fin.

i'll become something special (so you'll come back to me)

 

 

Seyoung sighs as she sees Hyunji’s back, cigarette smoke twisting around the fall of her dark hair. She almost decides against calling out to the other woman. After Hyunji had passed the exam to enter as a junior anchor for KBS, texting between the two of them had dwindled. Seyoung doesn’t know why she expected anything different. Hadn’t the same thing happened when they’d graduated from high school and gone to different colleges?

 

Slowly drifting out of each other’s lives despite how hard Seyoung tried to cling on.

 

“Hey.”

 

Seyoung jolts and meets Hyunji’s eyes. Her gaze flicks to Hyunji’s red mouth pursing around the cigarette’s filter. When her lips start to curl into a smile, Seyoung glances away towards the narrow alley before them.

 

“Didn’t expect to find you here,” are the first words she’s said to Hyunji in almost a year.

 

“Really? You always seem to find me though,” Hyunji replies easily as she exhales smoke from her nose.

 

Seyoung’s jaw clenches as she grips her wrist tightly with her own hand just to give herself something to hold onto. Her eyes focus on the shiny KBS news logo emblazoned on the front of Hyunji’s black puffy jacket.

 

“I’ve seen you a few times. On the news.”

 

“Oh? Those weather specials I’m forced to do?”

 

“Your tone is good. Maybe practice a little on the enunciation.”

 

Hyunji huffs out a laugh and their gazes meet. Something melts in Seyoung’s chest at the sight of Hyunji, thinking vaguely of girlish laughter in the orange glow of sunset. Playing around with equipment after the broadcasting club at their high school had finished meetings. Seyoung clenches her hand so tightly around her wrist that it hurts.

 

“How are things going with YTN? I think I saw you do a segment at the National Assembly, right?”

 

“You saw that? It was only a recap of the legislation for the week.”

 

“It was good. You definitely knew your stuff better than the main anchor.”

 

Seyoung swallows at the words, eyes darting to the cigarette, almost smoked to the filter, in Hyunji’s fingers. Compliments from the other woman are said in the same way as criticisms.  Slightly droll with an arched eyebrow.

 

“I have to. If I’m not on top of all domestic political news, then I won’t have a shot at being given work as a rep for YTN at the National Assembly.”

 

“So, you’re going to go on the politics beat. Just like your dad.”

 

Seyoung glances over at Hyunji. Of course, the other woman’s face is expressionless. When they were little Seyoung had complained that she never could tell what Hyunji was thinking. And Hyunji had simply replied that if Seyoung asked she would always tell her.

 

Seyoung wonders now if Hyunji would make good on her promise.

 

“You must be happy. That he didn’t win.”

 

“You overestimate how much I care about your father.”

 

“I know you didn’t vote for him.”

 

Hyunji scoffs as she drops her cigarette and crushes it beneath her heel. She digs into her pocket and pulls out a pack of gum with a shrug.

 

“He’s a little too conservative for my tastes.”

 

“It’s fine. I didn’t vote for him either.”

 

Hyunji’s watching Seyoung now, her arched brow on her neutral face betraying the curiosity at the remark. Seyoung ignores the stare and instead reaches forward, brushing Hyunji’s warm fingers as she steals a stick of gum from the pack in Hyunji’s hands.

 

“H-hey!”

 

“Thanks for the gum. I’ll see you around, Anchor Lee.”

 

“Sure. If they ever let me leave the weather forecast segment.”

 

“They will. It’d be a waste for you to languish in meteorology.”  

 

Hyunji huffs another laugh as Seyoung shoulders past the other woman and heads toward her crew’s car. She resists the urge to look back at Hyunji one last time before she waves at her cameraman who’s waiting for her with a twin pack of hand warmers.

 

“Hey, Seyoung-ah, where’d you go? We got a call to do a human interest story. Something about a local ahjumma with a heart of gold and a delicious mandu shop.”

 

“Sounds great. I’m starving!”

 

 

 


 

 

 

Seyoung walks into the practically abandoned restaurant, rubbing a sore shoulder. Even though it’s Friday, the place is empty save for four businessmen slumped over a sea of green and brown bottles.

 

And Hyunji, sitting by the window with her back to Seyoung.

 

Seyoung swallows as she squares her shoulders, trying to calm down. It’d been pure coincidence that she’d seen the other woman’s profile through the dirty window of the grimy restaurant. She couldn’t help it as she observed Hyunji, chin resting in her hand as she poured a glass of somaek by herself. Seyoung had felt something. Something she thought had died long ago with unanswered messages and avoided reunions.

 

“Are you here to eat?” Seyoung startles and looks over her shoulder at a waitress, hands in the pockets of her dirty red apron.

 

“Um,” she murmurs turning back to see Hyunji turned slightly to study her with one glassy eye.

 

“She’s with me,” Hyunji says simply. “She’ll take the mushroom jeongol, spicy.”

 

Seyoung blinks, her face flushing that Hyunji remembers her favorite dish. She shuffles to the side of the rickety wooden table and looks down at Hyunji pouring herself another glass. Sighing, Seyoung grabs the drink before Hyunji can gulp it down. She sits opposite Hyunji with a smile, ignoring the annoyed furrow of her brow.

 

“Why are you drinking by yourself? On a Friday!”

 

“Why not? It’s as good a day as any to drink,” mutters Hyunji as she pointedly stares at the drink in Seyoung’s hands. “That’s too strong for you, by the way.”

 

“How do you know that? We haven’t really drank together in over ten years.” Seyoung almost winces at the bite to her comment but takes a determined sip instead. She coughs and tries to not be too pathetic when she puts the glass down.

 

“It’s almost half soju, half beer.”

 

“You drink like an old man.”

 

“You always told me I have an old soul,” Hyunji says with a small smirk into her hand, watching as Seyoung takes another drink. It does not go down easier.

 

Hyunji is still almost smiling at her when the waitress returns with a stew pot on top of a portable gas burner. She places the dish in the middle of the table and twists the dial to turn on the gas.

 

“Let me know when it starts boiling and I’ll come check on it,” she says simply before plopping a chilled glass for Hyunji on the table and returning to behind the counter. The other woman sighs in relief as she starts to make a drink for herself.

 

“Didn’t you already eat? This is definitely for two.”

 

“I bought the cheapest thing on the menu and barely ate it. I just wanted to drink somewhere away from work. Yeouido is packed right now.”

 

“Hyunji,” Seyoung mutters in exasperation, the tone familiar to the both of them. Seyoung always was the one trying to stop them from getting into trouble. But all it took was the imploring arch of Hyunji’s eyebrow for Seyoung to give in.

 

“This month has been difficult. The special run-off election is making everyone do overtime.”

 

“Us, too. I thought I’d never say this, but I’d kill for a special interest piece.”

 

“Sure. You’re pretty good at them. I liked the one you did last month where you interviewed that mandu store lady. It was cute.”

 

Seyoung swallows, feeling her cheeks warm at the comment. She takes a long drink this time just to do something besides stare at Hyunji who is actually smiling at her.

 

“You don’t have to drink with me, you know. I’m used to doing this sort of thing alone.”

 

“You shouldn’t have to be used to that. Being alone. If you’d just…” Seyoung flushes at the look Hyunji gives her, a silent warning.

 

“You should have called me! Your stew is practically boiling over.”

 

They both stiffen at the waitress who jogs over to their table and adjusts the knobs of the gas burner and stirs around with the serving spoon.

 

“Give it a few more minutes and it should be ready to eat.”

 

Seyoung gives a practiced smile towards the other woman while Hyunji says nothing, continuing to watch her. With the waitress gone, they lapse into silence, occasionally sipping on their respective drinks.

 

“It’s easier being alone. Less of a mess.”

 

Seyoung meets Hyunji’s eyes over the steaming red stew, trying to discern if that soft voice she’s hearing is maybe just a little bit apologetic. She sighs before taking a large gulp, finishing her glass. Rolling her shoulders back, she faces Hyunji and tries to draw on liquid courage to ask the questions that she’s been wondering for years.

 

“Is that the reason why you pushed me away? Not because of something I did?”

 

Hyunji sighs, eyes dropping to the golden amber of her drink. She swirls her glass with a limp wrist, not able to meet Seyoung’s gaze.

 

“I’m better at being alone. And I’m already kind of a mess. I don’t need another person to witness that all the time.”

 

“Well maybe I want to see. Maybe I’ve always wanted to-” There’s that warning look in Hyunji’s eyes but Seyoung’s not sure if it’s for Hyunji’s sake or for her own.

 

“But it had nothing to do with you, Seyoung.” Hyunji’s eyes are lucid as they meet Seyoung’s.

 

“You still pushed me away,” Seyoung whispers, trying to control the frustration thick in her voice. “I wish you had just let me be there for you. Like you used to.”

 

Hyunji drops her head with a sigh. She reaches for the two plastic bowls and serving spoon next to the stew pot. Scooping the broth and pieces of meat, mushroom, and chopped vegetables into a bowl, Hyunji surprisingly avoids getting any drops of red broth on her crisp white button down. Seyoung remembers when she’d be the one chiding Hyunji for being careless and helping her roll up her sleeves to avoid getting them dirty. Hyunji always seemed so focused on the end goal that she’d forget the small somewhat necessary details to get there.

 

“Here. You probably didn’t eat lunch, right? Since you were working all day.”

 

Seyoung swallows at the tentative smile Hyunji offers her. She nods silently and lets the other woman place the bowl in front of her.

 

“You’d always do that. Get so stressed about something that you’d skip meals.”

 

“You weren’t any better. You didn’t sleep that one time you tried to beat Park Minjung for the top rank during our third year.”

 

“Well it worked, didn’t it?” Hyunji says with a smirk and Seyoung cannot help the way she melts a little.

 

“I had to give you candies and ice cream that whole week just to keep you going. I was worried you’d get a cavity from all that sugar.”

 

“You did always help make my life a little sweeter,” Hyunji simply replies, ignoring the way Seyoung chokes on her stew. Her eyes burn as she coughs into her napkin, watching Hyunji smirking into her glass.

 

“You’re such an ,” Seyoung grumbles as she reaches for the soju bottle between them. Hyunji simply shrugs a shoulder, tapping her fingers against the table as she watches Seyoung make her drink.

 

“You were right.”

 

“About what?” Seyoung asks as she swirls her drink with her wrist.

 

“Drinking it that way is tastier.”

 

Seyoung smiles. Even though she’d been chided by too many people about mixing somaek with just a swirl of the wrist instead of with chopsticks or a spoon, she’d insisted to Hyunji that it tasted the best that way when they’d gone drinking together after graduating high school. She tries to not think about what else she had tasted when she accompanied Hyunji to the back alley of the restaurant for a smoke break that night. The rough brick of the crumbling wall had dug into her back and made bruises that lasted longer than the marks Hyunji left on her neck.

 

“Hyunji-yah.”

 

Hyunji looks up at her expectantly.

 

“Do you still want to be alone?”

 

Hyunji’s jaw clenches, the warning in her eyes. But Seyoung says nothing, forcing the other woman to speak first.

 

“I don’t… I don’t think so.”

 

“Then can I message you sometime? So that we can meet again?”

 

The silence that stretches between them is taut like a rubber band. Seyoung ignores the urge to say something, letting them sit in this moment of possibility.

 

“Okay. You can do that.”

 

And Seyoung smiles. Until Hyunji takes her own drink and one shots it in a furious series of gulps.

 

“Y-yah are you crazy? Are you trying to get yourself a one-way ticket to the emergency room? I never said to drink that in one go!”

 

“I couldn’t completely copy you. This is the Hyunji version of somaek.”

 

Seyoung sighs in exasperation as Hyunji simply laughs at her, trying to fight another smile.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Seyoung pauses as she stands in front of the apartment door. Shouldering her purse, she presses the door bell. She steps back when she hears footsteps and the door beeps open, Hyunji peeking at her with her long hair tied back in a pony tail and glasses perched on the crown of her head.

 

“Hey,” Hyunji says and Seyoung nods a greeting as she steps into the tiny apartment.

 

It’s a studio with a little kitchenette on one end and a bathroom on the other. Sandwiched between are a bed and a table with a dirty seating cushion. An open beer can serves as a paper weight for at least three different newspapers spread across the floor table.

 

“Reading the paper on Fire Friday?” Seyoung teases as she drops her bag on the empty kitchen counter. She sighs at the pile of take-out containers stuffed into a garbage bag. Seyoung had messaged Hyunji to ask if she could swing by after texting on and off for the past few weeks. Even though it was a Saturday night, Hyunji's affirmative response had been surprisingly quick. Now Seyoung knows why.

 

“What else was I supposed to do?” Hyunji grumbles as she squats down, sliding her only seating cushion over to Seyoung as she tidies up the table.

 

“Is that Japanese?” Seyoung asks as she points at one of the stacks.

 

“Yeah, the Asahi Shimbun,” Hyunji says breezily. “I like to compare similar contents in the Kyunghyang Shinmun and The New York Times.”

 

“I didn’t know you could read Japanese.”

 

“I had to pick up something to do during shifts when I wasn’t flipping burgers.”

 

Seyoung hums as she adjusts her dress to sit down. Tilting her head curiously, she thumbs through a few pages of the Kyunghyang Shinmun. She sees a few annotations in the margins along with a fading highlighter emphasizing a few articles.

 

“I don’t think Chariman Park will be stepping down anytime soon,” Seyoung murmurs, pointing to an Op-Ed Hyunji has highlighted.

 

“Oh, that old bastard will probably die at his desk. Which is why I found it odd that anyone would be writing anything so contrary to mainstream opinion.”

 

Seyoung hums. She’d only cared about the chaebol shenanigans when it affected politics at the Blue House and the National Assembly.

 

It was always Hyunji who tended to be the one to push her to read more widely outside of her main interests. In high school, the girl would voraciously be reading any news she could get her hands on. She’d always be sneaking pages of newspapers to her desk to read during class to the chagrin of their teachers. Always having a tell of black fingertips from thumbing through so many pages.

 

Sure enough, Seyoung sees the tips of Hyunji’s fingers stained black with the ink from newspaper print.

 

Seyoung reaches forward thoughtlessly, gripping Hyunji’s hand with a smile.   

 

“What are you, an old man? Your fingers are black with ink and you’re drinking a beer while reading the paper.”

 

“And I’d be smoking too, if my apartment would allow me.”

 

“That doesn’t seem to stop you,” Seyoung pointedly murmurs, gesturing with her chin at the noticeable collection of ash at the window sill near Hyunji’s bed.

 

Hyunji shrugs and Seyoung lets her grip remain firm on Hyunji’s hand, relishing in the feel of holding her hand after so long.

 

“I actually was reading a few articles that I thought you’d be interested in,” Hyunji mutters, careful not to let go of Seyoung’s fingers as she grasps for the stack of the Kyunghyang Shinmun with her left hand. Seyoung looks down curiously at the article, scanning Hyunji’s notes.

 

“Huh. That’s an interesting perspective.”

 

“Right? Get to the third paragraph. Pretty interesting stuff.”

 

Seyoung hums, shifting forward so that she can see the tiny print better until Hyunji pulls out a spare pair of glasses from a drawer under the table.

 

“You’re far-sighted still, right? My glasses should help a little.”

 

It’s then that she realizes that she hasn’t let go of Hyunji’s hand yet. There’s a moment where Seyoung deliberates. If she was a high schooler still, she’d be a stuttering mess, blushing and trying to gauge Hyunji’s stoic reaction. But she’s a little older now. A little more in tune with what she wants. And with what she thinks Hyunji may want as well.

 

Holding Hyunji’s gaze, Seyoung adjusts their hands until their fingers are linked together comfortably. Hyunji’s mouth twitches at the movement but she says nothing as she sits forward a little and simply slides her extra pair of glasses up Seyoung’s nose with surprising skill using only her left hand.

 

“Thanks.”

 

“Sure.”

 

They lapse into silence as they read their respective pieces from the pile of newspapers before them. At some point, Hyunji hands her new pages with fresh annotations. Once, Seyoung grabs the pen spinning between Hyunji’s fingers without a word of warning and starts to scribble something she thinks the other woman will find useful before sliding the page back. When Hyunji lets out a thoughtful sound as she reads, squeezing Seyoung’s hand once, she has to duck her head to hide her smile.

 

Their quiet reading is broken when Hyunji’s doorbell rings.

 

“Is someone else coming?” Seyoung asks as Hyunji apologetically lets go of her hand and rises. She watches as the other woman pulls out her phone from the back pocket of her jeans.

 

“No. I just ordered us some food before you came.”

 

“Hyunji-ah, you didn’t have to. I invited myself over.”

 

Hyunji just shrugs a shoulder before opening the door. Seyoung hears the crinkle of plastic as Hyunji turns back around with a big black bag. With a sigh, she neatly folds the newspapers and pushes them off to the side as Hyunji places two Styrofoam containers on the floor table.

 

“Do you want a drink?”

 

“Now you ask me?” Seyoung teases as Hyunji just rolls her eyes in response.

 

“Sure. Do you have a cider or a cola?”

 

“You look so refined all the time and all you want is soda,” grumbles Hyunji as she gets up and digs through her refrigerator. She pulls out a skinny can of cola and places it next to Seyoung before plucking off the lid to her dinner. Seyoung does the same and stares.

 

It’s tuna mayo spam over rice. She looks up at the other girl curiously as Hyunji begins to shovel the food into without so much as a “thanks for the meal.”

 

“You hate this dish. You’d tease me all the time for eating it in high school. Said it tasted like pure grease.”

 

Hyunji shrugs a shoulder as she chews, seeming to find the small container of yellow pickled radish and kimchi far more interesting than Seyoung’s face.

 

“Hyunji-yah.”

 

“It grew on me. The flavor.”

 

“You bullied me about this for nearly 2 years, Lee Hyunji.”

 

“It… it reminded me. Of you.”

 

Seyoung blinks slowly at the confession, meeting Hyunji’s eyes.

 

“Oh.”

 

“Yeah. Do you… do you still like this?”

 

Seyoung hums as she looks down at her food. She scoops up a bite with her plastic spoon and chews. Instantly, she’s taken back to a summer day when a torrential rainstorm had trapped her and Hyunji at their favorite restaurant between their hakwon and the bus stop that took them home. They’d been trapped for hours, splitting a bowl of tuna mayo spam over rice as they talked about everything and nothing. Hyunji always had that effect on Seyoung. Making her just exist without little thought to how perfect she was supposed to look or act.

 

“I still love it,” Seyoung simply says, mouth twitching when Hyunji quickly ducks her head. Even though she returns to shoveling food into , Seyoung can see the smile at the corners of the other woman’s mouth.

 

They share their meal in companionable silence, Hyunji nudging her leg tentatively against Seyoung’s. When Seyoung moves her leg to press her bare calf against the side of Hyunji’s jean clad thigh, the other woman chokes so suddenly that Seyoung has to move to the other side of the table to gently pound on her back.

 

When Hyunji’s coughs stop, Seyoung pauses, letting out a string of giggles. She slumps forward, pressing her face between Hyunji’s shoulder blades and relishing in the warmth.

 

“What’s so funny, Choi Seyoung? Did you enjoy watching me nearly choke to death?”

 

Seyoung reaches up and wraps an arm around Hyunji’s middle. She smiles as she feels the other woman relax into the grip.

 

“I missed you,” Seyoung murmurs into the soft cotton of Hyunji’s t-shirt.

 

“Seyoung-ah.”

 

“Mm?”

 

“I missed you, too.”

 

Seyoung smiles and nuzzles against Hyunji’s back and the other woman lets her.

 

 

 

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