I haven't proofread or edited this at all because I'm a bit busy right now so please forgive any errors. In any case, this was fun to write so I hope it is also fun to read!
The past year had not been easy for Lily. In February, she had dropped out of college. Her insomnia had made it nearly impossible to keep up with the heavy course load of a third year English lit major. Getting a call from her mother, a rare and unpleasant occurrence, put an end to her struggle with trying to balance studying and writing papers with constant tiredness. Lily had to get her passport and fly to Korea to take care of her aging grandmother, her father’s mother, a woman she knew barely anything about and had never met. Normally she would have hesitated to leave her life behind and move to a place where she didn’t know anyone or speak the language but leaving school for this felt less like defeat and more like doing the right thing. She was, at least at first, grateful for the escape.
Once she arrived in Korea, Lily’s second thoughts about having agreed to this began almost immediately. It turned out that living in not just a new place but a new country wasn’t going to drop her stress level at all; neither was taking care of her grandmother, whose very rudimentary English and seemingly perpetual bad mood did not make Lily’s life easy. For almost six months, things went on much the same as they did the first week that she had been there: she cooked, cleaned, and did laundry for her grandmother. She took her to doctor’s appointments and picked up her prescriptions. Lily’s insomnia improved slightly but only in spells. Her grandmother would tell her almost every day that she looked tired and should rest more. It no longer felt like an escape but somehow it started to feel like home.
Once about six months had passed, things changed suddenly. Lily was cooking and cleaning and washing only for herself. Her grandmother’s health had deteriorated rapidly and she stayed in the hospital. Lily spent every day in the hospital by her grandmother’s side, reading aloud and telling her about her childhood back in America, one-sided conversation made to comfort them both. The doctors told her that her grandmother would never be well enough again to go home. She called her mother to come only to discover that wasn’t going to happen; it hadn’t occurred to her mother to mention her new (third!) husband or their wedding with a phone call or even an email, but it just so happened that they were busy renovating the garage into some kind of storage area for direct-sales protein shakes. Of course. Lily wasn’t surprised at how little her mother cared so much as she was surprised at how much she herself did care.
After her grandmother died, Lily wasn’t quite sure what to do. She felt lost. During the months that she had been taking care of her grandmother she hadn’t made any friends but had picked up enough Korean to get by and she’d become accustomed to the little things, like taking her shoes off and putting on slippers when she entered her grandmother’s apartment. She had even stopped caring that people always stared at her when she went out in public, knowing that it wasn’t that there was something wrong, just the novelty of how her mostly non-Korean heritage made her stand out. She wouldn’t be able to resume college until the next school year, assuming that she got in when she reapplied. She didn’t want to head home and spend the time in between living with her mother and her mother’s new husband and their growing overstock of expensive protein shakes. For a few weeks she just kept doing what she had been doing, except without her grandmother, as if she was in an extended daydream.
What snapped Lily back to the present reality was a letter stating that her grandmother’s lease was up and she had to vacate the apartment. Not being sure what else to do, Lily began to pack the contents of the apartment into boxes; she wasn’t quite sure what she’d do with the boxes after that. In the middle of her second day packing boxes, Lily was overcome with a desire to go out and be around people. She slipped her shoes back on and started walking. Having failed to explore the city much at all, she picked a direction at random and started walking, certain that this would eventually bring her to a cafe or restaurant, preferably one with good noodles. Once she found such a place, she decided, she would order whatever noodles the staff recommended, a dare to herself to trust the city. It was while she was on this quest that she spotted a sign in the window of a cafe, “Apartment For Rent: 1 Bedroom, 1 Bathroom.” What caught her eye was that the sign was written in English. “It might as well be this cafe”, she thought to herself; “I’m just going in for some noodles.”
One bowl of noodles and one hour later, Lily found herself climbing the outside steps around the back of the building to reach the tiny apartments on the second floor. The cafe’s owner was also the owner of the apartments and, after seeing Lily stare at the sign repeatedly while eating her noodles, he had offered to show her the apartment. She hadn’t meant to ask but when the owner offered she didn’t say no. The apartment for rent was one of only two apartments that occupied the space above the cafe. It was small inside but in a cozy way, with a living room/kitchenette in front and the bedroom, with a bathroom to one side, along the wall shared with the other apartment. Lily could hear the cafe noises from the cafe below. The owner told her not to worry, that when the cafe was closed at night it was actually quieter here than in many nicer apartment buildings. When she asked about the other apartment he told her that the owner was rarely home and they never heard a peep from that apartment; a good tenant and never a complaint. When the owner offered Lily a discount on rent in exchange for tutoring his children in English, she didn’t hesitate. The next day, she was back and with boxes of the things her grandmother had left behind and a plan for the months until she had to return to the US and resume college.
The cafe owner, now her landlord, hadn’t been kidding about the apartment being quiet at night. Her first night in the new apartment was certainly quiet. It was too quiet; Lily couldn’t sleep. Her insomnia was bad again. She climbed into bed, for a while, then got bored, spent some time unpacking and arranging things, tried again to go to sleep, and repeated the process until daylight came. Lily brewed a single cup of coffee and sat down with her computer to type of a flier advertising her services as an English tutor. Hopefully this idea would let her earn enough to pay rent and other expenses and allow her to remain in Korea for the next few months, at least.
As it turned out, being an English tutor was just right for Lily and she grew a nice client base of smart students looking to improve their pronunciation and grammar with a native speaker. Her landlord let her place her flier in the cafe window and even let her hold tutoring appointments in the cafe during off hours. Lily enjoyed the convenience of tutoring in the cafe and the excitement of exploring the city during her free time. She earned enough to pay rent and bills and had a bit of money left so she could enjoy shopping or going to the movies or other simple pleasures. Her only neighbor was never around and never a problem. Even with this comfortable routine, Lily couldn’t shake her insomnia; her sleeping routing became a predictable pattern of drifting off slowly to sleep and waking up after a few hours at best, with naps during the day to try to compensate for her tiredness.
One morning, Lily woke up and realized that something wonderful had happened. She woke up with sunlight streaming in through her window; it was the first and only time she had woken up since climbing into the bed at 11PM. She hadn’t done anything differently, no matter how much she tried to think of what might have made the difference, but it had been the first time in several years that she’d gotten a full night’s sleep. The only thing that was different was a dream that she remembered; she had been dreaming of cheerful, pleasant melodies and a deep, gentle voice. The same thing happened the next night and the next. The sleep was delicious; she felt alive and light and awake all day. This continued for weeks, stretches of days when she dreamed of the music and slept well broken up by stretches of days when she didn’t dream of the music and woke up, unable to sleep through the night.
One night, Lily was coming home much later than usual; she didn’t like to be out late but this time she made an exception to see a late showing of a movie. As she ascended the steps to her apartment she saw light in the window of the other apartment. She found it reassuring that her mystery neighbor actually was home the night she was coming home so late. She was exhausted; the last few nights insomnia had ruined her sleep. After a quick shower, she drank a cup of tea and climbed into her bed. It wasn’t until after she turned off the light and was curled up under her blanket that she heard it: the music from her dream. Except it wasn’t in a dream, she was still awake, and it was coming from the other side of the wall. The music she heard in her dreams was actually not from her dreams at all but rather from her neighbor’s apartment. Exhaustion got the better of Lily before she could make sense of this new discovery and she fell into a deep sleep.
In the morning, Lily was determined to meet the mysterious neighbor. She wasn’t sure what she would say and she didn’t want to wake him so she waited by her front window to catch him walking past on his way to the stairs. After a couple of hours she had to get down to the cafe for a tutoring appointment. She was disappointed that he hadn’t come out of his apartment but it was mid-morning and a decent hour to knock on someone’s door. She knocked but got no answer. There was no sign that anyone was home. Defeated, Lily went to her first appointment of the day and hoped for better luck later. She wanted to know what the music was so that she could get a copy to play when she couldn’t sleep and she had no intention of giving up on finding out.
The next night she waited up but saw nobody come or go from the apartment next door and there was no music. The night after that, the same thing, and the one after that, too. Lily grew frustrated and being low on sleep wasn’t making her patient. It wasn’t until the fourth night that it happened again. Her waiting up paid off; she heard the music through the wall. It was after midnight and not a decent hour to go call on her neighbor for the first time but she didn’t care. She slipped on a pair of sweats, a t-shirt, and some sandals, picked up her phone, just in case her neighbor turned out to be a psycho and she had to call for help, and stepped out of her front door. She knocked on the door to the other apartment but got no answer. After 5 minutes she tried again. This time, a tall, lean figure in a baseball cap and hoodie opened the door. He looked confused to see someone on his doorstep. Lily froze for a moment before she spoke. “Uh, hi. I’m your neighbor. I know it is late but I really need to ask you about the music.”
The man’s face immediately changed from confusion to embarrassment. “You heard that? I’m so sorry. I’ll turn it down.” He fidgeted with his hoodie strings, causing the hood to slip and reveal his ears; at that moment they were turning a bit red but the way they stuck out from his head awkwardly was instantly endearing. “No,” Lily said more forcefully than she had intended. “I don’t mind it. Actually, I really like it. I came to find out what it is so I can get my own copy.” He stared at her for a moment before laughing in a way that somehow involved the use of his whole body. “That might be difficult,” he said, before opening the door wider and gesturing for Lily to step inside. Once she was through the doorway she understood what he meant.
The space which in her apartment was the living room was in this apartment filled with a small, bare-bones recording space. There was a laptop running ProTools, a tangle of microphone cables and various microphones, a guitar and amp, and a table with papers of lyrics spread over it. At the periphery there was a couch with throw pillows and a blanket and beside that a small table with open snacks and drinks on it. “So you ARE the music,” Lily exclaimed. The man laughed again.
“Well, I make the music. I AM Chanyeol. And you are…?”
“Oh, sorry. I’m Lily.”
“I didn’t wake you, did I, Lily?”
“No, you didn’t. Actually, I have insomnia and your music helps me to sleep. It is so beautiful. You’ll probably laugh but for a while I thought I was dreaming it.”
He didn’t laugh but he did smile and the light seemed to dance in his eyes.
“Well, you’re awake now. Do you want to stay for a bit and listen?”
Lily nodded and situated herself on the couch, hugging one of the pillows and watching Chanyeol as he resumed his musical endeavors. Time seemed to move slowly, lazily as she listened.
Sunlight was coming in the slivers of space between the heavy curtains in Chanyeol’s apartment. Lily awoke to the sound of her phone’s alarm chiming and stretched. She was covered by a blanket up to her chin and there was a piece of paper next to her head on a throw pillow. It was a note:
“Sweet dreams, Lily.
I had to leave but didn’t want to wake you.
Please lock up when you go home.
Lily positioned the throw pillows neatly on the couch and folded the blanket. She found a pen and on the other side of the note she simply wrote “Thanks” and placed it on the little end table. She carefully made sure to avoid touching any of the sound equipment and slipped out the front door, locking it behind her.
For the rest of the day, Lily was in a daze. She nearly poured coffee onto the counter instead of into her mug because she was distracted by thoughts about her unusual neighbor and his dreamlike music. Her afternoon was filled with tutoring appointments but still she couldn’t stop thinking about it. As she was about to head back upstairs to her apartment, the image of the coffee table filled with unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks popped into her mind. She needed to go buy groceries anyway. Why not buy the ingredients for some healthy snacks and make enough to share with her neighbor? She turned around and headed back down the stairs to walk to the small grocery store nearby. It didn’t take long for her to make her way through the store and return home with a bag heavy with food.
Lily was trying to be patient. She knew it might not be until later, or maybe not even tonight, that Chanyeol returned. She made her dinner and ate. She showered and put on pajamas and a robe. The evening dragged on. She sat as close to the shared wall as she could and read while listening for any sound from the other side. Finally, she heard the door to the other apartment open and then close. She set her book aside and went into her tiny kitchenette. She filled a small plate with fresh fruit slices and pulled two bottles of flavored water from her refrigerator. Taking a deep breath, she took those things with her and left her apartment. This time Chanyeol answered the first time she knocked.
“I was just about to have some fruit and”
“You were about to have fruit at 1AM?”
“I’m an insomniac, remember? Anyway, I thought you might want some.”
He opened the door wider and let her in. They shared the fruit quietly.
“Do you want to stay and listen?,” he asked.
“Yes, please,” she replied, a little embarrassed to have been caught in her ruse. He motioned to the couch and again, she stayed there listening until she fell asleep. Again, she awoke to a note.
This became Lily’s new routine: any night that Chanyeol was around, she’d head next door and he’d let her listen until she fell asleep. On the nights when it was quiet and the his apartment was empty, Lily felt empty, too. She wasn’t sure what exactly was happening between them but she felt safest and happiest on those nights in Chanyeol’s apartment. He no longer waited for her to hear him through the wall; on his way past her door he’d knock to let her know he had arrived. A few times his friends had stopped by to listen, too. They were oddly familiar even though she only met them briefly. They’d say hello to her and then help Chanyeol with his music as she curled up on the couch.
With the strange happiness, time went by much too quickly. Lily had been accepted back into college to resume her studies, which was a wonderful thing, except that now she had to return to the US. The deadline was rapidly approaching for her return. Chanyeol listened quietly as she explained that she would be vacating her apartment and moving back to the US. He only asked for the date when she would be leaving and then never spoke of it again, going on as if the conversation had never happened.
The day before her flight home, Lily was busy tying up loose ends. She had final appointments with the students she tutored so she could say goodbye; some insisted on having her continue to tutor them over Skype. She thanked her landlord and promised to drop the keys off in the morning before her flight. He was kind as ever, telling her that she had been a perfect tenant and that even though the apartment was already rented to someone else starting immediately after her departure, he would miss her tutoring students in the cafe.
Something about hearing that the apartment had already been rented to someone else made everything seem so final to Lily; there was no changing her mind now. Most of her things had already been shipped so the apartment already looked uninhabited. Over the course of the evening she did the little last-minute things that were left. She emptied the scant contents of her refrigerator and cleared out the few things still in the cabinets. She checked under her bed and in every drawer for things she had missed when packing. After showering and putting on pajamas, Lily sat and listened. She was worried that he might not come. When the knock on her door came she felt herself exhale in relief.
Chanyeol was waiting in his doorway when she walked over from her apartment but wouldn’t look her in the eye. He didn’t say a word, just lead her to the couch and sat down at his workstation, pulled up ProTools and set to work on his music. Lily felt an overwhelming sadness all of a sudden and had to close her eyes and focus on the sound in order not to cry. She didn’t want to fall asleep but she couldn’t help it.
Morning came with the sunlight peeking through the curtains in Chanyeol’s apartment, just as it always did, and Lily was under a blanket on the couch just as she always was. But this time there wasn’t a note on the pillow beside her head, there was an arm. Attached to that arm was Chanyeol, sleeping soundly, her musical dreams in the flesh. Impulsively kissed his forehead, trying to be gentle and not wake him. It wasn’t long until she had to leave for her flight home. Extracting herself carefully from the couch and Chanyeol’s arms, she slipped out of his apartment and back to her own.
Lily changed to her traveling outfit and made sure her things were neatly in her suitcase. With her purse in one hand and her suitcase in the other, she stepped out of her apartment and nearly ran directly into Chanyeol.
“So you were going to leave without saying goodbye?” He looked upset.
“I… don’t know,” Lily looked at her feet. “I wasn’t sure what I would say. I was giving myself time to think while I went to return my keys.”
Chanyeol nodded slightly and looked away. “Right. You’re really going?”
“Yes. I have to be on campus within the next 24 hours. And besides, my apartment has already been rented to someone else so it isn’t like I would have anywhere to stay.”
Chanyeol looked Lily in the eye and grinned. “Yes, I know it’s been rented. I’m the one who rented it. I was hoping you’d change your mind and decide to stay. But I guess I’ll have to settle for waiting for you to return during your semester breaks and over the summer. And maybe after you graduate...”
Lily stared in disbelief. “You’re serious?”
“Of course. Nobody else is allowed to live next to my private studio. It wouldn’t feel right. I had to rent it.”
“I meant about me coming back!”
“You didn’t think I was just letting you go, did you? I couldn’t talk about it because I didn’t want you to make a decision you’d regret because of me. But if you don’t come back I think we’ll both regret it.”
Lily couldn’t find the words for what she wanted to say so she just dropped her suitcase and launched herself at Chanyeol, throwing her arms around him and burying her face in his chest.
“Okay,” Chanyeol stated in a shaky voice. “If you don’t go now I might not be able to let go of you.” With that, he kissed the top of Lily’s head and extracted himself from her embrace. He dropped something small into her purse.
“This is for later. Leave it alone at least until you’re on the plane. And you’d better call me when you land, no matter what time it is, so I know you’ve arrived safely. I’m already late for work and your plane boards in…”
Lily looked at her phone. “20 minutes!”
“So I can’t see you off. But I called a cab for you already.”
Chanyeol carried Lily’s suitcase down and sure enough there was a cab waiting. He put her suitcase in, helped her in, and then waved until the cab was out of sight before climbing into a car that was waiting for him.
Lily was in a bittersweet daydream most of her way through the airport. She made it to her flight on time and found that she had a window seat without anyone beside her. After takeoff, she remembered that Chanyeol had put something into her purse and dumped the contents onto her lap to look for it. What she found was a flash drive. Luckily, her laptop was in the bag she’d carried on with her. She plugged in the flash drive and discovered that it was full of audio files. She plugged in her ear buds and opened the files one by one. It was Chanyeol’s music. He had stayed up the whole night recording as much as he could for her. Lily felt warm, happy tears slip down her cheeks. At one point some of his friends must have stopped by to help. She heard Chanyeol stop partway through a song to get up and answer the door, and the voices of his friends filled the silence. One was saying “Hey, Lily!” when Chanyeol has interrupted him. “Shh! She’s dreaming.” Lily smiled and looked out the plane’s window at fluffy white clouds, thinking that is wouldn’t really be too long until she’d be on another flight back to her dream come true.