Every morning it's always the same thing. Wake up, go to school, come home. Surrounded by everyone yet speaking to no one.
Kim Joyeon is nothing. Average, quiet, completely negligible. She is nothing until she sees her.
There's probably only one good thing about spending your entire life being ignored, and it's that no one can really tell when you're watching them. Joyeon is so below the radar that the beautiful girl with the short black hair doesn't feel the heat of her gaze. Her eyes, her nose, her lips: she's perfect. Joyeon lets out a dreamy sigh before she can even stop herself.
Glancing around, she hopes no one caught that. It's stupid. Of course no one did. The girl laughs, eyes crescent and teeth so bright. Joyeon feels something drop low in her stomach. She thinks she knows what it is.
Her name is Do Hana. It's pretty: Hana.
She likes it a lot. She likes her a lot.
There is now something to look forward to everyday. Slumping in her chair, she watches the sunlight shine against Hana's soft, pale skin. Soft. It's just a guess. Everything about Hana's appearance is soft and beautiful. Strange that her personality is nothing like that at all. She's loud, angry, stern, cute… endearing. Joyeon loves the way she laughs, smiling so widely like a fool. She loves the way she speaks without modesty.
Do Hana is surrounded by everyone yet doesn't care at all, doesn't even notice how much they admire her.
Pulling out her notebook, she looks up at the board. Joyeon has a purpose now.
“Hey, you're pretty good at studying, aren't you?” a voice asks. She knows this voice. It's cool, clear… haughty. There are nights when it's all she can hear.
“Oh, not really,” Joyeon replies, ducking her head beneath her unkempt hair.
“Ah, don't be modest. You shot up in rank from last semester. 65 to 12? That's insane,” Hana compliments. “I wish I had a brain like yours.”
She runs a finger through her own hair before leaning closer, palm splayed across Joyeon's desk like a blessing. “You're pretty, you know? Don't look down so much.”
Joyeon feels her face heat up.
“No, I'm not. You're just saying that,” she whispers.
“I don't just say anything. I always mean what I say,” Hana replies, frowning.
Class begins and Hana walks back to her seat. Joyeon can barely lift her head up the entire day.
It's the only time Hana ever speaks to her.
When she gets home after her middle school graduation, she finds she cannot get rid of Hana. She can still see her smile, the small mole on her nose, her eyes.
But beneath all of that, is a purpose.
“Grandma, can I get contacts?”
It's more than just that of course. She gets facials. Expensive perms. New clothes. New shoes. A new personality.
A new name.
Kim Hana is perfect. Pretty, polite, top of the class. She's a great conversationalist.
More importantly, she is loved.
When Kim Hana walks into class, she is not expecting to see her. Do Hana, even more beautiful than ever, sitting so nonchalantly. Her chin rests on her fist. Eyes closed, she seems to be nodding off in her chair. Joyeon, the girl she tried so hard to hide, has her heart pounding at the sight of Do Hana.
Naturally, Joyeon checks the seating chart one more time and finds she must sit next to her. It's horrifying. What if she remembers?
“You're pretty,” Hana says when she opens her eyes at the sound of the chair scraping. It's a sudden observation, strange in its abruptness. Joyeon forces her head to stay up, forces herself to look into her beautiful eyes.
“Thank you. You are as well,” she replies, going for prim. Can Hana see her blush? Can she see her falter?
“I'm Do Hana.” She holds out a hand. I know , Joyeon thinks.
“I'm Kim Hana,” she says, putting on a smile she's practiced a million times in the mirror. When their hands touch, Joyeon has never felt more noticed.
Joyeon thought her purpose was being loved by all. It's what she's always wanted. The grades, the hair, the contacts, the name… all for one purpose.
When she turns her head to look at Do Hana, the real Hana, she feels something inexplicable. It's the same feeling she always used to get around her but tripled. Is it envy? What is there to envy anymore? Joyeon is top of the class, beautiful, coveted, loved, wanted, admired - but it doesn't feel half as good as being beside Hana. She doesn't understand.
Or maybe she doesn't want to understand it.
As usual, she's actually not paying attention. The lesson seems to drag on longer than usual. She's bored out of her mind having read this chapter of the book twice already. Can't the teacher just speed things up already?
Still, she has to pretend to be attentive. Do Hana is beside her, sleeping like a log. A very pretty log. Her hand is extended out, laying limply on Joyeon's desk.
Sighing, Joyeon reaches out to move it off. Her heart races as Hana's fingers grasp onto her own weakly. She yawns, drawing her hand closer until she's pressing her cheek against it.
Is Joyeon crazy for letting her sleep on her hand until it went numb?
A year passes, and Joyeon realizes what's wrong. She is in love with Do Hana.
A year passes, and Joyeon realizes Do Hana likes someone else. It's obvious, really. Even after changing everything about herself, she still can't have what she really wants.
Ha Min is everything Joyeon has strived to be. Good-looking, intelligent, charming. She's not an idiot, though. She can see he's just as artificial as her. Every word he speaks has something beneath it. He doesn't do anything unless there's something to gain. Most times, it isn't even anything tangible, just the satisfaction of getting his way.
Joyeon can see it all, but the important thing is that Do Hana cannot.
Joyeon knows she likes him. She's seen the glances, the blush that rises high on her cheeks. Do Hana with a crush is even prettier than normal. Still, Joyeon dislikes watching her when she's like this. Her feelings are for someone else so why should Joyeon enjoy the manifestation of them?
It's strange. She is strange.
“They think I'm copying you… weird, isn't it?” Do Hana says, rolling the lip tint in her palm. Joyeon laughs though it's not really funny. She wanted to see her color on Hana's lips. It had nothing to do with copying.
“People will make up anything,” Joyeon replies. She stares at Hana's lips. The color suits her even more than on Joyeon.
“Do you think so as well?”
Smiling, Joyeon shakes her head.
“No, I don't think you're copying me. If anything, it's the other way around.”
Hana laughs, and Joyeon has an excuse to look at her mouth.
Joyeon loves Hana, but Hana likes Ha Min. There is nothing she can do. Nothing she can say.
So she watches. She talks to him more, gauges his reactions, his practiced smiles. She looks at him and sees herself.
Joyeon turns her head, sees Hana, and realizes she's gone too far with her observations.
"Do you like Ha Min?" Hana asks when it's quiet and the classroom has emptied for lunch. She has her fingers on the collar of her shirt, rubbing at it self-consciously. For all her confidence, Hana is still a young girl. Joyeon knows that more than anyone else.
It makes everything worse.
Joyeon cannot hold back the grimace that twists her features. Hana is so bright, so magnetic, yet so unaware of anyone else's feelings. Even that is charming in its own right.
"No, I'm not interested in him," she replies softly. Hana lets out a breath she had obviously been holding in.
"Oh, I see. Is there someone you do like?" she asks. Joyeon faces her once more, watching her eyes trace over her. What does Hana see when she looks at her? A beautiful girl? A friend? Someone to pass the time with?
"Yes, there is someone," Joyeon whispers, meeting her gaze and smiling without thinking. The look of shock on Hana's face is almost comical. Joyeon doesn't laugh. She waits, watching her expression shift to something more somber.
"Really? Who is it?" Hana asks, eyes soft and curious.
"It's not really fun if I tell you, right?" Joyeon retorts. "Why don't you guess? I'll say yes or no."
"Nope! Besides, I know for a fact he likes someone else," Joyeon answers. Hana blinks.
"Who?" Ridiculous. Hana is ridiculous.
"Not my secret to tell. She's very pretty, though." Joyeon leans close and reaches a hand out, adjusting Hana's collar that's been mangled by her fiddling. When she glances up, Hana is looking at her, eyes wide. "What's wrong, Hana?"
Hana frowns and shakes her head.
"It's nothing. Can I keep guessing?"
"Yeah, sure, but you'll never get it right."
Joyeon laughs, then, and it sounds strange even to her own ears.
Sometimes Joyeon indulges in fashion magazines. She enjoys picking out things to wear, adding to her wardrobe. Being fashionable is important if you want to be loved.
"Woah, that model… isn't she an idol?" Boram asks from over her shoulder. Joyeon laughs for no reason.
"Yes, they're all idols, I think. Salewa uses idols often."
"Oh, you're right! They're all in a group together!" Boram exclaims, leaning closer to look at the magazine.
"Hey, that girl looks kind of like you," a voice whispers on the other side of her not occupied by Boram. She glances up, close enough to see Hana's eyelashes flutter against her pale skin as she focuses her eyes to meet Joyeon's.
"Do you think she's pretty?" Joyeon asks quietly. Hana swallows, opening her mouth to say -
"Of course she's pretty! Look at her!" Boram exclaims. Hana looks away as Boram flails the magazine in their faces. "She's crazy pretty!"
Joyeon reclines on her mattress, tracing patterns on the ceiling. She'd let her guard down lately, revealed too much of herself.
It's the first time she's glad Hana is so dense when it comes to the feelings of others. Even so, she'd be more careful from now on. Hana couldn't know the truth, could never know how she's strived so hard to be her only to end up wanting to be beside her.
"Are they attractive?" Hana asks as Joyeon sweeps the floor. She pauses, setting her broomstick against the wall.
"You know, the person you like," she clarifies.
"Do I seem like the type to date ugly people?" Joyeon retorts. It's almost concerning. Has she failed to craft the perfect facade? Beautiful, smart… yet only attracted to the most hideous of the human population. Her reputation is at stake!
"God, no! That's - what do they look like? Can you describe them to me?" Hana says. She pulls out a chair, sitting down and patting the desk next to her. "Come sit."
Exhaling, Joyeon obeys. Her chair scrapes against the floor.
"Why are you so curious all of a sudden?" Joyeon asks as she sits down. Hana frowns.
"Sudden? I've wanted to know more since you first told me," she replies.
"Describe them…" Joyeon mumbles, looking up at Hana's enraptured face. "Dark hair?" She musters out.
"Dark hair? That's the whole school!" Hana exclaims.
"I don't know how to describe someone's face! You're too fixated on this. It's not that important." Joyeon stands up, dusting off her skirt though there weren't any wrinkles in the first place. "I need to finish sweeping."
She gets a call later that day as she reads over this week's chapter for the exam.
"Hello?" Joyeon asks.
"Hana, wanna study with me tomorrow?" Ha Min says. She thinks about it and decides that she doesn't have anything else to do.
Joyeon slides her notebook into place and stands. A hand lays against her desk.
"Are you free today?" Hana asks, tugging her bag across her chest. Joyeon shakes her head.
"No, I'm going to study later."
"Ah, right… you're studying a lot lately."
"There's a test coming up. You should study as well," Joyeon says thoughtlessly. She rummages through her bag and finds her favorite pencil, tucking it into her pocket. When she looks up, Hana's eyebrow is raised.
" About?" Joyeon replies slowly.
"Me needing to study. Let's go right now." Hana stands beside her, smiling.
"But I have plans to study with…" Joyeon lets out a sigh. "Yeah, let's go. Ha Min will meet us there."
"Ha Min? Oh," Hana whispers, eyes wide. "I -"
"Stop, it's not like that. If it was, would I be inviting you?" Joyeon replies, shrugging her bag onto her shoulder. "Come on. You need to study, right?" she asks with a small, bitter smile.
Ha Min is already reading by the time they get there. He looks up, curves his lips and his eyes with practiced ease.
"Ah, Hana… and Hana? I'm pleasantly surprised," he says. Joyeon turns to Hana and sees her grin back. She lets out a deep breath and sits at the other end of the table.
The chair beside her is pulled back. She looks up at Hana, raising a brow, but the other girl is already flipping through her notebook. It's strange. Hana is strange.
"Why didn't you sit next to him?" Joyeon asks when Ha Min leaves first. She watches Hana turn to face her.
"I wanted to sit by you." She says that and looks at her quietly for a moment. Flipping her notebook shut, Joyeon rolls her eyes.
"You can sit by me any time, Hana. Don't be ridiculous."
"Is it ridiculous to want to sit next to you?" Hana counters, a slight frown creasing her brow.
"It's - okay, sorry. I didn't mean to offend you," Joyeon replies as she exhales. "I'm just confused, is all."
She stuffs her notebook into her bag and lets out a deep sigh. Pencils jostle.
"I'm not imagining things, am I?" Hana asks.
"What?" Joyeon questions, pausing.
"No, I can't be…" Hana mumbles before tugging Joyeon in by the collar. She presses close. Joyeon can feel her breathe against her, chest rising and falling like waves on the beach. She can smell her, sweet and soft, before Hana kisses her.
A breath. Two. Joyeon tilts her head, slides her mouth against Hana's like she's always wanted but could never admit.
Hana backs away, lips close and radiating heat.
"This is real," Hana says softly like she's trying to convince herself otherwise. "This is real?" she mutters, eyes shifting to the door and back to Joyeon.
Joyeon looks into her wavering stare and thinks of all the things she has given up to live someone else's life.
Her heart beats, and she exhales before tugging Hana into another kiss hot enough to seep into her chest.
Do you feel that? Is that real to you? She thinks, and doesn't think for a while after that.