the first thing renjun does is to breathe in the salty sea breeze. then he closes his eyes, wriggling his toes into the warm sand underneath him. he takes generous breaths, inhaling and exhaling, before finally opening his eyes.
the process is less a superstition and more of a routine, a conscious delivery, to pay his respects to the primordial body of water before him.
with the sea in his lungs and his skin against sand, he squints at the bright line below the glassy sky and just above erratic waves of blue in front of him. it’s the kiss between the sea and the cloudy plane above it. and it’s infinitely beautiful.
renjun drops down onto the sand, dumping his bag beside him, uncaring of the tiny grains of sand already crawling into the pockets of his shorts. he flips his bag open and rummages for his sketchpad and pencils.
he’s spent seventeen years of his life tucked into the dreary folds of his seaside hometown. the town is small in every aspect—population and size, among others. but life here is quite alright, uneventful and plain. nothing new ever pops up, nothing remotely interesting ever happens—there are no sudden bolts breaking the blue.
renjun is comfortable. he likes knowing who everyone is and where everything stands. but his curiosity stretches taut and in tension over the expanse of his remote solace. unlike some of the people in his hometown, renjun wants to look past what is already so clear-cut and gaze at the dark side of the moon.
but life is disgustingly material, physical distance rarely crossable when one has no material means for it. and in that despairing respect, renjun’s had to look for the ability to wander, in any form or way, somewhere else.
with the near obscurity of the area and the candid sea attached to its fringes, the town seems to be in tension with itself. like there’s a puzzle piece stuck somewhere in the design that just does not fit. or there’s a plague in it that cannot be simply cured.
renjun figures the town must be afflicted by a sense of constancy. he’d been tempted to conclude it once. he almost did. but then he remembered. to call the town constant would be to ignore the world around him in orbit, to disregard the reality of the population’s corporeal impermanence—to invalidate the everlasting rebirth of the sea.
the sea is timeless. it has the ability to transcend time and space. it’s the curiosity for the unknown that is never pursued. and being privy to the large body of water, its whispered secrets and overt personality crashing upon him like waves, always sparks in renjun the change he always longs for and the adventure that he craves.
na jaemin is a bolt from the blue.
he arrives unexpectedly and loudly. he also gives a touch of difference to the adventure the sea already provides renjun.
renjun is walking out of the lone convenience store in the town when he sees the teen exit the house attached to the store. he’s in a loose white tee, his hands tucked into the pockets of his joggers.
renjun looks away and concentrates on walking, drinking the milk box he just bought from the store.
renjun brings his gaze back to the stranger who is, much to renjun’s chagrin, walking toward him. renjun stops in his tracks and waits.
“hi,” renjun says politely in return.
“i’m na jaemin. my grandfather runs this convenience store,” na jaemin grins, his personality evident like the sun.
“i see,” renjun replies, his tone still as polite as can be. the town rarely gets tourists. it makes sense that jaemin’s reason for visit would be tied to family relations.
“yeah,” jaemin rubs the back of his neck shyly. “i’m kinda new here and i don’t really know anyone.”
renjun sips from his milk box, studying jaemin. jaemin’s skin is white, dreadfully untanned. in a town gathering, he would surely stand out.
“so, what’s your name?”
right. renjun hasn’t introduced himself.
“i’m huang renjun. i live near the restaurant overlooking the beach,” renjun says, gesturing down the street that leads to his house.
“you live near the beach?” jaemin’s eyes blow wide with wonder. “that’s so cool. i haven’t really gone to the beach in a long time. you think you could show me the way?”
renjun is on his way to the beach anyway so he might as well. “sure.”
“awesome!” jaemin does a little fist pump. “hold on, i’ll go get my camera.”
renjun nods, his eyebrows slightly raised in interest. “alright. i’ll just wait here.”
jaemin runs back to his house, leaving renjun to stand awkwardly in the middle of the street, messenger bag hanging around his shoulder. so, jaemin’s into photography. renjun had always wanted to try photography but a quick search online for secondhand cameras later told renjun that he’d better give up on it. cameras are expensive and the more you get into it, the more you start to want—be it accessories or new vistas to capture. cameras promise adventures, they feed into the inevitability of travel. renjun can hardly do that, cooped up in a town he couldn’t leave.
jaemin returns with a shiny camera around his neck. “let’s go?”
renjun nods and leads the way, jaemin trailing slightly behind him. the trip down to the beach is slow, with jaemin stopping to take pictures once in a while and with renjun answering his questions. renjun hasn’t talked this much in a long time, his sentences awkwardly cut and curtly formed. but jaemin didn’t seem to mind, his persona still refreshing, bubbly, and kind.
they near the beach, the white planes of the sand visible and the wide stretch of the sparkling blue water slowly coming into view. renjun sneaks a peak as jaemin stops, his mouth wide, before he lifts his camera to his face. renjun had been observing the way jaemin had been taking pictures, unconsciously committing them to memory. jaemin always stops to appreciate the view first before he starts taking pictures, the sides of his mouth lifting when it seems like he’s gotten the perfect shot on his viewfinder.
“woah…” jaemin whispers as they finally stand on the beach. the sun is high up in the sky, its rays bouncing off of the rolling waves like a mirrorball. the sea breeze blows through their hair and the distant sound of seagulls filters through their ears.
renjun hums in a sound of agreement and takes a deep breath, closing his eyes—paying his respects. he goes through the motions, taking off his slippers to dig his toes into the warm sand and welcoming the sea into him.
he almost forgets jaemin is there with him when he drops to the sand and opens his bag for his drawing materials.
his hands freeze around his sketchpad and pencil. then he looks up at jaemin whose mouth is in an o-shape. he gulps. “yeah, i do.”
“that’s so awesome! can i see?” jaemin asks, his tone genuine and his eyes sparkling like the waves before them.
renjun’s heart hammers against his chest as he grips his pencil tighter. fuck. “uh, i mean. maybe… maybe next time? i’m still not done with my work.”
jaemin stays silent for a while. a wave roars in renjun’s ears.
“don’t worry about it,” jaemin grins at him. his tone is kind but renjun sees him tighten his grip on his camera. renjun looks away. “i’m sorry for asking so suddenly.”
“no, it’s alright,” renjun finds himself wanting to make amends with a boy he’s just met. “i’m sorry for snapping like that. i was just…surprised. i’ll show you when i can.”
jaemin’s grin widens and his face lights up, his hands relaxing against the lens of his camera. “i’m looking forward to it, friend.”
then he pads closer to the shoreline. his silhouette is distinct against the backdrop of the bright blue sky. renjun follows his new friend’s figure as he slowly combs through the shoreline, camera occasionally clicking away when he sees a pretty seashell or when he notices a particularly captivating space of water where the light hits differently.
renjun is quick to outline his view on his sketchpad, his hand moving relentlessly yet precisely on the smooth paper.
for the first time in a long time, he draws something else other than the sea.
the next time renjun sees jaemin is when he’s walking to his house from school.
the brunet is taking a picture of a small abandoned lot a few blocks away from renjun’s school. he hasn’t seen him yet and renjun hesitates a bit. but then, a classmate of renjun passes by him and greets him, his voice loud enough to draw attention.
jaemin drops his camera and turns.
renjun nods a goodbye to his annoying classmate before walking over to jaemin. “hi, jaemin.”
“did you just come from the school? it’s around this area, right?” jaemin asks, his brows furrowing.
renjun nods, shifting his bag to his other shoulder. “yeah, i did. it’s just a few blocks away.”
“oh. it’s summer though? why do you still have classes?”
it’s refreshing yet strangely disconcerting, talking to someone in town about basic information such as this. everyone in this town knows that the school is always open so students can work on their extracurricular work, even during summer.
“i don’t have class. i was just doing some club work. it’s my last year so i want to give it everything i’ve got,” renjun explains and watches as jaemin absorbs the information he’s giving him.
“oh, that’s cool,” jaemin says, nodding. “i’m guessing you’re in the art club or something?”
renjun gives him a small smile, cocking his head to the side. “or something.”
jaemin blinks. then he smiles. “you’re cute, renjun, you know that?”
that’s new, renjun thinks as he huffs to hide how embarrassed he is, his cheeks warming against his will. “shut up, jaemin.”
jaemin laughs and when renjun turns to walk away from him, he follows.
“are you going to the beach again?”
“sorry but i don’t talk to strangers.”
“you’re talking to me now, aren’t you?”
they head down to the beach together again, jaemin’s laughter echoing around the relatively empty streets.
“renjun, look at this.”
renjun turns away from his sketchpad to see jaemin facing him, camera to his face. a telltale click of the shutter goes off.
renjun immediately turns back to his sketchpad, frowning. “you’d better delete that.”
jaemin just laughs in reply before turning to the open sea again, his hair standing in attention to the wind.
renjun and jaemin have been hanging out at the beach since then, a silent tradition in the making. renjun still goes through his motions—deep breaths, eyes closing, toes curling into the sand. and renjun doesn’t know when it starts, but jaemin starts picking it up. by the second week of daily meetings by the sea, jaemin starts holding himself back from immediately kicking up the water along the shoreline the minute they arrive and instead, starts meditating alongside renjun, a good distance away from the shore.
when renjun breathes in the salty sea breeze, jaemin does the same and when renjun gazes silently at the line between the sky and the sea, jaemin joins him.
jaemin doesn’t question why renjun does it and doesn’t even comment on it. renjun is grateful and fearful at the same time. he’s never realized how terrifying it is to share something so... intimate with someone else. it’s always been an unrequited dance, a duet between renjun and the sea—where renjun willingly steps into the embrace of the waters and the sea lets him drown in her body.
but now, he’s not the only boat cruising the shores, not the lonely swimmer reaching for depths larger than himself.
jaemin joins in, brings a new color to the conversations between renjun and the sea. the sea expands in turn and lets jaemin in, proffers the same invitation she’d given renjun, extends the same transcendent opportunity to jaemin.
so when renjun opens his eyes and notices jaemin beside him, their bare shoulders almost touching, he takes a small step away from the boy. if jaemin notices, he doesn’t show it.
because for some bitter reason, renjun feels like jaemin doesn’t deserve it. then just as quickly as the painful thought flashes through his mind, renjun discards it, getting angry at himself. that was a mean thing to think about his new friend. jaemin’s been nothing but kind and generous to him. he doesn’t deserve such jealousy from renjun. he doesn't own the sea.
and maybe that’s why it hurts. and maybe that’s why he pushes the tip of his pencil harder against his sketchpad once they settle down. and maybe that’s why he doesn’t say anything more to jaemin the entire day. if jaemin notices his cold shoulder, he doesn’t comment on it and just goes around the beach, taking pictures.
when the sky starts to darken, they part like waves ebbing away from the shoreline.
they’re sitting closer to the water, the sound of the waves softly lapping up against the shore like a lullaby. the waves are gentler today, their conversations a humble murmur against the bright glare of the sun. renjun thinks the water looks prettier today, the sparkling rays like diamonds on a silken blue sheet.
“hey, renjun. do you ever get bored of this place?”
jaemin is always a treasure trove of surprises, a relentless thunderclap after another. and renjun thinks it’s the miles of difference between them. jaemin is a boy from the city, comfortable enough to afford his own camera, charming, friendly, and kind to the point where his entire persona just seems so genuine. while renjun is a boy from a small town, living on the ‘just enough’s afforded to him. he’s shy and keeps his big dreams to himself.
jaemin is the sparkling blue water stretching past distant horizons while renjun is the fragmented sand on the beach. and what can sand do but welcome the companionship of the water?
“of course i do,” renjun says, the words heavy in his mouth. “but i’ve lived here all my life, so i’m used to it.”
“i see,” jaemin hums as he stares at the sea, his finger idly tinkering with the buttons on his camera. his figure is relaxed against the white of the sand, his brown hair continuously getting tousled by licks of the wind.
jaemin’s gotten a nice tan, a far cry from the paleness renjun noticed about him when he first met the boy.
“don’t you want something more, though?” jaemin might as well have punched renjun because the utterance of that question strikes like a painful jab to his chest.
renjun’s pulse is suddenly racing, beating like waves crashing against rocky cliffs in full abandon. and renjun wants to scream at him—scream a resounding yes, shout an affirmation with everything that he is.
but renjun feels that tiny prickling of fear creep up on him. because for all the great things renjun wants to be and wants to have, he’s lacking something even larger than his dreams.
“yes,” renjun breathes. “but i’m scared, jaem.”
then he wonders when jaemin had become a person he can so freely share his secrets with, his insecurities and fears in life.
jaemin turns to renjun, his eyes blown wide and his eyebrows raised as if he, too, was wondering when he’d been afforded the privilege to peer into renjun’s very thoughts and life.
but jaemin is jaemin and he takes it in stride, takes it with a sense of pride and confidence that has renjun staggered. “you don’t have to be, junnie.”
and, oh, isn’t that beautiful? wouldn’t that be perfect?
jaemin’s tone is laden with strength, something only awarded to those who can bear it. renjun treats himself for a short moment, allows himself to believe that everything is as easy as jaemin commands it to be. it’s a liberating feeling, a jump off the cliff, a satisfying dive into shallow waters, and the come up to the surface all at once. it’s an exhilarating journey in a span of heartbeats.
but it’s all too bitter-sweet. renjun pulls himself back just in time.
“i appreciate the sentiment.” renjun gives jaemin a smile before positioning himself to face the open sea. he misses the way jaemin’s brow furrows at the sad smile he’d given him. and misses the small pout that momentarily graces his chapped lips.
renjun feels the sand shift beneath him and glances at jaemin. he’s standing up, his grip firm around his camera. renjun wonders if he’d disappointed him, offended him in any way. but then he hears a shutter going off behind him with jaemin returning to his spot several minutes later.
renjun stares at him, watches as jaemin places his camera gently on the sand. jaemin never turns to look at him and keeps his eyes straight on the shifting sapphire waters on the horizon.
the cries of the gulls are much louder today.
the next day, jaemin brings photos he’d taken when he travelled outside the country that he’d packed to show his grandfather. the jealous monster in rejun awakens once again but quickly disappears when jaemin talks about his most memorable moments on his trip. his face lights up like a summer day.
renjun drinks him in, drinks the moment in.
when the waters start to turn as dark as the sky, jaemin packs up his photos and tells renjun that he’ll be bringing it again the next time. renjun says he doesn’t have to go through the trouble of bringing his albums. jaemin replies, saying he wants renjun to experience the journey with him, however retrospective and weird it might seem.
renjun’s touched, heart warmed at the sentiment because jaemin brings renjun to places he hasn’t seen before. like the sea had welcomed him to waves of change, breaking monotony.
the fear of sharing the sea with jaemin escapes him all at once today.
jaemin’s been taking less pictures of the beach and more pictures of renjun. the taller boy isn’t really discreet about it and renjun can’t find it in himself to get angry or annoyed.
but it’s distracting and it makes renjun feel uncomfortable. he doesn’t know what jaemin wants him to be, doesn’t know how to act in front of it.
“why are you taking pictures of me?” renjun blurts after hearing another shutter go off beside him.
jaemin isn’t embarrassed at all, only showing a smirk when renjun raises an eyebrow impatiently.
“would you like it if I told you ‘it’s because you’re captivating’?”
renjun drops his pencil. then, he blushes to the tips of his ears. “stop teasing me.”
“who said I was?”
renjun hears his heartbeat in his ears and quickly averts his eyes from jaemin’s piercing gaze.
“jun,” jaemin whispers just below the crashing of the waves. “what’s your favorite color?”
“yellow,” renjun is quick to dismiss the awkward silence threatening to envelop them. “what about yours?”
“i like pink. coffee or tea?”
they go on like this until sunset, answering and throwing questions back and forth. exchanging information ranging from the harmless to the most delicate. it creates cracks, ignites flames on the walls between them.
renjun leaves the beach that day with a clearer picture of na jaemin.
“why do you go to the beach everyday?”
renjun squints against the glaring sun, his eyes trained on the glittering waves, trying to get a sense of how he should portray them on paper.
“because i like the sea,” renjun answers without missing a beat, the honesty spilling from his lips unbidden.
“alright,” jaemin nods, not entirely convinced. “but i mean, what do you like about it? is it the feeling? or because it’s such a good subject to draw?”
renjun hums, eyes still on the rows of waves funneling into shore. “both. and more.”
jaemin chuckles, knows that renjun is just playing with him. “come on, jun. i don’t have all day.”
“well,” renjun shoots him a crooked grin. “what do you like about the beach, na jaemin?”
“that’s not fair. i asked you first,” jaemin pouts.
“nothing about life is ever fair.”
“that’s a depressing thought but alright,” jaemin squares his shoulders and turns his entire body toward renjun. “i like the beach because it’s where we meet everyday. sure, i like the warm sand, cool waters, and the melodic sound of the crashing waves. but it’s become more than just a place to me. it’s become you.”
renjun almost drops his pencil, his heartbeat echoing loudly in his ears.
“what about you, huang? i think it’s time you return the favor,” jaemin cocks his head, an eyebrow raised and an infuriatingly handsome smirk on his face. as if he knows that he’s got renjun exactly where he wanted him.
renjun flushes and looks away hastily before clearing his throat. “fine.”
silence settles between them. it’s occupied by the sound of the waves frothing as they leave the shoreline.
“i like the sea because it’s never constant. it’s transient,” renjun bites his lips and turns to the open sea. “it’s the only thing shifting in this ordinary town. i can’t really leave this place so i go here for a sense of adventure. it’s… my favorite thing about this town. the sea, i mean.”
jaemin nods slowly, taking it all in. “is that why you draw it? to make it all seem more real?”
“yes, that’s right,” renjun smiles widely.
“you’re like me, then,” jaemin smiles back, his face lighting up.“it’s what I do with my camera, too. i want to capture fleeting moments and make them eternal. sometimes, memories fade away into pockets of moments in time and it’s sad, seeing them go away. i don’t want to forget the things that make me feel alive.”
jaemin’s gaze burns, sets renjun on fire. renjun almost forgets to breathe.
it’s refreshing and cathartic, in a way, to have someone understand.
today, they stay on the beach a little longer than usual.
renjun’s sinking his toes deeper into the sand, feeling the small grains rough against the skin of his soles.
and like the usual set of affairs, renjun plops down onto the beach while jaemin approaches the water, his back to renjun. and like what has become the norm as of late, renjun doesn’t immediately retrieve his art materials from his bag and just watches the boy with the camera dip his feet into the line where the beach meets the sea.
the sky is clearer today and the sea is calmer, so much so that the line where the sky meets the sea looks blurred, almost nonexistent, and reality seems a bit skewed and inverted. renjun isn’t sure whether it’s the heat of the day that’s framing his senses.
is the sky the sea or is the sea the sky? is he even on the right plane, in the right dimension, right beach, right town, right country, right planet, right galaxy, right universe? renjun doesn’t know the answer but as he looks at the honey-haired boy pace along the line of the sea, he thinks that maybe none of that matters because what’s important is in this moment;
it’s in this moment: when jaemin picks up his head and meets renjun’s gaze, returning it with the same intensityㅡ setting renjun’s insides aflame.
it’s in this moment: when jaemin leaves the shoreline and walks over to where renjun is sitting, cross-legged, and falls down beside him.
it’s in this moment: when renjun momentarily abandons incessant thoughts of his discontentment in this small town, his crippling thoughts of fear, and his glaring lack of courage to create a future larger than he is and leans in.
it’s in this moment: when jaemin mirrors renjun, leaning in, and clasps his hand around renjun’s wrist, squeezes once, twice, before trailing it up renjun’s arm, inciting goosebumps, and finally rests it against the side of renjun’s neck.
it’s in this moment: when worlds seem to collide as jaemin captures renjun lips in a soft kiss, their breaths syncing in tune to the sounds of the waves lapping upon the shore.
the shared moments on the beach after that fateful day is powdered in pink and drizzled in honeyㅡrosy and sweet. they kiss, lips on lips; touch, skin on skin. it’s the beads of sweat and the exhaust of the sun that fuels their passion.
and it’s the song of the sea and the promise of the horizon that gives them life.
jaemin capturesㅡbut not with his cameraㅡthe breaths escaping renjun’s mouth in hushed caresses. renjun drawsㅡ but not with pencils and paintㅡinfinite universes on jaemin’s skin, with light nips.
“do you plan to ever leave this town?”
the sea breeze carries the mellow tones of jaemin’s voice and delivers it to renjun’s heart with a loud pang.
they’re lying down on the sand, renjun’s head on jaemin’s chest and their fingers intertwined. the sky is slightly cloudy and the sand is cool under their backs. renjun can feel jaemin’s heartbeat as if it were his own.
but when the question escapes jaemin’s lips, he feels a discord, his heartbeat racing faster than jaemin’s.
“i...i don’t know,” renjun answers hesitantly yet genuinely. he lifts their intertwined hands and studies the way their fingers curl up against each other.
“you can if you want to, you know,” jaemin intones before letting go of renjun’s hand to shift himself so that they’re now lying perpendicular to each other, an arm propping his head up as he turns himself to face renjun. renjun copies him.
“it’s not as easy as that, jaem,” renjun says, his heart thundering in his chest. this is deep waters, waters he, admittedly, doesn’t want to dive into just yet.
jaemin briefly closes his eyes, his eyebrows fanned out against his upper cheeks. renjun follows the lines and angles of jaemin’s face. he’s already committed every curve, every line, and every dip of jaemin’s face to his memory. filing it away for rainy days. but people are like paintings and jaemin is no exception; you discover something new every time. and this time, renjun spots a faint freckle.
“what are you so afraid of, jun?” jaemin’s stare is blistering, a complete contrast to the whispered delivery of his question. and renjun receives it like a whiplash. jaemin always leaves him breathless, renders him speechless and immobile. be it by a sunny smile, a devilish smirk, a cheeky wink, a searing kissㅡor a spontaneous soul-baring question.
renjun’s breath hitches and the sea in his lungs start to dissipate, the intimacy of the moment starting to escape him. he grapples for a hold.
“a lot,” renjun confesses weakly, avoiding jaemin’s eyes. “there are a lot of things that scare me.”
they’re whispering now even though they’re the only ones on the beach, as if letting the sea be privy to their conversation would taint its sanctity, and as if they didn’t care about whether or not their words can travel by wind.
“renjun. you can tell me,” jaemin gently urges, his eyes tender, a mirror of the open sea.
and just like that, renjun finds himself telling him.
“i’ve lived my entire life in this small town, jaemin,” renjun explains for the first time. “it’s not exactly popularㅡit’s obscure and sometimes, i feel like i can’t breathe. the sea has been my only comfort.”
jaemin doesn’t say anything, just trails his gaze over renjun’s form. renjun looks over at the animated waters.
“but despite that, in spite of that, i can’t bring myself to just... just leave all of a sudden. i don’t have much. leaving would be such a big change, i’m afraid i won’t be able to adjust.”
“you’re afraid of change and want it at the same time,” jaemin tilts his head backwards as if he’s physically stumbled on a discovery, something like enlightenment dawning in his eyes.
“yes,” renjun licks his lips nervously, wondering what jaemin will say next, wondering if it will matter.
“you don’t have to be. if you want it, i’ll help you. if you want.”
renjun stays silent for a moment, considering jaemin, considering his personality and his circumstances.
“it’s not as easy as you think it is,” renjun says, once again, sighing as he moves into a sitting position.
“sure it is,” jaemin shifts himself. they’re both sitting, cross-legged and the sides of their feet burrowed in the sand. “it’s a leap of faith, jun. everything always is.”
“no, they’re not,” renjun snaps, the words leaving his mouth before he could even think about them. renjun feels something dark fizzling inside of him, its ugly head rearing in wait. what would jaemin know? jaemin has it easyㅡ he has everything renjun doesn’t. to him, everything might seem like an easy leap, a sudden ‘yeah, sure’ admission.
but not to renjun.
jaemin just blinks and visibly stiffens, betraying that he didn’t expect renjun to react that way. his eyebrows are knitted and his lips are turned down into a pout. renjun feels himself soften a little.
“sorry, it’s justㅡ” renjun hesitates, “not everything is a leap of faith to me, jaem.”
jaemin relaxes but he still says nothing, his eyes anchored onto renjun, waiting for him to continue.
“i don’t have enoughㅡbe it material or not. my parents have lived here all their lives, they can’t possibly fathom someone wanting to leave such a comfortable life. it’s all these things and the little details in between that’s stopping me,” renjun explains as calmly as he can, his heart threatening to burst from his chest. he wants to talk less, keep it in like he’s always been doing but his mind is whirring, a spool of thread unspinning. he feels tears pricking his eyes. “and i’m still so very terrified of the world out there. sure, it’s exciting and of course, i’ve been dreaming of big dreams and big cities. but sometimes, i think that, maybe, dreaming would be enough. that just knowing a future like that can exist is enough for me.”
renjun inhales the sea and welcome it back into him. “to you, everything might be a leap of faith but to me, every action is a calculated risk.”
jaemin turns away and faces the sea. and it’s moot because jaemin wouldn’t be able to see it, wouldn’t be able to accept what he wants to convey, but renjun smiles a sad smile, eyes never leaving jaemin.
they stay for awhile after that, jaemin’s eyes never straying to renjun again even as renjun inhales and exhales silently and wipes at his eyes. even as renjun feels his heart shatter into million pieces because jaemin’s silence feels like a broken promise, a loud admission of severance.
so he leaves first, picks up his bag with a heavy heart, feeling like he’s drowning.
the next day, renjun is alone. jaemin never comes. renjun doesn’t expect him to.
renjun slips back into his old routine. he draws the beach again. but everytime the light shifts and stings his eyes, he’d remember a silhouette. a boy with broad shoulder and lean limbs, arms spread out as a camera dangles around his neck.
four days after renjun relearned how to be alone again, his peace is disrupted.
a shadow falls on his sketchpad as he’s tracing waves and rocks on white paper. renjun inhales sharply and looks up.
warm. brown. mesmerizing. renjun stares back, drowning in pools and endless seas.
jaemin walks around him, blocking his view of the beach. renjun follows him with his body, attuning himself to the feel of jaemin’s presence once again, and flitting his eyes over his frame as if he’d forgotten every line and curve and plane that makes up na jaemin’s visage. renjun ignores the voice telling him that he’d never forgotten.
“where’s your camera?” is the first thing he says because jaemin is never without it. it’s strange.
“it’s in my bag,” jaemin says softly. “in the car.”
renjun whips around, his heartbeat picking up.
behind him, he sees a van, sees bags in the trunk, sees jaemin’s parents.
“you’re leaving already?” renjun whispers shakily, the accusing tone dripping like the vast ocean. there’s a pang in his chest that’s too painful to ignore.
jaemin averts his eyes from renjun’s gaze, looking at the sea for a sense of reprieve like he always does. he always does this that renjun can’t help but wonder whether jaemin even enjoyed his stay here at all.
“look, jun,” jaemin drops to his knees on the sand, kneeling before renjun like he’s uttering prayers. “i’m sorry.”
renjun doesn’t want to hear that. anything but an apology would’ve been better. but he doesn’t say anything, his eyes scanning jaemin’s face for any sign that this isn’t real. that maybe he’s just dreaming. that they won’t part on such turbulent terms. not like this.
“about last timeㅡi should’ve considered you more. i should’ve talked to you more, should’ve tried to understand your situation better. i know that now.”
renjun feels his throat dry, his heartbeat hammering against his ribcage. oh.
“i enjoyed the months i’ve had with you. walking around the town, talking and laughing on the beach with you. i never regretted anything, except maybe, when i forced something on you. that was insensitive of me.”
renjun’s basking in the moment, studying jaemin’s face one last time and drinking in the waves of sincerity jaemin’s been offering him.
“i like you, jun.”
renjun breathes deeply, heart still wild in his chest.
“i still do. but maybe, i’m not as strong as i thought i was.”
jaemin lifts his hand, revealing a single photograph. jaamin smiles down at it, softly yet sadly. like he couldn’t bear to part with it.
“this is my favorite shot out of everything i’ve gotten in this town. i’d like you to keep it.”
with shaky hands, renjun receives it.
it’s the picture he took when he’d been behind renjun. it’s renjun’s back, hunched while working on his sketch, with the sparkling sea as the backdrop. its melancholic, a gentle reminder of how little they all seem in the face of the vast sea.
“you know, you never showed me any of your drawings,” jaemin smiles a sad yet hopeful smile. renjun’s captivated once again. “and that’s fine. i’ll wait when you’re finished. then when you’re done and ready, you can show meㅡpromise me you’ll show them to me.”
it’s a drop of hope and an extended hand. renjun feels his body lighten. ignoring the tears cascading down his cheeks, he smiles at jaemin one last time.
“i promise. good bye, jaemin.”
jaemin smiles back, his eyes watering. he reaches forward to gently cup renjun’s chin, his thumbs soft as they wipe his falling tears. then he kisses renjun’s softly, reverently. renjun responds in kind, slowly. because now, he knows: he’ll try. he’ll hope.
“good bye, renjun.”
and just like that he’s gone like waves ebbing away from the shore. renjun stays still and silent for a while, waiting for the moment to wash over him and completely drench him into reality.
it’s when he finishes his sketch that he looks at the photograph. he turns it over and sees what’s written at the bottom right corner:
“by your favorite sea.”
until we meet again,
the first thing renjun does is to breathe in the heavy air. then he closes his eyes, clutching onto his bag tightly. he takes generous breaths, inhaling and exhaling, before finally opening his eyes.
the city is bigger than he thought it was. but it’s alright. he’ll be alright.
he takes out a notebook and his fingers shake. he drops it but he immediately lurches forward to catch it, the two pieces of paper spilling out halfway from his notebook.
one is a postcard delivered to him a few days ago by the old man who owns the convenience store back in his hometown. it’s a picture of a brown-haired boy, the city bustling behind him. at the back is an address and a phone number. a hope realized. smiling, he tucks it back into the notebook again.
then, he grabs the other one. it’s a page from his sketchpad. the paper’s gotten slightly yellow but the lines of the pencil and paint are still vivid. he thumbs at the sides before giving in, needing a boost of courage. he opens it.
it’s a sketch of a boy on a beach. the boy is smiling, his hair fluttering in the wind. one of his hands is holding a camera while the other is waving at someone. at the one drawing, maybe.
renjun inhales and exhales, steeling himself for the big city before tucking it into his notebook.
then, he takes a risk, leaps onto the street and walks, thinking about the promise he has yet to fulfillㅡ the promise he will fulfill.
the back of the sketch reads:
“by our favorite sea.”