“How are you able to talk to Steph so easily?”
“How? I don’t know? I mean, we’re just talking. As classmates.”
Seo’s eyebrows lift and he pulls out a notebook from his pocket. “This is good. ‘As . . . class . . . mates . . .’” Looking up from his notebook, his eyes demand to know more. “What else?”
Taeng shrugs. “I’m just being friendly? I mean, I’m new here and I don’t have any friends and the whole point of coming here is to experience life in a scho—”
“What do you mean ‘life in a school’?” Seo’s eyes are scrutinizing Taeng now. “Weren’t you in a school before?”
Oh no. Have I said too much? “Er . . . not really . . .”
“So you were home schooled.”
“Yes! Yes, I was.”
Seo nods. “I see. So was I. For a while. But you. You just got here. How do you talk to Steph as though you’ve known her for years?”
“Ah . . . well . . . I really don’t know. I didn’t really do anything either. Steph’s the friendly one. She talks a lot. You should ask her how she talks to me so easily.”
“That’s not the point,” Seo says with a frown.
“She doesn’t talk to me.”
“Steph?” Taeng is prodded on his shoulder by a stiff finger.
“Never mind.” Seo steps closer. “Promise you won’t tell anyone about this.”
Taeng blinks. “Huh?”
The finger prods again. “No one. Don’t tell anyone.”
“Okay . . .”
Taeng is left wondering what all that was about and a theory hits him as he leaves the classroom. All the signs are there. Could it be? Could Seo be having a crush on Steph?
“What took you so long?”
Taeng tries to smile apologetically at Ha min who is frowning at him. “I’m sorry. I got held up on my way here.”
“Well, whatever it is, come and sit with us.”
The other friends of Ha Min stare at Taeng, and he wonders if they welcome him at all. “Er . . . I actually came to tell you that I have something to do so I can’t join you for lunch. I’m sorry.”
“What do you mean? What’s there to do during lunch time?”
“Oh, you know . . . just something.”
“You’d better not be sneaking out of school or doing anything wrong.”
“I-I’m not sneaking out of school,” Taeng says with a violent shake of his head. “Definitely not.”
“Not today, you won’t.” Ha Min flashes a sly smile. “We’re sneaking out tomorrow. Come with us.”
“Sneaking out? Of school?”
“Of course. We have physical education class tomorrow. I don’t do physical education. No unglamorous running or jumping about for ladies like me. It totally ruins my image.”
Taeng opens his mouth to ask what image she has but thinks the better of it. “Er, won’t we get into trouble for sneaking out and skipping class?”
Ha Min gives her friends a look and they roar with laughter as she turns back to Taeng with a smug grin. “Taeng, me and my friends, we don’t get into trouble. Ever. Come with us and you’ll see.”
“Er, okay, but I should get going now.”
Ha Min turns to her friends as Taeng exits the cafeteria and eyes them. “Hyo.”
The girl with shoulder length blonde hair lifts her chin from her arms on the table. “Yeah?”
“Yes. Find out where he’s going and what he’s doing.”
“Okay.” Hyo gets up, her body moving sluggishly.
“Don’t let him see you.”
Hyo grins. “He won’t.”
Steph looks up at Taeng, surprise written in her eyes. “You came.”
“Yeah.” Taeng squats and ruffles Prince Fluffy’s fur, smiling when the dog wags its tail.
“Weren’t you going to join Ha Min and her friends at the cafeteria?”
“I prefer to be with you and Prince.”
Steph smiles beautifully, looking radiant like the morning sun. “Good choice.” She reaches into her bag and pulls out a bone. “Wanna play?” she asks Taeng.
A grin breaks out on Taeng’s face as he accepts the bone. “Yeah!” Prince Fluffy’s nose follows the bone as Taeng dangles it in the air. He holds it out, pulls back, tosses it and watches as Prince Fluffy leaps out of Steph’s arms and bounds to the bone.
“I hope you didn’t tell Ha Min about coming here, did you?”
Taeng shakes his head. “Of course not. I didn’t tell her anything.”
“Good. She would cause a lot of trouble if she finds out I’m keeping Prince in here.”
“Why? She doesn’t seem like a bad person. She might keep the secret if you ask her to.”
Steph laughs. “She doesn’t like me. I’m not rich like her but I get better grades.”
“But my grades aren’t even the biggest problem for her. There’s one more thing she hates most about me.”
“Oh? What is it?”
Steph leans closer to Taeng, her hand holding his shoulder for support. “Last year’s musical. When I was chosen to be the lead instead of her.”
“Wow, a musical? You must be a great singer if you got chosen for the lead,” says Taeng, impressed by Steph’s accolade.
Steph smiles and giggles, making Taeng smile too. Her smile is infectious and he likes it very much. “I’ll sing for you if you want.”
Taeng nods eagerly. “Yes, I want to hear you sing.”
“Okay.” Picking up Prince Fluffy, Steph rises to her feet and opens her mouth to sing.
“Hey guys. What’s up?”
Steph and Taeng turn to the door in unison and gape at the blonde standing inside the shed.
“Oh . . . is that a Maltese?”
Steph holds Prince Fluffy away from the intruder and backs up. “What are you doing here?”
The intruder grins and thumbs at Taeng. “Ha Min sent me here to find him.”
Steph turns to Taeng, eyes ablaze. “You said you didn’t tell Ha Min anything.”
Taeng shakes his head. “I didn’t.”
Prince Fluffy barks, dropping the bone it was biting and Steph picks it up. “You jerk!”
The last thing Taeng sees is the bone swinging towards his head.