“What exactly do you think you’re doing?”
Her mother’s voice cuts through the soft music playing from Jiwoo’s phone and right into that small part of her heart that hasn’t grown numb to the sharpness of it yet. It stings, as she turns around.
Her voice is smaller than she’d like, but stronger than it would have been a few months ago. She knows that Jungeun would be proud of her for it, will be proud in a few minutes when Jiwoo will tell her about it. She zips her backpack shut.
“And for what?” Her mother asks, even though she knows the answer.
“To go on a roadtrip.” Jiwoo sighs nevertheless, trying to brush past her through the door, but her mother holds out an arm to stop her.
“We’ve talked about this.” She says and her voice is icy, yet it sparks something within Jiwoo.
“No. You talked about it and expected me to sit by and nod.” Her mother doesn’t drop her arm.
“It’s not like I’m giving up my college plans, mom! I graduated highschool, it’s the summer and I’m going on a road trip with my best friend. That’s neither illegal nor unusual.”
Her mother scoffs. “You’re best friend.” She repeats. “Is she, Jiwoo? Is she, really?”
And that makes the spark grow into a flame.
“I’m sick of this!” She exclaims, raising her voice higher than she ever had in this house. “I’m sick of you pretending that Jungeun is a terrible influence after she came out, when you were perfectly fine with her before. I won’t stop seeing my best friend just because you and your fucked up world views see it fit.”
She sees the expression in her mother’s eyes before she even opens her mouth, hears the tone of voice before she actually says anything. She knows that whatever comes next is supposed to make her feel bad, guilt her into being quiet, into listening, into not being complicated. And she won’t have it, not this time.
“I don’t want to hear it.” She says, her voice as hard as she can school it, and finally pushes past her, and out of the door.
Jungeun’s ancient Camaro is already parked out front, all scratched red paint and a failed attempt at customisation Jungeun had started once, involving weed, a can of pink spray paint and a vision that had colossally failed.
Jungeun is leaning against the side of it, twirling the keys around her finger and grinning at Jiwoo right up until her eyes catch onto something behind her and her expression turns into something colder.
“Kim Jiwoo, I swear to God, if you get into this car-”
“God doesn’t care, mom.” Jiwoo calls without looking back at her. “He hates me anyways, just as he hates Jungeun and that florist downtown you won’t buy flowers from anymore ever since she got married to her wife, you know, Sooyoung? And, I don’t know, Ellen!”
She gets into the passenger side and closes the door behind her with much more force than she expected of herself, her heart thumping in her chest.
Her mother stays, frozen in their driveway, the only thing moving are her eyes following Jungeun as she slowly makes her way around the car to the driver’s side. Before she gets in she lifts two fingers in a mock salute. “Have a nice weekend, Soojin, God be with you.” She singsongs.
And then they drive off.
After about a minute of the only noise in the car being the radio static, Jiwoo feels Jungeun’s grin on her.
“Eyes on the road.” She reminds her quietly, not looking up from the dashboard.
Her heart is still doing somersaults in her chest and she’ll need another few seconds to deal with the reality of what she just did, with the thought about the consequences--
Jungeun starts laughing next to her and it develops into a whooping cheer. Without a word she reaches for the radio and a few seconds later the first notes of the finest bubblegum bop are filtering through the air.
“Happy pride month, Ji.” Jungeun says in between laughs and steps on the accelerator.
Their trip starts like everything Jungeun expected it to be. The sun has long set, a soft song is playing on the radio now, all guitars and pleasant vocals, their conversation is slowing down, Jiwoo’s eyes keep falling shut for a second too long to be a blink.
“We should stop for the night, huh?” Jungeun asks, nudging Jiwoo’s thigh carefully.
She gets a nod in reply, a nod and a small yawn and a tired smile that makes her heart hurt, so she focuses back on the road and the yellow streetlights.
They reach a small town not ten minutes later and check into a dingy motel room with only one bed, and it’s exactly what Jungeun expected. They eat sandwiches they bought from a gas station earlier and they’re shitty and taste like cardboard yet it’s what she expected. A couple is fighting in the room next to theirs, and they have to wait for them to stop yelling to finally go to sleep, but it’s still what Jungeun expected, and getting down to it, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s mismatched and some kind of a mess, just like her, just like them, just like her feelings.
Yet when they fall asleep, and Jiwoo is curled up next to her, her head resting on Jungeun’s shoulder, it’s pretty much perfect. Not what Jungeun’s heart keeps telling her she needs, but something she can maybe be satisfied with, one day, after that stupid thing finally shuts up.
They get up late the next morning, the sun lazily streaming in through the window as they get dressed. In the small lobby the floor has the colour of vomit, the chairs have the colour of toothpaste, but the receptionist's shirt is a lively green. Her nametag reads Hyunjin.
“Are you just passing through?” She asks, when they talk to her about breakfast recommendations.
Jungeun nods and she continues: “There’s this bar two blocks from here, they have an open mic kind of event tonight. You should check that out before leaving, it’s pretty much the only thing this place has going for itself.” She grins at them and hands them a few flyers for diners and restaurants the town has to offer.
“Should we go?” Jiwoo asks over pancakes.
“Do you want to?” Jungeun gives back and the wide smile Jiwoo throws her in reply nearly makes her choke on her coffee.
But it’s alright, she can blame it on the temperature, the bitterness, and Jiwoo only throws her a raised eyebrow. She always tells her to just put milk and sugar in it, Jungeun, it won’t make you less cool.
Jungeun gives her a lopsided grin over her cup.
Jiwoo rolls her eyes and picks up the conversation from before. “It sounds fun. Maybe we’ll meet some nice people.”
“This town has a population of approximately 12 and 200 times as many cats, I doubt it’s gonna be busy.”
“Do you think some of the cats are gonna be at the bar?” Jiwoo jokes, a giggle making its way into her voice before she even finishes the sentence.
Jungeun smiles. “Only one way to find out.”
The bar is way more crowded than they anticipated, and it’s way louder than they anticipated, and Jiwoo is way drunker than she anticipated to get.
Everyone seems to know everyone here, and when a boy at the bar, Jiwoo thinks his name might have been Woohyun or Woojin, beamed at them and treated them like they’d been friends forever the bartender didn’t ask a lot of questions about IDs or age, just gave them two cups of whatever Jungeun ordered.
“So then, get this, Jihoon suggests we play spin the bottle. Like- Like we’re fifteen or something, like we’re teenagers and when I complain about that he says Woojin, we are teenagers and technically-... Technically he’s right, but-” The boy is recounting the 5th or 50th story about his absolute best friend in the world who Jiwoo would absolutely love he’s sure of it and who he kind of lost, I swear he was still here when we walked in and then suddenly he was gone but I’m sure he’s here somewhere.
“Hey, Woojin.” The bartender suddenly speaks up, interrupting the current story. “Why don’t you go look for Jihoon, I’m sure he misses you.”
“Oh man, I miss him too. I’ll find him and then introduce you, he’s awesome, you’ll love him.” Woojin grins at Jiwoo, like he hasn’t said that ten times already, and then runs off into the crowd.
“You’re welcome.” The bartender says. She’s a small woman, her hair dyed a soft shade of pink, her eyes nearly disappearing into crescents as she smiles.
“Woojin talks a lot when he’s drunk and he’s kind of in love with Jihoon, so…”
Somehow, this registers in Jiwoo’s hazy brain as the funniest thing she has ever heard and she erupts into giggles. “He wasn’t annoying me.” She brings out in between them, and “That’s adorable.”
“You’re very giggly when you’re drunk, I’m guessing?” The woman states.
“Apparently!” Jiwoo gives back and tries to calm down her breathing.
“What’s your name?” The bartender asks, setting down the cloth she had been cleaning the counter with.
“Jiwoo!” She replies. “What’s yours?”
“Vivi.” The woman smiles, and Jiwoo gasps.
“This is Vivi’s Bar!” She exclaims. “And you’re Vivi! This is your bar!”
Again, it’s the funniest thing she’s ever heard.
“Did you come here alone, Jiwoo?” Vivi asks and Jiwoo shakes her head.
“I’m on a roadtrip with my best friend.” She explains. “Her name is Jungeun. Have you seen her?”
Vivi leans on the countertop. “What does she look like?”
“She’s blonde and taller than me and-- and beautiful.” Jiwoo tells her, very seriously, and she doesn’t quite understand why Vivi starts to laugh, but she joins in anyways. She likes Vivi, she decides, and she likes Woojin, and she likes Jihoon too, even though she hasn’t met him yet. This town is wonderful.
“I think Jungeun is coming this way right now.” Vivi chuckles.
Jiwoo turns this way and that, looking for Jungeun and releases a little cheer when she spots her only a few steps away.
“Everyone here is so nice!” She all but yells into her best friend’s face, then realizes how loud she was and repeats, quieter: “Everyone here is so nice.”
“That’s because you’re so nice. People love you.” Jungeun tells her, sitting down in the stool Woojin abandoned a few minutes ago.
“Do you love me?” Jiwoo asks. It seems like the most important question in the world to her in that moment.
“Of course, angel.” Jungeun replies, slinging an arm around her. “More than anything.”
She grins and Jiwoo beams back and she likes this bar and this evening so much, she never wants it to end.
“We should dance!” She decides a few minutes later, already getting up and pulling Jungeun with her. “See you, Vivi!”
As Vivi waves after them, Jiwoo is already pulling Jungeun to the small dance floor. She doesn’t actually think that it’s supposed to be a dance floor, just a small free space between the billiard tables and the karaoke stage, but it can be used for dancing, and that’s what counts.
Jungeun is a dancer, and Jiwoo knows that. When they had been kids, they had done ballet together, Jiwoo quit in fourth grade, but Jungeun went on to Jazz classes, to contemporary and Hip Hop classes, and Jiwoo went to every single one of her showcases. She has seen Jungeun dance a million times, yet it never gets less mesmerizing. When Jungeun dances, it doesn’t look like she’s moving to the beat, it looks like the beat follows her movements, like the music is playing just for her to dance to.
It’s different though, to see Jungeun dance on a stage and to see her dance on a dance floor directly in front of her. It doesn’t seem quite right, Jiwoo thinks, kind of like Mozart being played as background music in a shitty grocery store, or a Van Gogh print used on a trash bag, to see Jungeun dance in between all these strangers in a tiny, badly lit bar.
“What’s up with you?” Jungeun calls over the music. “You wanted to dance, didn’t you? So dance with me.”
She takes Jiwoo’s wrist and pulls her closer, and Jiwoo forgets about Mozart and Van Gogh, forgets that she actually doesn’t know how to dance anymore, forgets that she’s really drunk and that they’re surrounded by strangers. Everything is Jungeun, her hands on Jiwoo’s waist, the smell of her perfume as Jiwoo wraps her arms around her neck and pulls her even closer, her breath on Jiwoo’s collarbone as they dance together.
The next morning comes much harsher than the first and Jungeun has to squint her eyes shut for a long moment before she can force them to get used to the light filtering in and threatening to burn out her eyes.
Her head pounds, her left thigh feels like it has a bruise and when she tries to remember why, she thinks she walked straight into a wooden fence on the way back to the motel last night. A quiet groan escapes her lips.
“Good morning.” It comes from beside her and it’s missing a lot of its usually energy but when Jungeun looks over and Jiwoo is smiling at her, it’s still the brightest thing she has ever seen. She blinks again, even though this time it’s not her eyes burning, it’s her heart.
It’s weird, this trip, more so than she expected. She spent the nights leading up to it laying awake, overthinking, worrying, theorising, over every single thing. She was worried about Jiwoo, about how her mother would react, about the awful things she would say, has said. She was overthinking every single thing that could go wrong, all of it her fault somehow. Her heart wouldn’t shut up, it made her think of every possible terrible scenario it could potentially lead her into on this trip. None of the most terrifying ones happened, at least not so far. She hasn’t accidentally confessed, Jiwoo hasn’t yelled at her, hasn’t looked at her with hurt, disappointment, hasn’t left her.
In fact, and a part of her feels ridiculous now about how relieved she is, nothing has gone wrong. She’s been having a great time, and Jiwoo has been smiling and laughing and everything is pretty much perfect.
Maybe, Jungeun muses, even though her heart is protesting, telling her not to jinx it, nothing has to go wrong. They’re allowed to have a good time, away from their parents and their sleepy town.
Yesterday had a lot of potential to go wrong. They were drunk, not being careful, they danced... And it was okay. Jiwoo held onto her on the dance floor, Jungeun held onto her on the way home, and they fell asleep all tangled up and yes, Jungeun’s heart did somersaults, but it was okay.
“I’m hungry.” Jiwoo lets her know, voice muffled by the pillow covering half of her face.
They pack their things, check out with Hyunjin at the front desk, who chuckles at their slightly dishevelled forms, even though they did their best to fix them.
“Had fun at the bar last night?” Hyunjin grins.
It elicits a bright laugh from Jiwoo. “I think so!”
They find a diner a few blocks away and Jiwoo insists on ordering for the both of them. The glint in her eyes distracts Jungeun too much to protest when Jiwoo closes her eyes and lets her finger fall on two random things on the menu. It’s a weird mix they end up with, some exotic special version of a tuna salad and a stack of pancakes that sounds like it could give you diabetes with half a bite.
But when the waiter approaches them, looking barely awake even though it’s nearly coming up noon, Jungeun doesn’t think they’ll be judged.
“Good morning.” He drawls, stops, double checks the clock on the wall, nods and repeats: “Good morning. My name is Jihoon, what can I get you?” He has to fight a yawn halfway through. Jungeun thinks it’s terribly relatable.
She maybe would have dwelled on it, had Jiwoo not gasped loudly beside her.
First, she turns to Jungeun excitedly. “I remember things about last night!” She exclaims. To the waiter, she says: “You’re Jihoon!”
“Yes, I just said that.” The boy blinks, looking at Jungeun as if for confirmation. “I did just say that right?”
Jungeun nods and they both turn to Jiwoo for an explanation.
“We’re basically best friends!” She grins at Jihoon. It’s the opposite of an explanation, and it seems like Jiwoo realises that too because she continues: “I met Woojin yesterday and he told me so many things about you-- none of which I can remember right now, but I do remember that he said you’re awesome and I would love you, so…” She trails off with a very meaningful finger gun Jihoon’s way and Jungeun has to suppress a laugh.
“Oh my god, you’re Jiwoo.” Jihoon says. “I thought he just made you up-- Don’t look at me like that, it has happened before.”
“It has?” Jungeun asks, raising her eyebrows.
“Yeah. Long story. Involves a lot of really cheap weed. Anyways, what can I get you, new best friends?”
It’s nearly a little sad when they leave the small town for good. But some song is playing on the radio, something about better days to come, something about the road ahead and the sunlight paints patterns on Jiwoo’s face, and they head off.
Jiwoo trusts Jungeun's driving skills, she really does. And getting down to it, this is maybe her fault, at least kind of. You shouldn’t attempt to fall asleep on your driver in the middle of a road, she has learned that now.
“You were really lucky you didn’t die.” Smiles the girl at the mechanic’s office after they tell her what happened. Her name is Chaewon and she offered them lemonade and a place on the old couch as soon as her boss said it would be a while until the car could be fixed.
“Yeah, imagine if it had been a truck you had to avoid, not a regular car!” Chaewon’s co-worker chips in from where he’s perched on the desk.
“I’d rather not imagine that.” Jungeun gives back with a little grimace.
“Nobody wants to imagine that, Jeno.” Chaewon says with a small glare in his direction.
The grimace is still on Jungeun’s face. She has been very calm about this whole thing, at least on the outside, talking to the staff of this mechanic’s store. Jiwoo can see the way her hand grips on a little too tight to the armrest, and the way her knee bounces nervously when the conversation slows down a little too much. Carefully, Jiwoo reaches out a hand and intertwines her fingers with Jungeun’s, gives a little squeeze. It’s worth the nerves when Jungeun throws her a small thankful smile.
“So, how long have you been dating?” Jeno speaks up again.
“Uh.” Jiwoo says.
“We’re not--” Jungeun starts.
“We’re just friends--” Jiwoo continues, as Jungeun pulls her hand from her’s.
Chaewon looks short from throwing the glass of lemonade she’s holding at Jeno’s head, or him out of the window, when she hisses: “You’re banned from every conversation ever.”
“I’m sorry.” Jeno all but whines and, to give him credit, Jiwoo doesn’t think she has ever seen anyone look more sorry. “I just thought--”
“It’s fine!” Jiwoo assures him.
“No big deal.” Jungeun nods. She has her hands in a tight knot on her lap.
The door opens then, and Jiwoo suppresses a sigh of relief for the distraction. Another boy comes in, Jiwoo thinks she saw him in the garage earlier. She wonders if this business specialises in hiring only High School Juniors.
“Your car is a heap of trash.” The boy announces, his face completely blank.
“Thank you for this useful contribution, Jinyoung, you know how to make our customers happy.” Chaewon replies. Jiwoo is pretty sure at this point that the girl hates her job.
“Just giving some constructive criticism.” Jinyoung shrugs. To Jungeun, he continues: “We tried to save as much as possible, and theoretically she’s ready to drive again but I really don’t know how long that’s gonna last. Siyeon guesses she’ll break down again in two days, tops--”
“He.” Jungeun interrupts him.
“My car’s a ‘he’. His name is Chad.”
“That’s controversial.” Jeno muses.
“And a very white name, for a car.” Chaewon adds.
Jungeun nods. “Only a straight white male could ever disappoint me like this.” She explains.
Jiwoo giggles, even though she has heard this joke a hundred times before. Jungeun sends her a short, proud smile, then huffs and says: “I guess we have to take the chance and see how long it will last. Thanks for trying.”
And then they’re back on the road, a scented tree hanging from the rearview mirror. Jeno shoved it into Jiwoo’s hands when they left, apologizing again for making things awkward. Jiwoo isn’t quite sure how the scent of vanilla is gonna make anything less awkward, but she appreciates the sentiment. The smell is accentuating the heavy silence in the car very well, though.
Everything still vaguely has the chemical smell of vanilla when they get to another motel a few hours later,their conversation normal, but slow, like it’s filtering through honey. It feels like something shifted, and as Jiwoo drifts off into sleep she can’t figure out what it is, but she knows it happened when Jungeun pulled her hand away earlier. Or maybe it happened when Jiwoo reached out. And then her last thought is, that it was neither of these moments, it had happened even earlier, even before Jiwoo rested her head on Jungeun’s shoulder in the car, even before they even started this trip.
She dreams of a forest of vanilla scented trees, of Jungeun’s hand slipping from hers as they wander between them, and she feels utterly lost and empty when she wakes up, and she’s too scared to think about the reasons.
Jiwoo is a lot of things. Jungeun could fill hundreds of pages, talking about all the things Jiwoo is, and none of those pages would hold the word “quiet”. Yet that morning, she is, nearly eerily so. They barely talked over breakfast, at least not to each other. Jiwoo animatedly talked to a girl seated on the table next to them, and listening to their conversation, Jungeun nearly felt like things were normal. But as soon as they left the café. and as soon as Jiwoo stopped gushing about how sweet and fun Yerim had been, she went back to being oddly quiet.
Jungeun hates it. She despises it, but she doesn’t know how to change it, because every time she tries to speak up, it feels like she’s breaching dangerous territory, and she is too terrified to actually open her mouth. So she tries to drown out the silence with the radio, with meaningless questions about where to go, meaningless comments about the scenery around them.
Jiwoo isn’t quiet, usually, and she’s not good with hiding emotions, and she’s not good at ignoring things, that’s why Jungeun shouldn’t be as surprised as she is when Jiwoo calls her out a few hours later.
Or rather, she is calling both of them out. It’s so much like her, to stay fair like this even when Jungeun thinks she has every reason to blame everything on her.
“What are we doing?” Jiwoo asks as they hold by a red light. They just left a tiny town and the last street sign they passed said that the next bit of civilisation is at least a two hour drive away.
It is ironic that Jiwoo chose to ask now, when it’s just them, the road, and the accusing scented tree dangling in between them. There’s no way to avoid the conversation, not a single chance of distraction.
“Sitting in a car? Being on a road trip?” Jungeun tries for a grin. She’s sure it comes out more like a grimace.
She knows that Jiwoo thinks so too when she doesn’t humour her try at a joke, just bites her lip.
It’s quiet for a few moments, before Jiwoo speaks up again. “My mom thinks we’re together.”
Jungeun doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know what Jiwoo expects her to say, so she stays silent, keeps her eyes on the road.
“Or, at least she thinks that-- I don’t know, you made me gay, or something.” A small laugh escapes Jiwoo’s lips, but it holds no real humour. “As if that’s how it works. As if it’s contagious, or something.”
“She’s old and straight and ignorant.” Jungeun gives back. “She probably thinks it is.”
Jiwoo doesn’t say anything for a while, doesn’t joke back like she usually would, just nods, deep in thought.
“The thing is,” She speaks up again after what feels like hours. “I don’t think I would have ever-- I don’t even think I would have known that I was gay, if I hadn’t known you.”
Jungeun glances at her shortly, but Jiwoo is looking out of the window. “I wouldn’t have known that it was an option to be-- to feel like this.”
“Like what?” Jungeun asks. Her voice is a little shaky and she doesn’t know why.
“Free. Like my life is my own. Happy with who I chose to be.”
It’s just a hand full of words, but at this moment, in the middle of nowhere, they seem to hold more weight than anything.
“Are you?” Jungeun asks again. “Happy, with who you chose to be?” With choosing me over your family she doesn’t say, but that’s exactly what Jiwoo did when she left for this trip with her. Things wouldn’t be the same once they’ll get back home, and more than once on this trip, Jungeun had felt infinitely guilty for it.
“I wouldn’t choose anything else.” Jiwoo says. She turns to look at Jungeun. “I wouldn’t choose anyone else.”
A lot of things happen at once in that moment. Jungeun’s heart seems to stop, for just a fraction of a second, with all the implications that statement could have. Her eyes meet Jiwoo’s and it feels like the universe releases a deep breath, as her heart jumps back into full speed and the tension bleeds out of the air. The car’s engine stutters, loudly, and Jungeun can distantly feel the steering wheel protest under her grip. The car rolls to a stop, and there’s smoke coming from somewhere, and Jungeun’s heart is threatening to beat out of her chest.
Jiwoo drops her gaze, a concerned frown replacing the unreadable emotion from before. “I don’t know what just happened, but we should leave this car.” She says.
“Yeah.” Jungeun nods, but she doesn’t actually move before Jiwoo starts opening the door.
There’s no phone service, and no street signs in immediate sight that would be any help, so they just take their backpacks, leave the car behind and throw a coin to decide what direction to go in.
Only a handful of cars pass by as they wander the roads, none of them stops, no matter how loudly they yell after it. At one point, Jungeun has to stop Jiwoo from throwing her backpack after one, and they start to laugh, and honestly, they’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, but Jungeun is okay with this. Her heart settled in a space in her chest that she hasn’t dared to explore up until this day, and it feels infinitely more comfortable than it did earlier.
They still haven’t really talked about anything, haven’t cleared things up, still have so much to explain to themselves and to each other, but for now, this is okay. They left the smell of vanilla behind with the car.
It’s the late afternoon, golden light slowly bleeding out as the hours go on and the roads don’t lead them anywhere, and Jiwoo is tired, but happy. Something had been lifted off her chest earlier, before the car broke down, and even if it’s just a fraction of everything she could tell Jungeun, she feels infinitely lighter than she ever has.
Their conversation is easy, more like what they’re used to.
The sound of another car approaching interrupts their in depth conversation about music, or school, or whatever it naturally shifted to, and Jungeun throws her a smile. “One more try?” She asks.
They start waving at the driver of the rusty blue pick-up truck that is approaching them, yell some disjointed words that don’t make any sense. Jiwoo thinks that if her mother knew about this, she would go insane.
The car slows a few steps ahead of them and Jiwoo whoops, pulls Jungeun towards it.
A man gets out of the driver’s side, he looks about in his mid 40s, and everything about him, from his car to the expression on his face, to what she thinks is an NRA sticker on the back of the car tells her to not bother, maybe even tells her to go the other way, but her legs are heavy and it’s getting late. They might as well try.
“Hello there, sugar.” The man greets. “What are two pretty girls like you doing all the way out here this late?”
“Our car broke down.” Jungeun explains and Jiwoo can hear the hesitance in her voice. She squeezes her hand once, in reassurance, before letting go of it and taking the last few steps to where the man is standing.
“Well, that’s just unfortunate.” He says, when they’re standing in front of him. He doesn’t even try to be subtle about the way he looks Jiwoo up and down, and suddenly she has the strong urge to grab Jungeun’s hand again, but then he continues. “I’m sure I can help you with that.”
Jiwoo’s legs hurt and her throat is dry and she’s so, so tired.
“That would be amazing.” She smiles. “We just need a ride to the next town so we can call a mechanic.”
“Anything for a pretty lady like you.” The man drawls and gestured to the passenger side of his car. As Jiwoo takes a few steps towards it, he opens the door for her, never stepping away and he’s way closer than she would have liked as she gets in, murmuring about helping her, calling her terribly greasy petnames and the look in his eyes is still telling her to run.
When she’s seated, he starts to make his way to the driver’s side, not before throwing Jungeun a wink. The second he steps away from the passenger side door, Jungeun is there, a persistent hand on Jiwoo’s arm. “Get out of the car.” She hisses.
“We have to get to a phone.” Jiwoo says.
“Not with him.” Jungeun shakes her head and throws the guy a small glare as he lights a cigarette.
“Nobody else might come along and the sun is going down.” Jiwoo tries again. “Just get in the car, Jungeun. Please.”
“I don’t like the way he looks at you.” Jungeun whispers, voice insistent, speaking exactly what Jiwoo’s mind is yelling at her. “Let’s just go back to the car.”
“The car is miles from here.” Jiwoo says with a helpless gesture. “And he’s not the first man that looked at me like that before, it’s gonna be fine. Just get in the car.”
“What if he tries anything on you?” Jungeun asks.
“Now’s not the time to be all weird and jealous.” Jiwoo gives back, and she doesn’t know why she says it, doesn’t know why it comes out as harsh as it does, just knows that she wants to take it back as soon as she sees something shift in Jungeun’s gaze. It’s shock, and hurt, and fear all at once and Jiwoo hates that she’s the reason for it.
She wants to apologize, but Jungeun is faster. As the man gets into the driver’s side, she hisses: “I’m going back to the car. You have fun.”
And then she is slamming the door shut and turning away, and before Jiwoo can go after her, the guy has started the car and they’re driving the other way.
Jungeun doesn’t know how long it’s been since the sun went down, she doesn’t know if she’s going the right direction, she doesn’t feel her feet hurting, doesn’t feel the cold wind biting at the bare skin of her arms.
All she knows is that everything inside her is screaming, but she’s not angry anymore, doesn’t even know if she really was angry to begin with. Right now she just feels infinitely guilty.
She can’t stop thinking about the way that man looked at Jiwoo, she can’t stop thinking about the possibility of him really doing something to her, about how it would be her fault if something happened to her. She regretted it the second the car drove off, and that was precisely when it was too late. She has literally no way to get back to Jiwoo, to contact her. Her phone still doesn’t have any connection, and it’s this close to dying, and she doesn’t even know how much longer she’ll have to walk to reach the car, or what to do when she gets there.
She unlocks her phone, for what feels like the hundredth time, stares helplessly at the little clock besides all the texts she sent Jiwoo, none of which would be delivered anytime soon.
i’m so sorry
i’m so sorry jiwoo
i don’t know what got into me, i’m sorry, something could happen to you and it’s my fault and i don’t know what to do
i’m sorry i’m sorry i’m sorry
i just want to know that you’re alright
i love you so much and you don’t even know, i hope you’re okay, i hope everything will be okay
i love you
Her phone dies.
It’s completely silent around her, the only light coming from the moon, and the stars, but Jungeun doesn’t look up. The constellations remind her of Jiwoo.
Jungeun drowns out everything, drowns out the road she’s walking on, drowns out the moon and the stars, drowns out the weight of her backpack against her back, drowns out all the silence around her, even when there’s more than silence, suddenly.
Looking back, she should probably have heard the car, the slight screeching of tires as it stops, the door opening and closing, steps hurrying toward her. But right in this moment, she’s too caught up in guilt, in self pity and regret, and there’s no room for puny things like survival instincts.
“Jungeun!” Comes a choked yell from a good few yards behind her, and it’s not the sound of her name but the sound of the voice saying it that makes her snap to attention finally, and makes her turn around.
Jiwoo is running towards her and the first thing Jungeun realizes is that she’s fine, she’s fine, she’s not hurt, and Jungeun already feels like she could cry from relief. The next thing she realizes is that she is already crying, and so is Jiwoo, and there is poetry written about this kind of tears, thousands of words, and Jungeun feels like she could write a thousand more.
Then she realizes that Jiwoo is still running towards her, not stopping, and before she can make anything out of it, Jiwoo has thrown her arms around her neck and Jiwoo’s lips are on her’s and she’s not sure anymore where she ends and Jiwoo begins and she’s not sure that she needs to know.
“I’m sorry.” She says when they part for a short second and Jiwoo gives it back when they part for another one, and Jungeun wants to tell her that she has nothing to be sorry for, that Jungeun couldn’t hate her for anything, but that would require way more seconds of them parting than either of them is willing to leave right now.
It’s a small eternity later that they finally do. Jiwoo rests her forehead against Jungeun’s and tells her, slightly out of breath, that she made the guy stop at the next gas station and locked herself in the bathroom until he drove off, that she met a girl who works at the gas station, her name is Haseul, and Haseul drove her here, is actually still waiting in the car for them to get their shit together so she can jumpstart their car or drive them back to civilisation.
Jungeun laughs at that, a watery sound, and pulls Jiwoo close again. “I was so scared.” She whispers into her hair. “I was so scared you’d get hurt.”
Jiwoo presses her face into the crook of Jungeun’s neck for a few seconds, murmurs something Jungeun doesn’t understand.
“What?” Jungeun asks, and it comes out with a kind of pathetic sob.
Jiwoo lifts her head and smiles and her eyes are red and her face is blotchy and swollen from crying and she’s the most beautiful thing Jungeun has ever seen.
“I love you.” Jiwoo repeats. The stars are reflecting in her eyes, the moon and the light from Haseul’s car casts everything in a soft, dream-like glow, and Jungeun thinks that she has nothing and everything at the same time in this moment. She decides that it’s everything she’ll ever need.