Yerim's always loved taking walks. Especially at night where she'd sneak out undetected when everyone else at the dorm was asleep from another tiring day of dance practices and vocal lessons. The empty streets and cool night breeze always gave her a certain unexplainable feeling of being on top of the world- very different from the overwhelming pressure of being in one of Korea's rising girl groups.
Sure, being on stage was amazing and sometimes she wondered how she could be so lucky to be living out her dreams at such a young age. But it was extremely exhausting as much as it was exhilarating and the girls often found themselves wishing to have more time to let loose which can be scarce.
The girls all had their own outlets of taking out their stress or frustrations- Hyejoo and Chaewon had their video games, Sooyoung and Kahei had their cooking, Jungeun and Jinsoul had their k-dramas and so forth.
Ergo, Yerim savoured every second of her latenight walks which allowed her to clear her mind and pretend that everything in her life was as calm as the nights she'd grown accustomed to walk under with the stars shining brightly over her.
That was until Jiwoo caught her one night.
It wasn't that she was careless - God forbid she'd have been found out way earlier had she been - it was just that she'd made an honest mistake of forgetting to take into account the girls' celebrations after their last stage promotions for Hi High.
They had gone out for a huge dinner with their manager and staff from the production team and had completely let themselves loose over their diets- not like they ever had strict regulations when it came to food consumption, anyway. Safe to say, the girls had had one too many fizzy drinks and junk food to last them for a year and, albeit grudgingly admitting that they had to work extra hard to burn all the extra calories off, they'd had loads of fun and didn't regret it a single bit.
Okay, maybe they DID start having second thoughts after being forced to answer nature's call a bit too frequent for their liking upon reaching the dorms.
So, here Yerim was, a coat already wrapped around her small figure with a black face mask pulled down and under her chin in case the weather got too chilly for her nose, silently reaching for the doorknob of their dorms front entrance, when she stilled and felt her heart leapt to her throat upon hearing a voice behind her.
"What do you think you're doing?"
It wasn't really an accusation; more so laced with confusion and puzzlement.
Dejectedly, Yerim turned around to come face to face with Jiwoo- bed hair, pajamas and all- who was rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.
She raced to come up with an excuse to make her seem less suspicious but just couldn't find any so she sighed and decided that she couldn't bail herself out of this one.
"I'm just, uh, taking.....a walk?"
Yerim inwardly flinched at how guilty she must've sounded just then, as if she'd just been caught with her hand in someone else's wallet. Jiwoo blinked once, twice, and then frowned after a while as if the words had just registered in her sleep-deprived brain.
"A walk? At this hour?"
Yerim nodded vigorously and flashed her signature smile as if it was the most normal thing in the world to be taking a walk at two in the morning- just so that she could perhaps ease the older girl’s growing suspicions.
It didn't work, to say the least.
"Yerim, we have practice in less than eight hours and you want to take a walk?" Jiwoo asked incredulously.
Of course the idea seemed absolutely preposterous to the older girl who cherished every second of sleep she could take.
Yerim played with a loose string on the sleeve of her coat and shifted on her feet nervously as she looked down.
"I just needed some time to myself, unnie," she spoke softly.
Yerim had expected the older girl to reprimand her, to ask her to head back to her room to get some rest, but what she didn't expect was for the older girl to shuffle off to her room and come out seconds later with a coat around her shoulders, tying her hair up into a messy bun.
"Let's go, Yerimmie," the older girl said gently and walked past her to open the front door before she could even respond.
Yerim gaped at her for a second before snapping out of it.
"Unnie, you don't have to-"
"Didn't I say let's go?" Jiwoo chided her teasingly and held the door open for her, motioning with her head to signal the younger girl to move.
Yerim didn't question her any further, hurriedly walking out of the dorm with quick steps as Jiwoo closed the door behind them quietly.
Turning around, Jiwoo stuffed her hands into the large front pockets of her coat and shot her a grin, the sleepiness in her eyes less prominent now.
"So, where to now?"
They had ended up walking Yerim's usual route- behind the dorms, up the road to the shoplots, past the apartment buildings, and to the nearby park.
She was sitting on a swing with her feet dangling in the air whilst Jiwoo was behind her, palms outward to lightly push at her back to make her sway back and forth.
It was extremely peaceful- the night air brisk but not too cold, the moon casting a glow on the park, the occasional horn of a car in the distance and the rusty squeaking of the swing she was on as it moved.
They hadn't said much since they'd left, preferring to bask in the comfortable silence and appreciate the pretty night scene surrounding them.
Yerim had felt the now-familiar thrill and adrenaline run in her veins as soon as they had stepped out of their dorm building and onto the path travelled too many times by her before. A grin had formed on her face then, all traces of worry and doubt hidden behind her eyes vanishing into thin air like the puffs of air that condensed and formed in front of her face whenever she exhaled.
Although, she had to admit that it was very different now that she had someone else to share the pleasures of the peaceful calmness she secretly kept to herself late at night.
Yerim could feel that there was a question lingering in the air, waiting to be formed and acknowledged, and she relished in the seconds leading up to it, not wanting to rush the older girl. She was sure Jiwoo had certain things to voice out, which she subsequently did after a few more pushs.
"Do you do this often?" Jiwoo asked while she repositioned her hands and stance to push the younger girl better.
Yerim hummed and closed her eyes, feeling the wind rush in her ears everytime she lifted higher off of the ground and the drop in her stomach when she descended just as quickly.
"I come out here when I can't sleep or when I need to clear my mind," she admitted in a quiet voice.
She's never told anyone this nor has she ever been in a situation where she's had to. Alas, tonight seemed to be the time to spill her secret.
Jiwoo didn't respond at first as she contemplated on what she should say next without seeming too intrusive to the younger girl. Yerim seemed to sense this and dug her heels into the ground to stop the swing before turning around to smile sweetly at her friend.
"It's alright, unnie. You can ask questions. Besides, I'm sure I owe you an explanation anyway."
Jiwoo returned the smile and sat down on the swing next to her, looking at the sky above them. The moonlight reflected in her doe-like eyes and made her seem so innocent and pure, and when she shot that kilowatt smile of hers Yerim was sure she could trust her with her life.
"Alright, then. First off," she moved and flicked a finger in between Yerim's eyebrows, making her yelp and rub her forehead in surprise, "-this must be the reason why you can NEVER wake up on time for school."
Yerim opened her mouth to protest but snapped it shut at the raised eyebrows and knowing look on Jiwoo's face. Her silence only confirmed what the older girl had stated which made her laugh and shake her head.
Jiwoo held out her hand to the younger girl who immediately grasped it tightly, feeling the warmth of it spread to her bones- even more so when the older girl’s fingers started caressing the back of her hand reassuringly, as if meaning to say that she knew and that she was there for her.
Jiwoo has always had a certain quality about her which made her all that more admirable to Yerim- the way she could make even the coldest of people break down their defences and open up to her.
In other words, Kim Jiwoo really felt like home.
They met each other’s eyes and giggled, before unanimously pushing their feet off of the ground to sway on their respective swings side by side, their hands still locked together.
“How come you've never told anyone about this?” Jiwoo started and Yerim tilted her head to the side, deep in thought.
“I don't know. I guess I've never really thought about it?”
It was a half-truth; the other reason being that she would actually rather spend time out here alone. Don't get her wrong, she absolutely adored her members and they were practically family to her by then- but as it was typical with families, everyone had their limits (even for someone as patient and tolerable as Yerim) and needed to have some time to themselves, too.
She was sure Jiwoo could see past the small lie easily but the older girl decided not to mention it. Instead, she chuckled lowly and said, “I guess that cringy quote does actually have a bit of truth to it.”
Yerim rose an eyebrow.
Jiwoo shrugged, “Oh, you know,” she smiled cheekily at Yerim, “that ‘good girls are bad girls that haven't been caught.’”
Yerim groaned in response, “Looks like someone's been using too much Pinterest.”
“Hey!” Jiwoo squeezed her hand- hard might she add- to which she yelped and attempted to pull back but Jiwoo had a vice grip on it. “Sneaking out is against the rules, in case you forgot. Besides, don't you know how dangerous it is to be out here alone? If manager-unnie ever finds out about this you'd be dead meat.”
There was truth in what she was saying so Yerim only kept quiet, choosing to look at the gathering clouds in the night sky which were blocking parts of constellations that she'd come to know of. Her heart suddenly grew heavy and she tried to choke it down to being tired but she knew that there was more to it than that.
“Unnie,” Jiwoo hummed in response, “-do you ever regret it?”
“What do you mean by that?”
Yerim looked down at her feet and stopped swinging which brought Jiwoo to a stop, too.
“Just, everything. You know, idol life. It's…..exhausting.”
There it was.
The truth rang in her ears- how she wasn't as bubbly and cheerful as everyone around her, members and fans alike, seemed to make her out to be.
Deep down, she felt guilty for feeling this way, for even doubting herself. So she managed to squish her worries down by putting on a fake persona that was always positive in order to outweigh the negativity she felt.
Suddenly, she felt self-conscious and was worried about what Jiwoo might think of her then and tried to backtrack, “I mean, uh, I'm just really tired of all the dance practices we have! Yeah,” she chuckled nervously and rubbed the back of her head with her free hand, “Just. Dance practices. Choreography. Vocal lessons.”
“Yerim,” she stopped rambling and looked at the older girl who had her eyes downcast which was uncharacteristic of her, “I feel that way sometimes, too.”
She was taken aback. Kim Jiwoo? The one who fans called the brightest sunshine they'd ever seen?
But upon further inspection, Yerim finally noticed the cracks, the chinks in the armour that Jiwoo had come to wear like a second skin. Why hadn't she noticed sooner that perhaps the older girl that she'd grown to love and look up to was also suffering?
She felt safe in the knowledge that they had something in common; which led her to finally voice out what was bothering her.
“Unnie,” Yerim's voice broke, “I-I just miss my family so much.”
And then she was crying.
Jiwoo sprang to her feet immediately and wrapped the younger girl in her arms, cooing and rubbing her back while letting the girl's tears soak the front of her coat.
It didn't last long (Yerim never was one to cry much) and soon after she was pulling back and rubbing at her eyes fervently, smiling sheepishly at Jiwoo.
“I'm sorry, unnie. I didn't mean to react that way,” her bottom lip quivered and she bit it in hopes that it would halt further tears from falling.
Jiwoo wore a worried expression as she kneeled down so that she could meet Yerim's eyes.
“You don't have to be sorry,” she gently reached out to grab both of her hands and ran her thumbs over them, “I know what it feels like to be so tired of everything. I know how hard it is to be away from family. But, Yerimmie,” she smiled at the younger girl, “That's why you have us. All eleven of us. We're your sisters and we wouldn't want anything to happen to you.”
Yerim felt like crying again when Jiwoo leant up to plant a gentle kiss on her forehead. Her heart swelled with so much love and gratitude for the older girl that she couldn't hold herself back from tackling Jiwoo with a hug, making them fall to the ground.
Jiwoo laughed and hugged her back with an equal amount of force as they spent a few moments lying there on the grass, just appreciating everything in the moment.
Jiwoo was right.
She had eleven sisters who cared and loved her for who she was and that was enough.
When they finally stood, brushing off the dirt from their coats, they silently agreed that it was getting very late and that they should start heading back.
Yerim stifled a yawn as they walked out of the park hand in hand which made Jiwoo chuckle and stop before her much to her confusion. With her back to Yerim's, she let go of her hand, bent down and said, “Here, I'll give you a piggyback ride.”
She quickly shook her head and, realising that Jiwoo couldn't see her, exclaimed, “You really don't have to, unnie. Besides, I don't think that's a really good idea since I had so much to eat for dinner.”
Turning her head to look at Yerim, Jiwoo rolled her eyes and scoffed.
“I'm much stronger than you make me out to be, you know. Now hop on before I change my mind and you'll regret it for the rest of your life.”
Yerim knew there was no point in arguing with a determined Jiwoo so, sighing in defeat, she hesitantly climbed onto the girl's back, wrapped her arms around her neck and felt the older girl hook both arms around her hips before lifting her up with a grunt.
“I said I got this,” Jiwoo shot back and Yerim clamped her mouth shut.
Initially, Yerim didn't think Jiwoo would make it past a few steps but, surprisingly, the older girl held true to her word- albeit moving really slow. But Yerim didn't mind that because, as much as she didn't want to admit it, she was really enjoying being babied by Jiwoo and wanted to savour every second she had with her.
She nestled her head in the crook of Jiwoo's neck, feeling the warmth of her body against her cheek, and closed her eyes in content. That was when she felt how truly exhausted she was- from her aching limbs to a deep, dull throbbing at the back of her head- and she just wanted to sleep it all away.
And so she did.
When Yerim woke up, she was back at the dorms.
Or more specifically, in Jiwoo's bed.
Her eyes drifted to the girl cuddled against her who was still deep in slumber and she smiled to herself at how soft snores escaped the older girl’s mouth at intervals.
She glanced at the clock on the wall: 8:15am.
Fifteen minutes till they had to wake up and start getting ready to leave for practice.
She decided to try to get more shut-eye, slinging an arm over her eyes.
Practice can wait.
“Why were you guys sleeping together?”
Hyejoo had asked Yerim when they were all in the private van on the way to the studio. Everyone heard her and murmured their agreement, confusion etched onto their faces.
She stiffened before she felt a warm hand envelope hers which belonged to none other than Jiwoo who was sitting beside her.
“Yerim had a nightmare and since I just happened to be awake at the time I offered to let her sleep with me,” she said smoothly and squeezed Yerim's hand reassuringly.
“Besides,” Jiwoo smirked, “-don't you do that too with Sooyoung?”
Hyejoo blushed and coughed into her hand, attempting to hide her embarrassment.
“Sh-shut up, unnie!”
Sooyoung just patted Hyejoo's back and shot a glare in Jiwoo's direction which succeeded in making her bite back her tongue from another teasing jab at Hyejoo's sleeping habits.
Yerim smiled affectionately at their antics when the atmosphere turned quiet again. Normally, it'd be chaotic but since it was still morning and the girls had yet to shake off the effects of slumber on their bodies, it allowed some reprieve for those who just wanted to get some more rest.
She hadn't noticed that Jiwoo's hand was still cradling hers and only looked up when her fingers started brushing that soothing rhythm against her skin. Their eyes met for a couple of seconds too long, as if they were communicating telepathically, before Jiwoo broke out into a wide smile, her eyes crinkling and showing her pearly whites.
Yerim couldn't help but to return the smile because that's how infectious Jiwoo's happiness could be. But then her mind whirled back to last night and she remembered that Jiwoo wasn't always all sunshines and rainbows too.
Maybe they both needed each other more than they ever knew.
And maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't be so bad to have Jiwoo join her on her nightly walks, after all.
Thus, she came to a conclusion.
Yerim loved taking walks; especially if it was with Kim Jiwoo.