September of 2014, after school, I kissed the student council president—
. . .
“Kim Hajun!” my homeroom teacher shouted from across the classroom, grabbing everyone’s attention. “Don’t you even think about running away!”
I froze midway between my desk and the back exit. My body was, of course, facing the exit. And I thought I could get away with it for just one more day, too. Why must my first year of high school be spent with the oldest and strictest homeroom teacher ever? To make matters worse, she was a gym teacher, meaning she had all the power to make me clean the gym after school as my punishment if she wanted.
“Follow me!” She pointed out to the hallway and promptly stepped out of the classroom through the front exit.
“Fuck,” I said under my breath, already preparing myself to go mop the entire basketball court or organize the equipment closet.
“Man, you’re screwed,” Hyunwoo said, giving me a slap on the back. “Want me to wait for you?”
“No, leave without me. Who knows when I’ll be able to go home today…”
“Oh, cheer up, Hajun. You’ll survive like you always have. I’ll message you later, yeah?”
“Yeah, see you tomorrow.” I waved him goodbye and then went to face my waiting discipliner in the hallway.
“Come this way,” she said.
But before taking a step further, I threw away all sense of pride and begged, “Please, Ms. Kim, can’t you let me off the hook this one time? Have mercy. I live an hour away from school and the subway this morning—”
“I have let you off the hook. Several times. I understand your circumstance, Hajun, but there’s only so much I can do for you when you arrive late four times in one week. I feel like your tardiness is becoming a habit.”
“No, I swear it’s not—”
“Also! You think you’re being smart by having your hair long enough to cover your ears, huh? I still know you don’t take your piercings out for school.”
I lowered my head. I had nothing to say to that. Actually, I should’ve probably stopped talking from the start. I had four lates in one week, and it was Thursday…
“You’re lucky to be living in a time when schools no longer regulate hair codes. Back in my day, you could’ve been in some serious trouble for having your hair that length, let alone dyed that lightly. Now, before I lose my patience and make you clean the entire gym again, I suggest you quietly follow me.”
“Wait, so I’m not cleaning the gym today?”
“Do you want to?”
I realized my stupidity for asking that. I shook my head and kept my lips shut the entire way up to the top floor of the school building. We stopped in front of the student council room.
My teacher said, “With the change in school regulations starting this semester, you’ll get the chance to talk to a student council member first about your tardiness problem before receiving any serious punishment. Consider this your final warning for the weeks to come, Hajun.”
“Well, then. Go on.”
I didn’t know why I was getting so anxious all of a sudden. Facing a fellow student was far better than facing my monster of a homeroom teacher. There was no doubt about that. Still, I needed to take a deep breath in mental preparation before knocking on the door.
“Come in,” the student council president called.
I recognized his voice from him standing out at the school gates every morning to greet the students and teachers. He had that kind of soft-spoken airy middle tone, fit for respectful greetings. But it was also the kind of tone that could be scary to hear in serious situations.
I entered the room and saw that he was the only student council member present. He was seated alone at the end of the conference table in his perfectly neat uniform, wearing a neutral expression. Whether it was intentional or not, there was a strong air of authority about him.
I nervously said, “Hello, Mr. President…”
Having that repeated to me made me realize how stupid it sounded. I should’ve just gone with seonbae. The more I opened my mouth this afternoon, the more I was beginning to wish I didn’t know how to speak.
“Hi, my name’s Han Jisu. You can just call me Jisu Seonbae, I guess…” He made an attempt to smile at me kindly as he said that. It was pretty terrifying.
“Hello, Jisu Seonbae,” I quietly said.
Saying his name sent more nervous waves throughout my body, like it was the summoning spell for some sort of mythical beast. Apart from being a respectful greeter, I knew nothing about this seonbae.
He skimmed through a printed document on the table. “Right, Kim Hajun, you have quite the late record here. Eight days late already, and we’re only three weeks into the second semester.”
I gulped. “Yes, I know. But I can explain.”
He pretended he hadn’t heard me and continued, “I’m also aware of the countless times you were late during the first semester, too.”
“I can explain…”
I felt like a broken record at this point with my teacher and this seonbae. It was pitiful. I was aware living far away from school wasn’t much of an excuse. I couldn’t have been the only student with a long commute every morning. But that was the only excuse I really had.
“The thing is—”
“You live far from school, right? About an hour away?”
“How did you know?” I asked in surprise. “Did my teacher tell you?”
“No, I don’t directly talk to all the homeroom teachers. I’m only given a list of students and their current issues to tend to from the head of each grade’s office.”
“Oh, I see. Then, how do you know I live far away?”
“Well…” Jisu Seonbae paused, awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck and averting his gaze. Was he embarrassed? “I’ve… been watching you.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that seeing you out of breath rushing past the front gates every day has kind of become the highlight of my mornings.”
I burst out laughing. Perhaps it was my nerves giving way, or it got triggered by the mental image of me all red-faced and gasping for breath while fearing for my life at the hands of my homeroom teacher. Either way, it made Jisu Seonbae laugh too, though his laugh came out more like a soft giggle. Not terrorizing at all. Maybe I had been worrying over nothing.
“There’s something I should tell you, Hajun,” Jisu Seonbae began once the air had settled from our moment of laughter. His face now rigid, he let out a heavy sigh. “It’s irresponsible of me, but I’ve used my privileges as the student council president for personal reasons…”
I didn’t understand what he meant, and that sudden confusion brought room for me to be worried all over again. “How exactly…?”
He fidgeted with the document in his hands like he was worried about something, too. “Well, there’s actually a separate committee to proceed with these meetings. The student council president only acts as a supervisor. Yet, I personally requested to take on the task entirely on my own this evening… knowing you’d be coming.”
“Uh, I’m not sure I follow. You knew I would come here today?”
He got up from his seat and approached me. I almost cowered back toward the exit but ultimately managed to hold my ground. He stopped within arm’s reach of me, a bit too close for comfort.
His face wasn’t in its neutral, serious state like before, but it wasn’t smiling either. This face was different from anything I could put my finger on. We were around the same height, so our eyes perfectly aligned. His appeared glossy as if they were focused on something completely out of this room.
“Hajun, like I said, I’ve been watching you for a while now. And I don’t know when it happened. I don’t really understand myself at all.”
“Uh, I’m not sure I follow…?” I said once again, just going along with being a total broken record today.
He took a deep breath, followed by one more for reassurance. I started to hold mine with growing anxiety. Just what the hell was he trying to say here?
Eventually, he said, “What would you think… if I told you I like you?”
“What?” I immediately snorted in disbelief.
While I had been jokingly asked out by my male friends a few times, all real confessions so far had come from girls. I didn’t know what to think mainly because I had never thought about something like this before.
“Um, seonbae, I don’t know—”
“You think it’s weird, right?” Jisu Seonbae quickly cut in. “Boys don’t tell other boys they like them. At least, not in the way I’m referring to. It’s gross, isn’t it? I-I’m sorry. I—”
“No, it’s not.”
Before I knew it, I had already reached out for Jisu Seonbae’s face. Something about the shame—and perhaps even self-loathing—reflected on it couldn’t keep me still. No girl who had ever confessed to me had made that kind of face. There was no reason he should’ve been doing so either.
A quick glance sideways to make sure the door was still closed, and I did the previously unfathomable. Just because I never considered it before did not mean I was totally against the idea.
I’d had my first kiss with a girl back in middle school. However, this was a new kind of awkward yet exciting first. The two experiences were part of entirely different worlds.
I didn’t expect Jisu Seonbae to react quite as fast as he did the moment I met my lips with his. I thought he would pull away, still regarding what all this was as gross, but he didn’t. If anything, he only kissed me back harder, pushing me against the conference desk to steady both of our wavering legs.
There was something of a sweet panic that washed over me about secretly making out with a boy behind closed doors at school. I wondered how much more that feeling would’ve intensified had I been the student council president. Which reminded me—
September of 2014, after school, I kissed the student council president.