General Admin
Staff member
"You look better, Hana. Better than last time."

"Thanks, mom."

"Last time, your eyes were crooked. Very crooked. I didn't say anything because I didn't want to embarrass you."

"I get it, mom."

Hannah hunched over the table of the tiny cafe, hood pulled up over her head. It was a force of habit at this point - she'd improved at making her masks, but she couldn't shake the feeling that every glance her way was noticing something was off, every whisper and giggle behind her back was about her. Miss Sherwood said that was a negative mental habit. That she should recognize whenever she was having those thoughts, try and intercept them with positive thoughts instead. They were looking at her because the face she made was pretty. They were giggling because they told a silly joke.

Miss Sherwood had a vested interest in keeping her usable. Negative mental habits was just psychobabble for wrongthink.

"You know, you could stand to use a bit more makeup, though. It might help. It could make you feel better, hm? A lovely face is a lovely soul," her mom continued, taking a sip of her latte. "I could send you some. Nice kits, very natural colors."


Hannah, meanwhile, had barely touched her drink. She fucking hated these visits. She got the feeling her mom knew she did, too. The only reason she was here at all is because it was required to maintain her voucher. Return to normalcy. Return to normalcy, her fucking ass. Normal wasn't having scheduled business meetings with the member of your family who drew the short straw.

"Hana." Her mom set down her drink, long nails rapping on the table. "Hana, you know I'm talking to you? It seems like you're barely here. I want to talk to you. See how you are. We all miss you, you know."

"Yeah? Then where's gran? Where's dad? Where's Dylan, huh? Go on, tell me the excuses. You're good at that," she spat back. Her mom flinched.

"Hana, you will not talk to me like that. Do you understand? I am still your mother." Her lip curled. "Your father was working, and your halmae was sleeping. I did not want to wake her. You know Dae-hyun has lacrosse on Mondays, too. You know that. There are no excuses. This was simply a bad time."

"Yeah, every fucking Monday. Not the one day of the month he could see me. The one day that's always a fucking bad time."

"You cannot blame them for being active with their lives -"

"I can blame them for not giving a shit, though, can't I? Or is family not important anymore?" Hannah snapped. She stood from the table, kicking the chair back with a squeal of metal on tile.

"Hana, you're causing a scene. People are looking at you." Her mom smiled placcidly, waving at the barista, who was - true to word - staring at the table with a look of concern. "Sit down. You're making a big deal of nothing, hm? Of course family is important. It always comes first. That is why I'm here."

She paused.

"I have something for you. A gift. If you sit down, you can have it."

Slowly - warily - Hannah settled back in her chair, glancing at the coffee bar with a sour look. Her mom rummaged around in her pack, pulled out a piece of cardboard, and handed it to her.

"There's a doctor I found. He's very good at what he does, it seems. He can cut away the parts that made you - like this. It might bring you back to normal. It's worked for others! It is very expensive, but - I spoke with your father, and he thinks we can afford it."

She smiled. Hannah stared.

"You can be beautiful again, Hana. I wanted to wait until your birthday to tell you, but -"

Her words cut off as Hannah rose again and stormed for the bathroom. She didn't call after her - didn't say anything at all.

The silence snapped as the door let out a chime when Hannah entered. Hastily, she locked it behind her, moving to the sink, taking deep breaths of the lemon and pine scented air. Happy thoughts, right? Put them right where the bad thoughts were, like a knife into a carcass. Happy. Happy. Happy.

Flickering, her eyes focused on her face. But they weren't her eyes, were they? Not anymore. They were itchy contacts covering up the black. And it wasn't her face, was it? No - not anymore. It was carefully made, but even then, she could see the little imperfections. She'd been seeing that face her entire life. She could see where she fucked up. See every little bit that reminded her it was just an imitation.

And even if it was perfect? She'd still feel it weighing on her skin. Her real skin. The her that replaced it. The her that tore out from the inside. But it was her, right? It was just as much her as the her before wasn't.

Slowly, Hannah reached for the face, digging her nails into the skin. It parted easily, soft and pliable, cutting away to damp and rough grey underneath.

"Fuck. Fuck. Fuck you. Fuck you," she muttered, dragging her fingers down her cheeks. The face came away easily. She slit a circle around it, then pulled it off, holding it between her hands over the sink like a limp rag. "Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you."

Crumpling the face into a ball, she smashed it into the mirror. Something cracked. She didn't care. Focus on breathing. Good thoughts. Happy thoughts. Happy, happy, happy.

"I don't want to do this. I don't. I -"

The ruined face slid down the mirror, leaving streaks in the glass, revealing a lattice spiderweb in its wake. Going back would be a fucking travesty. Then they could go back to pretending, right? Pretending they cared. Pretending they noticed. Pretending they listened. A lovely face is a lovely soul, and a lovely soul is easier to keep around than a rotten one. But that didn't change anything. It didn't change what she knew, now. How vapid it all was. How empty.

She curled her hands around the rim of the sink. Something roiled in her gut. For a moment, she thought she was going to dry heave, but it was just a sound, bubbling out of her throat in a muddled mix between an awkward laugh and a sob.

"Fuck it."

They didn't want her back. They wanted the old her back. They didn't realize she was ruined, yet. That fixing this would just be putting on a different face. One that didn't fall off, sure. One that almost was the same.

But it wouldn't be.

"Fuck them."

Unlocking the door, she left the bathroom, hood drawn tight, front of her jacket damp. She could feel the heat of eyes on her. Feel her stomach churn again. Swallowing, she approached the table. Her mom was sitting quietly, seemingly unperturbed - until she drew close enough for her to see the streaked face underneath the hood, encircled by the tattered edges of the mask. Then - and only then - did she recoil. A flicker of disgust.

"Hana. You are not to be out like that. You know this," she hissed, voice a low whisper. "Go back to the bathroom and fix yourself. Now."

Hannah huffed, leaning over the table. The words were thick, her heart pounding heavily. It hurt to force them out, voice tinged with a slight waiver. Nervousness. Pain. Anger. All three, maybe, probably.

"I don't want your fucking doctor. I don't want your fucking makeup. I'm not her anymore. And if - " Her throat caught. "- if you don't want me like this, you don't want me - me at all. Family comes first, yeah, mom?"

Her mom stared for a few long seconds. Her lip curled. Her nails rapped on the table.

"Family comes first," she finally said. "You are not my Hana anymore, then? You want that? Then you are not family anymore."

Gathering her purse, her mom stood, striding out of the coffee shop with her head held high. Hannah tossed some crumpled bills on the table, glared at the staring staff and patrons - funny, how quick people stopped staring when someone else stared back - then stormed out as well, hunched over, hands settling in the front pocket of her hoodie where it felt like a dagger was settling in her gut.

Yeah, happy thoughts didn't work. Happy thoughts were too gentle. Too quiet. Too much like lies. But anger?

Anger fit nicely.