There’s no shame in routine.
Why should Doyoung be embarrassed that he wakes up at seven thirty after his second alarm every day other than Sunday?
Why does Johnny press his lips together and try not to laugh when Doyoung explains over lunch that he packs his food the night before and leaves it in the fridge so that he can make sure he eats nutritiously instead of wasting money on local vending machines or meal deals from nearby stores?
Why do Taeil and Taeyong insist on dragging him away from his routine every Saturday night, as if making him drink gin from a weirdly shaped glass will prevent him from waking up at nine thirty the following morning and ironing his shirts for the coming week?
Why do they feel the need to make him stray from his routine?
“Because routine is boring,” Ten says, flicking through a sports magazine as he mans the cash register and Doyoung catalogs the bookshelves for the third time that day. He knows the books don’t move or go missing, but he needs to make sure. Once in the morning, once at noon, once just before closing. “How do you expect to grow old and ugly with the love of your life if you’re already half way there?”
“I’m not ugly or old,” Doyoung says hotly. “I’m twenty six!”
“Going on sixty seven,” Ten replies, not looking up from the magazine, despite the fact that Doyoung is his employer and right there, watching him slack off. “I bet you fold your underwear.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
Ten’s eyes finally shoot up, widening. “Fuck. You actually do, don’t you?”
“It saves space.”
“Space for what? Your ironed socks?”
Doyoung feels himself redden. “I refuse to take life advice from the young man that came into work high three times last week. Just so you’re aware, I knew about it, and it has been officially recorded in the business employee records.”
“You mean your diary?” Ten shrugs. “It wasn’t even that bad, just some weak shit Johnny got for cheap.”
“You came to work high, Ten.”
“I’m young and free, so sue me.”
“I mean, technically it was illegal.”
“So sue me. All those court meetings, I bet you’d love getting to flex your tie collection, right? Maybe you could find a sweet old lawyer willing to let you colour code his spice rack.”
Doyoung drops his notepad with a huff. “Why do you think it’s acceptable to speak to your employer like this?”
“I’m not speaking to you as my employer; I’m speaking to you as my friend of two years. In the time I’ve known you you’ve never taken a holiday, not a single day off unless you were violently ill, and even then you’d ring the store every hour as if a tiny bookstore is likely to get burgled on a Thursday afternoon instead of the bank down the street. You never do anything to enjoy yourself, so I’m going to continue to make fun of you until you realise that life isn’t entirely about straight edges and neat shelves.”
“Life isn’t about dirty clothes on the floor or marijuana either.”
“I know.” Ten closes his magazine as an old woman enters the store, flashing her his signature, friendly yet suspicious smile. “Getting fucked in the ass and making people question their sexuality is what life is really about, and one day soon you’re gonna realise that.”
The woman turns on her heel and exits the store as swiftly as she had entered, and Ten sends her back a cute little wave. “You have a nice day now, Ma’am!”
“You’re fired,” Doyoung says, mortified for so many different reasons. “You’re so fired this time.”
“You can’t fire me for how I act on my lunch break.”
“Well you won’t, or you’ll have to call Jungwoo to get him to finish the shift with you and we both know you’d rather die than disturb him.”
“Forgive me for respecting my one decent employee!”
“I’ll consider it.”
“What the hell do I get from keeping you around? It isn’t your work output, and it definitely isn’t friendship!”
“I’m funny and hot, two things that you lack,” Ten says easily, like he’s been waiting for Doyoung to ask such an obvious question. Either that or he really is just that eager to talk about how great he thinks he is. Maybe both. “Together, with your intelligence and... well, your intelligence, plus my beauty and humour, we almost make one desirable person.”
“Yeah. There are only so many of your flaws that my perfection can compensate for.”
“I’m going to kill you.”
“But you might get bloodstains on your neat trousers!”
The bell above the door chimes just in time to save Ten from a hardback of Charles Dickens to the skull, and Doyoung places it back on the shelf with a tight smile as he turns to face the new customer. He lets his face fall back into a scowl when he sees that it’s just Johnny, who is looking at him with one of his most annoying expressions. This one is vaguely lewd, and ranks well within the top ten Worst Johnny Expressions.
“Hey there, Doyoung.”
“Hello. How can I help you today?”
“Well it’s my lunch break so I thought I’d take a minute away from the bakery to bring both of you an apple pie slice.”
“Oh.” He deflates a little as Johnny passes him a small tub with a plastic fork. “That’s very nice of you. Thank you.”
“No problem.” He passes a slice to Ten in exchange for a wink and a blown kiss. “I also wanted your opinion on the gym dudes across the street. Are they being super loud or is it just me?”
Ten ducks under the desk and wanders over to the door, sticking his head out for a moment before coming back inside. “No, you’re right. Their music is super loud.”
“It hasn’t disturbed us at all,” Doyoung says, still mystified. “Besides, what gym?”
Johnny sends him a droll look. “The one literally opposite your bookstore?”
“What happened to Mrs Miyasaki’s dry-cleaning business?” Doyoung asks, dismayed. “Why didn’t I notice she was gone?”
“She visited a couple of weeks ago, Doyoung,” Ten supplies. “She gave you flowers and a thank you card for being a good neighbour and told you she was retiring to somewhere warmer, but you were in one of those cleaning zones you go into when you’re stressed about bills. You were scrubbing the upholstery from the reading area with such a weirdly intense focus that I honestly think I could have fucked someone on the floor in front of you and you wouldn’t have noticed anything but the stain.”
He feels his nose wrinkle. “One, that’s disgusting. Two, I have literally no memory of that happening. Are you both trying to make me think I’m a clone and the real Doyoung is dead again? Because I swear once was enough.”
Ten rolls his eyes. “Wait here.” He disappears into the back of the store and emerges with a sparkly card that makes glitter fall onto the carpet that Doyoung will have to remember to clean up when he closes the store. “Here. I kept it for exactly this reason.”
He passes it over and Doyoung scans the pretty writing.
Doyoung, I know this is short notice, but I’ll be on my way shortly to the sunny shores of Florida! Let’s hope they’re not as racist as my sons say, eh? I need that sunshine and those ‘sweet retirement vibes’ as a girl earlier today told me is how I would say it in a cool way. I’ll miss you sweetheart, you’re truly one of the loveliest neighbours I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I’ve left my new contact details at the bottom of the card if you ever want to get in touch. Stay safe and kind!
“Oh,” Doyoung says softly. “I really... I didn’t know.” Does that make him a bad neighbour? Probably. What kind of good neighbour completely ignores a final goodbye because he’s so distracted by spring cleaning?
“She knows what you’re like, I’m sure she’s not offended,” Johnny tells him, patting him on the shoulder awkwardly.
“I’m sorry for accusing you both.”
“That’s alright, if I’d thought of a prank like this I probably would have tried it,” Ten admits, but he’s frowning. “Doyoung, stick your head out of the door and take a listen, won’t you? Even for me, that music is loud. It’s probably gonna cause a fucking war with the amount of old people that live down here. You know how they get when their afternoon naps are disturbed.”
So he does, because music that disturbs Ten is probably deafening to the normal populace.
As soon as the he’s outside, he can hear it. Deep bass, rumbling through the street like vibrations. The gym looks the same as the dry cleaners had from the front, in that all that’s visible is a wall of glass and a desk somewhere through the door, but the small sign is purple instead of yellow, and it reads SM TRAINING instead of MIYASAKI’S DRY-CLEANING. Their design is apparently much less obnoxious than their employees, if the music is anything to go by.
Doyoung retreats back into his store and packs away his notepad before reaching behind the register to pick up his phone.
Ten watches on, bemused. “What, are you going over there to give them a warning?”
“Doyoung I was joking, please don’t do that.”
“I don’t care if it ruins my street cred or whatever you’d call it,” he replies, already leaving. “They’re disturbing the residents, and that’s not okay. You know what Mr Jeon is like.”
“Stay civil!” Johnny supplies.
“Of course,” Doyoung says. “When am I ever uncivilised?”
“Ah. Good point.”
“Thank you for the pie, Johnny. Be aware that by the time I get back Ten’s lunch break will be over and I’ll have to ask you to buy something or leave if you haven’t already gone.”
“Okay, see you later!”
Once outside he takes a breath of fresh air, smooths down his shirt, makes sure his shoes are polished, that his watch is in the correct position on his wrist, and then he crosses the empty street to the gym and pushes through the glass door.
The receptionist looks up, as bored as Ten. “Yo dude. Can I help you?”
“Hello.” Doyoung clenches his hands and then relaxes them four times in a row before continuing, reassuring himself. “I’m sorry to disturb your work, but I’m Kim Doyoung. I own the bookstore on the opposite side of the road.”
He clenches his hands again. “I’ve come to ask you if you could turn your music down.”
“It isn’t my decision.”
“Could I please speak to the person who has the authority to lower the volume, then?” he reads the small nametag. “Yukhei?”
Yukhei itches his ear with the pen he’s holding. “I mean, we don’t really have an owner or anything since this is just a branch of the business, but I guess I can see if one of the managers is around?”
“That would be great. Thank you very much.”
“Sure thing.” Yukhei stands, and promptly towers over Doyoung, which is rare enough to freak him out for a solid minute of internal yelling. “If you wanna follow me, we can take a walk and see if anyone is working.”
“You don’t know who is working?”
“Why should I?”
“Aren’t receptionists meant to know these things?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.” Yukhei pushes through a set of double doors and suddenly the music is a deafening volume that makes Doyoung cringe. The smell of sweat and heavy, cheap deodorant hits at the same time, and he wants to take a swift detour to the nearest open window and scream for help. It smells like highschool locker rooms, and therefore like years of bullying. Nice.
Yukhei turns to check that Doyoung is following and flashes a strangely endearing smile. “Still with me?”
“Yes. I’m just... surprised, I suppose. I hadn’t even noticed that the old business had closed, never mind that this building had become a gym.”
“Well, since most of the work was in the back of the building, all of the refurbishment and stuff came from the road behind. You wouldn’t have seen much from the front anyway.”
The gym is much bigger than it looks from the outside, with Yukhei leisurely leading Doyoung through room after room of expensive looking equipment, until they reach a large staircase and Yukhei pauses. He cups his hands around his mouth and yells up the stairs, “Donghyuck!”
A shrill reply screams down, “What?”
“Is Yuta up there?”
“IS YUTA UP THERE?”
“ARE YOU SURE?”
A disgruntled looking boy appears, red faced as he scowls down at Yukhei. “Climb the stairs instead of shouting at me!”
“But I don’t wanna,” Yukhei complains.
“You’re gonna give the gym a bad reputation if their own staff don’t even want to climb stairs, you lard-ass!”
“Don’t be mean in front of the neighbours, Hyukie.”
“Do not call me that,” Donghyuck spits. He turns his eyes to Doyoung and pales slightly. “Oh. Sorry about this.”
“It’s fine,” Doyoung replies, eager to leave and never return. He can feel sweat gathering at the back of his neck, an unpleasant, hot and somehow cold feeling. “I’m from the bookstore across the street. I’m hoping to speak to the... manager? Or whoever is in charge of the music.”
Donghyuck nods slightly. “I think that the most senior member in today is Jaehyun, but he’s in the middle of teaching a rumba class. Can you wait like, ten minutes or so? I think they have a break soon.”
“I really have to get back to my store,” Doyoung says tightly, anxiety beginning to prickle. This place is modern and sleek and pretty enough, but it smells and tastes like chaos and the loud, rhythmic music is making his vision whiten at the edges.
Donghyuck examines him curiously, like a specimen, and he feels his breathing get a little uneven. “If you like I could ask Jaehyun to visit you once his class is finished.”
“That would be great. Thank you very much.” He does a terrible job of hiding his relief, but he’s too far gone to care. “I have to go now, but thank you both very much for your help.” Before either can reply he lowers himself into a short bow and then exits as fast as he possibly can without sprinting.
Ten gives a weak cheer when he returns. “I was about to send out a search party. Is the music down?”
“Not yet. They’re going to send someone over.”
Doyoung puts his phone back behind the register and picks up his notepad again, fumbling slightly with the pages as he tries to find the list of books he’d been working on before Johnny had entered. He notices his watch has twisted slightly, so he moves it back.
He looks up out of the window and bites his lip. Is he imagining things, or can Yukhei really see him from his desk? Is he sat there laughing?
His eyes snap back to Ten. “Hm?”
“Are you okay? You look kind of shaken.”
“I’m fine, thank you.”
“Don’t bullshit me.”
“Are you sure?”
He sighs, slowly and controlled, counting the seconds before he releases his breath. “Yes. I’m fine. I just hate... things. Surprises. New people. You know, the usual stuff that makes me freak out.”
Instead of mockery, Ten’s expression is open and concerned. “You know that being nervous during new experiences if fine, right?”
“Of course I know that. It’s just much easier to tell yourself that than it is to not feel the anxiety.”
“I’m proud of you for going over, in that case.”
“Indignation overrides anxiety.”
The bell chimes.
Doyoung is facing away from the door, but just from watching Ten’s face, he knows the customer is trouble. The way Ten’s eyes widen, then narrow, then turn to Doyoung with a dreadful, familiar smirk that says, You’re toast dude.
“Hi there, I’m Jaehyun. Donghyuck told me I should come over here to speak to the owner about music or something?”
Fear overridden by the polite manners his parents ingrained into the very fibre of his soul, Doyoung sticks his head around the shelves and offers what is probably an incredibly strained smile at the stranger who just happens to be one of the most attractive people he’s ever seen. “Hello, I’m the owner. Doyoung.”
God, he’s always been pathetically weak for dimples.
“Hi there, Doyoung. I’m Jaehyun, like I said. You wanted to speak with me?”
He clenches his hands, forgetting the notepad, and crumples the paper. “Hi. Yes. The music?”
Jaehyun cocks his head, and his hair swings into his eyes a little, smile a little confused. “Yes?”
The sweat is back. The anxiety is back twofold.
“It’s too loud.”
The smile falls and Doyoung wants to bludgeon his own head against the nearest bookcase. “Ah. I’m sorry, are we disturbing your store?”
“Not me or my store,” Doyoung says too quickly, “but someone came to ask me about the music earlier, from the bakery down the street. I’m uh. We’re all just concerned because there are a lot of elderly residents in the area and if their naps are disturbed then they start writing strongly worded letters to the local government. As silly as that sounds, you don’t want the police knocking to tell you that your store display is too unsightly.”
The smile returns, and Doyoung feels himself lose at least five years off his lifespan. “Are you speaking from experience?”
“Last year he almost went to war with Mr Jeon who lives above the Laundromat,” Ten interjects. “And I mean that literally. It was seconds from physical blows before the Byun twins from the convenience store stepped in. Mr Jeon didn’t like Doyoung’s new shipment of LGBTQ literature, and he especially didn’t like the display window focusing on it.”
“Some of the elderly neighbours can make difficult enemies,” Doyoung says, trying to damage control his reputation and his life. Who wants the reputation of nearly smacking an elderly man? None of this is even close to being as nice as his routine. What he wouldn’t give to have a normal day checking the shelves and ignoring Ten.
“Oh dear,” Jaehyun says, evidently very amused at the fact that Ten just dumped Doyoung in a vat of his own potent humiliation. He’s so sweaty. Why doesn’t he stink? “Well, thank you for the warning. We were meant to have had some weird insulation fitted to make sure that the workout music didn’t leave the building, but you know what corporations are like. Stingy.” He winks at Doyoung like he’s made a joke, so Doyoung laughs, even though he’s more scared than amused.
“I understand.” He doesn’t. He sincerely, one hundred percent, doesn’t understand anything.
Jaehyun looks around, lifting one bare arm to scratch at the back of his neck. Doyoung can’t even pretend not to watch the way his muscles shift, and out of the corner of his eye he sees Ten watching with his jaw practically on the floor. “This is a really cute store you have here, Doyoung. If you don’t mind me asking, what are the seats behind you for?”
“Oh!” Doyoung glances at the seating area and then back. “It’s an area for customers to read. We have a lot of students around here that like to read on their downtime you know, but because of capitalism and stuff, they can’t afford leisure books. I cleared out the back and put some seats in so that they could read books there if they didn’t want to buy them. You can borrow a book and sit there as long as you like, as long as you make a small contribution to the charity box if you’re intending to stay longer than half an hour.”
“That’s such a nice idea. What charity do you support?”
“It changes monthly, but this month we’re focusing funds on a charity that supports homeless children.”
Jaehyun eyes the chairs. “It’s been a long time since I got the chance to read something I actually enjoyed.”
“Well come over anytime!” Ten says happily.
Doyoung’s stomach drops. “Yeah,” he agrees weakly. “Come over whenever you like. We’re usually really busy at weekends, but weekday mornings are pretty calm.”
“Thanks,” Jaehyun says, his smile smaller now, more content, the dimples just as pronounced. “Maybe I will.” He clears his throat and drops his arm. “Anyway, I have to get back to work. I have a spin class that starts in a couple of minutes, and you know how middle aged women behave if anything isn’t perfectly on time.”
“I imagine they’re quite like Doyoung,” Ten says, smile huge, positively delighted to drag his friend and employer through the dirt. “But a class of middle aged women? I bet they eat you alive.”
Jaehyun laughs and shakes his head. “There are always comments about how the best men are gay, but it doesn’t bother me. They’re usually right anyway.” He gives them a small wave. “See you guys around, I hope.”
“Bye!” Ten waves.
“Bye, Jaehyun,” Doyoung says.
“Goodbye, Doyoung.” He closes the door softly.
Doyoung slowly unclenches his hands and looks down at the ruined notepad.
Ten whistles. “You really did a number on that paper. What did it ever do to you?”
“So. He’s gay.”
“Shut up. Please, for once in your life, just don’t speak.”
“He didn’t even ask me my name, but he sure seemed to like saying yours.”
Doyoung wakes up at seven thirty the following day, getting out of his bed after the second alarm.
He has a breakfast of cereal and half a grapefruit, watching the morning news.
He puts on his favourite pair of shorts and his thinnest shirt, tying his laces in double knots before he goes for his run, doing two laps around the neighbourhood, waving to Mrs Lee walking her dog as he does every other day, pausing at the grocery store to buy a bottle of electrolyte water before continuing on his way.
He gets back to his apartment above the bookstore, takes his shoes off at the door, sprays them with antibacterial diffuser, then goes for a shower.
He heads downstairs and opens up the store at nine o’clock, begins checking the shelves at half past, and is happy to find that Jungwoo arrives at exactly half past ten, when his shift is due to start.
“Hi Doyoung! How was your Thursday?”
“Weird, but thank you for asking. How was your day off? Did you go somewhere nice with... oh, I’ve forgotten his name again I’m so sorry.”
Jungwoo smiles and waves it off. “Don’t worry. We actually called it off yesterday, so you don’t need to know his name anymore.”
“Oh.” Jungwoo’s boyfriend had been rude anyway, and Doyoung’s kind of pleased to hear that. Jungwoo is possibly the nicest person to ever bless the planet, and his boyfriend had been... mean. Rude about Jungwoo’s appearance, intelligence, and generous nature, then happy to play it all off like a joke that didn’t sting. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“No you aren’t.” Jungwoo pats his cheek. “It’s fine, I’m better off without him anyway.”
“Anyway!” Jungwoo chirps, clapping his hands together. “I see the shelves have been cataloged, so what would you like me to do before the lunchtime rush on this fine Friday morning?”
Doyoung looks around. “I was going to head into the back and make some of the snacks for the reading area, but the shelves need dusting.”
“Leave the dusting to me then boss. I’m nifty with a rag and I’ll have the wood gleaming in no time.”
“Don’t forget to open the windows so that the dust particles don’t settle back down otherwise we’ll have to vacuum,” Doyoung says.
Jungwoo just laughs and gives him a nudge towards the small kitchen in the back of the building. “I know, I know. Go make some delicious brownies, and if you get worried you can always come back in and check I’ve got it right, okay?”
“Okay. Thank you.”
Jungwoo has a way about his actions and his attitude that makes Doyoung soft in the heart he sometimes forgets he has. There’s never any annoyance or upset at the way he hovers over the shelves and the books and the cash register, because Jungwoo understands that he isn’t doing it because of a lack of trust. It’s just the way he works, and Jungwoo respects that. He really is an angel.
He heads into the kitchen, which is barely big enough for one person, but perfect for making brownies and cupcakes and flapjack for the hungry students that come to read during lunch. He uses the recipes his grandmother passed down to him along with the business, all vegetarian and gluten free. As he works, stirring the brownie batter and watching as butter melts for the cupcakes, he begins to calm at the thought of Jungwoo dusting without him. He’s capable of doing it alone, and Doyoung knows that. He knows to open the windows and make sure that the rag is damp so that the dust doesn’t just dance in the air and then settle back down.
“Your brain works a little faster than most other people’s,” his therapist had said the last time he had visited. “That’s not to say you’re more or less intelligent than everyone else, just that you focus on lots of different things that most people might not even notice at all. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just something you’re going to need to figure out how to deal with as you live your life.”
And he does deal with it, in the ways that he can.
He lets Jungwoo dust alone.
On Wednesday and Saturday evenings he trusts Ten to lock up alone so that he can leave early, despite his fear that Ten would forget to check the shelves, the locks on the windows, that the fire escapes remain unblocked, and many other, tiny things that really people shouldn’t worry all that much about.
He makes sure that at least once a week he doesn’t have grapefruit with his breakfast, having a different fruit instead.
He goes on dates sometimes, though he still hasn’t found the strength to invite them into his home. None of them seemed like the kind of guys that would respect that Doyoung needed them to take their shoes off at the door and hang their coats up in the closet before he sucked them off.
Jungwoo pops his head around the door, distracting him from his thoughts. “Sorry to disturb you Doyoung, but there’s a guy here asking for you.”
“Huh? A guy?”
“Yeah, says he’s from the gym? I didn’t even realise that Mrs Miyasaki had moved!”
“Okay, give me a minute and I’ll be right out.” he fumbles with the mixing bowl and pours the brownie batter into the baking tray, shoving it into the preheated oven before washing his hands, then sanitising them, before heading back into the front of the store where Jungwoo is dusting and chatting happily to... Jaehyun.
“Hi Doyoung,” Jaehyun says, smiling wider as soon as he sees him. “Damn though, it’s pretty cold in here today.”
“The windows have to be open while Jungwoo dusts.” He swallows. “Hello, Jaehyun.”
“Ah, that makes sense. Or the particles will just settle back down, right?” Jaehyun nods. “I came in to ask a favour.”
“Would you, mind if I spend a couple of hours a week reading here? I’d spend my lunchbreaks at the gym, but you met Yukhei and Donghyuck, right? They’re... great. Great, but taxing. I like the energy here, and it would be nice to start enjoying reading again.”
“That’s fine,” Doyoung says, attempting to convince himself it isn’t terror that makes his jaw clench. Maybe it’s just the cold.
Jaehyun lights up, dimples back full force, like twin points of sunshine amidst the blue skies of his face. “Awesome, thank you so much! Do you mind if I bring a lunch over? I promise I’m not a messy eater.”
“You can bring food if you want, or we also make snacks like brownies and cupcakes.”
“That sounds amazing, do you make smoothies too?”
Panic strikes. “Yes! Yes, we make smoothies. Do you like smoothies?”
Jaehyun squints from the force of his smile. “Yeah, all that nutrition in a tasty drink? I love smoothies. If it’s cool I’ll head over tomorrow with a salad or something and then pick a book and order a smoothie?”
“Great. Thanks for this, Doyoung. Jungwoo, it was nice to meet you. I hope you both have a good day.”
“Bye, Jaehyun!” Jungwoo calls as he leaves. As soon as the door closes he turns to Doyoung with a far too innocent expression and flutters his lashes. “Smoothies?”
Jungwoo looks delighted when he says, “We don’t sell smoothies. In fact, I don’t believe we even own a blender.”
“I have to leave the shop for a while, will you be okay on your own? I’ll have my phone if you need me,” Doyoung says, patting his pockets and ensuring he has his keys, wallet, and phone. “The brownies will be done in thirty minutes, and the cupcakes go in ten minutes later, and stay in the oven for fifteen minutes. I should be back in time to ice them.”
“You’re leaving me on my own?” Jungwoo asks, eyes wide. “I mean, of course I can hold down the fort, I’ve got this! But... why are you leaving so suddenly?”
“I have to go and buy a blender and some fruit,” Doyoung says, entrenched in his panic as he rushes out the door.
In the first time in months, he actively makes an effort to get drunk on a Saturday night with Taeyong and Taeil.
They drink gin, and then (mistakenly) move onto some kind of sickly sweet wine that turns Taeyong even gigglier and makes Taeil realise his inner sage.
“Relationships suck. Right? I’m right, aren’t I?”
Doyoung drinks more of his disgusting wine. “Did your girlfriend leave you?”
“She said I was too work orientated!”
“You do love your work.”
“Excuse me for enjoying helping people!”
“I doubt she had an issue with the thought of her doctor boyfriend helping people, Taeil,” Doyoung says. “It was probably something to do with your fourteen hour shifts and the way you don’t sleep. Ever.”
He frowns. “Maybe. Taeyong? Thoughts?”
“I think you should do what you enjoy,” Taeyong says benevolently, gesturing with his full glass far too easily. “If work is what you enjoy, then focus on that and make time for the people that understand where your passion lies. If they don’t respect that, or want more than you can give, maybe you just weren’t meant to be together. The right person will come along.”
“I love you,” Taeil says to him. “Cheers to friendship. Who the fuck needs anything else?”
“Anyway,” Taeyong says after he’s finished his glass. He turns to look at Doyoung with his big, dark eyes, his fluffy hair and sweet, rosy cheeks. Maybe one day he won’t make Doyoung’s stomach clench with the wonder of what if I’d been brave enough to ask, but today is not that day. “How is our resident recluse?”
“You’re drinking more than usual. Are you sure?”
He looks down at his hands, and not for the first time thinks, these are ugly hands. Why does alcohol always make him sad? Isn’t it meant to cheer him up or something? Despite the fact that he’s well aware that it’s a depressant, he still hopes for the giggles that Taeyong always gets.
“Well,” he begins, mouth dry. “There’s this guy...”
Taeil smacks his glass down with renewed vigour. “A guy? Kim Doyoung is having relationship troubles and you let me sit here for an hour and a half and bitch when we could have been focusing on you?”
“Nothing has happened,” he says, trying to diffuse the eager interest from both of them. “I just... there’s a gym across from the bookstore now, since Mrs Miyasaki has moved to Florida. One of the guys has asked to spend his lunch breaks in the bookstore to get away from the noise, and he came in today to have a smoothie. He’s nice.”
“Since when do you sell smoothies?” Taeyong asks.
“Since he asked if we do yesterday and I ran to buy a blender,” Doyoung admits into his wine, miserable.
“Holy shit,” Taeil says, sitting back. “Yong, when was the last time Doyoung did something spontaneous?”
“Uhhhhh, college maybe? Remember when we bet him he wouldn’t apply for that singing competition and he went and won it just so we’d have to buy his groceries for a month?”
“That wasn’t spontaneity, that was deliberate punishment for you both because you doubted my capabilities,” Doyoung says.
“We just wanted to force you to succeed,” Taeyong says, putting a hand over Doyoung’s. Anyone else and he would have yanked away, but he’s always been too weak to deny Taeyong’s gentle skinship.
“Well I came in first place and you both bought me my food, so consider it a victory on your parts if it makes you happy to do so.”
Taeil flags down a passing waiter and asks for another bottle of wine, much to Doyoung’s delight and despair. “Let’s not move from the real conversation here, ladies. Who is this mystery man that brings out the fresh, carefree Doyoung I’ve never seen?”
“I bought a blender, it isn’t life changing.”
“It’s wonderful progress and you should be proud of yourself,” Taeyong says, patting his hand again. “A couple of years ago and you would have hidden behind the cash register until he had left.”
“I was tempted,” Doyoung admits, accepting the refilled glass of wine Taeil passes over. “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt attraction to someone, and you know my track record. It isn’t great.”
“Because you underestimate your own worth and therefore pick dudes that don’t so much as deserve to glance in your direction,” Taeil says, throwing wine down his throat.
Taeyong nods sympathetically. “Your taste is... questionable.”
Doyoung sits back, thoroughly chastised. “Okay. Anything else? Wanna call me ugly and boring? Criticise my fashion? Maybe insult my parents?”
“I would never insult your parents, but your fashion is bad,” Taeil says.
“My fashion is good!”
“I like your clothes,” Taeyong says, patting again. He loves patting hands when he’s drunk. Also karaoke, but Doyoung made sure that they picked a bar without the possibility to avoid humiliation.
“So you like this guy,” Taeil says, determined to keep drawing the conversation back. “What happened during his visit today?”
“Nothing, he just sat and read and drank the smoothie I made. Then he ate a salad and left. He paid for the book, despite the fact that he didn’t buy it.”
“Oh, so he’s respectful,” Taeil says, stroking his chin like a medieval wizard. “You’re a big fan of manners.”
“Most people are.”
“Why don’t you practice?” Taeyong interjects suddenly.
“You said it yourself, it’s been a long time since you’ve been attracted to anyone. It’s a Saturday night, you’re young and attractive, in a bar, kind of drunk, relaxed – it’s the perfect chance! Dust off the old cogs and go speak to a stranger!”
But Taeil –
Taeil has evidently been spending too much time with Ten.
“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” he says. “In fact, that’s the best idea I have ever heard. Doyoung, if you don’t go and flirt with a man in this bar, I will walk around and speak to every single man I can find, then bring them to this table one by one until you are forced by sheer humiliation to speak to someone.”
“You’re a very bad friend,” he says, standing. Anxiety is pounding sluggishly though his veins, but as awkward and sweaty and as annoyed as he feels, he knows that if things turn the least bit sour that both Taeyong and Taeil would come running and take him home immediately. He trusts them implicitly, the only two people in the whole world that he would place his entire faith in. Maybe Taeil is right when he says stuff like no one needs anyone other than good friends.
He thinks of Jaehyun’s cute smile.
Okay, maybe not.
Taeyong pats his hand again. “Good luck! We’ll be here if you need us.”
“You make me feel like a science experiment,” he grumbles, though he doesn’t mean it.
“That’s the spirit! Now go and flirt.” Taeil raises his wine. “I will drink to your health and your sex drive in your absence.”
“A true martyr of the cause,” Doyoung says, then looks at the bar, chewing his bottom lip and clenching his hands in a steady rhythm.”What drink should I order? What says to strangers that I’m ready to flirt?”
“A small glass of red wine says sophistication without the desperation.”
“Good idea. Okay, I’m going.”
“Better move those long legs then, instead of standing here staring.”
“Okay. Okay I’m going.”
The bartender doesn't seem to notice the sweat, because he smiles at Doyoung and asks what he would like.
“A small red wine please.”
“No problem. Any wine preference?”
“Whatever you have already open is fine, it’s busy tonight and I would hate to make your night any more difficult.”
The barman goes pink and smiles wider. “Thank you. That’s very kind.”
Doyoung pays and makes sure to tip. The bartender is cute – very cute, but also very young. Too young for Doyoung, like he’s fresh out of school. Maybe he’s working here to supplement further learning or something. Doyoung fishes more money out of his pocket and increases the tip he leaves in the jar.
The barman passes over his wine and smiles again. “Thanks again for being so nice. It’s rare to meet a guy that’s nice when he’s drunk.”
“Who says I’m drunk?” Doyoung asks.
“I’ve seen you and your friends consume way too much to be anything other than drunk.”
He pouts. “I guess. Anyway, people that are rude when they’re drunk are probably rude when they’re sober, too. Some people are just assholes.”
“You got that right.” The guy passes a hand over the bar for Doyoung to shake. “My name is Jeno. If you want a free refill on that wine, you let me know, okay?”
“Thank you very much, but I can pay. I would hate for you to get into any trouble at work.” He shakes the offered hand. “My name is Doyoung.”
“Well Doyoung, you enjoy your wine. I have to go and serve some more rude assholes, so I’m afraid I’ll have to leave you. Shout if you want anything.”
Jeno smiles again and weaves his way past his colleagues to the other end of the bar, where people are shouting and catcalling and generally being gross.
“You’re very polite,” A voice says to him. He turns slightly towards the woman sat next to him, who is very pretty and very... female.
“Manners cost nothing.”
She shrugs. “That’s true enough.”
He shuffles closer. “I’m terribly sorry to bother you with this, but if you look around the room, can you see any obviously gay men for me to flirt with? My... gaydar, is it called? My gaydar has never been any good.”
Her eyes widen impossibly. “I’m sorry, what?”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a relationship and I can’t really remember how to interact in a sexual manner.”
“Uhhhh...” she glances around and points. “Maybe him? I’m afraid I’m not an authority on gay guys, but he looks... well groomed?”
“As much as I hate stereotypes, you’re right,” Doyoung says. He sighs and stands. “I’ll give it a try. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she says, evidently mystified.
He picks up his wine and wanders over to the guy leaning against a wall at the other side of the bar. He’s tall and attractive, and he greets Doyoung with a pleasant smile at his approach.
“Hey dude. You good?”
“Yes thank you.” Doyoung takes a sip of his wine. “Are you by any chance gay and attracted to me?”
He’s kind of expecting rejection, but he isn’t expecting getting punched in the face.
The next thing he knows, he’s on his back. There’s wine on his shirt, and he’s blinking up at Jeno who is crouched over him, panicking, and out of the corner of his eye he can see Taeyong holding Taeil back, who is screaming something that sounds like a lot of cussing through the ringing in Doyoung’s ears.
“That could have gone better,” he mumbles. His face hurts. “Jeno, am I bleeding?”
“A little bit, yeah,” Jeno chokes. “Doyoung, are you okay? Do I need to ring an ambulance?”
“It’s okay, I have a very thick skull,” he manages. “Is the man’s hand okay?”
“Fuck his hand!” Jeno says, dabbing at Doyoung’s forehead with a damp paper towel. “Security is escorting him out now. I’m so sorry this happened.”
“I should have used tact, it isn’t your fault,” Doyoung says, groaning as he pulls himself into a sitting position. He looks down and sees a mixture of wine and blood on his shirt, then fingers the left side of his face gingerly to find a small cut above his eye, the skin raw and painful. “Ouch. I guess I surround myself with so many gay people that I forget that some straight people still want us all dead. Weird.”
“If it helps, I’d totally date you,” Jeno says, “If I were gay. I just like boobs too much though.”
“I respect you for that,” Doyoung says.
Taeil has finally stopped shouting, but he’s crying now, which is worse. Taeyong looks shaken, but he pulls Taeil over and they both sit themselves on the floor next to Doyoung and pull him into a hug.
“Sorry, I’m so sorry,” Taeil says through his tears, “Doyoung, I’m so fucking sorry.”
“Unless you paid him to punch me, this isn’t your fault,” Doyoung says. “Stop crying, it’s making you uglier.”
He laughs a little, though the tears don’t stop. “You’re the ugly one now.”
“I think a bruise will make me look quite dashing.”
“I agree,” Taeyong says. “Battle scars are the new fashion statement, I think.”
As light as he tries to make the situation, his face hurts. A lot. “Could you maybe escort me home please? I think I want to go and shower this off me and then sleep for two days.”
But he doesn’t, because he can’t.
He wakes up at nine thirty on Sunday morning despite his exhaustion and pain, and then gets up after his second alarm.
He has cereal and strawberries for breakfast, then goes for his morning run, buys his electrolyte water, says hello to Mrs Lee and her dog, gets home, sprays his shoes and then showers.
Because he has his routine, and even getting punched in the face doesn’t change that.
The only change is at midday, when he’s had his lunch and because the store is closed, he has nothing to do but read or clean.
He pauses on his way back from the bathroom and looks in the mirror, and then finds himself standing there for much longer than he’d like to admit, just looking at his face.
He knows he’s attractive, a surface level prettiness that had always stopped the worse of the mockery. His eyes are big and his smile is lopsided but cute, and he’s tall, even if it is just because of how long his legs are.
He was twenty three when he was in his last, real relationship.
He hadn’t had sex in almost seven months.
His last boyfriend said he was too rigid, too unyielding, to boring. Too afraid of everything.
He’s always been too much of something.
In school he’d been the kid that had been too clever, getting pushed around for being a nerd, for his mouth being too big, for his height, for his lanky arms and spindly hands.
In college he’d been too uptight. He’d only gone to parties when one of his friends had dragged him, and even then he’d rarely drink. He’d taken exams seriously, he’d annoy people in group projects because he’d quickly angered when they’d not done their share, and then he’d end up doing everyone’s part just to make sure that he passed.
Now, an adult, employed and living comfortably thanks to the passing of his late grandmother, he’s too alone to know how to be anything else.
His apartment is quiet and neat, and he’s still wearing the rubber gloves after scrubbing the sink in the bathroom.
All he can hear is the clicking of his old clock and his own breathing.
He can’t remember the sound of someone else’s breath in his apartment, or what the sound of another heartbeat feels like against his palm.
The bruise around his left eye blooms like an inky flower.
Jungwoo screams when he gets into the shop at ten thirty on Monday. “Doyoung what the hell happened?”
“I was punched in the face,” he says, still cataloging books. “It’s fine, it’s healing nicely.”
“Wh- I mean what the hell! Why were you punched in the face?”
“I forgot that not everyone likes gay people.”
“Oh sweetie,” Jungwoo says, pulling Doyoung away from the shelf and into a pretty smelling hug. “I’m sorry that you’ve had to go through that.”
“I told you already, I’m fine. I made a new friend.”
“Oh you did?” Jungwoo pulls back slightly to smile. “Well that’s a wonderful turn! What’s he like?”
“His name is Jeno, and he’s... nineteen, I think. He’s a bartender part time while he attends college. He gave me his number and asked if we could go for breakfast sometime. He’s not gay though, because he really enjoys breasts.”
“He sounds lovely,” Jungwoo says warmly. “Say, would you like me to bake the brownies today? I’ll be honest, I’d rather you just took it easy while that cut heals.”
He clenches his hands, but this is Jungwoo. He knows Jungwoo, and he trusts him not to set fire to the kitchen or burn the cupcakes. “If you wouldn’t mind, that would be nice.”
So he goes back to cataloguing the shelves, and after an hour or so Jaehyun walks in, sweating lightly through his tank top and shorts, all of his glorious muscle on display.
He looks at Doyoungs face and drops his box of salad, which opens upon impact and litters lettuce all over the floor. “Fuck! I’m so sorry, I’ll clean it up.” He kneels down and begins picking the bits off the floor. A stray tomato rolls over to Doyoung, so he picks it up and passes it to Jaehyun. Their hands touch briefly as the tomato passes between them, but Jaehyun doesnt smile, he presses his lips together and gazes up at Doyoung. “I know it isn’t my place to ask, but what the hell happened?”
“Hi Jaehyun!” Jungwoo calls from the kitchen. “He forgot that homophobes exist and was punched!”
Jaehyun frowns, anger flashing through his usually gentle eyes. “That’s awful. Did you give as good as you got?”
“I don’t really believe in violence, but I have a really hard head, so I think I at least bruised his knuckles.”
Jaehyun laughs a little and finally closes his box of salad, confining the leaves once more. Doyoung is pleased to note that he cleaned it up well enough that he won’t have to go back over it once he left.
“Would you like another smoothie?”
“If that’s not too much trouble, a smoothie would be great,” Jaehyun says. His cheeks start to go a little red. “And uh, since I’m so clumsy, I might have to just go to the corner store and buy a sandwich or something, so can you give me a second?”
“I can make you a salad,” Doyoung says without thinking. “I live – my apartment is above the shop. I can make you a salad if you wait here.”
“Oh, you really don’t have to do that, I don’t mind-“
“I don’t mind making you a salad at all, Jaehyun. It’s my fault you dropped yours, after all.”
“It really isn’t.”
“Please pick out a book and sit down,” Doyoung says. He works himself up enough to give Jaehyun’s firm shoulder a push towards the chairs. “It won’t take me long to make you something. Is there any ingredient you typically don’t like?”
“Not really, I’ll eat most things.”
“Okay, well I’ll be back soon. If you want to go into the kitchen and say hello to Jungwoo that would be fine.”
The dimples finally came out. “Thanks. Thanks a lot, Doyoung.”
“You’re welcome, Jaehyun.”
He goes upstairs and hyperventilates for a while before getting to work and making a salad.
“If you want cucumber in my store then you wait until I’m dead and buried. I resent that stupid vegetable and will not have it under my roof.”
Jaehyun cracks up. “Noted, Doyoung doesn’t like cucumber.”
“I gave you extra tomato to make up for it.”
Jaehyun goes red again, for some reason. “Thank you. You’re a very thoughtful person.”
“You’re very complimentary.”
“Maybe you just deserve it.”
He meets Jeno for breakfast, and then his roommate Jaemin pops in to say hello.
He’s just as polite, shaking Doyoung’s hand with a soft smile. “I heard about Saturday. Sorry about the punch.”
“It’s okay, but I appreciate the concern.”
It turns out he only stopped by to give Jeno his house keys that he’d forgotten, but he hangs with Doyoung while Jeno gets up to go to the bathroom.
Doyoung purses his lips and pushes his scrambled egg around his plate, trying not to wish it was cereal and grapefruit. “Does he know you’re in love with him?”
Jaemin’s eyes shoot up, but his smile is rueful. “No, of course not. Have you heard him talk about women? He’s as straight as a steel beam.”
“But he also looks at you with an incredibly endeared expression.” Doyoung shrugs. “I’m an outsider though, and you know more about your relationship than I could ever hope to you. I just thought I’d tell you that he talks about breasts a lot, but throughout this meal he’s talked about you about twice as much as anything else.”
He gets drunk again on Saturday, after a week of watching Jaehyun read and drink smoothies and trying to pretend he isn’t watching.
This time the firting is slightly more successful in that it doesn't end in violence, but the guy is way more interested than Doyoung is, and it makes him feel guilty, which puts a damper on the whole thing. He ends up returning to Taeyong and Taeil after only a couple of drinks with the guy, and then the three go back to Taeil’s apartment to watch a movie.
Taeyong falls asleep on the couch at midnight, and Taeil looks over him to speak to Doyoung. “Stay over tonight,” he says. “You and Yong can share the spare room.”
“Thank you for the offer, but you know I can’t,” he says.
Taeil’s smile is sad, but he nods and kisses Doyoung’s cheek at the door as he sees him out. “Get home safe.”
He wakes up at nine thirty that Sunday, then gets out of bed after his second alarm.
Jaehyun’s lunchtime presence becomes part of Doyoung’s routine, strangely enough. He gets used to buying more fruit so that he can make Jaehyun’s smoothies, and he even buys extra vegetables just in case something happens to Jaehyun’s salads.
It’s kind of nice.
Who is he kidding?
It’s really nice.
Jaehyun is really nice.
He’s younger than Doyoung by a couple of years, a few inches smaller, and yet his presence is so big, so... solid. Reassuring, weirdly enough. He gets on with Jungwoo and Ten, and sometimes even calls Ten Chittaphon just to make him grumble, which is a goddamn delight. After all the shit that Doyoung gets from Ten, it’s nice to see him receive it from someone else.
Then, one day, when Doyoung is clearing up the plates of students stuffed full of brownies, Jaehyun puts a hand on his arm and says, “You’re a really cool guy, Doyoung. I’d love to spend more time with you if you’re okay with that.”
He doesn’t drop the plates, but it’s close.
Friends? Jaehyun wants them to be friends?
“I’ll be honest,” he manages past the panic in his throat, “I really struggle with straying from routine. It’s kind of a big thing for me.”
Jaehyun doesn’t so much as blink. “That’s alright. Is there maybe a part of your routine you wouldn’t mind me joining you for?”
It feels like his heart slows to a stop, right there in the middle of the bookstore with Ten and Jonny necking behind the counter shamelessly, as students mill around reading and laughing, as his phone blows up with texts from Jeno who has just seen a really cute stray cat.
No one has ever asked him something like that.
“I go running every morning,” he says, barely above a whisper. “For an hour. Seven forty to eight forty.”
“Would you mind if I joined you? I promise I won’t be late.”
He kind of wants to cry. “That would be really nice.”
Jaehyun’s dimples come out, full force, and his smile holds all the warmth of gentle sunshine on Doyoung’s face. “Great. Fantastic. I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning then.”
Doyoung sits down in the vacant chair, and after a minute Ten comes over, looking concerned. “Everything good here?”
“Jaehyun is going to go running with me in the morning.”
Ten’s smile is slow but beautiful. “Doyoung, if you don’t fuck him through that shitty old bed of yours, I will.”
“It isn’t about sex.”
The smile softens, becomes more endearing. “I know, I know. That’s what makes it special, right?”
“Yeah,” he whispers. “Really special.”
He wakes up at seven thirty, and gets up after his second alarm.
He has a bowl of cereal for breakfast, then half a grapefruit.
He changes into his running clothes and ties his laces into a double knot, then heads outside.
Jaehyun is waiting there, leaning against the wall in a bright tracksuit, two bottles of electrolyte water in his hands. He throws one to Doyoung and smiles. “Jungwoo says you like this stuff while you exercise.”
He’s in love with Jaehyun.
He gets home, showers, then opens the bookstore, and once Jungwoo arrives he takes a break and goes back to his apartment to cry on his own, in the familiar silence, and like always, his is the only heartbeat he hears.
Yukhei comes into the store the following week, late one afternoon.
He’s brash and loud and giggly, and almost as annoying as Johnny, which is weird. He brings his friend Mark who is quieter but even gigglier, and they browse the comic section under Jungwoo’s patient supervision.
“Can we like, request things to be ordered in?” Yukhei asks Doyoung. “Specific comics and stuff?”
“How annoying you are while you’re in my store.”
Yukhei laughs, so loud that Doyoung imagines the windows rattling. “You’re so funny. No wonder Jaehyun likes you so much.”
He feels himself redden. “Shut up, people are trying to read in peace. What do you want me to order?”
“Have you heard of One Punch Man?”
Jungwoo pulls out a notepad from his back pocket and clicks his pen. “Leave this one to me boss, your manga knowledge is lacking in comparison to my troves of trivia.” He looks at Yukhei. “Which volumes do you want?”
Yukhei opens his mouth and closes it again. It’s like its the first time he actually noticed Jungwoo’s presence, and now that he’s realised it, there’s no going back.
Doyoung bores quickly and goes back to serving brownies.
After a few minutes, Yukhei comes over and prods him in the ribs, making him jump and curse. “What do you want?”
“Is he single?”
“Jungwoo. Is he single?”
Yukhei’s face falls, but he tries valiantly to hide his disappointment. “Oh, okay. Thanks anyway. I’ll be back for the manga, Doyoung.”
“See you later.”
Once he’s left, Jungwoo wonders over. “What did Yukhei want with you at the end there?”
“He wanted to know if you were single.”
“And what did you say?”
“I said you weren’t. Whenever the customers ask you always ask me to tell them you’re in a relationship.”
Jungwoo nods, but he looks melancholy. “They’re not usually that cute, though.”
Doyoung curls his lip. “Really? Yukhei?”
“What can I say?” Jungwoo shrugs. “You love order, and I respect that, I really do, but I think I like mess in the way you like neat. Yukhei strikes me as a guy that rarely thinks before he jumps, and I like the excitement.”
“If you say so,” Doyoung replies, doubtful.
The weeks continue.
Jaehyun’s lunchtime visits are routine.
His morning runs become routine too.
Doyoung already feels so lucky, so grateful.
He’s too scared to ask for more, so he doesn’t.
His apartment remains silent.
“Why don’t you come over to the gym next Sunday?” Jaehyun offers after their final run of the week on Friday morning. He’s tanning from working out in the sun, a beautiful shade that makes Doyoung pale (literally and metaphorically) in comparison. “No pressure, but we’re always pretty empty on Sundays, so it would be nice and relaxing. You could use the pool or sauna or something, free of charge.”
“I’ll think about it,” Doyoung says, uncomfortable with the thought but honoured by the offer.
Jaehyun smiles and nods. “Of course.”
“If you don’t go then I will, and I will fuck him,” Ten warns.
“You keep saying this.”
“I mean it this time.”
Johnny scowls from above his pie. “Not cool in front of me, dude.”
“What, you’d rather I threatened sex with you out of earshot?”
“I’d rather you not talk about having sex with other people at all.”
Ten’s eyes flash, anger masking the vulnerability. “Why? It’s not like we’re in a relationship. I can fuck whoever I want.”
Johnny reddens. “I know that. I wasn’t saying otherwise, but I think it’s disrespectful to-“
“Oh disrespectful? You really think you can talk to me about disrespect when that bitch from dance gets to dry hump you every time we go to practice? You wanna talk to me about disrespect?”
Doyoung makes a quick exit into the kitchen and tries to drown out the ensuing argument by turning the radio up. After a while the arguing ends, but he keeps the radio on for once, and the sun is out, shining through the window, the air is clean, the cupcakes rising nicely. He even finds himself singing along.
Jaehyun sticks his head in, shocking Doyoung into throwing chocolate chips into the air. “You have a beautiful voice, Doyoung.”
“Thank you,” he says, panicked.
“Maybe we should sing together sometime.”
“I like to, yeah. It’s been a while though.”
And though the offer terrifies him even more than the thought of going back to the gym, he asks, “Would you like to go out with me on Saturday night? My two friends would get on well with you, I think. They both like to sing too, and Taeyong has been nagging for us to do karaoke for months now.”
Jaehyun lights up. “That sounds fun! I’d love to!”
“Great.” It comes out lamely, but he means it, deep down beneath the anxiety.
It takes all of twenty minutes for Taeil to pull him aside while Jaehyun is distracted by Taeyong’s drunken rendition of Russian Roulette and say, “You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”
Doyoung nods miserably.
“If it helps, I’m pretty damn sure he’s in love with you too.”
It’s a nice fantasy, a pretty pipe dream to keep him awake well into the night, but it isn’t reality. Not for someone like Doyoung, who doesn’t even know what it feels like to receive love from himself.
Jaehyun sings a Carrie Underwood song, which is unexpected and delightful. His voice is low and soothing as he sings, much like how he talks.
Afterwards he sits next to Doyoung and drinks from Doyoung’s glass of wine without asking, which is okay. It’s unexpected, but it doesn’t irk Doyoung as he expects it to.
“What’re you gonna sing for me then?”
“Yeah, for me. I sang that for you, you know.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard the song before.”
“It’s a good song.”
Jaehyun nods. “Yeah. You should google the lyrics.”
“Okay. What’s the name?”
“Twisted.” He slaps Doyoung’s knee. “So what’re you gonna sing?”
He feels spontaneity rise up, terrifying, awful, but also exciting. It’s scary, horrifying, but for once the risk feels worth it, if there’s a chance he can make Jaehyun laugh. He gets up and sings Shinee’s Lucifer, and Jaehyun laughs so much he cries when Doyoung makes a point of doing the dance as he reaches the chorus.
He goes to the gym the next day, and meets the manager, Yuta, who shakes his hand with a firm grip and a pretty smile. “Jaehyun speaks very highly of you.”
“It’s lovely to meet you,” Doyoung says. Yuta is nice, but also slightly terrifying. Donghyuck and his friend Sicheng are racing office chairs behind Yuta’s back, but he seems happy to ignore them so that he can examine Doyoung in terrifying detail.
“Likewise. Jaehyun is stretching in the yoga room, third door on the left through that corridor on the right. You can head on through.”
True to his word, Jaehyun is stretching. He smiles happily when he sees Doyoung arrive. “Hey!”
“Hi.” He shuffles his feet nervously.
“So, what would you like to do?”
“I really don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever used gym equipment before.”
“Well we don’t have to use the equipment if you don’t want to. Do you like to dance?”
“What kind of dance?”
Jaehyun shrugs. “Whatever you like. Taeyong mentioned that you used to dance with him.”
He laughs nervously. “In college. It’s been a very long time since I attempted any kind of dance that wasn’t the Macarena.”
“Well I figured dance might be a good place to start since you like routine, right? Steady practice and stuff. Then if you enjoy it maybe we could start doing it bi-weekly or even weekly.”
“You...” he swallows back emotions. “You’d do something like that for me?”
Jaehyun squints up at him like he’s asked something weird. “Of course I would.”
So they dance.
Doyoung is bad at first, almost pathetically so, and Jaehyun does an awful job of hiding his amusement. They laugh for hours, until Doyoung forgets to check the time, until he stops checking his shoelaces are still double tied, until he thinks back on the day and can’t remember the last time he had to clench his hands to ground himself.
The sky begins to darken, and with aching muscles, even Jaehyun begins to relent. He stretches, rolling his neck, and then looks at Doyoung with something veiled behind his eyes. “Do you wanna come over for dinner?”
He feels the panic settle in again. “I really need to go home and shower.”
Jaehyun nods. “I can wait here, if you’d like. I can shower and change my clothes here and then meet you when you’re ready. It’s a Sunday, right? There’s no rush.”
“Yeah, of course. Besides, I feel like you’re the kind of guy that needs to be caught up on a lot of cool films.”
“I don’t watch much television,” Doyoung admits.
“Would you like to come to my apartment after you’ve showered and have some food while we watch a film?” Jaehyun asks. “As always, there’s no pressure. Don’t feel like you have to.”
He doesn’t feel like he has to, just that he wants to. “Yes,” he whispers, too clogged up with emotions to hide his fear. He knows his jaw is shaking, so he tries to clench his teeth. “If you don’t mind waiting for me.”
“I’ve never minded waiting for you.”
Jaehyun makes a spicy stir-fry that puts Doyoung’s salads to shame, and then puts on a film that makes Jaehyun laugh but that Doyoung really doesn’t understand.
“But why do they all want to kill him?” Doyoung asks for maybe the third time. “He returned the money they wanted, and he hasn’t killed anyone. I don’t understand this vengeance. What are they avenging?”
“It’s more the dishonour,” Jaehyun explains, ever patient. “They were robbed, and therefore they’ve lost a lot of authority. If they don’t capture him and kill him, none of their rivals will take them seriously anymore.”
Doyoung frowns. “It feels like a weak plot.”
“It’s an action-comedy, Doyoung. Not many films in this genre have a particularly strong plot.”
“Stop apologising.” Jaehyun nudges his shoulder with his own. He’s shorter than Doyoung, but it feels like he’s twice as wide. Where Doyoung is spindly and fragile, Jaehyun seems firm and grounded.
Jaehyun cracks a smile, still looking at the television screen. “Don’t make me smack you.”
“You wouldn’t,” Doyoung dares to say.
Jaehyun’s smile softens at the edges. “You’re right,” he murmurs. “I’d never deliberately hurt you.”
Doyoung gets home at midnight, entering his dark, silent apartment.
He washes his face, brushes his teeth, then goes to bed.
The following morning, despite how tired he is, he wakes up at seven thirty, and gets up after his second alarm.
At seven forty, he goes downstairs to find Jaehyun waiting, leaning against the wall with two bottles of electrolyte water.
That night, he gets home.
His apartment is silent.
He cleans his kitchen and makes his lunch for the following day.
He sits on his couch and fiddles with the television, but there’s nothing on that he wants to watch.
He cleans his bathroom again for a lack of something better to do.
He rings Taeyong.
“Hello Taeyong,” he says. “Do you remember when I was in love with you?”
Taeyong makes a sleep noise. “Doyoung, it’s almost midnight. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Do you remember?”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Can you please tell me why you never asked me about it? I knew even at the time that you were aware of my feelings.”
Taeyong hums. “I guess I was waiting for you to decide what you wanted to do. I didn’t want to pressure you either way; you’ve always been one of the most important people to me.”
“But you never loved me back, right?”
Taeyong’s voice is soft. “I think... if you’d asked, there would have been a chance. I loved you, even back then, when we first met, I loved you so deeply, but I could see you were torn up inside, and I didn’t know how to help you with that. I still don’t, and it... it upsets me more than it probably should. I’ve just always wanted you to be as happy as you deserve.”
“You’re my best friend,” Doyoung says, voice thick. “I love you. I love you very much.”
“And you’re mine too,” Taeyong says, voice warm and soft like blankets in winter. “I love you with all of my heart, Doyoung. Why are you asking about this now?”
“I think I’m in love with Jaehyun.”
“Oh sweetie,” Taeyong says, “Have you only just realised?”
“No, but I’m only just starting to consider doing something about it.”
“You have to realise he loves you too, right?”
“I’m really not sure, Taeyong.”
“Take the evening to think about it, and about what you want,” Taeyong says softly. “And know that whatever happens, you’re surrounded by people that adore you. We’d do anything for you.”
After a couple more minutes they hang up.
Doyoung sits in his silent apartment and tries to imagine another person’s heartbeat, what it would sound like in this dead space, what it would feel like beneath his palm.
The next day he’s behind the cash register, ringing up a purchase from a local businessman who likes to ask Doyoung to order in obscure finance books.
Doyoung passes over the hardbacks. “Thank you for your purchase. Have a great day, Sir.”
“Are you single?”
He freezes. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Ten peer around a shelf to watch, and he’s more than painfully aware that Jaehyun has lowered the book he’s reading to watch too. “Uh. Yes. I’m single.”
“Would you like to go on a date sometime?”
He swallows and looks at his hands. While they’d danced on Sunday, Jaehyun had said he has pretty hands. He hates his hands, but Jaehyun had said they were pretty. Delicate. As he tries to think of an answer, he sees Jaehyun pass, putting his book back quietly and leaving the shop. The door closes behind him with a click, and Ten shakes his head violently at Doyoung, pointing towards the door, mouthing, ‘FOLLOW HIM!’
“Sorry,” he says helplessly to the guy who likes finance. “I’m really sorry, but I have to go. I think my friend is upset.”
“Oh, that’s fine,” the guy says with a small frown. “But about a date-“
“I can’t,” Doyoung says, ducking under the bar. “I’m in love with the friend that’s upset, and now I have to go. Sorry. Have a great day.”
“Thank you,” he hears faintly as he leaves the shop. He’s so dismayed by the thought of Jaehyun’s upset that he forgets his phone and his dignity and runs right into the gym, where Yukhei is frowning behind the desk.
“My dude,” he says warily. “S’up?”
“Has Jaehyun just come through?”
“Yep. You gonna keep breaking his heart, or can I leave you to both be adults?”
“Oh come on, even you can’t be this dense.”
“I really don’t understand.”
“He’s been pining after you for months, and he’s just come through here close to tears because some dude in a fancy suit asked you out. Are you gonna let him down gently or go back to your store and let Yuta sort this out like he’s been doing for the past quarter of a year?”
“He...” his voice cuts out. “He’s been pining after me?”
“Damn you’re stupid.” Yukhei rolls his eyes. “Of course he has.”
“I’m. I love him. I’m in love with him.”
Yukhei’s eyes widen. “Wait, you are? Fuck, congratulations! Go make out with him or something then!”
“Where is he?”
“Probably in his office, crying into his kale juice. Up the stairs, first door on the right.”
“Thank you, Yukhei.” He pauses by the door. “Jungwoo is single, and he’s interested, but he’s been mistreated a lot. You’ll need to be careful.”
Yukhei breaks into an impossibly wide smile. “Fucking awesome! Thank you!”
The Doyoung is running up the stairs, and he can hear Yuta’s warm murmuring. It stops when he knocks on the door, and Yuta opens it with a carefully cold expression. Behind him Jaehyun is hunched over, facing away from the door.
“Can I help you?”
“I’m in love with Jaehyun and I would like to talk to him privately about it please.”
Yuta’s eyes widen and he steps back a little, blinking rapidly. “I see.” He clears his throat. “Fair enough. I’ll give you some privacy then.”
Doyoung walks in and closes the door behind Yuta’’s exit, looking at Jaehyun’s back. “Did you hear me?”
“I don’t want your pity, Doyoung,” Jaehyun murmurs. His voice is thick, like he’s been crying or coughing.
“It’s not pity,” Doyoung says. “I mean, in a way I pity you, because I’m a very difficult person. I hate straying from routine, and new things scare me, even small changes upset me beyond belief. I haven’t had sex in over a year now, and my last relationship was like... four years ago. I’m really boring, and I know that. I don’t know what I have to offer you, but I love you. I do. I loved Taeyong, years ago, and I never told him, so we lost what we could have had. Weirdly enough, I’m glad that I waited, because I got to meet you, and I think loving you has made me a better person. You’ve helped me grow. I could love you for that alone, but as it turns out, I’ve tried multiple times to make a list of the reasons I’m in love with you, but I’ve yet to find an end.” He coughs awkwardly. “I’m rambling, aren’t I? Well, to conclude, I’m in love with you. I’m really scared, but I’m in love with you.”
Jaehyun finally turns around, and his eyes are red. “I wish you’d stop putting yourself down like that. There’s nothing wrong with you.”
“There is,” he says gently, not wanting to upset Jaehyun further. “But thank you for saying otherwise.”
“There seriously isn’t anything wrong with you, stop that!” Jaehyun snaps, shocking Doyoung into silence. “You’re weird, different, but that doesn’t mean you’re wrong. Being different doesn’t mean I can’t love you.”
Being different doesn’t mean I can’t love you.
“You...” Doyoung trails off. “You love me?”
“I’ve liked you since the moment I met you,” Jaehyun says thickly. “I’ve loved you since you made me that mediocre salad without cucumber.”
“Oh,” Doyoung says faintly. “I think I might be having a panic attack.”
He bends down, head between his knees, and suddenly the situation is catching up with him and he’s hyperventilating. Jaehyun runs over and rubs his back, murmuring reassurance that make Doyoung tear up even as he chokes for breath.
“This isn’t – “ he struggles for a second “- very romantic.”
“We can do romance later, just focus on not dying,” Jaehyun says. He’s laughing a little, but he’s crying. It turns out he’s an ugly crier, which is oddly nice. Doyoung likes his ugly crying face.
“I like your weird crying face,” he says.
Jaehyun laughs. “I like your weird everything face.”
“Would you like to come up to my apartment?” Doyoung asks. “No one but me has been in it for about three years now.”
Jaehyun, ever patient Jaehyun, just looks at him. “Only if you’re ready to have me there.”
“Are you sure?”
“What, no shrine to me?” Jaehyun asks, looking around. “I’m disappointed.”
Doyoung tenses, waiting for the inevitable frustration. “I’m sorry, but can you please put your shoes on the rack and hang your jacket up, then go and wash your hands? I’m really sorry, I just-“
“Stop apologising,” Jaehyun says. He takes off his shoes, hangs up his coat, then claps his hands together. “Where’s your nearest sink?”
“On the right,” Doyougn says faintly. “You don’t mind?”
“Why would I mind washing my hands and hanging up my coat? This is your home, your safe space. I’d never go out of my way to make you uncomfortable, especially over something so small.”
He’s never been made to feel like it’s a small request. The last guy in his apartment had laughed incredulously when Doyoung had asked, and then after the sex he’d put his shoes on to walk through the apartment, laughing like it was a joke, waiting for Doyoung to catch on.
He didn’t catch on. He’d asked, very politely, for the guy to leave, and then he’d washed the floors with bleach and had never invited anyone back to his apartment since.
He realises that he’s never felt like much more than an inconvenience before Jaehyun.
Jaehyun returns with damp hands.
“You’re in love with me?” Doyoung asks him, in the middle of his small hallway.
Jaehyun meets his eyes and nods. “A lot. Like, I daydream about you all the time. I think about films I think you’d enjoy, and food I want to make for you, and about your pretty hands that I want to hold all of the time. I want to kiss you. I want to see your beautiful smile more. I want to go running with you every morning and listen to you laugh and watch as you argue with Ten and sing along to the radio with you and dance with you. Kim Doyoung, you’re the strangest man I have ever met, but I’m in love with you. I’ve never loved anyone like I love you.”
“Jaehyun,” Doyoung says softly, full of dismay. “I just realised that I don’t know your family name.”
Jaehyun puts a hand to his mouth, and for a second Doyoung thinks the shaking of his shoulders is crying, but then the hand moves and Jaehyun’s booming laughter echoes around the silence of the apartment, filling the cold corners with light and warmth and a happiness that the rooms haven’t seen in years. “Jung,” he wheezes, “My name is Jung Jaehyun.”
Doyoung swallows. “Thank you. Jung Jaehyun, I’m in love with you too.”
“Would you like to kiss?”
“I’d like that very much.”
Jaehyun’s dimples remain the most adorable thing Doyoung has ever had the pleasure of seeing, and that’s what he focuses on as Jaehyun gently pushes him into the wall, until he presses their lips together, feather light, until he moans a little, deep in his chest, and opens his mouth, until he can’t focus on anything at all.
He wakes up at seven thirty, and gets up after his second alarm.
He has a bowl of cereal for breakfast, then half a grapefruit.
Jaehyun wanders through from the bedroom, grabbing a banana and bending down to kiss Doyoung on the forehead, right above the tiny scar he still has from the punch to the face. “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” Doyoung says. He swallows down his nerves and listens to the sound of Jaehyun's heartbeat in his apartment. “Are you ready to go for our run?”
“Of course. I’ve been getting up early ever since we started, so I’m used to being awake at this time now,” Jaehyun says warmly. “I think my life needed a little bit of routine.”
“I think my life needed a little bit of you,” Doyoung says, just to watch Jaehyun smile.
He isn’t disappointed.