The mixed smell of cleaning products and fresh flowers didn’t even bother him anymore. Sangyeon was used to it, after almost a year in business, the same scent bidding him farewell every time he closed the restaurant late at night, every time he opened the store in the early mornings.
It was autumn now, and so Sangyeon grabbed his coat from his office and his set of keys from the top of his desk. He didn’t have enough employees lately, so he had closed the restaurant alone, and it was well over midnight now. His body ached all over, from cooking and serving customers all day, to spending hours mopping the floors of the entire place and cleaning all of the kitchen equipment by himself.
He turned the lights off, and the keys jiggled in his hand as he locked the front door behind him. He stole one last glance at the restaurant, his restaurant, and made his way to his car parked farther up the road.
The street was empty, and the chilly breeze made him speed up his steps and hurry his movements to climb into his car.
By the time he reached the underground parking of his apartment, it was almost two in the morning. Sangyeon barely held back a sigh.
He had to be at the restaurant for seven in the morning, as he had to go and teach one of his new employees how to get the shop ready for the day.
His keys stuffed in the pockets of his jacket, Sangyeon made his way upstairs, taking the elevator up to his floor. His boyfriend Jacob would probably be asleep by now, or maybe he wouldn’t be home yet; as a music producer, Jacob worked according to his own schedule. Still, unless there was an urgent deadline to meet, Jacob preferred visiting his studio in daytime, as it coincided with the schedule of Sunwoo, Jacob’s co-producer and a mutual friend of theirs.
Sangyeon didn’t think there was any deadline coming up now, but again, he hadn’t really had the chance to ask Jacob about it in a while. He had been too caught up with the restaurant, too busy, and he would come back home always exhausted, finding Jacob already asleep in their bed. He would feel like an asshole, to let his boyfriend fall asleep alone every night, and even more so in the morning when all he could do was leave the house at the brink of dawn, the only love he was able to give Jacob being nothing more than a delicate kiss on the forehead as he tried not to wake him up.
His hands fumbled to get their apartment door unlocked, and he slid inside the quiet home, darkness greeting him along with the buzzing of the fridge in the kitchen. Sangyeon tiptoed through the apartment, with showering as his immediate priority. But first, he had to grab himself a clean pair of underwear from their bedroom. He could do that quickly, without waking up Jacob, just like he did every night.
As he gently pushed the door of their bedroom open, Sangyeon was met with the sight of Jacob sitting up against the headboard of their bed, scrolling through his phone, eyes squinting at the brightness of the screen in the dark room.
Jacob raised his head up at Sangyeon’s entrance, immediately placing his phone down on the mattress.
“Hey,” his voice greeted, careful whisper quickly alerting Sangyeon.
“Is something wrong?” his brows furrowed in worry, and walked closer to the bed, shrugging his jacket off his shoulders and onto the floor.
Jacob looked at him, silent for a few seconds, looking hesitant. Sangyeon noticed he was wearing his usual sleepwear, the old college sweatshirt he had stolen from Sangyeon when they had first started sharing a bed, and the grey sweatpants that sat low on his hips when Jacob walked around in them.
“Hyung, can we talk?”
It was Jacob who seemed worried now, and Sangyeon had to stop for a moment, midway through taking off his socks. His entire body was about to collapse from exhaustion, and he wasn’t sure if he could handle staying awake for much longer anymore.
“Can this wait until tomorrow?” a small pout formed on his face. “I’m tired, baby.”
That had Jacob immediately shake his head, and Sangyeon knew it was serious. His boyfriend patted the space next to him on the bed as an invitation for Sangyeon to climb in. “Please?”
Sangyeon gave up, thinking that the faster this was over, the faster he could go to sleep.
He walked over to their bed, sitting next to Jacob. Neither of them had turned the lights on, so they sat in semi-darkness, just enough light filtering in from the window for Sangyeon to be able to see his boyfriend’s face. Despite them sharing an apartment, Sangyeon didn’t remember the last time he had seen him like this, fresh out of a shower, hair brushed down and a thin layer of lip balm on his lips. Jacob looked really pretty. It made Sangyeon’s heart ache.
“What is it?” he asked, making a conscious effort not to slur his words due to how tired he was.
Jacob fiddled with his fingers, eyes looking down. Jacob was timid, Sangyeon knew. He kept a lot to himself, and often struggled with sit-down talks like this. Sangyeon reached a hand out and wrapped it around Jacob’s smaller hands. He hoped his calloused hands were still warm enough to calm Jacob down.
“Remember a few months ago, when you fired me from Flower Snack because I was overworking myself?”
Jacob's voice was sweet to Sangyeon's ears, but the question brought back a bunch of unpleasant memories, of petty arguments and frustration, of silent tears and of a heart heavy with worry at the sight of the one he loved ruining his life for the restaurant. Jacob had worked for him then, and was putting his work as a music producer aside in order to help Sangyeon with Flower Snack. Only, Jacob ended up working at the restaurant more than Sangyeon himself did, and Sangyeon wouldn't accept that.
“I remember,” Sangyeon replied.
He was far from expecting where Jacob was going with this, bringing back these memories he knew were unpleasant for the both of them.
“You’re doing the same thing I did,” Jacob said, voice incredibly soft, but the truth of his words ringed painfully in Sangyeon’s mind.
“It’s not the same,” Sangyeon denied.
Jacob let out a sigh. “You work from opening till closing. Every single day. Back then you flipped out at me because I was taking extra shifts to cover for those who were sick or unable to work. Why did you think it was wrong of me to do that, when you're doing way more now and you're fine with it?”
“Because you were chasing my dreams instead of chasing yours” Sangyeon interrupted, tone harsher than he'd intended. “We talked about this. I didn’t want you sacrificing your time at the studio to keep Flower Snack afloat. But this is my dream I’m working for, Jacob. I'm not sacrificing anything else for it.”
"Not sacrificing anything?" Jacob repeated, incredulous. He was scowling, slightly angry, like Sangyeon rarely ever saw him, and it made his stomach twist in guilt.
"When's the last time you've had a full night of sleep?" Jacob continued. "Or that you went biking by the river just because you felt like it? When’s the last time you hung out with the guys, when’s the last time you spent even just an hour with me? I'm worried, hyung. You're never home, how… how do I know you're okay?"
Jacob's expression softened, his eyes filling up with worry, and Sangyeon thought he could even see the subtle glint of tears glimmering in the darkness. Sangyeon looked away, as he knew he wouldn't be able to stand the image of a hurt Jacob any longer.
“This restaurant, this project…” Sangyeon started, glancing off hesitantly. “It’s everything I’ve ever wanted. I dropped out of med school for this, I used all of my savings for this, and now it’s right in front of me, things have been going so great, and you expect me to just slack off?”
He looked back at Jacob, only to see the younger frowning. Now he looked annoyed, and frankly, Sangyeon was starting to get annoyed, too. Couldn’t Jacob see that what Sangyeon was doing was only just work hard and make sure he brought Flower Snack to success? This was just a rough patch on the road, but Sangyeon had expected he’d have to go through at least one at some point.
“It’s not slacking off, it’s just giving yourself a break when you obviously need it,” Jacob argued, voice small but looked as though he was determined to get his point across. “It’s letting yourself be loved and taken care of by your own boyfriend who is worried about your health.”
Jacob held Sangyeon’s gaze until Sangyeon had to look away again, overwhelmed by the guilt seizing his throat. He wished he had the words to reassure his boyfriend, because Jacob truly was worrying over nothing, but he couldn’t think of anything to say. He couldn’t tell Jacob that he was taking care of himself just fine, because, well, maybe deep down Sangyeon knew he wasn’t, but how could he make Jacob understand that it was his entire life he was betting on this restaurant, that it wasn’t just some fun hobby he could opt out of if he wanted to be lazy?
“I can’t afford a break,” Sangyeon shook his head. “I have new employees I need to train, I have a new location I’m trying to open next year, I have a lot of work to do. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.”
Even those words felt off on Sangyeon’s tongue.
But Sangyeon could never admit that. Not when he was trying so hard to keep his restaurant standing, not when he was sweating to the last drop trying to carry his entire restaurant on his back; but he would be crawling on bloody knees and scorched palms to keep Flower Snack House in business before he would ever consider giving up.
“Hyung,” Jacob spoke softly. He reached to place a hand on Sangyeon’s thigh, fingers tracing gentle patterns over the fabric of his jeans, while he intertwined his other fingers with Sangyeon’s. “You’re not fine. Where’s the Sangyeon of a few months ago who talked me into staying home even just for one night, who made sure I slept a decent amount before letting me leave our bed? Where’s the Sangyeon who would bring me lunch to my studio when I forgot to eat? Let me be that person for you right now, hyung. Give yourself a break. I gave you my trust back then, didn’t I? Do I not have yours?”
The words cut at Sangyeon’s heart like daggers, making him bleed painfully as he realized that indeed, he had been a terrible boyfriend to Jacob over the past weeks. He had completely neglected the younger, had brushed off his attempts at taking care of him, had ignored his calls and texts reminding him to eat, begging him to sit down and give his body a break.
Jacob deserved better. He had so much love to give, Sangyeon knew that, but he couldn’t let Jacob keep trying to send him all the love in the world when he wasn’t available to receive it.
“Jacob,” he blurted out, “maybe I just don’t have time to be in a relationship.”
His eyes met Jacob’s in a heavy moment of silence. Jacob’s mouth fell open, his eyes searching Sangyeon’s for answers.
“Love, what are you saying?” Jacob tilted his head in confusion. His grip on Sangyeon’s hand loosened.
And the longer Sangyeon stayed silent, the more Jacob’s face fell, realizing that Sangyeon was serious.
“I think we should take a break.”
The next morning, Jacob woke up to an empty bed. Nothing new; Sangyeon had gotten him used to that over the past month, and Jacob would even go as far as saying he learned to appreciate the positives of the situation. As in, if he stretched his arms and legs out to wake his body, he didn’t have to be scared to hit Sangyeon in the process. Oh, and if he felt like he had to yawn really bad, he didn’t have to worry he’d look ugly in front of his boyfriend. And the morning breath, too, Jacob didn’t have to feel self-conscious about that.
But Jacob knew that all of this was just him pretending to be fine waking up without those strong arms wrapped around his waist, without a warm breath fanning his collarbone and a round nose gently rubbing at his neck as a sign that Sangyeon was waking up too. He missed messily kicking the blankets off the bed to be able to roll over Sangyeon and pepper the older’s face with soft kisses, to hear him giggle and feel his warm hands sliding under his sweatshirt to hold his waist.
All those were only distant memories now, and the reality of the situation hit Jacob like a truck when he laid his eyes on Sangyeon’s pillow, where there was a note, scribbled in Sangyeon’s messy handwriting.
Jacob’s breath caught in his throat, obstructed by the lump there, growing with each passing second spent in the dreadful silence of the bedroom.
They had both gone to sleep at a late hour, after talking things out some more and coming to the mutual agreement that putting some distance between them would be beneficial. Sangyeon would stay at their place, and Jacob would find somewhere to crash at with their friends for a while. Jacob hadn’t messaged anyone yet, but he knew exactly where he would go, and he preferred taking the inconvenience of moving out upon himself rather than adding more onto Sangyeon’s already full plate. Their apartment was close to the restaurant anyway, and Sangyeon would be needing it more than Jacob would.
They had gone to sleep on good terms, wrapped in each other’s arms, but still, that didn’t mean reading Sangyeon’s note didn’t sting. Especially when Jacob thought about the fact that this might have been their last night falling asleep like this together, and the simplicity of Sangyeon’s little note hurt like a slap in the face.
Jacob packed a bag of essentials, and tried to avoid the ghosts of Sangyeon’s presence as best as he could. It was hard, though, when every single thing reminded him of the older man, from their shared closet where there was barely a distinction between their sides anymore, to the metaphorical gesture of having to break apart the pair of toothbrushes, taking his yellow one and leaving behind Sangyeon’s blue one.
Overwhelmed with emotions, Jacob completely forgot to text his best friend about staying at his place for a few days. Not like he thought Kevin would ever say no to him, but he knew the correct and polite thing to do would have been to give him at least a little heads up before showing up at his place uninvited.
It wasn’t until he walked out of the subway and into Kevin and Changmin’s apartment complex that he realized maybe neither of them would even be home. It was close to noon, Changmin was probably out there somewhere getting ready for this tv show he would be appearing on, and Kevin was a student, probably on campus at the moment.
His feet led him up the stairs until he found himself standing in front of the closed door, and only then did he realize he had no idea what to do. He did own a spare set of keys to Kevin and Changmin’s apartment, but in his hurry he had forgotten to take it with him. In the very high possibility of there being neither of his friends behind that door, Jacob would probably go find refuge in his studio, and then… and then he’d wait.
Hesitantly, he lifted his fist and knocked, three small hits, barely putting enough effort in to make noise as he knew it was most likely to be pointless.
He waited, and then he heard some footsteps from inside the apartment. His heartbeat sped up, and the door swung open. His best friend appeared in front of him like a mirage, hair tousled and dressed in short shorts and a loose t-shirt. A delicious perfume drifted out of the apartment, coffee and bacon and maple syrup, making Jacob’s tastebuds salivate.
But why was Kevin home, making breakfast when it was almost noon?
“What are you doing?” Jacob frowned, taking in Kevin’s appearance once more. Hickeys littered his friend’s neck and freckles of white flour adorned his cheeks and the tip of his nose. He didn’t look like he was in any rush to leave his house.
“I should be asking you that,” Kevin laughed, leaning his shoulder on the doorway. “But since you asked first; I’m making breakfast for Changmin and I because we decided to sleep in and relax at home today.”
“But why aren’t you at school? Why isn’t Changmin at work?” Jacob was growing more confused by the second.
Kevin in turn shot him a weird look. “Because it’s Saturday?”
And that’s when Jacob realized that all this roller coaster with Sangyeon had him so confused that he didn’t even know which day of the week it was anymore, and as his face turned from confusion to shock, he saw that Kevin was starting to understand what was going on with his best friend.
“Jacob, are you okay?” Kevin asked with a full face of worry, stepping one foot out of the apartment towards Jacob to lay a comforting hand on his shoulder.
It didn’t take much more for Jacob to finally break and let the tears he had been holding since the previous night flow down his cheeks, and Kevin pulled him into his arms, gently ridding Jacob of his backpack at the same time. He heard the bag fall to the ground with a little tud, but Jacob didn’t see anything, his face hidden into Kevin’s shoulder as the sobs wracked his body.
“Jacob hyung?” Changmin’s small voice came from behind Kevin.
“Babe, can you grab his bag?” Kevin asked at the same time as he was pulling Jacob into the apartment to sit him down on the couch.
“You’re okay Jacob, you’re with us now,” Kevin whispered into Jacob’s hair. “Tell me what happened?”
Jacob took a deep breath, and pressed his palms over his eyes for a few seconds, willing himself to stop crying. When he looked up again, Kevin and Changmin were sat on either side of him on the couch, both holding Jacob’s hand or arm as a comforting gesture. It didn’t take more than for him to see their worried faces for Jacob to tell them everything.
Despite Jacob and Sangyeon taking a break from their relationship, life had to continue.
Jacob woke up the next morning when Changmin accidentally made a clattering noise as he grabbed himself breakfast. It was so early the sun was barely rising, but Changmin was already fully dressed and ready to run out the door, for work probably. He didn’t notice Jacob waking, and Jacob didn’t want to make his friend feel bad, especially when he had just showed up at his place so out of the blue, so he closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep until he heard Changmin leaving.
Hours later, he was helping Kevin make breakfast, not before he had taken some time to send a well thought-out message to Sangyeon, wishing him a nice day and reminding him that he was always available if the older needed anything. He received no response.
He also texted Sunwoo, his friend and also co-producer, to know if the younger would be willing to make an exception out of their already not regular schedule and come in to work on a Sunday. Sunwoo said yes.
It wasn’t unusual for them both to randomly ask each other for last-minute work dates, especially since after that period of time when Jacob had been totally unavailable to Sunwoo, spending his entire time helping Sangyeon out at Flower Snack instead.
Their studio was plunged in semi-dark lighting, the screen from their main computer making up for most of it. Sunwoo was right on time, walking into the room all smiles and eager to work. That’s what Jacob loved most about co-producing with Sunwoo. They bounced off each other’s energy and ideas, and truly, Jacob would never have been able to make it without his friend.
But today, Sunwoo was a little more excited than usual, uncharacteristically chipper and giggly. His left leg bounced up and down, and Jacob had to stop him in the middle of them reviewing one of their tracks because it seemed like the younger was barely concentrating on the music.
“Why’d you stop it?” Sunwoo snapped out of his little bubble at the abrupt stop of the song.
“Because you weren’t listening,” Jacob replied. “Say it out loud. Tell me, let it go so we can focus after it’s all out of your system, whatever’s got you so excited today.”
Sunwoo bit back a smile, and his eyes practically sparkled up at Jacob.
“It’s nothing,” he said, unconvincingly. “I just got this stupid idea last night, and it’s making me kinda nervous but also like, there’s a tingly feeling in my stomach and I can’t stop thinking about it. But it’s fine, it was just stupid. You wanted to work, and I needed a distraction, so.”
“Sunwoo,” Jacob shook his head. “You shouldn’t use work as a distraction.” Admittedly, Jacob was also using work as a distraction… but things were different. And Sunwoo didn’t need to know that. “And it sounds like this idea might be a good thing, because you haven’t stopped smiling ever since you walked in here.”
Sunwoo threw his head back against his folded arms, and Jacob noticed his smile only growing wider as the younger stared at the ceiling. They both stayed silent for a while, Sunwoo looking like he was half-daydreaming and half-trying to put his thoughts together.
“You can talk to me,” Jacob offered gingerly. “You can talk to Haknyeon, or you can talk to Eric, or any of our other friends.”
“Hyung, it’s nothing to worry about,” Sunwoo insisted with a chuckle. “It’s just… last night, I... I imagined what it would be like if I proposed to Haknyeon.”
Jacob’s jaw dropped in shock. Sunwoo laughed a little more, and spun around once on his chair. “It was just a thought, though,” the younger said nonchalantly. “I don’t think it would happen soon.”
In retrospect, maybe Jacob shouldn’t have been shocked at Sunwoo’s confession. Sunwoo and Haknyeon had been dating since high school, had always been totally head over heels for each other in a way that made everyone think their relationship wouldn’t last very long, but they had made it all these years without ever stepping out of their honeymoon phase.
“Why not?” Jacob found himself asking. “Why not soon?”
Sunwoo looked at Jacob like he had grown a second head. His lovesick smile was gone as just as fast.
“Because why the hell would Haknyeon want to marry me?”
It was Jacob’s turn to laugh. “So you’re saying he’s only dating you out of pity?”
Sunwoo groaned, and bumped his head on his arms a few times. “I know he loves me, that’s not the problem. I’m not… god this is so embarrassing, I just don’t feel like I’m worthy of him. I feel like… he loves me as a boyfriend but I don’t know if I could ever make a good husband.”
The younger was looking up at the ceiling, Jacob could see him getting anxious the more they talked about his feelings. And maybe having Sunwoo opening up about his relationship stirred something in Jacob, making him feel like he could be honest and open, too.
“Sangyeon and I are taking a break,” Jacob blurted out without thinking. For the first time, he didn’t feel like crying when voicing it out.
Sunwoo’s head turned towards Jacob, blinking in shock.
“Hyung, I… I didn’t know…” Sunwoo stuttered, eyes wide open.
Jacob chuckled half-heartedly. “Don’t worry, you couldn’t have known, I’m the one that wasn’t going to talk about it. I guess I was trying to use work as a distraction, too,” he shrugged.
That made Sunwoo laugh. “Well, look at us. What a depressing pair of producers we are.”
Sunwoo and him didn’t end up working on any of their tracks. Instead, they ordered some fried chicken and hamburgers and ate in the comfort of their studio, and they talked. It was nice catching up with his friend, not focusing on work for once, because ever since starting university Sunwoo had been a lot busier than over the summer.
Jacob never knew Sunwoo to be so good at giving advice; maybe the fact that his friend was younger had Jacob believe he should be the one to help Sunwoo instead. Turns out, Sunwoo having more experience than him on the dating scene, even if it was from only one relationship, made Sunwoo a lot wiser than Jacob had thought him to be.
“I think Sangyeon hyung just acts on feelings rather than rationality, and you, you still think keeping your worries to yourself is going to be enough for him to realize that what he thinks is helping you is actually harmful to your relationship,” Sunwoo had said, leaving Jacob in deep thoughts for a few minutes.
It was true that Sangyeon took decisions on a whim, driven by his desire to help and do the right thing, but he rarely ever stopped to consider all the possible repercussions of his actions. Sangyeon probably thought he was taking the best decision by suggesting a break, but he hadn’t thought about the possibility that spending time apart could just hurt the both of them more. Jacob wanted to help, he knew he could help, but Sangyeon was pushing him away thinking that Jacob would be happier if he didn’t have to worry about Sangyeon.
Sunwoo and Haknyeon had it so easy. Jacob could only think of one single time the couple had fought over all these years they had been dating, unless there was something happening behind closed doors that their entire friend group had been too blind to notice. The probability of that was highly unlikely, though. Their happiness together was always so genuine, but they never overdid things; after years, they were still acting shy in public, and they were absolutely adorable. It made even the taken guys in the group feel single.
Jacob and Sangyeon acted timid with each other, too, but it wasn’t the same thing. Jacob knew a lot of his shyness around Sangyeon stemmed from his own insecurities, and Sangyeon in his mission not to overstep any of Jacob’s boundaries always acted extra careful, sometimes so distant it seemed like he was afraid of Jacob.
“Haknyeon and I took a break once too, you know,” Sunwoo said, munching on his fries.
“Three days which you both spent crying because you missed each other too much,” Jacob recalled the event very well.
Sunwoo cleared his throat, his cheeks reddening a little. “Yes, well, spending time apart did make me think a lot, and when we talked it out I just got to understand him even better.”
“You should propose to him if you really want to.”
Sunwoo’s head perked up. “You think so?”
Jacob nodded with a smile. “I think you should trust that your gut feeling will lead you to the right decision. The heart never lies, Sunwoo.”
“Hyung, that advice is good for you too,” Sunwoo sent Jacob a look. “Trust your feelings, and stop hiding them from Sangyeon hyung. It doesn’t matter what kind of catastrophic scenario your head thinks opening up to him might cause. Help him get to know you, by showing him the vulnerable sides as well as the greatest ones. That’s how your relationship gets stronger.”
Jacob looked at Sunwoo with an amused smile. “When did you grow up so much?”
The red-haired gulped down the rest of his gatorade and laughed.
“We wrote too many love songs together,” Sunwoo grinned.
The cash register beeped, the drawer locking itself after Sangyeon had grabbed the small change he needed from it. He handed the money to the lady in front of him, and bid her goodbye, his customer service smile hiding the conflicted feelings swarming inside him.
His eyes scanned the small dining room of the restaurant, mostly empty at the moment. With noon approaching, it was bound to get crowded soon, with students and office workers coming for their lunch break. Sangyeon knew by now what to expect, and he looked at the staff he had with him today.
Two employees, and himself, that clearly wasn’t enough to smoothly get through the lunch hour rush, but Sangyeon had no choice. He didn’t have enough employees available during weekdays, and his part-timers took turns at small shifts in between classes.
The bells above the door rang, and Sangyeon stood up from his stool to welcome the new customer. He stopped himself mid-bow when he recognized his friend Juyeon, with his oversized varsity jacket and a backpack slung over one shoulder.
“Hi hyung!” the younger greeted first, letting the door close behind him.
“Hey, Juyeon-ie,” Sangyeon smiled back as soon as he got over the surprise of seeing his friend. “You’re alone?” he then realized, glancing over Juyeon’s shoulder, expecting Eric, or Hyunjun, or Jaehyun to be right behind him. “Where are the others?”
“It’s just me,” Juyeon confirmed. Sangyeon could see the dimmed light in his eyes, the fatigue in his expression, even though the youngest was doing his best to smile and sound relaxed. Something they both had in common today, Sangyeon thought to himself.
“Oh,” was all Sangyeon managed to say out loud. Clearly, there was something going on. It was rare to see Juyeon coming alone to Flower Snack. Only, he wasn’t too sure if Juyeon wanted him to approach the situation.
“I just need a moment alone, I think…” Juyeon sighed, eyes darting around pensively. “It’s just overwhelming, uni, the guys, my new job…”
“Do you want me to set you up a table in the back?” Sangyeon offered, feeling as though a lighting bulb had suddenly appeared over his head. “The place gets busy around lunch, but you’d be completely alone there. I have only two guys in today, they shouldn’t bother you.”
Juyeon shook his head. “No no, hyung, it’s alright, I just came here to eat.”
Sangyeon took a few seconds to look at Juyeon, then nodded reluctantly.
“If you say so. But tell me if there’s anything I can do, okay? I can open my office for you if it gets too busy in here and you need somewhere quieter.”
Juyeon smiled, and gave a quick nod. “Thanks, hyung.”
Sangyeon got Juyeon seated at a table in the far corner of the restaurant, near the window and next to the flower wall, and then went back to working as the restaurant progressively got busier. He ran from the dining room to the kitchens, welcomed new people in and packed takeaway when requested, barely catching his breath in between two water refills. He tried to keep an eye on Juyeon, who, true to his words, ate in peace and remained unbothered by the noise. Sangyeon later noticed the earbuds in Juyeon’s ears.
The lunch hour ended and Juyeon was still sat in the corner of the restaurant, slowly sipping his coffee as he stared out the window. There were a few people left eating, but the worst was over, and after checking with his employees, Sangyeon confirmed that Jaehyuk and Junkyu could take care of the remaining customers.
He walked over to Juyeon’s table, and pulled the chair across from him. It’s only when Sangyeon fully sat down that Juyeon looked up, and noticed his presence, hastily taking his earbuds out.
“I’m sorry, I’ve been here too long, haven’t I?” the younger asked.
Sangyeon raised an eyebrow, making a vague gesture at the rest of the room. “Did you notice the restaurant is half-empty now? If I wanted to kick you out, I’d have done it when there was still a queue waiting outside.”
Juyeon blushed in embarrassment, and Sangyeon knew the younger had been too deep in his thoughts to notice the change in affluence in the restaurant.
“I heard about you and Jacob hyung,” Juyeon suddenly blurted out.
Sangyeon froze for a second. He didn’t expect his friend to already know about the break.
“Did he tell you?” he asked.
Juyeon shook his head. “No. Kevin told Chanhee, then Chanhee told Younghoon- no, he told Haknyeon, and Jaehyun heard it from someone, maybe that was Younghoon, so Jaehyun told Eric-”
“Okay, okay, I get it,” Sangyeon sighed. “How long did I expect to keep things hidden when I’m friends with the lot of you?”
Juyeon frowned. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. We’re taking a break, and you guys would have found out sooner or later. It’s been a little tough lately, I just didn’t expect everyone to know already.”
Sangyeon sighed again, and glanced at his hands, folded neatly on top of the table. Thinking about Jacob stirred up a whole bunch of repressed emotions from deep inside him, bringing to the surface a wave of loneliness, and longing for the man he loved.
He knew he had been busy lately, maybe too busy that he hadn’t taken the time to stop and analyze his feelings. Maybe then, he’d have realized that the last time Jacob and him had gone on a proper date had been over a month ago, the last time they fell into bed together being two weeks past.
Sangyeon knew he loved Jacob. He just hadn’t realized that the entire time he thought he’d had Jacob so close, he had been so distant from his younger boyfriend that he had been missing him, his laugh, his lips, his hugs. Being busy had simply masked those feelings, and Sangyeon created in his mind the illusion of a functioning relationship by falling asleep next to his boyfriend, kissing him in his sleep before leaving for work to appease his guilty conscience.
“Hyung?” Juyeon’s concerned voice broke Sangyeon out of his state of deep thinking. He looked at his friend, who reached a hand to hold the back of Sangyeon’s, his eyebrows furrowed in worry.
“Am I losing him?” Sangyeon asked without thinking, eyes desperately reaching for an answer in Juyeon’s. “Please, be honest with me, Juyeon-ah. Did I fuck everything up?”
Juyeon looked surprised for a moment, then his shoulders dropped slightly and he relaxed against the back of his chair.
“No, hyung, I don’t think you did,” Juyeon answered, and Sangyeon calmed himself down a little from the honesty in his friend’s voice. “Maybe a break was what you both needed. Sometimes taking your distance helps clear your mind about certain things.”
Sangyeon nodded, brain spinning things he could have cleared his mind of, but all he found was barriers and insecurities and fears, all waiting to be uncovered, for Sangyeon not to shove them down even further. No, Sangyeon definitely hadn’t been using this break as a way to get in touch with his emotions, as he probably should have.
“You know, Eric and I, we’re not taking a break, but we did start getting a little distant recently,” Juyeon confessed, making Sangyeon’s eyebrows raise in surprise. “It’s nothing bad, just me being busy with my studies and the tutoring I’m doing, and our schedules not aligning as well as when we both worked here.”
Juyeon’s smile was nostalgic, and he stayed silent for a few seconds, just taking in the environment of Flower Snack; the flowers, the new employees, the smells floating in the air and the faint background music.
“I wouldn’t call it a break,” Juyeon continued, “but it’s almost as if we’re being forced into one. I know he’s busy too, and we don’t spend nearly as much time together as we did over the summer. I thought about it a lot, and I don’t think that’s too much of a bad thing. It’s making me realize just how special the time we get to spend together is. It makes me love him even more.”
So that’s what had Juyeon so preoccupied, Sangyeon realized.
“How are you so calm about it?” Sangyeon asked, suddenly doubting himself because maybe Juyeon sounded too confident on the matter for it to be the cause of his torments. “How do you know he feels the same way you do?”
Unexpectedly, Juyeon laughed.
“He doesn’t,” the younger said. “I know he’s upset when I push him away because I have assignments I need to finish, but he doesn’t tell me because he doesn’t want me to feel bad for being the reason we can’t spend time together.”
“Did he tell you that?” Sangyeon asked. He was a little confused as to how Juyeon could be so chill knowing that his boyfriend didn’t share the same opinion as him, if he wasn’t even telling Juyeon about it directly.
“He doesn’t have to tell me for me to know.”
“So are you going to tell him? That you know?”
“Why would I need to?” Juyeon asked. “Eric and I, we disagree, a lot, on many things, but because I know him well, I know when to push and when not to. We… agree to disagree, most of the time. He knows that I know, but what can we do about it? It bothers him that I’m busy all the time, but if it really bothered him, he’d talk to me. When we argue, we only do it for fun. There’s no point arguing about things that we can’t control.”
Sangyeon was stunned. People always said that communication was key for any relationship to work, but he never imagined this kind of communication even existed.
“I don’t know how Jacob feels about us, though,” Sangyeon thought out loud, a hint of disappointment in his tone.
“You know, you two weren’t that close before you started dating,” Juyeon stated, as nicely as he could.
“We were!” Sangyeon exclaimed defensively.
“It’s not anything bad, hyung,” Juyeon chuckled. “It just means things are going to work differently for you than they do for me. Jacob hyung’s just like that, he doesn’t share much about himself and you not being his literal best friend since birth obviously you wouldn’t know much about him. I’m not saying that means you love him less, or that you’re a bad boyfriend, just… it’s not as easy to know what somebody’s thinking when you haven’t been friends with them for six years before you started dating.”
Juyeon had a point.
Juyeon had a very good point.
Juyeon and Eric’s ability to read each other’s mind definitely came from all those years of hopeless pining on both their parts, of observing the other and spending a lot of time together as friends. Jacob had that kind of connection with Kevin, his brother-from-another-mother, who had practically adopted Jacob when he had first moved to Korea, only a few years ago. But Jacob didn’t have that kind of connection with Sangyeon.
It’s not like Sangyeon didn’t know Jacob. He simply didn’t know him as well as Kevin did, or as well as Juyeon knew Eric. They hadn’t been the closest friends before feelings had started developing, and a lot of unspoken fears had created barriers between them, and building trust had been a slow and arduous process. Sangyeon was protective, maybe too protective, and Jacob still struggled with letting himself be taken care of. Jacob was someone who always looked after others before himself, someone who wore his heart on his sleeve, but who never reached out to others when it was his turn to need help. In that sense, Sangyeon and Jacob were quite similar. Very similar.
Sangyeon’s entire world stopped turning, and the background music of the restaurant became only a distant buzzing noise in the corner of his mind.
Jacob had been right. Sangyeon was doing the exact same thing Jacob had been doing back when Sangyeon had fired him from the restaurant. He was overworking himself, blind to everything else around him that he was neglecting by doing so. He was refusing Jacob’s help, pushing him away instead of admitting his weaknesses. Sangyeon had been stupid. Oh, so stupid. He couldn’t believe himself.
“Juyeon...” Sangyeon started, hesitantly. “What should I do?”
Juyeon looked at him for a second, before placing his coffee mug down in a very serious manner that almost made Sangyeon snort.
“If you want to stay with him, I’d say call the break off,” his friend said. “You’ve had your time to reflect on yourself, now you need to talk to him about why you felt like you needed space in the first place.”
“But… what if he…” Sangyeon bit his lip nervously.
“Unless you’re a mind reader, you won’t know until you ask him,” Juyeon smiled gently.
“Okay,” Sangyeon nodded. “I’ll talk to him. I will… Tomorrow.”
Juyeon raised an eyebrow. “Will you?”
Sangyeon inhaled. “Yes. I have to, and I want to apologize to him,” he sighed. “Enough about me now. Me and Jacob taking a break isn’t the reason you came here alone, is it?”
Juyeon made a surprised face.
“I may not be a mind reader, but you’re like an open book, Juyeon-ie,” Sangyeon laughed.
His friend blushed shyly, his eyes darting down to the table between them. He lifted the mug in his hand and swirled it, eyes staring at the now cold liquid inside.
“I was thinking of moving out of my apartment. With Eric.”
It wasn’t a secret to anyone that Juyeon and Eric shared an apartment with Jaehyun, and had officialised Younghoon as the fourth occupant just last week. With Chanhee also talking about wanting to move to Seoul to be closer to the place of his internship, it was no wonder Juyeon felt their small flat was starting to get crowded, and would want to get his own space with Eric.
“That’s not a bad idea,” Sangyeon said. “You’re hesitating?”
Juyeon nodded. “I’m just not sure if he’d want to. I know he loves living with the guys, playing video games with Hyunjae hyung and listening to music with Younghoon hyung, and since I’m so busy lately it’s good that he has them around.”
“You do know that you guys moving out together isn’t what’s going to stop Eric from hanging out with Hyunjae and Younghoon, right?”
Juyeon chuckled. “I know, and it's not like I want us to move out because I’m jealous of him spending time with them or anything like that. But, we’re so used to living with them, our new place would be so silent without Eric and Hyunjae arguing all the time, that would be weird.”
Sangyeon snorted. “Oh, I’m sure Eric can be loud enough on his own.”
“And what if he thinks living with just me is boring? What if we forget to stock up on toothpaste and only notice when the stores are closed? What if I’m not home and Eric forgets his keys so he’s stuck outside?”
Juyeon had this look on his face that started to resemble panic, and with the speed at which the words came out of his mouth, Sangyeon could tell this wasn’t the first time these worries were crossing his mind.
“Juyeon,” Sangyeon called out, calmly. “It seems to me like you’re looking for excuses to convince yourself it’s a bad idea. But you’ve got nothing. Those aren’t rational fears. So what are you really scared of?”
It took a few seconds, Juyeon blinking rapidly, before taking deep breaths.
“I don’t know what he’s thinking,” Juyeon admitted, lowering his gaze again. “I’m scared, because I can always tell, but this time I have no idea how he feels about living with me. Sometimes I feel like he prefers having roommates, sometimes I feel like he’s annoyed we don’t have much privacy. It’s confusing, and I’m not used to that.”
The confession weirdly drew a smile on Sangyeon’s lips. Maybe perfect communication didn’t exist after all.
He gave Juyeon a few seconds to breathe again, and then their eyes met, and Sangyeon smiled at him in reassurance.
“You can just ask him casually, and worst case scenario is he says no, and you know that won’t change anything between you two. Also, you’re both adults, I’m sure you would be able to find some questionable toothpaste recipe off the internet to save your asses for one night. If you were actually worried about that part.”
“Right,” Juyeon laughed shyly. “I can ask him. Just to know what he’s thinking. Then I’ll know if I need to worry or not, right?”
“I don’t think you have to worry about anything, but sure.”
Juyeon smiled. “Thank you, hyung. I should probably leave now, I have a class at two.”
Sangyeon nodded. “Do I need to show you where the door is?”
Juyeon laughed. “No, of course not. I just haven’t paid for my meal yet.”
The younger started reaching for his bag, but Sangyeon shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. It’s on the house.”
“Hyung, c’mon. Let me pay you, here, I have my card!” Juyeon exclaimed, brandishing his debit card in the air.
“Put that away,” Sangyeon laughed. “You just gave me great love advice. There, that’s enough payment for me.”
He got up from his chair, watching Juyeon hastily getting on his feet too.
“I did that because you’re my friend-”
“And you’re my friend too. My treat. Don’t be late for class!” Sangyeon giggled, and hurried to the kitchens before Juyeon could run after him.
It took four days before Jacob ran out of clothes, realized he had forgotten his beanie at home and the weather was getting cold, and started to miss the comfort of sleeping in a real bed.
The first two he could do something about, but Sangyeon was still not replying to his daily good morning and good night texts, so Jacob wouldn’t dare ask him about coming back to sleep at their shared apartment.
So there he was, standing in the middle of his and Sangyeon’s bedroom, some time in the middle of the day, staring at the mess that Sangyeon had managed to make over the past days. Jacob could see it all too clearly; the uniform he had worn on Monday laying over the floor on Sangyeon’s side of the bed, the uniform he had worn on Tuesday crumpled at the foot of the bed, and the underwear he wore to sleep thrown in the middle of the room.
Jacob walked over to their dresser to retrieve a bigger bag, and a few more clothes he would be able to take with him. His side of the closet was still organized, filled with clean and ironed clothes, while Sangyeon’s was half-empty, all of his clothes probably clogging up the laundry basket in their bathroom.
Jacob was tempted to just stay and clean a little, do a bit of laundry to help Sangyeon, but he refrained.
Sangyeon had been clear when they had talked, and he was being clear now in his complete refusal to answer Jacob's texts. He didn’t want help. And Jacob didn’t want to make things worse between them.
What he didn’t expect was to hear the sound of the front door opening, as it was the middle of the afternoon, and Jacob had picked this specific time of the day to sneak home especially because he knew Sangyeon wouldn’t be there until way later.
The footsteps echoed across the kitchen, and the living room, and Jacob could picture Sangyeon taking off his jacket and throwing it over the couch, drinking a glass of water and tossing the empty glass into the sink.
Jacob unfreezed, left his half-packed bag on the floor and stepped out of the bedroom.
He came face-to-face with Sangyeon in the doorway, and jumped backwards in surprise.
On the other hand, the older barely had any reaction. His face was blank, void of emotion, and his shoulders hung low, his back slightly hunched as if the man had just aged forty years. His eyes were empty, avoiding looking at Jacob and instead lost somewhere on the floor.
Sangyeon wasn’t moving.
“Hyung?” Jacob asked, hesitantly.
Sangyeon’s eyes slowly threaded upwards, his breath shortening nervously, until his eyes met Jacob’s. They stared at each other, Jacob’s heart breaking at the sight of Sangyeon letting out a small breath in relief at the realization that it was really Jacob in front of him. Jacob had never seen Sangyeon look so scared, so vulnerable, and he forced himself out of his frozen state to send a broken smile to the man he loved.
And that’s what did it.
Sangyeon broke down into tears, loud sobbing echoing through the entire apartment and shattering Jacob’s heart into a million pieces.
Jacob immediately wrapped his arms around him, and Sangyeon hid his face into Jacob’s chest. The older felt so small against him, so vulnerable as his body wracked with the strength of his sobs, his fists clutching desperately at the front of Jacob’s shirt. It took Jacob aback, as he wasn't used to his stronger, muscly boyfriend being so small and hiding in Jacob's embrace like he needed protection.
“Hey, shh, hyung, it’s okay,” Jacob whispered, rubbing circles over Sangyeon’s back. “I’m here, I’m here.”
Sangyeon cried even louder, and Jacob could feel his boyfriend’s legs almost giving up from under him.
“Let’s go sit down, yeah?” he offered, and gently led Sangyeon to the edge of the bed.
He ended up laying down on his back, pulling Sangyeon with him as the older curled up into himself, face still hiding into Jacob’s chest. Jacob could feel his tears soaking up his shirt, the fabric sticking coldly to his skin, but he didn’t say anything. He simply held Sangyeon close, one hand petting his hair and the other laying on Sangyeon’s strong shoulder, thumb rubbing comfortingly at his buff upper arm.
They stayed like this for as long as it took for Sangyeon’s cries to lessen, for his breathing to become more regular, for his death grip on Jacob’s shirt to loosen a little.
“I’m sorry,” Sangyeon’s muffled voice reached Jacob’s ears. “Jacob, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
Jacob bit his bottom lip, keeping a soothing pace into Sangyeon’s hair. He remembered Sunwoo's words, and he knew they both needed to talk if they didn't want their relationship to shatter.
“You can’t keep going like this, hyung,” he spoke softly.
“I know, I just-” a sniffle stopped Sangyeon mid-sentence. “I gave up everything for this-”
He cried just a little louder, shoulders shaking slightly as he tried to stop himself.
“I know, I know,” Jacob mumbled, squeezing his shoulder a little. "Let it out, hyung, I'm not leaving, okay?"
“I gave up so much for my dreams… I don’t want to give you up too.”
Jacob felt the wetness on his cheeks before he even realized he had started crying. He hugged Sangyeon tighter and kissed the top of his hair.
"We'll figure it out, I promise," he whispered, resting his cheek on the top of Sangyeon's head. "I'm not leaving you. Let me help, please? If we want this to work, you can't keep your burdens to yourself. You… you want us to work, do you?"
Sangyeon wiggled out of Jacob's arms, propping himself up on one elbow just far enough to be able to look Jacob in the eyes.
Sangyeon's eyes were red-rimmed and his cheeks wet, he looked vulnerable like Jacob had never seen him before. He nodded without hesitating.
"Yes," he whispered.
Jacob cupped one of Sangyeon’s cheeks, and let his thumb brush at the wet tracks on Sangyeon's skin.
"I thought I was doing the right thing," Sangyeon said, "but I shouldn't have pushed you away. I didn't think I needed someone to care for me but I had no idea what I was doing, I was so wrapped up in my problems at the restaurant that I couldn't see what was wrong with the way I was living. You were only trying to help, but I thought that relying on you would make me a bad boyfriend. I thought you'd be happier if you didn't need to take care of me."
"Hyung…" Jacob started.
Tell him how you're feeling, he could almost hear Sunwoo screaming at him.
"You took care of me when I was in your shoes," he said, finding it hard to articulate his thoughts but he knew it was for the best. Sangyeon was handing Jacob his exposed heart without hiding anything, and it was only fair Jacob returned the favor. "And I understand what you're feeling when you reject my help, because that's how I was, too. But you were persistent, and I was so grateful for you. I want to be here for you now, because I love you and I know what it's like to need help and not want to ask for it."
"I'm sorry," Sangyeon whispered. "I trust you."
Jacob smiled up at him, and Sangyeon smiled back, even though a little embarrassed. Jacob could tell Sangyeon wasn't used to being the one to need reassurance, and Jacob didn't want to scare him by doing too much, but he wanted to make sure Sangyeon felt at ease with him. One step at a time.
His thumb caressed Sangyeon's cheek and slowly traced down to his jaw. Sangyeon's breath hitched, but he didn't move away. Jacob's eyes darted down to Sangyeon's slightly parted lips, and with his hand he gently brought the older man’s face down, until he could press his lips on Sangyeon's.
“I love you,” Jacob leaned his forehead on Sangyeon’s and whispered, softly, like a secret only meant to be shared between the both of them. He stared into his boyfriend’s eyes, still slightly red and shining with unshed tears. Jacob’s thumb kept a slow and steady movement on Sangyeon’s cheek.
“Jacob,” Sangyeon stuttered, nervously tightening his grip on Jacob’s thigh. “It’s not just about me, it’s… I’ve been putting some distance between us because of this. I didn’t even notice, but it happened, because I was so busy, but I don’t want to be like that anymore. I love you, and I want to spend time with you, and you deserve more than just seeing me for five seconds in the middle of the night.”
“Do we have time now?” Jacob asked.
“What do you mean-”
“What happened for you to be home before dinner?”
Jacob didn’t need to explain that he had come to the apartment at this specific time in the afternoon because he had thought Sangyeon would be at the restaurant; Sanyeon could read between the lines well enough to understand that.
“I closed early for the day,” Sangyeon explained, eyes darting down almost in shame. “I sent Doyoung home after he noticed I kept making mistakes, I flipped the sign on the door and I closed by myself.”
“Okay,” Jacob let out a breath. “So, we can start now then? Let me take care of you.”
The look Sangyeon sent him back was a mix of surprise and embarrassment, his cheeks rapidly turning a light shade of pink. It made Jacob smile, and he pecked Sangyeon’s lips quickly, before pulling the older man down on the bed with him, arms wrapping protectively around his upper body.
Sangyeon tensed up a little at first, and slowly eased into the embrace, his head coming to rest on Jacob’s chest. Jacob brought a hand up to Sangyeon’s hair and gently ran his fingers through the dyed blonde locks. And Sangyeon, Sangyeon was trying to adapt to this new cuddling position; he was usually the one to hold Jacob like this, well, back when he still properly took the time to. With his ear on Jacob’s chest, he found he could hear his boyfriend’s heartbeat, and he could feel the calming rise of his chest every time the younger breathed.
Jacob didn’t know how long it had been since Sangyeon had dozed off when he finally noticed the closed eyelids and the slightly parted mouth, soft breaths slipping through the plump lips Jacob adored so much. It was easy to notice like this, the dark circles under Sangyeon’s eyes, the traits of his face pulled in stress, even in his sleep. The older must have been exhausted to fall asleep at this hour of the day, with the bright sun shining on them through the window.
It made Jacob’s heart ache, but at least, now he knew Sangyeon was safe. He was with him, resting at last, and nothing else mattered.
Jacob could wait until tomorrow to try and convince him to hire an assistant manager for the restaurant. Extra help wouldn’t hurt, but Jacob knew the idea would wound Sangyeon’s pride at first. There was no rush to bring this upon him now, and there wouldn’t be for the rest of the evening. Jacob would run Sangyeon a warm bath, and maybe he’d slip in with his boyfriend and force him to let him wash his hair, and give him a nice shoulders and back massage while Sangyeon relaxed into his chest. Jacob’s cheeks flushed at the flow of mental pictures he suddenly got, but he knew he wanted to do that for Sangyeon more than anything.
He would cook them a nice dinner, warm and familiar food that Sangyeon loved and always complimented Jacob for making. They would eat in the living room so they could cuddle immediately afterwards, and maybe by then Jacob would let Sangyeon take charge instead, because he knew just how much Sangyeon loved to drape himself around Jacob’s back while they watched a movie, and to have Jacob sitting between his muscular thighs. Jacob would make sure to hold Sangyeon’s hands, though, and he wouldn’t let go unless Sangyeon asked him to, or unless they wanted to use their hands for something else.
But not now, though. Now, Jacob would continue to bask in the quiet peace of their tiny apartment in the middle of a bustling downtown Seoul, cuddling his boyfriend into the late afternoon and until the sun would start going down. When the sun rose again the next day, they would pick up the pieces and solidify the foundations of their connection; they would create the most colourful sprinkles out of the broken crumbles that were left of their relationship. They would be okay.