“are you going to eat that?”
byulyi’s gaze snapped up from her sheet of sky blue construction paper. she had been in the process of drawing a zebra, but she could feel the black crayon in her hand slowing as she stared at the girl who had spoken so suddenly. she had chubby cheeks, a wide smile, and large eyes directed in the direction of byulyi’s other hand, the one not holding a crayon. the one that grasped a carton of animal crackers instead.
“huh?” byulyi responded lamely. “you want my crackers?”
the girl nodded.
“uh,” byulyi stammered, dropping her crayon to hold the carton with both hands. she stared at the brightly colored box intently. animal crackers were her favorite snack, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to give them up to some girl she’d just met.
suddenly, her mom’s voice popped into her head, loud and scolding. “byul-ah, you need to learn how to share,” she had chided when she got a call from school claiming that byulyi wouldn’t let any of her classmates touch her new pokémon cards. “you’re a big six year old now, and six year olds know that sharing is caring.”
her mom’s lecture rang throughout her mind as she grinned and looked back up at the girl. “okay,” byulyi chirped, thrusting her hand out and offering her the carton. “here you go!”
the girl’s smile widened, and byulyi felt her heart swell. maybe this was what her mom had meant when she said sharing was caring. “thank you!” the girl gushed, taking the box from byulyi. without any hesitation, she sat down next to byulyi and ripped the carton open. “the elephant ones are my favorite,” she continued, popping said elephant past bubblegum pink lips. “what about you?”
byulyi blinked, a little startled by the fact that the girl had chosen to sit next to her when there were so many other chairs in the room. she had already given her the crackers; what was she still talking to her for?
“the elephants are cute,” byulyi agreed when the initial shock wore off. “but i like the hippos,” she said seriously, as if the type of animal the cracker was affected the taste at all.
the girl nodded in a similarly serious manner, fishing a hippo-shaped cracker out and pressing it into byulyi’s palm. even though they were her crackers in the first place, byulyi couldn’t help but feel a pit of warmth form in her gut at the sudden kind gesture.
as the girl continued to munch on crackers, she started talking about her other favorite things (aside from animal crackers). from the rambling, byulyi learned that her favorite pokémon was squirtle, her favorite type of flowers were sunflowers, her favorite foods were rice cakes and bulgogi, and her favorite thing to do in her free time was sing. while she spoke, byulyi drew all of these things on a clean piece of construction paper (a yellow one, because she had said it was her favorite color), abandoning her zebra drawing.
“is this for me?” she asked in disbelief when byulyi bashfully handed her the drawing. the paper was littered with elephants, rice cakes, and sunflowers, among other things, and there wasn’t a single inch that wasn’t covered with a crayon doodle. “woah,” she said breathlessly, holding the drawing up to the light as if she were examining a piece of fine art. “and you don’t even know my name.”
it was kim yongsun, byulyi found out soon afterwards. “pretty name,” byulyi commented. a genuine compliment. yongsun just waved her hand dismissively, an adorable blush dusting her cheeks.
they sat together during snack time an hour later. although byulyi didn’t have anything to eat, she decided that being able to sit next to yongsun, being able to watch her laugh and smile up close, was worth the rumbling stomach.
it was that bittersweet time between summer and fall, when students suddenly become aware of how quickly their summer vacation is coming to an end. the days were the hottest and longest they’d been all year. everyone was either relaxing in the air conditioned confines of their homes or, if they didn’t have air conditioning, loitering in a chilled grocery store or movie theater as employees looked on impatiently.
well, everyone but byulyi.
“i don’t understand why you chose today to go to the playground,” byulyi panted as she struggled to meet yongsun’s brisk walking pace. “like, not to sound clichéd, but i’m pretty sure you could fry an egg on the sidewalk with how hot it is.”
“that sounds like a waste of a perfectly good egg,” yongsun said with a frown. “who’d want to eat sunny side up with pieces of gravel and wads of gum suspended in the yolk?”
“unnie, it’s an expression,” byulyi whined, wheezing with effort. “and that’s not the point. why are you dragging me out during the hottest day of the year?”
yongsun hummed under her breath, not bothering to slow her pace. byulyi supposed it was always like this with them— yongsun moving much too fast, and byulyi not being able to catch up. “school starts next week,” she replied in a matter of fact tone. “i wanna spend the last days of summer with you.”
as irregular as her breathing already was (they were trekking up a surprisingly steep hill now), byulyi felt her heart skip a beat. yongsun wanted to hang out with her. yongsun, popular, witty, insanely gorgeous yongsun, wanted to hang out with her. the thought was too heady for byulyi to respond right away.
“and,” yongsun continued, finally slowing down when she noticed byulyi’s struggling up the hill. she walked backwards and looped an arm through byulyi’s. “we’re going to be in high school in a week .” she said this in a breathy sort of voice, as if she couldn’t believe the very idea.
byulyi snorted. “yeah, that’s generally what comes after middle school.” her remark earned her a punch to her arm from yongsun, which caused her to groan in exaggerated pain.
“shut up, you know what i mean.”
byulyi blinked, rubbing the spot yongsun had hit with her free hand. “uh, not really,” she said blankly.
yongsun glanced down at her feet. “i mean, you know,” she said in a slightly embarrassed voice. byulyi couldn’t believe her ears; kim yongsun, embarrassed? she was sure she was hallucinating from the heat. “things are gonna be different, aren’t they? we’re supposed to start paying attention to other stuff, like...like, makeup, and clothes, and— and boys.”
she said the last few words in an even more shy voice, cheeks colored a pretty pink. byulyi couldn’t help but roll her eyes. “unnie, what are you talking about? who the heck says we have to start paying attention to that stuff, just because we’re starting high school?”
yongsun’s cheeks flushed a deeper pink, although it was more with indignation than embarrassment. “byul, high school isn’t like middle school,” she said sharply. “there’s— there’s expectations. standards. for being cool, you know? it’s not as easy as it is in middle school.”
byulyi furrowed her brow. “who’s telling you this stuff?” she asked jokingly, although uneasiness edged her words. “that’s ridiculous. you shouldn’t have to change who you are just to look,” byulyi mimed a gag. “cool.” she paused and smiled at yongsun. “besides, who cares about being popular? we have each other, right? best friends for life, and all that jazz?”
yongsun smiled back, albeit hesitantly. “yeah, you’re right,” she said with a nervous giggle, one that churned byulyi’s insides. “i’m being weird, huh?” as the playground came in view, yongsun unhooked her arm from byulyi’s and stared ahead. “race you to the swings?”
byulyi had already started running, prompting a whiny ‘no fair’ from yongsun as she sprinted forward too. after the strange conversation, yongsun had gone back to her cheery, fun self, the one who laughed with her whole body and went higher on the swings than anyone else byulyi knew.
byulyi ignored the fact that none of yongsun’s smiles really reached her eyes.
it happens all of a sudden, the news hitting byulyi like a slap to the face.
“w-what?” byulyi sputtered, doing a literal spit take and getting iced tea all over her new jacket. “when did this happen?”
yongsun wrinkled her nose and handed byulyi a napkin from the dispenser. then, she leaned forward, propping her elbows up on the table and faraway look in her eyes. “yesterday, actually,” she said in a dreamy voice as byulyi wiped spit and tea off of her chin. “he asked to see my chemistry notes after class, and just...asked me.”
that was probably why byulyi hadn’t seen yongsun at the bus stop, then— chemistry was her last class of the day. the sudden reminder that she remembered yongsun’s class schedule both uneased her and instilled a weird sense of pride. she bet eric didn’t know yongsun’s class schedule.
the bitter thought made byulyi flinch. that was a horrible thing to think, even if it wasn’t out loud. eric was a good guy, and if yongsun had to go out with someone, byulyi supposed he wasn’t the worst choice.
“well, good for you,” byulyi said with a forced grin. she could tell that it wasn’t the least bit convincing, could feel the fact that her lips were stretched much too widely and that she was showing more teeth than usual. “if he makes you happy, then i’m happy.”
yongsun made a happy little sound in the back of her throat, apparently not noticing byulyi’s unnatural expression. “thanks, byul,” she sighed out. “you’re the best.” she glanced over at byulyi. “you know, eric has a couple of nice friends; i’m sure he could set you up with one you like.”
byulyi didn’t reply, couldn’t reply, choosing instead to smile even harder than before.
yongsun is painting byulyi’s toenails when she asks.
“hey, uh, byul?”
byulyi looked away from her phone and over at yongsun, blinking curiously. “yeah?” she caught sight of her own toenails as she answered and grimaced. they were painted a hideous yellow, one that hurt byulyi’s head to look at. yongsun liked the color, though, so byulyi let her go wild with it.
yongsun opened her mouth, as if to speak, before shaking her head and going back to painting byulyi’s toenails. “ah, nevermind, it’s stupid,” she said sheepishly.
“what is it?” she insisted, pulling her foot away so that yongsun was forced to look up at byulyi and not at that horrible shade of yellow. “unnie, you know you can tell me anything right?” she continued, voice growing louder. “is something wrong?”
yongsun worried her bottom lip before twisting the nail polish cap back on. “it’s…” she started, getting up to put the bottle on her desk. “it’s just eric—”
“what did he do?” byulyi blurted out. “oh my god, is the bastard hurting you? is that what the bruise on your arm was? i swear to fucking god, the next time i see him—”
“calm down, byul,” yongsun gasped out. “he’s not doing anything to me.”
byulyi felt her anger dissipate, slowly but surely, and stared at yongsun inquisitively. “then, what is it? are you afraid you guys are gonna break up soon?” she said this last sentence a bit more eagerly than she would have liked, but if yongsun noticed, she didn’t say anything.
“it’s not that either.” byulyi tried not to let out a disappointed sigh. “it’s my problem, really.” as byulyi waited for her to elaborate, she shook her head again. “it’s so silly,” she mumbled. “i don’t even wanna tell you.”
“no, no, tell me,” byulyi pressed on. “if it’s bothering you, you need to tell someone.”
yongsun played with the ends of her hair, sitting cross legged on her bedroom floor. when she still didn’t speak, byulyi slid down to the sit on the floor too, holding one of yongsun’s hands in hers. “yongsun,” she prompted softly.
the lack of honorific seemed to startle yongsun, because she looked up immediately, eyes wide. instead of shooting out a “that’s unnie to you”, though, she took a deep breath and began mumbling. “eric’s had girlfriends before,” she started. “he’s...you know. experienced.”
byulyi tilted her head to the side like a confused puppy, not quite comprehending.
“he’s— he’s done things,” yongsun continued when she caught byulyi’s blank expression.
“he’s kissed girls before!” yongsun blurted out, sounding extremely exasperated.
“you guys have only been dating for, like, two weeks,” byulyi said slowly, still confused. “he isn’t pressuring you to do anything like that, is he?”
“no, no,” yongsun said fervently. “i just...he’s probably expecting me to be this expert like him, when i haven’t even had my first kiss yet.” she groaned, putting her head in her hands.
byulyi couldn't help but be amused. out of all the situations she had been envisioning when she mentioned that the problem had to do with eric, this might’ve been the last one she expected. she didn’t say that, though, seeing that this seemed pretty important to yongsun.
“i really doubt he’s an expert,” she said gently. “i mean, he’s fifteen.”
“that’s fifteen years of possible experience!” yongsun cried out. byulyi couldn’t hide her snorts of laughter.
“don’t laugh!” she whined. “i can’t just have my first kiss with him and be this...amateur.”
before byulyi could insist that she was sure eric wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about that, yongsun spoke up again. “do you think i could, like, practice on you?”
byulyi almost choked.
“you don’t have to say yes,” yongsun added quickly. “i totally understand if you don’t, i just—”
“yeah, i’ll do it,” byulyi said in a strangely high pitched voice. when she started eighth grade, her voice had deepened so much, that yongsun teased her daily about sounding like a man (“ah, byulyi oppa,” she would gush as she rubbed her cheek into byulyi’s arm. byulyi wasn’t exactly opposed to the whole situation). she hadn’t thought her voice would ever reach this high of a register ever again.
“really?” yongsun stuttered, eyes brightening. “oh my god, byul, you’re the best.”
byulyi smiled weakly. “what are best friends for?”
yongsun giggled nervously and licked her lips. byulyi tried not the follow the movement of her tongue with her eyes.
“so, um, how does this work?” she asked awkwardly, uncrossing her legs and crawling a little closer to byulyi.
byulyi tried to answer, mouth agape, but found that her vocal cords didn’t seem to be working in the slightest. instead, she leaned in as well, tilting yongsun’s chin up so that she could see her face better in the light. yongsun was barefaced, aside from the slight swipe of cherry lip gloss she had on, yet byulyi was sure that she had never seen anyone more beautiful in her life. her eyelashes cast long shadows on her smooth cheeks (even in high school she hadn’t grown out of her chubby cheeks), and her lips were slightly parted, waiting, anticipating. byulyi swallowed the lump in her throat and leaned in even closer, so that their lips brushed.
it started out timid, yongsun backing away shyly every now and then with ticklish giggles. suddenly, yongsun grew bold and leaned in too. the kiss turned messy in the matter of seconds, evolving from pressed lips to a plethora of bumped teeth and saliva. byulyi steadied yongsun’s shoulder with the hand that wasn’t holding her cheek and parted her lips a little more. yongsun tasted exactly how byulyi imagined she would, all sweet cherry lip gloss mingled with spearmint toothpaste and the rice cakes she had for a snack an hour ago.
when they pulled away, they were both breathing hard, sounding like asthmatics in desperate need of an inhaler. “how—” byulyi started, clearing her throat. “how was that?”
yongsun licked her lips again, and byulyi felt something stir in her stomach when she realized that she could probably taste byulyi again that way. her cheeks flushed, and she glanced down at her blindingly yellow toenails. “that was,” yongsun started, clearing her throat as well. “good. i think that’ll prepare me pretty well.”
byulyi nodded mechanically. “that’s good,” she said, trying not to show any expression. she suddenly remembered that she was still holding yongsun’s hand and let go quickly.
there was a long beat of silence before yongsun spoke up again. “hey,” she said gently. “thanks for doing this for me. best friends forever and all that jazz, right?”
this time it was byulyi’s smile that didn’t quite meet her eyes.
yongsun ‘practices’ with byulyi extensively after that. everyday after school, in fact, and for hours on end during the weekends. she always pulled byulyi into her room and locked the door, making sure her mom couldn’t walk in at any time.
“isn’t this cheating?” byulyi asked in a timid voice one practice session as yongsun locked her door. she didn’t exactly want this to stop, but her guilty conscience was really making it hard to enjoy. “on eric?”
yongsun furrowed her brow. “of course not,” she answered incredulously, as if the very concept was unheard of. “it’s with a girl. it doesn’t count.”
byulyi felt her stomach turn over as yongsun pulled her onto the bed, wondering if this was what purgatory felt like.
“eric proposed yesterday.”
byulyi pulled her hand out of yongsun’s hair. yongsun whined and looked up at byulyi. “why’d you stop?”
“what’d you say?” byulyi asked lowly, trying to keep the emotion out of her voice. she ignored yongsun’s question.
yongsun didn’t answer either.
byulyi pushed yongsun off of her shoulder gently. “what’d you say?” she repeated, failing at her previous objective and sounding more frantic that she ever had in her life.
“i…” yongsun shrugged nonchalantly. “i said yes.”
a swell of anger filled byulyi’s gut. “what?” she asked in disbelief. “are you fucking kidding me?”
yongsun frowned. “look, it isn’t your place to be mad right now,” she snapped. “it’s not like you’re my girlfriend or something.”
she was right; byulyi had no right to be mad right now. they weren’t dating, not like yongsun and eric were. they were just friends. friends. best friends.
“no, but i’m your best friend,” byulyi snapped back in an equally venomous voice. “and i don’t think you’re ready for this. i mean, you’re just out of college, and you don’t even have a stable income yet.”
“but eric does,” yongsun retorted. “i don’t see any reason why i shouldn’t do this.”
because things have happened between us. best friend things. couple things. because i care about you a lot. because i care about you more than eric ever will. because i don’t just care about you. because i love—
“and i think i love him.”
byulyi suppressed the bile creeping up her throat, this morning’s breakfast of soy milk and leftover noodles threatening to spill all over yongsun’s new jeans. jeans that eric had bought her.
“if he makes you happy,” byulyi said in a surprisingly even voice. “then i’m happy.”
yongsun smiled hesitantly before enveloping byulyi into a sudden bear hug. “thanks, byul,” she said softly. “you’re the best.”
byulyi ignored the wave of deja vu that threatened to force her breakfast past her throat again, choosing to clutch at yongsun’s back instead.
they include byulyi into the wedding preparation. yongsun had insisted. you can’t plan your own wedding without your best friend, she had claimed.
it’s torture to watch them giggle and exchange chaste kisses up close, especially while they’re supposed to be choosing centerpieces or arranging the guest tables. but, yongsun looks happy, and that’s all byulyi ever wanted.
“i can’t do it,” crackled a breathy voice from byulyi’s phone. “i can’t get married, byul, i just can’t, i have to postpone the wedding—”
“woah, calm down!” byulyi said quickly. she had been trying to rub the sleep out of her eyes just seconds before, but she was wide awake now. “unnie, what’s wrong? what’s with the cold feet all of a sudden? don’t you love him?” she said all this in a slightly triumphant voice, and she grimaced. way to be supportive.
“i just—” yongsun sobbed through the phone. “i don’t think i can do this. the wedding’s in a week. that’s so soon , byul.” she took a deep, steady breath before speaking again. “i— byul, can you come over?” she said this in a low voice, one that sent shivers down byulyi’s spine. “eric’s out on a work trip right now, and i— i could really use some company.”
every nerve in byulyi’s brain screamed out a resounding “no”. this was wrong, this was so wrong. yongsun was getting married. in a week. in a goddamn week . she should hang up right now. call eric, tell him that yongsun needed to talk to him. that was the right thing to do.
“yeah,” byulyi replied breathily, jacket already halfway on. “yeah, i’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
she was there in ten minutes, speeding down the deserted streets of three a.m like a maniac. her jacket was off of her in the matter of seconds, yongsun pulling it off of her in frantic tags as she slammed the door shut behind byulyi and pressed bruising kisses to her lips, to her jawline, to her collarbones. “god, what took you so long to get here,” yongsun mumbled into the crook of byulyi’s neck as she peppered it with more kisses.
byulyi gasped and gripped yongsun’s waist to steady herself. that was just like yongsun to say. no “thanks for coming” or “how are you” or “would you like some water”, but “what took you so long”.
“i— i had to get dressed,” byulyi stammered out, words leaving her in a shaky moan as yongsun sucked a mark onto her skin. she had gotten better, kisses more precise, with more intent. it surprised byulyi— they hadn’t practiced together since college, when things had started getting more serious with eric. then, it hit her. eric. of course she was more experienced now. she had eric to practice with.
the bitter thought was chased out of her mind when yongsun snaked her hands from byulyi’s shoulder and arm to the sides of her stomach, her hips. “well, get dressed faster,” she replied lazily, lips moving back up to byulyi’s. “or don’t get dressed at all. it’s all coming off anyway.”
“unnie, are you drunk?” byulyi asked, pulling away from yongsun’s openmouthed kisses.
yongsun didn’t say anything. byulyi didn’t need her to— she already knew the answer. she couldn’t taste any remnants of alcohol on yongsun’s breath, just spearmint and cherry lip gloss.
“the bed will be more comfortable,” she said instead, a mere mumble against byulyi’s lips.
“are you sure you’re okay?” byulyi tried again, letting yongsun pull her upstairs and into her room. it smelled like rice cakes and her favorite lavender oil perfume, smelled like yongsun.
again, she didn’t answer. “take off your shirt.”
“byul,” yongsun interjected sharply. “i didn’t call you over here to talk.” she tugged on the oversized t-shirt that byulyi slept in, a faded black and white beatles tee. “take off your shirt.”
although she tried to say this in what she figured was a flat voice, byulyi could practically feel the shaky quality of her words through her lips. “you really want this?” byulyi whispered slowly, fingers already beginning to lift her own shirt. “you won’t regret it later?”
“what happens later doesn’t matter now.” there it was again, that slight shakiness. if it weren’t for the fact that yongsun was pulling byulyi’s shirt off herself now, pushing her onto the bed, she would’ve walked out the room and back home, forget this whole thing ever happened.
“okay,” byulyi said quietly, feeling her throat dry up when yongsun took her own shirt off, revealing a fitted white bra and an expanse of bare skin. “it’s just that this seems like kind of a big step from kissing.”
“you’ve been with girls before though, right?” yongsun asked hurriedly, sitting on the bed next to byulyi.
but you haven’t, byulyi almost said. she didn’t, couldn’t, because yongsun was suddenly palming byulyi’s bra and running her thumb over her nipples, setting her entire body on fire. “y-yeah,” byulyi stuttered out, trying not to throw her head back like an over-excited virgin. she had been with girls in college, a few semi-serious relationships with plenty of one night stands sprinkled in between. she wasn’t going to lie, though—byulyi always saw yongsun’s face peeking out of the sheets afterwards, envisioned her thighs wrapped her head rather than a stranger she had just met that night.
“then make me feel good,” yongsun murmered into byulyi’s ear, nipping at the sensitive skin there.
byulyi gasped, startled by the bite, and nodded slowly. she pushed yongsun gently onto the bed, so that her hair fanned out behind her head like a crown of petals would around a flower. her lips were parted and kiss-swollen, her eyes half-lidded. byulyi felt guilty for thinking it, but even in this moment of desperation and despair, yongsun looked absolutely gorgeous.
her hands shook as she pulled yongsun’s pajama pants down and placed them on the floor. byulyi would’ve folded them neatly and put them on the bed to prevent wrinkles, but something told her that yongsun wouldn’t have appreciated the gesture now as much as she normally would. she repositioned herself so that she was kneeling on the mattress in between yongsun’s legs and began tugging downwards on her underwear, plain cotton ones that matched her bra. yongsun wriggled impatiently at her excruciating pace. “hurry up, byul,” she huffed. “i’m an adult woman, not a fucking kitten.”
byulyi begged to differ, because the moment she had her tongue and three fingers inside of her, yongsun was gasping and mewling just like one. “f-fucking hell, byul,” she whimpered out, gripping the sheets with one hand and grabbing bunches of byulyi’s hair in another. “i’m gonna—”
she didn’t have to say much else after that. byulyi immediately reached her free hand up to palm at one of yongsun’s breasts and increased the speed of her occupied hand. she came with a cry seconds later, hand pulling on byulyi’s hair and hips stuttering.
it didn’t matter, the fact that byulyi hadn’t gotten off, or the fact that yongsun didn’t look her in the eyes afterwards, or the fact that she was asked to leave in a sharp voice five minutes later. it didn’t matter, because yongsun was happy, and if yongsun was happy, byulyi was happy.
the wedding was beautiful. the centerpieces were beautiful. yongsun was beautiful.
byulyi cried in her hotel room that night, still dressed in her maid of honor outfit, cried so hard that yongsun asked her why her eyes were so puffy the next morning.
“byul-ah,” yongsun whispered softly, eyes closed and head resting on byulyi’s shoulder. “promise me we’ll be friends forever.”
byulyi rolled her eyes, wondering what kind of newfound pre-teen angst had prompted this sentiment. “what’s with you? are you on your period or something?” byulyi didn’t actually know what the term meant— she’d just heard some of the older kids in school use it whenever their friends were acting weird. she thought it was applicable to the situation.
yongsun rolled her eyes. “you don’t even know what that means.” as byulyi sputtered out a nervous protest, she sighed. “just— promise me, alright?”
byulyi sighed too, slinging an arm around yongsun’s shoulder and pulling her closer. “unnie, you’re so stupid,” she mumbled. “you know i would never leave you, right? i would do anything for you. we’ll be friends until death, for sure.”
this prompted a wide smile from yongsun’s end, and byulyi felt her heart flutter. she wasn’t lying, of course. byulyi couldn’t even imagine leaving yongsun, and she truly would do anything for her.
“eomma, what’s this?”
yongsun peered past her daughter’s shoulder, past taped packing boxes and rolls of bubble wrap, to see what she was referring to. a bittersweet sort of smile spread across her face. “ah, that’s a drawing one of my friends gave me when i was in first grade,” she replied softly, taking the yellow piece of construction paper from her hands. “i believe she was the first friend i ever made?”
the girl’s eyes widened. “really? what was she like?”
yongsun made a curious humming noise in the back of her throat. “she was...a friend, simply put,” she answered. “smart, funny, kind, always there for me,” she quirked an eyebrow up as she met her daughter’s eyes. “just like you, byul.”