Soojin groggily inserted her apartment key into the knob, trying to make as little noise as possible just in case her siblings were already asleep. It would be her luck if they already were, so she could also just head to bed herself, but knowing them, her siblings were probably not following their curfew and up playing video games or watching T.V.
Upon opening the door, the lights were off, but she could hear the faint sound of the television coming from the living room. A sigh left her lips, but a soft smile growing nonetheless.
Soojin made her way to the living room, seeing two heads resting against each other, as they intensely focused their eyes onto the screen in front of them.
“I’m home,” Soojin called out softly.
She stood behind the couch, waiting for two heads to turn upon her arrival. Soojin raised her eyebrows, looking expectantly, but receiving no welcome.
Soojin walked around the couch to block the screen, to only find two pairs of eyes closed shut into a deep slumber. A fond chuckle left her lips, as she moved to sit on top of the small coffee table in front of the couch, eyes gazing softly at the two most important people in her life.
“Little rascals.” Soojin muttered.
She didn’t want to wake them, but Soojin knows the two would appreciate it if she did, seeing that the position they were in would not treat them well in the morning.
“Wake up, sleepyheads. You don’t want to have a stiff neck when you wake up.” Soojin lightly shook the two awake, eyes slowly opening with pure exhaustion.
“Oh, you’re back.” Jae greeted, rubbing his eyes tiredly. Soojin ruffled his hair, to which the younger boy swatted at her hands. The older girl chuckled, getting up from the table to place a kiss on her younger brother’s head.
“Why’d you let Yoon stay up past her bedtime?” Soojin looked at Jae with stern eyes. The younger boy raised his hands in the air in defense, “hey, you try putting a cranky seven year old to bed. Yoon likes to get physical, and you know it.” Jae reasoned, since he always put their little sister to bed because Soojin would always be working the night shift, and always arrived back home really late.
Soojin grinned, “how could I forget? I remember when she kicked you in the face when she was two, and it left a big bruise on your cheek.” Jae groaned, still bitter about that childhood memory.
“Little brat.” Jae squinted his eyes at his sleeping little sister.
“Can you take your little sister to her room, please? I need to shower.” Soojin requested, and Jae only nodded, stretching his limbs upon being woken up. Soojin smiled gratefully, before placing a kiss onto the still asleep Yoon on the couch.
It’s been just the three of them for a while now. Soojin had just turned fourteen when she was left with no choice, but to become the only guardian for her two little siblings, and also for herself. There was no one else, and she was the oldest amongst the three of them.
Their mother had passed away right after giving birth to Yoon. She had a heart condition that caused her to be very frail, and the physical stress from giving birth was too much for her heart to handle.
Soojin remembers being in the room when her mother’s heart monitor flat lined, Yoon tightly held in her mother’s arms as her heart slowly stopped beating. She was old enough to understand what was happening, and witnessing it caused her a great amount of trauma that still constantly affected her in the present time.
Any sort of beeping sounds have her immense flashbacks, causing her to crumble into a triggered panic attack. Soojin hasn’t been to a hospital ever since then. She refused to, unless it was urgent, but even then, it was extremely difficult to even step foot inside one. She would have nightmares, which don’t occur as much as they did when she was younger or when she was overly stressed.
Jae was too little to understand the concept of death, but he did ask questions. Soojin’s unrealistic and childish responses to divert their tragic reality from Jae’s tiny and innocent heart was not going to last forever, but Soojin tried and wished for it to protect Jae’s heart from hurting like she did. Soojin wonders at what point did Jae realize that their mother was gone from this world.
They had a father.
He wasn’t dead like their mother was, but to Soojin, he might as well be. Their father didn’t take the death well, and turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism. There was no thought of his children, and how he was going to care for them, now that he was their only parent. Soojin watched her father fall apart and turn into a raging alcoholic. She remembers having to lock the doors and hide the three of them in a closet to make sure their father didn’t find them in his drunken state.
He always felt extreme rage towards Yoon, blaming her for his wife’s death. It was ridiculous to blame an innocent baby for something so cruel, even Soojin knew that at that age.
Once Soojin turned sixteen, she stopped walking people’s dogs for money, and got a real job instead. Her father, by then, got fired from his job after showing up drunk most of the time, and often, not even showing up at all. It was up to her to provide for her siblings, and for her drunk and poor excuse of a father. It was only when Soojin had saved up enough money to get another apartment for her and her siblings, that they fled and never saw their father again.
Soojin didn’t really know if he was alive or not, but she knew their life was better without him.
Soojin remembers having to leave Yoon and Jae at the orphanage across from where she worked, which they were kind enough to let her siblings stay there and play with the other kids, while Soojin worked her shifts after school. Of course, she had to hide the fact that she was a fifteen year old teenager taking care of her two siblings with no parents. Soojin was afraid that they were going to be separated from each other.
It wasn’t a life that Soojin had expected, nor wanted. She was forced to grow up too quickly, and she did not enjoy much of what kids her age should be enjoying, but she’s trying her hardest to raise her siblings, so they could experience and cherish their childhood better than she was able to.
Soojin is quite surprised with herself, and very lucky, to have gotten as far with her life as to attend one of the most prestigious universities ever. She worked her off in school to receive scholarships, and her situation sort of helped her get the financial aid that she needed to attend. It was definitely more stress on her already busy life, but Soojin felt like school was one of the few things in her life that made her feel normal. The stress caused her to fool around with a lot of people for relief, and it somewhat helped, but Soojin didn’t look too deep into how problematic it could really be. She was just having some fun.
Without school, Soojin would not have much of a social life. She would not have met such great people who cared for her and did not look at her situation as something to empathize about, rather to see it in a different light. To see Soojin as inspirational and a strong individual, rather than someone to feel sympathy for. Soojin hated when people felt sorry for her, because yes, she was less fortunate than most, having a tragic story and all, but that didn’t mean she was unable to do what others did.
When Soojin was in her second year, she first met Yuqi when Soojin was a TA for a photography course she had taken the previous year, when she was a freshman. Yuqi’s constant appearance during Soojin’s office hours was what led them to becoming friends eventually, though at first, Soojin thought the younger girl was too quirky and narcissistic for her more laid back and mysterious personality. Their characters definitely clashed, but it didn’t take long for them to develop a trust and friendship with each other.
Soojin was the one who introduced Yuqi to Minnie and Miyeon, and that’s part of the reason why Yuqi hung around upperclassmen, rather than peers in her year.
Soojin has only known them for a short amount of time, but she felt like they were people that were going to stay in her life for a very long time.
The next time Shuhua saw Soojin, there was a different aura around them. Soojin didn’t take every opportunity she had to mock and tease the younger girl like she usually would. Well, she still definitely did, but Shuhua noticed how sometimes, Soojin could also be nice towards her and actually strike up a normal and genuine conversation.
Naturally, Shuhua reciprocated with the same type of energy and tried to speak with intentions to form a better relationship with the older girl. Shuhua preferred the more laid back dynamic over the constant bickering that they always did. It was a nice change, and Shuhua wonders if it’s because of that night she agreed to help Soojin out with her project.
“Refill?” Soojin asked, stopping right in front of where she sat at the bar, bending to grab a beer from under the counter. Shuhua looked at her empty glass, before shaking her head. “But I’ll take a glass of water with lemon, please.” Shuhua responded.
Soojin nodded, before walking away again. Shuhua’s eyes trailed after her retreating figure, before forcing it away and focusing back onto the book in front of her.
It looked weird going to a bar just to read a book, and not even order any alcoholic drinks, or having no intentions to socialize whatsoever.
Shuhua blames Yuqi. Like always, she was dragged to go wherever Yuqi goes, so that Shuhua didn’t seem so lonely. Shuhua didn’t mind staying at home and just reading and doing homework, that’s usually what she was used to.
“Here’s your water,” Soojin softly laid the glass next to her, placing it on top of a coaster, so that the condensation from the glass wouldn’t soak her paperback novel. Shuhua smiled at the considerate gesture, “thank you.”
Soojin lingered, staring at her curiously as she sipped onto her water. Shuhua raised her eyebrows in question, feeling Soojin’s stare burn through her skin.
Shuhua titled her head, “what?”
Soojin shrugged, “I just think it’s weird that you come to a bar just to study.”
Shuhua scoffed, “you’re judgy.”
Soojin furrowed her eyebrows, “mm, I think we established that you were the critic between us.”
Shuhua glared, but her stare was rather playful, not filled with despise like it usually was. Soojin smirked, “I’m just saying, a bar isn’t the ideal environment to study.”
“I’m not studying. I’m reading a book. And Yuqi forced me to come here against my will.” Shuhua’s pout was subtle, looking down at her book to turn the page. Soojin’s lips quirked up slightly, an amusing glint in her eyes.
“Oh, so you’re just a nerd and a homebody then?” Soojin teased, tilting her head with a playful grin on her lips. Shuhua blinked, still not used to seeing Soojin genuinely smile at her like that.
“N-Nerd? Wha—, I just like to read.” Shuhua stammered, feeling a little flustered under Soojin’s gaze.
“You sure do stare a lot…” Shuhua mumbled to herself, avoiding the latter’s gaze. Even with the booming sounds of voices all around them, Soojin managed to hear her words loud and clear, bringing yet another smirk to her lips.
“Does it bother you?” Soojin asked, and maybe it was because the older girl did it so often, that Shuhua started to grow fond of the habitual way Soojin would tilt her head whenever she asked a question.
Shuhua blinked, flustered once again, and did not know how to answer such a straightforward question. “I—, uh…”
Soojin boldly took a step forward, and if the counter wasn’t there separating the both of them, Shuhua feared how close the older girl would get. “Do you not like it when I look at you?” Soojin asked again.
Before Shuhua could respond, Soojin’s name was being called from the other side of the bar, a tipsy old man requesting another shot of tequila. Shuhua watched Soojin rip her piercing eyes away from her to look at the man, and only then did Shuhua let out a breath she didn’t even know she’d been holding.
Soojin turned back towards her with the same smirk, “duty calls. Try not to get into any trouble, stray girl.”
Shuhua’s mouth gaped, “I thought we agreed for you to never call me that ever again!” She shouted after Soojin, who started to walk away, snickering to herself.
Shuhua huffed, slouching in her seat, as she closed her book shut harshly. A laugh was heard next to her, and Shuhua awkwardly glanced beside her. The stool next to the one she was seated at was empty, but over on the one after sat a woman, whom Shuhua had never seen before from all the times she’s come to this bar.
“Sorry,” Shuhua smiled sheepishly.
The woman shook her head, “oh, no, don’t apologize. I’m just amused…. and you’re very beautiful.” Shuhua felt a blush creeping up her face, offering the woman a small smile in appreciation.
The woman mirrored her smile, “I’m Karina, by the way.” Shuhua turned in her stool, offering the woman a casual handshake, “I’m Shuhua. Nice to meet you.”
Karina’s eyes lingered on Shuhua, causing the Taiwanese to shift in her seat awkwardly from the tense silence. Shuhua watched as Karina picked up her drink, standing and moving over to occupy the stool closer towards her.
“Pride and Prejudice?” Karina read the title of Shuhua’s current read. “A classic.”
Shuhua grinned, “yeah! It’s actually my second time reading it. I read it a few years back, and put it on my reading list again because I just loved—,” Shuhua stopped mid sentence, realizing how talkative she’s gotten around someone she’s just met.
“S-Sorry, I don’t think you want to hear me babble about books.” Shuhua apologized, taking a sip from her glass of water in a haste to cover up her embarrassment.
Karina let out a giggle, “no, no, I think it’s cute.” She looked at Shuhua fondly, leaning closer by resting her chin on her palm, adjusting the stool to fully face the other girl.
Shuhua blushed, “um…. w-well—,” her hands started moving, eyes looking elsewhere, as she tried to find her words. Karina chuckled, laying a hand on Shuhua’s knee in comfort, “are you flustered right now?”
Shuhua blinked, surprised. She wonders if everyone in the city was just very straightforward and bold to say whatever they wanted without consequence. Or maybe it was just Shuhua’s luck to come across those types of people.
“I—, no… maybe..” Shuhua sheepishly smiled. “I’m not very social.”
Shuhua felt Karina’s thumb rub patterns on her bare knee, the look on the other girl’s face filled with amusement. “It’s okay. I’m an easy person to talk to.” Karina’s smile was flirtatious, but friendly at the same time.
Shuhua smiled, “well, I’m kind of new to the city, so it would be nice to have more familiar faces.”
Karina retrieved her hand back, downing the last of her martini. She took the plastic stick that held three green olives, bringing it up to her lips, as Shuhua watched one disappear between red lips.
“Well, consider me a familiar face.” Karina winked, taking another olive into .
Karina raised her hand to flag down Soojin, who had been engaged in a long conversation with a middle aged man wearing a suit. Shuhua’s eyes squinted at the older girl, watching as she purposely leaned over the counter, the top button of her work shirt ed. It was disgusting how these men had no filter, staring with no respect for Soojin or themselves.
Shuhua rolled her eyes when Soojin laughed at something he said, covering with her hand, and flirtatiously hitting the man on his shoulder.
When Karina finally got Soojin’s attention, the older girl excused herself from the man, and made her way back towards them. “Another martini?” Soojin directed her question towards Karina, but curious eyes shifted towards Karina’s hand that found its way back onto Shuhua’s knee. Her eyes met Shuhua’s, piercing with something Shuhua could not read.
“Friend of yours?” Soojin asked Shuhua.
Before Shuhua could respond, Karina spoke for her, “we just met. Isn’t she cute?” She spoke to Soojin as if they knew each other, which irked the bartender.
“Yeah… she’s cute…” Soojin said, all the while never taking her eyes off of Shuhua. The younger girl was quite shocked hearing Soojin’s words. She would have expected for Soojin to have said something insulting, not giving a ab