“In hindsight, I should have known better than to trust you with cupcakes.”
Seungwan sighed dramatically. With arms crossed in front of her chest and lips pursed, she managed to look about as intimidating as a curled up hamster.
Seulgi put on her best smile and attempted to drape her arm around her best friend’s shoulders. “I’m sorry. But it’s also your fault for making such irresistible cupcakes.”
“No, Seulgi, you’re not gonna eye-smile your way out of this one.” Seungwan pushed her off, eyes straight ahead. “Did you at least compliment her hair like I told you to? Or offer her wet tissues after she ate the ramyeon?”
“I guess I forgot to.”
“Damn it, Seulgi! Girls love it when you compliment their hair.”
“Your hair looks great today-“
An elbow dug painfully into Seulgi’s ribcage, cutting her sentence off. Sitting next to Seungwan instead of in front of her was really Seulgi’s downfall today, since she couldn’t use her smile as a defensive measure.
“Shut up, Seulgi. I have a girlfriend.”
“I know. Sejeong is cool. She isn’t the jealous type.”
“You know why I have a cool girlfriend? Because I bake her cupcakes and give her all my wet tissues and compliment her hair! Why can’t you do these simple things? I even baked the cupcakes for you and you just ate them.”
Seulgi couldn’t help a frown. She didn’t know Seungwan was so serious about this, but perhaps she should have, considering she’d created a PowerPoint presentation and all.
“. I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I was just hungry.”
“I’m not… upset.” Seungwan’s irritation deflated instantly. She looked almost relieved, as if appearing angry was taking too much of her energy. “It’s just I know you really like Joohyun unnie, and this semester is pretty much your last chance. I just want to see you happy. That’s all.”
“Well, I am happy about improving in chemistry. Look, I know the reactivity series by heart now.”
Joy settled down at their lunch table then, just as Seulgi started to recall the mnemonic.
“Powerful Ninjas Can Manage All Hateful Crimes Anywhere!”
Joy blinked at the two older girls for a moment. Then, she wordlessly picked up her lunch tray and stood up. Seungwan just laughed at the action, while Seulgi grabbed Joy’s arm and coaxed her into sitting down again.
“Do I even want to know what you losers were talking about?” Joy asked, starting on her salad.
“Kang Seulgi ate all my cupcakes and did not make any progress with Joohyun unnie.”
“That sounds like a summary of the last three years of Seulgi unnie’s life.”
Joy shrugged and stole a piece of chicken from Seulgi’s tray. “Maybe you’re too awkward to pull off Seungwan unnie’s tricks. She’s a special kind of greasy.”
“I feared as much. Fortunately, I’ve prepared for this scenario.” Seungwan leaned forward on the table, her fingers laced together conspiringly. “That’s why I invited you and Yeri to the presentation. Maybe you could show her some of your tricks, Joy.”
“Yeah, I heard you were the one to make the first move. How did you get Yeri to be your girlfriend?” Seulgi tilted her head in wonder.
“Oh, I made the first move all right.” Joy smirked. “Yerim had zero chance of resisting. I mean, it’d be easier if you looked like me, but…”
Joy glanced Seulgi up and down.
“We’ll have to make do, I guess.”
Seulgi didn’t consider herself booksmart, and her chemistry grades so far agreed with this assessment. But she thought her intuition was pretty good. She could feel it in her stomach sometimes if something bad was about to happen, like a few hours before a heavy shower, or that time when Yeri randomly offered her a “chocolate chip” cookie.
She recognised that uneasy feeling in her stomach now as Joy pushed her into the café. A chemistry quiz was scheduled the next week, and Joohyun had been too busy with school, ballet, and students’ council stuff this week to tutor Seulgi. They had settled for a Saturday session and agreed to meet at a café near Joohyun’s house, since the school wasn’t open on the weekend.
Stumbling over the threshold of the shop, Seulgi immediately spotted Joohyun sitting at a corner, flipping through a heavily bookmarked textbook with delicate fingers.
Seulgi backtracked out of the café.
“Joy, are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Of course! It’s my idea. Now, go in, and do just as we’ve rehearsed. I’ll be back in an hour and a half. Bye!”
A normal person would have just waved goodbye, but Joy decided she had to push Seulgi again for good measure, and again Seulgi stumbled through the door. This time, Joohyun saw it and unsuccessfully tried to hide her giggle.
“There was something at the doorstep…” Seulgi attempted to explain away her embarrassment when she’d reached the table.
“Right. You seem to have a lot of trouble with invisible obstacles.”
It took a few seconds for Seulgi’s brain to register the full weight of those words. Halfway through taking her notebook out of her bag, Seulgi froze.
“You… you’ve seen the video?”
“Yes. I’ve come across it once or twice.” Joohyun nodded, then gave a lopsided smirk. “And maybe replayed it twenty times.”
Seulgi dropped forehead on the table and groaned like an anguished bear caught in a trap. She could hear Joy and Yeri laughing at her misery, even though they weren’t there.
“I can’t believe this is my legacy,” she mumbled in a muffled voice, her nose squished against the table, “Years from now, I’m gonna be at my first job interview and introduce myself as Kang Seulgi, and my potential employer would gasp, ‘Hurdler Seulgi is that you?’-”
“Seulgi stop-“ Joohyun was almost out of breath with laughter.
“-and when I lay down and die finally, instead of a meaningful quote my headstone will just have a carving of a stickman jumping over a hurdle drawn in dotted lines.”
“Oh, you drama queen.” Seulgi felt a hand gently patting the top of her head. It was their forth study session now, and Joohyun had apparently become comfortable enough to show her touchy side. “It was cute, all right? And years from now, it’ll become a precious memory for you and all your friends. I know I’ll remember it. When I leave this school.”
Seulgi lifted her head slightly to look at Joohyun, the senior’s hand still on her hair. It wasn’t good for Seulgi’s heart, the way Joohyun was smiling softly down at her, nostalgia gracing her eyes, the early afternoon light slanting in through the window and skirting over her perfect facial features. Seulgi wondered, not for the first time, where Joohyun was hiding her white feather wings.
Joohyun retrieved her hand then and resumed the session like the professional tutor she was. Seulgi did her best to focus on chemical equations and not dwell on the feeling of Joohyun’s warm hand on her hair and definitely not on whether Joohyun knew she was the reason why Hurdler Seulgi’s brain had short circuited that day.
Over an hour later, Seulgi had almost forgotten about her scheme with Joy when she heard a familiar voice saying her name in an unfamiliar sweet tone.
Both Seulgi and Joohyun looked up and found themselves staring. One thing for sure: Joy was not holding back. Her pale shoulders radiated next to the straps of a black silk tank top, while her legs went for miles below a tight black skirt patterned with red stars. She even bothered to put on cute flats and makeup that made her lips look plump and kissable.
Seulgi was a second a way from breaking into a smile and paying Joy a compliment when she remembered their script. She leaned back in her seat, crossed her arms, and fixed her face into as cold an expression as she could manage.
“What do you want?” She asked curtly, as if already tired of Joy’s presence after two seconds. Across from her, Joohyun raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment.
“Oh, I just wanted to see you, unnie.” Joy tucked a strand of hair behind her ear shyly. “And I was wondering if… well… okay, haha, I’ll just say it… I was hoping you would take me to the park near the school tomorrow. They’ve just renovated it, it’s really nice, and there’ll be lots of cute dogs running around.”
Seulgi held up a hand to interrupt Joy, as written in the script. “Listen. The short answer is no. The long answer is I’m really, absolutely not interested. You have your own hands you can go to the mall yourself. I-I mean, the park. And you have your own legs, not hands. I mean sure you have hands, too, but you can’t use them to walk to-”
“I see,” Joy cut Seulgi off before she could mangle her line any more than she already had. She sounded all choked up when she spoke next, “You really hate me, don’t you? Okay, I won’t bother you anymore. I hope... you are happy, unnie.”
With that, Joy exited the scene. According to her script, Seulgi was supposed to roll her eyes in exasperation, and then turn to Joohyun with the sweetest eyesmile she could manage. Joy had said when they’d been planning that the sudden switch in attitude, the blatant contrast between Seulgi’s reaction to Joy and that to Joohyun was the key point of the trick.
“We’re all a little selfish when it comes to romantic love, unnie,” Joy had disclosed earlier, “You gotta make her feel like the only girl in the world, even though there’s another, intelligent, funny, unbelievably y girl right there next to you.”
But instead of sticking to the script, or saying anything at all, Seulgi stared out of the window at Joy’s retreating form. Joy had read all of lines perfectly, but her quivering lip at the end… And Seulgi thought she saw tear welling up in her eyes when Seulgi had said those mean things to her. Was that part of the act, too?
Joohyun cleared and brought her attention back to the lesson. However, not even a full minute had passed when Seulgi’s mind drifted back to Joy’s pained expression. The thought that Seulgi might have gone too far and hurt her feelings made her physically ill.
“I’m sorry, sunbae-nim. I need to go. I can’t stand…” Seulgi spluttered, standing up, her mind all over the place, “I’m sorry. Can we continue another time?”
“Okay.” Joohyun nodded, uncertain as she watched Seulgi haphazardly grabbing stuff from the table. In the end, she’d forgotten her coffee and half of her notes, as well as accidentally taken Joohyun’s textbook, but she didn’t seem to notice in her hurry to get out of the shop.
Seulgi’s sprinting skills came in handy and she soon managed to catch up with Joy a block away from the café.
“Joy!” Seulgi yelled loudly.
The taller girl jumped, her hands high up in the air as if she’d been shot in the back. She turned around, and her burning glare found Seulgi instantly.
“The heck? What are you doing? Where’s Joohyun sunbae-nim?”
“I’m not sure.” Seulgi paused a beat to catch her breath. “I left her at the café a moment ago.”
“I wanted to see if you’re okay.”
Joy looked genuinely dumbfounded. “Huh? Why wouldn’t I be okay?”
“Well, you seemed really upset just now.”
“Uh, duh? That was my role? It’s called acting, dummy.”
Seulgi breathed a sigh of relief. “Yeah, I guess that was probably it, but I couldn’t be sure. I mean, I was saying some pretty harsh things, so… What are you doing?”
Joy had her clenched fist suspended in the air and her face was scrunched up, as though dealing with Seulgi’s obliviousness was becoming a physical struggle.
“I’m deciding whether to hug you or punch you.”
In the end, Joy, being Joy, did both, one after another in that sequence.
“Ow! Don’t you know how to playfully punch?”
“You deserved that. For screwing up my beautifully staged skit. Joohyun sunbae-nim is an idiot if she likes a loser like you,” Joy sounded disgusted one moment, but incomprehensibly tender the next, shaking her head at Seulgi with a soft smile, “But she’s also an idiot if she doesn’t.”
Joy excused herself after that cryptic statement to go attend to some shenanigans with Yeri. Wiping sweat from her brow, Seulgi turned around and made for the nearby bus stop, ready to head home. What a day.
She stopped in her tracks when she saw Joohyun step out from behind the bus shelter.
“Sunbae-nim? Why are you here?”
“I was curious.” Joohyun shrugged. “You weren’t behaving like yourself back at the café, so I followed you to see what happens.”
“Did you hear everything?” Seulgi felt her ears getting warm, but Joohyun shook her head.
“I couldn’t hear anything from where I was standing. I did see her punch you. She also hugged you, though, so I guess all is forgiven?”
“Yeah. Thankfully. I’m sorry for ditching you. And I’m sorry you had to witness all that. I was being really rude, to both of you.”
“Yes, you were.”
Seulgi hung her head low. Her hopes of being the object of Joohyun’s affection had only been dwindling today. First, the resuscitation of Hurdler Seulgi, and now this. She just hoped, in time, Joohyun would find it in her to give Seulgi another chance to prove that she was a decent human being and maybe they could be friends someday…
“I admire you, Seulgi.”
Seulgi’s head snapped up. She was sure she looked ridiculous with huge round eyes staring at Joohyun. She must have misheard, if not for the fact that Joohyun always enunciated her words so clearly it was nearly impossible to.
“You admire me? You admire me?”
“I do. I don’t know what exactly happened between you two, but I know it’s not easy to admit you’re wrong and apologise for it. It takes a certain kind of bravery. I often find myself struggling with that,” Joohyun confessed. Seulgi could see a story flashing in Joohyun’s eyes, but the older girl seemed to decide against telling it in the end, and the memory faded from vivid brown orbs.
“Mind walking me home?” Joohyun said instead.
Seulgi’s heart was light on their journey back. The anxiety she’d been carrying around about participating in Joy’s skit had finally dissipated. It was a beautiful day, meant to be spent outside walking below lush spring foliage, and that was exactly what they did. The small talk flowed easily, like a stream over a bed of rocks. Joohyun told Seulgi all about the political science programme she wanted to get into next year and complained about not having had the time to sit down and watch a movie since the start of her hectic senior year. Seulgi rambled on about the weird indie bands that Seungwan got her into and whined about her calves constantly burning because of track-and-field training. At some point, Seulgi wondered if she was trying too hard to get close to Joohyun when bantering with her could be this simple, as effortless as breathing.
Seulgi was in the middle of explaining a bad drama that she’d been binge-watching only because the actresses were hot when Joohyun suddenly stopped walking. Seulgi glanced at her curiously, only to find the older girl staring at her own feet, looking conflicted.
“Is something the matter?”
“Err… You know what, I think I’ll go on my own from here. Thanks for accompanying me.”
“You said your house was two blocks away, right? We’re only halfway there.”
“Yeah but it’s fine. I’ll take it from here.”
“If you wish.” Seulgi frowned. “Is it because I said something wrong?”
“No no!” Joohyun shook her head vigorously. “It’s just… you’ll laugh if I tell you.”
“I promise I’ll try not to.”
It turned out, as Joohyun bashfully explained, she’d been playing a game with herself on their way back, a version of ‘The floor is lava’ where she could only step within the single line of yellow tiles that ran in the middle of the pavement. The problem was they’d reached a junction, and Joohyun was trying to figure out how to cross the road without falling into the lava and dying.
To Seulgi’s credit, she managed not to laugh out loud. She couldn’t help a huge smile, though, watching the supposedly proper, serious students’ councillor/top student being unable to get home because of a childish challenge she made to herself. Seulgi did the only thing she could think of to do. She bent next to Joohyun, hands on her knees.
Joohyun’s eyes widened as she realised what Seulgi was suggesting. “What? I can’t.”
“That’s just too weird.”
“I’m not sure if you’re in a position to judge what’s too weird, sunbae-nim.” Seulgin grinned cheekily.
It took a little more convincing before Joohyun relented and climbed onto Seulgi’s back. Regardless of how books and movies liked to romanticise girls as being as light as feather, Joohyun was as heavy as a normal, albeit petite, young woman. Seulgi had her athletic experience to thank for being able to steadily carry Joohyun. Around the pair, passers-by were sending questioning looks their way. It didn’t help that Seulgi started making neighing sounds. The vibrations from Joohyun’s laughter pulsed all the way into Seulgi’s chest.
Joohyun was warm, soft, and smelled wonderful as she hugged Seulgi from behind. The younger girl was smiling ear-to-ear and didn’t want to let go, even though they’d successfully crossed the road and even though she was sweating profusely from the effort of moving their combined weight. She didn’t let go even when Joohyun started to hit her shoulders playfully to ask to be put down, the senior’s hysterical laughter quickly becoming one of Seulgi’s favourite sounds.
Up the street, a woman with a watering can in hand gazed at the girls from her balcony. She chuckled fondly at the sight.
“Dear,” she called for her husband, who was in the next room, “Come and see. Looks like Joohyun is getting a ride home from a schoolmate again.”
A man walked out into the balcony, a slight scowl on his face.
“Just how many admirers does she have?” He paused when he saw the unusual nature of Joohyun’s ride this time. “Oh. You know what?”
“Maybe I’ll actually approve of this one. Just maybe.”
A/N: Thanks so much for reading and for the warm response! I'm having a great time here in the fandom, and I hope this update made you smile a little :)