3.0 Nací Para Conocerte

Day to Day to Night
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Meaning: I was born to know you.

Premise: your soulmate’s external injuries appear on your body as art: cuts are pen lines, bruises are watercolour spots, and burns are charcoal smudges; it only tickles when the marks form and you can’t feel the pain. The colours of the marks vary depending on your soulmate’s mood when the injuries happen—“high” emotions (such as gratitude, happiness, triumph, anticipation) manifest as warm colours (red, orange, yellow, etc.), “low” emotions (such as annoyance, guilt, anger, depression) manifest as cool colours (blue, purple, green, etc.), and “middle” emotions (such as ambivalence, confusion, disinterest, boredom) manifest as greys and browns. The vibrancy of the marks fades with time, newer injuries appearing more opaque and bright.

 

Irene is sitting in class, feeling the devastating effects of senioritis seeping into her bones, when her knuckles tickle. She glances over to the spot on her hand and sighs upon seeing the multicoloured lines drawn, in varying thicknesses from fine tip pen to Sharpie highlighter, on top of the blooming watercolour splotches. Her soulmate must have gotten into a fight again. As she has been doing for the past few years.

Up until high school started, it hadn’t been too bad: the markings. Irene’s soulmate was a pretty rowdy kid growing up, yes, but Irene also had her fair share of scraped knees and banged limbs. Back then, the majority of her soulmarks were cool colours, probably because kids get upset when they are hurt. No one really questioned the giant purple watercolour on her forehead or the green and blue lines on her palms. Everyone else had them too.

But Irene knew something was wrong when she started looking like a Pollock art piece even as a teenager, with warmer colours slowly overtaking the mix, especially along her hands and face. More than once, her peers whispered behind her back with pitiful glances. Only a troublemaker soulmate would be so beat up. Only a rascal would like fighting.

And recently with the charcoal smudges lining her arms, Irene gives up on finding her soulmate. She’s really not looking forward to dating an aggressive, amateur arsonist. Plus, with all the unintentional (or maybe intentional) tickling that her soulmate likes to torture her with all over her body, Irene thinks she might already hate them. There’s no way they don’t know how Irene will look at this point. Inconsiderate of them, really.

Joy and Yeri, who are each other’s soulmates—relatively blank canvases except when they get into fights with each other—join Irene after school at the cafe they always visit to do work. Yeri glances at Irene’s knuckles and raises an eyebrow, being the keen girl that she is. Irene notices this and shrugs.

“Not everyone can be you and Joy. I guess I can live without a soulmate if they’re not cut out for me.”

Except both Joy and Yeri know their friend has always had a secret fantasy of hitting it off with her soulmate right away. Someone nice and warm. Someone who can cheer Irene on as she tries to distract herself from the constant comparisons to her Canadian cousin Wendy, who got accepted to an Ivy League and plans to be a doctor yet is too sweet for Irene to hate (they’re actually pretty close). But alas, it seems that Irene’s soulmate is too busy getting into physical confrontations to console the stressed out senior. No way they’d understand Irene’s academic pressures if that was the case.

Irene feels her cheekbone tickling this time, dangerously close to her left eye, as Joy and Yeri return to the table with their drinks. They watch Irene as watercolour blossoms across her face and a thin line seeps across it. Irene sighs. She sees some people sneak peeks at her colouring face.

“Irene.” Joy reaches out to cover one of Irene’s fisted hands. “Um…”

Irene furrows her eyebrows. “What? Why?”

“Your cheek—”

“Is probably orange, I know.” Irene waves her off. “With, like, red pen or something.”

Yeri shakes her head. “No. It’s the ugliest shade of brown I’ve ever seen. No offense, of course.”

“And the pen mark is aggressively green. It kind of looks like bits of cabbage that didn’t quite get digested on the way out,” Joy jumps in. No doubt her soulmate is probably thinking the same thing. Irene’s suspicion is confirmed when Yeri bites her lip to hold back laughter and elbows Joy.

The rest of the day is spent in frustration, Irene too busy trying to cover up her face to focus on her studies.

-------

Irene can’t say she’s not worried when all her new markings transition to greys, browns, and cool colours from their previous warm colours. They’re appearing at higher frequencies too. Less on her knuckles, more along her face and ribs. She is starting to look like van Gogh’s “Starry Night over the Rhone,” minus all the pretty yellow stars. In other words: not a good look.

Wendy points this out to her during their weekly video call—late morning for Wendy, late night for Irene—frowning at the unwanted camouflage her cousin wears. Irene tries to stop the envy bubbling up from within her when she catches a glimpse of the navy line on the tip of Wendy’s index finger as she gestures about with her hands in conversation. Probably just a paper cut from her soulmate. Irene wishes her soulmate could be normal like that. She wishes she would actually want to meet them.

“Irene?”

Irene widens her eyes at Wendy’s call, the older girl looking at Irene with concern. Irene gives a meek smile and motions that she is listening.

“I was just saying that I hope you’re okay.” Wendy’s face looks hesitant. “I’ve seen people with mostly middles and lows on their skin, and oftentimes it’s a sign of depression from their soulmates.”

Irene purses her lip, but she’s not sure what to think. It seems almost cruel that she has to hear this information from Wendy, of all people. Blessed Wendy with a perfect soulmate who doesn’t go around getting into fistfights, kind Wendy who is truly concerned for her, smart Wendy who logically tells Irene that her soulmate might be a firefighter. Perfect Wendy who now needs to go to a meeting with a club advisor for widespread clean water access in run-down neighbourhoods around her college community. Irene sure hopes Wendy’s not wrong, but at the same time, Irene’s soulmate might perish before they even get to meet if Wendy’s right.

“Yeah, thanks for listening, Wannie.” Irene shoots Wendy a smile, a genuine one despite the pressure she feels whenever she sees how successful her older cousin is. “I’ll talk to you soon?”

“Yup, anytime. Text me if anything comes up. Bye, Hyunnie.”

“Bye.”

And that unsettling mix of jealousy and admiration turns into anger and concern when her forearm tickles and Irene sees another smudge of charcoal, followed by a small light green marker line along her index finger (the irony of it makes her sigh) that seems to cry out to her in desperation even with the brightness of its hue.

-------

The onslaught of negative emotions leaves Irene feeling exhausted, so she decides to skip out on writing college application essays for the night and heads out to see if there are any places other than those dingy convenience stores open so she can grab a bite. The breeze is a bit chilly even with the big hoodie covering her hands and face, but Irene is too busy scanning for the presence of tacky neon lights illuminating ‘We’re OPEN!’ signs and wondering how her parents would react to her being out after sundown if she were living with them back in Daegu instead of residing in Seoul. They had insisted on her learning at a highly ranked high school, so she’d been living alone for three years already after transferring to the city. Thank the lord for Joy and Yeri, because Irene would have gotten lonely with just her parents’ nagging calls about her grades and how Wendy got another internship.

A small diner catches her eye, and Irene crosses the street to enter it despite its sketchy appearance because it’s the only open eatery in her vicinity. Perks of living in a lame neighbourhood. The rusty bell jingles as Irene steps in, and she is met with an empty interior that looks rather homely and cozy in a pleasant twist of events.

Some sounds, pots and pans clashing, come from where Irene assumes to be the kitchen, scaring her for a moment, before a slight figure steps out to the counter. The woman isn’t that much taller than Irene, and she doesn’t seem that much older either, but Irene stops in her tracks and stares at her like she is an alien after seeing the various bruises and cuts along her face and the bandaged and burnt skin of her hands.

“Sorry about that. Are you here to order?”

Irene nods dumbly and scans for a nametag, only to find nothing. The monolidded woman grimaces, scratching her cheek.

“I’m Seulgi, by the way. I don’t have a name tag because I’m just a kitchen assistant, but I guess I’ll be serving you since my boss slash head chef is out on an errand right now.”

“No worries.” Irene seats herself further inside the restaurant, where she can see the kitchen in open view, and readjusts her hood. “I got hungry and this was the only open place, so I completely understand if you weren’t expecting anyone.”

“Oh no, it’s not that. It’s just…” Seulgi trails off as she hands Irene the menu and the latter raises her sleeve slightly up her arm to grab it with a free hand. “The boss generally doesn’t like having me out in the hall.”

“Is it, because...you know…”

Irene breaks her focus away from the menu to meet Seulgi’s eyes, gesturing to her face in a circular motion. The woman’s eyebrows shoot up as she barely makes out the colours covering Irene’s face from within the shadows of her pink hoodie. Irene studies the injuries on Seulgi’s face before turning back to see her food options. Poor soul, whoever this woman’s soulmate is. Irene feels a weird commiseration with them.

“Yeah, pretty much.” Seulgi gives her a timid smile. “Are you a student?” Then, at Irene’s questioning gaze: “Not to make you uncomfortable or anything. It’s just that the high schoolers usually head to the convenience stores than here.”

“I’m a high school senior. Had to take a break from college apps before my head exploded.”

“Understandable; I’ve been there too.” Seulgi laughs then points to the menu. “So, did you want to order?”

Irene presses her lips together before tapping on something. “Would you recommend this?”

Seulgi peers at the words, seeming to have difficulties reading it, and stands back after a while with an unsure face. Irene watches her the entire time, wondering if she’s dyslexic.

“Um, you’re talking about the fried zucchini, right?”

Irene blinks a few times. “Yeah.”

“Sorry about that. I...got into a small accident recently, so my left eye isn’t as great as it used to be.”

Irene gives her a small smile. “It’s fine.”

“But yeah, the fried zucchini is great. The sauce that comes with it is a secret recipe my boss has from several generations up.”

“I see. Can I get one serving of that then?”

“Yup! I’ll get it to you in a few minutes.”

Seulgi leaves with the menu and Irene watches her figure disappear then reappear in the kitchen. The woman is quick and nimble as she pulls out the ingredients and starts chopping up the vegetable in short, downwards motions before she hisses and suddenly swears. Irene jerks up straight in alarm only to feel a tickle in her left middle finger. She frowns, thinking that it’s a coincidence, and pulls out her phone to scroll through social media.

A few minutes later, she hears the sizzling of deep fry batter as Seulgi drops the zucchini in the hot oil, followed by a sensation all too familiar as charcoal smudges start dotting Irene’s arms. She pulls up her sleeves all the way and watches the way they randomly appear in small speckles. Within seconds, Seulgi walks out with the food, only to see Irene staring at her arms.

“Here’s your—hey. You okay?”

Irene remains silent for a moment before shaking her head. “Depends.” She lets Seulgi place the plate in front of her and turns to face the woman with a stoic expression, dropping her hood from her face. Seulgi gasps softly and bites her lip. “What in the world do you go around doing with people?”

“I…” Seulgi inhales sharply at the realization and glances down at Irene’s arms, running her eyes downwards until they meet the vivid cerulean line on Irene’s finger. “Are you…”

“It would explain the mess I look like, yes.” Irene runs a hand down her face in exasperation before burying it completely in her palms. “Most people find out in gym class or during exercise or something completely random, but I can’t believe I…” she rants, voice muffled. She lifts her face and glares at Seulgi. “Are you a delinquent?”

Seulgi’s eyes widen in shock. “What? Me?” She shakes her head quickly. “Oh no no no. I’m too old to be one.”

“How old are you, anyway?”

The monolidded woman blinks before answering. “Uh, would be a sophomore in college.”

“Would be?”

“I dropped out.”

“So you are a delinquent!” Irene says accusingly. “Do you go around stealing lunch money?”

Seulgi looks offended for a brief moment but she scoffs, eventually. “What do you take me for? Some middle school bully from a B-rated movie?”

“Well then why are you so-” Irene gestures down Seulgi’s body- “ugh?!”

Seulgi crosses her arms across her chest defensively. “Look, if you don’t know anything about me, you shouldn’t—”

“Hey, Seul.” A young man interrupts them, shifting a few grocery bags from one hand to the other. “Is everything okay?”

Seulgi gives Irene a pointed look, presumably telling her to shut up and let her do the talking, before turning to the man and giving him a wide grin. Irene hates how adorable she looks with a smile, even with the injuries on her face. “Yeah, it’s all cool. Was just telling our customer about how great your secret sauce is.”

The man’s face brightens. “Oh, yes! Let me just drop these off in the kitchen and then I’ll come tell you about it.” He winks. “It’s come down from my great great great great great grandmother and I gave it a little Western twist. Our patrons love it. I’m Kai, by the way.”

Irene nods. “Uh, thanks. But I think I might have to take this to-go.” She presses her lips together and glances at Seulgi, who is blatantly staring at her. “If that’s okay.”

“Of course!” Kai whistles, calling Seulgi’s attention. “I let you out for an hour and you’re already falling in love with one of our customers. Can you grab a takeout box for her?”

“Uh, sure.” Seulgi’s ears are red, which Irene doesn’t miss. “I’ll get the check, too.”

“Thanks, Seul! You’re a doll.”

Kai heads in to organize his supplies and Seulgi goes off to get the necessary things. She returns with a white container and Irene’s bill, sliding it onto the younger girl’s table.

“Look.” Seulgi sighs. “I know you have a lot of questions, but I really don’t want you to misunderstand anything.” She scribbles something onto a napkin and places it in front of Irene as the latter packages her food and puts her money in the small tray for Seulgi to take. “I’ll explain everything, so just trust me, okay? I gotta go help Kai now, but I’ll be waiting.”

With that, she leaves Irene alone at the table, brightly asking Kai if he needs her to do anything. Irene picks everything up and stands to leave. She only looks at the napkin once she’s outside, a clear distance from the diner; there’s a phone number scribbled in fading black ink, tight and loopy penmanship staring back at Irene. The high school senior observes it for a moment longer before sticking it into her hoodie pocket and walking back home.

-------

Irene doesn’t text Seulgi until about three days later, when a particularly big silver watercolour mark reappears over the fading brown one on her left cheekbone. She wonders if it stings a lot for Seulgi, because her face (and several spots on her torso) are left tingling lightly for hours after they appear. A first. Her left eye also itches a bit where the grey surrounds it, and Irene thinks about how Seulgi said she recently got into an accident.

‘Stop getting beat up. I can’t focus.’

It’s the first text Irene sends Seulgi, and although she’s upset at the older girl for getting hurt, she tries not to show it as she sneakily puts her phone away during Mrs. Jung’s literature lecture. Joy and Yeri cluck their tongues at her miserable face before whisking her away to get ice cream. If they thought a sweet distraction was going to work, it absolutely did.

“So…” Joy starts.

“...spill,” Yeri finishes. Joohyun shakes her head in amusement at their synchronization.

“I finally met the idiot who makes me look like I should be in a local museum for amateur artist collections.”

“Oh my gosh!” Yeri leans across the table with wide, glittering eyes. “Who? When? Guy? Girl? Neither? Hot?”

Joy, despite looking equally excited, reins her soulmate back in and sits her down. “You’ve got me; what’d you need to ask that last question for?”

Yeri pouts. “It’s the least Irene deserves for having her pretty face reconfigured into an aerial view picture of a landfill. No wonder people don’t want to date her.”

“Hey!”

“I guess that makes sense,” Joy says, cutting Irene off. “Poor Irene…”

“I swear—”

“Maybe her soulmate intuitively knew she was gorgeous and purposely got beat up so no one would date Irene haha.”

Irene groans and slaps a hand on her face, making her friends burst out into laughter. “Guys, please.”

“Okay, okay. Sorry. Go on.”

Irene gives them the stink eye, double-checking that they won’t interrupt again, before continuing. “To answer your question, my soulmate’s a college dropout two years older than us. I met her on Friday.” She pauses at the expectant smile on her friends’ faces (she literally just told them her soulmate was a college dropout!) and sighs, face flushing slightly. “And yes, she’s hot.”

“Hallelujah!” Joy throws her hands up, calling every single patron’s attention to her. Yeri holds in her laughter as she slaps Joy’s thigh to scold her. “Pictures? Number? We need details, girl.”

“I texted her today in Jung’s class, but she hasn’t replied yet.” Irene bites her lip. “And no pictures.”

“Well, I’d assume she’d look pretty similar to you just based on your multicoloured face alone.”

“I will fight you, Kim Yerim.”

Yeri sticks out her tongue. “I’ve got Joy to defend me.”

Joy looks about in surprise, pointing at herself. “Me? The most I can do is sit on Irene and hope she doesn’t get up.”

“Yeah, except for being tall, Joy’s useless,” Irene retorts. “Plus, my soulmate…”

She trails off. She actually isn’t sure if Seulgi is a good fighter or not solely based on her worn knuckles. She actually isn’t sure who Seulgi is at all.

“You’re zoning out. Thinking about your hot soulmate’s face?”

Irene slams her head on the table in frustration. They’d probably to no end if she honestly said yes.

-------

The reply comes in a little after nine, and Irene jumps a little, feeling guilty about having stared at her phone one time too many instead of doing her assignments. Seulgi’s text is short and teasing, nothing about how late Irene contacted her, and Irene isn’t quite sure how to respond:

‘Says the one who’s probably got a huge bruise on her forehead right now. I think it’s been a while since I had actual colour on my body.’

A weird

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hyunseulrene
Given the phrases I have left, I'll mark the collection complete after 26 chapters and add on any extras with that status maintained!
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