The costume they gave Taeyeon made her itch, and it was too big, and it looked shabby. What kind of a lion had such a threadbare mane, meek little tail, thin frail paws? She decided she didn’t like it. And the way it scratched against her arms, unprotected by her short-sleeved shirt beneath, she was ready to rip it off and go find something more interesting to do with her time. After all, there was a new ice-cream store just across the road, and no bossy girl from the class next door could keep her from exploring it!
But the bossy girl from the class next door was awfully good at keeping her there even when the costume made her feel like choking because it was tight only around her neckline and nowhere else. This was because the girl was really, really pretty – not that Taeyeon paid mind to such things, but an eye-smile like hers was a sure-fire killer any time.
She didn’t stop thinking of the activity as frivolous and boring though, however sweetly that girl plied her words and made her stay. Taeyeon seemed like the most bored lion in history, yawning rather than roaring even when it was time for her only line in the production. Her act of a big lazy housecat drew a pout from the bossy girl from the class next door and Taeyeon briefly reconsidered, tried again.
“What, you can’t just say roar, you have to roar.”
She changed her mind again. The whole thing was stupid.
“I can say whatever I want, I’m a lion!”
“Lions can’t even say anything in the first place! Just roar, Taeyeon, please!”
And there went the look again. This girl, Tiffany Hwang Miyoung from the class next door, really was capable of managing anything. She was the best director’s assistant in the school and she knew it, proud of her title and it showed in the way she always walked with her head held high and that incredibly happy smile on her face.
Taeyeon lost the little power struggle again, and sighed.
“… Saying it slower doesn’t count as a roar, Taeyeon.”
Taeyeon grumbled under her breath and looked elsewhere. The nearby tree scuttled away in fear, its sneakered feet squeaking over the wooden stage floor.
The whining started. Taeyeon was well acquainted with the whining. Tiffany would equip a special pout, rise to a higher tone of voice, increase the rate of her blinking, and rotate her body a few degrees one time counter-clockwise and once clockwise. Taeyeon had studied her technique well in her year-long research into the high success rate of Tiffany’s requests.
She narrowed her eyes. She was determined not to fall victim to the powers of a siren like Tiffany.
Tiffany huffed in protest, and Taeyeon allowed herself a triumphant smirk, thinking she had won this one. She stood up straighter, crossed her arms over her chest and uncrossed them again when the itchiness got worse as a result of her movement. She scratched absently at her furry arm with one paw as she waited for Tiffany’s next move.
Tiffany sighed and looked disappointed.
Taeyeon’s eyes widened. Throughout all her research, from the beginning of her existence within Tiffany’s friendship levels, out of all of her eye-witness accounts and personal experiences of interactions with Tiffany, never had she encountered this kind of reaction. Something was wrong with Tiffany! She impulsively reached out, grabbed Tiffany’s cheeks, and moved her head side to side.
“Are. You. Oh. Kay?!”
“Can. You. Hear. Me? Blink once for yes, twice for no, three times for oh my god Taeyeon you dork!”
Tiffany grinned. She put her hands over Taeyeon’s paws and moved them away from her face.
“Taeyeon, you are a dork,” she stated. “And those paws feel kind of icky on my skin, don’t do that again. What the heck are they made of?”
Taeyeon bopped her on the head playfully and shrugged. “Made of love and popsicles. You seem kind of down today.”
The nearby tree had shuffled closer again, and bumped into Tiffany to get her attention. There followed a series of awkward tree stump movements and a strange high-pitched whining noise from within the wood.
“Okay, go to the bathroom, we’ll finish this scene later when the director comes back,” Tiffany said, waving at the tree with a smile.
When they were alone, Taeyeon tugged at her tail and let out a little mewling sound. “I’m the cutest lion in the world; we don’t need anything else in this play. We can just do a couple of hours of me sleeping on stage, the parents will love it. Best high school play ever. We’ll rake in those spare-change donations, buy a spa pool in time for the swimming tournament. Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you or should I guess?”
Tiffany reached over and fiddled with Taeyeon’s mane, running her hand through the artificial hair, styling it into something perhaps a bit too fashionable for the everyday lion. Taeyeon rubbed at the black-painted tip of her nose with a paw as she let Tiffany take her time to answer. One of the other things she had picked up from her research was the way Tiffany behaved when she wanted to say something important.
“You are the cutest lion in the world,” Tiffany murmured, ruffling Taeyeon’s mane into a mess again. “You must have the heart of a lion, Taeyeon.”
Taeyeon hummed in acknowledgement. “I am rather awesome, yes. Been watching Wizard of Oz? What’s with the interest in a lion’s heart?”
“Courage? Tiffany, you’re the most courageous person I know. What’s going on? Did something happen?”
Tiffany just made a strained noise in her throat and leaned forward to wrap her arms around Taeyeon. Taeyeon reciprocated the embrace immediately, and a frown was etched on her brow. Tiffany was always the bright, positive, upbeat one, the one who was so endlessly friendly and happy. Something had to be really bothering her.
“Talk to me, Fany…”
Tiffany squeezed her. “I’m really going to miss you.”
Taeyeon’s eyes widened and she pulled away from Tiffany, taking her by the shoulders and staring at her. “Huh?! I’m right here! What are you talking about now?”
“I’m talking about after high school, Taeyeon. We won’t be going to the same university, mine’s in another city.”
“After high school? Wait, you already know which university you’re going to?”
“Don’t you? Taeyeon, it’s our last year here, haven’t you been thinking about what to do?”
“Well, no, I guess I’ve been too busy thinking about…” Thinking about you.
Tiffany sighed again. Taeyeon’s heart fell, she was really starting to hate the sound of Tiffany’s sigh and she knew there had to be something she could do to stop it. But the sad look in Tiffany’s eyes rendered her frozen.
“Listen, Taeyeon, I know this isn’t really the best time, I mean sometimes I can barely even look at you in that lion costume and keep a straight face, but I think I should tell you something.”
“Of course, you know you can tell me anything,” Taeyeon said immediately, and she reached out to take hold of Tiffany’s hands but remembered her icky paws and just kind of hovered her arms awkwardly for a moment before lowering them and fidgeting.
Tiffany took a deep breath and looked her in the eyes. “Taeyeon… I like you. Very much. Like, I like like you.”
Taeyeon stared blankly. “Few too many likes there, Fany. What?”
“I really like you, Taeyeon! I like you as more than a friend, okay?!”
Taeyeon gasped. “You do?!” She beamed, and clapped her paws together, and did a victorious fist-pump without being able to make an actual fist because of her costume. “Man, this is the best news I’ve ever heard!”
She waved her paws in a soothing action. “It’s okay, Tiffany. I’ve had a crush on you for ages. I realised during my research that I’m kind of a little bit in love with you and I want to date you. But wow, I must have made a big error in my thesis deductions because I totally thought you only saw me as a friend!”
Tiffany gave her the kind of look that said “are you seriously being like this right now” and Taeyeon coughed sheepishly. Then she grinned again, leaned forward, and kissed Tiffany on the cheek.
“I really like you too, as more than a friend, Fany,” she said proudly.
Tiffany smiled widely, which made Taeyeon feel relieved to see her signature eye-smile again, and blushed a little. After a moment of grinning at each other stupidly, she became serious again.
“But Taeyeon, that’s the problem. I won’t be seeing you again after this year…”
“Tiffany,” Taeyeon started, and stopped. She yanked at her lion costume, pulling it off with a struggle. “Hold on a minute,” came her muffled voice as she tried to wiggle out of the thing. “I’ll be with you in just a sec.”
Tiffany watched in amusement until Taeyeon was free of the costume and taking big gulps of air as if she had been trapped in an underwater cave. She still had the painted-on nose and whiskers.
“Okay. Now, where was I?”
Taeyeon stepped forward and laced her fingers with Tiffany’s. She locked her gaze on Tiffany’s face and spoke seriously.
“Tiffany, I will follow you to your university at any cost. Extra studying? No problem. More money? I can get some. Smarter brain? I can fake that. Cuter face? Well that won’t be necessary, I’m the cutest. I want you to know, I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to be with you.”
She pulled Tiffany into a hug and they melted into each other.
“And I wouldn’t have been able to be like this if you hadn’t had the courage to tell me how you feel,” she murmured. “I’m a coward without you. You’re the one with the heart of the lion. But I won’t make you wear that costume, it’s really itchy and pathetic-looking.”
Tiffany tightened her grip on Taeyeon, closed her eyes, and smiled contentedly. “Thank you Taeyeon. You are the cutest lion ever. You still have to roar in the play though, dating the director’s assistant will not get you any favours.”
“Oh, I see how it is. Well, let me tell you, I’ve really been holding back, I have some super roaring skills, I’ve just been hiding them for fear of exposing the world to a power it is not yet ready to experience. I’m really so awesome -”
A thump followed and a little squeak from Taeyeon.
“Lions can’t talk, Taeyeon. Just roar, okay?”
And Taeyeon did roar, though it was not quite as powerful as she had promised – she said she was holding back for the safety of the precious children in the audience – and in the end the play was almost two hours of Taeyeon being a cute lion because she kept walking on stage when it wasn’t her turn (though it was clear she did this mostly so that she could wink at Tiffany and say “rawr”).
The costume wasn’t even itchy anymore, and as Taeyeon stood backstage peeking at Tiffany in the front row of the audience, she completely forgot how weak the lion costume was. She was thinking not of a lion’s mane, or tail, or paws, but of a lion’s heart. She felt like the strongest, most courageous lion in the world, and Tiffany made her so.