They didn’t have a serious conversation about that night in the club.
They didn’t have a non-serious conversation about that night in the club.
They had no conversation about that night in the club.
Moonbyul couldn’t understand what possessed Yongsun to waltz off like that without telling someone, anyone, where she was going. Yongsun couldn’t figure out why Moonbyul approached her so suddenly with so much attitude. Both chalked it up to the ‘madness’ part of Midnight Madness weekend and kept it moving.
What Yongsun couldn’t move past, though, was how rude Moonbyul had been towards her friends, primarily because it gave Chorong an excuse to trash the junior. And trash her she did. In fact, she hadn’t stopped since that night, and there was nothing that Yongsun could say or do in Moonbyul’s defense. It was frustrating.
“I knew she would be like that. Didn’t I say that would happen, Changsub?” It was the first time that all three of them had met up again since Midnight Madness weekend. After everything that the Friday had become, Yongsun opted to skip Saturday’s party to recover and relax, much to Chorong, Wheein, Hyejin, and Moonbyul’s annoyance.
“You said a lot of things,” Changsub replied noncommittally.
“Of course you wouldn’t say anything bad about her,” she scoffed and rolled her eyes before explaining to Yongsun, “Moonbyul introduced him to a bunch of girls on Saturday. Barely acknowledged me though.” Clearly she was bitter.
“Well, you talk about her all the time,” Changsub laughed. “How do you expect her to behave towards you? I think she has the right idea. Both of you should just ignore each other. It’d be more peaceful that way.”
Yongsun didn’t say much, she just listened. Neither Moonbyul nor Chorong liked the other and there was nothing she could do to change that.
“Whatever,” Chorong switched gears. “Have you spoken to Jinyoung? He kept asking about you all night on Saturday. It was kind of cute.”
“I had to stop him from messaging you after he found out you weren’t coming. What’s going on with the two of you?” It was Changsub’s turn to play Nosy Nancy with Yongsun’s love life.
“You are both a mess. Chorong, I expected this from, but you, Changsub, I’m disappointed.” He chuckled, not taking her seriously.
“That’s fine. Answer the question,” he urged while taking a sip of his Americano. The three were at the same café in Sharosugil* that Yongsun and Chorong had frequented the week prior. It was where the latter first informed her friend about Jinyoung’s potential crush on her.
“Nothing out of the ordinary is going on with us. We’re friends, just like I’m friends with you.”
He looked at her skeptically. “Definitely not like how you and I are friends, but I see that you don’t want to talk about it, so okay.”
“Thank you,” she answered, gratitude coloring her tone.
“Before we drop this, though,” he added hastily, “you haven’t said if you like him or not, and I’ll respect your privacy on that, but the two of you would look really good together. And you know I normally don’t say things like that. Your personalities would work well together, too.”
“I’ll take that into consideration. Thanks.”
She was over the conversation. Her deadpan response told him as much. “Okay. I won’t bring it up again. Please don’t bite my head off.” That got an eyeroll from her, but also a smile. Changsub pumped his fist in celebration. “Yes! She smiled.”
“Okay!” Chorong put her phone down on the table. “What are we doing tonight? I feel like doing something to celebrate being able to breathe again.”
For the past couple of weeks, Midnight Madness was all anyone talked about, but what few failed to mention was how to both prepare for that weekend of marathon partying and best set one’s self up for the week immediately after—midterms.
Despite not attending Saturday’s festivities, Yongsun was not immune to the same way of thinking that many of her peers had succumbed to. She did nothing school-related on Saturday and, as with her friends and most of SNU, woke up on Sunday realizing that she had run out of time. All of the research papers and presentations that were put off because “they weren’t due soon,” were due. Soon. That very week, actually.
Needless to say, this past week had been miserable for almost everyone. It passed by like molasses poured out of a jar. Getting through each day felt like walking up an escalator that was heading in the opposite direction—not impossible to accomplish if one expended enough energy, but also so energy‑consuming that thoughts of succeeding fled one’s mind as quickly as they entered. For lack of more sophisticated phrasing, the week was . Chorong was simply saying what everyone was thinking and yearning for: a Friday night to get drunk, start the weekend off well, and completely erase the past week from memory.
Yongsun felt horrible for having to decline the offer.
“I can’t do anything tonight.”
Maybe, Yongsun thought, if she avoided eye contact with Chorong, her friend would take the news better. She picked up her phone and began haphazardly opening and closing apps. “Heading to the basketball game,” she responded in what she hoped was a nonchalant tone.
“That’ll be over by 9:00 pm, 9:30 pm the latest. You’d still be able to meet up with us at whatever bar we go to.” Chorong was not understanding what the issue was.
“I’m supposed to hang out with Byulyi, Wheein, and Hyejin,” she mumbled. Her friends absolutely adored Wheein and Hyejin. They thought they were the cutest undergrads ever. It was the mention of Moonbyul that she knew would tick Chorong off. After a beat or two, a response came.
“You can’t miss out on one Friday with them?” Yongsun knew that what she really meant was, ‘You can’t miss out on one Friday with her?’
“Rong, I promised them. I’m sorry, I can’t.”
Truthfully, beyond going to Moonbyul’s game with Wheein and Hyejin, she hadn’t promised anything to the three of them for this Friday. They had all been so swamped with midterms that most of their interactions were limited to messages in their group chat. She assumed, though, that after such a stressful week, they’d definitely be looking forward to continuing their weekly tradition of getting together to unwind.
“Okay, Yongsun.” Chorong’s tone was cold.
It was getting increasingly more difficult to balance both of her friend groups. It was also getting increasingly more difficult to swallow her frustration with how she was vilified every time she mentioned spending time with Moonbyul. Regardless of what others thought, Byulyi was her best friend and she wasn’t going to drop her simply because another one of her close friends didn’t like what the athlete may or may not be doing with other women. It wasn’t Chorong’s business, it wasn’t Yongsun’s business, and it certainly wasn’t a valid reason to dislike the basketball star.
Still, she didn’t want to fight. Taking a step back, she understood that, in her own way, Chorong was trying to protect and look out for her. Her friend also just wanted to spend time with her and, if Yongsun was being honest with herself, she did prioritize time with Byulyi over time with everyone else. After a deep, calming breath, she spoke up, voice delicate, nonconfrontational.
“If I knew about this early enough, I would have changed plans and hung out with you all.” Chorong nodded in response before giving a bit, too.
“It’s okay. There’s always next time.”
“Speaking of next time,” Changsub . The two women had forgotten he was there. “You’re joining us for Jinyoung’s birthday dinner, right? Don’t roll your eyes. This has nothing to do with anything romantic. Our entire friend group is planning it to celebrate him this year. And it’s three weeks away, so you can’t say we didn’t give you enough notice. It’ll be lowkey, nothing big. He’s not one for all that hoopla.”
“When is it?”
“You don’t know his birthday? Worst crush ever,” Changsub joked. Chorong chuckled at that.
“I know his birthday!” She defended herself. “What day is the dinner though? Because his birthday falls on that Saturday, but another friend is celebrating their birthday that weekend, too.”
“Geez, you are booked and busy. We’re doing the dinner on that Friday; he’s heading home the next day to have a dinner with his family.”
“He’s a family man,” Chorong winked at Yongsun.
“The two of you are a mess,” she laughed. “I’ll call my friend later, but I’d imagine that would be fine. He’s celebrating the entire weekend, so I think he’ll be okay with me missing that Friday.”
“He?” Both of the Cs asked at the same time. Yongsun dramatically rolled her eyes.
“Anyway!” She changed the topic to ask a question about an assignment down the line for their Methodology of Counseling Research class. She also made a mental note to call Eric later.
The basketball game was a lot of fun. SNU defeated Yonsei handily, 67-40. The atmosphere for the first game of the season was electric.
It had been some time since Yongsun was able to simply enjoy a game. For years, all sporting events were considered work for her. Sitting around laughing and joking with Wheein and Hyejin felt amazing.
Moonbyul was . . . she had no words to describe her best friend. As with anything Moonbyul-related, Yongsun had heard people talk. Unlike with rumors about her love life affairs, though, the rumors about her athletic ability had all been overwhelmingly positive. If she were to listen to everything others said, she’d believe Moon Byulyi was the best basketball player to ever walk the Earth.
Now that she actually had the opportunity to watch the blonde in action, she’d argue that the rave reviews about Moonbyul still didn’t do her justice.
To say that she commanded her team, the game, would be an understatement. The basketball moved as if it were part of her hands. The control she had over it was otherworldly. The ball went where she wanted, when she wanted, how she wanted, if she wanted. Moonbyul’s movements were fluid, graceful. She was a blur half the time given her speed, but if one focused and really watched her, they’d see how in control of her body she was. Everything was intentional.
Everyone on the court respected her. Yongsun noticed how attentive to Moonbyul the opposite team was, always ensuring that at least two players were committed to defending her at all times—one in front of her, and a second always nearby to either double the junior or play help defense should she beat her initial defender. Yongsun took in how Moonbyul confidently explained to her teammates where they needed to be, changing offensive and defensive schemes at a whim. Her teammates always listened. This, according to Hyejin and Wheein, was new. Byulyi wasn’t as vocal the year before; everything else they were accustomed to, but they joined Yongsun in marveling at their unnie’s newfound confidence and assertiveness.
“That’s hot,” Hyejin had said when first noticing it, to which Wheein responded, “You say everything is hot. . . . But yeah, that’s hot.” It was one of many laughter-filled moments the three of them shared throughout the game.
Once it ended, Yongsun stood up to leave. She figured they’d all go to their respective homes and gather themselves before reconvening later on.
“Where are you going, unnie?” It was Wheein that had asked her as Hyejin eyed her oddly.
“Home. Aren’t we all going home before we meet up later?” The silence she was met with was disconcerting. She felt as if an important piece of information had missed her.
“We usually wait for unnie after her games. She does her interviews, then she showers and gets her treatments done. After all that, she meets us here. See,” Hyejin pointed to the growing crowd of people down by the court floor, “family and friends—“
“And groupies,” Wheein interrupted.
“And groupies,” Hyejin continued, “tend to wait down there for the players. After the game Byul-unnie had, though, she’ll probably be one of the last ones to come out, so we can wait in our seats. There’s no rush.”
“Yeah, she’s probably going to be in a bunch of interviews after this. Being one of the best players is a blessing and a curse, I guess.”
There was no “one of the best” in Yongsun’s mind. After what she had witnessed, there was no doubt that Moonbyul had been the best player on the floor. That was by no means any disrespect towards other players. If anything, it was a testament to how phenomenal Moonbyul was. There had been some very good basketball players on both teams. The blonde outshined them all.
She was glad, though, that she had turned down Chorong’s earlier invitation to hang out. Had she agreed and then kept them waiting this long, she would have felt terrible.
After watching every other player and coach filter out of the locker room and back out to the court, the trio finally saw Moonbyul emerge. They stood up from their seats, but only Wheein and Hyejin descended the stairs, making their way to the blonde. Yongsun stood back for a bit and regarded Moonbyul some. The basketball star deftly maneuvered her way through the fanfare, stopping to take pics with fans young and old, schmooze SNU athletic administrators, and greet her teammates’ families. As she found her way to Wheein and Hyejin, Yongsun decided she’d spent enough time creepily watching Moonbyul’s every move and left to join her friends.
She noticed the three chatting animatedly amongst themselves as she approached them.
“What’s going on?” she asked as she walked up behind Wheein.
Hyejin excitedly responded as she made way for Yongsun to join their circle. “Byul-unnie’s parents are here!”
“I’m surprised you’re so excited, since everyone knows Wheein is their favorite,” Moonbyul commented, genuine shock in her voice.
“Wheein is your mom’s favorite, I’m your dad’s. And you know I like my men older, so it’s fine with me.”
Moonbyul and Wheein couldn’t possibly show more disgust on their faces if they tried.
“You’re gross,” Moonbyul deadpanned.
“Hyejin, that’s gross.”
“What?! He’s handsome.” Hyejin legitimately didn’t understand their pushback. Okay, yes, he was Moonbyul’s father, but he was also very handsome and charming! Did they want her to lie about that?
“They’re coming. You,” Byulyi pointed at Hyejin, “stay quiet. Say nothing, please. I beg.” All four were laughing as Byulyi’s parents walked up to them.
“What’s so funny,” her mother asked excitedly.
“Auntie!” both Wheein and Hyejin exclaimed.
Once both calmed down and greeted Moon Sangcheol and Park Kyungah properly, the latter circled back to her initial question.
“What were all of you laughing at when we arrived?”
Yongsun knew Hyejin could be a bit unfiltered at times, so she stood a bit back with a small smile on her face, genuinely interested in seeing if the youngest would be honest. Moonbyul and Wheein, however, glared at their friend, willing her with their eyes to either stay quiet or lie. She wasn’t known to do either of those things, but they prayed that she’d choose that moment to start.
“I was saying that I’m Uncle’s favorite and that he’s handsome, both of which are true, so I don’t know what their problem is.”
Like father, like daughter they say. That applied to Moon Sangcheol and his eldest daughter in this moment. Both stood quietly with faces turning increasingly more red by the second.
Kyungah caressed her husband’s neck affectionately. “He’s embarrassed. How cute,” she cooed. “The two of us take turns, though. We love you both equally as if you were our own. Byul-ah, are you going to introduce us to your new friend?”
Yongsun blanched. She’d come here tonight to watch her friend play and make jokes with two of her other friends. She was not prepared to meet parents. This internal strife went unbeknownst to Moonbyul, who introduced her like it was the easiest thing in the world.
“Ah! Omma, appa, this is Yongsun. Kim Yongsun.” Just like that. Yongsun waited, as she expected Moonbyul to say more, but was surprised when understanding colored the faces of each parent.
“Oh! This is Yongsun. We’ve heard a lot about you, dear. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. Byulyi mentions you often. Thank you so much for taking care of our baby and keeping her head on straight.”
They were in their second year of university, but Hyejin and Wheein, at their core, were toddlers. The mention of the word “straight” in the same sentence as anything related to their unnie made them burst into a fit of giggles. The blonde wanted to be annoyed, but couldn’t help the snort that escaped her. Apparently, she, too, was a child. Yongsun couldn’t participate in the fun. She was too preoccupied stressing over how to respond to Moonbyul’s mother. Palms were sweating, face grew flushed.
“It’s nice to meet you, too . . .,” she choked out, suddenly realizing she had no idea how to address the woman. Thankfully, Kyungah understood her concern.
“You can call me Auntie. And call this one Uncle,” she grabbed her husband’s arm. The man reminded her of her own father. He hadn’t spoken much since arriving.
“Thank you, . . . Auntie. Uncle.” Yongsun bowed at the both of them.
“There’s no need for that, Yongsun,” Kyungah gestured for her to stand. “You are so cute! Are you joining us for dinner?”
Two people froze at that question.
“Dinner?” Yongsun was responding to Moonbyul’s mother, but her eyes were trained on the basketball star, demanding that she explain.
“Byul-ah, don’t tell me you didn’t mention dinner to them. I told you to tell your friends!”
“I’m sorry, omma. It slipped my mind! In between training and midterms, I forgot to mention it to them.”
Moonbyul knew what she was doing. Her parents would excuse almost any wrongdoing on her part if she mentioned school. As expected, it worked.
“Fine,” her mother sighed. She wanted to be annoyed. There weren’t many opportunities for her to spend time with Moonbyul’s friends. Hyejin and Wheein were fun girls. Playfully mischievous, but sweet and good-natured. She enjoyed her time with them; they made her feel younger. And this Kim Yongsun. Any time she called her daughter, she was either “hanging out with Yongsun-unnie,” “on her way to hang out with Yongsun-unnie,” “just left “hanging out with Yongsun-unnie,” or mentioning something or other about “Yongsun-unnie”. Kyungah had high hopes of getting to know this girl better. She had proposed they all get together for dinner after the first game of the season and was looking forward to it!
But Moonbyul forgot. And Kyungah couldn’t be too upset because she knew her daughter had a lot on her mind, and midterms were stressful. So, fine.
“Next time,” she added gently. Just like that, she moved on to asking Wheein and Hyejin about their studies in Painting and Fashion Design and Communications, respectively, making sure to drag her husband with her. Yongsun, though, wasn’t over it.
Walking away from the others and towards Moonbyul, she lowered her voice dangerously. “Dinner?”
“I forgot. Don’t be mad,” the blonde tried placating her.
“You forgot? I turned down plans for tonight thinking we were all hanging out because that’s what usually happens on Fridays and because no one told me that we were not doing that tonight.”
“Unnie. Calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down, Byulyi,” she whisper-yelled. “Did Wheein and Hyejin know?”
Avoiding eye contact, she answered. “Yeah.”
“So everyone knew except me. Nice.” Yongsun turned to leave, but felt a hand on her arm before she could take a step. She was swiftly turned back around.
“I only told them just now and was going to mention it earlier after I texted you ‘good morning’, but then we started talking about that movie and I forgot. They aren’t going either.” Two strong arms enclosed Yongsun’s waist from her left side. “Come on, don’t be mad, unnie. I’m sorry.”
Usually, this combined with Moonbyul resting her head on Yongsun’s shoulder was enough to fix a situation like this. Not this time.
“Get off of me,” Yongsun struggled in the junior’s grasp. “I’m serious, Byul, get off of me.” Moonbyul did as she was told.
“Why are you making this a big deal? I forgot. I’m sorry. It’s not like I did it on purpose!” Now she was whisper-yelling.
“It doesn’t matter if you did it on purpose or not. You still did it.” Yongsun took a few breaths before continuing. “I turned down plans earlier to hang out with you all. Do you know how much I got for that? And now I’m supposed to calm down because ‘you forgot’ and because ‘you’re sorry’?” Moonbyul could hear the quotes in her voice.
Quickly scanning where her parents, Hyejin, and Wheein were, she responded after ensuring they were still going strong in conversation. “Well, at least now you can hang out with whoever asked you to hang out. Problem solved.”
If eyerolls could kill. “You know what? Forget it. I’m going home and going to sleep.”
“Are you serious right now? You said you canceled plans to hang out with us, now you can un-cancel those plans. What’s the problem?” It really shouldn’t be this difficult, Moonbyul thought.
“There’s no problem,” Yongsun calmly answered. Too calmly. “I said I’m going home. There’s no problem.”
“Here we go,” Moonbyul mumbled.
“What?! I already canceled with them, I’m not going to run back now saying, ‘Oh, Byulyi made other plans, so here I am, tail tucked between my legs, running back after turning you down earlier to hang out with her.’ No. I’m tired anyway. The week was long and challenging and I’m not in the mood to go out anymore. I’m going to sleep. I need the rest.”
There were some times Yongsun would say and do things that Moonbyul would and could never understand. For the sake of their friendship, though, she would still apologize and try to fix whatever the problem was. Trying her luck at physical contact again, she carefully approached her unnie and hugged her from the side.
“What if I come over after dinner?” She was met with silence. “Helloooo, Earth to Yongsun-unnie.” A finger found its way to one of the older girl’s cheeks, playfully poking it.
Yongsun rolled her eyes, but still responded, although reluctantly. “Won’t that be too late?”
‘This girl,’ the athlete thought. “It’s about to be, what? 9:45 pm? We’ll find somewhere nearby and get seated by 10:15 pm. Probably won’t stay for long because I don’t like my parents driving back this late. Dinner will be around an hour. I can come to your place around midnight. Would that be okay?” Her voice was low, soothing. She needed Yongsun to see that she was sorry and that she was trying.
“We can hang out another day, Byul-ah. That’s too late for you. Especially after a long week and a game.”
“I’m going to be up anyway. I always watch film after a game. Our Video Coordinator usually sends me the raw footage a couple hours after the game is over, so I was already going to do that. You can watch it with me, use that y brain of yours to help me catch things I miss. Hmm?”
It took time, but eventually, an answer came. “Don’t call my brain y. That’s weird.”
“Yes, ma’am. You’ll watch it with me, though?” Moonbyul was watching Yongsun hopefully with the puppiest of puppy eyes. She knew Yongsun was soft for those.
“Whatever,” Yongsun answered, trying her best to sound dismissive.
The younger of the two briefly squeezed the elder’s waist before letting go. “Perfect. I’ll call when I’m at your door, okay?” She was excited. She fixed this before it turned into a bigger fight and she secured time to hang out with Yongsun. Winning.
The two rejoined the younger girls who were still engaged in conversation with Moonbyul’s parents. After a few minutes, Yongsun bid them all goodbye. She hadn’t been lying to Moonbyul—she was exhausted and needed to go to sleep.
She hadn’t been sleeping for long.
By the time she had gotten home, removed her makeup, brushed her teeth, showered, and jumped into bed, it was 10:30 pm. Yongsun fell asleep immediately, which was perfect, except now she was up again. Because her phone was ringing nonstop and there was banging on her door. It was 12:20 am and, as with almost every weekend, Misuk had gone home, so no one else was around to take care of the door.
She placed her face into her pillow, letting out a frustrated scream, before snatching her phone from the faux-wooden night table beside her bed. It was Moonbyul.
Yongsun had been so grateful to get some sleep that she momentarily forgot the junior had even promised to come over after dinner with her parents. It was a nice gesture, but she really didn’t have to come. They had the entire weekend to hang out. Moonbyul’s insistence on coming now, at this time of night, or morning, rather, left Yongsun puzzled, and after getting the slightest of tastes of uninterrupted sleep, she was a bit grumpy about it.
“Hmm,” she grunted into her phone.
“I’m at your door.”
Yongsun hung up.
She laid in bed for another five minutes before heaving a heavy sigh and mustering enough strength and desire to go open the door.
Moonbyul is smart. A very intelligent young woman. Nothing demonstrated that more than her reaction to Yongsun’s apartment door being aggressively swung open. Face-to-face with a scowling, barefaced Yongsun, she quickly lifted her right hand, showing the filled plastic bag that accompanied her.
“I brought you food from the restaurant,” she said out loud with an unsure smile.
“Mmm.” And with that, Yongsun turned and trudged back to her bedroom. That was, honestly, the best reaction that Moonbyul could have wished for. Yongsun wasn’t sure what the athlete was up to when she left her in the kitchen at the entrance of the apartment, but she figured the blonde would put whatever food she had brought into the fridge before joining her in her bedroom.
She was too far gone to realize that they had never before hung out in her room—it had always been in the living room—so she chalked Moonbyul’s cautious steps and behavior up to the basketball player being afraid of her in her sleep deprived state. She didn’t quite understand why Moonbyul, now in the bedroom, was standing awkwardly by the door, shifting from side to side with a notebook and her laptop tucked underneath her left armpit. Yongsun hadn’t processed that the only chair in the room was full of clothes that needed to be put away, leaving the younger woman unsure of where to sit.
“Why are you just standing there?” She grumbled, aggressively ing herself back into her bed and under her covers.
“Uh . . . where should I sit?”
Yongsun had yet to fully comprehend to significance of this moment. She had finally realized that the chair was not an option, but still didn’t quite get it. She didn’t understand why her friend was being so weird.
“Just come on the bed,” she nonchalantly replied snuggling further into her covers with eyes closed, but shuffling to her left some to make space for the other. Moonbyul, she earlier realized, was wearing house clothes, so she assumed she had showered after her dinner. In terms of cleanliness, her getting on the bed was a nonissue.
“Are you sure?”
That made Yongsun open her eyes and stare at Moonbyul, who was now at the foot of the bed.
“Why are you acting so weird? You showered, right?” Moonbyul nodded. “Okay then. The chair is full and I’m not going to make you sit on the floor. Just come on the bed,” she finished off with a yawn.
Moonbyul softly placed her laptop and notebook on the end of the bed before hesitantly walking around and carefully climbing into the space Yongsun had made for her.
“You’re bed’s so high.”
Yong to her right side to face Moonbyul. It took her a moment to get comfortable again, but once she placed her right hand underneath her pillow, and her left arm on top of it, she smiled contentedly. Only then did she bother to respond to Byul.
“It gives me more storage space, which is the main reason, but I also like climbing and jumping onto the bed, so it serves two purposes.”
Both were quiet after that.
Moonbyul heard soft, measured breaths coming from Yongsun on her left. Assuming the brunette had fallen asleep again, she took the chance to fully take in everything that was Yongsun’s bedroom. She’d briefly been in the room a couple times to use the bathroom, but only a nightlight had been on both times. She had never spent an extended period of time in it, and certainly not with the lights on.
It was very. . . Yongsun—neat, organized—, but also a bit not? Or rather, there were a few things that were surprising. Her unnie was caring, but she was also a straightforward woman. She said what needed to be said most of the time, even if it was a bit harsh. The stuffed animals, then, that were neatly arranged on her desk across the room caught Moonbyul off-guard. She’d never have thought of Yongsun as soft enough for stuffed animals. Nor would she have imagined the graduate student’s pajamas would match one of the stuffed animals on the desk. The room also smelled extremely good. So good that it took Moonbyul a moment to adjust to it. It’s not that she expected it to smell poorly, not at all. It’s more that she had never been in a room that smelled this good. Vanilla and cinnamon. Perfect for autumn. The two were great separately, but the blonde had never before smelled them together. Judging by the way she instinctively smiled as she inhaled the scent wafting through the air, the athlete appreciated them together. It did, however, make her a bit self‑conscious about what her own room smelled like. She’d have to check on that.
As with Yongsun’s living room, string lights were hung around the perimeter of the bedroom. These, coupled with the intoxicating smell of the room and how comfortable the bed was, left Moonbyul unsure of why Yongsun ever left this space. She had everything she needed. A small television was propped on top of the mini-bookshelf that was strategically placed on top of the desk across the way. Other than the television and the strobe lights, Moonbyul had everything Yongsun had—the same furniture, the exact same room layout. But Yongsun’s room felt infinitely better. Much more comfortable. Cozy. She’d have to make sure they hung out in here more often moving forward.
“Why are you sitting there so stiff like that?” Yongsun’s voice jarred Moonbyul a bit.
“You scared me, I thought you were asleep.”
“Nope. Just resting my eyes.”
Moonbyul rolled her eyes as she picked up the pillow behind her back and threw it towards the wall on the left that the bed was pushed up against. She crawled down to grab her notebook and laptop before sitting with her back against the headboard.
“That’s the same thing as sleeping.”
“It’s not. If it was the same thing, I would have said I was sleeping,” Yongsun sassed back. Her tone was lower, voice thick with sleep. The younger smiled at her unnie, enjoying how cute she was being.
“Okay, unnie,” she conceded. Opening her laptop, she pulled up the game film that was emailed to her an hour or so ago. “Are you going to watch with me,” she softly asked Yongsun, whose eyes were, once again, closed.
Yongsun her teeth and complained, but she still opened her eyes and got closer to Moonbyul.
“You can’t see like that,” Moonbyul added. “Come. Put your head here.” She had since placed the open laptop in the space to her right, so, in order to make sure Yongsun could see, she guided the graduate student to place her head on her stomach. Yongsun threw her left arm around Moonbyul’s waist. “Someone’s getting a little too comfortable,” Byul reacted. On the outside, she was joking about the situation, but on the inside, she was not as composed.
The two had never been this close physically before. Moonbyul had been close with girls before—in situations similar to this one, actually—so she didn’t really know why this was different, why it felt different, but it was and it did. It was almost 1:00 am, though. She didn’t have time to worry about any of that right now. She needed to get on with this so that she could get some rest tonight.
“Why do you even have to watch this now? There’s the entire weekend.”
“There are a few things I want to look at. Things I think I could’ve done better.”
“You’re joking, right?” Moonbyul had had a triple double—23 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds.
“If I were joking, I wouldn’t be here watching this film, would I?”
“I don’t understand you sometimes.”
“Whatever you say, Yongsun-ssi.” Moonbyul winced a bit as Yongsun hit her on her chest.
“Don’t talk to me formally like that.”
“You’re so violent and aggressive.”
“I heard that’s what some people like in a woman.”
“Whoa! Since when do you talk like that?! It must be the tiredness that’s taken away all of your filters and made you so bold.” Moonbyul looked at her with genuine shock, mouth agape.
In an attempt to hide her reddening face, the brunette burrowed her face further into Moonbyul’s stomach. “Shhh! I’m trying to watch the game.”
“You need your eyes to watch the game, and they’re currently in my stomach. If you wanted a peek at the goods, all you had to do was ask. We’re friends. I’d do that for you.”
Yongsun’s subsequent whine was music to Moonbyul’s ears. She chuckled as her unnie continued with her mini-tantrum. Once calm, Yongsun managed to take control of the situation.
“If you’re going to be like this, you can leave.”
“Don’t be like that, unnie,” Byulyi gently answered. “Come.” She threw her left arm around Yongsun, bringing her closer and holding her in place while she turned her focus to the game for real this time. She began taking notes in her notebook with her free hand.
It was comfortable. Every now and then, Yongsun would comment on something in the game, or respond to an insight Moonbyul shared. That lasted about 10 minutes because before she knew it, Yongsun found herself falling asleep to the sounds of the sneakers squeaking, referee whistles blowing, and audience cheers, as a strong arm kept her feeling safe and secure. Moonbyul, she knew, continued on into the morning watching the game, taking mental and physical notes on things she or her teammates needed to improve before the next game.
Three weeks flew by. Before Yongsun knew it, she was spending yet another weekend partying.
“Jinyoung,” she whined, “I can’t.”
Their friend group had completely let loose and all, except for Yongsun, were varying levels of intoxicated. The restaurant they currently occupied was upscale, beyond many of their financial means, but Hodong’s brother owned it, so they were granted a pretty loose leash. That was how they found themselves in a private room with access to a personalized playlist, their own speakers, and copious amounts of alcohol and hors d’oeuvres at their disposal.
“Yongsun,” Jinyoung pouted, “it’s my birthday. Please have a drink. Just one. Or two.” The face she made had him walking that back. “Okay, one. We’re going to do a toast, just drink that. And it’s champagne, not even alcohol alcohol. Champagne.”
The others had been after her all night to drink. Initially, Jinyoung defended her choice from their insistence. After a few rounds of shots, though, he seemed to have forgotten all about that. She should have been annoyed, but she wasn’t, because out of their entire group of five, Jinyoung was the most put-together, the most composed. Always. A man of few words. It was adorable, and oddly refreshing, to watch him let go a bit. It was his birthday celebration. He deserved this.
“Okay, I’ll do the toast with you all when that time comes.”
“Thank you, Yongsun. That would make me very happy.” A laugh almost escaped her, but despite his glassy eyes, he sounded sincere. She nodded her head as he patted her shoulder before walking off to do who knows what.
The music was too loud to hear her phone ringing, but the vibrations alerted her to a call.
“What’s your apartment code again?”
Eric was in town. His promise months ago of a weekend-long Seoul celebration was not lip service. He had real friends that gathered this weekend to celebrate his birth. She’d never tell him, but she was elated to have him here this weekend. It had been too long since she got to spend time with him. His presence, of course, did not come without a minor headache though.
A few days ago, he called asking her if he could stay with her. She thought he had lost his mind.
“I know, I know. It’s completely my fault and I should have checked the details, but at the time, I was so excited to secure everything that I didn’t dot my i’s and cross my t’s.”
“That is such a dated expression, Eric. You talk like an old man. Please.”
“That is not a dated expression. Plenty of people say that, Yongsun. You just hang out with teenagers, so your understanding of how people in their twenties talk is a bit rusty.”
She sighed loudly and her teeth. He laughed, proud that he could get a reaction out of her. It was the only reason he kept ribbing her about being the oldest when hanging out with Moonbyul, Wheein, and Hyejin. She was the oldest member of the ’91 Club, too, but they were all the same age, so his jokes about her age in that group never landed as well as he wanted. He opted, then, to stick to jokes about her undergraduate friends.
“It’s funny, for someone looking for a place to stay, you seem to be forgetting who holds the power right now.”
“Oh my goodness,” he scoffed, “it was a joke. Don’t be like that, Yongsun.”
In his haste, Eric booked his hotel for Saturday to Monday instead of Friday to Monday. He had only realized a few days before Friday and it had been too late by then. The hotel was booked.
“So . . . can I stay with you on Friday? Pretty please?”
“Fine. You’re sleeping on the couch.”
And that was that.
“What did you say, Eric? I can’t hear you. Hold on.”
“Is that your boyfriend?” Chorong asked as Yongsun stood and made her way to the door. She was one of the drunkest.
“Don’t have one,” Yongsun dryly countered.
“But Jinyoung’s right here,” Changsub exclaimed. He was also in contention for most intoxicated.
Ignoring them both, she retreated to one of the hallways of the restaurant, closing the door to their private room behind her.
“Sorry about that. What were you saying?”
“I was asking for the code to your apartment.”
“You better not be bringing anyone back to my place, Eric.”
“Oh my goodness. You assume the worst of everyone. That’s not attractive, Yongsun. You’ll scare all suitors away like that.”
“Did you forget that you need something from me? Because it seems like you forgot.”
“Ugh. I’m not bringing anyone back to your apartment. Got a stain on my shirt so I went to the laundry room down the hall, but forgot the code to get back into your place.”
She quickly rattled it off, making sure to text it to him, too. Her friends drunkenly shouting for her to rejoin the group made Eric laugh.
“Thanks, Yong! I won’t keep you any longer. Seems like you’re the life of the party.”
About 20 minutes later, her phone rang again. Eric dialing her.
Exactly 10 minutes after that, she felt her phone vibrate again. Hastily marching to the hallway to tell him off, she picked up the video call, not registering the name. As the connection was still establishing itself, she lay into the caller.
“Are you five? Stop calling me!” Yongsun’s eyes were too preoccupied roaming the hall to make sure no one was witness to her scolding.
“Uh . . . ” She had grown accustomed to this deep voice, but was not expecting it right now. Finally looking at her phone’s screen, she apologized, unable to hide her embarrassment.
“It’s okay,” the athlete tiredly responded. She was lying face down on what looked to be a hotel bed. “Where’s Hyejin and Wheein?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged, “Probably hanging out somewhere together.” Confusion was written all over Yongsun’s face. It was further exacerbated, though, by the confusion on Moonbyul’s face.
“You’re not with them?”
“Uh uh,” she shook her head.
“But I told you all a couple days ago that I’d video call you tonight from Bengaluru.” There was mild irritation in her voice and it didn’t go unnoticed by Yongsun.
Moonbyul had been gone for the entire week due to her National Team duties. With the Olympics taking place the following summer, this year had been filled with more FIBA*-sanctioned basketball tournaments than usual, but the Korean Basketball Association (KBA)* attempted to manage the wear and tear on players by rotating who got called-up for each event.
The FIBA schedule was not kind to university-athletes. International competitions frequently took place during their school year or summer sessions, and more impactfully, during their own basketball season. As such, even though they communicated with KBA officials to consult on nutrition and training, this was the first time that the university basketball athletes—Moonbyul, Heeyeon, and Kisum—had been called into camp this year with the senior National Team.
Jo Hyeryung, or Kisum as she preferred to be called, was a second-year student at Korea University (KU) studying Media and Communications. Moonbyul and Heeyeon had played against her the previous year when SNU and KU faced off. Even as a first-year, she was talented. Very. Neither Byulyi nor Heeyeon were surprised that she, too, had been called up to the senior team. They had no real opinion on her, but even with their loss to KU in the championship game still stinging, they figured they’d all get closer seeing as the three of them were the youngest.
Despite missing tournaments earlier in the year, it was a great sign that they had made the roster for this tournament, the penultimate Olympic qualifying tournament. It wasn’t some throwaway scouting or practice opportunity; they were competing against some of the best Asian and Oceanic teams and had to finish in the top two of their four-team group, otherwise they’d be out of contention for the Olympics. If they succeeded in securing one of the top spots, though, they’d qualify for the final Olympic qualifying tournament in February that’d have the best teams from Asia, Oceania, the Americas, Africa, and Europe. If the coaches called them in this time, it was because they firmly believed in these players’ ability to compete and win.
A good performance at this tournament almost completely secured a spot on the Olympic team, which was wild to Moonbyul! This was something she had been looking forward all week to sharing with Yongsun, Wheein, and Hyejin. She had texted with them throughout the week and found some time for a few short calls, but the time difference, lack of energy she had after trainings, mandatory team bonding activities, and her friends’ schedules made it difficult to find substantial time to debrief them on everything. This was the very reason why she let each of them know on Tuesday that she’d video call them today. Friday. To make sure they were all together. It was why she had forgone the post-game stroll around Bengaluru with Heeyeon and Kisum. It was why she was face down on a hotel room bed with her head pressed into her pillow, video calling Yongsun, who was now looking back at her with shame written all over her face.
Moonbyul wanted to tell her about the -kicking the Australian team handed them yesterday, but their resilience today in bouncing back with a huge win over the Taiwanese team. She’d been dying to finally tell the story of the disgustingly complicated day of travel they had on Sunday, and to gossip a bit about which players were probably hooking up. But she couldn’t, because Yongsun clearly forgot. Her suspicions were confirmed as the older woman opened to speak.
“Byul-ah,” she started, “I’m so sor-”
“Yong! There you are! We were looking for you.”
Yongsun had been interrupted by a slurred voice that Moonbyul was not at all familiar with. Her first thought was that it was the brunette’s friend Eric. She vivdly remembered Yongsun talking about his birthday weekend and, even though she never outright said it, the amount of times the graduate student brought him up in conversation unprovoked told Moonbyul that he meant a lot to her. She was certainly not off to the best start with her friend’s graduate school social circle, so Moonbyul had hopes of being on good terms with Eric. She stifled her quickly growing annoyance, took a deep breath, and prepared herself to kindly and genuinely greet the man.
“Ah, Jinyoung,” Yongsun softly responded, “now’s not a good time. I’m on the phone. I’ll be back in in a second.” In Yongsun’s defense, Moonbyul thought, she had the courtesy to sound embarrassed.
“Don’t take too long, okay,” Moonbyul heard him say. “We’re going to do the toast soon.”
The booming music from whatever room the rest of their friends were in briefly flooded her ears before Moonbyul heard a door slam closed.
Yongsun forgot because she was out partying. With her other friends. With Jinyoung. Nice.
Byulyi had no problem with the man. Logically, there was no reason to have a problem with him. What she hated—had hated for the past month—was how secretive Yongsun was when it came to him. She never mentioned him, but by the way he called her so informally, by the way Yongsun gently and delicately handled him despite his rude behavior just now, by the way she had completely forgotten about the video call tonight, it was obvious the two were closer than the older one let on. It annoyed her, clearly, and she knew Yongsun could tell. More than that, though, Moonbyul let herself be honest about the fact that this entire debacle hurt her a bit. She had thought that the two of them were closer than this.
Not trusting herself to be genial, the basketball player stayed quiet. Yongsun let her have that moment.
A minute or so later, she tried again. “I’m sorry, Byulyi.” Moonbyul figured she wanted her to respond, but what was there to say? She said nothing, so Yongsun continued, a bit of hope in her voice, “Do you have any time this weekend?”
“We’re busy tomorrow and we travel on Sunday.” Her response was terse.
Listening to Yongsun’s small voice and looking at her saddened face made Moonbyul’s resolve crumble. She was going to let her off the hook and suggest a potential compromise, but was once again interrupted.
“Yooooong.” Great. Chorong. Moonbyul put zero effort into stopping from releasing an exaggerated sigh and eyeroll. Yongsun caught both and stuck her tongue in her cheek to stop from laughing.
“What’s up, Rongie?”
“We’re about to do the toast but you’re out here on your phone,” she complained. “Come on, we can’t do it without you.”
“Okay, give me a second. I’ll be right in.” Once again, Moonbyul and Yongsun were left alone.
As the junior’s mood soured again, she figured it was time to put an end to this.
“I’ll let you go.”
“No!” Yongsun hastily cut in.
“They’re going to keep coming out and interrupting our call,” Byulyi chuckled humorlessly, “it makes no sense. Plus, I need to get some rest before tomorrow’s last game.”
It was decided on that they’d end the call, but neither made a move to actually do so.
“What time do you get back on Sunday?”
The younger of the two sighed for the umpteenth time during their talk. “I don’t know. Probably like 10:00 pm or 11:00 pm KST? Late.”
“Oh. That’s a long day of travel.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“Sleep, probably. Maybe I’ll call Wheein and Hyejin and give them a quick update. I don’t know yet.”
“Is that all you can say?” For the first time that night, Moonbyul let out a genuine laugh.
“Be quiet!” Despite her words, she laughed, too.
“Okay, I really gotta go,” Moonbyul reluctantly added.
“Sleep well. And make sure to eat, okay? And have confidence tomorrow during your game! I started bragging to some people that my best friend is going to the Olympics. Don’t turn me into a liar.”
“You would somehow make this about you. Why am I not surprised?” As expected, Yongsun started whining. She was so easy to play. Getting a little bit of revenge, the blonde hastily cut the call off, not giving her unnie a chance to respond. “Okay, byeeeeeeee!”
She told herself that she wouldn’t do this. Heeyeon told her that she absolutely would. Heeyeon was right.
“Where are you off to?”
“Unnie’s apartment,” she grudgingly answered. If the roles were reversed, Moonbyul would be laughing as hard as Heeyeon was now, maybe harder, so she couldn’t be upset. That and the fact that she was zapped of all energy. In lieu of words or a reaction, Moonbyul shuffled out the door of their apartment, past the laundry room and elevator, then down the hall to Yongsun’s apartment.
Fourteen hours of flights and layovers. They’d been up at 4:00 am Bengaluru time to catch a 6:00 am flight. Arrived in Korea at 11:30 pm KST. The National Team had ordered taxis for all three university-athletes. The ride took about an hour. Once home, Moonbyul dumped her bags in her room before combing through her carry-on for the souvenirs she brought back. By 12:57 am KST, she was showered and standing in front of her best friend’s door, souvenirs in hand, holding her cell to her ear.
She’d be up. Byulyi knew this. Yongsun had no class tomorrow, and because Kwon Jihun had also traveled with the team, her work-study shift would be canceled. As a result, the brunette, Moonbyul was certain, would be in her bedroom or the living room watching movies.
“What are you doing?”
“Watching movies.” Moonbyul laughed.
“Open your door.”
“Because I said so.”
The pitter-patter of steps grew louder as Yongsun neared the front door. She stayed on the phone, though.
“You think you can talk to me any way you want,” the door opened as she finished her sentence, but she continued speaking into her phone anyway. “You’re getting too comfortable.”
Moonbyul hung up and delivered her response directly, all the while brushing past Yongsun and making her way into the kitchen. “You haven’t even seen comfortable yet. Just wait.”
“Annoying. I should ship you back to India. I had peace and quiet when you were gone.”
“Based on all the commotion during our video call, I doubt it.”
“Whatever. Before I forget, there’s food in the fridge for you. You can take it whenever.”
Not waiting for the athlete, Yongsun headed down the hall to her bedroom. Moonbyul quickly took off her shoes and followed.
“What do you want?” Yongsun asked this as she hopped back onto her bed, holding the comforter up for the blonde to get in.
It took a few moments for both to get comfortable, but they eventually did. Moonbyul laid on her back as Yongsun snuggled up to her, left arm and leg draped around the younger’s stomach and waist. As she usually does, Byulyi had her left arm around Yongsun’s shoulders. Both sighed contentedly.
“Are you staying the night?”
“Mmhmm,” Moonbyul hummed, eyes already closed.
“You’re not going to tell me about everything?” Yongsun sounded slightly ticked off that Moonbyul hadn’t immediately jumped into stories about her trip.
“Only you would find something to be upset about. I came straight here after the longest day of travel ever. I brought you some souvenirs—they’re on your desk by the way—and am allowing you the privilege, the honor of cuddling with me. Ungrateful.”
Normally, Moonbyul would get some snarky retort. She was expecting it. But silence engulfed them for too long and her face tingled, seemingly aware that eyes were staring at her. A couple seconds later, she felt Yongsun nuzzle closer into her.
“You’re right,” the oldest conceded, “Thank you for coming.”
The blonde wanted to make a joke. It was a coping mechanism. Suppressing that reflex, she accepted her unnie’s sincerity.
“I missed you,” Yongsun confessed.
“Yeah. Me, too.”
More silence. Not uncomfortable, though. Moonbyul thought she’d finally be able to go to sleep.
“Did you win?”
“That’s all you’re going to say?” Yongsun asked with attitude.
She sighed. “Do you only know how to fight? I’m convinced you only know how to fight.”
“I’m not fighting. We’re fighting? We’re not fighting, Byul-ah. I’m simply asking a follow-up question.”
Moonbyul laughed lightly and shook her head at that. “You’re unbelievable. One-of-a-kind, mainly because it’s impossible for there to be two of you. The world would end.”
“Answer the question,” she pouted.
“I can hear your pout. How do you even do that?”
“Answer the question!”
“I’ll tell you tomorrow. I’m too tired. You tell me about your week away from me. I’m sure it was the worst week of your life.”
Yongsun made herself more comfortable, snuggling closer. She launched into a detailed account of what had transpired since they last saw each other. Moonbyul heard none of it. She immediately knocked out, but at least things were fine again between her and Yongsun. She needed to make sure of that before anything else.
*Sharosugil: A popular area near SNU full of a variety of eateries, bars, and cafes. Frequented often by SNU students or foodies from elsewhere interested in what the hub has to offer.
*FIBA: International Basketball Federation. Essentially, it is the organization that overseas all things related to international basketball. Countries/regions have their own governing body that handles basketball affairs, but FIBA is the level above that coordinates and organizes everything. FIBA organizes basketball World Cups, as well as qualification for major events like the Olympics.
*KBA: The Korean Basketball Association, the governing body of South Korean basketball. Organizes and overseas all things basketball-related in South Korea, including the senior men’s and women’s basketball teams, and youth national teams. The KBA would also be the organization that makes sure FIBA rules and protocols are followed, in addition to enacting any additional rules they’d want to put into place. Kwon Jihun is part of KBA staff as he’s the head of all Sport Science and Medicine for all South Korean national teams.
Now that that is out of the way, hi! It’s been way too long. Have been swamped with real life, but I finally have a bit of a break, so the first thing I did on my day off was finish this chapter. I’ve been squeezing in time here and there to write a bit of this story, but it was not working. Glad I was able to complete this and get it out. I hope that you all enjoy this chapter! I cannot express how good it felt to have all the time in the world today to write. Thank you so much for reading! Things should be back to the regularly scheduled once/week updates. If I can get ahead in writing, updates will be more frequent.
Comments are always welcome and appreciated, but no pressure. Seriously.