There were times Jimin reevaluated his life choice of working as a barista.
Pink Bean Cafe was a small coffeehouse owned by Kim Seokjin, that elicited an antediluvian kind of ambience with its quaint architecture and dusty coloured brick walls of maroon and brown with a pink canopy over the entrance. Not only did the delicious coffee, light baked goods, and the fact that they served breakfast and brunch give off a wonderful impression, but their biweekly open mic nights encouraged all types of artistic expression ranging from music, poetry, rap, dance and even comedy, although the majority of them were aspiring musicians. There were all types of versatile performers of different ages and talents and it was a great chance to let the artists forge connections. The warm and cozy atmosphere of the place was also like home-- the gold lighting and mahogany walls with hanging abstract paintings and framed landscapes, the comfortable cushioned chairs and the personable employees-- all of it contributed to the place’s intimate, whimsical beauty.
Students were particularly polite (if they weren’t pretentious rich little shits), but the coffeehouse also attracted all kinds of bizarre customers of different ages who seemed to be unable to comprehend the simple concept of civility. Open mic nights seemed to attract the nicest people in retrospect.
And, well-- this? This is one of those times.
“I want a large frappucino-- to go-- with four times the syrup, extra whipped cream, extra caramel drizzle with a touch of vanilla and split quad shots. Oh, but with half-whole milk, one quarter 1%, one quarter non-fat, I’m trying to watch my calories. Make it extra hot. Also, can I get one of those Jumbo Caramel Banana Muffins?”
Jimin’s mind was short-circuiting with each bizarre modification, half of the information already lost on his sleep-deprived brain. He was barely five minutes into the start of his afternoon shift, having just arrived from his morning classes about computational and calculation skills he barely paid any attention to, and he was already bombarded by preposterous orders that went through one ear and out the other. However, he forced his practiced smile wide and bright as possible, stiffly nodding with feigned optimism and a sickly sweet lilt to his voice, “Of course, ma’am. Coming right up.”
As soon as he turned around after collecting her name, he let the smile drop into a distraught frown, exercising patience and self-control as he fixed the woman’s absurd drink. “What does she think this place is? Starbucks?”
“Shoulda seen the person who ordered from here earlier before you came. I had to waste a whole ten minutes trying to explain the difference between a cappuccino and a latte before the asshole proceeded to unleash all fury because he didn’t understand.” Taehyung’s cheerful, unbothered voice contradicted how he vehemently grinded the coffee beans. His vibrant, crimson hair stood out the most against the sunlight that filtered through the large windowpanes. The colour reminded Jimin of cherry tomatoes. (He loved cherry tomatoes.)
“Wow,” Jimin stopped mid-rush to blink at him widely, “I would have socked that asshole if I hadn’t become a pacifist.”
“Eh,” Taehyung’s spirits lifted at that as he grinned, “you’re still a brute in my eyes, although a teeny tiny bit more lovable.”
As he hurried around, Jimin was thankful of the ergonomics of their workstation. There was easy access to materials and ingredients, to underneath garbage bins, to milk stored in the mini fridge, and the benchtop was easy to reach for overhead storages, accessories, plates and cups they needed, especially since Jimin was slightly vertically challenged in comparison to his co-workers. Not only that, but they didn’t need to compete for space in such a busy environment, so it guaranteed safe maneuvers and less collisions, and they were able to work swift and fast without many trials. (Although Jimin lost count on how many times he experienced the ungodly pain of being burned from the steam wand.)
It was the many struggles of working in a cafe, but Jimin established a close-knit community there as well. Even Seokjin, who was the owner, emanated more of a parental figure in lieu of a boss, and because of his carefree and nurturing attitude, all of them found it comfortable communicating with him freely and without any reserve or inhibitions. (Although bouts of childish buffoonery would set Seokjin off into an exaggerated tangent about how they should act more professional and that they should respect the dignity of the cafe instead of releasing their inner-- gangsters.)
“Where's Hobi?” Jimin asked as he took a muffin with kitchen tongs from the countertop food display case and placed it into a paper bag with their logo plastered on the front.
“There was this cute guy in here that was leaving so he chased him outside to get his phone number.” Taehyung said, “He’s just probably trying to get into his pants, though. I wouldn’t be surprised if he already did.”
“In broad daylight?”
“He truly art damned, like an ill-roasted egg, all on one side.” Taehyung, with an unnecessary flair for the dramatic as per usual, threw his head back with a hand atop his forehead, “His kisses are comfortless as frozen water to a starved snake. Poor manhood of his, of uncanny thirsty dealing.” He quickly resumed back to his task at hand in a casual manner, “In short, he's a manhoe.”
Jimin sighed as he clasped on the lid of the cup, “I hardly understood the beginning.”
“Neither did I, but who fully understands Shakespearean anyways?”
“Anyways,” Taehyung poured espresso into a rounded, bowl-shaped cup, proceeding to add a small amount of steamed milk from the pitcher as he made a heart shape on top, “my cousin told me that a co-worker of his is coming to open mic tonight. Namjoonie said that he’s kind of shy, so he told us to tone down on our harebrained wits if we get the chance to meet him up close. He didn’t give me much to work with, though. All I know is his name and that he plays an old-looking acoustic guitar.”
“I personally disagree with the ‘harebrained wits’ part. That only applies to you.” Jimin couldn’t help but giggle at Taehyung’s offended expression, “What’s his name?”
Taehyung paused, narrowing his eyes, his lips forming into a thoughtful pout, “J- Je- John? I know his name starts with the letter ‘J’. Wait, actually--”
Jimin laughed incredulously, “You forgot his name already?”
“In my defense, I was living off of an entire tub of coffee after pulling an all-nighter and was about to pass the fuck out when he told me all that.” Taehyung frowned at him, “Don’t judge me.”
Jimin rolled his eyes lightheartedly before he placed the order on the counter and called for the woman who was on the phone, thanking her for her service to their cafe. She curtly nodded, her flamingo pink nails flicking away the rehearsed gratitude as she wordlessly left. Jimin sighed, rolling back his shoulders. It was going to be another long day. Namjoon’s co-worker was never subsequently brought up again.
He was shifting in his stance from time to time, his muscles and the soles of his feet sore from standing and moving all day. A regular routine of taking orders, cleaning, collecting plates and cups and tidying after people was quite meticulously strenuous. It also meant consuming more cups of espresso than his usual intake in the middle of his breaks to boost his morale, although it’d usually lead to much of the apprehended ramifications of too much caffeine. However, being in the company of his goofy coworkers made the day a bit more bearable.
The cerulean blue sky darkened and merged with a tangerine hue, mixing together into a gradient of a gelid warm palette. Cellophane clouds drifted across the dome, just like the whirlwind of blurry-faced bodies roaming around the streets and entering and leaving the coffeehouse. Despite it being busy, the dreaded inundation of customers slowly faded, the late afternoon rush and commotion dying down as the sun slowly descended behind the horizon. The cacophony of buzzing chatter, all white noise to Jimin’s ears, was soon replaced by soft, mellow jazz music emitting from the speakers that had been drowned earlier. It was much more calming than the droning of jarring, tangled voices.
Jimin was tasked with setting up the microphone and the amp on the small stage of theirs, racking his memory as he tried to recollect where to plug each cord in. He was too focused on the technical gimmicks and testing the sound system without trying to disturb anyone that he barely registered Seokjin’s dramatically woeful voice pierce the placidity of the place after he returned from running errands.
“Oh my god, why do we still have that monstrosity outside on the chalkboard sign?” He wailed, pausing his internal turmoil to brightly smile and greet the customers who turned to look at the source of the distressed cry before the glower returned as as he turned away and marched towards the redhead.
“What’s so bad about it? I personally think it’s superb.” Taehyung asked innocently with his puppy dog eyes, leaning his hands on the marble counter.
“Taehyung, it's a poorly drawn stick man with a grumpy face holding what looks like to be a cup of coffee and you wrote in bold, big block letters underneath it, ‘When You Feel DEPRESSO… Have A Little ESPRESSO.”
Jimin sighed as he positioned the mic stand on the stage with the optional sitting stool, nudging the stray cords away with his toe to allow a clearer path. He wiped the dust off his hands onto his black apron, leaving grey smudges. How they still managed to receive any business at all with that sort od mortification was frankly a miracle. They were supposed to entice the customers with something more aesthetically pleasing than some punny drawing made by a spontaneous manchild.
“Yeah, hyung? And it’s brew-tiful.”
Seokjin looked horrified as though someone just finished shitting in his cereal. Hoseok miserably shouted at him from inside the staff room. Jimin’s already become desensitized to it ever since they were high school misfits and partners in crime, so all he did was scoff and move onto his next task of cleaning the window bar table.
After a while, the intensity of the environment dimmed down and became calmer, letting Jimin breathe as the stuffiness from the influx of customers ebbed away into the lull of the night. Jimin warmly greeted the seasoned performers he recognized, engaging in amicable, brief conversations with them as they passed by. They were older than him, grey hairs peeking through the nest of brown or black, but they were still young at heart, their uninhibited laughter broad and jovial, and because of their age gaps, they tended to dote on him a lot more. Jimin perpetually found him smiling a lot more widely and genuinely in their company, how endearing it was to see a flame of passion still ignited in their hearts despite being past their prime. There were some who continued to attend even though they were flourishing quite successfully in their pursuit of achieving their aspirations.
Jimin leaned against the polished countertop when there were null of any orders, the customers either too invested in the performances before their eyes or too busy chatting over them. There was a young woman up on the small stage, reciting an original poem of hers through the microphone, her clear voice lilting in passionate emotion to convey genuine fervency behind each enunciation. He was trying to pay attention to her eloquent words but Jimin found it hard to stay attentive when his co-workers wouldn’t hush.
“I honestly don’t know what she’s talking about,” Hoseok whispered beside him, eyebrows furrowed in a strenuous attempt to decipher the meaning behind the flowery language, “what the heck does she mean by ‘I could feel it with every tingling hair of my corporeality. I was between the rift of consciousness and a deep stupor, my senses a farrago of obscurity. The seams of my innocent pretense had burst open into a current of euphoria.’ Is she talking about, like, sex or something?”
Jimin muffled a snort he couldn’t control and looked at him with a disquieted look, “Where in the world did you get that?”
Hoseok shrugged, “I can sense the sexual innuendos hiding behind all those use of florid euphemisms. Call it a gut feeling.”
“I think it has something to do with finding one’s own identity.” Taehyung chimed in with a pondering look, stroking his non-existent beard as he narrowed his eyes in deep contemplation, “The journey of preserving self-identity, and having this kind of random epiphany of finding yourself in this world of individualism.” He paused, lips forming into a tight-lipped frown before he looked back at Hoseok with a blank expression, “Or maybe you’re just seriously horny.”
Jimin cringed while Hoseok visibly deflated, eyes downcast. He let out a miserable sigh, “Maybe you’re right. My libido’s gone over the roof ever since I broke up with my last boyfriend.”
“What happened to that cute guy you chased after?” Taehyung asked.
“Been there, done that.” Hoseok flippantly swatted away the topic.
“Oh, scandalous,” Taehyung said in a sing-song voice, laughing when he was dodging Hoseok’s attempts to jab him in the side.
“Wait, boyfriend?” Jimin scoffed, “Didn’t you call him your fuck buddy in the span of the few weeks you were getting it on with the guy?”
Hoseok flared his nostrils, “Well, it’s better than using my own hand. Do you know how much lube I’ve used on my--”
“Oh my god, I don’t need to know all the details--”
“What’s wrong with using your own hand--”
“Let’s give her one more round of applause, everyone!” Seokjin’s bubbly voice permeated the room as he clapped along with everyone else. Jimin followed along as well as he applauded, sending warning glares towards his two co-workers who wouldn’t shut up. Seokjin glanced down at his clipboard of the list of artists yet to perform, his jasmine blonde hair reflecting a platinum sheen underneath the lighting. They were already in the middle of the list, and with an enthusiastic cheer, “Oh! He’s a newcomer. It’s his first time to set foot on our stage, everyone, so let’s be extra supportive!”
“Guys, the conversation you’re having right now is highly inappropriate in a place like this. Go work it out in the kitchen or something,” Jimin groaned miserably as he covered his ears in an attempt to block out their conversation, muttering the last part, “Or better. In the storage closet.”
Jimin’s attention shifted back to the stage and to the new performer, an unfamiliar looking boy who was hugging his worn down acoustic guitar, the strap around his shoulder, close to his chest as he gingerly stepped up on stage. He looked mature but young. Even from a small distance, Jimin could pinpoint the handsome lineaments of his face-- beautiful, even, from the quiet elegance of his demeanor, with sharp eyes and dainty lips pressed tightly. His dark hair fell into the lids of his eyes, his lean shoulders prominent beneath a large, cobalt blue sweater over a white collared shirt. Jimin would have assumed he was aloof or the type of person to be cold with his solemn expression if he hadn’t knocked his head against the microphone and made apprehensive grabby hands for it when he had bowed.
“Sorry,” he adjusted the microphone back to its prior position, earning a few lighthearted laughs from the audience when he apologized to an inanimate object. Jimin couldn’t help but laugh as well and saw the redness in his cheeks. “Hi. Um, my name is Jungkook.” There was a slight waver in his voice as he fidgeted nervously with the bracelet around his wrist, “It’s a great pleasure to be able to play here, so thank you for the opportunity.”
Taehyung slapped his hand against the counter, startling Jimin, no longer sustaining the petty banter between him and Hoseok, “Jungkook! That’s the name!” Jimin shot him a questioning look.
“That’s Namjoon's co-worker! The one I mentioned earlier!” Taehyung emphatically proclaimed, his countenance brightening in recognition now that he solved the mystery churning in his head, “You know, he looks way different from how I pictured him in my head. Kinda strange how I didn’t see him enter earlier.” Jimin didn’t recall seeing him enter the cafe either, but then again, the afternoon was always inevitably busy that left Jimin mildly seething and imminently exhausted from running around fixing drinks. He would have been too tired to notice the niceties of his surroundings as evening descended.
“This is my first time performing in front of a crowd, so-- um, to make my first experience here, I’ll just be playing a cover song of Paper Hearts. I hope you all enjoy it nonetheless.” His hands were shaking slightly as he took in a deep breath, his eyes sweeping across the vicinity of the room in order to compose himself, but coincidentally enough, his eyes met Jimin’s.
Jimin was captivated, to say the least. It was a brief, fleeting glance, nothing more than just accidental eye contact, yet it ignited a dim flame of curiosity. He wondered how such a young man could embody the world’s melancholy in just those eyes when he didn’t look as old as the sages who spoke with universal wisdom.
However, Jimin chose to ignore it, and watched as Jungkook nervously cleared his throat. There was a beat of silence before he began to play, fingers deftly moving across the fingerboard as the mellifluous, catchy tune projected across the entire room, and opened his mouth with an intake of breathy air and--
“Whoa,” Jimin let his mouth slightly hang open in complete awe. His voice-- it was rich and dulcet, a beautiful tone that seemed to enrapture the entire audience as well. There was an airiness to his voice, something akin to tender passion intertwined with a soft spirit, effortlessly undulating through the run of notes and ad-libs. No one seemed to care about the small junctures of instability, no doubt from the anxiety he had from his first time performing in front of others, “he’s--”
“Hot.” Hoseok finished for him, eyes were blown wide with delight. Jimin frowned and gave him an inquisitive leer. “What? Just because I just got out of a relationship, it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate someone else’s attractiveness and it doesn’t make me some philanderer with no respect to the aftermath of a broken heart and to the knowledge of how shitty being a rebound is. I have my dignity to uphold, you know. Right, Tae?” Hoseok turned around for confirmation.
“What ‘dignity’? It’s practically a fictional concept for you by this point, buried six-feet deep into the ground with nothing but a remnant of commitment issues.” Taehyung shoved him when Hoseok tried to jab him in his side once again.
Jimin rolled his eyes, but couldn’t help the small smile appear on his face, “I wasn’t judging. And for the record, I was going to say that he’s amazing.”
“You gotta admit though, he is pretty hot.”
“I second that.” Taehyung nodded, “Man, Namjoon hyung should’ve told me earlier that he had a hot co-worker.”
Jimin scrunched up his nose, “I don’t really like that word.”
“Fine. He’s eye-fuck worthy.”
Jimin laughed and shoved Taehyung away, “That’s even worse.”
He turned his attention back to Jungkook, leaning his arms on the countertop, closing his eyes as he basked in the soothing, honeyed voice that enveloped him in a sheath of warmth. His voice reminded Jimin of a psithurism, a harmonizing melody of nature humming on a midsummer day. It reminded him of the simplicity of beauty, like little etches of petite charms engraved on the trunks of trees; like noticing the vibrant specks of scintillas within a clique of granite rocks; like sleeping in on a weekend morning with the warm sun shining through the windows. It gradually waned into the wispy strums of his guitar and then a weightless silence, a puff of relieved breath trailing behind it.
The audience applauded with a particular vivacity that had not been present in the room before and Jimin watched as Jungkook’s mouth lifted into a toothy smile, eyes crinkling. All traces of aloofness ebbed into an exhilarated expression, nerves and adrenaline sparking the slight tremors of his fingers. He looked shocked at all the positive recognition he received, although open mics were usually quite receptive, but he looked happy.
It looked like he was just performing one song, however, as Jungkook bowed politely and sincerely thanked the audience. He bounded off the stage, greeting and thanking the performers who were complimenting him as he maneuvered around the tables. Jungkook returned to his seat and placed his guitar back into its rather plain black bag, reciprocating small talk from a bespectacled man at a nearby table. His hands were shaking.
The night progressed rather lively. Food and drinks were being distributed, hearty laughter pervaded the room from a few stand up comedians, and amidst a rather calm working atmosphere, Jimin couldn’t help but sneak a few glances at Jungkook’s way, who was always respectful and attentive of the performances. He didn't seem to have any of his friends or family there to accompany him tonight. Jimin thought that Namjoon would've come, but he guessed wrong.
When there were no orders to be made, they grabbed a nearby table and played a round of Goldfish while trying to suppress their inner competitiveness. They’d exchange arguments through harsh whispering in heated accusations of cheating every five minutes, although truthfully, the game was based on pure luck. Needless to say, Jimin had to occasionally kick his heated friends discreetly under the table to shut them up when they were being too loud and disturbing. He even went up to Seokjin who perpetually tasked himself to be the MC (because quote-unquote ‘his cheap ass didn’t want to hire and trust some deadbeat, middle-aged asshat to do the job) and handed him a cup of earl grey tea he made with love when he noticed how drained he look.
With the night coming to an end after an eventful concatenation of entertaining acts, Jimin was wiping away the tables as people emptied out of the cafe after the open mic ended. Hoseok was sprightly sweeping the floors and Taehyung, being the sociable sunshine he was, was yapping away with the customers about to leave. Both the seasoned and new performers stayed behind and chatted with each other, exchanging numbers and fortifying friendly acquaintanceships. In the middle of cleaning and stacking up chairs, there was a body amidst a crowd that rammed into one of the tables, knocking over a chair with a loud, successive crash to the floor.
“Are you kidding me,” Jimin watched incredulously as the distracted perpetrator left the cafe with a chime of the bell and he huffed, about to go over and pick the chair back up himself before someone else beat him to it.
It was Jungkook, who was restacking the chair back to its prior position with his guitar back slung across his shoulder. He looked taller up close and when he looked up, Jimin saw how round his eyes were, brown that looked more like gold, wide and gentle. Innocent but not exactly innocent, a sort of faint solemnity that gave a special kind of weariness to his gentle countenance. He looked too young to be so weary, but who was Jimin to understand the nature of physiognomy?
“Hey,” Jimin smiled quietly at him for lending a helping hand, catching his attention, “Thanks.”
From that, he looked caught off guard for a slight moment before his lips slowly lifted into a small, demure smile, one that made his nose scrunch just slightly to the point of it being noticeable, and a dim twinkle in the ringlet of his irises for a fleeting instant. He didn’t speak though, and merely nodded before he went his way, carrying the intangible enigmas of the universe with him out the door, the moonlight drinking in the shape of his silhouette. Jimin realized they haven't been able to talk to him the entirety of the night. Not only had they been busy, but perhaps it was because Jungkook had morphed himself into the background as well, silently blending into the backdrop like a lingering ghost hovering around with thr purpose of being unseen and unnoticed.
“Jimin,” Seokjin called him, “can you come here? Some douchewaffle spilled their drink and didn’t bother to clean up after themselves.”
But at the end of they day, they were merely strangers. The curiosity would fade soon. Jimin didn't think of him anymore after that.