By now, Taeyeon had gotten used to waking up early in the morning. She sat on the bench outside the guesthouse reading the newspapers while sipping her coffee. This was her favourite spot in the house (other than her room) as it allowed her to do some people watching.
The neighbourhood was a hive of activities in the morning. Kids were rushing for school as their mothers packed them onto the school bus. She waved to the milk delivery boy as he went about replacing the empty bottles with new ones. There was a bread seller who would stop at strategic spots along the street and rang his bell to signal his arrival. She used to dislike that bread seller as his high pitched bell would serve as a snooze alarm after the chirping of the birds at her balcony window. Sometimes, she managed to get up earlier than him and even bought freshly baked bread from him once!
Flipping through the newspaper, Taeyeon saw the toothpaste ad for Clean and Brite.
My dearest shikshin, you did a good job.
“Why are you grinning to yourself?” a female voice asked.
“Oh, what? Good morning Sooyeon.” Taeyeon looked up from the newspaper, surprised that someone was standing in front of her.
“I happen to spy an ad that’s done by my colleague. It’s this one over here,” Taeyeon continued, pointing at the toothpaste ad.
“So your colleague’s the one who came up with that ‘ding ding’ sound for the TV commercial? No one shines your pearly whites like Clean & Brite. Ding ding!” Sooyeon sang a snippet of the toothpaste commercial.
“Wow, you know the commercial so well. I feel so proud! Technically I was the one who came up with ‘ding ding’ sound at the back. I thought it’s catchy and people would remember it well.” Taeyeon folded her newspaper and rose from her seat. She mimicked the action of the celebrity who endorsed the toothpaste brand by hitting her finger against her tooth and making a ‘ding ding’ sound at the end of it.
“The kids in the neighbourhood kept singing the song in the commercial. I guess the sales of toothpaste must have been good. Your clients must have been pleased,” Sooyeon complimented.
“My clients are very happy indeed. I’m glad it worked out for them. What brings you here so early?” Taeyeon asked in a curious manner.
“I’m here to send some flowers for Mrs Hwang.” Sooyeon pointed to two bouquets of flowers in the front basket of a bicycle at the driveway.
“Let me help you with the flowers,” Taeyeon offered. Both girls walked towards the bicycle to pick up the flowers.
Just then, the main door opened and Seungri appeared.
“Sooyeon noona! You’re here. We’re going to have a BBQ tonight! Swing by our house at 6 pm tonight. My mother bought your favourite beef ribs.” Seungri grabbed the two bouquets of flowers from the two girls.
“Sure I will. Thank you Seungri, you’re such a helpful boy. See you later this evening.” Sooyeon smiled.
Seungri flashed a cheeky smile before heading inside the house.
Her smile is so beautiful and sweet. She looks like an angel.
“Taeyeon? Taeyeon?” Sooyeon waved her hand in front of Taeyeon.
“Ah yes?” Taeyeon replied, waking up from her daze.
“You’re coming tonight right?”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t wanna miss Mrs Hwang’s marinated pork and beef ribs.” Taeyeon licked her lips.
“See you later then,” Sooyeon flashed a smile before walking down the steps towards her bicycle.
It’s odd but somehow her smile brightens up my day.
On the way back to the guesthouse after picking up some fresh seafood from the market, Seungri and Taeyeon spotted a frantic looking Sooyeon roaming around the streets. Sooyeon was frowning and she seemed to be looking high and low for something.
Seungri stopped the old Volkswagen bus and wound down his window.
“What’s wrong Sooyeon noona? You looked worried.”
“Seungri, Angel’s missing!” Sooyeon cried out, tears brimming in her eyes.
Seungri parked the bus by the side of the road. Both Taeyeon and Seungri got off the bus and rushed towards Sooyeon.
“Where did you last see Angel?” Seungri asked as he walked briskly towards Sooyeon.
“Maybe Angel has gone off for a walk nearby. Or maybe she saw someone’s flower bed and decided to play with it?” Taeyeon suggested, looking away in a distance, trying to see if she could spot the dog.
“She never leaves my side without my permission!” Sooyeon wailed. Tears started to roll down her cheeks.
“Let’s search nearby. I don’t think she went too far away,” Seungri proposed.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure Angel will be fine. She’s such an intelligent dog.” Taeyeon patted Sooyeon’s back, trying to assure her.
The three of them split up to hunt for Angel. Seungri knocked on several neighbours’ doors nearby but none of them had seen the dog.
Taeyeon spotted some animal paw prints on a dirt track near the road. She followed the trail of paw prints and ended up near a swamp.
“Angel! Angel!” Taeyeon called out, looking around for the Golden Retriever.
She heard some rustling sound coming from the tall grass near the swamp. A chill went down her spine. She realized she was alone in an unfamiliar territory. Taking a deep breath, she stepped forward cautiously, sweeping aside the tall grass.
What if it’s some wild animal? What if it’s a murder suspect?! What if…
Taeyeon’s imagination went wild. Her heart was beating faster and she felt cold sweat breaking out on her neck.
Suddenly, a large dark shadow loomed over Taeyeon and the next instant, she was pinned onto the ground.
A familiar wet tongue was licking her face.
“Angel?” Taeyeon tried to push the large dog away.
“Angel! Get off me! Stop licking my face! Eeeewwwww!” Taeyeon shielded her face from the dog with both arms.
“Angel!” Sooyeon yelled as she raced down the dirt track.
Upon hearing the familiar voice, Angel leapt off Taeyeon and ran towards her owner.
“Where have you been? I was so worried! Never, never run away from me again! You bad dog!” Tears of joy ran down Sooyeon’s face as she hugged the dog tightly.
Seungri balanced himself cautiously on the wet muddy plains as he tried to help Taeyeon up. He bent over with laughter when he saw Taeyeon covered with mud and Angel’s drool.
“AAAHHHHHH!!! That silly dog! I’m covered in mud and her drool!!” Taeyeon hollered, waving her muddy arms wildly.
“Luckily Angel’s safe. She was probably chasing after some butterflies and lost her way. Thankfully she could recognize Taeyeon,” said Seungri as he led all of them back onto the main road.
Seungri went to the bus and grabbed a towel for Taeyeon.
“This is the second time I get attacked by her! At this rate, I’m going to have a bad outbreak on my face!” Taeyeon grunted, wiping the mud off her face and limbs.
“Thank you for finding Angel, Taeyeon!” Sooyeon said gratefully. She ran forward and gave Taeyeon a hug.
Taeyeon stood frozen on the spot, surprised at the sudden display of gratitude. Her eyes were wide open, her arms hung by the side as Sooyeon wrapped her arms around her waist and rested her head on her shoulder.
My heart…it’s beating faster with every second she’s hugging me. I’m feeling breathless already, just looking at her grateful smile.
“It’s…it’s nothing. I happen to be in the right place at the right time, that’s all,” Taeyeon said, trying to maintain her cool image.
Sooyeon released Taeyeon and took a step backwards, embarrassed at her sudden display of affection towards someone whom she knew for less than a week.
“Taeyeon noona, let’s get home soon so that you can wash up. Sooyeon noona, do come along with us. We can go shopping together after cleaning up!” Seungri beamed as he held the passenger door for her.
A light lavender scent filled the room as Taeyeon stepped out of the shower, her hair still dripping with water.
“Let me dry your hair for you. I feel bad for causing such inconvenience to you,” Sooyeon offered as she rose from the couch. She gestured for Taeyeon to sit on the couch facing the window.
Standing behind Taeyeon, she used a towel from the bathroom and started to dry Taeyeon’s hair. Taeyeon closed her eyes as Sooyeon gently massaged her head while soaking the moisture from her hair with the towel.
“I apologise on behalf of Angel. She’s getting quite out of hand recently. I ought to punish her for her bad behavior,” Sooyeon said softly.
“It’s not her fault that she knocked over me. She’s way stronger than I am. I’m just glad she’s safe.” Taeyeon opened her eyes and looked out of the window, watching the people walking by the main road. Somehow she didn’t felt angry at all. In fact, she was worried about Angel’s safety and even more concerned about its frantic owner.
“Yes, I’m so happy to see her safe. It’s nice to Seungri to offer to bathe Angel since she’s covered in mud too. I ought to bake some cookies for him to thank him. Okay, your hair’s quite dry now,” Sooyeon said.
Sooyeon hung the wet towel in the bathroom to dry. “Where’s your comb?”
Taeyeon turned around and pointed to the dressing table. Sooyeon picked up the comb and walked towards Taeyeon. She ran the comb gently through Taeyeon’s soft blonde hair as she brushed her hair. Being in such close proximity, Taeyeon could smell the faint flora fragrance from the bath soap Sooyeon used. She smiled to herself.
Sooyeon caught sight of Taeyeon smiling from the reflection of the window and blushed. She picked up the black rubber band and tied Taeyeon’s short ponytail neatly.
“Done,” Sooyeon said sweetly, taking a step back to look at Taeyeon, as if she was admiring a painting she had completed.
“Thank you,” Taeyeon replied, gazing at the girl.
She looks so beautiful even without makeup. Some of those girls I’ve met, their faces are permanently covered with such a thick layer of makeup. In fact, it’s probably thicker than the tarmac on the road! God knows how their faces would look like without them. Possibly horrific!
Taeyeon subconsciously shivered at that thought.
“Are you feeling cold? You should have used hot water to shower just now,” Sooyeon said in a concerned tone. She picked up the jacket from Taeyeon’s chair and wrapped it around Taeyeon’s shoulders. Taeyeon felt a sudden rush of heat in her heart and towards her face.
“Err…I’m fine. Maybe it’s the sudden gust of cold wind coming from the window. Any…anyway, Seungri’s waiting for us to go to the supermarket. Mrs Hwang wants us to help buy some food and drinks for tonight’s BBQ. Would you like to come along?” Taeyeon asked, clutching at her jacket. Her hands accidentally brushed against Sooyeon’s. She felt a jolt of electric current passing through her heart and thought it would stop for a second.
“If you guys don’t mind me coming along, I would be glad to help!” Sooyeon beamed, breaking into a bright smile.
Taeyeon felt her heart pounding against her ribcage.
That smile of hers is killing me inside. She looks a zillion times more adorable like that. I wish I could give her a hug right now!
The three of them climbed onto the front seat of the bus, with Seungri as the driver, Taeyeon in the middle and Sooyeon by the passenger door. Seungri reversed out of the driveway and headed for the supermarket in town.
Seungri decided to go via the dirt path instead of the usual road so that Taeyeon could admire the scenery along the way. However, that road to the supermarket was not the smoothest. There were some potholes and fallen objects on the road which Seungri had to skillfully avoid.
“Huge pothole coming up!” Seungri announced as he tried his best to avoid the huge gap on the dirt path.
“Aaaiii” came a high pitched scream. The bus bounced quite violently as it went over the porthole, causing Sooyeon hit the roof of the bus. Fortunately Taeyeon had already anticipated the move and used her hand to shield Sooyeon’s head so that she could not get a direct hit.
“Are you okay?” Taeyeon asked, looking at the girl next to her.
“I’m fine, thanks. Is your hand okay? Did you hit the roof?”
“Don’t worry it’s only a small bump,” Taeyeon smiled.
“The back of your palm’s turning red, let me rub it for you,” Sooyeon held Taeyeon’s right palm and rubbed it gently. A warm feeling filled Taeyeon’s heart and she felt butterflies in her tummy.
Just as Taeyeon was still in a daze, Seungri swerved to avoid a fallen log on the ground.
Taeyeon lost her balance and crashed into Sooyeon. Her face was buried into Sooyeon’s neck and her left arm was grabbing onto Sooyeon’s shoulder. Taeyeon quickly got up and grabbed onto the dashboard of the bus instead. Her face was as red as beetroot by now.
“I’m…sorry!” Taeyeon apologized, looking at the floor, embarrassed to face Sooyeon.
“It’s ok, accidents happen,” a gentle voice replied, patting Taeyeon’s hand.
“Sorry ladies! I shouldn’t have taken this route. I wanted to give Taeyeon noona a scenic ride but looks like it’s quite hazardous indeed. Don’t worry, we’re reaching soon!” Seungri said, trying to focus on the bumpy road.
At the supermarket
“I’ll go get the meat and fire starters. You girls can pick out the drinks and snacks.” Seungri turned around and pushed the trolley towards the frozen meat section.
The two girls stood along the snack aisle, trying to decide what to buy. Coincidentally, both of them reached out to take the same packet of marshmallows that was on the shelf. Their hands brushed against each other and both withdrew their hands almost immediately, causing the packet of marshmallows to drop onto the floor.
Sooyeon gasped and quickly bent down to pick up the packet, not knowing that Taeyeon had the same thought. Both of them ended up bumping their heads together.
“Ouch!” Taeyeon rubbed her forehead.
“I’m sorry! Are you hurt?” Sooyeon said apologetically.
“It’s okay. My head’s quite hard, sorry if your head is painful. I’ll pick it up,” Taeyeon pre-empted, in case both of them bump into each other again.
“You like marshmallows?” Taeyeon asked casually, holding the packet of marshmallows in her hand.
“Yes, especially if they’re roasted over the campfire,” Sooyeon’s eyes brightened up at the thought of eating campfire roasted marshmallows.
“Hey, I like the roasted ones too! Let’s buy an additional packet of marshmallows. I’m sure of the both of us can finish this packet ourselves,” Taeyeon winked and flashed a wide grin on her face.
Sooyeon nodded happily in agreement.
On Cloud Nine
Seungri and Taeyeon were busy setting up the BBQ pit at the back of the garden while Mrs Hwang, Mrs Jung and Sooyeon were preparing the food in the kitchen.
“My sister and I love BBQs! We could eat, drink and chat all night. I bet she’s gonna drool when she sees the photos of our BBQ tonight! Teehee!” Seungri grinned as he stacked the charcoal neatly into the portable pit.
“Wow, that’s being rather mean, knowing that she can’t enjoy the food while you’re here feasting,” joked Taeyeon.
The three ladies brought the marinated food to the garden table and soon the fragrant smell of BBQ meats permeated into the cool spring air.
Seungri invited some of his school mates over and the boys were busy chatting and fooling around in the garden. Mrs Hwang and Mrs Jung were busy chatting with some neighbours. Tired from barbequing for the past hour, Taeyeon decided to take a break. Noticing Sooyeon’s disappearance from the rowdy crowd, she roasted four sticks of marshmallows before going around the house to hunt for her.
Taeyeon finally spotted the lone girl who was sitting on the front steps of the guesthouse.
“For you,” Taeyeon winked and handed two sticks of roasted marshmallows to Sooyeon. She took a seat next to her as she ate her share of roasted marshmallows.
“Why are you sitting here instead of joining the rest of them at the back of the garden?” Taeyeon asked between mouthfuls of marshmallows.
“It’s too noisy and crowded at the back. I prefer peace and quiet,” Sooyeon replied politely.
“Want more? I can roast some for you,” Taeyeon offered, seeing Sooyeon had already finished her share of marshmallows.
“Thank you for the offer but I’m full after eating the marshmallows. Taeyeon, have you ever observed the sky at night? It’s really beautiful, especially on a cloudless night like today. The stars are twinkling up in the sky like diamonds.” Sooyeon pointed towards the vast night sky.
“Actually I’ve never had the chance to admire the night sky. I’m either working, at functions or sleeping. Moreover the city’s a pretty bright place so we don’t get to see many stars.” Taeyeon looked up at the night sky.
“It’s such a pity. It’s good to have work life balance,” Sooyeon said, feeling sorry for Taeyeon.
“Yea I guess but it’s tough for my industry. Sometimes the client’s brief comes in at the last minute, sometimes the clients keep changing their minds and we have to re-layout the artwork until they’re satisfied. There’re also deadlines given by the media owners to meet. It can be quite chaotic at the agency sometimes. Previously, I met an unreasonable client who just couldn’t make up his mind and caused so much misery for my team. I would rather give up that account than have my people leave my team but we don’t have a choice at times,” sighed Taeyeon, shrugging her shoulders.
“It’s not easy being the boss of a company too. I’m sure you’re a truly good one,” Sooyeon complimented, patting Taeyeon on her back.
“I sure hope I am!” Taeyeon beamed. “So do you like diamonds? You’ve mentioned earlier that the stars are like diamonds. All the girls I’ve met love diamonds, including my best friend Sunny.”
“I like diamonds but I don’t dream of owning one. To me, I’m contented looking at the twinkling stars in the sky. They’re like millions of tiny diamonds in the sky and I feel like I own them all just looking at them on a cloudless night like today,” Sooyeon replied dreamily.
“Oh? You’re the first girl I met who’s not overly excited over diamonds. That’s pretty rare. Most girls I know would be overjoyed to receive a diamond ring or a pair of diamond earrings.”
“I don’t need to own a diamond to be happy. To me, those are just material needs. Not many people have the luxury of time to admire the beautiful stars and that is something that makes me happy. Why use material goods as a measure of happiness when there’re so many wonderful works of nature out there which is left unappreciated?”
Taeyeon opened her eyes wide, staring at the girl next to her. Her words hit Taeyeon like a ton of bricks. Was she also one of those materialistic people Sooyeon mentioned? It was true she took nature for granted. To her, success was a measure of happiness. She worked hard every single day to bring home the dough and to make a mark on the advertising world. Was there more to being successful in life? Had she forgotten to appreciate the little things in life? Had she taken her loved ones and friends for granted? She hugged her knees and glanced up into the sky, counting the twinkling diamonds that lit the night.
“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you,” Sooyeon said suddenly.
Taeyeon shook her head. “No you didn’t. I learnt to appreciate nature today, courtesy of you.”
Just then, Seungri came by and called for Taeyeon.
“Taeyeon noona, Uncle Lee wants you to join them for a mini celebratory drink to welcome you to the countryside. I think it’s just an excuse for him and the rest of the neighbours to drink.”
“Okay, I’ll be there shortly. Come along with me instead of sitting here. I don’t want to be surrounded by old uncles only,” Taeyeon joked. She tugged at Sooyeon’s arm, beckoning her to come along.
Sooyeon let out a long sigh. “Those uncles are very rowdy when they drink.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll find a way to end the whole drinking party early,” Taeyeon winked.
Sooyeon held onto Taeyeon’s hand as the latter led the way back to the BBQ.
Thankfully Taeyeon was a good drinker and could hold her alcohol well. Before most of the guests got too drunk, Mrs Hwang thanked everyone for coming and started to usher them to the door. Mrs Jung had gone home first as she had to wake up early next morning to prepare for work. Sooyeon stayed behind to help clean up the place.
“Seungri, please send Sooyeon home,” Mrs Hwang instructed.
“Mrs Hwang, I’ll send Sooyeon home instead. I’m bursting at the seams from eating and drinking too much tonight. A short walk and fresh air would sober me up,” Taeyeon offered.
“Are you sure? I don’t want to trouble you. That boy is very free. All he does is just play his computer games in his room day and night,” Mrs Hwang said.
“No worries, Sooyeon’s house is nearby. I’ll be back in a jiffy,” Taeyeon assured.
Sooyeon thanked Mrs Hwang for the wondering dinner and left the guesthouse with Taeyeon.
Walking along the path, Sooyeon shivered slightly when a gust of cold wind blew.
“Cold? Give me your hands,” Taeyeon requested.
Taeyeon removed her hands from her jacket pockets. She took Sooyeon’s hands and rubbed them gently using her palms.
“You’re warm,” Sooyeon said.
“Ah ha yes. I’ve often been told I have warm hands. Maybe it’s due to the amount of soju I drank,” Taeyeon smiled as she continued to rub Sooyeon’s hands between hers. Sooyeon looked at the baby face girl with red ears, presumably due to the soju.
“Better?” Taeyeon asked.
Sooyeon nodded. Taeyeon held Sooyeon’s hand to keep it warm and both girls continued to walk to the latter’s house.
Taeyeon released Sooyeon’s hand just as they arrived at the main gate of Sooyeon’s house.
“Thank you for walking me home,” Sooyeon said, unlocking the main door to her house.
“It’s my pleasure. The walk did me good. I don’t feel that bloated anymore,” Taeyeon said with a smile.
The two girls stood at the door, both seemed reluctant to part with each other. Taeyeon looked at Sooyeon’s lips. She felt a bit light headed. The urge to kiss her goodnight was strong.
Maybe I ought to seize the opportunity to kiss her. I can always blame it on the alcohol. Should I or should I not? Aish…what the heck! Just go with it!
Taking a step forward and closing the gap between them, Taeyeon circled her right arm behind Sooyeon and pulled her closer. Sooyeon was a bit startled by Taeyeon’s bold move as she saw Taeyeon coming closer to her. She closed her eyes and tried to relax as she felt Taeyeon’s hand sliding up her back.
Taeyeon hesitated for a split second and enveloped Sooyeon in a hug instead. Sooyeon opened her eyes when she felt Taeyeon’s warm body on hers, with arms wrapped around her back and her head next to hers. She was feeling a bit silly for thinking that Taeyeon was going to kiss her.
“Good night Sooyeon,” Taeyeon said into Sooyeon’s ear before pulling away from the hug. Taeyeon could feel her face was warm and red. She attributed it to the alcohol she drank earlier on.
Sooyeon ah, I don’t want you to think that I’m taking advantage of you by using alcohol as the reason for kissing you. No, I don’t want our first kiss to be like this if I do get a chance to kiss you. I want to be 100% sober and remember the moment forever.
“Good night Taeyeon,” Sooyeon said sofly.
Taeyeon turned around and headed for the guesthouse, humming a random K-pop tune. Sooyeon stood at the door as she watched the girl with the short ponytail walk further and further away.
Your hands are so warm. You have also warmed my heart too. Is it just wishful thinking on my part earlier on? I was hoping she would…I thought she was going to…
“Angel, you like Taeyeon right?” Sooyeon asked, patting the dog’s body as she appeared next to her owner to welcome her home.
Angel wagged her tail in wide sweeps, her short ears stood up, as if to say yes.
“I think I like her too,” Sooyeon whispered.