i know what home is now (12/18/20)
″time, mystical time, / cuttin’ me open, then healin’ me fine /
were there clues i didn’t see? /
and isn’t it just so pretty to think / all along there was some / invisible string /
tying you to me?” -- taylor swift’s invisible string.
Home is such a funny word, Xiu Ying thinks. A place to return to, and a place where someone wants you there. Weird. So weird.
She kicks off her shoes as she steps into the house, tossing her soccer bag onto the shelf. Ren Ju’s purse seems to frown at her disapprovingly from its own place.
Xiu Ying walks into their living room, quietly padding across the floorboards. She shivers. It’s…freezing. Had her girlfriend not bothered to turn on the heater?
As she carefully approaches Ren Ju’s form, sitting ramrod straight on the couch, her laptop in front of her, she frowns. Ren Ju usually worked in the office, grading papers and whatnot, but on particularly busy days, she settled onto their sofa in preparation for a long night.
“Boo,” Xiu Ying whispers, placing her hands onto Ren Ju’s shoulders as she stands behind the couch. The other woman hardly acknowledges her, continuing to type away at her keyboard.
Ah. Right. Grading for finals. Xiu Ying gently kneads her hands into her girlfriend’s shoulders, and based on how long it takes Ren Ju to relax them, she’s right. Ren Ju must be incredibly wound up.
“Hey,” Xiu Ying starts, voice gentle. “I just got back from practice, so I’ll be taking a shower. I’ll be right back, ’kay?”
Ren Ju gives a stiff nod in response. Xiu Ying hums, then gives her one last head pat before she’s heading to the kitchen.
Xiu Ying digs out a measuring cup, fills it with water, then sets it down to boil. She looks over her shoulder to peer at Ren Ju again. The other woman has the same frozen features as always—which makes sense, considering how easily she gets cold. Xiu Ying stands on her tiptoes to turn up the thermostat.
Leaning down to the cabinet, she fishes out a mug from Cheng Bowen and their tea pot. Ever so carefully after fishing out the container of tea leaves, she scoops them into the pot, trying to mimic Ren Ju.
Xiu Ying sighs, leaning against the counter with her arms crossed. She’s not very patient or …meticulous, which is literally what brewing tea requires, so she hopes she gets this right as she waits.
In the meantime, she turns to their Bluetooth speaker. Ren Ju likes dead white man—classical, she means, music, so. Xiu Ying fumbles with the dang thing a bit before a song comes on, serenely filling the room with the sound of Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1.
After pouring the hot water into the tea pot, she unceremoniously sprints off into the bathroom, tossing her clothes into the basket and pretending not to notice when they miss. Ren Ju can’t get frown-y with her while she’s busy, so she just steps into the shower, smacking the water handle on.
Soccer practice was…hard today, which is granted, if you play on any professional team. Xiu Ying roughly scrubs the grime off her skin, letting soap suds chase off the sticky feeling clinging to her. As hot water pours onto her scalp, softening the sweat-matted hair that clings to her crown, she stares at the two face washes on the stand in front of her. Ren Ju always pulls a slight frown when she uses the citrus one, which isn’t ideal when they hug, so Xiu Ying grabs the vanilla one to smack onto her face.
After she’s scrubbed herself thoroughly and stepped out, steam billows out to the rest of the bathroom. She pulls a towel around herself, mildly kicking the door open to hurry back to the kitchen. She’s very pleased to see that the song is still playing, the tea is still brewing, and the room is significantly warmer. The stiff atmosphere of the house she’d returned to, with Ren Ju no doubt creating with her mega high-strung vibes, has mellowed into something softer.
Gently, she pours the tea into the mug, careful not to let the droplets splash out like last time she’d tried.
That is one rad cup of tea, Xiu Ying thinks to herself, proudly splaying her hands onto her hips. She looks over her shoulder to where Ren Ju sits—well, she’s in the same position, but. Her shoulders are less rigid, her lip less pursed. The music and the warmth have done their job.
She scurries into the bedroom, (really, it’s a blessing Ren Ju is too busy to mention how she’s running like a panicked rat around the house,) dropping her towel to change into an oversized hoodie and grabbing one of those big, suffocatingly fluffy blankets.
Then, as she returns into the living room, she comes up to the couch from behind, gently taking the blanket and wrapping it around her girlfriend’s shoulders. Ren Ju looks back at her, and Xiu Ying tilts her head, giving her a wide smile and a thumbs up in question.
Ren Ju’s silver eyes look ever so soft, and she gives an appreciative nod before turning back to her laptop. Xiu Ying tries not to feel flustered--she’s bad at shows of affection still, okay? It takes a while to get used to the idea that someone wants her.
She turns into the kitchen before dwelling on that thought, grabbing the hot mug in her hand and padding over to the sofa. She takes a seat besides Ren Ju, raising the mug to her girlfriend’s lips. Ren Ju tilts her head down, lets out a few cooling blows, then takes a quiet sip. When she’s done, Xiu Ying sets the mug onto the coffee table in front of them.
She scoots over to the farther side of the couch, awkwardly playing with the drawstrings of her hoodie. She’s not sure if—you know, since Ren Ju is so busy and in a tight spot, maybe she shouldn’t be bothered. Xiu Ying twiddles her thumbs.
Then, a snowy hand reaches out, gently curving around the side of Xiu Ying’s head. Ren Ju firmly pushes her until Xiu Ying gets the signal, laying down on her side to splay her head onto Ren Ju’s lap as Ren Ju shifts the laptop to her other leg.
“Hey,” Xiu Ying says after a bit, peering up at Ren Ju. Ren Ju looks down at her, rubbing her thumb over her cheek slowly, like when they were kids. “Bad day?”
“Busy day,” Ren Ju affirms quietly.
“I’m sorry, Ren Ju. Is the tea alright?”
“It’s perfect,” she says. Then, softer, “It could’ve been a worse day. You…made it better.”
Xiu Ying feels herself get shy at that. “Good,” she answers, wetting her lips. “That’s—I hoped I could help you relax a bit. Can I—should I get a candle? Or do you need—”
Ren Ju leans down to slot their lips together, and Xiu Ying closes her eyes, letting herself melt into it. It’s gentle. Warm.
As Ren Ju pulls away, she murmurs a quiet “thank you.”
“We have holiday plans,” Xiu Ying answers, still not quite over her habit of babbling after they’ve kissed. “We can cancel them, though, if it’s…”
“No,” Ren Ju responds easily. “We can keep them. I will be done by tonight.”
“Okay,” she says. “That’s rad. I was looking forward to naming elves at the outdoor festival with you.”
Ren Ju lets out a small huff of a laugh. She links their fingers together, palm to palm. And as she continues to clack away on the keyboard, Xiu Ying closes her eyes, the smell of tea and the warmth of the room surrounding her.
This is home, she thinks.