The lecture hall falls silent.
Hyungjun, who arrives just in time for attendance, enters the lecture hall, ruffling his sweaty bangs. He turns to see Wonjin waving to him from the third row. The younger naturally goes to his side, puts down his bag, and sits before Wonjin begins showering him with affections.
“Were you running? You’re cuter with your bangs like that.”
The elder says it naturally, without even blushing, and goes to poke Hyungjun’s cheek before the younger grabs his hand to stop him. Despite the surprising strength in his grip, Wonjin laughs and gazes at Hyungjun.
“Ah, why are you so handsome when you smile?”
Feeling his face burning hot, Hyungjun struggles to fix his eyes forward.
The paper in front of Hyungjun is passed to him by his seatmate.
“This is the next page, isn’t it tough? Cute.” Cute again. This guy and his cutes.
“I’ve been listening,” Hyungjun grumbles in a small voice.
Somehow, even though the younger’s gaze is fixed forward and it’s Wonjin who’s turned to look at him, it seems like Hyungjun is the one who can’t focus on the lecture.
After the two hours pass, Hyungjun slowly begins to pack his bags. Wonjin had packed up before the lecturer finished, but he sits and waits until the younger is ready to go. When he finishes, Hyungjun leans back against the chair and stretches. As he sighs, Wonjin pinches his cheeks again. This time, the younger doesn’t have the energy to swat his hand away.
“Hyung, aren’t you worried about the quiz next week?”
“What is there to worry about?” Wonjin puts a finger to the younger’s lips to silence his panicked words. Hyungjun bites his lip and scowls, ordering the elder to remove his hand.
“Come and study at my place on Friday.”
“Can I really?”
Hyungjun suddenly sits up straight at the enthusiasm. The desk shakes, and despite an oh, careful from Wonjin, his notes rustle and fall out of his open bag.
“Hyung, do you wanna come to dinner with me?”
Wonjin momentarily raises his head from furiously typing on his laptop to answer briefly. “Can’t, going with Eunji. She finished her internship today.”
Eunji. Those two syllables leaving Wonjin’s mouth shoot him through the heart and make him sit back down. Wonjin’s Eunji. Hyungjun is at a loss for words, even if his thoughts are racing. She’s Wonjin’s first girlfriend, they’ve been dating ever since they began university. Wonjin’s official first love. Sometimes, in the classes Hyungjun and Wonjin share, others would bring up his adoration for Eunji and make a mess of the younger boy’s feelings. Today, Hyungjun will try to get some answers.
“Does Eunji-noona hate the way you treat me?”
Upon hearing the question, Wonjin replies with a smile. “No? Why would she hate it? She thinks you’re cute, too.” The elder punctuates his answer with a press of the cheek and Hyungjun carefully removes his hand. “Better get going. Enjoy your meal, cutie.”
Hyungjun stares at Wonjin with the biggest puppy eyes he can manage, pouting and nodding. It’s always his last resort in making Wonjin stay. Usually, when Hyungjun does this, the elder can’t help but give in. Usually, Wonjin will give up on their friends’ drinking parties to take Hyungjun to the cinema for that expression. The younger sends a silent message with his eyes: This time with me, not Eunji. But it doesn’t seem to work on boys with girlfriends.
Wonjin takes his call with Eunji in one hand and waves farewell to Hyungjun with the other. He mouths ah, cute and the corners of Hyungjun’s lips turn his scowl into a smile. Even though it’s not for him, Wonjin is handsome like this. But how can Hyungjun enjoy his meal, enjoy anything, without Wonjin? He stares blankly at the closed classroom door with a resentful gaze.
Hyungjun finds it difficult to think of anyone but Wonjin to invite for dinner. Some are already out, others are already in their resident halls. When he entertains the idea of an early night in, Minhee calls.
“Hyungjun, did you have dinner?”
“Then eat with me. Where are you?”
“At the vending machine in front of the administration wing.”
“Ah, I’m just around the corner. Be right there.”
As he hangs up, Minhee appears.
“You must’ve been nearby already.”
“Oh. I was meeting Yunseong. He had his internship interview today.” Several 1,000-won bills were sitting snugly in Minhee’s hand, no doubt from Yunseong.
“I’ll buy the drinks.” Even as he speaks, Minhee can’t hide his happiness as he takes his boyfriend’s money out of his wallet. Hyungjun accepts the cider and puts the coins in his pocket with a blank but envious expression that Minhee certainly doesn’t notice.
“We went to the amusement park and he said he never bought a headband so he suddenly put this on and asked me to take a picture. Isn’t he cute?”
Minhee hasn’t stopped talking about Yunseong for 20 minutes. The tall boy had never been much of a talker until he met Yunseong. Now, he brags about how cute and lovely his boyfriend is at a pace that would put any rapper to shame. For the second time that day, Hyungjun is tired of couples and feels his appetite dissipate. He puts his chopsticks down and sighs dramatically, loud enough to draw the attention of every customer.
“How are you and Wonjin-hyung doing? Did he break up with Eunji-noona yet?”
Minhee tilts his head and looks at Hyungjun’s eyes. The shorter boy hurriedly avoids his gaze and pushes the rice on his plate toward the soybean paste to keep himself busy. Minhee watches cautiously and the “comforting” words to follow are quite something.
“Hey, cheer up. I thought Yunseong-hyung was straight, too, don’t you remember?”
Hyungjun bites his lower lip to hide his emotions. “But he actually seems straight. He has a girlfriend.”
Minhee sighs and shakes his head at Hyungjun’s mutterings.
Is Hyungjun really the only person to experience a love this miserable? Seeing couples walking along dimmed streets, Hyungjun resents himself for thinking of Wonjin doing the same with Eunji.
It happens shortly after he leaves Minhee. It’s still a while before curfew and there’s a single shadow under the beam of the streetlights on the deserted road. Even from afar, Hyungjun knows that the figure is Ham Wonjin. And the person who Wonjin is waiting for is none other than Song Hyungjun.
“You’re supposed to be with Eunji-noona, why are you here?” Hyungjun has been exhausted by his thoughts of the older all day, so his question naturally has a sharp tone.
Despite the chill between them, Wonjin approaches him with a wide smile. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
Hyungjun’s heart is set ablaze at the thought of Wonjin choosing him. Reading the younger’s gaze, Wonjin exhales and answers the unasked question.
“We broke up.”
For the first time in his life, Song Hyungjun doesn’t know what to say
“I’m a bit down, can you stay with me?” Wonjin tries to smile.
Hyungjun grows weak and quickly grabs his arm in an act of comfort. “Let’s go somewhere. Before all the stores close.”
Unlike Hyungjun who moves quickly, Wonjin is motionless. When the younger looks back to tug him along, Wonjin is crying. Tears stream down between the hands covering his face.
“Hyung, why are you crying? Why are you…” A bit flustered, Hyungjun comes close and rubs circles on his back. Wonjin lowers his hands and brings the younger into his arms.
Hyungjun hums, to show that he’s listening.
“Eunji said she thinks I don’t like her anymore.”
Wonjin voice cracks. He’s the first to pull away from the embrace and look into Hyungjun’s eyes.
“Thank you for comforting me. I think I’ll survive. As long as I got you.”
Wonjin’s last words make Hyungjun’s heart race in his ribcage.
He can’t do this anymore.
Even when with Minhee, he has to push his feelings deep down. He has to promise to stop being so greedy and keep a distance between them. He has to be satisfied with being nothing more than Wonjin’s best friend.
The news of the breakup spreads quickly until it reaches the biggest gossip on campus. Said girl comes into the lecture hall, beelining for Wonjin, who is playing with Hyungjun’s hands.
“Woah, Wonjin-ah, did you really abandon Eunji? I never thought of you as garbage.”
Hyungjun’s eyes widen, trying to connect the two stories. Wonjin didn’t get dumped? He dumped her? Avoiding her gaze, Wonjin loses his smile as she glares.
Discouraged by the lack of reaction from their audience in the lecture hall, just like a switch, the girl ruffles Wonjin’s hair with an “Ah, I’m just kidding. Just kidding…”
Wonjin nervously fixes his bangs, turning to Hyungjun’s burning gaze and mouthing what? The younger boy startles, not noticing that he had been staring, plays back with a nothing and looks forward, carefully listening to a lecture that hasn’t even started yet.
“Wonjin, do you wanna come eat with us?”
A few classmates ask when the lecture hall is nearly empty. Wonjin shakes his head and points to Hyungjun, who is quietly sleeping beside him. Hyungjun was in a state where he could be awakened with any disturbance, but Wonjin is careful to make small movements as the younger boy falls asleep again.
By the time Hyungjun enters deep sleep, he hears what he can’t distinguish as either dream or reality.
“I like you.”
He thinks he fell asleep at the end of the sentence.
A sleeping Wonjin is what Hyungjun sees when he wakes up.
“Hyung, wake up.”
It’s suddenly darkening outside and the campus wing is free of any footsteps. Hyungjun shakes Wonjin’s shoulders. Wonjin, drunk on sleep, hums as a sort of reply and covers his face with his arms. Thinking it would be difficult to wake him up, Hyungjun tries to lift him. Wonjin sits up when he touches him, blinks rapidly, and knocks out again. To make sure he wakes up fully this time, Hyungjun cups the boy’s face in both his hands and moves in close.
“Hyung, you have to wake up.”
Wonjin skillfully removes Hyungjun’s hands from his face with closed eyes.
“Hyung, my wrist is sore.”
“Ah, sorry. You almost gave me a heart attack, Hyungjun-ah.” Wonjin lets go of the injured hand.
“Let’s go eat.”
Wonjin smiles awkwardly, gets up first, and goes to find something to tend to the younger’s wrist.
Even though dinner is long gone, the pasta restaurant is filled with people. All the other tables are filled by couples, definitely a strange choice for two college students. Hyungjun allows himself to think of himself and Wonjin as one of those couples. He hastily dismisses the thought with a bite of pasta.
“There’s a lot of couples here, aren’t there?”
Wonjin says what Hyungjun wouldn’t, so he naturally chokes a bit. the elder boy rushes to pass a water glass to him. After calming down, Hyungjun decides that he should avoid Wonjin’s gaze for the rest of the meal. So it ends there, and Hyungjun begins to eat with his head low. Staring at Hyungjun, Wonjin feels he should also start eating again.
And so the silent meal continues. Wonjin breaks the stillness with the sound of his fork hitting the plate.
“Was it good? I enjoyed it.”
Hyungjun nods in the middle of a bite, cheeks puffed with pasta. Cute. Is there any other way to describe Song Hyungjun? The younger boy stares back.
“I like those who eat well.”
That remark could easily be ignored or laughed off. But Hyungjun struggles to act calm and fails to react normally. He gains the composure to smile and open his mouth.
“What, does hyung like me?”
Hyungjun could easily expect Wonjin to say “yes” or “of course.” Even if he doesn’t mean it like that, the younger is determined to hear it. And if Wonjin answers, he hopes that he’ll say it with sincerity.
“Yes. I like you.”
“I like you too, hyung.”
Just as Hyungjun imagined it.
When they finish eating, the streets are quiet, unlike the bustling restaurants. Wonjin naturally heads in the direction of the residence hall and buys an ice cream bar at the convenience store on the way. When Hyungjun breaks it, the elder leaves the bigger half for him. Hyungjun would rather have the smaller piece, but accepts the courteous gesture and takes a bite.
“I’m going to your place tomorrow, right?”
Hyungjun freezes. “What?”
“To study for that quiz you’re so worried about.”
“Are you actually coming?”
“Of course.” Wonjin flashes a smile at the younger boy. The street lights cast dark shadows on his face.
Feeling the strangeness of silence between them, Wonjin is first to speak.
“We’re already here.”
“I’ll watch you go.”
Since breaking up with Eunji, Wonjin has been acting more like his lover than ever before. Hyungjun enters the glass door of the residence hall, stretching his stiff body. He looks back and sees Wonjin waving at him from outside. Hyungjun knows that anyone else would think that they’re dating. The impossibility of that thought weighs down on him.
As he mounts the stairs, he forms a plan to separate his heart from his mind. But the deep depths of his heart disagree strongly with his reason. By the time Hyungjun reaches his room, he’s already looking forward to the next day.
After barely making it through first period, Hyungjun heads to the water fountain. He’s especially tired from an earlier morning, waking up early to make sure that his hair is just right for today. As Wonjin begins to approach from afar, Hyungjun quickly pulls out a mirror and checks his condition. As he appears more clearly, he is not alone. One, two, three, four… the familiar faces of their classmates. He’s surrounded by people and still hasn’t noticed Hyungjun yet. It wasn’t until the group was a few steps away that the younger boy could pick up on the conversation.
“I walked him home.”
“And you made a promise to him today?”
“No, that was on Wednesday.”
“Ah, Wonjin, you’re so cute, really.”
One classmate pets Wonjin’s hair as the others burst into laughter. So cute. Wonjin is so cute, what to do? They tease him a bit to make him blush more. Shy, Wonjin scratches the back of his neck, accepting the familiar comments. Cute. Wonjin is now the subject of the word which used to cut deep into Hyungjun’s heart.
Wonjin quickly spots Hyungjun and pushes the others aside. Ham Wonjin, the cutie, is nowhere to be found and is replaced by Ham Wonjin, the always-dependable hyung who loves Song Hyungjun to death.
“When did you get here?” Wonjin ruffles Hyungjun’s bangs playfully. “Let’s go.”
They leave the gossiping students behind them and walk to the crosswalk, holding hands. Although the older seems mostly unaffected as he looks up, Hyungjun is a different story. It feels as if all blood is rushing to his hand in contact with Wonjin’s, as if his heart is beating in his palm. Wonjin’s room, less than ten minutes off-campus, feels more distant than his home in Tongyeong.
“Hyung, my hand…”
“What about your hand?”
Worried about his nerves coupled with clammy palms, Hyungjun lets go first. However, Wonjin quickly grabs the younger’s hand again. Hyungjun tries to resist, but the elder’s grip is tight.
“Your hands are so small and cute.”
Hyungjun wishes Wonjin wouldn’t say that. He examines their intertwined hands before giving in and relaxing his arm.
“I was just gonna skip today, but you ruined it.”
Wonjin pouts in disappointment. “What’s wrong?”
In this moment, Hyungjun realizes that it’s now or never for their vague relationship. For their unusual relationship in which the outward appearance and hidden feelings are complete opposites. Hyungjun doesn’t like that he doesn’t know the pace they’re going at, that Wonjin already acts like his lover, that Wonjin’s affectionate words and gestures are just a habit of his. The younger boy takes a deep breath, raises his head just enough to make eye contact, and speaks. As he continues, his voice wavers until he’s on the verge of tears.
“Why do you always say I’m cute? Is that all you can say?”
Now it’s time for Hyungjun to tell the truth. Time to tell Wonjin that his heart races whenever he calls him cute, time to tell Wonjin how he feels when they hold hands. Time to tell Wonjin how he felt waiting for their promise today. He has to say it all quickly, but the words won’t come out.
Wonjin watches Hyungjun struggle to speak until he opens his mouth first.
“No. There’s more.”
Hyungjun stares at Wonjin with wide pupils. Hyungjun forgets his question, wondering what there is more of, until he pulls himself out of his imaginary confession. Do you only think of me as cute? He didn’t imagine any response to that question, especially not the one that Wonjin gave.
“What is it?”
“Can I really tell you?”
Hyungjun delays his reply to admire how Wonjin’s eyes sparkle at the question. “Yes.”
However, the following question doesn’t reveal the feelings Hyungjun was wishing for.
“Can I tell you later?”
“Later, can I tell you everything I want to say?”
“What do you want to say?”
“I can’t tell you yet.”
Both of them know that this sounds ridiculous and they suddenly burst into laughter. Wonjin playfully smiles at Hyungjun. When they quiet down again, Wonjin gulps as if he’s nervous.
Hyungjun looks up from his shoes, holding his breath.
“I like you.”
Wonjin closes in on Hyungjun until their lips are touching. The younger boy firmly shuts his eyes to tend to his rapidly-beating heart. This scene he’s been playing over and over in his head feels much more unrealistic than his imagination. It’s such a tired cliché, but Hyungjun truly feels as if the world has stopped for them. Just when his lips feel warm, Wonjin pulls away. The elder manages to look into Hyungjun’s eyes and speak with an intense blush dusting his cheeks.
“But you’re not running away.”
First of all, Hyungjun had absolutely no intention of running away, no matter what Wonjin did. And he certainly would never run away from this. In this moment, Hyungjun understands why Wonjin’s classmates see him as cute. The thought makes the younger boy smile. It’s been a while since he’s been at a loss for words. Instead, he decides to go with his honest thoughts.
“Hyung, you’re honestly a fool.”
Wonjin blinks. “Huh?”
“Don’t you know why I’m not running away?”
Wonjin still can’t look back at Hyungjun. He worries that the other boy will leave if he doesn’t speak quickly, but still cannot do much more than open his mouth. A soft “hyung” leaves Hyungjun’s lips, and Wonjin looks directly at him. The younger boy carefully raises his head. Hyungjun smiles back at Wonjin.
“Here’s my answer.”
Hyungjun inches his face closer until they kiss again. Wonjin hesitates, a bit taken-aback, before wrapping an arm around Hyungjun’s waist to pull him closer.
From now on, Hyungjun will no longer have sleepless nights whenever Wonjin walks him home. Hyungjun will no longer have to worry about blushing at every small thing Wonjin does. And Hyungjun will no longer have to guess what Wonjin means when he calls him cute.