Jiho had heard the rumours, but she’d never truly believed them until she saw the girl with her own eyes. For years now, the royal family had been saying they were going to put their youngest child - a daughter, two years older than Jiho - into public education at her own request. At the beginning of every school year, the media speculated on whether or not this year would be the year that the public would be introduced to Yoo Shiah, and every year there was no sign of her - until now, that was.
Jiho arrived at the lecture theatre early and sat down in an empty row. The class was on korean mythology, an elective to break up all the language classes she was taking. Jiho had just pulled her notepad from her bag when whispers started to ripple around the room and she looked up to see a girl stood at the door, surveying the room. All eyes were on her as she walked into the room and took a seat on an empty row a few seats down from Jiho.
The whispers only got loud as more people entered the room. It didn’t click until the lecturer walked in and scanned the room, his eyes falling on the girl. It had been so long since Jiho had seen a picture of Yoo Shiah in the media and the rumours that she would attend university were so commonplace that she never imagined they’d actually become true.
The lecturer called for the room’s attention and everyone fell silent. Most people were focused on what he was saying, but Jiho noticed some people in the rows below her staring across the room at Shiah. Jiho felt sorry for her, it must feel so uncomfortable, so isolating, to have people watching your every move like that.
Shiah was one of the first to leave the lecture theatre when the hour was up. The whispers started again the moment she left the room, and Jiho frowned, shouldered her bag and headed off to her next class.
Their seminar tutor had set them a project - they were to pair up with one or two people and form small groups to prepare a presentation on one of the topics from the course that they found interesting. Jiho had been packing up her bag at the end of the class when she heard someone clear their throat beside her and she turned to see Shiah stood next to her, a small smile on her face.
“Hey,” Shiah said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Hi,” Jiho responded, slowly zipping her bag shut.
“I was wondering whether you wanted to work together for the project?” Shiah asked, glancing around. There were a couple of people sending curious looks in their direction.
Jiho’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Yeah, okay,” She said after a moment.
“Great,” Shiah smiled at her, a genuine smile, the first one Jiho had seen her give anyone since the beginning of the term.”I have to get to another class right now, but I’ll see you in the lecture on Tuesday?”
“Sure,” Jiho said, smiling back. “I’ll see you then.”
Shiah smiled, gave Jiho a little wave and the hurried out of the room. Jiho finished packing her bag and left. That was definitely not how Jiho had expected that conversation to go.
Jiho shook her head. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I know it’s still pretty early, but I was wondering if you wanted to start discussing topics for the project?” Shiah asked. “That way we can get books out of the library before anyone else steals them.”
Jiho laughed. “Yeah, that’s a good point. When are you free?”
“After lunch?” Shiah asked. “I can meet you in the library.”
Jiho nodded, and the room fell quiet as the lecturer walked in. Jiho had thought the novelty of seeing a princess everyday would soon wear off but it had been weeks now and people still couldn’t take their eyes off of Shiah. It was a little unnerving, seeing the way they eyed her too when they noticed Shiah was sat beside her, but Jiho just stared back at them and they soon turned away.
Shiah didn’t rush to leave at the end of the lecture like she normally did. “Do you want to come to lunch with me instead of us meeting up after? We can talk things over and then head to the library after,” Jiho suggested.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to,” Jiho added.
Shiah shook her head. “No, I’d like that,” she said with a smile. She walked to the end of the row and gestured for Jiho to walk ahead of her. “Lead the way.”
Jiho was so incredibly grateful for Hyejin. She probably should've given the others a warning before she marched over to the dining table with Shiah in tow, but she didn’t want things to be fake and stifled. It was a little awkward to start with - Mihyun kept glancing between Jiho and Shiah, confused, and Shiah didn’t seem to know what to do with herself - but Jiho was sure it would pass eventually.
Hyejin didn’t seem fazed. She just smiled at them when they sat down and cleared room on the table for them to set down their lunches. “I’m Hyejin,” She said, introducing herself. “This is Mihyun.”
Shiah smiled at the both of them. “Yoo Shiah. It’s nice to meet you both.”
“It’s nice to meet you too,” Hyejin said.
“We’re doing a project for that mythology elective. “Jiho said. “Didn’t you say you still had a few books lying around?”
Hyejin nodded. “I’ll dig them out for you later.”
“Unnie’s a hoarder,” Mihyun explained, and Hyejin rolled her eyes.
“I’m not a hoarder. There’s no harm in keeping things. You never know when you’re going to need something again,” Hyejin said.
Mihyun raised an eyebrow at her, and opened her mouth to speak, but Jiho cut her off. She wanted Shiah to feel welcome, but the pair of them airing their dirty laundry in front of her was probably going to make things even more awkward. Besides, they had the same argument every other week and Jiho was tired of listening to it. “Have you seen Yoobin yet?” She said. “I swear she said she was coming down to lunch today.”
“She’s probably sleeping on her lit notes in the library,” Mihyun said. “She text me at like four am this morning so I’m pretty sure she pulled another all nighter.”
“Was she not in your room this morning?” Hyejin asked.
“No,” Jiho said. “I mean her bed was a mess, so she was definitely there at some point, but she was gone by the time I woke up. I think it’s time for an intervention.”
Jiho turned to Shiah who was glancing between the three of them and nodding along to the conversation as though she knew what they were talking about. “Yoobin’s my roommate,” Jiho explained. “She spends like seventy percent of her time in the library and the other thirty percent complaining to me about her workload.”
“Ah,” Shiah said.
“We should do another movie night,” Hyejin said. “I think she enjoyed the last one.”
“Yes,” Jiho said immediately. “Can we do it this weekend?”
“Yeah. Our place?” Hyejin suggested.
Jiho nodded. “Let’s do it.”
“You’re welcome to come along too if you’d like Shiah,” Hyejin said. “We have plenty of room.”
“Uh, maybe,” Shiah said. “I’ll let you know.”
“Great,” Hyejin said.
The rest of lunch went smoothly. Hyejin was an expert at keeping the conversation going. She talked about everything under the sun - her classes, her plans for the next break (she was going to Japan) and how she was trying to convince Mihyun that they should get a dog when they move into their new apartment at the end of the year. She asked Shiah questions, kept her involved in their conversation and Jiho was so thankful for her. After they finished lunch, Jiho pulled Hyejin into a one armed hug and squeezed her tight. Hyejin just smiled and patted her on the back, and then they went their separate ways.
Surprisingly, Yoobin was nowhere to be seen when they got to the library. They headed through the stacks until they found an empty table not too far from the section on myths and legends and set their stuff out on the table. They’d talked over topics at lunch and had settled on the importance of dragons in mythology. They worked in silence, Jiho using her phone to search for books in the library and then writing down their titles, summaries of information and page references. Shiah sat across from her, tapping away at her laptop.
By the time Jiho checked her watch almost an hour had gone by and she dropped her pen, stretching her arms over her head.
“I have another class in about half an hour,” She said, and Shiah looked up at her over her laptop. “Can I have your number? So it’s easy for us to decide when we’re going to meet up.”
“Yeah, sure,” Shiah said, passing Jiho her phone. “I’ll text you after. See you later.”
Jiho gathered her stuff together and left Shiah at the table, surrounded by textbooks. She was on her way to class when her phone vibrated in her pocket. Hey, it’s Shiah :)
“She’ll get here when she gets here,” Hyejin said, throwing a pillow at Yoobin. “Sit down. She’ll feel awkward if you’re staring out of the window at her when she pulls up.”
“I told her to get here for eight, there’s plenty of time yet,” Jiho said, glancing at the clock. It wasn’t even half seven.
Jiho had been texting Shiah over the course of the week - they had arranged which days they were going to go to the library to do more research and which weekends they were free to meet up and start putting the project together. Jiho had made sure to ask Shiah again if she was interesting in coming to the movie night, and much to her surprise, Shiah said yes. Jiho was excited. She was glad Shiah was coming and she hoped they could grow closer.
They lazed around as they waited for Shiah to arrive, snacking on the popcorn and chocolate that Mihyun had set out for them in bowls on the coffee table. When the doorbell rang, all four of them froze and Hyejin gestured for Jiho to go and get the door.
Shiah was looking down at her hands when Jiho opened the door. She looked up with a smile and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Hi,” Shiah said.
“Hey,” Jiho replied.
Shiah slipped off her shoes and followed Jiho into the front room. Jiho introduced her to Yoobin and she sat down beside Jiho on the sofa, hands tucked in between her legs.
“Are we ordering pizza?” Yoobin asked.
“You’re going to eat us out of house and home,” Hyejin huffed, but she stood up anyway and grabbed her phone and a flyer from the kitchen table. “Any preferences?”
Mihyun and Yoobin immediately started arguing over whether customisable pizzas were a good idea or the devil’s creation, Jiho turned to Shiah. “What would you like to eat?” She asked.
“I’m fine with anything,” Shiah told her.
“Do you want to share with me? I was thinking about going for margherita,” Jiho said.
Shiah nodded. “I’d like that.”
“Shiah unnie and I are getting margherita,” Jiho said to the others, and Mihyun and Yoobin stopped arguing to look over at her. “The sooner you guys decide the sooner we can order it, so hurry up.”
“We’ll do rock, paper, scissors,” Mihyun said.
Yoobin won and Mihyun pouted as she decided on the veggie pizza. Hyejin left the room to phone the takeaway and Jiho followed her into the kitchen to get Shiah a drink.
“Unnie, huh?” Hyejin said after she’d hung up.
Jiho shrugged. “It was unnie’s idea. We’re working together on this project for the next few weeks and we’ll be spending a lot of time together. It seemed appropriate.”
“I’m glad she came tonight,” Hyejin said. “I think it’ll be good for the both of you. I’m sure she doesn’t get many opportunities to hang out with her friends like this, and well, you don’t really talk to anyone apart from Yoobin.”
As much as Jiho hated to admit it, Hyejin was right. Jiho had really lucked out rooming with Yoobin. She was bright and friendly and always tried to get her involved with uni events. It normally took Jiho a while to warm up to new people, but Yoobin had wormed her way into her heart easily. Still, she wasn’t that close with anyone else yet. Yoobin had invited her to hang out with a couple of other people from their floor, Kyungwon and Minkyung, and Jiho was trying her hardest to make an effort. As Hyejin had told her repeatedly, it took time.
Hyejin squeezed Jiho’s shoulder and headed back into the front room. Jiho took Shiah her drink and sat back down in between her and Yoobin on the sofa.
“So, what film are we watching?”
“Thank you for inviting me,” Shiah said as she slipped on her shoes.
“It was no problem. Don’t be a stranger!” Hyejin told her and Shiah nodded.
Jiho followed her out onto the front step as they waited for Shiah’s driver to pull up.
“I’ll see you on Tuesday,” Jiho said.
“I had fun tonight,” She said. “I don’t remember the last time I did something like that.”
“We should do it again sometime,” Jiho told her.
“I’ll be there,” Shiah promised.
Jiho looked up from her laptop to see Shiah sprawled out on white fluffy rug in the middle of her living room. They’d been working away at the project for hours now at Shiah’s place, an apartment tucked away in the middle of a gated community about a twenty minute drive from Jiho’s dorm. It was huge, the front room was bigger Jiho’s kitchen and living room at home put together, but that was probably because it was barely decorated, the walls a stark white. All the rooms she’d seen so far just contained the basics. The place was virtually empty, as though it wasn’t being lived in.
“Do you want to take a break?” Jiho asked. “We’ve got quite a bit done.”
Shiah yawned. “Yeah. I’m going to get some food. Do you want anything?”
Jiho followed Shiah into the kitchen, watching as she turned the kettle on and rummaged through her fridge.
“I really should have done some shopping before you got here,” She said. “There’s nothing of substance in here apart from grapes and orange juice. Do you fancy ordering some takeout?”
“Okay,” Jiho said, taking a seat on one of the barstools.
Shiah pulled out a handful of takeout menus and pushed them across the counter towards Jiho. “Take your pick. I’m open to having anything.”
After much deliberation, Jiho settled on Chinese food, and slid the menu back across the counter to Shiah so that she could order for them.
“Do you cook much in here?” Jiho asked. Like the rest of the apartment, the kitchen was huge and empty - there were only a few plant pots on the window ledge and a knife block on the counter.
“No, I normally go downstairs to eat,” Shiah admitted. “My bodyguard lives in the flat below. My parents bought the building so that strangers didn’t decide to try and move in when they found out I would be living here.”
“Wow,” Jiho said.
“Yeah.” Shiah said. “I know they mean well, and I’m grateful for everything they do for me, but this it too much space for just one person. I never really have anyone over and I spent most of my time downstairs or in my room. I don’t know what to do with myself.”
“Maybe you should try and make it more homely,” Jiho suggested. “Get some snazzy cushions for your sofa or something. The cozier it looks the more comfortable you’ll be with spending time here.”
Shiah paused. “That’s not a bad idea actually. I really liked the fairy lights over the fireplace at your friend's house.”
“They’ve been there since Christmas,” Jiho said. “They forgot to take them down and then when Mihyun unnie tried to, Hyejin unnie refused because she said they gave the room a ‘nice ambience’ whenever it was dark.”
“She has a point,” Shiah said. “The room looked really pretty when it was lit with the fairy lights and the candles.”
“I’ll tell her you said so,” Jiho said, and Shiah smiled at her.
“I wouldn’t even know where to start,” Shiah sighed. “Cushions? Plants? Fairy lights? This is my first time living away from my parents, I’ve never had to think about anything like this before.”
“How about all three?” Jiho said. “There are plenty of sites online that sell nice stuff. We could browse them whilst we’re waiting for the food to get here.”
Shiah nodded. “I’ll go get my laptop.”
By the end of the evening, Shiah had successfully ordered a whole host of stuff to decorate the apartment with. She had made Jiho promise to come over and help her decorate when everything arrived and told her to ask Hyejin if she wanted to help too because according to Shiah she had good taste.
After eating, they lay down on the rug. It was so warm and she was so full of food, she almost felt like having a nap.
Shiah rolled onto her side so that she was facing Jiho. “I’ve really enjoyed these past few weeks. I know we’ve spent most of it in the library but it’s been really fun to be out of the house and meeting new people.”
“I’m glad,” Jiho said. “You’re welcome to come crash at Hyejin unnie and Mihyun unnie’s place with me and Yoobin any time you want. I know Hyejin unnie would love to have you round, she thrives on being a party host.”
“Let me know the next time you’re going round,” Shiah laughed. “But seriously, I’m glad we met. This year is turning out way better than I hoped it would.”
Jiho turned over so that she was lying in the same position as Shiah. “Yeah,” She said with a smile, “Me too.”
Jiho sighed, flipping over her flashcard so she could start writing on the back. “What’s so interesting about you preparing for a presentation? Are they going to start selling stories about the way you hold your pen? Or how many cups of coffee you go through when you’re on a deadline?”
Shiah laughed. “They’re just curious. For some reason they can’t comprehend that I act like everyone else just because I’m a princess. I’m used to it.”
Jiho wasn’t, not yet. Since Shiah had started spending most of her free time with Jiho and her friends, the stares were always present. Jiho had been approached by strangers and invited to hang out with them poorly disguised attempts to fish for information - which she’d of course refused, there was no way she was going to betray Shiah’s trust like that - and had people looking down their noses at her daily. Jiho just glared at them and went on her way. It was nowhere near the level of intrusion that Shiah experienced, but she was already tired of it. She couldn’t imagine how exhausting it was for Shiah to experience all this and more every day.
“Seriously, don’t worry about it,” Shiah said, reaching across the table to squeeze Jiho’s hand. “They just want to gossip with their friends.”
“I don’t know how you do it,” Jiho sighed.
“I’ve had several years to work on my patience,” Shiah said. “It’s like background noise to me now. If it’s bothering you we can always go somewhere else though.”
Jiho pursed her lips. “My dorm? I have snacks.”
“Let’s go,” Shiah said.
Jiho made sure to glare at everyone who stared at them on the way out of the door.
They met up outside the seminar room. Jiho had been up since the crack of dawn - Yoobin had woken her to wish her good luck before she went off to her morning exam - so the tiredness was beginning to set in. She hadn’t been sleeping much because she had been revising and stressing about exams, and she was one hundred percent ready to lay down and nap as soon as this was over.
Shiah had arrived just after Jiho, giving them time to run over their notes a few together.
“Ready?” She asked.
“Nope,” Jiho replied. “You?”
“I think so,” Shiah said. She linked their arms together. “You’ll do fine, we both will. Just think of all the free time you’ll have after this, all the movie nights you can have. You’re going to ace it.”
When their teacher arrived, everyone filed into the classroom behind him, chatting nervously. Jiho was ready to get the presentation over and done with, but they were scheduled to go third so they had to sit through presentations on disease in mythology and the underworld before it was their turn. They were interesting though, the entire module had been. As Jiho and Shiah walked to the front of the class, Jiho couldn’t help but feel sad that it was coming to an end. The module had brought her happiness in more ways than one, and she hoped that this wasn’t the end.
Jiho plugged in her memory stick and opened the powerpoint. She glanced over at Shiah and nodded and Shiah smiled at her before she turned to face their audience.
“Today we’ll be presenting on the importance of dragons in korean mythology,” She began.
“That went great,” Shiah said as they left the class, grabbing hold of Jiho’s forearm. “I can’t believe our first term is over already.”
Jiho hummed in agreement. “Time’s flown by.”
“Got any plans for Chuseok?” Shiah asked.
“I’m going home for the week,” Jiho said. “I’ll probably just laze around and try to pick my guitar back up, watch a ton of movies on Netflix or something. What about you?”
“I’m going home too,” Shiah said. “I’m going to try and catch up with some old friends I think. This year has made me realise how much I miss spending time with them.”
They talked about how they thought they’d done in their exams and essays, and before Jiho knew it, they were back outside her dorm. They stood together at the entrance and Shiah clasped her hands together.
“I should head back,” Shiah said. “I’m leaving for my parent’s house tonight and I still haven’t packed yet.”
“I’ll see you when we get back then?” Jiho said.
“Definitely,” Shiah said. “Enjoy the holidays.”
“You too,” Jiho said, and Shiah nodded, turning and walking away.
Jiho watched her go for a moment before she turned and began to make her way into her dorm. There was a cry of “Wait!” behind her and she paused, turning to see Shiah running back towards her.
“It’s my birthday the week after Chuseok,” She said. “I haven’t made any plans yet, but would you be interested in coming? Hyejin, Mihyun and Yoobin are welcome too.”
“I’d love to,” Jiho said.
“Great,” Shiah smiled at her. “This has been a really great year so far. I just wanted to thank you for being a part of it. I’ll miss you over the holidays.”
Jiho reached out and pulled Shiah into a hug. “I’m a phone call away,” Jiho reminded her. “I’ll miss you too. We should do something when we get back.”
Shiah grinned at her. She took Jiho’s hands between her own and squeezed them gently. “I’d love that.”