By: Junhyeok Jang
I halfheartedly nodded yet again, pretending I was interested. I began counting the number of diced carrots on my spoon, trying to find something more entertaining than listening to Junhyeok, who was droning on with another one of his lectures on why batting average was a useless stat. This guy always took it too far. Our conversations always started lightheartedly – something funny like how the Lotte Giants won’t win the Korean Series before we graduate or turn 30. But we quickly ran out of things to talk about, and when I try to lead the conversation in another direction, he says something like, “Yeah, that’s cool,” and gets all fired up and theoretical as if he was a commentator paid to talk only about baseball. Junhyeok’s cool, alright, but our relationship never went beyond baseball.
A boisterous clamor arose as the dining hall gates flung open. The rhythmic bounce of 6 uniform pairs of white sneakers from Brand X against the black marble floor announced the arrival of Hyunsoo and the rest of his gang – Sangkyu, Juntae, Minseok, Jaemin, and Kunwoo. Everyone in the dining hall turned their gaze to the sweatshirts matching in design but varying in color, form-fitted on the boys – the ones from none other than Brand Y. Hyunsoo, their leader standing in front, sported the purple one with glistening gold stripes – the most lavish and expensive edition. The other boys stood surrounding him like his bodyguards, each smoothing out the vibrantly colored weavings and seams on their spotless sweatshirts. I looked around to see the design that was left untaken. Baby blue, I recognized as the only one left. The one with pastel yellow stripes. It was the ugliest and least popular by far – but maybe it would look alright on me.
They returned with boiling stone pots of sizzling kimchi stew and settled into the adjacent table less than three feet away from ours. One by one they filled in, starting from the far end, with Hyunsoo arriving last and sitting on the side closest to ours. Hyunsoo held high his head painted with a wicked grin as he passed us by, conspicuously smoothing out the golden logo on his chest and staring us down. Hyunsoo’s smile contorted to a sneer, to my horror, as Junhyeok carelessly shrugged. I stared at Junhyeok in disbelief before turning to Hyunsoo and vigorously oohing, remembering that I was supposed to exaggerate the compliments. A clamor arose, and the gang began to vibrantly rap along to the latest hits as they began eating.
Junhyeok sighed as he rolled his eyes and went back to passionately lecturing me about the only thing he ever knew to talk about – baseball. But I couldn’t remember anything he said. All I could focus on was how the six boys were engaged in a nonstop flood of elatedness, completely opposite to how silent I was with Junhyeok. The fried rice Junhyeok and I were eating suddenly lost its savory taste. All I wanted now was a spoonful of that mouthwatering, oozing kimchi stew that Hyunsoo and his gang were having.
“Yo,” Hyunsoo called, snapping me back from gazing at his purple-and-gold sweatshirt with purple lines with my mouth drooping open. Flushing, I hurriedly redirected my gaze to my fried rice. Hyunsoo smirked as he briefly scanned me up and down before wickedly grinning as he invitingly looked at the empty seat and raised his eyebrows at me. That was enough for me. The invitation I longed for finally came at last – to be dressed like them, to eat lunch with them, to be a part of them. I would be one of the popular kids. I bolted upwards as my grin widened, elated at the thought of opening my wallet for that baby blue and pastel yellow sweatshirt that now had a powerful aesthetic appeal.
“Where are you going?” asked Junhyeok as I arose. His face contorted into a frown of suspicion as he slowly turned his head towards Hyunsoo. My grin faltered in a twinge of guilt, knowing I would end up on the wrong side of the table.
“I’ll be right back,” I awkwardly replied as I pretended to go get a juice box.
Junhyeok Jang greatly enjoys learning about new technology, playing sports, and reading and writing creative short stories.