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“Sook-ah, we should go on a date.”

There are three important things to know about Jung Hosook:

1) Hosook is very bisexual. Men are great. So are women! People are great, actually, and although Hosook has her preferences, gender isn’t a barrier to attraction for her. She isn’t that picky, really, although she does have standards. Maybe her standards are a little high, but so what? She’s just being cautious. She doesn’t want her heart broken, because her heart is fragile and deserves love only.

2) Hosook is an easily flustered bisexual. Women are pretty. Pretty women asking her out on a date? She hopes that being so quick to fluster is something that girls like, and it’s worked out well for her so far.

3) Hosook falls in love very quickly. She falls in love hard and fast. She falls in love with people all the time—with the cashier at her favorite bakery, with the bartender she’d met at the restaurant her dance team sometimes stops by at after competitions, with random strangers and her best friends alike. Hosook is in love with love, and this can be dangerous.

So when Hosook's best friend, Namjoo, says, "We should go on a date," Hosook's hand jerks, and the nail polish she'd been applying to Namjoo's nails smears on her cuticles.

"Sorry, I'm sorry," Hosook says, reaching for the bottle of nail polish remover she'd kept nearby just in case. She takes a deep breath and shakes her head, confused by the way her heart is fluttering so wildly in her chest. "I'm usually better at this."

Namjoo grins and says, "Oh, don't worry about it. You're way better than me. I'm way too clumsy to paint my own nails."

Just because Hosook falls in love easily doesn't mean that she doesn't have strict boundaries when it comes to friendships. She's a very tactile person, which is why it feels so nice to her to hold her best friend's hand and paint her nails like this. She swipes the edge of a cotton swab against Namjoo's cuticles, removing the excess nail polish. In her opinion, it's practically a privilege that she gets to make such a pretty girl's hands equally as pretty as she is. "You're not too clumsy," Hosook chides. "It just takes practice. You can do mine sometime."

"Thanks, Sook-ah," Namjoo chirps. "I'm really grateful that you took the time to do this for me. You know I never feel ready for dates without you to help me get ready."

Ah. That's right. Namjoo is going on a date tonight, and that's why Hosook is painting her nails. Hosook is also going on a date, actually, although she's not feeling particularly nervous or excited for it. It's just a thing that's happening, and that's how she likes her dates.

"Yeah, of course," Hosook says. "Speaking of... what were you saying earlier?"

"Oh!" Namjoo brightens. Her hand moves when she leans closer to Hosook, but Hosook couldn't care less. "We should go on a date!"

Hosook, on a date with Namjoo? She'd be lying if she said that she's never thought about it before, but that couldn't happen, it wouldn't, not in Hosook's wildest sapphic dreams. They're too good for each other, and even though she doesn't like Namjoo that way, she knows that they would get along well. They would simply be too powerful if they were together. It wouldn't be fair to all of the other suffering sapphics in the world.

"A date?" Hosook asks, trying to stop her voice from shaking. Why is this affecting her so much? It's not like they haven't talked like this before. She finishes applying the first coat of nail polish to Namjoo's nails and moves on to the second coat. As much as she likes doing this, she doesn't think that her heart can take much more of this conversation.

"Like a double date!" Namjoo clarifies. Hosook doesn't know why her heart sinks. "We always talk about how uncomfortable we are meeting new people, so maybe it would be better if we got to know our dates together. Oooh! Maybe we could even choose each other's dates. Like a blind date!"

Hosook hasn't had the best experiences with blind dates in the past, including people Namjoo had set her up with, but she'd try it if it's something Namjoo wants. It would be better if she was there, too, so Hosook won't write it off. "That sounds fun," she says. She caps the nail polish and holds Namjoo's hands up for her to see. "What if we just end up talking to each other? Wouldn't that be like we're just on a date with each other?"

"These look amazing! Thank you again. They always come out so well when you do them," Namjoo exclaims as she examines her nails. She bumps her shoulder against Hosook's in lieu of a hug, fingers spread as she waits for the nail polish to dry. "We'd probably annoy our dates by talking too much to each other, huh? I guess it makes sense, considering that I usually look forward to hanging out with you after my dates more than actually going out."

Hosook feels herself begin to blush. Sometimes Namjoo is surprisingly sweet like this, and it always makes Hosook feel a little weak. “You’re probably right,” she says. Her voice pitches higher as she speaks, still feeling a bit caught off guard by how honest Namjoo is. “But don’t write off your date before you even go!”

Namjoo sighs. “I won’t. But I’m not expecting much.”

“That’s the same thing,” Hosook argues. But she lets it go after this because she knows that Namjoo is nervous, and it would be hypocritical of her to say she felt any differently.

Namjoo’s date arrives to pick her up not long after, and she grins at Hosook one last time before leaving. Without Namjoo’s playful energy as Hosook gets ready for her date, the apartment feels strangely empty. She tries not to let it get to her as she fixes her hair and changes into the outfit Namjoo had helped her choose earlier.

Hosook’s date is a blind date with a girl Soojin is friends with. They meet at a cafe not far from Hosook’s apartment, and the atmosphere is casual and relaxed. The girl’s name is Jihye, and Hosook vaguely recognizes her from a gathering Soojin had hosted with Yoonji around the holidays.

Jihye is pretty and funny, but she isn’t Hosook’s type. Soojin knows Hosook well—including her taste in women—but Hosook must not be in the mood for a date tonight, because it feels more like a chore than fun. She’d feel more awkward about it if Jihye didn’t seem to be on the same page. “You seem like you'll be a really great friend," Jihye tells her just before they part.

Hosook isn't usually the one being rejected, but she probably deserves it this time. She can’t say that she wasn’t at least partially—or mostly—responsible for the lack of spark on their date. She had spent a decent portion of the time wondering if Namjoo's date was going well, so she must have seemed distracted to Jihye. This she does feel bad for.

Hosook and Namjoo arrive back at their apartment at the same time. They both sigh. "That bad?" Hosook says. She knows the look on Namjoo's face well.

"A free meal and I didn't even really eat," Namjoo says. She grimaces. "He took me to a restaurant and the food wasn't good."

"Aww, baby." Hosook unlocks the door and opens it, stepping aside for Namjoo to enter first. "I want to know everything."

As Hosook heats up leftovers from the dinner they'd shared together the night before, Namjoo changes into more comfortable clothes and tells Hosook about her date. "I'm not going out with him again," Namjoo says. "I got such a bad vibe from him since the start. He asked me about school and I told him that I majored in philosophy and he seemed offended that I'm smart. It's like he expected he was going to be the intelligent one, and he couldn't hang that over me."

"Oh, no." This isn't the first time that Namjoo had gone on a date with someone who had attempted to undermine her accomplishments. "You're too good for him."

"I know!" Namjoo says. She sits down with Hosook at their kitchen table. "Thank you for heating this up. I don't mean to make a big deal out of this. It was just a first date."

Hosook shakes her head. She doesn't want Namjoo to feel like she can't or shouldn't share with her. "I want to hear about it. And you should let me take care of you. That's what friends are for, right?"

Internally, she winces at her own words, although she doesn't really understand why. It seems wrong to say such a thing right now even though it's the truth. Hosook and Namjoo are friends, best friends, and it's Hosook's job to be there for her.

"Of course." Namjoo pushes her plate to the center of the table. "At least share, with me, okay?"

Namjoo leaves no room for protest. Hosook retrieves another pair of chopsticks to share the tteokbokki. It's still steaming hot, so they let it sit for a minute before eating. "And you know what the worst part was?" Namjoo says. "He was rude to our waiter. I thought that maybe I'd just misjudged his character, but I hadn't!"'

Hosook cringes. "You should block him. Being rude to a service worker is a pretty definite show of character."

"I did. I just wish I'd never met him in the first place." Namjoo frowns. "I'm sick of going out with people who don't understand me, you know?”

She says it so casually, like doesn’t notice at all how jittery and confused it makes Hosook. Hosook tries not to choke on Namjoo's tteokbokki. "Oh, uh, yeah, I get that. Me, too."

Why does it matter so much to Hosook? She loves Namjoo deeply, as she would love any friend that she had known for so long. It makes her upset that Namjoo has struggled so much with dating when she deserves so much more. Namjoo is beautiful and smart and kind and wonderful in so many ways it would probably take Hosook a day to list out all the reasons why she's a good person. Who wouldn't want to date her?

Namjoo groans. "I feel like I won't ever find anyone who wants to get to know me like that." Before Hosook has a chance to respond, she continues, "What about your date? Was yours also bad?"

After being so focused on Namjoo, Hosook's date is the least of her worries. As she thinks about what to say, she realizes that the truth is bland—the date simply hadn't been anything special, and it likely wouldn't have been even if Hosook had been more invested. She's gone on enough dates in her life to not want to invest herself in something that would most likely be meaningless.

"I honestly almost forgot that I'd gone on one at all," Hosook admits. "Like you said, I was looking forward to coming home more than the actual date."

Namjoo grins. "You told me I shouldn't think like that."

Hosook moves a few fish cakes on to her side of the plate, out of Namjoo's way. "Yeah, and I stand by that. But I couldn't tell you I thought the same thing, or you wouldn't want to go on your date."

"That's probably true."

This is routine for them, after all. Ever since they'd been working on their undergrad degrees, they'd made it a tradition to come home and break down the details of their dates. In recent months, these conversations have become more and more depressing, and Hosook has more fun laughing about their dating failures than meeting new people and trying to make herself feel less lonely when she isn't really lonely at all when she has Namjoo.

It makes sense, considering that what Hosook has with Namjoo is pretty much what she would want in a relationship anyway. Mutual love and support, shared interests, previously-established boundaries, comfortable history, and a healthy amount of respect and communication.

Hosook huffs and sets down her chopsticks. "My date wasn't bad, there just wasn't that spark. I don't want to expect too much from first dates, but it didn't feel right.

Namjoo meets her eyes. "Do you think that spark exists?"

Hosook's chest tightens. She isn’t allowed to think this way about Namjoo, but if she didn't know better, she would think that such a spark exists between them, especially with the way Namjoo is looking at her like she's her whole world—like she cares deeply about what Hosook has to say, like her opinion matters more than anything else at the moment. "I don't know," Hosook says, a bit breathlessly. "But I'd like to find out."

The end of the night concludes with them finishing their tteokbokki and turning on the latest TV show they've been watching together. Namjoo falls asleep curled up on the couch mid-episode, and Hosook makes sure to cover her with a blanket before crawling into her own bed, heart aching, wishing Namjoo was lying beside her.

 


 

Hosook and Namjoo met six years ago at a meditation club in their first year of undergrad.

Hosook had only joined the club because the captain of her dance team told her that she needed a hobby while she recovered from an injury. It was a miserable start to her freshman year, and she wasn't at all eager to be putting time towards something other than dancing at such an important part of her career. She was stressed and grumpy and chose the first club she could think of, one that sounded like it required minimal effort and commitment.

On her first day of meditation club, she met Kim Namjoo, who she later learned had joined meditation club to appease her therapist, who had told her that they would soon begin seeing more intensive treatment options if Namjoo didn't start improving. Hosook quickly befriended her upon learning that they shared a mutual friend—Yoonji—and this conversation had led to them discovering that they had more in common than either of them had originally imagined.

She quit meditation club after about two months, when she was deemed really to go back to light physical exercise. She didn't become any better at meditation, but she did meet her new best friend and future roommate.

The morning after Namjoo’s disastrous date and Hosook’s less-disastrous date, Hosook wakes up to a text from Namjoo containing a short message and a link to a playlist.

She clicks on the playlist first. She only recognizes a few of the songs, and most of the artists she’s only ever heard the names of. Hosook had grown up listening to old school hip hop—because of dance, it’s what she had listened to on a daily basis and learned to love—and while Namjoo also shares this taste in music, her preferences are more eclectic.

Hosook smiles. Namjoo has always challenged her in ways that she knows make her a better person.

Is it okay if I still stop by your work this afternoon? the text underneath the playlist reads. Hosook’s fond smile continues to grow as she texts back, You’re always welcome!

Hosook works at a nearby dance studio, and ever since she’d gotten the job a few years ago, Namjoo has occasionally dropped in to bring Hosook snacks or new clothes or just to hang around and watch Hosook teach classes. Now that she has risen to the rank of one of the head instructors, Namjoo has been spending more and more time around the dance studio.

As she gets ready for the day, Hosook listens to Namjoo’s playlist. As she had guessed, the songs alternate between genres, mostly indie pop that Hosook thinks would make her cry on a bad day, but would be comforting on a good day. Although it isn’t all entirely her taste, Hosook enjoys it immensely. Namjoo always has that effect on her.

Hosook arrives early to work to prepare for her morning class, and the good mood that Namjoo’s playlist had put her in lasts throughout the morning. “You’re awfully happy today,” her coworker, Jimin, tells her. “I’ve never seen someone look so happy while mopping a floor.”

Hosook hadn’t even noticed that she’s still grinning. “Mopping is satisfying,” she says, instead of attempting to break down why she feels the way she does. “I love sanitation.”

Hosook loves her job, but sometimes it feels like she spends most of her time babysitting the younger students that she teaches. Regardless, her day flies by as she waits for Namjoo to arrive. By the time Namjoo does make it to the studio, Hosook’s entire body has been pumped full of adrenaline.

Namjoo greets her with a hug and laughs when Hosook picks her up to spin her around. They’re between classes at the moment, which means that Hosook has at least a little free time to play around with Namjoo before the participants of the next class arrive, “You’re so happy today,” Namjoo says when Hosook sets her down. “Did something good happen? Anything I should know about?”

Just you, Hosook thinks. Just you, only you, and always you. I’m so grateful that you’re my best friend.

From the other side of the practice room, Jimin calls out, “That’s what I told her this morning!” Hosook rolls her eyes playfully at her coworker.

Namjoo straightens up and gives Jimin a sunny smile. “I don’t think we’ve met yet.”

“Oh!” Jimin crosses the room to greet Namjoo properly. “I’m Jimin. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Hosook doesn’t have time to listen to their conversation, because Jungah, one of the younger staff members, arrives to help Hosook with her next class. Jungah is one of their newest hires, and she’s incredibly talented for someone of such a young age—and, along with this, she always has new ideas to help classes run better. Hosook makes a mental note to introduce her to Namjoo later.

Soon, Hosook’s students begin to arrive, and she greets each of them individually. When she was younger—and even now, although her relationship with the sport is more complex—dancing was her escape. Hosook does her best to form bonds with each of her students both to foster that love of dance in them and make sure that they’re doing okay, mentally and physically.

A few of her students are also familiar with Namjoo, and they’re practically more excited to see her than Hosook. Hosook isn’t too offended, because her heart flips a certain way whenever she sees how good Namjoo is with kids. It’s something she can appreciate because she spends so much time with kids. Most people don’t realize how difficult teaching is, or even befriending kids who don’t want to be befriended. Namjoo is a natural at both of those things.

When Hosook was deciding what she wanted to do while she was attending university, Namjoo had been the one to encourage her to pursue teaching. Hosook’s father taught literature, and she’d never thought that she would be good at it until Namjoo pointed out that teaching is most enjoyable when it’s something you’re passionate about.

Teaching is only part of Hosook’s duties, and she knows that it might not be a permanent career, but for now it’s something she loves, and she owes part of this passion to Namjoo. She’s been by Hosook’s side for all of the little things—from reminding her to not to forget her water bottle and attending dance events and competitions to staying up late watching choreography videos even though she doesn’t understand the mechanics herself. Without her, Hosook never would have had the courage to strive for her dream.

Because of how hard Hosook had needed to work to get to where she is now, she takes her job very seriously. Whenever Namjoo stops by to watch her teach, she’s sure not to let her distract her, even though it feels good that Namjoo supports her like this—that Namjoo is proud of her, and that she’s taken time out of her busy schedule to notice her.

Today, Hosook notices this more than ever. Even though Namjoo is talking with the other instructors—most notably Jimin, who must have decided to stay late after her last class—she’s making a point to watch Hosook.

She doesn’t know why this sticks out to her so much. The whole point of Namjoo visiting today had been for her to watch Hosook teach, but it still feels special. It shouldn’t surprise her so much, because she would do this and so much more for her best friend and enjoy it, but it does.

As the class comes to a close, Hosook feels like she has even more energy than at the start of the day. She practically bounces over to Namjoo as her students file out of the room. “You’re a great teacher,” Namjoo tells her, and even though she’s said it before, it doesn’t hold any less significance when she says it now. “I’m really proud of you for doing this.”

It’s almost as though Namjoo had read her mind—which might be possible, at this point, since they’ve been best friends for so long. “Wanna get dinner tonight?” she says, and loops her arm around Namjoo’s. “It’s on me.”

Namjoo is practically glowing as she nods. “I’d love that.”

“Great.” Hosook kisses Namjoo’s cheek and begins to gather her things. “Just let me help clean up and then we can go. Actually, can we stop at home first? I want to change.”

Jungah stops her before she gets very far. “I didn’t mean to listen in, but you should leave early if you have dinner plans. Jimin-unnie and I can take care of it.”

“Are you sure?” When Jungah nods, Hosook says, “I owe you one, then.”

Jungah scrunches her nose. “No, you don’t. You’re always the one covering for me, unnie.”

“Is that right?” Hosook may spoil her dongsaeng, but she deserves it for working so hard. “See you tomorrow, Jungah-yah, Jimin-ah.”

That evening, there’s a moment where Hosook looks at Namjoo and realizes that she doesn’t want the night to end. She looks at Namjoo and Namjoo looks back at her, and there might just be a spark there—something that makes Hosook want to ask Namjoo to come to bed with her, so that she doesn't ever have to feel like she has to let her go.

Hosook looks at Namjoo and Namjoo looks back at her, and Hosook knows in that moment that, if she asked Namjoo to come to bed with her, in the most innocent way possible, she wouldn't be able to keep her hands off of her.

So instead of asking, she lets Namjoo give her an awkward hug and tries to ignore the way her whole body feels like it's on fire.


The next time Namjoo goes on a date, Hosook starts opening a new bottle of wine even before she goes home.

Their locations are shared with each other, but Namjoo had given her a heads up about when she'd be getting home anyway. Hosook takes the obvious next course of action: preparing wine and desserts to help Namjoo drown her sorrows in when she inevitably needs to rant to Hosook about how she hates dating but feels pressured to do it and just needs a close friend to date and wishes that she could skip right to marriage, as many sapphics do.

What she isn't expecting is for Namjoo to walk through the door of the apartment, face flushed, a happy smile on her face.

Her lip gloss is smeared. Her hair is a little messy, and this is not a Namjoo that Hosook is used to seeing.

Hosook nearly drops the wine. She sets it down in the center of the same table that she and Namjoo had sat at not even a week ago, complaining about men who couldn't find it in themselves to be kind to public service workers and women who aren't interesting enough to hold an interesting conversation. "Spill," Hosook demands, shoving Namjoo down in a chair before she even has a chance to wipe the makeup off her face.

"Okay," Namjoo says breathlessly, "I didn't want to tell you this in case it went badly, so you have to promise not to get mad at me for this. Or judge me, or whatever."

Hosook’s heart sinks.

It's already a lot for her to process that Namjoo's date hadn't been bad. It's not like Hosook wants her to have disappointing dates—far from it, actually, because Namjoo deserves the best that the world has to offer—but it's always been something they shared. Hosook has wondered, of course, what it would be like one day when one of them eventually went on a date that didn't happen to be so terrible, but she'd put these thoughts out of her mind a long time ago, more or less writing off dating as something that would never be fun.

Calm down, Hosook scolds herself. Why do her feelings have to be so complicated? Can't she just be happy for her friend? There's no reason why this should feel so important to her. It's not like Namjoo going on one good date is going to change the whole world.

"I'd never do that," Hosook says, and she can only hope that Namjoo doesn't pick up on how strained her voice is.

She thinks that she's obvious about it, but Namjoo's date really must have been good, because she doesn't seem to notice. "When I stopped by the dance studio the other day, Jimin and I were talking and we got along well. And then... she gave me her number."

Hosook's jaw drops.

"I really wasn't going to contact her!" Namjoo says. "I thought it might make things at work awkward for you, or you'd start looking at her differently when I told you about how bad of a date she was." She bites her lip. "But I was desperate, Sook-ah, and I thought that she couldn't possibly be a bad person if you're friends with her, and I remembered you talking about her before."

"Our standards have gotten so low," Hosook groans.

There are other things she could be saying—anything else would work, really, but she doesn't know what to say that wouldn't make the shock she's in sound like a bad thing. She hadn't been expecting this at all. Neither Namjoo nor Jimin had mentioned the possibility of them going on a date before now.

"I know, which is why I originally thought that I only had a good time because she wasn't obviously a bad person," Namjoo says. "That automatically makes the date better than all of the ones I've gone on recently. But that could just mean that we would make good friends, right?"

Hosook's mind is completely blank. "Right."

Namjoo lets out a sound that, if Hosook didn't know her better, would think meant anguish. "Hosook, she's so pretty. Inside and out. I can't believe we haven't run into each other before. I can't believe I've been dating people I don't relate to at all."

"Yeah, that's—that's not good."

"We just couldn't stop talking to each other! And not just small talk either. I've never had such deep conversations with someone on a first date." Namjoo's voice becomes a little quieter. "You mentioned before that she's out as trans, and that doesn't change anything for me, but she gets it. She just—totally understood my thoughts about being queer, about sexuality and gender, and I've never talked with anyone like that before. Besides you, obviously."

And Hosook doesn't get it—why this stings so much, why it's so hard for her to wrap her head around Namjoo liking someone like this when she's seen her after good dates and in the midst of long-term relationships and never felt this way. If their roles were reversed, then surely Namjoo would be happy for Hosook.

It frustrates Hosook that she feels so conflicted about this. She's surprised that she didn't see it earlier, how Jimin and Namjoo would be good together. Hosook still sees Jimin as more of a coworker than a close friend, although that have been edging closer to that point, but Jimin is someone that she'd trust with her best friend.

Her best friend. That's what Namjoo is to Hosook, isn't she? Her best friend whom she respects and adores and loves deeply and sometimes, sort of, maybe wants to kiss.

Oh.

Namjoo is looking at Hosook strangely. "Are you okay?" she says. "This isn't bothering you, is it?"

"Of course not!" Hosook squeaks. The last thing she wants Namjoo thinking is that her happiness that Namjoo had finally gone a date with someone who made her feel comfortable. "No, why would it? I was just—wanna move somewhere more comfortable?"

Namjoo nods, but still looks a little suspicious. "Okay, sure."

Hosook picks up the box of cookies she had prepared and brings them with her as she and Namjoo get comfortable on their couch. Namjoo cuddles up close to her, and Hosook finds herself wondering Is this okay? before telling herself that it's always been okay, it always will be okay—because they're best friends and Namjoo's first date had just been one date and anyone who thinks that she and Hosook shouldn't be physically affectionate after six years of friendship might not be someone Namjoo wants to be dating.

But that's not really why Hosook is wondering this, is it? If she's being honest with herself, it has to do more with the fact that Hosook has apparently been harboring a crush on Namjoo for who-knows-how-long, and it isn't fair for Hosook to touch Namjoo like they're something more than friends when they aren't and Hosook is occasionally inclined to wish that they were.

"I'm really happy for you," Hosook says. She offers the cookies to Namjoo. "I didn't expect it, but this is great news! You deserve this."

"You really think so?" Namjoo's eyes are wide, and Hosook's heart aches, knowing how devastated she would be if she knew that Hosook was hiding her discomfort from her. "Your opinion matters a lot to me. If you don't think I should date her, I won't."

It means a lot to Hosook that Namjoo values her thoughts so much, but she isn't about to let her heart get in the way of something good. No matter what she does or doesn't feel for her, Namjoo is her friend above all, and Hosook is going to treat her the same way she always has—like she deserves.

"I think you should do what makes you happy," Hosook says. "And if this date made you happy, you should go on a second. Dating doesn't have to be high stakes just because it's not always good."

Namjoo nods, looking more relaxed at Hosook's words. She takes a deep breath, seemingly jittery from the excitement of her date and the apparent stress of telling Hosook where she had been.

"And if Jimin ever hurts you," Hosook says, "I'll make her pay for it."

Namjoo laughs, but Hosook is completely serious. "Thank you," Namjoo says. She tips her head against Hosook's shoulder. "I really appreciate it. I don't know what I would do without you."

It makes sense that Hosook doesn’t really feel any different now that she knows that she likes Namjoo. She’s loved her for years, so deeply that the two feelings must have blended together at some point.

But this—knowing that she has these feelings, that she can’t do anything about them because Namjoo already has something good happening for her, because she doesn’t want to become just another one of Namjoo’s bad dates—makes Namjoo being this sweet so much harder for Hosook to bear.

Hosook closes her eyes, and holds Namjoo tight.

 


 

Naturally, Hosook starts being more cautious around Namjoo.

For the first few days after Namjoo's date, she almost forgets about the whole Jimin ordeal. It's much harder for Hosook to forget her newfound romantic feelings for her best friend. She's shocked that she hadn't been able to label her crush before, but now all she can think about is how pretty Namjoo is, how endearing she is, how wonderful her chemistry with her is. She doesn't know how she's been able to bear it for so long, because Namjoo has always been this way, gorgeous even when she's simply existing.

It feels selfish to think this way about her friend. Maybe it is selfish, but Hosook can't help it, so she decides to suffer silently.

Hosook almost forgets about the whole Jimin ordeal until, about a week later, she and Namjoo go on their second date.

Unsurprisingly, Namjoo is even happier this time around. For the first time in a long time, she's excited to go on a date, and Jimin doesn't disappoint her. It's a little more difficult for Hosook to smile when she rants about how wonderful Jimin is, but a part of her still is happy that Namjoo gets to experience something like this.

I could give her that, too, a voice whispers in the back of Hosook's mind—a bad voice, one she tries very hard to stamp out.

Hosook knows what comes next. She watches as Namjoo starts to text Jimin more, and how this graduates into them spending most nights calling each other when they don't see each other. She listens as Namjoo gradually starts bringing Jimin up in conversation—things Jimin had said to her, their plans together, stories from their dates. Once or twice Hosook even sees Jimin picking Namjoo up or dropping her off, although she never stays for long. Jimin goes from an acquaintance to someone in Namjoo's life so quickly Hosook doesn't have time to process it all.

Namjoo even starts stopping into Hosook's work more frequently, mostly for her, but she and Jimin send shy, flirtatious glances to each other from across the room until one of them eventually cracks and breaks the silence. This is the most confusing for Hosook to handle, because seeing Namjoo and Jimin flirt with each other right in front of her feels a lot more real than listening to Namjoo talk about Jimin in a totally different context than Hosook could ever imagine her.

Hosook has always been a naturally tactile person, especially around those she is close with, but now she second guesses herself every time she touches Namjoo. It's difficult to ask Namjoo if her boundaries have changed now that she's in a relationship both because Hosook doesn't know how serious the relationship is, and because she doesn't want to make assumptions about Jimin. She knows that this could be solved by a simple conversation, but she's paralyzed by the fear that Namjoo could be uncomfortable with how used to borderline-flirty Hosook acts with both of them.

She's sure that Namjoo would say something if she needed their relationship to change in any way, but Hosook still tones down her displays of affection, figuring that it's better to be safe than sorry. Namjoo doesn't say anything about this, either, so Hosook figures that she must be doing the right thing.

Still, the most striking change of all happens when Namjoo starts referring to Jimin as her girlfriend.

Hosook genuinely can't remember the last time she had heard Namjoo refer to someone as her girlfriend. She's had girlfriends in the past, but never one she's as excited about as Jimin. Jimin brings legitimate joy to Hosook's life, which makes Hosook feel terrible about the way her stomach seems to twist into a knot every time the topic of Jimin comes up.

Despite this, she'd thought that it would get easier to talk to Jimin as time went on, especially considering how awkward it was to see Jimin in a formal setting again after her first date with Namjoo. It does. Somehow it becomes more painful to interact with Jimin at work every time Namjoo talks about her.

Hosook is angry at herself for this for several reasons. She genuinely likes Jimin, and knows that Jimin doesn't deserve her taking her feelings out on her just because this is new to her. And Namjoo likes her a lot. It's only a matter of time before they run into each other in a social setting, or Namjoo eventually notices how uncomfortable Hosook has become around her girlfriend.

Worst of all: Hosook isn't the jealous type. She doesn't usually get jealous, and she doesn't like feeling jealous. She doesn't want other people to suffer because she's insecure. She loves Namjoo, and Namjoo loves her, and what they have is special. Jimin being her girlfriend doesn't mean that the relationship she has with Hosook is any less special.

It's rather unfortunate that Jimin prefers monogamy.

It's inevitable that Hosook becomes more and more awkward around Namjoo until their relationship begins to feel strained. It's probably just her that feels it—just like her crush on Namjoo is certainly unrequited. Eventually, this has to come to a breaking point.

"Hosook-ah, want to check out an art gallery with me this afternoon?" Namjoo asks her on a sunny Sunday morning two weeks after she first refers to Jimin as her girlfriend. "We can go somewhere after, if you want. I know this isn't really your thing, but we can make it fun."

For a brief moment, Hosook wonders why Namjoo wouldn't just want to take Jimin with her. This seems like the type of thing that would make a good date, although they'd gone on plenty of date-like adventures in the past. Will it be different now that Hosook's feelings for her have changed and she has a girlfriend? She isn't sure that she wants to find out.

She would have said yes anyway, but she also imagines that it would sting if, when she turned Namjoo down, she just asked Jimin instead.

"Of course I want to go!" Hosook grins and ruffles Namjoo's bangs as she walks by her. She fills a glass with water and sits down with Namjoo for breakfast. "And it's totally my thing, we've just never gone to one together before."

"You don't have to lie to prove a point," Namjoo teases. "I would have dragged you along anyway."

And this—this feels more familiar, more like them, and this comforts Hosook. Namjoo being in a labeled relationship is a transition, but it won't have permanent damage on their friendship.

They set out for the gallery around noon, and they continue to trade gentle banter on the way there. Hosook tries not to overthink it as they edge into the almost-flirting territory that she's been trying to avoid.

The gallery is in a small building that Hosook probably would have overlooked if she was alone. There are only a few people there, which means that they don’t have to rush as they walk through. Hosook has spent hours in the past listening to Namjoo talk her way through art museums, but this is nice, too. They walk together in companionable silence, taking their time through the gallery. Hosook has learned enough from Namjoo to appreciate art, but most of all, she likes to hear Namjoo’s thoughts.

“Hey, what do you think about this one?” Hosook asks her, pointing to an abstract painting towards the end of the exhibit. The canvas is splattered in different hues of red and purple, unidentifiable shapes entwined around each other. Hosook thinks she might see two people—or a dog, or some type of plant, or maybe the night sky. “What do you think it means?”

“I don’t think it has to mean anything in particular,” Namjoo says. She leans forward and studies the painting closely. “It can mean nothing and everything all at once. It could mean something different to everyone. It might just be a feeling.”

Namjoo is so thoughtful she makes Hosook’s head spin sometimes, but that’s one of the things that she appreciates most about her. “What does it mean to you?”

Namjoo looks at Hosook and smiles. “Love.”

Hosook’s heart somersaults in her chest again as Namjoo takes her hand and holds it all the way through the rest of the gallery. She struggles to remember if this is something they’ve done in the past. She’s sure that it is. She holds her friends’ hands platonically all the time. But is that off-limits now that Namjoo has a girlfriend? Maybe if she wasn’t dating Jimin, Hosook would swear that she likes her instead.

Hosook really wishes that she had a girlfriend.

After the gallery, there’s still enough time left before they have to go home so Namjoo can work on a project, so Hosook takes her shopping. It’s the kind of thing that she’d usually do with one of her other friends, maybe Jungah, but she likes to spoil Namjoo and it’s been a while since she’s seen Namjoo treat herself.

Namjoo complains when Hosook encourages her to try on clothes, but she ends up complying anyway. After so many years of friendship, Hosook knows her style by heart, but when she’s the one picking clothes for Namjoo, she likes to push her out of her comfort zone. “We have to show off your legs,” she says. “You’re so tall. It’s one of your best qualities.”

“I’m insecure about my height,” Namjoo says. She looks at the selection of clothing Hosook has laid out for her in her stall of the dressing room and purses her lips.

“You’ll look hot,” Hosook says, without thinking at all about the possible implications of her words. Namjoo raises her eyebrows and Hosook squeaks, “For Jimin! I didn’t mean it like that.”

Namjoo only laughs. “Hosook-ah, I know. I appreciate it.”

Hosook tries to filter herself. She really does. But it’s impossible when Namjoo looks like that, and she’s just being a supportive friend. Namjoo is hot, Hosook knows how to pick clothes that show off how pretty she is, and she deserves compliments.

Unless Namjoo asks her to stop, Hosook thinks that it won’t be a problem. This is how she’s always been, and Jimin isn’t going to change that—even though she has already cut back on physical affection.

When they return home—shopping bags in hand—and Namjoo resumes work on her project, Hosook can’t help but feel a little empty. The day was good, but that makes it ending that much harder. It’s been a long time since they’ve had time like this together, more than a few minutes every day to say good morning and good night.

Hosook feels more lonely than ever as she crawls into bed alone. She can hear Namjoo on the phone in another room—her voice high and light, happy and relaxed—and knows that she’s talking to Jimin. Not wanting to interrupt her, she texts her instead: Are we still on for lunch tomorrow? Not trading me for Jimin? ;)

Ever since Namjoo had been hired at her latest job as a journalist for a news website, she always has a long lunch break on Mondays that coincides with a break between Hosook’s classes. Hosook doesn’t know why she feels pressured to confirm with her that they’ll keep their weekly lunch tradition going, seeing as Namjoo has dated other people and never asked Hosook not to come. But she really likes Jimin, and Hosook figures that it will be less awkward if they get that conversation over with now, without Namjoo having to start it.

Jimin. Hosook feels bad. She hopes that Jimin isn’t too offended by how she’s been avoiding her at work recently. She hadn’t meant to, but then it had become a habit, and then things became awkward. Hosook is always friendly, of course, but some days it’s difficult to hold a full conversation with her.

Namjoo responds to Hosook’s text a few minutes after she sends it, before she even says goodbye to Jimin, and before Hosook has time to wonder if her message had been too passive-aggressive: Mondays are for us only >:|

Hosook falls asleep with her phone in her hands and a smile on her lips.


As Hosook is preparing to leave for her lunch break the next day, Jimin stops her and asks if she has a minute to talk.

Hosook’s heart leaps into her throat. She could pretend as though she doesn’t know what Jimin is talking about, but it’s easy to guess what might be on her mind. “Oh, uh, yeah, sure. What is it?”

Even though the practice room they’d been working in had been empty, and would be for at least another half hour, Jimin leads Hosook into the closest locker room before speaking. “I know a lot has been going on, but will you please stop avoiding me?”

Hosook had been expecting it, but she’s still taken aback by Jimin’s boldness. Eventually they would need to have this conversation, but Hosook had more or less been hoping that she would be able to avoid it for as long as possible. She knows that Jimin deserves better. It’s time for Hosook to be accountable for her actions.

Jimin had been Hosook’s friend before Namjoo’s. They’ve worked with each other for months now, and they know each other on a deeper level than that of work pleasantries. Hosook has wanted to become closer with Jimin for a long time, too, because Hosook knows that they have potential to be good friends. She doesn’t want to jeopardize this over something small.

And besides, Jimin is rumored to be scary when she’s upset—and Hosook has seen her get justifiably angry in the past, and she knows that she doesn’t want to get on Jimin’s bad side.

“I’m really sorry, Jimin-ah,” Hosook says quickly. “It’s not your fault. It wasn’t intentional. I really didn’t mean… I mean, it wasn’t…”

Jimin sighs.

“I know. You’re a good friend. I’m sorry things are like this.” She cocks her head to the side, gaze piercing, and Hosook would be lying if she said she wasn’t intimidated. “But we should really talk about Namjoo.”

There would have been no other reason for Hosook’s behavior lately, but she didn’t think that Jimin would be able to read her that easily. She’s a little embarrassed, too, both that Jimin had been able to pick up on the problem so easily and because she’s the one to bring it up when Hosook should have been the one to apologize to her unprompted.

“W-what about?” she splutters. “I’m fine with you dating. I think it’s great, actually! You make Namjoo very happy.”

She wonders if Jimin is able to pick up on how strained her voice is, too.

Jimin smiles a little. “She makes me happy, too. But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”

Hosook looks down at her feet. Jimin really is intimidating, but Hosook is only getting what she had coming to her. “What is it?”

“I know that this relationship is a big adjustment for you and Namjoo, but you’re going to be friends with her no matter what. You shouldn’t worry about that,” Jimin says. Hosook opens her mouth to explain—not that she has any excuses, because Jimin would be able to see right through them—but Jimin shakes her head. “You should know that Namjoo talks about you all the time. She’s always thinking about you. You should hold on to someone who loves you that much.”

Hosook had assumed—apparently incorrectly—that Namjoo would avoid talking to Jimin about her. They’re a big part of each other’s lives, but, given the way things have been between Hosook and Jimin, and how Hosook and Namjoo have barely been able to spend time together lately, she’d thought that she would be a topic they avoided.

“That’s all I wanted to say,” Jimin says. “Just think about it, okay?”

Hosook nods, still mostly speechless from Jimin’s declaration. “I’m sorry,” she says again, as if this alone can make up for the weeks of tension between them.

“Me, too,” Jimin says. She gives Hosook one last half-smile before leaving her alone in the locker room. Hosook’s head spins as she tries to process the conversation they had had, albeit short and mostly one-sided.

It’s probably about time that she talks to Namjoo. Namjoo would understand if Hosook explained how she feels about her, including her romantic attraction to her, but Hosook doesn’t want to risk ruining the friendship that Jimin had just told her she needs to hold on to. If she’s going to talk to Namjoo, then she needs to be completely honest with her, because she should know how Hosook feels about her.

But Hosook isn’t ready to tell her that. Even if it’s selfish, she isn’t ready to let go of Namjoo.


Three weeks after Jimin had cornered Hosook in the locker room of the dance studio, Namjoo returns home from a date with tears in her eyes.

For a moment, the sight is familiar to Hosook, which she knows is a depressing thought, but she knows that she can comfort Namjoo and make her feel better until she feels better all on her own. And then she remembers that her date had been with Jimin, and she promptly drops the dishes she had been washing and rushes over to hug her.

After Hosook’s conversation with Jimin, things had become much better. The awkwardness with Jimin lasted a while longer, mostly because Hosook felt intimidated by her, but that soon faded. Hosook started to feel less bad about asking to spend time with Namjoo. Jimin even comes over for dinner one night, and when Hosook retreats into her room to give her and Namjoo privacy, it doesn’t feel like the world is ending.

But, over these three weeks, Hosook felt herself falling deeper and deeper for Namjoo. Now that she knows what it feels like to love and want her, it’s addicting. She’s good at ignoring it, especially when she’s around Namjoo, but some nights are harder than others, especially when she spends them alone.

“What happened?” Hosook asks as she pulls Namjoo into a hug. “Did something happen? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Namjoo says, sniffling. She stiffens at first when Hosook touches her, but quickly hugs her back, burying her face in Hosook’s shoulder. “It’s—it’s just—”

Namjoo isn’t the type to cry often, and even when she does get upset, she does so quietly. It worries Hosook when she gets like this, but she’s learned from experience that she can’t make Namjoo talk, even if the way she helps best is by listening. “Do you want to talk about it?” she says, rubbing Namjoo’s shoulders.

“I broke up with Jimin,” she says quietly, her voice a little muffled by Hosook’s shirt. “I knew I had to do it, but I didn’t want to. I don’t know why I’m upset.”

“It’s okay to be upset,” Hosook says. “You liked her a lot. Oh, baby, I’m sorry. Here, come on—let’s get you settled, and then we should talk about it.”

Hosook feels like she holds her breath all the way until Namjoo is in her bedroom, under Hosook’s instruction to change and wash her face and breathe. Her hands shake as she sets water to boil in a kettle.

Namjoo? Breaking up with Jimin? As far as she’d known, Namjoo and Jimin were a perfectly happy couple. Namjoo never really told Hosook the details of their relationship, as she’s always been a private person outside of first dates or hookups, but the happiness that radiated off of her whenever she spent time with Jimin was unmistakable. Hosook knew even less about the relationship from Jimin’s end, but from what she could see, there hadn’t been any signs of discomfort or a lack of chemistry between them that would have made Namjoo want to break up with her.

Hosook doesn’t know how to feel. She’d spent over a month feeling conflicted over their relationship, partially happy for Namjoo and partially wishing that she could take Jimin’s place, but this doesn’t change anything for her, does it? It would be terrible of her to take advantage of Namjoo’s state right now, and she doesn’t even know the full story of what had happened.

Hosook has just finished making Namjoo tea when Namjoo pads back into the kitchen. Her eyes are red rimmed and her face is a little puffy, but Hosook doesn’t press her, wanting to let her tell Hosook what she wants her to know on her own terms. Namjoo sighs heavily as she sits down at their table. Hosook wants nothing more than to wrap her up in her arms—or maybe in bubble wrap—and comfort her, but she settles for setting the tea down in front of her instead.

“You didn’t have to do this,” Namjoo says. Her voice is a little hoarse, like she’s trying not to cry. She wraps her hands around the mug and her eyes widen as she takes a sip.

Hosook had used the expensive brand of tea, the one Namjoo only uses for special occasions or for a pick-me-up. “I’ve already ordered you more,” Hosook says as she slides into the chair opposite of Namjoo. Namjoo’s stock had been running low, and this had practically been an invitation for Hosook to spoil her. “Don’t protest. I wanted to do it. You deserve it.”

“You don’t have to treat me differently because I’m sad,” Namjoo mumbles.

“I’m not,” Hosook says.

Namjoo stares into her mug for a while before she starts to talk. Hosook doesn’t say anything as she waits, feeling like that, if she makes any sudden movements, she could scare Namjoo away. “I think that Jimin and I will be better as friends,” Namjoo says after a long pause. “It’s hard to explain. We got along really well, it’s just… I think we wanted a relationship more than we wanted a relationship with each other.”

Although Hosook had been sure that what Namjoo and Jimin had was special to them, this doesn’t surprise her—which surprises her more than Namjoo’s words. Namjoo had worried that she may become attached to the first person who she clicked with on a date simply because it wasn’t as terrible of an experience as she was used to. It’s exactly the kind of thing that Namjoo had feared on her first few dates with Jimin, although it had happened to manifest later in their relationship than she had anticipated.

“And,” Namjoo says. She smiles wryly. “She has this friend, Taehee. I think, the way Jimin talks about her…” She shakes her head. “They’re meant for each other more than we were. Jimin is so smitten and I don’t think she even realizes it.”

Hosook grips so tightly on to her chair that her knuckles turn white. If she had to guess, she would say that Jimin is absolutely aware of her feelings for Taehee, and this might have had something to do with the lecture she had given Hosook a few weeks ago.

Hosook clears her throat. “I’m sorry it had to be that way,” she says. “Maybe it’s for the best that this happened now rather than later on.”

Namjoo takes another sip of her tea and shrinks in on herself a bit. “I wish I didn’t have so many regrets. It’s been a long time since I’ve been with a girl. I think I was starting to love her, and then I thought about it and realized that I only loved her as a friend, and that scared me.”

Hosook nods. She’s always admired the way Namjoo is able to handle breakups so maturely. Namjoo’s feelings are valid, and Hosook understands them more intimately tha she’d like to admit. For now, the best she can do is support Namjoo and help her conceptualize them.

She also thinks that, one day, she’ll understand why Namjoo loves Jimin, and there’s good in that—there’s potential there, and this is promising.

“I’m sorry that you’re upset now,” she says. “But you’ll get through it. There are many people who love you that want to support you. Including Jimin, even though you need some time apart right now.”

This brings tears to Namjoo’s eyes again, and this time, Hosook is ready with another hug and to refill her tea.

After Namjoo finishes her tea, they return to another old routine, one that they haven’t needed since the summer after their senior year of undergrad. They curl up together in Hosook’s bed and turn on a movie, a tried and true favorite, and Hosook strokes Namjoo’s hair and distracts her until she eventually falls asleep on her pillow, movie still playing.

It isn’t until Namjoo falls asleep and Hosook has a moment to herself that she thinks again. She’d been moving mostly on autopilot to keep Namjoo company, prioritizing her comfort over her complicated feelings about Namjoo and her relationship, but it all comes crashing back over her now.

She’s been overwhelmed with the force of her newly-recognized feelings for Namjoo, but she hasn’t thought about the potential repercussions from them. Acting on her feelings isn’t an option. It can’t be.

Namjoo might be single now, but that doesn’t mean that she wants a relationship right now, and it definitely does not mean that she wants a relationship with Hosook. Hosook’s feelings might not be unrequited, but this doesn’t make such a statement any less true. As good as they may be together, a relationship could damage their friendship irreparably.

Hosook takes a deep, shuddering breath, and squirms underneath her sheets. Namjoo is fast asleep, so she doesn’t disturb her. She listens to the whirring of her fan, the sounds of cars driving by on the street below, crickets’ crooning filtering through the window, and Namjoo’s quiet breathing. The room is pitch black and she’s sweating a little from Namjoo’s body heat, but the moment is gut-wrenching and perfect and she is very in love.

 


 

Hosook used to be sad a lot of the time.

She’s learned to be happy now, but she remembers what it was like to be sad, and it scares her sometimes, especially when she has the occasional bad day. It scares her even more that her friends and family could feel this bad one day,

In learning what makes her be happy, Hosook realized that she should always chase after happiness without shame. Everyone deserves happiness, which also means that she shouldn’t be shameful of the happiness she wants to give to her friends—and especially friends like Namjoo.

The morning after Namjoo’s breakup, Hosook decides that she refuses to let her be sad. As she lies next to Namjoo in bed and listens to the sound of birds chirping, she makes a plan.

Namjoo wakes up slowly, and Hosook sees in her eyes when she remembers the events of the night before and sadness hits. Hosook reaches over and strokes her arm. “Good morning,” she says softly. “How are you feeling?”

Namjoo grumbles something unintelligible.

“As soon as you’re up for it, we’re going to the park,” Hosook says.

There’s a small park not far from their apartment, but they rarely stop by, because they would only have time to go on weekends like today, and it’s always crowded on weekends—unless they go early in the morning.

This gets Namjoo’s attention. “Why?” she says, squinting up at Hosook.

Hosook grins and slides out of bed. "It's a surprise!"

If Namjoo really didn't want to go anywhere, Hosook wouldn't force her. But Namjoo trusts her, and if Hosook thinks that it's good for her, then she'll at least give it a chance.

In the kitchen, Hosook gets to work preparing food. Namjoo likes to go to the park simply for the sake of being out in nature, but a little extra incentive—such as a picnic—can't hurt.

Both of them being so busy has made keeping their fridge stocked a little more difficult than usual, but they have enough that Hosook can put together a decent spread. There are a number of side dishes and a decent amount of rice, and fruit that Hosook thinks would go well together in a smoothie.

Namjoo emerges from her room as Hosook is setting up their blender. "You're cooking?" she says. Recognition dawns in her eyes. "Picnic?"

"Yep!" Hosook says proudly. "If we get there early we'll avoid most of the traffic and have time to do something else in the afternoon, if you're up for it."

Namjoo hugs Hosook from behind and props her chin up on Hosook's shoulder. "That sounds amazing."

Hosook's heart flutters. She swallows hard and tries not to think about how Namjoo is pressed against her all the way from their shoulders down, and tosses the bananas she had chopped up into the blender.

The park is close enough that it's most convenient to walk to it, even though it's slightly inconvenient since they're carrying bags of food. This early in the morning, there's still a slight autumn chill in the air. The sky is a deep purple-blue, and the moon is still visible when Hosook looks up at it.

Namjoo follows her gaze after she shuts the door of the apartment behind them. "Pretty," she says, and Hosook nods in agreement, thinking all along that Namjoo is even more gorgeous than the sky.

They sip on their smoothies as they walk, and when they get to the park, they find a secluded spot under a tree to lay down the blanket Hosook had brought to sit on. The grass underneath is still damp with dew. There are a few people out walking their dogs, and one or two joggers, but aside from that, the park is mostly empty.

Namjoo sits close enough to Hosook that their shoulders bump as they talk. "I'm sorry if I'm not very talkative today," Namjoo says. "I feel okay, I promise. I'm just not feeling my best."

"It's okay if you're not okay," Hosook says.

Namjoo reaches out and takes one of her hands. She plays with her fingers for a moment before lacing them together. "You're always so kind, Sook-ah," she says. "I'm lucky to have you as my friend."

Hosook kisses the top of her head. This type of casual affection is so familiar it makes her heart ache. She'd missed this. "It wasn't luck. We made this work."

They're quiet for a while as they watch the day slowly become brighter. It's been a long time since they did something as spontaneous as this, and it makes Hosook feel at peace—like something that had been wrong in the world finally feels right again.

"We haven't talked in a while," Namjoo says to her as she scoops out one last chunk of rice from a container. "Like really gotten to talk, how we used to."

Part of what had made their friendship grow so strong was that they could have deep conversations with each other unlike what they could have with anyone else. Hosook has lost track of the amount of times she and Namjoo have accidentally stayed up all night debating various topics. Sometimes they disagree, but they always come to a compromise, and they always teach each other something new in the process.

Hosook's chest tightens. Today is a day for righting some of the wrongs that she had committed while Namjoo was dating Jimin—and even before then, too, when life became busy and they began to struggle to keep up with each other.

"You're right." Hosook brushes off her hands and clips on the cap of her thermos. "Tell me about music." It's been a while since Namjoo had sent her a playlist. "How is your thesis going?" Namjoo had asked her if she'd be willing to do an interview for her, promising compensation in the form of her undying love. "And your sister—is she still bogged down by school?" She's graduating soon, and Namjoo is incredibly proud of her.

The only topic Hosook would like to avoid is dating, but they've spent enough time talking about that recently. Hosook feels best simply having the opportunity to be with Namjoo, no matter the relationship they currently have.

Namjoo laughs at the onslaught of questions. "I've really missed you, you know that?"

Hosook bumps their shoulders together. "I know. And I'll answer any questions you have as long as you answer mine."

"Fine." Namjoo bumps Hosook's shoulder back. "It's only fair, since you set this up."

One of Hosook's favorite things to do is listen to Namjoo talk, so it feels like a dream to be able to lie under the shade of the tree with Namjoo and listen to her voice. Namjoo makes Hosook feel comfortable in a way that nobody else can. This might be the kind of place she might take someone on a date, but she's happiest here with Namjoo. Namjoo is the type of girl who fulfills all of her fantasies—not perfectly, not as if she has no flaws, but in a way that makes her human and relatable and so much more adorable.

Namjoo is the type of girl who sings to her plants and can't cook and blushes when Hosook flirts with her. Namjoo is the type of girl who Hosook hopes desperately that, even if she doesn't want her, she finds someone else to love. Namjoo is the type of girl that deserves someone who makes her feel just as happy and safe and respected as she makes Hosook feel. Namjoo is the type of girl who feels equal to Hosook, on both an emotional and intellectual level.

Namjoo is the type of girl Hosook has always dreamed about, even before she knew what it was like to have feelings for a girl. Namjoo is a girl that Hosook can't live without. Namjoo is a girl that has impacted Hosook's life on such an intimate level that she can't imagine what she would be like without her.

"Sook-ah? Hosook-ah?"

Hosook opens her eyes to see Namjoo propped up on her arms beside her, looking down at her. In the early morning light, she's prettier than ever. Hosook's heart skips a beat. It's difficult to resist the urge to touch her—to pull her close and kiss her until she doesn't remember what it's like to be sad.

One day. One day, maybe she will.

"Guess I spaced out for a moment there." Hosook sits up and tucks her hair behind her ears. Namjoo's expression is a little worried, so Hosook adds, "I was listening! Everything you say is worth listening to. Total poetry."

Namjoo laughs for the second time that morning, and to Hosook, this means love.

 


 

It's a totally average Tuesday morning when Namjoo comes home with a cat in her arms.

The cat is small, its fluffy fur matted in places and its ribs visible when it squirms in Namjoo's arms. Hosook has seen enough stray animals in his lifetime to know that this one must have been on the streets for some time.

And Hosook knows that Namjoo has already fallen in love with it.

"Um," Hosook says. "You have a cat?"

Namjoo takes a deep breath. Her fingers curl in the cat's soft calico coat. "I know you're not going to like this," she says, "but this cat has been following me around for days and I know someone must be missing her, because who would let a cat this pretty run away? I know pets aren't allowed in our apartment, but our lease is up in a month and we've been looking at pet-friendly apartments anyway, so—"

Namjoo wants to keep the cat. She said we, which means that the cat will also be Hosook's. Namjoo wants to own a cat with Hosook. She must not think that they're going to live apart, then, at least for a long time. Adopting a cat is basically like adopting a child, isn't it? It's a commitment. Namjoo is committed to Hosook.

Namjoo and Hosook are going to be mothers. Together.

"If you don't want her right now, I can just find someone else to keep her for a while, until we find our new apartment. Maybe Jimin, or Soojin," Namjoo muses. "Or we don't have to keep her at all! I know it's something we've talked about in the past, but we don't have to take that step right now."

That step. Like they're in a relationship. A relationship like the kind Hosook would very much like to be in with Namjoo. Every fiber of Hosook's body yearns for Namjoo. She wants to be with Namjoo for the rest of her lIfe. She wants to raise cats with her.

Adopting a cat together is more or less a marriage proposal, isn't it?

"She's wearing a collar, but it looks like the tag was ripped off," Namjoo says, parting the cat's fur to show that her tag had indeed broken off of her collar. "We'll have to take her to a vet to see if she's microchipped, and for a check up—she'll probably need vaccines, and it might be expensive, but if she doesn't belong to anybody we can keep her—Hosook?"

Hosook might be in actual, physical pain. Namjoo is too good and Hosook loves her so much. She watches as the cat squirms out of Namjoo’s arms. “If you’re uncomfortable with this, please tell me to stop,” she says.

Namjoo squints. “Huh? What do you mean?”

When Hosook stands up, she isn’t that far away from Namjoo. It feels almost impossible to step forward, but then Namjoo is in her arms, and when she touches her, Namjoo pulls her impossibly closer on instinct.

Hosook feels like she’s burning up, every one of her nerves alight, just like when Namjoo had come to watch her teach and her attention had been on her for hours. She must have been flirting with Jimin back then, but Jimin had been right about them, at least. The way Namjoo loves Hosook is something to hold on to.

“I want to kiss you,” Hosook says. She’s close, so close that their noses brush against each other, because Namjoo is leaning down to touch her and the moment is so romantic Hosook will never be able to forget it. “If you don’t like it, I want you to tell me to stop.”

“Don’t stop,” Namjoo breathes, and she doesn’t wait for Hosook to respond before she tilts her head and presses her lips against Hosook’s.

For all the times Hosook had imagined this happening, she had never imagined it quite like this: them standing so close together that Hosook can feel Namjoo’s heartbeat against her own, her hands shaking a little from nervousness where she rests them against the small of Namjoo’s back and against her hip. She hadn’t imagined that Namjoo would taste a little bit like the smoothie Hosook had packed her for work, like strawberries and something else so sweet she can’t place it.

She hadn’t imagined that Namjoo would be an even better kisser than she looked, that she would kiss Hosook gently and sweetly—or that she’d even kiss Hosook back at all, that she would be just as taken with her as she is with Namjoo.

Hosook feels warmth travel all the way down from her lips to the tips of her toes. The thing she hadn’t let herself imagine at all was that kissing Namjoo wouldn’t be surprising at all, because this is one of the few things she has yet to learn about her. Namjoo kisses Hosook the same way she loves her, and Hosook—she’s overwhelmed, because she regrets the fact that they haven’t been doing this all along.

When they part, Namjoo’s lips are bitten cherry red and just a bit slick. “You like me?” she says. “I—I thought that you would have said something if you did.”

The thought that Hosook might not like Namjoo is so ridiculous that it makes her laugh. “I thought that you didn’t want a relationship.”

One of Namjoo’s hands slides to the back of Hosook’s head, cradling her there, holding her so that she’s looking up at Namjoo. “Are you kidding?” she says. “Part of the reason why Jimin and I broke up was because I realized that you already made me happier than any other relationship could.”

Namjoo’s nose brushes against Hosook’s again. The request to kiss again doesn’t go missed, and she tilts her head up to let Namjoo kiss her. This kiss is a little darker, a little headier, and Namjoo traces the seam of Hosook’s mouth with her tongue just before moving back to take a deep breath.

Hosook isn’t the only one with trembling hands, apparently.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Hosook says. She giggles softly, so overcome with excitement that it spills out of her naturally. “It’s just—you’re everything I want, and you’re my best friend, I didn’t want to ruin that by having feelings for you that you couldn’t reciprocate.”

She kisses the corner of Namjoo’s lips, and then just under her bottom lip, and then along her jaw. They still have things to talk about, but this—Namjoo is hers now, just like how Hosook has always been Namjoo’s. Hosook can kiss her now. She can show Namjoo every part of her that she’s loved for all these years, she can make up for all the time she’d spent pining—and the best part is that Namjoo feels the same way she does.

Hosook could have kept kissing her forever, if not for the loud smash coming from behind them. She squeaks and flinches almost all the way out of Namjoo’s arms, but Namjoo only holds her tighter.

Their new cat had already jumped up onto the counters, and had knocked a salt shaker off the counter. The salt spilled out on the floor when the glass cracked, and she sniffs it curiously, innocently, like she hadn’t been the cause of the problem.

It’s not like Hosook had been particularly attached to the salt shaker, but now they’ve found out that their cat is potentially more mischievous than they’d anticipated.

That’s okay. Hosook can handle a misbehaving cat, especially with Namjoo at her side. There are much worse things to be upset about.

Hosook bites on her bottom lip to keep herself from laughing out loud. "So," she says, "have you picked out a name for our baby?"