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Sugar Maple Tree

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Early fall of 2014, Senior year of high school

As Mina gets out from her bathroom door with a fresh new tissue roll in her hand, she stops for a moment, looks at the sluggish figure on her bed, and then exhales tiredly.

“It’s already the last one. Geez, how could she have used up so much..” Mina sighs to herself.

She slowly walks to her bed, and just as she sits on its edge she hears a very loud sneezing sound.

“I love her Mina-ya!! How could she do this to me? I can’t believe she did this to me! ” Jeongyeon whines, and wails, and huffs another heavy load again... in her thick school jacket this time.

“Hey… don’t blow your nose on that. Here, use this instead. It’s our last roll though.” Mina gently says as she gives the tissue roll to Jeongyeon.

She then starts to soothingly rub small circles on the crying girl’s back, as she always does when Jeongyeon is tense, in distress or just generally not feeling well.

They’ve been like that for more than 2 hours now, and Jeongyeon has already used up Mina’s newly opened facial tissue box on her study desk, and 4 of her reserved stash of tissue rolls in her bathroom.

Earlier two hours ago, around 9PM, while Mina is in the middle of finishing her English reaction paper, Jeongyeon just texted her a one-liner, “Ice cream tonight ”, with no emoji whatsoever, not even a question mark.

After reading Jeongyeon’s message, Mina immediately knew she’s probably going to be in another trouble again. And by trouble in Myoui Mina’s vocabulary means that she’s mostly going to pull another all-nighter later just to complete all her deadlines and to finish reviewing for her Organic Chemistry exam tomorrow.

So it wasn’t a surprise to Mina when approximately 20 minutes after Jeongyeon texted her, she heard a series of rather hurried knocks on her bedroom door and when she opened it, a pouting Jeongyeon greeted her and raised the plastic bag of ice cream in her right hand while she grumpily announced-

“Your turn to choose the movie.”

Jeongyeon rarely lets her choose the movie whenever they’re going for their scheduled movie nights, much more for unplanned days like tonight. So Mina knew immediately what kind of film to play the moment Jeongyeon told her that, with a pint of ice cream in hand.

Few minutes after, both girls were already sitting on Mina’s small bed, their backs on the headboard, blankets over their laps, while The Empire Strikes Back was playing on Mina’s laptop that is unsteadily positioned over her small penguin pillow.

Mina was carefully observing Jeongyeon the whole time the movie was playing. Jeongyeon was just mindlessly looking at the laptop screen while scooping out from the pint of their favorite Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie ice cream.

Halfway through the movie, Mina sensed it’s finally time. She slowly lifted her free hand that is not holding the ice cream spoon, and gently holds the back of Jeongyeon’s hand.

“So tell me what happened.” Mina quietly asks her best friend in her usual caring tone.

It was then when she started to hear sniffles, quiet and slow at first. Mina decided to pause the movie, and then few minutes after, Jeongyeon loudly bellows, a serving of melting ice cream still inside her mouth-

“Momo broke up with me…” *sniffs* then, “She-.. she-... How could she break up with me Mina-ya!”

The sniffles then turned into a full on whiny sneezes and dramatic bawling few minutes after. It was then when Mina’s supply of facial and bathroom tissue rolls starts to deplete.

*****

 

“Let me get this straight. So she basically broke up with you because you prefer eating kimchi than sushi?” Mina asks, an appalled expression clearly written all over her pretty face.

“Yes that’s what she said. She even made me choose- kimchi or her.”

“So what’s your answer? ”

“I said kimchi on her.”

“Oh my god. Please tell me you’re lying and you didn’t actually say that.”

“I was shocked ok. I couldn’t think straight. Not that I’m straight in the first place... but.. I’m Korean Mina-ya! How could I just ditch kimchi like that. I actually thought my answer is smart you know. Kinda like hitting two birds in one stone or something like that. ” Jeongyeon explains sounding rather more offended now than hurt.

“Well, I actually think it’s witty too...” Mina comments rather quietly first then continues more firmly-

“But that’s not the point here. It’s not about the answer really. It’s about her question. How could she even ask you such a petty question and make you choose? And I can’t believe she actually broke up with you because of that. I thought she was just joking. I’m sorry Jeong, but she sounded shallow to me.” Mina says matter-of-factly, her other hand still rubbing Jeongyeon’s back.

Mina never really likes the girl anyway so she’s actually quite annoyed to see her best friend being hurt like this.

“Yeah I agree.. her question is kinda off.. But still, I love her Mina-ya. You, of all people should know that.” Jeongyeon replies, still sniffing.

“I know… Of course I know... But she doesn’t deserve your love, after all that she has done to you for the past months.” Mina would like to say that to her best friend, but chose not to.

Instead she just settles on, “Yes I of course know, Jeong. I’m sorry it happened to you tonight… You can cry all you want here. I’ll just fetch you some water ok? I’ll be back quickly. ” Mina tells her best friend while looking at Jeongyeon with concerned eyes.

*****

 

Jeongyeon thinks she truly loves Momo. Because she’s ok even if the girl rarely attends their games as a support for her. She understood her fully. She even understood when sometimes she sees Momo being so touchy with other girls even when they were still dating. Jeongyeon didn’t question why she herself just shrugged it off easily, despite the rumours. She trusted the girl. She also thinks then that maybe it’s just part of loving someone, not feeling overly jealous but trusting your partner and being understanding instead.

Besides, Momo was so understanding of her as well whenever Jeongyeon requested for their dates to be rescheduled if it falls on the same day of her weekly movie nights with Mina. Despite Mina’s protest to Jeongyeon that she should prioritize her date first, Jeongyeon was happy that Momo values her friendship with Mina, and so Jeongyeon thinks she’s really lucky with Momo.

Jeongyeon’s sure she loves Momo. For it was the first time she consistently gave another girl a bouquet of flowers every month when they’re still dating. She still likes the girl, even if Momo always shouts at her in public whenever they have a disagreement, regardless if it’s just a petty argument or a major fight. She knows she loves Momo as she experienced some of her major firsts with the girl too. So right now in Mina’s room, Jeongyeon is hurting. Because in their last year of high school, Jeongyeon’s young heart regarded Momo as her first love.

So Jeongyeon cries, and sulks, and blows her nose for almost two hours, here in Mina’s bed while her best friend continues to hold her tight.

 

“Just cry, Jeong. It’s ok. You’re going to be ok. I’m just here.”

Mina tells Jeongyeon as she continues to rub small circles on her best friend’s back.

*****

 

Mina couldn’t stand seeing Jeongyeon hurt. It was the first time her best friend had a serious relationship that lasted for a whole straight 6 months so Mina is certain that Jeongyeon genuinely likes her ex-girlfriend.

As Jeongyeon continues to sob beside her, Mina is looking at her pile of assignments spreading on top of her small study table. She’s looking at her incomplete Math homework sheets laying on top of her closed laptop, that contains her unfinished reaction paper.

She’s also worrying about her Organic Chemistry exam tomorrow which she hasn’t even started reviewing yet. Mina reckons she’s most probably just going to have to rely on her stock knowledge again if she doesn’t finish all her homework by later.

But all those school works can wait, Mina decided. Because right now, Jeongyeon needs her. Jeongyeon is currently in pain and she knows that her best friend needs her presence.

Because for Mina, next to her family, Jeongyeon always comes first.

*****

 

As Jeongyeon is carefully folding her used tissue ply and quietly throwing it on the small bin, Mina gently asks her, “Jeongie.. do you think you’re going to be ok for tomorrow’s game though?”

“Oh right, I forgot about the game... but yeah, I can manage. I think. ” Jeongyeon quietly replies.

“It’s an important game for you, are you sure you’re alright to play tomorrow? Just tell me if you’re not, ok? My dad is actually friends with one of the league organizers, maybe we can ask for it to be rescheduled. I’m sure we can try to work something out if ever.”

Mina sounds so concern as she looks at Jeongyeon’s tired face, dried tears visible on her best friend’s cheeks.

Both girls are aware that tomorrow is a big game for Jeongyeon, in fact it’s a very crucial one. Not only that it’s a do-or-die championship match between the top two teams of their high school basketball league, but also because college scouts are going to watch the game tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s game is going to define Jeongyeon’s university career and consequently her future. So the young basketball prodigy needs to be in her A game for tomorrow’s match.

But with Jeongyeon’s broken hearted state tonight, Mina is ultimately worried and her brain is already formulating different types of back up plans in case Jeongyeon tells her that she needs more time to mend her broken heart.

As Mina is lost in her thoughts, she feels Jeongyeon’s careful fingers on her forehead. Her best friend is now looking at her intently and gently touching her face to straighten her furrowed brows.

“I know what you’re thinking with that big smart brain of yours, Minari. I can literally see the gears shifting crazily inside your head. I’m gonna be fine I promise. As long as you’re there to watch, I’m gonna be fine. You’re watching right?” Jeongyeon asks her with a tired smile.

“Of course Jeong, when have I not?”

*****

 

Jeongyeon still continues to sulk and so she whines and blows her nose for a few more hours. Mina’s pending school works continue to remain untouched.

When Jeongyeon finally calms down, Mina asked her if she’s ok to go home now. Jeongyeon nodded but demanded for one last hug from her best friend.

While Jeongyeon is hugging her best friend like a koala, Mina can feel Jeongyeon’s hot breathe on her neck. It is then when Mina starts to contemplate whether she’d pull Jeongyeon away now or not because the feeling of her best friend’s face buried on her neck is suddenly making her uneasy.

While Mina is still internally debating what to do next, Jeongyeon suddenly whispers something to her-

“So you’d like it if I put kimchi on you? ”

Mina can’t believe what she just heard so she finally breaks the hug and lightly punched her best friend’s shoulder.

“I can’t believe you Yoo Jeongyeon! Out of all the things and advice I’ve given to you tonight, that’s what you remembered? Really? ” Mina rolls her eyes to hide her embarrassment.

Jeongyeon just snickers and looks at her. Mina notices that Jeongyeon’s eyes are a little bit livelier now as compared to few hours ago when she first entered Mina’s room.

“Come here. I need another hug.” Jeongyeon just replies to her after relishing on her best friend’s embarrassed state.

“No, that’s enough.” Mina replies feigning resistance.

“You know it isn’t.” Jeongyeon says smiling as she pulls Mina closer to her again, and lets herself be buried in the familiar warmth and the comforting scent of her best friend.

It was Jeongyeon’s first real heartbreak. And Mina was there to hug her and comfort her. Like always.

*****

 

It was around 2AM when Mina tucked Jeongyeon on her bed. Mina consumed 2 cups of coffee that morning to keep her awake while cramming for her assignments. She only naps for an hour before she goes to their kitchen to personally prepare for something, and to finally start preparing for school.

*****

 

In the morning of Jeongyeon’s last game of her high school career, it is Mina’s first text that she sees. She’s still rubbing the sleep out of her barely opened eyes when she looks at her phone and reads her best friend’s messages.

 

Cutie Alien nerd 👽 (6:25 AM)
Good morning Jeongie~ 🐻
How are you feeling now?
Text me as soon as you read this.

 

Cutie Alien nerd 👽 (6:26 AM)
Oh, I’ve put the smoothie in your fridge.
There’s also some breakfast for you.
Good luck on your game!
I’ll be there later to watch. Go crush ‘em! 💪

 

As soon as she sees Mina’s messages, Jeongyeon immediately smiles despite her still sleepy state in the morning. She forces herself to wake up now, makes up her bed and goes down straight to their kitchen.

In their kitchen, Jeongyeon immediately opens their fridge then pulls out the special banana protein shake smoothie that Mina always freshly prepares for her every time she has a game. It’s one of the perks of having Mina as her best friend, Jeongyeon thinks. Most especially if that best friend just lives right across your house, literally just ten steps away from your doorsteps.

Mina’s special smoothie is sort of like a staple now in Jeongyeon’s system. She can’t function well without drinking it before every game.

“It’s the drink of the champions, Jeong. It will give you lots of energy to help you win. ” Jeongyeon remembers Mina proudly telling her that when her best friend first handed her the special smoothie during middle school. It’s Mina’s very own recipe, even Seungyeon can’t replicate it.

Jeongyeon smiles warmly at the memory.

After taking a sip from her precious protein shake, Jeongyeon picks up her phone and replies to her best friend.

 

Ace Jeong (8:12 AM)
Good morning Minari! 😎
See you later!!!
I’m ok now after drinking your smoothie!

 

Ace Jeong (8:14 AM)
Good luck on your exam, btw 🤓
Thank you for last night.

 

Ace Jeong (8:15 AM)
Don’t be late please, I need you there.
See you later!!! 👽🐧

 

*****

 

In rare occasions that Mina is unable to prepare a smoothie for Jeongyeon, usually for valid reasons like Mina is away on a family vacation in Japan, Jeongyeon is not on her best form and they usually lost those games. Perhaps it’s because whenever she doesn’t get to drink Mina’s special smoothie, it also means that her best friend wouldn’t be in the audience cheering for her in the game.

With this, Jeongyeon believes Mina is like her lucky charm. And since today is definitely one of the most crucial games in Jeongyeon’s life, she is in such a great mood as she sips and savours her favorite banana protein shake while happily eating her breakfast in the Yoo’s wooden dining table.

Jeongyeon is in such a happy mood today that no one wouldn’t even believe her if she says she was such a broken hearted crying mess last night.

*****

 

Mina answers her Chemistry exam in a hurry. She stares at the last bonus questions and contemplated for a second if she should answer them or not. But when she looks at their room’s wall clock situated on top of the middle white board, she supposes she doesn’t have much time. So she quickly packs her things, put them neatly in her bag, walks to her teacher’s desk and hands over her papers.

“Is there another game again?” Ms. Lee asks her as the young teacher accepts her answer sheets, 15 minutes before the deadline.

“Yes, Ms. Lee. I’ll go off first now. Thank you for your hardwork.” Mina smiles to her teacher politely, bows slightly and then hurriedly exits the classroom.

She looks at her watch as she runs to the direction of their school gymnasium. Mina estimates that she should be able to catch the teams’ introduction if she continues to run at her current speed.

Mina runs with all her might while simultaneously hoping she doesn’t fail her Chemistry exam.

*****

 

(Mina actually passed her Chemistry exam. Her score is 100/100. She should have gotten 120/100 but there are more important things in life than answering the extra bonus questions.)

*****

 

Mina is still panting from her run when she enters their school’s basketball court. She scans one particular section of the audience and she immediately spots Seungyeon-unnie, Jeongyeon’s older sister, waving at her. She politely excuses herself to those that are already seated while she makes her way to the Yoo’s seating area.

“Mina-ya! Here, I reserve this for you.” Seungyeon delightedly points to a seat beside her as Mina walks near them.

Mina greets and bows at Jeongyeon’s dad politely while Jeongyeon’s mom immediately hugs Mina as soon as she sees the girl.

“Mina sweetie, how was your exam? Jeongyeon told me you have an exam before this.” Jeongyeon’s mom asks her endearingly.

“It was ok Auntie. I just hope I pass it. Thank you for asking.” Mina warmly smiles at Jeongyeon’s mom.

After exchanging pleasantries with Jeongyeon’s family, Mina whispers besides Seungyeon, “Unnie, how was Jeong this morning?”

“Oh she’s great. She was able to slap me in the arm already while I tease her this morning. It was such a strong slap and it still hurts you know. So I think she’s fully recharged now and gained a lot of energy after eating the breakfast you prepared for her. Thank you for that by the way.” Seungyeon replies to her while smiling tenderly.

Mina just shyly smiles back in response.

*****

 

While waiting for the players to enter the court, she quickly scans the crowd and wonders who among them are the college scouts. Mina opens her phone and sends a quick text to her best friend.

 

 

Cutie Alien nerd 👽 (4:03 PM)
I’m here now.
Usual spot, beside Seungyeon-unnie’s.
Goodluck, Jeong!
Fighting!!!

 

Ace Jeong (4:05 PM)
See you!!!
I’m really nervous, Mina-ya..😖
This is it.
can’t believe it’s my last game in high school already..

 

Ace Jeong (4:06 PM)
Shit, I’m really nervous.
Can’t wait to see you. 🥺

 

Cutie Alien nerd 👽 (4:07 PM)
It’s your last game and you’ll ace it.
I know it, Jeong.
You’re gonna be fine.

Cutie Alien nerd 👽 (4:07 PM)
Can’t wait to see you too.

 

*****

 

When Jeongyeon’s team enters the court, almost everyone in the audience screams and cheers loudly. It’s their home turf after all. As the captain of her team, Jeongyeon leads the way while she confidently walks towards the court, wearing her usual charismatic mysterious ace player aura that made almost every girl in their entire school swoon over her.

Few minutes after, the mandatory pre-game ceremony and rules announcement starts. Mina notices her best friend subtly surveying the crowd as if looking for someone while all the players stand in the middle of the court.

Seungyeon immediately waves at her sister and when Jeongyeon looks at their direction, Mina catches the unique and equally adorable lopsided smile that appears in Jeongyeon’s face, before her best friend quickly shifted to her usual confident and slightly intimidating Ace Basketball Captain stance mode again. The smile was immediate and quick, but Mina caught sight of it gracing Jeongyeon’s beautiful face nonetheless.

Mina always notices that unique yet very lovely smile of her best friend, no matter how brief, no matter how faint, even from tens of meters away.

Mina never fails to notice Jeongyeon’s subtle quirks.

*****

 

By the end of the first half, Jeongyeon’s team is already leading by 20 points. Needless to say, Jeongyeon is in a tremendously great shape so far. The third quarter hasn’t even started yet but Jeongyeon has already achieved a triple-double and is the current overall top scorer of the game.

Whenever Jeongyeon manages to hit a ringless three-pointer, or when she successfully nails a fancy slam dunk, she strongly raises her hands up in the air fist close. And as she proudly jumps up and down, she always looks at Mina’s direction and throws her signature wink and ultimately charismatic smirk. The fangirls surrounding the Yoo’s always squeal whenever Jeongyeon does that.

“Tch, as if Jeongyeon did that for them. Right Mina-ya?” Seungyeon always whispers to her as soon as the fangirls stop screaming.

“pfft... what a show off.” Mina just shrugs her shoulder and feigns her usual nonchalance as if the gesture did not affect her as much as what the nearby squealing fangirls felt.

As if her heart doesn’t beat faster whenever Jeongyeon looks at her.

As if her heart doesn’t ache so much whenever she sees Jeongyeon hurting.

As if the butterflies in her stomach do not fly in frenzy whenever Jeongyeon hugs her.

As if she doesn’t get flustered whenever Jeongyeon holds her hands.

As if her skin doesn’t burn whenever Jeongyeon buries her face in her neck.

As if she didn’t discover that she has been living her life in romantic cliché for the past 2 years.

 

As if she’s not secretly in love with her own best friend.

*****

 

To no one’s surprise, Jeongyeon’s team won the championship and she was hailed as the league’s MVP. Series of colourful confettis were immediately dropped from the ceiling to the court and some parts of the audience seats, after the last buzzer has blared triumphantly signaling the end of the game.

Seungyeon and Mina immediately hugged each other out of happiness after seeing the final score. Mr. Yoo is wiping her wife’s face gently with a handkerchief as Jeongyeon’s mom shed happy tears.

*****

 

“Mina-ya!!!!”

An extremely happy Jeongyeon runs to her while shouting her name as soon as the star player sees her waiting outside. Jeongyeon immediately embraces Mina in a tight hug the moment she reaches her best friend.

Mina hugs her back, just as tightly. Her heart filled with so much pride and happiness for the girl she loves.

Jeongyeon breaks away from the hug after a few minutes and gently holds both of Mina’s shoulders while she proudly announces the good news to her best friend, “I got scouted! I got scouted Mina-ya! Can you believe it? I’m finally going to college with a scholarship!”

Mina’s eyes happily beam with the news, “I told you you’ll make it. I never doubted you, Jeong. Congratulations! I’m so proud of you.”

They just look at each other fondly for a few seconds without uttering a single word. After some time, Jeongyeon’s lopsided smile starts to appear again while looking warmly at Mina’s eyes. It’s the same precious smile that Mina adores very much.

“You’re crying.” Jeongyeon finally says as she gently wipes a single tear that rolls down across Mina’s cheek.

“It’s tears of joy, Jeong. One of your dreams finally came true.”

“I know.”

“You’re crying too.” Mina says back when she also notices Jeongyeon’s happy tears and wipes it clean.

“It’s tears of joy.” Jeongyeon echoes back.

“I know.”

Mina mimics her best friend’s reply and Jeongyeon just huffs while smirking at her.

 

“Let’s go? My parents are waiting. Let’s get dinner. My treat. ”

“Are you sure it’s your treat or it’s your parents’ treat?”

“Doesn’t matter. I’m still the MVP.”

“Always so humble, I see.” Mina teases Jeongyeon, and her best friend just snickers at her in return.

Jeongyeon then holds Mina’s hands as they walk towards her parents’ car. She waves back at Seungyeon who’s waving at them from the back seat.

If only Jeongyeon glances back at Mina in that same moment, she’ll see the fairly visible red blush that appears on both of Mina’s cheeks.

*****

 

Winter of 2015, Senior year of high school, 2 months before graduation

“Hey Alien watch out!!” Jeongyeon calls out to Mina wearing her typical teasing grin.

The two girls are sitting on a couch for 3 hours now while they continuously play Mario Kart in Myoui’s huge living room with 40 inch smart TV.

Mina rolls her eyes at her best friend’s old dirty tactics which apparently didn’t work as she still places first after the final race ended.

“We’re already graduating from high school and you’re still calling me that?” Mina tells her best friend as she places her controller in the coffee table.

“If you will still call me that even in college, I’m gonna tell everyone that you’re still peeing in your bed until the 3rd grade.”

“Hey that’s foul!”

“and calling me Alien isn’t?”

“That’s.. different..” Jeongyeon protests.

“That’s different how?” Mina asks back while she carefully gets a slice of their Hawaiian pizza and offers it to Jeongyeon- “Here, do you need more napkins?”

Jeongyeon just silently accepts the pizza, and without giving it a single bite, she places it back to the other side of the pizza cover. Mina immediately sensed the change in the mood.

Mina then scoots closer to her best friend, their knees now touching, as she eats her pizza in silence while Jeongyeon just quietly stares at the pizza box. Like always, Mina patiently waits.

“Are you still planning to enroll in Kirin University?” Jeongyeon asks quietly after a few minutes. She’s still looking at the pizza box.

“Yeah.. They offer the best pre-med courses in Seoul, Jeong. Plus they also grant scholarship and I read that they have one of the best University Hospitals too.” Mina replies gently, she’s now carefully looking at Jeongyeon’s side profile.

“I got scouted in Haneol University and dad says it has the best deals among the colleges that I’ve been offered scholarship with.”

“Hmm... Both universities are actually located on the opposite ends of Seoul. But good news is- they’re just barely 2 hours away by train, and actually just 2 and a half hours travel by car.” Mina contemplates for a bit before she continues while carefully looking at Jeongyeon’s side,

“We can even still continue our movie nights every day. But I guess we just have to limit it to one movie for now to cover for the travel time. What do you think, Jeong? We can always go and visit each other. ”

Mina replies remembering her rigorous research the other day about the different ways of navigating between the two universities. She’s right in guessing the actual concern that bothers her best friend.

Because in all honesty, Mina has been bothering about it too for the past few days. She’s been bothering about it a lot ever since she received the scholarship grant letter last week from Kirin University.

“Yeah.. but..” Jeongyeon hesitates.

“You’re gonna miss me that much?” Mina nudges her knees lightly on Jeongyeon’s and tries to lighten up the mood.

Jeongyeon finally stops staring at the pizza box and shifts her gaze at Mina. She looks at her best friend silently for a few seconds. She then scoots closer to Mina, slowly links her arms with the other girl, intertwines their hands, and finally leans her head on Mina’s shoulder.

Mina hopes Jeongyeon doesn’t hear the heart that starts to beat erratically inside her chest.

“Of course not… why would I miss you.” Jeongyeon replies quietly as she fiddles her thumbs on Mina’s hands.

“Okay. If you say so. ” Mina replies back just as quietly while looking at their intertwined hands.

“Are you… gonna miss me?” Jeongyeon asks a bit hesitantly.

“hmmm..” Mina hums. “Of course, Jeong. Of course, I’m gonna miss you. Who else is gonna treat me to Hawaiian pizza if you’re not there?” Mina tries to lighten up the mood again.

“I hate you.” Jeongyeon replies but her quiet tone betrays the insincere words she just muttered.

“No you don’t ha- Ouch!” Mina reacts a bit loudly this time as Jeongyeon squeezed their intertwined hands with a little more force.

Jeongyeon then sits up straight, faces Mina and raises both her arms forward towards Mina’s direction,

“I need a hug.”

Mina rolls her eyes, “You’re such a baby.” as she goes towards Jeongyeon and embraces her best friend in a tight hug.

Jeongyeon buries her face in Mina’s neck again and starts breathing in the other girl. In that very moment, Mina is summoning all the self-control she can muster to stop herself from kissing Jeongyeon. She just channels her hidden emotions instead into rubbing small circles on her best friend’s back, while her other hand is softly caressing Jeongyeon’s hair.

Even now while they are still holding each other close, Mina already misses her best friend.

*****

 

“I’m sorry if I hurt your hand.” Jeongyeon quietly speaks after a while. Her face still buried in Mina’s neck.

“No it’s ok, I was just being exaggerating. It doesn’t really hurt.”

“I know. You can be dramatic sometimes.”

Mina punches Jeongyeon’s back lightly in response.

“Ouch.”

“I’m sorry if I hurt your back.”

“It kinda hurts, Mina-ya.”

“I know.”

“I hate you.”

“No you don’t”

“Yeah.”

*****

 

“I wonder what your fangirls would think of you if they discover you’re really such a softie mushy crybaby in person.” Mina teasingly asks Jeongyeon.

Her best friend’s mood is now lifted and Jeongyeon is currently devouring the remaining 4 slices of pizza.

“I donrn’t kehrr what they thhink.” Jeongyeon attempted to reply in the middle of her chewing. Her cheeks puffing cutely after excitedly biting and shoving half a slice of pizza on her mouth.

“God you are such a handful.” Mina says as she wipes a napkin on a side of Jeongyeon’s lips which was slightly smudged with hot sauce.

Jeongyeon just smiles while looking at her, “Thanks Alien.”

Mina scoffs in return, rolls her eyes but still smiles at her best friend nonetheless.

Jeongyeon then starts to grin so widely, her dorky smile now apparent, a greasy half-eaten pizza crust still on her hand. Jeongyeon looks so adorable that Mina’s heart starts to ache.

She’s going to miss this. She’s going to miss her best friend.

She’s going to miss spending time every day with the girl she loves.

 

Jeongyeon and Mina then continue to play Mario Kart for the remaining of their Saturday. They play for hours, annoy each other to no ends, and both loudly laugh together like they always do for the past 12 years.

Both of them enjoying the fleeting freedom and basking on the precious free spirited moments that their last remaining days of high school life has to offer.

*****

 

Early Spring of 2015, Two weeks before the start of their college freshman year

Jeongyeon is in Mina’s room, she’s currently helping her best friend pack her things.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you to your new dorms?” Jeongyeon asks again for the 5th time today, hoping Mina would change her mind.

“Jeong, I told you it’s fine. Kai is driving me there already and helping me move.” Mina replies again, her best friend can be really so persistent if she wants to.

“I can also help you move Mina-ya. You know how strong how I am. Besides, I want to see your new dorm too, please. Please Minari!” Jeongyeon holds Mina’s hands and shakes it gently as she also tries to show her a failed puppy eyes. It’s her last attempt to convince her best friend.

“No.”

"You’re so unfair. How come you can see my dorm but I can’t see yours?”

Mina just snickers back at her and then points something behind Jeongyeon, “Oh we haven’t emptied that drawer yet. Can you help me transfer those in this box please?”

Jeongyeon pouts at her. Knowing full well it’s nearly impossible to change Mina’s mind once she has firmly decided on something, Jeongyeon concedes and just quietly goes to the empty drawer’s side. She then starts transferring its contents to the box that Mina gave her.

“Mina-ya look what I found!” Jeongyeon happily shouts at Mina, a large photo album currently in her hand.

Mina stops organizing some of the boxes and gently sits besides Jeongyeon, knowing full well what her best friend is currently looking at.

"Why do you have my baby pic?” Jeongyeon asks, pointing at the rather embarrassing old photograph.

“It’s actually just a scanned copy. Auntie gave it to me after I requested for her to give me the original one. You’re just really cute in there so I requested for a copy.” Mina smiles fondly remembering the precious memory that particular photograph entails.

“Where in this aspect is cute?! Seungyeon-unnie basically forced me to pose for a picture that time. I look horrible in here. ”

“No you don’t. But you really look so guilty.” Mina giggles while looking at the picture.

“Hey I was so cold. It was really chilling that time. I should have really filed for a child abuse to Seungyeon-unnie now that I remember it again.”

“and whose fault is it then that you went outside with those clothes on in the middle of autumn?” Mina teases her best friend again.

“For the record, you should actually be thankful I went outside that time. Otherwise you wouldn’t have met me. Your life would be boring then.” Jeongyeon replies smugly.

“and the humble Jeongyeon strikes again.”

Jeongyeon just smiles at Mina’s remark.

“Do you still remember it Minari?”

“Of course I remember. How could I forget, Jeong?”

Both girls are now looking at each other and currently wearing a tender smile on their faces as they start to reminisce the very first memory of them together.

Jeongyeon and Mina then both look at the photograph again. It’s a picture of a 6-year old Jeongyeon with both of her hands in her back, as she stands timidly in the middle of their quiet neighborhood alley.

It was the day they first met.

*****

 

Late Autumn of 2002, in one of Seoul’s quiet districts

One fine chilly autumn day, a 5-year old Mina, clad in her thick cute little black dress, is now sitting in one of the small benches beside the swing of a playground, inside a neighborhood she’s not familiar with. It’s the day of their first move to Seoul.

She’s not sure if she’s lost now, she actually wants to cry but little Mina is afraid the few kids playing nearby might bully her if she starts crying. So she just sits there looking down at her little feet that are swaying alternately in mid-air suspension, while she prays quietly that her Mom would finally notice that her precious little daughter is apparently now missing.

“Heylow are you new here?”

Little Mina looks up after hearing someone speaks. Her eyes landed on a tiny little girl now standing in front of her, clad in a skimpy sleeveless Sailor Moon pink undershirt in the middle of autumn. The girl has a slight single smudge of dirt across her tiny right cheek. Little Mina wonders if the kid in front of her is cold.

“Hello, why don’t you have your shorts on?” Little Mina replies in Japanese. She doesn’t know Korean yet nor did she understand what the little girl has just told her.

The little girl’s eyes squinted for a moment and then widens in shock right after hearing little Mina speaks. Her mouth turns agape with a sudden realization and then asks loudly-

“Are you an alien?!” the little girl asks with a mix of amazement and childlike curiosity in her voice.

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand you.” little Mina replies back and tilts her head curiously on her side as if the motion will make her understand what the kid in front of her is saying.

“I’m Jeongyeon. What is your name?”

“I’m sorry?”

“My mom says aliens talk in alien language so we won’t know their secrets. But aliens can understand us. Are you one of the aliens?” Little Jeongyeon repeats the question to little Mina.

It was then when little Mina starts to slide down the bench and stands in front of the girl. The kid is apparently taller than her, but for some reason, little Mina doesn’t feel scared around her.

“I’m really sorry. I don’t know what you’re saying. My name is Mina. Myoui Mina.”

Little Mina continues to speak to the little stranger in Japanese. She bows slightly and then stretches out her little hand to offer a handshake. She is actually sad that she cannot understand what the kid in front of her is saying.

Little Jeongyeon looks down at the tiny hands stretching in front her, then her expression shifts a bit as she steps back slowly,

“Oh no... are you saying you’re here to get me?”

“My mom says aliens suddenly appear and collect kids when they disobey their parents. A- are you going to send me now to outer space Alien-nim?”

Little Mina is now looking at her worriedly as the kid appears to be a bit scared now.

“P- please don’t Alien-nim.. I didn’t mean to disobey mom. I won’t do it again I promise. Please.. it was really Chaeyoung’s fault. I promise i won’t do it again. Please please Alien-nim.. I still want to own a cute dog. ”

Little Jeongyeon was about to cry because she was so afraid then that the Alien in front of her would transport her to their spaceship and then she’ll never see her parents and her grandma ever again.

She is so afraid she’ll never get to experience how it is to have a pet dog. Little Jeongyeon was so scared that her small body starts to shake.

Little Mina didn’t know what to do as she sees little Jeongyeon’s pleading eyes to her. She can’t even understand what the little girl is saying. But she is so worried now as the taller little girl who’s just lively a while ago now looks visibly shaken.

When small tears starts to flow out of little Jeongyeon’s pleading eyes, little Mina did what she only knew then as a child. She goes near and hugs the scared little Jeongyeon.

“Why are you crying? Please don’t cry.”

Little Jeongyeon is surprised and hesitant at first on little Mina’s sudden action. But as little Mina’s innocent hold on her tightens and she feels a soothing circular motion gently rubbing on her back, Jeongyeon’s breathing starts to stabilize.

Suddenly, little Jeongyeon felt a new sense of comfort and warmth while the tiny Alien embraces her. Her then previously scared innocent heart starts to calm down at the feeling of little Mina’s embrace.

They stayed like that for a few moments, little Mina did not break the hug as she continues to comfort the girl.

After a while, in between little Jeongyeon’s sniffs and small sobs on little Mina’s neck, she mutters a soft,

“But mom forgot to mention that aliens are pretty.”

Little Mina, still not understanding what little Jeongyeon is saying, just continue to gently rub Jeongyeon’s back instead and replies in Japanese,

“It’s ok. You’re going to be ok. I’m just here.”

*****