Two days later, I opened my locker and saw a pink piece of paper lying on my baseball jersey.
Two days, forty eight hours, two thousand eight hundred and eighty minutes of waiting in anticipation, wondering if I would ever get a reply.
I broke into a wide grin as I read the note.
My fingers are alright now. Thank you for your concern. – Tiffany
She had very neat handwriting and I liked the way she curled the ends of the letters ‘F’ and ‘Y’. I kept that note safely tucked in my schedule book and headed for baseball practice. I felt proud yet silly at the same time. Proud of myself for thinking of a brilliant idea to drop a note into her locker to contact h her. Silly for taking such a long time to come up with this simple idea.
Every day, it had become a routine for me to check my locker for pink notes. I would pretend that I left something in the locker so that I could go check it out. A few of my classmates thought I had developed a form of compulsive behavior which led me to check my locker every now and then.
Over the next few months, we communicated with each other via notes in our lockers. I was thankful she had responded to my first note and slowly to my subsequent ones too. Initially it felt kind of odd since we were only physically three doors away from each other and not bothering to meet each other face to face. Perhaps it was easier to express ourselves in writing. Moreover, I liked to study her handwriting; how each letter was written, feeling the unevenness of the underside of the paper due to the pressure she exerted when writing the note.
At the beginning, Tiffany took a long time to reply my note and even if she did, it was usually only a few words. A simple note from her was enough to brighten my day. My friends told me on certain days, I looked unusually happy, sometimes to the point of grinning stupidly to myself for no reason.
From one liners to a paragraph of text. That was how much our notes grew over the span of almost nine months. The frequency of our notes also increased with time. From once a fortnight to once almost every other day. It took her two months to warm up to me but I didn’t mind at all. Nowadays, technology has desensitized us, creating an invisible barrier among human relationships. Hence, I treasure all these hand written notes from Tiffany as they contained words of sincerity.
Through our exchange of notes, we gradually came to learn more about each other and soon even became a pillar of support for each other. Tiffany would occasionally share a bit of her personal life with me such as how much she missed her older brother who was studying in the States. When Tiffany knew that I had a game coming up, she would drop a word or two of encouragement and wished me luck. Little by little, we began to step into each other’s lives.
I kept all her notes in my schedule book and soon I had a collection of notes from her. She usually wrote on pink square pieces of paper while mine were various pieces of scrap paper I could get my hands on. I reminded myself to buy some nice paper to write on but ended up being too lazy to drag myself to a bookshop to get some.
Once, the resident news broadcaster aka Sooyoung caught me sticking a note into Tiffany’s locker and she pulled me aside to interrogate me.
“Out with it, what are you doing?”
“I’m just leaving a note for her,” I said nonchalantly.
“Ooh, you two have become close eh?” Sooyoung rubbed her chin and raised her eyebrows.
“We’re schoolmates. There’s nothing wrong with writing notes to each other. I’m sure you do too.”
“Who writes notes nowadays when you have Whatsapp, Line, Kakao and many other apps? We live in an app world, Sica ya.”
“I do. Handwritten notes are personalized and sincere.”
“Oh dear, you’re becoming as weird as her. Weirdness is contagious!” Sooyoung took a step back, her face was frozen with horror. Well, she was just being dramatic but yes, I got her point.
“She isn’t weird. She’s …”
Just then, a teacher called for Sooyoung and she reluctantly had to give up questioning me for the moment. I could tell she wasn’t convinced by my replies.
“Tiffany is special.” I mumbled to myself, completing my own sentence.
Since that day, my friends heard about Tiffany and me communicating using notes and started to tease me for becoming as weird as her. Even my teammates were talking about it and giving me all sorts of nicknames. Initially, they had even tried to stalk my locker to see when Tiffany could drop a note in it. I couldn’t care less about their comments and it was my own business who I wanted to hang out with. Then again, I wasn’t hanging out with Tiffany physically. However, I did feel closer to her than some of my other classmates whom I see everyday in school.
There was a long hiatus from Tiffany and I wondered if it was because everyone was talking about us and our locker notes. At the same time, it was near the end of the year and all of us were busy preparing for our final exams. I did drop a note or two into Tiffany’s locker (when there weren’t any stalkers around), writing words of encouragement for her exams. I checked my locker every now and then but I never gotten a reply from her. My imagination would run wild at times, wondering if she was really busy with studies or if she was ignoring me. Perhaps now everyone would certify that she was weird due to her way of communication.
Unknowingly, my priorities had changed as time went on. Tiffany had become one of my top priorities at school, besides baseball.
It was a week later I realized that Tiffany was missing from school. Apparently she had not been turning up in classes and as usual, no one knew why. I was worried about her. I tried to obtain her phone number so that I could call her to find out what was wrong. No one knew what her phone number was or if she even owned a mobile phone. Through the last few notes we had exchanged, I knew that something was bothering her but she refused to say anything about it. I didn’t want to probe much since she was entitled to her own privacy. I knew she would share it with me when she felt comfortable enough to do so. There wasn’t a need to force her.
Finally, after two weeks, Tiffany appeared in school again. My classmate told me she spotted her at the school administrator’s office. I ran as fast as I could, hoping I could catch her in person.
Blessed with good luck, I managed to bump into Tiffany as she left the office. I really meant literally bumping to her. It appeared that I had the knack for crashing into her whenever we meet and this was only our second physical encounter. The file in her hand flew into the air and with my quick reflexes, I managed to grab it but the papers inside the file were scattered all over the floor.
Both of us bent down to pick up the papers. I had a rude shock when I saw the contents of the papers I was picking up. I rubbed my eyes and stared at one of the piece of paper. The subject was clear. It was a form which you filled if you wanted to quit school.
“Jessica.” I felt someone tap me on my back. I slowly rose to meet the pair of black eyes that were framed by the horn rimmed glasses.
“Tiffany, are you quitting school?!” I exclaimed in shock.
Tiffany merely nodded as she pried the piece of paper from my hand and inserted it into the file, along with the rest of the papers. She pushed the glasses up her nose and gave me a weak smile.
“But why??” My voice went up a notch. I could feel myself shaking as I uttered those words.
“Something cropped up at home. I need to go back to the States,” Tiffany said almost inaudibly, afraid to meet my eyes.
“Do you really have to go? Maybe you could go back home for a while to settle your stuff and come back here again.”
Tiffany merely nodded her head sadly.
“I… can’t stay…” Tiffany stuttered.
Those three words broke my heart. It felt like someone reaching into my body, pulling out the red organ that was pumping blood throughout my body and ripping it into tiny bits right before my eyes. At that very moment, I realized Tiffany wasn’t just Tiffany the schoolmate nor Tiffany the person whom I write notes to. I had feelings for Tiffany. Feelings which I had developed over the past ten months of communicating via notes in our lockers.
Just like in dramas, the sky suddenly turned dark and I could feel droplets of water falling on my head and my shoulders. The gloomy atmosphere added to my sadness when I learnt that Tiffany was leaving, and perhaps deciding to go without even informing me.
“Thank you, Jessica. Thank you for being my friend. I meant to leave this note for you in your locker…but since you’re here, I shall hand it to you personally.”
Tiffany pressed the familiar pink paper into my hand, curled my fingers around it so that the paper wouldn’t drop from my palm. Then with a slight bow, she turned around and left. I was frozen in shock and wasn’t able to react. Everything felt so surreal at that moment. It wasn’t till the rain started to pour that I realized I had been standing in the same spot for the past few minutes, watching Tiffany disappear from my life.
Rain was mixed with tears that were flowing down my face. I couldn’t tell them apart. With a heavy heart, I headed to my classroom and by now it was empty. Everyone must have gone home in order to avoid being caught in the rain.
I dried myself with a towel from my locker and sat down at my seat to read the note Tiffany wrote.
“This is the last time you’re going to hear from me. Thank you for being so helpful and for being so nice to me for the past year. Goodbye.”
Once again, tears started to flow freely. My heart was as empty as the locker that was three doors away.
A year later on the last day of the school term…
Everyone was busy hugging each other and signing autographs on each other’s uniform or notebooks. We had finally graduated from high school and it was a moment to remember. We would be going to different colleges while some of us would be heading overseas to further our studies. Dad offered me an option to study in the States and to be honest I was tempted to do so but I felt I wasn’t prepared for it yet. Baseball was still a huge part of my life and I would want to continue playing before I enter university.
Just two weeks ago, I was studying at the library, hoping to soak in the ‘study vibes’ from everyone there and also get into the mood of preparing for the exams. Midway through reading my thick highlighted notes, I decided to take a break and went for a walk around the library. Somehow, I ended up in the geography section. I slid my hands along the numerous books that were neatly placed on the shelf and stopped at one particular book.
The Fundamentals of Physical Geography
I flipped to the back of the book and saw the torn corner of the last page. I grinned to myself as I fondly recall the first note I ever wrote to Tiffany.
“Hey Tiffany, this is the girl who crashed into your locker and caused a dent in it. I’m sorry for injuring your fingers in the process. I hope they’re fine else you’re free to squash mine using my locker door as revenge. By the way, my locker number is 418 in case you decide to reply me via a note. – Jessica”
After the graduation party at the school hall, I went back to my classroom to collect my stuff. I was among the last few students who were still milling around the classroom. I took a last glance at my classroom which I had spent four years of my life. Walking out to the corridor where my locker was, I couldn’t help but smile when I stood in front of it. My locker brought back fond memories of the time spent in school; memories of me getting into the school’s baseball team and more importantly, memories of exchanging notes with Tiffany. A warm feeling filled my heart when I thought about Tiffany. I wondered how she was doing in the States.
When I opened my locker to empty the remaining stuff into my bag, I noticed a pink slip of paper resting neatly on the top of my dirty track shoes. My heart skipped a beat and I blinked twice to make sure that my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me.
Reaching my hand out slowly, I picked the piece of paper up to read.
“Meet me at the waterfront fountain at 10pm tonight.”
There wasn’t a name but the familiar scribbling on the note revealed its writer.
I hurried home, showered and ate my dinner at lightning speed. My parents were wondering where I was heading to since it was so late at night. I lied to them that I was meeting up with my baseball teammates for a celebratory party at a restaurant.
The thought of seeing Tiffany again after a year made me feel warmer than on a summer’s night out. Yes it was cheesy but that was how I felt. My heart was beating faster with each step I took as I approached the fountain in the cool winter’s night.
I saw someone sitting on a wooden bench that was facing the waterfront. The person had long brown curls and was wearing a thick fur coat. I looked around the area and saw no one else except that girl who was sitting there. Fearing that I may approach the wrong person, I tried to peek at the person from afar.
The girl was reading a book, illuminated by the street lamp that was beside the bench. Her face was partially covered by her long brown curls, hence I wasn’t able to see her face clearly.
When you’re engulfed in flames by David Sedaris.
I knew it had to be her when I saw the author of the book.
I made my approach quietly, not wanting to raise her attention. Stopping in front of her, I cleared my throat in an unusually loud manner. That got her attention.
There wasn’t a pair of horn rimmed glasses on her nose anymore. I could see her black round eyes better and her long brown hair famed her pale face. The corners of her lips pulled up into a smile as she rose to meet me eye to eye.
“Hello Jessica. Glad you could make it.”
That voice. That same husky voice that greeted me when I was lying in the bed at the sick bay two years ago.
“It’s good to see you again, Tiffany.”
Tiffany smiled. It was the first time I saw her smile so brightly. Her cheekbones were well-defined and her eyes turned into inverted crescents. In fact, her smile could light up the whole street on this cold winter’s night.
We stood there, looking at each other for a while. I pulled my scarf down so that she could take a better look at my face. She giggled when she saw me doing that and I wondered why.
Tiffany had become my top priority in life since we started to exchange notes. Baseball and studies had been relegated to second and third place respectively. I knew what I had to do.
I stepped forward, wrapped my arms around Tiffany’s back and enveloped her in a hug. Moments later, I felt a pair of arms on my back. I tightened my grip around her and rubbed her back.
“I miss you. I miss you a lot, Tiffany MY Hwang,” I whispered into her ear.
I felt a nod on my shoulder. “Me too.”
When we finally released each other, we couldn’t help but break into girlish giggles. I asked if she would like to adjourn to the café nearby to escape from the cold. She nodded in agreement. I slipped my hand into hers and held it tight as I led the way to the café.
As I took the first few steps, I could feel Tiffany’s fingers squeezing between the gaps of my hand and soon our fingers were intertwined. With that simple gesture, I knew how she felt about me and I was absolutely delighted.
We chatted while walking towards the café. Tiffany said her family problems were resolved and that she was back here to study. Fortunately she had been a hardworking student and was able to pass her exams with grades enough to qualify for college in Seoul.
“I’ve been dying to know, what does MY stand for?” I asked, curious about the initials in her name.
“Mi Young. Hwang Mi Young. That’s my Korean name. It sounds pretty traditional eh?” Tiffany replied sweetly. “What about the SY in your name?”
I paused in my steps and turned around to face Tiffany. I released my hand from hers and I could feel that she didn’t want to let go. There was a perplexed look on her face.
“Soo Yeon. I realized we haven’t been formally introduced. Jessica Soo Yeon Jung from Class 4A. Pleased to meet you,” I said in a formal tone of voice, extending my hand for a handshake. That made her laugh. In one night, I saw her bright smile and heard her melodious laughter, how lucky I was! I was sure there would be more of such to come.
We held hands again as we continued our walk towards the café. Suddenly, we saw a few specks of white flakes falling from the sky.
“Tiffany, look up! It’s snowing! It’s the first snow!” I exclaimed excitedly, waving my other arm around.
Both of us stood in the middle of the walkway and looked up into the dark sky. Soon, more and more white flakes fell and landed onto our heads and coats. We released our hands and were skipping around with joy as we tried to catch the tiny snowflakes that were falling from the sky.
“Tiffany Hwang, my Hwang! Shall we get acquainted all over again?” I yelled, holding her hands as we skipped around in circles.
Tiffany nodded merrily with a sweet smile on her face.
“Let’s do it in a café. It’s way too cold to get to know each other out here,” Tiffany said with a laugh.
I read somewhere that first snow was the perfect beginning to the start of a lasting relationship. This was definitely the start of mine.
= The End =