You're like a party somebody threw me

Never mind your bleeding heart

The first time Seungwan saw Joohyun, she’d just turned 13 and the older girl was 14, a few weeks away from her birthday.

She’d accompanied Seulgi and her parents to the train station, lured by the promise of an ice cream from the station’s ice cream parlour, a rare treat that she couldn’t pass up. The train arrived as all four of them stood on the platform, the two young girls their cones happily in spite of the cold weather and so pleased with the sweets that they could only pay a fraction of their attention to the thought of the older girl who would be living with Seulgi’s family while she attended high school.

And then she stepped down from the train carriage, right in front of them, and it was like the world had tilted on its axis. Seungwan stood by, mouth agape and ice cream forgotten as the girl bowed and introduced herself, reddening unmistakeably at her own southern dialect. Seulgi’s parents received her with warm smiles, dispensing all formalities and drawing her into a hug, and still Seungwan could only stare, ears fuzzy and filled with static as the ice cream melted and dripped over her hands.

They walked back to the car, the older girl ahead with Seulgi’s parents and Seungwan lagging behind with Seulgi. She leaned closer to her friend, absently patting her sticky hand with a napkin. “What was her name, again?”, she asked in her best attempt at nonchalance, ignoring the way her heart beat erratically. Seulgi looked at her strangely, so she scrambled for an excuse. “Her voice is so low, I couldn’t hear”

This earned her a chuckle, which probably meant she was off the hook. “Yeah, I think she’s a little embarrassed. Whenever we visited her in Daegu she was much louder”, she commented thoughtfully, and Seungwan greedily took in every word, even if Seulgi seemed to have forgotten the original question.

“And… her name?”, she requested again, trying hard to give her usual exasperated smile at Seulgi’s oblivious nature when the smile that was really growing inside her was one of pure awe and a strange sort of happiness she’d never felt before.

“Oh. Right”, Seulgi replied sheepishly. “That’s Joohyun-unnie. She’s really cool, I think you’ll like her”, she added. Seungwan nodded and returned her attention to her ice cream in order to finish it before they got in Mr. Kang’s car.

Inside, Seulgi sat in the middle, with Joohyun to her right and Seungwan to her left. Seungwan spent the entire ride in thoughtful silence, looking out of the window and considering the way everything seemed to have changed.

Joohyun. That was her name. It was as pretty as her. And she was just so pretty. She had the face of an angel, perfect and warm and bright. When she gave one of her small smiles, it lit up her features so that she looked truly divine, otherworldly. Even her voice was beautiful, her tones soft and measured, her laughter the most harmonious melody.

That car ride was all it took. By the time she stepped into Seulgi’s home, sticky hands uselessly dangling by her side as Mr. Kang helped Joohyun with her bags, she knew she was deeply and unshakeably in love.

She sat on the sofa as the couple ushered Joohyun upstairs to show her her room. She tapped her fingers against her thighs as her mind reeled. She was in love. The thought made her giddy, brought a dumb smile to her face. She couldn’t help her overwhelming happiness, the way every colour seemed a little brighter and every sound a little clearer. Suddenly, the world was filled with beauty, and it was all because of Joohyun. She was in everything around Seungwan, the very fabric of the universe. She was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to her. Falling in love was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to Seungwan.

(…)

Nobody knew. She was well aware of how people would react if she told them. She was a girl, in love with a girl. People wouldn’t like it, or even worse, they wouldn’t believe it. So she kept it to herself, her well-kept secret.

It wasn’t a shameful secret. It didn’t pain her to keep it to herself. In truth, it just felt like she’d found something that was all her own, a precious little gem that nobody else would ever see or covet. At night, she’d go to sleep lulled by memories of every little gesture, every word Joohyun spoke to her, and it felt special to know that these thoughts were all hers.

There was only one person she wanted to tell. So, on their next sleepover, she waited until Seulgi had turned off the lights before whispering into the dark room. “Seulgi? Can I tell you a secret?”

“Of course, Wannie”, was the immediate response, tinged in equal parts by curiosity and concern. “what is it?”, her friend added, after a pause where Seungwan wanted to say something but felt the words stick to unexpectedly.

“I…”, she finally managed to say, hands fidgeting with the bedsheets as she stared hard at the dark ceiling. “I like Joohyun-ssi”, she whispered at last. The words escaped her like air out of a deflating balloon, rushing out and leaving a sort of dizziness behind. She felt strangely nervous as she awaited Seulgi’s response.

“Well, yeah”, she said after a moment, sounding a little confused at the confession. “I like her too, she’s super nice and –“

“No, I don’t mean like that”, Seungwan clarified, her nerves only growing even as giddiness grew inside her in equal measures. “I mean I like-like her. I think she’s the prettiest person I’ve ever seen”

“Me too!”, Seulgi replied with enthusiasm, a heavy rustling suggesting that she was turning to face Seungwan in the near-darkness. “The first time I saw her, I couldn’t believe how pretty she was!”

Seungwan sighed at her friend’s obliviousness, a little embarrassed at having to spell it out so clearly. “Seulgi, I like her like you’re supposed to like boys”, she mumbled self-consciously. She didn’t like the way it made it sound like liking Joohyun was somehow worse than liking boys.

“Oh”, Seulgi replied, dragging out the syllable as Seungwan’s words slowly sank in. “So does that mean you like girls and not boys?”, she asked curiously.

“I don’t know”, she answered truthfully. “I just know I like Joohyun-ssi”, she added with a shrug that Seulgi couldn’t see. In the darkness, there was no need to hide the smile that had spread itself across her face, her lips tugged up irresistibly at the thought of her feelings for Joohyun.

“I never liked anyone”, Seulgi mused, the bed creaking as she got up and joined Seungwan under her covers. “What is it like?” Her voice was even lower now that they were so close together, the way they always ended up when they intended to talk for hours and didn’t want to wake up their parents. Seungwan’s smile grew even wider as relief spread through her, only then realizing how worried she’d been about Seulgi’s reaction.

“It’s like…”, she started hesitantly. “It’s like, whenever I see her, all the breath gets knocked out of me and I can’t stop smiling. It’s like there’s butterflies flying around in my stomach and making me feel all ticklish and jittery and all I can think, all the time, is that I like her so much and she’s so nice and… When she smiles, it’s like a second sun, but way brighter and way warmer and so special because the sun shines down on everyone but only a few people ever get to see that smile” She paused, cutting herself off despite knowing that she could keep talking about it for hours.

“Wow”, Seulgi remarked with awe. “That sounds great. I can’t wait to like someone too” Seungwan sighed happily at her words, the joy inside her seeming to fill every crevice and still overflow.

“I’m so lucky”, she whispered so softly that the words barely carried across the inches that separated their faces. “I’m so lucky that she’s right here and I get to see her whenever I want”

(…)

Spring arrived, and with it the flowers that filled every tree and bush with colour. Seungwan loved walking to and from school, breathing in deeply to capture all the scents that spread through the streets. Seulgi, just as pleased by the sights and smells, was happy to follow along as she picked absurdly long routes on their way home, stretching out the walk as much as possible.

They skipped more than walked, ignoring the looks they received from tired men and women in suits, shuffling elderly folks and women struggling with shopping backs as they pushed baby strollers down the street. They turned the corner into a road lined by cherry blossom trees, the sidewalks tinged a light pink by the carpet of flowers that had fallen on them.

Without having to share a word, they linked arms and raced down the road, giggling as their footsteps disturbed the peaceful array of flowers and sent flecks of white and pink fluttering in the air. Just as they were leaving the shade of the half- trees, Seulgi tugged Seungwan back, crouching down to gather handfuls of the blossoms and quickly springing up to throw them into the air, so that they were surrounded by a shower of petals.

“Let’s only walk on the flower path”, she declared grandly, throwing them both into another giggling fit. As soon as Seungwan had recovered her breath, she leaned down to return the favour, the two engaging in a battle of flowers that ended up with both of them covered in pink from head to toe.

They were only a few blocks away from home, so they hurried back, leaving a trail of cherry blossoms behind them. When they finally burst through the door of Seulgi’s home, they could hear the TV from the living room, letting them know that Joohyun had arrived before them. It was turned off and, in a few steps, the older girl had joined them by the front door.

Joohyun had been around for about two months now, and she’d become a little more relaxed about her speech, the Daegu dialect a little faded as she grew closer to a Seoul accent every day. In spite of this, she remained soft-spoken and her words were spare, so that every single one was engraved in Seungwan’s mind in perfect relief.

She never stopped being stunned at the sight of the older girl, heart racing every time Joohyun entered the room, so that she hadn’t yet managed to say a single thing to her. This time, as usual, she froze in place and watched as Joohyun approached, remaining still even as Seulgi bent down to remove her shoes.

“There you are, you took your time today”, Joohyun called out as she entered the corridor, but her friendly chastising died down as she took a good look at them. With bright eyes that seemed to sparkle with youthful energy, she stepped even closer to the pair and reached out for Seungwan’s cheek, causing her to clench her fists tightly and watch the approaching hand with held breath.

The hand disappeared in her hair and returned holding a small pink bud, which Joohyun examined happily. “Oh, you went walking under the cherry blossom trees”, she remarked with a dreamy voice. “You two certainly are a romantic pair”, she added with a wink that nearly stopped Seungwan’s heart.

As Seulgi straightened up, shoes neatly put away, Seungwan finally remembered that she should do the same, and she avoided Joohyun’s unnerving gaze in favour of untying her shoelaces.

“What about you, unnie?”, she heard Seulgi say from her side. “Will you be walking there with your boyfriend?” Of course she would be, Seungwan thought simply as she slowly undid the knots with hands that were still shaking from her proximity to Joohyun. The older girl was beautiful and perfect in every way, all the boys would surely be throwing themselves at her feet.

“Oh, I don’t have time for boyfriends”, Joohyun replied with a chuckle. Seungwan’s hands froze on the laces for a second, confusion hitting her at full speed, but she quickly caught herself and resumed her actions as naturally as possible. Even as she stared at the tips of her shoes, fireworks erupted in her chest, the source of such blistering happiness hard to divine.

Before she could think it through, she was shoeless and standing alone with Joohyun, Seulgi already disappearing into the living room. She stepped forward to follow her, her nerves instantly multiplying tenfold without the soothing presence of her best friend, but she was stopped by Joohyun’s direct command.

“Wait”, she ordered in her sweet, gently voice. Seungwan immediately stopped and looked up at her with wide eyes, heart beating so loudly that she was sure the older girl could hear it. “You still have some flowers in your hair. Let me fix it before you go in or they’ll get all over the floor”

Without pause, Joohyun’s hands returned to her hair, brushing through stray strands as she collected the blossoms to throw away. Seungwan desperately wanted to say something, but she felt so dizzy that she feared she’d fall over right there in the entrance hall.

“S-sorry, Joohyun-ssi”, she managed to stutter out, her heart beating so hard that she could barely breathe. Joohyun stopped her actions and leaned backwards slightly, studying her with a pleased expression, and only then did Seungwan realize it was the first thing she’d ever said to her.

She was sure the older girl would make the usual teasing comment about how it turned out Seungwan could talk after all, but all she did was smile gently. “You can call me unnie”, she said warmly, returning to the careful cleaning of Seungwan’s hair.

She felt her cheeks grow impossibly warm and she took a deep breath, the smell of Joohyun’s shampoo flooding her senses and managing to calm her down slightly.

How could it be that Joohyun wasn’t just physically perfect and appealing to every sense, from sight to sound to smell, but also wonderfully sweet and kind? That her touch was so gentle, her eyes so caring, her smile so warm? She truly was an angel, inside and out. Somehow, as impossible as it seemed, Seungwan felt herself falling further, falling so deeply and so quickly that it was a wonder how she remained upright, standing there right in front of Joohyun.

(…)

It wasn’t like she thought she had a chance with Joohyun. Not even her dreams dared to go that far, let alone her hopes. Joohyun was older and so pretty, and in the few months she’d spent at high school she’d already made many friends and gained dozens of admirers, even if she claimed not to have time for a boyfriend.

Seungwan knew she was just a kid and that Joohyun would never even look at her that way. But she truly didn’t mind. She couldn’t even imagine anything beyond admiring the older girl. They were in completely different planes of existence, Seungwan in the boring and mundane and Joohyun in the ethereal and perfect.

Humans wouldn’t think of being with angels, just like Seungwan wouldn’t think of being with Joohyun. She was the moon, pale and weak, coming out as the sun that was Joohyun began to settle over the horizon and treasuring those few seconds of togetherness.

She treasured every second, and she made sure she had as many of those as she could. She spent nearly every afternoon at Seulgi’s home, only leaving for dinner, and sometimes not even then. Now that she’d gotten accustomed to her new classmates, Joohyun would often stay at school or go out with friends, but every once in a while, she’d step through the front door, the unexpectedness of it only adding to the pure pleasure of the event.

Today was one of those occasions, and Joohyun joined them in the living room a few hours before dinnertime, dropping into the empty armchair by the sofa where Seulgi and Seungwan sat. She was in her school uniform, still carrying the purple backpack she’d recently purchased, and there was a calm smile on her face that made Seungwan’s heart flutter like it had turned into a flock of doves when she wasn’t looking.

“Hello, Seulgi-yah, Seungwan-ah. What are you two up to?”, she asked with the detached interest of a high-schooler addressing the kids that Seungwan was well aware they must look like in her eyes.

“Just watching TV”, Seulgi said casually, already used to taking over for Seungwan while she struggled for the most basic of words in Joohyun’s presence. “Do you have a lot of homework, unnie?”

“Don’t even remind me”, Joohyun said with a chuckle, throwing a dark glance at her backpack before her features cleared again. “Did you two finish yours already?” No answer was required when Seulgi’s face immediately scrunched up with guilt, but the older girl just laughed. “Oh, well, I suppose I can cut you a little slack since it’s a Friday”

She settled more comfortably into the chair, checking her phone briefly before stuffing it back into her pocket. Seungwan followed every movement with poorly-concealed reverence, her attention so fully focused on Joohyun’s hand that she barely heard her question. “Seungwan-ah, will you be sleeping over?”, she asked pleasantly, her innocent words making Seungwan’s breath catch at the thought that she even cared enough to ask. She was so lucky.

“Oh, I actually can’t tonight”, she said sadly, feeling a sudden urge to apologize. “I have a thing tomorrow morning so I have to sleep at home”, she explained with excessive nodding, biting into the corner of her lips to avoid smiling too hard as Joohyun looked right into her eyes and smiled gently.

“Oh wow”, the older girl said playfully. “Did you hear that, Seulgi-yah? I guess not everyone spends their Saturday mornings sleeping”, she joked, the amusement only lasting a moment before she was suddenly gloomy. “Maybe I should follow your example and actually try to get some work done tomorrow morning”, she mused unhappily.

“Oh, that’s not – I mean, you always wake up before we do whenever I sleep over, unnie”, Seungwan hurried to reply, hoping to cheer up the older girl. Her thoughts felt scrambled by Joohyun’s attention, so that she barely knew what she was saying.

“That’s because you two stay up talking until dawn and only wake up at lunchtime”, Joohyun replied with a chuckle, checking her phone again and smiling at whatever was on the screen. Seungwan only reddened at her words, not sure whether she should apologize for any noise they’d made, but the older girl was already back on her feet and leaning down to pick up her backpack.

“I’ll go get started on that homework, I guess. Have fun at your thing tomorrow, Seungwan-ah”, she said pleasantly before turning around and heading for the staircase. Seungwan followed her with her eyes, only turning back to Seulgi when her figure disappeared up the stairs.

“Do you think that went okay?”, she immediately asked in a hushed voice.

“I think so, yeah”, Seulgi said thoughtfully. “But she might have thought it was a little weird that you were holding my hand the whole time”

Seungwan stifled a yelp as she looked down to find their fingers firmly entangled, her grip on Seulgi’s hand so tight that her knuckles had gone white. “I told you to tell me when I do that”, she whined childishly, releasing Seulgi’s hand and sliding down the sofa in embarrassment. “Only kids hold hands”, she sighed out, hoping Joohyun might not have noticed. She didn’t ask Seulgi about that, happy to live in the illusion that she hadn’t.

“That’s not true”, Seulgi riposted uncertainly. “High school girls hold hands too, I see it all the time. I bet Joohyun-unnie holds hands with her friends too”, she added with an encouraging smile that did actually help a little.

Seungwan continued to slide down the sofa until she was mostly sitting on the floor, her neck tilted back until she was staring at the ceiling. “Do you think she thought I was doing something cool tomorrow?”, she asked after a pause.

“I don’t think she thought much about it”, Seulgi replied honestly. “She seemed like she was waiting for a text or something”

Seungwan sighed, agreeing with Seulgi’s assessment. “Actually, it’s not something cool. I’m going to the dentist”, she admitted in a hollow voice. “I think he wants me to get braces”

“Oh”, Seulgi said, her tone communicating just the right amount of pity and horror. “I mean, braces aren’t that bad”, she finally added, though the silent pause made it obvious that they clearly were that bad.

She dragged herself back up the sofa, pulling up her legs so that she sat hugging her knees. “It’ll be fine”, she said stoically, gazing straight ahead. “I just can’t come here until I stop drooling on things. I can’t drool in front of Joohyun”, she concluded with an absent nod. Seulgi reached for her hand, which she easily gave up, and they eventually relaxed back into their original positions.

As Seulgi’s focus returned to the TV, Seungwan let her mind drift, going every word Joohyun had said, every smile she’d generously offered. She closed her eyes for an instant, letting the image come to life behind her eyelids. Who cared about braces when she had Joohyun?

(…)

Braces were terrible. They hurt her cheeks and made her too self-conscious to smile too widely. She couldn’t drink soda or chew gum and little pieces of food kept getting stuck in them. Eating lunch became a stressful activity, doing her best not to drool on her food in front of her classmates, who would surely make fun of her for it. At least Seulgi never abandoned her side, even helping shield her from sight.

And the worst part was that she couldn’t see Joohyun. She just couldn’t step foot in that house until her words stopped coming out rough and lisped, barely comprehensible so that she had to repeat herself three times in class before the teacher understood her answers.

Everybody told her that it was only temporary, that it would get better in no time, but until it did she was forced to wallow alone at home, or with Seulgi when she came over, and dream of all the things that she’d been denied because of those stupid braces.

She sighed into her hand, pencil twirling in her fingers as she tried to bring Joohyun’s face to focus in her mind. In her absence, she did her best to keep the image fresh until it could be renewed. The sheer angelical beauty in every inch of Joohyun’s face filled her with a nostalgic mood at the forced separation. If she couldn’t see her, she’d have to capture her vision in some other way.

That was why she sat alone in her room after dinner, half-scribbled sheets of paper spread over her desk as she tried to think of a word that rhymed with onyx, for Joohyun’s black hair. She wanted to write a poem at least half as beautiful as Joohyun herself, but it felt like there weren’t enough words in the world to express it. Maybe if she knew a fancy, romantic language, like French or Italian, it would be different. But with the vocabulary at her disposal she’d never manage it.

She shifted in her seat, reaching for a blank sheet of paper for another attempt, when there was a knock at her door, following by the sound of the doorknob turning as the intruder entered her room without waiting for permission. She hastily shuffled all the paper into a pile and dropped a notebook on it before turning around to face her visitor.

“What’s my little mouse doing up here that’s so much more interesting than spending time with her unnie?”, her older sister asked from the doorframe, amusement colouring her features.

“Don’t call me that”, Seungwan whined weakly, too flustered by the sudden invasion to muster up the usual irritation at the nickname that her mother had used when she’d been younger. Of course her sister would start using it once she’d left for college, happy to remind Seungwan of how she was still a baby to her.

Seunghee walked further into the room, sitting down on Seungwan’s bed and absently playing with a loose thread from the blanket. “So, mum and dad were telling me I’ve been replaced”, she said lightly, ignoring Seungwan’s protest. “You’ve got a new favourite unnie”, she clarified with a teasing smile as she looked up to face her.

Seungwan reddened, mouth immediately opening in protest, but Seunghee beat her to it. “They say you talk about her all the time, Joohyun-unnie this, Joohyun-unnie that”, she commented with a smirk. Seungwan debated throwing her eraser at her to shut her up. “She must be a better woman than me to deal with a brat like you”

She did throw her eraser then, though her sister avoided it easily. “Of course she’s better than you”, she pointed out immediately, then paused before she could start rambling about Joohyun’s perfection. “You ”, she added instead, although they both knew she didn’t mean it. She just had to say it because they were sisters and she had an image to maintain.

“Aww, my little mouse has a girl crush!”, Seunghee squealed in a delighted voice, jumping up from the bed to wrap her arms around Seungwan. The latter quickly wheeled her chair away from the attack, sparing a panicked glance towards the scraps of poetry that she really hoped her sister wouldn’t notice.

Thankfully, Seunghee was too entertained by her little sister’s embarrassment to pay any attention to the desk. She chased her down until Seungwan was trapped in strong arms, uselessly slapping against them and squirming in place.

“So, tell me everything. How old is this cool unnie?”, Seunghee asked once she’d finally freed Seungwan from her grip. She returned to the bed and patted the empty space by her side, inviting Seungwan to join her, which she reluctantly accepted.

“She’s 15”, Seungwan said simply, unwilling to elaborate when she was sure she’d only be rewarded with more teasing. She scowled at the interrogation, but her sister barely spared her a glance.

“Two years older?”, she scoffed. “That’s barely an unnie! I can’t believe you’d abandon your own flesh and blood over that” She ruffled Seungwan’s hair as she spoke, receiving a frustrated whine in return.

“She’s in high school!”, Seungwan pointed out in a voice so high-pitched from indignation and disbelief that Seunghee grimaced in a dramatic show of pain.

“And I’m in college. College beats high school”, she said with raised eyebrows and another annoying smirk. “But fine, I get it. High school feels like a world away when you’re still a little mouse in middle school”

Seungwan was halfway through an eyeroll when her bedroom door opened yet again, her father’s head poking through. “How is it that I send one daughter up to recover the other and end up with neither?”, he asked with a good-natured smile. Both sisters looked at each other, agreeing in an instant that their conversation would remain between them.

“Wan-ah had a lot of homework to finish, but I’m convincing her to do it tomorrow”, Seunghee said smoothly, ruffling Seungwan’s hair again. It must look like a bird’s nest by this point. “It’s not every day you get to see your busy sister, little mouse”

Her father was quick to agree and, before she knew what had happened, she was sitting in between her parents on the sofa, watching some movie her sister had chosen. For that night, her poetry was forgotten.

(…)

For the first time in Seungwan’s life, she wasn’t looking forward to her summer vacation. It wouldn’t be much more than a month, but instead of feeling like a short glimpse of freedom, it seemed to spread before her endlessly, weeks and weeks without the vaguest hope of seeing Joohyun.

During the school term, it was never guaranteed that she’d cross paths with Joohyun at Seulgi’s home, the older girl increasingly busy with juggling schoolwork and the social life that someone as incredible as her was bound to have. But even then, there was always a chance, no matter how small it might be. A chance that increased when Seungwan stayed over for dinner and grew into a certainty when she spent the night, sure to find Joohyun coming home late at night or lounging around the kitchen early in the morning.

Now, that chance would be hopelessly destroyed, as Joohyun would be spending her summer vacation with her family, back in Daegu, far away from Seungwan. She had never felt so sad, so hopelessly despondent at the future that awaited her.

Seulgi tried her best to cheer her up, reminding her of all the things that they would be able to do in the weeks that they were free from school, and it did help a little, but still the feeling of dread persisted. After months of happiness, to suddenly have it all taken away, the source of the excitement that permanently buzzed through her veins lately, was almost impossible to comprehend.

She sat on Seulgi’s sofa, boneless and limp, arms dropped lifelessly by her sides as her head rested on the back of the sofa, a little tilted to the side. She sighed yet again, a useless attempt to push away the weight that had settled on her chest.

“We can get ice cream every day”, Seulgi rambled excitedly by her side, pausing every now and then to check on her. “Well, not every day, maybe. But every other day, probably, I’ll have to check with my mom” Seungwan’s head tilted further, her body close to flopping over completely and just lying sideways on the sofa, but she hummed to show that she was listening.

“And we can go to the bookstore and check out all their comics”, Seulgi continued, reminding Seungwan of how the boy who worked there during the summer would never bother to chase them off even though they never bought anything. It was nice to be able to go into that air-conditioned place with the comfy pillows in the back and just sit for hours. She sat up a little straighter, earning a brighter smile from Seulgi.

“And my cousin won’t be here, so you can borrow his bike and we can go riding around the city when it’s not too hot”, she carried on, reaching over to loop her arms around one of Seungwan’s and rest her chin on her shoulder, her last resort in cheering her up. Seungwan let the comforting warmth slowly relax her, finally settling back into a more human position with a final sigh.

“We said that last year and then we couldn’t go biking a single day because it was always hot”, she argued without much effort, not really bothered by the possibility of not going on a bike ride. Air-conditioned places were always more appealing anyway.

“Well, now we’re older and our parents will probably let us ride the subway all we want instead of just hanging around our neighbourhood”, her friend insisted, eyes sparkling at the possibility. Seungwan turned to face her, which was a little difficult when she was still perched on her shoulder. “We can go to the mall, or the aquarium, or walk along the river”, she listed with growing excitement. Seungwan smiled at the sight, the weight in her chest almost forgotten.

“Sorry to interrupt”, Joohyun’s voice rang out, tinged with amusement. Seungwan turned to her in a flash, face reddening in embarrassment at how clingy she always was with Seulgi. The exaggerated skinship was something she knew they’d need to tone down when they got to high school, since only kids clung to each other so closely. By the time girls were in high school, only hand-holding and maybe hugging was alright. She didn’t want people to think she was childish and needed her friend like a safety blanket.

“You weren’t interrupting, unnie”, Seulgi said obliviously, shifting away from Seungwan to flash a bright smile at Joohyun. “We were just planning our summer vacations”, she added happily, and Joohyun smiled back, Seulgi’s joy clearly contagious.

“Oh, you must be excited about that”, Joohyun commented casually, not even beginning to suspect how Seungwan felt the exact opposite. Still, she couldn’t deny that a part of her was eager to travel alone on the subway like Seulgi had suggested, free to visit every point in the city without her parents.

“Well, I hate to pull you away from such important plans, Seulgi-yah, but I need your help. Aunt Jiyoung said I could borrow their spare suitcase so I didn’t have to bring the big one, but I’m not sure where they keep it”, she explained, referring to Seulgi’s parents as her aunt and uncle as she always did, despite the absence of blood ties.

Seulgi jumped up to help her, guiding her to her parents’ bedroom while Seungwan remained alone in the living room, wondering if this would be the last time she ever saw Joohyun. She’d been doing it every time she met the older girl lately, even though she was fairly certain that the Kangs would let her accompany Joohyun to the train station.

The last few days of school went by in a flash and suddenly she was sitting in the Kangs’ car, once again staring out the window as Seulgi sat by her side and Joohyun on the opposite end. She felt stupid for feeling the urge to cry, the reaction childishly dramatic, so she bit the inside of her cheek and focused on counting the cars that flew by them on the opposite lane.

A moment later and they’d parked inside the train station, another and they were standing on the platform, watching the digital clock slowly count down the minutes to Joohyun’s train.

And then the train was seconds away and Joohyun already stood with the handle of her suitcase in her hand, looking down the line for any signs of the coming transport until finally it came into view, brakes squealing as it slowed down to a stop, the mechanical voice of the station announcement calling out for any passengers heading to Gwangmyeong.

The Kangs stepped forward to give Joohyun brief hugs, all messages and gifts for her family already taken care of and packed away safely in her suitcase. From the couple, Joohyun turned to Seulgi, who also came closer for her own hug. Seungwan stood by their side, trying with all her might to commit every curve of Joohyun’s face to memory before it would be gone for so long.

She was so focused that she didn’t notice Joohyun approaching until she was right in front of her. She looked up into that beautiful face, breathless at the bright smile that she knew must come from the anticipation of seeing her family again, and nearly choked on a gasp as Joohyun’s arms were suddenly around her, enveloping her in a hug of her own. She hesitantly reached out to return it, touching the older girl’s back lightly, almost reverently, feeling a warmth more comforting than anything she’d ever experienced before.

Hugging Joohyun was as natural as hugging Seulgi, but it was also softer and warmer and infinitely more precious. Absolutely nothing could possibly have the power of cheering her up like that one hug did. In an instant, all her dread melted away, and she was sure that she could go a year without seeing Joohyun as long as she could hold on to the memory of this moment.

She waved at Joohyun as the train sped away, then she followed the Kangs to their car, the warmth of Joohyun’s hug still hanging on her skin, comforting her in the absence of the older girl.

(…)

In the end, the summer didn’t speed by as it usually did, but it also didn’t drag interminably as she’d feared. Seulgi had been right and their parents finally allowed them to travel the city freely, as long as they promised to always answer their phones and be home for lunch and dinner.

In the mornings and the afternoons, however, they were free to explore, starting with taking the subway from one end of the line to the other, then getting out at random stops and running down busy streets, filled with young students enjoying their vacations, bustling shops, confused tourists that held on to oversized maps and even unknown artists and musicians doing impromptu performances.

They found innumerable treasures, from hidden spots in parks where they could sit in the sun for hours without interruptions, to arcades with all their favourite games, and even an ice cream parlour where the owner took a liking to them and sold them everything at half-price.

Each day was so packed with fun activities and hurried running from one spot to another, that Seungwan never quite found the time to miss Joohyun. It was only at night, when she dropped to bed in exhaustion, that thoughts of the older girl sprang to her mind. And then, in those few moments before sleep won her over, she’d think of that hug and a happy smile would spring to her lips, staying there until she was carried away to dreamland.

Week by week, time passed, until she was almost surprised to find that Joohyun would be returning that Friday. From the moment she was informed of Joohyun’s return, however, time suddenly began to move like molasses, so painfully slow that an hour seemed to take an eternity. All at once, every instant of their separation hit her with the full force of the older girl’s absence and she missed her dreadfully, like someone had opened a hole in her chest and pulled out something vital.

Even worse, this time she couldn’t go pick her up at the station because she had another dentist’s appointment. It was only on Saturday that she managed to make her way to Seulgi’s house, shyly ringing the doorbell in the fear and secret hope that Joohyun would answer. To her surprise, that was exactly what happened.

Joohyun seemed taller, or maybe it was just her absence that had shifted her features in Seungwan’s mind. She stood there, pale skin a little less pale and just as beautiful, and slowly a smile grew on her face as she identified the visitor.

“Seungwan-ah? You didn’t come pick me up at the station, I was a little – “, she began teasingly, but was swiftly interrupted by Seungwan springing forwards and capturing her in a clumsy hug, head digging against her shoulder. She started slightly, but soon relaxed and let her arms wrap loosely around the younger girl.

“Did you miss me, then?”, she asked lightly, the amusement in her voice ringing like crystal inside Seungwan’s head. She’d missed her so much, she suddenly realized as she nearly began to cry against the older girl’s shoulder. She nodded, a little embarrassed by her impulsive action and unwilling to pull back and let Joohyun see her flushed face.

They remained in that position, until Joohyun’s hand began to thread softly through Seungwan’s hair. “You’re a cutie, has anyone ever told you that?”, she commented with amused affection, the words bringing a silly smile to Seungwan’s lips. “Now come on, Seulgi-yah must be waiting for you”, she added. Seungwan didn’t have the courage to tell her that it wasn’t Seulgi she’d come to see.

(…)

Three very important things happened that Autumn. The first was on one of the first cold days, when Seungwan walked home arm in arm with Seulgi, seeking a little warmth in her light summer uniform. They took the long way around, the one that Seungwan had discovered passed only a few blocks from the local girls’ high school.

Just as they crossed the street and a stronger gust of wind blew through them, bringing a shiver to Seungwan’s spine, Seulgi stopped in her tracks and pointed excitedly at a nearby convenience store. Seungwan studied it with furrowed brow, wondering if her friend had recognized someone.

“Let’s have ramen!”, Seulgi exclaimed instead, clearly just excited at the thought of the warm food.

“It’s the middle of the afternoon”, Seungwan pointed out doubtfully, squinting at the store’s patrons and finding that most of them were high schoolers, recently freed from classes, probably taking a break before returning for more self-study.

“So? I’m still hungry”, Seulgi replied simply. Seungwan let herself be dragged along, which was always easier than trying to talk a hungry Seulgi out of eating. They entered the store, only slightly embarrassed by the inquisitive glances that the older teenagers sent them, and joined the line for ramen.

Seungwan gazed around the place with poorly-concealed curiosity, studying the older kids, the way they wore their uniforms, taking in every detail of how high-schoolers acted. Most tables were taken up by groups of friends, the majority girls, probably from the nearby school, but also a few boys that must have travelled here from their own school with romance on their mind.

Even more interesting to Seungwan was the minority of tables occupied by couples, a boy and a girl sharing a bowl of ramen or just chatting over ice cream or a soda. She wondered if she’d have this in high school as well, her mind stubbornly conjuring an image of Joohyun sitting with her, smiling in between sips of her drink, twirling her hair like that girl in the corner kept doing.

Her hand, which had been resting on Seulgi’s sleeve to keep her close, suddenly tugged insistently as she realized that she recognized one of the girls eating ramen with a boy. She discreetly pointed Seulgi in the right direction, who gazed first with confusion and then with widened eyes.

“That’s Joohyun-unnie!”, she exclaimed happily, so loud that half the people in the store turned to her. One of them was Joohyun herself, who started in her seat before locking eyes with them and immediately breaking into a wide smile. She beckoned them over, so Seulgi shoved Seungwan in her direction with the excuse that she had to stay behind and order for them.

In a few hesitant steps, she stood in front of the couple, the boy smiling affably and doing his best to conceal his frustration, while Joohyun seemed genuinely happy to see her. After further insistence by the older girl, she ended up taking a seat next to them, twiddling her thumbs as an awkward silence reigned for a few seconds.

“Ah!”, Joohyun interjected when she realized she was responsible for introducing the two strangers. “This is Kim Junmyeon-ssi”, she said, nodding towards the boy in front of her. Seungwan quickly got up to give him a small bow, but he waved her formalities away with a congenial smile. “And this is Son Seungwan-ah”, Joohyun added, and he smiled as he gave her a nod of acknowledgment.

The previous silence returned as Seungwan and Junmyeon gazed at each other awkwardly and Joohyun twisted in her chair to study Seulgi’s process. “Oh, she’s almost done”, she declared cheerfully. “You two can eat with us, then”, she concluded, and Seungwan didn’t miss the way Junmyeon’s pleasant smile faded slightly as a cloud of disappointment passed over his face.

It wasn’t the most comfortable situation, even after Seulgi had returned. She and Joohyun seemed entertained enough, happily chatting away, but Seungwan felt bad about joining their conversation and leaving Junmyeon silently slurping away at his ramen, so she held back and hesitantly asked respectful questions of the older boy, who seemed relieved at her attention.

Eventually, once she’d learned much more about his interests and hobbies than she’d ever been curious to know, they finished their meals. The two girls continued to chat, but she began to tug lightly on Seulgi’s sleeve, trying to get her to leave with her. As usual, Seulgi was oblivious to the situation she was interrupting, so when they finally got to her feet, she eagerly accepted Joohyun’s offer to buy her an ice cream.

“Isn’t it a little cold for ice cream?”, Seungwan asked with exasperation, glancing at Junmyeon with an expression that she hoped was apologetic enough, but Seulgi only shrugged the question away. For her, it was always the right weather for ice cream.

They left and Seungwan sat by Junmyeon’s side. She twiddled her thumbs some more as he pleasantly refrained from just shoving his phone in his face. “So, you two are friends with Joohyun-ssi?”, he asked after a moment.

“Yes, she’s staying at Seulgi-yah’s house while she goes to high school here in Seoul”, Seungwan explained helpfully. They lapsed back into silence, the situation almost painful to endure. Seungwan felt tempted to run after Seulgi and tug her away, but she didn’t want to be rude.

The older boy looked uncomfortable, his mouth hanging half-open despite no sound coming out of it, like he was struggling to pose a question. He tapped on the table and tried yet again before giving up and only throwing a forlorn glance at Joohyun, standing in the corner by the freezer.

Seungwan wondered for a moment if Joohyun seemed as unattainable to him as she was to her. If even handsome older boys grew tongue-tied and sweaty-palmed in her presence. If this boy felt even a fraction of what she felt for Joohyun, then she couldn’t find it in her heart not to try and help him. So she leaned a little closer, letting her eyes remain fixed on Joohyun’s back.

“She likes… flowers”, she said hesitantly, quickly filtering through all the information she’d amassed about the older girl and settling on flowers as the easiest thing to share. It would be harder to explain how she’d seen Joohyun stare out the window with that small smile enough times to know that she must love the way the sky blazed with colour as the sun set. Flowers were simpler to suggest.

Junmyeon nodded with reddening cheeks, eyes a little wide as he turned to her. “Thank you”, he said honestly, the shy smile on his face expressing how eagerly he’d received the information. He squeezed his hands together nervously, then got up as Joohyun returned with Seulgi in tow.

“I should get back to school now”, Joohyun immediately said with a polite smile. “Thank you for the ramen, Junmyeon-ssi, I had a nice time”, she added, not seeming to notice the way her words deepened the red colouring his cheeks. He bowed in goodbye, staying behind as the three girls left the store, Seulgi greedily her ice cream.

Joohyun waved them off, returning to school with her purple backpack in tow. As Seungwan turned away, guiding Seulgi along on their way home, she couldn’t help but wonder how much longer Joohyun would remain without a boyfriend. Junmyeon was nice and good-looking, if a little shy. If he made his intentions a little clearer, she saw no reason why the two wouldn’t get together.

After all, Joohyun couldn’t possibly go her entire high school years without dating. She was beautiful and she could have anyone she wanted. Seungwan tapped on Seulgi’s arm, where both her hands were wrapped to keep her close. Pretty soon Joohyun would be having ramen with her boyfriend, not just her suitor. Seungwan only hoped whoever that was would be good enough for her. Someone who would make her happy.

(…)

The second very important event that happened that Autumn was that Seungwan had her braces removed, after six gruelling months with those torture devices. The first thing she did was chew an entire pack of gum, which did just leave her with a very sore jaw, but she didn’t regret it for a second.

For the next few days, she made sure to smile widely whenever Joohyun was around, until the older girl finally noticed her shiny braceless teeth and congratulated her warmly on her newly-earned freedom, complete with a friendly pat on the back. It almost made the six months of braces worth it.

And finally, there was the third very important event. That one happened in November, when the cold months weren’t too far off and she and Seulgi had already given up on any path home except the one that minimized the time they spent in the cold and wind.

On that particular, very important day, Seungwan walked home alone, having left Seulgi behind to study at the library for a few hours. They had a big test coming up and Seulgi was having some trouble with the subject, so she’d decided to devote some extra hours to it in a place where she wouldn’t be as tempted to drop her books and sit down in front of the TV.

Seungwan would have been happy to stay with her, but the truth was that a cute boy from the class next to theirs was also studying there, and he and Seulgi had exchanged happy waves as soon as they’d locked eyes. Seungwan noticed the way Seulgi’s hand closed tighter around her own, her nervous laughter as the boy got up to greet them with a shy smile.

So she told Seulgi she’d go straight home, if that was okay with her, and left after a polite nod to the boy. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a familiar box of snacks popping out of his backpack, and an exciting thought ran through her mind. It was Pepero Day. Was the boy Seulgi liked going to give her a Pepero stick? She smiled to herself as she left the school, sure that she’d be asking Seulgi for every detail of her afternoon once her friend got home.

She hurried home, hugging herself to ward off the cold as best as she could without Seulgi’s presence to help keep her warm. She was eager to get to her cosy bedroom, maybe curl up under a blanket with some hot chocolate, but still she found herself stopping in the middle of the street, staring at a convenience store.

It wasn’t the one near Joohyun’s school, since the closest route home didn’t come anywhere near it. It was just a random store, filled with people she didn’t know, which she confirmed with a closer look. So why had she stopped?

She finally realized the subconscious train of thought her mind must have followed as she saw a couple leave the store with matching chocolate-covered sticks in their mouths. The idea stunned her with its boldness, but she quickly found herself rationalizing it. Pepero sticks weren’t just offered to your boyfriend or your crush. Friends also exchanged the snacks, so it wasn’t like offering one of the sticks was a declaration of love. It was just a friendly action.

She walked into the store and made her purchase before she could talk herself out of it. Then she began walking home again, this time even faster, and no longer heading to a cosy bedroom. The new plan, which she had just formulated and which she nervously thought over as she walked with quick steps and clenched the box of snacks in her hand, was to visit Seulgi’s home and hope Joohyun would be around.

She probably wouldn’t be. She rarely was, and even if she happened to be home, she’d probably be up in her bedroom, which Seungwan would never dream of entering, especially not for something silly like this.

But if Joohyun was around, and if she was in the living room or the kitchen, and if she wasn’t too busy or on the phone or distracted with something else… Then Seungwan would muster up all the courage she’d ever had and she’d offer her one of the chocolate sticks she’d just bought. As a present from a younger girl to a senior she admired.

The secret knowledge of what it really meant to her, which she would keep to herself at any cost, was enough to make her dizzy with excitement. She nearly skipped the last few blocks to Seulgi’s house, hands growing sweaty despite the cold weather.

She rang the doorbell. She’d wait for a few seconds, maybe try ringing one more time, and if nobody answered then it meant that Joohyun was still at school and she’d go back home and eat her snacks alone.

The door opened and Joohyun appeared with a smile, stepping back at once to let Seungwan through. Her cheeks looked rosy and her nose was a little red, like she’d been in the cold not too long ago. Seungwan walked inside, blessing her luck as she leaned down to take off her shoes. The box of snacks had been shoved in her backpack, where it waited for her to gather her courage.

Joohyun’s face fell as she looked around Seungwan, finally turning to her with concern. “Is everything alright with Seulgi-yah?”, she immediately asked, eyes a little wide with worry. They seemed a bit red as Joohyun came closer to Seungwan. She probably wasn’t sleeping enough.

“Yes, Joohyun-unnie, she stayed at the library to study”, she quickly explained, glad to see how Joohyun relaxed with a short exhale and the previous smile returned to her face. As she began to look a little curious at the separation of the inseparable duo, Seungwan decided that she might as well tell the truth. “Can you keep a secret?”, she asked, somehow feeling as nervous as if the secret was hers.

Joohyun nodded with childish excitement, her smile growing wider. “You can’t talk to Seulgi-yah about it”, Seungwan insisted, and Joohyun nodded solemnly. “The boy she likes is there, so I left them alone”, she confessed in a whisper, like Seulgi could possibly hear her all the way from school. Her words brought a strange change to Joohyun’s face, her smile remaining in place but shifting into one she’d never seen before.

Then the older girl was turning around and heading to the living room. “Good decision. Now all four of us are happy with our company”, she threw playfully over her shoulder, stopping at the doorway and waiting for Seungwan to finish stepping out of her shoes. Her smile was now teasing and Seungwan nearly tripped over her own feet at the sight, as well as Joohyun’s words.

The TV was on when they returned to it, the volume low as it played a foreign movie that Seungwan didn’t recognize. The image was grainy and the colours strange, making her wonder how old it must be.

“I was watching some old romance movie. We can watch something else if you’d like”, Joohyun offered as she returned to her seat on the sofa. Seungwan sat nervously by her side, box of Pepero back in her hands as she awaited the right opportunity. Joohyun usually took the armchair and the unexpected proximity made her palms grow sweaty again.

“No, this is okay”, she said around the knot growing in . “Don’t, um, don’t you have homework?”, she asked stupidly, like she wanted Joohyun to get up and go do homework or something.

“I figured one day off couldn’t hurt”, the older girl replied with a conspiratorial smile, turning to sit sideways on the sofa, her back against the armrest so that she was facing Seungwan. “What’s that in your hand?”

Seungwan had almost forgotten the box that she’d crushed quite heartlessly by now. As she raised it to show Joohyun, it looked like it had spent a week at the bottom at her backpack. That was probably good, though. It would be harder to explain why she’d come to visit Joohyun with a brand-new box of Pepero on this particular day.

Joohyun chuckled at the sight, but it didn’t look like she was going to make any comments, so Seungwan took a deep breath, as casually as she possibly could, and began to open the box. “Do you want one?”, she asked in a strangled voice, hoping her nerves wouldn’t be too obvious.

“I won’t say no”, Joohyun replied with a small shrug, shifting her position so she could lean closer to Seungwan and accept the snack. Butterflies sprang to life inside Seungwan’s stomach at the easy victory, the joy so overwhelming that her hands nearly shook as she held out the box. “But wouldn’t you rather be sharing these with the boy you like?”, Joohyun pointed out with a wink before taking a bite out of the chocolate-covered stick, already settled back in the sofa.

Seungwan knew she was blushing furiously, but she could do nothing to prevent it, so she only averted her eyes and nibbled on her own Pepero stick. “I don’t really have a… a boy I like”, she admitted truthfully, carefully concealing the part where she did have a girl she liked and she was exactly who she was sharing the snacks with.

She ate the rest of her snack in silence, then turned to Joohyun to find her still halfway through her own. “Maybe that’s for the best, you know?”, the older girl offered as she saw that Seungwan was studying her. “You have your whole life ahead of you. There’s nothing wrong with waiting until high school or… or even college”, she added in a low voice that trailed off to nothing as she took another bite.

Something in her words sounded off, or maybe it was just the way her face didn’t look so much like she’d been out in the cold anymore. Now the red nose and the bloodshot eyes began to make it seem like Joohyun had been upset, and the thought was like a blade being shoved through Seungwan’s heart. She’d always known that Joohyun could get sad. After all, nobody was happy all the time. But it still felt heart-wrenching to witness it. She grew pointlessly angry at the world for ever putting Joohyun in a situation that made her feel like this.

“Joohyun-unnie?”, she called out shyly, trying to recover the older girl’s attention, which seemed to have been stolen by the old movie still playing on the TV. The people on the screen, who had been talking so rapidly that Seungwan couldn’t understand a single word, now stood silently in front of each other. The woman leaned forward, eyes closed, but the man only watched instead of kissing her.

“Did you have someone that you wanted to give you Pepero?”, she asked in a low voice, unsure of how to proceed. Was that why Joohyun had been watching a romantic movie, on the verge of tears? She couldn’t imagine how Joohyun could possibly like someone that didn’t like her back. “Was it Junmyeon-ssi?”, she added after a moment, which finally got a response from Joohyun, although it was only a snort.

“Don’t worry, Seungwan-ah, I don’t like Junmyeon-ssi. Not like that, anyway”, she explained with a smile that began to look a little forced. “I just wanted to share Pepero with a friend, and now I am”, she continued, her smile growing warm as she aimed it at Seungwan.

“I’m your friend?”, she exclaimed with happy disbelief, unable to prevent the excited outburst. Joohyun laughed at that, as well as the way that Seungwan immediately shoved another chocolate stick in to keep herself quiet.

“Well, I think so”, Joohyun replied calmly. “We’re both friends with Seulgi-yah and we spend time together, all three of us, so wouldn’t that make the two of us friends as well? And now we’re sharing Pepero, so we really must be friends”, she finished smugly, reaching forwards to take another stick from the box without Seungwan’s permission, like she’d ever say no.

She sat in stunned silence, grateful that Joohyun’s attention had returned to the movie as she felt incapable of saying a single word. Joohyun was her friend. They were friends. The older girl enjoyed spending time with her, even when Seulgi wasn’t with them.

When Joohyun had come to live with Seulgi, less than a year ago, Seungwan had never once imagined that things could go like this. That she could ever be more than the awkward, tongue-tied girl that sat next to Seulgi on the sofa and snuck glances at the beautiful angel in front of her. But now they were friends. She was friends with the most wonderful person she’d ever met.

She took a bite of her snack and gazed distractedly at the TV, where the nonsensical and apparently endless movie still played. To her left sat Joohyun, her friend. She was so lucky.

(…)

On Seungwan’s birthday, as usual, she had a sleepover at Seulgi’s place. They stayed up until midnight, which was never a problem for the two of them, and Seulgi sang her the softest happy birthday she possibly could, trying hard not to wake anyone up.

They usually snuck some candies or chocolates to eat in celebration, and Seulgi proudly shared the sweets she’d managed to hide away in her bedroom. Just like every year, Seungwan focused hard on making a wish before going to sleep. She knew just what to ask: she wanted to be in Joohyun’s life forever. She repeated the words in her head until she finally drifted off.

In the morning, they were tired but excited, rushing to get ready for their day of celebration amid squeals and yelps at nothing in particular. After showering, they sat at the kitchen table, Seungwan diligently eating the seaweed soup her mother had packed her. Her spoon was halfway to when Joohyun joined them, walking slowly and still a little bleary-eyed. She’d decided to stay in Seoul during the break between school years, not bothering with travelling home for just a couple of weeks. She stumbled to the table, settling down by their side, and reached for an empty bowl and a pair of chopsticks.

“Happy birthday, Seungwan-ah”, she said with a smile, nodding at the container of seaweed soup. Seungwan grinned so widely that her cheeks hurt, despite the fact that there were probably bits of seaweed stuck in her teeth. Thankfully, Joohyun’s attention had already returned to her own food, a curtain of still-wet hair falling to shield her face from Seungwan’s.

She and Seulgi spent the day running around, visiting the arcade, the mall and even the park, when it grew a little warmer in the early afternoon. Her sister was home from school, so they had a family dinner in celebration. Not once in the entire evening did she get called a little mouse and she even got new clothes and a beautiful notebook as a birthday present.

Still, lying in bed and going over the day’s events with satisfaction, she knew what her favourite part had been, by far. As silly as it might seem to anyone else, it was the simple wish for a happy birthday that she’d received from Joohyun. Not only the words themselves, but everything about that moment.

She’d never spent the night at Seulgi’s during the week, not since Joohyun had come to live with the Kangs, and it had been the first time she’d seen Joohyun like that, early in the morning and not fully awake yet. Her eyes had been softened by sleep, like they couldn’t quite focus yet, and her slumped back as she leaned heavily on the kitchen table contrasted with her usual pristine posture, making her look more human despite remaining miles apart from everyone else.

Her voice, when she’d said those simple words, had been raspy and rough from sleep, like she was rolling little pebbles around in . It had made Seungwan’s stomach twist as giddy little waves of hot and cold ran from her chest all the way down to her toes. It was a sound she’d never heard before and she registered it greedily, just like every other little detail about Joohyun.

She sighed into the empty room, indescribable happiness spreading through every inch of her and making her feel like she wanted to jump out of bed and sprint around her room, squealing it all out. It was the best birthday she’d ever had and she couldn’t wait to see what the future had in store for her.

“Happy birthday, Seungwan-ah”, she whispered softly, the words falling out of her lips with reverence. The words that Joohyun had said to her with her beautiful voice, shaped by her beautiful lips. The words that she’d hold in her heart forever.

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Numot94
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