When Irene snaps her lids open, she knows something is different.
It spooks her, yet she scrambles to her feet, flinging the duvet away and leaving the bed unmade. Downstairs she overhears sounds: a cupboard shutting with a thud, a chair scraping against the floor, and a spoon clinking with a china cup—which could only mean another living being is around the rest house. She descends the stairs, footsteps heavy, and her heart beating wild. She is certain she locked the door before she slept last night, and it’s only Yeri whom she told the passcode.
Upon reaching the doorway of the kitchen, her feet stop abruptly, held back in astonishment and relief at the sight before her. She sighs, and her tensed shoulders relax.
“Dad!” she exclaims, then pads toward the grey-haired man on the table, peering through his thick, rimless glasses. She puts her arms around him and asks, “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to visit?”
He grins with his thin lips, and cheekily replies, “Surprise.”
Irene grabs the chair next to him and sits. She inhales the scent of coffee that’s been pervading the air. She assumes he probably wanted to catch her doing some naughty business. Like throwing messy parties or bringing in random guys.
“I’ve been enjoying my stay,” she begins, “It’s a good break from the bustle of the city, and I like the peace of this place.” The only turbulence, really, is her unending quest to catch Seulgi’s attention, and affection. Hopefully, it won’t be good for naught.
“That’s good to hear,” he nods, before sipping from his cup. He notices the glow from his daughter’s face, different from the days she looked worn out, poring over her notes, sapped of energy after school.
“Thank you for letting me go on this vacation,” mutters Irene. She urged her dad to take her to a place she’s never been to before for the summer, and he obliged.
Her dad waves a dismissing hand. “No, no,” he says, “I thought I should be a bit more lax with you, since you’re all grown up now. And I know you’ll be bored out of your wits back home. I trust you on your own.”
Not really, not when you still have to check up on me like this, Irene thinks. Maybe it’s because he has to raise her all alone, and he’s afraid she gets knocked up by some rando, but she believes his overprotectiveness is totally unwarranted. She has lived her life trying to do the right things and trying not to displease him. She thought she has now the right to earn his trust, but still, he’s cautious even if he makes it a point not to be obvious.
“Dad, you know I promised, and I haven’t broken it,” she points out. The morning light becomes brighter and it spills into the kitchen through the east window.
He clears his throat before he speaks, “Have you been eating well?”
Irene pauses with her train of thought. Changing the topic, that’s what her dad’s always been good at. Lest she start asking for things. “I do. I eat outside often.”
“Figures,” he mumbles, his eyes darting to the cupboards. “Your food storage is undersupplied. Some of the grocery items I bought are still around, untouched, but the bulk of it has been consumed, and has not been replenished.”
“W-well, I swear I don’t spend that much, and I still cook myself dinner. It’s only been a week past, so I haven’t really thought about doing proper grocery shopping,” she stammers. The dinner she made for Seulgi had leftovers that lasted for two more days.
“And you have a fridge with bottles of blue lemonade. I thought you don’t drink them?”
“Oh,” Irene mutters. Why is he suddenly concerned with my diet? He probably doesn’t think I can live independently, she muses, pouting her lips. “Yeri stocked it. She bought from the store at the resort nearby, for her friends who bailed on her. She couldn’t take them all home.”
His dad snickers, “Ah, that kid.” He sips from his cup of coffee and sighs, “Anyway, you should eat more and make meals of your own. But for now I suggest we grab lunch outside, and I’ll have to leave before the day is over.”
The doubt doesn’t leave her mind.
Seulgi is flipping burgers in Joy’s stead, who’s taking her lunch. The bright, midday heat is unrelenting. She wonders if Irene would drop by today. She just didn’t seem to miss a day, to have her parched throat quenched with ice-cold blue lemonade.
But at the back of her mind, she hopes Irene doesn’t.
She’s terrified, to be honest, to deal with her feelings. I’ve been in denial about how I truly feel for Irene, she thinks, and now I don’t know what I’d do. Wendy is right, like on most things. Acknowledging it is consuming her, and she knows that’s the very reason why she refuses to let her emotions win her over. So what now, if she likes Irene. She’ll be gone in a few weeks, and it won’t matter.
The glimmering sea is calm; the waves pushing forth are steady in its rhythm. The customer leaves with a grin, and box of pan-fried cheeseburger. And Seulgi heaves a sigh, gazing into the horizon where the sky and sea meets. So what now, she ponders again, holding up her chin with a hand.
Summers, and the muddled things they bring.
When her dad leaves, Irene is flung back again into the emptiness of the rest house. It’s lonely on most nights, but when she thinks about waking up another day and seeing Seulgi again, it doesn’t bother her that much. But today, after her dad dragged her to a restaurant and to the local shopping mall after, she decided to skip visiting the kiosk.
The rush of summer days does get to her. In a blink, it will be over. She will have to head back to the city again, and join the pompous, indifferent, or insufferable college block mates who either just want to date her or to ask favors from her.
She didn’t plan on finding a person to swoon over when she decided to have a vacation in this place. It just happened. When she saw Seulgi the first time, her love radar pinged, cheesy as it sounds.
And because of the circumstance she’s in, free from the prying and nosy parental figure she calls Dad, she partakes the thrill to pursue her. She has never done that before, in her entire life. It was always the boys reaching out and trying to woo her, and she disliked every single one of them. The girls, she had befriended a few, those that do not hate her for being pretty and getting attention, and all of them gushed over anyone with a phallus. There wasn’t much choice for her, and dating wasn’t her priority anyway.
She switches the tv on, and surfs channels. She hugs a pillow and pulls her knees close to her. The screen stays on a cartoon. It doesn’t take ten minutes and she begins to yawn.
She leaps up from her somnolence when her phone buzzes in her pocket. Unexpectant, she is surprised to find that it’s from Seulgi.
From: SEULGI ♥
you didn’t drop by the kiosk today
✓ Seen 8.45
To: SEULGI ♥
why, did you miss me? 😉
Irene bites her lower lip, then grins sweetly and widely. She feels something in the pit of her stomach. Something invigorating. She titters girlishly.
From: SEULGI ♥
but it’s great that you didn’t
✓ Seen 8.50
Irene frowns. What does she mean?
To : SEULGI ♥
what do you mean? ☹
From: SEULGI ♥
you terrify me
✓ Seen 8.53
A big sigh escapes Irene’s lips. Terrify her? She has done nothing that morbidly cruel to turn her off, surely?
To: SEULGI ♥
hey, that’s unfair
i’ve been nice to you
From: SEULGI ♥
you terrify my poor little heart
✓ Seen 8.55
“What?” Irene blurts out loud, brows furrowed in confusion. Seulgi doesn’t seem like herself.
To: SEULGI ♥
are you alright?
i’ll visit you tomorrow i promise
don’t be mad at me ☹
She waits for a reply, but nothing comes. Maybe she fell asleep, she thought. When a good fifteen minutes has passed, she gives up and turns off the tv, then goes to bed. Before she falls asleep she sends another message to Seulgi.
To: SEULGI ♥
Seulgi is already snoring at the table, her head on her arms. Her phone slips from her hand, and Wendy catches it before it drops to the floor and slips it into the pocket of her bag. Her friend just suddenly started texting in the middle of their drink session, and then conked out. Wendy thought she was still awake.
“She’s the one who asked us to drink with her, and she already knocked out,” Wendy quips, red in the face from inebriation.
Joy, across the table, drinks a shot then hisses sharply. “She’s caught the love bug… the love bug…” She’s singsonging it merrily while swaying her head.
Joy noticed how preoccupied Seulgi seemed throughout the day. At times, she had to snap her out of her trance. Her friend is in too deep, and it doesn’t look like she’ll get out of it anytime soon.
“Well, well, I don’t think we should get wasted or we might pass out too,” says Wendy. She’s more than happy that Joy is with her for company, though. Her cheeks are blushing; she looks like a peach, and Wendy could only wish she could pinch it with her fingers. Then her eyes fall upon Joy’s plump lips, and that’s when she gulps. She shakes the thought off her head by pouring herself another shot glass of soju.
Joy halts her by holding her wrist. Whines, “You just said no more drinking.”
“Right,” she agrees, staring at her arrested arm. She puts the glass and the soju back on the table. Bashful, she begins, “By the way, have you thought about what I said?”
Joy drops Wendy’s hand and asks, “About what?”
“Are you going to keep beating around the bush?”
“Ya! You’re being mean right now for no reason. How can you expect me to know what you’re talking about,” Joy slurs. Her raised voice prompts the middle-aged men next to their table to look up for a second before they go back to drunkenly whispering to themselves.
Wendy crosses her arms. “I’m not going to spell it out for you Joy.”
Joy growls, “Wendy, what’s the matter with you? Do you really want to fight me?” She taps her hand on the table. Pat, pat, pat. “C’mon, fight me!” She then stands up, unsteadily, and puts her hands on her waist.
Wendy uneasily looks around the tent to find strangers judging them. She bows her head in apology, before she stands up and grasps Joy’s arms. “Let’s go home,” she urges. It has gotten embarrassing how loud they are making a fuss. And Joy is a bit unhinged when she gets drunk.
“No,” Joy shrugs her arms from her hold and dares, “Tell me if you have a problem with me.”
“Don’t— Let’s not...” Wendy complains, scratching her head. Ah, what in the darned hell. Maybe it is the wrong time to have asked an answer from her. Maybe Joy isn’t ready yet. “I don’t have a problem with you.”
That subdues the taller girl, and they leave the tent carrying Seulgi on their shoulders. They drop her off to their house first, her parents feeling sorry for having to bother but at the same time thankful for making sure she got home safe. At the bus stop, they sit side by side. Quiet.
“You know it, Joy,” Wendy purrs, turning her head to the girl beside her. “You probably won’t remember this tomorrow. But it’s true, I have been crushing on you. I like you. I want to hold your hand, keep you warm in my arms, and kiss your cherry lips.” The night seems to hurt with her. Being honest about feelings has never been easy, particularly on the matters of love. And she rubs the jitters off her knuckles.
Joy looks down at her sandals. A nifty pair she bought by haggling at a night market kilometers away from where they are. Then her chest tightens, and her shoulders quiver. Melancholy washes over her alcohol-addled brain. She sobs, and she couldn’t keep it down. “Why me?”
Wendy lifts her head up to gaze at the star-strewn sky. “I don’t know,” she answers.
“No, no, no!” Seulgi screams while scrolling through her inbox while she sits on the edge of her bed after shower. She flails her legs like a child throwing a tantrum. Pulling herself together is the least she could do, but now she’s just really tempting fate. For what it’s worth, Irene did seem to know that there’s something amiss. Perhaps it’s also a terrific sign to stay away from drinking.
When she arrives at work, Joy comes off to be a little groggy and sluggish. She greets her and she is greeted back weakly. “Something took the life out of you?”
“It’s terrible,” Joy answers, washing a dirty rag on the sink. Dirt slides off the cloth then down the drain. “I think I dumped Wendy.”
“What?!” Seulgi yells, flabbergasted. She truly doesn’t know what’s going on anymore. “What? There was something going on between you two?”
Joy wrings the rag and hangs it to dry. She wipes her damp hands on her apron. “Let’s rewind to Saturday. She rallied for you to go to Irene’s, because she wanted it to be just the two of us at the fireworks party.”
“Oh, wow,” gasps Seulgi, rubbing her chin. “But that was smooth of her.”
Joy stomps a foot heavily. Grumbles, “I feel bad. I am so unsure of myself yet. I don’t know how she’ll take it.” It was difficult. Wendy has always been one of her good friends, and for a budding romance to wedge between that is precarious. They won’t know if it lasts, and if it doesn’t, could they go back the same, to the way it were?
Seulgi pats her friend on the shoulder. “It’s alright to be honest with your feelings.”
The afternoon goes like this: Irene swirls her postmix drink (because they ran out of the bottled lemonades) and patiently waits for Seulgi to finish attending to her customers. They’re a bunch of boisterous, lean teenage boys with sand stuck in their hair, and she pulls her elbow close when a pimply guy in board shorts touches it.
Seulgi, sweating profusely, excuses herself and heads to the rest room.
“It’s been five minutes and you haven’t sipped your drink,” Joy observes. She’s leaning against the counter, propped up by her elbows. She watches a plump kid burrow a hole on the white sand.
“It’s the— I don’t...” stammers Irene, tucking her hair behind her ear. A sizable chunk of ice cubes have melted in the juice. Water droplets circle the container. She fidgets, rubbing her thumb over her index finger.
Joy shifts her gaze to Irene. She likes her printed white top, but it’s Gucci. Nothing she could afford at her age. “Do you really come here because you want to drink blue lemonade? Like every damn day? Like a fix?”
“Yes?” the unintended inflection in her voice gives it away—her motive, her conscience, and her insistence to keep them hidden.
Joy chuckles softly. “I’ve never seen you open and drink the bottles you’ve bought. Doesn’t the scorching hot weather make you thirsty?” She’s not even highly skeptic as she were anymore. She has always known she was onto something, but she has learned that going about it aggressively is unbecoming of her. So now she lets their conversation flow naturally.
There was no slipping from it now. Joy has caught her like a deer in the headlights. Irene pleads, “Please don’t tell her! I’ve been lying. But please, please, let me break it to her.”
“So you weren’t a witch or a vegetarian,” deduces Joy, narrowing her eyes below her tennis cap. “You’re a lesbian. Geez, how could I have not thought of that? It should have been obvious!” She claps her palms together, and feels satisfied she found out anyway. “At least you won’t be diabetic like I thought.”
Irene’s cheeks lit up, pinkish. She wraps her hands around the cup of blue lemonade. “I’ll tell her, later.”
“Why, this summer’s just gotten warmer,” Joy proclaims.
After a shoulder pat and a whisper of “Best of luck” from Joy, Seulgi finds herself strolling side by side with Irene after their shift. Irene asked to go with her to her home. The sun doesn’t burn so hot by then, and it is dipping low into the horizon. She’s blushing hard, and she’s too awkward to say anything.
“What was that about last night?” Irene finally breaks the silence. She keeps her hands locked behind her back, too giddy. She has burned her eyes going over the messages again and again. Whatever did she do to Seulgi’s poor, little heart?
Seulgi rolls her eyes up, to the cable wires, dark lines against the purple orange sky. A finger scratching her temple, she answers, “I was drunk and that happened.”
Irene looks up at her, agape. “Drunk?”
“Drunk,” Seulgi repeats, meeting her marveling doe eyes.
They leave it at that for a moment. Irene’s thinking deep, and hard. Those were honest words, she concludes. But nothing she could figure out herself. It seemed like Seulgi was just ranting aimlessly. Perhaps it was useless to put meaning into it, at all.
At the rest house, the oak door creaks open, the sound hollow. Seulgi hasn’t really noticed the emptiness of the place the first time. The foyer too spacious, too quiet. It’s like there’s cotton stuffed in her ears. It makes her wonder if Irene’s lonely, staying all alone.
Irene breathes through her nose, and only then she realizes that she’s been holding it back. She turns on the lights, and the colors of things become mute from dim. And she stares at Seulgi who’s standing shyly before her. Comfy in her Marvel tee and denim shorts.
“I have something to tell you, Seulgi,” speaks Irene gently. Her breath’s a bit shaky. It’s time, there’s no more days I can waste.
She drags Seulgi behind her, to the kitchen. Her palms are clammy from apprehension, but it doesn’t stop her. She’s certain now, and if she balks, she doesn’t think she can ever do it again. Her heart beats deafeningly loud she thinks it will jump out of its ribcage.
Irene slowly walks over to the fridge door, and bright amber light glows when she opens it. She pulls Seulgi to let her see. On a shelf, bottles of blue lemonade are lined beside each other.
“W-what is this...” Seulgi stutters, unable yet to comprehend the sight before her. She stares at the unopened bottles wide-eyed, her jaw hung low.
Irene grips Seulgi’s arms, and looks at her seriously in the eyes. “Seulgi,” she croaks, “The truth is I don’t drink blue lemonade.”