Perfect entertainment for a lazy day.
The words echoed mockingly in Joonmyun's head as he shifted his legs—making himself more comfortable on the verge. He knew there were hella lot more entertaining things to do than sit on the sidewalk outside his house smoking, but he frankly couldn't be fucked thinking of anything else. And even if he had an alternative way to occupy his afternoon, he couldn't be bothered moving anywhere anyway.
He watched lazily as white whorls of smoke drifted up around him. It was cool today. Spring was still thin in the air and Joonmyun had never liked the cold much so he was grateful for the warmth his black leather jacket gave him. Taking another languid drag on his cigarette, he watched the paper glow bright with vermilion embers. Then he shut his eyes as the smoke invaded his lungs and burnt a path through them before finding its way back into the late summer air.
He loved the way the smoke hung in the air, heavy and expectant—it gave him something to look at as he sat there with his Marlboros. He didn't smoke in the house because that shit clung to everything; and anyway, Grandfather had asthma. Fine lines creased his forehead as he took another deep drag. . .and that’s when he heard them. Footsteps. The quiet ones he knew so well.
Joonmyun didn't have to look up to know it was The Boy. The one who lived two doors down from him. He was tall. Joonmyun craved height so it was usually the first thing he noticed about a person—how tall they were. The Boy had this way of walking where his limbs just kind of flowed and it was really something to watch. But the really fascinating thing was that The Boy moved with such confident grace, and yet everything else about him was just the slightest bit awkward.
He seemed to hide behind the understated wire framed glasses he wore and his default gaze was usually directed at the floor. Even his fringe tended to be just a touch too long so the ends caressed his eyelids, obscuring his eyes just a little bit. He always wore the dullest, most insipid palette of colors—midnight blues and blacks and stormy greys, nondescript pale blues and greys and stark whites. He looked like the typical boy next door—the shy edition—the kind that all the parents in the neighborhood adored because he was always polite and respectful and never loud.
Joonmyun was the flip side of that perfect kid. He was the kid who skipped school all the time and stayed out late and sometimes came home reeking of booze—the one that parents hissed warnings to their kids about, telling them not to be seen with Kim Joonmyun and warning them not to have anything to do with that delinquent. He would put his grandfather, who also happened to be his only living relative, in an early grave with his unruly behavior. Barely scraping through school with no future to speak of. . .that was Kim Joonmyun.
But The Boy hadn't listened, hadn't cared about parental warnings and threats when they'd—
Agitated, he stubbed his dying cigarette on the Tarmac, and reached for another. Ramming the cigarette into his mouth, Joonmyun lit it with hands that were more than a little shaky. Why did seeing The Boy still have the power to unsettle him? It had been more than a year—why couldn’t he be cool about this?
You should stop lying to yourself and just call him Jongin instead of The Boy. It's not like you haven't been neighbours for five years. It's not like you don't know each other's names. It's not like you haven’t tasted. . .Joonmyun made a frustrated noise and strangled his thoughts by taking a deep, shaky drag on the cigarette clipped between his index and third finger—a cigarette which already tasted stale and unappealing.
Jongin smelt the smoke before he’d even turned the corner and his heart did that sick little sad twist it always did when he saw the slim, leather-clad figure—white mist curling around him like dragon's breath. His chestnut hair was swept up in a James Deanesque quiff and he was dressed in all black—the way he usually was. Face sullen, he was behaving as if he hadn’t seen Jongin, and the first few times he’d done it, Jongin had tried to make Joonmyun explain why he was suddenly shutting him out when they hadn’t even fought.
What did I do wrong? Jongin had asked repeatedly but Joonmyun had just ignored him and he’d been so cold and quiet no matter how many times he asked, that after a while, Jongin had stopped trying. They’d been like cable cars on a circuit since, passing each other now and then but never stopping and never quite meeting.
Jongin didn’t try to tell himself that he didn’t care that Joonmyun had stopped talking to him because he did care, and Jongin wasn’t the sort to lie to himself—he never had been. He did care that the handsome face that used to smile at him in that devil-may-care way (usually when Joonmyun was trying to talk him into doing something crazy) no longer sent any smiles in his direction. He did care that he no longer had anyone to tell his secrets to, when before, Joonmyun had been the caretaker for all his deepest, darkest ones.
The sheet of white paper, thick and crisp, lay in a folder in his backpack—safe from getting crushed or wrinkled or torn. Still a secret and he didn’t want to share it with anyone but Joonmyun. Only Joonmyun, the words echoed in Jongin’s mind with a determined finality. He could still remember the last time they’d spoken like it was minutes ago, the scent of Joonmyun’s styling wax tinged with tobacco, and the texture of the other boy’s fingertips against his skin—urgent and sure. The sound of his voice, surprisingly calm and quiet for someone who got into trouble in school with the kind regularity he did—a voice that was tempered by sarcasm rather than aggression because fists weren’t really Joonmyun’s style. . .
a year ago
Jongin's jaw was pressed to the chin rest as his fingers moved deftly over the strings and the melody of Sibelius's Violin Concerto in D Minor Op.47 soared and climbed and filled the room. He'd been rehearsing the piece for weeks but he still wasn't happy. The Juilliard auditions were in just ten months and it had to be perfect—absolutely perfect—but it wasn't. Far from it, he sighed inwardly before shaking all the thoughts away. Eyes focused on the music sheets in front of him, Jongin was about to flip the page when there was a slight commotion and the door to the practice room flung inward, a moving blur of black and pale, pale skin virtually tumbling into the room.
Distracted, Jongin carefully laid his violin across his lap and turned to see just what or rather, who had invaded his bubble of quiet. He’d just have to start from the beginning now, he frowned a little exasperatedly at the thought of the aborted session. Jongin watched curiously as the invader looked up at him and to his surprise, it was no stranger looking back at him, but a familiar face.
"Joonmyun?" There was no hiding the surprise in his voice and Jongin didn't even attempt it.
"I think i managed to evade Park but i'm going to hide in that store room at the back anyway. Can't be too careful," Joonmyun said, breathless and panting, as he sat on the tiled floor with his back against the wall.
"What the hell did you do this time?!"
"I'll tell you later. Maaaybe. But I need to stay out of sight. If Park Chanyeol can't prove it's me then he won't be able to call Grandfather—I don't want the old man upset," Joonmyun picked himself off the ground and walked over to where Jongin stood, close by the window.
"Stay out of trouble then, you dumbass," Jongin sighed. They'd had this conversation countless times. He wished Joonmyun would stop hanging out with Do Kyungsoo and Huang Zitao because they were the worst kind of trouble and everyone in the school knew it. Kyungsoo, especially, had a wildness in his eyes and a glacial ruthlessness to him that worried Jongin to the core. He didn't like Do Kyungsoo, he didn't like him at all. He only hoped Joonmyun hadn't done anything too irretrievably stupid this time, "what did you do? Why was Park looking for you?"
"Never mind that," Joonmyun slid closer, his eyes dark with intention.
"Joon—" was all Jongin managed to say before he felt his glasses being removed and then Joonmyun's mouth was the only thing he knew, and it was pure instinct guiding him as he parted his lips without hesitation. Groaning huskily, Jongin's tongue wrapped itself around Joonmyun's searching one and he barely even registered as Joonmyun backed him slowly towards the classroom wall. Their mouths moving hungrily against each other, the other boy laced his fingers in Jongin’s and pushed the backs of hands against the wall and for the next while, all they did was kiss—lips, neck, collarbones, ears, and lips again.
♫ ♫ ♫
“I missed you too,” Jongin said quietly as he hugged him back with a certain air of desperation. Jongin’s heart beat was clean and pure and good, and nothing gave Joonmyun more comfort than to have the other boy in his arms—to sink into his strength and soak up his warmth and kindness. In the turbulent ocean that was his messed up life, Jongin was his anchor, and whenever Joonmyun could, he clung to him shamelessly.
“I should hide,” Joonmyun said regretfully as he held Jongin’s hands tight and kissed him, the comforting scent of soap and lemony aftershave making him feel sheltered. Home.
“Yes, you sh-” was all he managed to say before the door swung open and Mr Park Chanyeol, the Discipline teacher, walked in with an accusing glare.
“Oh shit,” Joonmyun muttered in muted frustration.
The shit, when it hit the proverbial fan, had been about as bad as Joonmyun might have expected. Park hadn’t been able to pin the other thing on him but he had gotten Joonmyun on the PDA prohibition rule. Eyes blazing with righteous indignation, Park had triumphantly recited:
Students are expected to conduct themselves with complete propriety concerning public displays of affection. Any gesture which displays, or clearly hints at close, physical intimacy is prohibited at any time within the school bounds.
The two boys had listened with their heads bowed down, standing apart from each other—bodies tense with embarrassment and trepidation. No one had offered any excuses, because really, what could they have said? They’d been in each other’s arms, faces close together and lips almost touching—clearly engaged in close, physical intimacy. So they’d remained quiet and somber as the tall, lumbering Discipline Teacher had hauled them to the Principal's office afterwards. Joonmyun frowned in distaste at the man who had been out to get him since freshman year (not that Joonmyun hadn’t given him plenty of reasons).
There was a long litany about appropriate and inappropriate behavior on school grounds as they made the arduous journey to the office but Joonmyun was damned if he was going to listen to any goddamn wisdom Park Chanyeol had to impart. He could care less about the repercussions on himself—Grandfather would be disappointed and Joonmyun felt honestly bad about that, but he didn't give a fuck about getting detention and even less about getting suspended. No, the only thing he cared about was that his own recklessness had gotten Jongin into trouble too and that was unforgivable.
"Stop stressing, Joonmyun." Jongin's words were so soft he almost missed them.
"My fault," he said stubbornly. Park was too enamoured of his own booming voice to even notice that the two students behind him weren't paying him any mind at all.
"I didn't have to kiss you back. I could have made you hide sooner. I could have turned you in. I could have done any of those things but I just wanted you and I refuse to regret it." Jongin gave his elbow a warning squeeze, "Don't even think about doing anything stupid like trying to take the blame for everything."
"But your application, Jongin. Kissing boys won't look good. It's not like I'm going to be school valedictorian anyway, for fuck’s sake. Just let me take—"
"Stop. We're not doing this. Ok, shush now before Park runs out of things to nag us about and realizes we're not even listening."
“But Jongin,” Joonmyun’s voice was getting agitated now.
“Not now,” and there was a warm hand on his shoulder and a subtle shift in pressure and it was enough to calm him. Jongin’s touch had always done that and he didn’t know what he’d do if it was taken away from him.
I’d be lost, he didn’t say to himself.
“This is a major setback. What were you thinking to get caught with that boy?” Kim Hee Ae was controlled, as ever, but her tone was arctic now instead of her signature neutral. Jongin remained silent—it was a rhetorical question anyway.
“Your disciplinary record has to be exemplary. How could you let yourself be caught in a compromising position with that delinquent?”
“His name is Joonmyun, as you well know. He’s been my best friend for years and my boyfriend for eighteen months—don’t you think it’s time you accepted it?” Jongin sighed. This wasn’t the first, or second or even third time they’d had this discussion.
“You’re applying for Juilliard. There is no room for someone like that in your life,” she couldn’t quite hide the mild note of scorn in her words. Juilliard had been her dream, one she hadn’t been able to achieve with her level of talent, so she’d channelled all that pent up drive into pushing Jongin towards Juilliard. It was something he wanted as well, there was no denying that. But Jongin also wanted other things—simple things that other kids got to do—things like having days that weren’t filled with relentless hours of practice, and things like the simple chance to play basketball or volleyball. He’d never really been allowed to indulge in any physical sport..
Absolutely not. Jongin. You can’t ever risk injuring your hands over a mere sport. Your hands are everything.
What would happen, he wondered, if he told his mother the truth one day? That for him, it was not his hands or the violin or music that were everything to him, it was Joonmyun. He would rather have both, but if he had to pick one over the other, he would choose Joonmyun over music anytime.
Music couldn't comfort him like Joonmyun's hugs could and music couldn't listen quietly when he had to talk about things that upset him. Joonmyun had always kept his secrets safe for him and he couldn't imagine him not being there. They'd promised to always be there. Somehow.
“You can say anything you want, Mother, but I’m not giving him up. If you make me, I’ll stop playing. And there won’t be any need to apply for Juilliard.” Jongin’s statement was met with stony silence but he knew this wasn’t over. Sighing, he stared out the passenger window and tried to pretend he was anywhere but here..
Joonmyun is everything. The start, the end. Everything starts and ends with Joonmyun.
“Fuck,” Joonmyun screwed his eyes shut warily. The crisp lines of the gray trouser suit The Woman wore seemed sharp enough to cut, Joonmyun thought as he stepped away from the peephole and reached for the doorknob. Visits from The Woman were never pleasant, and God knows there had been a few over the years—not that he’d ever told Jongin about them. They weren’t anything he needed to know about. He couldn’t say he hadn’t been expecting this visit. After that debacle with Park and the Principal, he would have been way more surprised if she hadn’t shown up on his doorstep.
“Hello, Mrs. Kim,” Joonmyun greeted her, all cagey.
“I’ll just get to the point. This isn’t exactly a social call, I’m sure you know.” She probably said shit like that a lot in the big software company where she worked. Jongin had told him what she did once. Director of Communications or something fancy like that.
"Jongin has a bright future. He has a chance at Juilliard and he needs to be focused on his music now. I need you to step away from him. I don’t care if you want to destroy your life with all the trouble you land yourself in, nor do I care whether you’ll even stay in high school long enough to graduate. My only concern is that you’re a bad influence on Jongin and that hurts his chances at getting into Juilliard."
The onslaught of words halted for a few seconds as she stared at him—eyes like flint—probably assessing if he'd comprehended all the things she'd said. Joonmyun said nothing, concentrating on a spot on the floor because her gaze was too chilling to face.
"What happened today, what you did, was detrimental to his eligibility as a viable candidate. And who knows what other messes you will drag him into. It’s always been his dream to study violin at Juilliard and you are standing in his way. You need to stop holding him back. You are. . .an unacceptable and unwanted distraction." Her words were hard blows and Joonmyun felt the sting of them despite the fort he’d barricaded his heart in over the years. Only Jongin had the key and he let Grandpa in too, sometimes.
Unacceptable and unwanted distraction—the toxic words echoed in his mind, countered by words he wanted to believe were true, I'm not unwanted. Jongin wants me, he loves me.
“If you care for Jongin, you’ll let him go. Don’t make me go to your grandfather with this. It would sadden him to know that his grandson is destroying another person’s life. Also, I know you want what’s best for Jongin and for the immediate future, Juilliard is what he needs. He refuses to give you up but If you care for him, you’ll let him go.”
♫ ♫ ♫
Painfully effective, Joonmyun thought as he crumpled to the floor, hot tears of frustration tracking down his cheeks as he imagined not being able to hear Jongin’s voice again, imagined no longer basking in the warmth of Jongin’s smiles—the ones that filled up the hollow cracks in his soul.
He already missed the coolness of steel between his fingertips as he carefully removed the old-fashioned wire frames Jongin preferred, just before he leaned in and their lips found each other—Jongin’s firm and plush beneath his as their breaths mingled in their quest to become closer in every way.
He already missed the weight of Jongin’s arms around him, keeping out the world. . .the sound of Jongin’s heart beating as Joonmyun clung to him and Jongin held him safe.
He would have to give it all up, give Jongin up. How would he live without Jongin? How would he. . .breathe?
He didn't want to be lost but this wasn't about him anymore. Salt-tinged droplets rolled down his cheek, landing on the carpet and staining it, as he lay on his side and tried not to cry.
♫ ♫ ♫
Eyes crusty with dried tears, Joonmyun blinked, pushing himself off the ground. "Just tired."
"I got a call from school—while I was out with Jongdae and Minseok. You know we old geezers like our Thursday afternoon bowling sessions. I won, of course. Jongdae's knees are so ridiculously stiff his ball ends up in the gutter 70% of the time."
"Grandfather, I'm so sorry," Joonmyun stared at the gray bedroom slippers that encased the old man's feet. He couldn't look him in the eye now. He was too ashamed to.
"For being caught kissing Jongin? That sweet child? Psht, if you'd been vandalizing school property again or skipping school or being rude to teachers again, I would've been upset. Not this. But try not to do it in school where you'll get caught. It's not just you this time, it's Jongin too." Giving a worried sigh, he scratched the back of his head, "I'm sure I'll get a call from his mother soon."
Still handsome in his seventies, Zhang Yixing had the kindest eyes and a heart as big as the ocean. The Woman's words still reverberating in his head, Joonmyun felt sick to the stomach for the hurt and worry he'd caused his grandfather over the years. He'd been too selfish for too long.
"I'm so sorry, Grandfather."
"Ah, it's my fault really. I should have said no to you more when you were growing up. I should have been more strict. I should have done a lot of things differently. . .but you were my baby, y'know? You were all I had when your grandmother and mom passed on, and your father too. And you were this little thing and I just wanted to give you everything. . .and I shouldn't have. I didn't do right by you."
"That's not true. Don't say that, Grandfather. You're the only thing that makes sense in my world. You and Jongin."
But as the old man engulfed him in an affectionate if slightly sad hug, a splinter worked its way deeper into Joonmyun's heart as he realized that Grandfather was the only thing now that made sense in his world.
He'd try to be better, he vowed. For Grandfather. And maybe. . .maybe for Jongin too.
Steeling himself for rejection, because there was every chance Joonmyun would ignore him, Jongin sat down on the kerb. Leaving a strip of concrete between them just a few inches wide, Jongin stretched his long legs out and stared at the dark gray laces crisscrossing his shoes.
Nothing but the smell of cigarette smoke.
"You know, you were the one I always told my secrets to," Jongin let his words hang, expectantly between them. "I know I haven't told you any in a year now, but. . .I always pretended you were listening when I lay in bed, in the dark, whispering my secrets into the night. I never found anyone else I wanted to share them with, y'know?"
Still nothing but the smell of cigarette smoke.
"So, anyway. I wanted you to be the first to know,"Jongin said as he reached inside his backpack for the piece of paper he'd been carrying around with him all day. "I'll just read it to you, okay?" He didn't wait for an answer as he began to read:
Congratulations! It gives me tremendous pleasure to inform you that the Juilliard Violin faculty and the Committee on Admissions have granted you admission to the Classical Music - Bachelor of Music program at The Juilliard School for the 2015-2016 academic year.
He stopped reading and turned to face the boy who had been sitting so stoically beside him.
"I made it, Joonmyun. Aren't you happy for me?"
There was the soft crunch of cigarette against sidewalk and Jongin saw curls of smoke dispersing.
“I feel like I don't have a right to say anything to you," Joonmyun said quietly. Then, abruptly, he turned—finally looking at Jongin. There was a mixture of pain and elation in his eyes and Jongin drank it in eagerly after a whole year or deprivation. He hated that Joonmyun looked sad but he couldn't help but be happy that he was finally looking at Jongin again. Maybe this would be the only time but Jongin didn't even care by now.
“I don't have a right to say this but yes, Jongin. I’m happy for you. I always knew you'd make it even if you didn't.” An almost-smile hovered on his lips. It didn’t quite erase the loneliness and longing of the past twelve months but it was a start. Joonmyun knew how much it meant to him—getting accepted into Juilliard. They’d spoken of it for years—Jongin studying the violin at Juilliard and Joonmyun studying Industrial Design at some art college in the same city so they wouldn't have to be apart.
“Did you get into the college you wanted? For Industrial Design?"
"I'm flunking school remember? What dumb college would take me?"
"You're not flunking school."
"What the fuck?" Startled by the revelation, Joonmyun laughed. "I kinda feel betrayed now. Also you don't even like the guy—what are you doing talking to him? And he doesn't really talk to people all that much."
"I wanted to know if you were okay. I always worry about you."
"I know," and Joonmyun looked very sorry all of a sudden. "I'm sorry I've given you so much to worry about."
"It's okay. It's a big part of loving someone—worrying about them, I mean."
"I don't know what to say, Jongin. I—"
"Well, for one, you can start talking to me again so I don't have to blackmail Do Kyungsoo into coughing up stingy details about you."
"Kyungsoo would never let anyone blackmail him. What are you even saying?"
"I always threaten to tell his mom he needs extra violin lessons when he refuses to tell me how you are. If you think Do Kyungsoo is a badass, wait till you meet his mom."
"KYUNGSOO PLAYS THE VIOLIN?"
"No one, and I mean no one in school is supposed to ever know. Like if anyone finds out he'll beat the shit out of me."
"YOU'RE KYUNGSOO'S VIOLIN TEACHER?"
"Not for much longer if you start talking to me again. Kyungsoo is literally the student from the hell because he's so fricking stubborn and he argues with me all the time. But I put up with it because I want to know you're okay. Okay in school, I mean—like grades and how you are. I know you haven't been in that much trouble with Park the past year and I know you're fine at home because I talk to Grandfather Yixing all the time. But you've always hidden things from him. Things that make you sad. Things that make me worry."
Jongin watched as conflicting emotions he couldn't even identify flitted across Joonmyun's face, "So anyway, I practically threw myself at Do Kyungsoo's mom when she was looking for a violin tutor for him. I'm the first one in four years to last longer than two months, can you believe it? He is such an asshole. How are you even friends?"
"I didn't even know you were checking up on me. Why would you even? I was a total asshole to you."
"Love isn't something you can just switch off, Joonmyun. Why did you end things? Why did you stop—?” And Jongin ran out of words and just took Joonmyun’s cold hand in his, “I missed you,” he held Joonmyun’s palm against his smooth cheek, “so much. I still miss you. Why did you leave me?”
"I didn't want to. It was the last thing I wanted," Joonmyun's fingers curled in as he cupped Jongin's cheek. Sighing, Jongin closed his eyes and leaned in.
"I feel like my mom said something to you but anyway, that isn't even important anymore. I just want us to be us again. I'm sick of whispering my secrets to no one. Please, Joonmyun?"
Instead of answering, Joonmyun's arms reached around him, dragging him close while his mouth crushed Jongin's in a desperate, soul-searing kiss. Long months of yearning melted away as Joonmyun's lips moved over his and Joonmyun's fingertips caressed his cheek and jaw.
"I missed you so much, Jongin. I missed this so much. Missed hearing your heartbeat," Joonmyun finally whispered as he buried his head in Jongin's chest, and Jongin stroked his hair—his head and heart overflowing with relief and joy and so much love for the boy in his arms. The missing piece which had found its way home at last.
"You won't leave me again?" Jongin asked.
"I don't think I could survive another year like this last one."
"I'll be in New York eventually, though. I can't help that but I know we can make this work."
"I applied to a few art colleges. . .all in New York. And two of them want me."
"So we'll be in the same city?" And Jongin couldn't stop the few rogue tears that escaped down his cheek.
"Don't cry, Jongin. This isn't supposed to make you sad." Gently, softly, Joonmyun's lips pressed against his skin, kissing away the moisture. "No more tears," Joonmyun whispered as his lips slid over Jongin's. . .
No more tears.
♫ ♫ ♫