Light Me UpBe Natural
There are moments in your life when the road forks, and you are torn between two equally appealing options, or two equally daunting scenarios. Different parts of you pull you in different directions, until you start to wonder if there’s a right choice at all, or how much this will affect the rest of your life, or even who you are as a human being.
Seulgi was at one of those points in her life now, as she stared down at the purple Pandora’s box in her lap. According to her best friend, phase one of operation Don't U Wait No More began today. Seulgi’s mission was to deliver a home-made box of cupcakes to her tutor as a gesture of gratitude for Joohyun’s agreement to help her, and also because…
“I don’t care what the songs say, Seulgi, the shortest way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach.” Seungwan’s wise words rang in her head even now. “Just tell Joohyun unnie you made these yourself! It’ll work like a charm. Trust me.”
Right. The only trouble was, it was five in the afternoon, and Seulgi had spent lunch period playing lawless basketball instead of eating. The hunger was catching up with her now, making her internal struggle a little too real.
Mind: “Stick with the plan, Seulgi.”
Stomach: “Sorry. Can’t hear you over the sound of me digesting myself.”
Mind: “Hey! Don’t screw up our chances with Bae Joohyun over some cupcakes!”
Stomach: “I don’t know dude, some cupcakes sounds awesome right now. Do we like Joohyun that much?”
Mind: “Damn it. Seungwan worked really hard for this, you know?”
Stomach: *grumbles aggressively*
Mind: “Fair point. Fine. You win.”
Seulgi lifted the lid of the box. The sight of white icing greeted her like land did a stranded sailor. By the second cupcake, her mind and stomach were getting along perfectly fine in sugar-filled heaven. By the fourth and last cupcake, Seulgi was starting to think of a way to non-romantically marry one’s best friend so that Seungwan would bake for her for the rest of her life.
Seulgi paused her chewing and glanced up at the prettiest girl in the world.
“Sorry, did you have to wait long?”
“Nff I’mff…” Seulgi gulped the last of her cupcake down before embarrassing herself further. “I mean, no. You’re on time, sunbae-nim. My class just ended early that’s all.”
“That’s good. Let’s get started then, if you’re ready?”
Joohyun gave a polite smile, the kind that made Seulgi nervous, because it was pretty, but it wasn’t exactly warm.
Mind: “Maybe she would have been warmer if she’d gotten to taste some of those cupcakes.”
Stomach: “I have no regrets.”
It turned out, despite Seulgi’s initial worries, the awkwardness wore off quickly. After three years of teenage doting and cabbage-drawing, Seulgi had expected to stutter like a fool and drop every piece of stationery she touched, just being in Joohyun’s goddessly presence. But as the session went on, Seulgi found she wasn’t so interested in Joohyun’s ethereal beauty as she was in… chemistry.
Chemistry had always been too abstract for her taste, a monstrous unknown just beyond the reach of her mind. Yet, as Joohyun showed her, most of the concepts were merely tools used by chemists to help make sense of stuff, not to torture Seulgi personally. Also, the colour range of the Universal pH indicator matched that of the rainbow, how cute was that? And the classification of acids and bases that Seulgi could never remember? Joohyun simply showed her the bottom of her water bottle, which read “No BPA”. BPA = Bases are Proton Acceptors.
“And you can bring your bottle into the exam hall. It’s not consider cheating.” A mischievous glint played in beautiful eyes as Joohyun passed on her secret to Seulgi. Then, she seemed to take notice of how close they were, both leaning over the table from opposite sides, and drew back, but not before Seulgi caught a whiff of lavender shampoo – another little trivia etched into the part of her brain that refused to remember all things academic.
“Am I going too slow? Too fast?” Joohyun asked, hands folded on top of her skirt, ever so proper, ever so prim.
“No no. Not at all. You’re perfect.” Seulgi affirmed, staring wide-eyed down at the amount of work they had managed to achieve in only over an hour. It took her a while to look up again, noticing Joohyun’s faint blush and realising what she had just said.
“Oh. I meant your pacing! The pacing is perfect. Not to say that you’re not, of course…”
Seulgi trailed off then, sure she would only make the situation worse if she said any more. Joohyun didn’t seem to mind too much, though, if her lovely giggle was anything to go by. Seulgi knew her mind was going to replay that sound for days at the most random of times.
“Okay, Seulgi. Do you have any question?”
“I do, actually. A dumb question.”
“I doubt it. You’ve been asking good questions.”
That made Seulgi smile, and Joohyun couldn’t seem to be able to help a smile in return. A genuine one this time, not the polite one that she wore like an accessory. Seulgi wondered if her own eye-smile was really that powerful in endearing her to others, as Seungwan insisted it was.
“Thanks. I’ll just go on and ask then. Erm, is there… is there a non-painful way to remember the reactivity series?”
“Great question. The popular way is to make a mnemonic out of it. A sentence where each word starts with the same letter as the element. But I suppose your teacher in middle school already taught you that?”
“Yeah. It can’t seem to stick to my mind, though.” Seulgi paused, scratching the back of her neck. “Lots of things don’t.”
“That’s all right. How about making your own sentence?”
Joohyun wasted no time writing out the metal reactivity series in order for Seulgi’s reference.
“Well, okay. I’ll try?” Seulgi traced the series with the tip of her pen. “Potassium, then Sodium, which is Na… P… N… Powerful Ninjas?”
Amusement danced in Joohyun’s eyes. Suddenly all those clichés about eyes that talk didn’t seem so cliched anymore.
“That’s the first thing that came to your mind?”
“You can’t deny that ninjas are powerful.”
Seulgi learned then that angels snorted too. Joohyun covered , as if surprised at herself for making the sound, but Seulgi thought there was nothing to feel embarrassed about. Seulgi wished her own snorts were so soft and cute as Joohyun’s.
“Okay. Let me continue,” Seulgi went on, trying hard not to smile at Joohyun’s adorable demeanour, “Powerful Ninjas… Calcium… Powerful Ninjas Can. Manage All… Hateful Crimes! Hateful Crimes, yes. Powerful Ninjas Can Manage All Hateful Crimes Anywhere!”
“Beautiful.” Joohyun clapped, while Seulgi bowed to an invisible audience. The younger girl would have never imagined spending time with her crush could be this easy. Even though, dating-wise, Joohyun was still light years out of her league – in truth a celestial being in human form – Seulgi thought they might get along great as friends.
A sound disturbed their triumphant moment as tutor and tutee then. A sound all too familiar to Kang Seulgi.
Mind: “Seriously, stomach? After four cupcakes?”
Stomach: “I swear it wasn’t me!”
Mind: “If it wasn’t you grumbling…”
The shade of pink spreading across Joohyun’s pale face was telling enough. If Seulgi hadn’t been guilty about eating all the cupcakes an hour ago, she sure was now. Time had flown by as they sat together (way too fast for Seulgi’s liking), the saturated rays of the setting sun now streaming across their notes, and who knew when Joohyun had last gotten something to eat.
“Sunbae-nim, do you…”
“Let’s get on with the lesson.”
Joohyun’s blush wasn’t going anywhere, and neither was Seulgi’s guilt. Eat the cupcakes, and they gnaw at you from the inside out apparently. After a while, Seulgi couldn’t take it anymore. She wasn’t going to let Joohyun suffer from hunger because she had to stay at school overtime to save her from failing Chemistry. She told Joohyun she needed to use the bathroom. Instead, she walked to the convenience store in front of the school, determined to get something nice to pay for Joohyun’s troubles.
One tiny problem: Seulgi seemed to have left her wallet at the table with Joohyun. She excavated a crumpled bill from the bottom of her hoodie, briefly wondering how long it had been there as she pulled at the edges to smooth it out. It was a hefty 1000 won.
Stomach: “Nice. It always works out when you’re in charge, Mind.”
Mind: “Shut up.”
Seulgi returned to their table with a cheap, steaming cup ramyeon and an apologetic smile. The setting sun might have had something to do with it – playing with the light and Seulgi’s eyes – but the way Joohyun looked at the 1000-won ramyeon… Wow. Seulgi hoped she’d find someone that looked at her like that one day. All the better if that someone was Joohyun.
“Seulgi, you really didn’t have to.”
“You also didn’t have to put up with my complete lack of talent for chemistry, but you did, sunbae-nim. I learned so much today. Thank you.”
Seulgi bowed her gratitude while sitting down. She ended up hitting her head on the BPA-free bottle and knocking it off the table. It surprised her it took this long for her clumsiness to manifest in front of Joohyun, really.
The senior dipped her head low, trying to hide her smile behind the lid of the noddle cup, but Seulgi saw it anyway. And it was a different smile from all the ones that preceded it - eyes crinkling at the corners, a faint blush warming pale cheeks and ears. The sight of her made Seulgi’s heart flutter.
It came to her as a staggering realisation: Seulgi searched her mind and couldn’t recall a moment when her heart had fluttered because of Joohyun before. For three years, the senior had always been a beauty to politely admire from afar, an artwork behind the glass, but having her sit an arm’s length away, smiling and slurping ramyeon like this? Joohyun might as well had grabbed Seulgi by the shoulders and shaken affection into her.
“This is really good, Seulgi. Would you like to try some?” Joohyun nudged the hot cup halfway across the table toward Seulgi.
Seulgi grinned and accepted the chopsticks.
(Stomach: “Just when I thought she couldn’t get any more perfect.”)