“Thanks for coming.” Chaewon doesn’t stand from her seat, but she does smile at Hyejoo, as Hyejoo settles down across her.
“Thanks for,” Hyejoo starts, and then pauses for a bit, not sure of what to say, not sure if she’ll say it right. “Asking me to come, I guess.”
Chaewon shrugs, and her long blonde hair follows the motion, falling behind her shoulders, exposing her collarbones that show through her light camisole. Hyejoo would be lying if she said Chaewon didn’t look like a damn vision right now. She’d dyed her hair too, which came as a surprise to Hyejoo. It didn’t seem like something the shy girl she’d known back then would do.
“Well,” Chaewon says after a while. “Someone had to, right?” Her tone is a little accusatory, but that’s something Hyejoo’s come to expect.
“I guess so,” is all Hyejoo replies, carefully eyeing the other girl.
“Let’s order first, if that’s okay with you?”
“Yeah, it’s whatever.”
Chaewon waves the waiter over, some guy named Lucas, who eyes her a little bit, making Hyejoo’s eye twitch, but she balls her fist and swallows the bile coming up her throat. Lucas, or whatever, was allowed to do that. It’s not like Chaewon belonged to anyone—at least, not as far as Hyejoo knew, which wasn’t a lot to be honest. They hadn’t seen each other or kept in touch for the past year, and as Hyejoo knew all too well, a lot could happen in a year. Hell, a lot could happen in a week, or a few months, and Chaewon’s always been pretty. It was possible she wasn’t single anymore. Not that that should concern Hyejoo anymore. It’s not her place; well, it had never really been her place.
Lucas gets their orders, and if Hyejoo snaps hers to him a little too aggressively, that’s no one’s business. Chaewon does give her a chastising look that makes Hyejoo feel like they’re fourteen all over again, and like, she’s all wrapped up in Chaewon’s presence, like she never really grew up. Hyejoo looks away. She hates feeling this way; hates how Chaewon makes her feel unhinged.
“So,” Chaewon starts, when it becomes evident that Hyejoo won’t be starting any conversations with her. “I heard you dropped out.”
Hyejoo raises an eyebrow in surprise. “Yeah. Who told you?”
“Of course, she did.” Hyejoo flicks a piece of lint off the placemat. “She really needs to mind her own business.”
“I think you are her business,” Chaewon replies. “You’re her sister.”
“Yeah, well,” Hyejoo levels a hard look at Chaewon. “She didn’t have to tell you anything.”
Chaewon returns the look. “Well, someone had to. And it looked a lot like it wasn’t going to be you. Even if it should have been.”
There, again, the accusatory tone. Hyejoo steels herself against it. What did she expect anyways, coming here? Chaewon’s not evil, but she’s always been a little vindictive. Never towards nice people, just people who wronged her—Hyejoo would have laughed if someone had told fourteen year old her that twenty year old Hyejoo would be at the receiving end of Chaewon’s rare cutting words.
“I didn’t want to,” she calmly replies. It’s partly true, anyways. She hadn’t wanted anything that had to do with Chaewon in the same way she wanted all of Chaewon. It was a lot of destructive patterns Hyejoo’s finally escaped, and still healing from after all.
Chaewon’s jaw tenses up. “You—I can’t believe you, honestly.” Her voice is laced with frustration. “I honestly cannot believe you’d say that to my face.”
“I was telling you the truth,” Hyejoo finds herself shooting back. “I didn’t want to tell you anything.”
“So, you just decided, one day, let me move to another country and not tell my best friend anything? Oh, and you also decided to cut off all contact with said best friend—me—just because you didn’t want to? You’re such an asshole.”
“That’s not—“ Hyejoo stops out of frustration. If it was anger or hurt, she didn’t know. “That’s not all of it, okay? Like, I’m not an asshole. You just make me sound like one!”
Chaewon laughs, like, she actually laughs a little. It’s high and airy, but far from light and good. It’s almost jarring. “I don’t need to make you sound like an asshole, Hye. You are one. Newsflash: if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it’s probably a fucking duck.”
Hyejoo doesn’t reply after that. She feels her stomach drop and her heart clench in a way that feels all too familiar, in a way she could never really describe except for as Things Only Chaewon Has Ever Made Me Feel. That category, sadly, even though left untouched for a year, was filled with a lot of things Hyejoo had tried to forget in the US; the US where she hadn’t been Hyejoo, because Hyejoo had simply been Chaewon’s, and she had wanted to be more than just that, wanted a life that didn’t feel like she was being caged in by things she wasn’t allowed to have. In the US, she had been Olivia Hye, someone who was fearless and bold, and most certainly did not pine after her best friend who’d gotten a boyfriend. Someone who didn’t run away because she was having an identity crisis, and everything was happening too fast, and her best friend was becoming someone else’s Chaewon, while Hyejoo had stayed Chaewon’s Hyejoo.
When Lucas arrives with their orders, he leaves quickly, not even telling them to enjoy the meal, probably feeling the tension in the air between the two girls who simply stared at each other. They both silently dig into their meals, the atmosphere around them suffocating, if not deadly.
Hyejoo hates it. She hates that they’ve become this, and by Chaewon’s jaw in a perpetual clench, she guesses Chaewon hates this just as much.
Unlike Hyejoo, Chaewon seems angry enough to actually say it. “We used to be so much better than this, you know.”
“You say that like it’s my fault,” Hyejoo snaps back, except she knows it’s hypocritical even before the words really leave her mouth.
“Who’s fault would it be?” Chaewon hisses, slamming her fork on the table. “I’m not the one who left.”
“Well,” Hyejoo coldly says. “If you weren’t so selfish, you’d know why I had to.” But you didn’t, because you are selfish, you are so fucking selfish, and so caught up in your fairytales that you never noticed anything, never asked me why, she doesn’t add.
“Me? Are you crazy?” Chaewon asks her, eyes flashing dangerously. “I reached out to you! On text! On fucking email. I called you more times than I can even probably count, Hye. I asked Sooyoung, and you know what she told me? ‘Hyejoo needs time’, ‘she’ll come around’, except, a year passed, and you didn’t. You didn’t even tell me you were back in Korea. You know who told me? Jinsol, and then she apologised because apparently, she wasn’t supposed to. I can’t believe you told Jinsol, out of all the fucking people in the world, you were back, but not me.”
Beneath Chaewon’s anger, Hyejoo would be lying if she said she didn’t see the hurt, because she could. Maybe no one else would be able to, but as much as Hyejoo didn’t want to admit it, she still knew enough of Chaewon to tell that oh shit, she is probably going to cry, because Chaewon never gets angry without being hurt first. There’s a lot of hurt there, and Hyejoo has to look away first, before she could really answer.
She doesn’t reply for quite awhile, enough time for Chaewon to calm down, and look more defeated than angry.
“Sorry,” Hyejoo finally tells her, because arguing seems counterproductive, and at the heart of it, she knew it was something that had to be said; she knew it was something Chaewon deserved to hear, even if saying it felt a lot like losing all over again. Hyejoo had wanted to stop losing for so long, she had wanted to stop losing to Chaewon, but winning didn’t feel as good as she thought it would at the end of the day. “I guess that’s all I can say to that. I’m sorry.”
Chaewon keeps quiet, just breathing heavily, and staring at her glass of water. Hyejoo continues. “I wasn’t ready yet, that’s why I didn’t reach out. I was planning to reach out when I was,” but that was a lie, she thinks, if Hyejoo had her way—she would have avoided this forever. “Okay, fine. Maybe I wasn’t going to. I don’t know. I haven’t figured any of it out, Chae.” The nickname rolls off her tongue in a painfully familiar that way, that Chaewon actually looks up and meets her gaze with something that isn’t anger. “I left without a game plan, that’s the truth. I got into a good university in the States, and that seemed like a good enough reason to go,” and I was running away from you, which was another good reason, Hyejoo doesn’t add.
“But,” Chaewon finally speaks up again, her voice shaky, and Hyejoo really wants to look away, but can’t. She’s afraid Chaewon will start crying. “But that, that doesn’t make sense. On why you’d suddenly leave me behind. I called you every night for a month straight. I had to listen to how Hyunjin, Heejin, Sooyoung, and all the others still knew shit about you, while I didn’t. I saw you post stuff online…like you had this whole new life, and you just somehow decided that—“ She swallows thickly, and sniffles, “—that I wasn’t going to be a part of it anymore. All of a sudden. It was like, like just a day ago we’d had a sleepover, and then you were gone.”
(It had kind-off gone down like that, in a way. Hyejoo had wanted one last day with Chaewon. She wanted to be selfish for once, and take control of her own happiness, even if for one day. She knew it was going to be the last, but Chaewon didn’t. Hyejoo just wanted to have that: an afternoon basked in air-conditioning, while a nondescript Netflix series played in the background, and video games lay strewn about the room, as Chaewon and her cuddled into each other creating a snow globe moment that Hyejoo would get to carry with her.
One that didn’t include worrying about Hansol, Chaewon’s new boyfriend who’d she’d been wrapped up in, who she was going to the same university with, and if they stayed together long enough—which Hyejoo foresaw with nothing but foreboding, because Hansol was nice and Chaewon never dated for fun—would have probably built a lifetime together, that didn’t include Hyejoo in the way she wanted it to.
She just wanted one last moment where she could pretend the plane ticket in her wallet didn’t burden her, where she could say everything and maybe nothing to Chaewon, one last moment before she admitted the truth to herself: that she was not strong enough to stay in a world where Chaewon would not be hers, and that she no longer knew who she was without Chaewon, while Chaewon was perfectly fine being independent.)
“I needed to find myself,” Hyejoo replies, and cringes at how cliche it sounds, but that isn’t a lie. It’s one of the real truths. “I didn’t know who I was. I used to, you know, but then suddenly, I didn’t. Like, I don’t know, I just saw myself all the time in relation to others—I was Ha Sooyoung’s little sister, or, like the football team’s goalkeeper, or your best friend. Like, I wasn’t just me. I was always just who I was around others. And I know that’s really a part of who we are—our relationships with others—but I also wanted to be just me when I was alone, and I wasn’t. And you, you were just such a big part of me…” She trails off. She wants to say, the biggest part of me, but doesn’t. “…that I just knew I couldn’t find myself if I was still with you. I just knew it. Like, you would always…you always ended up pulling me back into old habits, and every time I decided I would be myself, I just ended up being Chaewon’s Hyejoo. Sometimes, I wanted to say no to the stuff you wanted to do, but I couldn’t, and that frustrated me, because I was usually blunt and stuff, but then around you, I wasn’t. I didn’t like that change. I wanted to just be me, for awhile.”
Chaewon’s crying by the time Hyejoo finishes. It’s not anything like body-wracking sobs, but she is furiously wiping at her eyes, while she tries to blink the tears away. Hyejoo automatically reaches a hand out to comfort her, but stops midway, because she doesn’t really know if Chaewon would want that from her right now. She just stays quiet, and tries not to think about the hole she dug for herself, and for Chaewon.
“W-why, didn’t you just—just—tell me that?” Chaewon asks, in between sniffling, and wiping her eyes. “Why? I didn’t—I didn’t even know.”
Hyejoo winces. “…yeah. That’s my fault, not yours. I…I should have, but I couldn’t. I guess I was afraid you’d fight for me, and then I’d end up staying. Or,” she swallows, and picks at the table cloth, “or that you wouldn’t fight for me, and that was worse for some reason, even if I did want to go.”
Chaewon doesn’t say anything, except, “Oh.” And then: “I thought you didn’t tell me because you wanted to hurt me.”
Hyejoo’s already about to say no, of course not, because she never wants Chaewon to hurt, but as she really thinks about it—like really genuinely sits there, and stares at her best friend, and thinks hard enough—she wonders if a small part of her had wanted to hurt Chaewon. Some sort of nice girl complex that made her have all this pent up anger and bitterness from never having Chaewon, and watching Chaewon love other people, love Hansol; maybe a small part of Hyejoo, no matter how unaware she was of it, had wanted to hurt Chaewon, so that she could feel a little bit of what Hyejoo had been experiencing for years.
“I—well, I didn’t want to hurt you,” Hyejoo mumbles, “at least, not really. Maybe, I was just angry and everything.”
“I would have said sorry,” Chaewon replies, defeated, and sad, and maybe unhappy with the answers she was receiving. “If I had known. If I had hurt you and you told me, I would have—I would have said sorry.”
“Do you?” Chaewon asks her.
Hyejoo nods. “I know you would have, but it wasn’t about the apologies, or whatever. I needed to leave. I could have done it better, I really could have, but I was still fresh of high school, and feeling reckless, and sad, and I had a one way ticket to America. It felt like the best thing to do, back then. I wanted to feel what you were feeling, what the others felt. I wanted to have something to look forward to, and be happy for.” Something that wasn’t just you, she doesn’t add, once more. She doesn’t really know how to explain it all to Chaewon, how helpless she had felt when she realised all Chaewon had to say was jump, and Hyejoo would ask how high with no hesitance whatsoever, when Hyejoo never even got Sooyoung a glass of water when she was sick.
“You came back,” Chaewon says, as she finally grabs her utensils, and starts eating again. She doesn’t look at Hyejoo.
“Yeah. Uh, like you know, I dropped out. I’m enrolling in university here.”
“Lonely there. And I had a change of heart for my course. I kinda wanna dance major instead, and Soo owns a studio here, so…”
“Oh. I guess that’s good.”
They eat in relative silence once more, the scrape of cutlery and the background noise of people talking around them filling up the gaps of quiet between them.
“And Yerim,” Chaewon states. It’s not a question for some reason.
“What about her?” Hyejoo asks, even though she kind off already knows where this conversation is going.
“You know—the summer before you left,” Chaewon states once more. Her gaze is unreadable, her expression indecipherable.
Hyejoo feels bare under Chaewon’s knowing stare. A part of her wants to hide, maybe even lie, but it would be futile. She’s used up all her excuses.
“You didn’t tell me about Yerim,” Chaewon continues, arms crossed.
Hyejoo raises an eyebrow. “I didn’t know I had to.”
“Tell me you were dating one of our close friends and that you apparently liked girls? Yeah, that’s totally something you don’t ever tell your best friend.”
Hyejoo’s expression hardens. “I wasn’t ready to come out yet, and my relationship with Yerim lasted a month. It was barely anything. I was figuring stuff out, Chae. What about that don’t you understand?”
“What about leaving me out of your life and hurting my feelings while I stayed honest and waited for you, do YOU not understand?” Chaewon shoots back.
“I can’t believe I came back here, and you haven’t changed.” Hyejoo clenches her fist. “I wasn’t ready! You can’t expect me to always include you, to tell you everything, when I haven’t even faced those things yet! You can’t make me feel guilty for going at my pace. This is what I meant. I was never going to be able to process anything here, because here meant always doing what you wanted, giving in, telling you everything even if I wasn’t ready to, changing myself or else I wasn’t being a good best friend. I’m sorry that I left, I am. That’s on me, sure. But everything else before that was hurting me. I was nothing but extremely good to you, you can fucking ask anyone we knew. And you—you were good to me, Chae, but you were also so expectant, and you always wanted me following you around like some guard dog that would sit and roll over, or else you’d call me a bad dog. I didn’t know who I was anymore.”
Chaewon sits there, her eyes wide, stunned, as she looks at Hyejoo as if seeing her for the first time. “You’re crying,” is all she says, in a soft worried tone.
Hyejoo hadn’t even realised she was, until she felt the wet tear slip past her chin. She immediately wiped her eyes, and blinked away the remaining tears. She didn’t want to cry here. Crying in public restaurants was really not a look she wanted right now.
“I’m sorry,” Chaewon tells her after awhile. When Hyejoo looks up to meet her gaze: she can see that Chaewon herself is barely holding back her own tears. “I’m sorry. I know you said it wasn’t about the apologies or whatever, but I am. I didn’t—I don’t—I had no idea, Hye. I really didn’t. I guess,” she swallows thickly, “I guess I took a lot of stuff for granted. I didn’t know I was hurting you everyday, ohmygod.” Then, she starts crying—like full blown out crying, but in her own way, the way Hyejoo knows she cries: quiet and muffled, as Chaewon shrinks into herself.
“I know,” Hyejoo replies. She wants to say I forgive you, but she can’t—not yet. There’s not enough time between then and now for things not to hurt anymore. She knows it’s the same for Chaewon—why Chae won’t forgive her too, just yet, but at least now they both know, as least now they’re not fighting against each other. Hyejoo almost laughs. “I guess we’re both just sorry, right?”
Chaewon sniffles a little, but she does sadly smile at the statement. “Yeah, guess we’re just a bunch of losers.”
They don’t say much after that, and they both give themselves time to calm down.
Once they do, Chaewon looks at her with slightly swollen eyes. “So, you’re back here…for like, good?”
Hyejoo nods. “Yeah…I think. Like, gonna take uni here, and then work with Soo on her dance studio.”
“That…that sounds good. Great, even.”
“Yeah, it does. It’s nice, you know, to be back. Here.” Home, Hyejoo doesn’t say out loud, but she thinks this time Chaewon can read in between the lines.
Chaewon bites her lip, and then sighs. “Are we—like—are we going to be friends again?”
Hyejoo thinks about that. It would be funny of her to just come back to what she ran away from, a year ago, when she was fresh off high school, and inexperienced, and in love. She looks at Chaewon now, and realises that even if a lot has changed, some things really haven’t. She still loves her, no matter how far she was, no matter how long she chose to be away, it feels like she still loves Chaewon all over again, like they were still twelve, or fourteen, or like it was graduation, and Chaewon was telling her about Hansol all over again.
Hyejoo wonders if she can really do this to herself. It feels a lot like losing all over again, like everything she worked for, would be gone just like that. She can’t be friends with Chaewon, she realises then and there, the truth that she’s always ran from, because she didn’t want to lose Chaewon, because a selfish part of her wanted whatever Chaewon had been willing to give her, if it meant having Chae in her life.
Hyejoo shakes her head. “I don’t think so, I’m sorry.”
Chaewon looks like she’s about to cry all over again. “But—“
“—let me finish,” Hyejoo says, putting her hand up. She’s afraid that if somebody stops her now, she’ll never get to say it. “I’m about to honestly just fucking say it, because I guess, I’ve grown up a little and I’m actually feeling brave enough to be honest with you. I know you’re still with Hansol, and you’re really fucking happy with him, and this is really gonna be selfish, but I can’t do it. I love you, Chae. I love you too much, more than you ever probably loved me. I can’t watch you happy with someone else. I can’t, I wish I could, but I can’t. Honestly, it sounds way too fucking dramatic when I say it like this, but it’s the truth.” It’s not the confession she ever envisioned they’d be having, but there it was, she guesses: the truth. “I loved you for way too long to do that to myself.”
“Oh.” Chaewon’s expression is suddenly unreadable all over again, and she’s just staring at Hyejoo really intensely.
“Yeah, I hope you understand, but it’s nice that we ended on good terms—“
“—is that it?” Chaewon asks, voice sharp, as she interrupts her.
Oh, great, she’s mad, Hyejoo thinks. She nods.
“Okay,” Chaewon says, her voice tight. “Okay, okay, okay. So, first of all, Hansol and I broke up, like, six months ago. And, second of all, I can’t believe you never—ohmygod—told me this, and I’m kind off mad you just decided you loved me more than I loved you, and I guess I’m proud of you for being honest, but honestly, I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, you’re an asshole? Like, you just assumed that, and then you ran away, but I guess, I’m an asshole too, cause, I never—fuck.” She runs a hand through her hair and huffs. “What I’m trying to say is—ask me out.”
Chaewon rolls her eyes. “I can’t believe…look, you’re back, right? And you said we can’t be friends, because you’re in love with me or whatever and you’re so sure I won’t love you back, well why don’t you ask me out, and we figure it out from there?”
Hyejoo doesn’t really know what she’s feeling right now, even if she wanted to describe it, she doesn’t think she could. “Excuse me?”
“Ask me out, Son Hyejoo!” Chaewon exclaims, smacking her arm. Hyejoo winces at the sudden contact. “Like, let’s see where this fucking goes! You’ve apparently waited forever, and I’ve been missing you for a year, so let’s just try? Like, I don’t know if I’m in love with you, but I think I might be, so let’s figure it out. Together, this time. I’ll be better, but you need to stop being an asshole.”
Hyejoo knows this time she’s crying when she wipes at her own eyes. She feels overwhelmed—like defeated in a good way—relief, maybe? It feels like something inside of her, wind up as taut as a bowstring, has finally snapped, but in the best way possible. Like a kid taking its first few steps; like how she felt when she did her first tumbling; like when her mom said she’d have an older step sister, and Sooyoung walked in and told her they could play football outside; like how it felt when she was twelve and Chaewon and her first became friends.
“Okay,” is all she can really say. “Okay, I’ll ask you out.”
Chaewon makes a face, and then hands over her phone to Hyejoo. “Here. Put in your new number. I don’t trust you to call, if I give you mine. So, I’ll call, and you better save my number.”
“Okay.” Hyejoo feels like she’s in a fever dream when she inputs her new number on Chae’s phone and hands it back over. “You’ll call?”
Chaewon’s expression suddenly turns soft all of a sudden. “Of course, I will. I always have, right?” She swallows. “You just need to answer, Hyejoo.”
“Right,” Hyejoo replies. She stares at Chaewon, and it doesn’t feel like falling back into old habits anymore. “I will. I’ll answer, and then, I’ll, you know. I’ll ask you out.”
Chaewon smiles at her. “Good.”
This must be what growing up feels like.