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The Sound Of The Heart

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The rain softly hit the glass window, the droplets slowly making their way down leaving a wet trail behind. Dark chocolate eyes stared at it, a small, gentle smile gracing her full lips. She loved the way the rain affected the nature giving it a new beauty, the green of the trees seem so much more alive and the flowers more colorful as they precariously swing at the will of a whimsical wind, the grass below shining with a greyish spark due to the water…She even liked the unique smell rain had, so earthy and familiar. It made her feel at peace.

Kim Minjoo didn’t feel at peace often, at least not at school.

She didn’t hate the school, but saying she wasn’t very fond of the people there was an understatement. They would say she didn’t belong there, she felt like she didn’t. Always trying to stay out of sight, to go unnoticed, counting the minutes to the end of classes so she could go home. School was the worst part of her young life, no matter how much her naturally optimistic ways tried to shine a better light into the situation.  Minjoo had given up on trying to fit in, to make friends and find her place in the complicated high school hierarch – it would be near the bottom anyway. She would be more than happy to just be left alone, and that’s why she would stare out of the window every day, wishing she could get out of that cold prison of grey walls, and go to the vivid park that surrounded the school to admire the pretty flowers without anyone watching over her.

The annoyed voice of their homeroom teacher took her out of her thoughts, forcing her to straighten her back and prepare herself for another day of boring classes and unbearable lunch breaks.

However, instead of facing her teacher with a new lesson, her eyes found a new classmate standing beside the man. Minjoo’s eyes grew a little wider as she observed the girl who had such a strong aura to her. Brown hair fell over her shoulders, looking much softer than the girl’s expression. Her face was small, with delicate, almost adorable, features adorning it. Chestnut brown eyes were partially covered by her bangs, they were beautiful, almost like a doll’s – and expressionless like it belonged to one too.

“I’m Kim Chaewon.” The newcomer introduced herself with a short bow before the teacher could say anything. Her tone was robotic and lacked any emotion – no signs of nervousness or shyness, it was almost as if it was indifferent for her. Her face didn’t give away anything either, her lips pressed into a thin line and her sharp eyes staring back at the small crowd of students, as she waited for the teacher to assign her a seat.

The man seemed slightly annoyed by the student – but he always was –, pointing out the place next to Minjoo’s, the only available seat.

Minjoo immediately tensed up, taking a deep breath as she tried to calm herself down. She wasn’t good with new people and the girl didn’t seem like the friendly type, what meant that being her seatmate wouldn’t be an easy task.

Trying her best to act natural and force a friendly smile – she was actually friendly, but school has made her wary of people, always waiting for the worst and today was no exception. Still, she was trying her best, after all, she would be stuck with this new kid for the rest of the semester and gods know how much she already suffered dealing with her unpleasant classmates, to have to deal with another one, especially one that would be her partner for school activities. She greeted the girl with a polite nod of head, sitting in a way that allowed Chaewon to read her nametag easily – The other Kim didn’t bother to do so.

Chaewon narrowed her eyes at her, nodding slightly as she took her seat and proceeded to get her notebook out of her backpack, completely ignoring Minjoo.

The younger blinked, moving so she could face the front of the class instead of her seatmate. Being ignored was better than being antagonized, still she felt an unpleasant feeling of rejection and for some reason, it embarrassed her. Maybe she had tried too hard with her dumb, silent smile.

She tried her best to not frown, looking down to her notebook and opening her book in the page the teacher said, starting to work diligently. She was good at studying at least, if she could focus on it, she would be able to ignore the other brunette’s presence.

Math wasn’t her best subject, but Minjoo was the kind of people that can do anything as long as she puts her mind to it, and that’s why she was filling the pages of her workbook now. The brunette would’ve been even faster if she couldn’t feel someone’s stare over her once in a while, making her a little restless, uncomfortable with the attention. Of course, it was her seatmate, probably judging her bad calligraphy or point out her mistakes – she was used to this silly, annoying way to tease her; it was the lightest form of bullying and the only one she could ignore completely most of the time.

A light, tentative touch on her sleeve, took her focus away of the books. She expected some sort of superior look, maybe a smirk or a snicker as the other girl would insult her in some way. Instead, she was faced by an expression that could only be labeled as ‘embarrassed’.

“Hey,” Chaewon’s lips were slightly twisted as if she was unhappy with herself, the sharp eyes that faced Minjoo didn’t seem as cold as before, nor her voice carried the indifference she showed…She looked young and out of place, just like you’d expect of a new kid at school. It took Minjoo by surprise. “I know this is annoying and it’s okay if you don’t, but…I really hate math, so can I have a look at your book? I still haven’t gotten mine and I don’t know how to do this without a proper explanation.” She gestured her notebook that was open, but still blank even after more than half an hour since the beginning of class.

Chaewon should’ve asked the teacher for help instead of her, and for a moment Minjoo considered the idea of just ignoring her – her own little revenge for earlier. Only that Minjoo wasn’t a very revengeful person at all, nor she thought it would be a good idea to do this when the teacher would probably just obligate her to help the other girl later.

Gingerly, the younger Kim nodded, moving the book so Chaewon could have a better look at it. Pointing out where she was working on, she showed the girl what she has done and smiled, indicating it was okay for Chaewon to copy it. “Are you sure?” The newcomer asked, raising an eyebrow.

Minjoo only nodded in reply. There was a chance she was putting herself in trouble, not because the teacher would mind – he wouldn’t, he never cared enough to check their work properly –, but because Chaewon might become used to copy and start to use her as an easy source for homework…In this case she would just hand it out anyway, she knew better than waste her energy, however she was hoping that her kind action would make the other girl a little more gentle toward her.

With a small sigh, Chaewon nodded as well, starting to copy. They worked in silence mostly, but once in a while Chaewon would ask her about something and Minjoo would only point out the answer in the book or write it down for her – Chae’s eyes would stare at her a little longer in these occasions, but she didn’t say anything, only nodding before going back to work.

The lesson ended and soon another teacher came, but they didn’t talk even when a new task was assigned. Minjoo just made sure Chaewon could see what she was doing and they worked together in silence until the bell for lunch rang. Even then, they didn’t exchange a word, only putting away their stuff.

Chaewon gave her a single nod as a thank you before Minjoo dashed out of class as usual. The lack of verbal thank you didn’t bother her, nor the other Kim’s quiet attitude throughout the morning. If anything, it made her relieved.

After all, Minjoo couldn’t talk.

 

 


 

Chaewon sighed, her eyes darting around with uneasiness. Like most teenagers she hated school, more than this, she hated being the new kid at school. She was never great at making friends, always wary of people. Trusting wasn’t something easy for her. Not knowing who was genuinely nice and who was just pretending to backstab her later, made her uneasy.

That’s why she had decided to keep her distance from people and quietly finish her last year of high school.

At least it was her plan until she met Kim Minjoo.

Ever since she entered that classroom, she had tried her best to make sure she wouldn’t look like an easy target, using her natural blank face to scary away any potential bully. Yet, it was hard to keep her façade when she was assigned to seat beside such…How could she describe it? Adorable? Yeah, pretty much that was a good definition to her new seatmate. The girl had the biggest and most innocent brown eyes she had ever seen, matching well her hesitant, shaky, but gentle smile as she tried to welcome Chaewon – it was such a sight that it pained Chaewon to ignore it, although she tried her best to pretend she didn’t notice it, that she couldn’t feel the odd, unfamiliar, warm feeling it brought her.

She lifted a hand to her ear, feeling it was getting hot from embarrassment – awesome, not only she was socially awkward, she was extra awkward around cute girls. However, she lowered the hand before she could touch it, clasping the edge of her desk instead. Perhaps she should’ve returned the smile, maybe like this she wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable and slightly guilty now. Chaewon fought the urge to steal a glance at the other brunette, not wanting to see disappointment on her face.

She wasn’t supposed to make friends, trusting someone just because they look nice was stupid.

When the teacher started the lesson and she was forced to try to focus on math, she realized she had put herself in a pretty uncomfortable position. It was terrible for her ego to have to ask her scared cat seatmate for help, but she would rather do it than having to ask it to the teacher and wait for him to force the other girl to share her book – honestly, if she didn’t care so much about her grades, she would have simply ignored the task. It took her several minutes to muster the courage to ask – perhaps she was the real scared cat here.

Chaewon kind of expected to get a big fat ‘no’ as an answer – she couldn’t blame her if the girl did it, after all she didn’t give her a good first impression. But maybe the old say was correct and the eyes were indeed the windows of the soul, and that girl’s soul was as pure as her eyes, because she not only agreed on sharing the book, she also allowed her to copy her answers. Scrap it, ‘pure’ wasn’t the right word for her. That kid was either incredibly kind, or incredibly dumb. Maybe both.

Taking a look at the brunette’s name tag – Kim Minjoo, a pretty and very common name –, she asked again if it was okay and received another smile as a reply. The older Kim was relieved and pretty flustered as she copied the work.

Chaewon hated owing people favors, and that morning she received several ones from the quiet kid who was so willing to help her. Kim Minjoo with her pretty calligraphy and patient smiles, gifted her with a morning of efficient, but very much silent, work – Chae was pretty sure the other hadn’t uttered a single word during the whole day.

Minjoo disappeared as soon as bells rang for the lunch break, leaving Chaewon on her own – what took the slightly shorter girl by surprise. She was pretty sure Minjoo would be one of those overly nice kids that always tries to make new friends, the type that would ask her for them to have lunch together and finally start to asking a bunch of questions...But it looks like her theory was wrong and the other probably already had a big group of friends waiting for her somewhere, she would be busy catching up with them to take care of her new classmate.

Not giving it too much thought, she went to the canteen to grab something to eat and watch the circus that was the social dynamics of high school – and think about how she could avoid getting involved on it. Sitting at a nearly empty table close to the doors, she observed all the different groups and unconsciously looked for Minjoo in the crowd – not even a trace of her. Even after lunch time was over, she didn’t see the brunette.

Minjoo was back at her seat by the time Chaewon arrived in class for their afternoon classes – she didn’t comment anything, only receiving the same small smile from the girl. During the days that followed, this ‘weird’ behavior of her seatmate persisted. Disappearing from class as soon as the bell rang and coming back earlier than anyone else seem to be part of Minjoo’s routine. Perhaps she was one of the kids that eats outside the school, or had a special place to stay with her friends during breaktime…This, however, didn’t seem like the case from what Chaewon was seeing.

As far as she remembered, she had never seen a single person talking to Minjoo before with the exception of the teachers, and only for roll call, but the girl would only answer to it by raising her hand. People even talked to her, although Chaewon never even tried to come off as friendly or receptive. She had never seen anyone around Minjoo either, no friends coming to greet her or waiting for the her at the end of the day. The girl was always by herself and everything indicated she was an outcast. With the exception of some girls shooting her dirty looks once in a while, everyone seemed to ignore her existence. 

It was hard to understand why anyone would do that to someone like Minjoo. Chaewon wasn’t the type to be easily fooled and she could tell the girl’s kind actions were genuine and honestly it was hard to not like her – she was always willing to help, offering her shy smiles and gentle gazes no matter how much Chaewon tried to ignore her; Besides, she was pretty enough to catch the eye, what usually was a pretty big deal to determine someone’s place in the school hierarchy…The fact that people weren’t flocking to her was rather weird. One didn’t need to be a genius to see that something was off, something that probably everyone but her knew about – noticing the way the other kids would look at Minjoo’s way and how she seemed to be used to it, Chaewon was starting to understand the situation.

Two weeks in that school, long enough for her to start to understand how the place worked and to learn to hate some aspects of it. In an all-girls school, you’d expect things to be less chaotic and more pacific, but the truth was that women can be especially evil towards other women. Money, influence and looks…All was judged to establish where you’d stand in the school’s power rank – the people who tried to approach her were just trying to asset her value to decide whether or not she was worth their time; She didn’t entertain them, not wanting to be associate with any groups.

Still, life always find a way to force you to come out of your comfort zone and it happened again the form of Kim Minjoo.

Chaewon didn’t really interact with people, staying quietly at her seat next to Minjoo – who didn’t need to lend her books anymore, but would still let her copy her answers if she asked for it –, and focusing on her studies was her thing instead of mingling. Unfortunately, people still tried to interact with her.

“Watch where you’re going, newbie.” A tall girl said with a very non subtle threatening tone to her voice, as she tried to trip Chaewon over by extending her leg to create an obstacle on the shorter girl’s way to the exit of the classroom.

Awesome, a wannabe bully. It was an old trick and Chaewon didn’t have any difficulty avoiding it, instead she let the sole of her sneakers hit hard against the girl’s leg.

“No need to worry. As you can see, I always know where I step.” Her tone was sweet and full of venom as she replied with a smile that didn’t match her gaze. The bully scoffed, looking more taken aback than intimidating, but she didn’t try to stop her from walking away again. As expected from a bully, she would rather go for an easier target than to pick a fight with someone who could stand up for herself.

Having picked up her backpack, Chaewon was already on her way out of the school when she had to stop and sigh, annoyed at herself. No wonder her bag seemed so light, she had forgotten her history book under her desk and she would need it for homework, what meant she would have to go back and get it before someone locked the classroom.

She walked fast, going back to her classroom only to find the oh-so-pleasant classmate from earlier, alongside one of her minions, cornering Minjoo, preventing her from leaving the room.

The tall girl, Boah, had her heavy hands on Minjoo’s delicate shoulders, making her unable to stand up from her seat. The minion, whose name Chaewon didn’t care enough to remember, was in front of Minjoo’s desk, partially blocking Chaewon’s view. “Come on, talk to me. Didn’t your dad teach your manners? You should always ask for permission before leaving.” Boah asked with that one annoying tone Chaewon loathed so much, while her friend snickered as if she had told a great joke.

“Boah, you forgot her dad left when he was informed she was you know, kind weird?” The minion spoke, crossing her arms as she leaned in to speak closer to Minjoo’s face. “I mean, retarded. I can’t blame him for it.”

Minjoo winced at her words as if they were physical hits, lowering her head in what Chaewon presumed was embarrassment. The older Kim closed her hands into fists, feeling tension spreading through her body. You had to be a real coward to mess with someone like this, using their weakness to break them – to use family out of all things was particularly vile.

“Ya, Sukyung, don’t be rude! Our friend MinMin is not retarded, she is just special, you know? Her head is a little slow, that’s why we need to teach her some manners. We just want to help, right?” Boah leaned in closer to Minjoo, a sadist smile on her face as she squeezed the girl’s shoulder until Minjoo moved on her seat due to the pain. Boah didn’t allow her to stand up even after it. “Come on, MinMin. Ask us for permission to leave. Say it like a normal person.”

Minjoo flinched, shaking her head. From where she was standing, Chae could tell the girl was breathing hard, probably shaking with fear, but not even this would make her speak.

Such reaction seemed to annoy the bullies and Boah hit the table with strength, a little too close to Minjoo’s hands. Speak, you dumb bitch! I’m sick and tired of you playing the victim!”

“You. Move.” Chaewon approached with quick steps that hopefully didn’t show how disturbed she really was by the scene. She made sure to not lock eyes with Boah, keeping her gaze on Minjoo instead. “Kim Minjoo, let’s go.”

“What do you think you’re doing, newbie?” Boah glared at her, straightening her back to look down on Chaewon – she was indeed taller, but the Kim didn’t mind it at all. “Don’t get in my way.”

“This is my way, not yours, oldie.” She replied without hesitation, shoving her aside gracefully so she could grab her book from under her desk and stand by Minjoo’s side. “I’ve some school work to do and I need her help to do it, so don’t be a bother, will you?” With a hand gesture, she dismissed Boah carelessly, grabbing Minjoo by the arm to make the girl stand up.

“Who the he-“

“Excuse me, we’ll be leaving now.”

There was a chance that things would turn really bad, really quickly, but she was counting on her confidence to push the other girls away – although she had plenty of years training taekwondo with her mother to get her out of any problem, and she wouldn’t mind that much testing some of if on Boah’s face. Still, she hoped it wouldn’t be needed, even now she could feel the way Minjoo was shaking slightly under her touch, as the girl hesitated to move even after she pulled her towards the exit.

Minjoo seemed to expect for the worse to happen, but Chaewon pretended she couldn’t notice – or cared about – the emotion on her face, as she dragged the girl along.

“So you want to get the retarded to do your homework? I guess you’re even more stupid than she is!” Boah still glared at her, the minion-girl looking confused as she watched the Kims leaving. None of them tried to reach them, perhaps Boah was the type that enjoyed being in control and didn’t know how to react properly to quick changes – luckily for the Kims, this time they were able to leave without a physical confront.

Although looking at Minjoo’s pale face right now, Chaewon couldn’t say that the girls hadn’t make any damage.  

Chaewon didn’t let go of Minjoo’s arm until they were outside the school gates and on the way to her house – whether or not it was also the path to the younger’s house.

She felt irritated and uncomfortable, her hand reaching to loosen up the tie around her neck to give her some breathing space. She was annoyed at those bullies for being such assholes for no reason and ruin her peace of mind; She was annoyed at Minjoo for not even trying to stand up for herself, although she couldn’t really blame her for fearing the people that probably have been harassing her for a long time; More than anything, she felt annoyed by herself. Playing the knight in shining armor wasn’t her deal, yet here she was feeling so inexplicably angry at those girls for messing around with this kid she barely knew – since when she had so much empathy for others?

“Look, you can’t let them treat you like that. If you don’t do anything, they will get worse and…” Grimacing, Chaewon looked at Minjoo who still kept her head low avoiding her gaze. More than defeated, the girl seemed genuinely ashamed and the sight pulled the strings of Chaewon’s heart a little – a sharp, familiar pain coming along. She knew saying this wasn’t fair, no one wants to be bullied, nor they consciously decide to not get help, there were so many things involved – from one’s self- esteem and temper, to the social pressures and the built fear – it wasn’t a black and white situation.

Chae, however, always hated all shades of grey.

Bringing them to a sudden stop, the shorter brunette reached for something on her pocket – a cellphone –, handing it to Minjoo. “Here. Give me your number.” Kim Chaewon wasn’t one to go around asking for girl’s – or anyone really – numbers, she couldn’t even recall the last time she texted someone who wasn’t a family member of some sort. But this wasn’t about making friends or flirting.

“You can text me if you ever need help.”

She was just paying the girl back for helping her with school work, she hated owing favors and this would them even – it was what she told herself. Just getting even, nothing to do with how much it disturbed her to see the other being mistreated or how much it reminded her of herself. No, she would only help once and that would be it. Besides it was the right thing to do, her moms would be proud.

Nodding, more to herself than to Minjoo, she reinforced. “Go ahead.”

The younger Kim hesitated, gingerly reaching to accept the phone as she finally lifted her head to meet Chaewon’s chestnut gaze – there was a small, surprised but relieved, smile on her face as she typed the numbers carefully before giving the device back to its owner.

Not wasting any time, Chaewon called her. “Save my number and text me next time, okay?” She expected to be sounding more reliable than cold, albeit her tone tended to be a little too stiff whenever she was feeling embarrassed – and somehow feeling the warm chocolate eyes on her made her feel nervous.

The brown haired girl nodded, her small smile becoming less hesitant now, a new spark in her eyes as she looked at Chaewon in a way the other girl couldn’t quite understand – was it gratefulness? Some sort of idolization because she had saved her from some nasty girls? As if, she didn’t think she was anywhere near of being a selfless hero.

“My house is this way.” She gestured the east where a calm neighborhood could be found two blocks away. “What about you?”

Minjoo just gestured the bus stop a couple of meters away and Chaewon nodded, making her way there as the girl followed closely behind.

The silence should’ve been awkward, after all this was one of the situations where people make small talk – or in their case, they could’ve just trash talk Boah and her friend to destress. Still, she knew by now that Minjoo wasn’t a person of many – or any – words and if the episode earlier served of anything, now her suspicions about the other girl were confirmed. It would be a lie to say she wasn’t a little confused about what actually happened to Minjoo that made her like this, still, she didn’t want to intrude and make things uncomfortable for the girl. Boah had given her a hell of a time and Chaewon thought the silence was a welcomed calmness to Minjoo now.

Going home already would’ve been easier, she was also tired and they were far away enough from the school for anyone come to bother them – yet again, she acted so out of character, seating by Minjoo’s side at the bus stop and doing her best to pretend to scroll through her phone as they waited. Once in a while she could feel Minjoo’s eyes on her – how could anyone have such a warm feeling to their gaze? Chaewon wasn’t sure about it, but she couldn’t say it was an unpleasant feeling. She couldn’t resist looking back either.

The bus arrived shortly after, Chaewon waving goodbye as nonchalantly as the could as she watched the girl enter the vehicle.

She told to herself it was just her one big act of kindness of the year, like it was just an item for her to complete on her to do list. Still, as she made her way home that afternoon and her phone buzzed in her pocket with a short message, she couldn’t control her lips from curving slightly in a faint smile as she read Minjoo’s text.

“Thank you. I’m glad I met you.”

That message was only the first one of many.

 

Chapter Text

It wasn’t a surprise really, it happened at least once a week and Minjoo was used to it by now – used, but not comfortable with it. Boah was the kind of person that takes joy In embarrassing others, although her sadistic ways had considerably grown within the last couple of months, turning her occasional mean comments in downright insults and threats – perhaps she wanted to break Minjoo, wanted to see Minjoo completely humiliate as if her usual bullying sessions weren’t enough to please her.

Minjoo could only shrink in her seat, trying to brace herself for what was about to happen, to try her best to not shown how hurt she was inside, to not break down.

There wasn’t anyone there to save her, even if there was someone left, she knew they wouldn’t do anything – they didn’t have a reason to, siding with a bullied kid will only make you a target as well. It had always been like this. At first people would have three kind of reactions to her: curiosity, pity and despise. Boah was the perfectly example of the last one. Meanwhile her other classmates would initially pity her condition and even try to include her, but as soon as they realized that it would take a little more effort, they would leave. Even the curious ones, the ones that would bother her with all sort of questions and even try to get a reaction out of her and check if her condition was indeed true – those would quickly lose interest. After years dealing with the same people, she knew all too well she was alone in this now.

That’s why she had found ways to stay as far away as possible from Boah and her friends – hiding during lunch break, leaving early and coming to class just when the teacher was already there. Still, once in a while she wouldn’t be quick enough and then she would get punished for it.

Today was one of these days. Minjoo got distracted and when she realized, the teacher was already leaving the room and everyone following suit, making her have to hurry up to catch up. Her seatmate had left already and in a matter of seconds it was only her and the bullies in the classroom.

She took a long, painful breath, trying to keep calm and finish putting away her stuff. She knew better than try to make a run for the door, so she didn’t even bother to stand up, her ears picking up the sound of Boah’s snickers and her lazy steps coming close.

Boah’s hands pressed hard on her shoulders, making it hard for her to hide the pain – recently the bully started to get physical and Minjoo could only pray she wouldn’t go much further than this, she wasn’t sure what she would do if it happened.

Luckily, she didn’t get to figure out for herself.

The light, high pitched and familiar voice of her new seatmate pulled her out of her suffering. The girl’s words weren’t gentle, but the touch on her arm was – warm, gentle, safe. Chaewon was trying to help her.

Minjoo was shocked to see her there, facing the other girls so adamantly when she didn’t need to. It’s been so long someone tried to help her, so long someone was willing to take a risk for her, that she didn’t know how to react.

Before she knew it, they were outside the classroom, and soon out of the school.

The way to the bus stop passed in a blur, her mind unsure of what was happening.  Chaewon kept talking, lightly scolding her for not standing up for herself and then proceeding to offer to be there for her in the future as well – she didn’t have a way with her words, they were abrupt, almost awkward, but the sincerity in it was clear. She caught herself nodding and smiling. Ever since their first meeting, she had thought the girl’s voice sounded nice, the kind of tone she wish she had, but now it sounded even sweeter and pleasant to her ears.

She didn’t understand why Chaewon was helping her so suddenly, why someone who wouldn’t even talk to her in class, was now so willing to protect her. Still, she was so, so glad.

That day, on her way back home, she couldn’t help but smile to herself as she stared at the contact name on her phone – Kim Chaewon, with no emoji or anything to make it any less formal, but still, the simple name gave her a warm feeling.

“Thank you. I’m glad I met you.”

The text didn’t convey how grateful she really was, but it was the best she could type as her feet led her to her house and her confused thoughts tried to rearrange themselves.

Kim Chaewon was a very unique person, not an easy one to know or to approach. Ever since their first meeting, they had barely interacted even though they spend most of the day sat side by side. Chaewon wouldn’t say anything unless it was related to school work, and even like this, she would refuse to copy her answers after the first day – she claimed she had her own book now, so it was fine; Minjoo wasn’t sure if she just didn’t want her help or if she was genuinely trying to do things on her own, most people would just take the easy route. The slightly shorter Kim wasn’t as rude as in the first day, she didn’t try to make friends with her, but she would greet her with a nod and not even once she sent her one of the dirty looks Minjoo would often get from other students for not answering to roll call or never being asked to read out loud like the others students – this ‘special treatment’ came with a price too big to be a real advantage.

Although the girl wasn’t as unpleasant as some of her other classmates, it seemed unrealistic to expect from a newcomer to step in and save her Boah when they weren’t even close. Still, it happened. Not only Chaewon had intervene, but also had make sure to get her home safely and even offered to help again in the future…It was almost too good to be truth.

Minjoo wasn’t sure whether the girl just had a big sense of protectiveness and it prompted her to act, or if she had some other reason. Nonetheless, she was glad that for once she had someone to rely on, even if only for today.

Entering her house, she looked around the place in search for her mother, finding her in the kitchen as usual.

“Minguri! You’re home!” The woman greeted her with a smile and she would have given her one of her typical bear hugs wasn’t it for all the icing in her hands – Minjoo was pretty sure her mother always showered her with so much affection whenever she arrived home not only because she loved her, but also because she knew how much of a hard time she had at school. Minjoo was thankful for it.

Returning the smile, she gestured the cake her mother was currently decorating and asked. “What’s that? We have a new order?”

“Only this cake. One of the neighbors has a church event or something.” Her mother said, making a little bit of a mess in the counter as she used sign language to reply – force of the habit, whenever she spoke to Minjoo she would try to signalize as well, it was her way to make it seem more natural for the girl. However, in the moment it wasn’t necessary and her movements made the icing go everywhere.

With a soft, silent chuckle, Minjoo told her to stop. “Do you need any help? I don’t have much homework today.” The younger brunette offered and as expected her mother shook her head in a negative.

“I’m nearly done here. Thanks for the offer, sweetie.” The reply came with yet another smile, a proud one this time – her mother and her worked together many times, baking was one of the activities that allowed them to make some extra cash and spend quality time together. “You can give me a hand with things on the weekend, I think we might get a bigger order from one of the girls that works at the office down the street.”

Nodding, Minjoo rested her chin on her hands and watched as her mother skillfully finished up the cake. She was a good baker herself, but her mother was the one to do the decoration most of the time.

It was just the two of them. Their house placed between two very contrasting neighborhoods, wasn’t the biggest, but they had made it a comfortable home. Her mother worked as a waitress, what meant that sometimes Minjoo had to be on her own, but since they started to sell some of their baked goods and taking some orders, her mom wasn’t taking as many night shifts. Her mom once wished to own a bakery, yet baking cakes with her only daughter was the closest of it she ever got. The money they made wasn’t that much, but it was enough to allow the older woman to work less outside the house and Minjoo was glad to be able to help out.

They still didn’t make enough to pay for some more expensive things, like Minjoo’s therapy – it didn’t help that the health care was so expensive in their country, and mental health care was even more expensive as it was still considered as an alternative therapy instead of a real treatment. Minjoo tried to keep the money her mom gave her – because Mrs. Kim insisted on rewarding her even if she said it wasn’t necessary –, hoping she could use it eventually.

As a child she had received treatment to some extent, but when her dad left them, her condition got worse gradually until it reached her current state. Her mother still tried to look for help, yet all she got from the doctors was that it was most a psychological problem, not a physical one – it made her feel guilty that she was once more causing trouble to her mother, however, the woman never let her feel like a burden or allowed her to lose hope. Now, she knew that her hopes weren’t very realistic, still she wanted to give it a try and repay all her mother had done with her own effort.

When it was just the two of them at home, her problem wasn’t something that really bothered her. Mom could understand her words, be it through sign language or just a quick exchange of looks. When she was younger, she would walk around the place with a small notebook and write down everything – sometimes her notes would be so long, and even a little bit confusing – but her mother would always read it and answer every single question and remark she made.

At their city there were a couple of special schools specialized in dealing with special students like her, the curriculum including sign language classes and other specific subjects besides the basic ones. Nonetheless, it was far too expensive, so Minjoo would always talk her mom out of it whenever the woman suggested on sending her there – her school was a terrible place to be at, but she would feel even worse to be at a special school on the other side of the town meanwhile her mother had to struggle working overtime to pay her school fees.

Luckily for the two of them, a school nearby had a course on sign language that was open to the community and cheap enough for them, it was through it that they started to learn – it was very basic and sometimes Minjoo still struggled to express herself properly like this, especially when she didn’t have contact with other people that knew how to use it.

“Did anything good happen today? You seem…At ease.” Her mother curious question took her by surprise. Was it that obvious? Maybe. After all she would usually just march to her room to change out of her school uniform and into her normal clothes, anxious to get rid of any remind of her school day.

“It was better than usual.” Minjoo answered frankly, still unsure about how much she should tell. Her mother was no fool, she knew things weren’t easy for her at school, however she wouldn’t want her to worry unnecessarily or harbor too much hope on a potential new friendship for her daughter – it’s been a pretty long while since the last time she met one of her friends. “I’ll tell you later, okay?”

“Alright, alright. I’m not going to try to pry into your life…Although I’d like to know if you finally met a guy…Or a girl. Anything is fine, you know?”

Minjoo’s eyes grew wide and she was quick to deny it, shaking her head strongly.

Her mother only laughed at her reaction. “I’m just glad you seem happy today. That’s all.” She handed her the now nearly empty bowl of icing – luckily for Minjoo, there was enough frosting left for her. “Now here, go ahead and lick it clean, kiddo. But don’t forget to wash it properly after!”

                             

 


 

 “Good morning :)”

Chaewon frowned slightly at the text – the same kind of message she had been receiving throughout the weekend. She had given her number to Minjoo for emergencies, instead, she received only this kind of useless – yet cute – messages, and her lack of proper replies didn’t seem to bother the other.

The brunette was in a dilemma: she didn’t want to make friends, but Kim Minjoo was becoming a constant in her life. Push the girl away wasn’t a real option since she had already offered her help – and perhaps also her friendship, even if she didn’t realized at the moment –, turning her back on the girl would be awful thing to do and she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if something happened to Minjoo because she didn’t have anyone to rely on. Therefore, she couldn’t simply ignore the fellow Kim like she originally had – not so well, but still.

Yet, Chaewon didn’t want to become too close, and something told her that getting attached to Minjoo would be incredibly easy. The fact that she couldn’t simply ignore her situation made it pretty clear that part of her was already attached – this thought made her feel uneasy. She didn’t like to think too much about her feelings, but the younger girl was pretty good at getting to them without even trying.

Chae already had friends, she didn’t need another one. She had her small group of trustworthy people and she was happy with it, she didn’t want to let anyone else in and have to deal with the constant worry of being disappointed or hurt – and she had a feeling that being close to Minjoo would make her a pretty vulnerable person, in more than just one way.

Grimacing to herself, she quickly typed a reply.

“Morning.”

Simple and direct, cold enough to not encourage more messages…Too cold, she couldn’t help but complement it with a more friendly “See you at school.”

She would probably have beaten herself to send something more – something embarrassing like an emoji – if her mother hadn’t knocked on the door lightly, the white light over it blinking for a moment before Chaewon could open it.

Exchanging the usual morning greetings, she gave the older woman a smile and ran back inside the room to grab her backpack before following the shorter brunette to the kitchen where breakfast waited for them. She took a seat, narrowing her eyes slightly when she noticed the absence of the third member of their small family, but her expression soon changed as she felt a hand playfully ruffling her hair before a kiss was placed on her head – her other mom was right in time.

“Mom!” She complained, but there was a smile on her face as she watched the woman greet her wife with a quick kiss and take a seat.

“Good morning, Chaewonie. Eat fast, I’ll take you to school today.” Jiyeon said with a wink, knowing fully well the younger Kim would protest – Chaewon didn’t mind getting a ride, but Jiyeon was a little too mischievous to give her one without including any embarrassing questions about her school life and maybe even try to sneak a peek at her new friends.

“It’s four blocks away, I can just walk there.”

“And this is ten minutes of walk that you can use to eat instead, so just accept it. You’ve been leaving pretty early lately.” Luda intervened, sounding like the protective and logical mother she was.

It was a lost battle and Chaewon knew it, moreover, she was never the type to argue with her parents – Embarrassing or not, she loved them and the fact that they would always go an extra mile for her, even when it wasn’t needed like now.

Nodding, she started to eat, gladly accepting the bowl Jiyeon was offering her.

They ate in relative silence, her mother’s going through their schedules for the day and planning out the week, just like always. Chaewon concentrate in her food, she rarely participates in these kinds of talks, first because her school schedule was pretty boring, and second because she enjoyed just listening to her mothers’ voices that were so familiar and comforting always. It was silly, but she appreciated these little moments they had.

“Oh, my briefcase! I forgot it upstairs!” The older Kim said when they finished the food, standing up to go and grab it meanwhile the rest of the family just watched it with smiles – Jiyeon often forgets things and she is always running around with a pile of documents on her.

Standing up as well, Chaewon placed her backpack on her shoulders, watching as her mother did the same to her purse – Luda would be going to the opposite direction, a children’s hospital downtown.

Her mom’s small hands reached out to fix her hair, fixing the little mess Jiyeon made earlier. She touched her ears carefully before covering it with her hair, making sure she looked presentable. “You haven’t told us about the new school yet. Is it nice? Anyone giving you a hard time?” Luda asked in her usual quiet and gentle voice that reflected so well her petite silhouette, her smart eyes that were only a shade darker than Chaewon’s, observing her daughter’s face in the search of something.

Chaewon gave her a smile, shaking her head slightly. “No one is bothering me. I know how to take care of myself, mom, don’t worry.” She reassured even though they both knew the older woman would never not worry about her – after all, that’s what mothers are supposed to do.

“If you say so…Remember you can always tell us if you need help. You may be a little taller than me now, but you’re still a baby.” Being called a ‘baby’ by anyone other than her moms would make Chaewon go into instant rage, however, when it was about her parents she was nothing but a baby indeed. Therefore, she only chuckled lightly as her mother patted her head and she flexed her knees so they would be at the same level.

“Sure, mom. But I’m more than just a little taller now.”

“Of course, she took after my elegant human genes, instead of your fairy ones, babe.” Jiyeon interrupted them with her usual smirk, taking the chance to pat both women’s heads and take advantage of their slightly height difference now – Chaewon just snickered at her antics.

Now she was around the same height as Jiyeon and taller than Luda, however, it was very different when she first met them over ten years ago.

 

Visitation day was like going shopping for adults – but instead of picking different foods or clothes, they would pick kids to take home with them; at least that was what Chaewon’s seven-year-old mind thought it looked like. Chaewon was used to being alone in days like this. For a variety of reasons, people wouldn’t bother her like they did to other children – at first, she cried about it, but like with everything else in life, she learned that it was better to just adapt herself and pretend that she was better off like this. She was better off on her own, she had learned that it was better to not rely on anyone – a harsh reality for a child, but the one she was raised on.

That’s why she was now sat inside a room at the very far back on the third floor, a place most visitants wouldn’t bother coming in – the ‘aunties’ would let her stay there as long as she was a good girl and didn’t make a mess, and Chaewon was a good girl most of the time. She had a puzzle in front of her, a bunch of pieces already lost, but there were still enough for her to play with and try to recreate the image on the toy box – a little orange tiger that one of the aunties said looked like her once. It was difficult, a little too much for her age, but she still worked diligently on it, trying to ignore the vibration under her feet from the people walking and the kids running on the other floors.

Chae had managed to start to form the tiger’s head and make the picture a little easier to recognize, when the door was open with a crack – it didn’t make her look up, nor the steps coming closer did. The little girl only noticed the presence when someone lightly touch her shoulder, making her stand up quickly, surprised.

The woman gave her an apologetic smile, her brown eyes staring at Chaewon with attention as she took a sit in front of her. The woman was young, maybe even younger than her mother, and she had a light, comforting quality to her presence that almost made Chaewon at ease – almost.

The adult spoke, but Chaewon only understood half of her words, still a little taken aback by her presence, her nervous eyes roaming around the room making sure the door was open and no one else was coming in. This attitude of hers usually annoyed people, made them impatient and they would give up on talking to such a ‘disrespectful’ kid. The woman, however, kept her smile with a hint of pity in her eyes as she leaning in a little bit closer so she could repeat her words slower this time. “Hello, Chaewon. I’m Luda,” She pointed out the name tag made out of paper where her name could be read in green letters written with a simple calligraphy. “It’s nice to meet you. I’d like us to be friends, if that’s okay for you.”

Luda gave her an encouraging and hopeful look, and Kim moved on her seat, unsure of how to react. Chaewon didn’t know what to do, and part of her just wanted to push that stranger away before she could hurt her, however, another part of her was desperate for attention and care – and gods, how much she missed having it, how much she missed receiving that kind of warm smile and hugs, to have someone who would be willing to stay long enough to actually talk to and be heard…She could barely recall a time where it was a reality for her.

Hesitating, she looked up to meet the woman’s gaze. She opened her mouth to answer, but closed it again, only nodding instead – her words didn’t do any good to her.

Luda’s smile grew a little sadder at it, too subtly for the kid to notice, but the woman took note of it – she took note of everything, from Chaewon’s defensive posture, to her small frame and skinny body, to her chestnut eyes that were so intelligent but lacked the light a child’s eyes should have…She notice it all, and she took to herself the mission of fixing it.

Leaning in, she rested her elbows on the table and eyes the puzzle Chaewon was working on. “What about I help you with it?” She spoke slowly, making sure to keep eye contact as she did.  Chae nodded once more, looking a little more at ease with this than the conversation – Luda’s profession was based on words and her duty there was to make sure that kid was able to communicate properly, but only for today, she would let Chaewon do things her way.

Maybe, just maybe, she could get the kid to trust her a little more, and maybe it would be enough to allow her to help.

It was.

 

Jiyeon brought them to a tight hug, taking Chaewon out of her memories and back to a much more pleasant present – back then, she could never imagine she would have a caring and loving family like this, nor that she would accept them so whole hearted as she did. Hugging her moms back, they squeezed Luda between the two of them until the shorter woman complained in between chuckles.

“Enough with that! Let’s getting going.” Luda said as soon as she was out of the hug, readily grabbing both women by the wrists and making them follow her to the exit. “Bona, don’t let Chaewon be late for school. Chae, don’t let your mom convince you to grab fast food on the way there.” She nagged – she knew her family all too well. With another hug and a kiss on the cheek, she sent them off. “Now see you later, take care!”

 

 


 

Minjoo stole a glance at her seatmate, watching her working on her notebook, writing something with the intricate, hard to read calligraphy that the younger girl already knew well by now.

Today was being…Odd.

She would always come in late to avoid bumping into bullies in an empty classroom, however it seemed little likely to happen now with Chaewon around – the other brunette was early, sat on her seat, busy reading a book by the time Minjoo arrived. She noticed the way the chestnut eyes had checked her out quickly, as if looking for something off, before the girl answered her greeting with a nod and stiff smile. Chaewon was back to her reading before she could try to say anything.

She wondered if Chaewon was coming early just to make sure she wouldn’t be caught in a bad situation again…But she tried to suppress those thoughts, she was becoming a little too self-centered and seeing too much into such a simple action, Chaewon probably only hated being late.

Minjoo wasn’t reading too much into it.

The slightly shorter Kim made sure to arrive early, and although she indeed hated being late, her major reason was to make sure that scene with her seatmate and Boah wouldn’t repeat itself. Chaewon was the type of person that has a hard time speaking about her feelings, or even thinking about it, but she was also the type that couldn’t overlook things and Minjoo was pretty hard to ignore. During the weekend she couldn’t help, but replay the scene in her mind and it made her annoyed every time – more than this, it made her overthink about some aspects of it.

At least Boah hadn’t bothered them so far, although she would shoot dirty glances at the pair often, Chaewon had only returned it with her own glare before ignoring the girl and her annoying minion – she made sure to stay close enough of Minjoo to guarantee the other would be able to leave for lunch without trouble; she was tempted to ask to follow her, but Minjoo seem to have her own fixed schedule and Chaewon wasn’t sure if she should try and break it by inserting herself where she wasn’t invited.

Therefore, lunch was less pleasant than usual. She ate in the canteen while keeping an eye on Boah to make sure the bully wouldn’t go looking for Minjoo. Awesome, she had become a guard dog.

Now, back at class with the end of the day getting near, she could feel Minjoo’s insistent gaze on her, the girl had greeted her with a sincere smile and taken her usual seat after lunch – Chaewon only gave her awkward smile in return, the best she could do when she felt so unsure about what to do.  

She thought their texts were bad, this was in a new level. And it was her fault. Minjoo was trying her best, in her silent way, to reach her, but she also had to make an effort …Did she even want to do it? Peeking at the brunette quickly, the answer was made pretty clear.

Perhaps they were connected somehow, that’s the only explanation Minjoo could give to what happened next.

She was struggling to write a note, thinking about what to say to start a conversation without making the other girl uncomfortable – by the way Chaewon always texted, she was either a shy person, or she just didn’t like talking, but Minjoo was trying to be optimistic here –, when a neatly folded mint green piece of paper was left on her desk. Blinking, Minjoo looked at the small piece of paper and to Chaewon who had her attention on her notebook again.

Fighting a hopeful smile, she carefully grabbed the paper and unfolded it, finding a simple message written on it.

“Do you want to walk home together today?”

It wasn’t much really, but Chaewon could feel her ears growing red under the protection of her hair and more than ever it was hard to fight her desire to touch them – she could only hope her blush wouldn’t reach her face. It took a lot of courage to do it, it wasn’t like her to take the first step in a friendship, and gods know how much she enjoyed the comfortable silence, but the silence now was just awkward and it was making her uneasy. It was hard to admit, yet she couldn’t deny she wanted to talk to Minjoo – in whatever way they could. Perhaps like this she would be able to understand things.

For Minjoo it was more than enough, it meant Chaewon also wanted to be her friend – isn’t that how friendships start? It’s been a very long time since she made a new friend and it made her feel a small, almost childish, happy feeling. Maybe she was indeed too naïve, yet life had taught her to be always kind and to have hope, otherwise she would only sink into her own doubts and fears.

She might regret later letting Chaewon in, but she would regret even more not trying.

With a smile, Minjoo passed back the paper, an expectant look on her face.

It took Chaewon a moment to open the message, the shorter girl trying her best to not show her eagerness as she swiftly accepted the paper and unfolded it when the teacher wasn’t looking their way.

“I’d love to. Can we grab ice cream too? It’s my treat :)” 

Biting on the inside of her cheek, she forced a neutral expression on her face as she nodded, showing Minjoo a thumbs up. She would play it cool, it wasn’t a date – not even a friendly date – no reason to feel so…How she could even call it? Chaewon wasn’t used to that feeling, but it was there again, and it was hard to ignore.

Luckily for Chaewon, the teacher demanded their attention, giving her time to get rid of her embarrassment and focus on studying.

Meanwhile Minjoo kept a small, genuine smile on her face as she took notes of what the teacher was saying. She didn’t have many reasons to smile at school, but Chaewon made it easy. She had seen the way the girl was embarrassed, perhaps she was indeed a very shy person, however the fact that she was trying to communicate and even willing to spend time with her outside the school was a big deal for Minjoo – growing up between people that would ignore her often, it was something new and exciting.

The ending of the school day came quickly, the bell signalizing it was time to go home. Usually, Minjoo would be waiting nervously for it, with her things packed and eyes fixed on the exit. Today, however, she waited for Chaewon to get her stuff – of course her gaze would roam around the room once in a while, searching for Boah and her friend, her old fears menacing to break her excitement; She saw Boah glare at her, but the other didn’t come closer, leaving without a word for the first time.

Minjoo sighed in relief, jumping on her seat when she felt Chaewon’s hand on her shoulder.

“Let’s get going.” There it was again, the quiet, yet warm tone on her voice – the one meant to put Minjoo at ease, to make her feel safe; this wasn’t her mind tricking her, her ears couldn’t fool her this much.

As expected, it worked well and she nodded, giving Chaewon an embarrassed smile as she stood up to follow the girl.

“Where to?” Chaewon asked when they stepped outside the school, waiting for instructions.

Minjoo looked around, making sure they were alone before reaching out to grab Chaewon by the wrist – she stopped mid-way, glancing at the girl as if asking for permission.

Chae didn’t reply to her silent question, instead she took hold of her sleeve. “Lead the way.”

With a nod, the taller brunette did as she was told, taking a shortcut that would lead them to a small ice cream parlor she would visit at least once a week for some cheap, yet delicious ice cream.

The place was relatively full, but it didn’t make Minjoo nervous – she knew most people there, old customers that would come religiously. One of the reasons she liked this place so much was the fact that she didn’t have to worry about bumping into school kids, like she would’ve in the trendiest places.

Chestnut eyes watched as the taller girl relaxed as soon as they stepped foot inside the place. The ice cream parlor wasn’t very impressive for her, the decoration was outdated and didn’t have a ginormous list of ice cream flavors like most places did – it looked like it was stuck in time. ­­­Still, it had a welcoming atmosphere, not noisy and impersonal like some other places, therefore Chaewon couldn’t really say she didn’t like it.

She allowed Minjoo to guide them to the counter, sneaking a peek at the list of flavors places on the wall opposite – she frowned slightly at the sight. “No mint choco?” She muttered to herself, but Minjoo must have caught it because she felt the girl tugging on her sleeve to grab her attention.

There we no words, just the expressive chocolate brown gaze on her, a hint of disappointment painting them grey. Minjoo probably thought she was upset for not getting her favorite flavor – how silly it wasn’t? Still, Chaewon didn’t find it pathetic, but rather endearing that the other was so eager to make her happy in such a basic way.

Shaking her head, she let out a soft chuckle. “What about you recommend me another flavor? What is your favorite?”

The taller girl’s lips curved into a smile again, her elegant hands touching the transparent glass as she crouched down to see the ice creams on display. Her index finger pointed the pink one with black dots – strawberry with choco pieces – before she used her other hand to point at herself, indicating it was her favorite flavor.

Not being able to speak was more than a simple hassle most of the time, but Minjoo had found ways to communicate, as long as people were patient enough to pay her attention – Chaewon was willing to do so.

“This your favorite? Is not mint-choco, but It’s not bad.” Chaewon commented, leaning in to watch closely. “And what about your recommendation? The same one?”

Minjoo pouted her lips slightly, her expression becoming contemplative as she pondered about what flavor would be the best one for Chaewon when she knew nothing about the girl’s taste – liking choco-mint wasn’t a good hint. Chaewon’s lips curved into a soft smile as she watched the other brunette looking so concentrate in such a simple task, seeing her relaxed like this was a very welcome change from her scare-cat expression back at school or even the shy, hesitating smiles the girl would risk once in a while – Chaewon liked this expression much better.

“I recommend this one. It’s the house special.” Another voice sounded, making Chaewon avert her gaze to meet the eyes of a short old lady that smiled at them calmly – the owner of the place. She was pointing at a purple ice cream, the tag in front of it saying ‘Lovely’. Chaewon never heard of such flavor, but Minjoo clapped happily and nodded with enthusiasm. “It’s vanilla, grape and our special ingredient. Minjoo here likes it a lot, so why not give it a try?”

It didn’t seem like such a bad combination, and Chaewon knew better than judge an ice cream for its look, so she only returned the old woman’s smile with a polite one and nodded. “Okay, I’d like to try it.”

Minjoo also picked the same, simply showing two fingers to the woman who readily nodded in agreement. By the woman’s words and their actions, was easy to tell Minjoo came here often. Chae’s suspicions were proved right when the other brunette tried to pay for their order and the older lady refused to receive the money.

“It’s on the house. It’s the first time you bring a friend here, it’s a special occasion.” The woman smiled warmly at them like they were her own grandchildren, handing their orders and telling the girls to take a seat at one of the free tables.

A light shade of pink colored Minjoo’s cheeks as she thanked the woman, Sung-Yi, for the ice cream with a short bow before heading to the table. Her mother brought her there ever since she was a kid and Sung-Yi was like family by now – and just like family, she was able to embarrass her in front of her new acquaintance. It probably wasn’t a surprise to Chaewon that she didn’t have many friends, still it made her embarrassed to admit it when she was trying to befriend the girl.

Chaewon was actually amused by Minjoo’s candid reaction, it was cute when she wasn’t the one blushing for once. She followed the girl, resting her backpack on an empty seat and focusing her attention on her ice cream.

“It’s not mint-choco good, but is definitely not bad!” The ice cream had a unique flavor, a little weird at first, but rather nice – somewhat like their relationship in the moment.

 Minjoo smiled, looking both relieved and happy by her words, her emotions were so clear on her face always, completely unfiltered. Chaewon wanted to ask her a lot of things, but she didn’t want to ruin their peaceful moment and she knew Minjoo would need to use her hands to communicate – be it by writing or gesturing –, therefore she decided it was better for them to eat quietly before asking anything.

For Chae’s surprised, Minjoo was quick to finish her ice cream, while herself was still only halfway through the small mountain of purple gelato.

Minjoo was particularly quick eating today thanks to the fact that she wanted to talk to Chaewon, and unfortunately for this, she would need her hands – just like Chae presumed. Getting her notepad from her bag, she was ready to use her pencil to write down anything that was needed.

She didn’t expect Chaewon to be such a slow eater though. And almost unconsciously, her hand started to move, sketching something as she waited for the girl to be done.

“What are you doing there?” Chaewon interrupted her, and Minjoo quickly turned the pages of the notepad to hide the sketch for now, shrugging her shoulders and giving the girl an innocent smile.

“Hm.” Narrowing her eyes slightly, the older brunette pushed her cup aside, resting her elbows on the table and leaning in. “Minjoo, can I ask you some things?”

The girl nodded slowly. Minjoo already expected it, curiosity was a normal thing and although she hoped it wasn’t the only thing that made Chaewon interest in her company, Minjoo knew some questions were bound to be asked.

Those questions, however, weren’t the ones she expected to hear.

“Do those girls always bother you?” Was the first one, Chaewon’s expression becoming darker at the mention of the topic, as if it was something that bothered her as much as Minjoo who was the target of the harassment.

She would rather to forget about Boah and her harsh words and actions, but she had agreed on answering, therefore she did it by simply nodding again instead of writing it down.

“No one intervenes? No one from class or the teachers?” Chaewon insisted, her voice was neutral, but her sharp eyes showed signs of the same emotions Minjoo saw that day – frustration and rage. While she herself could float through a variety of emotions quickly, making it harder to hold grudges, Chaewon was clearly the opposite.

Holding a sigh, she shook her head again, forcing a small smile to try and ease Chae’s frustration – it was no use as the other girl let out a sigh, a very annoyed one.

“Why don’t you fight back? Did they ever hurt you or…?”

Shaking her head, Minjoo tried her best to not sigh again. It wasn’t a simple matter to her, nor something she really knew how to handle. Her good nature could only go so far, yet she was trying her best to never let her most volatile emotions take over.

Getting her notebook, she started to write a more elaborate answer.

“I can’t. Violence leads to more violence always.” It was something that her mother always said and although it may sound like an overused and useless phrase, she tried to live by these words – tried. “They never hurt me. If I react badly, things may become worse.”

Chaewon pursed her lips as she read it, she still was frustrated, but she could see why Minjoo would act like this. It was easy to give in to her emotions and act recklessly, she was more prone to it usually, but not everything can be solved with a punch, especially when you’re alone and untrained like it seems to be the case. Still, not fighting back could also have the opposite effect and make the bullies grow more abusive for knowing she wouldn’t try to defend herself…It wasn’t a simple situation and Chaewon couldn’t help but feel annoyed about it. If anything, this answer made her decision of sticking around Minjoo even more concrete.

Pushing aside her annoyance for now – part of her would probably always want to kick Boah and her friend for what they did –, she tried to focus on something else.

“Am I…” Noticing Minjoo’s gaze on her, she moved on her seat a little uncomfortable about the question that just popped into her mind. She silently prayed she wouldn’t get embarrassed for no reason again. For crying out loud, Minjoo should be the one feeling uncomfortable with all her scrutiny. “Am I your only friend there?”

Something new shined on Minjoo’s brown eyes, making them darker and somewhat more alluring, making Chaewon miss the sight of it when the girl lowered her head to write.

It was quick, maybe even a little rushed, but the message was there now. “Do you consider us friends?”

That hopeful sparkle was on the younger Kim’s eyes again, and even if she wanted to, Chaewon wouldn’t have been able to deny it.

“I suppose we are.” She tried to shrug it off, averting her eyes to her own hands for a moment, but quickly going back to face Minjoo. Deciding to change the topic, she asked: “Where do you go every lunch break?”

Minjoo didn’t fight her smile, she was starting to appreciate Chaewon slightly awkward, yet sweet ways. She didn’t think she had ever met someone like her before and the fact that she was her friend was almost amusing. Maybe it was silly even for her, but she felt grateful again, luck wasn’t on her side often and this seemed like one of the times it was.  

“To the roof.” She replied without hesitation. Usually she wouldn’t talk about it, treating the place as her own safe haven. The ice cream parlor was also something like this to a certain extent. And here she was showing her world to Chaewon.

Furrowing her eyebrows slightly, Chaewon tried to recall ever seeing the rooftop, but all that came to mind was an isolated place used to dispose old desks. Students weren’t even supposed to go there, not that anyone even bothered to do so for what she knew. “There is nothing there.”

“It’s peaceful.” Was Minjoo’s quick reply, as if she already expected her statement. “No one goes there, it’s my place.”

“Well, I guess it makes sense.” Nodding, Chaewon went silent for a moment. It was easier to picture Minjoo’s life now, no wonder the girl had such a well planned out routine for school, she needed it in order to live quietly and not be bothered by bullies. Chaewon could relate to her to some extent, after all she liked to be alone and many times she would find ways to escape social engagements, however, for Minjoo it wasn’t an option or a pleasant thing to do.

In the short time they were together, she could tell that Minjoo was far from being similar to her, she may be shy, but she was friendly and by the range of emotions that she would show on her face so easily, she also had a bubbly, sincere personality that was being overshadowed by her circumstances. Maybe, at least to some extent, she could help her.

“I’m not good at texting…Or talking. I enjoy my silence.” Chaewon said, her voice quiet and a little hesitating as she tried to come up with her words. “But I still want to talk to you more.” Straightening her back, she raised her right hand to signalize. “I can understand you. No need to use write anymore.”

Minjoo’s round, beautiful chocolate eyes grew wide in surprise. She couldn’t recall the last time she had seen someone other than her mother using sign language, at school any attempt she ever made of using it would only make people confused, or worse, mock her gestures.

Chaewon wasn’t mocking it, very much the opposite, her hands elegantly draw lines and created shapes articulating words perfectly, with so much fluidity that it was almost as if she used it every day.

“You know sign language?” She returned in a rush, her gestures quick and a little ungraceful – she didn’t get to practice much outside the house, so her knowledge was relatively limited to what she had seen in class.

The brunette gave her a smirk, nodding. “Of course.” Her chestnut eyes stared at Minjoo for a moment, her smirk turning into a small smile as she looked down to Minjoo’s notebook. “Why did you draw a tiger?”

“I didn’t know you saw it.” Grabbing her notepad in a protective way, Minjoo gave her an apologetic look. “It’s because it reminds me of you…I’m sorry, I…”

Chaewon cut her off by shaking her head, and reaching out to the notepad – Minjoo resisted at first, but end up letting go of it and allowing Chaewon to search for the drawing. The shorter brunette found it easily, her sharp eyes taking a good look at it for a moment too longer before she handed it over to the other Kim. “It’s fine. It’s my favorite animal and you’re not such a bad artist.” Her words were gentle, but there was something more in her voice that even Minjoo’s fine hearing couldn’t quite define.  

“It’s your turn. Go ahead and ask me anything.” The change of subject was abrupt, Chaewon’s expression becoming a little lighter as she made the offer. “I’m not good with friendships either, but I’ll try my best to not scare you away.”

Minjoo was a little flustered, unsure of what to do now that she was given the chance – Chaewon wasn’t the only one that was bad at making new friends. Nonetheless, the idea of getting to know Chae better was nice and she didn’t want to waste any more time. Therefore, she tried her best to come up with useful, yet not very invasive, questions.

“Why you transferred here now? Where did you live before?”

“My mother got a new job, we didn’t live that far away from here, but my parents thought it would be better to get a place closer to the hospital.” Chae used both her words and hands to speak, so fast that it almost confused Minjoo.

Nodding, still a bit in awe, she tried another question. “What about you? You wanted to move?”

“I don’t really mind it. My other school was pretty boring.” Chaewon shrugged her shoulders, emphasizing her words. The people she liked at that place had already graduated, therefore she didn’t mind having to change schools.

Deciding to not go much further into the topic, albeit her curiosity told her to ask more, Minjoo changed the subject. “Is mint-choco your favorite flavor? They don’t have it here, but I know a place we can get it.”

And like this their conversation progressed, little by little as they got to know each other – not deeply, but slowly, like it was supposed to be. One day they might talk about more complicate, intimate matters, but for today, they were just school mates trying to take the next step into the right direction of creating a friendship.

One day, maybe not too far away, this friendship might blossom into something more. But this was something none of them could possibly predict at this point.

 

Chapter Text

 

“Do you prefer salty or sweet?”

The little note slid to her table, one of Minjoo’s usual messages. It was a little random, but Chaewon was getting used to it. For someone who couldn’t speak, Minjoo surely loves talking – and she didn’t have the heart to ignore her, what meant that she had been answering an awful lot of questions these days. She would ask about her favorite things and the things she disliked too.

Which TV show was her favorite? Minjoo loved cartoons and cooking shows, but Chaewon didn’t really like watching TV anymore – she still agreed on giving Minjoo’s favorite Studio Ghibli movies a try. What was her favorite color? Mint green just like her sticky notes and her favorite mint-choco ice cream, very different from Minjoo’s favorite color, white, that was the very own mix of all the other colors and seem to match her calm, gentle personality so well. Her favorite book? Favorite animal? Favorite season? Minjoo knew it all now.

There were so many questions that Chaewon almost lost track of her own answers, still she never refused to answer – No matter how awkward she could be at times, she was getting used to being around Minjoo and talking to her, be it throw texts, notes or even sign language. Minjoo also made it very easy for her. Most of the time it was simple things, little bits of information to help them learn more about each other without ever making things awkward, or pushing a premature intimacy – Chaewon figured Minjoo was quite a thoughtful person, the type of considerate people that is so hard to come across.

“Huh?” Chaewon mouthed to herself looking at the note, before looking at Minjoo and writing down her answer. It was an easy question this time, and she was glad for the interruption from the teacher’s ridiculous long explanation about some historic event she would have to go over her books later to remember anyway.

Folding it two times, she passed the note back.

“I can eat anything. I’m not picky...What about you?”

Minjoo nodded with a smile, a glimpse of relief on her face – as usual, her emotions were so clear and transparent that by now Chaewon could tell every single small change in the girl’s feelings. It was almost funny how the slightly taller brunette couldn’t really hide anything, but Chae appreciate this trait on the girl more than anything else. For her, trusting people wasn’t easy, yet with Minjoo it was hard not doing it and she was starting to accept that maybe it wasn’t a bad thing.

At first, it was hard to tell where they stand, whether they were still just friends for the sake of Minjoo’s safety, or it had evolved into something more genuine, however she was becoming more and more comfortable around the other girl and the answer was pretty clear now. No, they weren’t best friends just yet, they still didn’t share that unique bond she had with her cousins or were like the friends in movies that could understand each other with a single glance. Still, they were definitely building something together.

Resting her chin on the palm of her hand, she let her gaze travel to the seat by her side, observing as Minjoo went back to taking notes of what the teacher was saying instead of giving her a proper reply – she knew the brunette took her studies seriously, but it wasn’t common for her to not answer properly. It didn’t bother Chaewon, although it made her a bit curious about the other Kim’s unusual behavior.

Chaewon was the observant type, even more when it comes down to her new friend. She watched as Minjoo’s slender hand gracefully held the pen as she wrote, her letters had a small quirk to it, going a little up and away of the guiding line, her round calligraphy colliding here and there – she didn’t know anything about the science behind handwritten, but she liked how cheerful it looked lately. Lifting her eyes to the brunette’s face, she noticed a calm, almost childlike smile on her full lips, her expression relaxed, making Chaewon wonder if she was paying any attention to the teacher or just randomly writing anything. Before she knew it, her own lips curved into a smile, as if Minjoo’s state of mind had infected her.

Tilting her head slightly, she tried to steal a glance at the girl’s chocolate brown eyes, in the hopes to see the same smile reflected on them.

Unfortunately, she didn’t get to do it.

She felt more than heard the snickers behind them, glares boring holes on the back of her head as whispers echoed. She couldn’t tell what they were saying, but by the way Minjoo seemed to tense up, a tug on her lips turning her smile into a stiff one, Chaewon knew it wasn’t anything good.

She was about to turn around, knowing very well from where the whispers were coming – of course it would be Boah and her minions, no one was as annoying as that girl –, however, she felt a gentle tug into her sleeve, Minjoo pleading eyes demanding her attention as the girl shook her head in a negative.

Nothing new, Minjoo was always one against any sort of confrontation and Chaewon had to sigh in annoyance, before complying to her request. She knew sooner or later, she wouldn’t be able to just ignore it.

Moving her hand from Chaewon’s sleeve, to her hand, Minjoo gave it a quick, reassuring squeeze in the hopes it would make the girl calm down a bit – the skin under her palm was warm, Chae’s reliable hands were smaller than hers, closed into a fist now. The contact was brief, just a quick moment that was enough to bring her a light, warm feeling, but not enough for anyone else to see it.

Having Chaewon with her was a real blessing and she couldn’t thank enough destiny for somehow bringing them together. She always felt safe and comfortable with Chae around, for the first time since she lost her voice, she felt like she wasn’t alone and lost. Chae could understand her and cared enough to do so, of course she wasn’t perfect and sometimes Minjoo had a hard time reading the other girl and not making things awkward by saying – or writing – the wrong thing. Nevertheless, there were no words to describe how happy she would feel with every small step they took together, every time one of Chaewon’s protective walls would fall and allow her to get a little closer – how close could they even get? Was it too cunning of her to want more than they already had? Maybe, but she couldn’t help but wish for it. It may be a little childish and naïve of her, still, she couldn’t control this feeling of hope and excitement.

Or at least, she couldn’t normally. Of course, people wouldn’t allow things to be this simple.

Although Chaewon’s presence was enough to make sure Boah wouldn’t get too close to her, but it didn’t mean that the other girl couldn’t find ways to continue her daily ritual of making Minjoo’s life a hell. For the first couple of days she would only glare at them and throw some insults here and there, Minjoo had tried her best to just ignore it like Chaewon seem to do so. Chae wouldn’t react recklessly whenever Boah came closer, she would look at Minjoo and subtly signalize to her to ignore the other and not show her fears.

Her disregard for Boah’s attempts seemed to make the bully grow more annoyed, leading to her current strategy. It wasn’t as blatant as Boah’s usual insults, instead it was a different kind of thing. Minjoo’s sensitive ears would pick up small fragments of her conversations, words said only loud enough to make sure she could hear, but not clear enough to make sense. As the week progressed, she started to notice the stares over her and Chaewon becoming more frequent, as well as the snickers coming from the back of the class. Boah would even walk past them in the classroom and give them a disgusted look, before a single word was uttered under her breath.

It took a couple of times for her to be able to understand her words, and when she did, her stomach cramped in an unpleasant, painful knot. She was used to being insulted, but having Chaewon getting dragged into this was the last thing she wished to happen.

She knew from the start it was a risk, that Boah might direct her senseless anger to her new friend and try to break Chaewon’s confidence in the same way she had ruined Minjoo’s. However, Chaewon never seem to worry about such a thing, as if nobody else’s opinion mattered to her, nor she feared anything – Minjoo knew it was probably just a façade, Chaewon’s way of dealing with things, and it worried her that Boah could eventually get to her. Now her fears were becoming a reality.

As soon as the bell rang, the sound of chairs being pushed back could be heard as the students got up to leave for lunch.

“Dykes.” Boah whispered shouted as she pushed her way through the desks to reach the exit – she was too much of a coward to say it right to her face, but also mean enough to never forget to insult them before leaving. Her minion followed close behind, her annoying giggles attracting other students’ attention, including Chaewon who glared at her making the girl quickly shut up and run after Boah.

Minjoo could still some people staring at them, undoubtedly curious about what Boah had said. It was nonsense, a dumb, baseless rumor. She and Chaewon spend a lot of time together in school, but so did so many others, most were even more clingy and affectionate to their friends, without anyone doubting their relationships. Nonetheless, people loved drama and they loved even more gossip, they were an easy target for it and Boah knew it.

People could also be terribly judgmental and hold their prejudice against other easily, that’s why this kind of ‘joke’ had a special weight on them. Boah just needed to plant the seed of the doubt and now suddenly all eyes were on them, both curious, and some even displeased – displeased for what reason? She couldn’t possibly know, even if it was true, it wouldn’t be anyone else’s business but their own.

Once again, ignore it was the best thing she could do – easier said, than done. She didn’t really care about others opinions regarding this, after years of being ignored their attention was anything but welcomed, however, she cared a lot about Chaewon’s opinion and feelings.

Risking a hesitant look at her seatmate, she noticed the way Chaewon frowned with her eyes fixed on the door, her lips twisted in a humorless smirk – a very different one from the playful, almost soft one, she would sometimes gift Minjoo with.

“What did she say?” The question took Minjoo by surprise, more than just for the questions, but also for the fact that Chaewon had said it through gestures instead of speaking. Her hands were quick, showing her determination and annoyance all at once.

The younger brunette averted her gaze, pressing her hands tightly on her lap. She didn’t want to rely such words, Chaewon already looked annoyed and she would surely get even more upset if she knew it. Moreover, it was hard to tell what her reaction would be. Would she feel only annoyed at Boah’s words? Would she feel offended and hurt? Or even furious? Or even…Regretful? They both knew Chaewon wouldn’t be the target for that kind of harassment if she wasn’t her friend, it might make her second guess decisions.

“Come on. Talk to me.” Chaewon insisted, this time using both her spoken and gestured words, piercing chestnut eyes focused on Minjoo.

Grimacing, the taller girl hesitated, before answering. “I don’t know how to say this word.”

Using sign language at school wasn’t something Minjoo felt comfortable doing, especially when she had such judgmental eyes on her, but she would do her best to push aside her fears and do it – “Why would you feel embarrassed for using your own language? It’s not your fault these morons don’t know it.” Were Chaewon’s words for her in the very next day after their conversation at the ice cream parlor, and now Minjoo was starting to agree with it. Making her uncomfortable to be herself was only one of the things the bully had done, she couldn’t let them control her life forever.

“It’s not a good word. She is trying to insult us.”

Chaewon’s frown became deeper as she urged Minjoo to write it down instead. Chae had a feeling about what it could be, she knew those stares all too well – it didn’t mean that she would stand being the target of such insults. Boah already proved herself a pretty shitty person before, so it didn’t really surprise her when Minjoo hesitantly handed her the small piece of paper with a single word written.

It was her new strategy, a very childish way of trying to get to them. Boah didn’t seem brave enough to confront them, but it didn’t mean she was careful with her words – and apparently it was working. Minjoo had a nervous expression on her face, barely masked by her smile. Chaewon hated when her friend was in her ‘scared-cat’ mode and Boah loved to make it happen. She wouldn’t mind being coupled up with Minjoo, she was past the stage of pretending she didn’t enjoy the younger girl’s company, but she didn’t like at all to have such vulgar and degrading words being thrown at them.

Boah was testing them, seeing how far she could go with this before they gave her the reaction she has been denied for the whole week – an attention seeker, that was what that girl was. Always craving for attention, always craving for some illusory power over people.

Chaewon would for sure hear her the next time.

Kneading the paper on her hand, she let out a sarcastic laugh before muttering under her breath. “Coward bitch.”

Minjoo bit down on her bottom lip, unsure of what to do to make things better. She had made plans for lunch break, but now it seems like Chaewon was on the verge of hunting down Boah and she didn’t doubt the girl would be successfully if she tried.

Gingerly, she touched Chaewon’s arm, demanding her attention. “Can we go now? I’ve something for you.”

The shorter girl glanced at her before sighing. Chaewon would love to go after Boah and shove her hand right into her face, it would undoubtedly make her feel less frustrated, but still, they were inside of the school and beating her up in the middle of the canteen would only get her a suspension, and she didn’t want to leave Minjoo on her own to deal with the bullies.

“Fine. Let’s eat on the rooftop today.”

 


 

It wasn’t the first time Chaewon visited Minjoo’s special place, still whenever they climbed the stairs up and opened the door to be received by the view of the city under the greyish sky, it always took her by surprise.

Minjoo introduced her to the place a couple of days ago, agreeing to share her peaceful paradise and allowing Chaewon to join her there instead of having to eat in the loud and overcrowded cafeteria.  The place wasn’t much, just like the image Chaewon had in mind, it was just a place where the school would leave the old and mostly broken chairs in a corner while no one came to pick them up. It was mainly grey, the concrete cold under their feet as they walked closer to the edge, the wind blowing and making the sunny day feel much colder than it actually was.

Chaewon leaned on the railing, watching the city below as she took in a long, deep breath. The view wasn’t that pretty, the city was too full of grey structures, tall buildings that didn’t quite match the much smaller, older houses that surrounded them; cars filled the avenues, anger drivers honking their horns as if it could make the transit move faster. Nonetheless, Chaewon liked it. She liked to see the small green spots that showed where the city park was at, to watch as the kids played in a playground nearby, to see people walking quickly, making the streets look like a big anthill. She liked how it made her feel small and put things into a new perspective, reminding her that there was a whole new world outside the school’s walls and that she still had plenty of time to discover it.

No wonder Minjoo liked it here, not only she was free from dealing with unpleasant schoolmates, she probably felt free up there – free from stares, whispers and questions.

“You never told me how you got the keys to this place. I’m pretty sure they said it was off limits for students.” She asked, turning to face the taller girl who had her eyes closed, head back, as she enjoyed the warmth of the sun after a long morning in class.

Opening her eyes to greet Chaewon with the warmth of her own chocolate orbs, she gave her a small smile. “The janitor leaves the door open for me. She told me I’d feel more comfortable here.” Minjoo left off the part where the female janitor had found her eating inside one of the cubicles in the girl’s bathroom, back then she had been so embarrassed and felt hopeless until the woman offered her the chance of coming to the rooftop instead. Ever since, the rooftop became her one safe place.

She didn’t feel lonely there, even though it was the first time she had company, the peaceful place represented an easy way to escape reality – even if only for her short lunch break. Now with Chaewon’s presence, it became a little cozier, almost like she was back home and not at school. Of course, Chaewon’s presence was very different from her mom’s, but both women had the talent to put her at ease, to make her focus on the moment rather than in the unpleasant things that happened before. Therefore, even after what Boah did to try and ruin their mood, she was determined to not allow it to happen.

In a gesture that was becoming so natural to her, she reached out to tug on Chaewon’s sleeve – she wished she was brave more often and could just hold her hand to feel that special, unique feeling that only the contact with Chaewon brought her, however she was always careful to not ever overstep their boundaries, especially now that Boah tried to taint their pure friendship.

Minjoo should know better that Chaewon wasn’t the type to let someone like that bully to mess with her head, much less to reject her friendly touches just to avoid getting into rumors. She would figure it out soon enough, though.

“Let’s eat.” She invited, pointing out their place under the shadow of a wall where she would lay a towel for them to sit comfortably.

Chaewon only followed her in silence, her eyes on the girl as she tried to suppress a smile – Minjoo’s childish excitement was back as she unpacked two small boxes that were probably filled with food. She wasn’t feeling really hungry, the back of her mind kept on replaying the annoying smirk Boah gave them earlier, still she was glad the brunette was able to focus on something else instead. She would try to do the same.

Leaving her own meal on top of the towel, opening the lid so they both could have access to the lunch her mother – Jiyeon, Luda was far from being a good cook – had prepared for her, she glanced at Minjoo’s plates. As usual, Minjoo’s meal box was bigger and more varied with plenty of vegetables all cutely adorning the rice, the girl told her that cooking was one of the things that she did as a hobby and Chaewon could see her personality reflected on the well prepared, tasty food. “Looks great. Thank you for the food.” She thanked in a quiet voice before starting to eat – she had learned that Minjoo was a pretty simple type of person, she would be affected by people’s words easily, what meant that a simple compliment could make her beam, while harsh words would easily break her confidence; Chae was working on making sure the latter wouldn’t happen, although she was always moderate with her words, trying to sound as casual as possible to avoid getting embarrassed again.

The taller brunette just smiled at her with that usual spark in her eyes, following suit. They always eat in silence since Minjoo would have a hard time gesturing, but it was a comfortable, relaxing silence.

Stealing a glance at Chaewon, the younger Kim observed her actions, noticing that indeed she didn’t seem to be the picky type and would just eat a little bit of everything. Ever since the beginning of the week they were having lunch together and she found herself putting more effort than usual in preparing the meals, however, Chaewon would thank her and compliment the food no matter what she brought. She also noticed she would always act in a similar manner whenever she did anything for her, be it helping her solve a math problem or simply to give back one of the pens she accidentally knocked off her desk, no matter how small the gesture was, the polite and sincere words were there. Minjoo was starting to think it was just part of her personality – a part she really appreciated. Different from her cold exterior, Chaewon was a warm person who was always mindful of others and perhaps this was the reason why she was willing to intervene and help her when nobody else was.

Finishing her meal, she grabbed the other small box she had brought and let it rest on her lap as she waited for Chaewon to be done with her food. The chestnut eyed girl may seem relaxed now, but Minjoo knew she was probably still upset about what happened earlier – she could tell by the way the chestnut in Chae’s eyes looked a shade darker than usual, a slight crease on her forehead as she chewed on her food silently, normally Chaewon would leave out a couple of cute, almost inaudible, pleased sounds as she ate something particularly tasty; today she was just chugging everything down with the soda she got from a vending machine.  

Minjoo was tempted to just pretend she didn’t notice it and move with her original plan, leaving the task of asking about it for later, when she could do it through text messages instead of having to face the sharp eyes that were so intimidating, yet kind. However, it wasn’t what a good friend would do and Minjoo wanted to be the best she could for Chae, even if it meant getting out of her comfort zone.

Touching her hand gently to grab her attention, she made eye contact with Chaewon. “Are you fine? I’m sorry, she just wants to mess with me but now she’s after you too.” It would’ve been easier to not assume her portion of guilt in this – because for her it was obvious that it was somehow her fault, even if not intentionally –, but she wanted to be honest with Chaewon and make sure the other felt comfortable doing the same. “She never said that before. I guess she just wants to make you feel uncomfortable around me”

Chaewon grimaced, she could almost hear the fear laced in Minjoo’s words, she probably thought that Boah’s pathetic attempt could affect their friendship. When in reality, it only increased her need to actually kick the bully’s ass and shut her up for good. She knew better than most how this sort of rumor could affect people, and she knew how dumb it was – they were in a different time where such thing shouldn’t be a problem, yet people insisted on using derogatory slangs to try and turn a healthy relationship into some kind of vulgar, unworthy thing. Growing up with two moms exposed her to a couple of unpleasant situations, and albeit her parents always handled things in the best way possible, she couldn’t help but feel bitter about it.

“Boah is an asshole and a pretty stupid one.” She replied right away, letting some of her anger through her words. “She can say whatever she wants, it doesn’t change who you’re, or who I’m, nor it changes our relation.” Chaewon reassured, leaving her lunch aside to face Minjoo properly. Boah and her minions might be annoying, but she would never give in to their pressure and leave Minjoo on her own again, Boah was underestimating her if she thought so – being called names was far from being the worst thing that ever happened to her. “You shouldn’t apologize for it. All I ask is for you to stand up for yourself, in your own way.” She added the last part with a smile that hopefully would be enough to softening her words and make sure she was conveying the right message. Standing up for yourself could be done in many ways, although Chaewon was the type that would rather to confront people right away, people like Minjoo could do it by being more vocal about their hard time and accepting help, or even by just staying strong and refusing to let anyone drag her down – all of those, demanded a lot of courage, the kind that is hard to muster if you have no one to support you. Chaewon hoped her support was enough.

As usual, Minjoo seem to take in everything she said, that same greyish light covering her irises as she contemplated Chaewon’s words before nodding. The smile that followed was a smaller one, filled with uncertainty. “I’ll try my best.”

It was Chaewon’s turn to nod, returning her smile. She would be around to see it happen and hopefully it would happen soon.

“Minjoo.” The girl looked at her, attentive eyes on her face with the same expression they always have – curious, attentive…Fond. Minjoo always looked at her like she was something special and Chaewon would always avert her eyes, because Minjoo made her feel like it. “Why don’t you go to a more appropriate school? There are many special schools for hearing impaired people, and some others have sign language as part of their programs.”

Minjoo’s smile wavered a bit, before she shyly signalized a single word. “Expensive.”

“Oh, I get it.” Chaewon nodded, mentally beating herself for not thinking about such a simple answer to it. Of course, that kind of education was far more expensive, it would be hard to keep a kid in a school like this if her parents didn’t have the proper means.

She didn’t get to apologize for her lack of sense, Minjoo interrupted her first. “How did you learn sign language?”

“Oh, this?” Chaewon shrugged her shoulders. “One of my moms taught me, she is a speech therapist but she also studied sign language as part of her major.”

The taller Kim blinked, her sharp ears picking up Chaewon’s words with interest. “One of your moms?” She asked, trying to make sure she had heard correctly.

Chae’s chestnut eyes looked back at her, sharper than usual, wary. “I don’t have a dad, only my moms. They are a couple and I’m adopted.” Her words seem a little lifeless, as if it was part of a dialogue she had had many times before – she probably had. “If this is a problem for you, well, your bad. They are my family and nothing can change it.”

Minjoo’s eyes grew wide, surprised at Chaewon’s defensive tone. She was quick to shake her head in a negative. “No! It must be nice…I only have my mother, but she is the person I love the most. Having two should be even better.” She stumbled a little on her words, her skills were not up to par with Chae’s sharp gestures, but were enough to convey her message properly. “My father left us a long time ago…Because of me.”

For a brief moment, the tense silence fell over them. Minjoo’s eyes wandering and Chaewon’s deep gaze focus on the wall opposite them – talking about such personal things was new and painful.

“Well, we’re the same I guess.” Shrugging it off, as if it’s wasn’t big deal, Chaewon gestured the box on Minjoo’s hands, giving her a curious look. “Now, didn’t you have something for me?” And just like this, she put aside the subject that was unpleasant for them both, bringing the conversation to a lighter theme.

Minjoo’s round eyes became even more evident as she suddenly recalled she still had the box in hand, and she was quick to offer it for the other girl to take. Biting her bottom lip nervously, she watched in expectation as Chaewon opened the lid to unveil the small, neatly cut, pieces of cake that Minjoo had placed in the box that morning as a surprise gift for her new friend.

Chaewon broke into a small, hearty laugh as she saw the content of the box, carefully taking one of the pieces to exam it better. It was light and fluffy, covered in white creamy topping and small pieces of coconut, just like one of the desserts she would see at the bakery near her house. She was so charmed by Minjoo’s little surprise that it was enough to take her mind off of their problems for a moment. “You know, I attended some cooking classes with my mother once, but we can barely make anything edible. But this is…Not bad at all!” She complimented in her usual way, the one Minjoo was getting used to by now. As to emphasize her words, she took a generous bite on the cake, savoring it, the taste as sweet as Minjoo’s relieved smile.

Chae insisted on sharing the dessert, making sure Minjoo wouldn’t just stare at her while she ate – her appetite was back now that she had this gift to enjoy.

“What would have you done if I said I dislike sweets?” She asked as soon as she finished her second piece of cake.

Minjoo took her time chewing before replying – it was almost funny how mindful of her manners she still was when she wasn’t even using spoken words. I’d try to get you to try a piece and pray you’d like.”

Chaewon chuckled, before glancing at the girl. “I’d eat it anyway. I learned with my cousin that we should never refuse food.”

They fell in a comfortable silence as the girls enjoyed the cake and shared what was left of Chaewon’s soda.

After taking a long sip of the bubbly liquid, the older girl put down her bottle and risked a look at Minjoo. She frowned slightly, deciding to put into words one thing that had been bothering her for a while. “You know you don’t have to do nice things to me all the time just because we’re friends now.”

Minjoo blinked, confused by her sudden words. “Didn’t you like the cake?”

“I did, but-“

“Then I’ll keep doing it. The cake and the other things. Like you do nice things for me. She gave her an easy, genuine smile. “Because we’re friends and I want the people in my life to be happy. This isn’t much, but as long as you like it, it’s okay.”

The shorter girl averted her eyes, a light, fluttering feeling filling up her chest and making it hard to control the warmth that was reaching the tips of her ears. “I…Thank you. I liked it a lot.” She was talking about more than just the cake, but everything Minjoo did on a daily basis – the caring messages, the encouraging notes on her workbook, the shaky smiles that had grown into genuine ones, even her unending questions…Perhaps ‘I like you’ would have been a more fitting phrase. Instead of saying it, she just passed the bottle, offering the last sip to Minjoo. “I want you to be happy too.”

They spent the rest of the lunch break eating and sharing small facts about their family lives. Minjoo told her about working with her mom baking and how she lived at a small, yet comfortable, house at the opposite direction of Chae’s house. While Chaewon told her about how her other mother was a prosecutor and how the woman would often drag her to all sort of classes as an excuse to straighten their bond – she would complain at times, but it was undeniably fun to have such present parents.

They arrived one minute too late at class, receiving an annoyed look from their teacher who didn’t even bothered scolding them.

 


 

Class ended earlier than usual, the teacher leaving the last couple of minutes for them to just chat and relax after a long day of lectures. Minjoo took this time to work on some doodles, while Chae was busy finishing early her homework – like it was becoming a habit of hers, Minjoo drew Chaewon, or better saying, a cute tiger cub with specs and a notebook in hand that looked an awful lot like her. Chaewon didn’t say anything, but there was a knowing smirk on her lips making it obvious she noticed the younger’s attention, albeit she didn’t seem to mind being Minjoo’s source of inspiration.

Minjoo expected Boah to try something again, taking advantage of their sleepy teacher, but the bully and her friends were oddly quiet throughout the whole afternoon. Her naturally optimistic self would like to think that maybe Boah had finally given up on messing with them, but it would be too naïve to think such a thing – even for her. Chances are that Boah was just preparing a new set of insults for tomorrow. By the way Chaewon would glance over her shoulder once in a while, she was thinking the same.

The bell rang signalizing the ending of another school day and Minjoo packed her stuff, waiting for Chaewon to do the same so they could head out together. She would feel uneasy at moments like this, but she was slowly getting used to rely on Chae’s presence and focus on it instead of worrying about what Boah and the others could do – maybe she was being too careless.

The girls left the classroom, Chaewon holding her wrist as soon as they reached the main hallway. “Wait, I have to take this call.” The shorter brunette informed with her gaze on her phone’s screen. “Excuse me for a moment, it will be fast.”

Minjoo just nodded, before gesturing the bathroom at the end of the hallway, informing that she would go there while Chaewon tended to her call. Chae seemed a little conflicted for a moment, doubt in her brown eyes as she looked at Minjoo, however the taller Kim just shook her head with an easy smile.

“It’s fine. Take your call, I’ll be right back!” Not giving the other a chance of responding, she headed to the bathroom.

It wasn’t fine.

She didn’t even intend on really using the bathroom, she would just fix her hair and give Chaewon a couple of minutes of privacy. She expected to find the place empty, but instead she came face to face with Boah and her loyal follower –  they were just there, smoking inside one of the bathroom stalls; Chaewon would probably said it was such a cliché, but Minjoo wasn’t in a good state of mind to have the spirit of making fun of the duo.

Her hands pressed hard against the soft fabric of her skirt, and she tried her best to turn back before she was noticed – needless to say, it was useless. Boah’s sharp, dark eyes were already on her and before she knew it the girls had stood up and came closer.

“Oh, look who is visiting us today! MinMin, my friend, long time no see, huh?” The sarcasm behind her sweet tone was all too familiar, and it was enough to make Minjoo tense up.

It was hard breathing when she could feel their eyes on her, so filled with senseless hate that it was almost palpable. She averted her gaze to her shoes, trying to take a deep breath and remain calm.

She had promised Chaewon she would try to stand up for herself, but all she could think about in the moments were all the occasions these girls had hurt her with their words and gestures. Now they had the perfect opportunity to make up for the lost time in the last days and she could feel Boah’s thirsty for blood.

“What is this? Are you perhaps a little less confident now that your girlfriend isn’t here to speak for you?” It was Sukyung, the girl had placed a heavy hand on Minjoo’s arm, her tight grip hard to ignore. “What is your guys deal? Does she have a kinky for retarded girls?”

Minjoo flinched at her words, she hated it so much, she hated even more not being able to say anything back. She wanted to keep her promise and try to defend herself before things went too far.

In a desperate move, she tried to shake to take the girl’s hand off of her, pulling her arm towards her own body and taking a step aside – only to feel a much tighter, deadly grip on her shoulders, one that she knew all too well.

“Aren’t you becoming feisty now?” Boah said a little too close to her ear, her breath was too hot and it still reeked to the cigarette she was smoking before. “Tell me, MinMin, what’s your guys deal? She protects your pathetic ass and you let her fuck you in return?”

Her crude, vulgar words hit hard, once more trying to twist the nature of her relationship with Chaewon. Minjoo tried to move again, pushing aside the fear that made her hands go numb and her heartbeat restless, pushing aside years of bad memories to try to combat the people that created them. She opened her mouth ‘Leave me alone!’ was on her mind, but nothing besides an inarticulate mumble came out.

The girls seem surprised by it, but only for a moment before they broke into laughter.

“So, you growl to her like this? Wild!” Sukyung mocked. “It’s a perfect couple indeed. The retarded bitch and the snob dyke, they even have the same surname already!”

“Oh, how adorable! Her girlfriend came to rescue!” Boah said, her last words louder as noticed Chaewon entering the place with heavy steps and a cold look in her eyes. “Hey, dyke, does your retarded girlfriend moans in sign language?” The bullies exploded in laughter again, as if this kind of harassment was the funniest joke.

Chaewon marched towards the group, her hand grabbing Boah’s shoulder and pulling it without any delicacy, unleashing Minjoo from her grip. “Shut the fuck up and leave us alone, asshole.” She stood between Minjoo and the taller girl as a protective wall, her small stature looking fragile amidst that group, yet she didn’t even flinch as Boah came closer.

“Whoa! What I heard must be right, being raised by fucked up people really makes you violent.” Boah faked a shocked expression, holding her chest in a dramatic way. Chaewon’s shoulders tensed up at those words and Minjoo tried to grab onto her shirt to pull her back towards the exit, but failed as one of Boah’s friend pushed her aside. “Chaewon, do you need me to help you? You know, if your dyke mothers abuse you to try to turn you into one of them, we can report them and…”

She never got to finish her sentence, Chaewon’s left foot meeting her face in such an incredible speed that it took Minjoo a moment to realize her friend had just kicked Boah’s face with precision.

Chaewon wasn’t really thinking. Her mind went blank in the moment Boah dared to talk about her parents and make such terrible accusation. She could deal with their pathetic comments about her, she barely stand their insults to Minjoo, but insulting the very own people who raised her with so much care and love like this was out of limits. She had no idea how Boah knew about her family situation, but she wouldn’t allow her to spread this kind of rumor around the school – even if she had to bury her foot in her mouth to shut her up for good.

Boah’s friend also seem shocked by the sudden attack but she was quick to try to strike back. She attacked Chaewon at once, punches and kicks being thrown around aimlessly, the smaller girl doing her best to avoid it at the same time she tried to hit them back using everything she had learned in the years of taekwondo classes she attended, the ones Luda always made her promise to not use to harm people unless it was an extreme situation – it surely looked like one now.

Minjoo watched in horror as the fight proceed. It was clear Chaewon knew where and how to hit someone, but they were two against one and every time someone hit the girl, Minjoo would gasp and wince, as if she was the one in pain. Fighting was against everything she was taught, however, watching her friend being attacked was making her question her personal rules. For years, she had to stand their abuse with her head down, believing it was the best, but in the end it only led to this.

Her legs were shaking, the numb feeling in her hands still there, as she risked a step closer to Chaewon. She couldn’t let her alone in this, it wasn’t what a good friend, a good person, would do.

Somehow, amidst all the chaos, Minjoo spotted Boah standing up only to grab onto Chaewon’s hair with all her strength, pulling the girl back and making her lose her balance. Kim couldn’t just stay still and watch as her friend was getting hurt – therefore she did the first thing she could, the one thing she never thought she would be braver enough to do.

She punched Boah right into the face with all her might if not with a lot of skill, if anything if only made Boah angrier, but it was enough to make her set Chae free and allow Kim to land another kick on her stomach.

Boah was on the floor moaning in pain and her minion was resting against the door of one of the bathrooms, panting, while Chaewon had her hair all messed up and her breath heavy as she straightened her back and looked around as if she was searching for something. Minjoo was still standing, holding her own aching hand – thanks to the contact with Boah’s face –, she followed Chaewon gaze and soon realized what was going on.

A silent exclamation left her mouth as she watched Chaewon leaning in to get something from the floor, right in the moment one of the teachers busted into the place.

“What in the world is happening here?!”

The three girls just stared at the woman, no one daring to say anything – the fourth girl, Chaewon, didn’t even spare her a glance, too busy trying to keep her balance as she held something tightly in her hand.

Minjoo averted her gaze from the teacher to her friend, worry on her face. Even if only for a quick moment she had seen what Chaewon was holding now and it was enough for her to understand several things.

The thing Chaewon was holding was an hearing aid – the same one she had been hiding from day one.

 

Chapter Text

 

Right now, her head was filled with so much worry she was having a hard time keeping her breath even. She was worried about what would happen to them once their parents arrived, worried she would disappoint her mother and cause trouble, worried they might even get expelled and it would be all her fault for being silly enough to not avoid Boah while she could…

Turning to face Chaewon, her eyes traced the fine contours of her pretty face, noticing the skin around the left side of her jaw turning from red to purple where a wound was left by the other girls, the left corner of her lips had a faint trace of blood from the cracked skin, her hair was still a bit messy, her uniform shirt was stained with tiny droplets of blood and Chaewon had nervously untied her necktie to get more breathing room…She looked like a mess, so far from the well put together cold person Minjoo had met at first. Chaewon looked so human, vulnerable and hurt.

If anything, seeing her like this only made Minjoo grow fonder of her.

She was afraid of the consequences, but in no way she regretted her actions – not if it meant to stick with Chaewon and try to protect her like she had always protected her.

“I’m sorry.” Was the first thing Chaewon told her ever since they both were left in those uncomfortable chairs nears the principal’s office, waiting for their parents to arrive in a safe distance from Boah and Sukyung – these two were sent to the infirmary to check on their injuries, making sure the four of them wouldn’t try to engage in another fight; as if they had any energy left to do so after being obligated to write down their statements about what happened and be left to wait for their parents.

She knew what Chaewon meant, the image of the girl holding onto her hearing aid so tightly as if it was such an important thing, her gaze fixed on it as her shoulders shake slightly…It wasn’t something Minjoo wished to ever see again. She was indeed surprised that Chaewon had hidden from her something like this, but could she really blame her? If the situations were reversed, wouldn’t she have done the same? Unfortunately, her disability wasn’t something she could easily hide… Shaking her head, she stared at the pretty chestnut eyes that reflect the inner anxiety of Chae so well. “Are you okay? Does it hurt a lot?”

Chaewon gave her a stiff smile, before reassuring. “Hurts less than Boah’s nose, for sure.”

The taller brunette ignored Chae’s try at a joke, she didn’t quite believe her words, Boah might have a broken nose and maybe even a rib or two, but it didn’t mean they hadn’t hurt her. The way that Chaewon was having a hard time to maintain her smile and her unusually hunched posture said otherwise – she wondered if the girls had hit her somewhere else. She wanted to touch her face and give her a comforting hug, to somewhat make the girl feel better, but she wasn’t sure if Chaewon would like it in the moment. So, she just did what Chaewon had always done for her. “It’s okay if you don’t tell me everything, just let me know if you need me. I can be here for you too.”

Getting ahold of Chaewon’s hand, she squeezed it lightly, however when she tried to pull it back, Chaewon held her back, firm yet gently. “You got hurt too, didn’t you?” The older Kim gestured her hand with bruised knuckles, the one she had used to punch Boah earlier.

Minjoo blinked, for a moment she had forgot about the pain in her right hand that now held onto Chaewon’s, this pain seemed too small and unimportant compared to everything else. Shaking her head again, she answered with her free hand. “It’s okay.”

Chaewon mirrored her own skeptical look, her attempted of a smile turning into a very faint one as her fingers lightly touched the bruised skin of Minjoo’s hand. “It’s not. But it will be.” Her tone carried more faith than confidence, as if she was trying to convince the both of them. “We’ll be fine.” She repeated, as her lighter gaze met Minjoo’s darker one. There was something special in Chaewon’s eyes in that moment, something Minjoo couldn’t label just yet, but it made her feel a little less worried.

In a rare moment of braveness, one that was born from both, her affection and care, and the need of comfort, she leaned in to engulfed Chaewon into a tight hug. It must have surprised the shorter girl, but it surprised her even more to feel Chaewon hugging her back with as much strength – how comforting, warm and safe it felt was new for both, and none of them minded if it last longer than it should’ve.

For a long moment nothing but the sound of their breaths could be heard in the empty corridor, the heartbeats of Minjoo’s heart a little too loud for her to acknowledge anything else. Her rational side knew they needed to prepare to face their parents and the principal soon, but a much bigger part of her just wanted to keep her eyes closed and focus on the moment and pretend that the safety of Chaewon’s mint scented embrace would keep them safe for good.

The only sound of heels clicking against the polished floor echoed through the corridor, indicating that the steps were coming closer quickly, informing her it was time to let go of Chae – she reluctantly did.

When she broke the embrace, opening her eyes to see who was the newcomer, her gaze was match by black orbs filled with concern and intelligence.

The older woman stopped right in front of them, looking so formal in her working clothes that matched well her elegant appearance.

Minjoo didn’t have time to feel intimidate, Chaewon stood up to face the woman before she could ask anything.

“Mom.”

“Chae.” The woman’s voice was well modulated, light yet serious, as she put her daughter’s face between her hands. “Are you okay? Just tell me you had a good reason to get into trouble.”

Chaewon reluctantly nodded.

“Good. Then you don’t need to worry, mom will protect you .Jiyeon risked a look at Minjoo, a small smile on her face. “You too, Chaewon’s friend.”

 


 

Chaewon ignored the pain on her face as her sharp eyes watched with attention as her parents talk with the principal – Jiyeon mainly, Luda would just nod along and gently caress her back to reassure her once in a while.

Her mother was the first one to arrive, shortly followed by her wife and Minjoo’s mom – the woman looked like she was in a rush, worry stamped on the face that resembled so much her daughter’s as she came to check in on the girl –, and finally Sukyung’s grumpy mom that seemed a little too used to being called at the office by now. Boah’s parents didn’t show up, what didn’t really seem to surprise the principal.

Now all of them were in this cramped office, her parents and her, alongside with Minjoo and her mother in one side, meanwhile the others were at the other side, everyone following the unspoken rule of not looking directly at each other.

Tension was in the air and she couldn’t help but move uncomfortably in her seat.

“The school’s policy is very strict. We don’t accept violence in any circumstances. Therefore, we have to take drastic measures in cases like this. The suspension in the lightest punishment for something like this, ma’am, I’m already being too lenient. Otherwise…” The principal’s expression was dark as she spoke in resolute tone – what wasn’t very effective as Jiyeon didn’t seem to respond well to her words, meanwhile Sukyung’s mother looked like she just wanted to be done with it; Minjoo’s mom, on the other hand, seem restless, as worried as her daughter.

“Otherwise what? You’ll expel the kids? Well, I beg to differ.” Jiyeon interrupted her. Her mother’s tone was calm, a little too cold compared to her usual playful self – she was speaking like a lawyer, not her mom in the moment. “I agree that the school should make sure this is a safe space for the children. But punishing innocents won’t make it any safer. Besides, I won’t agree with such a thing, and I’m pretty sure the parents association wouldn’t either.” She extended her hand, demanding the papers on the principal’s desk. “Those are their statements, correct? You said their stories aren’t the same, what means that someone is lying here. I already know my daughter’s version, so if you don’t mind it, I’d like to see what the other have to say.”

Chaewon could notice the principal’s face getting redder as her mom spoke, annoyance clear in her expression – it only got worse when the other mothers in the room also reinforced Jiyeon’s request. With an annoyed sigh, the woman gave in, herself reading the statements for everyone to hear.

Boah and Sukyung’s story was basically that they were the ones to find Chaewon and Minjoo smoking in the bathroom, and Boah even added that Chaewon was the one that started the fight because she would have threatened to tell the teachers about it – Boah surely was smart when it comes to telling lies. It took Chaewon all her might to not laugh at such ridiculous words. “As you see, it’s impossible to tell who is saying the truth. Nevertheless, all of them were involved and-“

“And some of them were just defending themselves from bullies.” Jiyeon cut her off again. “Ensuring the same punishment wouldn’t only be extremely unfair, but also abusive.”

“I agree. My daughter doesn’t smoke, Mrs. Oh, and she has never got into trouble either. She didn’t do anything wrong!” Minjoo’s mother was quick to join Jiyeon.

Mrs. Oh, the principal, tensed up on her seat. “I’m sorry, I know every parent always thinks their kid isn’t problematic, but we can’t point fingers here.”

“But we can, and we’ll.” Jiyeon’s stern voice sounded again. Chaewon was starting to understand why her mother was so good at her job, she wouldn’t even let the principal finish her sentences before refuting them. “Chae, can you show me your phone for a moment?” Her mother asked and Chaewon was quick to hand her the device, allowing the woman to look at the call log. “As you can see, ma’am, my daughter indeed received a call around 3 o’clock, just like she and Minjoo said in their reports. The call lasted for three minutes, what also confirms their statements that Minjoo went to the bathroom on her own while Chaewon was on the phone. We can also call Dr. Nam, her physician, if you want to confirm it.” Jiyeon showed the Principal the screen where the call log was displayed, showing her last call. Dr. Nam was the doctor that accompanied Chaewon since she started her treatment at age eight, she had called her to ask about how she was adapting to her new hearing aids and to confirm their appointment later that day.

If the principal was flustered before, now she was getting paler – Jiyeon was probably her least favorite person in the other in the moment. Chaewon could see Boah and Sukyung elbowing each other at the corner of the office, they probably knew things wouldn’t go down well for them.

“Well,” Mrs. Oh cleaned her throat, straightening her back. “Indeed, this is true. But it’s not enough proof, as she could have answered the call before the events, or even answered it in the bathroom.”

Another torrent of protests started, Minjoo’s mom insisting on her daughter’s innocence and Sukyung’s mom asking if they could just end it already because she had a business to take care of.

Chaewon exchanged a look at Minjoo, noticing how pale and shaky the girl was – she knew that for the other girl school was important, moreover she knew how hard it would be for her to find a new school if she was forced to. She signed to her, “Mom will take care of it, don’t worry.” trying to give her best smile to make her calm down – if there was something as a life mission for her, it seem to be to make sure Minjoo wouldn’t be a scared-cat forever.

“Bona, the CCTV.” Luda intervene, her quiet voice only loud enough for her wife to hear. As expected of the short woman, she was always sharp.

A glint shined on Jiyeon’s eyes as she nodded. “Thank you, Ludi.” She mouthed before raising her hand to grab the Principal’s attention. “I noticed a lot of surveillance cameras around the school, including in the hallway where the bathroom is. We can simply watch it and see whose story is correct.”

Mrs. Oh sighed. “This won’t be possible, the security cameras are for-“

“If our daughters are in the footage, we’ve the right to see it. So, you can either show us now, and we can solve things up now, or I’ll have to request for the footage by legal means. I don’t want to make use of my position, ma’am, but I’ll if I have to.” Jiyeon said the last part in a quiet voice, crossing her arms over her chest as she stared at the Principal – Jiyeon worked at the prosecution office as one of the head prosecutors and she surely could make it happen quickly.

Livid. Mrs. Oh was livid as she finally gave up and grabbed the phone to request the footage.

It took a little over half an hour for them to go over the footage and confirm what the kids already knew. The cameras didn’t record the fight, but it was clear whose version was the real one as it was possible to see Boah and Sukyung entering the bathroom much earlier than Minjoo, than the girl walking alone and finally Chaewon making her appearance just a couple of minutes before the teacher walked in.

The Principal didn’t seem very pleased to be proved wrong, but there was no way to argue against facts.

“Well, it looks like the school has to review their bullying policy instead of insisting on punishing innocent kids.” Jiyeon had a smirk on her, the same sarcastic one that Chaewon would display whenever Boah tried to bother them – they may not have the same blood, but she surely resembled her mothers in many ways. “It doesn’t make any sense for Chaewon and Minjoo to be punished. Even if they broke the rules, they were just defending themselves from bullies.”

“The rules still should prevail. I can’t let them without any punishment. I’ll adjust it appropriately.” Mrs. Oh insistence to stick to the rules was impressive, but not as much as the group of angry moms ready to fight back.

While Jiyeon was busy arguing with the Principal, Luda turned to face her daughter, asking through sign language. “Do you still want to stay here? I can ask for a transference.” Her mother’s eyes were as gentle and warm as ever, making sure she knew they wouldn’t argue if she decided to leave this school for good. Of course, her parents were always her biggest protectors and under other circumstances she might have agreed on. But not now.

“I want to stay.” She couldn’t let Minjoo alone there. Her mom seem to understand it, as her brown eyes quickly glanced at the other pair who was also having a silent conversation of their own.

“Okay.” Luda said before turning back to the Principal. “You can suspend them, if you want to make of it an example, after all they need some time to heal physically and mentally.” She said in a tone that was very different from her gentle one, maybe she had learned it with Jiyeon. “As long as it doesn’t go on their permanent record, nor this affects their grades.”

Her other mom wasn’t as nice though. “I don’t want these kids interacting with my daughter or her friend again. Transfer them to another class or whatever, but make sure they won’t cause anymore harm. You see, ma’am, the last thing this school would want is to have its name in the news as the school that allows a hearing-impaired kid and a mute one to be bullied.” Jiyeon’s demand may seem excessive, but Chaewon couldn’t be any more glad for her strong stance, Boah and her minion already proved to be a real threat to Minjoo’s safety and even her own, therefore she couldn’t bring herself to feel bad for them.

“I ask the same. I knew Minjoo didn’t fit well with the kids here, but to something like this to happen…Please take action!” Minjoo’s mom added, her arms safely wrapped around her daughter.

Chaewon expected Sukyung’s mom to try to argue, but she only smacked the girl in the back of the head, forcing her to bow to them. “Please don’t expel my daughter, I’ll make sure she becomes a better person.” The woman also bowed to them, and Chae could tell by her tone that Sukyung would be having a hard time at home.

Boah just stared at them with empty eyes, before shrugging her shoulders. “Whatever, is not like I care.” She said, but Chaewon could tell by the way her eyes darted around that it wasn’t the truth. She wondered how bad her family life was for no one to come to check on her now, maybe it was the reason for her behavior – it didn’t mean she could excuse it. Bad things happen to all the people, this doesn’t mean you can push into other people your pain.

In the end, Mrs. Oh was obligated to comply with the requests and agreed on transferring the bullies to another classroom, as well as giving them a harsher punishment. Chaewon and Minjoo would still be suspend for the rest of the week – two days –, but it wouldn’t go on their permanent record.

Boah was the first to leave, followed by Sukyung and her mother – who was clearly ready to give her an ear full for the coming days –, leaving the two Kim families behind.

Minjoo’s mother bowed deeply to them. “Thank you for your help. Thank you for helping my daughter.” Her words were directed to Chaewon’s parents first, but soon she turned to face the girl. “Thank you for stand up for my Minjoo.” She gave her the same shaky smile Minjoo had, the one that was so full of vulnerability and so genuine.

“She is my friend.” Was all she could reply. Chaewon awkward bowed to her, feeling a different kind of embarrassment. Her parents followed suit.

The group walked together to the exit, still some awkwardness due to the situation, but Chaewon could feel her shoulders light now that the worst already passed.

Minjoo should feel the same way, because as soon as they reached the exit and were about to part ways, she hugged her suddenly, as tightly as the one from earlier – Chaewon returned the gesture once more. It was so warm and she could feel Minjoo’s emotions on it, her gentle fragrance of vanilla putting Chaewon at ease, as her heart was slowly reached by the warmth of her embrace. She almost teared up, and it was hard to tell the reason why, maybe it was relief because things turned out well, or maybe just the guilt that made her feel sorry towards Minjoo for hiding her own disability for and still be accepted by her wholehearted; perhaps it was all of those things. Chaewon only knew she didn’t want to break the embrace.

Their parents just watched the duo with fond eyes, small smiles on her face as they nodded at each other knowingly. Their bond was clear for everyone to see and it was something too precious to harm.

That day Chaewon said her goodbyes to Minjoo with a promise. “I’ll tell you about it later. I promise.”

 


 

Minjoo held onto her mother’s arm all the way back to their house, their silent journey seemed longer than ever.

Their house was silent as expected, the two of them getting inside as her mother led the way to her room and told her to take a shower and change into comfortable clothes – her tone seemed hollow, lifeless as she did it. They shared many similarities that went beyond the physical traits, both were sensitive, soft hearted people, and she knew that her mom was going through a hard time right now.

Wearing an oversized white sweater and sweatpants, she met her mother at the living room, taking a place on the couch besides the older woman. She tried to give her a smile, but the older woman just looked at her with a grave expression before reaching out for something in the center table – an ice pack –, and placing it on Minjoo’s hand. “You thought I wouldn’t notice it?” With a sigh Jiwon shook her head.

Minjoo gave her mom an apologetic look and they fell into a heavy silence.

Thanks to Chaewon’s parents, they were able to get out of trouble, but it didn’t mean that everything was fine. She could tell her mother was disturbed and it was a matter of time until she breaks down.

Gently, she put down the ice pack to take a hold onto her mom’s callous hands instead.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” The question came in a low, almost inaudible voice. Her mother’s eyes were red with unreleased tears. “I knew school was hard for you, but this? For how long they’ve been hurting you?”

Minjoo winced, her own lips quivering. She never wanted to burden her mom with problems the woman wouldn’t be able to solve. Asking to change schools wasn’t a simple thing, chances were that she would find the same type of people in a new school, maybe even worse, and going to a special school would mean to spend all their economies – she couldn’t do it to her mother.

Slowly, she let go of the woman’s hand so she could answer her. “I didn’t want you to worry you even more. It wasn’t that bad, I never fought with them before.”

“Just because they didn’t hurt you physically, it doesn’t mean it was anything better.” The reply came quickly, her mother’s brown orbs fixed on hers. “Tell me. Tell me everything now.”

Minjoo hesitated, she didn’t like to recall these events, the more talk about them. Still, her mother deserved her honesty and she couldn’t simply pretend there was nothing wrong. With a heavy sigh, she started to tell about all the ‘jokes’ and insults she received through the years, how things started with casual comments and escalated to daily threats until Chaewon arrived, and how things had went down that day. It was hard to say everything, and she could feel her gestures becoming clumsier as her own eyes teared up at some of her memories – it hurt even more to see her mom’s face responding to every single word, the pain painting her pretty features and making them darker and sadder.

By the end of the story, she had to try her best to not cry, holding her own tears to be strong for her mother at least one more time – it was silly of her, there wasn’t anything noble about masking your pain, instead she needed to let it out to allow herself to heal. Her mother knew it all too well.

“Minjoo, they tormented you for years! Do you know how I feel now?” The older woman asked with a mixture of pain and anger in her voice, her lips quivering as the tears started to fall from her eyes. “A failure! A complete failure as a mother! I should be the one protecting you!” She sobbed hard, her arms coming to hug the girl to her chest, so tightly it was a little difficult to breath. Her mom’s body was shaking due to the sobs, so hard that Minjoo had to grab onto her to try to comfort her. “I’d have tried to help! Even if I couldn’t do anything other than support you, it would still be better than letting you suffer this pain alone!”

She couldn’t blame her mother for feeling frustrated, after all she was right. Still, she hated to be the cause of her pain and part of her just wanted to ask her forgiveness. But she couldn’t say anything in the moment, so she just hugged her back, allowing herself to act like the kid she still was and find comfort in her mother’s arms. Her own tears now wetted her mom’s shoulder, her grip on the woman growing stronger as her own sobs took over.

Her mother had always been there for her and she knew how much she had sacrificed to raise her with all the challenges that a special kid comes with. All she ever wanted was to less the burden on the woman. Minjoo hugged her mother tighter, her fingers drawing a pattern on her back, doing what she couldn’t do through words: apologize.

They spent a long time like this, until the older woman pulled back to face her with bloated eyes due to all the crying.

“Don’t apologize for suffering, Minjoo. All I ever wanted was for you to be happy, you understand?” She risked a smile that was still filled with tears, her hands cupping Minjoo’s face and her thumbs cleaning the tears on her cheeks. “Don’t keep me in the dark, please. Don’t keep me out.”

Minjoo nodded, trying to control her sobs, what was hard considering that it was impossible to not look at her mother’s pained expression. “I won’t do it again.” She managed to sign.

Her mother sighed, a glimpse of unsureness in her eyes. “There are only a few months to go now. We may not have that much money, but it’s more than enough to get you a place in a better school.”

The younger brunette looked at her with and reached out to touch her face and do the same as her mom had done to her, drying her tears.

If the things were different, if she had gone through that situation on her own, maybe she could’ve agreed and gave up on her stubbornness. But it wasn’t the case. She wasn’t alone anymore, she had someone who was there for her, someone who was willing to risk her own well-being for her. She couldn’t leave Chaewon behind.

“I will stay.” She said, her gestures firm as she made sure to show how sure of it she was. She knew that things may not get any better, that maybe the Principal would fail to keep her word and that maybe her and Chaewon would have it even worse now that the other girl’s secret was out – still, she wanted to be there for her too. “I want to stay with Chaewon. I want to try until the end.”

Jiwon didn’t seem quite convinced, worries probably still filling her mind. Therefore, Minjoo only squeezed her hand, giving the best smile she could in her current situation. “Please, let me try. I’ll tell you if it happens again.”

“You two are really close, aren’t you? And you didn’t even tell me about it.” Her mom stared back at her, her chocolate eyes reflecting her worried thoughts for a long moment. Minjoo gave her another apologetic smile, she didn’t mean to not tell her about Chaewon, she had just told her she made a new friend, but explaining how they became closer would also mean to tell her about the bullies and she couldn’t do it.

With another, heavier, sigh, the older woman slowly nodded. “Okay. But if anything happens you’ll transfer schools and this is final.”

It was Minjoo’s turn to nod in agreement and hug her. She could only be thankful for her mother being so understanding, and hope that her decision was the right one.

“Now that you’ll have so much free time and I already asked for an early leave, I guess we should do something else than act like cry babies.” Jiwon said as she broke the hug and stood up, using her sleeves to clean the last remains of tears on her face. “Come on. Help me to get us something to eat, so we can watch a movie and forget about this awful day for a bit.”

With a smile, a much more genuine one this time, Minjoo followed her mother to the kitchen.

Ever since her dad left, they had to face numerous problems, that were far more complicated than just a matter of not having enough money to spare. However, she was glad for having her mother’s support all along.

 


 

Chaewon had a big Pokémon themed band-aid on her left cheek – a Squirtle one – as well as a thick layer of ointment on her bruised jaw, and on her right arm there was a huge Bulbasaur plaster and she was pretty sure her mother would stick another one on her ribs if she let her know it was hurting too.

Luda had made her shower and change into her pajamas as soon as they arrived, and then proceeded on taking care of her injuries – it was a miracle, really, that they hadn’t visit the hospital –, with a whole kids-friendly first aid kit and she didn’t hesitate in using it, it didn’t seem to matter to her that the only child in their household was almost eighteen already – this kid also knew better than to complain about it, otherwise she might as well get completely covered in Pokémon band-aids.

“Are you sure nowhere else is hurting? I’ll know if you’re lying.” Her mother nagged, her brown eyes inspecting her from head to toe. Chaewon sighed, knowing she would receive another plaster. She just pointed to the place where it was hurting and her mother was quick to waste half a tube of ointment on it before another Bulbasaur plaster was placed on her body.

“Enough with it, Luda. She will end up looking like a mummy Pokémon and I think she looks more like Jigglypuff.” Jiyeon said as she entered the room, giving Chaewon a small smile before poking the healthy side of her face. “This is what you get for skipping our taekwondo classes this year.” She clicked her tongue, but there was nothing but fondness in her eyes as she reached out to gently grab her hearing aid and check on it. “I talked to Dr. Nam, rescheduled your appointment for tomorrow. We can get you a new aid if this one is not working well.” Her mother had passed the device to Luda and was using sign language to talk now.

Chaewon could still understand her without the hearing aid, but her hearing was drastically worse without it, especially the left side that was only able to detect the loudest noises. Not using her hearing aid after a long time with it always made her feel a little lost, she would even feel a bit dizzy if she was walking as her balance would also be affected by the sudden change.

The device was in many ways essential for her, even though she could stay the whole day without it at home, she wouldn’t dare to step outside without it.

When Boah had pulled her by the hair, she had accidentally knocked off the hearing aid sending it right to the floor, and turning Chaewon’s world into a huge mess of muffled sounds and echo. She was sent her into panic since she was so dependent of the device that not having it with her all of sudden was the same as not having a part of herself – part of the reason why she hit Boah particularly hard that one last time had to do with it, she knew she had to end the fight before they notice her weakness.

Luckily the device wasn’t broken, however the secret was out now, what meant more people might target it in the future – it wouldn’t be the first time other kids tried to steal it to pick on her.

Luda inspected the device, nodding slowly as she gave it back to Chaewon to hold. “It seems fine, but I’ll ask Dawon to check it properly tomorrow. It’s better if you stay without it for now, I don’t want to risk it causing you pain later.” The woman gesture, her signs as sharp as ever, just like she had taught Chaewon when she was still a kid.

Holding onto the hearing aid, she put into on her nightstand. “Thanks, mom. I’ll be more careful with it.”

As if they shared the same mind, both of her parents shook their heads at her – signed – words. “Just take care of yourself. We can always buy a new hearing aid, but you’re not replaceable.” Luda was the first to talk, her hand coming to caress lightly her bruised cheek. Chae rested her hand on hers, giving her a small, grateful smile.

Jiyeon’s hand come into contact with her damp hair, messing it as she always does. “I’ll get you an extra one for emergencies. So, don’t worry about it and just get a rest now, I’ll call when dinner is ready.” Her mom graced her with one her smiles that always put her at ease. “You did well today, you know? Kicking those girls’ asses.”

Chaewon chuckled at her words and she could swear she saw Luda doing the same, however the shorter woman made her best to keep her ‘serious mother’ expression on. “I’m proud of your for standing up for yourself and for your friend, but next time you should tell us if something is wrong before starting to kick people.”

The youngest Kim just nodded again at her words, her mother was right about that and she would try to keep that in mind in the future, and use her words not her fists – or feet, to be more exact.

“Tell your friend we’d like to have dinner with her and her mother tomorrow, if they’re available. It’s about time we get to meet her outside the principal’s office and I’m sure her mom thinks the same about you.” Luda completed, and to this Chaewon had to contain a little grimace – she was terrible at socializing and she was pretty sure it would be more than a little embarrassing, however she was glad she would be able to see Minjoo outside the school. “Now get some rest, Chae. We can talk more later.” Leaving a kiss on her head, Luda stood up to leave the room.

Bona did the same, leaning in to kiss her head and taking the opportunity to mouth something to her. “Chae, that girl is pretty cute. I approve!” She winked playfully, giving her a thumbs up before leaving.

Chaewon covered her face in embarrassment.

She loved her overprotective, incredibly embarrassing and loving parents.

 


 

 “Minjoo?”

Chaewon texted the brunette after dinner. She wanted to make sure everything was fine with the girl, after all it had been a day far too unpleasant for both of them, but Minjoo had went back to her scared-cat mode after the fight and she was afraid the girl was still overthinking about it.

“Chae!

Did you go check your wounds? Is everything okay?”

The reply came as quick as always, although it lacked the usual cute emojis Minjoo liked to use. It somehow made her feel a little more at ease.

With a small smile, she quickly replied to it.

“Yeah, don’t worry about it.

Actually

Do you mind if I call you?

I mean, we can facetime.”

She let out a relieved sigh as the three dots came into the screen right away, Minjoo’s answer came a couple of seconds later.

“Of course.

I’ll call you now! :D”

Voice calls were a nightmare for both of them, for very different reasons. Chaewon didn’t like having sounds to close to her ears, all thanks to the fact that it took her quite some time to get used to using her senses properly and adapt to the various hearing aids she had tried throughout the years, what meant that earphones and even talking on the phone made her uncomfortable – it would also be nearly impossible in the moment as she didn’t have her hearing aid on. And for Minjoo...Well, the reason was more than obvious.

Chaewon sat on her bed, leaning against the headboard in a comfortable position. It didn’t take long for Minjoo’s request to appear and she accepted it right away.

Giving her a small smile, she lift a hand to say hi – talking without being able to properly listen to herself was a little difficult, therefore she would try to not use her voice; it was foolish and she knew it, but she didn’t want to sound weird to Minjoo and end up talking too loudly or out of pitch because she wasn’t well aware of her own voice. In moments like this made her realize that even though she might put a strong front, she was much more of a coward than the younger girl – after all she could hide behind her hearing aid and pretend she was just a normal kid most of the time, but Minjoo didn’t get to choose and had to be open about her condition and her limitations all the time.

Her eyes took in the details of Minjoo’s image, disregarding the white background of her bedroom and focusing only on the girl, as usual she wanted to make sure she was okay – again, how foolish of her. Minjoo wasn’t active part of the fight until the very ending and no one had the chance to hurt her, still here she was looking for wounds that couldn’t be seen – the ones on the inside, the kind of wounds Boah and Sukyung inflicted on the girl for so long. Chaewon searched for the shaky smile, for the paleness and the lack of a glint in her eyes…She didn’t find any of it, instead there was only a fond, yet worried look on her face as she finally greeted her back.

“Your cheek…Cute!” Minjoo said with a grin so bright that it took Chaewon a minute to understand what she meant.

When she finally did, she could feel her ears – and cheeks, for her horror – getting actively pink under the other brunette’s gaze. Touching her own cheek for a moment, she felt the little Pokémon band-aid still safely there.

“Oh, this…” Letting out the embarrassed words before she could prevent, she tried to not grimace at both, her mother’s choice of bandages and her own little slip just now. “My mother is a first-aid enthusiastic, she has a box full of it.” She managed to push away her embarrassment and reply trough signs again. “She already put all the ointment and band-aids she could find on me, no doctor could do better.”

Minjoo let out a silent laugh at her words, her eyes turning into half crescents as she nodded – even the small, cute, dimples in the upper part of her cheeks were there. Chae relaxed again, shaking her own head to try to shrug off her own silly smile, still she couldn’t. She expected Minjoo to be nervous today, to feel guilty or even anxious, but she seemed so at ease, almost carefree. This wasn’t her scared-cat friend, but maybe the first glimpse of the person underneath it…

Her thoughts took a path of their own as she looked at the screen appreciating the sight of a new Minjoo – so much that she even got distracted to the point of not being able to catch what Minjoo was trying to tell her. Something about liking the cartoon or something? She tried her best to smile and nod, in the hopes it would be enough of an answer.

“What about you? How is your hand?” She changed the subject – not only for her honest concern, but also for thinking she might end up agreeing on marathoning Pokémon with Minjoo if she just keeps nodding to everything.

“I’m fine. Really. It doesn’t even hurt.” Minjoo nodded once more and showed the back of her hand where a light bruise was formed, her smile not wavering even for a moment – what was a very odd occurrence.

Chaewon must not have been able to hide her skepticism – if Minjoo was an optimistic, she was a pessimist and it takes her some time to believe things are as perfect as they seem –, because the other girl’s smile gave place for a timid expression, as she shyly continued. “I spoke to my mom…She was worried about me going back there and wanted to try to send me to another school…”

“Another school? But the closest school for hearing impaired people is in the other side of the town!” Once more she spoke before she could realize it, a sense of something close to panic getting the best of her – Since when she showed her emotions that easily? Moreover, since when she cared so much?

She knew pretty well since when.

She covered her face with a hand for a moment, putting the phone down as well. Taking a deep breath, she mentally reprehended herself.

“Sorry about that, I thought Banggu wanted to go out.” She tried to fix it, going back into the frame with a stiff smile – Banggu, the house’s dog, who was actually sleeping on her bed in the moment. Minjoo just nodded, probably recalling about the time she mentioned the cute dog that had been with her since she was eight. “So, your mom will transfer you…?”

“She wanted to do it, but I…” Minjoo hesitated, and for a moment Chaewon thought she would also go off camera – but then again, Minjoo was the braver one between the two of them, at least when it comes to things like this. “I said I wanted to stay since you’ll be there.” She signalized without making eye contact, the small smile that was often on her face was there again, not shaky or unsure, just…shy? Lifting her brown gaze, her smile grew bigger. “And also, I want to stay and face them…Not fight, but prove I can stand up for myself and I think I can do it now.”

Perhaps she was getting infected by Minjoo’s very own nature, because Chaewon feel the corners of her lips curving into a smile again. “I’m sure you can do it. Even if I wasn’t there, but I’ll be just in case you need.”

She didn’t like that school filled with self-centered coward kids who wouldn’t even say a word when a classmate was suffering or even try to offer them some support, where she would have to face Boah’s annoying face – and possibly have to beat it again – and deal with the consequences of the senseless rumors she spread…Still, if it was to keep Minjoo safe and happy, she would attend every single day until the end, when they both would finally be free of high school forever.

“I know, Chaewon. We’ll graduate together.” That smile appeared once more on Minjoo’s face, reaching her eyes. “So, I told my mom this, and about how we met and everything else too. I think I should’ve done it long ago, but now that I did it just feels…Fells really nice.” Now it made perfect sense why Minjoo was acting like this.

Chaewon knew how much the girl tried so hard to hide her suffering and minimize things, to be able to finally express it to the person she loved the most was a big step for her, maybe even bigger than fighting the bullies.

“I’m happy for you, Min. I really am.” The fuzzy, warm feeling that filled Chaewon’s chest this time was easy to label: pride, she was proud to see her friend grow so much in such a short time. With a childish excitement that was very unusual to her, she moved in the bed, plumping down on it as she put the cellphone in front of her so she could still be seen properly, before asking. “By the way, my moms asked if you would like to have dinner with us tomorrow? I mean, you and your mother, they think it would be nice to meet without Mrs. Oh’s presence or something like this.” She shrugged with an easy smile – even Banggu raised her short ears, opening her eyes lazily to watch her owner’s odd behavior.

“I’d love to! I’ve to ask my mother if she has time tomorrow, but I’m pretty sure she will go if she can.” The enthusiastic reply came quickly – if they were texting, she would surely add a bunch of those cute emojis that Chaewon liked to pretend to not like but always made her smile; actually, Minjoo’s face was much more efficient at it and it was pretty obvious in the moment.

After a couple of minutes where Minjoo went off camera to check with her mother about the dinner and Chaewon petted Banggu while waiting for a confirmation about the dinner, the taller brunette came back with the positive answer.

“Good! I’ll text you my address later, is not that far from school so it will be easy to find.”

Chaewon expected Minjoo to ask her a bunch of questions – the usual ones that the other always did, small things that seem so important –, but the younger Kim only stayed silent for a couple of seconds, her smile becoming closer to a smirk. “Your voice…There is something different about it tonight.”

“It does?” She asked using sign language only. Of course, she was a fool. She was so focused in the moment and on Minjoo that she completely forgot she wasn’t supposed to speak today. She wondered if she had been screaming to her phone for the past minutes without realizing it.  “My hearing aid…I don’t have it on now. Sorry, I forgot to tell you about it.” With a stiff smile, she went back to her original seating position. “I don’t think it’s broken or anything, but mom thought would be better to not use it for now and sometimes I like to take it off when I’m home, since I feel more…Free without it.” Averting her eyes, she completed “But is not really good for talking to people, I’m sorry.”

“I guess I know what you mean. Narrowing her eyes slightly, Minjoo nodded. “But that’s not what I meant. I can understand you just fine.” Minjoo reassured, seeing right through her – what shouldn’t really shock Chaewon, after all they were very similar in some aspects, what means Minjoo could understand her worries and fears, even the silliest ones, better than most people. “I just really like listening to you. Especially now.”

Chaewon blinked, still a little uncomfortable for being so exposed about her own disability. “Huh?”

“Nothing.” With a silly smile that Chaewon couldn’t quite understand, the younger just shrugged her shoulders.

They fell in a short silence, the type they often shared when they were at school, but that seem somewhat wrong to have when they were on the phone.

Minjoo looked like she was about to say something, when Chaewon started. “Minjoo…” Maybe it wasn’t the right moment to ask it, but she wanted to do it before opening up about her own problems. “I know I promised to explain about me and I will, but…Can I ask you something first?”

With a light, surprised frown, the taller brunette nodded. “Sure.”

“I met many kids who couldn’t speak before, but never someone who didn’t have a hearing problem too…” She tried, her voice hesitant, this time not because she afraid of how she may sound, but about how her words must be perceived. She didn’t want to be too invasive and ruin the atmosphere. “I also couldn’t talk properly before I got my hearing aid and treatment…What I mean is, you’re not like this. You can hear just fine.”

The reply didn’t come right away, the frown on Minjoo’s face becoming deeper as her expression became pensive. “I wasn’t born like this...But I was never good at speaking and then it just…” Grimacing the brunette sighed. “Happened.”

It was Chaewon’s turn to frown, the concern she felt earlier coming back stronger as she noticed the tension on Minjoo’s face. “What happened?” The question came out before she could contain it, but she regretted it immediately. “Sorry, forget it. I don’t have the right to ask-“

“It’s fine. I want to tell you.” Minjoo cut her off, her gestures sharp, showing the same determination her face presented. “Maybe it will make easier for you to tell me your story too.” Forcing a smile, Minjoo took a seat in her bed, the camera shaking for a moment as the girl accommodate herself. “I don’t know the signs for some things, so it may take a little while.”

Chaewon nodded slowly, wondering if she should try again to take back her request, but she decided against it. If Minjoo wanted to be open about it with her, she would listen to her well, just like she knew the girl would listen to her someday.

Minjoo smile faltered as she recalled the events that led them to this all. With a deep sigh, she prepared herself to tell a short version of her own life story, the one she would rather not to think about that often.

 

Eight-year-old Minjoo was like any other kid: bubbly, playful and very talkative – or at least she tried to be.

Apraxia of speech wasn’t the rarest condition for children, however the severity of it could vary greatly and Minjoo had an advanced degree of it. She would slur her words, stuttering over even the simplest phrases, she would think she had said something, but actually only utter a bunch of broken words that were hardly understandable. It was frustrating, and although she was a very patient, polite kid, sometimes she would get mad at her school mates for not understanding her words when it sounded completely normal to her – this led to a variety of problems, from being excluded by others to her mother exchanging harsh words with other parents over their ‘advice’ regarding her condition.

There was nothing wrong with her intellect, she was as smart as any other kid, yet people would often look down on her and she had heard the ‘r’ word a little too often to not know what it meant by now – she shed a fair share of tears because of it too, but she tried her best to pretend it didn’t bother her.

Her mother insisted on taking her to therapy, while her dad didn’t seem very pleased with this – Minjoo wasn’t sure exactly why, however he always seem extra annoyed when the subject of her speech problem was brought up.

She was in her fourth month of speech therapy when her dad decided to throw a party to his work colleagues. Back then they lived at typical middle-class house, her dad worked at a food company and he had his eyes set on a promotion, what meant he was more than willing to suck up to his boss if it meant a better chance of getting it.

“Minjoo, listen up.” Her dad had said as he crouched in front of her, his big hands on her shoulders as he demanded her attention. “Be a good girl today, okay? Make sure to be polite and to not cause any trouble, okay? You know what to do, you’re a big girl now.”

Minjoo nodded with a smile before hugging the man tightly, she tried to make the contact last, but her dad only returned it for a quick moment before pulling back and standing up. “Remember what I said.” Were his final words before he left to go greet the first guests.

The little girl’s smile became smaller, with a hint of disappointment. After a couple of months in therapy she was finally starting to feel confident enough to risk some words and she wanted to show it to her dad, but as usual he didn’t seem to have enough time to hear her.

Taking a deep breath, she decided she would try her best today, maybe if she could impress the guests her dad would notice her efforts and be proud of her.

It was the complete opposite.

She went around the party trying to socialize, giving the men and women her cute smile and bowing her head politely, before greeting them with the few phrases she was confident in saying. At first it went well, but of course there was always a bump in the road, and the bump came in the form of a grumpy teenager boy who was accompanying his dad in the visit.

Minjoo greeted the boy just like everyone else, however, while the man greeted her back with a kind smile, before excusing himself to go to the bathroom, the boy waited for him to go away to face her with a judgmental eyebrow raised. “Why do you talk like this? Aren’t you too old to talk like a baby?” He asked with a sneer – he was probably annoyed to be dragged to this boring party, therefore Minjoo was only the scapegoat for his frustration. “H-e-l-l-o h-o-w a-r-e y-o-u” He mocked making his words incredibly slowly. “Are you an idiot?”

Minjoo gulped down, her little hands grabbing on the fabric of her white summer dress as she tried to not cry – what was more than you could expect from a sensitive kid like her. “I’m so…so…” She tried, but her nervousness was coming in the way, making even the simplest of the words get stuck in her throat.

“So-so-so what? So dumb?” The boy snickered at her tries, finding amusement in her failure.

The brunette shook her head firmly, biting on her bottom lip to try to hold back the tears. She had trained so much for this day, out so much effort in her sessions with the speech therapist, and this one boy was ruining it all now. “You…You…You a-are bad!” She managed to say, raising her voice to try to confront him as the tears finally made the way down her chubby face.

“What? I can’t speak retarded language.”

Their argument must have caught people’s attention, because now she could feel eyes on her and it only made her even more nervous, her eyes darting around in anxiety as she looked for help. She almost run to him when she spotted her dad coming this way, but something in his expression made her stay put.

“D-dad. I-“

He shut her up with a sharp glance, before turning to the boy with a polished smile. “I’m sorry about her. She has a little…Problem. I’m sorry if she disturbed you.” He bowed politely, his right hand pressing against Minjoo’s back so she would do the same. “Now if you excuse us…Sweetie, come with me for a moment.”

Minjoo stared at him in confusion, why was he apologizing to that evil kid who mistreated her? It should be the other way around. She would have tried to argue, but her father’s cold eyes stopped her once more. He leaned in to grab her by the arm and guide her upstairs, far from people’s eyes.

Her dad closed the door of her room, his posture was rigid as he made his way back to her, who was uncomfortably standing by her bed. She wasn’t dumb, she knew he was going to scold her – she only didn’t understand why. Dad doesn’t like it when she stutters, but she only did it because the boy was rude to her first, so why she was the one getting scolded? She glanced at the door, hoping mom could find them soon, her mother would be able to understand her better – dad always gets mad when she tries to talk to him for too long.

“Da-da…”

“Shut up, Minjoo. Shut up!” He came closer to her, his rigid hands reaching for her shoulders just like earlier, but his grip was far from gentle now. “Do you know what you did there? You’ve embarrassed me! Do you want to ruin everything for me, do you?” His voice wasn’t loud, yet his hands were heavy on her, as if he could crash her under them at any minute. Minjoo’s eyes grew wide in fear and she tried to move holding back her tears, but he kept her in place. She tried to say something, but he cut her off again. “I asked you to be a good girl! You know what I meant. Just smile and stay quiet, don’t ever talk!” Yes, she knew what he meant. He wanted her to act like a porcelain doll, to not let anyone to spot her flaws and embarrass him, he would insist on keeping her silent even when they’d go out to eat or visit a relative. Her mother would often argue with him about it and tell her to just do whatever she wanted to – the girl was always torn between the two of them, unsure about what to do. She wanted to keep dad happy, but it didn’t make her feel happy. “Why did you do that? Was it your mom who told you to do this? To fuck everything up and ruin things like you always do?”

She tried to deny by shaking her head, but he ignored her actions, continuing his angry speech. “Great because you did! Now everyone knows I have a fucking retarded daughter who doesn’t know where her place is!”

He let go of her roughly, making her fall on her knees as she tried to support herself by grabbing on the bed sheets – the sheets just slide, covering her partially. It was hard to contain her need to cry, tears clogging her throat as she looked at the man with pleading eyes. Dad had never used this word with her, it was a word only bad people used – her mother had said it, so this meant dad was also a bad person? Sniffing, she tried to push aside her sobs and stand up again, her mouth forming words of apologize once more. Dad was just mad, if she apologized again maybe he would change his mind.

He didn’t.

It was hard to tell when her mother arrived, but she would always be grateful for having her protection in this moment and in all the others.

Her dad had raised his hand to slap her, anger overcoming his polite façade completely, however his hand never made contact with Minjoo’s face since Jiwon had grabbed his arm from behind, frustrating his attempt. Jiwon let go off him before he could push her, she stood in front of Minjoo as a shield. “What do you thinking you’re doing to my daughter?!”

“This is all her fault! She ashamed me in front of everyone! I told you to keep her under control!” He said, his voice growing in volume as he continued. “You’re the one that made her weak like this. So much money to those fucking doctors and what, nothing? She is only getting worse.”

His wife scolded at his ridiculous remarks. “It’s not her fault you failed to get that promotion. Maybe if you spent more time working and less time in room salons, you’d have you’re a better chance than to just suck up to your boss!”

“You!” He ruffed, his face red with anger and what was probably the last bit of shame he had. “How dare you! Get off my way or I might not spare you too!”

He took a dangerous step closer and Jiwon grabbed onto Minjoo’s arms, probably preparing to run away if it was needed. “Try me and you’ll see if I don’t call the cops on you, Jinho.”

The room was filled with tension, her dad’s anger still emanated from him, but her mother didn’t move an inch, maintaining her protective posture. Minjoo wanted to scream for them to stop, to ask dad to forgive her and promise she wouldn’t do it again, but she never got the chance.

Her dad’s violent instinct won over his rational side, making him try to attack them again. Her mother tensed up, but the hit never came.

“Jinho? What are you doing to your wife?” The voice of the gentleman from earlier sounded coming from the door, the old man looking at them with concern. “Ma’am, are you fine? Little girl? I came to apologize for what my son did, but it seems like it’s not the biggest problem here.” His tone became harsher as he looked at Jinho with cold eyes.

Jinho looked from his family to the man, clearly conflicted about what to do, and Minjoo’s mom was quick to take the chance. “We’re fine thanks to you, sir. I’m sorry but we need to go.” She said, pulling Minjoo towards the door so they could leave the room while the old man was still there.

Minjoo’s memory of that day was unclear, she could only recall being taken to her maternal grandparents’ place where she stayed over with her mother. She remembered hearing her dad’s voice coming from outside, inarticulate screams that were mixed with her mother’s voice as they argued until her grandpa intervened.

She was too young to understand well what was happening – to know that her parents’ marriage was ruined long ago and that her dad was far from being a good man, to know that his reckless behavior had costed his job and that their house would soon be sold to pay for all the debts he had been hiding for years, to understand how much the divorce process demanded of her mother and how coward her dad was to just disappear before he had to pay for child support –, however, she still felt the heavy weight of guilt on her shoulders for being the cause of their fight that day. She promised herself that she would be good from now on and not embarrass dad any longer, she even tried her best to be as quiet as possible always in the hopes he would come back.

He never came back, and as if her voice also escaped her, it also eventually disappeared. She didn’t know exactly when, but her words went from broken ones, to inarticulate grunts and finally to nothing.

The divorce had ruined her mom’s finances, leaving them with very little money to maintain themselves and giving her no choice but to take odd jobs to pay the bills. Her grandparents were old and sick, the money was short and they couldn’t do much. Like this, it was impossible for her mother to give her proper treatment, although she managed to take her to a couple of doctors, the answer was always the same: the trauma had made Minjoo’s condition worse and her brain was repressing her speech abilities. There was nothing they could do besides therapy and even this wasn’t a guarantee of success.

 

Minjoo finished her story with a smile that was sadder than tears, the chocolate brown eyes opaque thanks to the sour memories that still filled her mind and all Chaewon wanted was to run to her and give her a tight hug. In the moment she was having a hard time controlling her own hands from shaking, the weight of hot tears in her eyes – it was ironic, she was never the kind to cry, not even for her own sad story, but knowing that Minjoo had been hurt like this and was stuck in a condition that made her life so hard every day…It was tearing her apart.

“Thanks for telling me. I guess we really have much in common, in the worst ways.” She cracked a humorless, pained chuckle.

Taking a deep breath and swallowing her tears, she decided she would make things her way. “Tomorrow. I’ll tell you about me tomorrow.” She promised. No ‘I’m sorry’ or words of consolation that really didn’t mean much now. Minjoo’s pain was real and still there, but the cause was long lost in the past and there was no point in acting like her words could fix it now. She could, however, comfort her in other ways. “I know your mom will be busy until night time, so you can come here earlier and we can watch those movies you wanted and talk. Let’s make the most out of that suspension.”

Chaewon couldn’t make Minjoo’s past better, but she could make her present happier and she would try her best to do it.

The younger girl seemed a little taken aback by her sudden request and the change of subject, nonetheless she nodded again. “I’ll go and bring the movies with me. You’ll see it’s actually really fun.” A weak version of her radiant smile appeared on her face as the realization of Chaewon’s intentions hit her. As much as the things said were important for them, be it through voice or sign, the things unsaid were even more important sometimes – now it was a perfect example of it. Minjoo could see every emotion run through Chaewon’s face: anger, pain, worry, frustration, determination and even love…Such a weird, yet relatable mix of emotions, and every bit of it warmed her heart like nothing else. There was no cheap pity or fake concern, Chaewon wasn’t trying to make herself feel better by offering solidarity. Instead, she was trying to do what she seems to be able to do so well: be there for her, in the best way she could.

“I can’t wait to meet you and Banggu tomorrow.” The light came back to Minjoo’s eyes, still dim, but there, as she smiled. Her words were sweet, as if this fact was something dear to her.

With simple ‘goodbye’s they ended the call, each girl laying in their own beds, in the own rooms, still the connection between them still felt strong even if the call was over.

 


 

Later that night, when Minjoo was ready to sleep and take a rest of such long day, a set of three simple messages made fall asleep much easier. Minjoo knew how much it meant, after all she felt the same way.

“From: MGA Chae

Min, I’m also glad for meeting you

I really like you.

I just thought you should know.”

Those words weren’t the type of thing you’d expect to hear from Chaewon, the girl herself couldn’t even recall saying those to anyone who wasn’t directly related to her – still, her and Minjoo also shared a bond now, and just like her bond with her parents, it had nothing to do with blood or labels, it was born from genuine affection and care, and this is the one kind of bond you can’t break.

While Minjoo was already fast asleep with a smile on her face, the older Kim didn’t bother checking her phone for a reply, instead she took small steps towards her parents room.

“Mom?” She called after knocking, finding Luda laying down on the bed reading something with big specs on her face, meanwhile Jiyeon was in the bathroom getting ready to sleep.

“Oh, hello, baby.” The speech therapist greeted, lowering her book to have a better look at her daughter. “I thought you were sleeping already.”

“I’ll soon, but first…” Chaewon stepped inside the room, coming closer to her mother. “Can I ask you a favor?”

Closing her book, Luda patted the place next to her on the bed. “Sure, Chae. What do you need?”

With a grateful smile, she sat beside her mother and started to talk.

 

Chapter Text

 

Her mother muffled a laugh at her and Chaewon tried her best to pretend she didn’t notice – she couldn’t really blame Luda for making fun of her behavior, after all she was acting a little different than normal today and there was nothing she could do about it.

Her suspension from school meant she would be home for at least four days, and she was using this time well. Early in the morning she went with her mom to the hospital, it was Luda’s off day at work, so she could accompany her to her appointment. As expected, Dr. Nam didn’t find anything wrong with her hearing aid, but Luda insisted on getting her a new one ‘for emergencies’ – her mother’s words –, as well as checking her ears to make sure her condition didn’t change since their last visit to the doctor. It didn’t take much time and soon they were outside, heading to one of the university’s nearby – for this appointment she was much more nervous, even though they didn’t stay for long there.

By lunchtime they were back home and she helped Luda with lunch – as in ‘placing the dishes on the table’ since they had bought food instead of cooking it, what was expected from two people whose biggest cooking talent was to use the microwave.

Now, two hours had passed and she found herself walking back and forth in their living room. Having tidy up her room and even prepared everything for the little movie marathon she promised Minjoo, she was starting to get oddly restless. Minjoo should be there any moment from now and although she was the one to invite the girl over, she couldn’t help but feel a little…What was that? Nervous? It seemed pretty silly of her, after all she was used to spend a big part of the day with Minjoo at school – but they weren’t at school now, and it seem to be enough to turn her into a hyped kid waiting for her friends for a sleepover.

“Maybe we should’ve picked her up…?” Luda said from her seat at one of the armchairs in the living room, she was working on her laptop while watching her daughter fidgeting with her own fingers with an anxious look on her face – Chaewon was one of a kind, she could act all mature and responsible, but in the end of the day she was just a teenager with all the normal insecurities and nerves that come with it, as her mother Luda knew it better than anyone. “You can text her and we’ll go.”

Chaewon shook her head with a little embarrassed smile. “She said she would take the bus here. But it’s still early.” Minjoo had told her she would be there by two, and there were still a couple of minutes left.

Luda hid her smile with her mug full of hot chocolate and looked over to her daughter, Chaewon was a pretty quiet, gentle child, one that was a little too easy to love. Through the years she had grown more and more loving and open about her feelings, but she knew it was only like this when it comes to the people she loves and trusts, while Chae would still only show her more indifferent and cold side to others – the clear display of her emotions in the moment made it pretty clear that her new friend wasn’t just anyone for her. For people like Chaewon, whose trust is something so precious and hard to acquire, once you conquered it and make your way to their hearts, it was for good – it was her best quality and her worst flaw all at once, and even though sometimes it worried Luda, in the moment she marveled at the sight of it.

“Are you worried about that?” Leaving her cup aside, she faced the younger brunette. “You know I can talk to her and her mother. As your mom and as a professional as well.” Earlier Chaewon had been so eager to visit her old college that it was almost funny, but knowing her reasons made her heart ache a bit – she had raised a sweet kid.

Chae made a face, before nodding. “Yeah, but not only that. I actually, promised to…” Chaewon stopped halfway through the phrase, her eyes on something behind Luda’s head – the front door, from where the distinct sound of the doorbell ringing could be heard and the small white light over it could be seen blinking.

Minjoo was there.

Grinning, the older woman gestured for her to go open the door and the younger Kim nodded, standing up a little too quickly.

Chaewon took a deep breath before opening it, she could feel her phone vibrating in her pocket – probably Minjoo informing she was there –, but she didn’t pick it up, opening the door before checking who it was. She was greeted by a shy looking Minjoo, who was still holding her phone in one hand and a bag with old DVD’s in the other. The taller brunette only smiled, unable to say anything having both hands full.

“Hey. Come on in, you’re just in time.” Stepping aside, Chaewon let her in and closed the door behind her while Minjoo was busy putting away her phone and looking around the house with her curious eyes. “My mom is waiting for us, but don’t worry about it, she is very easy-going and better at signing than I’m.”

“Thank you. I really want to meet her too.” The brunette gave her a grateful smile, she wasn’t actually nervous about meeting Chaewon’s mother – outside the principal’s office, at least –, but she was glad the other was always so mindful of her needs and worries to the point she could almost anticipate it beforehand. Visiting Chaewon was something she was looking forward since last night, she was excited about the idea of just hanging out without having to worry about bullies around the corner or people gossiping about them, meeting her family and knowing more about her seemed like a nice step to take and she was glad the girl welcomed her there. Moreover, she also wanted to check for herself how Chaewon was doing – today there was a Pikachu Band-Aid on her right cheek, the skin was still purple but it didn’t seem as swollen as before. Chaewon looked fine and it made her feel a little more at ease.

They met Chaewon’s mother as soon as they entered the living room, the short woman had a gentle smile on her face as she greeted Minjoo using both her voice and sign language. “Hello! Thank you for coming. I know it was a bit last minute, but I hope your mother can make it as well.” Her tone was warm and welcoming and any tension Minjoo had, was gone by the time Chaewon made their official introductions and they exchanged polite bows.

“Thanks for inviting me.” She returned the smile with one of her own, before taking the seat the woman offered her on the couch beside Chaewon. “Mom said she will try her best to come, we’re very thankful for your help yesterday and she wanted to say it personally.”

“Don’t need to thank me. You were there for Chae too, so I should be the one thanking you. Besides, winning arguments is Bona’s favorite thing in the world.” The older woman chuckled, passing her a mug full of a warm, brown liquid with the delicious smell of chocolate, she did the same to her daughter. “I hope you like it, it’s pretty much all I can do in the kitchen. But don’t feel pressured to drink it, we have soda and juice too.”

As a chocolate enthusiastic, Minjoo was more than happy to accept the drink and she made sure to shake her head vigorously before taking a sip. “It’s delicious!”

“She loves everything sweet, mom. And she is too polite to refuse anything you give her.” Chaewon intervene with a smirk, her nerves seemed to easy up the moment she set her eyes on the younger girl.

Minjoo eyes grew wide at the Chaewon’s words, it was a pretty accurate description of her but she indeed enjoyed the drink and she didn’t want Chaewon’s mom to have the wrong impression. “That’s true, but I really like hot chocolate!”

Luda let out another chuckle, amused at the teenagers behavior. “Me too. We should make some more after dinner then.” Giving the girl a reassuring look, she stood up from her seat and grabbed her laptop. “I’ll leave you two alone so you can enjoy the afternoon while I do some boring paperwork. Chae, why don’t you give her a tour first? We have snacks in the kitchen, grab anything you want.” With a small wave, she left them to go the small office down the corridor. Later she would have plenty of time to get to know the cute girl her daughter was so fond of, but right now she would let them have some privacy.

The girls exchanged a look, a small moment of awkwardness before Chaewon put away her hot chocolate and stand up. “Do you want to meet Banggu? She is probably at my room now.”

And for this, of course Minjoo’s answer was ‘yes’.

 


 

Banggu was actually trying to make her way downstairs when they found her, the cute white dog barking at her owner when she noticed the girls’ presence. “Minjoo, this loud girl is our Banggu. She is very nice, so you can pet her if you want to.” Chaewon introduced them, as she picked the dog into her arms to pet her.

The younger brunette beamed at the dog, her hands gently stroking Banggu’s head as she greeted her with silent words ‘hello there, buddy!’. Just like Chaewon said, Banggu was very docile and closed her eyes lazily as she received the girls’ attention, allowing Chae to pass her over to the other girl so she could hold her a little.

Banggu was sleeping soundly on Minjoo’s arms when they finished touring the house – it was spacious and well decorated in light tones, with family pictures here and there and even some art pieces, Minjoo noticed a couple of special modifications that were designed to make Chaewon’s life easier, like the light over the front door. They stopped at Chaewon’s rooms, the owner opening the door to reveal it as Minjoo gently put Banggu on her bed on the floor.

“Here we’re. There’s nothing much to see, really.”

Chaewon’s room was neat – whether because its owner was a neat person or because she felt the need to organize it before Minjoo arrived, probably it was a bit of both.

The room was mainly white, a single mint-green wall where the headboard of her bed rested, bookshelves full of variety of titles adorned the other walls, and a study desk in a corner – there was a small board in the wall opposite it, there were some sticky-notes as well as some work notes and drawings…Her drawings, the ones she would give Chaewon once in a while and she never though the girl would keep it. Minjoo smiled at the sight of it, a fuzzy feeling in her chest. “You liked them!”

Her enthusiasm must’ve been clear on her face, because it made a light shade of pink tint Chaewon’s cheeks.

“I don’t throw away gifts.” The older Kim tried to shrug it off, averting her gaze from Minjoo and taking a seat by the edge of her bed – close to the three tiger plushies that she kept there, one for each member of the family as Jiyeon had told her when she gave them.

The taller brunette just shook her head slightly, smile still on her face. By now she already knew Chae’s nature a little too well – she was always kind and considerate of others, even though she rarely put her feelings into words when she did it was even more special. Last night was the proof of it and reason why Minjoo was having a hard time not mentioning it.

Moving to inspect one of the shelfs, she recognized a few familiar titles – Chae seem to enjoy fantasy books –, alongside academic books and on the top shelf there was a couple of awards and some pictures. Leaning in, Minjoo read the titles of the awards – diligence, creative writing, academic excellence…Just what she’d expect of Chae. The name of the school, though, surprised her. ‘Hanseok academy for the hearing impaired.’ Of course, it made sense that Chaewon frequented a school for people with the same kind of disability as hers, helping her to learn how to live with it in a society not projected for her.

“I studied there until high school. Thanks to it my sign is so good, they also taught me how to read lips and other things to help me deal with everything.” Chaewon explained, noticing Minjoo’s interested in her awards. She was enrolled in that school as soon as Luda and Jiyeon got her legal guard, and it was the first time she attended a real school, perhaps if she didn’t have such opportunity she wouldn’t be as independent and confident as she was now, remaining restricted to her hearing problems.

The only reason why she didn’t pick a similar high school was because she wanted to try going to a ‘normal’ one and she could do it by joining the same school her cousins attended and where she could rely on them if she ever needed to – she didn’t, thanks to them the two years she spent there were comfortable. “I went to a common high school before moving here. My cousins were there as well, but they graduated last year, so I didn’t mind switching again.” Standing up, she came closer to Minjoo to point out a specific picture. “This one is the cake enthusiastic that wouldn’t let me waste any food, and the duck-looking one is the chat-box that likes to talk as much as you do. They’re the best people I know, a little weird, but really nice.”

The smile on Minjoo’s face grew bigger as she stared at the picture that showed a happy Chaewon smiling to the camera alongside two other girls, the grin on her face was so bright and genuine that it surprised her a bit. She had never seen that smile before, and seeing it now in a still frame, made her want more than see it, but also be the reason behind it.

Her eyes travelled to the other pictures displayed, most of them were of Chaewon and her parents, her cousins and once in a while some older people, the scenarios were always different, but the calm, relaxed expression on her face was always the same – you could tell she was happy even when a smile wasn’t on her face, just the usual glint in her eyes and the confidence on her expression, it was there in every single image…Except one.

The picture frame was a little hide behind the other ones, but it was hard to miss. “May I?” She asked before picking up the frame to see it better.

Chaewon only nodded slowly, her chestnut eyes watching with attention as the taller brunette inspected the picture. She leaned against the shelf, crossing her arms in front of her chest as she waited for the question that was bound to come – or at least she expected it would.

It didn’t.

The younger Kim gently touched the paper, her fingerprints brushing against the edge of the picture as her chocolate brown eyes took in every detail. In some ways it was very similar to the others, just a picture of Chaewon and her parents, still there was something very different about this one. While Luda and Jiyeon had big smiles on their faces, the kid in front of them, so small and skinny, only had a blank expression – no glint in the eyes, no mischievous smirk on her face or confidence in her posture…It was Chaewon, but a very different version of the one she knew now. Minjoo narrowed her eyes, her gaze going from the picture to the others, as her mind came to the simple conclusion.

Carefully, she put the frame back in its place, her smile was now smaller and a little sad.

“How old were you?”

“Eight.” Chaewon’s lips curved into a faint smile. Kim Minjoo wasn’t like the others, she would never ask anything that might in any way bring her pain – even if it was long in the past and it was unnecessary to act like this wasn’t part of her story. That picture was the oldest one in the collection and pretty much the oldest picture of her, besides the ones used for the adoption papers – those she would rather to forget about. “I met Luda when I had just turned seven, she was working in a program that helps children with disabilities and such, that’s how she came to the orphanage to help me with my speech. The adoption process takes a long time, you know? Took them nearly a year to be able to take me home and this is our first family picture.” She explained even if Minjoo didn’t ask. It wasn’t her favorite topic, after all it made her remember about some unpleasant aspects of her past, but remembering her first months with her parents soothed the pain. She wanted to open up to Minjoo, this was a first step to do so. “A pretty awkward one. Back then I guess I was just…Afraid…Of everything.”

It was easy to portrait a younger Chaewon afraid of the new life she was about to face, of the people she still didn’t fully know and of everything that could happen once they were no longer in the place she used to call home…Minjoo herself had a tough childhood, but her mother was always there for her and she couldn’t imagine her life any other way, therefore she could only imagine how difficult was for Chae to learn to trust these people and adapt to the new world they represented.

Shrugging her shoulders, Chaewon tried to downplay her confession, giving Minjoo a stiff smile. “What about we start those movies now? I guess we can see at least one before mom arrives and starts to make you hundreds of questions.”

Returning her smile with one of her own, Minjoo just nodded in agreement. She had a lot to say, a big part of her just wanted to give the little Chaewon that still inhabited her friend a big hug and let her know how glad she was that things turned out well, how happy she was to know that that little kid became such a strong and kind person.

Nonetheless, she didn’t want to push Chaewon, so instead of it, she only gave her hand a gentle squeeze hoping it was enough for her feeling reach her – she didn’t let go of her hand until they were comfortably sat on the couch at the living room; If Chae didn’t like, she didn’t show, only breaking the contact to search for the TV’S remote.

 


 

Minjoo had brought some movies for them – luckily for Chaewon she didn’t have any Pokémon DVDs laying around her house or else they might end up watching a whole season and having a Pikachu on her cheek was already too much for her –, the Studio Ghibli ones that she had told her about before.

Chaewon didn’t really enjoyed watching TV, she didn’t go near the device often and she would only seat to watch something when her mothers would drag her for a family night – similar to that, she had agreed on watching it to make Minjoo happy and by the brunette looked so excited describing all the movies before asking her to pick one, Chaewon knew she had made the right decision.

With the lights out and the curtains closed, they sat comfortably in the big, fluffy couch in front of the TV, with bags of chips and chocolate – Chaewon was sure her mother had kept it hidden until this day – and drinks in hand. Chae tried to focus on the first few scenes of the movie, keeping a smirk on her face as she noticed Minjoo’s demeanor – she looked like an excited kid, her gaze going back and forth from the screen to Chaewon’s face, and it was visible she was trying her best to not starting gesturing and talking about every single thing she loved in the movie and what she thought Chaewon would like too.

After ten minutes or so of this, Chae could barely pay attention to the screen, so distracted by the other girl. Tentatively, she reached out to touch Minjoo’s soft hand. “Go ahead and talk. Just try to not spoil the whole thing.” She encouraged the girl, letting go of her hand so she could freely sign – watching the movie while also paying Minjoo attention would be a challenge, but she didn’t mind it. Chae liked this pure, almost childish, and adorable version of Minjoo, this one that felt comfortable enough to just be herself, without worrying about anyone else’s judgment.

The taller brunette bit down on her bottom lip, hesitating. Minjoo wanted to share all her love for the movies, infect Chaewon with her enthusiasm and make their afternoon a fun, memorable time – still, she didn’t want to annoy the other with her overexcitement. “I don’t want to ruin the experience for you.”

“Having you here is what makes the experience special.” The words came out of her mouth easily and it took a moment for Chaewon to realized how cheesy she must’ve sounded, embarrassment filled her bringing a pink shade to color her ears and it would also have reached her face as well, if she didn’t see the smile bright up Minjoo’s expression again – then suddenly it didn’t matter if she was making a fool out of herself, as long as Minjoo was okay with it.

Like it seemed to be her special talent, Chae’s words were enough to put her at ease, making Minjoo put aside her silly worries and enjoy her childish excitement. “Then we can pause it once in a while to make sure you won’t miss out anything because of me.” She would do the best to make her favorite movies justice, without missing out the fun of commenting it and observing Chaewon’s reactions to the different nuances of the story.

Bringing a hand to her warm ear, Chaewon adjusted her hearing aid and nodded, a small smile that couldn’t be repressed was on her face as she felt Minjoo coming closer to sit beside her and start her first – of many – explanations about the movie, and although Chaewon had missed out on the first twenty minutes of it, she tried her best to pay attention to her words.

Whether it was because the movie was indeed good – and it was, she had to admit it – or it was because she was just too engrossed observing Minjoo’s expressive face as she described everything with so much detail, coming up with new signs here and there to make up for the ones she didn’t know, by the end of the movie, Chaewon was utterly in love – with the story and with Minjoo’s genuine enthusiasm about it.

“How did you like it? I know you don’t like animations that much, but I never met someone who didn’t like this movie before. Even my granny used to watch it with me.” Minjoo asked when the credits were over, the expectant look on her face making her resemble a puppy – how could Chaewon tell her that she liked her better than the movie?

“It’s nice. Better than the books I’ve been reading lately.” She answered honestly, only leaving out that her liking had more to do with Minjoo’s presence than the actual movie. How dependent of the other girl’s presence and smile she had become? It was ironic to think that at first it was Minjoo who would follow her around, but now here they were, and she could only think about how much she liked this simple moment. “Definitely better than Pokémon, that’s for sure!” Adding this to break her own sappy line of thoughts, she gave Minjoo a smirk. “I was always a Digimon lover, so you and mom can stop trying to corrupt me.”

With a small, slightly disappointed pout, Minjoo accepted her loss. Her disappointment didn’t seem to last long, her pout turning into a tentative smile as she asked. “I saw many fantasy books on your room. I never thought you’d like this genre that much. You always seemed more like a…” Lowering her hands, she looked for the right way to express it. Sometimes it was complicated to define things, be it because she lacked the knowledge to use her hands to express it, or because she couldn’t quite grasp some things – in this sense she wasn’t different than most people. Minjoo liked to think she had learned a lot about Chaewon in the time they spent together, to think that she knew her better than most people, still there was so much to know about the other girl – even small stuff like her personal preference in books.

“More like what? You thought I liked criminal novels?” Chae’s smirk turned into a light chuckle, she wouldn’t be surprised if Minjoo thought she was a horror lover, after all their tastes rarely matched in anything.

Minjoo nodded. “You always seem so down-to-earth.” Painfully realist, balancing out Minjoo’s optimistic self way too well. “I thought you’d hate this kind of thing.”

“Those are just books though. I love them exactly because it’s so different.” It was Chae’s turn to nod, her chestnut eyes shining with the glint. Of course, when it comes down to life, she would always pick the more realistic options and try to work with them the best way she could, she would always presume the worst and prepare for it – maybe she was more of a pessimist in this sense. “I like to know that I can find a place where everything is possible and can have a happy ending, since in life we can’t always have it.” Resting her back against the couch, she tilted her head a bit to lock eyes with Minjoo. “Although I guess maybe things that seem impossible can happen in real life too. After all, we’re here now.” It was a vague statement, ‘here’ could mean a lot of things: this house, being there together and sharing this moment, their current lives that were so different than what they used to be just a couple of weeks ago…It was probably all of it.

A fond smile made its way to Minjoo’s face as she reached out to touch gently the Band-Aid on Chaewon’s cheek, her fingers brushing against the sensitive skin. No, it wasn’t like in the books, their wounds – inside and out – were real, their pain was still present and life wouldn’t magically become easy with a simple snap of fingers, however, each other’s presence could and was changing things and this was enough for Minjoo to label it as miraculous. “Yes, we’re.” Thanks to you, she added mentally. “I think you made me believe it again. Believe in my own version of angels, the ones without wings, only Pokémon bandages and hearing-aids.” There were no magic solutions, no mystery worlds and secret powers, still, she couldn’t help but think that to some extent there was a little bit of magic – their own, genuine and pure, bond that was as rare and special.

Chaewon let out a weak chuckle, but she didn’t downplay her words, nor tried to act cool about it. Instead, she rested her hand on top of Minjoo’s, keeping it in place, the chestnut eyes looking for the dark chocolate ones. “Maybe you’re right. I think I have my own version as well.” She averted her eyes to the direction of the office where her mother was still working. Squeezing her hand lightly, she looked back at the girl. “I’m ready to tell you now, Min.”

Minjoo’s expression became solemn and she brought their hands down to her lap, holding Chaewon’s hand between her warmer ones, before giving a firm nod. She was listening.

With a deep breath, Chaewon intertwined their fingers, giving the brunette a faint smile before starting to talk.

 

Hearing was supposed to be a given, but it wasn’t for Chaewon. Many things weren’t.

Born from a teenager girl who couldn’t possibly know how to take care of a baby with special needs, her dad was long gone leaving behind any responsibility, all she ever knew was the thin walls of their precarious apartment in a building in the depths of the not-so-glamorous side of the town. Those walls that allowed the noise from the next door’s neighbors activities to be heard, and smelled like mold and some cleaning product mom would throw at it once in a while to try and prevent the mold from growing too much, were simultaneously Chaewon’s safe heaven and hell.

The small, almost bare, living room with the even smaller kitchen at the end of it, and a bedroom she shared with her mother – that was all that was to it, all they could afford having. She used to sleep beside her mom in the big bed, but eventually she received her own bed – narrow, with a thin mattress that was always covered by her tiger patterned sheets; it wasn’t comfortable, yet it made her feel a little safer.

Mom didn’t spend much time with her, always busy working outside the house to tend to her kid. Most kids would miss her parent’s presence, however Kim wasn’t an average kid. At age five – nearly six, she liked to count the days to her birthday using the calendar mother would keep in the refrigerator’s door –, she wasn’t enrolled in kindergarten, nor any kind of activity for children her age. Instead, she only had this apartment and the things on it to keep her company during the long hours mom would be away working.

Chaewon created her own little routine. She would grab the food that mom would leave at the counter – sometimes she would forget to leave anything, but it was okay, Chaewon knew where to find things in the refrigerator, albeit she didn’t like eating cold food, she wouldn’t dare to make mom mad by using the stove – and take her place next to the big, old tube television they had in the living room. The TV was her favorite item in the house, the one thing that connected her to the outside world.

She would turn the volume all the way up, making it louder than the noises of her neighbors arguing, and keep her eyes glued to the screen so she could be able to pay attention to every detail.

Her right ear was able to capture loud noises, meanwhile her left one seem to be always clogged up, unable to let any sound in. Around a year ago, mother had taken her to a community center where they were holding some sort of event with a bunch of people in white coats and annoyed looks, these people had given her a yellowish device to help with her hearing – an outdated hearing-aid that was a little too big for her ears. The device allowed her to hear a little better with her right ear, allowing her to actually be able to distinguish people’s voice in the TV and pick up some of the more subtle sound – it would also act up sometimes, making the sounds a little too high for her to the point it was painful and she would have to leave the device aside for the day. It was her first time having a real chance at learning their language, to connect the movements from people’s mouth to the sound they produced, allowing her to try and repeat it herself – it was uncoordinated, her pitch all over the place and her words barely understandable, but it made her happy.

Sometimes she would run to mom – in one of the days the woman would come home early enough – and try to show her improvement, and then mother would ruffle her hair softly and tell her she was doing good, that in the weekend she would help Chaewon to learn more words – the weekends never really come, even when the TV would tell Chae that it did, mother wouldn’t be here with her for it. However, she would never complain, just wish that someday it would arrive.

At five you wouldn’t expect much from her, after all a kid this age should be carefree, full of curiosity and willing to push barriers with hundreds of questions and requests. But then again, Chaewon wasn’t a normal child – and it had little to do with her bad hearing. Living with mom had taught her to be cautious, living without mom taught her to grow up faster and to know her limits.

Mom was the only person she would see often, the only face she could recall properly besides the ones she would see on TV and the old nanny that used to take care of her when she was still a baby. Still, mother had many faces to her – and not all of them liked her very much.

Chaewon’s favorite face was her mother’s happy one, the one that looked bright with a smile that would make even her tired face beautiful and turn her chestnut eyes as light as Chaewon’s. This face appeared less and less often through the years, still the little girl would wait for it. She would wait for her mother’s tender smile and her gentle touch ruffling her hair. She loved her voice here the most, it was light and high pitched, her words gentle as she would ask Chae to help her make dinner for the two of them. When mom was happy, she would allow her climb onto her bed and hug her to sleep – unfortunately it never last long.

Mom’s usual face wasn’t as pleasant, she always had her lips twisted into a scowl, deep lines ruining her pretty features, eyes dull of any light. This mom was the one that would shout at her and get mad easily, she would usually just spare her an annoyed glance before sending her off to bed without dinner – Chaewon was used to it by now, at first she would feel tormented by the hunger, but now she would easily fall into a slumber after biting onto one of the snacks she would hide under her mattress; the snacks were ‘happy’ mom’s gifts.

However, the face that Chaewon liked the least, was one that recently appeared, the one side of mom she was truly afraid of. ‘Scary mom’ was the one that would arrive late at home, her face demoted of expression and eyes like black, empty pools. Scary mother is the one side that appears more and more often now, and it's what makes Chaewon hate being so bad at hearing to notice when she arrives. When mother is like this she would rudely grab and shake her by the arms, if she notices Chaewon did something 'bad' there will be a lot of purple marks tainting the child’s skin in the next day.

This side of mom made her flinch on her seat whenever she saw the woman now, becoming wary of her even in her happy days – Chaewon didn’t risk climbing onto her bed anymore, afraid mother would change during night and get mad at her for being there. Every night she would wait for the woman on her seat on the carpet in front of the TV, not knowing who she would have to face that day.

Chaewon was too young to understand what was really happening, to understand that all these sides of mom were just consequences of her falling deeper and deeper into alcoholism. Her mother wasn’t a bad person at first, but years of working unforgiven hours for money that was barely enough to support them, forced her to turn to alcohol for consolation and it evolved quickly to something far worse. ‘Happy’ mother was nothing but the shadow of the woman she was once, now ruined and broken, there was no longer space on her mind and heart for the naïve and optimistic girl she was once – it wasn’t Chaewon’s fault, she was a good kid, but raising her proved to be a burden too heavy for the woman.

By the time she turned six, instead of a birthday cake or a hug, she received as a gift only the knowledge that things were becoming even worse. ‘Happy’ mom didn’t appear anymore, giving place only to the other sides of the woman, sides that seem to hold big grudges against Chaewon’s very own existence.

Now instead of waiting for mom every night, she would turn off the TV and head to their room early, she would crawl into a ball and hide behind her blanket, wishing for sleep to come soon, so mother wouldn’t be mad at her for finding her still awake – most of the time it worked, but sometimes not even this was enough – the last time her lips turned into a funny shade of red and grew so big she couldn't eat properly.

Chae would take off her hearing-aid, hoping that the silence could comfort her, but instead, she was only met by her own inner thoughts that insisted on replaying again and again her bad memories. It became harder to fall asleep.

“Chaewon.” The woman’s voice was too low for her to hear even with her hearing-aid on, something that her mother knew all too well. Still, her lack of answer seemed to annoy her. “Kim Chaewon!” It was louder now, loud enough for Chaewon’s ears to pick up traces of her voice – enough for her to feel the rage on it.

Chaewon shivered under her thin blanket, shutting her eyes tightly close when she noticed that the lights on the room were now on and she could spot her mother’s silhouette by the door. Maybe if she stayed very still, mom would give up on finding her, maybe if she prayed hard enough she could bring back ‘happy’ mom for once, maybe…

But hope is never well awarded, it was another lesson she learned.

Her blanket was roughly pushed aside, revealing her small, shaky body, to the woman that stared at her with so much rage and hatred. “You messed with the TV again, didn’t you? You little piece of shit, I told you to not touch it!” The harsh words were said through her teeth, making it impossible for the kid to understand what she said – she didn’t need to, seeing the black pools filled with anger that were her mother’s eyes were enough to let Chaewon know there was no escape now.

She was rudely grabbed by the arm, her delicate skin bruising under the tight grip as her mother forced her to be on her knees.

“I’m s-sorry, mom! So sorry! P-Please!” Chaewon begged, her words coming out all wrong, her voice muffled by the tears she couldn’t hold in anymore – she knew how things would end, still she begged, still she tried her best for even the tiniest chance of being saved.

“Sorry? You shouldn’t have done it then!” She felt more than heard her words, seeing her mother’s distorted face through her tears. Although she knew it was coming, she was still caught by surprised by the impact of her mother’s palm against her face, hard enough to make her head bounce on her shoulders. “You bring me nothing but trouble! Because of you I live in this hellhole! And for what? A half deaf brat?!” The second hit came right after the first, making her already red cheek become a deep hue of burgundy that would soon give place to the sickly purple color all her bruises had.

Somewhere through that hell of night, her tiger sheets were colored red with droplets of her blood, her hearing aid long gone from her ear thanks to an especially strong slap – it didn’t matter, Chaewon didn’t need to hear what her mother was saying, the marks on her body would be enough of a reminder for a long time.

Chaewon didn’t remember falling asleep that night, her conscious lost before she could try to plead for mercy again.

All she could recall was waking up to a bunch of people in her room, a tall man looking at her with a expression she couldn’t define – pity, she would understand someday – before giving her a small smile, and gently picking her up in his arms. The pain in her body made her wince and soon she had fell unconscious again.

Perhaps her pleads weren’t completely useless, or maybe her mother’s shouts were so loud that even their noise neighbors were disturbed; Whatever reason it was, someone had finally called for help and the tall man was a police officer, the rest of the people were from the social service. That night was her last one in the apartment and the last time she ever saw her birth mother.

 

“I was sent to an orphanage after it. Around one year later Luda found me and you know the rest.” Shrugging her shoulders like she always does whenever she was trying to feign indifference, she finished the story as if she had just read a boring monologue from a school book, not her own personal trauma that left permanent scars in her life.

She reached out to grab one of the cans of soda, but Minjoo pulled her back before she could, using their joint hands to bring her closer to a hug so tight that it almost knocked the air out of her lungs. Chaewon didn’t try to push her away, her body stiff as she tried to fight the hot tears trying to make its way down her face – she failed to, but not before Minjoo’s warm tears made her shoulder wet, the younger girl’s body shaking with her sobs.

Minjoo hadn’t cried for her own broken past, yet she couldn’t stop herself from breaking down now. Long before Chae’s story was over, the tears were already there, her heart aching more and more until it was broken in pieces. Knowing her story made it easy to understand why the girl decided to protect her when no one else would – Chaewon knew this feeling deeply, she knew what it was like to be helpless and desperate, much more than Minjoo ever had been. More than this, knowing it, made her admire and appreciate even more the person her friend was, she could have become a cold, cruel person, using her traumas as an excuse to also become an abusive person, yet she didn’t fall victim of her mother’s curse. If before she thought Chaewon was her guardian angel, now she was sure that she was her own miracle.

She felt Chaewon’s hands on her back, gentle and warm, patting lightly as she tried to comfort her when it should be the other way around. Minjoo sobbed even harder, burying her face on the crock of Chae’s neck as she let out all the pain on her chest. She knew the other Kim probably didn’t want her pity, that she would rather to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t big deal, but Minjoo couldn’t simply do that. For the last time she would cry for Chaewon – together with her, allowing her to ease the burden of the past and comfort her the same she was doing to her –, and from now she would promise herself to be one to protect the girl like she had protected her, to be the one to keep her safe from the monsters of the past and the fears of the present, from the uncertainty of the future and the pains it may bring – she would there for her, and even if they can’t always win, she would still be there to help her to face everything and get back at her feet after every battle.

If there was a moment she wished to have her own voice, this moment was now. She wished to be able to give her comforting words and pour out of her feelings on it without letting go of this embrace. Nonetheless, she still couldn’t find her voice, so she had to find another way to do it.

Pulling away only enough to be able to face her, she managed to give Chaewon a shaky smile, the tears ruining it as she tried to control her sobs. Chaewon wasn’t in a very different state, her beautiful eyes red with tears, the chestnut of her orbs tainted by the sadness and pain, but still she tried to return the smile and say something – Minjoo didn’t let her, only shaking her head ever so slightly.

Minjoo leaned in to rest her forehead against Chaewon’s, her soft eyes on hers, so open to allow Chaewon to fall into them, into all the fondness and infinite care they were filled with – there was pain too, the same kind of pain she felt yesterday hearing Minjoo’s story, the one that is born from the frustration of being unable to be there and help someone you love when they need the most; none of them could back then. But it didn’t mean this feeling was useless, somehow knowing someone else also carries about your struggles makes it a bit easier to keep going, it helps you to grow and become stronger. Right now, they both were relying on each other, sharing their burdens so they could also share their happiness and turn this sob story into a happy ending – their own version of one.

Managing to control her tears, she closed her eyes and allowed herself to just enjoy the warmth coming from Minjoo, the feeling of love and safety that having her closer brought, letting it fill her up and wash away the memories that insisted on haunting her even after her parents had given her so many good ones to replace it.

When Chaewon opened her eyes, she was met by a Minjoo who was still crying, silent tears leaving her eyes that were so bright with something new now – she could tell what the feeling was, because she felt the same in the moment; she didn’t think it would ever go away. Minjoo leaned in to kiss her cheek, her lips light as father, still the small contact carried so much meaning.

Bringing her closer again, Chae hugged Minjoo – carefully and tenderly this time, her touch light as she caressed her long hair and found her safe place on the girl’s shoulder again. Minjoo did the same, leaving a sweet, butterfly-like, kisses on her shoulder.

They stood there for a long time, so long that Chaewon eventually lost the track of it.

 


 

Luda found the girls sleeping soundly on the couch one hour later, their bodies entangled as they hugged each other even in their sleep, heads close and faint smiles on their faces – she didn’t miss the marks of tears on their cheeks. Smiling fondly at them, she left the room with light steps, allowing them to sleep peacefully for a little longer.

Minjoo’s mother should arrive in less than two hours and Jiyeon would be home soon – she would surely love capturing this moment with her camera and would most likely end up waking them up. But for now, Luda would allow them to have their moment without nosy parents, something told her these kids needed this time and she would gladly give them.

Taking a seat by her desk, she looked at the picture frame that displayed a much younger version of Chaewon with sharp, wary eyes – the first picture she ever had from her daughter, the one they gave to her alongside her medical file. Her smile grew bigger as she looked at the other picture, taken just a couple of weeks ago.

Her daughter surely had grown up well.