“I’m so sorry. But please just this once? I wanna go with Tablo oppa. Please.” YooBin had her hands together, begging.

She stood at my table and I looked up at her blankly. She is unbelievable. I exhaled deeply and nodded – I give up.

“Yes! Thanks, Sookyung! This once, you help me with the classroom duties. I will definitely return this favour!” She was already at the classroom door. I signalled for her to go, and she bounced off. There was going to be a hand-over ceremony for the drama club, it was what YooBin called “Tablo’s big day”, whatever that meant.

The class cleared out in no time. Some of the boys who were down for the classroom duties, stayed behind and quickly swept the floor, and arranged the tables, and they left as quickly also. Standing at the window, I took the blackboard duster and carefully started beating it with the cane. The chalkdust danced, with rhythm, in the streaks of the afternoon sun. Some of them landed on my own hand, while some fell down and down to the ground level amongst the bushes.

That day, when Joon Young and I were caught late for class, Miss Baek gave us a sounding down at her office. We just stood with our heads down while she went on and on about how important the mock test was.

After that, we stood outside the class the rest of the day. We didn’t talk much, just stood there looking ahead. But time didn’t pass slowly, as had always, because the schoolbell sounded sooner that I thought it would. Everyone rushed out of the classrooms. On the way out, some of our classmates were giggling at us. Joon Young just briefly took up his packback, brushed some of the dirt off from it and walked away. He was wearing a smile.

“See you around.”

I nodded obediently. YooBin came out the classroom just then, she looked at Joon Young first, who just walked away swiftly, then back at me.

“Why were you late again? And why are you with him?” She pointed at his distancing backview.

“I ran into him on the way in.” YooBin was wearing a strange look on her face then.

I was beating at the duster too hard that the chalkdust went into my nose. I sneezed. I returned the duster to its original place and went to empty the bin. It was full to the brim, I could hardly lift it up.

I walked along the hallway towards the garbage dump situated at the side of the school. My footsteps were greatly weighed down by burden. The hallways looked sepia in the afternoon heat, lit by the sunlight that flowed in through the windows. It was rather empty too. There were some sounds of talking coming from teachers’ offices as I passed by them; sounds of chairs and tables shuffling coming from empty classrooms where some students were mugging in. There were also sounds of distant footsteps. Trying to just look ahead, and not to look down to face the stink of the bin, I didn’t notice that I had kicked at a dent in the hallway floor. I fell forward abruptly, losing momentum.

As if in slow motion, the burden that I had in my hands flew out of my hands ahead of me, its contents flying out of it at the same time. My hands were free and open in front of me, I was dropping and the intensity of gravity grabbed at me. I stopped breathing. Shucks. That was all that came out from my slate state of mind.

Then a hand grabbed my arm from the side. I was flung to the front but the hand holding me kept my legs on the ground. I stood there, stunned. I regained my breath. Looking down, it took me just a while to realise that I almost fell down into front of the garbage mess on the floor.

“You alright?” I looked up. Those eyes, again. Joon Young had held on to me when I was falling. I looked around, I didn’t know that I was just right in front of the principal’s office and he had just stepped out from it.

I never thought that I could hit that twice. I gave an awkward smile and nodded. My palms started to sweat.

“Thanks.” I let go of my arm from his hand and nodded again. I turned to picked up the scattered rubbish back into the bin again. I had expected Joon Young to walk away like he always loved to. But instead, he bent down to help me with it. The rubbish were cleared away quickly. I stood up, Joon Young quickly took the bin from me.

“Let me help.” He said looking ahead, and started towards the end of the hallway. I looked at him, without knowing what to do, I followed up. Walking next to him like this in the quiet school compound feels awkward, he continued to look ahead.

“Hmmm. Thanks for the help. Especially when I almost fell down.” I decided to break the silence. He finally turned to look at me.

“It’s alright.” He smiled again. “I didn’t know it’s your turn on the duty list today.”

“Ah. I stood in for YooBin. She has something on.” Finally we got a topic rolling. “What are you doing still in school, at this time?” I continued.

“I was talking to the principal about my brother’s transfer into the school.”

A brother? We took a turn around the school building, the garbage dump came to view.

“Ah. I see. Everyone is saying how weird it is to transfer in during the graduating year.” I said carefully, peering at his face for response. He broke into a smile again, eyes turning into a wrinkled line.

“I know. But our parents want us to graduate here in Korea. We were born in America, and had home-school lessons from our mother. That’s why my brother and I speak korean well. We were intending to migrate back to Korea soon and my parents want us to graduate high school here.” I noted. I’ve never heard him speak so much before. We reached the garbage dump, he went up to the trolley and emptied the bin effortlessly. I mused at his backview. He turned, still holding on to the empty bin, walked towards the bench nearby and sat down. I went over and sat down next to him.

For moment we didn’t talk. Letting them swing and brushing against the grass on the ground, I looked down at my legs. The plaster on my knee was still there.

“Are you into theatrics?” He suddenly popped a question. I turned to look at him. He was leaning back comfortably, looking up at the sky. He looked just like what I saw in the crowds on the streets back then, staring up at the sky. Those eyes.

He turned to look at me, waiting for an answer. I blinked a few times and looked away. Right, he was asking me something.

“Sorry, you were saying?” I must have looked like an idiot then. He chuckled.

“You must love to space out a lot, missing what others are talking all the time.” Humour danced in his eyes. Oh my god, how embarrassing. He must be referring to the time when I got chided by Miss Baek in class.

“I was asking if you were into theatrics.”

Theatrics?

“Hm. I love stories. Why do you ask?”

Why did he ask?

He looked right back at me.

“You were there at Night Blossoms last winter, weren’t you?” He asked casually.

I stopped breathing.

“Yes, I was. How do you know?” I put the words across slowly.

“I was there too.” He broke into a smile again.

My eyes widened.

Doesn’t he remember me?

——————–

Lessons had started and our teacher, Miss Baek Ji Young was talking to the class about something that has to do with graduating. But I could feel YooBin busy throwing funny looks towards my way and then to Joon Young sitting behind me. I barely returned a nervous glance.

Doesn’t he?

I was too busy playing around with the question in my head, and the flashbacks of what happened at the play last winter had came back again.

Did that happened at all? Was it real?

I got dizzy from all that thinking.

“Ah, I can’t think.” I didn’t realised that I had just said that out loud.

“Yes, and what was that you were saying Miss Sookyung?” Miss Baek said sharply, turning away from the blackboard. There were an instant wave of giggle. Startled, I looked up.

“Hmm. Nothing.”

“I hope you were thinking hard about the question that I’ve just posted to the class – regarding graduation day.”

“Graduation day? What graduation day?” The class went into another wave of laughing, this time less polite than the previous one. I figured that I must have seemed real foolish. And I could feel Joon Young’s eyes burning into the whole of my back.

“Please pay attention in class, Miss Sookyung.” Miss Baek gave me a long look, shifted her glasses higher up on her nose bridge, and cleared her throat. ” Back to the textbook, folks.”

I nodded sheepishly.

After class that day, Joon Young rushed out the class even before I had the time to buck up any courage to talk to him. Immediately, the class sprang into life again. Already, Joon Young has became the talk of the class.

“Guess what i saw? That se-kia came to school chauffeured in a BMW,” KangIn was waving his arms dramatically in the air.

“Isn’t this Joon Young hawt?” SunYe voice spiked the hype going around the classroom. “I’ve reserved him. He is mine.” The rest of her group broke up in roars of laughter.

“Sookyung ah, isn’t this Joon Young the guy at the play? I wonder why he is here. What a time to transfer in in the graduating year.” YooBin turned towards me at her seat.

I shrugged. But what I really want to know is what exactly happened on the day of the play last winter.

——————–

Some luck I have.

I couldn’t wake up on time again. The alarm clock rang on time in the morning, but somehow my hands found their way to it at the side table and silenced it. I jumped up from my guilt sleep one hour later to pull at my own hair – I can’t be late for school, I have a mock test to sit for. I scrambled out of the empty apartment. I had lived in that apartment alone for 4 years, I have no one to give me any wake-up call or to make me breakfast.

I ran towards the bus stop. The bus came in a while, but it was too packed, I managed to squeeze my way onto the steps of the bus. But as expected, the late morning traffic is a killer. I was trying to hold back a scream at every red traffic light. It was a painful one hour ride to school, and I ran all the way from the bus stop to school, but still, by the time I reached school the discipline headmaster, Mr. Kang has already positioned himself in the middle of the school gate with his long wooden rule.

I sidestepped a little to avoid from letting him seeing me and started walking carefully in the opposite way to the back of the school. I swatted down amongst the bushes, around the fences at the back of the school looking for “Open sesame”. “Open sesame” is the name of a hole that was cut into the fence by some ex-students behind the school. I’ve heard everyone used it when they were late for school.

“Hmm. Where is it? I heard DongHae said it is somewhere around here.” I mumbled to myself as I plied through the tall grasses around the fence. I held up my watch to look at the time. Great, I am so dead. Then, there I found it, and i started pulling at the edges of the cut-ins to open up a hole big enough for me to crawl in.

My right leg went in first, feeling for concrete ground of the abandoned basketball court behind the school. Sense of happiness came back to me, at least I made my way into the school without getting past Mr Kang……

Right then, I felt a firm hand on my shoulder. I froze.

Maybe, I am really done for.

I cringed. Then slowly, I turned around. Instead of Mr Kang’s big and broad face, I was greeted by those eyes.

“Can you take me into the school with you too? Since we’re both late for class.” It was Joon Young.

Unable to even blink, I could only nod numbly.

——————–

We made our way successfully into the back of the school. The silence in the school compound rang at my ears – the mock exams must have started already. I signalled for Joon Young to start making our way towards our classroom block.

Our footsteps sounded louder than usual along the clean hallway. We peeked in through the back door of our classroom, there was no invigilator inside. Joon Young turned and nodded at me, I held on to the back of his bag and we inched our way quietly into the classroom.

“Just where do you think the two of you are going?” Miss Baek stood right behind us, her voice filled up the long and empty hallway.

——————–

For the rest of the day, we were made to stand outside the classroom. I made a face. So much for trying so hard to get into the school. Shuffling my legs, I took a sideway peek, Joon Young was reaching into his bagpack for something. I looked ahead again and let out a sigh. What a day.

I felt something being pushed into my hand. I looked down, it was a piece of plaster. I looked at Joon Young.

“Your knee. It is bleeding.”

I looked down absentmindedly at the cut. Suddenly, my knee felt painful.

“Ah, pain. I didn’t realised that I had a cut there. “ But he noticed. I tried to bent down to apply the plaster. But Joon Young went down to the ground faster than I could. He took the plaster from me.

“It was fun, coming to school in such a way.” Joon Young said as he applied the plaster onto the cut lightly.

“Next time you decide to take such a route into the school again, count me in.” He looked up smiling.

I sat under the tree behind the school building. Although it was only lunch time, I could not hold my attention on anything at all of late. I stared ahead. My eyes were tired of searching on anything to settle its focus on. Ever since the start of a new semester, I could not settle to do anything. Involuntarily, flashbacks of what happened last winter came to me again.

——————–

“JoonHo” had stopped halfway the whole play and looked straight at me. Or rather, he was staring at me as though I had done something to him. The whole theatre hall was quiet. Everyone was waiting for something to happen. I looked back at him, searching his face for an answer.

Why do I feel so penetrated?

I could not move. The air was still. There was only me and him then.

“Pssk. J.Y, continue with your line,” there was a whisper from backstage. “JoonHo” looked away for a moment, then our eyes met again. Finally, he looked away and continued with his line.

“Give me the chance to love you,” his voice was mellow as he turned to “HeeJin”. The atmosphere in the theatre hall resumed to its usual cool.

“What was that?” YooBin hissed, nudging me. I was too stunned to say anything.

——————–

After that performance, YooBin had dragged me with her into the dressing room backstage. We saw Tablo. YooBin went up to him shamelessly, presenting him that huge bouquet of flowers, she was squealing rivers of praises on Tablo. I did not care more, I looked around – there was no “JoonHo”.

After that day, I never saw “JoonHo” again. I never really understand why he was in our school play when he was not even a student of our school. I never understood why he stopped in the middle of his lines and gave me the weird stares. There were so many so many questions – but no answers to them.

——————–

After that day, YooBin had became really close to Tablo and they started dating each other. It was like a dream come true for YooBin. She no longer called on me as much. She spent most of her time fussing around Tablo.

“JoonHo..” I let it out without knowing it.

“Orh? Who?” YooBin dropped herself down next to me. I withdrew myself instantly.

“Ah. No one.” I said sheepishly.

“Have you been waiting for long?” she took out her lunch box and offered me some kimbab.

“Ah, no,” I said plainly, shaking my hand at the same time. I took out mine from my bag, opened it up and started chewing absently at the sandwiches. The sandwiches tasted bland. I made a face.

“Seriously! What’s with you these days? You looked so lost.” YooBin plied. Even though YooBin and I have been friends through since elementary school, she was not around much these days to know what exactly had happened to me.

What do you know.

“Nothing. I guess it’s just the spring coming. Such nice warm weather coming makes you start musing at them” I started to crap out some excuse.

“Really?” I nodded slightly.

“Alright, great,” she smiled to herself.

She didn’t even see through my stupid excuse.

“Tablo oppa is taking me out on a date this Friday. I suggest we all go on a double date – I’ll get him to introduce one of those stage group guys to you? How about that?”

“Nah…” She went on and on. But I just shut her out. I finished the rest of the sandwich. I did not have the mood for anything.

——————–

The day when YooBin went on for her date with Tablo, I found my myself too restless to stay at home. I could not find the focus to continue penning on the story I was working on, nor was there anything else I felt like doing.

“Night Blossoms” was one of the stories I wrote that I really loved. The idea of forbidden love just intrigued me a lot. Love as simple as two parties was never really love – it takes more to it. I posted up the story on my CyWorld mini homepage. It was really well received but no one knew that I was the one who penned it. All they knew was that “Night Blossoms” was written by a someone named Mi. But it never at all bothered me, I love writing stories, and all I’ve wanted was to write stories.

But for today, I was not even in the mood to write stories. I mingled around on the floor where the teddy cushion was for awhile, before I stood up quickly, grabbed the keys and headed out of the door.

I need to get out.

I walked without a destination in mind, down the cool, slippery streets. The streets were definitely too crowded on a Monday afternoon like this – and I’ve always hated the crowds. They were pushy, noisy, impatient and tense. No one ever stopped to observe the clouds against the dense blue sky in the day, nor do they lose themselves to the dancing neons along buildings at night anymore. There were too many things happening in the crowd, all at the same time. Men with suits talking over cellphones; schoolgirls squealing hysterically and waving their hands in the air; mothers laughing heartily, wiping the perspiration off their foreheads; children run around, leaving echoes of happy footsteps; couples cooing over each other; infants wailing around – there were always too many things all happening at the same time, and the sounds of them always go louder and then softer again. Louder and then softer again. They just kept rushing past us.

I kept walking.

Spit spat spit spat. The sqweesy sound that my boot made when they touched the tiled pavement, and my own breathing sound grew dominant. I began to grow bored of these sounds. I looked up and around.

Same old crowd.

Suddenly everything stopped. There was no more sqweesy sound, no more moving crowd, no more sound, no more breathing.

There in the midst of the crowd, I caught the glimpse of him. I couldn’t be wrong. It was his side profile alright. That high nose bridge, those eyes, those lips. He was just standing there, hands tucked into his pocket, eyes closed and looking up at the sky.

I went dizzy for a moment. I took a few steps towards him. Then I started plying my way towards him. Pulling aside people who were standing or walking around and were in my way. I keep plying and plying through the crowd. I heard my breathing sounds and my footsteps come back.

But when I got to the other side of the crowd, he was no longer at that spot. He was nowhere to be found.

All of the sudden, all the noise, all the hustler, the crowd, that slippery concrete pavement all came back alive in my world. I just stood there, dazed.

——————–

The next day, after much effort to get out of bed, I dragged myself to school. After what happened the day before, I could ever more conclude myself that I am psychotic. I must be crazy to let that incident at the play bother me too much.

It was homeroom lesson the first lesson of the day - perfect time to space out. Our homeroom tutor Miss Baek was rather late today but I couldn’t care more. My classmates were all engrossed in their own group discussions.

There was that group of girls – YuRi, SunYe, SooYoung and Min Joo who were talking and laughing loudly, accompanying with their conversation were huge and comical gestures. They were giggling without care of their image and there was also constant cooing of “He is sooo cute.”. Then there was the group of girls who were deep into their books – TaeYeon, SoHee and SunMi – no surprise, they are the teachers’ favourite students.

The boys on the other hands were in their own clicks doing other stuffs. There was the group of boys talking and describing, while others listen with awe, about that fight they picked up with a rookie a few days back – HeeChul, KangIn, DongHae, ShinDong – I came to learn that most of the things that they claimed they have done were all tell-tales. On the other end of the class, there was YounHa, HongKi, JaeJin and MinHwan who were all plugged into their music players. These folks don’t go anyway without their music players.

There were also loners in the class who chose to do their own stuff or just put their heads on the desk at a time like this – JungHoon, TaeYang, Yeon Hee, HanKyung and myself.

I stared out of the window.

Yes, I’m such a loner.

Just then, YooBin popped up from behind me.

“Morning!” She beamed. “I am so glad I made it to school just in time. I was out with Tablo oppa till rather late yesterday.” She fanned herself vigorously with her hands.

“You should be there yesterday. You know what Tablo oppa told……….”

“Alright class, time for lesson” Miss Baek’s arrival interrupted YooBin’s potential long winded storytelling. Everyone kept quiet and went back to their seats. Chairs were shuffling around, and then there was silence.

“I apologise being late. We have a new transfer student today and I need to settle some matters for this student.” She gestured for a person from outside the classroom to come in. Everyone waited. There was steady footsteps into the classroom.

Right then, YooBin pushed a note into my hands. I opened up the paper. “You should have been there. Tablo oppa brought so many cuties along to the gathering. ^^” was written on it. I made a face, shook my head and shoved the paper back to her.

“Why don’t you introduce yourself to the class?” Miss Baek’s voice flowed back into my attention.

“Hi, my name is Joon Young. I’m a transfer student from the States.”

I looked up. It was him, “JoonHo”. I stopped breathing.

I saw him sweep a glance across the room, his eyes merely met mine.

“Why don’t you take the seat behind SooKyung.” Miss Baek gestured towards me. Joon Young nodded and walked steadily towards my direction. As he walked pass me, our eyes met. I searched his face for a sign. He gave a mere nod with a polite smile and took the seat behind. I could feel YooBin’s vision settle on me.

I was stunned once more.

Doesn’t he remember me?

The day when it had all begun……

——————–

My mobile phone rang.

I woke up, startled. I reached out from underneath the blankets for my mobile phone from the side table.

Click

“SooKyung ah. Where are you?” I recognised that squealing voice – it was YooBin.

“Hmm. Bed,” I replied sheepishly. My eyelids were betraying me, I was drifting back to sleep.

“What? In bed? Don’t you know what time it is??” I know what is going to happen next when YooBin’s voice goes like this. I quickly ended the phone conversation, forced my eyes to open, kicked my blankets out of the way and climbed out of bed. I stood there, looking around the room for what I should do next.

My bedroom is the most modest one anyone will ever find. It sits on the north wing of my little apartment. I always kept things neat and in place. There is a study table by the huge windows – I always love windows in rooms. It was always all the breeze and light that filled up the room that is the essence of being in it.

Then, there is the wardrobe that stood next to it. That wardrobe. It was the only thing i disliked in the room. It was not like those cupboards where people use for their wardrobe. Mine was a messy rack with uniforms and dull coloured clothes hung on it without care. I had thought it looked like one of those in celebrities dressing rooms when I first saw it at one of those garage sales before buying it at a humble price.

That was all the furniture on that side of the room. To the left, on the floor at the corner was a soft cushion seat which YooBin bought it for me last Christmas. It was in the shape of a teddy bear face. She had always complained that there wasn’t anything cushy in the room. On the same side of the room, a standing full size mirror and a side table, with skincare products which were hand-me-downs from YooBin, stood side by side. She had stuffed them to me whenever she changed her taste of the skincare products that she used.

Still scanning, to the left, there was a door to that wall, and a poster of my favourite movie “Princess Mononoke”.

Then back to the same spot again was my bed. The bedsheet was of a milky blue shade. And beside the bed was a wooden side table. I had my alarm clock and a small lamp on it. There lies the tickets that YooBin and I had bought for the play… Wait, that was right, I had a play to rush to.

Shucks.

I rushed out of the room, towards the bathroom.

——————–

The week before, YooBin and I had stood in front of the bulletin board in the school hall, squealing at what we saw.

“SooKyung ah. I so have to go for this! I heard that the drama club president, Tablo, is going to be performing for the last time before he graduates!! Oooh~ He is such a hottie.” YooBin pulled at my sleeve real hard.

I froze and stopped squealing.

“What? You want to go for to this play just for that guy? You don’t even know him.” YooBin’s shoulders slumped, lips pouting but quickly regained her energy again.

“You know Ye Eun from the senior grade? No? She agreed to let me in to the dressing room to meet him after the show.” She beamed.

Unbelievable. I shook my head and then looked up at the notice again.

“You are coming with me too, aren’t you? You won’t let me go alone right?” YooBin was at her innocent voice again.

“No. I will be going.” I said, quietly.

Yes, unbelievable – I was actually going to see the story that I wrote – “Night Blossoms”.

——————–

Great, I glanced at my watch. I was not late.

By the time I reached the entrance theatre building all panting and perspiring, I could catch the glimpse of YooBin hopping up and down impatiently at the theatre lobby.

“There you are! Oh, what’s with that cardigan?” YooBin tugged at my clothes. She was at her usual style – knitted turtle-necks and tight shorts; medium length boots; small handy purse – she even had a beanie on today – everything on her totally flattered her. I looked down at myself – comfortable jeans, white top and a grey cardigan outside – I must look pretty bad next to YooBin. But it had always been the case.

“Let’s go in,” I could tell that YooBin couldn’t wait.

Night Flowers is a story about forbidden love between two siblings, HeeJin and JoonHo, who only grew to know the truth of their special relationship only after their love had blossomed. There was also MyunHo who was their best friends, and who had fallen for HeeJin.

The play went on great. They left out a few scenes which, I thought, would had made it an even better performance. The actors were great, it was as though my story had came alive.

I realised that “JoonHo” was a really captivating person. He talked with sparks in his eyes. His high nose bridge, those small eyes and that smile – he was just like the JoonHo in my story.

Finally, this was the scene.

I had been waiting real patiently for this scene to come. It was the scene where JoonHo would say his last goodbye to HeeJin – they were parting.

I was moved close to tears, I could feel the sorrow that HeeJin felt as though I was still writing the story right then. I remembered the line that JoonHo would tell her:

“Next life, noona. Next life, you can be anyone, you can be very ugly, but please don’t be my noona again. Give me the chance to love you.”

He was saying this very line, “Next life, noona. Next life, you can be anyone, you can be very ugly, but please don’t be my noona again…”

And then, there was silence.

I was too drowned in my own emotions. I waited for “JoonHo” to continue with his line. But he did not.

I looked up, my eyes met his – “JoonHo” was looking straight at me……

——————–

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