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That day when we first met, an unfamiliar afternoon

You and I, we have started to become “we”

 

+

 

Minjoo thinks it begins on a Tuesday when Chaewon comes waltzing back into her life.

She’s got short brown hair, brushing over her shoulders, her smile still blindingly brilliant and those eyes —those eyes— so round and dark, so comforting and familiar.

 

+

 

It had been a bit over 6 years since the last time Minjoo had seen Chaewon. The last time was Eunbi’s thirtieth birthday party where their old team leader had managed to somehow pull the greatest feat of gathering the twelve of them together. Minjoo doesn’t remember much from that night except that it was really boozy.

A few years later and they’re both thirty themselves now but age hasn’t really affected Chaewon. From across the road she still looks like the same girl Minjoo stood on stage with all those years ago. She still wears hoodies that are way too big for her, chunky sneakers to make her seem taller and a beanie to keep her head warm. Chaewon was always about comfort and in some ways it reminds her how Chaewon used to be Minjoo’s comfort. 

She laughs to herself. 

This wasn’t how it was meant to be between them. Their friendship was the kind that was meant to last. Afterall you don’t go through the highest of highs and lowest of lows together and not last. Chaewon was meant to be the friend she called whenever she was having a bad day, or even a good day. She would’ve been the friend that randomly responded to her 3am text messages when she couldn’t sleep, friend to go on lunch dates with, friend at all her parties and celebrations, her bridesmaid and godmother to her first born.

The point is — Chaewon was meant to stick around in the forever kinda way.

It wasn’t always like this though.

Their time together in their late teens and early twenties were some of the most memorable of Minjoo’s life. Performing on stage together, travelling together, eating, sleeping and laughing with each other like one giant family was something that Minjoo learnt to cherish especially after all her years of being alone prior. 

Eventually their contracts expire and all of them go their own way despite their futile attempts to stick together. Most of them re-debuted as performers with varying degrees of success. Minjoo however decided to continue on the path of being an actress even though there are days where she misses the stage terribly. She misses seeing the delighted expressions of people as she sang and danced, misses them singing along with her, misses the girls standing beside her and hoping that it would always be this way.

Still, they kept in touch — busy as they were trying to adjust to their new lives. In the first year post disbandment they were adamant on doing frequent catch-ups, by the second year they realised how childish it was to believe that they could with all their mismatched schedules.

They tried to keep their group chat alive for a while and on some days it felt like nothing had really changed. Then it did. Mostly phone numbers at first, stalkers leaking some of their information making it hard to keep. Eventually it becomes difficult to keep track and the group chat dies too and it turns into more private one on one chats but at least they were still friends or at least Minjoo thought.

Chaewon’s across the road from her, climbing out of her car whilst trying to juggle some items in her hands and Minjoo feels butterflies fluttering about in the pit of her stomach. Minjoo strums her fingers on the table, she hadn’t realised that her leg had been shaking for the past minute as she contemplated chasing Chaewon across the road. It wasn’t so much of a question of if she wanted to it was more if Chaewon would want to speak to her — after all it had been six years. She picks up her coffee off the counter and quickly scribbles on the receipt roll her signature that the barista had asked for in exchange for the free coffee before running out the door.

“Can I help you?” a sweet voice appears from over the table. The receptionist’s eyes widened, recognising her immediately. “Y-you’re K-kim Minjoo. I’m a big fan!”

“Hi,” she eeks, clears her throat and opens her mouth to speak when the receptionist cuts her off again.

“Are you here for Miss Kim?” She’s surprised that she remembers even though it’s been years. She wonders if she was an IZ*ONE fan or if she’s a new fan that knows of Minjoo’s past — after all it’s her origin story of sorts. 

“Uhm, yes, Chaewon unnie,” Minjoo points aimlessly into the building. She’s not even entirely sure if she’s pointing in the right direction of anything. However if there’s any moment in time where she’s be glad she’s been recognised on the street it was now.

“She’s just in the Gold Studio on level five.”

“Thank you,” Minjoo bows politely as the gates open for her to pass through.

 

+

 

The elevator ride feels like an eternity. 

She figures it’s the anticipation of seeing Chaewon again and the knots forming in the pit of her stomach. When the lifts open she finds herself in a warmly lit corridor that reminds her a bit of the recording studio they used to spend their days in as team members. She walks down the straight corridor and past a few rooms, peering into each one with the hopes of spotting her. “Jade Studio, Platinum Studio…” Minjoo reads as she scans her eyes past the signs on the door. “Gold Studio.”

She peers nervously through the glass panel to find Chaewon hunched over a table. Minjoo takes a minute to compose herself, brushes invisible specks of dust off her clothes and straightens out her hair. She feels giddy like a girl going on her first date. Shuffling out of view of the glass window she knocks twice on the door and hears a muffle from the other side, assuming it’s an invitation to enter.

Minjoo pokes her head through the crack and turns around the corner. Chaewon doesn’t look up immediately, she’s still attentively scribbling notes in her notepad and it feels all too reminiscent of their days back in the dorm. Minjoo stands for a minute, holding her breath, unsure whether or not she should speak first. “Chaewon unnie…” 

Chaewon raises her head slowly, eyes scanning the white sneakers, blue denim jeans and blazer making its way up to Minjoo’s face. “Is that… Best Actress Kim Minjoo?

“In the flesh,” she flips the end of her hair over her shoulder and feels her body recoil slightly from embarrassment.

“Yah!” Chaewon cries, “What are you doing here?” she leaps up off the chair and pulls her in for a hug.

“Was wondering if there was an opening on Gemini for me to join.” Minjoo wraps her arms around her waist, hands fisted into her hoodie to make sure that she’s real. She feels the knots in her stomach begin to release sending waves of just joy and excitement across her body, reaching her fingertips as her hands find Chaewon’s when they break away from their hug.

It really has been too long.

“You say that like we didn’t want that originally,” Chaewon laughs it off. It was something they had discussed originally for Minjoo to join Chaewon’s debut lineup with Eunbi. Except contracts are more than just pieces of papers and Minjoo is loyal to a fault even if it meant sticking to a company that couldn’t support her music career. There’s still a twinge in Chaewon’s chest at the thought of what could’ve been. If only Minjoo wasn’t Minjoo but if Minjoo wasn’t Minjoo then Chaewon would’ve never loved her for being her. 

“But what are you doing here?”

“Had a meeting in the area with the director for my next project and saw a pretty girl across the street. But enough about me, how are you?”

“Well… I spend my days wrapped up in this room now, it’s basically like my second home, writing, composing, you know what I used to do back in the days. Except I’m a lot more competent at it. I’m working on some songs for my comeback...”

Minjoo smiles at the thought, she can see it clearly. She imagines Chaewon hunched over the table, iced tea and piles of snacks as her diet, earphones plugged in as she disconnects from the world to work on her lyrics. She’d spend hours just humming the same tune and writing and rewriting her lyric and when she can’t she’ll just move to another corner of the house for inspiration. Minjoo sees it evident in the small piles of rubbish scattered in each corner of the room like a little nest.

“Hey, so do you want to grab a bite later?” Minjoo asks as she makes a scooping motion with her hands.

 

+

 

Some things never change, like how their favourite dining place is the one closest to their old dorm. How the first thing they’ll order is the wagyu beef set despite the demand for their bodies to be in good shape. Chaewon always orders extra kimchi and a bottle of soju to start them off, because back then the only one who couldn’t drink were the maknaes — well at least only ever in front of their managers. Whatever they did in their dorms, in their rooms was a different story. 

Minjoo remembers that night. 

They were hiding Yujin and Wonyoung in her room when their manager came in to check on them, assuring her they were fine despite their flushed cheeks and nervous giggles. Yujin and Wonyoung had discussed with Eunbi about wanting to drink with the older members even though they weren’t of age. It was a trust thing but also a sentimental thing. They were never going to be a group like this again so they wanted to celebrate properly with the people who had grown to be like family to them.

“So what else is going on with you, how many new acting projects are on the horizon?” Chaewon asks.

“Two. I start filming for one in three weeks and we were just having a bit of a discussion about the character today. I have a movie we’ll have to start training me for straight after since it’ll be an action role.” She examines the meat on the grill, she likes it a touch seared on the outside with a bit of pink in the middle so that it’s still tender to eat. “What about you? When is your next comeback? Did you end up going to Japan for the concert?”

“Plenty of times,” she chomps down on another piece of meat. “We’re there at least once every two months for promotions. I caught up with Kkura unnie and Nako when we went back. Eunbi and I went to visit them in Tokyo. Tomi couldn’t make it to Tokyo in time...”

“How are they?” Minjoo feels guilty that she has to ask about her through Chaewon but acting keeps her in Korea most of the time. If ever she’s able to travel she’s either on a tight schedule or it was always too late notice to organise a catch up with her former Japanese members.

“They’re good, Kkura’s trying to compose a lot more now too since she graduated from her group a few years ago. She’s doing a bit more acting too. So you know… just like you. Nako doing variety shows and Tomi’s apparently opened up a dance studio in her city.”

“I miss them.”

“They miss you too,” Chaewon says, a message she forgot to deliver all those years ago.

They catch up on the whereabouts of each of the members, taking turns to fill in the gaps of missing information with what they knew. Like how Wonyoung was going to America for a photoshoot and participate in a fashion show, Yujin had been casted as a new cast member on a variety show or how Yena and Chaeyeon and their groups were making a comeback soon themselves. They talk about Yuri and how Minjoo finally went to visit her in Busan and how Chaewon still catches up with Hyewon when Eunbi drags her along to their brunches together.

“So we kept in contact with mostly everyone but each other.” Minjoo’s voice trails off and she downs another cup of alcohol. She wonders when it began to taste so sweet to her. 

“Yeah…” Chaewon laments.

The more she stared at Chaewon the more Minjoo realised how different Chaewon was. Not physically so much. She was still drowning in her hoodies, and her smile was still charmingly perfect and disarming. Her bangs were still just curled over her eyebrows, short brown hair like when they were promoting together all those years ago. There’s something else about her that’s different. Something that you can’t really see — more like a feeling.

Chaewon used to tell her that despite Minjoo’s age, she was always someone that Chaewon could rely on. She used to tell her that Minjoo was mature for her age which was why Minjoo always took pride when people didn’t realise that she was younger than Chaewon from the way they acted. Except this Chaewon here feels like a whole different kind of beast. 

She feels more mature, more calm and more steadfast in the way she speaks. She’s not trying to change the way she talks or act to mimic the person she’s talking to. She’s not trying to please everyone or maybe she doesn’t feel the need to please Minjoo. 

“Eat up,” Chaewon makes eating motions with her hands, “We’re here now so let's just have fun tonight,” she assures the younger girl.

Minjoo brushes off the thoughts and turns back to the burning grill, food already piled up in her bowl, to which she can only assume that Chaewon had placed it there for her.

Minjoo takes a bite of beef and smiles, “Cheers?” she’s swift to pick up the small shot glass and the two girls toast to their reunion.

 

+

 

Minjoo used to be able to hold her drink better. 

It’s been a few years now since she had this much to drink. Even at her own social outings and company dinners she would only keep to a simple glass of wine. However, being with Chaewon made her nervous and excited at the same time — allowing her to let her inhibitions go and leaving behind four empty bottles of soju at their table between the two of them. “Thanks for letting me stay here,” she sighs, arms and legs spread across the chair in Chaewon’s lounge. 

They’re back in Chaewon’s Gangnam apartment where she’s been living for the past three years alone. 

“That’s fine, I can’t let you go home right now anyways, that would make me a terrible friend,” she tosses over some shorts and a t-shirt to her. “Wear these to sleep, you’ll be much more comfortable.”

Minjoo sits herself up, and slides off the couch ungracefully and looks at Chaewon with a pout. “Unnie,” Minjoo flails cutely on the floor and sticks her hands up into the air, “Chaewon unnie,” Minjoo shouts again, the smile on her face is so wide that Chaewon’s afraid it’ll crack if she doesn’t stop. Chaewon sighs, walks over to her and grabs her hand, leaning back with her body to pull Minjoo. It sends her flying into Chaewon’s arms however as Chaewon fights to keep them upright. “Bathroom?” Minjoo asks, face really close to Chaewon who winces at the smell of alcohol.

Chaewon points down the corridor “Third door on the right.”

Minjoo nods, taps Chaewon’s nose and winks before stumbling down the hallway towards the bathroom. As she closes the bathroom door Minjoo sits on the toilet seat for a minute to gather her thoughts before she even begins to fathom exerting effort to get changed. She tries her best to sober up by splashing her face with cold water but it seems to have no effect. Instead she feels her limbs becoming more numb and Minjoo is simply ready for a warm bed to crawl into.

Minjoo takes off her blouse and slips on Chaewon’s oversized t-shirt. She unhooks her bra, letting it drop onto the floor and strips out of her pants, leaving the shorts Chaewon gave her on top of the pile too. She stumbles out of the bathroom into the room directly opposite it and flops onto the bed.

“The guest room is down that way,” Chaewon comes out of her closet with a fresh t-shirt and shorts on. 

“I’m not sleepy yet,” Minjoo says, “Just really drunk…” 

Chaewon turns off the light and walks to her bed without trouble. She sits on the edge of the bed and tries to push Minjoo aside, trying to tuck her limbs away so that she can make space for herself on her own bed. She shuffles in beside Minjoo and switches on the bedside lamp. It lit the room with a honey glow and Minjoo feels a warmth wash over her as Chaewon tucks her under the blanket alongside her.

“How has it been so long since we’ve last spoken to each other like this?” Minjoo asks, twisting her body to face Chaewon, limbs invading her space all over again. 

“And you just freely use banmal ?” Chaewon teases.

“You never cared, that’s why I liked you the most.” 

It was true. Despite being a year older (technically six months) than Minjoo, Chaewon often let her get away with a lot of informalities. It was a reflection of their relationship, more of an equal friendship than anything else.

“Go to sleep, you’re drunk.” Chaewon pushes her over slightly allowing Minjoo to roll outwards and back in closer towards her. 

“Do you remember how we almost got in trouble for getting Wonyoung and Yujin drunk?” Minjoo casually runs her hand up Chaewon’s thigh and rests it on her waist. 

“Oh gosh don’t remind me,” Chaewon says like it’s a dark mark on her past. The closest thing she’s done to breaking the law was supplying minors with alcohol. “Yena unnie kept pouring them drinks even when I begged her to stop.” 

“Do you think they were traumatised for life?” 

“I hope so, drinking isn’t as fun as it’s cracked up to be.” Chaewon’s trying to get a grip on the world spinning around her which seems to be exacerbated at the fact that she’s lying down, or that Minjoo seems to be invading her breathing space.

“Are you kidding me?” Minjoo snuggles up closer to Chaewon. “I haven’t felt this carefree in such a long time. That’s not to say that I need to drink to feel happy — but you know. It’s just so fun.”  Chaewon smiles, eyes fixed on her as Minjoo gulps down hard the bile coming back up.  “I’ve missed this — how we used to live together.” 

“Ah, all the bad memories of you sleeping with me are running back…” Chaewon says teasingly. They used to pair up a lot during their overseas trip. Call it fate or destiny but they always seemed to pick the same straw when it came to being roommates. “The sleep talking, the being smacked in the face when you move in your sleep, gummy bears and chocolate bar wrappers under my pillow the next morning… I also remember that night you kept sobbing at 2am because your favourite drama character died...”

“I was really sad that night! You didn’t even ask me if I was doing well, you just told me to sleep!” Minjoo glares at Chaewon with a smirk on her lips “But anyway, I am better now!”

“And you know this because you’re not asleep right?”

Minjoo scoffs, “No, my boyfriend – well ex-boyfriend, told me that.”

“Kim Minjoo!” Chaewon squeals out of delight and grabs Minjoo tightly by the arm “You’ve done it?”

Minjoo is quick to sit up, which wasn’t a good idea as the throbbing pain shoots up into her brain before she falls back onto the bed into a ball. “No! Well I mean...” she’s trying to make herself feel comfortable again which seems impossible. 

“Sleeping with men,” Chaewon clicks her tongue teasingly.

Minjoo blushes and turns away, “Well we’re not that young anymore, it’s only natural for us to be in relationships and be intimate…” she feels her ears burning red hot, “I mean I’ll bet you have as well.” Chaewon just smiles, closes her eyes and makes herself comfortable. Her lack of response is simply unacceptable for Minjoo who is still buzzing. “Unnie!” Minjoo squeals and pulls the pillow from underneath her, throwing it on Chaewon’s face.

“Yah, Kim Minjoo!” Chaewon sits up and rolls over her, straddling her hips and pinning her arms against the mattress. “You’re dead,” she says victoriously as her hands move to around Minjoo’s waist, tickling her mercilessly as she pleads with her to stop.

It was war. 

 

+

 

Minjoo wakes up the next morning, face pressed up against Chaewon’s back, hand pressed recklessly against the bare skin of her belly underneath her shirt. She knows it’s morning already and she desperately wishes that she could go back to sleep but her body won’t let her. She’s far too excited about being here, in Chaewon’s house, in her bed, next to her. 

She wants to wake Chaewon up so that they could continue their conversation from last night but she remembers how Chaewon loved her sleep and she would hate to disturb. Instead she slips out of bed quietly, making sure she tucks Chaewon in comfortably before she does, and wanders around the apartment.

There wasn’t anything strikingly odd about the way Chaewon’s apartment looked that didn’t resonate with what Minjoo already knew. There’s a lot of clean white walls and white window frames, marble for the floor. Her interior was modern chic with a clean colour palette and had a relaxed elegance to it. She probably didn’t want or need to do much though when her view of the city was so beautiful she need not distract from it.

In her apartment Chaewon has a room where she stores and hangs her memorabilia and things from her career. There are trophies, fan portraits and signed CDs from other celebrities. Minjoo can’t help but feel nostalgic herself as her fingers graze across the shelves where Chaewon had kept her IZ*ONE collection, eyes scanning the frames on the wall with pictures of their younger selves.

She finds on the shelves a few signed CDs they received when they were promoting, and then their last album. Wonyoung was insistent that they made it sentimental, by scribbling down a few things in each copy, like it was a high school yearbook.

Unnie, you know I love and respect you very much right? Please don’t ever change - Yujin 

Chaewon, it’s you and me now. You can always trust me - I’ll keep all your secret safe. – Eunbi

You better come out to eat now when I tell you to. If I see you’ve lost too much weight you’re in trouble… – Hyewon

ROOMMATES FOR LIFE IF YOU SLEEP WITH ANYONE ELSE THAT’S CHEATING AND I GET TOY GANJANG IN THE SETTLEMENT - YENA (IS THE BESTEST AND YOU LOVE HER THE MOST)

She rolls her eyes – typical Yena.

She turns to her page, and frowns a bit ‘Call me when you’re sad, call me when you’re happy, call me when you can’t sleep or just call me when you’re fine. Life partners forever - right? – Kim Mindyu’

There’s a photo album sitting on the shelf that makes Minjoo curious. She’s about to flip through it when she hears her phone from outside – she rushes to pick it up to make sure the sound doesn’t wake up Chaewon. “Hello?” she whispers into the phone and makes her way to the kitchen to make sure that the sound doesn’t travel to Chaewon’s room.

“Did I catch you at a bad time?” Eunbi notes the hushed tone.

“No,” Minjoo clears her throat and speaks a little louder, “No you didn’t, I’m actually at Chaewon’s place - we had dinner last night and she let me stay over. She’s just still sleeping so I didn’t want to wake her.”

“Wait. You’re with Chaewon? That’s why she wasn’t answering any of my calls last night?”

“Oh, we got a bit drunk last night…” Minjoo props herself up on the kitchen bench and lets her feet swing freely off the ground. “I’ll get her to call you later… but what did you need from me?”

“Okay… so I wanted to know how busy you’d be in the next coming months.”

“Why?”

“Well I wanted to propose we work on a song together. I know you said last time that you wanted to dip back into composing again but you were too busy so I wanted to see where you were at.”

“Oh…” Minjoo feels her heart sink, “I’m actually going to be busy with two projects from now till the third quarter. Maybe next time…”

“Well that’s disappointing. How about you just let me know when you’re free, even if it’s just a weekend. I’ll take you back into the studio and we can write some songs like the good old days. I’m sure Chaewon would love it too...”

“Unnie… did you know that Chaewon and I haven’t spoken to each other in years.”

“What do you mean? I call you at least once a month and you’re telling me that your whole life partners schtick didn’t last?”

“Apparently not. I just never realised that I got my updates from you about her and she said the same. We just let everything slide after that.”

“It doesn’t matter, you still found your way back to each other right?” Minjoo hears Eunbi’s voice on the other line, teasing her like a child “Cheer up, ok, kiddo - you’re with her right now?”

“Yeah, we stayed up last night and she told me a lot of things in her life that had happened over the past six years…”

“There you are,” she sighs in relief. Chaewon walks into the room, hair messy, eyes still bleary, and hands running all over her body underneath her shirt to keep herself warm.

“Oh good morning, unnie...” Minjoo's eyes light up as she walks into the room, a smile creeps on her lips at how cute she looked having just woken up. It feels like old times again when she had to wake Chaewon up in time for their schedule.

Chaewon drags her feet over to Minjoo, mouth forming the words ‘Who?’ as Minjoo responds in the same way with ‘Eunbi unnie.’

“Oh let me talk to her. She’s been trying to avoid me because I want to ask her about that girl she went on a date with…”

“Wait- hold up? Girl...she went on a...date...with..?”

Chaewon’s eyes widen as she snatches the phone away from Minjoo but not before almost sending it flying across the room from the sheer force. “Kwon Eunbi, what do you want?”

“I was just calling to check on Minjoo – sorry Chaewon-ah!” Eunbi knows that she’s messed up, “It slipped but I also...maybe thought…she said you told her things last night so I thought… you came out… I mean it came out - the information. Not you - or maybe you...”

“Unnie!” Chaewon whines.

“Answer your phone the next time I try to call you then…” Eunbi huffs in response but her voice softens, “But also don’t worry, it’s Minjoo - you can trust her. I’m sorry Chaewon-ah, forgive me, I love you…”

“That’s exactly why she-”

Eunbi hangs up the phone quickly before Chaewon can say another word - or rather - shout another word at her. Chaewon sighs and hands Minjoo back the phone, afraid to meet her eyes.

“Coffee?” Chaewon asks immediately, voice shaking.

“You like girls?”

This is where Minjoo isn’t entirely sure if she’s got the right to ask especially since it’s been so long since they last spoke.

“Not exclusively…” Chaewon replies. She sounds a bit frustrated in the way her voice is strained as she tries her best to respond to Minjoo’s question politely. “If you meet someone, who can make you love them, who cares about gender...” she mumbles because she’s tired of repeating this explanation a hundred times over.

Minjoo appreciates the sentiment and that Chaewon is open-minded enough to take that approach. “Since when?” she asks. A sheepish grin appears on her face as she slides over, closer to Chaewon. Chaewon squirms under Minjoo’s touch and pulls away quickly but she tries to play it off as she makes herself a cup of coffee.

“I think that’s for another time, if I tell you everything now you’ll just run away and never come back.” She’s trying so desperately to deflect with the hopes that Minjoo doesn’t ask anymore questions because she simply can’t handle it right now.

Minjoo pouts like a child not getting what she wanted but if there’s anything she’s found, it’s her new respect for Chaewon. No longer childish, but someone who has aged so well with time.

“Breakfast then?” she suggests and Chaewon nods. Minjoo takes a seat across the table and stares “Thanks unnie, please add extra honey to my yoghurt!” she rests her head on her palms and smiles.

“Of course” Chaewon scoffs, finding familiarity and comfort from Minjoo’s childishness “Some things never change.”

 

+

 

Minjoo comes back the following night. 

She was rather persistent in coming back for dinner that she self invites herself back for TV dinners and a scary movie which was Chaewon’s futile attempt at scaring her away. Normally when there was ever a scary movie on, Minjoo would be the first to pick up her feet and go whilst Chaewon would stay behind with the girls like Yuri and Yena. Tonight though, Minjoo stays, (mostly because she has nowhere else to go) fists buried into Chaewon’s shirt, and body shielded by Chaewon and many layers of pillows and blankets.

It’s fun until Minjoo’s throat becomes all sore and scratchy from screaming, and Chaewon’s ears are almost bleeding. 

“Here, honey, lemon tea,” Chaewon hands over the warm cup to Minjoo, taking back her seat on the couch. “You know I hate scary movies,” Minjoo sighs.

“You picked it!”

“You said it was comedy!”

“It is pretty hilarious how terrible the CGI is,” Chaewon grins mischievously.

She sighs and takes a sip of the drink, settling down beside Chaewon again as the movie plays. She rests her head on Chaewon’s shoulders which is nothing out of the ordinary – at least for Minjoo anyway. She wraps her arms around Chaewon’s and entangles their fingers together because she needs something to hold onto when the scary monster pops onto the screen. 

Minjoo’s glad that her discovery of Chaewon’s bisexuality or whatever it is she calls it hasn’t affected their relationship with each other. Not that Minjoo would ever dare to think less of Chaewon because of it. She’s just glad that Chaewon hasn’t retreated into her shell entirely after Minjoo found out. Especially when breakfast that morning was a touch painful to sit through in the way she could tell that Chaewon wanted to simply be alone and that her presence felt like a burden. Except what Chaewon doesn’t know is that Minjoo just isn’t ready to lose the needle she’d spent so long looking for in the haystack - especially not over something like this.

“She’s pretty, don’t you think?” Minjoo asks.

“What are you trying to get at?” Chaewon eyes her suspiciously.

“I mean - don’t you think we sorta look alike? There are always netizen posts about it on the forums...” Minjoo says of the actress on the screen as she tilts her head sideways and looks over at Chaewon to mimic the expression. She’s a new and rising actress whose name escapes her even though she sees her face pop up in comparison posts a lot together.

Chaewon looks over at Minjoo with a serious face before she bursts out into laughter. “In what way?” she asks, eyes scanning Minjoo’s face. “...But I mean they used to think you looked like Tzuyu sunbae and even that was too much of a compliment...” 

“Say I’m cute!” Minjoo plants her hands on her hips and glares at Chaewon. “Say it…”

“You’re being weird…” Chaewon whines and tries to retreat into the back of the couch. Making herself as small as possible.

“Say I’m cute!” Minjoo pouts and puckers her lips but it would seem that Chaewon is relishing in this. So when she doesn’t respond after the third time Minjoo lunges at her and straddles her hips. She tickles her with her fingers and Chaewon squirms and wheezes as she tries to break free from her grip. “Say I’m cute!” Minjoo says again, there’s a little growl at the end of her sentence.

“Never!” Chaewon screams in defiance, still laughing as Minjoo’s fingers find her way across her body.

Minjoo isn’t sure why she’s so adamant on getting Chaewon’s approval, except maybe it’s been so long since Chaewon has complimented her in any way. “Kim Minjoo is the cutest girl in the world. She’s even cuter than baby pandas.”

“Unnie! Not the Pandas!” she pauses and throws her head back laughing and Chaewon quickly sits up, wraps her arms around Minjoo like she’s bundling her up and pulls her back down towards her.

Minjoo yelps as she falls into Chaewon’s arms and she feels Chaewon’s embrace tighten. “I’m not giving you another chance to tickle me…”

“I was just getting revenge from last night.” Minjoo puffs and blows away the strands of hairs from her face. She can hear Chaewon’s heart beating rapidly too as their breathing lines up with each other. They used to do this a lot, pre-show. Whenever Minjoo was stressed she’d always go to Chaewon for a hug and they’d match their breathing pre-show. It was a habit, a form of comfort that she had forgotten about until now.

“So who was your first?” Minjoo asks naively as she props herself up on Chaewon’s chest. “Girl I mean, who was the first girl you liked? How did you know?”

“Minjoo…” Chaewon grumbles and sits up so that Minjoo falls off her and back onto the couch. She knew where this was going the moment Minjoo was asking about pretty girls and she was trying to steer away from it. “Why do we need to talk about this?”

“No judgements, I just, you know... I just want to know…” When Chaewon doesn’t respond Minjoo leans in, “Was it a solo singer or a member of a girl group?”

“Hey!” Chaewon shouts, not expecting Minjoo to continue asking.

“Was it someone popular?”

“No, in fact, I heard they had a lot of anti fans…” Chaewon smirks and rolls her eyes at Minjoo.

“So still popular then?” Minjoo winks, “Was it someone from our company? One of the fromies?” Minjoo asks excitedly “Or was it someone like ITZY - we used to hang around them a lot because of Chaeyeon unnie. You and Ryujinnie got a lot really well too…” Minjoo narrows her eyes. “...Or was it a rookie group who debuted with us?”

“It was someone in our group…”

She freezes and curls her fingers around Chaewon’s wrist, “I don’t believe you…”

“Ok.” Chaewon says and falls back onto the couch, making herself comfortable by sliding under the blanket again but Minjoo pulls her back up by her hands again.

“Was it Eunbi unnie? That’s how she’s known all along! Am I right? Did you confess to her? Is that how she knows?” she asks excitedly like she’s on a trail but Chaewon feels sick at the notion. Of all people, Eunbi.

“Gross, she’s literally my older sister. No. Gross. What?” She’s so scandalised by the notion.

“Was it Yena unnie?”

“Is that a joke?”

“Well no. You guys became roommates and you got really close so I thought naturally… maybe…”

Chaewon throws her head back and laughs even harder which is enough of an answer for Minjoo. “I’m going to lose my mind,” Chaewon exhales.

“Surely not... the maknae. She had the legs and all that, aegyo – I mean any guy, or girl would fall for her.” 

“I’m not a pedophile!” she screams in defense.

“Hyewon unnie? You always said she was your type but I figured we all had our little crush on her at one point.”

“It was you you – Kim Minjoo – You! Are you happy?” Chaewon turns her attention back towards the television screen with Minjoo’s eyes still wide open. She feels her cheeks burning bright red as hot steam comes out of her nose. “Can you stop staring?” she asks, clearly a bit ruffled.

“Chaewon unnie,” Minjoo reaches for Chaewon but she shudders just a bit and pulls away “Sorry – I…” 

Chaewon stands up and grabs her empty glass of wine off the table and walks over to the kitchen. She pours herself a glass and finishes it all in one gulp when she turns to see Minjoo standing behind her. She’s going to need more than another glass of wine to deal with this. She’s going to need the whole bottle. Minjoo gives her a second to collect her thoughts before she approaches her. 

“Look, I’m sorry, I made this awkward if you need to leave…” Chaewon doesn’t turn around but she hears her coming towards her.

“It’s not weird, it’s completely fine!” Minjoo’s trying her best to lower the pitch of her voice. Minjoo wonders if she should leave – not because she wants to but because she can tell that Chaewon wants her to and it’s different this time than it was the other morning. She can see that Chaewon’s disconnecting and trying to pull away but it makes Minjoo feel even more firm in her decision to not leave - not again. “I’m just surprised” she laughs and Chaewon looks at her like she’s a mad woman. “I feel so blessed that I was the first girl Kim Chaewon ever liked!”

Chaewon doesn’t want to meet her gaze. She’s not ready for the look in her eyes that will show her how she really feels. She inches backwards, hand accidentally swiping at the glass of wine one the table - sending it spilling onto her marble bench top and Chaewon and Minjoo scrambling to try and dry it. Chaewon lets out an exhale of defeat.

“What was it you liked about me?” Minjoo asks, squeezing the spilt wine into the sink as Chaewon reaches for the wine bottle again to fill her own glass. “Was it my pretty face? Or my singing voice? Did I dance so well I made your heart flutter?” Minjoo rests her chin on her hands, staring and waiting for Chaewon to reply.

Chaewon wonders when Minjoo became so good at talking. When they were younger there used to be a lot of silences between them. Comfortable silences of course. The only ones you could have when you loved and trusted a person so much that you didn’t need words at all. This feels a bit forced, but maybe Chaewon should be thankful that she’s trying.

“You were really ugly, just like my ideal type…” Chaewon teases.

“Yah!” the younger girl hisses. She presses her forehead against Chaewon’s shoulder and looks up at her. “As much as I’d hate to say it… can we go back and finish off the movie?” Minjoo puts her hand out for Chaewon to take and Chaewon does, allowing Minjoo to lead her back to the lounge room.

Maybe it’s not perfect just yet, but she knows they’re going to be alright. 

 

+

 

Until it hits her at 2AM that Kim Chaewon had once loved her – cared for her in the way that most guys would care for her. Except knowing Chaewon for so long Minjoo knows she would’ve done a better job. Most of the men in Minjoo’s life up until then had all been average; that was evident in the fact that she had been single for a year already. 

There was something about all of them that Minjoo could never agree with. One of them wanted someone with long, wavy hair – like what happens if she wanted to cut her hair in the future? Would he stop loving her? Another expected her to be a housewife if they got married. Give up her career in favour of their family. Also – what was completely funny was how one of her boyfriends hated the fact that she always took the initiative, apparently it made him feel less manly. The rest were either boring, or too fake, too good looking and some were just complete douchebags – something that happens when you date people within her industry.

Minjoo doesn’t sleep that night. She spends it on youtube watching videos from the glory days –  as she affectionately calls it – being a member of a popular twelve membered group. She starts with their music videos and their debut concert till she eventually comes across a fanmade video ‘Kim Minjoo x Kim Chaewon - Slow Journey’. 

Minjoo remembers the first time Chaewon showed her the song during their usual late night drives around the Han River where Chaewon could practice her driving. She remembers the excitement she had on her face as the music shuffled on and the sudden realisation she had that the song Chaewon had been humming back in their dorm was the very song that was playing. She remembers Chaewon specifically telling her that she wrote the rap thinking about her. As long as you and I are together, anything is ok. Want to leave together?

“I really like you...” Chaewon’s voice blares out of the speakers and catches her off-guard that she quickly turns down the volume on her phone like she could wake up the ghosts in her house or something. She looked so young back then in her Produce48 Team Orange shirt, stars in her eyes as she watched Minjoo walk away from her, tucking her hair behind her ear. Minjoo looked so young too. It makes her heart swell and a smile creeps upon her lips unknowingly as she watches a compilation of their interactions.

There were the ones that she remembers in the form of voiceovers, questions like who would you want to host a radio with - ‘I would want to host it with Minjoo,’ or the way Chaewon affectionately tells her that she doesn’t like the way Minjoo doubts herself, compliments how pretty she is without prompt or calls her cute just to make her blush. 

As the video plays Minjoo gets a third eye perspective of everything she couldn’t see because she was too close. Like the way Chaewon hits her head with the wand after she accidentally hits Minjoo, the soft supportive smiles when she’s not looking, the way Chaewon sticks to her side when she’s crying or how Chaewon is always there for her to rest her head on her shoulders without question.

Chaewon showered her with love and up until now Minjoo hadn’t thought much of the little things she does. She wonders at what point in time Chaewon really began to like her. She wondered how long Chaewon liked her and if Chaewon would ever fall for her again. What am I thinking? She utters to herself, you’re going crazy she tells herself, to even hope that Chaewon could still like her – what does that even mean?

Minjoo wonders how long Eunbi has known, and if Eunbi ever did anything to help her. Did Chaewon ever suffer over this? Minjoo doesn’t think it’s strange rather she finds it flattering. Except now Minjoo bears this burden and guilt at the thought of how she possibly caused the one person who’s loved her so sincerely, pain.

“Minjoo-ya…” the video is about to end. 

“Yes?” Minjoo recognises her voice.

“I believe in you.”

 

+

 

Minjoo meets up with Eunbi two weeks after she finds out about Chaewon. 

She’s in Eunbi’s ridiculously large high-rise apartment – something she was renting out temporarily whilst her new apartment was being refurbished. Eunbi pours them a glass of wine each and brings out a platter of cheese, but Minjoo just wants to get straight to the point.

“How long have you known about Chaewon unnie?”

Eunbi scoffs, “W-what do you mean?”

Minjoo rolls her eyes, “I know, Chaewon told me herself, that day when you let it slip.”

Eunbi nods and swallows hard, “It was around the last month when we started going back to our old routines. It was just the two of us you know and she just wasn’t… right.”

“How did you know?”

“Chaewon throws herself into work when she’s stressed. That’s how she shows strength. We had a bit of time off whilst the company worked on a plan for us but Chaewon couldn’t sit still. I knew we were all trying to adjust but I think she found the silence too deafening...”

Minjoo remembers it was a tough period for them - the dreaded transition phase. Some of the girls took to simply enjoying the rest of their time in the dorm together, Chaewon on the other hand slowly started moving her things out of the dorm early. It’s easier to be the first to say goodbye than to be the one left behind.

“She was tired, but hiding it was even more tiring for her. She hated it, she hated herself and it was something that she didn’t really want to accept. Yena caught on eventually too since they were roommates and all and she came back to an empty dorm room...”

“Was that why they were always joined at the hip.”

Minjoo remembers the way Chaewon’s affections grew for Yena when they became roommates so much that it made her envious of their relationship.

Eunbi nods. When they moved dorms they were all fighting for that individual room but as time went by Minjoo felt like she had lost out. Lost the chance to spend time with the people that had grown to be like family to her. “As cheesy as it sounds Yena helped her find her smile again and Chaewon appreciated her for that.”

Minjoo frowns “Did she ever blame me?”

Eunbi stares at her wide-eyed and she’s wondering if she’s said the right thing, or the wrong thing. “Why would she do that? It wasn’t your fault you were so perfectly charming.”

Minjoo blushes, “H-how did you find out?”

“I forced it out of her, you know how she is, she deals with her problems herself – until all the negativity explodes from her. I had to stop that from happening.”

Minjoo wonders if Chaewon still feels this way about herself, she seemed so cheerful and vibrant when they were together. “Does she like someone at the moment?”

“Not too sure, the last time I spoke to her properly was a month ago, she said she liked someone, but nothing came of it from what I understand – you should know, you’ve been with her for the past two weeks have you not?”

Minjoo nods but she doesn’t know. She already felt like she was pushing the limit asking Chaewon who her first was. She wants to let Chaewon feel comfortable enough with her now to tell her about the rest. She hopes she will.

“I think she’s better now, she’s more accepting of it, it’s not something she can change and she’s accepted that for herself. I hope you do too.”

“But I do – I love her for it” Minjoo smiles and Eunbi nods approvingly.

“As expected of my baby,” Eunbi reaches out and pinches Minjoo’s cheeks.

 

+

 

Minjoo injects herself back into Chaewon’s life rather effortlessly after this.

The production studio for her drama is near Chaewon’s house which means that Minjoo has practically started to take up space in Chaewon’s apartment. It was small at first, coming over after her 3AM finish times when her next call time was at nine. It’s a fifteen minute drive versus a forty minute one. Then it’s Minjoo craving chicken and beer after work, or their attempts at baking scones and banana bread for dessert which ends up with them just eating from the tub of ice-cream with the windows wide open to filter out the smoke.

During their new found time together Minjoo starts to notice the things she had missed all those years ago. Like how Chaewon stares at her a lot as she helps her run through her lines, or how Chaewon’s hands always find their way around her so comfortably. Things like how she pushes her hair out of the way for her when they’re eating or how she likes to link arms when they’re walking. She notices too how Chaewon, despite being slightly smaller, likes to stand in front of Minjoo protectively when there are other people around. 

Sometimes she glares at them too if they get too close to Minjoo and Minjoo thinks it’s adorable when she gets a bit jealous at the thought of Minjoo doing a kiss scene. She notices too how when it seems like Chaewon isn’t paying attention that she’s always paying attention to her and Minjoo wonders if it’s a special talent of hers to be so unaware and aware at the same time or if it’s only because it’s her.

“So who else have you dated since?” Minjoo asks one night when they’re in bed together. It’s kind of nice having someone next to you on cold nights like these, Minjoo thinks. She’s back at Chaewon’s tonight after a late night finish, mind still badly wired from all the cups of coffee she’s had on set to fall asleep.

“Too many to count…”

“Really?”

“No. How many people do you know in our industry are openly out? That aside I don’t have any time to think about anything else with work.”

“Okay, well then, when was your last relationship?”

“Three years ago, she was an unnie I met at the salon where I get my hair done.”

“How long did it last?”

“A year? A bit over.”

“Why’d you break up?”

“We fell out of love.”

“Unnie…” Minjoo finally works up the courage to ask the question that had been plaguing her mind for the past few days.

“Honestly Minjoo, if you’re gonna keep me awake I’m going to insist you head back to the guest room. I’ve got to be in the recording studio tom…”

“Why me?” Minjoo asks.

“Why you what?” Chaewon asks with her eyes still closed.

“What about me made you fall in love?”

“God…” Chaewon’s eyes fling open, “Why are we back here?” she groans and turns her body so that her back is facing Minjoo.

“Well technically you didn’t give me a proper answer last time…”

“Why do you like anyone though?”

“Well like sometimes for me it’s their smile, it’s their personality, or something really stupid like he can run a hundred meters in 10 seconds…”

“That was oddly specific…”

“You have no idea…” Minjoo sighs. There’s a pause for a second where Minjoo feels a twinge of regret from asking. Chaewon turns around slowly, shuffling underneath the sheets to face her.

“Why did I fall for you?” Chaewon says, “I sorta just did somewhere between our practice sessions and late night drives, when you asked me to go eat with you and go out to watch movies with you. I fell for you somewhere between you giving me your last piece of chocolate, falling asleep on the bus with our heads pressed together and late night conversations in your room when we couldn’t sleep…”

Chaewon falls in love with Minjoo in the kind of way that can’t be pinpointed to an exact cause or reason, not any kind of messages, or private mail, not over something as novel, like a smile or her eyes. It’s something that Minjoo doesn’t understand because that’s how her past relationships have been defined by. A moment.

Chaewon’s love for Minjoo isn’t defined by a moment, or a few mere seconds; it's a love stretched across years of their lives. Minjoo wonders if there’s a limit to this kind of love, wonders if the years apart had stemmed it completely. But Minjoo looks into Chaewon’s eyes and she finds her answer.

Chaewon clears her throat, “Point is if you could see yourself - you’d realise it’s not hard to fall in love with you at all.”

 

+

 

Minjoo goes on a date for the first time in a few months.

It’s a date that she’s had to reschedule now for about the fifth time with her busy filming schedule and all but now that it’s all over she doesn’t have an excuse anymore. So she goes on a date with him - even Chaewon was feeling sorry for the poor guy. She was saying that anyone who waited that long for Minjoo surely deserved a chance.

He’s a friend of a friend who Minjoo has been messaging on and off across the past few weeks as she began to wind off her busy schedules. Kriesha was certain that Minjoo would like him. According to Kriesha he was known for looking like SHINee’s Minho who Minjoo had a crush on when she was younger. What her friend fails to realise is that tastes change.

When he arrives he’s dressed nicely in a white dress shirt with a skinny tie, hair neatly styled back to reveal his face. He smells like santal and it’s overwhelming and intoxicating. He introduces himself as Chansung which of course Minjoo knows because they’ve been talking and he takes a seat opposite her. Minjoo feels the gears in her brain churning, forcing her to sit up straight, to smile and to be nice. 

Chansung seems nice, pleasant, he doesn’t look like Minho for the record, not that it matters too much for her anyways. He’s not a celebrity, he does accounting. He talks to her casually because they’re the same age, he picks at the fries off her plate and his legs are so long that it touches hers underneath the table. When Minjoo mentions something about her favourite song, he quips that her answer is different to the answer she gave in her Vogue interview a few months ago.

It’s different. It’s weird almost having someone know so much about you and you knowing nothing about them. It’s a first date and Minjoo knows she needs to be rational. That she can’t expect them to know everything about each other and that it should almost be sweet that he tried to learn more about her before their date.

Except there are some things you can’t learn through reading an interview. There are only things you can learn through years of friendship, years of conversations on long drives, through late nights and in waiting rooms. There’s only things you can learn through comfortable silences between conversations, through watching each other’s actions and reactions...

Minjoo chuckles to herself and places her fork down on the table.

“What’s wrong?” Chansung asks and Minjoo shakes her head, “Is the food not good?”

“I just realised something...or rather, I think I’ve finally understood something...someone.” Minjoo says. “I’m sorry, do you mind if I leave. I just remembered I have something important to do…”

“I-uhmmm… rain check?”

“No, sorry, I just don’t think this will work out. Dinner’s on me though. Enjoy the rest of your night.” Minjoo fishes out two hundred from her wallet and places it on the table. Picks up her jacket and car keys and swears that if she wasn’t wearing heels she’d be running out the door.

 

+

 

“You’re really abusing this...” Chaewon sighs when she opens the door, “I was going to give you the passcode to my house – but I’m afraid you might not ever leave.”

Minjoo smiles, and lunges forward with the biggest grin on her face, “I love you.”

“Are you drunk?” Chaewon asks, buries her nose into her hair and sniffs the sweet scent of peony she had grown accustomed to over the past few months. Minjoo doesn’t let her go immediately, she melts into her, basking in Chaewon’s warmth for just a moment longer. “How did the date go?” she asks, stroking Minjoo’s hair gently.

“Horrible,” she confesses. Minjoo breaks away from the hug and walks into the room shaking off her coat and throwing it onto the couch. Chaewon smirks which makes her heart leap, like she was glad she made her smile, “He was so pretentious and proper...” Minjoo flops back onto the couch and spreads her arms out, patting the empty spot on the couch beside her for Chaewon to join.

“What did he do?” Chaewon asks, taking a seat beside her and turning her body so that she is faced towards Minjoo, elbow resting against the chair whilst her head rests against her balled fist.

“Well no, he was actually quite nice…” Minjoo scratches her head.

“Why was it horrible then?” Chaewon yawns and Minjoo feels her stomach flutter with nerves. 

“He was so nice it made him boring, like he was very black and white...”

“Yeah but Minjoo, that’s basically your entire wardrobe, black and white – I don’t think you’re in a position to judge.”

“A person's wardrobe doesn’t define who they are.”

“I think one could argue it does…” Chaewon’s voice trails off when she notices Minjoo had been staring at her for the past minute straight without so much as a blink. “You’ll burn a hole through my skull if you keep doing that…” she says, closing her eyes slowly.

“Unnie…” Minjoo whines.

“Keep talking, I’m listening… It’s just been a long day…” Chaewon yawns.

“I meant it before,” she’s nervous and afraid, more nervous than when they were about to debut, more afraid than when they were going to disband; “I love you.”

“I-love-you-too,” Chaewon replies sleepily. She looks so lovely with her eyes closed, a smile on her lips but it’s driving Minjoo insane. She groans in frustration.

“Not like that,” she gets up onto her knees and creeps slowly across the couch like she was ready to pounce. Chaewon opens her eyes slowly as Minjoo pulls her close and immediately she feels all the sleep dispel from her body as Minjoo cups her face with both hands. “I-love-you…” she says and squeezes Chaewon’s cheeks, leaning in closer with her eyes shut. Chaewon yelps, ducks and swiftly rolls onto the floor away from Minjoo. She slams her elbow against the coffee table during her escape attempt and winces in pain, causing Minjoo to leap off the couch immediately to try and tend to her.

“No, stay there,” Chaewon recoils from the pain and tries to take a deep breath as she sits upright, legs sprawled out on the floor. 

“Unnie, let me look at it…” Minjoo crouches down in front of her trying to reach out.

“No, I’m fine.” Chaewon has her hand raised in front of her to stop Minjoo. She looks like she’s ready to run.

“Unnie!” Minjoo protests and takes inches forward when she notices that Chaewon’s still holding onto her arm so much that her knuckles have turned white. 

“Minjoo! Please,” Chaewon says a little too loudly that it stops her in her tracks. She shuffles backwards on her bottom and changes her position so that her legs are tucked underneath her.

“I’m sorry, I was just worried about you.”

There’s a silence that engulfs them and it’s not the comfortable silence they had been growing familiar with over the past few months. It was awkward and uncomfortable in a way that could threaten to tear them apart again if Minjoo doesn’t say anything, if Minjoo doesn’t do anything.

“Unnie, I’m being sincere.” Minjoo pauses hoping that she didn’t just really mess it up between her and Chaewon. “I lo-”

“Don’t Minjoo,” Chaewon sighs, “Just don’t say anything you don’t mean or you’ll regret.”

“Why would you think I would regret it?”

“Because I told you I loved you six years ago already and I regretted it every day since.”

“You what?” Minjoo says.

Chaewon gnaws at her lower lip, “I told you I loved you six years ago at Eunbi unnie’s birthday party when I was… three champagne glasses in and you were probably the same. I thought that knowing your drinking habits you would’ve only been as tipsy as I was but still lucid enough so that when I told you I’d love you, you’d hear it. But then you just smiled at me and the other girls came up onto the rooftop and you sorta ran off into Hyewon’s arms and well...”

“I...don’t remember it…” Minjoo confesses, feeling her heart sink and break. She hadn’t done it intentionally and yet Minjoo was so upset with herself for ever ignoring Chaewon in the first place. “I hardly remember anything from that night after the third shot of tequila I had on top of everything.”

“Yeah, see, I didn’t realise that until a few weeks ago when it became so damn obvious that you had no idea I was gay and that I was in love with you that maybe you didn’t hear me. Which means that for the past six years I’ve spent thinking that you hated me and then hating myself for being so reckless and ruining our relationship.”

The realisation dawns on Minjoo that maybe their disconnect hadn’t been entirely unintentional. Chaewon had chosen to pull away from her and Minjoo too busy with her career didn’t notice the way Chaewon started responding less to her messages, or avoided going out to lunch with her even though Eunbi was free. Except if there was anyone that understood a busy schedule it was Minjoo. 

So Minjoo never chased her for those rainchecks Chaewon kept offering and eventually they fell apart naturally despite all their promises to never be apart.

“Unnie, I could never…” Minjoo sees the hurt in her eyes and how she hadn’t stopped nervously rubbing her arm as she recounted her story. “I’m sorry I didn’t hear you all those years ago,” Minjoo takes a step forward but she can see in the way Chaewon retreats backwards that she’s scared and it breaks her heart. “I’m sorry... but I need you to hear me now when I say that I love you.”

Chaewon laughs hesitantly “You don’t have to do this Minjoo, I told you, it’s fine – I’ve been dealing with this by myself for a few years now, I don’t need you to pity me - in fact it’ll only make it worse.”

Minjoo sighs, “I missed you…” she scratches the back of her head nervously “...so much at dinner… that I couldn’t stop picking at all of his flaws.” The statement stuns her long enough for Minjoo to close the gap in between them. “I do realise in hindsight that it wasn’t his fault - it was mine but maybe more so yours...” Minjoo teases.

Chaewon knits her eyebrows and Minjoo is unable to read her expression. 

Minjoo clears her throat, “He came dressed up in a suit with his hair slicked back, scent of santal wafting off his body and he spoke casually to me.” Minjoo sighs “But I couldn’t stop thinking about you in your oversized navy hoodie and your scent of baby powder. I couldn’t stop thinking about how even after knowing each other for so many years you continue to talk formally to me.”

“He started talking about my favourite song and how he knew about it from the Vogue interview I had a few months ago. It made me realise that my current favourite song is the one you’ve been humming as you’re making dinner or doing the laundry and I realised how some of my favourite things are my favourite things because I found them with you.”

“You don’t understand… it’s not…” Chaewon says with a wounded expression on her face.

“I do, unnie,” Minjoo grabs her hands. 

She understands now what Chaewon meant the other night about how she had fallen in love with her. It’s not one thing. It’s not a moment. It’s everything. It’s Chaewon dancing in the kitchen and singing into the broom as they’re making ramen. It’s the way Chaewon holds her hands - fingers interlocked, always, when they’re walking, watching movies or dancing. It’s the way Chaewon stocks up her fridge with Minjoo’s favourite chocolates or how she watches sappy rom coms with her even if she’d very much watch horror movies. It’s the way she misses her when they’re not together or the way it hurts watching Chaewon stand in front of her looking so vulnerable.

“You don’t want this, this isn’t right, or normal.” Minjoo knows that Chaewon has lived in a world where she’s been forced to hide who she was. 

“Right is being with you – only if you let me… Normal, well falling in love with you feels like the most normal thing in the world,” Minjoo grins and it helps Chaewon to lighten up. She smiles and Minjoo’s heart melts into a puddle, she swears by it. “Now… I know that I don’t deserve it and that I’m six years too late but could you please tell me again how you love me, because I’d really like to hear it.”

Chaewon raises her head to meet her gaze. Never in her wildest dreams did she expect for this to play out this way. In fact it feels like it’s all a cruel prank and that she’ll eventually wake up but it’s the warmth in Minjoo’s touch that grounds her. 

“I love you, Chaewon unnie,” Minjoo says again to reassure her, she feels a nervous laughter bubbling up from the pit of her stomach. “I’m in it for real,” she says. When Chaewon doesn’t immediately leap into her arms Minjoo speaks again, “I love you...please? Unnie?” she squeezes Chaewon’s hand a little tighter.

“I love you, Minjoo, but if this doesn’t work...” 

Minjoo swoops in and kisses her mid-sigh before she has a chance to say anything else. Her fingers skim Chaewon’s neck and graze her jawline about to sweep away her hair when Chaewon pulls away. She feels her heart racing, pounding against her ribcage as she looks at Chaewon trying to catch her breath.

“Minjoo...” Chaewon says softly. She’s so close to giving in, she wants to give in and let herself fall into Minjoo. It’s the only thing she’s ever wanted for so long and yet she feels an invisible thread holding her back, like she’s caught on something. It’s not as easy as Minjoo keeps trying to make it sound but why shouldn’t it be?

“No buts...” Minjoo says. “ As long as you and I are together, anything is ok, ” Minjoo sings the one line all those years ago that Chaewon wrote just for her. “You believed in me when you wrote that, believe in me onc-”

Chaewon swoops in and kisses her with the recklessness from all the years of wanting. It catches Minjoo off-guard, knocks her off her balance and makes her fall back onto the rug as Chaewon depresses down on her body, pinning her to the ground. Minjoo runs her hand up her neck and through her hair, scrunching it slightly in her hand.

“Unnie,” Minjoo says, a smile twisting against Chaewon’s lips, “Slowly, slowly,” she sings, a laugh escapes her lips. 

“Yah,” Chaewon pouts and furrows her eyebrows. Feels her cheeks turn a rosy hue, suddenly worried that she’s moving too fast, suddenly worried that she’s already ruined it. Except Minjoo grabs her hand from the side and places it directly over her heart. Chaewon feels her heart humming beneath her finger tips.

“You have me,” she says, “Lets just keep going slowly.”

Chaewon sweeps away the loose strand of hair on Minjoo’s face with her thumb and leans in again to kiss her. This time Chaewon kisses her with indulgent care, kisses her with all the words left unsaid over the past ten years of the relationship, kisses her with more care than any of Minjoo’s past lovers have ever kissed her. 

This time Chaewon kisses her slowly.

Slow is usually underrated. When Minjoo thinks back to when they first met she always hated how fast time flew when they were together. For her the two and a half years flew by in the blink of an eye. But this thing with Chaewon has been a slow journey, stretched over a decade, filled with ups and downs, closeness and distance, laughter and silence and Minjoo wouldn’t have it any other way.

Minjoo used to think it began on a Tuesday when Chaewon came waltzing back into her life -  short brown hair, oversized hoodie, comforting brown eyes and the familiar scent of baby powder. 

She realises now it probably didn’t begin on a Tuesday. Falling in love with Kim Chaewon was years in the making. 

That’s what makes Minjoo so certain that it’s going to last.

 

+

 

Slowly, slowly, I’ll treasure it as much as it is slow