In These Moments, We: Syrup-coated

Submitted into Contest #93 in response to: Set your story at a party that has gone horribly wrong.... view prompt


Contemporary Fiction High School

The moment he saw the thick lipstick of Jiaye approaching him with a smirk, Rengmo held his breath.

“So, Mo, how’s it going with your girlfriend?”

She dragged the last word out and sniggered while he squirmed in his seat.

“Fine. She’s great.”

“Great. Then you can invite her to this weekend’s party.”

He turned back to his sandwich, trying to look unaffected and disinterested, because the malice flashing in Jiaye’s eyes made him shudder.

“She doesn’t like stuff like that.”

“But if you convince her, she’ll go. She adores you, Mo.”

Her consonants dragged again, slithered through his ears and brain, and he swallowed his bite of toasted bread, pan-fried beef, and spinach. He didn’t taste any of it.

Behind Jiaye, he saw Ilho swagger up and take the seat across from him. Yuul and Ed soon followed, laughing and whispering behind Jiaye. The two who never contained their mischief, Yuul and Ed gave away their intentions, and Rengmo felt his stomach churn.

“What’re you guys planning?”

“Planning?” Yuul pulled back in offended innocence. “Nothing! Except for maybe seeing our friend and his girlfriend together. She can hang out with us.

Her last sentence sounded tossed out, like an idea dismissed out of insignificance, so maybe Rengmo could make them forget about whatever plan they had schemed.

“Guys, Danjune has a big senior project coming up, and we have Mr. Po’s math test to study for.”

“When did you get so uptight, Mo? I doubt Mr. Po even knows any of our faces considering we always skip during his class,” Ed said.

“I don’t want to repeat a grade, so I have to pass the tests at least.”

“But Mo, you’re coming to the party at least, right?”

“I really shouldn’t. Ah—I actually have to go early to ask Mr. Po a question, so I’ll see you guys later.”

He reboxed his sandwich and threw it in his backpack, heading to the exit as smoothly as possible. The moment he stepped out of the lunchroom, he let out the biggest sigh of his life.


Jumping at the deep voice, he whipped around and backed up a few steps at Ilho’s figure. Rengmo actually stood a head taller than him and had a more toned body from his dancing, but Ilho commanded an air of importance, something Rengmo knew belonged solely to the leader of their friend group.

“Ilho, what’s up?”

He titled his head up, crossed his arms, stared at Rengmo, and every action had Rengmo dreading his next words.

“Don’t you think you’re in too deep, Mo?”

“What do you mean?”

“With your fake girlfriend. You won the bet, so you don’t need to keep pretending that you’re dating her. The others are just going to keep pestering you like this to tease you.”

Rengmo looked away, clenching his hands. Right. He had won the bet, the bet daring him to ask out the school’s weirdo, take her out on a couple of dates, to play with her feelings.

Now he was paying the price.

In those few dates, he realized how different Danjune was but not in the way he had assumed. He had a front row seat to her strange actions, like when she lined a bunch of rocks in the middle of the courtyard or when she shouted for no reason. But there always was a reason. She lined the rocks to protect a group of ants deciding their new queen. She made an outburst to stop his friends from digging into his backpack.

Friends. He wasn’t sure if he should call them that now. He thought that friends were supposed to make each other feel accepted and comfortable. Danjune made him feel that way, and that was the difference he had discovered between her and his friends.

“Mo, I’m just saying this for your sake. You already did her a favor. Now she knows what it’s like to date, since she definitely won’t get another in the future. Be done with it.”

Ilho’s words sounded like advice, but Rengmo felt the tone underneath. He long figured out how to interpret Ilho’s conversations.

She’s killing our rep. Cut the dead weight.

Rengmo opened his mouth to agree. The sooner he stopped his charade, the less he or his friends could hurt Danjune. They could return to being strangers, and maybe he could convince his friends to leave her alone out of sympathy towards an ex.

He opened his mouth to agree, but different words seized his tongue.

“After. After her big senior project. She doesn’t need more stress.”

Ilho clicked his tongue. Rengmo flinched.

“Fine. After. But hey, since she’s so stressed, take her to the party. We’ll show her a good time.”

Without letting Rengmo respond, Ilho pushed his way back into the lunchroom, the finality to his orders. Rengmo's legs trembled, and he stumbled out of view of the glass doors. He hit the brick wall and collapsed to his knees, shifting and curling in to lean against the cool mortar.

Why didn’t he agree? Why didn’t he say that he would cut his fake relationship with Danjune? That was better for her, and guilt could have finally stopped gnawing at him.


He jumped before he recognized that voice. Danjune’s dark hair draped over his face as she bent down and swung her head to do so.

“Do you sit with the brick wall too? Let’s sit together!”

Plopping down next to him, she reached to grab his shirt sleeve and squeeze it. From that action, he knew that she was excited to see him, and as she popped open her lunch bag, he felt himself lean in to see. He was excited too, to be next to someone who would listen to him and accept him.

He smiled when she talked about how she had counted the sun’s rings today, and the guilt bit again at his chest.

Yeah, he had always known that he was lying to her—but worse, he didn’t want to let her go either.


“The house has so many bushes!”

Rengmo hummed, but he couldn’t focus on Danjune’s words about how fun playing hide and seek here would have been. As he pulled up to the parking lot of the mansion, he felt his every muscle tense. He invited her to the party, and she had agreed more easily than he thought that she would. She had only stared at him before nodding, and when he asked if she was sure, she smiled at him, but her usual joy had muted.

“If you’re going, I have to go. And you have to go, right?”

He had felt relief at her readiness, but now he couldn’t stop wondering about that half-hearted smile.

That, and exactly what Jiaye was planning.

“Mo! So good that you made it,” Ed drawled. He had somehow spotted them through the crowd of bodies and the noise as people cheered at the TV screen. He waved them over, tip-toeing up and hooking his arm over Rengmo’s shoulders, and dragged him into the kitchen without any acknowledgement of Danjune. A bit of indignation flared up in Rengmo, and he turned to stop him, but then Ed leaned back to his ear.

“Greetings in the kitchen, then keep her away until Jiaye texts you.”

Rengmo jerked back at the order and bumped into someone. Turning around, he saw that Danjune had clutched onto his sleeve again, but her eyes held a blankness, not any of her excitement.

Once in the kitchen, Ed released him and slid next to Yuul. She and Jiaye had dressed up in short skirts and small crop tops, makeup layered thick, and hair steamed and curled. They all huddled at a table, and littered around them laid alcohol cans and bottles of… syrup?

“Mo, there you are! And Danjune, nice to see you too.”

Danjune nodded and waved.

“Where’s Ilho?”

“Oh, just out mingling, ya know? Don’t wait up for him though, Mo. Just go have fun.”

She winked, and Ed turned him around, pushing him and Danjune out of the kitchen. The people watching the TV exploded in noise again, and he winced at the volume. A tug to his sleeve made him turn around, and he followed Danjune’s tugging out a side door. She led him out towards a bench, and despite the passed-out pair next to a statue and pounding of bass from the house, the place felt quite peaceful.

“We can wait here.”

He sat with her on the cool stone bench. Glancing around, he figured that here was the best place for Danjune anyway because she didn’t like to be touched, and inside had been packed like a can of sardines.

“Rengmo, do you like these kinds of parties?”

“What? Oh, they’re alright, I guess.”

“I thought you liked them.”

“I did.” He looked down. “Now, not so much.”

“Then if we leave early, is that okay? Oh, but you can stay if you want.”

“No, I drove you here, so I’ll drive you back.”

She looked up at the night sky, then stood. “Then after, so Jiaye and them won’t be angry with you. I’ll be back.”

Before Rengmo could ask when ‘after’ was and where she was going, she disappeared back into the mansion. He worried about her sudden venture back into the crowded and sweat-filled house, but he sat on his worries because he had learned that Danjune liked it when she returned and the other was still right where she had left them.

Instead, he thought of her question about leaving early. He knew a few of her quirks, and something nagged at him to look at her question for one of them. Danjune had a habit of forgetting to say parts of her thinking, so her responses sometimes came out unrelated or the opposite of her actual meaning. This question though, had seemed to come from a cohesive conversation. And what had she said? So that Jiaye wouldn’t be angry with him? How would Danjune know whether Jiaye would be angry?

A buzz vibrated in his pocket, and he pulled out his phone, clenching his fist at Jiaye’s text. She was telling him to bring Danjune in.

What if he just said that she wasn’t feeling well, and he had to take her home? No, he should first say that she needed to work on her senior project and he needed to study for math, and if that didn’t work—

A door creak signaled Danjune's return, and he turned around to see napkins fluffing out of her hands and paper towels bursting out of her arms.

“I think these are free, so I took them.”

She started tottering down the steps, so Rengmo put away his confusion for a moment to help her with her new treasures.

“Why’d you take so many?”

“To be dry.”

“But aren’t you already dry?”

She tilted her head, staring down at her haul as he pulled off his jacket to use as a bag, her expression unreadably blank. Then she slipped her phone in with the napkins. “Yuul asked me to get you and go to the pool together.”

She took the hem of his shirt and tugged him again. Her ignoring a question had also been another of her behaviors. At first, he had thought that she was loose in the head or rude, but he discovered that Danjune left questions unanswered when she saw no point in an explanation because the other would soon understand. And the fact that she handed him her phone…

Rengmo tightened his hold on his jacket-full of paper products as they walked into the house, and then out to the pool area. People lingered at the water’s edge around them, nudging each other and gesturing towards him and Danjune. Jiaye smiled as they approached, but the bright lights strung above them harshened her eyes.

“Enjoying the party, Danjune?”

She looked down.

“Don’t be shy! We have a big surprise for you! Come here.”

No, Danjune was obviously uncomfortable, and Jiaye had planned something. Rengmo had to stop them. He took a step forward and opened his mouth.

“Hey, Mo, come with me.”

Ed’s arm coiled over his shoulders and Yuul’s hand closed over his wrist, dragging him away. He squirmed in their grasp, calling for Danjune, but she let go of his shirt and walked towards Jiaye.



Rengmo understood too late. Two others hovering near Jiaye kicked back the chair and bush hiding their buckets and slung them towards Danjune, brown liquid smashing into her from both sides. The collision spiked into the air and splattered those nearby, and they only exclaimed and started to laugh, aiming their phone cameras. Their laughs were deafening, and the air that had been scented with sharp chlorine now turned sickeningly sweet.

“Woo! Having breakfast for dinner, Danjune?” Jiaye cawed. “Overdid it on the syrup?”

Rengmo felt his heart drop to his feet. He yanked out of Ed and Yuul’s grip and dashed forward, but another body blocked him.

“Stay put, Mo. Enjoy the show.”

Ilho didn’t even have to touch Rengmo for him to stop. Those words chained his ankles, deadened the idea of motion and action, until all Rengmo could do was watch Danjune as she touched the syrup dripping from her hair, her clothes, her hands. Then she licked the liquid at her fingertips.

“I prefer maple sap or fruit syrup. You just used the regular corn syrup.”

The laughter stopped. The two who had thrown the buckets exchanged confused glances, and people cupped their mouths to murmur, but Rengmo heard them.

“Wow, she’s not crying.”

“I thought Jiaye was gonna give us a show.”

“Guess her pranks are lackluster now.”

Jiaye spun around at that last one, and the person looked away. When she turned back to Danjune, her smile screwed tighter across her lips. Ilho crossed his arms and scowled. But for Rengmo, he felt his eyes widen and his legs twitch. The feeling reminded him that he could move.

“Well, sorry, Danjune. The original flavor was the cheapest there, and I didn’t want to waste money on someone like you.”

“But you already did. I don’t like this much syrup to eat at once, and it would be unsanitary for you to eat it with me.”

“Then why don’t you wash it off?”

Jiaye’s voice pitched up, at its breaking point, and her eyes flicked back and forth from the audience to the pool to Danjune. Rengmo knew that that had been her next cue word, but the two who had slung the syrup backed away instead. A laugh bubbled and stuck in his throat. Danjune just looked at Jiaye from head to toe.

“Jiaye, you got some syrup on your legs and shoes. That needs to be washed too.”

Rengmo almost dropped his jacket of paper towels when, in the swiftest of motions, Danjune stepped forward, grabbed Jiaye by the waist, and flung them both sideways. Straight into the pool.

The cameras aimed again, but now they trained on Jiaye flailing about in the water, her splashes rising high and splattering back on her head again. Ilho and Yuul and Ed rushed to the edge and told Jiaye to come closer, but Rengmo was sure that she couldn’t hear them over her screeches, her curses, her complaints of her ruined hair and makeup.

Rengmo looked away from the cameras’ spotlight and to the side. He moved to the opposite end of the pool at the same time that Danjune glided through the water and heaved herself out. She had worn a thick t-shirt and shorts, which she wrung out and tied at her waist. The wet accented her body, and he could tell that others had noticed. Stepping between her and the oglers, he shot them a glare, and they averted their gazes.

“Rengmo, are you okay with going home now?”

He nodded, too afraid that someone would notice him if he spoke, and walked her off the property. When they arrived at his car, Danjune tapped on his jacket-bag. Opening it, Rengmo stared at the plethora of paper towels as she pulled them out first, and a thought struck him.

“You knew that they were going to do something.”

She paused in dabbing herself, then nodded.

“You knew so that’s why you took all the napkins in the mansion.”

She nodded again.

“You knew from the start, but you still agreed to go with me?”

She nodded again and resumed drying herself.

His questions, his guilt, and his gratitude all stuck in his throat, so he stayed silent as she finished and then laid out rolls of absorbent paper onto the seat of his car, carefully lowering herself into the nest she had made and giggling. He followed suit with the driver’s seat, but his hands wouldn’t reach for the ignition.

“Rengmo, it’s okay.”

He turned to her.

“Jiaye won’t be mad at anyone but me.”

He clenched the wheel. How could she still be reassuring him? Why did she come with him when she knew?

“Rengmo, you are nice. I think you’d be a wonderful boyfriend.”

He kicked the car on and burned down the road as fast as traffic allowed him. When he arrived at Danjune’s house, she reached over and rubbed the cuffs of his shirt in her fingers, the sign that she was trying to make amends.

“I’m not mad at you,” he said.

She frowned and retreated, saying a small goodnight. He said one to her too before punching down the road again. He drove to his neighborhood park and picked a hill to collapse on. The rough of the grass finally broke the echoing loop in his head from her words, and Rengmo was left with the conclusion he had never considered.

Danjune was okay with the fact that he was pretending.

May 14, 2021 07:06

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