The whole way to Haseul’s wedding, Heejin couldn’t stop scrolling through her phone. It was just her and Chaewon in the car—Jiwoo was still in the middle of promotions for her solo mini—and Chaewon was dozing off, head lolling back in an unflattering angle, mouth hanging half-open. So that left Heejin to her own devices, flicking through her messages, refreshing Naver, wondering if she should upload a photo of Chaewon sleeping to Twitter. She toyed with the idea for a while, but ultimately decided against it. The wedding was a well-kept secret up to now and Haseul didn’t need her generating unnecessary buzz about where two-thirds of 3XY were currently headed. She still took the photo, though, because it was funny.
The venue was modest in size and decoration, and the crowd was humblingly small. Heejin hadn’t realized until now that Haseul and her fiancé had only invited close friends and family, or perhaps more accurately, that it included them: Sooyoung in an elegant pantsuit holding a bouquet of flowers, Kahei with a flute of champagne in hand, Yerim waving from across the room. Heejin couldn’t decide if it felt touching or lonely.
Then her eyes fell upon Jinsol, her dark hair running down her back in a braid, wearing a simple blue dress, laughing with a stranger Heejin didn’t recognize.
“I’m starved,” Chaewon said from beside her, perky now that she had had her nap. “Ooh, I wanna take a look at the buffet they’ve set up, wanna come with?”
“Sure,” Heejin said.
She hung onto Chaewon’s arm with unnecessary closeness, laughed a little too loud at everything that was said to her, swept strangers into overly affectionate hugs. Anticipation a pinpoint pressure at the nape of her neck, drawing up her posture straight and tall. By the time the tap on her shoulder came she felt extended halfway out of her skin, as though magnified under a lens.
“Hey,” said Jinsol. “Wow. It’s been a long time, right?”
The cut of her dress bared the line of her neck. Her smile was closed-mouthed.
Heejin returned it with all her teeth.
“Unnie,” she said, the word cloying, and leaned in for the embrace. Into the soft wisps of hair curling around Jinsol’s ear, she asked, “How have you been?”
“Good.” She certainly looked it, too. The furrow of her brow was not as pronounced as Heejin remembered it, but maybe that was just a marker of the time that had passed, more than lifestyle or lack thereof. Her cheeks had more colour than they seemed in her rare photos, not that those accounted for reliable measure, these days. Heejin wondered which of her own features Jinsol was taking the opportunity to catalogue in return: the line of her jaw? The same pearl-smooth face? Or else something in the eyes?
A beat passed. Then Jinsol drew back to brace her hands on Heejin’s shoulders, her eyes crinkling up. “Oh—I loved the latest album, FOR EVER! I made everyone I know order copies. I still listen to it a lot. Seriously addictive, you know?”
Heejin’s diamond choker itched at her throat.
“Of course,” she said.
Later on, when it came time for Haseul to walk down the aisle, it was Jinsol who made her way towards the piano by the altar and sat down. Heejin found herself sucking in a breath. In the hush that followed, Jinsol started to play and sing a stirring cover of a slow song Heejin remembered had been popular one spring, though she couldn’t place the name or artist.
Seated between Chaewon and Hyunjin, Heejin mouthed along to the words as she watched the serene glide of Jinsol’s fingers over the keyboard, the slant of her focused brow, the exposed column of her throat. How her eyes slipped closed at some points, lashes fluttering, her upper body swaying in place.
Haseul really was beautiful in white, she thought.
After the teary-eyed ceremony and the speeches and the dispersal to the dining tables, Heejin caught sight of Jinsol disappearing to the bathroom. She excused herself from her company and followed suit.
Jinsol was touching up her lipstick when Heejin entered. She looked startled at Heejin’s arrival. “Hey,” she said, capping her lipstick tube and puckering her lips in the mirror.
“Hey,” Heejin said back as she walked towards her, and just didn’t stop, kept on approaching until Jinsol let herself be backed into one of the open stalls. Heejin locked the door behind them and turned around to look at her.
Jinsol’s expression was—fond? Resigned? She lifted a hand and curled it around Heejin’s cheek, thumbed at her lower lip. The corner of her mouth tugged up, suggestive.
“I missed you too,” she said playfully, and Heejin reached out, wound her braid in her fist, leaned in to slot their mouths together.
For her part, Jinsol was receptive, even patient. Opening up under Heejin’s touch like she still remembered how this went; what to do. Once, and only once, they’d fucked around in a bathroom just like this at the Melon Music Awards, rushed and messy and irresponsible as all hell, giggling into each other’s mouths. Five months later, half the band declined to renew their contracts, Jinsol included. For ages afterward Heejin kept thinking back to that night, knew she should’ve taken it as a warning sign—either that Jinsol had tried it, or that Heejin had let it happen. Driven to chasing cheap thrills after a few too many drinks, sitting in the self-satisfaction of their own polite applause; what else had Jinsol been looking for but the bang to end it all?
The most obvious warning sign of all, of course, was that Heejin had taken it personally.
Jinsol drew back with a contented sigh. Her newly-applied lipstick had smeared; it was probably all over Heejin’s mouth. Heejin wanted to bite at the soft skin of her collarbone, but years of discreet caution as an idol had done their job of ironing out these impulses and grooming her into the habit of restraint, for better or for worse. Besides, she had long outgrown that kind of pettiness, anyway. This was something else, not daring, not risk, not spite. She was sure of it; she had to be.
“I’ll be sticking around for the afterparty,” Jinsol said, pulling a napkin from her purse and dabbing at her mouth. The delicacy of it was hilarious with her skirt rucked up around her hips. She smiled at Heejin, lazy and pleased, a slight flush to her cheeks. “Will you be there, too?”
“I have plans,” Heejin said. Her response was just a little too fast and too cold, which bothered her. She didn’t let it show on her face.
Jinsol didn’t look surprised. She shrugged. “Okay. I’ve gotta get back, though—aren’t they gonna be wondering where you are?”
Heejin narrowed her eyes. “‘They’?”
“You know.” Jinsol folded up her napkin and gestured at Heejin.
Heejin rolled her eyes. “I’m not being babysitted.” In fact her manager was probably right now messaging her to get back for the group photo op.
Again, Jinsol stayed unfazed. “That’s not what I said, or meant, but you know that.” She disentangled herself from Heejin and reached around her to unlock the stall door. “Look, I’ll catch you later, okay? Text me sometime, if you ever actually have anything like free time anymore. I know you didn’t lose my number.”
“You don’t regret it at all, do you?” Heejin said.
Only then did Jinsol’s expression change, so fast it almost caught Heejin off guard. An annoyed incredulousness thinly concealed under the surface.
“Seriously? You’re asking me that, right here? Right now?”
Heejin shrugged. In truth she had blurted the first thing to come to mind. To get a rise out of her, to furrow that irritated crease in her brow, pull her onto the same uneven ground. Harden her edges back into the Jinsol she remembered, flighty and inconsistent and coming close just to pull away. Real anger to reflect whatever Heejin was feeling, too; give it name and definition and something for her to sink her teeth into. A resentment in the air between them she could finally recognize, from back when it was easy to pretend, or just easy to pretend that it was easy.
“It was years ago.” Jinsol ran a hand down the front of her dress, smoothing out the rumpled neckline. “Don’t tell me you miss it. I don’t know what it is you want anymore, but whatever it is, you must have it now, don’t you?”
“This isn’t about me,” Heejin said, bolstered by the sight of the familiar nervous gesture. “It’s about the group.”
“Oh, sure.” Jinsol’s eyebrows went up. “Well, in that case. The group did what it was supposed to, didn’t it? It bound us together. And then it set us free.”
At the time they’d been at their peak. That was the well-earned excitement of it, working themselves up to a position where they wouldn’t have to worry about anything knocking them down ever again. Or so Heejin had thought, until it turned out everyone else had some kind of contingency plan all along, hanging her out to dry. Jinsol, too, had looked down from their dizzying height, all the view it had to offer, and found it wanting. Sort of like how she was looking at Heejin now.
The question burned hot on Heejin’s tongue: So did you find it? What you were looking for?
Quieter, beneath it, like an afterthought: What was it?
The fact that she didn’t ask seemed an answer in itself.
After a while of waiting, when it became clear that Heejin wasn’t going to say anything else, Jinsol’s shoulders sagged back down. Her expression softened once more into something comfortable, something safe. She reached out and tucked a strand of Heejin’s hair behind her ear. The tenderness of it felt misplaced, like it was more for Jinsol’s sake than hers.
“I’ll see you around,” Jinsol said, straightening out her skirt, and turned to leave.
Heejin counted two minutes in her head before emerging from the stall. Her reflection eyed herself up in the mirror. Not a hair out of place, aside from Jinsol’s lipstick, which was redder than her own and obvious on her mouth. She wiped it off.
“There you are!” said Haseul when she came out of the bathroom. “Come on, it’s time for the group photo! We have to get one with just us members, for old time’s sake.”
Heejin let herself be steered into the centre, separated from Haseul by Hyunjin, from Yerim by Yeojin, from Jinsol by Jungeun. Her hands still smelled like Jinsol’s perfume: a clean, airy sort of scent. She clasped them together, one in front of the other, looked straight into the camera, and smiled.