Song Yi Yeon is not afraid of the night.
No, she doesn’t.
What scare her are the thoughts that come out at night as she lies alone in bed, staring tirelessly at the ceiling. The monsters from the folk tales her father used to talk about when she was a child; they were real, after all. She has felt them crawling out of the deep, dark closets of her mind with their fangs bore.
It was during one of these nights when she first realized her obsolescence. Unknowingly agreeing to meet a former abuser over tea—signing a contract that binds her to him, even—tends to make a girl feel that way. That one second of nightly realization had been enough to keep her pinned to the mattress all morning, only to wake up thirsting for a taste of whiskey, somehow finding herself kneeling on the floor beside her bed, pounding her chest where her heart is with her fist, as if she could make it stop beating.
But that was then, and this is now. Her monsters are kinder now; they’ve been friends with her for so long, anyway. They still lurk somewhere between her consciousness, but when they do come out, they’re bringing with them a memory. A not-so-distant one of a sunny spring day. Of a living room showered with slants of light. Of a conversation. Of a friend.
“Just meet someone nice. Someone who can stay by your side as a friend and as a family.”
She remembers smiling at her friend; her beautiful friend. She remembers pulling her friend for a hug too.
“That sounds like you.”
Yi Yeon takes a long deep breath, and closes her eyes as she finally drifts into sleep.
She’s not afraid of the night.
Yi Yeon stands in the kitchen, reminiscing about a moment from another night, when she found Hong Nan in the exact same place she is now. Yi Yeon’s replaying the scene in her head now; moving images of Hong Nan and the way her eyes rounded a little as she drew a sharp breath flicker inside her brain. Yi Yeon had caressed Hong Nan’s cheek—so soft under her fingers—and leaned closer.
“I can’t do it with a woman,” she had said then as she pulled away.
Yi Yeon thought she caught Hong Nan blushing. Still, it was dark at that time and she couldn’t be sure. Right now, though, as she looks at her friend rocking back on her heels before her, Hong Nan’s flushed cheeks are the only thing she knows for sure.
At Yi Yeon’s gaze, Hong Nan drops hers, tugging strands of hair behind her ear.
The thing is, Yi Yeon is used to following a script. She never came to Gi Tak’s defense the morning the police came to arrest him, after he beat Na Seok Cheol up, because her father ordered her not to. She married Cha Jae Guk because her wedding was supposed to be the fairy tale ending everyone was hoping for; or so she was led to believe.
But this is a twist in the plot; something a lot more different that anything she’s ever known. There’s no more script telling her what to say—It’s you, isn’t it? Did you think I wouldn’t know? Did you think you could keep hiding it from me?—and she’s not the one to improvise.
Then her monsters are there again, and she remembers Hong Nan sitting beside her inside a toilet cubicle, shoving a crumpled tissue paper in her hand, and her line just slips out of her lips.
“Remember when you told me to forget about your oppa?”
Hong Nan finally looks up. “Oh,” she breaths, almost inaudible.
“I did that,” Yi Yeon finishes. At that, Hong Nan cocks her head subtly, letting out a brief sigh as creases mar her forehead. Her shoulders slump forward too, just a little.
It somehow makes Yi Yeon feel guilty, although she doesn’t really know why. “I don’t mean forget forget. It’s just,” she continues, “I think I’ve finally let him go.”
Hong Nan swallows and seems to relax afterward. “That’s,” she starts. “That’s good. That’s what he would have wanted.” She stays quiet for a moment, glancing at the floor beneath her. She nods repeatedly after a while, as if trying to assure Yi Yeon that she was saying the truth, although she’s looking at anywhere but the other woman.
When she doesn’t add anything else, Yi Yeon asks her. “Don’t you want to know why?”
Hong Nan fixes her eyes on Yi Yeon again. She never answers the question, merely blinking rapidly at the other woman. Suddenly Yi Yeon wishes they were standing closer, and somehow she wills herself to take a step, another step, and another until she’s finally right in front of Hong Nan, their toes grazing one another.
Hong Nan sucks in a breath, and the blood is rushing to her face, tinting it even redder. Yi Yeon has this sudden urge to run her fingers on the skin again, just like last time. Instead, though, she grabs Hong Nan’s hand. She thinks of night strolls along the bridge with Hong Nan, holding hands as they walk past passersby, not caring about anything other than their fingers intertwining.
“Hong Nan-yah,” she whispers. “It’s you.”
Hong Nan’s lips part at that, but no word comes out of her. Yi Yeon involuntarily stares at the opened mouth, and the fact that it makes her think of her son, and what or how she’s going to tell him almost makes her laugh. But she shouldn’t get ahead of herself.
Yi Yeon can feel the heat emanating from Hong Nan, and she leans closer, eager to share her warmth. She tilts her head to the side and closes her eyes.
Yi Yeon opens her eyes again, watching in silence as Hong Nan steps back and away, pulling her hand out of Yi Yeon’s grip at the same time. “I’m sorry,” she repeats, her voice cracking. Her back meets the fridge and the impact seems to shake something in her, and she brings her hand to her mouth as tears flood her eyes. Her voice is muffled when she tries to speak. “I’m sorry!”
Yi Yeon feels sick all of a sudden. Her throat is hurting her, but somehow she still manages a soft cry. “I thought—”
Hong Nan uncovers her mouth to extend her hands, like she’s trying to reach the other woman. But she stops in the middle, as if she suddenly remembers something, and crosses her hands in front of her chest instead. “This,” she says between her tears. “This isn’t me.”
Yi Yeon can feel her jaw dropping. “Oh,” she yelps. “Oh.” The heels of her hands find her eyes. “Oh God! Oh God!” She can hear Hong Nan too, “No, no! It’s not like that!” She’s seeing stars behind her eyelids and still Hong Nan screams, “That’s not what I meant! Song Yi Yeon!”
She can feel bile coming up from the back of her throat and Yi Yeon turns on her heel, doing what she does best.
In a way, Yi Yeon’s always known.
They’re facing each other again and she’s in tears. Again. She can hear herself pleading, begging. “Don’t go,” she sobs. “Please don’t go.”
The right end of Hong Nan’s lips curves upward. “I want to say a proper goodbye this time.”
When Yi Yeon squints at her, Hong Nan’s eyes hover somewhere next to Yi Yeon’s left. “Cut me some slack, won’t you?” Hong Nan says to nobody and nothing in particular. “I only have minutes left, anyway.” She nods once, then, and finally focuses back on Yi Yeon.
Hong Nan takes a breath, and exhales slowly. “Yi Yeon-yah,” she begins.
And then Yi Yeon just knows. It’s ludicrous, but Yi Yeon knows it’s true. Hong Nan tries to speak again afterward but she hesitates and ends up just smiling.
“Oppa—” Yi Yeon calls out. It should have come out as a question; she should have been confused right now. The reality is she’s not.
Hong Nan bites her lower lip at that and takes a step toward Yi Yeon as a reply. She’s close enough now that she can slides her fingers along Yi Yeon’s left cheek and, with her thumb, wipes away the watery tracks the tears have left behind.
“From now on, don’t cry,” she whispers. Hong Nan raises her other hand, then, cupping Yi Yeon’s face in her palms and guiding it toward hers. She leans in too, tilting her head to the side when the tips of their noses rub against each other. She spots Yi Yeon’s eyelids fluttering and closing a second before she shuts her own, and brings her lips closer to meet the other woman’s.
It’s funny, Yi Yeon thinks, because she’s kissed Gi Tak oppa before, and it tastes like him. But the lips she’s kissing now are soft and warm like she’s always imagined Hong Nan’s would feel like. And when they both break the kiss, it’s both Gi Tak oppa and Hong Nan she’s staring at.
Perhaps that’s the reason why, when she first laid her eyes on Hong Nan, she already loved her. Yi Yeon knows this now, can admit it to herself now. And maybe it shows somehow, because Hong Nan lets out a small laugh all of a sudden; the kind of laugh that never fails to form dimples on her cheeks. And as Yi Yeon stands there, it’s an image of a girl she sees walking farther away from her, with a long black hair that sways back and forth behind her. Yi Yeon blinks, and then the girl is gone.
Just like that. She comes, and then she goes.
“Thunder Girl,” Yi Yeon mutters to herself.
The thought is amusing, almost. But, at least for now, it’s still not enough to keep her from tearing up some more.
Hong Nan must be cursing at her right now, Yi Yeon thinks; after all, Hong Nan did tell her not to cry. Then again, Yi Yeon never promised her anything.
Gi Tak looks out the window of the train, and the view is the same as before, as beautiful as before. The Land of Always Spring, he thinks, before snickering at his attempt at being poetic.
His laugh seems to echo around the carriage, and it takes him some time before he realizes that it’s coming from someone else other than him as well. He turns his head away from the window to find Kim Young Soo sitting on the aisle opposite him. They stare at each other for a short while and, as if on cue, they cackle out loud at the same time.
“What are you laughing about?” Gi Tak asks, then, although he already guesses the answer.
Young Soo adjusts his glasses as they slide down his nose. “Oh, this and that,” he says. “I’m happy for that guy too, the real Lee Hae Joon. I’m glad that he’s safe now.”
Gi Tak lets out a short chuckle at that. Young Soo doesn’t say anything else afterward and the sudden quietness reminds Gi Tak of something. “Did you ever find out why you turned into him?” he asks. “I mean, why you came back to Earth looking like him?”
“Ah,” Young Soo replies. “I’ve been thinking about that. My theory is—” He pauses at that, and widens his eyes as he continues, “I think, in the past, I saw him. Maybe just in pictures, not in person. But I’ve seen him before.”
Gi Tak knits his eyebrows, and scoots to the edge of his seat. He bends his back a little and moves his head closer toward Young Soo’s. “So,” he mumbles. “You think there’s a possibility that that Hong Nan is real, and I’ve seen her in the past?”
Young Soo purses his lips and nods his head in confirmation.
The sound of the horn as the train shoots upward is maddening, but it doesn’t quite cover Gi Tak’s laugh.
Seung Jae won’t admit it to her, but Yi Yeon can see it as clear as day: He’s happy to be back in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning at the restaurant. He spews some nonsense about Yi Yeon being the best boss he’s ever had (as if she’s not aware of the fact that he’s only worked for two bosses his whole life) and he wanted to work for her forever if he could; too bad, he says, Gi Tak hyung’s restaurant—because it belongs to Han Gi Tak again now—needs him.
The truth is, Seung Jae is not a man of many words. And leaving his job as Yi Yeon’s bodyguard is his way to tell her that he thinks she doesn’t need him anymore. She’s already strong enough on her own, anyway.
Besides, it’s not like he’s going to leave her side. She eats her dinner at the restaurant almost every night—her meals are on the house most of the time, although she insists on paying for her wine. When she’s not working, she will come during lunchtime too, eating dessert while reading some new script.
On this particular day, Yi Yeon is at the restaurant because Seung Jae has pretty much begged her to come over. He called her the previous night; he sounded distracted over the phone, muttering something about a future sous chef he was supposed to interview the next day. Yi Yeon was as lost and asked him why she was needed. “I mean, I don’t even cook,” she had said with a chuckle.
But Seung Jae didn’t find her funny. “Just—,” he told her, “You have to see— Just come!” He hung up immediately afterward, never providing her with a much-needed explanation.
At this very second, though, as Yi Yeon sits in her usual table, looking up at the would-be sous chef who’s standing beside her, shifting her weight from foot to foot nervously, Yi Yeon understands him more than anything.
Something falls and clatters somewhere in the kitchen, and someone shrieks, “Ya, isn’t that—!” But Yi Yeon isn’t paying any attention; she doesn’t even turn around to see the source of the noises. Not when Hong Nan is here with her.
Yi Yeon takes a deep breath and sighs her name, “Hong Nan?”
The girl in front of her raises her eyebrows. “I’m sorry?”
Yi Yeon can’t seem to keep her eyes off her. She realizes she’s staring at the girl as she fidgets and wringes her hand in anticipation. The girl must know it too because the girl suddenly chews on her lower lip and combs her fingers through her hair. There’s a blush that rings a bell with Yi Yeon, yet the sheepish smile is all new to her.
Yi Yeon has to shake her head a few times and lets out a shaky breath to compose herself. Her thoughts have slowly become clearer now and she remembers it’s their first meeting; she remembers she’s supposed to say hello. But the girl beats her to it.
“I’m sorry for asking you this,” she says, carefully. “But— But are you Song Yi Yeon?”
A hearty chortle comes out of Yi Yeon all of a sudden. “Yeah!” she answers between her laughs. “Yes, yes!”
The girl’s smile widens at that and with her hands held in front of her stomach, she takes a deep bow. There are dimples forming on her cheeks when she faces Yi Yeon again.
“Nice to meet you,” the girl says as she extends her right hand. “I’m so glad I’m here.”
Yi Yeon lets her eyes linger a second longer on the girl’s face before she reaches out to take the hand.
“Me too,” she says, smiling. “Me too.”