we've still got time

take this sinking boat and point it home

Seulgi is on her third song when she sees her again.

She’s in a loose gray hoodie this time, the sleeves falling past her hands. The hems fall to her hips, but it fails to hide the sliver of skin that shows as her cream-colored crop top rides up when she fixes her hair.

Seulgi miraculously doesn’t stutter, or fall off-key. Her knees also don’t buckle, but she does swallow thickly to push back the lump that surges up in at the sight of her smiling face, and her warm, wide eyes sparkling with recognition.

The street is buzzing with people, so much that Seulgi can barely even hear her own voice. The music wafting from her guitar is more from muscle memory than anything, the sound losing to the chatter of the passersby and the chime of the cafe’s door that she’s standing a few steps away from as it slams close behind the woman.

But Seulgi does hear her voice, does hear the faint hi that comes out of her thin red lips. She hears it as clear as her favorite song playing on the radio; along with the clink of the handful of change that she gently drops inside Seulgi’s guitar case once she gets close enough.

She beams at her, partly out of gratitude—mostly because she’s just really glad to see her; the highlight of Seulgi’s day.

The song gets cut short, in this harmonic way that doesn’t make it too obvious. Seulgi plucks a quick melody to close it, before shifting her guitar so that it hangs upside down behind her back. Then, she says, “Hey, you.”

“Hi Seulgi,” the other woman greets again, smile stifled by teeth nibbling on a bottom lip. But it falls just as fast, replaced by a small pout. “Why’d you stop?”

“I uhm,” Seulgi starts to say, clearing , then, “I wanted to ask if you’d like to request any song?”

The other woman pulls back a little in surprise. “Really?”

Seulgi nods, the corner of her lips tugging into a closed smile. “Anything you want. I might play it by ear at best, though.”

Long black hair swishes gracefully behind a cloaked back as it tumbles past the slope of a small yet perfect shoulder. Seulgi watches, transfixed, as the woman in front of her tilts her head, seemingly thinking. Wide eyes narrow playfully, thin lips pursing while a slender finger taps against a smooth cheek.

“Hmmm,” the woman hums, pondering. Yet, in the end, she lets Seulgi decide. “You know what? Surprise me.”

A soft laugh escapes Seulgi. “As you wish.”

She reaches behind her, wrapping her fingers around the neck of her guitar, and then spins it around back and cradles it within her arms.

Seulgi starts plucking at the strings after a whispered one, two, three; opens next, and starts singing.

I don’t know you, but I want you, are the words that her tongue pushes out. But there’s some sort of tune that plays inside Seulgi’s head, completely different from the one she’s singing, as it always does these days. Its cue: the upward curve of bright pink lips, the lightest red dusting a pair of cheeks, the scrunch of a button nose.

An Ed Sheeran song, Joshua Radin and Plain White T’s all rolled into a melody that Seulgi has long named Bae Joohyun.

.

 

The song is over a little too soon than Seulgi would like—if she could, she’d play it forever just so she can keep the stars in Irene’s eyes—and Irene is rooting around the small pocket of her bag for more change.

Seulgi almost tells her that there’s no need, but Irene doesn’t really know that she has long stopped playing in this same spot for the extra cash.

(She only ever needed a fair amount to last her for a week or two, which she managed to collect in just four days of singing.

Still, she showed up on the fifth day, and earned a you have a very beautiful voice and a blush from the most beautiful girl she has ever laid her eyes on.

Though Seulgi didn’t see her the next day, nor the three days after that. She almost didn’t go back.

But her smile haunted Seulgi every night. And what was once just another face became one Seulgi unknowingly looked for in the crowd, in every corner she turned to, and every sea of people she played for.

So Seulgi had gone back under the guise of wanting to save more money to buy a better guitar.

And then she finally saw her walking down the street, crossing the road to where Seulgi was.

All Seulgi could do then was sigh wistfully while strumming her guitar, and go on singing.

She, she is the words that I can’t find.)

Irene’s already dropping the pennies before Seulgi can even find her voice to speak and tell her that her request is for free, despite knowing that Irene doesn’t really take no for an answer. Something she found the hard way in the six weeks and three days that she has known her.

So, instead, Seulgi says, “Thank you, Joohyun-ah.”

Irene pockets the hand that isn’t holding the cup of coffee and lowers her head, trying to hide the shy smile beneath the hoodie she’s already drowning in. Then, she looks at Seulgi from under fluttering lashes. “Will you sing me another song tomorrow?”

Seulgi almost says, I’d do anything you want me to. But her head knows that it’s too much too soon, even though her heart feels otherwise. The words dangle at the tip of her tongue, yet she swallows them back down and says, “Wouldn’t miss that chance for the world.”

.

 

Irene leaves after another song or two. Seulgi would like to think it was reluctantly, banking on the rueful, timid smile she gets left with as Irene waves goodbye to her, and the mumbled hey mom that Seulgi catches while she watches Irene pick up a call on her cell phone, her petite form disappearing in the crowd.

Wendy, the cafe owner, takes Irene’s place. She happily listens to the song Seulgi next plays, and then throws a paper bill that Seulgi’s already hugely grateful for no matter the figure. (She only ever gets people’s change, so it’s always going to be a surprise when someone gives her more than that.)

“I’ll never get tired of listening to you sing,” Wendy marvels once Seulgi closes with a husked note. “Have you ever thought about playing up on a stage?”

“I, uhm,” Seulgi starts, stumbling at the genuine interest and attention Wendy is giving her. It’s been a week since she met Wendy—officially; the weeks before that, she was just the kind owner who didn’t drive her away, and instead occasionally gave her coffee and a free meal—but her kindness never fails to surprise Seulgi. “I do open mic nights? But other than that, I’ve never really tried.”

Wendy hums, tilting her head to ponder, until there’s a tug at the corner of her lips. “You know, I’ve always wondered what seems to be lacking in my cafe. But I think I found it.”

Seulgi frowns in confusion, but she returns the smile anyway. “Congratulations?”

A soft laugh rumbles from Wendy’s chest, making her shoulders shake a little. Then, “What do you say about playing at my cafe on weekends?”

Seulgi’s eyes grow wide, clearly surprised. shapes into a small o, as her grip on her guitar tightens.

But it loosens the next second. On any other day, she would’ve said yes right away. But she’s got more... reasons why she stays on the street these days, and that makes her somewhat hesitate.

“It doesn’t have to be the whole day, Seulgi,” Wendy clears up when she sees the indecision settle on the taller woman’s face. “You can still play on your mic nights. Or here outside, if you really want to.”

Seulgi wordlessly runs through the past weekends in her head, trying to remember if she’s seen Irene on those days. Her memory doesn’t really give her anything—it’s not the best, but Seulgi remembers everything about Irene—and so she tells Wendy, “I’d be honored, Wendy-ssi.”

Wendy beams at her in turn, clapping and doing tiny jumps in place. “Great! I’ll see you, Saturday! And oh, coffee’s on me today.”

“Oh, no, you don’t have to!”

“Seulgi,” Wendy warns with a playful tone. “You should know this early that I don’t really take no for an answer. My best friend and I share that trait.”

Seulgi figures she’s telling the truth as she watches Wendy stoop down and shut her guitar case before hauling it inside the cafe with her tiny frame.

...


 

She’s not a giant ball of nerves when Saturday comes; okay, maybe she is. But it’s really the first time she’s going to play in such an intimate setting, in broad daylight, for people with varying tastes in music (some may not even be music lovers at all).

The butterflies in her stomach feel akin to the chimes that ring all over as she pushes No Jams’ door open, which only grows when Wendy welcomes her with a very excited grin and pulls her towards one of the booths nearest to the kitchen door.

“Hi to you too,” Seulgi chuckles by way of greeting. She slides her guitar case inside the booth as Wendy gestures for her to sit. “So, where do you want me to, uhm, play?”

“Right down to business, I see,” the other woman quips. She juts her chin out, pointing to a small, raised platform at the far corner of the cafe. “I’ve had a mini-stage done when I had the place renovated. But we never really got to put it to good use.”

It’s conveniently placed at a spot where all the cafe-goers can easily see. Though, Seulgi hasn’t really noticed that space up until now. She shuffles on her seat, looks over her shoulder, and lets her eyes roam around the modest instruments surrounding it: an acoustic guitar, a beatbox, and a folded mic stand front and center.

They seem to be more decorative than anything, barely used without a hint of dust or fingerprints on them.

Seulgi twists back around, arm already reaching for her guitar case. “What do you say we get started?”

“I’d say yes but, first things first. Have you had breakfast?”

She opens to say she has—if day old bread and instant coffee mix can be considered as such— but her stomach chooses that perfect moment to betray her. And now, Seulgi just wants nothing but for the ground to swallow her whole as her stomach makes another noise.

“I’m taking that as a no,” Wendy teases. But she doesn’t laugh at Seulgi. Instead, she waves a hand to catch another person’s attention, though Seulgi’s too busy trying not to sink into the very soft seat rest and disappear for a century to see who it is.

“Wendy-ah!” Another woman’s voice floats in the air, echoing in Seulgi’s ears like a perfect rhythm. A melody she knows too well, what with each lilt in her tone plucking at Seulgi’s very own heartstrings. “Is this the singer you were telling me—Seulgi?”

“J-Joohyun,” Seulgi stutters. There’s a lace of disbelief in her tone—absolutely the good kind, don’t get her wrong, but it’s Irene; some part of Seulgi will always be in permanent disbelief—and she’s starting to think that Wendy is the guardian angel she’s been praying to since she was four.

Ne, Irene-unnie,” answers Wendy nonchalantly. Like she didn’t just shake Seulgi’s world with this. “I see you two know each other already.”

Irene throws her a glare, sharp and screaming shut up. But the pink tainting her cheeks belies it entirely, and Wendy ends up grinning at the flush that climbs up to the tips of her ears.

Seulgi feels her own cheeks heat up, especially when Wendy scoots further inside the booth and tugs Irene down by her wrist, pulling the other woman to sit beside her, right in front of Seulgi.

“Irene-unnie here makes the best carrot cakes,” Wendy begins with a smirk. She turns to Irene next, clearing , and holds a hand in the air as if introducing the artist in front of them to her. “And well, you already know Seulgi. You haven’t shut up about her since—”

“Sooyoung!” Irene yells for the barista leaning by the cashier, who’s watching them with keen interest, the mischief dancing in her eyes.

She cups a hand over Wendy’s mouth to stop her from speaking altogether, and then instructs Sooyoung to fix a cup of their house blend and a plate of their signature sandwich.

Sooyoung—or Joy Seulgi finds out the next second as she yells back at Irene that it’s Joy, unnie! When will you get used to it—brings a steaming cup to their booth not long after, and the signature sandwich that, apparently, is Irene’s recipe too. A fact that Wendy casually lets slip as soon as Irene draws her hand back.

She sidles away with Joy, sliding out through the other end of the booth, and leaves Seulgi to Irene’s gentle hands with an I have to go back to the kitchen. Don’t worry, Seulgi, Irene-unnie’s going to take very good care of you.

.

 

An awkward atmosphere lingers in the air after Wendy leaves. Though, it’s more of Seulgi not really knowing what to do because it has never been just Irene and her. There’s always another passer by dropping their change in Seulgi’s guitar case, a screaming kid who wants his balloon back, an elderly couple swaying to the song Seulgi plays.

(Her world grinding into a halt and anything that isn’t Irene fading into the background doesn’t really count.)

It takes Seulgi two hastened sips of coffee and a scalded tongue to get over the bashfulness, because now she’s more worried about the burn than looking like a fool in front of the girl she absolutely adores; Irene gets over hers the moment Seulgi scrunches her nose, trying to get rid of the sudden heat that bursts inside .

It’s replaced by some form of concern she’s not really used to feeling, shooting down straight to her spine. And it prompts Irene to remind Seulgi, though hidden under the guise of a soft laugh. “Careful, Seulgi-ah.”

Seulgi, in turn, blows out the air she’s puffed in her cheeks; resists the urge to dart her tongue out and fan it with her fingers.

It curbs into an impulse to reach out and wipe the smidgen of flour that lines on Irene’s left cheek when she catches sight of it, one that she tamps down by taking a bite of the sandwich.

It’s probably the best sandwich Seulgi’s ever had; coupled with Irene’s smile from across her, Seulgi thinks she has never had anything better.

.

 

In a span of half an hour, Seulgi feels like she learned a lot about Irene, and absolutely nothing about her at all.

Irene is jumpy. Seulgi has the cafe door to thank for that. And she quickly writes a mental note in her head to play her music softly whenever Irene’s around.

There’s that bit about her helping Wendy out in weekends, but having to go home at least before three in the afternoon hits. Because weekends have family dinners Irene can’t miss.

She’s quiet, but she smiles at Seulgi a lot (she’s always had). In various kinds. Seulgi’s personally torn between the one that scrunches Irene’s nose, and the one that makes her eyes crinkle.

And she wants Seulgi to feel comfortable all the time that Seulgi honestly runs out of ways to say that she is—ways that do not involve because you’re here, at least—every time Irene asks.

Irene also thinks that her passion for music is admirable, and that it’s brave of Seulgi to pursue the one thing she’s passionate about. Seulgi doesn’t miss the wistfulness that clouds her eyes, as if she’s talking from a place where she completely missed her chance. And Seulgi so badly wants to ask, craves to dig deep down for answers.

But she’s left with just more questions when Irene blinks the dolor away, smiling a smile that has to be Seulgi’s least favorite because it doesn’t chase away the edge on Irene’s lips, or the ghost that clouds her eyes.

And this aching need beneath her chest to learn all the things about this beautiful work of art.

.

 

By the time the clock strikes eight thirty, people are starting to flock in inside the cafe. Seulgi figures it’s also probably the best time for her to start what she actually came here to do.

Irene, for her part, gets waved at by her best friend, with Joy popping up at their booth to say, “I really hate to steal her away from you, Seulgi-unnie, but the boss needs her help back in the kitchen.”

“Okay, okay,” the smaller woman dismisses, and sends Joy sauntering back to the cash register with a wave of her hand.

She slides out of the booth the same time Seulgi does, though her walk back to the kitchen gets cut off by Seulgi’s taller form towering over her, catching her off guard.

“Sorry,” Seulgi mumbles when Irene takes a small step back. “It’s just—you’ve got some… uhm—”

“Is everything okay, Seulgi-ah?”

She nods earnestly before fishing the handkerchief tucked at the back pocket of her jeans. She holds her hand out in front of Irene next, showing her the yellow handkerchief that rests on her open palm.

Irene tilts her head a little, silently asking. Seulgi only juts her chin out in answer, gesturing at the streak of flour that’s still dotting Irene’s cheek.

A confused frown etches on Irene’s forehead, so Seulgi takes it in her to wipe them away. She moves the handkerchief with her thumb, so that it slides up on her palm, and then catches a piece of the cloth in between her thumb and index finger. She folds the caught piece of cloth in between those two fingers next, then leans forward as carefully as she can.

With bated breath, she presses the handkerchief on the curve of Irene’s cheek in the softest, gentlest way that she can, and wipes the flour off.

“Stay still, okay?” Seulgi almost inaudibly whispers. “I don’t want to scratch you or something.”

Though, really, if it does happen, it’s not because of Irene moving. It’s because of her hand shaking almost violently. It’s because of Irene’s scent quickly invading her senses, and Irene’s warm breath hitting her face.

It’s because of the brown in Irene’s eyes, the warmest she’s ever seen, and how it’s so easy to get lost in the scattered specks; just as how incredibly easy it is to get lost in the music that runs in her veins.

She feels it thrum beneath her skin, drowning the white noise surrounding them into a hymn. The flutters in her stomach are hummingbirds moving, and Seulgi has to swallow down the surging beat that seeps into her bloodstream and pulses through her palms just because Irene’s eyes looked like coming home.

.

 

Seulgi sings about it, of course she does.

And when she gets to the first pre-chorus, and Irene walks out of the kitchen right as she sings, I just wanna know you better, know you better, know you better now, she tries really, really hard not to think that it’s the universe trying to tell her something.

.

 

(But then, Irene looks up from the pastry display case and gives her a thumbs up and a grin while Seulgi’s lips are mouthing everything has changed.

How can she argue with that?)

.

 

“So, are you still going to play out there?” Wendy asks after the morning set, and in between the half an hour break she insisted for Seulgi to take.

“I think...” Seulgi starts to say. It’s followed by a pause next, as her eyes fall on Irene who’s cleaning the table that Yeri—Joy’s something—just vacated. She shakes her head as subtle as she can when she hears Wendy clearing ; ignores the smirk adorning Wendy’s face as she says, “I think I’m gonna stay here for one more set. The people seem to like me.”

“Oh I bet they do.”

...


 

The next day is pretty much the same, just with a different set of songs that Seulgi swears aren’t about Irene entirely.

(Not all of them at least.)

Wendy feels more than hears the shaky breath Seulgi exhales when Irene breezes by their table and carefully sets a slice of carrot cake in front of the taller woman.

“Here, Seulgi-ah,” Irene says, squeezing Seulgi’s arm that she has wrapped her fingers around at. “Just tell me if you want more, okay?”

And then Irene smiles this really pretty smile that even Wendy falls weak for, despite being best friends for ten years now. And she swears it’s a whimper she hears when Seulgi slumps back against the booth rest, as if all the bravado she’s managed to uphold has just rushed out of her system.

They both watch Irene saunter away, and Wendy can only pat Seulgi’s shoulder in sympathy, having borne witness to the multitude of hearts that have fallen out of their places and laid themselves at Bae Joohyun’s wake.

.

 

Seulgi kicks off her day’s set with literally kicking both her feet out of the booth, shaking the nerves out. She really is supposed to be used to this, but it seems that she will never be used to Irene and her presence at all.

Or the way Irene smiles at her, shy at first, growing bolder as each second passes, with Seulgi returning it with an earnest grin that makes her eyes disappear.

It was only a smile, Seulgi’s first song goes, but my heart it went wild. I wasn't expecting that.

If that isn’t her life’s theme ever since Irene dropped that first penny, she doesn’t really know what is.

.

 

She goes home that weekend with her first pay ever that Wendy is more than happy to give. Apparently, their experimental stint did bring in more customers than Wendy thought, so Seulgi’s pretty much got a steady source of cash for all her weekends.

And an overflowing stream of inspiration. Every wave of Irene’s hand lays out a series of notes at the back of Seulgi’s mind. Every swish of her hair is a melody that flows out of Seulgi’s fingers and straight to her guitar. Every smile that makes Irene’s eyes sparkle is a song that’s waiting to be written.

Seulgi stashes the cash inside her drawer hastily. She moves around her humble apartment in quick, lithe steps, as if she’s being chased. But really, it’s her trying to keep her muse running. It’s her trying to get back on track and chase her lifelong dream.

.

 

She scribbles demo track 1: a new beginning on top of the music sheet with a light heart. Like things are finally falling into place, and the final pieces of the intricate puzzle that is Seulgi’s life are slotting themselves right where they should be.

...


 

The afternoon is bright despite the late night Seulgi has spent the night before. She had called in sick for what is perhaps only the third time in her seven months stint at the bar she works at, and locked herself in her room until she had written the very last note and her ink had run dry.

Yet she rolled out of bed with an enthusiasm that has been well-missed, ready to take on the streets with a renewed passion coursing through her veins.

Wendy waves at her from the cafe’s windows, which she returns animatedly. Her other hand lifts the well-used guitar off its case, and then hooks the sling across her torso.

She turns at the chime of the cafe’s door as it’s pulled open, Wendy’s head popping in between the ample space. “Yah, Seulgi! I better see you inside when you’re done there.”

Seulgi chuckles, throwing Wendy a playful salute. “With restraints.”

Wendy’s laugh wafts out from the cafe door as she tells Seulgi, “As if you even need them when Irene-unnie’s coming over to stay till dinner. You know she’ll drag you if she has to.”

It floats into the buzzing street when Seulgi turns the tuning key a little too hard and her first string skips two notes higher, much like her heartbeat.

.

 

Ten songs and two hours later, Seulgi finds herself sitting at that same booth Wendy has first brought her to, thumbs twiddling as she watches her boss slide from one fret to another and hum the lyrics to herself.

It turns to an aimless plucking when Wendy fails to remember the next chord. She lifts her head instead to look at Seulgi, tells her offhandedly, “We should go out sometime.”

Seulgi is so very glad that she has long gulped her sandwich down, and the coffee mug is filled with nothing but the last dredges of her second cup, or she would’ve spewed any of it out. Or worse, both. Onto her boss.

“Go out?”

Wendy nods once, and eyes the other woman with a puzzled look when she starts blinking furiously at her, as if she’s just said something ridiculous.

“As in, after work?” Seulgi prods on, disbelieving. “With drinks, and—and music?”

A shrug rolls off Wendy’s shoulders. “Well, yeah, if that’s what you like.”

“Oh.” Seulgi presses her lips together, and then pulls back from the booth table. She slides her hands off the smooth surface, hiding them underneath as her fingers start to fidget with the hem of her shirt.

She has never really been assuming, but Seulgi is almost sure that Wendy is asking her out. And really, she’s flattered and all, though mostly just feeling awkward because she still hasn’t learned how to deal with stuff like professed feelings from other people in her twenty three years of existence (she probably never will).

But she considers Wendy as her friend too, one of the few people Seulgi doesn’t want to lose. And so she takes a good long second to compose her thoughts, trying to come up with the most sincere way of letting Wendy know that she already has given her heart away exactly seven weeks, twelve hours, fourteen minutes and six seconds ago.

Mianhaeyo, Wendy-ssi, Seulgi thinks—forms the words inside her head, you’re one of the few people I’ve grown to care for, and I would very much like for us to remain friends.

It’s really the best she can come up with, and so she opens to speak next, despite the way her heart hammers against her chest at Wendy’s hopeful look. “Wendy-ssi,” she starts.

Though the way Wendy’s brow quirks up at the formal name makes her pause. She struggles with the uncertainty of where their budding friendship might be headed to once she lets the words out, but in the end chooses not to lead Wendy on. “You’re—I...”

“Seulgi, are you okay? You’re looking pale.”

“I am, thank you. But what I’m trying to say is—”

“Are you sure? You’re not gonna throw up, are you?”

Seulgi thinks she might, from the way she shakes her head. Wendy’s lips move to ask her for a third time, but the lump that has been lodged in Seulgi’s throat rises into a rush of words, tumbling out of her lips and straight to her tongue.

“Wendy, I like Joohyun!”

It’s Wendy’s turn to blink at the other woman. Slow at first, and then shifting into swift flutters as Seulgi’s words start to sink in.

Yet, what Seulgi has expected to be a dejected look becomes one of complete bewilderment that settles firmly on Wendy’s face.

“Okay...” The smaller woman raises her chin a little, nodding as slow as the syllables she’s drawling out. “That’s—well, I’ve always known you do and it’s actually a relief to finally hear it from you. But...” Wendy lifts a hand, waving it on the ample space sitting in between her and the other woman. “What has that got to do with this?”

“Weren’t you just, you know, asking me out?” Seulgi gestures helplessly. She honestly can feel a headache coming from a mile away. “And what do you mean you’ve always known?”

“What do you mean I’m asking you out?”

Silence blankets them both as they frown at each other, unblinking and looking more and more baffled with each tick of the clock.

It only breaks when Seulgi suddenly blurts out, “I’m so confused right now.”

Wendy stares at her for a good long second before she starts laughing, head thrown back in pure amusement. Her arms wrap around Seulgi’s guitar so it doesn’t slip as she drops her weight against the seat rest. “Oh my gosh,” she says in between laughs. “I think I started that the wrong way.”

Seulgi just looks at the other woman as if she has grown another head, until Wendy’s laughter trickles down into amused giggles.

“I’m sorry, but when I said we should go out, I meant as a group? With Joy and Irene-unnie. Build a rapport, you know?”

Her laughter almost sets off again at the sight of Seulgi’s eyes popping out. The only thing that stops her is the way Seulgi swallows visibly next, as the color drains from her face.

She does feel a little bit bad afterwards, because it feels like she had a hand in forcing out a truth that Seulgi wasn’t ready to admit to anyone.

And so she smiles at Seulgi comfortingly instead, and shares the honesty. “I actually have a girlfriend. Her name’s Eunji. She owns the record store two blocks down from where I live.”

Wendy slides a hand towards Seulgi’s own that the taller woman is tightly gripping the edge with. She pats it three times, then, “I’m also not the cheating type, nor the tattletale that Joy is.”

Joy’s head snaps up at the mention of her name, eyes narrowing playfully at the two women’s direction. “You rang, boss?”

“A glass of water, please,” Wendy replies, chancing a glance towards Joy before returning it to a very, very red-faced Seulgi who seems to have ceased breathing at this point.

She has admittedly been planning to give her a hard time, and a push or two to the right direction. But Seulgi looks like she’s going to faint from embarrassment at any given second, and so Wendy decides to just go straight to it. “Seulgi, I swear on my girlfriend’s precious vinyl collection, I’m not gonna say anything to Irene-unnie.”

A strained laugh escapes as Seulgi exhales a shaky thank you, feeling like she wants to lie down and bury herself in a mass of tangled sheets that she’ll never get out of.

Wendy, in turn, squeezes Seulgi’s hand, a silent promise that she’s going to keep her word. Seulgi doesn’t even have to ask.

.

 

Seulgi’s everything only calms down after downing the glass of water Joy places in front of her. It also helps that Wendy is very much adamant to laugh off the embarrassing miscommunication they had earlier, and so by the time Wendy teases her about her deer-caught-in-headlights look for the third time—all wide eyes and a gaping mouth—Seulgi is able to laugh along with her.

“You’re not a very good conversation starter,” Seulgi claps back at the other woman, who accepts the truth easily.

“You’re really not the first person to tell me that,” Wendy confirms. “The first time I met Irene-unnie? I told her that her face was so distracting it needed to stop. But I swear I wasn’t hitting on her.”

Seulgi’s very much inclined to agree—Irene’s face could literally be one that launched a thousand ships—but she never really gets to let the thought out as the cafe’s door opens and closes with a bang, followed by hurried footsteps and Irene’s voice drifting from the counter.

“Sooyoung! Did Seulgi not show up today? She’s not outside! I need to know if she’s okay.”

And oh, there she is. The conqueror of Seulgi’s heart.

.

 

“She’s actually right there, unnie,” Seulgi hears Joy say, sees the finger Joy points at their direction, and the way Irene’s head turns so fast she can’t help but think it must’ve hurt somehow.

“Seulgi-ah!”

Irene rushes towards their table. Wendy makes a quick move to pull Seulgi’s guitar case onto her booth seat, laying it down on the empty space. It leaves Seulgi no choice but to scoot over so that Irene has a place to sit.

Irene slides inside the vacant space with ceremonious grace, anxious brown eyes roaming all over Seulgi’s form as if taking into account every single pore and every single inch of Seulgi’s skin. “You’re okay, right? I wasn’t—I thought something happened to you when I didn’t see you outside.”

Seulgi honestly doesn’t know how her voice doesn’t waver as she replies, “I am. I was just taking a short break.”

“Are you sure? Your cheeks look flushed.”

Wendy snorts from her spot. She tried to hold it in, she really did, but it’s never not funny to her when things go over Irene’s pretty head.

Two sets of eyes fall on her, one imploring and the other just plain confused, and so she fakes a cough and then says, “Sorry. I think I’m catching, I don’t know, cooties or something.”

Seulgi lets out a breath she doesn’t really know she’s holding in. But Irene takes it as something else, and presses the back of her hand against her forehead, not really convinced even with Seulgi’s assurance that she really is fine.

“You kind of feel warm,” Irene mutters. She brushes the hair shrouding Seulgi’s eyes to one side, and presses a gentle palm on her forehead this time.

Seulgi another lungful of air, which she realizes a little too late that she shouldn’t have because now Irene’s scent is swimming in her head.

(And she’s close, oh so close. Seulgi could write a song about this almost non-existent distance between them alone.

Maybe she would.)

It takes Wendy clearing to pull Seulgi back to reality, while Irene jumps and suddenly drops the hand that she has unknowingly grazed down to Seulgi’s cheek.

“I—I uhm,” Seulgi lets her eyes roam around, tries to pretend that she didn’t just get lost in the oblivion that is Irene’s eyes. Ultimately, she fails. Sighing, she turns to Irene again, and then says, “I’m okay, I promise. And I’m ready to go play again, if you want.”

Irene hums, squinting her eyes. She points a good-natured finger at the other woman next, then, “Only if you’re sure.”

The tip of her finger hits Seulgi’s nose accidentally, and so she runs a knuckle a few times to soothe the offended spot, giggling. “Oh, sorry.”

Inside her head, Seulgi’s own heart starts singing.

My heart’s a stereo, it beats for you so listen close.

...


 

“You’re here early.”

Seulgi shrugs, feigning nonchalance. “I figured I’d come in early in case you needed help.” She grips her guitar case tighter to stop her hand from scratching the back of her neck (her dead giveaway). “Besides, you guys wake up at, like, three in the morning. This is nothing.”

Wendy backs away from the door to let Seulgi in, and ambles behind the counter to where the extra set of aprons are. She unhooks a dark blue one from the rack sticking out of the wall, folds it in half before offering it to the taller woman.

Seulgi arches a brow that matches the puzzled look she answers Wendy with. “Uh, Wendy?”

“Irene-unnie’s in the kitchen,” she replies, jerking a head at the kitchen door’s direction. “You wanna help, right?”

She almost laughs at the eager nod Seulgi answers in kind, and the visible gulp the taller woman takes as she reaches for the apron Wendy pushes towards her hands.

Seulgi unfolds it in a single shake, and then dons it on, tying it loosely behind the small of her back. Loosely, because her hands are trembling and it’s all that she can manage to do under Wendy’s smirk and teasing gaze.

“Okay,” Wendy says, suddenly looking affronted. She eyes the Oh Crêpe scrawled perfectly on Seulgi’s upper torso as if it personally offended her, her face scrunching because Seulgi does really look good in an apron and that is just so not fair. “That fits you better than it ever did fit me. Is there anything you can’t do?”

“I can’t cook?” Seulgi offers truthfully. “I burn everything that isn’t instant ramen.”

Wendy raises a hand, waving Seulgi’s words off. “That’s okay. My best friend can, so still a match made in heaven.”

“W-why—who said anything about matching?”

The Boss did.” She holds a palm up in front of the bold, white letters scribbled on her own apron. “Now go, but please, don’t make out over the cupcakes.”

Seulgi blushes so hard that Joy, who’s just trudged inside, pushes both her sleeves up and asks if she needed to do the Heimlich.

.

 

By the time Seulgi finds the courage to knock at the kitchen door, Irene’s already halfway on topping their second batch of red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

She gently cracks it open at Irene’s soft come in, with a fond smile instantly taking over her face at the sight of the other woman’s furrowed brows, as Irene swirls the icing around with practiced ease and steady hands stemming from doing something she loves.

“Hi Joohyun,” Seulgi says; considers it a miracle that she doesn’t stutter even when she sees that Irene’s hair is up in a messy bun, her neck all out for Seulgi to see.

Her big, round glasses are dangerously close to sweeping Seulgi off her feet. Though, what has her freezing on her spot—sandwiched in that space in between the door and its frame—are the words Keep calm and kiss the baker doodled on Irene’s off-white apron.

(Because, God, does Seulgi want to.)

Seulgi has to tamp down the squeak that almost escapes , but she can’t really do anything about the whispered gasp that ensues. Not when Irene is smiling at her like she is now, and she’s calling her Seulgi-ah so softly.

Seulgi never even knew her own name could sound so beautiful.

.

 

Irene waves at her, gesturing for Seulgi to go inside. Seulgi, in turn, moves in a careful pace, focusing on trying not to trip in front of the girl her heart is skipping beats for.

(Even if her laughter is something Seulgi can listen to for the rest of her life; a melody she knows but still can’t quite put a name to.)

She makes it to the counter safely, just as Irene comes back from stacking the tray full of cupcakes on top of the medium-sized rack standing at the nearest corner.

“Wendy said,” she starts to say, fingers latching onto the edge of the kitchen counter closest to her for support. She’s not swaying on her spot or anything, but one more step that Irene takes towards her and Seulgi honestly thinks she’ll float away. “She said you needed some help?”

Irene hums, tilts her head, pretending to think about it. Then, she smirks. “I think I can handle it. But you look too cute in that apron to let it pass.”

Seulgi quickly averts her gaze, fixing her eyes at that spot on the tiled floor that’s darker than the others. She briefly wonders if it was out of a burned something, and moves on into guessing how much the giant oven pushed against the wall would’ve cost—anything that isn’t about Irene’s words and her cheeky smile.

But Irene sees right through her, sees the redness spreading all over the curve of her cheeks. She can’t help the giggle that bubbles up as she teases the taller woman even more. “Aigoo, Seulgi-ah.”

Suddenly, Oh Crêpe seemed so very fitting.

.

 

She stands dumbly there for a while with her hands tucked behind the apron, not really knowing what to do (she wasn’t really lying about not knowing anything about cooking). While Irene continues to putter around, pulling various ingredients from the cupboards and the lone freezer opposite the pastry rack.

Seulgi watches Irene line the ingredients up on the kitchen counter, though she can’t tell each one apart, save for the flour, sugar and what she’s sure is a block of butter.

She stands transfixed at the way Irene carefully sifts the flour onto the mixer’s bowl filled with sugar and melted butter, her eyes trailing at the grains that fall (and so not on Irene’s soft, steady hands).

“I’m making the batter for this coconut cake recipe I’ve been wanting to try,” Irene offers when she chances a glance and sees the blank look that’s starting to take over Seulgi’s face. She doesn't want to bore her with meager details, but she can't stand the quiet either and have Seulgi hear how loud her heart is beating. “I found one with an unusual twist, and I figured we might as well try it. We’ve started the strictly no jams tradition anyway.”

Seulgi makes a sound, and her face lights up as though a light bulb just appeared above her head. “Is that why the place is called No Jams? Because you don't offer jams for your breads?”

“For the record, Wendy came up with it and I vehemently disagreed.” Irene chuckles as she shakes her head.

“But she’s the boss…” Seulgi says, to which Irene agrees with, still chuckling.

“She’s the boss.”

They’re quiet for the few seconds that Irene lets the mixer work its magic, mixing the dry ingredients and melted butter together. Seulgi looks on with interest, watches as Irene goes through the process of double checking the recipe, adding the eggs one by one and then, pouring the batter onto a tall, round pan, because Irene in her element is such a sight to behold that Seulgi just can’t take her eyes away.

Until Irene says, “Do you want to try spreading the batter around?”

“I’ve never—I,” Seulgi tries to answer, but she hesitates at the last minute, seeing the earnest grin on Irene’s face. She doesn’t look tired at all, but Seulgi knows that she’s been up all morning and she doesn’t really want any of her efforts to go to waste. So she sighs and then says, “I’m probably going to get it uneven.”

“You’ll have the pan edges to guide you, silly,” Irene replies. She holds the steel spreader out for Seulgi to take, leaving the other woman with no choice.

Seulgi steps forward and onto the spot Irene leaves. She lets the spreader hover above the pan, eyes squinting at the batter while her hand shifts into a multitude of positions as she tries to figure out how to actually start.

Beside her, Irene giggles, and now Seulgi is lost for a totally different reason because Irene’s warmth next to her feels even more closer, like her own personal sun, and Irene’s smaller hand is covering hers.

(There’s a jolt of dangerous electricity that shoots from the back of her hand and up to her arm when their skins touch, and Seulgi can only pray that Irene doesn’t see the goosebumps suddenly prickling her skin.)

Irene first fixes Seulgi’s hold on the spreader, and then guides both their hands down next, pressing the flat surface onto the batter until it starts to spread inside the pan.

“Think of it as a paint brush,” Irene gently says. “And the pan is your canvas, and you want to cover it with yellow paint.”

Surprisingly, imagining such actually works for Seulgi. (Maybe because she has always been more in tune with art than anything remotely belonging to a kitchen.) Though, a small dollop goes over the edge that Seulgi would very much like to blame on Irene’s hand running up past her elbow, with Irene’s fingers wrapping around her rather toned upper arm.

Seulgi stops moving, and turns to Irene with an apologetic look. But Irene only squeezes her arm and smiles. “That’s okay.”

Seulgi nods obediently, hiding the way her breath hitches underneath a mumbled okay.

It takes her a few tries, but the batter gets evened out, eventually.

It admittedly feels like an achievement of some sort, especially when she turns to Irene and she’s greeted with a delighted, proud look.

“You just made your first cake, Seulgi-ah!”

“I did, didn’t I?”

Irene laughs at the pure awe floating out of her tone, and reaches out to dip two fingers on the glob of batter that has fallen out earlier. Seulgi’s still a little too astonished to notice, which makes Irene giggle in turn as she sneaks her hand behind her back.

And in a move that Seulgi doesn’t see coming—she should’ve given that Irene’s literally just mere inches away, but doesn’t because of everything else—Irene presses her fingers on Seulgi’s cheek; from the center and up to the curve of it, leaving two trails of batter that end on the bridge of her nose.

“Joohyun!” Seulgi yells, but it’s drowned by the cackle that booms from Irene’s chest and out of .

Seulgi can only watch Irene tip her head back, can only laugh along with her while her heart bangs like a drum and her heart soars to sing.

All this heaven never could describe such a feeling as I'm hearing.

.

 

The cake doesn’t turn out bad. At all.

Seulgi isn’t deluded to believe that it’s all thanks to her slathering skills. Irene had followed the recipe down to a tee after all.

But Irene refuses to take the credit either, insisting to everyone who asked about and commended the new recipe that it was Seulgi who had done it and that she only really helped out.

Seulgi has long accepted the fact that she can’t do anything about it after the tenth person Irene points to her direction that she waves back to, and the next three who drops by the booth she’s spending her break at, sharing a slice with Irene.

“We’re gonna have to add that cake to the menu,” Wendy says as she breezes by the booth with a stack of trays, and plates and glasses on top of it, in her hands. “And make a second batch for the late afternoon goers.”

Irene swallows the piece of cake she’s bitten off her fork before answering. “It’s all thanks to Seulgi.” She slices more and scoops it with her fork, and then taps Seulgi’s arm, who is a little occupied with scribbling down requested songs on a piece of paper.

Seulgi snaps her head up and tilts it, silently asking.

“Wendy said you’re going to make the coconut cakes from now on,” Irene explains as she holds the silverware in front of Seulgi’s lips. “My boulangère.”

Seulgi doesn’t really know what it means, she thinks as she leans forward and munches on the offered food, but she likes the way it rolls off Irene’s mouth; especially likes my more without really knowing why.

The heart really has a language of its own.

...


 

Seulgi’s days unknowingly shift into two kinds as the weeks pass by: Joohyun-ful and Joohyun-less. Afternoons on the streets and morning weekends she gets to spend with Irene, and the open mic nights that she still has not gathered enough courage to invite Irene to.

The in betweens are filled with more music sheets and less sleep, though Seulgi doesn’t mind losing it at all. She loves sleep, she really does, but she can hardly do anything about it when the notes and the rhythms weave together like vines that crawl from beneath her skin and into her hand, inking themselves and their words into the sheets.

demo track 2: oh darling, all i see is you

...


 

Aigoo, this can’t be happening!”

Seulgi pulls back from the mixer—who would’ve thought she’d learn to operate one by now—and looks over her shoulder, throwing Irene a worried look. “What’s wrong?”

Irene frowns as she shakes the contents of her brown Manila envelope out; frowns even more when she spreads the pieces all over the island counter and doesn’t find what she’s looking for. Then, she turns to Seulgi, sighing. “I printed the wrong recipe.”

Seulgi shuts off the mixer and wipes her hands clean with one of the folded cloths they use as a rag. She walks to where Irene is, planting herself right next to the other woman. “Which one?”

“Do you remember the cheesecake recipe I told you I’m going to try?” Irene asks, presses on at Seulgi’s nod. “Apparently, there were five versions of that. I have no idea how but I printed the Japanese one.”

She tapped on a lot of buttons (two), okay. So many buttons (just click here, and then print). No one can blame her for losing track.

“Can I see?”

She hands the paper to Seulgi, silently mourning the fact that they may have to skip the recipe today. And yes, she can always look it up on her phone; she knows this. But Irene has a self-imposed ban on using smartphones inside her kitchen for fear of it messing with microwaves and every other wave there is that exists inside the room.

Seulgi studies it for a good long second—and okay, maybe staring at the cute, concentrated look that settles on Seulgi’s face is lifting Irene’s mood up a bit; yet, still—humming as she lowers the paper down for Irene to see.

“Number one says to mix the crushed graham and the melted unsalted butter,” she says, finger pointing at the first sentence.

Irene looks up at her in awe, completely caught off guard. “You know Japanese?”

Ne,” Seulgi confirms. “Their music has greatly influenced mine. I figured, I should learn the language too.”

“That’s amazing,” Irene says, breathless.

Seulgi tries to shrug it off, as it has never really been a big deal for her. Though, seeing the pure wonder in Irene’s eyes does make her smile.

“Come on, we’ve now got two cakes to bake together.”

.

 

They get through the recipe with minimal difficulty. It was basic Japanese, Seulgi explains to Irene, which they both feel grateful for (and relieved, though it’s more for Seulgi’s part than Irene’s).

Now, they’re both just patiently waiting for the ding that the oven will make. Irene already has the filling mixed and ready to go, while Seulgi has the coconut cake’s batter—that she has mastered by now; deemed an incredible feat—slathered perfectly even on the pan.

“Can you tell me something?”

Seulgi lifts her gaze from the papers she’s stacking back inside the envelope. The same ones Irene had sprawled on the counter earlier. “About what?”

“I mean, in Japanese,” Irene clarifies. Though, she tries to downplay her interest with a shrug.

“Like what?”

“Anything.”

“Uhm, okay.” Seulgi sets the envelope down, and then props both her arms on the counter as she leans forward. Irene, who’s standing on the other side of the island and nearest to the oven, stoops down a little too, meeting Seulgi head on.

Seulgi feels the cold tile of the counter against her knees, but it’s her hands that feel arctic, clammy and chilled as she laces them together. Her face smooths out, her body tenses. And the words come out in a whisper. “Hajimete ata tokikara sukidata.”

“What does that mean?” Irene whispers back. And heol, their faces are so close, Seulgi could kiss her.

Seulgi could kiss her, and get down on her knees and worship her next, all the while repeating the same exact words, and every song that Irene had asked and will ask her to sing.

But the ding that they’ve been waiting for reverberates around the room, echoing in this suddenly awkward, empty silence. Irene jumps back and away from the island counter in surprise, leaving Seulgi to swallow the meaning of her words down.

.

 

Joy corners her at the hidden hallway, with a huge smirk to boot. And her eyes are shining in a way like she knows a secret Seulgi doesn’t.

I’ve loved you from the moment I first laid eyes on you, huh?”

The color drains from Seulgi’s face, completely contrasting to how she was with Irene just moments ago.

(Granted, Seulgi doesn’t really know where she had gotten that brief boost of courage from. All that she knew back in the kitchen was that her heart felt full to the brim, and there was this need to let Irene know that swelled in her chest.)

But now that all of that bravado is gone, Seulgi feels her knees buckle, her limbs turning into jelly.

She barely even has the voice when she asks Joy, “You heard?”

“Yes,” Joy confirms; grins at Seulgi as if this is a fact that she’s going to shamelessly hold over Seulgi’s head for as long as she can. “And before you ask, I’ve got raw mangas to thank for.”

Seulgi swallows thickly. She’s not really sure what she can offer Joy to keep this tiny bit of information to herself, but she’s willing to try and offer anything. “Joy-ah, don’t tell her, please.”

“What’s in it for me?” Joy asks, smirking.

(She has zero plans on telling Irene, but Seulgi doesn’t have to know that.)

“What do you want?”

“A trip to Thailand with Yeri.”

Seulgi sighs, rolling her eyes. “That’s within reason, Sooyoung.”

“Yeah, no. Just please stop calling me that and we’re even,” Joy retorts, looking annoyed and like she never wants to hear that name from anyone else ever again.

(Maybe she really doesn’t. Maybe only Yeri gets to call her that. Seulgi will never really know.)

“That, and, you really need to do something about it, unnie.”

“About what?” Seulgi still asks, feigning confusion even though she knows perfectly well what Joy is pertaining to.

“About your hajimete ata tokikara sukidata,” the taller woman answers, clawing at the air as she says the foreign words. “You’re not the only one crazy about her.”

That, that is absolutely something Seulgi doesn’t really want to know about.

.

 

(But maybe it’s what she needs to know about.)

...


 

The glossy piece of paper feels thick and heavy as it rest at the back pocket of Seulgi’s jeans despite it being thin and weightless.

She can’t help but think that it’s her name scribbled under Open Mic Night that’s making it feel like it weighs a ton, as she finally has scraped every inch of herself for every bit of courage she needs to carry out what she plans on doing.

On paper, it’s incredibly easy. She just needs to hand the flyer to Irene, really, and speak the words out. That’s it.

But nothing’s ever been just it when it comes to Irene, not when the enormity of Seulgi’s feelings for her surfaces every time she’s around, threatening to burst at the seams.

And so Seulgi finds herself sitting here at their booth, glancing at the windows from time to time as she waits for Irene with twiddling thumbs and bouncy feet, and a song playing on a loop inside her head: It's time to bring this ship into the shore, and throw away the oars, forever.

Seulgi tries hard not to hiss as her fingertips drum against the smooth surface of the table. The sharp jolt of pain weaves within the lyrics that she’s humming to herself to pass the time, in between I can’t fight this feeling anymore and her puffed breaths.

Last night’s open mic night set ran longer than usual. Seulgi had to fill in for the entire night since the other singer couldn’t make it to her own set. And now, her fingers are paying the price.

(It’s painful enough that Seulgi is seriously thinking if the doubled pay and tips for her back to back sets were worth it at all.)

She honestly easily could’ve skipped the streets today; could’ve opted to just lounge at home and let her fingers and her voice rest.

But such solitude means no Irene, and the question burning inside of her will just grow intensely in the deafening quiet of her home.

And the resounding please say yes will bounce all over her head, unsilenced.

She’d take the pain over that any day.

.

 

She spots Irene not long after, crossing the street and straight to where the cafe is.

Seulgi feels her heart hammer its way out of her chest, but she swallows the nerves. She knows she only really needs a few seconds of courage, so she slides out of her seat before she can even get the chance to lose it.

But when she glances at Irene again, all the air rushes out of her lungs. The music follows it, going out of the room as another woman stops Irene from getting inside the cafe.

She feels dizzy, and nothing makes sense. But from where she’s standing, she can see how Irene smiles at the woman, bowing at her in gratitude as she cradles the beautiful bouquet of flowers the woman hands to her in her arms.

When things come back to focus, she realizes a few things: the cafe is filled with nothing but white noise; Wendy is calling her name and asking her if she’s okay; and there’s something squeezing that thing beneath her chest and taking the air away.

Her heart constricts right on the spot as she watches Irene exhale and the relief floods her face, as if the only thing she’s been waiting for has finally come.

She also sees, for the first time, the other woman’s face, and for a moment she wishes she didn’t. Not when it’s someone who she has to work with every night; someone she genuinely likes because they share the same passion for music that Seulgi has and finds hard to chance upon on most people.

Seulgi has always known she isn’t one of the luckiest, but now she can’t help but wonder if her luck ever existed at all.

.

 

She tries so hard not to be irrational about it, but all she sees is yellow, and all she hears is white noise. There’s no music filtering in and her head is full of static that’s making her feel dizzy.

All she sees is the way Irene smiles at Jennie, in a way that Irene has never directed at her. And so now, there’s this voice screaming inside her head that’s telling her to just walk away.

She stumbles back against Wendy, who thankfully steadies her with both hands.

“Seulgi, are you okay? What happened?”

Seulgi wordlessly grabs her guitar leaning against the booth’s thin frame before scurrying out of the cafe and into the back door.

.

 

Wendy gets her answer from the crumpled flyer Seulgi dumps on the trash, and the huge bouquet of white and purple carnations that Irene drowns behind as she waltzes in inside the cafe.

Though, when Irene asks where Seulgi is, Wendy doesn’t really know what to tell her.

.

 

Seulgi’s admittedly half contemplating skipping her set tonight, though the other half of her—the logical one—is already scolding that part of her brain where Irene, and everything she knows about her, resides.

She’s not even sure if Irene even thinks of her as a friend. They’re acquaintances at best; Seulgi doesn’t even know anything past Irene’s real name and the little bits and pieces Irene (and Wendy) has shared about herself.

Yet, here she is, on the verge of throwing everything out the window just because the girl she’s absolutely crazy about is crazy for someone else.

Seulgi slides down and drops her entire weight against the wall of the closest secluded spot she can find, her head hitting the hard surface with a dull thud.

It feels almost like a movie, where the girl is chased by the person the universe wants her to be with. Their stars have already been aligned, while Seulgi’s that tiny speck of dust desperately trying to get into Irene’s orbit.

.

 

She’s just ten steps away from No Jams, and Seulgi still has some time to decide whether or not to show up at work.

She’s really not sure if she can face Jennie, and smile at her like she didn’t just snatch the very person her heart beats for under her clueless nose.

Yet, she also knows that she has no claim over Irene, because Irene is her own person who is very, very capable of choosing anyone she likes over Seulgi.

Seulgi’s someone she just met, who happens to sing songs that Irene happens to like, and has learned a trick or two to help Irene out.

But it has never really been more than that.

.

 

In the end, she plasters a smile on her face that makes her cheeks hurt. Seulgi heaves a deep breath that swirls around a hollow chest, before picking herself up and lifting her guitar case by its handle.

She casts one last look at the cafe’s direction. There’s absolutely nothing in there. Seulgi doesn’t really know why she has expected anything else.

...


 

It takes one look at her for her boss to say it’s okay to call her set off tonight. But Seulgi’s conscience refuses to let her. The artist within her refuses to back down over a girl that she really has just recently met.

And so here she is, sitting on a high stool at the center of the bar’s raised stage, about to start her second set for the night, and sweating under the colored lights.

She opens it with a crowd favorite, refraining from giving in into the kind of music her heart is currently beating to. She keeps it jovial and upbeat despite feeling the exact opposite. Wallow in misery Wednesday is in a week after all.

For some reason, her rendition of Starving is a sure fire hit with the bar’s patrons, so Seulgi brings her loop pedal to life and begins to record the needed melodies.

There’s a riff and a quick beat, followed by the backing vocals she sings into the mic that’s connected to her trusty loop pedal. The successions coax an applause from the crowd, which Seulgi tries really hard not to shy away from.

But she does hide behind the mic as much as she can as she sings, “You know just what to say, things that scare me.”

Seulgi closes her eyes, dredging up the lines from that space inside her head where she keeps everything about her music, starts feeling the beat as the first chorus hits.

Don’t need no butterflies when you give me the whole damn zoo

Just as Seulgi backs away for an ensuing rift, her eyes catch a familiar grey hoodie in the crowd. It hangs onto the perfect slope of petite shoulders, her small frame simply standing out amidst the sea of bodies swaying and jamming to the song.

She watches as Irene lowers her head shyly, looking at her from under her long lashes; nibbles at her bottom lip before waving a hand at Seulgi in greeting.

For the first time, Seulgi pretends to not see anything, shuffling back to where her mic is. And when she sings You know just how to make my heart beat faster, she lets her eyes roam all over the crowd, on every spot where Irene, or any view of her, is nowhere near.

.

 

(Irene takes it in stride, refusing to drop her head down and just leave with her tail between her legs.

But she’s not going to pretend that it doesn’t sting more than any burn her penchant for cooking has left in her hands.

Because it does. It’s a slap and a burn that Seulgi’s piercing eyes shoot straight to her heart.)

.

 

At the fifteen-minute break that the bar owners, Wheein and Hwasa, insist on Seulgi to take, she all but runs backstage.

But then there’s a guy, and he’s walking up to Irene’s table drunkenly, and he’s making Irene recoil and fold in on herself in a way that Seulgi just can’t ignore. So she hovers around, keeping a watchful eye just in case he pulls anything.

Though Irene drives him away with an uninterested glare, and he leaves the table with a dejected look, cocktail drink still in hand.

Seulgi’s gaze follows his disheartened form. She doesn’t feel an ounce of pity—for what feels like the first time ever; she’s always been told that she’s too nice for her own good—because his rejection means Irene is safe from potential harm, and Seulgi can finally walk away.

So, she does.

.

 

Except, Irene is calling her name. Not Jennie’s or anyone else’s.

And her heart is yearning for the time she can spend with her, and Seulgi wants to be selfish even just for a few minutes.

.

 

“Hey,” she finally says, a good long second of trying to gather every ounce of confidence she can scrape from the pits of her gut—or more like a good long second after she’s made sure that the bile rising up isn’t gonna heave words out she might end up regretting. “I didn’t know you uhm, you go to open mic nights?”

“I don’t,” Irene replies truthfully. “I’m not really into the whole staying out at night thing. But I’ve got to meet someone.”

And it stings, way more than it should despite the affable smile Irene cushions it with. Seulgi tries not to let it show, tries not to let Irene see on her face the way her heart falls out of her chest. “O-oh.”

“I met this really pretty girl who plays every night in this dainty bar.”

Seulgi nods once stiffly, feeling like she’s going to spew chipped pieces of her heart out if she so much as moves an inch, or even breathes.

Of course, Seulgi thinks, heart heavily anchored by the new found truth, Jennie is amazing and beautiful and all kinds of perfect. While Seulgi is just... Seulgi. There’s almost no comparison to be made.

Maybe that’s why Irene hasn’t bothered going inside the cafe at all. Maybe she’s a little busy trying to know more about this pretty girl from the bar.

(She shuts off the niggling thought at the back of her head, the one that screams there’s no way for her to know because she didn’t stick around long enough to find out.)

She and Irene would go well together, and Seulgi is not going to stand in the way of that. Not if it makes Irene smile like this. So she says, “Ah, yeah. D-do you want me to take you to her?”

Irene blinks at the taller girl, lids fluttering in confusion as she asks, “Take me to who?”

“The pretty girl you were talking about,” Seulgi rasps, and then jerks a weakened thumb over her shoulders slumping as each second passes. “She’s backstage. I… I can help you get there. Her set doesn’t start till ten.”

“But you’re—” Irene starts to say. Her brows furrow deeper the longer she looks at Seulgi’s face, and sees the dejection that Seulgi’s fighting from taking over. “Oh.”

“Or I could just call her here, if you want?”

Irene catches her bottom lip in between her teeth, curbing the urge to grin. She shouldn’t even be amused by this because Seulgi honestly looks like she’s one blink away from a complete, total heartbreak. But she’s got it all wrong again, just like how she has been not getting things for the past few months.

Irene reaches forward and takes the hand closest to her, prying open the fingers that Seulgi has unknowingly clenched into a fist. “How about, you sit here and I tell you what I think about her first?”

In any other moment, Seulgi would gladly accept the invitation. Though, she admittedly contemplates it briefly because there’s art in pain, and it breeds creativity as she’s been told by Adele and Sam Smith’s lyrics. Even Taylor Swift.

It could be what she needs, that final push for her to finally finish the demo tape she’s been slaving for for months now.

But Irene is the sunshine she doesn’t want to lose; that taintless, vibrant spot in her life that lets music flow in her veins.

And so Seulgi says no as she slowly pulls her hand back, careful not to hurt Irene in any way. “My break’s about to be over. I’d go get Jennie so you can have some company, okay?”

But before she can leave completely, Irene’s catching her by her wrist and pulling her back. “Oh my God, Seulgi!” There’s a muted panic written all over her face, and her eyes are pleading for Seulgi to not go.

Either that, or the lights are playing tricks on Seulgi again. She’s not even sure anymore.

“It’s you, okay?” Irene half-shouts and half-hisses. “I was talking about you! Jennie is my sister’s girlfriend! They had a really bad fight last night, and my sister is refusing to talk to her so she asked for my help.”

M-mwo?”

Irene’s eyes grow tender at the genuine look of shock that morphs on Seulgi’s face, her cute little eyes opening wide. “It was you. Right from the start.”

Seulgi feels closing up on her—and at just about everything—and then there’s this unnamed thing on her chest again that robs her of air, but in an entirely different way where she doesn’t feel like she’d want to cease to exist.

It’s the exact opposite, because the weight on her chest is very much welcomed; Irene’s hold on her heart.

“Th-that was mean!” She manages to say, though it’s with a huge grin that she can’t help from forming; feels her heart skip a beat the third time when Irene throws her head back and laughs freely.

“I’m sorry! I really thought you knew I was referring to you.”

“It never even cross my mind,” Seulgi confesses. There’s a trace of sadness that Irene hears underneath her tone, which makes her slide her hand against Seulgi’s and lace their fingers together. “I’ve always thought you were just really nice.”

“Oh, Seul,” the smaller woman says, gives Seulgi’s hand a warm yet tight squeeze. She’s got a slew of words—a whole dictionary of the things she likes about Seulgi—but she settles with, “You’re wondrous. The kindest heart I know. How could I not like you?”

.

 

Seulgi really isn’t lying about her break being almost over. She does have another set to fill, so despite not wanting to be away from Irene (they have so much to talk about), she peels herself off and makes her way back to the stage.

She fishes her ukulele from its case, an instrument she only ever breaks out in special stages. But after what just happened, Seulgi feels the music thrumming in her veins again, and Irene’s tune beating all over her chest.

“Hi everyone,” Seulgi greets the crowd as she leans in into the mic, chuckling at the curious oooh they make as she cradles the ukulele between her arm and her chest. “Before I start my second set, I would just like to say that months ago, I met the prettiest girl while singing on the street. And this girl has been the music within me for the past few months. And she’s here right now, and I’m trying to impress the hell out of her so you can’t tell me this next song is cheesy, okay?”

Laughter reverberates inside the bar, soon mixed with whistles as Seulgi starts strumming the four strings. And then, she sings.

Wise men say, only fools rush in.

.

 

“You know, I’ve been thinking about this one song for a while,” Irene says as she and Seulgi walk out of the bar, hand in hand.

She stops near the lamp post, tugging at Seulgi who whirls around at once to face her. “What song?”

Irene lets her gaze fall on the lapel of Seulgi’s coat, nimble fingers smoothing out non-existent creases. “I don’t remember the title, exactly. But I’m pretty sure it was about bearded barleys and milky twilights.”

Seulgi hums, running the familiar lines inside her head. It barely takes her a second to figure the song out. “Oh, I know that! It’s Kiss Me, Hyun-ah.”

And she even sings a small part of its chorus for good measure. “Kiss me, beneath the milky twilight. Lead me, out of the moonlit floor.

Irene bites at her bottom lip, eyes growing soft and tender as she watches Seulgi’s head sway a little to the beat.

“That’s it, right? The song you were thinking about?”

And really, she doesn’t know anything else to say so she leans up on her toes, cups both of Seulgi’s cheeks and captures Seulgi’s lips into a kiss.

Seulgi’s surprised at first, but it doesn’t last. Not when her veins thrum to life and her blood sings beneath her skin. Her hands move on their own, arms circling around Irene’s waist and meeting behind the small of her back.

She tugs her closer, pressing a kiss that lingers and reeks of a brand new beginning: of dawns they’d be spending inside No Jams’ kitchen and afternoons in the streets; of open mic nights, and ten years from now, and we’ve both finally made it, you’d still be who my songs are about.

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gatesoon
#1
Chapter 1: i love this!!!
infp23
#2
Chapter 1: Hahahaha seulgi you clueless bear 😂
1609Andrea
2067 streak #3
Happy seulrene day!
youshouldtellme
#4
Chapter 1: This is so well written! I love it so much. You can follow Seulgi through her baby steps and it's so beautiful. I will surely re-read this one whenever I'm feeling down. Thank you so much for writing this! And congrats on the feature, well deserved!
reveluv316 795 streak #5
congrats on the feature
lovesickame #6
😍
_rtempest
1041 streak #7
Congratsss!
IceQueenChogiwa
1096 streak #8
Congrats on the feature!
Apcxjsv
#9
Chapter 1: So cute, I love them💗💛