In the middle of the wet road lies a dead crow—Nayeon envies it deeply.
She watches through the foggy pane of glass as footsteps mark the ground around its haggard feathers. Steam billowing from the mug in her hands when a fresh wave of raindrops splatter against pavement.
Nayeon has always enjoyed the sound of rain. The patter of water as it dances on rooftops and bounces from umbrellas. She finds a sadistic type of amusement in the people rushing here and there, trying to stay dry the entire way. She likes the gloom, thinks it’s healthy in moderate doses.
With a heavy sigh, she drops bills onto her table and waves goodbye to the familiar dimpled smile of the waitress behind the counter. Tzuyu , Nayeon remembers her name to be. She knew her mother.
The rain has slowed now, and Nayeon tucks her head under the hood of her jacket. She can’t help but slow down as she walks past the crow on the road.
“Lucky bastard,” she mutters under her breath, kicking a puddle and shoving her hands deep in her pockets before she continues on her way.
She stops outside of an unfamiliar building, feels a moment of guilt for tracking puddles into the pristine lobby. Her phone reads 5:27 and she takes her time looking over the directory for the floor she needs to be on. She would hate to be early.
Minatozaki., S, is on the eighth floor and the time reads 5:29 by the time the elevator doors slide shut, trapping Nayeon for the long haul. Her foot taps impatiently as the floor numbers slowly rise and when the doors finally open, Nayeon smells vanilla. There’s only one office on the whole floor, and Nayeon stands dumbly in the waiting room just outside the elevator before a baby-faced receptionist greets her brightly.
“Hello,” she chirps. Nayeon jolts a little bit, barely noticing her from behind the desk. “Im Nayeon?” Nayeon nods slowly. “You can go right in.”
Just a perk of being late, she supposes. The time reads 5:31.
There’s a short hallway that stops at a single door and Nayeon wonders if this is a test, if her ability to knock and go through with this is being evaluated by the universe and she narrows her eyes at the thought. “Stupid universe,” she mumbles, fist up to knock just as the door swings open.
“Oh, hello, Nayeon,” Dr. Minatozaki says. Nayeon feels like the name is too long, too many syllables to run through even just in her head. The therapist’s hair is bleached blonde and Nayeon’s eyebrows shoot up at the sight. “Come in, come in.”
“Hi, Dr. Minatozaki,” she says anyway, slipping past the woman and into the open space. The strength of the vanilla scent increases tenfold just inside the doorway and she catches sight of a single candle burning on a desk.
There’s no long chaise that Nayeon will lay on to stare at the ceiling and contemplate life—she feels a small pang of disappointment with this fact—but there is a couch that Dr. Minatozaki gestures to and Nayeon hums at how comfortable it is.
“Please, call me Sana,” the therapist says, adjusting her skirt under her legs as she sits in an armchair opposite Nayeon. Sana is much easier on her tongue, she thinks graciously.
“Nice office,” she says because she doesn’t know what else to say, because she wants to kill the silence before it can be born, because Sana is already smiling at her kindly and Nayeon doesn’t know how to take that. “I don’t know why I’m here,” she blurts out. Sana’s smile doesn’t waver and Nayeon stupidly wonders if she’s just that accustomed to dealing with crazy people.
“Believe it or not, you’re not the first person to say that to me.” Sana says it in a way that makes Nayeon feel like she’s talking to a friend, like Sana is letting her in on a joke. She smiles because it’s polite.
Sana shuffles a few papers on her lap, almost like she barely notices that they’re there—but Nayeon notices, catches sight of the questionnaire she had been asked to fill out online when she got the crazy idea to get a therapist last week.
“So, how does this work?” Nayeon mumbles, fidgeting with her fingers now. There’s something unsettling about it all—the fact that Sana knows how strongly Nayeon feels that she’s a failure on a scale of 1 to 10, but Nayeon hadn’t known the therapist’s first name until moments ago.
“I know this might feel strange,” Sana starts. “It can be a weird idea, opening up to a stranger.” And Nayeon thinks she’s trying to relate, maybe. She’s not sure if it makes her feel better. “But, hopefully we won’t be strangers for long,” Sana adds, smiling a little bit awkwardly and Nayeon smiles, relaxing at the sight.
“You know my name,” Nayeon says, “that’s more than most can say.”
Sana laughs and Nayeon fills with light. Is seeking validation from your therapist a thing? She doesn’t dwell on it, because Sana is nice and she’s not some old grey woman that Nayeon had imagined the role of a therapist would encompass. She doesn’t speak like Nayeon is broken. Nayeon thinks this was a good idea.
“Well, today we can start with you telling me what pushed you to come here in the first place,” Sana offers. She leans back slightly in her seat and Nayeon subconsciously copies her, studying the woman’s face as she wonders how much she should spill in the first session. But, she’s paying for this, right? It’s Sana’s job to hear crazy, outlandish thoughts—deepest, darkest secrets.
She sinks deeper into the couch with a sigh, thinks about the definite zeroes she had marked when the questionnaire asked her about suicidal tendencies and thoughts of harming herself. And then she answers, “I want to be afraid of dying.”
Sana is kind when Nayeon leaves. She walks Nayeon to the receptionist and Nayeon books her next appointment without much thought. All of her initial hesitancy aside, she thinks she’ll enjoy talking to Sana, will enjoy the neutrality of someone that will only know Nayeon from one room in the world. Sana won’t have to be encompassed in all of Nayeon’s life and Nayeon won’t have to form an attachment outside of weekly sessions.
The storm clouds have cracked by the time she gets outside, fragments of setting sunlight peeking through as the dreariness of the day thins into twilight. Nayeon breathes in the wisps of rain that linger in the air and her lungs ache with nostalgia as she walks through empty streets.
The dead crow blends in with the black of the asphalt and the black of the night and Nayeon pretends her gaze doesn’t linger on it as she passes.
There’s something tranquil about walking the streets of a city as it sleeps. As it breathes with life, too gentle to be active, too loud to be dead. Cars roll down streets and someone somewhere walks down a sidewalk just like Nayeon. She’s tired to the bone, a new job getting people drunk and watching drunk people get drunker into the wee hours of the morning. Her clothes are too revealing, cold air biting her skin, but the tips in her pocket are warm enough to compensate.
The moon is still bright overhead, but the deep blacks of the night sky are giving way to heavy blues and greys and Nayeon hopes she can get to sleep before the sun is up.
There’s this belief, one about whistling and nighttime and spirits that cling to you like magnets and settle into the walls of your home. Nayeon used to believe it when she was young, when she had parents that would tell her stories at night and remind her to keep her lips shut tight on the walk home.
Tonight, she whistles a lullaby that makes the stars sway and yawn and she thinks about parents that feel so far away she wonders if she didn’t make them up. There’s something scary about having a past that’s history— real history, not just years or months passed. Not even just one lifetime. She wonders if the childhood she lived centuries ago isn’t just a hallucination of the origins of what she’s become. Sometimes she convinces herself it wasn’t real at all, that she’s never been anything more or less than the state she exists in now.
She can barely remember a time where her hands were too small to palm a basketball, a time before all her teeth filled her mouth nicely. But there’s fragments of it—of a past that was real and warm and alive. Sometimes she can see it in her dreams.
She has an appointment with Sana in three days (two days? It’s just creeping into the early hours of Sunday and her appointment is on Tuesday and her brain is too tired to do the math). She figures she can talk to the therapist about gaslighting herself then. For now: sleep.
So, she walks and she whistles and she kicks a poor little rock that was sitting innocently on the sidewalk. She’s just contemplating giving it a name when someone turns the corner ahead of her and now there’s Nayeon, and her nameless rock, and a stranger on this lonely street. Nayeon’s whistling subconsciously takes form of the notes blaring from the stranger’s headphones and she wonders why a girl is walking alone at this time of night (day?) while doing her best to damage her eardrums. Cities are weird, and Nayeon is tired, so she entertains the part of her that sometimes believes she’s the only living, breathing, thinking thing on this planet. Maybe this girl was conjured up by her brain to keep her company.
No, she thinks, that can’t be it, because her rock is already plenty of company.
The lonely street is still lonely when Nayeon’s brain quiets down. Three new friends, maybe, but still sad and unmoving. Nayeon has grown tired of kicking her rock and she bids it farewell before shoving her arms into the pockets of her sweater and wishing she had taken sweatpants to change into. The frosty air bites her legs and she speeds up because her apartment is so close she can almost smell the leftover takeout in the fridge. Takeout —her stomach rumbles heavily at the thought.
Or, she thought it was her stomach—but there’s another rumble, louder and nearer and Nayeon realizes it sounds less like a rumble and more like a rev and her head swivels just in time to see a disgustingly decadent sports car screeching around a corner and onto the lonely street. There’s a moment where Nayeon wants to huff and roll her eyes, because only a Grade A Asshole would be making this much noise at four in the morning—it’s quickly overpowered by a sense of dread when she looks forward once more and the girl is no longer in front of her, is stepping into the middle of the road with her eyes on her phone’s screen and her ears plugged with stupid pop music.
Nayeon feels her eternal heart stutter to a standstill, feels time slow. She watches a car and she watches a girl. For the briefest of seconds, she sees the future—can see their inevitable collision before her eyes. Her feet are bruising the pavement beneath them before she can stop herself and all the air in her lungs leaves her in a straining shout.
“Watch out!” She screams.
The girl freezes. The car can’t. Nayeon wonders how it feels to fear dying. She jumps.
It’s sickening, hearing her own bones crack, her own head split open. Feeling the trickle of the last drops of blood spilling from her veins as a blood curdling scream pierces the night air. Tires squeal like a terrified pig, the sound getting farther and farther until the car ceases to exist entirely.
Somebody drops to their knees in a pool of Nayeon’s blood and the part of her soul that’s still living grimaces at the thought of it. She hates this part, the heavy pain that comes with dying. The coldness of empty veins and the burning that comes with no air in her still lungs. She hates being detached from her body, watching the world from lightyears away, everything that makes up her being, floating through the universe for moments or forever—she never can quite tell how much time passes in this state.
“No, no, no,” she hears, tears of a stranger falling and Nayeon wishes her mouth wasn’t too numb to move. Wishes she could tell her— just wait . Promise her that things would be okay soon, maybe become the only person to ever say that truthfully.
She hates rebuilding. Her heart starts again and it feels like it’s been dormant for years. A groaning, creaking thing in her ribcage as it drags against the dry caverns of her bloodless chest. Her ribs sting where they poke and prod at her heart awkwardly until her organs have resettled. She has a splitting headache—pun intended—and her lungs feel too thin to hold anything more than a shallow breath for the time being.
The girl’s fingers are on her neck, slowly beginning to rise and fall in time with her renewed pulse, and Nayeon would laugh at her gasp if she didn’t feel so weak. Her blood is still in pools on the ground, old insides spilled as new ones regenerate and she lets out a heavy groan at the pain of her brain reassembling itself.
“What the fuck,” she hears, echoing down the empty street. Nayeon winces.
“Shh,” she hushes weakly.
“You—what—” the girl splutters, now on her feet and Nayeon cracks one eye open to see her staring down at her in bewilderment. “You were dead.” She says breathlessly.
Nayeon reaches her heavy arms down to pat clumsily at her body. “Nope,” she hums, sitting up with a grimace. “Still alive.”
The girl shrieks a little bit, a noise that she doesn’t look like she’d typically make. Nayeon cracks a smile. There’s blood on the girl’s knees and Nayeon looks down to see her own clothes, ripped and bloody and she whines.
“Gross,” she mumbles to herself, getting to her feet and dusting off the pieces of gravel that stuck to her skin. She looks at the girl and frowns when she sees a thick stream of blood coming from her eyebrow. “Sorry about that,” she says, still in a delirious, post-death haze when she reaches out to wipe the blood away.
The girl looks at her, eyes wide and mouth open wider. She’s shaking, Nayeon notices, body trembling with shock and adrenaline as she recovers from swaying on the thin line between life and death. “You just saved my life,” she says. Nayeon feels suddenly embarrassed, wishes the girl would just pretend it never happened. Saving someone’s life can’t be that big of a deal, right? “You—how are you alive right now?”
Nayeon shrugs. “A miracle.”
The girl’s astonishment turns into a frown. “I thought you died,” she says. “Your head—the blood. You aren’t even bleeding anymore.”
Nayeon looks down at the now-sealed cuts on her skin, trails of blood that have no beginning. She looks up, sheepish smile on her lips. “I’m a fast healer?”
The girl stares blatantly and Nayeon squirms under the attention. “Do you need to go to the hospital?” The girl asks.
Nayeon looks between the girl’s wide eyes and her own unmarred skin. “Not much a hospital can do about perfection,” she tries to joke. The girl’s face is still worried and tense and Nayeon sighs. She feels jittery, new life filling her veins like amphetamine and she needs to move before her heart beats right out of her chest. “Look,” she says, “I have to get home and clean up. So, if you aren’t planning on almost getting hit by any more cars tonight, I’ll be going now.” She turns on her heel, continuing down the path she had been on before her little detour. She pouts as she sees the bloodstains on the tattered material of her sweater. She loved this sweater.
“Wait!” She hears from behind her, heavy footsteps as the girl runs to catch up to her. “You just saved my life,” she says again. Nayeon is about to roll her eyes, say something like God, it was just a little hit-and-run , but the girl is looking at her with a fire in her eyes and she swallows the retort. “Look, I don’t know how you survived that but—but let me take you out for a coffee, or something.”
Nayeon stares at the girl, entirely flabbergasted. She feels a pang of guilt when she sees that the cut beneath her eyebrow is still bleeding and she sighs heavily. “Fine,” she nods. “But right now I need to go home and take three showers. And throw these clothes out.”
“Okay,” the girl agrees, rocking awkwardly on her heels. Nayeon feels a stupid amount of endearment. Is it even possible to find a stranger endearing? Maybe saving someone’s life does that.
“Are you going to ask for my number?” She wonders, amused at the sudden shyness exuding from the girl after her determined coffee invitation. “Or are you going to wait for me to find you walking into another speeding vehicle’s path?”
“Oh!” She gasps, pulling her phone out of her pocket and handing it to Nayeon. “I’m Jihyo, by the way.”
Nayeon spins the name around in her head for a moment, memorizing every curve of it for no reason at all. “Nayeon,” she offers back, sliding the phone back into her hands. “I’ll see you around?” She says, awkward and polite because what else do you say after jumping in front of a car for a stranger? “You should get that stitched up, by the way,” she adds, thumb jutting out as she points to Jihyo’s eyebrow. The girl reaches her hand up on instinct, wincing at the sting or at the warmth of blood, maybe.
Jihyo nods, looks like the adrenaline of the whole ordeal is wearing off. Her eyes are heavy and her mouth is open just slightly in a daze. “I’ll text you—about the coffee,” she says, waving her hand dumbly in the air before turning and crossing the street. Nayeon notices how she pointedly avoids looking at the puddle of blood in the middle of the road.
It’s only when Jihyo has disappeared around the corner that Nayeon realizes her phone is nothing more than a shattered lump of glass in her pocket.
There’s always been something about dying. A type of adrenaline that runs in her blood for days after, reminds her of what it really means to live. It leads to impulsivity and recklessness and Nayeon has never been one to turn down her impulses. Sometimes it’s skydiving or sometimes it’s gambling but this time it was a two-day drunkfest with a friend she made at work (friend is a term used loosely, but Hirai Momo is fun and can drink and Nayeon thinks she’ll keep her around.)
The hangover settling in did wonders to calm her racing heart and she wonders if Sana will mind if she spends the hour taking a nap on her comfy couch.
“Hey, Dahyun,” she greets once the elevator doors slide open. The receptionist smiles her blinding smile and doesn’t question Nayeon’s sunglasses. “Sana ready for me?” She asks.
“Just head in,” Dahyun says.
A good thing about Tuesday appointments, Nayeon has learned—no one is booked in before her, so being early is okay, sometimes. Sana’s office always smells like something different, a new candle burning whenever Nayeon walks in and she has yet to pick a scent that gives Nayeon a headache, so Nayeon figures they’re a wonderful match. Today, it smells like nostalgia and memories and Nayeon wonders how it’s possible to bottle a scent like that and light it on fire.
“Nice glasses,” Sana says, lips curled and eyes knowing. Nayeon rolls her own under the lenses as she lays herself along Sana’s couch.
“I talk, you listen and nod,” she says. Sana laughs and that terrible lightness fills her chest again. Stupid validation-seeking personality.
“Okay, talk,” Sana urges. “I’m listening.”
Nayeon always wonders where to start during these sessions, if she should ease Sana into the absolute insanity that goes on in her head, or dunk her in the deep end within the first five minutes. Sometimes it’s easier to rip the band-aid off, avoiding the fluff and the small talk. Nayeon’s leg shakes and her words are begging to be told to someone.
“I saved somebody’s life,” she blurts out. Head turning quickly to catch Sana’s unfiltered reaction. Her eyebrows shoot all the way up to her perfect blonde hairline and Nayeon raises her own in question.
“Oh, wow,” Sana says. “What happened?”
“She almost got hit by a car and I just—pushed her out of the way,” Nayeon shrugs. No biggie.
“You—when?” Sana splutters. Nayeon’s mind is racing too fast to think about teasing her for it.
“Saturday night? Or Sunday morning? You get it.”
“Did you get hurt?” Sana asks. Nayeon’s mouth turns up in a smile at the words.
“Not at all,” she says. She doesn’t tell Sana that dying and coming back to life can be very therapeutic, once you get over all the initial aches and pains. “She wants to take me out for coffee,” she adds then, not quite sure why it felt important to share. “I gave her my number.”
“Well, what’s the problem?” Sana presses.
“My phone broke and I haven’t gotten it fixed.”
Nayeon pushes her sunglasses up to rest on her forehead and runs a hand over her face. “Because I’m nervous for her to text me?”
“Do you think that comes from being scared to face someone who might hold you in such high regard now that you’ve done something life changing for them?” Sana asks, asks it like she’s asking herself more than anything and Nayeon laughs.
“I know you went to school to say stuff like that. But I think I’m just nervous because she’s pretty.”
Sana narrows her eyes in challenge. “Somehow, I don’t believe you’ve ever been nervous because of a pretty girl before,” she says.
Nayeon scoffs. “Just because I might score high in narcissism according to the DSM-5, or whatever, doesn’t mean pretty girls are incapable of intimidating me,” she argues. A small voice rings in the back of her head, telling her that Sana is maybe a little bit right. The same way she has been a little bit right about… every single observation she’s made on Nayeon’s psyche since the day they met. Sana raises an eyebrow knowingly and Nayeon huffs. “What do you even say after saving somebody’s life?” She asks, swinging her legs over the edge of the couch to sit up. Sana smiles in triumph and Nayeon ignores it for her own sanity. Maybe they aren’t such a wonderful match.
“Well, maybe you don’t need to focus so much on the whole I-saved-your-life thing,” Sana suggests. “I know this invitation might feel like an obligation or a repayment, but it doesn’t have to be. Something really nice could come from it.”
Nayeon hums. “She really is pretty, though,” she says, because Sana reading right through her always makes her feel a little unsettled and this is the only way she knows how to balance herself.
“I bet,” Sana laughs. “Just… give it a chance. And maybe this will help you confront your relationship with the idea of dying.”
“God,” Nayeon groans. “I hate when you talk like a therapist.”
Later that night, Nayeon sticks her SIM card in her new phone and sighs as the screen is greeted by old notifications from an unknown number.
[Maybe: Jihyo]: Hi, this is Jihyo
[Maybe: Jihyo]: I was serious about the coffee
Nayeon chews on her lip and taps her fingers against the back of the phone before sighing in resignation.
[Nayeon]: Sorry, phone broke
[Nayeon]: When are you free next?
She locks the screen and puts it face down on her night table. She can deal with the answer in the morning.
Nayeon is late.
She normally is, but this time it’s not on purpose and, this time, she actually feels worried about it. She stops speedwalking just around the corner of the coffee shop she was supposed to be at ten minutes ago and takes deep gulping breaths, letting the cold wind soothe her burning face. Inhale, exhale—she turns the corner slowly and hopes she doesn’t look winded.
Jihyo is visible from the window, her back to the street as she stands at the cash register, head tilted up toward the overhanging menu. A chirping bell sings when Nayeon pushes through the doors and she winces as Jihyo’s eyes are drawn to her. Nayeon makes her way toward her, trying her best to not show how nervous she is, but the shop is rather empty and there aren’t many distractions and Nayeon hates Sana for making her think critically about her feelings toward this meeting. It would be much easier to believe the tightness in her chest only came from how attractive Jihyo is.
“Nayeon,” Jihyo greets with a smile. It’s the first time Nayeon has seen her smile, and wow , she thinks, this girl knocks A-list models out of the park.
“Jihyo,” Nayeon says, tipping her head down in a greeting. And then, because she’s nervous or concerned or just downright stupid, she says, “That cut is healing nicely.” Her lips clamp shut immediately after and she silently wishes some tragedy would strike and kill her again.
Jihyo’s fingers reach up to her eyebrow again, but she doesn’t wince this time. “A couple of stitches,” she shrugs, and she smiles, and Nayeon lets out a breath of relief. “What do you want to drink?”
If Nayeon were to be truthful, she should say whiskey, or tequila, because this meeting has her on edge and the one thing she wants in the world right now is to relax, but she swallows her urges and scans over the unfamiliar menu. “Iced vanilla latte?” She says like a question, looking at Jihyo to confirm whether the choice is a good one.
“Iced coffee in October?” Jihyo asks, laughs , and Nayeon feels a spark of amusement where she would typically feel the need to defend herself.
“I don’t have the patience to wait for my coffee to cool down,” she shrugs, looking expectantly at Jihyo who only raises her hands in surrender.
“Got it,” she nods.
Nayeon smiles triumphantly, reaching into her purse for her wallet when a warm hand gently circles her wrist. Nayeon looks up at Jihyo, confused at the amusement on her face.
“What are you doing?” Jihyo asks, eyebrows raised curiously.
“My wallet…” Nayeon trails off.
“It’s on me,” Jihyo says, “I thought we established that after you got pummeled by a car.”
Nayeon looks at Jihyo with her mouth open for a moment, and then a laugh bubbles up from her throat against her will. “Fine,” she concedes. “Then consider us even.”
Jihyo hums, giving Nayeon an ok sign with her fingers just before she steps up to order their drinks. Nayeon takes it upon herself to find them a nice spot tucked against the edge of the shop and taps her fingers against her lap while she waits.
“Iced vanilla latte for you,” Jihyo hums, sliding the drink in front of Nayeon before placing herself in the chair opposite her.
Nayeon murmurs out a thank you, tastebuds singing with joy at her great drink choice. She tries not to think about the quiet that settles between them, tries focusing on her drink and the flavour and not about Jihyo’s expectant eyes on her or the fact that Nayeon has no idea what to say. Nayeon always knows what to say.
“I won’t be weird and start thanking you again,” Jihyo says, cutting through Nayeon’s thoughts with a timid smile. Nayeon wonders for a moment if her mind is transparent.
“It wasn’t weird,” she mumbles, leaning back in her seat. “I’ll be honest,” she sighs, “I’m not sure why you wanted to get coffee with me, or why I agreed, or why I feel so…”
“Awkward?” Jihyo supplies, lips slanted in amusement.
Nayeon huffs out a laugh. “Yeah, I guess.”
“I just wanted to thank you, which I said I wouldn’t do again so this is not a thank-you coffee,” Jihyo says firmly. Nayeon grins.
“Definitely not,” she agrees, sipping on her drink and tapping her foot to the beat of the gentle music streaming from the speakers in the shop.
“So,” Jihyo starts again, awkwardness still lingering in her words, “do you go around pushing girls out of the way of speeding cars often?”
Nayeon’s teeth bare themselves unabashedly once she swallows the smooth coffee that lingered in her mouth. “Only the pretty ones,” she shrugs. She laughs when Jihyo’s eyes widen, cheeks tinting pink once more. “You don’t look like the shy type,” Nayeon adds, remembering Jihyo’s timidness from the other night.
Jihyo huffs. “I’m not shy,” she argues.
“Then, easily flustered?”
Jihyo rolls her eyes and Nayeon’s smile aches. “If I knew you were going to be like this I never would’ve asked you to coffee,” Jihyo says playfully, eyebrows arched in a challenge just over her coffee cup.
“Like what? Charming?”
“Charming?” Jihyo barks out in a laugh and Nayeon finds herself laughing along to the sound, despite them definitely being the loudest occupants of the shop. For some reason, she finds it very hard to feel embarrassed.
“Hey, I called you pretty, that’s charming!” Nayeon argues. Jihyo’s laughter dies into a smile and Nayeon swallows heavily when she realizes that she likes the sight.
“Fine,” Jihyo sighs. “How are you, by the way?” She asks. Nayeon tenses imperceptibly, wishing Jihyo would’ve just let this conversation slide. “That hit was… pretty hard.”
Nayeon sucks on her straw until there’s nothing but bubbles being slurped noisily into her mouth, and then she shrugs. “I think it just looked worse than it was,” she says easily, tries to pretend like she doesn’t notice how unconvinced Jihyo looks.
And then Jihyo looks like she’s going to argue, or push, or something that Nayeon isn’t ready for and, with all the luck in the world, her phone bursts into a chorus of noise as notifications spill down her screen. All from Princess Peach and Nayeon needs to remind herself to never let Momo touch her phone ever again.
She looks at Jihyo with an excuse ready on her tongue, a goodbye that should be permanent and final, maybe, because what else does Jihyo need from her now that they’re even—what else does Nayeon need from Jihyo now that she knows she really is okay? But Jihyo’s eyes are wide and curious and Nayeon remembers the curve of her smile and the notes of her laugh and her heavy heart flutters to the beat of it.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbles, and she really is, “I have to go get ready for work.” Jihyo’s eyes are so big, Nayeon thinks they may just be the prettiest pair she’s seen in an eternity. The goodbye lingers bitterly behind her lips and Nayeon swallows it down, desperate for one more moment to memorize each dip and contour along Jihyo’s face. “You should come by tonight, if you’re not busy,” and it doesn’t sound like goodbye at all.
Nayeon watches Jihyo’s wide eyes open wider in surprise and her throat bobs nervously as she swallows. “To your work?” Jihyo asks.
“Yeah,” Nayeon nods. “I’m bartending at this club right now. It’s pretty nice, minimal weirdos for a club—and I can get you free drinks.”
And now Nayeon watches Jihyo’s eyes sparkle with excitement. Who knew the spectrum of human emotion could be so vividly displayed through two eyeballs?
“I’ll have to hold you to it, then,” Jihyo says with a smile. Nayeon feels a fluttering tickle at her insides at the sight and she smiles back dumbly.
“Great,” she says, “I’ll text you the place.”
Jihyo nods and she smiles and Nayeon feels like every part of her body is on fire as she pushes out of the coffee shop. She makes a mental note to tell Sana she’s made a breakthrough—she can be nervous around pretty girls.
There’s a loud wolf whistle and a heavy bang when Nayeon shows up for her shift. Momo leering and cheering and calling Nayeon every synonym for hot her brain can conjure up. Nayeon rolls her eyes because she knows she looks good, but her cheeks tinge pink because she doesn’t want Momo of all people to know why she put more effort than usual into her appearance today.
She manages to get through her opening routine without being bothered, because the third bartender on shift is Chaeyoung and she might be the only person on Earth that can keep Momo’s level of obnoxiousness to a minimum. But Chaeyoung gets busy as soon as the doors open, because she’s smooth and easy and people are drawn to the little tattoos that litter her arms so naturally you could believe she was born with them.
“So, why do you look extra good today, Im?” Momo asks, leaning her elbows against the back of the bar and looking cheekily at Nayeon the moment Chaeyoung gets called over by a group of embarrassed looking girls.
“I always look good,” Nayeon teases back, wiping the counter until it sparkles.
Momo scoffs, rolling her eyes at the words. “Well, duh,” she says, “that’s why I said extra .”
Nayeon wracks her brain for a reply sharp enough to shut Momo up for at least five, peaceful minutes, but is saved the hassle when a small group of people latch themselves onto the space of counter directly across from her.
“Duty calls!” She shouts over the music, turning back to the group of friends with a dazzling smile. “What can I get for you?”
Nayeon is one too many disgusting drink combos in, headache just beginning to pulse at the edges of her temples from the overeager DJ they hired for the night. She sits on an upside down crate in the backroom with a cup of coke in her hands, pressing it to her sweaty forehead when the door swings open. The once-muted music spills blaringly into the back and Momo’s smug smile greets her.
“Someone’s looking for you,” she says, disappearing into the cloud of noise just as fast as she came.
Nayeon blinks at the swinging door, taking a large gulp of her drink and wincing as the carbonation burns her throat. She wishes it were tequila.
Jihyo is a knockout—Nayeon has known this since seeing her with an open wound under her eyebrow, confirmed it when the gentle lighting of the coffee shop settled on Jihyo’s bare face. Later, she’ll blame her eventual dazedness on the haze of warmth and the thick air of music that she has to physically push through to get behind the bar once more.
She doesn’t see Jihyo at first, looking over heads to spot a familiar face. Then there’s someone leaning over the counter, and Nayeon is about to make a face at the drunken idiot when she meets a pair of the prettiest eyes she’s seen in eternity and then her heart does that thing again, stuttering to a standstill and the air in her lungs makes her suddenly dizzy—is this a trauma response? She reminds herself to ask Sana.
“Hey,” Jihyo greets, smile stretching so wide that Nayeon feels her own tugging along with it. Her hair is woven with sparkles from the group of eccentric gay men dancing nearby, skin glimmering so gently that Nayeon lets herself believe it’s natural. The electric lighting of the club illuminates Jihyo in pulses and Nayeon thinks it might just be the most attractive thing she’s ever seen.
“Hi,” she says over the music. “What do you drink?” She asks. She thinks of all the impressive cocktails she knows how to make, all the fancy, pretty, fruity drinks that make girls giggle and twirl their hair as they watch Nayeon work.
Jihyo’s smile turns into a smirk and Nayeon raises an eyebrow. “Is tequila fair game?”
There’s a moment of hesitation, Nayeon wondering if she heard correctly and Jihyo waiting patiently, forearms still splayed against the bar counter. And then Nayeon lines up a shot glass with an unbelievable grin.
She thinks her and Jihyo will get along just fine.
Nayeon gets busier as the night goes on. People demand more liquor the drunker they get and Jihyo slips away from her barstool when the alcohol burns enough to make her dance. She catches glimpses, though—watches Jihyo get pulled into the circle of sparkling men, laughter so bright that Nayeon feels the sun at midnight. She has glitter dusting her cheeks now, Nayeon can see it every time Jihyo comes back for water or for a shot and it takes every ounce of willpower not to reach out and swipe it away with her thumb.
The rush of last call thins out just as Jihyo stumbles over to Nayeon’s end of the bar with a heaving chest and heavy limbs.
“Hi,” she greets, and Nayeon smiles.
“Having fun?” She asks, watching Jihyo smile before she graciously takes the water Nayeon hands her. “If you stay until I’m off, we can leave together,” she offers. The words float from her mouth before she has time to process them but Jihyo swings her legs on the barstool and nods in content, so Nayeon figures it’s not really overstepping.
“I was thinking,” Jihyo shouts over the music, “are you magic, or something?”
Nayeon doesn’t feel the same looming sense of dread she felt in the coffee shop. Maybe it’s the music, or the otherworldliness that lingers in a packed club, bright and alive only within these walls. Or maybe it’s just the glimmer in Jihyo’s eyes—unashamed and bold and watching Nayeon expectantly.
“Wait for me,” Nayeon says, asks without asking, “and then I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”
Jihyo hums, content to sit with her elbows pressed back against the bar, eyes flashing with each pass of the strobe lights. (Nayeon isn’t entirely sure why she stops to memorize this image.)
Nayeon presses her back against the swinging door, clean ice bin in her hands when she sees Momo leaning against the counter, smooth smile on her face as she talks to a laughing Jihyo.
“Hirai,” Nayeon calls, voice lingering in the quiet space of the bar. Her ears are still ringing from the absence of music and loud cheers, but she smirks when Momo looks up at her sheepishly. “You haven’t cleaned the taps.”
Momo grumbles as she says her goodbye to Jihyo, snatching the cloth from Nayeon’s shoulders before she settles in front of the beer taps. Jihyo smiles at Nayeon teasingly and Nayeon rolls her eyes at the sight.
“Momo, hurry,” Chaeyoung whines, keys jangling in her grasp as she drapes herself dramatically over the bar counter. “I want to get food on the way home.”
Momo says something about counting her till and how they can leave faster if Chaeyoung helps her and Nayeon laughs when Chaeyoung allows herself to be tricked into doing more work. Nayeon plants herself in front of Jihyo and works on cleaning the soda guns.
“I’ve never been in a club after hours,” Jihyo says absently, like she’s not quite looking for a reply.
“Not very magical,” Nayeon mumbles, focused on the object in her hands.
“I think it’s nice. Entirely different atmosphere. It’s hard to imagine a club ever being quiet.” Jihyo drums her fingers against the counter and Nayeon slots the gun back into its spot, leaning forward on her elbows to catch a glimpse of Jihyo’s eyes scanning the room. It’s something of an addiction, maybe, catching Jihyo’s gaze.
“Ready to get out of here?” Nayeon asks, watches as Jihyo slowly refocuses on her. The alcohol seems to be weighing her down now that the music and the countless other bodies aren’t here to hold her up, her eyes drooping and smile subdued.
“Definitely,” she hums.
Momo has already slipped her jacket on and she slides Nayeon’s down the counter before she flicks a few switches. The bright bar lights power down and the TVs flicker off and Nayeon guides Jihyo to follow her down the stairs and out into the cool air.
“It was nice meeting you,” Jihyo says politely to Momo while Chaeyoung locks the exit. Momo nods her head and her eyes flicker between Nayeon’s and Jihyo’s before she clamps her lips shut in a smile.
“Back at you,” she settles for. Nayeon feels her lungs deflate with the breath she didn’t know she was holding. “Maybe we’ll see you back here soon! Goodnight!” She calls over her shoulder as Chaeyoung tugs her down the road and toward her car.
“Night!” Chaeyoung echoes just before her head disappears behind the car door.
Nayeon rocks on her heels, fingers laced together as she waits for Jihyo to finish waving.
“So,” she mumbles, “you live far?”
Jihyo’s eyes sparkle brighter than the glitter that still paints her cheeks and Nayeon gulps. “About ten minutes from where you died,” she says, weaving an arm through Nayeon’s and tugging them forward. “Which you said you’d tell me about.”
Nayeon swallows her laugh and ignores how Jihyo’s arm burns into her side. “What do you want to know?”
“Are you magic?” Jihyo repeats.
Nayeon does laugh, this time. “I wish,” she sighs, “but no. Just an immortal being—personification of eternity, if you will.”
Jihyo blinks up at her, face blank and serious as she processes the words. “I prepared myself for a crazy answer,” she says slowly, “but I didn’t expect you to be serious.”
“Is the answer really crazier than what you saw that night?” Nayeon challenges. “I can lie again, if you want.”
“No,” Jihyo says hastily. “I just—are you actually… you know…”
“Immortal?” Nayeon supplies, eyebrows raised in amusement. “It would seem so.”
“So you just… can’t die?”
Nayeon hums in thought. “I can, sort of. I died that night—you weren’t crazy. But I always come back.”
“And you don’t age?” Jihyo’s voice is small and curious, eyes shyly scanning over Nayeon’s face and Nayeon admires her courage—the boldness behind her questions.
“What even is age?” She asks, the time old question she finds herself asking well into the darkness of night. “And youthfulness? Twenty or two thousand—what does it matter if your brain doesn’t rot with disease and sickness? Youth doesn’t have an age limit, and my body shows no physical signs of age. So, the answer is subjective, maybe.”
Jihyo is looking at her, mouth slightly agape, moonlight spilling into her dazed eyes and Nayeon is reminded gently of the tequila still living in her blood. She laughs.
“No,” she says simply, “I don’t age.”
Jihyo nods, and her eyes are still drooping, and she stumbles a little bit when she walks so Nayeon doesn’t mind when more of her weight is leaned onto her own body. “Is that all you want to know?” She asks, looks down at Jihyo’s eyes that have completely shut, content to let Nayeon lead the way. There’s something strange and warm pooling in her chest that Nayeon can’t quite decipher. And she thinks Jihyo is a little bit stupid for trusting a stranger like this.
“Can’t think of more yet,” Jihyo mumbles out. Nayeon stops them just as they turn onto the street from that night and Jihyo’s eyes blink open blearily at the halt. She points to the street that Nayeon had seen her turn out from last week and waits for Nayeon to tug them forward.
“Are you cold?” Nayeon asks when she feels Jihyo shivering against her side. Jihyo shakes her head no , straightens slightly and steps more firmly, like she suddenly realized how vulnerable she must look. Nayeon laughs. “Here,” she offers, shrugging her coat off and waiting for Jihyo to wrap herself in it.
She gives Nayeon a look —one that Nayeon can’t quite understand but it’s something between amusement and appreciation and she wonders if Jihyo is always this difficult. Part of her hopes so, maybe.
“Thanks,” Jihyo says, arms too busy being wrapped around herself to hold onto Nayeon now.
They walk in silence then, the gentle patter of their feet against pavement the only sound accompanying the white noise of a city while it sleeps. Nayeon normally can’t stand being quiet with another person, mouth always itching to form words that will fill the space between them. But Jihyo begins to hum under her breath—a terrible song that was remixed to hell and back during the peak hours of the club—and Nayeon finds that maybe she doesn’t mind it so much.
“This is me,” Jihyo says, stopping outside of a looming apartment building and blinking slowly under the misty streetlight.
Nayeon feels a pang of anxiety, ringing like a gong until it ripples to the farthest edges of her, eating at her from the inside out. She breathes in a shaky breath.
“If you have any more questions,” she says slowly, “just ask.”
Jihyo’s lips flicker into a smile painted in a mix of soft light and fading stars and brightening sky. “I’ll text you,” she offers, and the anxiety boiling a hole into Nayeon’s stomach disappears. Just like that.
“Oh,” she starts, “you’re also kind of the only person on Earth that knows about this. So, try not to talk about it?”
Jihyo swipes her fingers across her lips, pretends to zip them sealed and Nayeon smiles crookedly at the cute action. She likes her, she decides.
“Secret’s safe with me.”
“Okay,” Nayeon grins. “Goodnight.”
“Will you be alright?” Jihyo asks, suddenly looking so worried that Nayeon can’t resist teasing her.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” She asks rhetorically. “Someone’ll kill me?”
Jihyo looks less amused, but there’s an exasperated sort of expression on her face that tells Nayeon she’s won. “Goodnight, Nayeon,” Jihyo mumbles. “Be safe.”
Nayeon sends her a two-fingered salute, teeth shining in a smile under the streetlights while she watches Jihyo disappear behind the building’s doors. She sways on her feet a little before she swings around and continues on her way.
She reaches the edge of the street, about to turn the corner when she hears an echoed shout of her name.
“Nayeon!” Jihyo calls, and Nayeon can faintly see her with her hands cupped over her mouth. “Your jacket!”
Nayeon’s squint softens into a grin and she cups her own hands over her mouth as she walks backwards. “Keep it!” She shouts, too loud for three in the morning. “It looks good on you!”
She doesn’t wait for Jihyo’s reply, smiling to herself as she turns the corner. She whistles tonight—a terrible song that was remixed to hell and back. She finds that she doesn’t mind it.
“I have a problem.”
Nayeon settles heavily on Sana’s comfy couch and looks at her therapist pleadingly. “Nice pants,” she adds—compensation for her lack of greeting.
Sana laughs. “Thank you. What’s your problem?”
“I have the strongest urge to become friends with someone.” Nayeon’s eyes are wide and imploring as she waits for Sana’s answer, her all knowing power that pours from the degrees framed on her wall.
“Oh,” Sana hums when she realizes Nayeon is finished, “that’s the problem?”
Nayeon groans. “Yes,” she says, leaning back until her head rests on the back of the couch and she stares at the white ceiling of Sana’s office.
“Why do you think you’re worried about making a new friend?”
Nayeon drums her fingers against her stomach. “I don’t want this to just be a… a ‘get drunk together and send each other stupid memes’ friend,” she says, thinking of Momo’s easy companionship and Chaeyoung’s steady presence. “I mean, like, ‘lifelong, tell your deepest secrets and biggest fears to’ friend.” Jihyo’s bright eyes settle warmly in Nayeon’s mind and she wonders how many years it would take to count all the shades they come in.
She looks back at Sana curiously. “And you don’t do commitment, in any capacity,” Sana guesses. Nayeon hums.
“Ding ding,” she sighs. “Oh and—you were wrong, for once,” she says, perking up with a smile to compensate for her embarrassment. “I’m capable of being nervous around pretty girls.”
Sana’s eyes fill with understanding and she grins. “Is this about the-girl-who-lived?”
Nayeon gapes. Like, open-mouthed gawks at Sana before her eyebrows raise in amusement. “You’re a Harry Potter nerd,” she whispers teasingly. Sana, to her credit, only rolls her eyes. “But yes. Her.”
“So, I’ll assume the coffee went well?”
“I did you one better, actually,” Nayeon says, sitting up straighter in pride. “I invited her to the club I work at after coffee.”
Sana smiles approvingly. “I’m impressed,” she says. “Then why do you have reservations about being friends with her?”
Nayeon looks at Sana like the answer to her question will write itself along the therapist’s forehead. Today, the room smells like fresh starts and new beginnings and Nayeon feels nauseous.
“You know I’m not afraid of dying,” she says, looking at the wall just over Sana’s head, waiting for a hum of acknowledgment to give her the strength to continue. “But I think I’m afraid of death?”
Her heart thuds heavily in her chest, waves of blood pounding in her ears when she forces herself to make eye contact with Sana. Sana, who never ever looks at her like she’s crazy, or patronizes her or—Nayeon has nothing to be afraid of, right?
“You’re scared of other people dying?” Sana asks gently. Nayeon’s pulse begins to slow. She breathes deeply.
“My parents are dead,” she starts. “My childhood best friend died, the first person I loved died.” She looks at Sana and pretends that the water that disfigures her is a trick of the light and not her own tears pooling in her eyes. “Everyone will leave me, at some point,” she pushes out with a laugh. “But that’s life, right? I’m just being dramatic.”
She presses her fingers under her eyes and plants a smile on her lips and for the first time, Sana’s own smile doesn’t reach her eyes.
“It’s common to be scared of losing loved ones,” she says. Nayeon already has a forget it on the tip of her tongue, but Sana looks so genuine and so caring that she shuts her mouth. She tells herself she’s doing it for Sana, that she doesn’t really need to hear Sana’s thoughts, that the desperate pull in her stomach means nothing. “Especially—especially when you’ve experienced so much loss in your life.” Sana looks tentative, hesitant in a way that reminds Nayeon that this might be the most vulnerable she’s ever been during a session. “How would you feel about focusing our next few sessions on grief?”
“Oh, it’s not—” the words die in her throat. It’s not necessary, she might’ve said. It was a long time ago, or maybe, I’m over it. She doesn’t know how to tell Sana that her grief spans centuries and she’s not sure if a therapist that could still pass for twenty years old will know how to maneuver that. But Sana’s eyes are patient and understanding and Nayeon’s chest aches when she thinks about every gravestone she’s ever cried in front of. “Okay,” she agrees quietly. “Sounds good.”
Sana beams, something bright and hopeful and Nayeon feels lighter already. The therapist runs her palms along her lap. “I think this will be good,” she says—promises. “You have so much life ahead of you, and learning to cope with the past will make it easier.”
Nayeon almost laughs at her words. You have no idea, she wants to say. Instead, she pushes up from the couch and pulls at a thread on her sweater to avoid Sana’s eyes.
“I picked up a shift at work so—it’s time for me to go anyway,” she mumbles out. Sana stands to walk her to the door and Nayeon digs her heels into the floor just as Sana’s hand reaches for the knob. “Can I—would it be weird if I hugged you?” She asks hastily, still pulling at her thread and wondering how long it will take before her sweater unravels entirely.
She sees Sana’s arms open from her peripheral vision and exhales in relief when Sana hugs her. “I’ll see you next week,” Sana hums just before letting go.
Nayeon shakes off the heaviness on her shoulders, feels her usual grin overtaking the worried gnawing she was subjecting her lips to. “See ya, Doc,” she nods. Her throat itches when she waves goodbye to Dahyun, as the elevator door close her in and the silence is deafening.
She pulls her phone out and texts the last number in her recents.
Jihyo lives on the fifth floor of her apartment building. She has a cat and a roommate and Nayeon isn’t quite sure which one is named Jeongyeon and which one is named Bbuyo because she’s only met the cat and Jihyo only refers to him as—
“Cutie,” Jihyo coos, watching the cat scamper onto the armrest of the couch Nayeon’s sitting on.
“Me, or the cat?” Nayeon teases, hand held out as the cat rubs his face along her fingers.
“I’m talking to Bbuyo,” Jihyo huffs. Right , Bbuyo is the cat. Nayeon scratches his chin and lets him curl into her lap. “He really likes you,” she says curiously.
Nayeon shrugs. “Most cats do. I probably knew him in his past life.” From the corner of her eye, she catches Jihyo with her mouth open dumbly and she laughs. “What? Is that hard to believe?”
Jihyo lifts her jaw, pulling her knees up higher until her laptop covers most of her face. “No,” she mumbles, “there’s just a lot I don’t know.”
Nayeon feels the sleepiness from her shift settling in as Bbuyo’s purrs fill the room, the repetitive action of stroking his fur lulling her to sleep. “Ask,” she says through a yawn.
Jihyo doesn’t say anything immediately, eyes seemingly focused on her laptop and Nayeon is content with massaging Bbuyo’s little head until he rolls over onto his back.
“How many times have you died?”
Nayeon nearly chokes her own tongue. Jihyo watches her, curious and a little bit shy and Nayeon feels a strange type of vulnerability rising in her chest. Naturally, she shatters it with a smirk.
“Don’t you know that’s rude to ask?” She teases, watches Jihyo roll her eyes. The vulnerability rises and falls but the answer still sits, waiting. It feels heavy—a weight on her lungs in the form of a number that she’s never spoken aloud. “Forty-eight,” she says, clearing her throat with a cough. “Well, forty-nine, counting the car debacle. Hey, should we throw a party for my 50th?”
Jihyo looks like she’s not entirely sure if she should laugh and Nayeon feels her worries slip away. “Too soon to make death jokes?” She asks. Jihyo nods slowly, but Nayeon catches the edges of her lips tipping upward.
“Did you—you’re not a vampire, right?” Jihyo asks, voice getting quieter with each word.
“Why?” Nayeon asks, unable to avoid poking some fun at her. Her first time spilling her lifetime secrets to someone—she needs to have a little fun with it. “Would that scare you?”
Jihyo whines, annoyed and drawn out when Nayeon begins cackling, sending a pillow flying over and making Bbuyo jump from Nayeon’s lap. “You’re so annoying,” Jihyo groans. “So, how are you—you know, immortal?”
Nayeon sucks on her teeth, lifting her shoulders up to her ears. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
“You didn’t drink from a fountain of youth, or something?” Jihyo asks, and Nayeon is on the verge of going into a long-winded explanation on how the fountain of youth is not real, how it may be the cheapest theory of immortality in existence, when she catches the amusement in Jihyo’s eyes.
“Oh, ha-ha ,” Nayeon drawls. “You have jokes.”
Jihyo makes a face and Nayeon feels that disgusting amount of endearment once more. Is this what being genuinely fond of someone feels like? She had almost forgotten.
“How old were you when you stopped aging?” Jihyo asks, barely letting a moment pass before continuing. “Or if that’s totally insensitive then ignore it.”
Nayeon smiles at the backtracking. “Twenty-five,” she offers. “And it’s not insensitive. I think that’s the only part of this that I’m thankful for—at least I’m stuck being this pretty,” she sighs. Jihyo looks at her with her eyebrows raised to her forehead in amusement and Nayeon sends her a wink.
“A bit cocky, don’t you think?” Jihyo asks, head tilting to the side.
“Do you know how many compliments you get when you live forever?” Nayeon counters. “It’s an objective fact at this point. The sky is blue, we breathe in oxygen, and I am pretty.”
Jihyo’s lips turn down in a playful frown and she looks like she’s about to argue because she just has to be the type to argue. And then she sighs, “You’re right.”
Nayeon thinks this may be the first time she’s blushed in a century.
It’s quiet for a few moments—Jihyo seemingly oblivious to the fact that she has just made Nayeon’s insides turn to jelly and mush and every other embarrassing cliché she can think of.
“You are too,” she murmurs, feels silly when Jihyo looks up at her over her laptop.
“Hm?” Jihyo hums, and Nayeon’s insides are jelly and mush and now they’re on fire. Because Jihyo’s glasses make her eyes look even bigger and her face is bare and she’s flawless and—
“Pretty. Objectively,” Nayeon coughs out. Eyes darting around the room to avoid the inevitable teasing that Jihyo will send her way.
But she doesn’t—tease, that is. When Nayeon gives in to temptation and risks glancing at her, Jihyo’s smile is soft. “Thank you,” she mumbles. And then the clacking of her keyboard fills the room and Nayeon slumps back into the couch, blowing hot air out of her mouth in relief.
And it continues like that. Jihyo is very interested in Nayeon and eternal life and Nayeon is very interested in Jihyo and mortality and it feels like a fair exchange of information.
One day Jihyo shows up to her apartment, rivulets of water lingering on her sleeves from the rain outside and her fist is still up and knocking when Nayeon pulls it open.
“Does it hurt when you die?” She asks.
“You couldn’t have just texted me?”
“I was in the area.”
And this is usually the excuse. So, Nayeon invites her inside and somehow they spend dinner together and Nayeon tells Jihyo how it feels to die.
“You do realize one day you’ll die and I won’t, right?” Nayeon asks over a cup of coffee. It’s steaming, because Jihyo made it and Nayeon has all the time in the world to wait for it to cool down within the walls of her apartment.
Jihyo winces when she burns her tongue and then she shrugs, wince slipping into her typical, terrible smile that Nayeon has come to understand as i’m-a-little-shit .
“How about, if I think I’m going to die, I’ll ghost you. That way you’ll be too mad at me for ghosting you to feel sad about me dying,” Jihyo offers. Nayeon looks at her dumbly before throwing a pillow at her laughing face.
“You are such an asshole.”
Nayeon’s heart skips a bit. She can’t remember the last time she met someone who didn’t flinch when she mentioned death.
“Will you show me what you’re writing?” Nayeon asks when it’s snowing and too cold to even look outside, when she thinks Jihyo looks like she’s in the mood to share.
Jihyo says, “a book,” and pointedly ignores Nayeon’s interested hum.
“You’re a writer?” She asks. Jihyo shakes her head no before she can finish the question.
“I want to be.”
“You’re writing a book,” Nayeon says simply, “you’re a writer.” Jihyo smiles crookedly over the top of her laptop and Nayeon feels a gentle warmth at the sight. “Will you tell me what it’s about?”
“A girl,” Jihyo says, smile turning to a smirk and Nayeon groans.
“You live to annoy me. Tell me more,” she pleads.
Jihyo chews on her lower lip and Nayeon watches her face heat up in real time. “Promise not to laugh?” She asks, and, despite all the childishness or immaturity or whatever , Nayeon holds her pinky out and swears it. Jihyo curls her own around it and doesn’t let go.
“It’s about a girl that wakes up lost and alone and thinking she’s the only person left on Earth. So, she walks, and she walks, and one day, she finds a city.” Nayeon is sure her eyes are sparkling as Jihyo speaks, and she can’t find it in her to be embarrassed by it. “It’s filled with people in a way she’s never experienced,” Jihyo continues, “and she doesn’t know how to fit in. She can speak the language but she never learned it, she knows her name but she’s never heard it before. Suddenly, she’s forced into a life she never lived.”
“How does it end?” Nayeon mumbles, hanging on to Jihyo’s words like they’re air.
Jihyo tightens her pinky around Nayeon’s and smiles. “You’ll have to read it to find out.” Nayeon whines and whines until Jihyo caves. "Fine," she sighs exasperated and not really annoyed. "She realizes that she woke up alone because she did it to herself. She hid herself away from the world, spent so much time in isolation that she forgot all the parts of herself that made her a living, breathing human. But you really have to read it to figure out all the in betweens."
Nayeon holds her other pinky up with a sly smile. "Promise," she says, leaning her head on Jihyo's shoulder and pretending not to watch her type.
Sometimes it’s fun—unleashing centuries of complaints that she could never tell anyone.
“It’s a shitty deal, really,” she starts, swallowing her mouthful of the apple that she brandishes in the air. “God or the universe or whatever put me on Earth for literally eternity and now I have to work and pay bills or I starve. Do you know how it feels to starve and die?” She asks, voice nothing more than a drawn out whine. “My stomach hurt for a month after. I had to learn how to hunt! Me! Do I look like a hunter to you?”
And Jihyo will listen and laugh and pat Nayeon’s head like she understands.
One day, Nayeon invites Jihyo to her own apartment.
“Have you ever been to a funeral?” Nayeon asks.
It feels strange, watching Jihyo eat from her own dishes, seeing Jihyo sit on her floor and lean over her coffee table. She’s never had anyone else in this apartment, but she thinks Jihyo fits nicely.
“Once, but I was too young to remember.”
Jihyo holds her hands out until Nayeon passes her the still-steaming rice and Nayeon chews the kimbap in her mouth with a frown.
“Do you ever worry?” She asks. “About being the one in the casket?”
Jihyo has just come from work, skipped her lunch break to get out early, so she’s too hungry to look up from her plate when she says, “What’s the point in living if you’re only focused on the end?” And she says it with a mouthful of rice, and she says it like it’s just that easy. Nayeon is too busy replaying the words in her head to speak until the last grain of rice has been cleaned from their plates and Jihyo washes their dishes just because she can.
Jihyo doesn’t return to her spot on the floor immediately, stepping past Nayeon and toward the bookshelf squished into the corner. Nayeon thinks she should feel nervous, or embarrassed, maybe, allowing someone to see her personal space like this. But Jihyo’s eyes sparkle in wonder when she crouches down, arms wrapped around her knees as she scans the titles in a row.
“You can touch them,” Nayeon laughs. “They won’t break.”
Nayeon thinks she should be embarrassed now, too, with how she has her body turned, focused only on Jihyo who shoots her a half-hearted glare. But she feels content—feels comfortable. She watches Jihyo delicately pull a book from the shelf and then she feels something more.
“Wow,” Jihyo breathes, “this is a real original copy?” She asks, looking at Nayeon as her fingers gingerly run over the cover.
“First Folio,” Nayeon mumbles, a wave of dusty, murky nostalgia washing over her as she remembers the day she first held it in her hands. “That cost me 25 cents,” she says, laughing at Jihyo’s shock.
“Do you know how much this is worth now? Like, ten million dollars,” she breathes out, eyes shining brightly as she opens the cover.
“You can have it, if you want,” Nayeon shrugs, hugging her knees to her chest and mashing her lips together when Jihyo looks at her like she’s insane.
Jihyo scoffs. “You’ve kept this in perfect condition for almost four-hundred years. I don’t need to risk dropping it in a puddle and watching it disintegrate.” She pauses, looking at Nayeon for a moment. “But I will be coming over to look at it. And all your other books. You never told me you were into literature.”
Nayeon feels her cheeks heat up. “They were just books when I bought them,” she says. “No fame or history behind them yet.”
“But you kept them,” Jihyo argues. Always arguing, Nayeon thinks as she rolls her eyes.
“I kept them because they were reminders, I guess. That I’m real—that I really existed then and I really exist now. It gets confusing, sometimes. Time is… weird,” she huffs out. She’s too busy picking lint off of her sweatpants to notice Jihyo carefully slipping the book back into place, to see her make her way closer until her back is pressed into the couch and her foot taps Nayeon’s leg.
“Sometimes I forget you’re super old,” she says with a teasing smile. Nayeon feels a great amount of gratitude toward Jihyo in that moment, feels like somehow Jihyo has figured out exactly how to talk to Nayeon without making her feel like she’s suffocating. “You used to speak like Shakespeare, didn’t you?”
In moments like this, Nayeon wishes Jihyo wasn’t so terribly annoying. (Though the squirming in her stomach says this is an even more terrible lie.)
But she still mumbles out, “I shalt not speaketh of yond,” and can’t stop the grin on her face when Jihyo squeals into her palms.
“Do more, do more!” Jihyo chants, pushing up onto her knees and eagerly waiting.
Nayeon flicks the forehead that is suddenly much too close to her own in Jihyo’s excitement and revels in the petty whine she gets in return. She doesn’t perform more Shakespearean English, she does turn on a movie, letting Jihyo steal half of the blanket at some point or another.
She wakes up to a random movie auto-playing on Netflix, the sun long since set and her apartment bathed in the blue glow of the television. Jihyo is curled into a ball on the other end of the couch, their legs intertwined so heavily that Nayeon doesn't move in fear of waking her. Her ribs strain as her heart swells and spills over itself—she’s too tired to understand what this means.
Sleepily, Jihyo’s words from earlier ring in her mind and she clicks the TV off just before she drifts back off to unconsciousness.
What’s the point in living if you’re only focused on the end?
“I’m cured,” Nayeon says as she plops herself on Sana’s couch. Sana raises an eyebrow at her and Nayeon grins. “Just kidding, but now I’m screwed in a new way, so that’s interesting, right?”
Nayeon wonders, not for the first time, if Sana wishes she were getting paid more on Tuesdays.
“Hello, Sana. How are you? I’m good, Nayeon, what would you like to talk about today?” Sana recites sarcastically. Nayeon’s grin stretches so far she thinks her face might just split in two.
“I’m rubbing off on you,” she observes. Sana laughs her gentle laugh and urges Nayeon to continue. “So, you know that car girl became coffee girl, who then became friend,” Nayeon recaps.
“Right,” Sana says, nodding along.
“Well, now she’s person-I-want-to-date girl.”
Sana looks at Nayeon for a moment and Nayeon ducks her head in embarrassment.
“Are you—uh, surprised by this? Or concerned?” Sana stumbles over her words and Nayeon squints at her.
“You were expecting this, weren’t you?”
Sana raises her eyebrows, tries to look confused as she hums in questioning. “No, no,” she waves off. “Now, why do you think it’s a problem?”
Nayeon still looks at Sana suspiciously, rolling her eyes when the therapist mashes her lips together to keep from smiling. “You’re terrible,” she says. “And it’s a problem because she’s the first person I’ve gotten close to in years—” decades, maybe centuries, more accurately, “and I just had to catch feelings. Who does that?”
Sana leans forward on her knees and pouts at Nayeon. “Did you ever consider that maybe she feels the same?”
Nayeon barks out a laugh. “Don’t be stupid,” she sighs. Jihyo would never, because Jihyo has eyes like galaxies and Jihyo has a laugh like sunshine and Jihyo looks pretty even when she’s grumpy and half-asleep maneuvering through Nayeon’s kitchen because she overslept and she’s late for work.
“I’m just saying,” Sana shrugs. “Don’t miss out on a good thing just because you’re too busy convincing yourself it doesn’t exist.”
Sana’s words, as usual, stick to Nayeon like glue. Gross, uncomfortable glue that she can’t ever seem to shake off.
It’s silly, entertaining the idea that Jihyo could have feelings for her. Jihyo could be interested in someone else, for all Nayeon knows. Though she thinks that would be a little bit difficult, considering how often they occupy each other’s free time. She’s been to Jihyo’s apartment so many times that she learned the roommate’s takeout order. And Jihyo has taken a liking to writing in the club before opening, sitting at the bar while Nayeon and Momo set up and leaving just before the early crowd begins to filter in.
But that’s normal—it’s friendly. Right?
Nayeon thumps her head against the bar. Shouldn’t centuries of life have given her enough experience to be able to read women by now?
“What’s bugging you?” Momo asks from somewhere behind her. Nayeon groans.
“Girls,” she whines. Momo laughs. Asshole.
“Still haven’t asked Hyo out?”
Nayeon’s head snaps up as she shoots a glare at Momo. “Shut up,” she says. Momo puts her hands up in surrender but that stupid smile is still on her face and Nayeon thinks she could just strangle her or—
It’s embarrassing, how her heart swoops into her throat and her head fills with cotton, how quickly her eyes scan the empty club for the source of Jihyo’s voice. Her head peeks as she climbs the stairs and Nayeon feels her throat tightening in anticipation.
“Hey,” she calls out, tries to block out Sana’s words playing on a loop in her head. “I didn’t think you’d stop by today.”
Something is different, she notices immediately, and then tries to pretend like she didn’t notice at all. But she does notice, because Jihyo’s smile is bright and Nayeon can almost see the excited tension vibrating just beneath the surface, rippling outward until Jihyo is practically bouncing in place.
“What’s up?” She asks slowly. Jihyo takes a step closer, and then another, and Nayeon feels her face heat up because what is she doing ?
“Guess who got an agent?” Jihyo whispers in her ear.
It takes a moment for Nayeon to register the words, once she stops the full-body shivers that threaten her at Jihyo’s close proximity.
“You—wait—what?” Nayeon sputters dumbly. “You got an agent?”
Jihyo really is bouncing in place now, nodding frantically and smiling so bright that the club is bathed in sunlight. “I kept in touch with an old professor and she had read one of my early drafts and she got in touch with a friend of hers and—” Jihyo cuts her own rambling off as she wraps her arms around Nayeon’s neck. “Is this really happening?” She mumbles, pulling back and looking into Nayeon’s eyes like she’s the only thing keeping her on Earth.
Nayeon laces their fingers together and rolls her eyes. “I told you, you’re a writer,” she says with a smile. “It was only a matter of time.”
And suddenly the air feels too heavy, feels like Nayeon has been hit by a car again the way her breathing shallows out because Jihyo’s still looking into her eyes like there’s something Nayeon is missing and Nayeon won’t be surprised if she hyperventilates and dies right now. She feels time slow, her heart slowing with it as Jihyo tilts her head curiously and Nayeon wants to say something, anything , but her mouth feels numb and—
And then Jihyo’s warm hands find their way to Nayeon’s jaw, gently holding her in place as she leans up and presses their lips together. Something cracks and breaks and rearranges itself into something better when Nayeon pulls her closer and kisses her back, a firecracker exploding in her heart and a lightshow behind her eyes and a million other clichés that only Jihyo has ever made her feel.
When Jihyo pulls away, still wrapped up in Nayeon’s arms, Nayeon blinks slowly, half-dazed as the light from the club filters back into her eyes. “Hold on,” she mumbles, the words falling ungracefully as Jihyo watches her with an amused smile. “You like me?” Jihyo squints at her, smile only growing as she nods. “I like you too,” Nayeon says. “A lot.”
“I know,” Jihyo hums, teasing and terrible and Nayeon really does like it.
“What do you mean ‘I know’ ?” She demands, pouting and childish and still in a trance.
“You’ve been flirting with me since the day we met,” Jihyo laughs, but she still has her hands on Nayeon’s jaw and Nayeon thinks she’s being distracting on purpose.
“Saving your life isn’t flirting,” she argues.
Jihyo hums. “Technically, you died for me. I think that counts as flirting, no?”
“You might just be the most annoying person I’ve ever met,” Nayeon mumbles and, for once, Jihyo doesn’t argue, laughing brightly until Nayeon pulls her in for another kiss.
Nayeon has a stupidly wide smile on her face as she chops carrots and dices onions. Though it’s becoming familiar now, this type of excitement for life has been foreign to her for so long, always afraid of what she would lose next.
The idea of losing Jihyo is… not something she chooses to dwell on, and she thinks that alone is a testament to the progress she’s made. She doesn’t think about an end when she’s with Jihyo—can only count time in smiles and laughter and playful insults hurled at each other. Time flows differently around Jihyo. It’s a strange shift, centuries in the making and Nayeon thinks she really has Jihyo to thank for it. And maybe Sana. And maybe herself.
A human lifespan used to feel like days in the grand scheme of Nayeon’s existence. Now, years and days and eternities have no meaning. Clocks don’t tick seconds to an end, but seconds to a beginning—to a new day of seeing Jihyo and breathing air and being alive.
She sighs, lovestruck and stupid—so, so, stupid, becuase her knife slices right through a carrot, digging into her finger.
“Shit,” she hisses, winces as she runs the wound under the tap. She pulls away when the blood has mostly disappeared, about to reach for the soap to wash the excess away and get back to dinner when she feels a strange swooping in her chest.
The cut on her finger is still wide and gaping, still spilling blood faster than ever.
“Nayeon?” Jihyo’s voice rings through her apartment as the front door clicks shut behind her and Nayeon’s heart thumps loudly in her ear. The blood drips and drips, finger throbbing in pain as she watches it, transfixed. “There you are,” Jihyo hums once she enters the kitchen, quiet and close as she shuffles up behind Nayeon to peek over her shoulder. “Oh,” she grimaces, “ouch.”
Nayeon turns around with wide eyes. “I’m still bleeding,” she says slowly.
“I see that,” Jihyo laughs. “Did you miss the carrot?” She tries joking, smile fading into a frown when Nayeon continues to stare at her finger. “Hey, are you okay?”
Nayeon looks between her finger and Jihyo, holding it up in front of their faces until they have to go cross-eyed to focus on it. “Jihyo, I’m still bleeding.”
Jihyo’s eyebrows knit together as she tries to decipher the words and Nayeon feels like she might throw up with giddiness.
“I’m still bleeding,” she repeats. “It hasn’t healed. ”
Her dumb expression brightens into a grin and she sees the realization wash over Jihyo’s face.
“Holy shit,” Jihyo mumbles. “You’re bleeding.”
“I’m bleeding!” Nayeon shouts, and then, seeing the blood forming a small pool in her palm. “I’m bleeding,” she repeats, feeling a little bit lightheaded now.
“Oh my God,” Jihyo says, amazement immediately making way for panic. “Where’s your first aid kit?”
“I don’t have a first aid kit, I’m immortal!” Nayeon shouts, closing a fist over the wound to slow the bleeding. “I can’t die now, I just became human,” she whines. She watches Jihyo fight the smile on her face as she rushes out of the kitchen, reappearing with a towel.
“Okay, wrap it in this and keep pressure on it. I’ll run to the store and buy something to clean it,” she instructs, turning to rush toward the door. She stops just outside of the kitchen, swivelling back on her heels and taking long strides until she stands nearly nose-to-nose with Nayeon.
“I think this is a good time to tell you that I’m in love with you,” she says, punctuating her sentence with the briefest of kisses against Nayeon’s lips before she slips out of the front door.
Nayeon sways on her feet with the force of the words, blinking slowly as she stares at where Jihyo once stood. She looks up at her chipped ceiling and feels a smile stretching across her face.
“Thank you,” she sings to whoever is listening.
Nayeon taps her foot nervously as the familiar elevator dings with each floor she passes. Her hands shift and rearrange around the small basket in her grasp and she checks it’s contents for the millionth time just as the doors slide open.
Dahyun sits in her usual spot and Nayeon laughs when her eyes light up at the sight of her. “A parting gift,” she says, putting the basket of assorted chocolates on her desk.
“Did you know you’re my favourite person ever?” Dahyun asks, eyes wide and twinkling and Nayeon really will miss her. “Sana’s ready for you,” she says, already sifting through the sweets excitedly.
Nayeon walks down the narrow hall and stops herself just before reaching for the doorknob. Her stomach twists itself into knots and instead, she knocks.
“Come in,” Sana’s muffled voice calls from the other side. She looks at Nayeon in amusement when the door is pushed open. “Since when do you knock?” She teases.
Nayeon shrugs. “I thought I’d do it right for once—be a good client for our last day today.”
Sana pouts. “I’m happy you don’t need me anymore,” she says, “but it’s going to be strange not seeing you every week.”
“Don’t get sappy, Minatozaki,” Nayeon warns, “I still have 50 minutes.”
Sana huffs, leaning back in her chair with a smile. The room smells like vanilla and Nayeon breathes it by the lungfuls.
“What do you want to talk about, today?” Sana asks.
“Surprising absolutely no one—death,” Nayeon says.
“Okay,” Sana hums, “what about death?”
Nayeon leans back and sighs, eyes tracing patterns on Sana’s ceiling because it’s always easier to be vulnerable like this. “I know I told you I wanted to be afraid of dying when I first came here, but—but now dying is a real possibility for me, and I don’t feel scared, and I’m okay with that. Is that weird?” She asks, tilting her head to catch Sana’s worried features. “It’s weird, isn’t it.”
Sana’s expression softens immediately and she shakes her head. “No, no it’s not weird. It’s just—are you sick, Nayeon?” She asks quietly, almost nervous. Not for the first time since they’ve met, Nayeon feels like they could be friends.
“No,” she laughs. “Clean bill of health, I swear,” she puts her hand up in solemnity. “But there are so many ways to die,” she says, sitting back and folding her hands together in her lap. “Like, I could walk out of this office and be attacked by a rabid dog, or there could be a carbon monoxide leak in my apartment, or I could be crushed by a cinder block,” she lists off rapidly, only stopping when Sana’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “But! I’m not worried about any of that like I thought I’d be.”
“It’s not weird, Nayeon,” Sana promises. “Death is inevitable, dwelling on how it could happen or when it could happen will only drive you crazy. The ability to not fear it at every corner isn’t a weird thing, it just means you’ve learned to live.”
Nayeon sucks in a breath, the words confirming what she had been hoping for. There’s something different about Sana saying it, about being told that her progress is real and valid by the one person that Nayeon thinks is actually qualified to say it.
“I like it,” Nayeon mumbles, “this feeling—living, or whatever,” she says with a roll of her eyes.
Sana smiles at the statement. “Good,” she says, “then I really believe you don’t need me anymore.” And she looks genuinely happy, proud even. Nayeon thinks she might be one of the very few good people in this world.
“Good,” Nayeon echoes quietly. “I don’t think I have anything else to say.”
“Oh, that’s new,” Sana teases.
Nayeon makes a face at her and then, without giving herself much time to think it through—“Would you want to hang out, or something?” She asks. “Technically I won’t be your client in, like, twenty minutes, so this won’t be a dual relationship or whatever—yes, I googled it,” she says as Sana’s surprise morphs into amusement. “You don’t have to say yes, I won’t give you a bad google review.”
Sana’s head tips back in a laugh and Nayeon realizes that maybe the light feeling she gets isn’t validation-seeking so much as it’s just Sana’s laugh that makes people happy.
“Yes, I think that’s allowed,” Sana agrees once her laughter fades.
“Okay, cool,” Nayeon mumbles. “Well, this isn’t goodbye, then,” she says as she stands to her feet. She reaches her hand out between them and Sana rolls her eyes before pulling her in for a hug.
“I’m happy for you,” Sana says, and Nayeon allows herself to melt into the embrace.
“Thank you,” Nayeon hums when she pulls away. “Text me,” she adds. “I have to go. Hot date waiting for me, and all that.”
She waves to Sana as exits the room, hurrying down the hall and toward the elevator as anticipation fills her. “Bye, Dahyun!” She calls as she steps into the elevator. “Send me that banana bread recipe from your roommate when you get the chance!”
Her blood thrums with excitement when the elevator slips lower and lower, as the doors slide open and she sees Jihyo waiting just inside the lobby. There’s a single rose in her hands and Nayeon feels her heart thump dangerously fast.
“You’re so cheesy,” she calls out, pulling Jihyo’s attention from her phone, insides melting when she watches a wide smile spread across her face.
“It’s a celebratory flower, for being done with therapy.”
And, God, Nayeon would kiss her forever if she wasn’t strongly against PDA. Jihyo holds the flower between them and Nayeon stops a few feet away, stands for just a moment to commit the image to memory. Jihyo leans on her toes and presses a purposely wet kiss to her cheek, grinning as Nayeon grimaces.
“How do you feel?” She asks.
Nayeon twirls the rose in her hand and loops her fingers through Jihyo’s as they walk. “Like I just hit on my ex-therapist.”
Jihyo smacks her arms and her big eyes—the prettiest eyes Nayeon has seen in an eternity—look at her expectantly.
“I feel good,” she promises. “I feel alive.”
It’s a breath of relief, knowing that after centuries of living she finally means it.