Daehyun clears his throat. “Excuse me,” he says, softly.
The store is crowded with weekend shoppers, many of them teenagers. Daehyun is wearing a face mask and a baggy sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, but he’s still nervous. If he stays here long enough, someone is bound to recognize him.
The clerk is ignoring him in favor of an nicely dressed older woman who is staring timidly at two different but similar models of smart phone. She looks like she could spend all day making up her mind.
Daehyun tries again. “Excuse me!”
The clerk whirls around. His undyed hair is cut long, and it swishes dramatically as he turns.
“As you can see, I’m helping someone, sir. I’ll be with you in just a moment.” His words are coldly polite, but his tone is not. He looks Daehyun deliberately up and down, frowns, and then turns back to Ms. Indecisive and her cell phones quandary.
Daehyun swallows. His cheeks feel a little red. He’s glad the mask covers them. “Sorry,” he mumbles, even though the clerk isn’t paying attention.
He didn’t mean to be rude, and he’s definitely not trying to take advantage of the fact that he’s a celebrity -- not exactly, anyway. He looks around for another clerk, but they’re all helping their own customers. This is a really bad idea. He should have waited and let Manager hyung come with him, but he is with Junhong today at some event and Daehyun is impatient. He just wants to get his laptop fixed so he can enjoy whatever of his precious day off he has left.
Daehyun cringes. He’s been found out. Some fan figured out that it’s him behind the mask and now …
“I thought you were in some big rush. Now you’re standing here daydreaming.” The clerk -- Youngjae, according to his name tag -- raises an eyebrow. His arms are folded, and his face is stern.
Daehyun splutters. “I’m not daydreaming! I was looking to see if there was anyone here who wanted to help me.” He sounds more petulant than he intends.
Youngjae glances around the store. “Nope,” he says. “Looks like you’re stuck with me.”
He’s young, Daehyun realizes. Probably younger than Daehyun, if his round cheeks, still soft with baby fat, are any guide. He’s pretty, too, with big eyes behind thick-framed glasses and red, plush lips.
Daehyun notices things like that a lot more often than he cares to admit. No good can come of it. He’s tried to stop, but it’s not easy.
“What can I help you with today, sir?”
“Something’s wrong with my laptop,” Daehyun says, holding it out. “I was just trying to watch a DVD that Hi- ... that a friend lent me and it started making this horrible noise."
Youngjae takes the laptop from Daehyun and heads towards the rear of the store. There are still a lot of teenagers around. Daehyun pulls his hood up further. Youngjae sets the laptop down on the counter and hits the power button. Sure enough it immediately emits a horrible, mechanical squeal.
All the nearby customers look over towards the source of the unearthly noise. Great.
"Hmm," Youngjae says. "It was just a normal DVD?"
"And you tried to eject it?"
Daehyun nods. Youngjae tries that now, too. It doesn't work. He ducks down behind the counter to get something from a low drawer. Daehyun takes out his phone. It's already three o'clock. By the time he gets out of here, the day is going to be nearly over. It's his only day off for the next two weeks.
Stupid Himchan hyung and his cursed DVD.
"So, what movie were you trying to watch?"
Daehyun startles. Youngjae is opening up a little case of tools -- tiny screwdrivers and pokey looking things -- and he's flipped Daehyun's laptop over. His glasses have slipped down his nose. Daehyun had the sudden urge to push them back up -- but that's just really weird.
"The Shining," he says. "It's an America--"
"I know what it is," Youngjae says, smiling a little. "So you like scary movies, huh?"
"I hate them," Daehyun admits.
Youngjae laughs then, suddenly. His round cheeks bulge a little bit. His teeth are really straight and white, which is another thing that Daehyun wishes he didn’t notice.
"So why were you watching The Shining if you hate scary movies?"
Daehyun stares at his feet. "I lost a bet," he admits. "It's a punishment."
"Hmm," Youngjae says. He's unscrewed the bottom of the laptop. He pops it right off, and pokes at some of the messy squiggly electric stuff inside with one of the little pointy tools. It makes Daehyun nervous, just watching. He doesn't have very steady hands. Youngjae's hands are steady. He's not especially skinny (at least not compared to Daehyun, whose nickname is still 'pencil legs’) but he's got slim wrists. "And was the broken laptop an acceptable substitute punishment? Since you never watched the movie, I mean." His tone is bored, and he seems distracted, attention focused on the incomprehensible electronics.
"No. I had to do the laundry for a week," Daehyun says.
It really hadn't been fair, although Junhong had been delighted.
Youngjae laughs, a little. "Funny," he says. "I’d say the laundry’s a much worse punishment.”
“I really hate scary movies,” Daehyun says.
There's a group of teenagers at the end of the next aisle that have been looking at printer paper for way too long. One has her phone out. It could just be a coincidence that she’s pointing it in Daehyun’s direction. She could just be checking a text message.
Or she could be taking pictures of Daehyun and uploading them to the fancafe at this very moment. Ugh.
It's not that he doesn't like their fans. He loves them. It's just that they expect him to be someone handsome and charming and talented and he can't stand to see the disappointment in their eyes when their idol turns out to be just plain old Jung Daehyun.
"Ah, Youngjae-sshi, will you be much longer?"
"Just a moment," Youngjae says. His face is inches from the laptop.
The girls have moved halfway down the aisle, and their ranks have swelled. They’re not even pretending to be shopping now. Instead, they giggle and hide their smiles behind their hands when Daehyun glances at them.
“Great,” he mumbles under his breath. The last thing -- the very last thing -- he wants is to cause some kind of a scene.
Just then, there’s an announcement over the loudspeaker.
’A#shop would like to remind customers that we strive to create a soothing, respectful shopping environments. Individuals who violate this policy may be subject to forcible removal from our stores.’
Youngjae pauses. His delicate hands are suspended, totally still, over Daehyun’s laptop. His eyes narrow. “Are you …?”
Then, the inevitable cries: “Oppa!”
Daehyun screws his eyes shut and prepares for the worst, but before they have a chance to take even a single cell phone picture, Youngjae jumps up.
"Okay," he says, throwing his arm around Daehyun's shoulder. "I think we're almost done. Let me take you in the back so we can finish up."
With surprising force, he herds Daehyun through a pair of double doors with a stern 'EMPLOYEES ONLY' sign on them and into a poorly-lit storeroom. Cardboard boxes are stacked up to the ceiling, and the fluorescent lights flicker.
"I guess this isn't the VIP area, huh?”
Daehyun is trying to make a joke, but Youngjae doesn’t laugh.
"You know, I thought you looked familiar. No surprise, considering your face is plastered over half of Seoul."
Daehyun frowns. "No it's not ..."
"I don't even like idol groups," Youngjae says, "and I still know who you are, Jung Daehyun. You're in that rice group. Bap."
Daehyun is never going to get over the weirdness of being famous. It's not what really he wanted -- it's not why he decided to do this, anyway -- but he's got it.
"It's not bap," he says, disagreeably. "It's B. A. P."
Youngjae, who is still holding the laptop, rolls his eyes, as if to suggest it's all the same to him. "We don't usually have flash mobs of hysterical teenage girls descend on the printer paper aisle. Why didn't you just send your manager or your assistant or something?"
Daehyun shrugs. "There's just one manager for the six of us. I wanted to get it taken care of." It's not any of this Youngjae’s business, but he wanted his laptop fixed as soon as possible. Specifically, he wants it fixed before the drama he's been watching airs tomorrow night. He's a busy person, and he values those small pleasures.
Outside, in the store, it's noisy. Daehyun's stomach sinks. Great. Even if he does get his laptop fixed, he's not going to get through that crowd without signing enough autographs to make his hands hurt.
"Is there another way out of here?" he asks, hopeful.
Youngjae shakes his head. His smooth black hair falls in front of his eyes, and he swishes it out of the way. "Nope," he says. "Just through the store."
Figures. "Do you at least know what's wrong with my laptop?" Daehyun asks, not all that hopeful.
"I could figure it out," Youngjae says, "but my tools and everything are all out there." His expression is hard to read. His boyish face is smooth, but his eyes are hard, and his brows knit.
Daehyun sighs. "Great," he says. "Just give it back to me. I'll go face my fate."
Youngjae frowns. “Why are you so nervous anyway? You should be grateful that you’ve got so many fans.”
“I am,” Daehyun says. “I really am. I just … It’s my day off.” It doesn’t sound like a very good reason, but Daehyun doesn’t know how to explain that sometime all the fans and all their expectations make him so nervous his heart starts to race.
Youngjae puffs out his cheeks, deep in thought. “Just hold on a second," he says. "I have an idea." He grins then, but it doesn’t inspire in Daehyun any great amount of confidence.
Fifteen minutes later, Daehyun is inside a cardboard box, clutching his laptop to his chest. The box is balanced precariously on a dolly. The dolly, if all goes according to plan, will be wheeled out of the storeroom, through the crowd, and out of the mall entirely without anyone being any the wiser.
Youngjae peers down over the open flaps of the box. "You okay?"
Daehyun sighs again. "Are you really sure this is going to work?"
Youngjae nods. "Of course," he says. "We get deliveries all the time. Nobody's going to pay attention to some dumb kid with a box. And you really don’t want to deal with all those girls, right?"
"I'm a smart guy," Youngjae says. "Trust me."
Daehyun swallows. "Okay.”
Then Youngjae shuts the top of the box, and everything is dark.
Muffled, through the cardboard, Daehyun hears Youngjae says, "I'm going to tip you back now."
It's disorienting. The world tilts, except it's all black anyway.
"You're not going to drop me, right?" Daehyun asks. He can only imagine the outrage that would ensue if he were to be injured sneaking out of an upscale mall in a cardboard box. The netizens are ready to see conspiracy in even the most innocuous of slip-ups; this stinks of legitimate suspicion. They'll probably accuse Daehyun of being tied to some illegal smuggling ring or a spy or something.
"Sorry," Youngjae says. "I can't really hear you."
"Don't drop me!" Daehyun yells. He's a vocalist by profession. He can be loud when he needs to.
Daehyun shakes his head in the dark. It doesn't matter.
Slowly, they start to move forward. The dolly wobbles. Daehyun wishes he had something to hold onto. Youngjae says something that might be an apology, and then they move more smoothly forward. There’s a bump as they head over the doorjamb and out into the store.
Daehyun can hear voices -- the fainter mumble of girlish voices in the background and, closer, Youngjae gruffly asking people to move out of the way. There are no shrieks, though. There are no cries of 'Daehyun Oppa!!!!'. Maybe -- just maybe -- they're going to make it.
Then there's another jarring bump. They've hit something. Daehyun feels the box start to slide ... He squeezes his eyes shut.
This is not going to end well.
He braces for impact, but he never hits the ground.
In an undertone, Youngjae says, "Sorry. Hit a shelf. We're almost out."
The dark silence is interrupted by a few more minor -- and less minor -- jolts. Daehyun barely breathes. In the last few years he’s been in situations more unbelievable than he ever dared dream, but this might take the cake.
It's taking too long. Daehyun has some experience with moving boxes around on dollies. As a kid, he spent all those long hours after school helping out at his father's hardware store. He had to unload his fair share of boxes. It's taking too long, and in the dark his imagination starts to run away with him.
Maybe this Youngjae kid -- as innocuous as he looked -- is a plant. Maybe someone got wind that Daehyun was taking his laptop in for a repair. Maybe they planned this out. Maybe when next the box is opened he's not going to be out in the parking lot behind the mall but rather in some dingy warehouse somewhere. Swarthy, heavy-set men in dirty leather jackets will menace him and demand he place a call to his CEO to relay their outrageous request for ransom money.
Would CEO pay up? Is Daehyun that important? Would it become some kind of a national outrage, or would Daehyun be left to molder in captivity, forgotten by his boss and his band members and his fans and ...
The dolly stops, and settles flat against the ground. There's a momentary pause, and then the sound of something blunt tearing through tape. The lid opens. They're outside, and the sun is high and the sky is pale blue. Daehyun blinks.
"We made it?"
Youngjae nods, arms crossed over his chest, as if to suggest that Daehyun's a fool for ever doubting the plan.
Daehyun stands up. Delusional kidnapping fantasies aside, he couldn't have been in the box for more than fifteen minutes, but he's still a little stiff. He steps out onto the pavement. They're behind the mall, near the loading docks. There are dumpsters heaped with garbage bags and a few big trucks. He straightens out his clothing.
"Well, thank you," he says. He feels like he should say more, but what's there to say?
"You're welcome," Youngjae replies. "After seeing all those teenagers, I can understand how scared you must have been."
His tone is really even, and Daehyun can't tell if he's making fun or not. He assumes a defensive posture by default.
"You have no idea," he says. "They're very nice one on one, but in a big group like that ..."
"Feeding frenzy, eh?" Youngjae's tone and voice convey the impression that he isn't entirely sympathetic to Daehyun's plight.
"I really do appreciate them. All of them," Daehyun says, defensive. "I just wanted to get my laptop fixed."
Youngjae's eyes go wide. "Oh yeah," he says. "If you want, I'll still fix it for you."
"While I wait out here?" Daehyun isn't really too keen on that idea. There are flies buzzing around lazily in the warm sun, and it smells pretty terrible.
Youngjae rolls his eyes. "No," he says. He glances down at his watch. "Huh. My shift is over. I can do it at my apartment, if you don't mind coming there with me."
Daehyun hesitates. This could be a really terrible idea.
"Where do you live?" he asks.
"In Nowon-gu. Come on. It's not too far."
What the hell, Daehyun figures. He's in this far. He might as well do what he set out to and get his laptop fixed.
Half an hour later they're standing on a subway platform waiting for the train. They've already transferred twice, and Daehyun frankly has no idea where they are. It's a shame, but he doesn't know Seoul very well. Why would he? He isn't from here and he rarely visited as a child. When he was a trainee, he had no money and little time to go explore. Now he's got money, but even less time. Nowon-gu, he knows, is somewhere in the north of the city, but where exactly -- and if they're going the right way to get there -- he isn't sure.
"You must like computers," he says. He's tried a few times to broach the silence, but these conversational sallies have not garnered a strong response. Youngjae didn't seem shy before, but he's reticent now.
Youngjae nods. "I do," he says.
"Have you worked at that store long?"
Youngjae thinks a moment, and then nods. "Pretty long," he says.
Another conversational bomb. Daehyun isn’t the most loquacious guy, but he's determined to find something they can talk about.
"Are you from Seoul?" he asks.
Youngjae nods. "I was born here. My family moved away for a while, but we moved back when I was in middle school and I've been here ever since."
Daehyun nods. "I'm from Busan," he admits, confidentially.
Youngjae snorts. "I can tell," he says. "You're pretty good about disguising your accent, but sometimes you slip up."
Daehyun frowns. None of the guys ever mention that. In fact, when Yongguk hyung wrote the satoori rap, everyone had been surprised when he revealed that it was Daehyun who'd helped him capture an authentic Busan accent. "Usually people don't realize," he says. "Unless they're fans or something."
Youngjae shrugs. "I've got a good ear for that kind of thing," he says.
The polite, pre-recorded announcer tells them they're approaching Hwarangdae station.
Youngjae reaches for Daehyun's hand and stands. Daehyun nearly recoils. He's wary of being touched by strangers. But maybe Youngjae doesn't quite qualify as a stranger anymore, so he doesn't pull away. Youngjae's palm is soft and a little bit warm, and his hands are small for a man.
"Come on," Youngjae says. "This is us."
They walk through a quiet neighborhood that reminds Daehyun of home. The houses aren't very flashy here. There are little mom-and-pop stores on the street corners. Laundry hangs over balcony railings. They make a number of turns: right, then right again, then left, and then Daehyun loses track. Hopefully Youngjae won't mind walking him back to the train. He doesn't think he could find it on his own. Of course, he could call Manager hyung and ask that he come and pick him up ... but that will undoubtedly earn him a scolding.
Finally, Youngjae opens a small, rusty gate and they pass into an empty courtyard. There's a stunted tree growing in one corner and a lot of wooden crates stacked up on the other side, all falling to pieces. They go up one, two, three flights of rickety stairs, and then stop before an anonymous door -- no name card, no number.
"It's kind of small," Youngjae says, apologetically.
Daehyun nods and shuffles his feet.
"Seoul is so expensive," Youngjae says, as he sifts through his keyring. "I should probably just live at home, but ... "
He doesn't finish the thought. Daehyun is familiar with a great many of the 'buts' that might follow 'I should probably just live at home'. He wonders what Youngjae's particular 'but' is.
Then Youngjae opens the door and Daehyun follows him into a tiny, dark, and meticulously neat little apartment. The outside of the building suggests great age, but inside Youngjae's apartment everything is neat and modern, if not exactly new. The furniture is black, with clean lines and sharp corners. Most of the living room is taken up by a desk, on top of which is a huge monitor and a bunch of other expensive computer equipment.
"It's nice," Daehyun says.
Youngjae nods. "Can I get you a bottle of water?"
Daehyun isn't thirsty, but he accepts because it seems like the polite thing to do.
"Okay," Youngjae says. "Let me see your laptop."
Startled, Daehyun unzips his bag. He'd nearly forgotten why he followed Youngjae all the way out here.
Once Youngjae's got his hands on Daehyun's laptop, he's strictly business. He clears space on his desk and takes out a set of tools from one of the drawers. His head is bent low over the computer, and his shoulders are hunched. He’s clearly got no interest in holding an engaging conversation while he works, so Daehyun takes out his phone. He's got no messages from the other guys. He wishes that were surprising, but it isn't. They are like a family, really, but they spend so much time together that when they're apart it’s a bit of a relief.
He looks around the room, nosy but trying not to seem so. There's no television, but there's a decent sound system on a set of shelves. There's a tiny kitchen set off to one side. Daehyun can see a rice cooker on the counter, and red apples in a bowl. Down a tiny hallway, there are two doors -- the bedroom, Daehyun figures, and the bath.
It's a nice apartment. Really. It's much nicer than any place Daehyun has lived in Seoul, baring the company apartment where he lives now. Even B.A.P's first dorm wasn't as nice as this place. It's not exactly in the bustling heart of downtown, but it's not in a bad neighborhood, either.
"Your apartment is really nice."
Youngjae's shoulders contract. "Huh?"
"Your apartment," Daehyun says. He should just have kept his mouth shut, but he's kind of bad at enduring empty silences like these. "It's really nice."
Youngjae looks over his shoulder at the room, slightly bewildered. "Oh," he says. "Thanks."
"And you don't have any roommates," Daehyun continues, even though he knows he should just shut up. "That's really lucky. I love the members and all, but sometimes I would give anything just to be able to go home and not have to listen to Himchan hyung on the phone, or Junhonggie's music. I mean, I know I'm lucky, but you're lucky too. It must be nice."
Youngjae nods. "Yup," he says. "It's nice."
"I bet it gets lonely sometimes too," Daehyun says. He's talking too much, and that's not like him. Well, it is like him, really, but a long time ago his boss and whoever decided that he was the strong and silent type, or he would be the strong and silent type rather than what he is, which is slightly nervous and prone to babbling. "I get lonely even at the dorm sometimes. Everyone is so busy, and it's hard to talk about things with the guys. I mean, Yongguk hyung would talk if I needed to, but he's got so much to worry about I don't want to add to it." He clears his throat. He's said too much. "You're not going to post all of this on the fan cafe, are you? My CEO would kill me."
Youngjae lifts his head, and then after a pause, bursts out laughing. It's the first time he's really laughed since Daehyun met him, and it's braying and dorky.
"No, I'm not going to post it on the fan cafe," he says, turning his chair to look at Daehyun. "As shocking as it might sound, I'm not stalking the B.A.P fan cafe in the little bit of spare time I have between work and sleep and school."
"Oh," Daehyun says, feeling foolish and relieved. He hadn't really thought that. Guys in their twenties aren't exactly the prime audience for guy idol groups, anyway. "So you're in school, too? What do you study?"
The conversation proceeds like a knot being untangled. Slowly, with painstaking care, Daehyun identifies and draws out the strands of conversation. Youngjae, he learns, is attending the National University of Technology, studying media arts engineering. Daehyun isn't sure what that entails, but he thinks that asking would revealing a distinct lack of sophistication. Youngjae is twenty-two years old, just like Daehyun, but he's six months younger.
"Ah," Daehyun says. "I'm the hyung, then."
Without looking up, Youngjae retorts, "No, we're the same age."
"But I'm older," Daehyun protests.
"Not really," Youngjae says. "Besides, you don't really seem very hyung-like, to be honest."
"Oh," Daehyun says. "Well, I am the youngest in my family."
An hour passes. Daehyun excuses himself to the bathroom, which is stiflingly small and meticulously clean. It smells strongly of bleach. He pees, washes his hands, and stares at himself in the mirror for a minute. He looks tires, with purple circles under his eyes, and he's breaking out again along his jawline. He feels too weird in here. This guy Youngjae is everywhere: in the towel neatly folded and hung by the sink, in the toothbrush with the yellow handle, in the shampoo and conditioner on a shelf by the shower. It's been a long time since Daehyun's been in the house of someone he doesn't know well, but he doesn't remember it being as awkward as this. Maybe this Youngjae is the awkward weirdo, but Daehyun thinks that’s probably not it. He’s the one that’s changed. He's different now, and it's been so long since he's had the opportunity to become someone's friend that he doesn't even remember how.
When he goes back to the living room, the casing is back on his laptop and Youngjae is getting a can of soda from the fridge.
He smiles when he sees Daehyun. "All fixed," he says.
"Really?" Daehyun is impressed. "You must be really good."
Youngjae shrugs. His hair has fallen in front of his face again. "The DVD drive was loose, and the graphics chip needed to be re-soldered." He frowns, stern. "It's not a toy, you know. You can't be so rough with it."
"Sorry," Daehyun says. "And thank you, really. It's a huge relief just to have it fixed." Daehyun isn't going to have to miss a single episode of his drama, now. "How much do I owe you?"
Youngjae's eyes narrow. "I don't need your money," he says, a touch defensive. “I didn’t ask for it.”
Daehyun hadn't meant it like that at all. "But if you'd done it at the store, I would have paid ... how much?"
"Forget it," Youngjae says, dismissive.
"I wasted your whole afternoon," Daehyun says. He doesn't want Youngjae to think he's in the habit of expecting people to do him favors just because he's a little famous.
"It's fine," Youngjae says. He takes another sip of his soda. "I offered, remember?"
Daehyun sighs. Outside, the light is turning golden. It's five o'clock, and night isn't far off. He realizes suddenly that he's spectacularly hungry. He hasn't had anything to eat since breakfast, all those hours ago. That gives him an idea.
"Let me take you out to dinner, then," Daehyun says. "I'll buy you meat. You've earned that, at least."
Youngjae doesn't look as pleased with this suggestion as Daehyun had hoped. He opens his mouth, but before he can protest again, Daehyun cuts him off.
"Come on," he says. "You rescued me from those fangirls and you fixed my laptop. Buying you a meal is the least I can do."
Youngjae rolls his eyes. "Fine," he says. He looks down at the ugly blue polo shirt with the a#shop logo shirt. "Give me a minute to get changed, then."
Youngjae disappears down the hall. Daehyun hears a door open, and then close, and then the tap in the bathroom start to run. Youngjae's apartment might be nice, but it's almost painfully impersonal. There are no posters on the all, no CDs stacked next to the sound system, nothing on the fridge except a cheap magnetic calendar, the kind they give out for free at the bank during the new year. There are barely any pictures either, just a few in plain black frames sitting on the desk. Daehyun doesn't mean to be nosy, but he's curious. In one, Youngjae is with an older man and woman and another younger man who looks so much like him that he can't possibly be anyone except Youngjae's brother. Youngjae's father has a round face like a pumpkin, and he's smiling widely. His mother is small and pretty. Youngjae's brother has his arm over Youngjae's shoulder, and he's smiling too. They look like a happy family, Daehyun thinks.
The other photograph is a bit stranger. It's Youngjae and two guys who must be around his age. They're out at some bar or club, drinks in hand, even though it's an old picture and Youngjae looks much younger. The strange thing is that Daehyun could swear he's seen the two guys before. He doesn't spend any time in bars or clubs. He doesn't really know many people. He doesn't have a clue where he could have met these two, but he would bet money that he has, he's so sure of it.
Daehyun jumps. His cheeks heat up. He's been caught. He turns around, ready to apologize.
"I'm ready," Youngjae says. He doesn't look or sound angry. He's changed the polo shirt for a grey tee shirt with a deep vee neck. His shoulders are broader than Daehyun would have guessed, and his collar bones jut out a lot, and ...
And Daehyun needs to stop noticing things like that. Really he does. Time to change the subject.
"So, since it's your thank you dinner, where do you want to go?"
Twenty minutes later they're sitting at a table in the cozy back room of the neighborhood restaurant that Youngjae recommended. It's a nice place and very clean, although somewhat darkly lit. It's not crowded either. The few other patrons are all older. Daehyun isn't the least bit afraid that he's going to get recognized.
Soon the meat is sizzling on the hotplate. Youngjae orders a bottle of soju, and they pour for each other. Daehyun doesn't drink much, but he downs his glass when Youngjae does, to be polite. He's really hungry, almost light-headed from it. The smell of the meat and onions and spices cooking is too much. His stomach gurgles loudly.
Youngjae looks startled, and then he laughs, his eyes crinkling at the corners. "Don't they feed you at that dorm of yours?"
"I didn't eat lunch," Daehyun says defensively. "I didn't think I'd be out so long."
Youngjae nods. "Oh yeah," he says. "Aren't you going to get in trouble or something?"
Daehyun might. By now the guys must be worried. He'll text them, just to let them know he's okay. He reaches for his phone -- "Oh! I left it at your apartment."
"My phone," Daehyun says. "I left it in my bag at your apartment."
"Oh," Youngjae says. "Uh, if it's that big of a deal, you can use mine ..."
"No," Daehyun says. "I mean, yeah, it's fine." It isn't common for one of them to be out all night, but it isn't unheard of. They aren't children any longer, not even Junhong and Jongup.
"You must get sick of it," Youngjae says. He turns the meat so it cooks evenly. It's nearly done now, and glistening.
"Sick of what?" Daehyun asks.
"I don't know," Youngjae says absently. "Having your every move watched, I guess."
"Oh." Daehyun hasn't ever put it in those terms, exactly. “I don't think it's that bad. We're just busy, so of course they need to know where we are."
Youngjae nods. "I thought you must not like it. You got so nervous when those girls saw you in the store earlier. Honestly, I wondered why you'd even become an idol."
Daehyun frowns. "I appreciate them, really… I just didn't realize what it was going to be like, I guess. They want so much."
"That seems like something you should have thought about before you decided to be an idol, doesn't it?" There's a surprising amount of vitriol in Youngjae's voice.
"I didn't want to be an idol, specifically," Daehyun says. "I just wanted to sing. I didn't really realize ..."
"I can tell," Youngjae says.
His tone is light, but his words are a little harsh.
Daehyun is saved from having to figure out if the comment is intended as a friendly jest or a cold comeuppance. The food is done. Daehyun can ignore a lot of unpleasantness if there's good food involved, and tonight is no exception. Youngjae was right; this is a good restaurant. They eat and drink well.
A full belly sets Daehyun at ease, and the drink loosens his tongue. Who is this Youngjae guy anyway? What right does he have to act like he's got everything figured out?
"What about you?" Daehyun asks. "Is being a store clerk everything you dreamed it would be?"
Youngjae's mouth is full. He chews, and swallows. "I'm in school, remember?"
"Oh yeah." Daehyun forgot about that. His company has encouraged him to apply to college recently. He doesn't know anything about it. Back home in Busan, college had been just as far out of reach as becoming an idol. "What are you studying, again?"
His words slur together, just a little. He hopes Youngjae doesn't notice, or writes it off as a trace of Daehyun's elusive accent.
"Media arts," Youngjae says.
"What's that, exactly?"
"I design websites. That kind of thing."
"Ah," Daehyun says. "Very exciting. And I guess you wanted to do that since you were four years old? You dreamed of growing up and designing such beautiful websites that grown men would cry, right?"
Youngjae looks at him with a funny expression on his face. "You're drunk, aren't you?"
Daehyun thinks for a second. "A little bit," he admits.
"We haven't had much to drink at all," Youngjae says. “But you’re really drunk. Wow.”
"I don't hold my liquor well," Daehyun admits. "Plus I barely ate anything all day. Himchan hyung says if you're going to drink you should do it on a full stomach."
"Hmm," Youngjae says. He pushes his plate away from him. Daehyun's probably eaten twice as much as Youngjae has, and he's still hungry. Youngjae leans back in his chair. "For what it's worth, no. I didn't want to be a web designer when I was growing up. I wanted to be a professional gamer when I was a kid ..."
"Woah," Daehyun says. "Like playing Xbox for money? That's a real thing, huh?"
Youngjae rolls his eyes. "Yeah, it's a real thing. Not Xbox though. I played StarCraft. It's a PC game."
"So why didn't you do that?" That sounds pretty cool, if a little dorky. Better than designing websites, anyway.
Youngjae shrugs. "Lost interest, I guess." He smiles an awkward little smile, then he says all in a rush, "For a while in middle school I even wanted to be a singer."
"Oh really?" Daehyun shouldn't be surprised. There are tons of kids who want to be singers, and there are very few who make good on that dream. "So what happened?"
Youngjae shrugs. "Same thing I guess. I lost interest. Wasn't quite good enough. Other things came up." He picks up his shot glass and downs it. Daehyun does the same, out of courtesy.
"You don't realize how lucky you are," Youngjae says. He's staring at Daehyun so intently it's unnerving. Daehyun realizes that his eyes are an unusual color -- paler than usual, like the color of a brown glass bottle held up to the sun. They're pretty too, when the light strikes them.
Gotta stop with those thoughts.
“You’re really lucky,” Youngjae says again. “Most people who set out to do something as crazy as become an idol never get anywhere near a stage.”
Daehyun knows that, but he deserves some credit. “I know I’m lucky but I work really hard. And I’ve got a really good voice, too.”
“I know,” Youngjae says, “but there are a lot of people with good voices, Daehyun.”
Youngjae’s revelation of his past dream to be a singer has set Daehyun at ease. Maybe it’s not very nice to say so, but he’s comfortable with jealousy. A lot of people are jealous of him, to a greater or lesser extent: people he knows from the Academy who never made it, people in other idol groups who debuted the same year B.A.P did only to sink into oblivion, even once in a while the other members. Youngjae is no different. He wanted to be a singer. He couldn’t cut it, and Daehyun could. It’s pretty straight forward. It explains why Youngjae’s helping him, anyway. Maybe he wants some hints or a favor or something.
He enjoys the rest of their meal. Youngjae seems to enjoy it, too. He smiles and answers most of questions that Daehyun asks about his favorite musicians and his favorite actors and actresses. They end up getting into a debate about the relative aesthetic merits of each of the members of SNSD.
“I know them,” Daehyun hears himself saying. It’s not entirely a lie, anyway. He’s met them … well, he’s seen them in person, at least. “I know them,” he says again, “and Yuri really is the prettiest one.”
Youngjae rolls his eyes. “Whatever you say,” he says, refilling Daehyun’s shot glass.
A long time later -- or so it seems -- they’re standing outside in the cool night. You can’t exactly see the stars from Seoul, but Daehyun imagines that they’re bright and twinkling up there above the smog and light pollution. He smiles. It’s a beautiful night somewhere, and he’s glad to be out in it. He spreads his arms and …
“Woah!” Youngjae grabs Daehyun around waist. “Steady there. You really don’t hold your drink well, do you?”
Youngjae’s arm is warm. He’s surprisingly solid, and it feels nice to lean into him.
“Not really,” Daehyun admits.
“How are you going to get home?” Youngjae asks.
“Don’t wanna go home,” Daehyun says. If he goes home, he’ll have to answer all kinds of questions he doesn’t want to answer, and it will be tomorrow morning before he knows it, and he’ll have to go to dance practice hungover. It sounds horrible, and he’d much rather stay right where he is. “Let’s go to a noraebang.”
Youngjae’s expression of surprise is adorable. His pink lips fall open and his eyes are wide. He’s got really long eyelashes.
“Let’s go to a noraebang,” Daehyun says. “I want to sing!”
He belts out that last word. Some passersby turn and stare at them.
“Oh boy,” Youngjae says. “Don’t you need to go back to your dorm now like a good little idol?”
“Nah,” Daehyun says. “I’m already going to be in trouble. Might as well go whole hog.” He tugs on Youngjae’s sleeve. “You said you wanted to be a singer, right? Let’s go sing!”
They walk to a place nearby that Youngjae knows. Daehyun’s not really that drunk -- he can stay on his feet, mostly, and he’s happy. He’s happy he’s doing something bad. He’s happy he figured out why Youngjae helped him, and why he was a little rude.
Jealousy explains a lot of things, Daehyun realizes. People are easy to understand once you know what they want from you.
They pass a little market. Bright lights are strung up across the street, and the smoky aroma of grilled squid and chicken skewers and corn dogs makes Daehyun’s mouth water.
“Let’s stop and get something,” he says, pulling on Youngjae’s sleeve.
Youngjae is aghast. “How can you possibly still be hungry?”
Daehyun just shrugs. “I’m always hungry,” he says. “Ooh, I want tteokbokki!”
Daehyun gets his tteokbokki, and he feels better for it. Youngjae doesn’t seem to mind the delay too much, either. He jokingly calls Daehyun an empty pit. Daehyun just shrugs and eats the last piece of rice cake.
Daehyun doesn’t remember much of the rest of the trip -- just the blur of headlights and the sudden shock of heat as they stepped into the lobby of the karaoke place. He stares in puzzlement at the woman behind the counter. She’s saying something, but he’s not sure what. He can’t be bothered to figure it out, so he just shoves his wallet at Youngjae, and leaves the particulars to him.
The room they get is hallucinatory, with pink walls covered in smiling flowers and little animals with big eyes. Daehyun doesn’t really like pink, but it’s not worth complaining about. As Youngjae shuts the door, Daehyun collapses onto the banquette that lines the wall.
“Well,” Youngjae says. “We’re here. What do you want to sing?”
Daehyun doesn’t care. He really doesn’t. He’s in a good mood as he scrolls through the catalog of songs. Singing is who he is -- it’s what he does, and it’s why people know him, and it’s what he’s best at. When he’s singing is the only time he’s now worried he’s going to screw something up.
“Just pick one!” Youngjae says. A waitress brought them bottles of beer and snack food. He’s leaning back against the wall, and there’s the faintest flush in his cheeks that suggests maybe the alcohol’s finally getting to him too.
“Fine,” Daehyun says, and he settles on some old song from the nineties. It’s one of those songs everyone knows but nobody ever quite remembers listening to intentionally. It’s a ballad, and it suits his voice.
When the song ends, he waits expectantly. Youngjae applauds, but it’s measured and not too enthusiastic.
“I did well, didn’t I?” Daehyun says.
Youngjae nods. His hair is falling in front of his eyes again. He looks young and a little sleepy.
“It’s your turn now,” Daehyun says. He isn’t going to hog the mic the whole night.
Youngjae shakes his head. "No," he says. "You keep singing. You're the professional."
"Don't think you're going to get out of it," Daehyun says, frowning. He'll wait, but he wants to hear Youngjae sing.
He does IU subaenim's Good Day. (A while back he got a lot of attention as a result of that song). He does Gee, and I Have a Lover, and even a N*SYNC song. His English pronunciation isn't good, but it's gotten better.
Youngjae's applause is more enthusiastic this time.
Daehyun takes a bow. His throat is a little sore after all that singing. He opens one of the bottles of beer and drinks deeply.
"Your turn now," he says, pushing the mic into Youngjae's hands.
Youngjae makes a face. "I don't really ..."
"Come on," Daehyun says. The evening has reached the state of viscosity where everything seems heavy and sticky and slow. "You've gotta sing one. Don't be embarrassed. It's just for fun."
"Fine," Youngjae huffs. "I'm not embarrassed."
Youngjae takes a long time settling on what song to sing. Daehyun lies back on on the sofa and stares at the grey grubby ceiling. His head isn't spinning. Buzzing, more like it. He's about ready to go to bed, although they paid for three hours in here and they haven't used even half of it yet.
How will he get home? He definitely can't take the subway. Not now. Not like this. If he calls Manager hyung he might be able to get a ride, but that has its own risks. Namely, Daehyun will get seriously chewed out. He could call a cab, but that seems risky too.
The song starts. Daehyun doesn't recognize it. He pushes himself upright. Youngjae's eyes are closed, and he's holding the mic tight. His shoulders are a tense line. The inside of Daehyun’s mouth is tacky. He takes another swallow of beer. The vocals kick in then, and for a second Daehyun thinks that Youngjae is singing along to an original ...
No, that's his voice. That's Youngjae singing. His voice is low and strong and sure.
It seems to last a long time, longer than just three or four minutes. Daehyun isn't a musical genius, but he's had a lot training. He knows when someone is good. Youngjae is good. He's got good range, and excellent control. It's not the voice of someone who 'isn't quite good enough’.
The song ends. Daehyun should applaud, but he doesn't. He stares at Youngjae, confused. Youngjae stares back at first, but then he frowns, mouth stretched thin, and looks away.
"Sorry," he mutters. "I told you ..."
"You said you weren't good enough," Daehyun says. He doesn't get it. Why would Youngjae lie about that? "Your voice is ..."
"My voice is what?" Youngjae asks, eyes narrow and tone sharp.
"Good!" He's got to know that. If he had even made any effort at really debuting as a singer, he would have realized his voice was special.
Youngjae shrugs. "Good enough, I guess," he says. "But that doesn't really matter. You know that.”
“It’s important,” Daehyun says. “It’s the most important thing.” He believes that, really. Everything else aside, they’re singers.
“Not that important, I guess,” Youngjae says.
It’s not right, Daehyun thinks. “Did you get turned down or something? You’re not that old. You could still audition …”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Youngjae says. “LIke I said, I just wasn’t quite good enough, and then other things came up. Don’t make it into a big deal, because it’s not.”
The fluorescent lights flicker, and the video backdrop changes from an alpine scene of striking beauty -- mountains frosted with snow and green meadows studded with wildflowers -- to what looks like someone’s grainy home videos of a long-ago tropical vacation. Blandly pretty girls in old fashioned swim suits wave at the camera, and children with inflatable swimmies on their arms frolic at water’s edge.
Daehyun frowns. He was just trying to help. He doesn’t care if Youngjae ends up as a singer, or a web designer, or digging ditches. He’s just some guy, after all. He was just trying to be helpful. Isn’t that what Youngjae wanted? Isn’t that why he helped Daehyun in the first place?
“Fine,” he says, darkly. “If you don’t want to talk, then let’s sing. We’ve still got another hour and a half paid for.”
Youngjae looks at the ground for a minute. His hands are still wrapped white-knuckle tight around the mic. “Fine,” he says. “But if we’re going to keep doing this, I need more beer.”
Daehyun grins. He can get behind that. “You order,” he says. “I’ll pick out another song. One we can do together.”
They drink a lot more, and they sing a long more, too. Sometime a little before two in the morning the waitress comes with their check. Daehyun’s fingers feel thick and swollen as he claws at his wallet, hoping it will take pity and disgorge his credit card. Youngjae is singing to himself in that low, rich voice, unaccompanied. His cheeks are pink, and his hair is a mess. Daehyun swallows.
The bill manages to get paid. Bills usually do. Then they are outside again, except it is later now and very quiet. Inside the noraebang, the air had grown warmer and damper over the course of the evening, until it seemed like they were singing karaoke inside a bathhouse. Out here, the air is cool and deliciously crisp.
Daehyun manages to put his wallet back in his pocket after several attempts. Youngjae looks a bit disheveled, but he doesn't look nearly as disheveled as Daehyun feels. He iis going to regret this evening in the morning, but now he feels that he doesn't regret any decision he's ever made.
He takes an uneasy step down the sidewalk.
"Whoops," Youngjae says, catching him around the waist again. "Not that way."
"Where are we going?" Daehyun hopes it's nearby.
"Back to my place," Youngjae says. "You're not going anywhere until you sleep this off."
His voice is low, and he sounds a bit peeved.
"Don't be angry," Daehyun says, patting him on the cheek.
His skin is hot. He glances at Daehyun, and seems about to say something, but then thinks better of it. With Youngjae's arm still around around his waist, they start slowly down the street.
It seems like they're walking miles. "Are we almost there?" Daehyun asks.
"Almost," Youngjae says, terse.
"Sorry you have to take care of me." Daehyun is glum now. Outside the happy pink world of the noraebang, everything is just dark and still and he's really drunk, so that he seems to be lurching from scene to scene with none of the connective tissue intact.
"It's fine," Youngjae says. "Look, we're here."
He holds the gate open, and helps Daehyun inside. On the stairs, Daehyun catches his foot on a loose board and nearly trips.
"If I broke my nose, they'd be soooo mad," he says. “Everyone would think I did it on purpose and say I had a nose job.”
"I bet," Youngjae says in an undertone. "Watch out. There's another loose step."
Daehyun leans against the wall while Youngjae gets out his keys. "I bet you're even madder now," Daehyun says.
"Huh?" Youngjae looks up. His eyes are wide.
"Because ... you know. I'm just some dumb kid. I bet you feel worse."
"Worse about what?"
"You said you weren't good enough," Daehyun says. "But you are."
Youngjae's face darkens. He fits his key in the lock. The door swings open. Youngjae helps Daehyun inside to the couch, which Daehyun is glad to collapse on. Youngjae, who seems fairly sober but drank enough to be fairly drunk, collapses beside him. He closes his eyes.
Daehyun frowns. "It's not fair," he says. He needs to let Youngjae know that they agree about this -- it's not fair. "You have a really good voice, and you have really pretty hair, and your skin is so nice." Daehyun has bad skin, so he notices these things. He leans closer to Youngjae. "Whoever told you you weren't good enough is pretty dumb."
"Thanks," Youngjae says quietly.
His hands are folded in his lap. The only light on is the one over the stove in the kitchen. In the shadows his cheekbones stand out. Daehyun leans closer. Youngjae looks up, but he doesn't seem startled. And then they're kissing. It's really nice. Youngjae's full lips are as soft as they look, and he's neither too yielding or too firm. His hand goes to Daehyun's waist and stays there, and the last thing Daehyun remembers thinking that night is that even though he knows what he's doing is a bad thing, and even though he knows Youngjae might not like him that much, he doesn't really care, because it feels so good.
Everything after that dissolves into a blur of light and dark.
In the morning, Daehyun's first thought is that he's never had a headache as bad as the headache he's got now. His second thought is more startling: his head isn't resting on his familiar pillow with the blue pillowcase, but rather on someone's warm, solid shoulder.
He sits up, startled. He's in a tiny narrow room with a closet at one end. The door is open, and some clothes spill out onto the floor. Youngjae is beside him, shirtless, his soft dark hair all fanned out on the pillow. It's not like in a drama, where Daehyun suddenly remembers everything, guilty conscious piercing the fog of his hangover. He remembers enough, though.
He blinks and looks down at himself. His shirt is still on, and so are his jeans. They feel like they're made of concrete instead of cotton. It's morning, and the room is bright enough to make his head throb.
Youngjae makes a small noise in his sleep, and turns. The skin on his shoulders and arms is tawny, darker than Daehyun would have guessed.
He's beautiful, but a little hard to look at.
Daehyun needs a glass of water.
Quietly he gets up and goes into the kitchen. He opens and closes cupboards until he finds the glasses. He fills one with water from the pitcher in the refrigerator, and drains it in one go. Then he fills his glass again.
His head still hurts. His backpack is sitting, forlorn and neglected, on the sofa. He's scared, but he goes over and sits down and gets out his phone.
He's got thirty missed calls, the most recent from just a half an hour ago.
It's nearly ten in the morning. Dance practice, it seems, is a wash.
His battery is nearly dead and he didn’t bring his charger. Closing his eyes, he presses the send button.
Yongguk answers, like Daehyun knew he would. He sounds disappointed rather than angry, but the disappointment is worse.
"Where are you? Are you okay? What happened?"
"I'm fine," Daehyun says. "It's a long story. Someone did me a favor, and I took him out to dinner to say thanks. I lost track of time."
"Daehyun ..." Yongguk's voice is low and quiet, but Daehyun can hear Himchan yelling something, shrill in the background.
"I'm sorry, hyung," Daehyun says.
"Where are you, then?" Yongguk pauses. "Manager hyung will come get you."
Daehyun doesn't know exactly where he is. He never got Youngjae’s address.”
"I'm fine," he says again. "I'll take the subway back. He doesn’t need to trouble himself over me."
"Daehyun," Yongguk says again. This time his tone is less patient. Daehyun knows he is just worried, though.
"My phone is dying, hyung. I'm really sorry. I'll be there soon."
Daehyun hangs up then. He closes his eyes. He is in trouble, although not an unforgivable amount. He'll get screamed at and he'll have to do every last thing they ask for a while to make up for his disobedience.
He doesn't regret it, though. He did something different and -- he thinks of Youngjae's soft lips pressed against his own -- he enjoyed it.
He can't think about that. He stands up. He needs just a little longer to steady himself, and he will be on his way back to the dorm. He can ask for directions on the street, or maybe Youngjae has a map. He peers without much hope at the bookshelf in the corner. The odds of Youngjae having a road atlas laying around are slim. If he really needed to find his way home, he could check on his phone.
He's stalling, actually, hoping he'll have an opportunity to say goodbye. Even if Youngjae was just humoring him last night, Daehyun appreciates it.
There are some novels and manwha, but nothing that looks anything like an atlas. One of the shelves holds a few more framed photographs: Youngjae in a cap and gown holding a diploma, Youngjae with a baby in his arms, Youngjae at a party with friends. Tucked behind these, there's one more photo. This one's a bit more unusual. Daehyun picks it up to get a closer look. Youngjae is young and on stage, wearing a suit. There's a crowd around him, and he's holding a very large fake check that reads 'JYP Audition 2005 - First Prize'.
Daehyun is so surprised he drops the photo. Has everything Youngjae said -- about losing interest in singing, about not being quite good enough -- been a lie? You don't place first in the JYP Entertainment audition by being not quite good enough.
Daehyun wants to know what really happened, even though it's not any of his business. It's not like they're friends or anything. He puts the picture back, frowning.
The bedroom door opens. Daehyun looks up. Youngjae is standing there, the sun behind him. His hair stands out all around his head, and he blinks tiredly. He's had the courtesy to put on a shirt, at least.
"Hi," he says, and he rubs the tip of his nose with the back of his hand. "You must feel terrible."
Daehyun does. He does in ways that are not just physical.
Youngjae disappears into the bathroom and reappears with a bottle in his hand. He unscrews the lid and shakes out some aspirin into the palm of his hand. He holds them out to Daehyun.
Daehyun takes two and downs them with the last of his second glass of water.
Youngjae takes three and swallows them dry.
"Did you call your manager?"
Daehyun nods, but he doesn’t really care that much about that. "Why'd you say you weren't good enough?" Youngjae is a puzzle with one piece missing, and Daehyun badly wants to solve him.
"Huh?" Youngjae swallows. His Adam's apple bobs.
"Why'd you act like you stopped singing because you weren't good enough? Your voice ... And you got first place. I saw the picture."
Youngjae's face twists into a sour grimace. "Oh. That,” he says in a tone that suggests the topic is barely tolerable. “I got first placed. I trained there for a while, and then I left."
"You left?" Daehyun is aghast. If he'd been a trainee in JYP Entertainment -- a prized trainee, a first place trainee -- he would have clung on like his life depended on it. He would have done whatever they asked. He shakes his head. "I don't understand you," he says.
Daehyun's phone buzzes. It's all the way over on the couch. He lets it buzz.
"You better get going," Youngjae says. "They're going to send out a search party."
Daehyun nods. He needs to go, but he still hasn't found that missing piece. He guesses now he never will. He'll just write Youngjae off as some weirdo, until time intervenes and he forgets about him altogether.
He's not looking forward to that, even though he knows it's inevitable. He doesn’t have time for this.
He puts his things back in his bag and pays scant attention as Youngjae draws him a map to the subway station on a scrap of paper.
"I could go with you," he volunteers. "If I see on the news tonight that you got lost and they've called out a manhunt, I'm going to be consumed with guilt."
Daehyun shifts, uncomfortable. "It's fine," he says. "You don't have to help me any more. I've inconvenienced you enough, anyway."
Youngjae looks at him with a very strange expression on his face. "You really haven't," he says.
"You rescued me when I was too much of a wimp to talk to fans, and you fixed my computer, and you took care of me when I was pathetically drunk," Daehyun says. "You didn't have to do any of that."
Youngjae shrugs. "I didn't mind. That's what friends do."
Friends? Is that what this is.
Daehyun didn't realize. It's been so long -- way, way too long -- since he's made a friend. It's been so long since there's been anyone in his life that didn't slot smoothly into some predefined role: bandmates, senior singers to greet and junior singers to be greeted by, hosts and PDs and stylists and fans.
Youngjae's not any of those things. He's just ...
"What?" Youngjae's eyes narrow.
"I didn't realize you were my friend," Daehyun says. "I thought you were humoring me." He flushes. "Or you were jealous and wanted a favor."
Youngjae snorts. Outside, a dog barks. "Not really," he says.
"Sorry," Daehyun says. He knows his cheeks are red. "I'm pretty bad at having friends. I'm out of practice."
"I can tell," Youngjae says. "It's bad form to fall asleep on someone while you’re kissing them, you know."
Daehyun squeezes his eyes shut. "Sorry," he says again, in a tiny voice.
"It's okay," Youngjae says, and he's smiling now, so wide. "You can make it up to me by taking me out to dinner again."
Daehyun's phone buzzes again. He stares at it until it stops. Youngjae watches, bemused.
"You'd better go," Youngjae says. He scribbles something hastily on the bottom of the map. "My number," he says, pushing it towards Daehyun. "I'm off work on Mondays and Thursdays and Sundays. I have class Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.”
"Oh," Daehyun says. He stands up, a bit dazed.
"Hurry up," Youngjae says. "I don't want you to get in so much trouble that our second date has to wait until next year."
Youngjae gives him a look that suggests that he thinks that Daehyun isn't maybe all that bright but that he doesn't mind terribly. He hands Daehyun his bag and opens the door for him, and then at the last minute, like he’s barely brave enough to manage it, he kisses Daehyun on the cheek quickly. And then Daehyun is outside. The sky is bright. There are parents on the sidewalks pushing their babies in strollers and a garbage truck is idling in the street. Daehyun feels like the entirety of the last twenty four hours could be a dream.
He can still feel Youngjae's lips on his cheek though, and despite the throbbing hangover-headache and the scolding he knows he’s got coming, he feels pretty okay. More than okay. He feels like he could face a dozen fan girls right now -- a whole army of them -- and not worry in the least that they’ll realize he's ugly or boring or untalented.
Youngjae likes him. Youngjae is his friend, and maybe even something more. That's enough.