Stars burn bright even if they must die someday. But isn't it beautiful? How they still give it their best?

Mere Exposure Effect
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"Joohyun unnie, oh my god, oh my god, look at this!"

Joohyun turned to see her friend Seungwan shove a small screen in her face. It was much too close to the older girl's nose for her to focus her eyes onto the movements happening on Seungwan's phone, so Joohyun annoyedly shoved the younger girl back before peering at the device.

"Oh my gosh, are you freaking kidding me?" Joohyun glared at the beaming girl. "This is the fifth fancam of that woman you've shown me today. And you've seen me for only two hours so far."

"I told you, she has a name. Kang Seulgi." Humming happily, Seungwan turned the screen back towards herself. "Don't worry, it won't be the last. She's doing a performance later today for a college festival, and there'll be updates on her fansite once she heads over to the conference to promote her new film. Plenty of content for us to consume."

"You mean, plenty of content for you to consume." Joohyun closed her eyes to calm down. "I've clearly expressed my disinterest in your idol several times."

Seungwan shrugged. "Everyone's like that at first." She cooed at her screen, blabbering something about y red pants. "But you're literally the only person I know on this planet who doesn't love her."

Joohyun clenched her fists, wanting to slam Seungwan's phone to the ground. The younger girl, who was a college sophomore, had had an obsession with Kang Seulgi, all-rounder celebrity, ever since she debuted three years ago. For a rookie actress, she'd made quite a name for herself, often a staple in the shows that rang out into Korean households when the family got together for dinner at the end of the day or a guest in the popular weekend reality. Sitcoms, mini-series, morning dramas—you name it, she filmed it. To top it all off, she sang and danced, hosted variety shows, modelled. People either kissed her posters in the streets or bought all of her products. She was nearly synonymous with the phrase 'Korean actress,' so much to the point that even the elderly knew who she was. It was possible to have never googled her name once, but anyone who did start would not be satisfied with only googling her once.

Bae Joohyun was the exception.

She didn't see anything inherently wrong with people, Seungwan more specifically, liking Kang Seulgi. Joohyun had to admit it: the actress was pretty and had a face relatively uncommon in the Korean entertainment industry, so visually, she was very refreshing. However, Joohyun had never been one to jump on bandwagons, and she especially got annoyed when people stepped all over her opinions because of some trendy figure. Yes, Kang Seulgi was cool and had the duality the general public went wild over, but for Joohyun, it was Park Joy all the way.

"You seriously need to expand your horizons. Everyone knows that Joy hasn't been super active since Seulgi took her spot as the beloved multi-faceted performer of Korea. It's just a cycle of life, and sometimes, you just gotta move on."

Joohyun narrowed her eyes at Seungwan. "With such questionable loyalties, I'm wondering if it's even worth being your friend." The college junior twirled her pencil around her fingers. "If I remember correctly, you're actually the one who got me to be a Kiwi."

Kiwi was the name of Park Joy's fans. She loved the tropical fruit and often ingested them by the box. Quite an expensive habit to have in Korea, or anywhere, really.

"Yeah, but you make it seem like I'm cheating on someone." Seungwan finished watching the fancam and put her phone down, turning to face Joohyun. "Celebrities are marketed to garner massive attention quickly and are always at risk of losing their place in the hypercompetitive entertainment industry. And as unfortunate as it is, in this stupidly patriarchal society, female celebrities' lives are especially short-lived. If you get attached, you'll be disappointed."

She wasn't wrong. Joohyun knew that, logically, Seungwan's ability to move on from one star to the next without attachments was the safest way to ensure a constant level of entertainment as a consumer who had set foot into the stan lifestyle. But it was still frustrating, and honestly quite sad, to think about how easily people abandoned celebrities, as if they were toys. Literally, just some eye candy that was out of sight, out of mind once the temporary sweetness dissolved into the hungry mouths of gluttonous fools with their incessant consumption. People turned away from familiar tastes to experiment with new ones all the time. Disgusting. Joohyun sneered at the thought.

"Well, I can't give up Park Joy, and quite frankly, I'm a bit annoyed that your celebrity crush made people toss mine aside. Joy deserved better, and you know that Korea will never never ever see another woman like her. Ever."

Seungwan crossed her arms. "You wouldn't say that if you stanned Kang Seulgi. She's literally Park Joy 2.0. But cooler, because Kang Seulgi not only is openly gay, but she also said Korean beauty standards and went blazing into the industry with those gorgeous, unique monolids. Told the haters that she'd prove her worth with her skills and look at her now. She's got no haters."

"How do you know that? Did you ask every person in Korea? In the world?"

"She's pretty, she's talented, she's hard-working, and she volunteers and donates regularly. Who in their right mind would hate her?" Seungwan uncrossed her arms to point an accusatory finger at her friend. "Do you hate her?"

Joohyun gasped in offense. "I don't hate her; I just find it annoying to see her all the damn time!" She threw up her hands, pencil flying across her room and falling with a clatter after hitting a wall. "If anything, I don't like her, because she's way too overhyped and seems a bit too perfect to be genuine, and that turns me off completely."

            “You’re just jealous because she’s more successful than you are.”

            “Hey!” Joohyun’s eyes blazed in offense. “Do you seriously think that my measly history major really expects to be successful? I went into this field knowing I’m gonna be broke as !”

            Seungwan saw the fire in Joohyun’s eyes and backed down a bit. “Okay, I’m sorry. But really. For someone who’s merely not interested in her, you invest a lot of negative energy into her presence.”

            Joohyun pointed at various things in her room, courtesy of Seungwan’s decorations. A rug promoted by her. A tumbler with her fanclub logo on it. A limited edition teddy bear designed by her. She sighed. “I didn’t even ask for these, and you’re wasting so much money on things I don’t want.”

            “But you can barely tell they’re related to her.”

            Joohyun threw up her hands again. “We can buy normal decorations! The only reason I haven’t thrown this out is because you’ve spent thousands on everything in here.”

            “I mean, if you consider how much I’ve spent on the decorations in my room, you wouldn’t—”

            “You know what. Get out.” Joohyun shoved her housemate out the door and slammed it shut. She stared at the poster on the inside of her door. Seungwan had laminated it, duct-taped it, and gone over the whole thing one more time with clear packaging tape.

            Of course it had to be a poster of Kang Seulgi’s soju advertisement.


            Joohyun stared at the smiling face of the monolidded actress as she scanned the items for the customer at the counter. The convenience store where she worked was plastered with Kang Seulgi’s face, no thanks to her thirty-seven brand endorsements and the store owner’s undying love for the celebrity, so Joohyun found herself face to face with shiny packaging that distorted the pretty features of Kang Seulgi’s appearance. There were ten minutes until her shift was over—Joohyun was unfortunate enough to be put to work from eight in the evening to one in the morning—so once work was done, Joohyun would head to a twenty-four hour cafe and finish up some readings before heading to her morning class.

            But given her bad luck, the next person rarely showed up a few minutes before her shift ended, so Joohyun often had to wait until he arrived, unable to pack her stuff or change out of the part-time workers’ vest. Too many times did someone stumble in, usually drunk, in the last minute of her shift, during that awkward transition time where she was hoping no one would bother her, and Donghae would pretend to peer around the store as he left her to handle the person he should have been helping out.

            Tonight was one of those nights.

            Joohyun was politely trying to ward off the drunk middle-aged man in time to leave, pulling her hands out of his grasp every time he reached over to explain why he bought each item, when the bell rang to signal another customer entering the store. The person wore a hoodie and slouched while walking, so Joohyun definitely knew it wasn’t Donghae coming in for his shift. Damn her luck.

            The drunk man belched and loudly slammed his hands on his counter in a heavy, slow beat as Joohyun hurriedly scanned his chips and soju. Both had Kang Seulgi’s face on it. She clenched her teeth and told the man his total as he splayed his upper body across the counter and tried to grab Joohyun.

            “You’re so pretty,” he dragged out, squinty eyes roaming over her face and slowly moving downwards. “Whatcha doin at a place like this? Huh? I can—” he hiccuped. “I can show you a faster way to make money, hehe.”

            Joohyun backed off, pressing against the cigarette displays. “Sir, your total is twelve thousand won.”

            “Wanna go with me, sweetie? We’ll have so much fun!”

            “Sir, if you keep doing this, I’ll have to call—”

            “How much did you say it was?”

            Joohyun glanced up in surprise at the new voice to see the hooded figure pulling out a wallet. The voice was feminine, even though Joohyun couldn’t see the person’s face, and she kept her head down as she talked.

            “Twelve thousand, right?” The person slammed the bills down on the counter, grabbed the bag with the man’s stuff, and shoved the bag in his hands, making him stumble back from the counter. “Ahjussi, you’re drunk. Go home.”

            The drunk man hiccuped and tried to peer at the woman’s face. “Who’re you?” He stood up with his bag in hand and pointed a finger to whoever was under the hood. “Wait, I’ve seen you—”

            The figure turned him around and pushed him out the door, hard enough so he would move but gently enough that he wouldn’t trip, bleed, and sue her. He seemed confused but swayed a few times before walking off with unsteady steps, drunkenly singing a tune that oddly sounded like Kang Seulgi’s most recent single. The hooded woman returned to the store, placing a bottle of sleeping pills and a bag of chips (of course with Kang Seulgi’s face on it) on the counter.

            Joohyun blinked in surprise but quickly scanned the items, staring at the chips a second too long. She bagged the stuff and pushed the bag towards the woman. “Your total is four thousand seven hundred won.”

            “Does this happen every night?” Joohyun raised her brows at the figure as the latter slid a five thousand won bill her way, face still looking down. “It doesn’t seem very safe.”

            “Um…” Joohyun accepted the bill and took out the change from the cash register. “Sometimes, but not everyday.”

            “I see.” The figure took the bag. Joohyun held her hand out to place the change in the stranger’s hand. “Maybe you should switch shifts to an earlier time.”

            Joohyun stared at the hooded figure, wondering why she cared so much. “Thank you for the concern, but life doesn’t really work that way. I have to make do with what is given to me.”

            Their hands brushed as the coins dropped into the woman’s open palms. She looked up in surprise. Her face was covered with a black mask and glasses, but Joohyun felt an odd familiarity as she met the stranger’s piercing but gentle gaze, her long monolidded eyes wide in shock.

            “I’m sorry. Thanks.” The woman pocketed the change and took a few steps back, looking down again. “Have a good night, and please stay safe.”

            She left the store with a flourish, the bell at the door jingling again to signal her leave. Donghae walked in as she left, glancing curiously at the hooded figure exiting before him. He nodded to Joohyun in greeting, and Joohyun gave him a tight smile as she got ready to leave. Those eyes had been very familiar. Familiar and yet so unfamiliar.



            Seungwan looked up from her book. She was lounging on her bed, and Joohyun sat at the younger girl’s desk. “Hey, unnie. What’s up.”

            Joohyun stared at the book Seungwan was reading. Another biography. “Did you see the news?”

            “About Park Joy’s comeback? Yeah. It’s the first time in three years, right?”

            “Right.” Joohyun spun in the chair. “Although I’m a bit disappointed that they gave her a supporting role. The lead’s some idol, and she in that one webdrama.”

            “Practice makes perfect. She’ll get better soon.”

            “Yeah, but…” Joohyun placed her foot down to halt the chair, waiting for her head to stop spinning. “Why hand off the lead role to someone who should be practicing in minor roles when there’s already established actors like Park Joy who can do so much better? She’s got more experience, she’s good, and the people are hyped for her comeback to the screen, so it makes more sense to give it to her.”

            Seungwan shrugged. “She’s, what, twenty-eight now?” Joohyun nodded. “Unless you’re one of those actresses who’ve been famous for really long, like Son Yejin and Jeon Jihyun, you’re gonna be replaced by the younger actresses or idols in the lead roles. Especially for romance-based plots. Once Park Joy hits her thirties, she might get some leads in those meta films, but it’ll be all supporting soon. Given that she debuted at twenty-one and had a good three year run since twenty-two, she’s pretty lucky. Most don’t even get through two roles before the public forgets them.”

            “You say that so nonchalantly. Like Kang Seulgi won’t be going down that path soon.”

            Seungwan shrugged. “She’s still, what...twenty-one? My age? Yeah. I think given her versatility, she’s got a couple more years left until she gets pulled out of the spotlight, but that’s her fate.” The younger girl sat up. “There’s a new actress, Kim Yerim, who seems to be pretty good too. She’s only been a lead in one show, but she sang the OST, and I must admit that she has potential. Easily the next Kang Seulgi.”

            Joohyun narrowed her eyes. “You’re so cold.”

            “I’m realistic.” Seungwan her phone. “Oh, look! Kang Seulgi did another social media live for her fans. Truly, the sweetest.”

            Joohyun shook her head at her friend’s questionable loyalties and turned to scroll through the news articles about Park Joy’s upcoming role. The press conference would be the next day, and Joohyun knew she’d be watching it, so she set her phone aside and drummed her fingers on the desk.

            “What do you think Park Joy thinks about her shift to a tier down? Do you think she’s upset about it?”

            Seungwan paused her video of the captured live and tore her eyes away from the screen to look at Joohyun. “Huh?”

            “Do you think that Park Joy is aware of all those things you said? Do you think she is scared of it?”

            Seungwan regarded Joohyun with a gaze that bordered between pitying and curious. “I think you’re asking the wrong questions.”

            “What do you mean?”

            Seungwan stared at her phone again, clicking the play button. “It’s not about whether Park Joy knows and fears the decline in popularity. It’s about how well she’ll take it in stride.”


            Joohyun had to cover an afternoon shift for someone for two days in a row, so it felt a bit tiring to be back on the night shift. If there was a plus, it was that she hadn’t needed to deal with lousy drunks during those two days, and she got a few extra hours of sleep, because she’d finished most of her readings early on. Her mind briefly flashed back to the hooded woman from three days ago, and Joohyun felt herself glancing at the giant poster of Kang Seulgi. The woman had had pretty eyes.

            The bell jingled, and the college junior glanced up to see someone hurry in and head towards the back. It was relatively early on in Joohyun’s shift, so she didn’t mind them, thinking that eight was relatively too soon for someone to walk around drunk. She sneakily pulled out her assigned reading and held it under the countertop, glimpsing around every so often to check for customers.

            It wasn’t until three hours in that Joohyun remembered the person who had entered at the start of her shift. She tossed the book aside and double-checked that there were no people headed towards the store through the glass windows before getting out from behind the counter and walking down the aisles, peering through them to see if someone was there. The owner would have her head if someone left without paying, but Joohyun didn’t remember anyone leaving whom she didn’t help at the counter. She always checked the door when the bell rang.

            The person stood near the alcoholic beverages, staring at the soju bottles without movement. Joohyun stopped walking and hid herself behind a shelf as she watched, looking over her shoulder once in a while to make sure no one was at the counter. The figure wore a hoodie and had a slight frame that was only a bit taller than Joohyun’s, probably a woman. She reached out with well-polished hands and grabbed a green bottle, with yours truly printed onto the label, and turned it over a few times in her hand before putting it back. Joohyun barely held back a gasp when the person started walking again, closer to where Joohyun stood.

            She wove through the aisles, looking at some products in the same manner, picking them up, turning them over, setting them down, but didn’t head to the counter, instead choosing to linger near the back of the store, out of sight of whoever would be working up front. Joohyun eventually headed back to the counter to finish her readings and help customers, but she kept her eye on the hooded figure the entire time, wondering why she wasn’t buying anything or leaving.

            With about two minutes left on Joohyun’s shift, the hooded figure walked up to the counter with two drinks, neither with Kang Seulgi’s face on it, and placed them down. Joohyun wordlessly scanned them and got a bag ready.

            “Your total is three thousand won.”

            The person stopped Joohyun from taking out the bag. “No, it’s okay!” She pushed one of the drinks towards the part-timer. It was a caffeine drink. “That’s for you.” She placed the exact amount down and took her drink. “Thank you. Have a good night.”

            She didn’t look up for the entire exchange, but as she left, Joohyun knew that it was the same woman from before. She looked at the drink the woman had bought for her and rolled it between her palms as Donghae walked in.

            “I think that person’s been coming here everyday for four days now. Mark said some hooded woman came in at the start of his shift two days in a row, when you switched with him, and left almost immediately. Came in every hour until one and did the same thing. Said Giselle saw them do the same thing from six to the end of her shift. Did she just come in?”

            Joohyun continued staring at her drink. “Maybe. I don’t know.”


            “Are you re-watching the press conference again?”

            Joohyun glanced up to see Seungwan walk into their shared apartment. The publicity team for Park Joy’s new drama hadn’t released any behind-the-scenes or teasers yet, so Joohyun was obsessively watching the hour and a half long press conference the actors held. Park Joy looked as stunning as ever, truly the term on-screen Miss Korea was appropriate, and she looked well, bright and funny and charming as always.

            “Wanna join me? You didn’t get to watch it yet.”

            Seungwan placed her stuff down and pursed her lips, wondering if she should take up Joohyun’s offer. “Sure. Let me just wash my hands real quick.”

            Joohyun nodded, pausing and rewinding the video so her friend could watch the whole thing. Seungwan had been a big Kiwi until Kang Seulgi entered the scene, so she thought it’d be nice to take the younger girl on a trip down memory lane.

            “Okay, I’m ready. Should I get snacks?”

            “No, you won’t be able to hear over the crunching.” The two girls settled comfortably on the sofa. “Good?”


            Joohyun hit the play button, and they watched as the actors posed for phototime and headed to their seats. The emcee introduced the actors and directors, and the reporters started asking their questions, many of them directed to Park Joy.

            “Miss Park, it’s your first appearance on the screen after a three year hiatus. How do you feel about coming back to the acting scene?”

            The actress smiled brightly. “I’ve really missed working on set, so I’m excited to be back. I’ve had a lot of time to think about myself as an actress and about what I want to achieve going forward, and I believe that it has allowed me to widen my perspective about my future.”

            “The director mentioned that his immediate first choice for the role of Hana was you. Were you aware of the fact that he had kept you in mind the whole time?”

            “I actually only found out a few days into filming that that was the case, and I’m still honoured that he thought of me. I’ve been relatively absent the past few years, so it was a pleasant surprise to be remembered in such a way.”

            “How was it like preparing for the role of Hana? Were there any difficulties? What do you think about your chemistry with co-star Yook Sungjae?”

            “Getting into Hana’s role was not too hard for me, because I feel like I was experiencing a lot of the things she is in the story. My character has several moments of introspection, and I believe that my short hiatus aided me in preparing for the role. The most difficult part was having to access the initial mindset that Hana shows, because I myself had already grown past the worries Hana has at the beginning of the story, but looking back at it once more has further strengthened my resolve as an actress. As for my chemistry with Sungjae oppa, I think we were a bit shy at first, but he gave me many words of advice and encouragement, so now we’re really close friends. Please look forward to our side plot.”

            “And what are your plans for the future? Do you intend to continue singing or will you focus solely on acting?”

            “Thank you for the question. While I would like to do both, ideally, I understand that there are always limitations that come with time, and I am under the belief that it would be better to hone my craft in one area. So unless someone requests to do a collaboration with me, I will be focusing on acting. I sincerely hope that my fans and the Korean public will support my decision, and I in turn will try my best to continue growing and exploring to become the best version of myself for everyone.”

            Seungwan paused the video. “Wait, do you have a link with the character descriptions?” Joohyun nodded. “Can you text it to me?”

            Joohyun found the page and sent it to her friend. “Done. Are you gonna watch the rest of the conference?”

            “Nah, I’ve gotta watch the fourth teaser for Kang Seulgi’s film. It comes out this weekend.” Seungwan got up. “Wanna watch it with me?”

            Joohyun held up a hand. “No thanks. I’ve got a paper due soon.”

            “Fine, I’ll just go alone.”

            She waited for Seungwan to go into her room before unlocking her phone and looking up the teaser the younger girl was talking about. The movie didn’t seem too bad. Maybe she would make time.


            It was the fifteenth day that the stranger in the hoodie visited, right at the start of Joohyun’s shift. Joohyun watched her make a beeline to the back of the store but didn’t comment, knowing that she would be looking through the different products that had Kang Seulgi’s face on them and buying some stuff at the end of Joohyun’s shift (always leaving something for the student), just as Donghae came in. With the exception of the first day, for someone who spent five hours staring at Kang Seulgi’s face on different packaging within the store, the person didn’t buy many of the things with the celebrity on it, making Joohyun wonder if they had some sort of obsessive compulsion related to the top star.

            Speaking of which, Joohyun had ended up going to the movies with Seungwan. The plot was good, and the acting was good. Kang Seulgi as an -kicking double agent was good. But Joohyun didn’t admit that, because she wasn’t looking forward to Seungwan exposing her to even more Kang Seulgi-related stuff, especially when she had to focus on supporting Park Joy’s new drama. Joohyun refused to believe that she was starting to like Kang Seulgi; she was just being brainwashed by Seungwan.

            It was a busy day—perhaps because it was a Friday—and Joohyun found no time to read her book. The customers were mild and polite for the most part, but she had to deal with another drunk customer, of course, in the last ten minutes of her shift. her life.

            “Sir, please. If you want to buy this, you have to show me your ID. I’m sorry, but that is our store’s policy.”

            The young man blew air out of his mouth and slammed a fist on the counter, pointing at Joohyun. “No. Give me.”


            “No!” He started smashing his fist into the counter repeatedly. “No, no, no, no—”

            “Hey. Hey! Stop that.”

            It was the stranger in the hoodie again. She grabbed his arm, despite the fact that he was a good head taller than her, and yanked him away from the counter. He flailed, slapping the side of the stranger’s head in the process.

            “Who the hell—”

            “Leave her alone.” The woman rubbed where he hit her and pulled out her wallet. “How much?”

            Joohyun stammered. “Seven-seven thousand...won.”

            “Here.” The stranger placed the bills on the counter and turned to the man, pulling her hood lower over her head. “If you show her your ID, you get to take this without paying.”

            The drunk man perked up. “Free?”

            The woman nodded. “Free. Are you going to cooperate?”

            He fumbled as he pulled out his ID. Joohyun took it with shaking fingers and glanced at it to check that he wasn’t a minor before handing it back. “Here you go, sir.” She handed him the cigarettes.

            “Hehe. Free.” He gave Joohyun a lazy grin before stumbling out. The bell jingled.

            “Are you okay?”

            Joohyun turned to the stranger, who was massaging her face through her hood. “I’m fine. Are you okay?”

            “Yeah, I’m good.” The woman placed two drinks and a bottle of sleeping pills on the counter. “Here.”

            Joohyun reached out to scan the items but stopped herself. “No, there’s no way you’re okay with how you keep rubbing your face. I heard the sound.” She pulled out some keys. “I still have a few minutes, so we can go to the back, and I’ll check your—”

            “I’m fine.” The woman pushed the things forward a bit. “I’ll just pay for these and look at it at home.”

            Joohyun looked at the hooded figure, unable to see her face, before sighing and scanning the items. “Your total is ten thousand five hundred won.”

            She slid two bills onto the counter. “Still haven’t been able to switch to an earlier shift?”

            “Is that why you always come in?” Joohyun took the money and got a five hundred won coin from the cash register. “To check if I’m still working late?”

            “I don’t want you to misunderstand.” The stranger placed a hand out when Joohyun got a bag. “That drink’s for you.” She picked up the pills and coffee and placed them in her hoodie pocket. “I’m just...after seeing these drunk a fellow woman, I-I just…” She shook her head. “Nevermind. Just don’t worry about me. I’ve got too much time to kill.”

            Joohyun stopped her as she started to leave. “Wait.” She scurried over to the medical supplies and hurried back to scan the item she picked up. “Here.”

            The figure stared at the cooling pack Joohyun held out. “Are you allowed to just give me things for free?”

            Joohyun shook her head. “I’m paying for it.”

            “Oh, I really can’t…” The woman took out her wallet again. “Since you already scanned—”

            “Please.” Joohyun took her hand and placed the pack in her palm. The woman’s hand was slender and well-manicured, soft. Cold. “You always leave me something. Think of this as my thank you.”

            She gripped her fingers around the pack and withdrew her hand from Joohyun’s. “Thanks.” The woman glimpsed up at Joohyun, letting the latter see her familiar, unfamiliar eyes. She still had the mask and glasses on. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

            Joohyun smiled. “Yeah. I’ll be here.”


            “Dude! Unnie!” Seungwan slipped as she rounded the corner, her socks not helping much in providing her friction against the wooden floors. She winced and rubbed her knee. “Joohyun unnie!”

            “What is it that’s so important that you have to half destroy yourself to tell me?” Joohyun asked, smiling amusedly at her friend. “Did Eric finally ask you out?”

            Glaring at her, Seungwan got back up. “No. Stop teasing me about that.”

            Joohyun held up her hands in surrender. “You’re the one who drunkenly confessed about liking him.”

            “Tsk.” Seungwan sat next to Joohyun on the couch. “Look at this.”

            “What is it?” Joohyun peered at the screen. “Is it Kang Seulgi again?” She turned to her friend. “Look, I told you—”

            “No, look at her face.” Joohyun leaned closer. “Do you see it?”

            “Did she cut her hair?”

            “No!” Seungwan pulled her phone back and zoomed in. “Look! She’s got a bruise on her cheekbone!”

            “Okay?” Joohyun furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. “Maybe she bumped into someone?”

            “I don’t know how you bump into people, but you don’t bruise on your cheekbone. It’s generally the forehead or nose or something.”

            “Okay? I still don’t know why you’re telling me this.”

            “I don’t have anyone else to tell,” Seungwan said. “I need more friends to fangirl with.”

            “In case you forgot, I’m not fangirling with you. You’re fangirling to me.” Joohyun shook her head and stood up. “Why don’t you go fangirl to Eric?”

            “I told you—”

            Joohyun slammed her room door shut. “Good riddance.”


            On the twenty-second day, the stranger in the hoodie came in late. Joohyun had gotten used to seeing her throughout her shift, so when she wasn’t there for the first four hours, Joohyun felt worried. She almost hurdled over the counter when the bell jingled and a familiar figure walked in, heading to the back of the store.

            “Excuse me!” Joohyun called out. The woman froze. “Are you going to hang out in the back again?”

            The person turned slowly, head down. “Uh, yeah.”

            Joohyun grinned. “Wanna join me up here?”

            The woman looked up in surprise. “What?”

            “I’ve got another seat back here. You can chill with me if you’re planning to stay for the rest of my shift.”

            “I…” She fidgeted with the sleeves of her hoodie but walked to Joohyun. “Are you sure I’m allowed to do that?”

            Joohyun shrugged. “You’re not stealing, and I’m not stealing, so I don’t see why not.” She pulled up the spare chair. “I never got your name, by the way. I’m Joohyun.

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