i told my friend (who is mildly familiar with both nct and dc comics) that lee jeno kon el!!! and istg the first thing she said is “oh so jaemin is tim drake”
IM ⁉️⁉️⁉️ LOSING MY MIND RN STOP GIVING ME IDEAS
i told my friend (who is mildly familiar with both nct and dc comics) that lee jeno kon el!!! and istg the first thing she said is “oh so jaemin is tim drake”
IM ⁉️⁉️⁉️ LOSING MY MIND RN STOP GIVING ME IDEAS
#11 STARING AT THEM WHILE THEY PLAY VIDEO GAMES
REFRESH YOUR FYP!
MARK. chuckles lightly when he sees you staring intently at him. “hey,” he softly greets you. “are you going to watch me play?” after receiving an nod from you, he responds once again. “okay, then this round is for you, i got you,” he sends you a teasing wink. ends up losing the round, but he swears it’s cause you were staring too hard and it was distracting.
RENJUN. he’s busy tapping away on his computer so you could only assume he was playing a game. “what are you doing, weirdo?” “i’m going to watch you play.” he raises his brows, “on the floor?” without letting you respond, he turns the computer towards you. “i’m playing fireboy and watergirl. come be watergirl.”
JENO. it wasn’t uncommon for you to watch him play sometimes, meaning he wasn’t surprised at you looking at him. “why are you on the floor?” he says, a small laugh beginning to escape him. “i’m watching you!” he lets out another laugh, “why from there?” the round ends and he takes the chance to pat his thigh and grab a small blanket from the spot beside him, “come up here.”
HAECHAN. had been in his bedroom playing for about 5 minutes while you were finishing watching a movie in the living room. despite hearing your footsteps, he doesn’t turn. not until he sees you sit on the ground out of the corner of his eye. “why are you sitting there?” “i’m watching you play.” shaking his head, he scoots his chair back and pats his thighs. “sit here.”
JAEMIN. was laying stomach down in his bed playing on his switch, feet happily swinging in the air. sees you coming into the room and he pats the space beside him. “look, im redesigning my island. want to help?” after a minute of staring at him, he finally turns to look at you; making direct eye contact. not fazed at all, he continues to stare you and eventually his gaze wanders to yours lips. “i’m going to kiss you if you keep staring.”
CHENLE. he can see you sit right next to him from the corner of his eye yet doesn’t turn to look at you. “do you find me that handsome? is that why you’re staring?” he sends you a teasing smile before turning back to his screen. “no, you have an incredibly big booger and i’m wondering how you haven’t noticed yet.” hurls a pillow at you, managing to hit you square in the face. “you’re the worst.” but the smile on his face says otherwise.
JISUNG. startled at your sudden presence, jisung briefly glances at you before turning back to the screen. “oh! what are you doing?” “watching you play.” confused, he doesn’t question you and instead chooses to turn back to his device, “okay.” but after a few seconds he feels the weight of your gaze on him. “... stop looking at me,” he turns so his phone screen is out of your eyesight. “it makes me nervous and i’m losing.”
TAGLIST: @oc-helps @1800-love-me @babexplicit @sunshine-skz @j5ung @yoongischeeksluv @jeon-jungkook-is-actually-god @jjikyuu @azxswl @radiorenjun @heefeels @abdiitcryy @princessjunnie @ikyk-leeknow @rikitaiyaki @fairvtale @blaqpinksthetic @markvocados @penguinlover-7
(send an ask to be added)
Jaemin looked down at you. Keeping his hand on the wheel was becoming too much of a struggle so he just pulled over quickly.
He pushed your head down. You felt him twitch as you gagged.
"Can't even wait until we get home? Since when did you become such a desperate slut?"
Feedback would be appreciated ♡
NCT DREAM reacts to another hybrid's scent on you!
☾︎☀︎︎☽︎ HYBRID AU • FLUFF, A LITTLE BIT OF JEALOUSY, TINY SUGGESTIVE MOMENT, ANGST IF YOU SQUINT• MENTION OF OVERTHINKING☾︎☀︎︎☽︎
➤ . . . . MARK
He's a confused cub, not a jealous and petty one. You have the freedom to spend time with anyone as he's aware that he's your favorite.
However, you must've spent a long time with that hybrid to have their scent on you and it slightly saddens him, especially if you've been out the whole day.
He'll pout as he fixes up things for you. His round ears hung low, as well as his tail whenever the other scent goes through his nose. You noticed his pout, "Mark, are you okay?"
Although, it's embarrassing, Mark is honest; "you smell like another hybrid. Why do you smell like another hybrid? :(" You gasped loudly when you realized that you've forgotten about hybrids' scents.
"Oh my god, I'm sorry, my precious! My friend told me to take care of his little cat hybrid. I'll go wash myself, okay?" You ruffled his hair, panicked and worried that you might've upsetted Mark.
Mark realized that he might've worried you, knowing how your mind thinks. "I'm not angry, by the way!" He reassures.
OTHERS ARE UNDER THE CUT!
➤ . . . . RENJUN
Now, Renjun is 1/2 real deals here. He will immediately be petty as soon as he smells another hybrid's scent on you.
He'll cross his arms, pout as he avoids your figure. He'll stay like that until you noticed the pouting, obviously petty upset hybrid on the couch.
He'll lowly growl whenever the scent gets stronger. Eventually, you notice when he's so quiet.
"Injun, darling?" His ears twitched, he mentally curses at the nicknames you've given him. "Are you okay?" Finally, you asked. Just like Mark and unlike Donghyuck, he's quite honest with you.
"No, you reek another hybrid's scent and it's grrrr-," Renjun growls. You chuckled at his reaction as you remembered hybrid's can smell other scents. And for Renjun, he's quiet territorial when it comes to you.
"I'm sorry, darling. I'll wash and after washing, we can watch your favorite movie." You brushed his tail to which he felt glad and the pettiness has slowly disappeared.
➤ . . . . JENO
You've been having the same hybrid scent from someone that's not him for days and it's saddening him. Who even is this hybrid whose scent is glued on you?
He can get quite jealousy about it and because of that, he gets territorial. That's how you got stuck into his embrace, his arms tightly wrapped around your waist as he endlessly replaced the scent with his.
"J-Jeno, I can just take a shower, you know." You told him, only to get a growl as a response. You flinched when you felt his tongue lick a sensitive part of your neck.
"Who's this rabbit hybrid that you've been spending a lot of time with? Their scent is glued on you. It stinks coming from a prey." He pressed his built body against yours.
"I'm just taking care of him for a friend. No need to be so territorial, Jen. I'm only yours," you scratched his ears to which he pouted.
"Now, you're making me feel bad!" He whines before you laugh. You both ended up watching movies together. Although, that didn't stop Jeno from replacing the other hybrid's scent with his.
➤ . . . . HAECHAN
2/2 of the real deal here, except he's worst than Renjun. This boy reeks of jealousy and pettiness. His mischief can go to different levels of annoyance.
Like one by one, he's taken your belongings, hiding them under the couch's cushions. He'll cross his arms and let out a grunt whenever you walk by him.
"Haechan, where is the remote!?" You shouted from your bedroom.
"I don't know! Looked for it!" "I've been looking for it but it's gone!!" Finally, you exited your room. The sight of the annoyed hybrid greeted you. Immediately, you knew what was happening.
"Stop being petty and give me the remote, you gremlin." He gasped dramatically at your words. "Wow! Why won't you take a bath because you stink, you cheater!?"
"How am I cheater!? I only took care of Johnny's hybrid who's your friend because he's sick! I only love you, gremlin, so give me the remote." He grew flustered at your words and gave the remote back.
"Good boy, now wait for me while I take a bath." Forget the scent, he has melted at the nickname.
➤ . . . . JAEMIN
Okay, this! He does not care. You're free to spend time with anyone, that includes hybrids since he knows you'll go back to him in the end of the day.
But the moment he smelled a very strong scent from a different hybrid on you, he'll be in full clingy mode. He will not let you go, e v e r on that day.
"Jaemin, please let go. I can't cook properly." You asked, his arms around your waist as he kept pulling you closer. He mumbled a no before he turns off the stove and picks you up.
He throws you on the bed and cuddles you until the scent has died down a little bit. Although, it's not completely gone and that annoys him.
"OKAY! Let's take a bath, yn!" He carries you to the bathroom, ignoring your confused shrieks as he stripped you until you only have your underwear on. He puts you in the bathtub and proceeds to bathe you.
"Jaemin-," "Quiet, love. You smell terrible with that tiger scent. Let me bathe you." Oh, that's why. You aren't complaining but at that moment, you feel like the hybrid.
➤ . . . . CHENLE
No filter, this boy will be so blunt. Being a hybrid with strong sense of smell, he could strongly smell the scent that lingers of you when you enter the apartment.
And as soon as your figure came into his vision, this man will go on full blunt beast mode.
"why do you smell like that?" Questioned Chenle which confused you. You tilted your head and turned to him, only to see a cringed expression on his face.
"Smell like what?" You were clueless, he understands, it's your first time having a hybrid. He can get quite lazy explaining, so he just sighs.
"Can you take a bath, yn? You really smell, I dontl like another hybrid's scent on you because you're mine!" He hisses a bit which made you laugh. Ah, so that's why.
"After an hour, I have to finish this." You teased, only to hear him mumble badly about the other scent on you endlessly. He really hates it, he just wants you to take a bath.
Surely, if you take too long and it's really annoying him, he'll pull a Jaemin and bathe you instead with the temperature you dislike as a punishment. Unless, u have sensitive skin then no. Oh and will tease you!
➤ . . . . JISUNG
Please, please go wash immediately. As soon as you enter your home and he immediately smelled another hybrid's scent on you, he will go sad and will overthink.
Have you found someone else? Another hybrid that you like better than him? He'll go quiet and will not speak about it because he just overthinks about it.
It will only get worst when you don't speak up about it. He starts shaking and that's when you notice something is wrong. "Sungie? Baby, what's wrong?" You caressed his ears.
"Are you replacing me, yn? 🥺 You smell like another hybrid and I'm scared you'll be happier with them." You frown at his words and scold yourself for forgetting about the other hybrid's scent.
"Sungie, no! I'm sorry if I made you overthink. I was just taking care of my friend's hybrid since she's out of town." You kissed the top of his head before cuddling with him.
"I will never replace my favorite person!" He smiles at your reassurance. Do keep in mind, he will not let you go for the next hours until the scent is gone.
general taglist: @iminchaosnow @glorybeom @staysstrays @tonightletspretend
hi sexies, answer this for me yeah?
headers by me
📟 Now Playing. . . Ma City
open for ➞ anyone based on yuna’s decorate
This is definitely a vicious cycle. Shin Jaemin is well aware of that but somehow, with this person that he still loves, he put on a blind eye.
With a relationship that left him breathless most of time, Jaemin still cannot bring himself to cut them completely out of his life. This notion is evidenced by the things that they left in his home still stood still, polished and kept well — ‘Just in case they show up’ Jaemin reasoned — it is silly, he knows that. He knows well that his love is not reciprocated the way he gives it to them.
So when they showed up once more in front of his door without a notice, Jaemin put on a weak smile. Again, he wondered if this would be the last time. Again, Jaemin is wearing his heart on his sleeve. The things he would do for them... he would do it with all of his heart. “You could have called me before coming over” He might have deleted their number but he remembers it by heart. “I am surprised” He wonders if he should let them in — after not receiving a call for them for so long, he was definitely mellowed by that.
jaemin messy users !! 🚎
@jaemin-ia gets a starter!
note: it can be pre-est or incorrect number - check the muse here ^^
[ ✉ from Yashiro ] I made a terrible choice at the supermarket… [ img attached ] [ ✉ from Yashiro ] Yes, that’s a lobster and I don’t know what to do now, fuck-
➤ SHORT-CIRCUIT ╳ 나재민
⇛gn!reader. fluff. tw: mention of food.
⇛notes from vie: well im back to post part 12 of my drafts. hope you enjoy haha
"are you kidding me?" you crane your neck around to get a look of things. the electricity had gone out in the small and quaint apartment abruptly and you had been so close to beating jaemin in a game of mario kart.
instead of a screen greeting you with your deserved winning announcement, you are left staring at the darkness and a smug little (figuratively spoken) boyfriend. the more you stare in between the two of them with an expression akin to being in a mental breakdown and surprise, the more he struggles to hold his snorts back.
"don't laugh, i know you planned that. you so did." crossing your arms over each other in front of your chest, you huff when you are pulled into his warm embrace. you don't complain however, the position much too cozy and safe for you to not submit against him.
"no, i didn't, but i can't say i'm not pleased with the way it all turned out." he sniggers to himself and presses exactly three kisses under your jaw. "sorry that you can never win this game. it's not actually my fault that you are terrible at it."
"oh shut your can, jaems." you push a palm over his lips to keep him away from smothering you in smooches all over your face, not that you didn't enjoy it. your pettiness isn't one to be mocked, though.
"come on, you seriously can't be mad at me for that, right?" he blinks innocently at you and if it weren't for the moonlight filtering gently through your living room blinds that allow you to see him, you would have not caved into his whimpers.
but you do see him and thus, you do exactly just that.
you cave into his strong arms that wrap securely around your waist; you let yourself fall into his charms and you let him continue burying you in his endless physical affections, not having the heart to reject him when he looks and sounds like that.
you let out soft giggles when you feel his lips graze over your lips, travelling down to brush over your ear, tickling you. he breathes in the scent of your shampoo, pressing a kiss on the crown of your head, "just for the record, i think it's a great thing that we had a circuit break, because i just remembered that we forgot to take the pizza out of the oven."
you blink once and then twice. "oh," you sigh exasperatedly, "it's probably burnt now, right?"
he looks back at the door of the kitchen with a conflicted smile, pained that your hard works had gone down the drain and yet still amused by the way you struggled to keep your composure, "yeah..."
"i want to cry."
▓⢝ թᥣᥙᥳꪱ᭫૭թჩꪱ᭫ᥣᦸ ♡ ⃨֗▒ 🍇💭! @ isac ▓ ༴ ░
it takes four years to grow a peach tree — n.jm. [act one].
SUMMARY. humans are fickle in nature— it takes a great deal of patience, fortitude, and devotion to have a heart that remains constant. that or having an absolute tolerance for all pain and torment that comes in exchange.
so when you are once again met by the ex-boyfriend that you’ve desperately avoided for four years after tearing up his heart, it becomes a test of how much you can endure, and how much more you’re willing to endure after realizing that you’re still in love with him when his love has already been weathered down.
PAIRING. na jaemin x female! reader. GENRE. exes to lovers! au, college! au, romance, angst, fluff, humor, hurt/comfort, SLOW AS FUCK BURN, pining, lots of pushing and pulling, the “its always been you” trope, a modern retelling-ish of jane austen’s persuasion. WARNINGS. swearing, heartbreak, alcohol consumption, parental pressure, stress and anxiety, one scene with a nosebleed, explicit kissing, jaemin is kind of a dick in the beginning, mentions of hospitals, one scene with a creep (please tell me if i missed anything!) WORD COUNT. 39k+. TAGLIST. @danishmiilk @wownajaemin @unknown5tar @yunoyeol @w0nni3wrld @neoaekids @bat-shark-repellant @keemburley @deliciouslyyellow @navoeur @huangberryyy @lvoejimin @alwayswithjaemin @marklexleaf @cloudyychaee @shra-vasti @hyuckefi @lebrookestore @haengi @neogguks @pckeia @fitecuddles @baejin-ed @ta3ilmoon @coppertrashi @jaeminhood @doievoir @babeiii @nanaamericano @bxrbge @hey-thatslove @lanadreamie @goldenclosethobi @luvholicz @ukiyoneo @jccv @ncteaxhoe @lokideadontheinside @bbnana @nc-teen @thejeongjaehyun @rinthedilfhunter @renjunvibes @suhjeno @sweetjaemss
NOTE. omg it’s finally here!! i’ll leave the pre-fic rambling to a minimum and let the story speak for itself, but it’d like to first of all thank @spvrklyjisung and my friend anna for betareading this monster ; - ; inspirations came in the form of a jane austen novel, a shit ton of manhwas, and ben&ben songs. this was such a journey through and through and i hope you’d all enjoy!
dates labelled 20XY are set in the past, and 20XX are in the present.
ACT I — INTERLUDE — ACT II
FEBRUARY 16, 20XX.
THE SAME GREYISH HUE has been painting the sky for a good three months now, and despite it being early in the afternoon— when the sun is supposedly highest— you still needed a thick, cream cardigan to shield yourself from the intermittent cold breaths of the late winter wind. Even with the changes of the sky’s colors and leaves’ hue, your hometown looked pretty much the same all-year ‘round.
It was the people that kept its constancy, the same familiar faces greeting you with the same smiles ever since you were born.
You passed by the line of peach trees that have just started to sprout their leaves again, little flecks of green on the dark branches, signifying that spring was just around the corner. The pavement crunched underneath your feet with a want to warm your hands into your cardigan pockets, but the big, pink, ribboned box that you were holding was preventing you from doing so. Mrs. Han’s place was now just within sight. You hoped Garam wouldn’t be too upset with you for being a little late for his birthday. The gift might make up for it.
“Y/N! It’s Y/N!”
The moment your head popped up from the other side of the fence of their front yard, all the kids started buzzing to the wooden door. They opened it for you and you were greeted by four, tiny creatures attacking your legs.
“Did you guys eat too much ice cream?” you laughed, kneeling down to their height so that they can reach you, and you settled down the gift to the side. The stony pathway grazed your bare knees, but it became nothing more than an abandoned thought at the back of your head with the giggles and warm hugs rupturing around you.
The kids led you to the backyard where the birthday boy was. Yunha (the younger Mrs. Kim’s daughter) was holding your pinky finger as she ushered you the way. The other three were asking what was inside the box, but you wouldn’t budge, resulting in a chorus of whines and complaints from your ensemble of children.
When you got there, red, blue, and yellow streamers were strewn about, coloring the grey sky, and a long table lined with snacks and food and a very large three tiered cake was at the center. You spotted a few tables littered about, all occupied with the same faces you’ve been seeing ever since. It was a small neighborhood in rural Busan, and everyone knew everything about each other.
They all recognized your arrival. One notably brightened at the sight of you.
You settled the box on the floor and opened your arms out with a smile.
“Happy birthday, kiddo!” Garam threw himself into you at full throttle, causing you to nearly stumble over. He didn’t seem to mind that his present was under his feet. “You should be too old to be carried by now.”
He refuted, shaking his head, and you laughed while ruffling the thick hair that covered his eyes. You managed to tempt him with your gift just so that he’d let you let him go. They ran off with your present (it was a construction toy set. Garam had always wanted to be an engineer). You dusted yourself off, fixing the cardigan that has suffered from being pulled by a million tiny hands, and as you did, you could see your mother approaching you.
“What took you so long?” she asked, taking your arm and leading you to her table with Mrs. Kim, Mr. Hong, and Mrs. Na.
“Sorry. The uni sent an email,” you sat down on the small plastic chairs mid explanation, giving polite smiles and nods to the three adults “I needed to forward some remaining requirements. Aram called me afterwards, too.”
“When’s the new term starting, Y/N? Oh— let me fix you something to eat. Hanam! Can you get me a new plate, please?”
“In around three weeks, Mrs. Kim,” you answered brightly, a thank you hanging at the end. “But I need to head back to Seoul this Monday.”
“Oh, that’s a shame,” she sighed, taking away the paper plate from Hanam, her eldest. “Yunha will miss you a lot, you know.”
“That doesn’t mean I’ll never come to visit, auntie,” you began. “What’s a three hour commute as long as I get to see the kids?”
She smiled at you kindly before scurrying off to fill your plate from the buffet. Mr. Hong asked you the usual inquiries: what university you went to, what your major was, because unlike Mrs. Kim and Mrs. Na, he had only moved in here after marrying his wife— one of the longtime residents— only two years ago and you’d already moved away to Seoul by then.
“You’re going back Monday, isn’t that right, Y/N?”
This question came from Mrs. Na, a very close friend of your mother and someone you’ve known ever since you were like, five. She was a very kind sort of woman and very pretty for her age— you wouldn’t think her past thirty. You nodded with a smile. Her kind eyes lit up at your answer.
“That means you’ll make it in time for my son’s release from the military!”
Her words were muffled with Mrs. Kim’s arrival with a fresh plate of pizza, chicken, and cupcakes reaching out to you. You reacted mindlessly: oh, that’s great! as you settled your food down with a polite smile. It was only until you lifted up the pizza slice with your fingers when it clicked, the sound ringing inside your ears until it deafened.
Her son was coming back from the military.
Mrs. Na’s son.
“I'm sure that you two were quite close back then.”
You sputtered an apology after dropping your pizza back onto the plate.
Your mother asked you what was wrong, and you assured that it was only the sudden wind that passed by. Quickly gathering yourself, you finally mustered a reply to Mrs. Na.
“Yeah, I guess we were.”
Were was the keyword. You weren’t sure about that now. You haven’t even seen him in four fucking years despite living in the same neighborhood, but that was out of pure and deliberate choice.
There was a reason as to why you were here right now, present at a neighborhood party, present at all the previous gatherings before this one for the past two years whenever you were home during the holidays and vacation because you relied on the fact that he wasn’t around.
But that was a limited privilege— as fleeting as a lit up match. You should’ve known it was coming to an end soon.
“He’s discharging on the 20th, isn’t that great?” she continued as chipper as ever. It was difficult matching her energy. “We’ll be throwing a simple dinner party at our place, so you better come, Y/N.”
The sounds of Garam, Yunha, and all the other kids playing in the background brought you back to your senses. A children’s party wasn’t the appropriate time and place for existential dread. You hoped that the neon frosting on the cupcake will convince you that everything will be fine after ingesting it. “I’ll try my best, auntie.”
You thought that that was the end of the conversation, so you decided to finally eat your now cold pizza and chicken thanks to the gusts and breezes, while the three of them conversed about Mr. Hong’s nephew who had just enlisted at twenty four after trying to evade it for a good deal of time. Their conversation flew over your head while you were eating, planning on entertaining the kids for a while before heading home early to, well, think. That was until Mrs. Na roused the topic again, and— even more unfortunately— she decided to direct it to you.
“Do you know what kind of cake Jaemin likes, Y/N?”
You stopped eating at once.
You haven’t heard his name uttered in years, and it felt like opening up something that was locked, sealed, and rusted with a loud creak. If someone were to take a peek inside your head at that moment, they’d see nothing but words and words and words all jumbled up in a mass of incohesion.
“Why—why would I know something like that, auntie?” there was a scratchy undertone in your voice, crooked smile on your lips. You swallowed it down right after.
“Oh, I hoped you knew,” she sighed, twisting over to your mother. “You know, a little after he started high school, he suddenly decided to shut himself in. I don’t even know what happened because he decided to stop talking to me or anyone for that matter! He was always a bright kid, you know? The sudden change worried me to no end.”
Fuck. You bit down the nausea that started to bubble at the back of your throat, its effects lingering into your head.
“Don’t think about it too much, Misook. It’s only natural for kids to go under a rebellious phase. My youngest is currently going through hers and it drives me crazy sometimes,” your mother resigned to sighs at the thought of your younger sister’s mood swings. “Hasn’t Jaemin been exchanging letters with you a lot, though? You’ve mentioned it a few times. He calls when he gets the opportunity, too.”
“Oh, yes! It’s ironic that he decided to open up again the moment he got away from home,” Mrs. Na laughed, shaking her head. “But I still don’t know what kind of cake he likes, though. Y/N, dear, maybe you have at least an idea, no?”
The two women’s eyes bore directly into you, and you could feel the sweat dripping on your brow. Your mouth was dry, and your voice trailed away like waves retreating into the ocean.
You didn’t even get the chance to mourn over yourself because Garam and the other kids decided to throw themselves onto you.
The sounds against the light, wooden floor were swift— a hurried padding as if being chased by a creature in twilight. It came all the way from the front door to the living and into your bedroom. It was you trying to catch up to the incessant barreling of your heartbeat.
“Aram, can you—” you inhaled into the phone pressed to your ear, twisting the white painted door shut and slamming your back against it. “Can you pick me up on Saturday instead of Monday?”
Saturday was the twentieth and Monday was the twenty-third. You wasted no time plotting your escape the moment you arrived home.
“What? Why? There’s a sale at Avec 9 on that day and I can’t waste six hours back and forth just to haul your ass across the—”
“I’ll take you out shopping the next day,” eyes closed, you desperately negotiated. “Just please, please, please pick me up on Saturday.”
There was a moment of silence on Aram’s end. It prickled your skin with nervous needles. Then you heard a sigh.
“Alright,” she huffed. “You don’t usually ask for favors, anyway. Don’t mind the clothes or shopping. We can both go out some other time.”
“Oh my god, thank you,” you nearly fell to your knees, feeling the first round of relief kicking in, but you weren’t completely calmed down yet. Not until you’ve actually left. “Pick me up before nine in the morning, okay? No later than that, please.”
“Got you, buddy. But why the sudden rush, though? Did something happen?”
Oh, something was about to happen, alright.
You thought about it for a moment, wondering whether you should tell her now, what to tell her, or even if you should tell her in the first place. It was hard to decide. “I just,” you breathed in through gritted teeth. “I’ll tell you when we meet, it’s just so fucking—”
The entire situation that you’d found yourself in came rushing back in like cold water to the face.
“God help me.”
You couldn’t see her, but you could tell that Aram was giving you one of her looks of pity— brows furrowed, lips pouting. It was a great comfort to have her sympathizing even when she didn’t know anything yet.
“Alright, alright, but you better tell me, okay? You should put my amazing listening skills to use from time to time,” she clicked her tongue, and you let out a huff of air through your nose and cracked a small smile. A little after, there was a grumbling noise on her end, followed by what sounded to be a vocalized grimace. “What the hell? Okay, hold on, I gotta go. Sungchan’s asking me to duo with him. I gotta entertain this kid.”
“You’re the same age.”
“He acts like a five year old.”
“Point,” you laughed, nerves eased and shoulders relaxing. God, you were lucky to have her here. “Go and play with him before he throws a tantrum. I’ll see you soon, Aram. Thanks.”
When the call ended, your body moved on its own, throwing itself onto your bed in fit of ill-meant celebration.
Evaded, yes. You sighed in content, hugging your mustard yellow pillow into your chest. It would be the best course of action to inform your mom about your sudden reschedule on Friday, the day before the dinner party and your departure, so that nothing can be done to undo it. There was nothing stopping you from quitting that damned party and seeing your ex-boyfriend again for the first time in four fucking years. You weren’t letting it happen.
Of course, you were expecting a not-so-happy reaction from your dearest mom. And although you hated stressing, disappointing, or making her mad in any size, shape, or form, this was a situation that you simply could not avoid.
Your mother’s voice shrieked one fine Friday evening when you delivered the news over dinner.
“I thought you were heading back on Monday?! What happened?” the utensils clattered on the bowl from the sudden drop. You tried your best not to flinch, feigning dismissal as you fished for one of the side dishes on the table.
“Well, there was a change of plans,” you answered mid-feast, taking a spoonful of rice into your mouth. “Aram’s brother is borrowing her car over the weekend and he won’t be coming back until next week, so...”
You also hated lying. You weren’t even good at it, either. But somehow your desire and desperation to get out of this situation sprinkled a little bit of that talent on you for just this moment.
“I don’t really have a choice.”
This eased your mother’s dissent a little, but of course she’d find another thing to protest about. “What about the dinner tomorrow?” she groused. “Misook is expecting you to come. Her son must be, too. What was his name, again? Jaehyung? Jaemin?”
“About that, mom,” you contended, placing your fork onto your plate so that both of your hands will be left empty to get into a begging position. Closing your eyes and putting your hands together in front of your lips, you started your plea. “Can you and Yeon attend in my place, instead?”
From the living room came a loud voice of objection.
“What?!” it pierced your ears, causing you to wince. “Why do I have to go to some guy’s party when I don’t even know him?”
Your mother hushed her down in scolding, telling her that she should finally take this as an opportunity to go talk to the neighbors instead of burning her irises in front of her phone the whole day. Yeon was only fifteen— the ripe age of being absolutely insufferable and brooding to the rest of her family. A drop of sweat trickled down your forehead as you downed a glass of water. She’ll get out of it eventually.
“Alright,” your mother finally relented with a lengthened sigh, and your eyes lit up exceedingly. You bit back an ill-timed smile. “At least stop by their place before you leave.”
FEBRUARY 20, 20XX.
WHEN YOUR ALARM FOR THE NEXT MORNING WENT RINGING at 7AM, it took no time for you to jump out of bed and start getting ready.
You rolled out of the sheets and went off to wash your face and brush your teeth, phone in hand to check some messages from Aram saying that she would be there at eight, and one from Sungchan wishing you a safe trip. Quickly, you retreated back to your room, routinely doing your skincare ritual before getting dressed and brushing your hair.
Making breakfast was another task when you were trying your best not to wake the other two inhabitants of your house. Luckily, your dad had left earlier in the morning, so you only had your mother and sister to worry about. Why was there a need to be as silent and sneaky as possible? You weren’t planning on stopping by at Mrs. Na’s place to save yourself the guilt, and they didn’t know you were leaving this early.
What if you left your house at lunchtime only to find the very person you were trying to avoid entering his house next door? It was better safe than sorry.
After fixing some eggs, bacon, and toast for them, as well as leaving a quick note on the breakfast table, you immediately left through the front door with a heavy backpack and went off to the nearby 7-Eleven just outside your neighborhood where Aram was supposed to pick you up.
I’m already out, you sent her a message, waiting on the seats at the front of the convenience store, and not even ten minutes later you could see the familiar grey Ford coming into view.
“Y/N! Thank god you’re still alive!”
“What is he doing here?” you welcomed Aram into your chest, wrapping your arms around her head as affectionately as you could, but you couldn’t help but shoot questioning and suspicious glances at the tall and uninvited guest that had just emerged from the backseat.
Jung Sungchan walked up to the both of you with his arms crossed, strutting as if he didn’t look ridiculous doing a catwalk on a convenience store’s front parking area.
“He couldn’t wait until the semester started to see his beloved Y/N, so he decided to pester Aram until she agreed to take me with her,” his brows furrowed, thinking back. “Take him with her, or— fuck, this is confusing.”
He paused right in front you, the same scrutinizing glare. Aram retreated to your side.
“You look like you’ve gotten older.”
You gave him a kick to the shin.
Ignoring your other friend that was ducked down and hugging his leg while yelping in pain, Aram grabbed your hand and led you to the store. “Let’s grab a bite before getting back on the road. Jesus, I’m starving.”
Sungchan fretted back on his feet when he heard that, chasing after your giggles inside. The three of you settled on the seats by the glass windows right after buying some food from the stands. The very moment you decided to start eating, your attention was called out by one of your friends.
“Y/N,” you looked up from your cup noodles to eye Sungchan, who was swallowing an entire hotdog bun in one bite. “I can talk to you informally now that we’re in the same year, right?”
Aram stumbled into a coughing fit after choking on her burger.
“You’re pushing your privileges, Sungchan,” you deadpanned, ignoring his winks in your direction.
The first time you’d met Aram and Sungchan was when you got lost on your first day at a new school. You transferred in your second year of high school to their academy, and despite them being younger, you three hit off immediately and sparked a friendship which showed no signs of ever dying out until now. The both of them were one year younger than you but treated you as if you were a little sister, instead (you still let them, obviously, but they’d always come running to you for advice).
Aram’s appearance had changed a lot since you’d first met her— the long, straight black hair that she’d always elegantly worn suddenly transformed into the above the shoulder, bleach blonde hair, full bangs that you currently saw her having now. It happened overnight, the evening she graduated highschool, and whenever she wore the red bucket hat that you’d gifted her, she’d look like an upside down box of french fries. Sungchan was, well, Sungchan— nothing changed except for his ever growing height.
In a few weeks, the three of you will be in your sophomore year here at N University. You took a leave of absence for a year to take up a few part time jobs and save up on tuition because your dad was having trouble with his job, but now you were back and ready to drown into a sea of books and assignments to manage yourself a scholarship.
Well, life was life and all that mattered right now was your delicious, seafood cup noodles since you didn’t choose to eat the breakfast you made at home.
“Did you know that the seniors are planning on a welcome party after the freshman orientation?” Sungchan started, and Aram asked him how the hell did he know that. Apparently he got invited to the group chat with all the ‘cool seniors’ in your major by Johnny. You’d bet all your bones that they have weekly debates over which drama actress is the prettiest.
“You mean that they’re planning on destroying the newcomers’ livers right on their first day?” you snorted, busying yourself with the pretzels that Aram bought.
“Bingo, baby,” he gave you a sleazy look accompanied by finger guns. Oh, how you wished he stopped hanging out with Johnny so much. “I can’t believe it’s already almost a year since Johnny hyung nearly sent me to the hospital for alcohol poisoning.”
It appeared that Aram also agreed with your mental nitpicks because you were hearing what seemed to be a hand repeatedly hitting someone’s arm, accompanied by complaints from your friend that Johnny Suh is a bad influence and we don’t want you transforming into the other greasy jock in our major. You ate in silence as you listened to their bickering, eyes set on the small bits of crab meat in your noodles, but their voices suddenly hushed lower.
They became completely quiet in a few seconds. You lifted your head to clear the confusion. The both of them were looking straight at you.
What the hell.
Aram took out the fork that hung from your mouth and started speaking.
“So,” she slapped the plastic utensil into your cup. “What’s the deal? Why did you ask me to abduct you earlier than planned?”
You hoped she forgot about that.
Their ears and eyes were trained solely on you, and you knew that there was no point trying to divert or avoid. Taking a sip from the straw of your water bottle in a moment of silent contemplation, you finally got your thoughts sorted together to say the following words after a nervous stupor—
“I wanted to…avoid my ex-boyfriend.”
Needless to say, their reaction was very much expected: violent and loud enough to rip your eardrums.
“You were going to collide with your ex?!”
“You have an ex?!”
“Please quiet down.”
With a groan, you melted into the table (arguably unhygienic, but your mini meltdown was interfering with your mental faculties). They were waiting for you to further explain as to who, what, when, where, why, how this whole ex-boyfriend fiasco was, and so you prepared yourself because you have never told a soul about it ever since.
You resurfaced and spoke with a few seconds of delay.
“We dated in highschool.”
“I don’t remember you dating anyone, though?” Sungchan tactlessly interrupted, sipping on his drink. “You were always kind of...moping and hanging around the walls like a ghost.”
You lifted your hand into a fist.
“A pretty ghost! Very pretty ghost! Please don’t hit me.”
You put your arm down.
“That was before I transferred, doofus,” you scolded, glaring at him for the interruption, and then continued. “We live in the same neighborhood, so our families knew each other...and he’s discharging from the military today, and his mom—”
A sharp breath lodged itself in your throat. Aram and Sungchan looked at you attentively in anticipation, leaning forward with their ears perked.
“His mom invited me to his welcome dinner.”
The both gurgled sounds of pain and folded over themselves, wincing in sympathy. You were glad that they didn’t press on for the alluded guy’s identity. “I’m happy you managed to get away from that, Y/N,” Sungchan shuddered. You had to remind yourself that Jung Sungchan has never dated anyone before, so you didn’t understand why he was acting as if he were a veteran in this field, but you chose to say nothing against it.
“Wait, it’s been like, four years already, right?” Eunha remarked. “Shouldn’t it be fine by now? I’m sure that it’s already water under the bridge for him, so you don’t need to worry about his reaction.”
You stared at her, thinking.
It should be fine.
It should be, right?
Blanking out for a moment, you pictured what it would be like to be meeting face-to-face with Na Jaemin again after four whole years— that smile of his that seems to take up his entire face with his eyes lighting up, attentive, unmoving, save for his eyebrows that always tends to quirk with animation, a cheeky laugh reverberating from his—
You coughed out something that was clogging the back of your throat.
It wasn’t fine.
“Aram, this is our Y/N we’re talking about,” Sungchan waved her off, scrunching his nose. “She can’t even say hi to Renjun hyung anymore after she rejected him, remember? Even after he told her he was over it like a year ago, she still can’t look him in the eye.”
The girl lifted her fingers to her chin, nodding along, seeming to be completely convinced. “Right, she’s a special case.”
You breathed out, relaxing in your seat. Thank god they weren’t digging around any further.
“But since you’re neighbors and all—” Aram suddenly contended “—you can’t avoid him forever.”
That was true. And it wasn’t like you can ask her or Sungchan to kidnap you like they did today when you knew beforehand that you had no choice but to meet him; furthermore, the chances where you might be forced to bump heads with him would more likely be incidental than not.
In other words, you were gloriously screwed.
“I’ll cross that bridge when I get there,” you sighed, fluttering your eyes to a close. “I’m just relieved that I got away from it now, and that I won’t need to come home any time soon.”
With that, your impromptu brunch came to a close, and the three of you retreated back to Seoul to prepare for the new school year and new semester, but not without the thought of Na Jaemin lingering at the back of your mind
MARCH 8, 20XX.
THE LAST FEW WEEKS OF WINTER BREAK were spent lazing around in your apartment wearing outfits socially inappropriate for public interaction (your mismatched elmo jammies were the main perpetrators) and finishing up all the dramas that you knew you would never get the chance to even watch a second of when the semester started (The Penthouse will be put on hold until your next break).
Those weeks slipped past your memory, calendar dates flying into the wind after each day, and before you knew it it was already the first day of your sophomore year.
You met up with Aram halfway to your campus, and were joined by Sungchan when you reached the front gate. Formal classes wouldn’t start until Wednesday. There was an assembly in the morning today and the freshman orientation came a little after lunch. Tomorrow was club promotion day. Basically, you three had the opportunity to loiter around the campus for the entire day and go around the shopping district in the afternoon.
When evening came, however, you had to split ways because you needed to run some errands. Aram and Sungchan skidded over to the restaurant that your department’s council members rented for tonight (Doyoung’s blood pressure was something to watch out for— you had better keep an eye on him), while you went off to purchase some cupped ramen before joining them in because god knows what time you’d be coming home tonight and your fridge would be practically empty for breakfast the next day.
The sun eventually came to a set when you found yourself in front of the restaurant’s entrance, a fold up sign near the doors labelled ‘N UNIVERSITY FRESHMAN WELCOME PARTY (let’s get itttttt skrrt skrrt)’ written in botchy letters. And when you peeled open the glass doors, your face was immediately hit with a suffocating heat mixed with the sharp scent of alcohol— totally different from the gentle breezes from the outside— so you instinctively grimaced.
“Y/N, over here!”
From a few tables away, you spotted Aram jolting up from her seat, clearly already buzzed with her lopsided grin, red face, and incessant waving. Sungchan was right beside her, still holding onto his senses. You pressed your lips together in a smile and marched forward.
As you passed through, you were met with countless familiar faces: you spotted Johnny Suh already five beers in, you assumed, and trying to murder all of the new comers. Huang Renjun passed by you, and you managed a small nod and smile combo before quickening your pace. Kim Doyoung, Ahn Jaehee, Lee Eunha, and Lee Jeno were some of the people you briefly held eye contact with among others. God, you could already tell that you’d be utterly drained by the end of this.
Aram scooted closer to Sungchan to make some room for you. You greeted the two other people inhabiting your table— Song Yona and another boy that Sungchan introduced to you as Zhong Chenle. Introductions and polite smiles were exchanged. You didn’t know how long this sort of propriety would last with alcohol thrown into the mix (the other boy was already being a little loud for your tiny, sensitive eardrums).
Said bartender was Kim Doyoung— glasses all fogged up and his white shirt sticking to his skin with sweat. He didn’t take Aram’s referral very well. “Can we have one more drink, please?” she spoke, smiling widely. Grudgingly and of course not without a million complaints, Doyoung left and went back up to your table, slamming the glass brimming with beer at full force as a finishing touch.
“Here,” he bitterly spat, though his face somewhat softened when his eyes travelled up to you. “Good to see you again, Y/N.”
You sent him a smile and wave. “Take it easy, Doyoung.”
“I’m trying to— oh, fuck me. What the hell do you want?”
He stomped all the way to a different table where you could see Lee Donghyuck was also sitting, cutting your conversation short, and all your questions were answered at once. Aram slid the glass over to you across the table. “Drink up.”
“Thanks,” your fingers curled around the cold glass. “There’s...a lot of people.”
“What did you expect?” Sungchan snorted, popping out from behind Aram’s head, catching both of your attention. He looked at someone from a few feet behind you after he spoke, thus causing his voice to screech louder. “Oh shoot, it’s hyung! Over here!”
You need not turn around to know that it was Johnny Suh approaching your table, but you still did— you saw him, with your eyes squinted, making a beeline over to your table with a far too bright grin, prompted by the younger boy. Yona had already seized the opportunity to escape before he could arrive, leaving extra room for the newcomers.
Johnny was accompanied by someone you didn’t recognize. He was tall— very tall, almost nearing Johnny’s towering height— and he looked like a fucking model even in just plain jeans and a varsity jacket that didn’t even belong to your uni.
“Y/N!” Johnny threw himself beside you, causing a domino effect of scooting to the left and ending up with Sungchan being expelled from his seat. He hooked his arm around your neck with a cheshire grin. “You’re back!”
“Yeah,” you exhaled, smile twitching. There were no bad feelings towards him. It was just that you wanted to go home with at least half of your senses attached. “It’s good to see you again, Johnny.”
He made a mess out of your hair before finally letting you go. “You aren’t the only one making a comeback, babe. Let me introduce you to Kim Jungwoo!”
So his name is Jungwoo. You gave a courteous smile and nodded over to his direction, sitting diagonally across from you. “He got discharged from service just a few weeks ago,” Johnny continued, and to Jungwoo he spoke, “man, I could have seen you bald.”
Before Jungwoo could finish his threat to shave him bald, Sungchan took your senior’s attention. “You’re only able to spout this crap because you don’t have to enlist, hyung.”
With that, Johnny switched over to their side of the table to fuck with Sungchan out of spite, forcing Jungwoo to sit right next to you. Aram was already completely fucked over onto the table beside you— you didn’t know when she passed out but she was out cold— and therefore you were left with no choice but to passively partake in the conversation with the two men that you have just met not even twenty minutes prior.
God, how you wished you were home.
You resigned to intermittently taking a few sips from your beverage while listening to Jungwoo and Chenle’s conversation, only speaking when either of the two prompted an opening for you. There was something in his air that gave you a signal that he was probably going to be very popular; perhaps it was his overly easy going attitude, immediately hitting up conversation with you and Chenle as if you hadn’t just met, but he was mostly talking to the latter since they both were equally unabashed and outgoing.
He had no qualms telling stories about his absolute shitstorm of an experience while he was serving in the military (what was it with guys and never shutting up after their enlistment? Your distant cousin was like that, too), and this topic didn’t exactly bode well with you.
You laughed at a joke Jungwoo made, a little strained, and immediately drank a bit more than a mouthful. There’s no way he’d know Jaemin, right? You mentally laughed at yourself. Definitely not. Them meeting is like finding a needle in a haystack. It isn’t likely that they’d be assigned to the same station, either. Satisfied with your reasoning, you firmly nodded, wiping the beer off of your lips. Enjoy the rest of the night, Y/N. Nothing to worry about.
It was loud, much expected, and you discreetly opened your phone from under the table to check the time.
“I met this kid there, actually! It didn’t take long for us to become friends since our ages are close,” Jungwoo rattled on as animated as ever. “We both signed up on the same day, isn’t it cool? He says he’s also going here as a freshman— business major, too— but I haven’t seen him around yet.”
You turned off your phone. Admittedly, that confession shook your nerves a little, just enough to send a metaphorical hammer straight to your chest and have you choke a tiny bit. Not much. Chenle kept inquiring about his friend and each mindless fact and information thrown into the air had you squirming in your seat even more than the last second. You couldn’t even move because Aram chose your shoulder as a cushion.
He wasn’t the only twenty year old in the military. A number of people can also have a pet dog named Mongmongie that passed away when they were seven. So what if he also lived in Busan? Literally three million other people also lived there. You dismissed it all with a scoff.
There was no way. There was no way. There was no way. There was absolutely no freaking—
“Oh, there he is!”
When you twisted your head around, it was as if all the circulating heat inside the cramped venue, garish, arid, and nauseating, flooded up into your head at once and caused spots to bubble in your vision. Your airways tightened, searing, melted shut. It was only the back of his head in your line of sight— only the back his fucking head but everything was blurring. You couldn’t feel your fingertips even when you were gripping into the glass with all your strength.
He turned around, eyes wide in surprise, but they disappeared along with a smile when he spotted his friend.
Fuck, you were going to piss yourself unconscious.
You buried yourself deeper into your seat, hiding behind Jungwoo in hopes and fears as he drew closer, your breath releasing like spurts from a broken faucet. Were Johnny and Sungchan still on your table? You didn’t know, you weren’t sure, you couldn’t think. Jungwoo stood up, blowing your cover to tackle him into a one armed hug. “Guys, this is Jaemin.” You knew. How could you not know?
It took everything in your power to not be overcame by the sheer inundation of your guilt stained curiosity, but one stray glance was all it took to have each sense, each folly reeling into one, single direction and it had you going fuck—
He hasn’t changed at all.
His hair, swept messily above the forehead, effortless yet it gave him a certain edge, eyes containing not only the moon and the stars but also encapsulating limitless memories that came pouring forth into you with one look. Sure, there was a change— features defining through time, an air weathered with a sort of maturity, but it was all essentially the same. The same laugh, the same smile, the same way he made your heart beat run ten seconds in a mile.
You downed the remnants of your glass, the liquor stinging your throat. You hoped your friends were too drunk to notice your change in behavior.
There were seven people at your table now. Jungwoo started naming each one to Jaemin as an introduction.
“This is Johnny, Aram, Sungchan, Chenle, and—”
His eyes landed on you. You felt your blood freeze underneath your skin.
There was a beat of silence. A nod from you. A smile from him. Then it was over.
Johnny went to chat him up and he wore a smile that was devoid of any restriction— unlike the one he gave you seconds prior. It was forced. You knew. The slight pressing of his lips immediately after, it was different. You knew him like the back of your hand no matter how much time wore you down. It was a fucking curse that stung and squeezed you slowly.
Without much thought, you poured yourself another drink and slowly drowned yourself into a different state of consciousness while you listened to the conversation going back and forth.
They were talking, talking about things you couldn’t make out. Maybe Johnny asked him if he came here alone and maybe he said no. You had no idea because all that was spinning inside your head was the icy cold indifference that was directed solely to you.
He was indifferent.
He was totally indifferent.
He completely got along with everyone and Johnny and Sungchan and Chenle while you were barely even fucking existing which should be abso-fucking-lutely fine, right? Indifference was way better than spite, bitterness, and anger. You’ll take what you can get.
But that also meant he didn’t give a fuck about you anymore, so—
You swallowed another mouthful of your drink.
“Why don’t you take it a little easy, Y/N?” Jungwoo mumbled from beside you, a fuzzy hint of concern in his eyes. It almost made you laugh.
“I’m fine, I’ll be fine,” you tried shrinking your voice as much as you could to avoid any attention. He didn’t press on any further.
Trying to actually listen to their conversation this time so that you won’t go crazy talking to yourself anymore, you found out that Jaemin had actually enlisted immediately after graduating highschool, and when Johnny asked why—
He smiled, thoughtfully. You could have sworn his eyes flicked over to you for at the very least a quarter of a second.
“I needed to get my mind off a lot of things.”
You sucked in a breath through gritted teeth, pressing your lips together before downing and finishing up another glass.
“Whoa, Y/N. I didn’t know you were a heavy drinker. I’m quite impressed, actually,” Johnny wore a genuinely surprised expression, and then it turned into something else. And then you knew you were fucked. “Oh man, let me mix you my specialty, c’mon.”
Panic struck. You shot up instantaneously. “Oh, no no no no no, Johnny. It’s fine! You don’t have to. I’ve already had enough, you see, and there’s still—”
Too late. You were too late. While you were desperately trying to convince him, he was already throwing in two shot glasses with unidentifiable liquids into one giant glass and filling it up with beer. There was a foreboding aura coming out of it and your eye twitched just thinking about the surefire fact that you will never rise again if you drink it. Your head was already ringing a little after your previous drinks, and this was going to be a one shot KO.
You nervously laughed, sitting back down and pushing the drink towards him. “Like I said, Johnny, I can’t— I can’t drink anymore. I’m already a bit—”
“Nonsense! You look completely sober to me. C’mon, it’s my way of congratulating you for coming back—”
“No! I mean—” your cheeks were hurting from the excessive fake smiling, sweat was raining like waterfalls on your face, and you were seriously about to fucking cry in the middle of pushing and pulling the drink for five minutes over the table with someone who was already slurring his words “—I mean that there’s really no need for you to congratulate me. I’m fine, It’s really—”
“Don’t be a downer, Y/N. One sip will do, just one—”
Johnny didn’t get to finish. He couldn’t get another word out of his mouth because the drink was snatched from his hands when he was about to slide it to you again. Startled, you looked up, only to find yourself at a complete loss for words, eyes wide, mouth agape. Oh, you felt heat slowly prick at your skin, starting from your neck, your cheeks, your ears. Oh my god.
Jaemin finished the entire glass and roughly slammed it onto the table with a loud rattle. He looked at Johnny with a wide grin. “You should tell me your recipe, hyung.”
The older male blinked at him, a little taken aback, but the alcohol that had completely devoured his senses at this point was enough to have him completely forget about you and instead beckon Jaemin over to share his wisdom. You ignored the stares from Sungchan, the separate conversation that had just started from Jungwoo and Chenle, and focused all your energy into figuring out what just happened and why did he do that?
It was lingering, the twists and turns in your stomach, and you wanted it to disappear because came with it were the undertones of everything absolutely fucking wrong. You breathed in, and out, and in again. Jesus, you were going insane. Did you thank him yet? No, fuck, you haven’t.
Quickly, you looked at him, a single syllable scratching your throat at the attempt of speech, but you stopped because he didn’t look too well. Jaemin was nodding along to whatever Johnny was talking about, but his eyes were lost, unfocused. He was even having a difficult time keeping his head up. Is he a lightweight? you wondered, furrowing your brows. With your worry growing by the second, you decided to stand up, but suddenly stopped there.
What were you going to do?
You were too late. Again. Jaemin was still conscious enough to excuse himself from your table, ignoring the protests of your senior, and went off to somewhere else in the crowded venue. Was it fine to leave him like that? You debated going after him, but what were you supposed to do after that? Your body was getting heavier, forcing you to sit back down.
Eyes following where he disappeared off to, you managed to spot him again near the entrance, and luckily he wasn’t alone. Was that Jeno? He was holding Jaemin up as they exited the restaurant.
That was the last you’ve seen of him that night, and you sighed in your seat, chewing on the inside of your mouth. You never even got to thank him.
One of the things that Jeno never expected to do in his life was to drive his best friend of four years home because he was shitfaced drunk and absolutely out of his head, when that said best friend has never even touched a single drop of alcohol in his life (save for that new year’s wine that one time, but that barely counted).
Though here he was, doing exactly that, at twelve-thirty-two in the morning, unable to wrap his head around the situation that got Na Jaemin this drunk in the first place. Jeno threw his mindlessly mumbling friend into the back before getting in the driver’s seat.
“Oi,” Jaemin spoke up, voice croaky. “Why...why didn’t you tell me that she was here?”
Jeno let out a long, drawn out sigh.
“What would you have done if you knew she was here?”
He deliberately never told him, and now he was feeling a little guilty. He had an inkling that you had something to do with Jaemin being as inebriated as he was now. Still, he wouldn’t know how to bring it up in the first place after having never even mentioned the first syllable of your name these past three years.
The silence on Jaemin’s end was telling.
“I don’t— I don’t know.”
He let out another long exhale for his friend.
“But I know that I am a little pissed that you didn’t tell me.”
“Sorry about that,” Jeno derided. “I’m repenting by taking your ass home like a good friend, now shut the fuck up and get some rest.”
Nothing was spoken between the two for a couple of long minutes— only the engine hums and passing city lights were able to prod their senses. It didn’t last for long because when Jeno was put into a jarring stop right in front of a red light, Jaemin spoke up again, vowels rolling slow at the end of each sentence.
“I’m—!” he hiccuped. “I’m gonna get a girlfriend this year.”
Jeno couldn’t help but snort.
It didn’t deter Jaemin from continuing, though. His earnestness in the idea fell through despite the unintelligible slurs and mumbles. Jeno slowly started driving again when the traffic light turned green. “She has to be— she has to be really kind, and...nice and responsible,” his voice was falling lower, more somber. Jeno held down his tongue. “And she should have a really pretty smile, too. I want to make her smile often.”
The thrumming of the car soon replaced Jaemin’s voice, and Jeno wasn’t sure how to break it to him. He decided that he shouldn’t.
Because he wasn’t sure if his friend was either unknowingly or knowingly describing you in spite of everything.
SEPTEMBER 7, 20XY.
“HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU THAT YOU DON’T NEED TO PICK ME UP FROM MY HOUSE EVERY MORNING?”
It was the beginning of the second semester of your last year in middle school. Na Jaemin sent you a wide grin as he leaned against your mailbox, saluting into the air. You huffed from your doorstep and started walking towards him.
“We live next to each other, dummy. It’s unavoidable,” he chided, holding onto his backpack straps as he took his strides right next to you. The both of you passed by your house and his on your way out the neighborhood. “If you don’t like it then maybe you should just move out.”
“I meant,” you sent him a chastising, side-eyed glance. “You don’t have to wait for me to come out. You can just head to school first.”
Jaemin pretended to think for a moment, looking up with an exaggerated pout— as if he needed to think when he knew the answer already.
“I wanna walk with you.”
It was early in the morning and the weather was just starting to get colder.
“You’ll— you’ll end up with a million tardies on your record,” you stuttered out, looking down and shoving both hands into your skirt pockets. You’d already known that your friend never shied away from speaking his mind, no matter how embarrassing for him or for the receiver. Jaemin was honest and blunt, always had his heart out for everybody to see.
That was why he had no trouble in making you flustered in these unwarranted moments.
“You should start waking up early, then,” he lectured, clicking his tongue. He also had no trouble in pissing you off with his nagging at other times. “Shall I make you a personalized alarm? So you can wake up earlier?”
Here, he stopped. You looked at him. He leaned into your ear, hands cupping his mouth, and whispered a disturbing attempt of singing a cute song saying good morning Y/N! It’s wakey-wakey time! and you almost elbowed him in the gut had you not been struck frozen by the shivers down your spine.
“I think that would make me want to sleep forever, Jaemin.”
Satisfied with that reaction, he ruffled the top of your head with a smile that had you smiling, too. It was impossible not to.
Today, you two had arrived at school later than usual, and that instance would not be the last.
MARCH 10, 20XX.
WEDNESDAY MORNING was just as lively as ever.
“You cheater! Lowlife! A Judas from flesh to bone!”
It was the first day of your actual classes.
“I can’t believe you managed to get into Professor Moon’s class!” you three were loitering in one corner of the quad— Aram, specifically, as she was currently throwing a tantrum. A completely valid one, if you were to admit. Sungchan asked for your help with his eyes. You gave him the neutral look of displeasure. “Why didn’t you tell us weeks ago?!”
See, the problem was the fact that while you and Aram were left behind to slave yourselves away in Professor Jang’s class in the hopes of passing with a bare minimum B for the semester, Jung Sungchan was unfairly freeriding in Professor Moon’s class because that teacher wasn’t an absolute witch like yours. He never told you two until now.
And you were supposed to be friends. You and Aram were living off the assurance that the three of you will be suffering in solidarity, but there was a traitor all along.
Aram drilled glares into his skull as she waited for an explanation.
“You never asked,” he shrugged wyly.
“You don’t fucking deserve it,” she spat, grabbing you and speeding ahead of him.
“Hey, hey, hey! Stop being a sore loser,” he pouted, stopping right in front of Aram as a human barricade. Sungchan huffed and pushed an index finger to her forehead. “Don’t blame me for being born with quick hands.”
“Is that why your brain is a little slow?” he didn’t notice you sneak out from behind Aram to smack the back of his head with your binder. He turned around, face pale with betrayal. “Please move out of the way. Unlike you, we can’t afford to be late for class.”
Despite the crossfire, you three still walked to the building together as if none of that happened, though Sungchan was still filled with pouts and whines. “Aram, stop influencing our angel, Y/N. Look, even she’s bullying me now.”
At that, you split into two with you and Aram entering the first lecture hall on the left wing.
“There aren’t a lot of people,” you observed upon entering from the back door, your friend trailing behind as you settled on occupying the seats right at the center.
“Who would want to be in the devil’s class, anyway?” she huffed, pulling out a seat and dropping right beside you with an evident gloom. Neither of you had taken Prof Jang’s class before, but the warnings and lamentations from those who have were enough to serve as a cautionary tale to everyone in the department. You solemnly stroked the top of her head when she decided to bury her face into her crossed arms. “Y/N, I’m gonna fail this semester.”
You assured her that it’ll be fine, but who were you to say when you were suffering in your own silent remonstrations.
Professor Jang entered not even a second after 9AM struck with her thin, perched on glasses and a dark red blazer that matched her lips.
“Good morning, class—! oh, what’s this? Why is everyone looking so dreary so early in the morning? The semester hasn’t even started, kids. You won’t be lasting half of it with that attitude.”
With suppressed groans, everyone in the classroom greeted her again with artificial enthusiasm, and she started to give a run-through about the course and what she’ll be asking of you. You peeked at the syllabus from time to time as you followed through, jotting down some details here and there, attentions driven solely to the teacher in front. At one point, though, you caught your eyes winding, Professor Jang’s voice numbing into vibrations, and so you quickly shook your head back into focus.
Though when you aimed your eyes to your professor again, you made the mistake of having them graze over the few seats in front.
Because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t have noticed Jaemin sitting on the sixth seat in the second row.
Everything around you froze in a single instant.
It was disorienting, how the small, insignificant act of catching even just a glimpse of him— be it the back of his head amass dozens and dozens of people, or a shot of the corner of his mouth from the side— ended up with you getting stuck into a limbo of nothingness ever since you saw him again; of nothing but a silhouette that you can only get lost in for longer than time is able to count, a flash of bright blue in a cloudy sky.
As if he caught you looking at him, from rows and rows away, he looked back, and all was still. Frozen, motionless, and perfectly, perfectly still.
“Alright! That’s all for the course overview. Moving on to your requirements—”
In panic, you quickly shot your head down, fumbling into the next page of your notebook to pen down everything you thought you’d missed with a shaky hand, only to leave nothing but a hazy dot because you didn’t remember anything. Fuck. You couldn’t recall a single thing. It’ll be fine, you thought with a shaky breath. Aram was here and everything was in the syllabus, and you also had your phone recording, and shit— you forgot to record.
“Can you believe she’s making us do two group assignments this semester?”
You flinched violently in your seat.
“As if one isn’t enough, oh my fucking god,” Aram’s voice was in a whisper. You steadied your breath as you turned towards her, eyes shaken. She knitted her brows together. “What’s up?”
“Yeah?” you exhaled, looking at her. Her words barely registered until the last minute. “O—oh, yeah, yeah. That...that really sucks.”
Aram’s voice lifted in concern
“Y/N, are you okay?”
The question hit you in the face like a boomerang. Two group assignments. One Na Jaemin. You felt your face quivering just thinking about it, in addition to the weekly quizzes that your professor had just announced. Were you going to be okay with all that?
“No,” you whimpered, voice cracking with a high pitched strain. “No, absolutely not. I really don’t want to do this.”
Aram patted your back in sympathy, and you melted into the table, burying your face into your arms. Can you handle being in the same class as Na Jaemin when you can barely even think straight at the sight of him? You still have until the end of the week to finalize your schedule— maybe you can switch this class with a different one and just retake it next semester.
Will there even be any more available classes to replace this?
In your grief, you let out a muffled groan.
You only had Jung Sungchan as your remaining hope.
“Let’s switch classes.”
Sungchan’s eyes flew open when you greeted him by grabbing down his collar.
“What the fuck—?”
“Whoa, wait. Y/N, what are you doing!” Aram pulled you away. The boy was touched when she came to his rescue, eye’s glistening. “That’s not fair! You can’t leave me with him after he betrayed us! We’ll get through this together!” Nevermind. Sungchan miffed.
Aram had meant this as a form of consolation. It appeared not to work when you met her gaze with panic strewn eyes.
“Uh, I get that our requirements are heavy, but you really look like you’re about to cry, right now,” confused and startled, Aram spoke accordingly. It eventually transversed into primal concern. Sungchan drew nearer and waited for you to speak up.
They expected an explanation of sorts— something that can give a cause to your alarming state. Scratch that, they did not expect. They could only hope that you’d give them exactly that.
“Maybe I should just—” your airways squeezed tight and you clenched both of your fists before releasing them. “Maybe I should take another break from school.”
Aram and Sungchan’s bewilderment was not to be understated.
You winced, violently so, at the rupture of their voices. Aram wasted no time in grabbing you by the shoulders, with Sungchan not too far behind in wanting to shake your senses back into you, too.
“And— and when do you plan on coming back?” she questioned.
You lifted both of your hands, slowly closing each finger until only your right thumb and middle and index fingers were left.
Needless to say, they did not take it well.
“What happened to our dream of graduating together?!”
“Are you insane?! Do you want to be a college student for the rest of your life?!”
You sighed and slumped forward, Aram letting go of you though still in a frustrated yet worried daze. Maybe you were going a little overboard, all of your senses were screaming at you not to divulge in irrational and emotionally driven decisions— but what could you do when you were feeling too much? Too much of things you couldn’t even figure out, too many emotions stirring around in a concoction unfit to endure.
When you took a step forward to trudge into your next class, you stumbled, shoes scratching the ground. Sungchan barely managed to hold his arm out as a barricade. The two exchanged worried glances.
“I don’t even know anymore,” you said right after thanking him, getting back on your feet. With a veil of mustered up resolve, though forged, you looked at them with a tight smile— barely looking like one at all. “I’ll— I’ll figure it out.”
You had to figure it out.
MARCH 11, 20XX.
AN ENTIRE DAY WAS SPENT THINKING, AND WHEN DAYBREAK CAME, you had come to a conclusion that you shouldn’t give up just yet.
Immediately after your last class, you sped over to the library, already having told Aram to not wait for you anymore. You were somewhat calm today, rooted from the fact that this was the only weekday that you were free from seeing him— the class you shared was held four times a week save for Thursdays.
With that, you had a small ounce of confidence in your step as you sat yourself down on one of the public computers.
The first thing you did was log in to your school’s server and see if there still were any available classes worth replacing Professor Jang’s. Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, you felt a little bit of despondency when you found no available class after searching for twenty minutes.
Okay, let’s weigh down everything here, you breathed in and closed your eyes from the screen’s rays. Maybe you didn’t need to replace it with a major class and just...retake it next semester.
But wouldn’t that be too heavy since you were planning on finding a job during summer break and continue working until the stretch of the next term? You didn’t know how you’d be able to manage that. And even if you were to survive that somehow after some sort of miracle, there was no saying that you won’t end up getting tangled with him again because god damn you went to the same school in the same major and you even fucking next to each other.
There was still the option of taking a leave of absence.
You pondered on it for a while, never leaving your spot in front of the computer, and your lips pursed.
Was it really worth sacrificing years and years of education just because of some guy?
Granted that Na Jaemin wasn’t just some guy, but still.
You groaned and threw your head back, regretting it after being blinded by the library’s fluorescent lights, but still refusing to move your head. A while after, you noticed a shadow looming over you. The next moment, the lights were blocked by a familiar face.
Immediately, you straightened yourself up from your seat. “O-oh, hi Eunha! What’s up?”
This was a little unexpected.
“I’m so lucky to find you here!” she beamed, grabbing your arms from her fervor. After a moment of thought with a smile on her face, she asked. “Do you have time? Want to grab a bite with me?”
Somehow, you found yourself moving out from the library and in front of a food truck near campus. The sky was already a pretty shade of mercury gold, street lights lit up in sequence, and the air that touched your skin was reminiscent of a spring that was slowly reaching its peak.
Eunha passed you the sandwich that she ordered for you from the truck, and you thanked her with a smile. The both of you were coincidentally headed down the same way. You quickly finished it as you two walked.
The first time you had met Lee Eunha was in middle school— a bright, cheerful girl with a sweetness that can melt even the coldest tempers, and you noted that she has not changed one bit since then. She always wore a different hair accessory each day to pin back the right side of her bangs (today it was a large, marble barrette). You didn’t exactly know her that well, being only friends of circumstance back then, and especially since she transferred right before high school. When you two met again though, both nervous on your first day of university since Aram and Sungchan weren’t there yet, you’d gotten a little bit closer than before— sharing a sense of familiarity in a new environment.
Still, there were never a lot of instances where you hung out with her one-on-one. Today was an unexpected occasion.
“I actually wanted to ask you something, Y/N,” she started as you made your way together downtown, the sky darkening, buildings slowly painted black. “Do you remember Na Jaemin? From middle school?”
You felt your smile waver a little. There wasn’t much of it to begin with.
“Oh,” you blinked. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.” Now that you thought about it, Jaemin and Eunha were sitting next to each other yesterday— not that you were a hundred percent sure since your mind was all over the place at that time.
“I wanted to tell you immediately after Professor Jang’s yesterday, but you seemed a little under the weather and I didn’t want to bother you,” sheepish, she looked down to her half eaten sandwich as you two passed by the loud bustling of a restaurant, you already having finished yours and holding onto the wrapper. “But he’s actually attending uni with us! Isn’t that crazy? Who knew that three kids from a rural middle school in Busan would reunite here. I was amazed enough to even meet you again last— two years ago, was it?”
You confirmed, half-dazed, half-processing every single utterance she had just made, the thin paper packaging crumpling inside your fist, not knowing at all what to make as a response. Clearing your throat, you proceed with different information, wanting to switch topics but unable to without being rude.
“I saw him at the welcome party, actually.”
“Oh, really? Well, he’s changed quite a bit, hasn’t he? To be fair, I haven’t seen him in like five years, but still. A face like his isn’t easy to forget,” she mused out loud, looking up at the now starry sky. The both of you ended up amongst a crowd ready to cross the street. “He’s gotten really handsome.”
A bus zoomed by. The traffic light flashed green. Eunha turned her head to look at you.
It was one look. Only a single glance to your direction, but that was enough.
You could already see the first bloom of infatuation in her eyes, sparkling, bright, and reminiscent of the streetlights flashing in the evening. Your throat ran dry. You almost missed the flash of green from across the street.
“Oh, no! I hope you don’t think I’m trying to ask for help, or— or trying to get you to set me up with him. Sorry if I came off that way,” her voice was quick along with the strides you took on the lane. It was difficult to catch up. She continued when you made it across. “I just wanted to talk about this with you since we share a former acquaintance with him, and I feel like if anyone would understand me, it would be you.”
“I— I didn’t think you were trying to do that. Don’t worry.”
You managed a smile, lips pressed so tightly together that they felt like they’d rip dry and mix with the threat of salty tears. Eunha beamed in return, the same unwavering vivacity as ever.
“I tried asking him about you, actually,” she hummed. “If he still remembers you, you know.”
“What—” you inhaled, speaking a little too quickly. “What did he say?”
“He says he can barely recognize you.”
It ripped into your eardrums more violently than you’d expected.
“I thought so too, actually! You know, when we met two years ago? I was shocked and a little intimidated to see you,” she rattled on against the nighttime noise of the city, mixing in with the rest of the busy crowd. “I don’t have a perfect memory, but your vibe sort of changed, I think? Like you’ve gotten more mature and serious, so it was a bit hard to approach you at first.”
You hung on to each and every word— each one though only a few were distinct. He could barely recognize you. That was enough.
“Well, I’m not the best judge when it comes to changes since I can barely even remember what I had for dinner yesterday,” she laughed. “But I’m definitely sure of the fact that you’d gotten really, really pretty.”
You unrecognizable and him unchanged— save for his nature towards you and the former fact had come crashing from his very own mouth. It was hard to swallow, like a used up rag; worn, dirty, and only waiting to be thrown away.
“Let’s take a picture with the three of us sometime! Oh, wait— this is where I go,” she was to make a turn into a different street while you were to walk ahead to the bus stop. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Y/N! Thanks for the talk!”
With a wave, she bade you goodbye and disappeared. You felt everything in a single, strong blow to your ribs the moment you were left alone.
The bus ride to your apartment felt like a blur, not remembering when or how you ended up inside the vehicle, only feeling and feeling too much of Jaemin, Eunha, and yourself.
At first you thought it was the guilt eating you up, churning you down from the inside and out, why you dreaded the idea of seeing him again. You thought that you couldn’t look at him because you were reminded of the face he made that day, that you couldn’t take the wringing of your heart to the point of it having dried, cracked, and crumbled. It was guilt haunting your soul, stinging your eyes, and clawing at your throat. It was your conscience whispering to you on and on and on that you have wronged him, bled him, and you didn’t deserve to be left living so soundly.
But you’d just realized— late, a little too late— that retribution didn’t end there.
From your conversation with Eunha, things that had been covered by the flimsy curtain of guilt had been uncovered, that there was something more to the tempest running wild in your head and heart.
It was ignited by the scornful match of jealousy. A bitter, green flame burning the inside of your skin, an echo of past longings and past regrets.
Even though you had let go of that privilege four years ago.
MAY 24, 20XY.
YOU HAD A TOTAL OF FOUR LONG QUIZZES TODAY, and so during the subway ride home, you were nothing but drained, tired, and absolutely whacked out with fatigue. The student council meeting that ran for over an hour sucked the miniscule remnants of your energy, too. Your sighs evolved from three to five times every five minutes.
In short, you couldn’t wait to head home and throw yourself onto your bed.
But there’s still a lot of assignments to do, you groaned, massaging your temples. Notes to revise, too. Fuck highschool.
“You can rest on my shoulder if you want.”
It slipped your mind that Jaemin was sitting right beside you. You looked at him. He raised a brow, questioning. “What?”
How he was still seemingly fresh, you had begun to wonder. Though his dark hair was heavily disheveled from his habit of raking his fingers through them all the time, his eyes were still bright, skin still glowing, and you were sure it wasn’t just from the orange sun glaring through the window behind him. You were almost entirely in awe— until you remembered that he wasn’t the type to take his classes seriously, anyway, doing just enough for his grades to be in the upper middle percentile.
“I’m fine,” you yawned out, covering your mouth with your fingers.
“No you’re not,” he pinched your nose bridge. You winced and smacked his hand away.
The train stopped when it reached a station— not yours, so you remained in your seat. Jaemin stood up, though, and you furrowed your brows at him in confusion. He was standing right in front, towering over you while holding onto the straphanger with his backpack hanging in front instead of on his back, when a girl around your age took his seat beside you.
Of course, you mused, a ghost of a smile etched on your lips. As considerate as ever. When you stole a glance at his face, eyes up discreetly, he looked as if it meant nothing but a thoughtless gesture. You quickly diverted before he could catch you staring.
It wasn’t just you who noticed his manners— the very girl that he’d sacrificed his seat for was looking at him, unabashed with her admiration. She was evidently flushed, pink stained and dreamy. You noticed her flash open a mirror, the light from the sunset bouncing into your eyes, and you flinched. When you opened them again, you noticed her fixing her hair with her fingers, checking out her face before she tucked it back into her bag.
Oh, you thought. Huh.
You had long known that your friend was a looker— especially when you first entered highschool (albeit it was barely a few months ago, but you digressed), and he’d suddenly started to collect an army of admirers left and right. This was a normal occurrence. There was nothing to wonder about.
But somehow, you found yourself looking up again, trying to look for something you didn’t even exactly know, or didn’t want to admit yet. What you saw was just Jaemin scrolling mindlessly through his phone, eyes idly strapped to the screen. You felt a sudden relaxing of your joints, an indication of relief. With that, you sighed and closed your eyes and—
You felt something cold touch your cheek— nothing freezing, but it was enough to catch you by surprise. It was Jaemin holding out a bottled peach beverage to you, the pink drink occupying most of your vision. Your eyes flitted over to his face, widened in a bit of shock-mixed confusion.
He raised a brow. “You don’t want it?”
When you made no sound in reply, he retracted his arm.
You quickly scrambled to hold onto him before he could make a full retreat.
A second of realization felt like a good two hours. It was both cold and warm, electrifying and tender. Both of your hands were locked around his, fingers curling around his wrist, knuckles, and the blushing drink. Eyes trapped, breathing stuck— you held your shared stares for a good second more until you squeaked and let go.
Jaemin couldn’t hold in his laughter, amused, breathy huffs with the corners of his lips uncontrollably twitching upwards. He let go of the straphanger, twisting the bottle cap open with his now free hand before giving the drink to you once more. You swiftly took it from him with a soft thank you.
“Cute,” he chuckled, watching you take small sips without paying mind to the fact that you were feeling very self conscious, right now. He maintained the same demeanor until you unloaded from the subway train, making your way back home.
It was an unusually quiet walk, sky a dark shade of blue, as you two strolled on the sidewalk into your neighborhood.
Your house came before his, a small gap in between the fences separating them, and so Jaemin dropped you off right by your front doorstep.
He said his bye’s and see you tomorrow’s, turning around and ready to leave into his own home, but then you stopped him with the clearing of your throat.
“Have you—” you started. Jaemin turned around with patient eyes a few steps away from you, the porch lights shining his face. “Have you ever...thought of...dating anyone...?”
Your voice shrunk in volume at each uttered word until you found yourself painfully and shamefully regretting it by the last syllable. Jaemin stared at you with scrunched up eyebrows. Hell. You panicked and explained further in a stutter.
“It’s— it’s just that you’re always hanging out with me, and— and you know, you— you’re like, you know—”
Your hands flew around in the air at your desperate attempt to smoothen things out, obviously to no avail because of your self-inflicted, flustered incoherence. You sought for one glance at him just to confirm how fucked you were. Jaemin had a subtle smile of amusement. You felt your ego diminish into thin air. It was all gone now. You crumpled your skirt from your sides with balled fists.
If only you could hear his doting thoughts, then maybe you wouldn’t have spun your heels so quickly and scrambled to open the door and disappear in embarrassment.
The moment your hand reached for the handle, only managing to open a tiny crack, it was quickly shut back close with a hand right over yours.
Jaemin stood right right behind you, his breath vivid and warm up against your ear.
“To answer your question,” he said, close, too close. You felt his words digging deep into your skin. “Yeah. Always have.”
“There’s only been one person in my mind, though.”
It felt like your heart was going to come out of your mouth.
For a moment, he lingered, unmoving amidst the quiet early evening skies, and so were you— you were lucky he couldn’t see your face. Then he opened the door, his hand still over yours, and he gently pushed you in.
“See you tomorrow!” he exclaimed before the clicking of the door handle.
You didn’t even make an effort to turn around, to swing it open again and chase after him for what the ever loving fuck he had just committed, because all you could do with the remaining strength that you had was stumble back and have your back hitting against the wooden door, clutching where your heart was supposed to be.
There was a drum. A loud, noisy drum in the place of your heart.
When you got home after the bus ride and your talk with Eunha, you took a long shower— longer than you’d initially planned thanks to you spacing out a few too many times. After that, you hopped onto your bed, one arm occupied with a towel haphazardly drying your hair, the other fumbling with your phone. You missed a call from your mother.
Shit. You were supposed to call her when classes started.
Quickly, you pressed on her contact, chewing on your bottom lip when it kept ringing and ringing. Then she picked up.
“Took you long enough to call.”
You let out a heavy huff of air.
“Sorry! I’ve been meaning to reach out since Monday, but things have been a little hectic on my end,” you explained, hoping your earnestness could be felt across phone lines. Hectic was an understatement. You felt your chest lighten when she only grumbled and didn’t choose to press farther. “How are you and dad?”
“What about me?”
It looked like your sister stole the phone from your dearest mother.
“Aren’t you gonna ask about me?”
You grinned, laughing a little. “How are you, Yeon?”
It was true that your sister was going through a little rebellious phase lately, but sometimes— just sometimes, she’d act a little cute.
“Happy,” you could hear her smile through the phone. “There were a lot of cute boys during the assembly earlier.” Oh wow. Did she graduate and move on to her boy crazy phase?
“Good for you,” you hummed, and before either you or her could talk about the said cute boys, you heard a whine from the other end. The phone was snatched away from her. “Hi, mom.”
“Your sister has been a bit much lately.”
“Let her enjoy her youth.”
“You talk as if you’re older than me.”
Laughing, you moved on to a different topic, holding the phone between your shoulders as you dried your hair more efficiently this time. “Is dad’s job search going well?” you asked. “I hope he’s found an opening somewhere.”
The company your dad was previously working in had to lay off some of their employees, and he unfortunately got the short end of the stick. After nearly a year of unemployment, you hoped that he’d managed to find one by now.
It was silent for a while, until your mother let out a sigh. You pressed your lips together. Of course it wasn’t that easy.
“That’s the thing.”
She said that your dad was preparing for an interview next week, and that she’ll contact you immediately if there’s any news. There was a strained hint of hope in her voice. It isn’t a sin to remain hopeful despite all.
This time, the silence was led by you.
It took a moment of thought— a long moment, deliberating whether or not you should say it out loud. You chose the latter.
“I can always take a break from school, you know.”
Your mother didn’t take that very well.
“Are you crazy?!”
What went on were her various colors of nagging— how you already took a break last time and that as the eldest, you should graduate as soon as possible so that you can get a job as soon as possible. That was how you could help, she said (read: scolded), get a scholarship if you can. You lightened your tone and attempted to calm her down.
“I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Don’t worry about it, mom. Yes, I’m studying hard— this is me of all people.”
Time to officially cross out and crumple up that option, you lamented, digging further into your sheets.
“Have you guys eaten dinner yet?”
MARCH 17, 20XX.
A FEW DAYS FLEW BY WITH YOU NOT FINDING ANY NEED TO TALK TO NA JAEMIN, and so you had managed to steel your nerves from anything that could give yourself away from just a glimpse of him. Gone were the days where you’d lose it unprovoked— now, you could feign ignorance and disinterest whenever someone mentions his name within earshot. This week was going well.
With your luck, however, you wondered how long it would last.
“Good afternoon,” Aram dropped onto the seat beside you, looking almost as dead as you when you first entered this class. A full day of classes was enough to put a boxer in a coma. She looked like she barely got enough sleep, too. “God damned Sungchan, man. Give him a curfew starting today. I can’t keep playing with him until three in the morning.”
“You brought that unto yourself,” you mused, taking out your notebook.
“He’s way too good at giving bribes,” she groaned and did the same as you.
Class started, class was halfway done, and then there were only fifteen minutes left until the end of the class when Professor Jang finished her discussion.
“Since we still have some time yet,” she started. “Allow me to introduce your first group assignment this semester.”
A choir of groans broke out. She ignored it and started explaining.
“—Anyway, please refer to the screen projected in front for your groups.”
After noting down everything that you needed to do, your eyes traced the names in front as you scanned for yours. There were four members in each group. You found yourself in group five. This was a crucial moment— the familiar feeling of hope mixed with a dreadful nervousness every single time you were assigned your members. You recognized the name under you, then the one after, then the last one. Everything was fine until it wasn’t.
You felt your stomach drop to the cold, hard floor.
The three people approaching you felt like a collective, foreboding presence.
“Eyy, Y/N is in my group! I can already smell the A+ from here, leader!”
Johnny Suh was a nice and reliable senior when it came to advice and problems outside of academics. But apart from his shitty drinking habits that conjured a few too many grudges from others, his notoriety extended to the fact that he doesn’t exactly take his classes seriously.
“Y/N! I’m so happy that we get to work together!”
Lee Eunha was the sweetest girl you have ever met and with her good nature, she can definitely push herself to work hard and meet demands especially if she puts her mind into it, with a few dashes of compliments and encouragement, of course. But with the current situation and your personal emotions getting in the way, you don't know if working with her will end up well.
Sucking in a deep breath and sucking in your whines along the way, you returned her bright smile with the same ardour.
Then the last one—
“Let’s get along.”
His name alone sends red flags shooting into the sky. You wished to fly along with them and never to return.
You forced your smile to widen, nodding at him and ignoring Johnny’s short-term enthusiasm, laughter weaved in together with nervousness and despair trailing at the end of your sentence. You punched a fist into the air to attempt some positivity. It came off as nothing but pathetic.
“Let’s...let’s do well together!”
God, or whoever, please have mercy on my soul.
“I think I might have to retake this class next semester.”
Aram groaned as she trudged beside you, and you remembered (after recovering from your own group member-induced shock) that she was thrown together with two notorious slackers in your major. Luckily, she had Huang Renjun to help her. You hoped the both of them were enough to carry two people ten times their own weight.
“Your group seemed pretty alright,” she said in recollection. “Just get Johnny into shape, then you’re all good.”
“I really want to trust your words.”
Before you left, you all agreed to have a meeting at 127 Café after class on Monday to do your initial planning since you still have a little over a few weeks until it was due, anyway. Johnny had no complaints, Eunha was eager to listen to everything you tell her to do, and Jaemin was very civil to you throughout the entire exchange.
The only thing he said to you was an unfeeling sounds good, though. He left immediately with the other two right after. Didn’t even look you in the eye.
It was fine, you inhaled. It was all good. He didn’t owe you anything. He could do whatever he wanted.
A moment of reflection.
Would it kill him to be nicer, though? you scoffed, pressing your binders closer to your chest as you and Aram strolled further around the campus. Eventually you found Sungchan sitting alone on a bench near the cafeteria, bent down and lacing up his sneakers with his bag by his feet. You two walked up to him on sight.
“Y/N, look at him. He’s slacking off,” Aram nudged you before seating herself right beside him. He scooted away from her at that very instant with a grimace.
“Don’t you have class?” you asked, standing before them and flicking your wrist to check the time. “It’s only two-thirty.”
“I left early,” he grinned. “The other guys and I are having a soccer match against the English department so I wanted to warm up a little before the actual game.”
You and Aram shared a look.
“Why did you even become a business major? You don’t even try, at all,” she mumbled bitterly, arms crossed in disapproval. “Do you just want to follow me and Y/N forever?”
“I hate the thought of that, but that makes the most sense.”
Sungchan looked as if the entire world had wronged him.
“C’mon! Cut me some slack!” he whined, trying to defend himself. This was met by matching stares of doubt. Sungchan cleared his throat and fixed his posture, head trained to the ground. “Well— my brother is also majoring in this, so...”
At the mention of the word brother, you and Aram caught each other’s eyes in realization. “Ahh, that’s right,” she exclaimed, snapping her fingers. “Your super hot brother. I remember now.”
A look of horror shrouded Sungchan’s face, head snapping towards her. He looked as if he had just swallowed half a lemon.
“Why would you say that?”
“Because he is hot! What do you want me to say?” she quickly nodded her head up towards you. “Right, Y/N?”
You held a moment of silence. Sungchan casted a hopeful gleam in his eyes.
“Objectively. Okay,” he nodded.
“Jung Jaehyun is a god amongst men,” you finally answered— definitely not the answer he was hoping for. “He was so nice to me and helped me out all throughout freshman year.”
At that moment, you slipped into a brief reverie after the remembrance of your kind and handsome senior. It was hard not to like Jung Jaehyun, as thoughtful as he was. You could still clearly remember the instances of him helping you to get out of Johnny’s drinking antics, waiting for you to leave the empty lecture rooms or libraries whenever it so happened to be that he was also staying until the evening— even walking you home afterwards when it got too late.
He was attentive, but never pushy. Always knew how to tread the lines. There was a moment in your acquaintance— a very brief moment— where you thought that maybe, maybe this was the first sign of a relationship blooming after breaking it off with Jaemin.
It never happened, though. Only going as far shared eye contacts and smiles amidst a big group, fingers brushing, and a jacket lent when it was too cold. You hadn’t kept in touch when you left for your year-long break, and this was the first time you’d heard about him again since the end of your first year. Jaehyun was never the social media type, and you felt a bit awkward to reach out first.
“You two are so fucking weird.”
Sungchan grumbled, kicking the dusty cemented ground with his spiked shoes. Even if you find him hot, you shouldn’t just say it to my face, your ears caught him mumbling, or something of the sort.
“Where is he, by the way?” you asked, squatting down after standing idly for too long. “I haven’t seen him since the beginning of the term.”
“Oh, he’s staying with our grandparents in the States the whole semester,” he replied. “Grandad got hospitalized, so he’s there to help out and keep him company, as per the sick man’s request.”
Your mouth fell open in understanding. “Ah, that’s too bad.”
“Yeah, you should have gone away instead of him.”
The boy ignored the jab and scrunched his nose. You looked up from the ground and decided to ask him something he might want to be asked. “Anyway, what time is the match, Sungchan?”
He lit up at this inquiry, recollecting the details of their game. “Uh, some of the guys are already on the field, but we’re still waiting for Jaemin and Jeno hyung. Jungwoo hyung hasn’t texted me yet.”
A spark burned in Aram’s eyes. You didn’t like where this was going.
“Y/N, let’s go watch them!” she squealed, leaning forward to grab both of your hands. “Sungchannie will treat us to dinner if they win!” Sungchannie couldn’t even butt in to object.
“W-well, I have some notes to fix, and uh—”
“Oh jeez, I’ll help you with those later,” Aram pressed on, now on her feet and pulling you up along with her to the soccer field. Sungchan bounced immediately behind. “You’ve been way too stressed lately and nothing’s a good soccer game can’t fix!”
And as if to add on to her entreaties—
“Just imagine Sungchan getting hit in the face with the ball!”
You snorted almost immediately, hearing the younger boy’s offended exclamations at the back of your head. Well, you couldn’t always be moping around in your thoughts and miseries. So what if Na Jaemin was also playing— he wasn’t the only one on the field. You’d be too distracted by the quickness of the game itself to even notice his face.
“Alright,” you finally relented. Aram beamed and hastened her way to the field.
The afternoon was a little cloudy— grey patches blotting the desaturated spring sky which dulled down the otherwise bright green and grassy field, too. Sungchan left you and Aram by the bleachers and ran off to the other guys who were also playing, dropping off his backpack in your care.
Surprisingly, there were a lot of people coming to watch the business versus english department soccer death match, though at the same time you weren’t at all stricken by surprise because, well—
Hot sweaty men running around while fighting over a ball.
But you digress.
“Where are the other two?” you saw Jungwoo asking Sungchan when the latter got to them, and your friend answered with an indifferent shrug.
Speak of the devil. You saw Jaemin and Jeno, along with Eunha, make an entrance from across the field. The girl broke away from them when they neared the other players and ran off to one side of the stands. Okay, you sharply inhaled. A little painful, a little ouch. It was just a bee sting. Nothing to linger on. You decided to distract yourself by looking over who the players were from both teams.
Aside from him, Jeno, Jungwoo, and Sungchan, you also saw Sicheng, Haechan, and Taeyong from your major huddled around on the field. It was weird not to see Johnny around when he was usually the inciter of these events. He must have been fished away elsewhere.
On the english department’s side, you recognized Mark Lee, Liu Yangyang, Wong Yukhei, Wong Kunhang, Park Jisung, and Xiao Dejun. You also caught Nakamoto Yuta strung along with them which quite honestly raised your left brow in suspicious conjecture because one: he was part of your uni’s fucking soccer team and everyone else was an amateur, and two:
He wasn’t even an english major in the first place.
That has got to be cheating.
“Hey! That’s fucking cheating!”
You found Haechan voicing out your dissent, leading the rest of the aggravated team in marching up to their opponents in complaint. They argued that they couldn’t find another willing player for a 7v7, and Yuta didn’t mind taking that spot and agreed to take it easy. This still didn’t fare well with the majority of your team, and a war broke out (meanwhile, the star soccer player that was the main subject of the debate was just...doing tricks with the ball and separated from the rest).
Aram motioned from beside you that this was more entertaining than the actual game, and you couldn’t help but agree. Eventually they came to a resolution: they’d exclude Yuta if the other team also excluded someone else for an even playing field.
Why did they take so long to come up with this?
The seven of them were huddled near your side of the bleachers and all their voices could be heard within earshot. They were trying to decide who to kick out from the game, and you wondered why the hell were they taking this way too seriously. The amount of tension emanating from their compact circle was enough to drop a bowling ball from a string (you eventually remembered that the losing team will apparently treat everyone to dinner at this newly opened Chinese restaurant downtown, and you came to an understanding).
While looking at the members, your eyes mindlessly traced each face one by one with your chin resting on your palm as you leaned forward, until they somehow— out of your own volition— landed and remained stuck on Jaemin.
It was difficult to pry yourself away when he was looking like that.
There was a certain expression on his face— teeth lightly grabbing onto his bottom lip in deep contemplation, eyes focusing as if he was looking at something you couldn’t see in the air. You were sure he was planning on volunteering to drop out. Of course he would. You weren’t sure if anyone else noticed, but you did. It strung a heavy chord when you caught yourself still thinking this way.
He opened his mouth and started to lift his hand from his side, but he never got to complete the action.
“I’ll sit this one out.”
Jeno was a tad bit faster.
You stretched in your seat, the rest of the six now dispersing into the field after confirming it once more with Jeno. Aram voiced out that the game was finally starting. You tried to focus on Sungchan instead of Jaemin who was jogging to his position on the field. The wind blew wisps into his hair. He shook his head and ran his fingers through. You quickly looked away again.
The temptation to stare was broken away by a presence nearing, and when you looked at the direction of the incoming person, you nearly let out a choke because it was Lee fucking Jeno walking up to you on the bleachers.
What the fuck?
The game had finally started now and you were in a sudden surge of panic because Na Jaemin’s best friend decided to sit beside you. Out of all the places. You felt the hairs on your arms stand one by one at his arrival, sitting down, not seeming to mind you at all. It was even harder to focus on the game now.
You looked at him. He gave you a quick nod. What the hell was he up to?
Lee Jeno transferred to your high school during his first year. He has been Jaemin’s best friend since then— they automatically clicked when they got assigned to sit next to each other. You were on good terms with each other being the only other person outside of the both of you who had the knowledge of all that had happened: how Jaemin liked you, how you liked him, how you two started dating, and how everything fell apart.
Well, the gist of it all, at the very least. You were sure that Jaemin told him all that he knew, but Jaemin didn’t know everything.
You were once again shaken when Jeno spoke up from beside you.
“You weren’t at the dinner the other day.”
“Jaem’s mom was a bit disappointed.”
You swallowed, straightening yourself on the bench. “My mom went instead. It was out of my power to go.”
It was universally known that you have never been a good liar. Jeno knew that very well, but he didn’t prod further. You let a little bit of air pass through your lungs in relief, zoning into the soccer match and hoping that Jeno wouldn’t try and start a conversation with you again.
Not being a sports person, either, you weren’t exactly sure what was going on on the field, but you at the very least knew that your major was leading at 1-0. Sungchan was surprisingly doing well (what the fuck?) that even Aram was stunned. “Since when was that loser good at this? Look at him, he’s fucking eating it up.”
Your friend kicked the ball all the way across the field, right into the opponent’s territory, and you thought that damn, you screwed up this time, Jung Sungchan. He didn’t. Na Jaemin managed to swipe the ball away and straight into the net. It was enough to forget yourself when he was smiling so widely that the clouds seemed to clear away from the sky as he ran along with the wind.
It was like that for a while. Your vision felt like crosshairs locked into one, single target. Until a voice brought you back.
“What about four years ago?”
Jeno asked. You jolted in your seat.
“Was that out of your power, too?”
You turned to him, feeling your heart stop at the very moment you held eye contact. He didn’t say it, but his eyes conveyed it all— a certain curve of his lip, a certain arch of his brow. You seem to have a talent of letting people down.
Before you could answer, a sudden commotion broke out which caught both of your attention to the field.
“Shit, man— I’m sorry!”
“Dude, are you okay?!”
All of the players were huddled around a single person. You quickly jumped off and ran closer when you caught sight of that person’s face.
“I’m fine! It’s nothing, we can go back to the game.”
As you joined them and all the others who were also stirred by concern, you’d found out that Jaemin got hit in the head with the ball by Mark. He was still smiling despite the worried glances of all the others, assuring him that he was definitely fine, that this wasn’t the first time he’d gotten hit before.
“I’m telling you, I’m fine. I just got a little distracted, there’s nothing to worry abo—”
In the middle of his sentence, his nose started bleeding. Jaemin wiped it off to see a red stain painting the skin of his fingers.
At the infirmary was Jeno and Jaemin, the latter sitting on the bed with rolled up sheets of tissue paper stuck in his left nostril.
“How the fuck did you get hit at the back of your head while playing soccer?”
Jeno came into the room holding an ice pack that he got from the nurse. Jaemin ignored his friend’s sermon and continued to pinch the bridge of his nose. The game was now cancelled— rescheduled to a different day, if ever they’d remember.
“I mean, I’d get it if you were hit in the face, but at the back of your head?” he threw the ice pack in Jaemin's direction. “Dude, were you playing basketball?”
Jeno continued rambling, scolding him for his carelessness, but Jaemin was clearly filtering everything out with the words entering one ear and exiting through the other as he threw the tissue paper into the trash bin. He was now busy tending to the bump on his head, as well as the thoughts that flooded into his mind.
Jaemin let the cold bag rest in his palms
“What were you and Y/N talking about?”
Jeno stared at him, unamused.
So that’s why he got hit.
He sighed internally, choosing not to point out the fact that his friend’s voice had gotten significantly softer when pronouncing your name. “We were just catching up. Asked about how her break went,” he simply answered. “Why? Are you bothered?”
“No,” Jaemin scoffed, avoiding eye contact. “Why would I be?”
Jeno didn’t know until how long his patience could withstand this. He deadpanned. Jaemin arched his brow. Good god, you’re hopeless. Sighing, he chose to divert. “Eunha was really worried about you earlier.”
Jaemin pursed his lips at the conjecture. “It’s just a nosebleed,” he huffed. “I should text her.”
Eunha was with them inside the infirmary earlier, but she regretfully didn’t stay a long time, needing to pick up her younger brother from the academy. Worried would be an understatement to describe her constitution— which was far worse than Jaemin who was actually ailing. He took out his phone and messaged the girl that the bleeding had stopped now.
“You go do that,” Jeno said. “I’ll go get something to drink. Want anything?”
Something of an unintelligible grumble came from Jaemin’s throat.
“‘Kay. Got it.”
When Jeno exited the infirmary, he was startled— though unseeming from the look of his face— to see you hanging around in front of the room. You jumped in your skin when you heard the door click, quickly bending forward to make a complete ninety-degree bow, mostly out of panic rather than respect.
“O-oh! Jeno Lee!” you stammed, regretting looking him in the eye so you looked at the floor, the walls, anywhere, instead. “It’s— It’s—”
Jeno patiently waited, staring at you with his back facing the door. You finally mustered the courage to look at him.
“Fancy seeing you here.”
He continued to say nothing. You gulped and squeezed your throat.
“Is he okay?”
It took everything in his power to bite back a laugh.
“He’s fine,” Jeno scrunched his brows, recollecting how completely not fine he was when he saw him talking to you. Maybe not. “Do you want me to give him that for you?” You completely forgot about the bread roll and the cold brew coffee in both of your hands.
“Please,” you breathed out. Jeno gallantly took them out of your possession. “Thank you.”
Immediately, you quickly turned away, ready to leave.
The words came out before he could think, and Jeno bit down the inside of his mouth when he saw your face again.
Can he say it?
Was it right to intervene?
Ultimately, Jeno decided against it with a sigh. “Don’t be a stranger, Y/N,” he gave you a kind smile, and your eyes softened from a widened nervousness to genuine surprise. “And sorry about earlier.”
You gave him a small smile and a nod in return after your daze, turning your heels when he went back into the infirmary.
It was already late in the afternoon, and you were all by yourself in the hallway, steps slow as you took your time in exiting the building. Today was an extremely, extremely emotionally taxing day.
You were determined to sleep and think about nothing at all the moment you arrived home.
MARCH 22, 20XX.
ALMOST A WEEK HAD PASSED— FIVE DAYS FLYING with the wind like pages of a thick, worn out book. You flip one page, and then another, not realizing the flow of time, the distance squandered as you kept flipping and flipping and flipping. That was how the past five days had gone by, coupled with books and homework, notes and reviewers, and not enough sleep. One day, though (it was last Friday, you recalled) Sungchan had invited you and Aram to do some volunteer work for a children’s event at the park. The bounce house station, specifically.
It had you thinking about the kids back at home, feeling a little guilty about cutting your already limited time with them short due to the special someone you’d desperately wanted to avoid. You felt yourself sighing. Shameless of you to paint the blame on him when you up and left on your discretion.
I should bring them some gifts when I come home during summer break, you contemplated as you idled down the multicolored streets of downtown Seoul.
Today was one of those instances where the flicking of printed sheets stops— when something significant happens and you have to stop and sink everything in before running the machine again. You were on your way to 127 Café for your first group meeting. Na Jaemin to be present, of course. There was no point trying to avoid him at this point, resigning to numbing things down as much as you could despite its obvious, adverse effect.
You’d gotten pretty good at keeping your composure around him. Especially with the ghosting fact that there was something blossoming between him and your other friend along with the creeping spring.
The choice wasn’t yours, anyway.
Adjusting the sleeve of your jean jacket, you passed by a family restaurant with a vibrant red color palette, the narrow building of a karaoke booth, and after two succeeding boutiques across the tree lined street, you were finally met by the entrance of the café.
It was blue, white, and cream inside, just like it was at the front.
The bells chimed when you entered, choosing a booth that had a clear view of the entrance so that you could keep an eye out for your groupmates. 3:15, your phone said. You four had agreed earlier in class to meet at 3:30.
Helping yourself to the service water, you took out your laptop and a notepad from your bag, opening your calendar on the device. The presentation will be in April, the exact date highlighted neatly on screen with a vibrant yellow. It was a long way to go, but to have everything planned and divided today would be today’s agenda. Better to start early while things aren’t piling on like towers of shit yet.
You kept checking the time every half minute, head immediately spinning to the front doors whenever they swung open and jingled to signify a new customer, and by 3:27, before the entrance could signal your attention, you spotted Na Jaemin walking along the building through the glass windows. He was alone. You sucked in an unconsciously deep breath.
Jaemin was approaching, you knew that when the bells rang inside your ears despite riveting yourself to the glaring screen. He was going to come up to you, sit at your table, and it will just be the both of you alone inside the encapsulation of the tiny ass café table until the others arrived. There was a shadow approaching, you drew your teeth above your bottom lip. Okay, you’re here to work on an assignment, idiot. He doesn’t give a fuck about you anymore, so you should act normal, act cool, don’t get nervous, don’t—
He pulled out the dainty chair and sat down as if it was choreographed by the wind. His hair was down, hovering just slightly above the dark strands that framed his half lidded eyes like blades of thick grass. The patterns of the short sleeved, purple button up made ripples when he moved, silver jewelry blinding you like seafoam kissing the tips of tides. You took notice that he sat by your right and not in front of you— physically closer, but its meaning lengthened all physical distance.
Wasn’t it a bit too much for you to keep suffering while he wasn’t at the very least bothered at all? To be fair, you were the one who broke up with him without even a whisper of an explanation, so you were only experiencing retribution at this point.
Still, your fingernails clattered against the cream surface. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
You swore you saw him pressing his mouth into a thin stretch, pushing his tongue against the inside of his cheek, and scratching his teeth against his lips while the circular cream tabletop shook ever so slightly under the influence of an invisible force. Maybe you were seeing things. You weren’t sure anymore. Fuck, this was so awkward. You swallowed hard, and five minutes passed in a suffocating silence.
“Should—” you breathed in sharply, noticing that a few of the waiters had been staring at your table from time to time. “Should we order first?”
“Oh,” Jaemin looked up from his phone. “Yeah, sure.”
He called over a waitress on standby, taking the folded menu into his hands when she gave it to him. You stared at the interaction, feeling like something was off. “Can we have one iced grapefruit tea, one iced americano, and a peach cake? Yeah, just one. Thank you.”
The waitress left. He placed the buzzer on the table. It took a moment to hit you. The both of you. Like a spaceship shooting through the ceiling all the way from outer space.
Did he just order for you?
This caught Jaemin by surprise, as well. His eyes widened, and his voice rattled apologetically. “Sorry, you must have wanted something else, I’ll go change your—”
“No! Thank you, grapefruit and peach is fine, I love those!” you assured, stretching a forced, panicked smile. “Es—especially their peach cakes, you know? They’re so cute and round and they look like actual peaches so—”
It felt like a whirlwind overtook your isolated spot around your small booth. The air felt prickly, and it took so much of an effort to keep your vocal cords moving, though unable to find a conclusion.
“Yeah,” he spared you from running around in circles. “I remember.”
You stared at him.
There was a momentary silence, heavy and hanging in the air like a ship’s anchor. For the first time, he looked just as uncomposed as you were. His eyes were wide, a sense of detachment in his irises. The brief few seconds of eye contact you exchanged flew into bits with a cough coming from your throat, the two of you simultaneously retreating to your phones. Jaemin inhaled through his nose. Fuck, you read from his unmoving, tight lips and tense shoulders. Force of habit— he kept that part to himself.
Your nails dug into your palms, feeling a few hits reverberating against your skull. What the hell was this?
“Eunha says she’s running a little late,” he announced without looking up.
“Johnny, too,” you replied. He hummed in acknowledgement, but no more came after that. This was too much. Should you just hide yourself in the bathroom until the other two show up? You were a little too late to decide when the buzzer started vibrating. The table rattled when Jaemin snatched it and clumsily stood up.
He returned with your order. You thanked him and took a sip from your iced tea. The peach cake was enclosed in a rounded bowl, almost looking like an aquarium housing the fruit-shaped pastry. You took a small spoon and dug into it in silent excitement, stuffing a good portion into your mouth, shying away and covering your lips with a napkin when you noticed his eyes flit over to you, though momentarily. He was back to being composed, now— nonchalantly alternating bites with you until only the bottom half remained on the white bedded crumbs.
It almost felt like a date.
An awkward date where you sat in a dilapidated position and neither of you spoke a word to each other.
Thankfully, the god-forsaken date got cut short by another ring of the timely bells, looking up and sighing in relief when you saw Eunha and Johnny enter the café together.
“Hi!” the girl hurried over to your table, Johnny trailing behind, hyperventilating a lot less than her. “We saw— we saw each other at the intersection incidentally. Went as fast as we could. Sorry we’re late.”
Poor girl was heaving, hair tied up in a ponytail but some strands were stuck to her forehead from the sweat. “It’s fine,” you assured, smiling. The other two took their seats with Eunha across you and Johnny by your left. “Let’s start after you two catch your breaths. Do you want to drink anything?”
They settled a bit after ordering, and a while later you decided to start. A day earlier, you already outlined the different areas needed to be covered, so all that was left for now was to present it to them and decide who will make a report about what. It went surprisingly smoothly, with Johnny being weirdly enthusiastic (maybe it was the afterglow of the prior marathon), and Eunha asking a lot of questions. Jaemin, too, was participative, but he was quiet, nodding along to your explanation. Eventually all your food and drinks were cleaned from their plates and glasses, and you had successfully divided all the topics after only thirty minutes of discussion and light research.
There were only a few things left to cross out on today’s list.
“So, who’s gonna present?” Johnny roused the question before anyone else.
He seemed to exclude himself as the asker, and the other two seemed to be thinking. You looked at Eunha, and she looked as if she was deciding between you and Jaemin. You looked at Jaemin, and he looked as if he would volunteer, but he was waiting. For what, you didn’t know and didn’t want to assume. Clearing your throat, you decided to take it to yourself. “You can leave it to me.”
All eyes turned to you.
“It won’t be too difficult since I’ll be summarizing everything, anyway. The script is already practically made.”
“Really? Will you do it, Y/N?” Eunha asked, but showed all signs of relief.
“Yeah, it’s no trouble.”
“Right, I remember you being really good at presenting,” Johnny nodded along as if mulling it over deeply, but you didn’t remember sharing any classes with him before this one. “No objections here.”
Automatically, your gaze shifted over to the purple clad male to your right, suddenly conscious about the attention. For some reason, you felt your heart racing in nervous anticipation while waiting for him to speak, for his approbation. You bit the inside of your cheek.
“There’s no better choice.”
Good god, that felt better than winning your high school spelling bee finals.
“Ahem, anyway,” you coughed, fighting back the heat that threatened to spill on your cheeks and losing the war. “Now that that’s settled— who can volunteer to make the PPT?”
Jaemin looked bleak. “That isn’t exactly...my area of expertise.”
You turned to Johnny who only cheekily averted your gaze, and you let out a soundless sigh and proceeded with Eunha. She, much to your surprise, looked fired up—hands curled into fists and eyebrows knitted together in determination. “I’ll do it, Y/N! You’re working really hard, and I don’t want to be lagging behind!” You let out a small laugh, and nodded approvingly.
“Alright, I’ll leave it to you, Eunha. I’ll send you a summarized report once it’s done so you can base the slides from there.”
“Yes, ma’am. You can count on me!”
At that positive juncture, your meeting ended, and altogether left the café after splitting the bill. Since all the work was split up anyway and it was difficult to match your schedules, you all agreed to work on your individual parts independently and just make a shared Google Drive to store your files. A deadline was set, too. It seemed like things were going to go well, you thought with a rush of glee. If this energy keeps up, it wouldn’t be a wishful thinking to hope for an A this semester.
Eunha wanted to hang out longer, but she had errands to run. Johnny disappeared before you could say goodbye. And that left you and Jaemin awkwardly standing around like chalk-scribbled stick figures on the busy sidewalk, right in front of the crosswalk. His hair looked darker against the light blue sky.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Jaemin said after a period of silence. Silence seemed to be a common theme for the both of you, and though inherently sounding like nothing, you were getting sick of the tune. He sent you a small nod to signify goodbye. “Get home safe.”
At that moment, the street lights turned red, and he moved forward along with the crowd, but you held on to his sleeve before he could go away farther, dragging him back to the sidewalk with a jolt. There was an evident surprise in his eyes when he turned around— more unguarded than the times prior with his irises exposed completely to the sunlight’s glint, a small gap in the middle of slightly rounded, pink lips. The both of you were frozen amidst the ever moving crowd.
“Sorry, I, um—” you let go of his crumpled sleeve, not knowing where to place your hand instead. “Can I have your number?”
There was a mix of bewilderment splashed onto his surprise.
“I mean—! I already have Eunha’s and Johnny’s saved, and we can’t always meet up to discuss things outside of class, so...”
“Ah,” he exhaled the breath he didn’t know he was holding, slowly recovering from his flustered stupor. “Yeah, sure.”
Jaemin passed you his phone, and he opened his palm, faced up. You looked at him, confused.
“Oh shit, of course, sorry.”
In the same manner of fevered turmoil, the both of you rushed to punch your numbers in each other’s phone, quickly exchanged them back, and after a few awkward farewells to each other, you finally split ways, only to realize that the both of you were to cross the same street. You were hyper aware of his presence as you wordlessly walked down the striped road, and he felt the same. It was insanity. Another set of official goodbye’s, you turned into a corner, while he kept walking forward.
Jesus, what a ride.
While walking, you opened your phone to check your contacts, free hand slapping your heated cheek in the attempts to calm yourself down. You scrolled through the many names until you found the one that you were looking for.
He never changed his number.
You should have guessed from the boy who wore the same mint hoodie every other day. It hit you with a wave of nostalgia, but those feelings never left, anyway. They’d always come rushing back at the thought of him.
The bus stop came into view, and come to think of it— you had never changed yours, either.
You wondered if he’d ever notice.
Jaemin was sitting behind his desk, the computer screen open with a million different tabs. The ceiling fan was usually loud— not the annoying loud, but it was almost therapeutic with the way it filled the silence— but this time it was drowned out by the ten different speakers plastered all over his room, playing some sort of R&B track. Jeno would complain every time he came over, but this was how Jaemin lived his life and he lived his life needing a surround system else he’d be hanging a foot into a grave.
He had a white towel, slightly damp, hanging around his neck after having just showered. A plate of freshly cut, store-bought peaches laid beside his mouse pad. Taking a slice with his fingers, he placed the sweet fruit on his tongue as he continued to stare at the ceiling, arm stretched out holding his phone in front of his face.
For nearly fifteen minutes now, motionless (save for reaching out for the fruit from time to time), he stared at his phone screen that was glaring your name and a set of familiar numbers right underneath it into his eyes.
Jaemin had no idea what he was doing.
The open tab displaying an article about SM corporation that he was supposed to be researching right now was wholly abandoned, and even when he didn’t know what the point was of studying your name and number for an extended amount of to the point that it’d be blotched into his irises, he was still doing it, anyway. That was until his phone suddenly vibrated quite violently, the bits and pieces of peaches trapped in his mouth, and the last thing he saw before the tragic falling of the phone straight to his face was a message notif from Lee Eunha and the rest was a blur.
He let out a cry of pain when the phone hit him square in the nose.
"Ow! holy—" he winced, holding the injury with his right hand and praying to god that it won’t leave a bruise. Other hand holding his phone, his face was still contorted in pain when he looked at the screen.
It told him that he made an outgoing call. The same name and numbers were still plastered on. He almost dropped his phone again.
Jaemin didn’t like to swear, but this time, he couldn’t stop the repeated mantra in his head going fuck, fuck, fuck, shit, fuck, end call, end call as he attempted to click the shiny red button, but he was too late after staring frozen at the phone screen with wide eyes and heart suddenly racing for two seconds too long.
Before he knew it, you had already picked up.
The panic had now fully consumed him, and he was only acting on its will. Slowly, he put his phone to his ear and hoped that his raging nerves wouldn’t leak into his syllables.
He could feel your voice burying into his skin. The vibrations dug through him like a ghost trying to take him over.
“H—hey,” smooth, Na Jaemin, smooth. His teeth sunk into his bottom lip.
“Do you…need anything?”
Well, damn. He hasn’t thought about it that far yet.
Quickly, his eyes flitted over the the computer screen, and within three seconds, he came up with a hopefully not too dumb sounding excuse to save his face. “About the assignment—” he was trying his best to maintain a steady voice as he pulled his chair closer to the desk, the wheels scratching against his floor in the background. “Should I include SM’s acquisition of N enterprise?”
Jaemin’s panic slowly started to bubble again when he didn’t hear anything from you for a while, your voice being replaced by the clicking and typing sounds of your keyboard. His fingers dug into his sweatpants, shallow breaths and a deserted throat. He could feel his nails clawing into his thigh already.
A moment later, you finally spoke, and he breathed again.
“Oh, yeah. Please do,” you mumbled, and he could see you with your hair tousled in a messy bun, the glare of your laptop screen shining into your face inside a dark room. You never liked working when it was too bright. “You can also insert some of these details into your report, wait I’ll send you an article later, and also—”
At this point, you’ve completely lost him. He was gone. Jaemin couldn’t understand anything that you were saying but he was listening, he was sure he was listening because your voice was clearer than anything, but he couldn’t hear clearly. Before he knew it, his heart rate was moving at a steady rhythm now, and he couldn’t see, smell, taste, or feel anything. It was only his ears working in motion.
“—well, it’s up to you, anyway. I—I haven’t done a lot of research on your part yet, sorry. But I trust that you— you’ll do well.”
He could hear you well enough to notice that you were nervous.
“I hope that everything is fine now, Jaemin…?”
“Yeah,” he breathed out, leaning back against his chair. “Thanks.”
“Text or, uh, call me if you need help on anything else.”
“Okay,” he bit the inside of his cheek, waiting for you to say something or end the call, but you didn’t. There was a sudden chill between the phone lines. Jaemin swallowed down the nervous beats. “I’ll—I’ll hang up now.”
And he did, without waiting to hear your goodbye.
He hurled his phone to his mattress at full speed, aggressively pushed his wheeled chair until his back slammed against the other wall, curled his knees up in the chair, and buried his face in his hands in a raging torrent of shame and embarrassment. Oh my god, what the hell was that?
Caught off guard, he was totally caught off guard. He blamed having to spend too much time alone with you without even getting to prepare earlier at the café. Why was he staring at your contact info in the first place? Good god, Na Jaemin, you’re so fucking—
Letting out a long exhale, he sat himself back up, slowly teetering back to his desk with a straight face, and started working on the assignment again. That memory was going to be buried and locked up in a little bottle of shame and tucked into the shadowy corners of his brain, never to be opened again. Ever. He should do a good job on his report so that this wouldn’t repeat, and he was determined that he would do good. For that reason only.
JUNE 1, 20XY.
“HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT IT YET?”
Your feet scraped against the cemented ground during the in-betweens of being suspended into the air on the swings. When you were pushed forward, Jaemin was pulled back right beside you in an alternating rhythm. The playground near your high school was one of the places you and he frequented, especially now when you told him that you needed a little break from everything.
“About what?” you answered his question with a question during the brief moment that you intersected while swinging back and forth.
“You know,” he started, speaking in segments to make sure that his voice wouldn’t be clouded by the wind that blew every time you flew. “Me asking you to be my girlfriend.”
When you got back down, you lost your footing in surprise, falling off the swing set and stumbling into the ground. Jaemin quickly ran up to you in worry, tried to help you up, but your body refused to move and you could only screech at him with your face getting swallowed into a heatwave.
“You were serious?!”
“Of course,” Jaemin sighed, kneeling in front of your sprawled out self on the chalky playground pavement. “Ah, you have a little scratch here. Let me get you a band aid.” He didn’t bother dusting himself when he ran off and came back with a box of Hello Kitty band aids. You simply stared at the top of his head in silence as he plastered a few too many on both of your knees, and you were overtaken by something more than just your previous surprised fluster. Finishing up, you caught the small smile he wore when he pressed on the last band aid on your red skin— a tender sort of pride of what he’d done for you. “I really like you, you know.”
This was said in the same manner as a good morning and good night.
Jaemin helped you up from the ground, the corners of his lips upturned with a sweetness that could only seem to grow and never decrease. You were still in a bit of a daze, that he knew, and so he took it upon himself to continue rambling on how much he adored you, as if that will pull you out and not lull you further in.
“I mean, we’re both like, already practically dating,” he started, holding up his hand that was already clasped with yours from the moment he helped you up. You gaped at him, a little buzzed. “See? Does this mean nothing to you? Are you only playing with my feelings?”
“I’m joking,” laughing, he led the way back home, the sky already starting to get dark.
Streetlights were on. The both of you walked together to the bus stop. You were silent on the way. Very silent. And when Jaemin snuck a glance at your face, looking into the pools of your eyes as if he was trying to catch a swimming tadpole gone into hiding, he got the idea of what to say.
“Sometimes, I don’t know what’s going on inside your head because you often think too much—” he started, knocking a finger against the side of your skull, and he rejoiced at succeeding in snapping you out of your reverie when you glared at him. “—but I’m not trying to pressure you or add more into your whirlwind of thoughts, okay? You don’t have to answer me now. I just want you to know that I like you too much that it gets hard to contain sometimes.”
It was instantaneous, how fireworks suddenly flashed right before your eyes, causing you to look down in a flush.
“Hey, if you keep being like that, then I really won’t be able to hold it.”
You stammered, “l—like what?”
Jaemin started thinking for a moment, comically looking up as he held your hands, swinging it back and forth like a pendulum before starting to enumerate. “Cute,” he hummed. “Lovely,” he nodded to himself. “Very hard to resist. Do you know that I really want to kiss you right now? I’m trying my best not to, but if I slip up, will you forgive me?”
“You’re so cheesy,” was your pathetic reply, bumping yourself into him for added effect. Jaemin only laughed and tugged your arm, colliding with him for the second time and causing you to finally look at him. You were pouting, of course. Eyebrows knitted together, cheeks puffed. His grin only brightened and he pinched your cheek.
The both of you relished in the suspended silence, it was a comfort given to you by the empty evening street. That was until you decided to speak.
“You already know that I like you too, Jaemin,” you spoke slowly, as if each word chosen took time and care to create, like each word contained a part of yourself before giving them to him in a neatly wrapped present. “B—but, I’m not sure...I don’t think I can say yes to being your girlfriend yet.”
“Like I said, that’s okay.”
His reply came immediately.
“I’ll wait as long as you want me to.”
Those words washed you in comfort, in assurance, though you knew that you’d say yes eventually. It was only a matter of time. Because despite all the things that went against you, all the weight that’s whispering to say no, the way he smiled at you as if tenderness was the only word he knew, the way he held your hand with a light squeeze and the gentle brushing of his thumb, the way he looked at you as if he’d found something that he’d been searching his whole life—
It was all too good to say no.
APRIL 8, 20XX.
EVERYTHING WAS HECTIC; far too busy to even catch a breath. Assignments flew by, presentations, tests— everything that slowly sucked the life out of you until you were nothing but another mindless zombie walking in and out the campus. It has only been a month. A freaking month. You couldn’t believe it. Midterms were in two weeks, too. To top it all off, the stress of your father still not being able to find a job was just more fuel into the zombification machine. You were more dead than alive.
As of late, you had barely hung out with Aram or Sungchan. The former was just as lifeless as you were, and the latter living his best life as a uni student and carrying the obnoxious, sparkling audacity of asking you and Aram “whoa, is that a new aesthetic you’re trying out? Graveyardcore?” when you’d met up for coffee a few days ago.
You had to stop Aram from strangling him with her jacket to give him a real taste of the graveyard.
That was the most notable thing that happened thus far. Right now, you were lugging your heavy backpack and binders through the sliding glass doors of the student lounge of your department building. It was an afternoon in spring. Your presentation for Professor Jang’s class was set for tomorrow. You managed to squeeze in this timeslot to summarize the entire report after ages of doctoring your planner.
There was an empty table, a large circular, white table surrounded by five seats. Quite large. Fitting for your luggage.
When you sat down, you found a stray thought of a certain subject that accentuated itself to convenience in visiting your head way too often and unannounced. Just like now, for example. Sometimes, you’d find yourself thinking about him out of the blue and without a trigger. You wanted to pity yourself from your own hopelessness, but you couldn’t even do that because you found those thoughts diverting.
It startled you when he called you weeks ago— it was far into the distant past in comparison to the future that beheld you, but you found yourself circling around it yet again. It was the subject of your 3AM thoughts for longer than you’d like to admit, but it wasn’t three in the morning at the moment and you had a pile of work waiting right in front of you.
You sighed and took out your things, laptop, documents, the like, opening your shared drive and felt the sparkling rain of relief when you saw that all of the files were there. When you opened it last week to submit your file, Jaemin’s was already in (since when did he do things on time?). Eunha passed hers three days later. Johnny had only submitted his earlier, you saw from the file details.
Cracking your knuckles, you readied yourself to go through over thirty pages of material.
It’s been over two weeks, you hummed to yourself inside your head while going through Johnny’s work. There shouldn’t be a lot of trouble in checking and revising all four files. Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, until you finally made the last scroll on the last file inside the folder— you felt your blood pressure rising after each whir of your wireless mouse.
You pushed your chair away from the table in disbelief.
This was two weeks worth of work?!
The notepad and pencil that you were holding flew away from your hands and into the table with a concerning force. Some passersby were startled by the sudden noise. You simply sat frozen for a moment, staring into the air, before groaning and sighing and scratching your head and finally collecting the things you threw back neatly onto the table. The energy drink that you’d bought an hour ago from the nearby vending machine was now lukewarm when it ran down your throat. It had been sitting there since the moment you started.
Your despair was evidently carved into your face. What were you supposed to do now?
to johnny suh: johnny hello!! are you busy rn? just finished checking the file you sent earlier and your pages 6-7 are a little bit weak. do you mind revising? i hope you can upload the updated file before 6pm! thank u!
to lee eunha: hiii. eunha i hope u aren’t busy. i just read your report and there are some points in the conclusion and analysis that haven’t been mentioned at all in the body. i highlighted it in the doc. mind clarifying please? i’ll be waiting until 6, thanks!
Sighing, you stared at your phone. To be honest, there was a lot more...reviving to do. As you were reviewing the documents, you highlighted the parts that needed to be reworked on, and needless to say—
It was a very yellow document.
You huffed and pressed a few buttons on the screen.
to na jaemin:
There was a quick lapse before you started typing, biting down your lip in recollection. His was the only one that was actually well done. It caught you by surprise because he was never the studying and diligent type all throughout middle school and your remaining year of high school together.
to na jaemin: good afternoon, jaemin! i just checked your report and overall, it’s really really good! there are a few parts that need some revision and tweaking, so i’ll leave it to you. i highlighted them in the document. do you mind sending me the final doc before six? thank you.
Much to your surprise, you received a reply not even a moment later.
from na jaemin: oh, i’ll edit it rn, sorry. will resend it once i’m done.
Good god, you almost cried on the spot. So there was light at the end of the tunnel, or however that saying goes. You were too occupied in your silent rejoice to care. This replenished your energy. Photosynthesized your mind and soul. There was no hope that the other two would get back to you as soon as he did, so you took it upon yourself to start fixing theirs while waiting with your newly (and questionably) found motivation.
Thirty minutes after working on Johnny’s, you received another text— half hoping that it was one of the two convicts according to your rational sense, the other half was hoping in the place of your emotional sensibilities. The latter, for better or for worse, won victoriously.
from na jaemin: NJM(3).docx from na jaemin: i also uploaded it in the drive but i figured sending it here might also be convenient for you. can you recheck this one? i hope it’s more thorough than the previous one, sorry ><
That fucking emoticon—
Recollecting yourself, you replied with a thank you and that you’ll open it ASAP, placing down your phone with a smile that was desperately trying to force its way into your face. At least something good happened today? Did this cut the requirements? Were you being too easy?
You stopped typing for a moment.
Oh, fuck it.
Small happiness was still happiness especially when all your days were lately painted grey.
After going through Jaemin’s and deeming yourself satisfied, you went back to the behemoth task at hand, and— as the minutes sped by quicker than you could wrap your head around it— that sliver of happiness that you had tried your best to preserve was slowly eclipsed by the waning dread of despair.
Why were neither of them replying?!
Your eyes flashed to the wall clock plastered on the hospital white walls of the lounge. 5:37. Johnny left you on read, and Eunha hasn’t shown any signs of life yet. You groaned and plastered your forehead into the sheets and sheets of scattered paper on the table. I get it, we all have our own lives, you let out a muffled whine, face down. But how am I supposed to live my life when I have to take care of your shit?
The engagement and enthusiasm that they presented during your first meeting ignited the first spark of faith that you had for them, and so you put off reviewing their works until because of that faith. They were their own masters, they knew what they had to do, and whenever you asked for updates and progress reports in the group chat, they maintained that same responsiveness which only bolstered your trust.
But what did that leave you? One evidently last minute report, and another that gets you wondering where the fuck did she get this information. You wanted to cry. Like a lot.
It was then that Jaemin walked down the stairs with Jungwoo and Haechan after spending a couple of hours studying and finishing requirements inside an empty classroom on the second floor. They were engaged in a conversation— a debate, actually— on what to have for dinner. Jaemin was bent on Jungwoo’s side because he was damn tired of kimchi jjigae day after day since the three of them started their mini study group. Haechan was hell bent on convincing them to reconsider.
When they reached the latter steps, however, he noticed a very eye-catching site in the middle of the otherwise empty student lounge that befell before them. At the epicenter of the white and off-white surroundings, 90s themed vending machines, and questionable geometric art pieces strewn about, he saw you with your face buried in a mess of papers. Jaemin would have assumed you were dead if he hadn’t caught you squirming; though, dead or alive, he was overtaken by concern all the same.
Well, he shook off the thought. That’s not my problem.
At the bottom of the flight he suddenly found himself speaking—
“You guys go on ahead. I’ll catch up with you later.”
—and he also found himself being pulled towards you, legs moving mechanically, after his two friends made their exit. The moment he got nearer, he nearly pissed himself when you suddenly rose without a warning, but kept moving, anyway. You groaned and rolled your shoulders, brushing your fingers through your messy hair with an unflattering scowl, and when you looked up to the approaching, weary presence, you were caught tongue-tied by your surprise.
“Are you okay?”
Na Jaemin asked, standing right before you in the flesh, and he wondered why he did that. You gaped at him, mouth moving in creaks but nothing came out of your throat. What was he doing here?
He wore a checkerboard, fuzzy cardigan under a plain white shirt, looking down at you with his hair messily parted, and you could see the fluorescent lights from the high ceiling leaking through the gaps of his long eyelashes. His gaze shifted to the table, on the numerous prints strewn about, and you saw his eyebrows stretch to his forehead upon getting a closer look.
“Isn’t this our assignment?” Jaemin instinctively moved closer to take one of the stapled sheets, and you inductively flinched away. He flipped the page and looked at your laptop screen. Is it still not finished? He then turned back to you. “Do you need any help…?”
That offer must have done something to your brain circuits, considering there was a sudden glow in your face, coupled with glassy eyes and the quivering of your jutted bottom lip.
Jaemin was thrown into a rush of internal panic because what the heck— was he not supposed to ask that?
“Oh...” you started, absentmindedly. “Oh! Uh, no, not really. It’s fine! You did your part already, and I’m just waiting for Johnny and Eunha to send their revisions in. I told them I’d wait until six, so they’ll probably send them in at any moment now!”
Probably? It was already getting dark. He bit back a frown. “What else do you need to do?”
“Ah, well, once they send in their final reports, I just have to summarize and synthesize everything, and then— the slides! oh, the slides— wait, Eunha will take care of it, she says she’ll take care of it, so—”
“Will you be fine?”
“Me?” pointing to yourself, blinking at him a few times in confusion. “Yeah, I’ll— I’ll be sure to do well in presenting tomorrow, so you don’t have to—”
“I’m not asking about the presentation.”
He suddenly leaned closer with his arm stretched onto the table, looking at you with a face creased in concern and an intensity that sent your senses flying all about. You swallowed, throat dry, unable to look away from the dark pools that stared straight into you like a gateway to the past.
“Will you be fine?”
You made no answer, feeling as if you were standing on a different plane. Jaemin frowned and backed away.
“Until when are you going to keep living like that?”
You did, almost mechanically, as if he casted a spell on you. The metal chair screeched against the tiled floors when you moved, its echoes bouncing around the empty hall. Jaemin took another chair, placed it near yours, just enough space to let you breathe, and sat down, taking his laptop out of his bag.
“I’ll fix Johnny hyung’s report, you go ahead and revise Eunha’s since that seems easier. It’s all in the drive, right?” he looked at you. You nodded. “Okay. I’m not good at making PPT’s, so I don’t know if I could be of any help with that.”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that. Eunha might pull through, and—”
“Have you texted her? Has she answered?” the suddenness and sharpness of his voice almost caught you off guard, especially since this was in referral to Eunha. You shook your head, and he replied with the clicking of his tongue. “If they wanted to help and actually take on their responsibilities, they would have done it immediately. Seriously. They’ll just pile up their excuses and in the end, it’ll be you who will—”
Jaemin went on, almost as if his mouth moved separately from his consciousness, fingers scrolling and tapping down the keyboard, a distinct pout on his lips. There was a whine underneath the surface of his tone, scolding yet lacking in coldness, instead situated in warmth. He rattled on, with the same furrow of his brows, puffing of his cheeks. He was scolding you, that was clear enough, but each time his vocal chords strung a sound, a butterfly would appear and start nuzzling your skin. It swelled your heart until you were full of it.
Then there was a moment of realization— that he’d been mindlessly rambling for too long, that you’d been shamelessly staring at him. Icicles hung in the air. Jaemin looked at you. You looked at him. A cough, from whoever. Lastly, you simultaneously looked away.
“We should get started.”
And so you did. The both of you started to work in silence, only the sound of clicks, clacks, and scratches filling the void. Sometimes, you’d make a grumble. At one point you heard Jaemin say wow, did he even spend two hours on this? and you couldn’t hold back a snort. Before you knew it, the red wall clock struck 7PM, and you were interrupted by the buzzing of your phone.
Had it happened earlier, you would have been crying in joy.
from lee eunha: Y/N! I'm so sorry 😭😭 my phone died and I had to pick my brother up from his academy and on the bus ride home there was street accident nearby huhu. I just arrived and checked my phone. I’m really sorry but I’ll work on everything immediately! Huhu, I hope you aren’t mad 😫 what do I need to do???
It took some time to process the very, very appalling, excuse filled message as you stared at the now fully revised document. You had finally finished cleaning up after her mess. What exactly were you supposed to feel?
Did she ever stop to wonder why she hasn’t received the summary for the slides that she volunteered to make? I sent the first message at around four. It doesn’t make any fucking sense. Was she not at the very least worried? The presentation is tomorrow. Her brother has a phone, she could have contacted me there if she had a sense of god damned responsibility. And in the first place, she should’ve made sure that her report was—
You snapped your head up, eyes looking to your left. Jaemin wore a grave expression. You loosened the grip on your phone that you hadn’t even realized you were making.
“Let’s take a break. It’s about time for dinner,” he didn’t wait for an approbation when he took his phone out and opened an app— you had a feeling he knew that you’d tell him that it was fine. Still, you probably needed the break. You sighed and loosened your stiff shoulders. “I’ll order something to go. Do you want to eat anything in particular? oh, this sounds good.”
There was a memory scribbled in a certain crevice of your brain that suddenly gained color again— the time he accidentally ordered for you. You breathed in through your nostrils, telling him that anything was fine, thank you, and let your mind wander in wonder on how you should answer Eunha and still maintain a good relationship with her.
“Don’t reply,” was Jaemin’s blunt answer to your unsolicited question. He spoke without looking at you, focused on your dinner order. “Is it Eunha? I doubt hyung would even breathe, but if he messages you too, don’t reply, either. They should get a taste of their own medicine.”
Once again, he didn’t give you any room to speak, announcing that he’ll wait for the delivery to arrive outside, leaving you to linger on what he said.
It was chilly inside the student lounge. The white walls made it seem even colder.
Jaemin returned rather quickly, making you believe that he paid extra for a fast delivery, but he didn’t agree nor deny. The two of you ate Chinese on the large, circular table that could fit three more people, but all that kept you company were the two laptops and the mounds of paper and stationery.
It was a quiet dinner, but it felt like there was something else filling the silence. When you both finished, the sky was already a nice shade of ebony, white splatters scattered about. The next time you opened your phone was when you parted ways— checking the time when Jaemin disappeared into the night. 10:21.
APRIL 9, 20XX.
PRESENTATION DAY. Eunha came crying the moment she entered the room. Johnny couldn’t even look at your face.
“Y/N!” the girl threw herself into your arms, looking up, eyes stained with guilt. Johnny stood near you. Not too near, though. He seemed afraid to get any closer. “I’m so, so sorry aaah! Why didn’t you reply? I rechecked the report and everything and I—I didn’t see anything wrong with i—”
“I fixed it,” you deadpanned. You mechanically turned to your other groupmate’s direction. “Yours too. Jaemin helped out.”
They looked like toddlers undergoing a scolding. You sucked in a deep breath and let out a sigh. “Please just— everything is done already, so there’s no use in moping. You don’t have to worry about the presentation, either. I can handle it. Just think about doing better next time.”
Saint. Angel. Goddess. And all the synonyms and in betweens fell from their lips as they both huddled around you in a gratified, somewhat strained, group hug. It was cut short (thankfully) when the doors made their ceremonial opening, and everyone who was scattered in preparation went back to their seats. You started to worry because Jaemin was still nowhere to be found, mind inadvertently slipping into worst case scenarios, but when Professor Jang entered with her usual stride, it all calmed down. Jaemin was with her, probably roped into helping her carry her stuff.
After he settled everything on the table, he sat down beside you as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
“Good morning,” Prof Jang announced, her voice slicing into the air. “Let’s start?”
The first group was called out. It was Aram’s group.
You whispered a quiet good luck cheer when she passed by you with her stack of papers, only sounding out a croaky ‘eugh’ in reply. While they were setting up the projector, you opted to study your script a few more times. The lights dimmed down. It was a little hard to read the letters.
Aram started to present. Your attention was turned to the soft something that was pressing against your arm. It was a small piece of marbled bread wrapped in plastic. You looked at Jaemin’s side profile washed in the dark.
“Are you nervous?” he asked in a whisper after you quickly finished the bread. You hadn’t eaten breakfast.
“No, not really,” you replied. “Just reviewing a little.” No words were further exchanged, and you poured all your attention to your friend’s presentation, congratulating her with a smile after she finished and went down, and you resigned back to your own report once it was the second group’s turn.
It wasn’t exactly a stimulating setting, and so your eyes were threatened to close by the second. This wasn’t too difficult for Jaemin to notice considering he was in front row view of your head slowly falling down and suddenly jolting up.
“You might end up falling asleep while presenting,” he joked(?), straight faced, but he was genuinely worried. How could he not after seeing the state you were in yesterday? He wasn’t heartless. You probably didn’t even get a wink of sleep last night since you were so busy preparing. “There’s still time, anyway. You’re better off getting some rest instead of reviewing.”
Though a reasonably tempting proposition, you were still a little hesitant.
“I’ll wake you up when it’s almost time, don’t worry.”
“Ten minutes,” you caved, adjusting into a more comfortable position. “I’ll just close my eyes for a few.”
Not even a second later, you were completely knocked out. Jaemin felt something like a smile threatening to spill at the sounds of your light snores, but he was insanity thrown into panic when your head fell on his shoulder.
An instant whiplash. You were sleeping with your head on his shoulder. Was the world trying to make fun of him?
He tried to move, feeling the tightness of his throat slowly getting into his head, but he couldn’t even seem to get his fingers to move. The murmurings in front were nothing but white noise, at this point. It was all you. The look of serenity on your face that he’d never seen in god knows how long was the only object of his attention.
“Thank you for that presentation, group four. Please take note of what I told you the next time you present. Alright, Miss Cha?”
Wait a minute—
Jaemin jumped in his seat and you were forced to wake up. You looked at him, still trying to get back to your senses.
You suddenly shot up.
That was you.
In a frenzied manner, you scurried to the front, bringing a bottle of water and the hard copy of your report with you then submitting the papers to Professor Jang, drinking from the bottle to clear your throat that was dried out from the nap. Jaemin saw everything that went down in guilt and shame. He sunk in his seat, unable to look at you and so he resorted to throwing his head back to face the muddy ceiling. His cheeks were burning. No one can tell in the dark.
“Good morning, everyone. I’m Y/N L/N from group five, and for our presentation—”
When he heard your voice resonating through the speakers, he slowly relaxed, feeling himself rise from the puddle that he melted himself in. He could hear you from all corners and sides of the lecture room. Jaemin found himself looking at you, speaking and standing with an air of confidence in front of the full seats, as if lulled by a sudden wave of something he can quite tell. Whatever it was, it felt like being submerged in a daydream.
There was a misty feeling in his chest. Back then, he had to make sure that you don’t pass out before every presentation or performance. Now, you were carrying yourself in a way that he couldn’t get his eyes off of you. He never looked at anyone else back then, but that was simply letting himself be washed by the tides. This time, there was gravity that pulled harder than the earth’s core. Something that shook the ground, and will bury him underneath.
It was all happening in spite of himself.
In spite of what he’d been determined to do.
“Y/N is really cool, isn’t she?”
Eunha spoke from beside him, the gap of your empty chair still in place. Jaemin looked at you again, the light from the projected screen shining behind you light an otherworldly glow. He thoughtlessly replied.
“I still feel really bad. I hope she isn’t too mad at me,” she went on, sighing a little, and went into a momentary silence to listen to your voice. “She speaks even better than Miss Jang. I’m amazed how Y/N can still do this well despite our setbacks.”
Even if he didn’t help, Jaemin thought, even if he hadn’t appeared yesterday to ease some of your burden, you would have still managed to carry everything all by yourself. You’d always been like that. He was torn between admiration and sympathy, a hint of bitterness in between. You had always been like that, for better and for worse.
“—and that concludes our presentation. Thank you so much for listening. If you have any questions, I’d be more than glad to answer them.”
Your conclusion was received by a series of claps. Professor Jang assured you that it wasn’t likely that anyone would throw a question considering how well put together and concise it was, complimenting you that this was how a presentation should go— but he believed it was reserved for everyone else. It was understood that your group got the highest grade. Jaemin felt a swell of pride, forgetting all that he had been lamenting prior when he saw your smile. It would have been brighter had you not been so tired.
When you made your way back, finishing up the remnants of your water bottle, you were thrown into another hug by Eunha, Johnny following after with their thank you’s and congratulations and we’re sorry’s.
Your sweat dropped, telling them that there’s no need to overreact with a forced smile, and while you were engulfed in the unwanted affection, you looked up and saw Jaemin detached from the three of you.
He thought he saw something of a hopeful glint in your eyes.
The words wouldn’t come out, only taking shape inside his head.
You did so well.
There was a dry scratching in the back of his throat. He breathed in, stretching his fingers and squeezing them into a tight fist. Nevermind.
“This calls for a celebration, right?”
Jaemin never thought it was so hard to say something so simple. Johnny started lugging you and Eunha out the door, noisy and wild. In time, he sighed to himself as he followed behind, the wind will carry all those words to you.
He would bury them for now.
The moment you’d arrived at the pop-up bar near your university, Johnny Suh immediately fled the scene when he saw his friends outside. So you, Eunha, and Jaemin were left behind inside the dim shop, sitting around in silence while the nightlife noises blurred around you.
It was the three of you alone.
What a combination.
There was a mixture of fairy lights and small bulbs strewn along the beams from the ceiling, casting white orbs onto the floor, chinese lanterns falling from the most random places. A pinkish purple light washed in a neon haze fizzled from behind the graphic and vintage posters on the walls, sometimes leaking into the varnish of the rectangular tables. Faint music hummed from the speakers. It was almost atmospheric, had you been with more comfortable people.
You were sitting in front of them, the two sitting side by side. It was almost horrific. You’d rather have Johnny drown you in a dozen bomb shots than have to go through this.
Jaemin and Eunha conversed between themselves about a show you haven’t watched while you silently drank and took some nibbles from the pajeon you ordered. You assumed they were talking about a show— names were dropped that didn’t ring a bell to you, or maybe they were actual people that you just didn’t know. What did you know about them, anyway? You and Eunha were casual friends at best (maybe not even, considering it has been awkward between the both of you since the group project incident), and your relationship with Jaemin was strained and worn after over four years. A conversation was painful as it was forced.
Pouring your soju glass to the brim, you let out a sigh, sleeve resting on the table. Oh well, you downed a shot. Things will be thrown into the backburner once midterms start. You continued to help yourself to a fresh plate of tteokbokki that had just been brought since the two seemed to be engrossed in their conversation.
“What do you think, Y/N?”
You were surprised to hear your name. Eunha seemed to be making an attempt to include you, yet you were caught off guard by the gesture.
She looked embarrassed, cheeks flushed. “O-oh, well I read an article online that if a group of people laugh together, they generally tend to look at the person they like subconsciously. Jaemin thinks it’s—”
“It’s nonsense,” he interrupted, shaking his head with a laugh. Eunha shot him a glare and playful nudge, letting out a huff and saying that she was talking to you and not him. She turned back to you, earnestly.
“What do you think? I mean, it makes sense, doesn’t it? Of course, you’d take any moment to see the person you like laughing.”
You gave her a smile. “Well, there’s only one way to find out, right?”
It took her a while to get what you meant, but when she did, she instantaneously brightened and nodded vigorously before plotting the funniest joke ever known to man in order to test the theory in the future. You kept to yourself again, spinning around the remaining transparent liquid in the glass as you looked around the vicinity. When your eyes landed on the door that introduced a couple more customers, you shot up from your seat in pleasant surprise.
The girl let out some sort of shriek when you called her, running up to you and abandoning her party, and you joined hands as if you hadn’t seen each other in ten years. It felt like your soul just found its way back to your body. You had no idea how long you’d last in that suffocating atmosphere. Eunha and Jaemin greeted her, and she returned it with the same vibrancy.
“Are you guys also here to celebrate passing stage one of the demon professor’s obstacles?” Aram asked, sliding into the seat beside you.
“Yeah,” you replied. “One of us went MIA, though.”
She asked for a few more glasses from the servers. “Johnny? I saw him on the way here with Doyoung and Taeyong. He was surprisingly sober, can you believe it?” Until now, the presence of her group mates were forgotten. Your friend swallowed down her first glass before beckoning them over. “Oh shit, you guys sit here.”
You looked up, checking out who Aram came with, and you saw Huang Renjun along with Sanghoon and Jihye— the freeloaders, you surmised from Aram’s rants. Two tables were now pushed together, and it became a little more crowded. Polite smiles of acknowledgement were exchanged between you and Renjun. He sat beside Aram while the other two occupied the remaining spots.
Conversations naturally started between the group, and you finally got the privilege to turn on your bystander mode, not needing to fill the silence anymore. You reacted when necessary, emptying glasses and bottles when you had nothing to say, and you were in a far more comfortable spot than minutes prior.
With a crowd like this, it was bound to cascade into a flaming mess in less than ten minutes.
“Holy fuck, she’s actually doing it.”
You didn’t know how or who started it, but you were now suddenly roped into playing rounds and rounds of drinking games until everyone was at the very least tipsy. Na Jaemin played with his life on the line and Eunha declared that she had never seen him as fired up as this. Literally. (Jeno wasn’t around to lug his ass home if he ended up shitfaced beyond coherence, again). Your dearest best friend and the violently unwilling Renjun were doing Love Shot Level Four right in front of your very eyes and that image will probably be forever imprinted in your brain.
When the atmosphere started to ease down, anecdotes and stories were exchanged— one particularly from Aram had poor Eunha excusing herself to the restroom after nearly spitting out and choking on her makgeolli.
“Damn, will she be okay?” asked Aram.
“She’ll be fine,” the assurance came from Jaemin.
You, of course, were a listener in essence, and after a while Eunha finally returned to her spot beside Jaemin. He took the liberty of sharing a supposedly confidential story about Lee Jeno; the incident of the currently absent, cool and composed campus heartthrob getting bluntly rejected after a public serenade confession, heart candles and all, back in highschool elicited a round of satisfying reactions from the group. The teller was also quite proud of himself, taking a little sip from his untouched beer.
“Holy crap, can I blackmail him with this? I can, right?”
Jaemin had heard Aram— or so he thought he did— but couldn’t manage to reply because of a certain sound that stole his attention. It came from right in front of him, a sort of chortle followed by a quiet but breathless excuse me amidst the mess of loud laughs and voices and noise. He turned his head to the direction, the winning smile on his face slowly melting into the shape of surprise when his eyes landed on you, soundlessly laughing to yourself, head slightly looking down, your two hands dabbing a handkerchief to your lips.
For the second time today, it felt like he went back in time— a time of youthful tenderness, warping his surroundings into indistinctiveness and making them all disappear, save for the object in front of him. This happened in the classroom, too.
You looked up. You met his gaze. Your eyes widened. You coughed right before looking away.
The small, reserved smile on your lips faded during that slow motion sequence, and resurfaced as something more strained in nature. Jaemin couldn’t help but feel that it was his fault.
“Fuck, I’ll be right back. My brother is calling.”
Aram left the table with an evident displeasure. If you had only known the sudden icy, weird division that it would bring since she was the primary speaker, you would have thrown away her phone and begged her to stay. That was a stretch. But you’d still rather have her around because once she left, everyone suddenly retreated to their own clusters.
Sanghoon and Jihye (you’d nearly forgotten about their existence) were separated into their own bubble. It seemed like there was a wall separating you from Jaemin and Eunha despite literally sitting in fucking front of each other. That left you and Renjun, but there was a tiny, awkward gap between you— the metaphysical gap taking in the physical form of Aram’s empty chair.
The silence was stifling. If you were a little stronger, the soju glass would be shattered between your fingers right now. Something told you that you should maybe say something.
“You did really well in presenting earlier.”
Renjun took one for the team (the team being just you and him) and decided to speak first instead of you. It would only be proper that you don’t mention how his voice cracked when he said the word ‘really’.
“Ahh, you flatter me,” you smiled sheepishly. “You and Aram pulled a miraculous feat with the entire assignment, too,”
He scoffed, the corner of his lips twitching at the attempt of a smile, and he shook his head. You were all sympathy. Suddenly, he decided to lean closer, letting an arm down onto the empty chair between you to whisper. In profile, he had a hand hiding the movement of his mouth. “They were the ones who suggested we go drinking. Can you believe this shit?”
You laughed, slowly beginning to feel at ease, like a benevolent ghost massaging your shoulders. In the same volume and tone, you replied. “Should we have them crawling back home?”
Maybe it was the help of the alcohol, but you couldn’t believe you were actually having a pleasant conversation with Huang Renjun after over a year of being plagued by shame and guilt.
Now, on to the scene across the table.
Eunha was talking. About summer break, or midterms— or something. In fact, she had lost all grasp on the conversation at hand, trying to speak whatever, but the boy she was conversing with was clearly not listening, or so he tried to listen out of politeness, but he wasn’t succeeding. She could see that Jaemin’s attention was divided: half on her, the other half where his eyes would sometimes wander.
The girl stopped speaking and followed his line of sight, lips pressed into a frown when she saw Jaemin more attentive towards the inaudible exchanges between you and Huang Renjun, and her eyes flitted back to Jaemin, who didn’t even notice her momentary silence, then back to the pair.
“They look good together, don’t they?” she spoke, succeeding in grabbing back his attention.
Jaemin had a thoughtful look on his face, replacing the quick but vulnerable moment of surprise, before giving his answer. “I guess.” He was looking at his reflection on the barely touched glass of beer in his hand.
Eunha let her elbows rest on the wooden surface, an arm propped up to let her cheek rest on her palm. “You probably don’t know this, but Renjun asked Y/N out before— during our first year.”
“He did?” Jaemin replied quicker than his dignity could warn him. Recollecting himself under a twinge of pink, he cleared his throat. “What happened?”
“Well,” she started, “it wasn’t unexpected, but she turned him down. It was chillingly awkward between them after. Y/N couldn’t even talk to him.” A pause. She pondered for a moment while looking in front. “I guess they’re more comfortable now.”
With this new found information, Jaemin felt his head being pulled, gravitated into a metaphorical blackhole that held nothing but the echoing of his voice, while his head slowly turned back to your direction— your little laugh as Renjun told you a joke of sort, your chair slowly nudging closer to the empty one at your side.
“It’s a shame,” Eunha spoke up again after that seemingly long period of gruelling silence. “I’d like to see Y/N let loose from time to time. Renjun isn’t a bad guy, either.”
There was a feeling that continued to creep up on him, bite him in places he had never reached, scratched him and drew blood in places he could not see. Jaemin felt himself reaching into the void, in search of the words to pinpoint this feeling with a knife-sharp conciseness, but all he came up with was—
“Do you know why she turned him down?”
Eunha, surprised by the question, could only shrug and answer honestly. “I’m not sure. Everything I told you were things I heard in passing— campus gossip really reaches your ears even when you don’t ask for it.”
At that moment, Jaemin caught you occupying Aram’s seat. You were now seated beside Renjun, completely engrossed in your silent conversation. His mind drifted away to your private laugh earlier when he told the story about Jeno, the brief eye contact you held, the feeling of your head resting on his shoulder, the stares, the nervous cracks in your voice, the tingling feeling whenever you’d look straight into his eyes, and he caught himself thinking— did you turn him down because of m…?
Though at this point in time, he couldn’t fully entertain that thought when he was looking at you looking at someone else. And that someone else was the very him in his reflections.
Jaemin wanted to rewrite the past and change his answer of ‘I guess’ to the first question, scribbling over it with an ‘absolutely not.’ He tried to start up a new conversation topic with Eunha, but it was difficult to maintain considering the occasional leaking of your voice within earshot.
“No way, you’ve read that too?”
Renjun’s eyes laughed behind the lenses of his glasses at your evident shock. You gaped at him. Aram didn’t seem to be coming back any time soon, so you took the liberty of being comfortable in her seat. “None of my friends really read— nothing outside our major course requirements, of course— so this is a pleasant surprise.”
He let out a chuckle, acknowledging your reaction. “I haven’t come across anyone in our department who knows Murakami, or Fitzgerald, or even Austen, too.” he paused, expression changing into a furrow, double taking, “then again, I don’t really talk to a lot of people.”
You reacted accordingly— as well as you could while downing a full glass— then you decided to voice out a question lingering in your head when you set it down the table. “Why’d you choose to major in business, anyway?”
“Okay. That sounded a little rude. Sorry,” you backtracked. Renjun found it amusing. “But your vibe is a little…you know—”
You made some gestures into the air.
“—sentimental, artist-ey type...”
Renjun couldn’t hold back a snort.
“Well, I was gonna major in sculpting at first,” he started. “But then I had a realization.”
He paused for a while. You waited expectantly. Renjun found your eagerness a little too endearing to put it off longer. He answered with a feeble straight face.
“I wanted to be rich.”
You choked on your own spit and fell into a concerning coughing fit. “Oh my god,” breathing in, you tried to compose yourself. “okay— excuse me for a sec. Restroom break.”
Unfortunately for you, there was no restroom inside the cheap pop-up bar, or any of the other ones surrounding it, so you had to get out of the venue, passing by Aram who was still on the phone on the way, and do your business in the public bathroom at the end of the block. You washed your hands before leaving, re-emerging into the brightly lit street, colorful signs hanging one after the other. The smell of smoke filled the air, cars and buses would pass by, groups of university students hanging around in front of the shops.
It was moments like these that allowed you to venture inside your own little mindscape of webs of thoughts— the starless sky of eleven-thirty after a rough week, lively sounds of life that seemed so detached from your own self. You let yourself linger for a moment in the buzzing night, stopping in the face of the lines of vending machines that littered in front of the bars and diners. The sound of coins slotting and clanging filled your ears as you thought about yourself— thought about yourself and Jaemin, yourself and Jaemin and Eunha, about the relationships you had, the situation at home, your future— everything.
You heard the sound of the cold can, clambering down the chute. You ducked down to take it out, not knowing what you’d chosen to buy. Though before you could reach out your arm, a shadow swept in and stole it from the takeout port. You shot up in alarm.
“Looks like you’re taking your sweet time.”
Who the hell? was your first thought when you saw the alleged thief’s face: sandy haired, baseball cap, looking like your age or a few years older. You didn’t know him and why he decided to take the unknown drink you paid for, but the crooked grin he wore on his red face gave you the idea that this stranger might be drunk and confused— still, not at all a pleasant looking situation. The best course of action would be to get back with your group as soon as possible.
“Oh, thank yo—”
He seemed to have different intentions because when you tried to get back your drink under the polite assumption that he took it out for you as an attempt to hit on you, he instead drew back with a very irritating smirk.
You pressed your lips into a tight line. “Can I...get that back, please...?”
“But if I give it back to you immediately, you might run away before we can get to know each other. Tell me, you’re from N University, right?”
Tired. You were so very tired.
You made no answer and tried to retrieve the can again, but the same stressful cycle repeated for around three rounds and you had just decided to fucking give it up because of it’s sheer ridiculousness. The guy was grinning in wild amusement as he lifted the drink with one hand into the air.
“C’mon. At least give me your name, pretty g—”
Suddenly, the can was neither in his nor your possession. Someone took it from behind. His expression turned sour in shock, brows furrowed as he snapped back in drunken indignation. “Hey, what the fuck—?”
“Oh, what’s this?”
To your surprise, Johnny Suh— who disappeared into god knows where for the majority of the night— appeared from right behind him, the unnamed beverage now in his hands. “Hey, Y/N,” he called out to you, and you looked at him with startled eyes. “You like this a lot, right?”
He threw the drink to your direction, and you caught it, though still dazed and puzzled. You did in fact like the drink— Iseul Toktok. In peach. The pink container was mocking you in the face. Johnny roughly brushed against the stranger and sauntered over to you, looping an arm around your shoulder before whisking you away.
“There’s a lot of trash scattered around around Seoul,” Johnny sighed remorsefully as he droned on. You were smudged against his side. “We should be good citizens and clean up any trash that we see.”
“Oi, what the fuck do you think you’re—”
“Good god, some can’t even stay in the bin when you want them to,” still getting dragged along, Johnny spun around to face the guy. You were still timidly pressed against your older friend with the pink can awkwardly wedged between your palms. Whoever he was looked seething. Johnny’s demeanor suddenly changed and though you couldn’t see his face, you could feel it in the icy air. The hostile look on the guy’s face shifted, too. “This is your cue to fuck off, asshole.”
Once again and hopefully for the last time, you spun around— it was getting a little nauseating— and Johnny never moved his arm when he wordlessly walked you back to the bar. It was cold out, you never noticed, but his close presence added a layer of warmth. Maybe not just that, even. Your head was full up until you reached the familiar pop-up location.
“Oh Jesus, you’re finally back. We were planning on going after you.”
You were greeted with a pleasant surprise when they all saw you with Johnny, still hanging an arm over your shoulder. You didn’t mind, but it garnered looks of suspicion— from Aram and (shockingly) Jaemin, especially— but Johnny raised a question before any of them could.
“Hey,” he started, almost seriously. “Can one of you bring Y/N home?”
This brought to your attention that you were having a little trouble breathing. A veil of silence enfolded, looks of concern and worry exchanged.
“Did something happen?”
The situation was explained, mostly by Johnny, and after assuring everyone that you were perfectly safe and fine, a consensus made that being the most sober male in the group— apart from Johnny, since he needed to head back to the friends he’d left behind— Jaemin would be the one to walk you home. He answered this suggestion in a silent assent. You were startled.
He might find it uncomfortable.
You told them in stutters that there was absolutely no need since your apartment building was just within the area. Jaemin said that he had to go somewhere nearby, anyway.
The streets of midnight Seoul were more captivating than you had expected— not that you had ever thought about how it’d look anyway, but each corner of the tall buildings, the ink stained leaves of the rising, tall trees lining the sidewalk, and the lone moon that rose above your head as if suspended from an invisible string had your eyes wandering all about. Or maybe it was the effect of the boy walking beside you.
You let your gaze shift to a close subject. Jaemin kept up with your languid steps, there was no rush in your pace. He seemed tired, that much you could decipher from his face, but he usually seemed tired when he kept his expression blank. It was quiet— neither of you spoke— but it wasn’t a stifling silence unlike all of the instances before this. There was no pressure to speak. You allowed the silence to speak for the both of you.
At one point a car came racing by, the facade of a 27/4 mini-mart momentarily taking away the spotlight from the moon, and Jaemin felt inclined to talk when he kept catching your fleeting glimpses from time to time.
He cleared his throat, the coarse noise catching your full attention. “How are you?” he asked. Jaemin had an interesting way of speaking when under pressure.
You laughed a little, a smile forming on your face, “I’m fine, thank you.” You chose your next words more carefully. “I guess I got a little careless— wasn’t exactly in my right mind. Johnny wouldn’t have needed to butt in if I hadn’t been out of it.”
Jaemin frowned. You didn’t catch it since your eyes were now focused straight ahead. That meant you weren’t fine.
“Do you remember his face?”
Surprised, you stumbled in your reply.
“Hm, yeah. Yeah. I think he goes to our uni, too. He asked if I went there,” you cocked your head to the side, turning to look at him curiously. “Why? Are you going to beat him up?”
It was a joke. The look on his face told you that he didn’t take it as a joke. Oh, holy and immaculate shit.
“People like that need to be taught a lesson.”
“I—I don’t think we’d ever bump into him again, though,” you assured him in a cold sweat. I hope. The thumping of your heart was more of the cause of an outburst rather than nervousness, though— a kind of outburst that was hard to contain inside the cavity of your chest.
If he kept being like this, then you might just get the wrong idea.
“You should be careful, nonetheless.”
“Noted,” you hummed, shoes scratching against the pavement. It scratched louder when you suddenly stopped, turned back to Jaemin who held himself in his tracks.
“I’m being serious, Y/N.”
He called you by your name for the first time in ages.
It took you by surprise. It took him by surprise. It sounded too natural coming from his mouth, rolling off his tongue, like it found a home inside his throat.
Like it was made for him to say.
“You— you need to be home soon, right?”
Jaemin started walking again at a more abrupt speed. You followed along, and now it was quiet again.
In contrast though, Jaemin’s head has been screaming since the beginning of the morning. It never stopped, only worsening by the second. The cause? You. Him. Everything that had happened. Since seeing you at the beginning of the semester, he has been shaken. There was not a moment of peace in his system. Today had him at the brink of crashing down.
Especially when you disappeared for too long in the middle of the night that his eyes were drying out from snapping towards the door every five minutes, when you came back with Johnny too, too close together that he was confronted with a side he’d never wanted to be opened again, and finally when the situation had been explained— and he felt a mixture of shame, anger, and most overwhelmingly a dread that he hadn’t been there for you.
It was in those few moments that he’d realized something— that the shaking wouldn’t stop unless he hears everything from you, from your own lips, with your own voice.
“That day,” he started before hestation could catch up to him. “The day we broke up.”
You turned to him and stopped. Jaemin squeezed each word from his throat as if they weighed heavier than the sky.
“There was no avoiding it, right?”
There was a nervous anticipation in his eyes as you stared at him, a fear juxtaposed with hope. You were taken, taken completely aback. You never expected him to confront you like this. You hoped that honesty would be enough.
“It was bound to happen,” you replied.
“You don’t regret it.”
“You still would have made it happen,” he breathed in. “No matter what I’d have said or done.”
You looked at him with a smile more somber under the moonlight.
“I had to do it.”
He didn’t know what he expected.
“Thanks for walking me home, Jaemin.”
You walked away, whether your building was the next one or nowhere near at all, but you left— and you left him with a soul more shaken than what he started with.
SEPTEMBER 13, 20XY.
EVERYONE WHO HAD KNOWN NA JAEMIN from the moment he’d first learned how to put his thoughts into words, was very much acquainted with the fact that if he can help it, he’d rather wear his heart on his sleeve for the whole world to see. If he was happy, everyone would know he was happy. If he didn’t like anyone (which was rare), that person would know. If he didn’t give two shits about something or someone (which was often), he wouldn’t pretend to care.
That was how he was. And never had you thought that his unyielding transparency would bite you in the ass—
Upon seeing your approaching silhouette against the blue-grey sky and sloshing waves against the beach, Jaemin had tried his attempts to tackle you into the light granules of sand. It took all of your strength to not topple underneath him.
“Do you want the entire city to hear you?” you huffed, trying not to get swallowed in his arms. “I thought we agreed to be as discreet as possible.”
His hands were firm on your shoulders when he pulled away from the embrace. He looked at you with a smile that overthrew the shy sun. Not even clouds could cover him.
He didn’t seem sorry at all. You sighed and opened out your arms.
That being said— if Na Jaemin was in love, the whole world would know that he was, in fact, violently, ardently, and absolutely in love.
But the world shouldn’t know. It was the most difficult task in his life to hold back whenever he saw you, to go against the instinctive raging of emotions of a seventeen year old boy who had just had his first love finally requited after years of pining. Could the world blame him for wanting nothing but to hold your hand in the hallway, for wanting to laugh at your childhood photos on your bedroom floor, for wanting to tell his mother all about the girl he loved and love him, too?
“The seagulls are the only ones here, dummy,” he laughed, messing up the top of your head. “Are you worried about the ocean telling on us?”
You silently grumbled as you followed along the coastline. Sometimes, the ocean would start to feel a little playful and splashes of its waves would fall on you, and when Jaemin noticed, he let his arm fall on your waist, the other on your shoulder and switched your places. It was a cold day in September, but you felt warmth rushing to your cheeks.
“Jeno was sulking last time,” Jaemin hummed, kicking the sand under his feet. “‘If I’m not third-wheeling, then you just completely leave me out’ he said.”
He mimicked your friend’s tone, and you had to hold a hand up to your mouth to suppress your chortles. Jaemin peered at you with a triumphant smile, satisfied. You asked him, with an arch of your brow, “Why, do you want to start dating him, too?”
“No way!” was his immediate denial. “All I need is you.”
Cheesy, but Jaemin had the power to get away with every flowery, disgusting shit he says. The sound of sloshing lulled behind your ears, bird’s wings flapping from up above— the seagulls weren’t immune to Na Jaemin and his one-liners yet. They soon would be with the amount of times you were planning to frequent the beach. Not a lot of people came at this time of year, after all.
“But I do feel bad,” you mulled it over. “We should go out and eat next time. Some place in the city. The three of us. You know, after exams.”
Jaemin nodded, counting the remaining days with his fingers. “Hm, that’s a good idea.”
“You should start saving up, Jaem,” you nudged him, coyly. “Stop buying all those things that are already filling up my room. My mom is starting to ask questions.”
Though grudgingly, he agreed. “Fine, fine.”
His reluctance didn’t sit well with you, and so you gave into your pettiness and raced a few steps ahead. Jaemin caught up, of course. That was until you started jogging faster and faster, running into a full sprint, and poor Na Jaemin was at first, confused, but threw that out into the ocean and started chasing after you.
The sounds of waves crashed into your laughter. You were stumbling over his feet and your own when he caught up, hooking both arms around your neck from behind. He could smell the scent of seawater cluttering with your shampoo— a mild, dainty fragrance that he’d always liked— and he refused to let you go, a wide grin on his face and in a flutter.
When you’d agreed to be his girlfriend, he’d agreed to its secrecy. The reason, he had only a speck of an idea— but he never asked for you to tell him. You would when you were ready, and there was infinite time in the world.
Right now, there was no one there, only you and him. He had all the opportunity to indulge, with all of his heart’s content, something that one day he’d share to the entire universe.
He dropped his arms, encircling your shoulders, and against the salty breezes of the shore, he spoke, “You like me, right?”
“Of course,” you replied.
“Mm, that depends on the day,” he was silent. His arms stiffened. You laughed. “Kidding. I still like you the same even when you go into your silent fits or when you’re suddenly particularly annoying.”
He hummed, satisfied. “Since when?” he continued.
“Before I even knew it.”
Jaemin’s eyes held the sparkle of seafoam against the sandy bed when you turned to look at him.
“Until how long?”
Under the grey-blue sky, grains of sand caressing your bare feet, the ocean witnessing everything on the shore, Na Jaemin kissed you for the very first time— soft, subtle, short— but its warmth flooded all the way to your fingertips.
“That’s all I need.”
APRIL 14, 20XX.
SOMETIMES YOU’D FORGET THAT YOU WERE ONLY TWENTY-TWO. Only twenty-two, meaning that you hadn’t lived long enough to worry about things that will outlive you. You were only in your second year of college, and amidst all those worries and problems, you needed a reminder that you don’t need to do your best every single day.
So when you suggested to Aram that you should skip your morning classes, she was a mixture of surprise, disbelief, concern, and of course absolute agreement.
“Well if you want to,” she said, “we definitely deserve a little break.” It wasn’t like you would get another chance like this.
When the both of you walked down the roads twisting around the buildings of your campus with no solid destination in mind, it felt like all the youth that you had sacrificed all those precious years were coming back to you in the form of fragments— the rebellious, childish adrenaline coursing through your veins, the leaves that weren’t strong enough to hang on to their branches that were carried by the wind, and the crackling of gravel underneath your sneakers toward a path that was opposite of where you had to be.
It was now that you’d decided to rope Sungchan into your mischief after not having properly hung out with him for days now, and so your feet finally knew where to go.
“Jung! Sung! Chan!”
His jacket clad back was open and vulnerable, and so you did the most obvious things ever— jump on him like a mad koala before he could turn around completely. Sungchan only let out an oof and a grunt. Aram snorted right behind. “Whoa,” you dropped yourself off from his back, peering at his face. “What happened to you?”
Sungchan looked like he went to hell and back with his messy binders and textbooks glued to his arms.
“The consequences of his actions have finally come knocking on his doorstep,” Aram shook her head, arms crossed, and clicked her tongue. “Reap what you sow, incompetent farmer.”
“Fuck off,” he spat, glaring at the blonde, then suddenly pulling a 180 when he turned to you with puppy dog eyes and a matching pout. You felt shivers run down your spine. Uh oh. “Y/N, you took Intro to Economics in your freshman year, right?”
“Yeah?” you narrowed your eyes at him, suspicious. “Why?”
“Will you give me your past exam papers?”
Oh, so he was shameless shameless. You looked at him, deadpanned, and sighed. “Aram, let’s go.”
Sungchan’s face looked like the representation of nails on a chalkboard when he ran after you, struggling to balance the stack of books and notes in his arms. “Oh, c’mon!” he whined, grabbing hold of you, “don‘t you feel any remorse for your struggling, cute, dearest friend? Please? I have readings to catch up to, papers past their deadline, a million new assignments, so I can’t waste my time studying for midterms, too!”
Jesus christ, he was desperate. His smile looked like he was at his breaking point. You and Aram exchanged glances— that’s all on you, dumbass, her face seemed to say, but she didn’t need to make Sungchan cry.
“You understand me, right?” he persisted, a little nervous.
“You know,” you started, and your friend felt a glint of hope seeing you think it over, “I’m kinda craving for tonkatsu right now...”
Sold. He would even pay for seconds. You smiled at him gratefully before starting out of campus. Sungchan felt like he had just been blessed by an angel.
“How about throwing in your notes on Accounting, too?”
The three of you were in the middle of the late noontime lunch rush inside Osaki’s, relishing in the Sungchan-paid pork cutlet set when you were currently supposed to be trying not to snooze in Human Resource Management, reminded once more that free meals always tasted better when the first hit of meat bursted on your tongue.
“Shouldn’t you two be in class right now?” he half-heartedly asked when he noticed the time on his phone, shoving a strip of pork into his mouth. When he heard the revelation, all Sungchan did was give you a thumbs up and supplemented it with oooh, yeah, you should skip from time to time, Y/N. It’s all part of the college experience. I approve.
You three ate, finished your meals, and you still had time before you and Aram had to check in to Professor Jang’s class (did not even dare to think about skipping), so you decided to kill the remaining forty-five minutes by the claw machines next door. Sungchan and Aram were the ones fighting life and death with the claw and plushies, while you decided to stand back outside where you could see them, leaning against the railings that divided the sidewalk and the road.
The sun was bright, but it didn’t threaten to burn your skin. The breeze was cool, too. While you hummed to yourself and the cars and buses and bikes sped behind your ears, your eyes wandered off to a group huddling around a different set of claw machines— the ones opposite your two friends’— and caught a familiar head in between the rowdy mess.
“Oh,” you narrowed your eyes. “Jeno Lee…?”
That was mostly you speaking to yourself, but he had somehow heard you— or felt that someone was intensely leering at him— and he turned around, matching your look of surprise, when you met gazes. “Oh, hey!” he hopped over to you, breaking apart from his friends after a few exchanged words. You straightened yourself. Jeno wore a smile when he stood in front of you, completely polar from your first interaction this year. “You had lunch yet?”
You replied with an affirmative, head stretched and focused on the crowd he had just departed from. Jeno noticed, immediately understanding. “He’s not here, if that’s what you’re worrying about.”
“Ah,” you pressed your lips together, embarrassed, with a tight smile. “I wasn’t worried. Just, you know...” you trailed off, “if you’re here, then he’d not be too far off.”
Jeno laughed, saying that you weren’t exactly wrong, and he positioned himself right beside you, relaxing his shoulders. “Exams are coming up,” he started with a sigh.
“Yeah,” you grimaced. “Which means the teachers will be having a field day giving us assignments.”
“Don’t even mention it,” he groaned, dropping his head back. “Today was the first day that I had a decent meal after weeks of living off exclusively on cup noodles.”
You pursed your lips, disapproving. “It’s exactly at this time of year that you should try to eat healthy, Jeno.” Not that you were one to start preaching, but at least you managed to cook at home from time to time.
“Maybe after midterms,” Jeno yawned. Then stopped midway, promptly closing his mouth, then looked at you. “This seems like an opening to ask you to eat out with me once exams are over.”
He ran the numbers in his head. Then he asked you.
“Do you want to eat out when exams are over?”
It shouldn’t have surprised you, but it did.
“Hey, it’s gonna be a decent meal if that’s what’s got you thinking so hard,” Jeno let out an easygoing laugh. “I might even treat you to something expensive.”
You shook your head with a smile, remembering the words he said to you last time. Don’t be a stranger Y/N. “Then I guess I don’t have a reason to say no.”
At that moment, Aram and Sungchan with their usual noise started approaching you, although too engrossed in their squabble to notice that you weren’t alone. They were empty-handed, you noticed. Cause of the argument discovered. “That’s because you kept distracting me, dimwit! I could have gotten the elephant if it weren’t for you— oh! Jeno Lee, what’s up?”
The four of you chatted for a while until you three ultimately had to start heading back to campus.
Jeno nodded with polite goodbye’s and take care’s before heading back to his friends, and when you arrived the familiar color scheme of your school grounds, you and Aram left Sungchan to rot with his assignments in front of the library— not without him reminding you of your notes and past papers.
“I’ll be expecting them tomorrow, okay? You can’t flake on me now, Y/N!” was his last yelp before you and her headed to class.
“Hey, you wanna eat chicken for dinner?” Aram started as you two walked past the trees that lined the dusty path to your department building. “I got some coupons for the restaurant down the street. We can invite two more people if you’re down.”
“Oh, sure,” you hummed. “Sungchan and, who else— oh, wait I’m getting a call.”
The both of you stopped in the middle of the road, and you fished out your phone from your pocket, feeling a mix of emotions when you saw the caller ID. You looked at Aram who seemed to be occupied by the thoughts of dinner later in the evening, then you answered the call. “Mom, I have class in a bit, can you—”
It didn’t take long until your mother’s voice flooded into your ears. You listened, figuring out that this will take a while.
“Aram, you can go on ahead.”
She watched you quickly turn your head away from her, going back to your conversation. “Sorry, it‘s just been really busy, and I—” Aram would have left as soon as you told her to if she didn’t see the sudden shift in your voice and expression. “—oh. Oh. Is she okay?”
You looked grave. Aram could tell from the small glimpse she could get from your face. It coupled with your voice, frequent deep breaths as you continued to listen, biting your lip from time to time, pressing your tongue against the inside of your cheek.
“What was she thinking, staying out in the rain, good god, I— alright. How about—”
Your silence ran longer this time. Whatever your mother was telling you, it brought no improvement to your expression, only grayer as time went on.
The moment you spoke, your voice sounded small and fragile.
“Do you...want me to help out?”
Your shoulders flinched.
“N-no, not now! When break starts, I mean. Yeah, I’ll focus, you don’t have to worry about me when—” you let out a sigh. It took a few more breaths before you could rekindle your voice again. “Alright. Take care.”
You stood there for a moment, motionless save for your arm falling to your side as you clutched your phone in a tight grip. It was suffocating. There were things that reminded you that being only twenty-two meant nothing when you had problems always trailing behind you, just one step behind. You needed to move fast before they could overtake you. And you didn’t know how to outrun them when you were only twenty-two, all by yourself, and hadn’t seen enough of the world to run as far as you had to.
Startled, you spun back after feeling a hand on your shoulder. You saw Aram looking at you. You saw Aram looking at you as if she had been there the whole time. You saw Aram looking at you while your eyes shook and your throat tightened.
“Remember when I said that you should put my listening to use sometime?” she spoke, softly and with a faint smile. “Well, my offer still stands, you know.”
Her words hit you all at once.
You never cried often, but the tears came out before you knew it. And along with your tears came flooding everything you’ve bottled up for the past who knows long like a torrent of waves that broke through a dam— from your dad losing his job, the pressure you were just barely managing to withstand, to the recent fact that your fucking sister was now in the hospital for something avoidable. Fuck, midterms were coming up too. Did you have time to come home during the weekend? You were tired, and Aram said she knew while you spilled tears all over her shoulder. You just wanted a break, and she told you that you’ll get it soon, that she’ll be there to help you.
It took a while to bring you back from your hysterics, face wet and nose red and sniffling. She asked if you were feeling better, you told her that you were okay now, if you wanted to skip Professor Jang, and you screamed and told her no fucking way while you attempted to stable your jagged breaths.
“You’re an ugly crier,” she said as she wiped your cheek with her sleeve. “What? It’s your boyfriend’s job to tell you you look pretty when you cry, not mine.”
You stopped sniffling for a moment.
“I— I forgot to mention one more thing,” your voice wavered. Aram’s concern slipped through her face. “Please don’t freak out when I tell you.”
When the flooding starts, it doesn’t stop until everything dries up. So you figued to come clean, and unhush what had been kept silent for so long. You told her about Jaemin— the past, the present, the in betweens— the unexpected baggage that had added on to your shoulders, and how you were faring with it now; still holding the same feelings as when it all started.
Her colorful reactions were much to be expected.
“Y-y-you and— dated?! Him?!” she looked like she was the one going through a breakdown, now. “Wait, isn’t he fucking flirting with Eunha?! Oh my god, I’m gonna—”
You grabbed onto her before anything else could happen, detailing that it was you who broke up with him, that it was you who first let go. When she asked why, your answer was simple, stated with a faraway smile: because there was only too much guilt that your conscience could take.
It was only a smudge at first, a small speck of uncertainty that could be glossed over by simply ignoring its existence. Then it festered, raw and gnawing and yelling from your core.
The more days passed that you came home harboring the guilt of betrayal, the fact that you had taken advantage of their trust, until at one point you simply stopped seeing your mother’s face or listening to your father’s voice without feeling it dig into your skin and flesh and bones. Some might say you were being dramatic, but one secret was one secret too much— you couldn’t hear their praises to their friends about you being such a good daughter when you’d disobeyed what they explicitly told you not to do.
The more you saw his face, lingered in his touch, gave in to the fleeting bursts of butterflies that would, for a time, shadow the murky feeling, the more it worsened until even those bursts wouldn’t work anymore— until you found yourself steering away because he didn’t deserve this. That someone as good and bright and beautiful like Na Jaemin didn’t deserve to be kept a secret.
Each ringing of a phone had you paranoid. Each calling of your name had you fearing that you’d been found out. Each day told you that Jaemin’s patience and understanding will run out somehow.
So everything just had to stop.
This was where you ended when you told everything to Aram. You went to class late, but one tardy couldn’t fare against the lightness you felt— a lightness that you hadn’t felt in over four years.
Luckily for the both of you, Professor Jang was still taking the roll call when you and Aram snuck through the back door and planted yourselves on the available seats at the back.
Aram spotted the back of Jaemin’s head while you waited for your names to be called out, and it seemed like she purposely sought for him— grumbling and glares and all— especially considering what you had told her, but you hoped this was all in passing. “I hope you’re not plotting to rip his head off,” you nudged her, eyes still a little red and puffy, looking at Jaemin from afar. She only got grumpier. “If you think about it, he suffered more than I did.”
“What’s the difference between twenty four thousand dollars and twenty five thousand dollars,” she scoffed, murmuring. “Not much, if you put it into perspective— both are just an awful lot of money. Doesn’t matter which one of you got hurt the most. What matters is the fact that he seems remarkably fine right now considering all he’s been doing is flirt around with Eunha.”
You pursed your lips, elbows propped on the desk as you leaned into your curved palm. There he was, seemingly unbothered as he scribbled onto a piece of paper, but you couldn’t help thinking about his behavior as of late, the questions he asked that night almost a week ago.
It was one of things you wanted to make sense of, but time wasn’t on your side.
Na Jaemin could wait— and if he really has moved on with Lee Eunha and the only reason why he was acting this way were the remnants of the past that were too stubborn to be shaken off, then so be it. You didn’t want to hope, but you weren’t going to deceive yourself, either.
Class began, and ended like a blur. You weren’t sure if you could come home to visit Yeon during the weekend, so she might need to forgive you this time. Aram slung her bag over her shoulder, you collected your notes from the table, and the both of you headed down to get the printouts Professor Jang left behind. You waited for the crowd to disperse before you got a copy, and at the very same time you reached out for the stack—
—Jaemin held his arm out, as well.
You gave him a quick nod and shoved the printouts into your bag, feeling Aram trying to drill holes into the back of your skull. You were stopped, though, when you wanted to hurry away, because Jaemin decided to speak as he realigned the stack of remaining papers.
“Are you okay?”
Wide-eyed, you stared at him, both confused and surprised. Jaemin shuttled into a moment of fluster before explaining himself. “It’s just that— I think I saw you crying, or something, on my way to class earlier,” he scratched the back of his neck. “Is everything alright?”
You suddenly heard Aram from behind you, and you flinched.
“If you were really concerned, you would come running the moment you saw the first drop of tears.”
“It was nothing!” you elbowed her. Aram only silently grumbled with her arms crossed. Jaemin’s eyes widened.
“You were really crying?” he said. “Sorry— I hope you’re feeling better, but I didn’t think it would have been right for me to just...butt in between the both of you.”
Aram did not like the fact that he was right.
“It’s fine. You shouldn’t apologize,” you smiled at him in assurance, but your hand was wandering from behind, pulling on the hem of Aram’s shirt to get her to behave. “You don’t have to worry, either. It’s just that when you bury a lot of things for too long, you sometimes just end up exploding, you know?”
This wasn’t good. Aram meant well, but she wasn’t as quote-unquote nice as you were— especially after she saw you burst into tears earlier with him being one of the reasons. It was better to keep them apart for a while, so you quickly tried to find a way out of this, well, situation.
From the corner of your eye, you saw Renjun walking down to get his copy. Jaemin looked like he was going to say something, even trying to reach out to you, but you simmered in internal remorse and hisses because your voice called him before you knew it.
The timing never worked out for the both of you. You bit your tongue after his name officially left your mouth. It was too late now. You let a smile take over. “Did you get your printout yet? Aram and I were just—”
You wanted to feel sorry for yourself, how that entire situation must have looked to Jaemin. But you swallowed it down for now, walking alongside Aram and Renjun and talking on your way to pick up Sungchan from the library after finally finding a fourth to your party right after you left Jaemin behind without even saying goodbye. If there was any hope that you had a chance back with him, that was probably ruined now.
That was how your day ended, carrying a new basket of emotions after just pouring out all your previous, overdue baggage— a day that was neither great nor terrible, but that was just how the world worked.
APRIL 29, 20XX.
IT WAS A BLUR, the past two weeks. Either because nothing interesting happened, or everything happened all at once.
Midterms started on the nineteenth, and since then, you were simply programmed to be a cog in a machine. You went in the classroom, took the test, went out, and repeat— all throughout those past nine days with only the weekends left for rejuvenation. But who were you kidding, you spent those days studying ‘till your bones dried to dust, as well.
Though when you went out of the classroom today, the sliding doors hitting against the frame signifying the bells of freedom, into the hallway crowd of equally tired and sleep deprived students, you breathed in and felt almost free.
“Ahh, I’m finished!” you sighed, slumping back into the sofa beside Aram and Sungchan as the sounds of people walking and rushing and talking filled the walls of the student lounge. Overall, you believed you did well on all of your tests— maybe pulled an eenie meenie on a few items, but overall it was good.
“Lucky you,” Aram whined, practically melted into the couch. She wore the red bucket hat today— probably to hide her bird nest hair. “I still have an elective tomorrow.”
You patted her covered head and she fell onto your shoulder, and you looked over to your other friend who seemed to be having a silent conversation with the air. “How are you, Sungchan?”
“Hey, when can we start applying for summer classes?” you couldn’t help but snort at his unrelated response. It looked like things didn’t end well for him.
“It’s on the school bulletin, but I hope you haven’t forgotten we still have finals, Sungchan,” you stretched out your arms, tired from the weeks and weeks of slouching (you didn’t know how your spine looked at this point), and while your hand was still in the air, you peeked at your wristwatch to check the time. 1:16. “Ah, shit. I have to go.”
They looked at you and made sounds of acknowledgement, and you wished Aram a good luck for her last test and reminded Sungchan that he still needed to blink from time to time. You slipped past the exit, and started making your way to the address Jeno sent you.
He never forgot his promise to treat you out after midterms. You couldn’t help but laugh as you went through your text convo again. For someone with an exterior like his, Jeno Lee texted in a weirdly cute manner.
The attachment was a small restaurant somewhere along downtown. He sent a picture of it, as well.
from lee jeno: i’ll wait for u outside hehe 🕵️♂️.
And he did wait. Because upon nearing the restaurant amidst the busy street, you saw his side profile standing in front of a red tinted building, hands tucked into his jeans, but lifted one arm to wave at you when he caught you approaching. “Hey!” he greeted you, but you stopped abruptly when he moved, when he moved to reveal the person he was concealing, when he moved to reveal that the person he was concealing was none other than Na Jaemin.
You weren’t anxious, your guts weren’t twisting over and over itself. You were only surprised enough to have the air knocked out of your lungs. Jeno didn’t tell you that he was joining, but you felt like you should have expected it. When was the last time you had the opportunity to look at him? Not just passes in the hallway and end of class greetings— but actually look. At his eyes, perpetually messy hair, his stony expression that would only soften for certain people and give way to one of the widest smiles you’ve ever seen.
Jaemin turned around when Jeno called out to you, and you were ready to take back the claim that your guts weren’t wringing and twisting into balloon animals because now they were. He gave you a small smile— not forced, but not unrestrained, either. Like he wasn’t sure if he should be smiling or not. He quickly looked away, looked up, looked down and pushed his tongue against his cheek.
Lee Jeno witnessed it all, wedged in awkward firmament between the both of you.
And now a part of him was starting to regret the decision of bringing you here together.
“Haha, why don’t we get inside?”
Don’t get him wrong. Jeno didn’t want to meddle. He wasn’t going to meddle. You two were fully grown adults who knew exactly (maybe not) what you were doing, and he didn’t have the time nor energy to be caught playing cupid. But when he mentioned that he was going to have a meal with you today, phrased like a simple afterthought, Jaemin’s reaction told him that something was up.
His face stiffened, and unlike a simple dismissive “so?” like Jeno had expected, his expression instead looked like he was trying to process a million thoughts in a single instant. His reply, after a good ten seconds, consisted of an “oh, really?” followed by a “where are you taking her? It must be someplace good.”
Jeno nearly spat his water in surprise. His stupid ass friend didn’t try to change the topic for once. This odd behavior could only be explained by one thing— something had happened between the both of you and didn’t fucking know what.
So obviously, the only logical conclusion would be to invite him, too.
“You’re paying, right?” Jaemin made sure.
“Duh,” he replied.
Jaemin gave him an award winning smile. “Then I guess I don’t have a reason to say no.”
Only god knew about the goosebumps Jeno felt at that moment.
At the present, his goal wasn’t to find out what exactly had happened— but to observe what that certain happening (or in this case, happenings) had done to your present relationship (or lack thereof). But again, Jeno was somewhat regretting it and surmising it to be a terrible, terrible decision. He should have just ejected himself out of the picture completely.
Because what the hell was this fucking atmosphere?
You were sitting beside Jeno, a nice halo of a light hanging above your table. Jeno was sitting in front of Jaemin. The seat in front of you was empty. The seat beside Jaemin was empty. Neither of you have spoken a word to each other since meeting in front of the store. Jeno was one awkward silence away from ramming his head inside the kitchen ovens.
“Have you decided what to eat yet?” Jeno asked in a last ditch attempt, ready to make a run for it. You shook your head.
“I wanted to buy the most expensive thing at first,” you started, all eyes on you, and you swallowed nervously at the sudden attention. “But my conscience is kicking in. I’ll settle with the seafood bowl, please and thank you.”
The two of them laughed. You smiled sheepishly. Why were they laughing? The menu fell along with your hands on top of the table. Jaemin, for the first time, spoke, and he was speaking to you. “This is nothing. Jeno says he can even buy three dishes for each person minimum.”
Suddenly, Jeno wasn’t laughing anymore. “The fuck? Na Jaemin what are you on about—”
“You said it!”
“When did I?”
“Jeno oppa, I’ll have stir-fried octopus, ox bone soup, and soondae, please—!”
“Wow, I really want to punch you right now.”
They heard you laugh this time— a short chortle, in between a scoff and a snort, trying to cover your mouth but it was too late. Jaemin and Jeno looked at you, a shared veil of something blanketing your table, and a thought came almost at the same time into the three of your heads. The same thought.
That somehow, time turned back and you three were seventeen again, inside your high school cafeteria, without a care in the world.
“Just this once,” Jeno sighed, shaking his head, but there was an evident smile on his face.
Of course, all of you knew that that was just a feeling, but it really has been a while, a time overdue, to the point that your feelings had managed to bring you back.
After messing around, you three finally ordered, and you ate, and you talked about school and the people from your major and how midterms went, and you thanked Jeno for the nice and expensive meal, and finally you all said goodbye.
Goodbye was a weird thing.
It wasn’t like you three weren’t going to see each other again, but as you split ways and melted into the different corners of the crowd in the same manner that you had joined each other, it felt like you were letting something go.
Maybe it was the delicious late noon lunch that Jeno swore to never buy you pigs again. Maybe it was because finals was just within the horizon and you’d have to let go of fooling around like this for the time being. Maybe it was, just for the moment, until you meet again.
Or maybe this was the closure that the three of you never had four years ago.
You never got the answer, because more flowers started blooming, the sky shifted into a different shade of blue, and suddenly it was May.
MAY 11, 20XX.
“JESUS, IT FEELS LIKE IF A BLINK IT WILL SUDDENLY BE FINALS WEEK.”
Aram sighed as you walked side-by-side with the shiny petals of the golden bell tree falling from up above, ringlets of the bright sky seeping through the cracks of the blossoming branches. You brushed away a flower that landed and camouflaged itself into your friend’s hair. This time of the school year was always fast paced, yet achingly slow at the same time— hurry to start summer, yet dreading to start exams again, hurry to end the day, but would do anything just to delay waking up.
“I swear we just finished midterms, I swear,” she sighed and pulled up her backpack. You could only sympathize in silence while stifling out a huff of cold breath.
Sungchan came to join you halfway on the way to class, only to tell you that he scored a blind date so he couldn’t join you for dinner later and immediately ran away. You grabbed onto Aram’s backpack before she could chase him in her fury. She spewed out curses at Sungchan’s quickly disappearing figure.
“Seriously, that kid never learns,” she spat, grumbling. “If he ends up repeating a year, I’m gonna hit him.”
“You always hit him.”
“I’m gonna hit him even harder.”
You passed by Johnny when you entered the building (weren’t you in the same class?), bugging Doyoung in one way or another. He gave you an enthusiastic wave, while the latter looked like he was ready to commit a crime— that crime being manslaughter and he wouldn’t even be sorry. You heard that he was dealing with an internship on top of everything else so you couldn’t even blame him.
It was a Tuesday morning, and the both of you headed straight to your lecture room on the second floor. Standard procedures: you took a seat, Professor Jang entered, attendance was taken, and then she announced your second and final group assignment for this semester. The familiar wave of anxiety burst through when she called out the groups, in the form of the chilly gusts of wind entering from the open windows because the air conditioning was broken. When you heard that you were grouped with Yona Song, Renjun Huang, and freaking Aram Choi, you almost started crying.
So group assignments could be hopeful.
When the bell rang, the four of you stayed behind to start planning, sharing the same, exhausted determination to just get this done with as soon as fucking possible. You hit the goldmine this time. Everything was running smoothly and you heard Lee Eunha wishing you a good luck as she passed by. After the meeting, Aram had a different class to attend to, and so did Yona— meaning that left you and Renjun behind with the plan to wither yourselves away inside the library.
On the way out, leaning against the high rising columns supporting the portico, was Na Jaemin with his airpods stuffed in his ears and occupied with his phone. Weird, you thought. You could have sworn he left the classroom with Eunha and a few others way before you did.
“Jaemin, hello!” you greeted him when you passed by with a little bow. This much you can manage, of course.
“Oh, hey,” Jaemin pulled out the earbuds and placed them into a container, straightening up at the greeting. He noticed Renjun behind you. He flashed him a nod. “You two headed somewhere?”
“Yeah, we’re off to the library,” Renjun replied. Jaemin gave him a quick glance of acknowledgement and flitted his eyes back to you.
“Studying?” he asked.
You nodded. “Yep.”
“Don’t work too hard,” there was a smile on his face, a gentle sort of smile that caught you off guard but you didn’t want to admit that. The surface of the portico was built from glass, transparent and allowing the light to filter through. It seemed like he was collecting all of that light as you looked at him.
“Of course,” you breathed out with a timid smile. “I know my limits.”
“I know my limits,” he mimicked in a mocking tone while digging through his shoulder bag for something, and once again you were stunned. This was getting weirder— nothing bad or wrong in the sense, but just— a huge jump from how he’d always been towards you these past months. Not a sudden difference, maybe, but it was softer, more open than how he’d been since meeting again. The only thing that stayed the same were his bangs, but they were now even longer, falling above his eyes like thick curtains.
Jaemin stopped rummaging and his voice cut through your monologue. “Hold your hand out,” he said, and you struck him confused. He then sighed and grabbed your left wrist, then your right wrist, opening your palms and placing a pack of honey seasoned almonds in your hands. “In case you get hungry. The vending machines outside the library are a little far away and it would be a waste of time to go all the way there. Just hide it in your bag and don’t make too much noise.”
You stared at the open air. There he was again. Being all confusing— that was the word of what you were feeling all this time.
He shifted his gaze to Renjun, an awkward scratch in his voice. “Uh, sorry. That’s all I have.”
Jesus, you forgot that Renjun was with you. He gave him a polite smile and lifted a hand up. “No worries, it’s fine.”
You gave Jaemin one last look and a small thank you before you and Renjun finally retreated to the library, walking a little faster than you had realized.
What’s up with him?
“I didn’t know you two were close,” Renjun addressed as he strode alongside you. “Something going on between the both of you?”
I don’t know, you silently thought.
“Wait, I thought he was into Eunha? Maybe not?”
I thought so, too, you added with a grunt despite wanting your answers to be yes and no to both questions, respectively. It felt like things were getting even more tangled up between the both of you, to something confusing when only a month ago you two were simply ex-lovers. Maybe you were just simply that and you were just overthinking things. No matter how much you thought about it though, all your answers left the dot on I don’t know.
“Do you think they still have room in the library?”
“Probably. The place is quite empty before lunch.”
But regardless of how much you wanted things to clear up now, to continue making sense of it until the string would finally loosen, you knew that there was more to life than you and him. Your feelings won’t change, but the seasons will— and it was only a matter of time until spring would fly away with summer inevitably taking its spotlight. You had things to do, responsibilities to manage, and from now until the end days, you had storms that will hit you harder than you could brace for.
MAY 15, 20XX.
The four of you worked on your assignment a bit more today, talking things over lunch on the weekend and when you went home, you decided to hit your books again until the start of another week.
MAY 18, 20XX.
Jung Sungchan got dumped by his blind date today. You pulled an all nighter after spending your supposed time studying to comfort him with ice-cream at the 7/11 near his house. Aram wanted to kill him. You didn’t want a lawsuit on top of your readings.
MAY 19, 20XX.
Stopped Aram from attempted strangulation once again when you guys saw him with Johnny on campus. Studied more in between breaks and met up with your group right after class. Called your mom to check up on them— nothing new except for Yeon asking when you were coming home.
JUNE 1, 20XX.
More deadlines. More studying. Johnny convinced you to go out for chicken and beer with some of the english majors. Doyoung got roped in, too. You found out that Mark Lee was a very fun guy.
JUNE 4, 20XX.
Day of the presentation. You got an A. The four of you wanted to celebrate but mutually agreed that all you needed as a form of celebration was a good, long, well deserved nap. You were out cold from four to ten.
JUNE 8, 20XX.
Good god, you were absolutely tired. Passed an essay at 3AM with your eyes barely open then passed out.
JUNE 10, 20XX.
Finished some requirements. Sungchan received a call from his brother while you three were out shopping for some gifts for the kids back home. He let you say hi to Jaehyun for a bit. He sounded the same.
JUNE 11, 20XX.
Had to revive Aram at a dessert shop. You called your mom again and things were starting to look up, a bit— your dad had a referral from a friend of his and they’re waiting for an interview date. You and Aram studied a bit before going home. She swore she was gonna get absolutely wasted after all of this was done.
JUNE 14, 20XX.
It was the first day of finals week.
You squeezed out a restrained huff of air as you entered the air-conditioned walls of your department building.
“Don’t fucking die, we’re gonna party after all of this is over.”
You said goodbye to Sungchan and Aram as they went to the classroom of their first test, and you disappeared into yours.
JUNE 25, 20XX.
WHEN YOU LEFT THE CLASSROOM AFTER submitting your last exam paper of the day— your last exam paper of the semester— the air that you breathed in felt like your first intake of oxygen in ages. Summer vacation was right around the corner. You were finally fucking free (well, as free as your sorry ass could get).
You sighed and slowed your way down the steps, typing down and replying to messages on your phone to Aram, Sungchan, your mother, the rest of your friends, even some of your professors. You passed by Yona climbing up the stairs just as you had stepped down, Lee Donghyuck by the vending machines who seemed to be having a one on one battle with one of the machines. Each step you took felt like a minty effusion into your lungs, a clearing inside your head, a boat floating in the middle of the calm sea.
Aram sent you a message that she and Sungchan were waiting by the gate, plastic bags of junk and beer ready in their hands, and you hastened your pace, the blue sky becoming brighter as time went on, then you stopped.
The tall truck of a red pine stood on the grassy patches to your left, its shadow casted diagonally on the ground. On your right was a bench beside a streetlight. And in front of you was Na Jaemin.
He stopped almost at the same time as you did.
There was a moment where you two simply stared in silent surprise. Then he opened his mouth.
“Done with exams?” he asked.
“Yeah,” you replied. “How’d you do?”
“Eh, good enough,” you scoffed and rolled your eyes at this. Jaemin’s eyes crinkled in a breath of laughter. “I don’t even need to ask about you, do I?”
You smiled at him. Like most things, it was bound to become different between the both of you— from a soft pink to a bright red with flashes of yellow, the icy blues to a mellow cerulean. Now you were a quiet green; something new, something in between.
“I have to stop by the office,” he said, and you made a sound of recognition before giving way. He chuckled as he passed by, a side eyed glance to you one last time before leaving. “Have a nice break.”
You nodded, “you too,” and watched his back as he furthered away from your line of sight.
The heels of your sneakers made a scratch against the dirt when you made your first movement, and the buzzing of your phone put you into a sudden halt once more. You figured it was from Aram telling you to hurry up, but you were wrong.
It was a message from your mother— a single sentence, five words.
Your father got the job.
The sunlight filtered through the tree branches speckled golden dust onto your cheeks.
You took in a deep breath, exhaled sharply, and started again with your walk to the front gate. Spring is finally ending, and summer is ready to take its place— you could feel it on your skin, in the air. In the flutter of your heartbeat.
end of act one. © HANNIE-DUL-SET, 2021.
part six: what did i say about the devil's name
[past] - [next] - [masterlist]
synopsis: the medical field has never been kind to the weary - especially at one of the best hospitals in all of south korea. navigating such rough terrain is even harder. luckily, y/n has her friends - and perhaps even a lover - who helps her get through the challenges of this world. after all, you’re only young for so long. might as well make the most of it, right?
type: social media au
tags: fluff, angst, mentions of blood/various diseases, mentions of patient death/toxic relationships concerning patients, kinda fluffy and kinda serious, who am i kidding this is just pure crack, idk man think grey’s anatomy but uh, more pg-13?, jaemin x reader
playlist: anl - nct dream, view - shinee, good thing - nct 127, paradise - nct 127, play - chungha, call my name - clc, no more sad songs - little mix, reggaetón lento - little mix and cnco, rainbow - nct dream
taglist: @marklexleaf @kireijae @yo-dreamrush @heyyyun @itlittlefangirl @ellie-idk-anymore @cookydream @wonietree @shawkneecaps @renjunvibes @btssf9nct
a/n: hehe idk what's happening anymore :)
﹙ ๑̈ (•̀ᴗ•́)و﹚ ᣫ꯭꯭ᥲᥱᥖꪱ⃨ꦱ⃨ ᥗꭷꭷ∂ϐⱺ𐐼᤻᤻ᥐ∂ ⨾ ᷧ▒⃞⃪
ꕁ⃨ ꜛ 💬⠀ᷧ ̤ᷧ ꪶꪱ⃨ઝᨹ⃨ ꩜ᥐ ꢯᦸϐᥣꭷᥱᩛ ⸾▒⃭⃝⃔🧸 ▒ ♡໑
𖦹₍ ➪ ꪱ⃨ᥬ᳢ ꯴ᥝ⃨ᥩᨹ⃨ ▒ ♡໑ 🍃 ▒⃨﹙ ๑̈ 💐و﹚