jaehyun's mom drives him and his bags the half mile over to yuta's house.
it’s a sunny tuesday morning in late august, as fine as august mornings come. most flowers are gone but the world is still green and lush. school started again last week, and it’s a bit weird seeing streets and gardens gape empty after being littered with kids all summer.
the toyota stands by the curb, doors and trunk open. yuta comes out through the front door, adding something to the pile of stuff already waiting on the sidewalk before hurrying back inside. yuta’s dad stands on the sidewalk, looking between the pile and the trunk as if trying to think of the best way to tetris all of it in there. he raises a hand in greeting when he spots them coming down the street.
jaehyun’s mom pulls up and stops a couple of meters behind.
“sato!” jaehyun’s mom grins and heads over to chat, leaving jaehyun to his own devices with his luggage. it’s not as much as yuta has apparently packed - one suitcase and two large duffels, plus his backpack. the upside to california is that you don’t need to bring winter clothes.
he can hear yuta’s voice from inside the house; “hey mom, where’s my…” followed by a reply in japanese from a female voice. the next moment yuta’s mom also appears, crossing the front yard out to the street, barefoot in a pair of crocs.
“hi, jeffrey,” she says, giving jaehyun a smile and a squeeze of the arm. “you all packed?”
“yep.” jaehyun nods down towards his bags which he has dumped next to yuta’s pile. “good to go.”
“when does the semester start for you?”
“next week. monday.”
“oh, good. then you have a couple of days to settle in. are you getting a new roommate this year?”
“no, it’s gonna be me and win-, uh, winston again.”
yuta’s mom hums. “second year already, can you believe it?” she adds, turning to jaehyun’s mom. “and yuta’s on his third. time sure flies, huh?”
jaehyun’s mom shakes her head. “tell me about it. feels like the other day that he started high school.”
yuta comes out of the house again, carrying a plastic bag of unknown contents. his long bangs hang messy over his face.
“we said ten, right?” jaehyun grins at him. “are you done soon, or what?”
yuta gives him a mock-dirty look behind his parents’ backs. “almost.”
it takes some twenty minutes to strategically fill the car and for yuta to run back in another couple of times for things he forgot, but then they both stand on the sidewalk and get hugged by their parents.
“drive safe, take lots of breaks,” jaehyun’s mom tells him in korean. “text me when you stop for the night, okay?”
jaehyun glances at yuta, probably getting similar admonitions in japanese.
“i love you.”
yuta’s dad pats the roof of the car when they get in. “take care of her, okay?” he tells yuta. “i’m not buying you a new one if you wreck it.”
the three of them stay on the street, waving after them until yuta turns the corner and they disappear out of sight.
“damn, no parade?” yuta says, under his breath even though they’re way out of earshot.
jaehyun chuckles. he sinks down in the seat, puts his elbow on the edge of the car door window and watches the bungalows and double-stories sail past.
he knows these streets like his own backyard. been running and biking up and down them for a decade. the house where his 5th grade crush lived (which he used to pass with butterflies in his stomach, in case she was outside). the gas station where he used to buy popsicles in the summers (pineapple were his favorites; one buck a piece). past the high school and the park, turn right and past the plaza with the mcdonalds and the smoothie place (where johnny asked out, and got rejected by, maya nguyen in front of all of her friends). up the overpass crossing the highway and then down the curving ramp, merging into the stream of cars.
this place where he grew up, where he lived most of his life, which he never doubted calling home up until a year ago.
you can’t blame him for getting a little sentimental. even if it’s not the first time he leaves.
he’s stirred from his thoughts when the car radio suddenly starts blaring. yuta fiddles with the buttons, looking between them and the road. he settles on a local station playing old rock classics or something, but doesn’t turn down the volume.
“at fucking last!” he yells over the shredding guitar. “we’re leaving!” he sends jaehyun a glance, a wild grin pasted over his face. “we’re on our way. we’re outta here!”
“yeah?” jaehyun yells back. “what about it?”
“i’ve been waiting for this for weeks already.” yuta speeds up a little, passing an old lady in a small ford. “byebye northbrook. byebye glenview.” he lifts a hand to wave out to his left. “byebye chicago!”
yuta called him a week ago.
“hey,” he said, sounding like he had food in his mouth. “do you want a ride to LA?”
“a what?” jaehyun asked. he had already booked his plane ticket.
“a ride,” yuta repeated. there was a pause and a swallowing sound. “dad’s getting a new car and they’re giving me his old one. i’m driving it down to cali.”
“driving? that’s gonna take, like, a week.”
“how else am i gonna get it down there?”
jaehyun shrugged to himself. “well, i dunno.”
“it’d be a bitch to drive the whole way myself, though. it’d be nice to have someone to switch off with.”
“i figured we could make it a four day trip. take some time to sightsee and do stuff. we don’t have to drive all day and night.”
“four days in a hot car with you or four hours on a plane? hmm, tough choice.”
yuta laughed. “come on, it’ll be fun. i pay for gas. you get there for free. how often do you get a chance to see the country like this?”
“where are we gonna sleep?”
“we’ll camp along the way. i’m gonna find a tent.” yuta smacked his lips. “don’t worry, jeffy. i’ve thought of everything.”
jaehyun sucked the inside of his lip in between his teeth, phone pressed to his ear. this was sudden. maybe he should ask yuta to give him some time to think it over. he could blame his ticket if necessary. it was refundable, but yuta didn’t have to know that.
“come ooon,” yuta said again when jaehyun stayed quiet. this time his voice dropped to whiny. “it’d be boring as fuck on my own. you’re the only one i can ask.”
“wow, i feel flattered,” jaehyun said dryly. “i’m the only one you know who’s also going to cali.”
the sound of yuta’s laugh drifted over the line again. high-pitched, breathy, unrestrained. jaehyun likes that sound.
“i didn’t mean it like that. i want you to come with me.”
jaehyun looked down at his feet.
“you know there’s not a lot of people i’d be willingly stuck with for half a week? but you’re one of them.”
yuta was buttering him up and he knew it. jaehyun wondered if he also knew how well it was working.
“i’ll pay for meals too. how about that?”
jaehyun let out a breath, sounding a lot like a sigh. “fine.”
“you’ll go?” yuta’s voice immediately perked up.
jaehyun felt a smile on his face. “i’ll go.”
he told johnny about the arrangement the next day. johnny turned up from his food to look at him, a concerned wrinkle between his brows.
“cross-country road trip with yuta? are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“why not?” jaehyun asked, despite having wondered the same thing.
johnny shrugged. “you seem to have been at each others' throats a bit lately. not a great setting for that. if you get in an argument you can’t really storm off into the desert.”
jaehyun felt heat rise to his cheeks. that hit a nerve. “none of us have ever stormed off anywhere.”
johnny cocked his brows. “fine. so you think you can stay friends for four days? being cooped up with someone like that can really get to you.” he peered up at jaehyun over his plate. as if this was more than a friendly warning. as if he genuinely wanted to know jaehyun’s thoughts on the subject.
“yeah,” jaehyun said.
he had taken advice from johnny many times. most of them maturely. but sometimes the extra year johnny had on him felt longer, bigger. sometimes feeling like the baby brother made him stubborn.
sometimes, there were things he couldn’t tell anyone. not even johnny.
“okay then,” johnny said. “i hope you guys have fun. when are you leaving?”
jaehyun glances over at yuta in the driver's seat. he’s tapping his fingers on the wheel, humming along to the song blasting from the car speakers. bruce springsteen. dancing in the dark.
it wasn’t just the long trip that had made him hesitate. or the risk of arguments.
but, too late to think about that now. jaehyun looks out the side window again. the clear blue sky, the shining cars, the smooth road ahead of them. it’s a good day.
nothing’s gonna happen. it’ll be fine.