falling apart, unseen
hello venus, yooyoung/nara, 10600w, pg
notes: for the unniedearest halloweenus exchange, prompt was ghosts/spirits. this was fun n_n
Yooyoung is seven when her neighbor Old Mrs. Kim passes away. Her mother explains it as gently as possible – it was her time, she lived well, she’s in a better place and you know she never liked it when you were sad – while all her father did was place his hand awkwardly on her small shoulder and tell her “it happens, kid. It’s just one of those things.”
Yooyoung accepts it; she has no choice but to because it’s not like she can do anything to change it. She gets it too, kind of. When she was little (littler, she corrects herself) they had a cat. One day she woke up and the cat didn’t. Old Mrs. Kim is like that, she guesses. Like her father said, it happens and she has to accept that.
So she does, and she decides that she really does get it. Old Mrs. Kim from next door has had her time and Old Mrs. Kim has to move on now, onto something nice, Yooyoung hopes. She gets it.
What she doesn’t get, however, is why Old Mrs. Kim is standing in her front yard staring lovingly at her flowers when they get back from the funeral.
“Be a dear,” Old Mrs. Kim says when Yooyoung wanders over, “and make sure someone looks after my flowers for me. I’d hate to see them ruined.”
Yooyoung nods. Of course. Of course she’ll make sure. Old Mrs. Kim loves those flowers. Loved. She’s not sure which right now.
“Thank you,” she smiles, “and you be good to your parents, okay? Have a nice life now.”
“You too,” Yooyoung says.
It’s only after Old Mrs. Kim from next door lets out an amused snort and shuffles off down the street that Yooyoung realizes that that might have been the wrong thing to say.
The new neighbors move in soon enough and Yooyoung observes them carefully for a number of days. They’re not as nice as Old Mrs. Kim and they always smell like sandalwood and dry leaves but they wave every day when they see Yooyoung and that’s enough to convince her to approach them and ask them to look after the flowers. Yooyoung never feels the urge to talk to them again but they comply with her request and so she figures that they’re good people because of that.
Two weeks after they move in Yooyoung gets a new neighbor in the form of Juhee, who parks her near-death RV across the road from Yooyoung’s house and wears ripped jeans and biker boots and only has tank tops on under her ill-fitting blazers. Juhee spends her days making pyramids out of empty beer cans and taking photos of everything. Yooyoung is sure she’s never seen anyone cooler.
“She’s awfully pretty,” is all that Yooyoung’s mother says and from the lax way that she says it, Yooyoung guesses that it’s okay to listen when Juhee beckons her over one day after school and offers her a seat opposite her and a can of something to drink.
“I’m seven,” Yooyoung says. It comes out as more of a question than anything and her eyes dart suspiciously between the can in Juhee’s hand and the houses that surround them.
Juhee pauses, raising her eyebrow momentarily before barking out a laugh. “It’s juice,” she says, shaking the can slightly, “I wouldn’t give you beer. That’s for me.”
Yooyoung blushes but takes the can anyway. Juhee watches her struggle to pop the tab with her too short nails and congratulates her when she finally manages to pry it open with her teeth. It’s apple juice, she finds out when she gulps it down. It’s not her favorite but she’s not going to complain; she’s not rude.
“I’m Juhee,” she says after a while, slouching down in her seat.
“I know,” Yooyoung says, “I heard you telling the new neighbors. I’m Yooyoung.”
“I know,” Juhee parrots. Yooyoung tilts her head in question and Juhee finishes her beer before continuing. ”I just know. I know a lot of stuff.”
Yooyoung blinks at her. “That doesn’t mean any-“
“Finish your juice,” Juhee says, flicking Yooyoung’s can, “I’ll have some better stuff next time, I promise.”
Juhee doesn’t tell Yooyoung about how she “just knows” but she does invite Yooyoung inside her tiny RV. She’s been everywhere, seen everything, Yooyoung finds out when she steps inside and she guesses that maybe that’s how Juhee knows a lot of stuff like she said.
Photos cover every available surface – photos of Juhee, of course, alone more often than not in both the photos and her surroundings. Yooyoung can count, does count, on one hand the number of pictures where Juhee isn’t alone. Most of them are blurry and out of focus and Yooyoung wonders vaguely who Juhee’s terrible, terrible photographer is.
“That one was in Greece,” Juhee says when Yooyoung brings a hand up to poke at a photo stuck to a cupboard door, “on some beach, I don’t remember the name.”
Yooyoung nods and moves on after leaving her fingerprint right over Juhee’s face. Other than her photos and her scattered clothes the only thing Juhee seems to have in her cramped living space is books, stacks and stacks of them – on the floor, on her sad excuse for a table, even in her cupboards in place of plates.
“Have you read all of them?” Yooyoung asks quietly. Juhee doesn’t answer right away but Yooyoung waits patiently for her.
“They’re not actually mine,” Juhee admits eventually.
“Whose are they?”
“They’re a friend’s,” Juhee says quickly, “were a friends. Technically. I mean, they’re mine but they’re… still hers?”
“Oh,” Yooyoung says, biting her lip. “But have you read them?”
“I have. All of them.”
“Your friend would be happy,” Yooyoung smiles, “because you know a lot now.”
Juhee laughs loudly and Yooyoung doesn’t quite understand what’s so funny. “Maybe,” Juhee says once she’s settled down, “but Ara would never admit that.”
“Doesn’t it get lonely?” Yooyoung asks her one afternoon. Juhee’s AC doesn’t work and it’s sweltering hot and Yooyoung shifts uncomfortably in her seat, pressing her can of juice to her forehead.
“Doesn’t what get lonely?” Juhee says, blinking tiredly from where she’s slumped on the floor, one of her boots pressed to the front of a cupboard.
“Being by yourself,” Yooyoung clarifies, “doesn’t it get lonely?”
“Not really,” Juhee tells her. She smiles, or at least Yooyoung thinks she does because it comes out like more a grimace than anything. “I’m not really by myself.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know,” Juhee waves her arm in a vague circle, “I’m just- I’m just not.”
“I don’t get it,” Yooyoung says, rolling her can over her neck. It’s getting warm now and she wonders if Juhee will let her swap it for a cold one.
“Sure you do,” Juhee says.
Yooyoung doesn’t say anything to that. It’s too hot to argue.
Yooyoung finds out what Juhee means when she pokes her head into Juhee’s RV and sees a complete stranger in Juhee’s place. She freezes, eyes wide and mouth hanging open with a loud “hello!” on the tip of her tongue. The girl doesn’t even look at her and concentrates on the open book in front of her.
“Hello?” Yooyoung calls quietly, waiting for some kind of reaction.
The girl still doesn’t look up and runs her fingers along the edge of her book instead.
“Do you know when Juhee’s coming back?” she tries again.
That gets the girl’s attention and she snaps her head towards Yooyoung, looking her up and down before speaking. “You can see me,” she says, frowning slightly. “I guess you’re why we’re here then.”
“I- what? Where’s Juhee?”
“Probably out getting more beer,” comes the reply, “come in, sit down. You can help me rearrange everything. The place turned into a mess while I was gone.”
Her name is Ara and yes, she is the know it all who owns all the books – owned she corrects herself but Yooyoung doesn’t quite understand the difference. Ara scowls as she mutters about “that moron Juhee” and tells Yooyoung to where to put this and how to stack that. Yooyoung resists the urge to tell her that she’d look a lot better if she smiled because she gets the feeling that Ara won’t take that well.
Ara settles down eventually and tells Yooyoung to help herself to whatever sad excuse for food Juhee has in her cupboards. Yooyoung shakes her head no and settles in the seat opposite Ara and just stares. Somewhere in the back of her mind Yooyoung can hear her father telling her that it’s rude to stare but Ara doesn’t seem to mind and she’s talking soon enough anyway – though, Yooyoung notes, Ara doesn’t talk to her so much as at her.
Yooyoung pays it no attention and tries to focus on what Ara’s saying while studying her at the same time. It’s strange, she thinks, because she can’t imagine Juhee and Ara together at all.
Ara, with her neat dress and well-brushed hair, is nothing like Juhee who deliberately tries to look like she just rolled out of bed. Ara takes her time to answer whatever vague question Yooyoung has instead of saying whatever comes to mind like Juhee does; she sits up straight and looks Yooyoung in the eyes when she talks instead of just when she wants to make a point like Juhee, and when Ara smiles Yooyoung can see it in her eyes instead of just the curve of her mouth.
It’s strange but the more she looks at Ara the more she sees the similarities between them as well. The way they both scratch lightly at the tabletop when they’ve run out of things to say, the way they both reach up to brush their hair behind an ear or tug at an earlobe when they laugh, and the way they both raise an eyebrow and sigh lightly when they say each other’s names.
“How long have you known her?” Yooyoung asks when Ara stands and begins to pace.
“A while,” Ara says, heading towards the door to peer out into the street, “a long while.”
“I guess you like each other a lot then,” Yooyoung says. She kicks her legs while Ara walks, matching her rhythm to Ara’s steps. “You guys even drive around in this old thing together.” Ara doesn’t say anything for a long while, just watches Yooyoung and smiles when she starts to fidget under her gaze. “Was that the wrong thing to say?” Yooyoung asks, an apology already on her lips.
“No,” Ara tells her, shaking her head, “it’s okay.”
“I just thought that-“
“We do like each other,” Ara continues, “a lot.” She’s smiling as she talks but the seriousness in her tone makes Yooyoung think she’s missing something important. “Juhee’s all I have now and I’m all she has.”
Yooyoung thinks for a moment, biting her lip and resting her chin in her hands. “I get it,” she says eventually.
“Mhm,” Yooyoung hums, “you guys are doin’ it, right?”
Ara freezes, spluttering momentarily. “What? No, we’re- we’re not “doin’ it.””
“Oh,” Yooyoung says, “I don’t get it then.”
“That’s okay,” Ara sighs, “Juhee will tell you.”
Juhee still isn’t back by the time Yooyoung is called in for dinner but Ara promises to tell her she stopped by.
“Yooyoung,” Ara calls as she goes to leave, “don’t tell anyone about me, okay?”
“Just don’t,” she repeats, “please?”
Yooyoung doesn’t get it but she nods anyway, throwing Ara a thumbs up as she hops out of Juhee’s RV.
“Were you playing with Juhee again?” her mother asks as soon as she walks through the door.
“She was out,” Yooyoung says, shaking her head, “I was just touching her stuff.”
“Yooyoung, that’s rude,” her mother scolds, tapping her on the nose, “what would Juhee think?”
“I don’t know,” she says truthfully, “probably a lot of things.”
Juhee comes over half an hour before Yooyoung’s bedtime, boots heavy and loud against their floor. Yooyoung sits in bed with her back pressed to the wall, counting Juhee’s steps until she’s right in front of her.
“You can sit with me up here,” Yooyoung says when Juhee starts to lower herself to the ground. She pats the spot next to her and Juhee stares for a moment before nodding.
“You met Ara,” Juhee is smiling but there’s something off about it; she’s showing too much teeth and there’s a tightness in her jaw that makes Yooyoung pause.
“She’s nice,” Yooyoung says slowly.
“She’s dead,” Juhee says, straight to the point. Her legs dangle off the end of Yooyoung’s bed and she knocks the toes of her boots together at odd intervals.
“That’s a bad joke,” Yooyoung tells her, pinching Juhee’s wrist lightly.
Juhee laughs – tries to laugh and just scoffs instead. “I wish it was.”
Yooyoung is seven years old when she learns what an obituary is. Ara’s is five years old and Juhee keeps it by her door, taped to the back of the only photo of her and Ara she has on her walls.
“Pretty bad joke,” Juhee says when Yooyoung’s hands it back.
The only thing that changes is that they spend a lot more time in Juhee’s RV talking to Ara than they do outside it. The whole time she’s with them it feels like they’re trying to teach her something, trying to let her know something important but she just can’t quite wrap her mind around what it is.
They spend their time bickering in front of her, like old people who have known each other forever. They probably have known each other forever, she thinks, but it’s fun to watch them argue. She asks them why they argue so much one day and Juhee laughs right in her face.
“Don’t think about it too much,” she tells Yooyoung dismissively.
“It’s a habit,” Ara says, “one that’s proved incredibly hard to break.”
“We don’t mean it,” Juhee reassures her after looks between them suspiciously, “it’s how we have fun.”
“You guys are weird,” Yooyoung says.
Juhee doesn’t stay long after Yooyoung meets Ara – three weeks, maybe, a month at most – and she leaves in the middle of the night without saying goodbye.
Yooyoung peers out the bathroom window in the morning, toothbrush in mouth expecting to see vague signs of movement in Juhee’s RV. She sees nothing instead. She tells herself not to think about it too hard and goes about her morning routine trying to push Juhee and Ara out of her mind.
“Juhee’s gone,” she says when her father comes in to ask if his tie is done right. It isn’t, even Yooyoung can tell, but she tries her best to fix it anyway.
“Is that your friend across the street?”
“Uh huh,” she nods, “she’s not there.”
“She came by last night,” he says, as he stands up and ruffles her hair, “left you a present on the table.”
Yooyoung spends a moment fixing her hair, patting it down and making sure it’s immaculate before she rushes out to see what Juhee left her. It’s a box, small and poorly wrapped. Yooyoung gets the feeling she only wrapped it because Ara told her to and did a crappy job just to spite her. She turns it in her hands as she takes it to her room, wonders what’s inside it and debates on whether or not she should shake it to see if she could guess by the sound.
She settles on just ripping the wrapping paper off and yanking open the box. There’s a picture inside, blurry as usual, of herself and Juhee. She’s staring wide-eyed at the camera, gripping the tabletop and Juhee is mid-sentence. She remembers Juhee’s bewilderment at Ara’s inability to “just take the damn picture. You’ve done it a million times. It’s not like you have to lift anything, you can push a button, I know you can.” Ara had retaliated by not telling Juhee she was taking the photo until it was over.
Yooyoung smiles as she balances the photo on her dresser, right next to a hairbrush and a candle she’s never lit before. All that’s left in the box is a note – and a can of beer, Yooyoung realizes and she freezes up before scrambling to hide it somewhere her parents won’t find it. It ends up in the bottom of her wardrobe in a shoebox full of broken pencils and crayons she doesn’t use anymore.
Her heart is still pounding when she sits back down and unfolds Juhee’s note. Her writing is messy, almost disgustingly so but it looks like she tried for neatness just for Yooyoung. She imagines that Juhee wrote it late at night, chewing on her pen and bickering with Ara who was probably watching over her shoulder.
I didn’t have anything else to give you. Don’t drink it, we’ll know if you do. I’m sorry for leaving at night but I don’t think we could’ve done it any other time. Be careful.
Ara says don’t drink the beer and have a good life.
By the end of it Yooyoung is crying even though it wasn’t particularly sad or all that sweet either but it was so very Juhee – Juhee who was supposed to stay parked across the road forever but is driving off somewhere with her dead friend instead. It hurts, it really honestly hurts and Yooyoung doesn’t know what to do so she takes the beer can out of her wardrobe and clutches it in her hand and cries until her mother threatens to sell her to the circus if she doesn’t go to school right now.
After Juhee leaves Yooyoung starts going out more – to the park with her mother, the mall with her father, anywhere they’ll take her and any time – and she starts noticing that there really is more than just the living walking around out there. Ghosts are kind of everywhere and more than once she finds herself wondering why she didn’t notice them before Old Mrs. Kim died and Juhee showed up with Ara.
They never do much, just sit and people watch like Yooyoung and sometimes follow them around – occasionally she’ll see an exceptionally emotional one wailing on the ground or attempting to get violent and throw things only to have their hands pass right through the chairs and tables they try to grab. There’s always a sharp pang of pity in her chest when she sees them try, sees them fail because she can hear them, see them, and she knows they want so desperately to be noticed again.
None of them ever bother her – she’s not even sure if they realize she can see them – and she does the same, ignoring them for the most part and trying to live her life like everywhere she goes isn’t twice as populated as it needs to be. The most she ever does is step out their way because she hates the chill that goes through her and the way her mind goes fuzzy for a moment when they step through her.
She never makes any friends, living or dead, after Juhee and Ara but she doesn’t think it’s much of a loss – she never had many before and she doesn’t exactly want new ones with their invisible hangers on. It makes her uncomfortable knowing that someone is eavesdropping and having to pretend she doesn’t know.
Yooyoung guesses that’s part of life and growing up and she’s fine with that, fine with being alone most of the time. When she’s not fine with it she finds herself rummaging through her closet for Juhee’s old beer and tossing it from hand to hand like she remembers Juhee doing when she was deep in thought.
That’s just life, she thinks. Her parents aren’t home from work yet and she’s alone again. She hasn’t spoken for hours; she didn’t get called on in class and it’s not like she has anyone to whisper to, it’s not like she really wants someone to whisper to. She turns Juhee’s can in her hand to read the label. She doesn’t know why she bothers; she knows it off by heart by now. That’s just life, she’s fine with it.
When Yooyoung is thirteen a boy in her class asks her if she would be so kind as so accompany him to the cinema one evening – in those exact words. It’s sweet in a way, sweet enough to make her forget why she doesn’t really bother with people, and Minhyun was smart enough not to invite his friends to gawk at them from around a corner. He’s cute too and Yooyoung finds herself saying yes even though she doesn’t really know anything about him other than his name.
It works out for all of a month before Yooyoung ends it because his grandmother follows them around everywhere muttering about Yooyoung’s height and her bad sense of humor (she thinks her jokes are funny and so does Minhyun, thank you very much). He doesn’t hear any of it, can’t hear any of it, but Yooyoung does and she gets tired of it fast. She breaks up with him behind the gym and he takes it well and she’s couldn’t be happier.
“That’s okay,” he tells her, “it was fun though, right?”
“Pretty fun,” Yooyoung smiles, “sorry though.”
“Seriously, it’s okay. I’ll se you around?”
Yooyoung nods and smiles and waves as he walks backwards around the corner. She’s glad he took it well; he’s nice and she’s vain enough to think that she could have made him cry a little. His grandmother, on the other hand, doesn’t take it well at all and she stays after he leaves, scowling and muttering about Yooyoung. Quite frankly, Yooyoung is sick of it.
“You know I can hear you right?” she snaps after a while. That shuts her up and Yooyoung sighs as her eyes go wide and she starts looking around in confusion. “We’re thirteen, we’re not getting married.”
When she comes to school the next day Minhyun waves at her, smile in place and she does the same.
Over Minhyun’s shoulder his grandmother stands glaring and pointing directly at her.
It’s enough to make Yooyoung remember why she avoided people in the first place.
“You know,” Juhee had told her one day, looking pointedly away from Ara, “if you ignore them they just go away eventually.”
“No,” Ara hissed as she took a seat between them and blocked Yooyoung’s view of Juhee, “if you ignore me I’ll get mad and not talk to you for a week and then we’ll see who the idiot is. But what she’s trying to say,” she said, turning her attention to Yooyoung, “is that if you don’t let us know you can see us we won’t even know. We’ll leave you alone.”
“Okay,” Yooyoung nodded, “got it.”
“It’s better if you don’t let them know,” Juhee added, “because if they don’t know you can see them then there’s no chance that they’ll nag you at eight in the morning about healthy eating, right Ara?”
Yooyoung always ignored what Juhee said but she realizes belatedly that she should have taken Ara’s words a little more seriously because she spends the rest of middle school avoiding Minhyun and his verbally abusive grandmother.
In her second week of high school Yooyoung sees Hyelim for the first time. She’s sitting on top of a row of lockers swinging her legs back, people watching and shouting out odd comments now and then – “no, that’s on the other end of the hall”, “she’s cheating on you!”, “see, that’s what gets you shoved into lockers” – not that anyone but Yooyoung hears it.
Yooyoung watches Hyelim out of the corner of her eye as she jumps down and wanders off down the hall.
“Hi, I’m Hyelim, look what I can do,” she hears her say as she sticks her hand through someone’s stomach. They shiver and look right through Hyelim and she smiles sadly as they walk away. “Hey, thanks for coming, I’ll be here all week. Forever, actually.”
Yooyoung avoid eye contact with Hyelim as she walks past and Hyelim doesn’t even notice.
She introduces herself during lunch three days later. Hyelim finds her in some far off corner of the school and sits opposite her watching her curiously.
“Who even sits here?” she says quietly as Yooyoung unpacks her lunch, a monster of a sandwich she spent twenty minutes preparing. “Maybe you’re doing drugs.”
Yooyoung twitches, still unsure about whether or not to acknowledge her or not. All it takes it Hyelim opening her big mouth again for Yooyoung to make her decision.
“It’s probably drugs,” Hyelim concludes, “gotta have crazy munchies to get through that thing.”
“I’m not on drugs,” Yooyoung snaps, glaring at Hyelim as she takes a bite of her sandwich.
Hyelim goes silent, staring blankly for a moment before grinning. “I’m sorry,” she says but the way her smile looks like it’s about to break her face in two takes some sincerity out of her words. Yooyoung accepts it anyway, nodding slowly. “I didn’t know you could hear me.”
“Well I can,” Yooyoung mumbles around a mouthful of food.
“Neat,” Hyelim chirps, “it’s been a while since I’ve spoken to someone properly.”
“How long’s a while?” Yooyoung asks.
“Oh, you know,” Hyelim waves her hand dismissively, “a long while.”
Hyelim doesn’t tell her how long “a long while” is either, she doesn’t really tell Yooyoung anything about her life or herself, really. She spends the time talking about anything and everything that comes to mind and Yooyoung figures she just misses knowing someone is listening.
Yooyoung doesn’t mind that she hardly gets a word in edgewise because it’s nice listening to Hyelim talk, it’s different. She speaks fast and it’s hard to keep up but she talks about everything like it’s the most exciting thing in the world so Yooyoung just sits and listens and lets Hyelim do all the work.
“I’m Hyelim, by the way,” she says when the bell rings and Yooyoung gets up to leave.
“Awesome. I guess I’ll see you around sometime?” she says, sounding slightly unsure.
Yooyoung frowns, “You’re not coming?”
“You don’t mind?”
“It’ll be fun,” Yooyoung says, “You can convince me to break my code of ethics by telling me everyone else’s answers and we can make fun of everyone and I can look like a freak for laughing at nothing.”
“This thing,” Hyelim smiles, motioning between Yooyoung and herself, “it’s a good thing.”
“Are you stuck here or something?” Yooyoung asks. Technically, she should be in PE but she’s never been a fan of dodgeball and Hyelim is always more fun than being the easiest target in the room.
“Yeah,” she says, tugging at the grass around her. She pulls a few blades out of the dirt and tosses them to the wind. “I’ve never seen you leave.”
Hyelim snorts and covers her laughter by pressing her fist to her mouth. She looks ridiculous and Yooyoung tells her so. “Sorry,” Hyelim says eventually, “that’s just a weird thing to say.”
“It’s not weird,” Yooyoung mutters.
“It’s a little weird,” Hyelim says smiling, “I mean, where else would I go?”
“You could come home with me,” Yooyoung says quietly, more of a mumble than anything.
Hyelim doesn’t say anything to that, just smiles and lies back on the back on the grass.
“Just a suggestion,” Yooyoung says as she tugs more grass out.
Hyelim teaches her a lot about high school. The right way to talk to certain teachers to stay on their good side, how to take advantage of the malfunctioning vending machine near the staff room, how to get past the chains on the door to the roof, even where there’s a stash of porno mags in the library that were left years before. Yooyoung likes to ignore that last one but she still occasionally checks if it’s still there.
“How screwed would you be without me?” Hyelim laughs as Yooyoung frantically scribbles down answers to her math homework – answers that Hyelim gladly provided, shouting them across the room while looking at Ms. Park’s answer sheet. “Seriously, how screwed?”
“So screwed,” Yooyoung says through gritted teeth, as quietly as she can. Her hand is starting to hurt but she doesn’t stop writing because Ms. Park is a hardass – a hardass who’s almost at her desk because she’s a sadist who likes to see the panicked look on her students faces when they hand in their poorly completed homework.
“Yeah, but how screwed?” Hyelim presses.
“Like a porn star,” Yooyoung says, a little too loudly and a little too triumphantly as she slams her pen down on.
“What’s like a porn star, Yooyoung?” Ms. Park questions, eyebrow raised. Yooyoung’s shoulders tense as she turns around and bares her teeth in an awkward grin.
Hyelim snickers beside her. “You are,” she says to Yooyoung, voice lowered for absolutely no reason at all.
“Um,” Yooyoung starts, “I am?”
“Try not to talk in public,” Juhee told her one night, “or people will get freaked out.”
“You don’t have to ignore me completely,” Ara snapped. Yooyoung wasn’t sure if that was general advice or a complaint specifically for Juhee, “non-verbal communication is a thing, you know.”
“Try not to talk in public,” Juhee repeated, completely ignoring Ara.
“Yooyoung, I want you to listen to me very carefully,” Ara said, kneeling down so that she was at eye-level, “don’t grow up to be an ass.”
Hyelim never does take Yooyoung up on her offer to come home with her.
Are you sure? Yooyoung writes in the margin of her notebook. It’s as good a method of communication as any; she doesn’t look out of place for whispering to herself in the middle of class and to Mr. Kwak it looked like she was a model student taking meticulous notes on his absolutely riveting Shakespeare class.
“I wouldn’t want to, like, impose on you,” Hyelim says. She’s sitting on the back Minki’s chair and his head pokes through her abdomen occasionally. It’s a little disturbing, if Yooyoung is completely honest, but she doesn’t say anything.
But you wouldn’t be. It’s fun hanging out with you and-
“Yooyoung, How many times do I have to say it’s fine?” Hyelim says firmly, before she can finish scribbling her sentence.
“If you say so,” Yooyoung grumbles.
Minki turns in his seat, face going right through Hyelim’s stomach. “Did you say something?”
“No,” Yooyoung says quietly, as quickly as she can in the hopes that he’ll turn around and Hyelim will stop poking at his cheeks and laughing.
“Really, because I swear I heard-“
“I didn’t say anything,” Yooyoung repeats. “Nothing at all.”
She visits Hyelim on the weekends sometimes, partly because she wants to make sure Hyelim isn’t too lonely and partly because she gets lonely without Hyelim there constantly cracking bad jokes. There’s only so much silence she can handle after weeks of Hyelim’s excited chatter.
They don’t really leave the school and Yooyoung only feels vaguely strange for spending her Saturdays lying on the grass near the science buildings. Hyelim is calmer on the weekends, when there’s nothing going on for her to gush about and Yooyoung’s the only person she’s seen all day. It’s not a bad thing and Yooyoung likes the quiet conversations they have in the silence of the school.
She learns more about Hyelim on the weekends because there’s nothing else to talk about, because she knows nothing about Hyelim and Hyelim knows everything about her. They’re just small things – short stories about the things Hyelim used to do with her friends, the things her mother would tell her early in the morning when they’d eat breakfast together – because Hyelim never sits and gives Yooyoung her life story, but Yooyoung appreciates it all the same.
She’s like a different person when school’s out, when there’s no one around for her to bounce off and she has the silence to think. There’s actually someone behind those goofy smiles, someone who’s lived her whole and more and Yooyoung can’t do anything but sit back and watch Hyelim with something akin to awe in her eyes – even as Hyelim mumbles quietly and makes up stories about the animals she sees in the clouds.
“How was your weekend?” Hyelim asks quietly, staring at the grass between herself and Yooyoung.
“It was good,” Yooyoung says, “it was my mom’s birthday and-”
Hyelim snaps her head up, eyes wide with interest and something else that Yooyoung can’t quite place. “Keep going,” Hyelim nods, smiling.
“I got her a necklace,” she says slowly, cautiously. Hyelim bites her lip and Yooyoung searches her face before continuing, “and Dad got her roses and we went out to dinner.”
“Some French place downtown,” Yooyoung says, “I don’t remember the name.”
“That sounds great,” Hyelim says. She’s still smiling, Yooyoung can see that but she’s looking down at the ground, staring at the grass again, “was your mom happy?”
“She was-” she stops herself. What she saw in Hyelim’s eyes, it’s there in her tone and the set of her shoulders and scratch of her fingers against the grass.
All it takes is Hyelim looking at her one more time before she realizes – it’s sadness, jealousy; Yooyoung has a home, Yooyoung has a family, Yooyoung has a life and she’s been rubbing it in Hyelim’s face.
“She was– I don’t think she liked the food very much,” Yooyoung finishes.
“It’s not for everyone,” Hyelim nods.
Hyelim doesn’t come home with her because it hurts, not because of some bullshit excuse about imposing on Yooyoung’s hospitality. Yooyoung never asks again and Hyelim’s smile is lighter when she says goodbye on Fridays.
“Yooyoung, you should make friends,” Ara told her one day. Juhee was out on a juice run especially for Yooyoung.
“I have friends,” Yooyoung said as she motioned to Ara, to everything around them.
Ara smiled, soft and sad, and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Real friends.”
“But you guys are-“
“Not like us,” Ara stopped her, “never like us.”
Hyelim brings it up with her when they both overhear people getting invited to the party Jinah is throwing this weekend. Yooyoung rolls her eyes; Jinah wouldn’t bother, not without Sooyoung putting the idea in her head first. Yooyoung walks off without eavesdropping on the details.
“Hey,” Hyelim says when they’re seated on the grass away from everyone as usual, “you should go to that thing.”
Yooyoung laughs – snorts, really, “I wasn’t invited.”
“Yeah but it’s Jinah and Sooyoung, they’re nice,” Hyelim says, “and it’s not like you won’t know everyone there.”
“No thanks,” Yooyoung says, lying back with her head resting on her bag, “I’m all booked up.”
“I’m being serious,” Hyelim says, “maybe you should-”
“What, make other friends?” Yooyoung laughs.
“Hyelim, you are my real friend,” Yooyoung says, slightly offended.
“I know and thank you for that,” Hyelim smiles, “but you know what I mean. Normal friends.”
The way she says it – quietly, shyly, seriously – makes Yooyoung freeze and she blinks up at Hyelim for a moment. “Are you sick of me?” she asks, only half-joking.
“No way,” Hyelim says, “never.”
“Good,” Yooyoung tells her, “then shut up.”
It happens anyway and Yooyoung meets Yoonjo when she’s sixteen and ten minutes late for English. Hyelim is oddly absent but Yooyoung suspects it has something to do with the strange enjoyment she finds in watching the principal yell at people.
Yoonjo approaches her first, schedule in hand and complete bewilderment on her face. “I have no idea where I am,” she says in lieu of a greeting, staring up at Yooyoung.
Yooyoung laughs before she can help herself, laughs even harder when the confusion on Yoonjo’s face doubles.
“I don’t get it, what’s-”
“I’m sorry,” Yooyoung says through her laughter, “you just- you looks so lost.”
“But I am lost,” Yoonjo mumbles, pouting a little and clutching her schedule.
“Sorry,” Yooyoung says again, “where do you need to go?”
“Wow,” Yooyoung blinks, “you really are lost.”
Yooyoung doesn’t expect to her again after that but Yoonjo finds her again at lunch with ten minutes to spare.
“Wow,” she huffs as she throws her bag down and takes a seat next to Yooyoung, “did you know that no one around here knows you?”
“Gee, thanks, I–“
“I asked everyone and only one guy knew you,” Yoonjo continues, paying Yooyoung no minds and staring curiously at her surroundings instead. “You know the only reason I found you as because the janitor says he knows you. Are you friends with the janitor?”
Yooyoung gapes at her, not quite sure how to react. If Hyelim were around she’d have something funny for Yooyoung to say, something – well, not witty but something amusing but she’s not around and Yooyoung is left to flounder in her first real conversation in too long. “Not really?”
“Weird,” Yoonjo shrugs, “he called you his friend. “Oh, you know my friend Yooyoung? She’s a nice girl” was what he said.”
“Look, it’s not – I mean, I have other friends.” Yooyoung tries.
Yoonjo looks around confusedly. “Where are they?” She’s serious, genuinely curious and not teasing in the slightest. It makes Yooyoung deflate a little.
“They’re, you know, around,” she says lamely, gesturing widely, “somewhere.”
Yooyoung nods understandingly and Yooyoung sighs, laying back and throwing an arm over her face. “I have friends too,” Yoonjo says happily.
“Oh?” Yooyoung asks, moving her arm to squint up at Yoonjo.
“Yes! Right here,” she says, poking at Yooyoung’s shoulder.
“Wow,” is all Yooyoung can think so say, “just wow.”
“That was bad,” Yoonjo says, laying back and covering her face like Yooyoung. “How bad was it?”
“Pretty bad,” Yooyoung laughs, “really bad.”
Yoonjo groans and it only makes her laugh harder.
Yoonjo has no classes with her but she finds a way to see Yooyoung throughout the day anyway. By the end of Yoonjo’s second week Yooyoung is sure they’ve basically got each other’s schedules memorized. Yooyoung’s not really sure how to deal with Yoonjo’s new presence in her life so she lets Yoonjo take the lead in their “friendship” thing and hopes she’s doing it right.
Yoonjo is full of life, literally, and it’s strange for Yooyoung. It’s strange for her to be able touch, to reach out and tap Yoonjo on the shoulder, to have Yoonjo slap her leg when she says something astoundingly ridiculous, to able to feel the body heat rolling off her.
Yoonjo laughs and she tells Yooyoung about herself, about her life, the one that she’s currently living. She lays everything out on the table for Yooyoung – not on purpose, Yooyoung can tell that much, but when she talks Yooyoung knows that’s it, that’s Yoonjo. She doesn’t have whole lifetimes hidden in her eyes, she doesn’t have years of loneliness on her mind, she doesn’t speak with a desperate need to be heard.
She’s just Yoonjo. Yoonjo with blood in her veins and muscles under her skin; Yoonjo who thinks unimportant thoughts about unimportant things, who knows it and doesn’t care because she’s sixteen and has her whole life ahead of her instead of sixteen with it all behind her.
Yoonjo is simple and Yoonjo is exactly what she looks like and Yooyoung doesn’t understand her at all.
She tells Hyelim about Yoonjo on a Saturday when no one is around. Hyelim nods and smiles and says she’s happy for her but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes and Yooyoung can’t figure out why.
“What are you looking for?” Yoonjo asks her as they weave through the halls.
“Hye-” she starts before cutting herself off. Yoonjo can’t see her, Yoonjo wouldn’t know. “No one,” she says instead.
She gets it now but it still hurts that Hyelim thinks she’d push aside their friendship for something other people can see.
It takes her a week to find Hyelim again.
“You’re stupid,” she hisses in the quiet of the library. Hyelim is sitting on top of one of the shelves, foot dangling down near the yearbooks, “and I miss you.”
Hyelim glances down at her and Yooyoung can see the surprise in her eyes.
“You’re my friend,” Yooyoung sighs, “you’re my friend and you’re stupid and I miss you.”
“But you’ve got what’s her name now.”
“Yoonjo,” Yooyoung says,” her name is Yoonjo.”
“You’ve got Yoonjo,” Hyelim repeats slowly.
“Sorry,” she rolls her eyes, “I forgot about the Universal Law which states – and please correct me if I’m wrong, Miss Kim – Lee Yooyoung may only ever have one friend ever. One single friend.”
“Now you’re just being dumb,” Hyelim tells her, “you know why I stopped hanging out with you.”
“Because you’re stupid,” Yooyoung spits as she leaves.
“Something wrong?” Yoonjo asks, poking Yooyoung’s cheek. “You look like someone peed on your toast.”
“That’s disgusting,” Yooyoung says, swatting her hand away.
“So is your face right now. What’s wrong?”
Yooyoung sighs. Yoonjo wouldn’t get it no matter how hard she tried or how much Yooyoung wanted her to get it.
“Nothing,” she says, “I’m just tired.”
Hyelim comes back on her own during lunch. Yoonjo’s already there so Yooyoung doesn’t do anything more than glance at Hyelim as she takes a seat. Hyelim doesn’t say anything about it either but she smiles when she catches Yooyoung’s eye, laughs at Yoonjo’s jokes and tries to tell Yooyoung what to say occasionally.
It’s odd for Yooyoung to see Yoonjo and Hyelim side by side because Hyelim joins in on the conversation like it’s the most natural thing in the world and Yoonjo has no idea she exists. It’s confusing trying to be subtle about switching her attention between the two, more confusing than when the teacher calls on her during class and Hyelim distracts her with stupid answers and even stupider faces but Yooyoung decides that she’ll try and make it work.
She’ll try for Hyelim who’s been alone for too long, and for herself because she can’t bear the thought of high school without Hyelim by her side, and she’ll even try for Yoonjo just because she’s the only normal thing Yooyoung’s had in her life since god knows when.
It doesn’t take long for Yoonjo to grow on Hyelim and before Yooyoung knows it Hyelim is paying more attention to Yoonjo than her.
Hyelim explains it to her one Saturday but she talks so fast that Yooyoung can barely keep up – it’s something about the way Yoonjo looks when she’s thinking, when she’s silent and her brow is creased in thought and she looks so very serious. Hyelim says it reminds her of someone she used to know, one of her friends from when she still had proper friends.
Yooyoung nods and doesn’t ask her to explain it further. She’s just happy Hyelim seems happy.
“You know,” Yoonjo starts, she’s got a mouthful of fries and Yooyoung can barely make out what she’s saying, “I heard about this guy who found, like, a mouse in his Big Mac once.”
“That’s crap,” Hyelim says and Yooyoung repeats it before adding her own incredulous, “a whole mouse, really?”
“No, really, I swear,” Yoonjo insists, “well, maybe not a whole mouse. But like, part of it at least.”
“Still not buying it,” Hyelim says.
Yooyoung shakes her head at Yoonjo, “I mean, you say that,” she points out, “and you say it’s true but you’re still eating one.”
“I paid like five bucks for it,” Yoonjo frowns, “obviously I’m going to eat it.”
They’re boring, the three of them. They don’t do much, they never really go out and they spend most of their time in Yoonjo’s basement bedroom watching pirated movies on her crappy TV and putting things in the oven and hoping it’ll come out edible.
It’s a thing for them, lazing around Yoonjo’s house and not doing much of anything. They might do homework if they’re feeling ambitious – Hyelim will mumble out answers that she know from years of sitting in on the same classes and Yooyoung will repeat them if Yoonjo hasn’t been too much of a brat.
It’s routine, almost; it’s boring and Yooyoung knows it but Yoonjo never complains and Hyelim looks so happy for once so she loves it all the same.
They go to a party once, just once. It’s another of Sooyoung’s parties and it’s actually at her house this time instead of Jinah’s. Jinah is the one that invites them, the sole reason being that she saw them across the hall one day and thought they were cute. Yoonjo blushes like a moron and it seems rude to say no so Yooyoung gives Jinah her word that they’ll be there and Jinah leaves after making sure they seriously mean it.
It’s loud and crowded and everyone is a little too in Yooyoung’s face for her liking so they stay for all of half an hour before leaving and going back to Yoonjo’s house. Hyelim’s waiting for them when they get back, the smug grin on her face telling Yooyoung she knew they wouldn’t last.
“There’s wine in the fridge,” Yoonjo observes when she opens it.
Yooyoung takes the hint and grabs the first glasses she can reach – which aren’t even real glasses, she realizes when Hyelim barks out a laugh as she looks at them – and they drink Yoonjo’s mother’s wine out of oversized mugs with rabbits on them.
It doesn’t take long for Yoonjo to start slurring her words and falling all over Yooyoung and trying to decipher the meaning of the universe and everything inside it. Hyelim finds it more amusing than Yooyoung thinks she should and she glares and her and mutters for her to shut up at one point.
“Who’re you talking to?” Yoonjo asks, head resting in Yooyoung’s lap.
“Um,” she starts, it’s hard to think when her mind is that pleasantly hazy but she gets out an acceptable answer eventually, “no one?”
“You do that all the time,” Yoonjo mumbles, “wow, you’re fucking weird, you know that?”
“I’m not that-“
“You’re crazy weird, Yooyoung, and I feel like there’s a lot going on in that huge head of yours. But that’s okay,” Yoonjo says, reaching up to pat Yooyoung’s face, “because I love you anyway and one day you’ll find someone who’s into your freaky crap.”
Yoonjo falls asleep soon after and Yooyoung doesn’t bother to move Yoonjo’s head from her lap. Hyelim smiles as she watches them, and pokes out her tongue when she catches Yooyoung staring at her.
“Am I really that weird?” she asks quietly.
“A little,” Hyelim admits, “but hey, Yoonjo’s right. There’s someone who’ll be into your freaky crap.”
Yooyoung watches her for a moment before asking, “Did you have someone who was into your freaky crap?”
“I’m not freaky. I wasn’t freaky,” Hyelim tells her, “and that’s none of your business.”
“’m sorry,” Yooyoung mumbles, “should I go to sleep now?”
“You should,” Hyelim says, “or I’ll just make fun of you some more.”
On Yooyoung’s 17th birthday her mother wakes her up and hands her an envelope from Juhee.
“It came a few days ago,” she explains tiredly, “I almost forgot about it.”
Yooyoung smiles sleepily up at her, taking the envelope and rolling onto her stomach. “’m sure she won’t mind.”
She waits until she hears the door to her room click shut before tearing it open. She’s still not fully awake and it takes her longer than it should, the rips jagged and messy across the top of the envelope. In the back of her mind she hopes there’s nothing important in there but, if Juhee is still Juhee, there probably wasn’t.
There isn’t actually much in it at all, she finds out when she empties it onto her lap – only a photo and a short note but she’s excited all the same.
The photo is Juhee, of course, blurry and in mid-sentence as she points at the camera. There’s a beer in one of her hands and Yooyoung looks to the old can that now lives on her dresser. “Mexico!” it says on the back, smudged and barely legible, “Ara still sucks at photos.”
Yooyoung smiles as she puts it under her pillow. She’ll buy a frame for it later. Or maybe not, Juhee was never much of a frame person. She looks at the note next; it’s neater than what was scrawled on the back of the photo and it looks likes Juhee put actual effort into writing perfectly straight on the unlined paper.
I met Ara when I was seventeen. Be careful. Happy birthday.
Ara says hello, eat your vegetables and wear sunscreen. Be careful.
It makes Yooyoung frown and she reads it three more times before getting out of bed and hiding the note at the very bottom of one of her drawers.
Yooyoung meets Nara a week later sitting on the sidewalk near a mangled telephone pole. She’s not doing anything, just sitting and looking at the people who walk past her.
She sits up straight and tall, shoulders back and head held high but to Yooyoung it seems a little too forced. She sees her clenched fists and the way she flinches when someone gets too close, when someone walks right through her. She sits up straight and she sits up tall but Yooyoung can see the fear on her face and in the way she bites her lips and squeezes her eyes shut when someone swings a leg through her torso by accident.
It makers Yooyoung stop for a moment, makes her pause and wonder if she should do something for once. She could walk past and keep going to her destination, she could keep going and pretend she never saw her like she does with so many others or she could stop. Yooyoung could stop and sit with her and trace patterns on the pavement and hold her hand close to Nara’s, so close that they could be touching and let her know that she doesn’t have to be alone.
She could leave or she could stay and Yooyoung doesn’t know which to choose.
Nara lets out a sigh; it’s quiet and shaky and tells Yooyoung she’s almost about to break and that, she supposes, is what makes the decision for her.
It hasn’t been long for Nara, barely a month or two and she’s still not used to it, not used to being ignored, not used to being invisible, not used to being dead. Yooyoung grimaces when Nara tells her that because she doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know what she can say because she doesn’t know what it’s like.
“No one knows I exist,” Nara tells her desperately, “no matter how much I scream no one can hear me.”
Yooyoung says nothing in return, they’re sitting on a busy sidewalk and nothing she could say will change it anyway but she nods at Nara to let her know that she heard. It’s just a small movement of her head but Nara laughs when she sees it, humorless and empty.
“But you’re here now, right?” she continues, twisting her head to watch Yooyoung’s face as she speaks, “and you know I exist.”
“I’m here,” Yooyoung reassures her. She says the words quietly, breathes them out when she’s sure no one is looking, “I know.”
It wasn’t her intention to make Nara cry when she sat down but Yooyoung tries to tell herself that they’re just tears of relief that she won’t have to spend another day alone instead of the body wracking sobs she knows they’re going to turn into.
Talking to Nara is different to talking to Hyelim. Hyelim’s been around forever – literally forever in Yooyoung’s mind and she’s tired. Nothing is new to her and Yooyoung has the sinking suspicion that Hyelim has forgotten what it really feels like to be alive.
Nara’s not like that. Everything’s new for Nara, her memories fresh and vivid and almost living. There’s something in her eyes that Yooyoung doesn’t see in Hyelim’s, didn’t see in Ara’s. Nara tells Yooyoung about her life, about herself. It’s unguarded and free and Yooyoung doesn’t have to read between the lines to know anything about her like she does with Hyelim.
Nara is calm once she moves away from the telephone pole Yooyoung met her at, less tense and she actually smiles when they’re away from it. Yooyoung loves the sight and it’s all she can do to sit and watch with bright eyes when Nara speaks.
It makes her chest clench and her hands shake excitedly when Nara laughs at her jokes and smiles down at her and makes odd comments about how she looks pretty today and she should do that with her hair more often. Nara’s happier the further away she is from that telephone pole and Yooyoung is happier the more Nara smiles so she makes it her goal to get them as far away from it as possible.
“I don’t sleep anymore,” Nara says from Yooyoung’s bed. Yooyoung is sitting with her back against the door, watching Nara poke her fingers through her various soft toys.
“Really?” Yooyoung knows it already, Hyelim has told her a thousand and five times but she pretends she doesn’t know, fakes cluelessness just to hear Nara talk. One thing she doesn’t have to fake is her interest though and she’s not sure how she should feel about that.
“Really,” Nara says, “I’m just awake all the time with nothing to do.”
“You’ve got me now.”
Yooyoung tells Hyelim about Nara on a Saturday, the same way she told her about Yoonjo.
She expected Hyelim to smile, she expected Hyelim to joke, and there was a little part of her that expected Hyelim to act like a moron like she did with Yoonjo. Yooyoung expected a lot of things from Hyelim but she didn’t expect the oddly grim look to pass over her features momentarily or the tight clench of her jaw as Yooyoung told her about Nara.
“She sounds nice,” Hyelim says. She smiles but Yooyoung knows she doesn’t mean it. “Just be careful, yeah? Don’t forget about Yoonjo.”
Yooyoung laughs because she doesn’t know how else she’s supposed to react. “I’m not an idiot, Hyelim.”
“Sometimes I wonder,” Hyelim grins and this time Yooyoung can see she means it.
“You don’t have to go,” Yooyoung tells Nara one night as she gets up to leave.
Nara stops in her tracks, turns and lifts an eyebrow questioningly, “What else am I supposed to do?” she asks as she smiles.
“I don’t know,” Yooyoung shrugs. She twiddles with the ends of her hair as she thinks, avoiding eye contact with Nara, “you could stay here?”
“And what,” Nara laughs, “watch you sleep?”
“No, that’s creepy,” Yooyoung says, frowning, “but I’ve got books if you want to read or you can watch TV or – what else are you going to do anyway, sit in the dark by yourself until you come over tomorrow? Nara, stay with me.”
Nara narrows her eyes as she thinks and Yooyoung holds her breath while she waits for the answer. “Okay,” Nara says, walking back to Yooyoung’s desk, “amuse me.”
Nara’s still there when Yooyoung wakes up, staring out the slight crack in Yooyoung’s curtains. There’s an odd swell of happiness in Yooyoung’s chest when she take in the sight.
“I’m sorry,” Nara says, smiling as Yooyoung sits up and stretches, “I kind of did watch you sleep.”
“That’s alright,” Yooyoung replies, reaching her arm over and holding out her finger like ET for Nara to do the same to, “I’d watch you sleep too.”
Yooyoung is smiling when she shows up at school. Hyelim doesn’t bat an eyelid but Yoonjo asks about it with a suspicious glare.
“You did something,” she accuses when Yooyoung is close enough, “what did you do?”
“Nothing!” Yooyoung says, hands raised defensively, “I didn’t do anything.”
“Why do you look so weird then?”
“I don’t look weird,” Yooyoung says. She brings a hand up to flick Yoonjo between the eyes and rolls her eyes when Yoonjo pouts, “aren’t I allowed to be happy?”
“No, it’s weird,” Yoonjo says, scrunching up her nose, “besides, why are you so- oh my god, you met someone, didn’t you?”
“No,” Yooyoung says, choking on her words, “it’s not like that. We’re not-“
“Hah,” Yoonjo laughs, triumphant as she drags Yooyoung down the hall, “I was right. Tell about them.”
“Yooyoung,” Hyelim speaks up from beside Yoonjo, “say she’s wrong.”
“What’s he like? He? She? Work with me here,” Yoonjo chatters, completely ignoring everything except Yooyoung and the sound of her own voice.
“Say she’s wrong,” Hyelim repeats, more serious this time.
“She’s… nice?” Yooyoung tries, looking apologetically at Hyelim.
“More,” Yoonjo demands, “I want specifics.”
“I told you,” Hyelim sighs, shaking her head and slowing down, “I told you to be careful.”
“About what?” Yooyoung asks.
“Your ladyfriend,” Yoonjo says.
Hyelim doesn’t reply and turns on her heel and walks the opposite way instead.
Yooyoung finds Hyelim in the library again, on top of one of the shelves and staring down at a rack of yearbooks.
“Look,” Hyelim tells her as she points at them. She’s not smiling like usual, she’s not even trying and the seriousness in her voice, the urgent way that she says it scares Yooyoung because that’s not like Hyelim at all, “look at how many there are.”
“They’re yearbooks,” Yooyoung says quietly, “they have a new one every year.”
“Count them,” Hyelim orders.
Yooyoung stares up at her for a moment and shakes her head, “I don’t want to.”
“Then just look at them then,” Hyelim sighs. Yooyoung does what she says this time and takes a step back to do as she’s told. She doesn't really know what she’s looking for but she notes the differences between the books, how this one is slightly taller, this one slightly thicker, how some years have duplicates and some years are missing altogether. “I’ve watched everyone in those books grow up,” Hyelim says after a while.
“That’s- wow,” Yooyoung breathes, “that’s kind of amazing.”
“It’s not amazing,” Hyelim says, “you’re missing the point.”
“I watched them grow up,” she repeats, “and now they’ve graduated and they’ve got jobs and families and lives and I’m still sixteen. I always will be sixteen.”
“I’m sorry,” Yooyoung mumbles quietly.
Hyelim shakes her head, “You’ve got a life to live, Yooyoung. Don’t waste your time with the dead.”
“But you’re my friend,” Yooyoung says as Hyelim sits down. She follows her lead soon enough and they stare up at the yearbooks as they talk.
“You’re still not getting it,” Hyelim tells her, “it’s not just me.”
Nara stays up with her at night. She gets closer than Hyelim does, closer than Ara ever did, and they sit huddled close with their hands resting side by side because it’s easy to pretend they’re normal in the seclusion of Yooyoung’s room.
They’re good at it now; Nara knows the perfect distance to hold her hand from Yooyoung’s, not so far away that the gap between them is visible and not so close that Yooyoung can feel a slight chill making its way through her body. Yooyoung knows how to shift her legs close enough to pretend they’re touching, to pretend that Nara has body heat for her to feel through her jeans, but far enough away that she doesn’t accidentally stick her leg through Nara’s.
Sometimes Nara will reach up to run a finger down the bridge of Yooyoung’s nose or trace the line of her lips and Yooyoung will hold her breath as she does. Nara concentrates, concentrates so that she doesn’t break the illusion and concentrates so that she can pretend she can feel Yooyoung’s lips against her fingertips.
Yooyoung pretends she can smell Nara’s perfume on her skin – she’d probably smell like early morning dewdrops and trees in summer, whatever that smells like – and Yooyoung pretends she can feel the tickle of Nara tracing patterns against her kneecap.
Nara acts like it’s the most natural thing in the world to pretend she can feel Yooyoung’s fingers against her wrist and Yooyoung acts like it doesn’t hurt when she realizes it isn’t.
“Do you know how old Juhee is?” Ara asked. Her tone was light, conversational but Yooyoung had the feeling there was something more to the question than she was understanding.
“Twenty five,” Yooyoung replied after a moment of thought.
“Do you know how old I am?”
“Twenty five?” Yooyoung asked. She wasn’t sure. Juhee had never mentioned it and she had never asked.
“I’m twenty, Yooyoung,” Ara said, “I’ve been twenty for five years and I’ll be twenty forever.”
Yooyoung is seventeen when Nara takes up permanent residence in her room. Yooyoung leaves out books for her to read while she’s at school and they spend their evenings lying side by side on Yooyoung’s floor with their hands next to each other, so close that it’s like they’re actually touching.
“When I grow up,” Yooyoung said, “I want to be a doctor.”
Her teacher had nodded and smiled and told her she could do whatever she put her mind to. All Juhee did was watch her over the top of her beer.
“Maybe I can help people,” she continued, “so that they don’t end up like Ara.”
Juhee smiled then, just slightly and set her can down on the table. “You’re a smart kid. You can do it,” she told her, “I know it.”
Yooyoung beamed. Juhee was sincere in ways her teacher could never be.
“Just be careful, you know? This thing,” she paused to tap at her heart, “be careful with it because it can mess you up. There’s no doctor that can fix that.”
Yooyoung is seventeen – almost, almost eighteen – when Nara leans in close, so close that Yooyoung can see herself reflected in Nara’s eyes, so close that she can pretend she can feel Nara’s breath on her cheeks.
Yooyoung is seventeen, almost eighteen, when Nara tells her “we can still pretend” as she leans in close, close enough for Yooyoung to squeeze her eyes shut and try and trick herself into thinking she can feel Nara’s lips against hers.
“Juhee said you want to be a doctor,” Ara said. She sounded like Juhee when she said it – supportive and just a little bit proud – and Yooyoung smiled.
“You’re smart,” Ara said, “just make sure you be careful, okay? Look after yourself.”
“Juhee said the same thing,” Yooyoung whispered. It was late and she was supposed to be asleep.
“Juhee can be smart sometimes too.”
Yooyoung is exactly eighteen when Nara says “I love you” for the very first time and Yooyoung is exactly eighteen when she says it back.
“Be careful,” they tell her over and over and over – the notes, the letters, Juhee’s hand over hers and looking more serious than Yooyoung has ever seen her.
Be careful, be careful, be careful.
Yooyoung is exactly eighteen when she realizes what Juhee and Ara meant and she’s exactly eighteen when she realizes it’s already too late.
- falling apart, unseen (hello venus, yooyoung/nara)