TWO

It was the morning of the start of the new semester at school. The teenagers were rushing around the house, washing up and getting dressed. Late comers were punished by cleaning the attic in an old and creepy tower, something no one looked forward to.

 

Taeyeon and Jessica happened to bump into each other at the toilet. Due to time constraint, they had to brush their teeth together in the confined space instead of waiting for one person to finish first. After Taeyeon rinsed his mouth, Jessica noticed a spot of toothpaste on his chin and casually wiped it off with her finger.

 

As if lightning struck his head, Taeyeon felt a jolt of electric current running through his body. He hesitated for a moment before thanking Jessica and hurrying out of the toilet. While he was dressing up in the room, Taeyeon could still feel the spot on his chin where Jessica had touched.

 

Since that night in front of the fireplace, Taeyeon found himself looking at Jessica more frequently than normal. Usually he would be engrossed in reading a novel while waiting for class to start. A row of seats away, Yul would be chatting merrily with Jessica and their classmates. However, Taeyeon couldn’t focus on reading and was peeking at Jessica from behind his book.

 

In the past, Taeyeon never once gave thought to Jessica’s appearance. Now, he started to notice things about Jessica that were starting to peak his interest more so than they had ever done before. Things such as how the ends of Jessica’s brown hair end just below her shoulders, how glossy her lips were, how her brows would furrow whenever she was in deep thought, the way she held her chopsticks and many more. He wondered why he hadn’t noticed them before. He found his eyes following wherever Jessica went and lingering a little longer.

 

In the beginning, Taeyeon thought no one noticed his sudden strange behaviour. However, it appeared to have caught the attention of his best friend Yul during a potions class.

 

“Taeng,” Yul called out in a hush tone. “Taeng!”

 

Yul gave Taeyeon a jab and the latter let out a squeak.

 

“What’s up?” Taeyeon growled, irritated by what Yul did.

 

“What’s up? I should be asking you that question. You seemed very distracted lately. Anything wrong?”

 

Taeyeon shook his head. “Nothing.”

 

“You know who to look for when you want to talk about it. I’m always here for you.” Yul patted Taeyeon’s back.

 

Taeyeon nodded awkwardly. A sense of guilt pooled in his stomach. His best friend was concerned about him yet he couldn’t tell him why.

 

It didn’t help that the following day, Jessica pulled Taeyeon to lunch. Yul was at track and field practice so he couldn’t join them. They sat opposite each other at the table but Taeyeon couldn’t look straight at Jessica.

 

“Is there something bothering you?” Jessica asked. “You can tell me.”

 

Taeyeon sighed inwardly. He didn’t know the real reason why he was getting all the strange feelings towards Jessica, so he wasn’t able to tell her anything.  

 

“No, I’m fine. Thanks for asking.” Taeyeon hurriedly jabbed at the cheese sausage on the plate and bit a part of it. He kept his head low and pretended to be focusing on his lunch though it was a really boring ensemble of bangers and mash.

 

Suddenly a cold hand grabbed Taeyeon’s wrist.

 

“Something is bothering you, spit it out Taeng,”Jessica demanded.

 

Taeyeon froze for a moment when he looked up and saw a pair of dark brown eyes staring at him with concern.

 

“I am just tired. Been staying up late reading and memorising formulas in potions.” It was a half truth. Taeyeon hadn’t been able to sleep properly so he made good use of his time to read his potions textbook since he was quite weak in that subject.

 

Jessica studied the blonde’s face and decided to accept his reply though she had the feeling it wasn’t the whole truth.

 

“If you need any help with homework, let me know,” Jessica offered as she released her grip from Taeyeon’s wrist.

 

Taeyeon nodded, averting Jessica’s gaze. “Sure.”

 

By stroke of luck, Jessica happened to be busy preparing for an inter-class potions quiz. This meant that she wasn’t able to spend much time hanging out with the guys. Taeyeon was a little relieved as he wanted to get away from Jessica, foolishly thinking that those strange feelings would go away. In addition, he kept himself busy playing pinball in the games room whenever he was free so that he wouldn’t have crazy thoughts in his head. The games room was tucked away in one of the towers, near Taeyeon’s room. It was rarely used and resembled a small storeroom which housed an old pinball machine and two cupboards of old sporting equipment. Taeyeon was delighted when he chanced upon his hidden find and would often visit the room to destress or whenever he wanted to be alone.

 

The following week, Professor Choi, their homeroom tutor, announced there would be a masquerade ball on the first of next month. Everyone cheered loudly. It was a good opportunity for seniors and juniors to interact since they would be dressed up and hidden by the mask on their faces. The rookies, namely the first year students, often were too shy to socialise with the loud and rowdy seniors.

 

After class, Taeyeon stayed back to help Professor Choi prepare some notes for next day’s class.

 

When he was done, he headed out to look for Yul, intending to grab dinner with him. He saw Yul from afar, chatting with a slim girl who had jet black long hair.

 

“Tiffany, isn’t it a shame that our school has a masquerade ball?” Yul sighed as he shook his head slowly.

 

“Why do you say that?” Tiffany asked.  

 

Yul leaned closer and said in a low tone, “Because you’re too beautiful to be hiding behind a mask,”

 

Tiffany’s face turned pink instantly as she let out a cute giggle.

 

“You’re funny,” Tiffany smiled, her eyes turning into crescents.

 

“And you are very smooth, Mr Kwon.” Taeyeon grabbed Yul by his robe and pulled him away from the girl.

 

Yul frowned. “Hey, I am practicing my pickup lines in preparation for the ball.”

 

“Aren’t you inviting Sica?” Taeyeon assumed because it had been the case for the past two years.

 

Yul shook his head and wagged his finger in front of Taeyeon. “Oh no, not this year. I want to look for greener pastures. There are sooooo many cute girls in first year. I can’t wait to meet them!”

 

Taeyeon gave Yul a hard smack on the back, causing the tanned teenager to yelp.

“I told Sica about my plans and she is cool with it. She’s up for grabs!”

 

Alarm bells went off in Taeyeon’s head immediately.

 

“What?!”

 

“You heard me the first time. It would be such a good chance for her to hang out with someone new instead of us. Maybe a tall dark handsome wizard will sweep her off her feet,” Yul said lyrically.

 

Noooo, she can’t!  A voice in Taeyeon’s head yelled. The words almost rolled off his tongue.

 

“Ah, speak of the devil. I’ll be off for my track and field practice session!” Yul called out as he skipped towards the lockers. He flashed a mischievous grin at Jessica before disappearing behind the row of lockers.

 

Taeyeon stopped in his tracks when he saw Jessica approaching. His eyes wandered from her face, down her neck and stopped at her chest. The blouse underneath her robe seemed to be revealing more skin than usual today.

 

“Hey,” Jessica greeted.

 

“Hi,” came a simple reply.

 

There was an awkward pause.

 

“Been busy?” Taeyeon asked randomly, trying to prevent the awkwardness from building up.

 

Jessica furrowed her brows and waved her potions textbook in front of Taeyeon. “In case you’ve forgotten, I am preparing for the inter-class potions quiz.”

 

All of a sudden, Jessica became aware that Taeyeon was staring at her chest instead of the book. She try to adjust her blouse discreetly while using her book to distract Taeyeon.

 

Taeyeon hastily looked away, embarrassed at being caught red handed for ogling at his best friend’s chest. He was trying to stem the blood that was rushing to his cheeks.

 

“Sorry it slipped my mind,” Taeyeon said sheepishly, ruffling his hair.

 

“You seem busy yourself. I hardly see you around lately. What’s up?”

 

“Me? Nothing much, just doing some extra reading.”

 

“Oh.” Jessica wasn’t quite convinced with that answer but didn’t want to pursue any further because Taeyeon seemed unwilling to say anything else.

 

Another pause.

 

“Lunch?” Taeyeon missed eating lunch with Jessica. He had been trying too hard to keep his feelings under control but it seemed to be failing.

 

The corners of Jessica’s lips lifted up and a bright smile appeared instantly.

 

“Okay,” Jessica answered enthusiastically.

 

Taeyeon went to queue up for food while Jessica sat at the table. She watched the well-mannered blonde bow to the seniors and greet the juniors in the queue. Though he came from a single parent family (his father had passed on due to an accident at work), his mother taught him well. She found it amazing that Taeyeon wasn’t attached yet and wondered if he ever took an interest in anyone at the moment.

 

“You’re smiling. Is there something funny on my face?” Taeyeon asked as he set the food on the table.

 

“I’m smiling because it has been ages since we had lunch together.”

 

Taeyeon exclaimed innocently, “We just had lunch with Yul three days ago! And you had lunch with Yul for the past two days.”

 

Jessica reached across the table and flicked Taeyeon’s forehead.

 

“We, as in both of us.”

 

Taeyeon almost melted at the sight of Jessica’s smile and comment. His heart warmed up instantly. Subconsciously, he mirrored her smile.

 

Soon, they were chatting like they used to, all the awkwardness evaporated into the thin air.

 

As they were walking back to their respective rooms, they saw a huge moving poster in the hallway. It featured details of the masquerade ball with their disciplinary mistress Kim The Great beckoning them to join.

 

“Gosh, I wondered who got her to be the poster girl. It feels as if we will get demerit points if we don’t turn up,” Taeyeon lamented.

 

“I heard she wanted to be in the poster so she insisted the arts club add her picture in.”

 

“She must have gave the arts club a tough time since she is extremely particular about how she looks.”

 

“Yup. I guess so.”

 

“Thankfully it turned out good.”

 

Taeyeon sensed that Jessica looking at him and turned to face her. Jessica pursed her lips, as if she wanted to say something but no words were spoken.

 

“Well, it’s getting late. We should head to our rooms. Good night, Sica.”

 

“Night Taeng.” Disappointment was apparent in Jessica’s voice. She had expected Taeyeon to start a conversation about the ball so that she could see if he was planning to ask anyone. Every year, the trio would hang out together but this year, Yul announced he had his own plans, leaving Taeyeon and Jessica  by themselves. She was secretly hoping he would invite her to the ball but he hadn’t said anything so far. She was certain Yul told him about his plans and that she was alone.

 

Taeyeon collapsed onto his bed when he stepped in. He saw Yul’s head hanging upside down from the edge of the upper bunk bed.

 

“How was it?” Yul asked excitedly, beaming from ear to ear.

 

“How what?” Taeyeon asked, puzzled by Yul’s question.

 

“Dumbo, did you ask her to the ball?”

 

“No,” Taeyeon answered softly.

 

“Why not?” Yul’s voice went a tone higher, waving his arms in the air.

 

Taeyeon shook his head sadly. “I can’t.”

 

The next instant, Yul swung onto Taeyeon’s bed and sat cross legged on the bed.

 

“What do you mean you can’t?” Yul stared at his best friend.

 

Taeyeon sat upright but avoided eye contact with Yul. “I just can’t.”

 

Yul studied his best friend’s face closely. “You like her.”

 

Taeyeon’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets as he involuntarily  let out an audible gasp.

 

“Yeah, you do. Your expression says it all. Be a man, admit it,” Yul declared.

 

Taeyeon swallowed hard. He didn’t know if he should admit or just keep his feelings to himself. The three of them were good friends and he wanted them to remain that way forever.

 

“Taeng, I can read you like an open book by now. It doesn’t help that you’ve been behaving oddly around her recently which fuel my suspicions. I wanted to ask you about it but decided that you will tell me when you’re ready.”

 

Taeyeon’s face turned as red as tomato. He was embarrassed at getting caught red-handed and forced to face his true feelings.

 

“It’s just a small crush, it will pass.” Taeyeon’s voice was as soft as a church mouse. His eyes darted always from Yul as he desperately tried to prevent his cheeks from turning red. “I don’t want to jeopardise our friendship.”

 

Yul grabbed Taeyeon by sides of Taeyeon’s face always turned his head back to face him. He squashed Taeyeon’s cheeks, causing the latter to have duck lips. Taeyeon tried to struggle to break free but gave up as he knew Yul was much stronger than him.

 

“Listen, I am more than happy if Sica goes out with you. At least I know you’re a good guy. I’ll feel safe,” Yul said in a firm voice that surprised Taeyeon. It was rare to see this joker being so serious.

 

Taeyeon blinked twice. All the while, he was worried about how Yul would feel if he told him about his feelings for Jessica but his worries were unfounded. It seemed Yul genuinely didn’t mind. He released his hands from Taeyeon’s face.

 

Taeyeon merely sighed. He didn’t know what to say.

 

“Should I tell her about your feelings?” Yul offered.

 

Taeyeon’s eyes widened in shock and shook his head vigorously.

 

“I don’t wait to spoil our friendship.”

 

“That’s the lamest excuse I ever heard.”

 

“It’s the truth,” Taeyeon exclaimed defensively.

 

“Well, you wouldn’t know how she truly feels until you ask her. Keeping your feelings bottled inside of you isn’t going to help unveil the truth. I bet she does feel something for you too.”

 

Taeyeon was surprised at Yul’s remark. “What do you mean?”

 

Yul smacked his own forehead. “Oh my, why are my two intelligent friends suddenly so dumb when it comes to love.”

 

Taeyeon’s face turned a shade redder than before. His heart was beating faster.

 

Is Yul saying that Sica may have the same type of feelings for me?

 

Taeyeon grabbed Yul’s arms. “Did Sica say anything to you?”

 

Yul shook Taeyeon’s hands away. “No but I can tell. The signs are so obvious!”

 

“What signs? Tell me!” Taeyeon grabbed Yul’s sleeves and shook them violently, demanding an answer. He was getting excited at the thought of finding out that his feelings might be reciprocated.

 

“That’s for me to know and you to find out. I’m done talking for the day, feeling damn sleepy.” With that, Yul swung up to the upper bunk bed, leaving a befuddled Taeyeon alone in his own bed.  

 

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