Lionel left his pipping hot bowl of sundubujjigae untouched as he continued fiddling with his phone for the past five minutes.
“Lionel, you were practically begging us to leave the project midway for dinner, could you please eat first so we can wrap it up before 9? It’s been a long day,” Clara called out from across the table.
He murmured a brief apology, cast his phone aside and finally started digging in. Mandy smiled quietly as she watched Lionel devoured his meal – he was heads-over-heels for Clara and would do almost everything Clara asked for. Meanwhile, Mandy had succumbed to the fate of being a lamp post-cum-Lionel’s sidekick, two roles that she was involuntarily assigned to.
The three of them were cramped at the corner of BannSang for a quick dinner – their non-existent photoshop skill had proven to be the biggest hurdle in completing the packaging design of their new prototype. If it wasn’t for Lionel’s growling tummy, they would still be glued in front of the computer in the common space.
“Edward’s back in town this weekend. The boys were asking whether you wanna come hang later.“
“Eddy? I haven’t seen him in ages! But we have a test on Monday morning though and I haven’t started on revision..“
“Same here – but he rarely has the time to fly up. They are not heading to the club tonight – we’ll just hang at Denzel’s place, grab one or two drinks maybe? We can leave after two hours. Please? It’d be fun.“
“Uhmmm, I don’t know. It’d be nice to hang with them, but the test also accounts for 40% of our final grades…“
Mandy could tell that Clara had started to waver. The last few weeks were anything but fun – the constant influx of assignments, essays, laboratory and project reports left them with very limited social time. Having a drink or two was surely enticing, particularly after the disastrous attempt to use Photoshop. That, however, didn’t mean she wasn’t annoyed at Clara’s next remark.
“Oh, actually, why don’t Mandy decide. I’ll come along if she comes along.”
As soon as those words escaped Clara’s mouth, Mandy felt a kick to her shin along with a vibration on her phone.
“What the…” she glared at Lionel only to be greeted by a subtle notion to check her phone. Mandy reluctantly picked up her phone and clicked on the chat bubble.
‘Please say yes. I beg you. Please. *insert puppy eyes*. I’ll buy you anything you want. Milse, Giapo, Chuffed. Please.‘
Another chat bubble appeared on her screen.
‘We don’t have much time anymore 😦 – tonight is a golden opportunity to spend more time with her. Please help me out.‘
It was an open secret amongst Mandy’s cohort of how irrevocably in love Lionel was to the woman seated beside her and she might also be the only person who was still oblivious to that fact. Lionel had grown increasingly weary due to the impending arrival of graduation day yet he couldn’t bring himself to just confess his feelings – much to Mandy’s dismay cause she had to entertain his inner turmoil every few days or so.
‘Dude, you are so burdensome. Fine. You owe me a Giapo.‘
‘Thank you, you’re my hero! 😉‘
It was only when the trio were waiting for Denzel to come down that Mandy realized Denzel’s apartment was right in front of her studio.
“Perfect,” she thought to herself, “less time needed to get home.”
Truth be told, she wasn’t planning on joining the guys. Before this, she had only met Denzel and Eddy once – Eddy wasn’t the friendliest person she had encountered while Denzel… Oh boy, the last time she met Denzel, he had his gaze fixed on the floor half of the time. Not the most charming. Lionel had listed out the rest of guys who were joining them but none of the names sounded familiar.
Mandy has always been an introvert – the idea of having to meet a large group of strangers within a short time terrifies her. But since she had decided to be there, she might as well try to work on her social skills.
Denzel greeted them soon after and he immediately caught her attention. First thing first, he was looking at them instead of staring on the pavement! Mandy let her gaze wandered to his face and decided right then that he was quite attractive – brown tousled hair framed his well-defined face along with his angular cheekbones which perfectly accentuated his sharp jaw. She noted how lovely his smile was, especially how his eyes curved downwards forming crescent moon-liked shape – much like Hello Kitty’s.
The apartment was packed with people – she spotted Eddy on the corner of the sofa, engaged in conversation with several other guys she had not seen before. There was a group of girls sitting near the window, busy scrolling their phones. Several others were chattering away in the kitchen. Now that they were here, Lionel seemed to have forgotten her presence as he immediately introduced Clara to everyone else and left her by the hallway.
“Sorry, it’s super messy. Eddy flew in unannounced this morning so we didn’t have to the time to tidy up the apartment. I hope you don’t mind.”
Denzel removed a windbreaker from the dining chair and offered it to her.
“Thanks,” she uttered, “messy apartment is much more realistic than overly tidy one anyway.”
The apartment grew livelier as the night went by as people loosened up with every bottle of alcohol consumed. Mandy leaned against the fridge, her weary eyes watching a half-drunk Lionel scrambled across the kitchen trying to brew some tea for Clara.
“Mandy, how long does it take to brew the best cup of black tea? We studied this in the lab, I can’t remember!“
“Five minutes,” she answered nonchalantly while Denzel chuckled and whispered in her ear playfully.
“What a love sick puppy, why did you even pick him as your teammate?“
The last sixty minutes had changed Mandy’s opinion of Denzel completely – she was grateful for his presence. After Lionel abandoned her on the hallway, it was Denzel who made her felt less alienated in the apartment. He must have picked up her uneasiness as he stayed next to her and started small talk after he introduced her to everyone else in the room. Surprisingly, conversation flowed naturally between the two of them as if they had known each other all this while. He was friendly and an attentive listener with a hint of mischief underneath. His unexpected remarks made their discussion even more exciting.
Mandy had not felt this way in a while, she felt exhilarated – ever since she came back from Asia four months ago, she had been avoiding any social events. Her last break up hit her hard and she wasn’t ready to mingle around – it was definitely much easier to mend her broken heart by drowning herself in both schoolwork and job applications. Maybe it was simply the side effect of the alcohol or maybe there was something about Denzel that pulled her in.
Denzel surprised her further when it was time for her to leave.
“I wish you can stay longer but let me walk you home.”
She politely rejected his offer explaining that her studio was right across the street but he was insistent.
“It’s 1.30 AM Mandy, I couldn’t let a woman walk outside alone at this timing.”
It took less than five minutes for them to reach the other side of the road.
“Well, here we are,” Mandy turned to face Denzel, “thank you for walking me home and for tonight.”
“Pleasure’s all mine,” he replied as he flashed his perfectly aligned pearly whites. “Good night, rest well.“
She nodded and waved him goodbye. Right when she was about to push the door open, she felt a slight tap on her shoulder.
“Hm, actually, are you free on Monday for lunch? My class ends at 1 PM. We can head to the cafe I told you about.“
She would have turned down the offer usually yet the corner of her lips slowly curled upwards as she replied.
“I’d love that. See you then.“