I remembered you older and taller

Never mind your bleeding heart

Seungwan turned 18 just a few weeks before moving away to college. High school had been hard, a whirlwind of classes and late evenings of studying and even a few sleepless nights trying to keep everything on track. Seulgi had been exaggerating when she’d said that Seungwan could be top of their class, of course, but she hadn’t ended up too far off from it.

She never did date that shy boy. Her epiphany had arrived a little too late for them. But somehow, a few months into her second year of high school, she realized that her sister had been right. Every breath was a little easier than the last. Day by day, the image of Joohyun that seemed to have been imprinted in the back of her eyelids faded, faded down to nothing. Faded until she felt like she could feel anything but that all-encompassing aching, that longing that had almost made her change her mind a few times.

And in her senior year, she did date. Not only did she date, she kissed. With breath shortened by excitement, and constantly interrupted by her classmates, she shared stories of dates and kisses. She felt like any other high school student. She felt confident.

So she didn’t think twice when she applied to her sister’s alma mater, her grades in the college entrance exam guaranteeing that she’d get in. The school had thousands of students and, after two long years, it was finally time to stop letting her choices be dictated by Joohyun.

The first few weeks were great. After high school, college was almost relaxing, and Seungwan enjoyed herself as she made new friends and joined study groups. She’d stay up late having ridiculous, pointless debates with groups of boys and girls, co-ed education a breath of fresh air after so many years in a girls-only school.

And then one day there was a knock on her dorm room door and she swung it open to find someone that she knew she’d run into sooner or later. She just hadn’t expected it to be like this. But there she was, looking strangely unchanged when Seungwan herself felt like she’d become an entirely different person in the past two years.

Except that now, as beautiful brown eyes bore into hers with the same familiar twinkle, all those changes seemed to melt away and leave her feeling like the same awkward 16-year-old girl. The one who’d cried in a freezing playground, but also the one who’d reddened under a curtain of hair as Joohyun leaned over her shoulder.

She swallowed down the urge to slam the door shut and made her best attempt at a natural-looking smile. “Joohyun-unnie!”, she exclaimed with far too much cheer. “What a surprise!”

“Son Seungwan-ah!”, Joohyun declared, tapping on the paper by the door that identified the room’s occupants. “I knew you had to be around here somewhere. Seulgi-yah told me you were studying here, congratulations!”

The smile threatened to turn into a grimace, but with a herculean effort, she managed to divert all the nervous energy running through her body into a slight widening of her eyes, which could surely be taken as pleased surprise. She made a mental note to murder Seulgi as soon as she had the time. “She did?”, she asked pleasantly.

“Well, not exactly. I asked her”, Joohyun admitted with a self-conscious chuckle. Perhaps Seulgi could live, then.

“You did?”, Seugwan inquired again, surprise really threatening to overpower her at this point. She was still trying to sound pleasant but even she could tell that she’d crossed over to incredulous.

Joohyun’s face fell slightly, the veneer of composure cracking as she shifted in place. “Is that weird? That I asked?” She seemed to catch herself then, a light, easy smile taking its place on her face. “You were, you know, my buddy” The words sounded so strange that Seungwan wondered for a second if Joohyun would lean forward and punch her shoulder or something. Her buddy?

“It’s not weird, I just… I thought you’d have forgotten all about me by now”, she remarked casually, even adding a little dry laugh to make sure Joohyun didn’t realize how much she wasn’t joking. She noticed her hand was still on the doorknob and slowly released it, letting both hands hide in the security of her jean pockets.

“Does that mean you’ve forgotten all about me?”, Joohyun wondered playfully, appearing to be back in her comfort zone, and Seungwan had to stifle an actual laugh at that. When had her life become so much of a sitcom, that her crush of 5 years would come by and ask if she’d forgotten about her?

“Of course not”, she replied quickly, once again hoping that the dire honesty of her confession wouldn’t come across. She was going to add something else, but then Joohyun smiled, a happy, genuine smile, and she felt something warm and incredibly dangerous building in her chest, so instead of talking she let her jaw snap shut almost painfully.

“We should catch up”, Joohyun said after an awkward pause where they both just stared at each other silently. “Maybe we could have lunch?”, she suggested with a nod towards the corridor.

“Oh, right now?”, Seungwan asked like an idiot, very frustrated at the way her head suddenly felt like it had been stuffed with cotton candy instead of a brain. Thankfully, years of diligently avoiding Joohyun, going so far as escaping Seulgi’s house as soon as she heard that the older girl would be coming over for dinner, had left her with some helpful instincts.

“Today is a really bad day, actually. I have a study group all afternoon”, she immediately began to lie, hardly giving Joohyun the time to nod in confirmation. “I actually already ate. You know, because of the study group. I was on my way out”, she added, throwing a hurried glance around her room to quickly find her backpack and fling it over her shoulder.

Joohyun insisted on walking her out of the building, so that she had to endure a few more minutes of small talk, heart pounding in a way that was infuriatingly familiar. As soon as she was outside, she waved goodbye and walked as fast as her short legs could carry her, only stopping when she was all the way across campus.

Only then did she stop to take deep, calming breaths, the cold air of early spring helping to clear the haze in her mind. She wasn’t who she’d been in high school and she certainly didn’t feel the way she had back then, but every moment that she spent with Joohyun threatened to plunge her back into an infatuation that she absolutely did not want to revive.

She’d have to avoid her, it was as simple as that. It was a childish thing to do, but sometimes childish means were necessary to achieve an ultimately mature goal. And this particular goal was worth all the childish avoidance she could manage.

(…)

Of course she didn’t completely avoid Joohyun. After some calming down and the emergency study group she’d convened in the paranoid fear that Joohyun might somehow discover her lie, she’d realized that she couldn’t simply walk off in the other direction whenever the older girl showed up. It was rude and really, it wasn’t Joohyun’s fault that Seungwan had spent her entire adolescence in love with her.

So she avoided Joohyun politely. She’d greet her when they ran across each other, but she'd quickly remember some prior engagement that kept her from staying and chatting. She’d make up plans whenever Joohyun invited her to do something, to the point that the older girl must think she was the most popular person in school by now. And yes, if she saw Joohyun before being spotted, she would absolutely walk off in the other direction.

It wasn’t as bad as she’d expected it to be. It was always a little difficult to walk away from that warm, inviting smile, and it did hurt her heart a little to have to keep rejecting Joohyun’s offers, but she always felt so proud of herself after each encounter that it actually became a little easier with time. Like avoiding Joohyun had just become another part of her college routine. Which was exactly why she should have known it couldn’t last. The universe was never that kind to Son Seungwan.

It was a quiet Thursday night, the rowdier freshmen all gone to engage in some underage drinking with their upperclassmen and leaving behind only those too shy, too busy or too tired to start their partying before the weekend. Seungwan was already in bed, partly because she wanted to get some rest while she could and partly because her roommate was a little scary and it was easier to go along with it when the girl wanted an early night.

In the end, however, the party seemed to come to Seungwan, because the lights had been off for less than an hour before there was a knock on their door. Even through the darkness, she could feel the glare from her roommate, who clearly assumed the knock was for her, so she hurried out of bed to confront the intruder.

As soon as the door was open, a familiar-smelling figure was wrapping her in a hug. Seungwan barely had the time to recover from her shock when she realized Joohyun was sobbing in her arms. She tried to pull back and get a good look at the girl’s face, but her embrace only tightened when she sensed Seungwan pushing her away.

“I’m sorry, I know you don’t want to see me”, Joohyun mumbled against her shoulder, sending a stab of guilt through Seungwan. She’d hoped Joohyun wouldn’t notice, but how could she not, after a while? “But I just…” She paused, took in a sharp breath that turned into a sob halfway through. “I just don’t understand. If it’s the right thing, then why does it feel so hard?”

Seungwan was beyond confused at this point, but Joohyun still refused to let go of her, and her roommate had already begun to clear from somewhere behind them, so she gave up and let her hands rest on Joohyun’s back.

“Ok, let’s go get some coffee, how does that sound?”, she offered in a soothing voice. Joohyun nodded slowly then finally stepped away, although her hands immediately found Seungwan’s and clung to them like she was worried she’d run off otherwise.

They walked down the stairs and all the way to the lounge in a silence that only made it easier for Seungwan to get lost in thoughts of just why she was doing this. It was a mistake, she knew it was, but Joohyun had sounded so desperate and she didn’t even seem that drunk, so her emotional outburst couldn’t just be blamed on alcohol. She couldn’t simply kick the girl out and tell her to deal with it on her own, could she?

It was only when they reached the vending machines that Joohyun finally spoke up. “I don’t even like coffee”, she whispered self-consciously as Seungwan slipped some coins into the slot.

“You can have hot chocolate, I guess”, she replied a little awkwardly. Joohyun looked strangely small and vulnerable and she wasn’t sure what to make of it. She had to fight back the instinct to wrap the older girl in another hug and just rock her from side to side until she stopped crying, not only because it was something she shouldn’t indulge, but because it really looked like Joohyun needed to talk about whatever was wrong.

They sat down with their warm drinks, the lounge entirely vacant at such a late hour. It was a place for daytime socialization, not really used for studying or for evening drinking, so it quickly emptied out a few hours after dinner. Taking small sips of the coffee she really shouldn’t be drinking at such a late hour, Seungwan watched as Joohyun stirred her hot chocolate around a few times, then gave up and set the cup down on the nearest table.

“I’m sorry for bothering you”, she said in a hoarse voice, tangling and untangling her fingers in her lap. “Maybe I should just… This was stupid”, she concluded suddenly, turning around as if to get up but not quite managing to leave the sofa, not with the way Seungwan’s hand had wrapped around her wrist.

“What’s wrong?”, she asked simply, and immediately Joohyun’s eyes were filling with tears again. She seemed ready to pull Seungwan into another clinging hug, but she leaned back against the sofa with a few deep breaths, evidently calming herself down.

“Everything is so… confusing and complicated”, she began slowly, hands following the patterns of the fabric on her cushion. Her voice grew thick near the end of the short sentence, but she swallowed it down before carrying on. “It only ever made sense when I talked to you. And then you left and I just… I got all confused again”

Seungwan could barely hear the low whisper, but even though the words were registering, she had no idea what Joohyun was trying to say. What did she have to do with anything? “What do you mean? How did I help?”, she asked slowly, hoping her questions wouldn’t scare Joohyun off. She already seemed reluctant to speak, the slightest push could have her closing up.

For a moment, Seungwan thought that was exactly what would happen, as she saw Joohyun open and close in a silent struggle. She was reminded of a similar scene, two years earlier, when the older girl had eventually lost her inner battle and kept her secret. But this time, Joohyun’s face didn’t fall. Instead, her brow set in determination for the briefest moment before she looked small and vulnerable again. Her fingers continued to sketch the lines in the material of the sofa and Seungwan finally reached forward to grasp her hand.

“Do you remember when I asked you about your crush?”, the older girl asked in a voice so low that Seungwan suspected she didn’t want to be heard. She nodded, thumb brushing slightly against the back of Joohyun’s hand as she tried to ignore the way her heart jump-started at the question. Why was Joohyun bringing this up now? “You seemed so happy and… You really made it sound like it was the most wonderful thing imaginable”, Joohyun continued with a small smile.

“It made me realize that it wasn’t supposed to feel like…” She bit her lip, mulling over her words. Seungwan continued her rhythmic caress, which did seem to calm down Joohyun, at least a bit. “It made me realize that I’d never felt that way”, she tried again. “Or… I did. Once”

And then the most beautiful smile grew on Joohyun’s face, a shy little thing that still managed to light up her features like nothing else. The smile of someone who had something precious, something they’d kept just to themselves, something they took out at night, when nobody else was around, to gaze at it with adoring eyes, committing every inch of it to memory before hiding it again and going to sleep.

It was a smile that Seungwan knew well, because she’d felt it herself so many times before. And maybe that was why Joohyun’s next words didn’t shock her quite as much as they should have.

“She’s the reason I like purple so much”, the older girl confessed with a self-consciousness that couldn’t hide the pure awe the words brought her. She raised her face to gaze into Seungwan’s eyes, looking slightly pale but unflinching. “You helped me understand that I’m… I’m gay”

Her eyes widened at her own admission, but Seungwan could only look at her silently, reeling in the sudden discovery. Joohyun was gay. And that crush… Joohyun had bought her purple backpack a few months into high school, Seungwan would never forget a detail like that. Had she really been struggling with this for all those years?

“I’ve never said that out loud” Joohyun’s voice sounded a little hollow, a little like panic was beginning to come in at the edges. Her grip on Seungwan grew uncomfortably tight and it finally snapped her out of her own thoughts.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay, alright?”, she said as comfortingly as she could, resuming the steady motion of her thumb as she gazed right back at Joohyun. “There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with you”, she insisted. Nobody had ever told Joohyun that and she was sure the older girl needed to hear it, at least once.

Joohyun’s eyes widened at her words, her lower lip quivering like she was going to start crying again, but instead she only laughed, the sound a little dry and sardonic. “There you go again, making it sound so simple”, she commented with detached humour. Her gaze dropped to their hands, still linked together, and the small smile that she’d mustered up faded to nothing.

“What if I’m throwing my life away?”, she whispered, then bit her lip as she continued to look down.

“And if you ended up with someone you didn’t love, couldn’t ever love, what would that be?”, Seungwan riposted simply. Joohyun didn’t answer that, only gazed at their hands like she could barely see them, eyes unfocused as she struggled with something that Seungwan suspected she’d never fully accepted, something she’d tried to push to the back of her mind for as long as she could.

As she watched, the confusion in Joohyun’s eyes only grew, and she wasn’t sure how to help, what to say, so she did the first thing that came to her head. She pulled her in by their linked hands and wrapped her in a hug. “I’m here, unnie. I’m not going anywhere”, she reassured the trembling girl in her arms. “Everything’s going to be fine”

For once, her heart didn’t begin to pound as Joohyun’s arms hesitantly came up to hold her. All she could think of were Joohyun’s eyes, full of fear and uncertainty and unshed tears. She slowly ran her fingers through the older girl’s hair until the trembling abated and she began to slump against Seungwan’s firm embrace.

“Do you want to go to bed?”, she asked quietly, face near Joohyun’s ear, and she felt the answering nod, as well as the way slender arms tightened around her, keeping her in place. “Do you… do you want me to…”, she stuttered out, hesitation clear in her voice, and Joohyun immediately pulled back.

“I’m sorry, you don’t have to, of course. I mean, it’s a probably a little uncomfortable, with me being… you know…”, she mumbled nervously, looking a little ashamed of even implying she’d like Seungwan to sleep with her. Not like that, Seungwan reminded herself, growing embarrassed herself.

“No, that’s totally fine, I wouldn’t… think that you…”, she replied hesitantly, tripping over her words and suddenly avoiding eye contact. “I mean, I’m like your little sister, right?”, she pointed out awkwardly, adding a little chuckle at the end that only made her sound weirder.

That seemed to ease Joohyun’s fears a little, if only because it appeared to amuse her. “You probably didn’t like that, did you?”, she asked playfully, and Seungwan wondered for a second if she’d just stepped into a very bad situation. “I know I wouldn’t have liked it if someone older put our age difference between us like that”

Joohyun fiddled with the buttons on the cuff of her shirt, suddenly shy, and Seungwan discreetly let out a relieved breath. “I shouldn’t have said that, honestly. You weren’t like a little sister, you were my friend. I think”, she added nervously, glancing up at Seungwan for a moment as if to check. “The truth is, I felt like you were someone who admired me as a kid, and there I was breaking down in front of you. I didn’t want to be that person, I guess. I only said it because it made me feel like I hadn’t lost that, like I could still be that cool unnie you looked up to”

It was all a lot to take in. In a single conversation, Joohyun had rewritten their entire shared history. Seungwan felt like she’d need at least a day to sit down and sort through memories, to look at them from this whole new perspective. She only wished she could somehow go back and take away the bitterness.

She still remembered exactly how Joohyun’s words had made her feel, how they’d cut at her. But maybe it had been for the best. This way, she’d been able to walk away and live her life. If she’d had any hope, she might have never left, and then where would she be?

“Let’s go, then”, she said with a smile, getting up and offering Joohyun her hand. The older girl took it gratefully, if a bit surprised, and let herself be guided out of the lounge. It was only as they were walking up the stairs that she shuffled a little closer to Seungwan, linking their fingers together and mumbling such a soft “thank you” that Seungwan wondered if she’d even been meant to hear it.

That night, they slept tangled up in Joohyun’s tiny single bed. Cradling Joohyun’s head against her chest and gently brushing her hair away from her face as the older girl drifted off to sleep, Seungwan knew she’d already made her decision. Joohyun needed a friend, someone to help her go through this, and that came before any childish, half-forgotten crushes.

She felt Joohyun’s arms loosen around her as the older girl fell asleep. In the near-darkness of the room, she could see the outline of her face, the way hung slightly open, how the crease in her brow slowly evened out with every steady breath.

Lying there with Joohyun asleep in her arms, she couldn’t help but feel like the older girl wasn’t so much older anymore. She wasn’t an angel or a goddess or some ethereal being entirely out of reach. She was just a girl, as human and insecure as anyone else. She was just Joohyun.

(…)

At first, Joohyun seemed a bit reticent to open up to Seungwan, unsure of how much she could share without making her uncomfortable. However, that quickly changed when she found that Seungwan was bi. She hadn’t wanted to intrude on Joohyun’s moment, so she hadn’t told her right away, but as soon as she did, Joohyun’s demeanour changed radically. Suddenly, it was as if she would never run out of things to talk about. She wanted to ask everything, compare everything, with a childlike enthusiasm that never seemed to run out.

It was a side of Joohyun that Seungwan had never really faced before. Now that she looked at Joohyun as an equal, there was a lot there that she realized she’d never noticed before. Not just the uncertainty and fear, but also the innocence and youthful enthusiasm that fuelled the older girl’s frequent bouts of laughter, the silliness and even, in certain situation, the impetuousness that had her making decisions without a second thought.

This time, falling in love was gradual. She was aware of it, every day and at every instant. She felt the way each of Joohyun’s smiles dug deeper into her heart, the way the warmth of each hug lingered longer on her limbs. She felt it drape over her, settling closer and more comfortably, like slipping into a cold bed that slowly grew warm, blankets fitting snuggly around a body that relaxed into sleep.

It was a different kind of love, a resigned feeling that didn’t control her the way her emotions had done before. Sometimes it felt like she could step back and simply observe it, like a cold fact. She knew she was falling for Joohyun all over again, but it was simply something that occurred, no more noteworthy than the lengthening of the days as Summer approached.

And really, she barely had any time to focus on it, not with the semester coming to an end and her days being divided between studying, meeting her classmates and seeing Joohyun in every gap she could find.

When the summer vacation finally arrived, Joohyun surprised her by announcing that she wouldn’t be going home to Daegu. She’d told her parents that she needed to stay at school and study, but her real intention was to take advantage of all their free time, so that the two would finally be able to have conversations that weren’t constantly being interrupted by papers and tests and projects and the guilt of spending an entire afternoon without studying.

Seungwan had already decided to spend her vacation at home, keeping her parents company now that both their children had moved out, not to mention how Seulgi had made the same decision and this would mean they could see each other much more easily, neighbours once again. With Joohyun’s presence, sometimes coming over to the Son or Kang home but mostly staying at the university where Seungwan took the bus to visit her, it almost felt like time had turned back. Back before high school, before that painful resolution to grow up.

But Seungwan had grown up. She’d grown up so much, in fact, that now that they sat at a cosy coffee shop and stared at their drinks, she was the calmest of the three. Seulgi looked between her and Joohyun with a slight air of confusion, while Joohyun herself seemed close to passing out, stirring her tea with a shaky hand and sporting such a serious look that she almost looked angry.

Seungwan had told her all about how Seulgi had always been supportive of her orientation and Joohyun had decided that it was only right to come out to her as well. Seungwan did insist that it was something she didn’t owe to anyone, and that she shouldn’t push herself to do it if she didn’t feel ready, but once again Joohyun’s stubborn impetuousness kept her from backing down.

So there they sat, an awkward atmosphere slowly falling over the three friends as Joohyun’s stirring only intensified. Eventually, moved by pity or maybe just uncomfortable in the tense mood, Seungwan reached out her hand and grabbed Joohyun’s, guiding her to drop the spoon and let her hand fall by the cup. Her fingers immediately started drumming on the tabletop, but Seungwan could only do so much.

Seulgi turned to Seungwan for guidance and, after a moment of hesitation, she simply nodded towards her drink. They should just get comfortable and act normally, instead of sitting there and waiting for Joohyun to build up her courage. Seulgi seemed to agree, as she lifted her mocha to her lips and took a sip, eyes fluttering closed at the sweet taste.

While her friend was distracted by her drink, Seungwan gently squeezed Joohyun’s hand, hoping to infuse her with some of her own confidence that everything would go alright. The older girl turned to her as much as her rigid posture would allow, the tiniest hint of a grateful smile flashing for a second before her face was back to its frozen expression.

It was all getting a bit too uncomfortable and still Joohyun didn’t seem ready to say anything, so Seungwan finally decided to intervene. “So, Seulgi-yah, did you think about the motorcycle thing?”, she asked pleasantly, alluding to a conversation they’d had a few days earlier, when she’d had dinner at the Kang’s and then they’d gone for a late-night walk. “Do you really think you can convince your parents to let you get one?”

Seulgi smiled, clearly pleased to have a topic of conversation and no longer wait in unnerving silence, but just as she’d opened to respond, she was cut off by Joohyun. “That’s alright, Seungwan-ah, I can do this”, she stated decisively, sliding her hand out from under Seungwan’s to squeeze it in her own. She took a deep, steadying breath and gazed straight at Seulgi.

“Seulgi-yah, I wanted to talk to you today to let you know that…” She faltered, swallowed drily as Seulgi’s eyes grew a little wider in worried anticipation, then studied the room around them as if to check that nobody was too close. “That I’m gay”, she concluded in a lowered voice, leaning in slightly to shorten the distance between them.

The girl sitting in front of them blinked a few times, clearly taken by surprise, then realization flooded into her eyes and she broke into an encouraging, if a little confused, smile. “I’m really glad you wanted to tell me, unnie”, she said honestly, the smile growing a little at the utter relief on Joohyun’s face, so overpowering that she even slouched a little in her seat. “I don’t, um, I’m not really sure what to say, but I guess I’m happy for you? Is that a weird thing to say?”

She turned to Seungwan, who had somehow been promoted to the resident expert on how to react to a coming out. “I think the key is the acceptance, the wording doesn’t matter as much” She leaned towards Joohyun for confirmation. “Right, unnie?” The older girl immediately nodded, an embarrassed but bright smile on her face. She slowed down the movement, then looked up to lock eyes with Seulgi before nodding some more.

Joohyun’s tightly clenched hands finally separated, one returning to its previous place on the table as the other reached for her tea. Seungwan considered reaching to hold Joohyun’s hand again, but opted to simply let her own rest by its side, only a few inches separating their pinkies. She looked up just in time to see Seulgi studying all these motions, her eyes falling meaningfully on the scant space between their fingers, and she saw the dangerous gears turning in her best friend’s head.

Seulgi opened and Seungwan scooted forward ever so slightly. “So, are y-you…”, she stuttered as Seungwan’s foot landed solidly on her shin. Their gazes locked and a silent communication began between the two friends, all in the span of a second.

First, Seungwan widened her eyes threateningly, flicking them towards Joohyun for a second and then back to Seulgi, as if to say “There is nothing between us and if you even mention the possibility I will make sure terrible things happen to you”.

Fear flashed through Seulgi’s eyes before she was nodding almost imperceptibly, accepting to drop the topic. Still, she quirked a single eyebrow, clearly asking “And what about your feelings for her?”. Her gaze rested on Seungwan’s hand, still close to Joohyun’s, possibly a little closer. Had Joohyun shifted her hand? Seungwan was pretty sure her own hadn’t moved.

She shrugged off the guilt that had come creeping in at Seulgi’s very apt question and rolled her eyes with furrowed borrows. “There are no feelings. The feelings are all in the past. Stop asking dumb questions”, the eyeroll clearly insisted, hopefully not looking as defensive as she felt. Seulgi didn’t appear entirely convinced, but that was all they managed to communicate before the silent pause became too long.

“Are we what?”, Joohyun asked, a little puzzled, snapping the best friends out of their silent conversation. Seungwan nearly jumped in her seat, but Joohyun didn’t seem to have caught on to them.

“Are you hungry?”, Seulgi concluded smoothly, smacking both palms on the tabletop. “Because I am! So I’ll go get a slice of cake or something”, she added, getting up as she spoke. “Do you girls want anything?” Both Joohyun and Seungwan shook their heads, so she walked off to join the line by the register.

“That went well”, Seungwan commented encouragingly, letting her fingers curl around her still-warm cup of coffee, only partly to avoid the temptation that was Joohyun’s hand resting right by hers. “How do you feel?”

Joohyun flashed her a half-smile, tilting her head to the side. “Really relieved? And, uh, not sure what to do next, to be honest”, she admitted with a chuckle. She turned to study Seulgi’s back thoughtfully. Seungwan was about to assure her that she didn’t have to do anything else, but she was cut short by Joohyun’s next question. “Was Seulgi-yah your crush?”, she asked, nearly throwing her into a choking fit.

“What?”, she immediately yelped, so loudly that half the people in the room turned to her, including Seulgi. She fell silent under the sudden judgment, face reddening at the unwanted attention, and she and Joohyun simply sipped their drinks as casually as they could manage until the shop’s patrons returned to their own conversations. “It definitely wasn’t Seulgi-yah”, she denied in a whisper, cheeks still warm.

It wasn’t a completely unexpected question. Joohyun had already inquired after her crush many times, although she’d always brushed it off with assurances that it didn’t matter and that it was in the past anyway. It didn’t deter Joohyun, of course, since she seemed determined to find out as much as possible about Seungwan’s crush, and presumably crushes in general. She really was too curious for Seungwan’s good.

“Oh, sorry. I just thought, since you were always so close”, Joohyun justified herself, looking more amused than chastised by Seungwan’s explosive reaction. “And you’d get so red when I walked in on you two cuddling”, she added with a smirk.

“Not because of her”, Seungwan replied defensively, still a little high-strung. She swirled the remaining coffee around in her cup, the self-consciousness she’d felt at the time returning to her, at least in part. “It was just, I don’t know, kind of embarrassing to be doing all that skinship. I didn’t want to be some kid that needed to cling to her best friend like that”, she confessed reluctantly.

Joohyun’s smirk grew, equal parts endeared and playful. “So you were embarrassed because of me”, she stated more than asked, laughing at Seungwan’s shocked expression. “You didn’t want to look childish in front of a cool high-schooler”, she added teasingly, leaning closer to bump against Seungwan’s shoulder, which caught her completely off-balance and nearly threw her off her seat despite the utter lack of force behind it.

“You know, that’s a funny thing about growing up”, Joohyun added with a conspiratorial smile that Seungwan truly didn’t trust. “At some point, you stop caring so much about not looking like a kid”, she concluded as she turned to Seungwan more fully and smirked.

“No, no, no”, she hurriedly uttered, shuffling back in her seat but still unable to avoid Joohyun’s grasping hands, which latched around her arm and pulled her close.

“Yes, yes, yes”, Joohyun replied with good humour, letting her head fall on Seungwan’s shoulder with a playful wiggle. “You should have said you liked skinship, Seungwan-ah. Who cares about what’s childish if it makes you happy?”, she questioned with a little shrug that pulled Seungwan’s arm along.

Joohyun couldn’t know that skinship with her felt nothing like skinship with Seulgi, of course. To her credit, Seungwan’s stomach barely flipped in place at the contact. Instead, it was more like a tingly happiness spread through her entire body, making her feel pleasantly warm. An urge, almost irresistible for an instant, to wrap her arms around Joohyun and bury her head against her chest, just disappear in her embrace for a moment.

It felt so dangerously comforting and safe, and yet she did nothing to pry Joohyun’s arms away. The older girl looked so happy, smiling against her shoulder, that she didn’t dare take that away from her. Of course, as soon as Seulgi returned to the table to find them wrapped close together, she was even less convinced than when she’d left. Seungwan would deal with that later.

(…)

Joohyun was acting strangely. She’d seem fine, talking and laughing as excitedly as ever, but without warning she’d become withdrawn and thoughtful, barely answering Seungwan’s questions. She also hadn’t backed down on her offer for more skinship, which was admittedly more of an imposition than a suggestion on her part, but occasionally she’d let her hand slip from Seungwan’s without explanation, not even acknowledging it, simply stepping away and out of Seungwan’s reach as casually as possible, then carrying on their conversation like nothing had happened.

And then she started excusing herself from their afternoons together. Not all of them, not even that many, but enough that Seungwan could tell it wasn’t just a coincidence, especially considering all the excuses she gave were intimately familiar to her. She was busy, she had a last-minute thing, she’d just remembered a project that she had to hand in the next day.

Joohyun was avoiding her. Slowly distancing herself from her. And she could understand why, of course. She’d probably only hung around this long because she felt grateful for Seungwan’s help going through her identity issues, but there was no point in maintaining a friendship out of guilt or gratitude. If Joohyun didn’t want to be her friend, Seungwan didn’t want her hanging around like it was some obligation, even if it did hurt a little. Or maybe a lot. It just felt unfair that, right as she’d found herself in a place where she could accept and value Joohyun’s friendship, she wasn’t even allowed to have that.

She tried not to let it get to her, to keep treating Joohyun normally. The last thing she wanted was to go back to her high school self, throwing everything away for the older girl’s attention. If their friendship wasn’t going to work, then it simply wasn’t. In the meantime, Seungwan refused to jump through hoops in a pointless effort to try to divine where she’d gone wrong and how she could go right.

They lay side by side in her small single bed, chatting away the afternoon. She was on one side, back resting against the wall, and Joohyun on the other, scooted so close to the end of the bed that Seungwan wondered how she hadn’t fallen off yet. They were facing each other, mostly because Seungwan’s bed couldn’t fit two people on their backs unless they were tightly pressed together, and Joohyun rested her head on both hands while Seungwan let her own rest on the bedcovers, occasionally pulling at a loose thread.

“Anyway, it’s not like I actually believe that stuff”, she pointed out with a slight eyeroll as Joohyun smirked, not looking entirely convinced. “But it got to a point where all my friends were insisting I should date him because he’s a Taurus”, she concluded, laughing a bit at the ridiculous situation. She was retelling a particularly inconsequential episode of her dating history, all that was left now that she’d already shared all the major ones.

“Well, it’s true that they’re very compatible with Pisces”, Joohyun replied casually, looking so neutral that Seungwan couldn’t even tell whether she was joking. “So, did you end up dating him?”, she prodded, since Seungwan had fallen silent in her study of a particularly stubborn thread. She hadn’t even bothered with that part, since the answer seemed obvious enough to her.

“No”, she said with a snort, letting her eyes go back up to Joohyun’s, even if it did make it a little harder to concentrate. “He was a Taurus, but he was also kind of a , which definitely isn’t compatible with this particular Pisces”, she joked, feeling a little self-conscious at the anti-climactic conclusion. Well, she couldn’t make up a romance that hadn’t been there, could she?

Joohyun flashed her usual crooked grin, her eyes twinkling with amusement for a moment before they settled back to their usual peaceful and inscrutable state. Seungwan felt herself get lost in that captivating gaze until she wasn’t sure for how long she’d simply been looking into Joohyun’s eyes. She was only snapped out of her trance by Joohyun sitting up with a slight frown.

“Don’t you have class soon?”, she asked, and it was a fair enough question, but it still made Seungwan feel like Joohyun was trying to get rid of her once again.

She slowly rose, shifting so she was sitting by the top of the bed, back against the wall and knees hugged close to her chest. Checking her watch, she smiled guiltily. “More like thirty minutes ago”, she confessed with a little shrug.

Joohyun’s brow furrowed with bewildered indignation and Seungwan almost worried that she would smack her arm, considering how she looked exactly like an angry parent. “Seungwan-ah, you can’t keep doing that!”, she exclaimed with exasperation, only managing to confuse her.

“I don’t! It was only this one time”, she hurriedly defended herself against the unjustified accusation. “And it’s no big deal, the teacher is reviewing the test and I got an A anyway”, she added truthfully. The only reason she’d lost track of time in the first place was because she’d already decided not to go, or she would have paid closer attention.

“It’s not just that”, Joohyun insisted, frustration barely abated by Seungwan’s explanation. She turned to rest her legs on the floor, facing away from Seungwan. “You have to stop acting like this. Like I’m your only priority”, she explained in a lowered voice. Her face was covered by a curtain of hair, so Seungwan couldn’t see what she looked like, whether she was sad, tired or just pitying.

So it had actually come to a direct confrontation. She’d expected Joohyun to simply slip away from her little by little, but clearly she’d been wrong. Even though she knew she was being wrongfully accused, that she’d tried so hard to make sure she didn’t throw everything else away for Joohyun, her first instinct was still to justify herself. Really, she should have tried to get the upper hand for once. Just once, before it was all over.

“It’s not like that”, she said, sounding embarrassingly meek. Joohyun still wouldn’t look at her and she balled her hands into fists at the feeling of impotence lodging itself painfully in . “I mean, we’re friends, aren’t we? Friends are there for each other”

“I know. Trust me, I know”, Joohyun repeated tensely. Her face was still hidden from view, but Seungwan could see her hands, how they were pushing tightly against her knees as her whole body seemed to heave with a deep inhale. “That’s why I feel so ungrateful. That I don’t want your friendship”

It was hurtful. It was more than hurtful. But it was also strange. Joohyun wouldn’t do this to her, she wouldn’t be this cruel and thoughtless. She wouldn’t throw away their relationship like this, like it had been some magnanimous gesture on her part to even associate with Seungwan. But if it wasn’t that, could it really be…

“When I met you, you were this kid that looked up to me”, Joohyun spoke up, breaking Seungwan’s confused line of thought. She could only listen, heart suddenly beating in an erratic pattern. “And now it feels like you grew up so much and I’m just stuck. I’m still that insecure high school student, I have no idea what I’m doing. God, you must really pity me”

Seungwan wanted to say something, to reach out and lay a comforting hand on Joohyun’s hunched shoulder, but she was frozen, her tongue stuck to the roof of . She could only watch as the older girl finally let out whatever had been stuck inside her. Whatever had had her acting so strange lately.

“You don’t even… You don’t even realize what you’re doing, do you?” Joohyun’s back was still turned to her and she desperately wished she could see her face, see what emotions were flitting through it. The rhythm of her heart only accelerated until she was sure it would shoot right out of her chest.

“I tried to pull away, to put some distance between us, but I’m not even strong enough for that”, Joohyun confessed bitterly. “I don’t want this, to lose the only person I really care about, but I can’t – I just – I can’t stop falling for you”, she whispered in a shaky voice, just as her whole frame began to tremble as well. “I’m sorry, Seungwan-ah, I’m really sorry”

“Please don’t be sorry”, she finally managed to say, the shock at Joohyun’s confession wearing off as it was replaced by concern for the girl who seemed close to tears. She reached forward timidly, hand wrapping around Joohyun’s elbow to turn her around, but the older girl surprised her by turning to face her without prompting, eyes glistening and mouth set in a grim frown.

“Why not?”, she asked defiantly, confusion and hurt seeming to emerge as anger, although Seungwan knew very well that it wasn’t aimed at her, but rather at Joohyun herself.

“Because”, she mumbled, mouth suddenly numb and far too graceless to formulate everything she was thinking and feeling. Instead, she let her fingers grip tighter around Joohyun’s elbow, steadying her as she leaned forward to rest her free hand on the older girl’s cheek. Her thumb brushed gently against the soft skin, willing the tears not to drop quite yet. She leaned a bit closer, almost smiling at the way Joohyun’s eyes widened even as her lips parted and her breath came a little faster.

She shut her eyes and closed the short distance still remaining between them, pressing her lips against Joohyun’s so softly that she wondered if the older girl could even feel it. All she knew was that she definitely did, every instant of it, every millimetre of Joohyun’s skin on hers. She could feel the utter softness of Joohyun’s lips, the way she kissed back at once, with no hesitation, the sigh that disturbed the air between them, though she wasn’t sure which one of them had breathed it out, not when she could barely remember where she was.

When she pulled back, she felt like everything inside her was exploding, yet she felt more calm and secure than she had in years. She couldn’t help the bright smile that forced itself on her face, though it seemed that Joohyun was in a similar predicament. “Do you remember Jupiter crashing into the Earth?”, she asked the older girl, hand still on her cheek, keeping their faces so close that their noses were brushing together. Joohyun nodded weakly, eyes seeming to look right through her. “I was right”, she whispered against her lips.

Joohyun’s eyes finally seemed to clear and she brought her own hand up to rest over Seungwan’s. “I want to ask questions”, she began with unexpected joy, given how she’d sounded so close to tears just a moment ago. “But I also want to kiss you again”, she added mischievously. Something twinkled in her eyes, something excited and almost hungry, and Seungwan was surprised by the sudden fear settling in her chest.

“Maybe the questions first?”, she suggested weakly, moving away from Joohyun gracelessly and unable to miss the flash of disappointment that passed through her face.

Joohyun pouted at Seungwan’s words and it was impressive how tempted Seungwan was to throw all caution to the wind and grant the older girl’s wish. Still, she held her ground and refused to come any closer. “Why?”, Joohyun asked petulantly, offering Seungwan her most encouraging smirk.

“Because… what if you don’t want to kiss me anymore, after the questions?”, she admitted shyly, looking down at the bedsheets in a distracted search for that loose thread from earlier. Joohyun’s hand tightened over hers, coaxing her to look back up, where she found that the older girl’s face had softened, her touch impossibly gentle as she pulled Seungwan’s hand away from her cheek to link their fingers together.

“Seungwan-ah”, she called cautiously, and her name had never sounded so sweet coming from Joohyun’s lips. Like she was already hers. The thought had her heart flipping in place and her fingers tightening against Joohyun’s. “Was I your crush?”, the older girl asked in a low voice, like she was afraid she’d scare her away.

Seungwan nodded slowly, wishing Joohyun weren’t quite so close, looking straight into her face as all her vulnerability and embarrassment emerged in full force. She tried to look away, but Joohyun tightened her grip to call her eyes back up to her. “Is that why you stopped coming to see me?”

She nodded again, fingers tightening and loosening against Joohyun’s with no particular purpose other than the need to be in control of at least something. “I’m sorry, Seungwan-ah, I should have realized”, Joohyun said sadly, those hypnotizing eyes still fixed squarely on Seungwan’s as they tried to convey the full weight of her apology.

She shrugged like she wished she could shrug off their shared past. “It’s okay, I mean, you knowing wouldn’t have changed anything”, she pointed out, and Joohyun finally let her look away. She wanted to say it, but she didn’t. That it would have been better if Joohyun had never realized at all. She didn’t want to bring up something else for the older girl to regret.

“So, do you… Is that too much baggage for you?”, Joohyun asked hesitantly, grip becoming loose until their hands were simply resting on top of each other. Until Seungwan could pull away without resistance, if she wanted to. She didn’t. But it wasn’t that simple, was it?

“It’s not that, it’s just…”, she began, not sure how to explain what she felt, the doubts that nibbled at the base of her heart, right where the happiness would be if she said yes to this, to Joohyun. “This is new for you, liking girls and accepting that you like girls, and I’m the only girl you know that… I don’t know if we should… I’m coming into this with a lot of, uh, expectations, I guess? I have a lot to lose and maybe that’s not the ideal, you know, first experience for you”

She wasn’t sure why she suddenly had the vocabulary and communication skills of a third grader, but Joohyun seemed to understand what she meant anyway, because her posture changed from reluctantly accommodating to defiant in an instant. “You think I’m interested in being with someone and not necessarily you?”

She didn’t need to nod, so she just gave their joined hands a little squeeze, which was enough for Joohyun’s grip to grow steady once again. “Well, I’m not sure how to prove that that’s not the case”, the older girl pointed out, not sounding angry or even sad, but more like she was eager to take up the challenge. “But I know it isn’t”, she added with such certainty that Seungwan couldn’t help but look back up, wondering if she could see the spark of truth in her eyes that would finally clear her questions.

Joohyun smiled at her, smiled like she knew some secret she didn’t. “I fell for you because of who you are. Because you always know just what to say to make me feel better. Because it’s so easy to get you riled up. Because of every single one of your smiles, even the one you just put on because you’re uncomfortable and you don’t know what else to do” She brought Seungwan’s hand up to her lips and kissed the inside of her wrist, slowly spreading her fingers so that Seungwan was cupping her cheek once more. “Because you’re so confident”, she added with a tender smile.

Seungwan really couldn’t help the laugh that escaped her at that. Confident? Her amusement caused Joohyun’s brow to furrow petulantly, a cute little pout shaping her lips for an instant before her determination returned. “You might not realize it, but you really are. Even if things were hard, you’ve never questioned who you were. I mean, you fell for a girl and that was it. That was you, and you just accepted it, and you never tried to change it or… I don’t know, ‘fix’ it”, she said with a small shrug. Seungwan didn’t like the meaning behind Joohyun’s phrasing, but she didn’t try to interrupt her, not when her heart felt like a little nutshell in stormy waters, liable to capsize at any moment.

“You’re really, really brave, Seungwan-ah. You make me feel like I can be brave too” And there it was. The little nutshell was lost, slowly sinking to the bottom of the ocean. She couldn’t help the way her thumb brushed against Joohyun’s cheek, the way her eyes slid down to Joohyun’s lips. Honestly, it was already a miracle that she hadn’t simply kissed her into silence.

The smile on Joohyun’s face told her that the older girl was well aware of her victory. Not that she looked gloating. It was more like she’d reached out to touch the distant moon and suddenly found herself holding it, its dazzling beauty stunning her into awed silence. It made Seungwan’s heart return from the depths to jump straight into .

“So, what does this make us?”, Joohyun asked, breaking the dazed silence that had settled between them as neither girl moved nor spoke. “Are we, like… You know”, she added awkwardly. Seungwan gazed at her expectantly while the older girl grew unexpectedly shy. “Please don’t make me say it”, she said with a grimace, fingers tightening nervously over Seungwan’s.

“I, uh, I need you to say it”, she admitted, the last of her vulnerability coming out in full force. Apparently, it was all the prodding Joohyun needed, because she only nodded solemnly, swallowing down her uncertainty.

“Seungwan-ah, do you, uh, do you want to be my girlfriend?”, she requested with the blank face that she usually adopted when overtaken by nerves.

“Yes”, Seungwan managed to reply around the knot that had somehow formed itself in , barely letting her breathe with the most confusing mixture of happiness, breathlessness and an inexplicable urge to cry. She felt like she was breathing out years of pain and frustration in that single, tiny word. She felt like she was starting over.

Joohyun pulled down her hand to study it in her lap, weakly pulling at her fingers. “So, is there anything else you wanted to talk about?”, she asked casually, looking up to gauge Seungwan’s reaction. She shook her head a little curiously, but the smirk on Joohyun’s face answered her easily enough. This time it was her stomach that began to flip and spasm. “Okay, good”, the older girl commented, before surging forward, only pausing an inch away from Seungwan’s mouth. She looked suddenly uncertain, readjusting her angle as her eyes fell to Seungwan’s lips, then pressed on until they were kissing.

This time, Joohyun was fully in control of the kiss, and it was like she wanted to pack all the kisses in the world into this one moment. Her lips moved eagerly against Seungwan’s, her hand already wrapped behind her neck even though Seungwan couldn’t remember it ever travelling there. “I’ve wanted to kiss you so many times”, she admitted, hot breath on Seungwan’s sensitive skin, leaning in for more as soon as those few words had been said.

Seungwan tried to pull back to say something, but Joohyun followed her stubbornly, not letting their mouths detach. “What”, she managed to mumble against the older girl, the word muffled but still distinguishable. Joohyun only chuckled, humming in confirmation as her free hand fell to Seungwan’s waist and gripped the fabric tightly.

“When you bite your lips”, she said simply, letting her teeth scrape against Seungwan’s bottom lip to exemplify, so that it took her a good few seconds to even understand what had been said. “When I fix your bangs and you almost go cross-eyed trying to follow my finger”, she let out in a rush, trying to minimize the time between kisses while sharing this absolutely essential information. This time, it was her tongue that ran across Seungwan’s lip, causing her to let out something halfway between a gasp and a whine as fell open of its own accord.

“When you smile so hard you get that little dimple”, Joohyun concluded, and Seungwan knew that she’d concluded because that was when her tongue brushed past her lips and into and God, if their first kiss had been Jupiter crashing into the Earth, then she didn’t even know what this one was. Possibly jumping straight into the Sun, judging by how her entire body was burning up, heat radiating from that spot in her waist where Joohyun’s fingers were digging into her through two or three layers of fabric.

She didn’t even know what she was thinking anymore, mind buzzing from Joohyun’s words and Joohyun’s touches and Joohyun’s tongue and somehow she was on her back now, Joohyun on top of her as they continued to kiss. Her grip on reality only grew weaker, but she definitely wasn’t complaining. This was so far from a problem that it became the very opposite of a problem. It felt like the answers to every issue she’d ever had were hiding somewhere in Joohyun’s lips, if only she kept searching.

She felt like she was going crazy. But such a good kind of crazy.

(…)

She scooted a little closer to the heater, hiding her hands in little sweater paws as she watched Joohyun flit through her room, trying in vain to put some order in the mess that she’d made of it. They were supposed to be packing up Seungwan’s things for the move to her new dorm room next year, but she was feeling lazy and she wanted Joohyun to come be lazy with her.

“So, only one more year until you graduate”, she remarked casually, mostly so Joohyun would turn around and look at her. She did, an endeared smile springing to her lips at the size of the ridiculously oversized sweater, just as planned. Seungwan smiled in return, stretching out her sweater-pawed hands to call Joohyun over to her side.

The older girl obeyed easily, coming to sit next to her on Seungwan’s bed. They spent most of their time at college in one of their rooms, enjoying the privacy it allowed them. It didn’t make them the most sociable pair on campus, but it was worth it for the comfort of knowing they could pause what they were doing at any time to brush strands of hair behind an ear or steal a kiss on the cheek without fear of judgment.

Seulgi was the only exception. They'd told her right away and she'd been nothing but happy for them, enveloping the two in a tight hug as she sniffled out her congratulations. Somehow, the whole thing had only made them grow closer and now the three spent as much time together as they could, meeting for coffee, to chat or even just to study. It made Seungwan realize how much she'd missed being with her best friend.

“We should do something to celebrate”, she carried on once Joohyun was comfortably settled by her side, hands immediately snaking around Seungwan’s arm as if by instinct. “Maybe we could go on a trip”, she mused aloud, encouraged by Joohyun’s responding hum. “Let’s go to Europe”, she added excitedly, causing Joohyun to pull back so she could study her with a raised brow.

“To Europe?”, she asked doubtfully. “Sure, let me just call up my private jet”, she added sarcastically, pretending to rummage in her pocket for her phone.

“Fine, fine, a bit too expensive for our first trip together”, Seungwan conceded easily. “I can understand why you wouldn’t want to spend too much money. After all, I’m only your beloved girlfriend, one and only in the world”, she pointed out playfully, not even complaining when Joohyun poked her side in retaliation.

“But we should go sometime. I hear it’s nice there”, she continued. She reached for Joohyun’s hand, ostensibly to stop her attack on her ribs, but mostly just to hold it. “You know, two women can get married there”, she said dreamily. It seemed like a strange notion, but it wasn’t like marrying Joohyun would be the worst thing in the world.

Joohyun laughed at her words, reaching out with her free hand for another round of poking, until Seungwan was forced to grasp both of her hands tightly with the look of an exasperated adult taking care of a child. “That is the weakest proposal I’ve ever heard”, the older girl quipped, struggling for a bit to release her hands but then relaxing in contented defeat.

“Are you saying it wouldn’t work?”, she immediately questioned with a smirk that quickly dissolved into giggling as Joohyun looked away with a slight blush. “You’re so easy”, she pointed out as she leaned closer to press a kiss to Joohyun’s reddened cheek.

They sat holding hands for a moment, similarly goofy smiles on both of their faces. “The wife takes the husband’s last name in Europe, right?”, Joohyun commented lightly, swinging their hands from side to side. “How does that work with two women?”

“They both take each other’s name”, Seungwan deadpanned, earning a sceptical chuckle from her girlfriend.

“I’m pretty sure the point of the ritual is to have both spouses share a last name”, she pointed out with amusement. Seungwan leaned in to kiss her, because she looked pretty and she was her girlfriend and she could just do that if she wanted to.

“I guess they pick one of them?”, she offered uncertainly. She had an inkling that the process wasn’t mandatory, but she was having fun discussing it, so she didn’t point that out. “How does that sound? Mrs. Son Joohyun”, she suggested with laughter that didn’t abate at all when Joohyun’s face twisted in displeasure.

“It sounds bad”, she replied with hardly any bite behind her words. She breathed in thoughtfully. “Mrs. Bae Seungwan, on the other hand…”, she trailed off, one corner of her lips quirking up to give her the usual crooked smile.

Seungwan gasped in dramatic outrage. “You’d take away the beautiful alliteration in my name?”

“You’d still have plenty of beautiful things left”, Joohyun remarked smoothly, one hand releasing Seungwan’s to fix her bangs before settling behind her neck, playing with the small hairs in her nape.

It took a bit of effort, but Seungwan schooled her face into a look of youthful enthusiasm, instead of giving up their playful back and forth and simply melting on the spot. “Like my beautiful wife?”, she asked in just the right tone to make Joohyun roll her eyes in flattered frustration.

“No”, the older girl said drily. “Like your beautiful face. And your beautiful eyes”, she enumerated in a tone that was far too sweet for her own good. “Your beautiful lips”, she added as an afterthought, gaze falling on them with definite interest.

“Careful there, Mrs. Son”, Seungwan cautioned in a tone that was far from discouraging. “You’re travelling from sweet and supportive to dangerously flirtatious”, she informed the older girl, who only smirked without letting her eyes move from .

“Am I, Mrs. Bae? And if I keep travelling?”, she asked in a low voice that did wonderful things to Seungwan’s insides. Joohyun was definitely leaning forward, although it was slow enough to go unnoticed for anyone not paying quite as much attention as Seungwan.

“You’ll land on downright seductive”, she said simply. Her grin was wiped off her face as Joohyun only kept moving, shifting to straddle her waist before she was placing her hands on each side of her face and pulling her in for a kiss.

They were interrupted by a knock on the door and Seungwan only took in a frustrated breath, gently moving Joohyun off of her lap so she could get up and check on their intruder, whom she jokingly insisted better be dead or dying. Maybe not entirely jokingly.

She changed her mind about the dying thing when she cracked the door open to find her sister. “Seunghee-unnie? What are you doing here?”, she asked in genuine surprise. They still saw each other at the family dinners that both sisters made an effort to attend, but this was the first time Seunghee had come to visit her at school.

“Wow, don’t welcome me so warmly, I might never want to leave”, her sister deadpanned, an eyebrow raised in disapproval, which Seungwan didn’t bother to challenge. She looked over Seungwan’s shoulder, finally noticing the presence of someone else in the room. “Oh, Joohyun-ssi”, she greeted warmly. “I didn’t know you two were still friends”

Joohyun nearly jumped in place. She immediately bent in an almost 90-degree bow which had both sisters studying her with confusion. “Hello, Seunghee-ssi”, she said, looking a little pale as she straightened up.

Seunghee offered a polite bow in return, but her attention seemed to remain on Joohyun and her strange behaviour, so Seungwan cleared before things got too awkward. “So, why were you here again?”, she requested once more, succeeding in recovering her sister’s attention.

“Oh, right. I have a big deadline coming up at work and I’ll probably spend the next couple of weeks living in my office. That means I’ll miss your birthday, so I thought I could come by and we’d celebrate early”, she explained with a smile.

It was actually really nice of her, and Seungwan was thankful that she’d made the time to visit her. But she was still her older sister, so she couldn’t just say that. “And you couldn’t have called? I could have been busy today”, she said instead, groaning as her sister reached out to ruffle her hair in response.

“If I called, you could weasel your way out of it. This way I don’t give you any choice”, she pointed out with a smirk. “Come on, I’ll treat you to dinner. Just not at the cafeteria, please. And until dinner time, we could talk in the lounge or something. Tell me what you’ve been up to”, she offered happily. Her eyes left Seungwan for a second, studying the flustered girl still standing by the bed. “Joohyun-ssi, you can come too, if you want”

On their way through corridors and down stairs, Seunghee received a work call, leaving Seungwan and Joohyun behind to talk in hushed voices. “What was that?”, Seungwan asked with poorly-concealed amusement. They were just far enough apart that their hands wouldn’t brush as they walked, an imposition on Joohyun’s part that was particularly pointless when she’d clung to her arm well before they’d been dating.

“She’s your sister”, Joohyun pointed out with wide eyes, like that said everything. It clearly didn’t, and Seungwan tried to signal that as she furrowed her brow in confusion. “What if she figures it out? What if she hates me? She’ll think I corrupted her little sister”, she gasped out in horror.

“Well, I mean…”, Seungwan said suggestively, and Joohyun wasted no time in smacking her arm. She knew she should take Joohyun more seriously, but seeing the older girl look so uneasy was an unexpected reminder that Joohyun was just as insecure as her, just another person trying to figure things out. “Look, relax, it’s just my sister. She won’t notice anything, as long as we don’t act too suspicious. It’ll be fine, you just have to calm down a little”, she tried, as reassuring as she could manage.

Joohyun didn’t look reassured at all, so Seungwan reached for her arm, ignoring her protests. “Hyun-ah”, she began gently, but Joohyun interrupted her with a scandalized gasp at the formalities they’d grown used to dropping in private. “Unnie”, she tried again, which soothed the older girl at least a little. “Nobody noticed we’re together and even before that, nobody noticed you liked me, right? So she won’t notice anything either, it’s fine, I promise”

Joohyun took a deep breath, and although it was a bit shaky, she still looked slightly better after the exhale. She nodded, allowing Seungwan to keep her grip on her arm even when Seunghee finished her call and returned to their side.

Sitting on the lounge with her sister and Joohyun, it was strange how much it felt like she’d travelled back in time, even stranger to think of all the ways the three of them had changed in just a couple of years. Their conversation flowed unexpectedly easily, with Seungwan serving as mediator, a role that she was more than happy to take. Even though she’d told Joohyun that it was only her sister, she couldn’t deny that she was pleased to see Seunghee get along so easily with her girlfriend.

“Joohyun-ah”, Seunghee said, already treating her more casually, but still enforcing the full authority she had as the oldest in the group. “Would you mind getting us some coffee? It’d give me and my little mouse some sisterly time”, she explained, pinching Seungwan’s cheek as the youngest simply sighed in defeat. Joohyun had better not pick up that particular nickname.

Joohyun got up without hesitation, heading to the long line in front of the coffee machine. Despite how bad the coffee actually was, all the students seemed to flock to it. As soon as she was out of earshot, Seunghee began to speak, eyes still on Joohyun’s receding back.

“Baby Seungwan-ah would have been so happy to know you were still close with your favourite unnie”, she commented with nostalgia, a little smile quirking up the corners of . “And high school Seungwan-ah too, I’d bet. After all, she was your favourite upperclassman, wasn’t she? And your favourite freshman. She was your favourite a lot of things”, she pointed out, turning to her with a smirk, and suddenly Seungwan could sympathize with Joohyun’s panic.

Oh well. There was no point in lying, not with Seunghee. She sighed, admitting the truth with a shrug. “Are we that obvious?”, she finally asked, a little worried.

“No, not at all”, Seunghee reassured her at once. “I mean, Joohyun-ah a little, but she was probably just nervous about me, right? But I’m your sister, of course I’d notice something like this”, she explained casually.

“I’m sorry”, Seungwan said in a low voice. “That I didn’t tell you anything. And, I guess, that I’m…”

“Dating a girl?”, her sister cut in with amusement. “Eh, it could be worse. You could still be dating that from your senior year. I swear, you only paid attention to him to give me an aneurysm”

Seungwan bumped into her in protest. “I never dated him, obviously. And please, like I’d ever do anything because of you”, she added contrarily, before stopping herself. Was it okay to joke around after her sister had just shrugged off her dating a girl like it was nothing? Maybe she should actually show some gratitude. She was about to, when Seunghee beat her to it.

“Anyway, I’m the one who should be apologizing”, she said, suddenly serious, and Seungwan was stumped. She blinked at her in confusion, but she was already carrying on. “I mean, I suspected it. You kept coming back and I never saw you with anyone but her. It wasn’t too hard to put two and two together”

Seunghee shrugged, still looking ahead. Still in her work clothes, she looked so much like a grownup. Like she could have kids of her own any day now. “I just thought, you know, I was so busy with finishing school and wondering if I was doing the right thing, I told myself if you wanted to talk, then you’d say something”

Seungwan raised a hand to Seunghee’s shoulder, not sure what else she could do to comfort her, to let her know that no apologies were necessary. “But you were my little sister, you shouldn’t have had to say something. If I knew something was wrong, I should have brought it up. Instead, I buried my head in the sand and pretended I didn’t notice. So I’m sorry for that”

It would be very embarrassing to cry in the middle of the crowded lounge, especially if it was because of something her older sister had said, but Seunghee didn’t look much better than her in that department, which was a little comforting. She took a steadying breath, squeezing her sister’s shoulder to say what couldn’t express quite yet.

“It’s okay, unnie”, she said once she was confident that she could speak. “Looking back, I think we were all dealing with a lot. And neither of us noticed anything but our own issues”, she commented, knowing that she didn’t just mean her and Seunghee. It had been exactly the same with Joohyun, and she had been at the centre, seeing them both but never really looking beyond the surface.

“It’s weird how older kids always look like they have so much more figured out than us”, Seungwan mused, more to herself than anything. “And then we grow up, and we’re the age they were when we looked up to them, and we feel exactly the same. Just as confused and messed up”

They fell silent, watching Joohyun slowly move up the line, coming closer and closer to the coffee machine. “Unnie?”, Seungwan asked. “Are you happy? I mean, is your job… Is it still something that you…”, she tried hesitantly, unsure how to word it.

“You know what? I actually like it”, Seunghee admitted with a chuckle. “It’s nothing like school and I’m working with a group that’s mostly people my age, so that’s nice. Obviously I’m not excited about that deadline, but for the most part I do like what I do”

“That’s good. I’m really glad”, Seungwan replied honestly. It was something she hadn’t done in years, but she let her hands wrap around Seunghee’s upper arm, pulling her in for a very awkward side hug. Both sisters began to laugh as soon as it was over, but she didn’t regret it.

“How about you?”, Seunghee asked. She furrowed her brow, wondering what she meant, but her sister was quick to clarify. “Are you happy?”

“Oh” She caught Joohyun’s eye as she moved up another spot and flashed her a bright smile, which the older girl returned before she could stop herself, freezing after a second and fixing her with a threatening glare that only made Seungwan smile harder. “Yeah. I think I am”

Her sister chuckled by her side, not a moment of the interaction lost, even if she pretended not to have noticed for Joohyun’s sake. “Happy birthday, Seungwan-ah”, she said softly. “What are you going to wish for this year?”

“I have no idea”, she confessed with a laugh. Seunghee smiled at her words, winking at Joohyun as the girl finally made her way back with their drinks. Sitting there, with her sister and her girlfriend, with the whole future ahead of her, she had no idea what else she could possibly want.

It felt like something was ending, something that had begun so long ago, something that she’d been carrying with her for years. But it also felt like something was beginning, and she couldn’t wait to find out what it would be.

 

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A/N: Hi everybody. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. This story is very special to me so I wanted to talk a little bit about it.

Like I mentioned in the foreword, this is a story about growing up. That's why I wanted to divide it into 3 chapters, with each of them focusing on a specific time in Seungwan's life. The first would be about a young, innocent Seungwan who is happy to admire Joohyun from afar, the second about a teenage Seungwan who is struggling, no longer satisfied with not being able to have Joohyun, no matter how much she wishes she could be. And the third is about an older Seungwan, who finds a balance between love and the rest of her life and finds her happiness.

But the story is also about the growth of her relationship with Joohyun. In the first two chapters, Seungwan sees Joohyun as someone who is unattainable, completely out of reach, and it's only in the third chapter that Joohyun becomes her equal. It's only when Seungwan stops idolizing her that she sees Joohyun's flaws and, as a consequence, her struggles. And that's why it's only in the last chapter that we get to see Joohyun's side of the story, because that's when she becomes a person rather than a dream or an angel or a goddess.

This brings me to the age difference between Joohyun and Seungwan. In this fic, Joohyun is 2 years older, and that was one of the things I found interesting to explore as Seungwan grew up. This kind of age gap becomes meaningless as you get older, but when the story begins and Seungwan is only 13, a 15-year old in high school would feel so out of reach. And the inverse is true, because Joohyun definitely saw her as a cute kid at that age. She never considered anything else. And when Seungwan is 16, an 18-year old in college feels just within reach, but anyone who is older and an outside observer would know that it's not a healthy relationship. That's why her sister was so worried about that upperclassman making a move on Seungwan. When Seungwan is 18 and Joohyun is 20, that's when they're finally two adults meeting on equal grounds, and Seungwan knows that. She knows things wouldn't have worked out before.

I noticed a lot of comments wondering whether Joohyun liked Seulgi or Seungwan or someone else. I was surprised, but I guess it makes sense, because just like Seungwan, the readers didn't really know anything about Joohyun's personal life and her feelings. Now that you know Joohyun's side of things, I hope everything that happened in the first two chapters makes more sense.

Again, I hope you enjoyed reading this. Thank you for all the attention, all the upvotes and comments, they all make me really happy and encourage me to keep writing. Come find me on twitter (@numot94) if you want :)

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150 upvotes! You all are so generous and supportive, thank you so much for all the attention you've given this story ^^
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