There’s a comforting familiarity to being in Sana’s apartment that Jeongyeon will never find in her own. It might be Sana’s choice in decor (predictably bright, without being overwhelming) or it might be that all the windows are perpetually flung open to the sun, so that the daylight spills over the carpet in gentle gold. Or it might simply be the company.
Today Jeongyeon doesn’t know why she’s here. Sana had invited her over, texted her, jeongyeonnieeeeeee come to the apartment today? followed by one of those pleading face emojis she was so fond of.
hmm, Jeongyeon had stalled uselessly, before Sana seemed to detect her hesitation and upped the stakes with a selfie— under that ridiculous filter that peppered the photo with tiny pink hearts— and Jeongyeon found Sana’s puppy-dog eyes much more effective than the emoji, had already gotten up from the couch with a resigned sigh when her phone pinged again.
i’ll buy tteokbokki! Sana had added, like Jeongyeon needed any other reason.
Now Jeongyeon’s sprawled over Sana’s twin-sized bed, licking the remnants of spicy orange sauce from her fingertips and watching Sana twirl in front of the mirror. She’s put on a pretty navy blue dress, one that wraps around her waist and falls just to the middle of her thighs, the fabric stamped with little white flowers and ruffling near the hem.
“Well?” Sana says, turning around to look at her expectantly. Jeongyeon props her elbows up on the soft mattress and looks back at her, catching a glimpse of her own reflection as she does, and Sana asks her, “How do I look?”
Jeongyeon could say any number of things, all of which she’s tried before.
Option 1: “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Nayeon sputtered indignantly. “How can you not know?”
To be honest, Jeongyeon hadn’t meant to say she didn’t know at all. What Jeongyeon had meant to say was, no, she did not like anyone at the moment, and if she did she wouldn’t tell Nayeon anyway— knowing that if she did Nayeon would undoubtedly take every opportunity to nudge and snicker at Jeongyeon whenever that person walked past. Not that such a person existed.
“I mean I don’t know, obviously,” Jeongyeon answered, and went back to picking at her food.
“How can you not know if you like somebody?” Nayeon said, sounding aghast, and that was Nayeon: so surefire and so certain about her emotions (at least, until she realized she actually had to do something about them, if last year’s fiasco with Mina was any indication). “It’s a yes or no question.”
“Okay, then no,” Jeongyeon said simply, hoping to end the conversation there. Going out for lunch had been a mistake, evidently. The jjajangmyeon at this place was almost as bad as the ongoing interrogation, but that was what she got for hanging out with Nayeon, who notoriously lacked any taste in food. Why had she agreed to this again?
Nayeon frowned at her, evidently suspicious, but she brightened a moment later at something she saw behind Jeongyeon. “Sana! Come sit down.”
Oh, yes. That was why.
“Sorry I’m late,” Sana said breathlessly, sliding into the seat next to Jeongyeon. “There was this girl with a really cute dog, and I got distracted watching it walk— listen, I see that look, but it was so cute. You just don’t understand.”
After a moment, Nayeon nodded. “You’re right. I don’t.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Jeongyeon said, before adding partly to spite Nayeon and partly to defend Sana, “at least you didn’t get lost walking up the stairs like Nayeon did.”
“First of all,” Nayeon said, pointing her chopsticks aggressively in Jeongyeon’s direction, “that was literally years ago, in freshman year of high school. Second of all, the rooms were numbered weirdly. And third of all, if you’re going to bring that up...”
“Wait,” Jeongyeon interrupted quickly, sensing her impending doom, but it was too late.
“Jeongyeon just said she ‘doesn’t know’ if she has a crush right now,” Nayeon let out all in one breath, before Jeongyeon could reach across the table and clamp her hand over her mouth, and then sat back and directed an insufferably smug smile in her direction.
Jeongyeon flicked a piece of zucchini at her.
“Oh?” Sana said, sounding intrigued, ignoring Nayeon’s yelp. “Isn’t that basically the same as a yes?”
“Right? That’s what I was saying!” Nayeon exclaimed, forgetting the zucchini in favor of the exciting entrance of an ally into the conversation. “If she really didn’t like anyone, she would’ve just said no.”
“I did say no,” Jeongyeon tried to point out, but now she was outnumbered and overwhelmed.
“Is Jeongyeonnie finally getting a girlfriend?” Sana cooed, pinching Jeongyeon’s cheek in a way that was honestly rather creepy but still made her blush. “I can’t believe she’s growing up.”
“I’m older than you,” Jeongyeon said dryly, only to go ignored once again.
“Jeongyeon, I think it’s time for you to learn some important things,” announced Nayeon. “First of all, when you confess to this girl— it is a girl, right, and you are going to confess—”
“There’s no girl to confess to.”
“— please make it good. Don’t crack one of your terrible jokes. Don’t do something I wouldn’t do.”
“What, like be a sane and normal human being?”
“Jeongyeon,” Sana said, out of nowhere, and Jeongyeon noticed then that Sana had gone uncharacteristically silent ever since Nayeon started speaking of confessions. “Don’t listen to her.”
“Then what do I do?” Jeongyeon asked, forgetting briefly her pretense of not having a crush at all. It was hard to try and deny it, when Sana had placed a hand on top of her own and was now looking at her so intently, with a small and strangely unsure smile.
Sana shrugged. “Don’t make it into a complicated thing when you tell her,” she said, and gripped Jeongyeon’s hand a little tighter. “It doesn’t have to be special. Just be yourself, and be brave.”
She never mentioned Jeongyeon’s supposed crush again.
Option 2: “You look pretty!”
Sana always did, but that day especially. She wasn’t even doing anything in particular, just sitting across the table from Jeongyeon in the library, tapping the end of her pen absentmindedly on her open notebook.
“Hm?” she said, a little startled that Jeongyeon had spoken so suddenly in the quiet, where the only background noise was the faint scribbling of pens coming from other students and the flipping of pages. “What did you say?”
Jeongyeon didn’t answer immediately, caught up in the way Sana had glanced up from her paper and at Jeongyeon. Sana wore glasses when she studied, and it had the mysterious effect of softening the lines of her face and pulling her eyes just a little wider, making her gaze endearingly inquisitive.
“Oh,” Jeongyeon said, coming back to herself. “I just said you look pretty,” and wasn’t sure why.
Sana’s cheeks flushed pink, which was already a rarity, and then she put down her pen and turned her undivided attention to Jeongyeon. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Jeongyeon didn’t know what else to say, so she tried to pass it off as one of those casual compliments friends gave each other all the time. “Did you do something to your hair?”
Sana shook her head. “No,” (Jeongyeon winced, misstep, misstep! but then she was continuing.) “but I was actually thinking about that earlier this morning!”
“Oh?” Jeongyeon was grateful for the escape route, and her interest was also piqued. “Like what?”
“Dying it red.”
Jeongyeon stared at her.
“It was just a thought!” she hastened to say, clearly misreading Jeongyeon’s stunned expression. “I know it probably won’t suit me, but—”
Jeongyeon cut her off, “No, I think it will. You’ll look pretty anyway.”
“Oh.” One syllable, but Sana stuttered it. She brought one hand up to tuck a loose lock of hair behind her ears, jostling the glasses slightly and causing them to slip a centimeter down the bridge of her nose. She possessed a nervous sort of hesitation, when she pushed them back up with one finger and looked up at Jeongyeon with some emotion that was gone in an instant, her eyelashes dipping into a cautious blink, and then Sana asked her, “You think so?”
Jeongyeon pictured it: Sana, standing by the ever-open windows of her apartment, her hair glazed cherry crimson by the light. Still, and always, beautiful.
“Yeah,” she said. “I think so.”
Option 3: “Terrible.”
At Jeongyeon’s groan, Sana’s voice softened over the speaker, dimming her usual cheerfulness to a more tender tone. “I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.”
“Sana, I’ll say it again.” Jeongyeon rolled over and buries her face into the pillow until she had to come up for air, and then she lifted the receiver up and said, “It was terrible. A disaster. Awful.”
“I’ve heard,” Sana said, and had to stop there.
“Are you laughing?” exclaimed Jeongyeon in disbelief. "I'm suffering, Sana. This is not helping."
"I'm sorry!" Sana giggled, evidently struggling to keep her voice steady. "I'm not laughing at you, I promise! It's just that you’re being so— so dramatic! You sound like Nayeon."
“Sana,” Jeongyeon said, very seriously, sitting straight up. “Never compare me to Nayeon again. I’m not being dramatic, I’m being realistic. Because I’m doomed.”
“Whatever you say, Jeongyeonnie.”
In Jeongyeon’s opinion, she still sounded too amused for the situation. “Listen. I don’t know if you misheard this the first time, but I submitted an empty presentation. An empty presentation! And then I STOOD IN FRONT OF THE CLASS who all got to witness my empty presentation being projected on the board.”
“I didn’t mishear it the first time,” Sana assured her. “I also didn’t mishear it the next fifty times, so I promise you don’t have to tell me again.”
“Fine, I’ll stop!” Jeongyeon flopped back onto the bed. “I didn’t tell you this for you to make fun of me, otherwise I would’ve told Jihyo or Nayeon. Can’t a girl just get some words of sympathy?”
“Okay,” agreed Sana dutifully. “I’m so sorry that happened to you, Jeongyeon. I’ll plan the funeral.”
“You’re still making fun of me.”
“What did you expect!”
“I expected you to make me feel better,” Jeongyeon said. “This is not doing it for me.”
Sana was quiet for a long while at that, the only sound from her end an occasional rustle, and Jeongyeon started to worry that she’d taken the banter a step too far and upset her. Just as she was about to say something to make sure Sana knew she was only joking, Sana beat her to it when she said, “Okay, then buzz me up.”
“What?” Jeongyeon nearly tumbled off the bed with how fast she rushed to the intercom and pressed the little red button. “Sana?”
“That’s me,” Sana said, sounding quite chipper through the tinny quality of the apartment intercom and much clearer through Jeongyeon’s phone speaker. “Heading up now.”
True to her word, Sana knocked on Jeongyeon’s door about a minute later, then tested it and discovered that Jeongyeon had left it unlocked for her. “Jeongyeon? Where are you?”
Jeongyeon had retreated to the safety of her bed in anticipation of Sana’s arrival, and Sana found her that way after some searching, huddled under a mountain of blankets piled in the center. Jeongyeon could hear her laugh even through the layers of cotton and simply curled up tighter.
Sana pulled the blankets off anyway. “Jeongyeon, I brought you chocolate.”
That made Jeongyeon sit up, blinking at the newfound light filling her room— something she was unaccustomed to. Sana had pushed open the curtains on her way to the bed, and now the sun struck her newly-dyed hair and turned it a brighter scarlet.
“Thanks,” Jeongyeon said, accepting the bag of chocolate passed to her as Sana sat down on the bed beside her. “You didn’t have to.”
“Oh, please.” Sana rolled her eyes. “Coming from Miss I-Expected-You-To-Make-Me-Feel-Better.”
“I was kidding,” Jeongyeon defended weakly, then put a chunk of chocolate in her mouth so she wouldn’t have to come up with anything better to say.
Sana smiled. “I know. So am I. I bought the chocolate before you said that anyway.”
“How early?” Jeongyeon asked. “I hope this isn’t, like, leftovers from Christmas or something. I’d hate to die of food poisoning. That’s an even more pathetic thing to put on my obituary than ‘Murdered by Professor Kim for Turning In a Blank Project.'”
“You’re not going to die.” Sana took a piece for herself. “Hey, this is pretty good!”
“No,” said Sana. “I bought it right after you texted me and told me what happened.”
Jeongyeon put the box down and looked at Sana, who was busy examining the filling of the chocolate in her hand. Sana's hair was twisted half-up today and pinned with a blue butterfly clip; it was clean and neat, just like Jeongyeon liked. Jeongyeon's room was clean and neat too, thanks to her efforts and in spite of the unintentional sabotage performed daily by her roommate, Momo. Jeongyeon liked to be organized like that, and as a result had a map of the university campus saved on her phone that was useful for her routinely commute and meal excursions. It also informed her, when Jeongyeon thought about it, that the nearest grocery store selling chocolate was a thirty-minute detour from the oft-traveled path between Sana's apartment and hers.
"I'll talk to your TA about it," Sana added, oblivious to the system error that had suddenly gripped Jeongyeon's internal navigation system at this epiphany. "He's a little weird, but I think he likes me. He can probably pull some strings."
Strangely, Jeongyeon didn’t want her to do that. It was already unusual that Sana was the one here coddling Jeongyeon, instead of the other way around; Sana was a girl who thrived on affection, and she liked to whine and pout when she wasn't taken care of.
Sometimes Jeongyeon forgot that Sana was good at giving, too.
"Sana," she said, quietly.
"Do you think the raspberry or the caramel is better?" Sana asked, weighing them in her palms. "I can't decide which one to eat."
Jeongyeon took them both from her and set them aside on the lid of the closed box.
"Hey!" Sana exclaimed, reaching for them, but the rest of her protest died away as Jeongyeon used her knee to push the chocolates out of range and grabbed Sana's hands, holding them down on the bed until Sana went still and looked up at her, bewildered. "What...?"
Sana did not understand, and neither did Jeongyeon, who had moved out of some impulse that escaped as quickly as it had come, and now had little choice but to let go. "Sana," she tried again, and faltered.
Sana's gaze was curious, and open, and held no hint of irritation even when Jeongyeon did her absolute best to avoid it.
"Maybe the raspberry," Jeongyeon said at last, placed it in Sana's palm, and took the caramel for herself. It was sweet, and a little salty, and not bitter at all.
Sana stayed until dinner, after which they watched a cheesy chick flick that Jeongyeon hated and Sana appreciated purely for the shots of the main character's best friend, who Jeongyeon grudgingly admitted— after being pestered for an hour— was boatloads more attractive than the main character herself. Still, Jeongyeon didn't pay either of them much attention; Sana had taken out the pin and her hair was messy and tickled Jeongyeon's chin, her head a consistent pressure on Jeongyeon's chest.
As the credits rolled up the screen, Sana asked her again. "What were you going to say, earlier? It sounded important."
"It wasn't," Jeongyeon said truthfully, because it must not have been if she'd already forgotten the words, the secret that had surged up so furiously against the dam in her throat. But she thought it must have been something similar to this: "Thanks, by the way. For the chocolates."
Sana hummed. "You're welcome. Did I succeed?"
"Succeed at what?"
"You forgot already, Miss I-Expected-You-To-Make-Me-Feel-Better?"
Sana’s reminder made Jeongyeon remember, in addition to that, exactly what she had wanted to say earlier, and as she remembered she found that all her spontaneous courage had fled. So Jeongyeon kept it in, instead tangling her fingers in the ends of Sana's hair and telling her only, "Yeah, you did."
“Jeongyeon?” Sana says, and she realizes with a start that Sana has called her name twice now. “Did you hear me?”
Jeongyeon could answer her in a number of ways, all of which she’s tried before and none of which have been the most important truth. But there’s a comforting familiarity to being in Sana’s apartment that Jeongyeon will never find in her own, and it might be enough, just this once, for Jeongyeon to speak.
But first: “It looks terrible,” she tells Sana, deadpan, and a tiny furrow that’s more confused than offended forms between Sana’s eyebrows. Because, well, it would be obvious to anyone who saw Sana in that dress that it doesn’t look anything near terrible. But Jeongyeon is the only one Sana invited here, and Jeongyeon is the one to laugh and say, “No, I’m just kidding. I don’t know, I’m not a fashion expert! But I guess you look pretty.”
“Okay,” Sana says, drawing out the word in a way that implied a combination of great confusion and concern. Jeongyeon wonders: why did Sana invite her here? Did she really only want Jeongyeon to sit and eat tteokbokki as she pulled on outfit after outfit, paused to blast Bol4’s Freesia, resumed, stopped again to randomly attack a resistant Jeongyeon with a flurry of kisses on one cheek, and then returned to the fitting? What does her opinion on Sana’s outfit matter, anyway? Jeongyeon’s not a fashion expert. Jeongyeon has no reason to be here.
Well, to amend, as Sana looks back at the mirror to adjust the neckline of her dress with a pleased hum and her reflection beams back a dazzling smile— Jeongyeon has a reason to be here. Sana had none to invite her. Sana might seem like the type of person to do things randomly, with no prior planning or preparation, but Jeongyeon felt that in this case— Jeongyeon felt—
In the mirror, Sana finds her and steadies her. Sana does things randomly, sometimes; she follows cute dogs and dyes her hair red and buys chocolate to cheer up her friends, but now they’re staring at each other and Sana isn’t looking away. It must be deliberate, the way Sana catches her gaze and holds it there. She’s looking at Jeongyeon like she’s daring her to say something, something that isn’t, “I don’t know,” or “Terrible,” or “You look pretty!” Something else. Something more.
Be brave, she told Jeongyeon once.
“Sana,” she says, and Sana turns away from the glass, towards Jeongyeon, and when their eyes meet the words come spilling out and over at last, and Jeongyeon opens her mouth and she says—