Even Sana and Mina are rendered still, caught taken aback by what's happening. Eventually, they snap out of it when the wailing grows louder and the hiccups begin. 

The two immediately rush over.

“What’s wrong?” Sana whispers, rubbing the captain’s back in soothing circles. “Hey. Tell us.” 

Mina stands by Nayeon’s other side, a towel in hand, ready to give. She gestures at Jennie to lead the girls back to formation, just to keep everyone's eyes away from Nayeon. She and Sana stand by each other closely, forming a wall to hide the captain from the world. 

They coax her with hushed words of comfort, thankful they can even be heard with how loud Toni Basil's playing behind them as the girls run through the routine again. 

When Nayeon looks up, her eyes look like they have been drained of emotions. She lies apathetic to the small trail of snot running down her nose, so Mina does it for her, gently dabbing at it with a towel. 

“S-She…” Nayeon whimpers, eyes welling with tears again. “She was...she was like Chaeyoung…"

"Who?" Sana dotingly asks.

Mina stands by close, continuously dabbing on the trails of tears on the girl's puffy cheeks. She has no idea about how to act on the situation, as it had only been a handful of times she's seen the rock-solid girl shatter. Every single time she does, Mina feels like breaking too.

"Lia." Nayeon sniffs, stands up straighter now. "She reminded me of Chaeyoung and I just...I just couldn't help myself. I couldn't...I had to get her away. I...I was mad."

"You're mad at Lia…because she reminds you of Chaeyoung?"

Nayeon nods at Sana. She forces her eyes close as another trail of tears follow.

Mina hurriedly wipes at it, thinking so this is my life now huh? What once was immaculate Miss Perfect has now become Im Nayeon's nanny. A career change, really…

They usher Nayeon out of the field and console her for the rest of the remaining time, finding out Nayeon was just bottling up her emotions about Chaeyoung leaving them all this time. 

Seeing Lia–whose bright demeanor had reminded her so much of her –was like the spark that ignited the fire for Nayeon. The last draw that had her blowing up.

She was livid. At first she tried to understand it, but Chaeyoung left them so suddenly. The night she did so, Nayeon was under the influence of alcohol and emotional stress from the party. 

To her back then, Chaeyoung wasn't leaving them. She was just going away to visit her grandma for a short while. She said she'll come back. But it's been more than a month since then, and the competition is a few sleeps away, and Chaeyoung hasn't come back yet. 

All the alterations in their performance still feel surreal, and Nayeon hasn't even registered everything yet because there's hesitation in every change and a small hold on hope that she’ll still return. That in a blink of an eye, Chaeyoung's at their door again, back home with them.  

But she's not. She hasn't come back. She might never do, and that's a thought the entire group loathes and dreads thinking of but it's there at the forefront of their minds. 

They all feel a small spark of anger and frustration there but it's Nayeon who feels betrayed and left behind. 

She actually thought Chaeyoung was gonna be the one who stayed this time.)

 


 

The days after that are spent hustling into the storm of event preparations and final practices. The entire school has descended into the boss stage of chaos, student volunteers running around, making last calls to organizers, performers trying to utilize every hour finalizing performances.

Day by day, the performing stage is being constructed at the center of the field. Day by day, concession stands are getting set up around the area. Every student passing by gets to witness as the multi-purpose grass field gets transformed to a carnival park-like concert venue.

With how busy they all have been, Mina doesn't get to keep up with her Stages of Grief case study about her friends. She prioritizes looking over the girls first, especially Dahyun, who has done nothing but get stuck in the first stage of grief: denial.

While everybody's probably surpassed that stage already, Dahyun's still stuck in it, unable to fully come into terms with Chaeyoung never really coming back to them anymore.

It feels like getting hammered inside too, for Mina, seeing the girl she likes so dejected. 

Dahyun busies herself with just about everything and anything she can put her mind to, so that it's too occupied trying to solve other issues at hand that it doesn't have the time nor the energy to think about anything else. 

Everytime Mina sees Dahyun doing it, she feels like shattering even more. Seeing the person you love hurt is the worst kind of pain in the world.

The universe must have heard their pleas when it gave them one whole day off before the talent show, and Sana– bless her, really– offers to everyone the entire glory of the Minatozaki mansion, for them to hold their group sleepover at.

They didn’t have classes the entire day, liberated from their student planner duties after Principal Park announced it was a “gift” to all the students who worked hard preparing for the show. 

When the opportunity showed up, Jihyo immediately suggested the sleepover and Sana offered her place. 

They have games, dance parties, and lots of Andy Lau movies planned. Hopefully it’s enough to grant them momentary happiness, even just for a while. They deserved it.

 


 

The day goes by rather normally, and the fun picks up some time in the afternoon, while everyone’s getting ready for their eventful sleepover. 

Sana and Momo drop by in Mina’s dorm unannounced, much to both Dahyun and Mina (mostly just Dahyun)’s horror. 

First of all, other than Jihyo and Jeongyeon, no one in the group knows just how deep Mina and Dahyun are into each other. 

A fleeting bout of admiration, they might know, yes. But to see Dahyun actively lounging in Mina’s dorm, preparing her bag for the sleepover there because a few of her shirts and toiletries are scattered about neatly around the older girl’s room, as if they have been living together for god-knows-how-long, would probably be a bit of a... surprise for them. 

The shock on their faces seeing Dahyun already on Mina’s bed is unparalleled. Momo looks like she just Dahyun grow another head.

Mina dives into an explanation, that she was just helping Dahyun pack, but Sana and Momo have always been far smarter than they let on especially when it came to things like this.

I mean, they’ve been hiding their relationship for so long, they’re professionals already. 

Thankfully, they don’t press, and aside from Momo’s occasional eyebrow-quirking tactic and Sana’s shit-eating grin, they don’t react much.

“For all they know, this could just be you casually hanging out in my room. Best friends do that. Nothing weird there”, Mina says nonchalantly, trying to convince no one there. 

Mina’s packing essentials from the bathroom. Dahyun can see the older girl’s movements from her shadow under the warm white light, skirting around and looking through the shelves displaying a distinguishable blend of high-end perfumes and lotions and wholesale cartoon-themed toiletries.

There’s no need to guess who owns which one there. 

“Well, unnie…” The younger girl trails off at the thought, considering that as much as it is not essentially a lie, it’s also, kind of, not the whole truth. 

Mina must have sensed the hesitation in Dahyun’s heavy tone, as she walks out of the bathroom undone, carrying a see-through pouch filled with their toiletries, lips pursed in a thin line, eyebrows raised a little, waiting, worrying. 

Dahyun hesitates in her answer, thinking whether it’s a good time to bring it up, while she’s in the middle of folding a set of undergarments and packing it inside Mina’s bag (because the only bag she had brought with her from home is a small messenger bag for school and all her other things came in a box).

In the end, she delivers. Because there’s no guarantee if there’s another chance in the future for this, and Dahyun’s learned the hard way not to wait for chances anymore. 

“Well, unnie, are we best friends?”

“You are my closest friend, yes.” 

Dahyun frowns. There’s a small crack in her heart that grows and grows by the second, ready to tear the organ apart. 

“Yeah. But are we just best friends?” 

Mina doesn’t answer as fast as she did with the other. This time, there’s a stretch of contemplating silence between them, and just knowing that this isn’t something Mina’s sure of is enough to tear Dahyun’s heart a little bit more. 

Mina puts down the pouch on a nearby dresser and takes a seat on the edge of the bed. 

Dahyun unknowingly moves back, stepping away from the opened bag that she had been shoving clothes into, and away from Mina's hand reaching out for her.

She pretends not to see the way Mina frowns at that. 

In the end, the older girl just draws out a sigh, pained frown disappearing and making way for something unreadable. 

“Look, Dahyun-ah…” Mina trails off, and Dahyun prepares for the worst. 

This might be it. The end of everything. Gone so soon. 

“I have never been so sure of someone my entire life. I like you so much that it scares me. I know I told you we can be whatever you want us to be but...I’ve been thinking and...I don’t think it’s a good time for the both of us to risk something as beautiful as this so soon?” 

Strands of Mina’s hair fall on the side of her face when she looks down, making it hard for Dahyun to see the older girl, but the little crack in her voice tells her well, this isn’t easy for Mina too. 

“I’ll be moving away after graduation, Dahyun. And you’re leaving too. Is this still going to be something that you want to do, given all of that?” 

“So…you just...we’re just going to be best friends?” The thought sends a rush of pain pricking at the back of Dahyun’s eyes. After all of that, all of the yearning and the pining and all the crying, they still end up as...friends? 

"I don't think I can handle losing this, Dahyun. I might not ever leave knowing that you're here and I left us behind, and...and you know I have to leave."

It feels like a hard slap of reality on the face. Oh yeah. Mina has a better future somewhere else. She has a family waiting for her in Japan. She has a professional career at ballet looming in the near horizon and her tomorrows only look brighter from there onwards. 

When Dahyun looks at a future with just the two of them, she feels the same security and hope, but she knows it’s selfish to ask for Mina to stay knowing she has a better life waiting for her somewhere else, in a faraway place that doesn’t have Dahyun in it. 

It’s okay. It will be. Dahyun won’t ever be able to handle knowing she’s holding Mina back from achieving her dreams. Sometimes, letting go isn’t all that different from loving someone so much too. 

Maybe they were never really meant to last long anyways. Or to happen at all. 

“Okay. I get it, unnie.” Dahyun feels like a boulder is stuck down her throat and that’s all she can say. 

Heavy silence looms around the room, and Dahyun returns to tending to Mina’s unfastened Louis Vuitton Keepall, neatly rolling clothes and their costumes for tomorrow to fit inside the high-end travel bag.

She feels Mina’s gaze watch her every move, can see the older girl pouting from her peripheral view. 

Dahyun fights the urge to run out of the room, feeling all suffocated with the words stuck in her throat and the heavy guilt from feeling this way when all Mina did was decide she wanted a better future. 

She shouldn’t feel this way but she does. And it feels like choking and she’s on the verge of tears again, wanting to blow up but she can’t because she’s Dahyun and this is Mina. And she doesn’t want Mina to get hurt even more. 

So Dahyun remains quiet, and gulps down the words clawing at her throat. She can’t ruin whatever they have now just because of her greed and selfishness. 

The comfortable atmosphere they shared earlier wafts away like a breath of warm air on a cold, winter night. 

Mina tries to start small talk, even goes as far as talking about the most random of things (“Male penguins gift female penguins rocks in order to woo them, you know?”) all of which Dahyun can only hum or nod back to, either because she doesn’t have any idea how to respond (“I’m still convinced Jinona is secretly married. Like in one of those Elvis weddings.”), or simply because she just doesn’t want to (“Are you really okay, Dahyun-ah?”). 

Eventually they finish packing, and Mina leaves the bag on her desk where it’s more convenient to just grab and go. She walks over to her closet, sifts through the wire hangers, and looks for something to wear for later.

“Dahyun, what do you think of this?” She asks, pulling out one of the younger girl’s many lost jumpers in her closet. 

When no answer comes, Mina turns around, a teasing smirk already prepared on her face, along with some kind of joke. But what she’s met with is the lingering ghost of Dahyun’s presence–her part of the bed slightly unkempt, the sound of the door lock echoing in the silence.

The girl had already left the room. And Mina didn’t even know. 

 


 

Jihyo calls it trouble in paradise. Dahyun is in no place to refute the words of god.

"What did you think, Dubu?" The all-knowing leader asks as she lounges on her bed, legs stretched out and crossed on top of the other, another romance novel on her lap. "Mina loves you so much that the prospect of leaving your relationship here isn't a thought she wants to consider."

"Ugggghhhh.” Dahyun groans into her pillow, and then flails her arms and legs like she's fighting an invisible force trying to pin her down. 

She sounds and looks like a defeated spoiled brat and Jihyo voices exactly that, chastising her un-Dahyun-like behavior. "Is this what being spoiled by Mina made you?"

Dahyun lifts her head up and whines, "Unnieeee, you're not helping!" 

Jihyo's laughter fills the room. It's a welcome change from earlier's sullen atmosphere. 

The other bed cries when the leader moves and gathers her legs, standing up and, to Dahyun's horror–and delight–launching herself over Dahyun's frail, lithe body.

"AH!"

More tearful laughter and cries of annoyance fill the room, as Jihyo finds absolute amusement from wrestling Dahyun and showering her with sloppy, open-mouth kisses and flowery tickles, and Dahyun tries to fight back by doing the same. 

They eventually get tired, and by the time they do, they're both done and breathless, lying down on Dahyun's bed and staring at the ceiling. 

It’s only then Dahyun realizes the pain in her chest and the words stuck at her throat are no longer there, replaced by a certain warmth and lightness buoyed by the leader's presence.

"You should think about the bigger picture here, Dubu.” Jihyo’s soft all-knowing tone is back and Dahyun feels compelled to listen.

“Mina studied in Korea because she needed to, in order to get into NUA. She has to leave. She wants to. At least before. But now you came along and she’s suddenly reconsidering everything again. She likes you that much, Dahyun. But you should know, more than anybody else, ballet is everything to her. And this opportunity only comes once in a lifetime. Would you be the one who’d ask for her to give all those up?” 

Dahyun had come into terms with the complications earlier, already accepting the shorter end of the stick after all that bargaining and begging with the universe. Hearing it again now, morose and solemn with Jihyo’s all-knowing leader tone, makes the bitch slap of reality a thousand times more painful. 

“Unnie.” She calls out, in a strained whisper that Jihyo still hears clearly, given the lack of distance between their snug bodies, cuddling in the small space of Dahyun’s single bed. 

“Yes?” 

Dahyun blames it on the lightness of her chest and the desire for more. Being with Jihyo has always been a chance at catharsis for Dahyun. With Jihyo, she’s not afraid of facing her demons. 

“I’m sad.” 

Even if her own demon is the one living inside of her. 

“Can you tell me why?” 

And the most magical thing about Jihyo? She asked. 

Before everything else, she’d ask. Can you do this for me? Do you want to talk about it? Can you tell me why? In Jihyo’s presence, Dahyun feels protected, secured. She feels like she can tell everything to the girl and not get judged back. She’s never felt this much comfort with someone–with the exception of Jeongyeon and Mina–in so long.

Maybe that’s why Dahyuns says it. Maybe that’s why she faces her demons so bravely. Because this is Jihyo.

“I’m sad because you’re leaving. And Mina unnie. And Jeongyeon unnie. All of you are.” Dahyun continues to stare at the ceiling, in an attempt to keep the tears at bay, but gravity continues to pull them down. 

“Everybody’s leaving me again.” 

The first tear trails down her temple. Dahyun pulls her arm from underneath Jihyo’s body, attempting to wipe at the warm trickle immediately, but another hand stops her. The bed dips and Jihyo turns on her side. She wipes at the tear. 

“Dahyun, we’re not leaving you.” 

In all literal versions of the opposite claim, they are. Sana and Momo are headed to study at SNU, while Jeongyeon is moving far away to the States to study at Stanford. Jihyo and Nayeon got into very prestigious scholarships in the neighboring community college, and Mina’s going to follow her dreams to the National University of the Arts.  

Chaeyoung already left her. Now they’re all leaving too. 

Dahyun, she’s gonna go back to ground zero again, return to the small town where she grew up in, go back to seeing the familiar faces she’s memorized every line and wrinkle of, and live the small, provincial life, away from the people she grew to love more than herself, away from her dreams.

While all of her unnies would go on and pursue the better future, take another step closer to achieving their dreams, Dahyun’s stuck in school for two more years, living the zombie life of an Asian kid growing in the 90s. 

“You’re all leaving. Maybe not the same way Chaeyoung did. But it’s still goodbye”, she mutters, meeting Jihyo’s sad gaze, brimming with sympathy. 

“We’ll write to you, Dahyun-ah. Every day. And we’ll come visit you when we can. I promise.” 

It sounds more like she’s trying to convince herself than Dahyun because for once, Jihyo looks helpless. Like this isn’t something she can control anymore. What’s happening is the inevitable, and even if she’s some kind of glorious person in the eyes of many, she’s still human. And Jihyo, as much as Dahyun hates to admit it, can’t save her all the time. 

Face it, Dahyun. Your fairytale is over. You’re back to reality again, and you gotta suck it up. You won’t survive if you keep depending on everybody else, especially your unnies.

The internal monologue helps, and Dahyun draws in a deep breath to calm herself down. Tonight shouldn’t be the night she worries about these things. It’s not something she should even be sad about in the first place. 

Her unnies are about to move on to a new chapter of their lives. They have a blank space in front of them, given more chances to write a better epilogue to their stories. This isn’t something Dahyun should be whining about.

“You’re right, unnie. Okay.” She inhales and exhales, hoping to breathe out all the greed and bad energy in her system. “I’ll write to you guys every chance I get too.” 

“I’ll even ask Daniel to help make you a hotmail account so you can write to us faster”, Jihyo winks. She must have been too busy coddling Dahyun that it slips out of her mouth so clumsily, and Dahyun grabs the opportunity like a stealthy predator.

“Daniel oppa?” The slight mischievous rise in her tone is enough to send alarm bells ringing in Jihyo’s head. 

“Huh? What? I didn’t say anything?” 

But Dahyun’s always been a little ball of trouble when she wants to. 

“Are you two that close now? You just tell him what you want and he does it?” 

It’s an amusing sight to see: Park Jihyo, Apgujeong High’s Student Council President and probably the future President of South Korea, blushing madly.

“OH. MY. GOD. UNNIE!” 

Jihyo scrambles on her knees and presses a pillow down Dahyun’s face in a blink of a second. “Shut up!” 

Let it be known here and now: Park Jihyo is willing to choose asphyxiation just to shut someone up from teasing her with a crush. 

Dahyun gasps for air, pushing her unnie off,  “You–HA–you almost killed me, unnie!” 

Jihyo is breathless herself, probably from pushing the pillow down so hard. “But I didn’t, did I?” 

“What?! So were you planning to!?”

“Back to the topic!” She blurts out, in a desperate attempt to clean up the consequences of her momentary lapse in judgement. “Write everyday. Yeah. And. Um…Ah! And you! You talk to Mina. Did you already? Before you came stomping here and whining like a kid?” 

Dahyun shakes her head, mind still a little hazy from the attempted murder by asphyxiation. 

“It’s settled then! Go to her. Now.” Jihyo literally yanks her body off the bed, pulling Dahyun by the arm. “That poor girl’s probably heartbroken you walked out on her like that! You say you’re sorry, Kim Dahyun. And act all lovey-dovey with Mina again so that I don’t get a headache.” 

By the time Jihyo’s done making all the excuses in the world, Dahyun’s already pushed out to the threshold of their dorm, standing cluelessly and watching as the door is slammed on her face, the last sight she catches being Jihyo’s uneasy smile and mad blushing cheeks.

Daniel oppa huh… 

Dahyun makes a mental note to tease her unnie in the future, when they’re not within the reaching distance of any potential murder weapon. For now, she makes front headspace for apologies first, directed to the girl whose dorm she’s walking to as of the moment.

They’re leaving for Sana’s place in a few minutes, Dahyun suspects, given how it’s nearing sunset and Sana and Momo promise free dinner. A few minutes is still enough time to apologize to Mina for her behavior. 

When she arrives in front of Mina’s dorm, Dahyun takes a deep breath before knocking on the door. It doesn’t even take a few seconds before it swings open. 

“Dahyun?” Mina’s soft gaze never fails to make Dahyun swoon in ways she can’t ever describe in plain terms. Seeing her gaze flicker from soft to worried in a second makes Dahyun feel even worse. 

“Unnie. Can I come in?” 

Mina opens the door wider in response, and waits for Dahyun to walk in before closing it again with a soft thud. 

Meeting the familiar tense atmosphere earlier knocks a profound sense of guilt into Dahyun, and suddenly, she can’t wait to sit on the bed anymore. She has to get this out before she blows up. 

“Unnie, I just wanted to apologize for earlier. I didn’t mean to sound so—” 

Mina seems to agree. She can’t wait either. The first thing she does is knock the air out of Dahyun’s lungs, quite literally, with a launch-attack-of-a hug that has the younger girl stumbling back a little. 

A flood of apologies rushes out from Mina’s lips in a soft, trembling whisper, and Dahyun can feel the older girl’s breath by her ear, all the blood rushing to face immediately. She holds Mina tighter for a little longer to hide the blush (and to appreciate the warmth of how perfect they fit each other like this). 

When they let go, Mina’s cradling Dahyun’s face in her hands, squishing her cheeks in the process. They’re a good half a ruler apart, and from this close, Dahyun can see every beautiful creation in the world come second to the face of the older girl. 

Damn. And she likes me? Kim Dahyun, what’d you do in your past life to get this lucky? 

“Unnie'', Dahyun manages to say, while her cheeks continue to get squished in Mina’s hold. “Unnie, you don’t haf to say sorry. I’n the one who should—”

Mina must have realized her squishing has affected Dahyun’s speaking ability, she immediately retracts her hands, lowering them down instead to the younger girl’s own and interlacing their fingers together.

“You shouldn’t apologize, love”, She whispers, looking into Dahyun’s eyes like she’s the greatest breathing entity in the world, probably because for Mina she is. “I totally understand where you were coming from, okay?” 

“And I understand your situation too, unnie.” Dahyun smiles faintly. It’s overwhelming getting looked at like this. “Love isn’t something that holds you back. It should help you grow to be a better person.” 

“Love?” Mina repeats, mirroring the same smile now albeit a little more amused. “Did you just—” 

“Yeah. Unnie, I…” Dahyun thinks she should really practice bettering her planning skills. She planned to apologize to Mina, not admit to her that she loves her, but here she is, doing exactly that. There’s no turning back now…

“Unnie, I love you.” 

“What?” 

“I love you.” And then it hits Dahyun like a truck. “OH GOD. Did I just say that?!” 

Mina’s too shocked to even nod. 

Dahyun wants to slam her head against the wall. 

“Um. OKAY!  I love you, unnie. And...and I tried not to say it. Because you’re leaving and we’re not together. Sort of. I think? And YEAH! I love you.” By this time, it’s just word vomit overall. 

Dahyun can’t stop herself from blabbering and Mina’s probably thinking she’s regretting liking someone as weird as her now.

“I love you in a way that makes me feel like I’m floating on the clouds whenever you’re around. You’re so...YOU! And I’m so...ME! And I love you. You’re probably shocked right now and would rather wish this were all a dream but I do love you, Mina unnie. And I think I’ve repeated those three words more than Jeongyeon unnie has ever told Nayeon unnie she loves her. I love you, Mina unnie.” 

And then she just gets weirder and weirder. “OH MY GOD. I’M DOOMED. DID I JUST TELL YOU I LOVE YOU?!”

"Kim Dahyun." 

The mere mention of her name has Dahyun pulled back to her senses, still and nervous, voice squeaking when she acknowledges, "Y-Yes unnie?"

Mina’s just looking at her with a fond gaze that almost looks like she’s just absentmindedly staring at Dahyun’s face, and Dahyun thinks her knees are slowly giving up on supporting her weight because Mina’s there already, holding her up. 

"Can I kiss you right now?"

Okay. That’s it. I’m gonna fall now. 

And she literally does nearly fall, knees buckling so that she staggers a little. 

Mina doubles her effort in holding her up, chuckling with a sort of worried amusement at the sudden show of clumsiness. 

Just like that, the romantic daze they’re both thrown into, drowning so helplessly in, pops like a bubble. And when Mina’s eyes earlier looked like Dahyun’s inexperience in kissing would be tested that moment, now it just looks like she’s the best thing in the universe. 

Her eyes are shaped like upturned crescents and a soft chuckle escapes her lips as she leads a jelly-legged Dahyun over to the bed, lowering her down to sit on the edge. 

Mina stands in front, towering over her small form. Then, she steps into her space, not letting her hand go, and Dahyun feels her heart leap to her throat because oh my god is she still gonna do it? oH MY GOD. OH NO.

“Dahyun-ah…” There goes the voice, dipped in honey and everything that sends a shiver down Dahyun’s spine. 

Mina steps in between Dahyun’s knees, and trails one hand up, tracing the surface of pale, soft skin. It stops just below Dahyun’s chin, tilting it up until they’re face to face. 

Dahyun might as well just get a heart attack then and there because she’s literally holding her breath, unprepared for what’s to come. 

Something about meeting Mina’s eyes makes her want to lurch, so she doesn’t, and at all cost, tries to find interest in everything else but the galaxies that are displayed in front of her, looking at her down. 

This is a new side to Mina that she hasn’t seen yet, filled with confidence and intimidation, lined with a tinge of mischief along the way. Dahyun’s not gonna lie, this is making her squirm inside, in ways she will never admit. 

“Dahyun-ah, look at me.” Mina’s voice is airy and almost sensual, and Dahyun swears she feels goosebumps down her arms. 

It's hopeless to fight back so she just finds herself relenting, letting Mina's hand tilt her head up entirely, eyes meeting together.

Dahyun gulps. Holy Jesus. Please take me away.

"Can I kiss you now?" 

And Dahyun nods, because of course she does , eyes forcing themselves close because looking at Mina for too long isn't good for her heart, not when they're this close and Mina's holding her face with both of her hands now, and the breeze from the opened window beside them sends the faint scent of jasmines and vanilla wafting in the entire room, engulfing Dahyun in a whole Mina-centered universe.

Mina unnie's gonna kiss me. 

She's gonna kiss me.

Mina Myoui.

Mina unnie.

OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD. OHMYGOD?!

Dahyun sucks in a breath, because her lungs might as well be drained out of air by now. Her inexperienced ass pushes her to pucker her lips a little, and in a brief flash of horror she wonders if she even put some lip smackers for today. 

Buoyed by the absolute horror of sharing her first kiss with chapped lips, Dahyun's eyes open and in a last-minute attempt, she runs her tongue over her bottom lip to gloss it out, only to freeze halfway when a soft, lingering kiss is pressed against her forehead instead! What the hell.

A kiss on the forehead?! That’s it!?

Just as she’s about to complain like a disappointed baseball fan, Mina moves down until their faces are at level with each other, and soon, it’s her lips, soft and almost ghost-like, that finally meets Dahyun’s, in one fluid motion that makes everything in the entire universe finally make sense.

Mina tastes like toasted almonds and smells like frolicking in a field of flowers. Strands of her hair tickle the sides of Dahyun's face, and a kiss, she remembers, is a second-long press of the lips, but this is growing longer and longer and it's Mina who moves along and Dahyun just follows; and then it's near ten seconds now in the younger girl's head and she wished, she wished , she had better breath control because her lungs feel like they’re on fire and it's her who pulls away first, chest blowing up in all sorts of emotions, threatening to leap out. 

There’s a second of silence there, and a beat before Mina cracks her eyes open. Dahyun’s breathless and they’re about an inch apart. 

Looking at the flustered state of the younger girl has Mina giggling, corners of her lips tugging upwards. Her hands fall down on Dahyun’s shoulder, and Dahyun’s afraid this might be the death of her because there’s a glint mischief in Mina’s eyes and her smile turns into a smirk, and oh dear Lord, is she pushing me back down—

“Mitang?” 

But a knock on the door saves Dahyun and her inexperienced little ass from an upgraded version of a makeout session, and Mina’s suddenly up on her feet again, leaping away like Dahyun’s acid to her skin, and the mischief in her smirk is wiped away by the sound Sana’s voice and another series of impatient knocking on her door. 

It’s almost like whatever spirit of a femme fatale has left Mina’s body now, and she’s back to good ‘ol innocent and angelic Mina, and Dahyun, well, no amount of holy water can wake her up from what the fuck just happened—and what almost did. 

That wasn’t a kiss right? A kiss is supposed to be at least a second or two long. She kissed me like I was her oxygen supply and she was running out of air and GODDAMN SINCE WHEN DO I LOSE MY BREATH SO FAST?? I gotta start exercising again…

Sana enters the room after Mina opens the door for her, an action Dahyun doesn't notice happen because of her musing.

"Why are you two taking so long?" Sana scowls with no malice at all. She averts her frown between Mina and Dahyun, and then looks at the bigger picture: a.k.a. Dahyun in a compromising position on Mina's bed, and Mina obviously still a little flustered too.

From afar, she looks normal. But nothing escapes Sana's gaze when she notices something is off. And the sexual tension in the air is as thick as the morning fog over the field.

Sana steps closer, into Mina's personal space and scrutinizes every nook and cranny of her perfectly-sculpted face, afterwards, oddly, she begins sniffing like some kind of Shiba Inu. 

Mina promptly moved back, weirded out by the sudden action. Before she can even ask what the hell is happening, Sana skids over to Dahyun, nearly jumping over her on the bed, and then does the same.

Sana figures it out right after, because Mina wears an expensive shade of L’oreal toasted almond lipstick and Dahyun is a devoted user of Bonne Bell Lip Smackers (notably the birthday cake flavor), and the two flavors are easily distinguishable by scent, and Dahyun smelled a lot like almonds.

"Did you two just make out?" 

Dahyun feels like she had just been wronged, feigning such an indignant gasp that it's almost dramatic. She's ready to come up with some cover-up but Mina beats her to it, and it's almost comical how she's so calm and nonchalant with this, like it's something that doesn't affect her at all. 

"You found that out just by smelling us?"

This time it's Sana who gasps. "SO YOU DID!?"

"Maybe I just lent Dahyunnie my lipstick…?"

Dahyun watches the exchange like it's some kind of pingpong match.

Sana raises an eyebrow questioningly. She stretches out a hand and points at something on Dahyun's forehead. 

Dahyun tries to look at what it is, but her eyes are pretty incompetently made because they can’t reach that. Way to go, god. You had one job.

"Mitang, there's a print of your lips on Dahyun's forehead." Sana deadpans and Dahyun thinks oh, that. "Are you telling me Dahyun's a secret contortionist now and she did it? Because even that sounds absurd and it's the most logical possibility, other than a kiss from you."

Dahyun’s ready to cheer for Mina’s next witty remark or any attempt at dodging the accusation, but the girl must have just gotten tired of even trying because she doesn’t anymore, and in a whole nonchalant this-is-something-that-happens-as-normal-as-breathing way, Mina just nods. 

“Yeah. We did.” 

And Dahyun feels like getting swallowed by the ground. Because Mina just admitted they made out and wow. They did, didn’t they? 

“Is this something we should celebrate?” Mina asks in jest, unable to hold back a smile when Sana begins hugging the life out of Dahyun.

“Of course it is! Mina and Dahyun are officially a go!” Sana’s energy is the equivalent of a nuclear bomb. When she gets off Dahyun, she yanks her up with one arm while Mina with the other, and soon, they’re being dragged out of the dorm. “We’re gonna celebrate at my house!”

(Halfway through stepping inside the long black Cadillac waiting for them–“Is this a limousine, unnie?”–Mina remembers the bag that she left in her room. She rushes back upstairs to retrieve the Keepall, and then returns back down just in time for an interrogation round from everybody.

Apparently, Dahyun couldn’t even bother saving herself from the whole they-made-out fiasco. In one confident motion, Jeongyeon raises her hand and demands to be Dahyun’s Maid of Honor. Nayeon, by extension, is Mina’s.)

 


 

When they arrive in the Minatozaki household, the moon’s already out and stars dust across the vast expanse of darkness above them. 

The Minatozaki mansion is always an enchanting sight to see. It’s a glistening palatial estate, like a castle amidst the suburban houses that line this wealthy side of the town. 

Dahyun carries two bags with her. Nayeon has gotten sick again during the ride and nearly hurled at them so now she and Jeongyeon are rushing to the nearest restroom to do just that. In her hurry, Jeongyeon forgot to bring her bag with her. 

“Give it to me”, Mina offers a hand out but Dahyun just tucks the straps of the Jansport closer to her. 

“I got it, unnie. I’m good.” 

She isn’t really. Jeongyeon’s bag weighs like it contains rocks, and Mina’s Louis Vuitton Keepall is already as heavy as it can get, carrying both their clothes in it. Dahyun’s lacking in the height department already and still she pursues this. 

Luckily, a few people arrive to help take their bags from them. Someone else leads them to the dining room, where they are immediately greeted by an adorable middle-aged couple with an even cuter height difference. 

The man stands by the head of the opulent-looking dining table, in a polo shirt and khaki pants when it’s like, seven in the evening already. He looks young with his curtain hairstyle and thick-rimmed glasses perched atop his nose. He could probably pass off as a member of H.O.T.

Beside him stands a woman, lovely and radiant, clad in more evening-appropriate clothes. She’s about a head and a few inches smaller, and looks like she came right out of a high-budget film, could even rival the likes of a Joey Wong. 

Now, Dahyun understands where Sana got all the attractiveness and celebrity aura from. It’s in their genes. 

“Mama! Papa!” Said girl runs over to the older couple and engulfs them in a hug as far as her arms can reach. 

It’s a lovely sight, seeing Sana with her parents. It makes all of them remember their own ones too, and their hearts swell in a loving memory and a sort of excitement at the thought that they’re about to see them again as well, at the performance (for others) and most definitely, on graduation day. 

Once the hugging has commenced, Sana goes on introducing everyone except for Momo, whose identity the Minatozaki parents know fully well already, enough they call Momo their own daughter now. 

“I think she’s slept here more than we ever did”, jokes Mr. Minatozaki, which all the girls genuinely share a laugh to. 

Sana has told them before, her father’s profession required extensive travelling hence his absence. Good businessmen didn’t achieve success just by sitting around, she’d say. Meanwhile, her mother’s line of work was still a shroud of mystery to them. All they knew was that she travels around too, but doesn’t work in the same field. 

“We just ate early so you girls can have the room to your own”, explains Mrs. Minatozaki as she and her husband grab their plates and hand it over to the staff waiting. 

The girls find their seats around the 12-seater table, with Sana sitting by the head and Momo right next to her. There are two seats left unoccupied, and this is noticed by Mrs. Minatozaki on their way out of the dining hall. 

“Weren’t we expecting seven of you girls?” 

Her question is directed at Sana, but it’s Momo who answers on her behalf, “Oh, Nayeon is in the restroom, mama. With another one of our friends, Jeongyeonnie.” 

The “Mama” throws everyone in shock. Momo calls Sana’s mom mama now? Damn…  

Dahyun makes a mental note of asking about that, and probably the date of their wedding too. 

The thought is saved for later once Nayeon and Jeongyeon appear, nearly colliding with the backs of Sana’s parents standing by the giant arch connecting the dining room to the long main hallway. 

Jeongyeon greets them immediately, bowing a perfect ninety-degree-angle and maintaining that for more than five seconds before Mrs. Minatozaki tells her it’s bad for her back to be crouched for so long. 

Nayeon barely manages to cough out a greeting, an obvious side-effect from how pale and gaudy she looks, even under the warm white lighting of the crystal chandelier. 

It must be that she is well-acquainted with Sana’s parents enough or that the Minatozakis are just genuinely outgoing people, but Mrs. Minatozaki casually steps into Nayeon’s space and inspects the younger girl, from head to toe, with a scrutinizing gaze that could send anyone into a spiral of nerves, but then she gently places her palm over Nayeon’s forehead and then frowns like an alarmed mother. 

“You’re burning up, Nayeon-ah!” 

Jeongyeon looks like she just heard the worst news of her entire life. She begins telling everything to Mrs. Minatozaki, from the stomach flu they were all convinced Nayeon was having for an entire week or so, to the vomiting non-stop, and the bouts of headaches and overall emotional breakdown. 

Nayeon doesn’t look amused at being so laid out for everyone to diagnose, but these are her best friends, and Sana’s parents are much like her own now too, so she relents and gives in. 

Mrs. Minatozaki still sports a concerned frown when she retracts her hand. “Why don’t we go up to my office? I have my equipment there. I can check if something’s wrong?” 

And then it hits all of them, sans Momo, Sana and Nayeon. Mrs. Minatozaki is a doctor. 

So that’s why…

“There’s really no need for all the trouble, Mrs. M. I’m all fine. I’ll just grab some medicine later and—” 

“There’s absolutely no trouble, Nayeonnie. You girls are like my daughters too and I want to make sure all of you…” Mrs. Minatozaki glances at each and everyone of them. “...are safe and healthy.” 

Nayeon doesn’t know how to respond to that nor does she have the energy to. She relents with a sigh and a small nod, and sluggishly accepts Mrs. Minatozaki’s arm wrapping around her own to hold her. 

“How about you girls? Does anybody wanna come with us to the clinic? Moral support goes a long way, you know.”

The entire room is enveloped in silence, and suddenly all they could hear was the light clanging of stainless utensils meeting expensive ceramic plates. 

Momo clears her throat and takes a drink of her peach juice. “As much as I love you, Nabongs, I’m passing. I’m just gonna support you from here.” 

Everyone throws in the same version of excuse, alterations included like when Jihyo talks about trying out the pasta first or when Mina and Jeongyeon decline, much to everybody’s surprise, reasoning with their fear of needles. 

Because Nayeon can’t somehow get mad at Jeongyeon, she throws her sour look at Mina instead. 

“Your father’s a doctor and you’re afraid of needles?” Nayeon scoffs with a begrudging frown. There’s a bite in her tone but everyone excuses it as another one of her recent moodiness. 

Mina remains calm and understanding, just shrugging her shoulders in response. 

When nobody seems to be interested in emotionally supporting Nayeon, Dahyun lets out a dramatic defeated sigh and stands up from her seat. “I’ll do it.” 

Her head’s hanging low and she makes it sound like this is the last thing in the world that she wants to do, so naturally Nayeon doesn’t acknowledge her genuine offer and Dahyun is immediately taking her act back. 

“I was just joking, unnie!” She smiles and steps out of her seat to link her arms with the moody cheerleader. “I will be the best moral support person you’ll ever find!”

“Whatever, kid.” Nayeon only rolls her eyes at this as they are led out of the dining hall and up the stairs, to Mrs. Minatozaki’s clinic. 

 


 

The five left in the dining hall talk all about senior year, their memories and all the trials and tribulations, and how nearly a year has been finally narrowed down to this: the last few months. Sana and Mina talk about the cheerleading team, Momo and Jeongyeon about soccer, and Jihyo manages to nod and respond accordingly to each and everyone's claims and anecdotes.

The conversation stirs to each other's future plans, and the effervescent excitement from earlier increases tenfold, the gloom of having to say goodbye to one another pushed back by the genuine happiness they get from seeing each other anticipating a new chapter in their lives.

They all ask the one who's moving away the farthest first. Jeongyeon has been so busy splitting herself between practice, the soccer team, and Nayeon, that she hasn't really fixed her exact schedule for her departure yet, knowing no other details than her flight's date (April 9) and her destination (Stanford, California).

"When are you gonna start packing up?" Sana asks the bigger questions like some kind of talk show host.

Jeongyeon fiddles with her spoon first, lets it create a small clunking sound when it drops on the ceramic plate. Then she looks up and shrugs, "I really don't know. Maybe a few weeks before the flight? I just really wanna make sure Nayeon's okay first."

"She will be, Jeong. She probably just ate some bad food or something", Momo scoffs with a wave of her hand, as if swatting any ludicrous worry of their friend away.

"That got her sick for weeks? She's even taking vitamins already! What kind of bad stomach is this bad?"

"Momo once ate an expired pickle-flavored cake. They had to pump out her stomach.” Sana blurts out and no one knows whether it's supposed to be a consolation thing or a random quip.

"I don't know what's more concerning", Jihyo speaks up. "That she ate expired food or that there's some kind of pickle-flavored cake in existence…"

"Both", Mina answers and everybody in the table shares a laugh at that.

When the good humor dies down, Jihyo picks up at the conversation and asks her dear soccer captain best friend, "Have you monitored what she's been eating though? Maybe it's because of something she ate lately…" 

"It's been going on since about a week after Sana's party so I suppose it's from there…"

That gets Sana launching at a defense on her food catering choices for that night, arguing how she only served non-expired , michelin-star food (and booze). 

"Whatever.” Jeongyeon huffs. “She must've had something there and got sick. I think it's only good how Mrs. Minatozaki is checking up on her now…" 

There's a moment of silence and everyone waits for Jeongyeon to finish, but she looks down again, as if judging in her mind whether it's good to say it or not, but these are her best friends, and any sign of vulnerability to them is no sign at all. They're always her support team. So she does tell them. 

"I just hope nothing too serious is going on. I might never leave if I find out something's wrong." 

Jeongyeon's willing to give up her entire future for Nayeon, because she is her future.

 


 

The next series of events flash before Dahyun’s very eyes in frames. 

It’s much like an automatic response to big events in her life.  Her body blocks away everything and she’s no longer functioning externally, except she’s awake and she’s breathing but she doesn’t hear nor does she comprehend anything. 

So it goes like this: one moment she’s sitting beside Nayeon on one of the client chairs in front of Mrs. Minatozaki’s desk, watching as a stethoscope is pressed against her unnie's chest, and she makes a remarkable joke about how she’s had this done to her a hundred times before and has managed to make a home out of the school clinic already with how frequent her visits have become; and the next moment, they’re inside one of the many restrooms in the southern wing of the Minatozaki mansion, and Nayeon’s holding onto the marble counter so tight, Dahyun can see the crescents of her nails turning white. From where she's sitting on the lid of the toilet bowl, she can only see Nayeon's head hanging down, staring at the flimsy white plastic test on the counter, her hair shielding the sides of her face.

Dahyun can only remember how she got here. 

Nayeon was handed the white box by Sana's mom with a worried look in her eyes that was akin to Yumama's motherly gaze. The older girl then proceeded to drag Dahyun to one of the restrooms farthest from the cackling and chattering that echoed from the northern wing of the mansion, courtesy of one loud Jeongyeon and Momo.

Dahyun had to stand outside the bathroom door and stare at its intricate wood patterns, tracing the engraved spirals and flowers like an obedient, clueless child, before the door had flung open and a hand stretched outside to grab hers and yank her in.

Now here they are.

Other than the sounds of sniffling and the steady fall of the shower water behind the curtain, Dahyun hasn't comprehended anything. All she knows is that there's a damned white plastic square about the size of her palm on the marble counter, and they're waiting for something from it, and whatever it tells them in the next few seconds will change everybody's life forever, especially Nayeon and Jeongyeon's.

They wait there, in the unbearable silence of the restroom, while the shower runs an endless pitter patter of lukewarm water down the drain like white noise, the closest hold they have to sanity. 

Seconds become more and a minute turns into two, and soon, Dahyun has half the mind convincing herself this might just be some fever dream.

She lets her head drift to a thought far away from where it really should be (which is right now, this moment), and instead lifts her butt up from the lid of the toilet bowl and sits back down again slowly, carefully, adjusting her weight. 

Dahyun takes a good look around the restroom, notices squeaky clean Moroccan style vinyl flooring and an overall mediteranean feel. She admires the little fixtures and intricacies of the room, thinking if she probably didn’t know any better, she’d think Mrs. Minatozaki was a world-renowned interior designer. 

Dahyun moves her stupefied gazing (and forced-stalling) to admire the trash bin right beside the sink counter. It’s too pretty to simply accommodate garbage. It’s even made out of those expensive weaved wood– is that rattan? Or is it—

But amidst her closer inspection, a weight falls on the floor and the sound of plastic hitting the tiles echo in the silence.

Everything happens in slow motion after that, and Dahyun, crouched on her seat on top of the toilet lid, halfway from stuffing her nose into the trash bin to figure out what kind of wooden material it’s made out of, cranes her neck over to where the commotion is from and catches sight of the older girl she shared the space with on the floor, pushing herself back against the wall, as if she’s trying to run away from something, trying to escape from some kind of monster. 

Dahyun turns to look at what kind of monster this is, and she sees it: the white flimsy plastic rectangle thing on the ground, juxtaposing the dark, complex patterns of the tiles it lays upon.

The desire to find out pushes her to crawl over to check. She reaches for the object and sees for herself the thing that scares Im Nayeon.

The answer comes in the form of two red lines. 

And then, Nayeon cries. 

She hugs her knees up to her chest and hides her face from the world, from Dahyun. 

Dahyun. Dahyun who feels frozen in place, kneeling on the ground, unable to think of anything else but the sounds of Nayeon’s cries playing in her head, the sight of the older girl’s shoulders shaking with every hitch of her breath, and the cold, cold object in her hand that suddenly feels so, so heavy, pulling her entire body down. 

Now Dahyun feels like crying too. 

This is the closest she’s seen Nayeon break. And it washes over her an odd, uncomfortable sensation that tears apart what little semblance she has to a protective cloak. 

What do you do when the person you look up to, the person who seemed the most invincible to your eyes, finally breaks and falls apart?

Unnie… The word feels like sandpaper scratching in her throat. It barely comes out. 

Dahyun can’t see from the tears beginning to cloud in her eyes but she still tries to move towards the blur of Nayeon’s figure. 

She reaches out her arms and wraps it around her unnie, holding her close. She lets Nayeon fit into the corners and crevices of her smaller body and soon there are arms wrapped around her waist, head nuzzled in the dip of her neck, tears falling and seeping through the collar of her shirt. 

They stay like that for what feels like a lifetime until the crying stops and the only sound in the room comes from the water running and Nayeon trying to catch her own breath. 

Dahyun finally finds her voice. When you see the person you look up to break, you find the courage in you to protect them too. 

She presses her cheeks against Nayeon’s temple and hugs her unnie closer. 

She doesn’t have the slightest damned clue in the world where they’ll go from here on. She doesn’t know what to do. But that doesn't stop her from telling her unnie what she needs to hear the most now.

It takes her three words. 

“We’ll be here.” 

Spoken like a hushed whisper to a sleeping child, protecting her from the rest of the world. 

“We’ll be here for you, unnie.” 

 


 

There are about a thousand things to worry about right now, and the least of them all was to concern herself with what Andy Lau movie they should watch. 

They were in the comforts of the home theater-converted-party room, choosing over a hundred DVDs stacked inside one of the many glass showcases mounted around the largest television set Dahyun has ever seen. 

The walls were padded with acoustic panels, protecting what was left of the peace and tranquility of the mansion from Sana and Momo’s howling and Jeongyeon and Jihyo’s continued game of annoying the hell out of each other. 

Dahyun is convinced utilizing the home theater as the room where they would all be staying for most of the sleepover is like killing two birds with one stone for the staff and Mr. and Mrs. Minatozaki. 

The area was big enough to pass as a living room, and therefore contain all of their seven (five, given the situation and if they were being honest) rambunctious, adrenaline-filled asses. 

Everything you could probably look for in a room was already in here. 

There was an accessible bathroom for them to use. There was a bar by the side, and a chiller stocked with a wide variety of drinks, some of which were labeled with names Dahyun didn’t even know how to pronounce. There was an anteroom converted into a mini-kitchen for them, complete with popcorn machines and food dispensers, much to Momo’s glory-filled eyes (“Holy shit. Am I in heaven?”) The leather cinema chairs were stored in another room, and in their place was a faux fur carpet laid out on the already-carpeted flooring, on top were mattresses pushed together, where they would be sleeping on. 

“We should totally watch A Moment of Romance. Have y’all seen Jacklyn Wu in that?!” Sana exclaims, arguing with Jeongyeon’s choice of watching God of Gamblers. 

“I’m beginning to think tonight is Andy Lau-themed because you like his co-stars and not Andy himself…” Jeongyeon narrows her eyes skeptically, looking over her shoulders at Sana before turning back to the DVD collections she’s going through. 

Sana just shrugs with a cocky grin, stretches her arms on the back of the leather sofa she’s sat on, crossing her legs over the other, like a mafia Queen on her throne.

They dive into another heated argument about who’s the better Cheung (Cherie or Maggie?) And Dahyun kind of zones out from there, lets her unies settle into the comfortable familiarity of immature celebrity debates that their friendship has somehow found common ground from.

She’s seated on her share of the mattress nearest to the wall, legs crossed like an obedient little child waiting for storytime, while Mina’s lying on her side right next to her, already clad in her expensive silk pajama set, head propped up by her hand, giggling here and there at the commotion in front of them.

Right at the far other side of the room, Nayeon sits all by herself, staring in mid-air, knees hugged close to her chest. Given the on-going chaos in the room, no one seems to notice her apparent detachment nor her puffy face except forDahyun, who ends up glancing over every now and then, a surge of thoughts and worries flooding her mind even more.

In due course, she ends up zoning out for most of the movie (they end up watching The Last Romance for Maggie and Cherie Cheung, a movie without Andy Lau in it), and it isn't really a surprise anymore that it's Mina who first notices.

There's a hand on her lap, soft and gentle, and Dahyun meets eyes with the stardust scattered in Mina's. Everything about her has always been a breath of fresh air and right now, looking at her provides Dahyun with a minute’s worth of a blank mind, like the plastic sheet had been pulled up over her magic slate of thoughts and erased everything.

"Hey…" Mina whispers, although it sounds more like her normal speaking voice given how loud the movie is playing. 

She holds her other hand up and runs her fingers through the mess of bundles that is Dahyun's hair, tucking loose strands behind her ear before her hand rests on one of the younger girl's cheeks, caressing.

"Is everything alright?"

Dahyun ends up leaning into Mina's touch, feeling the familiar warmth from her hold. She closes her eyes, breathes in this fleeting moment of illusion that everything can be alright, before opening her eyes again, bleary and heavy-lidded, and forcing a nod out. 

"Yeah", her voice trembles and she fights the urge to turn and glance over at Nayeon again when Mina asks, clearly unconvinced, what's the matter.

Dahyun has never been a good liar. Especially to Mina. She has never lied to her,  all in all. Aside from the times she tried convincing the both of them that she didn't have feelings for the older girl.

"I'm just worried, unnie." 

Dahyun doesn't lie, but she also won't tell someone else's truth.

Mina's eyes hold the weight of worry in them, increasing with every blink. "Do you want to talk about it?"

And really, Dahyun doesn't. She shouldn't. Even if this is Mina she's talking to, the love of–possibly–her life. This isn't something hers to tell. 

So, instead, she focuses on glancing at whose it is, at least at the general direction of where she last saw Nayeon sitting right beside Jeongyeon, only to find that space empty now, and the worry in Dahyun's system bubbles up and increases tenfold.

Before she can even start frantically looking around, the space on the mattress beside her dips, and Dahyun watches as relief washes over and Nayeon settles down carefully, sitting up uneasily, back straight as a rod, before glancing at Dahyun–and by extension, Mina's concerned, confused gaze–and asks, "Can I sit here?" 

And there's so much clear-cut vulnerability in her tone that Dahyun feels hypnotized to nod back in silence, heart twisting painfully.

No matter how worried and scared she is, it's nothing compared to what Nayeon is probably feeling right now. It's her life that's going to change the most here after all, regardless of the decision she makes.

Somehow, having Nayeon sit beside her makes Dahyun feel less frantic and anxious. Mina has always been the understanding one, and for that Dahyun loves her even more, and she's deeply thankful she doesn't prod more and instead, settles with having Dahyun by her side quietly.

The movie goes on in a hazy motion, and Dahyun doesn't remember much about anything except Cherie Cheung's beauty and her cute little dimple by the corner of her mouth. 

At one point, there was a crying scene between the two main leads, between two best friends struck dumb by their love for the same man that it inevitably caused a rift between them too. In those scenes, Dahyun could feel Nayeon’s shoulder tremble beside her. 

She quietly reaches out for her unnie’s hand and holds it with hers, squeezing in reassurance that if she’s Cherie right now, then Dahyun’s probably Maggie. And that she will be here too. For her.

Jeongyeon doesn’t notice anything yet. She’s too absorbed in holding back her tears when another crying scene takes up the screen. 

Dahyun wonders how her unnie would take all of this in. How would she feel knowing the love of her life was pregnant with somebody else’s child? 

It’s a thought that haunts Dahyun deep to her core, and she doesn’t get to understand a single thing about the movie anymore. She thinks about how this could go, about how Nayeon’s decision would affect their group, about how this would affect her unnie. 

One moment their futures seemed so bright, and now it looked like a dim-lit hallway, with no assurance of what was waiting for them at the end. 

When the movie finishes, they decide to call it a night.

Nayeon, far from what Dahyun expected of her, couldn’t have made her apprehension more obvious. 

It begins when Jihyo asks where she’d be sleeping, and Sana jokingly offers the lone sofa at the corner, because the mattresses were for “couples only”. Jihyo flips her off uncharacteristically–she’s had one too many drinks of light beer–and then points at the unoccupied space beside Jeongyeon. 

“How about there? Has anyone reserved this spot?” She languidly moves over to it, crawls over the legs that obstruct her way, as if she was a snake of some sorts.

Jeongyeon pushes her body off when Jihyo haphazardly falls on her stomach, eliciting a grunt from the soccer captain. They often teased that most of Jihyo’s weight was carried by her chest. 

“If someone warned me you’d get this boozed with light beer, I wouldn’t have let you drink, Jih”, Jeongyeon huffs, pushing more of Jihyo’s body off her until the girl rolls over the mattress and falls ultimately on the floor, face-first. 

She tries to say something, probably a big fuck you to Jeongyeon, but it’s muffled by the faux fur carpet. 

“Nayeon’s sleeping there”, Momo states while in the comforts of Sana’s cuddling. “Right, Nayeon?” 

She cranes her neck to look over her shoulder, to where the girl in question sits, far on the other end of the room. 

“Uh...about that…” 

The way her voice breaks pulls everyone’s eyes up to her, and Dahyun can feel Nayeon’s nerves all the way from where she watches, right behind. Even Jihyo looks up in all the glory of her drunken little scowl and foggy, stupefied gaze, strands of the faux fur sticking on her face. 

“You’re not going to sleep beside me?” Jeongyeon asks, and there’s sincere confusion entangled there, masked by a sort of teasing-like tone that elicits a snort from Momo, who immediately humors the drop of the atmosphere with a joke about how Nayeon’s probably gotten tired of her in bed already. 

Jeongyeon only spares her co-captain a roll of her eyes before focusing back on Nayeon, whose voice suddenly felt like it had just been sucked out of her system. 

“I...um…” Nayeon trails off, and it’s so unfamiliar to all of them how she’s stammering. She, of all people, is at a loss for words. 

Had Jihyo not been reduced to a pile of drunken mush, she would have caught up already with the situation and asked Nayeon then and there if something was wrong. 

Thankfully, Jihyo was beat. And she was now busy on her own, face planted on the carpet again, snoring her way to dreamland. 

Panic rushes up inside Dahyun, feeling the intensity of the pained waiting gaze Jeongyeon casts over at Nayeon. This pushes her to blurt out impulsively, “We have to talk about Feelings, unnie!”

And then the atmosphere in the room picks up from there. 

“Feelings?” Jeongyeon tilts her head. “The drama?” 

Dahyun nods (and hears the girl in front of her let out a heavy sigh of relief). “Yeah. You know? Bin, Hyung, and Joon. And how pretty Yuri is. And how I’m Team Hyung while unnie’s Team Joon. And how they’re probably gonna end up with—” 

“Okay, okay, fine”, Jeongyeon cuts her off with a wave of her hand, uninterested in the questionable choice of teen dramas Dahyun and Nayeon watch, the only thing they have in common the best. “Enjoy then. Momo, move your ass over so they can have space there.” 

She yanks Momo out of Sana’s embrace, much to both of their groans. Mina asks whether they should carry Jihyo over to the bed but Jeongyeon shrugs the idea off. 

“She’ll probably just fall again if we do.” 

Mina spares Jihyo a worried gaze one last time before lying down. 

In the silence and comfort of Mina’s presence beside her, Dahyun finally feels like her thoughts are finally slowing down from their wild run in her head. 

There’s about a hundred more questions left to answer, and a hundred more on its way, but Mina’s here and Dahyun feels assured with just that. 

Maybe this is something they can do. They can get through it as long as they’re together.

Together but not complete.

And then just like that, Dahyun remembers Chaeyoung and thinks of her. At times like this when they’re all together, Dahyun thinks about Chaeyoung. What would she do if she were still here?

They don’t talk about her anymore. Her name has turned into some sort of vestige, a trace of the glorious memories from the past that seem to be slowly fading away. 

Sometimes, Dahyun wonders if her unnies still even remember her. 

It hasn’t been that long since she left them but nobody has mentioned a single thing about her except for Jeongyeon and Nayeon, whose relationship used to revolve around the younger girl as if she were the sun to their planets. 

Jeongyeon must have somehow felt the thought of the younger girl because it’s her who makes a passing remark at how Momo’s clinging to her like a koala, mentioning ultimately, “I’d be happy if you were Chaeyoung right now. But you’re not so get off me, Momo.” 

Momo springs away and asks, "Chaeyoung?" Her voice is dipped in genuine confusion. "Who's Chaeyoung?"

Dahyun has half the mind to convince herself this is just some sick joke again but Momo doesn't flinch in her question and there's no ounce of jest in her tone. Dahyun feels like a bucket of ice cold water had just been dumped over her head. She feels sick. 

“Momo. Seriously. I’m gonna kick you right now.” Jeongyeon says with no malice but intently spares her co-captain a narrowing glare, as if to see if she’s kidding or not, because this is a sick joke, and though Momo’s eyes brighten up again like some eureka moment (“Oh! Yeah! Chaeyoung...yeah...her…”), Dahyun doesn’t miss the way she falters and the split second where she genuinely looked lost and confused. 

Out of all of them, Momo and Chaeyoung shared the littlest amount of time together. Still, that wouldn’t easily equate to just forgetting about Chaeyoung’s entire existence that fast, right? 

RIGHT?! 

Dahyun feels a bad headache coming on.

A new problem arises just as another begins.

 


 

(The universe works in a funny way. 

It’s Dahyun who finds out about Chaeyoung first.

But they’re the last ones to meet.) 

 


 

Some time in the wee hours of the morning, one where the sun hasn’t risen yet and everyone’s competing in their own snoring fest, Dahyun feels the space beside her begin shifting. 

She’s always been a light sleeper unless otherwise called for, so when the space to her left begins tossing and moving around, she groggily forces one eye open and sees the shadow of Nayeon’s figure tiptoeing to the bathroom. 

There’s a soft thud of the toilet lid being pulled down, and then soon, the telltale sound of someone trying to puke their guts out. 

There’s an arm draped over Dahyun’s stomach. Mina doesn’t snore unlike the truck driver noises Jihyo and Jeongyeon make. Combined together they might actually impair someone’s hearing. It's only fortunate that they're somehow arranged by the loudest snorer to the who doesn’t at all.

Dahyun ever so carefully removes Mina’s spooning arm around her midriff and slips out of bed, stumbling on her way to the bathroom. 

The door isn’t locked, only pushed close. She knocks as gently as she can before slowly opening the door, peeking inside.

"Unnie?" 

It's a sight that could break anyone's heart. 

Nayeon was sitting on the floor, pale as if all the life had been drained out of her system, eyes shut close and breathing deeply. Her head rested against the wall behind her, the weight of everything probably growing unbearable to carry all on her own. 

"Unnie…" Dahyun can't help but sigh. She rubs off the remnants of sleep in her eyes before stepping inside the bathroom and reaching for the tissue dispenser. She pulls out a bunch and hands them over to the sad-looking girl. “Here you go.” 

It takes a split second of a pause before Nayeon opens her eyes and reaches for the clump of tissue. She wipes at the corners of her mouth before crumpling the tissue paper and throwing it in the general direction of the trash bin with her eyes closed again, still managing to aim perfectly and score.

Dahyun heads for the floor too, setting herself down beside the older girl. Even in her sleep-induced torpid and befuddled state, she still makes it a matter to consider maintaining space between her and her unnie, making sure Nayeon’s comfortable with her presence and proximity.  

There’s at least a ruler’s distance between them. Dahyun sits criss-crossed and copies Nayeon’s position, leaning her head back against the cold tiled wall and closing her eyes too, trying her best not to drift back to dreamland. 

Just before Dahyun’s hypothalamus inexplicably fails her and pulls her to sleep, there’s a weight that presses down against her shoulder and a feathery brush of hair that tickles against her bed-kissed skin. 

Nayeon smells like mint and strawberry-scented shampoo. It must be Chaeyoung’s…

They stay like that, with Nayeon’s head resting on Dahyun’s shoulder and Dahyun practically hand-to-hand combatting every single fiber of her being from entirely knocking her out. 

That must be it, her half-unconscious state that pushes her to recklessly ask a question she must’ve been thinking about far too much. 

"Unnie, is it Dohwan oppa's?" 

And it takes about the most awkward pregnant pause– no pun intended– of all time before Dahyun registers the shit she just asked, but Nayeon's already drawing out an exasperated sigh and shaking her head against her shoulder, and Dahyun has half the urge to jump away and gasp indignantly because WHAT?! and half the mind to just let out the same weary exhale because ugh. 

Ever since the bomb had been dropped earlier, new troubles only continued pelting at them like a machine gun that didn't run out of bullets.

Dahyun feels numb already, and the only thing that concerns her now is being there for Nayeon unnie. It is the top priority. Everything else comes a close second. Except Mina. Mina's up there too.

“I was drunk and sad. Two deadly combinations if you ask me.”

Nayeon speaks with a raspy voice. She sniffs and Dahyun doesn’t have the heart to look at her reflection from the glossy tile walls. She can’t bear to see the sight of her unnie crying again. 

“May I ask who then…?” 

“You probably don’t know him.” 

Dahyun expects the conversation to end there, but then Nayeon laughs wryly, almost belittling, and adds, “Heck, I don’t even know him. I just know his name.” 

“Is he like Dohwan oppa?” 

“Far from him.” Nayeon sighs. “The guy. He’s...he didn’t deserve what I did to him. I used him because I was angry. He probably thought it was love.” 

He must’ve been a good guy, Dahyun thinks. Although having dated only one guy her entire life–as far as Dahyun knows–Nayeon had been pursued by a lot of boys, and she never held back when it came to her comments about them. She had a way with words that was always sharp and pointy at the edges when it came to the opposite sex. 

At one point in time, had it not been for the existence of her ex-boyfriend, the general consensus would’ve thought Nayeon was a misandrist. She was always vocal about her opposition of the male species.

For Dahyun to hear Nayeon speak about feeling guilty for hurting this guy she met at the party, it’s kind of shocking to say the least, yet entirely convincing of his good character at most. 

He must’ve been a good guy. 

“Unnie…” Dahyun feels the ropes of sleep slowly winning her over. “Do you know how far you are?” 

Nayeon hums into her shoulder. “It’s been more than a month since the party. I’m guessing five to six weeks?” 

“When do you...um...plan to...tell the unnies? And the guy?” 

Dahyun doesn’t expect Nayeon to answer but she does. And it’s very much like her to mock the situation.

“Well I’m definitely not planning on hiding it from them until I look like I just ate an entire mini yoga ball, that’s for sure.” 

She makes a small comment about her abs that Dahyun doesn’t hear entirely but she’s sure it’s about losing them, which makes her wonder about something she’s not sure she should be asking. So she doesn’t try instead. She’s already gotten answers out of Nayeon, far more than she expected to get. 

“I’ll tell them when I’m sure, Dahyunnie. That’s to say if Jihyo or the others won’t catch up yet.” 

In front of her, Dahyun sees a distorted reflection of Nayeon smirking to herself. “I can’t believe I didn’t catch up on it myself. It was so obvious. Vomiting, moodiness, lethargy. It must’ve been the stress over the competition that just got ahead of me.” 

The competition… “Speaking of that, unnie…” 

“Yes, Dahyun.” Nayeon answers though, before she could even ask. “I will perform in spite of... this. Even if I was showing and heavy, I still would. I’m not letting all the tears and sweat I wasted go down the drain that easily.” 

“But would it be good for the…um...the...”

“You can call it a baby, you know.”

“Is it, though?” 

“Is it not?” 

Dahyun shrugs her shoulders sheepishly. “I mean, I’m not good at science, unnie, but I think it’s called an embryo until a few more months. And then a fetus. And then–” 

“Just call it a living creature, oh my god.” Nayeon feigns a dramatic annoyed sigh, betrayed by the chuckle that follows by the end. 

The atmosphere in the small bathroom lightens, and Dahyun feels like she can breathe again. 

“Can I call it my bro instead?” 

Now that has Nayeon pulling her head away from Dahyun’s shoulder. She looks at the younger girl with a bemused frown, although the corners of her lips are tugging into a whimsical smile. 

“You want to project your yearning for Chaeyoung to this living creature?"

"No! Not that." Dahyun nearly blurts out. "I'm the youngest it's gonna get for an aunt and I don't want to be an imo yet, unnie . I'll be the best unnie or noona instead. So pretty please?" 

“What is with you and bros …” 

Before Dahyun can even dive into a lengthy explanation of where she had coined the term and how much it means to her–claim backed up by thorough qualitative research, target surveying, and a detailed account of narratives–Nayeon stops her and relents, because it’s nearing 4AM already and puking out what feels like her entire guts at this point warrants at least a few hours of sleep and rest before they have to wake up and get ready for the competition again.

Nayeon won’t be getting that if she entertains Dahyun’s bro -explaining, so she lets her be. 

“Fine, whatever. Call this your bro.” 

And Dahyun, in her sleepy haze and hooded eyes, waves hello at the general trajectory of Nayeon’s stomach. 

Nayeon just rolls her eyes at the younger girl. She stands up with wobbly legs and languidly moves over to the sink to wash up. Everything about her movements feel and look heavy.  

Dahyun staggers to a stand behind Nayeon, moving like she just drank an entire crate of beer, trying to find her balance. She ends up watching Nayeon from the threshold, as she splashes her face with water and stares at herself in front of the mirror. 

Under the insipid light of the bathroom, Dahyun can groggily make out the cheerleader’s face blanched, sucked out of color. Her eyelids look like they carry a ton of weight on them and her shoulders sag with every breath.

The famed cheerleading captain and student council vice-president looked just about missing in the version of Nayeon that Dahyun was seeing right now.

“Dahyun-ah?” 

“Yes, unnie?” 

Nayeon meets her eyes from the reflection of the mirror. “Can we keep this between us first?”

Dahyun can’t fathom the idea of lying to her unnies, especially Mina and Jeongyeon, but this isn’t hers to tell.

“Okay, unnie. I got it.” 

“Good.” Nayeon smiles. “I want to practice first how I’ll tell your Jeongyeon unnie without shocking her.”

“How do you plan to do that?” 

“Hm. I’ll probably tell her...” Nayeon turns around and recites, “ ‘Hello, Yoo Jeongyeon, the love of my life. To spite you, I hooked up with someone the night of Sana’s party. It was reckless and stupid. Please don’t leave me. Oh, and I’m also pregnant, by the way. Just wanna give you a heads up’. How does that work?” 

Dahyun thinks pretending Nayeon just swallowed a mini yoga ball would be a better idea.

“Do you plan on giving unnie a heart attack?” 

 


 

They only get to return and stay in slumber for about three more hours before Sana’s ridiculous harp alarm resounds like some magical princess movie wake-up scene. 

Implanted in their heads that it’s the day of the talent show, no one except hungover Jihyo lags around. 

After a quick breakfast (served with delicious plates of waffles and pancakes), everyone heads to one of the living rooms to practice their routine again. They run through everything and head for the showers after lunch. 

The talent show starts at 5PM. They have enough time for hair and makeup, sending the entire north wing of the mansion into a vortex of chaos, like a downtown business district during working hours. 

One of the storage rooms was converted into a hairstyling and makeup room for them, but given how chaotic they moved around each other no matter how spacious the area was, Sana had to give each couple their own space. The Minatozaki household had more than enough rooms to spare. 

Jihyo, the only single member in the bunch, uses the bathroom far away from them. She doesn’t want to be anywhere near anyone with the quote-on-quote wrecking ball demolishing her brain at every miniscule sound and movement. 

Dahyun and Mina share a room together, much to the aforementioned’s worry because being in the same space as Mina these days takes the same effort as trying not to blow up. 

So Dahyun floods her mind with other kinds of thoughts. 

Like how bright and sunny the day is. Or how the Minatozaki mansion might probably be as big as the city hall. Or how Dahyun’s parents won’t like it if they find out she hasn’t maintained her hair properly and the ends are now splitting like a broomstick. 

She would’ve been happily busy thinking about the next color she should dye her hair to, but then Mina calls for her from the other side of the room, in front of the vintage vanity dresser she sits in front of, finishing with her makeup.

“Dahyun-ah?” 

At the mention of her name, Dahyun visibly gulps. She’d have to face Mina right now and honestly, looking at Mina is like looking at the shining light of heaven’s gate. She’s blindingly beautiful. 

“Y-Yes, unnie?” 

As expected, Dahyun’s breath is taken away. 

Mina’s clad in their performance costume already: a group shirt tucked into a yellow plaid skirt. Her hair falls in accented waves, flowing like silk, glimmering in a lighter shade of brown under the sunlight squeezing in from the window beside her.

She has curtain bangs now, a decision that proved Dahyun just when she thought Mina couldn’t get any more perfect, she still can. Makeup isn’t an issue to be concerned about. Mina still looks the same even without makeup. She’s that beautiful. 

Speaking of makeup…

“Aren’t you gonna do your face?” Mina asks, spinning the otoman around to turn to Dahyun. 

“About that. I might not anymore…?” Dahyun trails off sheepishly, warmth flooding at her cheeks. She lowers her voice to a murmur, looking down shyly,  “I don’t really know how to...?” 

Mina thankfully doesn’t hear the last part. “Jihyo said to wear red lipstick. Do you want me to help you out with that?” 

Before Dahyun could even say no, because no, unnie please don’t. You make me want to blow up into butterflies when you’re near, Mina’s already making her way over to the sofa where Dahyun sits criss-crossed, and all she can do is stay frozen in place, prepare herself for the blow that are her feelings for Myoui Mina. 

“What shade do you want?” She hovers over Dahyun, looking down as she asks. 

From this view, Dahyun feels like looking at Kingkong. Except Kingkong is a beautiful princess and she smells a lot like jasmines and vanilla. 

“I...I don’t...I don’t know? Any shade, I guess?” Dahyun stammers. Her throat feels a lot like gluing up together now and her brain can’t process anything else but Mina’s proximity. 

Then, like a dreamy nightmare, Mina crouches down until she and Dahyun are at face level, and as if Dahyun’s current inner squirms weren’t enough, the older girl leans in closer until they’re a good few inches away from each other, and Dahyun can  feel the warmth of Mina’s breath tickle the flush of her cheeks. 

Lord, I am not your strongest soldier.

Dahyun catches a whiff of a stronger scent of jasmines. She inevitably closes her eyes, leaving everything to her imagination. She’s never been a fan of close proximity (with exceptions, certainly), and has always been the easier one flustered among her unnies who have all mastered the art of skinship. 

When Dahyun sees a cute person, her cheeks go red. When someone stays within an arm’s length, her heart is suddenly running a marathon. There’s no need for conditions when it’s Mina. Dahyun is as good as a bomb blowing up whenever she’s simply around. 

Even with her eyes closed, Dahyun can keep track of how Mina’s obviously lessening the space between them. 

Has her eyesight gone bad now? Does she need to be THIS close? What is she even doing?!

At first, Mina’s mint-smelling breath ghosts over Dahyun’s cheek like casper’s touch. 

Then it tickles like a feather, Dahyun contains the urge to squirm because that’ll only provoke Mina more.

And then, in a split second, Dahyun can pinpoint exactly where Mina’s breath touches the surface of her cheek, because it’s exactly the spot where all her blood is  probably pooling up in by now. 

Dahyun doesn’t have any plan on opening her eyes or taking a small peek, knowing all too well the brush against her nose isn’t something she’s dreaming of anymore. It’s Mina, and which part of her? Dahyun doesn’t have the strength to find out. 

“Baby, what are you doing?” 

OH MYGOD HER VOICE?? BABY?!

Suddenly, looking for her voice feels like searching for Dora’s map. Where the hell is it?!

“Uh...I...Um...Er…” 

Mina chuckles and Dahyun feels all wobbly in the legs. 

“Dahyun-ah, look at me.” 

Dahyun feels hypnotized to, so she does. And the first thing she sees are Mina’s lips, a shade of puce.

She wants to close her eyes again now. But she can’t. Somehow, her vision has ended up spotlighting Mina’s lips, and everything else in her surroundings are blacked out.

Mina slides a finger underneath Dahyun’s chin and holds it up so their eyes meet again. “You like it?” 

“H-huh?” Dahyun swallows a boulder down her throat. 

“The shade I’m wearing”, Mina chuckles. “With how you’re staring, it seems to me you like the shade too. Do you want me to apply a coat for you?” 

“A-Apply where?” 

“Your lips, silly”, Mina smiles, and then, finally , decides to occupy the space beside Dahyun instead, taking her own seat on the sofa. 

Dahyun sucks in a breath, filling her lungs back with the stolen oxygen. 

“There’s a small problem though…” 

Dahyun glances over at Mina with a small frown, only to be met with a mischievous smirk. 

Her heart does a flip. “What?” 

“I forgot the name of the shade I used.”  Mina pouts, although the playfulness in her tone betrays her. “Guess I’ll just have to improvise…” 

“Um. That’s okay, unnie. I can just–” 

But before Dahyun can even finish her own sentence, there’s a soft, fleeting peck on her lips that catches her off-guard, and before her mind registers what the hell’s happening, it’s already over and Mina’s giggling on her own. 

Dahyun looks like a deer caught by the headlights. 

“Oops. There’s a little smudge…” A thumb softly grazes over the edges of her bottom lip and it’s Mina’s and it’s soft and it smells like olives. “Okay. Good to go.” 

Dahyun’s soul has officially left her body. 

“Are you okay?” 

No.

“Dahyun-ah?” 

Who? 

“Do you need another coat–” 

“NO!”

The panic rushes as fast as the blush on her cheeks, and Dahyun feels guilty just by looking at the rattled expression on Mina’s face. 

She clears her throat. “I...I mean, yes. NO! I meant–no. This is good, unnie. We should...we should probably...OH MY GOD…I can’t.” Dahyun can’t even finish her own words anymore. Her thought processor is short-circuiting at the behest of the doting gaze Mina spares her, as if everything that comes out of her mouth is worth more than gold–

“You can’t what?” 

–which isn’t because half the things Dahyun say only ruin her cause more–

“I can’t think when you’re looking at me like that!”

“You like the way I look at you?” 

–and it’s really unfair because Mina becomes a sly, pure seductress like there’s an easy switch for it whilst Dahyun’s still the same little embarrassment everybody knows!

“It’s like having the Blessed Virgin Mary look at me…” 

Mina guffaws at that. “Oh my god, Dahyun…” 

Dahyun just nods, adamant on finally admitting this. “Sometimes I get the urge to do the sign of the cross whenever I see you.” 

And Mina laughs, like genuinely laughs the loudest Dahyun has probably heard from her. 

They laugh until their stomachs hurt and their cheeks get tired, and Mina’s clutching at her abdomen and wiping at a tear and this is probably the most beautiful moment (or a close second, the make out session still tops) Dahyun thinks they’ve ever shared together. 

This is beautiful. For a fleeting moment, it feels like nothing else is wrong with the world. For an entire five minutes or so of laughing, Dahyun forgets about all the troubles in her head. 

She forgets that all her unnies will be leaving her in a few months, that Mina will say goodbye to her too and she’ll have to let go of this one way or another.

It slips out of her mind that she already has a scheduled appointment with the principal of her old school regarding her transfer papers in a few weeks, that she already packed some of her things in boxes and kept them under her bed, ready for picking up once her parents drop by and start helping her move out. 

Dahyun forgets that everything will be changing and she isn’t so sure whether it’s for the better or for the worse, and she hasn’t been this unsure her entire life that she absolutely hates it.

Dahyun forgets. Within that short span of tearful laughter with Mina, she forgets they’ll be performing in a few hours a routine they prepared as eight but would be dancing as seven. She forgets about Chaeyoung for a little while, and how she’ll probably never come back again and they have no means to talk and catch up because knowing that kid, she has no idea how technology works and hotmail would be too much for her. 

In this fleeting bubble of happiness she’s managed to share with Mina, Dahyun forgets in nine months, they’ll literally be eight again.  

If the heavens could grant Dahyun one wish, she’d ask for this. At the very least, could it grant her a minute more of it? 

And then she’ll have the courage to deal with everything again. Just one more minute with Mina, and her pretty laughing and pretty gummy smile and her pretty everything.

One more minute is all Dahyun asks for. 

Even that, it couldn’t give. 

“Hey you two lovebirds.”  Momo suddenly shows up, a mischievous little smile plastered on her face. “Sorry to cut your moment short. Car’s waiting downstairs already. Jihyo’s grumpy as fuck so you better get over there now. We’re just waiting for Nayeon to finish up and we’ll go.”

With that, she leaves, and Dahyun feels like she’s free-falling to reality. 

Mina gets up, quickly stretches side-to-side, and then offers her hand. “Let’s go kick some ass?” 

“You mean perform a Jackson 5 song looking like a band of color-coded referees?”

Mina chuckles. “Yes, and then kick some ass! And win!” 

Dahyun smiles at that and takes Mina’s hand. 

Suddenly, everything else in the world feels tolerable. 

 


 

Tolerable for a good few seconds, that is. 

On their way down, Dahyun catches a sight of Nayeon from one of the slightly-opened doors, standing in front of a body mirror, looking very focused on something with her skirt. 

It doesn’t take much for Dahyun to excuse herself from Mina, telling the girl she can go ahead. Mina only pouts a little before shrugging and then padding off, down the staircase where Momo and Sana’s boisterous laughter resound, probably annoying Jihyo’s hungover ass again. 

“Unnie?” Dahyun knocks on the door. “You need some help?” 

Nayeon doesn’t even turn to look at her. “No, no. I’m good. Just...tightening this…” 

Dahyun walks inside regardless, and sees the older girl pulling at the ends of her skirt, trying to latch the hook to a tighter bar.

“Unnie, you look like you’re gonna pop.” 

“Wow. Thank you, Dahyunnie. I appreciate your kind way of telling me I gained weight”, Nayeon says with flat out sarcasm, still preoccupied sucking in more air and shrinking her very small, nearly unnoticeable bump. It’s like a small little ab. Just a single ab right over her belly button. 

“Do you think Sana has those stomach binders or something?” Nayeon wonders out loud, and Dahyun is mortified because 1) she’s pretty sure it isn’t a good idea to wear that so early on, and 2) she clearly has no idea about anything related to pregnancy so she’s a hundred percent sure she’s wrong but Nayeon looks like she’s suffocating both herself and Dahyun’s future bro there, so she intervenes. 

“Unnie, you don’t have to wear anything like that…”

“You just told me I look like I’m gonna pop.” 

Dahyun shakes her head. “I meant, because you looked like you were suffocating yourself. You don’t look...your part, you know? You don’t need to wear whatever.” 

“My part being...the selfish and reckless friend who got knocked up?” 

Dahyun doesn’t answer. Nayeon gives up on trying to smother herself (and by extension, the little living thing inside of her), much to Dahyun’s relief.  

The younger girl walks over and gives her unnie a helping hand. It’s like walking on eggshells at first, trying to judge whether being this close is okay for Nayeon or not. When she doesn’t mind Dahyun’s involvement, the latter continues with readjusting the skirt, pulling at it so the lock settles over Nayeon’s stomach comfortably, hook latched on the first, loosest bar. 

“There you go”, Dahyun steps away so Nayeon can see herself better in front of the mirror. “All better?” 

“I can breathe, yes. But I still feel like shit.” Nayeon deadpans. 

“There’s no remedy to that but at least you don’t look like one!” Sometimes Dahyun sucks at cheering people up. 

Nayeon doesn’t seem to mind at all. She even smiles a little bit at that. 

After one last look at herself, Nayeon finally relents and they head out together. 

In their short walk down to where the car is waiting for them outside, Nayeon and Dahyun openly talk about it, namely about how sure Nayeon is of performing a routine that involves a lot of hopping and skedaddling around. 

“I asked imo about it. She said it was okay as long as I’m careful”, Nayeon responds, referring to Sana’s mom. 

“Really?” Dahyun hums. They exit the mansion through the main door, heading for the van that was waiting for them ahead. “But you know, unnie? My cousin once said moving around too much can affect the baby’s growth.” 

“The dad’s tall. I’m average height, at the very least. This’ll grow fine.” 

“Okay then”, Dahyun gives up. There’s no point in arguing when Nayeon’s convinced she’s got the height department all covered up already.

 “Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you if the kid grows up barely meeting 160cm.”

“Dahyun. You’re barely 160cm tall.” 

“My mom danced in the 70s.” 

The gasp that Nayeon lets out is music to Dahyun's ears.

 


 

For once in her life, Mina felt magical. 

The moment they entered the campus, it was like stepping into a new realm, a fantasy land. 

The multifunctional field that occupied a vast expanse of area smack dab in the heart of their school had been magically transformed into a night carnival. 

Vibrant colors shone under the dark skies. There were bulb string lights hanging above, igniting the pathway where concession stalls were lined, student volunteers running parlor games and snack booths offering a variety of food. At the far areas of the field, there are installed mini-theme park rides like vikings, a scarily fast mini ferris wheel, and a caterpillar rollercoaster. Everything reminds Mina again how Apgujeong High is a well-off school, and if a bunch of trust fund kids planned an event, then it was only guaranteed extra

Everything reminds Mina of the Miracle Strip at night, whenever her family used to travel to Texas and her parents would take her to the amusement parks and let her play around until at night. 

Jihyo and Nayeon meet up with one of the student coordinators and before Mina can even begin dancing to the next song–Mariah Carey’s Fantasy–she’s already being pulled away to the backstage where the performers are gathered and getting ready, curtains drawn close to hide the chaos happening from behind.

They aren’t late. It’s just that looking for a parking space turned into a death game and they had to run down from a block away just to get to the school because the driver couldn’t find a spot anywhere near. 

When they arrived, nearly breathless and all ruined, they’re ten minutes away from performing time and the monoblocks arranged in neat columns and rows in front of the stage were already beginning to fill up. 

They all retouch their makeup, and Mina fights the urge to improvise another coat over Dahyun’s lips in order to save time because there’s a line in front of the mirror. 

Instead of that, they stand close together, hands clasped behind their backs, giggling like two lovesick girls at anything and everything, watching as the other girls spritz  ridiculous amounts of hairspray and apply 

Five minutes before they’re up, Jihyo huddles the entire group together. 

The crowd outside erupts into bellows of laughter and wondered oooh ’s at the Gag Trio’s magic performance. 

Even amidst the noise and the chaos around them, they huddle together and blur everything out. All that matters now is them. 

“No matter what happens, girls, we did it, okay?” Jihyo tells each and every one of them in the huddle, trying to raise her voice over the chaos. 

“All the hard work we’ve done is for tonight, so let’s give our everything out there, okay?” 

Everyone nods to that, adrenaline pumping in their systems as the crowd grows louder and applause erupts, signalling the end of the Gag Trio’s performance and the introduction to theirs. 

Jihyo stretches her hand out and the others follow, palms stacked over the other. 

“We’re doing this for us.”

“And for Chaeyoung”, Dahyun adds, and there’s a beat of silence that ensues that Mina thinks shouldn’t have been there. “She would have loved to be here too.” 

Mina looks over to where Momo doesn’t hide back the little crease on her forehead or the way Sana smiles a little albeit nearly absentmindedly.

Jihyo stirs the group back to common ground.

“Yes. All of us.” She takes a deep breath. “Let’s bring home that trophy, alright?” 

And to that they all agree, counting down from three and erupting in bellows, putting into voice the adrenaline pumping in their system, the natural inclination to perform. 

In an alternate universe, Mina thinks they’ll make a good girl group. The one that could perform in sold-out arenas and travel the world together. Maybe in another lifetime. 

 


 

Dahyun spots Sana's parents sitting near the front row. 

When they're standing in their places, waiting for the music to play, Jeongyeon waves over in a direction and Dahyun spots her mom and her sister holding up a videocam, waving back animatedly. 

Even through the blinding stage lights the student coordinators managed to rent with minimal budget, Dahyun can see the faces in the crowd and how they smile at them and their performance. 

She thinks maybe this is something they can do. And maybe, in a different lifetime, they do it because they don't have to. They do it because they want to. 

Months of practicing and blood and sweat shed all come down to four minutes of performing time, at most. It's an unfair trade, but when the music starts playing and the girls begin moving their hips into the rhythm, the smile that finds its way to Dahyun's face is wide and sincere. 

This isn't more than just a performance for them anymore. Their group properly got together because of this. For this. Just when Dahyun thought she'd traverse this world all by herself, she met six more unnies in her wake and felt the magical sensation of falling for one of them too. 

Some time along the way, she met Chaeyoung too. And while Chaeyoung didn't stay longer than how Dahyun had wanted her to–how they all wanted her to–she left them when everything finally felt put into place, which was more than they could ask for.

Technology was on the rise and developments were made day by day. Dahyun thinks it won't be impossible to find Chaeyoung, but knowing how the girl had left them completely no trace to follow–she wasn't in the yearbook, they never got to take her picture; nearly no one outside their group knew she existed, because Chaeyoung only interacted with them on a daily basis; and in group photos she didn't exist, because in their very first one ever taken, Chaeyoung had gotten sick and left.

She was a mystery. She might as well be the greatest one Dahyun has ever had the opportunity to know. If she could, she'd want to try and solve it all over again. And maybe, in the near future, they'll meet again too. Dahyun will make sure they meet again.

 


 

When Sana centered during their first formation–which was some kind of line that would transition to their second–she smiled over at the audience and boys began howling like mad dogs. Dahyun never knew the power of her unnie's fan club until now. 

Mina gained herself a reputation too, Dahyun would learn of this during Jeongyeon's line "those pretty faces always made you stand out in the crowd". In that part, it was Jihyo's idea that they utilize Mina's being the visual of the group, and use it to their advantage. Nayeon skedaddled her way into that part, demanding she danced behind Jeongyeon too when she sang that part.

Dahyun always knew Mina had attracted the attention and the hearts of many of their schoolmates. She never says anything but there were always letters and flowers sticking out of her locker whenever she'd pass by the senior hall. 

Instead of bringing a bitter taste in her mouth and a twisting in her chest, Dahyun feels more elated and honored. No, she won't be parading what she has with Mina to everyone's faces for the sake of her pride. Knowing what they have is theirs to keep away from the world, and all these people think they have a chance, makes Dahyun feel like she just scored the winning combination in the lottery. Jackpot.

During their dance break, where everyone could pose freely, Dahyun danced on her own. This was the part where she planned to goof off with Chaeyoung and improvise some weird dance steps together. Since her partner wasn't there anymore, Dahyun had to do it all by herself.

The moment they finished their performance, breathless and smiles permanently plastered on their faces, the crowd erupts into monstrous applause. It felt like they just performed in an arena and not the outdoor field in school.

Dahyun thinks part of the impact of their performance should be credited to the fans her unnies manage to haul. Nayeon, Mina, and Sana have fan boys cheering for them whereas Jeongyeon, Jihyo, and Momo have fan girls. Dahyun thinks she heard her dad shout her name in the crowd. Her parents promised to watch, they must be there somewhere. 

Even the performers they were going against with managed to join in on the clapping and cheering. The soccer girls and the cheerleading team were unstoppable in their howling, even after Jennie told them to quiet down.

Everything feels surreal, Dahyun thinks.

The moment they stepped out of the stage, the applause was still there. The emcees had to quiet everyone down before they could introduce the last performers.

"Oh my god! That was amazing!" Sana exclaims, bouncing in her steps as they make their way to a more breathable space to gather around, away from the hustle and bustle of the backstage.

Dahyun can only catch her breath as her unnies begin exchanging compliments for their performance ("Jeong, that high note was sensational!" "I love that heart you did at the end, Momoring!" "Mina, did you hear all those screaming when you were up in front?!")

Amidst all the fiasco and their adrenaline-pumped hearts still beating along the rhythm of the music, Dahyun and Mina's eyes meet, and there's a twinkle in Mina's eyes that makes Dahyun just want to melt into her. 

Eventually, they find each other through all the mess, and when Mina wraps her arms around Dahyun, it feels perfect, like everything's perfect again.

"Unnie…" Dahyun breathes in the familiar scent of jasmines. It's become a memory engraved in her head now, a scent she associates with home. You were amazing.

She feels Mina's lips trace over the length of her jaw, ghost over the shell of her ear, and press a kiss on her temple. 

"Dahyun-ah…" Mina whispers before pulling away ever so slightly and resting her forehead againts Dahyun's.

For a moment there, they forget where they are. It's only them now. It's only them here.

When Mina looks into her eyes, Dahyun feels like drowning. Her gaze drops to the line of her lips, watches it move as Mina tries to say something, and then end up smiling.

"Honey, did you hear me?" 

Honey?! 

Dahyun stammers. "W-What again, unnie? Sorry. I was—"

"Staring at my lips?" 

"What? N-No? I was just...admiring it…?"

Mina lets out a chuckle. She pulls away from where her face is a good inch in distance from Dahyun's, and then looks up into the dark expanse of the night sky instead.

"Did you hear what I said though?" 

Dahyun sheepishly bobs her head no. She follows the smile Mina blesses the stars with.

"I said", Mina closes her eyes, beauty glowing underneath the moonlight. "The moon looks beautiful tonight, Dahyun. It looks really beautiful."

(Dahyun won't understand it until a year later, while she's taking Japanese classes because she writes to Mina every chance she gets, and Mina mentions the moon being beautiful more than Dahyun can ever count with her two hands.

She'll find out later Mina loves her, and they would forever debate about it. 

" Why didn't you just say it like a normal person?" 

"Now where's the fun in that?"

Dahyun would find that teasing Mina would inevitably become one of life's greatest joys for her. Because Mina's mentioned the moon being beautiful far before Dahyun ever told Mina she loved her and that would mean—

" You were the first one to say I love you?"

And Mina would always get flustered about it but still nod surely.

"Yes, Dahyun. I loved you first.")

 


 

They win 120,000 Won and a trophy that Dahyun holds during a photo-op with the panel of judges, including a celebrity guest in the form of Woo Heejin. 

Dahyun nearly faints when she stands beside the actress, smiling the widest she's ever stretched, all giddy and awe-struck that in one of the photos captured, Mina's caught rolling her eyes beside her.

("She wasn't that pretty…")

Nayeon joins Dahyun in conversation with Woo Heejin, babbling all about Feelings and asking questions they know Heejin's technically contracted not to answer ("So? Did she pick Joon?").

Mina watches beside Jeongyeon, starkly contrasting the smile on the latter's face with a small pucker of lips. While Jeongyeon's probably admiring how prettier the actress is in real life, Mina's thinking of all the ways she can land a television spot too. Because Dahyun seems to be really into actresses these days…

I can probably ask mom to get in contact with that former client she worked with—

"Myoui Mina-ssi?"

Mina knows that voice. She's heard it before, however never mentioning her name. 

When she turns around to meet who's called her, Mina feels like all the blood has been drained out of her system and the ghost of her better thinking has flown away ultimately.

She knows she's thinking too much about this. To everybody else, this is just like meeting Sana's parents, or saying hello to Jeongyeon's mom and older sister like a few minutes ago. Except this is Mrs. Kim, on her face is a  loving smile that resembles a lot like Dahyun's, and this is different. 

Because this is Mrs. Kim, and Mina isn't in love with Sana or Jeongyeon. She is deep in love with Mrs. Kim’s daughter. If she plays her cards right, she might not have to undergo the whole monster-in-law fiasco in the far future. 

"Mina-ssi?"

Keep your cool, Mina. Keep your cool.

"Mrs. Kim", Mina greets, bowing a perfect ninety-degree angle. She takes a deep breath along the process, before standing back up to meet Mrs. Kim’s smile again. "It's nice to see you again. Are you looking for Dahyun?"

“Oh, no, sweetheart.” She waves her hand. "We actually just talked to her. Her father won a shirt from one of the booth games and he’s making her change into it.”

"Oh?" Mina thinks it's cute that Dahyun’s still the little princess in her parents’ eyes. "Mr. Kim still has good aim, I see."

“And an apparent inclination to compete against the youngsters too”, Mrs. Kim jibes with a roll of her eyes. “He nearly got into an argument with the student that ran the booth! Said he was getting the shirt for his little girl and the poor kid must’ve thought Dahyun was a toddler and not a sophomore here.” 

Mina can only giggle at that, because she was never good at holding conversations especially with adults and especially if it’s with Dahyun’s parents. 

Mrs. Kim must have some kind of awkward radar going on because she immediately senses Mina’s fidgeting and stretches a hand out, giving Mina a pat on the back. 

“You did a great job out there, Mina. We just came by to congratulate you girls for your performance.” 

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Kim.” Mina bows her head. 

Inside her head she wishes this would be the end of their conversation, because she isn’t really prepared to go all-out trying to impress Dahyun’s parents tonight. Her body,  frankly, still feels the need to project its energy to something else, say booth games with Dahyun and kissing in the secret halls, away from the crowd. 

“Apart from that…” 

Oh no. There’s more. 

“I just wanted to thank you.” 

Oh?

Mina’s eyes widen a little. “For what, if I may ask? I should be the one thanking you, Mrs. Kim.” 

For having Dahyun and making the world a whole lot more bearable to live in. 

“Thank me?” Mrs. Kim chuckles in disbelief.

Mina nods. “For allowing Dahyun to stay a little bit more with us”, she looks down and feels the wave of gloom hit her at the remark. “We wouldn’t have been able to pull everything off without her.” 

“I was just about to thank you for that too, sweetie.” Mrs. Kim smiles. “We haven’t been in talks with Dahyun because she’s been so busy but when we saw her earlier, she looked very happy. And her smile, I don’t know if it was possible, but she always seemed to smile brighter and laugh louder when she’s with you. Thank you for giving her the chance to feel that.” 

Mina’s taken aback by the words. She feels like tearing up and it’s only to her absolute fortune that it’s dark already and the moonlight isn’t enough to make it look so obvious that she’s about to cry in front of Dahyun’s mom. 

“She gave me the chance to feel the same too.” 

“That’s why whatever happens, I wish you both stay the same.” Mrs. Kim runs a hand down Mina’s hair. The gesture reminds her of her mom that it really makes Mina want to cry right now. 

“Even if you two go your separate ways, I hope both of you still continue to be there for each other. You’ve brought our daughter so much happiness and if this is what it takes to see her smile brighter and wider, then so be it.”

Mina feels her heart swell with emotions pulling at her chest from different directions. There’s a meaning behind Mrs. Kim’s words that she knows but can’t quite bring herself to believe so because it’s such a big matter and... does she know?

“Whatever you guys decide on, we’ll be here, okay?” Behind Mrs. Kim, Mina can see her husband slowly walking over. Mrs. Kim looks over her shoulders and says something before turning back to Mina to bid her farewell. 

Mrs. Kim asks her with a look on her face. Can we hug? And Mina just nods, because happiness swirls inside of her like a tornado, all-encompassing, and it’s gotten rid of any semblance to fair thinking now. 

All Mina knows is that she feels happy, that’s she’s never felt this happy and loved her entire life. 

 


 

“You look good.” Mina greets her with a playful smirk on her lips. She’s leaning against the pole of one of the concession stalls in the quieter end of the field, enjoying a good piece of cotton candy. 

They’ve all agreed on spending the rest of the night with their respective special someones , celebrating their glory-filled win with the person they love, in the night fair they helped set up and make possible. 

Had Dahyun not been prowling around for nearly half an hour now, in an oversized Voltes V shirt her father managed to win from one of the ring toss games, listening to her parents drone on and on about her room getting redecorated after her brother moved out and her Sailor Moon figurines being taken away in the process, Dahyun would have found the energy to come up with a witty retort back at Mina. But she’s tired and grumpy now (those were her prized Sailor Moon collection!), and Mina’s being awfully cute again. 

“Hello there, Steve Armstrong. Why the sour face?” Mina offers her cotton candy over, to which Dahyun grumpily grabs and takes a bite of. 

“My brother accidentally packed my Sailor Moon figurines and brought it with him to Jeju,” Dahyun huffs with a pout in the end, looking every bit the defeated child she is. “Those were my everything , Mitang! Every penny I saved from my snack money was put into that.” 

“Aww, baby…” Mina can’t help but coo, hands immediately finding their way over to the younger girl’s cheeks, thumb softly caressing. “Don’t cry…” 

Dahyun frowns even more, swats Mina’s hands away. “I’m serious, Mitang! Those were my all . I even wrote them in my last will and testament. ‘I give and bequeath my entire Sailor Moon collection to my future child, including all ten of my Sailor Moon figurines and my limited edition cardboard cutout of Sailor Galaxia’.”

Mina can’t even process that. “Where would we put the cutout though? In the baby’s room?” 

Dahyun doesn’t know whether she should be flustered because Mina actually considered the baby first, or frustrated because Mina’s missing out on her point. 

Her disbelief is mirrored by her slacking jaw, and Mina sighs. “Fine, fine. It goes in the baby’s room then—” 

“Unnie, no!” Dahyun blurts out with a kick of her foot. “I’m sad because my Sailor Moon figurines are gone. And my brother would probably forget to send it back until it rots in his new house or something.” 

Mina hates that she can’t hold back the giggle that escapes her lips. There’s an urge to pinch Dahyun’s cheeks and press a kiss there, but they’re in public and Mina would rather not bless the world with such a sight. That’s for them only. 

“You know…” Thankfully, while waiting, Mina had the chance to roam around the field and see the stalls herself. “Yves is helping man a game booth that gives out Sailor Moon-themed prizes. Do you want to give that a try?” 

Dahyun’s eyes gleam with the excitement of a child at a toy store, and then she remembers how her hand-eye coordination isn’t exactly the best in the world nor is it mediocre at best, so she deflates again and curses the universe for never giving her even the most average of skills.

“I suck at playing booth games, unnie. I’d probably waste all my money in that and Yves unnie would just hand me a consolation prize or something just to cheer me up.” 

An arm makes its way around Dahyun’s shoulders and suddenly, Dahyun’s engulfed in the smell of jasmines and vanilla again. 

“That’s why you have me, love.” Mina winks, and Dahyun feels all wobbly in the knees now. “I’ve trained my whole life for this moment.” 

And so Mina embarks on an adventure of a lifetime, beating the boss level of Yves’ shooting game to win the biggest prize: a Sailor Moon pillow. She wins it effortlessly, given her exceptional skills at aiming and shooting, and Dahyun looks like she just won a house and lot prize with how she jumps around in glee, shouting to the world her happiness and bragging about her Sailor Moon pillow. 

Mina feels like it’s not enough–the Sailor Moon pillow as compared to all ten figurines and a Sailor Galaxia standee–but Dahyun makes it feel like it is, and Mina thinks maybe, or not maybe but rather surely, she just fell in love with Dahyun even more. 

 


 

They plan to end the night just like how they began the day: together.

Jihyo is like a little kid again, munching on a piece of cotton candy while pointing around at the prizes she wants and Mina, Jeongyeon, and Sana attempt to win it for her. Momo has Sana nearly buying everything from the snack bars, from popcorn to skewers and tangsuyuk, everyone's worried she might have another stomach pumping at the rate she's going. Dahyun's just happily following everyone around, hugging her Sailor Moon pillow while keeping an eye on Nayeon who has, for the most part, contained her little secret very well. 

The fair would close at 9PM and until then, they would roam around and try every food stall and booth game, once in a while dancing to the songs that play from the PA system, now Fin.K.L.'s To My Boyfriend.

Everything's going well and they're all having fun—until Jeongyeon decides they all try the caterpillar rollercoaster before the conductor shuts it down.

Jihyo backs out almost instantly, excusing herself to buy their chicken (and beer) snacks for later so they can eat on the grassy field like a picnic by the Han river. Jeongyeon is adamant with everyone else, getting all whiny when Nayeon desperately tries to back out.

Dahyun feels her panic spike up when Nayeon looks the slightest bit considering the idea. Everyone knew she was madly in love with Jeongyeon but they never thought she'd be this neck-deep in love! 

It was general knowledge by now, Im Nayeon absolutely hated theme park rides. In spite of her exceptional athleticism and high pain tolerance, she just wasn't a fan of anything that moved above the normal speed limit. But ever since Jeongyeon came along, Nayeon had begun making exemptions for a lot of things.

Still! This situation's different!

"Unnie, Nayeon unnie can't ride that." Dahyun continues to argue with her Jeongyeon unnie while standing in line for the mini-roller coaster. "She was sick and she's just getting better—"

"Do you really want me to ride that though?" 

But Nayeon, oh my god , just can't help herself. 

Dahyun eyes her unnie with much indignance. What are you doing?!

Nayeon spares her with a small nod before turning back to Jeongyeon. "Would it kill you if I don't?"

"Yes! Yesyesyes! Pleeeaaase, Nayeonnie~" Jeongyeon whines. "I'll hold your hand if you get nauseous."

"That doesn't do anything…?"

"Dahyun, shh! Adults are talking right now!"

Dahyun just scowls, feeling incredibly insulted by that interjection.

Jeongyeon continues blabbering random promises of making sure Nayeon's alright and holding her hand tighter, and all Dahyun can is pray in her head that a Jeongyeon-shaped cloud hasn't shrouded Nayeon's better judgement entirely yet, because she needs to see the bigger picture here and the bigger picture includes a baby!

"Just one ride, okay?" 

But of course, evil triumphs when one's heart is weak. And god knows Im Nayeon's achilles' heel is Yoo Jeongyeon. 

Her unnie erupts in a celebratory feat, pulling at Nayeon's arms and hugging her tight. The only thing Nayeon can see is Dahyun's disappointed frown from over her shoulders. When they pull away from the embrace, Nayeon is yanked to the side by the younger girl.

"Unnie, what the heck?"  Dahyun hisses, thankful that Jeongyeon is too engrossed in talking about her entire English essay on the history of the ferris wheel to Mina that she doesn't even notice Dahyun and Nayeon whispering to themselves.

"It's just one ride, Dahyun…"

"Unnie. Are you serious right now?" Dahyun deadpans.

Nayeon mirrors the flat glare with her own. "I am. It's not going to be that big of a deal, okay? I'm not even that far off."

"And if you start vomiting again they're gonna get suspicious already!"

"It's a ferris wheel, Dahyun. Who gets sick in that?"

"Pregnant women do. And those with motion sickness."

"Well, I'm not the other one, and like I said, not far off as well, so it's good, okay? I can...push it down." 

"That is disgusting." Dahyun frowns. "Are you actually gonna risk this much just because unnie's whining like a kid again?"

Nayeon sighs. She glances over at Jeongyeon, who has now evolved into flailing her arms and gesturing over the wholeness of the ferris wheel, nearly hitting Mina's face in the process, and turns back to Dahyun, "She's happy, okay? I don't want to take that away from her, Dahyunnie."

Well there's no point in arguing anymore to that. 

The ferris wheel slows down in front of them and the conductor opens the entrance and exit gates for the next batch of riders.

Nayeon reassures Dahyun one last time, "It's gonna be alright, okay? Besides. It's called morning sickness for a reason."

Dahyun forces herself to believe her unnie. 

She really shouldn't have. 

 


 

"Oh my god, is she going to be okay?"

"Isn't that Nayeon sunbaenim?"

"They shouldn't have let her ride if she was sick…"

"WALK AWAY, PEOPLE. JUST. WALK AWAY." Dahyun acts like the street enforcer, signalling for the passing students and outsiders to continue on with their lives and not mind the girl puking her guts out on the bushes.

The sounds of Nayeon's hurling nearly makes Sana want to vomit too, so she's out of the picture along with Mina and Momo, and preparing their picnic mat by the quieter end of the field instead.

Jihyo's watching with a pained yet scrutinizing gaze that has Dahyun slightly worried the gears in her unnie's head are perfectly running already and connecting the dots.

Eventually, Nayeon ends up vomiting nearly her entire insides out, and Jeongyeon, ridden with guilt and worry, runs off to buy any sort of medicine from the nearest pharmacy, in spite of both Nayeon and Dahyun's declining efforts, leaving the two with one less person to lie to.

Unfortunately for them, it's the hardest one.

"Nayeon, tell me what's wrong." Jihyo isn't asking anymore. She's demanding Nayeon tell her. "You've been like this far too long for me to believe this is all just a stomach flu."

"It's really nothing, Jih." Nayeon, though, finds it much easier to lie than Dahyun, who just keeps her silence the entire walk to where Sana, Momo, and Mina are waiting for them.

Jihyo snorts at that. "You expect me to believe that bullshit?" 

"Jihyo, I said it's nothing."

The last time Dahyun saw Jihyo and Nayeon argue, it was at the parking lot. Until now it traumatizes Dahyun deep in her bones.

Everyone sitting by the mat witnesses the cold exchange and the sudden drop in the atmosphere when they arrive. Nayeon settles far away from Jihyo as much as possible, busying herself with wiping at the corners of her mouth with a napkin.

Mina, Sana, and Momo look like three lost puppies, wary to say anything in fear of brooding up a storm, yet entirely confused and worried as well. Dahyun just wants the ground to swallow her whole. 

Across sits Jihyo, just watching intently every move Nayeon does. Dahyun pretends she's seeing things when their leader's gaze drops to Nayeon's stomach. Her expressions flicker from frustration to exasperation, and then to absolute concern. Dahyun feels like she's standing on the middle ground of a battlefield, and with how Jihyo looks at Nayeon like her head's coming up with a thousand battle strategy plans all at once, she feels like this'll be the end of her too. 

Dahyun hopes what she's thinking isn't the same as what Jihyo is, because what's in her mind right now is a test Nayeon might not know about, and even if she does, she's inclined to fail one way or another, and she just prays Jihyo doesn't use that on them. Because if she does, they'll be done for it.

"Nayeon. One last time." Jihyo makes a move and Dahyun shuts her eyes in defeat. Checkmate. 

"Are you sure you don't have anything to say?" Jihyo's tone drops to a softer one, the kind that mothers use on their children to psychologically manipulate them into telling the truth. "We won't judge."

Dahyun watches as Nayeon finally moves her gaze to meet Jihyo's across the picnic mat, and under the perfect moonlight she sees the sad glimmer of tears that well up in her unnie's eyes. 

Nayeon looks like she's about to give in. But she bites her lip hard and shakes her head. 

Jihyo stares at her for a good second before resulting into her final move. 

"Then let me ask you one last thing…"

She grabs the beer and pushes it over to Nayeon.

"Can you drink that for me?"

Nayeon breaks there.

(Dahyun finds out later on Jihyo saw the test in the rattan trash bin inside the bathroom they used last night.) 

All of them are rendered speechless at the sight, more so when Jihyo ends up crying as well. Mina, Momo, and Sana are frozen in place, lost in thought and words.

"What is going on?" Sana asks first, saccharine voice laced with deep apprehension. 

Momo's on the verge of tears too. "What's happening?" 

But Jihyo tries to ignore them, focusing on her best friend in front of her. "Nayeon-ah…please…." 

Mina's the last to break. "Nayeon? Whatever you tell us, we'll be here, okay? So please." 

Jihyo gulps down and wipes at her tears. "Nayeon." She takes in a deep breath and finally asks, "Are you...are you pregnant?" 

"I—"

"You're what?" 

Jeongyeon wasn't supposed to be there. She wasn't supposed to hear. She wasn't supposed to come back so soon, carrying a plastic bag of medicines in her wake, hearing the part she wasn't supposed to. At least not yet.

And Nayeon's drained, tired deep in her bones, but she pushes herself up to a stand, and staggers over to Jeongyeon. But Jeongyeon's only looking at all of them gathered together, own expressions of shock on their faces and tears smearing their glorious smiles and twinkling eyes, and it clicks on her the answer before Nayeon can even reach out for her.

"J-Jeongyeon...N-No! Wait—"

But Nayeon can't run the extra mile anymore, not in her state, when she's this exhausted and leaning to Jeongyeon was her only source of balance.

She falls on the ground. 

The last thing Dahyun sees through her tears is Jeongyeon running away and Nayeon begging for her to come back. 

 


 

They all help Nayeon up, because she's been crying for too long and everyone's beginning to worry. 

Jihyo coaxes her to stop and catch her breath, wiping at her tears with the back of her hand. Mina and Momo stand by her side, dusting off the grass pelts and dirt sticking on her legs and hands. Dahyun and Sana stay in front of her, Sana gently tucking away the strands of hair sticking on her face and Dahyun holding up a water bottle ready for her unnie. 

All of them are in their own state of shock from the news, but somehow they find it in them to push it aside and take care of Nayeon first. It's been half an hour since then.

"We should go back to the dorms and have you rested", Jihyo says, voice strained from the physical and emotional exhaustion. 

Nobody comments about that anymore and Nayeon simply remains quiet, eyes puffy and lips still bloodshot red, staring into the unknown. 

Mina and Dahyun clean up their picnic mat, carrying the untouched food with them while Sana dusts the mat and returns it to the renting station and Momo's the one who brings their trophy.

They all walk to the dorms in heavy silence. 

It's an odd sight to see. Six girls walking down the near-desolate pathway under the muted streetlights, shoulders sagging and faces looking like they just lost something when the trophy they carried said otherwise. 

Every familiar face they pass by makes an attempt at congratulating them but the gloom of the atmosphere the girls carry around is enough to make them back out.

The dorms are quiet and nearly empty, with the fair still living the last hour of its activity and students relishing their once-in-a-lifetime welcomed liberation by partying away or heading to the nightclub lane.

They all take the elevator up to the fourth floor in silence. No one knows why they do, but there's a magnetic pull that tells them to do so. 

When the doors slide open, the first thing they see is Yoo Jeongyeon. 

That's why.

Nayeon's breath hitches at the sight, and it sends a forceful yank at Dahyun's heart seeing her Jeongyeon unnie looking so distraught, the color of her shirt soaked with tears and her face all red and puffy.

"J-Jeongyeon?" 

At the mention of her name, Jeongyeon snaps out of her staring. "I…can we talk?" She looks down on the floor and kicks at the carpet. "I...I'm sorry I just ran off like that. I didn't—"

But before she can even finish, there's a weight that launches at her and wraps her in an embrace, as if holding on for dear life. It feels like the oxygen has been pumped back into their systems and just simply seeing the sight of the two together makes everyone feel like they can do this, they can try to. 

The elevator doors try to slide close but Jihyo presses the button again. "You guys should talk. We should all talk.”  

And they do. 

It's been so long since they gathered in Nayeon and Jeongyeon's room. There's a familiar feel to it yet also, an entirely new sensation. Maybe it's because there used to be three beds pressed together there and now there's only two, and there used to be a lot of traces of Chaeyoung around, from the only pair of shoes she owns, to the hoodie and the grandma dresses, and now everything is spot-on clean and almost de-personalized. 

When Dahyun looks at her unnies, she doesn't see the same kind of longing in their eyes when they enter. She doesn't see the same kind of wonder and unfamiliarity in their actions. This awfully looks like they don't feel the same way she does, don’t see the same state of incompleteness. 

It makes Dahyun wonder, maybe I am the only one who’s still holding on to the thought of Chaeyoung? 

They all seemed to have found their own closure with her. They all seemed to have let go of the hope that she’d still return.

Dahyun thinks. Should I too? 

She doesn’t dwell on it too much. It’s been an awfully tiring night filled with worrying and thinking and it’s just about to get more exhausting with the group meeting underway, so Dahyun takes a deep breath and pushes the thought to the side. She’ll deal with it when she can. For now, it’s all about Nayeon. 

 


 

It must be because they’re whole life they spent it fighting each other that they don’t argue anymore with this even though technically speaking, this is the only time arguing about the situation would look understandable. 

Jeongyeon and Nayeon don’t fight. They don’t throw harsh words at each other’s faces. Not because their best friends are in the same room too, witnessing the moment, but because they’re all tired and...and well, there’s really nothing they can anymore. 

Jihyo’s gotten her shit together, wiped away some snot here and there, tightened her ponytail, fixed the creases of her skirt, and got up to mediate the meeting like the leader that she is.

They treat this like it’s some sort of formal issue with the school because frankly, that’s the only way they know how to deal with the situation. 

“How far are you now?” Sana asks. She’s sitting on Jeongyeon’s bed with Momo fighting sleep beside her. “Was mama the one who found out first?” 

Nayeon nods at that, looking down. “I guessed about five to six weeks.” 

“So...at the party?” 

It’s harder when it’s Jeongyeon who asks, and her concerns aren’t targeted at the life Nayeon’s carrying but rather, towards whoever’s the biological father. 

“Yes.” 

There’s a long trail of silence there. They all had their own separate worlds at the party. Momo and Sana were (they only found out later on) too busy trying to suck each other’s faces off at one of the bathrooms; Dahyun was running around drunk; Jihyo didn’t even try to attend. It was only Mina, Jeongyeon, and Nayeon who knew what was going around, who were within each other’s reach. 

“Would you tell us...who?” Mina’s been awfully silent the entire time. Dahyun thinks it’s the weariness but a part of her also believes it’s some sort of guilt, from the party leading up to tonight. Mina’s probably thinking about all the times she could’ve been there to help, but had unknowingly chosen not to. 

“I…” Nayeon trails off, and then looks over at how Jeongyeon’s flinching at the mere thought. She draws out a deep breath. “Maybe next time?” 

Next time. 

They settle into an agreement after that. Jihyo strategically devises a plan where she makes sure Nayeon has someone with her always. After this week, they’re going to be returning to their normal student lives and living that for a few more months before graduation. 

Nayeon has to hold it out until that. Whenever Jeongyeon and Momo have practice, Mina and Sana are to keep an eye on Nayeon and help her out at all cost. During classes and breaks, it’s Jihyo who’s in the nearest classroom, so she’ll manage that. All the other times outside of those, Jeongyeon will be there. 

Dahyun tries to ignore the painful pricking at her chest when her name isn’t mentioned. This isn’t something she should complain about. She should be thankful her unnies are all supportive, and that they’re going to do this together. 

Dahyun shouldn’t feel like she’s nothing. She has something too that they don’t. 

She was the first one to know about her little bro. 

“Tell us if something’s wrong, okay? Please, Nayeon?” Jihyo finally ends the meeting there. It’s near twelve in the midnight and everybody’s exhausted. 

Nayeon nods quietly. Jeongyeon shuffles closer to her and wraps an arm around her shoulders, holding her tight. 

“We’ll be here. Don’t worry.” 

It’s the gesture that pulls at all of them to join. They try not to squeeze the life out of Nayeon too much, knowing  they have to consider someone else now too. 

When they hug together, it’s like a shield. They’re going to be protecting Nayeon from everything now, and helping her out the best way they can. This isn't going to be something Nayeon has to face alone. 

“Imagine how lucky the little thing’s gonna grow up”, Momo dreamily wonders in their hug. “Having all five of us as the coolest aunts ever.” 

Sana squeezes behind her, hugging tighter. “I’m gonna shower the baby with all the cutest clothes and toys in the world!”

“Mina’s probably gonna go start knitting baby mittens and socks now…” Jihyo teases, much to the little groan Mina lets out. 

(Again, Dahyun pushes aside the thorns wrapping around her chest.) 

When they let go, Nayeon’s finally smiling albeit faintly. She looks at all of her friends and thinks to herself how lucky she’s gotten, she managed to find five of the most wonderful girls in the entire world—with one of them a little more amazing than the others. 

“You know what I think though?” Nayeon trails off, right before everyone can usher their way out of the room. 

Jihyo looks over her shoulders. “What?” 

“I think the coolest aunt…” Nayeon smiles over at the person last in line. “...would be Dahyun.” 

“She won’t be an aunt. She’s too young”, Jeongyeon teases, much to the frown that plasters on the girl in question’s face. 

“Unnie!” Momo nearly shouts. “Dahyun’s gonna be an unnie or a noona.” 

“She said she’s gonna be a bro.” 

“Bro? Pfft.” Jeongyeon snorts at that. “I thought you only had one bro?” 

Dahyun thinks of Chaeyoung, and then of how Jeongyeon remembers, and then her mind drifts to the little life inside her unnie’s stomach. She thinks of nine more months, and all the hardships that would fit in between those, and comes up with one more certainty: 

“I can make room for one more, unnie.”

They all smile at that, and Nayeon feels a lot better, like a boulder had been lifted off her chest. When her friends finally leave, she’s in the comforts of Jeongyeon’s embrace again, and Nayeon thinks this is something she can do because she has all of the girls with her. And because she has Jeongyeon too.

We’ll be here is something she’d love to hear her entire life and spend another eternity trying to prove. 

Imagine how lucky the little thing’s gonna grow up having all of us together. 

 

Chapter Text

Time passed by relatively normally now. 

Dahyun used to feel as if there was something different with the way it seemed to move in her life, weaving through different ins and outs, either too fast or too slow, never in between. One moment it was quick, as if in the blink of an eye the moment was gone; the other it was slow, and it felt like a lifetime trying to get through a minute of her life. 

Classes continued on and apart from the upsurge in her popularity, a ramification of their performance and her now widely known friendship with the most popular seniors in the entire school, Dahyun’s life continued its normalcy for the most part. 

She had Earth club obligations every Monday and Thursdays now, where they like to revel in the greenery their campus provides, usually lounging by the sprawling field every morning, basking underneath the warmth of the sunlight.

The School Welcoming Committee used to meet sporadically but given how it was nearing the end of the calendar already and preparations for the next year were beginning, the frequency of their meetings began picking up as well, spanning from Fridays after class hours to Mondays too, during lunch break. 

All things considered, Dahyun’s slipping desire to split herself in half in order to accommodate all her obligations has become a typical occurrence now. 

She’s heavily considering a lot of things, frowning on her idealistic younger self for ever thinking she could do all of this in one year because she was what? A scholar? 

Dahyun hates it—yet can’t help but love it all the same. 

All these myriad of clubs and school duties contribute their fair share in making sure her last month in Apgujeong is lived to the fullest. 

The only biggest consequence of this all is the mocking second-to-the-smallest portion in her Kim Dahyun Pie Chart of Priorities: Mina Time. 

IT’S AWFUL! IT ABSOLUTELY IS! 

It’s one thing to miss out on at least six hours of sleep and blatantly turn down Jihyo’s new “BEAR HUG MINUTE” (something she formally inaugurated in one of their group meetings–this time held in Sana and Momo’s no-longer-mysterious room–after one particular health class had her studying about the benefits of a hug for nearly a week); it’s an entire other, bigger issue when it’s missing Mina Time, just existing in Mina’s space and getting the honor of hugging (and sometimes, kissing, whichever she prefers. Mina’s given her the power to choose) whenever she wants to. 

It didn’t help that winter break came and Dahyun made the mistake of trading more dorm time with spending Christmas Eve at home, under the pretense of more quality time with her unnies before graduation, only to be left all alone when all of them turned out to have separate plans. 

Sana was cooped up in the Swiss Alps with her parents; Nayeon was wholly welcomed to join the Yoo family in their annual retreat to their farm house in Jeju;  Jihyo was staying with her family; Lastly, Momo and Mina, worst of all, spent the entire break a country away. The only means of communication Dahyun had with her unnie(s) were snail mail, hotmail, and very expensive overseas calls. 

It’s awful. It really is. 

Dahyun spent most of the break all alone in the dorm, sometimes with Jackson and Youngji whenever the two would drop by and save her from her misery. 

After winter break, Dahyun had to live an entirely different life coursing through her schedule while the seniors were already taking their final exams and preparing for graduation practices. This meant barely enough time to hold conversations with her unnies with how busy they are, and less and less Mina time. 

The older girl had been sifting through college admissions, moving out, and graduation preparations like a multitasking robot. The only time she and Dahyun could see each other was whenever Dahyun would sleep over at Mina’s dorm–which had become an unspoken habit by now given the frequency of Jihyo sleeping alone in the dorm these nights and all the things Dahyun had managed to move over to Mina’s–and even then, their conversation could only consist of Dahyun’s sleepy answers and half-lidded, drowsy smiles and Mina just loving every second she can squeeze out. 

Dahyun was running out of time with her unnies and the universe wasn’t helping at all. 

Now there’s barely anything of her stuff left in the room with Jihyo, and Jihyo’s packed up as well, half her belongings already shipped off to her new dorm near her new school. Jeongyeon and Nayeon’s rooms are cleaned off too, with Nayeon’s things moved out to where she would be staying in the summer (her grandmother’s place in Gangwon) and Jeongyeon already cleared for Stanford. 

Dahyun had managed to convince her parents to let her stay for a few more days– one week at most– before she can hop on the next train to Seongnam. 

In her last few days in Apgujeong, Dahyun wants to do anything and everything with Mina. That won’t happen if she just sits back and watches Mina get engulfed away by the waves of her other commitments. 

Dahyun won’t let that be a hindrance anymore. 

When Mina looks back on the life she lived in Apgujeong, Dahyun wants her to see nothing but to see them, all seven of them together. The smiles and tears they shared together, and how coming back isn't something they need to do for each other, but something they want to. 

When Mina looks back on the days of 1998, Dahyun wants her to remember them. And how wonderful they were together.

 


 

Operation: Best Last Days Ever is inaugurated today, first week of February 1999, by proponent Kim Dahyun, in partial fulfillment of her  requirements as the best pseudo-girlfriend ever.

This is all done with the assistance of the one and only (forced-against-his-will) Jackson Wang, who will, for the most part, be Dahyun's ride whenever she needs to go somewhere. 

Jackson's amazing but he's practically useless with all his childish whining ("Why am I even a part of this? You know I'm not close with Mina!") but he's got no choice when Dahyun's greatest ally drew the line and gave him an ultimatum ("Jackson, I swear to god, I will punch holes on all of your balls– and I mean all– if you don't help out Dahyunnie." Youngji made sure to hold up a very sharp-looking steak knife, something Dahyun didn't want to know why she had with her in the first place when they were eating at McDonald's.) 

Jackson, really, may be all buff and axe-body-spray-jockey in front of everybody else’'s eyes but he's merely like a little kitten in his girlfriend's. 

Jackson has no choice when Dahyun has Youngji on her side. They're like her non-biological school parents now, always bickering like a married couple. Jackson the fun, loser dad and Youngji the scary, cool mom. 

It's all good—until Dahyun's left with only Jackson's company for her first mission when the plan was both him and Youngji, and they've been bantering for most of the drive to Seokgwan-dong, which is about an hour and a half long now.

Jackson's plans for the evening involved running a few laps in some abandoned highway to practice for an unsanctioned street race to boast his graduation gift from his parents, an Audi 90 cabriolet.

He had other plans within those (probably win the race and go back to Youngji earning a champion's kiss), none of which included chauffeuring Dahyun to her girlfriend ("You guys kissed?" "Yeah?" "You guys only see and like each other?" "Yes?" "Then yeah. You're dating." "What? I don't–" "My little Dahyun's got a girlfriend now. Awwww. I'm so proud.").

They've been arguing about everything on their way there. From Dahyun's dress ("I just think you should've worn something more formal? Isn't it some kind of classy ballet recital or something? You look like you just celebrated your birthday party at McDonald's.") to Jackson's grandma driving ("And you seriously expect to win the race with this? Pfft. My grandma can bike faster than you, oppa.").

But alas, the heavens above must have been just as annoyed at them as they are with each other that the stereo system decides to magically play the one song that could shut them up. 

It’s amusing, the Power of Mariah Carey. One moment they were at each other’s throats and the next they're singing gloriously to Fantasy in maximum volume, feeling every beat and curl of the singer’s voice. 

"Oh when you walk by every night, talking sweet and looking fine, I get kinda hectic insiiiiiidddeee~" 

Jackson's voice is nice but it's borderline comical when he's attempting to mimic Mariah Carey. He wags his finger in the air, drawing waves to the curl of the American singer's voice. 

"Baby, I'm so into you. Darling if you only knew, all the things that flow through my miiiiinnndd~"

Dahyun's tongue is still unfamiliar with English but music is a language for everyone, so no matter how incoherent she sounds, she's perfectly on the beat and Jackson continues to hype her up.

When the chorus comes, they're both singing along at the top of their lungs, the premise looking so oddly amusing from the outside, two joyful teenagers singing to a Mariah Carey song in a very intimidating-looking car. 

It reminds Dahyun of that scene in the new Jackie Chan movie, except they're both the little girl singing to Fantasy as if her life depended on it and no one's gonna get pulled over because it's rush hour.

Eventually, four minutes of perfection ends and Jackson and Dahyun mutually agree on playing Mariah Carey for the entire ride, after finding out Jackson's secret stash of Mariah Carey albums inside the center console ("It's Youngji's." "It's a signed copy that says to Jacky, from Mariah with love." "It’s. Youngji’s.")

They arrive in Mina's campus right after Jackson belted out a nearly-perfect rendition of the whistle note from Emotions. Dahyun feels her stomach hurt from all the laughing and her palms burn from all the clapping.

Jackson manages to ask audibly, in between his tears and laughing, "What building are we supposed to go to?"

Dahyun calms herself down first before pulling out the RSVP invitation Mina had given her a few days ago, even when she was under the impression that her pseudo-girlfriend wouldn't be able to come because of her extra-curricular obligations.

It's a classy invitation, printed on scented hard paper with swirls and embossed designs. On the upper center of the page is the name of Mina's school and department (Korea National University of Arts, School of Dance), and below it are information about the ballet recital, the program it belongs to (Freshman Welcoming Week), and the theme (Giselle). 

Dahyun scans the classy invitation for the venue. She finds it on the bottom portion, right below where Mina had written her Romanized name on the blank space, in perfect script.

"It says here the theater hall facing gate 3."

Jackson cranes his neck to search for said gate, looking past flashy Acura in front of them. "Do they have reserved slots for parking?"

"What?" 

"A valet service of any kind?"

Dahyun is at a loss for words. "Are you serious?" 

"This is a big ass rich-kid university, child", Jackson says matter-of-factly, as if the invitation and the dozen of security guards roaming around, completely armed, weren't enough statements for Dahyun.

"I see that clearly , oppa." Dahyun drones, rolling her eyes. "It's just that this is a school and not a hotel with a complete five-star valet system that will—"

"OH! Found it." 

“Never mind.” 

Jackson simply laughs at the child's dumbfounded expression, jaw hanging and mouth ajar as they round the corner and stop in front of the desk with the large VALET HERE sign.

The staff assisting looked like student volunteers. Jackson hesitated giving off his keys to the guy about a year or two older, who looked like he just won a lottery at getting to drive a sports car and find a parking slot for it.

Jackson admits defeat with shaky hands and a regretful glout. Dahyun has no time to console the pouty older boy anymore because Mina's recital had begun almost half an hour ago and their nearly-two-hour drive will all be for nothing if Mina leaves before they can even watch her.

Dahyun feels a sudden jolt of nerves strike through her when she takes a look at the main lobby of the theater hall from the glass doors. She finds herself returning to an unconscious habit of picking at the sides of her sky blue sunday dress–the most formal attire in what remains of her closet in the dorm–rendered speechless at the surge of thoughts that hit her.

Entering the lobby suddenly feels like stepping into a whole new world. Apgujeong was filled with its own arsenal of snobby trust-fund kids. At most, Dahyun's gotten used to the glitz and glamour of it already. Heck, Jackson oppa is one entire embodiment of the golden-spoon life. But this, though. This is a whole new level of batshit crazy rich.

They present the RSVP invites by the front door, to the student-looking stewardess who barely bats an eye at Dahyun and instead, ogles and winks at the hunky guy behind her, also known as Jackson Wang.

Entering  the lobby is akin to stepping inside a five-star hotel. Dahyun feels immensely out of place with the looks passersby start giving her, but she registers all of that–and the natural self-consciousness that follows–after taking note of how intimidatingly beautiful and expensive the entire theater hall looks. 

It smells like green tea and a mix of everything Dahyun can't afford. There's a red carpet rolled down the center, ending in front of two bifurcated staircases at both ends of the lobby. The light from the crystal chandeliers drape golden yellow over everything. 

There are velvet ropes lining the carpet, framed pictures of different performances mounted on the wall like a museum, and a corner by the far left akin to a red carpet photo area, with a backdrop of the KNUA logo and a line of photographers taking a picture of a supermodel-looking woman in a blazer and trouser set. Huh. Must be a celebrity or something… 

Right across from where Dahyun and Jackson entered are three giant doors, each with labels directing to different theater halls, passageways lined up with people clad in extravagant clothes, as if this was a royal ball.

Dahyun takes everything in like a heavy pill obstructing her throat. It's all overwhelming, to be drowning in a see of gold, red, diamonds and  glitters. While everyone's flaunting their Versace and Moschino, Dahyun was striking out in her discount store sunday dress. While everyone smiled in pearly white teeth and red glossed lips, Dahyun couldn't even coat hers with Lipsmackers in their haste.

Everything is overwhelming, and Dahyun feels like wanting to melt into the ground–preferably where she won't ruin the red carpet. It's hard yet easy to believe this is the world Mina belonged to, where she was born into. 

Back in the dorm, Mina was simply Mina to Dahyun. Adorable gummy smiles, a meek and dorky laugh, and a silent determination for success that had her winning every game she joins. Dahyun always knew Mina was some kind of royalty by wealth. It was hard to overlook when Mina had a natural grace and elegance in every action and word, something a lot of people don't. 

They'd play Donkey Kong at Deux and Mina would sit on the stool with her back straight as a rod, posture perfect, and grip on the controllers as soft-looking as possible, yet she’d come out a champion and defeat Dahyun's high scores. They'd order large french fries to share at McDonald's and Mina would always pour her ketchup on a tissue napkin before dipping her fries. She always chastised Dahyun for barbarically emptying hers all over the container. 

No matter how simple life had become in their own little bubble, contained in the protective four walls of their dorm, Mina always exuded an aura of opulence that belonged to an entirely different world.

Most of the time, Dahyun wonders why Mina chose her. 

It’s not a question to incite self-deprecation. No. Dahyun’s learned to love herself in ways she never knew she could, all because Mina showed her there were parts to love in the first place. 

The only concern here and the reason why Dahyun asks herself the same question over and over again is because, while Mina makes sure she feels welcomed in her world–because while they both love each other very much, they aren’t each other’s entire worlds , no. They both have their own worlds that simply exist in the same universe, orbiting around their love for each other–Dahyun can’t help but wonder how far away from Mina she actually is in that galaxy. 

Mina, as far as Dahyun knew, belonged to a glamorous world. The one filled with gold and glitz, and expensive cocktail dresses and champagne and function halls packed with people whose total liquid assets could buy a whole country if they wanted to. 

Dahyun knew this but she’s never really gotten the taste of just how real it was until now. 

Until the universe decided it was an okay time to maybe show Dahyun what Mina's world was like. 

(and maybe, how Dahyun didn’t belong in it.) 

“—by the snack bar–Dahyun? Yo, kid? You okay?” 

A light tap on her forehead has Dahyun snapping out of her daze. She’s been pulled to the corner by Jackson, who is now sporting a concerned furrow of his brows and directing them at her. 

“I’ve been yapping for god knows how long and you were zoned out?” Jackson lets out an exasperated sigh, albeit playfully. Dahyun can only chuckle half-heartedly and whisper an apology. 

“Honestly though, you okay?” The older brother tone comes back, along with a caring hand on Dahyun’s shoulder. “Do you want me to buy you some water first? You look like you’ll pass out.” 

Dahyun shakes her head with a dry laugh. “I’m okay. Just. Nervous. Is all.” 

“Nervous about? Meeting your girlfriend again?” 

In another time, Dahyun would have countered the use of the term again, but now isn’t the perfect time to be troubling herself with that when there’s clearly a bigger issue at hand. 

“Nervous about this. About being here…” She trails off and takes a good look around again, at the people walking in and out of the theater halls, gravitating towards people of their kind. Then, Dahyun looks down at herself, and the small stain on the skirt of her dress that she never could scrub off. 

“This feels like the last place in the world I should be at.” 

“Why is that?” 

“I just. I don’t know?” Dahyun huffs frustratingly. “I look like I just came out of a kid’s birthday party while everyone here looks like they’re about meeting the Queen of England.” 

“Well that’s because you do look like you just celebrated a McDonald’s birthday party—" 

“You’re really not helping, oppa.” 

“Okay, fine. Look.” Jackson rests his other hand on Dahyun’s other shoulder and turns her to face him directly. “You’re not here to blend in with everyone, kiddo. You’re not here to impress them. You’re here because Mina wants you to be here. Because Mina is going to perform and she wants you to watch. You’re not here for them . You’re here for Mina. Do you get that?” 

It must be the sincerity in Jackson’s eyes, or the much-needed pick-me-up, but Dahyun kind of melts into his hold and her stiff shoulders find themselves relaxing again. It sends a small wave of tears pricking at the back of Dahyun’s eyes. She shuts them out completely, breathing in and out heavily to calm her nerves down. 

In her head, Dahyun imagines Mina, and the small jump in her steps when she shyly held out her hands that night and handed the invitation over like a child with a hand-made greeting card for her parents. There was a twinkle in her eyes when she explained about the ballet recital, and how she was playing lead. Dahyun remembers how the twinkle disappeared when she said she’d have to rain check about it. 

She never wants to see that ever again. Never wants to be the reason for when all the stars fade in Mina’s eyes. 

“Okay. I get it. You’re right, oppa.” Dahyun takes a deep breath one last time before opening her eyes. She’s greeted with a smug grin from the older boy, huffing words along the lines of, “Of course I am. Unless it’s with Youngji. Then she’s always right.”

“Don’t worry about what everybody else thinks, Dahyunnie”, Jackson ruffles Dahyun’s hair, a force of habit by now, much to the latter’s annoyance. “You’re probably like the most special guest in this place right now! The main act invited you! And because you’re dating her too. If I were you, I’d never shut up about that. Like, y’all are nothing compared to ME! Myoui Mina is MY girlfriend!” 

Dahyun would have appreciated the confidence boost more if only Jackson didn’t take it too much to heart and shouted the last lines a little too loud, enough for the people walking by to hear. 

Great. Now they think HE’S unnie’s boyfriend. 

Whatever. 

“Thank you, oppa.” Dahyun smiles faintly, grateful still. “I’ll go inside now?” 

Jackson just nods and watches over as she walks over to the middle entrance, to the main theater hall. 

He’s decided to leave this one out for Dahyun to face. Mina didn’t invite him. And besides, the snackbar has a tempting assortment of drinks and Jackson’s still very much–though he will never admit it–afraid of Mina. Word has reached him that the Japanese girl already knows who started the rumor about her being a Yakuza princess back when she moved in. 

Now this Jackson will admit: that wasn’t his greatest moment, but he still abides by his skepticism. Mina’s just too good to be true… 

On the other hand, Dahyun thinks it’s a nice push, that pick-me-up like a gentle reminder from someone who’s always been one of her greatest supporters and only wingman. 

It’s just that. Well. Everything’s easier said than done. And Jackson’s left out two very important details in that little speech of his. 

One, Dahyun and Mina are both girls. Something the world, no matter how it’s beginning to accept certain “oddities”, will never be ready to fully comprehend. 

And two, MINA. IS. NOT. MY. GIRLFRIEND. 

 


 

Jackson’s right. Again. Well, technically he is. 

After walking through the main door, Dahyun is lead inside an anteroom, where there’s a line for bag check and a student-volunteer steward going is around confirming the invitations. Through the entrance Dahyun can see more volunteers, probably walking the guests to their assigned seats. 

Speaking of assigned…

When Dahyun looks down on her invite, she sees hers on the bottom right corner: 9-G. This is weird. A few minutes ago, a woman had asked about her seat, which Dahyun remembered overhearing “H-7”. 

Maybe it’s supposed to be read backwards? 

The volunteer checking the invites is still a few people away from Dahyun, so she turns to the middle-aged couple behind her in line and asks them instead. 

“Hello, excuse me?” She tries to make herself sound the most respectful. 

Dahyun feels so small with the way they hold their chins up and look at her down. They look like the ordinary affluent couple–as ordinary as they come–with their expensive tailored attires and the jewelry the middle-aged woman flaunts 

Dahyun coughs out the last bit of her courage with an embarrassing squeak of her voice. “May I ask about the seats? Is it supposed to be read backwards?” 

The man frowns at her. Dahyun doesn’t show her invitation. Something about the couple probably being able to track her down with just the read of her name. 

“You seem lost, kid”, he finally says, showing their invitation gallantly. Dahyun thinks they probably don’t care whether a kid like her finds out their identity. Heck, they might even revel in it. They’re rich. 

“Um. This is the main theater hall, right?” 

The woman nods this time. “But this is a ballet recital. Not the free in-house play. It’s at the other hall.” 

Are they saying that… No. Dahyun, don’t think of bad things. They might just be genuinely concerned. 

“No. I’m pretty sure I’m at the right place”, She answers politely, in spite of her teeth grinding and her forced smile. “I just want to know if my seat is—"

“Look, child, there’s an usher for that”, the man says, unlike Dahyun, not even attempting to hide the impatience and vexation in his tone. “You can either wait for your turn or, if I were you, get going already or else the guards will have to be the one to usher you to the free play.” 

Why do they think I’m going to a free play—wait. 

“Are you saying that because I look like—" 

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

Dahyun doesn’t even get to give the judgemental couple a piece of it when the steward finally comes up to her and asks for her invitation. He just had to come in the perfect moment…  

She hates that she hears the couple behind her scoff, probably utter out a we-told-you-so or something. 

Dahyun hates this already. She knows she doesn’t belong here yet they do a very good job at making her feel it as well. 

“Um…” She sighs in defeat, pulling the invite out of the envelope entirely and handing it over to the steward. Because of the couple earlier, the nerves in Dahyun’s system doubles and her mind begins imagining all the possible scenarios that all have the same ending: her being kicked out. 

This is bad. Bad bad bad bad. 

“If, um, I’m in the wrong hall”, she begins to whisper, in an attempt to salvage what’s left of her pride. “Maybe you could just pretend I’m not and I’ll just walk away willingly? No need to get the guards involved, uh, sir. I can just...walk away silently. Pretend this never happened.” 

It’s embarrassing that she’s dropped herself to this. Dahyun likes to think she has at least a little bit to her name. They might not be rich and will probably never afford the champagne they serve here for free even if she works double. But still! She’s human too. Just because she’s nowhere near these people and their success and affluence, doesn’t mean they can just roll their eyes at her and assume she’s nothing but a—

“No worries, Miss Kim. You’ve actually been expected.” 

Dahyun blinks at the man, who had been stoic for pretty much the entire time he was handling the other invites until now, that is, where a welcoming expression takes up his face, accompanied by a nice smile. 

Dahyun thinks she’s seeing and hearing things. “Um. I’m what?” 

The man, whose name tag Dahyun only noticed now read Soobin, writes something down on her invite–probably to confirm it–and then holds out his cotton-gloved hand for her. “May I lead you to your seat?” 

This is weird for a lot of reasons, mainly because he’s still on the job, right? And his task was confirming invites, not ushering them inside. Which, becomes, the second weird thing. Because there’s a line . And Dahyun’s still fourth to the entrance where the actual volunteers are beginning to usher people in. 

“Um. Is this necessary?” Dahyun didn’t mean for it to come out a little too biting, but the guy must be really internalizing his amusement right now because even her tone doesn’t faze him. 

He continues to hold out his hand for a second longer until Dahyun feels guilty for making him wait and just accepts it awkwardly. 

“Uh…okay?” 

She is walked inside of the theater hall where Dahyun quickly realizes the overwhelming opulence of the lobby is little in comparison to this. The concerts and productions Dahyun has seen in the past were held in small function halls or covered event tents. This is by far the biggest she’s seen and been to, and the most palatial, with its expensive-looking lightning fixtures, the posh red velvet seats, and the intricate carvings and designs on the walls and the ceiling. 

Jackson wasn’t kidding when he said this place was a whole new level of rich. 

The man–Soobin–leads Dahyun down to the seats closer to the stage, where the tall curtains are drawn shut. There are a lot of people already seated but there are those walking around as well. Apparently, it’s the intermission and they’re getting ready for the final half of Act I. 

It’s only when Dahyun looks around again that she notices the people are looking at her. Is it because of the dress again? Ugh. Rich people are so annoying—

Dahyun shrugs their leering gazes off, knowing all too well she can’t do anything about it anymore. 

She instead moves her focus to the man who continues to walk her down the aisle, a little too far now, and then, she notices next, the velvet ropes that separate the half they’re entering in, and the rest of seats behind. 

It looks like the people seated in this area are officials and school heads. All of them vary in age but Dahyun thinks she might be the youngest in this area, with the rest either balding men or their wives. 

“Uh...am I supposed to be here?” Dahyun can’t help but wonder. She looks back and spots the couple from earlier watching her too, with an evident frown on their faces, as they get ushered a few rows behind.  They’re probably wondering too, why the hell is someone dressed in a cheap sunday dress being ushered to some kind of VIP seating area. 

The man smiles back at her and chuckles. “Yes, Miss Kim. 9-G, right?” 

Then he makes a show of pointing at the seats lining the aisle they walk down on, where there are seat names and indeed, Dahyun stands corrected. They’re in row seven now. 

Dahyun supposes the letters are for the actual seats. She counts in her head and finds her place down two more rows. Beside it she sees the back of a woman, hair cascading in soft light brown curves, shoulders clad in something white. 

The man– Soobin, Dahyun he’s got a name!–leads her to the seat and hands back her invitation with a bow of his head. Dahyun begins walking down the row until Soobin calls out for her again and frantically makes his way over. 

“I almost forgot to give you this, Miss Kim”, he’s a little breathless when he pulls out a lanyard and a laminated identification card and hands it over to Dahyun. 

“What’s this?” She looks down on the thing, turns it over, and sees for herself. 

“A backstage pass. You just show it to the guards by the gate and they’ll let you in. Tell them your name or show the invitation.” 

A backstage pass? Mina must have really pulled off some strings to—

“Oh, wait! Soobin-ssi!” 

The man turns around at the mention of his name. Dahyun’s the one walking over now. “Um. I’m not really sure how all this works but you seem to be expecting me here but Mina isn’t so uh...can you please not tell her I’m here?” 

Soobin tilts his head, probably wondering why Dahyun wouldn’t want to get noticed by the main act. 

Dahyun just chuckles sheepishly, scratching the back of her head. “It’s...it’s a surprise?” 

“Oh...okay.” Soobin nods and then makes a zipping gesture over his mouth before walking back to the entrance doors. 

Dahyun turns and begins making way to her seat, looking at the labels on the velvet chairs one by one until she spots the letter G. 

As expected, it’s beside the girl with gorgeous hair—wait. Oh! She’s the one who looks like a celebrity! 

Dahyun would have felt starstrucked even without fully knowing the person simply because she looked really breathtaking, however her surprise darted over to the placard stuck on her seat instead, with her name written in the same elegant design as the invitation card. 

Oh my god. 

“It would be such a waste if no one sat there, you know?” 

Dahyun snaps out of her stupefied staring. The voice comes from the gorgeous lady who now spares her an entertaining smile that Dahyun thinks belonged in front of a magazine cover. 

“I suppose you’re Kim Dahyun?” 

Dahyun just nods because she’s suddenly at a loss for words. This much attention from someone so ethereal up close feels a little like akin to meeting Aphrodite. 

The woman holds out a freshly-manicured hand. “Hello. I’m Erina Yamaha. Nice to meet you, Dahyun-ssi.”

Dahyun finds it odd how her gorgeous seatmate mentions her name with such familiarity, as if she’s known her from before, which is one-sided apparently because Dahyun would’ve remembered her face at least if she knew her. 

“I’m sorry if this is rude of me but may I ask if you...know me?” 

It only dawns on her how pretentious she sounded afterwards. The way she says my name just makes it sound like she knows me…

“Funny question. I usually get it asked to me. Never been the one to be asked about it. But. Well…" Erina shrugs with a chuckle again, soft and elegant. “I’ve heard nice words about you, Dahyun-ssi. My cousin has always been a sweet talker, but never this much.” 

“Your cousin…?” Dahyun racks her brain for a Yamaha but she only knows three Japanese people, none of which holds the surname. “Um. I’m sorry. You might have gotten the wrong person?” 

“No. I’m pretty sure Sharon only has one Dahyun in her life.” 

Sharon. Sharon. Sharon. SHARON. MINA! 

The realization must have been painted on her face because Erina’s laughing again and Dahyun really wants to get swallowed whole by the ground now. 

“Y-You’re Mina unnie ’s cousin?” Damn. Does looking like a goddess run in their genes?

“Yes, but we like to keep down. Don’t want to make things messy, you know?” 

Dahyun doesn’t know. 

“Uh...I’m so sorry. Mina unnie never said anything about you being here…” 

“Like I said, we like to keep it down.” Erina smiles. “But she’s said nothing but good words about you. I was almost bummed I thought you weren’t coming.” 

“I’m sorry about that.” Dahyun feels so embarrassed right now. Of all the people she meets, it just has to be Mina’s intimidatingly-gorgeous looking cousin. “This was supposed to be a surprise and unnie doesn’t even know I’m coming. I had prior schedules for tonight but they all canceled so I came as soon as I could.” 

“That’s alright. What matters is that you’re here now and Mina’s gonna stop sulking in her dressing room.” 

Mina unnie’s sulking? Awww. 

“Which reminds me. You should visit her in the intermission after Act I. I think she’s still not expecting to see you. It’ll boost her up for the next Act.” 

Dahyun simply nods. “That is the surprise, yes.” 

Erina spares her a smile–Dahyun thinks mortals shouldn’t even be allowed to see such a sight–right in time before the lights dim and the orchestra below the stage begins playing. 

Dahyun takes in a deep breath in an attempt to steady the erratic pace her heart begins running in. There’s a sort of adrenaline in her system incomparable to anything else. Maybe like a kid on Christmas eve, sleeping hastily for Christmas morning and their presents to open. That kind of excitement. 

It’s been two days since she’s seen Mina in the flesh. Has seen at all. It’s the longest ever since Winter break. Because her practices for the recital had been rigorous to say the least, and was the main act, Mina had to stay somewhere nearer to the campus, meaning away from Dahyun. 

It was the worst experience. Dahyun felt like being imprisoned in her own room (Mina’s). So to see Mina again, most especially in her element, in what she does best, makes Dahyun feel giddy and nervous at the same time. 

There’s a big chance Mina might see here and ruin the surprise, but she’ll probably be too busy enticing the crowd with her performance to do that. 

Dahyun feels a tickle of pride in her system as a smile makes its way to her lips. She’s about to see a version of Mina she’s never seen before. One that’s always been a little too good to be true. 

In front of Dahyun, as the orchestra begins playing the piece, performers flock the center in a choreographed line. The stage is designed like a magical forest with trees in the backdrop and life-size houses at the side, much like a Beauty and the Beast set. 

Dahyun scans the performers in hopes of finding Mina, but they continue to dance and glide in the air so gracefully, in sync even in their costumes, that she’s convinced this isn’t where Mina shows up yet, because she’s the main act and her costume’s probably gonna be the prettiest of them all. 

The flock of ballet dancers grace the stage first, performing simultaneously to the major piece. In the meanwhile, Dahyun takes one of the pamphlets from the pouch behind the velvet seat in front, and tries to read it in the dark. 

Giselle is a tragedy about love and betrayal performed in two acts. It’s about Giselle (Mina), a peasant girl who falls for a deceitful nobleman, Albrecht (some lucky bastard who gets to dance with Mina). He’s apparently engaged to someone else but still pursues Giselle (which Dahyun calls total bullshit on) so when Giselle finds out, she goes mad and dies. There are apparently ghosts that lure men to the forest and kill them there, which later on Giselle becomes one. However, even in death she loves him. Even after betrayal, she saves from the ghost she becomes. 

Dahyun doesn’t like the idea of it, but it’s considered an obra maestra in the ballet world so...who is she to judge the questionable storyline that’s gotten this much success? 

The performance takes a while, and Dahyun’s focus fixes itself on the orchestra and the beautiful way the instruments mesh together. She mimics the composer’s gestures with her hand, imagining she was the one there; imagining what it would feel like to be a composer or a magnificent pianist. 

Eventually, the thought makes her wonder if she’d like to pursue the thing in the future. Probably study music and play for an orchestra too. When she sees Mina in the future, all Dahyun wants is to be by her side. Being a pianist totally makes up for that. 

The music stops and the crowd applauds. Dahyun looks up and sees a different girl in a dress different from the others, a white long net skirt and a white corset long sleeve top. She’s not Mina, obviously, but she looks pretty enough to play lead to. 

They perform wonderfully together. Dahyun hasn’t seen enough ballet recitals to compare–hasn’t seen any at all–but it doesn’t take genius to appreciate art when she sees one. 

Soon, the crowd of other ballet dancers join them, and it becomes one whole big festive performance. 

And then, Mina comes out. 

Dahyun feels like her whole world had stopped spinning. 

If ethereal was a person, it would be her. Suddenly, nothing else mattered but the sight of Mina in her white lace dress, her hair tied up in a perfect bun with flowers stuck around. She looks regal and Dahyun feels like all the air has been knocked out of her system. 

Erina must have noticed because a giggle escapes her lips, and although Dahyun doesn’t realize this, she does so when she earns herself a soft nudge on the arm. When she looks over at Erina, all she gets is a cheeky little smirk. Something that tells Dahyun Erina knows a lot more than she thinks she does. 

Dahyun doesn’t get to think about it much, not when Mina begins dancing in front of her and she realizes why art is a person too. This is it. 

Mina makes spinning and throwing her legs up around look so effortless. She displays Giselle's emotions through her dance, makes everyone swoon in her chemistry with Albrecht because the crowd should fall for it too and hurt just as much. 

It's magical seeing Mina like this. Dahyun nearly tears up at the end of her first solo performance. She fights the urge to give Mina a standing ovation and just goes with the flow of seemingly-practiced applause.

The music picks up a dramatic turn after Mina's solo, as Giselle performs intimately with Albrecht.  

Dahyun nearly feels jealous of the guy. Or Albrecht. Whoever he is. He's hugged Mina more in the last five minutes, than Dahyun had ever been able to in a span of a week. And then, as if it could get any worse, Mina plays a damn good Giselle and internalizes her character's love for Albrecht so much , the ending pose they do has everyone on the edge of their seats.

Are they gonna...KISS?!

Without even realizing it, Dahyun's holding her own breath. 

Their faces are so, soooo close, all it would take is one little push and—

Another guy comes in and tears them apart. 

Dahyun's never let out such a relieved sigh her entire life. She knows it's part of the act but still. She earned Mina's kiss after a long time of hard work yet this guy swoops in and almost gets one just because it's in his role!?

Damn. Maybe I really should've finished that ballet class back in kindergarten…

There's a lot going on in front of Dahyun but all her mind can think of is the bitterness she feels towards Albrecht. Little lucky dude's already winning at life getting to hold Mina like that…

She scoffs at the sight of how Mina– Giselle –acts so desperately in love with Albrecht. 

I never wanted to be a guy so much my entire life.

Eventually, something shifts in the play and when Dahyun reels down from her jealous musing (she's not jealous), another character is introduced. It's a woman dressed in some kind of Victorian gown, very tacky and snobby-looking. She's probably the noblewoman Albrecht was engaged to.

Giselle finds out–Dahyun supposes, judging by the distraught look on Mina's face when she emotionally runs around–and then she falls. 

There's a gasp from the crowd and Dahyun resists the urge to call 911 because Mina! Fell! But then she stands up again after a rehearsed beat, in sync with the dramatic turn in the ominous-sounding piece the orchestra starts to play. 

When Mina stands and faces Albrecht, no longer does she look like the innocent and loved Giselle earlier. Mina is a beautiful mess now, hair untied from its bun and cascading in gentle waves, the flowers torn away. 

When she turns to the crowd, everybody doesn't see Giselle anymore, but a version of her that's so heartbreaking to watch.

Dahyun feels her mouth hang open in shock of the events that unfold. It feels like she's watching everything from a T.V. screen, and that these are professional actors who buoy audiences with their emotions and acting. 

For her to experience Mina like this makes Dahyun feel like the proudest person in the world. She can't believe the person on stage right now, acting and crying and dancing, is the same person she's held in her arms so many times before, who laughs at her dorky jokes and tells her secrets only between the two of them.

Dahyun watches Mina, but not the Mina she knows.

"This is the part that will define the entire show," Erina says, though both hers and Dahyun's eyes remained fixed on the performance.

"They always depict this scene as if Giselle had gone mad because Albrecht betrayed her. Because she hates him." 

"Does she not?" 

There's an almost inaudible chuckle that follows. "No, not because of that. If you were trying to depict Giselle from 200 years ago, then maybe. But you see, you don't go mad because of hate. You'd need to be completely sane to curse on someone." 

There's a shift in the music, shrilling and ominous, and Giselle springs to the other side of the stage, to Albrecht standing with dismay on his face. She holds him tight, nearly clings on him for dear life. Hands cradling his face, trembling as tears trail down.

Dahyun feels her chest twist at the sight. She convinces herself it's Giselle crying, not Mina. 

"She's not mad because she hates him. She went crazy because she was sad. She missed him so much, she was sad." 

It hits her with a blunt force. A portion of Dahyun, probably the one that's guilty for not putting effort into making ends meet, thinks maybe, just maybe, there's a part of Mina there too, sharing the tears of longing and pain with Giselle. 

That maybe the reason why Mina makes this look so heartbreakingly sincere is because it is. 

From underneath the layers of makeup and costume and rehearsed steps and in-sync counts, Mina's there, feeling the same kind of pain Giselle is in. Because, in a way, Dahyun hasn't been the best partner too. And although she's far different from the deceitful Albrecht, they both hurt the person they loved all the same. 

The realization sends a prick of tears clouding Dahyun's eyes, an almost overwhelming coiling in her chest. She looks away before anybody sees but when she turns back to the stage, it's Mina's eyes she meets soon after. Glistening underneath the stage lights, surprise hidden in a myriad of emotions she's obligated to portray.

Dahyun thinks she might be losing it too.

What drove her to insanity wasn't anger. It was sadness. 

She missed him so much. 

It drove her insane.

It lasts a small frame in time, a blink at most, and then Mina's Giselle again, and she's on the floor with everyone around her looking shocked and distraught, and the orchestra's chaos slowly fades into the silence, the curtains drawing close. 

It takes a beat of silence before the applause comes, and then the standing ovation. 

It's the end of Act I. 

 


 

Mina thinks she's lost it.

Was that really Dahyun she just saw?

No. That can't be? She said she wouldn't be able to make it and it's too far. 

But she looks so much like Dahyun…

That's it. Mina's completely fell into the depths of her insanity, warranted by complete involuntary abstinence from physical affection.

She tries not to dwell on it much. The moment she enters backstage, she's thrown into the currents of chaos, production crews pulling at her left and right for makeup retouches and costume changes. 

Mina wishes the chaos was enough to chase away her thoughts that remind her just how miserable she is, but it isn't. 

It dawns on her, while a student-volunteer scolds her for ruining her makeup, that she's crying. Shameful tears isn't part of the act streaming down her face. And it becomes even more shameful when someone asks her half-heartedly what's wrong, and she can't tell it to them because they ask seeking not for an answer. They ask just because

And Mina's still Mina, shy and reserved, not the person everyone here thinks her to be–some kind of ballet prodigy that never gets anything wrong, that is way up high there, too ethereal to be even touched–so she doesn't tell them what's wrong. Because even she can't rationalize it.

They treat her here like some kind of holy statue, meant to be encased in glass and held up on a pedestal. Nobody here talks to her past mandatory greetings and formalities. 

It makes her so sad and lonely here.

It's kind of odd. Someone else would have loved to be in her place. To be treated with such high regard that everyone's always second-guessing whether they're worthy enough to even spare her a simple hello. 

But Mina's always been used to her friends embracing her and Dahyun being there with her all the time, never more than an arm's length in distance, always a second or two away from a hug, that being this detached from everyone else makes her feel more like a monster than something beautiful

Everybody here is afraid of her. As if laying a finger on her would burn them alive.

And Mina honest-to-god really just wants someone to wrap their arms around her and tell her she can do it, because everything's been so hectic and fast-paced and people are mean with their eyes and their hushed words. 

Mina really just wants to feel human again, to be treated like one and not some kind of immaculate icon on a shrine. 

She just wants to stop. And take a minute to breathe. And maybe ask for a hug. 

One quick hug would do. Just to recharge. 

But no. 

No one's here to do that. 

They think this is all amazing and wonderful, being the center of such a fame-crazed attention storm.

Mina thinks it's just sad and lonely.

 


 

"She's marvelous, isn't she?" 

Dahyun thinks marvelous is still an understatement but she just nods, head still drowning in the image of Mina and the sadness she depicts.

"They made the right choice picking her. She portrayed everything in her own way, yet so perfectly."

"Yeah. Everything was on point. Even the score." Dahyun turns to the lady beside her, now busy reading something off the recital pamphlet. "May I ask you something?" 

Erina looks up and nods. 

"Are you a ballet dancer too? You seemed to know a lot of things about the performance earlier…?"

There's a flash of hesitation there and Dahyun kind of wants to take back the question now, but Erina's soon pulling out something from her bag beside her and handing over something.

Dahyun accepts it without much of a reluctance. It's a business card.

"Remember when I said I was really bummed I thought you weren't coming?" 

Dahyun nods with a confused little pinch between her eyebrows.

"Mina's mentioned you're a really talented pianist. And your music knowledge surpasses your age. With that kind of gift, it's hard to pass out on a chance to meet you."

When Dahyun looks down at the piece of paper, she realizes why the surname sounded familiar. 

Erina Yamaha
Co-Chairwoman of the Board
Yamaha Corporation

"I know this might rub off on you a little bad but I made the decision to come here to meet you for myself. Mina didn't ask me to come here", Erina continues, although it's the last thing Dahyun's thinking of. She's kind of too busy trying to stop herself from combusting because she's been sitting beside the heiress of the most famous piano engineers in the whole world. 

Holy shit.

And then it dawns on her, this is Mina's cousin!

Holy, HOLY shit.

Erina's in the middle of clarifying her relationship with Mina, explaining how this is absolutely not nepotism of any sorts. Mina had gotten into KNUA because of her talent, not because she was relatives with the most famous instrumentalists in the world, not because she was a Myoui. 

Dahyun had long separated the affiliation between Mina's sheer talent and brilliance from the bravura that came with her surname. Sure she was a Myoui, but she was Mina in her own right too.

So Dahyun doesn't really feel offended or anything, that Mina told about her to her successful cousin. It's not using her connections too. Her cousin had the choice to come here and meet her, and she chose it.

If anything, it makes Dahyun feel more guilty. While she was moping around doing nothing but complaining and whining about Mina's absence, Mina had been doing all of this and more, and still thought of Dahyun.

Where else would you find someone with so much love and selflessness inside of her? 

Nobody here is any luckier than Dahyun herself. Somehow, Mina's fallen in love with her.  That might just be the greatest mystery of all.

"Dahyun-ssi, are you okay?" 

Dahyun's bubble of thoughts pop away. "I…uh. Yes. I'm...I'm alright."

She takes a good look around the theater hall, how most of the people are roaming around or walking out to grab some snacks or take a breather from the emotional performance.

Dahyun remembers what she has to do. 

"Can I just...excuse myself first?" She asks politely, to which Erina nods. 

"Oh yeah. Yes, sure." She smiles, and then stands up and points over to a direction beside the stage, where two huge men stand in front of black curtains. "The backstage is over there. Just show your pass or invite."

Dahyun nods, utters a quick thank you to the older woman, and proceeds to walk away.

 


 

"You have five more minutes 'til the curtains go up. Do you want anything to eat?" A stage manager drops by Mina's makeup area. She's a senior and probably the only one who treats Mina with the closest semblance to humanity, the only one who has had the courtesy to at least not sound half-assed. 

Mina shakes her head. She isn't hungry for any food right now. 

"Anything else you'd like?"

Would it be okay if I asked for a hug? 

Mina's silent for a few seconds longer, and the senior takes it as an answer and goes, much to Mina's dismay. 

Oh my god. I'm willing to ask strangers for hugs now. Just to get my shit together. I've officially reached my lowest point.

She's left all alone again, feeling more and more desperate for something, anything to remind her she's human too.

 


 

The question comes back in Dahyun's head. Why did Mina choose me? 

Standing in line for the backstage, getting eyed suspiciously by all the people frantically running around, Dahyun knows she doesn't belong here.

She doesn't belong in a fast-paced world, with all its glitz and glamour. She doesn't belong here. But a part of her knows, she wouldn't last a day in any other world that doesn't have Mina in it.

At her turn, the security guards eye her more scarily, as if their gazes have x-ray visions and they're making sure Dahyun isn't carrying any kind of weapon.

When she presents her the pass along with her invitation card, it's like a switch was flipped. Their scrutinizing gazes turn into something akin to apologetic. Like Dahyun is carrying some kind of weapon and she's holding them at gun point.

They let her in immediately. Someone even offers to show her around but Dahyun quickly declines. She's just here for Mina.

The backstage is as chaotic as Dahyun imagined it would be. Behind the glamour and magical set lies the people who work hard to make things look perfect. They're the ones accountable for what people would see as nearly impossible to make by hand. Dahyun always appreciated the backstage people a little bit more. She was one of them after all.  

Unfortunately, this place was always the most chaotic part of a production. And amidst all this pandemonium, Dahyun's small, lithe appearance is almost invisible to everyone else. They can't bother to help her anymore when they've got a lot of other things to handle. 

Dahyun has to navigate this place all on her own. Because she's always loved a great adventure and has excelled in her investigative skills (with the help of her many Nancy Drew and Geronimo Stilton collections), Dahyun follows the route of where there are less people. 

They need to give the artists some space, right?

Dahyun walks down the makeshift corridor, trying to avoid the hasty set crews and the rushing managers directing instructions.

It all feels like a game of try-to-make-it-out-alive, and Dahyun's just thankful she's got a little bit of agility in her system to make it out in one piece, to a more peaceful end of the makeshift corridor where the other dancers sit in front of makeup mirrors all lined down in one row.

Dahyun looks like a creep checking each and every makeup mirror looking for Mina.

She feels like losing faith and asking one of the coordinators instead when a stage manager reminds everyone of the last three minutes until showtime. And then—

"Mina-ssi?"

 


 

Mina thinks this is a new all-time low for her.

"Mina-ssi?" Minhyuk,  who plays Albrecht, stands leaning by her makeup mirror, all ready for Act II.

When she sees him there, a part of her wants to scream at the idea, because he's all manly and sturdy and not the soft, warm kind Mina longs for. 

Minhyuk isn't really someone she would like to be friends with. Backstage gossip tells her he's snobby and only treats people he thinks are at the same level as him with a tinge of goodness, in return for the attention he gets when he's seen with them, hence Mina. 

Mina doesn't like the idea of hugging Minhyuk, or asking for one from him. He probably smells like he's showered in Creed and axe body spray. However, desperate times call for desperate measures. And it doesn't even have to be a hug. A tap on the head or the shoulder is fine. Just. Something to remind Mina she exists, and she's here. She'll do okay.

"Minhyuk-ssi? Uh…" Mina takes a deep breath, stands up from where she's seated in front of her makeup mirror. She's careful not to get her net skirt caught on something. "Can I...Can I ask you for something?"

It's so predictable of him to look smug about it. Suddenly, his eyes are brightening with interest and his eyebrows are raised. He tries to hide his smirk but Mina thinks he's not even putting much effort into it.

It’s ridiculous, Mina snaps out of her desperation. 

"Never mind", she shakes her head. She might be better off feeling hollow than probably feeling something else from this guy. 

Mina expects him to walk away after that but he stays there rooted in his place and just stares at her, as if watching and waiting for her to change her mind, but that's not going to happen.

Guys so full of themselves are the worst kind.

"Oh come on, Mina-ssi. What was it?" 

Then, he takes a dangerous step closer.

Mina turns to look at her reflection on the mirror. She's all glammed up now, as if she hadn't just lost her mind earlier and cried a few minutes ago.

"Nothing, Minhyuk-ssi. Thank you though."

Mina thinks if he took another step, she would've just swung the chair at him. She's a dangerous combination of sad and lonely, so there's really no surprise if she actually does lose her mind here and start swinging chairs at annoying people. Most of all, boys full of themselves.

"Are you sure, Mina?" And he has the audacity to lose formalities. "I don't mind returning some favors if it's for you."

He takes a dangerous step closer again and Mina readies her grip on the back of the chair. If he takes one more step, she's gonna go full-on ballistic here.

She shuts her eyes first, tries to cling on the last thread of patience she has.

"Look, Minhyuk-ssi. Please. Forget about it. I was just gonna ask for help with a scene but I think I figured it out now so it's okay."

There's a second of silence there–as silent as a production backstage can get–and Mina thinks Minhyuk might have actually quit his little act by then, so she opens her eyes warily and sees through the reflection of her mirror, not the sight of a toned man in leotards, but a girl with new jet-black hair, clad in a blue sunday dress.

Mina shuts her eyes again. 

"Oh my god. This is just annoying now." She grumbles, feeling a bad migraine.

"Unnie?"

And it sounds just like her! 

"This isn't even funny anymore.” Mina groans. “Please. Please. Not now. Not here.” 

She doesn't even know who she’s begging to. Probably the real religious icons people should be worshipping. 

She utters a quick prayer, hoping she’s religious enough they hear, hoping she's not crazy and hallucinating now; but when she opens her eyes, the girl’s still there, standing, waiting , and it takes an incredible amount of self-control to stop Mina from outright breaking down then and there.

“Is that...really you, Dahyunnie?” 

Mina can only look through the reflection of the younger girl from her mirror, glowing under an arch of warm white light bulbs. She can’t help but fear that turning around would wake her up from whatever kind of daydream this is, and that Dahyun will fade away in front of her and she’ll be left all alone again. 

It takes about a split second and an entire heart beat before Dahyun–or the product of Mina’s extremely stressed-out mind and painfully-longing heart–takes the first step. And then another. And another. Until she’s about the same height as Dahyun would have actually been standing right beside Mina, just a few inches smaller, and Mina revels in the precision of her stress-ridden mind because goddamn . It actually looks just like her...

But this isn’t the time to be breaking down in front of her lover’s ghost. 

Over ghost-Dahyun’s shoulder, a stage manager shouts in the general direction of the backstage crew, they have two minutes ‘til showtime. The dancers better be in place! 

It saves Mina. At least she thinks it does. She turns to the direction of Dahyun’s ghost, closes her eyes, reels in the momentary blackness of everything, and prays when she opens them there’s a poof! then whoever this is will disappear and return to the fibble, distracted, and intensely exhausted imagination of her Dahyun-less mind—

But when she opens them, doe eyes still stare at her like a doting little puppy, and Mina’s desperate for her consciousness now so she brings up a hand and, as a last attempt, tries to slap the hallucination away, when fingers wrap themselves around Mina’s wrist and her eyes nearly roll out of their sockets because ghosts shouldn’t be able to come in physical contact with humans, right? 

They end up staring at each other for a few seconds, then Mina curiously darts her gaze between the girl in front of her and hand holding her wrist. 

It feels so real. This is so cool.

“Unnie? Are you...okay?” 

And she sounds so real too…

Mina doesn’t feel her hand getting pulled away and another being held. 

“Unnie. Surprise?” 

Then, she’s being pulled closer but just enough that nothing in her costume gets creased 

“Can I...Can I hug you?” 

And then, there it is. 

Two arms wrap themselves over her shoulders, pulling her in. Then there’s the familiar scent she’s long categorized in her head as home , floral and powdery engulfing Mina whole and drowning her in, and then the overwhelming warmth and a heartbeat softly against her chest.

It dawns on Mina. This isn’t a dream. 

And just when it does, the stage manager comes running to tell them it’s the last minute until curtains draw. 

Mina wants to cry. 

“Dahyun-ah? Is this really you?”

She nuzzles her nose into strawberry-scented black hair.

It feels like time has stopped and the world stood still in its axis. Mina had been hugged before, countless times, but the feeling had dissipated the longer the days weaved into nights and the more flashes of light found attention on her face and her name. 

In this moment, Mina feels like air is being pumped back into her system. Her heart had finally found its beat, following the same rhythm of the one pressed over hers. When her arms find each other on the small of Dahyun’s back, suddenly, everything’s okay again. Her mind’s at peace. Nothing else matters but this.

She feels her body melt into Dahyun’s, muscles losing their tension and her squared shoulders sagging in relaxation. 

There is no other place in the world where Mina would want to be but Dahyun’s embrace. Inside the soft warmth and protection of her presence, around the beauty of her soul. 

Mina falls in love a little more. 

She never, ever wants to let go now. 

“Unnie. You have to go.” 

But it’s Dahyun who has the right and sound mind here, capable of making the better decision for the both of them. Because unlike her, Mina’s mind runs on one name and one name only: Dahyun, Dahyun, Dahyun. And she can pretend to ignore the inevitable presence of the stage manager all she wants, glaring at her from the end of the room , but nothing’s going to happen and she still has to go. 

“You have a show to finish, unnie”, Dahyun chuckles into Mina’s ear. It sends a wave of goosebumps down Mina’s arm. 

She feels Dahyun trying to pull away gently. She lets her, but tries to chase after the hug still. One more minute. One more touch. One more second with you, please.

Unfortunately. 

“It is you.” The realization comes out in a breathless whisper, filled with unabashed wonder at what feels like a miracle of the universe. It’s going to be you. 

Mina wants to lean in and press the softest, hardest, longest kiss on Dahyun’s lips, but the stage manager looks like she’s on the verge of blowing up at Mina and she can’t really get in trouble now, for wanting a second longer to be with the person she loves. 

“I have to go.” She wants to cry, she really does. 

Dahyun holds back the chuckle and amusement at seeing the frustration on Mina’s face build up into a childish pout. 

“You go, unnie.” She lets go of Mina’s hands, and Mina fights every fiber of being to chase after that too and maybe hold Dahyun a little more. 

The stage manager clears her throat.

Mina jogs over but not without sparing Dahyun one last look, a smile, the most genuine she’s felt for the past week. She feels light, like she can breathe again. 

“Good luck, unnie! Make everyone fall in love with you too.”

Mina just laughs at that because of course. Of course Dahyun would ask for that, for everyone to see what she sees in Mina, which is a mystery because how can she find so much room in her to fill with love? How can she find so much space in Mina to fill with light and happiness? It’s such a mystery to her how someone could love her so much and still ask the world to do the same. 

It’s even funnier how Mina would gladly do everything Dahyun would ask her too, even if she has no idea how and what for. One wish and she’d grant, even if it meant showing the best of her to other people when it’s supposed to be just for Dahyun to see. 

Just the thought of Dahyun in the crowd, watching her, makes Mina feel greatly pressured yet thrilled to perform. The younger girl had gone out of her way to be here and to see her. 

Dahyun’s here for her and it’s all Mina could ever want. 

 


 

(Dahyun wonders why Mina chose her. 

Mina thinks: it’s because you were there and you held me when nobody else wanted to.)

 


 

Another hour and a half passes by before the recital ends, and Dahyun rushes up to the backstage again to greet Mina after the performers take their final bows to the audience. 

She has a wide, proud grin on display, ready to greet Mina with. Beside her are a couple of students from the university paper ready for an interview with the star and a couple of costume and makeup stylists prepared to usher Mina back to the dressing rooms first to get her out of the gorgeous gown they made her dance in. It looks like it weighs a ton. 

When the curtains finally draw close and Mina enters backstage alongside her co-dancers, she’s carrying the biggest bouquet Dahyun has ever seen in her entire life, probably filled with an assortment of expensive flowers, and a teary smile on her face. 

Dahyun thinks she’s seeing things when she notices how Mina’s smile widens tenfold, eyes crinkling under the lights of the stage, when they finally see each other again. 

It doesn’t even take a second more before Mina’s running up to her and their bodies collide in one messy, giant hug, knocking Dahyun’s breath away quite literally.

“You did so good, Minari.” Not calling Mina unnie is something Dahyun’s been practicing these days, because Mina complains about the term making her feel old sometimes and Minari doesn't sound so bad. 

Mina smells like green tea. New. “Thank you, baby. You were amazing too.” 

When they pull away, Dahyun feels the hairs on her nape stand, the gaze of everyone around them burning holes on her body. Mina doesn’t look like she cares one bit, so Dahyun tries, for the older girl’s sake, not to care too. 

“Amazing? Warming my seat?” Dahyun puffs incredulously. “I nearly embarrassed myself in front of your cousin , you know.” 

At the mention of the word, Mina’s eyes widen and an apologetic expression takes up her face. “Oh my gosh. I forgot to tell you about that! I’m so sorry…”

“It’s okay. It was fun meeting her. I think she just offered to talk over some more about your family’s music manufacturing empire and its plans on ‘not wasting my talent’.” 

Mina shrugs. “Well, we’re not closely affiliated with that company. She’s my cousin from my mom’s side and they have a world of their own.”

“Oh. Interesting. Myoui family drama.” 

“Whatever”, Mina snorts at that with a playful roll of her eyes,  nudging Dahyun’s shoulder as they make their way through the crowd of set designers and performers, to Mina’s makeup corner. 

“I’m gonna go change real quick and then meet you outside?” The older girl turns, before they get separated by Mina’s stylists waiting for her. 

Dahyun remembers the crowd of photographers and students from the school paper waiting for the ballerina outside, probably itching for a photo or an interview. “Don’t you have paparazzi and an after-party to attend to, Miss-star-of-the-show?”

If anyone else were to call Mina that, she would have outright rolled her eyes in annoyance but this is Dahyun, and she has not a single fiber of ill-intention in her system. And besides, she loves the girl. 

“I’d probably have to answer the ones for the school paper and show up for a few photos with the cast and the directors but after those I think I’m good to go? I don’t have the energy to attend whatever formal after-party they plan to have.” 

“Isn't it common courtesy for the star to show up at least for a short while?” 

" On any other day, I would gladly smile for hours and entertain strangers with a bad drink in my hand, but I’m so tired, Dahyun-ah. I’m exhausted. This is draining the life out of me. I’d take my chance and run away as fast as I can, far from here. If you asked me right now to live on a remote island with you, I’d say yes in an instant.”

Under the glimmer of the glorious lights and the golden hues around them, Dahyun sees the real Mina trying to fight its way out of the makeup and the costume. She hears the exhaustion laced in Mina’s tone, and the way she doesn’t even feel apologetic about it because she’s just so drained.

They’ve taken so much of her. 

“Okay.” Dahyun just plasters on a faint smile for the both of them. “Our place then.” 

“Our place?” Mina asks, lips curving to mirror Dahyun’s. A sudden bright to her weariness. “I like the sound of that.” 

Our place. I like the sound of it too. 

Dahyun just nods, grabs the bigger one of Mina’s gym bags hanging on the pillar of her chair, slings it over her shoulder with a huff, and heads off with a quiet excuse, shoving herself into the throng of celebratory body-high-fives and backstage people still coming down from their we’re finally done! highs. 

 


 

The only thing that makes everything bearable is the thought of coming back home with Dahyun at the end of the night. 

It’s distracting Mina, Dahyun's the only thought floating freely in her head right now. Thankfully she’s mastered the art of perfecting a smile and a sensible response even with other things in her mind. 

She thinks of cuddling Dahyun while answering properly when she gets asked about her dancing skills and what she feels about being considered some kind of prodigy in the incoming batch of freshmen entering the dance program. 

She thinks of how amazing it would be to end the night in Dahyun’s arms, while getting photographed with Minhyuk (a little too close for her liking) as well as with the directors and managers.

Mina thinks of Dahyun, and suddenly everything else is bearable. 

 


 

“So, what does it feel like dating a celebrity?” 

The question is funny and supposedly asked out of her humor. Jackson teases because he’s afraid of his pending doom. Mina’s looming near. Dahyun gives him this one. 

“There’s very little glamor to it”, she responds, hoping her tone is lighthearted enough not to be taken so seriously, but the lack of a chuckle says very much otherwise. 

“You gotta get used to it, kid. Mina’s just gonna get even more famous after this.” Jackson takes a swig at the root beer he bought from the snack counter. “I mean, she’s rich, pretty, smart, kind. Everyone’s gonna want her and you’re going to have to learn how to share.” 

“I hate it that you make it sound like she’s some kind of toy, oppa”, Dahyun scowls. “And if I didn’t know better, you sound like you want a piece of her too.” 

“Pfft. We met eyes earlier. Did you see the glare she gave me?” 

A chuckle bubbles at the pit of Dahyun’s throat there. “She isn’t the most fond of you…” 

“I can see that perfectly.” 

“So, what does it feel like being disliked by a celebrity?” 

Jackson rolls his eyes at the question. “There’s very little glamor to it.”

 


 

Mina doesn't have a single cell in her body capable of hating someone. Goodness runs in her soul like blood does to her body. That, however, doesn't excuse disliking a person and while it's normally a small shot, a very rare occurrence, it still happens. And while Dahyun can count with one hand all the people Mina had frowned at with a bit of ill-intention, she's never, in her entire time in Apgujeong, expected one of them would be Jackson Wang.

Two of the people Dahyun treasures the most in her life and Jackson just happens to end up in the unfavorable end of the spectrum for Mina Myoui.

It took the younger girl a lot of coaxing and promised extra cuddles for Mina to relent being in the same car as Jackson.

Jackson, for the most part, just stays by his side, far away from the ballerina, probably thinking about his life insurance and would it cover death by Mina Myoui's icy glares. He'd have to give a call to the family lawyer later just to make sure.

Dahyun doesn't even have the heart to feel bad about it. It's just too amusing seeing Jackson this anxious around someone who can't even kill an ant for her life, and Mina normally composed and gentle be this scary and cold around someone twice her size.

This is so fun!

"Jackson, eyes on the road." Mina sits shotgun because she can and Dahyun insisted, also because this is too entertaining to miss out on. 

"Yes, ma'am." Jackson's voice squeaks, and Dahyun snorts because laughter's bubbling at her throat and she doesn't have the strength to hold it in. 

In the rearview mirror, Jackson glares at her. 

Dahyun coughs out the laugh because Jackson's probably about to shit his pants right now and this is too mean of her, so Dahyun does what does best: help people make amends!

"Unnie", She shuffles to the middle backseat. "Jackson oppa is really sorry for what he did to you. He didn't mean to start anything."

Mina scoffs, crossing her arms over her chest. "He can say that himself."

"Oppa, just say you're sorry—"

"In my defense!" Jackson raises a dictative finger, completely ignoring Dahyun. "You were a mystery, Miss Myoui. And I was genuinely curious so I tried to think of every possible scenario and that just seemed the most reasonable!"

"That was the best thing you could think of?"

Dahyun watches the exchange like a ping pong match. "Oppa. Please. Don't even—"

"Mina-ssi, if you look at it from our point of view—"

" Your point of view should be on the road. Eyes on the road."

Jackson looks in front immediately. "As I was saying—"

"Stop talking."

"Let me speak, woman!"

Dahyun lets out the loudest of groans, enough to get the childish bantering to stop. "Guys, please! Can you both just forgive each other and move on?" 

There's an indignant huff and Dahyun knows it's Mina's. She's never really held a grudge against someone but because of the stupid Yakuza rumor Jackson accidentally spread, everyone in school immediately avoided her like the plague. It didn't help that making friends was naturally a hard task for her. It also didn't help when she got dragged into the issue between Jeongyeon and Nayeon. 

"Unnie", Dahyun tries to use that doting tone Mina always gets soft for. 

She holds a hand out and rests it on top of Mina's shoulder. "What this loser oppa did was awful, I know. But he helped me a lot when I was really sad and confused about my feelings for you. Sure he thought I liked Jeongyeon unnie at first. Even offered to set me up at with someone else at one point—"

" What."

"But that's not the point!" Dahyun quickly adds. "He's a great friend to me, unnie. A wingman. And I'd very much like it if you were at least at civil terms with him? Please?"

It takes about a few seconds before Mina's squared shoulders sag and she lets out an exasperated breath, telltale signs of Dahyun's glory; however Jackson, in all the headassery he's somehow capable of having, decides this is the perfect time to speak.

"And besides, Mina-ssi…"

Mina raises an eyebrow at him. 

"I'm like her parental figure in school", he laughs at himself, chest puffed up at the honor the term brings to him. "That means I'm the closest you've got here to a father-in-law and if I were you, you should start practicing how to behave around your future in-laws and—"

"Jackson, I swear to god, if you don't shut up..."

Jackson shuts up. Dahyun, frankly, just wants to jump out of the car from there.

Awkward silence envelopes them like morning fog. Dahyun begins regretting turning down Mina's offer to just call a cab for them.

She clears her throat, looks over the center console, and asks, "Do you guys wanna get some McDonald's?"

 


 

They get McDonald's.

The fast food place is nearly empty in this hour of the night, save for the old couple eating burgers by the corner, the mother desperately trying to drag her child out of the playhouse, and the staff by the counter languidly arranging the condiments.

When the three of them enter, it's like suddenly all life had been restored to the place. 

Dahyun can't blame them for looking immediately. Jackson and Mina attract attention all by themselves. What more when they walk in together looking like a million-dollar celebrity couple? Jackson's dressed in his James-Dean-inspired attire and Mina's in a casual flannel and skinny jeans yet still appears like a celebrity on a midnight snack run. 

Meanwhile, Dahyun looks like church service just ended at 11:30 and she's about to have dinner with her older brother and his girlfriend.

Also known as Jackson and Mina.

"This is weird…" Older brother in question utters, as they take one of the tables near the playhouse, far away from the looks of interest they're receiving.

"I'm gonna order us something. You guys better make up when I get back", Dahyun says with finality, hoping the cash in her wallet is enough to afford the cheapest group meal.

Mina searches her eyes for mirth but Dahyun makes a good show of hiding it. She can't enjoy her meal if those two still continue with their childish squabbling. She's giving them an ultimatum. At McDonald's.

Dahyun doesn't give either of the two any more chance at arguing with her decision. She makes a beeline for the counter, dress swaying with the jump in her steps.

 


 

It takes about an entire minute of awkward tension before Jackson gives in.

"Look, Mina-ssi. I'm really sorry I started that rumor. And that it affected you in ways I never expected it would."

Mina takes a minute of her own, looks over her shoulders at Dahyun ordering by the counter, and then sighs in defeat.

"It's okay. Thank you. For apologizing and for being a good friend to Dahyun. I'm sorry as well. I held a grudge."

They settle in a silent agreement of sorts, to probably keep this behind them because Mina never liked holding grudges against people and she always wondered how it would feel like to befriend a guy. 

Mina pretty much realizes befriending Jackson is like making friends with Sana, Jeongyeon, and Nayeon all rolled into one whole person, plus a hundred more bottles of enthusiasm.

Jackson never dies out of energy and always has a funny anecdote to say, and this is proven very much factual as they proceed with their group meal and Jackson's in the middle of sharing his sixth–or fifth, Mina lost count–account of how doing this one photoshoot for a popular men's magazine catapulted him into fame.

It's not hard to believe. Jackson does have a face and a body chiseled to meet celebrity standards. His outgoing personality is another aspect too, one that would probably make him Nation's Best Friend if he were a celebrity.

Mina enjoys this, chuckling at the sight of Dahyun laughing and nearly spitting out her french fries because of Jackson. 

It's all good. It's twelve in the midnight and they're laughing about that one time Jackson escaped the cops because they believed he was an assemblyman's son. 

Dahyun nearly chokes this time and Mina stands up to hurriedly get some more tissue napkins for the girl. By the counter, she gets asked the million-dollar question:

"Miss, are you that guy's girlfriend?"

It's shock that comes to Mina first, because how can someone be so shameless in asking such a personal question? Then it becomes absolute horror, because what the fuck?

"W-What?"

The lady, who looks just a few years older, sifts through the napkin organizers to grab a bunch for Mina, oblivious to the shell shocked expression on the girl's face. 

"He looks familiar. You guys look like a lovely celebrity couple." 

Mina's throat suddenly feels too dry to speak, surfaces scratching at each other like sandpaper. 

"I—"

"They do, don't they?" Another voice quips, and when Mina turns to see whose it is adding fuel to the fire of her burning cheeks, it's the girl she'd rather have dating rumors with, in her blue sunday dress, jet black hair framing her face perfectly and the mischievous grin on it, standing by the side of the counter, refilling her gravy cup.

"Are you the younger sister?" The staff lady asks and all Mina can do is gape at her (not) girlfriend.

"Just a friend", Dahyun smiles kindly. "Third-wheeling, you know?"

They share a laugh at that and Mina's convinced Dahyun would have gladly kept the conversation going if it weren't for Jackson waving at them, ready to go after tidying up the table.

It sinks like an anchor in Mina’s guts how easy it takes Dahyun to decline advances at their relationship, or whatever it is they have. She understands how this is just a playful tease right now, but it doesn’t hurt any less. 

Mina ends up thinking about it the entire ride back to the dorm, unable to share the same blissful atmosphere as Jackson and Dahyun sing to their hearts’ content every song in the spiritual awakening that is Alanis Morisette’s 1995 critically-acclaimed Jagged Little Pill album.

She finds herself emotionally attached though, when she listens to the lyrics of Head Over Feet. 

You've already won me over in spite of me
And don't be alarmed if I fall head over feet
And don't be surprised if I love you for all that you are
I couldn't help it
It's all your fault

 


 

The room holds a different feel now, a mix of something morose and hollow and unfamiliar. 

Most of Mina’s things had been shipped either to her new place near the campus or back in Kobe. The only furniture remaining in the room are the standard ones that came with the stay, like the bed, built-in cabinets, and the study desk near the door. 

The school had allowed the seniors an extension to their stay in the dorms given the graduation ceremony practices they had to attend. Tonight is their last night around here. 

It only dawns on Dahyun then, as she looks around the room again and sees nothing but the bareness of it. 

The only remnants of Mina here come from the little holes punctured on the walls (from the picture frames she mounted around, of her family reminding her of Japan, of the girls reminding her of home), the ripped patches on the wallpaper (from the many posters Mina had taped around, from her favorite Japanese singer–Utada Hikaru–to her favorite Korean band–Sechskies), and the visible scratches of furniture dragged around on the wooden floor (because of the many times they had to rearrange the room to accommodate the entire group in their sleepovers). 

Everything’s gone now, taken away and moved out. 

Everything but the owner. 

“What’s gotten you looking so far?” 

There’s a shuffle beside Dahyun. It feels weird. Mina had been a person of space when they first met. Never excliped her canonical one-arm-away distance with people. But here they are now, about a hand away from each other in bed, in their unspoken sides (Mina on the left, Dahyun on the right), just existing in each other’s space like it’s the most normal thing to do. 

Maybe because it is. 

“You’ll be graduating tomorrow, unnie.” It feels so hollow saying it out loud. “And then after that, you’ll be leaving for Kobe with your parents on Saturday afternoon.” 

Dahyun’s been thinking about it for so long, how life would be without her unnies. To say it to the universe now doesn’t make it feel any less sadder. 

“Jeongyeon unnie will be leaving in April but her flight for Jeju is on Monday. Jihyo unnie’s scheduled for a campus tour will be tomorrow morning and she’ll be moving in with her family after that. Momo and Sana unnie will be leaving for Japan on Monday night. And Nayeon unnie will be meeting Dongwoon oppa’s parents tomorrow afternoon before moving out”, Dahyun recites in vivid memory of everyone’s schedules in her head. She had been ripping out the pages of her mental calendar, counting down the days until this dreadful weekend. 

Still, Dahyun tries to mask the growing blackhole in her heart with a dry chuckle before facing the girl beside her. 

“You know, that’s a lot of goodbyes, unnie…” I don’t think I can handle so much. 

Mina just looks at her, tries to embed every crevice and mole and freckle on Dahyun’s pale face to permanence in her head, as if the thousand other times in the past weren’t enough. 

Then, she reaches out to hold the younger girl’s hand on the bed, laces together their fingers, and holds them up. 

Dahyun has a habit of biting her nails when she’s anxious. Mina knows this. Everyone in the group knows this. She likes to grow her nails under the pretense of getting them polished, just to gnaw at them in the end. 

When Mina sees the chipped nails again, her heart grows heavy. She pulls at Dahyun’s hand and lets it rest around her waist, pulling her closer.

“You’re also leaving, you know.” She utters, stretching out her other hand for Dahyun to lie her head down on. The younger girl does so without a second of hesitation, like this comes as easy as breathing for them. 

Mina runs her fingers through Dahyun’s back-to-black locks. “You don’t have to say goodbye, Dahyun-ah. Just a see you soon will do.” 

She only gets a muffled hum in return, the tremor of the younger girl’s voice felt through her silk pajama shirt. Mina holds Dahyun closer and continues to play with the strands of her hair. 

“Unnie?” 

Mina tries to hold back the playful roll of her eyes at the honorific . “Hm?” 

“What happens to us now?” 

It takes about a second or two before the question registers. Mina feels like getting nuked. This is the question she had been dodging for so long, deflecting so desperately. 

Pretending nothing will change makes it easier to ignore. But let’s be honest here, nothing will ever stay the same again.

“You can date those cool college boys, unnie. And the cool college girls. Experience everything”, Dahyun says, voice still muffled as she tries to snuggle closer, chasing the sweet scent of jasmines and vanilla. 

“As far as I’m concerned, college isn’t only about dating.” 

“Well. Go to parties then? Drink and dance around. Stay late at night. Find good friends to do all of those with.” 

“You make it sound like we’re never going to meet again”, Mina tries to chuckle, but the weakness in her voice gives her away. 

She fears what goes on in Dahyun’s head sometimes. Mina thinks they all do. 

Dahyun tries to externalize her happiness as much as she can, make it radiate from her entire being so loudly, so forcefully, everyone in her wake, any person within her radius, gets reeled in, attracted by her sheer ability to feel like home

But when happiness takes up so much space on the outside, there’s nothing left for anything else but somewhere within. So it’s dark and crowded inside, and every other emotion that isn’t bright and easy, is shoved within.

Dahyun’s always so bright on the outside, everyone’s afraid of what’s going on within.  

“We never really know, unnie.” Dahyun puts some distance between them, looks up to meet Mina’s eyes for a split second before completely untangling herself and moving away. “The future’s scary and we’re never really guaranteed anything.” 

“Well, whatever the future holds, I’ll try my very best to make sure you’re in mine.” 

“Yeah. But.” 

It’s hard to talk to Dahyun when all Mina sees is her back, the jet-black hair down in tangles, the fabric of her plaid pajamas draped over protruding bones. 

“But what?” 

“This isn’t just a one-man effort. And as confident as you are in keeping me around, I’m not sure I have the means to do the same.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“You’re in college, unnie. I’m in high school. And, well, the world is scary and mean. If a college student seeing someone in high school isn’t alarming enough, then two girls are. It’s not going to be as easy out there as it is here. If someone ever finds out about us then we’ll be in deep trouble. And I don’t want you to suffer just because of me.”

Mina finds herself frowning at that. She shifts on the bed and sits back up. “Then what do you want me to do? Not see you anymore?” 

“NO!” Dahyun blurts out almost instantly, turning around in one swift move. She looks away and says again, more calmly, “No, unnie.” 

Mina lets a second of silence pass before moving closer until her knees touch the small of Dahyun’s back. She stretches her arms out and warily lets them wrap around the latter’s arms

“I won’t go anywhere, Dahyun. And even if I do, I’ll always end up trying to look for you.” Mina lets her chin rest on top of squared shoulders. “I won’t see anyone. I don’t think I can. I’ll go to parties. I’ll drink and dance and have fun too. But at the end of every night, I’ll go back to you. I’ll write to you. I’ll call you. On important dates and whenever I can, I’ll visit if it’s okay with you. I’ll do anything to make this work, okay?” 

“But—" 

“It’s okay if you can’t offer me as much. It doesn’t have to be 50-50. I won’t demand you to do the same. We make up for each other’s differences.” 

“Then what do I do? It won’t be fair.” 

“It doesn’t have to be fair.” 

“You’ll get tired, unnie. You’ll get tired.” 

“Of you?” 

“Of always making the effort.”

“I will. Maybe. Some day. But that doesn’t mean I’ll give up. I won’t give you up.” 

“Why do you do this? Why are you…” Dahyun trails off, an exasperated sigh escaping her lips as she looks down and fiddles with her hands. “Why are you giving me so much of yourself? Why do you believe in us so much when we’re not even...not even dating! Why... me?”

“Well...mama did always tell me, left to my own devices, I always make poor decisions.” 

“YA! UNNIE!” Dahyun jolts. Mina nearly gets her chin shouldered.

“YA?!” 

That gets the mood shifting. Mina ends up doubling in laughter at the blush that drapes over Dahyun’s cheeks, bashfulness settling in.

“Look, Dahyunnie. It’s you, okay? You don’t have to ask me why. It’s just you. I will always be you. Because you held me, you saw me, and you’re here. I can have everything in the world and more, but at the end of everyday, I’ll always want you.” 

Dahyun looks at the older girl, searches for doubt in her eyes. She doesn’t find any. There is nothing but sincerity in Mina’s eyes. She feels overwhelmed. 

“You’re making another bad decision, unnie. Sachiko-san will not be happy about this.” 

“It’s better than making someone else decide for me.” 

Dahyun just looks, quietly, wistfully. Hoping what Mina says now, she won’t regret tomorrow. 

“I choose you, okay? I’ll always do. I hope that’s enough for you.” 

“It’s enough, unnie.” I hope it is for you too. 

 


 

They don’t talk much after that. It’s already two in the morning and the graduation program starts at 10AM. Mina still has hair and makeup to go to. She’ll need all the rest if she doesn’t want to fall asleep in the ceremony. 

“Unnie, I’m so proud of you”, Dahyun whispers, as she stares at the ceiling and begs for sleep. 

“For what?” Mina turns. She’s lying on her side now, facing the younger girl. 

“For earlier, the ballet recital. For tomorrow, your graduation.” 

“Ah…” Mina nods against the pillow. “Thank you, babe.” 

Dahyun turns too, faces the girl with a smile gracing her lips. “I love you.” 

It knocks Mina breathless for a second. It always does when it’s from Dahyun. She takes a little longer to snap out of it. 

“I love you too. God . You don’t know how much I do.” 

Can I love you even more? 

Dahyun smiles and leans closer, pressing a long kiss on Mina’s forehead. “Here’s to a new chapter in our lives, unnie.” 

Mina nods. “Here’s to us.” 

I think I can. 

 


 

Dahyun barely catches a glimpse of Mina the entire morning.

The moment her 7AM alarm goes off, Mina can only press a chaste kiss on Dahyun’s forehead before slipping out of the bed and showering. She’s still asleep when Mina finishes and gets dressed for the salon. She’s going with Jihyo and Nayeon this time. 

Dahyun’s up before they leave but her mind’s still chasing the high of her sleep so it doesn’t really comprehend anything past the kiss Mina leaves on her lips, long and filled with unimaginable desire, therefore she completely misses out Jihyo’s enthusiastic “See you later!” at the door and the way Nayeon has mastered the art of skillfully concealing her seven-month bump through her dresses and oversized coats.

The next time Dahyun sees Mina, she’s already seated on the folded chairs reserved for the guests in the gymnasium. 

They play Giuseppe Verdi’s Grand March for the student entrance, the piece has Dahyun thrumming her fingers on her lap, playing the familiar notes on her imaginary keyboard.

When Dahyun sees her unnies begin to march down the carpet in their togas, she can’t help but feel her own tears cloud her eyes at the surge of emotions inside her chest. 

Nayeon marches down first, in her customized XXL toga and stilettos. She makes the carpet her runway. Dahyun can’t hide the tinge of fear for her seven-month-old bro. 

She didn’t really gain much weight, because apart from the countless yoga and regulating classes she takes–and by extension, drags the girls to–she managed to maintain much of her weight and even got healthier, if Dahyun were being honest. 

Nayeon had voluntarily cut down on the junk food and devoured anything strawberry-related, to the point where Sana had gotten her and Jeongyeon a mini-fridge to store the fresh baskets of strawberry they get from Dongwoon every chance he gets to visit. 

Speaking of Dongwoon. Dahyun thinks he’s a great guy. He managed to accept the situation amicably and didn’t ask Nayeon for anything—at least, after finding out she already had someone else. 

He offered marriage, because of course he did , and Jeongyeon must have started a fight once or twice, but that’s it. Dahyun really didn’t know what happened thereon, she was in Seongnam fixing her admission and transferal papers. When she came back, everything was okay and Dongwoon was suddenly an accepted fixture in their lives already. 

Nothing significant happens in class 4-1’s march, aside from Nayeon’s strutting and when Sungjae held up a cardboard sign saying PARTY @ JACKSON’S L8EEEER!!! (and Dahyun briefly wonders how he managed to put 8 there for a shortcut only to end up spelling the word longer), much to the foreseen disappointment on their teachers' faces.

Jihyo leads her class in their march. She radiates the Big Boss energy she always has, walking down with her head held up high, her newly trimmed hair swaying with her steps. Jihyo's smile is brighter than her diamond earrings shimmering under the gym lights. 

Unlike her classmates, she sits in the first row of seats along with the other teachers and officers, right beside Nayeon. 

Jeongyeon comes third, near the last of her and Jihyo’s class. She has long brown hair now, with curtain bangs Dahyun had talked her into getting. Seungyeon did her makeup today, which doesn’t come as a surprise because Jeongyeon looks amazing, as always.

She flashes Dahyun a wink when she passes by.

Class 4-3 marches down with pride; their class president Jennie Kim makes sure her cheerleading roots don’t go to waste by making certain the carpet is there for her to grace like a Hollywood award show. If that isn’t Jennie Kim enough, she even waves to the crowd like a Princess. Dahyun is convinced she is one. 

A few students later it’s Momo walking down. She’s changed to black hair now, like Dahyun did, and cut it down a few inches past her shoulders. She struggles in her wedges a little bit, although they’re not even half as high as the ones Nayeon is wearing.  

Momo smiles at everyone with a wide grin, like this is the happiest day of her life. Dahyun can’t blame her. She’s finally finished with high school, getting into a prestigious university, and living in a nice apartment with her girlfriend. 

Momo unnie is living the dream life… 

Then it’s Sana who’s entering, walking down the carpet like her billion-won self. She’s also dyed her hair back to its natural color. Now it’s tied up in a half-ponytail, a bedazzled ribbon flapping behind. She smiles when she walks down, spots Dahyun and flashes her a wider grin. 

When it’s Mina's turn, Dahyun doesn’t forget to whip out the camcorder. It’s Mina’s, and the owner specifically asked Dahyun not to use it, but she’s never been one to follow Mina’s wishes lately, so she does exactly what she’s told not to do. 

Mina has light brown hair now, fading into a grey-ish finish at the tips. She doesn’t have much makeup on but a darker shade of red lipstick that makes her look unimaginably hotter and unattainable. 

Mina scans the gym for a split second, slowing down in her march, and Dahyun zooms the camcorder on the older girl’s amusingly confused face with trembling hands. 

Mina finds her and Dahyun can only see through the screen. She looks up from the camcorder and waves her hand. Mina can only smile back before proceeding to march down again. 

The program starts after class 4-4’s march. Jihyo begins the ceremony with her opening remarks and Dahyun feels a surge of pride seeing her unnie on stage. Her speech is a mix of emotions, from laughter to a few tears clouding her eyes here and there, and when she ends everyone’s up on their feet, giving their President a round of applause.

Dahyun’s shaky hands capture Jihyo’s bow in the middle of the stage. She pans the camcorder over to where her parents are sitting by the other side of the gymnasium, captures perfectly Mrs. Park wiping a tear away with the sleeve of her trench coat. 

Principal Park delivers a speech too, and most of the students are yawning if not downright sleeping on their seats all throughout. Dahyun doesn’t film that part. 

After his speech on the future and growth and how most of Apgujeong High's alumni end up becoming renowned citizens of the world, the official ceremony finally begins. Dahyun films all the moments her unnies are involved in.

Nayeon walks up the stage slowly, because carrying a seven-month-old creature that weighs like a watermelon alters your center of gravity of course, but she makes it look like she’s just taking her time, like royalty setting the pace, and everybody waits for her because the Queen can never be hurried. 

When she gets her diploma and stands at the center of the stage, everybody gives her the loudest of applause. Not because she’s Im Nayeon solely, but because she deserved it. Dahyun makes sure to zoom in on Nayeon’s proud, confident smile.

Nayeon gets awarded Student of the Year, which is a debatable category, whose criteria Dahyun would like to get to know someday, but everyone seems to agree with the decision. If there's one person who deserves this award, it's Apgujeong's Queen student Im Nayeon.

When it’s Jihyo’s turn, the gymnasium turns into a concert hall. Jackson and Sungjae are practically howling wolves cheering for her while some of the teachers hopelessly hush them by the sides. 

Jihyo gets a prestigious Leadership Award for her student council services as the senior president. Jackson and Sungjae don’t shut up from their seats. Dahyun records everything with the camcorder. 

By Jeongyeon’s turn, more girls holler than boys. Dahyun makes sure she captures the goofy, shy grin on her unnie’s face, and then the (jealous) little pout on Nayeon’s, from where she’s seated, witnessing first-hand the commotion of her girlfriend’s fanclub. 

Momo nearly trips on her way up. She does a grand gesture that makes it look like she just picked something up from the floor. Everyone claps for her. 

Truth be told, she’s always been the teachers’ favorite. Momo was a student athlete who maintained her grade and enthusiasm in class. She was very nice and participative. So when she grabs her diploma and shakes hands with some of the teachers, it’s no surprise that one or two of them hug her too. Dahyun captures everything in the camcorder. 

Mr. and Mrs. Minatozaki give a standing ovation for their daughter. Sana’s cheeks redden at the hollering and her father’s “THAT’S MY PRINCESS!” but everyone joins in too for the applause. Sana smiles at the center stage, and about five or more cameras take off to capture her, flashing like some kind of paparazzi. 

When it’s nearing Mina’s turn, Dahyun gears up. It’s not about favoritism. It’s just that Mr. and Mrs. Myoui are still on their way here after a delayed flight and only a few people are going to cheer for Mina the way other students did for her unnies. 

“MYOUI, Mina Sharon”, Ms. Hong announces through the mic. 

Mina stands up at the same time Dahyun does. 

Dahyun clears her throat, readies herself to bellow the loudest “WOHOOO! MINA! YEAH!” but before she can even do so,  five other people are already up on their feet too, clapping and hollering. 

Nayeon and Jihyo are in a competition on who can shout Mina’s name louder; Jeongyeon, Sana, and Momo are clapping their hands like hyperactive seals. 

Naturally, the five most popular and well-decorated students influence the entire student body to join in too and soon enough, everyone’s cheering and howling for Mina. Jackson even makes a show of doing a pirouette, nearly hitting Sungjae’s face in the process. 

Dahyun only gets to capture half of the commotion in the camcorder. Mina’s already walking off the stage when she remembers the device. 

She was too busy enjoying the sight, of the chaos this school had, of the unconventional family they’ve managed to conjure with a bunch of well-endowed kids, misfits of their own. She thinks of how awful everything had begun, yet how it unfolded in the end beautifully. 

She sees all of her unnies, high and mighty in their own way, doing everything for one another to protect each other. She imagines what tomorrow will look like, and sees nothing but six other vacant seats.

Dahyun thinks—wait, she knows . She’s going to miss this the most. 

 


 

After the official ceremony, Jackson and Sungjae distribute unsolicited award certificates of the most ridiculous superlatives, results coming from a secret voting system they held with the rest of the lower classmen. 

It's not even an official-looking certificate. It's a legal-sized board paper decorated with letter cutouts and stickers varying on the award.

Dahyun thinks the titles are oddly specific, it's even more hilarious how people were able to vote on this.

Nayeon gets Most likely to make a grown-up man cry at a nationwide-broadcasted presidential debate. There's a smug grin on her face when she reads it out loud.

"Most likely to buy 4 gallons of milk because it’s on sale even though they’re  lactose intolerant” , Jeongyeon huffs at hers incredulously. She isn’t lactose intolerant! Sungjae and Jackson earn themselves flicks on their foreheads for it. 

Momo and Sana share an adorable laugh together at their complimentary titles. Everyone's acknowledged by now that the two come in a package deal, as well as their superlatives.

Momo's Most likely to accidentally lose their child in a mall is perfectly fitting to Sana's Most likely to call the entire SWAT team after their partner loses their child in a mall title.

Jihyo doesn’t get to read hers until later on, because everyone’s suddenly wanting to get a pic with the student body President. She’s basically dragged and pulled around by the other seniors and parents. 

(When she sees hers, she just rolls her eyes playfully. Most likely to reunite North and South Korea in her presidential term and get re-elected again doesn’t sound so bad.) 

It's anticlimactic when Mina receives hers. 

"Most likely to buy a country?" She reads it out loud then turns to Jackson with an incredulous frown. "Does everyone actually think I would do something like that?" 

Everyone just plain-out nods at her, no hesitation whatsoever.

It's all fun and laughter under the afternoon sun. Most of the students gather around the field to take pictures with family and friends before they all go their separate ways. 

Dahyun likes the sight of her unnies all laughing at themselves (and occasionally chasing Jackson and Sungjae around to give them a good hit), but her eyes catch  a glimpse of the middle-aged couple standing by the end of the field, craning their necks looking around for their daughter.

Dahyun isn't their daughter but she runs over to them still. Mina is too busy trying to argue with Jackson about her superlative, explaining how it's totally not possible and couldn't you have thought of a nicer title? 

This is the second time Dahyun has met Mina's parents, apart from the first time when they dropped Mina off on her first day at Apgujeong. Dahyun still remembers it vividly and briefly wonders if they still brought with them the Mercedes 500 E, a.k.a. the quintessential 90s villain car.

Maybe it was because of Dahyun’s better judgment clouded by Jackson’s Yakuza rumors of Mina but seeing Mr. and Mrs. Myoui now with a clearer mind outlines them as two really nice-looking adults. They don’t even look their part–the brilliant surgeon and the equally-brilliant former attorney. 

Mr. Myoui stands, peering around the field in thin-rimmed rectangle sunglasses, clad in a navy blue button-down and khaki pants. He holds a bouquet of daisies and carnations in his arms. 

Mrs. Myoui looks around closely beside him, dressed in a red button-up and loose trousers. She has one phone pressed up against her ear, but it’s a helpless cause because Mina’s phone is in the pocket of Dahyun’s dress right now.

Dahyun fights all the urge to answer the call. Mrs. Myoui might get the shock of her life when her call gets answered by some stranger. 

She walks over to the couple who soon recognizes her presence in front of them soon after. 

Dahyun immediately bows a ninety-degree greeting. “Hello. I’m Kim Dahyun, Mina’s friend.” 

She takes about a second or two long in her bow before folding back up and meeting the wary smiles of Mina’s parents. Dahyun clears her throat. “Are you looking for Mina?” 

Mr. Myoui nods his head. 

“I can take you to her. She’s been waiting for you both.” 

Dahyun doesn’t linger any longer there and proceeds to walk Mr. and Mrs. Myoui over to where her unnies are. 

This is the first time everyone has seen Mina’s parents. Maybe it’s because they don’t look like how everyone’s built them up to be–this ridiculously wealthy couple–that seeing them in how they are now even has Jihyo tilting her head, looking over at Dahyun with a subtle questioning look, probably asking her who the middle-aged couple is. 

They get their answer when a gasp resounds, and Mina, who has always kept herself together, calm and composed, leaps into a ballerina-like spring, and runs over to the couple, arms wide open. 

This might be the happiest everyone has ever seen Mina become. 

They spend more than five minutes in the embrace, with Mina’s parents (they find out later) whispering loving words to her as they coax their daughter to hold herself together and not cry there. 

When they pull apart, Mina introduces everyone to her parents. Dahyun comes last. She feels awkward meeting Mina’s parents. They’re so different from hers. But still, she tries her best to make a good impression. Smiles wide enough she could rival the scorching sun shining down on them; bows low enough her forehead could touch her shin. 

Mina giggles behind her parents, probably thinking of how ridiculous Dahyun is acting. 

Their group break into smaller bunches, gathering with their parents and families present. 

Mina is with her parents, laughing and admiring the bouquet of flowers; Jihyo and Nayeon are talking with Mr. and Mrs. Park about their college plans; Jeongyeon is arguing with Seungyeon about something while their parents stand aside, ready to leap when holding back is warranted; and Momo and Sana are jointly talking to their parents like one big family. 

Dahyun stands in the middle of everything, admiring the sight. She doesn’t deny the loneliness and the fear creeping in her chest, that this is it, this is how it’s going to be in the next few days. Her unnies are finally going their own ways and Dahyun is left in the middle of the ruins, all alone. 

Dahyun doesn’t deny the loneliness some space in her chest. But she also doesn’t give it too much as well. 

Dahyun’s happy. This is okay. It’s going to be. Where her unnies are happy, she will be too. 

“Okay, girls, how about you take a picture?” Mrs. Park asks out loud and suddenly, within the blink of an eye, Dahyun isn’t alone anymore. 

She’s pushed to the center, Sana and Jeongyeon on both her sides, squishing her closer. Nayeon stands next to her girlfriend, Mina at her other side. Momo and Jihyo occupy the opposite end.

The parents gather in front of them, whipping out expensive cameras and camcorders. Students flock over to watch the happening too, to see the most popular group in the entire school gather together. 

It's like gathering the most popular Hollywood actresses for a photo. Somewhere in the distance, Dahyun can hear students gushing at them. 

Jackson refers to their group as Squad of the Year. 

Mrs. Park leads the countdown for the picture. Dahyun holds her unnies closer, stretches her arms out as far as it can go to hold her unnies more. They all flash their brightest smiles. 

Nayeon, Sana, and Jihyo come up with their chee before the cameras go off.

"Batch 1999 forever!"

Everyone cheers for them, smiles at how oddly woven-together their group is, and how perfect they are complete and like this.

When the pictures are done, Jeongyeon and Sana pull everyone into a group hug. Dahyun gets squished in the middle, rightfully so. This is where she feels most belonging to: in the embrace of her unnies.

 


 

They eat celebratory early dinner at Deux's. One table for the parents, one table for kids.

The parents get acquainted with each other until they’re all talking and laughing as well, chatting about work and their kids over a share of pizza and some chicken. 

Jeongyeon’s sister, Seungyeon, sits with them at the “kids’ table”. They get milkshakes and the famous Deux twisty fries while talking all about their plans for the upcoming weeks and when they can all gather again.

This talk is the one Dahyun’s always dreaded. She’ll finally have to face the storm of new schedules and commitments her unnies have, and try to find herself a place to fit in between. 

It becomes an endless circle of proposed dates and rain checks. Momo and Sana have this schedule, Nayeon and Mina have to do this, Jeongyeon is too far away from them, Jihyo has a scheduled something—Dahyun feels like her ears are going to bleed off with everything she’s hearing. 

Unlike her unnies, Dahyun sees a hazy future for her. After Seongnam, she’ll be drowning in cram sessions to make up for the time she spent in Apgujeong and going back and forth here and her new school to fix her admission and transfer papers. 

Nayeon has given up arguing about her schedule. She’s going to be hanging out with Dongwoon’s mother a lot in the summer break, because she’s the only person providing for her (quite expensive) prenatal check-ups and maintenance, and she can’t expect that from her senile grandmother or her girlfriend an entire continent away.

Jeongyeon doesn’t argue about it too, because Dahyun knows she has yet to find resolve in her jealousy issues with Nayeon hanging out a lot at the Son’s and living their incredibly lavish lifestyle (the one Nayeon deserves that she can’t give her) so instead, she indulges her girlfriend in the arcade.

Sana and Momo are chatting with Mina about meeting up in Japan for summer break and maybe touring around Osaka and Kobe too. Jihyo talks about convincing her parents for a trip to Japan too. 

Dahyun can only offer noncommittal responses, smiling at her unnies whenever she’s needed to. 

She likes it this way, just enjoying their company and reveling in everything until it’s too late. 

Nayeon and Jeongyeon join them in the table again about thirty minutes later, Jeongyeon breathless as if she had just run a marathon, and Nayeon grinning triumphantly as she slides into the booth slowly, right next to Dahyun. 

“What happened?” Jihyo asks, concerned as she hands Nayeon a glass of water. 

Nayeon takes a quick sip before explaining to them how she has finally figured out who’s the most athletic member of the group: her. 

Im Nayeon, seven months and a few weeks into her gestation, had just won over Yoo Jeongyeon in a ridiculously-competitive 2x difficult expert-level game of Dance Dance Revolution, in stilettos. 

Honestly, Dahyun thinks her unnie is too much. Her little bro is like a sudden ball of energy which is unlike the usual because as far as Dahyun knows, pregnancy is supposed to make you a little weak and bloated. Nayeon fucking looks like she drinks five cans of red bull everyday with her energy. She looks like a Beauty Queen and walks the pedestrian lane like it’s a Victoria’s Secret runway. 

Seven-month-old bro must have Nayeon unnie’s energy too…

“You should be more careful, Nayeon”, Jihyo chastises, much to Nayeon’s overflowing self-triumph. “I get that it’s fun but you should consider your situation too. I feel like the baby’s gonna get its head thrown upside down with how you’re moving around so much.” 

“Oh I’m sure it’s fine”, Nayeon waves off. “Mrs. Son said it’s okay for physical activities. It’s better even! Better than to just stay around and wait for my body to solidify while this little thing grows.” 

“Okay, but be careful”, Jihyo pushes a bowl of fries over to Nayeon. The latter simply nods with an assured smile. 

They talk more, laugh around, joke about college. Dahyun finds herself joining the conversation here and there. Whenever Sana or Jeongyeon bring up Mina, somehow they end up bringing up Dahyun too. 

They don’t settle on a date for when they can all meet again in summer break. But they do try to promise each other to be present during send-offs, as much as they can. Dahyun doesn’t promise her presence. 

While their future get-together still looks hazy and unplanned, the girls do settle on one event: the birth of the honorable eighth member of their group. 

“Late April, the doctor said”, Jeongyeon informs. She’s been the one going with Nayeon to her check-ups. “I’m going to book a ticket and stay for a week or so? But I’m still trying to see if I can extend or not.” 

Momo looks at Sana, as if asking her something with her eyes, before responding with a nod. “We’ll fly here as soon as possible.” 

“And bring lots and lots of gifts!” 

“Mina might buy an actual island for your kid”, Jihyo teases, and Mina nearly chokes in her milkshake. The leader just laughs, patting the girl’s back. “Or at least, a 90s-themed gift basket filled with game boys and pokemon cards and all that.” 

Mina looks over at Dahyun, and as if on instinct, the latter nods despite not knowing what for. 

They all end up talking about the baby, and what he or she would be like when they grow up. 

Nayeon has avoided finding out the sex of her child because she is a firm supporter of dismantling gender social constructs. She won’t be celebrating the anatomy of her child and projecting gender stereotypes on the fetus just because society said so. 

Nayeon believes her child can be whoever they want to be. Fuck society! 

(“Do we write those on the flower cards too?” 

“No. A simple congratulations will do.”)

A few more minutes later, just as the sun starts to set, the parents finally come together and call it a night for all of them. Everyone still has their own family celebrations to attend to. 

Before they all go their own ways–Dahyun to the dorms while Mina and the rest of her unnies (minus Nayeon who will join Jeongyeon) go with their respective families–they all hug again one last time. Dahyun in the middle. Always there. Like the sun in the center of the solar system.

“We’ll all meet again, okay?” 

Dahyun doesn’t know who whispers it. It’s muffled and she’s being squished alive in the hug, but she still agrees nonetheless.

“Not in the near future but for sure, on Nayeon’s D-Day.” It’s Sana who says it. 

They hug tighter. Somewhere far away, Dahyun might’ve even heard another camera click go off. 

“It’s not goodbye, okay?” She doesn’t give it much heed, she just revels in the embrace and wishes it would last forever. 

We’ll meet again. 

Dahyun prays she never loses this. That time won't force itself between her and her unnies. She hopes they stay like this forever. That they grow, but they grow in life together.

 


 

(Later on, Jackson swings by the dorms and hands Dahyun her superlative award.

“You’re an honorary member of the batch. So. Here.” He’s shy, Dahyun notes. The buff basketball captain–and Athlete of the Year recipient–is a ball of nerves when he’s trying to be sweet. 

Dahyun makes a note of capitalizing on this in the future. 

She looks down on her certificate and the award written in magazine cutout letters, alongside a colorful drawing of the planet earth. 

Kim Dahyun
Most likely to be loved by the universe.

Signed by: Yook Jaldo and Wang Kong, greatest hyung in the world! 

When Dahyun looks up to ask Jackson about it, she’s met with nothing but an empty hallway. She looks down on the piece of paper again, smiles at it and holds it over her chest. 

Dahyun gets the certificate framed and hung on her bedroom wall.) 

 


 

Dahyun gets the call in the middle of Sunday night, amidst sleeping alone in Mina's bed while she's staying with her parents in a presidential suite at the Four Seasons.

Her father falls sick while her mother is at her brother's in Jeju. Dahyun's apparently his emergency contact. 

By Monday dawn, Dahyun’s dragging herself across Incheon line 2 station, fingers clasped together around the straps of her backpack fitting the last bunch of her belongings in the dorm.

She wasn't even able to leave Mina a note.  

Her father gets discharged on a Thursday afternoon. Dahyun takes the next train to Apgujeong on Friday morning, after making sure her father's settled already.

The moment she arrives, the rooms are already empty, her unnies are already gone.

Dahyun didn't even get to send them off .

 


 

The next time Dahyun and Mina get in contact with each other, it's through an expensive two-minute overseas call in a public phone booth about a ten-minute-jog away from her house. 

Mina tells her all about Kobe and driving to her grandparents' house in Yokohama. She tells her about equestrian training with her grandfather and talks about her new horse, Yoko. She goes on in lengths about Osaka and how, if the Minatozaki mansion in Apgujeong was grandiose enough, the one in Chuo-ku was a motherfucking royal palace, complete with a zen garden courtyard enclosed by four separate modernized, 19th-century-inspired Minka houses.

(“Are they royal blood there?” 

“Sometimes I think they are. I heard she descended from one of Emperor Saga’s Minamoto sons.”

“If they marry, does that mean Momo unnie's gonna get a royal title too? If we marry, does that mean I become a Princess too?!”

“Baby, I don’t think that’s how it works…”)

Mina talks with a leap in her voice, an excitement Dahyun’s familiar with whenever they talk about things Mina loves wholeheartedly—like ballet, Ray, her family ( and her).

In return, Dahyun tries to keep up with the same enthusiasm too, although there’s only so much she can project when all she can share to the older girl are tales about the jasmine plants in their backyard that remind her so much of the older girl, and the potted ficus tree in the living room that she'd been watering ever since she could remember, only to find out recently from her father that it had been plastic all along.

It doesn't affect both of them much. It has been just a few weeks since graduation and when Dahyun left. Mina seems to be enjoying most of her days back home, her real home, and that happiness must be all-encompassing, unlike Dahyun’s. 

The same goes for all of her unnies. 

Dahyun tries to maintain contact with each of them. Jihyo keeps her promise and makes her a hotmail account, although its practicality is close to non-existent when Dahyun's family can't even afford a personal computer and the nearest shop is a bus ride away. The costs are too much for her to handle in the long run.

Nonetheless, Dahyun writes to them. It's the only means she can afford now, and the occasional overseas call she tries to save for Mina as much as she can.

Snail mail is incredibly taxing, Dahyun surmises, but the information that comes with connecting with her unnies again makes it worth it.

Dahyun finds out Sana is running away from the scorching summer heat and staying at her cousin's place somewhere in Rikubetsu. She tells Dahyun she adopted a Siberian Husky and named it Betty. She'll be flying to Okinawa mid-March to visit her other cousins and probably go see the beaches as well.

Dahyun writes back about the inflatable kiddie pool she found in their garage, that she tried to take a dip once when the daytime temperature reached its peak, but the fences confining their backyard weren't tall enough to save her and her sunscreen-lathered, tropical-fruit-printed one-piece-clad ass from public humiliation.

("I was even wearing goggles, unnie!" She writes, reliving the blush that dusted the cheeks of the teenage boy that lived next door when he saw.

A few weeks later, Sana responds with: "What a cutie, Dahyunnie. Unnie will send you a gift then~" with a 6-panel wicker room divider packaged in a rectangular corrugated box signed FROM OKINAWA, WITH LOVE .)

Momo is busy with helping out in her older sister’s dance studio in Tokyo. She’s barely able to write back as often as Dahyun sends letters to her and occasionally mails. 

When she does find the time to write, nearing a month later, Dahyun finds out Momo has been staying at her sister’s apartment in downtown Tokyo. She volunteers in leading the national exercise programs at the public park for the elderly and the children every weekend morning. She’s going to meet Sana by the end of the month. 

(“I’ll take you to all the purikura I know when you visit here!” Momo gleefully says through the telephone. For today, all of Dahyun’s change goes to an overseas call to this. 

“I’d love that, unnie”, She responds with a giddy smile, although the thought of traveling to Japan to see her unnies again feels like a far-fetched dream these days. “You write back to me, okay? Don’t forget, unnie! I miss you!”)

Dahyun finds it enjoying reading through the letters her unnies’ escapades at home. How they’re so liberated in their homeland. She wants nothing but to see her unnies in physical again, if she’s lucky enough, maybe see them face-to-face at the comforts of their homes, but with the situation comes the constant apprehension of being left behind. 

She misses her unnies so much but their happiness comes first before anything else. 

What Dahyun just finds odd here is the lack of replies from the three unnies closer to her. 

Jihyo doesn’t write for a whole month, the last time being the day Dahyun activated her hotmail account and Jihyo was the first name in her inbox.

The next time comes mid-March, while Dahyun’s in the public library trying to look for references and Jihyo’s name pops up in her hotmail tab. 

It’s a long message, about three pages of paper if written. 

She tells Dahyun all about welcoming week and how Jihyo’s managed to befriend most of the seniors in her college dorm building (“It’s all about making connections, my little prodigy.”); She talks about how the welcoming week had been nothing but a string of parties and orientations, and how the only friend she has around is Kang Daniel, to which Jihyo immediately typed in the next line: “No. Don’t even think about it. Nothing’s going on. I can feel your smirk all the way here.”

Dahyun has half the urge to tell her Jihyo unnie about her ability to see the future and how she sees Kang Daniel as a hopeful permanent fixture in the older girl’s life, but the urge gets pushed down when Dahyun realizes something else. 

“How about Nayeon unnie?” She types in her reply. “Isn’t she there with you too? Or is she still at Jeongyeon unnie’s?”

Jihyo, of course, with her busy-dominating-the-world-one-homework-at-a-time agenda, doesn’t answer until a few weeks later, April Fools Day. 

 

To: Kim Dahyun < coolest_in_d_bl0ck@hotmail.com >

From: Park Jihyo < jihyopark21@hotmail.com >

Subject: Re: REPLY FASTER PLEASE

Sorry sorry! The orientations here are killing me! The next time we meet up i might end up bald i wanna rip my hair out with how stressful this place is!! And school hasnt even started yet!! 

Anyways i might end up bringing someone else too. Guess what. Daniel and I are dating now. XD :>

KIDDING!! SIKE! This sounded much better in real life but APRIL FOOLS!!! HAHAHAHA XD XD XD :-P 

By the way, Nayeon hasn’t even stepped a foot on the dorms or the entire campus in general. As far as I know she left Jeju last 18th. I dont know where she’s staying at now. Probably at her grandma’s? I’ll let u know when I find out! Just continue writing to her. I’ll send u her grandma’s address later. 

Love u, dahyun! See you soon!

Yours truly, 

Best. Unnie. Ever. 

 

Dahyun nearly chokes on her laughter at the computer shop. She rolls her eyes even though Jihyo won’t be able to see it. She contains the desire to tell her unnie the premise doesn’t sound entirely impossible, and that joking about something like that isn’t a normal thing to do with your “friend”. 

She doesn’t get to reply. Her time’s up at the computer shop and she has no change left to extend. 

It takes about a few more days for Dahyun to gather up enough coins to call the Yoo residence for her Jeongyeon unnie. She spent the entire night prior looking through the white pages for their address and phone number. She hopes she’s calling the right house. 

Dahyun does end up talking to Jeongyeon, and they end up talking long. Five minutes, max. Dahyun can only afford so much. 

Jeongyeon’s in Jeju, staying with her grandparents and oldest sister, Seoyeon. She helps manage a small convenience store in the countryside and tells Dahyun all about the different kinds of things they sell there. She talks about living her time with her grandparents to the fullest, because she doesn’t know when they’ll meet each other again and her grandmother is growing sick. 

Dahyun thinks five minutes isn’t enough. She wants to hear the older girl more, wants to listen to her stories, wants to know all about her grandfather’s seashell collection by the window, her grandmother’s throw blanket knitting by the veranda, and all about the white sand beaches that encase Jeju. Have you been to any? How about the island that’s shaped like a whale? Have you seen it? 

But Jeongyeon’s in the middle of talking about her friendship with Dongwoon, how he showed up in Suwon to pick Nayeon up, how the two girls aren’t in talking terms ( again) because of it, and Dahyun just wants to tell her unnie to calm down and say all the better words to delude themselves with false security of their present and the future, that in spite of the frustration of not seeing her unnies again and trying not to feel insecure and jealous about how amazing their summer breaks have been without each other, while she’s moping around trying to find familiarity in the place she used to call home , Dahyun gets cut off and the call disconnects, and Jeongyeon’s voice is replaced by a monotonous beep, shrilling and deafening, hollow and sad. 

Dahyun stays rooted in her place, blinking, breathing slowly, uncertain of the coiling in her chest bubbling up and threatening to spill in warm droplets of tears.

She blinks until her eyes grow glassy and when she puts the phone down, the person behind her pauses and looks at her for a good second or two, eyebrows raised and forehead creased, as if debating whether its his obligation to be a gentleman tonight or should he save himself the trouble and just ignore her.

Dahyun doesn’t stay long enough to find out his decision. 

She exits the public phone booth and begins walking back home. 

 


 

Some days, it feels like a long vacation. 

It hasn’t been over two years since she’s moved away to study in Apgujeong and vacated her room, brought with her to the dorm her stuffed toys, security blankets, band posters, and CD collections. Everything. 

It hasn’t been over two years since then, and a month plus a week or two since she’s moved back again, yet the place looks almost bare and unfamiliar. 

She’s settled most of her things down by now. Dahyun had made it a point to clean her room after coming back from her disappointing visit to Apgujeong. She had to do something to clear her head.

She's moved things around, tore down old posters and replaced old picture frames with new ones, yet the room still feels unfamiliar, still feels like she’s just checking in at a hotel room and staying indefinitely. For the time being. Until she finds a way to come back home—a place she has no idea where now.

It becomes more unnerving as the days bleed into weeks and weeks become another full month of  lining up for the public phone booth under the summer heat, dividing her meager savings into phone calls, postal fees, and internet cafes, and filling her prayers during bible studies with wishes for nothing more but her unnies’ health and happiness, most especially the little eighth member arriving in a few weeks. 

The happiest Dahyun has felt throughout the entire bleak month of April comes from a long overdue tattered envelope and very un-Nayeon-like scribbles on a prescription pad.

Before she gets to reading the entire thing, her reluctance at getting the wrong letter (because someone as perfectionist as Nayeon doesn’t write like she had a jackhammer taped around her hand) sends Dahyun scanning the bottom corner first. 

Her eyes nearly roll out of their sockets. 

Sincerely, 

Nayeon unnie & Son Dongwoon

For someone who’s confirmed many times he isn’t trying anything with Nayeon, Dongwoon does look otherwise. 

It doesn’t take a second for Dahyun to paint over the correction with her white-out. 

She reads the letter with a light heart, the easiest she’s felt ever since moving back. 

Nayeon talks about how appearance-obsessed Dongwoon's mother is ( She used to be Miss Korea in the 70s, I think?) and how she's unsure whether it's an advantage to her or not ( Doesn't matter though. I get free pilates classes and she just hired a nutritionist too!)

Dahyun finds out Nayeon's staying in one of the Son family apartments somewhere in Yeonhui-dong, together with Dongwoon's mother only (the woman's got too much time on her hands if you ask me…) Temporarily, of course. It's more practical for her when it's nearer to the clinic she goes to and Dongwoon's mother is around to help out.

The decision, according to the seventh paragraph of Nayeon's six-paged-letter, did not sit well with Jeongyeon. They argued about it because Jeongyeon wanted Nayeon to stay in Jeju with her but Nayeon couldn't afford that when her doctor and her regulating classes were in the city.

They got into an argument and Jeongyeon flew to Jeju all by herself. Nayeon was picked up by Dongwoon's mother.

Dahyun wants to tell her unnie about how Jeongyeon's probably just concerned she's far away from her and maybe a little (a lot) jealous too she's spending so much time with the Son's. Of course, even if she writes those down, it'll take another week or so before Nayeon gets to read them.

Nayeon proceeds to dedicate two pages of her letter on how she's gotten herself blacklisted from some grocery mart after getting into a fight with a bunch of conservative ahjummas; and the last three pages are filled with stories of how "your little bro" kicked a bunch of times (she might grow up just like her immature other mom), how Nayeon's frustrates by her own strawberry addiction, and how she just recently ranked higher  in Taekwondo class!

Dahyun can feel her heart swell with a new kind of reassurance and happiness for her unnie. It's enough that she momentarily forgets about missing the older girls and how lonely she feels here. 

At the back of the last page, Dahyun reads off an address and contact details. She supposes it's Nayeon's new phone number, and the address belongs to a hospital.

Your little bro can't wait to see you, Dahyunnie ~ 

We love you!

Somehow, Dahyun finally ends up looking forward to tomorrow with a light heart.

 


 

Mina doesn't respond to her letters. She also doesn't answer Dahyun's calls.

Dahyun thinks Osaka must be really fun that Mina forgets...

 


 

Dahyun spends her days counting down like she's in a jail cell, towards April 23rd, her bro's scheduled arrival.

She tends to the Jasmines in the backyard, makes sure her father takes his medicines, helps her mother in the house chores, attends prayer groups with her parents, and volunteers to tutor the kids at church in exchange for more coins to call her unnies with.

Dahyun lives everyday centered around the idea that she'll meet her unnies again, they'll be complete, and that all she has to do now is keep in contact.

It's easier said than done, especially when you're the only one making an effort to do so.

Gradually, the letters stop coming and the calls grow shorter. The kids at church still enjoy it when Dahyun plays the piano for them, but somehow she doesn't have it in her to reflect it all the same.

Not when her unnies start breaking the one promise she asked from them. Not when it feels like they're slowly falling apart.

 


 

According to Jihyo, Jeongyeon already left for California because of a rescheduled flight.

Dahyun didn't know and didn't even get to send her off. Again.

The next day, Jeongyeon does email her though. 

It was an emergency, Dahyun. I'm sorry. Let's meet on the 23rd!

Sana sends a postcard with a picture of her and Momo next to a statue of a dog in Shibuya a few days later.

Unlike the others, she's dedicated to writing to Dahyun. And while she appreciates this all so much, Dahyun can't help but ask about Mina too, noticing how her name gets less mentioned as the days and the letters pass. 

Sana tells her, "Didn't you know? Mina's in Haleiwa."

"Is it cold there too, unnie?"

"That's in Hawaii, Dahyunnie."

 


 

The closest thing to a reunion is colliding with Jeongyeon at a train station and nearly falling on the rails because so.

They decide to meet halfway and take the train to Songpa together, where she expected to see them hours ago but because of long immigration lines and that one sick kid in church whose vomit Dahyun had to clean up, the two ended up shamefully disappointing Nayeon–and by extension, the 3.26-kilogram and 50 centimeter-long baby girl she had just agonizingly welcomed to the world.

In spite of the happiness that comes with seeing the little human in flesh, whose existence headlined all of Dahyun's prayers, Dahyun still can't help but feel disappointed at herself for expecting.

They all said they would be here together. For Nayeon and their eighth little member . But it's only Jeongyeon and Dahyun here now. 

Dahyun should've known better than to continue to hope even when all she's gotten out of it was a constant streak of disappointment. 

It doesn't help that they find out Dahyun's little bro is a Son and Jeongyeon doesn't take it nicely. 

What Dahyun had begged for as a peaceful and happy reunion turned out to be a storming-out session. 

Dahyun didn't even get to see Nayeon and tell her she did a wonderful job. Jeongyeon's dragging her away and she's never held back against her unnie.

She buys a bouquet of flowers for Nayeon a few days later, because Jeongyeon needed a lot of time and comfort and Dahyun couldn't– wouldn't –just leave her so easily so she stays (unlike them).

In spite of her begging to stay and work things out first, Jeongyeon leaves for her flight the next morning.

When Dahyun arrives at Asan, still unrecovered from all the crying and the pleading and the praying for a miracle to happen, she finds out Nayeon's already gone too. She already left, along with her little bro.

 


 

If that didn't break Dahyun just yet, it's this that does the work:

"Mina?" She can imagine the frown on Jihyo's face at the mention of the name.

"She arrived in Seoul two weeks ago…"

 


 

The public phone booth gets removed in order to extend the bus stop's waiting shed. Dahyun stops going there anymore.

Her father sells the white pages in a garage sale, for someone interested enough in buying phone books. Dahyun doesn't stop him.

The last letter she gets is from Jihyo, from Nayeon, containing a polaroid picture labeled Son Chaeyoung. 4.23.1999. Dahyun keeps it in her wallet.

Variegated flowers, the name means. It reminds Dahyun of something, like a distant, blurry memory, yet she doesn't recall knowing anyone of the same name nor any moment of any association. 

The frustration sends her to a two-week-long trip to Ilsan instead, City of flowers.

When she returns, it's already May and nature is at its full bloom, the crisp scent of spring wafting in the air perfectly. Wonderful colors of flowers and leaves fly around in mini-tornadoes, birds chirping in unfamiliar melodies. 

Dahyun thinks of Nayeon's Chaeyoung, and hopes she's taken a lot after her wonderful mother but not her allergic rhinitis.

It's one windy afternoon when a familiar scent fills Dahyun's nostrils. The blooming Jasmines scatter about in the backyard, falling on the patch of grass and dirt below it and getting blown away. 

Dahyun walks over, picks each and every fallen Jasmine up, and then throws them away.

(It's a beautiful spring day. She can't cry just because people grow out of things and grow out of her, because people live their own lives that don't include her in them. 

Dahyun doesn't cry because her unnies are slowly drifting away from her. She doesn't cry because it's a beautiful spring day, Chaeyoung's almost turning a month old, and she's going to go to school soon and start a whole new life again.

Dahyun doesn't cry. But that doesn't make her any less lonelier.)

 


 

Dahyun receives four cards on her birthday.

Sana and Momo send her a picture of a beautiful chocolate cake along with a three-paged letter all about her wonderful Nagoya is and how it'd be better if she was there with them, all signed From Satang, Momoring, Betty, Boo, and Doby ♡.

Jackson sends an empty compact disc along with a birthday card from him and Youngji, telling her to upgrade her mixtapes for Mina into the CD. Dahyun feels her heart swell and break all at the same time. 

Jihyo, technically, doesn't count in the five but Dahyun makes an exemption. She emails Dahyun a weird 3D birthday GIF along with a lengthy greeting and promises of free twisty fries at Deux when they meet again (soon! hopefully! i'll make time!)

A thick bundle of coupons from the Chinese restaurant her father frequents gets thrown into the mix of letters, along with utility bills and her mother's latest subscribed issue of Home Living Korea.

Dahyun nearly forgets about the fifth letter until her father sifts through the bundle and sees it, encased in a cream-colored textured envelope labeled To Kim Dahyun (flower sticker) and a stamp from Hawaii.

Dahyun brings the letter to her room, utters all the prayers in the world and begs the heavens for the courage and composure because she's fucking shaking, before finally opening the envelope and reading the letter.

It's nine papers stapled on the upper right, folded in three panels neatly. Mina's Hangul handwriting changed, Dahyun notes. It's graceful and decipherable still, if not more.

Dahyun finds out the letter got held back at the post office for more than a month. 

Mina tells Dahyun about the two-week vacation to Hawaii with her grandparents. She talks about how beautiful the beaches are, unearthly even and how she feels like she shouldn't be here. It's too perfect. She tells Dahyun how it would've been better if she were there too.

Mina has to do some school things and fix her Korean citizenship papers the week of Nayeon's delivery. She has an interview scheduled with the immigration office on the 23rd and 24th, and rambles on about how she absolutely hated not getting to meet Dahyun's bro.

Mina tells Dahyun she'll come back to Seoul on April 23rd but might not be able to visit much because of the whirlwind of adulting things she has to do. She'll make time though, but cannot say when she can.

Mina dedicates three pages to tell Dahyun how much she misses her and wishes they can be together again. One entire page goes to apologizing for being the worst pseudo-girlfriend in the world and being unable to respond to Dahyun's calls and letters.

The letter ends with a hundred I love you's and a print of Mina's lips at the end.

It's the almond one. Your favorite on me.

"I'll go to you soon", Dahyun reads. It's like all the weight on her chest gets lifted in one go. "I promise."

She thinks, at that exact moment, maybe they can do this. Maybe we can.

(Maybe they won't.

Dahyun finds out the hard way when her mother tells her this:

Not everyone in your life gets a grand exit. Sometimes, people just go. 

They don't just disappear entirely so soon. You forget about them little by little. Time untethers them from you.

Slowly, you'll begin to detach yourself. At first, in between two  choices. Was it that or this one that she liked? Then, you'll just forget entirely. What was it with jasmines that you liked about again? 

But people don't entirely disappear in your life. They just get pushed behind, locked in a safe at the back of your head, until they fizzle into a blurred memory.

"It isn't that it wasn't meant to be, sweetheart", Mrs. Kim explains to her daughter whose jagged breathing in between tears has her heart breaking more.

"There are people in our lives that just come and go. That doesn't mean they're any less significant than those who stayed", the middle-aged woman runs a hand through her daughter's hair. 

"You have to remember. At one point, they made our lives beautiful. And sometimes, one beautiful moment is enough.")

 

Chapter Text

“The one will not be kissing in the pouring rain, it’s them pulling the car up to the front so you don’t get wet. They are not the fireworks, they are that 60 seconds of silence right before the grand finale.”

Casey Ebeling, This Is How You’ll Know They’re ‘The One’

 

🌈

 

Mina thinks remembering is weird. 

When she looks back on her life, the range of the memories she digs up vary drastically. She can remember the most peculiar of things down to the smallest detail and completely forget the simplest ones. 

She forgets most about Texas but remembers the climate very vividly, as if the summer heat still grates her skin every now and then. She forgets about most of her memories in Obayashi but remembers the chip on the surface of the wooden shelf by the Fiction aisle in the library, the same shelf Mina used to hide behind just to sneak secret glances at Haruka Miyauchi frowning at a book as if it’d done her wrong. Mina remembers 1998 very clearly. Apgujeong, the talent show, the girls, Dahyun. She forgets about that girl, however. Even her name. She can’t remember her name and her face is mostly just a blurry haze but Mina remembers 1998 like it just happened yesterday. Like a chaotic, unforgettable dream. 

Mina forgets the bigger picture but remembers tiny tidbits of it, the smaller fragments that make up the whole. She can hardly recall the forceful hit of New York's bustling rush hour, the elegant kiss of Paris' cobblestone streets, but she remembers standing in the rain, squeezed in a crowd she didn't belong to, and dancing in Hawaii, sun-kissed and in love. 

It's funny. Most of the moments in her life that she can hardly remember all share one common element altogether: they don't have Dahyun. 

These days, when Mina looks at Dahyun, she wonders how life had been like before her. 

Was it ever this easy? 

These days, she can only part her last forty years of existence into two categories: before Dahyun and after her.

She spent eighteen years before Dahyun, and twenty-two more with her. Although the numbers don’t bear much of a difference from each other, Mina’s memories in them do, and in forty years of existence, she’s most certain of one thing only: Dahyun is her life’s greatest adventure, the best chapter of her story. 

Kim Dahyun comes into her life gently, like the unnoticeable breath of a springtime breeze ghosting against her skin. It’s ticklish and soft, like the pads of Dahyun’s fingers when they sail through the course of Mina’s arms, grazing ever so teasingly, ever so lightly. 

One moment it’s the same and then in a snap, it’s a whole lot different and new, and Dahyun comes waltzing into the movie of Mina’s life with a thousand scenes and only one role to play: to be her person.

When Mina tells their story, it isn’t as exciting as Jeongyeon and Nayeon’s intensely passionate one, about life getting in the way time and time again, getting separated and meeting decades later. Theirs isn’t as perfectly destined as the Sana and Momo’s, being each other’s person since the dawn of day. 

Their story is quiet and gentle, and sometimes a little frustrating, but it’s theirs to make and theirs to write together. 

 

🌈

 

Present time, 2020

It probably isn’t supposed to be this easy, doing all this , but like everything with Dahyun, it is. It’s easy. Even in the hard times it is. 

“How many copies did you have laminated?” 

The plan was to keep things low key. This wasn’t low key. 

Dahyun smiles through pearl white teeth, holding up an A4-sized laminated print-out of their 3D sonogram. “Enough to put one in every wallet we both have.” 

(Mina has seven wallets–for security purposes–and Dahyun, three.)

“And enough extras to have framed around the house and sent to our parents.” 

It’s too early for Mina to wrap her head around the situation but the cheeriness in Dahyun’s tone has her chest clenching in a way that steals her breath away that she has no power but to just nod and relent to her wife’s questionable definition of low key. 

Dahyun must notice this too, realize the sleep painted all over Mina’s droopy voice and lazy movements. Unlike most of their 7AM mornings, she’s splayed on their bed like a starfish right now, looking up at the ceiling in contemplation between getting up or just sleeping in.  

“Dahyun-ah?” Mina calls out in a hoarse, sleep-mused voice, making up her mind.

“Hm?”

“Can you move to my side, please?” 

Dahyun does what she is told, pattering over to the side of the bed where she can finally see Mina’s face, eyes tight shut and forehead creased in what looks like frustration. “What’s wrong?” 

Mornings aren’t normally like this for Mina. They’re mostly made up of early morning jogs around their block, cooking breakfast according to their appetite (mostly waffles and sweet potatoes), or simply just goofing around the house before they both have to go to work (Mina to the studio, and Dahyun to the company HQ).

Today, driven by the side-effects of being in her third trimester, the things that make up most of Mina’s mornings are all crossed out of the list. Even with her natural composure in chaos and innate grace through adversity, she isn’t saved from the severity of her hormones and temper.

Being unable to walk this morning because she’s woken up late (after getting barely-enough sleep from her insatiable appetite and unsatisfied bladder), only getting to eat nutrimum bars for breakfast (because that’s what the doctor told them), and scheduled for a magazine photoshoot appointment when she feels like a ticking bomb, Mina feels like she’s treading closely over the edge of her patience and sanity. 

The worst thing about her entire morning? An empty bed and no sign of Dahyun to greet her waking eyes. 

Even after Dahyun had arrived and she goes on and on about the twenty-something laminated copies of the sonogram she had done, Mina was only able to listen to her wife’s voice and not actually see her because of the literal bump in the way, covering Dahyun’s face from her view. 

Oh my god. I can’t even—

“Mina? Are you…” Dahyun doesn’t even get to finish because Mina’s held-back whimpers slowly fill the room, juxtaposing the beautiful sound of birds chirping and making up what is otherwise

Mina hates it, she absolutely does. The slightest bit of misfortune thrown at her already has her hormones acting all crazy and the entire morning had been up against her.

The bed dips and before Dahyun can even say anything else, Mina’s already directing all of her energy to roll on her side and get as close as she can to whatever warmth her body had been craving this entire time. Rightfully so, Dahyun willingly gives it to her. 

Mina feels Dahyun’s arms wrap themselves around her shoulders, pulling her as close as she can. Dahyun must have been in quite a hurry to step out of the house because she’s still in her pajamas; Mina figures this out not by seeing it but by the familiar light vanilla scent and the soft, pilling texture of her overused plaid pajama top. 

Still, Mina nuzzles herself closer, allowing herself to drown in the one part of her life she can never get enough of: Dahyun. She allows herself the pleasure of drowning in everything about Dahyun, in her overwhelmingly wholesome hug, in her faint vanilla smell, in her permeating warm company. 

This is it. This is life. This is all Mina could ever ask for. 

As if she was the magic switch that could end all chaos, the divine intervention that could change the course of Mina’s impossible start, every mishap of her morning slowly blows away into the lovely morning Mina is only beginning to recognize now. 

Every struggling piece of her fits in this embrace and Mina finds solitude in the beat of Dahyun’s heart against hers. She’s found peace in Dahyun and suddenly, Mina finds the courage to face the world again. Suddenly, everything feels easy again. 

And everything does become easy.

One moment Mina a second away from boring a hole right through the ceiling with her torpid staring, a phone-call down from telling her assistant to cancel all her appointments today, and in another moment she’s getting pulled around the house and looking far out into the expanse of greenery surrounding their house, rocking herself in the patio swing. 

“Here you go”, Dahyun arrives from the kitchen with a tray of breakfast. She sits down right beside Mina. “Belgian waffles and your Starbucks order, as per my gut feeling earlier.” 

Mina grabs the tray without sparing Dahyun a look. She scoffs, “I should’ve married your gut feeling then.”

The thing is, sometimes, Mina thinks aging has affected her wife’s ability to catch up on things. On most occasions, her suspicions are proven wrong. Dahyun still laughs first whenever Jeongyeon cracks some joke that takes most of them a minute later to comprehend. It’s just that, when it comes to things  of the heart, sometimes, Dahyun gets oblivious. 

Thankfully, her wife gets it instantly today. 

“Are you really upset that I left without you this morning?”

Well, not entirely. 

The huff that Mina blows out–while perfectly keeping her eyes on her waffles and slicing through it with her breadknife–is enough of an answer.

“Okay. Fine.” Dahyun sighs in defeat. “I’m really sorry I had to leave in such a rush, unnie. I woke up at six-thirty and the print shop didn’t open on Saturdays but I made a request and they could only wait until seven! I couldn’t even change! I’m really sorry!”

She feels doomed. The silence hangs in the air in an unfamiliar tension, thick and heavy. Mina sits right beside her, propped up and elegantly calm, looking up at her from the rim of her glasses.

Dahyun feels like she’s getting a thorough X-ray scan. In her head she imagines just how Mina will drop the bomb on her because of this slip-up. She’s read more than once how pregnant women get heavily carried away by their emotions. 

We’re getting a divorce” doesn’t sound like the right words to put on a colorful invitation card-—

“Alright.” 

“What?” Dahyun feels like a bucket of ice-cold water has just dropped over her head. 

Mina finishes her waffles and then takes a sip from her iced tea. She shrugs. “I said alright. I can’t stay mad at you for long. You know that.” 

The feeling is akin to a weight being lifted from her shoulders, air filling her lungs again. Dahyun wiggles closer to Mina, wrapping her arms around the older woman. 

“Oh my god”, she breathes out in relief. “I thought you were going to break up with me because of it. I’m really, truly sorry, Mitang.” 

Mina’s giggle sends a flurry of hair strands tickling at Dahyun’s cheek. “I can’t exactly divorce you on the grounds of not giving me a goodbye kiss. That’s just gonna be a massive headache for our lawyers.” 

“You pay them more than enough to sort that kind of stuff out so I wouldn’t be surprised if they do pull it off—” 

“Well, you have nothing to worry about”, Mina interjects, gently pulling an arm out of Dahyun’s embrace and wrapping it around her shoulders to pull her closer. “You’re stuck with me forever, Kim. You just have to promise me good morning and goodbye kisses.” 

“In exchange for a lifetime with you?” Dahyun mocks a dramatic gasp. “Aren’t you selling yourself short, Myoui?” 

“That, and you have to start on the storage room today.” 

Dahyun pulls away with a confused frown. “I thought we had to meet the girls today?” 

Mina runs a hand through the mess of her loose hair, tucking them behind her ears. “Well yes. But it’s just eight, darling. I have a photoshoot after lunch and Nayeon and Jihyo don’t get out of work until five o’ clock.”

The exasperated sigh Dahyun lets out is comical. Although their schedule was packed to the brim, it being three weeks away from Mina’s due date, Dahyun expected to just chill today with and join Mina around for her work. She had finished all compositions not due for another week, had gone through all her pending documents and rescheduled all appointments for today just for this. Dahyun was pushing storage room clean-out duty for at least another week or so, before they leave for Japan. 

The baby’s not going to sleep in their own room for another year. No need to hurry… 

“Do I have to do that today? All by myself?” Dahyun whines, already foreseeing the terror of having to go through all the memorabilia in their storage room. 

“I already called back-up. Chaeng, Tzuyu, and Yerimmie are coming today to help out.” Mina presses a kiss on the crown of Dahyun’s head before pushing herself off the patio swing. She stretches her back a little before smiling back at her wife, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, my package just arrived and I wanna open it already.” 

“Is that the box in the middle of the room? I nearly tripped over that—” Dahyun isn’t even finished talking when a squeal breaks out and she sees Mina already skeddadling to the living room, slowly kneeling before the coffee table, a large box open right before her. 

Dahyun hasn’t seen the woman this happy since they went to Legoland in Nagoya for their wedding anniversary. 

“What’s that?” 

Nothing can make her this happy other than—

“Lego.”

—lego, yes.

Dahyun grabs the finished breakfast stray and hops off the swing, joining Mina walks in the living room. “For the nursery or…?”

Mina takes out various boxed Lego City sets, squealing at every moment like a child who’s just gotten the toy she asked for on Christmas morning. “It’s for the display.”

“In which playroom? Ours or the baby’s?” 

The thing with teasing Mina is that it's completely a privilege. Dahyun doesn't get to tease Mina at work, that's irking her own boss. She doesn't get to tease Mina outside, that's setting herself up a shunning for rising against the Nation's Angel. The only time she ever truly gets to make jokes at Mina is at home, and it's always going to be about her adorable child-like fascination with legos.

It riles up Mina the best. “As if you don’t have an army of stuffed toys on display in the room…” 

“At least I’m not building an entire mini-city and playing god with lego toys…” Dahyun still pokes, having half the mind to back away from the grave she’s digging for herself and half the mind to continue teasing her beloved wife.

“Why are you judging me for this when I’m not judging you for trying to build your own highly-organized military force of teddy bears the other day?” Mina rebukes. “And please, for the love of god, stop calling the storage room a playroom. ” 

She turns to face her wife with a playful scowl this time. “Do you know how many times Nayeon has winked and wiggled her eyebrows at us because of it? She thinks we have some kind of sexy playroom in our house when it’s really just a room with your figurines and stuffed toys, and that trampoline obstacle course you got last year.” 

“Let them think what they want to think, unnie.” It’s Dahyun’s turn to wiggle her eyebrows at Mina this time. “They don’t have to know how many times I’ve beaten you in trampoline basketball. Kim: 5, Other-Kim: 0.” 

The title has Mina snorting. Back in their haydays, she was The Mina Myoui. She has no idea how she’s gotten this low in her life. “I’ve been reduced to being the 'Other Kim' now. I can’t believe it.” 

Dahyun is prepared to go on and on with the playful bantering (it’s been a hectic morning; this is the closest to lovey-dovey time with her wife today), but then Mina’s phone rings and the the familiar sound of Pachelbel’s Canon in rock version echoes in the entire open living space, cutting their time short. 

Mina excuses herself, muttering something about just wanting some peace time with her legos before making her way upstairs. 

(One thing very useful–and not, at the same time–with having an open-layout house is the easy auditory perception of calls, messages, and other necessary alarms. 

Dahyun could stand in the farthest corner of the house–the one-walled hallway leading to Mina's dance room in the south wing–and Mina would still hear the sound of her KT notifications.) 

Dahyun tends to her phone while waiting, sitting down by the coffee table and the box of legos, and catching her breath from all of the explaining and hurrying she’s done in the last thirty minutes. 

Dahyun opens Kakaotalk, checking the chat room with the girls that she and Mina had totally not muted because it’s too noisy. Just. Because. Well. It’s too hard to keep up. 

Nayeon is the loudest among them, both in physical and virtual lives. She created the group chat ever since Chaeyoung had introduced to her the wonders of Kakaotalk and has since then abused her administrative powers by flooding them with messages talking about everything and anything. 

It’s fine, Dahyun and Mina had grown to accept it as a part of their daily life already. They aren’t in the position to complain when Jeongyeon lives with Nayeon herself and still replies to the chat whenever Nayeon asks about her day—as if they don’t live in the same house…

For today, it’s Nayeon and Momo in mama bear mode. 

99+ Unread Messages. Just as expected. 

Dahyun thinks it would take her another hour to register everything down so she just skims through the latest ones sent this morning, which are mostly just Momo’s reminders of today’s change of plans for Dahyun and Nayeon’s “DAHYUN’S BABYSITTING SERVICES NOW OPEN!!”

She types a reply back, asking what time the two are dropping off their respective daughters. She isn’t even surprised anymore when Nayeon only takes a second or two before firing back a response: 

I’m off driver duty 2day  😀

Momo, with that wrecked phone of hers that belongs to a museum and a junkyard at the same time, sends a message an entire minute after Nayeon’s. 

Scary Kang picked up Tzuyu 15 mins ago. Probably on the way now   👩❤️💋👩👩❤️💋👩👩❤️💋👩💕💕💕💕🐻

A flood of random messages follow right after, including a picture of Jeongyeon sleeping with Kookeu on her face that Nayeon sends without any hesitation and a surge of random pictures from Momo’s gallery. 

Dahyun tries to react to each one, enjoying the virtual company and considering the thought of unmuting the chat, but when Momo accidentally sends a video of Sana dancing in what looks like a hotel room, filmed with a steamy rosy filter and eyes making out with the camera, all thoughts of consideration are thrown out the window.

The last messages she reads are Nayeon’s 👀👀👀 and Jeongyeon's coincidentally-perfect-timed:

MINATOZAKI??! U SHOW THAT TO YOUR CHILD?? 🥵🔞

Nayeon probably comes up with a snarky question to Jeongyeon’s perfect-timed appearance but Dahyun doesn’t stay long enough to see it. She shuts her phone off, tries not to think too much about whatever induced that steamy dance session, and mentally goes through her plans for the day instead. 

After much contemplation, Mina and Dahyun decided to renovate the storage and guest rooms instead of building an entire separate house for the baby. It saves more money and time for them. The only things they had to do were a little renovating of the guest room and cleaning out the storage room beside it. 

Enter Mina’s victims for this afternoon: Son Chaeyoung, Chou Tzuyu, and Kang Yerim. 

Jeongyeon, Sana, and Irene call it twelve hours of freedom. Nayeon, Momo, and Seulgi call it free babysitting services. 

Sometimes Dahyun wonders, when have they all grown up?

It feels like it was only last chapter when she was still the baby of the group. Now she's babysitting her unnies' kids and expecting her own.

 

🌈

 

Dahyun plops down on the edge of their bed, towel-drying the ends of her hair as she watches Mina pace back and forth in front of her, locking her earring in.

"By the way, I thought you didn’t have to leave until later?”

Mina lets out a sigh after finally getting her pearls in. She grabs her necklace from the vanity, handing them over to Dahyun to lock it for her.

"Sora called. The interviewer for the Vogue shoot came in early. Said the schedule for the interview would either be right now or in another week." Mina slides her hair to the side, squirming a little under the ghost of Dahyun's touch on her nape. “You know we have to leave for Japan next week, baby.” 

Dahyun only nods back, going through the calendar of important dates in her head. They were only three weeks away from Mina’s due date and settling down in Japan first was of utmost importance. They had to file documents and get papers ready for the baby’s arrival. 

“In that case, are you sure you want an interview session so early and by yourself? I could catch up and leave the storage room duty with the girls, if you want”, Dahyun offers after locking the necklace in place, turning Mina around by the shoulder. 

“And risk leaving all three kids here unsupervised?” Mina huffs. “No thank you, my love.” She chuckles fondly before leaning in and pressing a soft kiss on the corner of Dahyun’s lips. “Besides, I can do it. Nothing I can’t handle.” 

"I keep on forgetting I’m married to Forbes 2020’s sixth most powerful woman on earth."

That gets Mina laughing bashfully, cheeks blushing at the thought of that stupid annual list she made history for. The girls handed out free copies of the magazine everywhere they went. It didn’t take long before Mina catapulted again on the ladders of fame and popularity among the current generation. She is now running for fourth place in 2021’s The World's Most Powerful People issue, the youngest Asian woman on the list. 

Mina finishes getting ready and before Dahyun even knows it, she’s already jogging after the older girl hurrying out of the house. 

“Please tell Seulgi and Irene unnie I’m sorry I couldn’t stay long enough to see them again. I’ll make up for it next time!”

Dahyun can only nod,  watching as Mina rounds the luxury car and gets in, carefully as to not ruin her maxi dress. 

(Her mother wouldn’t like to hear Mina still driving while a few weeks away from her due date, but truth be told, Dahyun actually believes the woman could compete in a race and win first even in her current state. Mina had the driving expertise of a seasoned truck driver.)

“I love you, okay?” Mina exclaims after rolling down the window. “You can visit the shoot when you’re done and the kids are home already. I’d love to see you there, babe.” 

“Yes, ma’am”, Dahyun chuckles. “I’ll drop by before you go!””

Mina smiles back, nodding. They exchange last few reminders about the storage room and the boxes they can use to keep the excess stuffs,  about the extra room down the south wing where Dahyun can store those things (“So...the things in the storage room will be put in...another storage room?”), and about labeling things that will go and will stay. 

“Please don’t be too sentimental in your trip to memory lane, okay, honey?” 

Dahyun can’t promise but since Mina is running late already, getting restless in front of the wheel, she nods. “Okay, unnie…” 

Mina spends a second or two hesitating about leaving Dahyun all alone with the housework, but the screen on the center console lights up with an incoming call from an unknown number and Mina is brought with no other choice but to take it, waving at Dahyun one last time and blowing a kiss for her before driving away. 

The moment Mina’s silver Porsche Taycan disappears into the main road, Dahyun takes in a deep breath, welcoming a lungful of the musky, sylvan smell of her surroundings that always brings a peaceful silence to an otherwise chaotic disposition. 

Dahyun takes in another lungful of air, calming her nerves down. She’ll be needing all of the peace and motivation she can get for today’s chores. 

 

🌈

 

The shoot location is a loft warehouse in the outskirts of Seoul, on the topmost floor of a high-rise corporate building. The loft is nondescript and minimally industrial, expansive enough to fit the photoshoot set, the production team, and the hair and makeup people all in one space. 

The sounds of the photographer testing the camera flashes and studio lighting play over the subdued bossa nova background music, people in face masks and comfortable-looking clothes walking around, unknown to her existence. 

Shin Kwangho sees her first, immediately bursting in a high-pitched squeal that slices through the chilly air of tranquility in the room, startling a few set people in the process. 

“MINA! DARLING!” He rushes over in his black faux fur coat, smile doubling and eyes crinkling in glee as he takes in all of Mina’s thirty-three-weeks-along glory. “You. Look. DAZZLING.”

Mina finds the compliment hard to believe when she feels like an oversized bowling ball is strapped around her waist but she gets through, understanding there are not enough words in the universe that can fully justify the emotional and physical turmoil of carrying a child. 

“I highly doubt that but thank you very much”, Mina smiles, pressing herself into a welcoming hug with Vogue Korea’s Editor-in-Chief. “I’m very grateful you chose to do this with me, Kwangho-ssi.” 

“What are you talking about? I’m the one who should be grateful you chose us to do this with”, Kwangho huffs, hugging Mina’s arm and dragging her around the set. “It is definitely Vogue Korea’s honor to have the one and only Myoui Mina on its 2021 cover.”

Mina can only chuckle bashfully, directing her smile to the passing crew members instead who, in turn, bow at her greeting. 

“And with this honor, we brought in for you only the best from Vogue Korea’s arsenal of writers”, Kwangho drones on as they stop in front of frosted glass doors leading to what looks like a conference room. He uses his free hand to push open the door, presenting a woman sitting by the chair next to the head of the table. 

The lady is busy writing something on her notebook but when she looks up and notices Mina’s presence, the nonexistent Loudest Person award is snatched away from Kwangho’s hands and given to this woman. 

The squeal she lets out is enough to send Mina flinching. Even her unborn child probably felt the uncomfortable scratch of the woman’s shrieking against their eardrums. 

Unlike her, Kwangho doesn’t seem to be anywhere near a damaged eardrum, grinning from ear to ear as he introduces the two to each other, “Mina, this is Kim Jiwoo, Vogue Korea’s esteemed Executive Editor.” 

Amidst the potentially-damaged eardrum, Mina thinks Kim Jiwoo is a remarkably familiar sight for sore eyes. Then Kwangho introduces her again as “Chuu” and the recognition hits her like an unforeseen, very unfortunate lightning strike. 

“Chuu from the Apgujeong Daily?!”

The signature pearl-white smile is flashed at her along with a cute, playful wink, “The one and only!” 

Kim Jiwoo, popularized as Chuu, was the only underclassman (aside from Dahyun of course) that Mina really knew and adored. She was a year younger and in the school journalism club, often the mind and pen behind the features on the paper that always spoke to Mina that she couldn’t believe someone had that kind of way with words. Mina loved reading and she absolutely loved reading Chuu’s articles even if it meant paying for copies of the school paper. 

They hardly ever spoke to each other in high school, as Mina was often busy with practices and her friends, but at one point they talked after the piece Apgujeong Daily did on the winners of the ‘98 talent show and Mina was just absolutely smitten over the younger girl.

Chuu had the energy of a thousand suns. At first it was overwhelming but the girl had the natural inclination of appeal and sincerity that just pulled in people to her. She was kind of like the louder, more energetic version of Dahyun, just when Mina was beginning to believe no one else could surpass her wife. 

Chuu, twenty-two years later, still has the same innate ability in her, albeit a thousand times more.

“Unnie! I missed you so much! It’s so good to see you!” Chuu squeals into the hug she gives, tight enough that Mina can feel the undeniable warmth she radiates for the world. 

When they pull away, Chuu launches into a lengthy speech on how she volunteered to do this interview and piece the moment she heard it was for and about Mina. “Writing isn’t really in my job description anymore, unnie, but I just had to see you again! I thought, ‘why don’t I write your piece instead?’ just like old times!”

And the old times, they definitely get. 

 

🌈

 

Truth be told, Dahyun is very much close friends with the Kangs even without the involvement of Chaeyoung and Yerim's friendship.

The first time Dahyun met the beautiful couple, she was looking through the assortment of bouncy houses in Costco (Dahyun remembers precisely because the bouncy house was a gift for Mina, for their wedding anniversary).

Irene and Seulgi Kang were looking through the shelves of laundry supplies behind Dahyun. The moment Dahyun laid eyes on the two, the first thing she noticed was the fabric softener in Irene's hold. She wondered how someone with such skinny hands could carry five liters of lavender fabric softener. That was enough to convince Dahyun Irene Kang was a superhuman back then. Also, super cool. And then her eyes drifted to the woman following behind Irene, Seulgi Kang, pushing a grocery cart with four cartons of boxed chardonnay and six boxes of pinot noir.

Kim Dahyun was convinced then and there: Irene and Seulgi were the coolest people in the entire Costco warehouse at that moment. 

She approached them for the wine, felt a little intimidated by Irene Kang's glaring when she asked for their opinions on which bouncy house looked the coolest, and just felt an instant click when Seulgi answered with the same bouncy house Dahyun had been considering, making up for Irene's intimidating stares with her eye smiles and welcoming tone.

A couple of months later she found out Yerim was Chaeyoung’s best friend. The rest had been history since then.

Kim Dahyun is most likely the only person on earth–aside from Seulgi, Yerim, and Yeeun Kang–who could tell scary Mrs. Kang right on the face: “You look awful today, unnie. Is something going on?”

(It takes a shit ton of guts telling a former beauty queen with a level three krav maga expertise that she looks awful in broad daylight. 

In Dahyun’s defense, looking “awful” in Irene Bae-Kang language means radiance in a white off-shoulder dress and a pink giant sun hat, and a few bags under her eyes only noticeable up close to make her look less spellbinding and more human.)

“That’s what comes with the baby package, Dahyunnie”, Irene chuckles as she steps inside the Chevy Tahoe with a huff. “Speaking of baby, thank you again, by the way, for taking Yerim off our hands today. That’s one baby down, two more to go.” 

Dahyun frowns in a mix of confusion and shock. “Two? Are you…? ” 

“What? No!” Irene cackles uncharacteristically, slapping Dahyun in the arm. 

She revolts at the idea of another child in her age, pursing her lips at something over Dahyun’s shoulders and clarifying instead, “I was talking about those two!” 

Dahyun turns around and sees Seulgi playing an intense game of tag with her two-year-old daughter.

“Oh.” 

In the process of running away from Yeeun, Seulgi collides with Yerim and falls on the floor with a huff; dumbfounded for a split second, she meets eyes with Yeeun and pauses for a beat—then proceeds to burst into hysterical laughter right after. She and Yeeun continue playing like nothing happened.

“Anyhow, Yerim doesn’t really have any dust allergies or anything. You can go make her do all the work, no problem for me”, Irene smiles and Dahyun almost thinks she’s joking until the smile disappears and Irene just downright begs, “Honestly. Please. Make her move around. The other day she bought Anlene for her back. My twenty-year-old daughter has a bad back and cracking bones. Kids these days…"

Dahyun nods warily in spite of being unable to register the thought of Yerim buying milk supplements for older people. 

Seulgi and Yeeun walk out to the driveway just in time as Irene starts the car. She's driving back now after Seulgi nearly ran them off the driveway after seeing a cute butterfly flutter in front of the window. 

"It's a very nice house, Dahyunnie", the kinder Mrs. Kang greets with Yeeun in her hold, who looks up at Dahyun with wide bright eyes and a lovely toothless smile. 

"Yeeun was excited in her seat the entire time. She was expecting a tiger would jump out any second."

"She thought we were in a zoo, Dahyun. Both Yeeun and Seul did."

Dahyun laughs at the indignant scoff Seulgi lets out. "Don't worry, unnie. It's alright. Mitang and I get that a lot."

"You know what else you'll get a lot today?"

"What?"

"Questions." Seulgi answers on behalf of her wife. "Yerim has the curiosity of an entertainment show host."

"In short, she asks a lot of questions, Dahyun", Irene adds. "I suppose having three curious teens at your house will spark a lot of those for you.” 

No matter how serious Irene gets, Dahyun always gives her the benefit of the doubt and does the same for now, believing the older woman just because she can but not entirely. It’s just normal for someone to be curious, Dahyun supposes. 

The girls wouldn’t be too much, right? 

 

🌈

 

Mina settles in the chair right beside where Chuu initially sat and waited from, diving into a quick catching up first. Kwangho leaves them to check on the styling team’s choices for Mina’s attire on the shoot. 

“How far along are you, unnie?” Chuu asks first after settling down on her seat. 

“Thirty-three weeks”, Mina answers with a smile. 

The nerves have yet to find their way to her, possibly because she and Dahyun have prepared for the d-day more times than they can count and the lamaze classes are really doing a spectacular job on calming her down.

“When I was that far along with Hyejoo, I was hysterical!” Chuu exclaims with much emotion. “The only thing stopping my wife from locking me in a straitjacket was our marriage certificate.”

The name rings a bell. “Wife?” 

Chuu must love her so much because it shows. Just when her smile couldn’t get any wider, her eyes any brighter, they just do. It’s like she’s talking about all the beautiful wonders of the world, as if this woman is an absolute dream personified. 

“Sooyoung, unnie.” Chuu answers matter-of-factly. “Ha Sooyoung.” 

And then it hits Mina for the second time in a row. “The Muse of the Dance Troupe?” 

The pride on Chuu’s face is second to none. “Yep. That’s her alright.” 

She talks about Sooyoung and their on-and-off romance, about how they pursued different paths in college and only met again on one fateful night that just sparked everything back, as if all their stars were meant to align one more time with each other. 

“We got married right after my internship for the Korea Herald. Eloped to Canada for a ceremony and some certification because I wanted to have it legalized just so I could get an official document to slap at her parents’ faces.” 

Mina chuckles at that, unable to imagine the Chuu she knows from high school, an innocent and pure little puppy, doing exactly what she had just said. Time really does change people. 

“Then we had Hyejoo about three years later, 2008. She’s in sixth grade now, entering her emo phase too early but we love her very much.” 

Mina can just imagine how adorable and pretty Hyejoo must be.

“How about you, unnie? We just heard from the news that you got married. And then a few months later, found out it was to Kim Dahyun. As in the Kim Dahyun!” Chuu blurts gleefully, hands clenched in excited little fists.

“Were you two like, strong ever since?” Chuu breaks through her contemplation, asking in genuine curiosity. “We kinda made a bet on it back in high school but we only got it confirmed seven years later, when you two got married.”

Mina shakes her head in turn. “Well, no. We also got separated during college and then only met again a few years after graduation. Similar to you and Sooyoung?” 

“Oooooh~ I wanna know more–wait!” Chuu cuts herself off. “Before we go on, unnie”, she grabs her pen and makes a show of opening her notebook. “I’m gonna make some notes. It might be relevant to the piece I’m making about you.” 

Chuu presents to her a bunch of questions she’s listed down for Mina to filter through, choose which are comfortable enough to write a piece on. “We can just remove whatever it is you want to exclude when we’re done.” 

Mina thinks that’s a good deal. Besides, it wouldn’t hurt to go through memory lane too. Dahyun’s probably doing the same right now. 

 

 

The Kangs leave after a few farewells and a forceful kiss on Yerim’s creased forehead. Dahyun doesn’t catch the warning Irene throws in for her daughter’s behavior but whatever it is, fifteen minutes into showing the girls the travesty that is the storage room, it doesn’t work. 

Yerim holds up a small tattered notebook, Volkswagen cover folded and ripped in the edges. “Unnie? What’s this?” 

Dahyun remembers it in one glance. 

A little trip down memory lane doesn’t hurt, right? 

“That’s from when Mina and I broke up…?”

Scratch that. It hurts. It hurts me.  

 

 

(Twenty years ago, 2000)

They try to make it work. 

Because Dahyun wants to at least tell the universe she tried to save whatever she could. Because she doesn’t want to go down knowing she didn’t try

But sometimes, trying doesn’t cut out. Sometimes, it’s not enough. 

So, even with her trying, they only make it up to a year and a few months. 

Dahyun is somewhere between finalizing her junior year papers and entering her senior year, drowning in a sea of extracurriculars to attend and early college applications to fix, and Mina is in the middle of gathering data for her research on the hierarchies of modern dance and its correlation to existing socioeconomic classes, and juggling theater ballet with her other academic obligations.

Somewhere in the chaotic storm brought on by their new lives, sporadic handwritten letters, expensive long-distance calls, and hastily-typed emails slot in and welcome them to a new normalcy. 

They don’t see each other anymore but Mina finds Dahyun smiling back at her through the picture in her wallet, through every passing day the sun peeks down at her from the blue skies, through every single time the radio plays old hits from the Goo Goo Dolls and H.O.T. 

Dahyun remembers Mina from the flowers that bloom along the sidewalk on her way to school; she finds her in the breeze of springtime afternoon, when she's standing underneath a blossoming tree waiting for the bus, and a cool gust blows the hem of her long skirt, a flower falling gently from the branch, just like Mina's entrance in her life, like a soft, almost-ghostly kiss from the universe.

They find themselves in the fragments of the everyday world, creating the illusion of each other's ghost, replaying a vivid memory of a not-so distant past.

This new normalcy reduced them into desiring beings, wanting more yet getting less. 

Dahyun likes to think she has grown wiser in the past two years. She had lowered her expectations and lessened her efforts of trying. She did it, but she didn't either.

When her father gets sick a month before senior year begins, Dahyun had to sacrifice what remained of her energy and time for her unnies to tend to her filial duties. She had to make a decision between staying or leaving for good and moving on to a new chapter in her life, one that painted a hazy picture of a life without six other girls.

She calls Mina from the hospital reception phone on a Saturday night, knowing the girl would be less busy then. She cuts to chase, excusing herself with her limited time and a lie at the front desk nurse's disappointed frown, talking about an impatient caller waiting next to her instead.

"Unnie, can we meet on Friday? I think we need to talk." 

As expected, the stretch of the silence that greets back is enough to answer her. When Mina finally responds, it's with a downturn of her tone and a hesitancy that laces itself around the edges of her words.

"This friday, Dahyunnie?"" 

Dahyun nods, and then realizes Mina wouldn't see her. She won't until Friday, at least. "Yes. Please. It's important."

It's only fair they compromise. One of the most imperative contributing factors to their downfall is the distance. So Dahyun introduces Mina to one of the very few cafes she frequents whenever she has the rare luxury of more-than-enough bus coins and a mind running solely on impulsivity, and Mina, perhaps sensing the thick coat of apprehension in Dahyun's voice, hesitantly agrees.

"Okay. I'll see you then." Her voice is meek, reluctant, as if the idea of taking back her agreement sits right on the tip of her tongue. It probably is.

Dahyun, regardless of everything, feels grateful for this chance. "Thank you, unnie."

She owes Mina this much. In spite of everything, they both tried to make it work.

"Okay." Mina lets out a soft yawn. 

Dahyun takes it as her cue to end the call. "See you, unnie."

"See you." Then, there it comes again. The pause. A beat of hesitancy. Mina makes the same choice time and time again. "I love you, Dahyunnie."

Mina pulls the taut rope and lets the wrecking ball swing at her heart on an endless loop of an illusion to a happy ending.

Dahyun thinks it's about time they stop. Like all the other nights where she finds her heart torn between giving herself a rest or continuously beating for a hope at a favorable ending, she chooses to do the same thing too, over and over again.

"Good night, unnie." She doesn't want to hurt her even more. She doesn't tell her I love you too.

Dahyun thinks, of all the things she could give back to Mina, it should be the luxury of the time and freedom she had taken away from the girl first, and, at the very least, a proper goodbye.

 

 

Mina Myoui is twenty years old when she finds herself trudging through an inch’s layer of snow draping the concrete sidewalks of downtown Mapo-gu like a thick white blanket. With each breath she blows, a small cloud forms in front of her face, and every passing second the cold bite of the winter season chips through the layers of her coat, prickling against her skin. 

The weather forecast on the news earlier reported the coldest night in recorded history, Seoul practically a giant freezer at this point. So when the sight of Hoho Myoll Cafe finally meets Mina’s vision, she doesn’t help the sigh of relief that escapes her trembling lips. Finally. 

Her insides feel like mush right now, the prickling of a thousand needles leaving a tingling sensation permeating all throughout her body. Mina realizes this isn’t from the biting winter season storming downtown Seoul when she walks inside the visually-pleasing cafe and stands before three heaters, clad in four layers of clothing, and the prickling sensation doesn’t leave her system. 

Mina scans the space, bathed in variegated colors of fairy lights strung around on the walls. The first thing that stands out is the split window safari Volkswagen bus parked inside the cafe, used as some kind of furniture that adds to the vintage, hippie feel of the interior. 

Mina doesn’t get to enjoy much of the aesthetic design of the cafe, not when her eyes immediately find themselves magnetically pulled to the sight of golden hair cascading a padded-coat-clad back turned against her, Kim Dahyun’s profile coming into the perfect view. 

The prickling sensation only intensifies itself with each and every step Mina takes. She feels unfamiliar with it, only used to the beats her heart skips whenever she’s within Dahyun’s space. This feels raw and unnerving, like the door opening to something uncertain, something Mina isn’t so sure she’s ready for. 

“Dahyun?” The name leaves her lips unfamiliarly. Mina’s only ever gotten used to thinking about it, about this moment. Witnessing it in the flesh makes her insides knot and twist into coils.

When she finally takes the seat right across the table and sees Dahyun in all the glory of a year’s worth of repressed wanting, Mina feels like the air had been knocked right out of her lungs. The next four words that leave Dahyun’s lips do the work for her. 

“Unnie, we should stop.” 

Mina doesn’t even get to sit entirely. She freezes halfway through, afraid sitting down would mean coming into terms with how real the predicament before her is. 

“I...w-what?” 

There’s a cup of coffee right in front of Dahyun. She takes a short sip before putting down the cup slowly, hesitantly. “I’m moving away and you’re getting busy, unnie. I think it would be for the better if we stop right now before everything becomes more serious and we get hurt.” 

“U-Uh…” Not a single thought crosses Mina’s head. She looks at Dahyun and feels a jackhammer against her chest. “Wow.” 

Mina looks back on the one hour travel she’s gone through to get here. She thinks of all the words she thought of on the way, of how many I love you’s she wanted to say. Nothing in her head prepared her for this.

“I...I’m sorry if…” Mina racks her brain for something to say. “I'm sorry if...I got too busy and didn't have the time to respond to you or visit.” Mina feels her chest constrict. “School was being an ass and before I could finish one project there was already another waiting and—"

"Unnie, you don't have to apologize. I understand."

"But I don't!" Mina feels all of her emotions push at her, at her voice and at the erratic beat of her heart chasing for the end of this rope, so she can hold on it tighter and not let it slip anymore. She doesn't want to let go so bad.

Dahyun pulls away at the rise of her tone, blinks at her in a conflicted, startled manner, as if whoever is sitting in front of her isn’t Mina anymore. Mina can't blame her. She's never raised her voice before, has always held a firm grip over her emotions and thoughts. 

Lately, however, Mina is seeing it for herself. She’s becoming every bit the person she never thought she’d be.

"Dahyun", Mina calls out in a lower, pleading voice, trying to regain what remains of her composure. "I understand this is hard and it's my fault.” But it’s proving to be really hard when it’s beginning to feel like she’s losing her everything right now. “But we haven't even given it a shot! And I'm going to try harder! I promise! I'll visit you in breaks and write to you and—"

"Unnie. I'm not going to leave you." Dahyun tries to convince herself that too, but Mina’s far too knowing to see the younger doesn’t mean it the way she wants her to. 

"I just think it would be best for us both not to have anything holding us back, you know? Anyone holding us back. I don't want you to compromise your future just to be with me, unnie. I'd never want that. You love doing what you do. And I love you too much to take that away from you."

Mina can see it. How this will ruin her. The words that come out of Dahyun's lips are beautiful, coated in the honesty and gentleness that flows innate from the younger girl. But come her honesty is the inevitable truth that Mina had long tried to shove down. That this isn’t going to happen, no matter how hard they try. Maybe this just isn’t their time yet. 

"I just think it'd be better if we let ourselves live without feeling guilty for missing out on one another, you know? For not returning a letter or making time for a call. You'll be busier now, unnie. I know you have a lot of things to do. I don't want to hold you back."

Mina feels exasperated. "But you don't hold me back!"

"I do, unnie. I know you feel it too, you just don't want to face it. I do hold you back. And I don't want that."

"Then what do you want us to do now?" There seems to be no point begging her way to this when Dahyun looks at a fixed decision. "Do you want us to just...stop?"

"I'm fine with anything you want to do, unnie. I just—I can't promise you I'd respond or write as much. And I don't want you to feel obligated to as well. Do whatever you want to do."

"What if I don't want this?" Mina looks at Dahyun through the tears pooling in her eyes. "I don't want to lose you, Dahyun.”

"You won't, unnie. We'll meet again in the future." Dahyun sounds so sure of it, she’s almost convinced. "We'll meet again and we'll know what to do then. For now, I don't want us to regret ruining what can be beautiful just because we don’t want to lose it. So please, unnie?"

This might just be the one time in Mina's entire life where she wants to turn Dahyun down, where she finally wants to say no. Every part of her body is pulling at her to say no. Because if leaving Dahyun and moving away didn’t ruin her enough, this definitely would. 

"Fine." But it’s Dahyun. It’s always going to be Dahyun. And all it took was one word to break Mina apart from the inside out. "Promise me we'll meet again, please?"

It feels a lot like a break-up even though they were never together in the first place.

"I promise, unnie. We'll meet again."

They share their last kiss there, a shy press against each other’s lips, because Mina’s afraid if she lets herself linger more then she won’t be able to help Dahyun with what she wants. She won’t ever let Dahyun go. 

So Mina kisses her again and leaves before Dahyun could even say goodbye. Because while she prepared a thousand I love you’s and a thousand sorry’s for tonight, not a single goodbye crossed her mind. 

 

 

(Present, 2020)

“I feel like this is gonna hurt and I shouldn’t want to hear it this bad”, the smile and giggle that comes from Chuu makes Mina forget the stories she’s telling are remnants of memories from the days she considers her darker, lonelier ones. 

Reminiscing these memories should pull up gloomy clouds above Mina’s skies but she can’t find it in her to frown at them. Her world revolves around a sun so bright, even when she’s not here, Mina can still feel her.  

After all, every decision she’s made in the past has made her who she is now and has contributed to bringing her where she is at the moment. Being with Dahyun in the end is what matters, I guess? 

“Did you see other people, unnie?” The question is abrupt and coming from nowhere. Mina’s eyes widen for a second, thinking Chuu’s just joking until the girl remains leaning closer over the table, eyes piqued with obvious interest. 

“Uh…” Being with Dahyun in the end is what matters, right? Then whatever’s in between doesn’t matter anymore… “Yes?”

Chuu’s eyes light up like an awestruck child. “OOOOOOH. TELL. ME.” 

Mina shifts in her seat. It kind of feels awkward talking about her past romantic involvement with the architect of their house. But. Whatever. In hindsight, I should be grateful for him too. He was the reason I got to meet Dahyun again.

“So. Um. We met in Paris…” 

 

 

 

(Seventeen years ago, 2003)

Mina met Yukio Takahara while in line for coffee and a pain au chocolat at Le Boulanger de la Tour. 

She had just turned twenty-three then; he was the same and a few days older, taking up his postgraduate studies in architecture at a prestigious school Mina, even after a year’s worth of French classes, couldn’t quite find the ability to pronounce just yet. 

Yukio was tall and a little on the thinner end of the spectrum. He had a nest of curly hair he liked dying to different colors, depending on the season and his artistic mood (for the spring of 2003, he wore it ash grey). He had a smile that came with small dimples on both corners of his lips, brought on easily by nearly everything Mina did, completed with a gentle laugh that could put Mina’s own to shame. 

In hindsight, Mina guesses it wasn’t hard liking Yukio. Not liking him would’ve posed the bigger challenge. 

Everything about him pointed to a happy ending for her. He belonged to the wealthy Takahara clan and was the scion of a personal-care-goods dynasty (earning him more brownie points from the elders of Mina's family). His upbringing had molded him into the refined man he is, much like the male counterpart of Mina herself.

Beneath his picture-perfect background, what mattered most to Mina was how funny and gentle Yukio was. He had a charm to him that felt familiar to Mina, like a favorite dance step performed for the first time again, every graceful movement danced to perfection from muscle memory. 

Yukio was the closest thing to feeling like home in Paris. Mina found herself gravitating towards him naturally albeit not entirely. 

He was a temporary solace that Mina had so shamelessly exploited. 

Yukio was kind, funny, and gentle, and he reminded her so much of Dahyun.

They date in the end, Because if there was one thing being away from home taught Mina, it was to grab anything that reminded her of home. It was a blinding illusion, frankly, but it was a convoluted version of home nonetheless. 

 

 

It’s a typical night in Mina’s apartment, a Thursday cool-down from the onslaught of dance practices and French classes that filled her days and nights in the past weeks. 

There’s a salad takeout from Label Ferme idly half-emptied on her glass coffee table, a mug of chamomile tea sitting right beside it. On the television, an Ingrid Bergman movie plays like white noise; through the thick slab of wall behind her, faint radio music resounds in the room.

Mina had watched Casablanca about a dozen times already so she directs her attention on the light tender fingers pressing and kneading strained muscles around her feet and calves instead, unable to help herself from breathing out a sigh every now and then as she sits on the couch, back resting against the arm of the chair and feet propped up on her boyfriend’s lap. 

“You should be watching Rules of the Game instead, or any other film that’s French for that matter. Tsk tsk.” 

Her eyes flicker to the owner of the futile chiding, Yukio sneering at her playfully from the other end of the sofa. “Another Bergman won’t teach you proper verb conjugation, mon amour. This is the thirteenth time we’ve watched Casablanca.” 

“I'm just preparing for New York this Saturday, Mr. Takahara", Mina feigns annoyance with a roll of her eyes. “I need to revamp my English or else I’ll be stuck with a dictionary again for the rest of my stay.” 

At the reminder, they end up laughing more about the predicament they find themselves in, mostly Mina. They are foreigners in Paris, speaking Japanese to each other with Mina simultaneously studying French while preparing to travel to New York in a few days. At the speed she’s going, Mina won’t be surprised if she ends up mixing Korean, Japanese, French, and English altogether, fragments of each language blending with one another in a desperate attempt to communicate.

“How long will you be staying there again?” Yukio asks, the masseuse taking a break. He reaches over Mina’s legs for the half-emptied salad. “I only suggested New York to you and now you’re going so soon.” 

“Don’t miss me too much”, Mina teases without a thought. It backfires almost instantly. 

She only realizes her words when she meets Yukio’s eyes, suddenly glossed with an emotion akin to heartbreaking surprise that shouldn’t even be there. 

It’s selfish of her but Mina guarded herself and declared lots of things about her past off-limits. Every answer and every move were only carried out after careful deliberation. This slip of the tongue was only naturally surprising even if it shouldn’t have. 

“You don’t have to miss me. I’ll still get you those souvenirs you want.” Mina does her best attempt at damage control, laughing away uneasily. “I’ll get you the mug and the abominable I- heart- NY shirt.” 

That does just about it, the tension in the air fading away quickly with Yukio’s chuckling. 

 “Please don’t.” He shoves Mina's legs from his lap, laughing with dreadful frown at the thought of another I- heart- NY merch. “I already have enough as it is.” 

“Then I’ll get you a pillow!” 

“No.” 

“I was joking”, Mina chuckles softly at the sight of Yukio’s obvious distaste. “I only want to experience sending those repatriate boxes. It would be so fun filling them up and shipping them here.”

“Oh! Speaking of that…” Yukio jolts up from the sofa, standing in front of the TV with a wide grin on his face. “I picked up a package of yours while you were at practice earlier. I left it in my apartment. I’ll just go get it.” 

He doesn’t even let Mina say anything else before skipping away, crossing the minimal space between the living room and the entryway, out the door before Mina can even say okay

Yukio lives just down the same hall so it doesn’t take more than five minutes before he’s walking back in again, this time carrying with him a medium-sized box, decorated in packaging tape and stamps from customs. 

From overseas, Mina notes quickly just as Yukio puts down the box carefully on the space beside her. She racks her not-so-distant memory for any messages from her parents about a package but nothing rings a bell. This must be from someone else. 

The answer comes quicker than expected, in the form of a shipping label plastered on top of the box. 


SHIP TO: MINA SHARON MYOUI
RUE SAINT LOUIS EN L’ÎLE
75004 PARIS
FRANCE

SHIP FROM: JEONGYEON YOO
91954428
57 DU TOIT STREET
STANFORD CA 94305


Uncharacteristically, Mina’s initial reaction creates a loud thud in the living room, apparently the carpeted floor is not as injury-proof as she thought it would be, judging from her fall. 

Yukio is just as surprised as her, even more concerned at her response, but Mina’s too busy trying to shake her head out of clouds to notice that.

The tangible box before her feels like an illusion of her past, one touch and it’ll whisk away like a cloud of smoke. It’s been nearly four years since her last contact with Jeongyeon. Moving to Stanford suddenly brought her out of their radar, left unreachable for months until Dahyun wrote about her again in one of her many letters kept away in a secret box under Mina’s bed. 

“Jeongyeon Yoo?” The name rolls off his tongue unfamiliarly, thick with a funny concoction of accents living abroad whips up.  “Korean?” 

Mina nods, eyes unwavering on the mailing sticker, still dumbfounded. “A friend from high school.” 

“Oh yeah. You went to that international school in Obayashi, right?”

And that pulls Mina down from the clouds. “Oh. Um. No…” 

She hasn’t told him anything about the girls, about 1998.

“I studied in Korea for high school too.” The man she’s supposed to be dating doesn’t have the slightest clue about the greatest years of her life. “At least, for the last two years. Then I moved to the city for college and the rest is history.” 

The understanding smile on Yukio’s face is faint, muted by the disappointment that flashes across his face for a split second—a split second that is all the time Mina needs to see.

He doesn’t know anything about her past the last four years of her life that she’s thrown into the conversation spotlight. Mina only knows just as much about him, but that’s because it’s all there is. He doesn’t know because she doesn’t let him in—and Yukio seems to only understand that now.

“Well...I’ll...I’ll give you some time to reconnect then…” But of course, his kind heart doesn’t let it through. “I’ll be at my place. Call me up if you need anything, alright?”

Mina just nods wordlessly, unable to meet Yukio’s eyes again even after a light kiss on the cheek and a walk out the door. 

When she returns to the couch and looks down on the box again, she doesn’t believe her own eyes. When she slides the cutter across the packaging, ripping open the flaps, she doesn’t believe it’s all true. 

The next thing Mina knows, she’s appearing late to practice the next day, for the first time since stepping foot in Paris, disgruntled and hiding a pair of puffy eyes behind Bvlgari sunglasses.  

She tells Yukio on the night before she leaves for New York, before it could get too much already. He didn’t deserve only half of the love and affection he gave her.

Thirteen months of their relationship took a plunge down the drain because of a four-year-old mixtape. 

 

 

(Present, 2020)

“You broke up because of a...mixtape?” 

Mina can’t blame Chuu for reacting the way she did. The predicament did sound trivial to an outsider. How could Mina, someone who’s prided herself for her rationality and composure, react so recklessly? Throw away a successful relationship with a guy who seems to love her patiently enough and for what, a mixtape? 

“Yeah. It does sound stupid, no?” 

“Well…” 

“It was a playlist Dahyun made.” Mina chuckles as she clarifies. “She made it for me but it got lost and it ended up with Jeongyeon. The thing traveled all across the world just to reach me.” 

Years had gone by and a small part of Mina believed the playlist didn’t exist all along but that night in Paris proved her otherwise. She would have gone down the wrong path had it not been for a parcel long overdue, a mixtape four years late. 

“The mixtape connected you to Dahyun again? How?” Chuu asks, pen hovering over a half-filled page of her notebook. 

Mina didn’t even expect Chuu to have written so many things down already. “Not the mixtape. The note that came with it.”

“Note? On the mixtape?” 

Mina remembers Jeongyeon’s neat handwriting on a sticky note taped over the cassette tape. 

“What did it say?” 

It was one line, written in smaller letters to fit the space remaining. Mina smiles at the thought of it. 

“She’s in New York, making her dreams come true.” 

 “What is that supposed to mean?” Chuu pouts, confused. 

“Dahyun studied in the Manhattan School of Music. I was about to dance for the New York City Ballet. We were in the same place, at the same time.” 

 

 

The shock and pity on Yerim, Chaeyoung, and Tzuyu’s faces are comical. 

It’s as if they’re reliving the memory themselves, as if they’re standing in that moment, watching the scene unfold like some invisible, omniscient time traveler. Dahyun thanks the heavens they’re not one.  

It takes a while for the three girls to pick up their pace, still reeling from the emotional story of Dahyun and Mina’s not-really-breakup breakup and the little tales Dahyun could tell about their life after that. 

Within that time frame of shock, Dahyun takes a good look at the entire storage room, scans the dusty shelves and the boxes filling up the corners. It’ll definitely take them the entire day to finish all of this if they go at their current pace. 

“If we want to get this done before dinner, you guys better stop asking for the story behind every single—” 

“OH! How about this, unnie?” 

Dahyun is abruptly cut off by Tzuyu's cheerful curiosity. The younger girl waves a picture frame by the corner, kneeling in front of a moving box filled with keepsakes. 

Dahyun walks over with the same curiosity, half-wondering why she has a frame of what looks like a convenience store receipt—

"Oh", then it hits her upon closer inspection. "It's a concert ticket. Goo Goo Dolls 2004."

Dahyun would have noticed the way Yerim's eyes light up like a thousand-megawatt generator had just powered through it, had it not been for the vivid replay of a memory that flashes before her eyes, like a videotape had been slid into a VHS player and the exact moment unfolds like some movie scene. 

“You’re a fan of Goo Goo Dolls?” Chaeyoung asks from her corner, somewhere beside Tzuyu. 

Dahyun is unable to spare her even a single glance. “I like Iris. It’s my favorite song of all time.” 

“So you went to…” Yerim squints closer at the framed concert ticket. “Buffalo, New York just for that?” 

“I worked here to graduate university and then got a scholarship in New York for graduate school. I worked in New York for a few years.” Dahyun answers. 

(Her first job was at GroundZero Music, a small starting music company in Jeolla-do. In hindsight, maybe interning at a company of that name was already a bad idea itself, but twenty-three-year-old Dahyun didn’t know that yet and all that mattered then was securing enough money to help pay for her father’s hospital debt. 

Working as a loyal assistant to Mr. Jo paid off when one of his wealthier clients, a kind middle-aged woman from a bigger entertainment company, saw her potential in the composing industry and offered to sponsor music graduate school. Dahyun took it immediately and the next thing she knew, she was already being shipped off to the Manhattan School of Music.) 

“So why do you have the concert ticket then, unnie?” Tzuyu asks with bright curious eyes. “Did you perform with Goo Goo Dolls or something?” 

Dahyun laughs at the suggestion, elated by the idea that the younger girl even thought of such a thing. “No, I didn’t perform there, silly. It was a magical night.” 

“How magical?” Yerim raises an eyebrow. 

Dahyun searches her head for words to use but nothing can’t seem to encapsulate the miracles that happened that night. 

“Uh...the it’s-been-years-and-I-never-thought-we’d-meet-again-but-here-we-are kind of magical.” 

The passing beat of silence is enough to prod Dahyun to explain more. 

She chuckles lightly, remembering the night. “I never thought I’d see Mina again but I did. In New York. At a Goo Goo Dolls concert. It was raining and then my favorite song played.” 

 

 

(Sixteen years ago, 2004)

New York hits Dahyun like a freight train. 

The intimidatingly congested streets that never fail to push her around like some potato sack, the insane amount of pollution that's taken a large portion of her daily oxygen intake, the pitiful and condescending stares she receives just for being herself (an alien amongst the crowd of giant humans); everything about New York is foreign and far from home and Dahyun spends more than two weeks crying about it to her mother, through the free telephone on the help desk of the International Students Union office at her new school.

Her mother tells her she can do it, she can adapt to however barbaric New York seems to be. She tells her she did it once, in Apgujeong, and she can do it again now, especially now . But all Dahyun can think of is how drastic the differences of the circumstances are. In Apgujeong she had people. She found home in them. In New York everyone else is a blurry face in motion, always in a hustle with their alarmingly oversized coffee cups and thinning tolerance for anything slow and moderately-paced.

Apgujeong is your cool aunt that cheers you on and always makes you feel at home. New York is a hungry lion ready to devour you whole with no hesitation whatsoever.

Dahyun spends two months wallowing in her crampy free bedspace, wrapped up in blankets and eating off cheap and stale convenience store ramen, the closest thing she'll ever get to Korea again, apart from the small tupperware of Kimchi her mother packed for her now resting in a styrofoam cooler she bought with her meager allowance, wary of entrusting such a sacred item in the hands of the public fridge at the community pantry.

It takes one entire semester in New York for Dahyun to finally adjust to the rush of city life. She celebrates this feat by going out of her comfort zone and, after careful deliberation and dividing her expenses, attending her first concert. 

Dahyun first finds out about it from the promotional posters peppered around the city, hanging from lamp posts and plastered on store windows and movie theaters, right next to other posters about movies and some ballet performance. 

After making sure her expenses had been considered thoroughly, Dahyun goes out of her way one weekend morning and buys her ticket, clearing her schedule on the fourth of July, as if there really is something to be cleared. 

Concert day starts out fairly smoothly. Dahyun goes through her classes as seamlessly as possible. She comes nearly convinced the rest of the day will eventually venture out just the same, unproblematic and normal, until her last lecture extends for another hour and Dahyun finds herself sprinting out of the building the moment it ends, nearly toppling over some students haphazardly sitting by the hallway, almost tripping in her steps more times than she can count. 

A part of Dahyun is convinced this is what the universe planned for her, in spite of the unforeseen predicaments thrown her way. She still has the ticket in her wallet after all of that. Dahyun can at least say attending this concert was part of the heavens’ plans for her. 

It’s all good in the end, she supposes. Yeah, she’s just finished what should have been her week’s goal of fifteen thousand steps in less than an hour; sure, she’s out of breath and her heart is running a marathon of its own at the moment; and alright, she’s only ten minutes late to the gates’ opening yet the line takes up an entire block already. Yeah. Still. It’s all good. Dahyun thinks. She hopes.

Even if she’s seventh to the last person in line at the moment and the open concert grounds look like it’s already full in capacity, Dahyun thinks it’s all good. She’s already gone through so much here. She still puts her whole heart in the universe’s hands and hopes it doesn’t break her. 

Even just for tonight, at least. 

 

 

Mina finds the people in New York just as rambunctious and lively as the city itself. 

They end their last show for the night with exhaustion dancing in their bones and every inch of their bodies. Mina feels like liquid moving around, like a puppet unable to hold itself up without its strings. 

Unlike her, however, her co-dancers find a good night’s rest a very lucrative thought. Even after doing thirteen consecutive shows and spending every waking breath practicing until the dance steps are engraved to the very core of their bones, even if tomorrow’s another day of moving and getting stuck in a packed bus travelling for hours.

Mina lets them be. She has no plans on stopping them from however they want to spend their last night in this city. She doesn’t give them much of a thought anymore, doesn’t bother questioning the insane lack of self-preservation in her colleagues’ systems as one of them brings up some concert happening a five-minute drive away. 

Mina lets them get as wild as they can, as hyped for the night as they want to be. She allows them the freedom they call for, even goes as far as to personally talk to their directors and choreographers for them because apparently she’s their favorite, and she quietly relents through the myriad of other Please, Mina! appeals she gets, mindlessly, without much of a thought. Because that’s what’s happening right now, her body is on auto-pilot, self-preservation skills kicking in. 

Mina relents and relents mindlessly , until some sort of psychological inveigling is pulled off and the turn of events she least expected to happen unfolds within the blink of her eye. 

It feels like an out-of-body experience when it happens. Mina gets dragged away and squeezed in the backseat of their choreographer’s SUV, surrounded by her co-dancers jamming to Usher’s Yeah! in max volume, in varying degrees of wildness. 

Mina feels like her head is getting split into half and grounded to smaller pieces. She has no idea whether it’s because of the god awful singing–is it even fair to call it that–or the fact that she’s going to spend her only resting night in some rock concert she has no idea how she got into. 

The universe really hates me, huh?

 

 

It’s always been like this. 

When Dahyun tries to hope for the better, the world swoops in to test her faith. When she decides to see the good in things, it chooses to show her the worst.

Unable to secure herself what is worth the $19 ticket she paid for just because her professor in Advanced Solfeggio decided today, out of all days, was a perfect time for a thirty-minute overtime;  unable to feel good and confident about looking like a drowned harassed rat in the streets of New York after nearly running for her life; unable to reach the average height of a person her age to see, at the very least, a glimpse of the tip of John Rzeznik’s hair while he stands on what is apparently an elevated stage. 

Unable to, couldn’t do, wasn’t enough to. 

Dahyun tried to be hopeful, she really did. She tried to remain positive in spite of all the setbacks but this universe is really, certainly, without a doubt testing her. It never gets tired of me, does it?

Dahyun struggles through the crowd engulfing her whole. The concert’s already halfway through the setlist and she couldn’t even enjoy the earlier performances because of all the shoving and manhandling. 

Maybe this was a bad idea after all…

After another round of struggling, the tips of her toes burning and straining from all the clambering she’s done, Dahyun takes a deep inhale and gathers what remains of her will for the night, steering it to a disappointing sigh. 

No amount of motivating herself to push through a crowd of oversized people will be enough to make her reconsider the hierarchy of her principles. Keeping herself alive overpowers losing a limb in a stampede every single day.

When some brute guy wearing godforsaken military boots (in a damned concert???) steps on her foot, Dahyun takes it as the last straw. 

She feels numbness course through her feet, the aftermath of what feels like standing on a thousand nails and getting trampled on by cement blocks. Her arms are pressed to her sides when she gives up and turns around, searching for a way out through the stocky bodies squished together. 

Eventually, Dahyun figures ramming her way through is the only means to escape the jostling crowd. She’s well aware her lithe frame is guaranteed a lovely painting of bruises and blisters the next morning, particularly her arms and her feet, but she’ll think of that when it’s due. For now she focuses on trekking the path she’s made for herself, squeezing through the crowd. 

Everyone’s too busy shouting to one of the many songs Dahyun doesn’t know from the band to notice her almost-ghostly passing and meek excuse me ’s. 

It feels like an eternity when Dahyun finds a space less crowded, less sweaty bodies manhandling each other. There’s more room to breathe now. She can see better from here and from what she can perceive, she’s nearer to the gates than she is to the stage–as if she was ever close to begin with–a stadium light post as a landmark. 

Goo Goo Dolls is going through a quick interlude after finishing what Dahyun thinks is more than half of the concert setlist already, and she takes this rare opportunity of a resting crowd to check for another way to the gates. 

Dahyun has no patience, no energy, no will to endure another round of jostling and manhandling. She feels her feet grow sore, throbbing and blistering inside of her poor, poor white sneakers, her palms burning in friction against the leather strap of her equally-tarnished messenger bag. 

Her short-lived breathing moment ends abruptly when a guitar begins tuning, and someone from the stage announces it’s the last song of the night. I didn’t even get to hear my favorite yet. 

Dahyun feels beaten, like dirt on the ground, stomped on and thrown around. 

This is it, she thinks. 

This is how it feels like to be defeated by the universe. 

Dahyun had been tossed around, jostled, shoved, stepped on, shouted at. Half of her entire semester’s savings had been spent in this no-good concert and she didn’t even get to hear her favorite song. 

At the very least, this should be the end, right? Once you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way is up... right?

The answer comes in the form of a cold droplet against her bare arm that is soon followed by another, and another, and another, and Dahyun is frozen in place because this might just be the worst night of her entire life and the universe decides in that moment to cry for her. Cry in violent tears, soaking through the fabric of her shirt and her jeans, hair sticking together against her flushed skin. 

This might just be the worst night of her entire life. 

And then the guitar plays.

 

 

 

Mina failed to check the weather forecast when she decided to wear high-waist shorts and a cropped varsity jacket over a tank top. Then again, she did make the decision thinking she’d be in her hotel room by now, not lost in the crowd of some concert she didn’t plan on attending, huddled up in a tent, partially soaked by the unforeseen rain.

The downpour is torrential, like some dam had broken and all the water it kept bursted out in the open. It was like the skies had kept this much and couldn’t hold it anymore, and so it shed tears like this. 

A part of Mina hates herself for being unable to find enjoyment in these types of things. In singing crowds and their hearts thrown up in the air. Back in Japan, she used to try, at least. In Apgujeong, she did a lot of things she never thought she could do. But now. Now she can’t even find it in her to try and she hates herself for it. 

Mina has half the mind to call the night off, no matter how she can foresee a scolding from their instructor for ditching her co-dancers. Nothing is going her way and she definitely prefers spending what remains of her night sitting in the backseat of a stuffy taxi, at least shielded from the torrential rain, instead of standing in a crowd of wet bodies pressed together, futilely attempting to save themselves from the downpour.

Mina pushes herself through the crowd. She’s already drenched from head to toe. It’s better to at least shiver in an open space than spend it in a dingy and humid area with no proper ventilation because everybody else is at least two heads taller than her. 

Six months in New York city has taught Mina to toughen up. She removes her meekness when it’s due, as if it’s as easy as flipping a switch or removing a coat when it’s not as cold anymore. When she pushes past the crowd of people, she makes sure they hear her. She excuses herself in a voice her younger self would never imagine she’d possess and shoves her way through rowdy boys who can’t seem to hear her from their howling. 

Mina ends up somewhere near the gates, a space less crowded and more breathable. She’s halfway through typing a message to their instructor when the band on stage begins playing their last song. 

And I’d give up forever to touch you…

Cause I know that you feel me somehow. 

And Mina feels her whole world stop. 

 

 

 

The last time Dahyun heard the song play, she remembers standing in the middle of a room filled with strangers, feeling every note sail through her body like a ship unaware of its pending doom.

She remembers a slight push to hold out her hand, thinking she was with the person she wanted to experience that moment with that night and she wanted to make her feel the same intensity, same encompassing emotions, only to be met with the ghost of her presence, the cascade of long black hair against a clean white dress, walking away.

It took a long time but at one point, a part of Dahyun believed maybe that was already the first sign. She and Mina were never meant to work out in the way Sana and Momo do. Like they were made for each other's souls, like the sun is to the moon. 

It was in the song itself. A younger Dahyun was convinced the song was a premonition of their inevitable unlikelihood. That Mina was a world of her own and Dahyun was just somebody else, a lively person with a lonely heart. 

It was on her first night in New York, swallowed by her blankets, drowning in the caverns of homesickness and a sudden introspection, when an older Dahyun realized it was nothing about the song. It was nothing about being soulmates.

Some things just don't work out. There is no need for an extravagant reason, a climactic argument that would fuel a thousand flames to the heart, just a simple understanding of life. That some things just don't work out like the way we wanted them to, and there is no need for significant meaning behind that, no underlying message or implication.

Dahyun and Mina just weren't going to work out and the universe was kind enough to show them that before they could even dive deeper into each other. They were pulled out of the waters while they were still treading the shallows.

Dahyun realizes that but she can't say she's grateful to the universe for it.

Nevertheless, it doesn't stop her from associating the song with Mina. She dances around the notes and every space in between. At every strum of the guitar, every pound of the drums, every pause between the lines.

It's raw, overwhelming, all-encompassing. The rush of memories surge like the beads of cold raindrop running down her arms, seeping through the fabric of her clothes. 

Dahyun feels everything all at once again, and it's so overwhelming, she has no idea how to distinguish the rain from the tears running down her face.

It's only in the intense instrumental when she gets herself together, when the moment becomes too much, too heavy. It takes all of what strength remains in her to carry her foot and take a step, one after the other. 

Everything feels like a fever dream and out of her control and Dahyun just wants to get away.

The rain doesn't stop and only grows stronger, and Dahyun wants to run out of there.

She feels all out of air, pressed in an impermeable space, and her heart is pounding against her chest like it's chasing for the same thing. It's chasing for oxygen, for a chance to breathe.

Dahyun struggles and pushes through the crowd, breath shortening and chest tightening.

She shoves herself through the chaos and the whirlwind of people, and then collides into a blur of shoulder-length hair.

 

 

Mina remembers the song. She could never forget one of the best nights of her entire life. 

She remembers sitting through a movie, her first time in a theater after a long while. She can recall Meg Ryan in an English movie about an ironic story between a surgeon who saved lives and an angel who took them.

The movie is mostly just a series of blur but Mina can remember the song playing at the back of her head when the lights turned on and she saw Dahyun’s face. 

Dahyun.

Mina remembers the song because it was Dahyun. Because she was there. And she can remember everything when it has Dahyun. The golden ray of her hair, her awkward and eerie laugh, the softness of her hands when it held hers. 

Mina remembers Dahyun so, so well. She also remembers how she couldn’t hold out enough to make her stay. And Dahyun’s presence haunts Mina like a ghost; her absence mocking her without fail. 

Like now. 

The song is playing in an instrumental intensity. Mina feels rooted in her place, entranced to listen because she had never been good with words and the only way to express the storm of her emotions is through the intensity of the song. 

Then someone hits her. It feels like a bucket of ice-cold water had been dropped over head, reality slapped back at her. 

“O-Oh. I’m so sorry—” 

That voice. Mina turns around in a whiplash. Lo and behold, the universe mocking her again. This isn’t her. This is just another play of your mind. Don’t hope, Mina. This isn’t—

“Mina unnie?” 

How can you talk to an angel? Mina is at a loss for words. The love of her life is standing right before her. 

(The intensity dies down. 

“I want you guys to take this one home, alright?” 

And then the last chorus plays.

Mina is home again.

Dahyun only realizes then. 

Mina is what the universe had been preparing her for.) 

 

 

(Present, 2020)

“That sounds like a scene right out of a movie, unnie…” Chuu gapes at her while her hand moves on her notebook, writing in bullet points. “That’s definitely going in the piece.” 

Mina can’t believe what was four years in the making could be summarized into just four bullet points. 

  • Iris 2004 
  • Home rainy
  • Reunited lovers 
  • OH MYGOD???????

“What did you guys do after that?” Chuu asks without much of a heed. She focuses on writing down in her notebook. 

Mina shrugs. “After almost four years of not seeing her, I think I did what any other person would do if they met the love of their life again.” 

“Which is…?” 

“I hugged her.” 

Mina is mindful it sounded uneventful to an outsider. When she first told the story to Nayeon, the latter spent the rest of night slandering her storytelling skills, arguing that she was falsely hyped for Mina’s very anticlimactic revelation. All Mina could do was roll her eyes.

No one would ever truly understand the importance of a hug unless you don’t get one for almost four years. They wouldn’t understand how intimate it felt to be held in the arms of the person you love again. 

“Did you guys see each other right after that?” 

Mina shakes her head in response. “In a way, it was another case of bad timing? I had to travel back to New York city the next morning and then she stayed in a campus dorm somewhere there. We were seven hours away from each other.” 

“You didn’t see each other afterwards?” 

 

 

“Well that fucking sucks?” Yerim huffs, unknowingly hurling a stuffed drawstring bag at Chaeyoung’s face. The latter dodges on time but it doesn’t erase the frown on Chaeyoung’s face regardless. 

“What are these anyway?” She pulls at the strings, opening the bag and pulling out a small stuffed penguin toy. Yerim peeks from over Chaeyoung’s shoulder, twisting her entire body awkwardly at the expense of gossip. 

Chaeyoung pulls the items out slowly, climactically, but Yerim’s impatient ass just yanks the bag away from her hold and turns it upside down, dropping the items on the ground. 

“Woah…” Yerim gapes, looking down at the expanse of stuffed toys scattered on the floor. “How many plushies do you even have, unnie?” 

“Mina always won those parlor games where you play for a stuffed toy”, Dahyun answers nonchalantly, focusing on ruffling through a box of other memorabilia. “She filled almost all of the shelves in our old apartment because of it.” 

“You guys lived together in New York?” 

“I didn’t want to agree at first because I still had the dorm but she insisted it was a very convenient set-up”, Dahyun purses her lips cheekily, pulling out an old toy from the box of very old other things. “She lived in an apartment a few blocks away from my campus and, well, it kinda sucked living in a dormitory so I agreed eventually. She did say it wasn’t much of a bother.” 

 

 

“I bought an entire new apartment six hours away just to live with her.” 

“You what?”

“But don’t tell her that.” Mina chuckles sheepishly. She points at the notebook in front of the younger girl. “Don’t put it in the story too.” 

Chuu is all sorts of giggles and smiles listening, like a high school girl again in on the latest gossip. She’s busy writing down something in her pad when she looks up suddenly, eyes wide open. “Oh! Who proposed to who, unnie?”

“Um. Well…” How do I say this..? Mina takes in a breath, bites her lip in thought. “No one…?”

“WHAT.”

In twenty-eight-year-old Mina’s defense, the thought just hit her one day and the certainty that came along with it was overwhelming. Dahyun was everywhere in her life at that moment. She was in every nook and cranny of Mina’s mind and Mina’s world. Dahyun is the sun she revolves around in. The thought of ever letting that go was too much, too hard. Mina didn’t want another three years of waiting.

“I just. I looked at her and then I realized”, Mina shrugs. Reminiscing about those moments feel so intimate now, she feels her face warm up at the mere thought. 

“What did you realize?”

“It was easier being with her than without her. Everything about Dahyun was just easy, like it came naturally.”

“What happened then?” 

“It was in Hawaii. 2008. In our favorite small beach side restaurant.” Mina can still remember the day she first said those words to Dahyun. Subsequently, she pulled off the biggest impulsive act of her entire life. She still doesn’t regret anything, twelve years later.

 

 

(Twelve years ago, 2008)

Down to the foundation of her very existence, Mina was organized, systematic, and planned.  

Kai may have been the product of a stressful week's aftermath (his words, not hers) but Mina wasn't and like the last twenty-eight years of her life (counting out '98 to '99 because most of her moments with the girls were lived without a deciding second hence why she had gotten many of her firsts that time–her first detention, first known enemy–and also experienced the best days of her life), all the days leading up to this moment were planned, organized and systematic, detailed down to the T.

All the days up until now.

So yeah. Mina didn't plan this. It just feels like the most perfect thing to do. The easiest.

It happens in Haleiwa, a small town off the northern coast of Oahu. It’s a half an hour’s drive from Honolulu Airport and just the right amount of distance away from the bustling tourist-congested cities. 

Haleiwa was an accident and a playful trick of the universe. Mina had gotten off the wrong bus stop and ended up in the small town that looked like it was ripped out of the perfect Hawaiian postcard. No glimmering skyscraper was found, only commercial spaces and houses peppered around the lush greenery that meets the sprawling blue seas. 

Mina had fallen in love with Haleiwa the very first moment she had seen it, and she was determined to bring the love of her life there too. 

Fast forward two years later and Dahyun flies in on her first vacation with Mina. Naturally, it’s in the place Mina has the heart to call another home for her. They spend three more summers in Haleiwa, in a bungalow lining the shores of Ke Iki beach. 

It's their fourth summer there when it happens. 

Makalapua is an old outdoor restaurant along the shores of Haleiwa beach. It’s an ordinary cafe by day and a lively restaurant at night, with live performances from the local singers and bands. There’s an outdoor deck where the performers set up and right in front of it, open to the sprawling beach, are different tables and bean bag chairs scattered around. String lights hang from tree branches, tiki torches lit up around the area, enveloping the outdoor scene in a soft golden glow. 

It's romantic and overwhelming, because Mina sits by a table in her white maxi dress, a yellow hibiscus tucked behind her ear, two glasses of Okolehao down, and Dahyun stands a few feet away from her, under the fiery glow and in perfect view, dancing with the band. Her dress sways in a delayed sweep as her hips move to the rhythm of the hele, and she smiles with her eyes in crescents as she laughs along with the other customers.

It's not the Okolehao that's gotten Mina hyper-aware of everything. It's responsible for a fraction of it, yeah maybe. But Mina thinks it's just everything all at once hitting her like a freight train. Dahyun in that dress, her hips swaying to the rhythm, her laughter in the summer air, her hair flowing like the gentle waves that resound from afar. 

Mina is far from drunk on alcohol but she is drunk in love with Kim Dahyun. 

This is what pushes her up on her feet, soles light against the grains of sand beneath. Dahyun stops halfway in laughter, turning to Mina with her eyes crinkling and her cheeks flushed under the yellow glow of the night.

"Hey there, you." 

Mina's eyes glaze over Dahyun's cheeks, the tiny freckles that never really appear until the girl's down a few drinks and her blood is pumping double, then to her lips, flushed and plump, champagne-kissed, and Mina kind of stares at it and drowns in it, in the familiarity of its touch and how she's dying to feel it again against her own.

Mina wants and wants. And she wants all of Dahyun for the rest of her life.

Dahyun. Kim Dahyun. Only her. She's completely, utterly, and absolutely sure. 

And it's what pushes her to do this:

"Dahyun?" 

"Yes?" 

"Do you wanna get married?"

The rest of the night flashes before her eyes in a chaotic painting of warm colors, splashing from different directions, of different strokes and sizes.

Mina doesn't remember the emotions that take up Dahyun's face after that but she does remember very vividly the hand that envelops her own, fingers slipping through spaces and interlacing like second nature. It's warm and it calms down the whirlwind of emotions turning Mina into a wreck. 

The hand that holds her never lets go. 

When they walk down by the shore, soles of their feet touching the fine sand; when the kahuna pele blows the conch and chants the Oli Aloha; it's them in front of a couple of the night's customers and the live performers and Dahyun never lets go of her hand. 

Mina has never done anything like this in her entire life, has never even bothered thinking of tiptoeing over the edge of reason and mind, but nothing, absolutely nothing , has made more sense than this moment. 

She never planned this but she's never been more completely, utterly, and absolutely certain as well.

It's Dahyun's hand she wants to hold for the rest of her life. It's her lips she only ever wants to feel, the beat of her heart she only ever wants to hear. It's Dahyun's arms she only ever wants to sink into and melt away, the galaxies in her eyes she only ever wants to disappear in. 

Mina is twenty-eight when she gets married. It's by the shores of Ke Iki beach, under the giant full moon and the spread of clouds and stars, in front of faces they probably will never meet again. They tie small strings of abaca twine around their ring fingers and engrave the moment in time.

Nothing was ever part of her plan but Dahyun is. So it makes sense either way. 

It was Dahyun from the very beginning and it's still her right now. In every other lifetime this universe grants, it's always going to be her. It's always going to be them.

(They get married again after that, upon the tearful demands of their parents and friends who were unable to witness the ceremony. This time it's in the Caribbean, millions of dollars in total but all the same, really.

Dahyun still holds her hand tight and never lets go, and Mina still sees her from the beginning to the end, in every other lifetime, in every  universe.

The only other difference now is the piece of paper Dahyun waves around at other people's faces when they don't believe her. 

"She really is my wife! We really a re married!"

Mina wonders how many copies of their marriage certificate Dahyun keeps in her bag. Dahyun has a thing for excessive printing and storing.)



 

(Present, 2020)

They talk about a lot more of the wedding in Haleiwa, how it was officiated by the restaurant owner–a close friend of Mina and Dahyun–and how their first dance as a wedded couple was to He Mele No Lilo. 

Chuu’s company is warm and bright, as familiar as it can be. It sucks that they have to cut their interview short but Mina’s main agenda of the day is the photoshoot itself, her last for the modeling industry before taking a break. 

“Maybe we can finish it over a call, unnie? Next time?” Chuu suggests as she stands up from the seat, pushing it back to the table. 

Mina does the same albeit slowly, carrying a bowling ball naturally shifts her center of gravity. “Tell me when you’re available, okay? I can’t stay much after the shoot. Dahyun’s driving by.” 

Chuu’s eyes brighten more, as if that were even possible. “Sooyoungie too!” She does a little jump in glee that’s reminiscent of old Chuu, always effervescent and full of energy.

Mina agrees before she gets pulled away by the stylists to the dressing room. She hopes Dahyun isn’t taking so long with the storage room job. They still have a long day ahead of them. 

 

🌈

 

Dahyun throws a card on the floor, missing her target. 

“This was The Thing in my high school days”, she flashes a wide grin that immediately turns sour upon seeing the result of her play. She tries it out again. “Everyone who knew how to play these were cool.” ( They were not.)

Chaeyoung explains the pog cards to Yerim and Tzuyu, who both listen to her with an expression of keen interest and a subtle raise of their eyebrow signifying their being weirded out by how Chaeyoung, born the same year as them, knows something as ancient as this. 

“She’s probably a time traveler”, Dahyun shrugs nonchalantly, giving up on her cards. She used to be the best at pogs. Not playing for two decades definitely rusted her out. 

(Out of her view, Chaeyoung stiffens. Yerim and Tzuyu just shrug this off as one of the many moments she shares with Dahyun, something not a lot of them will get.) 

Yerim jokes about how weird Dahyun probably was in high school, how she’d probably belong to the theater kids clique nowadays. “Did you ever wonder how aunt Mina liked you, unnie?” 

“I always wonder about that. Until now. She just seemed like she preferred people like your mom, Chaeyoungie. Jeongyeon unnie was cool and chic. She looked perfect with Mina unnie.” There’s a gloominess lacing the smile on Dahyun’s face, the one that doesn’t meet her eyes entirely, the one that doesn’t come with a creepy laugh. 

“But it’s been more than twenty years since we met. We’ve been married for the last twelve years of those. She still lets me win and I assure you girls, that is a very big deal coming from someone who nearly sued an entire carnival park for rigging a shooting game.” 

“You guys are goals”, Yerim comments with a dreamy smile, to which Tzuyu and Chaeyoung nod at. Dahyun has no idea what being goals means but she thinks it’s a good thing judging from the cheeky smiles on the three girls’ faces. 

They return to their work shortly after. By hour three, they have sorted out more than half of the storage already. Yerim and Chaeyoung sort out the boxes by the hallway, going through them and double-checking with Dahyun, while Tzuyu helps the oldest of the group in the room, sorting the left-over things.

The two girls return just in time as Dahyun literally flips over one of the smaller boxes in the storage room, a crumpled folded piece of paper falling out like a leaf from a tree, riding the air slowly until it lands a little away from Tzuyu’s feet.  

Tzuyu crouches down to pick it up. She unfolds the paper, a small frown gracing her face. 

It’s old, torn in some portions. Lines gloss the surface from the folds, dried stain marks smudging the ink of beautiful cursive handwriting. It's a black-and-white, decorated with stickers of Michael Jackson and some other famous person Tzuyu doesn’t know. It looks like one of those old slam books.

Tzuyu scans through what she can decipher from the smudged and distorted print. It’s aunt Mina’s slam book, evident from the neat 𝑀𝒾𝓃𝒶 𝒮𝒽𝒶𝓇𝑜𝓃 𝑀𝓎𝑜𝓊𝒾 script. 

Tzuyu sees some basic details written through the stained paper left blank, like her aunt’s address and some contact details. Probably for privacy, she thinks. 

She discovers new things about the older woman through her Choose Your Favorite! answers (jasmines over roses; staying at home over travelling; tea over coffee…) and other interesting things like her favorite show (Voltes V and Pokemon; she couldn’t decide on which was her most favorite) and favorite band (The Cure) and her favorite song (A Thousand Hours). 

By the very last portion of the page, some of the more personal questions are asked. Tzuyu pays them little to no heed, eyes glossing over the page in average interest until it stops at nearly the bottom space, ink smudged and Michael Jackson’s leg covering a portion of the words spelling out, in unadulterated teenage intrigue, What Is Your Ideal Type?

Her mothers have never shied away from telling Tzuyu their youthful exploits and the drama that binds their group together. “It was chaotic from the very beginning”, Sana would say time and time again. 

The lines between what to share and what’s better left in the closet have always been blurred when it comes to her. Her mothers are very transparent with her and along with their honesty came their forthright admission: none of them knew. At least, as far as her mothers were informed.

They all had been so carried away by the love triangle that was Jeongyeon, Nayeon, and Mina that they never truly wrapped their heads around the thought of Mina liking anybody else. It didn’t help that Mina’s past involved another girl who had nearly the same attributes as Jeongyeon. They all just assumed Mina liked Jeongyeon and girls like her. 

What Mina wrote in this paper has debunked more than twenty years of conviction.

 

What Is Your Ideal Type? 𝒮𝑜𝓂𝑒𝑜𝓃𝑒 𝑔𝑒𝓃𝓉𝓁𝑒 𝓁𝒾𝓀𝑒 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝓅𝓇𝒾𝓃𝑔

 

“Unnie”, Tzuyu calls out.

Dahyun stops playing with the paddle ball toy she somehow found. “Hm?” 

“Who loved who first?” 

The answer comes easily for Dahyun. “I did”, she smiles widely, surely. “I was playing in the arcade and I wanted to show her my skills. I never shared that with anyone but I was willing to for her, and I kind of realized it then.” 

“Unnie.” 

“Yes?”

Tzuyu holds up the piece of paper. “Aunt Mina liked you before she even met you.” 

 

🌈

 

The photoshoot is done before Mina can even realize it. Three hours go by smoothly and Mina thinks she has her unborn child to thank for not acting up. 

Dahyun sends her a message about finishing the storage room in time and Seulgi dropping by to pick up Yerim. Tzuyu and Chaeyoung leave together for some date after Nayeon messages them about some conference and having to raincheck for their supposed meeting today. This leaves Dahyun and Mina together for the rest of the night. 

The message Mina is waiting for slides down with a ting! from the top of her race car simulation game. She’s racing for first place when she pauses the game to check the reply. 

 

Wife 🥰 

at the station already 😁  see you

I LOVE YOU ?????

 

Mina can’t help but feel the smile tugging against her lips. 

 

dahyun’s roommate 💃

Are you unsure? 😂

 

The smile turns into a chuckle when she realizes something. 

 

dahyun’s roommate 💃

Did you change my contact name again??

Why am i your roommate??

 

Wife 🥰 

Aren’t you??

dahyun’s roommate 💃

Yeah but you’re my wife here

Why am I just your roommate 😒

 

Mina doesn’t even realize her eyebrows furrowing until she feels the strain and unknowingly relaxes them. She had been frowning at the three dots on her screen motioning in waves, awaiting for her wife's reply–a reply that never comes.

Huh. Maybe she got on the train already? 

But there's a signal even on the train...?

Maybe her battery got drained?

But she has a smart battery case…?

Mina runs through a myriad of reasons and excuses in her head, her comfortable waiting by the receiving lounge growing antsy. She deduces it’s nothing and tries to focus on her game instead but it’s useless and she just ends up thinking of Dahyun even more. She closes her phone and slides it in the convenient secret pocket of her strapped tent dress. 

Mina shifts in her seat, crossing and uncrossing her legs. She stares at the patterns of her Kinder slippers, drawing the letters on her lap subtly. From her peripheral, someone sneaks a picture of her. It makes the discomfort in the pit of her stomach churn tenfold. 

Mina knows can’t really ask people not  to take pictures of her in public spaces. The consequences of fame are beyond her control, as much as she makes an effort to mitigate them. It convinces her even more that the decision to go on a hiatus is the best way to go. More than ten years of being followed around by cameras is already enough. 

More gazes seem to find their way to her and Mina finds herself deciding between going somewhere else (anywhere away from the unsubtle leering and whispers) or just downright leaving, but before she can even make a choice, two figures walking over catch her attention. 

It isn’t hard to distinguish Dahyun from the crowd. In an ocean of monochrome business suits and formal wear, she’s clad in a yellow plaid dress and a mustard knitted cardigan. 

Mina’s eyes have somehow developed the ability to notice the girl in every kind of crowd, as if a spotlight shines down on Dahyun and everything else is nothing but a dark blur. 

Somehow, that ability isn’t working today. 

It can’t be blamed. The woman beside Dahyun, laughing at something she’s said, has the attraction pull of a super magnet. She’s dressed in an oversized tie-dye shirt that falls past whatever she has underneath, quarter socks and white thick sole shoes with the flashy Nike logo on them, and a black designer bag swaying at her side like a pendulum. 

If Mina could describe the woman simply, she’d say she can easily pass off as some college cool kid with an aura that exudes an intimidating amount of sheer power. 

Said magnetic attraction must pull at Dahyun so hard because she doesn’t even notice Mina’s presence. She’s too busy laughing and chatting with the woman. The ridiculously attractive and utterly intimidating woman

This lady resembles a pristine marble statue. Mina feels like a stack of fluffy pillows. They don’t exist in the same hemisphere. 

Mina doesn’t even realize she’s holding her own breath until Dahyun walks in front of her and she can barely call out her name. When she musters up whatever energy she has, Dahyun is already ambling past her, attention pouring on the woman she walks beside. 

Mina watches in dumbfounded silence as they disappear into one of the empty elevators waiting with open doors. 

She stands in the lobby, stupefied, and only acknowledges what the hell just happened after her phone buzzes inside her pocket. 

 

Wife 🥰 

I’m here already!! Where are you? 

 

Mina doesn’t reply. She clicks her phone off and takes a deep breath to steel herself together. Once she feels collected again, she pats at her belly lightly, gently. 

“Come on, buddy”, She mumbles. “Let’s get your mom.” 

 

🌈

 

Dahyun didn’t kick the three girls out. 

They were already done with their work to begin with, and Dahyun really just wanted to see her wife again because she misses her so much (definitely not because she wants to discuss this I-was-your-type-all-along?! revelation with her). She promised them free food in return. 

The moment Seulgi arrives to pick Yerim up, Chaeyoung and Tzuyu long gone and busy on their own date, Dahyun changes clothes and catches the train to the address Mina sent. She was standing right across the tall skyscraper of the shoot location, full attention on her phone and ready to cross the street, when a shiny black car pulled up right in front, nearly hitting her in the process. 

Her self-preservation instincts tell her to just run off and ignore what just happened. Better that than getting kidnapped. But then again, no kidnapper would be driving a Mercedes Benz G-Class to abduct someone as relatively harmless as Dahyun. So she stays and deals with the situation as maturely as she can. She wonders how long this faux confidence will last. 

“You still don’t look when you’re crossing?” 

It lasts less than a minute. 

The tinted windows roll down, revealing a very familiar face Dahyun never expected to see again. 

“I expected better from you, Tofu kid.” 

Yves Ha hasn’t aged one bit. She still looks like the cool upperclassman Dahyun first met in the dance room on her first day in Apgujeong Private High. 

She had long black hair back then, sleek and as straight as Dahyun thought she was—until another girl came in, clad in preppy cheerleading uniform, and they kissed and it was Dahyun’s first time seeing two girls be so close.

Yves–Sooyoung, her real name–had a blend of Jeongyeon’s dashing charisma, Nayeon’s intimidating aura, Jihyo’s collected presence, Sana’s sweet cheerfulness, and Momo’s talented dancing. She was very popular among the juniors and underclassmen. 

It’s no wonder Dahyun had a little, tiny puppy crush on her when they first got to know each other. 

“I still can’t believe it”, Yves chuckles, eyes not veering away from the steep ramp as she drives into the basement parking of the building. Turns out they’re going to the same place. “You got the girl!” 

But of course, all of the high school admiration is in the past now. 

Dahyun grins widely, proudly, from the passenger’s seat. “I did, unnie! Who knew?” 

“I knew!” Yves exclaimed, rounding the car for a perfect reverse parking. She looks so cool driving. “I always knew you had it in you!”

Dahyun feels a blush creep in. Yves was always like another older sister figure in her life. “I can’t believe we haven’t seen each other in so long, unnie. Why weren’t you at the reunion?” 

“Well, for one, it wasn’t my batch’s reunion”, Yves chuckles as she turns off the car’s engine and unlocks the doors. 

Dahyun laughs back at that, the realization only hitting her then, nearly a year overdue. She always forgets how she technically isn’t part of the 1998 batch. They just somehow took her in like a lost puppy because of her unnies. 

Yves steps out of the car, Dahyun following subsequently, inhaling the scent of rubber and idling engines. 

It’s only seeing Yves in whole again when it registers to Dahyun just how much time has passed for them—and how relatively unfair it is for making sure Yves still looks the same and Dahyun, not so.

“What are you wearing, unnie?” She throws a playful hit at the outfit of the older girl, unable to hold back the involuntary raise of her eyebrows. The attire reminded Dahyun of her twenty-two-year-old nephew who often dressed the way those young rappers do nowadays. Oversized baggy shirts and what not. 

“It’s style , Dahyun-ah”, Yves poses with a hand on her hip. “I get paid to pull off these types of clothes.”

Yves ended up pursuing dancing as a career. Making a living out of what made her happy the most was the reason why she still looked the way she did, according to her. Dahyun doubts that’s all there is because she’s doing what she loves to and she doesn’t look like a Victoria’s Secret supermodel. 

They end up trying to fit more than a decade’s worth of catching up within the walk from the basement parking up to the waiting lounge Dahyun finds out they’re both similarly headed to. 

 

🌈

 

When Mina arrives at the waiting lounge after over five minutes of struggling, she sees Dahyun isn’t finished with her joyful conversation with the mystery lady yet. 

Mina isn’t annoyed because her wife is paying too much attention to this drop-dead-gorgeous woman, she’s frustrated because her feet are aching and the only thing she wants to do right now is lie down in bed, preferably cuddle up with her wife too while she’s at it.

They both had a lot of plans today, all lined up in a perfectly coordinated schedule. Although most of the latter appointments were cancelled and the timetable had been shuffled, Mina believed it was for the better.

That “better” isn’t this. 

That “better” isn’t Dahyun coming along with her gorgeous friend and claiming that the stars had aligned to make this one moment possible. Said moment being their long awaited reconnection. 

But even if it’s Mina’s frustrations at the expense of Dahyun’s unadulterated glee, then she’s willing to chug it all down and present this beautiful lady with the warmest smile she can muster, shake her hand without squeezing it too tight. 

Yves Ha must be wonderful, Mina recognizes this. She’s just unable to see it right now because of the circumstances clouding her judgement. Said circumstances being her aching feet, her lack of sleep, and the fact that Dahyun hasn’t given her at least a hug ever since seeing her again. 

Mina is at her wit’s end. Yves seems perfect. 

Then Dahyun says it. 

“I had a crush on unnie in high school. Funny, right, unnie?” 

Funny was the last thing in Mina’s head.

 

🌈

 

There's a silence in the air that makes Dahyun shift uncomfortably in her seat. Her eyes are glued onto the road in spite of the 180-second red light countdown still at 136, an unfamiliar tension rendering her afraid of glancing at the very cold presence beside her. 

Normally, their car rides were loud with the energy of a moving nightclub. 

Dahyun mostly sat shotgun because Mina had always been a better driver. Her normal job description entailed complete control of the stereo system and she’d blast off some songs from her collaborative Spotify playlist, now filled with Nayeon’s weird ass “these are the hits these days” songs, one of which had Mina nearly breaking the car to a full stop in the middle of the highway when the English lyrics came to her. 

(FinK.L.’s To My Boyfriend has just ended, followed by momentary silence filled with labored breaths as Mina and Dahyun come down from the high that was their sing-off in the car. 

It’s a lovely night, both of them driving home after finishing their errands. The sunroof of the car was open, windows slid down to let in the chilly night breeze. 

Dahyun’s reaching for the phone filming their karaoke session–to be sent to the group chat–about to end its recording, when the Rover starts shaking from the bass of the next song playing in ear-deafening volume. 

It’s an interesting beat. The bass is very intense, maybe a little too much for Dahyun’s liking, but she still finds herself bobbing her head to the beat, smiling as the gears in her head turn, the composer in her automatically trying to comprehend the song’s instrumental composition. 

In her focus, Dahyun doesn’t notice Mina’s face morph into a myriad of emotions in record time, forehead creasing and throat drying up as they pass by what looks like a group of monks walking out of a temple. She tries to reach for the phone and lower the volume but the car behind them honks and she’s thrown into panic even more. 

Dahyun mindlessly continues to bob her head to the music playing in max volume, exclaiming in surprise when the song doesn’t drop to a chorus like she expected it to but  goes through a rap session with some woman blurting out words Dahyun doesn’t understand. 

She takes this time to try and understand them now. She isn’t as fluent in English as Mina is but she can understand some words. 

The song is reaching its climax and Dahyun makes out something about parking a big Mack truck when the car jerks to an abrupt stop, her head following it and snapping right back against the headrest.

Dahyun feels her whole world spinning madly, the back of her head thrumming like it had been whacked by a bat. 

Before she can even react or say anything, Mina’s already unbuckling her seatbelt and reaching over the console for her, hands finding themselves cupping Dahyun’s jaw. “Oh my god, baby, I’m so sorry! Are you alright?!”

Mina coos at Dahyun for an entire minute, song muting in the background as she focuses on inspecting her wife’s head for any injury first. 

Aside from the feeling of her brain being rattled inside, Dahyun thinks she’s good. She kisses away the frown on Mina’s face when she pushes the older woman away gently, reassuring her her okay-ness. 

“What happened though?” She asks when they’re both moving again, the song finally ending and some S.E.S. replacing it. “Did a cat run into the street?” 

Mina focuses her eyes on the road. “No”, she chuckles uneasily. “Didn’t you get the song?” 

“Something about a truck parking in a little garage…?” 

Mina glances at her briefly, face looking incredulous. She gets a straight face in response. “You really didn’t get it?” 

“Uh...the singers were very… aggressive about whatever they were singing about…” 

That’s enough to send Mina in a laughing fit. Dahyun gets a thorough breakdown from her wife on their way back. Dumbfounded would be an understatement. 

Later on, when they remember the karaoke session video that filmed the entire thing up to Dahyun’s almost-concussion, they watch it together and find the slideshow of emotions on Mina’s face the most hilarious thing in the world. They send it to the group chat and find out it’s Nayeon who put the song in the playlist, for “workout” purposes. 

The next day, Mina trends worldwide. Under Nayeon’s initiative, the girls upload Mina and Dahyun’s “reaction” video on the internet and spur more than a million of responses and feedback. 

The day ends with Cardi B following Mina in all of her social media accounts, her record label reaching out for a possible interaction. 

Mina politely declines despite Nayeon and Momo’s pressing. 

“YOU DANCE POP TOO, MITANG! Why won’t you do it?!” Momo asks with much emotion. “It’s just that weird butt moving dance!” 

“Twerking”, Nayeon corrects and turns to the woman in question, voice rising. “IT’S JUST TWERKING, MINA! IT’S CARDI B!” 

Dahyun just laughs at them when Mina declines for the hundredth time. “I’d love to meet her, I do”, she chuckles. “It’s just that, well, we’re all forgetting the main issue here.” 

“Which is...?” Nayeon and Momo ask simultaneously. 

Mina honestly can’t believe these women. “I’m literally five months along...”

She wishes it were enough to convince them. It sure was enough work for her. But Nayeon...well, stubbornness is a skill she’s mastered for her law career. 

“So? Cardi did it last Coachella.”) 

Those were good days, memories from fun rides in the car, just her and Mina—and without this thick , cold impenetrable slab of tension right in between them. 

Dahyun tries to break through it. She turns her back on whatever tension she feels lingering in the air and covers it up with stories about her day instead; how she spent what should have been time allotted on seriously organizing the storage room, on indulging Chaeyoung, Yerim, and Tzuyu’s curiosities instead, telling every story behind every eccentric possession they pull out from the boxes. 

It feels like a futile effort, every laugh and joke only returned by a faint smile. The attempts feel like grains of sand slipping through her fingers. 

When Dahyun tries to ask Mina what’s wrong, the older girl just gives her a meek, “Just tired, is all.” and she really isn’t the type of person to prod someone for an answer when she isn’t satisfied by what was given, so she results to the one thing she’s absolutely sure will help her wife out. 

When the stop light turns green, Dahyun makes a careful U-turn, immediately earning a question from Mina. 

“Where are we going?” 

Dahyun turns off the a/c and rolls the windows down slightly. It suddenly feels like a slab of that tension had been chiseled away. They can breathe again. 

Dahyun hears Mina let out a sigh beside her. She takes this chance to grab Mina’s hand from the console, lace their fingers together and lock them in place. A part of Dahyun’s heart eases when Mina doesn’t fight back. Okay. So she isn’t mad at me. Good. 

A minute passes by and when Dahyun makes another turn, navigating down an all-too-familiar road, she glances at Mina and catches the tug at the older girl’s lips. 

“Are we…” Mina turns to Dahyun with weary yet hopeful eyes. “...going to the garden…?”

Dahyun’s smile gives her away.

 

🌈

 

A part of Dahyun wished everything would’ve just stayed the same. She wished the garden would’ve never been discovered by other kids fueled in curiosity, not have been renovated by adults fixated on trying to "upgrade" everything. There are things better left off the way they were, no matter how decaying they look. 

The last time Dahyun had been in the garden, it was in high school. It was their secret hideout then. It was her place.  

Twenty-two years later, it is now a mini-public park. The old tree at the center of the space remained, and miraculously restored to life, but the rest of its magical seclusion had been taken away and opened to both the school and the street outside. 

The only thing Dahyun liked in this”upgrade” was the giant warm yellow light post lighting the entire space like a disco ball, the tree branches casting shadows contrasting the glittering pavements. It made a sort of mysterious, enchanting glow, especially at night.

A little bit of privacy remains because of the tall manicured shrubs and plants landscaped around; this is enough to convince Dahyun to drag her celebrity wife outside. She helps Mina slide into a padded coat carefully before stepping out of  the car, Dahyun carrying a plastic bag of drinks and snacks for them to share. 

They find refuge on a bench tucked nearer to the now-gated exit and entrance of Apgujeong High. Back then, walking there would entail crossing the narrow alleyway lined with messy shrubs and protruding branches; now it’s a concrete sidewalk lit up by warm yellow path lights. 

It all brings about a calming atmosphere, combined with the cool night weather, and Dahyun remains unfazed in her belief that the garden is supernatural. Whatever tension present earlier has now admitted defeat to the magic of the garden.

As if she hadn’t been pouting the entire drive, Mina's now laughing and smiling again. Dahyun feels like she just uncovered the answers to the universe. 

They’re both munching on ice cream cones (that may or may not get Mina in trouble with their doctor; “We’ll be good if she doesn’t find out.”) and exchanging stories about everything and anything, mostly random anecdotes spurred by the nostalgia the garden brings. 

"Remember the time when I thought you were Mama Mary?” Dahyun chuckles, getting a little bit of vanilla ice cream on her lips. 

Mina wipes at it nonchalantly with her handkerchief. “Yes, you’ve mentioned the comparison…”

“Well yeah”, Dahyun continues, “I discovered this place because I thought there was some Bloody Mary crying behind the bushes, luring me into the garden to devour my soul.” 

“Now that you did not mention…” 

“Yeah”, Dahyun chuckles fondly, remembering the torturous agitation that consumed her younger self as she traversed through the narrow path she believed would lead to her demise. 

“I recited all the prayers I knew in my head. The Lord’s prayer, the Nicene creed…” She shakes her head at the thought. 

“And you still went through even though all the alarm bells in your head were already screaming bloody murder?” Mina is now fully convinced her wife’s fight-or-flight is questionable at best. 

“I was praying, okay?!” Dahyun exclaims indignantly. Mina just laughs at her even more. 

“Anyways, you know what I said? In my prayer? While the wailing grew louder and I felt like I was walking myself to my own grave?” 

“What?”

“I said, ‘Lord, if you’re listening to me right now, please let it be an angel.’”

Mina thinks she already knows where this is going. “And...?” 

“Well would you look at that”, Dahyun breathes out dramatically and slumps back into the bench. “It was an angel—” 

Mina fights the urge to roll her eyes. “Was it Yves Ha—” 

“I saw you—” Dahyun stops. “Wait, what?” 

Way to ruin the moment, Myoui. 

Mina wishes for the ground to swallow her. Now. “I...uh…” 

Confusion and amusement fills the younger woman’s eyes and Mina desperately wants to run away right now but that isn’t possible because Dahyun’s holding her hand and a bigger part of her doesn’t want to let go of that. 

Dahyuns back up. “What made you think it was Sooyoung unnie???” 

“‘ Sooyoung’ ?” Mina frowns this time. “Who’s Sooyoung?” 

“Yves unnie. Sooyoung. Ha Sooyoung. That’s her real name”, Dahyun clarifies. “What made you think it was Sooyoung unnie I was referring too?” 

“Wait a minute.” With an IQ score above 130, it doesn’t take much for Mina to connect the dots. “Chuu kept mentioning a ‘Sooyoung’ earlier. Her wife. Muse of the dance troupe from high school. You mean to say Yves Ha and Ha Sooyoung are the same person? One person married to Kim Jiwoo?” 

“Yes…?” Dahyun trails off, befuddled herself. “Wait, you didn’t know? Haven’t you seen Sooyoung unnie in school before?” 

“We were too busy with the talent show, I never had the time to make friends outside of the very small circle of people I knew”, Mina reasons out. 

“You didn’t connect the dots earlier?” Dahyun grins smugly.

Mina’s face falls flat. “I was too busy trying not to roll my eyes at every Sooyoung unnie this, Sooyoung unnie that. ” 

Dahyun wishes she could have Mina’s making-face framed. It’s adorably hilarious to see on a normally calm and collected woman. “Is that why you were so silent the entire car ride?” 

Mina hates this, she absolutely does. Dahyun already won most of their game nights. Their scoreboard is already too embarrassing for Mina, who was undefeated until the day she said I do; to be caught jealous of all things–is the total nail to her coffin. 

“I…” Think, Mina. THINK. 

But it only takes a second of hesitation for Dahyun to recognize triumph. “YOU WERE!”

It doesn’t help that her wife has a very obnoxious way of celebrating victory. 

“I didn’t—” Mina doesn’t even continue anymore. Defending herself is futile when Dahyun’s already dancing to MC Hammer. 

Mina sighs in defeat. Somehow, mint chocolate chip ice cream aside, seeing her wife this elated makes losing taste less bitter. 

When Dahyun finally grows tired, she falls back into the bench breathless but still smiling, accepting Mina’s bottle of water wholeheartedly. 

“You know, unnie…” She takes a big breath before chugging down the remnants of the half-emptied bottle. She stabilizes her breathing first before finishing, “I wouldn't have ever met you the way I did if it weren’t for Sooyoung unnie.” 

Mina grabs the emptied bottle handed over to her. “Why is that so?” 

Dahyun tells her about the school tour before, about Sooyoung being the actual head of the welcoming committee. “She gave me the task to tour you around. And also, a copy of your old slam book page I forgot to mention Tzuyu recently unearthed from our storage room quest earlier.” 

Mina thinks that’s too much information in one entire saying. She breaks it down into bits. 

“Sooyoung gave you the task to tour me around. You brought Jeongyeon along because you were afraid of me because of that stupid rumor about me being a mafia’s daughter—” 

“A Yakuza…” 

“Same thing”, Mina huffs. “And then you didn’t talk to me the entire tour but thankfully, Jackson Wang swooped in and took Jeongyeon away, pushed you to take the lead of showing me around.” 

“Uh...yes?” 

“You know, if someone ever wrote a story of how we met, we should probably special mention them. Our readers should know who made all of this possible. They probably knew we could happen before we ever did.” 

Dahyun chuckles at that, nodding. She makes a mental note to the universe, thanking it. 

“And this slam book page you mention…” Mina trails off. “Is that the one from the guidance office…?”

“Yes!” Dahyun exclaims, throwing a punch to the air. “ YOU LIKED ME FIRST! I WAS YOUR TYPE! MINA MYOUI LIKED KIM DAHYUN FIRST! Who knew!” 

“I did.” It was rhetorical but Mina still answers. “I knew I’d like you. When I first saw you, the thought was there. I saw you and I knew the possibilities of liking you were great. And I was damned.” 

Mina smiles to herself, unable to hold down the familiar flutter of feelings from a high school crush who, in the long run, became her wife too. 

“I think I always hoped it was gonna be you. It was just my pure damn luck the universe planned the same thing.” I probably would’ve fought it otherwise. 

Mina thinks their story isn’t as grand as Jeongyeon and Nayeon’s, isn’t as pre-destined as Sana and Momo’s, but theirs is a blend of both, an epic love story in its own right. 

She leans closer to the younger girl, sizzles up next to her to take her rightful place: right in Dahyun’s arms. 

“I hope it’s us in every lifetime”, Dahyun whispers before pressing a kiss on the crown of Mina’s head.  “Even if I turn into an eagle and you’re a penguin, I wouldn’t think of you as food.”  

Mina thinks this is why she loves Dahyun the most. 

“Why do you have to ruin the moment?!” 

She tries to act all annoyed but the smile always lingers. Dahyun always makes her smiles linger.

“I was professing my love for you!” 

“Whatever”, Mina rolls her eyes playfully. She checks her watch and thinks they should call it a night already. “We still have that lunch with the girls tomorrow.”

Dahyun doesn’t budge. She drives again on the way home, thanks her great mind she came up with going to the garden. It’s still as magical. It’s still their place. 

 

🌈

 

(Mina remembers Chuu’s last question before they went their separate ways. 

“I hope you don’t mind me asking, unnie. I guess this is for the content of MiHyun heart as it is for the write-up too…”

“Sure, fire away.” Mina smiles. 

Chuu fidgets for her pen, unaware if she should write it down or not. She asks a little later on: “Why do you love Dahyunnie?” 

Mina always wondered the answer to that question too, although she never truly did bother herself with wondering it so much. She loves Dahyun without any particular reason for, but if it goes down to being asked about then it becomes a different deal. 

She could list all the reasons in the world but the first one to come up in her head is simple and honest, and maybe the main reason why. 

“Because she loves me so much…” There’s just so much love filled in Dahyun’s soul, Mina could drown in it every single day but Dahyun doesn’t let her. She holds her instead and fills all the emptiness in her with it, with all of that love. So much overwhelming love. “It makes me want to love myself too.” 

Mina thinks it’s enough of an answer. It’s all that she can ever really give right now. 

“I love myself when I’m with her. My cheeks hurt from smiling, my lungs dry up from laughing, and I feel so light, like I’m floating, like I can just breathe without any reserve. I absolutely love it. I love her. I love us when we’re together.” 

I thought of it twenty-two years ago and I still think the same. 

Kim Dahyun, you are my soulmate.

In every lifetime, in every universe.

I come home to you.

 

🌈

 

Lunch is an affair at the Kangs’–Kang Daniel and Park Jihyo, not scary Mrs. Kang’s–in their beautiful and homey apartment at the heart of Daechi-dong.

Dahyun and Mina arrive fashionably late just because they can, because Dahyun always pulls out the we're-pregnant card and claim automatic leniency (even though Mina is always not the reason why they're late, because she takes lamaze classes and pilates and has the energy of a young adult on two cans of Monster, and Dahyun is the one who has problems getting out of bed). 

The Kang residence is every bit the bachelor pad it is (because Daniel and Jihyo claim they still are bachelors without kids of their own–and, after much prodding, confirmed there might never be one–and they get to play around however they want). 

It’s an industrial loft with lots of concrete, bricks, and metal details, the kind of place you’d see owned by a wealthy New York bachelor. It’s not big enough to fit the criteria of MTV Cribs, but it’s definitely perfect on its own, especially for people like Kang Daniel and Park Jihyo.

Dahyun thinks it’s absolutely insane how Jihyo never offered to host game nights when her apartment literally has a mini laser tag arena (“It’s an amenity here.” “The door panels literally have the letters J and D on them.”) 

Once they’re complete, they gather around in the living room, crowding on the sofa and occupying the rest of the space where the coffee table used to be. 

Mina gets the privilege of sitting comfortably by her own, on a table chair pulled to the living room, watching fondly as Dahyun stands in front of everyone like a teacher to a bunch of kindergarten students, the PowerPoint presentation she stayed up so late for flashed on the screen of Jihyo and Daniel's giant flatscreen TV behind her.

Truth be told, Mina doesn't think all of this is necessary. 

When they sent out the invites through the group chat, she reminded Dahyun not to expect too much and make a big deal out of it. Everyone still had things to do and they could just easily message the results. Apparently, Mina’s the only one who thought that way. Because in spite of it being a weekday, in the middle of the Christmas rush, everyone still went out of their way to gather for this. 

"Thank you guys for coming", Dahyun starts. 

Nayeon rescheduled an important meeting for an upcoming trial less than a month away, Jeongyeon cancelled her team's U-League training for today; Momo moved the dance class she's teaching to make time, Sana declined an interview with Vogue that overlapped this meet. Jihyo and Daniel are supposed to be camping today but they moved it to host the gathering, and Jackson and Youngji left their twins with a sitter, drove all the way from Daegu just to attend. 

When Mina looks around the room, she sees a room full of people who love them so much, and it makes her realize how their child would be growing in such a loving environment.

Mina wishes for that love to stay strong—even after Dahyun flashes the next slide.

"So today we'll be announcing who we chose as godparents."

A series of gasps and other violent reactions ensue.

"Just a head's up, we came down with the decision after thorough considerations. We abided by very strict, very meticulous criteria."

Mina fought the urge to scoff at the overplay. 

Like many of the more important decisions they had to make, they decided on it via rock-paper-scissors. That was how Mina ended up carrying their child. Rock beats scissors… 

Dahyun clicks the next slide, flashing a messy scatter of the candidates’ pictures, their names written underneath, in colorful comic sans font. 

“Just so you all know, we didn’t make the decision with religion in context”, Mina feels like she should just put that out. “Dahyun and I just wanted to make sure our child would have great role models to take after and we believed, after thorough considerations, that these two would do just that.” Thorough considerations being Dahyun beating Mina in rock-paper-scissors again… “Although, of course, we also know that all of you are... good influences too...” 

“Please”, Nayeon rolls her eyes. “Jackson Wang? A good influence?” She scoffs over at the direction of the guy currently having what looks like a tickle fight with Kang Daniel. 

“You’re gonna regret that, Im”, Jackson sneers. Youngji shuts her husband up with a hard nudge. 

“ANYWAYS”, Dahyun bellows over the ruckus. “So, here we go…” 

Mina watches as every adult in the room sits up and waits with bated breaths. She snaps a mental picture of the calm before the storm. This entire room would be a chaotic battleground in a few seconds. 

Dahyun presses the controller and a vortex transition takes place painfully slowly. 

(Nayeon reacts first. Of course. “Damn Jihyo, you live here and you can’t afford premium wifi???”

“It’s just the signal! Calm your ass down, Im!”)

An empty black slide displays itself. Dahyun clicks again and an image begins spinning to existence, lagging in process. 

 (“I swear to god, Jihyo, I’m gonna fucking pay for your wifi if you—” 

“SHUT UP!”)

Finally, a non-swiveling picture displays a face. 

Dahyun clears her throat. “We have the godmother—”

Mina thinks she just heard Momo shriek. Nayeon walks out of the room. Jihyo crushes an entire can of Budweiser with her bare hand. 

“Yoo Jeongyeon!” 

Mina has never seen anyone jump up in the air as high as Jeongyeon just did. She grabs Dahyun and makes her celebrate with her, both hopping around in pure glee.

Apart from Youngji who just watches and Sana who shrugs with a smile (“Don’t tell me you all didn’t see that coming?”), everyone else is in varying states of loss and despair. Another shriek echoes from the powder room down the hall, Daniel’s trying to stop Jihyo from crushing his hand with her hold, and Sana’s just laughing at her wife’s meltdown. 

It takes a little more than five minutes for the havoc to dwindle, Mina, Youngji, Sana, and Daniel working as damage control. 

“Okay, and the godfather is Jackson Wang.” Dahyun announces later on, to an audience of dejected faces, with less hype than earlier. 

Jackson, naturally , makes a fuss. “Hey! That’s unfair! Why aren’t y’all reacting like earlier?!”

“You’re the only one in this room who’s got balls to be the god father , Wang.” Nayeon rolls her eyes before chugging a can of beer down. “No offense, Daniel.” 

“None taken”, Daniel smiles, returning with a new can of Budweiser for Jihyo. He turns to the taller guy in the room, receiving some kind of framed certificate Dahyun made for the godparents. “Congrats, dude!”

“Thank you, Daniel.” Jackson dramatically acknowledges, waving his award proudly.  “At least you care.” 

Dahyun clears her throat for everyone’s attention again, not yet done with the meeting’s agenda. “Aside from the godparents , Mina and I also listed down three guardians.”

“THREE! Oh my god!” Nayeon blurts out, eyes suddenly ignited with hope. “That’s more chances of being appointed and if I—” 

The slide shows three