The Fox & the BakerFox Bread
Minjeong feels like a zombie today.
It was impossible to sleep all night. Most of it was spent crying and passing out for an hour or so only to wake up and cry again once she saw the sight of Jimin lying next to her, with her split lip and her bandaged arms.
The sight made Minjeong’s heart prickle for so many reasons and the baker eventually had to leave bed when it was too overwhelming to look at the fox any longer. When Jimin asked the baker to come back to bed, Minjeong insisted that Jimin skip work and stay upstairs for the day to rest. Even after seeing the flash of hurt pass through the fox’s eyes, the baker still pried herself away, honestly needing some distance from her gumiho houseguest. And even though it was difficult to upset Jimin like that, Minjeong needs some time away from the fox to process her incredibly convoluted thoughts and feelings.
It’s also probably a good thing that Minjeong can’t sleep anyways. The shop’s going to be open today and the storefront is a bit of a mess.
There are receipts all over the front of the counter, there are some blood stains on the ground, there’s that shaman’s ing knife still here too, and more noticeable than anything else, there’s a huge slug hole that Minjeong had blown into the tiles of the floor. It was probably a blessing in disguise that the encounter happened so late in the night when all of the other neighboring shops were vacant. If it were any other time, even just the slightest bit earlier in the evening, that gunshot would’ve definitely been heard by someone and reported.
Minjeong cleans up the receipts and mops the stains on the floor before focusing on the most difficult task. She sweeps up the debris of the shattered tile and decides to tape a sheet of corrugated cardboard over the top. It’s no problem to get this tile replaced on a Sunday with the bakery closed, but Minjeong would really, really rather not have to explain to her employees why there’s a huge bullet hole in the floor of the shop. When Yizhuo and Aeri do finally arrive in the morning and inquire about the cardboard taped over the section of the flooring, Minjeong finds herself making up some ridiculous story about dropping a new cast iron pan on the floor.
Luckily, they simply laugh and berate her, calling her clumsy and butterfingers before they make their way into the kitchen as usual.
The morning continues on and everything in the bakery proceeds as it normally does. Dough is proofed, bread is baked, and the shop opens for customers who are hungry for breakfast—everything about Minjeong’s life as a baker is steady and predictable with its fixed routine.
But not today.
Nothing about today is normal at all when Minjeong can’t stop thinking about Jimin, the gumiho, who’s sleeping upstairs in her loft.
Minjeong works on complete auto-pilot as her mind continues to flounder, drowning in an onslaught of chaotic thoughts. Thinking of last night, it felt so wonderful feeling like a lovesick teenager again where she and Jimin hadn’t been able to keep their hands off of each other. However, if Minjeong allows her mind to stray a bit further, she finds herself thinking about Jimin’s bright red eyes.
She still can’t believe it. None of it seems real.
Minjeong’s always had her suspicions about Jimin, but had never dwelled much on those concerns when she was so spellbound by her dreamy houseguest. But now thinking about that white fox tail that she had seen last night, Minjeong feels incredibly stupid now that she realizes just how much Jimin had been hiding.
Even in her most outrageous wonders about Jimin’s origin, Minjeong had never dreamt up a scenario as wild as this. And even after talking with Jimin through the night to gain more clarity about the gumiho herself, Minjeong’s thoughts are still a mess.
“Hey, where’s Jimin?” Seungwan suddenly asks.
Yizhuo lets out a shrill giggle. “Is she ‘sleeping in’ again?” she jokes, earning hollered laughter from Aeri who nudges the redhead with her elbow.
Attempting to mask her real feelings, Minjeong forces herself to laugh at her friends’ teasing, but it comes out as a half-hearted smile. “Jimin was…actually feeling really sick last night. So I told her to rest for the day,” the blonde replies, not exactly lying.
“Oh no! Is she okay?” Seungwan gasps.
“Does she have a cold?” Aeri asks.
“Y-yeah, maybe,” Minjeong replies. “She was really tired this morning. It’s probably best to just let her sleep it off.”
“Probably a cold,” Yoona says. “I know it’s been going around with the change in the weather these days. I’ll make some samgyetang tonight and bring it for you guys tomorrow!”
Minjeong briefly chews on her lower lip to stop it from quivering. “T-thanks, unnie. I’m sure she’ll love it.”
In the back of Minjeong’s mind she can see the fox’s devastated eyes when she had told Jimin not to come into work today. Part of her had meant it because she wanted Jimin to genuinely rest, but Minjeong also just needed a bit of space to let her thoughts breathe. Hearing others concerned about the gumiho makes the blonde feel terribly guilty for insisting that Jimin not be here today.
After all, they’re her friends too.
The shop’s quiet this afternoon and Minjeong doesn’t like it one bit.
It’s giving her mind time to spiral.
She’s out in the shopfront to work the register, but there are no customers to converse with to occupy her thoughts. Instead Minjeong keeps glancing at that stupid piece of corrugated cardboard taped to the shop floor, which is absolutely bombarding her with recollections of last night.
With all of her friends in the kitchen and with only the company of her thoughts, Minjeong eventually pulls out her phone when the curiosity is too much for her to handle. Minjeong’s never been the type to sit around, twiddle her thumbs, and do nothing but mindlessly browse on her phone. But today, she opens her browser and types one word into her search bar:
Half the results are useless drama shows and the other half are a mess of mixed myths with Japanese kitsune and Chinese huli jing. Still, there’s so much material to comb through and Minjeong carefully goes through page after page, reading all that she can about gumiho. But it’s annoying that everything that she reads is myth after myth and the stories aren’t consistent in their details. They do however all share one simple common theme that isn’t true for the Chinese and Japanese fox spirits, but solely unique to Korean fox spirits.
Gumiho are evil beings.
They’re malevolent, selfish, and manipulative.
Looking at the text on screen, Minjeong clenches her teeth and she feels her anger rising. Even if Jimin had been concealing her true identity and intentions for the past month, these are words that Minjeong would never associate with her precious fox. Minjeong knows Jimin…doesn’t she?
At the end of the day, Minjeong rushes to finish closing the shop. When she returns to the loft, she finds Jimin sitting on the edge of the mattress while the fox stares out the window, watching a fresh snowfall gently fluttering in the wind outside.
Feeling nervous and shy for some reason, Minjeong takes a deep breath before going to approach the gumiho. “Hi,” she timidly greets.
Maybe it’s from exhaustion or just simply sadness, but Jimin is slow to respond, blinking lethargically before looking up from her seat to meet Minjeong’s gaze. “Hi,” she softly replies, voice sounding hoarse.
Jimin is dressed in Minjeong’s oversized, white, knitted sweatshirt, and the shirt is long enough that it stretches down past her hips. The fit of it reminds Minjeong of the night that she had first met the fox. Jimin was wearing a plain lilac-colored dress that night in the rain. It was only a month ago, but it suddenly seems so long ago when the baker recalls that evening.
Even though there’s nothing normal about this entire situation, normalcy is what Minjeong desperately wants to restore between her and Jimin. She forces herself to smile when she asks the fox, “What do you want to eat tonight? I’ll cook you whatever you want.”
Jimin stares for a long moment before she shakes her head. “I don’t really have an appetite,” she whispers as she turns her gaze to her lap.
Minjeong feels a terrible twist in her chest. Worried, she purses her lips before asking, “Did you even eat anything all day?”
The fox shakes her head, still avoiding the baker’s eyes.
Minjeong frowns. Jimin looks so tired. She looks visibly depressed and it hurts Minjeong so much to see—especially when she feels like she’s made it worse with her behavior today. The blonde sinks to her knees so that she’s level with Jimin on the edge of the mattress. She leans forward and wraps her arms around the fox’s waist, hugging her tight.
“Jimin, please, you have to eat something,” she whispers.
“It’s…okay,” Jimin whispers, fighting off the quiver in her voice. She gently pats the blonde’s head that’s laid on her lap. “Really, I’m okay. You should have dinner if you’re hungry though.”
Minjeong gently shakes her head. “I’m okay. There was some cake that I didn’t want to go to waste. I had that.”
“That’s hardly a dinner.”
“It’s fine. I…don’t really have much of an appetite today either,” Minjeong admits, now pulling back. She stares up at Jimin’s tired eyes. “I’m sorry,” Minjeong apologizes, gently toying with Jimin’s hands. “I’m sorry I pushed you away this morning. I…just felt like I needed some time to think. Away from you.”
The fox gently nods. “I understand. It’s okay.”
“It’s not,” Minjeong sighs. “I missed you. And…we don’t have a lot of time together, right?”
Jimin nervously mashes her lips together before slowly nodding. “The pull’s a lot stronger than yesterday.”
Minjeong can feel her jaw tense, devastated over the thought of a countdown threatening their precious time left together. “I’m sorry I wasted the day working. I should’ve just closed for the bakery for the day and called everyone to take the day off—”
“Hey,” Jimin gently interrupts, reaching out to palm the baker’s face. “It’s okay. Really.” She gives the blonde a smile, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “Are you okay? Did you have a bad day?” the fox asks, gently dragging her thumbs against soft cheeks. “You don’t smell like you usually do.”
Having briefly forgotten about the gumiho’s abilities, the blonde looks up, blinking in surprise. “W-what do I usually smell like to you?”
The fox tilts her head to the side, deliberating the right vocabulary to explain for the human. “Warm,” she replies. “A little sweet too,” Jimin adds, softly smiling. “Your scent reminds me a lot like the bakery itself. You always smell…comforting, if that makes sense. I really like how you smell. It makes me happy.”
Though it’s such a strange thing to hear, Minjeong still blushes over the gumiho’s flattery. “And I don’t smell like that to you right now?”
Jimin shakes her head. “You still smell like you, but it’s different—clouded. It gets muddy like this when you’re mad…or when you’re sad,” she says with a small frown. “So did you have a bad day?”
The blonde scrunches up her lips. “Awful,” she answers while reaching up to sandwich Jimin’s hands against her cheeks. “I couldn’t stop thinking about you—about everything. I um…I even had some time to go online and do some reading about gumiho and—”
“What’s online?” the fox questions.
“You know, the internet? Forget it,” Minjeong sighs, not wanting to waste their precious time right now. “I read online that gumiho are shapeshifters, so I wanted to ask you, is this…really you?”
“It’s…complicated,” Jimin honestly replies.
Feeling fear creep into her over the subject matter, the fox removes her hands from Minjeong and retreats slightly, sitting back a little from the baker. Nervous, Jimin lays her hands onto her lap as her fingers grasp and wring around each other, obviously anxious. But when Minjeong tenderly wraps her hands over Jimin’s fidgeting ones, the gumiho feels a fraction better.
Feeling a hair more courageous, she explains herself for the baker. “This is my human form, yes. And yes, I can change into other appearances, but I don’t like to,” she vaguely explains, feeling little need to go into detail about the physical discomfort that it causes her to shapeshift.
“But this isn’t…the gumiho you?”
Jimin tenses up, bothered about where this conversation is going. “No. It’s not.”
“Can I…see you? The real you?”
The fox pauses for a long stretch, feeling the overwhelming sense of dread fill her up. The last time that any human saw her in her real form, she had taken a bullet clean through her sh