You Let Me Breathe

Shots at Love

A stressed college girl. Caffeinated drink and an annoying stranger. 



Caffeine has always been the best weapon of striving college students aside from their brain and hard work. With it's structure to stimulate the brain and reduce sleepiness, Irene found herself consuming it during hell weeks. And when she say hell weeks, for college students, it meant every week. It is just that there are weeks that go beyond it.


As usual, she found herself basking on coffee aromas as she entered her favorite coffee shop near her university for a morning booster. Bells chimed in and the lady at the counter looked up to her and soon smiled brightly. Irene realized that it's an unfamiliar face this time. She must be new. She thought.



Without having any ounce of energy left after a draining six hours of studying last night, she just nod at the girl as an acknowledgement.


She then uttered her usual order. And awaits as the girl prepared for it. Irene cannot help but to noticed how the girl emits positive and happy vibes.


Wendy. As what her name tag presents, was humming to a certain tune. Irene just followed the latter's movements, wondering how can a person be this bright.


And upon gauging herself, she cannot help but to frown. Why was her life like this? She was actually pursuing her dream course. To become a licensed doctor. But why was everything so hard? That even her dream seems like a burden nowadays. That studying felt like air that she needs to do, otherwise everything will come to its end. Why does her existence feels like she isn't living to survive anymore rather than it became like she's surviving in order to live.





Why can't I be like her?


"Miss..." her train of thoughts were cut off as a gentle hand caress her arm.



She was met again by the beaming smile of the girl, which made Irene to scoffed internally.


She's annoyed and she doesn't know why. Maybe the girl is living her life that Irene wants to live after realizing that college is a hell hole. She just wants to escape the harsh reality. The pressure. The failure and disappointments. Her parents' judging eyes. Everything.



"Miss, are you okay?" the girl inquired again, this time a little concerned as the person in front of her felt like she's on the verge of breaking down.



"Ahh y-yes. Thank you." Irene immediately grabbed her coffee and soon rushed out the door.



Wendy just stared at the retreating figure of the college girl until she was out of her sight. She cannot seem to shake away the cracking voice of the girl as she uttered 'Yes'. Wendy knew that the latter is everything except being okay.





It was Saturday afternoon and Irene's classes just finished. She tiredly hang her purse at her left shoulder while her lab coat is at the confines of her right one.



The familiar chime of the bells rang through her ears. And Irene kind of want for the girl at the counter to not be the new one. The former was a bit grumpy but Irene doesn't want to get reminded of her miserable life as a particular beaming face will welcome her. That's the last thing she wants to be added on her plate right now.



But maybe that's how life works for her. To make everything harder than it seems.



"Good afternoon!” a chirpy voice greeted upon her arrival. It's Wendy. That realization made Irene to groan internally.



The stressed girl cannot wait to wipe the bright smiles out of her face. Well, that may seem too harsh but can this girl get the hint that her smiling face is the least she wants to see right now?




"The usual?" Irene just nodded her head at that. She was going to get her purse when the latter stopped her.




"No. No. No." Wendy abruptly dismissed as she made some hand gestures to stop Irene's actions just now.




"You are our 200th customer for this day. It's on the house."



"This was like my hundredth order but never did this shop do this kind of thing." she replied back. It is not as if she doesn't want the free coffee. Irene definitely wants it. This instance just made her to be curious.



"Actually, there is a new manager. And it was proposed to do this every now and then. Today, you are our lucky customer! " Wendy uttered enthusiastically and pushed the drink towards Irene.



After a few moments of defeaning silence between the two as they eyed each other. Irene with curious eyes and Wendy with a bright but nervous ones. The college girl then grabbed the drink albeit being hesitant.


She muttered a low 'Thank you' as she exited the shop with the intention of going home (which doesn't really feel like home) after a long tiring day.



Wendy for the second time just stared at the retreating figure as smile adorned her face instead of a concerned ones like their previous encounter.







This time, Irene is planning to study for a couple of hours at the coffee shop. She awaits for her order as she scattered all the materials that she needed to study for several quizzes this week. Eventually sighing in annoyance at the number of pages. She isn't even starting yet but she felt like it's draining everything out of her already just by looking at all the materials.



"Here's your order." a familiar voice uttered. She just made a space for the latter to placed her order. Without looking up at her.




"It's on the house again." that statement made her to gaze up.






She eyed Wendy suspiciously which the latter returned with a shrug.



"Am I your 200th customer again? " she asked in curiousness.



"Nope." Wendy uttered while popping the letter 'p'.



"Then why? "




The latter flashed Irene her signature bright smile.



"You are our 158th customer."




"Have a nice day, Irene."




She just stared dumfounded at the girl's actions. Irene knew that even if the latter is facing her with her back, she's smiling again.



Shrugging the fluttering feelings at the pit of her stomach. She then proceeded to skim on her notes. Questioning the girl's weird behavior is the least she should worry about.




Unbeknownst to her, a girl at the counter have already stolen numerous glances at her with a smile plastered on her face as she sported a serious look while reading her study materials.




After a few grueling hours of studying, Irene stretched on her seat. She glanced outside and realized that it's evening already. Knowing that her brain is at its full capacity, she decided to pack everything up.




"You're going already?" Wendy stood beside her this time as she started to gather almost three empty cups of coffee at Irene's table. She wondered if the girl can even be able to sleep tonight by the amount of her caffeine intake.




"Yes." Irene replied shortly, still arranging everything.




"Joy! Can you get this?." Wendy politely asked. Handing Irene's remnants and her apron at the tall girl who just nodded at her in understanding.




"Are you usually this cold?" it's a bold question to ask especially if you want to get closer to someone and unravel the mystery behind the cold exterior of a person. But Wendy is not the type of person to beat around the bush.



That question made Irene to stop all her actions, quite surprised with the sudden conversation.



"Well, the weather's not that hot. So, maybe." she uttered nonchalantly, trying to dismiss the girl and soon rushed out the door.



But Wendy will not let this opportunity to pass.




"You know that I am not talking about the weather." Wendy replied back. They are on the sidewalk already, with the bright girl walking backwards in order to still face her.




Irene rolled her eyes and sighed in annoyance. The last thing she wants right now is an annoying stranger. She just want to throw her tired body on her bed.



"What makes you think that I'll answer your question? You are even a stranger to me."


That statement made the latter to stop on her tracks. Irene continued walking. She thought that the girl will finally stop bothering her but then Irene must have thought better. It's evident in the girl that she's quite hard-headed.




"Son Wendy." Irene just ignored her, dismissing Wendy sounds futile anymore. So, she just let her be. Thinking that she will grow tired eventually.



This time, the girl is walking by her side. Through the onlookers eyes, they may seem like casual friends who's having a conversation. But truth be told, Irene is slowly getting worked up by the girl's cocky behavior. She just wish to get away from the girl.



"I am 20 years old." Wendy continued to mumbled. And Irene continued to ignore.




"I'm studying culinary arts at Seoul National University but then I quit. So, here I am bothering you." Irene smiled slightly at her last sentence. It's true. She's really a nuisance to her.



"What are you doing exactly? I'm not even asking."




"I'm a stranger no more. I just stated already my name, my age, my course and where I am studying previously." Wendy beamed while looking at her.



It feels like a light bulb was as she realized what the girl is trying to do. Irene admits, that she's quite clever.



The girl stood in front of her which made Irene to stop on her tracks. She hate to admit it, but she's anticipating on what the girl's next move will be.





"So, friends?" she proposed while extending her right arm for Irene to take.



It is actually the first time that someone asked her to be friends with her. She's used to someone just clinging at her and then that person will eventually stop doing so upon realizing that being friends with the Irene Bae isn't easy as it seems. With her cold exterior, sharp tongue and judging eyes, every person will soon get tired. Well, except Seulgi. Her best friend. Despite being cold, Seulgi actually breaks into the barrier she tried to put up to around people. And soon Irene found herself warming at the bear.


But usually, Irene will not let anyone to enter her life as easy as possible. So with this girl suddenly barging in. She doesn't know what to do and what to say. Although, she knew that the latter is genuine by how she's trying to get closer to her the past few dine-ins she had made at the coffee shop. She always hear some 'Have a nice day', 'Enjoy', 'Fighting!' and other positive encouragements as she placed Irene's order at her table. Not to mention, the occasional motivating quotes and scribbles paired with a smiling face on her plastic cup made by the latter. And when she will look at the cups of others, all were devoid of the girl's writing.



But as what she have said, Irene do not let just anyone to enter her life.




"No." she flatly said as she walked past the latter. With the rejection (although Wendy expected it already) has made her to stop malfunctioning for a while, still staring at the place where Irene stood just a while ago.




Upon recovering from her shock, Wendy immediately turned her head towards Irene's direction, and found the girl a several meters away from her already.




"Sleep tight, Irene!" She shouted loudly that even some of the onlookers watched at her weirdly.





Irene heard that.


Wendy makes sure she made the latter to hear that.









Two girls with smiles adorning their faces, walk on the opposite directions.





Wendy cannot wait for the time, where she can be able to walk beside Irene.



Now, that it still seems impossible to do so. She can already settle for these little interactions as she slowly unravel the girl's world.






It took Wendy a good four sessions of convincing the girl, constant dose of free coffees and plates of cake for Irene to stand beside her as they gawk at the city lights in front.



After their interaction that one particular night. Wendy started her mission to know more about Irene. And what's the best way to do that than becoming an instrument for Irene to let out all her pent-up emotions. Hence, here they are. A few hundred meters above the ground. Clutching the railings as the cold breeze brushed on their skins. Wendy discovered this place a few years back. A little hill that overlooks the city and since then it became her sanctuary whenever things get a little rough. She doesn't mind for Irene to do the same.




"This is beautiful, Wendy." Irene mumbled as she watch the city lights shine brightly through the confines of the night sky.



Yes, you are.



"Yes. It's really beautiful." she replied but her eyes were not fixated at the scenery, it's on the girl that was standing beside her. With the moon illuminating her features, Wendy realized that she has probably just discovered her favorite scenery that she wants to stare at for a long time.






Soon a comfortable silence ensue, both of them just wants to bask in this kind of atmosphere. A calming one.



For Irene it's been a long time since she felt this kind of tranquility. Although, it kind of confused her that she's feeling like this in the presence of a person she never knew that much.







"I QUIT SCHOOL BECAUSE I DON'T LIKE STUDYING AND I WANT TO BECOME A MUSICIAN! AND THAT'S VALID! " Irene jumped slightly as Wendy's booming voice suddenly echoed throughout the quiet place without a warning. She even clutched on her chest due to shock.


She's wondering as she stared at the girl, if Wendy can even be more spontaneous.



"I JUST WANT TO SING! I DON'T EVEN WANT TO BECOME A CHEF. SO, IF MY MOM AND DAD CAN HEAR ME RIGHT NOW, PLEASE LET ME BE! " She continued to shout, Wendy was even huffing as she catch her breath. Trying to make it normal.




Irene watched her clearly in awe. After a while, the latter is already laughing her heart out.



"That was good. It felt really nice." Wendy muttered upon recovering from her laughter. She heave a relieved sigh afterwards and stare at Irene with a beaming smile. Her signature smile.



"Try it. Shout everything." the latter tried to encourage.


Irene was hesitant at first but then realized that it may probably help her to release all the suppressed emotions she have been bottling inside.










"I AM TIRED WITH KEEPING UP WITH PARENTS WHO DIDN'T EVEN CARE ABOUT ME!" a lone tear rolled her right cheek after shouting that.



"I feel like they are only keeping me so that they can brag my achievements to everyone." that goes above whisper as her tears continued to roll down this time.



"I HATE HOW MISERABLE MY LIFE IS! " she concluded with all the anger, hurt and pain she could let out with that particular phrase. Irene just wished that somehow, someone can ease the loneliness she felt. If Seulgi was only here. She's her ball of sunshine. Unfortunately, her family transferred at the countryside after they graduated high school. Although, they continue to keep in touch. Lately, their busy schedules rarely keep them on the phone for a good ten-minute talk. She cannot help but to feel alone.



Irene wasn't aware of the fact that she's already crying real hard if Wendy didn't suddenly hug her and soothe her back as she continued to mutter a bunch of 'It's going to be okay' to her.



Wendy is warm.


That was what she realized that particular moment. Her hands have a brain of itself as they also circled around Wendy's waist, pulling the girl closer as she cried on her shoulders.



Wendy's heart broke at the sight of the girl. She never knew that one can be this sad and vulnerable. She do have her fair share of pain and hurt in life. But Irene's bled much deeper than her. Probably the reason on why it was so hard for her to open up to everyone. The reason why it took Wendy too much effort to somehow get through the walls the girl built around her. It is still a long way. She knew that. But she's willing to stay with the girl. She's willing to be with her through everything. Never in her life did she want to take all the pain from someone than now. If Irene could inflict some pain through her, she's more than willing to suffer with her.



Knowing that she can do this much for someone. Made her to conclude one thing.







She likes Irene. Very much.





"How can you quit school just like that? I mean no offense but I just want to know what pushed you?" Irene asked, still looking at the view.



After a while of hugging, Irene felt embarrassed for acting like that and for wetting Wendy's shirt with her tears. So, she pushed the latter away and nonchalantly went back to her place like she just didn't made an outburst.



Wendy on the other hand, smiled slightly at the act of indifference but she knew that she's making an improvement.



"I realized that I am not happy with what I am doing anymore. And I cannot let myself to live a life doing something that I don't like." Wendy uttered seriously.



"I'll be forever tied up with the path I will take and surely becoming a chef is the least that I want to do. So, even if my parents didn't approve at first. I still pushed with my plan."





"A little advice. If you are not happy with what you are doing. Give yourself a favor and do what your heart screams. Because at the end of the day, what matters most should be your happiness. Not your parents. Not mine. Not your friends. Not anyone. But yours, Irene." All through her speech, Wendy was gazing at her. She can feel the sincerity on those orbs. And she cannot help but to admire the latter more. She admires how she can stand up for what she likes.


They both stared at each other for a while before Irene diverted her gaze. Making the view to look more interesting to watch than those warm orbs. But soon failed.



"It's not like I don't want to become a doctor. I really do. But the life I will take before becoming one is really hard. That sometimes I felt like accomplishing my dream is already a burden. My passion to pursue is already fading."



"I am honestly not thinking of finding another path. I cannot see myself doing something else than becoming a doctor. But I felt like quitting. Everything's just hard" she finished as she stared sadly at the distance. No, she's not going to cry anymore. She's relieved actually.



Wendy was right. It felt good to let everything out.




"You know what my mom's words after cursing me out for quitting school? " Wendy let out a little giggle as she recalled how her mother chased her with a broom, after telling her everything.



"Life's hard. It cannot be called life if it is not hard. And I've never felt sorry more than before after she uttered those words. Although, she's pertaining to the other reason why I quit rather than my main one. But it kind of hit me hard because one of the reasons was I'm also having a hard time to juggle everything."




"What I want to say is that if you think that it's worth it, Irene. Do it. You are probably not happy now but you will be in the future since you are pursuing your dream. A little sacrifices in the present will surely be worth it in the future." Wendy continued. She just hopes that she has ease Irene's worries even a little with her words.



Afterwards, she doesn't know what came into her but after mustering a little courage. She held Irene's hand, and soon intertwined it with hers. Wendy squeezed her hand a little, to reassure the girl that she'll be there for her. Having no retaliation from the latter. They continued to stare in front while holding each other's hands.




Words aren't needed anymore, to let the other feel that something has shifted between the two of them that night.





For the past few weeks, Wendy knew that Irene is slowly warming up to her after their little escapade that particular night. She sometimes even find herself accompanying the girl while she's reviewing for her upcoming tests. They found themselves on their own little world as Wendy asked her questions and Irene with her amazing memory tried to answer everything. Wendy knew she has fallen head over heels for the girl. Irene doesn't only have a smart brain but she's also dedicated. After several review sessions with the latter, she knew that the girl really put in a lot of effort from making her notes to studying everything.



As she was busy reminiscing, her phone buzzed on top of the counter. Hearing the familiar ringtone for a specific person. Wendy smiled brightly at the thought of seeing her.



I'll be there in a few.



After their numerous interactions, the two finally agreed to exchange phone numbers, courtesy of Wendy's constant bugging at the studying girl one spring afternoon.



She typed in a simple 'okay' with a little heart beside it. And soon prepared Irene's favorite coffee combination.



"Hey." Irene greeted her with a tired smile. It's always been like this. Wendy's been racking her brain these past few days on what to do to ease Irene's stressful days.




"Look for a table, I'll bring these for you." she smiled at the girl.



"You looked stressed today." she pointed out as she settled herself in front of Irene's slumping self.



Sipping on her coffee, she felt like playfully rolling her eyes at Wendy's remarks, "When am I not, Wendy?"



"I mean you looked 'extra' stressed today. " Wendy replied back, giving a little emphasis on the word 'extra'.



"Just numerous laboratory exams today." the girl simply stated.



"By the way, it's on the house again today."



"Hey can you be honest to me? Are you sure with all of these? I think that you're probably making the free coffee purposely to be me. What number is it this time, Wendy? " Irene eyed the latter suspiciously. Ever since her first drink, Wendy's been giving her every order for me. Whether it's the manager's birthday, it's the owners anniversary or she's the lucky customer.



"Today, it's for our 101th customer. And believe me, Rene. You are really our 101th customer. I swear." the girl promised even sporting several hand gestures. Irene didn't buy it this time unlike her previous free coffees. She knew that the latter is lying. But she also knew how hard-headed the girl in front of her is. Wendy will insist on this one. So she eventually dropped the topic and they soon engrossed themselves in a conversation. Just like what friends do. Although, the other clearly want everything to escalate to more than friendship. But she cannot say that yet. Or maybe she can.



"Aren't you going to study? " Wendy inquired as she sense that the latter is not even bringing out her study materials on the table.



"Nope. I am not in the mood."



"How about we play two truths and a lie?" Wendy proposed excitedly.



"That's a corny game, Wendy."



"Pretty please." she even put her chin atop her hands on the table, acting all cute in front of Irene.



"Fine." Irene surrendered at Wendy's pleading eyes.



They've been at it for half an hour already. And Wendy smirked as she knew more of the latter at that short span of time than all her interactions with her for the couple of months. She realized that she’s somehow smart at proposing this game.



It's now Irene's turn.



"My Korean name is Joohyun. I like to eat chicken and I dislike coffee."



"I feel like you're not going to get this, Seungwan-ah. " Irene stuck out her tongue at her playfully. She really finds it endearing every time her Korean name rolled of Irene's tongue. The latter just discovered it a while ago at their first round of this game. And since then, the girl decided to call her by that name. Wendy never knew that her boyish name which she hated before, seems like a music to her ears right now.



"Joke’s on you, Rene. I know that your Korean name's Joohyun. I think you probably mentioned it to me a few weeks back." she crossed out the first option.


"And surely you will not dislike coffee..." she trailed off smirking at the girl.



"So I'm sure that it's the second one." Wendy beamed at the girl.



"I knew you would say that! " Irene uttered as she laughed out loud.






Wendy stared at her in utter disbelief. No, Irene's probably lying.



"It's impossible. Stop lying to me!" she whined while stomping her foot under the table. Irene smiled at the cute display of childishness.



"I am not!"



"The lie is actually the third one."



"No! Are you kidding me? I don't believe you." that's the last item that Wendy will crossed between the three as a lie.



"I really am not. I hate coffee. But eventually it became bearable as I forced my body to like it. I need that to stay awake." she stated as a matter of fact.



At the sudden revelation, Wendy cannot help but to think just how much more does this girl in front of her can sacrifice for her studies? Sometimes, she felt bad for the latter but she knew that's the last thing Irene want other people to feel about her. So she masked her emotions and just squeezed gently the latter's hand that was placed on the table.



"My turn."



"I live in Canada for a couple of years, I don't know how to bake..." she stared at Irene and found the latter waiting for her to continue.



Should I?







"I like you." there. She finally said it.


Irene stared at her, clearly shocked at the sudden option. If she'll be honest, she knew already of the girl's feelings. It was evident already for the past month that Wendy has feelings for her. She's actually just waiting for the girl to say it directly. Now, that she have done it already. Irene realized that it's not easy. She's the one who's not sure. Or maybe she’s just hiding everything too.



She faked a laugh and slapped Wendy on her shoulder playfully.



"It's the number 3 of course."


There's something at Wendy's chest that screams pain. She knew that Irene knew. So why was she acting like this exactly? Maybe she needs a confirmation.






The atmosphere turned serious abruptly after that. Both of them don't know what to say but probably Wendy knew what to do.



She then scribbled certain numbers on a piece of tissue using the pen on her apron. And soon handed it to Irene. The latter just eyed the paper curiously. She then noticed that it's the numbers for the lucky customers who gets a free coffee that Wendy's been making up for her past three free orders. The latest one was today.



200 - 158 + 101



"Solve it." Wendy instructed as she just stared curiously at the piece of paper






"I like you a lot, Joohyun." Flowery words aren't needed anymore. Wendy knew that she have made the latter to feel for the last couple of months how much she admires her and is willing to be with her through her ups and downs.



Irene stood up on her seat which made Seungwan to start panicking.



Is she going to leave?


She immediately grabbed the latter's wrist, stopping her to go.



"Irene. Y-you stay here. If someone has to go, it should be me. I'm sorry for making you uncomfortable but I'm not going to say I'm sorry for uttering that I like you. Because I really do." she felt like her tears are already brimming on the corner of her eyes. Wendy shouldn't have overwhelmed the girl. Maybe, the timing of her confession is clearly out of place.



What if she's never going to talk to me again?



What if she'll be disgusted?



What if she doesn't feel the same way?



What if---


Her train of thoughts was cut off as Irene gently removed her hold.



"Relax, Wendy. I am not going anywhere. I'm just going to order something." Irene reassured and pointed at her empty cup of coffee.



She sighed in relief as she sat back down on her seat. Wendy felt like it's the most slow, nervous and painful minutes of her life. From the time Irene went up the counter to the time the girl went back to her seat with a cup of coffees on both hands.



All her inhibitions and questions were thrown away at the display of the two caffeinated drinks. She always scold the latter for it. Telling her to tone down her coffee intake.



"Hey, you'll probably be having a hard time to sleep tonight." Wendy pointed out sternly.



"The other one is for you."



She raised her eyebrows at the girl. Clearly confuse.



"What? Why? I'm fine actually." But eventually changed her mind and immediately grabbed the drink. So that Irene wouldn't have the need to finish the two cups.



Wendy then took a sip on it. To establish that the drink is for her already. Irene sported a small smile at the girl's antics.







"You're the 143th person who took a sip of that coffee, Wendy."



Her ears might be playing tricks on her. She might probably hear the number wrong, right? Right?



Wendy cannot believe this. It sound so surreal so with a shock expression she look at Irene and soon a smiling Irene with a redden cheeks welcomed her line of sight. Never in her wildest dreams that she have foreseen to see a blushing Irene but here she, is in front of her. At this instant. Because of her. As a result, a fuzzy feelings swarmed at the pit of her chest. This feeling is not new to her actually, she's been feeling it since the night she decided to be Irene's crying shoulder.




"In my miserable life..."











"You let me breath, Wendy."



And no words sound the sweetest more than that. For Wendy, it's more impactful than saying the words, 'I like you too'.



She then intertwined her hand to Irene's, feeling contentment and happiness surge throughout every fiber of her being as she stared lovingly at the girl in front. Irene sported the same look too. Squeezing Wendy’s hand in the process.




From that day onwards, the girl promised to herself to become Irene's personal breather from her tiring, stressful and harsh world.





A/N: I hope you enjoyed reading this one. Do comment your thoughts. Until my next update! 









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