11:11 a.m. – Lecture Building First Floor
Son Hyejoo belongs in the sun.
That’s Chaewon’s first thought when she walks into the classroom and sees her fellow student sitting by the window. Hyejoo isn’t even doing much, her chin resting in her hand as she casually doodles on a scrap piece of paper. She’s dressed in muted, dark colors as usual, but that does nothing to hide the way she glows with sunbeams gently embracing her.
Chaewon feels strangely inadequate as she takes her usual seat two chairs away from Hyejoo. She tries not to look at her too much, checking out of the corner of her eye to see Hyejoo still scribbling. Hyejoo pauses for a second, and Chaewon hastily turns her attention to her bag in case the other girl looks her way.
There’s always been something intimidating about the freshman, and it’s not just the fact that they’re in the same class despite Hyejoo being a year younger than her. Perhaps it’s the way she always looks so nonchalant and indifferent, borderline uncaring of the world around her. Chaewon has a hunch that’s not really the truth though, for Hyejoo is consistently one of the top scorers in their shared Biology course, and she hangs out with Choi Yerim of all people. It’s not hard to tell that those two are polar opposites, so there has to be more to Hyejoo than this impassive devil-may-care attitude she gives off.
A quick peek at Hyejoo’s artwork seems to say as much; Chaewon giggles to herself when she sees the quirky cartoon wolf Hyejoo has drawn. It looks rather sulky and disgruntled—a self portrait, maybe—but it’s surprisingly adorable especially considering the artist is someone Sooyoung once dubbed as “some emo-biker hybrid E-girl who has never seen a rainbow or held a puppy before in her entire life.”
Chaewon still thinks all the salt in that statement was because Jiwoo picked Hyejoo over Sooyoung in some dance off, but she has no time to dwell on the matter when there’s a loud snapping noise.
“Oh,” Hyejoo says as her pencil somehow breaks in her grip. In some amazing, gravity-defying feat, half of it goes sailing in a perfect arc to the front of the lecture hall. It lands with a loud click right on top of a podium before rolling off into the abyss.
Hyejoo holds up the remaining stub in her hand.
“Crap,” she mutters as she begins patting her pockets for another writing utensil. She gives up relatively fast, slumping in her seat with a frown that’s not too far from the expression she gave her little wolf, triangle mouth and all.
“H– Here,” Chaewon offers, pulling a pen out of a pouch. She belatedly realizes that she grabbed one of the more expensive pens she likes to use, but it’s probably too late to withdraw without the situation turning awkward.
It’s definitely too late when Hyejoo takes the pen with no hesitation. She flashes Chaewon an unexpectedly charming smile, one that leaves Chaewon taken aback at the rare sight.
“Thanks,” Hyejoo says. She twirls the pen skillfully between her fingers. “I promise I won’t break it.”
“No problem,” Chaewon murmurs.
The light behind Hyejoo suddenly seems far too bright, and Chaewon quickly returns to her own notebook before she goes blind. She flips through pages upon pages of multicolored notes, nothing actually being processed as she listens to the sounds of scratching coming from her side. Eventually, it’s all drowned out as more and more students filter into the room. Their professor arrives not long after, and Chaewon directs her attention to where it needs to be lest she waste her tuition.
Sometime through some overly convoluted explanation about chromosomes, something taps Chaewon on the arm. She looks over in time to see Hyejoo retreating back to her seat, though not before leaving a scrap of paper on Chaewon’s desk.
Chaewon unfolds the note to see yet another cartoon wolf, it’s tiny triangle mouth inverted as it gives her a thumbs up.
‘Good luck paying attention to this boring AF lecture’
Chaewon giggles before glancing at her classmate. At first, Hyejoo’s face seems as blank and emotionless as ever, but then the corner of her mouth lifts and one of her eyes scrunches shut in what Chaewon figures is an attempt at a wink.
That decides it, Chaewon thinks.
No matter what people like Sooyoung may say, Son Hyejoo is cute.
11:11 p.m. – Chaewon’s Dorm
Never has Chaewon wanted to commit arson so badly.
Maybe if all of her professors’ houses burned down, then she wouldn’t have to turn in any of these stupid reports. Her own incredible procrastination capabilities aside, it’s surely their fault for conspiring together and flooding students with all these assignments that have identical due dates. It’s not even finals week yet, and Chaewon is just about ready to pull out her hair from all the projects she has due within the next 24 hours.
A part of Chaewon thinks it would be best to just give up and go flip burgers for the rest of her life.
The voice in her earphones jerks her out of her daydream.
“Y– Yeah?” she calls back towards her laptop’s microphone.
“You went quiet for a bit there.”
“Sorry, I’m trying to figure out what the heck a ‘neanthropic ego’ is… What does this stupid author even mean?” Chaewon grumbles. Her fingers drift towards her trackpack, but she stops herself before she can open up a new tab that’s only going to be yet another distraction. “God, I hate research papers.”
The person on the other side of the voice chat gives a sympathetic hum.
“You could always do what Hyunjin does. She loves taking quotes and citations out of context to fit her agenda.”
“I think I’m going to,” Chaewon says with a sigh of defeat. “I just hope Jinsol doesn’t find out... Seriously, not everyone can be a diehard research-lover like her.”
Chaewon surreptitiously raises the volume of her computer just a notch to better hear the warm chuckle flowing into her ears.
“By the way,” she says. “How far are you in your paper?”
“Mine? I finished yesterday.”
“What?” Chaewon yells indignantly. Somewhere behind her, a sleepy Heejin utters a protest that Chaewon easily ignores. “You finished already and you didn’t tell me?”
“Oops? I forgot.”
“Son Hyejoo, you’re a traitor,” Chaewon declares to the world. Her already dwindling will to finish her assignment shrinks to a miniscule speck at the revelation that she’s been suffering alone this whole time. She’s about to make another complaint against this treachery when another realization hits her. “Wait, why are you still up then?”
“I’m watching some streams,” Hyejoo says. “And keeping you company.”
“Oh.” Chaewon blinks. “Well, you don’t have to, you know.”
“Okay then, seeya.”
Chaewon stares in disbelief for several long minutes at the notification that says their voice call has ended. There are no words for the emotion filling her right now, and she’s just about to “convince” Heejin to get up and recruit her as her accomplice (read: scapegoat) in murder when a trill rings through her headphones.
Incoming call: Son Hyejoo
Chaewon clicks accept and immediately begins speaking.
“Hey, remember how you said you hate the cold? Well, you won’t have to worry about that for the rest of your life because I am going to set you on fire.”
An overly amused cackle answers her, and Chaewon pouts as Heejin makes a concerned sound from her bed.
“Gotcha,” Hyejoo laughs.
“And you still need to finish your paper.”
“Don’t remind me,” Chaewon whines despite very much needing that reminder.
“Don’t worry,” Hyejoo tells her. “I’ll wait until you’re done.”
“And what if I never finish?”
“Then I guess you’ll fail and have to retake the entire semester.”
“... Time to get back to work.”
Chaewon hears another chuckle.
“Don’t worry,” the voice in her ear says again. “I’ll be here the whole time.”
11:11 a.m. – The Usual Cafe
“Sometimes, I really feel like you’re addicted to Iced Americanos or something.”
Hyejoo narrows her eyes from across the booth before taking a very loud, forceful sip of her drink.
“I don’t drink them that much,” she says. “This is what, only my third cup today?”
“Exactly!” Chaewon exclaims. “Most people– normal people only have like a cup a day. Meanwhile, you’re drinking coffee like it’s water.”
“And you’re addicted.”
“What is this, an intervention?”
“Yes, actually,” Chaewon decides. “For the sake of your health and your wallet, you need to cut down on the Americanos.”
“Eh,” Hyejoo gives a dismissive wave of the hand. “Pass.”
Chaewon crosses her arms as she sinks into her seat, pouting as much as she physically can. She probably looks like a kid—she sure feels like one—but this technique has a proven success rate of sixty-three percent so far against this opponent, so it’s probably worth a shot. As usual, Hyejoo seems unbothered on the surface, but when Chaewon clasps her hands together and does her best to imitate Jiwoo’s puppy eyes, Hyejoo’s eyes flick away for just a second.
“Hyejoo,” Chaewon calls out in the sweetest voice she can muster without making herself cringe. “Please? For me?”
“You’ve been saying that a lot lately,” Hyejoo says accusingly. “You always say ‘Please? For me?’ as if I’ll do anything you ask just like that.”
“I mean it works, doesn’t it?” Chaewon points out. She bats her eyelashes for extra effect, cheering internally when Hyejoo snorts in amusement.
“You’re lucky you’re cute,” Hyejoo says. Her tone is so casual it’s almost as though she’s merely commenting on the weather, yet Chaewon feels a satisfied flutter in her stomach all the same.
“It’s my greatest asset,” Chaewon replies cheekily. She giggles when Hyejoo snorts again only for her mirth to disappear when Hyejoo suddenly shoves her cup of Americano at her.
“What?” Hyejoo frowns. “Like you said, I’m cutting down, so you can have the rest.”
“I’ve… never had an Americano before,” Chaewon admits, bracing for her friend’s reaction.
Hyejoo doesn’t disappoint.
Her eyes go wide and remain so even as she furrows her brows in a picture perfect image of offended disbelief. She gapes at Chaewon like she’s looking at some sort of criminal or, even worse, the gum on the bottom of her shoe.
“You've never–” Hyejoo actually interrupts herself to glance around the cafe in sheer indignation. “You’ve never had Iced Americano? Like ever? Never ever ever?”
“Never,” Chaewon repeats. She pulls her own straw to her mouth to take another sip of her fruit smoothie.
Hyejoo slams the Americano down in the middle of the table.
“Drink. Now. Or we can’t be friends anymore.”
“Oh no,” Chaewon sighs dramatically. “Whatever shall I do.”
“You drink, that’s what you do,” Hyejoo insists. “Or I’m going to tell Hyunjin to stop participating in your group project.”
“What? No! Hyunjin’s already useless enough as is!” Chaewon protests. It’s probably an empty threat, but Chaewon doesn’t feel like it’s worth the risk as she reluctantly concedes to the demand. “Ugh, fine, I’ll drink.”
Warily, Chaewon lifts Hyejoo’s straw to her mouth.
And she’s promptly assaulted by bitterness.
“Ack! My taste buds are dying!” Chaewon wails. She’s vaguely aware of Hyejoo pulling out her phone to record her demise, but she’s more preoccupied with chugging the rest of her smoothie to clear out the foulness coating her tongue. “What the heck... Why do you like burnt bean juice so much?”
“Don’t let Hyunjin hear you say that,” Hyejoo smirks even as she continues blatantly filming for blackmail purposes. “Then she’ll just quit your group project on her own.”
“Son Hyejoo, you’re the worst.”
Hyejoo tosses her head back with a laugh so full and so hearty that maybe, just maybe Chaewon doesn’t mind as much anymore.
11:11 p.m. – Hyejoo’s Dorm
“I love you so much!”
“I love you more!”
“I love you so much I’d die for you!”
Right on cue, a masked serial killer bursts into the room.
“Wish granted,” Hyejoo says dryly as she munches on some popcorn.
Chaewon snickers from where she’s nestled next to her, the two of them sharing the same blanket with a pile of assorted snacks spread over their laps. In front of them, Hyejoo’s iPad is propped up against a pillow, and its screen now shows an excessive amount of red as one of the characters in the movie is dispatched by terrible practical effects.
“Yeojin freaked out over this?” Chaewon asks, wincing at how fake everything is. “Someone should tell her ketchup isn’t scary.”
“She didn’t even get this far,” Hyejoo complains. “She ditched after the second jumpscare even though she promised to watch the whole thing with me.”
“Good thing you have me and my limitless courage then,” Chaewon teases, bumping their shoulders together. “Or you’d be watching this all by your lonesome self.”
“Limitless courage?” Hyejoo scoffs. “More like weird taste in movies.”
“Excuse me? You have the same exact taste!”
“I do,” Hyejoo agrees shamelessly. “And you’re right. This wouldn’t be as fun by myself.”
Chaewon gasps, covering her mouth with a hand.
“Did you just… admit that you like my company?”
Hyejoo rolls her eyes in response.
“Stop being such a drama queen,” she says, grabbing Chaewon’s free hand. “You know I do.”
In the background, the last heroine of the film lets out a bloodcurdling screech, but Chaewon doesn’t care. There could be a last minute plot twist that elevates this film from trash to masterpiece, but Chaewon ignores it all in favor of focusing on the warmth holding on to her, connecting her to the person by her side.
“You know, I still have it,” Chaewon says.
“That sketch you gave me in Bio once upon a time. The one of your fursona.”
“It’s not a–”
“I know, I know. I’m just kidding,” Chaewon giggles.
She latches onto Hyejoo’s arm before the taller girl can pull away, moving closer to rest her head on Hyejoo’s shoulder. For once, Chaewon appreciates their height difference; it allows her to tuck herself into Hyejoo, feeling even more secure when Hyejoo leans her head against Chaewon’s as well.
“Hey, you wanna watch that one zombie apocalypse movie that made Yeojin cry?”
11:11 a.m. – Round 12 Arcade
As sappy as it is, Chaewon sometimes thinks that Hyejoo really is her other half, the other part of the soul that was torn asunder during the inception of the universe, taking millions and millions of years to reunite and come together as whole again. There’s no other explanation for how well they fit together, how naturally they gravitate towards each other, how perfectly they orbit around each other.
Seriously, there’s no way anyone else would be able to work with Chaewon so flawlessly, so seamlessly during her takeover of all the high scores at the local arcade. Only Son Hyejoo is capable of all but reading her thoughts, silently reacting to everything she does as if she were the left hand to Chaewon’s right. It really does often feel like they’re of one mind, not just in matters like this, and Chaewon constantly thanks the stars for letting them meet.
“Assa!” she cheers as they clear the final level of the shooter they were playing. She tosses aside the plastic gun she was wielding to throw her arms around Hyejoo, the taller girl catching her with ease.
“How in the world…” Jiwoo looks positively mind-boggled as she stares at the screen. Her jaw hangs open in denial as her in-game moniker drops to the second row.
“They must be cheating,” Jungeun says from next to her. “It took us forever to get this score… How did they beat it in one try?”
“It’s called being pro gamers,” Chaewon brags.
“Don’t lie, you only ever play Animal Crossing in your spare time,” Jungeun retorts. She crosses her arms before pulling out her game card. “Jiwoo, c’mon, let’s show them who the true pros are.”
“Ten bucks says they’ll spend all their money trying to beat us,” Hyejoo murmurs into Chaewon’s ear, her arms still around her.
“Twenty on Jungeun losing her patience partway through,” Chaewon counters.
Sure enough, it doesn’t even take five minutes for the older girl to start yelling in frustration. Chaewon giggles to herself, but Hyejoo deliberately laughs loud enough to provoke a glare from Jiwoo.
“Go away!” Jiwoo shoos them. “You’re sucking up all our teamwork just by standing there.”
“We didn’t have any problems with you watching us,” Hyejoo smirks. “I guess we really are just better, huh?”
“The absolute best,” Chaewon confirms, flipping her hair.
Jiwoo gives her a half-hearted kick.
“Pay attention!” Jungeun screeches. “I’m dying here!”
“What? Oh! Oh no!”
Hyejoo doubles over in laughter when Jiwoo flails about uselessly in her panic to return to the game. Even Chaewon has trouble standing upright through the hilarity of Jiwoo swinging her rifle around and very nearly clobbering Jungeun with it.
“Oh my god, Jungie! I’m so sorry!”
“Less apologizing, more killing, PLEASE.”
“They’re really not going to beat us like this,” Chaewon snorts.
“They never had a chance,” Hyejoo agrees with a solemn shake of the head. “Wanna go check out the claw machines while they waste their money?”
“Oh, is my girlfriend going to win me a plushie?”
This time, it’s Jungeun that completely turns away from the game to stare at Chaewon with eyes as wide as an owl’s. The fake gun slips from her hands and falls to the floor with a loud clatter just in time for her character to die a very pathetic death.
“What did you just say?” Jungeun asks, hands still holding air.
Chaewon feels familiar fingers slip between her own to give a gentle squeeze.
“I just wondered if my girlfriend was going to win me something,” she answers casually.
“You have a girlfriend!?” Jiwoo shrieks. She keeps her focus on the screen in a last ditch attempt to salvage this round, but her efforts are for naught when her character soon follows Jungeun’s into the afterlife. “Since when do you have a girlfriend!?”
“Since a week ago?”
Both Hyejoo and Chaewon simultaneously wince at the sheer volume assaulting their ears.
“Sooyoungie, our baby is growing up!” Jiwoo cries as she runs off to find her own girlfriend. Jungeun, meanwhile, is still standing there like some malfunctioning animatronic unable to do much more than open and close her mouth.
“Who broke Jungeun?” Haseul asks as she walks up to the three of them.
“Them!” Jungeun says, finally able to point a finger at the couple. “They! Girlfriends!”
“Oh, about time!” Haseul claps her hands before beaming brightly. “Congrats!”
“Thanks,” Hyejoo says, Chaewon not missing the slight flush creeping into her cheeks. Sadly, there isn’t much time to enjoy it when a bunch of other people start popping up like groundhogs summoned by the end of winter.
“Hyejoo? Dating my roommate? Since when?”
“Chaewon? Dating my roommate? Since when?”
“Yeojinnie! You owe me twenty dollars!”
“Wait, Chaewon is dating Ms. I Only Have Shades Of Grey In My Closet?”
“I thought you two were just very good friends?”
“Jinsol… Anyways, congrats!”
“We should celebrate!”
“Yeojin, get off the air hockey table!”
“You know, maybe now wasn’t the best time to drop the news,” Chaewon says to Hyejoo when she catches sight of an unhappy employee making their way over.
Chaewon tugs at Hyejoo’s hand, barely needing to put any strength for her girlfriend to start moving in tandem with her. Just one glance is all they need to communicate their intentions, and Hyejoo grins before swiftly leaning down.
“Let’s get out of here,” she whispers before lightly brushing her lips against Chaewon’s cheek in the softest of kisses.
A camera flashes, and Jiwoo screams again.
“I saw that!”
11:11 p.m. – A Moving Car
There’s something about car rides that make it so easy to drift away.
Chaewon angles her head to look out the passenger seat window, counting the streetlights that pass, the gentle plinks of a piano adorning the enclosed space around her.
She wonders if she ate too much out of nervousness tonight. Her stomach feels bloated, just on the verge of being uncomfortably so, but it’s not like she could have really done anything to prevent that. After all, you don’t just turn down your girlfriend’s mom’s offers of food unless you have a death wish. At least Mrs. Son’s cooking and baking skills are impeccable… Chaewon doesn’t regret all the pastries she practically inhaled mere hours ago.
The song changes to one with an acoustic guitar, and Chaewon’s train of thought is left behind with the traffic lights they just passed. She closes her eyes to rhythmic strumming, smiling when she hears a voice quietly start to sing.
Chaewon jolts fully awake when the music is interrupted by silence. She glances over to see Hyejoo’s hand pulling away from the volume control.
“Sorry, did I wake you?”
“I wasn’t asleep yet,” Chaewon mumbles.
“Yet,” Hyejoo echoes, shooting her girlfriend a small grin when she pulls up to a red light.
Chaewon grasps fruitlessly at the volume knob, fumbling with it for a bit before sitting upright so she can fully reach it and turn it back up.
“You should sing more, you know,” she says. “I like your voice.”
“It’s too embarrassing.”
“I’m the only person here.”
“And I’m your girlfriend. Shouldn’t I get girlfriend exclusives?”
“What do I get in return?” Hyejoo asks as she turns a corner. She doesn’t take her eyes off the road, a fact Chaewon is grateful for since she gets to examine Hyejoo’s side profile all she wants without the awkwardness of getting caught.
“I can feel you staring, you know.”
“You can have my undying love and respect,” Chaewon answers without tearing her eyes away. “A lifetime deal, isn’t that great?”
“I dunno, sounds like a scam,” Hyejoo says, the corner of her lip twitching upwards. “Too good to be true and all that.”
Chaewon puffs out her cheeks.
“I’m too good to be true, but I’m still here, aren’t I?” she argues.
Chaewon ignores the little voice in her head reminding her that it’s actually the other way around. She’s well aware that Hyejoo is a gift to the world, a treasure bestowed upon her however temporarily, a stroke of serendipity that Chaewon will cherish for as long as possible. A part of her thinks that she’ll love Hyejoo forever regardless of what may happen, and while she’s not sure why she’s being beleaguered by this sense of incoming loss, Chaewon allows her flimsy heart to indulge in these bittersweet feelings as they come to another stop.
A hand suddenly grabs hers.
“You’re thinking too hard,” Hyejoo says.
“How can you tell? You’re not even looking at me right now.”
“I don’t need to look to know.”
“Your parents are nice,” she comments out of the blue.
“I guess so. I know they can be a lot,” Hyejoo grimaces. “Did they say something to you?
“No, it’s just…” Chaewon bites her lip. “If they’re a lot, I guess that means my parents aren’t really much at all.”
“What do you mean?” Hyejoo’s voice is soft, and Chaewon doesn’t feel pressured to answer right away. She knows Hyejoo will wait. She always does.
“They’re kind,” Chaewon says at last when another vehicle passes them from the other direction. “They’re kind, but they’re not… warm.”
The light turns green.
“That’s okay,” Hyejoo replies calmly, moving them forward again. “You’re plenty warm for the both of us.”
“Is that enough though?”
“It’s more than enough.”
Beyond the window, the moon slides out of view.
Chaewon, tired of thinking, feels her eyelids grow heavy with drowsiness. A new song is playing, one that features both a guitar and a piano dancing together as they trade melodies and harmonies. They’re soon joined by Chaewon’s favorite voice that outshines them all, and the last thing she’s aware of is something being draped over her before she finally succumbs to sleep.
11:11 a.m. – Sooyoung’s Place
Chaewon all but headbutts the door open, grunting with exertion from all the takeout she’s carrying. She has no idea why Sooyoung’s door is so heavy, nor can she understand why a certain someone chose this place to hole up in despite some ongoing dance rivalry that has yet to be resolved to this day.
Chaewon grunts as she deposits far too many boxes of food on Sooyoung’s counter. She doesn’t bother organizing any of it, for she’s sure the owner of this apartment will return soon enough to clean up in her stead. She focuses on locating a specific container, and she picks it up triumphantly as soon as she spots it, chicken noodle soup swishing about within.
Five minutes later, Chaewon pokes her head through the ajar door of Sooyoung’s guest room. There’s a figure sprawled on the bed inside, completely dead to the world. Chaewon isn’t making any particular effort to be quiet as she steps into the room, yet the person still doesn’t stir, not even when Chaewon places the bowl of soup on top of the bedside table with a small thud.
Chaewon crouches next to the bed, placing her head on her arms as she scrutinizes the sleeping face in front of her. There’s a crease between her girlfriend’s brows, one that Chaewon can’t help but try to smooth out with her thumb. She giggles when Hyejoo’s automatic response is to scrunch her nose.
“Cute,” Chaewon whispers to herself. In a louder voice, she tries waking up Hyejoo again. “Hey, get up. You need to eat.”
“Son Hyejoo,” Chaewon calls out sternly. This time, she shows no mercy as she pokes Hyejoo’s cheeks roughly. “Get up!”
Hyejoo blearily opens her eyes. She looks adorably dazed and confused, blinking several times as she tries to process her surroundings.
“What’s going on?” Hyejoo coughs, her voice hoarse. “Where’s Sooyoung? Am I dead?”
“Um, why would you think you’re dead?” Chaewon asks, immediately concerned about what lengths their older friend would go to for the sake of a grudge.
“There’s an angel here,” Hyejoo says bluntly. She sniffs, all the mucus jammed in her nose making its presence known with how disgustingly wet the sound is. “I see an angel. She looks like my girlfriend.”
“Ah, seriously?” Chaewon sighs, not sure if she finds that statement more annoyingly tacky or endearingly sweet. She settles for placing her palm over her eyes instead of figuring out this conundrum.
“You really do look like Chaewon,” Hyejoo mumbles. “Why do you look like Chaewon?”
“Because I am Chaewon.”
“Here, get up,” Chaewon urges. “You need to eat something.”
“Why are you here?” Hyejoo questions instead of complying.
“Am I not allowed to take care of my sick girlfriend?”
“No,” Hyejoo pouts as she sits up. She loses her balance for a second, arms waving about to steady herself before she crosses them. “I don’t want you to get sick too.”
Chaewon raises an eyebrow.
“But Sooyoung getting sick is fine?”
“More than fine,” Hyejoo nods firmly, and Chaewon lets out a laugh at how proud Hyejoo seems to be of this plan.
“Here, have some soup,” Chaewon says, passing the spoon over while she keeps a solid hold on the bowl.
“... Did you make this?”
Chaewon tries not to take offence at this blow to her ego.
“I didn’t, don’t worry,” she reassures Hyejoo. “Be careful, it’s hot.”
Hyejoo must be hungrier than either of them anticipated, for once she starts consuming the soup, she doesn’t stop. Chaewon doesn’t mind waiting for her to finish; she’s just happy that Hyejoo looks a lot better than Sooyoung’s exaggerated description of “the embodiment of disease and decay showing up at my door at 4am in the morning to beg me to baby her before she dies.”
“You got some on you,” Chaewon murmurs after setting the now empty bowl aside. She grabs a napkin and uses it to dab at the corner of Hyejoo’s mouth, stopping only when fingers slowly wrap themselves around her wrist.
“What’s up?” Chaewon prompts gently, tilting her head to meet Hyejoo’s hesitant gaze.
“I know I said I didn’t want you to get sick, but…” Hyejoo visibly swallows. “Can you stay? For a while at least?”
“Hm, let me think about it…”
Chaewon pretends to contemplate the matter, but her will crumples almost instantly when faced with the sight of Hyejoo looking at her sadly like some puppy that knows it’s about to be abandoned. Chaewon’s sure it’s not just her imagination when Hyejoo’s lower lip actually trembles, and she quickly surrenders and gives up her ruse.
“I was already planning on staying,” she confesses, reaching over to pat Hyejoo’s cheek. “You couldn't keep me away if you tried.”
“Good.” Hyejoo sinks back into the bed with a satisfied nod, still not letting go of Chaewon’s wrist. “I won’t forgive you if you leave.”
“Don’t worry,” Chaewon smiles. “I won’t forgive myself either.”
11:11 p.m. – A Familiar Street
It’s not easy, getting used to being alone.
Chaewon slowly exhales through her mouth as she makes her way back to her apartment. The cold winter air bites at her skin and turns her breath visible, almost as though it’s giving her a ghost of a companion for this lonely trek only for it to disappear in mere seconds. Chaewon is left with nothing but her own transient shadow as company for this journey that she’s meant to take alone.
Dead leaves crunch under Chaewon’s feet, and she wonders how long some of them have been there. Surely not nearly as long as she has, this being her second month of walking back to her residence in solitude. The thought fills her lungs with a heaviness, one that she has to force out in a weary sigh lest she lose the strength to keep going.
On a whim, Chaewon pulls out her phone.
She hesitates. She’s too old to be doing things like wishing upon superstitions, right? But a part of her still wonders what if… what if… what if…
So much for that.
Chaewon sighs, pulling someone else’s scarf up to her nose. The comforting scent that used to linger on it is long gone by now, taken away by persistent night winds. The gulf in her chest deepens when she sticks her hands in her pockets for warmth only to be reminded of how there used to be another person she could cling to instead.
This sucks, Chaewon thinks as she vindictively kicks a pebble that dares stand in her way. It bounces away underneath a sidewalk-embedded tree, and for a second Chaewon almost thinks she sees a familiar figure there, leaning against the trunk. Alas, they move enough for a nearby streetlight to illuminate their features and reveal them as just a stranger.
Chaewon spends the rest of her walk keeping her eyes trained on her shoes. She knows this path by heart and she has enough presence of mind to not bump into anyone by accident while refusing to look up. She’s sick of it, sick of seeing reminders of what she’s missing no matter where she goes. From random storefronts to discarded newspapers, from the barking of dogs to the sounds of laughter, from the sweater she’s wearing to the pictures on her phone, everywhere Chaewon sees her.
She sees her, and she knows that she’s not here.
It’s not a stretch to say that Chaewon feels like utter crap by the time she makes it to her front door. Today must be one of those days where the gloomy cloud above her head refuses to relent, raining a storm of emotions down upon her. It makes her stop for a minute before she’s able to pull out her keys, too worn out to do much more than rest her forehead on her door until she unlocks it.
Chaewon curses under her breath when she’s greeted with light. She carelessly kicks off her shoes as she tries not to think about how long she was gone today, how much electricity she wasted by not double checking before leaving this morning. The knowledge of her stupidity is already enough for her to feel frustrated at herself, and she angrily pulls off her scarf and tosses it aside.
It lands on a suitcase.
She continues staring even as gentle footsteps approach her, unsure if she can trust her eyes and ears by this point. All the facts point to everything being a hallucination, wishful thinking come true, and Chaewon finds herself too scared to move in case she breaks the spell.
“Surprise,” someone says from behind her. “Guess who got to come back two months earlier?”
Chaewon sucks in a breath.
“Is it really you?” she asks.
“This isn’t a joke, right? I’m going to break up with you if it is.”
The missing piece of her heart laughs.
“It’s really me, I promise.”
“Are you here to stay?”
Then, and only then, does Chaewon dare to turn around.
There, in all her radiant glory, stands Hyejoo. She hasn’t changed in the slightest, smiling crookedly at Chaewon with that familiar, affectionate glint in her eyes. She’s wearing a pastel green hoodie pulled from her girlfriend’s closet all those weeks ago, and the sight is enough to make Chaewon want to cry.
“Miss me?” Hyejoo asks, her question no longer distorted through precious phone calls tethering them from thousands of miles away.
Chaewon answers her with a kiss.
11:11 a.m. – Their Apartment
“Go to the left, go to the left!”
“No! You’re going to the right!”
“It’s left to me!”
“Oh my god, I obviously meant my left, your right!”
“Why didn’t you say so?”
“I thought it was obvious!”
“You two better not break my couch,” Chaewon cuts into the fight as she walks past the living room, arms laden with several boxes meant for the den.
“We won’t,” Sooyoung and Jinsol answer her in unison, and it’s probably the first time they’ve agreed on something in the past twenty minutes.
Chaewon narrows her eyes at the two of them, secretly scanning the current state of her sofa, and she’s pleased when both older women give her appeasing smiles.
“Trust me,” Jinsol says. “We got this. Go help your girlfriend.”
“You break, you buy,” Chaewon warns before stepping into her future gaming room.
At first, she doesn’t see Hyejoo anywhere amongst the mess of cardboard boxes and wires. She bends over to carefully put down her own delivery, and that’s when she finally spots a pair of legs sticking out from under a desk.
“Yeojin,” Hyejoo calls out blindly, her hands grabbing at the air. “Where’s the screwdriver?”
An idea popping into her head, Chaewon wordlessly hands over the desired tool. She deliberately brushes her fingers against Hyejoo’s, though she’s not sure what to feel when there’s no reaction at all.
“Can you pass me two more screws too?”
Chaewon gives her four.
“Did you suddenly forget how to count?” Hyejoo gives a snort before taking it back. “Wait, never mind, I need these.”
“Thought so,” Chaewon says under her breath.
“You’re not Yeojin, are you?”
Chaewon doesn’t respond.
“Who the heck– Ow!”
There’s a disturbingly loud thump as Hyejoo bashes her head on the bottom of the desk. The poor girl's legs go slack as she groans in pain, and Chaewon likewise nearly smashes her own forehead against the edge of the desk in her rush to check on her girlfriend. It’s karma, probably.
“Oh my god, Hyejoo, are you okay?”
“It was you!?” Hyejoo exclaims, clutching her head as she turns to the side to curl up in a fetal position.
“Sorry, sorry,” Chaewon apologizes hurriedly as she pulls on Hyejoo’s wrists. “Let me see if you’re okay.”
“I don’t feel okay,” Hyejoo grumbles. Nonetheless, she gives in, allowing Chaewon to lower her arms and check for any bumps. The same action exposes the petulant expression on her face, and Chaewon has to hold in the urge to coo so that she doesn’t further upset her significant other.
“I think you’ll be fine,” Chaewon concludes after a quick examination. “You’ve always had a hard head, after all.”
“Did you come here just to give me a concussion and insult me?” Hyejoo says accusingly. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Yeojin was a better partner than you.”
Chaewon gasps in mock offense before placing her hands on her hips.
“Well, too bad,” she retorts. “Yeojin went to help Vivi and Hyunjin with lunch, so you’re stuck with me.”
“A terrible fate, I’m sure,” Hyejoo says dryly, her poorly suppressed grin giving away her true feelings. “By the way, aren’t you forgetting something?”
Hyejoo taps her head, wincing as she does so.
“Geez, that still hurts… Anyways, aren’t you supposed to fix this?”
Chaewon opts to play dumb as she places a finger on her lower lip in feigned ignorance.
“How exactly do I do that?” she asks. “Oh, lemme go get some ice–”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” Hyejoo complains with a frown that’s equal parts grouchy and beseeching. “C’mooon.”
“Okay, okay,” Chaewon laughs. “Let me kiss it better for you, you big baby.”
“Hey, at least I’m your baby.”
“Yep. You’re all mine.”
11:11 p.m. – Home
“I’m so happy I could die.”
Chaewon rolls her eyes as she snuggles closer to Hyejoo, their arms and limbs entangled as they cuddle on their couch.
“Wow,” she says sarcastically. “And you call me dramatic.”
“You are dramatic,” Hyejoo insists. “I’m just stating the truth. I am literally so happy right now that I could die.”
“Well, you better not,” Chaewon pouts, reaching around to poke Hyejoo’s stomach. “It would be rude to leave me behind like that, don’t you think?”
“It would,” Hyejoo agrees solemnly. It’s a testament to how good a mood she’s in when she doesn’t retaliate as Chaewon whimsically moves on from poking to pinching. “I really am happy though, you know.”
“I do know,” Chaewon says, her voice soft as she returns her hand to its previous spot over Hyejoo’s heart. “I’m just as happy too.”
“Happy enough to die?”
“Oh my god, Son Hyejoo.”
Chaewon feels rather than hears Hyejoo’s chuckle, her palm easily detecting the gentle rumble of her chest. Underneath that is another rhythm, a different song, one that thrums at a steady, comforting pace and fills Chaewon with fondness and affection with each and every pulse.
“I love you,” Chaewon whispers into the junction between Hyejoo’s shoulder and neck. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too,” Hyejoo replies. She shifts on the couch. “Hey, I wanna ask you something.”
“What is it?”
“Will you marry me?”
The abrupt question forces Chaewon to sit up, Hyejoo mirroring the action next to her. Synchronized as ever, they both silently reposition themselves so that they’re looking directly at each other, face to face, heart to heart. Chaewon doesn’t say anything for the longest while; instead, she contemplates and observes all the various facets and angles of Son Hyejoo, all the contours of her being, all the sides to her soul. She dedicates every detail of this moment to memory, carving it inside her own core as something she’ll carry for the rest of her life.
Chaewon takes her hand.
“You already proposed to me two hours ago.”
Hyejoo bursts into laughter, and it’s truly the most beautiful melody in the entire world.
“I’m sorry,” she says, her thumb tenderly caressing the brand new ring sitting on Chaewon’s finger. “I just really, really want to marry you.”
“And you will,” Chaewon promises. “You’ll marry me, and I’ll marry you, and we’ll be in love for the rest of our lives.”
“Our own little happy ending, huh?”
“Hm… It’s not an ending though, is it?”
“You’re right,” she says. “It’s another happy beginning.”