For as long as Nayeon can remember, she had always seen them - the tiny blinking numbers on a person’s right wrist. If she were to describe it, it looks like a blurry digital clock tattooed permanently on one’s skin.
The first time she noticed them on her's, she asked her mother what it meant.
“Do you not see these blue scribbles, Ma?”
She pointed at her wrists and shoved her tiny limbs on her mother’s face for the older woman to see. Her mother got a little frantic, worried that her daughter got another bruise again from playing too much. But as soon as she saw her daughter’s perfectly clear skin, she dismissed her daughter’s worries in an instant and played it off as one of Nayeon’s little games.
Nayeon never got a scolding, just a silly smile from her mom and a reminder that it’s not good to make up stories.
She didn't even get to ask why the mark on her mom's looks slightly different and has a crimson colour unlike hers.
Nayeon never brought it up again to anyone, figured she’s the only one that can see them. And if her own mother doesn’t believe her then she's sure no one else would.
It never stopped her curiosity though, always wondered what it meant. And as she grew older, she learned to figure it out on her own.
It’s a countdown.
A countdown to when you'll meet the love of your life.
The idea entered her mind when she first saw the numbers on her older cousin's wrist finally register zero and it's colour immediately turned red. That was when her Yoona unnie met Yuri unnie for the first time.
It's a few years after when Yoona tells her that what she felt at that exact moment was love at first sight.
She remembers gently grabbing her unnie's wrist, inspecting it carefully and not minding how bizarre it might look to the older girl. It amazed her how the symbol looks exactly like her mother's -- two red interconnected ovals that she learns later on was a symbol for infinity.
She looks at her own. Still blue. And a tiny part of her got a little excited for what the universe has in store for her.
As Nayeon got a little bit older, she learned that the universe isn't as kind as she initially thought. After meeting so many wonderful people, she notices the red marks on people's wrists vary a little. She realizes that the ability she had first thought was a gift, is actually a curse.
She thinks of her younger self, extremely enthusiastic about the world and a bit more positive. She really thought that when you meet the love of your life, everything will just fall into place. A red infinity sign will automatically replace the mark on your skin and that’s it. But apparently it isn’t always the case.
For she has now seen countless people have the counter reset even after meeting the love of their lives. And sometimes another countdown starts.
A countdown to when they’ll eventually fall out of love.
Nayeon asks herself for the hundredth time why she even hangs out with her friends during lunch when all she can see is this.
“Baby, you should try this one.” Sana tells Jihyo as she feeds a spoonful of her food into her girlfriend's mouth.
Nayeon looks away before she completely barfs at the sight. But as soon as she turns her view to the right she sees Chaeyoung and Tzuyu.
Always the quiet ones, Chaeyoung just kept doodling on her pad, not minding the food in front of her. Nayeon feels a bit concerned with the way the taller girl adjusted her body just so she can rest her head on Chaeyoung's shoulder and continue to watch whatever her girlfriend is doing.
Nayeon smiles at that. Warmth blooms in her heart as she sees the familiar mark on their wrists that still sometimes makes her believe in happy endings.
She can't say the same for the couple beside her though.
The two are back again with their silly banters ending up with Dahyun whining and Momo immediately apologizing for being too clingy.
"You know how much I love the fat under your chin Dahyunnie." The older says with a pout and all is right again with the world.
Nayeon worries but she knows it's best not to meddle.
She had learned now how to avoid looking at her own mark, but her eyes had betrayed her and she saw a glimpse of it. She tries not to think about what it means though.
Good thing a familiar scent wafts through the air. Jasmine. It registers instantly in Nayeon's head.
A hand instinctively goes to her cheek and she feels a slight fondle. She doesn't react to it except smile at her best friend's unique way of saying hi.
"Anything happened while I'm away?" Mina asks as she settles beside Nayeon.
"Nothing much. Just a normal day with Sana and Jihyo being gross over there."
Nayeon easily dodges the flying french fry that came towards her, courtesy of Jihyo of course. Mina gives them a disapproving look. Sana immediately apologizes. Momo tries to salvage the fallen potato. And Chaeyoung snorts at the scene.
Nayeon's right. It's just another normal day for them.
As soon as the commotion dies down and peace has been restored, Jihyo catches her attention.
"Do you know Jeongyeon's coming back?"
Nayeon's ears ring at the mention of the familiar name. Scenes of afternoon bike rides at the park, strawberry flavoured ice cream cones in the nearby ice cream shop, and the taste of comforting home cooked meals all flashed through Nayeon's mind with just a mention of a single name. She smiles at the memory and responds quickly.
"It's about time she comes back!"
Jihyo returns the same look because God how they miss their other best friend.
Mina asks her quietly, "Is that..?
"Yes." Nayeon answers in a beat. "Our other best friend who moved just before you came here. The previous owner of your house, Jeongyeon."
Mina simply nods her head. But Nayeon knows something is quite not right.
"So what is it?"
Mina tries her best not to make eye contact, embarrassed that she needs to do this again.
"Coming with me later?" She hears the other girl. She faces her best friend and sees her still looking so shy. Nayeon automatically knows what's up.
"You don't even have to ask." She reassures Mina.
"You got another love letter, unnie?" Dahyun speaks up as she finally frees herself from Momo's death grip.
A blush automatically creeps up to Mina's face that never fails to amuse Nayeon. Even after all the suitors that had attempted to confess to her with her ending up rejecting, the other girl still hasn't got used to it. Still completely unaware of her effect on people.
There's a collective oh's that resonated within their small group.
"Another heart to break, Mina unnie?" Chaeyoung asks and it just makes the blush on the other girl's face deeper, if that's even possible.
"But why do you always ask Nayeon to come with you? I mean, we're perfectly capable of being a bystander while you rip another random person's heart out." Sana asks out of pure curiosity. A faint smile on her lips to let Mina know she's just playing.
"Because she's a good judge of character." Mina ignores Sana's teasing. She just answers back and shares a knowing look with Nayeon.
Jihyo was about to speak up but Tzuyu beats her to it.
"It's true. That's one of her few good traits."
No dares to speak up. They don't really talk about it but there's a quiet agreement between them that Tzuyu always has authority among them. It's kinda funny when Nayeon thinks about it since the taller girl is actually the youngest. It's probably with the way Tzuyu acts. Always speaking truthfully, with straight blunt words but never demeaning. Well, not intentionally.
The bell rings and one by one they went on to their respective classes. And just when she was about to enter the room for her 3rd period math class Nayeon receives a text.
'Missed me, grandma?'
Nayeon keeps a safe distance away from Mina but makes sure that she's able to keep an eye on her best friend. She picks the perfect spot, one where she can clearly see Mina's face as well as her wrists. She watches the scene before her that seems like a replay from the many other instances that happened from before. The only thing that changes every time is the person standing in front of Mina.
Their eyes finally meet and Nayeon gives her the signal. Mina subtly nods and like a well rehearsed act, she gives the random guy in front of her a sad smile and a sincere apology.
It takes a few while for the guy to compose himself. Mina stays there to keep him company because she's Mina - kind and soft hearted. Nayeon also doesn't move, ready to come to her best friend's aid if ever it gets ugly.
It didn't take long for the guy to calm down and eventually leave. Nayeon takes this as her cue to come closer.
"Still not it?" Mina asks as soon as she can hear her. She shakes her head in response.
She sees the disappointment flash momentarily through her best friend's eyes. Nayeon doesn't comment on it.
"Come on let's get you some ice cream."
It puts a smile on Mina's lips.
Nayeon feels content just by looking.
Mina knows about it. Of course she does.
It just happened one random night, years after they met, when Nayeon felt brave enough to tell a single soul about her secret.
To be honest she expected the worst. A laugh, a judgemental look, or even a snide comment. But she received nothing of the sort. Instead, Mina reached out her hand to her and said "What does mine look like?"
Nayeon felt the safest in that moment.
"Still blue and a little more time left off it."
She remembers Mina retracting her hand and inspecting it as if she'd be able to see what Nayeon is seeing. But of course she doesn't.
"Promise to tell me when it changes?"
Nayeon smiles knowing the other girl's not looking.
They met with Jeongyeon that same weekend.
The Jeongyeon from her memory is still one with a short haircut, baggy clothes and a bit rounder especially around the cheeks. The Jeongyeon now however is the complete opposite. Having lost all the baby fats and choosing to grow her hair out, even with the still baggy clothes that she pulls off so perfectly, the other girl can definitely pass off as a model.
It didn't take long for them to go back to their regular banters as if no years had passed and they're still the same kids from back then.
"So when are you gonna introduce me to your new friends?" Jeongyeon asks after they finished ordering food.
"After you've settled back in." Nayeon answers back.
"Are you really back for good though?" Jihyo adds in.
"Yup. I've finally convinced my parents to let me move back. Good thing my grandparents still live here so I'll be staying with them."
The two nod at that, happy that they get to have their best friend back with them.
"Why didn't you invite your girlfriend though? I was looking forward to meeting her the most." The taller girl tells them.
Jihyo answers the question that she safely assumed was for her and tells them of Sana's whereabouts.
Jeongyeon smiles and says "I was actually asking Nayeon. No offense Ji, I'm sure Sana's great. You two are just a little too 'out there' for me based on the pictures that I see online."
Nayeon wasn't able to mask her expression, confused as to whoever Jeongyeon is talking about. Until she realizes who the person is.
"For the millionth time, Mina and I are not together." She says bluntly.
Jeongyeon and Jihyo chuckle and share a look between them.
"Funny how you immediately thought of your 'Minari' when I didn't even mention a name."
Jeongyeon looks at her with a grin. Nayeon kept mum, afraid she might say something again.
The taller girl speaks up after a while. "So you'd be okay if I go after her?"
Nayeon looks up. Expecting a playful expression from Jeongyeon but she's welcomed with a straight, serious face. Even Jihyo stopped eating to witness the scene between the two.
Nayeon is conflicted. She's confused as to why the other girl is asking for her permission when Mina isn't even hers to begin with.
"Sure, why not." She tries her best to give them her most genuine reassuring smile, and hopes it works.
Jeongyeon nodded her head in acknowledgment, unable to hide her giddiness.
"Someone sent me a DM and I think you know who it is." Her best friend shows her phone to her face and she sees Yoo Jeongyeon's profile.
'She must really be serious then' Nayeon thinks.
"She's nice. You'll like her." Nayeon reassures her.
Just a few minutes after, she hears Mina laugh a little.
"You're right. She does seem nice."
And if Nayeon were to base it on Mina's face as she stared at her phone screen, it would definitely feel like an understatement.
Mina spends the night at Nayeon's, like any other normal night when the other girl feels a little too comfortable to get out of her bed and Nayeon feels a bit too tired to take her home.
She has her eyes closed but she remains awake in the wee hours of the night. Probably because of the arms securely wrapped around her torso that never fails to leave her a little breathless.
Just when she thought her best friend's already fast asleep, she hears the girl beside her speak up.
"What's your favorite thing about it?"
She hums a quiet reply, unsure of what Mina's talking about.
"Your gift. What do you like most about it?"
Nayeon thinks about it. Remembers all the lucky people she's met with the red infinity mark on their wrists.
"I like seeing the look on people's faces the first time they meet their person. I don't know but I feel like there's something magical going on around them that tells them that's it, that is the love of your life right there in front of you, even though they don't see what I see."
Nayeon remembers the exact look on Jihyo's face the first time she saw Sana. It was the very first time Nayeon saw the other girl like that, so entranced with just a second of seeing Sana's perfectly magnificent face.
She smiles at the memory of tiny Jihyo complaining about how annoying Sana is when the other girl keeps on following her around, trying her hardest to deny how she also had the fattest crush on Sana. And look where they are now, with Jihyo not being able to stand just a day without seeing her girlfriend.
The same goes for their maknaes. The way Chaeyoung blurted out the words "I like you" to Tzuyu on their first day of meeting, and how the taller girl easily accepted the confession as if she's already thinking of doing the same thing. That will forever be on top of Nayeon's fondest memories.
"And what's the worst part about it?" The other girl continued to ask.
"Coming to realize that the universe is unfair."
Mina chuckles softly. A valid reaction. She realizes her answer does sound a little too emo.
Her best friend chose to disentangle herself from Nayeon, wanting to have a clearer view of her face when she answers the question.
"You know why."
She thinks about Dahyun and Momo and wishes she didn't have to know that what they have has an expiration date.
She already has a rough estimate on when that will happen. They still got long years ahead of them. Even longer for Momo, because of course no two people fall out of love at the same time.
Nayeon hopes the time they got is enough. She hopes they'll get through it.
"I'm just wondering.. does this mean all of us only get to fall in love once in this lifetime?"
Nayeon answers with "You know the quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald? There are all kinds of love in this world.."
"..but never the same love twice." Mina finishes it for her.
Nayeon allows herself to look at the other girl. She sees how serene Mina looks beside her, wearing her change of clothes. With slightly tousled hair, the girl remained still, waiting for her response. There's a smile on her face, a soft smile that Nayeon hopes is just reserved for her. At least for now.
"I just think that there's always gonna be that one person whom you'll love the deepest. Hardest. Someone that will make you the happiest and most probably the same one who'll break your heart the nastiest. And even though you may fall in love again multiple times to several other people, there's just one that's incomparable."
Nayeon raises her right hand over her head and stares at her mark. It stares back at her, mocking.
Mina follows suit and raises her own.
"Even if I get unlucky and have mine reset, I still wish to experience that kind of love. I still want to meet my person and spend whatever time I'll get with them.."
Mina returns to look at her. "..Don't you feel the same?"
"I just wish I had a bit of control over it. My feelings I mean..."
Mina inches her arms closer to hers and gently touches the mark on Nayeon's wrist as if she can see them. But Nayeon knows the other girl can't. Because in the rarest chance that Mina can, she knows they wouldn't be like this. It would be too cruel and Mina is far too kind to be cruel.
"..But I guess sometimes you fall in love the same way you fall out of it. Uncontrollable. Inevitable."
It didn't last long for Mina to retract her hand and encircle it back to Nayeon's body. She also snuggles closer this time.
"Will you tell me once yours turn red?"
The soft puffs of the other girl's breath on her skin together with the tighter embrace on her body just makes it even harder for her to breathe. Nayeon doesn't mind though. She revels in the feeling.
Nayeon doesn't reply. Not really sure how to answer that question.
She arrives at their usual place and sees the table empty except for Momo.
"SMC got a project to rush and Sahyo.. I honestly don't know what they're doing." Momo informs her before she can even ask.
"Mina's also coming a bit late today."
There's a pout on Momo's lips that Nayeon tries to erase by patting the younger girl on the head hoping it can comfort her a little. There's only a one year age difference between them but Nayeon has always felt a little more protective over Momo, even more than her younger friends. Probably because she knows that among them, Momo is the one who's more likely to suffer the most in the future.
The second she sat down, she felt her phone vibrate.
'About to ask Mina out this Saturday. Last chance of telling me to back off :)'
Nayeon stares at the text for a minute. She doesn't know why she's even considering it.
She types in a quick "ok" and immediately keeps her phone away, afraid she might change her mind.
"So I guess it's just you and me?" She hears Momo say.
"Just you and me."
"It's this Saturday.." Nayeon hears Mina say.
"...You're still coming with me right?"
She turns to look at Mina and sees the girl a little more excited than any other time that they've done this.
"Of course." Nayeon reassures her. "It's the first time you two will officially meet."
Mina sighs, nerves obviously showing. Her best friend isn't the selfish type, has always been content with whatever she already has. Probably the reason why it's so hard for her to admit what she'll say next.
"I really hope she's the one."
Nayeon looks at Mina's wrist and prepares herself.
Nayeon wakes up that Saturday morning a few hours earlier than normal. "This is the day. This is it." She tells herself.
She sends a quick text to Mina before getting up and starts preparing.
'see you later. be safe. <3'
"If she's still not it. That's still okay. I'll just enjoy the date. That's a good idea isn't it? Oh God what if I really am meeting the love of my life right now? Do you think I picked the right outfit Nayeonnie? Is my makeup alri--"
"What if it goes bad? What if it--"
Nayeon's running out of patience so she holds Mina's hand, stopping them from walking.
"Minari stop. You'll be okay. It'll be okay." She gives her a reassuring smile which helps her best friend calm down. The worry on Mina's face is gradually fading.
"What if it resets?"
Nayeon wasn't able to respond straight away. She really doesn't want to think about Mina getting hurt and her being the one to tell her. But she needs to erase those thoughts away, be strong for the other girl because this is it.
"We'll figure it out together."
The grip on her hand gets tighter. Nayeon holds on for now.
It only took a few minutes more until Mina received a text from Jeongyeon informing her that she'll be arriving in a few minutes.
She and Mina chose to sit and wait on a bench in front of the cafe where they agreed to meet. The whole time, Nayeon just continued to play with Mina's fingers. A foolproof way of helping the girl relax. Nayeon has always been with Mina everytime the girl needs to calm her nerves down. For years, Nayeon has always been with Mina, and knows the other girl's every quirks and habits. For years, she has been with Mina and plans to stay with the girl as long as Mina needs her.
Nayeon sees the familiar silhouette of her childhood friend first. Mina's attention is still on her with her back facing the girl who just arrived. A tiny part of Nayeon didn't even want her best friend to know, look back and make everything real for the three of them.
But Jeongyeon waves at her as soon as she sees them and Nayeon knows she can't delay it any longer.
She gently holds Mina's hand and tells her "She's here."
She looks at her best friend's wrist and sees only a few seconds left off it. Nayeon really doesn't want to let go. She's thinking, maybe she can cheat the universe? Force Mina to only look at her until the countdown stops.
But Nayeon knows it doesn't work that way.
The timer continues to approach zero, a countdown to when Mina will finally meet the love of her life and unfortunately it's not her. She watches it turn second by second and it makes her feel like the countdown is actually for her. For her to stop whatever she's doing and just let Mina go.
And maybe because she knows this is probably her last chance to say this without feeling guilty she tells the girl in front of her.
"I love you, Mina."
Mina smiles that sweet smile at her.
And she lets go.
Nayeon sees it all happen. The timer stopping the exact second Mina turns her head and sees Jeongyeon on the other side of the road. She sees the mark immediately turning into infinity and she looks at Jeongyeon's wrist to witness the same thing happening.
Mina slowly moves away from her and closer to one that she's meant to be with, and it leaves Nayeon there looking at her own wrist that has the same mark as her two friends in front of her.
A red infinity mark stares back at her, the very same mark that she got the first time she saw the girl in front of her. A constant reminder that she'll always be Mina's even though the girl is someone else's.
There's an excruciating pain cursing throughout her body and she tries her hardest not to cry right there.
But Mina looks back at her. She offers the same smile that she always reserved for Nayeon and tells her
"I love you too, Nayeonnie."
It alleviates the hurt and she finally accepts her fate.
Maybe being in love with Mina for the rest of her life wouldn't be so bad after all.