“I’m not paying 12 dollars for a beer!”
Jaehyun blinks at Mark as they inch forward in the concession stand line. “You don’t have to,” he points out. “You can buy a pint for seven.”
Mark thinks if he rolls his eyes any harder they might just fall out of his head. “Yeah, but it’s Molson. I wouldn’t even pay two dollars for a Molson, let alone seven.”
Jaehyun sighs long-sufferingly. “Look, if I pay for your 12 dollar Granville Island IPA, will you stop complaining?”
Mark grins and bats his eyelashes. “Would you really?”
“I already got you the ticket, brat, and now you want me to pay for the beer?”
“You told me you got these tickets for free from your cousin!”
They step up to the counter and Jaehyun pays for two 12 dollar beers before steering Mark back towards the steps to their section. Mark pays extra attention to his drink as they trek up the stairs from the concourse into the arena, and then watches his feet as he climbs the frankly alarmingly steep pitch of the steps in the stands to their seats.
Mark’s never been to a hockey game before. He’s only stepped foot in Rogers Arena once, truthfully, and that was for a Drake concert. Now, he’s sitting up in the nosebleeds in a borrowed Canucks sweater, drinking a 12 dollar beer as he squints down at the players warming up on the ice.
“They look like ants,” he complains. “I don’t even know who I’m cheering for.”
“The blue team,” Jaehyun deadpans, pointing at his own jersey, the stylized orca whale grinning back at Mark.
“Duh. I mean, I don’t even know any of the players and we’re too high up to read their names.”
Jaehyun pinches the bridge of his nose. “See if I ever invite you to a hockey game again.”
Mark feels a little bad; he’s been complaining a lot, but he thinks it might just be because he’s a little nervous. He feels like he sticks out, even though he’s dressed the part: toque pulled over his ears, Canucks jersey tucked under his bomber jacket, faded Converse that are a little damp from all the rain outside. Still, he’s worried that someone will look at him and just know that he doesn’t know anything about the sport that’s about to be played in front of him.
Mark feels completely overwhelmed and out of his depth.
On one side of him, Jaehyun is busy snapping pictures for his Instagram story and Snapchat. On Mark’s other side is a single empty seat, the only thing separating him from a family of four, all decked out in Canucks gear. Mark swallows a mouthful of beer just to have something to do, and starts scrolling through his Instagram feed. He’s just settling into a video of a cat jumping over various objects stacked in a doorway when someone finally fills the empty seat next to him.
The first thing that Mark notices—out of the corner of his eye—is that the guy is wearing a red jersey. It’s so out of place in the sea of white and cobalt that Mark immediately turns his head to see.
The second thing that Mark notices is that the guy is stupidly hot.
The quick turn of Mark’s head must have caught the guy’s attention, because he tilts his head and raises an eyebrow at Mark. Mark tries his best not to look directly at the guy’s soft, pillowy lips. “Can I help you?” the guys asks, low, easy drawl audible even over the ambient chatter inside the arena.
“I—uh—” Mark stutters. He’s saved by Jaehyun leaning around him and giving the guy his trademark megawatt smile.
“Dude, you’re wearing the wrong jersey,” he says, plucking nonchalantly at the sleeve of the guy’s sweater. “You’ve got some nerve.”
The guy looks pretty unbothered. “I mean, there’s a lot of us here,” he says, nodding towards the rest of the arena. Mark squints, and now that he’s paying attention, he can see a lot more red jerseys than he’d initially thought. Most of them are clustered around one end of the rink, pressed up against the glass as the Chicago Blackhawks warm up. “It’s not like I stick out or anything.”
Jaehyun laughs and sits back in his seat. Mark feels very much like he’s third-wheeling this conversation, so he finds his voice and asks, “How come you’re not cheering for the home team?”
Mark receives a shark-like grin in return. The guy looks like he could eat Mark; Mark thinks maybe he wouldn’t mind. “I’m cheering for my home team,” the guy replies. “I’m from Chicago.”
“O-oh,” Mark stutters. “Are you, uh, going to school here?”
The guy nods. “Yeah, I’m a grad student at UBC.”
Mark’s never seen him, but that’s unsurprising for a school with 50,000 students. “Oh, yeah, cool,” he says. “Me too. I mean, not a grad student. Just. a student. At UBC. I’m Mark.”
The guy looks amused, lips quirking up at the edges. He’s got such a confident ease around him that he makes Mark nervous just sitting beside him, but Mark’s always been chatty and his mama taught him to be polite. It mostly means that Mark’s got a low-functioning brain-to-mouth filter.
“Hi, Mark. I’m Johnny.”
Much to Mark’s simultaneous relief and disappointment, they don’t talk much after that. The players clear the ice when their warm-up time expires. Mark nervously drains his entire beer and then hurries off to find a washroom before the game starts. When he gets back, two minutes before puck drop with another couple beers in his hands, Johnny’s gone and Jaehyun’s typing away furiously on his phone.
“Oh, dude, thanks,” he says when Mark hands him another beer. He takes a sip and side-eyes Mark. “This isn’t Molson.”
“I didn’t know you wanted one,” Mark says delicately. He sets his own cup under his seat so he doesn’t feel tempted to drain the whole thing before the game even starts.
“I didn’t,” Jaehyun says, “but it does mean you were willing to dish out the money for the first round anyway! You brat.”
Mark just laughs. Without Johnny’s presence looming beside him, he feels himself relax a little for the first time since they stepped into the arena. “Tell you what, if the Canucks win, I’ll buy the first round of shots at whatever bar we stumble into.”
Jaehyun eyes him thoughtfully, then sticks out his hand. “Deal,” he says. The lights in the arena dim and the in-house announcer homes on the speaker to introduce the team. Jaehyun stands up in his seat, cups his hands around his mouth and yells, “Let’s fucking go! I’ve got some shots to drink.”
Mark just laughs and covers his face.
Attending his first hockey game is a wild experience.
Mark finds himself yelling along with Jaehyun at things he doesn’t quite understand. His body feels like it’s running purely on adrenaline and beer, and he allows himself to get swept up in the heat of the moment. He boos with the crowd whenever number two for the Blackhawks touches the puck, even before Jaehyun has a chance to explain why they do that. He groans with the rest of the arena when the Canucks miss a wide-open net with a poorly-aimed shot. He slumps in his seat during the television timeouts and the ice-clearing.
“Geeze, you’re kind of vicious,” Johnny comments when they’re halfway through the first period and the Canucks are up one goal to none. “You sure you’ve never been to one of these before?”
Mark feels himself blush all the way up to the roots of his hair. “I’m just—very enthusiastic.”
“No kidding,” Johnny replies. He leans back in his seat, and Mark takes a moment to appreciate his long legs, folded into the cramped space of the stands. “Too bad you can’t use that enthusiasm for a team that’s not so shitty.”
“Hey,” Jaehyun says from Mark’s other side. His voice is tinged with a touch of warning. “You’re pretty brave talking shit in someone else’s arena.”
“I mean, is it really trash talk?” Johnny asks, shooting Mark a lazy grin. Where it used to look attractive before, now it just looks arrogant. “It’s fact, after all. When was the last time you guys won a Stanley Cup? Oh, wait—”
Jaehyun looks like he’s about to launch himself across Mark’s lap to punch Johnny in the face, so Mark sticks his arm out and says to Johnny, “Hey. That’s, uh, not very nice.”
Johnny laughs. “That’s sports, baby,” he says, which makes Mark’s skin prickle. He doesn’t appreciate the condescending tone Johnny’s taken with him.
“Look, I might be new at this but I’m pretty sure sports don’t excuse you from being a decent human being.”
Johnny’s brow furrows, like he’s recalculating how he sees Mark. “You’re right,” he says, “but like I said, I’m not saying anything that isn’t true. The Canucks haven’t been good for a long time. If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
He turns back to the ice as the gameplay starts up again. Mark sinks back in his seat, arm that was braced across Jaehyun’s chest falling limply into Jaehyun’s lap. Jaehyun gives his wrist a squeeze before depositing his arm onto the armrest between them.
“For what it’s worth,” Jaehyun whispers to him, which is no easy feat in an arena of 20,000 other people. “He’s not that hot. You know what’s hot? Kindness.”
Mark laughs. He can’t help it. He hates how obviously transparent he was, and wonders if Johnny knows Mark was looking at him with interest. Mark rolls his shoulders. It doesn’t matter now. Mark doesn’t want anything to do with a guy that doesn’t understand how not to be an asshole.
“Thanks, Jaehyunnie,” he says just before they’re jumping to their feet to celebrate another Canucks goal.
The Canucks win the game four to three and Mark’s life goes back to normal.
He goes to his lyrics seminars Wednesdays and his writing for fiction workshop on Tuesdays and his part-time job at the campus bookstore on Mondays and Thursdays. He spends time in the Korean Students Association’s club room in the student union building between classes, and goes out drinking with the club members on Friday nights. Rinse, repeat.
He doesn’t see Johnny for almost a month. Long enough for Mark to forget about the asshole grad student he sat next to at his first hockey game. Johnny had left as soon as the final buzzer sounded at the game, not caring to stick around and revel in the home team’s fans’ celebrations, and Mark hadn’t spared him much thought since.
Besides, in a school of 50,000 students, what were the odds that Mark would run into Johnny again?
It doesn’t happen on campus, which is maybe the most jarring part.
Mark’s just toeing off his shoes in the front entry of his apartment when Taeyong sticks his head around the corner. “I’m having someone over,” he says.
Mark raises an eyebrow at him.
“Not like that! We’re working on an interdisciplinary grad project.”
“Okay, sure, bro,” Mark says. “I’ll just be in my room, then.”
The living room of their cramped apartment is separated from their entry by a small wall closet. As soon as Mark steps out from behind the wall and catches sight of who exactly is sitting on their couch, he stops in his tracks. “You!” he exclaims, for lack of anything more intelligent to say.
Johnny glances up from his laptop on the coffee table. He looks surprised to see Mark, but looks more collected than Mark feels. He raises an eyebrow at Mark before pointing at himself. “Me?”
“Him?” Taeyong asks, coming up behind Mark. “You know Johnny?”
Mark glances between his roommate and his—mortal enemy. “I, uh. Not well,” he stutters, trying to ignore the curl of a smirk tugging at the corners of Johnny’s mouth. “We met. Briefly.”
“Oh, cool,” Taeyong says. “Small world. Anyway, yeah. Johnny and I are working on a project for interdisciplinary studies, so you might see him around a bit.”
Great, Mark thinks with growing dread in his stomach. “Great!” he says enthusiastically while trying to quell his queasy stomach. “I’ll just be—going. To my room. Yeah. Bye!”
He scurries away, trying not to feel the swell of embarrassment the shivers through his body. It seems that no matter how dick-ish Johnny had been at the hockey game, Mark can still only focus on how unfairly attractive he looks.
“Cool it, Mark Lee,” he whispers to himself, looking himself over in the floor-length mirror hung over his closet door.
Mark’s not ugly, but even at 21 he still feels like he doesn’t quite fit into his skin. When he hasn’t styled his hair, his bangs frame his wide eyes and sharp cheekbones and make him look like he’s a first year instead of someone who’s two semesters away from graduating. Today, he’s wearing a fitted green sweater and some navy blue cargo pants that his former-RA had recommended him the last time they’d chatted on Facebook Messenger. Mark observes himself and decides he looks. Young. Cute. Not someone that Johnny would look at twice.
Which shouldn’t matter. Because Johnny’s an asshole and Mark’s not interested in people with bad attitudes or sore losers.
Mark stares at himself a moment longer than groans, “Ah, fuck.” He shrugs his backpack off and pulls out his notebook, sinking down onto the bed and scribbling furiously across the pages. He’s supposed to have a song ready for his lyric writing class this week and Mark hadn’t been feeling particularly inspired, but something about seeing Johnny in his living room is sparking some inspiration. Mark blocks out all the laughter from the living room and buckles down, words flowing out of his pen like the tap of inspiration has been turned on. He writes until he can’t hear Johnny’s voice anymore.
After that meeting in their living room, Mark finds himself running into Johnny a lot.
He still comes over to work on whatever project he's doing with Taeyong, but now Mark also sees Johnny at the grocery store down the street from their apartment. He runs into him at the coffee shop in the student union building at school, and boards the same bus as Johnny one afternoon after his peer review workshop. It's like now that they've met once outside of the hockey rink, all they do is run into each other again.
"It wouldn't be so bad if he wasn't such an asshole," Mark complains to Jaehyun when they meet up one afternoon for lunch.
Jaehyun bobs his head, sipping delicately at some disgusting protein shake concoction that he'd whipped out of his gym bag when he'd sat down opposite Mark at a table in the student union building's basement. "You mean, he's an asshole outside the rink, too?" he asks.
Mark blinks and takes a bite of his sandwich. "I mean, sure," he says, though now that he thinks of it, he realizes he hasn't really said anything to Johnny in all the times they've run into each other. Mark usually just turns a cold shoulder, though that's likely more to protect his own dignity than anything else. Despite the terrible first impression, Mark is self-aware enough to know he has a massive crush on Johnny. It sucks.
Jaehyun laughs and leans back in his seat, tipping the chair precariously on two legs. “Dude, you haven’t even spoken to him since, have you?” he asks, which just makes Mark cross his arms defensively.
“I mean, no. Why would I?” he asks. “He was a dick.”
Jaehyun shrugs. “Sure,” Jaehyun says, “but he was at a hockey game cheering for the away team. Pretty sure you have to be a little mean just to survive in an environment like that.”
Mark bites his lip. He knows it’s unfair to judge Johnny without knowing him, but Mark stubbornly wants to hold onto this first impression he has. If Johnny were actually as rude as he’d come across before, Mark would have an excuse not to fall head-over-heels for him. Then both his heart and his pride could remain intact.
“Besides, if Taeyong likes him, he must be okay.”
Mark grunts and pokes at the edge of sliced ham sticking out the side of his sandwich. Taeyong’s a good judge of character, which is probably the only reason Mark was able to live with him once he wasn’t guaranteed housing from the university after first year. If Taeyong can tolerate Johnny, then he must not be as bad as he seems.
“Fine, he’s a saint and we should all worship the ground he walks on,” Mark grumbles. He wraps the plastic wrap back around his sandwich and tucks it into his backpack; he’s lost most of his appetite.
Jaehyun rolls his eyes and settles his chair back on all four legs. “I didn’t say that,” he says, pointing his protein shaker bottle at Mark. “He’s a Blackhawks fan, after all. That shit doesn’t fly.”
His joke has the desired effect of making Mark crack a smile. He shakes his head and gathers his things, getting ready for his next class. “Yeah, okay,” he says, watching Jaehyun down the rest of his drink. “I’ll—I don’t know—give him a chance.”
“Atta boy,” Jaehyun says, standing and slapping Mark on the back hard enough to dislodge Mark’s lungs. He coughs subtly. “Now, let’s go. I think the KSA has extra mandu in the fridge from that event they had this morning and I need something more appetizing than this protein shake.”
Mark rolls his eyes but follows Jaehyun to the elevators so they can head up to the fourth floor, thoughts of Johnny drifting to the back of his mind as Jaehyun starts babbling about the cute guy in his biomechanics lecture and his long-winded 10-step plan on asking him out.
Mark tries his best to defrost around Johnny, but it’s hard. Johnny is intimidating on a good day, and all he has to do is arch a perfectly sculpted eyebrow at Mark to make Mark feel like he’s in way over his head.
He comes home one day to find Johnny in their living room again, Taeyong shouting across the apartment from the kitchen.
“Oh, Mark, hi,” Taeyong says, sticking his head out of the kitchen. “I’m just making some coffee. Do you want some, too?”
Mark doesn’t really like coffee, but he can feel Johnny’s eyes on him so he says, “Uh, sure. Also, can I, um, hang out with you guys?”
Taeyong’s eyes light up. Mark suspects that Taeyong thinks he doesn’t have enough friends and is always trying to invite Mark along to various grad student events that Mark would rather chew off his left thumb than attend. This request is surely a development of Mark’s social skills in his eyes. “Sure! Of course!” Taeyong says. “You go make yourself comfortable. I’ll bring the coffee in a minute.”
He ducks back into the kitchen, leaving Mark standing in their front entry for a moment, collecting himself. If he turns his head even slightly he’ll catch a glimpse of Johnny, so Mark takes a quiet breath in, squares his shoulders, and heads into the living room.
Mark’s never actually asked what it is that Taeyong and Johnny have been working on for the past few weeks. Taeyong’s a voice major, but Mark has no idea what Johnny does. He tries not to be too obvious about staring at the papers on the table, but Johnny catches him anyway.
“So, you never told me what you majored in,” Johnny says, leaning back against the couch, legs spread wide. On anyone else, Mark would find the behaviour rude, but with Johnny it just looks stupidly hot. Mark physically bites his tongue as punishment.
“Neither did you,” Mark replies, trying not to sound petulant. He’s aiming for nonchalance but he’s guessing he misses by a longshot judging from Johnny’s sneaky smile.
“I’m getting a masters in composition,” he says after a long moment. “Taeyong and I are writing a song together.”
“Oh,” Mark says, for lack of anything better to say. He’s written songs with Taeyong, even before he started taking actual courses in song-writing through his major. He supposes it shouldn’t surprise him that Taeyong’s grown to find other people to work with, but it still makes something akin to jealousy stir in Mark’s stomach.
As if sensing his unease, Taeyong appears at their sides carrying two mugs of coffee. “Mark and I used to write a lot together,” Taeyong comments, depositing the coffees on the table. “Putting that creative writing degree to good use.”
Mark feels his cheeks heat up and he ducks his head into his cup of coffee to try and hide it. “My degree is good for other things besides song writing,” he mumbles, and tries not to feel like a child when Taeyong pets over his hair in an affectionate apology.
“Of course, of course,” he says, disappearing to grab the last mug before settling onto the couch next to Johnny. “Now, where were we?”
Mark curls up in the armchair and tries to do a reading for his seminar while Johnny and Taeyong work, but it’s hard to concentrate when he’s half-listening to what they’re talking about. Mostly musical direction, at this point; the song seems to have already been written and now they’re trying to get the track as a whole going.
“Okay, can you just sing over this part here and we’ll see how it sounds?” Johnny asks while Mark is skimming a paragraph on grammar syntax.
Taeyong’s voice is soft and melodic and pairs nicely with the more stripped down instrumental Johnny has thrown together. Mark is just falling into the groove of the song when Taeyong sings a particular line that has Mark setting his book down immediately.
“Oh my god,” he says, unfurling himself from the armchair. “You can’t rhyme things and things together. They’re the same word. That’s not okay.”
Taeyong at least has the gall to look embarrassed, but Johnny just raises an eyebrow at him. “Oh?” he asks, plucking a sheet off the stack in front of him and sliding it across the coffee table to Mark. “Well, Mr. Creative Writing Major, what would you do differently?”
Mark examines the lyrics carefully. It’s an easy love song, nothing extraordinary about it, but Mark’s fingers itch for a pen to change things. He can already see the places where he can add imagery and use more expressive, complicated language. Johnny hands him a red pen, and Mark sets to work.
He gets lost in the song, asks Taeyong to sing the melody, for Johnny to play the track. He hums the tune back to himself, crossing out words here and there and adding his own touches. Gradually, the song begins to take shape, and by the time Mark resurfaces from his haze, the sun is beginning to set and the paper with the lyrics on it is more red ink than black.
“Uh, sorry,” Mark says, rubbing the back of his neck as he sets the pen down and curls himself back up into his armchair. “I sort of—really changed it.”
Taeyong just laughs as he helps Johnny pack up his things. “It’s fine, Markie,” he says. “You made it a lot better anyway.”
Mark glances at Johnny, takes in the sharp side-profile and the pillow-plush of his lips. He hates that he wants Johnny’s validation, that he needs the affirmation that he’s done well from someone who isn’t his roommate and has known him for the entirety of his undergrad.
Johnny glances up at him as he finishes packing his bag, laptop sliding in behind a notebook and what looks like a thin textbook. He regards Mark carefully, face a blank canvas that makes Mark shiver involuntarily. The tension is so thick Mark thinks he could reach out and grasp it in his hands, but after a long, painful moment, Johnny cracks a smile. He slings his bag over his shoulder, drains the rest of his coffee, and says, “Not bad, for a Canucks fan.”
Mark can’t help but smile back.
It’s easier, after that, to spend time with Johnny. Mark usually does it in the safety of his apartment with Taeyong as a buffer and the music flowing between them, but now if he runs into Johnny at the coffee shop in the student union building, he doesn’t run away. Chatting in line gradually leads to sitting at a table and chatting, which eventually leads to study sessions crammed into the corner table by the window.
Mark’s got no idea what Johnny needs to study in grad school for composition, but he spends a lot of time across the table from Mark with his headphones on, bobbing his head to whatever he’s working on. It’s distracting, but probably not any more so than Johnny’s general attractiveness, so Mark doubles down on his writing assignments and tries to come up with a better character arc for his short story submission.
Mark does end up learning a lot about Johnny, though. He finds out Johnny did his undergrad here at UBC, too, and decided to stick around for his masters instead of going somewhere else.
“I like the city,” Johnny had said around a bite of his muffin. “I could’ve tried to apply somewhere like Berklee or even UofT, but I like Vancouver. I wanted to stick around.”
He finds out Johnny is an only child, wants a dog but lives in a basement suite that doesn’t allow animals, and broke up with his last boyfriend almost a year ago. Mark tries not to look too interested by that third piece of information.
He also finds out that Johnny seems to know just about everyone on campus. People drop by at their table in the coffee shop to talk to Johnny about music, or a class they shared in undergrad, or an evening of drinks at a fancy bar in Gastown that Mark’s sure must sell drinks for prices on par with the hockey arena. They’re all equally as beautiful and equally as charming as Johnny, and with each person that stops by their table, Mark feels himself shrink in his seat.
He feels incredibly stupid for thinking that someone like Johnny might ever want to entertain the idea of being with someone like Mark. Johnny’s older and attractive and has a job working in his field of study. Mark, meanwhile, is floundering about in a degree that won’t get him anything if he doesn’t at least do a master’s after and judged Johnny so hard upon first meeting him that he wasted weeks of his life thinking Johnny was an asshole.
Mark wouldn’t want to date himself either, so he knows it’s probably best to pull the plug. Besides, he had initially wanted to spend time with Johnny just to get the bad taste out of his mouth.
Mark spends more time in his faculty library than the coffee shop. He avoids the apartment when he knows Johnny will be over working with Taeyong. Every text message Johnny sends him is met with straight-to-the-point answers and no banter.
“You’re being ridiculous,” Jaehyun says when they next meet up and Mark spills his guts. “You’re dumb when it comes to guys but you’re never this dumb. You’re cutting off any kind of a relationship before it even happens! You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, and all that jazz!”
Mark stabs a chopstick into his poke bowl. Maybe he should’ve gotten something other than raw fish for lunch. “Well, yeah, but so what? Johnny has plenty of friends. If I dip out of his life he’s not going to notice.”
Jaehyun frowns and flicks a sesame seed across the table at Mark. It hits him in the chest. “I’m going to fix this for you,” Jaehyun declares, pointing his chopsticks at Mark. “I’m going to fix this, and when you have a hot, older boyfriend don’t forget to thank me for it.”
Mark’s feels his face flush. “Oh my god, he won’t want to be my boyfriend,” he mumbles.
Jaehyun rolls his eyes and shoves a sushi roll into his mouth. “We’ll see about that,” he says, spraying rice over the table. Mark winces in disgust but diligently hands Jaehyun a napkin. He needs better friends.
Mark forgets about Jaehyun’s promise to fix things between him and Johnny. Finals are fast approaching and Mark finds himself buried in readings and final submissions for projects and a single exam for his elective in Korean popular music. By the time it’s all said and done with, Mark wants to curl up under his duvet and sleep for a thousand years, and then pick up some extra shifts at the campus bookstore to try and boost his savings.
What he doesn’t want is to be invited to another hockey game.
“Dude, come on,” Jaehyun whines, brandishing the ticket in front of Mark’s face, a blur of dark cobalt blue and forest green. “It’ll be fun! You just finished your last exam, I’ll buy you a stupidly expensive beer. What more could you want?”
“My bed?” Mark replies. “We can watch the game at home and I can lie on the couch while doing so?”
Jaehyun squints at him. “I already bought the tickets,” he says finally, though Mark suspects that Jaehyun probably just weasled them out of his cousin again.
“Fine,” he agrees, shelving his plans of lying in bed with Netflix for another day. “What time do you want to head downtown?”
Jaehyun tucks the ticket into the pocket on Mark’s flannel shirt and says, “I have this, like, faculty mixer thing that I have to make an appearance at this afternoon, so can I just meet you there? At our seats?”
“Sure,” Mark says. He doesn’t think anything of it; everyone’s busy at this time of year and Mark knows Jaehyun’s flying back to Korea for winter break, so he probably just wants to say goodbye to a bunch of people in his faculty before he flounces off across to the other side of the world for two weeks.
When Mark gets to their seats up in the nosebleeds again, though, he realizes he shouldn’t have been so naive.
Jaehyun is not sitting in the seat next to Mark’s. Instead, Mark finds him staring down Johnny’s side profile as he scrolls through his phone, oblivious to the dilemma rolling around in Mark’s head. He understands now that this is a set-up, but Mark can hardly think of anything more humiliating than having Johnny let him down gently while they sit through two and a half hours of sports entertainment.
As if sensing Mark’s slow spiral into panic, Johnny looks up and grins at him. “Mark,” he says, waving Mark over. Mark has little choice but to scoot past the other people in their row and sink into his seat.
“Johnny, hi,” he says, ignoring the rapid beating of his heart. “Where’s Jaehyun?”
Johnny grins, something softer and goofier than what Mark is used to. “Something came up,” he says dismissively. “So he gave me his ticket.”
“Uh huh,” Mark says, unconvinced, then adds, “Damn. He kept telling me he was going to buy me a beer tonight.”
Johnny’s laugh is full and bright and Mark wants to do something stupid like wrap himself up in it. “I’ll buy you a beer,” he says, standing up. “Be right back.”
Mark almost wishes he hadn’t said anything, because now that Johnny’s gone, he has room to properly freak out about this. He frantically whips out his phone and texts Jaehyun, but all he gets in return is a, enjoy the game!!!. Mark readjusts his ball cap on his head, wipes his sweaty palms on his jeans. Squints at the tiny players zooming around the ice for warm-up. He hadn’t even checked to see who the Canucks are playing.
When Johnny comes back, Mark fiddles with the lid on his drink. He feels even more out of place than he did the first time he came to a game with Jaehyun. The silence stretches between them until, finally, Mark can’t take it anymore.
“I’m sorry,” he blurts out, snapping the edge of his lid by accident. The plastic cracks along the rim.
Mark bites his lip, chances a glance at Johnny. Johnny’s looking back, attentively. It’s such a stark difference from how they met, almost in these exact seats. On that day, Johnny had looked at him with judgement and arrogance. Today, he’s looking at Mark fondly. Mark sets down his beer before he does something stupid like squeeze it.
“I guess I’m just sorry that you have to come to a game with me and watch a team you don’t really care about,” Mark says to his beer on the floor between his feet. “I’m sure you had better things to do tonight.”
He startles when Johnny sets a hand on his knee and tries not to think too much about how big Johnny’s hands are.
“Mark,” Johnny says, sincerely. Just his name. It makes Mark’s stomach erupt with butterflies. “Would you believe me if I told you I wanted to be here with you?”
Instinctively, Mark shakes his head.
“Would you believe me if I told you I liked spending hours and hours at Blue Chip with you because I like spending time with you and not just because I like their coffee? Or that working with you on music has been the highlight of my semester so far?”
“No,” Mark says quietly, but he does turn to look at Johnny.
How could he believe Johnny? Beautiful, talented, charismatic Johnny Suh? He’s just Mark Lee.
“Well, believe it,” Johnny says, smiling. “You’ve been avoiding me lately, and then your friend, Jaehyun, reached out to me, and I thought it was all very serendipitous.”
“I—oh no. What did Jaehyun say?” Mark squeaks.
Johnny laughs. He shifts his hand from Mark’s knee to reach over and take Mark’s hand. Mark squeaks again.
“Just that you had a very giant, obvious crush on me and if I wasn’t interested I should let you down gently, but if I was, then I should take you on a date.”
Mark blinks at their intertwined hands, then glances up at Johnny. “Take me on a date?” he repeats.
“Yeah,” Johnny replies. He uses his beer to gesture out at the arena. The players are filing off the ice for one more resurfacing before the game starts. “I thought, what better first date than the place where we first met? And on such bad terms, too. I thought maybe we could sort of—start fresh. Or at least make a new memory here.”
Mark blinks. “You want to—date me?” he asks, thoroughly confused.
Johnny rolls his eyes. “Yes, Mark. I want to date you,” he says. “Even though you’re an undergrad; even though you like a minimum of three spoonfuls of sugar in your coffee; even though your lyrics are thoughtful and sappy and heartwarming. Even though you’re a Canucks fan, I still want to date you.”
Mark feels his heart expand in his chest. He wasn’t expecting this. Maybe Jaehyun’s not a bad friend after all. He squeezes Johnny’s hand and ducks his head, trying to hide how furiously he’s blushing. “I—okay,” he stutters. “I want to date you, too. Obviously.”
Johnny grins and leans back in his seat. He doesn’t let go of Mark’s hand.
“Even though I’m a Blackhawks fan?”
Mark remembers the deep red of Johnny’s jersey the day they met, the cocky smile that quickly turned arrogant. He takes those memories and tosses them out the window. After all, he’s here to make new memories with Johnny in this arena.
“Yeah, Johnny. Even though you’re a Blackhawks fan.”