Soojin leads Shuhua around Wendy’s house, both hands fiddling with Shuhua’s fingers mindlessly as the younger woman admires the pictures on the walls.
“Is this you?” Shuhua giggles, pointing to a picture of a teen with cake all over her face.
Soojin huffs, “yes. That was my seventeenth birthday. Apparently, a cake to the face is tradition in this family, so Wendy always buys one from the store, and bakes a special one to actually eat.”
Shuhua turns to Soojin to show her grin, “that sounds like fun.”
The latter hums in disagreement, “not when it’s your face filled with icing, stray girl.”
She steps to the right, going down the wall of photos, eyes scanning and taking every detail of the memories and the smiles that came with it. Shuhua wished she had memories like this, happy and fulfilling ones. She didn’t have many pictures from her childhood, or any at all, really. Unless, magazine pictures from reporters and paparazzi count as “childhood photos.”
“I’ve always wanted to have traditions in my life.” Shuhua heaves a sigh, “or at least experience traditions that I hear about. You know... bedtime stories before bed, family picnics,” Shuhua shrugs, “picking out the tree as a family. Those things.”
Soojin's eyes softened, thumb swiping over Shuhua’s knuckles in comfort. Pursing her lips, her eyes catch sight of something at the doorway. A smirk forms on Soojin’s lips, and she starts to pull Shuhua backwards.
“Hey, I wasn’t done looking at the pictures.” Shuhua frowns, her feet following nonetheless.
Soojin stops at the doorway, pulling Shuhua in by the waist. “How about we start with this tradition?” She nods her head up towards the mistletoe above them, and Shuhua raises her gaze towards the plant hung on the top of the doorway.
“Mistletoe?” Shuhua grins when her eyes find Soojin’s gaze again. The older woman nods, “I’m sure it’s in one of your books too.”
Shuhua’s eyes lower to cherry lips, and she leans in first, kissing Soojin softly and deeply. Her heart swells with affection, unable to contain the way she smiles into the kiss. And maybe they get a little too caught up in the kiss, Soojin maneuvering their bodies so she has Shuhua pressed up against the side of the doorway.
“Wendy! The kids are tarnishing the innocence of the mistletoe!”
Soojin pulls away with an eye roll, and Shuhua immediately hides her blush into the taller woman’s collarbone.
“ off, Joy.”
Joy snorts, motioning them out of her way. “Move out of the way, children. You’re blocking the path to the bathroom. I’ve had one too many glasses of wine and need to hit the loo.”
Shuhua steps to the side and pulls Soojin with her despite the latter wanting to stand her ground just to piss Joy off. She gives Joy a sheepish smile, and the older woman winks at her. “Don’t have too much fun now, kids. We haven’t even gotten to dinner yet.”
“Come on, let’s head back downstairs.” Soojin huffs, annoyed that their moment was ruined.
Soojin brings them to the yard next, where the boys were playing soccer. Shuhua sees Yoon with the dogs at the farther end, an adorable little playhouse with a slide right next to her.
“That’s Jungkook. He goes to NYU too, and is also a dance captain.” Soojin points at the man who stood in front of the small soccer net, arms stretched to block Jae’s goal. “He’s dating Yeri, who’s Irene’s younger sister.”
Shuhua nods, trying to keep up with all these new faces. She had met Yeri in the kitchen. She had a cute smile and was very kind and welcoming, like the rest of them were.
“You’ve met my brother Jae,” Soojin says, a bit unsure, but Shuhua’s hum answers her question. “I have. I don’t think he likes me very much.”
Soojin chuckles, “he’s like that with new people. He’s quite shy, actually, but once you get to know him he’s adorable.”
Shuhua pouts, “I want him to like me. I want all your family members to like me.”
Soojin’s lips curl subtly, bumping their shoulders together. “And they do.” She reassures her, “and Jae will too.”
She appreciates the assurance that washes away the nerves at the pit of her stomach, and Shuhua shows her appreciation with a smile.
When Irene calls everyone for dinner, it takes two more calls until everyone is seated around the rectangular table filled with Wendy’s delicious recipes that she had worked hard to make all day.
Soojin makes sure to put a little of everything on Shuhua’s plate, as well as Yoon’s who was seated on her other side, before any food had landed on her own. Wendy pauses with the mashed potatoes in her hands, eyes glinting with praise upon seeing Soojin be so caring with Shuhua. Not that Soojin wasn’t always like that, Wendy just knew how hard it was for the younger woman to allow herself to freely care for someone like that. Especially someone from outside of their circle.
“So, Taiwan.” Hwasa speaks up first, cutting into a piece of chicken. Soojin’s body grows rigid, eyes hardening onto the older woman in warning.
Shuhua waits for a question, practically shaking in her shoes and the nerves definitely coming back.
“How’s New York been for you?” Hwasa asks, smirking when she sees Soojin visibly relaxing in her seat after hearing her innocent question.
“Great. I’m having the best time.” Shuhua wears a polite smile, “it feels more like home than Taiwan ever did.”
“What makes you say that? I heard Taiwan is beautiful.” Moonbyul rides off of her response.
Shuhua blinks, “w-well, Taiwan is beautiful. It’s just it’s always been quite lonely over there. In New York, I have Yuqi. And now, Soojin.” She meets her eyes when her name falls from her lips, and the older woman smiles.
The people around the table catch their exchange, and suppress their teasing for Soojin’s sake.
“You don’t have family in Taiwan? Friends?”
Soojin is surprised at who the question came from, and her head snaps to throw her little brother a stern look. Soojin had advised them that family was a sensitive topic for Shuhua, and to refrain from speaking about it. Of course, Jae ignores her stare, looking at Shuhua expectantly.
Shuhua lays a comforting hand on Soojin’s thigh, letting her know that she was okay and not offended by the question.
“Not quite.” Shuhua keeps her smile, “it was always hard for me to make friends around my circle, they were always too snobbish for me, and well, I don’t have the best relationship with my parents.” She makes sure to answer it truthfully without having to spill any gory and deep details.
“Yeah, we don’t have a good relationship with our birth givers either. You fit right into the group of neglected.” Jae snorts, and suddenly the air turns tense.
“Jae.” Soojin grits, glancing down at Yoon, who thankfully was too busy trying to sneak some chicken off her plate for Peanut to eat.
“Anyway,” Irene cuts in, and her smile was a mixture of sweet and stern. “I heard you’re a social work major, Shuhua.”
Shuhua is thankful for Irene’s intervention. She feels Soojin relax under her touch, but she still holds a stern gaze at her brother, wanting him to know just how upset she was with him.
“Yes, I am. And a psychology major.”
Irene gives her an impressed look, “double major? Impressive. Why those two?”
Shuhua takes a sip of her water before replying, “I feel very passionate about wanting to help children who are less fortunate and born in unfortunate circumstances. I want to pursue a career in social work, but the brain has also been very intriguing to me, and I love to learn, and I am in a position where I can afford to, so I went for both.”
“Shuhua volunteers at the St. Mary’s orphanage sometimes.” Soojin points out, and Yoon’s ears perk up, “yeah! She plays with me and Jaden all the time.” The birthday girl grins, on her spoon.
Shuhua smiles fondly at Yoon, “you’re my favorite playmate.”
Yoon’s smile widens, and she nudges her older sister, leaning in like it was a secret. “You hear that? I’m her favorite playmate. Don’t tell Jaden.”
“You’re way out of Soojin’s league.” Joy snorts.
Soojin rolls her eyes, but doesn’t comment on it because she sort of agrees.
Shuhua laughs, “she’s the one everyone wants. I have no idea how I’m in this position right now with the trail of women she has at her feet.”
“She’s got quite the reputation, doesn’t she?” Wendy’s lip curls, a playful glint in her eyes. “You can see why we were all shocked to hear someone has finally tamed her.”
Soojin scoffs, “tamed? What am I? An animal?”
She sees Joy open , but she stops her before a lame joke leaves her lips. “Do not answer that. It was rhetorical.”
“I’m glad you’re here, Taiwan.” Wendy