Jimin didn’t know what to say to someone who smoked. It wasn’t a situation he encountered often; none of his friends or family smoked. But somehow he wound up late at night, a few nights a week, standing next to a stranger while he smoked and Jimin didn’t. They had nothing to talk about and nothing in common, as far as Jimin knew. It was just easier to be by each other, because otherwise they’d be standing twenty meters away from each other, just being aware of the other’s presence but ignoring it. And Jimin, being the person he was, couldn’t have that.
The man didn’t seem social. Jimin would make a comment about how he wished there were more stars in the city sky, or how he’s noticed the nights getting shorter lately, and the man would just nod. Whenever Jimin got closer than two meters away, he’d fold into himself and close his arms around his body. “How often do you come out here?” Jimin asked. It was to make conversation. He didn’t expect an answer.
He got one anyway. “Every night,” The man looked directly at Jimin, and his eyes were the same color as the air. “My room-mate doesn’t let me smoke in our place.”
Jimin could see why. It smelled terrible, making his nose crinkle up as he tried to breathe through his mouth. It was one of those smells that some people hate and some people love, like coffee or gasoline. If Namjoon smoked, he’d kick Namjoon out every night as well. That struck him as funny, because even though he could be lounging in his smoke-free bedroom he was indulging in this man’s habit instead, almost encouraging it. “What did you say your name was?”
The stranger looked momentarily taken aback, and even coughed a bit on the smoke. “I didn’t say. Why, are you an informant or something?”
He couldn’t help himself; Jimin let out a string of laughter. “No! I just was curious.” While the man was still considering, Jimin said, “Here, I’ll go first. I’m Park Jimin.”
There was a silence, after which the man took a drag of his cigarette. Jimin though he’d forgotten the question, or just ignored it. But then, softly, he muttered, “Min Yoongi.” It could have been a lie, for all Jimin knew. The unsteadiness in his eyes said otherwise, though, like he didn’t get to know people often. They really were nothing alike. “Did you get kicked out, too?” he asked.
“I left, actually,” Jimin smiled at him, “I can’t be inside for too long. And my room-mate, I mean he’s good friend and all, but that guy’s pretty dull. He’s smart, but dull. So smart it makes him dull, you know?”
Min Yoongi rolled his eyes and let out an amused sound that Jimin didn’t know how to take. “You’re a funny guy.” It was cryptic and almost the opposite of a compliment. He rose the cigarette to his lips and instead of following the red dot, Jimin looked at the man’s face. There was something about him that made Jimin understand why people smoked. Min Yoongi breathed out the smoke and just stared off into the night, some spot far away that neither of them could see. Jimin chased his gaze and it was hardly awkward, just standing there in silence.
He realized, then, that this was part of his routine. Standing outside in the sometimes-cold, sometimes-wet, always-dark, with a man who could give him cancer, talking about nothing. Jimin was a creature of habit. And this little part of his life had wormed its way into his constant routine. It didn’t make any disturbance or ruin the flow of his schedule; it just slipped in quietly.
He didn’t mind.
“I think you’re keeping something from me,” Namjoon said it out of the blue. “Am I wrong?”
He was wrong, in a way. Because technically, Jimin wasn’t keeping anything from anyone. He knew what this was about: him taking walks twice a week with nothing to show for it—no sweat, no fatigue. Just the smell of smoke. But it wasn’t a secret. So Jimin said, “I’m not hiding anything. What do you think it is?”
Namjoon took a sip of his coffee. “I did the laundry last week.” He sighed, “When the hell did you start smoking?”
Jimin almost laughed. “Never. I don’t even know how to hold a cigarette,” That part was a lie. In his mind he could see Min Yoongi’s pale fingers straddle the paper tube, his thumb tapping lightly on the orange end. And before Namjoon could say something in response, Jimin thought of Namjoon’s girlfriend and everything he didn’t know. “I promise I don’t smoke. But aren’t you hiding something from me?”
“With your girl, Jin.”
Namjoon closed his eyes for a moment, perhaps taking in the two-sided situation. He sat back in his chair, then rose out of it completely. It was a clear indicator to Jimin that the conversation wouldn’t last much longer. “Well, you obviously don’t know what it is. But I’m onto you. I’ll let you have your night-time walks, but if you’re doing something you shouldn’t be, something bad—stop. You could get addicted, you know?”
The floor of the studio was cleaned every two days, at 5 o’clock. So naturally, Jimin’s favorite time to dance was 5:30 on those cleaning days. Nobody else was there. Jimin could put on an old tank and some shorts and stand on the newly-polished floor with his bare feet and just dance. He’d look in the mirrored wall, check his form, and imagine a crowd there—hundreds, thousands of people just watching him dance.
Jimin loved ballet. It wasn’t something he was always proud of, being called ‘The Ballerina’ or ‘Prima Donna’ as a kid. Years later, he came to terms with the fact that even though the other boys picked on him, he still loved ballet. It was a sport, something he trained for hours upon hours and went home with sore muscles for. He’d feel the sting in every limb, on the insides of his bones, in his blood, but that was normal for Jimin. And he loved it.
The small boom box in the corner of the studio was outdated and dusty, but it had a CD port and a wall of classical disks right beside it. There were over a hundred easily, mostly foreign and in all different styles. Jimin recognized some of the composers—Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich—but it wasn’t the big-name ballet CDs he was after. It was the bizarre post-romantic-era piano concertos, the bouncing Handel harp suites, the Wagner music dramas. For the ballet pieces, he knew choreography existed, but didn’t care. An old instructor once told him, “It’s rare, you know, to find a freestyle ballet dancer. But you do it well.”
As soon as music was playing and Jimin was on the floor, he could feel it flowing through him. Every beat, every swell, every grace note was in his body. That was his dance.
Afterwards, he’d sit in the corner of the studio, his heavy breath the only sound lingering in the air, and just close his eyes. There was so much adrenaline when he danced. Coming down from the high of it, resting was all he could manage; Jimin feared the day when he’d do something stupid under the influence of pure adrenaline. Sometimes when he was incredibly stressed, Jimin danced until his legs were like a newborn calf’s—wobbly, prone to caving or making him fall down. It was like stepping off a trampoline after jumping for a long time; his legs forgot how to walk and only remembered how to dance. He’d phone his friend Kim Taehyung on those days, who lived on campus in the next building over and would reluctantly piggy-back Jimin to his place for the night.
“You’re gonna hurt something someday,” Taehyung always said it. “I’m telling you. I’m seeing the future here. I mean, you already are hurting stuff, but you’re gonna hurt it more. I even got hurt eating a kebab once, and dancing’s probably worse than a tongue burn. What I’m trying to say is, don’t push yourself.”
“I have to if I want to get better,” Jimin would sigh, “I think if I keep practicing, it’s all going to be worth it one day.”
He was curious. He didn’t want to be, but there was something about mystery that drew Jimin in. And Min Yoongi was certainly mysterious.
Jimin knew him without really knowing him. He knew that Yoongi had his ears pierced because whenever there was a moon out, they caught Jimin’s eye. He knew the man had a top-dollar fashion sense even though he made jokes about lacking money. He knew Yoongi had a colorful vocabulary, and invented curse words on the spot that Jimin would never have dreamed up. And he knew Yoongi played the piano.
It was actually the silver-haired man who brought up the topic. He asked after he looked at Jimin’s university-sponsored shirt. “Seoul Institute of the Arts,” he read, “You go there?”
Jimin nodded. “Yeah, I’m a dance major there.”
He raised an eyebrow, and it was the most surprised Jimin had ever seen him. “Are you serious? So’s my room-mate.”
It was an odd coincidence; the school was competitive and he assumed Yoongi wasn’t a dancer himself. “Who is it? Maybe I know him.” Jimin asked.
The last thing he expected Yoongi to do was look directly in his eyes and say, “Jung Hoseok.” Jimin did know Jung Hoseok, just not personally. It was the same man Taehyung and his room-mate Jungkook never shut up about, even though Taehyung was in the vocal program and didn’t dance. Jung Hoseok was a legend. Jimin had never seen him dance, but he’d heard more than enough stories. “Jung Hoseok is so cool,” Jungkook would say, “Once I heard he had a line of like 30 people who challenged him to a dance-off. He beat all of them and bought them ice cream after!” Jimin respected the dancer, even looked up to him in a way, but it was sad. No one ever had ever talked about his dancing the way they talked about Jung Hoseok’s. Maybe it was childish, but there was a small spot of envy inside Jimin.
“Yes, I’ve heard of him. He’s pretty much a god on campus, actually.” Jimin was sure his jaw went slack; he just couldn’t picture this normal man in front of him living with such a talent.
“Oh, really?” Yoongi smirked, “Then you guys have low standards. I mean he’s good; I just don’t like that whole hip-hop dance craze bullshit.” He frowned, then almost dropped his cigarette realizing what he’d said. “Shit, don’t tell me you’re one of those b-boy types, too.”
Jimin laughed. “No, no. I focus more on contemporary ballet.” He felt embarrassed as soon as he said it.
“Ballet…” Yoongi mused, as if thinking about something. “That’s some hardcore shit. I’m serious. I work in a concert hall. I’ve seen those dancers come off stage and when they pull off their shoes it looks like they marinated their feet in raw ground beef or something. And then they just go right back on and dance more.” He took a drag of his smoke, then continued. “What am I saying—you’d know more about it than me. Do your feet look they fucked a blender?”
Jimin almost snorted at his choice of words. He’d never really thought about it; in class, everyone’s feet were swollen and calloused. So he said, “I mean, I’m not a foot model or anything.” Yoongi nodded like it made perfect sense. “You said you worked at a concert hall?”
“Yeah. I play piano there. I’m not like the supreme overlord house pianist, but I do cheap events and shit.” That was interesting to Jimin. Because as hard as he tried, he couldn’t imagine the man’s fingers doing anything but holding a cigarette. “I go to Seoul National, though. I’ve just known Hoseok forever so we decided, why not live together.”
It was a common ground. If they had nothing else they could share, music and performance were a connection between them. “Are you a music major?”
“Music comp. I just want to play piano all day, but that’s not gonna make me loaded and pay off student loans. You feel me?”
Jimin sighed. It had been a long day. And there was smoke in his brain and darkness in his eyes and a warm body next to his own. “Yeah, I get it.”
When Namjoon got nervous, he talked. He talked about everything. It was an asset Jimin would never be grateful for. “I was thinking the other day, Jimin, about how there’s not really a present. As in time, you know? Once you say ‘presently’ or ‘currently’, it’s already gone and the present is the past. That’s crazy. Maybe if time weren’t linear, ‘present’ would have a whole new meaning. If I exist in another time, then maybe my ‘present’ is longer and I can really feel it.”
Jimin couldn’t do anything in those situations. Once Namjoon started, he didn’t stop until his nerves calmed down.
If he asked Namjoon what the matter was directly after his tangent, the man would say, “Oh, nothing, I’m fine.” So Jimin had to wait until hours afterwards to figure out what had Namjoon so nervous.
In this particular case, he hadn’t seen it coming. “The 20th is my six months with Jin.” Jimin couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t complaining, of course; Namjoon rarely ever opened up about her. “And I mean, we’ve been talking about it for a while. Meeting, you know. I’m kinda sick of this long-distance stuff—Like, I love our relationship, but not the distance. So I want to maybe invite Jin over soon. As in, on the 20th.”
It was huge. For months, Jimin had doubted the relationship. For months, he’d doubted Namjoon. And it felt good, to know that Namjoon trusted him with that kind of stuff. He only had one question for Namjoon: “When do I get to meet her?”
“That’s the thing,” Jimin got the feeling that whatever Namjoon was about to say, he wouldn’t like. “I have one condition: You can’t meet.”
“You’re kidding me.” Jimin respected Namjoon’s love life, even supported it, but when Namjoon said things like that Jimin wondered why he wasn’t more of a jerk in return. “I’ve been the one encouraging you to meet, and you won’t even introduce me to her? I’m your room-mate!”
Namjoon looked sorry, he really did. “I’m just… not ready. What if Jin’s here and it’s just not the same as we expected? Listen, you’re my closest friend. I don’t want you and Jin hitting it off and then we turn around and break up.”
“I’m not going to steal your girl, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Jimin thought he was being irrational, but he looked genuinely concerned about meeting his own girlfriend. His room-mate smiled. “I’m not worried about that, trust me. Just…give me some time, okay?” Jimin nodded despite the cryptic nature of his words.
He had to trust Namjoon. Sometimes it was hard, but he had to. So he’d give them space. Let them work out whatever incomprehensible ‘couples problem’ they had. And he’d hope that someday he’d be the best man at Namjoon’s wedding.
So I mentioned,” He exhaled some smoke with his words, “That I work at a concert hall and play piano and all that.” Jimin nodded, not exactly sure where Yoongi was going with the conversation. “Well that was weird timing, because the next day the director came up to me and asked if I wanted to do a showcase at some recital.”
Yoongi smiled. Jimin could see his gums when he smiled; it was endearing, in a way. “I don’t want you to congratulate me, I want you to help me. This guy wants me to do the showcase with Hoseok. Like a dance and piano thing. But that’s a problem, because all Hoseok can do is that popping and locking crap. And you know, that doesn’t really go over well with classical fucking piano.” It was probably the most Jimin had ever heard Yoongi talk. “I’d consider you and I like low second-tier acquaintances, right? So I figured, ‘well I might as well ask—’”
“Ask me what?”
“If you wanted to do it instead.” Yoongi shrugged. “Dance, I mean. I don’t really know any other dancers.”
It made Jimin’s stomach feel jittery and he didn’t like it. Ha laughed anyway. “You’ve never even seen me dance.”
“Please, you’re majoring in dance at a performing arts institute. I’m guessing you don’t suck.”
He had a point. And really, Jimin needed to get out there. He needed to perform more and live more and worry less. “Alright, I’ll do it.” He didn’t put much thought into the decision. But Yoongi looked pleased, so it was okay. They shook hands just to make things official, and Jimin knew it was the first time his skin touched Yoongi’s because his hand was tingly in a way it had never been before.
When Namjoon asked why he was smiling that night, Jimin just said, “Oh, I just heard about a job opportunity.” and left it at that.