It starts with a tickle, a tingle, the faintest of itches as light and gentle as the landing of a butterfly.
Hyejoo doesn’t even notice it at first, absentmindedly scratching at her neck while observing her friends as they frolic about. It’s warm, and Hyejoo doesn’t think it’s just from the sun as she hears laughter filling the air. There’s one voice in particular that stands out to Hyejoo; picking it out of the crowd is just as simple as finding the moon amongst the stars.
“Jiwoo-unnie, no! That’s nasty– Stop bringing it closer to me!”
Chaewon’s disgusted squeals can be heard even from afar, and Hyejoo snorts into her ice cream as she watches her friend get chased around by a slug on a stick.
“You know, sometimes I feel like I’m dating a five year old,” Sooyoung sighs from next to her.
“You are,” Hyejoo replies. “Which is impressive considering how you’re a hag and all.”
Hyejoo easily dodges the swipe aimed at her head without tearing her eyes off the scene before her. Yeojin has joined the fray, and she’s reenacting some sort of play with Jiwoo using her own snail as a puppet. On the other hand, Chaewon has taken refuge behind Jinsol, peering around the taller girl to give her less mature friends the stink eye.
Hyejoo chuckles, but she’s suddenly cut off by a sharp prickle in her throat. It’s gone just as quickly as it came, leaving Hyejoo to wonder if it was just a figment of her imagination. She has no time to ponder on it, however, for Sooyoung takes her momentary distraction as a chance to snatch away the rest of Hyejoo’s ice cream.
“You’re going to pay for that,” Hyejoo growls. She grumbles to herself and doesn’t bother pursuing this annoyance of a thief when Sooyoung wastes no time in shoveling what remains of Hyejoo’s convenience store snack into her mouth like a bulldozer.
Hyejoo turns to see Chaewon standing at her elbow. She smiles up at Hyejoo, arms outstretched with an offering.
“Here,” Chaewon says. “You can have the rest of mine.”
“I don’t eat mint choco though,” Hyejoo points out.
Chaewon's smile falls into a grimace, and she shoots a sidelong glare at Jiwoo. “C’mon,” she says, turning back to Hyejoo with pleading eyes. “I don’t want to eat it anymore because of someone, but it would be such a waste to just throw it away.”
“What am I, your garbage disposal?”
“No, you’re my hero,” Chaewon says sweetly, and she even bats her eyelashes.
Hyejoo coughs into her hand. She’s glad Sooyoung has gone to pick a fight with Jungeun so she can’t see how Hyejoo takes the proffered item with minimal resistance. Chaewon looks at her expectantly with a twinkle in her eye, and Hyejoo resigns herself to her fate as she reluctantly raises a scoop of toothpaste-flavored ice cream to her mouth.
The agony is worth it when Chaewon immediately lets out a giggle at whatever expression has shown up on Hyejoo’s face. Her amusement only grows as Hyejoo sticks out her tongue in defeat, and full blown laughter soon escapes her to the point where one of her eyes squints shut in mirth at Hyejoo’s misery.
“You look… You look ridiculous,” she says in between pauses to take a breath. “Hyejoo, you look so silly right now.”
“I wonder whose fault that is,” Hyejoo mutters. She shoves the cup of hell back at Chaewon only to pull it back quickly as a new idea comes to mind.
“What are you– Ah! Hyejoo! No!”
“It’s called revenge!” Hyejoo shouts as she flings mint chocolate at a fleeing Chaewon. There’s still a pale green stripe smeared across Chaewon’s cheek that Hyejoo reminds herself to wipe if Chaewon hasn’t done so by the time Hyejoo catches her. The two run around the park, nearly tripping over a snoozing Vivi and actually tripping over Hyunjin and Heejin as they cuddle under a tree.
Despite her short stature, Chaewon can be fast when she wants to be, and Hyejoo is panting by the time she reaches her. The unfinished ice cream is now in Hyunjin’s possession, Hyejoo having tossed it at her as a quick apology without checking to see if Hyunjin caught it or not. She’s more concerned with how Chaewon is about to get away again, and Hyejoo doesn’t think she has the willpower to keep exerting her body like this, so she lunges at her friend.
Chaewon lets out a yelp as she’s tackled before descending into another cascade of giggles. Her renewed laughter pours out of her easily as Hyejoo does her best to poke and prod at her waist and neck, spurred on by Chaewon’s protests.
“Stop– Oh my god– Hyejoo– Stop! I surrender! I surrender!”
“Too late! You’re going to have to suffer until my taste buds stop suffering.”
“You need better taste buds in the first place– Ah! No! Yerim, help!”
Poor Yerim is practically yanked to the ground when she walks by as Chaewon desperately grabs her collar in her search for salvation. The blonde is still trying to escape Hyejoo’s grasp, so it’s only inevitable that she crashes into Yerim when Hyejoo abruptly lets go. Hyejoo cackles with no remorse when Yerim fully loses balance this time, knocking into Haseul as she tries to take a selfie.
If things were loud before, they’re definitely a mess now. Hyejoo swears their friend group is drawn to chaos like a bunch of trouble-seeking magnets when everyone starts clustering around the noise. Hyejoo herself remains on the fringe, content to watch the consequences of her action from afar.
Even through all the screaming and yelling, there’s still that one sound that cuts through the din. Chaewon’s voice is like a wind chime tinkling loud and clear through the buzzing of a summer filled with cicadas, and for a second, Hyejoo imagines herself as a little songbird offering its own trifling tune as a duet.
Hyejoo shakes her head to free her mind of that flight of fancy. She scratches at her neck again, pressing down to relieve her throat of that miniscule itch. It does abate even momentarily, and that’s enough for Hyejoo to put it out of her mind as her friends call for her to join their group photo.
She doesn’t realize what it is until much later.
The first petal arrives at the end of summer.
Chaewon’s weight is a steady warmth on Hyejoo’s back as she cycles next to a riverbank. Their combined shadows are long since the sun is low, dipping into the water and coloring everything in a gentle red. Hyejoo coasts along the familiar trail at a leisurely pace, hardly pedalling, and out of the corner of her eye she can see how unmoving their silhouettes are save for the spinning of wheels and the interspersed sunset piercing through the spokes of her bike.
Chaewon shifts on her back.
“I wish today would never end,” she says into the space between Hyejoo’s shoulder blades.
Hyejoo drums her fingers on the handlebars and hums in response.
“Wouldn’t it be nice?” Chaewon continues. “If tomorrow never came? That means the day after wouldn’t come, and the day after that wouldn’t happen either, and Vivi-unnie wouldn’t have to leave.”
“She’ll be back in a few years, you know,” Hyejoo reminds her.
“I know, but still.”
“We’re all going to miss her,” Hyejoo agrees. “Especially Haseul-unnie.”
“Especially Haseul-unnie,” Chaewon echoes.
She moves again, this time to rest the side of her face on Hyejoo’s back.
“What would you do if I had to go somewhere far away?”
Hyejoo mulls over the question in her head, though it seems pretty clear what her answer will be. Still, she briefly tries to picture a scenario where Chaewon isn’t here right now, where she’s far out of reach and too far to feel.
“I’d go with you, of course,” Hyejoo says. She then adds, “Someone has to take care of you.”
“Hey!” The arms around her squeeze a bit harder. “I can take care of myself perfectly fine, thank you very much. We’re all adults now, you know.”
“Could have fooled me.”
Chaewon pinches Hyejoo’s stomach.
“Watch it,” Hyejoo warns. “You don’t want us both to fall, do you?”
“Maybe I do,” Chaewon retorts even as she pats the afflicted spot.
She soon starts drawing circles and tracing words, and it would be a distraction were it not for the fact that the movements of her fingers serve as a silent reminder. Every stroke Chaewon makes seems to say I’m here, I’m here, and Hyejoo is content with being the canvas for that message. She keeps her eyes on the road ahead, never straying from the path Chaewon picked out earlier. Like the wind beneath wings, Hyejoo will take Chaewon to wherever she needs to go.
A cough nearly throws that plan into disarray.
The bike wobbles as Hyejoo’s body lurches from the sudden need to expel something. Chaewon lets out a squeak of surprise behind her, clinging on even tighter now, and Hyejoo quickly gathers her bearings to keep them upright.
“Are you okay?” Chaewon asks.
“Yeah, sorry,” Hyejoo mumbles. “Ugh, I think I choked on a bug or something.”
The urge to cough immediately returns, and Hyejoo surreptitiously raises her fist to her mouth. The buildup of pressure in her lungs only increases, and Hyejoo prays that Chaewon doesn’t notice when she finally lets it out, blinking in surprise when an object flies into her hand.
It’s a small, pale purple petal.
Hyejoo stares at it for several long seconds until she’s aware of Chaewon moving behind her again. She quickly lowers her hand back to the handlebar, the petal still within her grip until she shifts so that it can be taken away by a passing breeze.
There’s a gentle touch on her shoulder.
“Hey, are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine,” Hyejoo automatically replies. “I’m fine,” she repeats as if saying it again will make it any more true.
She’s relieved when Chaewon doesn’t pry any further. The two continue their journey down the river, though they stop before the end of the biking course to turn around and make their way back. Chaewon does offer to carry Hyejoo this time around, but some back and forth bickering winds up with them back in their original positions, not that Hyejoo honestly minds.
“Thank you for today,” Chaewon says shortly before they part ways. They’re standing outside the entrance to her apartment complex, and by this point the sun has long departed. Streetlights shine in the distance to the rear of Hyejoo, but they’re nothing compared to the illumination coming from the building behind Chaewon. It basks her in a soft, yellow glow akin to that of the morning sun, and the sight makes Hyejoo breathless for some reason.
“It was nothing,” she finally says after a pause. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
Hyejoo almost makes it through the rest of the night in one piece. It’s not until she’s about to brush her teeth and go to bed when it happens again. Yet another spontaneous coughing fit takes over her body, and she’s grateful that she’s standing right in front of her sink as a couple more petals burst free of her mouth.
When the attack subsides at last, Hyejoo is left staring at what remains. There it lies, purple against porcelain, the proof of something she has never given voice to. It’s something she’s hardly given active thought to, something she just naturally accepted as part of herself. It seemed inevitable anyways, as immutable and inescapable as the endless rising and setting of the sun.
After all, why would Chaewon, who fills Hyejoo’s heart with light and laughter, not fill her lungs with flowers and blossoms?
That night, Hyejoo lies awake with her phone glaring over her face as she searches for the meaning of the newfound plant that’s taken root in her chest.
Purity. Silence. Serenity. Grace.
Sooyoung is the first to bring it up.
She’s not the first to notice; that dubious honor probably goes to Yerim, who witnessed Hyejoo running out of a lecture hall with her hand clasped over her mouth. She didn’t say anything when Hyejoo returned from her impromptu ‘bathroom break’, but the sad, sympathetic look on her face was more than enough. She gave Hyejoo an extra long hug that day, leaving Hyejoo to wonder how long it’ll take for the rest of their friends to figure it out.
Sooyoung corners her not even a week after that by standing outside the restroom stall Hyejoo is puking into. She probably means well, but all Hyejoo feels is pain and humiliation as she helplessly spews out the inside of her lungs into the toilet. Although there are still petals, full flowers have joined the mass of purple swimming before her like some sort of twisted, beautiful warning of the approaching end.
Hyejoo doesn’t meet Sooyoung’s eyes when she finally steps out of the stall. She wipes her mouth with her hand before shoving it under a faucet, rubbing furiously and letting the sound of rushing water cover up the need to talk. She refuses to look up at the mirror, well aware that Sooyoung is watching her through it.
“You’re sick, aren’t you?” Sooyoung says as soon as Hyejoo turns off the tap, her hands having grown sore from all the washing.
“Maybe,” Hyejoo says shortly. She doesn’t know what has compelled her to throw up defensive walls; perhaps it’s the pity, the pressure, the platitudes that always come in situations like this. They’re sure to be coupled with the usual advice, none of which Hyejoo wants to hear.
“... Chaewon’s worried, you know,” Sooyoung sighs. She runs a hand through her hair as she gazes off at nothing. It might be her way of giving Hyejoo space, removing the stress of her stare as she says, “We all are, actually. You don’t look so well these days.”
Hyejoo exhales slowly.
“What do you want me to say?”
“The truth would be nice.”
Sooyoung’s eyes briefly flick over to meet Hyejoo’s in the mirror, and she gives a small smile before her focus dances away again.
Hyejoo takes a deep breath only to be interrupted by another damn cough.
“I have it,” she admits when it passes, her tone blunt.
“Not surprised, honestly.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means…” Sooyoung sighs yet again before placing a placating hand on Hyejoo’s arm. “It means you were so whiny last year when you caught the flu. You made everyone baby you, yet this year you haven’t said a word about being sick. Of course it’s because it’s something… different.”
“Something worse,” Hyejoo says for the both of them.
“What are you going to do about it?”
“What can I do?”
There’s a saying out there that says that every time someone sighs, they lose a bit of happiness. Hyejoo hopes it’s not true, because she doesn’t want to be responsible for all this joy just leaking out of Sooyoung. The older girl’s reflection frowns at Hyejoo, more sighs escaping her.
“Well, your first choice is to get over it–”
“–while your second choice is to take the surgery,” Sooyoung continues as though she had been expecting that particular objection. “There technically is a third and fourth choice, but they’re not really choices, are they?”
“I suppose not.”
It’s Hyejoo’s turn to sigh, well aware of what Sooyoung is referring to. Both those choices don’t involve actually doing anything, as the third ‘choice’ is simply hoping that your feelings are returned in a timely manner. The fourth is what happens when they aren’t:
“Look, I’ll just say it,” Sooyoung says, turning to face Hyejoo directly. “You cannot die. That is not an option. I don’t care what the laws are. None of us are going to let you die over this.”
“This isn’t your decision,” Hyejoo says through gritted teeth. Her nails start digging into her palms as she clenches her fists.
“I know, and like I said, I don’t care,” Sooyoung states firmly. “Hyejoo, you’re important to us. All of us. We can’t lose you like this.”
“Well, what the hell am I supposed to do then, huh?” Hyejoo snaps, whirling on Sooyoung. “You know what people say about the surgery, about how they lose everything because of it. You want me to go through that?”
“It’s better than dying,” Sooyoung says quietly.
“How would you know? You’ve never–”
“Jiwoo. Jiwoo has.”
Hyejoo reels back.
“What? Wha– When?”
“High school, before she met either of us,” Sooyoung answers with a sad smile. “She doesn’t really like talking about it. But can you imagine? If she hadn’t made that choice… Well, I don’t like thinking about it.”
Hyejoo doesn’t reply for a whole minute. Instead, she looks to the mirror, glaring at the person within for bringing this down upon her. It’s frustrating to the point of being nauseating, how every choice seems like the wrong one here.
“I hate this,” she hisses, fingers holding onto the sink in a death grip. “I hate this so much.”
“I know,” Sooyoung says, her voice coming through a little thicker than usual. “I know.”
The two finally leave the restroom after a while, sick of the silence that comes when nobody has any answers. Sooyoung pulls Hyejoo into a hug as soon as they step back into the main corridors of their campus.
“Please. Talk to Jiwoo,” she pleads. “Promise me you’ll do that at least.”
“I will,” Hyejoo nods. “I was planning to,” she adds, not missing how Sooyoung sighs in relief this time.
True to her word, Hyejoo finds Jiwoo a few days later in the art classroom she practically lives in. It’s almost empty for once, its only occupants being the many marble busts placed throughout the room along with Jiwoo herself and Heejin. The latter jumps in surprise when Hyejoo walks in, though Jiwoo merely smiles as though she was expecting this guest.
“Unnie,” Hyejoo says. “Can I talk to you about something?”
“I’ll see you two around,” Heejin says, quick to understand as she gathers her things. She gives Hyejoo a pat on the back when she walks past her, and the door slides shut behind her with a click.
Hyejoo begins pacing around the room, examining all the expressionless heads placed on pedestals as she searches for a way to breach the topic at hand. She idly knocks on one of the female statues to find that it’s only made of plaster, not stone.
She barely has time to finish that thought before she doubles over, throat on fire as she chokes on what feels like an entire bouquet. Jiwoo is by her side in an instant, holding a bucket that she produced out of seemingly nowhere as she rubs Hyejoo’s back with firm, solid strokes.
“It’s okay,” Jiwoo says, voice calm and soothing. “It’s okay, just get it all out. I’m here for you.”
Hyejoo takes a seat at the base of one of the statues when her torture finally ends. A few more smaller coughs force their way out before she’s able to catch a break and rest her head on the pedestal behind her. She sits there, panting in exhaustion with a bucketful of feelings by her side.
“It’s been a while since you’ve had it, huh?” Jiwoo asks. She holds her knees to her chest as she too sits on the floor facing Hyejoo. Her smile is kind and patient, a little different from her usual, more jubilant expressions. “I can tell. You still have time though, don’t worry.”
“How… How did it feel?” Hyejoo asks. “After the surgery?”
“Um…” Jiwoo knocks on her forehead with her knuckles. “That’s kinda hard to answer, actually… because you don’t. You don’t feel after the surgery.”
“Nothing? Nothing at all?”
“Nothing,” Jiwoo confirms. “Everything I felt for that person… just poof! Gone.” Her hand opens and closes. “I’m sure she was important to me once—my old diary said as much—but after I woke up from the operation… I knew who she was and I knew what we had gone through, but I couldn’t feel for her anymore. And I still can’t remember what it was like when I did.”
“But you loved her,” Hyejoo points out. “Right? You did love her?”
“I must have,” Jiwoo smiles wistfully. “I mean I made Jungie apply to this college with me even though it’s so far from home just so I could chase that person, so I must have, right?”
The ache in Hyejoo’s chest throbs as she watches Jiwoo look up at the ceiling, lost in thought.
“It’s kind of funny, actually,” Jiwoo muses, and Hyejoo isn’t sure if she’s talking to her anymore. “There were so many tear stains on my diary and I kept writing about how much everything hurt, about how much I hated flowers. I remember writing all that and I remember all the crying, but… I just can’t remember why.”
Hyejoo slowly puts her face in her hands.
“How did you do it?” she mumbles through her fingers. “How did you find the strength to go through with it?”
“I did it for Jungie,” Jiwoo says. “And I guess in some ways, I did it for Sooyoung too.”
Beyond the window, a bird flies by. Hyejoo doesn’t see it; she only hears the steady beating of wings as it flaps away towards the sky. For a moment, she envies it. She almost wishes that she could be equally uncaged, unchained from her heavy heart and unbound from all this pain.
But then she thinks of Chaewon. She thinks of being severed from her, of having their bond shattered and scattered, of destroying everything that ever was between them.
It’s a terrifying thought.
Caught between freedom and fear and liberty and loss, Hyejoo once again finds herself not knowing what to do at all.
It was only a matter of time before Chaewon found out.
Hyejoo figures she’s known for a while. Chaewon has always been strangely attuned to Hyejoo somehow, sensitive to the shifts and changes in her mood. Although she doesn’t bring it up, it’s telling when she holds Hyejoo’s hands tighter these days, entwining their fingers with an unspoken desperation. Her eyes also lack their usual sparkle, and for once Hyejoo doesn’t know how to fix it.
Tonight, they’re connected through their pinkies as they stargaze from the rooftop of Hyejoo’s apartment. There’s not much to see, most stars drowned out by city lights, but Hyejoo is satisfied just laying here with Chaewon sitting next to her. After all, who knows how much longer she’ll be able to do this?
“Who is it?”
Hyejoo chuckles to herself.
Leave it to Chaewon to ask the one question that all their friends have respectfully declined to mention for the longest time. Hyejoo has seen them hesitate and has overheard them arguing about the matter, though nobody so far has managed to actually ask. Not until Chaewon, that is.
It’s funny, considering how she’s the last person who should ever know.
Hyejoo doesn’t answer.
“Hyejoo.” There’s a slight tug on her linked finger. “Hyejoo, please. Who is it?”
“I can’t tell you,” Hyejoo says honestly.
“It’s better if you don’t know.”
Ever so slightly, Hyejoo feels the finger around hers loosen its grip. An abject sense of longing begins trickling into her chest, seeping through her ribcage, and it ultimately floods her lungs as Chaewon pulls away.
It’s so hard to breathe.
“Get the surgery. Please.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“But you’re still asking that of me?”
Hyejoo truly feels like she’s drowning when she hears a sniff from next to her, but she can’t bear to check if Chaewon is actually crying or not. Her resolve is already weak enough as is, and she’s not sure if it can even be called resolve in the first place when she’s just stubbornly refusing to do anything in hopes of drawing out the unavoidable end.
Chaewon suddenly grabs her hand, and it’s like her head has momentarily burst free of the ocean depths below. Even if it’s just for a few precious seconds, Hyejoo is able to take in a lungful of air as she marvels, not for the first time, at how well their hands fit together. In another world, maybe this would have been meant to be, but for now, all Hyejoo can do is accept what is and take what respite she can.
If only this could last forever.
“Can you look at me?”
Hyejoo slowly turns her head to obey. As expected, Chaewon’s eyes are shining with unshed tears. The moon hangs over her shoulder like a mother watching over a wayward child, and Hyejoo suddenly imagines herself plucking it out of the sky as a gift to the person who owns her heart and grew a garden in it.
“Hyejoo,” Chaewon calls out, and the name rolls off her tongue like some beacon beckoning through the darkness. “Please, I’m begging you. Please get the surgery. I don’t want you to die.”
“I don’t want to die either, you know.”
“I’m scared,” Hyejoo confesses, her voice quivering against her will. “It’s like you’re asking me to get rid of the sun. How can someone live without the sun?”
“You can adapt,” Chaewon urges. “You can always find another sun. You can find a better sun. One that you won’t have to get rid of. You can’t do any of that if you’re… if you’re gone.”
Hyejoo inhales deeply before letting it all out in a pitiful, broken sigh.
“I’ll think about it.”
“Please… I don’t want to lose you.”
And therein lies the irony of everything: Chaewon will lose Hyejoo either way.
“Things are going to change, you know,” Hyejoo says softly.
“They always do.”
Hyejoo uses her free hand to cover her eyes, blocking out the constellations above. She clutches Chaewon’s hand with all that she can muster, receiving a squeeze in return. A sob threatens to escape from her lips, and she takes in a raggedy, shaky breath to swallow it down even as a drop of wetness leaks from her eye.
“I’ll do it,” Hyejoo says quietly. “I’ll do it. For you. But on one condition.”
“What is it?”
“You can’t go see me at the hospital.”
“What? No,” Chaewon immediately protests. “I want to be there for you–”
“I know,” Hyejoo interrupts. “I know you do. But you can’t be there. Promise me you won’t go.”
The two fall into a silence. Hyejoo gradually sits up, no longer looking at Chaewon as she gazes out at the city instead. Pinpricks of red and white move along a distant freeway, and the yellow glow of buildings glimmer on the horizon. Everything feels so far away, almost surreal in a sense, and Hyejoo wishes she could stay in this private world forever.
“Thank you. For being here. With me.”
A cough cuts her off.
Hyejoo stares, shocked and astounded as Chaewon’s whole body jerks all of a sudden. She’s choking, Hyejoo dimly realizes while her body moves on autopilot to hold Chaewon. She’s about to give Chaewon a solid smack on her back when Chaewon gasps in relief, her airway finally cleared.
Something flutters to the ground.
Hyejoo snatches it out of the air before it even touches the floor where other identical items lay. It’s small, and Hyejoo’s fingers tremble as she holds it up against the moonlight.
A pale purple petal.
“I’m sorry,” Chaewon whispers. “You– You weren’t supposed to see. You weren’t supposed to know.”
Hyejoo continues staring at that familiar color between her fingertips. She turns it to and fro, moonbeans hitting it at all sorts of angles as something warm begins welling up in her chest.
“Who is this for?” she asks.
“... You. It’s always been you.”
Hyejoo lets out a laugh.
“God, we’re stupid,” she says as her tears refuse to be held back anymore. “God, we’re so, so stupid.”
Hyejoo doesn’t hesitate. She drops the petal, letting it fall to be with the rest of its brethren as she turns to the only person who matters right now. She takes her world in her hands, carefully cradling Chaewon’s face.
A second passes.
Hyejoo kisses her.
All at once, the burden that’s been constricting her lungs for the longest time vanishes, and her heart is in full bloom from the rush of euphoria filling her veins. It spreads through her whole body, permeating her very soul with a contentment she’s only ever dreamed of. Her affection and adoration somehow intensify when she feels Chaewon smile through their kiss, and Hyejoo knows she’ll keep falling in love with her every single day from here on out.
Hyejoo keeps their foreheads pressed together when they briefly separate. She feels oddly greedy now, eager to remain connected to Chaewon in whatever way she can, and she’s certain Chaewon feels the same with how her arms have pulled Hyejoo into an embrace that doesn’t seem like it’ll ever end.
“I love you,” Chaewon says. “I love you. I love you. I love you so much.”
“Me too,” Hyejoo murmurs. “I love you. I’ve loved you for so long.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
Chaewon gives an ineffectual hit to Hyejoo’s shoulder. All it does is elicit a chuckle, which prompts Chaewon to giggle as she returns her arm to its rightful place around Hyejoo.
“Sorry,” Hyejoo says.
“It’s okay. I forgive you. Wanna know why?” Chaewon asks with a mischievous, giddy grin.
Hyejoo humors her.
“Because I love you.”
Hyejoo doesn’t know how long it’ll take for her to get used to this new, peculiar but pleasant floating sensation she feels every time Chaewon says those three words. She doesn’t know if she ever will, honestly, but this is something she’s more than willing to live with. The tears on her face have yet to dry, but even the coldness of the night wind can’t take away the warmth burning inside Hyejoo’s heart.
Hyejoo smiles, and she kisses Chaewon again.
“I love you too.”