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The day Sol leaves for America, it rains. 

In the back of her mind, she recognizes the poetry of it all, a sign that maybe, just maybe, something out there is warning her against this. But she forces herself to focus on the annoyance of the now-doused cigarette in her hand, the loss of the chance to have her last smoke on home soil for the next four months.

She tosses the useless stick into the trash and makes her way into the airport. From there, it’s robotic. Though it’s been a number of years since Sol has been on a plane, the process hasn’t changed. She checks her bags, goes through security, and waits in a slightly uncomfortable terminal seat until her boarding section is called. 

For just a moment, as she fiddles with her phone to bring up her boarding pass, Sol is seized with the urge to turn her head and look back. There’s nothing to look back at, but some part of her persists nevertheless. A thought crosses her mind, one so stupid and full of unearned hope that Sol squashes it without another thought. 

Sol offers her boarding pass to the gate attendant and receives a mirthless smile in return. She strides straight down the walkway and into the plane, refusing the small twitch at the base of her neck all the while. 

There’s no one here to see her off, a thought that dogs Sol during the entirety of her 11 hour flight. By the time they land, getting to set foot in California is more welcome distraction than life changing event.

The world is both new and familiar. Some things—the crush of people, the uncomfortable terminal seats—are the same, but countless others are new. Sol spends at least 15 minutes wandering around the airport and taking in all the new stores and snippets of English that rush by her eyes and ears.

(At one point, Sol is drawn by instinct to a kiosk selling candy, but she catches herself just as her hand is reaching for a packet of gummy bears. She doesn’t need those over here.)

Eventually, after a stressful yet successful conversation with a cab driver, Sol finds herself dropped off on what, based on the giant sign next to her, she can only assume is the UCLA campus. 

She mouths the letters to herself, trying to finally cement in her brain that this is actually happening. In her back pocket, her phone vibrates, but Sol makes no move to check her messages. She knows it must be someone from home, and, if she hears one word of Korean in a familiar voice, she can’t promise herself that she won’t turn right back around and get on the next plane to Seoul.

“Okay,” she mutters to herself, beginning to walk deeper into campus. “Admissions office. Housing. Orientation. Easy.”

Next, her phone rings, a unique tune that sends a spike of anxiety through Sol’s stomach, the way any reminder of Jiwan has for the last few months. She doesn’t reach for her phone to cut off the jingle. Instead, she lets it play out in full, frozen in the middle of this new place. Once it finally cuts off, Sol shakes her head, laughing weakly. 

She wipes her clammy hands dry on her jeans and readjusts her grip on her suitcases. One deep breath later, Sol resumes her journey. 

Hours and hours later, when Sol collapses into bed that night, limbs heavy with exerted effort, she can’t help but think that ignoring Jiwan’s phone call was the hardest part of her day.

//

“Sol!”

Sol looks up at the call of her name, slipping her headphones off. “Hello. Did you forget your keycard at the dorm again?”

Hunter, her ever-forgetful roommate of three weeks, rolls her eyes at the assumption. “I’ve only forgotten my keycard 4 times, thank you. But no, I actually wanted to know if you wanted to come out with us tonight.” She jabs her thumb over her shoulder at a group of students clustered together by her station. “A few people suggested going to a bar, so.” She shrugs. “You in?”

Sol likes Hunter. She had been a rather striking figure when Sol had first entered their dorm room. Sol hadn’t had any expectations for her roommate, but still, Hunter’s shock of red-and-blonde hair and the dozen or so piercings scattered about her ears and face had thrown her for a loop. 

There had been a bit of an issue at the beginning, with Hunter preferring to stay up until 3am before starting her work while Sol was in bed by midnight, but they’ve come to an accord of sorts over the last 3 weeks. They’re not friends, but they’re friendly. Hunter sits on the couch while Sol watches kdramas Jiwan always used to talk about, and Sol listens to Hunter go on about whatever Netflix reality show she’s gotten into lately. 

Sol likes Hunter, but not quite enough to go drinking with her when there is work to be done. “I’m going to pass,” she says, trying to shape her words kindly. “I want to get a head start on next week’s assignment.”

Hunter looks at her for a moment, as if she wants to say something, but then she just nods her head in acceptance. “Well if you change your mind, we’re going to Maloney’s”

Sol nods, silently mouthing the new word to herself. “Okay. Have fun.”

That evening, when the only light shining in the studio is the one from Sol’s lamp, Sol’s phone rings. Her heart jumps when she recognizes the melody.

There have been times—more than there should have been, Sol knows—where seeing Jiwan’s name made Sol’s heart twist so fiercely that she could do nothing but deny the call, telling herself that she would call Jiwan later. Sometimes she did, and sometimes she didn’t, sinking further into a facsimile of protection. 

But, as Sol has learned over the past 3 weeks, no amount of not talking to Jiwan would make her feelings any less strong, would make any less bitter the memory of their fight that had never truly been resolved. 

Sol answers the phone, because it’s been 2 missed calls now, and she can’t live with a 3rd missed chance to hear Jiwan’s voice.

“Hi.”

“Yoon Sol!” 

The surprise and joy in Jiwan’s voice only serve to amplify the guilt pooling in Sol’s chest. “How are you?”

“Good now! What’re you doing? I bet you’re working late in the studio, aren’t you?”

Sol laughs, blushes for an audience of none. “I am. Some of my classmates are out drinking right now, but I wanted to stay here instead.”

Silence on the other end. “Yoon Sol,” Jiwan begins, voice low. Unconsciously, Sol straightens up, heart rate quickening. 

“Are you telling me,” Jiwan continues, “that you were invited out by your classmates to hang out and you said no?

“Well, I—”

“That’s the entire point of your program!”

“The point of my program is to learn.”

“And to have new life experiences.” Jiwan’s voice softens, dipping into a gentle urging. “You’re going to regret it if you don’t go out. You can always do more work tomorrow.”

Sol looks down at her sketchbook, at lines she’s erased a dozen times over already. “I guess you’re right.”

“I always am,” Jiwan says. “Now go catch up with your new friends, and call me tomorrow, okay? You have my schedule.”

“Wait,” Sol cuts in. “I still have to walk back to my apartment to get ready. We can stay on the phone until then?” 

Sol hates the insecurity that slips in at the brief silence that follows. She didn’t used to be like this, but the ease with which Jiwan had ignored her after their last fight is knowledge that has made itself a home beneath her rib cage. 

“Of course,” Jiwan says. “That’s perfect. I have this crazy story about Bitna and Gyuhyun to tell you…”

Sol doesn’t hang up until she’s at the door of the bar, and even then, she only says goodbye when she steps through the doorway and the noise becomes too much. Jiwan ends the call with a loud cheer that Sol can’t quite make out but is heartened by all the same. 

She hears her name called over the dinn of the crowd, and turns to see Hunter and a few other art students waving her over. When she gets to their table, she’s immediately offered a beer. She takes it, well aware that this will be her only beverage of the night, if she finishes it at all.

She loses herself in the group easily enough, learning new names during stories and drinking games. Their brashness reminds Sol of her own friends in the warmest of ways, and by the time she leaves, she’s joyfully exhausted. 



Two weeks later, she’s invited out again. This time, Sol says yes upfront. She tries, and fails, to not think about Jiwan being proud of her, making that face where her eyes turn liquid and the right side of her mouth quirks up just so.

They’re going to a club whose name Sol forgets immediately. She asks what the dress code is for the night, and Hunter just smiles, telling her to wear her usual outfits but to lose the bandana. Sol, mildly confused, complies.

Hunter is halfway out the door when Sol pats down her pockets and realizes she’s forgotten her phone. Holding up a finger, She tells her roommate to wait just a moment more. Sol hurries back into her room, swiping her phone off of her desk. Right as she picks it up, it sings, and a familiar name flashes across the screen.

Jiwan.

It's been five days since they last spoke, a combination of approaching deadlines for Jiwan, the curse of timezones, and Sol’s penchant for avoiding her calls if she thinks she can get away with it. 

She tells herself that it’s for the best to distance herself from Jiwan, just a bit. This very well may be her last shot at stamping out her feelings for her best friend before she reaches the point of no return. It’s a hollow mantra, but it's the best she can do for now. 

Sol sticks her head out of her room and lets Hunter know that she’ll meet her downstairs in a few minutes before answering her phone.

“Good morning,” Sol says.

Jiwan giggles. “Good evening to you. I finally got that assignment done, so I wanted to call and say hi.”

“Well. Hi.”

“Hi,” Jiwan replies, and Sol can hear the smile in her voice. “Settling in for another night of studying? I haven’t been able to get a hold of you lately, so I know you’ve been working away.”

“Yeah, definitely,” Sol says. The guilt gets a bit easier to swallow every time. “I actually just finished up some stuff today, but I’m going out with my roommate soon.”

“Ah! Jiwan’s wisdom strikes again!”

“That it does,” Sol murmurs, but it’s lost under Jiwan’s self-congratulating cheers.

Sol opens her mouth to say something like I really wish you were here or Sometimes when I go to start a sketch I start drawing you instead , but she never quite gets there.

“Looks like we’re both going out today! I have another date with that guy from the blind dates a couple months ago.”

Sol’s stomach bottoms out. There have been several blind dates over the last few months, but only one guy of note. “I thought you decided not to see him anymore. What was his name even? Hyun-Woo?” It’s a false question. Sol knows his name, has been haunted by it since the day Jiwan’s lips shaped a smile around his name.

“That’s it. I see why those American schools wanted you so badly,” Jiwan teases. It falls on Sol’s ears like shards of glass. “He stopped by the school recently to visit one of his friends in the program, and we ran into each other in the hallway and reconnected. Seemed too much like fate to turn him away, you know?”

“Of course,” Sol says, hand tightening around her door frame. “Who could say no to that? Listen, I need to—”

“Speaking of, Bitna wanted me to ask you if you’ve been seeing anyone. Apparently, it’s a crime to be in a foreign country and leave without at least one hookup, so she’s going to start needing guys and stories.”

Sol barks out a laugh. Sometimes, she’ll lock eyes with Bitna across the room when the other girls are discussing their latest dates and see something like understanding in her eyes, but, inevitably, something like this happens. “Tell Bitna that she’s not going to get any stories because there aren’t going to be any guys.”

“Oh good,” Jiwan says.

“Good? Wh—”

“You’d tell me if there was someone, right?”

Sol squeezes her eyes shut, barely resisting the urge to scoff. Jiwan had refused to talk about their fight any further, but here she was, talking about one of the core issues Sol still didn’t understand. If Jiwan were right in front of her, she might push back, but on the phone? Jiwan would simply hang up when pressed.

“Yes, Jiwan. I’d tell you.” Despite her best efforts, her voice is a bit more dour than she wants.

Jiwan, however, seems unphased. Her voice is chipper, almost cloying. “Great! Now go have fun.”

“I will,” Sol says, pushing herself off of her bedroom’s door frame. “And—” Sol swallows, feels a sword slide down her throat and lodge itself firmly in her gut. “—enjoy your date with fate.”

The dark tornado in her chest must show on her face, because when she finally meets Hunter outside, her roommate takes one look at her and promises to buy her a drink.

They’re in line to get in the bar when Sol realizes exactly what type of club this is. In front of them, one woman pulls another close, whispering something in her ear with a grin before pulling her in for a kiss. To their right, two men are standing pressed together in a way that can’t be anything other than romantic. 

At the end of her examination, she looks to her left and finds Hunter looking at her with a smirk and a raised eyebrow. “See something interesting,” she asks.

Flames lick up and down Sol’s face. “No, no. I just—I haven’t been to a bar like this before.”

“Oh?” Hunter’s eyebrows rise higher. “You’ve never been to a gay club, then?”

Sol shakes her head, afraid any verbal confirmation will end up a ramble. 

 “You aren’t straight, right? Because if you are, then I’m retracting my invite, and we need to talk about that face you were making.”

Sol freezes, seized with a panic that lances straight through her. No one had ever asked her back home, had never assumed with any sort of confidence. She’s been saying the words to herself since she was 13 years old, standing in front of the mirror, staring herself down with flecks of paint on her clothes and resignation in her eyes. 

But she’s never said it outloud to another person, and certainly never in English. Her mouth opens, and the words stumble out, rushed. “I’m gay. So…” Her heatbreat thunders through her ears, and Sol is about 90% sure she’s 2 seconds away from a panic attack.

Hunter just grins. “Awesome. Glad I read that right. Would’ve been an awkward start to the night otherwise!” She slaps Sol on the back. “Well, I’m honored to be escorting you to your first gay bar experience. It’s basically like a normal bar but way gayer and with much better music.”

“Cool,” Sol manages. Thankfully, that’s enough for Hunter, and Sol is left alone to reign in her heart rate as they make their way through the line and into the club.

It’s just like any other club she’s been to, sans the smattering of rainbow flags hung about and the distinct lack of a single straight couple on the writhing dance floor. The music pulses, vibrations rumbling through her shoes and settling alongside her heartbeat. 

Their group moves through the crowd, and Sol follows blindly, too caught up in people watching to pay much attention. Before she knows it, she’s being shoved into a booth with several of her fellow students.

The next few hours pass in a swirl of colored lights and drinks being set down in front of her. Sol passes them along to her tablemates, but she does partake in the conversations flowing around her. Their table settles after a while, the group having split in those on the dance floor and those at the table.

Sol has no intention of getting up, perfectly content pressed against the slightly sticky wall of their booth and the woman next to her. Sol knows her distantly from a sculpture class, but, before today, she hadn’t even known the other woman’s name. 

“Hey, do you want to catch a movie sometime? Maybe do dinner afterwards?”

Sol looks up from her phone, leaving behind the half-typed What are you up to? in her and Jiwan’s text chat that she had written and rewritten at least a dozen times. “Sorry, what?”

The woman—Arielle, Sol reminds herself—sitting next to her smiles, presses her shoulder into Sol’s. The heat of it bleeds through her thin cotton shirt, and it jolts something in her brain. All at once, the pieces of the last hour come together—the hand occasionally brushing over her thigh, the reaching out while laughing, the almost constant attention.

She’s being hit on. By a woman. 

The realization begins in her chest, spreads out until her entire body is flushed and buzzing. 

The invitation comes again. “You. Me. Dinner and a movie?”

Something in Sol immediately shuts down the idea, the same part of her that reaches for Jiwan even now, thousands and thousands of miles apart. A larger part of her, the one that burns at too much like fate to turn him away , knows there’s nothing holding her back.

“Yeah,” Sol says, smiling. “Let’s do it.”

//

Sol calls Jiwan the next day, hoping it will alleviate the guilt that stirs at the thought of her upcoming date.

Jiwan answers almost immediately, a bright “Hi!” flying out of Sol’s phone.

“Hi,” Sol says, already smiling. “What’re you up to?”

Jiwan hums, and Sol hears rustling on the other side. “Still in bed.”

“Class?”

Jiwan makes a noncommittal noise.

“Jiwan,” Sol scolds. “You need to go—” 

“Shhh,” Jiwan interrupts. Sol’s mouth snaps shut. “I’m taking a day for myself.”

“And what will you be doing on this free day? Dreaming up project ideas I bet,” Sol teases. She leans back in her desk chair, fiddling with her pen. 

More rustling. A sigh. “Something like that. I just have some thinking to do.”

A thought jumps to the front of Sol’s mind, and, with masochistic curiosity, she pushes it from her mouth, desperate for a sense of normalcy. "The date went that well, then? Already planning your next one?" Sol clicks her pen. In. Out.

Somehow, the silence that follows amplifies Sol’s guilt. She pauses halfway through another click of her pen, but Jiwan speaks before she can ask if something is wrong.

"Me and Hyun-Woo. We didn't work out."

Sol imagines Jiwan sitting in her bed, pillow clutched against her chest. The sunlight would be streaming through her windows right about now, caught in the purple of her curtains and draping lilac across the room. Jiwan would be in the center of it, hair mussed and eyes a striking brown. 

Sol imagines that, and she’s glad she’s not there to witness it in person, because then Jiwan might catch the relief that peeks through as Sol’s shock tapers off. 

"Did something happen? I thought you two got along well with the movies and your fated encounter." 

Jiwan's laugh is high pitched, and it grates against Sol’s ears. "Yes, well it turns out that we weren't that compatible when it came to films in the first place. But that aside. We just... didn't go well together. He’s not what I’m looking for."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be."

Sol tries to be the supportive friend she wishes she was. "Right, I'm sure you can have a new date set up within the week if you want."

Another stretch of silence has Sol straightening up in her chair. “Or not, of course.”

"Is that all you think I care about?"

“What? No!”

“Well, good! Because it’s not. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to find someone, even if I seem to always look in the wrong place.” 

It’s said with such a familiar fierceness that her previous image of Jiwan is replaced with a pout and puffed out cheeks. The desperation to see Jiwan in person crashes over her, fills her lungs until there is no space for her to breathe. 

She blames the suffocating feeling for what she says next, lacking the space to keep any of her thoughts locked away.

“Jiwan,” Sol begins. “You’re going to find someone one day. You’re amazing, and anyone would be lucky to date you.”

Now a familiar friend in this conversation, silence settles in for several seconds. Jiwan’s next words fall from her lips like a gentle caress. “You can’t say things like that.”

“Why not?”

Nothing. If Sol strains her ears, she swears she can hear Jiwan shifting against her sheets.

“Jiwan?”

“It’s dangerous.”

Sol scoffs. “Dangerous?”

“You know, you were right after all,” Jiwan says, words rushed. “I should go to class. Bye!”

“Jiwan!” Sol pulls away and blinks at her phone’s Call Ended screen in shock, feeling like she’s missed something.

The next time she gets Jiwan on the phone, it's as if that moment never happened. If Sol were braver, she’d bring it up again, but she stays quiet and tucks in away, yet another thing to never be talked about.

//

The date goes well. The movie leaves both of them with sore stomachs from laughter, and the food is delicious. Halfway through dinner, Arielle reaches across the table to take Sol’s hand in her own, and Sol doesn’t flinch.

Later, Sol walks her home, and, when she says goodbye, she receives a loaded look in return. 

Months ago, on a deserted rooftop, Nabi had asked her if wanting to kiss someone meant that you wanted to sleep with them. It depends on the person, Sol had said, thinking of Jiwan all the while.

When Arielle kisses her, when she kisses back with just as much enthusiasm, Sol feels the truth of that statement in her soul. 

She is present but not, half in her own body and half an ocean away, a compromise Sol has never felt as sharply as she does now. Even as the woman in her arms presses closer, an intangible part of Sol leans away, threads of want stretched to impossible thinness across distance and time.

Arielle tastes like red wine that Sol had only had a sip of.

She wonders if this is the thing that finally ruins her.

//

Another call. Another chance for Sol to ease the weight on her conscience. Riding high on positive feedback from one of the meanest professors in her program, she thinks she might just do it this time.

"Yoon Sol," Jiwan exclaims, always bright, always so happy to hear from Sol in a way that Sol rarely feels she deserves. "How are things across the sea?"

Jiwan says the last three words in english, a gravity to them that Sol can't help but laugh at. "They’re fine. I got a good review from one of my professors today. The grumpy one that makes people cry."

"That’s great! To be expected from the ace.”

Sol laughs. “I’m far from the ace over here.”

“You’ll always be the ace to me,” Jiwan says.

Sol closes her eyes against the wave of affection and gratitude that washed over her. Screwing her eyes shut even tighter, she blurts out her next words. “I have to tell you something.”

"Oh?"

"I went on a date."

"Oh. Oh wow!” Jiwan laughs, but Sol can barely hear it over her heartbeat in her ears. “I guess all of those jokes about American guys re—"

"Girl," Sol says, resisting the urge to bite her tongue off. "Not American, either."

"Ah," Jiwan says. The moments of silence that follow tear at every insecurity Sol has built up over the years. Jiwan has told her time and again, more and more knowingly over the years, that she didn't care who Sol dated. But what if Sol was reading into those glances because she wanted to? What if Jiwan just meant a business major, not a whole, actual woman? What if—

"How was it?" Jiwan is shy now, quieter than when the call started, but Sol detects no disgust in her voice. More of a forced casualness than anything.

Sol opens her mouth to spit out a "fine", anything to move them past this pit she's thrown them in. But she finds herself pausing to mentally review the date.

Arielle had been good company. She had told stories, funny ones, ones that let Sol know that the person sitting across from her was genuinely kind and smart and a host of other good things. And she had kissed like she meant it, leaving Sol dizzy by the end of the night and eventually chasing away thoughts of anyone else.

But now, hearing Jiwan's voice in her ear, thinking of the way Jiwan’s laugh would’ve echoed around a dark theatre. How Jiwan would’ve spent the entire dinner stealing bites from Sol’s plate. Jiwan hugging her goodbye at the door, leaving Sol with a kiss on the cheek that would keep her warm all the way home. That date, it feels—

"Terrible," Sol breathes. "It was terrible."

“Really,” Jiwan exclaims. “That’s a—that’s a shame, Sol. I’m sorry.”

Sol furrows her brow, confused at the vocal shift in the middle of Jiwan’s sentence. Before sounding sympathetic, Jiwan had sounded almost...happy?

Before she can ponder much longer, Jiwan speaks, tone teasing. “Do you think you’ll see her again? Is this the start of Yoon Sol on the market?”

Sol huffs. “Not quite. I don’t know if I’ll do anymore dating over here.” She swallows, chooses a bit of honesty for once. “They don’t have what I want.”

Jiwan makes a noise of surprise. “You’re so sure?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

You, Sol wants to say. It’s you now and it’s been you for years and you’re the reason I ran away but now I just want to run back. She settles for something that doesn’t offer up her heart on a silver platter.

“I just am.”

Jiwan doesn’t respond, and a quiet builds between them, the type that slips around Sol’s neck, settling heavy. 

“I don’t understand you, sometimes,” Jiwan says. “You move through the world with such confidence, an inner strength I’ve wanted as my own since the day we met. But I know that, if I were to ask you again how you know, you’d just stay quiet. Am I right?”

“I’m not—”

“It’s like there’s a distance between who I think you are and the things you say to me, sometimes.” Jiwan’s voice is heavy, and Sol realizes that she’s about to cry. “Is it so wrong that I want to know you completely? You don’t have to hide from me. I’d love you just like I always do.” 

Jiwan sniffles, and Sol is slipping into a panicked distress, unable to reach over and pull Jiwan into her arms to try and soothe whatever this is.

“Jiwan, I do tell you about myself,” Sol says, almost pleading. The conversation is spiraling, and Sol can’t take another fight. “Sometimes it takes me a bit to find the words, but you do know me better than everyone.”

“Then tell me the real reason you left.” Jiwan speaks her demand as if springing a trap, as if she had been laying in wait for Sol to set herself up.

Sol tenses, instinctually unwilling. “I told you. I left for the program.”

“And I’m telling you, we both know that’s a lie.”

“Tell me why I left then,” Sol insists, knuckles whitening around her phone. Jiwan has no right to demand the truth from her, not on this. Not when Sol has swept so many of Jiwan’s actions under the rug. “If you know me so well, then you surely know that.”

Sol can’t say a thing, can’t mutter a single word for fear of unraveling everything she worked so hard to hide.

Jiwan laughs, strained and raw. “You’re a coward, Yoon Sol.”

Her free hand curls into a fist, nails digging painfully into her palm. Sol is furious, and hurt, and perhaps more confused than she’s ever been. She hears herself speak and wonders where the words came from. “I could say the same about you.”

It’s a desperate shot in the dark, one meant to hurt as much as give Sol room to breathe. 

For one long moment, Sol hears nothing but her own thrumming heart. Then, a ragged inhale and the line goes dead.

//

For the next week, Sol stays away, hovering her thumb over the call button but never pressing down. It doesn’t take much to remind herself of the sting of Jiwan’s words or the sudden interrogation.

She begins to crack during the second week. A furious and infuriating Jiwan is better to have in her life than no Jiwan at all. Midway through the week, Sol sends a text asking about Jiwan’s day.

Nothing.

The next day, she shares with Jiwan that she aced her studio presentation.

Nothing.

She calls the next day, leaves a rambling voicemail about one classes explosive accident with the kiln. Sol offers to send a picture if Jiwan tells her she wants one. 

Maybe this is just how it’s always going to be, Sol thinks, head hanging low on her third failed attempt at making contact. Maybe her life is always going to be her reaching out to Jiwan and never getting what she wants.

The thought is so self-pitying that Sol slaps her own cheek to snap herself out of it. It works for approximately 30 seconds before she begins wondering if this latest fight is the culmination of every other weird behavior Jiwan has shown over the last several months.

It doesn’t make any more sense now than it did back then. 

Was Jiwan more upset than she let on about her date with Hyun-Woo not working out? But then wouldn’t Sol’s story of a date gone poorly cheered her up in solidarity?

It did cheer her up, her mind whispers.

Then why was the anger so sudden and unceasing? She spends hours going in circles, arriving at no conclusions.

As a result, she’s been sporadic at best when it comes to focusing in class. Her art becomes more harried, darker lines and jagged edges taking over. She studies less, crams more. Her sleep schedule begins to match that of her roommate's, which brings her here: slumped over a textbook at 2 a.m.

Sol groans, fighting the urge to go to sleep. One of her classmates had suggested that Louise Bourgeois's surrealism was easier to understand when pulling an all-nighter, and Sol wasn't above trying it at this point. With her head like an anvil, Sol props herself up on her hands and tries again.

“Bourgeois covered a variety of themes, but perhaps her most compelling works were those that focused on female sexuality and captivity.”

The vibration of her phone splits through the air, and Sol's arm flails out to grab at it. She pulls it close, squinting. Sol sees the name on the screen, and her curiosity gets the best of her.

"Nabi?"

They've texted frequently since Sol arrived, but rarely called. And Sol knows that Nabi would be aware of the time difference between them. So—

“Is Jiwan okay?”

Nabi answers immediately. “She is. She’s just...busy.”

One day, Sol thinks, one day Nabi will know how to lie.

“Then why are you calling? It’s late over here.”

“Well,” Nabi begins. “I didn’t really think you’d answer, but I need to ask you a question.”

“A question? Go ahead then.”

"Do you remember what you said to me in the hallway that day? After we both met with the professor?" Nabi's tone is smooth, and her familiar voice in their native language grounds Sol in the moment despite the suddenness of the call.

"I, uh." Sol tries to remember, but her memories are foggy, watered down by time and lack of sleep. "I remember you giving me that folder. Guess it worked out after all, huh?"

Nabi brushes right past Sol's weak laugh. "You said it felt like you were running away from something."

"Oh. Yes, I suppose I did."

"Do you still feel like you’re running?"

Sol swallows, suddenly far too awake. "I don't know.” She rubs her hand over her face, barely suppressing a groan. “No. I guess. I feel like I’m...waiting.”

"Okay," Nabi says simply. "Good. I’m glad you figured that out. We still need you back here, you know? Everyone misses you."

Something that feels suspiciously like a sob crawls up Sol's throat, homesickness pummeling her like it hasn't done since her first week here. Between classes and the fraying relationship with her best friend, Sol feels the slightest bit like a car being driven directly at a tree. The gentle reminder from Nabi almost unravels the last remaining threads of her composure.

 She manages to make a sound that doesn't set her tears free, and she hopes it's enough for Nabi.

"And call her. I know she hasn’t been answering, but try one more time, okay?"

"I—" Sol’s voice breaks, and she presses her lips together, afraid of what would come from them if they were open a moment longer.

"Go to bed, Sol. You need your rest." The call ends, and Sol is left staring at her textbook, tears blurring pictures that never made much sense to begin with.

//

Sol doesn’t call Jiwan the next day, or the day after that. She’s halfway through convincing herself that her call with Nabi was a vivid hallucination when her phone vibrates with a new text from the hallucination in question.

please just call her

Even still, Sol hesitates to press the call button. She wants so desperately to be stubborn, to give into the part of her that demands Jiwan call first, but, even more desperately, she wants to hear Jiwan’s voice again, no matter the cost to her pride.

Steeling herself, Sol gets up from her desk to close and lock her bedroom door. The last thing she needs is an interruption.

The ringing of her call is the loudest sound Sol has ever heard, and each beat that passes feels more and more like a failure. Her grip tightens on her phone, and she has half a mind to throw the offending device across the room the moment she gets Jiwan’s voicemail.

A fourth ring. Her arm tenses, elbow twitching.

“Sol.”

It takes a moment for her name to register, but the second it does, a weight lifts from Sol’s chest. 

“Jiwan,” she breathes. “You answered.”

“Yeah, well I wanted to see if you had anything to say to me.” Just as Sol would say that Jiwan knows her better than everyone, she would say the same about her knowledge of Jiwan. Sol likes to avoid the issue; Jiwan will address it head on with a forced aloofness to keep someone else from knowing how much something truly affects her.

Sol has a tendency to bend, break under Jiwan’s casual shrugs and flippant tone. But she’s been in hell for the last three weeks, spine forged in fires of despair and vigorously executed mock-arguments in the shower.

“Funny,” Sol says, matching Jiwan’s cool tone. “I was thinking you might have something to say to me.”

Jiwan scoffs. “Fine. Forget it, then.”

“No,” Sol says. “I won’t, and I’m not hanging up until you tell me what is going on with you lately.”

“Me,” Jiwan asks, voice jumping an octave. “I’m not the one who ran away to another country without proper explanation!”

“And I’m not the one who’s been flying off the handle at her supposed best friend out of nowhere!” Sol continues over Jiwan’s wordless protest. “I apologize for hurting you, and I mean it. But you’re not normally like this, and I really don’t know what to do.”

“So it’s my fault.”

“I didn’t say that,” Sol snaps back, irritation flaring. “But something is different and we both know it.”

A pause. Sol hears Jiwan exhale roughly. “My date with Hyun-Woo was a disaster. I spent the entire time thinking of something else, and I left not caring if I ever saw him again.”

“Okay,” Sol says, thoughts racing. “Where do I fit into this?”

“You don’t get it, do you? You’re one of the most important pieces of my life. Of course something this big would involve you.” 

Jiwan’s defiance has given way to defeat, but Sol can’t understand why. 

“What was it, then? What did you realize?” Sol grips her phone tight, entire body taut in anticipation of whatever Jiwan says next.

“You have your secret. This is mine.” 

Sol slumps, tension collapsing in on her. “Fine. Then we’re even, I guess.”

“Fine.”

For several seconds, neither of them says anything, and Sol is hit with the fear that they’re never going to truly move past this. She clenches her jaw, working it back and forth until she shakes the words loose.

“I can’t keep doing this. I can’t take us fighting every few months and then you ignoring me for weeks. We used to fight, but we’d talk again the next day. I don’t understand what’s changed, but I don’t like it.”

There. She’s done her part. She just hopes that Jiwan meets her in the middle.

“It’s not exactly fun for me either. I just… I don’t always make sense when it comes to you,” Jiwan admits. “Sometimes you say things and my brain just goes haywire. I’m sorry.”

“And it’s gotten worse lately,” Sol asks. “I’ve gotten worse lately?” She feels as if she’s on the verge of a large revelation, two steps away from figuring Jiwan out, but there are some things that refuse to make sense. 

“Not you. Never you,” Jiwan sighs. “It’s part of my secret, but it won’t happen again. I promise.”

The answer is both too much and not enough. 

“Jiwan…”

“Can we talk? When you get back? Really talk, all cards on the table. I promise everything will make sense then. I’ll pick you up from the airport and everything.”

“Okay,” Sol agrees, heart thump-thumping in her chest at the possibilities. “We’ll talk.”

“Perfect.”




Hours later, Hunter comes home to find Sol sprawled out on their couch, staring blankly at the ceiling. She asks what’s wrong, and, unmoving, Sol begins spilling out their entire tale. She starts with her harmless crush on Jiwan in middle school and spins out the story that brought her here, staring at a popcorn ceiling in a foreign country 11 years later.

When she finishes, Hunter leans over the back of the couch so that Sol can see her face. “Sol, that is quite possibly the gayest thing I have ever heard in my life. Also, she’s absolutely into you, are you kidding me?”

Sol rises slowly into a sitting position, fixing Hunter with her stare. “You think so?”

Hunter scoffs, moves around to drop onto the couch. “I know so.”

Sol’s heart rate quickens. “Convince me.”

//

The rest of Sol’s semester passes peacefully, full of classes and a best friend that returns her calls. She returns to her normal sleep schedule, and she’s no longer haunted by a guilt that she doesn’t fully understand. On occasion, her conversation with Hunter comes to mind, and Sol can’t hold back a smile. She’s not sure of anything yet, but maybe, just maybe...

Almost before she knows it, Sol finds herself packing up her suitcases and saying her goodbyes.

The airport is just as Sol remembers it, but she walks through it with an assuredness she hadn’t possessed months ago. She knows this space because she knows it will take her home, and that’s something she’s been wanting since the moment she landed. 

She’s about to take a seat at her terminal gate when a familiar kiosk catches her eye. Sol strides over there with a grin spilling from her lips, grabbing a pack of gummy candy and paying the cashier $6 for them with something nearing giddiness. 

Jiwan would pick her up at the airport with a smile and a hug that Sol would never want to step out of, but when they finally parted, Sol would extend the gummies like she’s done countless times. And Jiwan’s smile would grow ever larger still.

Something slams into her shoulder, and Sol just barely manages to keep herself upright. She looks around, seeing a harried family of four rushing past her with a “Sorry!” thrown over their shoulders. Sol rubs at her shoulder, realizing that she’s been standing in place for who knows how long just thinking about Jiwan. 

Sol drops into a chair with a sigh, sagging bonelessly against the cheap pleather. She smooths her fingers over the plastic of the gummies, the reality of her return home finally sinking in.

While she and Jiwan had patched things up over the phone, there is a part of Sol that is loath to return to how things were. Her feelings had only grown while she was gone, and she’s starting to wonder if things are a bit less one-sided than she thought.

A crinkling sound alerts her to her increased grip, and Sol snatches her hand back from the gummies as if burned. She blows out a breath, smoothing over the packaging once more. 

Sol pulls out her headphones and turns on her most brain-numbing music to drown out her thoughts. Just 13 more hours and she would be home again. She could figure everything else out after that

//

“Oh. Nabi?” Sol blinks, heart sinking to her stomach. She hides the hand holding the packet of gummies behind her back. “I thought…”

“It’s good to see you too, Yoon Sol,” Nabi says, stepping out of her car and moving forward to pull Sol into a hug. 

Sol returns it. It’s not that she’s not happy to see Nabi again, but she’s not who Sol had expected.

“Jiwan got hung up at school,” Nabi says, answering Sol’s unasked question as she places a suitcase in the trunk of the car. “So I borrowed a car and came to pick you up. Jiwan said she’d give you a call as soon as she could.”

Sol nods, placing her remaining suitcase into the car. She tucks her present into her jacket pocket. She’s disappointed, but she’s gone four months without seeing Jiwan in person. She’s sure she can make it another day, despite the all-consuming urge to tell Nabi to drop her off on campus.

“Thank you for picking me up,” Sol says. “I’m sure you’re busy as well.”

Nabi holds off on answering until they’re in the car. “It’s nothing my assistants can’t handle,” she says with a smirk. “Besides, why would I pass up the chance to be the first one to grill you about your times overseas?”

“There’s really not that much to say,” Sol says, chuckling. “I went to classes. Made some friends. Came back home.”

Nabi gives her a deadpan look. “I won’t start this car until you start talking.” She raises an eyebrow, and Sol knows she means business. 

“Okay, okay,” Sol says. “There was this one class…”

The next 20 minutes are filled with Sol recounting a few of her favorite stories from class, Nabi laughing and gasping in all of the right places. 

She’s about to start on another one, when she remembers one of the main members of the story. Remembering the promise she had made to herself before leaving, Sol decides to take a leap.

“Actually, I went on a date.” 

Nabi’s head tilts in her direction, eyebrows raised. “Oh? You didn’t tell any of us that. Bitna kept asking.”

“Yeah.” Sol swallows, sticks her hands under her thighs to hide their shaking. “With a woman.”

Nabi’s expression doesn’t budge. “How was it? Did you two hit it off?”

“It was good,” Sol says hesitantly. She had imagined a few different reactions when coming out to Nabi, but nothing hadn’t been one of them. 

Nabi reaches out, fiddles with the radio dial, and an old Lee Sun-hee song fills the silence between them. Sol continues to stare, as if the blank plane of Nabi’s face will answer her questions. A few seconds later, she sees it, a small twitch at the corner of Nabi’s mouth.

“You knew,” Sol says. She lets out a disbelieving laugh. “You’re not surprised at all, are you?” Nabi shakes her head, but Sol sees the smile fighting to show. “Oh my god,” Sol groans, dropping her head against the window. “You knew.”

“I didn’t know,” Nabi says, finally giving up on the act, “but I had a suspicion or two.”

“How,” Sol asks. “I mean, people overseas figured me out pretty quickly, but I don’t think straight art students exist over there.”

Nabi laughs. She flicks the blinker on and pulls them over to the shoulder of the road. Nabi puts the car in park, and then she turns to face Sol.

“Can I be honest,” Nabi asks. “You might not like what I’m going to say.”

Sol adjusts the seatbelt, feeling suddenly choked by it. “Go ahead,” she says.

Nabi takes a deep breath. “I’ve listened to you talk about Jiwan for years now.” Sol freezes. “At one point, it just kind of clicked. How you feel about her, and you being gay…” Nabi pauses, looks at Sol for confirmation. 

Sol just barely manages a nod.

“Right. So you being gay kind of went hand-in-hand with that.”

For one wild moment, Sol considers throwing open the passenger-side door and just escaping into the night. A gentle touch on her shoulder grounds her.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Nabi says. “I never said anything to anyone, and not for one minute did it make me think any less of you.”

Sol takes a shaky breath. “Am I that obvious?”

Nabi gives a pitying chuckle. “Somehow, I think most of the others have missed it.”

“Jiwan?”

“You’d have to ask her yourself.”

“Maybe I will,” Sol says, finally able to hear herself over the buzzing in her ears.

“Oh?” Nabi perks up, leaning back into her seat. “In that case, let’s get going.”

Sol cocks an eyebrow. “What do you mean ‘In that case’?”

Nabi shrugs, waving her hands in a manner that is decidedly not casual. “Just that, the sooner you get home and get rest, the sooner you can tell her.”

“Sure,” Sol says, still eyeing Nabi suspiciously. “Makes sense.”

Nabi puts on her blinker to merge back into traffic. “One more thing, Sol.”

“Hm?”

“If anyone ever gives you grief, just let me know. I’ll set them straight.”

Sol doesn’t quite trust herself to speak, so she settles for a deep nod and hopes that Nabi understands. By the quiet smile she gives Sol before looking back to the road, she thinks the message was received.

//

Nabi demands Sol’s keys from her before she’s even unbuckled her seatbelt. “Come on,” Nabi cajoles. “I’m sure you’re tired from traveling. Let me handle this while you take your time.”

Sol hesitantly agrees. Nabi is looking a bit distressed, but she doesn’t have it in her to deal with anyone else’s problems right now. She is tired, and having to wait another day to see Jiwan isn’t exactly endearing her to consciousness. 

She takes as long as she dares, and by the time she gets up a flight of stairs and to her door, Nabi is leaning against the landing wall, no suitcases in sight and a smile on her face.

“That excited to get rid of me,” Sol asks, laughter dancing around her words. 

Nabi blinks rapidly, straightening up. “No! No. I’m just really glad to have you back. That’s all.”

Sol smiles. “I’m glad to be back. Do you want to come in for a bit before you head home?”

“No!” Nabi all but lunges away from Sol’s apartment as she answers.

Something is definitely off.

“I should go, actually.” Nabi steps forward to pull Sol into a hug. “Welcome back, Sol.” With that, Nabi pulls away, hands Sol her keys, and begins making her way down the stairs. “Oh, one more thing,” Nabi adds, spinning on her heel to face Sol once more. 

Sol just stares.

“Have a good night.” Nabi winks, and then, she’s gone.

Sol doesn’t budge until she hears Nabi’s car drive down the street. “Weirdo,” Sol mutters fondly, fitting her key into her lock.

She pushes open her door, and is met with total darkness in her entry way. If she squints, she can see the outline of her suitcases in the dark. Why Nabi decided to not turn on her lights is a mystery Sol will consider another day. For now, she shrugs off her jacket and hangs it on the hook by the door. 

She turns on the hallway light as she changes from her sneakers to her house shoes. She walks down the small hallway and turns towards the kitchen, stretching out the remaining aches from being stuck in one seat for so long.

“Yoon Sol!”

Sol flinches, first at the familiar yell of her name and second at the impact of a body into her own. She knows this body, though, recognizes the arms that wrap around her and the smell of the perfume that floods her nostrils. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

“Jiwan?” Sol tries to pull back and get a look at the other woman’s face, but Jiwan doesn’t budge from where her face is firmly pressed against Sol’s neck.

Jiwan’s hold shifts, but it does not falter. “I wanted to surprise you,” she says, words muffled. “I used the spare key you gave me. Nabi helped.”

Feeling slightly dizzy, Sol glances over Jiwan’s shoulder, and she just about faints at what she sees. A delicious looking meal sits on her kitchen table, framed by flickering candles.

It looks almost… romantic. Like every dinner Sol has dreamed about sweeping Jiwan away to.

Another squeeze snaps Sol back into herself, and she wraps her arms around Jiwan without another moment’s hesitation. Jiwan melts into the embrace and sighs, breath skimming across Sol’s skin.

Sol doesn’t say a word, too overwhelmed to do anything other than pull Jiwan closer and bask in the moment. It should be considered a miracle, Sol thinks, how well they still fit together after all these months.

Jiwan is pressed against her from head to toe, and the part of Sol that has been aching ever since she left finally settles. She can’t say how long they stand there, but when they finally do separate, Sol blinks like she’s emerging from the depths of sleep.

She finally lays eyes on Jiwan for the first time in months, and Sol immediately knows that she will spend the rest of her life trying to recreate, in any medium, the look on Jiwan's face as she looks back at her.

Jiwan reaches out, pointer finger tracing over her brow. Sol's breath hitches. “Pretty as ever,” Jiwan murmurs. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too,” Sol says, voice delicate. “I was disappointed when I saw Nabi at the airport, even if I had missed her.”

Jiwan laughs. She reaches down and wraps a hand around Sol’s wrist. Sol hopes that the leap in her heart rate goes undetected. “I’m sorry for misleading you,” Jiwan says, pulling Sol over to the table set for two, “but I wanted to make sure this was a surprise.”

“You certainly succeeded,” Sol says. She takes a look at the various dishes placed about the table, Jiwan’s hand burning a brand onto her wrist all the while. “It looks delicious.”

Jiwan lets out an excited noise. “Thank you! It took a lot of practice. Our friends had fun eating the test batches.”

Sol opens her mouth to ask You did all of this for me?, but something tells her that her question would be met with annoyance. “Thank you,” she whispers. “This is perfect.”

The corner of Jiwan’s mouth ticks up, almost imperceptible, and Sol knows she’s holding back a larger smile. The moment hangs between them for several gold-spun moments. Sol continues to trace her eyes over the planes of Jiwan’s face, feeling herself sink deeper and deeper into a haze.

“Okay!” Jiwan lets go of Sol’s wrist to clap her hands together, jolting Sol back into herself. “Let’s eat.”

They take their seats across from each other, but neither of them make a move to eat for at least ten minutes. Jiwan immediately launches into a round of questions, and Sol answers every single one of them.

Eventually, they begin to make their way through the food in front of them, taking bites in between endlessly flowing conversation. 

It’s while listening to Jiwan bemoan how unfair her mixed-media studio professor is that Sol realizes just how close they’ve gotten. Jiwan’s foot is hooked about her ankle, ever so gently brushing against her pant leg. They each have one hand on the table, the other holding their utensils. If Sol were to shift her hand even half an inch to the left, she’d find her fingers bumping up against Jiwan’s.

She spends the next fifteen minutes, trying to build up the courage to nudge her hand over. She tells herself that Jiwan won’t mind, has never minded, but her limbs refuse to comply. Instead, she continues to eat and talk, cursing her cowardice all the while.

Maybe Jiwan had been right about that.

Just as Sol thinks that maybe, just maybe she can get her fingers to twitch slightly to the left, Jiwan suggests they move to the couch.

“I feel like I could do with a nap,” Jiwan groans, getting to her feet. Sol follows suit, laughing at Jiwan’s dramatically slumped walk as she heads to the living room.

Right as her foot crosses the threshold, she remembers what sits in her jacket. “One second,” she says. “I need to grab something.”

When Sol returns with the gift she had stowed away in her jacket, it’s to find Jiwan standing next to the couch, looking at her expectantly.

“Are you not going to sit,” Sol teases, wanting to drag out the moment before the reveal.

Jiwan tilts her head, pouts. “I didn’t know if you wanted to lay down. I’m sure you’re tired.”

Sol takes a step forward, fiddling with the packaging behind her back. “The food woke me up, actually.” She gives Jiwan a smile. “The company too.”

Jiwan blushes. Sol thinks she’s the most beautiful woman she’s ever seen.

“Here,” Sol says, thrusting the package out in front of her. It crinkles loudly, but the sound is mostly drowned out by Jiwan’s gasp.

“For you.” Sol pushes the gummies closer, trying to get Jiwan to take them. “I know it’s been awhile, but I hope you’ve managed to secure candy without me.”

“I…” Jiwan trails off before she even starts her sentence, lips parted and staring at Sol with something close to wonder. She reaches out and takes the candy, cradling it. “I haven’t had them since you left, actually,” Jiwan admits, no longer meeting Sol’s eyes. “It wasn’t really the same.”

“You don’t have to worry about that anymore,” Sol says, swallowing the hope-shaped lump in her throat. “I promise.”

Jiwan looks up, eyes liquid warmth. “Good,” Jiwan says. “Next time you go somewhere, I’m coming with you.”

Sol nods, not trusting her brain-to-mouth filter at this very moment. She takes a seat on the couch, lifting up one of her arms on instinct. Jiwan quickly follows after, slipping under the proffered arm and resting her head on Sol’s chest.

Jiwan looks up at her and taps the remote against Sol’s thigh. “I hope you’re ready to catch up on some dramas.”

“About that…” Sol lets out a nervous laugh, rubbing at the back of her head with her free arm. “I kind of caught up with all of them when I was away.”

Jiwan blinks. “What?”

“I, uh.” Sol drapes her head against the back of the couch, taking in the brief reprieve her blank ceiling offers. “I would watch them when I missed you since you talked about them all the time.” She tilts her head, daring to meet Jiwan’s disbelieving gaze. “Turns out that I missed you pretty often.”

Jiwan straightens up, all but throwing Sol’s arm off of her. Sol hears the remote clatter to the ground. “You watched the dramas you always complain about because you missed me?” She sounds breathless, bordering on reverent. 

Sol straightens up in turn and gives a slow nod. “Yes.”

Jiwan adopts the pout-and-squint that Sol knows as her determined face, and it sends a thrill up her spine.

“On my date with Hyun-Woo, I spent the entire time thinking about you. What you would’ve ordered. How differently you would’ve reacted to my jokes. What it would’ve been like to kiss you goodnight instead.”

Sol feels as if the entirety of the universe is trying to cram itself into her brain at the same time. 

Jiwan shifts closer, hand landing on Sol’s knee. “That’s what changed,” Jiwan says, laughing weakly. “I realized that I had feelings for you, realized that I’ve probably had them for a while. It’s why I was such a brat while you were gone. I went and got trashed the day you told me you went out on that date. I don’t think I’ve ever been more jealous.”

By the time Jiwan finishes, her chest is heaving, eyes rapidly scanning Sol’s face for any type of reaction.

Sol desperately tries to scrabble together a coherent sentence, but all she can do is stare. Jiwan shifts in front of her, determination slowly beginning to give way to worry.

It’s that which drives Sol to act. She leans in, resting one of her hands on Jiwan’s arm. She slides it down, gently cupping Jiwan’s wrist. Not breaking eye contact, she lifts Jiwan’s hand, sliding her thumb around to her palm to guide her. “Everywhere I went,” Sol says, laying Jiwan’s hand just below her left collar bone, “I carried you with me.”

Her heart thuds between them, as if straining towards Jiwan’s hand. Silently, Sol pleads with Jiwan to understand. She doesn’t know how to properly convey the maelstrom in her chest, not right now.

Sol tries one more thing. “I hated Hyun-Woo.”

Jiwan breaks into laughter, eyes brightening. She leans in closer, hand sliding from Sol’s collarbone to cup her jaw. 

“Compared to you,” Jiwan whispers, “he was horrible.”

“I love you,” Sol blurts out, unable to fight the tide welling in her chest. “I don’t know how to stop.”

Jiwan’s lips crash against her own, carrying her away in a kiss she'd seldom dared to dream about. Wandering hands slip upwards, tangling in her hair and pulling Sol ever closer. Jiwan tastes like her strawberry lip gloss and soju, a combination that will forever be imprinted upon Sol's brain.

Sol curls an arm around Jiwan's waist, breaking the kiss at the behest of her burning lungs. She dips lower, pressing heat to the curve of Jiwan's jaw. The hands in her hair tighten briefly before releasing.

Jiwan's hands drop from her hair to push at her shoulders, and, with great reluctance, Sol straightens up. She looks at Jiwan, pupils blown and lips reddened. "I," Jiwan begins, breathing heavily, "am trying to be romantic here." 

"Oh," Sol questions, leaning in once more. She's smiling now, so wide that her face can barely contain it. "Go on then."

"I don't know how to stop loving you either," Jiwan says. "So you're stuck with me."

Sol laughs, intoxicated on the knowledge that Jiwan returns her feelings. "I wouldn't want it any other way."

"Good. Now get over here and kiss me."

//

“I told you she didn’t like men!” Bitna slaps her hand on the table. “I was right!”

A collective groan rises from the table. 

“You didn’t even mean it,” Sehun shouts. “You were as surprised as the rest of us.”

Sol does her best to stifle her grin behind the lip of her beer bottle. An arm slips around hers, eager fingers intertwining with Sol’s own. “Are they still arguing,” Jiwan asks, her head warm against Sol’s shoulder.

Sol hums in the affirmative. “Bitna still says she knew all along, but no one believes her.”

Jiwan giggles, and Sol looks down to catch a glimpse of the smile she’s fortunate enough to start and end her days with. “And Nabi?”

Sol looks over to her best friend, who has been silently watching chaos unfold before her. Nabi stands in the corner of the room, cup held in front of her mouth. She catches Sol’s eye and raises her cup with a wink, revealing her grin.

Sol inclines her head to their squabbling friends, raising her brow to ask Nabi if she’s going to step forward and claim rightful victory.

Nabi just shakes her head. Her eyes flit down to Sol and Jiwan’s intertwined hands, and her eyes soften around the edges, melting into a fondness that makes Sol want to curl in on herself. Nabi had been unflinching over the last several weeks, serving as a confidant as her and Jiwan figured out how exactly they wanted to share their relationship with friends.

“Still the best, even if no one else knows it.”

“She really is,” Jiwan agrees. She leans further into Sol, and Sol leans right back, just enough to offer support.

Sol turns away from their friends, giving Jiwan her full attention. “Tired?”

“Hm?” Jiwan looks up at her, blinking for a moment as she processes Sol’s question. Her mouth slips into a smirk. “You would know, wouldn’t you?”

Sol blushes from the tips of her ears to the soles of her feet. “That is not what I mean,” she hisses. “We didn’t even—It wasn’t for that long! We were asleep by midnight, but you’ve been sleepy all day.”

Jiwan giggles, as she always does when throwing Sol’s entire world off balance. “You’re too easy. I have no idea why people think you’re tough and mysterious.” She reaches up to poke at Sol’s cheek, laughter only growing when Sol lets her, merely scowling in response.

“But yes,” Jiwan relents, apparently satisfied with torturing her girlfriend for the time being, “I am pretty tired. I didn’t sleep as well when you were gone. I think my body is just adjusting to normal sleep again.”

Sol shifts in place. “I’m—”

“Don’t say it,” Jiwan says, straightening up to face Sol head-on. “No more apologizing. We agreed.”

“I know,” Sol says. “But still. I wish I could go back in time and tell you that everything would be okay.”

Jiwan’s hand leaves Sol’s arm, skims up her shoulder and neck to cup her face. “You’re here with me now.” Jiwan gazes at her as if she’s something precious beyond value, silver-latticework bones and gold running through her veins. “That’s all I really need.”

Jiwan’s other hand rests along Sol’s neck, idly fiddling with the fold of her collar. Her other hand slides along Sol’s jaw, and it’s the only thing Sol can focus on. She leans in to kiss her, and Jiwan meets her halfway.

Sol’s hands fall to Jiwan’s waist, holding her close even as she breaks the kiss. Distantly, she’s aware of their friends shouting in her direction, but she maintains the bubble between her and Jiwan as long as she can.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

A loud whistle splits the air between them, and Jiwan steps away from their embrace with an annoyed look on her face. She storms away, already shouting at their friends.

Sol stands in place, taking it all in. She feels it, a small tug in the center of her chest, pulsing gently with each step away from her Jiwan takes. There is no urge to run, no compulsion to be anywhere other than where she is right now.

It truly is amazing, Sol thinks, how she ran halfway across the world to flee her own heart, only to end up right back where she started.

Jiwan glances over her shoulder, catching Sol’s eye and smiling wide. It’s the same smile Sol gets to see when she wakes up, the same one that gazes at her over morning coffee and greets her when she walks into the studio.

She understands it now, why running away was never going to work. Jiwan is a fixed point in her universe, one that will always draw Sol in. She can roam as far as she pleases, but there’s only one place she’ll always return to.