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As I walked across the schoolyard to go to the gym with a group of kids, I saw other people also heading in the same direction. It was such a hot summer day that someone could commit murder just by bumping into another person. In this kind of weather, the students even refused to go to the cafeteria. Why were they heading to the gym, though?
“Is it just me who thinks that there are many people around…?” I asked carefully, but when kids who looked like seniors linked arms and swarmed around to go to the gym, I slurred the end of my sentence.
Not only freshmen but seniors were also heading to the same place. ‘Is there a school event today?’ As soon as I thought that way, Yoon Jung In, who was walking beside me, responded.
“Hmm, maybe because of Class 1-1?”
“It’s a rare chance to watch Ban Yeo Ryung and the Four Heavenly Kings participating in PE class in an open space. Besides, all the classes are over, so teachers don’t care anymore.”
With that said, Yoon Jung In looked as if he was feeling sick. He then stopped Shin Suh Hyun, who was walking beside him. As Shin Suh Hyun turned back to look at him in wonder, Yoon Jung In responded with his reasoning.
“I mean, we’re now fortunate.”
“What do you mean?”
“That we removed the title of ‘Four Heavenly Kings’ away from us.”
Soon after, Kim Hye Hill and Kim Hye Woo joined with Yoon Jung In to eagerly discuss, ‘how lucky it is that the Four Heavenly Kings of Ji Jon Middle School are so overwhelming.’ I always thought it was such a good thing that, at least, they were just treated as regular students. I heaved a sigh of relief.
When I turned my head back again, I realized that we were already close to the gym, which was active with a throng of people.
‘Wow, how can I go in there?’ I thought. However, the gym entrance was wide enough for us to quickly enter. Once we stepped in, a smell of varnish, dried woods, and sweat surged into us along with a weird breeze. Glancing around the space, my jaw finally dropped when my eyes rode up to the second floor.
‘What the heck is this?’ I guess the whole school was out there to watch us play games. All the seats were crowded with kids from other grades. A girl was even shouting out loud, almost hanging on the balustrade.
“Jiho! You’re so hot!”
Jiho? Eun Jiho? I, at last, looked forward. Over a large crowd of people, Eun Jiho was stretching himself to warm up his body on the stage. Beside him, a girl with a high ponytail, who was Ban Yeo Ryung, was aligning other kids. Yoo Chun Young, Kwon Eun Hyung, and Woo Jooin, the rest of the Four Heavenly Kings, were near them too.
As if he noticed my gaze, Woo Jooin, who turned his head to my direction, waved at me with a smile.
That was when I realized that the girls in Class 1-1, who aligned to warm-up, turned their heads to look at my side altogether. Hmm… I was about to raise my hand as a form of greeting but decided to drop it wafflingly instead. I averted my eyes awkwardly and tried to find something else to do. Yoon Jung In then pulled my shoulder. When I looked at his eyes, he lowered his voice and whispered.
“Hey, they are gonna eat you up. You should look at their eyes.”
“I don’t think so…”
“Yes, it is.”
Shin Suh Hyun spoke in a calm voice from the side. He always thought and behaved without prejudice to anyone. Thus, when he said that in a serene voice, it looked like the girls were genuinely scowling at me. With a furrow, I walked after Yoon Jung In and stood beside Class 1-1.
Thick pillar-like sunlight poured through the round glass windows on the dome ceiling. Of all places, the bright sunlight spotlighted the area where Ban Yeo Ryung and the Four Heavenly Kings were standing.
It was hard to distinguish peoples’ faces when exposed to excessive light; however, Ban Yeo Ryung was different. Her skin was so transparently pale that the sun seemed to be penetrating through her at a stroke. Her light-hanging lashes and softly curved cheeks were genuinely captivating. Suddenly, I felt that other kids weren’t moving at all, so I turned my head.
Oh… the entire crowd in the gym were focusing on Ban Yeo Ryung and the Four Heavenly Kings. Like they were holding their breaths, a magical silence enveloped the space as a whole. At that moment, I felt that there was something like a deep precipice between us. Ban Yeo Ryung and the Four Heavenly Kings looked as if they were far away at an unreachable space.
The next moment, someone’s sonorous yell broke the ice.
“The Four Heavenly Kings! The Four Heavenly Kings, so cool!”
“Ban Yeo Ryung! Please take my heart!”
“Yeo Ryung! I love you!”
Ban Yeo Ryung frowned in embarrassment when she heard how the sunbaes was yelling at her. As she then turned her head to my side, her face finally brightened. I waved my hand to greet her before aligning after hearing Yoon Jung In’s chant.
When we finished warming up, the PE class teacher appeared. He trudged toward us with his usual look: navy tracksuits and a whistle on his neck. He, however, must have noticed something different. When he raised his head to see that the second floor was full of people, he grimaced.
“Is there another event today?” he asked while turning his head to us.
Yoon Jung In and Ban Yeo Ryung, who received his attention, exchanged glances before looking forward again.
Yoon Jung In stammered, “Um… uh… nope. You don’t have to worry.”
As he barely replied, the teacher showed an apathetic look on his face and just went back.
I went up to the dodge ball court with Lee Mina and Kim Hye Hill; the boys walked toward the basketball court. The audience began to create a commotion simultaneously. The male audience came to sit around our side, whereas the girls moved to the basketball court.
Holding the white ball, the teacher stood in the middle of the court as he rolled his eyes and looked at the kids lined on both sides. Lee Mina, who was the best in PE class among our classmates, stood in front of the line in tension.
On the opposite side, there stood a girl from Class 1-1, whom I saw in the cafeteria before. She was one of Choi Yuri’s friends.
A sharp sound of the whistle resonated across the gym. Lee Mina and the girl from Class 1-1 then sprang up simultaneously. The girl reached the ball faster and threw it immediately to Lee Mina, who was standing in front of the line in anger after losing the ball to the opponent. At the next moment, a thud came from Lee Mina’s chest, and, at the same time, her eyes flashed.
‘Is she… dead?’ When our class stirred as the ball hit Lee Mina, she dashed to the front again while holding the ball fiercely and swung her arm with might.
Whoosh! The ball flew with a dynamic sound to the opposite side then hit three kids who were running helter-skelter. It then rolled back toward the line. Lee Mina stretched her hand to pick up the ball and showed a grin on her lips.
Since I wasn’t that athletic, I stood still in the corner while almost stepping on the line. When I heard a sound of awe coming from the side, I turned my head and found out that the teacher was the one who made that sound. He stared at Lee Mina while looking so touched and murmured out loud.
“Geez, she’s indeed an excellent kid who can have a dodgeball match with the boys and do better than most of them. Very athletic, such a boy!”
‘Yeah, sure,’ I nodded with a timid smile. ‘A boy’ was a nickname that he used to call Lee Mina. She exceeded in every physical education events and the only girl who didn’t yield at all when competing against the boys.
If I were to find another girl among these students who were as competitive with boys… I looked at the other side of the court while rolling my eyes. Someone then grabbed the ball that was thrown like a firework with a loud noise.
It was flying quite high up in the air, but she snatched the ball with an astonishing leap. She gently landed on the ground while holding the ball. Her waving, jet-black hair shone a purplish hue through the sunlight.