guess this must be the place

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fan Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Namjoon beams, gaze trained downwards. He’s blushing, both of his extensive, cavernous dimples on proud display. Mijoo herself seems entirely astounded she hadn’t lost her courage then, though her nerves overtake her, the words continuing to flow from her mouth unrestricted, a faucet left running directly down the drain. “Well, I do understand if you don’t want to come drink with a bunch of kids on your night off, oppa. We would probably seem a bit immature in your view.”

“You’re only two years younger than me, Mijoo-ssi. I can decide that for myself.” He finally meets her eyes, smiling brightly, the corners of his lips stretched from ear to ear. “I’d love to come and meet your friends. What should I bring?”

Mijoo’s skin feels hot, clammy, whether from the temperature or her own anxiety, she couldn’t be sure. Despite the already setting sun, it’s still an incredibly warm evening. The perfect sort of night for a waterfront picnic. “Nothing! Leave that to us, oppa. Consider this my treat.” Her tone draws serious, the sentiment of her gratitude inescapable, unavoidable. She couldn’t adequately express that gratitude enough. “My thanks for all you’ve done for me.”

or

the Korean tutor AU.


"Home is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there / I come home, she lifted up her wings / I guess that this must be the place / I can't tell one from the other / Did I find you or you find me?"

- This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) by Talking Heads

 

 

Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea

 

The stairwell she occupies is stale and damp, its air stifling. The scent of rainwater from the outside clings to the material of her jeans, her hoodie zipped over her blackened knit turtleneck, her dark laced sneakers, even the lengths of her dip-dyed hair, wet inky strands drying into frizzy teal tendrils before her periphery. Her backpack had gotten soaked on her run to the cram school from the metro station too, the papers within it all moist, covered in various splotches that serve to smear its once neatly printed ink. Though her eyes had struggled to decipher the words on the pages well before they had suffered the worst of the damage from the rain. She’s thankful today is the one day she didn’t bring her camera with her.

 

A voice speaks up from behind her perch on one of the rusting metallic steps, its color once a burgundy now tinged bronze, the shade of dried blood. Miriam turns, meeting the resounding stare of two teenage girls and a boy, still dressed in their school uniforms. Their features bear the weight of their annoyance and incredulity, clearly berating Miriam for being in their way in a language she doesn’t understand. 

 

She thinks in Spanish first, translates her speech to jilted, shaky English second, apologizing as she stands in a curt bow, holding her bag and her notebook against her chest, though the group only ignores her on their saunter past. Once they’re finally out of range, three pairs of footsteps fading into barely there echoes stories down the building, Miri sits again, eyeing the introductory form spread out across the book on top of her thighs. Each letter, each shape blurs in front of her vision as she swallows. She prints her name in the Latin alphabet in the spot she presumes asks. Miriam Cardenas

 

The concrete door nearest Miriam opens, its metal latch offering its own reverberation through the aging stairwell’s walls. She abruptly jumps onto the soles of her worn shoes at the sound, corralling drying papers and her notebook into the largest compartment of the knapsack she wields. A keychain of la Virgen de Guadalupe suspends in the air, fastened to its zipper as she yanks it shut. A man stands before her, propping the door open for her with a careful, courteous smile. He greets Miriam in Korean, and though she doesn’t understand a lick of the local language or what he’s saying, she has learned enough since she moved to the country to identify some of the syllables he utters as a form of greeting. At least, she thinks it’s in greeting. She bows again, swallowing before stepping into the threshold of what she presumes is his office wordlessly, rivulets of the rain still dripping from her clothing like sleet. 

 

There’s a simple wooden desk in the room and not much else, one chair in front of it, one seated behind it. She notices various papers and books strewn about the entire cramped space, though it wouldn’t be considered very sizable if it were empty. A singular metal wastebasket is placed in solitude by the door. The walls are a stark white, bare, save for a Mercator map projection in various pastel tones tacked onto the plaster directly behind the writing table.

 

He speaks to her in Korean again after taking the form from her, the man, mouth curving over waves of sound she can’t discern. Miriam turns to face the stranger, finally appraising him wholly. He’s handsome and likely close to her in age, skin tanned similarly to hers, eyes dark and friendly. His ears are pierced like Teddy’s, wearing simple silver hoops, though his hair is a shade lighter, nearly matching the coloring of Mint’s caramel fur. He stares at her expectantly and she can’t help but to frown at her own ineptitude. She wishes she could understand, but she doesn’t.

 

She almost speaks in Spanish before catching herself with an exasperated huff.

 

“I’m sorry for wasting your time, sir. W-when the language agency recommended you, they had mentioned you speak English-”

 

“I do,” he responds simply, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his navy corduroy slacks, a pair obviously well loved and well taken care of. The sleeves of his dark button up blouse begin to slip down either forearm, the veins in his muscle visible from across his office. His shirt’s silken fabric is tucked into the band of his pants situated securely at his trim waist. He’s dressed well, far more put together presently than she is, and she’s sure her wildly frizzing hair resembles more the mane of a feral animal than what is acceptable of a student in the cram school’s adjunct wing, even if she is by all official counts anyway an adult

 

“I apologize if I mislead you, agassi.” His voice is deep and warm, honey cascading over a steaming cup of her mother’s favorite tea, tasting nearly like home. Just nearly. His accent is clearer than hers, steady and composed, and the smile he offers her once more is reassuring, even if she doesn’t understand the term he uses to refer to her. Agassi. She mimes her puckered lips over the word. “I like to gage any potential student’s comprehension level in conversation when I first meet them.”

 

Miriam’s spine stiffens. “Oh,” she replies lamely. “I’m sorry I-”

 

“You don’t have to keep apologizing to me, agassi,” the tutor interrupts her again, tone stern and commanding yet encouraging all the same. “I expect a lot of foreigners to be unfamiliar with the language at first.”

 

Miriam raises her eyebrow at his statement, resenting its utterance despite its truth. “I’m Miriam Cardenas.” She holds out her hand, palm forward, commanding, and he blinks at it languidly before taking it tentatively within his own. She shudders at the touch, his skin as warm as his voice when pressed flush against hers, his fingers curling around her own grip. She meets his eyes and his own brow furrows. Maybe she shouldn’t make eye contact. She looks away suddenly, gaze training downwards, in the direction of the muddy toes of her shoes splayed against a linoleum tile backdrop.

 

“How long have you been in Korea?” He asks, though the question doesn’t feel loaded as it usually does when lobbed at Miriam. Instead, the tutor seems genuinely curious, interested in her answer.

 

“A few weeks, maybe a month,” Miri pauses, considering her choice in translation before adding, “English isn’t my first language.”

 

“It isn’t mine either,” he simpers with another grin, as if the hint of a laugh dances on the edge of his plump pink lips, wearing an expression so sinful Miriam is forced to turn away from the sight. “I’m Kim Namjoon.” His own name offered, family name first. ‘Mierda,’ she thinks. ‘Teddy me dijo eso.’

 

He sits behind his desk and she follows suit, occupying the only other available seat in his office. “Can I teach you how to introduce yourself in Korean first?” She nods. “Like this, listen closely. Jeoneun Namjoon-imnida.” He repeats the phrase a few times before motioning towards Miriam.

 

“Jeoneun Miriam-imnida,” she replicates the sounds his mouth makes nervously, wavering. It doesn’t sound as correct when she says it.

 

“Miriam.” She’s startled when Mr. Kim echoes her name reverently back at her, tasting each syllable as if swallowing it whole. “So beautiful. Though R isn’t a sound you encounter too much in Korean. Much less like that.” He means the way she enunciates the sound, hard, the R nearly forming the edge of a D as it rolls off the tip of her tongue. She had never really thought about the pronunciation of her name too deeply before, something as inexplicable and intrinsic to her as the shapes that formed each letter she used to spell it and write it on paper, bestowed upon her by her parents and their culture all the same. 

 

“My roommate told me that sometimes foreigners change their name here. Use something Korean instead.” Teddy’s own Korean name slips her mind then, though it was something markedly different from his Western name, with different letters and sounds, christened so by his parents twice, in both languages. His friends called him JK. That much she could remember. Charlie had a Korean name too, one he picked out himself (likely from a random internet page because it ‘sounded cool’) but Miri was absolutely certain no one had ever called him anything but Charlie, even in Mexico.

 

Mr. Kim murmurs his assent. “You could change it,” he admits reluctantly, halfhearted in his affirmation of her statement as he reclines further into his seat. It creaks under the weight of his movement. “Though I think Miriam is a more beautiful name than anything else you could choose in its place.”

 

She stills and shivers in place, pinpricks erupting over the expanse of her skin. He found her name that beautiful. She’s thankful for the layers of fabric sheathing her, obscuring her resulting goosebumps from view. Miri clears her throat, sitting up a little straighter, posture rigid, as her mother had taught her. “T-thank you, Mr. Kim.”

 

He’s watching her closely, carefully, studying her features. She feels tense and timid under the scrutiny of his gaze. His hands fiddle idly with a nearby pencil, its buttery hue spun between his thick, long fingers. He wears a few delicate, simple rings, one with an emansive emerald stone setting, others various bands of silver, like those dangling tautly from the lobes of his ears. Her gaze follows his hands, his fingers, his rings, observes his last two fingers on either hand, absent of jewelry or adornment. No wedding ring. Her lips run together subconsciously in a pout, as if she were blending glossy rogue together, though they’re devoid of any product, bare and dry, her lips, puckered before she realizes her tutor is speaking to her again.

 

“Mr. Kim.” He drops the pencil onto his somewhat unkempt desk and swats his palm at her, releasing a groan. It clatters noisily against the cherry oak. Her throat and her mouth suddenly feel as dry as her lips, a cave closing in on itself, a landslide she isn’t sure any word or sound can make it out of alive. “Mr. Kim is my father. What year were you born?”

 

Another unfeigned and honest inquiry from Namjoon, the most common question she’d come to expect from anyone she had met or befriended in Korea thus far. All of Teddy’s and Charlie’s friends born after her were quick to call her noona, mimes of her roommates. ‘¿Cómo se llaman esas palabras? ¿Tenemos esas en español?’ She hadn’t memorized them, only places that she’s supposed to call Namjoon something different than ‘noona’ if he’s older than her, since she’s a girl. ‘Dios, ¿qué es?’ 

 

She finally quiets her mind, exhaling, answering Namjoon in a barely there simper. “1996.” 

 

He nods, as if he had expected her answer well before she had even been able to relay it to him. “I’m not too much older than you, Miriam, but here in Korea we use honorifics for those who are as a show of our respect. Since I am older, it would be customary for you to use the term ‘oppa’ to refer to me.” There’s something salacious to the term, obscene in the way he speaks it aloud, her pulse racing in response. It serves as a reflection of the number of the guys back home who’d make her address them as ‘papi’ in bed. 

 

“I’d much prefer something like Namjoon or oppa to Mr. Kim.”

 

Miri’s cheeks feel searing, darkening under her increasing shyness with a bright flush. “Okay, oppa,” she murmurs, cutting into a slice of Korean and sampling it warily on her tongue. She tries to enact the same innocuousness laden to Teddy’s and Charlie’s uses of ‘noona’, though it just feels indelicate and improper to refer to Namjoon like that. Indelicate and improper and electrifying all the same, its sensation tingling through each piece of her vertebrae. 

 

‘Oppa,’ she thinks, repeating it over and over again to herself. ‘Oppa.’ She could get used to that.

 

-

 

Ilsan-gu, Goyang.

 

“I need to get a grip. And I also need a drink. Or four. At least.” She slams the door shut behind her before tossing her keys, backpack, and jacket haphazardly across the floor of her shared apartment’s living room. As she watches the off-black fabric of her hoodie careen into a heap onto their second hand Persian rug, she isn’t all too sure if the jacket is actually hers or Teddy’s. They both owned too much black to tell at times. Their wardrobes coexisted more often than not anyway. Neither could really be bothered. 

 

Teddy himself glances up briefly from his place in front of the television, gripping a gaming console’s controller with all the force he can muster as his character fights on his behalf on screen. His darkened bangs hang in front of his face, obscuring his eyes from view. He offers Miriam a nod before returning to his precious match. Their two cats, Mint and Matcha, are nowhere in sight. Likely causing trouble in Miri’s bedroom, she’s sure, or asleep somewhere in their tower. Neither is Charlie, though his absence proved a more accustomed and routine occurrence.

 

“We have beer in the fridge. I picked us up some soju and vodka today too.” She meanders into the kitchen, carding her nails through her wildly unkempt curls. 

 

“Vodka?” She exclaims in disgust. “How come you never get tequila. No fair.” She kneels by the door to untie her shoe laces, wrenching her sock-covered feet free from the constricting high tops. “What’s for dinner?”

 

“Got some instant noodles and veggies. Anchovy kal guk soo. Thick ass noodles. Zucchini. Green onion. Green peppers. You’ll like it, I promise!” Though his sentences are clipped and called over his shoulder at half-attention, her chest floods with a warmth that had been absent in the glacial rains she had been forced to brave today. Teddy always knew what could turn her mood around, and more often than not, that included food and alcohol, and occasionally, a pack of cigarettes or a freshly rolled joint. Though they usually left the task of procuring drugs to Charlie.

 

“You’re the best roommate ever, you know that?” She trills happily at the thought of a steaming broth of thick noodles filling up her stomach. It rumbles then, her stomach, as if on cue, and it finally dawns on her just how hungry she is. She doesn’t think she’s had anything since a banana hours earlier.

 

“No shit, noona. The best roommate definitely isn’t Charles.” She can visualize the two younger boys rolling their eyes at either sentiment, though she knows Teddy takes her sappiness to heart. 

 

Retrieving a beer from the fridge, Miri twists its cap open with the hem of her sweater. She notices her top has a loose thread beginning to unravel up its seam. She sighs at the sight, tossing the bottle cap directly into the bin before taking a hearty swig from its condensation-covered glass. Everything in and around their apartment seemed to exist in a perpetual state of disarray, something always falling apart, but Miri had always been sure that that was part of its charm. Now, not so much. 

 

Teddy’s match ends and he’s suddenly in the kitchen beside her then, retrieving another beer for himself from the refrigerator, placing a pot of water on the stove to begin to boil. He watches her carefully before sipping his own drink. “How was that new tutor? You had to go into Seoul, eh?” 

 

His accent manifests more fortuitous memories of Vancouver, of the time in her life when she felt happiest, and it feels incredibly bittersweet to think about, though it only ended just a few weeks prior.

 

The corner of her mouth quirks upwards anyway at the Canadian’s phrasing. Pulling herself from her thoughts, she nods, leaning her lower back against the countertop behind her, balanced on one hip. 

 

“It was… Interesting. Hm. Yeah. Interesting. To say the least.” She buys herself more time, washing down her own words with another mouthful of her yeast-fermented malt drink. It wasn’t nearly strong enough for Miri, not to ease her wearied bones after the day she’s had, though she figured they weren’t all too far away from busting out Teddy’s newfound bottle of soju either. Everything in the apartment was to be shared in some capacity or another anyway. Their friendship had long progressed past the boundaries of individual ownership.

 

“Interesting?” Teddy pries, dumping two blocks of noodles into the pan of water once it finally begins to bubble beneath its surface. “How so?”

 

“Well, he was… um. What’s the word? Guapo? Handsome?” 

 

Teddy hums in understanding, already grinning, tone teasing. “Hot. You’re telling me that your tutor was hot.”

 

Miri’s groan is clamorous, palm smacking against her forehead. “Stop it. Leave me alone. Pinche cabrón. How about you translate that.”

 

“In Korean, you’d probably call me saekki-”

 

“It’s okay,” she cuts him off, shaking her head. “I think I’ve had enough Korean for the day.”

 

Teddy stifles a chortle, the sound resembling more of a snort than anything else. She focuses on the careful flick of his wrist, sleeves pushed back, tattoos bared. The radiating metal of the knife’s blade catches the light as it glides through various vegetables’ skin atop a wooden cutting board. “Hate to break it to you, noona, but we are in Korea.”

 

Now it’s her turn to roll her eyes, deadpan. “Oh really. I wouldn’t have guessed.”

 

The apartment’s front door opens again before slamming in a violent bang. A cacophony of voices float in after the sound. More Korean, and Miri swears, if there was a god, he certainly had a sense of humor. She can easily discern Charlie’s voice, loudest of them all, and finds herself shouting over the incoming roar. “¡Carlos, cállate, porfa! ¡Me duele la cabeza!” She had half a mind to call him saekki, just to get a laugh out of his friends, but she had half a mind to think Teddy told her incorrect information about the word’s translation, just to get a rise out of the other boys. Or her new Korean tutor in the future.

 

They enter the kitchen, Charlie with his friend, Yeonggi, trailing directly behind him. Both hold worn, grungy skateboards, Charlie’s tucked under his elbow, deck side resting against his hip. Part of the grainy grip tape on his board is ripping, rising from its ragged edge. Only once they’re both crowding the small kitchen does Miri notice that Yeonggi’s is entirely broken, his hands holding two separate pieces of wood each with its own set of wheels fastened to a pair of neon orange trucks. Snapping a board happened all too often within their household, Miri herself included. 

 

Charlie grins, approaching Miri before placing a placating kiss to her cheek. “Lo siento hermana. Estaremos callados pa ti.”

 

“Gracias. Hola, Yeonggi.” She bows at his counterpart, switching to English. “Please tell me you’re holding.”

 

Yeonggi nods, motioning towards his destroyed board. “Yeah, just let us just get these trucks off and I’ll get you a bag. The usual?” 

 

Charlie hastens down the hallway towards his own room, likely in search of a skate tool for Yeonggi, who slips into one of the stools across from Miri at their countertop. Charlie’s jeans are so baggy they nearly decamp from his slim waist as he goes, feet sliding on his socks. Donning only a white shoelace in place of a belt. His hair is a faded mass of cotton candy floss arranged in a careless blur above his forehead. Miri had dyed it for him, bright cherry red right when she had first arrived in Korea, to accompany her own teal, though now his strands matched the hue of cherry blossoms much more than cherries themselves. 

 

The youngest boy returns shortly thereafter in a huff, clutching a three sided multi-functional screwhead. Inaudibly, without fanfare, he begins diligently removing Yeonggi’s colored trucks from the decimated board for him. Teddy’s ginger tabby cat, Matcha, hops onto the counter beside Charlie, her presence summoned by his commotion, emerald green irises blinking up at him intently. Yeonggi reaches forwards, scratching the scruff at her neck. Mint Chip, her counterpart, Miri’s own brunette kitten, is still absent, likely asleep in a pile of discarded clothes near the foot of Miri’s bed.

 

“Yes please. The usual.” She remembers the honorific Mr. Kim Namjoon had taught her today, a show of respect for men older than her, like Yeonggi, who she was sure was probably closer to Namjoon’s age than to Charlie’s. Miriam rubs her lips together carefully, staring at the Daegu native. He wears hoop earrings too. “Yeonggi?” He looks up at her, expression entirely illegible. His eyes bore into hers. “In Korean, I could call you oppa, né? Yeonggi oppa. Like how these dorks call me noona?”

 

All three boys laugh and Miri can feel her cheeks reddening with a blush. 

 

Teddy speaks up from behind his own sneer, finally pushing each slice of chopped vegetable into the anchovy kal guk soo from their place on the cutting board. “Guess you learned something from that hot tutor today afterall, eh?”

 

“¿Qué puedo decir?” Miri shrugs. “I pay attention to my oppas, Teddy, so maybe you should learn a thing or two from me.”

 

Yeonggi pulls a ziplock ounce bag of marijuana from one of his jacket’s inside pockets, its buds decidedly purple and dense, likely an indica strain, followed by a portable scale, comparable to the size of his wallet. He begins to measure out a quarter for Miri and Teddy to share. They didn’t smoke weed too often, especially since they had arrived in Korea - though Miriam thinks she could certainly use it. After all, it had been legal in Canada. Charlie, on the other hand, was no stranger to getting high in their apartment and preferred to do so at any available moment. He nods at Yeonggi wordlessly and the older boy begins rolling a joint for him as soon as he finishes dividing Miri and Teddy’s portion. 

 

“Wanna smoke?” Charlie queries.

 

“Dinner’s almost ready!” Teddy defers, pulling mismatched bowls from an overhead cabinet. 

 

Yeonggi shrugs. “I don’t smoke anyway.”

 

Miriam snorts. “You don’t smoke? Yet you always have weed on you?”

 

“I don’t know. Makes me paranoid. Not my thing.” He’s so nonchalant she can’t help but to laugh.

 

“Well, hope you don’t mind but…” Miri motions towards Charlie’s newly acquired joint, the younger boy wasting no time before pulling its thin paper to his lips. He smirks. “We’re definitely gonna spark up right now.” She hands him a lighter she had pocketed earlier, embellished with a cow print. She isn’t sure where she found it, or if it was any of theirs. 

 

Yeonggi chuckles, offering his first sample of a genuine smile all evening. “I’m friends with this smokestack.” His arm slithers around Charlie’s shoulders as the younger boy finally draws the flame towards the joint’s end. It’s scent is unmistakable even over the smell of Teddy’s cooking, the smoke it burns off filling the apartment. A usual occurrence for the gang in Ilsan. “I think I’ll be just fine.”

 

-

 

Mapo-gu, Seoul.

 

She hates the trek she has to make, 26 minutes and 1,500 won exactly exchanged for a train ride into Seoul’s city center, just to see her new tutor. She hadn’t expected Ilsan to be so far away from everything when Teddy suggested they should look outside of the popular districts for cheaper housing. To be fair, he did tend to shoulder the brunt of their expenses, but then again, his present employment didn’t delicately hinge on the prospect of him learning an entirely unfamiliar language and writing system. From nothing. Well, technically not from nothing. She knew honorifics now. That knowledge had to count for something.

 

Her favorite film camera is anchored to her neck from its thick, black strap. Luckily it isn’t raining, so Miriam doesn’t have to sprint from her subway exit towards the cram school. Instead she takes in the sights from her camera’s perspective as she goes, observing and appreciating Seoul’s duality. The cramped, aging buildings mixed in with modern high-rises, stone alleys wedged between large expansive footways and bike paths, paved bridges leading her towards the formidable river that stretched out an impossible distance into the mountain topped horizon. Though she still felt wholly alien and unattached to the city itself, she couldn’t deny its beauty, especially from behind her lens. Though the only picture she captures is of the sunset, the planet’s lone, blazing star dipping behind the cityline, painting amber tinted streaks across both the sky and the river’s endless stretch of water. The vibrant explosion of warm light reflects back towards Miri’s view from its undulating surface once her shutter finally clicks. 

 

Her combat boots clank loudly against the metal staircase once she finally enters the adjunct wing, climbing each succeeding floor until she approaches Mr. Kim’s office. It isn’t as musty in the stairwell anymore, the day’s spring air particularly clean and fresh after a few nights of unrelenting rain. Miri passes a few windows left propped open, the evening breeze now allowed into the building billowing her delicately arranged curls, vibrantly pigmented malachite. Her roots are growing in a deep, inky black. Her hair bounces as she walks, white wired headphone buds nearly tangled into the strands. 

 

Despite the chill, she’s breaking out into a sweat within her baby blue knit top, its thick wool buttoned to her navel, high-waisted jacquard slacks sitting just below its hem, a black oversized denim jacket covered in band patches (that’s definitely Teddy’s) sheathing her arms. Her backpack hangs off of one shoulder, though there isn’t much of anything inside of it, aside from her wallet and a pack of Arirang 10 cigarettes, half smoked, crumpled packaging, a kitsune mask logo bearing the brand’s label in Korean on its front. 

 

She couldn’t even read Korean yet, much less write in it. All of the study materials the translation agency had sent her had been far too advanced for her level, already in Hangul. She hates how dumb the language makes her feel, though she figured everyone around her would feel dumb if they had to exist in her world, in her native tongue instead. Everyone besides maybe Charlie, of course - existing in Spanish was something he had already done.

 

Mr. Kim is waiting for her, leaning outside of his office door with a paperback novel in hand. He is seemingly engrossed and fully enraptured by his book, nose buried within its open pages. He looks quite nice like that, she thinks, focused yet peaceful, serene, attractive, undeniably attractive, and her final train thought, subconscious, unintentional, nearly makes her panic. Nearly. Not yet.

 

She still can’t help but to appreciate the few moments of this stillness that she’s graced with, her tutor left unaware of her presence and Miri able to observe him as if she weren’t there at all. She makes note of his clothing, his dark, tight jeans, its material clinging to his muscular thighs, a simple white undershirt stretched over broad shoulders, a short-sleeve button up thrown hastily atop, left unfastened, its fabric a soft shade of pastel peach. His bare arms are strikingly thick too, entirely well-built, sinewy and strong all the same. She wonders what it would feel like to run her palms over his warm skin, to feel each flexing muscle and vein of his forearm against her own touch. She swallows. 

 

Her tutor also sports a pair of glasses perched atop the bridge of his nose, clear, circular frames she doesn’t remember him wearing the first time they met, though maybe he only needed them to read. 

 

Miri pulls her headphone free from her left ear, its bud clanging against her own golden hoop earring. It’s counterpart follows after, dangling down her chest. She clears her throat, Mr. Kim’s head shooting upwards in her direction at the sound. Her hands make quick time looping her headphones’s wire haphazardly around her cell. 

 

“Buenas,” she breathes, a force of habit, before she can already feel herself flush crimson. “Hi. Namjoon oppa.”

 

He smiles kindly back at her, brightening with her use of the honorific. “Miriam-ssi. Annyeong.” She surprises herself in her grasp of his response, the greeting already ingrained into her consciousness from their last lesson. 

 

“What are you reading?”

 

Her tutor dog-ears his current page before holding the book upwards towards the light. A watercolor painting of a landscape stretches across the novel’s front cover in vibrant yellows and  browns, though Hangul lettering Miri can’t discern discloses its title and author. “Have you ever heard of the writer Han Kang?” She shakes her head. “This is her novel, The Vegetarian. A bit surrealist and odd if you’re unfamiliar with the genre or her work, but I have a feeling it might resonate with you. You can borrow my copy once you’re able to read it.”

 

She scoffs, following after Mr. Kim inside of his office. The door shuts decisively behind her. “Hate to break it to you, oppa, but I don’t think that’ll be anytime soon,” she admits in a huff, slumping into the same seat she occupied last time. She tries not to channel how salacious oppa had initially sounded coming out of her mouth. ‘Es como señor,’ she tells herself. Her backpack slides to a stop on the floor by her feet. 

 

Abandoning his book on the farthest corner of his desk, Namjoon moves his own chair to sit beside Miri’s. “I think we are all capable of surprising ourselves sometimes. Don’t discount your ability, Miriam-ssi. You’ll get the hang of Korean, I assure you. Let’s begin practicing with Hangul today.”

 

Namjoon provides his student with a workbook of the entire Korean alphabet, Hangul, a homemade cheat sheet made from pieces of printer paper folded several times over, bound together by staples. Each page is marked with Hangul characters and their Latin lettered counterpart, or at least, the letter corresponding to the sound they make in English. “There’s 21 vowels, including complex vowels, and 19 consonants, including double consonants.” 

 

“21 vowels?” Miri reiterates incredulously. “Double consonants? Jesús.”

 

“Each individual block of Korean that you will encounter on a written page is a single syllable. Like this, see?” He begins writing on his own piece of stray note paper, various shapes coalescing into a single character on the page as he goes. Each stroke of his pencil follows the various sounds he emphasizes, slowly, for her sake. Despite this, she still isn’t sure what it is he’s inscribbing, though she likes listening to the cadence of his voice, likes how low and rich it is, likes his handwriting, likes watching the outline of his profile as he’s engaged in complete and total focus on something else, penning whatever words he thought of immediately down before him. “We combine the characters that represent each letter together into a single block. There will either be two letters or three letters in one syllable block. There are a few ways to combine them, but I think we can go over the formation of blocks a bit later. The final sound in each syllable is called the batchim.” 

 

The tutor hands her the stray pencil he had been using, its cedar wood still hot from his grip. “Why don’t you try drawing them? We’ll start with the vowels.” His finger runs along the empty space after the first Hangul character, , on his workbook. “See that circle? It’s what’s called the silent consonant. It’s only present because vowels can’t stand alone. If a word or syllable starts with a vowel, the silent consonant will precede it when written. We pronounce this like ‘ah’.” He draws out the sound. She tries to remember her linguistics class back in Uni before mimicking the long vowel monophthong on her own tongue. The same sound the letter ‘A’ made in Spanish. Lifting her pencil, she traces the shape with its silent consonant, glancing in Namjoon’s direction once she finishes. 

 

She hadn’t realized how close in proximity they had been sitting until then, her right knee nearly converging on his left, mere centimeters separating the distance between their two appendages. She can feel the flutter of his breath dancing across her features, ruffling wisps of her baby hairs. He beams at her encouragingly, twin dimples sculpting into each cheek, and she can feel her heart thud wildly within her chest. She wonders if he can hear the sound. Namjoon flips on to the next page, pointing towards the vowel -  - and Miriam diligently repeats the process, page after page, until all 21 vowels have been inscribed, complex sounds and all.

 

She’s copying the consonants in order next, . Her pencil falters on the character that takes place of both L and R, tracing its letter backwards before the graphite breaks from her pencil in a jerk. Miri jolts in her seat. “Oh. Sorry,” she mumbles, suddenly nervous, dipping her head in a shallow bow. 

 

“It’s okay. Here.” Namjoon reaches across his desk, retrieving a mechanical pencil this time, placing it once more within Miriam’s grasp. Its olive green plastic comes to rest between her thumb and forefinger. The pads of his own fingers brush against her knuckles in a hurried sweep, redirecting a shockwave of energy throughout her entire body, an electric current, startling. But he doesn’t move. His palm hovers above hers for a split second that seems to stretch into eternity, before finally enveloping her own smaller hand within his. He directs the movement of lead as they write the letter together,  coming into being, curling onto the page. 

 

Her phone vibrates, its sound abruptly clattering against the linoleum floors, making her jump. Namjoon releases her grip, as if the sound had snapped him out of some sort of inexplicable trance. The device continues its pulsing rings from her within her bag. Miri bends at the waist, riffling through its compact front pouch. 

 

“Ay dios. I’m sorry, oppa.” A flood of texts bearing Teddy’s name flash across her screen in rapid succession. He usually never barraged her like this unless it was something important. She unlocks her phone on her lap. 

 

[ six new messages ]

Teddy: ur still in seoul right?

Teddy: pls tell me ur still in seoul

Teddy: 911

Teddy: we need a server asap

Teddy: pls

Teddy: u could use the 

 

Of course, Teddy was right. She could use the money, certainly was in no position to turn down work of any kind, and they both knew it. Collecting her Hangul study sheet and her bag from off of the floor as she leaps to her feet, its keychain trills loudly, hurtling against the side of Namjoon’s desk with a resounding clash. She gulps and shoots him an apologetic frown. “I’m so sorry, but it’s my work calling me in. I have to go. I can come back tomorrow at the same time, if your schedule is free?”

 

Namjoon stands, smoothing out the fabric of his shirt. “I believe that’s the phrase I’ve heard you speak most here, Miriam-ssi. That you’re sorry.” He shakes his head. “You don’t have to be sorry, remember? I understand entirely. Work is work. I’ll gladly pencil you in, same time tomorrow.”

 

Her study sheet slips inside of her bag before she’s pulling her headphones free again. “Thank you so much, oppa! I owe you! Gamsahabnida!” She bows her head and Namjoon’s smile almost makes up for the fact that she had to cut their time together short. Almost. 

 

As she hurries out of Namjoon’s office and the adjunct wing, the intimidating shine of the moon glowing, lighting up the stairwell she occupies, she begins crafting her response to Teddy. 

 

Miri: omw

Miri: ur lucky tutor’s close 

Miri: but i don’t have uniform btw

Miri: mina will probably kill me

 

She races out of the building, nearly breaking into a sprint towards the subway station, slowing only once she nears its platform, chest expanding and contracting in rapid time. 

 

[ two new messages ]

Teddy: i’ll deal w mina and the uniform dw

Teddy: just get here

 

-

 

Jung-gu, Seoul.

 

The clamor of patrons from within the gallery’s central room is resounding, a raucous echo that Miriam can detect bouncing off the walls, even as she enters the pantry of the kitchen through the building’s back door. She ties her hair quickly into an indelicate bun before spotting a makeshift uniform tucked above a box of unused cocktail napkins. A pair of black slacks and an unironed white button up. Items left folded for her by Teddy, discarded pieces foraged from the trunk of his car. Though there isn’t an official employee room, she figures the back storage room served as one as much as any other. Tearing her own jacquard slacks quickly down her legs, she shuffles her feet through the wide legs of Teddy’s pants. There are a few holes in the pockets and one at the knee, the size of cigarette ash. They hang well past her boots. She’ll have to cuff the hem of them, though thankfully he’s slender enough that they don’t slink entirely off her hips. The shirt is large too, it’s sleeves hanging cavernously from her elbows, though she rolls them to an impossible height up her arms, finally discarding her bag near the other employees’ belongings and shuffling directly into the kitchen.

 

Choi Mina stands at attention, glaring once her eyes land on the perpetually late Miriam Cardenas. She hisses something at the younger girl in clipped, terse Korean, well-aware of the fact that Miri wouldn’t be able to understand her, before tapping the clipboard she wields with all the power in the gallery’s miniscule universe. Despite her authority, she’s technically only Teddy’s boss, Miriam the rushed help they enlist whenever somebody else calls out at the last minute, her main means of making a quick buck. Mina should be thankful that Miriam was even there to save her ass to begin with, she figures. Her employment often hinged on her ability to perform an entire range of odd jobs, from bartender to cook to server to stagehand, all within a moment’s notice. At the snap of Mina’s manicured fingers. 

 

Finally, she speaks English, Mina, addressing Miriam directly with a pointed expression of obvious displeasure. She isn’t sure if she’s seen Mina bear an expression of any other variation. Or maybe she just hated Miri. She couldn’t be sure. “The appetizer station and trays are up ahead. Serve the guests. Don’t talk to them. I don’t want anyone to have to hear any of your dreadful attempts at Korean. Oh. And put on an apron. I can see straight through that shirt.” Miriam nods, glancing down at the lilac colored lace of her bra, just barely visible through the borrowed blouse’s fabric, and suddenly Mina reminds her all too much of her mother, muttering curtly under her breath. 

 

On her final rush towards the appetizer table, she nearly barrels straight into another server, a young girl she doesn’t recognize, hasn’t seen working at the gallery before. Luckily neither presently holds a tray of piping hot, carefully arranged food. Reaching for her frame to steady herself, Miri curses in Spanish after their bodies collide, switching and apologizing profusely in English, though the girl only blinks back at Miriam slowly, face hesitant. She doesn’t understand her. Miri just wanted somebody to understand her. She frowns, bowing her head, willing herself not to cry, especially not anywhere near Choi Mina’s line of sight. 

 

The girl reaches out a tentative hold, fingers placed lightly atop Miri’s shoulder. A comforting, quelling embrace, as if she did know, as if she could understand. They lock eyes again and her expression softens, the stranger, perception clear, pulling her hand back to her own chest. She nods and Miri takes another deep breath, composing herself before continuing on towards the table where her own server’s tray waits for her in silence, already stacked full of hors d’oeuvres.

 

Once she’s moving through the gallery itself, it’s easy to pacify her earlier fatigue and allow her stresses to fade into the deepest recesses of her mind. She wanders through the art halls, offering starter snacks to the array of pretentious elites that tend to feature the establishment. They ignored her as she waltzed past. She was sure they would ignore her even if she did speak Korean. 

 

Most of the artwork displayed was gorgeous, and Miriam understood what Teddy saw in the place, in his future, in the potential of overtaking Mina’s job, though other times, when faced with its wealthiest, sharpest, coldest, patrons, mirrors of the gallery’s own manager, Miriam wanted nothing more than to quit herself directly on the spot. Though she inherently knew she was in no position to do so. 

 

So she bites her tongue, bows her head, and continues to serve the appetizers, counting down the seconds until it reaches 2AM and the gallery finally shutters its doors. She spots Teddy speaking animatedly in Korean to a few patrons by the front entrance as it nears closing, eyes alight, and she knows that he’d take better care of this place than Choi Mina ever could. 

 

Not to mention, the boundless opportunities the position could afford him in relation to his own artwork. Miriam already visualizes his dramatic, sweeping paintings in place of some of the less impressive canvases presently on display. He’d fit in here, better than she herself ever could. She could hardly blame him for wanting to move to Seoul when she had suggested the endeavor, though now she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had ultimately made a grave mistake.

 

Finally, the last remaining guests amble from the gallery in a procession and Teddy begins the simple process of locking up. Crumbled napkins with lipstick stains and half-eaten appetizers get tossed, the front door’s impressive latch pulled down above it’s hinge. Miri abandons her own empty tray on a nearby cocktail table, hands shuffling into her pockets before approaching Teddy, elbow jabbing into his ribs As soon as the gallery closes, her work is over, as is his. Her eyes, her limbs, feel heavy, as if she had died sometime over the course of the evening and her blood had already begun to settle in place, its gravity weighing her down, closer to earth. Teddy finally appraises her in return and she offers him her own simple nod, jerking her neck in the direction of the back. He knew what she wanted. The two make quick movements, fleeing before Choi Mina can direct either of them to clean.

 

It’s eerily quiet once they exit the kitchen into the brisk night, her backpack and his own art bag collected from the pile of employee belongings on the pantry’s floor before they go. The gallery’s neighborhood of Jung-gu was unassuming, muted and indistinct aside from the towering national museum that stood in the gallery’s periphery, its own imansive shadow. It offered a substantial garden to its own patrons, the tops of its immaculately groomed trees and bushes visible from between the wrought iron gates they pass on their march towards the parking lot. The two arrive at Teddy’s car, an older model, an off-white Hyundai Grandeur he had leased from a used lot, and Teddy climbs onto its hood, wrenching a carton of cigarettes and a silver zippo lighter free from the confines of his own pocket.

 

“Are you okay, noona?” He finally asks, breaking the carefully crafted wall of silence forged between the two of them during their walk. She shrugs, allowing her body to slump into place besides his. The metal of the car’s hood buckles under their combined weight, though neither move from place. Teddy offers her a cigarette. Miri swiftly situates its filtered tip between her pouted, chapped lips. He sparks his own smoke before cupping his hands over hers and using his ignited end to force her cigarette alight, its embers alive, burning both paper and tobacco. She inhales, thankful for its sweet, familiar taste that floods her lungs. Both blow dancing pillars of smoke into the crisp night air above them.

 

“No, I don’t think I am okay.” She shrugs before bringing her knees towards her chest, wrapping her arms over her calves, folding her body in half at the waist. The sleeves of Teddy’s shirt now hang well past her wrists, engulfing her hands within its fabric. “I don’t know what I was thinking, parceiro. I can’t do this.” She shakes her head, burying her chin into the concave established between the twin peaks of her knees. Miri knows she couldn’t bring herself to look at Teddy then - his wounded expression would only serve to make her cry. “I’m entirely out of place in this country and I can’t even speak the language. It feels impossible for me to learn it in a few months. I don’t even have a real job right now and-”

 

He interrupts her, tone uncharacteristically hopeful. “You’ll get that job, Miri. You will.” She figures he had to be putting on the positive front for her sake. 

 

“Teddy,” she groans in warning. “It’s too hard. I was really so stupid for thinking I could get by just with English. This isn’t Canada.” She shakes her head, either palm positioned at her temple, messaging the headache from between her fingers. “Like I really thought that Seoul’s biggest translation agency needed an English and Spanish speaker who didn’t know an ounce of the local language. Come on. Please.” She feels pathetic, embarrassed, ashamed. 

 

She still remembers the horrified expression on the agency’s manager’s face when they had first met upon her arrival in Seoul, the man offering her a greeting in Korean she hadn’t been able to return. Of course, it had been surprising to say the least, to see a job posting on their website for a native Spanish speaker beforehand. Though it was still considered a young language in Korea, spoken mostly amongst minorities, Spanish’s presence had been on a steady incline according to Miri’s research. They needed translation materials for those populations, students left without textbooks, adults left without novels, maps, even subway guides to the city’s sprawling lines. For some reason, she had just assumed she’d be translating from English, just as she had for her university’s exchange department, an easy transition towards employment after her graduation. All she had to do was pack up all her things and board a plane. Just as she had when she left Mexico. Leaving had been the easiest part. 

 

Her lack of foresight at the time had been critical. The agency couldn’t hire her, not without a basic proficiency in Korean. Though they could’ve thrown her out onto the street then and there, the manager still welcomed her into the agency’s building, offering her a cup of steaming green tea along with a temporary deferment on her employment; so long as she made strides with her own Korean studies, she had a job set for her down the line. He had scribbled Kim Namjoon’s name and the cram school’s street address in contorted, broken Latin characters onto a scrap of yellow legal paper before sending Miri on her merry way.

 

She feels so stupid. She shouldn’t have moved to Seoul, shouldn’t have stayed after the agency turned her away. Though she isn’t sure where else she could’ve gone - the lease on her and Teddy’s Vancouver apartment had expired and she was well aware she wasn’t welcome in her parents’ home in Mexico City. She shakes her head again, feeling the salty liquid of her tears coalesce in the inner corner of her eyes. At least Teddy couldn’t see her face from its hiding place between her own legs.

 

“Miri. I know it seems scary and impossible right now, but we’ve only just got here. It’s unsurprising that it’ll take you a little bit of time to adjust to the swing of things.” Teddy’s palm reaches forward towards the small of her back, rubbing soothing circles haphazardly into her skin through her borrowed garment as he speaks. “I can only imagine how hard it is for you, not speaking the language. But you said it yourself that the tutor was good, right? He’ll get you on the right track. And for what it’s worth, you have me. And Charlie. We’re not much, but we’ve both been speaking Korean since we were kids. We can help you out, noona. Study at home. Take over where he’s unable to. We’re in this together, Miri. You’re not alone, I promise.”

 

She finally draws her face from between her knees, sniffling, quickly rubbing any tear tracks from her cheeks with the hand that doesn’t hold her smoldering cigarette. She takes another quick puff. 

 

“You’re serious? You’ll help me practice Korean?”

 

Teddy nods encouragingly, offering her a crooked smile. “Of course. You know I have a lot of free hours when the gallery isn’t open. I can ask my mom for mine and Danny’s old kids’ books. I know she has a box of them somewhere.”

 

Miri snorts in response, tossing the remainder of her cigarette onto the grimy asphalt. She extends her leg, the toe of her combat boot crushing the unused tobacco against cement. “You just want an excuse to go to Busan. And have Mama Seo’s cooking.”

 

“Hey, that’s as good of an excuse for dukbokki as any.” 

 

They’re quiet again, Miri left to marvel with wide eyes at the heavy globe of the moon, its mass festooned in the clear, deep indigo sky. It’s full and bright tonight, illuminating the entire deserted parking lot before them, painting the darkness with its own illuminating radiance. It almost feels like they’re back in Vancouver, both reclining in the plastic deck chairs they had on their balcony, cigarettes in hand, watching the bubbling of the Columbia River from their comfortable perch. She missed that river, the resounding trunks of firs and maples and aspen trees that would surround it, its rocky beaches they’d go to, pebbles digging into her soles as they’d wade into its tepid, rushing waters. 

 

But they weren’t in Vancouver anymore; they were in Seoul. She just had to firmly establish her new life here, she decides, or else it would leave her behind. She had no other choice.

 

She speaks suddenly, startlingly, and she can feel the slight spring of Teddy’s bones as her words overtake the night’s hush. “Should I change my name?” He glances at her, inhaling the final drag from his own cigarette before standing and stretching his arms to their full wingspan, its scope nearly longer than Miriam is tall. She likes her name, had always had, but it had been her parents’ name, chosen on her behalf, of their own accord, named for their dead. How could she exist in Seoul as fully as a native Korean without a Korean name? How could she exist in Seoul as a ghost of her grandmother? 

 

“I can’t decide that for you, noona, but a lot of people do.” He shrugs, procuring the keys to the Grandeur from the back of his own slacks, jingling them in front of Miri’s eyes. He has the same keychain that Miriam has on her own backpack - La virgen de Guadalupe, hands folded together in prayer. “It could be a way to start over, start fresh.” Hopping from the car’s hood after Teddy, Miri can’t help but to agree.

 

Starting fresh. Hmm. She quite likes the sound of that. 

 

-

 

Mapo-gu, Seoul.

 

Miriam clears her throat, commanding her tutor’s attention across his red-hued oak desk. Namjoon stares at her, expressionless, from behind his clear-framed eyeglasses. They dip down the bridge of his nose, dangerously close to tumbling into his lap. His hair is slicked back today, a few strands falling across his forehead, stylishly messy, creeping closer towards his line of sight. She tries not to think about reaching forward and pushing the strands back behind the shell of his ear for him, about throwing his glasses across the room, about touching his face from such a close proximity and leaning in until no distance separates them any further. 

 

She breaks his eye contact, glancing down at the worksheet in front of her. Korean names. She’d been inscribing them from the Latin alphabet into Hangul. She had finally seemed to get the hang of it, able to translate the entire page from memory. Her own name, Miriam, sits in the upper right corner, still printed in the same Spanish script as it’d been on her birth certificate, the name her parents had anointed her with. Their name. It hadn’t been hers. It reminds her of them every time she sees it on a written page. Finally, she speaks, the English words slow and choppy in her intonation. “I’ve been thinking about picking a Korean name.” Namjoon’s eyebrows shoot across his forehead and she holds her palm pacifyingly in the air. “I know you said Miriam is beautiful, but it is just a reminder of how I don’t belong here. I want to belong here, oppa. I bet having a Korean name would really signify that, don’t you think?” 

 

The wait for Namjoon to respond is spent in agony, a surge of anxiety already coursing its way through Miri’s blood, though it likely doesn’t last longer than a few augmented heartbeats. He exhales, nodding. “I see what you mean.” He watches her still. “Well, do you have any idea what type of name you’d like to take on?”

 

Her fingers run across the page in front of her, nearly smearing its lead. “I’m not sure. It would be nice if it at least sounded close to my full name.”

 

“Your full name?” Namjoon sits back in his chair, his own red ink pen left discarded. He wears a patterned shirt, the first few buttons unfastened, revealing a patch of his tanned chest. 

 

Miri looks away, licking her lips before answering. “You know, my first and middle name?”

 

Her tutor shakes his head. “We don’t have middle names in Korean. Just our first and family names.”

 

“Oh,” Miriam releases lamely. “Well, we have middle names in Mexico. It’s actually quite common for people to use them instead of their firsts. My mom’s mom used to call me by mine.”

 

Namjoon waits expectantly. “What is your full name?”

 

“Miriam Jacinta,” she answers effortlessly, accent curling over each syllable like poetry. She sounds better when she speaks in Spanish, she decides, eased, comfortable, proper, as if her sense of belonging with the language and culture materialized itself in her words. “Mija. It’s a slangy term in Spanish too, like ‘my daughter,’ or something close to it. Lots of tias will call you mija or mijo, like you’re their own child. It's the little things like that I miss most about Mexico.” The hospitality, the warmth of its people, though she bites her tongue, refusing to fully articulate the thought aloud for Namjoon’s consumption. She doesn’t remember feeling as grave of a culture shock when she first moved to Canada, though she figures she already knew at least a bit of the language before her immigration. Plus, she doesn’t remember sticking out so sorely. 

 

“Mija,” Namjoon repeats the word after her, the composite of the first two syllables of each of her names, though enunciating the ‘J’, as it stands at the beginning in her middle name, Jacinta. She can almost hear her Avô's own piercingly shrill cry from between her ears, wielding the moniker at her at incredible decibels whenever she had visited the Cardenas family home. “That name doesn’t exactly exist in Korean, but there are others like it.”

 

Miriam brightens.

 

Reaching forward, Namjoon pulls her worksheet of names closer towards him, plucking her own pencil from her outstretched hand. “Mijoo,” he breathes, writing the symbols across her paper’s margins, , before continuing on to the next name he can think of, “Miji, Mijin, Mijeong,” on and on, various names rattled from the top of his head, though Miri can’t help but to stare at those first two characters Namjoon had inscribed, .

 

Miriam Jacinta. 

Her, but not by her parents’ design. Mijoo.

 

“What do you think?” Namjoon’s gentle hum brings her back to reality, blinking languidly. Her gaze returns to the list of seven names he had marked, the tutor sliding her worksheet back across the desk. It lands simply in front of her. She begins reading the Hangul to herself under her breath, sounds and symbols she’s surprised she can already read. “Mijoo, Miji, Mijin, Mijeong, Minjoo, Minji, Minjeong.” She expires each one aloud in a huff, swallowing as she finishes, its own punctuation. “Oppa, I… I like the first one best. Mijoo. Miriam Jacinta. I’m not sure why but it just… feels right.”

 

Namjoon grins. “I can’t argue with that. Mijoo.” He speaks her new name aloud for the first time, breathing life directly into it, boring into her irises with his own, each of the two simple syllables making her shiver. “I was wrong earlier. When I said you couldn’t find a more beautiful name. Miriam is beautiful, but Mijoo is just as beautiful too. It suits you well.”

 

She bows her head, hair falling forward to conceal both of her cheeks and their resounding blush from Namjoon’s visibility. “Thank you, oppa. I think it suits me well too.”

 

-

 

Ilsan-gu, Goyang.

 

Miriam can’t help but to beam brightly every time either Teddy or Charlie addresses her by her newly christened name, Mi-joo, frequently accompanied by the familiar honorific affectionately affixed to its end. Though the youngest roommate had been hesitant towards the idea of using her Korean name at first, stuttered gasps of ‘Mirinita’ or ‘hermana’ uttered in its place, Teddy’s own dedication to the change in speech seemed to inspire Charlie to follow suit. They hardly called her Miriam anymore, rarely Miri, and she can tell its working, answering easily to Mijoo whenever one of them bellows her name. Namjoon calls her Mijoo too. She likes that he chose it, makes it feel like something special, something to be savored, just for them.

 

She speaks a bit better in Korean now, largely thanks in part to Namjoon's dedicated tutelage. Miri can handle basic introductions and greetings towards new people, guests at the gallery, other students in her cram school’s halls, either Teddy's or Charlie’s friends, Hyunseok or Yeonggi, who come over and help test her, Yeonggi refusing to speak English, Hyunseok, who doesn’t know much of it at all. She would’ve never thought she’d be able to communicate with someone who didn’t speak Spanish or English, but she can. A marvel in and of itself. But, she thinks, they really keep their word, Teddy and Charlie, as dedicated to her studies as she is. Or as Namjoon is. 

 

Things in Seoul finally begin to feel like they’re looking up.

 

With a deep sigh, she continues to press the remote’s left arrow button, scrolling endlessly through the streaming site Charlie had left open on the common room’s television. She’s on her side, entirely horizontal on the couch’s worn burgundy cushions, a light blanket thrown over her legs, Mint, curled into a minute ball of brown fluff by her sock clad-feet. It’s late, well after midnight, though Teddy has yet to come back from the gallery, in preparation of some big showing or another in the coming days. Nothing seems to interest her, though she’s wide awake, eyes stretched open despite her body’s evident fatigue. Groaning, Miriam - Mijoo, pulls a grumbling Mint Chip off of the couch to stand and return to her bedroom, before Charlie Yoo barrels through the front door with a resounding, bellowing chortle.

 

He stumbles towards the wall in the dark, tripping over his feet, Mijoo recognizing the sound of his heavy boots being flung across the apartment’s entryway. He’s wearing a cowboy hat, faded pink strands of his hair inching further down his neck, nearly a mullet. She’s surprised he doesn’t fall, using only the glow of the television screen to guide his way. The lights flicker on, the wall’s switch offering a subtle click as Charlie straightens his back, Mijoo blinking back their harsh glow. She sits back down, spine upright, settling Mint onto the cushion beside her, though he’s still muttering at her, perturbed at her previous disruption of his sleep. He crawls to the opposite cushion and curls into himself, turned away from her frame.

 

“Oh fuck! Didn’t see you there, Meej. Nearly gave me a fucking heart attack.” Charlie giggles, removing his hat and stepping closer towards the back of the couch, extending his limb forward until the honeyed colored leather of his newest accessory comes to rest atop her messy ponytail. The sight only serves to intensify his own stream of laughter, her turning to stare at him with an exaggerated disgruntled expression. Clearly, obviously inebriated, his eyes are bloodshot, barely open through a newly acquired squint lobbed in her direction. Though Mijoo’s surprised he’s alone - usually, at least Yeonggi accompanied him, always quiet and stone-faced, his closest friend only ever two steps behind. 

 

Charlie pauses before removing his sweater, a dark turtleneck (probably Teddy’s), flinging its knit fabric haphazardly in the direction of their kitchen’s breakfast bar. Mijoo has probably worn the item before herself. She doesn’t see where it lands, material disappearing into the shadows. Matcha appears from the hallway as if summoned by the removal, tail high, moving in a slow creep, twisting between Charlie’s legs. Though she’s Teddy’s cat, she loves the other boy seemingly just as much, releasing a loud purr until he picks her up, cradling her in his arms.

 

She chuckles to herself, finally removing his cowboy hat, setting it carefully down on the couch’s arm rest, out of Mint’s way. Her proceeding words surprise them both. “You look like you had a good night,” she announces, though both of their eyes widen once it dawns on them both that she spoke in Korean. Not Spanish, not English. Korean. Charlie hollers, startling Matcha, who hops atop a counter from off his bare shoulder, fur raised, annoyed, and Mijoo clamps her hand over her mouth to block her own gasp, entirely caught off guard. She hadn’t even meant to speak in Korean, the words forming themselves after hours spent in diligent study, focused, dedicated. All her frustrations and embarrassment channeled into drive, pushing herself to improve. Just like how she learned English, she thinks. It had been so daunting at first. Look at her now, wielding a degree in the language from a Canadian university with pride. That had to count for something.

 

“Impressive,” Charlie counters in Korean back at her, smile slightly lopsided, crooked across his left cheek, before he disappears into the kitchen himself. He returns a few moments later, two tea cups in one hand and a glass bottle of tequila reposado in the other. He switches to Spanish, raising the bottle in her direction. “Teddy nos trajo tequila. Finalmente.” He climbs over the back of the couch, using his foot to push Mint closer towards Mijoo. The kitten releases another annoyed huff though settles into his new spot unreservedly. “Tómate una copa conmigo, hermana.”

 

Miri nods. “Claro, hermanito.” She didn’t have to be up early for anything tomorrow, her schedule left bare aside from a session with Namjoon in the late afternoon. Though it was late, she had a feeling she wouldn’t be sleeping anytime soon. 

 

Charlie pops the cap from the tequila, pouring them each more than a shotful, spilling a bit onto the cluttered wood of their coffee table. She questions whether or not he should be having anymore, but figured he got himself home and she would be there to watch out for him, worst come to worst. Just like she’d been when they were kids.

 

“Carlos… ¿Alguna vez extrañaste México?” She inquires, leaning towards the edge of the couch’s cushion, thighs hanging off of her seat. He hands her a cup, clinking his own against its glaze fired clay. 

 

“Salud.” She watches Charlie swallow down a large gulp of the alcohol, entirely unphased. “Por supuesto,” he rubs the back of his arm over his lips unceremoniously. “Todos los días. México tiene buenos recuerdos. Excepto, tal vez no con tus padres. Sorry.”

 

She doesn’t disagree. He had been a child when he first arrived at the Cardenas’ doorstep, an exchange student to be fostered by their family for the time being, just shy of 13, speaking about as much Spanish as Mijoo spoke Korean now. He had been scared, that much Miri remembered. And small. Nearly short as she was back then. Though Mijoo had a brother who was older, his age seemed to pull him away from her and any presumed relationship they had earlier than she would’ve liked. And though they didn’t have much aside from each other, she never felt all too close to her overworked, overstressed, overbearing parents either. So she took Charlie under her wing.

 

She taught him Spanish. She guided him around their school, introduced him to all of her friends. She helped him with coursework, his studying, helped him navigate a life under the same roof as Juan Pedro and Fatima Cardenas. They became more than friends, growing as close as siblings, bonded for life. She had always cared about Charlie that way, and couldn't help it. 

 

Though he was supposed to stay in Mexico and finish high school there, he left early, stormed right out of their house after an argument with her father before Miri could even graduate herself. All she knew is that he went back to California, before eventually catching wind that he had moved by himself to his parents’ home country, South Korea, to work at a record shop in Seoul. Their conversations had been relegated to the rare birthday card and drunk phone calls spliced over the various years she had spent once she finished high school and moved to Vancouver. When she thought she had a foolproof job opportunity, in her little brother’s city no less, she knew she had to jump on the opportunity. And though it had been the farthest thing from easy at first, having Charlie at her side again certainly helped. 

 

He ruffles his own overgrown hair. “I’m sorry my parents weren’t better to you,” she releases, lips downturning.

 

“Oh no, Mijoo, it’s okay. I’m sorry your parents weren’t better to you. You were only 18.”

 

She shrugs, glancing down at her lap. Mint’s practically crawled right into it. She takes a harsh gulp of the tequila, downing more than half the cup in one fell swoop. Mijoo winces as it burns its way down her throat. 

 

“Sabes que, it all worked out for the best, Carlitos,” She leans against his warm, solid chest until the younger boy wraps his arm around her, dragging her closer into his embrace. He smells of alcohol and tobacco, both scents clinging to his bare skin like cologne. The two of them fall back against the couch’s arm, knocking his cowboy hat to the floor, Mijoo cuddled into Charlie’s side. Just like they’d been as children whenever Charlie would crawl into her bed, pulled from the dregs of sleep by a bad dream. “If my parents hadn’t kicked me out of the house, I wouldn’t have gone to school in Vancouver. And then I wouldn’t have met Teddy. And then we probably wouldn’t have moved to South Korea together. So I wouldn’t have been able to be here in this moment with you, hermanito, if not for them making that decision for me.”

 

“Las cosas pasan por una razón, noona,” Charlie proclaims wisely. “Though I’m still sorry. At least we’re both here now.”

 

The door opens, their final roommate entering the apartment, clouded by the stench of both wet paint and marijuana. Matcha meows at Teddy in greeting before he approaches the back of the couch, hand swatting at Charlie’s pink hair. “What? You two are having a cuddle party without me, eh?” He has a vibrant stain of green pasted to the front of his sweatshirt, and a book bag of rattling cans draped over his shoulder. Spray paint, though Mijoo doesn’t bother to make note that Teddy had been out tagging without her. The bottom half of his face is shielded in a white medical mask, though he begins discarding all three objects, his jacket, his bag, his mask, onto the floor near Charlie’s hat, one by one. His palms make careful time smoothing down the fabric of his band t-shirt. “Move over. Let me get in there.” 

 

Mijoo shuffles her kitten closer to the edge of the couch’s cushion, Mint nestled peacefully into her forearm. She draws her own legs tighter into her frame, curling into Charlie to allow room for Teddy to drape himself across them both. He nearly engulfs her with his own body from behind as she further relaxes into Charlie’s chest. The light of the entryway is still on, the television screen left abandoned on a random film search page, though Mijoo feels her eyelids begin to draw shut, comforted and lulled to a blissful sleep in the embrace of her two best friends. 

 

-

 

Mapo-gu, Seoul.

 

The air is humid and stifling. She regrets choosing the thick pullover she wears over her bike shorts as she climbs the familiar route to Namjoon’s office. The sweatshirt hanging to her thighs was borrowed from Charlie, a teal cartoon of a monstrous shark splayed across her chest, a broken hockey stick clenched between its jagged, fearsome teeth. He had mentioned it was a sports team from his hometown in California, though Mijoo had simply thought the design looked cool. It matched the color of her hair. 

 

Her grasp of Korean had been steadily improving with the help of the continued efforts of those around her, supporting her. The conversations she could hold kept extending in duration as she studied more and more advanced material, memorizing legions of vocabulary words, verb tenses, participles, and sentence structures. She could write rudimentary paragraphs herself, typically in the most simple of tenses, but still, it had to count for something. She holds both a wide, unmarked business envelope and a singular page containing an essay about her own physical appearance entirely in Hangul, a full body paragraph using basic descriptive words. 

 

Mijoo arrives outside Namjoon’s door, raising her fist to knock gently against its wood. As it creaks open, she speaks, holding up the envelope she wields before Namjoon can step through the threshold. It nearly whacks him across the face, the envelope, stretched wide by whatever sits inside. “This is for you, oppa.” She bows, the words unfurled in her accented Korean as he takes it from her grasp. She doesn’t quite sound English, but doesn’t exactly sound native Korean either. The intonation is hard to place. “I know it’s only half of your required fee, Namjoon, but it’s all I have right now. I promise I can get the rest to you as soon as possible. I’ll be picking up extra shifts and-”

 

He shakes his head. “Mijoo-ssi, do not worry about it. Please. This is more than enough.” He begins rifling through the envelope’s contents, the multi-colored bills constituting the won she owes him tucked away safely inside its folds, and though he says that, Mijoo knows it isn’t nearly enough. He deserved so much, so much more than she could give him. 

 

“Oppa, seriously,” she’s dumbfounded and overcome, mouth opened in shock at his charity. He seems bemused, lips pursed, as if fighting back a smile. “This can’t be correct-”

 

“It is correct, Mijoo. Now come inside before I change my mind.” 

 

She slinks into his office as usual, handing him her essay just as she had the money she owed him. Though he mentioned she didn’t have to worry about the rest of it, she’d get him his full pay, one way or another. Namjoon releases a yawn before slipping his glasses on, pupils scanning over the words she’d typed onto the page, occasionally using a knuckle to rub at his weary eyes. He seems exhausted, drowsy and spent, simply dressed, in jeans and an unironed t-shirt, as if he were still wearing his clothes from the night before, or at least, had dressed that morning in the most indifferent, uncaring haste.

 

“Are you okay?” Mijoo asks, in English, right as he yawns again.

 

“Oh yes, I’m okay. My apologies, Mijoo-ssi.” Namjoon chuckles and she swears she could bathe in the sound. “I promise your essay isn’t boring me. I’ve just had some late nights these past few weeks.” He attempts to sit up straighter in his chair, drawing himself to attention.

 

“Late nights? Lots of grading or something?” She crosses her legs demurely at her bare knee, clasping her hands over the joint.

 

“Well, the cram school’s other English teacher just left on maternity leave, so I’ve had to take over her classes. They are at an intermediate level and the workload isn’t difficult, thankfully. Though the class itself runs well into the night. It keeps me up quite late. Not to mention, I’m always starving after, rushing to get some ramyeon at the nearest corner store.” Mijoo offers him a sympathetic pout, though he waves her off. “It really isn’t a problem and I’m thankful for the bonus income. Luckily, the class is only three times a week, so after our session today, I’ll be done for the evening.”

 

“Oh, that’s good,” she hums faintly, chin dipping in a nod.

 

Namjoon watches her intently, seemingly lost in his own thoughts before a rush of words swiftly tumbles from his lips out of nowhere. “You should stop by the class sometime, Mijoo-ssi. I’d trust you’re at a similar level to the other students and it might benefit you to be able to engage in conversation with others who have the same measure of comprehension as you.”

 

Mijoo can feel her eyes widen at his offer despite herself. “Namjoon oppa, that’s very kind of you. I would love to, but I couldn’t possibly afford to take night classes on top of our sessions. I can hardly afford to pay my share of the rent, much less-”

 

“No, you wouldn’t have to pay to sit in on the class, Mijoo,” he seems insulted at the insinuation, though she was well aware the other students at the cram school all paid in full for their services, no exceptions allowed. She hadn’t planned on making an exception of herself, even if she knew she came from a less privileged background than that of her peers. She could hardly consider herself fully employed, for christsake. 

 

“Namjoon. The other students pay.” She sounds more firm in her resolve than she feels, especially once he shakes his head obstinately, spine rigid, stubbornly towering over her much shorter frame. He could be incredibly domineering when he wanted to be. Mijoo knew she would be entirely unable to reject him, no matter how willfully she persisted. 

 

“Mijoo-ssi, I insist you can attend the class without paying. Consider it already covered by this base fee.” His fingers reach towards the envelope of cash she’d given him, previously left disregarded on the edge of his desk. “It will aid you in your studies,” he adds in Korean. “Therefore, I must highly recommend as your tutor that you attend our evening class. Whether you can afford it or not.” She’s surprised that she can understand him entirely, though figures that must speak to his own teaching ability and skill. If he had been able to instruct her, he could instruct anybody.

 

She stares down at her lap nervously, dutifully studying the expanse of her olive tone skin trailing down bare legs before blurting out her confession. “We’re going to the Han River Park in Yeoeuido tonight. Me and my roommates. Maybe a few of their friends. It’s a really casual thing, just to hang out and drink. I know you mentioned you’re quite tired after your late night, but it is the start of the weekend, and what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t at least extend an invitation to you to come chill with us on a Friday night?”

 

Namjoon beams, gaze trained downwards. He’s blushing, both of his extensive, cavernous dimples on proud display. Mijoo herself seems entirely astounded she hadn’t lost her courage then, though her nerves overtake her, the words continuing to flow from her mouth unrestricted, a faucet left running directly down the drain. “Well, I do understand if you don’t want to come drink with a bunch of kids on your night off, oppa. We would probably seem a bit immature in your view.”

 

“You’re only two years younger than me, Mijoo-ssi. I can decide that for myself.” He finally meets her eyes, smiling brightly, the corners of his lips stretched from ear to ear. “I’d love to come and meet your friends. What should I bring?”

 

Mijoo’s skin feels hot, clammy, whether from the temperature or her own anxiety, she couldn’t be sure. Despite the already setting sun, it’s still an incredibly warm evening. The perfect sort of night for a waterfront picnic. “Nothing! Leave that to us, oppa. Consider this my treat.” Her tone draws serious, the sentiment of her gratitude inescapable, unavoidable. She couldn’t adequately express that gratitude enough. “My thanks for all you’ve done for me.”

 

His smile has yet to fade throughout the entire interaction.

 

-

 

Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul.

 

The nighttime dusk had already materialized and settled over the entire city, a glinting moon overtaking the sun’s brilliance with its own incandescent shine. Through the darkness, the Yeouido Hangang Park is incredibly well lit still - the city’s own shimmering, false lights reflecting against the Han’s bubbling surface. A line of lamp posts glisten along the paved pathways proudly, guiding any pedestrian’s way. Despite this, Mijoo still worries, still stews in her unease, hoping Namjoon can find them, their cluster of three, amongst the crowds. It’s a common sight in Seoul to see the river well populated on a weekend, masses of teenagers and young adults and families sojourning on the grass, watching the water’s pulsating rush flow by near their feet, picnicking and drinking themselves silly beneath the stars. It almost reminds her of Vancouver, of the Columbia River and all the irreplaceable memories her and Teddy foraged there together. Just almost. A bittersweetness tinges on her tongue at the taste.

 

Her and her two roommates immediately enter a corner store upon their arrival at the popular park. Its shelves are well stocked, lined with the various colorful food packages and liquor bottles its owners offer for purchase, the standard of any bodega in Seoul, as Mijoo had come to learn, filled with all the treats the three of them could ever desire in the world. Mijoo finds herself eyeing the rack of savory snacks, honey butter potato chips and spicy jjolbyung, their shiny aluminum-laminated plastic bags drawing her in. Her finds stack easily within her grasp; her careful organization of their placement is only interrupted by the thundering growl of her stomach, pulling her attention. 

 

“Do you know if Yeonggi is coming?” Mijoo calls down the aisle at Teddy, leisurely approaching his towering frame. Dressed in his usual attire, Teddy dons all black, from his black sweater to his black baggy jeans, with a shiny black sleeveless vest made of vinyl zipped up to his chin layered atop. It swishes with each movement he makes. A black hospital mask’s loop dangles its material precariously from his nearest ear. “And what about Hyunseok?” Charlie kneels on the opposite side of his hyung, hiding behind his shadow, attentively inspecting each label of rice wine from the collection of bottles arranged on the shelf’s lowest rack. His hair is a wheat colored mess on his forehead, entirely absent of its previous pink. His new favorite cowboy hat hangs from a string around his neck behind him. His pants are brown leather too, the exact same shade and hue. 

 

The only items yet to be placed in Teddy’s basket are bright, unmistakably yellow containers of banana milk, enough for everyone to have some and more, a sight that makes Mijoo stifle a giggle into the sleeve of her denim coat. 

 

“Yeonggi’s on the train right now,” Charlie murmurs. “He had to pick up some flower.”

 

“Hyunie’s gonna try to make it after work. He’s serving at this private showing tonight, so Mina might try to keep him there well past closing for clean up,” Teddy explains, finally selecting his own drink of choice, red wine, with a twist off cap. Perfect for the park. Mijoo slips her snacks into his basket, his wine following suit. “You know how Mina is. And Hyunseok can never say no to her.”

 

“He’s still on her good side somehow,” Charlie adds. “I’m not sure how anyone can stay on her good side.”

 

“Teddy’s on her good side,” Mijoo retorts, crossing her arms across her chest. “Though I think Mina just has a crush on you!” She draws out her final word, adding music where none previously existed, reaching forward to pinch Teddy’s cheek between her two fingers. He shies away from her touch with his nose in a scrunchy smile.

 

“Hurry up and pick your drink, noona.” He nudges her side, Teddy, pushing her closer towards the array of bottles for sale. She stumbles over her trusty thick combat boots, leather squeaking with each unsteady step. “Some wine to share with your hot tutor maybe.” It’s pointed, his rightful turn to tease her right back, and her cheeks flush at his words, suddenly feeling all too hot beneath the store’s intensely bright fluorescent lamps.

 

She tugs on the collar of her jacket before reaching for her own bottle to sample, a sparkling white wine by a brand name she had never heard of before, its label in Hanja, to be uncorked just like champagne. Mijoo grips the bottle by its neck, the three of them turning towards the cashier to finalize the exchange of each treat, drink, and bottle to be shared over the night’s duration. Charlie grabs a box of honeydew popsicles right before they’re about to pay, eyes alight, grin as mischievous as a child’s.

 

It’s a quick transaction made with the crumpled won rescued from the farthest reaching depths of Teddy’s pockets. He exchanges the bills for their loot in silence. They leave the store, welcomed by the cooler air outside, the refreshing, brisk breeze that had arrived with sunset rushing around them, Mijoo drawing her jacket open widder, creating her own miniature gust of wind to add to its barrage. Despite this, she’s still sweating, her entire body trembling like a leaf as they forage through the park for the best, unoccupied spot. Her nerves have returned now that she remembers where they are, what they’re about to do. Yes, it was supposed to be a casual hangout, like any of the other uneventful nights spent with her roommates and their friends, but this was entirely different. Namjoon was coming, Namjoon was going to meet them for the first time, see Mijoo outside of his minimal and constricted corner office in the cram school’s adjunct wing. She gulps loudly, Charlie shooting her a curious glance at the sound.

 

Finally they make camp in the grass, close enough to the river’s edge to see its current on its pass, yet far enough away from the other park patrons to avoid feeling uncomfortable. Charlie throws himself immediately onto his bum, nearly crushing his cowboy hat as he rocks onto his back, sprawling his limbs in each direction. Teddy begins unloading their new finds, bottles arranged in a neat, tidy row. Mijoo squats, still positioned on her feet.

 

Namjoon had given Mijoo his cell phone number earlier, though the thought of having to formulate a cohesive thought directed to him over text presently makes her want to launch her own phone straight into the Han. Instead, she only sends him a picture - the closest recognizable building from view, and the cherry blossom tree they’re sitting nearest. Hopefully the sights would be enough to guide him.

 

“Noona, it’ll be okay,” Teddy breathes deeply, encircling his arm around Mijoo’s shoulder blades, as if he could read her mind. The embrace grounds her, easing some of the tension from her body. She finally relaxes, sitting and leaning into her close friend’s side.

 

“Yo!” Yeonggi’s voice echoes from across the park, forcing Mijoo’s head in his direction, shifting her attention to the sound. He ambles across the grass towards them at a leisurely pace, hands stuffed into his hoodie’s pockets. Charlie rises to greet him, drawing the older boy into a hug with one arm. “I brought free weed in exchange for some of your alcohol.” Yeonggi tosses a thickly wrapped joint in each roommate’s lap, Mijoo holding her own newly anointed prize up to the light. 

 

“Thank god,” Charlie quips. “Mijoo noona needs it. Her boyfriend’s coming tonight-”

 

“He’s not my boyfriend!” She wastes no time shoving Charlie away from her, stealing the lighter he had procured to light his own joint. “This is mine now just for that,” she adds, drawing it’s child lock back and igniting a miniature, pocket flame. They each light up expertly in ordered time, Mijoo, then Charlie, then Teddy, though there’s no shared passing between them, each puffing from their own cigarette. Yeonggi cracks open the rice wine’s screw, knocking back a slug directly from the bottle. 

 

Mijoo is halfway through her joint, its engorged center perched delicately between her red polished fingers, when her phone vibrates twice in her lap. A message from Namjoon. A photo sent without text. A group of four figures beneath a shining moon in the distance, three boys, one girl with long hair, vibrantly teal. She existed as the sole shock of color in the photograph beside the river in the background behind them. Their group, from his eyes. 

 

Her gaze shoots upwards in search of Namjoon, heart already pounding rapidly, leaping bounds, pulsating within her ribcage. His outline is visible on the line of the horizon, approaching with a casual swagger just as Yeonggi had. She stands, Mijoo, running her palm along the length of her jeans. She her joint to Yeonggi. He stares at his hand dumbfounded. “Uh… Meej?” He chuckles, shaking his head. “Missing something?”

 

Namjoon is already grinning, its depths all consuming, dimples on display, eyes bright as they find Mijoo’s, undeniably happy. Something flutters within the pit of her stomach. ‘Oh fuck,’ she thinks. ‘I do have a crush on my tutor.”

 

He bows as he arrives in front of her, as a teacher would, Namjoon, doesn’t move to touch her or reach his arms around her frame in a hug, not like Teddy or Charlie instinctively would. Even Yeonggi never shied from Mijoo’s affections, let her greet him with the occasional kiss on either cheek, as her parents, her tias and tios and primos had all once done with her. She follows suit, returning his beaming smile, her own cheeks sore from its constancy. He, like Mijoo, had changed since they had seen each other last. Loose fabric shorts hang to his knees, olive green, warm, that smartly match the tones of brown and grey in the knit of his sweater. He’s still wearing his glasses and that infectious glow. 

 

God she could look at him forever, she thinks, though she forcefully averts her gaze. Exhaling a heavy breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, her mind begins to pace, attempting to form word from thought.

 

“Annyeonghaseyo, oppa. I am so happy you’re here. I hope you’re well.” Though her Korean is formal and stiff, she manages well, accent clear, intelligible, comprehensible, and Charlie, already somewhat tipsy from his rice wine, tightens his arm around her neck from behind in a stiff embrace. Or chokehold. She couldn’t be sure.

 

“Oh wow, noona, you Korean sounds so nice!” He purrs in his own concocted dialect, a jokey Korean spoken like an American, grin wide, before he turns to Namjoon, holding out his free hand, still clutching his own half-smoked marijuana cigarette in offering. The tutor’s eyes widen. Charlie switches to English, though his own doofy expression never fades. “Hey man. I’m Mijoo’s roommate, Charlie.” Mijoo finally pushes him off of her, anxiously flattening the silken material of her camisole top. 

 

“Nice to meet you,” Namjoon holds his hand up at the joint. “Thanks. I don’t smoke.”

 

Charlie’s face falls, dumbfounded, as if he had never heard of such a thing before. “What about cigarettes?”

 

“Kyuchul. Leave your poor sunbaenim alone,” Teddy’s own Korean is a fierce bark from behind the pair, finally called to attention by their new guest’s presence. Kyuchul, Mijoo marvels. The name Charlie had picked for himself, same as her - though it was hardly used, likely only written on their leasing agreement. “It is nice to meet you. My name is Jaekun.” She’s surprised at his own formality, Teddy, though he breaks character soon after, face contorting under the force of his own beaming smirk before switching to English. “You can call me Teddy though, man. I was just playing. We’re her roommates. And this is Yeonggi. Charlie’s friend.” Jaekun. Another name Mijoo hadn’t remembered, though she decisively figures Teddy fits him best.

 

And through the initial awkwardness, the unlikely group makes camp on the grass once more, Mijoo offering her own selection of sparkling wine up for Namjoon’s consideration, eyebrow raised suggestively. “I don’t know if you drink, but you’re more than welcome to share some of this with me.” Her fingers make careful work unscrewing the wire cage fixated to the bottle’s cork, pulling it free under the pressure of the drink’s own carbonation. Some bubbles upwards, spilling onto the grass. Mijoo can’t help the shriek she releases, the sound softening straight into a fit of uncontrollable laughter before she takes a hearty swig of the wine straight from its bottle’s mouth.

 

“That can’t be sanitary,” Yeonggi goads, though he drinks from his own shared drink with Charlie anyway, grinning despite himself. His own smile emerges more steadily throughout the night with each added sip of wine he consumes. Mijoo likes him when he’s like this, friendly, sociable, happy. They all seem happier tonight. The wonder of the idea is certainly not lost on her.

 

Namjoon finally relents with his own playful smirk, accepting Mijoo’s benefaction, chugging earnestly from the champagne. The act seems effortless, as if he had done this before, and likely had. Mijoo whistles, instinctively reaching forward to wipe the droplets of wine that had spilled from the corner of his mouth with her bare fingers. It had begun to dribble down his chin, the alcohol, though she realizes she crossed some unspoken line as she touched him, breached some implicitly vowed contract. He stares at her silently, smile faded, and she could kick herself then for her lack of forethought.

 

Though that isn’t what he’s thinking.

 

Namjoon’s skin crackles, electrified, the beverage’s own carbonation spreading from his stomach, seizing control of every square inch of his body mass. Insides liquified, turned to sparkling, effervescent champagne, alight, already intoxicated, on her, on Mijoo, on the heavy scent of freesia and patchouli that clings to her, a fragrant cloud of it that must follow her everywhere she goes. He wonders if her own skin smells like elsewhere, on the places of her body that aren’t visible to him now, though he quickly attempts to shake any thoughts of impropriety from mind. 

 

He shouldn’t think about Mijoo like that. She’s his student. That wasn’t appropriate.

 

Though no matter how much Namjoon tells himself that he shouldn’t think about her like that, that it was wrong to do so, he isn’t sure if he quite believes it.

 

The wine bottle’s contents drain further and further, champagne fully imbibed by the pair. The shoulder of her jacket brushes against the knit of his sweater as she sways, seated beside Namjoon atop the park’s lawn. She hasn’t left his side all night, he realizes, laughs at all his jokes, continuously peers up at him with such high regard written into her features. Her irises, the pleasantly deep, shadowy hue is undeniably brilliant, iridescent through the night’s own all-consuming dark. Her entire air, manner, appearance equally, indisputably captivating. She looks different than any other girl he thinks he’s ever laid eyes on, and can’t bring himself to look away.

 

She leans forward on her forearms, Mijoo, drawing herself closer to him. The aroma of her perfume intensifies with her proximity, along with the wine’s own fruity notes that linger atop her tongue. Cigarette smoke, too, emanating from the strands of her hair. He feels dizzy on her presence. “How did you learn English? Have you ever studied abroad?”

 

He focuses on her meticulously measured intonation, the carefully crafted manner she uses to form English syllables, similar to her pacing in Korean. He often forgets that English isn’t her first language either, though her proficiency wanes more so than usual tonight, likely blurred and burdened by her own evident intoxication. He wonders what it would be like to listen to her adept Spanish drawl in full capacity, to dip his toes into the dulcet cadence of her voice speaking the language she knew best.

 

He shakes his head once her question eventually settles over him. “No, I never studied abroad. I taught myself as a high school student; I thought it could be useful to learn another language in the future.” He pauses, rolling his lips inside of his mouth wearily. “To be honest, I also thought I wanted to move to the West for a while. But I chose to stay in Korea and study here instead. I got a degree in linguistics and ended up teaching Korean to foreigners. It’s rewarding work, and I like it. I’m good at it. Figure I have no reason to leave now.” He isn’t sure why, but his nerves spike then, hands jittery atop his lap. “What about you? How did you learn English?”

 

Mijoo pulls her knees closer to her chest, draping herself over the thin material of her slinky, sheathlike jeans. Her nails are long and natural, painted bright, cherry red. “Well, I learned very little in English in childhood. Just from being on the internet and around other kids at school. Americans like to think that some sort of cultural encroachment occurs from our side of the border, but I theorize it’s often the other way around. Then I took classes in high school and decided to go to university abroad to study it outside of Mexico.”

 

Namjoon feels his eyes widen. He hadn’t known that. 

 

“And did you?”

 

Mijoo nods. “I did. I moved to Canada by myself to study English and Latin American studies in Vancouver. It’s where I met Teddy, and well… the rest is history. Now we have our own little apartment in Ilsan. Who would’ve thought moving to Canada would lead me to Korea?.” 

 

Ilsan. Namjoon freezes. “Ilsan in Goyang?” He speaks in Korean without meaning to, though Mijoo can understand him without translation now, her head dipping in a quick nod. “Wow. That’s where I grew up. My parents are still there, in the Eastern district.”

 

“That’s where we live too,” Mijoo sits up straighter, extending her limbs ahead of her in a crawling, drawn out stretch. She’s usually a desk’s width away from him, seated on a levely designed chair, same as his. He hadn’t realized how short she was before. “We’re by the Madu station, thankfully. I feel like I live on the orange line these days.” Meaning Seoul Subway line 3, the service that connected the city’s center to Goyang’s depths in the northwest. A service line he’d ridden himself a countless amount of times in the past, far too many to count. The irony isn’t lost on him now, and though she isn’t a native to Korea herself, Mijoo’s insight and comprehension of such a minute piece of his hometown strikes him then. She understands a part of him better than so many others ever could. 

 

He had been worried that accompanying one of his students and her friends to the park would constitute a grave mistake, something entirely far too inappropriate, to be painstakingly regretted later. But now, he figures, he was glad he came at all. Mijoo understands him, and despite himself, Namjoon feels like he’s beginning to understand her too.

 

-

 

Madu-dong, Ilsan-gu, Goyang.

 

Under the Madu Station’s glowing lights, Mijoo and Teddy hustle through the train yard, hoods drawn tightly over their heads as they bob and weave through abandoned cars left long forgotten, long out of service. They hopped a fence to enter the station without purchasing tickets, Teddy’s duffle back of spray paint cans rattling musically as it scaled the barrier from its owner’s side. They both wear black medical masks stretched across the bottom portion of their faces to shield their features from plain view. Her distinctively colored tresses are tied back, lost in the depths of her own hood. Teddy pulls his right sleeve further down his forearm, concealing a splatter of dark, identifiable ink. Tattoos that turn his body into his own canvas, yet also serve as a marker of his identity all the same. 

 

Once they’re far enough away from the bustling platform of the station itself, Teddy throws his duffle atop the gravel ground spread out between them. Mijoo bends forward, unzipping its largest compartment and retrieving a vibrant neon shade of orange paint, honeysuckle, the color of marigolds, one of her favorites. She shakes the aerosol can’s body, rattling the plastic pea-sized ball within its enclosure with a few carefully premeditated movements. The paint within the canister stirs before she removes its cap, stepping towards the nearest train car.

 

Mijoo lifts her arm and begins using the paint to outline her own familiar tag with a press of her finger, its valve button depressed, releasing pressured paint in a wide spray. She crafts large blocky letters of the Latin alphabet, stylized as she’d learned during her days spray painting Vancouver, her childhood nickname shortened to its final four letters. She finds another color in Teddy’s carrier, a shade of baby pink, and starts drawing an expansive, curling flower in the foreground, a lotus with unfurling, blossoming petals that fade into her name. Teddy, in his signature phosphorescent green, begins his own piece, crafting a giant abstraction of overlapping Hangul besides Mijoo’s creation. Each syllable blends together, his tag, his identity, lost amongst converging shapes.

 

She tugs on the strings of her hoodie, fastening the pink spray paint’s canister with a resounding pop. “You know, I think you’re right.”

 

Teddy glances at the older girl from over his shoulder before returning to the work at hand. Using her own earlier favored marigold orange, he continues to materialize his own specific vision upon the rusted metal of the deserted train car. A cacophony of symbols blurring into a masterful daydream of paint. “I mean, I know I’m right about a lot of things, noona, but what are you referring to this time?” The timbres of his voice are light, airy, playful in his arrogance, though she rolls her eyes anyway in response. 

 

“Namjoon oppa. My Korean tutor.” She tries not to inhale too heavily through the nonwoven fabric of her mask, its material managing to filter out the aerosol’s fumes, though her breath has become labored anyway, the weight of her coming admittance already bearing heavily upon her. “I think you’re right. I like him. Like, actually like him, in a way I probably, definitely shouldn’t. He’s my tutor.” 

 

She stares at the ground, at the scuffed toes of her worn skate shoes, their laces muddied, suede material already torn from its side. A mismatch of the station’s gravel rocks slides beneath her feet. “I think about him constantly. In all the ways I know I shouldn’t.” Mijoo crosses her arms across her chest, watching Teddy paint in deep concentration. “It’s funny, you know. I felt so isolated and outcasted when I first arrived here. I thought… I thought that I had made this hugely grave mistake in moving here, leaving home. The home I’d built with you from nothing in Vancouver. But, really, I don’t think I felt truly wanted or accepted there either. Same as Mexico. And now it’s dawning on me that I had to fly over 12,000 kilometers to finally feel understood by somebody. Besides you, of course,” she adds, shaking her head. “It’s weird. We barely know each other, but it already feels like I’ve known him my whole life.”

 

Teddy takes a few steps away from the train car, drawing closer towards Mijoo’s frame, dwarfed by his own. His initials, JK, are the last splash of paint he adds to his piece, finally completed. Drawing his cell phone free, Teddy takes quick, rapid snapshots of both of their work side by side beneath his camera’s vibrant flash before speaking again. “I could tell you guys had a sort of… unspoken connection, at least when we were in Yeouido.” Rifling through her own backpack, Mijoo pulls her camera free, following suit and capturing their tags to be memorialized on film forever. She thinks life makes decisively more sense from behind a camera lens, her aesthetic vision the only matter of importance.

 

“I’ve seen you with a lot of guys over the years, Miri, and I had to watch you get your heart broken by that prick your third year. I was the one who had to deal with the fallout, and the rebounds, and I just. I worry about you. I will probably always worry about you.” Teddy’s thoughts tumble free in a huff, the memories manifesting a suddenly heavy presence in the brisk air surrounding them. He pauses, a hand on his hip, seemingly exasperated. “But, there’s something about this that… feels different. You seem different. Happier. It was hard not to doubt it, but there’s also something about Namjoon I guess I just… implicitly trust? I don’t know. I understand what you mean because I felt the same when I met him. I hardly knew the guy, but it was like we got each other right away. He seems like a really genuine guy.”

 

She can’t help but to smile, cheeks warm, though he can’t see the expression, hidden behind her face mask. No, she still didn’t know what to do about her feelings towards her tutor, but at least Namjoon had Teddy’s approval. The notion meant more to her than Teddy could ever know.

 

Teddy twists his forearm around her shoulders, leaning the bulk of his weight against her body. “I wish I had the answers for you, or that I could just stand here and tell you what to do, but you know I can’t do that. These choices lie in your hands. But I don’t just trust Namjoon hyung, noona. I trust you too. And I know whatever decision you make will be the one that’s right for you.”

 

Mijoo turns into Teddy, engulfing him in a tight hug. “How’d you get to be so wise?” She asks, mouth muffled from the force of his embrace, face buried into the fabric of his sweater. He rests his chin atop her hood.

 

“Hyunseok is the real wise guy, I promise you. It’s only just started to rub off on me a little since we’ve been spending so much time together.” Mijoo can hardly hold back her abrupt emittance of laughter, stuffing her camera back in her gunmetal grey backpack. Teddy begins to zip up his own carrier of paint. “I had some news of my own I wanted to share with you, noona. And a bit of a favor to ask you too.”

 

Her palms skirt along the thighs of her jeans before looping both arms through her bag’s straps, adjusting its position on the small of her back. “Oh? And what would that be?”

 

Teddy heaves his own duffle of aerosol cans up around his torso with an unhurried grunt, slinging it across his shoulder. “Choi Mina is going on vacation. I know, I know, even tyrants take vacations apparently. Who would’ve thought? But… take a guess on which assistant manager will get to be the lucky bastard taking over for her?” Teddy hardly pauses, his excitement far too palpable to suppress. “Me! I finally get to host my own showing at the gallery. No Mina in sight. And, the kicker? I get to curate all the pieces we display!” He beams down at Mijoo, the joy to the expression obviously evident, unmistakable. 

 

They begin to take careful steps through the trainyard, back in the direction they had previously traversed upon their entrance. “I want it to be a more accessible showing than one of Mina’s,” Teddy continues. “Maybe feature some lesser known artists. A different kind of vibe, you know. I was even thinking of doing my own little display. It would be the first time I’d get to show some of my own paintings in a gallery outside of uni.”

 

Mijoo gasps at his confession. “Theo, that’s amazing! Oh my god! What do you need from me?”

 

They arrive at the same spot in the fence they had jumped previously, Teddy throwing his bag up above its chain links first. It lands in a heap on the other side before Teddy himself begins to scale the barrier. “Well, I wanted to know if you would be able to bartend for me that night. I remember you mentioning that it had been one of your favorite positions to work at the gallery before. Beats clean up or serving, I guess. And you’re good at it. Plus, it could be some good Korean practice now that you’re a little more conversational.”

 

Mijoo begins her own ascent of the fence, gaining a footing through an outstretched opening as she scrambles up its side. “It’d be no problem, Teddy, I’d love to bartend for you. Get to see my little man in action!” A gushing rush of pride surges through her as she straddles the top of the fence, throwing both of her legs across its other side before letting herself fall to the soles of her sneakers upon the asphalt. Teddy leaps, flying after her. He collects his bag again, standing up straighter. “You’re saying I get to make money without having to deal with Mina? Sounds like an absolute dream.”

 

They’re almost in the clear, back on the public road leading towards their apartment when a voice calls after them in terse Korean. “Hey, you there! Stop!” A resounding bellow that reverberates against the train station’s outer brick walls. A security guard stands in uniform behind them, several meters away. She could hardly make out the details of his face through the dark and figures he likely could barely discern their own shadows in turn. 

 

Without much thought or flourish, both Mijoo and Teddy break into a simultaneous sprint. Mijoo wills her body, her legs to move as fast as they can take her, the repetition of her steady footfalls a harsh echo cutting through the stillness of the night. She can hear Teddy’s own steps trailing directly behind her. Adrenaline courses through Mijoo, heart pounding, and she can’t help but release a harsh, exasperated chuckle, shooting a glance over her shoulder to see the security guard left well in the dust, unable to match their abrupt and steady pace. 

 

They’re far enough from the station and the guard after a while to feel comfortable, yielding into a hampered jog before stopping altogether. Mijoo doubles over beneath a nearby streetlight, palms to her knees, eyes closed, in an attempt to catch her winded breath. “Fuck. Haven’t had to run from a japsae like that in forever.” She uses the Korean word, a slangy, colloquial term she had overheard from Yeonggi, and Teddy grins, feeling his own swell of gratification. Mijoo could tell just based on the twinkle in his eye.

 

“Had to keep you on your toes, noona. Come on.” He winds his arm around her again, pulling her further in his direction. She can just make out the grey-ish toned building that houses their apartment in the distance, towering at the end of the current block. “I’m craving japchae now all of a sudden. Let’s go home.”

 

-

 

Yongsan-gu, Seoul.

 

From across the cocktail table tucked inside the farthest, quietest corner of the pub they occupy, Kim Jinho’s eyebrows shoot high across his forehead. The expression he lobs in Namjoon’s direction is dipped in evident disbelief, a salient sort of shock, before Jin releases a loud, resounding cough to follow into the crook of his elbow. Namjoon realizes he had caught his friend entirely off guard with the previously uttered confession, pressing the pads of his fingers into the condensation beginning to form outside his pint glass of beer with the utmost intent and focus. He can’t bring himself to look at his hyung’s face again, not when he’s staring at him like that.

 

“You’re attracted to your student?” Jin retorts, nearly choking over the words, dumbfounded, and Namjoon wishes more than anything else that he’d lower his voice. Thankfully the clamor of the other patrons seems to drown out the sound.

 

“She’s not technically my student, hyung,” Namjoon argues, shaking his head. “I’ve just been tutoring her in Korean. She’s only two years younger than I am and-”

 

“That is still a student, Joon. I hate to break it to you.” Jin sits back in his chair, lifting his own glass of frothy golden beer to his lips in a slow, harsh slurp. A line of foam attaches itself to his upper lip. “She was born in 1996? I guess that’s not so bad.” He shrugs, Jin, leg propped up over one knee. “You’ll have to stop tutoring her if things start to get serious though. Before you begin dating her.” Jin purses his lips, as if lost in thought. “At least just stop charging her for these lessons, Namjoon-ah, or what sort of prostitute would that make you?” 

 

“Oh my god, hyung.” Namjoon hangs his head in his palms. “I shouldn’t have said anything. I don’t know. I can’t bring myself to make a move like that on her. Couldn’t put any expectations on her, not if she doesn’t return my feelings.” Feelings. More than an attraction. That much was obvious. 

 

Jin sets his glass back down on the high topped table before him. “You don’t know if she likes you back?”

 

Namjoon shrugs. “I can’t say for certain. She’s incredibly sweet, but she seems to be like that with everyone she’s close to, like her roommates. I don’t know, Jin. It could be a cultural thing. I don’t want to read too much into anything.”

 

Namjoon’s phone vibrates beside his beer glass, oscillating atop the table’s dark wood. Both men stare at the messages that blink across the screen.

 

[ two new messages ]

: *

[* Hi oppa]

: ?*

[* Are you free tonight?]

 

As if her ears had been ringing. Two perfectly well timed texts from Mijoo, asking if Namjoon was available on a Saturday night. Jin leans forward, reaching for Namjoon’s phone, though Namjoon grabs the electronic himself before his counterpart can snatch it from out under his nose. “Is she asking if you’re free tonight? You’re supposed to be spending time with your hyung, Namjoon-ah. What are you going to tell her?”

 

“Of course I’m going to tell her that I’m free. Why would I willingly subject myself to the torture that is your company alone otherwise,” he responds snidely, tone teasing, already grinning from ear to ear as he formulates his response. He hadn’t expected Mijoo to text him inviting him out, in Korean no less. The thought could nearly make his heart melt. “How would you feel,” he pauses, finally glancing back at Jin’s expectant gaze. “About meeting up with her and her friends?” 

 

Jin nods. “I definitely am curious to see what’s so special about her. She’s got my cold friend Kim Namjoon-ssi so lovestruck.” 

 

Namjoon blocks out Jin’s taunt, finally responding to Mijoo’s messages. 

 

: *

[* Hi Mijoo-ssi]

: I’m having beers with a friend in Yongsan, near Itaewon. 

: We don’t have any plans this evening.

 

She replies almost immediately. 

 

[ four new messages ]

: Yay!

: We’re in Hongdae, gonna go to a noraebong.

: Come meet us!

: I want to hear you sing.

 

He swallows decisively, glancing up from the screen. “You love noraebong, don’t you, Jin hyung?”

 

Jin grins devilishly. “Of course I do. I didn’t major in theater for nothing, Joon.”

 

Namjoon reaches for his beer, chugging the rest of its contents in one fell swoop. If he was to survive a night full of Mijoo interacting with Jinho for the first time, he’d certainly need beer, and more of it too. He stands, Namjoon, smoothing out his jeans. “Come on, Jinho. They’re in Hongdae. We’ve got a taxi to catch.”

 

-

 

Mapo-gu, Seoul.

 

The neighborhood of Hongdae is alight, its street signs glowing efferscently, cutting through the dark. Swarms of people mill about on the pavement, clustering outside of various dining and drinking establishments, a bustling rancor spilling through each open door they pass, though the sun has already long disappeared on the western horizon line. The allure of the crowd is entirely overwhelming, Namjoon’s heart racing with his apprehension as he and Jin navigate the bustling district side by side once they abandon the cab that had driven them to Mapo from Yongsan. Mijoo sends him a wordless picture again, of the outside of a noraebong bar, its own logo lit up in hot pink neon lights. It’s arrival nearly a taunt in his inbox, as if she were daring Namjoon to come and find her. Part of him thinks he quite likes the challenge.

 

It’s a popular noraebong bar, one with a name Jin immediately recognizes and punches into his phone, its robotic voice offering clipped, terse directions in Korean. Finally, Namjoon spots those glowing pink lights from the Mijoo’s photo in the distance, before his eyes settle on the cluster of figures in front of the bar’s tinted glass doors. Mijoo wears a slinky black slip dress, dainty lace resting above the cleavage at her chest, its hem crawling to an end near her upper thighs, dangerously short, ripped fishnet tights shielding her toned legs. Her shoes are thick, wedged heels, granting her a few extra inches in height, and she wears an adornment of gold jewelry layered across her chest and arms that seem to jingle musically even in the distance. Her two roommates, Charlie and Teddy, stand next to her protectively, Charlie with a cigarette in hand, puffing happily away, along with Charlie’s friend, Yeonggi, leaning casually against the bar’s paved wall. Namjoon had recognized him from their previous at Yeouido Han River Park. Another boy he hadn’t met flanks Teddy’s side, Mijoo the only woman amongst them.

 

Mijoo’s shadow-lined eyes light up when she spots Namjoon and Jin approaching from the sidewalk. “Namjoon oppa! I’m so glad you made it!” She throws her arms around him in a hug, the tightest, closest embrace they had shared yet, and he stills, frozen in place with the extended contact. He can feel the outline of her body pressed firmly against the front of his own. The scent of some alcohol, vodka or tequila, something strong, clings to her skin like a second perfume, and he’s sure she must already be intoxicated this late into the night. That could certainly explain away her touchy behavior.

 

They finally pull apart, Namjoon nervously fiddling with the front of his lilac hued button up as Jin shoots him a curious grin from behind Mijoo’s brightly colored tresses. “This is Kim Jinho, a good friend of mine from university. He teaches theater at the cram school now.”

 

Mijoo beams at Jin demurely, offering him her own polite bow. “Nice to meet you, Jinho! When were you born?” Namjoon can feel himself flush the color of garnets at her question, Mijoo nearly sounding like a true Korean. Even her intonation, her pronunciation sounds immaculate, as if she had been practicing outside of their sessions, probably with her roommates, in her free time. Namjoon realizes she likely had practiced with the younger boys and feels strangely jealous at the prospect.

 

“1992,” Jin simpers, addressing the entire group before him. “I realize I must be much older than all of you. You may refer to me as oppa, or hyung, but please don’t call me grandpa. I couldn’t possibly support any grandchildren yet on this teacher’s salary.” They all laugh, Mijoo pulling Teddy’s friend forward to introduce him as Hyunseok, her and Teddy’s coworker, who offers a quiet, reserved smile in greeting. Namjoon hadn’t realized she worked with her roommate and wonders then what it is they did for employment, though he doesn’t find it prudent to presently ask. 

 

“Shall we head inside and get our karaoke on?” Charlie chirps in an English simper, tossing his cigarette butt carelessly onto the pavement and stomping its glowing embers out with the toe of his leather boot, the action met with a decisive click of his tongue. “Noona promised she’d perform something sexy for me. Wanna hear you sing!” He trills rhythmically, leaning in towards Mijoo’s cheek, pressing a careful kiss to the plump skin of her face. Namjoon’s fist clenches into his palm, nails digging crescent shaped indentations into his hand. He isn’t sure why, but the sight of the boy touching her like that makes his blood boil.

 

Jin tugs on Namjoon’s arm suddenly, dragging him towards the bar, away from Charlie and Mijoo, as if could sense the envy forming deep within his friend’s muscles, desperate to drag the emotion out of him. It wasn’t one he felt often, jealousy, and he isn’t sure if he has any right to be jealous, not when Mijoo was technically nothing to him beyond a student. The notion fills him with an unspeakable sadness, though he knows it shouldn’t, not when it’s true.

 

The group of seven enters the noraebong establishment and speedily reserve their own karaoke room, fully stocked with liquor service and all. Teddy and Mijoo promptly approach the bar, searching through the bottles until they find soju, pouring a serving for each person in attendance. Mijoo hands Namjoon a glass with a small hint of a smile to her lips, irises sparkling. “Drink with me, oppa,” she hums, taking a careful sip from her own portion of soju. “I can’t be drinking by myself, can I?”

 

He taps his drink against her own, their glasses clinking with a gentle ring beneath the room’s strobing lights. “Geonbae,” he offers in a quiet simper before tipping the soju back and swallowing the entire glass’ contents with one motion. He could already feel the slight effects from his earlier pints of beer wash over him, followed by the soju’s warmth that begins to flood his body, from his head down to his fingers and toes, limbs tingling with the sensation. Everything exists in a fog after he downs a second glassful of soju, Mijoo watching him carefully as she finishes her first. 

 

Charlie is at her side again, playfully tugging on a strand of her teal tinged hair. His fingernails are painted black, though the varnish is already beginning to peel off in chips. “Noona. Sing! We wanna hear you, please,” he pouts, his begging all too closely resembling the pleads of a desperate child. She sighs in response, Mijoo, drawing out the sound dramatically, perfectly executing the role of the exasperated parent that still diligently follows along. She shoots Namjoon an apologetic look before letting Charlie drag her towards the karaoke machine, the pair of them rifling through the selections it has to offer. 

 

Namjoon watches her from across the private room, wondering what song she’ll choose to sing, fantasizing about the dreamy lull her voice would sound like through a microphone, crooning just for him. Jin nudges his side, leaning in close towards the shell of Namjoon’s ear, offering only a breathy whisper. “She’s cute.” An improper grin slants across Jin's face. Namjoon rolls his eyes though he has half a mind to lobb his own taunt back at him. ‘I know,’ he thinks. ‘She is.’ 

 

Finally Mijoo and Charlie are standing upon the noraebong’s miniature stage, microphones in hand as the familiar opening notes of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s song, Crazy in Love, slowly creep through the speakers. Though Charlie opens with Jay’s own vocalization, dramatically crossing the stage with wild gesticulations until he stands directly in front of his group of friends. Though he raps, he dances wildly along to Mijoo’s vocalizations from the side stage as if he were Beyoncé herself, dramatic turns taken from the tips of his toes. Teddy hides his face in hands, though Namjoon can see his shoulders shake from the force of his own laughter under the room’s flashing lights. Hyunseok’s eyes are as wide as saucers, bemusement written into his features as he waves eagerly at Mijoo from a distance. Yeonggi only bops his head along to the infectious drumbeat.

 

It feels as though a spotlight of heat flashes across Namjoon’s face from the warmth that has steadily engulfed the entire front of body. Mijoo steps further onto the stage besides Charlie, immediately drawing his attention. His palms feel clammy as he pours himself another drink. One of Mijoo’s hands crawls sharply above her head in a flamenco pose as she begins to intone breathily into the microphone. 

 

I look and stare so deep in your eyes / I touch on you more and more every time / When you leave, I'm begging you not to go / Call your name two, three times in a row / Such a funny thing for me to try to explain / How I'm feeling and my pride is the one to blame / 'Cause I know I don't understand / Just how your love can do what no one else can.” 

 

Her voice is light and bright, a faint smile etched into her face as she sings, almost as if she were staring straight at Namjoon. Singing just for him. She has a dimple too, same as Namjoon, one sharp hollow positioned on the left side of her cheek, a much fainter indentation laid gently on her right, barely there. He wouldn’t have noticed it if he hadn’t been staring at her so intently. He distracts himself from her performance with his cupful of soju again, feeling himself settle deeper and deeper into an oncoming state of inebriation. He had already lost count of how many drinks he’s had. Watching Mijoo saunter sensuously across a stage felt entirely too overwhelming. 

 

Their performance crawls to a finish after Charlie’s full rap verse, the younger boy staying upon the stage to execute a solo song before Mijoo jumps directly into Teddy’s waiting arms. They spin around before Teddy falls back onto one of the leather couch cushions in a fit of laughter, Mijoo pinned to his chest. Namjoon turns away at their embrace, a sweat breaking out across his forehead. He could still hear Mijoo’s own giggles echoing in the space from over his shoulder. She seemed awfully close with Teddy. His stomach turns. 

 

So, he drinks more. And more. 

 

“Are you okay?” Jin elbows Namjoon, leaning closer towards his frame once more, later on in the night. Though he’s been having his own fun, Jin, offering up a dramatic rendition of one of Namjoon’s mother’s favorite classical Korean ballads for the entire group after another round of shoots. The soju bottle had been drained entirely already, Namjoon moving on to a selection of expensive whiskey in its place. His speech is slightly slurred, English slower, and footing a little less confident. He hates feeling jealous, though he wishes he could touch Mijoo as casually as Teddy and Charlie do over the course of the evening, intuitively, without a second thought. He’d been stewing in his own insecurity and Jin could sense it. 

 

“I’m good, hyung. Honest.” He nods, setting his own glass down on the table in front of him. “Might be done with the liquor though.”

 

“Good idea,” Jin comments, smirking. “Think you’ve had more than enough of that, Joonie.”

 

“Hey! I think we’re going to go to another bar!” Charlie leans over the backrest of the couch Jin and Namjoon occupy, a cowboy hat he seemingly procured from nowhere suddenly positioned securely atop his light blond waves. “Definitely want some more drinks. You guys in?”

 

Jin cackles with the abrupt shake of his head. “Fuck that. I’m going home. Guess you might as well start calling me grandpa afterall. I’m too fucking old for this shit.” The entire group howls at his gripe, like a true halabeoji. 

 

“What about you, Namjoon hyung?” Charlie turns his sight on the tutor, eyes wide. Namjoon feels somewhat startled by his use of the honorific, accustomed to being the youngest amongst most of his own friends.

 

“I’m tired too, Charlie. Wanna go home.” Mijoo calls from her perch beside Teddy on the opposite couch, capturing both boys’ regard. As soon as Namjoon glances upon her slumped frame, their eyes lock in an intense gaze, something unspoken shared just between them in the look. He wonders if she’s had as much to drink as he has. He couldn’t possibly let her ride the orange line back to Ilsan by herself at this hour, not if Teddy and Charlie were both staying in Hongdae. 

 

“I can go with you, Mijoo-ssi,” Namjoon offers, sitting up straighter, promptly sobered by the notion. “I don’t want you riding the train this late alone.”

 

Teddy raises an eyebrow. “Are you sure, hyung? I can take her-”

 

“I don’t mind,” Namjoon insists. “Honest. I can crash at my parents’ place after I see her home. They live in the area.” Teddy studies him intently, illegibly, and Namjoon’s sure it’s out of sheer concern for his friend. Namjoon is sure he’d react the same way if the roles were reversed.

 

And so they separate outside of the noraebong bar once their rental period for the private karaoke room expires, Jin ambling off in the direction of waiting taxi cabs, Charlie, Teddy, Hyunseok, and Yeonggi stumbling immediately into the first bar they spot directly across the street. Namjoon offers Mijoo a kind smile before extending his arm out in her direction, allowing her to intertwine her own lithe limb with his for support as they walk. Her skin feels cold pressed against his own. They spend most of the journey through Hongdae in silence, Mijoo marveling at the sights and sounds of other strangers on the street. Namjoon hadn’t realized she had her backpack with her until she wrenches a prehistoric film camera from its confines, looping its strap around her own neck. He watches her take a photo of a group of college aged students queued up outside of a club. 

 

“You’re a photographer?” He asks. They’re nearing the Hongik University Station, drawing further away from the busiest stretch of the infamous district.

 

“Not technically,” Mijoo murmurs from behind the camera, turning the lens on Namjoon and snapping an unexpectedly candid picture. “I want to be a photographer. So for now I just take pictures.”

 

They board the platform for Seoul’s second subway line, the circle line, on the outer loop, in order to make their transfer to the orange line at the Seoul National University of Education station, in order to continue on into Goyang. He knew the area and the route well, though is unsurprised at Mijoo’s own ease with the subway system after the duration of her stay in the city. She wields her own T-money card as they slip through the train gates, just as any other local would. She reads each passing sign name aloud to herself in Korean, breathing life into the printed Hangul. He feels a sort of sense of gratification at the scene, even if he only marginally aided in her Korean education.

 

Once the train heading towards City Hall arrives, they board it, the only couple on the platform. It’s cars are equally empty though the two don’t bother to sit, Mijoo snapping another photograph of Namjoon holding onto one of the train’s railing bars as it barrels forward through the station. 

 

They float through 16 stops until making their transfer, moving onto the orange line’s northbound train at the Seoul National University. They sit for the next duration of the ride, Mijoo pulling a phone wrapped in white earbuds from a side compartment in her bag. She unwinds the chord before offering up a bud towards Namjoon wordlessly. He accepts it, slithering it into his left ear as she follows suit with hers in her right, preparing a song for the two of them to listen to together. Namjoon doesn’t recognize what she puts on, a deep, crooning voice in Spanish over a vibrant guitar, the singer curling over syllables his mind can’t quite place.

 

He loses himself in her choice of music, for the near thirty minutes it takes for the locomotive to pull into Ilsan. Mijoo grabs Namjoon’s arm once the train rolls to a stop at the Madu Station, taking his hand in hers, the only people around for kilometers. Their fingers intertwine, palms clasped close together as they make their way onto the street, path guided only by the arc lamps overhead. Her touch shoots a current of electricity up his arm, into his shoulder, down into the pit of his stomach. He wants to kiss her so badly, but just can’t bring himself to do it.

 

Mijoo leads Namjoon up a nondescript apartment building, riding its elevator in silence up to the tenth floor. After she unlocks her apartment and lets Namjoon enter first, Mijoo reaches for the nearest light switch, brightening up their entire living room. They’re greeted by a pair of cats, one orange tabby with glowing green eyes, and a smaller brown kitten, mewing at their owner. She immediately rushes towards the kitchen, Mijoo, to get them servings of their kibble, a dinner offered a few hours late. 

 

Once the animals are occupied with their meal, Mijoo returns to the living room, motiong Namjoon forward towards the couch and discarding her bag on the floor. Aside from the couch in the room’s center and a simple wooden coffee table in front of it, their shared space is absent of most furniture, save from a television mounted to the wall and a clutter of potted plants near its expansive window. There’s a tall water pipe sat on the table, a bong made from a deep blue glass, waves mimicking those of an ocean carved into the multi-shaded blue stand at its base. 

 

Mijoo sits and Namjoon follows suit beside her. She reaches for the bong and a bag of weed sat near it. “I know you mentioned you don’t smoke. Do you mind if I do?”

 

He shakes his head, scooting closer towards her. He isn’t sure what compels him to say this, but he does, voice lowered. “I’ve never tried it before, but I’ve always been curious.”

 

She pauses before digging through the bag of weed, crumbling its clusters in her fingers before packing the ground up weed inside of the bong’s sky blue bowl. “Do you want to try it here? You can always crash in my bed if you need, and I can sleep with Teddy or-”

 

Namjoon clears his throat, cutting her off. He couldn’t stand to listen to her prattle on about potentially sharing a bed with Teddy while he was in the same apartment. He frowns.

 

“I don’t mean to pry, and I mean, it certainly isn’t my place to pry to begin with, but… is there something going on between you and your roommates?” 

 

Mijoo sputters over a laugh, as if the thought had been the funniest thing she bore witness to all evening. “My roommates? God. Ew. You are drunk, aren’t you? Jealousy doesn’t look good on you, Namjoon.” His name, his first name, laid bare without the usual honorific attached. She stares at him, expression suddenly serious, deadpan before she reaches forward, running the pads of her fingers through the ends of his hair, as if to tuck the longest strands behind his ear. “No. Nothing is going on between me and my roommates. I’m not even sure where you could’ve gotten the idea.” 

 

He can’t help but to feel slightly embarrassed by the fervor latent to the denial. He really let his own attraction to Mijoo cloud his sense of judgement. 

 

She shakes her head, as if expelling the notion of her and one of the younger boys together from her consciousness. “I’ve known Charlie since I was a kid and he came to stay with my family in Mexico on an exchange trip. He’s like a little brother to me. Full stop. And then Teddy… he’s the closest and only real friend I have ever made in this life, outside of Charlie. He’s been there for me through it all, after my family disowned me, after the guy I thought I was gonna marry left me. He’s practically family too after all that we’ve been through. The thought of anything like that happening between any of us is just borderline disturbing, Joon. Like literally straying into fucked up territory here. Wouldn’t happen on this god’s green earth.” She must have picked up on the nickname from Jin. Joon. It makes Namjoon’s skin erupt in a patch of goosebumps. “Here.” She hands Namjoon the bong finally, rifling through her pockets for a white lighter held up in the center of her palm. “You can hit greens.”

 

“How do I do this?” He takes the contraption from her nervously, placing his mouth in the opening at the top.

 

“I’ll light the weed down here in the bowl. Then when you’ve had enough of a hit, I’ll remove the bowl and you inhale all of the smoke that’ll linger in this chamber here. Tell me when you’re ready.” Namjoon nods and Mijoo ignites the lighter, bringing it to the green of the weed in the bowl, charring the plant. He inhales, Namjoon, as she pulls the bowl free, its water bubbling, drawing all of the bong’s smoke from the opening deep into his lungs. He tries to hold in his breath before releasing a sputtering, hacking cough, handing the bong back to Mijoo as he attempts to regain wind. Mijoo takes her own expertly maneuvered hit from the weed, expiring a jagged cloud from behind pursed lips, not a single cough released.

 

He feels even hazier once he begins blinking languidly in her direction, swallowing, his tongue feeling incredibly heavy, weighed down inside of his mouth. She places the blue bong back on the table with a resounding clatter. 

 

“Do you want to see my bedroom?” She asks, an offering of sorts, and he can’t help but to clear his throat at her words. The collar of his shirt suddenly feels all too tight, the space between them all too warm. The suggestion was implicit, obvious. She stands and he takes her hand again, letting himself be drawn down a hallway past two other white doors. They arrive at the hallway’s end, entering the final room, and Namjoon can’t help but to inhale deeply once they enter, her private, personal space smelling identical to the sickly sweet perfume clinging to her neck.

 

It’s a simple bedroom, but fitting for Mijoo. A few concert posters litter the walls, most of them displaying the dates of shows and names of various venues from Vancouver, along with more potted houseplants, positioned in accordance to the light that filters in from her far right windows. There’s a bookshelf filled with tomes in mostly English and Spanish, though a few stray volumes are strewn about the hardwood floors, along with random articles of clothing left forgotten. She begins to corral each item into her arms before stuffing the fabrics back into her closet, cheeks flushed. 

 

There’s a collage of personal photographs near her bed, photo booth strips and film photos of her and Charlie and Teddy posed at various places, cheeks squished together smiling from afar. Another photo of Teddy and Mijoo in swimsuits in front of a bright blue river, a stretch of tall, towering trees extending as far as the camera’s lens can capture. Canada, he’s sure. Mijoo wearing a graduation cap and dark gown, beaming with a bouquet of teeming bulbs cradled within her arms, her hair shorter there, all black, cropped at her shoulders. 

 

Her bedding is a soft shade of purple, simple, though he can spot the strands of cat hair laid across the duvet. The sight makes him smile. “I like your room. It’s very quaint.”

 

She offers him a sly smile. “Thank you, oppa. It makes me a little nervous to have you in my room. Nervous in a good way,” Mijoo corrects herself, stepping closer to him. “Are you feeling okay?”

 

He nods. “I feel a little spacy, but I think that’s the intention.”

 

Her giggle sampled again, the sound warming his insides. Mijoo stands so close to him, he could reach out and touch her, draw her closer towards his own body. He wants to, thinks there isn’t much stopping him from doing it anymore, not when they’re together in her apartment, in her bedroom, alone. “I… Namjoon oppa. I… I would like it if I could kiss you, if that’s okay.” She speaks in Korean, his mind racing, hands shaking, and he swears, oppa has never sounded so filthy coming from someone’s lips before this moment. He inhales deeply through his nose, palm rising to lodge itself within her hair, fingers tangling themselves between the teal strands. Mijoo’s eyes fall shut languidly, melting into his embrace, into the sensation, into the feeling, and he watches a puff of her own breath fall expired from her plump lips. 

 

He finds his head dipping in another nod. “Of course you can kiss me, Mijoo.” Voice barely a whisper. Namjoon isn’t sure he could handle anything louder.

 

The younger girl breaks the distance between them finally, pulling Namjoon’s face closer towards her own by the material of his button up. Their lips meet in a light, careful press before he draws her closer, deepening the kiss. She steps further into his arms, wholly consumed by his embrace. His tongue prods tentatively into her mouth, her own widening, accepting its presence, meeting his in a close dance. She tastes heavenly, sugar sweet despite the alcohol and the marijuana, or maybe because of it, and her body feels incredibly soft and inviting in all the right places. His palms drop from her hair, sliding slowly lower and lower down the expanse of her smooth back. She shivers against him, releasing a moan within his mouth past her own swollen, spit-slicked lips. 

 

Her fingers make quick time on the buttons of his shirt, hurriedly unfastening each one, pushing the fabric away from his chest, skirting her palms along in a sweep of his bare skin, fingers molding to muscle.

 

He reaches for the hem of the dress she wears, slipping its slinky, silky material over the top of her head, tossing it onto the floor behind him. He nearly rips her tights right from her body. Only a thin black lace separates her from him now, its meshwork concealing the curves of her chest and the dampening apex buried between her thighs in a matching bra and underwear set. The pads of his fingers play with the material that rests at her hip, ready to tear it completely off of her as soon as possible. She reaches behind her shoulders, unclasping her bra for him. He holds his breath as she begins to shake it away from her frame. 

 

Mijoo tumbles backwards onto her bed, pulling him down atop of her. 

 

Namjoon had been waiting for this moment for what had felt like an eternity already. He wasn’t about to waste any more time now. 

 

-

 

Jung-gu, Seoul.

 

She stands behind the bar, making polite conversation in her basic Korean and offering her friendliest smile to any patrons that stop before her. She’s dressed more casually than she would usually have to be under Mina’s harsh, watchful instruction, a black blouse in place of the typical white button up, her teal locks pulled back into a slick straight ponytail set at the crown of her head that swings behind her with each moving pass down the bar. She prepares an array of cocktails over the night’s duration, martinis and whiskey sours and gin and tonics and margaritas on the rocks, drinking a few shots of tequila herself every few hours to maintain her own steady buzz. 

 

She studies the entire length of the gallery from her perch, the bar situated at the farthest corner of the room. She can see a row of Teddy’s own immaculate canvases stretch across the expanse of the farthest wall, abstractions and various landscapes he’s painted since they’ve arrived in Korea, the view of Ilsan from their apartment, a portrait of Matcha, orange fur bright and unmistakable, cuddled atop their burgundy couch. Teddy chats nonchalantly to one of the servers, a girl, the one Mijoo had nearly barreled into ages ago, when she had been called out of a tutoring session last minute per Mina’s orders. He smiles brightly, Teddy, deep in conversation with her, cheeks twinged pink, and he likes the girl, Mijoo realizes, his desire written plainly upon his face. Teddy likes the girl more than she’d seen him like anyone in a very long time, going off of looks alone. Mijoo can’t help but to smile to herself at the realization. Teddy had a crush.

 

She downs another shot, her fourth of the night, its glass slammed against the bar as she finishes. A familiar head of light brown hair settled above a pair of clear-framed glasses catches her attention. Namjoon himself enters the gallery, though he’s not alone. Another dark haired man stands beside him, his back towards Mijoo. Both are dressed smartly, Namjoon in pressed slacks and one of his classic button ups, sleeves rolled to the elbow, his companion in a well fitted suit. She furrows her brows at the pair, Mijoo, squinting over the distance as she wipes down splotches of alcohol from the wooden counter before her. The man turns, offering Mijoo a glimpse of his profile. The familiarity of his features strikes her then, a sudden pit of anxiety forming inside of her stomach. 

 

She certainly knew who he was. Jung Jungwoo, the man flanked at Namjoon’s side. He watchfully observes a painting near her gallery’s entrance. The man who had deferred her employment at the translation agency, who had told her to learn more Korean before he could officially hire her, the manager of that entire establishment. The man who was for all intents and purposes her proposed boss. Supposed to be, anyway.

 

She gulps, ducking under the bar. Maybe she can make a run for it, escape past the both of them through the gallery into the back room and swap places with someone in the kitchen. She doesn’t want Namjoon and Jungwoo to see her like this, serving others, mixing alcohol, likely something unbecoming for a young woman trying to break into a more professional industry like translation services. She can’t help but to be embarrassed at the notion of them knowing each other, of Jungwoo figuring out that something more exists between her and Namjoon, a relationship far beyond that of a student and her tutor. They had made love with each other, after all. Feelings and emotions like that couldn’t be ignored. 

 

She tries to make her break for it, moving from out behind the bar and taking off in a brisk pace in the direction of the kitchen when she runs directly into a firm, solid body, tripping over her own feet and falling back onto her bottom on the tiled floors. She’s sure the meat of her ass will wear a deep purple bruise tomorrow, can already feel it welling up upon both cheeks. Namjoon stares down at her, perplexed, before offering her his hand, drawing her to her feet. The recognition strikes Namjoon’s counterpart then and he clasps his hands together happily, grinning wide. 

 

“Miss Miriam,” Jungwoo announces her presence in English. “What a surprise seeing you here.”

 

Mijoo bows once Namjoon’s helped her to her feet in front of both men. “Annyeonghaseyo, Jungwoo-nim. It is lovely to see you this evening.” She greets Jungwoo in formal Korean, finally able to display all of the hard work both her and Namjoon had put into her study of the language. She doesn’t speak perfectly, but her proficiency still has increased exponentially since she encountered Jungwoo last. Namjoon seems emphatically confused at the exchange, glancing between the two of them carefully, as if observing a match between two rivals in tennis. He’s trying to place their connection, piece together the dots. How his friend knows his student. The girl he had slept with. Her cheeks feel hot. She thought she’d told Namjoon she had gotten his name from the translation agency when they first met. Evidently Jungwoo had given Mijoo the name of a tutor who had also been his friend. As much was obvious. Now. 

 

“Miriam-ssi! How impressive!” Jungwoo claps his hand on her shoulder.

 

“Thank you, Jungwoo-nim. I have been studying very hard since we met last. Namjoon oppa made a fantastic tutor. I even go by Mijoo-ssi now. He’s been so helpful.” Her Korean is terse, distant. She wants to run out of there, disappear from under Namjoon’s harsh gaze. For some reason, he seems upset, lips drawn together in a tight line, though he doesn’t let his face betray any emotion, merely watches her as she speaks with the man who holds her entire future in his hands.

 

Jungwoo beams. “Wow! Mijoo-ssi. How wonderful. It seems like you’ve definitely made a lot of progress since our last meeting.” He reaches forward, enveloping his palm in her own, shaking her hand. “We’d love to have you start at the translation agency on Monday, if you’d still like the position.”

 

She can feel her own eyes widen despite herself. “Thank you so much, Jungwoo-nim, for this opportunity. Of course I’d still like the position. I hope you will continue to watch over me and I promise I will not disappoint you.”

 

“Happy to hear it, Mijoo-ssi. Have a nice evening.”

 

The two men turn to leave from where they stand, though Mijoo watches as Namjoon excuses himself from Jungwoo’s side, making a quick turn for the front door. The hurt within him is obvious as he goes, shoulders slumped, pace quickened. She turns back to her previously abandoned post, the bar left empty, before she continues after Namjoon, breaking into a jog once she’s outside on the gallery’s front steps. He’s already far down the street when she manages to catch up with him, offering a ringing shout of his name from behind his back. He doesn’t stop or turn to face her at the sound, merely continues on his path. “Namjoon!” She yells again, tone pleading, the despondency in her voice laden to the cry when he finally does stop, a sigh released past his own lips. His distress is palpable. She feels as if her heart could break into two.

 

“Namjoon oppa,” she gulps, stepping closer towards him, closing the distance between them. Storm clouds rumble overhead. Mijoo wonders if it’ll rain soon, the scent of it already permeating the air around them. “What’s wrong? I don’t know what I did to upset you-”

 

“You used me,” he snaps quickly. “You used me to learn Korean and get a job with Jungwoo.”

 

“No,” she recoils from him, entirely unequipped for the direction Namjoon had planned to take the conversation. “What? Use you? No, I never used you! How could you ever think that?”

 

He shakes his head at her, exasperated, the resignation already written where the glints in his irises usually reside. She hates the sight, decidedly won’t let the conversation end without putting up a fight. “You came to me on purpose. Came on to me on purpose. Because I’d take pity on you. You never mentioned anything about a position with him before.”

 

“I didn’t think my employment status mattered to you!” she exclaims, voice rising a few octaves, timbres fluctuating along with her emotion. “Namjoon. I promise I never used you. I told you when I first met you that the translation agency had recommended your name to me. Jungwoo was the person who recommended you. I hadn’t known you two knew each other.” She steps closer, her desperation bubbling just beneath the surface, nearly overflowing. 

 

Mijoo needed him to see, needed Namjoon to understand. Who else could understand her, if not for Namjoon? “Please. I’m sorry I never told you about the agency. Jungwoo deferred my employment until now. I’ve never received any money from him or the agency or anything. I’ve been working odd jobs at the gallery for a quick buck ever since. Teddy pays most of our bills. Please, I just… I’m sorry. I can’t lose you, Namjoon. Not over this. Not over something that isn’t… important. Not in the grand scheme of things. I…” she feels the tears beginning to well up in the corners of her eyes at her own profession, finally letting her own anguish consume her. She chokes back a sob, shoulders heaving. “I really care about you, oppa. More than I think I’ve ever cared about anybody before. Please. I’m sorry.”

 

His expression softens as he watches her, can see the force of her vehemence, the force of her insistence bearing heavily upon her. She told him that she cared about him more than she cared about anybody else before. That had to count for something. 

 

Namjoon swallows before reaching forward, pulling her into a wordless embrace, her face buried into the crook of his neck. He begins to pet her hair, fingers carding through the strands of her ponytail. She can’t help it, releasing all the pent up stress inside of her, crying directly into Namjoon’s shirt. Her tears splotch the material with spots of moisture. “Shhh,” he murmurs, pulling her face away from his body, thumb coasting across the meat of her cheek, gaze finally meeting her red-tinted eyes. “It’s okay, Mijoo. I’m sorry too. I misunderstood the situation. I didn’t mean to get so upset with you.” He reaches forward, the pad of his thumb collecting a droplet from her cheek before it can careen down the rest of her face. “I just… I got so consumed with the thought that you were using me, that this wasn’t as real as I thought it was. I don’t know. I just felt so scared, scared that maybe all of this meant… nothing to you.”

 

She shakes her head vehemently, nearly insulted at the insinuation. “Oppa, of course not. You could never mean nothing to me. Not when you mean everything to me.”

 

And Mijoo meant it. Namjoon did mean everything to her. More than he could ever know.

 

Though finally he’s starting to get the idea.

 



Submitted: May 23, 2021

© Copyright 2021 neusex. All rights reserved.

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