Seulgi watches Irene no, Joohyun, pack up for the day ahead as the morning light filters through the drawn curtains.
But suddenly, this day, everything in the world is different.
And Seulgi finds herself wondering what is going to happen next.
But Irene looks so peaceful, leisurely packing her suitcase with the morning light brushing her face.
So when Irene sits on Seulgi’s bed, brushing away strands of hair on her face and kisses her forehead good morning, Seulgi swallows down the question, leaving it unanswered for now.
Irene enters the deserted office strewn with empty beer bottles and cheap New Year’s decoration. She looks around for a clerk then rings the desk bell.
An ancient woman who is wearing a party hat shuffles on out of the back room with a grunt.
“You the folks in thirteen?”
“We’re checking out.” Irene says, handing her the hotel keys.
“Telegram come for you last night.”
The woman shuffles on out of the room and comes back with a telegram. She gives it to Irene, who swiftly opens the telegram.
And her face immediately turns pale after reading it.
“When did this arrive?”
“Early. Seven. Nine. I ain’t a clock, lady.”
Irene storms out of the office, tearing past the patchy remains of snow, where Seulgi is loading the car with their belongings. Irene pulls open the driver’s side door, searching for something she can’t find, and slams the door shut.
She runs up to the cabin they just vacated and tears open the door, then almost immediately comes out again, slamming the door shut behind her.
Seulgi, surprised by how furious she looks, calls her out in concern.
“Joohyun! What the hell-”
“Where’s my suitcase?” Irene demands, looking at her menacingly.
“Joohyun - wait a minute!” Seulgi grabs her shoulders, trying to calm her down. “What’s going on?”
“I want my ing suitcase!” Irene snaps and storms over to the trunk, brushing past Seulgi on the way. She finds her suitcase and flings it open and starts rifling through it. Seulgi feels her blood run cold when she sees Irene holding the familiar pistol.
“What are you doing with that? Joohyun! What happened?!”
But Irene pushes past her and Seulgi helplessly follows, terrified to death.
“Joohyun, you’re scaring me, you can’t-”
“Stand out of the way, Seulgi.”
Irene reaches for the door next to their cabin and finds it unlocked. She kicks the door open and takes aim. And they are both shocked to see Tommy standing inside, getting dressed with his trousers half on, half off. He grabs his spectacles off the table and slips them onto the end of his nose.
Seulgi then sees his big black case on the unmade bed, opened to reveal an elaborate reel-to-reel tape recorder and sophisticated microphones. Seulgi just stares at the equipment, uncomprehending.
Irene her pistol and assumes the shooting stance, aiming directly at Tommy’s head.
“Where’s the tape, you son of a .”
She starts pulling apart the case, the equipment, everything in her sight while keeping the pistol aimed at Tommy.
Tommy continues to dress himself rather calmly, even putting on his hat. And Irene throws away the case in frustration.
“How much is Minjun paying you for this? I’ll give you double, triple. Anything you want.” Her voice is shaking, desperate and furious.
“I wish I could oblige you, ma’am.” He replies blandly. “But the tape is already on its way to your husband.”
“That.. can’t be right.”
Tommy shrugs. “My reputation rests on my efficiency, Mrs. Bae.”
A tense pause surrounds the room. Irene moves toward Tommy but he still remains quite calm. Still he keeps his eye on her all the while.
Irene advances closer, aiming the pistol at his head.
“How do I know you’re not lying?”
“..You don’t, ma’am.”
Irene tenses up, slowly putting her trembling index finger on the trigger. All at once she whirls around to the recording equipment, points the gun to it, and pulls the trigger - but the gun just clicks.
She tries again, but the trigger jams. In utter frustration she hurls the gun at the recording equipment. And Seulgi, who’s been hovering by the door, walks toward Irene.
Irene, exhausted and distraught, having no idea how to fix this, gives Seulgi the telegram and moves outside of the cabin. She slumps against the railing.
Seulgi exchanges a look with Tommy who’s still cool as the morning air. Seulgi retrieves the gun and joins Irene outside.
Irene lights a cigarette, looking out towards the highway. And Seulgi reads the telegram, then looks up through the door to Tommy who is getting ready to leave in his cabin.
“How could you.” She says, her voice low, outraged by his betrayal. But he doesn’t even seem to care.
“I am a professional, Miss Kang. It’s nothing personal.”
Seulgi shakes her head at Tommy, disgusted, not wanting to believe this is happening. And Tommy just tips his hat to Seulgi.
“Let’s get out of here.” Irene says and Seulgi could only oblige, having not enough words to say.
Seulgi finds some trash bins in an alley and lifts the lid on one hand and tosses the pistol into it, but it lodges on top so she buries it with one hand. She does her best to clean it off with the telegram and tosses back the lid. Then she hurries back to the street, rounding the corner and there she finds Irene at a pay phone.
Seulgi steps back instinctively, but cannot help but overhear the end of Irene’s call to Joy.
“..Earliest flight is tomorrow afternoon.. Oh Joy, I don’t know how to fix this - I don’t have the strength..”
Seulgi wishes she can do something about it at this moment, but she knows there’s none.
Irene drives in silence as they approach Daegu. Seulgi smokes a cigarette and anyone can see you can cut the tension with a knife.
“You shouldn’t smoke. You’ll get lung cancer.” Irene says out of the blue. Then she stays silent for a moment. “What are you thinking? You know how many times a day I ask you that?”
“I’m sorry.” Seulgi mumbles, putting out her cigarette. “What am I thinking. I’m thinking that I am utterly selfish and I-”
“Don’t do this.” Irene cuts her off. “You had no idea. How could you have known?”
“I-” Seulgi chokes back a sob, knowing she shouldn’t be the one who’s crying. “I should have said no to you. I never say no. And it’s selfish because I take - everything. Because I don’t know anything.” Her lips quiver and Seulgi looks out the window because tears are already starting to pour out much to her dismay.
“I don’t know what I want. How could I if I just say yes to everything?”
Seulgi cries softly and Irene pulls over to the side of the road, against a frozen bank of snow.
She turns Seulgi towards her and tries to dry her tears. Despite the worst that has ever happened to her, Irene is calm, steady as she looks straight into Seulgi’s eyes.
“I took what you gave willingly.”
Irene runs a finger along Seulgi’s cheek.
“It’s not your fault, Seulgi. Alright?”
And she turns back to the wheel, restarting the car.
Irene means it. Of course, she regrets letting her guard down to Tommy, not being careful during the trip but what happened last night will be the last thing she’ll regret. She at least wants to keep it that way. Because she knows the way Seulgi said her name will stay with her forever.
They stop at a random hotel in Daegu at night.
Irene, finishing a call with Joy, sits on one of the twin beds, smoking. And Seulgi emerges from the bathroom, switching off the light. She stands for a moment in the dark before she climbs into the other bed.
“Thank you, Joy..” Irene says quietly on the phone. “Oh, you know. Shattered. Sickened… I hope so.. No, I’ll be fine… Talk tomorrow.. And thank you. I will. Goodnight.”
She hangs up the phone and looks down for a moment. Then she turns to Seulgi wistfully.
“You don’t have to sleep over there.” She says with a small smile, patting a spot beside her.
After a short silence, Seulgi gets up, and joins Irene in the other bed. Irene wraps her arms and legs around Seulgi, kissing her gently on the eyes, the lips.
Seulgi looks at her deeply and then kisses her back.
“Please say my name again.” Irene pleads quietly, caressing her cheeks.
Seulgi breathes deeply, wanting to cry again but manages not to.
“Joohyun.” She calls out softly. “Bae Joohyun.”
And just like the night before, she pulls Irene closer to her, gently pressing her lips against hers.
A long, lingering, yearning kiss.
A ribbon of daylight is over Seulgi’s face but her eyes are still shut.
She reaches out for Irene, her hand hovering in the air and then fumbling on the empty cold mattress.
Irene is not there.
No sound is coming from the bathroom. Seulgi lifts her head and checks the clock : 8 AM.
Seulgi sits up in the bed, panicked and there, seated in an armchair in the semi-darkness, is Joy. She is smoking a cigarette and all at once it dawns onto Seulgi what Irene’s absence means.
“..She’s gone?” Seulgi asks weakly.
“Early this morning.” Joy replies, crossing her legs.
“Is she coming back?”
Joy exhales the smoke, almost like a sigh. “No.”
There is a piercing silence. And Seulgi squeezes her eyes shut.
“This is all my fault.”
“Nonsense.” Joy chides and puts out her cigarette, then gets up and pulls open the curtains.
Cold but bright sunlight streams into the room.
“We should get going.” Joy says, carrying her suitcase with her on her way out to give Seulgi a moment to wear some clothes.
Seulgi meets her at the roadside diner outside of Daegu. But Seulgi just stares out the window, leaving her meal untouched.
“Eat something.” Joy encourages but Seulgi remains still.
Joy sighs then vaguely shakes her head. “Suit yourself.”
She slides Seulgi’s plate to her side of the table and starts finishing it. And Seulgi turns to her.
“Why do you hate me? I’ve never done anything to you.”
Joy opens to say something, but then thinks better of it.
She leans in toward Seulgi.
“You really think I’ve flown halfway across the country to drive you back East because I hate you? And want to see you suffer?”
“It’s for Irene, not for me.”
“That’s-” Joy pauses, not being able to say she’s wrong. “If you really believe that then you’re not as smart as I thought you were.”
Seulgi takes this in, then looks up at Joy.
“With you and Irene… What happened?”
“It’s completely different. I’ve known Irene since I was 10 years old.” Joy puts down her silverware. “It was.. back when we had the furniture store. Late one night. My Ford broke down near my mother’s house and.. We tried to stay up, but curled up together in my old twin bed. And that was it. For a while.” Then she shakes her head. “And then it changed. It changes eventually. Nobody’s fault. So..”
Joy opens her purse and searches inside, then after a few seconds, she produces an envelope.
Seulgi snatches away the envelope as soon as Joy hands it to her, storming outside the diner to tear open the letter. She manages to open the letter at her third attempt because of her trembling hands.
Seulgi. There are no accidents. He would have found us one way or another.
Everything comes full circle. Be grateful it was sooner rather than later.
You’ll think it’s harsh of me to say so, but I’m afraid no explanation I offer will satisfy you.
Please don’t be angry when I tell you that you seek resolutions and explanations because you’re young. But you’ll understand this someday.
And when it happens, I want you to imagine me there to greet you like the morning sky, with our lives stretched out ahead of us like a perpetual sunrise.
But until then, there must be no contact between us. I have much to do and you, even more.
Please be happy. I know I don’t deserve to say this to you, but please believe that I would do anything to see you happy.
So I’ll do the only thing I can.
I release you.
Seulgi, in her overcoat, with her suitcase beside her, stands in the middle of her apartment. It’s full of her things but it looks like a foreign place. All the photographs on the wall seem as if they were taken by someone completely different.
That same night, Seulgi hunches over her sink, bathed in red light. She takes a quick deep drag of a cigarette, burning in an ashtray after. Rows of negatives hang from hooks underneath the kitchen cupboards, over the trays of chemicals. She finds a certain shot on the enlarger, marks it, and focuses. She begins the process of developing the print.
Finally, she watches the photo in its bath slowly appear - a shadow here and there, a shape slowly forming - and it’s Irene, asleep on her back, her body akimbo in a tumble of sheets, one hand resting delicately.
But sometimes, photos aren’t enough. Even if they are taken in every angle or day.
Seulgi creeps down the half-lit stairway and carefully picks up the phone without making a sound. She stares at the dial for a while. She hangs up.
Then in one continuous gesture she picks it up again and dials the number before she can think. She stands frozen on her spot as she listens to one long ring.
Then another long ring.
And Seulgi’s heart sinks when someone picks up the line.
But there’s silence on the other end.
The silence that follows is like an answer. Seulgi holds the receiver close.
And it’s a shame that she can’t see Irene on the other line, at her kitchen in the dark, softly grazing the receiver button with her finger and pressing it down then choking back a sob right after.
Seulgi hears Irene disconnect, but holds on in the void.
“I miss you.” She mumbles under her breath, closing her eyes.
“I miss you.”
The next afternoon, Yoonsoo pays Seulgi a visit to help her repaint her apartment.
Seulgi, who is on a ladder, paints some molding near the ceiling and Yoonsoo is below, holding the ladder so that she won’t fall.
As the radio plays, Yoonoo spots Seulgi wiping sweat from her brow, looking a bit worn-out. They’ve clearly been at it for a while.
“I think it’s break time.” Yoonsoo suggests. “Let me fetch some brews.”
Seulgi nods, collecting her breath. “Sounds good.”
Yoonsoo goes to the kitchen to grab some beers and an opener. But he stops when he sees several photos of the same woman on the table. He picks one up, admiring how Seulgi managed to capture a brief moment of the woman glancing at the camera.
“Seulgi.” Yoonsoo calls out, still holding the photo. “You know, these are seriously good.”
Seulgi walks toward the kitchen to figure out what he’s talking about.
“You really captured, whoever this is.” He says but Seulgi takes back the photo, gathering all photos of Irene hastily.
“Oh, they’re just practice.” She mumbles and puts it in her box of photos as she takes the beer can.
“You really ought to put together a portfolio.” Yoonsoo says but Seulgi picks up the roller, not answering.
“Say the word, I’ll introduce you to my pal at Chosun Ilbo.” He leans on the unpainted side of the wall. “There’s always a clerk job going.”
Seulgi doesn’t answer for a long time, only the sound of her painting the wall filling the silence along with the calming jazz music.
“You went away with her, right?” Yoonsoo finally asks knowingly.
“Yeah.” Seulgi blandly replies, almost exhaling an answer.
“Oh, nothing.” Seulgi’s voice cracks a little and she hopes Yonnsoo doesn’t notice. “It’s hard to really…”
“Is this because I tried to kiss you that day?” He asks and Seulgi finally looks at him. “Because if it is, don’t even think about that. You don’t have to be afraid of-”
“I’m not afraid.” Seulgi says, rather confidently but cannot help but recall the similar words a particular woman once uttered.
“I’m not scared, Seulgi.”
Seulgi drops her gaze for a second, then returns to her painting. Yoonsoo doesn’t say anything for a while and Seulgi speaks up, picking up the can with a half-finished beer.
“Let’s finish while we still have light, okay?”
Yoonsoo obliges, making his way toward the ladder.
“Still think you should put together that portfolio.”
A little annoyed by his consistent suggestion, Seulgi lets out an exasperated sigh.
At Minjun’s parents’ house, Minjun, Irene, Jennifer and John are seated together for a weekday lunch, with everything distinctly in its place.
“More mashed potatoes, Irene?” Minjun’s mother,