Chapter 1: Through The Night
Music Hyperlink: Through The Night, by IU
As the orange glow of a September sunset washed over yellowing leaves, leaves that swirled and danced in an autumn wind, a young woman stood at the edge of her balcony, her arm carelessly tossed over its railing as she smoked a cigarette. Or pretended to, because Choi Yena would never hear the end of it from her dad if she ever took up smoking, and why would she want to anyway? It’s not like she had never seen all those anti-smoking campaigns, but they would never match up to the way her seniors’ eyes would shake during filming, desperate for a cigarette break. She swore to herself then that she’ll never get addicted to anything, ever.
Biting the Pepero stick in her mouth in half, she chewed slowly as she watched the sun fall asleep past the horizon. The world was in its final quarter of the year, dragging its feet to the finish line. It wasn’t too bad a year, Yena thought. She was a permanent cast member on a variety show, and was in the running for the Rookie of the Year title. She had made people laugh, seen memes made out of her habit of pursing her lips. ‘Duck Yena’, the public called her, an affectionate title that gave her a cuter exterior, made her seem more approachable, more friendly.
Not half bad. Her dad’s proud of her. She’s proud of herself, too, she guessed. Maybe.
Sighing, resting her chin on her arm, she felt as if she was missing something. Not money, no, not success either, although she could always do with more of both. It was an odd sort of emptiness, the type that settled in the pit of her stomach and made her heart yearn for things she couldn’t encapsulate in words.
The sky faded into pink overhead. Yena finished eating her Pepero stick. She turned to head back in for the night.
Until a song tickled her ears, quiet and mourning and altogether heartbreaking. It was coming from downstairs, chords strummed on a guitar, a deep and husky voice full of soul singing words she could not make out. It was an English song; Yena had never been the best at the language, but she could tell from the sorrowful voice it was about a broken love, carelessly tossed aside, left to be forgotten. She stood still where she was, closing her eyes. Her body swayed with the music, and she started to hum a harmony.
She didn’t realise the song had finished until she found herself singing to the quiet night sky.
A light breeze roused Yena’s hair, strands of golden-brown hair floating in the wind. She shivered in her loose tee, rubbing cold hands up and down her arms to generate some form of heat. She wondered whether her neighbour downstairs would perhaps pick up another instrument, pick up another song. She wanted - no, needed to hear that voice again, needed to embrace all the emotions the singer felt themselves.
She needed to feel again.
By some miraculous deity, her wish was granted. This time, she recognised the song - a Korean ballad, a woman singing to someone she loved a lifetime before, a woman who gave her everything to their other half only for them to leave.
Yena scoffed; how apt, she thought, that this was the song they had chosen to open the night. She remembered that feeling, remembered it all too well as if it was just yesterday. It brought back memories of empty promises and abrupt goodbyes. It brought back memories of…
It was too painful to say her name. Chaewon had told her time and time again that she had to get used to it, to this distance. Yena must get used to saying that name without breaking down halfway.
Takahashi Juri. Yena repeated the name like a mantra.
Juri, Juri, Juri.
It had been a year since she left. A year since Juri took Yena’s heart and soul back to Japan, leaving her nothing but a shell. A year was a long time, and Yena had forgotten how to cry. Those emotions had been locked behind a million doors, the key buried six feet under.
And yet it took only one song from a stranger for the doors to burst open again, releasing sadness pent up in a heart left raw. Yena collapsed to her knees, clutching at her chest, and cried her heart out.
“Excuse me?” a soft voice asked when Yena’s sobs began to subside. “Are you alright?”
Yena froze. Someone had caught her at her most vulnerable state. She hurriedly wiped her tears away. Perhaps if she stayed silent, whoever it was will leave her alone, and they could both pretend that Choi Yena didn’t cry.
Except the question came again, louder this time. Louder, but still gentle, like the breeze that ruffled her hair. “Are you alright?”
“Where are you?” Yena asked, skilfully avoiding the question because honestly, Yena was not quite alright at the moment.
“On the balcony below yours.”
It’s the singer, Yena realised. The singer who opened the floodgates with a voice rich like dark chocolate and emotions of a thousand lifetimes. She smiled and peered over her balcony railing, as if that would allow her to meet the owner of the beautiful voice. Even their speaking voice was pretty, Yena thought, husky and warm. She was pretty sure her neighbour’s a girl, but Yena wasn’t one to make assumptions.
“What’s your name?”
“Before you ask others for their name, shouldn’t you introduce yourself first?” The voice sounded slightly put out.
“I’m Choi Yena!” she replied. “What’s your name?”
A pause, then: “Jo Yuri.”
“Yuri, are you a girl?”
“Me too!” Yena exclaimed, excited, shoving all previous sadness to the back of her mind where she could pretend it didn’t exist. She loved making friends, even if they were not actually meeting face-to-face.
Yuri chuckled; it was a throaty sound that made Yena’s heart skip a beat. “I can tell.”
"Your voice is really pretty, Yuri."
"Thank you, Yena." Yena swore she can hear the blush in Yuri’s voice.
"Will you sing another song?"
"If you would like me to, sure." The answer came without hesitation.
"I'd love it if you did."
There was no answer, and for a moment Yena feared she was being too pushy. Then Yuri began to sing. Another Korean song, a popular ballad by a singer Yena admired. It was a love letter penned by a girl in love, sung by a woman recalling a fond memory. She sang to the fireflies, messengers of her heart, lighting up the dark sky with sparks that flickered and glowed.
Yuri sung unaccompanied, her subdued voice carried on the breeze. The huskiness of her voice added to the depth of the song, capturing the emotions of the song perfectly. She sang as if she longed for her first love forgotten in her youth.
It made Yena want to love, to experience this sort of pure love that they sing about in these songs. To give their heart to someone, as quickly and as easily as taking a breath. She wondered whether Juri felt this way when they were together. She hoped so.
So Yena stood there, listening to the voice of an angel on a mid-autumn night, lost in the reverie of love.
Chapter 2: Nostalgia
Music Hyperlink: Nostalgia, by Davichi.
Mornings were often uneventful for Yena. As filming usually took place in the evenings, when most people were leaving work for the day, Yena would usually wake up late, then laze around until her manager came to pick her up for some schedule or other. This morning, however, she decided to venture out to procure some groceries (by groceries, she means snacks). Donning the most casual attire she could throw together, she pulled on a cap and mask just in case someone recognises her. Not that she didn’t like being recognised; Yena knew it was a good sign that people actually watched the show she was on. It’s just that it was nine-twenty in the morning and she wasn’t exactly a morning person.
The trip to the shops was uneventful, save for the slight detour where she helped an old woman lug her awesomely heavy bags of food up a steep flight of stairs. Yena was rewarded with a pat on the head and an apple for the road. Considering that her first good deed of the day, she trudged to her favourite convenience store. It was the only one she knows that stocked her favourite brand of canned green tea latte, the same one that she chugged down everyday to feel like a human.
She toyed with the can in her hand, aluminium coloured green, brown swirls swimming across the can. Juri used to buy her one after a long day of filming, and their kisses would taste saccharine like sugary coffee, sharp like matcha. Like the latte, it was just a bittersweet memory now.
Making her way back to her apartment with her coffee in hand was a trial. Every little thing reminded her of Juri, from the lamppost they kissed under to the stray pebbles they would kick as they walked. The murals that adorned the footpath once guided them home as they walked hand-in-hand, stopping to take photos of each other against artistic backdrops. The bakery around the corner was Juri’s favourite, too. Peeking in, Yena took note of a new employee, a small girl who bounced with every step. Juri would have liked to meet this petite bakery employee, Yena thinks, all cute and bubbly with a deep dimple in her cheek.
Yena heaved a sigh and tossed her can into a nearby trashcan. She wished she could throw her inner turmoil away as easily as that, throw these damn feelings and memories away like how Juri did. If only she could.
The melancholy stuck with her as she went through the motions of the day. It bogged her down as she was driven to work by her manager, lingered in the back of her mind as she plastered on a smile for a photoshoot. On the way to her next schedule, Yena fell asleep in the car, and woke up with tears staining her cheeks. She hurriedly wiped them away and touched up her make-up.
Smile, Yena. Smile, like how your parents would want you to. Smile, like how the world expected you to.
Smile, because you had to.
By the time she crawled back home at night, the words “Shopping, G-Market!” and a weird yet catchy tune ringing in her ears, Yena just wanted to get some sleep. But first, food.
She pulled out some frozen leftover pizza and chucked it into the oven. After she showered and changed into her pyjamas, she plated her pizza and took out a can of beer. Drawing the door to her balcony open, she strained her ears, listening out for the faintest strum of a guitar. She waited, and she waited, and she waited… and was rewarded a few minutes later.
Yuri’s voice pierced through the night sky, filling the waxing moon with her song. Why was her voice so full of sorrow, Yena wondered. She felt it gripping at her heart, squeezing the life out of it, hurting her chest. She waited until Yuri finished the song before she started to speak.
“Yuri?” Yena’s voice faintly trembled, and she hated herself all the more for it.
“Hey, Yena.” Yuri’s voice was bright, a stark contrast to the songs she sang. Her sweet voice sparked a small light in Yena’s heart, chasing away the darkness that lived within. “Did you just get back?”
“Yeah. I’m having dinner now.”
“Hm.” Yena swore she could hear Yuri contemplate the notion of having dinner this late at night in her mind. “What’s for dinner?”
“Pizza and beer.”
“Sounds like a good time,” Yuri approved. “You know, I was sort of waiting for you to come back, sort of hoping that we’d be able to talk again. Isn’t that silly, Yena? I mean, we don’t even know each other.”
Yena’s heart swelled, and despite herself, a smile bloomed on her face. Yuri had been waiting for her. “We can learn about each other!” she replied excitedly, her morning blues forgotten. “I’ll start. Where are you from?”
They chatted across balconies, breathing in autumn air. Yena learned that Yuri is from Busan (obviously, with such a distinct accent), that she was turning nineteen this October, that she hated dieting, loved singing. She listened as Yuri enthusiastically listed her favourite singers and her favourite song associated with each one. They ranged from pop to R&B to rock to ballads, and Yena could tell how much Yuri loves music just from the joy in her voice.
In turn, Yena told Yuri about her family - parents and an older brother, living in a different part of Seoul. She glossed over her line of work, preferring instead to talk about the things she liked to do, about her childhood dream of becoming an idol. She offered to dance for Yuri, but the younger girl merely laughed and pointed out that even if Yena did dance, she wouldn’t be able to see it. It took Yena a moment to realise why, and she slapped a hand to her face once it hit her.
Yena found comfort in this, in lukewarm pizza and cold beer, in Yuri’s amused cackle and calm voice. Staring at the few stars above her, she took a chance and made a wish: she wished that they would always be like this, two girls sitting on their balconies, talking to the moon. A silly act, she knew, for what would stars as bright and brilliant and significant in all the galaxies do for someone as small as her? But she wished anyway.
“My turn!” Yuri exclaimed. “Yena, have you ever dated anyone, or been in love?”
Yena’s breath caught in her throat. The autumn air had suddenly grown very still, very stifling. Her heart twinged painfully - any more, and she might die of heartbreak.
She wanted to throw up. It was ridiculous how nauseating the idea of love was. Yena believed in love, once upon a time, wanted to keep believing in it still, but she couldn’t. She didn’t dare. But she couldn’t lie to Yuri, to this girl who was talking to her in the dead of night, keeping Yena company with only her calm voice.
“Yes, Yuri. I have been in love before.”
That night, Yena dreamt of Juri.
Chapter 3: To J.
Music Hyperlink: To J, by Lee Sun Hee.
Yena jolted up from her bed, a sheen of cold sweat coating her skin. Her hair was plastered to her face, her clothes sticking to her body. Her dream had been too vivid; she could still feel Juri’s fingers between hers, Juri’s lips lingering on her hips. She buried her face in her hands and took in a shuddering breath.
God, it felt so real.
Staggering into her shower, she scrubbed and scrubbed at herself, as if the action would somehow erase the memory of Juri’s touch from her skin. If she had to scrub until her skin was red and raw, then so be it. She stuck her head under the showerhead, letting the running water wash away the thought of Juri from her mind. Yena could hear her phone ringing outside, and blocked her ears with her hands. She didn’t want to deal with anyone today, but the phone just couldn’t stop ringing. How frustrating, she grumbled to herself, and angrily turned off the tap.
Stepping out in a tank top and boxer shorts, she dragged herself to her phone. Ten missed calls from Chaewon. Yena marvelled at her impeccable timing. Collapsing back onto her bed, her hair still damp, she called her friend’s number and waited. “Yo.”
“Yena, save me. It’s, like, the third week of this term and I’m already drowning in assignments.” Chaewon sounded like she was on the verge of tears. Yena fought to suppress her chuckle - she shouldn’t be laughing at a friend who’s obviously struggling to survive, but it was just too funny. She could already picture Chaewon’s pout.
“Don’t laugh!” Chaewon whined. “Please come keep me company, maybe you can be my muse for today.”
A muse? If there was anyone who could inspire people, it was no doubt her, Choi Yena, master of the arts. “Of course,” Yena agreed, preening. “Where are you? I’ll be right there.”
Yena found Chaewon in her university’s library, face planted in her notebook. She couldn’t be sleeping, could she? Yena approached her friend warily, extending a hand out to poke her back to alertness. “Chae-”
Chaewon’s head shot up, her pink hair flying everywhere. “I’m awake!” she shouted, then cringed when the other library patrons gave her dirty looks. Her eyes met Yena’s bemused ones, and she leapt up to grab Yena in a bone-crushing hug. “Oh, thank goodness you’re here. Please, save me from this hell.”
“What are you even doing?” Yena leaned forward, trying to get a peek at Chaewon’s notebook. It was filled with squiggles - what Yena recognised was Chaewon’s writing when she was especially uninspired, just random words mushed together to form incoherent sentences - and a bunch of doodles in the margins of the pages. “Is that homework?”
Chaewon groaned. Shoving Yena into a chair, Chaewon plopped herself next to Yena and jabbed an accusing finger at the book. “Read my lyrics and tell me whether they’re good. Honestly.”
Peering at the scribbles in black pen, Yena could make out a couple of lines, something about desperate longing for either her hometown or her missing cat - honestly, she just couldn’t tell. Then there was a line that was just the words ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ repeated over and over. Yena surmised that was when the metaphorical well in Chaewon’s brain had finally run dry.
“It’s, you know,” Yena gestured vaguely, hoping not to crush Chaewon’s dreams too much. “Interesting?”
Chaewon slumped in her chair and slapped a book over her face. “Oh no, I’m doomed!”
“Look.” Yena patted Chaewon’s hand encouragingly. “Let’s go out for a walk, maybe you’ll get some inspiration from seeing the world, or whatever the poets of old always said. Even better, let’s get food.”
Chaewon narrowed her eyes at her. “You’re just saying that because you want breakfast.”
“Yes.” Yena placed her chin on the table and gave Chaewon her best puppy-eyed look. “Please, please, Chaewon, please.”
Chaewon huffed. Just as she was about to reject Yena’s proposal, because Chaewon actually needed to get this done by this afternoon, her stomach growled, right on cue. Yena’s grin grew.
“Fine,” Chaewon said, relenting. “Fine.”
It was a short walk to the cafe that Yena and Chaewon frequented ever since their high school days. The cafe looked exactly the same as it did all those years before - worm-worn tables of mahogany and pine, chairs that creaked and scraped noisily against the wooden floor, endearing hand-crafted mugs that had been decorated by the staff. Even the giant clock, designed to look like an oversized pocket-watch, that hung above the wall still counted every second five minutes too fast. Closing her eyes, Yena breathed in the fragrance of coffee and eggs and honey toast. Her stomach rumbled pleasantly.
They sat down at a two-seater table near the large display window of the cafe where the sun was filtering in through half-drawn blinds. Yena immediately dove towards the singular menu on the table, plucking it from its holder before Chaewon could. Chaewon rolled her eyes; even though Yena was a whole year older than her, she still really acted like a child sometimes.
“Chaewon, I want the vanilla honey toast with ice-cream, plus an iced mocha.” Yena grinned at her. “Thanks.”
“Why do I have to pay for your breakfast? You’re the one working and earning money,” Chaewon argued.
“Because I’ll help you write your lyrics later?”
Chaewon immediately got to her feet with her wallet in her hand. “No take-backs!” She pointed a warning finger at Yena before heading off to the counter to place their orders.
As she waited for Chaewon, Yena gazed out the window at the passers-by. Most of them were university students, some rushing to class with coffees in their hands, others strolling leisurely by, chatting with friends or staring down at their phones. In another lifetime she would have been one of them, just another face in the crowd, just another student at Enozi University.
“Um, excuse me,” a shy voice brought her out of her daydream. “Are you Choi Yena, by any chance?”
Yena glanced up with a professional smile already arranged on her face. “Yes, I am!”
The girl who had called her name gasped and covered her gaping mouth with her hands. “That’s amazing! I’m such a big fan, I watch your show every week. Can I take a photo with you? Or get your autograph?”
“Well.” Yena pursed her lips. “I’m not wearing any make-up today, so… I’ll take the second option.”
“Yes!” The girl pulled out a slip of paper and a pen from her pocket (ever prepared, Yena thought, amused) and handed it over. She squirmed in place as Yena scrawled her signature down and handed it back to her with a brilliant smile. “Thank you!”
“No, thank you,” Yena replied as she waved goodbye to the stranger.
“Gross, what’s with that face?” Chaewon groused, walking back with a pager.
“It’s called a smile, Chaewon, you should try it someday.”
“That’s not a smile. That face screams ‘Alright, Karen, I’ll get the manager for you’ vibes.” Chaewon slapped the pager onto their table and slid herself down in her seat. “It’s that classic customer service look.”
Yena shrugged. “When you’re a celebrity, it kind of comes really naturally.”
“Yeah?” Chaewon pulled a face. “Sucks to be a celebrity, then.”
While waiting for their food to arrive, Yena started to work on Chaewon’s homework. She tried her very best (really, she did) to salvage whatever there was in the notebook, but it was impossible to do so. What was she supposed to do with this messy handwriting that was nearly illegible? Sighing, she started to discuss lyrics with Chaewon, noting them down in neat print. As time continued to pass, Yena realised how difficult it was to write, to come up with ideas from scratch - especially on an empty stomach. Even the words they started to write down were all food-themed, to Chaewon’s and Yena’s dismay.
So when the pager buzzed and Chaewon dashed off to pick up their orders, Yena heaved a sigh of relief and massaged her temples. “Why is this so hard,” Yena mumbled as she played with a pen in her hand. “Inspiration, please come…”
“Bye, Juri!” A distant voice called.
“Juri?” Yena dropped her pen on the table at the name. “Juri’s here?” She quickly stood up and looked around. Her keen eyes spotted waves of brown hair flouncing out of the cafe.
She would have nearly ran out of the cafe in pursuit of the mysterious person with hair the colour of roasted chestnuts if not for Chaewon plonking her tray of food down on their table. “Dude, what’s up? Saw someone you know?”
Yena bit the inside of her mouth and shook her head. “No, just… I thought- I thought I heard Juri’s name.”
Chaewon’s expression hardened. She gripped Yena’s shoulders and shook her firmly. “Get her out of your head, Choi Yena. It’s not an uncommon name. Besides, she left a year ago, there’s no reason why she would be here.” She shoved Yena back into her seat and jabbed a finger at the toast in front of Yena. “Eat, and don’t think about her any more.”
Picking up her fork, Yena poked and prodded at the thick toast oozing with honey, topped with whipped cream. Just minutes ago she was so excited to dig into her meal, but after hearing that name, her appetite was completely gone. She only ate because Chaewon was glaring at her. The honey soured in her mouth, whipped cream dissolving into nothingness.
Yena put down her fork, unable to take another bite. “Can I have your notebook for a while?”
Chaewon gazed at her, concern written all over her face. “Sure.”
Yena closed her eyes, the notebook in her hand. She took a shaky breath and, opening her eyes, placed pen to paper. She let her heart pump her emotions through her bloodstream, into the pen between her fingers, onto blank paper. The words she scribbled down in her hazy mind were words that she could never get out, feelings she could never express before others. As she wrote her tears dripped down onto the notebook. Ink bloomed where tears fell.
And when she was done, pages upon pages filled with things that she had always wanted to say, Yena put the book down and leaned back in her chair. Chaewon stared at her, an unreadable expression in her eyes. Yena gave her a sad smile and handed her the notebook.
“I think you’ll get really high grades with this,” Yena joked. As Chaewon continued to gaze quietly at her, Yena leaned over and patted her head. “Don’t worry. I feel much better now. Much… lighter, somehow. Like a weight has been lifted off me.”
“That’s good to hear,” Chaewon said, sighing in relief. “Now, eat your breakfast, or else you’re just wasting my money.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Yena took another bite of her toast, letting the taste of honey and whipped cream and toasted bread linger on her tongue. Sweet, she thought. Sweet, light, fluffy. The mocha was nice too, rich yet refreshing, a new burst of flavour in her life. It made her think of her nights spent with Yuri as they chatted over music. If Yuri hadn’t been there, hadn’t brought all these negative emotions in Yena back to the surface, would Yena be brooding forever? It was a possibility, certainly.
Yena took another sip of her drink and chuckled. To be indebted to a girl she might never meet… It was strange indeed, but Yena wouldn’t have it any other way.
Chapter 4: Chantey
Music Hyperlink: Chantey, by AKMU.
As Yena walked back home, a skip in her step, she heard the soft tinkling of wind-chimes. Turning, she noticed a variety of them hanging in front of a shop that sold all things old and rustic. She saw old license plates, hubcaps, vintage outfits, and a neat pile of old books for her perusal. Beelining for the shop, she skimmed through the racks of clothes and plucked out a dusty navy peacoat. She brushed the dust off and held it against herself, admiring it in the mirror next to the racks. “Not bad,” she murmured. Tucking it under her arm, she moved on.
The books were calling her. Now, Yena wasn’t really one for reading. Not that she didn’t like reading, she was just really too busy to read and was always too tired whenever she had free time. Yes, that was it. It wasn’t that she’d rather play games on her phone or computer, nope. But today, for reasons unknown, the books called her.
Her eyes were drawn to a book in the bottom third section of the pile, a pitch-black book with a pitch-black spine. Despite the brilliant light of the shop it lived in midnight. Yena wondered whether she too would burn black if she touched it. She stretched out a tentative hand and pulled it out, neatly displacing all the books above it, but like a well thought-out move in Jenga, all they did were wobble and settle back into place. Turning the book over, she could barely read the title, the gold font nearly all but scratched out. She ran her fingers over the words, tracing out the bumps that made up the title. Beneath them a silhouette of a lone man walked. Yena stared at the cover for a beat longer before taking it over to the payment counter, where an old man stood, reading his newspaper.
“Excuse me, sir, how much for the coat and the book?”
The old man closed his newspaper with a flick of his wrists. Tilting his thick spectacles down, he squinted up at the items in her hands. “Twenty dollars.”
As Yena was about to pay, a strong gale burst through the open doors of the store, stirring up the wind-chimes outside. She was taken by surprise and stared at the bells chiming outside, metal resonating to form both light and low sounds. Placing her purchases down, she walked out and observed the wind-chimes as they swayed in the wind, intrigued.
“Five for any of them,” the old man added. “They’ll bring you good luck, they will.”
“Good luck?” Yena repeated. She could use some of that. She took her time examining each one before picking a simple bell-shaped one with a red string attached to it. “I’ll take this one, sir.”
The old man nodded thoughtfully. “A wise choice. Simple, yet refined.” He took the money Yena offered and bowed. “May it bring you lots of good luck, girl.”
Gathering her things in her arms, Yena bowed in return. While she walked home, she turned the wind-chime around and around in her hand. A plan began to formulate in her head - a good plan, she hoped, and dangled the bell from her fingers, listening to it chime.
“Yuri?” Yena leaned over the railing of her balcony as soon as she heard the first strum of a guitar. “Yuri, are you there?”
“Hey, Yena! What’s up?”
“I bought something for you. Or, well, for us,” Yena said, scratching the nape of her neck. It sounded more embarrassing now that she said it out loud, but she couldn’t take it back now.
“What did you buy?” Yuri asked, her voice tinged with curiosity.
Yena pulled out the wind-chime she had bought earlier in the day. She tied one end of the string around her balcony railing, tightening it in a double-knot so it would be snatched away by the breeze, then dropped the wind-chime. It swung from her balcony, a gentle sound that echoed through the night.
“Oh! It’s a wind-chime!” Yena heard Yuri say. The bell started to chime incessantly. Yuri must be playing with it - just like a cat, Yena thought, amused.
“Yeah, see, I was thinking that instead of me wondering whether you’re here - or vice versa - not that you’d ever wonder whether I was here, honestly - but I was thinking that we could use this bell instead. You can ring it when you’re here, and I’ll ring it when I’m here. So if we’re both here, the wind-chime will sound twice. What do you think?”
“Yena, it’s a wind-chime in the middle of autumn.”
“Oh.” Yena had completely forgotten about the formidable winds that howled through the season, and would no doubt cause the wind-chime to peal even if they weren’t there. “That’s right, the autumn wind…”
“I think it’s a brilliant idea.”
Yena perked up immediately. “You do?”
“Of course I do. Look, first of all, it’s a great way for us to check whether the other is here. It’s not a very noisy, irritating object, so even when winds blow it accidentally our neighbours won’t think much of it. Besides, if the winds are blowing and the wind-chime goes mad, then wouldn’t us suddenly stopping the wind-chime mean that we’re here?”
“That makes sense!” Yena marvelled at Yuri’s thought process. Her head was only ever filled with worries - worries about whether Yuri would be there tonight, whether they could hear the other, whether her ideas were too silly and impractical. Then Yuri would come along and fix everything, make everything right again.
“Besides,” Yuri interjected, “I do start finding myself wondering whether you’re here, especially on nights like this, you know?”
“Nights like this?”
“Yeah. On these tranquil nights, where the lights from the city dim for the few milliseconds, and we can see the stars as they dance above us. And sometimes the moon will come up - and such a beautiful moon it is, doing its best to bestow its luminance upon us, with its changing appearance in cycles. A constant inconsistency, like all life on this planet we call ours.”
Yena glanced up at Yuri’s words, gazing at the sky the colour of the book she had bought that day. It was true, she thought. Only yesterday the moon was a perfectly-formed crescent, a seat for night-sky fishermen, and today it was barely there, a bleak glow hanging on by a thread, thinner than the red string tied to her balcony. Despite the near-invisibility of the moon, Yena could feel its struggle to remove itself from the darkness, and that made it shine all the brighter.
The wind-chime tinkled quietly.
“The moon is beautiful tonight,” Yena murmured, awestruck.
“It really is, isn’t it?” Yuri agreed as they basked in the serenity of the night, in the glow of the fading moon.
“Will I ever see you, Yuri?" Yena suddenly asked. "Will I ever know the face behind the voice?”
“Maybe one day, Yena. Maybe one day. But for now, this is enough.”
“Yeah,” Yena sighed, lying down on her balcony, framing the sliver of light in the sky with a hand. “This is enough. For now.”
“Wow, Yena, you’re reading ,” an inquisitive voice commented. Yena looked up to see one of her variety show colleagues standing over her, a male idol with silvery hair and a silly grin on his face, peering at the book in her hand.
“Seungkwan, unlike you, I am a person of great education,” Yena sniped at him, sticking her tongue out.
Seungkwan nodded thoughtfully. “I’m sure you are, that’s why I’ve only ever seen you play games or eat or sleep. Must be tiring having such a big, hard-working brain.” Cackling, he danced out of the way before Yena could kick him.
“Shut up and let me read in peace, won’t you?”
“But there’s no one to do dumb stuff with me now,” Seungwan complained, sulking. He plopped himself on the floor next to Yena and stared blankly at the hubbub around them. Staff of various positions were running around, cameras were being towed through the corridors, and cheap snacks were being handed out. He grabbed a bag of jellies and stuffed his face with the candy, then offered it to Yena. “I don’t see our seniors.”
“They must be smoking outside somewhere,” she replied absentmindedly, turning over the page.
Seungkwan blew a raspberry and poked her in the arm. “Dude, I’m seriously bored. Read a line out to me.”
Yena huffed, but complied. “Everything,” Yena started, “everything she says is beautiful. Her lips are a fountain with words brimming; I, with my hands cupped, wait for them to overflow.”
Seungkwan hummed, his face set in unusually earnest lines. “That’s poetry, isn’t? Poetry in two sentences, and it carves a picture into your head.”
Perhaps it did for Seungkwan, but in Yena’s mind there was only the blank space of her balcony, the echo of their night. The sound of a bell chiming in the dark, the musicality of Yuri’s voice as she spoke of the moon not as an object too far for them to touch, but merely as an abstraction of the human.
Like the author, Yena waited every night for Yuri to speak, to sing, patiently anticipating the waterfall of words and music to come crashing down and drag her to the very depths of the ocean. And by God, Yena would willingly drown night after night if it meant she could listen to Yuri sing one more time.
Chapter 5: Come Out, Let's Walk.
Music Hyperlink: Come Out, Let's Walk by 20 Years of Age.
“Something good must have happened, huh?”
Yena was lying down on her balcony, reading her book in the darkness with a penlight between her teeth. These were her favourite nights: toying with the bell wind-chime like a cat, listening to Yuri sing with only her guitar for accompaniment, savouring every word jotted down in the short story anthology she consumed with a hunger. Yuri’s songs, like Yena’s heart, had grown lighter over the week, almost playful. “Something good happen?” Yena repeated, her words muffled by the penlight.
“Yeah!” Yuri exclaimed, her voice all joy, a lone sun - Yena’s sun - shining in the middle of the night. “Grandma’s getting better, she might be able to go home soon. That’s what the doctors say, at least.”
Yena smiled at the excitement in Yuri’s voice. She recalled Yuri talking about her grandmother during one of their nightly talks, about how her grandmother had essentially raised her throughout her childhood back in Busan until she fell sick. Her grandmother had decided on staying in their home in Busan, where she would be comfortable with taking regular trips to the clinic, but Yuri had insisted on dragging her to Seoul for better treatment at a larger, more reputable hospital.
“That’s good to hear, I’m sure she can’t wait to go back to Busan.”
“Yeah, she’s been saying that she’s finally going home after so long,” Yuri agreed, giggling. “But you sound pretty happy too!”
Yuri’s words took Yena by surprise. She closed her book and set her penlight aside. “I do?”
“Yes, of course. Your voice…” Yuri hesitated, seemingly to find the words most appropriate to express her thoughts. “You’re like a lotus flower. When we first met - if that is the right term - you sounded more tired, as if thick mud weighed upon you like a burden, and you were faced with a vast but empty land. But now a lotus flower has bloomed in the midst of the mud, all pretty and pink, a beautiful flower born through the sun - that’s you, Yena.”
“A lotus flower.” Yena cracked up, howling at the analogy. “Yuri, if we ever meet, you’ll know I’m nothing like a lotus flower. I’m not graceful, I’m not delicate; I’m probably the complete opposite of who you think I am.”
“That’s my impression of you, at least,” Yuri said, sounding mildly affronted.
“Alright, alright,” Yena snorted and wiped away the tears of laughter that were already forming in her eyes. “Well, if I’m a lotus flower, then you’d be the sun that brought me out of hiding, Yuri.”
Yuri started coughing rather violently, and for a moment Yena rushed to her feet, peering over the balcony in concern. “Yuri?”
“Yena, are-” Yuri cleared her throat. “Are you flirting with me right now?”
“Am I? Should I?” Yena’s voice dropped to a lower register, teasing. “Do you want me to?”
Silence. Yena took a seat, tugging at the red string on her balcony. The wind-chime tinkled its tiny tune. When Yuri failed to answer after a prolonged period of time, Yena leaned over. “You don’t have to answer that, I was-”
“Maybe.” The answer came in a very small voice. Yena had to strain her ears to pick it up, but when she did, a flirty grin spread across her face.
“Sorry, can you say that again? I couldn’t hear you.”
“I didn’t say anything!” Yuri refuted loudly. “Anyway, moving on.”
“Alright, alright,” Yena chuckled. It really was this easy to tease Yuri; Yena loved it. “When’s grandma going home?”
“Tomorrow or the day after. I’ll be going back to Busan with her then.”
“Going back?” Was Yuri leaving? Yena shot straight into panic mode. “You’re going back to Busan?”
“Just for the week,” Yuri was quick to reassure her. “I’m not going to leave forever, Yena, I still have uni classes to attend here in Seoul.”
“Thank goodness.” The relief in Yena’s voice was evident as she sank to the floor, a hand over her heart. “Whatever would I do without you, my sun? I, a simple flower that craves your light, would never be able to beautifully blossom.”
“Are you admitting you’re a lotus flower now?” Yuri asked, amused.
“I-” Yena huffed and rolled over. “Fine, you win this round!”
Cackling, Yuri struck up a tune on her guitar, a cheerful melody that had Yena brightening the second she recognised the song. It was a simple song, simple and lovely, just about a couple taking a late-night stroll outside. Yena briefly wondered what it would be like to be able to do that with Yuri. One day, she told herself. One day they’ll meet, and Yena would see Yuri glow under the yellow street lights with a guitar in her arms and a beautiful smile on her face.
“Do you sing, Yena?”
“Yeah,” Yena answered without thinking.
“Then sing with me.”
For the first time in a long while, Yena woke up with a smile on her face. The sunlight that peeked through her blinds and warmed her bed up in rows of slits made her think of Yuri. It really was strange, Yena knew, to be so easily reminded of someone she hadn’t even met yet. Strange and silly - that was Yena in a nutshell. Thinking back to the previous night, singing a duet with Yuri, Yena started giggling. She flailed around in bed, squealing like a lovesick schoolgirl.
It was their first duet, and Yena sincerely hoped it wouldn’t be their last.
Oh, to be in love! - or not. Yena was sure she wasn’t in love with Yuri. She didn’t even know what Yuri looked like, for goodness’ sake; for all she knew, Yuri could be anywhere between a small waif and a thick queen. Not that it mattered, of course, but Yena was the sort of person who would very much prefer knowing who the other party was, inside and out, before claiming anything presumptuous.
“But you like her.” That was Chaewon, sipping at her mint chocolate drink as she eyed Yena. They were sitting at their usual table by the window at their regular cafe, one of the few days where they were free enough to hang out, and Chaewon was unsurprisingly wary about Yena’s new favourite friend. Putting her drink aside, she leaned over the table. “You don’t even know her, Yena. You’ve never met this stranger.”
“But she sounds like a nice person,” Yena argued.
“Having a pretty voice doesn’t mean squat, Yena. Don’t you think it’s kind of suspicious that you’re constantly keeping in contact with a person who you only recognise by the sound of their voice?”
“Nah, I think it sounds pretty romantic,” Yena admitted. “Something out of a drama or a novel.”
Sighing, Chaewon massaged her temples. “This is ridiculous. I don’t understand how you work, but you know what?” She held up her hands in surrender when Yena pouted. “I’m not going to interfere in your, what? Pursuit of this mysterious girl of yours? I just want you to be careful, Yena. I don’t want to see you get hurt for no good reason again.”
Yena patted Chaewon’s hand in reassurance. “Don’t worry, Yuri is a good person. She’s my sun, after all.”
“Her name’s Yuri.”
“Yeah.” A lightbulb went off in Yena’s head. “Oh, you might know her! She said she goes to Enozi University as well, as a music major of some sort?”
Chaewon shook her head. “Yena, do you seriously think I would know every single person in this university? And even if we were doing the same major, that still doesn’t mean that I would know-”
“-Yuri, second year from Busan, voice like melted chocolate, like a crackling fire on a winter day, filled with sorrow and joy and all the emotions of lifetimes before and after-”
“-this person that I guess I have apparently heard of,” Chaewon completed her sentence. She tapped her chin in thought and pursed her lips. “Jo Yuri, huh? So she’s your neighbour.”
Yena lit up. Perhaps Chaewon could sneakily introduce her to Yuri somehow. “That’s right!”
“Jo Yuri, the piano child prodigy, is your neighbour. Have you heard her play the piano before?”
Yena cocked her head in confusion. “Uh, no? Why, is that her major?”
“Not at all, actually.” Chaewon chuckled darkly. “There’s a rumour that Jo Yuri, vocal major, has a dark past regarding the piano.”
Yena raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t think you were one for rumours, Chaewon.”
“I’m not.” Chaewon leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “But if it concerns someone who you’re interested in, then I will pay more attention. Rumours don’t appear from thin air. Keep that in mind, Choi Yena. And please, be careful.”
“Be careful,” Yena muttered to herself as she walked back to her apartment. She understood where Chaewon was coming from, but really? Yuri wouldn't hurt a fly - or at least that was the impression Yena had of her.
She stopped short at her door. There was a post-it note, the colour of a warm sunset, stuck to it, with child-like drawings of a flower in full bloom under a sun. Yena grinned.
"To lotus flower,
I hope I got the right apartment. It would be very awkward if I didn't. Grandma wanted to go back to Busan today, all of a sudden, so I had to rush and pack without saying goodbye to you or leaving a parting song. To make it up to you, I've tied something to our bell. I hope you like it.
From, your sun.”
Plucking the note off the door, she dashed towards the red string that tied the wind-chime to her balcony, burning under the hot sun, and yanked it up. Tied to the other end of the string was a small duck plushie holding a flower and another note. Her eyes widened in amazement; of all things, a duck. Even without realising it Yuri had chosen the best toy of them all. How did she do it?
(Mysterious connections, quiet understandings, mere intuition - or a mix of all three.)
Yena wrangled the note out from the duck’s grasp and opened it. There, in the same handwriting as the post-it note in her hand, was a series of numbers. An afterthought was scribbled under it: “For lone nights under dark moons.”
She stared at the paper in her hands, tracing each number out with her gaze. A long second passed. Yena blinked and quickly pulled out her phone to input the numbers. With a rapidly beating heart, she held her phone to her ear, listening to the monotonous beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-
If her heart could leap out of her chest, it would have done so at the sound of Yuri’s voice, all low and husky and sleepy. Yena’s hand fluttered to her mouth as she fought back a smile. “Hey, Yuri. Sleeping?”
“Yeah, we’re on the train to Busan.”
“Be careful of zombies,” Yena joked. “Don’t want to lose you like how we lost Gong Yoo and Ma Dong Seok.”
Yuri chuckled. “Don’t worry, grandma’s fierce enough to scare them off.”
“I’m sure she is.” Yena paused for a moment, listening to Yuri breathe on the other end of the line. “Yuri…”
Yena hesitated. She wanted to ask about the rumours that Chaewon was talking about, but the words were stuck in the back of her throat. Rumours, Yena strongly believed, were just rumours; and besides, Yuri was in such a good mood that Yena didn’t have the heart to potentially ruin it.
“Yena? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, nothing. Just… I miss your voice.”
Yuri snorted. “We just talked last night, and we’re talking again right now.”
“It’s not the same over the phone,” Yena complained. “The quality’s nowhere near as good.”
“I’ll be back before you know it,” Yuri assured her, laughing.
Her chuckle made static crackle over the phone, made the pink flower in Yena’s heart unfurl a little more. “I can’t wait.”
Music Hyperlink: Mother To Daughter, by Yang Hee Eun.
I always make sure there’s an opening in the room - an inch at the door, or even maybe at the window. My grandmother taught me that if one dies during sleep, the soul needs an exit, or it will be forever trapped in the room.
“What a way to start the day,” Yena muttered, reading the paragraph. She looked up when a voice from outside her waiting room called her name. Getting to her feet, she closed her book and tucked it into her bag. Her stylist followed her out as she walked towards the stage, every so imposing, looming over its audience. Even the idols who performed with all their might looked so tiny in comparison to the stage they stood on.
Yena grinned at the girl group who was scurrying off the stage, holding her hands up for high-fives. She recognised them from when they had appeared on her show, a five-person rookie group that dominated the stage but were also really (there was no other word for it) soft when they weren’t performing. They returned her high-fives and bowed shyly. Their leader, a girl named Yeji with sharp features and bright smile, stopped to hover around Yena.
“Are you the special emcee today?” Yeji asked curiously. She beamed when Yena nodded and wrapped Yena in a hug. “Yay! That’s great! Finally!”
Finally indeed, Yena thought. It had really taken her a whole year to accept an emcee invitation to a music show, to this music show in particular. A month ago she wouldn’t have even dared to step into this area of the building - or even this whole building - as it forced her to recall memories she didn’t want to recall. Memories of bobbed hair around a pretty face, memories of lips that whispered her name and of sneaky finger taps when they would pass each other outside waiting rooms. A month ago, even the thought of walking down a corridor alone would weigh heavily on her shoulders.
Now she could walk - not freely, but her shoulders were a little less hunched, her head a little less bowed. Gone were the rainclouds that hovered over her, grey clouds fading into white, white parting to let the sun peek through.
“So,” Yeji wiggled her eyebrows at her. “Who is it?”
Yena blinked in surprise. “Who is who?”
“The person who put that smile on your face.” Yeji poked Yena’s cheeks with a finger and grinned.
“She’s… no one.” Yena pulled herself away from Yeji’s curious eyes. “If you’re going to keep asking me questions, I’m going to call your girlfriend. Lia! Li-a!”
Widening her eyes in alarm, Yeji slapped a hand over Yena’s mouth. “No, don’t do that, she’s going to scold me for bugging you.” Yeji glanced behind her, pouting when she noticed her girlfriend advancing towards her with a raised brow. “Fine, okay. I just wanted to say - whoever it is that makes you smile like that, she must be really lucky to have you in her life. Okay bye!”
Yena watched Yeji prance off towards her girlfriend, grinning at the way the girls leaned on each other as they walked back to their waiting room. Playing with the cue cards in her hand, Yena shook her head as she recalled the idol’s words. “No, Yeji. I’m the lucky one to have Yuri in my life.”
A small duck plushie swung from Yena’s backpack as she strolled down the street back home that evening. It had been five days and ten hours since Yuri had left for Busan - which, in Yena’s opinion, was too far away a distance from Seoul, too long a time away from her. How she wished Yuri would just hurry up and come back so they could finally meet. Yena had already planned out the whole thing from beginning to end: she’d knock on Yuri’s door with a bouquet of flowers and a soft toy, then bring Yuri out for a meal, some coffee, maybe a movie.
“Sounds like a date,” Yena mumbled to herself, deep in thought. “Well, I guess it is a friendly date. Would one call that a date? We haven’t met each other, so it’s kind of like a blind date? Is it?”
Her phone buzzed in her pocket, interrupting half-formed thoughts. She pulled it out and stared at the time displayed. Scratch the earlier thought; as of right now, it had been five days, ten hours, and twenty-four minutes since Yuri left. Under the clock was a new message notification.
From: my sun
Yena immediately brightened and quickly tapped out a reply. “Yuri! I missed you.”
From: my sun
-I missed you too. :)
As she read the message, Yena had to press her lips together to suppress the giddy laugh that bubbled in the back of her throat. Her phone suddenly started to ring loudly, taking her by surprise. Fumbling around with her phone, she nearly dropped it on the ground before holding it to her ear. “You missed me? Really?” she asked, mouth wide open in a grin.
“Strangely, yeah. I must be going crazy.” Yena heard some mutters in the background followed by something banging shut. “Damn, where’s my charger?”
Yena heard Yuri’s grandmother giving her faint instructions, then a loud clatter that hurt Yena’s ears. She winced, instinctively pulling away from the phone before tuning back in. “Yuri?” she ventured.
“Good evening,” a calm voice murmured on the other end of the line. “You must be Yena. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Yena blinked. Could this be…? It had to be. “Yuri’s grandmother?”
“That’s right.” Yuri’s grandmother spoke with a distinct Busan accent, her words undulating in pitch to create music. She sounded like Yuri, a patient, soft-spoken voice that could make the earth tremble and oceans rise with the right words. She sounded like a woman who would sing to the moon, a woman who could make stars fall at her feet, could make flowers bloom or wither at the touch of a hand.
Stopping short before a mural of a starry sky, Yena stood to attention and bowed a full ninety-degrees forward to empty air. Her hair swept past her shoulders, tips nearly touching the ground. Unnecessary as it was, for there was no way Yuri’s grandmother could see her now, Yena understood that this was a woman whom she had to pay the highest respects to. “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Yena. My granddaughter tells me many tales,” Yuri’s grandmother said, laughter light and airy.
“Indeed. I can tell her she likes you a lot.”
“D-does she?” Yena repeated, surprised.
“Yes, she does.” There was a long pause before Yuri’s grandmother began to speak again. “Yena, this may be quite sudden, but can I ask a favour of you?”
“Of course! Anything at all!”
"Will you please take care of Yuri?"
Yena blinked, confused by the sudden question. "I'm sorry, ma'am, I don't understand."
“My granddaughter is,” Yuri’s grandmother exhaled heavily, “Yuri is a soft-hearted child. She worries too much about the people around her, and sees herself as someone smaller, someone less important than she actually is. I worry that her world is too full of darkness sometimes, and I wish for her to find someone who can show her that she is much more than that, someone who can bring a light, no matter how little, to brighten her world again. I believe you might be able to do that, Yena.”
“Me?” Yena was flabbergasted. Of all the people in the world, her? What in the world did she do, or did Yuri say, to have her grandmother have such faith in Yena? “Ma’am, you must have misunderstood. I don’t think I can do that - I mean, it was Yuri who brought light into my life, not the other way round. I really don’t know what I would have become without her.”
“That’s exactly it.” Yuri’s grandmother sounded even more determined. “If this grandchild of mine has managed to bring light into your life despite her own darkness, then there is hope for her still. Share with her your light. Express your gratitude, your kindness, your own strength - and the strength that she has given you.”
“Yena.” Yuri’s grandmother interrupted, her voice a hushed whisper. “Please. She needs you now, more than ever. I’m sorry to burden you with this, but she has no one else left.”
“What do you mean?”
“Grandma!” Yuri’s voice blared through the phone, quickly replacing her grandmother’s. “Did I leave my phone there?”
“This kid, really.” Yuri’s grandmother chuckled. “She really can be so forgetful. Please look after her well, Yena. Especially tonight.”
Ominous. Her words were ominous. Yena had a sinking feeling she knew what Yuri’s grandmother was talking about, if the paragraph from her book this morning was anything to go by. “Ma’am, are you-”
“Yena!” Yuri shouted into the phone. “Guess what?”
Yena wondered why Yuri’s grandmother insisted that Yuri was surrounded by darkness. On the contrary, she sounded all cheerful and excited, like a little kid at a fair who wanted to be entertained. Yena, of course, would willingly take that role. “What?”
“I’m going back tonight!”
“R-really? Shouldn’t you stay with your grandmother a bit longer?”
“Yena, do you not want me to go back?” She swore she could hear Yuri pout all the way in Busan. “Besides, I did want to stay a while longer, but grandma encouraged me to go back to Seoul tonight.”
Especially tonight, Yuri’s grandmother had said. Tonight, Yena understood. Tonight, everything would change. But Yena couldn’t tell Yuri that, couldn’t tell Yuri what was on her mind, lest her intuition was wrong. And by God, she hoped she was wrong.
“I’ll be waiting for you, Yuri,” she could only answer weakly. “I’ll be here, waiting, for you.”
Somewhere in the few minutes before orange faded to black, grey crowded the sky. Yena, sitting outside on her balcony in a large yellow hoodie, watched the first drop of water fall. It splashed on her balcony railing, splitting into two before rolling down. A torrential downpour soon followed, each droplet heavier than the last, bullets storming down on the earth.
Somewhere under her balcony, the wind-chime rang, assaulted by rain and wind. It shook and shivered as it hung from Yena’s balcony, its red string fraying bit by bit, and as it shuddered under the impact of the rain it cried out for help, cried out in a sound that was drowned out by the cacophony of the storm.
Yena’s phone buzzed in her hand. Yuri must have arrived in Seoul by now.
From: my sun
Scrambling to her feet, Yena rushed out of her apartment, grabbing an umbrella and a mask on the way. Yanking the mask onto her face, she hailed a taxi to the train station, urging the driver to go as fast as he could. While the driver sped through traffic lights and drifted around corners, Yena called Yuri, desperately pressing her phone to her ear.
Yena tumbled out of the taxi the second it stopped, heart racing as she ran up the flights of stairs leading to the train station. Where was Yuri? Her eyes searched for someone they didn’t recognise, her ears straining to listen for a familiar voice, fighting against the loud thumping of her heart.
A sob. Yena whipped her head around, her eyes wide, ears pricked. She stumbled towards the sound, searching blind.
Water dripped from her umbrella onto the tiled station floor.
In a corner of the train station, hidden from prying eyes, was a figure huddled in a ball. Trembling hands clung onto knees as she shivered in the warmth of the building. Her long brown hair covered her face, hiding tears. A small bag was tossed aside next to her, items strewn across the floor.
Yena took a careful step forward.
messy writing, sorry, but there's something that has to be done by a certain time, and i'm trying to get there as fast as i can
but thank you for reading!!
Chapter 7: Interlude
a short piece with yuri's pov instead of yena's for a change, because it's yuri's bday and i wanted to do something for her :)
Shadows. Shadows cast in light cast out of darkness, like grainy charcoal shavings, the sharpenings of pencils as they snapped under the pressure of a hand against paper. Every time a pencil broke, a little bit of Yuri’s resolve broke with it. She wished she could annotate music scores with a pen instead, but that was not Good Practice. Or at least that’s what her music teacher had told her all those years ago, back when Yuri’s fingers danced across her piano, light and easy and cheery.
Shadows. Shadows carved in angles, black against white against black against white. They consumed Yuri’s world, ebony and ivory that depressed under her fingers, sprung back when she lifted them. The distinct sound of basswood and sugarpine creaking under her hands, under her feet, to create harmony. The screeching echo of metal and rubber as they spun, round and round and round, to create dissonance.
Shadows. Her piano was three different types of shadow-colours, three different shades of grey. She understood it was a different colour once, perhaps a sort of polished mahogany, lacquered until it reflected light off its surface. She understood that a long time ago, she was able to see colour, until her vision was thrust into black and white at the age of seven. The doctors had told her grandmother there was nothing wrong with her eyes, as far as they could tell. Perhaps, they suggested, it was a sort of mental blockage within her that erased colour from her sight, a sort of way of dealing with her loss. Yuri didn’t understand, but her grandmother only nodded.
Shadows and light. Piano colours.
Now, twelve years later with her head between her knees, Jo Yuri suddenly reminded of the day her grandmother first took her in. She was too afraid of the piano tucked away in a corner of her grandmother’s house, too afraid of its inky-black and blinding-white keys amongst the greys. It was her grandmother who helped her, slowly, accept the shadow-colours, explaining what each shade of grey reflected in the real world. The light greys were bright yellow and baby blue and pastel pink, the darker greys burnt brown and midnight blue and quiet burgundy. Yuri swore that if she strained her eyes, she could start to see specks of colour float into her vision, briefly gracing themselves on the non-coloured objects before winking away.
But now her world was once again grey. No more colours showed themselves to her.
Black and white. White, like the tiles of the train station floor, black like the shadow standing vigilant over her.
Yuri glanced up, her eyes brimming with tears. A girl, the lower half of her face covered by a mask, watched her warily from a distance. Her hoodie was a very light grey - yellow, Yuri immediately corrected herself, sunflower yellow. In the girl’s hand was a wet umbrella, and her shoes were drenched in rainwater. The girl held up her phone, typing a message.
Yuri’s phone buzzed.
From: choi yena
Close ur eyes
Following instructions, Yuri felt a thick sweater being draped over her shaking body, the hoodie flung over her head, covering her red-rimmed eyes and blotchy cheeks. “I’m sorry, Yuri,” Yena murmured, her usual loudly excited voice low and soothing as she drew Yuri close to gently pat her head. “I’m sorry.”
In her daze, Yuri allowed herself to be led out of the train station, her hand held firmly in Yena’s. Tripping over station steps, she was ushered into a waiting taxi where she cried herself to sleep.
She woke in the morning, white light spilling onto her mid-grey blanket. Shifting in bed, she came face-to-face with a ginormous duck plushie, its beady eyes gazing unblinkingly at her. Shocked, Yuri jolted away and tumbled onto her floor. There she sat, motionless, absorbing her surroundings.
Where was she? The last thing she recalled before falling asleep was a warm hoodie, a familiar voice. “Yena,” she murmured. Glancing down, she noted she was still wearing the girl’s sweater, zipped up to her chin. Nuzzling into the hoodie, she breathed in the scent of lemon soaked in rainwater. Citrus and petrichor.
Getting to her feet, Yuri looked around blankly. The unfamiliar bedroom held a variety of knick-knacks, most of them ducks in various forms and positions (odd, Yuri thought, but somewhat acceptable) as well as photos and art pieces pinned on a corkboard. Drawing close, she noticed they were all of the same person: a girl in various poses pulling different facial expressions. In all of them her eyes shone brilliantly, a large grin stretched across her face.
Was this Yena? Even in the simplest of drawings she looked so full of life, arms extended as if reaching out to Yuri.
The bedroom door creaked open. Yuri turned. Her eyes met bright ones behind thick spectacle frames, hair swinging in a ponytail, lips pursed like the small duck plushie swinging from the bag. “Ah, I-”
“You’re crying.” Gentle hands cupped Yuri’s face, thumbs wiping away the tears that had begun to roll down her cheeks. Yena wrapped her arms around Yuri, one hand cradling her head, the other patting her back in soothing strokes. Held in comforting warmth, Yuri finally broke down. Burying her head in the crook of Yena’s neck, she cried, and she cried, and she cried.
Chapter 8: The Truth Untold
Music Hyperlink: The Truth Untold, by BTS.
Yena was currently in a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, her wish was finally granted. She had finally met her neighbour whose voice had been lighting up her night, and she was right to say that Yuri was a hundred percent as pretty as she imagined. On the other hand, this was definitely not the right time to chat up one’s neighbour, considering how hard she was sobbing in Yena’s embrace.
Was Yena only privy to her cries, her sadness and emptiness and everything else in the landscape between? And if so, was it in any way bad that Yena was somehow relieved (if that was the right word to use in these sorts of scenarios) that Yuri trusted her enough to be vulnerable before her? Questions like this flickered through her mind as she held a sleeping Yuri, all those hours ago in the back of a taxi, and now still.
Yena really didn’t want Yuri’s first impression of her to be through a tear-filled haze, which explained her insistence on wearing that mask last night. Yena was secretly hoping that she could somehow act all cool and brave in front of Yuri, like taking her hand all prince-like and leading her home - something she often saw in dramas and hoped to replicate someday.
How was she supposed to stay cool when her heart broke at the sight of Yuri sitting limp on the floor? Yena could only offer apologies, but what good did that do? She had draped her sweater over the crying girl then, keeping her warm as she picked up the items scattered across the floor. She did it slowly, taking her time as she attempted to collect herself, gather her thoughts and control the grief that swirled inside her - and no doubt hovered over Yuri like a thunderstorm. No point in both of them being sad. One was more than enough.
Even now as she held Yuri she tried her best to keep calm. Patting Yuri’s hair, she allowed herself to run her fingers through locks of melted chocolate. She revelled in the way her fingers easily flowed through Yuri’s hair, each strand smooth under her skin. And the feeling of Yuri in her arms, breathing in the sweet scent of passionfruit and pomegranate-
Selfish thoughts. In this time of need, Yena only had selfish thoughts, and she hated herself even more for it.
“Yena?” Yuri mumbled into her shirt.
Plastering a smile on her face, Yena peeled herself away from Yuri, staring at her with concern in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Yuri.”
Yuri shook her head, wiping at her nose with the back of her hand. “There’s nothing to be sorry about, Yena. There was nothing you could do,” she said in her soft, tired voice.
There was. That was the worst part. Yena could have fought to convince Yuri to stay back with her grandmother, even if it was for just one night. She could have acted on her hunch, could have brought up the strange manner in which Yuri’s grandmother had spoken to her with, but no.
Selfishness kept her silent.
Trapped in her thoughts, she almost missed Yuri sagging in her arms. Yuri’s voice was barely a whisper as she pressed herself against Yena’s front, eyes closing from exhaustion. “Yena…”
As if it were a wake-up call, Yena hurriedly tightened her grip on Yuri. “What’s wrong?” Yena asked, concerned. Rivulets of sweat dripped down Yuri’s forehead and mixed with her tears. She felt warm under Yena’s hands, a bit too warm for comfort. The horrid, intrusive thoughts that lingered in her mind made way for worry, and she quickly lifted Yuri up, bridal-style, to place her in bed.
Yuri slept the whole day away. Yena flitted in and out of the bedroom at regular intervals, bringing in water and medicine in case Yuri needed it. Painkillers - as if that would quell the ache in Yuri’s heart; antacids - as if that would soothe the churning feeling in her stomach when she would next wake up alone. And there was no medicine to be taken for the dreams that chased her in her sleep, if they could even be called dreams at all.
They scared Yena the most, these nightmares that haunted Yuri’s sleep. She’d toss and turn in Yena’s bed, sweat drenching her clothes, drenching the sheets, crying out for help. Her nails, blunt like paper, scraped against the bedsheets and ripped red in Yena’s skin, as she fought the demons in her head. Sometimes she’d call out for her grandmother, her parents, straining against the invisible chains that tied her to her mind - and then once, voice a whisper, breath catching in her throat before it was released: “Yena.”
As much as she wanted to stay vigilant by Yuri’s bedside, Yena ended up falling asleep, her head against the wall as she sat on the floor. When she woke the next day, the bed next to her was empty, blanket neatly folded and arranged on top of the pillows. Puzzled, Yena stood up, stretching her limbs. Her neck was especially sore. Massaging it, she stepped out of her room in search of Yuri.
She found Yuri in the kitchen - her kitchen, Yena thought bemusedly, yet Yuri was bustling about as if she lived there. Something was bubbling in a pot, and eggs were being fried in a pan. Cocking a brow, Yena edged a hip on the dining table and watched Yuri fiddle with utensils. “You seem to be feeling better.”
Clutching two pairs of chopsticks in her hands, Yuri turned around with a bright grin. “Good morning! I thought you might be feeling hungry, plus I feel really bad that you had to sleep on the floor last night, so I thought breakfast would be a good idea.”
She was smiling. Yesterday she wept in Yena’s arms, and today she was smiling. Slightly perturbed, Yena only nodded. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Yes, I am. Don’t worry about me too much, Yena, or I might think you’ve fallen for me.” Yuri might have been joking, but Yena didn’t miss the way her smile dimmed for a brief moment, her words faltering on her tongue.
Yena immediately berated herself for asking that question. “What are you cooking?” she asked in an attempt to lighten the mood.
“Ramen and eggs.” Yuri glanced over at Yena with a raised brow. “It seems that that’s all you have in your house.”
“Ah.” Yena made a mental note to stock up on cereal. “Um, need any help?”
“No, it’s alright.” Yuri lifted the pot lid and poked at the ramen cooking inside with a pair of chopsticks. “I’m a good cook, grandma” - she paused, her eyes turning downcast before plastering on another ambivalent smile - “grandma taught me well.”
Two packs of noodles swum in red broth, accompanied by eggs fried just right, with yolks that ran yellow rivers when you poked them. Yena picked at her ramen, pulling them out of the pot, swirling them in egg yolk before slurping the noodles up. Yuri gazed at her expectantly, like a child waiting to be praised.
“How is it?”
“It’s good! I mean, it’s just instant noodles, but,” Yena glanced up at Yuri’s pout and grinned, “it’s good.”
Smiling shyly, Yuri quickly averted her gaze. “That’s good to hear.”
It was as if Yena was having the most vivid lucid dream. The girl who occupied her thoughts in the day, the voice that accompanied her through dark nights, singing her lullabies in that sweet, soothing voice - here she was, sitting in front of her, eating ramen from the same pot. God, Yena couldn’t even remember the last time she had a meal with someone this beautiful in such a homely setting. It was almost romantic, in a sort of way, like waking up to a meal prepared by a girlfriend or wife.
In a way, it was as if Juri was back again.
And as if Juri had returned, then it was inevitable that she leave.
“Will you be going back to Busan?” Yena asked nervously. “For, you know…”
Yuri hesitated, her chopsticks hovering in mid-air. Ramen slipped from her grasp and sunk back into its soup with a gentle ‘plop’. The air was still. Outside, a cloud drifted to cover the sun.
“No,” she finally said. In the single word was her world, her youth and her memories, and like a block of concrete dropping into the sea it weighed her down. Placing her chopsticks down, she stared fixedly at the pot of now soggy noodles between them. “I don’t think I can.”
Relief - that was the word for it. Relief washed over Yena, dragging out the breath she had been holding inside her lungs with its spindly fingers. Then, almost as quickly, guilt overwhelmed relief. How dare she feel joy in the face of sorrow?
“Are you sure?”
“I don’t think I can,” Yuri repeated. “I just came back. I can’t shirk my studies and leave again, you know, I don’t think it’s very responsible for me to do that, and…”
Excuses. Yena could hear it in Yuri’s voice, the multitude of things she would say to avoid the subject. Yena could hear this too: fear. And in turn that granted her bravery.
Yena reached out a hand and placed it on Yuri’s own. “Yuri.”
Yuri’s voice broke, words clogging up in her chest. “I’ll be alone. I don’t want to be alone again.”
“Then I’ll go with you.” Let me go with you . “You won’t be alone any more.”
We won’t be alone any more.
Chapter 9: All For You
Music Hyperlink: All For You, by Seo Inguk and Jung Eunji.
“You have to be kidding me.” Chaewon stared at Yena in disbelief as they sat face-to-face in their regular cafe. Her spoon slid from her grasp, clattering against the plate of half-eaten cake. “You’re taking an impromptu trip to Busan for some girl?”
“You know she’s not just some girl, Chaewon. She’s my neighbour, Yuri, did you forget?”
“You barely know her!” Chaewon threw her hands up in the air in frustration. “This is literally the first time you’ve met her, and now you’re going to Busan together?”
“She needs me, Chaewon,” Yena insisted. The memory of Yuri crying in the cold train station, collapsing from exhaustion and grief in her arms, was too much to bear.
Chaewon sighed and massaged her temples. Fidgeting in her seat, silently observing Chaewon, Yena began to question whether her offering (insisting, nearly) to accompany Yuri to Busan was too far-fetched an idea. Was it that illogical to want to give her everything to a new friendship? Was it too pretentious of her to offer her company as solace?
“Yena,” Chaewon said after a few moments, “are your obligations here - your work and your people - do they mean nothing to you?”
“Of course they do!”
“Then why would you leave them aside so easily for a girl?”
“Because!” Yena shot to her feet, slamming her hands down on the table. Chaewon flinched, her chair shoving back in shock. Yena’s heart was thumping wildly, red filling her vision. Her breath came out in quick puffs. Her hands clenched into fists, and she was filled with an urge to punch something, punch someone. She just couldn’t understand - why didn’t Chaewon get it?
Chaewon gulped. “Because?”
Yena blinked at her small, quiet voice. Never had she heard Chaewon use such a tone with her, and for a minute she froze in place. As the fire faded from her eyes, she glanced around at the rest of the cafe. Customers were staring at her, baristas avoiding eye contact as they served customers, discreetly swerving around her table as they made their way back and forth. Her keen gaze spied a phone sneakily being held up, its camera facing her. Instinct had her cracking a patient smile even as she nodded at the camera, and to her satisfaction the phone was quickly retracted.
“Calm down, Yena,” she mumbled under her breath. “They're everywhere.”
Yena carefully sat down again, attempting to maintain a tranquil demeanour. “Yuri is a very important person to me, Chaewon,” she stated in a calm voice - or as calm as she could get, with the aftertones of her rage lacing it, turning it into an underlying threat. “I want to be by her side.”
“Seems a bit dramatic to me,” Chaewon said, her eyes narrowed.
Yena lifted her shoulders in a shrug. “Maybe you just don’t know what that feels like because you’ve been single your whole life.”
“I’m sorry, what did you just say?” This time it was Chaewon’s turn to glare at Yena. “I’ll have you know girls flirt with me everyday.” When Yena rolled her eyes, Chaewon pouted. “Anyway, this isn’t about me. You… what do you see in Yuri, really?”
What did Yena see in Yuri? She saw the world, its light and its darkness, a pearl among specks of sand. Like a flower seeking the sun she found herself wanting Yuri more and more. It wasn’t as apparent before, not when they were separated by balconies, but now that they’ve met her heart was close to bursting. Every little action Yuri did, every little word she said - Yena clung to them, drawing them in her mind, keeping them in a mental diary. Yuri’s scent was so alluring, citrus dancing on her senses, enticing her like a sheep to a wolf.
It took every ounce of her will to control herself around Yuri - and she had to control herself, for Yena was sure that if for even the briefest moment she let herself go she would be consumed by temptation.
But if - and only if - she did give in to temptation, would it really be all that bad?
The train’s washroom was awfully cramped. Yena had to make herself comfortable on the cover of the toilet bowl as she listened to her manager nag her about contracts and responsibilities and everything else boring. When he took a break to breathe, Yena quickly jumped in. “I’ll be back in a few days, don’t worry. It’s not as if I’m going to be away for weeks and weeks.”
“But still!” Yena stifled a chuckle at her manager’s whine, though she did feel a tad apologetic, having left him to deal with calls from PDs and whatnot. “And what am I supposed to tell everyone? What if the CEO calls?”
“Say I’m sick or something, I guess.”
“Yena, can’t you go another time?” Her manager sobbed. Yena could actually picture him clasping his hands together in prayer.
“The problem is, I’m actually on the train right now,” Yena answered, a sheepish grin on her face even as she heard her manager literally breaking down on the other end of the line. Before he could continue his rant, she quickly hung up and scrambled out of the tiny cubicle, pulling on her mask to avoid any fans who might notice her. To her relief, most of the passengers were asleep. She tiptoed her way down the carriage aisle and silently slid into her seat.
Yena glanced over at the girl sleeping next to her. Yuri was even prettier now, nearly ethereal, sleeping peacefully without the demons in her head chasing her. From where she sat Yena could easily trace the outline of Yuri’s profile with her eyes, from her long lashes down to her pouty lips. Yuri slept with her head on the glass pane of the train; Yena wondered whether it was too uncomfortable, whether she should - if she could - perhaps shift Yuri’s head over to rest on her shoulder instead.
Would it be too much, too self-righteous an act? Yuri seemed to mumble in assent, her eyebrows quirking down as she murmured incoherently. As she shifted in her sleep, her hand twitched, coming to rest on the armrest between them. Yena stared at the hand, at every slender finger from knuckle to nail. She lifted her own hand, reaching out to touch Yuri’s. Millimeters, just millimeters, between their fingers before she retracted it again. Despite her wanting to hold Yuri’s hand, the small gap of air between them felt like a bridge that could not be crossed, should not be crossed.
Leaning back in her seat, Yena heaved a sigh and closed her eyes. She might as well take a nap before arriving at Busan, before she was thrust into a world completely foreign to her.
Yena dreamed of lights that flashed in her face and faceless people shouting directions at her. Even in her sleep cameras continued to follow her, capturing her every move, waiting - just waiting for her to slip, waiting for the right moment to pounce. And behind the rows of cameras was one woman, staring at her expressionlessly with arms crossed, eyes teary and distant.
Stirring, Yena felt someone lightly tapping her cheek. Groaning, she awoke to a pair of warm eyes gazing down at her and the touch of gentle fingers cupping her face. “-uri?” she murmured softly, her voice hoarse. Clearing her throat, she tried again. “Yuri. You’re awake.”
“We’re here.” Yuri stood up, her hand leaving Yena’s face to grab their backpacks. The sensation of her touch lingered on Yena’s skin, and as they disembarked the train Yena reached up to where Yuri had cupped her cheek, grinning like the fool in love that she was - if love was the right word for it, that heady feeling that burned her throat and rushed through her veins.
“Where are we going?” Yena asked, shrugging on her backpack and trailing after Yuri.
Yuri turned to look back at her. Her smile was sweet against the sorrow that swam in her eyes - almost like those in Yena’s dream.
Chapter 10: Happy People
Music Hyperlink: Happy People, by Solar.
Home was a vast dwelling with a large patio, white walls turned a pale yellow from age, rivulets of rainwater staining the paint and turning the piping a rusty reddish-brown. Home was a zinc-tiled roof, built for safety against storms and snow, home was a handmade birdhouse hanging under the awning by the front door, where sparrows chirruped as they flitted around, home was charcoal briquettes and kimchi pots and overgrown grass.
Off to the side, a low wooden table under the generous shade of a camphor tree. Its leaves, the colour of fading sunset, veins stark against blades, were plucked off by a gentle autumn breeze, crinkling like paper as it drifted, drifted, drifted to rest at Yena’s feet. Dancing around the fragile leaf, she took her first steps towards the house, marvelling at how awesomely huge it was in comparison to the compact apartments she was used to back in Seoul.
“Woah, it’s so peaceful here,” Yena exclaimed, turning around to smile at her companion. Her smile faltered when she saw Yuri hesitate by the gate. “Yuri? You okay?”
Yuri stared at the house, the place she called home for so many years, and licked her lips nervously. Her hands hesitated on the waist-high gate, feeling the rough sensation of paint and metal under her fingers. It had only been five days, but already everything felt so distant, so unfamiliar, as if there was this unbridgeable gap between the house of days past and that of now.
Walking towards her, Yena reached out to place her hand next to Yuri’s on the gate. Yena gently pulled the gate open, gazing at Yuri expectantly. They exchanged quiet glances. Taking in a deep breath, Yuri stepped through the gate, listening to it creak back into place behind her. Without breaking her stride she immediately headed towards the house, accompanied by the loud crunching of paper-thin leaves as she crushed them under her soles. “Let’s go.”
Taking off her shoes at the entrance, Yena followed Yuri in.
The interior of the house was cozy, warm, littered with knick-knacks both big and small. The main area of the house was a mix of living and dining rooms, with a tattered sofa dominating the space. An old television, one with dials and knobs that had to be turned to adjust its settings, was slotted between shelves next to a newer, more modern one. A patterned rug filled the space between, with a foldable table arranged on it, still left unfolded from the last time it was used.
As they made their way through the house, Yena’s gaze drifted over delicate photographs, sepia-toned or black-and-white or in full colour, as they hung on walls or were perched on drawers. Yena paused by a particularly eye-catching picture, a photo that must once have held some colour but had faded over the years. In it was a family of four: an older woman with pepper-salt hair sitting in the middle of the photograph, wrinkles that started to etch themselves into the corners of her eyes and around her mouth when she smiled; a couple, man and woman standing behind her, youthful with eyes full of joy and love as they held in their arms an infant, barely a few weeks old. The baby’s tiny hands clung onto her mother’s finger, holding it tightly in her fist, as she slept peacefully. Her wide mouth was slightly ajar, drool already trickling down her chin. Yena chuckled; Yuri’s sleeping habits hadn’t changed a bit.
Yuri suddenly came to a stop by a doorway, causing Yena to nearly collide into her. Curious, Yena tiptoed and peeked over her shoulder. Inside were mattresses folded over each other, leaning against a large mahogany wardrobe. An assortment of pens and books formed a neat pile under a window next to a low study desk. What struck Yena the most were the pictures stuck on the wardrobe, childish drawings in crayon and coloured pens, drawings of stick-figure families playing under the sun or standing next to a large family house. The largest one in the middle of them all was a rough sketch in pencil of a camphor tree, the house in the background, and two people - Yuri and her grandmother, Yena guessed - standing under the tree, holding hands.
“This is- was our room.” Walking in, Yuri started to take what she needed. Yena awkwardly hovered around her. She breathed in the comfortable, warm scent of the house, bathing in the fragrance of passionfruit soaked in mothballs and aged wood as she paced around.
When Yuri moved to peel the drawings of the cupboard, Yena quickly shot out a hand to stop her. “Wait, what are you doing? Are you going to throw them away?”
“I-” Yuri stared at the drawings in her hands, shuffling them in thought.. “I don’t, I don’t know.”
“You should keep them.” Yena tapped the one at the top of the drawing pile, the pencil sketch. “Especially this one.”
“Grandma drew it,” Yuri murmured, reminiscing with a soft smile on her face, “two years ago, before I left for uni.” She sniffled; a lone tear dripped down and plopped onto the sketch.
Without missing a beat Yena whipped out a tissue from somewhere and wiped her tears away. “It’s a really pretty sketch. You looked like a ten-year-old though. Tiny kid,” she teased, tapping the sketch of Yuri.
Yuri emitted a watery laugh. “How dare you. I look like an adult.” She sneered at Yena. “You look more like a kid than I do.”
Yena tossed her hair behind her and huffed pretentiously. “I’m older than you, thanks very much. But thank you for saying I look young. My youthful beauty is eternal.”
Yuri snorted and mimed puking. “Sure.”
“Anyway, what else do we need?”
“I just need to see what I want to give away and what I want to keep.” Yuri waved Yena off. “Go explore the kitchen, see whether there’s anything that’s expired or anything that we can’t bring back with us.”
Walking to the kitchen, Yena spied packs of dried seaweed and noodles hanging from hooks and bags of rice shoved against walls. Tins of coffee and tea and spices of various flavours were arranged on a table next to a hefty refrigerator. Pots and pans revealed themselves in cupboards under the stove along with an assortment of oils and sauces. As she sorted through the foodstuff, Yena imagined a younger Yuri busy herself around the kitchen, cooking ramen or frying eggs at the stove, just like what she did a few days ago at Yena’s place. Her heart warmed at the memory.
By the time they were done, the soft glint of sunset shone through the half-open blinds that covered the windows, marking dark grey trapeziums against the orange-bathed floor. Yena dusted off her hands with a loud smack and grinned at Yuri. “Got everything?”
Yuri nodded. “I’ve passed around a list of things I think we should give away to the neighbours. About the things to keep… Well, we can always come back for them another day, can’t we?”
“W-we can?” Yena blinked at the pronoun, processing, then beamed brilliantly. “Of course we can!”
“Okay.” Standing in the middle of the living room, Yuri took one long, long look around the house, and sighed. She turned to look at Yena who was patiently waiting by the entrance.“Let’s go.”
Their next stop was the columbarium. Like back at the family house, Yuri once again paused at the threshold, staring up at the unfamiliar, imposing structure. Yena stood a few steps away, her hands clasped together politely. “Aren’t you coming?” Yuri asked, her voice small.
Yena scuffed her shoe against the ground and shrugged. “I thought, you know, I shouldn’t be going in with you. It’s like I’m intruding on something really private, so…”
Pulling her lips into a pout, Yuri tugged at Yena’s sleeve. “Come with me. Please?” As reluctant as she was to witness what should be a private moment of Yuri’s, Yena knew she couldn’t say no to that adorable pout, so she gave in and nodded.
Following the directions given to Yuri by her grandmother’s ex-nurse, they weaved through the rows of niches, Yuri’s eyes scanning photos and names. “Ah, found her,” she exclaimed quietly, beelining for the niche, clearly new from how it was almost bare save for a photo, an urn, and some semi-wilted flowers.
Yena glanced away as Yuri first paid her respects, then back again when she felt was most appropriate. Approaching the niche, she too bowed in respect, silently saying some prayers as she did so. She helped Yuri arrange a few plastic flowers that they picked out together (flowers that would never wilt, like beauty that would never fade) and a couple of persimmons in the niche. Yena gasped when she saw what Yuri placed next to the picture of her grandmother. It was the photograph that caught her eye back in the house, the one of Yuri’s family, all loving smiles and innocence.
Glancing between the two photos, Yena realised that Yuri’s grandmother had never really changed over the years. Sure, she might have aged in the time between the two photos, yet youthful was the word that came to mind. Yuri’s grandmother had eyes that sparkled, and yet were as deep as the ocean, as if she had carried the wisdom of lifetimes before her. A generous smile graced her wide lips, just like Yuri’s.
Recalling their conversation over the phone, Yena locked eyes with the photo of Yuri’s grandmother and nodded. “Good evening, ma’am. I hope you’re doing well, wherever you are. I’m here with Yuri, just as I promised. I’ll continue to try my best to take care of her, always and forever,” she whispered, bowing again.
Before the columbarium shut its doors for the day, Yena placed a hand on Yuri’s shoulder. She could feel Yuri tremble with unshed tears as she fought to stay strong, and patted Yuri’s back soothingly. “Take your time. I’ll wait outside for you, okay?”
Yuri nodded gratefully. As Yena weaved her way out of the building, Yuri called her name. “Yena?”
Yena glanced back. “Yeah?”
Yuri’s breath hitched in her throat. She took a deep breath to steady herself, then gave Yena a bright smile, the sweetest and warmest smile Yena had ever seen.
Chapter 11: Your Song.
Music Hyperlink: Your Song, by Sam Kim & Kwon Jinah & Lee Jinah & Jung Seunghwan.
You had to be kidding. Yena was at least half-sure that she was currently being pranked. With an apprehensive gaze she stared up at the building standing before them, its fluorescent sign flashing in neon pink: ‘Love Motel’. Knowing Yuri, the implication behind the name probably didn’t even cross the younger girl’s mind. But Yena… Yena was an adult, for goodness’ sake, and when her especially keen eyes spotted couples discreetly filtering in and out of the hotel, pawing at each other, unable to keep their hands to themselves, she felt a sudden urge to cover Yuri’s innocent eyes.
“Are… are we really staying here tonight?” Yena asked warily, glancing over at Yuri.
“It’s the only place nearby that doesn’t need any pre-booking,” Yuri replied, checking her phone again. “Is it not okay?”
“It’s, uh…” Making eye contact with a couple, Yena pulled her hoodie up and over her face and inched closer to Yuri. Yena would consider it lying if she said she didn’t mind sleeping at this very seedy-looking motel, but she caught Yuri’s wide yawn and immediately admitted defeat. “Let’s just go in and get some sleep.”
The motel owner was exactly like the guests who stayed at his motel - unkempt hair and scruffy beard, wearing a thick jacket that stank like old cheese, and paused after every few words to cough violently or chew on his unlit cigarette. The worst part of him, Yena decided, was the way he leered at Yuri, his gaze perverted as if undressing the girl in his mind. When his gaze shifted to her, she flinched.
“Lesbians, huh?” he said, grinning and showing off his tobacco-blackened teeth. “Never had y’all here before. If you two ladies feel like you need a little something extra…” He trailed off and gestured to himself with a jerk of his brow.
Under the counter, Yena balled her hands into fists, but held back. “We just need a place to sleep for tonight.”
“That’s right, ‘sleep’,” he sneered, making air quotes with his fingers. “You know, a lot of people here ‘sleep’ really loudly.”
When Yuri opened her mouth to ask what he meant, Yena shook her head. “Don’t talk to him.” She shifted to stand in front of Yuri, stepping in the sleazy motel owner’s line of sight. She pulled out some money and slapped it down on the counter. “One room for the night.”
Grabbing the notes, he thumbed through them and smirked. He scrambled through a drawer and, coming out with a set of keys, flipped them at her. “You be wanting the change?”
“No, I don’t,” Yena snapped, catching the keys in mid-air. Grabbing Yuri’s wrist, she tugged her towards the lifts. “Good night.”
The second the elevator doors closed after them, Yuri tugged on Yena’s shirt. “What did he mean by “sleep loudly”?”
Yena shook her head again. Was Yuri really this innocent to not know what that sleazy man meant, or was she one of those few lucky people whose minds didn’t instantly swerve into a ditch at even the slightest insinuation? “It’s nothing. He was just being a weird pervert.”
“Ah.” Yuri winced. “That’s kind of… gross.”
Yena nodded wisely. “Most men usually are.”
But she soon found out what the motel owner meant after entering their room. Yuri was taking a shower, leaving Yena to lounge on the king-sized bed. As she was fiddling with her phone, a loud thump on the wall startled her. She gaped at the moans and expletives that followed, and she hurriedly fished out a pair of earphones. The second Yuri stumbled out of the bathroom, Yena stuck her earphones into Yuri’s ears before she could notice the lewd sounds coming from next door.
“What?” Yuri blinked at the sudden action. “Why? What happened?”
“It’s noisy outside.” Well, it wasn’t a lie, per se. Yena just decided to leave out what kind of noise it was exactly. “You should listen to some calming music to sleep.”
“Um? Okay?” Although she fixed Yena with a confused stare, Yuri complied. She climbed onto the bed, shifting to one side so Yena could share the bed together. Yuri nestled under the blanket, burying herself in bed until she was almost completely hidden. Her eyes peeked out of the blanket like a meerkat as she watched Yena busy herself around the room, grabbing towels and extra clothes and arranging them on the floor. When Yena grabbed the free pillow on the bed and tossed it onto the floor as well, Yuri sat up in bed. “What are you doing?”
“Making a bed,” Yena simply stated. She settled down on the floor, on top of the makeshift mattress of sorts, and grinned up at Yuri. “It’s actually quite comfortable, you know?”
“But-” Yuri patted the empty space next to her. “There’s space.”
There was space, yes. But the idea of lying down next to Yuri, sharing the same bed and blanket, breathing in her scent, basking in her warmth, being so close she could almost hold Yuri in her arms for the whole night - it was too much for Yena. Just their close proximity during the two-hour train ride from Seoul to Busan was already maddening. How she yearned to touch Yuri’s hand, hold her like the night she cried… But Yena couldn’t. It felt wrong somehow, like she was crossing a line that shouldn’t even be touched since that night.
So she just gave Yuri a smile of acknowledgement but shook her head. “It’s alright. I’m good with sleeping here.” Going on her knees, she leaned over and poked Yuri between her furrowed eyebrows, soothing out the lines that settled themselves there. “And don’t frown, you’ll get wrinkles.”
“No buts.” Yena got to her feet to turn off the lights, throwing them into darkness before Yuri could continue to insist on sharing the large bed. “Goodnight, Yuri. Sleep well.”
It was way past midnight, edging into the unholy hours of dawn, and Yena hadn’t slept a wink. Lucky for her, the banging and intense moans from adjacent rooms had stopped, leaving her with some peace and quiet. Yuri had taken her instructions to heart and was now lightly snoring. Propping herself up on her elbows, Yena craned her neck up, sneaking a peek at the sleeping girl.
She spied the outline of Yuri’s profile, long eyelashes and button nose briefly illuminated by the neon sign of the motel that continued to flash erratically outside. Her mouth was open, drool leaking out - just like her infant self in that family portrait back in the house, Yena recalled with faint amusement. She also noticed tears running down Yuri’s cheeks, flowing across her nose bridge, pulled by gravity. Yena lifted her fingers, leaning over until her hand was a breath away from Yuri’s cheeks - and there she trembled in mid-air before clenching her fist and withdrawing her hand.
How a woman could be so magnetic in her sleep, Yena would never know.
Her gaze trailing down, she noticed Yuri had kicked off her blanket in her sleep, exposing her legs, barely covered by her shorts, to the cold of the room. Now this, Yena could do. She reached out silently until she had Yuri’s blanket in her hands, tucking the sleeping girl in. She the earphones out of Yuri’s ears, pausing to listen to the soothing ballads playing through it before turning it off and placing it aside.
Then, lying back down on her makeshift bed again, Yena stared up at the ceiling of bright pink fluorescence and half-shed moonlight, and waited for the sun to rise again.
“We’re going to be late!” Yuri yelled as she sprinted down the stairs, her bags swinging all over the place and hitting unfortunate commuters. A good few meters behind her, Yena was trudging along, sleepwalking and mumbling to herself in her exhausted state. Her bag dragged on the floor, dangling from her hand as she shuffled her feet to their designated platform.
She was pretty sure they weren’t late, anyway. Sure, she might have woken up late this morning, but it was only because sleeping in a (love) motel was a bit discomforting for her. Yuri certainly didn’t have any qualms about it, though, and Yena assumed it was because the younger girl was too innocent to be affected by it. So now here she was, forcing her drooping eyelids to stay open, her face left devoid of makeup in their rush to leave. Rubbing her eyes, she glanced around, looking for a notice board that displayed the train schedules.
“Yena! Hurry up!” Yuri turned back in search of her zombified companion. Confused, unable to find her quarry, Yuri jogged back to see Yena hovering around a flower shop, fingers casually caressing petals of blue and orange and pink and white. “Yena! What’re you doing?”
“Hm?” Yena glanced up at the sound of Yuri’s voice and grinned at her before turning to the male shopkeeper walking towards her. She quietly pointed out a few flowers to the shopkeeper. Nodding, the shopkeeper plucked out the flowers Yena selected and headed to the back to wrap them up.
“What are you doing?” Yuri asked again, walking towards Yena.
“Flowers,” Yena yawned, rubbing her eyes cutely.
“Why are you buying flowers? We’re running late-”
“No we’re not,” Yena drawled. She leaned back, slightly drunk with tiredness, and nodded at the train schedule flashing on a nearby board. “We still got time.”
Peering at the board, Yuri noted with satisfaction that Yena was, in fact, right. Pleased that they were allowed an extra half-hour of time, Yuri nudged Yena. “I’m going to get some food, then. Is there anything you want to eat on the train?”
She was probably going to end up sleeping on the train, but at the moment, Yena’s stomach was in desperate need of something to fill it. “Kimbap sounds good,” she mumbled. She fished some money out of her wallet and offered it to Yuri. “Can you help me buy some?”
Yuri gently pushed the money away and patted her hand. “It’s my treat. A thank you for accompanying me this weekend.”
Yena stared at Yuri’s retreating back, a silly grin stretching itself across her face. When the shopkeeper returned, small bouquet in hand, he raised a brow at her expression. “Is she your girlfriend?”
“What?” Yena blinked rapidly and hastily crossed her arms in an X-shape. “No, no, of course not, not a girl, I-”
“Are you sure?” The shopkeeper handed her the bouquet and leaned in when she took them. “My boyfriend would say you two were definitely dating, though.”
“Your… your boyfriend?” Yena gaped at him. He winked back at her and nodded proudly.
“No one would deliberately pick these flowers out for someone else without dating them,” the shopkeeper proclaimed. One by one he pointed out the flowers in the bouquet. “White lilies are pure; red chrysanthemums show love; pink roses, grace and gratitude. And acacia blossoms,” he brushed his hand over yellow flowers, puffed up like dandelions, like tiny suns attached on stalks, “acacia blossoms symbolise hidden love.”
“Hidden love?” Yena murmured as she left the shop to look for Yuri. When she found her, a warmth spread through Yena’s chest, and a lovestruck giggle threatened to spill out as she watched Yuri order food with a hungry glint in her eyes.
Purity, grace, gratitude.
Even without realising it Yena’s heart had sought out the flowers, her feelings manifesting themselves into flora. Holding the bouquet close, she tiptoed towards Yuri, sneaking to stand behind her and leaning over until Yuri noticed her.
“You scared me!” Yuri yelped, nearly leaping back into Yena in shock, one hand against her rapidly beating heart. Her eyes swept over the flowers in Yena’s hands, gaze softening at the delicate artistry of the arrangement. “Oh, wow.”
“Here.” Yena stuck them out, proffering them to Yuri as if confessing.
“For you. I bought them for you.” Yena all but pressed the bouquet into Yuri’s hands, chuckling at her flummoxed expression. With Yuri’s hands full, Yena accepted the packs of kimbap, eggs, and tteokbokki laid out by the old woman who ran the snack shop with a polite bow.
“Wait,” the shopkeeper called out just as she was turning away, “come back, I have something for you.”
The shopkeeper smiled and beckoned her over. “You’re a very sweet girl,” the old woman crooned. She plucked out two hotdogs, freshly deep-fried and oozing cheese from the sides. Yena could feel her mouth water just from a glimpse of them. The shopkeeper wrapped them up and handed them over to Yena, her smile gummy. “Here, have these on me.”
Yena stared at her hands, wrinkled from age and hard work, lines that could never be erased, sunspots scattered across the old woman’s skin. “Ma’am, I can’t…”
“Of course you can,” the shopkeeper insisted, dumping the hotdogs into Yena’s hands and wagging her finger sternly. “You know how rare it is to find someone as polite and sweet as you and your friend over there? You two should eat more, you know. You’re too slim!”
Yena bit her lip to stop herself from laughing. Sparing a glance back at Yuri, she smirked when she caught the younger girl laughing with her hands over her face. “Then I can’t say no, can I? Thank you, ma’am. We’ll eat them well.”
She jogged back to Yuri, holding her newly-attained treasure aloft. “I have food!” Yena crowed, exaggeratedly posing, her limbs out at awkward angles, plastic bags of food sliding down her outstretched arms.
Yuri rolled her eyes, a pink flush spreading across her cheeks. “Keep it down,” she hissed, “you’re so embarrassing.”
“I live to be embarrassing,” Yena declared with a straight face. Shooting Yuri a teasing smirk, she skipped ahead. When she was sure that there was a good distance between them, she started to sprint. “Last one on the train has to buy drinks!” she shouted, cackling at the flabbergasted shriek behind her.
By the time they found their seats in the train, both girls were winded beyond belief. Yena leaned back in her seat, panting away, wiping away the sweat from her face. It was totally worth it, however; she managed to get the window seat first, though she did end up moving over and giving it to Yuri when she finally boarded the train.
“I… can’t believe… you did that…” Yuri complained between huffs and puffs. Her body was slumped against the window as she pressed her flushed face to the cool windowpane in an attempt to cool down. She hugged the bouquet of flowers that Yena had bought for her, cradling it like a pillow.
“I’m… so hungry…” Yena reached in one of her bags for the hotdogs that the shopkeeper had given them for free. She held one out towards Yuri, letting the deliciously oily fragrance of the hotdogs fill the train. “Eat them while they’re hot.”
“Oh, thanks.” Yuri accepted the hotdog as well as the coloured packets of sauce that Yena held out. She started to tear one open, then stopped and squinted at it. There were no words on the packets, no drawings or images that indicated what kind of sauce it was. One had to be mustard, she knew, and the other ketchup, but…
“Yena.” Yuri tapped her shoulder and held the two packets up. “Which one’s what?”
“Um, this one’s ketchup” - she pointed to the red packet on Yuri’s left - “and the other’s mustard.”
“Of course, thank you. Darn colours,” Yuri mumbled under her breath.
“Why, are you colourblind?” Yena asked innocently, munching into her hotdog. She paused when Yuri gave her a meaningful look. “Oh. Sorry.”
“Don’t be. You didn’t know.” Yuri bit into her hotdog and chewed thoughtfully. “I wish I could see colours again, though. Everything was so much more convenient. The world was so rich and expressive then.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, how did you, well, stop seeing colours?” Immediately after she asked that question, Yena crouched in her seat, feeling as if she was starting to pry too much. She blamed her lack of sleep for her callousness, and started to apologise.
“It’s a long, depressing story,” Yuri sighed.
Yena pursed her lips. “Well, we are going to be stuck here for two hours. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to tell a sad story,” Yena said, smiling softly at Yuri. “I’m always here for you, you know that.”
Yuri mulled over it for a while, then leaned back in her seat. She placed the hotdog down, careful not to spill any of the sauce on her flowers. “Where do I start?”
Chapter 12: I Will Be Your Warmth
my birthday present from me to you.
Music Hyperlink: I Will Be Your Warmth, by Babylon & Yeri.
By the time they arrived at their apartment complex, the sun had started to dip its toes into the horizon despite the numbers that blinked stark against Yena’s phone background. Autumn was weird, she decided, with a sky that switched its light off too early for the moon to rise. Yuri had returned to the comforts of her own apartment with the excuse that she had work to do before her classes started again tomorrow. For once, Yena didn’t argue, too sleepy to even keep her eyes open. She had merely waved goodbye (and goodnight) to Yuri at the elevator before stumbling into her own place.
Throwing her bags aside, Yena flopped into bed and dropped like a stone into the ocean of sleep.
Somewhere in the middle of the night, Yena found herself standing before Yuri’s grandmother’s house, by the gate like the first time. The house was bathed in blinding sunrise, the cloudless sky overhead a brilliant blue. The camphor tree was in full bloom, masses of delicate white flowers against lush green foliage. Sitting between the roots of the tree with a guitar in hand was a bespectacled man, barely into his early thirties, a pencil tucked by his ear. His round-rimmed glasses balanced precariously on his nose-bridge. Every few minutes or so, he would scribble something into the notebook beside him before strumming his guitar.
A while later, a young woman came out of the house, carefully carrying a one-year-old in her arms. She was breathtakingly beautiful, a wide smile on her face as she walked towards the man. Sitting down by the man under the tree, she mouthed words that Yena couldn’t hear to the man. He offered her his notebook, watching with expectant eyes as she glanced through the words and notes he had written down.
And when they sang together, harmonies against the gentle resonance of guitar strings, Yena felt something blossom within her, a light flickering to life in her heart.
The heartwarming scene faded to sepia, then faded away. Yena found herself standing - or was she merely floating, she couldn’t tell, for the world was pitch-black like the night sky without a single star in sight. Nor was there sound or smell, nothing to touch when she stretched her hands out. There was no ground or ceiling to speak of, no walls that encroached on her space and boxed her in, but the darkness was suffocating.
Yena closed her eyes, willing the dream away. When she opened them again, she was back at the house, though this time it held lingering darkness from before. The large evergreen tree still carried its leaves, but instead of the luscious viridian that graced the scene from before the leaves were dyed a dull grey. It was as if the whole house, the whole of Busan had been messily painted with black and white, and where the black and white met grey propagated.
Gone was the bespectacled man, replaced by thick roots that burst through the ground. A rotting wooden table stood where the woman and her child once sat. The static crackling of leaves swallowed the sweet sound of the guitar.
Under the camphor tree, a young girl wept.
Yena woke up to a damp pillow, tear stains spreading blotches on the cotton casing. She was bound to get up sometime, but for now Yena lay there for a while longer, her hand clutching at her chest as she recalled the vivid scene in her dreams. What was that?, she wondered. A warm scene turned bleak, joyful homeliness fading into solitary sadness.
And Yena hurt with her.
Crawling out of bed, Yena reached for her phone to text Yuri. “Are you free today?” By the time she showered, got dressed, put on some make-up so she didn’t completely look like she was crying in her sleep, her phone was ringing.
“I’m free this afternoon,” Yuri said upon Yena picking up the call, getting straight to the point.
Yena brightened. “Let’s go get some coffee and cake. There’s this really great place I know, I think it’s near your university.”
“Sure!” Yena heard a loud thunk of something being dropped on the floor. “Hold on, I’m trying to pack my things. I’m sort of running late, but I’ll call you when I’m done, okay? Text me the address or something.”
“What if I pick you up from class instead? Is that okay?”
“Um…” Yena heard heavy breathing on the other end of the line. “Sure, I guess. You can find our campus map online.”
No point in saying that she already knew the ins and outs of Yuri’s university; after all, Chaewon studied there, too, and Yena often snuck into her classes for fun. “See you later, then!”
Would this help Yuri hurt less?
Yena stood outside the campus gates, a mask securely fastened over her face, a baseball cap tilted down to hide her face. She was wearing a varsity jacket - not that of the university’s, but it gave her a more inconspicuous casual college student vibe. That, and her roughed-up sneakers and ripped jeans? Perfect. That was all she needed. No one would ever figure out who she was.
She strode confidently past the science faculty, turned the corner at accounting, and paused in front of the building where all the theatre kids would gather at. She remembered waiting for Juri here once. More than once, actually, because when they were dating Yena wasn’t nearly as popular as she was now, and on her free days she’d come over with a snack or a drink for Juri as she waited for the Japanese woman to finish her rehearsals for the day. Now it only served as a place for her to reminisce, a fond memory that she started to learn how to leave behind.
Yena shook the memory off and forged ahead.
The music faculty hadn’t changed at all, really. From the day Chaewon started university up till now, the red-brick building stood tall, its wide roof encapsulating the students that studied within it. Under little marquees and umbrella stands installed on the nearby lawn sat music students with various instruments in their hands, singing melodies that somehow harmonised despite being clearly different to another.
Yena arranged herself under one of the umbrella stands as she waited for Yuri to come out. Fiddling with her phone, she flicked through the tabloid articles that crowded the screen, mindlessly swiping past them. One or two caught her eye, and Yena thought she had seen a familiar name somewhere, but she couldn’t be bothered to go back and check what was probably going to end up as some baseless rumor.
There she was, the girl with a voice that could rival an angel’s, a voice as deep as the ocean. Yena looked up, wide grin hidden behind her mask. “How was class?”
“Wasn’t too bad, I guess.” Yuri pointed a questioning finger at Yena. “What’s with the mask? Did you fall sick when we went to Busan?”
“Nah, that’s not it. Come on, let’s go.” Yena jumped up and took Yuri’s bag from her. Slinging it over her shoulder, she skipped ahead, turning around and beckoning at Yuri. She quirked up an eyebrow at Yuri’s pout. God, how could Yuri be that cute even when pouting? “What?”
“I can carry my own bag, you know,” Yuri whined, jogging to catch up with Yena. She attempted to pull her bag off Yena, but the older girl had too firm a grip on it.
“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you need to.”
“Come on, if you’re going to keep arguing about this, we’ll never get to the cafe. Their carrot cakes sell out really fast, you know.”
The sound of carrot cake - popular carrot cake, in fact - had Yuri perking up. She stopped resisting Yena’s offer to carry her bag, and grabbed onto the older girl’s shirt. “Lead the way!”
Yena loved showing off her favourite things to her favourite people. Chaewon had first introduced her to this cafe that soon became their regular hangout place, and Yena had jumped at the chance to do the same to Juri when they were first dating. Juri found the place rather quaint, but often preferred the fancier places that were usually further away from university. Yena got it, somehow; if she was a student, she would want to be far away from uni as often as possible, too.
But Yuri - Yuri loved it. Yena took great delight in seeing Yuri’s eyes light up at the lines of cakes in the display shelf of the cafe, at the way she just visibly relaxed in the cafe’s welcoming embrace. Shrugging off Yuri’s bag and settling down in a chair, Yena let Yuri take the reins and order whatever she wanted.
She supposed it reminded Yuri of her home in Busan, the warmth the cafe exuded, the pure friendliness of both patrons and staff alike. She rested her cheek on her hand, watching Yuri point items out from the menu, looking around to find Yena, beaming at her and giving a thumbs-up. Yena gave her one in return.
The tray Yuri plonked on their table was filled with cake, and nothing but cake. “Don’t you need to drink something to wash all this down?” Yena asked, amused.
“Technically, yes,” Yuri huffed, “but I may or may not have spent all my money on these cakes.”
If Yena thought Yuri liked cakes, bubble tea was another thing altogether. While Yena had a tendency to browse through the menu and select whatever she was craving that day, Yuri unhesitatingly shot her order out like a machine gun: lemon-yogurt-tea-with-extra-pearls-and-50%-sugar-please-and-thank-you.
“That’s crazy,” Yena muttered as she forked over some cash for their drinks.
“Your order.” Yena moved aside to wait for their drinks. “You’ve got it down to a science.”
“Everyone has their own go-to order.” Yuri shrugged. “You’re the crazy one.”
She’s right, Yena thought. Even Juri had her own customised order, brown sugar milk tea with extra pearls and 75% sugar. Yena stopped. She still had Juri’s order memorised, down to the extra pearls and sugar level. Of all the things to remember, really.
“Something on your mind?”
“No, it’s just…” Yena scoffed at herself, finding it quite ridiculous. “There’s this girl I knew a long time ago. Can’t believe I still remember her go-to drink.”
“She must have mattered a lot to you,” Yuri murmured as her fingers fiddled with their drink receipt. Her dark eyes observed Yena for any sort of reaction, any expression that belied the truth. “Didn’t she?”
“I suppose she did.” It was true. But it was a truth set in past tense, a memory she neither needed nor wanted to remember. If Juri could leave her so easily, Yena should be able to forget her, too. She plucked the receipt from Yuri’s fingers, all wrinkled and crumpled from Yuri playing with it, and read through the orders one more time. “Yours is pretty easy to remember, I think.”
“You don’t have to remember mine.”
“Of course I do.” Picking up their drinks from the counter, Yena passed Yuri’s over, their fingers briefly brushing against each other’s. “You matter to me, too.”
They walked home in blissful quiet, sipping on their drinks, occasionally talking about everything and nothing. Yena would describe the colourful murals to Yuri (red that burned like fire, blue like the coolness of a pool, gold like love), trying to convince the younger girl to pose against the beautifully painted walls so she could just take a photo of the two of them, pretty please. Yena tripped on a stray pebble; Yuri kicked it away, giving the unresponding rock a scolding, much to Yena’s amusement. The bakery around the corner was Yuri’s favourite, too. Yuri said the new petite employee was named Nako, apparently, and that she and her girlfriend were both from the same university as Yuri.
“Campus couples, huh?” Yena mused. “Must be nice. How about you?”
“What about me?”
“Not dating anyone? Boys must be lining up for you.”
“Not at all,” Yuri replied, voice clipped. “Even if they did, I’m not exactly inclined that way.” She gave Yena a meaningful look before sipping her drink again.
“Ah.” Flustered, Yena glanced away. What was that look supposed to imply? And more importantly, did that mean Yena possibly stood a chance with… Flushing, Yena shook her head. It wasn’t good to jump to conclusions, she told herself.
Take it slow, take it slow.
“Do you want to hang out with me at my workplace this Friday?” Yena instantly cringed the second the words left her mouth. She sounded like a loser, as if she couldn’t think of anything else better to do, as if her entire life was either work or sleep (which it was, most of the time, if she was really being honest). She sounded like a parent who wanted to bring their kids to work or something. Either way, it was a stupid question - why would a university student want to go to any workplace, of all things?
“R-really?” An unexpected answer to an unexpected question.
“Yeah. I’ve been wondering what kind of work you do, anyway, since you basically don’t do anything in the morning and then get home really late at night.”
Oh, that’s right. Yena had never really told Yuri what line of work she was in, never really explained why she had a tendency to wear masks or hoodies that hid a good portion of her face when they were outside.
Yena nibbled on her fingernails as Yuri stared out of the car they were in, attempting to gauge Yuri’s reaction. For the first time since they met each other, Yena was in full make-up, her hair properly styled. She grinned, recalling Yuri’s initial shock upon meeting her outside their apartment building. Yuri had gaped at her, wordlessly pointing at her hair before being in greater shock at the size of the car waiting for them. It was Yena’s first time sitting in the car provided by her company with someone else, and if she was to be very honest, it was very reassuring having company, especially when said company was someone like Yuri.
“So.” Yuri broke the silence. “You’re famous.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say famous exactly…”
“We’re sitting in a celebrity car, Yena, your celebrity car. You can’t say you’re not famous.”
She had a point. “Okay, so maybe I’m a bit famous,” Yena reluctantly admitted.
Yuri peeled herself away from the window to stare at Yena, bemusement in her eyes. “And you didn’t mention it because…?”
Yena shrunk under her questioning stare. “Honestly? At first, I wasn’t sure whether your opinion of me would change if you knew I was a celebrity or whatever. It’s like, a lot of people I used to know wanted to be friends with me just because I was someone who appeared on TV, and, well, it’s just not a nice thing to find out. You know?”
Yuri’s gaze softened and she nodded. “I guess that makes sense.”
“Don’t be,” Yuri assured her. “Thank you for trusting me.”
Overwhelming. Yena was overwhelmed with emotion at the pure patience and understanding in Yuri’s calm voice. Something so simple, simple words filled with kindness, shouldn’t affect her this much, but in her line of work it was all too rare. Feeling her eyes start to water, she quickly glanced out of the window, blinking her tears away. She took a quick glance at their surroundings, immediately recognising the familiar scenery. “Ah, we’re here.”
The car door slid open soundlessly, and Yena’s vision turned white. Cameras were trained on her, buttons clicking madly. They must all be idols’ fansites, she supposed, as expected of the show she was a special emcee of. She stepped out of the car, waving and greeting them one by one. She spied a couple of her own fans and sent them winks. The crowd went ballistic.
“Oh wow,” Yuri eked out, hesitating by the door. “Isn’t this that really popular music show place?”
“Yep!” Already halfway down the walkway, Yena chuckled and jogged back to Yuri. “Don’t worry about the cameras, they’re just here for their idols. Come on.” Yena beckoned her closer as she shifted her body to block as many cameras as she could from Yuri.
Yuri took a shaky step out into the world of dizzy lights and chaotic shouts. She slowly approached Yena, her hands clenched into fists, wincing as people started to murmur. “I don’t think I belong here.”
“You do,” Yena said firmly. “You belong with me.”
Unfurling her fingers, Yuri nervously reached out and grabbed Yena’s hand as she was about to turn away. Amidst a haze of flashing fluorescence and cacophonic cries, Yuri found solace in the warmth of a delicate hand.
You belong with me.
Chapter 13: Two Lovers
Music Hyperlink: Two Lovers, by Davichi.
It was slightly terrifying how quickly Yena had gotten accustomed to the world of entertainment in just a year or so. During her first day on the set, every little thing was fascinating to her, from the smallest waiting rooms to the giant studio set she would soon be a part of. It had been so long since then, just too long - or at least it felt that way. But now, with Yuri gasping with child-like wonder, her fear forgotten as she took in the sights and sounds of everything backstage, Yena started to remember what it felt like being amazed at the simplest of things.
A refreshing feeling, to be sure.
“Come on.” Yena tugged on Yuri’s hand, leading her to the emcee’s assigned waiting room. “This is where we have to wait until we’re called onto set.”
The room, to Yena’s eyes, was small and cramped, especially when another emcee and their stylists were all huddled up in the same place. She started to apologise to Yuri, but Yuri only shook her head as she hid behind Yena’s back, too shy to meet anyone’s eyes. “This is really amazing,” she whispered to Yena, clearly trying to hide her excitement. “You have a whole waiting room and everything.”
“Oh, hey, you’re here!” A friendly voice called out. Yena’s co-emcee rose from where his stylist was fixing up his hair and gave them a little wave.
“Seungkwan?” Yena grinned at him, relieved to have another familiar face around. “You’re the special emcee today, huh?”
“Yeah, my group’s making a comeback soon so they got me to come in this week. Gotta get the crowd hyped, you know?” Seungkwan’s gaze flitted over to Yuri. His eyebrows winged up and he quickly gave her a little bow. “Oh, did you bring your girlfriend? Hello, my name’s Seungkwan. I’m Yena’s friend.”
“I-” As Yena stumbled over her words, she glanced at Yuri, a nervous grimace growing on her face. “We’re not-”
“Nice to meet you, Seungkwan,” Yuri replied, returning the bow. “I’m Yuri.”
Yena caught a glint in Seungkwan’s eye - the same one that appeared whenever he was going to start a lengthy, inescapable chat - and wisely decided to steer the conversation away before it could start. “Hey, I think we should start practising our comments, Seungkwan, don’t you think?” Her quick, well-calculated move had him deflating like a leaky balloon, and with a quiet grumble he shuffled off to grab their cue cards.
“Oh, you need to practise,” Yuri murmured. “I shouldn’t disturb you two, then.”
“It’s fine, Yuri.” A few polite words had a stylist scooting over a seat. Yena eased her companion into the now vacant spot and plopped herself down in the adjacent chair. “We just need to run over our lines a few times, and the staff should be calling us out in about ten minutes or so. Shouldn’t take too long.”
Reluctantly, Yena turned to Seungkwan and shook her head at his suggestive grin. “It’s not what you think,” she hissed. “We’re friends. Just friends.”
“You might think that, but Yuri didn’t correct me.”
So maybe he had a point. But there could be a multitude of reasons why Yuri didn’t correct him - she could have misheard him, for example, or maybe she expected Yena to clarify their relationship instead. Yena stuck her tongue out at Seungkwan. “Whatever. Either way, we’re not dating.”
“Mhm.” Seungkwan dragged the sound out as he flipped through his cue cards. “Sure. Whatever you say.”
Huffing, Yena plucked her own cards from their dressing table. It didn’t matter; she’d just let Seungkwan think whatever he wanted to think. And if she thought about it, perhaps his initial guess wasn’t as bad of an idea as one may think. After all, Yena was already falling for Yuri since the first time she heard her voice that autumn night. Sighing, Yena forced herself to stare at the words printed neatly on card, brushing wishful dreams away from her mind.
When the staff members finally knocked on their dressing room door, Yena couldn’t be happier. It was so hard to focus with Yuri around, even when all she was doing was fiddling with her phone or staring at the stylists fixing Yena’s hair and makeup. Seungkwan had caught her not-so-subtly swiveling around in her chair just to catch a glimpse of Yuri and couldn’t stop quietly teasing her about it.
Getting to her feet, Yena tapped Yuri’s arm. “Time to show you the big stage,” she announced, offering her hand gallantly. Chuckling, Yuri put her phone away and place her hand in Yena’s, allowing the older girl to pull her up.
On their way to the stage, they passed by a number of waiting rooms housing mostly idol groups as well as a couple of solo artists. Some of them even Yuri was familiar with, while others were just newly debuting artistes, chattering among themselves as they tried their best to quell their stage fright. Occasionally Yena would pop her head into a waiting room to greet the singers, both new and seasoned, as if they were all friends. After giving a debuting girl group a hearty pep talk, Yena caught a grin stretching across Yuri’s face.
“What’s up with that smile?” Yena asked.
“You’re actually really nice, going out of your way to greet everyone and cheer them up.”
“She’s always been like that,” Seungkwan commented as he danced up behind them. “In every show she’s on, whether as a cast member or an emcee, she’s made it a point to make sure everyone’s as comfortable as can be.”
Hearing that, Yuri started to swoon. Yena sniffed and shrugged it off, pretending it was no big deal, though her reddening ears gave her away. “Anyway, where were we?” Saying that, they stepped out of the corridor into the looming darkness backstage. Yena could feel Yuri freeze up next to her, her grip on Yena’s hand tightening.
“Why is it so dark?” Yuri whispered.
“It’s to focus the lights on stage,” Yena explained. “So people won’t get distracted by us backstage.”
“I don’t like it. Everything’s too dark.” Yuri’s voice trembled. The colourful lights were too dim for her, Yena realised, and in this stark emptiness they would probably only seem like tiny grey spots, negligible spots, in Yuri’s vision.
“Don’t worry.” Yena squeezed her hand, hoping to provide some sense of comfort to the terrified girl. “I’m here.”
After announcing the winners of the music show of that week - a group of twelve girls Yena was a big fan of since their survival competition days - she returned backstage to where Yuri was waiting for her. Now that everything was properly lit up, she could see the clear relief on Yuri’s face. She thanked the staff member flanking Yuri and waved goodbye to the idols passing by backstage as they left for their next schedules.
“How was it?” Yena asked. “Hope I didn’t take too long with the announcements on stage.”
“It was fine,” Yuri assured her. “Thanks to you, the staff were all really nice to me. They even gave me a small flashlight!” She waved the torch in her hand, grinning as they made their way back to the waiting room.
Even just waving a torch around made her look so cute. Yuri talked about all the things she was so fascinated by backstage (everything, really), the little stories that friendly idols and staff told her while they passed by or were waiting for their turn. Yena listened, enraptured, though not with the stories themselves - Yena was more than familiar with them - but with the sound of Yuri’s voice. Despite listening to her almost everyday, Yena never grew tired of Yuri’s husky voice, but how could one ever resist such dulcet tones?
As they walked back to the waiting room, crowds passed them by, idol groups leaving the building or meeting their friends briefly, staff that rushed to take things down or reset the stage. Yena’s naturally friendly demeanour made it impossible for her to ignore them.
Perhaps this was her curse.
A familiar figure strode down towards her, each step louder than the last. A familiar voice echoed through the corridor, Korean heavily laced with a Japanese accent. Long locks cut into a shoulder-length bob, straight hair made into waves.
Yena opened her mouth in greeting.
Lips, familiar in touch and taste, curved upwards in polite greetings. Polite, but knowing, unspoken secrets shared between two.
Chapter 14: Beautiful Pain
Music Hyperlink: Beautiful Pain, by BTOB.
Suffocating, so suffocating. If the air was any thicker Yena would gladly choke to death. Anything would be better than this ill-timed reunion. Takahashi Juri was her trauma, her past that she fought so hard to erase only for that illusion to be shattered in mere seconds. No matter how deep Yena tried to bury her hurt, the pain and the heartbreak from their separation, no matter how much she tried to move on, it was almost as if there was just no allowable respite for her.
And now, with Yuri just behind her, Juri just in front; they were the two owners of her heart, two magnets drawing Yena in, but only one could succeed. There should only be one who would succeed - this was Yena’s firm belief, but Juri’s presence shook that fragile pillar of belief like an earthquake.
“How have you been?” Juri’s smile was plastic, like the one she gave Yena before leaving.
"Good." Yena felt her mouth curl into a smile equally fake - not fake, she told herself, merely polite and nothing else. They exchanged gazes, gazes that burned and ripped through the fabric of space between them. Any fool who dared to step between them now would be crushed by the ferocity and heat palpable in the surrounding atmosphere.
“Yena.” A quiet voice cleaved the tense air in half. Just like that, the hairs on Yena’s neck that stood up at the sight of Juri relaxed when she turned to Yuri. “Who is…?”
Yena reached out to take Yuri’s hand, fingers curling into her palm. “This,” she said, gesturing with excessive politeness, “is Juri. Juri, this is Yuri.” Just holding her hand calmed Yena down immediately. Yuri really was the yang to her yin, soothing her anger and all the negativity that boiled and bubbled in her chest in the presence of Juri. She didn’t dare imagine having to meet Juri alone under these circumstances - just when she had managed to stand on her own again, regaining her balance, who was Juri to sweep the rug from under her feet and topple her again?
“Oh. Hello. Nice to meet you.” Yuri bowed to Juri.
Was it just Yena, or did Juri’s smile grow stiffer? The Japanese woman inclined her head in greeting. “You’ve moved on quickly, Yena,” she muttered, just loud enough for Yena’s sharp ears to hear. “A bit too fast.”
Yena flushed angrily at the comment. She shouldn’t have any right to say something like that, Yena thought, not when she was the one who left. But when she looked at Juri, were her eyes playing tricks on her, or did the Japanese woman look a bit remorseful?
No, that wouldn’t make sense. Why would Juri, of all people, be remorseful after what she did? Yena dismissed the notion and shook her head.
“We should go, Yuri,” Yena announced loudly, glaring at Juri as she said so. She tugged on Yuri’s hand to drag her away. “It was nice meeting you again, Juri.”
As they walked away from Juri, feet moving a little faster than really needed, Yena squeezed Yuri’s hand. She needed to reassure herself that the younger girl was still with her.
“Yena!” Juri called from behind them, her voice sing-song. A siren calling her victim to their doom. Yena spared a tentative glance back, making eye contact with Juri. Juri’s smile spread like a child’s, dangerous hunger hiding behind innocence. “Let’s meet again soon.”
“Are you okay?” Yuri asked in the ride home. She reached her hand out to smooth down Yena's hair, concern written all over her face.
If she was being honest, Yena was far from okay. She was angry, shocked, and most of all disgusted with herself because she just knew in the few seconds she first laid eyes on Juri her heart had leapt in stuttering, foolish hope - as if nothing had changed from a year ago.
Hadn't she learned yet?
"I'm just tired, I guess," Yena muttered, pinching her nose bridge between two fingers.
“Really? That’s it?”
“And a bit surprised, to be honest. I didn’t expect to see Juri here again.” This wasn’t a lie, Yena told herself. It wasn’t a lie, just an underwhelming truth.
“I could tell.” Yena’s head snapped up at Yuri’s admission. “You two seemed, well, close.”
Yuri nodded, curling up in her seat. She hesitated, then gently asked, “Were you two… together?”
Silence engulfed the car. Yena licked her lips. Her mouth was dry. Her mind immediately rushed to make something up, to lie to Yuri not just because she didn’t know what Yuri would think of it but also to protect herself from something she desperately did not want to recall. Yet when she opened her mouth, the only words that came out of her mouth were: “How did you know?”
“Just a feeling.”
“It didn’t end well.”
Yuri hummed in response, choosing not to say anything. It was impossible to miss the tension between Yena and Juri, the pain in Yena’s eyes. If Yuri had picked up on that then, then maybe her stepping between them was on purpose. And if that was the case, then Yena was eternally grateful.
Yena took Yuri’s hand in hers and squeezed it, feeling bones moving under delicate skin. Cars sped by outside, hidden behind drawn curtains. “Thank you.”
“Don’t worry,” Yuri said, echoing Yena’s words earlier in the day. “I’m here for you.”
But Yuri couldn’t always be there with her. Not when there were other commitments, like university classes and property settlements in Busan and everything else that filled up her schedule and brought her to the brink of exhaustion.
Yena herself was busy with work. Ever since her appearance as the music show's emcee, she suddenly received many invitations from shows and events requesting for her emcee skills. With all these to attend, plus her regular variety show appearances and commercial filmings, it was impossible to catch a breather. She'd leave home early and return late, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning - but Yuri would always be there, waiting for her, strumming her guitar and singing until Yena returned.
And if not, Yuri was always a phone call away.
Until she wasn’t.
Yena was concerned, obviously. Pacing back and forth in the waiting room provided for her, she dialled and redialled Yuri’s number as her outfit, styled to fashion magazine perfection, swished back and forth with her movements. Why wasn’t Yuri picking up? She couldn’t be busy with university classes, not at nine-thirty at night, and Yena recalled that she had just returned from a Busan trip the day before.
Maybe she was occupied with something else. Maybe she was getting some dinner, or watching a show, or left her phone somewhere where she couldn’t hear it ring. So Yena left a message, a quick text telling her to call or text back whenever. Then she went off to work, leaving her phone in the waiting room.
But minutes turned to hours, and Yena had not heard back from Yuri. She repeatedly asked her staff members to notify her if her phone went off, but nothing. Every break she took was spent checking and double-checking her phone, making sure it hadn’t run out of battery, making sure she didn’t accidentally put it on silent. She considered texting Yuri again, or calling to make sure everything was okay.
When Yuri failed to pick up the call, fear started to sink in. Did something happen to her? Was there a robbery, or did something go very wrong with the house in Busan, or was there something else even worse, something else horrendously unimaginable?
Yena’s head shot up when a knock sounded on her waiting room door. Her manager stood by the doorway, leaning on the jamb with a weary look on his face. In his hand was her phone, screen bright with pictures flashing across it. He waved his phone, uncharacteristically serious.
“Have you seen the news?” he asked warily.
“Not yet, why? We’ve been busy the whole day, I haven’t had time…” Yena’s words trailed off as her manager handed her his phone. Scrawled across the screen in large bold letters were the words:
VARIETY STAR CHOI YENA DATING A NON-CELEBRITY?
And just under that, in plain sight, was a crystal-clear photograph of her and Yuri in the train back from Busan, holding hands as they snoozed on each other’s shoulders. Yena blinked, trying to process what exactly she was seeing. With a shaky hand she scrolled down, scanning empty words, seeing paparazzi shots of her and Yuri in the Busan train station, in Yuri’s university, and even the shots of her and Yuri arriving at that one music show.
Simple photos had been illuminated in a different light, giving the impression of secrecy and illicit relationships. Pictures of their hands brushing had been outlined by red circles; subtle glances that may not even be actual glances were interpreted in suspicious ways. And as if these weren’t enough, whoever had wrote this stupid tabloid article proceeded to speculate when they had started ‘dating’, what the Busan trip meant – even making up fake conversations.
What nonsense. How anyone could believe that, she’d never know. But when she scrolled down to read the comments, disbelief turned into disappointment. Some netizens expressed sadness that their favourite star wasn’t dating their favourite idol (like Yena would ever date Seungkwan, please, he’s like her brother). Some expressed disgustingly blatant homophobia. Yena blocked these out, she wasn’t too surprised given this was Korea, and she had a supportive family and friend group anyway and she was more than satisfied with that. The worst comments, however, were those directed towards Yuri – or in the tabloid’s words, the “shocking non-celebrity companion”.
There was so much hate there. People who were upset their favourite idol wasn’t dating Yena blamed it on Yuri, calling her ugly and many more terrible words Yena couldn’t digest. The homophobic ones blamed Yuri for “converting Yena”, which of course made no sense whatsoever. And others were just hate, pure hate, that some random non-celebrity was trying to “destroy” Yena’s career or “ruin” her.
One comment in particular chilled Yena’s blood. It read:
[+1000, -5] This girl looks familiar. Isn’t she an Enozi Uni music major?
A thousand positive reviews by this morning. If someone were to filter the comments, it would so easily be found. So easily read. They didn’t specify that it was Yuri, but how difficult could it be to spot someone so beautiful? A typhoon of fear and worry overcame her all of a sudden.
What if they – the netizens, crazed fans, the unwanted paparazzi – what if they had already found Yuri? What if they had stormed the campus and tracked her down, insulted her to her face like what they did here on the internet? What if, God forbid, they did much worse?
Yena couldn’t bear thinking about it. She immediately called Yuri again in a panic. No response. Damn it! She slammed her fist on the waiting room table. A headache began to brew at the back of her brain. Why was this happening now?
“What did the CEO say about it?” she asked her manager, eyes imploring.
He shrugged. “The company’s already given the standard statement. You know, “we are discussing it with the parties involved”, et cetera. But shouldn’t you be worried about your girlfriend?”
“We’re not even dating,” Yena lamented. “And my friend isn’t picking up.”
“Don’t you know any of her friends? Anyone who goes to the same university as her?”
“No, I…” Yena’s eyes widened. She shot up from her chair. “Kim Chaewon!”
Music Hyperlink: Lesson 5, by Epik High.
“Dude, you’ve messed up big time.”
Chewing on a cut of her honey toast - the most expensive set meal on the cafe’s menu, and Yena’s treat - Chaewon jabbed her fork at Yena, hunched over in her chair. While Chaewon was dressed in what she liked to call her casual university fashion, a pair of skinny jeans and a leather jacket, Yena was covered from head to toe in the most unassuming things she could pull out of her closet. There was a bucket hat fixed on her head, a mask and sunglasses covering as much of her face as they could, and a way oversized coat keeping her very, very warm.
In Chaewon’s eyes, talk of the town Choi Yena looked absolutely ridiculous.
“Are you telling me that I should have been more careful of my relationship with Yuri?” Yena glared at her under the rim of her hat. “The CEO’s told me that. The netizens have said that, repeatedly. I get it.”
“No, as in, you should have known better with bringing her to a music show where so many fans gather with their huge-ass cameras. At least five people there would easily sell out any information, fake or not, if their photos would be in the news.” Chaewon shovelled more toast into her mouth. “How long have you even been in this business?’’
“Clearly not long enough,” Yena grumbled. She shrunk in her chair and ran her hands over her face. “I don’t know what to do now, Chaewon. Yuri hasn’t replied to my texts or calls since last night.”
“Did you try ringing her doorbell?”
Yena stared at her dumbly. “Obviously.”
Chaewon put her fork down and hummed, deep in thought. Sighing, Yena moved to copy her posture, putting an elbow on the table and propping her chin up. One missed day. Just one missed day, and already she was missing Yuri this much. Of course, the netizens’ comments didn’t help.
“Chaewon.” Yena leaned in towards her friend, pulling down her mask so she could be heard clearly. Her voice came out as a whisper, hoping not to draw the attention of anyone nearby. “Be honest. Did anything happen at your campus? Like, suspicious people hanging around, or paparazzi, or-”
“No, definitely not.”
“That’s a relief,” Yena muttered, leaning back and putting a hand over her rapidly beating heart. She would not have any idea what to do if people - strangers, netizens - really were to start flooding the university in search of Yuri. But if Chaewon said that the coast was clear, perhaps she was just overthinking it. Typing terrible words on the Internet and carrying them out in real life are two very different things, after all, and for an odd moment Yena felt a wave of relief wash over her as she hoped that maybe these hurtful netizens were just cowards that hide behind keyboards and speak empty words.
A look of vexation crossed Chaewon’s face. She reached up and patted Yena’s head. “If there are any suspicious-looking people hanging around the Music building in the future, I’ll definitely tell you.”
Yena smiled gratefully. “Thanks.”
“But isn’t this some really coincidental timing?” Chaewon picked up her fork and twirled it in the air before jabbing it at Yena. “You know, you went to Busan with Yuri a long while back, but no articles came out about you being with someone else. Now, you’re suddenly so busy, and so is she, so neither of you have time to meet - and yet the tabloids have come up with this story of you two dating.”
She was right. Yena had been in such a panic that she had failed to realise how odd a time this had occurred. Her music show emcee gig occurred days ago, almost weeks, so why were the tabloids only bringing it up now?
It was all a bit strange, wasn't it?
"Yena. Don’t look now, but I think there’s a paparazzi guy stalking you,” Chaewon hissed, interrupting Yena’s thoughts. Yena jolted up in her seat before hurriedly sinking back down at Chaewon’s sharp look. “What part of don’t look do you not understand?”
“What does he look like?”
“Standard paparazzi look, I guess. Tall guy in all black with sunglasses and mask and everything.” Chaewon scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Honestly, does he think that his getup and stupidly huge camera would make him less conspicuous?”
Yena had no answer to that. Not especially after she looked down at her own outfit and realised that the same comment was applicable to her. But she needed to get out of here, stat. “Chaewon, I should go.”
“Okay. Do you need me to distract him?”
“What are you planning to do if I say yes?”
“Do you want to find out?”
Recalling Chaewon’s mother was a well-renowned musical actress, Yena bit her lip to suppress her grin. “Sure.”
Chaewon nodded grimly and stood up. At her prompt, Yena followed suit, her chair making an obnoxiously loud noise as it drew back. “Let’s do this, then.”
Yena couldn’t stop cringing all the way to her company building. Honestly, the shame. She was so glad she was wearing her bucket hat, since at least it would hide her tomato-red face flushing from embarrassment. She expected a distraction, but not what Chaewon did. That bird-like screech, weird limb movements, an excessively dramatic swoon – she shuddered just thinking about it.
Better to erase it from her memory as soon as possible.
Striding into the building, she immediately headed off to find her manager. After an arduous hunt, she found her manager sitting in the CEO’s office, seemingly in a deep discussion. Peeking into the room through the tinted windows, she deliberated over her choices: waiting outside until her manager was done, or enter to request both manager and CEO for a favour. Thinking it over, she unconsciously leaned on the window. Her gaze darted through the glass to meet her CEO’s bemused, steady gaze. A glance down had Yena stifling a laugh at her manager’s surprised face.
Choice two it was, then.
“How did you know I was standing outside?”
The CEO chuckled, clearly amused at such a silly question. “I could see your shadow.”
“Of course.” Yena settled herself down in the chair adjacent to her manager’s. “May I ask what you were discussing?”
“You,” her manager replied. He was a soft-spoken man with an empathetic heart – perhaps too empathetic, sometimes, for Yena was sure that when he was driving her and Yuri to and back from the music show he had taken a long glance at them through the rear-view mirror but had kindly opted not to mention a word.
“And the rumours surrounding you and… your friend,” the CEO continued. “And most importantly, who was the one that came up with this rumour at such an opportune time? It seems almost as if they intended to ruin your reputation, or at the very least create a scandal that might affect the huge influx of offers you received after being an emcee.”
“Right.” This was something that Yena wanted to know too, the one favour she was hoping to be able to request from the company. “You don’t happen to know who that was, do you?”
Her CEO’s face grew dark – a sign of impending doom. “Not only do we know who created the rumour,” the CEO said, voice suddenly gravelly, heavy with the gravitas of the situation, “but we’ve also been given a way out.”
“Really? Who was it? I mean, if this can all blow over it’ll be fine, won’t it?”
“But will you be fine?” her manager asked quietly, his head bowed. He glanced up, gaze flicking over to study Yena’s face.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Yena’s gaze shifted between him and the CEO.
Her CEO took a deep breath in, then spoke four words. “Japanese Idol Takahashi Juri.”
Yena was stunned. Her eyeballs shook in their sockets. Gripping the handrests of the chair, she leaned forward, tongue darting out to wet her suddenly dry lips. “W-what does she have to do with anything?”
“I heard she’s your ex-girlfriend.”
Yena glanced at her manager. He shifted his gaze guiltily. Yena looked back at her CEO and sighed. “She… yes, she is. Was.”
The CEO steepled her fingers and pressed them to her lips. “Takahashi Juri was the one who we assume created this rumour, as she has given us a proposition to get rid of the rumour. For what she likes to call a ‘little favour’.”
Juri created the rumour. Takahashi Juri with her shark-scary smile and unnaturally polite demeanour in that cold corridor. It was a sight that Yena could absolutely not erase from her memory.
And now she was offering them a way out? That didn’t make any sense. What was she trying to do?
Yena took a long-suffering breath. It shook and trembled with the weight of the world on her shoulders. “What does she want?”
What a twisted game Juri wanted to play, pretending that they were dating to divert media attention from Yuri. Even though she was the one who created the rumour in the first place, the one who forced both Yuri and Yena into their current positions.
Why did she even want to do that? The thought of it made her toss and turn in bed, thinking of any and all other reasons why Juri would want to spread this type of rumour. They were so in love, so why did she suddenly want to harm Yena? She was the one who left, so she didn’t have any reason to do this. The more she racked her brains to figure out Juri’s intentions the more uneasy she grew, and soon night turned to day, light piercing through the windows to sear itself onto Yena’s eyelids and still she hadn’t slept a wink.
Her phone rang and snapped her out of her thoughts like a spear piercing through a balloon. Her bloodshot gaze drifted towards the annoyance, and she reached out towards it, slow as a turtle.
“Yena, you need to come here right now,” Chaewon hissed into her ear. Despite her groggy state Yena could hear voices talking loudly.
“Chaewon? What’s going on?”
“The weirdos are here. They came to our campus. I think they heard Yuri’s inside, they’re trying to get in. The security guards are trying to stop them, but…” Someone jostled against Chaewon, causing static to crackle over the line. “Hey, watch it!”
“Yuri’s there?” Yena shot up, already halfway out of her bedroom. As she made her way to the door, she instructed Chaewon to keep her informed. “I’m on my way. Don’t hang up. If anyone gets in, or if Yuri comes out, tell me immediately.”
“You got it.”
Swinging a coat over herself, Yena ran out the door, bedroom slippers slapping against pavement. Her hair flapped madly in the wind. She ran past the murals and the lamp posts that lined the street. Cold sweat trickled down her back.
It took her an eternity to reach the university's gates, and an eternity more to the music faculty. When she got there, she stopped dead in her tracks. The crowd was enormous, a tsunami of strangers and students battling it out to enter the building. Cameras waved in the air, obvious paparazzi shoving others to the ground in a bid to interview unsuspecting campus dwellers. Security guards were trying their best to contain the mess, checking every student's ID card before letting them into the building.
What the fucking hell was going on?
Worry overwhelmed her mind and eradicated any sense of control. Yena threw herself at the sea of people, attempting to make her way in. An arm here, a leg there. She pushed and pulled, swimming against the current. A body jostled against her. "Excuse me," she muttered, keeping her head down as she looked around for the next opening.
"Hey, you're Choi Yena!"
Suddenly all eyes were on her. Even campus security froze to locate the source of their troubles. A quick student took the chance to squirrel past them into the building.
"Yes," Yena growled through gritted teeth. "That's me."
A volley of questions were hurled at her all at once. Voices overlapped and crashed and drowned each other out, all vying for her attention. Shaking them off, she managed to squirm through half the crowd before one question reached her ears, clear as day.
"Is it true that you're cheating on Jo Yuri with Takahashi Juri?"
Silence fell at this unexpected piece of information. Who was that? Who asked that? Yena swivelled around, locating the source. A pimply reporter with thick spectacles and a lanyard too yellowed to identify his origins slowly raised his hand.
"Is it true?" he asked again.
"Who told you that?" she whispered.
"I'm not allowed to divulge my sources, miss." But his eyes shone behind his spectacles.
Clever bastard. Juri must have set this up, planted him here. Yena turned away.
"But is it true?" A different voice, the same question. Various voices echoing the same sentiment.
Is it true?
"I'm not cheating on anyone," Yena hissed. "Rumours are just rumours. That's all they are. Lies."
"Then what's the truth? Are you dating Yuri or Juri?"
The truth. What it was, she wasn't really sure either. She wasn't dating Yuri, as far as she knew at least. She definitely wasn't dating Juri, either. But if she told them that, they'd hound Yuri to no end. And Juri would invent new things to tell the press until she got what she wanted.
"What's the truth?"
Tell the truth, Choi Yena.
Overhead, in the building behind her, a window on the fourth floor opened. A girl leaned out, her brown hair fluttering in the paltry breeze, tired eyes searching the crowd beneath her for someone. Or something.
Yena cleared her throat. “That’s not it. Yuri and I are just friends.”
"So it's true.” Yena sighed. “I'm dating Takahashi Juri."
pls dont kill me
Music Hyperlink: Snow, by Moonbyul.
It should be illegal, this manipulation of media, twisting of small lies into bigger lies to suit your desires. And then forcing someone else to play along with the lie that you created? In Yena’s books, that was the very definition of evil. She carried her anger like a badge as she glanced around at the reporters madly jotting notes down and firing questions at her. The more they asked, the greater her fury grew until she nearly lashed out.
She couldn’t believe this was what news reporters did these days. There were better things to do, more important worldly matters to report on. Yet they were obsessed with this. Yena laughed bitterly.
“I hope you’ve got the answers you need,” she simpered, voice dripping sickly sweet venom as she smiled at them. She swished back around towards the building and strode through the crowd. They parted for her like the Red Sea. “Now, I’d like to meet my friend, thank you very much.”
She left the sound of cameras clicking behind her. The door of the music building shut out the voices and brought her no greater relief.
Juri sat at the head of the long table in one of the company’s private meeting rooms, fingers locked together loosely and resting on the table. Once in a while she would stretch out the cricks in her neck or examine her nails. She exuded great confidence, too at home in a place that she should have been no part of.
At the other end of the table was Yena’s CEO, flanked by both Yena and her manager on either side. While the CEO had a polite smile on her face as she flipped through the contract before her, Yena’s manager nervously kept his head down, refusing to make eye contact with anyone. Yena understood his mental state all too well. Though she tried her best to maintain a calm demeanour, under the table her fingers fidgeted and picked at dry skin. Her leg almost started to shake out of habit if not for the CEO gently stepping on her foot as an unspoken warning.
“This seems to be quite a detailed setup you’ve planned, Miss Takahashi.” The CEO nudged the contract away and leaned back in her chair. She steepled her fingers. Her eyes, piercing and fierce, glared over fingertips.
“Well,” Juri mirrored her pose and crossed her legs, “if one is to deter rumours, a plan should be properly thought out, isn’t that the case? Especially when it concerns someone as popular as Yena over here.”
“If that’s the case, then thank you for taking her position into consideration.” Yena’s head whipped towards her CEO, shocked that she could even say such a thing despite knowing full well that this was all part of Juri’s plan. But the look on the CEO’s face was tired and sincere, and Yena could not bring herself to say anything.
Instead, she just turned to face Juri and inclined her head. “Yeah. Thanks.”
Nodding, Juri plucked out a pen from within the depths of her bag and slid it over the table. It spun in neat circles from one end of the table to each other and came to a halt in front of the trio. The CEO glanced at it. The manager refused to look at it.
Yena stretched her hand out and picked it up, holding it carefully as if it were a bomb. Uncapping it, she placed its tip to the bottom left corner of the contract. Black ink bloomed on white paper. An irreversible stain.
A triumphant grin spread on Juri’s face. Standing up, she made her way to the door of the meeting room and swept the signed contract into her bag. She offered Yena her hand to shake and grasped Yena’s hand tightly, fingers pressing dark red circles onto Yena’s soft skin.
“I look forward to working with you, Choi Yena.” Even now as Yena raced down the corridors of the music building, Juri’s words still echoed loud and clear in her mind. She certainly wasn’t looking forward to working with Juri. Not when her heart ached at the thought of the woman, not when her mind was only screaming for her to run away when they were even in the vicinity of each other. But this was something Yena had to do; no, it was the only thing she could do for-
Her. Poised at the piano, gentle fingers resting on black and white keys. Her hair fluttered in the wind brought in through the open window. Yena peered in through the dusty window embedded in the door separating them. She wondered how much the pianist had heard from the commotion below. Pressing her ear to the door, she waited in silence, listening for a melody like the ones she had gotten used to hearing on her balcony.
But beyond the door there was only silence. Frowning, Yena slid the door open and stepped in. As she watched Yuri from just a few steps away she noticed the younger girl’s hands were trembling, unable to press down on the piano keys. In front of her, Yuri took in a deep breath, eyes closed, and forced herself to play a tune. She managed to eke out a few notes before slumping, her tremors becoming too great to bear. Sighing, she replaced the piano cover and stood up. With a sweep of her hands she covered the grand piano with a thin muslin sheet and turned to leave.
Yuri’s eyes widened. Her fingers fluttered to cover her mouth. “Yena. How did you get past the crowd?”
“You saw them, huh?”
Yuri nodded, her eyes downcast. “Campus security came in to warn me of suspicious people, but I didn’t suspect that there would be so many of them.”
“Damned paparazzi.” Yena spat the word out like it was poison.
“But you made it in here somehow. So it’s fine, because we’ve got each other. We can get through this. Together.” A smile on her face, Yuri reached her hand out towards Yena. Inviting. Comforting.
Oh, how Yena wanted to take that hand! Her breath hitching in her throat, she shook her head and looked away. “I’m sorry for all of this trouble, Yuri. I promise you won’t have to suffer like this again.”
“What do you mean? Yena, what do you mean by that?”
“I’m sorry.” Her voice was shaking. Yena could feel tears brimming behind her eyes as she slowly backed away until she collided with the door. Inching out of the room, she couldn’t bring herself to meet Yuri’s eyes. “I’m sorry.” Ignoring Yuri’s repeated calls, Yena willed herself to walk away. She swiped at her reddening nose and blinked back her tears. Now Yuri could live her life properly and deal with her grandmother’s passing in peace without the intrusion of nosey netizens.
Yena knew it was better this way.
Since that day, Yena lost track of all time. She couldn’t tell what date it was, nor what time. Her curtains were always drawn shut, blocking any form of sunlight from illuminating her darkened apartment. She was certain that paparazzi and tabloids had already released their hot take on her and Juri’s dating information now that she had ‘confessed’ to the public. She was sure that Juri had released some sort of statement from her side confirming it too. Not that Yena cared.
The only time she ever saw any form of light was when her manager dragged her out for work. Calls for her had dwindled greatly in number, as expected for someone who had just survived a rumour that could ruin them forever. She was surprised any brand even wanted her still. Her manager had barged into her apartment and forcibly hauled her out. “You can’t keep doing this!” he grumbled in a disapproving tone as he dragged her into the company car. “Your fans will be so disappointed!”
Fans? Yena wanted to laugh. What fans? Considering how many people she thought were her fans started spewing vicious comments online, she didn’t believe in such nonsense any more. When she told her manager that, though, all he did was stare at her, flabbergasted. Then he gestured to himself. “I’m your fan too, you know that?” Overwhelmed with gratitude, Yena hugged him tightly. He patted her head gently, like how her father would - and then, in true fatherly fashion, immediately put her in the car and drove her to work.
A few days passed like that until she received her first message from Juri. It was a simple text, short and direct. Yena was instructed to prepare for an awards show that Juri was invited to. She was given the name of the stylist that would provide her a dress and shoes, and the time Juri’s car would come to pick her up. Yena’s fingers curled up into a fist. She felt as if she was just some soldier, a worker taking instructions from a controlling boss, with no allowance for leeway or freedom or anything at all.
Another message came in a few minutes later.
Juri: See you then. <3
Yelling in anger, Yena hurled her phone away where it bounced off a pillow and landed on the floor. She, too, slid to the ground limply. She hung her head and closed her eyes, and she dreamed of Yuri living her life unhindered by the world’s problems.
It was better this way. It had to be.
this is honestly so unnecessarily dramatic,, like a kdrama lol
Chapter 17: Put It Straight
Music Hyperlink: Put It Straight, by (G)I-DLE.
Standing in front of a full-length mirror with a soft-spoken stylist next to her, Yena had to admit her dress tonight was truly very beautiful. It would be much better if the occasion she was wearing it for wasn’t the one she was dreading over the past few days, but it had to be done. She had spent all this time convincing herself that it was just a job. Like pretending to be someone’s partner for a commercial, or play-fighting your arch-nemesis in a variety show. It was just another day in the life of Yena’s future acting career. That’s all.
She chatted politely with the stylist through the whole process of outfitting and make-up and hair, choosing not revealing much about herself or her relationships. Nor did the stylist pry. How lucky she was to be provided such a considerate stylist, Yena realised, to respect one’s privacy despite all the rumours that were circulating in the news. She made a mental note of the stylist for future work, and settled with buying coffee for the both of them for now. The stylist had refused, but Yena insisted.
“To help us both survive the rest of tonight,” she half-joked.
As she made her way to the awards show, Yena received a message. Her phone buzzed and vibrated in the pathetically-sized clutch bag she was given that was large enough to carry exactly one phone and a couple of tissues and nothing else. How was she supposed to survive awards shows without snacks? It was common knowledge that every celebrity attending any event ever snuck in food to eat. Shaking her head at how preposterous it all was, Yena took out her phone to listen to the audio message that Chaewon very kindly left for her.
“Yena? What the hell is this? Are you kidding me?” Although Chaewon’s voice was merely a recording, Yena could feel each word punctuated like a harsh slap against her skin. She subconsciously rubbed her bare arm as if stung. “Do you think you’re living in some stupid drama or something? You really think you’re helping Yuri by doing this? No one is benefitting from this, you idiot, except Takahashi Juri, that b-”
Yena hurriedly turned the recording off. She glanced around, smiling sheepishly at the driver (a guy supplied by Juri, probably; Yena really missed her manager's presence now) through the rearview mirror. Chaewon seemed really angry, and to be honest, Yena wasn’t surprised. She had always seemed quite disapproving of Yena’s actions sometimes, and her hunches usually turned out to be right. And it wasn’t like she was telling a lie, either. Juri was the main beneficiary of this scheme. Even Yena had no confirmation that Yuri was living a better life without being involved in all of this, although she would like to think the singer was.
What if she asked Chaewon to check up on Yuri whenever she was on campus? Knowing Chaewon, she’d probably smack Yena upside the head and tell her to grow up. That was a very Chaewon-like thing to do, but Yena would have to risk it. Not like she could do it over the phone, anyway, so Yena was safe for now.
"Chae," she whispered into the phone, keeping her voice low so the driver couldn't hear her, "I need to ask you something. Are the paparazzi and random weirdos still hanging around the music building, or is Yuri safe now?"
Because if Yuri was safe, no matter how terrible Yena felt, this whole farce would be absolutely worth it. , but she barely managed to type out a “Hey” before the car came to a halt.
“Miss Choi, we’re here.”
“Ah. Okay.” Yena tucked her phone away. “Thanks.”
The door opened and Yena stepped out. An overture in a minor key appeared to play in the background as reporters swung their cameras around to snap photos of her in a stunning dress. Her hair, tied up in a flower braid, came down in gentle waves and swished with her as she twirled on the spot. For a moment, she allowed herself to revel in the delighted calls of the public, posing for the cameras. She took a step forward.
“Miss Choi,” her driver, standing nearby, muttered just loud enough for only her to hear. “We’ve been given instructions to wait for Miss Takahashi to arrive before continuing.”
Her smile froze on her face. Of course, of course. She had nearly forgotten. Fixing her business smile on her face, she continued to wave at the reporters, nodding in recognition at the actors and actresses that passed her by on the red carpet. Where the hell was Juri and why was she taking so long? Yena just wanted to get this damn thing over with and go home.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, a black car pulled up. Yena’s driver glanced at the door of the car, then at her. She took her cue and opened the door. Instinctively, out of pure manners and nothing else, she extended a hand to the woman waiting inside.
Taking Yena’s hand, Takahashi Juri gracefully slid out of her car. She was breathtaking. Donning a white dress that flowed down to the ground, with soft makeup that accentuated her natural beauty, she looked like a bride on her wedding day. No wonder the clicks of the cameramen suddenly increased in frequency as she glanced around with a shy smile on her face. When she tilted her head, turning that beautiful expression Yena’s way, Yena only felt revulsion. Anger bubbled in her chest as she scathingly wondered how Juri could still smile like that after doing all of this to her. Still, she forced a lovestruck look onto her face. It wasn’t too hard to do.
After all, she had been in love with Juri only a few years ago.
So Yena enjoyed the awards show a bit more than what she had intended to. How could she not, given all the performances and the absolute excitement exuding from the crowd? The claps whenever the hosts introduced the nominees, the tear-filled speeches made by winners as they cradled the fruits of their hard work, and most importantly, the raucous cheers of encouragement from the audience - it reminded Yena why she had chosen this path for herself. The recognition, the pride. It was all here. And when she was finally the one to receive the Grand Award, she’d stand up swoop her lover into a deep kiss. Grinning at her imagined future, she turned around to face the woman she loved.
“You seem happy,” Juri murmured. Yena’s smile faltered; the spell was broken. “Award shows are really exciting, aren’t they?” Juri continued, her hand extending to brush over Yena’s. Yena shivered under her touch.
“Y-yeah, they are.” Yena pushed her chair back. “Sorry, I need to use the washroom for a bit.” She hurried out, leaving a bemused Juri in her wake.
In the washroom, Yena splashed some water on her face. How could she allow herself to be so easily swept up in the festivities? She wasn’t here to have fun. This was a job that was forced upon her because of her carelessness. And she had still yet to contact Yuri. Locking herself in a cubicle, Yena quickly called Yuri’s number. It rang and it rang and it rang.
The automated female voice answered her. “Please leave a message-”
“Yuri, if you’re listening to this voicemail, please pick up. I’m sorry for leaving you back then without an explanation. I…” Yena took a shuddering breath. “I should’ve known better. I don’t know whether you follow the tabloids, but I hoped that the news of my dating Juri would get the paparazzi and netizens off your back. The more I think about it now, I feel that was a mistake. I can’t stand seeing her smile. Every time I see her I just think of you.”
A knock sounded on her cubicle door, interrupting her monologue. Yena brought her phone closer to her mouth, muttering into it. “Please call me back. I miss you.” Then, gathering herself, she opened the door.
Juri stared at her from the other side of the door, eyes brimming with tears. “Hi.”
“Juri?” Yena glanced over at the other cubicles. Empty. “Did something happen?”
“You hate me,” Juri whispered.
“No, I don’t.”
“You do. You said so.” Juri took a step back. “You said I was a mistake.”
“Juri, you know that’s not what I meant.”
“Then what did you mean? You said this was a mistake. You said you couldn’t stand seeing me. What’s that supposed to mean?”
Yena was dumbstruck. Never in their months of dating had she seen Juri this furious, this upset. Not with tears freely streaming down her face, mixing with mascara, hands balled up in fists by her side. Not with this desperate, anguished expression in her eyes. “What I meant was, I don’t think this is going to work out for us,” Yena stated as calm as she could, hands splayed out in a gesture of surrender.
“Why?” Juri screamed, “I came back for you! Why can’t we fall back in love again?”
“Exactly. Why did you leave?”
“Because.” Juri sniffled and leaned back on the edge of the row of sinks. “I thought you shouldn’t have been weighed down by me. I mean, I wasn’t an actress then. You were just starting out. What if we were just stopping each other from chasing our dreams? What if we ended up as failures?”
In that moment Yena immediately understood the intrinsic distinction between the girl she had loved and the woman she loved now. It was doubt. The former had so easily thrown away what they had out of fear, doubting their abilities to succeed. But Yuri had reached out despite everything, had only provided understanding and support.
Most importantly, Yuri was there when Juri was not. And that made all the difference.
“I’m sorry, Juri, but I already love someone else.” Now Yena could smile genuinely for the first time that night. She pulled out a tissue from her pathetically-sized bag and pushed it into Juri’s hands before making her way out.
Pausing by the door, she turned around. “And don’t worry. Neither of us are failures. We did it, we succeeded. Just… without each other.”
One click, then another. Bending over by the entrance of her apartment, Yena peeled her heels off. She tiptoed on her aching feet to her kitchen, taking a big gulp of beer from a half-opened can in her fridge. Exhausted, Yena strode straight to her balcony and plonked herself down on the wooden flooring. Had she been too harsh on Juri back then? Maybe she shouldn’t have just left Juri there. The guilt was eating away at her. She sighed and scrubbed her face with her hands.
Relationships were just too hard. Zoning out and staring into the distance, her eyes focused on the little string tied to her balcony railing. The bell wind-chime. Scooting closer to it, she played with it, giggling childishly when it tinkled. She leaned backwards until her back met the floor, crossing her arms under her head to rest. “Yuri-ah,” she mumbled, “I miss you, you know that?”
The wind-chime sang its little tune. Quietly first, then louder. A bit more insistent.
“Yena? Are you there?”
Chapter 18: Would U
Music Hyperlink: Would U, by Red Velvet.
Her voice was like a lighthouse in the sea of darkness. Like a firefly drawn to its mate, allured by light, falling for a siren’s song, Yena found her heart accelerating at the sound of Yuri’s voice. She wished it wasn’t a hallucination carved out by desire - and waited to hear it again.
“Yena?” It really was her, that throaty murmur when she tried to keep her voice hushed so as to not disturb their neighbours. Yena scooted closer to the balcony, nearly dangling herself off the edge as she tightly gripped the bars of the railing.
“I’m here, Yuri, I’m here.”
“Yena, where were you? I got your message just now and, well, you sounded off. What happened?”
Her message? Yena thought back to her what she had whispered in that pathetically small toilet cubicle. Her useless explanations and heartbroken search for a way out. “I thought,” Yena cleared her throat as she searched for the right words, “Juri had given me - us - a proposal. To stop the reporters from bothering you. At the time, that was my main concern, so I took up her offer without thinking about it too much. So we told the paparazzi we were dating. I know I should have told you, I just…"
“You must have had a good reason not to. I understand.” Well, not really, Yena thought. More like her just being dumb and selfish and all the wrong things that she always had been. "It can't be helped. But how are you feeling now? You sounded so sad."
"You still do."
Yena hurriedly wiped away the tears that were brimming in the corners of her eyes. “Is it really that obvious?” she asked, chuckling.
“Yeah.” A lengthy pause followed. Yena heard a quiet sigh from the balcony below. “I missed you.”
“I- Really? Why?”
A laugh. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”
Those two words sent Yena’s heart hammering against her ribs, threatening to force a giggle out. Slapping her hands over her face, she rolled around on her balcony, grinning madly as her cheeks turned a bright red. It could have been the beer, it could have been the events of tonight, but the words left her tongue before she could stop them. “Yuri, do you want to know something?”
“I missed you too. And I miss you because I really like you,” Yena announced, shouting her words into the wind. “I really, really like you, and I’ve liked you since you started singing all those weeks ago, and I liked you on that rainy day in the train station, and I liked you when we took that trip to Busan, and tonight I can’t help but like you even more because your voice and your presence are the only things that keep me going and I’ve been keeping this in my heart for a while because I didn’t know when was the right time to tell you this but I really really-”
A bang sounded on her front door and jolted her out of her dazed love admission. Confused, she scrambled to her feet, putting her beer can away as she made her way to the door. Beer clouded her vision and made her hands clumsy. The door handle slipped through her fingers as it swung open.
Standing there in loose pyjamas, sporting thick, rounded spectacles, her hair disheveled and face aflame, was Yuri. Yena’s breath caught in her throat. The corners of Yuri’s open mouth turned upwards as she whispered:
“I really like you too.”
Disbelieving laughter bubbled out of Yena like a fountain and infected Yuri. Soon, both of them were grinning at each other, giggling at how red each other’s faces had become. Yena calmed down for a moment, just enough to take Yuri into a warm embrace. She cradled Yuri’s head, pressed into her shoulder, feeling Yuri’s fingers grip the back of her dress.
And Yena felt breath return to her again.
“Your dress is beautiful, by the way,” Yuri commented as they lay down side-by-side on Yena’s balcony. Yena felt Yuri pinch at the fabric of her dress, rubbing it to ascertain what kind of material it was made from.
“It’s a couple thousand dollars, I think.”
“It’s what ?” Yuri nearly shrieked, quickly retracting her hand before she could damage it. Without thinking, Yena grabbed her hand mid-air and, holding it tightly, drew it back to her dress. Turning her head, she nearly burst out cackling at Yuri’s baffled face. Yuri’s eyes were bugging out of their sockets as she mouthed the words “a couple thousand dollars”.
“Yeah, don’t worry about it. I didn’t pay for it.” Tracing circles on the back of Yuri’s hand, Yena grinned like a fool. A successful fool, she thought to herself, one who finally got the girl of her dreams after weeks of angst, after a horrible night, after meeting her ex and being forced into an agreement that benefitted no one - after all that, being able to just lie down next to Yuri was a dream come true.
“Probably Juri, or her company, or something like that.” Yena shrugged as best as she could while lying down. “I mean, all this was planned by her, and the contract she gave said my company wouldn’t be too financially burdened by everything. So it should be all okay.”
“She must still love you, then,” Yuri commented wistfully.
“How did you know?”
“I mean, I don’t know about you, but if I hated you I’d make you pay for everything.” Yuri angled a look at Yena as she said so, one eyebrow raised as if stating the obvious. That was fair, Yena thought, nodding.
“I wish she didn’t, though. I wish she hadn’t come back and messed up our lives just because she ‘loved’ me,” Yena grumbled, making air quotes with her fingers. “If you really love someone, you wouldn’t try to interfere in their lives now that they’re happy.”
“Also true.” Lying in silence for a while, Yuri rolled over onto her side. Scooting closer, she brushed Yena’s hair away from where it covered her eyes. “Want to talk about it?”
Where should she start? Closing her eyes, Yena told Yuri everything. From when she first met Juri to when Juri left; from her heartbreak to hearing Yuri for the first time; from Juri’s return to tonight. It was a relief being able to talk it through, feel the weight lifted off her chest as she shared her story with someone who was willing to listen, someone who wanted to understand. Yuri listened quietly, not asking questions, not interrupting.
And when Yena finished her story, all Yuri did was shift just a little bit more to pull Yena into a hug. Yena felt herself melting in Yuri’s arms. She sighed in bliss as Yuri gently patted her head. “You’ve got me now,” Yuri whispered, her breath tickling Yena’s ear. “You’ve got me now.”
Nestled against Yuri’s chest, Yena could hear Yuri’s heart drumming out a quick beat. Hers, too, was beating too fast, and she willed herself to calm down. An impossible feat, really, considering their positions right now. Pulling away slightly, Yena met Yuri’s eyes.
She leaned in. Yuri’s eyes fluttered closed.
Their lips met.
Yena’s phone buzzed.
We need to talk. Meet me tomorrow in my office, 8am sharp.
It’s regarding Takahashi Juri.
Chapter 19: Someday
finished all my assignments yesterday so guess im back y'all
Music Hyperlink: Someday, by IZ*ONE (joyuriz).
Oh god. Oh god, oh god, oh god. Yena paced back and forth nervously in the women’s bathroom of her company building. Was she going to get a scolding? Did Juri decide that she didn’t want to help Yena any more, that she wanted to throw her to the dogs? Yena wouldn’t blame her. She did leave Juri crying in that bathroom, after all, without any sort of consolation. She didn’t tell anyone else about leaving, didn’t even explain the situation to her manager after calling him that late at night to drive her home.
No, this wouldn’t do. The time for half-baked explanations and foolish decisions was over. She splashed water on her face and hurried to neaten her appearance before the meeting. She glanced at her lips in the reflection. Her hand fluttered up to cover them as she smiled bashfully.
It was impossible to think about last night without thinking about the kiss. It was quick, yes, barely a peck on the lips and yet it lingered in the back of her brain. A gentle reminder of patience and understanding and love. Yuri was there when she had read the message, had placed a hand on her arm in support - before huffing and muttering something about celebrities and their complicated lifestyles. “Before you agree to something or jump to conclusions,” Yuri had warned, “maybe listen to everyone first and consider all your options. And if you’re unsure about something… well, I’m always here. So don’t do anything dumb.”
Ah, what a difficult thing to ask of Yena. After all, wasn’t every single choice she made up to this point pretty dumb in hindsight? Silly decisions that led to unwanted outcomes that led to worse decisions. Well, Yena was done with that. It was time to end this, once and for all.
“You’re surprisingly on time,” her CEO remarked when Yena walked into the office. “I don’t remember you being someone who wakes up this early.”
Chuckling, Yena sheepishly scratched her head. That would be true if it wasn’t for the fact that her heart was beating too fast last night for her to get any shut-eye. How a single kiss managed to get her all hot and bothered was a mystery to her. Yuri really was the singular most magical presence in her life. Yena would do anything for her.
“What did you want to talk about?”
“Last night. I heard you got into a bit of an argument with Juri.”
“We weren’t arguing, just…” Yena frowned as she searched for the right words to say. “I was just telling her how I really felt about us. Why we won’t work out. Why we can’t.”
“Because of Yuri.”
“Because of Yuri,” Yena confirmed, a soft smile on her face. Her expression quickly changed to one of worry as she leaned forward anxiously. “Did Juri release any press statements or cancel our agreement because of last night? Is that why we’re meeting today?”
Yena blinked in confusion. “No?”
The CEO leaned back in her chair, gently swinging left and right. “I would be more inclined to say not yet , at least. I was actually informed of last night’s incident by your manager since he went over to pick you up earlier than expected, and he told me while he was waiting for you to come out there were talks floating around that you and Juri were arguing in the washrooms.”
Yena huffed in frustration. Some people really didn’t hesitate to gossip about anything and everything. “We should clear this up.”
“We definitely should.” Her CEO glanced at the laptop before her, observing it for a while before turning back to Yena. “No emails from Juri’s side yet, nor from any reporters or the rabble. We could use this to our favour, try to pull any strings we have so she’ll lay off you and Yuri.”
“You want to give her a taste of her own medicine.”
“Yes.” It was a firm, definitive answer from the woman in power who had to witness her charge be manipulated into doing something she didn’t want to. “Yes, I do.”
Oh, it was tempting. To have Juri understand what it felt like to be forced into doing something out of spite, to give into selfishness without pausing to think about what the other person might feel - it was so tempting, and something that Yena was very inclined to do. An eye for an eye, some might say. And that thought scared her, that she would so easily give into her meaner, greedier side. She quickly shook her head, erasing them from her mind. While that might have been something the old Yena would do, the Yena who jumped to conclusions and didn’t ask for other people’s opinions nor care for their feelings, the new Yena understood that she had to change.
“No, I…” Yena sighed. “I don’t think we should do that.”
“Really? Do you have a better idea, then?”
What would Yuri do? She’d try to reason it out, probably, and listen. That was what Yuri was really good at, listening to other people, trying to help and support them in her own quiet way. Now, Yena might not be a quiet person, but listening was certainly something she could at least do.
“I need her manager’s number.”
Juri’s company building was massive. Spanning over what seemed like a hundred floors, it towered over the corner it was stationed at, casting its impressive shadow over the smaller shops nearby. Yena could hear her knees knocking together as she cowered in front of the building, and she debated whether she could follow through with what she planned to do. It wasn’t too late to turn back now, she thought briefly.
No, Yena. Grow up and take responsibility for what you’ve done, for what you’ve decided to do.
Steeling herself, she gathered her courage (and the drinks she bought just now) and stepped in. Following the directions texted to her, she wound up in front of a dance studio where she could hear a really catchy pop tune blaring over the speakers. Peering through the glass door, she could make out a group of people practising inside, moving their bodies to the rhythm. In the middle of them all was Juri, her brows furrowed in concentration as she repeated over and over again dance steps under the scrutiny of her dance instructor.
When they stopped for a break, Yena watched Juri collapse into an exhausted heap in front of the mirror, guzzling water like her life depended on it. So she was working hard too, Yena realised, her heart aching at the sight of Juri curling up into a tired ball and resting her head against her knees. Yena nudged the door open and peeked in, looking around at the rest of the dancers. One of them caught her eye and gasped loudly. Yena hurriedly made a shushing gesture. Creeping into the studio, Yena passed around the drinks and sneakily made her way to the dance instructor. “Hi, sorry, I don’t know whether you’re done, but could I borrow Juri for today?”
The instructor glanced over at Juri and nodded. “Go for it. Hey, Juri! Your girlfriend-!”
“I don’t have a girlfriend,” Juri muttered, not looking up. “We broke up ages ago.”
“Sorry,” the instructor whispered, “she’s in a bit of a mood today.”
“That’s okay, thank you,” Yena whispered back. It looked like last night’s argument still lingered around Juri like a dark cloud. She waited until the rest of the dancers filed out before approaching Juri with the last two cups of bubble tea. Crouching down, she gulped nervously before nudging Juri. “Hey.”
Yena felt Juri tense up at the sound of her voice. “What are you doing here,” Juri asked through gritted teeth.
“I wanted to ask you out. On a date.”
Juri chuckled bitterly. “After last night? Are you trying to spite me?”
“No, I’m not.” Yena settled down next to her and took a deep breath. “I just want to talk.”
“Well, I don’t.”
“Well, you are.” Yena’s very matter-of-fact rebuke made Juri pause. She slowly raised her head and glared at Yena.
“Still with your smart-ass comments, I see.”
Yena eased the cup of bubble tea into Juri’s hands. “Still pushing yourself past your limits, I see.”
"We both did, didn't we, to get to where we are now?" Juri sipped at the drink. A warm glow spread across her face. "You remember."
"How could I forget?" Yena toasted Juri's cup with her own. "Brown sugar milk tea, extra pearls, 75% sugar."
"Lemon yogurt." Yena pursed her lips in thought. "It's surprisingly quite nice, or maybe the 50% sugar has something to do with it. It's her favourite."
"She's very lucky," Juri commented quietly.
Yena shook her head. "No, I'm the lucky one. When I was tired and depressed and lacking direction in life, I’d like to think she was the one who saved me. Brought light into my life again after you left.”
Nodding, Juri fidgeted with her cup of bubble tea and turned to Yena. “I’m sorry, Yena. About last night, and… well, everything else before that. I’m sorry for leaving.”
“Don’t be,” Yena replied, patting Juri’s head affectionately. Juri swatted at her hand, pouting and mumbling about how Yena was younger than her and shouldn’t be patting her head. Yena chuckled and withdrew her hand. “I’ve been thinking about it since last night, and I think I’m starting to understand your worries at that time. We were both younger, more immature. I think you did what you think was best at the time for both of us. I can’t blame you for that.”
Juri stared at Yena for a good few seconds, flabbergasted. “Wow, you’ve actually matured a lot.”
“I know.” Yena puffed out her chest, a smug expression on her face. Then, relaxing, she grinned at Juri. “But I didn’t come here just to talk to you, remember?”
“I’ve already asked the rest of your dancers for the day off, you know.” Yena got to her feet and extended a hand to Juri. “One last date, for memory’s sake?”
All in all, Yena thought it was a good last date - or, well, as good as last dates would go. It was bound to be difficult, being with someone who you knew you were eventually going to break up with by the end of it, even if you weren’t dating in the first place, but to Yena’s standards it went pretty well. They paid a visit to the nearby bakery where the small and sweet Japanese cashier suggested some really delicious buns, detoured to the old mural-dotted street where the painted whales leaped out of the blue-paint ocean. Juri waved her over, phone in hand, and managed to convince Yena to take some selfies together. As they walked together, Yena often took glances at Juri. It lightened her heart to see Juri laughing, talking about what she had done during the time they were apart, excitement exuding from her as she enthused.
There was no lingering sadness any more, she realised, no regrets or heartache that she used to associate with Juri. She only felt pride watching Juri blossom and succeed.
They stopped by some shops on the way back to Juri’s apartment, with Yena drifting around and plucking objects off shelves. “You asked me out on a date to buy things for your date,” Juri deadpanned as she gave the stink eye to Yena. She shifted uncomfortably, partly under Juri’s steely gaze, and partly because she now held in her hands bags of knick-knacks that she bought ‘on a whim’. “Your idea of ‘date’ is very debatable.”
“I’m not planning a date, okay, sometimes things just catch my eye.”
As if. Nothing escaped Juri’s senses. They tingled and pointed neon arrows at the bouquet of flowers Yena was currently eyeing. Juri sipped her second bubble tea of the day. “Sure thing. I suggest you get her a bouquet of red roses to show your passionate love.”
“No, that’s too tacky, I was thinking of daisies and tulips. Innocent love.”
“Yeah, like that’s not tacky,” Juri teased, earning her an embarrassed slap on the shoulder. That simple action brought a smile to both of their faces. Any animosity left was now certainly gone, and the air between them cleared like the sunny skies overhead.
“So.” Juri smirked. “What’s the plan?”
Yuri was huddled in bed as she waited for Yena’s reply. Earlier this afternoon Yena had texted her about her plan with Juri, talking it over and bringing her out on a final date before properly separating. Yuri had agreed that it was a good idea, but now, staring at her unresponsive phone, she wondered whether everything went as well as she had hoped. “Why isn’t she saying anything?” Yuri muttered. Huffing, she grabbed her phone and headed towards her balcony. The rain poured down in a gentle drizzle, bouncing off the wind-chime hanging above her balcony and soaking the small card stuck onto it. Yuri plucked the card from the bell, quickly patting it dry and opening it.
Come to the rooftop. I have something to show you.
The rooftop? Was Yena waiting for her there to show her something? But it was raining, for goodness’ sake! Still in her pyjamas, Yuri dashed off, grabbing an umbrella on her way out. Honestly, what important thing could it be that Yena couldn’t just text or call?
“She should know better than this,” Yuri fumed as she climbed the short flight of stairs up to the rooftop. “Waiting in the rain? No updates? Not using her phone? What in the world is wrong with her?” Flinging open the roof door, Yuri stormed out, gripping her umbrella tightly. “Yena, what-”
She froze where she stood. In the darkness of night shone arrays of fairy lights, winking and blinking at her as they lined the rooftop. Singers crooned quiet ballads from Yena’s phone, safely tucked away from the rain in a plastic bag. Glow-in-the-dark stars hung from strings and littered the floor, a galaxy just a few steps away from her. In the middle of it all, laying down the final star, was Yena. Clad in a form-fitting suit and holding a bouquet of flowers in various shades of grey, she turned to Yuri with a cheek-splitting grin on her face. Her eyes shone brighter than anything else, glittering in the light, moonglow pooling in soft black.
Yena only said one word as she held out her hand.
Chapter 20: Lover
Playlist: Lover, by Taylor Swift.
“What in the world are you doing?” Yuri asked, a baffled expression on her face as she approached Yena. “You’re drenched, you’ll fall sick! Are you crazy?”
Yena shrugged and smirked. “I am crazy. That’s why you like me so much.”
“I’m not going to refute that,” Yuri huffed, “but still.” Shaking her head, she finally looked around at the rooftop decorations, all shining in the moonlight.
“What do you think?”
“It’s beautiful,” Yuri breathed, her eyes growing soft. She focused on Yena and brushed away wet hair plastered to her face. “You’re beautiful.”
“So are you.” Yena grew serious. She stepped back a step and put the flowers aside. “I also have something to ask of you.”
“Okay, of course. Is there something worrying you?” Yuri frowned. “Is it Juri?”
“No, no, nothing to do with her.” Yena took a deep breath, then took a small box out of her pocket. “Yuri-ah.”
“Oh my god,” Yuri whispered. Her eyes widened. The umbrella shook in her hands.
“I don’t think I ever got to finish what I said the other night, did I? You know, when I first heard your voice, I thought you were an angel. Like someone who was blessed with the most beautiful voice, someone who could draw the best and worst emotions out of me, and remind me what it was like to feel again. Then as we got to know each other better, spent more time together - even though it was just through separate balconies and a little bell wind-chime - I found myself falling for you more and more. When we went to Busan together, I learnt bits and pieces of you that I don’t think I ever would have if I didn’t follow my heart. And my heart wanted to follow you. It still does, until the very end.”
“This might be too early and too soon, but I do hope you consider it.” Yena opened the box and took out the simple silver band tucked inside. There were no diamonds, no special embellishments. Just two names engraved on the inner side of the ring separated by a little drawing of a wind-chime. She gently placed the ring in Yuri’s palm. “Jo Yuri, sometime in the future when we’re both ready, will you consider marrying me?”
“Yena, I-” Dropping her umbrella in disbelief, Yuri stared at the ring. Her ring. She met Yena’s eyes, shining with hope and love, and she smiled. She slipped the ring onto her finger, both of them marvelling at the way it fit perfectly. “Yes.”
Yena’s face lit up like the sun as she pulled Yuri in, plastering wet clothes against dry ones. Rain pooled itself in divots on the rooftop. Feet splashed in puddles; droplets shimmered in the light. Yena lifted her hand, tracing Yuri’s hair where it framed her face and tucking it away behind her ear. With arms still wrapped around Yuri’s waist, they started swaying to the music playing quietly in the background, a slow one-two step that guided them across the floor.
They waltzed under fairy lights, treading lightly on moons and stars. Soaked to the bone and without a single care in the world, they moved as one, giggling as they brushed noses and twirled around. If it were possible, Yena would engrave Yuri’s cackling into a music box and play it on repeat, would keep a snapshot of Yuri’s wide smile and the way her eyes absolutely lit up - Yena would treasure it all.
As the rain drizzled to a halt, they realised that the playlist Yena had curated had long since ended. But it didn’t matter. Music was everywhere, from to the quiet pitter-patter of raindrops and the distant hum of fairy lights to the melody of their laughter harmonising. Time slowed to a stop when Yena turned to dip Yuri, their faces only a few inches apart.
Hitched breaths. Twinkling eyes searched the other’s, silently asking for permission. Yuri wrapped her arms around Yena’s neck and closed the gap.
Yena awoke in an unfamiliar bed and a set of clothes that definitely was not hers. Sunlight wormed its way through the gaps in the curtains and warmed her left cheek. Still groggy, she winced and rubbed her eyes. Yena was definitely not a morning person. As her brain started to work, she became very aware of a light weight on her chest. The weight shifted and groaned. A body pressed itself into hers, soft to the touch. Legs tangled under the sheets, cold toes brushing against her warm feet.
She pulled the covers away to reveal a sleeping Yuri cuddled into her front, hand clutching tightly at Yena’s shirt, chest rising and falling slowly as she dozed. The ring glittered on her finger still. Yena stared and stared and stared, and when she finally realised that this was entirely real and not at all a dream she had to slap a hand over her mouth to contain her awestruck grin.
She, Choi Yena of foolish love and hopeless romanticism, was in her girlfriend’s bed, with said girlfriend currently in her arms. Could there be anything better?
Now that she was more than awake, what with her heart racing in her chest and twinging every time Yuri shifted in her sleep, Yena took a good look around Yuri’s bedroom. From where she was lying down she spotted a shelf of books attached to the wall, all with titles about music composition or history. Under the bookshelf was a desk with a study lamp, and next to that a small closet. Her gaze drifted towards a collage of pictures plastered to the bedroom door, but from this distance she couldn’t make out any of them.
When Yuri stirred, Yena glanced back down again. She smoothed Yuri’s hair down, patting her head as Yuri slowly opened her eyes. “Good morning,” Yena whispered.
Yuri tightened her grip on Yena’s shirt. “Good morning.”
“Very,” Yuri replied, her husky voice slurred. She snuggled closer to Yena. “I love how warm you are.”
“And I love you.” Yena sat up slightly, propping herself up on her elbow so she could face Yuri. Leaning down, she pecked Yuri on the lips once, then twice. When she pulled away, Yuri’s eyes were half-lidded, lips curved into a sleepy smile. Reaching up to tangle her fingers in Yena’s hair, Yuri pulled her back in for another deeper, longer kiss. Hands travelled across smooth skin to cup cheeks, caress backs, to brush against any exposed strip of skin, sneaking up shirts. Their fronts pressed up against each other as they kissed, little moans escaping with every breath.
“Yena,” Yuri gasped, feeling Yena’s lips graze her neck. “Yena, wait-”
Yena’s eyes flew open. She scrambled up, clapping a hand over her mouth as she realised what she had done. Lying under her, Yuri’s hair was tousled, face as flushed as Yena’s, burning hot to the touch. “Too fast?” Yena asked through her fingers.
“Yeah.” Yuri turned even redder, if that were even possible, averting her eyes. “You’re my first ever relationship, and, well…”
Yena peeled herself off Yuri and sat cross-legged in bed. She nodded in understanding. “Let’s take things one at a time.” Rising, she stretched and tied her hair back in a ponytail and winked at Yuri. “This time, I’ll make breakfast for you.”
Heading towards the kitchen, Yena took inventory of everything Yuri had. There wasn’t much to be found: a few cans of luncheon meat, some overripe kimchi, eggs and instant noodles and rice and sauces. She scoffed. To think Yuri was criticising the lack of food in Yena’s house when her own barely contributed any more. Well, no matter - not that Yena could cook that well, anyway.
So instant ramen it was.
By the time Yena heard Yuri shuffling out of the bedroom, she already had a pot of ramen simmering merrily on the stove, its cover gently rattling as water boiled. Pieces of luncheon meat fried in an eggy mixture, served on a rather cute plate with little cartoon ducks dancing around its rim, were placed on the dining table next to the flowers that Yena bought yesterday and had somehow miraculously survived the awesome downpour. Yuri couldn’t see the colours, she knew, but it would still be a pretty addition to the room.
“Smells good,” Yuri mumbled, her eyes still squeezed shut as she stretched and yawned. “What is it?”
Yena nudged her into a chair before attending to the ramen. “Guess.”
“Instant noodles,” Yuri immediately said, opening her eyes to laugh at Yena - before suddenly jolting in her seat. Her chair scraped back noisily.
Concerned, Yena glanced over, her brows furrowed. “Why, what happened?”
“Yena, you…” Yuri’s gaze shifted to the flowers. Her eyes widened. She stared at them for as long as she could before she was forced to blink. “Yena, I think I’m seeing things.”
“What kind of things?”
“Yellow daisies,” Yuri said, pointing at them with a trembling finger, “and pink tulips.”
Yena gaped at her. The pot started to bubble over. “Say that again.”
“I-it was just for a moment, but” - and Yuri took a shaky breath, her lips stretching so wide her smile split her cheeks - “the flowers were yellow and pink.”
Music Hyperlink: Heart, by IU.
Over the course of what must have only been a few minutes Yuri was dragged all around her apartment by a squawking Yena, so excited was the older girl that she kept pointing at random objects in the house and asking Yuri to identify their colours. “Blue, gray, gray, gray, pink,” Yuri took a moment to roll her eyes before continuing, “gray, gray, green, purple, gray…”
Eventually Yuri and Yena plopped back down at the dining table where their breakfast had long since gone cold. “I’m telling you, it’s not a constant thing. The colours sort of flit in and out like butterflies,” Yuri bemoaned, poking at the sad clump of noodles in her pot with a pair of chopsticks. “I’m nowhere near regaining full colour vision.”
Her disgruntlement did nothing to dampen Yena’s spirits. The older girl grabbed Yuri’s hand and squeezed it tight. “But you could see some, couldn’t you? That still counts! That’s definitely at least one step closer to recovery than before.”
Yuri couldn’t help but crack a compliant smile at Yena’s enthusiasm. “I guess so.”
“I wonder why your vision started coming back,” Yena wondered. After all, it was nothing short of a miracle.
“I think I have an idea,” Yuri muttered.
“What is it?”
“A secret.” Yuri laughed at Yena’s conflicted expression and poked her between the eyes. “Don’t worry about it.”
Yena scrunched up her nose and stuck out her tongue. “Fine.”
As they dug into the cold noodles, the gears in Yena’s brain were whirring at a million revolutions a second. She couldn’t stop thinking of all the places they could go to, all the sights in the country - no, world, that would be so much more beautiful, more brilliant in colour. Just the thought of Yuri being able to fully enjoy and absorb everything around her was unbelievable. And being able to be together with her, being able to revel in all of this together with Yuri?
Cloud freaking nine.
She couldn’t wait to bring Yuri out on the best dates ever.
Has the world always been this beautiful? The sun shining overhead, light breaking through cotton-candy clouds; birds singing as they perch on trees speckled orange and gold; the scent of petals crushed underfoot and the sound of children jumping into piles of dried leaves - everything, everything was so beautiful.
Especially the girl standing next to her, tightly swaddled in a jacket and overcoat, pastel yellow scarf secured to protect her nose from the chilly wind that heralded an approaching winter. Ever so often she would yank down the scarf, breathe out mist, admire the way it would twist and curl before vanishing. Sometimes she would bend down, examine a leaf. Or get on the tips of her toes, catch a petal as it swirled down on an invisible thread.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Yuri commented, turning to Yena. “I nearly forgot how many colours there were in the world. It’s always been shades of black and white, and this! This is amazing!” She spun around, arms outstretched, coat flapping about. Her laugh was giddy, light; she took Yena’s breath away.
Yena strode towards her and cupped Yuri’s face in her hands. Her thumb brushed Yuri’s cheek. Yuri shivered under her touch. “Y-Yena?”
“Yuri, you…” Yena gazed down at Yuri for a while without speaking. Her eyes soft with emotion, Yena started to lean in ever so slowly. She smirked when Yuri’s eyes fluttered shut. Chuckling, she pulled back and plucked the petal off where it rested on Yuri’s head. “You had something in your hair.”
Yuri’s eyes shot open. “Dammit, Yena, I thought you were going to-”
“Hm? What did you think I was going to do?” Yena asked, that cheeky grin never leaving her face.
Pouting, Yuri stomped on Yena’s foot before storming away. “Forget it!”
“Yuri!” Wincing and rubbing her foot, Yena tried her best to hop after her girlfriend who was rapidly walking away too fast for her to catch up. “Hey, Yuri!”
Yena chased her all the way to Gwanghwamun Plaza where families, students, and tour groups alike gathered to gape in awe at the statue of King Sejong that towered over them. Yuri and Yena peered up at the entrance of Gwanghwamun, the mighty gate of the main Joseon palace. In neat calligraphy, framed by a flowery pattern inscribed on wood, were three Hanja characters on parchment.
“I never knew how awesome the palace was,” Yuri whispered to Yena. Even as they stood outside the gates the buildings within grew almost as tall as skyscrapers, each roof tile perfectly placed, shielding royal wooden construction from wind and rain and wear. Balustrades of mythical creatures decorated the pathways; the stone-paved courtyards led to wallpapers of faded reds and forest greens.
“The colours change everything, don’t they?” Yena commented.
“Speaking of colours, there’s something really cool I want to show you.” Yena tugged on Yuri’s sleeve, taking her hand and pulling her away from the palace. Their feet danced across tiled pavements, across the white rectangles painted on black tar; they hopped on the stepping stones in the middle of the Cheonggyecheon stream where couples and tourists alike gathered to take photos, reminiscent of those in romantic dramas.
And to Yena, it did feel like something out of a drama, perhaps a rom-com, as she trailed behind Yuri. It was a delight watching the younger girl marvel at every little thing, like a child discovering the world for the first time. Watching Yuri fall in love with the world made Yena fall even harder for her, if that was even possible considering how absolutely whipped she already was.
When they arrived at their destination, Yuri stared up quizzically at the impressive metal structure that was Dongdaemun Plaza looming over them. “Okay, so why are we at DDP?”
“Because of this.” Yena pulled Yuri around the corner where a piano sat, sheltered by panels of aluminium and steel shimmering with sunlight. The piano was painted a brilliant myriad of colours, each stripe decorated with intricate drawings of music notes.
Yuri gasped. “It’s so pretty!” She took two steps towards it, her hand reaching out to touch it - before suddenly stopping.
Yena looked at her inquiringly. “What’s wrong?”
“Yena, you know I can’t…” Yuri balked under Yena’s gaze. She glanced nervously at the piano again. “I haven’t played one in years, I don’t think I remember how to play it.”
Yena chuckled internally, knowing Yuri was only making excuses. Still, she gently squeezed Yuri’s hand and eased her into the seat. “Then I’ll help you remember.”
Standing behind Yuri, Yena lifted Yuri’s hands and arranged them on the black and white keys. She laid her hands on top of Yuri’s, fingers on fingers. Yuri took a shaky breath.
“No,” Yuri muttered, closing her eyes and bracing herself.
Yena, too, closed her eyes, and together they pressed down their right index finger. The piano key let out a soft creak, like it hadn’t been played for too long a time, and with a sigh sang its quavering note. Yuri’s eyes fluttered open and she let out a weak laugh. “It sounds like an old man waking up,” she commented, amused.
“It sounds like you when you wake up,” Yena tacked on. Yuri stared at her impassively. Yena stuck her tongue out and pressed another key, then another, and another until they were playing a lighthearted melody. As the lilting tune continued, Yena watched with growing wonder as Yuri’s hands flew across the keyboard, fingers dancing on their own accord. Closing her eyes, she felt the knuckles beneath her palms rise and fall, felt the silver ring engraved with their names brush against her own. Outside, their song painted a beautiful rainbow, shimmering in the light as swirling leaves dyed the sky gold.
Autumn was the season of mystery, the season of change. But most importantly, autumn was the season of protection - and Yena thinks she's found the one she wants to protect forever.
Thank you for never giving up on this story, everyone! <3