A single box of steaming hot sweet potatoes is sitting on Yoona’s table when she arrives in school today. Her best friend, ever the hungry giant, grabs the box and opens it, taking a huge whiff of the aroma.
“It smells very good. I’m hungry again.”
Yoona rolls her eyes at Sooyoung. “When are you not hungry?”
“You just ate breakfast.”
“Well, immediately after eating,” Sooyoung adds with a grin. “It’s been an hour since I ate.”
Yoona shakes her head as she takes the box of sweet potatoes back. “I wonder who put it here. Do you think they did it by mistake?”
Sooyoung’s shit-eating grin makes an appearance. “This wouldn’t be the first time some dude has put gifts on your table.”
“But sweet potatoes? And they’re still hot.”
Sooyoung shrugs. “It’s a sweet gift,” he says with a laugh.
“Well, I’ll wait for a while to see if anyone comes back for it. They might have left it here by mistake.”
“If nobody comes for it, can I eat it?”
Yoona rolls her eyes. “Dude, nothing can stop you from eating it.”
Sooyoung holds his hands up. “I won’t eat it if it really belongs to someone. But if it’s a gift for you . . .”
“I’ll wait ten minutes.”
Sooyoung groans. “It’ll be cold by then.”
“Fine. Five minutes.”
Steph is waiting at the same spot where they climbed over yesterday. Taeng isn’t sure what to feel about seeing her again today but he smiles nonetheless.
Taeng looks at Steph swinging her legs as she sits at the top of the wall. Suddenly, he wonders if Ha Min was right about Steph and her ex-boyfriend. He still doesn’t know what the misunderstanding was about. Was it really a misunderstanding?
“Hey, Steph.” He hands Prince Fluffy to her and that’s when he notices the little step at the bottom of the wall. So that’s how Steph made it up there by herself.
“Come on up.”
The steps raise Taeng high enough to haul himself up and he straddles the wall, facing Steph. “Good idea to bring this, but how do we get it back?”
Steph grins. “I’ll collect it after school.”
“Is it safe to leave it like this?”
“Don’t worry. It’ll be alright.”
As it turns out, it isn’t alright. Not when Ha Min and the discipline master as well as their form teacher, Mr Lee, are waiting for them at the shed. There’s no place to run to. There’s no hole to hide in. Steph tries to stuff Prince Fluffy into her jacket but he barks in protest, giving the lost game away.
“Please explain yourselves,” says the discipline master and Taeng realizes that this must be what the end of the world looks like. “Kim Taehyuk, is that your dog?”
“It’s mine,” says Steph, almost snatching Prince Fluffy from Taeng’s arms. “It’s mine. He just happened to see me coming into school with it.”
Taeng stares blankly as the exchange goes on in front of him. The sight of Ha Min’s smug smile burns in his mind. How did she find out?
“Kim Taehyuk, did you know that it is against the school’s rules to keep a pet in here?”
Taeng opens his mouth to say yes but before he can utter his reply, Steph is saying no. No, no, no. He’s new. He wouldn’t know. She’s in charge of bringing him around and telling him the rules but she didn’t tell him about this. Taeng shuts his mouth, half-relieved to get out of more trouble which would upset Grandpa Kim further and half-guilty for letting Steph shoulder all the blame.
“Hwang Miyoung. This is not your first offence. While I understand your love for strays, you cannot flout school rules time and again without any consequences. You will report to me after school today. We will work out your punishment then.”
Steph hangs her head. “Yes, Mr Won.”
“As for the dog—”
“Please don’t make me throw him out, Mr Won,” Steph pleads.
Mr Won shakes his head. “I’m not that cruel. I will let him stay here in this shed till the end of the day. Then, you will have to bring him home and find some other place to keep it during school hours.”
“Thank you, Mr Won.”
“Mr Won, are you sure about keeping the flea bag in here? It’s against the rules,” says Ha Min.
“Gim Ha Min, while it is against the rules to keep pets in school, the dog is innocent and Hwang Miyoung has shown remorse by readily accepting punishment for breaking the rules. It would be cruel to toss the dog back on the street without someone to care of it. Holding it in here till the end of the day is a reasonable compromise.”
“As you say, Mr Won.”
“I’ll leave Mr Lee to talk to the two of you about this. Kim Taehyuk, since Hwang Miyoung vouched for you, I will not punish you this time. But I won’t let you off the next time.”
Taeng shakes his head. “There won’t be a next time, Mr Won.”
“Good. I’m happy to hear that.”
Yoona halts in her tracks. It is the same boy who said hi and ran away. So before he can run away again, she grabs hold on his arm. He flinches and leaps back, pulling her forward.
“I’m not gonna let you run away again.”
The mob of black hair ducks so his bespectacled face is out of sight.
“Who are you?” An envelope appears, occupying all of her vision. She takes it, momentarily distracted, and he yanks his arm out of her grip. “Hey!”
It’s too late. He’s gone with the wind. Again.
Steph disappears into the discipline master’s office after school and Taeng decides to wait for her in the shed. He is running through possible solutions to Prince Fluffy’s housing problem when Ha Min appears in front of him.
“Hi,” Taeng replies politely, hoping she will walk past him. But she doesn’t.
“I just wanna apologize. I really didn’t know you were with Steph.”
Taeng blinks in surprise. “Why are you apologizing? You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I had no intention of getting you into trouble. It’s just Steph who’s breaking rules. You got implicated because of her.”
“I don’t get what you mean. How did she implicate me?”
“If it wasn’t for her, you wouldn’t be caught with the dog, would you?”
“How did you know about her dog?”
Ha Min pulls the same smug smile. “The same way I found out about what she did with her ex-boyfriend. But it’s a secret. I can’t tell you how I know these things.”
“What did she do with her ex-boyfriend?”
“You wanna know, right?”
“Come with me and I’ll tell you.”
Taeng follows Ha Min into the student lounge. There are a bunch of students in it but Ha Min tells them to leave. Feeling thoroughly awkward about this, Taeng stands behind Ha Min and tries to convey his apology to them as they leave. Ha Min walks to a two-seater couch after the last student leaves the room and gestures for Taeng to sit beside her.
“So, you wanna know about Steph and her ex?”
“Why? Do you like her?”
Taeng nods. “She’s a nice friend.”
Ha Min laughs. “Just a friend?”
Taeng frowns. “What else?”
“Are you sure she hasn’t tried to seduce you yet? She’s quite the . . . out-going type, you know.”
“She hasn’t done anything to seduce me. Why would she?” says Taeng, although he remembers the view he got of Steph’s underskirt world not so long ago. That definitely wasn’t a seduction attempt . . . was it?
“She’s a boy-crazy slut, that’s why.”
“Boy crazy . . . s-slu—?” Taeng can’t bring himself to say the word.
Ha Min sidles up to him, pressing her thigh against his, and wraps her hands around his arm. “You’re too innocent, Taeng. Much too innocent. You need someone like me to protect you from sluts like Steph.”
“What did she do with her ex? What are you calling her a s-slut?”
Ha Min shakes her head. “I hate to have to say this but I guess I have to, for your sake.” Taking a deep breath, she hugs his arm to her chest and he tenses. “She was making him pay to see her with her clothes off. For each piece of clothing. Double for her bra and panties.”
Taeng swallows hard at the vision of Steph in a matching set of pink bra and panties. “P-Pay?”
“Yeah, like a stripper. And he’s not the first boyfriend she asked to pay. But, apparently she does it for free sometimes, when she wants a guy to be her boyfriend. That’s why I’m calling her a slut.”
“I-I can’t believe this.”
“Neither could I at first. But it’s all true. I have proof.”
Ha Min taps and swipes her phone for a bit then shows him a picture. It is a picture of Steph in the midst of unbuttoning her blouse.
“Where was this taken?”
Ha Min keeps her phone quickly. “I can’t tell you that. I’ve told you all that I can. And I’m telling you because I don’t want you to be used by her. She’s a scary fraud. She acts like a kind person but she’s not. She’ll break your heart like she broke her ex’s. But I’m your friend so I’m protecting you.”
Taeng thinks it’s all a little fishy. Why is Ha Min behaving like his friend now? She wasn’t exactly friendly to him in the beginning . . .
“Ha Min, thanks for telling me all this, but I have to go home now.”
“Where do you live?”
“Jeju-do.” Taeng feels proud because he didn’t stutter while lying.
“I’m from Jeju-do but I’m living here now to attend this school.”
“You should invite me to your home since I’m your friend.”
Ha Min is holding his hand now and Taeng doesn’t like it. “I will ask if I can.”
“Why would you need to ask? Don’t you have the power to decide what you want to do?”
“I have to ask my grandpa first.”
“Just tell him I’m the principal’s daughter. I’m sure he won’t mind.”
Taeng nods as he stands. “I will. But I really have to go now.”
Ha Min stands as well and shocks him with a kiss on his cheek. “Go home and ask. Then tell me about it tomorrow.”
“Remember to tell him I’m the principal’s daughter.”
Taeng takes one more look at Ha Min and her smile, then hurries out of the student lounge with dozens of questions circling in his head.