Seulgi wipes the lick of sweat on her forehead with the back of her hand.
It all swelters together - the muggy midday air, the burner, the cramped kiosk, and the hum of postmix dispenser. She is sweating profusely, and the four-blade overhead fan hardly cooled the circulating air. She checks the weather application in her phone and finds that the temperature soared four notches higher than the average. Thirty-four degrees on a summer day. The ice in their lemonade juice drink will melt quicker than the customer can blink.
“It’s my lunchtime,” Joy announces, out of habit than courtesy because they usually eat lunch in one-hour shifts. Seulgi nods, languidly crouching over the counter since the beach resort is awfully uncrowded today and their sales are rather slow. Joy takes off her apron, puts on her sling bag, then goes out of the kiosk, holding an umbrella over her head.
The sparse beachgoers and first-timers are spread thinly over the long stretch of beach.
Tourists - albeit few - and mostly locals, flocked the recently opened beach resort: scampering around the fine white sand, basking under the summer sun slathered with sunscreen, and plunging into the clear salty waters. People gathered after in the few posh diners lined up behind the beachfront, but some would opt to eat at the cheap kiosks. The ground where the kiosks and buildings stood was hard-packed dirt, different from the loose fine sand of the beachfront.
Seulgi peers under the brim of her tennis cap and spots a petite frame distorted by the mirage, approaching in hurried strides, long dark hair and floral sundress fluttering in the wind. Under the sunlight the girl is strikingly pale, but once she is close Seulgi can see the rosy undertones beneath the bright red that lined her cheekbones. She has an undeniably comely face, a definite head-turner. The girl catches her breath and waits for it to subside before ordering a drink.
“Do you have bottled ones?” she asks before Seulgi can turn around and move towards the dispenser.
“Yes,” Seulgi answers. She bends down and opens the cooler under the counter, filled with packaged drinks submerged in ice. Ordinary lemonade, blue lemonade, and water consisted the roster of their drinks since it's exclusively a store for postmix lemonade, while other kiosks served other kind of drinks as designated by the management. “Do you want blue lemonade or just the ordinary one?”
She puckers her tinted lips then says, “Blue lemonade, I guess. Just to try something a bit different.”
Seulgi pulls out a bottle of blue lemonade, relishing its coolness to touch. She stands back up and hands the girl the drink, and consequently receives the payment. She enters the amount on the cash register which dings open, then she stuffs the bill onto one of its compartments. She rips the receipt after it's printed out by the register and together with the change, gives it to her customer.
“Oh, by the way I’m Irene,” the girl named Irene introduces herself with a lopsided grin.
Seulgi furrows her brows in confusion. “Oh… cool.”
“It means goddess of peace… my dad said, you know?” Irene informs the other, batting her eyelashes. “Anyway what should I call you by? I might buy more lemonade drinks, come often,” she titters. Seulgi is unable to comprehend what she was getting at and says nothing. “It’s hot out, can’t stand it,” she blabbers then lifts the unopened bottle, “and a refreshing drink is what I need.”
“Seulgi… it’s Seulgi.” It might stop the incessant prattling, Seulgi reckoned.
“Seulgi,” Irene repeats. She bites her lower lip, thinking of something else to say but only manages with a “See you!”
Irene scurries away, leaving Seulgi in wonder.
A hand over her mouth, Irene comes squealing to her friend Yeri, who was busy reading a magazine, lying on a beach chaise lounge under the shade of a palm tree. “What is wrong with you?” the blonde asks, folding the magazine and placing it onto her lap.
“The girl we saw earlier…!” Irene relays excitedly, causing the other to perk up. “I found her! She’s in a stall selling lemonade drinks.” She shows the bottle of blue lemonade to Yeri.
“But you don’t like lemonade juice,” Yeri tells her matter-of-factly. Her friend developed an aversion to it because she choked on it once, and almost lost her life gasping for breath. She vowed never to drink lemonade juice again.
Irene rolls her eyes. “It doesn’t matter, I’m gonna buy ten everyday if I have to.” She draws up that besotted smile and gaze, and Yeri knows her friend is in too deep.
“Is it really that serious?” Yeri questions her, unfazed and taking lightly of the matter. Coming from the city, they set out to this little town for the summer. Yeri has relatives where she can stay, while Irene’s dad bought a rest house near the resort. Three days in and bored out of her mind, Irene invites her to visit the beach resort which opened two months ago.
Irene spotted the girl while they were having breakfast. Her eyes lingered through the diner’s glass wall, watching the girl clad in work uniform carry a cooler, and Yeri swore Irene would have chased after her if not for her dad calling on the phone to ask how she’s doing.
So Irene lost sight of Seulgi causing her to sulk the whole breakfast, and Yeri was so done with it.
“Of course it is!” Irene exclaimed while lightly slapping the blonde’s arm. “Have you never been in love at first sight? Gosh, the first time I laid my eyes on her I knew she’s the one! I was losing hope, but then I found her… our paths crossed again! Wouldn't you call it fate?” She deduced that Seulgi worked in the area because of the uniform, and rigorously scoured for her with that in mind.
“I call it persistence,” Yeri deadpans.
Irene giggles. “Seeing her up close is even much better. She was sweating but ugh! Not a boy in the university could match her hotness—”
“Irene, you’re gay,” Yeri interrupts.
“The point still stands! Anyway, I have a strong feeling about her, she has just this… sapphic aura about her. There’s a chance she could be into me.” Her projection wasn’t exactly misplaced, because in her twenty years of existence she has been told pretty to her face.
“Sure, Jan,” Yeri references Brady Brunch, to express her disbelief. Also because Irene wouldn’t really pick up on it, being a bit old school and struggling with technology, much less understanding memes.
“You won’t understand because you’re straight,” Irene counters, sensing the subtle incredulity in her friend’s voice.
The following day Irene goes back to the resort all on her own. Yeri is traveling the outskirts of town with her relatives. She goes for a casual fit, wearing a loose red shirt tucked in denim shorts with matching slip-ons. She tied her hair, and she lined her lips with lipstick redder than yesterday’s. She arrives at the the resort a little after noon.
There’s a spring in her steps, and she cheerily hums a song while walking towards the burger and lemonade kiosk.
The day is a tad cooler than yesterday, the breeze rustling the leaves high on the trees. Above is a cloudy sky, the sun partly hidden from view. Irene comes across two children with brightly-colored pool floats, running up to their mother who guides them toward the shallow end of the sea. Another group of kids were trying to build sand castles. She loved the serenity of the place, how it felt like there’s nothing else but the sand, sky, sea and the moment.
However, upon reaching the kiosk, her sunny disposition fades.
It is not Seulgi whom she sees, but a taller redhead flipping burgers for a customer. She patiently waits, lost in the hiss of the frying pan. Is she in the right kiosk? Irene looks around, and she’s certain that it is the same food stand. Theirs was located in front of the comfort rooms, and the stalls sold unique products from each other, so that no two stalls offered the same snack or meal, she observed.
“Anything you like?” Joy asks Irene with a contrived smile on her face.
“I’m actually looking for someone,” Irene confesses, a bit bashful.
“Is Seulgi around?” she inquires softly. Perhaps they are co-workers, either that or they worked in shifts.
Joy grips the cooked burger steak with the tong and deftly puts it on top of a sliced bun spread apart on the pan. She tops the meat with lettuce, tomato, and cheese, then squeezes catsup and mayonnaise over it. She flips one face of the bun over the other to make the hamburger then packs it in a small, square cardboard box.
"Is Seulgi around?" Irene repeats, just in case the girl didn't hear or forgot to answer her.
The redhead serves the customer his burger, collects the exact payment, and presses the register. She turns off the burner. "Seulgi's just eating lunch. Why?" Joy regards her with skepticism. “Are you a friend?”
A friend? Irene considers. “Uhm, no, not like that…”
Joy cocks a brow and presses her hands against the stainless steel countertop. She hasn’t seen the girl before, nor such beauty that could easily grace the television or magazine. I’m probably the prettiest girl Seulgi has ever met, Joy thinks haughtily, but she knew that the girl in front of her was a league of her own. How exactly does she know Seulgi?
“But she’s coming back, right?” Irene wonders, her wide, bunny-like eyes twinkling.
“Of course. You’re in luck, because her lunchtime is soon over,” Joy says as she checks her wristwatch. “So, is there anything you want?” she asks again, not to pressure her to purchase anything but to make her reconsider.
Irene shakes her head.
“No, none, nothing?” Joy questions again to make sure. “Okay,” she says in defeat and plops down on the Monobloc chair. She observes the girl, who turned her back to stare at the sea and the horizon. So she really came here just for Seulgi, Joy ponders. The girl doesn’t stir, so unable to prod her with queries, she just sighs and twirls her hair with a finger.
Three minutes later, the side door squeaks open. This prompts Irene to look back towards the kiosk, and there she sees Seulgi, tied hair windswept and skin clammy, yet remains an attractive sight. Joy looks up, alternating her gaze between them.
“Seulgi!” Irene yells, unable to contain her glee.
“Oh, hello Irene,” Seulgi greets, a little flustered. “What brings you here?” It wasn’t something she says to a customer, but it came out of her mouth anyway.
“What else?” Irene asks rhetorically. “A bottle of blue lemonade, of course.”
Joy’s jaw drops upon hearing Irene’s answer.