Be Natural

A/N #1: Refer to the author's note #2 at the end if you're not sure about the meaning of the term marked by an asterisk (*).



Joy had never seen a class as impolite as hers. No one bothered to suppress a cheer when the bell rang, signalling the start of recess as well as the end of a history lesson that she’d thought would never end. The class president even neglected to lead the class in saying thanks and goodbye to the teacher and was, in fact, the first one out the door. Joy found herself shaking her head disapprovingly. With that kind of leadership, it was no wonder her class was the most problematic one in the cohort.

“Some class president you are, Joy,” Jung Yerin said laughingly once she’d caught up with Joy outside their classroom.

“Oh please.” Joy rolled her eyes. “Our class has been scoring the highest for two years in a row. The teachers love us, even if they hate us. Why not annoy them a bit and have some fun?”

“That’s right. If we’re gonna be nerds, we’re gonna be gangster nerds,” Oh Hayoung remarked as she joined them walking down towards the school cafeteria.

“Beautifully said, sis,” Joy approved.

As per routine, the trio discussed the most ridiculous in-depth analyses about the latest Black Mirror episode for a while, before Hayoung showed off the newest additions to her nonsense joke collection*. Yerin was in the middle of guessing what you called a bear with no teeth when Joy spotted a row of students standing in the hallway outside a classroom. Her first guess was that they were receiving punishment from some mean old teacher, but then she saw Seungwan among the lot and instantly dismissed the thought.

“You guys go ahead. I’ll catch up,” Joy told her two friends and approached the group of students alone. When she was close enough, she saw Sejeong and Seulgi standing there as well. A glance inside the classroom told her that this was a senior class, which perked her curiosity even more, since Seungwan and Seulgi were juniors while Sejeong was only a sophomore like Joy herself.

“The heck are you guys doing?” Joy greeted amiably.

“Joy!” Seulgi’s million-watt smile hit her eyes like a Frisbee. “Look! Look what I got for the chemistry quiz!”

Joy took the paper Seulgi was holding in her face and frowned. “Hmm. 72%. Is that supposed to be good-”

Her voice died when Seungwan pinched her side.

“I mean, congrats, unnie!” Joy gave a pained smile. “I’m proud of you.”

“Thank you, Joy. I can’t wait to show Joohyun sunbaenim.”

“So that’s why you’re here.” Joy’s eyes searched the classroom again and found Joohyun sitting among a bunch of suffering seniors as their teacher kept delaying their recess. “I’m guessing Seungwan unnie is accompanying, as the good shipper that she is, and Sejeong, you’re accompanying as the good girlfriend that you are?”

Both girls smiled and nodded in affirmation. Joy shook her head in disbelief. Leave it to Seungwan to turn everything into a communal activity. She turned then to the two remaining students that she recognised were sophomores as well.

“And you guys?”

“Oh, don’t mind us. We’re just here to admire goddess Joohyun’s beauty,” the boy said, while the girl next to him just sighed dreamily.

“What-Aren’t you two a couple?”

“Yeah,” the boy confirmed.

“So what?” his girlfriend shrugged, still staring unblinkingly through the window.

Joy snorted at the absurdity of the situation. Inside the classroom, Joohyun glanced at the wall clock with a sigh. Her tired eyes wandered from the teacher to the black board to the window, and finally landed on Seulgi. Seulgi waved enthusiastically, causing a smile to break across Joohyun’s face. The senior gave a shy wave in return before turning her head back to her book, a blush creeping up her cheeks.

“Awww she ignored even me and only looked at you,” Seungwan cooed, to which Seulgi only gave an abashed giggle. Next to them, the pair of boyfriend and girlfriend almost fainted, mumbling something about seeing an angel blush.

The teacher finally let them go, and the seniors poured from the room like a burst dam. Joy could see Joohyun hastily putting away her books so she could join them, but Seulgi couldn’t wait and pushed against the current to get inside the classroom instead.

Joy watched the back-and-forth exchange between Seulgi’s little bounces and flailing arms and Joohyun’s soft gazes and honest smiles. She tried to repress that funny melting sensation that was building inside, the one that visited her chest sometimes when she looked at puppies or when Yerim did one of her silly dances.

Joohyun looked up from studying Seulgi’s chemistry quiz then and seemed as if she was going in for a congratulatory hug. Next to Joy, Seungwan and Sejeong squealed. But Seulgi wouldn’t be Seulgi if she didn’t have zero awareness and horrible timings. The girl chose that moment to drop in a low thank-you bow, the top of her head nearly hitting Joohyun’s chin on the way down. Seungwan slapped her hand on her eyes as if she couldn’t bear to watch anymore, but that was when she missed what Joy saw: Joohyun shook her head at the bowing junior, biting her lip, honey pouring from her eyes.

“Oh God. The lip bite. I can’t take it anymore.” The girlfriend of the other couple murmured, and the two of them had to lean against each other for support as they walked away from Joohyun’s classroom.

“Okay, that bow at the end aside, I think operation Don't U Wait No More has been a success.” Seungwan was audibly pleased when she spoke again. “Whatever trick you showed her, it really worked, Joy.”

Joy chuckled, recalling the events of last Saturday, when Seulgi had butchered her skit beyond recognition. It didn’t take a genius to see that it wasn’t her ‘trick’ that had won Joohyun’s heart over. But that was what Seungwan was - an academic genius, who approached everything like a math problem that needed to be solved methodically. Joy might have to spell it out for her to see that they might as well stop this operation now.

“Actually, Seungwan unnie-” Joy began.

“Jooo-ieeee-ahhh.” A little creature latched itself onto Joy’s neck and attempted to pull her to the ground. So commenced an impromptu wrestling match. Joy wished she could say she was taking it easy on Yeri considering their height difference, but that kid was a 1.58-meter hurricane of pure evil energy.

“Yah! Get off of me you hobbit!”

“You know, a normal couple would greet each other with a kiss on the cheek or something,” Sejeong commented, taking a step away so she wouldn’t get pulled into the fray.

“Why be a normal couple when you could be Joyri?” Yeri abruptly let go of Joy’s neck and s an arm around her waist instead. Joy grinned in relief, pulling Yeri in even closer by the shoulder.

“That’s right. What do you have there, Yerimie?”

“Oh, this?” Yeri untied the small plastic bag she’d been holding. “My collection of fake spiders and cockroaches and stuff. To prank people, you know?”

“That’s horrible.” Joy clicked her tongue in reprimand. “Why are you so mean? Who’s the poor victim this time? And, most importantly, how can I help?”

“Nah, it’s not for me. It’s for Seulgi unnie to use. It’s my turn to help her charm Joohyun sunbaenim next, right?”

“Hah. So you’re gonna give the spiders to Seulgi unnie to put in Joohyun sunbaenim’s locker or something like that?” Joy’s smirk grew in appreciation of her Satanic partner in crime.

Leaning over, Seungwan cautiously peeked into the plastic bag, doubt clouding her eyes. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Yeri. Things are going well for them, you’d better not mess it up. Anyway, you were going to say something to me, Joy?”

“Oh.” Joy considered for a moment, trying to gauge just how awesome it would be if she could live to hear timid, demure Joohyun screech as a cockroach fell out of her locker. “Actually, it’s nothing. Catch ya later.”


“Remind me again how filling my crush’s locker with creepy crawlies is gonna make her fall for me?”

“Okay, first of all, don’t fill her locker with my precious, limited-supply insects. Just put one in at a time. I bought these with my own pocket money, so please refrain from wasting them. Second of all… what was the question?”

“Yerim, I don’t see how this is going to work. To begin with, Joy was the one doing the chasing between the two of you, no? It wasn’t you who charmed her?”

“Oh, my silly unnie.” Yeri laughed. “That’s what I want Joy to think. Long before she put her flirt game on, I was already pranking her left and right. It made her laugh and showed confidence. We weren’t classmates, just as you and Joohyun sunbaenim aren’t, so it’s a way to get them to think about you every day. And it’s gonna be especially effective for Joohyun sunbaenim since she’s so old-”

“She’s literally two years above you…”

“Yeah, as I was saying, she’s so old she must miss being childish and having fun. You gotta trust me on this. Now, you remember everything I’ve taught you?”

“I think so. Avoid awkward silences at all costs and doodle in her books if I get a chance.”

“And if you’re caught staring?”

“Erm… I should, uh, apologise?”

“Nooooo.” Yeri shook her head as if diagnosing Seulgi with an incurable illness. “You should call her ugly and/or comment on her greying hair. Duh. Now, here’s the combination to unlock Joohyun sunbaemin’s locker. Don’t ask questions.”


And so Seulgi dragged her feet along the school hallways early next morning, one hand rubbing her eyes, the other clutching Yeri’s bag of pranking gear. It was a good half hour before the first period. Seulgi could hear her own yawns bounce back at her in the eerily empty building.

She could hardly see through half-closed eyes when someone nearly crashed into her while pushing a trolley full of boxes.

“Hey, careful!”

“Sorry,” Seulgi mumbled. She rushed ahead of the person and held the door to the nearby sports hall open while he pushed the trolley inside. As he thanked her, she noticed the student councillor badge glimming on his collar.

Seulgi could see three other student councillors inside the sports hall, among them Joohyun balancing on a chair and trying to hang a banner that read, ‘WELCOME TO OPEN DAY 2018’.

Compared to Joohyun, Seulgi couldn’t seriously call herself tired. The senior had exhaustion spelled out all over her body, from the dark rings that hung below her eyes like heavy clouds before a storm, to the creases in her blouse that could only have escaped being ironed out due to serious fatigue, to the slump in her dainty shoulders the moment she finished hanging the banner.

The signs must have been there for a while and Seulgi must have missed them. Between classes, student council duties, ballet, tutoring Seulgi, and the university entrance exams looming near, Joohyun’s life must have been tough. Seulgi’s steps took on a thoughtful pace as she left the sports hall and walked the rest of the way to Joohyun’s locker.

Once there, she stood tossing the bag of pranking supplies between two hands, hesitating. Eventually, she dropped the bag to a side and took out her small notepad. She drew first an upward slope, then a head of cabbage (which she had perfected sketching over the years), and a few action lines to show it was rolling up the slope.

The Amazing Gravity-Defying Baechu, she annotated at the bottom, then added in the next line, Hwaiting :D - Seulgi.

Pleased with her work, Seulgi ripped the page from the notepad and slipped it through the crack in the door of the locker, before walking back to her own classroom.

If she had hung around instead, she would have seen Joohyun opening the locker five minutes before the first period started. She would have witnessed Joohyun roll her eyes as she noticed the newest notes from her admirers - four of them today. She would have held her breath as Joohyun dumped each one into a fat envelope with barely a glance. She would have sighed in relief when Joohyun paused, holding the last note – a page with a jagged edge where it’d been ripped off a notepad. And Seulgi would have beamed to mirror Joohyun’s own smile, when the senior slipped the cabbage sketch into her skirt pocket and carried it with her for the rest of the day.

But Seulgi wasn’t there to see any of that, and so when they met after school and Joohyun looked at her with eyes that were even warmer than usual, Seulgi couldn’t connect the dots.

“Ready to learn all about aromatic compounds?” Joohyun asked, a small skip in her steps as they walked towards their usual study table near the auditorium.

“Actually, sunbaenim…”

“Unnie,” Joohyun reminded.

“Right, unnie. Actually, I was thinking maybe we could stop with the tutoring sessions.”

Besides her, Joohyun’s steps slowed and then stopped altogether. She stared up at Seulgi with twinkling eyes, the beauty of which was only slightly marred by the eyebags.

“Why? Were you unsatisfied with my teaching?”

“No!” Seulgi waved her hands rapidly in denial. “No way. You’re an awesome teacher. Really. I was so happy when I did well for the quiz, and it was all thanks to you. But, now that I’m doing better, I don’t want to burden you anymore. You must be crazy busy with everything else, so…”

Seulgi could already hear all her friends scolding her for single-handedly ruining their operation. But, amidst the noise, her own voice was the loudest. That was the way it had always been, and that was the one she'd always listened to in the end.

Joohyun was quiet for a few moments before nodding slowly. “You’re right, Seulgi. I probably should spend more time on my own school work.”

As the pair changed course and walked towards the bus stop in front of the school instead, Seulgi tried to swallow the disappointment that was swelling in her. Without the tutoring sessions, she didn’t have an excuse to see Joohyun anymore. Maybe Seungwan would think of something else, or maybe Joy or Yeri would. Unlike her, they never seemed to run out of ideas.

But, of all people, Joohyun was the last one Seulgi expected to suggest an alternative.

“That’s my bus,” Joohyun said and stood up, smoothing her skirt down, as a bus pulled up in front of them. A goodbye was on Seulgi’s lips when Joohyun spoke again. “Now that I’m not tutoring you anymore, perhaps we could just study together?”

The offer had Seulgi paralysed for too long. Joohyun was starting to play with the hem of her skirt nervously as she waited. The other passengers had all boarded the bus and the driver was asking if Joohyun was coming or just standing there. High up in the clouds, Seulgi’s guardian angel almost had a from the sheer frustration watching the scene.

The moment Joohyun turned away and stepped on the bus, Seulgi finally blinked out of her stupor. She sprang up from her seat and followed the senior. “Wait! Yes, of course. I’d love that!”

“Yeah?” Joohyun’s eyes lit up even brighter than usual, and Seulgi felt like that derp from Seungwan’s PowerPoint presentation. The one that was repeatedly impaled by Cupid’s arrow.

“Yes, absolutely. That’d be a win-win. Why didn’t I think of that? I’m so stupid.”

Joohyun shook her head, giggling. “Not stupid, Seulgi. But… maybe a little dense.” The senior reached out and gently patted down the side of Seulgi’s collar that was sticking up.

The truth was, Seulgi had only followed Joohyun on the bus to let her know she accepted her offer to study together. But she found herself swept up in the conversation and, before she knew it, she was exiting the bus and walking through Joohyun’s front door towards their first study-together session.

In contrast with how Joohyun was rather reserved with people she didn’t know, Joohyun’s parents were all fond smiles and handshakes and pats on the back when they met Seulgi. The younger girl felt as welcomed as could be as she stuffed her face with Mr Bae’s home-baked chocolatechip cookies.

“Orr ffarenth arr tho naith,” Seulgi said through a mouthful once they were inside Joohyun’s room.

Joohyun raised her eyebrow pointedly, and Seulgi swallowed before repeating herself.

“I said, your parents are so nice.”

“Yeah, it’s kinda weird, actually. My mom’s always like that, but, my dad? I don’t know what’s gotten into him. He must like you.”

“Seungwan says it’s ‘cuz of my eyesmile. She says it’s endearing.”

When Seulgi looked up from the jar of cookies, Joohyun had her head tilted to a side and arms crossed loosely across her stomach. “You know, you mention Seungwan a lot.”

“I didn’t realise. But, makes sense. She’s my best friend since kindergarten. I wonder if she mentions me a lot to Sejeong.”

“Who’s Sejeong?”

“Seungwan’s girlfriend.” Seulgi absent-mindedly answered while trying to pick through the jar for the cookie with the most chocolate chips. “She’s super nice and sings well. They make the perfect couple, really. You want a cookie?”

Joohyun untangled her arms to accept the carefully chosen cookie, a small smile playing on her lips. “Sure.”

The talking dwindled as the two girls settled into doing their own work. Joohyun was sitting at her desk, while Seulgi sat on Joohyun’s bed with a small foldable table, facing Joohyun from a side. It didn’t take long before Seulgi’s eyes started to wander around the room. It was tidy and simple to the point of being almost bare, save for a few polaroids of dawns and sunsets pasted above the desk. Seulgi's wandering eyes eventually lingered on Joohyun’s face, and she thought about how God must have lovingly carved that side profile for days.

Without moving her head, Joohyun glanced over and caught Seulgi’s eyes. Yeri’s advice on how to clear the embarrassment when caught staring echoed in her mind. But Seulgi couldn’t bring herself to utter such a blatant lie. Calling someone like Joohyun ugly would probably make her nose lengthen by a mile and scorch her tongue with the fires of hell.

“Why don’t you take a picture?” Joohyun teased, eyes back on her homework. “It’ll last longer.”


“Did you just really…” Joohyun straightened and turned to look at Seulgi, startled.

“You suggested it.” Seulgi grinned at the newest photo on her phone. “And I’ve been meaning to ask for a picture, so I can add it to your contact.”

“What do you mean?”

“Huh? You know, your contact on my phone. So when you call me or something, your photo will show up.”

“What? Is that something you can do? That sounds fake.”

A very concerned Seulgi spent the next five minutes convincing a very amazed Joohyun that adding profile pictures to phone contacts was an actual possible thing as well as showing her how to do it on her fossil flip phone.

“Wow, this is like magic,” Joohyun said, still gaping at her phone, “Can I have a picture with you, too, to add to your contact on my phone?”

“Sure!” Seulgi was already preparing her best V sign when Joohyun plopped down next to her on the bed. The senior held the flip phone, which didn’t not have a front camera, as far as her arm allowed and took what was probably the worst selfie Seulgi had ever been in.

It was also the one that she smiled the brightest in.


Seungwan had just come up to her room after dinner and was presently lying flat on the bed. She was lazily scrolling through her social media feeds on her phone when a notification caught her eyes.

Bae Joohyun added a new photo.

Seungwan had forgotten they were Facebook friends. She’d forgotten Joohyun had a Facebook account at all, actually. Her last post had been seven months ago. Some blurry photos of tteokbokki, if Seungwan remembered correctly. But this time, it was a photo of actual people, and not just any person. Half of Seulgi’s chin and most of Joohyun’s forehead were missing from the shaky selfie, but it was them all right.

Once Seungwan had picked the phone back up from where it had dropped on her grinning face, she screenshotted the post and sent it to Sejeong. Not five seconds had passed when Sejeong replied with a voice message, which was just her making unintelligible strangled noises.

same, babe. Seungwan texted back.





A/N #2: *Nonsense jokes typically have a short question-answer format, and are based on some kind of wordplay or pun. (An English equivalent would be, Q: What do you call a bear without teeth? A: A gummy bear.) APINK Hayoung has demonstrated several times that she possesses an unnecessarily extensive knowledge of nonsense jokes, prompting dignified APINK leader Chorong to conclude that Hayoung’s entire life is nonsense – source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jr4_8XC7EAA

A/N #3: Yes, the rumours are true, this update is basically just Cookie Jar product placement XD. I hope it made you smile nevertheless. Just one more update and operation DON'T U WAIT NO MORE will end, as will this story. Thanks so much for all the support so far!

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