In These Moments, We: Gambling With Hope

Submitted into Contest #94 in response to: Start your story with someone accepting a dare.... view prompt

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Contemporary High School Teens & Young Adult

Warnings: one-sided sexual acts, sexual unenthusiasm

Without a moment of hesitation, Jiaye jugged her head in the direction of the girl hanging upside down on the plush seating of the performing arts center.

“Her? The school loon?” Ed laughed. “No way that Mo will.”

“Who said that I wouldn’t? I’m a man of my word.”

“Because you haven’t had a real girlfriend, let alone a fake one. Have you even ever asked out anyone?”

Rengmo shot Ed a glare when his laughing didn’t subside, then glanced at the girl. Dark hair fell like streamers across the floor, and her neck braced against where the back of her knees should have been. She had a small nose and thin lips that almost never moved, not even to sigh. Actually, he had never seen her sigh.

In Rengmo’s judgement, he found her pleasant to look at, but her actions were a different story.

She did strange things, harmless normally, but not anything… most people would want to be associated with. For example, sometimes Rengmo would hear her voice trill and shout in the vaulted ceilings of the performing arts center—or PAC as dubbed by the students—and everyone would freeze before a security guard could be heard shushing her. No one understood why she did such strange acts, but once they learned that the cause was Danjune, hushed laughter usually followed.

Rengmo heard some now, but the sound broke in strain instead of puffing in high contempt. He broke out of his analysis to look at Jiaye. She had leaned back in Ilho’s lap, and her dyed blonde hair cascaded over his shoulder as her smile pressed into a thin line at his neck. Ilho sat unmoving, one hand on Jiaye’s waist but with his head pivoted away from her, a small scowl at his mouth.

“Alright then, Mo, you have to do something for all of us for backing out of the dare. I want lunch from Yohkie’s.”

“No, I’m going to do it. I’ll ask her out, then you guys owe me. I just need a plan.”

“Oh ho! Bold words, Mo.” Yuul leaned in until the tip of her nose almost touched his, whispering, “Or are you trying to look good in front of a certain someone?”

Scoffing, Rengmo pushed her back and looked back at the weirdo, narrowing his eyes at the loony girl for the excuse of looking elsewhere. Yuul had the wrong idea.

“Well, I want to see where this goes,” Jiaye said. “I’ll give you a week, Mo. But you have to do something for me.”

“Why?” Yuul asked, fake innocence dripped from her tone, and Rengmo held in the urge to roll his eyes.

“Because I’m being gracious and giving him extra time.”

“What’re you going to make him do?”

She locked eyes with him, and her familiar smirk ignited ghosts of sensation along his skin.

“That’s a secret.”

~~~~~

Jiaye yanked him forward so that his shadow casted onto her face. Rengmo braced his hands against the corner wall that she had backed them into. As her arms cinched around his neck and launched his lips into hers, he jerked out of instinct but then clenched his fists and forced the rest of himself to relax. The mouth against his moaned, sucking at his lips with hunger.

Wincing when she bit his tongue, Rengmo almost lost his balance as she pulled him practically on top of her, so he quickly moved his forearms to support him instead of his hands. The curves at her chest pushed into his, and she moaned again.

He kept his breathing as steady as he could, reminding himself to breathe and that at least they both still had their clothes on. He leaned forward or bobbed himself up and down when Jiaye directed him to. Because he knew what she liked and could guess when, he did his best to follow through. When Rengmo couldn’t taste the thick matte of her lipstick anymore, he figured that they had been kissing for twenty minutes. That was usually how long it took for the cosmetic’s flavor to fade and how long until Jiaye was content again.

But then she kneed the side of his thigh, telling him to put his legs together. He did that as she spread hers and thrusted across his lower region. Rengmo stilled and drilled his fingernails into his palms. He focused on that small burning feeling before it faded as his mind retreated into his memories, maybe looking for reason.

At first, Jiaye had been drunk. Ilho had a different girl at his side when he asked Rengmo to take their friend home. She pecked him on the cheek, then his jaw, then his neck before he stopped her. The next time, she was sober, asked him for his lips, and at the end told him that this was their secret. Some time after he had lost track of the number of secrets they had, he asked her why she didn’t do this with Ilho, and she snapped back, saying that she and Ilho weren’t together and neither were they, that she could do what she wanted with who she pleased. And didn’t it please him too?

Rengmo knew that Ilho didn’t see Jiaye as anything more, but he also knew that Jiaye wished that he did. Maybe that was why Rengmo stopped resisting. Jiaye had started furthering the boundaries of their secrets—touching turned into overtaking, requests turned into demands—after that fight she had with Ilho, the one that made her call Rengmo as she sobbed and screamed that she didn’t want to go home.

They stayed together in a park that night, Rengmo digging out his family’s old camping gear and giving his parents the excuse of an outdoor-themed sleepover. Her cries broke her sentences, but Rengmo understood enough, tried to comfort her, and reasoned that she should talk with Ilho. They never did. The day after that, she was back in Ilho’s lap as they sat on the stairs of the PAC.

At first, Rengmo thought that the warmth had been nice.

When her panting started to slow, she gave his lips one last suck before pushing him back.

“If you actually ask out that freak, we don’t have to stop this.”

Rengmo didn’t reply as she moved to her gym locker, took out another pair of underwear, and closed the shower curtain behind her. He slipped off his jacket, tied it around his waist, and headed to the boys’ locker room. They were in the gym, not the dance hall, so he didn’t have a locker here. The room was empty, to his relief, so Rengmo first went to wash his hands and then sat on one of the benches, pulling up his knees and holding them. Sweat and old body fluids gave the air a sour tang, but he could trick himself that way. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine that he had been dancing alone in the dance hall, and any feelings were from the imperfections in his practice.

~~~~~

Even if he had a week, Rengmo needed to expedite his plan to ask out the school’s weirdo, Danjune, to be his girlfriend. Jiaye hadn’t said so, but after thinking about it at home, Rengmo clung to the thoughts spinning in his head. In truth, there was no guarantee that Jiaye would stop asking him for these favors if he gained a girlfriend—their secrets had no strings attached, after all. What made him think that a fake relationship would draw any boundaries between them?

He didn’t think; the blur of the idea gave him hope.

Checking the time, Rengmo made his way to the courtyard. He usually came early for dance and used the courtyard as a shortcut, and recently he would spot the weirdo in the courtyard peering at the concrete or shifting rocks around. He found her doing exactly that near the center. First, he would greet her, see how she was. If things were okay, he would chat with her. If not, he would escape to the dance hall and practice for his upcoming routine.

With a roll of his wrists to reassure himself, he pushed open the doors. He kept his actions casual, his glances naturally capricious, before chancing a look at the girl, and he jumped a bit when he saw her staring at him. Her body faced the border of rocks she had constructed, but her head twisted back to look at him. Well, might as well start his plan.

“Uh, hey.”

Her eyes shifted down, and he shuffled his dance duffel closer to him.

“You’re Danjune, right? I’m Rengmo.”

She nodded and turned back to her border of rocks. Rengmo shifted on his feet, scrunching the side of his nose in disgust at her unresponsiveness, but took a deep breath and moved closer. He opened his mouth to say something when she gasped and grabbed his duffel strap, launching him backwards. Rengmo would have eaten cement if he didn’t recenter his weight the way that years of dancing had taught him.

“Hey! What’s your problem?”

She flinched and skittered back. For a moment, he thought he saw fear flash in her eyes, but as soon as she moved, he couldn’t contemplate what he might have seen. A black mass writhed on the ground in front of him, and it only took half a second for him to recognize it as an entire colony’s worth of ants piled out onto the surface. Rengmo leapt a foot in the air, letting out the highest-pitched shriek he had released in a long time.

“What the hell?! Why the—”

“You were about to interrupt their meeting.”

He paused. That voice he knew—in trills and random shouts that disrupted the PAC ambience—but also, he didn’t know that voice. In that one sentence, Danjune’s voice flowed like satin, soft and pliant around her syllables, but also stood like a boulder, unbudging. Her tone projected, without blame but firm, and Rengmo saw her stance mimic those characteristics.

“They would’ve stopped to bite you. That’s why I pulled on your duffel strap.”

She turned back to the ants and crouched, watching them. Rengmo blinked at the back of her head, trying to comprehend what just happened. Danjune, the loon of the school, spoke to him so nicely even after he basically cursed at her. The way she worded everything had been a bit strange, but still so… intelligibly.

Guilt nipped at him for how pleasantly surprised he felt. The kinds of expectations he held shone out in the open, shamed him with just how much judgement he had towards her and just how ‘different’ he had painted her as. He wasn’t so much of a coward to avoid admitting his wrongs. She saved him from a trip to the hospital too, and he had to express his gratitude.

Rengmo felt his hand losing circulation as he gripped his duffel strap but crept as far forward as he dared. Squatting made his stuff shift noisily, so he hugged everything to his chest.

“Uhm, thanks. For saving me from falling.”

Danjune’s head cocked. Did that mean he got her attention?

“I didn’t see them, and I was probably about to step into the rock border you made for them, right? I mean, I assume that you made it since you’re always here with the rocks…”

She turned to look at him then, and he noticed that the sun dyed her eyes into a pale fig color. Wait, he just indirectly said that he watched her—

“Anyways, thanks. I’m allergic to most ant bites, so you saved me a trip to the hospital. I’m sorry for cursing at you too.”

He remembered how she had flinched and backed away from him. Plus, it was how early in the morning at the high school? He probably looked like a total creep.

“So see you.”

He bounced up, ready to bolt out of there, when a tug to his shirt made him stop. Turning to the source, he saw Danjune’s fingers rubbing at his hem.

“It’s okay.”

When she didn’t elaborate, the question shimmied out of his throat.

“What’s okay?”

“You apologized and meant it. Mr. Bae said that if the person means their apologies, then they’re a good person.” She looked back at the ants. “They’re voting.”

She hadn’t let go of his shirt even as she turned back to the insects, but Rengmo wouldn’t have been able to move away anyway. Without any explicit explanation from him, Danjune so easily picked out his thoughts and his self-censure. It could have been coincidence, but as Rengmo looked at her again, with her hands paled from rock dust, at the ants wiggling within the borders, and in his memories of her staring at the world—upside down or not—he didn’t believe that her words came from happenchance.

Stepping back towards the rocks, he hugged his stuff to his chest again and crouched beside her. Together, they watched the ants pick their new queen, one with a particularly big thorax and wings. Another of the winged ants, a princess, started moving away, a portion of the ants following her.

“Where’re they going?”

“They’re going to make a new colony.” She pointed towards the grassy surround. “Probably over there, still nearby to the old colony.”

“How do you know this? I didn’t know that ants picked their queens this way.”

“It was in the book on the shelf. When I couldn’t leave the room, I read the books. I liked the pictures in them.”

Rengmo grew confused at the last few sentences, but she stood up, so he did too.

“It’s almost eight-fifteen. You’ll be late.”

“Late?”

She pointed at his dance duffel, and he stretched his hands over it as if he could cover the bag that way.

“Oh, my dance class isn’t until two-thirty. I just go in early to practice.”

She kept staring at the bag, and Rengmo shouldered it so that the weight hung behind him.

“So, uh, thanks and sorry again. Since the ants picked their new queen, I guess I’ll see you elsewhere?”

“Do you want to see me elsewhere?”

“Y-Yeah.”

Because he had to continue his plan to get her to be his girlfriend—he had almost forgotten. She tilted her head, like she was contemplating something, then looked up at him, and Rengmo froze up. The ends of her mouth lifted, parted so widely, and her laughter pattered alongside her words.

“Don’t worry. I like your dance duffel. I will see you and it later, Rengmo.”

Waving, Danjune skipped towards the exit on the other side of the courtyard. He stared at the spot where the last strands of her hair disappeared through the doors before looking down at his duffel.

He knew that he was actively trying to keep it out of sight, but he didn’t think that she would have noticed his efforts. His friends never had. The couple times that they had seen his dance duffel, they always made exaggerated arm flails and mocking fifth positions, so he quickly learned to come early to drop it off for the day.

His friends acknowledged that he was well-known for dancing. Actually, that was how they had come to recruit him into their friend group—with his name announced by the school that he had won first place in the Summer Sun Competition, they approached him and said that he could join them. None of them had ever been to one of his competitions or showcases, but he had been to plenty of Jiaye’s volleyball games and Ilho’s track meets.

But for a practical stranger to notice—probably because she watched the world—a kind of happiness flushed through him. Maybe Danjune thought that he didn’t like the color or something, but the fact that she spoke out a reassurance comforted him, like a pat to the shoulder.

She said that she would see him and it later. Danjune hadn’t been anything like what he was expecting, and Rengmo noted in his mind that he shouldn’t judge people next time. He didn’t understand what Danjune did, but with her explanation, in her own way, he resolved his misunderstandings from his own presumptions.

And now he was well on his way to getting closer to her, getting her to be his girlfriend, and then he and Jiaye wouldn’t have any more secrets. Hope sprung at his chest and in his steps as he made his way to the dance hall.

May 21, 2021 06:58

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