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the only member in sight when hyejoo gets back to the dorm is jinsol. the older girl, stretched out comfortably on the couch and watching TV, looks up and waves.


“hey, welcome back.”

 

hyejoo drags herself across to the living room, looks down at the floor, and slumps down against the couch. she closes her eyes, finally letting herself feel the exhaustion and pain of the past few hours. it comes in slow waves.

 

“wash your hands first.” jinsol’s voice comes from behind her, a quiet murmur. she feels a gentle finger prodding her neck. “or at least, take your mask off.”

 

the chatter of the TV. the bright neon lights of the living room. even the touch of jinsol’s finger and the small talk. it is way too much for her right now. she slams her eyes shut, drawing her knees to her chest. she clenches and unclenches her hand, over and over, until she’s certain she won’t lash out or have a meltdown. the heat building in her chest is either pain or anger- she doesn’t have the energy to figure out which. everything is too much. she needs to check out for a moment.

 

when she finally feels comfortable enough to open her eyes, the room is comfortably dark. the TV is muted. the living room lights are off and the shades are drawn. a neon green post-it is stuck to her foot. it’s written in jinsol’s neat, sloping handwriting.

 

i guessed u needed to be left alone. the other girls girls are on a grocery run rn, text them if u need anything. me & chae are in my room if u need to talk ok?

-jindol :)

 

hyejoo’s heart swells at the note. jinsol is one of the most observant girls of the group, and her shutdown earlier must have been familiar. she feels grateful for the quiet and peace of the living room, knowing jinsol has gone to her room to leave it free. she goes to swipe at an uncomfortable stray hair on her face, when her hand feels her sweaty and hot cheeks. yuck.

 

she feels stale. and while still tired, the discomfort wins. she groans and gets up, yanking off her jacket and socks. changing into a loose shirt and sweatpants, she rushes to the bathroom.

 

ten minutes later, she’s gently toweling off her face when hyunjin emerges from the door to her left. her face breaks into a welcome smile, one that’s infectious. hyejoo smiles, waves tiredly back. the other girl quirks an eyebrow with a thumbs up sign. her wordless way of asking, are you okay? it’s easier for both of them to communicate silently sometimes. they enjoy it both as a fun quirk of their friendship, and a valuable way of communicating when neither wants to talk.

 

hyejoo shakes her head, frowns with a thumbs down. nope.

 

hyunjin fishes out her phone from the pocket of her shorts. after a few moments of typing, she hands it back.

 

is this more comfy right now?

aeong

 

is written in the notes app. hyejoo slings the towel in the nearby laundry basket and types back.

 

yeah. thanks

i’ll be okay i just can’t talk

you know?

 

got it

okey

u should order malatang tonight

comfort food!

 

only if u eat it with me

 

hm

actually

no

 

lol

i’m gonna brush my teeth now

and then visit u guys in jinsol unnie’s room ok

 

okey

me and chae are watching a movie so it’s chill

don’t worry about intruding or anything

 

hyejoo gives the other girl an appreciative squeeze on the arm before slipping into the bathroom again. she brushes her teeth with vigor; the clammy mask she wore earlier made her whole mouth feel dry and rough. after rinsing out her teeth, she lets out a pleased sigh. at least her face feels refreshed now. her body still aches dully and her shirt is still a little sweaty. but she has absolutely no energy to shower right now. a quick application of lotion, and she trudges out of the bathroom. when she’s like this- overloaded and tired- even the mild stickiness of the liquid feels horrible against her skin. she grimaces, scrubbing at her cheeks to wipe some of it off. her dry hands need it more right now, anyway.

 

quiet chatter reaches her ears when she knocks at the door of her room. a cheery come in and the door swings open. heejin stands at the doorway, face lighting up when she sees who it is. she must have come in only recently- she’s pulled on pajama pants, but still has a half-untucked button up on.

 

“i haven’t seen you all day! what’s up?”

 

before she really knows what else to do, hyejoo hugs her. heejin is a little too skinny to make for a good bear hug, but it’s still comforting. the pressure against her torso and arms is a pleasant one. and she really did miss heejin, too. when the older girl hugs her back, she feels some of the stress of the day leave her tense body. being openly affectionate is difficult for her, but somehow this feels right.

 

“you okay?” heejin murmurs, giving her a soft pat on the back. hyejoo shakes her head against her shoulder. she feels tears prick her eyes, and she hugs tighter.

 

“do you want to talk about it?”

 

hyejoo pulls away, furiously wiping tears from her eyes. she types out another note and hands her phone to heejin.

 

yea i’m going to take a nap soon

sensory overload earlier

ruined practice

forgot my earplugs

im so tired lol

 

that sucks, i’m so sorry

i’m going to go out to daiso w haseul unnie and yeojin right now so i can’t stay

but just ask us if u need to talk

any of us

i’ll bake you something later if you want?

 

yes i know

thank you, i’d like that

cheesecake? maybe?

 

“noted.” heejin nods. she holds out her arms a little awkwardly, a shy smile gracing her features. hyejoo smiles back, giving her another hug. it’s brief, but she’s genuinely touched.

 

“thank you.” she mumbles. “i’m gonna go.”

 

“do you need anything from daiso?”

 

“nah.”

 

heejin leaves with a nod, and hyejoo immediately makes a beeline for one of the empty beds. the covers aren’t made and the pillow is propped up at a weird angle, but she doesn’t care. she lands in the soft mattress with a pleasant thud, face firmly buried in the covers. finally, she can breathe a sigh of relief. the pressure of soft blankets is one of her favorite stims, and she lets herself rock from side to side and flap her hands against the pillow. when that gets a little straining, she just sinks into the covers and closes her eyes.

 

god, she’s so tired.

 

her moment of complete calm is interrupted by her phone buzzing.

 

did you pass out

that’s my bed remember

it’s okay though, just in case you forgot :p

 

it’s a message from chaewon. it takes her a moment to remember other people in the room exist, and she pops her head up. jinsol is quietly scrolling on her phone on the bed opposite her, the top bunk is empty. she seizes a small guinea pig plush from the bed and tosses it to the bunk above her. a chorus of giggles erupt as it hits a target.

 

“ow.” comes the voice of chaewon, sounding both affectionate and disgruntled. “violence.” hyejoo opens her phone, messages her a series of heart emojis, and laughs. chaewon’s phone dings from above, and her and hyunjin let out a quiet aw.

 

ok let me come down there and organize my bed for you

if you want

 

no it’s okay

can i take a nap here

too lazy to go up to mine

 

you have your fave pillow up there though

brb

 

hyejoo shuts off her phone and sighs contentedly into the blankets. a moment later, something fuzzy and soft thumps onto her back. she opens one eye and looks up.

 

“to help you sleep better.” chaewon says simply, and climbs back up the bunk. hyejoo scrambles to a sitting position, hugging the heart-shaped pillow to her chest. it’s familiar slightly dusty scent, soft beads, frayed edges. she digs her palms into it, feeling the soft fabric envelop her hands.

 

thank you so much, she texts.

 

of course

take a recharge nap

tiring day?

 

yeah..

thank you

give my love to the girls when they come back ok?

 

they already know you love them

but ok :)

 

awh

ok good night

 

and she allows herself to rest.