The Ruby WindowsFox Bread
Minjeong’s head is absolutely spinning.
She’s just threatened a customer.
She’s just blown a hole in the tiled floor of her bakery with her dad’s shotgun.
Just been…housing a gumiho in her home for the past month.
With her mind reeling from the outrageous situation, Minjeong has a hundred questions burning on her tongue, but she remains completely speechless instead. Terrified of what she’s looking at, the baker continues to hold her firearm as she stares down at her houseguest. For someone who’s supposed to be a bloodthirsty demon, Jimin is anything but menacing as she remains helpless on her knees with her head bowed down in defeat. Minjeong takes note of the bright yellow papers, etched with strange red character designs, which are adhered to the gumiho’s bare, outstretched arms. But more noticeable than anything, Minjeong keeps staring at the long, white fox tail that’s curled around Jimin.
Dazed, she blinks hard, trying to wake herself up from such an outrageous dream—or nightmare. But the longer that she stands there for, the more reality sluggishly sinks in.
It takes a stretch for Minjeong’s brain to start up again, and when it does, she instinctually lowers her weapon. With much caution, she slowly kneels down and lays the gun behind her before she reaches forward to cup her hands around Jimin’s cheeks. The baker frowns when she can feel how cold and clammy the woman’s—the fox’s—skin is against her own warm palms. Concerned, she gently lifts Jimin’s head up so that she can look her in her eyes.
Minjeong swallows hard when she can see Jimin’s ruby irises up close now. “A-are you okay?” she whispers.
Jimin’s pressed lips visibly wobble before a fresh wave of tears well up in her eyes before spilling over. The fox trembles before whispering, “I-it hurts.”
The baker glances down and can see the way that Jimin’s twitching, especially her hands where the bujeok are adhered to her bare forearms. Minjeong quickly wipes the tears from her own face with the sleeve of her long shirt before she goes to help Jimin. Even with no knowledge of what they are, she hastily goes to pick up one of the fox’s forearms before going to peel off the corner of the yellow paper.
Jimin whimpers as the talisman is pulled from her skin, leaving a deep burn of red in its wake. But even with the hideous wound, the absence of bujeok is allowing for sensation to return to the gumiho’s body. She weakly flexes her fingers as Minjeong cautiously peels off the second sheet of the yellow paper from the fox’s other arm. Once they’re both removed, the blonde crushes the seals in her hand before tossing away the balled up papers across the shop.
“Is that better?” she asks while gently patting the top of the fox’s head.
Jimin shallowly nods, still softly sniffing through the whole ordeal.
How can someone like this possibly be the kind of monstrous demon that Joohyun was describing? Minjeong gently holds the fox’s chin as she uses her sleeve to wipe away the wet tears all over Jimin’s face. Even though she can now see the fox’s real eyes up close now, it’s still not right for Jimin’s pretty face to look like this. Heartbroken at the sight, Minjeong softly rubs her thumb around Jimin’s lip and chin to clean off droplets of blood and spit, but is careful not to touch the gash on her lower lip.
However, the blonde goes rigid when she notices the woman’s fox tail suddenly move as it slowly retracts itself away. Eyes returning to Jimin’s face, she can see that her red eyes have now melted back into dark chocolatey irises.
“Are you…really a…?” Minjeong’s voice slowly dies out when she can’t even say the implausible word.
“I-I’m sorry,” Jimin whispers, barely audible. “I wanted to tell you tonight. I didn’t want you to find out like this,” she sniffs. “I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you s-sooner.”
Minjeong swallows hard, trying to wet her hoarse throat. “Can you walk?”
Jimin’s lip trembles, but she still weakly replies, “I-I think so.”
“Okay,” Minjeong replies, trying to keep her voice steady for both of their sake. “Let’s go upstairs then.” The baker’s not particularly strong, but she still helps Jimin to her feet. She slings one of Jimin’s arms over her shoulder and wraps her other arm around the fox’s waist to help hold the woman’s weight up on her weak legs. “You’re okay, I got you,” the baker tries to comfort as she aids Jimin to the loft.
It takes the pair a few long minutes to get up the stairs with Jimin’s weakened body, and when they get inside, Minjeong helps the fox to the bed before returning to the loft door to lock it, worried about any other surprises for this evening.
Not only has Minjeong helped bring the gumiho upstairs, but Jimin notices that the baker has also brought her firearm with her as well. Part of her hopes that the baker has brought it upstairs in case the shaman returns, but Jimin’s smart enough to know that it’s probably a precaution for her as well. Even with the threat of the weapon, Jimin quickly makes peace with it if Minjeong deems her fate to be so.
Seated on the edge of the bed, Jimin lets herself slip off of the mattress and takes a spot on the floor instead so that she can rest her back against something. Her body is still aching, her senses are still numbed, but she tries to steady her breathing to slowly rebuild her strength. When Minjeong returns to her, Jimin feels her heart clench when the blonde joins her on the floor with her small first aid kit.
Wordlessly, Minjeong takes one of the fox’s forearms and gently lays an ice pack, wrapped in cloth, over it. Jimin softly hisses from the sting.
“Sorry,” Minjeong whispers. “Is it really painful?”
When they first met, Jimin wanted to do nothing but laugh and mock the baker’s overflowing compassion. But seeing Minjeong still being so attentive and caring, even after knowing everything, makes Jimin want to shrivel up as the accumulating guilt continues to compile.
“It’s fine,” Jimin meekly replies, doing her best to choke down her punishing emotions.
The two continue to sit in silence with nothing but the sound of the humming refrigerator in the unit as Minjeong continues to treat Jimin’s wounds. Tender as always, Minjeong gently takes Jimin’s chin in her hand while she gently wipes down the cut on her lip. After that, just like on the fox’s first work day where Jimin had burned herself, Minjeong waits until the injuries on Jimin’s arms are numbed down first before using a cotton swab to gently apply petroleum jelly to the angry red marks.
But the quiet is doing nothing but feeding the gumiho’s anxiety. While carefully watching Minjeong wrap her forearms with gauze bandages, Jimin finally breaks the lull. “Why are you doing this?” she softly whispers.
“Your burns look pretty bad,” Minjeong replies, her voice coming out eerily soft and a little raspy. Jimin wonders if the blonde’s throat hurts from screaming so much earlier.
“That’s not what I mean,” Jimin says. Wary of not making any movement too sudden so that she doesn’t spook the human, the fox slowly reaches out and lightly grips the baker’s wrist. “Why are you still helping me? Why didn’t you let that slayer kill me?”
That breathes a bit of life into the dazed baker. Minjeong’s face suddenly tenses, but she keeps her eye fixated on her work with Jimin’s injuries. She shrugs the fox’s hand off of her wrist. “Don’t ask something so goddamn stupid,” the baker angrily replies, wrapping the bandage a little too tight.
The fox winces from the pressure, but can’t blame Minjeong for being upset with her. But as she sits and watches the empathetic baker, Jimin is starting to feel frustrated too.
“Minjeong, I lied to you about not knowing where I came from. And I’ve literally hunted other humans. I’ve killed people—a lot of people. I fed off of them. There’s no way that you’re okay with that,” Jimin says, maddened that she can’t comprehend how this beautiful human being is still trying to take care of her.
“…Why people?” Minjeong asks, still not looking the fox in her eyes.
“It’s…it’s just what gumiho eat,” Jimin says, lightly shrugging as she does. There’s really no other way to state the simple fact. “We feed on men’s souls…and sometimes their bodies when we desire more substance.”
The baker looks a little queasy and it terrifies Jimin that she could disgust her lover like this.
“It’s what I used to eat,” Jimin quickly says, attempting to defend her actions. “But, I don’t—I won’t anymore.”
“Did you enjoy it?” Minjeong goes on to ask.
“Eating? Well,” Treading carefully on the subject, the gumiho pauses. She wants to give Minjeong her complete honesty, but she has to fight through the fear of telling the human the grotesque truth. “I…enjoy not being hungry. So, yes, I have to hunt.”
“But I mean, like, the actual…hunting?” Minjeong clarifies, using the fox’s terminology. “Do you enjoy that part?”
“…You mean the killing?” Jimin asks, earning a sad look from the human. “I’ve never…thought about it like that,” the gumiho honestly replies, now pondering it. “It’s just part of the process, but no, I wouldn’t say there’s a particular joy from hunting. But satiating my hunger, yes.”
Jimin watches as the blonde baker nods in acknowledgement, but Minjeong must be lost for words, because she doesn’t reply.
Anxious, Jimin tries to fill the silence. “I haven’t killed anyone during my trip this time. I swear it. Everything’s been different since I’ve met you. I want to be different. I want to be better…for you.”
Minjeong stares at Jimin for a bit, her eyes growing shiny with tears as she drinks in the gumiho’s genuine confession. in a sharp breath, the baker blinks away the moisture in her eyes, trying to keep herself collected over such an absurd conversation. “I…I believe you,” she says, even though there’s a waver of hesitance in her voice.
Done wrapping the fox’s wounds, Minjeong starts to pull away and Jimin feels a painful squeeze inside her chest as the baker retreats. But w