“Practice was so good tonight!” Junhong is wide eyed and happy.
Himchan, sweaty and grinning, punches Daehyun in the shoulder. “It would have been good if someone hadn’t spent the entire time doing his Steven Tyler impression.”
“Nah, it wasn’t Steven Tyler,” Daehyun says. “It was Alice Cooper. I’ve been practicing the face in the mirror.”
He narrows his eyes and scrunches his nose and throws his head around dramatically. And his voice - that voice - goes up and up and up effortlessly. It’s a miraculous thing. Even in play, his voice is powerful and beautiful.
Jongup frowns. “But why are you imitating a girl, hyung?”
Himchan rolls his eyes. “Oh, you kids are so young. You make me feel like a grandpa.”
“Alice Cooper isn’t a girl, Jongup,” Daehyun says. Then he pauses and looks over his shoulder. “Hey! Youngjae, what are you doing? Are you coming?”
Youngjae is bent down, ostensibly to tie his shoes, but his laces are knotted tight. His chest is tight with anxiety, but he can’t put this off any longer. He can’t. It hurts too much.
“In a minute,” he says.
"I just want to try something new," Youngjae says. "Something different."
Yongguk doesn't say anything. It's late, and the music building is quiet and empty. He always stays after practice to clean the floors. Finally, he says, "I'm surprised, Youngjae. I thought you really loved music."
Ordinarily, Youngjae would be proud to have such a compliment from Yongguk, who is sparing with praise. Today he just feels guilty. "I do love it … but I just want to try some other things. Plus I'm starting to take classes in my major this semester, and I need to make sure that my GPA is at least a 3.75 if I want to qualify for the honors track."
"I understand. I'm sure you must have thought a long time before you decided, and I know you would only quit if you had a good reason. Your school work is the most important thing."
Youngjae nods. "Well," he says, slowly, "I'll probably see you around. I still want to come the concert to see you guys."
"Of course we'll see each other around," Yongguk says. He smiles - not his wide, happy smile that bares his teeth and his gums, but a smaller one.
Even though Yongguk has been about as nice as anybody could be, Youngjae knows he must be disappointed. He can't think of anything else to say.
"Good night, hyung."
Yongguk's smile gets a little wider. "Good night, Youngjae. And if you change your mind, there's still a spot for you in B.A.P, okay?"
Youngjae nods, but he doesn't say anything else because he's worried his voice will break if he does.
Down the hall, in the empty stairwell, he sits down and squeezes his eyes shut tight. He just did a terrible, stupid thing, and if Yongguk knew the truth of it, he'd be even more disappointed. Youngjae didn't quit because of his schoolwork. He does love music, with all of his heart, and he loves B.A.P too. He's loved it from the very minute he saw the poster advertising tryouts for a 'hip hop performance group' on the bulletin board of his dorm his very first week of college. He'd written down the time and place, even though he hadn't had much hope he'd pass the auditions. And when he had passed, all of those fears he'd had about going off to school far away from home and spending lonely nights in the library studying because he had no friends had disappeared because he'd quickly realized he’d found something better than friends. He'd found a family.
He loves B.A.P that much, but he's quitting anyway. It's all Jung Daehyun's fault.
"Hey, why weren't you at practice?"
Youngjae isn't asleep, but he pretends that he is. He knew this moment was coming. "Mmmmh. Wha ...?"
Daehyun's desk light clicks on. "Sorry," he says. "Didn't think you were really sleeping this early. It's only ten thirty. You're such an old man, Youngjae." His bag drops to the floor with a thump.
"Stop being so loud," Youngjae says, pulling the blankets up over his head. He doesn't want to have this conversation. He hasn't wanted to have this conversation all day, which is why he got back to the dorm before Daehyun and laid down in bed with the lights off.
It's been three days since he quit B.A.P. They had practice tonight, and Daehyun went, and he obviously saw that Youngjae wasn't there. He must have wondered why Youngjae didn't say anything about not feeling well or having an urgent paper to finish when they saw each other in the morning before class, or when they ate lunch together, or why he didn't mention it when Daehyun stopped back at the room to get his practice gear before heading to his French language lab.
"So where were you?" Daehyun asks.
"I had something to do," Youngjae says, muffled. One of the drawers in Daehyun's dresser squeaks. Youngjae hears it open and then close. He has been telling him to tell the lady at the front desk downstairs for weeks, so that someone from maintenance will come and fix it. Daehyun just keeps rolling his eyes and putting it off.
"Ohhhh-kay. That tells me so much." Daehyun says. "Sheesh. Be a little more vague why don't you?"
There's another click. Youngjae pushes the covers down. Daehyun's light is off. He can just barely make out the lumpy abstract shape of a body in the other bed.
"I don't know what you had to do that was more important than practice. Yongguk hyung's going to be really mad. You must have let him know ahead of time, huh? I was surprised he didn't ask me where you were. You should have just canceled whatever you had to do and come. " Daehyun sounds annoyed, but he doesn't sound that upset - Yongguk must not have said anything about Youngjae quitting. Yongguk wouldn't. He's not the kind of guy who airs other people's dirty laundry like that. Now, Himchan on the other hand ….
He has a little more time to think of some decent excuse, anyway.
"Sorry," Youngjae says, quietly.
"You better not miss another practice, Yoo Youngjae," Daehyun says, a half-teasing warning. "You're gonna get kicked out."
"I'm really going to bed now," Youngjae says.
"Fine," Daehyun grumbles, but he is quiet and before long his breathing has steadied and stilled and he's asleep.
Youngjae is awake though. His heart is beating strangely fast. It's funny how that happens so often when he's around Daehyun. Since they're roommates, there's hardly a day that goes by that Youngjae doesn't see Daehyun. He figures that rush should have worn off by now, but it hasn't. It's only gotten worse.
It might have something to do with how handsome Daehyun is. He's really handsome. Youngjae was awed by that at first. He's just average looking himself, and all of his friends in high school had been average looking, and he thought maybe really handsome people like Daehyun just inspired that reaction naturally. Pheromones or something. (Last semester's Human Physiology class disabused him of that notion - sometimes being a Pre-Med major comes in handy). But Daehyun makes his heart beat fast even when they're in the bathroom brushing their teeth and he makes faces in the mirror with a mouth full of foam. He makes Youngjae's heart beat fast even when he's just woken up and his cheeks are all red from pressing into his pillow and his hair is sticking up in fifty directions. He makes Youngjae's heart beat fast when it's late at night and they're lying in bed with the lights off, just talking about anything, and he can't even see Daehyun at all.
Daehyun makes Youngjae's heart go thump-thump because Youngjae is in love with him. A hopeless, pointless, insane love.
That's why he quit B.A.P. And that's why he's going to come up with an excuse, because he won't ever admit that to anyone. There’s no point.
"You look terrible."
Himchan drops into the empty seat next to Youngjae. On his tray are two bowls full of Fruity Pebbles, and a carton of milk.
"Good morning to you too, hyung," Youngjae says, poking at his own perfectly ordinary breakfast of corn flakes and a half a grapefruit.
"Really though, Youngjae, are you getting sick? Open your mouth and say 'Ahh'." Himchan tries to grab onto Youngjae's cheeks, but he fends him off with his spoon.
"I'm fine," Youngjae says.
"Where's your little sidekick?"
"Daehyun has his early Math class this morning." It was a brutal class - eight o'clock three times a week. Youngjae'd heard him up and getting dressed at some unearthly hour, and rolled over and gone back to sleep. Daehyun hated math, and he'd come up with the theory that an early class would be easier because the professor would be too tired to teach. That hasn't proven to be a very sound theory, but then Youngjae is logical thinker. Daehyun's a literature major -- a romantic.
"Ohh, so you're sad because you're all alone," Himchan says, one hand on Youngjae's shoulder. "You're down in the dumps because your buddy off indulging in some early morning differentiation and you're all alone, eating nasty grapefruit in the ..."
"Hey!" Youngjae slams down his spoon. "I like grapefruit."
Himchan is giddy at having gotten a rise out of him. Youngjae knows better. He really does, but he'd had the worst time falling asleep the night before. He'd stayed up listening to the quiet sounds of the dorm at night and thinking about how he can't ever tell Daehyun the truth. He'd tried to come up with excuses - vocal nodules made it impossible to sing, he'd discovered a latent talent for making balloon animals and wanted to study clowning in his spare time, he'd gotten into a fist fight with Jongup over the merits (or lack thereof) of Chris Brown …
As the night wore on, the excuses had gotten more and more implausible, and Youngjae's hopes of getting any sleep had gotten slimmer and slimmer.
"Well maybe that's your problem, then," Himchan says. "You need to branch out. Live a little. Why not try orange slices for breakfast instead ..."
"Himchan, leave him alone."
Yongguk sets his own tray down across from Himchan with a thud.
Himchan pouts. "I was just offering a bit of hyung to dongsaeng advice, Bang."
"Advice?" Yongguk frowns. "What do you need advice about, Youngjae?"
"I don't need any advice," he says.
Yongguk nods. "See, Himchan. He doesn't need advice."
Himchan is scooping Fruity Pebbles into his mouth. A green one is stuck on his lip. He licks it off. "He needs something," he says through a full mouth. "Maybe what you need is a little romance in your life. How about you let me set you up on a date? There's a girl in my digital marketing class that seems like she'd be just your type. She wears glasses and she’s always correcting the teacher if he says even one syllable wrong." Himchan is a chronic matchmaker. His matches - with one exception - never seem to come to anything, though.
"You shouldn't pressure people," Yongguk says quietly.
Youngjae thinks that's a very touching and entirely true sentiment.
Himchan snorts. "Are you kidding me? If I hadn't stolen your phone out of your bag to get your number I don't think you ever would have said two words to me."
Himchan's only successful match was, of course, himself and Yongguk. They've have been dating since they were sophomores. They're both 'super' seniors now - Yongguk because he's earning a dual degree in Social Work and Music Theory, and Himchan because he changed his major from Finance (which had his parents' blessings) to Interactive Communications (which Youngjae still doesn’t understand) when he was a junior. When Youngjae first met them at the auditions for B.A.P he thought they hated each other, even though he’d later find out they’d already been dating for two years by that time.
Yongguk's cheeks turn a little red. "I would have," he murmurs.
Himchan rolls his eyes. "I heard from Hyosung who heard from Jieun that you said you didn't even want me to be part of B.A.P, the first time I showed up."
Yongguk has a placid exterior, but his eyes widen in what might be panic. "Did I say that?"
"I don't know. Did you, Bang?" Himchan asks archly.
"You looked like a celebrity," Yongguk says. "It was intimidating."
Himchan smiles, pleased. "Isn't that sweet of him, Youngjae? See how much he's learned? When we first met he wouldn't say two words to me, and now look at him buttering me up."
Yongguk swallows. The crisis has been narrowly averted.
Tapping his spoon against the rim of his bowl, Himchan continues, "The lesson in this, my young friend, is that you need to seize the day and go after what you want. Otherwise, there's not much point in anything."
Youngjae nods, but there's a sour twist in his stomach. "Right," he says, standing and picking up his tray. "Thanks, hyung. I'll remember that."
Seize the day - that's easy for someone like Himchan, no doubt. He's handsome and funny and everyone likes him. Youngjae's pragmatic. He's not an idiot. He knows that the hand the world's dealt him isn't the worst, but it's no royal flush. He’ll seize what he can, but he’s not going to make a fool out of himself doing it.
Youngjae goes to the library after his Chemistry lecture that afternoon. He spends a few hours reading about inorganic compounds, making up flash cards and flipping through them, but there's only so long he can spend looking at tiny pictures of molecules. He doesn't want to go back to his room, though - Daehyun's probably there, sitting cross legged on his bed, with two bags of chips and a pack of banana milk at his side. That's his favorite way to do his homework. Youngjae can't even begin to imagine how he puts up with the crumbs that must get all over his sheets.
There are a lot of things about Daehyun that Youngjae doesn't understand, but they've been roommates for more than a whole semester now, and he's used to them. Maybe it's a symptom of being stupidly in love, but some of them he even finds charming. He's absolutely sure he never found anyone stuffing an entire can of Pringles in their mouth at once charming before Daehyun.
So instead of going back to the dorm he takes out his camera - it's nothing fancy, just an old dslr from when his brother was in high school. He wasn't totally lying to Yongguk when he said he wanted to try new things. The campus is pretty, and there are a lot of things to take pictures of - a couple sitting next to each other on a bench with just their pinky fingers touching, a weird tree by the library that looks kind of like a wizard (according to Daehyun, anyway), the green buds on the bushes outside the theater building. Youngjae doesn't have any illusions that he's a great photographer - he'd like to be, sure, but that takes talent and he knows that talent is the one thing you've got to be born with.
He's read some books that helped him understand composition a bit better, and he thinks that with time and some effort he might become a passable photographer. Not great, as nice as that would be, but passable. He’s not hoping for more.
It's getting dark and he's on his way back to the dorm (because as much as he doesn’t want to go back he can't stay out all night - that would be dumb, and he'd get a cold because of the wet, and Daehyun might worry) when someone on a skateboard nearly runs him down.
"Hey!" Youngjae cradles the camera to his chest. "What do you think you're doing? You could have hurt someone!"
The skateboarding menace pulls off his helmet. Wide-eyed, he says, "Hyung! I'm so sorry!"
It's Junhong. Youngjae knows him because he’s part of B.A.P, of course, but they don’t hang out really outside of the group. He’s just a freshman, but he latched onto Yongguk at some point during orientation week and has been following him around like a shy duckling ever since. He practically forced Yongguk to teach him how to rap and he's a good dancer, but he's a little bit strange - in one and a half semesters Youngjae's seen him with hair almost every color of the rainbow, and the first time they met he introduced himself as 'Choi Junhong, boy robot' - but Youngjae likes him a lot anyway.
"Oh, Junhong. It's okay. Where were you going in such a rush?"
"Nowhere," Junhong says. "I was just getting in some practice."
"You really like skateboarding, huh?"
He must, because Youngjae can hardly remember ever seeing him without the thing. He brings with him to practice and he brings it with him when they're all hanging out in Yongguk's apartment off campus and he brings it with him when he's eating breakfast in the dining hall.
Junhong nods. "I love it. I love skateboarding, and rapping, and my mom more than anything else in the world," he says solemnly.
"In that order?"
"What?" Junhong's mouth falls open. "Hyung, no. You know I love my mom the most. My mom is an awesome lady. She works so hard so that I can come to school here and …"
Youngjae struggles to keep a straight face. "I know, Junhong. I know." Then, he has an idea. "Hey, can I take your picture?" He's been reading up on exposure speed, and he'd like to try to get some action shots. Junhong seems like he'd be a really good subject, too.
Junhong nods. "Sure, but isn't it kind of dark right now?"
"Not now," Youngjae agrees. "Tomorrow. How about we meet back here at 2? Do you have class then?"
Junhong shakes his head. "Are you gonna put them in the art show or something? The pictures I mean?"
Youngjae shrugs. "If they're good enough," he says. There's an all campus art show that is always desperate for submissions from non-art majors. Youngjae read one of the fliers hanging on the bulletin board outside of the laundry room as he waited for his clothes to dry. He'd thought about it, but - "I'm still learning. I’m not that good yet.”
Junhong looks thoughtful. "I don't know if being good is what matters. Not as much as trying, anyway. You never know if you're good at something until you try."
That seems a bit too wise to be coming from a gangly freshman. "Did you get that from Yongguk hyung?"
Junhong nods, enthusiastic. "He's the best, isn't he?"
Youngjae sighs. "Yeah, he's great. Listen, I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
Junhong waves and zips away, skateboard wheels whirring over the concrete.
Daehyun is sitting on his bed in his nest of blankets when Youngjae opens the door to their room. It's a bit surprising.
"It's dinner time," he says. "What are you doing here?"
Daehyun isn't one to miss dinner.
"I ate earlier," Daehyun says. He's looking at Youngjae in a weirdly intense way. Youngjae doesn't like it. "Where have you been?"
Youngjae shrugs. "I was just walking around. It's nice out." It really hadn't been though. It's been a cold spring, and the air had been damp with a nasty chill. He tosses his backpack on his bed and shrugs out of his sweatshirt.
"Hmm," Daehyun says. He's got an open book in front of him but he's not looking at it. He's just staring at Youngjae. Youngjae can feel him staring and he doesn't like it. Youngjae pulls his student ID out of his wallet and shoves it in his pocket.
"You might have eaten, but I didn't. You want me to bring you back anything?"
"No," Daehyun says. There's a strange stiff tone in his voice. Something is very wrong.
Youngjae's never, ever known Daehyun to pass a chance for one of the cellophane-wrapped chocolate brownies with sprinkles that they serve in the dining hall. Those things are his greatest weakness -- his kryptonite. Youngjae tries to smuggle a few extras out. He likes to have them on hand in case he needs to bribe Daehyun to take the garbage out, or stop listening to girl group music on repeat.
"Okay," Youngjae says, quietly.
With his hand on the knob, he pauses and looks back at Daehyun. Maybe ...
"Practice tomorrow," Daehyun says. "You coming?"
Youngjae's stomach goes tight. He swallows. "Maybe," he says.
That's a lie. He's not coming. Somehow, Daehyun knows, because his eyes get narrow and his lips purse and Youngjae's seen that irritated expression a dozen times (like when he dumped all of Daehyun's dirty clothes in the hallway, after they'd grown into an impassable mountain in the middle of the room, or the time he at the last of Daehyun's pocky, not knowing it was his last box) but he's never really felt that Daehyun meant it.
He opens his mouth, but he doesn't know what to say or how to explain himself, so he just leaves.
In the dining hall he sits alone at a table in the back of the room. He took a big plate of spaghetti for dinner, but his appetite is all gone. He twirls the pasta around and around, but barely takes a bite. If Daehyun had come he'd be trying to steal all of the meatballs, even though they're a little bit gray and not really all that good. Daehyun's back in their room though, and somehow he knows Youngjae quit.
The thing is, Youngjae loves singing. He loves singing more than he loves anything. He loves it, but he knows when to give up on a hopeless cause.
He hadn't always thought that way, of course, but that's before transfer student Jung Daehyun became his roommate. Jung Daehyun, who is more handsome than Youngjae and older than Youngjae and better at making friends and who is definitely, definitely a better singer. Youngjae's not bad, but Daehyun is good.
He's not quitting because he's angry at Daehyun. It's just - the faculty director gave out the parts for the spring concert right after they got back from winter break, and of course Daehyun got the solo over Youngjae. Of course. At first Youngjae had been mad - furious, actually. Even though Daehyun was a little bit older, they were both sophomores, and Youngjae had been part of B.A.P since his freshman year. It wasn't fair that Daehyun could just waltz right in as a sophomore transfer student and get all the best parts. Not that Youngjae was surprised, exactly. Daehyun was a better singer, and he certainly was better looking, and he wasn't annoyingly show off-y about it either. He was just a little - perfect.
And then Youngjae realized that he wasn't angry - or he wasn't only angry, anyway. He was in love with Daehyun. And if Daehyun was so great that he managed to make Youngjae fall in love with him entirely in spite of himself, what was the point? Youngjae's just a regular kid. He got tenth in his class back in high school, and he'd always been well liked, but never in with the really popular crowd. He'd played on the soccer team, but he hadn't been good enough to start. He'd had a girlfriend, but she'd broken up with him for an older, better-looking guy. He's just average. Nothing special.
Just once, Youngjae wants to be excellent in something. He wants to find that special thing that will make him stand out in a crowd, like Daehyun does without even seeming to try. It doesn't have to be anything big. He's doubtful that photography is the thing that will let him shine, but he's going to keep looking until he finds it, and he's not going to waste time where he's already fallen short.
Maybe when he finds it, Daehyun will notice him the way he noticed Daehyun from the very start.
His food is cold. His appetite has gone. He cuts the spaghetti into tiny pieces with his fork. The cafeteria is emptying. The lunch ladies are wiping down the tables. There are just a few people left, eating hurriedly with their heads bent over their trays. He gets up and dumps his own garbage.
There's really nowhere else he can go right now. Sure, if he called Himchan he might know of some party happening in the off-campus houses, but Youngjae doesn't like that kind of thing - not during the week, anyway. He's got class tomorrow morning and then he's supposed to photograph Junhong. He needs to get some sleep.
Even if that means going back and having to see Daehyun.
But even though Daehyun is awake when Youngjae gets back, he doesn't look up when the door opens. He just turns the page in his text book. He doesn't say a word as Youngjae pulls his pajamas out of his dresser, not a word as Youngjae goes down the hall to wash his face and brush his teeth and change. He just keeps studying, as silent as though he were alone.
Youngjae turns off the light on his side of the room, and climbs into bed. It's hard to get comfortable. He tosses and turns a little bit. Daehyun gets up at one point to get something off his desk. Youngjae tries to close his eyes, but his stomach kind of hurts. It's probably because he didn't really eat any dinner - yeah, that's it. Daehyun's just in a mood. He gets that way sometimes - goes all silent and sulky. He's just in a mood and Youngjae just has an upset stomach and in the morning, maybe, everything will be okay.
But in the morning, Daehyun is gone by the time Youngjae wakes up. He sits up and glances over and sees Daehyun's empty bed ... and the relief is so great he lies back down and sighs. Alone, at least he isn’t being ignored. He's nearly late for class, though, so he can't lie back down for long. He rolls out of bed and grabs a pair of dirty jeans off the floor. He never wants to be the typical slouchy college student, but he doesn't care about impressing anyone right now.
Class is terrible. He's so hungry he feels light headed. He should have grabbed one of Daehyun's granola bars - but now it feels wrong to do that. He ends up nearly falling asleep, eyes half closed, head propped up on his hand. When the class ends, the kid in the seat next to him jabs him in the shoulder.
"Hey," he says. "Get up!"
He goes to the cafeteria and gets a coffee and a bagel. It feels gummy going down and the coffee gives him a headache. He wants to go back to his dorm and lie down and get more sleep, but Daehyun should be there right about now, and besides, it's time for him to meet Junhong. When he finally across campus to the spot they agreed to meet, Junhong is already there, on his skateboard, doing these funny little jumps that Youngjae doesn't even think seem physically possible. If he'd tried that, he's sure he'd fall on his face.
"Hey," he says.
Junhong wobbles for a minute, but then regains his balance. "Oh. Hi hyung!" He flips the skateboard up and grabs it. "I wasn't sure if you were going to come."
"Of course I was going to come," Youngjae says. "I said I would."
Junhong nods. "I know. But you might have found something more interesting to photograph. Or you might have had a sudden death 20 page paper assigned in your morning class. Or your camera might have gotten stolen by ..."
"No," Youngjae says. "I'm here. Let's go take some pictures."
They walk over to the parking lot behind the arts building at Junhong's suggestion. Youngjae's not sure who parks here - off campus students, maybe? - but it's mostly empty, which is good. He doesn't want this to end with a big dent in some dean's Mercedes. A flight of cement stairs leads down from the walk around the building to the parking lot.
"What do you want me to do?" Junhong asks. He's standing at the bottom of the stairs with his skateboard in his hand.
"Just do what you'd normally do," Youngjae says. He doesn't have an artistic vision. He's never played with the shutter speed settings on his camera. He's just going to take some pictures and see what he can do.
Junhong is fearless. He does all kinds of tricks that Youngjae doesn't know the name for - jumps where he flips the skateboard around somehow, and jumps where he make it pop up in the air. The first few photos that Youngjae takes are worthlessly blurry, but he gets the hang of it soon. It's a bright, beautiful day, luckily, so there's plenty of sunlight. Some of the pictures even turn out pretty well. There's a great shot of Junhong reaching down to grab the nose of his skateboard as he leaps in the air.
"You're really good, Junhong," Youngjae says.
"Thanks, hyung," Junhong says, beaming. "Do you want to get some shots of me on the rail?"
Youngjae doesn't know what that is, but it sounds cool. "Sure."
Junhong climbs to the top of the stair. It's gotten warmer. He takes off his sweatshirt and folds it neatly. Underneath, he's wearing a tee shirt with a big rip in one side. His hair is a wild mess. He pats it flat. The flight of stairs is steep and long, and suddenly Youngjae is nervous.
"Are you sure you know how to do this?"
"Yeah," Junhong says. "I've done it a ton of times before."
Youngjae nods, but he'd feel a little bit better if there were something more than puffy pink and blue hair between Junhong's skull and the unforgiving cement.
Junhong backs a few paces away from the top of the stair and skates up to it. He jumps, and his board lands flat on the rail. There's a moment when Youngjae thinks he's going to lose his balance and go over, but he finds his feet and like a surfer on some kind of urban wave he slides down and pops gracefully off at the end.
"Wow. That was awesome!"
Junhong grins, adorable cheeks and eye smile. "Thanks. It's not perfect but I'm getting better. But. Um. You didn't take any pictures."
Youngjae looks down at the camera in his hand. "Oh yeah. Sorry ..."
"It's okay," Junhong says. "I can do it again."
He does it again, like it's nothing scary at all. Youngjae's camera is at the ready. The photographs he takes are great - not because of him, really, or his skills, but because of Junhong. His mouth is open and his eyes are wide and his hair is flying and he looks like he's having about the most fun it's possible for anyone to have. He looks confident too. There's nothing shaky or unsure about his posture on the board. After he lands another dismount Junhong wipes his forehead with the hem of his shirt and peers over Youngjae's shoulder at the camera's LCD display.
"Wow, that one is good, hyung."
"Thanks to you," Youngjae says. "You're a really good subject, Junhonggie."
Junhong beams with pleasure. "Let me go one more time. I want to try a railslide."
Youngjae doesn't know what that one is either, but he nods. He'd like to get more pictures, but really it's fun just watching Junhong do something he's so good at.
Junhong approaches the top of the rail again, and jumps up, but instead of his board laying parallel with the rail it's perpendicular across it, like a fast-moving see-saw. Junhong takes a moment to find his balance. Just a moment, because it's not like any of these tricks take more than fifteen seconds start to stop. His arms are out and his posture is straight and just when Youngjae thinks he's nailed it, just at the very end as he's about to dismount, the skateboard seems to get out from under his feet. There's a terrible moment when Junhong tries to get his footing, but something's off. The skateboard rolls away down the parking lot, and Junhong falls with a hard thud.
Youngjae's frozen for a moment, and then he goes to Junhong’s side. He rolls Junhong onto his back. There's a terrible scrape on his elbow - a big red spot where the skin has been grazed away. Drops of blood are bubbling up. His eyes are closed, but he's breathing normally. What if he has a concussion? What if he has brain damage? What if ...
"Hyung, what are you doing?" Junhong is staring up at him in confusion. His eyes open.
"You're okay! I mean, you can talk and stuff. But your elbow - is it broken? Do you need a doctor? Should I call an ambulance?"
Junhong sits up, laughing. The blood is running down his arm now. Youngjae grimaces, and looks away. "I'm fine, hyung," Junhong says. " Really. This happens all the time."
He holds up his other elbow, and sure enough there's a scar there, red and new. "You should have seen me when I was first learning to grind. I carried a box of band-aids around with me all the time. Power Ranger band aids."
"Do you have any with you now?" So maybe Junhong isn't dying, but he's still dripping blood. Youngjae's not exactly squeamish, but he'd still prefer if Junhong weren't bleeding everywhere.
"In my room," Junhong says. "Um, can you carry my skateboard back for me?"
Luckily, Junhong's dorm is not far. They get a few odd looks walking through the commons, Youngjae with his camera around his neck and Junhong's skateboard in hand, Junhong with his hand clasped over his bloody elbow, but considering there's a kid juggling oranges in front of the library, they don't attract all that much attention. College really is a weird place.
Junhong's room is on the second floor. His fumbles in his pocket with his non-bloodied hand for the key. Inside, the room is dark. His roommate is out. The beds are unmade, and there are clothes all over the floor. Junhong pulls a little tupperware box out from one of the shelves.
"There's bandages and gauze and peroxide in there," he says. "Um, do you think you can patch me up? It's really hard to get at your own elbow." He raises his arms up like he's trying to get a good look at them. He looks a bit like an ostrich.
Youngjae laughs. "Of course," he says.
Junhong spreads a towel on his unmade bed and sits down. Youngjae unscrews the bottle of rubbing alcohol and pours some on a gauze pad. He holds it to the red graze on Junhong's elbow, and Junhong inhales, sharp.
"Sorry," Youngjae says. "It must sting a lot."
Junhong nods. A lot of the time he looks older than his age, but right now he looks just as young as he is (which is only 16 - when they'd asked him how he was in college so young he'd just grinned and told them that he was precocious).
Youngjae wipes the wound carefully. When it's clean, he unwraps two of the bandaids (Iron Man) and puts them one over another in an 'x'.
Junhong bends his elbow a few times. "Good as new," he says. "Thanks, hyung."
He's smiling, but he looks pale. Youngjae feels guilty. "You're welcome. I'm sorry you got hurt, Junhong. Why don't we go over to the diner and I'll buy you lunch?"
Junhong's nods happily. Youngjae thinks it's probably the least he can do, buying the kid a hamburger. He likes Junhong a lot, even though they were a little awkward with each other at first. When he decided to quit B.A.P, all he'd been able to think about was Daehyun - how jealous he was of Daehyun, and how much he liked him, and how he couldn't stand the thought of staying in the group just slightly more than he couldn't stand the thought of quitting. Now though, he realizes that he's going to miss all of them - Yongguk's stern instruction and Himchan's jokes and Jongup's good nature and Junhong's weirdness - not just Daehyun.
He's maybe realized that a little too late.
"Hyung, are you going to finish that?"
"Hmm?" Youngjae looks down at his plate. He's only eaten half his burger and barely touched his fries. His appetite has been terrible the last few days. "Oh, no."
Junhong slides the plate across the table and grabs the uneaten half of Youngjae's burger, even though he's not even halfway through a big ice cream sundae the waitress brought him (after he told her a slightly dramatized version of how he was terribly injured and made puppy dog eyes). They're sitting in a booth by the window, and the sunshine is streaming in, and Youngjae feels pretty good, even though he still feels really sad about a whole bunch of things.
"You weren't at practice the other day," Junhong says, his mouth full. "Himchan said … But it's not true right?"
"What?" Youngjae swallows, uneasily. "What did Himchan says?" He should have know that Himchan would wheedle the truth from Yongguk. He knew that if he did there was no way Himchan would keep his mouth shut.
"Hyung," Junhong says, swallowing. "Hyung, did you really quit B.A.P?"
Youngjae doesn't want to tell the truth, but he doesn't want to lie to Junhong either, and he can't think of any acceptable in-between. He nods.
Junhong stares at him. "You quit? Why'd you quit? Why didn't you say anything? Aw man."
Youngjae shrugs. "I just wanted to try different things." He tries to keep his tone light and casual, like it wasn't a decision that wrenched his heart tight.
"What? Like the photography thing?" Junhong narrows his eyes. "Well, why can't you try that and stay in the group? Hyung, that's a really dumb reason. That's like saying … that's like saying you can only like one thing. I mean, I love skateboarding AND I love rapping AND I love dancing. I don't have to pick just one thing."
Youngjae nods. Junhong is sixteen years old and has pink hair and ice cream on his lips, and he's totally absolutely right about this.
"I know just … " He shakes his head. "What's the difference? I mean, you've got Daehyun now, anyway. I just didn't want to do it any more."
"But you and Daehyun hyung have totally difference voices," Junhong says. "I mean, Daehyun - his voice is like an guitar solo. Guitar solos are awesome, but you can't have a whole song of them. That would just sound stupid."
"I know that," Youngjae says, "But …"
"I like your voice," Junhong says. "We haven't really done anything that shows it off this year, but your lower register is stronger than Daehyun's."
If it were anyone but Junhong, Youngjae would be tempted to think that just a bit of untrue flattery, but Junhong is too guileless for that kind of thing. "Thanks," he says, "But he is better than me …"
Junhong narrows his eyes. "Everybody says Yongguk is a better rapper than I am. Does that mean I should quit too?"
"What?" Youngjae hasn't meant that at all. "No, of course not."
"Well," Junhong says, satisfied. "Exactly."
"It's just hard," Youngjae says. "I mean, everyone thinks Daehyun is really great. I don't think I'd even mind it except he is really great. I just .. I needed some space …"
With the spoon in his mouth, Junhong frowns. "But you're roommates. Don’t you see him every day?"
Youngjae nods. He knows that. Maybe all of this would be much easier if they weren't roommates. "Our schedules are pretty different," he says, but that excuse sounds lame even to his ears. Junhong isn't fooled either.
“If you want space from Daehyun hyung, maybe you should just apply to change rooms and not quit B.A.P. Because I don’t want you to quit, and I know none of the other guys do either. ”
Junhong’s trying the same big-eyed, wobbly-lower-lip look that worked so well on their waitress. Youngjae isn’t immune. He’s thought of all of these things - thought about changing rooms, thought about studying abroad for a semester, thought about transferring to another school so he never has to see Jung Daehyun again. But he doesn’t really want that. He wants to forget all the stuff that makes him love Daehyun, and keep all the stuff that makes him like Daehyun and just go back to being friends.
He squeezes his eyes shut. "I like him, Junhong. I like him, and he's never going to like me back, and I can't stand having to see him every day, all day."
"Oh, hyung." Junhong frowns. "How do you know he's never going to like you back?"
Youngjae shrugs. He doesn't know -- It just seems like some kind of irrefutable law of nature. The right and proper order of things. Yoo Youngjae is in love with Jung Daehyun. The feeling is not mutual.
“I don’t know,” he says miserably.
Slowly Junhong slides the ice cream across the table. "Here," he says. "You have this. You're a lot sadder than I am hurt. It'll make you feel better."
Youngjae doesn't think he wants any, but funnily enough strawberry ice cream with sprinkles does make him feel better.
"Thanks, Junhong," he says, after taking a bit. "You're really smart, you know?"
Mouth spread wide in a smile, Junhong says, "Thanks, hyung. I know.”
“So, were you ever going to tell me you quit?”
Daehyun’s voice is hard and the words are out of his mouth before Youngjae even has a chance to shut the door.
“Were you going to tell me? Or were you just going to keep making up dumb excuses about why you couldn’t come to practice and then on the night of the concert let me come to my own conclusions when you didn’t show up? Do you think I’m that stupid?”
Daehyun is angry. Youngjae’s never seen him angry like this: arms crossed over his chest, eyes narrow, mouth set in a frown. In spite of his purple pajama pants and the teddy bear he keeps on his bed, he looks angry enough to make Youngjae wish he’d just stayed out.
“I guess you must think I’m so stupid I didn’t notice you stayed late to talk to Yongguk hyung the other night after practice. I guess you think I’m so oblivious I can’t tell you got mad that I got the solo in the concert. I guess you think I’m dumb enough that I wouldn’t notice when your name was crossed out on the roster in the rehearsal room.” His tone is so cold. “I know you’re a lot of things, Youngjae, but I didn’t know you were a coward.”
Youngjae closes his eyes. This is worse than anything he had imagined. He knew they couldn’t be friends anymore: the thought of not getting to eat lunch with Daehyun, not getting to goof off together when they should be doing homework, not getting to sing together - those things all hurt terribly. But he hadn’t expected this anger.
There’s one thing Daehyun’s got wrong though.
“I’m not mad you got the solo,” he says quietly. Jealous maybe, but not mad. Not anymore. “You deserve it a lot more than I do.”
Daehyun scrunches his eyes shut. “So why then? Why’d you quit, Youngjae? Do you just not like me? I've got a lot of flaws. I’m loud and I eat a lot and I’m moody. I know it drives you crazy that I don’t make my bed in the morning. I know you have a hard time sleeping because I keep the light on late at night.” He swallows. “You didn’t have to quit B.A.P because you hate me." He looks up. "You were a part of B.A.P first and you introduced me to everyone and made me part of it and now … now I feel like I pushed you out.”
Youngjae’s eyes are wet. He’s not really sure why. He’s not sure how Daehyun’s gotten this so wrong. “I don’t hate you,” he says. His voice catches, and he feels dumb for getting so emotional. “I like you Daehyun. I mean … I really like you. You didn’t push me out of the group. Don't worry about it. It's not your fault and it's not your problem. I just realized there was no point in me staying any longer.”
He reaches for his bag. He can’t stay here like this. He’s not sure where he’ll go. Maybe he can crash on Junhong’s floor …
“You really are an idiot, Yoo Youngjae,” Daehyun says. “You belong in B.A.P. You love it. If you quit doing the things you love what's the point of anything in life?”
Youngjae shakes his head. "It doesn't work like that," he says. "You don't get it." It's not that he's angry, but this has been the problem all along. Daehyun doesn't get what it's like to want something that much and know that you can't have it. "Sometimes you don't get the things you want most. I wish I could dance like Junhong and Jongup. I wish I were handsome like Himchan, and wise like Yongguk. I wish I were born able to sing as well as you can. But I can't, and I'm sick of trying."
Daehyun sighs. “Listen to me, dummy. You don't need to be any of those things. You don't need to dance like Jongup or be handsome like Himchan. You definitely don't need to sing like me. Why would I want to listen to someone who sounds just like me?" He looks down. "Just being Yoo Youngjae is good enough. Don’t quit. Please, for me, don’t quit.”
Youngjae swallows. He's still holding his bag, like maybe he can just leave and forget this entire conversation. He doesn't really want to do that, though. He doesn't want Daeyun to be angry or sad. He doesn't want to feel so bad. “What does it matter to you?”
Daehyun shakes his head. “You’re really stupid for somebody so smart. Do you think I joined B.A.P just because I like to sing? I mean, I do like to sing, but I joined because my really cool new roommate was a part of it and I wanted to hang out with him."
"What are you talking about?" Youngjae doesn't remember it like that all. Youngjae remembers how silent Daehyun was the first week they knew each other. He'd mentioned being part of the chorus in his high school, so Youngjae had suggested he try out. He’d shrugged and reluctantly agreed … and then he'd proceeded to knock them all dead with his voice. Youngjae doesn't remember anything at all that suggests Daehyun only tried out to hang out with … him?
Daehyun frowns. "I don't know why you think I'm some kind of cool guy. I didn't know a person on campus. You could have held wild parties in our room, or you could have been some boring nerd - I mean more of a boring nerd than you are - or you could have thought I was a total loser. But you weren't those things: you were funny and nice and you made me feel like I had a friend the very first day I met you." He frowns. "Don't you realize how much that meant to me?"
Youngjae shakes his head. He hadn't thought … Yeah, Daehyun had been a transfer student, but he'd probably have made tons of friends in no time. "I … I didn't think."
"I know you didn't think," Daehyun says, wearily. "That's why I'm telling you. I'm really sorry I got the stupid solo in the concert. I don't want it. I never wanted to make you feel like you had no place in B.A.P. I think you're a great singer, and I think you're funny, and one of the nicest people I know. You're my best friend. So don't quit."
Youngjae swallows again. His throat is all tight and funny feeling. He doesn't want to cry. He really, really doesn't want to cry. He sits down hard on his bed. "I didn't quit because I was jealous of you." He stares at his lap. There's a hole in his jeans right above the left knee. "I quit because I like you. I like you a lot, Daehyun, and every time I saw you sing - how happy you were, and how great you were at it - I just liked you more and more. I thought that if I stayed and kept liking you more at some part my heart would burst. I'm sorry."
There's a long silence before Daehyun replies. "You don't have to be sorry. I'm not sure, but I think I like you too, Youngjae. I think."
Youngjae looks up. His eyes are watering - just allergies, probably - and he wipes them with the back of his hand. "What?"
Daehyun rolls his eyes. "Don't look all shocked. I mean, is it that surprising?"
Youngjae shrugs. "I don't know why you'd like me."
Daehyun shrugs. "I don't know either. I mean, you're obviously emotionally stunted or something. Did you really think that quitting would somehow make you feel better? Why didn't you just … say something?"
"I thought you'd hate me," Youngjae says quietly.
"Hey," Daehyun says. He gets up off his bed and sits down on Youngjae's, right next to him. "Listen, I would never hate you. No matter what. You're my best friend, like I said. Those don't just grow on trees."
Youngjae shakes his head. They don't, and if that's what he can have from Daehyun, he'd still think he won the best friend lottery. The idea that they could have anything more than that … it's too much. He doesn't even know what to think.
Daehyun puts an arm around his shoulder and squeezes him, a little too tight. Then he gets up and gets his phone off his bed.
"What are you doing?"
Daehyun looks up. "I'm texting Yongguk hyung to tell him you un-quit. Duh."
Youngjae smiles then. He can't help it. He still feels like his heart might burst, but he's so happy he doesn't care at all.
The music ends. Sweaty hand in sweaty hand, the six of them stand in the middle of the stage and bow. The lights are so bright that it's hard to see too well, but Youngjae thinks that there are some people on their feet. There are a lot of people on their feet, and the applause is loud. He grins and looks over at Daehyun. His sweaty hair is sticking to his forehead and he's panting, but he smiles when he sees Youngjae looking.
It is better, Youngjae thinks, to trust and love together than it is to be alone, but it’s scarier too.
Even so, when Daehyun squeezes Youngjae's hand, Youngjae squeezes back and doesn’t think of letting go.