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Violets are Red

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Yoongi was staring at the lone blinking cursor on a blank Word document. He wasn’t really seeing it. The soft ambiance of the coffee shop swirled all around him, engulfing a cold November evening into its cozy warm embrace. His ceramic white cup held residue of the cappuccino he finished over half an hour ago.

Everything smelled of lavender.

Or at least to Yoongi it did, because the little purple flowers lived inside his lungs. His fingers tapped the keys, not hard enough to push them. He’d started three different documents since he’d gotten here, and he’d deleted each of them.

He stared across at the girl behind the counter. Her long maroon hair, eyes the color of espresso. “Soojung” on her nametag. Yoongi was tired of the smell of lavender. He was glad it was fading.

She didn’t inspire him anymore.

Yoongi shut his laptop, gathered his things and pushed the glass door into the frigid air. He walked back to the dorms, casting his shadow into the light of the marching soldier-like lamp posts.

Taehyung was stomach-down on his own bed, head propped up in his hands. Jimin was cross-legged in the middle of Yoongi’s bed. Yoongi threw his bag in Jimin’s general direction, interrupting what seemed like some kind of stare-off match. The bag narrowly missed Jimin’s startled face and landed on the pillow.

“Jimin, how many times--”

“Sorry, sorry!” Jimin was jumping off the bed and falling down right next to Taehyung.

“Taehyung, please control your friends,” Yoongi said, grabbing a pair of sweatpants out of his dresser.

“They’re your friends, too!” Taehyung called after him. His voice hit the closing door of the bathroom.

Yoongi had an exam coming up in two days. He changed into his sweatpants, washed his face. Last week he’d spent every day studying for it. He was ready, or at least as ready as he’ll ever be.

He turned on the hair dryer, made sure the overhead fan was on. Lifted the lid of the toilet, turned the cold and hot knobs of the sink as far as they would go. He cleared his throat, but it only made the tickling feeling worse.

With a sigh he got on his knees. The thin rug dug its pattern into Yoongi’s skin, marking through the material of the sweatpants. His gag reflex didn’t need any help.

Lavender stems were pretty tough, though, and Yoongi had to pull at them to get them all the way out, coughing and sputtering. There were only two stems and the roots were pretty loose. After both of them were out, staining the clear water a murky purple and red, Yoongi held onto the porcelain of the toilet, catching his breath. His breathing felt a lot more free. His lungs felt hollow.

Toilet flushed, hands scrubbed of blood. Teeth brushed. Yoongi opened the mirror cabinet, swallowed a painkiller. Washed his face again. Sprayed an air freshner, just enough so you couldn’t really tell what it was supposed to smell like.

Turned off the hair dryer. Turned off the sink. Turned off the fan.

He deserved a rest.

Taehyung and Jimin were still on Taehyung’s bed, quizzing each other with note cards. Their studying was useless because they pronounced all the words wrong, giggling at each other.

Yoongi pulled the blankets over himself, rested the laptop over his stomach.

The soft colors of Upstream Color took away his thoughts. Every anxiety, frustration, melted into the pillows. The pain in his chest muted into an unintelligible buzz.

He was in that space between dreams and lucidity, a limbo of rippled reality, when he felt a body bursting into his space. Yoongi was instantly pulled out, shocked into the waking world. The screen was still moving, there was sound still coming into his ears through the earphones.

And there was Jimin, cuddled next to him, eyes fixed on the screen of the laptop.

Yoongi groaned. Jimin just scooted closer.

“What are you watching?” he whispered.

The lights were off. Taehyung had his night light on to read his manhwa.

“A movie.” Yoongi’s throat felt sticky.

“Why do you smell like lavender?”

Yoongi didn’t like Jimin. He was more Taehyung’s friend than he was Yoongi’s. And sometimes Yoongi hated his guts. He had no sense of personal space. Taehyung didn’t either, but he was a lot more respectful about it. And he was so fucking nosy.

“I told you not to get on my bed without permission.”

There was another dip in the mattress and Taehyung crawled into the bed, squeezing between the wall and Yoongi.

“Are you watching the weird pig movie again?”

Nevermind about Taehyung being more respectful. Yoongi closed the laptop. Closed his eyes. Tried to get back to the feeling of falling asleep.

“You’re right, he does smell like lavender.” That was Taehyung’s voice, hushed and very close to his neck. “I was wondering why it was smelling like lavender in our room for the past few weeks.”

The weight on his stomach was suddenly gone, the earphones pulled out of his ears. There was a sound of his laptop being placed on his desk.

“Do you think he got a new cologne or something?”

Yoongi sighed. Began counting backward from one thousand in his mind.

“I thought he hated the smell of lavender.”

Any other time, Yoongi would have kicked them to the floor, threatened to tape their mouths shut. But he was tired, in that feverish way where his entire being felt heavier than the mass of the earth. He just needed sleep. Sleep usually made it better.

There was movement on Taehyung’s side, and someone tripping over his legs. “The weird pig movie can’t mean anything good. Let’s not make it worse.”

Jimin was gone from his side, too, and this was the reason why Taehyung was the more respectful one. Yoongi slipped to sleep, curling into himself.

 

 

The big gray scarf was tickling his chin and he burrowed deeper into it, searching for any kind of sustained warmth. It was almost winter but this classroom still had the air conditioning on. What a definition of cruelty.

The literature professor was pacing in front of the board. He was talking about symbolism and Yoongi was trying to translate his words to paper, fingers shivering around the pen.

“Hey,” someone whispered.

Yoongi turned to his right. A boy was holding out a hotpack, brows furrowed a little, a concerned smile on his face. Yoongi had seen him around but he never really paid attention. He didn’t even know his name.

“What?”

“Here, take this.” He looked like a giant teddy bear, especially with the thick blue coat he had on.

“Are you sure?” Yoongi asked. Eyed the hotpack like he was a starving safari lion in the middle of a drought.

“Yeah, I have like ten of them,” the guy whispered, patting his chest where Yoongi supposed he had the rest of the hotpacks. “I always bring them to this class.”

Yoongi took the hotpack with a grateful smile. His fingers felt like they touched heaven. “Seriously, thank you...”

“Hyungwoo. Son Hyungwoo.” He smiled as Yoongi clutched at the hotpack with both hands. “And don’t worry about it.”

Yoongi nodded, a little struck by the dazzling smile, and turned back to his notes.

Every time he had the literature class, everything began smelling more and more like wisteria. At first it was just a few petals that he had to cough out of his throat. But with every smile Hyungwoo gave him, every time they idly chatted after class, there were more and more petals falling into the toilet water. Soon, Yoongi had to pull out stringed clusters out of his throat, tangled with blood.

Every time the purple mixed with the red, floating in circles, Yoongi’s mind burst with words. He got seven poems out of the wisteria. But the semester was ending and Yoongi was getting tired of the way the vines sometimes got stuck in his throat. He hated the smell of spring, especially when it was winter.

It hurt more than the lavender did when he pulled out the roots in one of the empty university bathrooms.

 

 

Yoongi almost crashed into Taehyung with a glass of water when he walked into the dorm. Jimin was sitting on Yoongi’s bed once again.

“Yoongi, guess what?” Taehyung said, walking toward the windowsill and ignoring the fact that he just spilled half of his glass onto Yoongi’s coat.

Yoongi didn’t reply and took off his coat. It landed on Jimin’s head.

Taehyung didn’t let the lack of response deter him. “I got a plant.”

“It’s going to die,” Yoongi replied, stepping out of his shoes. “You couldn’t keep a cactus alive, why are you trying this again?”

“They’re african violets.” He was pouring the water from the glass into a small pot of fuzzy leaves. “They’re the easiest house plant to take care of.”

“He thoroughly researched it.” Jimin’s voice came out muffled from under Yoongi’s coat. “On some shady website.”

African violets reminded Yoongi of his grandma. Of his favorite parts of his childhood. “Don’t touch the leaves with your hands.”

“Why not?” Taehyung asked, turning to look at Yoongi. The gray light of the sun set a grim halo over his head. “They’re so soft.”

Yoongi used to run his little fingers over the softness of the leaves over and over again whenever his grandma wasn’t looking. “They’ll turn brown and die.”

It was the only plant that kept on dying in his grandma’s care. Everything she touched, bloomed exceptionally well. Except for the plant that was the easiest to take care of.

“The leaves taste like fucking styrofoam,” Jimin piped up from under the coat.

Yoongi opened the fridge and stared into it for a little while. “Jimin, did you eat my cheesecake again?”

Jimin dragged Yoongi’s coat off, his hair reaching up into the air with the static. “I never touched your cheesecake.”

“Sorry!” Taehyung said, padding back into the kitchen. “I was really stressed about my French final.”

“Isn’t that like in a week?” He took out a half-finished roll of kimbap and closed the fridge.

“I already know I’m going to fail so I’m not even going to study.”

“Nous sommes baisés,” Jimin sing-songed. He pronounced the s at the end.

“That you are.” Yoongi popped a piece of kimbap into his mouth. His throat burned when he swallowed. “Why did you even take that class in the first place?”

“He thought it would be easy because he was forced to learn fancy french wine names as a child and was expected to read the menus at french restaurants.”

Taehyung rinsed the glass and put it away. “But alas.” He did some strange hand motion. “Je suis baisés.”

“It’s je suis baisée,” Yoongi said and started choking on a piece of rice. His lungs seised with emptiness, and he dropped the rest of the kimbap onto the table.

“Are you okay?” Taehyung asked, tapping him on the back. He picked up the same glass again and filled it with water. “Here.”

Yoongi took a few sips, but the choking became worse. He hit his chest a few times, feeling tears forming at the edges of his eyes. It passed and he took a few deep breaths.

“French is going to kill us all,” Jimin said.

Yoongi kept his hand on his chest. Stepped into the bathroom. He contemplated taking a painkiller but decided against it. His insides still felt twisted up from the wisteria. But he would be okay.

The bathroom door floated open. Yoongi looked up from the sink.

“Are you okay?” Jimin was leaning against the doorframe. His brown hair was falling softly over his forehead.

And then Taehyung was there, holding another glass. “Warm water helps.”

Yoongi took the glass. Gulped it down. Taehyung patted him on the shoulder and walked off, muttering to himself, “I’m so good at taking care of people. Why am I not good at taking care of plants?”

Yoongi handed the glass to Jimin and walked around him. “I’m going to go study. So I don’t end up like you two.”

 

 

It was Christmas and Yoongi was home for winter break. He was on his knees on the cold floor of a department store bathroom. Why the fuck would anyone decide to have morning glory as their favorite flower? It was really stupid, in Yoongi’s opinion, to have all this hype around Hanahaki Disease. It was so rare, a very small percentage of people had it. Despite that, everyone took their favorite flowers seriously. Everyone was suddenly hoping someone with Hanahaki would fall in love with them. Would see how unique their choice of flower was. Now every teenage girl had her favorite flower in her bio next to the age, the zodiac sign, the fucking Meyers-Briggs personality.

And Yoongi had to stumble on someone stupid enough to pick fucking morning glory. It was one unseparated petal, and every time it got stuck in Yoongi’s throat, it would block his airway passage. He couldn’t breathe.

He was trying to cough it out, trying not to breathe so it wouldn’t go the wrong way. It was proving to be a very difficult task. The edges of his vision were blurring black. His fingers were in his mouth, pulling at the delicate material of the flower. It was sticking to the roof of his mouth, ripping off in small pieces.

For the first time ever, Yoongi considered getting surgery. This was a dangerous game he was playing, he could easily die. What if he falls for someone who’s favorite flower was a calla lily or a cactus or something? Or a rose? There was a story on the news once about a girl who had roses growing in her lungs. The thorns tore her trachea to shreds and she died.

Finally his fingers grasped something more solid than the silk-thin petal. He pulled, trying not to gag. The thin vine-like stem curled around his fingers and he ripped it off. He swallowed the rest of it back down.

Yoongi never minded the disease before. He let himself get crushes that he never had the intention of doing anything about. It was harmless and they would go away in weeks. But they gave him inspiration to write. His best work came after the first petals of a crush ended up in his palm after a cough.

“Sir?” someone was knocking on the stall door. “Is everything alright in there?”

Yoongi wiped his mouth with the back of his wrist. His fingers were bloody. “Yes, I’m good.” His voice was quiet and rusty. “Thank you.”

The man left hesitantly after Yoongi assured him three more times. Yoongi rolled out three folds of toilet paper and wiped the white tiles. Flushed two times.

In the fluorescent-lit mirror, Yoongi was flushed red. The image was blurry from the tears swimming in his vision.

The "cold" knob turned. He rinsed his face, rinsed out his mouth until he could barely taste the bitterness.

His phone was vibrating in his back pocket. He ignored it, patted the paper towels on his face. Brushed his bangs back onto his forehead. There was nothing poetic about it, not anymore. It was just pathetic.

“Hello?” he said into the receiver as he exited the bathroom.

“Yo man,” Hoseok hollered from the other side. “Merry Christmas!”

Sparkling glittering sale signs tried to jump at Yoongi from every corner of the store. Christmas carols sounded mocking overhead.

“Merry Christmas. What’s up?”

“Holy shit, what happened to your voice? Or is that the shitty reception?”

“Shitty reception.” Yoongi reached Taehyung and his little brother loitering by the Lego displays. Taehyung’s little brother was sixteen yet he was staring at the toys with unadulterated awe. “What the fuck is that noise in the background?”

“Oh, my aunt had too much wine and fell on the Christmas tree.” Hoseok’s voice sounded slightly hysterical. “She broke the glass ornaments. My grandma is currently lecturing her about what a failure she is at life while she’s bleeding all over my mom’s white carpet.”

There was a sudden blood-curdling shriek on Hoseok’s line. Yoongi flinched. Taehyung and Taeil were now looking at Yoongi with as much curiosity as they were giving to the Lego display a few seconds ago.

“Was that your mom?” he asked Hoseok.

“I hate family holidays,” Hoseok was whispering harshly as the chaos in the background escalated. “Yoongi, please take me away from here.”

“Hoseok, I’m over three hours away.” There was a harsh tickle at the back of his throat. “Go lock yourself in a room or something. Or deal with it like a man.”

“Poor Hoseok,” Taehyung whispered. “He’s not going to come back next semester because he’ll be dead.”

Yoongi flicked Taehyung’s forehead. Santa’s North Pole Lego display kept on looping some really annoying tinkling Christmas tune.

Noona , stop crying,” Hoseok was saying, obviously not to Yoongi. “I know you’re pregnant, but crying over cake is a little overboard. Please stop. No--fuck, noona , stop it. No, halmoni , I was saying fudge! Noona wanted a fudge cake! I’m sorry!”

Yoongi bit his lip to keep from smiling. He tried glaring at the plastic reindeer instead because they were fucking annoying.

“Yoongi, I promise you, I’m going to die here,” Hoseok said, the whine in his voice a little clearer. “And my dad’s sister hadn’t showed up yet. That woman is crazy.”

Taehyung had been inching closer to Yoongi this whole time, trying to overhear the conversation. Taeil was trying to inconspicuously throw small paper pieces from the display at the passing shoppers. He looked like an idiot because paper didn’t throw very far.

“Let’s go pick him up,” Taehyung whispered. “I can take my dad’s car, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.”

Yoongi stared at him. Taeil’s attention quickly snapped to his brother.

“Roadtrip?” Taeil asked with hope.

 

 

Oppa , can we please listen to something other than old american music from the sixties?” Taehee was saying for the nth time from the back of the SUV.

“I think I’m starting to like it, though.” That was Taeil.

Taehyung was sitting in the front seat, stuffing his face with chips and occasionally checking the GPS on his phone. He reached for the phone now with his greasy fingers.

“You know Yoongi is as old as his grandma,” he said and Yoongi rolled his eyes, paying attention to the road. “He can’t listen to modern music.”

“You can turn it off, I don’t care,” Yoongi replied. “As long as you don’t play The Chainsmokers.”

Taehyung was scrolling through the streaming app. “That means it’s time for girl groups.”

Taehee groaned, wiggling around in her seat. “Why did I even agree to come with you guys?”

They were about an hour away from Gwangju at this point. Yoongi was the only one with a driver’s licence so he was behind the wheel. Taehyung’s siblings started some word game to keep themselves occupied. Taehyung lowered the volume on the Girls’ Generation track and put away his bag of chips. There were crumbs still sticking to his cheeks.

"You know, my grandpa has a book on bombs, if you need it," he said.

Yoongi glanced over at him. "That's dangerous. What if I blow up our university after I learn how to make them?"

"I was talking about research, for the story idea you were talking about earlier." He took on a fake look of concern. "But then, I don't know what you might do with all that knowledge. Forget I offered."

Yoongi let out a laugh. "I'll take the book."

Taehyung stuck out his tongue. "I'm not giving it to you anymore."

"Why are you like this--"

Taehyung shoved a chip into Yoongi's mouth and burst out laughing at his face.

 

 

It was drizzling outside when Yoongi pulled up to Hoseok’s house. They’d been circling this neighbourhood for the past five minutes because Taehyung mixed up his left and right again.

Hoseok ran out of the front door, his coat sliding off his right shoulder. His blue scarf slipped off and dropped onto the wet cement and he bent down to pick it up in a rush. He ripped open one of the back doors and jumped inside. Taeil barely had enough time to move out of the way.

“Go,” Hoseok yelled, grabbing onto the back of Taehyung’s seat. “Go, go, go!”

Yoongi pressed the gas, maneuvering the car onto the main street. “Is someone chasing you?”

“Not yet, they don’t know I’m gone,” Hoseok replied, breathless. He was patting down his hair. “I can’t believe you guys came for me. You have saved a dying man.” He cupped Taeil’s face in his hands. “God bless you.”

Yoongi laughed, turning on the windshield wipers. Taehyung twisted his body to face the backseat.

“You should be thanking me,” Taehyung said. “I’m the one who came up with the plan.”

“Of course you did.” Hoseok grabbed Taehyung’s face and kissed him on both cheeks.

“What the fuck,” Taehee muttered.

“These must be your siblings?” Hoseok said, gesturing to a wide-eyed Taeil and an uncomfortably shifting Taehee.

“You’re scaring them off,” Yoongi commented, taking in the twins’ expressions through the rearview mirror.

“No, I’m not.” Hoseok smiled wide. “Hi, kids, I’m Hoseok. I go to school with your brother and Yoongi.”

“We know who you are,” Taehee said. “Taehyung- oppa informed us.”

Yoongi nudged Taehyung to start the GPS. Eventually, Yoongi merged the SUV onto an expressway going toward Yeonggwang. The drizzle let up but the clouds were getting grayer. The road ahead and the surrounding scenery was colorless except for a few evergreens clustered together every now and then.

Yoongi tuned into the sound of Hoseok’s voice in the back. Hoseok always talked too much but Yoongi liked his voice. It was anything but soothing, but it was engaging. Yoongi had always been a little jealous because he could only tell stories with a pen and paper. But Hoseok could do it with his voice.

“...just because he’s American. We’ve never celebrated Christmas as a family before. And I mean, it’s not like he’s some amazing hotshot, either. He just works as an English translator at a court. My sister is a lot smarter than him and makes more money. She passed the bar exam on the first try. But apparently, just because he’s white, our whole family needs to do everything his way. And now noona ’s pregnant and that sucks, because how is she going to work? Fucking Paul can’t support their Gangnam condo and a future child with just his translator job. But anyway, don’t get me wrong, I like Christmas. But I like celebrating it with friends. I get enough of the family during Seollal, but now we’re adding Christmas to the mix, too. I don’t understand how my grandpa even approves this, he’s a devout Buddhist.”

Unfortunately, most of his stories were shit.

“Well, I guess this year you’re going to celebrate with your friends again,” Taehyung said. “At the beach.”

“Wait, we’re going to the beach?” Hoseok gripped the back of Taehyung’s seat. “Why didn’t you tell me? It’s going to be freezing.”

It was indeed freezing. The air was biting cold, sharpened by the wind and the waves. Taeil was the first one out of the car, running toward the water. Hoseok was zipping up his coat all the way, tumbling out of the car. He wrapped the scarf around his neck until it was obstructing his mouth.

Taehee was trying to help Taehyung get into his coat. Yoongi put up his hood and went around to Hoseok’s side of the car. He took the beanie out of his pocket and closed the door behind Hoseok.

“The wind is going to freeze up whatever is left of your braincells,” Yoongi said. Pulled the beanie over Hoseok’s head until it was covering his ears.

Hoseok stilled. His breath came out in white smoke. Yoongi’s hands were still holding on to the edges of the hat and Hoseok’s face split into a blinding smile. Something in Yoongi’s stomach flipped.

“Thanks for worrying about my braincells,” he said. Yoongi’s throat tickled. “I don’t know what they would do without you.”

Yoongi dropped his hands. “They would die.”

“Hey, guys, let’s race to the water,” Taehyung said, popping up at Yoongi’s right.

Taehee stepped up behind him. “You’re going to hurt yourself. And I’m not taking responsibility for that.”

“You’re literally the youngest one here,” Yoongi said. The wind was trying to take off his hood. “So looking after your brother unfortunately falls on me.”

“Ready, set, go!” And Taehyung was off, the pom-pomed strings of his hat floating behind him.

Hoseok was not far behind, screeching at the top of his lungs. Yoongi was left wondering why he still had remnants of morning glory stuck in his lungs.

He followed Taehee in a stroll across the sand. The waves were a pale baby-blue off in the distance, barely rippling. Fading into the smoky gray of the sky. The sun was hiding somewhere behind those clouds, a borderless whiteness. The same color as the sand.

Taehee found a rock to sit on. She opened her sketchbook and took out a pencil from her pocket. Her hair floated across her face in thin long strands as she looked up.

“Are you going to sit with me?” she asked. “Or would you rather go run around with those clowns?”

Yoongi looked over to where Taehyung, Taeil, and Hoseok were playing chicken with the waves in the distance, occasionally trying to push each other in.

“Obviously I’m going to go with the clowns,” Yoongi replied, taking a seat next to her. Something sharp dug into his thigh.

She smiled at him and began sketching something in her notebook.

Taehyung was beautiful. Something Yoongi stopped noticing since he’d known him for so long. But Taehee was on a different level. Her long fingers held the pencil, moved it gracefully across the paper. Her light hair obscured some of her face with the wind but Yoongi could still make out the beauty mark on the cheekbone underneath her eye. Like a teardrop. The Kim family took all the good genes.

“Do you remember how you used to tell us stories when we were little?” Her voice broke through the white noise of the waves and the wind. “Tell me a story about the sea, oppa .”

Yoongi hummed. Remembered all the times he came up with quirky little stories for Taehee and Taeil when they were five and Yoongi was ten. Things to keep them occupied during long trips or to keep them from fussing. It brought on a tide of nostalgia.

“The sea was in love with the forest,” he said, squinting into the distance where the pines towered off the cliffs. “Because the forest knew the colors of the deep. Because the sea was dark green on the inside and the forest reflected everything the sea ever wanted.” Taehee’s pencil was tracing branches of the pines. Yoongi thought of Hoseok’s eyes. How there was a tint of green there when the light pierced them just right. “But the sea lived in a deep deep valley. And the forests lived on the hills. No matter how hard the sea tried to scramble out of its valley, it couldn’t reach the hills. Sometimes, when it gathered enough strength, it would get a little higher. But every time it got tired and retreated.” Taehee’s pencil sped up, coloring in dark angry lines for the branches. “And even though it was useless and pathetic, the sea wouldn’t give up. It continued forever, grasping at the sand to pull it up.”

For a little while the only sound between them was the scratch of the pencil. Until Taehee looked up at him.

“You always made these so depressing,” she said.

“I did not.” He hid his hands in his coat pockets because it was starting to get really cold. He needed to move around if he didn’t want to end up with hypothermia.

“Yeah, you did.” She tapped her pencil against his jittering knee. “Remember the one about the clouds? How they were the ocean’s kids and they wanted to get away from their parents so they ran to the sun but the sun evaporated them?”

“It was a cautionary tale because you and Taeil kept on running away from your parents at the mall,” Yoongi defended.

“Taeil cried for an hour straight about how he didn’t want to turn into a cloud.” She looked down and back up again. Buried her chin in the collar of her burgundy coat. “I had nightmares about it.”

Yoongi bit his lip. Hoseok’s and Taehyung’s voices carried through the wind. “That was only once.”

Taehee’s laugh trilled, adding to the noise. “ Oppa , you used to tell us the ant story. It wasn’t just once.”

Yoongi groaned. “Oh man, I forgot about the ant story.”

Taehee got back to drawing the sea. Sweeping tsunamis engulfing the pines. “So what are you?” she asked. “The sea or the forest?”

“The story wasn’t about me.” He could make out Hoseok’s form slipping and face-planting into the foaming water.

“The story is always about you.”

 

 

Taehyung and Yoongi spent Taehyung’s birthday on the floor of Taehyung’s room, playing Mario Kart. Yoongi didn’t even know how to use the controller properly. Needless to say, Taehyung won every single game. Rain beat hard against the windows, demanding to be let inside. Taehyung was disappointed because he wanted snow on his birthday. He’d wanted that since as long as Yoongi could remember, but it hadn’t happened once.

The darkness settled early. Taeil and Taehee burst into the room with a cake and an out-of-tune happy birthday song. Taehyung blew out the candles with a dramatic flourish right before Taeil smashed his face into the frosting. Taehee turned on the lights to illuminate the laughter. It reflected on the liquid black of the window, as yellow as an uncooked egg yolk.

Hours later, when Taehee and Taeil got bored and left, they lay on the floor with all the lights off, bundled up in blankets. The rain wasn’t letting up. It reminded Yoongi of their middle school days.

“Birthdays are so bittersweet,” Taehyung was saying.

Yoongi made a vague noise of acknowledgement. Stared up at the glowing shapes of dinosaurs in a long process of peeling off the ceiling.

“Do you remember that one story you wrote a while ago? The one about the ants?”

A huffed laugh got stuck in Yoongi’s throat. “Your sister mentioned that a few days ago.”

“It haunts me sometimes,” Taehyung said.

Yoongi looked over at him. His nose was peeking out from his blanket cocoon. It was too dark to see his expression but Yoongi had known Taehyung long enough to know he was being serious. His light tone was weighed down at the edges.

"It was just something I made up as a kid," he said, voice hushed into the dark.

Yoongi wrote the story when he was nine, about an ant that built a house for the winter and took it apart for the summer. The moment the house was built, the ant had to start taking it apart because it was already time for spring. It was a never-ending cycle, and with his choppy fourth grade sentences and the events that kept on repeating over and over again in different words, it gave the story an eerie nightmarish quality.

"What if I end up like that ant?" Taehyung asked. "I'm in university so I can get a job so I can get money that I can spend, but what am I supposed to do later? Just earn money and spend it?" He scooted closer to Yoongi. "I don't want to grow up."

"I don't think you'll ever grow up," Yoongi mumbled against Taehyung's hair. "You're like physically incapable of it."

"Are you trying to say I'm eternally youthful or something?" Some animation crept back into his voice. "Because I'm pretty sure my body is already getting wrinkles."

"I was talking about your mindset. You'll always be a kid on the inside."

Taehyung snorted. "And you'll always be a grandpa."