“Seriously? The whole summer?”
They sit on the back porch of Hwasa’s house, and Wendy waits for smoke to come curling out of her mouth in a slow exhale, already reaching for the blunt in her hands.
“It is what it is,” says Wendy, lit end of the spliff glowing orange as she inhales. She breathes out smoke into the night air, watching it fade into wisps of nothing.
“It’s just,” Hwasa tugs down on her lower lip. A bit of lipstick comes off on her front teeth, and Wendy’s eyes linger on her mouth. “You’re from fucking Canada.”
This time, she laughs. “I’m also at the top of our class and gunning for class president in the fall,” she points out, amused. She takes another drag -- a long one -- and Hwasa eyes her but says nothing. perks of being shipped off to convent, Wendy guesses. Her lips curve into an almost smile.
“None of it has anything to do with being caught going down on Kim Taeyeon behind the bleachers.”
Hwasa whistles, her following chuckle throaty and low. “Gotta get those upperclassmen votes in somehow, huh,” she grins, taking a hit after. She crushes the lit end against the wooden railing and offers the half left to Wendy.
“A parting gift,” she says, and then in true Ahn Hyejin fashion: “Unless you’d rather just finish it now and make out instead.”
Wendy shoves her shoulder, even if she thinks about it for a second. Just a quick one. “Not if we were the last gays on earth,” she declares.
“If we all get sent off by our parents like you,” Hwasa hums, “it’s a chance.”
Her mother cries. Her father wraps an arm around her shoulders and it’s all very melodramatic, considering.
Pastor Song -- the man in charge of things -- speaks passionately about sacrifice and love, to console them. He mentions in passing that she might not recognize it now, too clouded by natural anger and sadness, but her parents are committing The Ultimate Act of sacrifice: relinquishing control over their youngest daughter so that she may in turn focus on her internal demons that have previously blocked her path to God, all for the low price of hundreds of thousands per month in living and counseling fees.
Maybe he doesn’t word it exactly like that.
Either way, they look at her like a storm yet to pass, wrath tucked away somewhere inside with betrayal and, like, a grudge definitely being held -- they just can’t see it.
Wendy stares back. There’s a voice at the back of her head telling her she knew she’d be bored already.
“So where’s my room?”
She’s considerably more interested to learn she has a roommate.
(Everyone does, apparently. As often as hefty donations from conservative families roll in to keep the program running, there was just no accommodating a single person per room.)
Light brown eyes wander appreciatively over the girl bent over her bookcase, standing to attention when she raps her knuckles against the door, closing it behind her and wheeling her luggage in. She wouldn’t complain about a roommate with a face like that to match. Not one bit.
“Seungwan-sshi,” the girl who introduces herself as Bae Joohyun smiles, bowing deeply, “we heard that you would be coming last week. It’s nice to finally meet.”
“It’s Wendy,” she corrects quickly, wrinkling her nose. “No Seungwan. No honorifics.”
Joohyun tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear. She looks nervous, but sure of herself, too, in a way. “Pastor Song mentioned I’m your unnie,” she clears her throat, “I won’t be upset if you don’t call me that, but if you don’t mind, I’ll still be calling you Seungwan.”
She does mind, but curiosity edges out agitation, and Wendy looks up from where she’s dropped her suitcase on her new bed. “Why?”
“Pastor Song thinks it’s better for us to be called by the name our parents gave us when we were born,” Joohyun takes a breath, and Wendy does her best to manage her expression around the girl. She wonders how many of her sentences begin with Pastor Song thinks, this or Pastor Song says that.
“Many of the root problems to our desires stem from early on, so it helps us identify those problem areas by being able to easily revisit those times.”
She thinks she might have initially called Joohyun out on her shit (despite the fact it looks like her new roommate genuinely believes it, which might be the worst part), but Wendy wants to know something else first. She pauses as she folds a sweater, the light fabric stretched thin between her hands.
“And who were you? Before.”
“I was always Joohyun.”
Wendy considers her carefully at that.
“You never wanted to be someone else?”
Joohyun’s cheeks flush slightly at the implication, a powder pink that looks soft to the touch, but she shakes her head, firm.
Wendy raises her eyebrows but stays quiet.
Park Jinyoung is one of the more popular residents, she learns, a regular summer camper since he was fifteen years old.
(“Junior, not Jinyoung,” he had told her with a deceptively charming eye smile, “but I can guarantee there’s nothing little about me.”
“Wendy, not Seungwan,” she drawled back when they were in line for breakfast. She needs coffee. Injected intravenously, preferably. “Just Wendy.”)
She begins to watch him with increased interest once the caffeine is flowing through her veins again -- the boy who had set his breakfast tray down in front of her in the mess hall as soon as she’d sat down at the nearest empty table. There are people looking, she can see from her peripheral, but Junior, not Jinyoung doesn’t seem to mind.
Wendy wonders if this is the beginning of some sort of hazing ritual, but doesn’t think about it too deeply. Hazing would be too normal, and everything about this place is far from.
Joohyun sits nearby at a table with a few others, prim even as she spreads jam across a piece of toast with a plastic fork. She thinks of how the girl brushed her teeth in their room as soon as Wendy walked in the bathroom to wash her face after waking up.
(“Camp rules,” she said apologetically, after spitting and rinsing in the sink -- only once Wendy was out, of course. No two girls should be in the bathroom at one time, and the door should stay open whenever possible.
Wendy had just mumbled something vaguely assenting in response. It was too early to have a debate on the lack of appeal factor to have sex in a bathroom to warrant such regulations.)
Her eyes snap back to Junior. His mouth rises at the edges in a haughty, almost disbelieving smile.
“You have the hots for Virgin Mary,” he arches his eyebrows.
“She’s probably not a virgin,” Wendy deflects easily, pointing her chopsticks at him, “not if she’s here with the rest of us sexual deviants. Besides, who just told me they landed here because they hooked up with a choir boy?”
“One, I’ve earned permanent summer residency long before the Blowjob Debacle of Last Easter Sunday,” he corrects with a surprising air of dignity, “Two, not just a choir boy, Seungwan. The choir boy.”
He laughs, a little less controlled, the whites of his teeth bright and sharp.
“I like you,” he declares, “Don’t let them change you.”
“Does that actually happen?” Wendy asks, glancing over -- briefly, she hopes -- in Joohyun’s direction. The dark haired boy’s eyes follow, and he smiles grimly.
“Well,” Junior says, “I wouldn’t make it easy for them.”
The counselor that comes by after breakfast with a timetable reads off names and activities attached to them, and once her name is called, Junior hums in delight.
“Looks like you’re with me,” he informs her, the corners of his eyes dimpling attractively, and Wendy thinks: he has the kind of face her parents would have wanted her to bring home once, probably still.
“‘Group?’” Wendy repeats after the counselor that’s already traveled down their row to the other tables, “You mean they don’t do the heteronormative indoctrination one on one?”
“Oh, Wendy,” Junior clucks his tongue disapprovingly, “One on one sessions are for delving into your past and finding out you seek comfort from women because your mom didn’t hug you enough. Group is another necessary evil.”
“Besides,” he reaches for her as they begin to walk down the hall, looping an arm through hers, “We have an interesting collection.” She snorts at that, but later finds out he’s not wrong.
“Byulyi?” one of the therapists -- Wendy doesn’t buy it for a second, not when she hardly looks a few years older than any of them at best -- prompts after a boy swears up and down he hadn't slept with the defensive lineman on purpose. Junior had murmured in her ear an inquiry if it might’ve been the tight end instead, and she barely contains her laughter.
The next girl pretends to straighten her posture, but ends up slouching against her chair anyway. She has a long face, framed by longer, honey colored hair, and Wendy doesn’t look so much as she notices.
“Moonbyul, nineteen,” she waves a hand in the air, “third year summer res. My vices are rapping Kanye West songs and loud brunettes.” The therapist sighs. “Like, singers, I meant.” She catches Wendy’s eye and grins. “Way to overt the gay, I thought we’re all about subconscious sinning here.”
She rubs the back of her neck and throws the therapist an almost convincingly apologetic smile. “Sorry, Yongsun unnie.”
Wendy looks questioningly at Junior, and he leans over his seat to rest his chin on her shoulder. No one seems to notice, but if they do, she supposes, this kind of behavior is probably encouraged.
“Yongsun-ah ‘graduated’ from the program last year,” he whispers in a low tone, “Really, she just turned a year above the age group allowed here. The young adults program is a bigger mess than the teens, so rumor has it her family just sent her back here as a counselor instead.”
He lifts his head from her shoulder and Wendy shifts in her seat, looking around the circle of faces she’s yet to know. They must know Yongsun well, or at least, the regulars like Moonbyul. “Don’t even think about it,” Junior warns her good naturedly, humored, when she stares a little too long at their counselor.
“Jinyoung-sshi, would you like to introduce yourself next since you’re feeling talkative today?” asks Yongsun, leveling him with a frown.
“I love it when you use formalities, noona,” Junior flirts with each syllable, meeting Moonbyul’s offered low-five as he settles back in his seat and folds his hands in his lap. “I’d hate to steal the spotlight away from --” He glances to his right. “Yixing. He’s not as new as our fresh friend Seungwan here, but I think he deserves his time nonetheless.”
Wendy lifts an eyebrow at him as the boy -- shy, much more reserved than the two he’s sandwiched between -- starts his introduction, as if to say, you could get away with murder, you know?
Junior just smiles. I know.
The boy -- Yixing, launches into an apology, and she follows his gaze across the circle, to the person he’s now speaking to instead of addressing the group as a whole.
“I didn’t mean -- I just meant you were a big help last summer -- ”
Joohyun’s fists are clenched at her sides, her eyes too full of weight and meaning to sift through, managing to shake her head and offer him a reassuring smile, however small.
“It’s okay, I just,” she breathes evenly, “I just prefer Joohyun. Not anything else.” Her smile turns strained. “It’s in the rules, too, you know.”
“Sorry,” says Yixing again, still tense.
Joohyun relaxes a little more by the minute, and when she shakes her head at him this time, it’s more believable. “You didn’t know,” she tells him soothingly, “It’s okay.”
Wendy begins to lean over, but Junior already meets her halfway.
“Hyun,” he mutters quietly, observing the scene just as closely as she is, and answering her question before she has a chance to ask it, “He called her Hyun.”
She’s still thinking of Junior’s stories from dinner when she gets ready for bed. He’d mentioned the mail screening system and the ways to get around it, if you were clever enough. Last year, he’d told her, his best friend Jackson had snuck him a prepaid cellphone.
Wendy’s busy wondering if Hwasa could do the same when Joohyun calls her name softly, asking her if it’s okay to turn out the lights. She doesn’t use Wendy, though, not her preferred name, and before telling her yes, she reminds the girl of that. Joohyun looks almost sorry as she says,
“I can’t call you that, Seungwan.”
She pulls her comforter away from the bed, climbing in and trying not to sound stiff as she replies,
“Why not? I go by Wendy now.” Wendy yanks the sheets over her body, turning and trying to find a comfortable position. She frowns. “That’s who I am.”
She doesn’t expect Joohyun’s answering, “Then who was Seungwan?” She pauses once more, sliding into her own bed. “Why are you trying to forget her?”
Wendy clenches her jaw, a spike of annoyance buzzing in her veins. She’s tired. The first day is the longest, she’s told. She wants to sleep.
“Who was Hyun?”
Joohyun doesn’t answer, only offering a quiet, “good night,” before turning off the light and blanketing them both in darkness.
It’s the small things. A cookie snuck from the kitchen wrapped in plastic left on her nightstand. Her laundry, warm and washed and folded on her bed long after lights out, after she’s snuck out to the roof to smoke the cigarettes Junior pawns off one of the altar boys and communion wine Moonbyul sneaks in a flask.
She doesn’t know what any of it means. That’s the truth.
“So you know,” Junior tells her over breakfast one morning, cheshire cat grin in place as he takes a sip of his drink, “people hook up here all the time.”
“What?” Wendy shifts her eyes to him, since at least one of them is pretending her gaze hadn’t lingered on one of the girls from their group session when she passed by.
He rolls his eyes.
“I mean, there are weirdos like the Virgin Mary who drink the kool aid, but a good half of us are just trying to get through the summer dodging as much emotional trauma as possible.”
“Her name is Joohyun, and if that were the case.” Her heel comes up to rub at the bridge of her nose. “Why is she even here?”
Junior shrugs. “The intricacies of repressed lesbianism, my young, sapphic friend, is shockingly not in my field of expertise.” He looks down at his coffee, mulling over it himself. Wendy knows it probably doesn’t make sense to anyone else, either -- why would Joohyun stay, when she believes what everyone else won’t? Why would anyone?
“Who knows,” he decides, the crease between his brows disappearing as he stands and takes his tray, “I heard she’s been here the longest. Even longer than Heechul, who had to stop coming a few years back. Turned legal age and that was that.”
He does a good job, Wendy decides right then and there, for answering her questions and leaving her with more of them in the end.
Joohyun places Hershey's kisses on the middle of each piece of dough Wendy rolls out onto the baking sheet, and if the people running this place wanted to instill some heteronormativity in her, she thinks, they’d picked the wrong activity.
“You’re really good at this,” Joohyun comments, pleasant surprise evident in her tone, “I mean it. The cinnamon is going to be a nice touch.”
“Thanks,” Wendy answers dryly, fingers scraping against the bowl for more batter, “I made cookies for my school’s GSA meetings before we’d engage in group orgies. Very homoerotic, lots of sinning -- and not just because of how much butter goes in these.”
Joohyun is quiet at that, and Wendy begins to feel a little bad. “Sorry,” she breaks the silence first, however grudgingly. When the other girl still doesn’t say anything, she sighs.
“My mom,” she says, a little softer.
Wendy doesn’t miss the way Joohyun glances at her. “What?”
“My mom and I would bake all the time,” she admits, rolling out the last piece onto the sheet. She maneuvers around Joohyun, steam rising from the sink as hot water runs over her messy hands. It’s too hot but Wendy doesn’t move away.
“Every Christmas, every holiday. The house would smell for days and when my sister would come home from college for breaks, she’d head straight to the kitchen because that’s where we’d be.”
She shuts off the sink and leans against the counter, and for a second, she’s not hundreds of miles from home but with family. There’s a strange hollow feeling in her chest that doesn’t get better when Joohyun says --
“You sound close.”
It gets worse, actually.
“We were,” she bites the inside of her cheek, “until I came out. Then it all sort of went to hell.” She rolls her eyes. “Figuratively, of course.”
Joohyun presses her hands clean against a kitchen towel, composed even as she squares her jaw and meets Wendy’s stare head on. “I’m sure you could rebuild your relationship, it sounds like she loves -- “
“When?” Wendy prompts, and there is nothing nice about it, unlike the way Joohyun speaks to her, handles her, guides her through the rules here as though they’re a way of life and not a means to an end.
“When I stop sleeping with girls or when I pretend I don’t want to?” she asks, cutting Joohyun off when it looks like she wants to reply. She pushes herself off the counter and steps into the other girl’s space like a moth drawn to a flame.
“It sounded like you were going to tell me my mom loves me, and I’m not going to say she doesn’t. But she sent me here because they think something’s wrong with me, and that makes love messy. Love is always messy.”
Wendy swallows, eyes darting down to Joohyun’s mouth. She doesn’t bother pretending she hasn’t wondered if she’d enjoyed the last time another was against hers -- if it was a boy and if Joohyun convinced herself she enjoyed it, if it was a girl and if so, who.
“It’s easy to know what you want, though. So I don’t pretend for anyone,” Wendy steps back, pushing a hand through her hair. She reaches around Joohyun and bites her tongue when she sees the other girl’s hands are white knuckled by her side.
When the tray of cookies are placed in the oven, Wendy looks around the kitchen. There’s still clean up to do, but the kitchen is small and she feels claustrophobic.
“Thanks for the help,” she tells Joohyun as she leaves, “next time I’ve got it, though.”
“I’m telling you,” Junior warns, walking in circles around the basketball court when it became clear he wouldn’t shoot hoops with her during their free activity hour, “there are less crazy girls to get involved with here. Not Sooyoung, though, she’s definitely insane.”
“Who’s involved?” Wendy spares him a sidelong glare, the kind he had already told her three times today made her look like a peeved kitten than anything particularly threatening. “She keeps bothering me.”
“Well,” Junior regards her amusedly, “Save ye brethren and fellow lost flock from eternal damnation. I’m sure she thinks her heart is in the right place.”
She scans the courtyard and finds Joohyun quickly, sitting in the shade at a table where an old radio croons out song after song. She’s sure he’s right, is the thing, but Joohyun waves and she turns to Junior with a scowl, pushing him into a hedge for it.
“I don’t do bushes, so you know,” he haughtily informs her from the ground, plucking twigs from his hair.
A lie: she acts the same with Joohyun as she does everyone else at camp as the days blur and her first week passes, then the next.
The truth: there is something in the way the other girl approaches her, persistent but never quite to the point of overbearing, the more Wendy avoids her.
It’s the small things. A cookie snuck from the kitchen wrapped in plastic left on her nightstand. Her laundry, warm and washed and folded on her bed long after lights out, after she’s snuck out to the roof to smoke the cigarettes Junior pawns off one of the altar boys and communion wine Moonbyul sneaks in a flask.
She doesn’t know what any of it means. That’s the truth.
She cracks first.
(It’s not her fault, the way Joohyun leans into her during Friday movie night in the rec room, how if Wendy didn’t know the other girl was doing her laundry before she knows it now with the softness of her longsleeve rubbing against the skin of her bare arm. By the end of it, Joohyun’s hand was in hers and Wendy had done nothing but let her.)
“I don’t get it,” she says, the first thing she tells Joohyun in however long that isn’t simple and forward and a blanket to smother this -- whatever this is -- between them, “You can’t -- don’t they kick you out for that kind of thing back there?”
Joohyun, to her credit, doesn’t waste time asking what she meant. A muscle pumps in her jaw and her gaze is hard as she exits the bathroom in her sleepwear, soft looking in dim light of their room, and Wendy is reminded of kitchen duty and how her lips looked up close.
“I can’t be afraid of same sex contact. I have to normalize it in an acceptable setting,” Joohyun says, like she was prepared for this, like she knew Wendy would be the one with clenched fists and the first one to choke on the tension in the air. “I can’t be afraid of my temptations, because I control my behavior.”
She takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry if you thought it was inappropriate. I should have considered where you are in your path,” she adds, sliding into bed and reaching for the lamp by her nightstand.
Joohyun shifts away from her, and Wendy stares at the outline of her before noticing something white poking out from underneath her pillow.
Her saving grace comes in the form of Ahn Hyejin.
Wendy rolls her eyes, an inexplicable fondness for the girl that mails her a selfie with curly handwriting on the back that says -- if this is the only one you get, it’s because they took out the nudes. ): And knowing her, Wendy thinks, anything’s possible.
“Is she single?” Junior asks over her shoulder, having abandoned his lunch in favor of pawing at her care package. She arches an eyebrow at the boy.
“What?” he scowls, “being here doesn’t mean I’m exclusively into dick.”
Wendy allows herself a grin. “That’s fair, but the choir boy Jaebum, as you’ve mentioned -- ”
“What’s this?” asks Joohyun, approaching them.
“Who’s this, more like,” Moonbyul cuts in out of nowhere, too. She leans over Wendy under the guise of reaching over to snatch the photo from her hands. The older girl rests against her back, heavy and warm, and she looks down to Wendy with a raise of her eyebrows.
“She’s hot. Knew you’d have good taste, Seungwannie.”
Wendy pushes back, which only makes Moonbyul wrap an arm around her shoulders.
“Don’t be a brat,” she says, enjoying it. Moonbyul knows too, if any indication.
“Pastor Song announced one on one sessions in a few days,” Joohyun starts, like she’s apologetic but not at all with the way she’s looking at them. Junior looks intrigued, Wendy tries to be disinterested and fails, and Moonbyul doesn’t even notice when she leaves.
“Gay,” Junior finishes for her, “The word you’re looking for is gay.”
It’s hard to argue.
It’s not her proudest moment.
Things like pride are hard to come by these days, given the circumstances, so she cuts herself some slack. Friday movie nights are for revelations, apparently, or maybe signs of things Wendy already knows.
So when Moonbyul quirks her eyebrows like she does, nose scrunched in the worst attempt to hide a smile when she asks if the spot next to her is taken, she says no.
The lights go down and she couldn’t care less about the movie being projected on the screen, only the way a hand settles over her thigh and when she looks over, Moonbyul is looking at her again, as though waiting for her to call her off.
She doesn’t, and while there are still eyes in the dark looking over them every so often, Moon Byulyi has a lion’s heart, fearless as she rubs circles along her lower back and once, drops a kiss on her shoulder.
“To be continued?” she asks when the movie ends and everyone is meant to go back, lazy grin a permanent fixture on her lips that Wendy wants to feel up close.
And instead of yes, she says: “Tell Junior not to come to the roof tonight.”
She finds Joohyun waiting for her back in their room, and there are no false pretenses here.
“You shouldn’t go,” Joohyun tells her, a little rushed, as though she’d been waiting and watching the whole time and who knows. Maybe she was. “I mean it. I won’t tell, but you shouldn’t do it, Seungwan.”
“Why do you?” Wendy shoots back lowly, digging through her drawer. She finds the teddy bear Hwasa had mailed her and zips open the plush’s back, pulling out the joint hidden in the cotton.
She tucks it carefully into her short pockets and looks at Joohyun again, who appears torn between admonishing her for getting contraband snuck in or warning her not to leave again.
She settles on: “Why do I what?”
“Why do you do it?” Wendy prompts her again, “Why do you pretend it’s not what you want, too? Why are you even here? You’re the story they want to sell.”
Wendy shakes her head. The more she’s thought about it, the more frustrated she’s gotten. “So why are you? Ever since I got here, I’ve been trying to figure it out. And it was so simple, I felt stupid for not thinking of it before.”
“You’re here because someone’s out there. Someone you’re scared to see. Someone that could ruin what they’ve done to you.”
Joohyun flinches at her last words, but before she can say anything -- if she even would at all, Wendy doesn’t know -- there’s two quick knocks on the door before the handle is pushed open.
Moonbyul spares them both a glance, but keeps most of her attention focused on the hallway just in case.
Wendy nods, casting Joohyun a look -- disappointment, maybe, resentment, certainly -- before turning to go.
“Don’t wait up.”
this came veeeery close to being one long chapter instead of one more after this, so i hope you enjoy and anticipate the next/last!
For once, Joohyun's curiosity beats her own.
"What's her name?"
Wendy glances up from the pile of laundry they're sorting. "I'm sorry?" She folds a shirt and sets it aside. She keeps her tone neutral and polite -- Joohyun has done her best to ignore what goes on during the nights Moonbyul knocks on their bedroom door, or when Wendy slips out to meet her first.
It's not the other girl that she's asking about though. "You know," Joohyun presses, even when her eyes don't meet Wendy's. "The one that sends you letters almost every week. The one that got you here."
Oh. Wendy shoots her a sidelong glance, but Joohyun is Very Determinedly not looking back.
"They're two different people," she says, because it's an answer even if it's not a whole one. She knows this as well as Joohyun, who purses her lips but nods, like it's satisfactory. They both know it's not.
The two of them reach for the same jacket at the same time and Joohyun jerks back, knocking her elbow into a shelf. Wendy allows a small chuckle -- under her breath, to be fair -- even when the older girl glares. Joohyun is cute when she's embarrassed.
"Taeyeon is the name of the senior I was caught with," Wendy offers, "she hasn't contacted me since I was sent here and I'm not sorry over it. Half of the appeal was her being so out of my league to begin with."
She hands Joohyun a pair of her pajama pants she's already folded. Her lower lip is caught between her teeth and Wendy raises an eyebrow.
"Hwasa's my best friend, but it'd never work and she's been secretly banging this cheerleader for the last six months." Wheein's a nice enough girl, she thinks.
Joohyun looks like she's fighting herself on mentioning the next words at all. "And Byulyi...."
Wendy scratches behind her ear. "Moonbyul's fun, and fun passes the time. I don't have anyone waiting for me back home, not like that," she pauses, thinking of Junior's JB, of Jaebum, "I almost wish I did, though."
"No, you don't," Joohyun tells her quietly.
It's a good of a question as any, though there are a thousand others sitting on her tongue with how Joohyun looks, not the poster convert but regret in her eyes and a girl's name lost somewhere on her mouth.
"It's not good," answers Joohyun finally, turning, too, to match Wendy's gaze with one of her own. "It makes it... harder."
"For who?" Wendy prompts.
Joohyun swallows. "For everyone," she says, and for the first time, Wendy can't disagree.
These are the experiences that divide them, but make everything more real. It's just the way things go, she realizes.
Halfway through summer, she sees Junior in a way she'd never imagined possible before. He's pacing up and down the canteen one morning, hair in disarrayed tufts from his hands running through it and she can see staff failing to placate him at all.
Wendy steps closer to the scene despite everyone else shrinking back, though.
"I want my letter, don't fucking lie to me," he spits, eyes blazing, "I saw, okay, I know it was there, now where is it?"
"Jinyoung -- "
"We were joking, all right? I know you read everything that goes through here. It wasn't -- we're not," he takes a deep breath, "it was a joke. I'm not going to run. Just give me it." His voice breaks on the last syllable. "Please."
"Is that what you want?" Joohyun startles her, coming up from behind as she, along with everyone else, watches Junior unfold into something small -- defenseless. It's not right. Wendy's jaw tightens and she wants arms long and wide enough to shield him from being looked at like a caged animal.
"To need someone and reduce you to -- that?"
"You hide a letter under your pillow," she wastes no time in mincing words, watching Joohyun recoil with wide eyes.
Wendy refuses to back down. "He's not scared like you are, and maybe," she waits a beat, "maybe that is what I want. To have someone worth fighting for."
As Junior gets escorted away and Wendy turns to follow, to demand answers she knows she already won't get, Joohyun stops her with a hand on her arm.
"You can sit with me," she says, gentle, "I know you always sit with him."
Wendy shakes her hand off. "You don't even know how to apologize," she murmurs, before walking the other way.
Joohyun, at least, doesn't argue with that.
"You think he'll be okay?"
Moonbyul looks up, fastening the last button of her shirt to find Wendy already dressed and staring out toward the field that stretches miles outside their little world here.
"You know, I'd be offended that you want to talk about a guy of all things after what we just did, but given the circumstances I'll let it go," she tries to joke, stretching her legs out, too, but not over the edge of the building. They have to be careful on the roof during daylight hours, and they're already in trouble as it is, skipping afternoon activities.
"He'll be fine. Just more one on one sessions with Song and probably swapping recreational hours with bible study for a bit," Moonbyul lays back on her hands, the rough floor imprinting grains of rock on her palms. She hadn't noticed earlier. Wendy still looks too thoughtful, though, and she pushes the girl's arm lightly. "Seriously, he's okay. He and Jaebum aren't even a serious thing."
That, if nothing else, gets her attention. "How do you know that?"
Moonbyul shrugs. "It's romantic in the beginning, in a way," she begins to scan the fields, too, eyeing the small mass that's probably the boys doing men's work, "letters and secret messages and all these promises about what you're going to do when you're out. But boys like Jaebum are loyal to their family first." She runs a hand through her hair. "I'd be surprised if he doesn't send himself here next summer. Junior won't be coming back then."
"He might come even if Junior does, for whatever reason," she squares her jaw, too casual for Wendy to believe. "People love to hurt themselves being near what they want the most and won't let themselves have."
"You sounded jaded," Wendy says.
A breeze picks up and Moonbyul's sigh is lost in the wind.
"Can't be heartbroken if you're not hopeful," Moonbyul adds. "S'fine. He's got us. We won't let him drown."
Moon Byulyi is an awful liar, Wendy decides, and a good friend.
Group, for all intents and purposes, remains a constant cycle of the same stories by different names. Until Yongsun begins like she always does (after a moment of quiet prayer for Jinyoung, who wouldn't be joining them today for personal reasons), asking if anyone had any news they would like to share.
Joohyun does. Even Yongsun looks surprised at that, but recovers graciously, motioning for the other girl to take the floor. She stands, and in her hand, Wendy spots all too quickly, is a piece of paper with writing on it.
"This is a letter," she starts, "from the person who is a part of why I'm here. I won't say she's the reason, because it's my actions and mine alone that ultimately decided that, but it's still important. I've had it since the first mail in, I've just been too scared to read it."
Everyone else, Wendy notices before she forgets about the others in the room entirely, look equally caught off guard. She leans forward in her seat as Joohyun reads:
It's been a long time since I've called you that. Even writing it feels strange, but nice. You moved schools after what happened, but I felt like I needed to get this off my chest and I spoke with your parents about where to send this. I hope you're not upset. I let them read it before I sent it, just to show my intentions are honest.
Hyun. Do you remember when you kissed me for the first time in my tree house that summer? My heart beat so fast I thought I would die. That wasn't so long ago, remembering now, but after everything it feels like a lifetime.
I don't have to tell you it was wrong. We were wrong. I was fighting with my mom a lot then and you had your troubles too, didn't you? In the end, I don't blame you for starting it. We were both confused and seeking comfort in all the wrong places.
I miss you. I hear from your parents you're doing well at camp. I hope we can be friends again some day. Maybe we can even go swimming next summer, if you're around?
Always sincerely (and sincerely always),
Your best friend
"Why did you cry?"
They're alone in their room, and all through the rest of group and dinner, Joohyun had been red eyed and quieter than usual after breaking out in tears after reading her letter. Joohyun places the brush she had been using aside and folds her hands in her lap.
"Because none of what she said ever happened."
Wendy looks up from her own bed opposite her, surprised. "What?"
"Our first kiss wasn't at her tree house," she admits quietly, "She can't swim. She never fought with her mom like she wrote, either, and I wasn't having a hard time. That summer was perfect, but in the letter..."
She blinks, and has to wonder what Joohyun must have felt, reading a letter from a girl -- the girl -- and finding it full of lies. Most of all, the other girl must have wondered why.
"She loves you," Wendy says, as soon as she realizes it herself. "She lied because it was the only way to talk to you, and to let you know -- " She wets her lips and ignores the strange tightness in her chest. "To let you know she doesn't regret it."
"No," Joohyun interrupts, voice cracking as the squeezing feeling only gets worse for Wendy. She keeps looking down at her hands, away from her eyes. "No, she can't."
"You knew," she continues quietly, guesses: "She said it to you before, hasn't she?"
The older girl's shoulders tremble as she looks up, face streaked with tears. "No one should want this kind of life, do you see? Not Jinyoung, or Byulyi, or me -- "
Wendy presses her mouth against each cheek, against each tear, hands running up and down her arms. She doesn't know when she'd ended up crouched in front of Joohyun, knees protesting against the hard tile like a prayer gone unsung. Her lips leave hymns where they touch and Joohyun's nails dig into her palms but she doesn't push her away.
"She loved me, and she doesn't anymore," she says, like it must be true, like it has to and there is no or else.
"Is that what you want?" Wendy is gentle, all soft edges even when her eyes are sharp -- she wants to know, too. "For her not to love you anymore?"
Joohyun buries her head against her shoulder and Wendy holds her there. "I don't know," she says, and it's not a confession as much as it is a quiet breaking. Joohyun is broken. "I don't know, I don't know."
Wendy takes her hand and guides her underneath her covers. When she slides into bed, not her own but right beside her, Joohyun's eyes are terrified but the hand that refuses to leave hers says everything to settle her resolve.
"I'll wake up before morning check in," she promises, "and I'll slip back into my own bed then." Joohyun gives her the tiniest nod and, after a second's hesitation, rests her head against her chest where her heart beats its own lullaby.
Wendy doesn't sleep the entire night.
Junior looks remarkably better at breakfast.
Joohyun, however, doesn't so much as offer either of them a good morning as she passes.
"What did you do?" he arches both eyebrows, too nosy for his normal drawl as he snatches an orange slice off her tray. He looks entertained. "Did you fuck her?"
Wendy sends a glare his way but he doesn't back down. She rolls her eyes and gives him the rest of her orange, reaching for her coffee.
"Worse, I think." She can't help the way her eyes flicker over to Joohyun's table, how she's unable to forget the way the other girl had kept close enough she could feel every take of her breath. "I reminded her she's human."
But at night, when Joohyun is the one to crawl into her bed, to wrap an arm around her waist to keep her near, plea soft on her lips not to be turned away, Wendy can't say no.
She changes her mind right then and there: wanting is messy, too.
As far as goodbyes go, Wendy’s heard worse.
“When you leave here, you have a choice,” Yongsun takes the moment to look them all in the eye, “between what you learned here and what's out there.” Beside her, Junior’s leg shakes, impatient, and on her other side, Moonbyul is unusually quiet.
“Not all of you will be coming back next summer, but I'll be praying for your faith all the same,” Yongsun continues. Their group is pensive today, less rowdy than she's used to. Wendy cuts her gaze across the circle to Joohyun, and the other girl looks away. “I hope we meet again sometime.”
Yongsun bows her head at them, with a smile so warm and sincere Wendy thinks it could bloom flowers in December -- a smile like that.
She's distracted all the same once their last session is officially over, too focused on Joohyun to approach the counselor personally, but when she thinks about it, she's almost sorry to see Yongsun go.
It's a little strange. She's not the sentimental type, but her eyes follow Joohyun as she leaves the room. She doesn't even realize when she starts counting the days they have left.
“It's like you're a different person at night.”
She props her chin up with her hand, the confession barely an exhale of breath that could get lost between them if not for the way the other girl responds. Joohyun burrows closer instead of flinching away and this is how she knows, Wendy thinks, that the girl on the pedestal is lonely at the top.
Maybe Joohyun, Wendy thinks with a frown, has suffered most of all like this, won the crown for best liar -- the queen of nothing at all.
“Maybe I am,” Joohyun says, and because she can’t help but ruin the moment, she asks:
“What was her name?”
Silence follows, and Wendy is more careful now, tugging at her until Joohyun’s resting her head against the hollow of her neck and she’s ticklish with every breath that falls against her skin, but she doesn’t move. Wendy doesn’t take it back.
“If we could Thelma and Louise it,” suggests Wendy, and Joohyun actually smiles at that -- she can feel it pressed against her, wonders if Joohyun can feel the way it unsettles her and calms her at the same time. All Joohyun ever makes her feel is contradicting emotions, but so are they. Opposites in a place that has done its best for the past three months to shape them into something the same.
Contradictions to each other and yet -- “Who would you be?”
A moment passes. “Irene,” Joohyun answers finally, “I’ve always liked the name Irene.”
“Irene unnie,” she tests, both the name and endearment clumsy on her tongue. Joohyun reaches over to pinch at her sides but her lips skim across Wendy’s collarbone in a quiet laugh. She braves a glance down where the older girl is looking back up at her.
“It’s really nice to meet you,” she adds. Joohyun just burrows closer, over her chest, against her heart while Wendy can't stop thinking about the stirring of a beginning tucked in the middle of an end.
She helps him start to pack -- a little early, if she's honest -- but it doesn't surprise her Junior would be the first out the door as soon as move out week rolled around the corner.
“Thanks,” he tells her, open suitcase between them on his bed. Wendy hands him a pair of folded up socks that he stacks in neatly with the others.
“Don't mention it,” she grins up at him, “You just couldn't pay Yixing enough to organize your briefs by color. I'm surprised they never gave you solitary confinement here.”
“I did try,” sighs Junior, before the corners of his eyes crease and give way to a smile. “Bless his soul, he couldn't be persuaded with a hand job offer or any of my toys.”
At the raise of an eyebrow, he chuckles, reaching into the inside of his jacket for a mint tin. He tosses it to her and returns to sorting his clothes.
“For my favorite ex-gay,” he winks, before adding, “I already gave Byul the last of my vodka, so don't go repeating that.”
“I won't,” she shakes her head with a laugh, pocketing the tin with what she’s sure is undoubtedly contraband inside. She’ll miss this, too.
“I'm surprised, though. I wasn't thinking of calling you for two months at the earliest. Figured you and Jaebum would need some time to catch up.” Junior looks down at his luggage, failing to hide a smile, and she returns one in kind. “Jesus. You look like you're about to pop the question, Jinyoung.”
His eyes flick upwards at her, a touch playful. “You know I don't use the b-word lightly, Seungwan,” he replies lightly. He looks away again. “Maybe.”
She bites the inside of her cheek.
“That's pretty big, huh,” she offers in a similar tone, tiptoeing around the obvious: this is not who they are, they aren't the same people they were in the beginning of the summer.
“Half the time I'm convinced it's all in my head,” he laughs, eyes smiling, too, and Jaebum could only be so lucky to have a boyfriend like Park Jinyoung, she thinks.
“And the other half?” Wendy presses on. Junior shrugs.
“What if it's not?”
She looks out the window, watches the breeze pick up against the petals of the flowerbed outside.
“The thing is,” Wendy turns back to Pastor Song, as honest as she’s ever been with him, “you want me to say I’ve changed. And I have.” She rubs at the back of her neck, chair scraping against the floor as she stands.
“I wouldn’t do it again,” she decides, “but I wouldn’t take any of it back, either.”
“Her name was Seulgi.”
“And?" Wendy's voice is hard, but her eyes are soft, wondering, assessing. She's glad it's dark. “You said she lied in the letter, but she did something. What was it? Did she rat you out?”
She hears more than sees Joohyun shake her head, barely more than a silhouette on a bed. "No," she says quietly. "She would have never done that."
There's a moment, Wendy thinks, when a conversation is about to tread somewhere neither of them will be able to go back from. When something is said out loud as opposed to kept locked firmly inside, even in the dark. Even only to each other.
Especially only to each other.
“She was too good,” Joohyun breathes, "she was too good -- for me to be touching her like that. For me to ruin. She was too good.”
Wendy swallows. “And me?” she asks, slightly shaky. “Am I too good?”
She knows the answer before she hears it. “No,” she replies, “no. You're not anything like her.”
“So you have no problem ruining me?” Wendy prompts again, hand trailing across the distance between them on the bed, “Is that it?” She pulls at Joohyun's hip, fists a hand at her sleep shirt. She can make out Joohyun's face in the dark, just barely, watch mesmerized by the way her eyes widen but her tongue darts out to wet her lips.
“That's not -- I didn't say -- “
“Because I don't mind,” Wendy interrupts, “I don't.”
She watches Joohyun’s mouth form shapeless words, the cupid’s bow of her lips as they purse together, lost for the right thing to say. Maybe there isn’t anything right, Wendy thinks.
“Okay,” Joohyun says, “Okay.”
Maybe thinking too hard and too much about right and wrong is behind them now.
Crushing the lit end of the cigarette against asphalt, Wendy swings her legs out over the ledge of the roof. There’s only so much trouble they can get into at this point. The figure beside her joins her, dirty sneakers kicking against air.
“So you coming back to terrorize the staff and follow my legacy or what?”
Wendy bumps Moonbyul's shoulder, a half smile playing at her lips. She thinks of Joohyun and Irene and how to convince the other girl to reconcile the two, shrugging.
“I don't know yet,” she answers truthfully, “I'll be applying to university next year and it's all up in the air for me.” Her parents might have some say, too, but there are summer internships to be had, experience to put on a resume they might look the other way for.
She spares a glance in Moonbyul’s direction.
“And you? Will you come back?”
“No.” Moonbyul scratches her nose, and it doesn't escape Wendy that she doesn't have to think about it for a second. “No, I don't need my parents' money that bad. I'm done here.” Her eyes grow distant, faraway as the look out past their surroundings and beyond the horizons, further than anything either of them can see. “I've got to turn the page finally. End the chapter, I guess.”
“Close the book on Yongsun?” supplies Wendy, meeting Moonbyul's wince with a sympathetic smile. She wasn’t sure before, but now she is. “I guessed.”
The blonde shakes her head in reply, chewing at her bottom lip. Wendy doesn't think she's ever seen Moonbyul like this, and has to reconsider that she might not have been jaded all this time, not exactly. Not if she came back.
“I want to be happy,” Moonbyul confesses, voice thin and tired, “I want the loft in the city and the job and the girlfriend one day, too. I don't think I'm wrong for that.”
Wendy pauses, leaning to rest her head against the older girl’s shoulder. She’s not good at this. Neither is Moonbyul. Comfort isn't something that comes easy to her, not especially in the matters of the heart.
“Maybe you can get a cat,” Wendy says finally. “I hear Yongsun is allergic anyway.”
She doesn't have to look up to meet Moonbyul's smile to know its there. “I'd like a cat,” she intones thoughtfully.
Wendy thinks of Moonbyul in a high rise loft in a city that doesn’t sleep, something warm and soft to keep close to her at night. It’s not hard to imagine, she decides. Not at all.
“Who is Seungwan?”
Wendy lifts her head off her pillow for a moment, before drowsiness makes her fall back with a soft thump. “I don't know a Seungwan,” she answers smartly, maybe just so Joohyun can roll her eyes and reach for her arm. She likes it best when the girl reaches for her first.
“You know who Hyun is,” Joohyun murmurs, all seriousness. There is something to her words that means more, and for her, Wendy tries to give weight to her answer.
“A boy's name. My parents’ name for me. Their dreams, for me,” she says after a moment of silence has passed, shaking the sleep from her eyes and making sense of the girl's expression in the dark. It's the best of a response she can give.
Joohyun nods, visibly processing the information. Wendy watches the way her teeth tug at her lips. “You're her, too,” Joohyun concludes, “as much as you try not to be. You're Wendy and Seungwan.”
"I'm both?" She sounds amused.
“You're both,” Joohyun smiles softly, a secret whispered in passing, “You're everything rolled up in one.”
"Can you be?"
Wendy hears the intake of breath.
She doesn’t apologize, but she doesn’t make the first move, either. Gone were the nights Joohyun leaves her with more questions than answers and gone was needing to push her for anything more than she was ready to give. If Joohyun wasn’t ready now, she tells herself, after this summer, after everything, she might never be. Not for her.
Wendy reaches for her hand, palm up, and begins to trace circles along her wrist, shapes and patterns with no meaning at all. She stops herself from writing things like, I’ve wanted to kiss you for weeks, and I’m trying not to be hopeful but it’s not working. Confessions have never been this hard, and Wendy keeps her eyes on the soft white of Joohyun’s skin, finger pausing mid-heart when the other girl answers her question with another.
“What if I let you down?”
Joohyun barely speaks above a timid whisper, the sheets rustling louder than her words when Wendy sits up and pulls the other girl into a sitting position, too. She wants to look her in the eyes when she says this.
“I like both sides of you. You don't need to get rid of either. I like both. I see the best and the worst and I choose both.”
Junior huffs. “I can’t believe,” he eyes Moonbyul, leaning back with her arms folded behind her head, “You finished my parting gift already. That flask was full.”
“Tough times,” answers Moonbyul with a scoff, looking past him to Wendy, who fixes her with a searching look. She switches her gaze back toward Junior with a smile. “Better times where you’re headed, huh? I can’t believe you got your boyfriend to pick you up at ex-gay camp. Impressive.”
“I also answer to legendary,” Junior rolls his eyes, tempered by his own smile as he holds out a hand for her to take. “Come on. Get up. I want to say I’ve been the middle of a lesbian sandwich before I leave.”
Wendy snorts, pushing herself off the dirty roof and slapping her palms against his jacket in a hug. He’ll see the dirt later, she reasons. “See you around, Jinyoung,” she tells him as Moonbyul echoes the same, a few good natured curses thrown in.
“I’m going to visit!” Moonbyul yells after him, hands cupped around her mouth as Jaebum drives them away. Wendy waves as he sticks his head out the passenger side window to do the same. “I haven’t forgotten you have a sister!”
Moonbyul ruffles her hair and mentions saving her a seat at the mess hall, walking off in the opposite direction as she heads back to her own room to invite Joohyun. She pushes the door open, question halfway out of her mouth when she’s met with a stripped bed and an empty cabinet dresser.
Wendy’s heart jumps to her throat, entering the bathroom next. Joohyun’s toothbrush isn’t in its cup holder and she walks back into the bedroom, almost missing the slip of paper left on her comforter. She reads it five times and on the sixth, it sinks in what the numbers in neat handwriting mean.
I don’t really like goodbyes, so text me a hello instead when you get your hands on a phone.
This isn’t goodbye. I choose both, too.
Bae “Irene” Joohyun.
That's all, folks!
Truth be told I'm not totally satisfied with this, but I can't remember the last time I actually finished a fic that wasn't a one shot so I'll take my accomplishments where I can. A big thank you to everyone that's followed this fic or any others that I've written. I hope I can write something you can enjoy another time!
As always, if you'd like to talk fic or fandom or just be pals, my @ on Twitter is the same as this handle and readily available :)