3: Secret Feelings
Ye-jin was sprinting through the sidewalk, running so fast that she kept one hand on her head to keep her cap from falling off, while her other hand clutched a brown envelope, the one she had received from Seoul Integrated High School a few weeks ago.
The neighborhood's convenience store finally came into view and Ye-jin started to slow down, her heart still pounding. Two teenagers waved at her from the inside and motioned for her to come in, grinning and looking excited to see her.
"Sorry I'm late!" Ye-jin breathed heavily. She sat at the table where her friends had waited, taking her cap off.
One of the teenagers was a girl with shoulder-length hair and prominent cheekbones. "Ya, Yejin-a— I know we agreed to meet to celebrate, but we didn't tell you to make a run for it." Seon Myung-shin fanned Ye-jin with her hands to help her cool down.
"Your excitement is unmistakable," the other teenager remarked. Kim Woo-hyuk was quite tall for his age and looked tough when he wasn't smiling, but he gently handed Ye-jin his handkerchief. "Use this— you're dripping with sweat."
Ye-jin took Woo-hyuk's handkerchief and patted her face with it. "Thanks." She looked exhausted from running but grinned ear to ear. "The tour was unbelievable. The campus looked way better than it did in the pictures."
Myung-shin grabbed the envelope Ye-jin brought, taking out pamphlets with brief descriptions of the different school amenities. "Now I'm wishing I could see it for myself too." She jumped up and hugged her best friend. "I'm so proud of you though!"
"Congratulations, Yejin-a!" Woo-hyuk added. "What a loss it would've been if they'd rejected you… it would've said something about how bad their admission process was."
"Now you're just exaggerating," Ye-jin chuckled. "One thing I'll miss is seeing you guys in class." The three friends had all just finished 10th grade and were becoming juniors in the coming year, but Ye-jin's interview and exam results, signed by the principal and school administrators, qualified her to enter 12th grade ahead of time.
"You're on a whole new level now, huh?" Woo-hyuk smiled. "Are you our sunbae now? Maybe ahjumma sounds better."
"Ya, Woohyuk-a! Aren't you 6 months older than me?" Ye-jin slapped his arm, laughing. "Call me ahjumma, again— I'm daring you, ahjussi."
"I get it, alright? You win, I lose." Woo-hyuk placed his lanky arm around her shoulder. "Let this ahjussi buy you girls ice cream, shall we?"
They agreed to both buy chocolate ice cream, while Myung-shin opted to have vanilla.
"Don't worry about us." Myung-shin assured Ye-jin after Woo-hyuk made his way to the ice cream cooler. "Best for you to focus on your new school." She browsed through the pictures printed on the given pamphlet. "Wow, their campus looks very well updated."
Ye-jin nodded. "Being there felt like looking into those decorative snowballs, you know? Like I'm from the outside looking in…."
"Do you think you won't fit in?"
"It'll sink in with time." Myung-shin smiled. "You'll be wearing their pretty uniforms and you'll blend in with the rest of them." She pointed to a random male student photographed in the field on the student handbook. "If you see this guy at your school, befriend him and introduce him to me, okay?"
"Crazy girl," Ye-jin snickered.
"Myung-shin— crazy?" Woo-hyuk overheard them as he returned with their desserts. "What took you so long to realize?" He handed them their ice creams and sat back down.
Myung-shin stuck her tongue out at him and smirked.
"You don't think they'll ask about your age, do you? I mean, if you're the new kid in class, they'll probably be curious about you." Woo-hyuk said.
"It shouldn't be an issue; as far as I'm concerned, I will be in 12th grade like the rest of them." Ye-jin nibbled on her ice cream cone. "Only Sung-hoon knows my age and he doesn't care the least bit about it. Let's just hope the rest of them won't bother either— it's not like I'm interesting enough to waste their time on."
"You're not a waste of time," Woo-hyuk mumbled.
"Psssh, how charming," said Myung-shin. "Who knew you'd have a sweet side to you, Woohyuk-a?"
"Do I?" He laughed it off. "Must be this ice cream, ugh… anyway, have you made new friends during your tour?"
Those glaring eyes and sharp tongue that had belittled her came to mind, stirring her frustration anew. Ye-jin rolled her eyes and bit a huge portion of her ice cream, not bothering if it stung her teeth. "Friend?" She scoffed, telling them the incident in the art room, and the student facilitator who questioned her qualifications to study there.
"Gosh, how petty!" Myung-shin followed suit, scoffing as Ye-jin described how the student had also been rude to the janitor.
"I hate to generalize but… isn't that the typical entitled rich boy behavior?" Woo-hyuk added.
"I don't want to think that of him, no matter how his behavior upsets me." Ye-jin said. "Isn't Sung-hoon a rich boy too? Yet he's been one of the nicest people I've ever met— his entire family's well-grounded too."
"You best hope you don't run into him again in school," Myung-shin told her.
"I hope not."
Woo-hyuk handed his two female friends some tissue to wipe their mouth with after they ate. "Wanna go for some spicy food next? We need to blow off some steam because of this Mr. Rich Boy story."
"I can't," Ye-jin said. "Got dinner with the Lees' Scholars Foundation, remember? The offer to join is very tempting though since Woo-hyuk's paying," she added.
"Not a problem," Myung-shin smiled. "We'll have a decent meal soon to celebrate: our treat. Right, Woohyuk-a?"
Woo-hyuk nodded. He would've wanted to spend the rest of the day with Ye-jin, but understood that she had to go. As early as now, their time together was already getting cut short. How much more when classes finally resumed at full speed? "It's okay. You should go."
Ye-jin beamed at her friends. "Thanks a bunch, guys, I owe you— we'll hang out soon, okay?" She sorted the pamphlets and papers back into the brown envelope and put her cap back on.
"Don't let those seniors bully you, all right?" Myung-shin said.
"Of course not!" Ye-jin said. "I'll ask Woo-hyuk to give me some of his charm so I can win them over."
"As if." Woo-hyuk answered. "It's not hard to like you, you know."
"Wooow, the ice cream must have really sweetened you up," Ye-jin laughed. " But I'll be kind to you because you treated us, so I'll stop talking." She made the motion of zipping her lips shut.
"Get going, you'll run late," Woo-hyuk reminded her.
"Yep, I'll be off! You're the best, guys!" Ye-jin waved them goodbye and ran for the bus stop.
Myung-shin nudged Woo-hyuk, who was lost in thought as he watched Ye-jin run off. "Why haven't you told her yet?"
"Will you only keep asking her to hang out without confessing your secret feelings? She won't be in our class next semester and school break will be over before we know it— you don't have much time."
Woo-hyuk sighed. "I don't know. I don't want her to be awkward around me. I don't want to lose her either." He placed his hands in his pockets and began to walk away. "Let's go."
"Aw. Don't feel too bad, Woohyuk-a." Myung-shin caught up with her tall friend and patted his back. "We're still off to eat more snacks, right— spicy this time? Well how about this..." She pinched Woo-hyuk's arm playfully. "Buy me some tteokbokki and I'll put in a good word for you with Ye-jin, eh? I'll be your wingman!"
"No, thank you!" He answered, and both of them ended up laughing. "You really are crazy, Seon Myung-shin."