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Flair of Solitude

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Dainty fingers drummed against a polished wooden desk and tapped into a consecutive pattern of nine different notes. Bin Haneul leaned back in a chipped plastic chair as her mind buzzed through the melody of Für Elise, her right hand intuitively following along and a red ballpoint pen twirling in the valleys of her left. Pages and files cluttered her table, paper and binder clips long gone in the chaos of her workspace. Haneul let out a dreadful sigh as the hand that had once been thrumming a famous rhythm was now rubbing heftily at her face. She barely spared a glimpse at the student who had screeched the floors with the metal of his chair to walk up to her desk and pluck out a tissue from a Kleenex box. Ignoring the stifling giggles that had started to occur in her classroom, she went back to grading homework papers.

“Do you think she noticed yet?”

Haneul’s hand halted, and she assumed that she wasn’t supposed to hear that. Ignoring the obvious context, she looked up and immediately deadpanned at the pile of tissues that were towering over Jung Hoseok’s desk.

“Whoops!” Hoseok beamed cheekily having been caught.

Haneul rolled her eyes and stood up as the class erupted into a fit of collective giggles. “And just what do you think you’re doing?” she questioned, irritated by the upward quirk of her own lips from his blinding grin.

“Getting up and taking a tissue and kept doing it until you noticed,” he answered as his grin slowly filled with a little less innocence and a little more mischief as the seconds passed by.

Haneul let out a quiet snort at the juvenile prank. “Very cute. Why’d you do that?”

His grin grew even wider. “Dunno. I was bored, and I thought it’d annoy you.”

“Consider your mission accomplished, then,” she said. “Now, instead of wasting trees, how about you come over here and fold every single tissue and put them all back in the box? Since you’re so bored, that probably means you’ve finished studying for our test on Friday, right? I won’t see you on Retest Day? Again?”

“Mrs. Bin,” he whined as the other kids tried to smother their laughter, “you’re cruel.”

“So I’ve heard,” she hummed. “Class is about to end, so you better get started. And someone wake Yoongi up, please.”

A moment later, she heard a groan emit from Min Yoongi himself along with mumbles that Haneul was sure were swear words, but she decided against calling him out for it. In contrast to Hoseok, Yoongi was a rather quiet child often telling Hoseok to stop being so loud. He didn’t care much for schoolwork, but Haneul had come up with a compromise earlier in the school year. Yoongi could sleep during the two classes he had with her only if he finished all his work during Homeroom period, the class right then. Homeroom period was the last class of the day, so Yoongi would attain all of his schoolwork from his English class with Mrs. Bin in that time and sleep until school ended.

Hoseok approached Haneul’s desk with an amplified pout on his face and his hands full of tissues. After folding the first tissue, he aimed to put it back in the box, but Haneul stopped him. “Fold them all first.”

“Uh… what?”

“Fold them all, and make a stack. I'll tell you what to do with them after,” she instructed.

Hoseok scrunched his nose and gave his teacher a strange look, to which she returned with a sarcastic smile. The bell rang after his third folded tissue, and he swiftly gave Haneul a sheepish smile before darting towards the door.

“Jung Hoseok, get back here.”

Hoseok grumbled incoherently as he shuffled back to her desk, playfully sneering at the jocular pitying looks the students gave him as they filed out the door, shouting farewells for Mrs. Bin. Yoongi, having been asleep, shot him a curious glance before letting out a jaded yawn and following the others out the door, and the room fell silent. The only audible sound was the soft pitter-patter of raindrops that had begun to fall, thumping in a gratifying manner against the classroom window.

If there was one thing that Haneul loved, it was rain. Haneul adored the rain. She cherished the diminutive droplets forming an atmosphere, an aura, a scent. She treasured the scent of rain: petrichor, earthy, and pleasant. Rain often put her into a pensive and introspective mood, yet it calmed her all the while as it filled her with an odd sense of nostalgia. Habitually and time after time, she would gradually drift away from whatever task was at hand to merely pause and listen to the rainfall. As a child, Haneul relished rainy days as she would snatch her yellow raincoat off the racks and splash in so many puddles that she was sure she would succumb to a fever the next day. Her mother would scold her again and again, but the scintillating in Haneul’s eyes could never have been wiped away like tears after a day in the rain.

Haneul exhaled and sniffed as she picked up her grading pen and propped her head upon her right hand. She looked over at Hoseok who was still folding tissues with an oddly serene expression painted on his features. She tilted her head to the side as she wondered if he found his task relaxing. She mentally snorted at the fact that he’d be good at doing laundry. God knew she wasn’t.

“Jesus Christ, Haneul! I swear to God, one day I’m gonna rip that damn cocky head off his cocky fucking a—”

“Aisha,” Haneul cut her off, eyes darkening into a glare as she gestured towards a shell-shocked Hoseok.

Aisha quickly slapped a hand over her mouth, eyes widening like a deer caught in headlights as she stuttered out apologies to the twelve-year-old who seemed to be attempting to suppress the laughter that threatened to bubble up his throat. Lee Aisha was a TA, Teacher’s Assistant, for the English department at Nalgeun Middle School, twenty-four and fresh out of college with the mindset of a hormonal teenager. She was messy and shambolic with a far too uncouth mouth for Haneul’s liking. Although Haneul had to admit, Aisha did manage to bring amusement to her mornings and afternoons with petty complaints and comparisons to her “olden days.”

“You won’t uh… tell anyone, right?”

“Tell anyone what?” Hoseok asked.

“Atta boy,” Aisha laughed, nervously approaching Haneul’s desk. She lifted a plucked, defined eyebrow at Hoseok who had finished folding tissues.

“I’m done, Mrs. Haneul. What do I do with these?”

“Throw them out, of course,” she said.

“Oh, okay,” Hoseok replied, starting for the garbage bin before promptly whipping his head back around. “Wait, what?!”

Haneul raised her eyebrows. “You heard me.”

“But—but you just— you made me fold these for nothing, then?!” he wailed and threw his head back in hyperbolic despair.

Aisha, seemingly understanding the situation, barked out a laugh and gazed back at Haneul. “What’d the kid do?”

Haneul brushed her question weightlessly off her shoulders and turned back towards Hoseok with an easy smirk. “It’s what you get for destroying our environment. And besides, Hoseok, you should’ve known that reusing tissues is extremely unsanitary.”

Hoseok let out a loud, childish groan before scoffing and smiling again. “Well played, Mrs. Haneul. Well played,” he grinned and slung his bag over his shoulders as he strolled out the door. “Bye, Mrs. Haneul, Mrs. Lee!”

“Class clown, huh?” Aisha guessed when she glanced back over to Haneul.

“Yup,” Haneul agreed.

“Okay, anyway, like I was saying. Principal Ahn is the biggest cocksucker to ever have lived!” Aisha whinged. “I don’t think he could go one damn morning without kissing Superintendent’s ass.”

“Your mouth is so foul, Aisha. You are aware that he could walk in any minute now, correct? You should at least try to seem more professional than you really are.”

“As if I give a shit,” Aisha scoffed.

“Sometimes I wonder why he ever hired you, really.”

“As if he could live without me!” she altercated. “I do all his shitty paperwork for him, even though I’m only supposed to do the fucking literature work!”

Haneul snorted, “That’s too bad.”

Aisha let out an exaggerated sigh. “Whatever. Literature meeting starts in about ten minutes. Head there early?”

“I suppose. Let me gather my work first,” Haneul said before bringing her papers together and clipping them together with a binder clip that she, thankfully, found under the papers and slipped into her bag.

“Cute jacket, by the way,” Aisha complimented as they walked through the secluded hallways.

“Thank you.” The jacket was a simple red with a golden zipper, but Haneul liked it. As soon as they opened the door, though, a figure collided with Haneul as Aisha let out an audible “Ah!” and jumped away, startled.

“Oh! Oh-oh my God! I’m so, so sorry, Mrs. Bin, Mrs. Lee!” The figure, a mortified Kim Namjoon, apologised profusely.

It was then that Haneul realized that her jacket was soaked in an ice-cold Caramel Macchiato. Haneul took a deep breath before looking up at Namjoon.

“It’s alright, Mr. Kim.”

Namjoon’s cheeks coloured in discomfiture and embarrassment. “I apologize for my clumsiness. I wasn’t looking towards where I was going.”

“Ah, it’s fine,” Haneul replied again, successful in managing to keep her temper under control as she slipped off her jacket and placed it on a nearby counter. She rejected his and Aisha’s offers for their jackets.

Kim Namjoon was a curiosity to Haneul. She was aware that he was married, and she often found herself amused at how flustered the man could get around anyone. She was mindful that he was probably ashamed of his awkwardness and blundering actions, so she tried her best to keep her temper under control when a situation such as a coffee spill would occur which, to Haneul, was embarrassingly often. Despite his clumsiness, Mr. Kim was an admirable English teacher, giving his students his sincerity and all, and he was a talented writer as well. She often utilised his manuscripts and her own as exemplary models to teach her students. He and Haneul were the two English teachers for the seventh grade, so they worked together to amalgamate their ideas for lesson plans and test questions.

Haneul took a seat next to Aisha and Namjoon and sat in silence as she watched the other English teachers from the sixth and eighth grades file in.

“Shall we begin?” Namjoon spoke, gathering the undivided attention of all the teachers in the small staff room.

And they began.