Starlight

It was 6pm but Lee Soonkyu, the principal, was still going on about work flow processes, developing critical thinking skills, disciplinary issues and other matters for the past two hours. At times, someone would excuse himself or herself to go to the washroom. Occasionally a teacher would stifle a yawn and another would stretch his or her arms to stay focused during the meeting.

Jessica was thankful for her current seat in the meeting room. First, it was towards the back and she could check her Instagram feed and Facebook every now and then to cure her boredom. Second and more important reason, she had direct view of her crush who was sitting just two rows in front of her. She enjoyed looking at him, dreaming about the things she would say to him or the things they would do if they went out on a date.

Kim Taeyeon, a fair and skinny bespectacled young man who joined the school at the start of the year as an Arts and Math teacher. Sooyoung, Jessica’s good friend at work, couldn’t understand what Jessica saw in him. Other than his fair and smooth complexion which made him look much younger than his actual age, he was rather plain and ordinary.

“He treats his palm as his notepad! It looks like a cute tattoo!” Jessica often said. Taeyeon had the quirky habit of scribbling quick reminders on his palm instead of scraps of paper. Apparently he lost an important scrap of paper before and decided that it was almost impossible to lose his palm, hence he used it for quick notes and reminders. At least that was what Kim Hyoyeon, the Dance and English teacher, told her. Hyoyeon was the ‘go-to woman’ if you want the latest information. She was the most sociable person in the whole building and perhaps the most nosey as well.

“He looks really good in plaid shirts!” Jessica squealed, noticing the man as he walked out of the teacher’s room.

“That’s so boring. He looks like he’s wearing a uniform to work everyday, just in different colours.”

“Intelligent people do not spend a lot of time deciding what to wear. Simon Cowell and Steve Jobs are always seen in their plain black tee!” Jessica defended.

Sooyoung would just roll her eyes at her good friend’s lame reasons. It was a crush afterall and there wasn’t any reason needed to explain a crush.

One day, Jessica almost fell out with Sooyoung because of Taeyeon. Sooyoung noticed the Chemistry teacher staring at her phone with a silly grin. Curious, she rolled over and snatched it away from Jessica.

“Taengoo? Who is Taengoo?” Sooyoung furrowed her brows. “There’s even a heart emoticon next to the name.”

“Give it back to me!” Jessica tried to snatch her phone from Sooyoung but she was no match for the latter’s height and long arms.

“Oh. My. God! You actually gave him a nickname already? Oh so sweet, Sica. So so sweet,: Sooyoung exclaimed before bursting out into a boisterous laughter. “You think you’re a teenager eh? Puppy love indeed.”

Jessica was utterly embarrassed at being caught red-handed. With the advent of technology, using whatsapp as part of work communications was a common sight. That was how she obtained Taeyeon’s number effortlessly. She had been wondering what to name him.

Kim Tae Yeon

Taeyeon

My love, Taeyeon

Taengoo

The heart emoticon was the finishing touch just before Sooyoung seized her phone.

“Oh come on, just ask him out for coffee!”

“Are you nuts? It’s so random!” Jessica tried to snatch her phone back but the tall woman was making it very difficult to do so.

“I’ll help you.”

With deft fingers, Sooyoung typed out a quick message and pressed the ‘send’ button before returning the phone to Jessica.

Jessica turned pale when she saw the message.

“Hi hi, I’ll be going to Coffeesmith in a while, shall we meet for coffee? <smiley face>”

“Sooyoung, you’re an idiot!” A thick book went flying in Sooyoung’s direction.

“Guys appreciate a confident woman, you know. Anyway, it’s just coffee. There’s nothing wrong with colleagues having coffee together.”

Right at that moment, Taeyeon walked into the office. He happened to stop next to Jessica’s cubicle and was frowning at something.

Jessica, thinking that he was reading the message on his phone, quickly stood up and clarified.

“Taeyeon, I, errr, I sent the message to the wrong person. I… I meant to sent it to Hyoyeon, Kim Hyoyeon but I accidentally pressed your name instead,” Jessica explained hurriedly.

Taeyeon looked at Jessica, puzzled by the woman’s random explanation.

“You sent a message to my palm?” Taeyeon sniggered, raising his left palm to Jessica. “Wow.”

Jessica realized that Taeyeon was reading a message on his palm and not his phone. His hand was obstructed by the chest-height partition when he stopped next to her and in her anxiety, she was merely focused on clearing the air about her whatsapp message.

The message on Taeyeon’s palm was a reminder to buy coffee.

“Ah, I’m supposed to buy coffee for Yul. I should have written his name as part of the reminder. Would you like one too?”

Taeyeon’s dimpled smile was making Jessica’s butterflies in her stomach go crazy. Plus, he had just asked her if she wanted coffee.

“That’s perfect timing! Sica is planning to go Coffeesmith after she is done with work. The both of you can go there together!” Sooyoung blabbered excitedly.

Jessica’s heart was beating insanely as she waited with bated breath for Taeyeon’s reply.

“I don’t mind going to Coffeesmith. I’ll be at my desk marking the assignments. Call me when you’re done.” Taeyeon flashed a soft smile before walking to his desk.

Sooyoung gave Jessica a smack on her back to wake the latter out of her daze.

“You scored a date with your Taengoo!”

“You’re coming along with me!” Jessica insisted. “He’s coming because he thinks both of us are going for coffee. Moreover, you’re the culprit who texted him using my phone.”

Sooyoung suddenly looked at her watch and hurried back to her desk. “Oops, I forgotten I have a manicure appointment and I need to leave soon.”

“What? Since when?” Jessica exclaimed, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

“I will book one right now. Enjoy your date,” Sooyoung sniggered.

An hour later, Taeyeon was a little surprised to see Jessica alone as he was expecting Sooyoung to join. Jessica explained that Sooyoung had a manicure appointment and apologised on her behalf. Jessica was worried Taeyeon may change his mind about going to the cafe. Thankfully Taeyeon smiled and gestured for Jessica to lead the way before he joined her side.

The advantage of being colleagues was that it was easy to start a conversation about work instead of trying to find a common topic to talk about. The initial awkwardness faded away and soon they were chatting comfortably. Taeyeon paid for Jessica’s iced coffee and they settled at a table by the window. Jessica learnt that he was older than her by three years in spite of his youthful looks.

Unfortunately the ringing of Taeyeon’s phone signaled the end of their short conversation. Kwon Yul had called, reminding Taeyeon about his coffee. They bidded farewell at the cafe and headed separate ways; Taeyeon to school and Jessica to the bus stop. Jessica couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear as she strolled to the bus stop, thinking about their unofficial coffee date.

=/=/=/=/=

Dark clouds loomed as Jessica stepped out of the school gate. She meant to leave thirty minutes earlier but was too engrossed in marking her scripts until she lost sight of time. She hurried to the traffic light, hoping she could make it to the bus stop in time before it rained. Unfortunately, the first splatter of rain arrived when Jessica was waiting for the lights to turn green. She quickly rummaged her bag for her pink umbrella. She paced around the traffic light, nervously twisting the strap of her tote bag. A few seconds later, the green man appeared. Jessica quickly scrambled across the busy road and used her palm to shield her face from the increasingly heavy downpour.

The moment she stepped onto the pavement after crossing the traffic light, Jessica bumped into someone. To be exact, her lipstick almost left a mark on the person’s white tee. Without looking up, Jessica muttered a sorry and tried to get around the person but the person was constantly blocking her way. Irritated, Jessica looked up, intending to scream at the person but she realised the rain had stopped.

As Jessica slowly looked up, she became aware of the scent of a familiar cologne.

This guy smells so good. Hee hee, he uses the same cologne as Taengoo.

The moment she met the person eye to eye, Jessica let out a squeak. It was a face whom she loved to look at and whose face appeared in her mind just a second ago. Warmth rushed to her cheeks instantly and she quickly looked away, afraid her crush would notice her reddening face.

“Let’s hurry to the bus stop before the rain gets heavier,” Taeyeon urged as he held his bright blue hoodie above their heads.

Jessica nodded and both of them scuttered to the bus stop. The bus stop was packed with people seeking shelter from the rain. While Taeyeon was wringing the water out of his hoodie, Jessica couldn’t keep her eyes off his fair and……toned arms. She was a little surprised seeing the muscles flex as Taeyeon twisted the hoodie.

By reflex, Jessica’s mind directed her eyes to land on Taeyeon’s chest. His blue plaid shirt and white tee were wet from the rain and some portions of the tee were sticking to his body. She spotted a hint of pectoral muscles that were partially hidden by the thick strap on Taeyeon’s messenger bag. She heard Taeyeon had been hitting the gym since two months ago and it was clear that his efforts were showing. It was extremely tempting to reach out to touch the work of art in front of her, though it was still work in progress. Ultimately, she forcefully twisted her head away from Taeyeon to prevent pervy thoughts from clouding her mind.

“I hope you didn’t get too drenched,” Taeyeon folded his hoodie across the top of his messenger bag. It was still too wet to stuff into his bag.

Jessica looked at the floor, unable to lift her head up due to her reddening face. “Thanks for shielding me from the rain.”

“You’re welcome. Oh shoot, the reminder I scribbled on my palm is smudged!”

Jessica looked up and saw Taeyeon peering at the black mess on his left palm. The corners of Jessica’s lips curled up involuntarily as she fought back hard not to laugh but it was no use. She erupted in laughter, covering her mouth with her palms.

“Hey, this isn’t funny you know,” Taeyeon sulked as he tried to decipher the ink blobs on his palm.

“So-sorry. I don’t mean to laugh but it’s quite amusing,” Jessica apologised in between her laughs. “I keep telling you not to scribble important notes on your palms or arms but you refuse to change your habit. Gosh, some day you’re going to get ink poisoning! I hope you’ve learnt your lesson.”

Taeyeon bowed and spoke in a monotonous tone. “Yes Jung seonsaeng-nim, I learnt my lesson.”

Jessica laughed. “Good to know, Kim seonsaeng-nim.”

Three days later, Taeyeon found a limited edition Harry Potter Moleskine notebook on his desk. A black leather pen holder was strapped onto the notebook’s cover and there was a matt black pen with his name engraved on it. He wondered who left the gift on the table. Picking it up, he saw a neatly folded post-it stuck to the back of the notebook.

Taeyeon let out a chuckle when he read the note.

Your students need you. Here’s something to prevent you from dying of ink poisoning. Hope you’ll put it to good use. – Jung seonsaeng-nim

Jessica must have noticed the Gryffindor banner hanging from his partition and small Harry Potter figurine tucked at the corner of his desk. He smiled to himself as he tucked the gift into his messenger bag.

=/=/=/=/=

“Have you bought your bikini?” Sooyoung casually asked, albeit rather loudly. She was hoping to catch Taeyeon’s attention. The art teacher’s desk was two rows away from theirs. Peeking above the partition, she noticed Taeyeon stopped writing.

“Nooo,” Jessica grunted, glaring at Sooyoung. The crimson on her face was deepening.

“I heard floral prints are really popular lately. Light blue suits you best,” Sooyoung sniggered. Taeyeon’s favourite colour was light blue and it was a surefire way to get his attention.

“Ya, Choi Sooyoung! Mark your books, you’re way behind schedule!”

Jessica smacked Sooyoung on her back and pushed the taller woman back to her seat.

A few minutes later, Taeyeon walked past their aisle and commented, “I totally agree with Soo. With your fair complexion, you would definitely look good in that colour.”

Jessica wanted to melt into a puddle and evaporate into thin air. On one hand, she was thrilled her crush liked that colour. On the other hand, it also meant that he was really looking forward to seeing her in a bikini and she was utterly embarrassed by that thought.

The day of the retreat had arrived. Teachers and staff boarded a coach and headed for a beach resort which would be their home for the next three days. The new principal, Lee Soonkyu, wanted to take the opportunity to bond with her staff and also to share her vision for the school. There would be team building activities to get everyone on their feet, as well as, pampering treats like massages.

Jessica took the window seat. She waved to Sooyoung as the tall woman boarded but the latter intentionally took a seat in the next row. Sooyoung leaned over, between the gaps of the seats and whispered, “Good chance for Taeyeon to sit next to you since he hasn’t boarded the coach yet. Don’t worry, I’ll help you.”

With bated breath, Jessica waited patiently for her crush to board. She saw Taeyeon helping the staff to load some bags onto the coach before coming up. When Taeyeon’s head appeared right at the front of the coach, Jessica suddenly turned into jelly. She was too nervous and shy to call out to him.

Just as Sooyoung was about to wave and signal to the empty seat to Taeyeon, another male voice shouted Taeyeon’s name.

“Taeng, here!”

It was Kwon Yul, the physical education and mathematics teacher. He pointed to the empty seat next to him and gestured for Taeyeon to join him. It so happened that the seat was just across the aisle from Jessica.

Taeyeon and Jessica’s eyes met. His eyes sparkled and the corners of his lips were upturned in a bright smile, leaving her momentarily breathless. She realised how handsome he looked without his glasses. For the first time, she noticed how toned his arms were. Usually he wore long sleeves at work, occasionally folding his sleeves till his elbows. Today, he wore a polo tee which exposed a lot of skin. He kept his eyes on her a little longer and she held his gaze. Then someone jumped into the seat next to Jessica, interrupting the brief romantic moment.

It was Sooyoung. She had slipped into the empty seat next to Jessica, seeing that there was zero possibility of Taeyeon sitting next to the Chemistry teacher.

Throughout the journey, Sooyoung was merrily chatting with Taeyeon and Yul. At times, she was so engrossed in the conversation that she forgotten about her seat partner. Jessica didn’t mind as she took the opportunity to learn more about Taeyeon’s interests through Sooyoung’s clever interrogation.

During the retreat, everyone was split up into groups and given different projects to work on. Unfortunately Taeyeon and Jessica didn’t end up in the same group. This meant that they had little opportunities to meet until the second day where everyone gathered to do a presentation on the project they were assigned.

At the end of two days of working on projects, everyone gathered at the function room at 8pm for a party. A buffet spread and hip music welcomed the staff as they entered the room. It was a time for everyone to let loose after working hard.

Sooyoung immediately parked herself near the buffet line. Sharing a table with her was Jessica. Hyoyeon was with them for a brief moment before the dancing queen got on her feet to boogie at the dancefloor.

Jessica wasn’t too keen on socialising and drinking till she dropped. Moreover the loud music was giving her a headache. Preferring fresh air, she went outside to take a breather. It was cooling despite being summer. The function room was facing the sea and there was a gentle breeze blowing. She sat on the bench facing the sea and sipped on the glass of red wine in her hand.

While Jessica was browsing through Instagram (which was filled with photos and videos of her colleagues taking wefies and dancing), her phone rang. She almost dropped the phone seeing the name flashing on the screen.

Taengoo <heart emoticon>

Before she could answer the call, the line was cut off.

“So there you are.” A firm but gentle voice called out. Jessica hurriedly hid the phone behind her back, hoping Taeyeon wasn’t able to read what was on her screen when her phone rang.

Taeyeon wore Jessica’s favourite smile on his face as he approached her.

“You’re looking for me?” Jessica sounded rather bewildered, pointing to herself.

Taeyeon nodded with a smirk. “Yes, you.”

He stood in front of her and she naturally rose to meet him face to face. He wore an orange short sleeve shirt with his usual white tee underneath. His khaki bermudas and blue slippers revealed his fair and toned legs.

Gosh he smells so good. Oh, those muscles are gorgeous, not too chunky, just the perfect size.  I wonder how his muscles feel like. Jessica squealed inwardly while she tried to maintain a straight face.

“Sooyoung told me you’re looking for me but she didn’t know where you went. Rather than searching all over the place, I figured a phone call would be the most direct.”

“Sooyoung said … I’m looking for you … ?” Jessica stuttered.

“Ya, she told me you like star gazing and since I do know a little about astronomy, I’m more than happy to share my knowledge with you.” The corners of Taeyeon’s eyes crinkled as he smiled. “Moreover, I’m not a fan of parties. They give me headaches.”

“Oh, me too!” Jessica burst out instantly, clapping her hands.

They broke out in laughter, having found something common.

Taeyeon suggested they walk along the path, away from the function room and the bright lights so that they could get a better look at the night sky. Taeyeon shared about his knowledge of the brightest stars visible in the night sky such as Polaris and Sirius. Sirius was also known as the Dog Star, hence the reason why Sirius Black, a character in Harry Potter, transformed into a dog instead of other animals.

Jessica was amazed at the passion Taeyeon had for astronomy. It was one of the rare moments she heard him talk so much. He was usually more reserved even when he was with Kwon Yul.

Taeyeon’s voice was soothing and gentle; a voice which Jessica hoped to hear everyday. Jessica’s laughter was girly and bright; it sounded like music so Taeyeon’s ears.

Jessica had a burning question on her mind from the moment she saw Taeyeon outside the function room but she didn’t know how to ask him.

Just then, Taeyeon turned around and noticed the strange expression on Jessica’s face. He was concerned the talk about stars was beginning to bore his colleague.

“Am I boring you?”

Jessica shook her head. “No, you’re not. It has been very interesting and I learnt a lot of new stuff from you.”

“You look like you have a question to ask.”

“No, not really.” Jessica was hesitant. She stuck her hands in her pocket and wondered how she should phrase the question.

“Your body language betrays your thoughts. Come on, just shoot.”

Jessica felt her cheeks warming.

“Have you been working out lately?” Jessica blurted out in a hurry.

Taeyeon let out a sigh of relief. “I thought it was going to be some IQ question or some tough astrology question which I wouldn’t be able to answer.”

“Sorry, I am being a busybody,” Jessica said softly, looking away.

“It’s good that you noticed,” Taeyeon said proudly. “I started going to the gym because you once commented that I look very frail for a man.”

“I did?” Jessica was puzzled. “If I did, I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Taeyeon chuckled. “No, I’m not offended. In fact, I’m motivated to exercise and get in shape.”

“Because of what I said?” Jessica’s eyes opened wider.

“Yes, because of what you said, Jung seonsaeng-nim,” Taeyeon’s eyes twinkled as the corner of his lips rose higher. “Shall we drop the formalities? Can I call you Sica instead, just like how Sooyoung and Hyoyeon do?”

Jessica was giddy with happiness. It was a step towards being closer and more comfortable with each other. She nodded slowly, trying to contain her excitement within.

Taeyeon gave a thumbs up. “Great. You can call me Taeyeon or Taeng. I’m fine with both. Adding that ‘seonsaeng-nim’ sounds so formal.”

They chatted for a little while before heading back as it was getting chilly. When they got nearer, they wished each other good night before heading to their respective rooms. Eagle-eye Sooyoung was perched on the corridor, spying the duo as they returned.

Jessica was being interrogated the moment she stepped into the room.

“Looks like someone got lucky, heehee!” Sooyoung teased, seeing Jessica’s pink cheeks. “What did the both of you do?”

Jessica ignored her colleague while unpacking some of her stuff.

“How far did you go? Did you…?” Sooyoung made some kissing noises.

The next instant, a pillow went flying towards Sooyoung.

“Ya! We did nothing. Taeng was just sharing about astronomy, like what you asked him to do.”

“Ooh, Taeng. Next thing I know, it would be ‘Dear’ or ‘Darling’,” Sooyoung exploded in a hearty laughter. “Looks like he painted a ray of sunshine all over your face. It’s my first time seeing you smile so brightly!”

The room became a mess as Jessica jumped on Sooyoung and showered her with pillow bombs.

The following morning, rain was pelting down onto the ground.

“You look disappointed,” Sooyoung commented as she dried her hair.

“Why would I be?” Jessica asked, sitting cross legged on the bed while going through her Facebook.

“Because you can’t see his gorgeous muscles and he can’t see your shapely curves.” This time, Sooyoung was quick enough to dodge the flying pillow.

“I bet he upped his gym sessions just for this retreat,” Sooyoung continued while taking cover in the toilet.

Jessica couldn’t help but agree deep in her heart. Seeing Taeyeon half naked at the poolside was her greatest motivation at the retreat. She was excited to see his workout progress after hitting the gym for a few months. Unfortunately fate didn’t seem to be on her side. She wondered if Taeyeon had similar thoughts about seeing her in her bikini.

A loud crackle broke Jessica’s thoughts. Sooyoung was standing right in front of her, grinning from ear to ear.

“Oh my God! I can see you’re visualising his half naked body in your head! Are you having naughty fantasies?” Sooyoung exclaimed, bending over with laughter before collapsing on her bed.

“Choi Sooyoung, you’re an idiot!” Jessica yelled before jumping on her friend and starting her pillow attack once again.

=/=/=/=/=

Two months later…

Taeyeon and Jessica had been meeting up for coffee at least twice a week after work. On two occasions, they met up on a Saturday night for dinner and went star gazing. Well, technically it was too bright to gaze at stars in the city but nonetheless, they enjoyed each other’s company.

Sooyoung had been asking Jessica if they were a couple but apparently it wasn’t the case. Jessica kept insisting they were only colleagues who happened to click.

Sooyoung wasn’t convinced by Jessica’s answer as it was obvious they had good feelings for each other. She guessed it must be because Taeyeon hadn’t officially asked Jessica to be his girlfriend yet. Laughing to herself, she shook her head at Jessica.

One late afternoon, Jessica was stuck in school due to the heavy downpour outside. She had forgotten to pack her umbrella into her handbag and didn’t have a spare one at her desk. Moreover, everyone had left for the day and all of them took their umbrellas with them. Sighing, she could only hope that the rain would subside before she took her chance and run to the bus stop.

Standing at the corridor, Jessica looked up at the dark sky. Rain continued to pour down with a vengeance and she was losing hope of going home any time soon. She turned back, intending to go back to her desk to grab her jacket and use it as a temporary rain shield, when she lost her footing on the wet floor. Where the ground should have been there was instead someone’s firm chest, which Jessica crashed into, hard.

“Ooomph!” A navy blue umbrella flew backwards and hit the concrete floor with a thud.

“Ahhhh!”

“It’s okay, I got you!”

Jessica found herself wrapped in the warm embrace and her favourite scent. Embarrassed yet shy, Jessica didn’t want to leave the comfort zone.

“Are you alright?” Taeyeon asked, looking down at the woman who was still buried in his chest. He felt a strange stirring in the pit of his stomach and warmth quickly built up in his body.

Taeyeon felt a nod against his chest. The warm breath tickled his chest and he loved that feeling. His furrowed brows relaxed and a small smile grew on his face. His arms moved around Jessica’s back and pulled her deeper into his embrace. He rubbed her back, trying to soothe the scare she probably had when she slipped.

Letting out a soft chortle, Taeyeon said, “I must confess I kind of like the situation we’re in right now. It would be better if you have your arms around me, like how mine are around you.”

Jessica was taken aback by Taeyeon’s sudden confession. Numerous thoughts flashed through her mind at the speed of lightning.

Is he trying to hint at something right now??

What should I do? I’m so … mentally unprepared! Am I?

Ahhh….! If I don’t, I may lose this chance forever!

There was a pregnant pause amid the roar of the rain.

Taeyeon waited and soon his patience was rewarded. A pair of arms cautiously circled his neck and settled on his shoulders comfortably. His eyes lit up and his smile was radiant. He shifted his body a little and allowed her to rest her face in the crook of his neck.

A few minutes later, Jessica finally pulled herself away from Taeyeon. She went to Heaven and back. His scent lingered in her nose and her cheeks were as red as tomatoes. She didn’t dare to look at him in the eye after shamelessly enjoying his embrace.

Taeyeon lifted Jessica’s chin with his finger until their eyes met. She saw her favourite smile and he saw how her eyes sparkled with passion.

“It may not sound very romantic but … I would like to officially ask you to be my girlfriend. Will you be my girlfriend, Sica?”

Then Taeyeon rolled back his left sleeve to reveal a line of words on his arm.

You’re my starlight. <yellow star emoticon>

To Taeyeon’s surprise, he was awarded a smack on his left arm.

“Ya! How many times do I have to remind you not to write on your arm or palm anymore?” Jessica yelled.

“I thought this gesture served as a sweet reminder of our initial conversations,” Taeyeon groaned while rubbing his reddening arm.

“You silly boy.” Jessica ran her fingers across the line of text and giggled uncontrollably. “To answer your question, yes. A big yes!”

Taeyeon’s eyes lit up instantly and before he knew, he was engulfed in a hug again. This time, it was tighter and he could feel her soft figure pressing against his toned body. He pressed his lips on the crown of her head.

“Since it’s raining cats and dogs, how about having our first official date at the pantry? I have instant coffee and some cookies to share,” Taeyeon suggested.

A nod against his neck signaled an agreement and the newly minted couple walked hand in hand towards their office for their first official date.

 

= The End =

 

A/N: Inspired by Taeyeon’s numerous plaid shirts.

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