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I Won't Fall (in love with you)

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BEAUFORT HIGH SCHOOL GYM – SATURDAY (10:00 PM)

OCTOBER, 1985

 

Rock music drifts out open doors into the dark night Livin' on a Prayer barely recognizable beneath the din of voices. Everyone is there. Smart kids, preps, rich kids, heavy metal enthusiasts, jocks, cheerleaders, punk rockers, goths, geeks. Mixing without mixing. Most of the teens are red-eyed and trashed, tipsy smiles dragging across their usually frown-ridden faces. A couple of boys break dance in one of the corners to a boom box.

 

A slick T-top Camaro roars up causing quite the commotion. Tires squealing, loud music blasting. Jeon Jeongguk, your cliche, resident rebel kid, is at the wheel. He is impulsive, troubled, with the nothing-to-lose courage to act on whims that occasionally border on the destructive. He is envied, wanted, copied, and feared by all (teachers and students alike).

 

Empty bottles roll and clink together on the floor of Jeongguk’s car. A tiny plastic skeleton dances eerily as it hangs from the rearview mirror.

 

“Where is he? He's supposed to be here.” Jeongguk exhales impatiently, stamping out a joint carelessly into the middle of his steering wheel. His friend, Minjun, whines from the back seat, “I need to piss.” He’s lanky-tall, high-energy, a leg always jiggling impatiently.

 

“I wanna dance,” Sana implores, looking over at Jeongguk from the passenger seat through batted eyelashes.

 

Sana is Jeongguk's girlfriend. High-maintenance princess, big hair and a big mouth to match. She’s a cheerleader (of course), but Jeongguk’s no jock. He didn’t have the motivation – or rather, the attendance – to be involved in school sports. If he'd attend more often he'd be readily accepted on almost any team. Naturally muscular and athletic without even trying.

 

“So go dance,” Jeongguk mutters uninterestedly, prompting Minjun to erupt into stifled snorts from the back.

 

Sana huffs in annoyance, scowling across at Jeongguk. She’d ask again but the answer would be no, besides, her ego was one to rival Jeongguk’s own. (And that’s saying a lot).

 

They’re about to exit the car, Minjun still whining about his bladder when the all-too familiar sound of sirens resounds somewhere in the distance. It’s as if everything goes in slow motion. Students scramble, cups and bottles fly, someone pulls the plug on the music. Some idiot attempts to get in Jeongguk’s car, the nerve. Cursing under his breath Jeongguk is about to press down hard on the gas, when their friend Jun-young rolls over the hood of the car. Finally. Jeongguk waits, finger tapping with impatience as Jun-young fumbles his way into the backseat beside Minjun. The door barely closes and they're off, wheels spinning up a cloud of dust behind them.

 

They park up on the dirt access road, headlights shining through the locked rear gate. John Cougar Mellencamp's "Small Town," plays softly.

 

Minjun practically falls out of the car in his efforts to relieve himself. Jeongguk, Jun-young, and Sana sit in silence, smoking weed, the latter drinking a bottle of cheap god awful whisky.

 

Minjun finishes taking a leak, clambering back into the car with a sigh of contentment and reaches out to snatch the joint from Jeongguk’s fingers. The night continues in much the same manner. Light-hearted bickering and banter, one too many joints and plenty of booze.

 

A shadow crosses over the car lights suddenly, interrupting the haze in the car’s interior.

 

“Kim Taehyung,” Jeongguk mutters under his breath, prompting the rest of his ‘crew’ to look up. They do, derisive laughter falling from their lips simultaneously at the sight.

 

A lean, tanned boy, is jumping off the gate, seemingly lost in his own world. His clothes are ill-fitting and not something Jeongguk (or any of them) would be caught dead in. Jeongguk vaguely registers the familiarity of the material due to it being strikingly similar to his grandma’s tablecloth. It’s a hideous brown colour, one Jeongguk recognises as the boy wears it far too frequently. His hair is messy, unstyled, hanging down too low and covering his eyes.

 

“Creep,” Sana jeers quietly under her breath, and the others laugh in agreement.

 

"Bible freak," chimes in Jun-young.

 

Taehyung upon hearing the laughter looks up, approaching them, unlaced sneakers crunching in the gravel. He pulls his brown patterned sweater closer across his chest.

 

“Hey. Hi. Your lights. Any chance you could turn them off?” Sana leans into Jeongguk, calling out his half-open window. “God give you this road?”

 

Taehyung looks up, confused. “No?” he whispers. Jeongguk feels something strange twist in his stomach. The boy looks so damn lost and is so clueless, he almost feels sorry for him. But Jeongguk doesn’t really have time to feel sorry for people.

 

“Then we'll be keeping the lights on,” Sana declares, Minjun erupting into a fit of laughter from the backseat.

 

“If you want the lights off, I'll turn them off,” Jeongguk says, earning him a spiteful glare from his girlfriend. And he does, pitching them all into darkness, Minjun letting out a pitiful wail. In the short second before it blacks out, Jeongguk catches Taehyung’s smile. It was rather nice in contrast to the rest of his general dowdy appearance.

 

“Thank you. Thank you so very much,” he says sincerely backs away from the car, gratefully.

 

Sana growls, “I can't see a freakin’ thing.” Jeongguk switches on the dome lights for her. Jun-young questions his actions, Sana in agreement, mocking.

 

Truth is he doesn’t know why he did it; it’s not like he’s the nicest guy in the world. Especially not for guys like him. Feeling uncomfortable at his own thoughts – must be the weed - Jeongguk quickly flicks on the high beams suddenly, full blast. Sana, Minjun, and Jun-young snicker and snort. Taehyung is startled, and pauses at the top of the fence. But instead of looking scared or angry, he turns around, sticking a tongue out at them. A moment later, he jumps down on the far side. Disappears into the night.

 

Sana, Minjun, Jun-young are still laughing. Jeongguk smiles just a little.

 

He’s fucking weird.

 

Minjun gets into one of his deep and meaningful moods, as he always does after a beer too many. “Ten years. Where're you gonna be?”

 

Sana says “New York or Paris.”

 

Jun-young says “Dead,” prompting laughter and an elbow to the ribs from Minjun.

 

Jeongguk grins, “Right here. With you idiots.” He clinks Minjun's raised beer and tries to ignore the strange unsettlement in his stomach. Maybe this isn’t where he wants to be. He drowns out his inner thoughts, chasing them away with another joint. He’s good at that, blocking shit out. Unnecessary shit. Loses himself in the mellow induced by marijuana, the good shit.

 

Jeongguk loses himself in Sana’s smile, in her mouth and then in her tongue (much to Jun-young’s disgust and Minjun’s whoops of approval). Sana doesn’t look half-bad when she’s drunk, her smile finally appearing genuine.

 

A blinding white light suddenly dances through the car and settles on Jeongguk and Sana's faces.

 

“Shit!” Jeongguk and Sana pull apart abruptly, looking up at the intruding beam. Jeongguk scrambles out of the car looking around in bewilderment. Because where the hell is that coming from? He almost jumps out of his skin when he hears a soft, low cackle, looking up to the gate.

 

Taehyung is sitting atop, holding some sort of hand-held mirror, reflecting the headlights back into the car. They stare at each other, Jeongguk’s mouth falls open, slack-jawed. Taehyung simply raises an eyebrow at him and he feels his initial annoyance fading away to mild respect. He smirks back at him.

 

“Jeongguk!” Sana calls out to him, her voice at that whiny pitch Jeongguk despises. The reflecting light goes out and when he turns around Taehyung is gone, disappearing into the night. Really fucking weird.

 

Deciding to call it a night (or rather, their lack of supplies forcing them to), the Camaro fishtails away. Tires crunching, red taillights bouncing on the rough road.

 

Jeongguk drives recklessly. It suits his image just right and he loves the rush. Rushing. He makes a screeching turn as they spot two fire trucks rumbling by houses, sirens wailing. Instinctively he follows them, Minjun calling out cries of encouragement. He swears he can hear Jun-young snoring. Typical. They make another turn following the trucks down a winding road. There is a flash of light and sudden movement as a figure on the road comes into view. An old man walking his little dog, a small white fluffy thing across the street. Jeongguk turns the wheel hard. Sputtering out curses he jams his foot down on the brake.

The Camaro swerves, tires squealing obscenely. Jeongguk feels his entire chest constrict when he hears a loud, heart-searing thump. The old man -- sideswiped, drops to the asphalt. The car slams into a street light pole, crunching metal and tinkling glass. The inside of the car goes deathly quiet. aside from the aftermath of shattering glass.

 

“Fuck man.”

 

“You okay?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Sana's head leans on the dash. Her shoulders shake involuntarily. Jeongguk, bleeding on the forehead, reaches over to her. Scared.

 

“Sana?”

 

She lifts her head and looks at him. She's laughing. The sight is off-putting, slightly maniacal due to the small rivulets of blood running down her left cheek. Jeongguk kicks his door out and runs over to the old man. Kneels and shakes him. His entire heart drops out of his body when he gets no response. The man's dog is jumping about in terror barking incessantly at Jeongguk.

 

Minjun clutches the back of Jeongguk’s shirt, a low anguished growl escaping Jeongguk’s lips. His heart thumps loud against his chest, fear pulsing throughout his body.

 

Police sirens wail in the background, growing louder.

 

Jeongguk breathes a sigh of relief when the old man blinks once, twice, coughing up blood. 

 

---

 

A battered Chevette steers through the neighborhood. Jeongguk's mother is driving. She's weary with wrinkled-worn skin, but still incredibly attractive. She wears a skimpy black-and-white cocktail waitress uniform under her coat.

 

“What if they expel you?”

 

Jeongguk sighs, “They wouldn't do that.”

 

“Why not?”

 

Jeongguk smiles his biggest most reassuring smile, ignoring the nausea swirling in his gut. “Cuz nothing happened at school.”

 

“Don't smile at me. It's not going to get you out of this.”

 

“Why not? It always has before.” Jeongguk winks cheekily, his facial expressions so incredibly far removed from what is going on inside his head.

 

---

 

BEAUFORT HIGH SCHOOL - MONDAY (7:59 AM)

 

By daylight the school is a modern brick and glass structure, all remnants of underage wrongdoing removed. Jeongguk shuffles awkwardly in the principal’s office, and Mr. Kelly gestures for Jeongguk to sit but he doesn't. His forehead is bruised black and blue.

 

“I had hopes for you.”

 

Jeongguk is snarky, as is his signature. “Like I'd grow up to be president, another Reagan perhaps.”

 

Kelly frowns, “Like you'd make it to June. Even cutting half your classes, you have a B- average.”

 

Jeongguk shrugs his shoulders, showing a bravado he definitely doesn’t feel. “I'm no dummy.”

 

Kelly sighs wearily, “That's right. You just act like one.”

 

Jeongguk cuts straight to the chase, “You expelling me?”

 

“I am.”

 

Jeongguk grins but it doesn’t reach his eyes, his words feel sour in his own mouth. “Now I can do what I want.” The words fall flat into the room.

 

Mr. Kelly smiles back, eyes sad. “That's right. The world is your oyster.”

 

Jeongguk nods, shoving his hands hastily into his pockets and clenching hard against the fabric. Outwardly, he’s the picture of nonchalance.

 

---

 

Jeongguk attempts to slip in the door home, but his mother is sitting and waiting for him, an unreadable expression on her face. She knows.

 

“I want to talk to you. You’re not hanging round here all day.”

 

“I'm not hanging. I'm gonna fix my car.”

 

“You don't need a car because you’re on probation. Could’ve been worse you know. If not for your dad.”

 

Jeongguk winces at the mention of his father.

 

“Go see Marvin about a job.”

 

“I'm not working there.”

 

---

 

Jeongguk is sweating, scouring pots. A crooked cap on his head, a lopsided name tag on his shirt. He's making some headway; only two more to wash. Marvin, the manager, walks over. Beer belly, greasy hair. Dumps another pile of dirty pots and pans in Jeongguk's sink. Jeongguk glimpses his future and balks.

 

---

 

Jeongguk paces, jumpy outside the principal’s office. Mr. Kelly's secretary looks up and down at him disdainfully. They all know him well in the office, and not for good reasons.

 

After what seems like hours the door to Mr. Kelly's office opens. Taehyung exits with his father, the tall stern Doctor Kim, some kind of surgeon Jeongguk supposes. Taehyung eyes Jeongguk as he passes by.

 

“You expelled, too?” Jeongguk quips, Taehyung simply looks on at him, wordless.

 

 

Jeongguk grits his teeth when he gets into the office, attempting his most innocent expression. “I want to come back.”

 

Mr. Kelly looks up surprised. “Back? Were you ever really here?” Jeongguk winces at the words, but he can’t acknowledge the truth that they hold. They both know Kelly has the upper hand. Kelly leans back in his chair, relishing it.

 

“I want to graduate,” Jeongguk mumbles, biting on his lower lip incessantly. A nervous habit he’d never quite been able to rid himself of.

 

“You could grace our hallowed halls again, if, while you're here, you make a sincere effort to be part of our little school community –“

 

Relieved, Jeongguk interrupts him“I'd do that.” Because honestly – as much as he hated school he’d do anything to get back in. Anything at all. He wasn’t ready for the adult world, not just yet. Not washing dishes in a sweaty dilapidated restaurant while his friends all went to College.

 

“How would you do that, Mr. Jeon?”

 

Jeongguk shrugs, clueless.

 

“Shall I give you a few ideas?” Jeongguk smiles bravely, knowing he isn’t going to like the suggestions.

 

“Besides attending all your regular classes, I'd like you to help our janitorial staff after school.”

 

“For pay?”

 

“For the inner satisfaction it will bring.” Jeongguk attempts to swallow a grimace.

 

“Saturday mornings, I'd like you to tutor disadvantaged students at Beaufort West High. Finally, I'd like you to join the drama club. It’d be good to get you in with another crowd. I've heard you were quite an actor, in Junior High.”

 

The last part hurts Jeongguk the most. The fucking drama club? Really? His principal seemed to even be enjoying himself, sadistic old man.

 

“When do I get time for me?”

 

Kelly smiles, “You don't. That's the point.”

 

Their meeting comes to an eventual close, but just as he reaches the door his principal gestures him back in. His voice is soft, sympathetic even – Jeongguk despises it. He hates when anyone feels sorry for him.

 

“Jeongguk, none of us faculty see you the way you see yourself. Some of us remember how your father –“

 

“Then you remember more than I do,” Jeongguk cuts in abruptly, heading quickly out the door without a backward glance.

 

---

 

Jeongguk sweeps at the floor during the Star Club open day. A dozen science nerds, including Taehyung (wearing his infamous brown sweater), stand at astronomy exhibits. Students wander in, listen, look.

 

Taehyung is in the thick of it, answering any and all questions excitedly. Jeongguk snorts, because of course he’d be right here. Voluntarily no doubt.

 

“-- Saturn's 15 degrees to the right of red Antares and much brighter.”

 

To his small audience, Taehyung holds up a contraption made from a wire coat hanger.

 

“This is a very simple device made from a coat hanger, plastic wrap and typewriter correction fluid. Does anyone know what it is?”

 

No one does. Taehyung greeted with silence.

 

Jeongguk mutters under his breath, barely audible “Star frame.” He may have watched a documentary one time about them. He liked documentaries, not a fact he generally disclosed. Movies he watched with Sana or his friends were usually low-budget horrors where he could guess the storyline after a minute, or an equally cringe-worthy comedy. Space was interesting.

 

No one notices, but Taehyung hears. He looks up and regards him interestedly for a moment, then keeps going.

 

“This is a star frame.”

 

Jeongguk allows himself a small smile of contentment.

 

 

Jun-young and Minjun enter to check on Jeongguk (see: laugh at him).

 

“A star frame will help you locate stars and planets with your naked eye –“

 

Jun-young laughs, setting Taehyung up “-- Did God create the sun?” Jeongguk grimaces, knowing exactly what is to follow. He judges Jun-young for a minute, despite the fact that he – himself, is much the same.

 

Taehyung turns to him, all smiles. Jeongguk grimaces further when he detects that he’s taking him seriously.

 

“Yes, God created the universe and all its physical laws. Even Einstein said it's a miracle that our world is comprehensible –“

 

Minjun cuts in, “-- If God can do all that, why can't he get you a new sweater?”

 

Jeongguk laughs loudly in spite of himself. Everyone turns to stare at him. “It was a joke, laugh,” Jeongguk says snidely.

 

He’s surprised to see Taehyung smiling across at him.

 

He can laugh at himself. Maybe he’s not half bad.

---

 

Jeongguk washes up while his mother sets the table. The microwave hums in the background loudly. Microwave dinners were a common occurrence in their household. Jeongguk can barely remember the last time his mother actually cooked something, she was always exhausted from work.

 

“Your father dropped off an extra check.”

 

“I don't want his money.” Jeongguk spits in the sink, as if to emphasize the point. He picks up the envelope with wet hands. Without looking inside, rips it in half.

 

---

 

It’s Saturday morning at ass o’clock, an hour that Jeongguk should be in bed. Preferably in a state of undress with Sana.

 

But here he is, another of those damned extracurricular activities, sitting in the back row of the bus on his way to Beaufort West. Jeongguk stares out the window, his walkman playing at full volume, face the picture of despondence.

 

The bus is full of enthusiastic preppies and other do-gooders, and as if to add to his personal hell, they’re all wholeheartedly singing "Karma Chameleon." Taehyung is there too (of course) but he’s reading, not singing. Today his sweater is baby blue. Jeongguk silently decides he likes this one marginally better than the brown one. The colour complements his tanned skin quite nicely – not that Jeongguk’s noticed or anything.

 

Out the window – Beaufort West gradually comes into view. It’s a shocking contrast to the school Jeongguk’s used to. Bars are on every window, chain-link fence around the parameter, no grass in sight. It looks more like a juvenile youth facility than a place of learning. Jeongguk winces. He would’ve probably ended up in a youth facility if his blasted father hadn’t paid off the cops to bring down his accident to a misdemeanour. He hadn’t asked him to – or wanted him to, of course. He didn’t want anything to do with him.

 

Jeongguk trails behind his ‘team’ into a large bare room with tables and chairs but a noticeable absence of books. The few that were there are dog-eared and well-worn, multiple pages missing. Pairs of heads are bent over textbooks and notebooks.

 

Jeongguk finds himself seated with a smiley boy who introduces himself as Hoseok, a freshman.

 

“So what is the measure of angle x if A and B are similar triangles?” Jeongguk tries out his best teacher voice.

 

Hoseok looks up, lost and clearly intimidated. Jeongguk attempts to rearrange his face knowing he comes off a little scary. He tries again.

 

“Know what 'similar' means?”

 

Hoseok shrugs. He looks down at the book as if for the answer, then at Jeongguk, hopeless. He eventually gets up and walks off. Jeongguk looks up in disbelief and catches Taehyung studying him. He's at a nearby table with his student.

 

Jeongguk sits for the next forty-five minutes listening to his walkman, he contemplates going after the kid – Hoseok was it? But decides against it.

 

Eventually it’s time to go.

 

Thank god.

 

The door swishes shut behind Jeongguk as he hops aboard the bus. He's last on and heads for the rear bench seat. Taehyung is already sitting there. Jeongguk notices with slight apprehension that there no vacant seats save the one next to him.

 

Great.

 

The bus begins to roll prompting Jeongguk to lurch forward clumsily. He hastily sits down next to Taehyung, not sparing him a second glance.

 

“You going to visit Harold?”

 

Jeongguk scowls. What-who is Taehyung talking about?

 

“They let him out of the hospital yesterday. He's in a rest home on Oak Street.”

 

That old man. Jeongguk’s stomach flips uncomfortably.

 

“He goes to my church. He could've died –“

 

“-- This your idea of small talk?” Jeongguk says, shifting uncomfortably in the small space.

 

“I don't make small talk –“ Taehyung replies.

 

“Obviously.”

 

Jeongguk tries to ignore the fact that he always, always finds small talk a boring and frivolous waste of time. Small talk was always so contrived, so pre-planned, people didn’t ask ‘how are you’ to receive a real answer, they just wanted an ‘I’m good’ and a reciprocal question. Meaningless.

 

“I also just wanted to tell you not to give up. Sometimes you've got to back into the teaching from somewhere else.”

 

Hoseok.

 

“What makes you volunteer? Want to know why I tutor reading?”

 

Not really Jeongguk thinks, his face displaying complete disinterest. He knows he’s going to hear regardless. Taehyung continues, undeterred. Jeongguk admires him (just a little bit), it must be nice, to not give a shit about what anyone thinks.

 

“Because, growing up, books were my world.”

 

“Were?” Jeongguk gestures at the book on his lap, mockingly.

 

“You don't know me.”

 

“Your book and your brown sweater and your overgrown hair. What's more to know -- ?” Jeongguk winces slightly at his tone, but it’s what he’s used to. He isn’t used to – well – conversations like this. Real conversations, his brain prompts.

 

“I wear sweaters because I get cold easily. I read because I enjoy it. My hair is my hair. What is it exactly that's bothering you?”

 

“You don't care what people say?”

 

“You mean care what you say? I'm worrying about other things.”

 

Jeongguk can’t help the biting sarcasm of his voice, it’s almost ingrained at this point.

 

“Like what? The moons of Jupiter?”

 

“Can't you have a normal conversation?”

 

“I don't want to have any conversation.”

 

Taehyung huffs and resumes reading. Jeongguk pulls back on his headphones, staring uncomfortably out the window.

 

The bus pulls to a stop in front of Beaufort High. Sana is waiting, leaning on her Cabriolet. Taehyung’s eyes follow as Jeongguk exits the bus, running over to greet Sana with a kiss.

 

---

 

Jeongguk sighs, it feels as though his entire week has been full of sighs – but this one he’d been dreading the most. He opens a side door cautiously and peers in at the Drama Club. A teacher he doesn’t recognize stands there with some drama geek boys, and a dozen girls Jeongguk wouldn’t be seen dead with – and – of course, Taehyung.

 

He actually chooses to be in these places?

 

The teacher looks up from her papers unamused, “We're waiting, Mr. Jeon.”

 

He slides in a row behind the others. Leans forward and pokes a boy, at random, who instantly tenses at the movement. Jeongguk had that effect on people.

 

“What's the play?”

 

The boy hands him a photocopied script. At the top in large bold letters, it says 'Untitled'. Helpful.

 

He stutters uncontrollably, “The-the- teacher has m-made the base of the p-play. B-but she w-wants o-our input! We'll w-write together—“

 

“-- I don't care.” Jeongguk scowls.

 

---

 

Taehyung and Jeongguk sit in folding chairs, reading from scripts. Jeongguk's entire body is frozen, his face the picture of discomfort.

 

JEONGGUK “'I hope your dreams come true.”

TAEHYUNG “They won't.”

JEONGGUK "Let me ask you. Look in the mirror. What do you see?”

 

The teacher cuts in “-- Jeongguk, are you trying to be bad at this?” Jeongguk smiles serenely, “No, it just comes naturally.” Taehyung smiles and the teacher taps her script for them to continue.

 

JEONGGUK  “One day the mirror will be the eyes of the man who loves you. You'll look in that mirror and you'll be more than pretty. You'll be beautiful.”

 

Jeongguk chokes on the words feeling utterly ridiculous. Also, Taehyung was a guy for goodness sake. The parts they were reading seemed as though they were for a boy and a girl. Not that he’d want to trade partners and get one of those girls though. It’s almost scary that he sees Taehyung as the best option.

 

Taehyung looks up into his eyes. Jeongguk swallows uncomfortably. Taehyung’s eyes are piercing, as though he’s looking straight into his soul. Most people avoid eye-contact with Jeongguk.

 

Fuck this shit.

 

TAEHYUNG Is it really me?”

JEONGGUK “Yes. You're-you're b-beautiful.”

 

Hoots and laughter erupt in the background and Jeongguk can feel himself sinking into the stage. Taehyung looks away, humiliated. The teacher hushes them and Jeongguk swears he’s never felt this much relief in his life when she cuts their turn. He zones out as the teacher tries various duos, preoccupied with mapping the zigzagged patterns on Taehyung’s sweater. Today it’s green. It’s an okay green, a Christmas green. Jeongguk would’ve really expected mustard though. His teacher's voice filters through.

 

“Taehyung and Jeongguk will play the main roles. There will have to be a few amendments – of course, the storyline I'd originally set for a female/male dynamic, but we can work with that. It will be an interesting creative process to re-work this further and add in our own contributions but I have full faith in you all.”

 

A main role? And with Taehyung? Jeongguk’s mouth drops wide open in horror. Groans amongst the boys erupt and Taehyung’s face falls simultaneously with Jeongguk’s.

 

Jeongguk stands up abruptly “No way. No thanks. I can't do it!—“

 

His principal’s voice cuts in from the side of the stage. When did he even get there?

 

“-- You can and you will, Mr. Jeon. With all the sincerity and dignity you can muster.”

 

Shit.

 

---

 

It’s raining. Jeongguk exits behind all the others after his second drama practice of the week. He stands under an overhang, lights a cigarette, irritably. Taehyung approaches him slowly.

 

“You're like this fly, buzzing everywhere –“

 

Taehyung dismisses his rudeness – as always. “This play means a lot to me.”

 

“This play?” Jeongguk snorts derisively, kicking at loose stones in the gravel in annoyance.

 

“I know you don't suck at acting.”

 

Jeongguk laughs. Taehyung continues, “I can judge too.”

 

Jeongguk exhales a puff of smoke rudely in Taehyung’s vicinity, eyeing him, daring him to continue. Taehyung lets out a soft breath as if he’s afraid to go on. Jeongguk decidedly does not like where this is going.

 

“You don't care about classes or graduating. But you like school because you're popular and you’re afraid you'll never be on top again.”

 

“That's deep –“

 

“You might not care about school but you like learning. You’re not as stupid as you want to appear.”

 

Jeongguk’s discomfort grows increasingly by the second.

 

Taehyung shrugs, “Your act only works with an audience.”

 

“My act?” Jeongguk spits out, offended.

 

“You’re a good actor,” Taehyung says pointedly, “But it’s an act.” With that he walks off toward his father's old Pontiac. The last car in the parking lot.

 

Jeongguk's eyes twitch as he chews on his lower lip. He scrambles for a retort but nothing comes to mind. He doesn’t allow himself to dwell on Taehyung’s words.

 

Looking upwards, at the rain, he watches Taehyung backing out of the last parking spot and makes a quick decision he believes he’s likely to regret. Swallowing his pride (a sizable amount) he races forward and bangs on the side of his car as Taehyung drives past.

 

“A ride?! Please!”

 

Taehyung turns to look at him. Jeongguk puts on his best puppy eyes, he knows they’re good. “We can talk about you helping me with my lines,” he pleads, tone profoundly insincere.

 

“I know you don't want help,” Taehyung says with a sigh, leaning over to unlock the door by way of invitation.

 

“Then we both know. I'll point. You drive. Faster.” Jeongguk swallows his feeling of unease. One week ago he would not have expected to be sitting here. In a car with Taehyung. In Taehyung’s car. On his way home from drama club of all places.

 

Jeongguk points the way, to the taillights of the fire trucks. The wet road glistens in the moonlight.

 

Taehyung cocks a head inquisitively, “We're following fire trucks?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Why?”

 

Jeongguk shrugs, “Because that's where the fire is?” Jeongguk fishes in his pocket for a tape. Pulls one out. He searches the dash -- no cassette player. Of course. Should’ve guessed.

 

“Fire is like a living thing. Wild. Unpredictable.”

 

Taehyung grins, “Like me.”

 

Jeongguk chokes back a laugh. “No. Definitely not like you.”

 

Taehyung jerks the car across the centre lane so that he’s driving on the wrong side of the road. Jeongguk grips the dash tightly.

 

“What the -- ?!”

 

“So you agree you need help?”

 

Jeongguk looks out the windscreen, headlights looming, a car coming. Closer and closer. Maybe Taehyung is crazier than he initially thought.

 

“Yes!”

 

Taehyung swings the car back to the right lane, smiling. A car zips by in the other direction, horn blaring at them.

 

“Really?”

 

Jeongguk drops his attitude, his act. He toys with the glove compartment knob awkwardly.

 

“Yeah. Kelly'll make me leave school if I screw up the play,” he says quietly.

 

Taehyung whispers to himself. “28 and 42.”

 

Jeongguk acts like he doesn't hear, but he's can’t deny it’s piqued his interest.

 

“What's with the freakin’ numbers?”

 

Taehyung shoots him a sideways grin, and it’s unnervingly bright. “28 is do something illegal. 42 is befriend an enemy.”

 

Jeongguk looks up in mock hurt, “I'm an enemy?”

 

Taehyung smiles sheepishly, “Kinda. Yeah.”

 

---

 

Jeongguk and Taehyung walk around the edge of the house, watching the fire and firemen. Jeongguk tries not to find it adorable how enthralled Taehyung is, stamping down the thoughts a lot faster than the firemen are dealing with the flames.

 

“You got some kind of list?” Jeongguk asks, referring to the aforementioned numbers.

 

“Are you asking to mock me or do you really want to know?”

 

Jeongguk is honest for perhaps the first time, “Maybe a little of both.” They both smile.

 

“It's like a to-do list, but for my life. If you can't imagine the future, you won't have one.”

 

They back away from the scene, the fire now dying embers. Jeongguk lights a cigarette, Taehyung reaches for it. “Having a cigarette. 72.”

 

He grins and takes a drag. They share the cigarette and Jeongguk tries not to admit it to himself, but Taehyung’s really not so bad. The sweaters are even growing on him. God, if the others could hear his thoughts.

 

“So what else is on this list?”

 

“It's private.”

 

“Get very wasted. Lose your virginity –” Jeongguk suggests rudely. Because if he was ever sure of anything, it was of Taehyung’s virginal status.

 

Taehyung corrects him, “Spend a year volunteering. Make a medical discovery –“

 

“Ambitious.” Jeongguk arches an eyebrow, ignores the small twinge of jealousy.

 

“Being negative is a lot more work than being positive,” Taehyung says simply.

 

Jeongguk hums, “Like you'd know.”

 

“I do know. Be two places at once... learn to hit a baseball or turn a cartwheel... eat breakfast with chopsticks...”

 

Jeongguk decides he likes the frivolity of these. Taehyung isn’t so weird, he’s, hmm, Taehyung’s interesting, he decides hesitantly.

 

“What's... Number one?”

 

Taehyung looks away, embarrassed. Jeongguk pretends he isn’t incredibly interested (he is).

 

Taehyung swiftly changes the subject. “If you want help with your lines, I have one condition.” He grins up at Jeongguk, the distant embers of the fire flickering in his eyes. Jeongguk resists the urge not to swipe his goddamn hair out of his eyes.

 

“You have to promise not to fall in love with me.”

 

Jeongguk coughs and retracts his theory of Taehyung not being too weird instantly. He must be joking.

“No problem –“