"Any celebrity friends from doing the show?"
"Ah, Agustina D, the rapper--she knows the passcode to my apartment in Seoul." Fei laughed, too practiced at being cool to be embarrassed but obviously a little rueful about it; the smile lines at the corners of her mouth quirked. "It's right near her old dorm. One time, I had gone to bed, and it was around one in the morning, and I woke up to the doorbell ringing, and it was Agustina. She came by to hang out. 'Unnie, want to come drinking with me?'"
Now both Fei and the interviewer were laughing. This part would be cut short for broadcast, but the interviewer couldn't help imagining it: Agustina D, newly bleached blonde for her upcoming video shoot but totally unstyled otherwise, with one of her ever-present black snapbacks firmly pushed down over her face, drowning in her oversized clothing, probably in that one pair of jeans with the real hole in the knee from when she was learning how to skateboard, as opposed to all the ones she spent too much money on that were fashionably pre-distressed.
"I bet she brought by some good stuff, didn't she?" the interviewer said, probably too fond for her own good.
Fei laughed outright then. "That's exactly how she is, isn't it? She came to get me to come out but she also had this plastic bag with fifty-thousand-won vodka. What kind of kid doesn't let her unnie take care of them?"
Fei's manager motioned to his watch, so the interviewer brought it back on topic, wrapping up quickly and taking her crew with her. They all had more work to do before they could head home. The interviewer kept thinking about that image, though, of rough and tumble Agustina D going to her friend's place in the middle of the night.
On stage, Agustina was one of the fiercest spitfires in hip hop, small in stature but filling up a hall or club like she was a thousand feet high. Off stage, she usually had sweater paws and there was a fifty-fifty chance she was napping at any given moment.
"Ah, the duality of humanity," Namsoon said to herself. Obviously this meant her assistant heard her.
"Namsoon-unnie, you're not going to stay late and turn in another article about Herman Hesse are you?" The curl at the corner of Park Jimin's mouth seemed fond and supportive, but the inclined eyebrow meant she was absolutely still judging Namsoon.
Obviously Namsoon had to defend herself from the expression. "What? No, and anyway that article got me a lot of acclaim in certain--hey, I wasn't done talking!" But Namsoon was smiling as Jimin laughed her way out of the door.
Anyway, it was time for Namsoon to head home herself. She had dinner plans with Schroedinger's Napper.
Namsoon opened her door to the sound of banging ringing throughout the small apartment. She unzipped her boots in a hurry and flung her bag on the couch, nearly tripping on one loose sock as she stepped into the hall and towards the source of the noise. "Yo?"
It was Yoonji, of course, her fancy cordless noise-cancelling headphones on while she hammered… ah, Namsoon could see now as she turned the corner: a new set of shelves into the wall in the second bedroom, which was effectively her studio.
What she was doing barely seemed important after it was acknowledged, though. With Yoonji's arm up to reach higher than her head, the little worn-out holes in the armpits of her old D-Town shirt were visible, and through them the barest fuzz of hair. She wasn't wearing a bra, either, and there were dots of sweat on her temple.
It was a lot to take in; after the jolt of adrenaline from the surprise of the hammering sound, Namsoon's mind and body couldn't quite coordinate what to do about Yoonji standing there, just being Namsoon's person at home.
As a mind-body compromise, Namsoon simply forgot to breathe for a minute; in doing so she must have moved or something, made herself visible in Yoonji's peripheral vision, because the steady thump of hammer to nail paused. Yoonji's eyes slid towards the door, taking in Namsoon's flushed face and her one half-off sock.
She lowered the hammer, then lowered her headphones to her neck, then turned her body towards Namsoon, like three distinct actions that had to happen in that particular order.
"When did you get home?" Yoonji asked. She sounded like she hadn't spoken to anyone all day, voice low and rough. It was probably untrue--Yoonji liked to pretend she was a hard impossible hermit but she did poorly if she didn't complain to anyone and Namsoon had been at work. Probably she'd hit up someone on KKT or made friends at the cafe down the street by grumping about the weather.
She was weirdly good at making friends.
It was less weird how good she was at making Namsoon feel like this. "What?" Namsoon asked, still caught up in the juxtaposition of the rough hem of Yoonji’s sleeve to the pale skin of her shoulder.
Yoonji chuckled. She gestured at the wall with her hammer, like a sleepy-eyed tiny version of Thor or something. "It's a shelf for the shit that's been sitting in the hallway."
The shit in the hallway was fan gifts: a pair of ridiculous Air Jordans, fancy headphones in bright red with custom A.D. initials stamped in the sides, and a Kumamon toy. Yoonji had mixed feelings about her fans seeing her softer side but she looked so fucking cute when she played with it.
The shelf was exactly the right size to show them off.
"Oh, that's awesome!" Namsoon came into the room properly. It wasn't so big that she needed to go far to be right next to Yoonji--just two, maybe three steps, and then she was there. "And it balances out the wall nicely, too, dang. I didn't even realize the wall was unbalanced?"
"That's me, Min Genius," Yoonji joked, "fixing all our interior decorating problems one shelf at a time."
Namsoon leaned in just a little bit, nudging Yoonji. "You're just so proficient at nailing things, huh?"
"Fuck off," Yoonji said, and her face flushed more than the exertion accounted for.
It was making Namsoon feel some kind of way to be standing there next to Yoonji while still all dressed up in her suit, which, there was definitely an aspect of dressing for her job that was tedious and annoying. She really preferred clothes that flowed a bit more, that were more...goth street trendy than was really appropriate for her office. But the shape and structure of a suit in contrast to Yoonji's at-home casual outfit and the heat radiating off Yoonji’s arms--it made Namsoon wanna do things to her.
Namsoon wasn't great at subtlety. "I'd rather fuck you." She glanced down at Yoonji, the crinkle of her bleach-blond hair, the way her face without make-up looked soft and almost vulnerable, and the touches of sweat from exerting herself.
"You're the worst," Yoonji groaned, but she ducked her head and Namsoon knew from experience it was to fight a smile. "We can't fuck in front of Kumamon."
Namsoon reached out to take the hammer. "Let's go to a room without his precious face, then, huh?"
In a way it wasn't surprising that tough and scary Agustina D was known by her friends for showing up unexpectedly with alcohol and assuming a cozy and familiar air. That was how she had always been, after all, ever since Namsoon first met her.
Met might be the wrong word, though--when Namsoon was in high school, before she wrote her first article and before she started to really get into the beauty and nerdery of journalism, she was really into hip hop and rap, to the extent of writing her own lyrics and secretly recording some of them. Epik High might have saved her life, even, in a possibly melodramatic teen but still very real way.
(She was still into hip hop, and she still wrote lyrics sometimes, but she didn't regret not following that path. Somewhere there was another her who had done it, had worked hard until she broke or broke through--but here, she got to understand her own world in her own terms, to write out a kind of truth for every reader. It wasn't a lot but it meant a lot to her.)
Halfway between sixteen and seventeen, she'd found a forum for Epik High fans, to talk about their lyrics and influences and--everything. Everything! Some people even posted their covers, and one of them was Gloss93, whose skill was evident even on the shitty quality of mp3 allowed by the forum uploads.
The feeling of listening to Yoonji, then, all that unfocused frustration clear in her voice--frustration that Namsoon felt, really felt, sitting there surreptitiously when she should have been working on her homework and essays, when everything felt pointless, like she had no inner dreams--
Even more than listening to Epik High, it was listening to Yoonji, whose rough delivery was that of someone who had made the song her own, it was that that made Namsoon feel like she wasn't alone.
She'd sent Gloss93 a private message on the shitty forum system. She'd be lying now if she said she didn't exactly remember feeling like her heart was going to beat out of her chest as she hit send.
Yoonji was a big-spoon personality living in a small-spoon reality, which wasn't a comment on her stature but more her inclination to curl up, a ribbon already prepped for gift-giving. No matter how they started the night, they always seemed to wake with Yoonji on her side and Namsoon up against her back.
That said, after sex she usually sprawled out over Namsoon in any which way she ended up.
This time, she squished up against Namsoon's side. Namsoon had one arm around her, tucked up in her armpit. Namsoon liked how she could stroke the hair there and Yoonji would twitch in response. So far Yoonji hadn't told her to stop, so she would keep doing it. They were going to get up to shower and have dinner eventually anyway.
"Do you remember when we first met?" Namsoon asked. She was feeling too sentimental to keep the softness out of her voice.
Yoonji grabbed at Namsoon's free hand and interlaced their fingers--less sentimental perhaps, because she then used the back of Namsoon's hand to rub her own chest, like she had an itch or something. "Between the two of us I am definitely the one who remembers anniversaries," Yoonji said, which was true, but not what Namsoon meant.
"C'mon, you know--"
Yoonji tilted her head back to get some kind of angle that would allow direct eye contact, but it was making Namsoon nervous. They were naked in bed together and not a little sticky and somehow this was the bit that made her nervous. "You mean when you were in college?"
At least she had stopped using Namsoon's hand as a convenient tool. Now her grip felt firm. Namsoon stroked her armpit again and Yoonji gave a weird, lying-in-bed-squished-up-against-someone wiggle which in another circumstance could have been a shrug.
Honestly the forum messages had made Namsoon feel...another kind of way. She was going to figure out these feeling words at some point in her life--possibly one of the appeals of journalism over fiction was that she had less need of feeling words to begin with, though some of her professors might have an issue with that and certainly this was only applicable in regards to writing--but at the time, stressed from school and lacking any real direction and only barely able to acknowledge to herself that she never felt any kind of way about the guys in her classes, well. Namsoon definitely hadn't known how to navigate the uncharted waters of what she felt about her interactions with Gloss93.
Their first exchanges had all been about Epik High, of course. Gloss93 was practically an encyclopedia when it came to their lyrics and their history. At one point when Namsoon expressed admiration for that, Gloss93 replied, are you kidding? it's way more rewarding to learn lyrics than it is to learn algebra. Namsoon had felt the warring desires of knowing exactly what Gloss93 meant and another part defensive of math, which she liked in principle even if she thought a lot of the assignments were dumb.
So she she'd sent some combination of the two to Gloss93. It was too long, really, for the etiquette of forum exchanges, but it got her point across, she thought, and it took her mind off a project that was kicking her ass. She expected that Gloss93 would send something snarky back--that was typical--or maybe not respond at all.
But five minutes later she got a notification and there it was, Gloss93's reply.
It was a photo.
Namsoon had picked up a lot of things just from their exchanges so far, mostly implied or mentioned off-hand: Gloss93 was in high school, like Namsoon, and in Daegu, which was really unlike Namsoon. Obviously they both loved Epik High.
But Namsoon had never considered the possibility that Gloss93 would be cute.
In the picture, Gloss93 pouted hugely, bottom lip appropriately shiny even through the grainy low-light quality only shitty webcams could really accomplish. She--she? Namsoon had never really considered it but she'd always assumed based on the voice that Gloss93 was a guy, maybe not one with that really deep voice some rappers had, but. And of course, just because Gloss93 had her hair in a bob not unlike Namsoon's own, that didn't mean any kind of gender thing, really. Probably.
The thumbs down was cute, too. Gloss93's wrist was slender. Namsoon couldn't really make anything out in the background--the light was probably off. It looked just like a room, or whatever. It didn't really keep Namsoon's interest.
Namsoon considered for a moment that she might have a crush on this person in Daegu that she'd never met.
There was another ping of an incoming message.
Body: delete that
Namsoon immediately saved it.
Body: Too late, it's already my wallpaper.
Body: i demand an exchange of hostages
There was no way Namsoon would be able to look as cute and soft-cheeked as Gloss93 did. And, like, it would be...so personal. She hadn't asked for a photo, after all.
But it was thrilling, too. Thrilling, and, actually, she could probably mess with Gloss93 if she timed it right.
It was after dinner. Her parents were both watching TV, by which she meant they were both in the same room as the TV while it was on, but individually they were doing their own thing. No one was in the office, where the printer was. Perfect.
It took way longer to figure out than it should have, but the picture was taken, and then the picture was sent.
Body: did you tape my photo on a RYAN PLUSh and HUG IT what is WRONG WITH YOU i am not RYAN i am neo if i am ANYTHING
A few moments later Gloss93 sent a photo of the name RUNCHRANDA written on a piece of paper on top of a trash bin.
After that first exchange of photos, they talked more about everyday stuff. Gloss93 the cool rapper became Gloss93 the cool rapper who went to an all-girls high school and was saving up money to make her mixtape, despite her parents’ wishes. Gloss93 became Yoonji, one year Namsoon's senior, and planning to make her way out to Seoul as soon as she could.
Yoonji became someone who was always on the top of Namsoon's KKT chat list, even though she usually didn't even respond and was more likely to just send voice messages.
Yoonji became someone Namsoon thought about every day, whose voice messages Namsoon listened to and sometimes thought, what if--? But never let herself really finish the thought.
Now, lying in their bed with Yoonji in her arms, Yoonji’s sweaty over-processed hair stuck to Namsoon's shoulder, it felt sort of silly that she took so long to realize the end of that particular what if, to finish that sentence. Then again, if the sentence ended, "...what if you liked me the way I like you," it was very different than, "what if I'm the only one who feels this way."
"You were pretty bold," Namsoon said, "just coming to my dorm and expecting me to have a space for you."
"That is not how it happened, Kim Namsoon," Yoonji squirmed enough to smack her right on the boob, and they both laughed even as Namsoon's hand flew up to protect herself.
Yoonji's cheeks were pink and getting pinker, though. They never talked about this, not really, not the bit where Yoonji sent Namsoon a rambling voicemail in the middle of September, remarking on the cold and the damp and the train system and ending with, anyway, you're at K College, right? I'm here too, for now, so come out and meet me when you get a chance and show me around.
By then they weren't on the Epik High forum anymore--it had gotten shittier for girls, and Yoonji and Namsoon were both too busy working towards their dreams to deal with some internet jerks questioning their interest in hip hop.
It couldn't have been pure luck that Yoonji managed to message Namsoon right when she was getting out of class, since Namsoon had complained about getting an aggressively early schedule this semester and that it was horrible.
How had Yoonji managed to hide her intentions of coming to Seoul so soon? That weekend?
It had been Namsoon's birthday, and she would never forget the feeling of coming out of her lecture hall and listening to that message. The way that Yoonji stood out in the crowd, dressed in her typical all-black and carrying a hiker's backpack almost as big as she was. Her shirt had been a loose button-down in a monochromatic black and gray plaid. One corner of the collar had been flipped up to brush against her her jaw as she looked down at her phone.
"Unnie..?" It had to have been a dream, really, or maybe Namsoon's life had really been a drama. "You cut your hair."
Yoonji looked up; stood upright from the short wall she'd been leaning on. Her knees were pink under the creative tears in her pants, pink like the tip of her nose and cheeks, like she'd gotten a little too much sun waiting for Namsoon. Only two dyed-auburn bits of her bangs showed from under her beanie, just over her eyes.
"Hi, Namsoon-ah," Yoonji said.
There were about five feet of space between them, but Namsoon had the weird feeling that if she stepped closer, Yoonji would disappear.
"What are you doing here? And why--the backpack?"
"Are you saying I couldn't be a smart college student like you, Namsoon-ah?" And Yoonji closed the distance instead, even reaching out with one hand, running it down Namsoon's arm lightly, the pressure barely on Namsoon's bare skin. Not disappearing.
"No," Namsoon said, almost stuttering, "no, you're too short. You must be a middle-schooler. Ow!"
Namsoon probably deserved that punch. She couldn't remember when she started grinning. "Look, okay, that is not a college backpack, it's against regulation."
Yoonji shrugged. "I'm going to a hostel after this."
"But you want a tour of my school, first?"
Yoonji slept on the floor of Namsoon's dorm for three weeks, then on a friend's sofa for another month. That pattern continued for almost a year while Namsoon finished her second year of college and started her third, and coincidentally got an apartment off campus with another friend. More often than not, Yoonji was there too, curled up on the tiny couch Namsoon managed to stuff in her room. In retrospect she's sure she got it so Yoonji would have a place to stay.
And Yoonji finally started to sell some songs. She finally started performing second in showcases, and then third, and then winning third place in competitions, then second. Namsoon was in the audience when Yoonji won her first hip hop night put on by a local club. It wasn't much money, but it wasn't nothing, either, and they both drank too much that night, stumbling back to Namsoon's place afterwards, laughing giddily into the cool after-midnight skies whenever one or the other reenacted some moment from the event.
Yoonji's mouth was so pink and smiling, the softest and the best thing in the world Namsoon had ever seen. Yoonji smiling like that, exhilirated and a bit drunk and sleep-deprived--that was the best thing in the universe, probably.
They didn't even make it onto that tiny couch--they didn't even shut the door--before Namsoon opened her mouth to share her newly developed, Yoonji-is-the-best theory.
She didn't need words to do it, just Yoonji's soft and enthusiastic mouth against her own.
(There were still plenty of words, but. That was besides the point.)
Even years later, it was embarrassing to think about--not in a bad way, but in a belated tender feeling for what an idiot she'd made of herself. Like, aw, kid.
"You didn't know anything about kissing girls," Yoonji said fondly. She sat up slowly and stretched, then leaned over the side of the bed to pick up her shirt.
"Neither did you! Unless--wait, did you--"
Yoonji's head popped out of the collar of her t-shirt with a judging look already firmly in place. "Namsoon-ah, I went to an all girl's high school."
"Oh my god."
"And even if I hadn't, we were hanging out for two years in Seoul before we got together. Who did you think all those girls I was staying with were?"
"They were all your girlfriends? And--and boyfriends?" Namsoon grabbed the blankets as if to hide her shame. Her face was so hot. How had she never noticed? Willful ignorance?
"Well, no, they weren't--it wasn't proper dating?" Yoonji said, and tugged at Namsoon's loose grip on the fabric, freeing up her face again and leaning in close to cuddle, petting at Namsoon's bangs. "I kinda was, you know, waiting for either you to ask me out? Or maybe I was working up the energy to ask you myself."
Namsoon didn't know what to say. "--Romantic," she tried.
Yoonji rolled her eyes. "Namsoon, why do you think I've written so many lyrics about going down on people?"
"You're just! Very enthusiastic, I figured!"
"My beautiful genius idiot," Yoonji drawled, petting Namsoon's hair again.
"I can't believe I never noticed."
Yoonji just chuckled. "I'm gonna go heat up some leftovers, okay? Then you can feel however you like on a full stomach."
Namsoon hid her face again. "Ugh, okay, I'll get up in a minute."
She tracked Yoonji getting off the bed by the feel of the mattress dipping, then by the sound of Yoonji shuffling out of the room in her slippers. The apartment wasn't that big, so even after that Namsoon could hear Yoonji puttering in the kitchen and starting to sing a little in her raspy, low voice.
Namsoon untucked herself from bed to hear better, and yeah, Yoonji was totally singing Queen. "Mama, I killed a man," her voice strained out in English, untrained for even the usual humming along, let alone Freddie Mercury.
This was Agustina D at home, the version of herself shared only with her closest friends and family. The woman who sandwiched teasing sarcasm with shelf-building and taking care of dinner. The who one sang Queen from memory and would stop by a friend's to hang out at midnight, with snacks or booze as she felt the situation needed.
She made Namsoon feel some kind of way, all right, but this one Namsoon had at least figured out by now, though all the romance movies in the world hadn't prepared her for Yoonji.
Oh, that was a good line. She had to put on a shirt and go tell it to Yoonji.
Yoonji would probably grimace and throw the dish towel at Namsoon's head, but Namsoon had heard Yoonji's love songs, and this would fit right in, right between the two of them, in the life they'd made together.