“Hey, hey stop that. You can’t take that!”
“I can’t take it? It’s mine. Of course, I can. It’s going with me. What do you need with a sparkly pink shirt? We both know it’s not your color.”
“No, you can’t take it because I need insurance that you will come back.”
“I’m not cutting off contact with you, I’m moving out. Away.”
“It’s not time for you to move out, __, we’re best friends, and we’re young and we’re supposed to spend our best years together. You, Sicheng and I, we’re supposed to be together forever.” He whines petulantly.
“No, you and Win are supposed to be together forever. That’s what your rings are for.”
“Oh? And what about this? Our friendship bracelets mean nothing?” He’s pointing to the gold on his wrist.
“You’re just fishing for reasons for me to not leave aren’t you?”
“I’m not fishing for anything. You’re the one fishing for excuses to avoid-”
“Stop.” You cut him off. “Just stop it. I’m leaving, it’s final. I’m leaving the apartment, not our friendship. You’ll always be my soulmates, you two. The two halves of my heart, I promise. I just gotta get out of here. I can’t be here anymore, around him. So please, I know you’re just desperate because you love me, but it’s making me feel worse.”
He sees how defeated you look and gives up. Not because he wants to, but because you asked. “Well…Sicheng’s going to have a hissy fit.”
“I’ll text him or something, I just need to go away before Taeyong gets back.”
“A text won’t pacify Sicheng, and what exactly are you going to tell Taeyong?”
“Nothing?” Was that a trick question? He acts as if the two of you did not just engage in a tug of war.
“He’s going to be devastated, __, you can’t just not say anything.”
“That’s what you’re here for, pal.” You finish zipping your duffel bag. “Message me when he has work so I can come to get some more of my stuff.”
Yuta is gesturing excitedly to the bulging bag on your arm, “Come back for what? That’s practically your whole room in there.”
You attempt to evade his teary eyes. It is difficult to make eye contact when he looks like that.
“You just abruptly decide to leave because Taeyong doesn’t like you,- which is bull by the way. Then, you expect me to explain it to the both of them? You’re crazy, that’s asking too much. You’re just running away from everything. You can’t keep doing this.”
He doesn’t say it, but through his bluntness, you accept his message of, it’s okay to let us know you’re hurting. Yet you ignore the silent follow-up, it’s okay to be angry, but eventually, you will have to let go of the past.
“I’ll talk to you later. And if Sicheng really does throw a fit, I’ll buy you a new one of whatever he decides to chuck out the nearest window.” You give him a one-armed hug before exiting through the front door.
Yuta stares at the key you left in your wake. The pink pattern is completely absent from the pin, but traces still remain on the head. Your initials somewhat visible from where Sicheng inked them on two years ago.
Not to sound presumptuous, but on occasion, you like to believe Yuta and Sicheng owe their happiness to you.
While they had been friends for a long time before you met either of them, they did not start their relationship until you interfered.
You first met Sicheng at University, bonding over your foreigner status, despite him being further along in his studies than you were. You were both quiet and sarcastic and smarter than you liked to let on. You were often the ones the teacher called on in class despite never raising a hand or offering your opinions. You cracked a joke under your breath one day and the room fell silent until Sicheng chuckled.
Your classmates called you crude nicknames after the incident, but you soon became known around campus for having the balls to say something so inappropriate. Sicheng, seeing you didn’t have many acquaintances, took you under his wing. Your moody artist and his sophisticated dancer vibes meshed very well.
If you weren’t busy studying he made sure you were doing something a little more lively. When you were studying he was with you every other session. Eventually, he invites you to hang out with his friends, tells you they can be a little overwhelming, as there are many of them. You tease him of his implications that you’re a friendless hermit. He nods, “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. You have to get out more.”
You meet a gaggle of people whose names you remember yet never utter outside of their presence. Only one stands out to you during the initial meeting. Yuta, who is another foreigner, seems especially fond of Sicheng. And you are beside yourself to realize, upon seeing the two of them steal glances at one other, that Sicheng is similarly attracted to him.
Your feelings you never knew you had until that moment, you later argue, were just that of hero worship. Sicheng- or Winwin, as some of his friends liked to call him, had been one of the first to offer you companionship and he quickly became your best friend. You whine to him that it was an easy mistake for you to confuse your deep platonic gratitude with romantic inclinations.
The more time you spend with the pair, the more you understand Sicheng’s aversion to Yuta, despite the clear flirtation occurring. Sicheng and you shared a similar situation, except he never had an epiphany. Yuta had been the one to accept him when he was struggling in a new country. Had been happy to teach him phrases to get him by, as well as introduce him to people who were willing to try and decipher his muddled responses.
You discover that Yuta is a flirt. At first, he uses this as an excuse to spend time with you, so he has a better excuse to show up wherever his ‘Winwin-ie” is. He never tells you he doesn’t have a preference, but you know sometimes his pick up lines aren’t lacking conviction. Most of his affections, however, go to Sicheng. Sicheng who just sulks because Yuta can’t contain himself. Sicheng who is equally into Yuta, but afraid of what a real relationship with the guy entails.
You grow tired of their longing stares and decide to meddle.
You think up some reason to have Yuta over to your dorm when Sicheng is supposed to help you study a piece of literature you can’t completely comprehend due to the language barrier. Midway through the text, Yuta shows up with some beers. Two cans later, you abandon your assignment to host a game of truth or dare. Sicheng is a lightweight, and you use it to your advantage. You don’t make him say or do anything he doesn’t want to, instead, you have him divulge to you Yuta’s secrets.
He tells you embarrassing anecdotes that are making Yuta red in the face. Its when Yuta stops giggling and sits there, solemn with his hands in his lap that you tell Sicheng he isn’t being very fair by having airing all of Yuta’s dirty laundry. Sicheng instantly looks sad, and leans into Yuta’s side, arm wrapping around him, hand moving to Yuta’s. “Don’t be upset. It’s cute, it’s all cute when you’re the one doing it.”
Needless to say, the rest was history, and their future is in the making.
Hanging out with Yuta and Sicheng becomes your favorite pastime. Seeing how much they like each other and make one another happy fills your heart with joy. You bond with Yuta quicker than you bonded with Sicheng, as he is one hundred times more affectionate. His constant hugs and compliments have you wrapped around his finger in a month’s time. Your cool demeanor, almost identical to Sicheng’s has Yuta under your spell.
You are closer with the couple than you’ve been with anyone else before. You do everything together. You often study with Sicheng and watch anime with Yuta. When Sicheng is busy practicing his dancing, Yuta becomes your model for life drawings. Typically they indulge you with whatever you like, and you do the same.
When things begin to heat up in their relationship, you see a lot less of them. They’re always sneaking off because Sicheng isn’t comfortable making out with you around. You start to miss them but you don’t say anything. You see them plenty, but compared to their constant presence, the small absences make a big difference. You begin declining their invites to give them their space.
Sicheng is the first to notice you pulling away. You immediately explain yourself as not wanting to impose on their coupledom, and he laughs in your face.
“We’re thinking about moving off campus, so we’ve been looking for apartments. We aren’t always ditching you to have sex.” He shushes you and begins showing you the places they were considering.
“I mean your parents’ and scholarships gave you some wiggle room but aren’t those expensive? Why are you looking at two bedrooms anyways? Need a place to escape from the cuddle monster?”
He sighs deeply then shakes his head. “Silly, we want you to move in with us. We’re best friends and we already see each other so often.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
He nods in affirmation, “Think how nice and quiet and cozy it will be, just the three of us. No more nightly parties, no thumping music when you’re trying to sleep, no unnecessary small talk. Doesn’t that sound great?”
The first few months of living with Sicheng and Yuta are wonderful. Everything goes on without a hitch.
If there’s something that needs to be done around the house that one of you hates to do, there is someone who doesn’t mind picking up your slack. When Sicheng nearly burns down the kitchen, trying to make a meal the first week, you and Yuta quickly take over the role of house chef. When you’re reluctant to leave the house, Sicheng will run errands for you to escape Yuta’s doting. If Sicheng sleeps in for too long, you make sure he looks halfway decent while Yuta makes sure all of his things are in his backpack. All in all, you balance each other out.
Now a permanent fixture in their lives, you open up to others in their friend group to make it more comfortable for everyone. You couldn’t continue to be known as their little ‘hermit,’ as funny as you thought it was. A few of the guys find you amusing, others seem to put up with you purely because you could be much worse. The most you can do is pray that your sarcasm doesn’t get the best of you.
You discover communication comes easy for you while under the influence. You can hold your liquor well, better even than half the crew, but something in you changes after a few shots. You are careless with your words when drunk, and that earns you some points for your ballsy attitude. Everyone is your new best friend by the end of a night of drinking. You cry when they leave your apartment, assuring them it’s fine to stay the night. Yuta has to pry your fingers from the door frame before tucking you into his and Sicheng’s bed. He turns you on your side so the past hours’ mistakes don’t come back to haunt you in the form of a pukey pair of pajamas.
A pattern begins.
Yuta invites one or two people over and one of them invites someone else, and so on. In due time, bi-weekly get-togethers are being held in your home. You initially genuinely enjoy the gatherings, but soon recognize your reliance on alcohol to interact. It shames you and you once again find yourself a recluse. You tune out the boisterous conversation with white noise as you sleep away your anxieties. You tell yourself it sucks to suck, but two best friends are better than a gaggle of standard friends- by- circumstance.
The other boys are curious about your disappearance act but Sicheng explains your behavior away. What he tells them, you don’t know, but you no longer feel awkward sneaking out for a drink when everyone is over. They remain friendly when you run into them on campus. No one asks why you’ve suddenly stopped hanging out with them all.
Days later, you remember to thank Sicheng. He merely pets your head affectionately. “Anything for you…”
“Oh no, I can see you want something. God, what’s worse is you know I’ll do whatever in return.” You dramatically slide off the couch, taking the shared blanket with you.
He hisses at the chill on his legs. “Yes, you owe me a small favor for telling everyone you like them but you like being by yourself more. The notion is kind of difficult to explain to such extroverts.”
You peak at him from under your arm. You appreciate his friendship more than he could know.
“I need you to have one last hurrah. Just mingle one last time and then you’re free from obligations to anyone besides Yuta and I for the next few months.”
“You don’t sound very convinced, and you’re the one who came up with the conditions.”
“Hush your mouth.” He yanks the blanket from around you. “Taeyong is coming back to town, we want to throw him a welcome back party.”
You raise your brows, now leaning back on your hands. “Who?”
“Taeyong, you know about Taeyong.”
“No, I do not.” You scour your brain. “ Wait, this the guy who went away for dance?”
“I knew we mentioned him before. See what good it does you to think before you speak?”
“So you want me to meet him, that’s all? A ‘hi, bye, and see you maybe,’ I can do that.”
“You aren’t getting off that easy. If I have to sit through another one of Yuta’s parties, so do you.”
“He’s your boyfriend!”
“You’re our side piece. You’re the ‘thr’ to our ‘ouple,’ so get over it. It’s just this once and then the rest is up to you.”
“The rest is up to you,” You gripe, scrunching your nose. “This is where you’re losing me. I keep hearing implications that I’ll be seeing a lot more of this person than you’re letting on.”
Sicheng shrugs. “Taeyong’s a good guy. I’d even go so far to say he’s one of my closest friends.”
“And if you enjoy someone’s company, then so will I?”
“You and I are cut from the same cloth, so it is within the range of possibility. ”
“Don’t be cheesy.”
“Don’t be late tonight,” He counters.
You release an unnecessarily loud groan of dissatisfaction.
“Short notice, I know. Taeyong was trying to surprise me but Yuta couldn’t keep it to himself. Now he wants to throw a surprise party to make up for not being able to keep his mouth shut.”
He holds your eyes until you’re forced to blink. You swiftly turn away and bring yourself to your feet. “You and me, your bedroom, right now.”
“What for?” Sicheng appears comfortably sunken into the worn couch cushions.
“Because I need to nap before I converse with anyone who isn’t you or Yuta, and naps are better when taken together.”
“Gee, even lackluster small talk takes a lot out of you, doesn’t it?” But he’s tucking cushions back in and adjusting the decorative pillows.
“Sometimes breathing takes a lot out of me, you know that.” You lead the way to his and Yuta’s room.
“You’re a funny, funny, sad girl.” He curls up on the left of the mattress with you right behind him, face pressed into his back, soaking up what little warmth he offers. A few minutes later your eyes pop open.
How stupid of you? What better excuse to ditch everyone than feigning exhaustion mid-celebration? Your roommates may protest, but with others around their protests would be rebuffed, no fellow students cruel enough to deny another rest. You jostle Sicheng awake. He fakes like he never fell asleep in the first place.
Later, back on the couch, he slips back into a light slumber with his head in your lap. You plot your getaway as you card your fingers through his soft hair.
Yuta returns and you greet him with a scowl.
“I take it he told you about tonight.”
You grumble something he can’t understand so he shrugs it off.
“I know it’s hard for you to deal with more than a few people at once, but everyone that’s coming over tonight knows how you are. You’ll be fine.”
You don’t express your gratitude, but he must feel it permeating off of you, as he presses a kiss to the side of your head when he passes by.
“You’ll just love Taeyong. Everyone does, even Sicheng, so that says something.”
“He’s not as picky,” you finally offer.
“He’s not, but he is a good judge of character, and you trust his judgment.”
“Tell me about him so I know what to expect.”
With his back to you, whipping something in a large bowl in the kitchen, Yuta enlightens you on the guest of honor. “I met him before I knew Sicheng, but he was the one who brought Sicheng to me. Sicheng might have said I was the one to welcome him into the fold, but it was really Taeyong who introduced him to everyone. I just forced him into the thick of it all.” He bangs the whisk on the rim of the bowl before tossing it in the sink. You only hear part of what he says next, crinkling of a plastic bag making it hard to hone in. “He’s really sweet once you get past that stage with him. If I had that problem I’d be like that too, I suppose.”
He faces you. “I refuse to say anything else. I’m afraid that if I give everything away you’ll ditch us after five minutes.” He shoots you a wink.
“You worry too much.”
“No, I care too much, there’s a distinct difference. Now,” he flings your frilly apron in your direction. You snatch it mid-air before it can land on the sleeping boy by your side. “Come assist while I make hour devours. Taeyong can be a food snob, I’ll need you to taste test.”
The fact that Yuta is working hard to prepare a meal to impress one amongst a group of undergrads with stomachs like trash cans, further cements the idea that this Taeyong might be worth knowing.
As everyone arrives, your leg begins to shake. You’re seated at the island in the kitchen, facking the living room lest someone sneak up on you. You give polite smiles and nods, but for the most part, no one speaks to you. You turn to grab another mini bottle from the cooler on the floor just to be lifted momentarily into the air once it’s within your grasp.
Your body freezes up and remains frozen even when you’re sat back on your stool. “Don’t be such a scaredy cat, __. It’s just me.” Johnny Seo remarks, ruffling your hair.
You show no signs of answering so he exhales exaggeratedly. “What happened kid? Were we not close just a couple weeks ago?”
You chew your lip and try to think of something somewhat intelligent to say. You opt for twisting the cap off your banana vodka and downing it in one go. Johnny cheers for you and pats your shoulder before being lead away by Jaehyun who appears sympathetic. You are already short-circuiting and hating yourself for it. You should be able to handle these people, you knew them all, but that’s when it catches up with you.
Even with the alcohol in your system the idea of Taeyong, a stranger, coming into your space was unsettling. You know things about him, but it was likely he knew nothing of you. Something is telling you that you are bound to ruin your first introduction. Irrational fears bloom from the buds that sprung to life at Sicheng’s earlier proposal of you being here.
You itch for your third drink of the night but manage to hold off until the lights are shut off and phones are put away. The complete darkness and silence that overtakes your apartment allows you a moment to collect yourself. You hear Yuta’s voice apologizing for the state of the place, saying if he were to have cleaned during their lazy day that Sicheng would have been inquisitive. Sicheng snorts and someone shushes him.
When the door opens someone turns the lights on and the guest of honor coos and claps. He’s swiftly pulled into hugs, stopping you from getting a good look of his face. Yuta approaches and takes your hands, dragging you into the mix. He stands with you secured to his side, his arm around your waist. You watch as everyone around says snippets of welcoming words to the guy who is still blocked from your view by the bill of his hat.
It’s Sicheng’s turn and he jolts forward, knocking his friend back into the couch. You have never witnessed him act like this with anyone outside of Yuta and yourself. As he pulls away you are finally allowed your first look of Taeyong. His hat has fallen over the back of the couch leaving everything on display. His bangs are pushed off to either side of his forehead, delicately framing his distinctive traits. You have to be gawking. How can you not? He’s beautiful.
Some people have odd qualities about them, and you think you aren’t the best person to ask for opinions on looks. Your art student status enables you to find some physical feature to compliment. Whether it be a sloping nose with planes that would take hours to shade correctly or wide-set eyes that would make for a unique, alien-like portrait, you truly see something pleasant in everybody. But conventional beauty is apparent, and that’s the category Taeyong falls under. You don’t have to ogle to discover what makes him pretty, he just is.
Sicheng jabs you in the thigh to elicit a response, “This is Taeyong, __, say hi.”
Noticeably quieter than minutes ago, you sputter a “Nice to meet you.” Your voice is so loud it rings in your ears. The chatter picks up then.
Yuta tells you to sit and you keep to the end of the couch, bracing yourself against the armrest. Taeyong steals a few glances at you throughout his conversation with Sicheng. You listen carefully.
You learn Taeyong had gone to study dance in China at Sicheng’s suggestion. Envious of his grace and effortless flow, Taeyong made sure to go to the exact studio Sicheng frequented when he was younger. He was able to gain some flexibility, but he was enticed by underground movements and stopped attending classes four months into his trip.
This strikes your interest. “Underground…movements?”
He lets out an amused huff, “Yeah, there are a lot of underground dance teams that like to compete with each other. I met a guy named Ten in my traditional dance class who invited me to watch him perform one day. We really hit it off, he ended up giving me a place to stay for a while and taught me a lot of useful things.”
“Oh, like what?”
Yuta is watching you with the utmost attention. Typically conversations were a one way street with you.
“You know compared to a lot of dancers, I’m not the tallest, and he’s even shorter than I am. He taught me how to extend my lines and move about the stage so it seems like I’ve covered a lot of area. He’s also amazing at contortionism where I’m stiff as a board, and he helped me loosen up.”
Yuta becomes lewd in point five seconds, pushing on Taeyong’s shoulder, sending him crashing into Sicheng who slaps Yuta’s hand away. “Finally stopping by the experimentation station?”
You blanch, you’re used to the crude remarks but did everything have to be dirty? “Not everyone is a hornball like you, don’t make me puke.”
Taeyong laughs it away. “It’s okay…we…Ten and I were close.”
“Oooh, is he going to be coming for a visit after you get settled?”
The mood dies as soon as the words leave Yuta’s lips.
“Things didn’t end well?”
Taeyong slowly shakes his head. “No, we’re still friends.”
“Then what’s wrong?” Sicheng asks, now concerned with the change in Taeyong’s demeanor.
“I actually don’t have a place to stay, so it isn’t likely I’ll have any visitors any time soon.” He’s being nonchalant despite the implication that he is currently homeless.
“Wait, how so? Were the dorms full? That can’t be. I heard from our old RA that people were starting to move out because the school was thinking to start really cracking down on things.”
“Let him speak.”
“Well about the dorms,” Taeyong scratches at the nape of his neck, “I wasn’t able to get into one because I wasn’t able to enroll for the semester. I was too late to get the classes I need to finish up my degree. I thought I could at least get the fillers I needed, and those could get me into on-campus housing, but my loans fell through.”
“That’s so shitty, but that’s what we get for going to a private arts college. Picky fuckers, greedy fuckers. I almost didn’t make it my second year here, there was some complication with my student visa so the funds for my scholarship were in limbo until they had confirmation I was legally in the country.”
“This just won’t do. You can stay here for as long as you need.”
Your story had fallen on deaf ears, Yuta and Sicheng are consumed by the puppy dog of a boy between them. Sicheng playing with his hair and Yuta rubbing his arm.
“Yes, you’ll stay in ___’s room, for the time being, I’m sure she won’t mind.”
Fascination aside, you guffaw. “Excuse me?” The alcohol has taken effect. “___’s room? Where am I supposed to sleep, the bathtub? You can’t just auction off my bedroom.”
Sicheng tilts his head and looks at you accusingly, “Wouldn’t be the worst idea.”
“Of course not princess, don’t be silly, you’ll take the couch. Or our bed, whichever you prefer. You’ve slept in your own bed maybe ten times, don’t act like you’re being put out.”
You go to argue but shut your mouth as soon as Taeyong turns to you. The idea of someone you hardly know in your space is making your skin crawl. He has made a good impression on you. He is nice and open and handsome and your favorite people in the entire world adore him, but you’re sick. Your anxieties are at their max. You abruptly stand.
“Do whatever you guys want.” You saunter over to another group and ask for one of them to prepare you a mixed drink.
This time when Johnny approaches you don’t flinch. He’s so comfortable with everyone, even you who casts him away every other encounter. “How do you like Taeyong?”
You hum and ask if he wants to take a shot. He denies your request but offers to pour you another. They used the rest of the mini bottles in topping off the concoction in your cup. Three shots later you eagerly accept Johnny’s advances. He has his arm around your waist and is chatting away when Jaehyun comes to collect him.
“Come on, it’s time to go now. You promised we’d go over topics for our essays tomorrow.”
That was a lame excuse if you’d ever heard one, and you wrote the book on ditching parties. You had long expected something was going on between the two boys but you weren’t as invested in them as you had been with others in the past. Johnny hugs you goodbye, never commenting on how you didn’t reciprocate.
Jaehyun stays behind while Johnny says his goodbyes.
“Everything okay, __?”
“Dandy,” You take a sip.
“How do you like Taeyong? He’s nice, huh?”
You swirl your drink around. Yuta probably sent him over.
“It’s unfortunate he wasn’t able to get into any of his required classes.”
“Maybe he shouldn’t have gone away in the first place. Kind of irresponsible.”
Jaehyun snorts, he’s rarely so rude so you pay him attention now.
“It’s not my fault.”
“We’ve all had our fair share of arguments with admissions. Sometimes you can get a pass and other times you don’t exist. ‘Oh, did you knock? You sent an email? Must have been lost in the spam folder.’ You know how it goes.”
You pout because you know he’s right. You are being harsh, and worse, you are jealous.
For the last year and a half, it has been Sicheng, Yuta, and yourself. and six months prior to that it had been just you and Sicheng. They had other friends aside from you. You weren’t so cruel to monopolize all of their time. You had your own oddities and were unable to join them, so you let them have their socialization time. But this wasn’t them going out for a few hours to a movie or something temporary. This is someone coming into your shared space for who knows how long.
“It’s only going to be for a little while. Taeyong doesn’t want to intrude. He’s worried you don’t like him, in fact.”
“You did just storm off…” He pulls the cup from your hand and pours its contents down into the kitchen sink. “I think you need to be cut off. Your weird is showing.”
“Shit, I didn’t think I was being so obnoxious.” You believed everyone was ignorant to your drinking. You thought drinking shrouded the difficulty you faced when communicating with others. You hope Jaehyun is ultra-observant and that’s all.
“We notice you, you know?” He turns when someone calls his name from far away. Johnny’s by the front door waiting for him. “He’s a nice guy, give him a chance. You may even start to like him if you stop worrying about yourself for even a second.”
You remain in the kitchen for the rest of the night, actively ignoring people. Looking up, you realize the count has dwindled down to just you and your roommates. You think you’re home free as Taeyong is nowhere in sight. Standing from the bar stool you stretch your arms and walk behind the couch where the couple is curled up together. Nothing is said between you, Yuta is too caught up in an anime, and you’re too busy being petty.
Walking into your bedroom you nearly scream. Someone’s in your bed, you shove your hand over your mouth to stifle any noises. You frown, discovering it’s Taeyong, who you assumed went somewhere else for the night. He’s in the same clothes he came there in, but his hat is next to him on your pillow, his shoes by your dresser. There’s a bag hanging off your desk chair. It’s unzipped and you can see some clothes and a laptop inside.
You blame your sudden guilt on the alcohol because at that moment you feel like a disgusting person. Who were you to deny someone a safe place to sleep? Yuta was right, you regularly slept in his and Sicheng’s shared bed, so much so that you’re sure there is an indentation of your body in the mattress. You’ve woken to both of them missing and in your bed to escape you even. You wince at the memory of your harsh words and leave the boy to sleep.
Yuta is eying you when you exit. The television is off and Sicheng is no longer asleep by his side. They’re waiting for you, expecting you to grovel. You do.
They simultaneously cross their arms. More often than not you thought of yourself as their parent, but on occasion, the tables did turn.
“Yes, Miss Priss?”
You stand before them, tail tucked between your legs. “I’m not…nice, we know that. Maybe you don’t, I do dote on you two, but to others…I know I am not the kindest. Especially to unsuspecting strangers who don’t understand my…qualms about …mingling?”
They turn towards each other, communicating with their eyes. They look back to you. Yuta opens his arms and you sit beside him, falling into his hold.
“You’re so weird and so bad at admitting when you’re wrong, but you tried. We can’t turn you away when all you’re doing is safeguarding your spot in our hearts.” He leans far back, pinches your cheek. “ But we’re your best friends, and we can do nothing other than be completely honest with you. You’re a bit neurotic.”
Sicheng elaborates. “There’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve long accepted that’s just you, but we’re worried it’s hindering you from living your best life. You’re an artist, __, art is about being open and expressing yourself. A thing you can’t very well do.”
“So first you push me out of my own room and then you attack me? How dare you.” You try to leave but Sicheng yanks you down so you’re face to face.
“You’re drunk. You’re drunk because being drunk is the only way you can seem to talk to anyone you don’t know well. You don’t know anyone well because you’re petrified they won’t like you, but you aren’t giving them a chance. You gave me a chance, you gave Yuta a change. Why no one else?”
You’re in a cold sweat, he’s asking too many things at once. Telling you what’s wrong with you which is a struggle to hear when you yourself aren’t positive. He probably means the most to you in the world and he is let down with you. You aren’t sure how you can fix this.
“You don’t have to be sorry. I’m just worried, we both are. You have to try harder, please. We’ll do what we can but there is only so much. You have to help yourself. We’re great but there are other people out there for you too.”
“Are you tired of me? Am I around too often? I can give you more space if that’s what you’re getting at. I’m not trying to be weird. It’s just hard for me.”
He cuts you off and they both lead you to their room. “Don’t start crying…just go to bed for now. We’ve all been drinking. Some more than others, but we’ll talk later.”
You stay to the far right of the bed. When Yuta tries to put an arm around you, you shrink away from him.
When you wake it’s because of Yuta’s alarm. You think he’s going to get up and shut it off, but he never does. You twist your arm about until you reach his phone and do it yourself. Peeling out of bed you enter the living room and promptly run back to where you came from. By no means were you expecting someone you did not know to be sitting on your couch. A very hot someone.
You wrack your brain for any inclination of why there would be a stranger in your apartment at nine in the morning. At remembering it’s Taeyong, a long time friend of your friends, you put back on the pants you wiggled out of in the middle of the night. You peek your head out the door and see him immersed in something on his laptop.
You attempt to sneak into the kitchen without acknowledging him, but he pulls an earbud out and smiles timidly.
You flush, “Good morning. Sorry about just a minute ago, totally didn’t mean to put on a show?”
He perks up, clearly puzzled.
“Me in my underwear probably was not the morning view you were expecting.”
His mouth pops open, “I honestly didn’t notice.”
You slap a hand over your mouth. You shouldn’t have brought it up. “Forget I said anything.”
“Yeah?” You had just decided to make some coffee when he calls your name.
“I’m sorry for taking your bed last night. I can sleep on the couch, it’s no bother to me. It’s just that Sicheng insisted last night and I was tired after a few drinks so I just crashed.”
He’s giving you the impression that he thinks you might yell at him or something. You’ve become aware that no one else is home beside the two of you. Your security blankets are gone and you feel unstable.
Along with the recollection of why there was a man in your front room, there are the words of your very best friends. They could have been as drunk as you were hours ago, but they were quite frankly concerned. They said you were withdrawn, forlorn, isolated and stuck.
Perhaps your next question is born from the remnants of vodka in your system.
“It’s fine, Taeyong, really. You’re more than welcome here.”
He beams, possibly the nicest smile you’ve seen.
“Do you, I don’t know… maybe want to grab a coffee?”
“R-Really?” It’s made obvious he has heard things about you. His face is that of utter disbelief, he hurries to stand. “Are you sure? I mean, yes, yeah I’ll go.”
You walk to a cafe that’s fifteen minutes away and notoriously empty. You say very little on the way, but he doesn’t comment on it. You order a latte and he orders some sugary variation of iced green tea. You’re sitting facing the front of the cafe, afraid to have your back towards any newcomers.
After he tires of chewing on his straw, waiting for you to speak, but ultimately concluding it was his turn to initiate anything Taeyong clears his throat. “This is nice, thank you. I’ll take care of it next time.”
“Where were Sicheng and Yuta this morning?”
“Uh, Sicheng took Yuta to class, said he needed the car today. I think he wanted to take me around town to look for work.”
“He’s wasting no time, is he.”
“He seems quite on edge about this whole situation. He told me how…bothered you are by this all. You guys are really my last resort. If the school wasn’t so worried about their reputation recently I could probably have gotten away with couch surfing around the hall. I don’t mean to put you out of your room.”
You squeeze the mug in your hands, letting the warmth sink into your skin. It’s scorching hot, you’ve only been able to take a sip or two. You could lie and tell him it’s all okay. You had done it once before. “I am uncomfortable, but it’s not your fault. Not exactly. Please don’t take it personally. I don’t know what else it would take to make you feel better, sorry…”
His eyes are impossibly large and excited and had you no resentment or restraint, you might have cooed at the way he is looking at you. He’s pleased that you are being less hostile than the previous night.
“I’ll be out of your hair as soon as I can. I appreciate you letting me into your home.” He takes a long gulp of his frozen beverage afterward. He’s afraid if he says anything else the delicate balance between you will be upended.
You want to say he’s welcome to stay as long as he needs to. It would be the right thing to do. You opt for chugging your latte. The heat makes you feel more awake than the caffeine itself. You watch him savor his green tea before he excuses himself for a few minutes. He returns with a muffin. He proceeds to split it in half and offer you what’s on a small plate, taking his share in a napkin.
You had given him your peace offering and now he was giving you his. You nod your thanks and the two of you finish up in with lessened tensions.
Sicheng’s eyes flit back and forth. They land on Taeyong more than you, inspecting him for any noticeable damage. You flinch when he yanks you to his room.
“Where were you? You didn’t answer any of my messages and neither did he.”
“I left my phone here to charge, and I don’t know what his excuse is.”
“Alright, that’s half of the mystery solved.”
“We went to get coffee.”
“We have coffee at home. Brand new coffee machine too.”
“Don’t look at me so accusatory. I was making an effort.”
He pokes his lips out repeatedly, sighs and leans against the door frame. “Look, I probably said some things before.”
“You did,” You interrupt, “But nothing that wasn’t true. Even if you don’t know all of the details, you were mostly right in what you said. I’m not. I mean I am, but, I.” It’s a hassle. You don’t know how to express that you are both saddened and thankful for his truthfulness. “It’s like I told Taeyong. I’m not mad that he’s here, not with him anyway, and not with you or Yuta for that matter. I don’t know why I feel the way I feel with the idea of him, with anyone else, but if you really think I could use some help I owe it to you to try and find out why. You’ve dealt with me for so long.”
“__, no” he whines, stomping his foot to refocus your attention. He tries to spell things out for you as best as he can, multiple times, but each time comes out worse than the last. He settles on ending things with the one point he really wants to get across. “We love you no matter what. We just know things could be less hellish for you.”
Taeyong snags a job in record time. Or so you see it that way. The quickest you had secured a job was in three weeks. Your awkward personality made it impossible for you to seem people oriented. Luckily a restaurant just had two walkouts in one day and someone out on maternity leave. He exudes pride when he tells you he’ll be a barista at the cafe you took him to his first day back.
When you exclaim you didn’t know he knew how to prepare espresso or anything along the lines, his face falls. Yuta cracks a joke and he lights up once more. According to Yuta, no one will be paying attention to how bad the coffee tastes when it’s being served to them by a model. Taeyong doesn’t take compliments on his appearance very well, brushes them all off with a curt thank you usually. If Yuta compliments him, however, it’s like an inside joke. Taeyong calls him sexy in return every other time and you watch them skeptically.
For the most part, you sleep on the couch, or nap in the shared bed if the couple of the house is away. It must come as a shock to Taeyong when you come out of the bedroom with Yuta’s hand holding onto your hip and him grinning like a sicko about some perverted anime he had you watch on his phone with him. He avoids you for the rest of that day. Before you would get acknowledged and acknowledge him in return at least five times a day, just to keep things friendly.
He confronts you later on in the evening when the others leave to get some groceries for a recipe Taeyong promised to cook.
“How did you meet Yuta?”
You close your sketchbook and shrug. “Through Sicheng, he took me to meet everyone after we’d been hanging out for a while.”
“Oh,” then, “He’s something else, isn’t he?”
“One of a kind, I agree.” You make a grab for your pencil.
“Are you two as close as you and Winwin? Or not so much? Or maybe closer?” He won’t look you in the eyes now. You have caught on to what he’s implying.
“We’re almost of equal closeness. He handles me with a softer hand than Sicheng. He sees me as a branch of Sicheng almost, I think anyways. We are very similar, so he’s just as sweet to me as he is to Sicheng.”
He’s still perplexed, but no longer shy about his inquiries. “So collectively the three of you are close? You seem very close. More than friends, sometimes. I remember Yuta saying you sleep in their bed a lot.”
“Is this about this morning? Taeyong, I was watching a show with Yuta on his phone so we didn’t bother you in the living room with how loud we were being. But to answer your question, we are very, super, super close. We do lots of things for each other, things we don’t always care to mention. The fact that we do certain things for each other doesn’t change the fact that we’re just three best friends living our best lives.”
You haven’t told anyone what you are telling him. It’s not exactly information any of the three of you want to be known. However, you trust that he won’t repeat anything and you like that the ideas of what may have transpired between the three of you can make him wriggle about.
“Is this weird for you to hear? As I’ve gotten to know you, I just assumed you were open-minded towards this kind of thing. Guess I could have been wrong.” As you’ve gotten to know him you’ve come to know how playful he is despite his cool image, also that his bashfulness trumps all other character traits. His aversion to the attention you can relate to until it is just the two of you.
Something about how he takes in your every move and reads into your every word, stirs up unpleasant feelings inside of you. You want his attention to remain on you, but you also hate being scrutinized, afraid that the longer he stares the more he’s finding wrong. Your new doctor told you your racing heart and blushing were symptoms of generalized social anxiety. Your mind was telling you these were side effects of your growing attraction to your new roommate.
Before he can reply Yuta zips into the apartment. He’s giggling and Sicheng follows suit, out of breath and grimacing.
“Don’t be a sourpuss, Winnie, that’s __’s job.”
You perk up, “Uh? I resent that. I’m not even involved in whatever you’re speaking of.”
Taeyong’s attention lingers on you until Yuta beckons him into the kitchen. He snaps out of his trance and helps Sicheng with the bags in his hands, ignoring Yuta’s whining.
“She’s not that bad.”
The three of you look to the redhead.
“Not that bad?” Yuta beams, “Way to be subtle. Sicheng, someone loves __ as much as we do.”
Taeyong sputters. You ache to flee the scene, but you’re stuck waiting for him to deny Yuta’s claims. He just coughs a few times then hides his face in the fridge under the guise of storing groceries.
Sicheng observes you knowingly, sees how rigid you’ve gone. It was rare that you wouldn’t run away from a situation like this. The last time someone hinted at being interested in you, Johnny was left sulking over two bottles of beer with an empty seat next to him.
“What are you two disagreeing over this time?” Your voice is shaky. Taeyong must have detected your uneven tone because he stops shifting things about. You see his head turn slightly in the couple’s direction.
“I challenged him to a race to the apartment and I won.”
“You took the elevator, you cheater.”
“I’m an innovator.”
“Did you specify the rules?”
“Never,” Yuta says, “He should have listened better to the terms.”
“There weren’t any terms,” the ‘he’ in question hisses after he chucks a lone grape and misses his mark.
“Exactly my point.”
“Whatever. Taeyong, what are you making us again? I forgot.”
“Did your loss affect your memory?”
Yuta howls and drops what he’s doing to give you a high five. The two of you chuckle until Sicheng snaps his fingers. You straighten up and go to him in the kitchen, putting your arms around his shoulders.
“God, __, you can’t just hug me and make it all go away you brat.”
You rest your head on his shoulder, pouting. It was far and few between that you would initiate such intimate skinship with anyone. His eyes soften when you give him a light squeeze.
“If you’re a loser, I’m a loser.”
“And with that, the Notebook is on my shit list.” But he lets you hang onto him a bit until he dislodges himself to go observe Taeyong’s prepping skills.
The other is swift with his knife, finely dicing a medley of vegetables before pushing them into neat piles with the back of the blade. Next, he takes ground pork and uses his bare hands to lightly combine everything together. You all offer to help him fill the dumplings, but he declines and says this is a present for letting him stay with you all, free of charge, for as long as he has.
You realize you’re in trouble when you train your eyes on his hands and think that there could be no hands more alluring than his. They’re pale and delicate and his veins show through as if his skin is paper thin. You want them on you. You pray to yourself that the thought is just a frayed thread from the ball of physical attraction that’s winding up in the pit of your stomach each moment you spend with Taeyong. If you decide it’s not a fluke, you will tell yourself that you are an artist and can’t help but appreciate the human form. If that becomes too muddled you’ll just toss yourself in front of the next passing vehicle.
You smile when he asks you to give him a towel to wipe his hands. You shiver when your fingers brush over the back of his palm. You’re fucked.
You stare in the mirror, practicing what could only be called ‘party ready’ facial expressions. You are well aware that you have a resting bitch face. You have also been told you have a magnificent smile. The issue is you’ve been told about your RBF countless times, and your magnificent smile twice.
“Hi,” You say, then nod politely. Instantaneously your lips pull into a frown.
You groan at the lack of progress. Someone knocks.
“You okay in there?” It’s Taeyong. You hesitate to answer. He knocks again.
You slowly show your face to him. You think his eyes linger on your mouth, but you were likely deluding yourself.
“I’m a little busy.”
“I was just wondering if you wanted anything specific, it’s on me.”
You don’t give yourself a second to think. “Vodka. The minis, any flavor but grape or sour apple. Like seven.” You stop, allow yourself that second. “Fourteen actually, they’re two for the price of one.”
“Got an ad in my email. If not I’ll pay you the difference.”
“No…I meant about so many of them. Isn’t that,” He stops and crinkles his eyes. “I’ll try to be back before everyone gets here.”
Someone must have snitched about your inclination to drink before you had to interact with more than a handful of people. You nod your thanks and shut the door.
He returns and must be surprised to see you sitting next to Johnny Seo with a small paper bag in your lap and several discarded small bottles on the ottoman in front of you. Johnny has his back towards him, but you’re stealing glances in between your story as he watches the two of you. Sicheng shouts for him and he follows his voice. You force yourself to keep your head facing Johnny when Taeyong walks past.
“Needless to say I’m not a fan of radish kimchi.” You conclude.
Johnny slaps his knee as he chortles. It’s nice to feel like someone is in enamored with you. If only you understood the appeal. At first, you thought it was because he knew what it felt like to be a fish out of the water. Now you aren’t so sure of why he hangs onto your every word. Why he laughs at things that were not meant to be funny. It’s obvious he wants you to like him and for you to know he likes you, you just don’t know why.
You thank him one more time for the drinks before excusing yourself. You find Sicheng and Taeyong in the bathroom. The door is closed and you can hear Sicheng’s hushed voice, but you can’t make out what he’s saying. You go taut when Taeyong speaks.
“Alright, I’ll keep an eye out for you.” You hear them shuffle and you scramble down the short hall, flinging yourself into a newcomer when you round the corner.
Doyoung appears to be petrified as he holds onto your shoulders, keeping you upright. Pushing himself away and shoving his fists into his pockets he greets you with a simple nod before going to the kitchen.
You and Doyoung had an odd relationship. It consisted mostly, of you drunkenly comparing him to a rabbit and him ranting for a solid twenty minutes about why that was a false comparison. He rarely came to the get-togethers, but when he did the situation seemed inevitable. It was like the two of you were stuck in a time loop of you complimenting his plump cheeks and questioning where you could get a cage large enough to fit him into it. He would snarl, tell you that was demented, and then you would comment on the scrunch of his nose and the cycle would repeat itself.
You survey the area and follow after Doyoung, stopping by the counter to sort through the bag Taeyong tossed there. Inside are a pack of beers, some soju, and your mini flavored vodkas. You turn just in time to see Sicheng enter with Taeyong behind him.
“Thanks.” Your voice trembles.
You silently curse yourself for your mistake. Sicheng takes the bag from you and sorts through it.
“There are like twenty of these, __, what the hell?” You don’t want him to lecture you. “You’re sharing these with me?”
Your eyebrows shoot up. Ideally, you would keep them all to yourself, but Sicheng isn’t a big drinker. On occasion, he’d have some wine with dinner, but after his confession to Yuta, he didn’t partake all that often.
“Was that a yes? I don’t wanna take what I’m not offered.”
You vigorously shake your head, “Have as many as you want.”
He twists the tops off two and hands you one. “Cheers.”
You both down them in one gulp. He pecks you on the cheek before going to mingle. Taeyong had been waiting in the background for you to be freed up.
“They were almost cleaned out, so you do have to suffer through two grapes along with the rest.”
You grimace, “Whatever, alcohol is alcohol.” You reach for another. You can’t help but notice how he cuts out from the conversation for a moment before asking if he can try one.
The two of you clink your drinks together before downing them and throwing the bottles into the recycling bin. He leans against the island and watches you watch everyone else.
“You and Johnny, you’re close?”
Something about the way he says it strange. “Sometimes, mostly when I’m drunk.”
He snorts and fusses with his snapback. “He seems to like you.”
You toss your head back and laugh loudly, for a long while. The apartment goes quiet. Every head is turned in your direction. You wave them off as you try to catch your breath. After a bit, they resume whatever they had been doing. You can feel how hot your face is.
“I’m sorry, was that too forward?”
“No, I’ve just never heard anyone say it so directly.”
“Why not? It’s obvious.”
“They’re afraid of what I might say I guess.”
You clear your throat. “I’m not so good with people, I think you’ve witnessed that by now. He is…he’s very forward with me. It’s nice to know you’re liked by someone, but I don’t know. I can barely hold a conversation without having a fucking hemorrhage.” You hesitate to continue. “He told me liked me last year while we were at a bar. I was so flustered that I ran away.”
Taeyong’s eyes widen and he bites his lip to stop from grinning. It shouldn’t be so funny.
“I thought his feelings went away after that, but now he’s acting interested again.”
“It makes you uncomfortable?”
“Yes. He’s nice, he doesn’t mind that I’m so socially awkward or that I’m blunt to a fault but I just…”
“You don’t know if you like him? Or you don’t know what to do about the whole situation?”
He says nothing else, just marvels at your newfound openness.
“What’s cookin’ good lookin’, wait, both of you are attractive. Shit. __. What are you up to?”
You inwardly groan.
“Uh, we were just thinking about stepping outside for some fresh air.”
Taeyong takes you by the wrist and leads you from the apartment and up to the shared rooftop. You inhale deeply and sit on the small patch of fake grass near the perimeter.
“I thought you may have been caught off guard with him popping up right after you said all of that.”
“I definitely am not in the mood to talk to him.”
“Sweet guy but…”
“But just a friend.” He nods. You pause. “I just called someone a friend that wasn’t Sicheng or Yuta.” You fixate on your slippers.
“Looks like your therapy’s helping.”
You shrug, “That or the all the vodka I’ve had tonight,” You giggle. “Ooh. Fuck. Maybe that’s why Johnny keeps trying so hard.”
Taeyong looks to you in questioning.
“Everyone’s nicer when they drink, right?”
“I max out at two drinks. Wouldn’t really know.”
“Really? You lightweight! Anyway, maybe I’m giving him too many mixed signals. I pretty much shut him out when I’m sober but he’s my go-to when I drink.”
“That because he supplies your habit?”
You pout, bring your finger to your lips. “Shh, don’t tell him that. He’ll stop for sure.”
Taeyong shakes his head at you, offers you his hand. “Let’s go back inside now, I don’t want Winnie to think you’ve pushed me over the edge..”
You grab onto him and keep your eyes planted on his bony fingers. “I would never! If I can call creepy Johnny Seo a friend because he gives me vodka, I think I can call you a friend for …whatever this is.” You gesture to your joined hands.
“Emotional support?” He jokes.
“Yeah, sure.” You place your free hand on his arm. “You know, Taeyong you’re pretty cool. I wouldn’t want any other guy to sleep in my bed.”
You register that your words aren’t coming out the way you intend. You don’t bother to correct yourself, mind muddled with confusion of your newly admitted fondness. You settle for staying quiet as you make your way back to the party, enjoying the easy feeling between you and him.