like glass under a flashlight

Band Is Love, Band Is Life

Chaeyoung had always expected a certain kind of consistency in life. Routine, expectations- she generally thought she knew what would happen in her day-to-day life, and she kind of grew to like it. She never expected anything much from high school, never expected anything to change. But just like that, Chaeyoung’s life became a little bit different.

 

“Good morning!” Mina sings cheerily in her soft, velvety voice as she saunters up to Chaeyoung with a smile.

 

Chaeyoung still isn’t used to this- doesn’t know if she’ll ever be. “Morning.”

 

“Did you sleep well?” Mina steps forward to peer absently into the younger girl’s locker.

 

“Yeah. You?”

 

“Better than usual, knowing that I’d see you today.”

 

Chaeyoung blushes at the soft kiss Mina casually drops on her head. The older girl is surprisingly smooth- smoother than she’d expected. Sure, Mina had always been kind of (ysuave&infuriatinglyhot) charming, but when they’d gotten together, Chaeyoung definitely hadn’t anticipated the amount of… attention their relationship would receive.

 

It seems that Mina doesn’t care. Either that or she hasn’t noticed- a very likely possibility, knowing the older girl. Chaeyoung doesn’t get to dwell on it.

 

“a-HEEMM!!” A familiar voice shrieks from behind them. The younger girl whips around, properly started.

 

Momo and Nayeon stand behind her wearing trademark, bright, and somewhat creepy grins. Mina waves, unbothered by the intrusion. “Hey.”

 

“Hi Mina.” They chorus. “Are you busy later?”

 

“Jazz band rehearsals after school but that’s it.”

 

“Oh, okay.” Nayeon nods. “Maybe tomorrow then. We just finished financing from this weekend- wanted to hand you your cut. When are you free?”

 

“Ah, thanks.” Mina smiles. “I know you guys are just going to break into my house sometime anyway, so what about then?”

 

“Perfect.” They chorus, flashing matching grins and not even trying to deny the borderline criminal accusation. “We can talk about our restock too.”

 

“Yup.” Mina nods. Chaeyoung blinks, looking on in wonder. Nayeon and Momo turn their attention to her next.

 

“Hi Chaeyoung!”

 

“Hi Chaeyoung!”

 

“Hi Momo, Nayeon.” The girl blinks as her older friends greet her enthusiastically. “What are you guys restocking?”

 

“Remember the flower project I told you about?” Mina asks, arm unconsciously moving to pull Chaeyoung closer. “We had a session last weekend.”

 

“We sold so many flowers!” Momo grins excitedly.

 

Mina nods, looking just as pleased as her counterparts. “Yup. Flowers and limoncello. Dahyun also got a lot of clout for busking on my lawn.”

 

“TikTok fame, here we come!”

 

“You should come next time- it’ll be fun!” Nayeon slings a friendly arm around Chaeyoung’s shoulders. She looks really excited about their endeavors. Chaeyoung frowns.

 

“What exactly-”

 

“A flower shop! We’ve opened a flower shop in Mina’s garage!” Momo makes grand gestures in the air, swinging her arms about in nonexistent patterns and almost hitting a passing Jennie Kim from orchestra in the face.

 

“Yeah, a flower shop! We’re the only ones in town, you see- business has been booming!”

 

Chaeyoung doesn’t know whether she should be amazed or just laugh. “Oh?”

 

“We’ve sold to so many different people too- we’ve already got regulars.”

 

“Yeah, there’s a lady who looks suspiciously like Tzuyu who always comes when we restock. She’s really nice. Always leaves a couple dollars in the tip jar.”

 

Chaeyoung thinks about the fresh vase of daisies she saw sitting on Tzuyu’s counter this weekend. “That’s nice. I’m glad you’re already starting to build a solid customer base.”

 

“So come help out next time! Momo will make you lemonade!”

 

“Limoncello!”

 

“For free!”

 

“Yes, free!” Momo’s eyes crinkle as she smiles fondly at Chaeyoung.

 

Mina chuckles from besides her before posing her next inquiry. “Oh, have any of you heard from Sana?”

 

The older girls shake their heads, while Chaeyoung looks over inquisitively. “Sana?”

 

Mina nods. “Yeah, she bought some flowers this weekend. I was wondering what she’d done with them.”

 

Momo and Nayeon have these weird, conspiring, matching grins on their faces. “Oh yes! She bought a lovely bouquet of Hellebores. Jeongyeon cut them herself!”

 

Chaeyoung tilts her head. “That’s so nice. Good for her!”

 

They all nod, Mina absently and NaMo with those weird grins. “Yes, good for her!”

 


 

She gets a text from a very confused Tzuyu later asking her if she knows anything about a flower shop opening in town. Chaeyoung frowns, replies with nothing more than a simple ‘why’, and facepalms when she sees Tzuyu’s response.

 

“Well, Sana unnie gave me a bunch of Hellebores today and they’re pretty and all, but they’re known to be poisonous and I’m pretty sure they mean ‘death’ or something along those lines.”

 

Chaeyoung quickly does a search on the meaning of different flowers and sure enough, Tzuyu is right.

 

“I’m not sure what to think.” Tzuyu’s next message pops up on the screen.

 

Chaeyoung facepalms again.

 

Oh, Sana.

 


 

“What about this one?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“This one?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“How about the one over there.”

 

“Never.”

 

Jeongyeon sighs. “What are we shopping for- a spouse?!? Just pick one!!”

 

Dahyun growls in response. “I’ll have you know that I only write on the finest kind of parchment!”

 

Jeongyeon strolls down the school-supply aisle uncaringly. “I mean, all you’re going to do is spill orange juice on it again and then we’ll be right back where we are now, meandering around the stationary store talking meaninglessly about the merits of paper-”

 

“Grape juice, not orange juice!” Dahyun snaps, looking offended now. “And for your information, grape juice is delicious-”

 

“Dahyun please-”

 

“Ooo, that one! I want that one!” Dahyun bounces over to the brightly colored notebook that’s sitting on the highest shelf possible. “I want the green one.”

 

Jeongyeon blinks at the strangely familiar notebook. “Doesn’t Nayeon have the same one?”

 

Dahyun stops bouncing for a minute to reconsider all of her life’s decisions that have led up to this moment. “The orange one! I want the orange one instead!”

 

Jeongyeon sighs as the younger girl continues to bounce excitedly, even though it’s clear she’ll never be able to reach the book. “Dahyun, I-“

 

“Jeongyeon?”

 

The taller girl’s head pokes up when she hears her name called across the aisle. Momo and Mina stand before her, staring.

 

“Momo? Mina?”

 

Mina turns apprehensively. “Momo, are you sure we’re in the right place?” She asks worriedly.

 

Momo is looking around quizzically as well. “We should be. We’re always here, aren’t we?”

 

“Maybe the GPS broke when we were heading over?”

 

“We didn’t even use the GPS though-“

 

Jeongyeon looks at them weirdly. “What are you on about?”

 

“This is a school supply store,” Mina promptly informs her.

 

“Which means it’s for prepared people.” Momo finishes.

 

Mina nods, concern glimmering in her wide, bright eyes. “You’re never prepared!”

 

Jeongyeon immediately bristles. “What’s that supposed to mean?!? Of course I’m prepared!”

 

“Then why are you always stealing Jihyo’s stuff?” Momo bites back.

 

Jeongyeon drops the subject.

 

“Is that Dahyun?” Mina peers at the jumping figure a few feet away.

 

Jeongyeon glances over herself. She’d almost forgotten about the younger girl. Dahyun is still trying (to no avail) to reach the orange notebook. “Oh. Yeah, it is. She asked me to take her shopping today.”

 

Mina and Momo share a conspiring, understanding glance. It makes Jeongyeon want to smack them both. “Ah. That explains it.”

 

“Explains what?!”

 

Momo rolls her eyes (aggravating Jeongyeon even more) while Mina walks over to the jumping sophomore. “Hi Dahyun.”

 

“Mina? Oh hi!” Dahyun grins brightly, still jumping up and down.

 

Mina looks up at the elusive orange notebook. “Isn’t it a little late to be school supply shopping? We’re already like, four months in.” She reaches up to quietly pluck the notebook down, putting it in the younger girl’s pale hands. Dahyun looks up at her in awe.

 

“You’re so nice! Thank you!”

 

Mina looks at her, a little confused at the innocent and happy smile she’s receiving. She turns back around to Momo and Jeongyeon who look like they’re about to have a brawl in the middle of the stationary store. “Jeongyeon, what were you doing this whole time?”

 

Jeongyeon shrugs. “It was fun watching her struggle.”

 

Mina rolls her eyes at the other two bickering before gently turning back to Dahyun. “Dahyun, what else are you looking for?”

 

“Thumb tacks, pencil lead, a cork board, and an office chair.” Dahyun rattles off a complete list in a breath and a half.

 

“An office chair?”

 

“I broke my old one.” Dahyun informs a disapproving Jeongyeon matter-of-factly.

 

The older girl stares disbelievingly. “How did you-”

 

“Mind your business.”

 

Jeongyeon snaps shut. Momo snickers, while Mina begins to float away from them looking left and right. “I think I saw something down this way.”

 

“Really??” Dahyun pops up, dumping the notebook in the shopping basket Jeongyeon is holding.

 

“This store also sells office furniture, so I’m sure they have some chairs in stock. I’m not sure what kind of chair you’re looking for though.” Mina says as she leads them further into the store.

 

“It doesn’t even matter right now- I’m just so happy that you’re nicer than that old hag Jeongyeon back there-“

 

“Has no one have any respect in this house!! I drove you here, remember?! And you ate all my cereal before we left!”

 

Dahyun ignores her.

 

“Oh! That reminds me.” Momo claps her hands together. “Mina and I are here because we need some folders.”

 

Jeongyeon stares at her. “Don’t you already have folders?”

 

“Waterproof folders!” Momo rolls her eyes at her. “Don’t you know anything?”

 

Jeongyeon ignores her. “Why do you need waterproof folders?”

 

“We’re going to Japan!” Momo crows happily.

 

“You are??? Why??”

 

“Winter break is coming up.” Momo informs her. “And we’re going to Japan.”

 

“You’re coming too, aren’t you?” Mina turns to call over her shoulder. Jeongyeon squints at her.

 

“Why- why would I go to Japan with you??”

 

“Because Sana’s parents said we could stay at their family onsen resort if we were willing to play a couple nights at their restaurant lounge?”

 

This is the first that Jeongyeon has ever heard of an invitation from Sana to Japan. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

 

Mina blinks. “Really? I’m pretty sure she’s said something about it already.”

 

“I’m going too!” Dahyun calls back. Jeongyeon is infinitely confused.

 

“Don’t you ever check your email?” Momo rolls her eyes in the most condescending way. Jeongyeon glares at her before taking out her phone.

 

“What-”

 

“Subject: INVITATION TO JAPAN.

TICKET CONFIRMED DECEMBER 26TH

 

Thank you for booking your flight with us. Your Trip has been confirmed and Flight Ticket enclosed!”

 

Jeongyeon stares at the digital flight ticket, then does a double takeout the timestamp of the message. “She sent this two minutes ago!”

 

Momo sniffs. “And?”

 

“Make sure to pack enough socks!” Mina pats her on the shoulder as she and Dahyun pass by, Mina pushing the younger girl on a fancy new gaming chair toward the checkout line.

 

“Faster! Faster! Dahyun whoops as they make their way down the linoleum tiles toward the chuckling cashiers.

 

Jeongyeon sighs. “Don’t forget, we still have our holiday concert coming up before break starts. You haven’t forgotten, have you?”

 

Momo pats her on the shoulder in the same spot Mina did when passing by. “And that’s why the onsen will be a perfect break after all our hard work.”

 

She has a point. Jeongyeon begrudgingly admits as she follows the others to the checkout line where Dahyun is waving a wad of cash in the poor cashier’s face.

 

A little relaxation after all their hard work shouldn’t be anything terrible, would it?

 


 

The weeks pass by, the flower shops turns profit, and the band plays on.

 

Tzuyu practices for her duet with Sana.

 

She doesn’t quite know exactly what’s going on, but outside of their chaotic circle of mutual friends, Sana can be surprisingly normal. Tzuyu supposes this shouldn’t be too much of a shock though; before this year, Sana’s friends comprised mostly of football players and the volleyball girls (who fawn over her every other moment, Tzuyu isn’t dumb- and it’s hard enough as is to approach someone who’s constantly surrounded by the very people who view Tzuyu as little more than a bottom-feeder.)

 

By every definition of the word, Sana is popular- pretty, flirty, feminine, with eyes like the sun and the moon at the same time. Bewitching, magnetic, inviting- Tzuyu knows a pretty girl when she sees one. But, she also knows a girl out-of-her-league in that same first glance.

 

Sana, however, doesn’t seem to have such inhibitions.

 

“Sorry I’m late!”

 

Tzuyu looks up at the panting senior. “Sana unnie.”

 

The girl is leaning on her knees, panting from her apparent dash to Tzuyu’s lone practice room. “I got held up by someone on my way over. Were you waiting long?”

 

Tzuyu shakes her head, all placid reactions and nonchalance. “No, I haven’t. Don’t worry about it.”

 

Sana flops down beside her and quickly starts assembling her flute. Tzuyu tries not to watch her for the sake of social normalcy, but-

 

“Has her hair always looked this nice?”

 

It’s an odd thought. Tzuyu quickly snaps her eyes shut, shaking her head once, and forcefully returns her attention to the music sheets before her.

 

She doesn’t notice the way Sana’s attention draws to her, concern etched curiously on the senior’s expression. “Are you alright?”

 

Tzuyu blinks her eyes open. “Huh?? I- I’m fine. Why?”

 

Sana tilts her head, scooting in closer with a furrowed brow. “You looked uncomfortable just now. Are you feeling alright?”

 

Tzuyu doesn’t know what’s happening to her, but suddenly her cheeks feel hotter than Momo’s fresh-baked oven pizza as Sana’s warm hand comes to rest on her forehead. “What are you doing-”

 

“Tzuyu! You’re burning!” Sana’s eyes instantly widen with concern. “Are you sure you’re alright?? You should really get some rest- we can do this another day!”

 

Tzuyu really, really doesn’t know what’s going on. “I don’t understand-”

 

“Are you cold? Hot? Thirsty? Let me drive you home.” Sana makes a move to stand, but Tzuyu- not quite knowing what’s overcome her- reaches out to snatch the older girl’s wrist, pulling her back down to her seat.

 

“I- I’m fine!” Tzuyu explains in flustered, broken Korean. “I’m fine, really- I was just a little hot just now, that’s all.”

 

“Hot? Oh, yeah. You are.”

 

Tzuyu stares at her. “Excuse me?”

 

“I mean, at least I’ve always thought so.”

 

Tzuyu doesn’t know why her heart feels like it’s just about stopped.

 

When it’s evident that she probably won’t receive any sort of reply, Sana’s grin falters just the slightest and she lets out a quiet sigh.

 

“Sorry. It was just a joke- if you’re sure you’re feeling up for it, why don’t we get some practice in then?”

 

Tzuyu numbly turns her attention back to the sheet music. She’s not sick- nothing even resembling a cold has been on her radar for the entire school year- but her head feels hot, feels dry, and her heart is beating something uncomfortably hard inside her chest.

 

They run through the music, Tzuyu meticulously making notes on her sheets and Sana drawing pink circles in that lackadaisical way about her. After about an hour of consistent practice, the senior suddenly puts her flute down and sends a tired smile in Tzuyu’s direction.

 

“Hey, I’m really sorry- I don’t know what’s come over me, but I’m kind of tired right now. Do you think we could call it a day?”

 

Tzuyu stares at the pretty, pretty girl in front of her. Sana’s smile is bright, but certainly tired judging by the depressed note in her eyes. Her flute dangles lifelessly in her smooth, slim hands, and her legs cross in the prettiest way- feminine in facets Tzuyu has never seen on a woman before.

 

She knows her expression remains stoic, because that’s all she’s ever really known. “Okay. That’s fine with me.”

 

Sana sighs again. It’s the same sigh as before- that tired, defeated, mysterious sigh. “Thanks Tzuyu. I owe you one. I’ll practice over the weekend and get the parts we went through down for sure.”

 

She doesn’t know what overcomes her. Sana puts her flute away, gathers her sheet music. Primely puts the chair and stand back precisely where they were, feminine in facets Tzuyu has never seen on any other woman before. Stands up, hoists her bag on pretty shoulders. Gets ready to leave.

 

She doesn’t know what overcomes her.

 

“Sana?”

 

In her periphery, she sees the other girl halt. “What is it?”

 

She doesn’t know what overcomes her.

 

“Thank you for the flowers.”

 

A pause, a slight intake of breath. Tzuyu doesn’t look up.

 

“… you’re welcome.”

 

The only indication she has that Sana has left is the sound of her footsteps, and Tzuyu doesn’t move.

 


 

When she’d first approached Sana, it was with sole intentions of practicing for their duet in the upcoming holiday concert.

 

Sana had smiled. Waved, enthusiastic. Listened to Tzuyu with rapt attention, sparkling eyes trained on Tzuyu like she was the only one in the moment who mattered.

 

She has a gift for that, Tzuyu absently realizes. That ability to make you feel like you’re the only girl in the world, the only one on her mind. The only one that matters.

 

Tzuyu hadn’t intended anything more than some coordinated practice runs after a sufficient amount of independent work had already occurred on both of their ends.

 

What she didn’t account for was the uncalled for, wholly unnecessary commentary she received after.

 

“Sana??? Talking to that nerd???”

 

Tzuyu sighs. Nothing she hasn’t heard before.

 

“I heard a rumor that Sana has a thing for some underclassman though, and that’s why she rejected the volleyball girl who asked her out last week.”

 

“Dude! You think it’s that one over there?”

 

Tzuyu tries to block them out by going through her usual routine of meticulously placing each item in her clarinet case, perfectly aligned in the OCD manner that Tzuyu has developed over hours and hours of refined practice.

 

“I sure hope it isn’t. What a waste.”

 

What a waste.

 

Tzuyu swallows. He isn’t wrong, she supposes- it’s hard not to agree with him when Sana’s the sun and she’s not even a moon in its orbit- more like a space rock if anything, circling listlessly day after day with no other means in mind. But that’s just a grueling fact that she’s long come to accept, and his opinion- like those of the various others who scorn her day after day- is just that. His opinion. She tries to believe it, she really, really tries.

 

What a waste.

 


 

“Tzu.”

 

No response.

 

Chaeyoung blinks, looking up from her spot on Tzuyu’s L-shaped couch. “Tzu??”

 

Nothing. Chaeyoung would think she’s sleeping, if it weren’t for the fact that her eyes remain wide open and unblinking, like saucers in the night sky.

 

Chaeyoung frowns and leans forward. “Oi. Are you in there?”

 

“Huh??” Tzuyu blinks when Chaeyoung’s small hand starts to wave before her eyes. “What was that?”

 

Chaeyoung frowns. “You really spaced out there just now, Tzu.” She leans closer, examining her friend’s face with a frown. “Are you feeling alright?”

 

Tzuyu tries to ignore Chaeyoung’s hand that makes its way to her forehead (and tries harder to extinguish the wish that it was Sana’s hand instead.) “Why is everyone asking? I’m fine- do I look unwell or something?”

 

Chaeyoung tilts her head at the unusually animated response. “It’s not that.” She says slowly, pulling her hand back and staring curiously at her taller counterpart. “It’s just- it’s unlike you to space out for so long. Is everything alright?”

 

“I’m fine.” Tzuyu says- a little too quickly, judging by the growing crease between Chaeyoung’s brows. “I’m just a little tired from staying up last night to finish my trig assignment. What were you saying?”

 

Chaeyoung eyes her, somewhat knowingly in that weird Chaeyoung-matrixy-perception way that always manages to put Tzuyu on edge, but she lets it drop. “I was asking you if you’d seen the flight ticket yet?”

 

Tzuyu frowns. “Flight ticket?”

 

Chaeyoung flips her phone screen in her friend’s direction, displaying a flight ticket in a forwarded email, subject line “INVITATION TO JAPAN”.

 

“I’m going to Taiwan for the holidays.” Tzuyu informs her placidly.

 

Chaeyoung’s jaw drops. “What?!”

 

“Don’t sound so surprised- you know I go every winter break to see my family, don’t you? I mean, it’s not it’s a new thing.”

 

Chaeyoung sputters, tiny hands flapping about. “That- you- you’re just going to leave me?! Let me go with those monsters-”

 

“Okay but aren’t you dating one of those ‘monsters’ now? I don’t see what the big deal is.” Tzuyu tries to smooth it over upon seeing Chaeyoung’s oddly anguished response. Judging by the increased paleness of the shorter’s face though, it doesn’t seem to be working too well.

 

“Tzuyu- we- you and me- we were in it together till the end-”

 

Chaeyoung has a truly, truly anguished look on her face- and as much as Tzuyu hates to admit it, she’s always going to have that tiny squishy little soft spot for her equally tiny friend before her.

 

“I- I mean, if it’s that important to you then I guess I might be able to fly over after Christmas-”

 

“Yes!” Chaeyoung’s demeanor spins a solid 360 as she lurches forward to wrap skinny arms around Tzuyu’s torso. “You’re the best, Chou Tzu- I can always count on you!”

 

Tzuyu grunts at the impact of the small, manipulative monster before her. Chaeyoung may be useless in most social situations, but sometimes she forgets how unrelenting the girl can be at her little mind games when she’s not being oppressed by the usually social, domineering hierarchy of adolescence.

 

“Um, I probably should’ve asked you earlier- but who exactly is going to be on this trip anyway?”

 

Chaeyoung’s eyes drift to the ceiling in thoughtful muse. “Um, well Mina and Momo are going to be there. I talked to Dahyun yesterday and she’s also coming, and then Jihyo and Jeongyeon. Nayeon said she’ll come if she can find her cornbread- not sure what that’s supposed to mean, but I’m assuming that’s a yes. Oh, and of course Sana will be there too since she’s the one who organized it.”

 

Something hard drops and twists in Tzuyu’s stomach at the name. If Chaeyoung notices, she either chooses not to comment or maybe Tzuyu is lucky and she really didn’t notice. Either way, it slides under the radar and it’s honestly probably for the best.

 


 

“Pizza? At this hour??”

 

She heard Mina’s breathy chuckle from the other end of the line. “You said you were hungry just now.”

 

“I- I did say that.” Chaeyoung admits as she shuffles from the kitchen back to her bedroom, phone dangling precariously by her headphone wires. “But you chose now of all times to think of it?”

 

“Why not? I want to take you out, and I’m kind of hungry too.”

 

That’s how she finds herself face-to-face with Mina at their local pizza parlor at 10 pm on a Tuesday evening.

 

“Anything specific you want?” Mina asks, as her eyes continue to glance over the menu board.

 

“Anything you get is fine with me.” Chaeyoung replies absently from the taller girl’s side.

 

“What do you want to drink?”

 

Chaeyoung thinks for a moment. “Fruit punch please.”

 

“Got it. Do you want to sit first? I’ll order and join you in a bit.”

 

Chaeyoung obliges, heading to sit in a secluded window booth in the back corner of the parlor. The sun has just about finished setting, and the streetlights are starting to flicker on. Cars drive by, turning on their headlights, and people mill about on the sidewalks. She people-watches for a little until Mina slides into the seat across from her.

 

“Thanks for waiting.”

 

“Thanks for the food.” Chaeyoung cites back in return. Mina slides the fruit punch toward Chaeyoung, and delicately places a hot slice of pizza on a plate for the younger girl. Chaeyoung smiles gratefully.

 

“Careful, it’s hot.”

 

They eat in comfortable, calm air. Mina asks her about her day, asks her about her classes, listens attentively, and crinkles her eyes into smiles at all the lily little things Chaeyoung weaves into her narrative. It’s weird- it’s weird having someone willing to listen to her like this, and Chaeyoung is aware.

 

“Sorry.” She cuts off abruptly, after getting on a rather niche tangent about the pains of calculus. “I hate to bore you- why don’t you tell me about your day instead?”

 

Mina blinks, evidently surprised, and something sarcastic in the back of Chaeyoung’s mind finds that she isn’t surprised that Mina’s surprise surprises Chaeyoung.

 

“You’re not boring me. I was listening the whole time- you were talking about how you don’t know why calculus would be important in most major life-applications we’d face after high school.”

 

“I- I know what I was talking about.” Chaeyoung interjects sheepishly. “I just- I just realized I was rambling. It’s not important, and I just want to hear a little more about your day-“

 

“You’re not boring me, Chaeyoung.” Mina’s soft, yet firm reassurance cuts through the space between them. “I want to hear about you- I want to know what you’re thinking. I enjoy listening to you speak, and I’m sorry if I’ve done anything to make you think otherwise.”

 

Chaeyoung stares at her and she doesn’t know why she’s suddenly letting run free. “You like- what?”

 

“You have a very nice voice.” Mina candidly informs her. “And I enjoy getting a little insight into your world- it’s hard for me to know what you’re thinking sometimes.”

 

Chaeyoung stares at her, disbelievingly this time, and shakes her head. “I hope you know that’s considered anomalous behavior.”

 

“Why so?” Mina tilts her head.

 

“Mina.” Chaeyoung laughs. “I’m one of the biggest, most boring nerds on the planet. No one likes that about me. In fact, there aren’t many things that people do actually like about me.”

 

To her second surprise of the night, Mina just chuckles as she takes another long sip of her drink. “That’s not true. There are a lot of things I like about you.”

 

Chaeyoung snickers, sarcastically and slightly self-deprecatingly, through a mouthful of pizza. “Yeah? Like what?”

 

She doesn’t expect Mina to take the question literally. Mina leans forward to rest her chin on her hands, light eyes quietly appraising Chaeyoung.

 

“You’re quiet. You take time to listen to others, instead of always trying to get your own thoughts out of your head. You’re observant in ways that are difficult for other people our age to be, and aside from your view of yourself, you’re startlingly accurate in your perceptions of other people and their intentions.”

 

The older girl has the gentlest look in her eyes and frankly, Chaeyoung doesn’t know how to react. No one had ever been so honest with her. Even Tzuyu, her best friend and closest confidant, often chose to express herself through actions instead of verbalizing her thoughts.

 

“I-“

 

“You’re too hard on yourself, Chaeyoung.” Mina gently chides her. “There are a lot of things that a lot of people like about you- and I like you. I like you a lot. Don’t forget that, okay?”

 

What does anyone even say to something like that? Chaeyoung wants to brush it aside- wants to play it off, diffuse the gravity of her words, maintain that degree of lightheartedness that she’s been able to uphold throughout the admittedly short duration of their relationship-

 

But then she sees the earnestness in Mina’s eyes. Sees the smile on her face, the sincerity with which she means every word that leaves her pretty lips and suddenly it’s odd to think about the ways in which Mina is forcing her to face the truths that she’s always tried to hide behind large, unseemly glasses and an exaggerated penchant for academic performance. Suddenly it feels like she’s been exposed for the first time in forever in the face of this girl, with the brightest brown eyes Chaeyoung’s ever seen and the purest smile that she’s ever had the oddity of receiving. Mina, with her undying sincerity and Mina, with nothing but light in those dark, chocolate eyes and warmth in the palms of her lightly calloused hands. Suddenly Chaeyoung’s pizza is a whole to more interesting than it was before this- whatever this weird feeling is that’s slowly rearing itself in her chest.

 

Mina, who’s slowly started to change her trajectory. But that’s a thought for another day.

 


 

JYP High’s annual Holiday Concert comes like clockwork at the end of December.

 

Naturally, there’s some degree of chaos. Jihyo throws a binder at one of the upperclassmen because the older girl had taken Nayeon’s their parking spot earlier that day. The trumpet section has to tune for literally forty-five minutes because one of them got braces yesterday, resulting in a whiny trumpet player and exceptionally poor embouchure (Dahyun is up to her wit’s end). Mina accidentally breaks one of her super expensive reeds, resulting in a dark gloom hovering about her for the duration of the evening and Chaeyoung trying her best to comfort the older girl (she plays a soft little oboe rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and that seems to lift Mina’s spirits a little). Momo is busy doing Momo things (read: bicep curls in the corner) and Jeongyeon is catching up on three lost hours of sleep from the night before. Nayeon spends most of the evening in the bathroom frightening innocent concert-goers promoting the flower shop, and Tzuyu sits rigid in her seat the entire time hoping that Sana won’t pass her by.

 

Sana hesitates in front of the younger girl. Silently brushes Tzuyu’s staunch form up and down with her eyes, an unnamed longing blooming in her chest for something she doesn’t think either of them can quite put a name to yet.

 

“Tzuyu, are you ready for our duet later?” (They haven’t practiced since the last time. Sana was waiting to see if Tzuyu would reach out to her again.)

 

Tzuyu barely spares her a glance from the sheet music on her stand. “Yes.”

 

When it’s evident she probably isn’t going to say anything else, Sana quietly sighs. “Thanks for all your hard work.”

 

“You too.”

 

The concert is great and Ode to Joy comes and goes. Tzuyu is meticulous, but Sana’s playing is exceptional even to the untrained ear and the melody they create together is like fire and water and earth and flowers and once it’s over it’s evident become the highlight of the evening. The conductor is thrilled at the ovation they receive when they’ve finished, enthusiastically congratulating both girls when it’s all over. Sana can only smile at him, tight-lipped and chest clenched while Tzuyu stands to her right, emotionless and stoic.

 

Tzuyu refuses their outing at the concert’s end, citing a need to go home and start packing for her trip to Taiwan. Sana can only stare helplessly after her. Mina seems to notice- but this time, thankfully, she says nothing.

 


 

Mina and Momo arrive at the airport at exactly 4:30 am.

 

“Where did they say they would meet us?” Momo yawns, looking around through half-closed eyes. Mina sighs.

 

“I texted her. She didn’t say.”

 

“Figures.” Momo grumbles lightly from her right.

 

“Well.” Mina shrugs, pocketing her phone. “I’m sure they’ll find us eventually. It’s their fault if they miss the flight anyway- plus, we’re more likely than not to see them in Japan even if we don’t catch them here.”

 

“You’re right. Let’s just go.” Momo nods, and they take their carry-ons to head to security. They enter and exit the security queue gracefully (well, kind of at least- the lady stops them to rift through Momo’s backpack which is apparently stuffed full of snacks and different types of mallets. Mina has to explain to her that they’re flying out for a musical event, Momo is the drummer, and no Momo would not hurt a single fly with all those sticks even if you paid her) and once Momo’s stuffed all her snacks back in her backpack, Mina hesitates.

 

“Did you bring Cheez-its, Momo?”

 

Momo blinks, looking up from where she’s squatted on a nearby bench re-organizing her snacks. “No- I don’t really like Cheez-its, you know that.”

 

Mina eyes the suspicious line of Cheez-its on the ground near their feet. “Huh.”

 

Momo’s eyes track her gaze. “That’s a very straight, non-discrete trail of Cheez-its.”

 

“Indeed.” Mina yawns. Momo returns her attention to re-organizing her things, and once she’s set and ready to go, they follow the Cheez-it trail.

 

It stops at a nearby restroom, and appears to make an arrow formation directing the followers into the ladies room. Mina arches a brow. Momo heads right in.

 

“What? I need to pee!” The drummer defends herself at Mina’s slightly condescending gaze. Mina sighs, but follows her in. A little restroom break wouldn’t hurt anyway, especially during travel. They pass the snack-shaped arrow and the trail seems to stop there.

 

When Mina’s finished her business and is drying her hands, she suddenly catches sight of a fresh line of Cheez-its leading back out of the restroom that certainly wasn’t there before. She blinks.

 

“Momo, do you see that?”

 

The other girl looks up from where she’s washing her hands. “Oh. Good, guess we can follow that next.”

 

She trots out, faithfully following the snack trial like there could be no further questions asked in this world. Mina stares after her disbelievingly, but has no choice but to follow.

 

As all good things would have it, the Cheez-it trail ends at gate 56. Mina looks down, unimpressed, at a sleeping Jihyo and a gaming Jeongyeon.

 

“Good morning, you two.”

 

“Morning.” Jeongyeon responds, eyes not looking up from her switch.

 

Momo plops down next to the girl, careful not to rouse a rare still-form Jihyo. “What are you playing?

 

“I just bought this game- it’s where you play as this goose and you go around disturbing your neighbors. Want to try?” Jeongyeon pops off a joycon, extending it to Momo and that’s that.

 

Mina continues to stare. “Why did you bring so many Cheez-its?”

 

Jeongyeon’s brow furrows, although her eyes remain glued to her screen. “Cheez-its? Why would I bring Cheez-its? I don’t even like the stuff.”

 

Mina points forcefully to the Cheez-it trail that had led them to the (correct) gate to begin with. “Um, does your little Hansel and Gretel stunt ring a bell? Who were you trying to fool anyway?!?”

 

Jeongyeon finally looks down at the snacks on the ground, and she blinks, startled. “Wow. Where did those come from?”

 

“Don’t play dumb with me!” Mina almost stomps.

 

“I’m not! Serious! I haven’t liked Cheez-its since the third grade, why would I bring boxes and boxes here just to throw them on the ground as a prank?? That’s such a waste of good food too- and who’s going to clean that all up??”

 

Mina frowns. “So it really wasn’t you?”

 

“I just got here! Jihyo’s been sleeping the whole time! I had to throw her through the security scanner!”

 

“Where’s Nayeon?”

 

“She’s getting some coffee- she literally left two seconds before you found us. I doubt she had the time to lay down all those Cheez-its- and even so, she wouldn’t do that without telling us. She’s not the type to waste perfectly good food like that either.”

 

Even Momo looks confused now. “That- that is deeply concerning.”

 

“Oh, hey! You should’ve told me you were on the way- I would’ve grabbed you guys some coffee as well!”

 

Their heads snap up at the sound of Nayeon’s voice ringing clearly through the still, morning airport air. Dahyun trails behind the older girl with a broad smile.

 

“Good morning!”

 

“Morning.” Mina and Momo chorus in return at the sophomore’s greeting.

 

“I’m so excited!”

 

They spot Dahyun’s trumpet base swinging precariously in her small hands. “Did you get held up by airport security, by any chance?”

 

Dahyun blinks. “Why would I?”

 

Momo pouts. Mina just rolls her eyes. “I told you to put them in your suitcase.”

 

“As if I would listen to you.”

 

Jeongyeon snickers. Mina’s eyes roll exasperatedly to the back of her head.

 

Nayeon flops down next to Mina with her coffee and extends a small pack of cashews to the younger girl. “Mina- did you pack sunscreen?”

 

Mina stills. “I thought we were going to the onsen?”

 

“And??”

 

The junior scrambles for purchase. “There’s indoor and outdoor sections, and it’s the middle of winter? You don’t have to go outside?”

 

“So did you bring it or not?”

 

“… it’s in my check-in bag.”

 

“Good.”

 

“I could drink the stuff.” Jihyo mutters in her sleep.

 

Mina turns alarmedly. “What?”

 

Jihyo snores.

 

“I’m so excited!” Nayeon crows, awake now that she’s caffeinated and fed. “Sana said that one of the receptionists at their onsen plays the tuba- has a Miraphone model that I can borrow- I’ve never played such a fancy tuba! What if I break it?”

 

“Please don’t.” Jeongyeon voices in a rare show of reason from where she’s frantically smashing the controls in a vain attempt to beat Momo. “We’d have to increase the flower shop sales by at least 53% if you did something stupid like that.”

 

“… is that a lot?”

 

“For discussion’s sake- yes. Yes, it is a lot.”

 

As if remembering something, Momo finally looks up from the game to glance at Nayeon inquisitively. “Did you ever post the ‘closed’ notice about the shop?”

 

Nayeon huffs. “Of course I did! I even sent the little holiday gift plants with our leftover ivy to our most loyal patrons. Don’t think so lowly of me.”

 

“Oh, good. Just checking- I don’t know, sometimes when you lose it you get up to all sorts of stupid things-“

 

“I can at least remember to give our customers a nice holiday greeting! What, you think I don’t know how to run a business or something Hirai-“

 

“Stop shouting, it’s barely six in the morning and I need to focus so I can beat Jeongyeon-“

 

They lapse off into a common sight, Momo’s eyes never leaving the game screen while she talks loudly to a lounging Nayeon who has offered up the second half of her croissant to Dahyun. Mina sits back contently, hoodie draped over her lap as she folds her hands over her stomach and waits for boarding to begin, when it hits her.

 

“Wait Nayeon- if you didn’t lay all those Cheez-its out on the ground then who did-“

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