take my efforts high above red hues

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If she were to be honest, there were many words Kang Seulgi would use to describe herself. First of all, she was a strong determined woman. She was a good friend, a loving mother. She liked to say she was proud of who she was, proud of the person she had become despite everything.

She was her own woman, after all.

However, as soon as she heard the request coming from the seven-year-old boy in front of her, she started to doubt that. Suddenly, she wasn't sure of anything else anymore.

Lowering her head so her eyes would be on his eyesight level and he wouldn’t feel scared of her, she couldn’t help but sigh with how restless the boy seemed, bouncing his right leg nervously.

She didn't blame him for feeling that way, not when she felt the same way herself.

“What was it that you said again?” Seulgi echoed slowly. Not because she hadn't listened, but because she was afraid she had misunderstood it.

They were sitting on the couch, enjoying one of the rare weekends Seulgi had without having to work from home, but even though it was supposed to be a relaxing afternoon, she could tell there was something bothering him. Still, when she asked him what it was, she had no idea that would be his answer.

“Never mind. It's not a big deal anyways,” he quickly said in a disappointed tone, shaking his head to keep his thoughts away and getting up from the couch.

Before he could pull away though, Seulgi gripped his wrist gently, looking at him with an expression she hoped to be was soothing enough.

“Woojin... I just asked you to say it again,” she pleaded, trying not to sound rude or demanding.

The boy took a deep breath, as if preparing to drop life changing news. In a way, it really was.

“I want to have ballet lessons,” Woojin finally answered, looking at his mother's impassive stare with shimmery eyes.

“You want to have ballet lessons,” Seulgi repeated.

She frowned, trying to understand why this not-so-sudden request had shocked her so much.

It wasn't as if she hadn’t seen it coming; specially because, lately, she always saw him watching ballet videos in secret, but he wasn't as discreet as he thought he was.

Seulgi would often see him imitating a few steps in front of the large mirror of his room, piano solos echoing through the hallway, but she didn't believe he would take it forward.

Apparently she was wrong, and she wasn't sure how to feel about it.


 

.


 

The small room at the end of the hall was pitch-black when Seulgi unlocked the door. Not a sound could be heard in the house, but she swore that if she wasn’t alone, the other person would clearly hear fast her heart beat against her rib cage.

She took the first step into the room, turning on the lights with trembling fingers to see the mess. There were photo albums on the floor; her old dresser was completely covered in dust, and the dreaded boxes were lazily lying near the wall.

It was scary to come into this room after so many years, after so many things that happened, but again, she prided herself on being a strong woman. She could handle it, so she took another step – closer to the boxes this time.

Kneeling down, Seulgi took a deep breath, moving her fingers slowly to the top of one of the boxes and opening it.

Then, it was finally open and all her old belongings were exposed to her once more. Her breath hitched and her eyes began to sting. She slammed the box shut, pushing it aside.

She thought that the halfhearted try had been enough, so she started to walk away before she started to feel sick again.

Woojin really was a lot like her – more than Seulgi had imagined, and somehow the thought scared her a little. Because Kang Seulgi was, indeed, a lot of things, but unfortunately, she still needed to work on her courage.


 

.


 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise when Seulgi realized she was making her way toward one of Seoul's most renowned ballet schools, much less when she found herself outside one of the dance rooms, watching while a student was practicing.

She always did everything for Woojin.

Her eyes followed in wonder the ballerina in front of her, fascinated by how immersed for someone so young she was with the music and on her steps.

The girl was just a child, perhaps a little bit older than Woojin, but she seemed so experienced, so driven by what she was doing.

It was all fascinating – from the way her body flowed with the music to the her expression changed and followed the emotion of the notes.

“She's amazing, isn't she?”

Seulgi turned her neck in surprise to the voice that broke her train of thought. At her left, a woman looked at the same direction as her, to the dancer across the glass wall, but her eyes carried another kind of glow. A brighter one, with more intimate admiration.

“Yes, she is,” Seulgi said, an octave lower for being caught of guard.

It was only then that Seulgi noticed the way she was dressed – the black leotard that hugged her torso to the same-colored skirt, as well as the white tights that covered her legs. Her black hair was tied in a bun at the top of her head and she seemed to be barefaced, but still managed to look beautiful.

Seulgi almost gasped. Her beauty was overwhelming.

“I’m Joohyun. I'm a teacher here, from the kids’ class,” the stranger introduced herself, holding out her hand so Seulgi could shake it in greeting, and so she did.

“Seulgi,” she replied, her fingers slightly outlining the back of Joohyun's hand.

The skin was so soft against her touch that Seulgi wanted to continue tracing it, but her consciousness spoke louder and she soon released her hand, clumsily returning her own to the side of her body.

“Seulgi...” Joohyun hummed in acknowledgment, joy tugging at the corners of her lips. “Are you interested in ballet?”

“Oh no, I’m – I’m not looking for me,” Seulgi brittlely answer, full of uncertainty, after letting out a forced and embarrassed laugh.

“Your daughter?” The teacher once again asked, her soft voice sounding like a pleasant melody to Seulgi's ears.

“Son, actually,” Seulgi corrected, and despite trying to sound confident, she knew her insecurity was what had stood out.

Joohyun widened her eyes, looking offended by the way she reacted to the information.

“Oh gosh, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean it like that,” she apologized before awkwardly adding, “It's just that we usually have more girls around here.”

“I understand. To be honest, I’m quite worried about it myself,” Seulgi assured, not at all affected by the teacher's comment.

It wasn't as if Joohyun could predict that her son would be interested in ballet. The thought alone surprised Seulgi herself, even if she was already expecting it to happen.

“Is it worth it?” Seulgi asked before she could stop herself.

Joohyun stared at her, confused. She had her arms crossed above her chest, but despite her serious pose, she didn't look the least bit intimidating.

“What do you mean?”

Seulgi shrugged. She didn't know what she was saying. Her fears seemed to be piling up and forcing her to chatter without having control of the logical order of what she said.

“You know... dancing and teaching kids to do the same. Is it worth it?”

“It can be tiring,” the teacher admitted. Her lips turned into a pout and she furrowed her brows as she thought about it more. “Most kids don’t have much motor coordination while the older ones in the class can be quite cocky. It’s a bit exhausting, but it’s rewarding.”

“But do you like it?” Seulgi asked again, barely letting the woman finish. “Teaching, dancing, the balance of the two... do you like it?”

Joohyun looked straight into Seulgi's eyes, completely still, as if she knew why Seulgi was asking that kind of question. She didn't know, of course, but Seulgi couldn't help shuddering under the gaze, feeling like Joohyun could read right through her, that everything was exposed to her.

“Yes, I like it. I can't imagine myself doing something else,” Joohyun answered, and Seulgi seemed to be pleased by it. Or maybe she’d run out of questions.

She glanced back at the girl in the dance room who was now heading out and she could easily see how she was even happier after finishing her practice.

Seulgi bit her lower lip. Wasn't it worth the shot?

“I'll take care of him,” Joohyun promised, softly, as she noticed the look on Seulgi’s face.

The teacher's eyes twinkled, and another shy smile was already making itself present on her lips. Her movements were so calculated, Seulgi noticed, the gentle way she carried herself bringing a sense of familiarity yet strangeness to the pit of her stomach.

And she wasn't sure if that had been the reason she had given in so easily, or if it was the teacher's eyes that made her surrender, but when she finally came back to the real world, Seulgi was returning to the office with an enrollment receipt in the pocket of her blazer.


 

.


 

It was taking longer than she expected.

Sure, Seulgi knew that talking to powerful men about business over dinner when she was the only woman among them would wear her out, but she didn't expect it to be that much.

Other than the fact that it was uncomfortable, to say the least, when the subject began to fluctuate between trivial matters and she needed to make them focus on closing that deal again.

The only reason she’d agreed to go to that dinner in the first place had been the promise one of them made to sign a contract to associate Seulgi's law firm with an influential corporation and was taking forever to be sealed, but she was starting to lose her patience. She could only think about how late it was, about the enrollment receipt she still carried in her blazer pocket and the boy who was waiting for her at home.

Even so, she managed to concentrate most of the time, although her head was a mess. A mess that alternated between deals that needed to be closed soon in order to return home to a bright smile she was already missing.

Then, dinner was finally over, the signed contract was placed in a briefcase and quickly stored in her purse. Seulgi gave a polite farewell smile, heading toward the car after paying the bill.

She was tired, exhausted even, but was suddenly motivated when thinking about Woojin's smile when she got home. And so she started driving.


 

.


 

Carefully turning the keys on the doorknob, Seulgi pushed open the door to her house. There was a dim light coming in the living room to prevent the place from falling into complete darkness.

She struggled not to make any noise, leaning against the wall with her right hand and taking off her heels with the other. It wasn’t a rare occasion when she needed to wear them, but that didn’t make it hurt any less at the end of the day.

That particular day, having spent most of her time just sitting, she imagined she would be less sore, but apparently, arguing with ignorant men made her as exhausted as hours of physical activity.

Stealing a glance to the clock on her wall, Seulgi noticed how late she was. She’d spent more than four hours at this boring dinner after expecting to spend no more than one. She would need to make up to him, again.

Seulgi finally stepped into the living room, only to find the scene she imagined she would see.

Seungwan was sitting on the wide fabric sofa, legs crossed as Woojin used them as a pillow. His small body was wrapped in a blanket much larger than he was, leaving only his face visible where his lips were parted and soft snores could be heard.

“He wouldn't let me put him to bed. He said you would take him.” Seungwan said as soon as she saw her friend walking toward them, a brief smile on her face that reflected easily on Seulgi.

“How long has he been asleep?” Seulgi asked Seungwan, her face twisting in disappointment.

The other woman sighed, looking as tired as Seulgi, and that was all the answer she needed. Seulgi closed her eyes, running her fingers through her hair.

“I thought I'd be home earlier,” she tried to justify, even though she knew she owed no satisfaction to her best friend.

“Things happen,” Seungwan said in a calming voice she hoped it would be enough for Seulgi to believe it.

She was aware of how much Seulgi's work demanded of her and that at some point things like this would happen, but she would always assure Seulgi that she wasn't a bad mother because of it.

“I know, I just...” Seulgi started, but had no idea how to continue, so she just let her shoulders drop a little.

She sighed, trying to push those thoughts away, and held out her arms to take her son to bed. The boy did not even oppose, unlike what he had done with Seungwan, as if he recognized his mother only by touch and scent. Thinking about it made Seulgi smile.

After placing him on his bed, Seulgi watched the boy's features tenderly, running her hand through the wavy brown hair that covered his forehead. She placed a chaste kiss on the spot and pulled the blanket on him again before leaving the room and meeting Seungwan on the hallway.

“Thank you for staying with him, Seungwan. And I'm sorry again for being late.” She said, closing the door slowly and leaning against the wall.

Seungwan shook her head, making it clear that she didn't do it out of obligation.

“I don't mind that, you’re the one who’s always so demanding with yourself,” she pointed out, while looking at Seulgi with attentive eyes. “You should leave him at my place some day and actually go out, just not for business dinners.”

Seulgi let out a laugh.

“You know I can't, Wannie.”

Seungwan just shrugged, as if she was already expecting that answer.

“I just think you don't want to, but...”

Seulgi looked at her with an arched eyebrow, which only caused Seungwan to raise her hands in the air and stop what she was saying.

“Never mind, I never said a thing.” She surrendered when she saw her friend's expression. “See you tomorrow, Seul. Try to get some rest.”

Seulgi just waved goodbye, leaning against the hallway wall to wait for her to leave. She soon heard the house door close as she let her mind wander, trying to remember when it was the last time she'd gone out for fun and not because of her job.

Seungwan soon left, and the house felt too empty again, but she pretended not to mind her own footsteps echoing in her ears and returned to her son’s bedroom, wrapping the boy in her arms. Before she could move more comfortably, though, Seulgi felt the boy's arms stiffen at her shoulders.

“Mom?” he whispered in her ear.

“It's me, kiddo.” Seulgi kissed his earlobe, laughing when she felt more hair than skin against her lips. “We need to get your hair cut soon.”

“Okay...” Woojin replied, still sleepy.

When he released her mother's arms, he waited for her to take the cue to leave as she did most nights, but instead, Seulgi stayed in place.

Lazily, Woojin opened one eye, staring at his mother wearing her formal attire as she hugged him, though it seemed that she was ready to sleep.

“I have a surprise for you,” Seulgi announced, realizing he was curious with her odd behavior.

Woojin frowned, turning on the bed to get a better look at her.

“I don't want any gifts.”

Seulgi laughed softly and Woojin saw that her laugh was still tense and strange, but she seemed excited for some reason, and that made him happy. It had been a while since he had seen her like this.

“I think you'll want this one.” Seulgi pulled back a little so that she could reach into her blazer pocket and take the piece of paper inside of it.

She the lamp, sitting on the bed and asking him to do the same. Woojin was still sleepy, but curious enough to do the same, so he sat down and carefully took the paper she was holding in her hands.

Seulgi looked at the boy with eyes full of anticipation, waiting for him to read what it was saying.

He was still learning, so she remained patient as his eyes darted across the sheet of paper, and her lips tightened in a thin line suddenly changed into a smile when she noticed that his mouth was open in shock.

“You can start this week... if you want to,” Seulgi tried to explain, but before she even finished it, Woojin's arms were around her shoulders again and his face was buried in her neck.

“Thank you.” His voice was shaky and noticing how much that meant to him made Seulgi's heart squeeze in a good way. “Thank you, mom, I love you.”

She smiled, hugging him tighter.

Of course, she was still scared, still doubtful of what that change would mean to her as well as to him. But Seulgi loved him and Woojin would always come first. So she made sure he knew.

“I love you too, Woojin.”


 

.


 

She couldn't take him to ballet school for his first class because of her work, as usual, so Seungwan took him there for her.

The fact that when she said goodbye to Woojin in the morning he smiled excitedly as he always did made her confidence grow a little. Maybe not much, but enough to make her survive throughout the day.

But still, Seulgi was not so confident. For the rest of the afternoon, she kept checking her phone, scared that something might happen and that the school would call her with a problem. She knew some kids could be mean when they wanted to and that was what scared her the most.

When there wasn’t any call at the end of the day, Seulgi was expecting perhaps another hug when he came back, hoping that he would gladly tell her everything that happened on his first class.

However, as soon as Woojin entered the house, Seulgi could only see him going straight to his room, not even sparing her a glance, too discouraged to do anything else.


 

.


 

“I don't know what to do, Wannie,” Seulgi told her best friend when she came home from work one day.

Seungwan was at her house again, watching Woojin until he fell asleep and waiting for her to return from work.

It had been almost a month since Woojin had started his classes, but Seulgi didn't know much about them yet. Of course, she knew that woman she talked to on that day, Joohyun, was his teacher, but nothing more than that.

“It will get better, don't worry,” Seungwan assured her, sounding encouraging as usual. “Woojin is a lot like you, that's how I know he'll get over whatever happened and tell you.”

Seulgi wasn't so sure, but she believed in her best friend. And so she hoped Seungwan was right.


 

.


 

Seulgi left work earlier on one of those afternoons, despite her nerves, to go to Woojin's ballet school and get an idea of what was going on. She doubted it was a serious problem, otherwise she would have gotten a call from them, but it wasn't a bad idea to check.

The building looked less familiar than she expected, or the empty corridors were giving her that vibe, she wasn't sure. But before she could figure out where Woojin's room was or where she could find someone to talk about, the boy soon appeared at the reception, his teacher at his side.

“Seulgi…” She smiled, her hand still resting on the boy's left shoulder.

“Joohyun,” Seulgi said, her posture tense.

She looked at her son anxiously, but when her vision fell on him, Woojin seemed a little bit different. The change wasn’t very noticeable at first glance, but when she paid enough attention, Seulgi could see his shoulders more relaxed, his expression more serene.

She looked at Joohyun again, and when she noticed the corners of her lips tugging up to a smile, Seulgi was sure she had something to do with it.

Woojin waved his head to the teacher before he started to walk away, hugging her mother around the waist tightly.

On the last few weeks, his hugs were more sloppy than meaningful, so Seulgi now knew for sure something had happened for him to hug her like that again.

“Do you want to go somewhere before we go home?” Seulgi asked excitedly, running her fingers through the soft strands at the top of his head.

Woojin nodded against her mother's stomach, and bending down to leave a kiss on where she was caressing, she let go, pointing to the car parked outside the school door.

“Wait for me in the car, okay?”

Woojin nodded obediently, and after taking the car keys from his mother, he waved goodbye to the teacher before running to the parking lot.

Joohyun watched the interaction closely, and realizing that Seulgi would like to talk to her, she stayed still. But Seulgi remained motionless, as if the words were stuck in .

“Woojin is very dedicated, but he’s very demanding of himself for anyone of his age,” Joohyun decided to say instead of waiting.

Seulgi nodded.

“He looks better today,” she said tentatively. “More... motivated, maybe?”

Joohyun beamed.

“It was a good day.”

And Seulgi was quick to mirror the teacher's expression. She seemed to do that a lot in her presence.


 

.


 

In the days that followed, Seulgi couldn't help noticing how different Woojin looked. He wasn't as discouraged as when he started school, which made Seulgi think she had overreacted in the first place, but she knew it wasn't just that.

Maybe he was just shy. It shouldn't be easy to adapt on the first few days since the class was already formed before he joined, so Seulgi figured that might have been it.

But still, his mood changed a little every day, each day better than the last, and remembering their last conversation, Seulgi began to suspect that Joohyun had a finger on that.

“You're distracted again,” Seungwan suddenly said.

Seulgi glanced at her best friend over the papers she was organizing, watching her enter her office with what Seulgi supposed to be the lunch Seungwan had promised to bring.

“I'm thinking about Woojin. He seems happier,” Seulgi explained, setting the files aside to make room for the food bags Seungwan had brought.

“He does!” Seungwan cheerfully agreed. “When I went to pick him up the other day, he was so happy talking to the teacher.”

Seulgi smiled, not at all surprised by the statement. Her suspicions seemed to be even more likely now.

“She's nice, isn't she?” Seungwan said again, noticing the look on her best friend's face. “The teacher,” she quickly added, but by the looks of it, Seulgi already knew what she meant.

And she had a dreamy smile on her lips to confirm.

“She is.”


 

.


 

Seulgi made sure to show up again at school the next day, after Woojin's class were over, which had actually been the only free time she had that day, even if it was just for a few hours.

She waited at the front desk for a few minutes, and despite being a short time, Seulgi never imagined that it could take so long. Or maybe it was her anxiety speaking louder.

Shortly after, though, a familiar figure emerged through the vast corridor that separated the reception from the practice rooms.

Joohyun was different, this time wearing casual clothes, nothing more than a low-cut blouse and dark jeans, while her black hair fell free over her bare shoulders.

Before Seulgi could do anything to get her attention, the woman was already distracted looking for something in her purse.

Seulgi then stood up, hoping that Joohyun would see she was there, but it wasn't until they were side by side that Joohyun noticed that she wasn’t as alone as she imagined.

“Seulgi!” Joohyun said, surprised, realizing that Seulgi was standing in the middle of the reception, as if waiting for her. Her hands searching for something in her purse, immediately went to her chest, and Seulgi assumed she was very easily startled. Which was cute, judging by the expression on her face. “You’re here again.”

“I’m here,” Seulgi repeated, putting her hands in the pockets of her pants.

“Woojin left with that blonde who usually comes to pick him up,” Joohyun commented, not even considering the possibility of Seulgi coming to see someone else.

“Oh, I know. I was here looking for you, actually.”

Joohyun's eyes widened.

“For me?”

“Yes...” Seulgi started uncertainly. She ran her fingers through her brown hair, though Joohyun remained quiet in front of her. "I'm not sure what you did with Woojin or what you did for him, but... thank you."

"I didn’t do anything, Seulgi." Joohyun shook her head.

“I know my son,” Seulgi said, hoping that was enough explanation. She took a deep breath, before adding, “So thank you.”

Joohyun moved her index finger in the air, not making a big deal out of it, and stepped forward. Joohyun's lips slid into an open smile, more relaxed than all the previous ones.

“I don't make empty promises.”

Seulgi smiled, her hand shaking slightly as she put it around her waist. She didn't know why she was acting this way, so unprepared and restless around the woman, but she couldn't help the feeling.

“How do you feel about coffee?” Seulgi offered, but all she got was a wrinkled nose from Joohyun until she answered, halfheartedly.

“Not really a fan.”

Seulgi sighed in disappointment.

“And tea?” she tried, hopeful.

The corners of Joohyun's lips lifted again.

“I like it.”

And Seulgi smiled too.

“So, would you like to have some tea with me?”


 

.


 

The place was almost empty when they arrived. There was only one couple hiding in one corner, talking excitedly, and a man in a suit by the window. Seulgi went ahead, picking a table for them in a not-so-exposed but not-too-hidden place either.

She sat quietly and crossed her legs as she took the menu in her hands, her back completely straight. Joohyun watched with admiration her posture, getting distracted from everything else around them.

“Which one would you like?” Seulgi gently asked, giving the menu to Joohyun, who seemed to be in deep though.

Joohyun bit her lower lip, choosing a drink and showing it to Seulgi. The woman nodded and got up to go to the counter to make the order.

Soon, she was back with both of them, giggling as she placed Joohyun's tea on her side of the table. What she was laughing at, Joohyun wasn't sure.

“I never came here before,” Joohyun said, as her bright eyes wandered the coffee shop.

“Really?” Seulgi asked, amazed, and the teacher nodded shyly.

“Yeah… I don't usually go out much.” She sipped on her drink. Joohyun then stared at Seulgi, seeming to only notice her formal attire at that moment. “So, what do you do?”

“I'm a lawyer,” Seulgi answered, noticing the look of the woman in her clothes. “I'm a co-founder of a law firm here in Seoul.”

“A lawyer...” Joohyun repeated, her lips suddenly twisting into a pout. “That sounds demanding.”

Seulgi nodded, wondering.

“It can be, yes.”

“Have you always wanted to be a lawyer?” Joohyun asked softly, her fingertips tracing the top of the cup.

Seulgi seemed surprised by the question, but Joohyun figured she must be really good at her job, because when she looked again Seulgi already carried the same relaxed expression as before.

“Yes.” The answer came out weak, filtered as if she was afraid to say more than she should, but Joohyun didn't think much about it. She was just trying to small talk anyway.

She took another sip and sighed in pleasure as the liquid reached her tongue again. It tasted amazing.

Seulgi looked at her and her narrowed lips split into a slight smile.

Suddenly, seeming to notice something, Joohyun's eyes flew open while still drinking her tea.

Seulgi tried not to think how lovely she was that way – with her eyes wide open and still covering the straw.

“I never had a chance to ask your question back,” Joohyun admitted, as if that was absurd.

The lawyer tried to hide her confusion, but before she could, she already felt the question slipping from , “What question?”

“When we met, you asked me if I liked my job. Do you like yours?”

Seulgi seemed to think about it for a while, before answering it with caution.

“Yes, I think so. I'm good at it and I earn enough to live comfortably, so, yes, I like it.” Seulgi shrugged, focusing on her drink.

A beat of silence, neither of them seeming to know what to say to get out of it. That is until Joohyun decided to speak again.

“Why did you bring me here?” she asked, and Seulgi's eyebrows rose in surprise.

“I wanted to thank you.”

Joohyun laughed lightly, tapping the cup with her fingertips.

“You already did that.”

“I'm doing it again.”

Joohyun snorted, but it didn't seem like a scolding, only that she didn't understand why Seulgi would care so much.

But she was different, Joohyun could see clearly.

Everything about her was unique in so many ways she couldn't describe it, but it still reminded her so much of someone. Someone small, who also had monolid brown eyes and heart-shaped nostrils.

“Looking at you again, I can see how much you look like Woojin,” she said on impulse, and suddenly felt stupid for it. He was her son; of course they would look alike.

Seulgi, on the other hand, looked happy upon hearing the comparison.

“Why’s that?”

Joohyun laughed, unsure what to say when the last sentence seemed to have been self-explanatory enough. But it was true, she saw a lot of Woojin in her, so she could elaborate. It wasn’t a physical similarity, even if they had the same eyes, nose and smile, but something else too.

“I don’t know. I just think you’re both very similar. More than just looks.” Joohyun wanted to flick her forehead for the obvious explanation, but once she noticed Seulgi smiling, she was pleased by her own answer, so she added, "If I'm right... that means you’re just as demanding of yourself as he is."

“Isn't that a good thing?” Seulgi hoped to sound casual, but the twitch in the corner of her lip betrayed her.

It was a good thing. If she was demanding of herself she could be good enough at her job and make enough money to give Woojin the life he deserved.

Joohyun, on the other hand, didn’t feel the same way.

“Not when it keeps you from really living.”


 

.


 

“And then, what happened?” The boy asked, his eyes staring straight into Seulgi’s brown orbs with so much warmth and love the woman couldn’t help but feel her heart soften.

She let a laugh part her lips, brushing the hair away from his face so she could look back at him with the same admiration.

“Aren’t you tired of hearing this same story?” Seulgi asked, wrapping her arms around the body much smaller than her own. “It’s not like it’s going to change anything whenever I tell it.”

Woojin shut his mouth, suddenly embarrassed.

He couldn’t say the reason he’d always ask his mom to tell him bedtime stories, could he? It would be selfish of him. His mother was a busy woman and he understood that. He really did.

Ever since his dad died it was just him and her, together along the way. And then she got a promotion, and soon a better job, and now she was one of the top lawyers in Seoul. It was selfish of him to say to her face he just asked her to tell him stories because that was the only time of the day she was ever free to even do anything with him.

“I just like it,” he replied, instead, and even though Seulgi could almost see through his lies, she didn’t insist.

And so she continued, telling him the same story she used to hear from her mom when she herself was a kid.

But soon enough, her voice started to sound muffled to the boy’s ears, and it seemed she was too drowsy to even focus on what she was saying, because Seulgi had repeated the same sentence three times already.

Woojin expected something like this to happen, to be honest, but he wasn’t disappointed.

The boy decided to adjust himself on the bed, hoping they could sleep together that night, but he noticed he might’ve shifted a little bit too hard, because when he looked at his mother again, her eyes were open wide, as if in shock.

And then she went on, continuing the story where she remembered she had stopped.

Woojin tried to muffle a laugh when he noticed she was telling the same thing she told before, when she was probably to sleepy to notice.

He snuggled closer, hugging his mother tightly and closing his eyes, knowing she would soon fall asleep too.


 

.


 

The next morning, things were hectic as usual. Seulgi was rushing through the kitchen to cook something for them to have breakfast (mostly Woojin, because she could never really eat in the morning) and was flipping through the lockers and the freezer for something quick to cook.

Woojin felt guiltier than usual, knowing they were only this late because Seulgi slept in his room that night and she usually lost track of time whenever that happened, which resulted in them waking up later than it should.

“Mom, it’s okay. My class only starts in thirty minutes,” Woojin reminded her and Seulgi looked up at him (literally up, because she was busy fumbling around the locker under the sink to find something).

She bit her lower lip, avoiding to say anything, and Woojin didn’t take long to understand what that look meant.

“Oh. You have a meeting?” he asked, trying not to sound too disappointed when realizing she was not worried about his classes, but her appointments.

“I do, baby. I’m sorry,” Seulgi answered, seeming disappointed herself.

“It’s okay. I can buy something at school.” Woojin suggested lightly, and seeming defeated, Seulgi sighed.

“It’s been really stressful these last few days.”

The boy nodded, understanding. He was patient, as usual – too patient for a seven-year-old kid.

“I know. Don’t worry,” he reassured her, grabbing an apple as he sat on the couch already wearing his uniform and carrying his backpack on one of his hands. He shoved the fruit in the side pocket, carelessly throwing the backpack on his left shoulder. “I’m ready to go.”

Seulgi nodded.

“Hey, what do you think of…?” She stopped, seeming to consider her next words. “Would it be okay if I picked you up at school today?”

His eyes lit up, impressed, and Seulgi felt her heart sink. How neglecting was she for him to be so happy about something that small?

“Of course it would!”

She grinned, grabbing her keys on the counter. “Then let’s take you to school.”


 

.


 

Before, Seungwan used to pick up Woojin from regular school and drop him off at the ballet school after taking him to lunch while Seulgi finalized some pending issues at the firm. She would later finish her part-time job and pick him up in class so that they could return to Seulgi's house and wait for her to come back.

It was easier for Seungwan to find free time. She was a journalist and usually worked from home, so all she needed was a computer and her glasses and she could do her job just fine.

Now, however, was different. Seulgi made sure she’d always have her lunch period free so she could at least pick him up and drop him off at home with Seungwan. They started to have lunch together, and to talk about Woojin’s day.

Sometimes she just had time to take him to Seungwan's house whenever her friend could take care of him and went straight back to the office. Other times, she would take him to the office with her, and while the boy was playing something at her phone, Seulgi would finish making adjustments in one of the contracts.

It wasn't much, and he probably felt the same. But for now, that was all she could do.


 

.


 

“And you’re back,” Joohyun said in a sing-song voice, her steps coming to a halt next to Seulgi.

She was wearing casual clothes again, a pair of jeans and a sweater a little darker than her skin. It was a funny contrast to the work clothes Seulgi always appeared wearing.

“Hope you didn’t miss me too much,” she said again, trying not to cringe at her lame attempt of humor, but Seulgi was really a good actress, because she just laughed and went along.

“Sure. I couldn't stay two more days away from you,” Seulgi playfully added, and she was pleased when Joohyun let out a more relaxed laugh.

“I didn't know you valued my company that much.”

Seulgi laughed, crossing her arms over her chest.

She would answer something, probably some supposedly clever joke, but before she could do anything, wavy brown hair appeared in the wide hallway that separated the reception from the practice rooms, and Seulgi felt her body jerk back slightly as small arms wrapped around her waist.

“Hey, baby. How was your day today?” she asked, running her fingers through his hair as soon as she felt Woojin hugging her.

It had been one of those days, one of which she barely had time to breathe properly and because of that Seulgi hadn’t seen him after leaving him at school in the morning.

“It was great,” he enthusiastically answered.

Seulgi would’ve found it funny if she didn’t remember how gloomy he used to leave the ballet school, so all she could do was smile with relief.

“Want to tell me about it?” she asked, and he nodded, almost opening his mouth to speak, but Seulgi cut him off softly. “Over dinner… or lunch, I’m not sure which one it is.”

“Mom, it’s four in the afternoon. It’s not either of them,” Woojin corrected, and she laughed.

“Of course, Woojinnie... let’s just eat.” She poked his forehead jokingly, and when she looked up, she saw Joohyun’s eyes were still on them, admiringly.

Seulgi had completely forgotten she was in the room. And suddenly, she had an idea. She wasn’t sure if it was the best idea, but before she could stop herself, she was already asking, “Hey, Joohyun. Would you like to go with us?”

The teacher seemed shocked and if it wasn’t for the blush on her face, Seulgi would’ve regretted it.

“Oh, no, I don’t think to intrude,” Joohyun answered, hesitantly, but the lack of confidence in her own words only made Seulgi’s determination grow.

“Come on, Joohyun,” Seulgi tried to convince her, but Joohyun shook her head once more.

Another apology was almost blurting out of the teacher’s tongue when Seulgi felt Woojin’s hands leaving the comfort of her back to tug at the older woman’s sleeve.

“Please, Miss Bae?” he asked, his eyes gleaming in the light.

Joohyun gazed at the boy who was pulling the sleeve of her sweater and then at the woman behind him, smiling mischievously, and sighed.

“I hope this isn’t another excuse to thank me again.”

Seulgi smiled wider, knowing that Woojin had convinced her. It was nice to know she wasn’t the only one who fell for that trick.


 

.


 

Lunch was quiet. She knew Woojin didn’t talk much when there was another adult with them, but whenever Joohyun said anything, she always made sure to involve him somehow.

Seulgi thought it was endearing.

“So, how did you end up as a teacher?” Seulgi asked when their food arrived, trying to be polite, but mostly because she was genuinely curious.

She wasn’t trying to be rude or anything, but the last thing she would think if she had met Joohyun under other circumstances was that she was a teacher. Not a regular kindergarten or mid-school teacher or anything like that, but a ballet teacher.

“Oh, funny story.” Joohyun laughed, looking flustered at the thought. “I went to med school first.”

Seulgi’s eyes widened in surprise, and beside her, Woojin spoke before she could.

“You wanted to be a doctor?” he asked, just as surprised as his mother.

Joohyun waved it off, like it was nothing.

“I think I did, some day. But it wasn’t for me,” she clarified, as if that would explain everything. But of course, it didn’t.

“Why did you decided to teach, then?” Woojin asked again, fully invested.

Joohyun shrugged.

“I always liked to dance and I was already in the middle of med school when I decided to study dance professionally,” she replied, not tearing her eyes away from her drink.

Seulgi was intrigued. They were similar, yet so different. While Joohyun gave up something she didn’t like to follow her dreams, Seulgi gave up her dreams to… t o what, exactly? She still wasn’t sure.

“It was… A roller-coaster of emotions, to say the least. But I’m here now,” she concluded, finally taking a sip of her juice.

Seulgi's frown deepened when she realized something.

“Is it recent?” she asked, because Joohyun didn’t seem so young anymore, but she also didn’t seem old. To have given up med school in the middle of it, it should at least be something recent.

The blush on Joohyun’s cheeks increased and she smiled shyly.

“Woojin’s class is the first one I’m teaching.” And even though she seemed coy as she spoke, there was also pride in her tone.

Seulgi did a quick calculation.

“Four months now?” she tried, remembering the class Woojin was in started a couple of months before he joined.

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baetokkis
i saw this story got featured a few days ago and cannot describe how much this means to me 🥺 it's a story i hold very closely to my heart so i appreciate every comment, every subscribe and every upvote. thank you so much <3

if any of you wants to chat i'm on twitter @raidenrene :)
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