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Sugar Maple Tree

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Words I want to say to you piles up
My thoughts as many as the number of stars
If I hold your hand,
I wonder if this distance can be reduced
Will I be able to reach?  Is it enough?

I like you, I like you, even though it’s unbearable
The trace of your smile, for it to not disappear
Being beside you, wishing on your love

- Wishing (TWICE)

 

 

*****

 

 

Early Spring of 2015, College Freshman Year

Jeongyeon wakes up to a cute meme sent by her best friend along with her “Good morning Jeongie~ ” greeting.   It’s one of those motivational penguin gifs that Mina always sends to her for good luck.

She immediately smiles upon seeing the message.   It’s more than good enough of a motivation for Jeongyeon to start braving herself to face a new chapter of her life.   Mina, despite being miles apart from her today, still manages to make her smile and fuels her morning.   And so Jeongyeon stretches herself and starts preparing for her first day at the big school. 

When Jeongyeon walks out of her dorm alone, she unknowingly starts feeling sentimental when she sees other freshmen walking in groups or in two’s.   She misses those days when she waits for Mina at the Myoui’s living room every morning, and they always walk out of the door together hand-in-hand towards their school bus station.

She looks down at her empty hand now and just smiles at the memory.

On the way to the college theatre, Jeongyeon lets herself be overwhelmed by the beauty of her new school.   Haneol University is one of the biggest universities in Seoul and its main roads are lined with huge trees.  Today in the middle of spring, as she walks around the campus, Jeongyeon marvels on how the trees are coming back to life again and are now a colourful canopy of cherry blossom flowers beautifully towering above the cars and the students passing by.

It is such a lovely sight that Jeongyeon can’t help but quickly snap a photo and sends it to her best friend with a caption:

“Wish you were here.”

*****

 

Jeongyeon’s first day at Haneol passed by in a blur, despite it being so eventful and packed. She had their freshman orientation in the morning, met her new blockmates afterwards, attended all of her classes, tried the food in one of their famous cafeterias, was introduced to their university basketball team, and had her overflowing quota of introductions and small talks.

She also almost got herself into trouble when a very persistent junior, who recruits freshmen to their org, went to Jeongyeon and tried to persuade her to join. Good thing she managed to excuse herself out somehow because she’d be late for her next class. She found out later on that it’s technically not allowed for freshmen to join those kinds of college orgs. Jeongyeon crumpled the org brochure and threw it on the street bin.

Her first day in college is exciting but ultimately exhausting. Jeongyeon suddenly craves for a hug. A hug from a very specific person. It saddens her how she can’t have it now as easily as before.

As she closes her eyes while her body is plopped down tiredly over her own dorm bed, her phone notification buzzes. She lazily reaches out for her phone and her face immediately lights up upon seeing who it is from.

 

Cutie Alien nerd 👽  (6:04 PM)
How’s your first day?

 

It’s just a simple question but Jeongyeon’s mood is now greatly lifted. As she’s about to click the button to facetime her best friend, another notification gets through.

 

Cutie Alien nerd 👽  (6:05 PM)
I’m starving.
Wanna have dinner?
I’m thinking samgyeopsal.

 

Jeongyeon initially squints at the message pondering, but excitedly looks at the train schedule nonetheless. She figures they can meet halfway so she can still make it to their dorm by midnight as she has a very early class tomorrow.

 

Ace Jeong  (6:06 PM)
Perfect! I’m craving for it too.
Let’s meet halfway?
I’ll find a restaurant near Yongsan station.

 

Cutie Alien nerd 👽  (6:06 PM)
No need, Jeong.
Just wait for me. I’ll come get you.

 

 

Ace Jeong  (6:07 PM)
Don’t you have a 7AM class tomorrow?
It’s already past 6PM, Mina-ya.
It’d be around midnight when you get back to Kirin after our dinner.
I’ll just drive to your uni instead.

 

While Jeongyeon is waiting for Mina’s response, her best friend’s next reply throws her into a different kind of confusion.

 

Cutie Alien nerd 👽  (6:09 PM)
I’m here now, in your lobby.
I’ll wait for you downstairs.

 

Ace Jeong  (6:09 PM)
What do you mean our lobby?
Our dorm lobby??

 

Cutie Alien nerd 👽  (6:10 PM)
No. Kirin’s lobby.

Cutie Alien nerd 👽  (6:10 PM)
of course it’s YOUR dorm lobby, Jeong.
Can you please hurry up?
I’m starving.

 

Jeongyeon chuckles upon reading Mina’s reply and imagines her best friend rolling her eyes with sarcasm. She’s still very much confused though, but she hurriedly puts on her jacket anyways. She excitedly goes down the stairs to their dorm lobby, galloping 2 steps at a time.

*****

 

When Jeongyeon sees Mina standing in their lobby waiting area, she couldn’t explain the sudden rush of happiness she felt. She immediately runs to her best friend and hugs her tight.

“I’ve missed you so much. You have no idea.” Jeongyeon says while burying her face into Mina’s embrace. It feels like home.

“I miss you too,” Mina only hugs her more tightly.

“When did you come here? I thought you have classes until 5PM? Did you like fly here in a private jet or something?” Jeongyeon jokes.

“Yes, dad bought me a private jet as a graduation gift.” Mina smiles smugly.

Jeongyeon’s eyes open widely in shock, her mouth turns agape with the confirmation. She knows the Myoui family is loaded but sometimes she still gets surprised whenever Mina unintentionally pulls out something like this.

“You’re kidding, right?”

Mina just laughs at her reaction and links their arms together,

“Come on. Let’s get dinner.”

*****

 

They had dinner in a barbeque place that’s just walking distance near Jeongyeon’s dorm. After they ate, they finally exited the restaurant feeling full and walked towards a blue car parked near the entrance.

“I thought you flew here via a private jet?” Jeongyeon asks confused as she sees Mina opening the car door.

“You actually believed that?” Mina is laughing at her again.

Jeongyeon should really be offended by her best friend’s prank. But instead she feels even much fuller now hearing Mina’s laughter and seeing her best friend’s beautiful gummy smile again, in person.

“How could I not when your dad immediately bought you a new high-end gaming PC set when you tell him you wanted to play Minecraft? And then he also bought you a brand new car when you said you wanted to learn how to drive. ”

“Oh shut up.” Mina rolls her eyes again a bit embarrassed now. She easily gets shy whenever Jeongyeon teases her about her family’s wealth.

“Tch. I’m so disappointed Mina-ya. I thought I can finally brag to Seungyeon-unnie that I’ve ridden a private jet.” Jeongyeon shakes her head, teasing her best friend.

Mina just looks back at her in return, still smiling incandescently in the middle of the cold spring night. Jeongyeon smiles back just as brightly.

“You said you wanted to see my new dorm right? ” Mina asks as she tosses her car keys to Jeongyeon.

“Drive me there, please? I’ll give you the directions.”

When Mina is looking at her pleadingly with those pretty eyes of hers, how could Jeongyeon resist and say no.

Jeongyeon and Mina then excitedly hop on the driver’s and passenger’s seat respectively. As Jeongyeon starts the engine, she supposes the next 4 hours of travel time for her would all be worth it because Mina is with her. Every second spent with her best friend is worth it.

*****

 

“We’re here!” Mina squeals in excitement while looking at Jeongyeon expectantly.

Jeongyeon however is looking at her best friend with an even more perplexed expression on her face. They are now in front of an apartment complex, where Mina instructed Jeongyeon to stop and park there just approximately 20 minutes after she started driving.

“Let’s go, Jeong.” Mina starts to unbuckle her seatbelt but Jeongyeon stops her midway, holding Mina’s hand carefully.

“Wait Mina, what’s going on?”

Mina just smiles at her in return. She holds the back of Jeongyeon’s hand that’s holding her, and replies softly, “I’ll explain later. Let’s just get to my unit first.”

Jeongyeon interlocks their hands as her best friend leads the way inside. They walk towards the apartment lobby and rides on the elevator. When the elevator stops at the 9th floor, they walk out and turn right from the main hallway and stop at one of the units.

When they entered the unit, Mina leads her to the couch and asks her to sit comfortably.

“Just sit there, Jeong. I’ll get us some fresh juice.”

Jeongyeon sits as instructed while she scans the room. The unit is much more spacious and airy than her usual cramped university dorm room. The couch is comfortable too, just like the one back in the Myoui’s mansion where they always lazed around playing games.

When Jeongyeon finishes drinking the juice Mina has prepared for her, she carefully places the glass on top of the coaster as she finally asks her best friend, “So.. what’s up?”

“It’s my new place now.” Mina finally answers.

“I can see that.” Jeongyeon waits for more.

“and… just a few blocks away is my new university.”

“What do you mean?”

“I actually enrolled at Haneol, Jeong. I’m sorry I just told you now. I just wanted to surprise you.” Mina looks at her apologetically as she holds out Jeongyeon’s hands.

“Please don’t be mad.” Mina adds pouting cutely and squeezes her hand when Jeongyeon didn’t immediately reply.

“I can’t be mad at you, Minari. I don’t know how to.”

“Then what’s bothering you? I know that expression of yours. What’s really up, hmm?”

“Come here.” Jeongyeon motions for her best friend, and Mina sits in front of her.

Jeongyeon pulls her best friend closer and hugs her from behind settling both of her hands on Mina’s stomach. Mina leans her back more to her best friend’s embrace as Jeongyeon props her chin on Mina’s shoulder. Mina waits patiently, but her heart is in a chaotic thundering mess as she feels Jeongyeon’s warm breath on her neck.

“Did you do it because of me?” Jeongyeon finally asks after a few minutes of them in silence.

“Hmm...Yes.. But I did it for myself also.” Mina answers, while rubbing the back of the warm hands on top of her stomach.

“What do you mean?”

“I wanted to prove something for myself. That I can be independent, that I can stand and achieve something on my own. Dad has a lot of connections in Kirin. I feel like I might get special treatment there even if Dad promised me that he won’t use his connections. But I know him. He always spoils me. I know that he talked to some of the professors there already. ”

 

“But why Haneol though? You could have enrolled in Seoul University.”

“Hey Haneol is still one of the top 5 universities in Seoul. It also has a good pre-med program. I’ve researched on them already. ” Mina reasons out.

“But really.. why Haneol?”

Mina rolls her eyes as she feels Jeongyeon’s smile on her shoulders, at this point she’s 100% sure her best friend is just teasing her.

“I already told you you’re one of the reasons, Jeong. What else do you want me to say?”

“But why Haneol?” Jeongyeon lifts her head and looks at Mina’s side profile. She’s now grinning so widely as she pulls her best friend even closer to her.

“Do you miss me that much?” She whispers closely at Mina’s ear, and Mina shivers at the sensation.

Mina feels dizzy and hot all of a sudden. Jeongyeon’s touch and breathy whispers at her neck is so intoxicating for her. She has to do something or else she won’t be able to resist herself anymore from kissing her best friend.

And so she elbows Jeongyeon’s side lightly and forcefully breaks the hug, even though she doesn’t want to yet.

“Ok. Time’s up. Time to go home now.” Mina announces while she forces herself to stand up, away from her best friend’s touch.

“But I just got here!” Jeongyeon whines.

“We have early classes tomorrow remember? Time to sleep.”

“Oh my god. College has made you sound like my mom.”

“Oh shut up. Come on now, I’ll drive you back to your dorms.”

“I can walk, Mina-ya”

“No. It’s so late already. I’ll drive you back. No but’s. ” Mina demands.

“Fine. Just say you miss me so much and then- ”

Jeongyeon is not able to finish her response anymore since Mina throws a couch pillow directly at her face.

*****

 

Later that night, when Jeongyeon and Mina are both lying in their respective beds and send their “Goodnight” messages to each other, Mina sends her a photo of the same tree-lined road of the campus where Jeongyeon has walked earlier that morning. It’s exactly the same beautiful road with the luscious cherry blossoms but it’s just taken from a different angle and probably around sunset. The photo comes with a caption,

“Your wish is my command. :) ”

In their first night as university students, Jeongyeon and Mina both sleep with a happy heart and a wide smile on their faces.

*****

 

During their first weeks in college, Jeongyeon and Mina both made new friends from each of their majors but one thing remains constant- their scheduled game and movie nights continues.

Jeongyeon still goes at Mina’s place almost every night and watches a movie with her best friend. At times when Jeongyeon is in a bad mood because her professor gives another unfair deadline to them, Jeongyeon brings ice cream and nachos and they have a marathon of Masterchef episodes together while they munch on their not-so-healthy dinner.

In other occasions when Mina is annoyed at one of her classmates who keeps hitting on her, they play Mario Kart for hours while they fill their stomach with Hawaiian pizza and take-out burgers.

College life is fun but it’s definitely more challenging and exhausting. It’s way different than high school. But Jeongyeon and Mina is surviving their current load and bearing all the challenges thrown at them because they have each other.

Mina thinks she can survive anything as long as Jeongyeon is with her. Jeongyeon thinks the same.

*****

 

One night after their practice game ended, Jeongyeon hears one of her teammates blurts out,  “Captain has finally found her new muse!”

They’re now in their locker room taking a break and cleaning up.

“A muse?” Jeongyeon curiously asks their team captain Dami, who is currently a graduating senior.

“Yes, a muse. A girlfriend. or a special someone. An inspiration for your game.” Their capable captain replies.

“Do you have a muse yet, Jeongyeon?”  Dami asks as she taps Jeongyeon’s shoulder lightly.

Jeongyeon ponders for a moment on their captain’s definition of muse and then replies,

“Well I don’t have a girlfriend but I-“

“Alright then! We found our lucky new young blood that will carry on the tradition!” one of her teammates suddenly shouts excitedly interrupting Jeongyeon’s answer.

“but I have Mina, my best friend. She’s my lucky charm.” Jeongyeon wasn’t able to finish her reply because she catches on the new topic her teammate mentioned.

“Tradition?”

“Yes. Our team has sort of like a yearly tradition for new recruits who don’t have a muse yet. We’ll just basically help you find a new inspiration for you.”

“What do you mean?” Jeongyeon doesn’t like the direction where this conversation is going.

“We’ll set you up to blind dates until you find your muse. You invite her to our game. And she must willingly attend our games for at least 3 matches and cheer for you. Take note, willingly. No bribery, no forcing. We’re all gentle women here. The feeling has to be mutual.” Her teammate winks at her.

“I don’t think I need any help with finding my muse.” Jeongyeon really just wants to go back home now and later on watch a movie with Mina.

“Oh we can see that you definitely don’t need our help Miss Charming Rookie of the Year candidate.” Dami wraps her hand over Jeongyeon’s shoulder and pinches her cheek.

“But we still need you to carry on our yearly tradition.”

“Am I allowed to say no?”

“Yes. But we will still schedule your dates.”

“Besides, no harm in trying right? What’s there for you to lose?” Their captain winks and punches her side lightly before finally proceeding to the shower area.

Jeongyeon just sighs in retreat.

*****

 

That’s a ridiculous tradition.”   Mina comments when Jeongyeon rants to her that night about their team’s tradition.   “Don’t you have a say on that?”

“Sadly no. It’s our captain’s order and I don’t have a choice. ”   Jeongyeon lets out a loud exhale as she plops down the sofa tiredly.

Mina, observing that Jeongyeon is extremely tired today because of their intense training, and sensing that her best friend probably just wants to temporarily drop the topic for now because it’s mentally draining for her, just sits beside her best friend and offers the remote,

“Alright, massage or movie?”

“Can I have both?” Jeongyeon looks at her expectantly.

“Of course.”    Mina smiles and positions herself behind her best friend and gently massages Jeongyeon’s back, while Jeongyeon browses from the catalogue and chose their movie for the night.

*****

 

Jeongyeon’s first blind date was a disaster.   Her first date is a college junior and is a total blabbermouth who can’t keep her hands to herself.   She has to sit through and endure the entire two hours of her date because Jeongyeon was too shy to reject her sunbae.

 

“What’s this?” Mina asks her as Jeongyeon hands her a piece of paper with a smudged kiss mark.

“It’s my date’s number. Save it. Throw it. Burn it. Do whatever you want with it.” Jeongyeon replies annoyed as she sits down Mina’s couch and munches on their take-out dimsum.

“You have to learn how to say no, Jeong.” Mina replies to her as she crumples the piece of paper and throws it to the bin.

“It’s not that easy, Alien.” Jeongyeon scoffs at her best friend and then swallows her dinner.

“It is. But you have to be creative, and do it respectfully still.”  Mina replies gently, and suddenly a crazy idea pops in Jeongyeon’s head.

“Come with me Mina-ya!”

“What?” Mina looks at her best friend confused.

Jeongyeon just grins at her, eyes glinting while she excitedly explains her ingenious idea to her best friend. It takes her approximately one hour and some bribing after she has finally convinced Mina to agree with her plan.

*****

 

Early Summer of 2015, College Freshman Year

As summer starts, the blind date shenanigans of Jeongyeon and Mina officially begin.

It goes like this- whenever Jeongyeon has a blind date, Mina is always in the same location sitting somewhere within the vicinity.  She’s mostly just studying, and also waiting for Jeongyeon to text her the code so she can start playing a superhero in disguise act and rescue her best friend from her misery.

So far, Mina has already pretended to be Jeongyeon’s cousin, her classmate, even her basketball teammate just so she can immediately yet respectfully pull Jeongyeon out of her blind date.

One time, Jeongyeon has a date in a coffee shop, and while Mina is in the middle of finishing her lab reports inside the same cafe, Jeongyeon texted her the code just 20 minutes after her date has arrived.

Upon reading the message, Mina closes her books and sighs, “Oh, a sister this time huh.”

Mina stands up and carefully walks to Jeongyeon and her date’s table. She internally prepares herself to act her part as she calls out to her best friend, “Unnie!!”

Jeongyeon gets excited as she sees Mina approaches near them and immediately blurts out,

“Mina-ya!!! what happened to Bomb? Oh my god! Is he ok?! Oh do we need to go now? Let’s go now. Come on let’s go.” Jeongyeon stands up as soon as Mina reaches their table.

Mina is taken aback as she doesn’t know what the hell Jeongyeon is suddenly talking about. She is usually the one who initializes the alibi, not her best friend.

 

“Myoui Mina?” Both girls stop and turn to look at Jeongyeon’s date.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” Mina asks her with a neutral tone.

“We’re classmates in Biology. Oh my god I’ve been crushing on you since the first day.”

Jeongyeon immediately finds Mina’s hand and holds her close.

“Are you really sisters?” Her date comments, “How come you have different surnames? And your Japanese and she’s-“

“We have different fathers.” Jeongyeon answers sternly interrupting her date, as she holds Mina even closer to her.

Mina nearly chokes as she tries her hardest to stifle her laughter because of her best friend’s pathetic alibi.

“Oh that’s cool. Can I just date your sister instead?” .. and Mina can’t believe her classmate fell for that.

“Excuse me? But I’m your date here.” Jeongyeon is more annoyed now.

“Yeah but Mina’s my type.”

Jeongyeon can’t believe what she just heard, a sudden rush of annoyance surges in her entire body and she holds onto Mina more firmly.

“She’s off limits.” Jeongyeon replies while staring daggers at her date.

Mina senses Jeongyeon’s annoyance and so she tugs her best friend subtly and looks at her as if sending silent messages. Then Jeongyeon shifts her gaze away.

 

“I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name earlier. My name’s Mina. Myoui Mina.”   Mina extends her hand to the girl still sitting in front of them.

“My name’s Seungwan. Son Seungwan, but you can call me Wendy.”  The girl stands up and excitedly shakes Mina’s hand smiling. Jeongyeon looks at their hands sharply and then fake coughs loudly.

Mina breaks the handshake,  “Wendy, it was really nice meeting you, but there’s some emergency and Unnie and I really needs to go right now if you don’t mind.”

“Oh yeah sure. But can I please have your number instead? Would you like to go out with me sometime?”   Wendy tries to hold onto Mina but Jeongyeon pulls her best friend away just in time.

“We really need to go. I’m sorry Wendy, I had a nice time.” Jeongyeon lies as she hastily pulls Mina away out of the cafe.

*****

 

Mina laughs when they are already inside her car. “That was one for the books.” She comments, still amazed on the event that has just transpired.

“I think not.” Jeongyeon replies, still annoyed. “Do you sit close to her in your Biology class?”

“I honestly don’t know. I just found out she’s my classmate today.”

When her best friend doesn’t comment back, Mina looks at her curiously and then smiles, “Are you jealous?”

“No, I’m not.” Jeongyeon scoffs.

“Then why are you sulking? and pouting too.” Mina gently pokes at Jeongyeon’s cheeks as she teases her best friend.

Jeongyeon holds Mina’s finger down instead and gently intertwines their hands. Mina’s heart skips a beat at the sudden gesture.

“I’m not jealous. I’m just irritated. I just want this stupid tradition to stop you know. It’s tiring.”

“And I don’t want you to get dragged and be involved with these stupid blind dates anymore.”  Jeongyeon adds and sighs exasperatedly.

Mina looks at her best friend affectionately and then pulls Jeongyeon closer. She stretches out her other hand and starts rubbing her best friend’s back silently.

“I’ll try to talk to our captain tomorrow.” Jeongyeon says tiredly as she leans into Mina’s shoulder.

Mina extends her arm on Jeongyeon’s shoulder and embraces her best friend. Jeongyeon closes her eyes and tries to settle the uneasiness that she feels in her chest.

They stay like that for 15 minutes before Jeongyeon’s stomach starts growling and Mina decided that they should dine outside for dinner this time.

*****

 

One uneventful Saturday, while Mina is happily munching a burger on her couch during one of their movie nights,  Jeongyeon hands her over a piece of paper.

“What’s this?”    Mina asks her best friend.   

“It’s an invitation to our annual year-end winter party.”   

Mina looks at her puzzled.

“The entire basketball team are apparently the yearly VIP guests.”   Jeongyeon explains.

Mina looks down at the paper and reads the invitation.   Jeongyeon stares at her best friend sheepishly while she adds,

“Coach said we’re required to bring someone along... just someone, a close friend, a muse, or whatever.”   Jeongyeon mumbles the last parts quickly.

“Oh so you’re inviting me because you don’t have a muse yet?  Is that right?”   Mina apparently catches on that.

“I’m inviting you because it’s probably gonna be boring and I actually don’t want to go.”

“So you’re dragging me into your misery?  Oh you’re such a sweet friend, Jeong.”   Mina teases her.

“Thanks.”   Jeongyeon smirks as she bites back on the burger that Mina is holding. 

"Hey that's my burger."   Mina lightly snickers at her best friend while looking fondly at Jeongyeon whose cheeks are puffing because of the burger she's chewing.

"It’s a costume party, they have a different theme every year."   Jeongyeon adds.   "Come with me?"

Mina smiles, and gently pushes her burger closer to Jeongyeon's mouth as her best friend takes on another bite.

"Okay."

*****

 

Mid-Summer of 2015, College Freshman Year

As the first game of the season nearly approaches, and the finals week of the first semester begins, Jeongyeon and Mina gets busier and they rarely see each other now.   Most of the time, Jeongyeon is too tired for their movie nights after an intense day of training.   Mina understands and just urges her best friend to rest instead.

One night, while Mina is studying for her finals, Jeongyeon texted her.

 

Ace Jeong  (10:37 PM)
Minari, are you still awake?

 

Cutie Alien nerd 👽  (10:38 PM)
Yes, Jeongie. Still studying.
Did you just finish?

 

Ace Jeong  (10:38 PM)
Yeah. Coach was so hard on us today.
Can I sleep there tonight?

 

Cutie Alien nerd 👽  (10:39 PM)
Sure, Jeong.
Do you want me to come fetch you?

 

Ace Jeong  (10:40 PM)
Nah it’s fine. I’ll just walk there
It’s closer than my dorm anyways.

 

Cutie Alien nerd 👽  (10:40 PM)
Ok. Keep safe, please.
I’ll just be here waiting.

 

Mina waits patiently for Jeongyeon as her heart worries for her best friend.   She understands how exhausting it is for the girl to train every day for her sport.   Having been a witness to her best friend’s hardships during her entire basketball career from primary to high school, she can’t imagine how tough it is for Jeongyeon to endure the more intense and extremely rigorous training her collegiate basketball career requires now.

After 10 minutes, Mina hears soft knocks on her door and opens it when she sees Jeongyeon in the peep hole.

Jeongyeon immediately hugs her as soon as she opens the door.

“I’m exhausted Mina-ya.” Jeongyeon exhales softly as she clings onto Mina even tighter.

“I know. Come on, let’s get you to bed. I’ve prepared the other spare room for you.”

“I want cuddles.” Jeongyeon whispers tiredly into Mina’s neck.

Mina’s mind lags for a second at her best friend’s request. Yet she still manages to reply a soft,  “Okay”

*****

 

They are now both lying in Mina’s bed after Jeongyeon insisted she sleeps there instead of the other room.

Mina is spooning Jeongyeon and her best friend is now snoring lightly into her clavicle. Her eyes warm with care and affection as she looks down on her best friend fondly and lightly brushes her soft hair. She hesitates at first, but knowing Jeongyeon is deep asleep now, Mina carefully and ever so slowly swipes away Jeongyeon’s fringes and places a tender chaste kiss on her best friend’s forehead. Jeongyeon remains still after the kiss and Mina is thankful.

They stayed like that for a while and Mina closes her eyes savouring the momentary peace and quiet that they rarely experience nowadays as their first semester is coming to an end.

A few minutes afterwards, Mina tries to slowly scoot out of Jeongyeon’s embrace since she still needs to finish reviewing for her finals tomorrow. She successfully gets out from the bed now and as she carefully drapes back the blanket over to her best friend, Jeongyeon suddenly stirs and holds out her hand. Jeongyeon then lazily mumbles, her eyes still closed and her voice thick with sleep,

“Minari…”

“Sleep, Jeong. I’m just right here.” Mina whispers softly.

“Thank you..”

“Sleep.”

“I miss you always.”

Jeongyeon squeezes her hand weakly. Mina’s heart stills and then erratically beats all at once.

It’s moments like this that a tiny glimmer of hope makes its way into Mina’s uncertain heart. Moments when she allows herself to believe and entertains the idea that maybe, just maybe… Jeongyeon feels the same way.

 

Jeongyeon goes back to sleep almost immediately after that.

Mina unknowingly slept on the couch for the rest of the night after pulling an all-nighter for her finals review.

*****

 

In the morning, Jeongyeon found a note on Mina’s bedside table with a spare key card on top of it. Jeongyeon reads the note with Mina’s neat cursive handwriting on it.

“You can always sleep here right after your practice training. My place is closer from the gym anyways than your dorm. I usually get home late now because finals. So feel free to just rest and sleep here whenever you need to. I don’t mind. I left breakfast at the table. I also made your smoothie, it’s in the fridge.

P.S. Sorry if the pancake’s a bit undercooked. I got a 7AM exam. ”

Jeongyeon feels energized upon reading Mina’s note and wakes up feeling refresh, ready to brave another new exhausting day of college classes and basketball training.

*****

 

Late Summer of 2015, College Freshman Year

One late summer afternoon, a week before the end of the first semester, Jeongyeon and Mina are walking along a corridor holding hands, while Jeongyeon is happily telling Mina that she successfully passed all of her final exams this semester.

“I can’t believe we survived the first semester of college!”  Jeongyeon exclaims.

“I know right. Tell me why I chose this major again?”  Mina agrees while thinking back on the gruelling hell week that have just ended.   She remembers how it deprived both of them long hours of peaceful sleep.

“Because you’re gonna be an amazing doctor, Minari.”  Jeongyeon confidently tells her best friend.  She proudly smiles at Mina as she outstretches her hands and cups both of her best friend’s cheeks.

Mina looks back at her shyly, a slight pink flush starts to appear on her cheeks,

“Thank you. I needed that, Jeong.”

Jeongyeon is still looking at her tenderly, and Mina is feeling that familiar warmth again.  It’s the same warmth from the growing flames of hope that she unknowingly starts to harbour and safely contain inside her insecure heart.

As she feels Jeongyeon’s gentle hands on her cheeks and as she drowns herself in her best friend’s gaze, Mina indulges herself in the spur of the moment and finds the inner courage to confess, albeit quietly,

“Yoo Jeongyeon.., I..“

“Yes, Myoui Mina?”  Jeongyeon nods her head encouragingly.

“..I.. I-I’ve been meaning to tell you..”

“Hmm?” Jeongyeon hums and smiles at her.

Mina can’t stand to look at her best friend’s eyes directly anymore.  Jeongyeon’s gaze bores right through her soul and it’s making her weak and so she looks down shyly, as she tries to gather her remaining courage again.

They stood in silence for a few minutes as Mina still tries to pick up where she left off.

“Come here.” Jeongyeon tugs her inside an empty class room after a while.

Jeongyeon leads her into a corner of the room where a grand white piano is sitting elegantly.  She takes a sit into the small piano bench and taps the space beside her, as she sheepishly makes a requests to Mina,

“Play for me? I miss hearing you play.”

Mina just smiles gently and nods at her best friend,  “Of course.”

 

 

So Mina quietly sits beside Jeongyeon.   She carefully lays her fingers on the piano keys and starts checking if the instrument is in tune.

After a few beats, Mina pauses for a while, inhales deeply, and then gently presses on the keys again as she proceeds to play a slow intro of a piece.

She lets herself be vulnerable in that moment and lays down her heart through her fingers as she fluidly traces the keys, and the soft and calming melody starts to permeate through the entire room.

Feeling the warmth of her best friend’s presence beside her, and drowning in the overflowing feelings of love and longing that she has kept hidden through the years, Mina bares her heart and soul as she continues to play the song.

Her silent confession flows seamlessly through Jeongyeon’s ears, the melody gently swaying around the cozy piano room, being carefully carried outside by the lazy summer afternoon air, into the empty hallways, echoing through the entire building floor.

And so by the end of the first semester of their freshman year,  Mina made her first confession to Jeongyeon, albeit unbeknown to her best friend.

*****

 

As Mina presses the final note, she stops and then carefully shifts her gaze to her best friend’s side.   She gets immediately flustered when the first thing that she sees is Jeongyeon’s lopsided smile while her best friend looks at her so fondly.

“Do you like it?” Mina asks shyly, gauging Jeongyeon’s reaction.

“I love it! ” Jeongyeon smiles at her.  Mina’s flames of hope shines a little bit brighter.

“It’s really beautiful Mina-ya. What song is that?”

“It’s your song, Jeong.”

“My song?”

“Yes, I dedicate it for you.”

Jeongyeon grins widely at Mina’s confirmation,  “Really? Wow. I have a song now. I should have recorded it! Can you play it again, I’ll record it.”

But as Jeongyeon is already pulling out her phone, they hear a soft knock on the door.

“I’m sorry to interrupt. Do you have a training in here? We’re supposed to use this room at this time.”

“Oh we’re just going now. Sorry to intrude.” Mina replies to the student as she nudges on her best friend signalling to stand up now.

Jeongyeon pouts as she stands and hides her phone in the pocket of her varsity jacket again.

“Can you play it again to me next time?”

Mina chuckles at her best friend, while Jeongyeon finds her hand at the same time and interlocks their fingers. 

They leave the building holding hands with their hearts full.

*****

 

Early Fall of 2015, College Freshman Year, 2nd semester

In the middle of their second semester, Jeongyeon requests for Mina’s help one last time.

Mina is now sitting in one corner of a café as she quietly observes her best friend three tables away from her.    Jeongyeon looks so bored as she stirs her coffee while waiting for her blind date.   Mina wonders what her role’s gonna be today and then proceeds to continue reading her books.

As the bell of the coffee shop’s door chimes signalling the entrance of someone, Mina looks up from her notes and sees a beautiful raven haired girl with plump lips, radiant smile, and confident strides, enters the café and carefully walks into Jeongyeon’s table.

She sees how her best friend’s eyes grow brighter at the sight of the woman.  She witnesses how Jeongyeon shyly offers her hands to the girl.  She observes how Jeongyeon is completely enamoured by the lady sitting in front of her through the entire 2 hours of their date.

Jeongyeon didn’t text her the code that day.

 

In the middle of the second semester, Mina thinks Jeongyeon has finally found her muse.

Her name’s Im Nayeon. A very attractive and popular sophomore from the College of Architecture.

And as the cool breeze of autumn seeps through Mina’s sweater unto her skin, her heart feels colder, and it breaks a little.  The growing flame of hope flickers a bit dimly.

*****

 

One day after her classes end, Mina found Nayeon waiting for her at their college lounge area.

“Hi Mina. Can you give me the recipe?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Your smoothie. I need the recipe.”

“Oh. You can actually just google it. There’s a lot of recipe in the internet. I can send you links if you want?” Mina civilly offers to her.

“I already have.” Nayeon sighs, “But Jeongyeon likes your shake. She says it tasted different. I really don’t know what’s different to be honest. She’s so picky. It’s infuriating sometimes. ”

Nayeon exhales frustratingly and Mina just continue to stand there quietly.

“Can you give it to me please?” Nayeon pauses and then, “..and also I’d like to be the one giving Jeongyeon her smoothie from now on. You get what I’m saying, right?”

Mina remains quiet.

“Also, can you ask Jeongyeon to surrender back her spare key to your unit?”

“What for?” Mina asks taken aback at these sudden requests from the girl.

“I don’t like it when she sleeps at your place.”

“We’re not doing anything, Nayeon. If that’s what’s bothering you.”

“I know. But I still don’t like it.”

“But my place is closer to the gym. It saves Jeongyeon’s energy specially since she’s always tired after training. Her dorm’s still a 30 minute walk from the gym.” Mina reasons out.

“She’ll sleep in my dorm now.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You heard me.” Nayeon is looking at her challengingly, as if sending a silent message to Mina.

Mina understands and so she asks, although she already knows the answer.

“Are you and Jeongyeon already dating?” She wants to check if Nayeon will say the truth.

Nayeon stops and looks at her. She’s reading Mina’s face and seems to be deliberating internally on her answer.

“No. Not yet.” She answers truthfully.

“But we’re getting there, Mina. You’re a smart girl. I’m pretty sure you know why I’m here right?”

Mina sighs. She knows Jeongyeon likes Nayeon and she respects that. So she gives Nayeon her very own recipe albeit hesitantly.

But she didn’t ask for Jeongyeon to give her key back. She just wants Jeongyeon to have a choice just in case her best friend is really exhausted from the training which is almost every other night. She’s well aware that Nayeon’s dorm is also significantly far from their gym.

*****

 

Winter of 2015, College Freshman Year, 2nd semester

“Why don’t you prepare me my smoothie anymore?” Jeongyeon asks Mina one weekend.

They’re now sitting at Mina’s couch as Jeongyeon is flicking through the remote choosing a movie to watch.

“Why are you here bothering me instead and not in Nayeon’s dorms?”  Mina replies annoyed, and instantly regrets it afterwards.

“Oh I can’t be with my best friend now?” Jeongyeon asks looking at her confused.

Mina breathes in, and then sighs,  “I’m sorry, Jeong. It’s just.. finals week is approaching. And there’s just so many deadlines I need to catch up on. I’m sorry if I snap at you. ”   She lies on the real reason.

“You call that snapping?”  Jeongyeon chuckles and holds her hand. “Minari, that’s not snapping. You should have seen how Nayeon snaps. That woman is scary.”

“What do you mean?” Mina asks curiously.

Jeongyeon just looks at her and then smiles timidly,  “Nothing. Come on, let’s go watch a movie now.”

Mina knows something’s up, so she scoots closer to Jeongyeon and then carefully asks,

“Jeong, what’s bothering you?”

Jeongyeon lets out a loud exhale,  “I’m just tired of Nayeon lately.”

“What do you mean?”  Mina asks worriedly.

“She’s just so demanding 99% of the time.  She acts like she’s my girlfriend.   It’s already getting annoying. ”

“Well, isn’t she?”   Mina asks, already preparing her heart for the answer.

“We’re not dating, Mina-ya.”

Jeongyeon looks back at her, “Sometimes, she doesn’t even want me to hang out with you.”

“But you like Nayeon right? You told me yourself.”

“I do.. but...”

“But?”

“I don’t know, Mina... I just.. just..”

Mina starts to soothingly rub Jeongyeon’s back to calm her best friend down.

“I just miss you, you know.” Jeongyeon looks at her and Mina’s hand on her back suddenly stops rubbing.

Mina looks back at Jeongyeon but then she immediately shifts the topic before the tiny spark in her heart grows bigger again,   “Nayeon’s your muse right?”

Jeongyeon furrows her brows and doesn’t answer Mina’s question.

Mina stands up, walks to her room and when she gets back, she hands over a paper to Jeongyeon.

“What’s this?” Jeongyeon asks looking up at Mina who’s now standing in front of her.

“It’s the invitation to your party.  Give it to Nayeon.  It’s for your muse anyways.”

“No. it’s for you Mina-ya.”

“But I’m not your muse.”

“But it’s for you. I invited you.”

“But-“

“No but’s. I prefer to go with you than her anyways.”

Mina sighs and rolls her eyes. “God, you’re so stubborn.”

“But you still miss me, right?”  Jeongyeon stretches out her arms and holds both of Mina’s hands

“Tch. As if. Don’t think highly of yourself, Yoo Jeongyeon.”  Mina replies with a poker face.

“So are you saying you don’t miss me?”

Jeongyeon smirks at her and then she suddenly tugs Mina towards her so they both stumble down together on the couch with Mina lying on top of her.

 

Everything happens in an instant and Mina now finds herself pressed down so closely on top of Jeongyeon,  while her best friend is embracing her waist slowly and pulling her even closer. 

Their faces are so close to each other now, with their noses almost touching.   Jeongyeon is staring at her so intensely as Mina feels the warm air escapes from Jeongyeon’s breath when she whispers into Mina,

“You didn’t miss me, Minari? Really?  Coz I’ve missed you. I miss you so much.”

 

And just like that, there’s that flame again-  the one that Mina has forced herself to put down with all of her might just few weeks ago.   

The one that she has kept hidden inside her heart as ashes now. 

The one that she tries so hard every day not to be ignited again because she’s not sure if the next burn will finally consume her completely.

The one flame of hope that both made her heart fluttered and ached at the same time.

There’s that flame again and it sets her heart ablaze. 

Looking down at Jeongyeon now and feeling her best friend’s warm embrace, her skin feels like burning but she doesn’t want to leave.

 

“Jeong, I..”  Mina slowly slides down her free hand into Jeongyeon’s hair and starts to pull a handful of strands lightly.  

“Yes Mina-ya..”  Jeongyeon breathes out still looking so intensely at her.

Mina’s getting dizzy now and she needs to do something or else there’s no coming back.

She’s trying so hard to internally resist but Jeongyeon is not making it any easier.   Jeongyeon meets Mina’s gaze head-on and whispers, her warm breathy voice sending shivers down Mina’s spine,  

“Nayeon’s not my muse, Mina.   Thought you should know.”

Mina’s breath hitches.   Jeongyeon is so intoxicating now, and for once, just this time, Mina would like to be selfish and she wants to completely succumb to her heart’s desire.

“Jeongyeon-ah..”   Mina slowly slides down her other hand to gently cup Jeongyeon’s left cheek.   Her best friend’s skin feels just as warm.

Jeongyeon’s eyes travel slowly from her face to her lips.   And then as her best friend starts to lean closer, a loud blaring sound of the buzzer cuts through the intense thick heated air in the room.

 

Mina is awoken from her trance and immediately stands up.     “Must be the pizza.  I’ll go get it.”  she  nervously mumbles as she hurriedly goes to the door.

Jeongyeon sits up, follows her best friend’s nervous strides as she smiles tenderly at the sight of Mina’s back.

 

The tension eventually dies down and they never talk about that incident again.

*****

 

Late Winter of 2016, College Freshman Year,  2nd semester

Few weeks before the semester ends, Jeongyeon knocks on Mina’s door one night to personally fetch her best friend so they can both go together to their annual year-end party.    

Jeongyeon drives them to the venue and parks in front of the entrance.    As soon as the car is properly parked, Jeongyeon gently stops Mina from exiting the car door,  “Stay here.”  

Mina stares questioningly at her best friend as her eyes trails on Jeongyeon who excitedly exits the car and walks around to her door’s side.   Jeongyeon opens the car door for her and Mina chuckles at her best friend’s antics.   

Mina exits the car gracefully and stands beside her best friend.   Jeongyeon smirks and looks at her from head to toe,

“You look so beautiful tonight.  I like your blue dress.  It’s very lovely.  ”

Mina rolls her eyes at her best friend and replies, “Oh shut up baby dinosaur.”

 

Jeongyeon lets out a hearty laugh and Mina immediately follows suit.   

They both laugh loudly together for a while before Jeongyeon offers out her hand for Mina to hold,

 

“Shall we, princess?”    

“Let’s get this party started.”    Mina replies and smiles teasingly as she interlocks her arms with Jeongyeon’s.

 

And the two best friends confidently walk together towards the party in all of their cute blue penguin and fluffy green dinosaur onesie glory.

*****