I am wiping the sweat creeping down my neck when I see her. She has been coming in just after me, every Thursday, since a couple of weeks ago. I wonder what her name is. She looks like a Soori. Or a Jooyeon. Something feminine, something gentle. Something fair. Like Snow White. With brown hair that falls all the way past her breasts. I mean, I have seen a fair share of fair-skinned ladies in my life time but she pretty much takes the cake with her almost-translucent skin. She is so fair that the slightest blush would be apparent on her cheeks. But why am I harping on her fairness? I don’t really know. Certain things about certain people just catch your eye, you know? Then you end up obsessing about them. Which must be the case for me right now.
Stop obsessing, Jung. Stop it. Or you will end up acting just like Linda. Which makes you a total hypocrite.
I look away from Snow White’s slender legs and search for the owner of the voice. Oh no, it’s her again. And by her, I mean the last person on earth I want to see. The very person that I just threw shade on in my thoughts. Too-much-makeup, too-much-talk Linda. She is one of the reasons why I am doing tennis on Thursdays instead of Tuesdays. But here she is. On a Thursday. When I am supposed to be Linda-free. Somebody, please save me.
“Hi, Linda. Fancy seeing you here on a Thursday,” I say with a smile that I have to bribe (with the promise of an extra-large tub of ice cream) into appearing.
“I know, right! I was wondering where you’d been for the past two weeks. They told me you’re going to Thursday sessions now. Why didn’t you tell me? I would’ve come with you if I’d known.”
Who is this ‘they’ she speaks of? I am prepared to serve time in jail after beating ‘they’ up for leaking the information to Linda. And no, please don’t come with me. Please don’t.
“Oh, I er…I didn’t think you’d be interested to know.”
“Of course I’d want to know! How dense can you get, sweetie?”
Mentally, I am cringing at her term of entrapment as I say, “Well, now you know.” I am also trying to figure out the possibility of changing my tennis sessions to another day again while mourning the fact that I will not get to see Snow White anymore if I make the change. Damn it, Linda.
“Yes, no thanks to you.” Linda frowns at me and for a moment I feel hope in the chance that she might actually be angry and decide to hate me. But she smiles again and my hopes are dashed. “But here I am now!” Her smile is making me sick. “We can be partners again.” The thought of it is making me nauseous.
“I don’t think we should be partners, Linda.”
“Because…” Just one session of being partners with you is enough to make me hate tennis for a very, very long time. “You see, it’s–”
“Are you worried about telling Coach Kwon? Don’t be. I’ll tell her about it. She’s all for us partnering up too.”
“Oh, I don’t know if she’s all for it.” I’m not even sure if she even remembers my name yet.
“I’m sure she is.”
And I’m sure you’re delusional. “Well, even if she is, I still don’t think we should be partners.”
“I think it’s better if we try playing with different partners.”
“But why? I think we make a great pair. I was thinking we could join the women’s doubles tournament together. I’m sure we’ll be one of the top pairs, you and I.”
Try talking a little less and observing a little more and you might just get the answer. “Linda, I–”
“Excuse me,” a voice that reminds me of soft, fluffy pillows interrupts us.
I am pleasantly surprised to see Snow White standing beside us. “Hi,” I say. Yes, ‘hi’ is what my brain falls back on whenever it is taken by surprise.
Linda interjects, as always. “We’re in the middle of something here. Why don’t you–”
“I’m sorry but I have to go soon, so just a quick question?”
“Sure. Ask away,” I answer with a smile so wide that my lips are at risk of cracking. Am I too obvious? Maybe I should tone it down a little.
“I was just wondering if you’d like to partner up with me for the next session.”
Linda steps forward. “Lady, I don’t know who you are but–”
“Er, sure. I’d like to,” I say quickly before Linda can mess things up for me.
“Cool.” She smiles a little smile and it makes me happier than a smile is supposed to make me feel. “So I’ll see you next week.” She pauses slightly before adding, “I’m Taeyeon, by the way.”
“I’m Krystal, Jung Soojung.” Idiot. What’s with the full name?! This isn’t an interview!
Her parting smile and wave might just be the stuff of my dreams tonight but Linda’s face is suddenly in mine, turning that dream into a nightmare.
“Why did you agree to be her partner?! You’re supposed to be mine.”
Oh, no. No way in hell am I ever going to be yours. “Sorry, Linda. You’ll have to partner someone else next week.” And the week after next…next…next…to infinity…
It is only after Linda stages her disgruntled exit that relief finally sinks in. But the workings of logic kick in, and every last bit of relief is wiped out.
For one, I doubt Snow White Kim will turn up at my tennis session next week. She was probably pulling one of those timely rescues we see in television dramas all the time. Only, this is real life and she is not likely to end up falling in love with me or anything like that. In any case, she would not know where to find me even if she did mean what she said. She might be able to figure out that I am playing tennis since I have a tennis racquet but there are three sessions going on at the same time so it is a one in three chance that she signs up for the right one.
As for me, I am clueless about what she does in this sports club. It is hard to narrow down the possibilities based on a zipped-up-to-the-nines pastel purple jacket and short white shorts. I mean, her outfit basically tells us she could be in Body Combat or yoga or anything else in between. Which makes it next to impossible to deduce the class she takes on Thursdays.
I guess I am better off bracing myself for the onslaught of so-much-perfume-she-stinks Linda. Argh. The mere thought of it makes me shudder. How am I going to survive the next session?
My week flies by pretty quickly. Between lectures, tutorials and hanging out with friends, I am fully occupied each day of the week and have little time to think about Snow White Kim and tennis. But Thursday arrives and thoughts about them pop up as I pack my tennis bag. Will Snow White Kim appear at my tennis session? Is she really going to be my partner? Or did she say all those things only to help me to escape from Linda? And speaking of Linda, what will she do if Snow White Kim does not turn up? What will she do if she does?
I pull into the parking lot with those thoughts floating around my mind and hop out of my car with my tennis bag. The changing room is filled with women in various stages of undress when I enter and I do not want to admit it, but I am looking for Snow White as I scan the room. She is not in the open area but she might be in one of the cubicles. Maybe.
I change into my tennis shoes and deposit my belongings in a locker before heading out to the tennis courts. In my heart, I am hoping for a miracle. But common sense tells me it is not going to happen. Dreams do not always come true in real life. And that is why we have dreams in the first place.
I halt in my steps and turn around. I cannot believe my eyes. “Snow White Kim?!”
“Snow White Kim?”
“Oh my God. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to call you that.” The one time it matters and my brain decides not to use its fall back ‘hi’. This is just wonderful.
Snow White–I mean, Taeyeon smiles. “Don’t be. I’m taking it as a compliment.”
“Okay, I’ll take it back.”
Taeyeon raises an eyebrow.
“My apology. I’m taking it back.”
Taeyeon chuckles as she prods my shoulder blade. “Walk. We’re not gonna get anywhere if we keep standing here.”
I nod and start walking. “Actually, standing here isn’t so bad. Not when it means I’m far, far away from Linda.”
“Mmm, and for a moment I thought it was because of something else.” Taeyeon nods at the tennis courts ahead of us. “So, are you prepared?”
“Did you really sign up for tennis today?”
“But how did you know which session to sign up for?”
“I called to find out which session you’re in.”
“And they told you?”
“Ask, and it shall be given you.” Her smirk tells me she did more than ask. True enough, she adds, “But sometimes, a little passive-aggressive nudging opens doors too.”
“Do I wanna know what you did?”
Taeyeon shrugs. “It’s nothing illegal. Just a play on words, that’s all.”
“Maybe you can teach me the art of playing on words after tennis. I could use a little passive-aggressive nudging in my life too.”
Taeyeon gives me the once over. “You’re pretty smooth for a twenty year old.”
“How do you know I’m twenty?”
That smirk again. I am not sure if I like that smirk. “If you don’t want people to know how old you are, try not to advertise it on your bag in big numbers, sweetie.”
My bag? Damn, she’s right. “It’s a birthday present from my friends. They are the ones who decided it’s cool to print my year of birth on it.”
“Nine, four. At least one of them is my favourite number.” Taeyeon winks at me and holds the gate open for me. “After you, sweetie.”
“Please stop calling me sweetie. It gives me the chills.”
Taeyeon chuckles as she enters the court after me. “Okay, okay. No more fun and games. If we’re gonna be partners, you’re gonna need to teach me how to play.”
“You mean you don’t know how to play?”
“Do I look like I’ve played tennis before?”
My eyes fall on her tennis shoes, bag, and skirt. Damn, that skirt looks good on her. “Actually, you do look the part.”
Taeyeon sighs and shakes her head as she steps closer to me. One more step and we could be rubbing noses. “Honey, you gotta be more observant. Do any of my gear look used to you?”
Now that she mentions it. “No.”
“Exactly. And I don’t have a tennis elbow either. Unlike you.” She touches my elbow and it sparks feelings that an ordinary elbow touch should not be capable of sparking. “That’s how I knew.”
“Hi–I mean, what?”
“That’s how I knew which session to sign up for. Your tennis elbow tells me you can’t be new to tennis, which rules out the session for beginners. And judging by your age, I figured you must have been playing since high school or earlier but you can’t be in the masters class since you were partners with Linda before, which leaves me with this option.” Taeyeon tosses her hand at our surroundings. “The intermediate.”
“So you were kidding about the passive-aggressive nudging?”
Taeyeon laughs but does not give me an answer. Instead she says, “Teach me tennis and I just might tell you the truth.” She takes me by my tennis elbow and leads me to the base line. “So, what’s the right way to serve?”
The opportunity has served itself to me, on a silver platter, no less, and I would be a fool to pass it up. Taking a step behind Taeyeon, I grasp her waist to shift her.
“First, we get into position…”
x to be continued… x