Chapter 1: The Approach
Donghyun’s life long dream had always been to become an idol. That was why when his mother finally agreed to let him pursue it after graduating from high school, he was so happy and he set out to quickly achieve his dream.
As most people in their lives learn though, fortune is elusive. No matter the effort, things are sometimes not meant to be.
It was undeniable that he worked his hardest even to the point of irrationality. The entertainment agency he went to made him clean and sanitize the whole building, especially the units that the agency did not rent. He was also tasked to deliver the orders from the restaurant downstairs like a part-timer. However, he did not receive any salary or allowance. He was told to go on a diet despite his already light physique. On top of it all, he had to practice until 3 A.M.
Donghyun kept lying on every phone conversation with his mother that he was fine, that they were treating him well, and that he was going to debut soon — a very vague soon.
One day, his mother decided to see it for herself. She came unannounced and needless to say, Donghyun went back to school after training in the shady entertainment agency for two years. His mother embraced him in comfort and told him that everything will be fine but that he had to give up on his dream. It broke Donghyun’s heart and pride to come back empty handed but there was nothing else for him to do at that point but agree.
He just clenched his teeth and moved on. Being an idol was not meant for him; he had decided to take a business course instead. He tried to set his mind on it, nothing else. All Donghyun had to do was study hard — continuously studying hard — and then eventually, graduate.
Even if he was a couple of years behind, it was going to be fine. Joochan, his best friend, was also behind some classes that they could take together. It would not be so lonely. He would be alright. He would lead a decent life afterwards.
Things would have been fine for him had it not been for one person though. Donghyun was not even sure if he was really a person. To him, that person was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a wolf parading in guise of the name Choi Bomin.
“I’m going now,” Donghyun told Joochan.
Joochan merely nodded and went back to his Math books, completely forgetting that they were just about to get lunch together.
There was a certain thing Donghyun kept avoiding lately.
“Hyung! Donghyun Hyung!” a deep voice called. It got louder and louder. “Donghyun hyung! Please wait, Donghyun hyung!”
Donghyun broke into a sprint but with his luck and relatively small stature compared to his pursuer, of course, Bomin caught up with him.
Bomin was catching his breath and Donghyun stood there unable to move because of Bomin’s hands on either side of him. “Ah, hyung, why couldn’t you hear me? I was already yelling.”
“Ah, were you? I didn’t hear clearly.” Donghyun tried to bite back down the urge to explain but it came bubbling out. “I might have really damaged my eardrums from listening to too much music like my mother said.”
Bomin eyed him suspiciously but then, burst out laughing. “You’re really cute, hyung. I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you. You’re just so cute.”
Choi Bomin seemed to be the type who always gets what he wants. He had a sophisticated aura and a charm that made everyone feel at ease. His smile was refreshing and contagious. He had a handsome and clear face and he was tall, not only taller than Donghyun but actually towering-ly tall.
Donghyun did not like the boy; he was not vocal about it but the fact of the matter was, he did not like Bomin. He had a strange feeling about him, as well as all the strange things that happened between them last year.
Donghyun was on his toes. Their height difference bugged him and he felt the eyes of everyone passing by against his back.
“Why were you calling me?”
“Ah, about that.” Bomin smiled looking down. “I was just going to ask hyung if it was okay for us to get lunch together.”
“I’m going to eat with Joochan.”
“But you just left him back there.” Bomin’s eyes were big and curious, inspecting his whole being.
“Because we already ate lunch.” As soon as he let out those words, his stomach rumbled.
Bomin’s face was unreadable and Donghyun felt so guilty.
“If you don’t want to eat with me, you can just say so, hyung. I don’t want to bother you.” That was what Bomin said but Donghyun heard something else entirely.
“Wait!” He said as he grabbed the back of Bomin’s shirt. Bomin did not look back.
He acted on impulse and another person took over his body. His brain was shouting at him to stop what he was doing. This was Choi Bomin, the manipulative rich kid who always looked down on him. But he could not stop the words as they fell from his mouth. “I-I’m sorry. I can only treat you to the convenience store.”
Bomin was pouting when he finally looked at Donghyun. His eyes were doubtful.
“I… I mean, if it’s still okay with you?”
In an instant, Bomin’s eyes were sparkling and his smile was blinding. Donghyun was doomed. His wallet was doomed.
“Just the convenience store though.”
“Wherever and whatever you want is fine with me, hyung.”
“Do you like kimbap?”
“I’m going to be honest. I haven’t had any kimbap in my life yet.”
Donghyun cursed in his head. Of course, chaebols do not eat the food of the commoners, he thought to himself.
“Well, there’s only triangle kimbap in the convenience store. It’s made with tuna. Maybe someday I’ll buy you other kinds but...” He trailed off shocked at himself for being so generous to this little brat. Being civil to one another was fine but how he was acting so close to Bomin was alarming.
He looked up at the boy practically skipping beside him. Bomin had the biggest smile Donghyun had ever seen. It was disturbing. Donghyun usually saw Bomin smile but an insincere kind of smile. Granted that Donghyun was never a good judge of character but he never had any feeling that Bomin was ever actually happy with where he was. Donghyun remembered everyone would always sponge off Bomin either for schoolwork or food though so maybe he judged the boy too fast.
“But what, hyung?”
“But what? What were you going to say about the next time you treat me to other kimbaps?”
“Nothing,” Donghyun said. If he had to be honest, it scared him that Bomin remembered he promised more kimbap and another time to hang out. “You might not want to hang out with me next time. I’m pretty boring.”
Bomin laughed at that — a loud booming laughter. “No way! I think you’re really cool.”
“I would have never imagined you felt that way about me."
If any of Donghyun’s friends saw them especially Joochan and Jibeom, they would be shocked. There they were on a table in a convenience store eating kimbap and milk. Donghyun still could not believe it. He watched Bomin carefully. He found it a bit unnerving at how Bomin looked out of place in the small dingy convenience store. If Donghyun thought about it, it felt like a scene in a drama. He was showing this rich boy the way of the commoners and love would ensue in a slow romantic ballad montage but that would be ridiculous; those things never happen in real life.
Bomin looked like a child and he found himself laughing at how Bomin managed to unwrap the seaweed from the rice.
“I’ll show you how,” Donghyun said as he carefully showed Bomin how and where to start removing the plastic wrapper. “Here, you can have this. I’ll take yours.”
“But this is mine!”
Donghyun clicked his tongue. “You’ll make a mess of yourself. You wouldn’t know how to eat that.”
Bomin reluctantly surrendered his kimbap sliding it across the table. Donghyun handed him his. Bomin accepted with both hands, his fingers lingering a little too long on Donghyun’s.
“Say hyung, you were watching me back then, weren’t you?”
Donghyun was beat red. He took his hands away like he did not hear anything and looked down at the kimbap, trying to salvage it.
“I mean last year. You were watching me like you were watching me with the kimbap just now.”
Donghyun took a bite and pretended to look like he had no idea what Bomin was saying. It was a trap after all. Everything about Bomin was a trap. If he said anything, he might become Bomin’s lackey or something of the sort. It was kind of incomprehensible how things would turn out that way but Donghyun knew that once Bomin was involved, anything could happen. Donghyun had no time to be involved with other people; he had to continuously study hard.
“Congratulations on the scholarship, by the way.”
Donghyun nodded his thanks and continued to eat, trying not to care about how Bomin kept looking at him. Donghyun did not want to talk about the scholarship with Bomin, least of all. He just did not want to talk to Bomin in general.
He finished his kimbap and milk in what he thinks could be a new world record. He was getting up to throw away his trash when Bomin asked, “Are you in a hurry?”
Donghyun nodded. He looked at his watch and said, “Yes, I have Mrs. Kang at 1. I can’t be late.”
“I see,” Bomin’s face dropped as he said it. He was turning his half eaten kimbap between his hands. He looked up hopefully before Donghyun could leave. “How about tomorrow? Can we have lunch again?”
Donghyun hesitated. But looking at Bomin’s face, he knew he was not any better than everyone else. Bomin, despite being tall with a deep voice, had a certain cuteness to him that seemed to need protection.
In the end, Donghyun said, “Let’s see. I’m not sure how tomorrow will be.”
Bomin smiled at that. “Okay, hyung. Tomorrow, then. Go ahead. You’ll be late if you don’t get going.”
He felt a little bad for lying about the time but Donghyun had to get out of there.
When the clock struck 1:30, he was already there with his book and his laptop opened. Mrs. Kang walked in and dropped folders upon folders that contained stacks of paper onto her table. Some of the papers went flying out and the students who came in filing after her picked some up and handed them to her.
What made Donghyun look up though was a familiar deep voice. It said, “I can help, Mrs. Kang.”
Choi Bomin, Donghyun’s worst nightmare, handed her a small stack of paper and picked up some more at the opposite side of the door.
“Mr. Choi, you’re not registered in this class.” Her voice was nice and sweet unlike how she talked to everyone else.
“I just registered today. There were a lot of students in Mr. Bang’s class. I thought a smaller size would be more effective for me. And I already know Mrs. Kang’s teaching skills. I don’t doubt I’ll learn better from you, Mrs. Kang. I’ll study hard.”
Donghyun could see her blush. There was really no escaping Bomin now. The world was really coming for Donghyun.
“Go ahead and take a seat, Mr. Choi.”
Donghyun ducked and kept himself as small as he could. But today was not Donghyun’s day. Bomin sat beside him and whispered, “Hi, hyung!” He had a big smile. “I guess we’ll be seeing a lot of each other this semester.”
Donghyun was really doomed.
Chapter 2: Unguarded
Donghyun moved as fast as he could the moment Mrs. Kang dismissed the class. He slid out so fast, he did not even bother to think about where he was heading.
He ended up in the art department, a long way away from the business department and sighed. He had to walk back to get to his exit.
He was on his way out towards the university gates when he saw Bomin outside — waiting. Donghyun knew that hiding was ridiculous but he really felt uneasy with this sort of new Bomin.
He waited until some people recognized Bomin and invite him or talk to him, anything to get Bomin distracted; it was the most likely scenario.
What happened next was a mixed bag. People kept talking to Bomin but Donghyun still could not leave his hiding spot because Bomin would wave off everyone who passed by him. Donghyun was going to sit under that tree behind that bush until tomorrow; Bomin was not going anywhere. Donghyun leaned back and sighed.
It was kind of a ridiculous situation, was it not? How would Bomin know Donghyun was still inside the campus? For all he knew, Donghyun went brisk walking through the other gates.
Was it even Donghyun he was waiting for or was he waiting for someone else? What was Donghyun to Bomin, anyway?
A part of Donghyun’s brain answered him, “He hates you. He’s going to get back at you for taking his scholarship away.”
“He doesn’t need it,” Donghyun said under his breath.
“What are you doing, Donghyun?”
Donghyun nearly screamed. He fell down, losing his balance.
“Were you hiding?”
He felt so relieved that he wanted to cry. Joochan was crouching over him, looking worried.
“Joochan, let’s go home. I just want to go home.”
“Okay?” But even though he said it like a question, he was already picking up Donghyun’s bags and some books that fell out of it. “You need to be more careful. Do you want to eat?”
“It’s okay. Mom sent me my allowance and I wanted to go this new place in Shinsa-dong.”
As he got up, Donghyun thought about all the meals he shared with Joochan that he never paid for. It was not that he felt ashamed of being poor but their friendship never felt equal.
Joochan was looking at Donghyun’s face with those eyes and Donghyun knew what he looked like to Joochan.
“I said it’s okay.”
“Oh, Joochan sunbae!” Bomin greeted, rushing towards them.
Donghyun looked down and dusted some grass off him.
“Donghyun hyung left his laptop charger so I just wanted to return it to him. Are you going somewhere?”
Joochan and Bomin have never even talked before. It really annoyed Donghyun that Bomin kept insisting himself today but he took the charger and muttered a “thanks.”
Joochan beamed. “We’re going to Shinsa-dong. There’s a--”
“The new restaurant. Oh, it’s a nice place.”
“You’ve been there? Of course, you have.”
“Yeah, it’s just across the street from where I live.”
“Your family lives in that area?”
“No, just me.”
Donghyun knew that Bomin was a chaebol but this was kind of ridiculous.
“I have to go,” he said while adjusting his backpack. Joochan grabbed him by the arm and said quietly, “Donghyun, don’t embarrass me.”
“W-we have to go, Bomin,” Donghyun corrected himself.
“I can take you there. As I’ve told you, I live there so it won’t be an inconvenience.”
As they followed Bomin to the parking lot, Bomin asked if Joochan preferred to be called ‘sunbae.’ Being the social butterfly that Joochan was, he said, “You can call me hyung. You already call Donghyun hyung so it’s fine with me.”
“Jangjun hyung told him he should call me hyung instead of me calling him sunbae,” Donghyun explained to Joochan.
It was a surprisingly quiet ride with Bomin driving and Donghyun in shotgun. Bomin turned on the radio.
“Ah, it’s this kid,” Donghyun said with sudden excitement.
Bomin looked at him. “You know the singer?”
“Joochan is a better singer than him but because Joochan didn’t want to be an idol, he didn’t sign the contract. This kid did. He trained in two months, debuted in a group and now he’s a solo.”
“So Bomin also knows this part of you?” Joochan inquired.
None of them answered. Bomin did not know. Donghyun just wanted to say Joochan has a better voice.
“Maybe we should’ve invited him,” Joochan said after they entered the restaurant.
Donghyun was already done with all the Bomin he had to deal with that day so tiredly, he said, “Let’s just eat.”
“You know, he was looking at you a lot. I felt like I was third wheeling.”
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Bomin has a crush on you.”
“I think it’s because of the scholarship. I think he hates me.”
“Why? You got the scholarship. He didn’t. What’s the big deal?”
“I didn’t get it fairly.”
“So, the T.A. lost it. But it’s not like he couldn’t print another copy.”
After thinking about it, Donghyun conceded. The board would understand a late submission, probably. Bomin did not push the matter and it was not like Bomin really needed the scholarship.
“If you’re not interested in Bomin,” Joochan began but Donghyun already knew where this was going.
“We’re not close enough for me to set you two up.”
The very next day, Donghyun went to and fro his grueling classes. It seemed all too peaceful with the exception of the panicking in his head about all these things he needs to do. He almost forgot his schedule at the guidance and counselling office.
He climbed up to the third floor, got lost along the hallway, finally found the right room and knocked on the door. Someone said, “Come in” so he did.
The room was expansive but at the same time, not. Everything was white and the harsh lighting made everything in the room even whiter. There was an old woman sitting down behind a desk across the door. She was watching Donghyun take in the room. She did not say a word even when Donghyun’s eyes finally fell on her.
“Hello,” Donghyun bowed. “I’m here for my appointment.”
She held her hand out so Donghyun handed her a slip. She adjusted her glasses and read the small text in the small piece of paper.
“It’s for career assessment,” he explained to spare her the trouble of deciphering the small text. She nodded and said, “No. 5.”
He looked back at her and she just gestured her hand toward the room. Donghyun squinted and saw that there were doors in the room too. They were just all white except the small metals on the wall that turned out to be door numbers.
He went inside No. 5 and saw another woman in a white blazer over her red dress. She was standing up, holding her glasses, looking at Donghyun.
“Hello,” he said with a bow.
“Career assessment, yes. What department?”
“Business. Business administration, ma’am.”
She had not offered him a seat which was why he remained standing up, feeling exposed to her judging eyes.
Her red lips merely pouted. “So, what do you want to do after you graduate?”
“Uhm,” he hesitated. “Look for a job in a company?”
“But what department?”
He did not answer and that seemed to upset her more. “Do you mean, just any department of the company? No specialization? No vision of what your career will be?”
He could not answer. He did not even know how to get through this semester let alone what he would do after two years.
She tut-tutted and held out her hand. Donghyun scrambled to get his paper out of his backpack. She glanced at it for a moment and proceeded to tell him what he needed to do, what extra-curricular activities to take, what certifications he needed to obtain. Dazed, Donghyun was nodding. She handed the paper back to him and said, “Write it down.”
Lifeless, he walked out of the office just bowing and mumbling his thanks. He kept walking and walking, thinking about all these things and how much they would cost. He could get another part time job, he thought. However, he should prioritize the ones that would give him certification. But then, he thought how badly he was doing in English. He could understand and write in English but he knew it himself that his skills were not business level skills. He needed to take the tutorials for his pronunciation, too.
Donghyun could barely register anything while walking but Bomin’s face was in that moment so close to his that he went stumbling back.
Bomin laughed and teased, “You were so serious. What were you thinking so deeply about?”
“Nothing,” Donghyun said hunching his back and walked passed Bomin.
“It can’t be nothing,” Bomin insisted, following Donghyun.
“Well, it’s nothing you should be concerned about.”
“You’re always like that,” Bomin observed still walking beside Donghyun.
Exasperated, Donghyun began talking but just after uttering a word, tears were suddenly falling down his cheeks. People around them who were walking independently from them suddenly stopped to look.
“Did you see that?” Someone whispered.
“He’s crying. Were they fighting?”
“I don’t know. But that tall guy startled the small guy a while ago.”
“But he was laughing at him too. It’s bullying?”
Panicking, Bomin covered Donghyun’s eyes. He said loudly, “Let’s go, hyung! I have a surprise.”
They ended up in a cafe. Bomin ordered cake and coffee, and then chocolate because Donghyun did not drink coffee.
“Your taste is like a child’s.”
“Are you saying I’m immature? Where is your respect?”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Bomin laughed. “It’s cute. You’re cute, hyung.”
Donghyun just stabbed the cake and took another bite.
“So, what were you thinking so deeply about?”
“I had career assessment.”
“Oh no, you got the wicked witch.”
“The wicked witch?”
“The one with red lips. She’s the worst. At least, that’s what I heard.”
“Don’t worry, hyung. What did she say you needed for your CV?”
Bomin was leaning forward so eagerly, it made Donghyun feel even smaller. It was like Bomin was inspecting him from his facial features down to how big and clogged his pores were.
“Stop looking at me.”
“I don’t think you need any improvement, hyung. You look quite attractive.”
“Stop making fun of me, brat.”
Bomin laughed and sipped his coffee. He held out his hand so Donghyun handed over the back of his CV that he wrote on.
“Oh, you can take these online. It won’t take much of your time so you can do one or maybe two this semester if you finish quickly.”
“Yeah, you can do it at home. When you get home, just log in and read the ppt. That’s mostly what it takes for these. This one though,” he said pointing to one of Donghyun’s bullet points. “This one, you have to balance sheets so if you don’t have much going on this semester, I think you should take this one first.”
“Okay, can you mark that down for me?”
Bomin smiled, the genuine smile that Donghyun rarely saw.
“English, hyung? Why do you need--”
“For business letters and such… I’m okay with writing but speaking is a bit...”
“I have a friend who can help.”
“He owns a review center. If you tell him I’m your friend, he can probably give you a discount. I know that tutorials are a bit expensive.”
Donghyun’s ears were ringing. Discount and expensive were words he was hearing and they were coming out of a chaebol’s mouth.
“What? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Nothing,” Donghyun said shaking his head. “You just… You just look so mature.”
“If hyung is thinking I’m cool right now, I’m very flattered.”
“You can be so shameless.”
They both laughed.
Chapter 3: Be Careful
Daeyeol gulped at the sight of Bomin walking down the hall. He turned back walking swiftly. “Crap, crap,” he muttered while praying in his head for the world to engulf him, to make him invisible or something, anything.
Contrary to his worst nightmare though, Bomin just walked past by him. Bomin did not even spare a glance. Daeyeol sighed in relief. He was, if he had to be honest, going to shit himself there if Bomin acknowledged him.
He went back to his shared office with his fellow teaching assistants.
“Daeyeol!” Jiae shouted. “Where’s my coffee?”
“You’re not incapacitated. Get it yourself,” he grumbled.
“If you’re going to be like that, I won’t tell you about that person who called to ask about you.”
“What? You’re kidding.” But Daeyeol already had a person in mind and he hoped his guess was wrong.
“No, not at all. He was uncomfortable about leaving his name but he told me who he was in the end because he said it’s important. I said well I can’t tell Daeyeol unless you give me a name because Daeyeol absolutely hates pranks and looking like a fool.”
“I already know who it is.”
Jiae frowned. “How about my coffee?”
“Get it yourself.”
“I’m never going to tell you anything again.”
Jiae huffed and stomped out of the office.
Daeyeol quickly got his phone and pressed 1. The ringing took a while. Then, it took even longer. He decided to just send a text.
The message he sent read, “What is it? You should be studying for your exam. Why did you call me and where are you? Why aren’t you answering? Call me.”
Meanwhile, Bomin was quite late. He walked faster to catch Donghyun coming out of his Statistics class.
The low register voice startled Donghyun. He fell to the floor sending his books and notes flying. Bomin crouched down to help but instead of being grateful, Donghyun immediately yelled for him to stop.
Donghyun was brought back to last year when he bumped into Bomin by accident. It both annoyed and embarrassed Donghyun that he seemed like those irrational people in dramas who had a stack of unbinded paper walking around with no sense. Donghyun had sense. He was putting his photocopies into his bag while walking because he had a great regard for time.
Donghyun saw the deep frown and furrowed brow Bomin gave him that time. Red in the face, Donghyun could only mutter a sorry as he crouched down to gather his papers. “Be careful next time,” Bomin said with no formality in an icy tone. He even stepped purposely on one of Donghyun’s papers and left Donghyun there.
Donghyun was brought back to reality when Bomin’s face came close to his.
“I can do it myself,” Donghyun said in an almost embarrassed and stuttering voice.
Bomin still picked up what he could reach and got up. When Donghyun also got up, Bomin handed him his books.
A lot of people were looking so after accepting, he walked away in a rush. Bomin followed him.
Great, Donghyun thought. He was expecting a ‘thank you.’
“Ah, go ahead, hyung.”
“I’m sorry I yelled. I have to go.” Not sparing any glance behind him, Donghyun walked even faster.
“Wait, hyung,” Bomin said as he grabbed a hold of Donghyun’s wrist.
“I have a part time job. I can’t be late.”
“I can take you there.”
“Really, Bomin. Why can’t you leave me alone?”
“Hyung,” Bomin called in a voice that is so different than what Donghyun was used to. It made Donghyun look up.
“Hyung, please stop being mad at me.”
Donghyun spluttered and clutched his books. He felt himself growing hot. “What are you talking about? I’m not mad at you.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m definitely not mad at you. So just chill, okay? I need to go.”
“I told you that I can take you there.”
“Bomin, what do you want from me?”
The question stunned Bomin and Donghyun was puzzled both by what came out of his mouth and the definite effect it had on Bomin. Taking the opportunity, he walked away but feeling uncertain as well. Was he really not mad at Bomin?
“Hyung, I want us to be close friends.”
Donghyun looked back in an instant. Bomin was just right behind him.
Bomin added with a smile, “For now.” He was looking down at Donghyun intently.
“Why do you keep frightening me?”
“That wasn’t what I was trying to do.”
Bomin smiled and for the split instance that it reached his eyes, Donghyun heard a sound. A squeak? A little giggle? Had that sound even come out of Bomin? This tall boy with the voice of an underworld demon?
“I want us to be closer, hyung. We were already getting along last time, weren’t we?”
Donghyun took a step backward and slipped. If it were not for Bomin breaking his fall, Donghyun’s face would be crushed by the asphalt.
“I told you to be careful,” Bomin whispered as he helped Donghyun stand up properly again.
Donghyun flinched at the words. Growing more and more embarrassed, Donghyun pushed Bomin off of him and left. He clutched his books to his chest with his head down. He half expected Bomin to call for him but Bomin did no such thing.
As he walked, Donghyun bumped into someone. He was about to apologize when the person cut him off. “Kim Donghyun, was it?”
Donghyun knew that voice that haunted him in his nightmares about getting late to class. He dared not look up and just bowed his head even lower. “Hello Dae—”
“No need for those formalities,” Daeyeol waved his hand. Donghyun finally looked up and Daeyeol was close to his face that he had to back away.
“Careful there,” he warned. “So… Kim Donghyun...”
“You’re really close with Bomin, aren’t you?”
“Oh, Bomin… We’re not close.”
Daeyeol furrowed his eyebrows and looked behind Donghyun. Donghyun also looked behind finding Bomin still standing at the spot Donghyun left him — his back to them. “You sure about that? You’re not even calling him sunbae, at least, even though he’s a year level above you.”
“Oh, it’s a long story but seriously, we are not close... so I am nothing to him. You cannot use me to ask for favors.”
Daeyeol’s eyes widened.
“I didn’t mean,” Donghyun rushed to apologize. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to offend you!” He bowed again.
“It’s alright,” Daeyeol said but Donghyun could hear the teaching assistant saying the words against his teeth clenched. “I’m going now.”
Donghyun sighed and let his bag drop to the ground. “I need a break. Why can’t people give me a break?”
Feeling totally annoyed he even acted like a character from a drama – talking to himself like that and wasting even more precious time, Donghyun eventually put his books inside his bag and hurried off to leave the campus grounds.
Donghyun worked part time in a chicken restaurant. Each day was like a box of chocolates to him because he never knew what his boss was going to make him do; sometimes, he delivered orders, cooked in the kitchen, washed the dishes, and other times he had to do the boss’ children’s homework.
As he rushed to put his things in the backroom, his boss handed him the chicken suit.
“Hand the flyers out,” he ordered.
Donghyun could do nothing but bow as he took the suit with both hands.
Just as he thought of a silver lining like that he could catch up on reading the assigned reports while he walked down the streets, the boss turned back around to him. “What music can you dance to?”
“Huh? What do you mean boss?”
“I overheard you and your friend – Moocha? He talked about you being a trainee.”
“No… I was but not...”
The boss shushed him abruptly. “You can dance so you dance. I’m going to play music outside.”
Needless to say, Donghyun had to agree and the boss added, “Not too flashy. I don’t want the elder people avoiding the place because of rowdy teenagers.”
Donghyun thought his part time job could not be any short of an adventure. There was nothing embarrassing about it anyway. No one knew it was him in the suit and his face was not exposed. If anything, Donghyun was a little grateful. He had no other chance to dance.
For a brief ten minutes, Donghyun let himself just dance to the upbeat pop song in his ridiculous chicken suit. He shook his body more and his steps were bigger for the chicken but every silly move made him happier.
Upon getting home at 8, Donghyun proceeded to contact his group mates to collect their part in their project that they had to report on the next day.
No one replied which was what Donghyun expected. He did some of the others’ parts to relate their ideas so it would look coherent but it seemed to him it will be because he will do all the work until morning.
“Hey, can someone at least do the ppt? I’ll send the data I got.”
One reply read, “I’m sorry. I’m really in so much pain. I might not be discharged in the morning from the hospital.” Donghyun immediately went to her profile and saw that she just posted multiple photos of her new nails she got done that day.
Donghyun sighed. Sleep was for the weak, he lied to himself for comfort.
His muscles hurt from his dancing and his prolonged sitting. He took candy bars from his stash and hoped against hope his sugar high will deliver him from failure.
It was 4 A.M. when Donghyun declared it finished. He lied awake for the next fifteen minutes, however. He knew it; he just did not want to think it. His group mates were unreliable, bottom of the barrel basically. How could he expect them to pass just by making his group mates read the ppt out loud to the class?
He had to write out extra insight for them as well. Donghyun could sleep another time.
“Here,” he said, handing out the printouts to his pathetic group mates who were even then faking their stupid injuries — toothache, stomachache, and headache.
“Thanks, Donghyun! You’re really the best!”
Donghyun was wide awake despite his fears. He was too worried at how stupidly they were just reading his printouts aloud. They were in university and this was not how students were expected to hold themselves. Before Donghyun could rush through the conclusion, their professor interrupted.
“Can we get back to your case scenario,” she asked pointing to the girl in Donghyun’s group.
“Company X bought off company D but how will they handle the losses from D’s lawsuits?”
Donghyun watched in pain as she flipped page after page of Donghyun’s script for her.
“Company D is of great asset to X because of their vision. Their return of investment if only D didn’t overlook—”
The professor raised a finger and Donghyun stopped talking immediately. “I believe that was her part of the report. Why are you the one answering the question?”
Donghyun fell silent among his group mates. He knew he looked pathetic. The professor sighed and stood up. “There is no point to this if you do a group project alone. In the work place, you will have to communicate with your teammates if you want to meet a deadline with good results.”
She walked around the room and reminded them, “As I’ve said when I put you into groups, you will receive the same grades as everyone in the group. If you don’t care about yours, others will make you care about theirs.”
Donghyun had a sinking feeling in his stomach. He wanted to cry but he knew all eyes were on him.
“Class is dismissed. You shall see your grades tonight on the CRS.”
Chapter 4: Burst
“Ma’am, I’m so sorry,” he said while walking beside her.
“I can’t make any exception,” she said. She sounded almost regretful but Donghyun just needed to speak his piece.
“But you don’t understand, ma’am...”
“I’m sure you worked very hard.”
“Yes, ma’am. I haven’t had any sleep.”
“Too hard. It’s a week’s worth of work divided for five people.”
“I had to pick up the slack, ma’am. I need good grades. You see ma’am, I’m under a scholarship.”
“Yes, but,” she paused, her hand on the door handle to her faculty office. “There is an important lesson to learn here. I can’t make any exception based on feeling bad for your unfortunate circumstance however hard you’ve worked or how much you’ve put into this because you gave up on your groupmates.”
“I tried talking to them. I reminded them in every way I could.”
“I’m so sorry. I really am but you can’t just put everything on your shoulders. You can’t do that in a working environment.”
She opened the door and Donghyun could only sigh.
He left the building feeling like shit. He carried heavy weight of indignation.
“So, I should’ve brought my part of the report? She’d prefer that?” Donghyun said kicking the gravel. “Maybe I should’ve thrown those guys under the bus.”
Lunch time rolled around and while Donghyun wanted to mope some more on the benches, he knew Joochan and Jibeom were probably waiting for him.
“You haven’t replied to me,” Joochan demanded the moment he saw Donghyun.
“I’m here now.”
“So, where will we go on the break? We have to plan what we’re going to do and what we should see so we have to pick as early as possible. Not to mention the tickets.”
Donghyun felt an immediate two-ton truck hit his head. He knew he should have said something from the beginning but Donghyun declined Joochan’s offers to go to places far too many times than when he agreed to anything. He would only agree on Thursday nights because he would have spent as little as possible to make that night happen.
Joochan was so happy when Donghyun agreed about the vacation. He had to tread this tricky road lightly.
Jibeom interrupted the interrogation by saying, “You can just go to Busan. I’ll show you around.”
Joochan gave him a look and then, he looked back to Donghyun expectantly.
“Anywhere is fine,” Donghyun said. He tried to smile.
Joochan’s lips tightened. “Why are you being difficult?”
“You are! I’m asking for your opinion but like you usually do, you give me noncommittal answers.”
“I said ‘anywhere is fine!’”
There was hurt on his face like Donghyun had slapped him. “Can you even hear yourself, Donghyun?”
Jibeom gripped Joochan’s shoulder but his friend would not have it.
“You won’t say what you want! Am I really your friend?” He stood up and Donghyun stood up too, to back away from Joochan’s advances.
“I-I’m not even sure I’ll be able to go…” Donghyun began. He was whispering. “I might be losing my scholarship next year so I’ll have to work over the break.”
He dared a glance at Joochan’s reaction but his face was filled with more annoyance. “You see!” He told Jibeom. “This is what I have to put up with.” He turned to Donghyun again and yelled, “It’s like I’m always the one reaching out to you. You never tell me anything. You never tell me what’s on your mind. You know a lot about me and what I go through but you never tell me about how you even feel. Now, I look like the inconsiderate friend who planned on going to a vacation with no regard for your sake.”
Jibeom was holding Joochan back from Donghyun. People were looking at them. For a split second, he really wanted to go into this fight with Joochan. It seemed so ridiculous that Joochan would snap over something like this. What is one school break when they can go on a vacation in the future, just not in this upcoming break? Why was Joochan shouting at him? He had not even asked Donghyun how his day was. Why could Joochan not be understanding just this once?
He wanted to shout back, “To hell with your stupid summer vacation!” but Donghyun did not have the heart. He had desperately wanted to go. When was the last time he told Joochan something silly like how his neighbor kept singing in the middle of the night and how the cats having sex stop when they hear his voice?
He looked back straight into Joochan’s eyes. They were wide and demanding. They made Donghyun want to cower into a corner. Right then, he could see what everyone was seeing — the three of them standing up in the middle of the cafeteria having a shouting match.
“I’ll just go,” Donghyun told Jibeom. Jibeom nodded.
“I’m not done with you! Come back!”
“People are staring,” Jibeom said. It was probably meant as a whisper but Donghyun could still hear it even as he walked out of the cafeteria. His ears rang with the fresh memory of Joochan’s words; each of them felt like a stab. However, his mind was fuzzy and unfocused.
Bomin found Donghyun sitting just behind the trees on the lagoon facing their building. He put a cold can of juice on Donghyun’s face which startled the older boy.
“Cold! Cold!” Donghyun exclaimed right away. He looked up and saw Bomin looking down on him with a smile.
“How did you find me?”
“I followed your scent.”
Bomin only laughed and sat beside him. “Have you had your lunch yet, hyung?”
“Bomin, don’t be nice to me. I don’t know why you’re suddenly acting this way...”
“It was tough in there a while ago. You don’t deserve a bad grade.”
“Oh, right. You saw,” Donghyun felt even more embarrassed. “Don’t say anything about it. Don’t be nice to me because I’m pathetic.”
“But you’re not pathetic. Not at all.” Donghyun sighed and his body fell limp on the side of the tree trunk. “Hyung, I know you must’ve had a different impression of me last year but I think we just started off on the wrong foot. Can’t you just give me a chance to be closer to you?”
“I’m sure you already know.”
Donghyun did not answer for long time. Bomin asked him again, “Have you had lunch?”
Donghyun shook his head. Bomin took his bag and pulled out maybe a dozen kimbaps and opened one in front of Donghyun.
He gently pulled the sticker that sealed the kimbap. Then, he gently tugged the plastic off one side to unstick the seaweed from the plastic wrapper. He did the same with the other side but completely taking the plastic wrapper off. He proudly handed the opened kimbap to Donghyun. “I’ve been practicing,” he said grinning.
Donghyun was unbelievably unimpressed. “Good job,” he said.
Bomin happily took the compliment and pushed the kimbaps closer to Donghyun. “Eat a lot, hyung.”
They ate silently for a while until Bomin looked over at Donghyun, just when the sniffling started.
“Hyung, are you crying?”
Tears were falling from Donghyun’s eyes but there was shock on his face as he shot upright. “What? I’m not crying.” He immediately wiped his eyes with his sleeve. Somehow though, the tears would not stop falling. “I swear to God,” he said shakily. “I’m not crying! I’m not the one doing t-this.”
His voice was cracking up. Tears were still falling and there was panic in his eyes.
Bomin grabbed him and hugged him. Bomin could hear him heaving. He was so tense in Bomin’s arms so Bomin hugged him tighter — one hand on his back soothing him and the other on his head keeping him still.
Donghyun remembered thinking Bomin was a really good hugger. He could feel the strong grip digging into his skin and the stiff hands in the beginning but once Donghyun let Bomin hold him like that, Bomin’s hands caressed him gentler. It was as if Bomin was really fine with this. Bomin even tucked his chin on Donghyun’s shoulder. He could probably smell how Donghyun stank. The older boy was a neat freak but he might have compensated a few more scrubs in the shower because he needed to be extra early to prep his groupmates.
“It’s alright to cry, hyung. Don’t keep it all bottled up inside you.”
It was not as if Bomin’s words were magic but maybe they were because Donghyun felt like a valve opened to release the weight he was keeping in. He was sobbing then and he felt angry and frustrated then just sad, really really sad.
His mouth became loose. He started saying things before he even realized. He found himself telling Bomin all about how he had not even slept yet since yesterday and the past weeks he only slept three hours tops; how his groupmates were the worst. It was all flooding out of his mouth even his fight with Joochan.
“Jibeom held him off and he was so mad. I’ve seen Joochan mad before but not at me. I just left.” Donghyun gasped. “I left him. He was angry and I left him.”
“Don’t-” Bomin began to say but Donghyun pulled away from him.
“No, Joochan won’t forgive me.”
“You haven’t even slept, hyung. You can’t handle all of this. If you talk, you’ll work it out.”
“I’m so fucking upset!”
Bomin flinched. Donghyun just looked away.
“I shouldn’t even be crying. I don’t cry.”
“Everyone cries. You’re not that strong.” Then, he corrected himself, “You’re not a robot, hyung.”
“I don’t have any right to cry.”
“You’re being ridiculous now. Why wouldn’t you be allowed to cry?”
“Because it’s all my fault. Everything that happened to me was because I did it myself.”
“Why do you think like that?”
“Who else will I blame? Life? If I blame things as being unfair then I can’t feel proud if I do something good because that’s also life being unfair. I already know I can only rely on myself. No one is on my side so I should be strong for myself.”
“That’s not true,” Bomin interjected. He saw Donghyun’s eyes roll but he continued, “You have a point about life but you’re not in this alone. I used to think that way that I’m all alone...”
Donghyun could imagine Bomin walking alone. It surprised him how easy it was. Maybe it was because he did not think the people who would hang around Bomin were genuine with their intentions. Bomin must have just tried to get along with them to get by without any conflicts. He must have done that for a long time.
“Everyone seemed to want something from me. I know you know how that feels.”
“Not as bad as you, for sure.”
Bomin smiled at him and Donghyun began smiling unconsciously back at Bomin. “You’re different from them.”
“That I don’t want anything to do with you? Is that what will get you?”
“No,” Bomin said. “You don’t have to be alone, hyung.” Donghyun sighed. “I’m here for you. Joochan hyung, too. Your family, too, obviously.”
“Joochan hates me.”
“Then, at least me. I’m here for you.”
Donghyun’s eyebrows were furrowed. “You?”
“If you let me.”
Donghyun’s ears reddened.
“I’m sure you already know, hyung.”
“That I like you.”
Tear stained and a bit of snot still trapped in his nose, Donghyun shifted and hesitantly began to respond, “Well, that’s…” He was scrambling his brain. He really wanted to make sure that Bomin meant it as becoming friends because though they were already sort of friends, he wanted to know that Bomin did not hate him for the scholarship. After all, Bomin did not need it. Donghyun did and desperately so.
“Before you become evasive, I’ll be clear. I like like you. Will you go out with me?”
Chapter 5: My Neighbor Pyororong
“Wasn’t I obvious enough?”
If Donghyun was being honest, it probably was obvious because Joochan noticed but Donghyun denied it to himself with the excuse that it was a long con. He liked to think of himself as perceptive. People often told him that he was too skeptical, becoming a cynic in fact but he could not help it. He wasted two years of his life believing he could be an idol; everyone started to look like scammers to him.
Bomin nudged him and Donghyun looked up but looked down again. He felt very flattered and he did think Bomin was cute and handsome — a really good mix of both — not to mention how smart the boy was. For a brief moment, he let himself imagine the both of them holding each other’s hands and laughing together. He was not going to lie; it seemed really nice. Then, he thought about Bomin being rich and how both convenient and inconvenient it could be. ‘I just want my baby to have nice things,’ Donghyun imagined his future Bomin would say; that would be so uncomfortable, maybe edging on an imbalanced power dynamic. What would Bomin’s parents say, too? ‘Why’d you have to go and pick the poorest of the poor? This isn’t some makjang!’ People did not really talk like that but why was Donghyun even thinking about it?
Donghyun said, “I don’t know, Bomin. You’ve been nice to me lately…”
Donghyun was surprised at the look of indignation Bomin sported.
“I want to focus on my studies. I’m in real trouble. I don’t know how I’ll manage to raise my grades to keep this up.”
“If I promise I’ll never distract you,” Bomin began to ask as he slid his hand on top of Donghyun’s. “Will you give me a chance?”
“You’re already distracting me,” Donghyun said dumbly.
Bomin pouted. He pulled his hand away and Donghyun, on instinct, grabbed it. “I only meant...”
He looked back at Donghyun with wide eyes. Donghyun could not really tell what those eyes were saying but they felt so intense that he looked at his hand holding Bomin’s tightly. It felt nice. Bomin’s hand felt nice. It was rougher than he imagined a chaebol’s hand would be but it was warm and it did not feel tensed under his touch.
“I…” Donghyun began again. “It’s not that I don’t like you. I was starting to think we were becoming friends.”
“Did you want us to be friends first?”
“It’s kind of sudden. I don’t know. If I’m being honest, it’s probably more that this is scary for me. I don’t want to be with you, or anyone actually, while I’m having so many problems.”
“But hyung,” Bomin said softly. “If I wait for you, when will you come to me on your own? You probably won’t, right? And besides...” He adjusted his hand on Donghyun’s, inserting his fingers in between Donghyun’s, palm pressed unto palm. It was warm and Donghyun did not retract his hand.
Bomin’s eyelids lowered and his jaw seemed to relax. He had a small smile forming on his lips.
“I’ll help you. That’s what people in relationships do, right? We’ll become better people because we’ll help each other.”
Donghyun’s heart was beating so loudly he thought he could hear it in the air. “This is still scaring me.”
“Hyung, can I tell you a secret?”
“I’m scared, too.”
Donghyun scoffed. It was obviously a lie. Bomin even looked more attractive because he was so confident. It made Donghyun even more scared and smaller.
“I’m serious, hyung. If you rejected me, I would’ve… well… I don’t know what I’d do.”
Bomin’s hand felt tense in that moment. When Donghyun looked at his face, it was scrunched up, lines formed on his forehead. Before he really knew it, his thumb was moving across Bomin’s thumb which made Bomin look up at him with uncertainty. Donghyun had more courage this time to bring his other hand to Bomin’s face. He caressed Bomin’s cheek. He felt really tense. He only knew he felt so strongly to touch Bomin’s cheek. It was such a sad thing to see someone as beautiful as Bomin upset.
Bomin closed his eyes and leaned more into Donghyun’s touch.
“Today is our first day, hyung.”
Donghyun did not answer. He quickly burned up and removed his hand off of Bomin.
“I’m sorry. I really don’t mean to scare you, hyung. At least, give me a chance. I’ll be really good to you.”
Donghyun nodded. It took a second. Bomin merely stared blankly at Donghyun that Donghyun started to fidget. Before he could stand up to go though, Bomin pulled him into a tight bone-crushing hug.
Upon closing the door when he got to his rented room, Donghyun released a shrill scream. He ran to his undone futon that he abandoned hurriedly in the morning. He punched his pillow several times.
“Ya!” he heard someone yell. “Student! Can’t you keep quiet there!?”
Donghyun blinked and heard some knocking on the wall. Too embarrassed, he tried to move quietly and went on with tidying up.
He logged on to the certification course’s website he enrolled for and immediately remembered Bomin. He kicked in extreme emotion and knocked his study table sending his pens and some books clattering and thudding to the floor.
No one yelled so Donghyun felt relieved.
“I’ve had it!” Someone screamed outside and suddenly, Donghyun could hear a loud banging at his door.
Donghyun rushed to open it and he greeted the person at the end of the doorway with an immediate bow of apology.
“I’m trying to study! Why are you so noisy?! Last night you were noisy too. You kept muttering. Don’t you know the walls are thin?” The man cursed. “Get up. It’s not like you did some crime.”
Donghyun looked up at the man who was wearing matching training outfit.
“I’m just so irritable lately, you know,” the man continued. “How old are you?”
“I asked how old you are. Don’t you go to that university near here? Why can’t you answer a simple question?”
“I’m 22, sir.”
“I’m not that old. Anyway, you’re at a legal age. Let’s get a drink. I haven’t met any of the neighbors. It’d be good to socialize.”
“Do I have to keep on repeating myself?”
“No, it’s just… you said you were studying?”
“What does it matter now,” he lamented. “I’ll feel better after I get a drink.”
It was barely 6PM but Donghyun did not know how to say ‘no’ to this man.
He kept calling Donghyun as ‘cookie’ but instead of feeling annoyed, he kind of felt closer to the man. When they sat in front of each other with the grill sizzling with pork belly and garlic, the man started drinking and singing in between his shots.
Donghyun recognized him at once. This was his neighbor whom in his mind he called Pyororong.
“Pyororong-ie?” The man asked midway to flipping a pork belly slice. “Who’s Pyororong-ie? How do you know that?”
“I’m sorry… that’s… that’s what I call you in my head. Because you sing at night and then you end it with ‘Pyororong.’ Every night you sing and then say that word.”
The man looked down at the grill and took the kitchen scissors on the side and cut the meat himself. He eventually started talking. His words came out with sighs in between.
“I talk to my boyfriend at night,” he confessed. “He likes it when I sing to him.”
Donghyun nodded empathically.
“We’re having a rough time right now. We fight during the day and then we apologize. We fight again the next day. It’s really tiring. But I love him. I know he loves me, too. Don’t look at me like that. He loves me, too. He sacrificed a lot. He works hard to provide for me. I have to take a simple test, you see.” He snipped off the last piece of meat and put the tong and scissors down. With another sigh, he poured himself another glass. He gulped it down in a second. “I’m stupid. I’m an idiot!”
Donghyun took the man’s hands to keep the man from hitting himself again. “Please calm, down.” Donghyun was by his side and putting an arm around him. “It’s okay. It will be okay, hyung… Err… What’s your name again, hyung?”
“Sungyoon hyung?” A familiar voice said that made Donghyun jump.
Behind him appeared Bomin.
Bomin looked at him with furrowed brows. He seemed annoyed.
“It’s not what you think, Bomin,” Donghyun spluttered to explain. “He’s my neighbor so we went out to drink. He’s feeling down.”
“That’s my cousin,” Bomin said flatly.
“Oh” was all Donghyun could reply.
“I was calling you,” Bomin informed Donghyun as he sat across them.
Sungyoon was crying but Bomin was not even looking at him. He was talking and folding his coat to place beside him.
“I thought we would get some dinner. I forgot to ask you. You were in such a hurry to get off. I didn’t even know which one was your house.”
Donghyun was nothing but puzzled. He put back his hand on Sungyoon’s back and comforted him. “Are you okay?” he whispered to Sungyoon.
He looked back at Bomin who had a straight face through all this.
“Aren’t you… I mean you said he was your cousin?”
“I would call my uncle but I don’t know if Sungyoon hyung would like that.”
“No, don’t call him,” Sungyoon said. It was as if he was pulled back into reality. He wiped away his tears and tried to calm down. He fixed his hair that he was pulling out moments ago. “Imo!” He shouted. “Another serving here please.”
“Are you okay now?” Donghyun asked.
Sungyoon nodded. He was going to pour himself some more soju but Bomin interrupted him. “Let me do that for you, hyung. I’m the youngest in the table.”
Donghyun could see Sungyoon glaring at Bomin through his hair. “It’s fine. This isn’t a formal event.”
“It’s basic table manners,” Bomin insisted.
“Then keep pouring all night.”
Bomin made a samgyupsal wrap for Donghyun. It seemed that he wanted to feed it to Donghyun, too so Donghyun grabbed it with his hands and fed himself.
“So, are you classmates or something?”
Donghyun could feel his ears immediately go hot. He was not really ready for this. He was just thinking how he would go about being lowkey the next day.
“We’re dating,” Bomin said. He was even grinning.
“Since when do you date?” Sungyoon asked Bomin. He might have sounded teasing if one was not looking because his face said it. He looked very confused.
“Now. Because Donghyun hyung is special to me.”
“Don’t make me puke while we’re eating,” Sungyoon said dismissively. “Be careful of this one,” he warned Donghyun. “People might come after you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Sungyoon hyung likes to joke.”
Sungyoon pointed at his glass. “Don’t stop pouring, kid.”
After gulping it down immediately, he let it hang in the air awaiting Bomin to pour soju in. “I want to go to a karaoke bar next, Cookie.”
Sungyoon pointed at Donghyun with his thumb.
“Why is he calling you ‘Cookie?’”
“I don’t know,” Donghyun whispered.
Bomin frowned. “You don’t have to like it,” he muttered.
“I don’t like it.”
“You were trying not to smile, hyung.”
“He’s cute when he says cookie.”
“That’s my cousin.”
“Your cousin whom you offered to pour for,” Sungyoon interrupted.
Bomin sighed. “No more soju.”
“Imo! More soju please!” Sungyoon shouted. He told Bomin, “And you’re paying because I didn’t bring a wallet.”
Both Donghyun and Bomin’s eyes widened.
“You were going to make Donghyun hyung pay if I didn’t come?”
“No, he doesn’t look like he has money. I would’ve paid tomorrow.” He looked at Donghyun with a smirk on his lips. “I really wouldn’t.”
Chapter 6: Getting to know you, getting to know all about you
I was trying to insert an audio of James Taylor's cover of Getting to Know You (originally from the musical The King and I based on Margaret Landon's novel Anna and the King of Siam)
The song is where is the chapter title is from and I just thought I should share with you all this lovely song
If you can't play the audio because of scripts you need to allow to run, here is a link on youtube
“Donghyun hyung!” Bomin called behind the older boy. He was walking slowly to his class, his head hung low and hands clutching the straps of his backpack.
Bomin tried again, “Donghyun hyung?”
He finally tried shouting but if Donghyun heard any of that, he showed no signs.
Bomin was laughing when he poked Donghyun. Donghyun looked up and did a double take. He turned to Bomin and started talking loudly.
Bomin was tapping the side of his head but Donghyun just kept shouting, “What?”
Bomin took a step closer to Donghyun and gently plucked Donghyun’s earphones off of his boyfriend. He smiled at the thought.
Donghyun was looking up at him and he stopped at that moment. “You didn’t have to…”
Bomin was still smiling and he tucked the earphones in one of the pockets of Donghyun’s backpack.
They already hugged but Donghyun still burned in embarrassment at their proximity.
“Didn’t your mom warn you about your ears with that kind of volume?”
Donghyun weakly replied, “Yeah but I don’t live at home anymore so I’m free from the nagging.” He took a step away and Bomin backed off a little.
Bomin clicked his tongue. “Hyung.”
“Who knew you were so strict,” Donghyun remarked. “You could replace my mom.”
“But my feelings for you aren’t motherly.” He stepped closer and crouched down a little to face Donghyun.
His face burning hot, Donghyun completely withdrew and gestured for them to start walking.
“What kind of songs do you listen to?”
Donghyun’s heart leapt. “Just… what’s popular. How about you?”
“Oh, I listen to ballads. I listen more for the lyrics, the melody comes in second but I want to listen to more different things. Would you…”
“I’ll make you a playlist.”
Bomin smiled. “I’d really like that, hyung.”
Donghyun found himself lost in Bomin’s smile. He could see a little of Bomin’s gums and his big pearly white teeth. Bomin would close his mouth but it would open again displaying the teeth and gums perfect for a toothpaste ad. It was as if Bomin could not contain that smile; it was trying to show itself off.
“By the way,” Donghyun said to clear his head. “When’s your birthday?”
“I’m sorry. I should’ve already known that… but I don’t remember if you treated a class to food because it was your birthday or…”
“No, no, hyung. Of course, you wouldn’t have known. We only did one class project together and you paid me for your share of the meal.”
“You remember that?”
“Yeah,” he said softly. “It was a new thing to me. Other people just always assume I’ll play for the whole group.”
“You should stop hanging out with assholes.”
“But I don’t.”
Donghyun thought about what Bomin said for a moment. “What do you mean you don’t?”
“If I have a choice in the moment, I’d choose not to be there. But sometimes, I have to be there. For class projects that’s grouped randomly, for MT…”
“Oh,” Donghyun chuckled a little. “I guess that’s hard to avoid.”
“Anyway, do you want to have lunch together?”
Donghyun stopped walking and looked up at Bomin who stopped at the same time as him. “We can study while we eat,” Bomin added.
The look turned more as a stare because it had been a while and Donghyun still had not answered. “Hyung?”
“Nothing. It’s just funny. You’ve been asking me that since the semester started.”
“You’ve been avoiding me.”
“Let’s have lunch together,” Donghyun answered with a sheepish smile then he ran off. Bomin caught up quickly.
After Donghyun laid his plates and set aside his tray, he told Bomin. “So you didn’t answer my question.”
“August 24. Yours is February 23.”
Donghyun stopped midway of taking a bite from his rice, “How did you know that?”
“Jangjun hyung told me.”
“I don’t even understand how he knows, too.”
“Jangjun hyung knows everyone.”
“But Jangjun hyung doesn’t always tell the truth. He once told people Sujeong noona was ugly but when she showed up she was actually pretty.”
Bomin laughed. “So should I verify what I know about you first?”
“I’ll get to know you dilligently, hyung.”
Donghyun blushed again. “Dilligently?”
Bomin nodded. “Dillegently. And we’ll study dillgently, too.”
“Studying?” Donghyun asked like a balloon popped by a random tack.
“What’s wrong with that?” Bomin laughed. “I promised you I won’t be a distraction. I’ll even help you studying.”
“I don’t have any homework left undone.”
“You still have classes after lunch.”
Donghyun laughed. Embarrassed, he said accusingly, “You can tell me if my mom paid you to watch over me.”
Bomin’s eyes widened. For a few beats, Donghyun began to be confused.
“Did I say something wrong? I was just joking…”
“I thought you were okay with the idea of me meeting your mom. I didn’t know you move so fast.” Then, Bomin burst out laughing.
Donghyun started chomping down his food.
“I was joking, hyung.”
“It wouldn’t be a bad thing,” Donghyun said quietly.
“What wouldn’t be a bad thing?”
“You might think… ah, well… I don’t keep secrets from my parents.”
“This is already sounding like the beginning of ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.’”
“We’re not a slow burn.”
Bomin smiled. “We’re really not, hyung. That’s what I like about you.”
“What exactly is that?”
“That we’re on the same wavelength.”
“So if you find someone else that can understand your references better than me, that’s it for us?”
“You’re so cute, hyung,” Bomin cooed. “I really like you, hyung. I’ve never liked anyone like this before. So I don’t think I can like someone else.” He gestured vaguely.
“I’m going to lose my appetite, Bomin.”
“Hey hyung, how about later? Can we watch a movie? Eat dinner together, too.”
“Can we set some rules first?”
Bomin waggled his eyebrows. “Rules? So you’re that kind of person, hyung.”
Horrified, Donghyun slapped Bomin’s shoulder. “Stop it.”
Bomin raised his hands a little in surrender.
“I just mean, things like how we pay and the schedules.”
Bomin nodded. “Of course, hyung. We’ll plan everything dilligently.”
“Dilligently. Maybe ‘dilligently’ can be our ‘always.’”
Donghyun burst out laughing. “Bomin, you don’t even have to tell me the kind of books you read.”
“Maybe I’m a watched-the-movie-didn’t-read-the-book kind of person, hyung. Don’t judge me so easily.”
“‘Aristotle and Dante’ doesn’t have a movie yet.”
“You got me there, hyung. But you should still get to know me dilligently.”
Beaming, Donghyun told Bomin, “Something tells me it’ll be fun getting to know you dilligently.”
As they made their way out of the campus grounds side by side, Donghyun had his hands gripping on his backpack straps and Bomin’s had his inside his pockets.
“Tomorrow, you’ll be at your part time job?” Bomin asked. Donghyun nodded looking up at his boyfriend.
“Can I hang out there?”
Donghyun hesitated for a while. “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.”
“I’ll be a paying customer.”
“Then, there’s nothing I can do.”
“I’ll write our report there.”
“Why don’t you do fun things?” Donghyun asked, exhausted.
“I’ll bring some of my friends.”
Donghyun would have faked a gasp but he was genuinely surprised.
“Friends from volunteer work,” Bomin explained. “They’re not from school except Jaehyun hyung.”
“Okay. I sure hope I won’t have to be in the mascot suit tomorrow.”
Bomin smiled then he asked, “Do your friends hang out there often?”
“We could do a group study there. Your boss will probably give you a raise.”
“It’s not like I can study with everyone there. The more people you invite, the less it’ll be like a group study.”
“You don’t need studying anymore, hyung. You already said you finished your assignments.”
“Stop teasing me! I need to study, too!”
Upon getting to the gate, Donghyun saw him before Bomin could see beyond a tree branch. He stopped abruptly that surprised Bomin. He spread his arms around Donghyun to catch him in case of a fall. “Are you okay?!”
Joochan was looking at both of them from a distance. Donghyun could only imagine what they looked like to Joochan right now — probably like two snakes with their tails knotted to each other. Here he was again in Bomin’s arms. Donghyun grabbed a hold of Bomin’s left arm and took a good step to gain his bearings.
“I’m okay...” He was also shocked at how breathy he sounded. Then, tears started pooling from his eyes. “I have to go.”
Donghyun ran to the gates and though clouded in tears, he saw Joochan was running towards him, too.
“Shut up! You’re a bigger idiot!”
When they hugged, they both started laughing. “I’m sorry,” Joochan whispered.
“No, I’m sorry.”
“I’m the one who’s sorry.”
“Damn it! You’re taking this away from me too. How much of a bad friend do you want me to be?”
“I’m sorry, Joochan. I’ll be more honest with my feelings.”
“And I’ll be a better friend which is really hard given how amazing I already am.”
Donghyun smacked Joochan’s forehead lightly and Joochan just laughed.
“Joochan hyung, why don’t you join us for dinner?”
Both Donghyun and Joochan looked up. Donghyun almost forgot. He looked back and forth at both Bomin and Joochan, thinking fast.
“I have to tell you something.”
“We have to tell you something,” Bomin corrected.
“Just give us a second. We’ll follow you to your car.”
Bomin left reluctantly but his smile did not fade. He bid Joochan a “see you later” and went on his way slowly.
“‘Follow you to your car?’ Donghyun, what the fuck?”
“‘We have to tell you something?’ What the fuck?”
“‘Why don’t you join us for dinner?’ What the fuck?”
“Stop it! I know okay! I know!”
“We’ve had a fight for less than two seconds...”
“27 hours at least...”
“I know you hate me even more because you have a crush on him…”
Joochan frowned and Donghyun could taste the sour feelings he caused in the instant. “I’m sorry. I really… Ugh, Joochan. Please understand.”
“Really? It’s really okay? I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Don’t be dramatic. You know it wasn’t deep. It’s not like I’m in love with him. It was a little crush. And he obviously likes you a lot.”
“He doesn’t like me a lot.”
Joochan started walking and Donghyun followed by his side. “He doesn’t like you a lot, sure. He wasn’t being jealous by getting excluded a second ago. He wasn’t looking back to check on you every few seconds. And he surely isn’t here waiting for you.” As Joochan pointed, Donghyun saw the tall figure standing against the post upon entering the parking lot.
“Hey,” Joochan said. “I’m happy for you. I think he’s a good guy.”
“You really think so?”
Joochan looked back at him and said, “If he actually sucks, I’m sure Jibeom knows a few guys who can beat people up.”
“Jibeom isn’t a gangster,” Donghyun pushed Joochan playfully.
“You don’t know that.”
Bomin waved to them. “Shall we go?”
“Can I call Jibeom?”
“Sure,” Donghyun said instantly. He looked back at Bomin and smiled.
Joochan explained as he pressed 3 on his speed dial and stepped away for a second, “It’s just that I told him we’d eat to celebrate our little Donghyun coming back to us.”
“I hope it’s okay with you,” Donghyun told Bomin in a quiet voice.
“Why would it be a problem, hyung? I’d love to get to know them. I’m sure they both have funny stories to tell about you.”
“They won’t sell me out like that,” Donghyun replied confidently. “They’re my friends. Anything embarrassing is forgotten.”
“Have you been with them drunk?”
“Not really… We don’t get drunk. Well, I leave before it gets too late.”
Bomin smiled. “Then, we’ll find out.”
“Bomin! It’s a school night!”
“I’ll take care of you, hyung. Don’t worry.”
Chapter 7: Take Me Home
There was an old song wafting with the smell of fresh mangoes in the air inside the restaurant when they came in. Everything was coated in yellow by the light and the varnished wooden furnitures shone brilliantly.
Donghyun felt weird. He could not describe the feeling even to himself. It was like drinking soda and the bubbles now inside him were bubbling up, threatening to pop all at once at any moment.
Something inside him told him it was all too fast. But part of him liked the danger — the danger of being involved with someone whom he truthfully did not know fully well yet.
“I’ve always passed by here but never went in,” Joochan commented as they made their way to a table nearest a window.
“Why so?” Bomin asked as he pulled a chair for Donghyun. Jibeom eyed them as he took the seat next to Donghyun. Jibeom looked at Joochan for answers but the other boy merely mouthed a ‘later’ as Joochan sat at the opposite end of Donghyun.
Bomin was looking, expecting for an answer to his question. Joochan, however, had limited attention span so he was trying to think of why Bomin was looking at him expectantly. He looked at Jibeom and a light bulb was switched on. Joochan prompted, “So, Bomin, do you know Jibeom?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself first. I’m Bomin, Jibeom sunbaenim.”
“It’s alright,” Jibeom said. “I already kind of know you. Donghyun talks about you.”
In that instant, Jibeom felt the sensation of revenge hit him with fervor. Donghyun stepped on his foot.
“You talk about me, hyung?” Bomin grinned.
“It might’ve been about a project,” Jibeom managed to say sounding normal through the pain.
Although disappointment was palpable on his face, Bomin nodded. “That sounds just like hyung. He’s so diligent with his studies.”
If he expected Donghyun’s friends to laugh, they did not.
“That’s not wrong,” Joochan said with a wide smile. “Donghyun works hard for everything. If he gets something easily, he doubts everything that has anything to do with it.”
Jibeom supplemented, “Donghyun is that admirable. He has a lot of honor and pride in his work.”
Donghyun’s ears were red. He was about to protest but Joochan added, “Also kind of a neat freak.”
They shared light laughter and then, Joochan turned to Bomin, “Isn’t that what you like about our dear Donghyun?”
Bomin blushed and Jibeom’s wild eyes waited for any of them to answer him. The waiter came in serving them the complimentary bread and jam.
As Donghyun flipped through the menu, he caught Bomin looking at him. With an embarrassed smile, Bomin looked at the menu again.
“Donghyun-ah,” Jibeom began. “So have you decided?”
“I might just get a plate of bolognese.”
“No, I mean...”
Joochan cleared his throat. He said loudly, “I’ll have bolognese, too.”
“Okay. Me, too.”
“We can just get a family sized platter, I suppose?” Donghyun said.
“A big pitcher of iced tea, too,” Jibeom added. “Do they have a bread basket?”
The three of them busily pointed at each item on the menu and deciding among themselves what to get. When Donghyun called on the waiter, he had a passing glimpse at Bomin. Bomin had a slight furrow of his eyebrow and his lips were curved down a little.
When he stopped to look at him better, Bomin’s face was as clear as day again smiling at the menu he was perusing.
“What will you have Bomin?” he asked.
“Whatever the hyungs are having is fine with me.”
“Are you sure?”
Bomin smiled at Donghyun with a sweet sugary smile. Joochan said, “We can order more food… for variety?”
“I’m fine. We can order more later if you guys are still hungry.”
Donghyun kept glancing back at Bomin as they ate. Bomin looked fine mostly except that he was glancing at the pitcher and the glasses and not smiling.
“Here,” Donghyun said as he poured a drink for Bomin.
Even if it was the smallest of smiles, Donghyun liked that Bomin smiled for him. He said a tiny ‘thank you.’
Joochan was silently miming to Donghyun and Donghyun could see the tightness around Bomin’s eyes.
“Can I have some more? Please?” Bomin asked.
Donghyun took Bomin’s glass but as he did so, he accidentally knocked Joochan’s glass and the tea spilled all over his friend with ice cubes sending him yelling.
“I’m so sorry,” Donghyun rushed to grab some tissues but Jibeom was on his feet helping Joochan go to the toilet.
Donghyun was confused and when he looked up, Bomin had a little smirk on his lips.
Donghyun thought hard how to ask without coming off too strong. He plucked up the courage and began, “Did you--”
“They don’t have a dryer. Did you bring a pair of pants today?” Jibeom suddenly asked. Donghyun handed him his bag that he usually packed with a change of clothes for emergencies.
When Jibeom was out of earshot, he turned back to Bomin and asked as non-threatening as he could, “Why did you do that?”
“What did I do, hyung? Other than eating here quietly.”
Donghyun pushed his hair back to get them out of his eyes. Maybe he was seeing things because he was feeling guilty for neglecting Bomin.
“Anyway,” Donghyun said.
“I’m really hurt that you’re blaming me for that.”
Donghyun was stunned hearing the words come out of Bomin and the pout on his lips at the end of each word.
“I haven’t said or done anything tonight and yet I’m still the bad guy.”
“I’m sorry,” Donghyun told Bomin, holding his hands in his. “I’m really sorry. I was… I’m distracted. I probably…”
“It’s okay. As long as hyung isn’t mad at me,” Bomin said sulkily.
“I’m not. I was just thinking… if we could tell Jibeom about us.”
Without missing a beat, Bomin said, “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be fine with that?”
“It’s just all new to me. I don’t know… Is it really okay?”
“Was that why Joochan hyung was fussing over you?”
Donghyun rubbed his arms in embarrassment. “Yeah, he didn’t want to tell Jibeom. He said I should be the one to tell him.”
Bomin was grinning.
“I just don’t know how to tell him.”
“Just say we’re dating.”
Donghyun pushed his hair back again. “I don’t know when I’ll get used to this.”
Joochan came out wearing Donghyun’s sweats and folded pants on hand. “Can you believe they don’t have a dryer?”
Bomin smiled, “You’d burn yourself trying to dry yourself that way anyway, hyung.”
He gestured for waiter and handed him his credit card.
“Do you guys wanna try somewhere else?” he asked.
Jibeom glanced at Donghyun funny but shrugged as soon as Joochan nodded hesitantly.
“Some dakgalbi and karaoke?” Jibeom suggested.
“How much do we owe you by the way?” Joochan asked while everyone was gathering their things to go.
Bomin coolly put back on his coat and said, “Ah, don’t worry about that, hyung. It’s all on me.”
Jibeom shrugged and so did Joochan mirroring him.
Donghyun was the only person eating chips while both his friends ate the spicy food and drank their soju.
“We’ve never gotten drunk with Donghyun before,” Jibeom commented.
“Yeah, he sucks,” Joochan added. “He won’t even humor a shot. Let’s just leave him alone with his chips.”
“I’ll take Donghyun hyung’s shots.”
Joochan and Jibeom turned to look at Bomin behind them.
“Oh, we’re not pressuring Donghyun.”
“Yeah, you don’t have to do it,” Donghyun said. “They just like to tease me.”
Bomin thought about it as he placed more food on their table.
“But if you want to double your shots, we’re not stopping you,” Jibeom dared.
“Don’t joke like that,” Donghyun said. “It’s a school night. Bomin has classes tomorrow, too.”
That was what Donghyun said but he ended up drinking two shots to make them stop making jokes. Those were not much at all.
“We need to get you home,” he said feeling a little tipsy but seeing Bomin was really getting slammed.
“We need to go home, too,” Joochan said. “You’re really prioritizing your boyfriend over us.”
“Boyfriend?” Jibeom shouted.
Joochan stared blankly at Jibeom and then, he blinked. “I’m so sorry, Donghyun.”
“It all smelled fishy but I thought he was just trying to win you over. But you’re actually, already—”
Exasperated, Donghyun said, “I’ll tell you guys the details tomorrow.”
Bomin started laughing. “That’s right, I’m Donghyun hyung’s boyfriend. You’re not ashamed of me, are you hyung?”
“Okay, let’s walk this off,” Donghyun sighed. He waved goodbye at his friends.
“You’re not ashamed of me, are you?” Bomin whispered leaning too close for comfort.
“Let’s sit down.”
Donghyun helped Bomin sit on the bench just by the parking lot of the karaoke bar. He swept back Bomin’s hair away from his sleepy eyes. “Is your address on your phone? Can I get an uber for you?”
“I can get home fine,” Bomin said. He looked back at Donghyun. “You don’t have to worry about me. You already worry a lot.”
“Okay.” Donghyun kept to himself as he sat beside Bomin.
“Back there, hyung... what did I do to make you doubt me?”
“Well, there was that one time… when we first met…”
Donghyun did not have to continue; Bomin knew which one it was.
Donghyun first met Bomin in a gathering with other classmates. Bomin was among the sunbaes and every freshman wanted to be in his good graces. There was one particular girl who was obviously trying her best to tend to his every need. If Donghyun was honest, she was a bit pesky; he would not want to be her sunbae either.
Bomin nudged a tall glass of water close to the edge of the table. Instantly, the girl knocked it over and spilled it all over herself.
Donghyun saw Bomin wiping his hand with all of the tissues by his side and just called for a staff to get the girl more tissues. He only looked away when Bomin looked up and his eyes met Donghyun’s for one split second.
“I know she annoyed you,” Donghyun said. “But you didn’t even give her your tissues.”
“But she’s not any better than everyone else. She just wants things from me.”
“Bomin… even when people annoy you…”
“Hyung, save it. I don’t want this to be our first argument.”
Donghyun stayed silent for a while. His phone alarm went off and he saw it was already 11 P.M. He was supposed to start with his online quiz.
“I have to get home. But Bomin, I’ll worry about you even if you don’t want me to. I care about you so I think it’s natural to worry. Isn’t that what this is supposed to be? You want to be in a relationship with me so your actions are now tangled up with my feelings.”
He started walking and with every step, his heart got heavier and heavier. He thought, This might be for the best. If we break up now, the emotional damage won’t be much of a big deal.
Donghyun retraced his steps back to the bench where Bomin sat still. What an idiot, he told himself. You're running back to him after the first call. But Donghyun swallowed the negative thoughts. Whatever happens happens was all he held on to.
“Hyung, I’m sorry I was being childish. It’s kind of embarrassing now when I think about how I sulked infront of you.”
Donghyun patted Bomin’s arm.
“It’s okay,” he said.
Bomin placed a hand over Donghyun’s. Soon, his hand was pulling Donghyun’s face closer to his.
“I really like you, hyung.”
Bomin kissed Donghyun on the lips. The kiss was gentle and quick — a brush of lips — but Donghyun could hear his heart beating loudly like a bass drum and overtaking all his senses.
Bomin whispered, “I’ll take you home. Don’t leave me just yet.”