Tiffany gathers her things and puts on her sneakers, taking her time in tying the laces; then she wraps her ballet flats and shoves them into her duffel bag.
She takes a deep breath, switches off the lights and then finally walks out of the room.
Tiffany pushes a coin through the slot of the vending machine and pushes the button that will get her a can of green tea. She plays with the zipper of her hoodie as she waits for her drink, smiling to herself as she hears the faint echoes of the heavy bass beats of a familiar dance song.
She deposits another coin, choosing strawberry milk this time before heading down to the studio at the end of the hall. She stands by the doorway silently, a smile still on her face as she watches the one boy in the room pump his chest and move his body in tune to the music.
The song isn’t over yet when he notices her from the corner of his eye, prompting him to miss a step.
“Hi,” Tiffany greets him. “You’re still here. Last one to leave as usual.”
“So are you,” Hyukjae points out, walking toward her. He grins, and adds, “As usual.”
“I was just on my way out actually.” Tiffany grins and hands him the drink she’d gotten for him. “Just came by to make sure you’re hydrated.”
“Oh.” Hyukae smiles back at her. “Thanks.”
They eye each other awkwardly for a few seconds, Tiffany consciously shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
“Well,” she finally volunteers, one hand gripping her own drink tightly. “I guess I’ll be go—”
“I’ll take you home.” Hyukjae looks embarrassed right after he realises what he’d just blurt out, but he just smiles sheepishly as he adds, “I mean, if it’s alright?”
“Oh!” Tiffany is surprised, but she’ll be lying if she says she isn’t secretly pleased. Her eyes are sparkling when she nods at him. “Sure, okay. That’ll be nice.”
Hyukjae wipes the sweat off his brow with his shirt sleeve.
“I’ll go wash up first,” he tells her. “Wait for me?”
Tiffany nods again. “Okay.”
She looks around the room while Hyukjae gathers his things and then leaves to take a quick shower. Tiffany ends up staring at her reflection on the wall to wall mirrors. She makes a face, and then she stands at position #1, still staring at herself. She raises her arms and lets her hands rest on the practice bar. She keeps observing herself and the contours of her body, trying to stand as upright as she can.
She smiles at herself in the mirror; even she can tell that her expression looks strangely forced. Finally her shoulders slump and she lets out a tired sigh.
“Hey, do one of those ballet high jumps or something. Whatever you call them.” Despite all the mirrors, Hyukjae still surprises her when he comes back to the room, smiling brightly at her. He looks fresh, not to mention he smells like soap when he approaches Tiffany.
The smiles she gives him is genuine.
“Ballet high jumps?” She giggles. “What is this, track and field?”
Hyukjae laughs. “I did say ‘or something!’ The kind where you do splits in the air—can you do that?”
Tiffany laughs. “You mean a jeté?”
Hyukjae shrugs. “I have no idea,” he says laughing. “You ballerinas have all that French vocabulary that’s lost on me.”
“I’ll—” Tiffany grins mischievously before forming an oval with her arms, and twirling once. “I’ll give you a pirouette instead.”
She giggles when she completes a 360, but then Hyukjae angles his head; the way he’s looking at her suddenly makes Tiffany blush. She quickly turns around and grabs her bag from where she’d put it on the floor earlier before he could notice the sudden rush of blood to her face.
“C’mon let’s go,” she mutters, lightly tugging at Hyukjae’s shirt as she passes by him and exits the room.
Hyukjae looks confused, but he picks up the rest of his things and hurries after her.
The night air is breezy when they exit building.
“Are you cold?” Hyukjae immediately asks Tiffany, starting to shrug off his jacket.
Tiffany shakes her head and zips up her hoodie. “I’m good.”
“Are you sure?”
Tiffany’s eyes vanish as she smiles and nods her head. Hyukjae simply shrugs; he starts walking towards the direction of the train station but Tiffany grabs onto his bag and holds him back.
“I don’t want to go home yet,” she says, peering at him through her fringe and biting her lower lip.
Hyukjae turns to look at her. “Where do you want to go then?”
Tiffany shrugs. “Can’t we... I don’t know. Can’t we just walk around for a bit?”
Hyukjae is confused, but he nods. “Okay, sure.”
Tiffany smiles at him gratefully and then she starts walking towards the opposite of where Hyukjae had originally intended to go, balancing herself on the edge of the sidewalk.
“There’s a park around two blocks from here,” she volunteers. “Have you ever been?”
Hyukjae shakes his head, and Tiffany grins at him.
“Come on,” she says, tugging at his arm. “We’ll go there.”
Hyukjae can’t help but let out an amused chuckle at Tiffany’s sudden burst of enthusiasm, and it makes Tiffany blush a little with embarrassment.
“My middle school was near here,” Tiffany explains. “Did you know? That’s why we chose this dance school.”
“Huh? I thought you went to middle school in the US?” Hyukjae knits his brow.
Tiffany laughs, remembering how Hyukjae likes making her say long sentences in English, usually ones read out from his foreign dance magazines.
“Until I was 13, I did, yeah,” Tiffany says. “I thought you knew!”
“I thought I knew too!” Hyukjae cracks with a laugh, prompting Tiffany to playfully poke his arm.
She giggles and scrunches her nose at him. “We moved here right around the time I was fourteen,” she explains. “We moved because my father wanted to after, uh, after my mother died.”
Tiffany is pretty sure she’s told Hyukjae about that particular tidbit of her life before, but she still looks down and avoids his gaze.
“Oh,” he murmurs. “Oh right. Did you like moving here?”
“Well, considering the circumstances of the move...” Tiffany trails off.
“Oh, right, of course, I mean—” Hyukjae looks embarrassed and even underneath the moonlight, Tiffany could see his flushed cheeks and dismayed smile.
Tiffany smiles at him and nonchalantly waves her hand as if to tell him not to mind it so much. “Eventually it became okay,” she assures him.
Hyukjae nods sheepishly.
“Besides,” Tiffany adds, “back then I just threw everything into dancing.”
Hyukjae’s face lights up—dance is a language that he understands; Tiffany giggles, Hyukjae’s expression is very contagious. He’s very visibly surprised when she takes his hand and loosely threads their fingers together, tugging at him and leading them towards the swings.
“We’re here,” she announces as she sits down on one of the swings and lets go of his hand almost as suddenly as she’d taken it before.
From the corner of her eye, Tiffany notices his hand twitch as if it wants to go after her hand and take it back again; she thinks she may be blushing and she starts slowly swaying the swing to catch a little more air.
Hyukjae takes the swing seat next to her and leans his head on the chain handles, awkwardly looking at her.
“You’re really not cold?” He asks again.
“I’m not going back to the dance school next year,” is what Tiffany answers him with.
Hyukjae’s eyes widen in surprise; he frowns. “Why?”
Tiffany’s tiny laugh is a little bittersweet. “I’m not really good at dancing in case you haven’t noticed.”
“I... I don’t think you’re that bad,” Hyukjae protests.
Tiffany giggles at how earnest he sounds. “You’re bad at lying.”
“No, really, it’s okay,” Tiffany cuts him off, laughing. “And I don’t have a dancer’s body anyway.”
“I think your body is just fine,” Hyukjae declares, giving her an automatic look over.
Her ears burn at the compliment, and she looks away, afraid he might notice her blushing. “Shut up,” she mutters.
“I’m just telling the truth!”
“I’m too stocky to become a professional ballerina.” Tiffany sighs with resignation. “Besides, high school is almost over, I have to focus on getting into a good college.”
Hyukjae frowns. “I’m not in high school anymore but I’m still here.”
“But you’re good,” Tiffany points out. “You’re going to dance for a living and you’re going to be successful doing it.”
“You can too, though,” Hyukjae insists. His face is so convinced that Tiffany has to suppress a laugh.
She snorts. “I’ve been dancing since I was 8 and I have never gotten a lead in any production. Or even a solo number. I’m not really cut out for this.”
Hyukjas looks like he wants to say something more, like he wants to tell her encouraging words that are lost to him at the moment.
Tiffany giggles as she swings sideways a little, bumping her knee with his. “I’m okay with this, I promise. Don’t look so worried. I want to go to a good university and become a professional... well I’m not sure exactly what just yet, but I will be a professional something. I’m sure of it.”
She’s rambling, but Hyukjae looks so uncharacteristically dejected, as if it’s him giving up dancing and not her. Tiffany smiles at him and knocks their knees together again.
“Have I ever told you why I started dancing?”
Hyukjae shakes his head. They’ve known each other for a little over a year, but Tiffany isn’t surprised she hasn’t mentioned it before. Sometimes she thinks it’s kind of embarrassingly stupid.
“When I was younger I fell in love with ballet after my father took me to see a The Nutcracker production.” Tiffany giggles nervously, toeing the dirt with her sneakers. “So cliche, I know, The Nutcracker of all things, but... yeah.”
Hyukjae shrugs. “I haven’t... I don’t really know much about ballet except for what I see sometimes when I look in during your classes.”
He looks a little embarrassed admitting that she checks in on her every now and then, but Tiffany feels secretly pleased.
“I used to dance with my Daddy a lot too when I was a kid,” Tiffany continues, smiling to herself at the resurfacing memories. “He’d twirl me around again and again until I fell into his arms, a dizzy heap of incoherent giggles.”
“Daddy.” Hyukjae snorts. “You sound like you were a cute little Daddy’s girl.”
Tiffany laughs and reaches over to lightly smack Hyukjae’s arm. “I guess I was,” she admits.
Hyukjae grins as he stands up and holds out a hand towards Tiffany. “Come on,” he says.
Tiffany looks up at him questioningly, but she takes it after he flashes her a huge grin.
“I’ll give you a little twirl,” Hyukjae says, laughing as he raises his arm and motions for Tiffany to turn around. “Come on, just follow!”
Tiffany twirls, once, twice, thrice, giggling and laughing melodiously, unable to control herself. She’s practically out of breath when she almost slips from dizziness, but Hyukjae steadies her shoulders.
“You can always dance with me,” Hyukjae tells her.
Tiffany snorts, but then she looks up at Hyukjae; he looks a little embarrassed, but he also looks like he really means it. “That... that is a really cheesy line,” Tiffany mumbles, flushed.
“I-it’s not a line!”
Hyukjae looks really affronted that she would think he’s just pulling her leg and it amuses Tiffany to no end. She smiles at him, grateful.
Hyukjae nods a little; he still has a loose grip on her hand. “I’m gonna miss you,” he mumbles.
“It’s not like we have to stop seeing each other!” Tiffany blushes. “I mean... you know. It’s not like we have to stop being friends.”
Hyukjae bites the insides of his cheeks, attempting to stop his grin from growing further. “That’s right,” he says, “I have your number.”
Tiffany looks at him, smiling and holding back giggles. “Okay,” she says, taking a deep breath and finally untangling their fingers. She turns around to pick up her bag from where she left it on the floor next the swings. “I’m ready to go home.”
Hyukjae grabs her hand back when she turns to him. He looks embarrassed by his boldness, but he’s looking directly at her when he manages to choke out, “Can I kiss you?”
Tiffany speechlessly blinks at her for a few seconds, watching as Hyukjae’s Adam’s apple bob as he swallows. She looks at him directly in the eyes and she feels Hyukjae squeeze her hand as she slowly nods.
Tiffany closes her eyes when Hyukjae slowly leans in, and she swears she can hear nothing else but the sound of her heart beating twice as fast than normal. Hyukjae’s lips meets her and the kiss is chaste more than anything else, but Tiffany thinks it feels really, really good.
When they pull away, Tiffany feels her cheeks warming up. She notices Hyukjae’s hold on her hand loosening, so she takes initiative and properly weaves their fingers together.
“Right,” she says, looking up at him. “You have my number.”
“And you’re ready to go home,” Hyukjae nods, grinning.