Jin Myung ducked into the back room to change before her shift. Truth be told, she was about ten minutes late already, but her precise schedule didn’t allow time for the clockwork horses that pulled the public tram to break down. She quickly threw on her uniform﹘ a gold hanbok, to appeal to the traditionalists among the shop’s clientele, and to match the clockworks in the shop﹘ over her street clothes. Jin Myung pulled her hair back into a low bun, checked her reflection in the tiny mirror next to the door, and took her place behind the counter.
Jin Myung wasn’t very good at sales, or at interacting with the public, although she would do near anything for enough pay. But really, clockworks sold themselves these days, especially the kind Sung Wook’s shop sold: tiny little figures and animals, small enough to be held in her hand. Like children’s toys, they would walk or dance on a surface after being wound up, though that was the delicate figurines’ only resemblance to toys.
Jin Myung had barely settled behind the counter with her textbooks when the shop door creaked open. She looked up, prepared to greet the couple who entered.
And then stopped short, as her eyes met Yi Na’s. Jin Myung hesitated for a moment, wondering if she should acknowledge that they knew each other.
Yi Na was the first to look away. She looked up at her companion, a middle-aged man with spectacles and an airship captain’s uniform and his arm wrapped possessively around her. Yi Na outshone him, as she outshone everyone. Today, her dress was a blend of European and traditional fashion, cinching tightly at her waist. Her companion whispered something in her ear, and she giggled.
Jin Myung barely refrained from rolling her eyes. Yi Na didn’t giggle .
“Pick whichever one you want,” the man said. He had the indulgent tone of a parent treating a child to sweets. It made Jin Myung’s skin crawl. How could Yi Na stand it?
Yi Na pressed a kiss to his cheek, and extracted herself from his embrace, her attention now on the delicate clockworks for sale. She stopped momentarily in front of a tiny dragon, covered with bright jewels. Privately, Jin Myung thought it was a bit gaudy, but it was certainly expensive.
Yi Na moved forward again, apparently not satisfied with the dragon. She stopped again and examined a tiny gisaeng, which brandished miniscule jeweled fans.
“Beautiful,” Yi Na’s gentleman friend said. “And very fitting for you.”
Jin Myung tried to look like she wasn’t listening. Whatever this was about, it sounded private.
Yi Na smiled tightly at him. “I’m not sure it’s quite what I’m looking for.”
Finally, Yi Na stopped in front of a tiny kitten, curled up in the facsimile of sleep. Its outer body was gold, with silver spots on its face, paws, and tail. Jin Myung couldn’t see them from her vantage point, but she knew that the clockwork kitten had tiny whiskers, made of pure silver wire. Its eyes were emeralds, but other than that, it was one of the plainer pieces in the shop.
Yi Na ran her fingernail over the kitten’s back. “This one,” she said. “I want this one.”
Yi Na’s gentleman companion counted out his money. Yi Na smiled at Jin Myung, just a little.
This time, Jin Myung was the one who looked away.
When Jin Myung got home, Ji Won and Eun Jae were cooing over that damn clockwork kitten. Yi Na was curled up in front of the fire, staring into the flames pensively.
Jin Myung poured herself a bowl of soup and sat down next to Yi Na. “I hope you’re not planning on getting that thing back.”
Yi Na glanced at Ji Won, who was enthusiastically winding up the clockwork kitten while Eun Jae grinned. “They like it more than I do, anyway.”
“Do they even know where you got it?” The words sounded more accusatory than Jin Myung meant them.
“I told them my boyfriend bought it for me.” Yi Na raked her fingers through her hair. “We can’t all be as diligent as you are, Jin Myung.” She stood, ruffling Jin Myung’s hair as she walked past.
Jin Myung sat by the fire for hours after that,straining her eyes to study her textbooks by the light of the fire and the oil lamps. But no matter how hard she concentrated, she could still feel the ghost of Yi Na’s fingers in her hair.
I don’t actually hate you , she didn’t say. But maybe Yi Na knew it anyway.