Nervous may have been an understatement to what Yuet Ling was feeling. The painful ache in her stomach and the constant drumming of her fingers clearly said that there was more to it. The consistent rhythm was supposed to soothe her, but it wasn’t working.
It didn’t help that the air was chilly, making her tug her cardigan around her shoulders in an attempt to grasp at warmth.
The crunch of gravel in the short distance should have made her terrified of whatever it was that was lurking in the dark. Instead, she released a tired sigh.
“I can hear you. There’s no point trying to be quiet.”
There was a pause before he spoke. “I was hoping you were too distracted to notice me.”
As she had expected, it was Jun Wei, resident cat person, neighbourhood kid, and childhood friend. The moonlight reflected in the twinkle of his eyes, a feature of his that she admired. Converse shoes dragging against the ground, adorned in a blue hoodie and sweatpants, he quickly plopped himself down into the chair beside her.
“How’s preparation? Good?” Jun Wei stretched his arms, almost resembling a cat himself.
He was referring to her long-anticipated interview for a position in a school club, one that she was deeply passionate about ever since she joined as a regular member. Writing her name down on the list was already nerve-racking, let alone going for an interview.
“You could say that.”
Used to the vague answers, Jun Wei shrugged and leaned into his seat.
“The usual,” she answered, staring into space while he observed the lights from houses situated far away. “You?”
Jun Wei raised an eyebrow at her flat tone, a frown settled upon his face as he turned to get a good look at her unreadable expression.
“I’m good.” At his reply, she nodded and continued to keep silent.
After a while, he poked her shoulder, an indication for her to elaborate from earlier.
“Anything else? There’s something you’re not telling me.”
“Do you really want to know?”
Jun Wei huffed, folding his arms across his chest. “I don’t see why not? Unless you don’t want to share.”
With a sigh, she refused to meet his eyes. “My photo for the class notice board was taken down. Someone had thrown it into the waste paper basket, they even stomped on it for good measure.”
When she found the crumpled and dusty piece of paper, it shouldn’t have been easy to pretend it didn’t bother her. The laughter that erupted and the fake looks of shock were nothing. Sucking in a deep breath, she had calmly rubbed off the grey smudges as best as she possibly could, and pinned it back.
If only she could pretend in front of Jun Wei too.
Sometimes, she didn’t like how she could spill everything to him. And this was one of those moments.
“And?” He knew her too well.
“There’s nothing more.”
Jun Wei’s eyes narrowed. “No, there clearly is.”
Blowing out a breath of air, she reluctantly spoke. “Today, I was trying to give myself a pep talk. But I guess pacing in a room while having a one-sided conversation with yourself isn’t socially acceptable.”
“I don’t think—”
“This girl just told me to stop talking to myself,” Yuet Ling continued, fingers digging into her palms, leaving crescent-shaped marks upon her skin. “She said it was weird, maybe even annoying.” Her voice almost broke into a sob.
Wincing from the awful recount of the incident, she turned away from him. It was pathetic to blink back tears that threatened to slip. Who cried over a stupid comment that could be easily ignored?
The words were catching up and each one felt like a knife to her chest. Bringing her sleeve to her face, she wiped away traces of tears which trailed down her face.
After a moment, Jun Wei brought out a small white box, topped with a dainty white bow. In her head, he conjured it from thin air.
That was what he was like to her, magic.
“What’s this?” She swallowed the lump in her throat, an attempt to get the words out, but she couldn’t quite think properly.
“Your pre-interview cake.” He placed the box into her lap, opening it up to present it to her.
“Baked and decorated by yours truly.”
The slice of cake stared at her, pastel blue icing decorated with peaks of whipped cream. The words on the cake were piped on with black icing.
“There’s a fork because you don’t like to use your hands,” Jun Wei added.
“Celebrate for you?” she read aloud, curiosity piqued. “What does that mean?”
“It is what it is.”
Her gaze turned icy, lips pressed into a line. “I haven’t even done anything yet. There’s nothing to celebrate for.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Yuet Ling.” He nudged her shoulder, prompting her to stop glaring. “No matter what happens tomorrow, or in your life, always celebrate for you.”
She scoffed, setting the box in the space between them.
“What good comes from that? People judge you for everything.”
“You have no idea what it’s like to sit alone in a classroom of people who want nothing to do with you.”
She didn’t like this, rejecting his caring gestures. It made her feel like a monster, tearing down the goodness in a kind soul. The villain of a story.
The only difference being that she was her own villain.
“Maybe I don’t, but that doesn’t take away the fact that you should celebrate you, your life.” His eyes held hers. Had his eyes always held the stars and colliding galaxies? “Don’t you think you’re worth celebrating?”
Just as she parted her mouth, she decided against it. She bit her tongue and said no more.
“No matter what happens, colour those moments with your own,” Jun Wei said gently, pushing the box towards her. Even if she refused him, he was going to try without giving up.
“I’ll try,” she mumbled, head drooping to face the ground. She felt silly for getting worked up around him. He had only wanted to make her smile.
Reaching out for the little cake fork, she dug into the treat. The cake was fluffy, buttery and perfect. A truly golden morsel for a late-night snack.
“Not bad, right?”
The smug grin on his face only made her want to slap him. Now, that would have been a sight to see.
Jun Wei rolled his eyes, feigning annoyance at her answer. “That’s all? Do you know how long it took for me to get this done?”
“At least I’m not saying it’s only edible,” she shot back, taking another bite of cake. “Take whatever compliments you’re given.”
Polishing the cake off, she leaned into her chair, legs swinging as she wiped crumbs from her lips.
Celebrate for you, he had said.
She wondered if she could do that.
Perhaps she would, with time.
Jun Wei hopped up on his feet to bid farewell. It was getting late, and school was not going to wait. “Hey, you’re going to do great.”
Yuet Ling tilted her head to the side, giving a look to the boy in front of her, who was shifting his weight on one foot as he mimed kicking the gravel beneath. He was like a child, going on without a care in the world. But she knew otherwise.
He was practically the sun after a storm, sunlight in the form of a person. To put it simply, he was sunlight wearing shoes.
Jun Wei tucked his hands into his front pockets, pondering his next words before speaking. “Ice cream when you get back tomorrow?”
By: Zhen Li