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blue lemonade

Chapter Text

 

Seulgi wipes the lick of sweat on her forehead with the back of her hand.

It all swelters together - the muggy midday air, the burner, the cramped kiosk, and the hum of postmix dispenser. She is sweating profusely, and the four-blade overhead fan hardly cooled the circulating air. She checks the weather application in her phone and finds that the temperature soared four notches higher than the average. Thirty-four degrees on a summer day. The ice in their lemonade juice drink will melt quicker than the customer can blink.

“It’s my lunchtime,” Joy announces, out of habit than courtesy because they usually eat lunch in one-hour shifts. Seulgi nods, languidly crouching over the counter since the beach resort is awfully uncrowded today and their sales are rather slow. Joy takes off her apron, puts on her sling bag, then goes out of the kiosk, holding an umbrella over her head.

The sparse beachgoers and first-timers are spread thinly over the long stretch of beach.

Tourists - albeit few - and mostly locals, flocked the recently opened beach resort: scampering around the fine white sand, basking under the summer sun slathered with sunscreen, and plunging into the clear salty waters. People gathered after in the few posh diners lined up behind the beachfront, but some would opt to eat at the cheap kiosks. The ground where the kiosks and buildings stood was hard-packed dirt, different from the loose fine sand of the beachfront.

Seulgi peers under the brim of her tennis cap and spots a petite frame distorted by the mirage, approaching in hurried strides, long dark hair and floral sundress fluttering in the wind. Under the sunlight the girl is strikingly pale, but once she is close Seulgi can see the rosy undertones beneath the bright red that lined her cheekbones. She has an undeniably comely face, a definite head-turner. The girl catches her breath and waits for it to subside before ordering a drink.

“Do you have bottled ones?” she asks before Seulgi can turn around and move towards the dispenser.

“Yes,” Seulgi answers. She bends down and opens the cooler under the counter, filled with packaged drinks submerged in ice. Ordinary lemonade, blue lemonade, and water consisted the roster of their drinks since it's exclusively a store for postmix lemonade, while other kiosks served other kind of drinks as designated by the management. “Do you want blue lemonade or just the ordinary one?”

She puckers her tinted lips then says, “Blue lemonade, I guess. Just to try something a bit different.”

Seulgi pulls out a bottle of blue lemonade, relishing its coolness to touch. She stands back up and hands the girl the drink, and consequently receives the payment. She enters the amount on the cash register which dings open, then she stuffs the bill onto one of its compartments. She rips the receipt after it's printed out by the register and together with the change, gives it to her customer. 

“Oh, by the way I’m Irene,” the girl named Irene introduces herself with a lopsided grin.

Seulgi furrows her brows in confusion. “Oh… cool.”

“It means goddess of peace… my dad said, you know?” Irene informs the other, batting her eyelashes. “Anyway what should I call you by? I might buy more lemonade drinks, come often,” she titters. Seulgi is unable to comprehend what she was getting at and says nothing. “It’s hot out, can’t stand it,” she blabbers then lifts the unopened bottle, “and a refreshing drink is what I need.”

“Seulgi… it’s Seulgi.” It might stop the incessant prattling, Seulgi reckoned.

“Seulgi,” Irene repeats. She bites her lower lip, thinking of something else to say but only manages with a “See you!”

Irene scurries away, leaving Seulgi in wonder.

 

 

 

 

A hand over her mouth, Irene comes squealing to her friend Yeri, who was busy reading a magazine, lying on a beach chaise lounge under the shade of a palm tree. “What is wrong with you?” the blonde asks, folding the magazine and placing it onto her lap.

“The girl we saw earlier…!” Irene relays excitedly, causing the other to perk up. “I found her! She’s in a stall selling lemonade drinks.” She shows the bottle of blue lemonade to Yeri.

“But you don’t like lemonade juice,” Yeri tells her matter-of-factly. Her friend developed an aversion to it because she choked on it once, and almost lost her life gasping for breath. She vowed never to drink lemonade juice again.

Irene rolls her eyes. “It doesn’t matter, I’m gonna buy ten everyday if I have to.” She draws up that besotted smile and gaze, and Yeri knows her friend is in too deep.

“Is it really that serious?” Yeri questions her, unfazed and taking lightly of the matter. Coming from the city, they set out to this little town for the summer. Yeri has relatives where she can stay, while Irene’s dad bought a rest house near the resort. Three days in and bored out of her mind, Irene invites her to visit the beach resort which opened two months ago.

Irene spotted the girl while they were having breakfast. Her eyes lingered through the diner’s glass wall, watching the girl clad in work uniform carry a cooler, and Yeri swore Irene would have chased after her if not for her dad calling on the phone to ask how she’s doing.

So Irene lost sight of Seulgi causing her to sulk the whole breakfast, and Yeri was so done with it.

“Of course it is!” Irene exclaimed while lightly slapping the blonde’s arm. “Have you never been in love at first sight? Gosh, the first time I laid my eyes on her I knew she’s the one! I was losing hope, but then I found her… our paths crossed again! Wouldn't you call it fate?” She deduced that Seulgi worked in the area because of the uniform, and rigorously scoured for her with that in mind.

“I call it persistence,” Yeri deadpans.

Irene giggles. “Seeing her up close is even much better. She was sweating but ugh! Not a boy in the university could match her hotness—”

“Irene, you’re gay,” Yeri interrupts.

“The point still stands! Anyway, I have a strong feeling about her, she has just this… sapphic aura about her. There’s a chance she could be into me.” Her projection wasn’t exactly misplaced, because in her twenty years of existence she has been told pretty to her face.

“Sure, Jan,” Yeri references Brady Brunch, to express her disbelief. Also because Irene wouldn’t really pick up on it, being a bit old school and struggling with technology, much less understanding memes.

“You won’t understand because you’re straight,” Irene counters, sensing the subtle incredulity in her friend’s voice.

“Sure, Jan.”

 

 

 

 

The following day Irene goes back to the resort all on her own. Yeri is traveling the outskirts of town with her relatives. She goes for a casual fit, wearing a loose red shirt tucked in denim shorts with matching slip-ons. She tied her hair, and she lined her lips with lipstick redder than yesterday’s. She arrives at the the resort a little after noon.

There’s a spring in her steps, and she cheerily hums a song while walking towards the burger and lemonade kiosk.

The day is a tad cooler than yesterday, the breeze rustling the leaves high on the trees. Above is a cloudy sky, the sun partly hidden from view. Irene comes across two children with brightly-colored pool floats, running up to their mother who guides them toward the shallow end of the sea. Another group of kids were trying to build sand castles. She loved the serenity of the place, how it felt like there’s nothing else but the sand, sky, sea and the moment.

However, upon reaching the kiosk, her sunny disposition fades.

It is not Seulgi whom she sees, but a taller redhead flipping burgers for a customer. She patiently waits, lost in the hiss of the frying pan. Is she in the right kiosk? Irene looks around, and she’s certain that it is the same food stand. Theirs was located in front of the comfort rooms, and the stalls sold unique products from each other, so that no two stalls offered the same snack or meal, she observed.

“Anything you like?” Joy asks Irene with a contrived smile on her face.

“I’m actually looking for someone,” Irene confesses, a bit bashful.

“Who?”

“Is Seulgi around?” she inquires softly. Perhaps they are co-workers, either that or they worked in shifts.

Joy grips the cooked burger steak with the tong and deftly puts it on top of a sliced bun spread apart on the pan. She tops the meat with lettuce, tomato, and cheese, then squeezes catsup and mayonnaise over it. She flips one face of the bun over the other to make the hamburger then packs it in a small, square cardboard box.

"Is Seulgi around?" Irene repeats, just in case the girl didn't hear or forgot to answer her.

The redhead serves the customer his burger, collects the exact payment, and presses the register. She turns off the burner. "Seulgi's just eating lunch. Why?" Joy regards her with skepticism. “Are you a friend?”

A friend? Irene considers. “Uhm, no, not like that…”

Joy cocks a brow and presses her hands against the stainless steel countertop. She hasn’t seen the girl before, nor such beauty that could easily grace the television or magazine. I’m probably the prettiest girl Seulgi has ever met, Joy thinks haughtily, but she knew that the girl in front of her was a league of her own. How exactly does she know Seulgi?

“But she’s coming back, right?” Irene wonders, her wide, bunny-like eyes twinkling.

“Of course. You’re in luck, because her lunchtime is soon over,” Joy says as she checks her wristwatch. “So, is there anything you want?” she asks again, not to pressure her to purchase anything but to make her reconsider.

Irene shakes her head.

“No, none, nothing?” Joy questions again to make sure. “Okay,” she says in defeat and plops down on the Monobloc chair. She observes the girl, who turned her back to stare at the sea and the horizon. So she really came here just for Seulgi, Joy ponders. The girl doesn’t stir, so unable to prod her with queries, she just sighs and twirls her hair with a finger.

Three minutes later, the side door squeaks open. This prompts Irene to look back towards the kiosk, and there she sees Seulgi, tied hair windswept and skin clammy, yet remains an attractive sight. Joy looks up, alternating her gaze between them. 

“Seulgi!” Irene yells, unable to contain her glee.

“Oh, hello Irene,” Seulgi greets, a little flustered. “What brings you here?” It wasn’t something she says to a customer, but it came out of her mouth anyway.

“What else?” Irene asks rhetorically. “A bottle of blue lemonade, of course.”

Joy’s jaw drops upon hearing Irene’s answer.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Tired of waiting?”

Listlessly dipping her feet in pool water with her butt on the gutter, Irene looks up and finds the owner of the voice wrapped in a royal blue silk bathrobe walking towards her. “Any second later and I would have jumped you,” Irene jokingly replies. It is a calm evening for a good swim in the pool in front of the rest house. Seulgi shows up almost an hour later than what was agreed, and the other girl was beginning to get impatient, thinking she bailed out.

Seulgi smirks then shrugs off the robe to reveal her slender body in a black bikini. Irene gulps at the spectacle before her - it was the first time she has seen her scantily clad, and oh boy, did her irritation of her being late dissolve.

“Well, I took time deciding what to wear,” Seulgi remarks with a hand on her waist.

Suddenly, Irene’s one-piece swimsuit felt tight around her body and she could feel the blood rush up to her face. She clears her throat and stammers, “I-I hate you, I thought you wouldn’t come.” She averts her gaze and jumps into the pool to conceal her chagrin. She dives, going a bit deep but not reaching the floor, then emerges back onto the surface of the water. She wipes the drops of water away from her face with her hands, and when she opens her eyes she sees Seulgi treading in front of her. “Don’t be mad, you know I’ll never ditch you,” Seulgi coaxes. She reaches for Irene’s hands, and the latter doesn’t pull them back albeit taken aback with the other’s boldness.

Seulgi leads Irene, and together they float towards a shallow corner of the pool where Seulgi backs the latter against.

“I think I know how I could make it up to you,” the brunette whispers just loud enough for Irene to hear. She moves closer, and they could feel their bent knees touch.

“How?” Irene is trying hard not to show excitement and anticipation. Something weird is going on.

“Can I kiss you?” Seulgi asks.

Irene’s knees almost buckled at the inquiry. Totally weird. “K-kiss me?”

Seulgi chuckles, then slowly leans in. Irene is blushing so hard - even harder than the first - and she can feel her heart leap to her throat. She can feel the weight of Seulgi’s gaze upon her, and she loved it. Irene has always wanted to be desired by her. She returns the stare just as warm, then Seulgi closes her eyes once their faces are only an inch apart. Irene hesitates if she should do the same, because this is the one thing she wants to witness in her life—

Her dream is cut short by the rapping at the door.

Irene peels back her lids and stares at the low ceiling of her bedroom. She lightly slaps her cheeks. That was a good dream, she thinks, blinking rapidly. We were about to kiss! Ugh, she thinks again, annoyed, wondering who disrupted her sleep. She rolls out of bed, rubs her eyes, and blindly slips her feet into her bunny slippers. She turns the knob and pulls it back, finding Yeri standing on the other side of the door.

“Yeri, you’re early,” Irene complains, yawning.

“What early? It’s ten in the morning! I can’t believe you still haven’t gotten out of bed,” Yeri retaliated. Irene gave her the password to their digital lock because she trusted her friend, but she didn’t think through how inconvenient it could be for her at times.

Irene pouted. “I was dreaming about the lemonade girl! You just had to ruin it!”

“Oh! So now it’s my fault I interrupted your date in a freakin’ dream,” scoffs Yeri, her arms crossed in indignation. “We’re eating brunch at the resort, remember?”

Right, I totally forgot! The older girl realizes she might have gone too far and quickly douses the tension between them. “Okay, sorry I was just joking. Just wait for me, I’ll be ready in a jiffy.”

The blonde waited for an hour.

 

 

 

 

The burger and lemonade kiosk are dealing with relatively more customers today than the past few days. The uptick in customers can attributed to a huge gathering for a family reunion booked at the resort’s hall today, which involved not only the immediate family but also the extended ones. Most of the kids preferred their stall’s snacks than the fancy finger foods served at the hall. Nearing lunchtime though, the buyers dwindled which they did not mind for it was their cue to rest.

“Don’t you really think the girl was weird?” Joy found Irene's behavior yesterday to be eccentric. It sort of ticked her off that the girl wasn’t even discreet, lying to her face.

Seulgi sighs, studying her solid-colored fingernails. “Why?”

“She’s suspiciously chummy to you,” she squints. Seulgi didn’t particularly like when Joy’s suspicious and squinting, because she’s usually right and it’s totally unfair for the third party being subjugated to judgment.

“Maybe she’s just comfortable with me. I’m not really that hard to befriend,” Seulgi surmised.

“Are you saying I’m not likable?” Joy retorts. 

“I didn’t say that,” Seulgi denies. “You better go eat your lunch now ’cause it’s probably your hunger that’s doing the talking.”

Joy harrumphs, removes her apron, and stomps out of the kiosk to grab lunch. Seulgi chortles and slightly shakes her head, knowing that her friend has a temper and that it will soon pass. The redhead has aggressively tried to persuade her that Irene had ulterior motive other than just buying blue lemonade. The accusation was beyond her. Irene seems like a sweet gal who just enjoys their product, far from what Joy is painting her image to be.

“Speak of the devil,” Seulgi mutters under her breath. At a distance she spots Irene and another girl with long blonde hair approaching their stall, with the grey and partially overcast horizon in the background.

Irene is decked in an off-shoulder top and skimpy black shorts. She also spent her preparation time curling the ends of her hair, putting on light makeup, and choosing what to use among her collection of Victoria’s Secret scents. She settled with the summer eau de parfum since she thought it goes well with the season and her destination. Seulgi instantly catches a whiff of the floral and fruity notes of the perfume as soon as Irene reaches the kiosk.

“Hello! What would you both like to have?” Seulgi greets them with apparent enthusiasm, and reasonably so. On the clock eight hours a day and five days a week, a regular customer in the kind of establishment she is working on is rather rare. 

“I’ll take the usual,” replies Irene with a wink.  

“A bottle of blue lemonade… of course, of course!” Seulgi exclaims and turns to the blonde, “And you?”

“Same as hers,” Yeri answers noncommittally, distracted by Seulgi’s features. The girl behind counter owns a pair of sharp eyes partially obscured under the brim of her cap and a jawline more prominent in side profile, which is mildly contrasting - though not at all incongruous - to the roundness of her face and softness of her cheeks and nose. Her features makes her cute and chic, and Yeri knows her double charms could be deadly if only she knew how to wield it.

Seulgi hands them the chilled bottles, and in turn they pay with the exact amount.

“By the way, she’s my friend. Her name’s Yeri,” Irene introduces the brunette to the blonde and vice versa, “Yeri, she’s Seulgi.”

The both of them say hi to each other timidly.

“So, do the two of you live around here?” Seulgi asked, curious. Irene must either be staying in the hotel or in close proximity to the resort to have gone to the stall thrice now. 

“Ah, no… we’re just on vacation. Yeri’s relatives are locals, while my dad bought a rest house nearby. He’s hardly around due to work though, so I’m pretty much alone; hence why I go out and tag my friend along,” Irene explains. “What about you?”

“I do live in this town. I’m just working here for the summer though.”

Yeri unscrews the cap of the bottle and drinks, zoning out of the conversation. The other two girls had a quick exchange about the basics: age, education, and the weather - prompted by Irene to bury the awkward gap of conservation quickly. Seulgi found out that they’re both university students and she was one year her junior. Subsequently, Yeri snaps out of her trance…

Irene flips her hair, the curls dangling lazily behind her back, exposing her bare shoulders, and poses a rather forward question, “Can I get your number?”

A fit of coughing ensues as Yeri chokes on her drink, her face turning beet red. 

“My number?” Seulgi questions Irene while worrying if the other could breathe properly. “Are you alright, Yeri?”

Yeri waits for the coughing to peter out then she nods. “Yup! Just went down the wrong pipe.”

“I know that was totally out of the blue, but I’m asking for it so that maybe I could invite you over to hang out in the future?” confesses Irene as she tucks stray strands of hair (that kept getting ruffled by the breeze) behind her ear and continues, “It can get lonely with just Yeri and I, so I’m making new friends.”

Yeri gapes at her friend. Unbelievable, she mouths.

“Oh, sure,” Seulgi replies without hesitation. “Do you have your phone? I’ll punch in my number and save it to your contacts.”

Irene fishes out her iPhone covered with a Judy Hopps casing and hands it to Seulgi with a satisfied grin on her face. Seulgi types her number on the phone quickly and saves it with her name in the contact list then returns the phone to Irene. “Thank you! I’ll take this to mean that we’re really friends now.”

“Cool,” replied Seulgi. “I mean, why not? You’re nice.”

This causes Irene’s mouth to split into a wide, beautiful smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll still buy your lemonade drinks at its retail price, I’m totally not doing this to ask for a discount,” she quips. Yeri snorts and the older girl lightly nudges her arm, blushing. Seulgi cackles a beat later.

“Anyway, I’m sorry for bothering you. See you!”

“See you!”

Irene leaves together with Yeri, an unopened bottle of blue lemonade in her hand.

 

 

 

 

“What if she’s a serial killer?!” Joy gripes animatedly. “How could you just give your number to her? She’s going to lure you into an isolated cabin and I’m the one who’s going to haunt you in your death if that happens because you did not heed my warning! Pretty girls like that are most likely psychopaths.” She and Seulgi are ambling the gravelly path lined with undergrowth that leads to the resort’s entrance, except that they were exiting the premises and going home.

“Give it up, you’re watching too much movies,” Seulgi rebuts. “How are you this skeptical with her?”

Joy stops walking and stares at her friend in disbelief. “How can you not? She lied to me about not wanting to buy anything, then once you came she says she was there for a bottle of lemonade juice! Isn’t that fishy to you?”

“We can’t really be arguing about this again,” Seulgi groaned. “I told you she got friendly with me the first time she bought a drink, and not to brag but I’m totally an approachable person. She’s staying here for the summer and she wants to make friends, at least that’s what she told me.”

Joy starts walking again, and Seulgi follows by her side. It is past five thirty in the afternoon, and the sun has been continuously hidden by the burgeoning cluster of gray clouds. Cold air lingers and the gust of the breeze hasn’t slowed down. The chance of rain was a nice change of weather though, a reprieve from the sultry summer days.

“And you believe her easily? If she wanted to make friends, how could she ignore me, then be into you only. I swear… a very beautiful girl, it’s almost unreal, is fond of you? She’s a witch and you’re the coven’s target!” Joy utters, clutching the string of her sling bag. “You’re dead, Kang Seulgi, you’re so dead…”

“Silly,” Seulgi chuckles. “You have trust issues, I know, because someone catfished you once. But c’mon, Irene’s a nice girl, and she’s just probably shy cause you’re intimidating."

“Not to mention she only buys blue lemonade each time she visits the kiosk! Not one time she bought any of our burgers! I’m the one who’s selling the burgers, Seulgi! Either she hates me or she has an appetite of a vegetarian!” Joy exclaims, ignoring her friend’s explanations, because she doesn’t want to hold back, despite her deduction going overboard.

Seulgi laughs. “Joy-ah, you’re getting really weird about this. Irene is not a conspiracy theory. She’s a goddess walking this earth, that’s true, and she’s fond of me and the blue lemonade, I can’t argue, but this is nothing to be wary of. You’re just being overprotective of me, and I get that.”

With those words, Joy could only relent. “You know you’re my favorite unni, right?"

They have reached the front gate, where a security guard is posted. They bid him goodbye out of courtesy.

"I know, I know." Seulgi kicks a pebble and it rolls out into the main highway. "No harm's gonna come to me, and please stop implying that Irene is crazy before you end up committing a Freudian slip in front of her."

“Don’t worry, I was just messing with you half the time,” Joy admits with a sly smile, “but I’m still gonna be watchful and find out her intentions.”

“Well, it’s not like I can stop you,” Seulgi says in defeat.

 

Chapter Text

 

It’s drizzling and the tracks are muddy. Irene carries her feet doggedly as the mud sucks her flip flops, purple umbrella bobbing over her head. She opted to drop by the kiosk again. Summer ends in about a month, and she needs to strike any chance she gets. Bugger the weather.

She spots the lemonade stall, blue and yellow paint conspicuous against the bleakness of the day.

“I’m surprised you went all the way here, with this weather,” Seulgi wonders. There’s a dearth of customers today. Hardly anyone shows up at the beach when it’s rainy, nor are cold juice drinks being craved. Almost half the day has passed and she can still count the customers with her fingers. She honestly would rather stay at home and play Battlegrounds.

Irene folds her umbrella and places it on her lap. She has just settled at the seat in front of the kiosk which is sheltered by an overhang. “I have nothing much to do at home, and I needed my fix of the lemonade drink, so I went.” A lie garnished with the truth is palatable. She knows they will eat it up.

Joy, who has been mum for a while, smiles in spite of herself and breaks her silence. “Well, nothing beats a cold lemonade to drink on a cold weather,” she comments, tone vapid to mask her sarcasm. C’mon, is that the only excuse you can make to see Seulgi this time? Joy contemplates.

Irene runs her tongue around the inside of her mouth, the irony not lost on her. Joy, was that her name? Seulgi introduced them briefly the last time. “Oh, certainly. I don't think the drink has its days.” She inadvertently curls her left hand over her umbrella.

“A drink that doesn’t have its days. Perfect for any weather. Sounds good for an advertisement slogan, if I say so myself,” Joy sneers. “But of course, the lemonade juice must be really special for you to bother walking all the way here.” More sarcasm. Her mouth is running faster than a cheetah on the hunt.

“Uh…” Irene rubs the bridge of her nose. The more she bluffs, the more Joy is going to pick on her, and the more she is going to put herself in a tight spot. Her eyes flick towards Seulgi briefly, who’s been listening intently to their exchange. “Yeah, well, you can put it that way.”

“It even led you to Seulgi,” Joy points out, smacking her lips. “Or is it the other way around?”

Seulgi squints at her this time, utterly confused and uncomprehending.

Irene squirms slightly in her seat. She can clearly see that she’s being backed into a corner. What is it? What is it that I did to make her this suspicious? She chuckles nervously before she replies. “W-well… I don’t know exactly how I’m supposed to answer that question…” Beat around the bush, dodge a bullet, whatever. Then she locks eyes with Seulgi, bats her lashes, and hopes she can read her cry for help. It’s her last resort.

Seulgi blinks, then sputters, “Oh, oh…” as if suddenly struck by electricity. She knows that look Joohyun threw at her, and she understands. “What are you even talking about?” Seulgi shoots at Joy directly. “She’s been coming here because she loves the lemonade drink.” It finally dawned on her that Joy might still be on Irene’s case, and decides it’s better if she puts a stop to it sooner than later. “How many times do I have to tell you that?”

“H-hey…” Joy mutters, daunted at how she sudden the tables have turned. Seulgi’s rhetorical question particularly implicates her to be stubborn. She does not like it one bit. “I’m only trying to get to know her. Why, are you the only one who’s allowed to befriend her?” Could obviously be a bold faced lie, but her nerves are getting to her at the moment to be able to ponder upon a decent pretext.

Seulgi sighs loudly, her shoulder heavy, and crosses her arms. “Not this way, Joy.” She’s over Joy’s nitpicking. Her patience is as taut as an overly stretched rubber band, ready to snap in a swift tug.

“What’s the right way then? Huh?” Joy rebuts, defensive, with a cocked brow and pouted lips.

“No, no,” interrupts Irene, uneasy about their temperament. “It's perfectly fine if Joy just wants to befriend me. No need to get worked up.”

“I’m really sorry we’re behaving this way. You just wanted your drink,” Seulgi says, remorseful. It’s not like they get regulars like Irene, and they have the audacity to put her off. Seulgi turns to look at Joy, her expression pleading the red head to apologize.

“Sorry. I go over the top sometimes,” Joy forces herself to admit. No choice but to save face, and she genuinely believes she pushed it a bit far anyway. Her takeaway from the conversation though is that Irene is definitely dodgy. It’s not her answers per se, but more on how she answered them. Had Seulgi not interrupted, she might have had been able to squeeze more from the girl.

“It's fine, really. I think Joy is a fun girl to be around with, she’s got so much ideas,” jests Irene, relieved that she’s off the hook.

Joy’s cheeks light up, embarrassed.

“Oh, she sure does,” Seulgi agrees. She leans over the counter and asks, “So… a bottle of blue lemonade?”

 

 

 

 

“Surprisingly, there’s someone who’s questioning my intentions,” relays Irene over the phone. Her head is at the foot of her bed, her feet against the wall, and her left index finger twirling a lock of her hair. She just got home, had just washed off mud from her slippers and calves. “I don’t know for sure if she knows I like Seulgi, but she was onto something.”

“Oh, who is she?” asks Yeri, curious.

“Joy, a cute girl with a red-dyed hair,” describes Irene. “She’s working together with Seulgi at the kiosk. You didn’t get the chance to meet her the last time we went.” Her mind briefly flashes to the image of Seulgi getting a bit mad, and this causes Irene to grin triumphantly. “She was passive-aggressive, spouting and asking stuff that could give me away too much had I not known better. I was unprepared to lie and bluff, but I managed.”

“I should’ve gone with you today, it would’ve been funny to watch.” She giggles. “Too bad I can’t be arsed to step outside with this weather.”

Irene sits up on the bed and taunts, “So this is how it is, huh? You’re siding against me?”

“I’m not siding with anybody, you losers,” Yeri argued, implying their foolishness is beneath her.

“Alright, smartypants,” yields Irene, knowing how her friend finds her situation ridiculous since the beginning. “What’s your opinion about it? I need a different perspective, I don’t feel good about being left behind. I need to catch on.” If Joy did find out her intention of visiting their stall, would it have made a difference? Seulgi would probably distance herself and tiptoe around her, and things might get awkward instead. That even if they don't find out about her lying about the blue lemonade, it would defeat the purpose of why she had to do it in the first place.

“Hm, what do you think made Joy suspicious?”

“I asked myself that too. I wouldn’t have had to ask you if I had known,” Irene replies derisively. Joy barely talked to her after Seulgi arrived during their first meeting, so she couldn’t think of anything for the girl to have acted that way when they met again.

“Maybe it was just playful banter and you’re reading too much because well, you don’t want to get busted.”

Irene considers but then disagrees, “Perhaps with a clearer mind I can recount on our exchange again and think I was just looking the other way, but no, it was the feeling of being doubted and cross-examined that tensed me. I believe more in my instinct than on sound logic right now. That’s the way it made me feel.”

“Oh, okay,” Yeri says, tone rising at the last word. “What if she’s likes Seulgi? Or you know, she’s her girlfriend,” Yeri suggests, her voice getting a bit more perky. “A girl that guarded over someone and intimidating anybody coming close to that person could only mean that. I mean, humans behave like animals in some ways.”

“Animals? Wait, you’re stretching it a bit much,” scoffs Irene. “Anyway, I don’t think that’s the case, or their body language would tell me so.” From what she has observed, the two girls seem to be close friends with a long and deep history. The subtle reprimanding gave away that Seulgi deeply cares about Joy.

“Why, are you gonna snog your girlfriend in front of your customers? Are you gonna flirt with your crush when you’re both busy earning some income? They’re professionals.”

“Hey now, do you have a personal vendetta against me? Are you purposely trying to make me give up on Seulgi?” She did not intend to sound angry, but it probably rubbed off that way. She got a brow raised, though.

“What? Stop twisting my words,” deflects Yeri, highly amused at how Irene is reacting.

“First of all, I need to know if Seulgi’s even single,” the older girl admits. She’s spent a few bucks and allocated hours trying to make a move, and she hadn’t even thought of that. She’s obtained her number, but despite being forward initially, she’s not too shameless. She can’t bring herself to start texting Seulgi, knowing that they’re not close yet, and that she has no good reason to do so. Not yet, at least.

“Don’t you have her number? Ask her yourself,” suggests Yeri.

“But that’s…” Irene starts, running a hand through her hair, conflicted. “That’s too obvious. I can’t make it obvious. But I need to know soon or I might just be setting my heart out for nothing.” Whether she learns about Seulgi having a lover sooner or later, she knows she’ll be devastated, anyway. It’s preferable to be aware sooner.

She can feel Yeri roll her eyes so hard that it may fall off, because it took a good two seconds before the latter spoke. “Why do you have to be sly about it? You should’ve just straight up hit on that girl. You should’ve not just lied about liking blue lemonade. You’re building a relationship based on a lie!” It didn’t come out as a harsh chastising but Yeri’s voice sounded irritated.

“Mulling over ‘what ifs’ is not gonna help me now, Yeri,” laments Irene. She rolls towards the headboard, and pulls the duvet over her. “And stop overreacting, it’s just a mere juice drink.”

“A mere juice drink that you waste your money on so that you have an excuse to see someone who might not even like you back,” Yeri spat. She said it in one full sentence without pauses nor stuttering, as if she has practiced it for days now.

Irene gasps, covering a hand over her mouth, too shocked to speak.

“You... your tongue is too wicked,” she says, for a lack of better term. She’s partially shaken, like hearing a recklessly held glass shattering to the floor. “Don’t attack me like this, Yeri-ah.”

Yeri only grunts.

“Well, I still want to know if I have a chance,” Irene says weakly. For a moment she’s discouraged, thinking how all of this might have been stupid in the first place. She doesn’t know where the confidence she had on the past days went.

For a moment, Yeri’s quiet, and Irene can only hear a crackling from the other line. “Hm, I have an idea. I’m working on my thesis proposal right now - and whenever I’m free, actually. Don’t worry, I’m going to think about it once I’m done.” She pauses for a bit, then proceeds, “In exchange for a box of pizza delivered at my house tonight.”

“Wow, is this what our friendship is to you?” Irene’s jaw has never hung this low.

“Are you done? I can’t negotiate over this stupid problem. Ask Seulgi yourself, if you want. A 14-inch, thin crust Pepperoni pizza or I’m gonna hang up.”

“Okay, okay, okay, I’ll leave it up to you. I’m dialing the pizza house right after this call.”

 

 

 

 

The door creaks open as Wendy turns and pushes the knob inwardly, revealing an unoccupied bedroom.

Her six earrings sparkle against the soft sunlight streaming through the windows concealed by sheer curtains. It’s obtrusively quiet, that she can hear the slightest sound her socked feet creates with every step. She sits on the edge of the unkempt bed and spots Seulgi’s phone conspicuously resting on the duvet. Coincidentally, the device pings which draws her to the phone, reading the notification of a text message received at 3:14 P. M. on a Saturday.

 

011-XXX-XXX

are you free tonight?

 

“Hm?” she mused. It’s staggering to find such a curt but loaded message on her friend’s phone. Has Seulgi been meeting up new people and giving out her number as if it’s the lottery? She snorts in amusement. The summer job is totally giving Seulgi that opportunity, no doubt. Immersed in thought and not fully conscious with her actions, she cradles the phone in her hand, her goofiness suddenly spiking up. What if she pretends to be Seulgi, send back a suggestive or straight up nasty text? Seulgi might fight her but hey, doesn’t she need a bit of pranking to spice up her life?

 

me

not really, but it depends on what we’re gonna do tonight ;)

 

Wendy giggles, flailing her legs in the air after sending the text. “Seulgi is sooo going to kill me,” she whispers to herself. I’m really this bored, she thinks. Seulgi, you better show up now or you’re going to have a date in fifteen minutes. She waits for the reply, but nothing comes. She thought the person might have been put off by the aggressiveness. Oh no, I might have ruined Seulgi's chances instead.

“Hey!” Seulgi stops at the doorway, catching Wendy in the act, twiddling with her phone. She has just gotten out of the bathroom, hair dripping and soaking her pink cotton bathrobe.

“Who’s this random number asking you out, huh?” teases Wendy.

Seulgi spares no time to think and sprints towards Wendy to snatch her phone, causing the latter to immediately plop on her stomach on the bed, burying the phone beneath her. With no choice, Seulgi bends over her and runs her soft fingertips on her friend’s sides. Wendy bursts into a loud and shrill laughter, wriggling as Seulgi fervidly tickles to prise the phone away from her.

“Alright, I give up!” Wendy yells, stretching out her arm to Seulgi who quickly grabs her phone. Seulgi, flushed and disheveled, reads the text message.

Wendy, burdened by the weight of her friend sitting on her lap, says, “Move over.”

Seulgi realizes their position that she blushes before she gets up, then bites her lower lip. “Why would you do this?” she whines, pouting. She totally can’t comprehend the sent message either. Number one, she’s definitely not free tonight. Number two, she and Wendy are going to the fireworks party at the beach together with Joy later this evening. Number three, why… why would Wendy ignore the fact that she has no time for anyone else tonight but them, much less for a random person whose fingers just probably slipped and pressed the wrong number.

“Oh, c’mon now, loosen up,” Wendy urges, fixing stray strands of her brown hair. “You’ve been single since your conception. I think it’s time you go for it!”

Seulgi narrows her eyes. “What makes you think this person is pursuing me?”

“Well…” Wendy’s eyes dart around the cream and white laminate flooring and shrugs. “Are they not?” This is the problem with Seulgi: she’s unassuming. She’ll never be able to distinguish between kindness and romantic advances unless it’s outright stated, Wendy thinks.

“Look, whoever this is probably just made a mistake… if it was someone I know I would have had saved the contact number with a name,” explains Seulgi, staring dumbly at the message. The unknown number still hasn’t replied.

Wendy raises a brow in bewilderment. “What, you mean you didn’t give someone your number to text you…?”

“Oh wait-” Seulgi gasps, as if a switch is flicked in her brain.

She remembers now.

 

Chapter Text

 

One word: marbles.

Irene is about to lose her marbles. It has totally gone off-kilter. She’s pacing the carpeted part of the living room back and forth, with closed fists, unable to contain her giddiness. She picks up her phone that’s been lying on the coffee table for maybe a good five minutes now. Did she read the message right?

She settles on the couch, then folds and pulls her knees close to her. She reads it all over again. Nothing has changed. She wasn’t hallucinating. What does Seulgi mean by ‘it depends on what we’re gonna do tonight’? And what was that, a wink emoji? How should she reply to this?

She blows out a lungful of air, to subdue her nerves.

Yeri came in the morning, and briefed her about her ‘plan.’ It was simple. She is going to invite Seulgi for dinner. Make up a reasonable and convincing excuse for it: celebration of her dog’s birthday (which Irene doesn’t own), or her food are about to spoil so she’s cooking, or just some plain celebration of their friendship dinner. Oyster, watermelon, or cherry on the table, Yeri suggests. But Irene argues: those are weird. To which Yeri just rolls her eyes and says, red wine should set the mood.

That, and a game of Jenga: Truth-or-Dare.

(Yeri told her that she’s thought so much about all that she slept fitfully the night before, but the pizza was her greatest motivation. She almost had nothing but to her luck, she saw her cousin’s box of Jenga and immediately knew what to do. Irene grumbled at how half-assed it was, but Yeri wags a finger and objected that there’s nothing subtler and too on the nose at the same time than her plan.)

So, if Seulgi agrees, wouldn’t it be a date (though one-sided), at least?

Her phone buzzes, and she flinches, almost dropping her phone. ‘Oh my!’ she exclaims. She’s a little too jumpy, but it’s not as if she’s not sensitive, when she oftentimes gets stunned by sudden noise. Then it rings. A phone call from Seulgi herself.

‘H-hello,’ greets Irene, her voice croaky. She can almost hear the beat of her pulse.

‘It’s you, right? I mean, Irene?’ Seulgi inquires.

/

‘Well, I don’t think I can—’

Wendy snatches the phone from Seulgi, very swiftly that the thing slipped off the latter’s hands easily. She puts a hand over the receiver. ‘What do you mean you can’t?’ she complains, though softly, so that her voice is not picked up to the other line. ‘You should go.’

‘But…’ Seulgi tries to argue. ‘We’re going to the fireworks party.’

Wendy smiles reassuringly while shaking her head. ‘It’s fine. Just tell this girl that you’ll go.’

Seulgi takes the phone back, pursing her lips. She looks at Wendy, unsure of herself, but her friend just waves a dismissing hand while mouthing ‘Go on, go on.’ Wendy sits back on the edge of the bed.

‘Uh,’ Seulgi starts again. Irene has apparently been silent, waiting for her answer, the silence thick with apprehension. She was asked to come over, saying she’s going to cook dinner. A dinner for a friend. ‘Sure. I mean, I have the time tonight.’ She scratches her right temple with a finger.

‘Really?’ asks Irene, her voice pitched high, as if she couldn’t believe it. ‘You’ll come?’

‘Yes,’ she articulates and adds, ‘I’m honored to be your guest for dinner.’

Wendy throws herself on the bed, staring at the whitewashed ceiling with a stupid grin on her face. They’ve known each other since high school, and Seulgi has had a fair share of happy crushes, admirers, and unrequited love. They once even thought that they were in love with each other, but they were too young and silly to take anything seriously, and they held their friendship and platonic love to a greater priority than a romantic relationship.

Come college, their horizons have broadened, and they’ve met enough people to know that they really could only remain as friends. While she’s had a few relationships, Seulgi hasn’t engaged in one. Seulgi has her guard up, having been broken-herated over a girl whom she has gotten a bit intimate with but backed out once she proposed the commitment of being in a relationship. She has liked the girl for years, and for it to all end that way definitely crushed her. She might have not even moved on from that yet, Wendy surmises.

It might not be considered a date, but Wendy thinks this is the step in the right direction for Seulgi to break free from the walls she’s been hiding behind.

‘Woah, no need to be formal,’ Irene remarks, the chirpiness in her voice unmistakable. ‘I’ll wait for you then. Around eight o’clock.’

‘Alright. See you,’ Seulgi says.

‘Bye.’ Then a click is heard from the other line.

Seulgi crosses her arms and adorably pouts at Wendy, who’s now sitting back up after hearing the end of the call. ‘Joy is going to kill me.’ She’s bailing out to spend a night with a person who’s not merely just her friend, but a friend that Joy is highly skeptical of.

‘Why? Don’t worry, I’m gonna make up a decent excuse,’ Wendy assures her, pointing at her cutely with fingers shaped into a pistol. ‘Is she someone you just met recently? She’s actually nice, if you think about it. Cooking dinner for a friend she’s grateful she found. And you love food.’

Seulgi settles beside Wendy on the bed, still in her robe with a dripping wet hair. ‘She’s a customer at where Joy and I work. It’s uncanny, but she loves the blue lemonade drink we’re selling.’ She rests her hands and lets it sink to the bed, leaning her body back a bit. ‘So she’s been coming back. Just to buy that. She also decided she wanted to be friends with me, but Joy has been nagging me about it since.’

Wendy narrows her eyes, although she’s looking straight at Seulgi’s cabinet. ‘Why? Why is Joy making a fuss about it?’

‘Right?’ Seulgi concurs. ‘We almost fought about it at work. I don’t know, she’s doubting Irene’s intentions. So much so that she even called her names just because she asked for my number.’

‘Oh,’ Wendy drawls, too long that it sounds like a prolonged ‘woah’, as if she came to a sudden realization. She faces Seulgi and grips her arms. ‘Don’t mind Joy. What matters is that you take that friendship with an open mind. Be open to possibilities, Seulgi.’

‘You…’ Seulgi’s voice trails off. ‘You’re acting weird. Saying weird stuff too.’

‘Oh, not you. Don’t subject me to how Joy treated that Irene girl.’ Wendy is 85% sure that Irene likes Seulgi based on the clues, and this could all end up awry, a summer fling if a bit optimistic, but this is definitely an opportunity she can coax her friend to grab. ‘I’m just saying some things just can’t be looked at a face value. You know, you’re gonna be surprised with what you find underneath but you should be ready for what’s in store.’ That’s the most roundabout way she could go with Someone just probably invited you to a date, but you don’t know.

‘Alright,’ Seulgi utters in defeat, not prepared for the mental gymnastics this talk was heading towards. It’s not like she felt forced into going to a dinner with Irene, because she appreciates the gesture, and for that, she is somehow thankful that Wendy was around to urge her and make it convenient for her to ditch their hang out at the beach.

‘Enjoy the night. And I will enjoy mine,’ Wendy tells her.

/

Joy absently checks her watch. She has just arrived at the resort, leaning against a closed kiosk, watching people sway to the music in a makeshift disco on the beach front. There are huge audio speakers flanked beside a small stage propped up in front of the dance floor (which is basically sand) dappled with strobe lights. The setup is paid for by the management, but they’re earning from the partygoers purchasing ice cold drinks and food from the diners.

She’s waiting for Wendy and Seulgi, who both promised to go together. Looking at it now, there is nothing much to the fireworks party, but it was still a party they can enjoy. It’s a relaxing outdoor party though, with the swish of the sea and the whoosh of the wind melding into the dum dum dum of some loud pop song blaring through the speakers.

Staying rooted to the spot, Joy is approached by a guy in a loose black shirt and board shorts, holding a bottle of pilsner. Joy can smell the booze in his breath.

‘You alone?’ he began. He tousles his thick shock of black hair.

Joy doesn’t indulge him a stare, though grants him a reply, ‘No. I’m waiting for my friends.’ The music is a bit too far from where they are, so there is no need to raise the volume of her voice in order for a smooth-sailing conversation. Where are those two?

‘Oh,’ he mutters, as if to say Just my luck, before he chugs the beer. ‘I was just, you know, wondering if I can join you.’ Joy can see him staring at her in the corner of her eye.

‘I appreciate that, but uh… tonight’s a girls’ night only.’

He moves his head away from her and towards the disco. He nods slowly. ‘Alright,’ he says plainly, then leaves without a fuss.

Joy sighs as she watches him move to where the party was. He’s cute, to be fair, but she’s just not interested. Boys are a pain in the arse. She had dated two so far but couldn’t last with them. She just gets tired of them easily, for some reason, and she’s not sure she has the energy for it even if it’s just a one night thing.

Then, her vision turns pitch black. Warm hands are covering her eyes. She reaches an arm backward and touches a torso. The person behind her laughs softly, but she knows that voice.

‘Wendy?’ she asks.

Wendy giggles, before taking off her hands from the red head. Joy turns, and beams at the sight of her. She then looks over the shorter girl’s shoulder, then far into where the walkway and squat buildings are. It takes a few seconds before Wendy realizes Joy’s reaction.

‘Uh, Seulgi’s having indigestion, so sadly she couldn’t go,’ Wendy lies, trying to keep a straight face. The eastward wind ruffles her hair and she tucks it behind her ear.

‘Oh? You should’ve called me before you went. We could’ve called this thing off,’ Joy suggests, a hint of vexation flashing across her face. It’s not like she has never been alone with Wendy, ‘cause in fact, they’re clingy to each other in the university but whenever the three of them hang out, it always happens to be the three of them or otherwise they cancel their plans.

Wendy’s eyes widen. ‘No, no, no,’ she sputters. ‘It’s fine. We can still drink and dance.’

‘But we’re leaving out Seulgi unni,’ says Joy glumly. She especially wanted to talk about Irene with Seulgi tonight, and maybe repair some misunderstanding. Despite them not having straight up fought, she thinks Seulgi might have thought of her to be iffy, and ignoring the elephant in the room might just make it worse for their friendship.

Wendy cups her hands over Joy’s cheeks, the difference in their heights making her chin lift in an obvious angle. She stares at the taller girl’s eyes pleadingly. ‘Hey, look. Seulgi wouldn’t mind if we have some fun to ourselves. We can have this night, just for the two of us.’

Blood rushes up to Joy’s cheeks. Wendy is totally greasy, but this one just sort of makes the butterflies flutter in her stomach. W-why is she like this, she thinks, and she’s just gotten more embarrassed.

Wendy smiles, beyond satisfied at the response she got. It’s even more endearing to see the baffled and flushed look on the girl’s face. She moves her hands away, the warmth from the skin it just touched full on her hands. ‘Let’s go.’

Joy, still astonished, stands frozen before following behind Wendy who has ambled ahead to the disco.

/

Seulgi did not totally expect Irene to be all spruced up. The older girl is clad in a tight fitting, one-piece maroon dress that cuts mid-thigh. It has spaghetti straps, which reveals her bare shoulders and collarbones where a gold necklace pendant rests. She put on a light eye makeup, and a lip tint smeared on her lips. She also catches a whiff of the same perfume. Her long hair is curled at the ends, cascading down her shoulders. Seulgi gulps, having worn only a loose grey shirt and denim shorts. She hasn’t even bothered to tie her hair.

‘I didn’t know it would be too fancy,’ Seulgi utters. They’re in the living room right now, which Seulgi did not expect to be spacious and elegant, with a few fixtures and furniture on the periphery. There’s a chandelier hanging on the ceiling, and at the center a carpeted floor where the sofa set is situated. A huge television stands in front of it, backed against the wall. Across all that is a huge glass door framed with steel, dressed in a sheer cream curtain, leading to a medium-sized pool.

Beyond the living room is the dining room, which aren’t bound by anything but a few marble steps going up the latter as if it’s an elevated platform. Seulgi notices the probably fake poinsettia jutting out on a ceramic white vase on the table. That, and platefuls of fruits (oranges, apples, and pineapples), garlic bread, pasta, and steak. Her mouth is almost watering at the smell of the beef. There’s also a pitcher of water and a bottle of red wine. She wonders if Irene cooked anything from all that.

‘Well, is it too much for your liking?’ asks Irene, conscious about being overdressed for the occasion. She’s pressing her hands on the length of her dress, unknowingly sucking her stomach in. She ran this decision over head a lot, but she ends up restless thinking of looking drab, so there was no other option.

‘Not really. I just didn’t think it would be like this.’ Seulgi has guessed Irene must be a girl who’s from an affluent background, with her bearing and all, but she didn’t expect it to be this much. This rest house is too much for one person staying.

They walk towards the dining area quietly, wearing cotton indoor slippers (Irene has a couple for guests). Seulgi pulls a chair, settling where she’s facing the kitchen. Irene sits across her, facing the living room. The dining table is enough for six people, and they’re only on one end of it.

‘Are we expecting more guests?’ Seulgi inquires, her hands gripping the cutlery.

‘Uh, no,’ replies Irene flatly. It’s a bit too quiet that she can hear a pin drop. She didn’t know it might be too hard to pull this through after all. Seulgi doesn’t seem to feel the tension, but Irene feels like she’s going to run out of air to breathe if this solemnity goes on. ‘It‘s our friendship dinner, remember?’

Seulgi keenly scoops up and piles food into her plate. On the other hand, Irene just puts in almost morsels of it. She’s scared she might throw up, with the inexplicable nervousness building in the pit of her stomach. She didn’t know she’d be awkward like this, that she can’t even manage to think of a good conversation starter. However, it’s not that she’s hopeless; she’s just waiting for her confidence to kick in and wield it in full swing.

Though it may be good after all to be composed, and not to come at Seulgi too strong.

‘God, this steak is so tasty. It’s not like I can always eat something of this sort, but this beef is definitely exquisite,’ Seulgi compliments while her mouth is full. She chews loudly, her jaw grinding, and stays blabbering how scrumptious the food is.

‘Hey, don’t talk while you’re eating,’ scolds Irene, her tone playfully warm instead of harsh.

Seulgi swallows her food before she speaks again. ‘Sorry. It’s just too good. Thank you for inviting me, really. Although I don’t know why I deserve all this exactly.’ She sips from her cold glass of water. She smacks her lips audibly after.

Irene covers her mouth with a hand, chuckling.

‘Did you cook all this?’ asks the younger girl, now biting off a garlic bread.

‘Just the fettuccini and steak. I don’t have much time for more and complex recipes,’ explains the older girl. She nabs her lips with the napkin provided on the table. She went to the grocery store the morning after Yeri came, then cooked once Seulgi said yes to the invitation. She had a lot of time left to doll herself up and set the table before Seulgi arrived.

‘Oh,’ Seulgi utters in surprise. ‘You really didn’t have to bother with all of these. I feel a bit burdened, honestly. You’re just... doing so much for me for some reason. But I appreciate it, greatly.’ She’s never been friends with someone this rich, to lay it simply. It all feels so surreal.

Irene grins, that lopsided one, starting to be more comfortable with their conversation. ‘You really don’t have a clue, do you?’ she tells the other, arching one of her eyebrows. She sticks her fork onto the pasta then finishes her food.

‘W-what…’ Seulgi mumbles, staring at the beauty in front of her dumbly. Truth be told, she can hardly keep her eyes off Irene. Her double-lidded doe eyes, the perfect tall slope of her nose, the shape of her face, and even her seemingly huge ears are attractive. Her appearance is too magnetic, much more tonight when there’s nothing else distracting her. And oh, that smile. She can gawk at it all night.

Irene picks up the red wine off the table. ‘Some wine?’

Seulgi sheepishly nods her head.

/

None of them has finished their first glass of red wine during dinner, so they brought it to the living room and placed the bottle and the glasses on the coffee table. They’re on the carpet, with Irene unpacking the box of Jenga that Yeri brought.

They both stack the blocks: the blank ones, and the red and black ones with the truth or dare already printed on it. They sit athwart each other, immersed in what they were doing. At first, Irene was bashful about asking Seulgi to play the game, thinking it was a tacky way to kill time but Seulgi was delighted and psyched about it like a kid.

‘I haven’t played something like this for long now,’ Seulgi goes on, ‘This edition is new too. Truth or dare makes it even more fun!’

For some warm-up, they’ve pulled out six blank blocks and placed them on top without toppling the tower. Consequently, Seulgi pushes out a black one in the middle with a thumb, then reads, ‘What’s your greatest fear?’

Another moment of hushed silence falls.

‘Being given up on by people I care about,’ answers Irene, with a somber look on her face. She did not intend to dampen the mood, but it was the truth. She desires to elaborate but then hesitates, and finally decides against it so it doesn’t suck out the fun from the barely fun game. Somehow, she dreamed of this day to be better than how it was becoming but after all, there’s only two of them and they hardly know each other. She will just have to put up with the awkwardness of it all.

Seulgi blinks twice, wanting to prod further but then urges Irene to do her move, pointing with open palms on top of one another instead of a single finger.

Another black block is pulled out. ‘Have you ever been in a relationship?’ quizzes Irene, pulling down the hem of her dress that is riding up. She furls her fingers over the block which actually reads, What’s the worst thing your parents ever saw you do? Perhaps she should keep the ball rolling, she decides. Wasn’t she the one who’s brought themselves into this friendship since day one, anyway? Seulgi just so happens to have rolled with it.

‘Nope,’ Seulgi denies. She shortly take a glimpse of the ceiling, then says, ‘I almost did though, but the girl chickened out.’

‘Really?’ Irene’s expression brightens up, receiving the revelation with a mix of dubiousness and inevitable relief. A girl? ‘So… you’re a lesbian?’ It slips from her mouth before she fully realizes what she said, or asked, in this matter.

Seulgi snorts and draws up a smirk. ‘You’re only allowed one question per block.’

Irene drops her gaze to the floor, then reaches for her glass of red wine. She drains the rest of it to her mouth before placing back the empty glass to the table. She tries to fight back the stupid grin that’s beginning to form in the corner of her mouth.

Seulgi, crouched on the floor, withdraws a red block this time, cautious not to knock the tower. ‘Kiss the person on your left,’ she instructs. She darts her eyes at her playmate, and regards her with a teasing stare.

And that’s it, Irene is like a pot of kettle about to whistle. She can almost feel the steam rising from her head. Her head is sort of spinning, unable to so much as process what is transpiring at the moment. What exactly has Yeri lead her to, and was this the brightest plan after all?

‘There’s nobody on your left,’ points out Seulgi.

The words knock the wind out of Irene, or it’s as if a cold bucket of water was splashed at her. ‘Y-yeah?’ Irene didn’t notice that she has been clenching her fist. ‘You’re… you’re right.’ She struggles to fake out a laughter, that it comes out like a loud vibrating, mechanical sound from her throat.

‘What, were you thinking of kissing me?’ Seulgi narrows her eyes at her, a mischievous snicker escaping her lips. She liked how Irene was so tongue-tied.

‘Hey!’ Irene yells, exaggerating to kill the feeling of embarrassment. ‘I wasn’t! Anyway, I don’t want to play this game anymore.’ She stands up, fixing her dress, that she probably regrets wearing since Seulgi isn’t wowed by it at all.

‘Why?’ Seulgi is taken aback.

‘It’s… boring. Maybe we should do something else.’ No more of this wild game, she thinks.

‘Such as?’

‘I don’t know!’ she exclaims again. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to have an outburst. I don’t know. What would you like to do?’

/

Thirty minutes pass and they’ve drank two glasses of red wine. Seulgi is a bit tipsy; she’s gotten a little more cheerful and has a smile plastered on her face. Beside her is Irene, a towel draped over her shoulders, for the night was cold. Although they’ve discussed the most mundane things, Seulgi learned that Irene is the only daughter of a businessman. Her mom died when she was a child which caused her father to be overprotective that Irene couldn’t even think of batting an eye over prospect lovers in her teens. Just as a traditional man would impose, he wanted his daughter to finish her studies first before getting a boyfriend.

They’re outside, dipping their feet in the pool, under the spectating evening sky dotted with stars. The moonlight illuminates the whole landscape. Seulgi sees Irene as even more ethereal as the natural light cast on her produces a white sheen on her profile.

‘You’re beautiful,’ Seulgi purrs in spite of herself. She couldn’t discern if those words were still in her head or she’s spoken it out loud.

Irene automatically blushes at the pronouncement, then purses her lips. ‘That’s the wine talking, isn’t it?’

Seulgi ignores the older girl’s attempt to shrug off a well-intentioned compliment. ‘No. Whether I’m sober or not, you’re beautiful. It’s nothing special coming from me, though. I’m just one of the many people who’s probably told you that.’ She stares transfixed at the fragmented and distorted shape of the moonlight on the water.

‘Don’t think that,’ replies Irene, regretting that she played it coy. ‘It matters, coming from you.’

‘And why is that?’ Seulgi asks cheekily, looking up at Irene who won’t meet her gaze.

‘Because you said it sincerely, and not just as an afterthought.’ She meant it, even thought it was her way to dodge the question. She doesn’t understand why she’s like this though. The mood and their proximity should be a great opportunity for her to utterly flirt, but she keeps pulling back each time Seulgi pushes.

She probably doesn’t want to admit her crush on Seulgi after all. Maybe she just wants it to be this way, for now. For things to move slowly, and not too fast.

‘Ah, Irene. You’re an enigma,’ Seulgi tells her, recalling the word from their literature class in college. ‘To choose me to be one of your friends, when you’re clearly only keeping a close circle.’ She hauls her left leg briefly, then dips it back to the pool water again. ‘I keep wondering why. Even Joy has kept wondering why. I’m starting to think you’re not real and this is all a fever dream.’

Then, silence.

Should I just tell her? Irene ponders. So that was why the red head was behaving that way towards her yesterday. They’re completely stumped.

‘Well, actu-‘

A firework darts across the sky, red and gold bursting into vibrant spirals of light. Irene jumps in surprise, covering her ears in anticipation of more explosions. Seulgi watches her, amused. Irene didn’t strike her to be a scaredy-cat, for she always looked like certain and confident with herself. She glances on a few more colors streaking the night sky, red and blue booming before it disappears into thin air.

Not too long, she pulls Irene close, into a hug.

Irene is too shocked to react, that words are caught in her throat, but she just goes along with it and leans close, gritting her teeth as more fireworks whistle and blast. Within Seulgi’s embrace, is a solace she never thought she’d find. She listens to the calmness in Seulgi’s chest to drown out the noise in the sky and her frantic beating heart.

She has totally lost her marbles.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Joy hums to a song while scrubbing the postmix dispenser clean on the sink.

It’s a sunny Monday, quarter to eight in the morning. Seulgi arrives in the kiosk with her hair wet, unkempt and frizzy, and confounded by the sight before her. Joy cut her hair short, and dyed it black? Her red hair had been fading to pink anyway, and she only had it two months ago.

“Joy, you’re back,” quips Seulgi, dropping her satchel on a Monobloc chair.

The younger girl looks up, and smiles, “Redhead Joy was borne out of bad decisions, but she will always be remembered.” Joy impulsively dyed her hair red after she broke up with her boyfriend, a bassist of a rock band in their school, with bad drinking habits, possessive, and just flat out unbearable once she came to her senses. She wanted to feel free and rebellious with the red hair, a girl whom no boy can trample on.

“And is there any reason for the sudden change in ‘do?” asks Seulgi.

Joy turns on the faucet and washes the dispenser - it’s not the huge mechanical ones used in fast food chains, just a container that’s built like a jar, but still bulky nonetheless. “The color was fading, and also, split ends. Not to mention I can’t stand the heat with such long hair.”

“You’re still pretty, anyway,” compliments Seulgi then questions, “How was the fireworks party?”

Joy turns off the faucet and lifts the beverage dispenser, placing it beside the sink. “It wasn’t much, but still fun. Nothing like you missed anything in your life.” The night parties in their university had much more flair, and the people were wilder.

She refrains from elaborating, partly because strange things happened. Wendy got drunk, and was touchy. Not that she loathed it, but she was confused by her friend’s behavior. All the more when she leaned over to her, and Joy panicked for a brief second that she was going to aim for her lips, but whispered on her ear instead to say, “I love you, Joy.” She had dismissed the notion that Wendy was pertaining to a whole different matter than just a platonic sentiment, yet it made the insides of her stomach somersault, and she doesn’t know what to think about her reaction.

“Hm, really? At least you and Wendy still enjoyed it,” Seulgi remarks, already crouched over the counter, wiping its surface with a rag.

“There was something I wanted to talk to you about that night. Too bad, you got indigestion,” Joy says.

Seulgi pauses, and without looking back at Joy, scrunches up her eyes and grins in amusement. Wendy’s excuse for her was that she got indigestion? “Ah... right. Sorry about that. I wish I could have joined,” she lies. Shortly after the fireworks she left, though before she could go out the door Irene had tugged at the hem of her shirt, and when she turned Irene reached for her cheeks to peck a kiss. For a goodbye and as a thanks for indulging her invitation, she said. She had blushed the whole way home just mulling over it, and she blushes now, remembering it.

“Can I ask a question?”

“Sure,” says Seulgi, while she continues to polish the counter.

“What would you do if a girl - a long time friend - just randomly tells you she loves you? And you know for a fact that you’re straight, while she swings both ways, but you still get this indescribable queasy feeling at her confession.” Joy has been bugged by it for the rest of the weekend, and she had wanted to text Wendy what was that about. However, Wendy might have not even remembered it, so she gave up and refused to risk stepping through burning coals.

“But I’m not straight, Joy. How should I know?”

“Right...” Joy’s voice trails off. “You’re the wrong person to ask.”

“Why are you even wondering about that?” quizzes Seulgi, stashing the rag into the drawer after making sure the counter is spick and span clean.

“Nevermind. It doesn’t matter,” Joy sighs defeatedly. If what Wendy told her was serious, how is she going to go about it? Wouldn’t that mean she’s bisexual? And would it not be bad for their friendship?

Joy pulls a chair and sits, and stares out into the sea. “Anyway, I really wanted to talk about the way I treated Irene the other day.”

“Hm?” Seulgi turns to the side to look at Joy.

“I have to admit... I have gone too far. I hope you don’t think I’m such a tool. I think Irene is a nice girl, but if I have to be honest with you, I really have a gut-feeling that she’s hiding something. I’m sorry but I couldn’t shrug it off,” Joy tells her, dropping her gaze into her fidgety hands, before sheepishly looking up at Seulgi.

“I have totally forgotten about that. Don’t worry Joy, I am not mad at you. Though, I beg to disagree... Irene... she’s nothing but a good friend,” Seulgi insists. Then, she feels her pointy ears warming up. She suddenly feels hot at the thought of her.

Joy creases her eyebrows. “Why are your ears too red?”

“Huh?”

“Is it because you can’t admit that Irene is—” Joy cuts herself, and observes, “See, now your cheeks are as red as the ketchup I’m putting on the burger.”

Seulgi’s throat is dry. “What...”

Joy crosses her arms and scowls at her, “As I was saying, Irene is... no, what, look at you, I swear you’re a beet!”

Seulgi bites her lower lip, her face glowing much redder.

“Each time I mention her name the redness in your face spreads further,” Joy swears.

Seulgi vigorously shakes her head.

“Irene—”

And just like that, the blood seeps from Seulgi’s cheeks to the rest of her face, that even her neck is trying to match the color.

“God, why are you blushing so hard?!” Joy gasps, uncomprehending. “Don’t tell me—oh my god! Seulgi unni, you can’t be serious!”

 

 

“I told you the plan was ingenious,” boasts Yeri, seated beside Irene on the couch of her living room. “The Jenga trick works 99% of the time. 1% happens if the other player knows the blocks doesn’t have the question you asked.” She curls up her lips smugly while dropping the fake statistics.

“Okay, fine,” Irene is forced to admit. She picks up the cup of hot chocolate on the coffee table and sips from it. She hisses as it burns her tongue. “It should work or else I would have called the police on you for scamming me.”

Yeri grabs a pillow, cradles it on her lap, and regards the older girl with a knowing smile. “So, what else happened aside from finding out she’s single and a lesbian?”

Puckering her lips, Irene puts back the cup, huffs, and reports, “With nothing to do after I stopped the game, we drank some more wine. Then she notices the pool outside, and mesmerized by the scenery of the night, she pleads me to go there and dip our feet into the water. I tell her about my parents, and how my strict dad has forbidden me from dating unless I get a degree. Then, she tells me I’m beautiful,” she pauses, glancing at Yeri who grins warmly listening to her, then goes on, “And of course it made me really happy though I tried not to show it.” Her fingers absently pinches the square pillow.

“And?”

“She tells me she’s been wondering why I wanted to get close to her, of all people,” sighs Irene. The memory of the night is vivid in her head, and she kept going over it that she’s been distracted, that the following day, when she did the laundry, she only snapped out of her trance when the washing machine overflowed with water. “That’s when I also realized that was the reason her friend was doubting my intentions. I’m like an intruder.”

Yeri pouts at that. “The red head you told me about?”

“Yes,” concurs Irene, nodding her head.

“Perhaps you should not leave her out too, you know? I’d like to think those were just symptoms of jealousy. I mean, friends do get jealous.”

“Fair point. I might have had come off really sketchy,” she mumbles. “Having snubbed Joy the first meeting wasn’t really wise. I haven’t really thought of it like that, gosh, thank you. Anyway, I’m conflicted if I should confess soon. I feel like I am moving too fast.”

“You mean Seulgi still doesn’t get it?” Yeri asks in shock. How oblivious could that girl get? “Boy, who even believes in friendship dinners? It’s an outright ruse. And a dinner for only the two of you, at that. I told you, you should’ve had oysters too, that might have changed things.”

Irene playfully slaps Yeri’s arm. “Ugh, she can’t take a hint. I worked hard to doll up myself but she goes in wearing a shirt and shorts? Isn’t that preposterous? She would not even bat an eye at how nice I looked. She should be grateful I like her too much to let it pass.”

Yeri giggles, patting the soft pillow. “I’d like to agree with you, but you never said it was formal, nor was it a date she needs to prepare for.”

“Alright, fine, again,” surrenders Irene. Seulgi told her what she needed to hear at the pool anyway, and she was still attractive in her eyes despite only wearing plainclothes that night. “Anyway, there’s more.”

“Oh, you mean your attempts at seducing her wasn’t totally fruitless?”

“I was going to admit my crush on her, but some stupid fireworks exploded in the sky. I got surprised, I mean, you know me-” she stares at Yeri for confirmation, “And I was just covering my ears, wishing it would soon be over, but maybe it wasn’t so bad that it went on for quite a while because Seulgi hugged me.”

Yeri cups her hand in her mouth and squeals. “Really?!”

“Yeah, we were like that for maybe a minute or so, until the fireworks stopped. She was like a big teddy bear, her arms were around me, and I was just frozen, leaning on her chest. I swear I wished I wrapped my arms around her too, but my heart was beating so fast and I couldn’t move,” narrates Irene, unable to stifle the mirth not only in her lips, but also her eyes. Seulgi might have been just trying to keep her from being jumpy, but it was still a big deal to her.

Yeri just keeps on making giggly, unintelligible noises, into her hand.

“And there’s one more.”

“God, Irene, you’re going to kill me,” jokes the blonde.

“I kissed her on the cheek before she went out of the door.” This time she buries her face in her hands, blushing in both giddiness and embarrassment. It was quick and quiet, and she had to tiptoe to reach Seulgi’s soft cheeks.

“Oh my goooooosh,” Yeri gushes, shaking Irene’s shoulders. “You really went for it!”

“I had to,” says Irene, “and I hope she got the message.”

 

 

Seulgi gapes when she spots Irene and Yeri meters away, heading toward their kiosk. A gangly boy sees her distracted and pries the bottle of lemonade from her suspended hand, and leaves coins on the counter before he runs away. Snapped from daze, Seulgi counts the coins and hisses. He paid her 100-won short.

“Don’t tell me you got duped by the boy because your favorite customer is coming and you have an attention span of a goldfish?” Joy asks, having watched Seulgi in the corner of her eye while stuffing the burger. She hands the finished product to the customer who hands her the payment and waits for his change. Joy punches the purchase on the cash register then pulls out bills from the drawer. She rips the receipt and together with the change, gives it to the customer with her practiced smile.

Seulgi frowns, “Please don’t tell her.”

“Truly you’re more worried about being found out that you have a crush on someone than getting your pocket burned because of your incompetence?” Joy wonders when Seulgi began liking Irene. She hasn’t shown that kind of reaction last week. This gap of knowledge unsettles her, because this leap in development just does not make sense. If Seulgi had liked Irene from the moment she laid her eyes on the girl, it would’ve manifested. She would have had known.

“It’s 100-won, Joy. It’s more bearable than you telling on me,” Seulgi retorts, cracking her knuckles nervously. She was certain she would not fall back into this trap again - catching feelings for someone way out of her league. She thought she had numbed over her first love that went awry, and that she spurned affection over any girl for a while. But she realizes how frail and vulnerable she is, when all it takes is a peck on a cheek. That, and how unexpectedly warm and cuddly Irene felt in her arms, when her tipsy self just wanted to protect her from being scared over the fireworks instead of pondering about the softness of her skin against hers.

Seulgi huffs, and she could not feel her face.

With a sealed glossy paper bag in hand, Irene sits on one of the stools provided in front of the counter and Yeri takes her place next to her. “Hello, Seulgi,” greets Irene with a disarming smile on her face. She notices a hint of a flare on Seulgi’s cheeks. Must be the weather, she thinks.

Seulgi gulps, and manages to part her lips to say, “H-hi, Irene.”

“So where’s the red head?” asks Yeri out of the blue, after scanning the place and seeing a black-haired girl leaning against at the wall at the side, silently watching them.

Irene turns to Yeri with widened eyes, as if to say, Did you really just say that?

Yeri shrugs.

“What?” Joy snorts, chuckling. “Are you looking for me, huh, blondie? Do you two call me that in your, I don’t know, girly talk?” Gossips, she omits.

“Ah, sorry about that,” apologizes Irene immediately. “Yeri is a close friend of mine, and I happened to tell her about you in passing, because you weren’t around when I brought her here,” she lies and goes on, “I brought a gift for you, though. I hope you wouldn’t mind.” She slides the paper bag on the counter towards Joy.

“A gift?” Joy mutters, a bit confused. She moves close to the counter and heft the bag. “Me?”

Irene nods. “Well... I thought as friends, we should... I mean, I should take a step to make you feel more comfortable towards me.”

“She loves buying her friends gifts, so don’t find it odd,” Yeri tells a mystified Joy. She was the one who suggested to do that. They dropped by the local mall to buy some expensive makeup kit, though for Irene it’s just spending loose change. Irene’s generosity isn’t untrue, though.

Joy feels embarrassed. She must have had struck a chord that Irene had to compensate for well, whatever it is. She looks up at Seulgi who just urges her to accept it. “Thank you, but really, you did not have to do this.”

“It’s nothing, trust me. I have invited Seulgi over last Saturday night—”

“You what?!” Joy interrupts, taken aback by the information.

Seulgi is startled, frozen, her head spins. Did she just hear that right?

“I cooked a dinner for her, as a gift, for our friendship,” says Irene without much care, as if her brain has gotten accustomed to spouting out lies when necessary. It’s not as if Seulgi would have taken it any other way. It wasn’t a date, but just a dinner, she thinks to herself, in defeat.

Joy crosses her arms over her chest, indignant. “A-ha,” she says to Seulgi, her tone caustic. Indigestion, huh?

Seulgi cowers at the side, avoiding to meet Joy’s eyes. “Anyway, you both are ordering the same thing, right?” she asks the two girls who nod in assent, diverting the topic. She bends down to open the cooler, and bites her lower lip. Joy is going to kill me..

 

 

Wendy shoves a shot glass of soju in Seulgi’s hand.

“Drink up, you’re going to need it,” advises the brunette. Seulgi phoned her to sup together at a small and cramped diner along the highway, located halfway through their homes. Her friend briefed her about being found out of her whereabouts and skipping their meeting last Saturday evening, so she’s asking for help. Wendy called Joy on the phone, urging to join her for dinner, in the guise of “some urgent matter she needs to talk about”. Joy responded she’s going right away.

Seulgi pushes the drink away. “No, I have to face this sober,” she insists. Joy treated her to a cold shoulder the rest of the day, after Irene and Yeri left, at least. She tried to explain to her that she couldn’t refuse Irene’s invitation, and that she would be mad if she knew, and that she was sincerely sorry, but Joy was having none of it and just puts on earplugs connected to her phone each time she has a break. Joy left ahead of her after work. She has called her several times but was repeatedly ignored.

Wendy swallows the drink in one go, and hisses. “I’ll talk to Joy, don’t worry,” she assures the sad girl. She then picks up the chopsticks and digs into her half-consumed plate of black bean noodles. She slurps and savors the taste in her mouth. “Anyway, how was your dinner with that girl?”

Seulgi leans her elbows on the table, and rests her cheeks on her clenched hands. “I enjoyed it,” she starts, temporarily forgetting her fight with Joy, and goes, “She cooks deliciously. I could tell she put so much effort for that dinner.” Then, she confesses, coyly, “She was beautiful. Really breathtakingly beautiful, and I wish I told her that the moment I stepped into her house.” Her eyes goes dreamy as she remembers Irene in the tight-fit dress.

Wendy pats Seulgi’s head, happy at the result of her work. She knows Seulgi really wanted to go, but just did not have the spine to tell her right away. “Does this mean you have mutual feelings for each other?”

“What?” Seulgi asks in surprise. “No, you’re crazy. You haven’t met her. She looks so unreal, I swear, and I doubt she’d like someone like me.”

“Hey, why is your esteem so low? Don’t anchor your self-confidence over what happened with you and Jisoo. She dumped you, and it’s all in the past now,” Wendy argues. “Irene asked you out for a dinner, because you’re apparently an important person to her. I’m sorry but I couldn’t think of it as anything else but a date.”

“A date?” Seulgi blinks rapidly. “I don’t think so. You see, she’s a daughter of a rich businessperson. Like a wealth I couldn’t even imagine. She’s very refined, very well-mannered, but still down-to-earth, which I love about her. She’s just a very generous person, and her offering to cook a dinner for me shows that. She even gave Joy a gift,” she pauses, observing a slightly shocked expression on Wendy’s face. “That must be how kind people from the high society operate, you know? But I’m not an expert on that matter. Anyway, she’s just staying here over the summer, and she just wanted to find some friends. I just happened to be there, in that lemonade kiosk, when she wanted a drink. It could have been anyone else,” she rambles on, wistful. She refuses to think of the kiss on the cheek as anything more than just a kind and friendly gesture.

“God, you’re such a downer,” Wendy complains, pouring soju into her glass and drinks. “You sound sad, and in denial.”

“I mean, I don’t want to assume. She’s probably straight, for all I know,” laments Seulgi. She might just be running into another heartbreak.

“Well,” Wendy replies, perfectly understanding her friend. Has Joy even thought about what she told her? Maybe not, the girl is straight as a ruler and would just shrug it off, she thinks. She began having an interest for Joy when she cried to her, after breaking up with her boyfriend. Something about the blush in Joy’s cheeks and tears glistening in her eyes aroused something in her, that she had even wanted to kiss her on the lips, but of course it wasn’t an opportune time and knew she had to back off. It’s not that it started from that moment either; she has always found Joy attractive, but the fact that they were in the same circle of friends, and that skinship was natural between them, confused her feelings.

It’s a damn headache to like straight people, when you’re not.

Just then, Joy appears inside the diner. Wendy spots her, and waves a hand. Joy realizes that Seulgi is the one opposite Wendy, back turned to her. She scrambles to her feet and pivots back, heading for the exit. However, Wendy rushes up to her, grips her arm, and drags her to their table yelling “Please, please, let’s all talk.” Joy shushes her, mindful of the other customers whose peace just got disturbed.

Joy grouchily slumps into the seat beside Wendy.

“I’m really sorry,” says Seulgi, eyes downcast, her voice sounding like it’s about to crack.

“You lied to me, a friend of three years, just so your fragile lesbian ass could wile your time away with some girl who popped out of nowhere. So that’s what this friendship means to you, huh?” Joy chides. She doesn’t care if they think she’s petty, because to her this matter is not frivolous to be swept under the rug.

“Joy, you’re being harsh,” Wendy pipes in. “I’m the one who urged her to go.”

Joy arches a brow. “Oh, so there isn’t only one, but two liars around me!”

“I thought you’d be mad if I chose to go to Irene instead of with you.” Seulgi takes a glimpse of grumpy Joy, before looking back into her food, absently poking it with chopsticks. “I was so conflicted, but Wendy prodded me to say yes to Irene.”

“Why would I be mad? I am your friend, not your in-law.”

“You have been... very guarded over Irene and I thought you don’t trust her enough to be alone with me,” explains Seulgi.

“And? That was my opinion. I was just being cautious over a stranger. I am not holding you back from anything,” Joy counters, finding it ridiculous. “Besides I didn’t know you have a crush on Irene all that time. No wonder you were willing to just give your number.”

“That was not it—”

“You’re drooling over someone who shows you an ounce of kindness. I mean, I’m not totally against it, but that weirdo probably likes the blue lemonade more than you. I mean, who drinks that sugary drink on a daily basis? She’s going to catch diabetes,” Joy grumbles, then rolls her eyes at her friends. “Am I wrong?”

Seulgi and Wendy bursts into good-natured laughter. Joy can’t help giggling at that.

“Joy, and your fat brain,” remarks Wendy before taking another sip of soju.

“I promise we’re not going to do that again,” says Seulgi sheepishly. “It was really just spur of the moment and I didn’t know what to do.”

“All because you’ve already made up your mind, and didn’t know how to break it to your friends that you’re prioritizing somebody over us,” Joy puts the words into Seulgi’s mouth. “The next you both ditch me because you’re supposedly sick, I’m going to need a medical certificate for proof.”

Wendy cackles, “I told Seulgi, she’s in denial. I doubt she had just started liking Irene that night.”

Seulgi squishes her cheeks. “You’re telling me you know me more than I know myself?”

“No,” says Wendy, “I’m just guessing you might have just not realized you had wanted to hit it off with her even way before that dinner but you’re trying to repress your feelings, and you didn’t want to assume. You’re very in denial, Seulgi. I can tell you’re hoping that she likes you back.”

Seulgi leans back onto her chair, puffing her face. “I’m going to need that drink, now,” she points to the soju bottle.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

When Irene snaps her lids open, she knows something is different.

It spooks her, yet she scrambles to her feet, flinging the duvet away and leaving the bed unmade. Downstairs she overhears sounds: a cupboard shutting with a thud, a chair scraping against the floor, and a spoon clinking with a china cup—which could only mean another living being is around the rest house. She descends the stairs, footsteps heavy, and her heart beating wild. She is certain she locked the door before she slept last night, and it’s only Yeri whom she told the passcode.

Upon reaching the doorway of the kitchen, her feet stop abruptly, held back in astonishment and relief at the sight before her. She sighs, and her tensed shoulders relax.

“Dad!” she exclaims, then pads toward the grey-haired man on the table, peering through his thick, rimless glasses. She puts her arms around him and asks, “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to visit?”

He grins with his thin lips, and cheekily replies, “Surprise.”

Irene grabs the chair next to him and sits. She inhales the scent of coffee that’s been pervading the air. She assumes he probably wanted to catch her doing some naughty business. Like throwing messy parties or bringing in random guys.

“I’ve been enjoying my stay,” she begins, “It’s a good break from the bustle of the city, and I like the peace of this place.” The only turbulence, really, is her unending quest to catch Seulgi’s attention, and affection. Hopefully, it won’t be good for naught.

“That’s good to hear,” he nods, before sipping from his cup. He notices the glow from his daughter’s face, different from the days she looked worn out, poring over her notes, sapped of energy after school.

“Thank you for letting me go on this vacation,” mutters Irene. She urged her dad to take her to a place she’s never been to before for the summer, and he obliged.

Her dad waves a dismissing hand. “No, no,” he says, “I thought I should be a bit more lax with you, since you’re all grown up now. And I know you’ll be bored out of your wits back home. I trust you on your own.”

Not really, not when you still have to check up on me like this, Irene thinks. Maybe it’s because he has to raise her all alone, and he’s afraid she gets knocked up by some rando, but she believes his overprotectiveness is totally unwarranted. She has lived her life trying to do the right things and trying not to displease him. She thought she has now the right to earn his trust, but still, he’s cautious even if he makes it a point not to be obvious.

“Dad, you know I promised, and I haven’t broken it,” she points out. The morning light becomes brighter and it spills into the kitchen through the east window.

He clears his throat before he speaks, “Have you been eating well?”

Irene pauses with her train of thought. Changing the topic, that’s what her dad’s always been good at. Lest she start asking for things. “I do. I eat outside often.”

“Figures,” he mumbles, his eyes darting to the cupboards. “Your food storage is undersupplied. Some of the grocery items I bought are still around, untouched, but the bulk of it has been consumed, and has not been replenished.”

“W-well, I swear I don’t spend that much, and I still cook myself dinner. It’s only been a week past, so I haven’t really thought about doing proper grocery shopping,” she stammers. The dinner she made for Seulgi had leftovers that lasted for two more days.

“And you have a fridge with bottles of blue lemonade. I thought you don’t drink them?”

“Oh,” Irene mutters. Why is he suddenly concerned with my diet? He probably doesn’t think I can live independently, she muses, pouting her lips. “Yeri stocked it. She bought from the store at the resort nearby, for her friends who bailed on her. She couldn’t take them all home.”

His dad snickers, “Ah, that kid.” He sips from his cup of coffee and sighs, “Anyway, you should eat more and make meals of your own. But for now I suggest we grab lunch outside, and I’ll have to leave before the day is over.”

 

 

 

 

The doubt doesn’t leave her mind.

Seulgi is flipping burgers in Joy’s stead, who’s taking her lunch. The bright, midday heat is unrelenting. She wonders if Irene would drop by today. She just didn’t seem to miss a day, to have her parched throat quenched with ice-cold blue lemonade.

But at the back of her mind, she hopes Irene doesn’t.

She’s terrified, to be honest, to deal with her feelings. I’ve been in denial about how I truly feel for Irene, she thinks, and now I don’t know what I’d do. Wendy is right, like on most things. Acknowledging it is consuming her, and she knows that’s the very reason why she refuses to let her emotions win her over. So what now, if she likes Irene. She’ll be gone in a few weeks, and it won’t matter.

The glimmering sea is calm; the waves pushing forth are steady in its rhythm. The customer leaves with a grin, and box of pan-fried cheeseburger. And Seulgi heaves a sigh, gazing into the horizon where the sky and sea meets. So what now, she ponders again, holding up her chin with a hand.

Summers, and the muddled things they bring.

 

 

 

 

When her dad leaves, Irene is flung back again into the emptiness of the rest house. It’s lonely on most nights, but when she thinks about waking up another day and seeing Seulgi again, it doesn’t bother her that much. But today, after her dad dragged her to a restaurant and to the local shopping mall after, she decided to skip visiting the kiosk.

The rush of summer days does get to her. In a blink, it will be over. She will have to head back to the city again, and join the pompous, indifferent, or insufferable college block mates who either just want to date her or to ask favors from her.

She didn’t plan on finding a person to swoon over when she decided to have a vacation in this place. It just happened. When she saw Seulgi the first time, her love radar pinged, cheesy as it sounds.

And because of the circumstance she’s in, free from the prying and nosy parental figure she calls Dad, she partakes the thrill to pursue her. She has never done that before, in her entire life. It was always the boys reaching out and trying to woo her, and she disliked every single one of them. The girls, she had befriended a few, those that do not hate her for being pretty and getting attention, and all of them gushed over anyone with a phallus. There wasn’t much choice for her, and dating wasn’t her priority anyway.

She switches the tv on, and surfs channels. She hugs a pillow and pulls her knees close to her. The screen stays on a cartoon. It doesn’t take ten minutes and she begins to yawn.

She leaps up from her somnolence when her phone buzzes in her pocket. Unexpectant, she is surprised to find that it’s from Seulgi.

 

From: SEULGI ♥

you didn’t drop by the kiosk today

  Seen 8.45

 

To: SEULGI ♥

why, did you miss me? 😉

  Sent

 

Irene bites her lower lip, then grins sweetly and widely. She feels something in the pit of her stomach. Something invigorating. She titters girlishly.

 

From: SEULGI 

😊

i diddd

but it’s great that you didn’t

  Seen 8.50

 

Irene frowns. What does she mean?

 

To : SEULGI ♥

what do you mean?

  Sent

 

From: SEULGI 

you terrify me

 Seen 8.53 

 

A big sigh escapes Irene’s lips. Terrify her? She has done nothing that morbidly cruel to turn her off, surely?

 

To: SEULGI ♥

hey, that’s unfair

i’ve been nice to you

  Sent

From: SEULGI 

you terrify my poor little heart

  Seen 8.55

 

“What?” Irene blurts out loud, brows furrowed in confusion. Seulgi doesn’t seem like herself.

 

To: SEULGI ♥

are you alright?

i’ll visit you tomorrow i promise

don’t be mad at me

  Sent

 

She waits for a reply, but nothing comes. Maybe she fell asleep, she thought. When a good fifteen minutes has passed, she gives up and turns off the tv, then goes to bed. Before she falls asleep she sends another message to Seulgi.

 

To: SEULGI ♥

good night!!!!!!

  Sent

 

 

 

 

Seulgi is already snoring at the table, her head on her arms. Her phone slips from her hand, and Wendy catches it before it drops to the floor and slips it into the pocket of her bag. Her friend just suddenly started texting in the middle of their drink session, and then conked out. Wendy thought she was still awake.

“She’s the one who asked us to drink with her, and she already knocked out,” Wendy quips, red in the face from inebriation.

Joy, across the table, drinks a shot then hisses sharply. “She’s caught the love bug… the love bug…” She’s singsonging it merrily while swaying her head.

Joy noticed how preoccupied Seulgi seemed throughout the day. At times, she had to snap her out of her trance. Her friend is in too deep, and it doesn’t look like she’ll get out of it anytime soon.

“Well, well, I don’t think we should get wasted or we might pass out too,” says Wendy. She’s more than happy that Joy is with her for company, though. Her cheeks are blushing; she looks like a peach, and Wendy could only wish she could pinch it with her fingers. Then her eyes fall upon Joy’s plump lips, and that’s when she gulps. She shakes the thought off her head by pouring herself another shot glass of soju.

Joy halts her by holding her wrist. Whines, “You just said no more drinking.”

“Right,” she agrees, staring at her arrested arm. She puts the glass and the soju back on the table. Bashful, she begins, “By the way, have you thought about what I said?”

Joy drops Wendy’s hand and asks, “About what?”

“Are you going to keep beating around the bush?”

“Ya! You’re being mean right now for no reason. How can you expect me to know what you’re talking about,” Joy slurs. Her raised voice prompts the middle-aged men next to their table to look up for a second before they go back to drunkenly whispering to themselves.

Wendy crosses her arms. “I’m not going to spell it out for you Joy.”

Joy growls, “Wendy, what’s the matter with you? Do you really want to fight me?” She taps her hand on the table. Pat, pat, pat. “C’mon, fight me!” She then stands up, unsteadily, and puts her hands on her waist.

Wendy uneasily looks around the tent to find strangers judging them. She bows her head in apology, before she stands up and grasps Joy’s arms. “Let’s go home,” she urges. It has gotten embarrassing how loud they are making a fuss. And Joy is a bit unhinged when she gets drunk.

“No,” Joy shrugs her arms from her hold and dares, “Tell me if you have a problem with me.”

“Don’t— Let’s not...” Wendy complains, scratching her head. Ah, what in the darned hell. Maybe it is the wrong time to have asked an answer from her. Maybe Joy isn’t ready yet. “I don’t have a problem with you.”

That subdues the taller girl, and they leave the tent carrying Seulgi on their shoulders. They drop her off to their house first, her parents feeling sorry for having to bother but at the same time thankful for making sure she got home safe. At the bus stop, they sit side by side. Quiet.

“You know it, Joy,” Wendy purrs, turning her head to the girl beside her. “You probably won’t remember this tomorrow. But it’s true, I have been crushing on you. I like you. I want to hold your hand, keep you warm in my arms, and kiss your cherry lips.” The night seems to hurt with her. Being honest about feelings has never been easy, particularly on the matters of love. And she rubs the jitters off her knuckles.

Joy looks down at her sandals. A nifty pair she bought by haggling at a night market kilometers away from where they are. Then her chest tightens, and her shoulders quiver. Melancholy washes over her alcohol-addled brain. She sobs, and she couldn’t keep it down. “Why me?”

Wendy lifts her head up to gaze at the star-strewn sky. “I don’t know,” she answers.

 

 

 

“No, no, no!” Seulgi screams while scrolling through her inbox while she sits on the edge of her bed after shower. She flails her legs like a child throwing a tantrum. Pulling herself together is the least she could do, but now she’s just really tempting fate. For what it’s worth, Irene did seem to know that there’s something amiss. Perhaps it’s also a terrific sign to stay away from drinking.

When she arrives at work, Joy comes off to be a little groggy and sluggish. She greets her and she is greeted back weakly. “Something took the life out of you?”

“It’s terrible,” Joy answers, washing a dirty rag on the sink. Dirt slides off the cloth then down the drain. “I think I dumped Wendy.”

“What?!” Seulgi yells, flabbergasted. She truly doesn’t know what’s going on anymore. “What? There was something going on between you two?”

Joy wrings the rag and hangs it to dry. She wipes her damp hands on her apron. “Let’s rewind to Saturday. She rallied for you to go to Irene’s, because she wanted it to be just the two of us at the fireworks party.”

“Oh, wow,” gasps Seulgi, rubbing her chin. “But that was smooth of her.”

Joy stomps a foot heavily. Grumbles, “I feel bad. I am so unsure of myself yet. I don’t know how she’ll take it.” It was difficult. Wendy has always been one of her good friends, and for a budding romance to wedge between that is precarious. They won’t know if it lasts, and if it doesn’t, could they go back the same, to the way it were?

Seulgi pats her friend on the shoulder. “It’s alright to be honest with your feelings.”

 

 

 

The afternoon goes like this: Irene swirls her postmix drink (because they ran out of the bottled lemonades) and patiently waits for Seulgi to finish attending to her customers. They’re a bunch of boisterous, lean teenage boys with sand stuck in their hair, and she pulls her elbow close when a pimply guy in board shorts touches it.

Seulgi, sweating profusely, excuses herself and heads to the rest room.

“It’s been five minutes and you haven’t sipped your drink,” Joy observes. She’s leaning against the counter, propped up by her elbows. She watches a plump kid burrow a hole on the white sand.

“It’s the— I don’t...” stammers Irene, tucking her hair behind her ear. A sizable chunk of ice cubes have melted in the juice. Water droplets circle the container. She fidgets, rubbing her thumb over her index finger.

Joy shifts her gaze to Irene. She likes her printed white top, but it’s Gucci. Nothing she could afford at her age. “Do you really come here because you want to drink blue lemonade? Like every damn day? Like a fix?”

“Yes?” the unintended inflection in her voice gives it away—her motive, her conscience, and her insistence to keep them hidden.

Joy chuckles softly. “I’ve never seen you open and drink the bottles you’ve bought. Doesn’t the scorching hot weather make you thirsty?” She’s not even highly skeptic as she were anymore. She has always known she was onto something, but she has learned that going about it aggressively is unbecoming of her. So now she lets their conversation flow naturally.

There was no slipping from it now. Joy has caught her like a deer in the headlights. Irene pleads, “Please don’t tell her! I’ve been lying. But please, please, let me break it to her.”

“So you weren’t a witch or a vegetarian,” deduces Joy, narrowing her eyes below her tennis cap. “You’re a lesbian. Geez, how could I have not thought of that? It should have been obvious!” She claps her palms together, and feels satisfied she found out anyway. “At least you won’t be diabetic like I thought.”

Irene’s cheeks lit up, pinkish. She wraps her hands around the cup of blue lemonade. “I’ll tell her, later.”

“Why, this summer’s just gotten warmer,” Joy proclaims.

 

 

 

After a shoulder pat and a whisper of “Best of luck” from Joy, Seulgi finds herself strolling side by side with Irene after their shift. Irene asked to go with her to her home. The sun doesn’t burn so hot by then, and it is dipping low into the horizon. She’s blushing hard, and she’s too awkward to say anything.

“What was that about last night?” Irene finally breaks the silence. She keeps her hands locked behind her back, too giddy. She has burned her eyes going over the messages again and again. Whatever did she do to Seulgi’s poor, little heart?

Seulgi rolls her eyes up, to the cable wires, dark lines against the purple orange sky. A finger scratching her temple, she answers, “I was drunk and that happened.”

Irene looks up at her, agape. “Drunk?”

“Drunk,” Seulgi repeats, meeting her marveling doe eyes.

They leave it at that for a moment. Irene’s thinking deep, and hard. Those were honest words, she concludes. But nothing she could figure out herself. It seemed like Seulgi was just ranting aimlessly. Perhaps it was useless to put meaning into it, at all.

At the rest house, the oak door creaks open, the sound hollow. Seulgi hasn’t really noticed the emptiness of the place the first time. The foyer too spacious, too quiet. It’s like there’s cotton stuffed in her ears. It makes her wonder if Irene’s lonely, staying all alone.

Irene breathes through her nose, and only then she realizes that she’s been holding it back. She turns on the lights, and the colors of things become mute from dim. And she stares at Seulgi who’s standing shyly before her. Comfy in her Marvel tee and denim shorts.

“I have something to tell you, Seulgi,” speaks Irene gently. Her breath’s a bit shaky. It’s time, there’s no more days I can waste.

She drags Seulgi behind her, to the kitchen. Her palms are clammy from apprehension, but it doesn’t stop her. She’s certain now, and if she balks, she doesn’t think she can ever do it again. Her heart beats deafeningly loud she thinks it will jump out of its ribcage.

Irene slowly walks over to the fridge door, and bright amber light glows when she opens it. She pulls Seulgi to let her see. On a shelf, bottles of blue lemonade are lined beside each other.

“W-what is this...” Seulgi stutters, unable yet to comprehend the sight before her. She stares at the unopened bottles wide-eyed, her jaw hung low.

Irene grips Seulgi’s arms, and looks at her seriously in the eyes. “Seulgi,” she croaks, “The truth is I don’t drink blue lemonade.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Seulgi’s knees weaken and they almost buckle that she ushers and steadies herself on a chair.

Her throat is dry, and she is turning paler by the second. A bead of sweat breaks on her forehead. She feels like she’s going to be sick. It was a lot to take in. The words she heard didn’t feel real.

Irene leapt to her feet and pours her a glass of water, and slides it to her on the table.

“Are you alright?” Irene asks, biting her bottom lip as she settles on the chair across.

Seulgi gulps the cold water down her parched throat. She heaves, and rests both of her arms on the tabletop. Color seeps back to her face. Then, she gives Irene a long, penetrating glance, like she’s trying to decipher the woman before her. This causes Irene to shift uneasily in her seat.

All the days are coming back to her in a blur, like streaks of taillights in the night.

“S-sorry,” Irene stutters, lowering her eyes. Her face is warm like a whistling kettle’s steam. There is a part of her that is relieved, and a part of her that is scared. “I’ve been spouting lies, but the cat’s out of the bag now, so I decided to come clean.”

It was a good thing Joy noticed and figured it all out, she muses. She might have not had the courage to spill the truth otherwise.

Irene continues, still looking at her fidgeting hands, “And I know it’s not a good look to confess only when I got caught, but I really want to set this straight—“

“Irene, don’t make me say it,” Seulgi presses. Her nerves have calmed down now.

Seulgi’s slow, but she isn’t stupid.

“W-what?” Irene glances up, perplexed. What were the odds that Seulgi’s thinking about the same thing that she’s thinking?

Since she hears no response, she rambles on, “But everything else was genuine. I wanted to get closer to you, and I wanted for us to be friends. I made dinner for you because I wanted to. I wanted to see you—“

“No,” Seulgi interrupts, almost laughing. “I know that. Don’t muddle this any further.”

“Okay,” Irene breathes audibly. The outcome doesn’t matter, and there’s not a lot of chances she can tell it as she means it. It has to be now. She’s blushing hard, and there are waves somersaulting in her stomach. “I like you, Seulgi.”

Seulgi sighs heavily. It’s like dark clouds have been swept by the wind and the skies are clear, making no room for the dreary rain. So this is how it feels, she ponders.

“Did I hear that right?” Seulgi asks with a cheeky smile. “Me? Not the blue lemonade?”

“God, you’re so silly,” shoots back Irene. She buries her face in her hands, a little embarrassed. It hasn’t sunk in that this moment is happening, and that the foolishness of what she has been doing is finally paying off.

Seulgi bends over the table and reaches for Irene’s small, soft hands, taking them away from her face. Irene doesn’t want to meet Seulgi’s eyes, but she’s waiting.

“I like you too, Irene,” Seulgi utters. It sort of feels strange to hear herself speak it aloud.

There’s a meaningful silence that comes; a silence that’s shared between them.

 

 

 

 

They don’t really know what to do after.

Seulgi is huddled with Irene at the couch, and they’re watching a local drama. On their laps are pillows, with honey buttered chips and drinks on the side. The room is dim, and they’re basking in the blue light of the tv screen.

It doesn’t take more than five minutes but Seulgi finds herself staring at Irene instead of the television. Irene notices this, so she angles her head up, and cutely grins, “Hm?”

“I can’t believe it,” Seulgi mutters, not looking away.

Just about a day ago she’s been agonizing over catching feelings, and now it turns out that she’s liked back by her crush. Nothing about this feels real, it’s like she’s in the middle of a dream, and yet the skin of her palms tingle when she laces her fingers with the other’s.

Irene smiles—that smile that has always hit like a punch in the gut, leaving her frail and defenseless.

“Neither can I,” murmurs Irene, just low enough for the other to hear. “I was afraid you weren’t catching on. I took so much trouble to get to this point. Ah, I feel embarrassed thinking about it.”

“I can’t even begin to imagine,” Seulgi admits. She rubs her thumb over the other girl’s knuckles. “I’m so overwhelmed. Joy was right, there was something odd about the way you approached me. I shrugged it off because I didn’t want to believe you had underlying intentions, but it came in a form I didn’t expect.”

“Aren’t you creeped out? I didn’t know what I was thinking either,” Irene pouts.

“A bit, maybe.” Seulgi spares a glance at the tv briefly, the characters in a heated argument, then back at the person beside her. “But this wouldn’t have been possible if you didn’t make your move.”

It’s true, the first few days she met Irene, she didn’t so much think of anything as acknowledge that her beauty is spellbinding. Conventionally pretty girls were the bane of her existence. She’s way too fragile for them, and so over the years she has learned to put up walls, deny any flicker of emotion that surges within her toward anyone she remotely likes.

Jisoo has left a scar on her that she won’t be able to erase, but it’s all behind her now. This time, she’s ready to take this on, and she doesn’t want to let go.

“Phew,” sighs Irene. She is satisfied to hear that her efforts weren’t wasted. “It must be the dinner date, isn’t it? I plucked so much of my courage to do it, with my friend’s prodding. I’m really glad you came.”

“My friend urged me to go, too. You should meet her sometime,” Seulgi says. “But yeah, I was stopping myself hard from liking you, but that kiss on the cheek has totally crippled me. The effect was too strong. I mean, what are the chances I get that from you? I didn’t even think of ever having it.”

Irene giggles and leans her head on Seulgi’s shoulder. “I like you Seulgi, since the first time I laid my eyes on you. I knew you were perfect for me. I just knew. Don’t ever doubt that.”

Then they stay like that, comfortable in each other’s company, getting to know each other for the better of an hour.

 

 

 

 

“Can I kiss you?” Seulgi asks later.

They’re standing by the door, and her feet are restless like a saltshaker poised over a plate. The house falls hushed again, and the walls seem like they’re closing in. For a heartbeat, Seulgi thinks of not leaving.

But with a finger on the other’s lips, Irene shakes her head and says, “Not today.”

“Maybe after five more purchases of blue lemonade? I’ll give you a discount.”

Irene laughs, throwing her head back, and slaps her lightly on the shoulder. “I want you to dream of it. Kiss me in your dreams, under the stars.”

Seulgi brushes a lock of hair behind Irene’s ear. “I will.”

Then, she presses her lips on the shorter girl’s forehead before she goes out into the hollow of the night.

 

 

 

 

Seulgi doesn’t dream. Instead, she lies awake in bed, going over the days that have passed where she saw Irene. It makes her giddy, and she can’t help thrashing her legs when she thinks about a flustered Irene during their game of Jenga. That, and when she threw her arms around her when the fireworks peaked at the sky.

She can’t take the silly grin off her face.

It was hard for her to fall asleep. This is all so new, and her excitement is through the roof. She’s really dating someone now, and it is Irene. It’s just too good to be true.

Seulgi had initially wanted to spend her summer idly, because she has been spent and exhausted after the school year. She thought it would be best to take a break. But Joy comes nagging her about a resort that would soon open in town, and to grab the opportunities it was offering. Summer jobs are a worthwhile way to kill the time—earn some cash, and have something substantial to put on a curriculum vitae. She caved in and thought to give it a try.

And who knew that this is where she’d meet her first probable girlfriend.

She places a pillow over her face to muffle her giddy screams. She’s so happy, it’s beyond describing into words. There’s a girl who’s so interested in her that she buys lemonade drinks despite not liking them. Just to see her.

Not long after, she descends into unconsciousness, hugging a pillow like she’d do if Irene was beside her.

 

 

 

 

Irene stirs once sunlight drifts into her room.

After making her bed and doing exercise for about an hour, she heads to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. She cracks some eggs for her pancake mix, whisks it to the batter with a mixer, then cooks. She piles three pancakes to her plate and pairs it with a hot cup of chocolate drink.

Then, she phones Yeri.

“Guess what?” she questions, with a smile so wide it could reach her ears.

“Guess what…?” Yeri repeats, her voice hoarse. “I say guess what, you woke me up in the middle of my sleep. It’s seven a. m. for corn’s sake!”

Irene sighs, but her mood is well-suited for banter. “Okay, it seems like you don’t want to hear the news so I’ll hang up.”

“Wait!” Yeri shouts. There’s a bit of shuffling that is heard. “Spill the tea!”

“Spill the what?” Irene furrows her brows. She places the phone on her shoulder and presses it on her ear while she cuts a slice of the pancake. The butter knife sinks through three soft layers of it.

Yeri groans on the other end, “Just tell me what’s the news!”

“Oh,” mutters the older girl.

“Well?”

“Seulgi… she… we’re dating!” Irene sinks her teeth on her bottom lip. She sips her hot drink before adding, “I confessed, and she did, too.”

“OMG!” Yeri gushes, now sounding even much more awake. “Are you sure?!”

“Why would I be making that u—“

“It’s just… this is really happening fast! I can’t believe you were able to snag her! Irene! It worked! Your plan worked!” Yeri is almost incoherent, and she keeps on making squealing noises.

Our plan has worked,” Irene reiterates while munching. “Also, we’re not official yet. Still at getting-to-know stage, but I think it will work out. I don’t mind the pace… slow down, speed up, I’m all good.”

“There’s a little more than two weeks left before we go.”

“I don’t even want to think about it,” Irene says, holding the phone back in her hand. She hasn’t really thought about it in the slightest: distance going in between them, separating them, far apart. “I just want to enjoy this while it lasts.”

This time, it’s Yeri who audibly sighs. “I’m seriously very happy for you, though.”

“Thanks,” she replies with smile. “I owe you one.”

“Of course, I’m Kim Yeri.” Yeri scoffs over the line. “I make things possible.”

 

 

 

 

Joy greets her with a, “So how did it go?” when she gets to the kiosk.

“Bad,” Seulgi lies, pulling the best frown she could. “I found out she actually doesn’t drink the blue lemonades she’s bought, and I was so disillusioned I stormed out of her house.”

It is a glaringly bright Thursday morning, and the air is thick and still. Joy is already perspiring from the humidity. She thinks she’s the one that’s going to melt instead of the ice cubes on their drinks.

“Eh?” Joy asks, baffled. The edge of the counter hits her lower back. “That’s what you got from it? That she’s nothing but a liar?”

Seulgi puffs her cheeks and nods.

Unni, I’m sorry but that’s so dumb!” Joy exclaims, crossing her arms. She never thought she’d see the day that she sides with Irene. “So what if she lied about the lemonade drinks? Don’t you get it?! She buys it just too see you! Irene took the all the trouble visiting our stall regularly because she has the fattest crush on you! C’mon, don’t go crying about being brokenhearted if you’re gonna overreact.”

“You’re the one who’s overreacting,” Seulgi answers, turning to the sink. Deep inside, she’s laughing.

Tch,” Joy loudly hisses. She wipes the sweat off her forehead with a handkerchief. “I don’t get you at all. I thought you were head over heels in love with Irene! She’s the best girl around, and you’re letting her slip away just because you want to angst over some damned blue lemonade bottles!”

“Date her then, if you want,” Seulgi says, grinning at the knife as she washes it.

Joy is lost. “What on earth is wrong with you?!”

Seulgi drops the knife on the sink, doubles over with a hand clamped over her mouth, and laughs out loud. She moves to look up at Joy, who is rendered dumbfounded in front of her, and she’s so red tears are coming out the corner of her eyes. She’s laughing so hard her stomach hurts, and that she’s growing another chin under the other.

“What’s so funny?” Joy looks almost pissed now.

“Sorry.” Seulgi is rubbing the tears from her eyes. “I was just messing with you.”

Joy goes from confusion to horrid realization to indignance. She lurches to her feet, and holds Seulgi by the shoulders and shakes her. “Unni! I can’t believe you!” She whines, like a kid whose toy got pried away by their parent. “I was so ready to fight you! Oh my god, I can’t really believe you did this to me!”

“Irene told me it was you who blew her cover,” Seulgi explains. The laughter has died down, the red in her cheeks fading. “You were right about her. She was indeed hiding something.”

“See? I told you! I might have just gone a bit overboard but I trust my gut-feeling.”

Seulgi sighs, darting her gaze far into the horizon. The sea and sky are infinite, just like what she’s feeling right now. “It’s all so surreal.”

Joy breaks contact with Seulgi and clasps her hands. “So, have you two kissed?”

“I wanted to,” Seulgi mutters, biting her lower lip. “But she said to save it for later. Under the stars.”

“She’s one hell of a romantic,” Joy opines. “Who would’ve thought? But then again, she did buy bottles of drinks she doesn’t even drink just to get closer to you. Not quite an analogy, but it’s like the little mermaid giving up her voice so she can walk on land and find the prince. Romantics go beyond where realists stop themselves.”

“Haven’t I told you how much I love having you around?” Seulgi asks.

“I know, unni.” Joy smiles, flattered. “I know.”

 

 

 

 

 

To: Irene ( ♡ 3  )

how’s your morning?

 Sent

 

From Irene (  ♡ 3  ♡  )

I’m great! :)

I jogged and stretched and made pancakes

I did some reading too

And a bit of cleaning!

Should I visit you?

 Seen 10.31

 

To: Irene (  3  )

oh dont bother

it’s hot out

 Sent

 

 

From: Irene (  3  )

Alright

Think you can join me for dinner later after work?

Let’s do it outside

What do you think?

 Seen 10.34

 

To: Irene ( ♡ 3  )

what do i think?

i cant wait until shift’s over!!!

i want to see uuuuu   

 Sent

 

From: Irene ( ♡ 3  )

Haha so clingy

Just kidding I can’t wait to see you toooooo 

By the way, did you dream of me? :p

 Seen 10.39

 

To: Irene (  3  )

i didnt

but i will keep dreaming about kissing you

 Sent

 

From: Irene (  3  )

Don’t worry

You don’t have to dream about it ;)

 Seen 10.42

 

To: Irene (  3  )

hahaha youre so funny

stop teasing me

i might get distracted from work

 Sent

 

From: Irene (  3  )

Whatever…

Anyway, wear your best clothes!

 Seen 10.45

 

 

To: Irene (  3  )

whats the point

youre just gonna take them off from me

 Sent

 

From: Irene (  3  )

Shut upppp that’s not what we’re gonna do tonight

 Seen 10.49

 

To: Irene (  3  )

okay i was just kidding… haha… unless?

 Sent

 

From: Irene (  3  )

GOOD BYE KANG SEULGI

GO BACK TO WORK

 Seen 10.52

 

To: Irene (  3  )

hahaha

i will ;)

see you later

 Sent

 

 

 

 

They are already cleaning up the kiosk for closing when Joy spots Wendy from afar and she crouches under the counter.

“Why?” Seulgi asks, collecting the bills from the register.

Wendy runs toward the stall, the wind pressing her loose tank top against her torso. Her hair is tied up and her earrings glint in the sunlight. When she settles on one of the stools in front of the counter, her skin is conspicuously damp.

“Where’s Joy?” she asks, panting.

“Uh…” Seulgi’s voice trails. There’s a tug on the hem of her pants, which could only mean that it’s Joy telling her to cover for her. “She’s already gone home.”

Wendy beams, “Well, that’s great! I didn’t really want to bump into her.”

Joy is gaping her mouth, shocked at the words that she just heard. But then again, she shouldn’t expect for her friend to be fine. They weren’t just meeting in the middle. Wendy’s confession has been too sudden, and she doesn’t really know how to deal with it.

They’ve been pals for three years, and perhaps Wendy has long been wanting to tell her, but couldn’t because she’s dating other guys. This summer where she’s free and single might have been her friend’s only chance.

“I don’t think you should say that,” Seulgi remarks. She’s transferring the earnings into a bag of Ziploc. She’ll have to submit it to the resort’s office later.

“No,” Wendy cuts in, putting her palms flat on the countertop. “It’s not that I’m holding a grudge or anything. I just… I don’t think I’m ready to pretend that I’m okay when I see her.”

God, I don’t want to hear any of this anymore, Joy thinks, puckering her lips in annoyance. She covers her ears with her hands, and begins to feel her legs are aching. However, the attempt to block the voices was futile.

“Do you really like her that much?” Seulgi stops whatever it is she’s doing and looks straight at Wendy.

“To a point that it hurts,” Wendy admits, staring down unhappily at her pale hands. She didn’t even cry after they talked at the bus stop, but loneliness rears its head in different forms. “I think I’m stupid. I mean, I knew what it was that I was running into and yet I still told her I love her, out of nowhere, all because I felt that it was the right moment. And now, I feel like my soul got sucked out of me.”

Joy hugs her knees and curls into it, woebegone.

Seulgi pats the top of Wendy’s head. “Love makes us do the stupidest things.”

Wendy snorts, “That’s what I heard them say. Anyway, wanna take this to the noraebang? Sing… and drink?”

“You’re drinking? Again?!”

“Nope.” Wendy wags a finger and corrects, “I’m drowning my sorrows.”

Joy almost groans in frustration. Come on, she thinks.

“I’d love to, but I can’t go,” Seulgi tells her.

“You’re letting me out there to die?!” Drinking alone is the worst; there’s no one else to share her ruminations with, and she’s left to wallow in her own thoughts.

“You see… I’m dating Irene now and I have to—“

“Wait a minute!” Wendy leans away from the counter, taken aback. Her eyes grew a size larger one would think her eyeballs might pop out. “Already?”

“No label to it yet,” Seulgi reveals timidly, drumming her fingers on the counter. “We’re still working on getting there.”

“My, Seulgi! I am so glad that you’ve finally sorted that one out. I knew she was into you!”

Wendy is awashed with relief. She doesn’t have to see Seulgi worrying about dealing with her feelings anymore. And for once, her friend is moving on from the pain of the past. It’s the best surprise she could get from this summer—deriving happiness from another’s happiness.

“Ah, what would I do without my friends,” Seulgi mutters, a hint of mirth glinting in her eyes. “Anyway, I am really sorry.”

“Okay,” Wendy says, resigned. “I guess I’ll have to sing my heart out all by myself. You enjoy your date with Irene, and don’t worry about me. Alright?”

“Alright.”

Beneath the counter, Joy is contemplating hard.

 

 

 

 

Seulgi puts on a purple floral dress that barely reaches her knees, two-inch heels, and wears her hair half-up. Then she dabs light makeup on her face, some rose lip tint on her lips, going for a simple look.

She is a bit jittery, but is also stoked to meet Irene.

Glancing one last time at the mirror, she exhales to release tension. I look neat and nice and I will impress her. That’s right, I will.

She can barely remember the last time she was in this get up. There were no formal university events that she had to attend, and she is basically unaffiliated, not part of any school organizations, or clubs, or sororities. It feels extremely nice to be adorned in something pretty, for once.

Seulgi arrives at their decided rendezvous – a restaurant that is a bit less affordable but anyone in town can vouch for its quality. However, she is stumped to find Irene conversing with a handsome guy - very comfortably, at that - and for a moment she wonders what it is about she’d get into.

Irene spots her in the sparsely crowded place, and waves a hand to call her over.

“Come here!” she yells, and when the girl approaches closer, she introduces the guy. “I bumped into my childhood friend, Sehun.”

Seulgi bows and shakes his hand, quite dazed.

“Sehun, this is… uh… my friend, Seulgi,” Irene stammers, gulping a spittle down her throat.

Seulgi thinks it is going to be a long night.

 

Chapter Text

“-isn’t that right?”

Seulgi snaps into focus, blinking away the stray fragment of thoughts that has occupied her head for a better of five minutes, when the two people across the table have plunged into stories of their childhood, reminiscing, completely immersed in its nostalgia. There, Irene sits directly athwart her, radiant in her off-shouldered cream dress, yellow undertones bright and rich in the indoor lighting, waiting for her to respond.

“Y-yeah,” Seulgi mumbles, before twirling the pasta around her fork.

Sehun asked to join them for dinner, and Irene couldn’t deny (“Won’t I bother you guys?” “Nope.”). Seulgi had no qualms about it, she was warmly accommodating to the guy as well. 

“See?” Sehun sips from his tall glass of four seasons. His hair is slicked with gel and is parted to the side, making him look dapper in his dress shirt. “Kids should have a choice of their own instead of being indoctrinated according to the parents’ convictions about life. I was grounded for a month but I said, screw it, I don’t like playing the violin and they can’t convince me to try again. I’m not a music prodigy, and I knew it since the first day.”

“I didn’t see you for a month because of that,” Irene giggles into her fist. “I was like, oh god, they must have abducted Sehun. I’d spent that summer tagging along with my dad to his golf meetings, and I was bored out of my mind.”

“How about you, Seulgi?” Sehun asks. “What were you doing when you were at that age, young and ten?”

“Oh,” Seulgi mutters, not expecting a question to be sent her way. She straightens up her back and answers, “I was mostly spending my time drawing, and playing games outdoors. I enjoyed it, yeah, I did.”

Then she catches Irene staring, with that wide, sweet smile lighting up her expression. And for a moment, she feels guilty for letting her doubts win her over. I should be listening, she muses. Listening to her, and all the things she wants me to know about her.

“I wonder what it would be like if I met you when we were young,” Irene tells her. Her eyes are dazzling like distant stars. She grew up with only a few circle of friends, mostly sons and daughters of his father’s business partners, and they were all sent to the same schools until college.

But the statement would stay up in the air because Sehun intercepts with, “How did you two meet, by the way? Well, if that isn’t too weird to ask?”

The two girls throw a glance at each other, and it’s Irene who speaks up. “I met her in a resort around here.” Then, dragging her gaze toward the folded napkin on her lap, adds, “I… we have so much in common, I guess, that’s why we clicked.”

Seulgi presses her lips together, nodding, slowly bobbing up and down her head to every other word. There was something she’s trying to figure out, but couldn’t. Like there’s something else Irene wanted to hide from the guy aside from their intimacy, and she goes along with it. She gives her the benefit of the doubt.

“There’s a resort somewhere in this town?” Sehun asks, staring with a mix of incredulity and keenness. “Great! I’ve been here for three days of vacation, and I have four days left of stay, so I want you both to take me to that haven sometime.”

“Alright,” Seulgi says. She drains her glass of four seasons, the sweet taste coating her tongue.

Sehun dabs his lips with the napkin then states, “Anyway, I was asking because Irene is a bit of uh, standoffish to be making friends with just anybody. She’s a homebody, very kept to herself, and not much of a traveler, so I didn’t expect she’d make friends around here.”

Irene slaps him lightly on the arm, murmuring hey why would you say that and says, “Seulgi don’t pay attention to this, he’s just trying to make me look bad.”

Then Sehun scoffs, chuckling at his drink. Seulgi looks at them, perhaps a bit jealous, though she knows she shouldn’t be because Sehun has known her for years. She wishes it was the same for her, but on the bright side, maybe she has a lifetime to know Irene. Maybe.

“Irene is actually a very warm person,” Seulgi argues. The chatter and clinks in the hall fades further into the background. “That’s what I like so much about her,” she says, locking her gaze with Irene who is seemingly bashful about it.

Sehun crosses his arms, swallowing a chunk of steak, then reclining back his seat he sighs, “Huh.” There is a suggestion of meekness and awe in his bearing, hearing the words. “Most people are wrong about her, but you are right.”

Irene is rendered slightly flushing, but her blush on conceals it, and she’s absently fiddling her ring, avoiding to meet them in the eyes. There’s very rare instances when people talk about her personality instead of her physical features, and it touches her, warms her heart. She has always felt like her other characteristics are being overshadowed by her beauty.

“You see,” Sehun begins, unable to keep his thoughts away. “She gets misunderstood by a lot of people. They think she’s cold just because of her unsmiling face. But you know, I am privileged to be one of her close-knit friends and I can swear, Irene is more than meets the eye.”

Irene giggles, covering her mouth with a hand, utterly embarrassed.

The air about them has eased from tensed to pleasant, but Seulgi’s chest tightens once the guy grabs Irene’s hand, caressing it, and inspects the ring on her finger.

“Bvlgari?” Sehun casually asks.

“N-no.” Irene is a bit startled by the contact. “Damiani. Dad bought it when he went to Italy.” Then she slips her hand from his grasp, glimpsing up at Seulgi, then at her plate.

“Damn,” He cusses, with that smooth glide of his tongue it doesn’t even sound like a curse but a sharp breath of air. “Can I have your dad?”

“Not a chance.” Irene grins, and bends her wrist back and forth, like she’s stretching.

Seulgi listens to a bit more of their discussions about their lives, and casually joins in, wary of the guy beside Irene.

 

 

 

 

Before the night ends, Seulgi walks with Irene to the bus stop.

Sehun was going the other way, so he had to part from them. Seulgi is filled with relief, because she wanted to be with Irene, just the two of them like they had intended to.

“I’m sorry,” says Irene.

“No, that was alright.” Seulgi’s rubbing her other arm, hand unable to stay put. “He’s… very insightful.”

“The last time I saw him was in high school. He is one of my good friends so I was delighted to see him again.”

There weren’t a lot of males in her circle of friends, and Sehun was one of those who didn’t annoy her. He wasn’t uncomfortable to be with, and the bar may be six feet below the ground but that said a lot about him.

Seulgi purses her lips, pensive, then with a smack of tongue, asks, “What was that about? Friend?”

The streets are almost empty. There are still a few shops that are open, lights pouring into the road, and they are passing by rows of them. The stop is about five meters away, dim, looming like an abandoned rundown building.

“I didn’t mean to—“

“Okay,” Seulgi cuts in. “Maybe I don’t want to hear it.”

Irene tugs the corner of her mouth into a frown. “Seulgi, I like you. That’s the only thing you need to know.”

“I know,” Seulgi sighs, then assures, “I believe you.”

Irene looks like there’s something she wants to say, but goes against it. She just slips her hand into the younger girl’s hands, and they amble toward the bus stop complimenting each other about how beautiful they looked tonight.

At the doorstep of the rest house, they press their bodies into a hug.

Irene is small in Seulgi’s arms, but she fits snugly. Seulgi rests her chin on her shoulder for a good few seconds, feeling her against hers, warm and tender and delicate. Then she pushes Irene’s hair back, and grazes her neck then jaw with her lips. Irene tries to stifle a moan, because she’s melting, caving in, with the hot breath brushing against her skin.

Seulgi whispers into her ear, “Sleep well.”

“I will,” Irene purrs weakly.

Seulgi proceeds, her lips traveling to her cheek, her hands sliding to her waist and backside. Irene could feel her back arch with the touch, and she closes her eyes, letting Seulgi’s lips wander slowly to her forehead, to her eyelids, then to her nose. Irene waits, for the lips to go down a notch lower, but Seulgi stops at the tip of her nose before backing away. She opens her eyes.

“I’m going.” Seulgi gives her a smirk before turning on her heel.

Irene leans and steadies herself against the door, blushing, unable to contain the heat after Seulgi left her. “She’s so cruel.”

Then she disappears into the house, and takes a steamy shower.

 

 

 

 

On the same night, Wendy’s slumped on a couch in a noraebang, already inebriated after three hours of chugging almost two bottles of beer. Her voice is already rasp, and she is starting to slur her words while singing Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love, the twentieth song in her list.

“It must have been love, but it’s over now!” She yells into the microphone, though she doesn’t go off-key. “It must have been good—“

Then she looks up to see Joy beside her, gripping the mic she just snatched. Wendy jumps back on her toes, and yelps. Joy doesn’t budge but just stares her down.

“H-how did you know I’m here?” Wendy gasps.

“It’s because you’re predictable,” Joy yells over the music. It is the same noraebang place Wendy frequents—bright neon signs, and magenta tones of light dancing all around.

Wendy thrusts herself to the videoke machine and pauses the song.

“Come again?” she asks, tilting her ear forward once she turns around.

“I said I know you,” Joy answers, patient. “Is that enough for you?”

Joy is familiar with anything Wendy does. She’d bake muffins for their birthdays even without prodding, she’d try to cheer up and hype up the mood when it’s down, and she’d sing to release stress. Selfless, kind, and a source of verve. But of course, she hasn’t got her all figured out.

“Joy, I’m not fine at all,” Wendy utters, a bit glum.

“Stop this, Wendy. You can’t be drinking out all alone,” Joy sounds near upbraiding. She can smell the reek of alcohol from the shorter girl.

Wendy reaches for the mic but Joy swings her hand behind her back. She holds onto Joy’s shoulder to keep her balance and from throwing herself to the floor. “Why do you care? Leave me alone!” Her face is so red, and she’s so close to bursting into tears.

Joy maintains a stoic expression, although she’s wavering underneath the facade. “Let’s go home.” She went all the way to the place, after being preoccupied at home with the thought that Wendy is out there, drinking all by herself.

Wendy steps back, and with hooded eyes, says, “I’m not going.”

“I still have work tomorrow early. Don’t be stubborn.” Joy clamps a hand on Wendy’s arm. She has no other choice but to make sure her friend is home safe. “Stop doing stupid and reckless things.”

“What is wrong with y—“

Joy bends to hoist her, holding up her legs and back, scooping her into her arms. Wendy stares up, unmoving, shocked by the action. She is being lifted like an infant.

“What are you doing?” Wendy asks, slightly panicked. “Put me down!”

Joy trudges for the door, gritting her teeth, muscle in her arms tightening. “I’m… taking… you home… midget,” she breathes, turns the knob, and kicks the door open.

Wendy hides her searing face in her hands. She doesn’t even try to squirm, afraid she might piss off Joy. There’s just a mix of confusion and embarrassment she feels being cradled in her crush’s arms. They go silently through the hall, drawing bystanders’ attention, but Joy isn’t the least bit fazed. Once outside of the establishment, Joy carefully puts Wendy down like a fragile porcelain figurine.

“Wasn’t I heavy?” Wendy asks, a bit worried. “Sorry I made you do that.”

“I’m alright,” Joy says, flexing her arms. Wendy sees the bulge of toned muscles and blushes again.

“Come on, let’s go home.” Joy doesn’t look but reaches for the other girl’s hand comfortably. “Don’t drown your sorrows like this again.”

Wendy knits her brows and stutters, “W-where did you…?”

But Joy doesn’t answer and just begins pacing the street and drags her along, leaving her clueless.

 

 

 

 

Friday is slow, and languorous like the flow of a river on a windless day.

Just a little after ten in the morning, Irene asks Yeri to visit her at home. However, the blonde declines the invitation, telling her that her relatives are celebrating her cousin’s birthday today, and they will head out for the rest of the day.

Seulgi had left her messages this morning while she was eating breakfast, and eagerly advices against her to drop by the kiosk. When Irene asked why, she mentioned about not burdening herself like in the days before, and that this time she will be the one who will go to her. So Irene stays home, and reads some romance pocketbook she’s hardly interested in, for the lack of better things to do.

When she comes across two of the characters kissing on their date, she clamps her upper teeth on her lower lip and thinks about Seulgi. She thinks about how it would feel like, how soft her lips would be on hers, how her mouth would taste…

Then she remembers their dinner date last night, which didn’t turn out that well, for apparent reasons.

For how long they’ve known each other, Sehun had never hinted any sign of attraction towards her. Irene never found it weird, but reckoned maybe she just wasn’t his type. He actually didn’t show any affection toward anybody else, or he’s good at hiding it that Irene couldn’t tell. But of course, they’ve grown apart in the recent years, and they’ve changed, so she’ll never really know. 

Irene wonders how rough Seulgi’s kiss would be if she was frustrated, aching for it.

So when Sehun calls her (they exchanged numbers before they parted; Seulgi wasn’t amused) and asks her to eat lunch with him, she accepts the invitation. She had nothing else better to do anyway. He suggests that they go shopping after, look around some places, and also visit the resort that they talked about. “That’s a great idea,” Irene had answered, and giggled in her mischievousness.

Seulgi would love a bit of surprise, she thought.

 

 

 

 

There’s a bunch of boys lined up on the stools in front of the kiosk.

Joy is not amused, because she could sense one of them stealing glances at her in between bites of burger and sips of lemonade drink. The others are rowdily yakking something about beach games and parties. Seulgi, on the other hand, is busy on her phone, not giving a damn.

“One more medium glass of lemonade,” the suspicious boy requests, lifting his plastic cup toward Joy’s direction with a smirk.

Seulgi doesn’t even look up at the mention of an order. Joy just rolls her eyes and sighs. She walks over to the mixer and dispenses sunny lemonade in a disposable cup. He grazes his hand against hers once he pries the drink from her hold, to her dismay.

Joy exhales through her nose and snaps, “Yah!”

The boy gazes at her confused, and the other boys pause their talk to pay attention. Seulgi then darts her eyes to her friend, gaping her mouth. It was the first time they had such commotion at work.

“How old are you, huh?” Joy asks again, and puts her arms on her waist.

“S-sixteen,” the boy gulps.

Joy scoffs, then leans close to him and tousles his hair. He goes pale. “You’re a good boy, right? There’s still so much that you’re going to learn as you grow, and today you have to learn to stop being sneaky because that habit might develop into something worse. Get me?”

The boy nods his head, then turns to his friends with a shrug. Joy then steps back from them, and Seulgi comes up to meet her. There’s a bit of murmuring the customers do before they decide to leave the kiosk. The said boy is undeniably flushed he doesn’t look back.

Seulgi watches the five boys sit on the dry sand and look out into the sea. It’s already four in the afternoon, the day going by in a breeze.

“What was that?” Seulgi whispers beside her.

“Too late,” Joy answers with sass. “Just go back to messaging your girlfriend.”

“Hey,” Seulgi pouts, then corrects—“Not yet my girlfriend, and I was playing a game. C’mon, is something the matter with you?”

Joy wasn’t stressed out. It was more of being confused about the things that have happened between her and Wendy. Some part of her thinks that it’s been all said and done, while another thinks it’s not over yet.

“How could you let Wendy drink all alone?” Joy asks grumpily, crossing her arms against her chest.

Seulgi scratches her head and rolls up her eyes toward the ceiling. So that’s it. “I mean… she’s already a grown up…”

Joy flops onto the chair, arms limp on her sides. She looks away from Seulgi. “Whatever.”

Seulgi shakes her head and sighs, deep and heavy. She turns her attention toward the sink and washes a rag instead. The truth of the matter is that she has been trying to distract herself from overthinking about some of Irene’s actions last night when Sehun was around. It didn’t feel right to doubt the girl she is dating who has assured her that there is nothing to worry, but she can’t help being troubled.

It must be him, Seulgi thought, wringing the wet cloth. I feel threatened of him.

“Speaking of…” Joy utters, craning her neck up for no reason.

Seulgi turns around in her spot and beyond the counter surprisingly finds Irene, shopping bags in hand, and Sehun, also lifting some shopping bags, approaching their store. It doesn’t take her that long to figure out that they’ve been together for a while.

Something in the pit of her gut twists.

Something intangible that she can’t put into words.

“Joy, good day!” Irene beams, setting down the bags on the counter. Sehun follows, and they occupy the stools next to each other. “This is Sehun, a friend of mine.”

Joy stands up from the chair, timidly bows her head and waves a hand to the guy. “Nice to meet you.” Sehun returns the gesture with a genial smile.

“Seulgi! I showed him around, and of course, how can I not take him to this kiosk?” Irene relays happily, grinning from ear to ear. She has this look of bliss that Seulgi doesn’t want to be taken off, hoping it stays like that forever. “I thought I’d surprise you a visit.”

“Well, you did,” Seulgi says with a tight smile, eyes peeled on the two.

“It’s cool, you’re actually doing some summer job,” Sehun remarks. He inspects and skims the tiny store.

“Anyway… d-do you guys want to have some blue lemonade?” Seulgi stammers, her thoughts in a disarray.

Unni, she doesn’t drink lemonade juices, remember?” Joy reminds her.

Irene swallows, shifting her eyes uneasily among the three people.

“Yeah,” Sehun chimes in with a suppressed laugh. “She has this weird trauma that came about when we were nine. It was during summer. We were selling lemonade drinks every afternoon outside her home with our other friends. Just for fun. Then there was this boy—he has a naughty air to him—and for some reason he challenged us to drink half a liter of the juice in 10 seconds, and he’ll pay us quintuple of a glass.

Well, we didn’t really think it was a bad deal, but nobody was willing to do it. The boy was urging us, and doubled his offer—which meant he was gonna bet ten times the price of one tall glass that we were selling. And if you guys don’t know, Irene is a very competitive person,” he stage-whispers at the last comment, and Irene nudges his arm with an elbow, then continues, “So she steps up and accepts the challenge. Well, it was terrible, because five seconds in she chokes, the drink spurted out of her mouth, and she was coughing hard, blood rushed up to her face, and she had a hard time breathing. After that she vowed not to have a sip of that drink again.”

“Oh,” Joy mutters in awe, the lower half of her face covered by a hand. She didn’t expect there was an actual tale behind it.

“I totally wanted to forget how dumb that was,” Irene tells them, a bit ashamed, puffing her face. 

Seulgi stares at Irene thinking how cute she is being shy, but the latter ducks her head instead of locking gaze with hers. She doesn’t mind, and it was interesting to know the truth about her irrevocable dislike of the lemonade drink. “So, one for you then?” she asks Sehun.

“Alright, let me have a taste of that,” Sehun answers.

Later, after a little more talk, Joy starts telling them that they need to tidy up the stall for closing. Sehun pokes Irene, with a motion of his head that tells her they should go. She advises him to hold on for a moment, and tells him to wait while she talks to Seulgi.

“Okay, I’ll just dip my toes in the water real quick,” Sehun says as he drops the shopping bags on the sand and runs to the shoreline.

“Seulgi,” she calls over, gently. She has been studying Seulgi’s face and it doesn’t seem too pleased at all. The other girl walks over to her. “We’re going… a-and he invited me to a dinner at his house…”

“And you couldn’t say no?” Seulgi asks, with a slight, hardly noticeable bitterness to it.

“We haven’t seen each other in a long time, it’s just a reunion, nothing more. I’m… just—let’s meet tomorrow, okay?” Irene holds out for Seulgi’s arm, and rubs it reassuringly. “He’ll be gone in a few days, and I don’t know when I’ll see him again.”

“Okay,” Seulgi mutters, unsure if she means it.

“We’ll have more time between us, I promise,” Irene assures her, once again.

Seulgi watches her go, shouting the guy’s name, and he tails behind her, bare feet and carrying his shoes together with the paper bags. The sun has began to dip on the horizon, and all she could hope is that tomorrow will be kinder.

“That sucks,” Joy comments, overhearing the two girls while she was stowing things below the counter.

“What do you think of her friend?” Seulgi asks. Somehow, the insecurity seeps in again.

“Him?” Joy puckers her lips, contemplating. “He doesn’t stand a chance.”