THREE

A week before the ball

 

Everyone was busy discussing about their plans for the upcoming ball. Some were trying to decide on what to wear, a handful was boasting about which girl they invited and others were just simply excited to be partying instead of studying.

 

Wanting to avoid the chatter about the ball, Taeyeon decided to head to the library for some peace and quiet.

 

Taeyeon was walking down a flight of steps when he saw Jessica at the corridor. He had been thinking of how to ask Jessica to the ball but he ended up having brain freeze whenever he faced her directly.

 

Today was different. Taeyeon had been reciting his lines and decided that he was going to ask Jessica to the ball. As he approached her, he noticed that she was talking to the captain of the basketball team Kikwang. She was laughing as she was listened to him talk. She seemed to be enjoying the conversation and was totally focused on Kikwang.

 

Bouts of jealousy shot through Taeyeon. He decided to turn around and walk away instead of witnessing the happy scene.

 

Over the next few days, Taeyeon saw different boys talking to Jessica. He overheard some of them asking her to the ball. Each time Jessica smiled and rejected them politely, Taeyeon would heave a sigh of relief. He knew he had to take action soon since Jessica was hot property. He never knew there were so many boys who were interested in her.

 

“Did you hear the news that Kwon Yul isn’t asking Jessica Jung to the ball this year?”

 

“Yeah, at last! It’s my chance to ask her then.”

 

“Fat hope, I am going to ask her right now!”

 

Those were the common phrases Taeyeon had been hearing. Each comment made his heart sank deeper.

 

Three days before the ball

 

Time was running out for Taeyeon. He was still unable to find the correct words and the ‘right’ time to invite Jessica to the ball. Whenever he mustered enough courage to ask Jessica, something was bound to happen which prevented him from asking.

 

Today, Taeyeon was packing the books in the cupboard in the classroom. As he was closing the cupboard’s door, he was surprised to see Jessica leaning against wall beside the cupboard.

 

Jessica had an expectant look on her face. Her arms were crossed in front of her and she had a lopsided grin.

 

“Yul told me you are looking for me.” Jessica sounded rather excited.

 

“Ah…yes…,” Taeyeon was at a loss for words at that moment. He mentally blamed Yul for taking matters in his own hands and trying to create opportunities for him without prior warning.

 

“So what’s up?”

 

“Ah…what’s up. I see….” Taeyeon was anxiously gathering his thoughts to form a proper question and that question was to ask Jessica to the ball.

 

Jessica waited patiently for Taeyeon to finish his statement. She found his stuttering amusing and the frown slowly forming on his face kind of cute.

 

“I mean, I would like to… AHHHHHH!”

 

Taeyeon jumped backwards in pain after accidentally clipping his fingers between the cupboard doors. He was distracted by Jessica and didn’t noticed his left hand was still on the edges of the door before he used his right hand to shut the door.

 

“Are you okay?” Jessica rushed to Taeyeon’s side. She lifted his red fingers up to examine them.

 

“Yeah, I am alright.” Taeyeon was putting up a cool front despite the throbbing pain in his fingers.

 

“Are you sure?” Jessica saw Taeyeon winch though the boy claimed he was fine. Taeyeon nodded vigorously. She released his hands and gave him a questionable look.

 

“Ya. I…I better head to the teachers’ room. I need to return the…the cupboard keys to Professor Choi.”

 

With that, Taeyeon hurried out of the classroom, losing a precious opportunity to invite Jessica to the ball. He berated himself for being so clumsy and for being such a wimp.

 

Two days before the ball

 

Taeyeon was playing pinball in the games room late at night. He had a lot of things in his mind and playing pinball helped him to focus. Suddenly, he heard someone approaching him from behind. He quickly turned around and spotted Jessica all dressed in pink, standing at the door. She wore a pink long sleeve hoodie with matching pink sweatpants and had her long hair tied up loosely. It was an amazing sight despite her sleepy face. The musty stale air turned into a rose scented one. It matched the girl perfectly as she was as beautiful as a rose. He wondered if he was dreaming.

 

Taeyeon leaned his back against the machine, one palm resting on the cold glass surface. Using his free hand, he gave Jessica a quick wave.

 

“It’s a surprise to see you here,” Taeyeon greeted.

 

Fanciful music from the pinball machine filled the small room.

 

“Yul told me you often come here to play when you’re stressed. You never told me about this.” Jessica came to Taeyeon’s side and peered at the machine.  

 

“It’s not that I didn’t want to tell you,” Taeyeon paused, trying to find his words. “I guess this place is a hideout for me since hardly anyone comes here. No one is interested in old school pinball anymore.”

 

Jessica took a step closer to the boy. She could inhale the citrus body wash Taeyeon used. He had been using the same scent for the past few years, refusing to try anything else.

 

I thought only older people are resistant to try new stuff. And he is forever wearing that same grey sweater. Jessica resisted a smile.  

 

At the same moment, Taeyeon felt his heart beat a little faster. They were facing each other in close proximity. As the small room was in darkness, the only lights came from the elaborately decorated pinball machine and they illuminated Jessica’s face clearly, highlighting her high cheekbones and sharp chin.

 

“Why are you so stressed up tonight?”

 

Taeyeon saw the look of concern looking up at him. He turned around and faced the machine, pressing his palms on the cold glass surface.

 

“The usual, school work and such,” Taeyeon lied. He knew Jessica wasn’t convinced by his reply but was thankful she didn’t press on.

 

Jessica faced the machine and studied its intricate design. She was pressing the side button several times, watching the flippers in the machine flip up and down.

 

“Teach me. Teach me how to play,” Jessica requested eagerly.

 

“Sure. I’ll show you how,” Taeyeon smiled gently.

 

Jessica moved aside, giving Taeyeon more space as he positioned himself in front of the machine. Dropping in a token, the machine came alive with music playing from its speakers and lights flashing around the machine. A small ball rolled onto the spring on the bottom right of the machine.

 

With a press of the side button, Taeyeon shot the ball upwards. It hit several bumpers, resulting in numerous rings and the score on the LED screen was skyrocketing. The ball hit the top of the machine and fell down, weaving its way downwards. Being a skilled player, Taeyeon deftly manipulated the ball with just the two flippers, scoring points after points with ease.

 

Jessica applauded when the ball finally dropped into the out hole at the bottom of the machine. It was game over but Taeyeon managed to break the high score on the machine.

 

“You must have been really really stressed,” Jessica joked. “You’re so good at this!”

 

A proud grin flashed across Taeyeon’s face. “Practice makes perfect.”

 

Jessica gave Taeyeon a nudge, pushing him away. “My turn.”

 

Taeyeon stepped aside, letting Jessica gain control of the flippers. As the ball shot upwards, Jessica let out a squeak and her eyes were darting all over the machine, desperately trying to prevent the ball from falling into the out hole. However, it was over in a matter of seconds.

 

Disappointed, Jessica insisted on trying again and again. Taeyeon watched from the side, amused by Jessica’s determination. After the fifth round, Jessica waved her hands in defeat and demanded Taeyeon help her.

 

Taeyeon stood behind Jessica, trying not to touch her back but it was almost impossible to do so. He placed his hands on top of Jessica’s hands lightly. The fragrant scent from Jessica’s hair and warmth from her body were extremely distracting. He wanted to hug her very badly at that moment. It was so close yet so far. He chanted to himself to focus on teaching her how to play pinball and pushed all other thoughts out of his head. It took a great deal of willpower to keep his hands on hers instead of wrapping them around her waist.

 

“Ready?” Taeyeon asked.

 

Jessica nodded vigorously, eager to start the game and not noticing how close Taeyeon was.

 

“Let’s go!” Jessica declared.

 

The ball rolled around wildly, hitting all bumpers and bouncing off the slingshots. Jessica was squealing, delighted at the score she was getting. Taeyeon was careful not to exert too much pressure lest he injured Jessica’s delicate hands.

 

When the game was over, Jessica jumped with joy. Unfortunately Taeyeon was standing too close behind her and her sudden jump caused him to lose his balance and fall backwards.  

 

The poor boy landed on his bum but was otherwise alright. Jessica gasped and quickly came to his side, muttering apologies.

 

“Are you sure you’re okay? Did you hit your head? I’m so so so sorry!”

 

Taeyeon chuckled. “I’m fine. My butt hurts a little but it would go away soon.”

 

“Thank goodness.” Jessica helped Taeyeon up. “I’m really sorry about this.”

 

“You can make it up to me by going to the ball with me.”

 

Jessica gave Taeyeon a smack on his arm noticing how cheeky the boy was. “Smooth, very smooth eh Mr Kim? Did you learn this tactic from Mr Kwon? How do you know no one has asked me yet?”

 

Taeyeon rubbed his chin. “Hmm a little owl told me you rejected several people and am waiting for a particular someone (ahem) to invite you.”

 

Pink flooded Jessica’s cheeks. “I am so going to murder Yul,” Jessica muttered to herself.

 

Taeyeon gazed at Jessica, trying to control his laughter. He was thankful he managed to ask Jessica to the ball in such a casual situation and the words came out easily.

 

Jessica marched towards the door, embarrassed her secret was revealed.

 

“Leaving already?” Taeyeon called out. He switched the pinball machine off and chased after the girl. Jessica continued walking briskly, not slowing down at all.

 

Taeyeon caught up with Jessica and stuck an arm in front of her, trying to stop her from rushing off. The girl promptly stopped in her tracks to prevent herself from bumping into Taeyeon.  

 

“Would you like to go to the ball with me?” Taeyeon asked, his tone was more serious than before.

 

The girl lowered her head, her hair covering parts of her face. Taeyeon swept the messy strands away, revealing a rather red-faced Jessica. Butterflies in his stomach went into overdrive. Both of them glanced at each other shyly; eyes meeting for a brief moment before darting away and looking back at each other again.

 

“Yes, see you there,” Jessica said softly before she swiftly turned in the opposite direction and escaped from Taeyeon. She was too shy to stay there for a second longer.

 

Taeyeon caught himself smiling in the reflection of one of the glass windows as he watched the girl leave. A huge rock had been lifted off his shoulders and he felt very relieved. He was also extremely pleased with himself and was looking forward to attending the ball.