when jaehyun wakes up, he’s alone in the tent. he kicks his sleeping bag off because it’s a hundred fucking degrees in there, rubs a hand over his eyes and listens for sounds outside.
he’s kind of surprised he fell asleep at all. yuta came back after a little while, straightened out his sleeping bag on his side of the tent and crawled down. jaehyun was still warm but he also felt naked lying there in just his underwear.
what was he supposed to say? what does one talk about after exchanging handjobs with one of your best friends? maybe one shouldn't say anything, and yuta was just following praxis, and jaehyun didn’t know because he had never done anything like this before.
yuta was checking something on his phone. then he pushed up on his elbow, looking over at jaehyun.
“should i turn off the lights, or?” he asked, hand reaching for the flash light hanging from the ceiling.
“uh,” jaehyun said. “sure.”
he located his sleeping bag and pulled at it, scooting around until it was underneath him. then he lay there, staring into the darkness, back stiff before even sleeping. but at some point he must have drifted off.
jaehyun sits on his knees and digs around on the floor for some clothes. he finds something t-shirt-looking and holds it up, immediately regretting it as his brain realizes what it is. yuta’s shirt from last night, crusty and stiff with dried semen.
he stuffs it back in under yuta's empty sleeping bag.
the car key is in the pocket on the tent wall and the car is outside, but yuta is nowhere to be seen. jaehyun stumbles off to some bushes to piss, then heads over to the shore of the lake.
the morning sunlight is sharp in the clear mountain air, throwing streaks of glitter out over the calm surface. he hunches down in the wet sand, rinsing off his hands before splashing water over his face and neck. it’s cool on his sticky skin. lines of reflected light play over the pebbles covering the sandy bottom.
jaehyun stretches up again, back protesting slightly. he runs his wet hands through his hair to push it away from his warm forehead.
it’s a beautiful morning, but jaehyun can’t really appreciate it.
he slips his glasses back on and squints out over the field, up towards the road and the hills, scanning for a familiar lanky figure.
a greying white man in cargo shorts sits on a camping chair outside his RV, parked not far from the tent. someone, probably his wife, flashes by in the open doorway. jaehyun considers walking over and asking if they have seen another young asian dude around this morning. then wonders if they were within ear shot last night.
jaehyun wishes he had put on a shirt after all. he turns his face down as he heads back to the car.
he finds some left-over bread and fruit from yesterday to chew on. when he feels like he can’t wait any longer, he calls yuta’s cell.
three signals, and then he picks up. “hey?”
“hey, dude. where are you?” jaehyun does his best not to sound like a worried girlfriend.
“oh, i just went for a walk.” there’s breathing into the receiver, but yuta’s voice is light. “woke up early so i figured i’d make the most of it. i’m on my way back, i’ll be there soon.”
he shows up some fifteen minutes later, strolling over the grass. “yo.”
jaehyun crosses his arms on the car roof over the passenger door. “morning.”
“i walked to the inn and then all the way up to the crest,” yuta says, unbidden, digging a waterbottle from the mess in the backseat. “the view from up there was great. you should have seen it.”
“yeah, well,” jaehyun says. “you didn’t wake me up.”
yuta shrugs. “i thought i’d let you sleep.” he takes a sip of water.
yuta swallows and grins. “you’re telling me that if i had tried to drag you up at the crack of dawn you wouldn’t have bitched me out?”
jaehyun looks away, out over the field. “yeah, i guess you’re right. whatever.”
yuta pauses with the bottle in his hand, watching jaehyun over the roof of the car. “dude. is something wrong?”
jaehyun stares at him for a moment. he almost wants to say something. is this how you’re gonna play it?
“no, i just…” jaehyun runs a hand through his hair, trying to smooth out any tension on his face. he nods towards the tent. “can you grab your stuff so we can pack up?”
yuta cocks his brows. “yeah, yeah, okay.”
it takes a while to get back out to the highway. other than giving jaehyun directions, yuta doesn't say much. i-70 soon meets i-15, heading straight south.
yuta digs in the glove compartment. he slips a CD into the slot above the radio.
“1q84, by haruki murakami,” reads a male voice. “book one, april to june. chapter one.”
looking back, august was jaehyun’s favorite part of the summer. him and yuta were back to normal (more or less, at least), johnny cut down on his hours, the weather wasn’t too hot. taeyong came up for another week and so, for a while, the old gang was back together.
going to the middle school yard in the evening, when all the kids had gone home, shooting hoops till midnight.
yuta whining when the rest of them slipped into korean. sometimes they’d do it just to annoy him.
watching a soccer game in yuta’s basement. doyoung was there mostly for the free chips, jaehyun for the company. yuta sitting next to him on the couch, perched at the edge of his seat, eyes fixed on the old tv screen. his hair curled slightly at the back of his neck, dark strands meeting tanned shoulders. mumbling come on, come on; groaning at missed opportunities. when they scored, he and johnny shot up, howling, high fiving each other.
him and yuta skyping sicheng, sprawled on the floor in jaehyun’s room, just dicking around. sicheng and yuta starting to talk about whatever anime they’ve been watching lately, but jaehyun didn’t protest. he’d lean back, watching sicheng’s face on the screen, listening to the japanese names and titles rolling off yuta’s tongue.
joyrides in johnny’s car, staying out till four am, high off red bull and watery beer. passing a cigarette around, even though none of them really smoke. yuta in torn jeans and a loose tank and a plaid button-up tied around his hips, the fabric dancing in the slight wind as he walked. his grin in the blurry, softly blue light just before dawn.
it has occurred to jaehyun that most of these happy memories involve yuta one way or another. but so what? when you live three blocks apart and have most of your friends in common, you're bound to end up hanging out on a regular basis.
also, yuta is fun to be around. they usually have a good time together.
they’ve been friends for several years. they know each other, inside and out.
you shouldn’t underestimate that.
they stop for lunch at a pizza hut near the highway in st. george, utah.
“we’re really sampling the local cuisines on this trip, huh?” jaehyun jokes when they’ve sat down.
yuta gives a faint grin. he digs in on one of his slices, looking out the window.
jaehyun feels his lips purse.
they eat in silence. jaehyun catches himself considering commenting on the weather.
it reminds him of a bad date. or worse - a one night stand dragging on longer than it should. jaehyun has had one of those. took her out for breakfast in the morning because he’s fucking compulsively polite. they both soldiered through the waffles and fruit smoothies even though he was hung-over and she mostly looked like she wanted to go home and take off the push-up bra.
at least he didn’t have to spend the whole day stuck with her in a car.
johnny had been right. or, almost anyway. if you end up having sex you can’t just run off into the desert.
the state line is just south of the city. a large road sign welcomes them to “the grand canyon state”, with the copper star and stylized sunrays of the arizona flag.
jaehyun’s in the passenger seat, following their dot on google maps. i-15 cuts through the north-west corner of the state, and some half hour later they enter nevada.
the transition from mountains to lowlands is so slow and gradual that jaehyun barely notices. it’s still long stretches of barren flats, almost void of life. sandy banks and dry shrubs, hills in the distance, the occasional cliff rising out of the earth. small towns, few and far between. the roads are calm; sometimes they go miles without meeting another car.
out here, it almost feels like a different world. as if the last couple of days have only been a dream.
jaehyun scoots down in his seat and looks out the side window.
if yuta wants to pretend nothing out of the ordinary happened last night, fine. they just need to get through the day. when they get to LA they can forget about the whole thing. they'll go their separate ways, won't have to see each other for a while, won't have to talk about it. and then it'll be like it never happened.
“do you wanna see the dam?” jaehyun asks when they approach las vegas.
hoover dam was on yuta’s list of potential sights to stop for. there wasn’t a lot on it for the last leg of their journey so yuta had sounded excited talking about it. but that was two days ago.
feels like forever.
“i dunno,” yuta says. “not really feeling it.” he tears his eyes away from the window to shoot jaehyun a glance. “unless you wanna?”
jaehyun shrugs. the dashboard reports the outside temperature as 93, while the AC is set on 75. he’s not particularly in the mood for leaving the car to be touristy with a yuta who barely talks to him. “doesn’t matter to me. we can skip it.”
“okay.” yuta turns to the window again.
jaehyun checks the clock on the dash. it’s not adjusted to west coast time, so it takes him an extra moment to do the math in his head. “if we keep driving we could make it to LA before nine.”
the road has grown, widened to sprawling, four-lane rivers of tarmac cutting across the desert. it runs straight through the city, past some tall hotels and anonymous-looking skyscrapers, snaking through looping intersections. but las vegas from the highway, on a weekday afternoon, is a largely uninteresting affair.
“you’ve been to vegas, right?”
yuta seems to sigh, but only quietly. “yeah, me and a couple guys drove up freshman year.”
“what did you think?”
yuta shrugs. “flashy and over-rated. unless you like throwing loads of money away.”
jaehyun laughs, and it earns him a tug at yuta’s mouth.
they stop at a gas station near the california border for a pee break and snacks. jaehyun comes out first, hunching down on the hot concrete to hide in the shadow of the car. the nevada sun beats down from a clear sky, pushing the temperature into triple digits.
soon yuta comes out of the small store, a bottle of diet coke in hand. as he comes closer jaehyun notices the way the fabric of his basketball shorts fall over his crotch, showing the slightly protruding shape of his junk.
jaehyun whips his eyes away. he shouldn’t get flustered over such a subtle suggestion of genitals, but he can’t help it. the memory of yuta’s dick in his hand is still fresh and painfully vivid.
jaehyun clears his throat. “yeah. let’s roll.”
yuta gets in behind the wheel and drives them back out onto the highway. jaehyun props his elbow on the window ledge and watches the landscape speeding up outside. he’s still thinking about dicks.
what if this wasn’t just a one time thing for him? what if this was the catalyst of some latent homoeroticism, buried deep within him, and now he will perpetually crave cock?
he finds that the idea of this doesn’t actually bother him much. if it turns out he wants to suck dick, what’s the big deal? would it drastically change his life? he’s not a homophobe or anything. he's not sure he'd want to take it up the ass, but it's not like that's mandatory.
jaehyun chews on the nail of his thumb. would he want to date another guy, though? that feels like a different issue. but he realizes he has never actually thought about it properly, what it might be like. just automatically pushed the idea out of his mind whenever it might have popped up. it wasn’t relevant, because he was straight, he liked girls, period.
he has some gay friends. there's ten and… well, mostly ten. but still. it's not a foreign concept in most of the circles he frequents.
his mom has that gay co-worker that she likes to talk about. she invited him and his husband over for dinner one time. his dad brought out the fine wine for the occasion. jaehyun passed by the dining room a couple of times during the evening. the four of them sat in there, chatting and laughing, like it was the most natural thing in the world.
but it’s one thing to be liberal, to be open minded, in public. it’s another when it’s your own family. when it’s your own son who might not you grandkids.
jaehyun sighs, leaning his head back. maybe he’s being too hard on them. he can’t say for sure how his parents would react if he brought home a boyfriend.
a boyfriend. he speaks the word in his mind, tasting it. it almost makes him blush again, but mostly because he feels like a tween girl having her first crush. it’s a word that comes with pad-locked diaries and hearts drawn in pink glitter pen.
he knows he's being dumb. it doesn’t have to be like that. grown men can have boyfriends too.
fine, jaehyun thinks to himself. he sits a little straighter in his seat. if he - hypothetically - were to be with a guy. what would his type even be like?
ten is the first one to pop into his head. perhaps the most obvious option. jaehyun tries to picture them together, but it only makes him grimace. he likes ten, but not like that.
sicheng (if he wasn’t painfully straight)? nah. junhui? lucas? that dude at the gym with the cheekbones and the abs?
jaehyun squirms in his seat. he knew it was coming, could feel it swim in the periphery of his mind, subconsciously pushed it away until he couldn’t anymore.
of course yuta comes to mind. he’s sitting right next to him. also last night wasn’t long ago. sex does things to you - hormones and pheromones and all sorts of psychochemical shit. hooking up with someone doesn't mean you have feelings for them.
but jaehyun knows that’s not all there is to it. there’s a reason they ended up doing it in the first place.
the problem with yuta is that he tends to raise more questions than answers. does anything yuta does mean anything? what does yuta fucking want?
he pretends to be keepin’ it real at all times but jaehyun knows he’s good at lying, at hiding parts of himself. turns out he’s all fun and games until things get serious, too close for comfort.
another memory, echoing through jaehyun’s head. a flashing image of yuta above him, eyes focused on him, something raw and naked in them. you look so good like this. you’re so fucking hot.
jaehyun wants to know. wants to turn his head and ask, not caring if it makes yuta uncomfortable. did you mean it?
jaehyun glances to his left. yuta has both hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, brows set tight. jaehyun crosses his arms over his chest and looks out the window again.
“i’m sorry, but i can’t listen to this shit anymore.” jaehyun hits the eject button on the radio, making the narrator fall quiet and the cd peek out of its slot. “got any second choice?”
yuta shrugs behind the wheel. “i don’t care. you pick something.”
jaehyun finds the case for 1q84 and puts the cd back. he looks through the other audiobooks for a moment before turning on the radio instead. he’s not in the mood for having to absorb anything literary.
he rolls the tuning button until he finds a frequency without static. some folksy country song is playing and jaehyun half expects yuta to protest; bark a curse and tell him to change the channel. but yuta doesn’t seem to have any opinions on his choice of music.
jaehyun sinks down in his seat, propping one foot up on the dashboard.
is this how it’s gonna be from now on? the unspoken hanging in the air between them whenever they’re alone, making them stiff and awkward, needing something to fill the silence.
will he still come over? to hang out with sicheng, but avoid jaehyun? will they be reduced to seeing each other only when the gang gets together, having to pretend everything’s like before? can one weak moment ruin a five year friendship?
jaehyun would rather go back to fighting.
maybe that’s what they need to do. fight it out. yell at each other a little. maybe jaehyun should tell yuta to punch him. sorry for seducing you?
doesn’t matter that it wasn’t his fault. that it wasn’t anyone’s fault. if yuta’s too proud to deal with it, it’ll be up to jaehyun.
they snail through the mojave at 70 miles per hour. hills loom in the distance like a mirage. when they finally reach them the only reward is a brief drive through some pale cliffs before they come out on the other side and descend into a new flat valley, just as sandy and dead as the last.
jaehyun sighs to himself. the radio is tuned in to a new local station, playing some one-hit-wonder from twenty years ago.
what does two guys dating even entail? it's hard to picture the two of them at a candle lit dinner. going to the movies for a romcom. at the carnival, yuta winning him a stuffed teddy at the shooting range. or would it be jaehyun winning the teddy?
jaehyun resists the urge to drag a hand over his face. he's being dumb again. it doesn't have to be like that. and none of them would be the girl. they're both men.
what has his dates with girls been like? getting coffee, talking. ice cream and a walk. one time a girl took him to play laser tag. that was fun.
it doesn't have to be anything. they could just hang out, like they usually do. do whatever they like doing together.
so just like being bros. except with sex. wouldn't that be friends with benefits?
jaehyun sighs again. how does he actually feel about yuta? sometimes it's a matter of suppressing the urge to strangle him. is that a solid foundation for a relationship?
but they enjoy each other's company. they know each other, have fun together. isn't that what's important?
jaehyun takes over for the last hour. he kneads his fingers around the wheel, chewing on his bottom lip. the numbers on the road signs marking the distance to LA shrink lower and lower. jaehyun suddenly catches himself wanting to slow down, like he’s running out of time.
i-15 runs through victorville and continues south towards the hills surrounding the city. halfway through the range jaehyun spots a sign declaring an upcoming rest area. he checks the mirrors before switching to the right-side lane, easing up on the gas.
“what are you doing?” yuta asks when jaehyun swerves them into the exit lane and slows down.
“i just wanna stretch my legs,” jaehyun says.
yuta frowns at him. “we have, like, half an hour left.”
“it always takes longer than you think. it’s good to get some fresh air before the last stretch.”
“i can take the wheel if you’re tired.”
“well.” jaehyun licks his lips. “we’d still need to stop to switch.”
yuta seems to sigh, but doesn’t argue.
the place is not much more than a gravel parking lot with some picnic tables. jaehyun drives down to the far end, furthest from the road. a low fence keeps you from rolling too far and down the sloping hillside.
jaehyun half expects yuta to stay in the car but he does get out, lifting his arms and stretching with a small grunt. jaehyun grabs one of the half-empty water bottles and walks over to the fence. he takes a slow sip, looking out over the valley.
the sun hangs low and the air is finally cool enough to be pleasant. layers of hills rise in the distance, the farthest one a misty, pale blue. some power lines run on their right side, towards the city. the nearest pylon stands tall against the sky.
jaehyun leans back against the hood of the car. he reaches the bottle out in yuta’s direction, and yuta takes it.
“so,” jaehyun says. “about last night.”
yuta snorts into the bottle. “i fucking knew it, man,” he says when he has swallowed, wiping his mouth. “i knew you were up to something.”
jaehyun frowns. “okay? you were hoping you’d make it to LA without having to talk to me?”
“that’s not what i meant.”
jaehyun folds his arms over his chest. “hate to break it to you but we've been friends for years. i’m not one of those random girls you can fuck and then never call again.”
yuta sighs. “i know that.” he screws the cap back on and takes a seat next to jaehyun. “so, fine. what about last night?”
jaehyun bites his lip. again, when it comes down to it, he doesn’t know what to say.
“was it your first time? with a guy?”
yuta seems to hesitate for a moment, but then he nods. “yeah. you?”
yuta shrugs. “hey, i dunno.”
jaehyun scuffs his foot over the gravel, shifting his weight. “so,” he says. “was this a one time thing? or… like. what’s your plan here?”
a grin passes over yuta’s mouth. “plan? you’re the one who came on to me.”
jaehyun doesn’t smile. “that’s not really true.”
he looks at yuta firmly. “why did you kiss me that time? in your basement?”
for once, it’s yuta who looks away first. he turns his face down and heaves a big sigh. “i don’t know, man,” he says, a hint of whine in his voice. his fingers start fiddling with the cap of the bottle, digging a nail in the grooves. “i… like you said. i didn’t think much about it.”
somehow, though, jaehyun doesn’t really believe that anymore. “look,” he says. “if this is… if it was just a curiosity thing. if you just wanted to bang a guy once and now you’re done with dick… that’s okay. but i wanna know.”
“fuck, i don’t know?” yuta rakes a hand through his hair. “i haven’t really thought about it.” he glances over at jaehyun. “also, how is this any of your business? if i bang dudes or not?”
jaehyun licks his lips. “well, i just wanna know if you wanna do it again. with me.”
yuta meets his eyes now. “do you?”
for a moment it seems like neither of them breathe.
“maybe,” jaehyun says.
there is a tiny pull at yuta’s mouth. “damn, jeff,” he says. “here you’ve been acting straight all summer, but it only takes one taste of this--” he gestures to his crotch, “--and you’re coming back for more?”
jaehyun snorts, but he feels his molars grind together again. the idea of giving yuta another pounding in the solar plexus is very tempting, but he settles for a hard shove at his shoulder.
“fuck off,” he spits. “like you haven’t been lusting over me for the past three months.”
yuta laughs as he topples over, catching himself with a hand on the fender. hearing him makes jaehyun chuckle too. he can’t stay mad.
yuta scoots back and props his heels up on the bumper. he puts the bottle between them, making it balance on the sloped hood.
“it was… it was good,” jaehyun says. saying it out loud makes his cheeks heat up. “i’m not denying that.”
yuta starts picking at his bracelet instead. “makes sense though,” he says airily. “that a guy would give a better handy than a girl.” he shrugs. “we know dick.”
jaehyun rolls his eyes. “it’s not about that. and you know it.”
yuta gives a vague grunt. “okay. so what do you want?” he looks over at jaehyun. “a friends with benefits kind of thing?”
“i dunno,” jaehyun says. “depends.”
suddenly jaehyun can feel his pulse tapping quicker. he looks at yuta again, steadily, unwavering. “do you like me?”
yuta sighs again. “dude, we don’t have to bring feelings and shit into this…”
“no,” jaehyun cuts him off. “shut up and be serious for once. after all the shit this summer… none of it would have happened… and if it did, if it had-- we wouldn’t be sitting here. if it didn’t matter. if you didn’t care.”
he knows he’s barely making sense. but yuta sits quiet, face somber, listening.
“after giving me speeches about following my heart and shit, you’d think you’d practice what you preach,” jaehyun continues, the words coming out in a rush. “so. do you like me?”
yuta swallows. he looks down between his feet. “yeah,” he says in a small voice. “i think i do.”
jaehyun pulls in a breath. “okay.” exhales. “i think i like you too.”
yuta raises his head a little. “oh,” he says quietly. “cool.”
a bunch of birds cross overhead, squeaking. behind them, cars swish by on the highway.
yuta scratches at the back of his head. “so do you wanna, like… go out?”
jaehyun giggles. he can’t help it. the diary pops up again, the teddy bear at the carnival.
“what?” yuta demands.
jaehyun clears his throat. “maybe we don’t have to label it, exactly. just, like... whatever. keep it casual.”
“yeah, but,” yuta says. “what kind of thing are we talking here? do you want me to take you out on dates?”
jaehyun cracks up again. he sees the lopsided grin on yuta’s mouth. “how about we just… hang out. as usual. and have sex instead of just jerking off together.” another wave of heat to his cheeks. “and stuff like that. and we’ll… see where it goes.”
yuta nods slowly. “okay. sounds, uh. sounds good.”
jaehyun takes the water bottle between them and uncaps it for a sip. his mouth feels strangely dry again.
“do you wanna keep it a secret?” yuta asks. “that we’re… together. or whatever.”
jaehyun hums. “we don’t have to? i mean, we can tell winwin and ten, and the guys. because it’d probably be hard to keep it up without them noticing anyway.”
yuta chuckles. “yeah.”
“but i’m…” jaehyun sticks two fingers under his glasses to rub at his eye. “i’m not ready for a whole coming out thing. to the folks and shit.”
yuta sighs. “oh, fuck, me neither.” he leans forward, elbows on his knees. then he peers at jaehyun from under his bangs. “you’re gonna tell johnny though?”
jaehyun shrugs. “yeah, probably.” he feels his face split in a grin. “are you jealous?” he nudges yuta with his elbow. “because he’s my best friend?”
yuta scoffs, but it sounds meeker than usual. “you’re allowed to have friends.”
jaehyun’s grin widens. suddenly he feels an urge to throw an arm around yuta’s neck; pull him close. “well, just FYI, you’ve got nothing to worry about. i have no desire to get into his pants.”
yuta smiles, but just a little bit. “i was right though, wasn’t i?” he says. “you’re gonna want to move back to chicago after you graduate.”
jaehyun pokes at a pebble with his shoe. “i don’t know,” he says. “maybe. my family is there and all. it’s a long way.” he thinks about the last four days. maybe he hasn’t quite grasped it before - the distances that separate people. the US is big.
“i get that,” yuta says.
“and you’re gonna travel the world. live out of a suitcase.” he kicks the pebble. it bounces off and disappears under the fence. “you don’t want no bungalow in northbrook.” his tone is playful, but only half so.
yuta laughs gently. “dude, that's years away. people grow. people change. i don’t know what’s gonna happen.” he gives a shrug, palms up. “i mean who knows, maybe this doesn’t work out at all and we split up. pretty optimistic to assume we’ll stay together till graduation.”
“like you said,” yuta continues. “we can keep it casual. see what happens.”
the sun is setting behind him. the light makes stray strands of his hair glow golden brown. a flare glints off one of his earrings.
“yeah.” jaehyun feels a smile on his face. “sounds good.”
they sit quiet for a moment. then yuta sniffs and jumps off the car. “did you have something else to discuss or can we get the hell out of here already?”
jaehyun grins. he gets up as well but catches yuta’s wrist before he has time to get back in the car.
yuta looks back at him. “what?”
it feels cheesy but jaehyun ignores that, pulling yuta close to kiss him. it’s light, short. he feels yuta’s hands on his hips and then they separate. yuta keeps his eyes down but jaehyun can see the shy grin on his face.
“okay. let’s go.”