when minju smiles at her, crease of skin dipping below her left eye, chaewon can’t help but think: oh. this is what it’s like to be in love.
learning how to be in love means learning how to express your wants.
“how do i look?” chaewon asks.
minju turns, but spares only a brief glance. “you’re always pretty,” she replies.
chaewon crinkles her nose, frowns. minju’s not really capable of being insincere, so that isn’t really chaewon’s concern, but.
“what do you like about it?” chaewon asks, pushes, hopes that minju understands what she wants.
confusion passes over minju’s face, but her expression turns thoughtful soon after. “i like your hair,” minju tells her, voice gently soft. “i like it when you tie it up like that. i like the colour you chose for your lipstick, too.”
chaewon grins. “really?”
“yeah.” minju nods, a smile of her own.
minju seems to understand, after that. every time chaewon would ask, usually before a date, minju would always pick something to point out—her eyes, or her jewelry, or the fit of her jeans. always makes chaewon feel like minju sees her. always makes chaewon feel, when she walks outside, minju by her arm, that she’s the prettiest girl that night.
learning how to be in love means learning how to—well, kiss.
minju isn’t a spectacular kisser, but chaewon thinks that’s part of her (endless) charm.
she’s less clumsy now, less shy, but there’s still a tentativeness there, a teetering. it’s nice to feel though, for chaewon, that minju’s learning through her, for her.
though chaewon needs to stop deluding herself into thinking that time alone with minju would end up with them doing anything else. chaewon has a paper that needs to be submitted in five hours and she hasn’t finished yet—she’d asked minju to come over and keep her company so the writing would seem less hellish. but minju had let out a quiet, low laugh at something chaewon had said and chaewon had no choice but to kiss her.
chaewon craves more though, always does. she doesn’t necessarily want this to escalate into something else, but minju’s kisses are too feathery for her liking, too flighty. she breaks away from minju for a second to say, “don’t be so shy.”
minju’s breath stutters. “what do you mean?”
“just.” chaewon sighs. “push a little more?”
there’s a small blush on minju’s cheeks. “oh.” she leans in and kisses chaewon a little harder, with a little more force. “like this?” minju asks, afterward.
chaewon hums and nods. “that’s nice,” she sighs again. “what about you? is there anything you’d like from me?”
the working of minju’s throat as she swallows is visible even to chaewon. chaewon bends to press a kiss against it, quick, before sitting back up and waiting for minju’s reply.
“uh.” minju’s face is almost glowing red; chaewon is reminded, oddly, of metal in a forge. minju chokes out a laugh. “god, why is this so embarrassing?”
chaewon laughs, too and hugs minju. “oh, honey,” she says, tries to soothe her. places as many kisses as she can across her face. “it’s alright, it’s alright. anything’s okay.”
minju’s ears are pink as they peek out of her hair and she’s so cute. “okay,” minju says, letting out a breath. “okay. uh.” she looks down at her lap and curls her fingers inward. “i think it’s nice when you, like, hold the back of my head?”
chaewon’s puzzled for a few moments before she thinks she understands what minju means. “ah,” she says. “like this?” she moves to thread her fingers through the hairs at the back of minju’s head, holding her there.
minju nods, eyes closing already. “uh huh.”
chaewon kisses her and doesn’t miss minju’s sharp inhale and her hand flying to hold chaewon’s free one. “is this—?”
“this is nice,” minju whispers, and chaewon can feel her smile. “yeah, this is nice.”
and what else can chaewon do but kiss minju again?
and again, and again, and again?
learning how to be in love means learning how to adjust.
“why do i have two missed calls from you?” chaewon asks. her earphones dig into her head when she turns to her side, against the pillow. “anything wrong?”
“nothing,” minju says, a little staticky. “nothing, it was just—i didn’t know where you were tonight? you weren’t answering my texts.”
“oh.” chaewon didn’t think minju was this type. “yena and yuri invited me for karaoke. it was all very sudden.”
“ooooh,” minju draws out. “was it fun?”
there’s a lightness in minju’s voice that chaewon can’t figure out. is minju pretending or does chaewon have the wrong idea? “it was,” chaewon replies. but then her curiosity can’t be helped, so she also asks, “you’re not mad?”
minju pauses before she says, “no?” then: “did you think i’d be mad?”
“i mean …” chaewon trails off.
“i just wanna know what you’re up to,” minju replies. “i don’t mind what you do, but like, i don’t know. i just kind of, am always curious about you? is that too much?”
“so this isn’t a, like.” chaewon opens her message thread with minju. only three unread messages—minju sounded like she’d sent more. there’s: how are things? then, look at this lol with a tweet link attached, then, missing you a bit, hope everything’s going good. “this isn’t ‘i want to know where you are all the time because you’re my girlfriend and you have to tell me’ kind of thing?”
“not really,” minju answers. “you could just be like, ‘going to karaoke!’ or ‘out with friends!’ and then not text me until you’re home. you always text me when you get home, anyway.”
chaewon pauses to formulate an answer, but in the silence minju says, “unless you don’t want to, which like—”
“no, no,” chaewon interrupts. “i think—it’s nice, in a way, i think. that you’re curious.”
“oh. okay. nice,” minju says. “i just didn’t want to come off as overbearing, or anything.”
chaewon snorts. “you’re definitely not.”
“okay—good.” minju clears her throat. “good.”
chaewon giggles. minju’s awkwardness is still sweet, after all this time. “if you’re so curious,” she tells minju, “i’m going to go wash up and brush my teeth now.”
minju lets out a laugh. “alright,” she says. “i’ll see you tomorrow?”
“see you,” chaewon echoes.
learning how to be in love means learning from all the tiny missteps.
“you got chinese?”
chaewon looks up from her phone. they were both too lazy to go out, so tonight ends up being a friday laze on the couch and netflix date.
minju settles herself at the table and chaewon follows suit. “yup,” chaewon replies.
they open the boxes, but minju stares at them with an odd, unreadable expression.
“what’s up?” chaewon asks.
minju leans down, takes one of them, sniffs the food inside. her expression turns grim when she turns back to chaewon. “unnie,” she says.
minju bites her lip. takes a deep breath. “i have a peanut allergy.”
there’s a stretched moment of silence before chaewon says, “you have a peanut allergy.”
and then they burst into laughter.
(they end up ordering a bucket of fried chicken instead, and chaewon has leftover takeout for dinner the entire week following.)
learning how to be in love means learning how to be comfortable with each other.
that same friday movie date night, chaewon asks:
“does calling me ‘unnie’ bother you?”
minju turns her attention from the princess diaries back to chaewon. pouts. “not really,” she answers. “does it bother you?”
chaewon shrugs. “you’ve always called me that, but.” she cringes a bit before adding, “it’s not very …”
“girlfriend-y?” minju supplies.
they both laugh. chaewon nods, “yeah.”
“i get what you mean,” minju says, “but i think i’d explode into a million pieces if i tried to call you anything else.”
“really?” chaewon raises an eyebrow. “and if i called you something else?”
minju laughs again, hand to her mouth. “give it a try.”
chaewon clears her throat and says, in as greasy of a tone of voice she can manage, “baby.”
minju squeals, slaps chaewon on the shoulder, and leans away from her. “please don’t—”
“you can’t be serious—”
“sugarplum. darling. pumpkin pie.”
minju stuffs a wing into chaewon’s mouth to shut her up.
a few minutes later, when they’ve both quieted down, minju says, “i’d still rather you call me by my name, but small ones like dear and babe should be fine.”
chaewon lets out a slow laugh. “alright, minju. i got it.”
learning how to be in love means learning each other’s specifics.
“okay,” minju says, setting their drinks down at the table, “tell me how i did.”
chaewon picks up her coffee and looks at the notation markings, decodes them. less water, 2 pumps of sugar free vanilla, heavy cream, iced americano.
minju had trouble remembering chaewon’s usual coffee orders, but had an adorable, strong-willed determination to get them perfect. today:
“five stars, minju-yah!” chaewon holds up a hand and minju meets it for a high five. “getting the hang of it now.”
minju flourishes a bow. “thank you, thank you.”
learning how to be in love means, unfortunately, learning how to fight.
this was bound to happen at some point.
minju’s perfect for chaewon—chaewon likes this girl so much she can’t believe it sometimes. but it doesn’t cancel out the fact that 1) they’d only met a year ago, and 2) they had wildly different personalities. minju and her inwardness, her soft voice, and chaewon and her effusive self and love for crowds.
part of her thinks it’s good. fights are healthy, a stray voice in the back of her head says. at least they’re communicating what they want.
but the bigger, more vulnerable, angrier part of her feels a sludge of heat in her chest, unbelieving at everything minju’s telling her right now.
chaewon throws her hands in the air. “oh, so did you want me to make out with her right then and there?”
“don’t put words in my mouth,” minju counters. “i did not say that.”
chaewon scoffs. “it’s not like you would have stopped her if she made a move.”
“because i have faith that you would stop her! what is this? you’re not some damsel-in-distress!”
“look who’s doing the putting words in mouths now!”
chaewon catches her breath. they’re in minju’s apartment, thankfully—chaewon able to keep her cool until they got there. yena was having a party at her place when a girl had walked up to chaewon wanting to strike a conversation—that eventually led to flirting. chaewon had looked to minju several times throughout, but all minju would do is wave and give a thumbs up.
it frustrated chaewon to no end—while the risk is less because it was a woman, chaewon’s felt the consequences of rejecting men enough times to be wary of rejecting anyone at all. she’d hoped minju would solve the problem for her: come over, say they were dating. but minju didn’t seem to mind the flirting one bit.
“okay, fine. if you’re not some damsel-in-distress, why didn’t you just say, ‘my girlfriend’s here’?”
“and show her how you completely did not care about what was unfolding?” chaewon asks. “wow. yup. that definitely would have worked to deter her. hundred percent.”
“ugh.” minju sighs in exasperation. “i am once again saying that i did not know that her advances were unwelcome. she seemed like your type!”
“you’re my type! we are together! i’m not interested in anyone else!”
“we were at a party! i thought you liked it when people came up to you at parties! i figured you’d enjoy her company for a bit before telling her about me!”
“well, don’t make assumptions about me next time, kim minju.” chaewon puts her hands on her hips. she’s getting tired.
“are you—” minju lifts her arms then drops them back down to her sides. “it goes both ways, unnie. me assuming that you liked the company was an assumption. me assuming that you won’t like the company is also an assumption.”
chaewon sighs—long, heavy, exhausted. “okay, i’ll make it clear so neither of us have to assume,” she says. “step in if someone flirts with me. i don’t mind if you don’t want me to step in if someone flirts with you. i appreciate that you feel secure enough that you’d let other people approach me, but i’d much rather be at parties with you than with someone else.”
minju’s cheek dips when chaewon sees that she’s biting the inside of it. a painful tug of war between her pride and her feelings for minju—chaewon thinks minju’s eyes are glimmery with tears.
but the lightning crackle of their shared anger dissipates, disappears. chaewon’s vision warms under the yellow glow of minju’s lights, and even in sadness minju looks like everything chaewon’s ever wanted.
she knows what should happen next, though. “i’m heading home,” she tells minju.
minju sidesteps. “no you’re not.”
“i’m not having this conversation anymore.”
“who said anything about conversations?” minju retorts. “if you think i’m letting us sleep apart after this, you’re mistaken. i’m lending you a change of clothes.”
and she does. they wash up and brush their teeth separately but crawl into bed together. minju doesn’t settle until chaewon’s in her arms and chaewon can’t fight the instinct to press a kiss to her forehead before they both fall asleep.
learning how to be in love means learning how to swallow your pride.
only good things can happen when three of chaewon’s favourite things are gathered like this: minju, mornings, and minju in the morning.
chaewon makes breakfast in an attempt at an apology. minju’s thankfully more diligent in stocking her kitchen than chaewon is, and chaewon manages to whip up something that’s not an embarrassment. minju sits across from her, nibbling on her french toast.
and if there’s one thing chaewon doesn’t do, it’s beat around the bush. “i’m sorry,” she says.
minju smiles, small. “i know. i am, too.”
“i shouldn’t have been—that upset,” chaewon says. “you’re right. i do like meeting new people at parties, but—i don’t know. you were there. i was happy you were there, you rarely come with me to those things. i guess i wanted to enjoy that with you.”
“and i should have stayed with you.” minju shrugs. she takes a sip from what chaewon thinks is her third glass of water. “i let my insecurity get the better of me and let it convince me that i wasn’t your favourite person in the room.”
“what—why’d you think that?”
“i mean—well, i knew you’d come back to me, no matter what,” minju tells her, “but i’m not exactly a riot at parties. i always end up spilling my drink, too. you would have gotten sprite all over your top.”
chaewon snorts. “that would have been nice. i’d have an excuse to leave with you.”
minju rolls her eyes. “you don’t mean that.”
“oh i very much do,” chaewon replies. takes a deep breath and gambles. “if you’d like me to prove it, chaeyeon’s having a party herself next friday.”
chaewon must be all luck today, because minju laughs and says, “your circle of friends is something else.”
see? only good things.
learning how to be in love means learning how to deal with after the fight.
note to self, chaewon thinks: minju gets really clingy during so.
“you’re here,” chaewon says, just having exited her lecture. minju’s standing by the door—by the looks of it, has been standing there for a couple minutes now.
“my prof’s in some sort of seminar,” she tells chaewon. “won’t be around for the next few days.”
“i could … walk you to your next class?” minju asks, timid.
chaewon blinks. “you came all the way here,” she says, “to walk me to my next class?”
“is that okay?”
“i mean, of course,” chaewon replies. “just … odd.”
minju bites her lip and lets out a nervous squeak of laughter.
how could chaewon deny her anything?
she tilts her head toward the direction of the hall she needs to go to. “come on,” she tells minju. “this way. i have ten minutes.”
minju smiles and falls into step beside her.
they don’t talk. it would be awkward, anyway—and they’d be cut off by chaewon arriving at the class venue. she likes this about minju, though, how they don’t have to talk all the time. how the company is enough.
chaewon feels a brush against the back of her right hand. she turns to minju, who’s holding both of hers in front of her, a slightly guilty expression on her face.
chaewon can’t help the laugh that escapes her. “you don’t have to ask,” she tells minju. “also, you’re probably, like, the most adorable human being on the planet. i can confirm this.”
minju blushes a deep, deep red and chaewon takes minju’s hand in hers, firm.
learning how to be in love means learning how to read each other’s moods.
“unnie,” minju calls.
chaewon looks up from her notes. the clinginess extends even today, three days later: she and minju are in the library, studying. “what’s up?”
“how many people know about us?”
chaewon frowns. “where’s this coming from?”
minju shrugs. “curiosity.”
“well.” chaewon taps her pen on her chin. “all my friends know i’m seeing someone, but i’m not sure if they know who you are. same goes for my family.”
“hm nothing,” minju says, head bowing back down to her textbook.
“do you want me to tell more people?” chaewon asks. she feels her eyebrows raise.
“not really,” minju says. “i’m just more surprised that you hadn’t asked me yet, if you could tell more people. i just always thought you were … that type.”
“i’m full of surprises, kim minju.” chaewon smirks. “and i’ll show off my pretty girlfriend soon enough. just want you for myself for a bit.”
minju shakes her head. “always the charmer, aren’t you.”
learning how to be in love means learning how to tell other people.
chaewon’s skin feels warm. chaeyeon’s living room is more crowded than she’d expected, music booming like a heartbeat. she nurses her drink by the window.
minju’s beside her, this time. she leans into chaewon’s ear and asks, “not to sound like a paranoid weirdo, but don’t you think too many people are looking at you?”
chaewon looks up. she spots one, two, three, four gazes trained their way. but chaewon’s been to enough of these to know that they aren’t looking at her, though.
“minju,” chaewon says, “they’re looking at you.”
she points to herself. “at me?”
chaewon snorts. “have you seen yourself tonight?”
minju, for all her clumsy awkwardness, does know how to dress up. stole chaewon’s breath away earlier that night when she first saw her. black, strapless top and a white skirt. eyeliner and not much else.
as if on cue, one of them approaches and asks minju, hand in his pocket, “did you come alone tonight?”
chaewon elbows minju in the side. minju holds back her laughter.
“no,” minju replies.
“friends?” he asks pointing to the two of them.
“girlfriends,” chaewon chimes in, and feels like she could take over the world with the look of surprise on his face.
learning how to be in love means learning how proud it can make you feel.
when they step outside, almost 2 in the morning, chaewon lingers at the front door and says, “let me take a picture of you.”
minju looks back. “now?”
“yeah.” chaewon retrieves her phone from her pocket. “i’ll like, take a cheesy picture of you and make an instagram highlight with a cringey title. like the frog emoji, or something. and i’ll only ever call you ‘this one’ in my posts.”
minju laughs. “i was pretty sure you only had one drink.”
“i did,” chaewon affirms. “now come on, pretend to laugh and cover your mouth and move a bit so my picture’s artistically blurry.”
“you—” minju begins, but closes her mouth. does exactly what chaewon says.
she loved the feeling of telling the guy minju was her girlfriend a little too much. wants to tell the world, now that she’s at it. the conversation at the library probably had something to do with this, too.
there’s a new little bubble in chaewon’s profile that night. she wakes up to messages the next morning: of OMGs, of exclamation points, of she’s so pretty!!!, of happy for u wonnie, and of a heart from minju.
learning how to be in love means learning about each other’s pasts.
chaewon’s elbow accidentally digs into the horn of her car, and she and minju pull apart in surprise.
minju slaps her on the shoulder. “i told you that we should move to the backseat!”
chaewon whines and flops her arms. “too lazy.”
“you just—step out of that door and into that one!” minju counters, pointing. “why did you want to do this in the car, anyway?”
“it seemed like it would be hot …” chaewon pouts.
“well, it’s not. it’s awkward and my neck hurts.”
“right. we’ve established that now,” chaewon says.
“have you never tried this before?” minju asks incredulously.
“what, making out in a car?”
chaewon laughs. “nope,” she says. “is that hard to believe?”
“i guess.” minju frowns. “i just feel like you’ve done everything already and here i am, the floundering newbie.”
chaewon laughs again, louder. “minju,” she says, “i only have one ex.”
minju’s eyes widen so much chaewon thinks they might bulge out of her skull. “no way,” she says, before covering her mouth. “one?”
“i mean, there were other guys and girls, but nothing really ever came of them. those lasted like, five days tops,” chaewon answers. “but yeah. one.” she holds up a finger to emphasise her point.
“woah,” minju gapes. “okay, woah.”
“what did you think of me, kim minju?”
“just … the glamorous, popular it girl,” minju replies. she shrugs. “it’s why i could never make a move.”
“to be fair, you give off that vibe, too,” chaewon says. “until you open your mouth.” she pinches minju’s cheek.
“ah, unnie!” minju hits her in the shoulder again. with how often she does it it’s a wonder chaewon hasn’t dislocated it yet.
“oh, you know it’s part of what i like about you,” chaewon scoffs. she laces their fingers together and kisses the back of minju’s hand. “and you? no exes for you, right?”
chaewon remembers it, when she’d first kissed minju, a shy confession: i’ve never dated anyone before. the honour of it, and the pressure.
“yeah, none.” minju nods as she answers. “received a bunch of confessions here and there in middle and high school, but nothing ever came of them. kept to myself too much.”
“our shy little minju.” chaewon crinkles her nose. “what changed?”
“i told myself i’d try new things in college,” minju replies. “be braver.”
chaewon holds minju’s hand tighter in hers and strokes the back of it with her thumb. “and how’s it going so far?”
minju smiles at her. she’s beautiful. “i think it’s going pretty okay.”
learning how to be in love means learning how easy it can feel.
“miss me this much already?” minju asks, a teasing smile. she holds up her plastic bag of snacks.
chaewon invites her in and closes the door behind her. “and if i do?”
minju scoffs and sets it down on chaewon’s living room table. tiptoes to kiss chaewon on the cheek. “then i’d say you’re a big softie.”
“of course.” chaewon rolls her eyes. they sit on the carpeted floor instead of the couch, unwrapping the bag of shrimp chips. chaewon had been hit earlier with a sudden want to see minju; the last time they’d met was almost a week ago because of an unfortunate mismatch of their recent schedules. so here minju was, after a call from chaewon.
“you brought clothes, right?” chaewon asks.
minju nods, munching. she leans over to show chaewon the small tote bag she’d brought. “slumber party!” she says.
chaewon laughs. she already feels herself letting loose now that minju’s around, can feel herself relaxing by the minute. it’s nice, she thinks, that all it takes is a phone call and chaewon can have her around, just like that. it’s nice to think that minju probably enjoys chaewon’s company, too.
“hope you aren’t hoping for a wild night,” chaewon tells her. “i’m going to crash by like, ten.”
“as if i’m not going to pass out by nine-thirty,” minju replies.
learning how to be in love means learning about each other’s habits.
true enough, by 9:00 they’re already settled in chaewon’s bed. minju’s scrolling through her phone in an attempt to get sleepier and chaewon’s got a sheet mask on her face.
“by the way, unnie,” minju says, “i’ve been meaning to ask: did you know you scratch yourself in your sleep?”
chaewon is so surprised that she sits up. “i what?”
“scratch.” minju puts her phone down and holds one of her arms up, scratching it slowly. “your arm, like this.”
“i do not.” chaewon splays a hand to her chest.
“you sure do.”
“how’d you know you weren’t dreaming?”
“i just do?” minju says through a giggle.
“fine.” chaewon lies back down and puts the duvet over herself. “if i find out you snore loud enough for the neighbours to hear …”
minju laughs and turns to stroke chaewon’s hair. “alright, alright.”
just before she feels herself drift off, chaewon turns to look at minju.
“what is it?” minju asks, smiling. the skin below her left eye dips. chaewon reaches out to run her thumb over it.
chaewon’s learned a lot, with minju. about minju. about herself. how minju makes her feel, how she makes minju feel. how this isn’t always laughter and sunshine, how the bad days make the good ones seem even better. how everything isn’t what you expect. how what she feels is different from what she does. how this requires work, but how effortless it can seem at times, too.
this is what it’s like to be in love.
“nothing,” chaewon says. they both know what she’s thinking, though. there’s no need for words. not right now.
except, maybe: “good night.”
minju’s face softens, and so does her smile. “good night,” she whispers back.
chaewon turns the lights off and they fall asleep.