“Are you sure you don’t want to order?” says the waitress. She’s appeared at the table very suddenly, startling Yoonji away from the spot on the wall she's been zoning out on. “Or,” she says more quietly, refilling the water from a clear plastic pitcher. “You don’t have to stay.”
Yoonji smiles weakly up at her. “I’m giving it 'til 8:20,” she says, sounding more defeated than she really feels. “But thank you.” She means that; she’s grateful for the sympathy. Her own self-pity is probably enough, but at least she waitress’ tone makes it feel justified.
This afternoon, she took the time to put on something nice, eyeliner and blush and the unusually form-fitting black dress Jimin made her buy a couple months ago. At the time, she'd promised she’d never wear it, but Jimin usually doesn’t bother to speak if she isn’t right. When Yoonji was looking in her closet this afternoon, the dress was the obvious option. It’s nice enough that she looks like she belongs on a date, subtly shimmery and cut a little low, but it doesn’t feel desperate. Which is true; Yoonji isn’t desperate. She doesn’t want to be here in the first place, and every minute that passes without her date showing up makes her wish that she’d ditched, too.
It’s not even something she can blame the guy for, she just wishes he’d cancelled beforehand so she could still be at home in pajamas. She put on a good bra for this. She came all the way back downtown, to this hip gastropub that’s so far from her own sensibilities that she almost couldn't bear to pass the threshold, and now she’s been here, alone like an idiot, for almost half an hour. She’s surrounded by beautiful couples and is seated near a group of laughing men. She’s the only person here alone. She has trouble enough going out, and it’s a slight. A personal slight, from this friend of Namjoon’s who was supposed to be here sixteen minutes ago.
Bored and bitter, she texts Jimin.
joon set me up on a blind date and the guy is ditching i think. ha ha.
Jimin replies right away.
where to begin w this message?
why r u going on joons dates when u act like u cant hear me when i try to set u up w people????
what does joon have that i dont have???
taste? I dont think so!!!!!
dude wears birkenstocks every day!!!!
joons a tender soul i cant just ice him out like i can with u
also since when are you going on dates w guys?
u told me u wanted to live and die alone
and u also vowed to live a man-free life
oh yeah my vows r still on. joons out after this too
u & tae r my only friends now
oh wait the guy is here maybe
Someone comes in, half-throwing the door open and looking around frantically. He finally makes eye contact with Yoonji in her corner and points at her brightly.
She waves vaguely, smiles insincerely.
He darts over. Scooting into the other side of the booth, he stabs his hand out for a shake and says, “Yoonji? Hi. I’m so sorry I’m late. I missed my bus connection, sorry, the first one ran late, I should have planned better because of the rain and all, and I would have called you, but Namjoon wouldn’t give me your number.”
“He wouldn’t give me yours either,” says Yoonji warily. “Hoseok, right?” She’s mad, but she takes the bus too, and Namjoon is some kind of Victorian-era romantic who thought it would be sweet to keep them from communicating until they officially met.
“Yeah, that’s me,” says Hoseok with his whole body as he settles into the booth. He pulls off his denim jacket and drinks most of the glass of water that the waitress set out for when he arrived. He has bright red dyed hair with very new dark roots and all of his features are pointy. He sets the glass down and says, “Namjoon told me you’d probably be haunting a corner. I didn’t know what he meant, but I think I get it now.” He’s breathing hard. “I knew you right away. You look really good, by the way.”
Yoonji finds Hoseok abrasive, but he sounds surprisingly genuine. “Thank you,” she says lowly. She starts to return the platitude.
“I’m sorry again that I’m so late,” he interrupts as the waitress approaches. She refills Hoseok’s water glass and gives Yoonji a sympathetic smile.
“Can I start you off with something to drink?” she asks Hoseok. Yoonji is already working on a glass of red wine. She’s been trying to make it last, but it’s almost gone. As she lifts it to her lips, Hoseok raises his eyebrows, and it almost makes her smile.
“An IPA would be awesome, if you have one,” says Hoseok, handing the waitress his ID.
“Sure thing,” she says as she examines it. Then she hands it back and says, “I’ll be right back with that.”
As soon as she walks off, Hoseok starts back in. “I’m sorry again,” he says. “I would have called if I could. I even texted Namjoon, but I don’t think he saw it.” He talks so fast. “I feel really bad.”
“It’s okay,” says Yoonji finally, even though the date’s already ruined and Hoseok will never get another first impression. “You don’t have to keep apologizing. I get it.”
The waitress comes back with Hoseok’s drink. She takes their food orders and goes again, and Hoseok’s beer is immediately halfway gone. He chugs it like water, like he’s hydrating after rushing here. Yoonji is a little bit impressed, if only because it’s gross.
“Namjoon told me you’re a writer?” he says, looking openly at her. She doesn’t like how it feels like he’s studying her face.
“A journalist,” she says. Sort of. “What about you?” She refuses to sound interested, on principle. Now that he’s less a flurry of motion, it’s so clear that he’s not her type, so skinny and pointy. His cheekbones look like they’re trying to burst out of his face. She’s a little cold, and the wine isn’t doing anything for her except making her tired. This date was a bad idea. She knew it would be; she wants to go home.
“I’m a park ranger,” says Hoseok, almost wistfully.
“Great,” she says. The outdoors are fine, but not Yoonji’s favorite. Especially since the winter is hitting hard and sudden, and freezing rain has fallen every day for a week. She wouldn’t last five minutes outside a climate controlled room. “What’s that like this time of year?”
“Cold,” he says squarely.
Yoonji doesn’t smile. “I can imagine.”
“And wet. But it’s worth it for the summers. Fresh air is important.”
Yoonji doesn’t like the summer either. Too hot. She says, “That’s true.”
“What kind of journalism do you do?” he asks.
“I work for an online publication,” she says. Please don’t ask what it is.
“Awesome, what is it?”
“You probably haven’t heard of it,” she says. Such a lie.
“You’re probably right,” says Hoseok after taking another gulp of beer, so big that Yoonji can see it go down as he swallows. “I don’t go online that much.”
Thank God. “That’s a good way to be. It’s probably better for you.”
“Totally,” he says. “But that’s really cool, though. Is that what you studied in college?”
“Journalism, yeah,” she says. “That’s where I met Namjoon.”
“That’s what I was gonna ask,” says Hoseok, smiling. “‘Cause he works for the paper and he said you two go way back.”
“We met freshman year,” she nods. “So yeah, I’ve basically known him forever. What about you? He told me you were related to him somehow, but I don’t think I followed.” She sees that Hoseok’s beer is gone and finishes her wine.
“His cousin married my sister this summer. We got to talking at the wedding and found out we both live in town, so we’ve kept in touch. We meet up sometimes, but I don’t know him super well.”
Yoonji nods, but then realizes she’s looking too engaged. She doesn’t want Hoseok to get the idea that she cares about him, so she sinks back farther in the booth and looks at her empty glass instead of at Hoseok. The waitress comes over, and Yoonji orders more wine, and Hoseok asks for water.
Their food comes quickly, and they eat for a minute in relative quiet, except when Hoseok takes a bite of his veggie burger, and says with food still in his mouth, “Oh wow. This is so good.”
Yoonji is almost halfway done with her chicken sandwich when Hoseok is finished with his burger and fries, and he sighs, drinks a bunch of water, and dabs at his face with his napkin. She’s in the middle of a bite when he says, “So, did you do anything for Halloween?"
She finishes chewing and says, “I went to a party.”
“Oh nice, what did you go as?” he says. He’s so high-energy, and it’s overwhelming for it all to be directed at her.
“A witch,” she says. She wore black and white striped stockings and a pointy hat, a cape and lots of dark makeup, and Jimin’s joke the whole night was I’m surprised they let you in without a costume. “You?”
“I was a flower. Just something I had laying around.”
Yoonji can’t help it. She’s got food in her mouth and she doesn’t want to be here; she’s only doing this to prove to Namjoon that sending her on dates is a bad idea, but Hoseok is this grinning, wild energy, and of course he has a flower costume just laying around. She laughs; it just bubbles out of her.
Hoseok laughs, too. “What?” he says. “I used to work with kids. You collect stuff.”
“Why’d you need a flower costume?”
“I was a camp counselor at a park, and nobody ever liked the nature walk, where we’d go around for an afternoon and I’d talk about all the native plants. They’d tell me it was boring, so I got the flower costume to spice it up.”
“Did it work?”
“Absolutely. Nature walk is everyone’s favorite now. Flower Hobi is a hit.”
Yoonji sort of thinks Hobi is a sweet-sounding nickname. She also sort of wants to ask to see a picture, but she doesn’t. Anyway, she sees his phone a few minutes later, and he wouldn’t be able to show off his Halloween pictures even if he had them. He’s using a beat-up old flip phone with a massive scrape across the front, cracking the outside screen so that instead of lighting up with the time, it just flickers when he opens it.
“That,” she says, “Is an old phone.”
“I get that a lot,” he says, shrugging. “But I promised myself I wouldn’t get a new one until this one stopped working.”
“How long ago did you promise yourself that?” she asks.
“Four years,” says Hoseok immediately. He looks straight into her eyes and says it so seriously that she’s not sure if he can tell he’s funny. But her face cracks into a little smile against her will, and Hoseok laughs, too.
They finish eating, and Hoseok insists on paying, which Yoonji opposes in general but finds flattering enough to allow this once. Then, before Hoseok has a chance to invite her anywhere else, she says she’s got to get going. Hoseok is totally amicable; he says, “Sounds good. I had a great time, though. This was fun.”
“It was,” she says. She figures that’s a fair enough thing to give him. He’s definitely fun. Too fun for Yoonji, but at least he can have it.
Outside the restaurant, she says, “Well, I’m this way.” He goes in for a hug, and she accepts it though she doesn’t really want to. But, for such a skinny guy, there’s a surprising amount of him, and for someone so sharp, he’s gentle with her.
“So how did that date with Hoseok go?” asks Namjoon, days later, as they smoke a bowl at the foot of his bed. Their socked feet are lined up next to each other on the wooden floor.
“Did you talk to Hoseok?” she asks. She says his name like it tastes bad.
“I don’t talk to him that much,” says Namjoon. “So no. But how was it? He’s really cool, right?”
“Sure,” she says. “If you think being 20 minutes late and laughing at your own jokes is cool.” She takes the first hit, since she brought the weed, and holds it in as she passes the pipe to Namjoon.
“That sounds like a lot of your friends, actually,” says Namjoon. He takes a hit, takes his time, and she chips at her nail polish. “Sounds like Seokjin. And me. I laugh at my own jokes a lot.”
Yoonji agrees. The other day, he laughed until his eyes were teary after saying “All Sith are shit lords. That’s a quote from Obi Wan.”
“Maybe that’s why you like him so much,” she says. “Maybe you should try to date him instead of making me do it.”
“You’re so gross. He’s related to me.”
“Oh, barely,” says Yoonji, gesturing for him to pass the pipe back.
“I believe,” says Namjoon pontifically, “that a cousin is a cousin.” He takes another small hit and she grabs her pipe from him.
Yoonji lights up. “It’s not blood.”
“Don’t come to my house and try to justify incest,” he says, playing offended. “Also, he’s straight.”
“Sure, I get it,” Yoonji says, dismissive. “I won’t try to set you up anymore if it makes you uncomfortable. Wow, see how easy that was?”
“You’re mean,” says Namjoon, smiling warmly in the way he starts to do when the weed’s working. “I’m trying to help you.”
Yoonji knocks the spent ash into a jar by the couch and starts digging around for more. As she starts packing another bowl, she says, “I’ve changed my mind anyway. I don’t want to date.”
“But do you not want to date for good reasons?” Namjoon tips his head back onto the bed, and his mouth hangs open a little as he blinks at the ceiling fan. His neck is long, his hair, even when it’s this short, finds a way to be messy, and he’s wearing a holey shirt that he’s had since college.
“The reasons don’t matter,” she says. “I don’t wanna do it.”
“I just think,” says Namjoon, speaking a little slow and low, so Yoonji prepares for some philosophical speculation, “Feeling desirable is a human right.”
“Oh,” she says flatly. “It’s not about that.”
“No?” says Namjoon. She can’t tell if he’s trying to be wise, or if he just lost his train of thought for a second and caught it somewhere else.
“No, I just didn’t like him. Too active. Too nice for me.” It’s not that she doesn’t feel desirable. It’s not about that at all.
Namjoon breathes out smoke Yoonji didn’t realize he was holding in. She didn’t even see him take the pipe from her. It makes her want to laugh, but she just smiles. She looks down at her hands, a little faraway, and all the knuckles and bones are fascinating and foreign, like hills and valleys. She looks at them for what feels like a long time, wondering how they’re hers, then decides she’s done. “Are you done?” she asks, her voice rough.
“Mhmm,” says Namjoon. Yoonji looks over at him, and his eyes are squeezed closed like a cat in the sun. He cracks one open and smiles. “Whatever you do is good,” he says. “Because it’s you.”
“Thank you,” she says. “Means a lot.” She watches the show that’s muted on Namjoon’s laptop for a minute, not paying attention to what’s really happening, but looking at the swirls of color as the camera pans, the shifting light as a character’s shirt bunches up and spreads out again. I’m desirable, she thinks. Then she says, “Is there a way to get prosciutto delivered?"
Yoonji works in a high-rise office building downtown, on the tenth floor, exactly halfway up. Her company has the whole floor, which is set up mostly open and without barriers to promote co-working. Yoonji shares a desk with another writer named Seokjin, near windows that look right across at more high-rises. Windows on another side look down toward the river, but the view of water is mostly obscured except from a very specific angle, though one of the bridges looks pretty against the sky on clearer days. On the side opposite from Yoonji, the building overlooks a block that’s paved over and called a park, all ringed and shaded and imposed upon by more tall buildings. Everything around her is cement, brick, glass and gleaming steel, and this time of year the cloudy light mutes any remaining color into flat grey. It makes her cold and tired.
“Hey,” says Seokjin across the open-plan desk as he pulls out one of his earbuds. “Oh, sorry, are you power napping?”
Yoonji rubs an eye with the back of a hand. “No,” she lies, sitting up. “I’m brainstorming.”
“Oh,” says Seokjin. “Don’t let me stop you. Have you got anything?”
Yoonji sighs. She doesn’t. Someone glared at her on the elevator this morning, startled out of the way when she stood too close, and it’s made her feel like her shirt’s on backwards all day. “Surrender Body To God Of Mountain.”
“Um,” Seokjin sounds skeptical. “That has potential.”
“Don’t humor me,” says Yoonji. She stretches upward and her back cracks. It’s a small relief. “Do you need something?”
Seokjin yanks out his other earbud. “Yeah,” he says, bright-eyed. “Would you proofread this?”
Yoonji tucks her hair behind her ear. “You’re on a roll,” she says, impressed. “What is this, your fourth piece today?”
Seokjin nods. “Meeting quota for both of us,” he says proudly.
“My hero,” says Yoonji blankly. “Yeah, send it over. Then I’m gonna take a walk or something before I die and no one notices.”
“Someone’s having her existential crisis early today,” says Seokjin, clicking around on his laptop screen.
“How do you mean?” says Yoonji. Crisis, that seems like a strong word. She clicks Seokjin’s chat notification and follows the link to his draft.
“You usually don’t start talking like Camus until like, 3pm. But it’s not even 2 yet.”
“Wait,” says Yoonji, looking at Seokjin’s piece, titled 16 Crazy Toothbrush Hacks You’ve Been Missing. “You really got sixteen? And I never quoted Camus.”
“I think it’s sixteen? And yes you did. Directly before falling asleep at your desk, you said every day is the same until you die and even that doesn’t matter. I swear I read that in Nausea.”
The light from his laptop screen changes as he types something, and Yoonji says, “Don’t google it. And Camus wrote The Stranger. Nausea was Sartre.”
“My mistake,” says Seokjin mockingly.
She stops herself from leaning on her elbow on the desk. “I’m gonna read your article now.”
“The only thing stopping you is death’s relentless encroachment.”
Yoonji starts reading.
These crazy uses for your old toothbrushes will stun and delight your friends. Try out #7 at your next soirée!
Yoonji makes a gagging sound.
“Someone has to actually create content around here.”
“At what cost?” says Yoonji, but she isn’t really serious. She’s down at number four already, and is always impressed with Seokjin’s craft, even if he’s willing to write absolutely anything. When she gets to the bottom, her only critique is, “I’d like to see more focus on how many cool things everybody’s been missing all these years. Bring home that regret.”
“Oh, true,” agrees Seokjin, already typing his edits. Yoonji types 75 words per minute on a good day, but Seokjin once nonchalantly told her that he tests between 100 and 115, depending on how much coffee is in his blood.
Seokjin sends his article to their team leader. He receives an almost immediate response to publish it, posts with dramatic flair, then leans back and says, “Today is my day.” He pops an earbud back in and focuses on his screen again.
“I’ve never been this tired,” mumbles Yoonji. She raises the setting on her chair a little more to account for the amount she’s slumped. Seokjin is now on his fifth piece, and Yoonji is still being taunted by an almost-empty document. All she has to show for her day is:
1. green juice a tasty scam?
2. top 10 fantasy villains who just needed love
3. you’ll be surprised these celebs aren’t scorpios
Seokjin looks at her with some genuine concern. “Maybe you should go home?” he says.
She scratches at a cheek. “Yeah,” she says. “Maybe.”
“You’re just off your game right now. You always get it back.”
Yoonji knows that, but it doesn’t make her any less bone-deep tired. She says, “Yeah, I’m useless. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“No,” says Seokjin.
“Oh, are you out tomorrow?” she asks, gathering her stuff back into her bag. Tinted chapstick, a notebook, the nice pen she brought from home, a granola bar wrapper. She struggles into her big hooded sweatshirt without standing up from her chair, then wraps her thick grey scarf around her face, and finally puts on her hat and coat. Can’t be too careful out there.
“Today is Friday,” says Seokjin. “It was Free Cookie Friday, remember?”
“Oh, yeah,” says Yoonji, muffled through her scarf. She remembers now; she ate some of those free cookies. “Then,” she corrects herself, “I’ll see you Monday.”
“Have a good weekend,” says Seokjin. “Remember to only drink the blood of the evil.”
The park at the foot of the building where Yoonji works is mostly paved, with trees around the edges and a tall sleek glass awning overhanging an area with tables. Yoonji looks out from the tenth floor around lunchtime some days to see the tables fill up with people in business attire, eating their lunches in the bit of sun their schedules allow them. During the summer, Yoonji is sometimes one of them, but now that the weather is so bad, she’s content to eat at her desk most of the time, only going into the park when she darts across it at the end of the day to catch her train home.
However, since it’s downtown, and the park is paved and somewhat covered, people use the area for events even in the winter. Usually it’s boring stuff, business mixers and job fairs. Once, during a particularly difficult week at work, Yoonji caught the tail end of a medieval chorus performing, and she contemplated running away with them. When she tried to talk to a few of the singers, though, they were rude to her, so she decided against a lifestyle change that day. She can’t sing anyway.
Today, as she exits the lobby of her building and cold rain slides in sheets off the low edge of the tall awning, Yoonji catches a glimpse of a gazebo set up with a banner that says Western Wines.
Yoonji doesn’t like very many things, but she does like wine. And a quick scan of the gazebo shows little translucent plastic cups set out on a velvet-covered table, behind which stands a bald man fake-smiling at someone trying a taste of something dark.
Yoonji’s been off all day, and the cold just makes it worse. She keeps thinking about the way that guy in the elevator cringed when he thought she was standing too close to him. Usually, she can let that stuff roll off, but sometimes it sticks with her, and she can’t figure out why. Maybe it bothers her more when she’s tired, or maybe it’s on days when she thinks she looks good, since there’s a further to fall. She had a good morning before work; her eyeliner came out even and she felt like she knew her reflection. So maybe that’s why it hit her in such a strange place, right under her ribs. Maybe she’s just upset that he couldn’t see what she can see. Anyway, some wine sounds really good right now. So, instead of running straight across to the train stop, she goes to the wine gazebo and starts throwing back one of every sample.
"Hi there, how are you today?” says the man starchily from behind the table. She doesn’t like him. When she doesn’t answer, he says, “We’re just out here with some samples today, have you heard of us before?”
Yoonji shakes her head and throws back a white labeled Pinot Gris.
“That's our 2015 vintage, you'll notice the flowery notes,” says the man. “And. Oh, that's the house red; that's been our best seller this year. And that one's our cabernet sauvignon. Okay, and that's our pinot noir. And that one’s moscato.”
Yoonji throws back the last one. The man is beginning to sound strained. "And that one's a riesling,” he says. “Do you have any questions?"
“Nope,” she says, finished. She turns to take her little stack of used sample cups to the nearest trash can. When she turns around, though, in a ridiculous clear poncho and a khaki Parks Service uniform, stands a startled-looking Hoseok.
Yoonji has been feeling prickly and wrong all day, and she just drank the equivalent of a glass of wine in the space of 40 seconds. Her eyes meet Hoseok’s and she tries to make three faces all at once.
“Oh,” says Hoseok, looking pleasantly startled. “Yoonji, hi. I thought that might be you, but it’s hard to tell since you’re wearing so many jackets. But hey, it’s good to see you.” He sounds so genuine, and she wonders what his game is.
“You work here?” she says doubtfully. When he called himself a park ranger on their failed date last week, she thought of misty mountains and, like, elk and shit.
“Yeah,” he says. “I’m here for the season. Just started, hm, three weeks ago? Are you up there?” He tips his head up toward her building. His poncho crinkles.
“Yes,” she says, pulling her scarf back up over her face.
“That’s great,” he says, face lighting up in the grey day. “What a coincidence.”
“Yeah, crazy,” she says.
“Well, how have you been?” He asks as he starts to walk with her. He looks really interested.
“Just great, thanks for asking,” she says. She clears her throat, and then quickly says, pointing across the block, “Well, I gotta go. My train.”
Hoseok folds his lips in and, looking thoughtful, says, “That sounds good. I guess I’ll see you around.”
It sounds like he starts to say something else, but Yoonji is already pulling her hood back over her head and jogging to her stop.
The first thing Yoonji does when she gets home is lay down on the floor next to where Pumpkin’s sitting, face to the window, eyes closed blissfully. “Hey, big boy,” she says.
He opens his eyes halfway to look at her. She reaches over to pet him and he hops out of the way, meeping offendedly.
She groans. “You think you’re so cool, don’t you? You’re just like your mom.”
Pumpkin sniffs at the air from across the room and dramatically licks at the spot on his back that Yoonji tried to pet.
“You smug piece of shit,” she mutters, and makes herself sit up.
She sits there mocking him for a minute, then she goes and puts her hair up, washes her face, changes into a big shirt and some old sweatpants, and falls asleep face first on top of the covers of her bed.
She wakes up when Jimin comes in. She’s singing along to her headphones, and she slams the door in time to the music. Yoonji gets her bearings in space as Jimin crashes around in the kitchen, rumpling paper bags and opening cabinets to put away groceries, her high, clear voice still ringing through the apartment.
Yoonji grapples at her phone to check the time and sees a message from Mina. You’re coming tonight, right?
“Hell,” says Yoonji, still half asleep, squinting at the bright screen. She forgot that was today. “No, I am not coming tonight,” she gripes as she types a reply. of course i am (:
Yoonji has a bad habit of flaking on Mina, and has been dreading this party for most of a month, but she promised that she’d make it to this. They’re both aware of the symbolism of the event even if they don’t say so. Yoonji is sure Mina sees this as some ultimate proof that they can be friends in a way that forgets the past, but Yoonji just thinks it sucks. She promised, though. She agreed to get Mina’s new boyfriend a gift card to the sporting goods store and show up to his party and prove that everything is different now.
She puts on the black dress that Jimin made her buy, admitting secretly to Pumpkin that she really did need it. She wears some tights and a black denim jacket, does her makeup again, eyeliner and blush and lipstick, and puts mousse in her hair to make it smoother. She keeps making eye contact with her own grimacing face in the mirror, but she has to be pretty when she hands Mina’s new boyfriend his stupid birthday card. Maybe this impending, half-forgotten thing is why her day’s been so bad.
She wraps herself back up in her scarf and coat and takes a hit from a stale, half-finished bowl by her bed. As she leaves, she sees Jimin in the kitchen in a tank top and shorts, cooking something. Yoonji peeks in to say bye, and Jimin says, “Where are you going?”
“Mina party,” says Yoonji.
“Oh, bleh,” says Jimin.
“Bleh,” agrees Yoonji.
“Tae and I are doing something later, we can come get you if you need a rescue.” Jimin doesn’t look at her, she’s flipping something in a pan.
“I’ll be okay, but thanks,” says Yoonji. “Have fun with Tae.”
“Of course. You too.” Jimin waves goodbye, and Yoonji goes to the bus stop.
Mina’s new boyfriend lives in a townhouse where all the units face outward into a courtyard, frozen and bare this late in the year, and dark like midnight even though it’s only 7:30. It’s a little fancy; on the way up she walks past an artificial pond and along a row of trees planted close together to arc over the path. She doesn’t know the unit number, but sees three nicely-dressed people holding solo cups on a front step. Yoonji follows them and squeezes her way inside, stepping from the dark courtyard into a warm little house.
Inside it’s busy, but not too crowded, and the people milling about are having mild conversations. They look mostly professional, and like they might be married, might even be parents to little kids at home. It’s weird that so many people around Yoonji’s age are settled down with careers now, when she feels like she’s still figuring out the basics. Even Mina has a job now that could become a career, and apparently Jaebum is an engineer. Yoonji wonders if Mina and Jaebum will get married someday. She wouldn’t be jealous, but something about it still sits wrong with her.
It’s more comfortable in here, so she breathes warmth onto her stiff fingers and painstakingly unbuttons her jacket. She has it folded over her arm and is almost done unwrapping her scarf when Mina spots her from the kitchen.
“Oh my god, Yoonji,” she says, lighting up. She’s wearing a small silver dress, shiny red lipstick and dark eye makeup. Her hair is half up, her legs are long. She looks beautiful. “Let me take your coat. I’m so glad you made it.”
“Me too,” says Yoonji unconvincingly. Mina hangs her coat and scarf up for her and offers her a hug. Yoonji accepts it, then she accepts the weird, deep, knowing eye contact that Mina always makes with her. “I’m really happy you came,” she says again, quieter.
“No problem,” says Yoonji.
“You look super cute, by the way,” says Mina. “You always look so nice.”
“Do you want to meet Jaebum?”
“Of course,” says Yoonji. She hears her own voice and is impressed at how much it sounds like she doesn’t want to be here. Mina is leading her by the hand into a room off to the side, where people are milling around a TV with some dumb blockbuster on mute.
Yoonji knows Jaebum when she sees him. Though she’s never met him, she's seen his pictures with Mina. He’s tall and masculine, with slicked-back hair and a sharky face. She’s sure he knows her, too. When he sees her, he gives her a forced smile, and she returns it. It’s fine, Mina probably wants this to work out badly enough for all three of them.
Jaebum raises his eyebrows at Mina, and she says, “She made it. This is Yoonji.”
Jaebum reaches out a hand to shake, and Yoonji takes it. She feels so bad. “I’m Jaebum, nice to meet you,” he says. “I’ve heard a lot.”
“Good things, I hope,” Yoonji chokes out, though she knows they aren’t. She knows what Jaebum has heard. She knows the way Mina talks about things, and then makes you promise not to tell, because it’s private, but if you’re dating her she’ll tell you anyway because couples can’t honestly be expected to keep things from each other. It’s what keeps Yoonji up at night, imagining the kinds of things Mina has said to Jaebum about her. Yoonji was Mina’s boyfriend once, too, so she knows.
“Yeah,” says Jaebum, equally forced, but the silver lining is that he doesn’t look threatened or uncomfortable, but more like he’s sorry that Yoonji has to go through this.
“I need a drink,” says Yoonji, breaking eye contact.
“Cool,” says Mina, smiling and looking oblivious, though Yoonji is sure that’s on purpose. “There’s a lot of choices.”
Yoonji returns from the kitchen a minute later with a cup of wine. She wants to go home and take a bath. She’s already done what she came to do, so she can probably leave soon without hurting Mina’s feelings too much. She can’t honestly be expected to stay.
She sits down on an empty couch to pass time. A few people she knows are here, and she can’t hide from them, so she just waits for them to come up and talk to her. Some of Mina’s close friends, who only acknowledge Yoonji now when they have to, exchange awkward pleasantries. Mina, on the other hand, has always been inexplicably energized by chatting with strangers, so she’s very caught up in conversation for a while, but when Yoonji’s about halfway through her wine, she comes to sit.
“You don’t have to stay away from everyone,” says Mina, but it’s more out of politeness than anything because they both know this situation is everything that makes Yoonji uncomfortable. She just nods; it still means something that Mina is thinking about her comfort.
“I didn’t think you were gonna really come,” Mina says quietly. She has this way of talking to Yoonji now that’s so soft-edged, so different from what it used to be. It’s been two years since they broke up, and a little under a year since they started talking again. Yoonji is waiting for the moment when Mina will stop talking to her like she needs to be held with the gentlest hands. It usually comes sooner than this.
“Of course I came,” Yoonji mumbles. “It’s important to you.”
“I’m still happy,” Mina says. “How are things?”
“Fine,” Yoonji answers automatically, but all the day’s discomfort is spreading through her with the wine, and it’s starting to become unbearable.
“Yeah?” says Mina. “How are your parents?”
Yoonji is glaring at the leg of one of the chairs at the table. She hates that her face feels hot and there are tears behind her eyes already. She hates how easily she cries now, when she needs to be tougher than ever. Maybe this kind of thing is why Mina talks to her like she’s sick. “They’re okay,” she says, keeping herself even. “You know. Doing their best.” Their best is not great, but they seem to be doing it.
“Yeah,” says Mina knowingly. “I’m happy to hear that.” She sounds a little overcome, too.
“I don’t think I can do this right now,” says Yoonji quickly, glancing over at Mina, who is so concerned for her. It wasn’t very long ago that they hated each other, and it’s hard to figure out what this relationship is supposed to be anymore. “Sorry.”
“No, I completely understand,” says Mina. Yoonji takes a gulp of wine that’s bigger than she intended, and her face scrunches up. Mina says, “I’m just happy you made it. And, you know, as always, I’m happy you’re in my life. And I think you’re doing a really good job.”
Yoonji glares so hard at the chair leg that it blurs. “Thank you.” Mina will be offended if she doesn’t return the platitude, so she says, “It’s good we’re friends.”
“Can I hug you?” asks Mina.
Yoonji nods. Mina wraps her arms around her lightly from the side and rests her head on Yoonji’s shoulder for a quick moment. Yoonji weakly returns it, forcing herself not to be crying in a stranger’s house. Then Mina lets go and stands up in a swift motion. All of a sudden, she’s bright and energetic again. “Come find me before you leave, okay?”
“Sounds good,” says Yoonji. She drinks more wine as Mina goes back to talk to Jaebum and his friends in the kitchen.
After a minute, Yoonji pulls out her phone to text Jimin.
just met minas new bf
ew, is he hot?
Yoonji is in the middle of typing yeah actually he is when Jimin sends another message.
are you ok?
lost 2 years off my life but yeah. i am holding up
do u want me to pick u up
me & tae are about to head out anyway
i got u girl. send me ur location we will leave asap
The weight on the couch shifts as Yoonji slides her phone back into her purse, and she looks up to see Jaebum settling in next to her. “Thank you for coming,” he says. He sounds like he means it. Yoonji tries to give him a chance; she doesn’t hate him as a person, just everything he represents.
“Welcome,” says Yoonji.
“Mina loves you,” he says. “She’s really happy you’re here.”
“Well, I’m here for her.”
“She’s told me a lot about you. I’m glad you two are still friends.”
Not still friends, she thinks. Friends again. She digs in her purse. “I got you this. Happy birthday. Thanks for inviting me.”
“Oh, it’s no problem, and thank you,” says Jaebum, taking Yoonji’s card, with one corner all crumpled and her scrawly handwriting on the back. “You didn’t have to.”
She did have to, but it’s okay. She’s most of the way through her too-full solo cup of wine, and she has something else for him. “You better be good to her,” she says. She means it to be imposing, but she feels so small. “She deserves a lot of respect. And no bullshit.”
Jaebum nods, almost like he’s taking Yoonji seriously. “I wanna do right by her,” he says. “I think she’s really special.”
Yoonji can’t be too mad at that, but this whole thing still makes her sore. She says, “Okay, mister. I’m watching you.” She takes a gulp of wine and sets the cup down on the side table, then she gets up without saying anything else. She goes to the kitchen to tell Mina she’s leaving.
“Already?” says Mina, half-drunk, acting like everyone is feeling the same things as her. “What about the cake? I think it’s soon.”
“I don’t want cake,” says Yoonji. “I’ll talk to you soon, though.”
“Okay,” says Mina, seeming a little sad. She tries to take Yoonji’s hand and Yoonji pulls back.
“Sorry,” she says. “I have to go.”
Mina frowns. “Yeah,” she says. “Well, alright.”
“Talk soon, though.”
“Yeah, talk soon,” says Mina tightly, and then she turns around and goes back to talking to one of Jaebum’s friends.
In the entryway, Yoonji puts on her big scarf and her jacket. She tries to let Mina’s disappointment roll off her instead of getting under her skin, joining all the other things that lodge in her ribs. Then she goes and sits outside shivering until Jimin comes to get her.
A little while later, Yoonji runs across the complex’s parking lot to get into Jimin’s car. Tae is driving, and Jimin is navigating from the passenger seat. Yoonji practically dives into the warmth of the back and throws the door closed behind her.
“In a hurry?” asks Tae.
“Get me out of here,” says Yoonji, teeth chattering.
“We’re going to karaoke, wanna come?” asks Jimin, turning around in her seat as Yoonji buckles herself in and Tae gets back on the road.
Yoonji pushes her hair back and takes a deep breath. “I’m already drunk,” she says. “And I’m having a bad day.”
“Then… wanna come watch us do karaoke?” says Jimin right away. “You’re already all cute, might as well save your night, right?” She smiles back at Yoonji. Streetlights flicker by as Tae drives a little too fast, and the changing light on Jimin’s highlighted cheekbones is fascinating.
“Yeah, save your night,” says Tae, swerving across two lanes to get to the left. “We’re gonna get wild.”
“Who are you meeting?”
“Nobody,” says Jimin. “And we’re going to Marie’s, so it’ll probably be dead. Tae just wanted to sing.”
Yoonji is still uncomfortable, but she figures it would be better to break down with her friends than alone at home, if she’s got to choose one. And she already feels a little less stifled and exhausted. Seeing Tae and Jimin is a relief, so she agrees. “I’ll come.”
Jimin grins and reaches back to squeeze Yoonji’s hand. Hers is so small and soft, but she has perfect acrylic nails, right now a pinkish mauve. She’s soft with a hard, glossy shell. Yoonji has a harder time feeling shitty about herself when Jimin is around. Jimin mouths You good? and Yoonji nods, smiling and trying not to seem disingenuous.
Tae screeches as they almost rear-end someone, then says, “Whoops!”
“Tae, please don’t crash my car. So embarrassing.”
“I’m trying,” says Tae, “But these people are driving like maniacs.”
This karaoke bar is in a quiet part of town, and can usually be depended on to be nearly empty. It survives mostly on being part of a chain with several far busier locations. Yoonji doesn’t know why they keep this one open, but she appreciates it. Even when it’s busier, the people who come are usually a little older, a little less trendy. The pressure is low enough that even Yoonji has been persuaded to sing, on two separate occasions, when she was drunk enough. The first time, she sang Heart's These Dreams, and the second, she drunkenly mumbled through Heart of Glass.
The lighting is low, the walls are mostly bare, the drinks are cheap and strong, and the song selection hasn’t been updated in five years at fewest. Tae and Jimin usually prefer to show off when they go out, but this half-dead dive bar is one of Yoonji’s favorite places. She wonders if Jimin and Tae re-routed their evening plans when they decided to invite her along.
As they walk up from the car, the sound of someone butchering a standard bleeds in from outside. Under her beige wool coat, Jimin is wearing a pale pink silk shirt tucked into a tight skirt, and her long pastel grey hair is curled perfectly. Tae is wearing slacks and an explosively-colored blouse with a high ruffled collar. Yoonji can almost hear them calling it a Goodwill Steal – who would get rid of such a treasure? Compared to the two of them, in her plain dark colors, Yoonji feels comfortably underdressed.
The bouncer who checks their IDs recognizes them, which is nice. Yoonji looks old enough and probably surly enough that she doesn’t always get carded anymore, but is still little anxious whenever it happens. It was a lot worse before she finished updating her ID last year, but there’s stress left over. She thinks people look at it harder than they used to.
Jimin insists on getting everybody’s first round, but Yoonji says, “I think I want to sober up. I’ll drive home later. You two have fun.”
“You sure?” says Jimin.
Yoonji nods. She’s teetering right now; she thinks another drink is likely to end in tears. “Get me water,” she says.
As Jimin goes to get drinks, Yoonji and Tae head the other way, to the big room where someone is now trying to rap. Yoonji heard laughter and chatter as she walked in, but she doesn’t realize how many people are actually here until she and Tae are scoping out tables. It looks mostly like one big party, Yoonji thinks, just as she sees someone at one of the big tables with a pile of gifts stacked in front of them. Above the stage, there's a tinsel banner that says Happy Birthday, swaying and glittering in the stage lights. There must be thirty people here. Yoonji takes a deep breath.
Tae looks down at her and makes questioning eye contact. Yoonji shrugs. “Where do you want to sit?” she yells.
Tae points at one small table off to the side. There are glasses on it, but they look like just ice. Yoonji leads them there.
They sit across from each other. Tae has sparkly pink lipgloss on and a shimmery blue clip in their hair. They smile at each other. One thing that is comforting about Tae is that Yoonji doesn't have to say that much for them to understand each other. Tae looks happy that Yoonji came along, and Yoonji returns the same look, though she doesn’t know how she actually feels. She’s avoiding overthinking it. She’s safe with her friends, but she probably should have gone straight home.
Jimin comes to the table, holding three glasses gracefully between her hands.
“What’d you get?” asks Tae as Jimin sits down next to them.
“Screwdriver,” says Jimin. “They ran out of punch.”
“Poor thing,” says Tae, squeezing Jimin’s shoulder.
“I got you a margarita.”
“And water for the designated driver,” Jimin says, sliding a glass over to Yoonji.
After a minute of drinking and deliberating, Jimin and Tae put in songs together. When they come back, Tae says, “KJ told me there are 15 songs before us, so get ready to wait around.”
Yoonji does some math in her head about how long 15 songs take. Then she looks at the time on her phone, and she decides she can do it. An hour to sober up and sit with her friends is not a bad thing.
Some of the people with the big party sing very bad songs, but some of them are very good, exciting and impressive. Tae and Jimin get really into someone’s rendition of a Vanessa Carlton song, and Tae yells, “I almost picked this one, but she did it better!”
Yoonji tries to pay attention to the singers instead of focusing on herself. She claps at the end of every song. She finds herself having a good time; she relaxes her shoulders, and she starts looking forward to Tae and Jimin’s songs.
It doesn’t feel like much time has passed when the KJ calls Jimin to the little stage. Yoonji and Tae yell for her as she takes the mic and strikes a pose. Behind her, the screen lights up: Seven Wonders, in the style of Fleetwood Mac.
“Yes!” Tae yells, clapping loudly. “Incredible!”
Jimin is both a talented singer and a talented dancer, as well as being very beautiful. Her voice is much softer and clearer than the original song, but she sings it with conviction while making eye contact with her audience. Even some of the people who came here for the stranger’s birthday party stop talking to watch her. She is hard not to admire. She’s small-framed but sturdy, with the proud posture of an athlete. Her makeup is interesting today; rather than the heavy no-makeup makeup look that Yoonji is used to seeing, she’s got fairly outlandish pink glitter on her eyelids and cheekbones. She’s shiny. She looks happy. She is so important to Yoonji.
Tae is a different kind of beautiful. Directly after Jimin, they sing If I Could Turn Back Time, as soulfully and attention-loving as Yoonji’s ever seen. They do flowy moves and make dramatic faces, and both Yoonji and a flushed, smiley Jimin are torn between laughter and awe. As soon as Tae sits back down, Yoonji can read Jimin’s lips say, “You’re amazing.” The two of them are so nice to each other.
Yoonji remembers the guy in the elevator this morning who didn’t want her to stand too close. She thinks about running into Hoseok in the park this afternoon, and about Mina, talking to her like she’d crumble if a breeze blew too hard through the room. Yoonji thinks about a lot of things all the time, but she doesn’t feel so overwhelmed right now. She’s not great at expressing herself when she feels vulnerable, but she’s trying. “Thanks for taking me out,” she says, a little suddenly, as Jimin and Tae are cackling at each other about something.
“Love you!” says Tae, grinning. Their eyeliner is a little smudged, but they’re still beautiful.
Jimin just smiles warmly and pats Yoonji’s shoulder across the table.
They start to get up to leave, because it’s getting late and Yoonji is exhausted. Tae is smiley and friendly, and Jimin seems content and relaxed. Yoonji is happy that she agreed to tag along; her night is much better than it would have been at home. All of them are comfortable, laughing as they pull their jackets back on and making sure they have their things before they leave. It’s always times like this when someone has something to say.
It’s a couple of guys from the big party. They’ve been passively staring a little, but if Yoonji was angry about everyone who passively stared she’d never have time to seek inner peace. These two guys don’t want to let them leave without saying something, so from a couple tables over, one of them spits a word they all hate.
Yoonji winces. She looks stonily at Jimin instead of in the direction of the two guys, and there is fire behind Jimin’s eyes as she glares. Then Yoonji looks to Tae, who is frowning, looking more disappointed than hurt. Yoonji hears the guys laugh. They don’t even sound cruel, they almost sound embarrassed. But they have nobody to impress by shouting slurs at strangers, and Yoonji really feels it. Her skin’s thin today. She refuses to look over at them, stares forward at Jimin instead.
But while Jimin’s fire doesn’t go out, she also doesn’t react with rage or pain. She just slurps at the ice in her glass, then smiles a little evilly across at the other table, waving with her fingers. “Good one,” she says.
“Yeah, ouch,” says Tae, also smiling. Then they look at Yoonji and laugh lightly.
“Do you have more for us?” says Jimin, loud enough for other people to overhear. “Or are you good?”
Yoonji finally glances over at the two guys. They look a little weak and ashamed and ugly, and she thinks they’ve probably never said something like that before. They were probably just feeling drunk and brave, but she doesn’t sympathize.
The guys have nothing else to say except to nervously laugh, and Tae scoffs as they walk by their table to the front door. “You’re fools,” Tae says, and it somehow sounds a lot more clever and powerful than what the two guys called them. As they walk out the door to Jimin’s car, Yoonji finds herself smiling again.
“Whoa, what happened to you?” says Yoonji, slinging her bag and jacket over the back of her rolly chair before plopping down. It’s a bright Monday morning after a week when it didn’t stop raining, and she’s enjoying the sunlight, if nothing else.
That’s not the case for Seokjin. He’s usually incredibly handsome, like a medieval prince, but today one of his eyes is almost swollen shut and his face is red and splotchy. He’s sitting limply, like he’s given up on himself. “You look wrecked,” she says.
Seokjin pouts, wincing. “It’s not what you think,” he starts.
“What do I think?”
“You think I have this rock-and-roll lifestyle,” he mutters. “Always… partying with local folk heroes, getting to steer all these fancy boats.” He gesticulates weakly. He looks so hungover.
“I do not think think that,” says Yoonji.
“The truth is much less glamorous.”
Yoonji scoffs; Seokjin looks up at her with sick, puffy eyes. “My parents are staying with me this week.”
“Okay,” she says. “Did you and your mom go on a daiquiri bender?”
“No,” he says. “They brought their new dog. Sophie. But she should be called Sneezy.”
“Clever,” says Yoonji. “I didn’t know you were allergic to dogs.”
“Some dogs,” he says. “Only some. It’s a mystery yet unsolved by modern medicine.” He takes a sip of his iced coffee, stretching his lips grotesquely to the straw so he doesn’t have to move his head from where it’s resting on a weak fist. “I think I’ll be fine. Sneezy just rubbed her body on my face all night. But I took like three allergy pills earlier, so I’ll probably be fine.”
“Yeah,” Seokjin croaks. “Three times the strength.”
“Does it work that way?”
“Probably. But how was your weekend, Yoonji?” he asks, feigning enthusiasm. “Did you do anything cool?”
“No,” she says. “Unless getting wine drunk and crying in my best friend’s car counts.” She winces; that comes off a little desperate. “Just kidding.”
“Namjoon?” Seokjin asks, looking piqued.
“No,” she says. “Jimin.”
“Oh.” He takes another weird sip of his coffee. “Isn’t that what you and Jimin always do?”
“Forgive me for being in touch with my emotions,” Yoonji grumbles, and Seokjin laughs so hard that he chokes. It sounds bad, and Yoonji wonders idly if he needs help. She bites back a smile, too, and says, “Oh, get bent.”
“Forgive me for being in touch with my emotions, she says.”
“My foot’s gonna be in touch with your caboose.”
“What were you crying about?” says Seokjin.
“In Jimin’s car?” He snorts his allergy snot back up his nose.
“Oh,” says Yoonji. “Nothin’. But thanks.”
“Anytime,” says Seokjin, doing sad, crooked finger guns, then he coughs so hard into a tissue that Yoonji has to put her headphones in to drown it out.
Late that afternoon, Yoonji runs into Hoseok as she cuts across the park on the way to the train. Or, Hoseok runs into her. She’s almost to the crosswalk when she hears him jogging up, stupid clear poncho crinkling.
“Hey, Yoonji,” he says, hands in the pockets of his park jacket with a name tag she didn’t notice before: Hobi. “How’s it going?”
Yoonji isn’t sure why he’s asking her personal questions as if they are friends. She says, “Fine.”
“You’re off early today,” he says, smiling, walking alongside her.
“I make my own schedule,” she says. She came in early this morning because she made happy hour plans with Jimin.
“Cool,” says Hoseok. They’re about at the edge of the park, and it seems like Hoseok has picked up that she doesn’t want to talk to him right now. “Well,” he says, a little defeated, “Have a good afternoon.”
“Sorry, yeah. I’m kind of in a hurry.” Yoonji isn’t trying to be rude, but she doesn’t like how familiarly he talks to her. They’re not friends like that. They’re not friends at all. She leaves him at the corner of his block and half-jogs to the train stop.
She thinks about it as she watches downtown pass by out the window: her building, the sprawling mall, then down at the grey river as the train crosses a tall bridge. She wonders why Hoseok thinks she still wants to talk to him, after such a failure of a date. She wonders why he doesn’t just let it go.
When she gets home, she’s surprised that Jimin’s keys aren’t on the hook, but then she looks at her phone.
On my way!
Jimin walks in a few minutes later, throwing her bag on the couch and saying, “Sorry I’m late. This lady walked in three minutes before close and would not leave.” She does a mean impression. “I have combo skin and I need special cream.”
“It’s fine,” says Yoonji, who is standing at the kitchen counter eating cold leftovers. “But we should get going pretty soon if we don’t want to miss happy hour.”
“Sure, let me just change,” says Jimin.
If Yoonji didn’t know better, she’d ask Jimin what was wrong with what she was already wearing. Even at her most bedraggled, Jimin looks more put together than Yoonji at her best. She’d tell Jimin she looked fine, they should just go, but she knows that the answer is always going to be the same. Jimin will never leave until she’s ready, and no force of heaven or earth can fight it.
Yoonji follows Jimin into her room and plops down on her bed, lying back on top of the covers with her phone open while Jimin chooses an outfit.
She has a message from Namjoon.
mausoleum tour today
u were supposed to take me??
service is bad -- I’m in a crypt. will let u know how it went.
awaiting a full report.
Jimin chose her room in this apartment based on its bigger closet. She slides the mirrored door open and takes out three tops before she even tries one on. Instead of puzzling over them, she throws off the grey sweater she wore to work and pulls on one of the shirts she set out. It’s a soft knit in burgundy, low-cut and drapey. She looks at herself in the mirror and says, “Oh. This is good.”
“It is,” agrees Yoonji. “It’s boob-y.”
“Great. I’ll look available.”
Yoonji sort of scoffs, but tries to hide it. If Jimin is available, then Yoonji is a sweetheart. She’s so blind to what’s in front of her, but it's not Yoonji's job to play matchmaker.
Jimin tugs at her shirt a little to get it to sit right, and is satisfied enough to start looking for pants. Yoonji is amazed it was that easy, though Jimin is still not nearly done fussing. But, though she spends a while fixing her makeup, she seems uncommonly easygoing about her appearance today.
She peeks out of the bathroom and says, “Am I wearing too much highlighter?”
“No,” says Yoonji placatingly.
“Guess I need more,” says Jimin, and she goes back in and gets even shinier.
“Hey,” says Yoonji.
Jimin peeks out.
Yoonji puts her phone down. “I like you when you don’t take yourself so seriously.”
Jimin laughs self-consciously, then acts like she doesn’t know what Yoonji is talking about.
“You know,” says Yoonji. She’s only willing to be so sentimental in one go.
“I guess I’ve been talking to Tae,” says Jimin, back in the bathroom across the hall, just out of Yoonji’s line of sight.
“Really?” asks Yoonji, wondering if this means what she thinks it means. That maybe they admitted they were soulmates, or whatever. Though Yoonji would certainly have heard about that before now. They’d probably both have told her immediately.
“Yeah,” says Jimin. “About… what you said. Taking everything so seriously. They said something interesting.”
“Hm?” says Yoonji, locking her phone and setting it down on her chest, still laying back in Jimin’s bed.
“They said, that seems uncomfortable.”
“Something I was wearing. That blue top with the laces up the sides. I can't really move in it.”
Yoonji doesn’t really get it, but she says, “Okay.”
Jimin, now all luminescent, comes out of the bathroom and spreads back on her plush bed next to Yoonji. “I’m uncomfortable a lot, you know?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Tae’s almost never uncomfortable.”
“I admire that about them,” says Yoonji. Tae is so comfortable in their skin, so amicable, so difficult to offend. Yoonji’s talked to them about that before, too.
“We’ve just been talking, I guess.” Jimin sighs. She seems like she’s going to say more, but maybe doesn’t want to, or maybe doesn’t have the words, so she sits up. “Should we go? I think I’m ready.”
Yoonji and Jimin are seated in the dim corner of a trendy bar just over the river long before happy hour is over. It’s Jimin’s turn to order for them, so she leaves her bag and her coat hung over the back of the chair and goes to the bar. Yoonji checks her phone to a bunch of messages from Namjoon.
I love this shit.
All the volunteers were old people dressed in goth period attire
Look, it’s you.
He sends a picture of a mourning angel statue, her face draped in sheer fabric.
thanks i guess
There was scary accordion music playing when i went into these catacombs and i didn’t know if it was a recording or live.
And then i walked all the way to the end and there was a goth girl playing accordion in a pitch black crypt.
u need to take me asap
“I got you whiskey soda,” says Jimin, tossing her hair back as she slips into the booth and puts two drinks down. “Wine’s not on happy hour.”
“What kind of a bar is this?” whispers Yoonji as she sets her phone face down on the table, pulling her drink over and sipping through the stir straw. “Why did you bring me here if the wine’s not on sale?”
Jimin takes a sip of her drink, too. It’s deep pink, with berries and mint leaves floating in a mason jar. “Should have called ahead,” Jimin agrees.
“What did you get?”
“Some kind of jungle juice,” shrugs Jimin.
“Is it good?”
Jimin smiles, straw between her teeth, and takes a big drink. “Sure,” she says unconvincingly. Then she asks, “What’d you do today?”
“Uh,” Yoonji thinks. “Wrote an article about fidget spinners. And made a lot of progress on 10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Moon.”
“That’s an honorable use of a journalism degree. Truthfulness, accuracy, what is it?”
“Accountability, fairness, humanity, objectivity. Yeah. Fidget spinners.”
“Proud of you.”
Yoonji goes on. “I have to step up because Seokjin's been hallucinating all week. He took three allergy pills yesterday, and when I asked him what he was working on, he was just like, I’m astral projecting all over the place.”
“He’s such a mess,” smiles Jimin.
“I love him, but if he doesn’t stop blowing his nose every thirty seconds, I might have to end him.” She thinks back on her day. “Oh, and I saw that guy I went on a date with the other week. Did I tell you he works below my building?”
“No,” says Jimin, gossipy, taking a sip of her jungle juice. “Joon’s friend, right?”
“Yeah, he said he was a park ranger, but he’s actually a park host.”
“What’s that mean?”
Yoonji shrugs. “Don’t know. Probably that he’s a liar. Anyway, he always wants to talk when I see him.”
“But you hate to make friends,” nods Jimin.
“No, I just don’t want to make friends with him.”
“But isn’t he actually sweet?”
“I think too sweet. For me. I don’t know if he’s smart.”
“Well,” says Jimin. “You don’t have to like him just because he’s Joon’s friend.”
“Whatever,” says Yoonji. “What about you? What was your day like?”
“Oh, normal. I just worked.” She’s distracted, looking above Yoonji’s head at the TV over the bar. “Hey, would you want to go see The Darkening with me? It’s supposed to be actually scary.”
“Sure,” asks Yoonji, twisting around to catch the tail end of the preview playing on the muted screen. The screen goes black, then the title slashes across the screen in red like tearing claws. “Tonight?”
“Maybe tomorrow? I’m meeting Tae after this.”
“Tomorrow’s good,” shrugs Yoonji. “How’s Tae?” she asks, at the bottom of her weak drink already.
Jimin smiles without her eyes. “Oh, good. Super.”
“Thanks.” Jimin looks a little morose. “It’s the usual stuff. I don’t wanna fuck it up.”
“Just” Yoonji says, “Just… be yourself.”
“Wise,” says Jimin. “I’ll make sure to follow that advice.”
Yoonji’s phone vibrates on the table. She looks at it, then sets it back down without opening the message. When Jimin looks at her questioningly, Yoonji says, “It’s just Mina. Go on. You’re in romantic love with your best friend, what else? What are you two doing after this?”
“Ew, what does Mina want?”
“To make plans this week.”
“You can invite her to The Darkening with us, if you want.”
“She hates horror movies,” mutters Yoonji. They always make her scream, and then she gets embarrassed and stops having fun. She’s always cranky by the end. “Do you think I could just ignore her?”
“Not if you want her to think you two are cool.”
Yoonji messes with her hair. Her bangs are getting kind of long. “I don’t know if we are cool.”
Jimin slurps at the bottom of her drink and looks up at Yoonji, a little concerned. “You don’t have to be cool.”
“It’s just weird,” says Yoonji. “I don’t know if she knows how weird it is.”
“You’d think she would,” says Jimin.
“I guess it’s nice of her to want to talk to me.”
“Take care of yourself first,” says Jimin, looking at Yoonji seriously, and then she swoops out of the booth. “Another? I’m getting another.”
Yoonji checks her phone for the time and sees another message from Mina. It’s still early. “Sure, another,” she says.
After high school, Yoonji got to go to her first choice college. It was huge and far from home, and she thought that she’d be able to become a girl without anyone really noticing.
She knew, logically, that it wouldn’t go like that, but she thought it might be easy. She’d lay low until it was over and then she’d be fine. She had been forming her plan since tenth grade.
It wouldn’t have worked in high school. She grew up in a smallish suburb, and she didn’t want the people who had known her since she was tiny to watch her undergo this change. She didn’t think they’d let her do it. After it was over, she’d figure out how to come home proudly, but she wanted to disappear while she figured it out.
But she planned it too exactly, and didn’t think about the way the world is; harsh, and inconvenient, and surprising. On a level, she’d known that she’d need to be tough, but she hadn’t realized exactly how tough. She thought she was ready.
It was impossible to lay low completely, because she still had to go to class, still had to leave her room a lot. She didn’t want to hide inside anyway, when the fall weather was so comfortable and the campus was so pretty. And she didn’t really follow her own rule not to make any friends. It all got messier than she wanted.
She started to collect new clothes, grow her hair out, wear subtle makeup and generally try to trick new people into thinking that she’d always been like this. But it was hard not to take things personally. People said things, sometimes asked things, and she didn’t even know how to talk about it yet. She didn’t know how to say, actually, I’m a girl. That’s second nature now, and sometimes it doesn’t even bother her to say it. It’s not like she can blame people for having their heads up their asses. Well, she can, but if she spent her whole life being mad at everybody who doesn’t know better, she’d never rest. Life is hard enough. Her general grudge against the universe probably covers most uncomfortable day-to-day interactions.
Now, she’s got the thick skin she didn’t have the first time she went to college. When people at convenience stores say, have a good day, sir, she’s good at looking at them like, what the fuck. “Actually, I’m a woman,” she sometimes says. Especially if she’s buying alcohol, because her ID says F and it was a hassle to change and it’s just bad form for people not to acknowledge the money and patience and hard work that goes into these things.
It’s now more of a problem with old friends than it is with strangers. Strangers behave themselves more often than not, but people from before can be surprisingly hard to convince. Her parents live an hour from her, so has to visit sometimes, and she's caught up with a couple of old friends since transitioning. People from high school or her first jobs that she ignored for a long time, thinking she had to choose between two lives. But part of doing this so late was trying to accept that it’s not feasible to meet all new people and make all new friends. She can’t run from her life again. She just has to deal with the fact that people she trusted still sometimes say her old name.
“Honestly, it’s not that hard,” she told someone, one of the more recent times she was home. She was going to eat dinner with her parents later, but met up for coffee with a high school friend on the way. It was a girl she’d either had a crush on or wanted to be; she can never figure out the distinction when she looks back. She’d never acted on it, though, and they’d just been slightly awkward lab partners as juniors, then slightly awkward friends as seniors. “It’s one letter different. Yoonji. With a J.”
“It might be easier if it was a completely different name,” said her old friend. “It’s hard to remember since it’s so close.”
Depending on Yoonji’s mood, she responds to things like that on a sliding scale from slightly vindictive all the way up to hateful. This time, she said, “Guess I wasn’t thinking about you when I chose my name.”
It’s not even that she really minds her old name. She even considered keeping it, but thought that might send a message that she didn’t really mean it, didn’t care that much if people gave a new version of her a chance. And that’s the only reason she doesn’t like it now; she only hears it when people don’t take her seriously.
She thought about a lot of names. The first time she went to college, she was sure it was going to be Haneul. But the first time she went to college, she was trying to become someone else. Her expectations are different now. She’s not grasping at an identity she doesn’t understand anymore, she just wants to like herself.
Now, it’s more like she’s getting rid of things that were always in the way before. She’s still finding, day by day, an estimation of the person that she’s always been. In college, the first time, it wasn’t like that. It was a frantic grappling at this image of femininity that she didn’t even relate to. And she didn’t want anyone to know what she was doing, and she was terrified.
The biggest problem with college, the first time she went, was that she didn’t have an accurate view of what her life was going to be like. She didn’t even know how to regulate her own sleep schedule or keep herself fed; she had no idea what it meant to be an adult. The problem was that she thought it would be easy, but she had no idea about anything. That first semester, she started having panic attacks, and she developed this paranoid anxiety that never really went away. She went to school that semester a sweet and optimistic person, but she hasn’t found that again since.
By the time she went back home, she’d rethought a lot of things. It was the hardest part of her life, harder even than the months leading up to coming out for real, six years later. She had an image of the world that was proven very wrong very quickly, and the plummet was painful.
Looking back, a lot of things caused it. She was depressed, she was scared, and she thought people were looking at her all the time. She thought they were talking about her. She’d realized that she had chosen, between two paths, the one that would require her to be constantly vigilant, forever. The one that had gotten her yelled at, once, as she crossed the street to the campus bookstore, and the one that had made the tentative math friend she’d made at the beginning of the semester decide he didn’t want to look at her anymore.
That’s her life now, too. When she came out, her office friendships changed. Though her company is supportive, she knows which of her coworkers are uncomfortable. People in cars yell out their windows at her. More than once, on the train, men have sat down next to her and struck up conversations just to tell her she’s misguided, as if she invited that at all. Sometimes, she reads comments on things online, and it quickly reminds her. No matter how many people love her, no matter how lucky she is to have an intact life and a job and parents, there are people in the world and people around her who do not think she is a woman, or even really a person.
In college, she realized she had chosen one of two paths, and when she realized how hard it was going to be to live the rest of her life as a girl, she reassessed. She measured the two paths against each other. The different kinds of misery that came with each one. The kind of misery that came from other people and was costly and would take a long time, or the kind that she could just hold onto in silence for the rest of her life. She decided on the second one.
Because of this, and because she was too anxious to go to class much and too embarrassed to show her face, she dropped out of school and moved back home. It was just too much all at once, she told her parents. She just wasn’t ready.
The next morning, Yoonji gets to work early with two green smoothies. She’s trying really hard to beat the discomfort that’s been nagging at her lately, and, according to everyone, eating and sleeping well are supposed to help. Though a few years ago she’d try to argue with claims like that, she now understands that her mind and her body are intrinsically connected.
“Hey, Allerjin,” she says, forcing herself to be upbeat, scooting his smoothie across the table. “I got you vitamins.”
“Yuck,” he says, “What is this?” He makes a grossed-out face, which isn’t that different from what he looks like already, with his eyes all swollen like that.
“It’s gonna heal you. Jeez, can you not lock Sneezy out of your room at night?”
“I did,” says Seokjin. “But her hair is already everywhere. And after spending yesterday in the fifth dimension, I no longer know how I feel about Zyrtec.”
“Are your parents doing anything about this?”
“They’re trying to find a dog sitter, but nothing yet.” He sniffles. “Thanks for the vegetables,” he says pitifully.
“Anytime,” she says, then she tries to get to work for both of them.
On Wednesday, Yoonji and Hoseok take the same train.
Yoonji is reading on her phone, so she doesn’t see him until he comes and stands right over her. “Yoonji, hi,” he says. He looks happy to see her there. The train is dim from the sky gone grey and rainy again after a few days of cold November sunshine. He’s wearing the park hat that doesn’t fit right on his weird head and folds his ears over, but has changed into a denim jacket.
She pulls her headphones out. “Hi, Hoseok.”
“Hey, how are you?” he asks, and he sits right next to her.
This feels like a violation of personal space. Yoonji doesn’t know why Hoseok thinks they’re best friends just because they work near each other and met one time. “I’m not interested in dating you,” she says, just so he doesn’t get the wrong idea.
“Wow,” he says quickly, eyes big, a hand coming to his chest. “I didn’t think you were. We’re just on the same train.”
“Stop following me,” she says. “It’s weird.”
“I’m… not,” he says, looking hurt. “We’re on the same train.”
She feels suddenly like she is in over her head.
As she searches for a response, Hoseok says, “Um, what’s your problem? I’m just being nice because I see you everywhere. I’m trying to be friendly.” When she looks up at him in mild shock, he seems really upset. “You don’t have to be rude.”
“Okay,” she says, because she doesn’t know what else to say. She wants to say something else, but she doesn’t know what, so she just looks at him. “Yeah.”
That is not good enough for Hoseok. He gives her a mean look, then grabs the railing to steady himself as he slings his bag over his shoulder and goes to sit at the other end of the train.
One time, toward the very end of their relationship, Yoonji made Mina cry.
They were arguing about something so stupid, what movie they wanted to see and when and where, but both of them were starting to take little arguments too personally, Yoonji especially.
“Why are we even doing this?” Yoonji snapped, after Mina took her phone out of her hand to scroll showtimes.
Mina let Yoonji take her phone back and frowned. “Do you not even want to try?” she said. They were already dressed to go out, Mina in a suede skirt and a flowy floral blouse, and Yoonji in jeans and a beanie. “That’s it? You just don’t want to go?”
“Not if it’s like this,” said Yoonji, pushing Mina’s hand away when she tried to reach out, like a kid having a tantrum.
“I’ve hardly seen you all week,” said Mina, starting to get watery. “I was really looking forward to this, and now we can’t even pick a showing of Jurassic World. Dude, what do you want?” She sounded so defeated.
What do you want. Yoonji laughed. She wanted lot of things, some so badly that she couldn’t think about anything else, and for so long that they felt like a part of who she was. Not the things themselves, just the wanting of them. But that wasn’t what they were talking about. “I don’t want to see Jurassic World.”
“That’s not what I asked you,” said Mina, tears in her eyes, standing close to Yoonji and getting tall like she had to prove she could stand her ground. “What do you want?”
Yoonji took a deep breath and said, “I want to order in and watch a movie here.”
And that’s when Mina cried.
Yoonji didn’t understand it at the time; she thought she was giving Mina what she wanted. A date, the basic maintenance of a relationship, even though Yoonji couldn’t stand being around anyone right then. She thought she was compromising.
A year later, one of the times they met up to clear the air, Mina laughed at her for that. “I know,” she said. “You thought you were meeting me halfway, but I just wanted to know what you were thinking. I thought you hated me, I didn’t even know why we were still together. I thought you were cheating.”
Yoonji was sad to hear that. “I didn’t know you thought I was cheating.”
Mina made an apologetic face and said, simple, “I found lipstick in your bag.”
“Sorry. I didn’t really go through it, I was just looking for a lighter.”
“Cool,” said Yoonji. She wasn’t mad, just uncomfortable, which was kind of just the way. “That’s fine.”
“I get it now,” said Mina awkwardly.
Yoonji took a sip of her tea. To cut the tension, she said flatly, “Well, the lipstick was mine.”
Mina smiled a little, so selflessly understanding that Yoonji had to return it.
Yoonji wasn’t in the habit of carrying makeup before she broke up with Mina, so she thinks she knows the exact night that Mina found the lipstick in her bag. She almost remembers the diner, how she was exhausted, late spring in the dead of night, nobody on the road, and the trip to the bathroom that she spent locked in the stall gathering herself. She took so long, she thinks, that Mina reached into the front pocket of Yoonji's plain black backpack to find a lighter, but grabbed an unassuming silver tube of lipstick instead. Yoonji knows the shade: Uptown Girl, almost blood-red. She still wears that color often.
She knows why it was in the front of her backpack instead of with the others at home, shoved into an old plastic drug store bag in the back of a bathroom drawer behind razors, extra deodorant, a bottle of mouthwash; she knows why it wasn’t pushed into the dark and hidden back there as if she didn’t live alone, as if anyone would even care if they knew it was there.
Yoonji had seen Jimin that day. They weren’t really friends, but they had this kind of understanding, and Yoonji trusted her, albeit in a strange and hesitant way. Yoonji had trust with Jimin that she couldn’t even have with Namjoon, exactly. Probably because he already knew too many of her embarrassments, and wouldn’t allow her to get away with carrying around another one.
Yoonji was an increasingly frequent visitor to the small makeup store where Jimin worked in the outdoor mall downtown. Over the past month, they had developed a sort of routine. On a Tuesday or a Wednesday on her lunch breaks, Yoonji would walk two blocks to Jimin’s store. Then, if Jimin was working alone and if there were no customers inside, Yoonji would go in and pretend to be looking for gifts for her girlfriend.
That never felt good to say, even though, in this lie, the girlfriend wasn’t Mina. It just felt stupid, and Jimin knew it as well as Yoonji did. Yoonji knew right away that telling Jimin the truth would feel better than lying, whether to keep her secret or just out of habit. But there were a lot of times through the years when telling the truth would have been easier. A lot of times when it would have been harder, too, and the nature of Yoonji’s problem was that one didn’t come without the other. Either come out with it, and be strong enough to face all the good and all the bad, or don’t, and hold it under your skin like the soreness is just part of who you are.
But, Yoonji thinks that might have been the day she finally told Jimin. She remembers Uptown Girl and she remembers being so shaky and overwhelmed later that night that she’d hidden in the men’s bathroom at the diner instead of lighting up in the alley with Mina. So Mina had dug for a lighter and found blood-red lipstick instead.
Whether it was the same day or not, Yoonji remembers telling Jimin with perfect clarity. It’s one of the clearest memories of her life, along with the appointment with the endocrinologist when she’d gotten her anemia figured out and they finally prescribed her hormones, and breaking up with Mina, and standing on a bridge in the middle of the night during freshman year of college and willing herself to let go of whatever was keeping her from jumping into the black water.
Jimin was wearing what Yoonji has since come to know as her standard makeup look. She calls it a no-makeup look, but it involves a lot more makeup than Yoonji knows how to apply, even still. She had a french braid around the side of her head but the rest of her hair was loose, curled and bouncy. Her hair was honey blonde at the time. Yoonji wanted to be her.
“Back again?” Jimin asked, looking blandly up from the phone that she didn’t even bother to hide behind the register. They both knew why Yoonji was here. They both knew this was a lie they were telling because Yoonji couldn’t bear to say the truth yet, even though the truth was right there, in kicks and ripped jeans and a beanie, glaring at the mascara display and refusing to ask incriminating questions. They both knew why she only visited when Jimin was alone, and why, when she described the girlfriend she was ostensibly there buying gifts for, she always had the same skin tone and eye shape as Yoonji did. It was so obvious, and finally, maybe the same day that Mina later found the lipstick in her bag, Yoonji figured she had to just say it.
Though, honestly, it wasn’t only because the lie had become unsustainable, or because Jimin had mentioned being trans, or because she was always so gentle and helpful and worded her questions in a way that never assumed anything. It was also because Yoonji’s therapist had made her promise to tell someone that week.
“Whether you want to or not, whether it’s their business or not,” her therapist had told her, “You’re going to have to tell every person you know, one way or another.”
“I know,” Yoonji had said.
“Have you considered coming out to your girlfriend?”
“Not yet,” she’d said. She was going to tell Mina and dump her at the same time, because she was the worst. She wasn’t ready for all that yet. As soon as she told Mina, everyone would know. Mina couldn’t know until Yoonji was ready. All the way ready, to be herself all the time, forever.
Her therapist had made her promise to tell just one person. She’d hinted that it should be Namjoon, or maybe Seokjin. Yoonji chose to tell her acquaintance, an employee at a makeup store.
The small store was grey and cool like a cave, but the lights that cut down from the ceiling were hot and harsh and bright. Yoonji usually hid out of the spotlights, but when she told Jimin, she was lit from above like someone on a stage. She felt garish and on-display , but it didn’t stop her from saying it once she had decided it was time. It was just too stupid to keep saying things like, “My girlfriend says Crazy for Coral is too pink. It doesn’t suit her.”
She didn’t use any of the keywords; those were still uncomfortable. She just interrupted Jimin in the middle of describing a kind of eyeliner and said, “This is for me.”
“Hm,” said Jimin quietly. “That’s good info.”
“Okay,” said Yoonji, stomach-sick even though she knew it was fine; maybe just sick from the physical release of her private words into the still air of the store.
“This will help because you can make sure the colors are good before you buy them.”
Yoonji exhaled, inhaled, exhaled. She said, “I think I want to try some really red lipstick.” Before I met you, I was still using makeup I stole from my mom in high school.
“I think that would suit you,” said Jimin. She looked quietly proud, and it didn’t make Yoonji feel any less exposed, but it wasn’t painful. It was overwhelming, but now that her heart was slowing down, she almost felt like laughing.
Yoonji tried a few colors before she found the shade that she ended up taking home, without a bag, just tucked into the pocket of her backpack. They were alone and spoke quietly, except for a customer who came in while Jimin was helping Yoonji try on a color that ended up being too orange.
“Welcome in,” said Jimin. “Can I help you find anything today?” From her tone, she clearly meant, You’re interrupting a private conversation.
The other woman left as Yoonji hid her face in her hands, silently laughing with embarrassment. Jimin turned back to her, immediately gentle and sweet again. She could be like that: soft-voiced and accommodating, loving you exactly where you were, then gossipping like a snake the next second.
Yoonji didn’t know exactly what to make of that until they had been friends long enough for Jimin to stop being so soft with her. She used to be so protective, but unlike with other people, there wasn’t pity in it, just care. Just understanding. Still, it felt good when Jimin finally stopped speaking to her so gently. The trust to be alright without her guidance felt like a victory.
Pumpkin is one of Yoonji’s best friends. He hangs out with her when she's bored or lonely, and he is interesting. He is also a great conversationalist with apt comedic timing, but he never lets Yoonji pick him up and carry him around like Namjoon is doing now, a blunt hanging out of his mouth. Not ever. Namjoon can do anything to Pumpkin and he loves it.
“Hey, can I shotgun your roommate’s cat?” Namjoon laughs, eyes crinkling at Pumpkin as he smiles.
“No,” she says, grabbing the blunt from his mouth. Pumpkin flinches, and she rolls her eyes at him. “The answer is always no. We hotbox the poor kid enough.”
“I think he likes it?” says Namjoon. He rearranges Pumpkin so his fluffy belly is all spread out and his little white hands stretch above him, kneading at the air.
Pumpkin says, “Grrow?”
“See, he likes it. He just said he likes it.”
Pumpkin quickly bites Namjoon’s arm. Namjoon yelps and drops him, and he skitters away into Jimin’s room, making noises.
“Tell me more about how much he likes it,” says Yoonji, passing the blunt back to Namjoon and sitting cross-legged on the couch. “I swear, if Jimin saw the half of what you do that that poor cat.”
Namjoon takes a hit and sits down on the floor in front of Yoonji, head tipped back onto the cushion. He smiles up at her. “‘Sup,” he says. She pats his head.
“Nothin’,” she says. “‘Sup with you?”
“Thinkin’ about how much money the government spends on UFO research.”
“How much money?” asks Yoonji.
“Billions,” whispers Namjoon, eyes closing. He adjusts himself to sit up straight. “It’s so scary.”
“The government is scary, or aliens are scary?”
“UFOs,” he corrects. “We don’t know if they’re aliens. The U is for unidentified. And both are scary. The whole thing is super scary. Like, what if we’re just livestock for a higher race? Or what if the earth is fake?”
“What if you’re fake, Joon?” she says, poking his shoulder.
“Don’t say that. I couldn’t handle it if I was fake.”
“Okay,” she says. “Sorry. You’re not fake.”
“Neither are you,” says Namjoon, reaching up to awkwardly pat Yoonji’s arm. “What are you thinkin’ about?”
Yoonji scoots down to the ground next to Namjoon. She takes a hit and passes the blunt back. She says, “I think I was mean to someone today.”
“Who?” asks Namjoon. “Seokjin?”
“No,” says Yoonji. She’s always mean to Seokjin; he can take it. “Hoseok. I saw him on the train.”
“Why?” says Namjoon. “He’s a really, really, really nice person.”
“I was just joking,” she says, “I think.”
“What did you say?”
She laughs at herself. “I told him to fuck off.”
“Yoonji,” Namjoon chides, passing back the blunt. “That’s not a very funny joke.”
“I know,” she whines. “Why did I say that?”
“Hey,” says Namjoon, getting a little serious, though he still talks and moves like the air is more solid than usual. “He’s a really nice person. If you don’t like him, that’s fine. I feel like you two could really get along, but that’s fine. But don’t make it your project to ruin his life just because he’s there and it’s easy to make him squirm.”
She goes to say something offended, how she’d never do something like that to someone, but Namjoon is still talking. “He’s going through some shit, too. He’s going through this big old ugly breakup and… hell.” He takes another hit, and Yoonji laughs even though she’s kind of hurt at the things Namjoon is saying. “I just think you’re both,” starts Namjoon, “like, beginning these beautiful new chapters of your lives.”
“Well,” she starts.
“‘Course it’s not the same thing,” Namjoon says, before Yoonji even has a chance to tell him that. “I just think you might have more in common with him than you think.”
“You’re a shit matchmaker,” she says, just because she started feeling really crappy really fast.
“Don’t date him,” says Namjoon, waving a hand in front of his face. “Whatever, you were right. You’re not ready. But don’t be mean. I love you because you seem mean but you’re actually darling. You can’t be actually mean or you’ll ruin it.”
She pulls her knees up to her chest. Namjoon offers her the end of the blunt, but she waves him off.
“Sorry to get real,” he says. “But he’s my family, so. What can you do?”
“He’s not your family,” she says weakly.
“Whatever he is,” says Namjoon, finishing the blunt, coughing a little at the end. “He’s this, this whole person with all these subtle things going on, and we don’t even know about most of them. Crazy, right?”
“Sure it’s crazy.”
“He’s the center of his own universe. The whole universe, from his eyes, emanates outward from his own self.” He gasps a little. “Well that’s cool.”
“You’re stoned,” Yoonji says. Namjoon smiles. Yoonji says, “Can we put on some TV?”
“For sure,” he says, fumbling the remote into his hands. “More Sailor Moon?”
Of the million things constantly on Yoonji’s mind, two are in the forefront this morning. The first is to keep meeting quota for both herself and Seokjin, since Seokjin is still too swollen to be useful. According to him, his parents found a sitter for Sneezy, but the damage has been done, and even if the allergies are subsiding, he’s got days of snot to blow out his nose and one side of his face is still rashy.
The second, which is less technically difficult but far more stressful than writing three listicles, is apologizing to Hoseok.
She doesn’t really think she should have to, but after Namjoon left last night she spent the rest of the night feeling shitty and stupid. It surprised her to hear Namjoon talk about Hoseok going through a breakup; she hadn’t really been thinking about him as someone who did things other than wear stupid hats and bother her. She’s alright with being judgmental, but she doesn’t want to be cruel. She doesn’t ever look back and like the way she acted when she was too wrapped up in her own misery to be careful with other people.
So, Yoonji has made the decision to go down to the park and try to tell Hoseok that she feels bad about the way she acted. It’s not the kind of thing she’s in the habit of doing, but it feels important right now, if only because she’ll probably keep running into him and she doesn’t want it to be awkward. But, really, that’s not fair. The reason she wants to apologize is that she feels bad for hurting Hoseok’s feelings.
Come noon, Yoonji has written a respectable amount of I Am Too Old To Learn Snapchat. It’s a relief to get up and go breathe different air, even though it’s raining hard and it’s so cold. She takes her lunch bag and her phone, puts on her hat and jacket, and goes downstairs to the park.
What she didn’t consider was that maybe Hoseok wouldn’t be here. After five minutes at a corner table under the tall awning, eating her leftover stir fry with chopsticks in frozen fingers, listening to the rain pour angrily and gurgle down to the storm drains at the bottom of the street, she realizes that Hoseok probably isn’t working. She sees another one of the park hosts walking around in a poncho and assumes she’s here alone. Yoonji pouts as she boxes up the rest of her food. Even though she doesn’t really want to be doing this, it’s disappointing to have nowhere to put all the nervous energy she’s been collecting.
Before she goes back to her building to warm up, she peeks around the park one last time. Yoonji knows there’s a park office in the building in the corner with the bathroom, so on her way back to the front doors of her office building, she walks by and casually peeks into the open door.
Hoseok is inside. He makes eye contact with her and then looks away quickly, frowning. He looks kind of fucked up and soulless, shaky and pale with his eyes unfocused. Maybe he hasn’t slept or something. Maybe a vampire bit him and he is undergoing the great change. Upstairs, two of her coworkers are sick, too; maybe there’s something going around.
She stares through the doorway, waiting for him to look back up. He doesn’t; instead he stands up from his chair and closes the door in her face.
For a second, she just looks at it. It’s frosted glass, sleek like everything in this downtown neighborhood. It says, in a non serif modern font, Park Employees Only. She knocks.
“Jihyo?” comes Hoseok’s muffled, quiet voice, hardly audible over the rain.
“Still me,” says Yoonji.
Hoseok opens the door a crack, peering through it, and sighs. “Are you here to insult me?”
“No,” she says, a little small.
“Then what do you want?”
“To apologize for yesterday.”
He looks at her uncertainly for a moment, then he opens the door.
They look at each other for a second. Hoseok is so sallow. He says, “Well?”
“I’m sorry for yesterday.”
“Okay,” says Hoseok. “Apology accepted.”
She doesn’t know what else to say. She shifts from foot to foot for a minute, and then she says, “Well. See you around.”
“Sure,” says Hoseok as she turns to go.