Taehyung hasn’t been this nervous since forever.
He’s checked and cross-checked Gayeong’s bag with the checklist he made a week ago—notebooks, pencils, erasers (all dinosaur-themed because Gayeong is two months into her dinosaur phase and going strong, bless her heart), a 64-box set of crayons (never too early to get her into art), a pad of origami paper (just in case), raincoat (with giant fins and a trailing tail that Taehyung sewed on himself), a toiletry kit, and snacks (banana and peanut butter sandwich, a thermos of milk, and 5 gummy dinosaurs). He checks again, while Gayeong fusses with her braids in her booster seat.
“Gayeong-ah, are you ready?”
Gayeong beams at him, missing incisor and all. “Yes, Papa!” And then a crease appears between her brows and Taehyung’s lungs seize. “Are you okay, Papa? Should we call grandma to look after you?”
Taehyung breathes again. He reaches over and smooths Gayeong’s forehead with his thumb. “Papa’s fine. I’m just a lot worried about your first day, sweetheart.”
The crease reappears. “But you said my classmates and my teachers are nice people.”
“Yes, they are. But it’s my job to worry about you because I love you so much, you know?”
Gayeong lights up. “I love you too! But I’m a big girl now because I’m going to school, you said so, right?”
“Yes, sweetheart.” Taehyung removes his seatbelt. “Okay, let’s go in, alright?” He kisses Gayeong’s forehead before he exits the car and kisses her forehead again as he helps her out of the car. Her nose scrunches in mock annoyance and Taehyung loves his kid so much he feels like tearing the school apart brick by brick just so she wouldn’t be away from him. Even though he’s the one who convinced her to go in the first place.
The school yard is full of parents and their children milling around. The place is filled with the sound of crying and squealing children and the rumble of vehicles coming in. Gayeong is taking it all in with unabashed wonder, hand gripping Taehyung’s tightly.
“Do you want me to escort you in?” Taehyung asks, because Gayeong is allowed her life choices now.
Gayeong beckons him to come closer, so Taehyung squats and leans in. “Yes, please, but only because I’ll miss you and not because I’m scared.”
Taehyung cracks—god, he didn’t think so much love could fit in him—and barks out a laugh. “Of course, sweetheart, I know you’re really brave.”
“Okay, let’s go in now.”
Taehyung wants to scoop her into his arms and carry her back into the car and then head home, but he’s a big boy and he can handle this. He walks her to the door instead. Just before they reach it, Gayeong tugs on his hand.
“You haven’t taken my outfit picture yet!” Her lips are set in a pout and Taehyung wants to hit his head against the nearest wall. Of course, that’s what he’d forgotten.
Gayeong was four when Taehyung had started taking photos of Gayeong’s outfits and posting them on his Instagram. Gayeong likes showing off and the response had been positive that Taehyung created another account for her alone. Currently, she has more followers than his original account, which is all kinds of fine in Taehyung’s book because his kid is the cutest and he will fight anyone on this.
He takes his phone from his pocket. “Sorry, Papa forgot because he was worried. Do you want to take it here?”
Gayeong nods, backing up against the school building wall, a pale yellow background to Gayeong’s pink and blue ensemble. Taehyung boops her nose before taking a few steps back to capture her entire frame.
They take five to six pictures in each pose Gayeong does. Gayeong always says she wants to be a model like Taehyung when she grows up. Taehyung coaches her but she’s such a natural. He’s not ashamed to be a stage dad; his phone is full of pictures and videos of their daily activities. Taehyung wants to document absolutely everything.
Taehyung’s just about to ask her to pose for the last time when Gayeong gasps.
“What’s wrong, petal?” Taehyung rushes to her, checking her arms and legs for anything, even though his eyes have been on her the entire time.
“Look, Papa! We have the same hat!” Gayeong points to another girl who just arrived hand in hand with her own father. They’re walking up to the door, the father chatting with a huge smile on his face and the girl more subdued but also smiling. On the girl’s head is a pink beret with a white flower pin identical to Gayeong’s, and something itches at the back of Taehyung’s mind. He ordered Gayeong’s hat in an online store that handknits hats for kids, this is a ridiculous coincidence.
Gayeong is still pointing.
“Gayeong, it’s rude to point,” Taehyung chides gently, remembering manners.
She lowers her arm, but her head tilts to the side. “Papa, her hair looks better.”
The girl’s hair is styled into a cute bob, but it definitely does not look better than Gayeong’s immaculate twin braids. About a gazillion tiny ribbon accessories are haphazardly clipped onto the girl’s hair, swaying heavily as she walks. The hair clips almost blind Taehyung as they glint in the sun. Taehyung immediately judges the girl’s stylist.
“Sweetie, your hair is perfect, okay?” He’s feeling miffed about the hats. Gayeong’s outfit was planned last week, she was supposed to be the cutest kindergartener within at least a hundred square kilometers.
The girl and her father reach the door. Taehyung automatically moves to block Gayeong’s line of sight, but Gayeong peeks between his legs.
“Hello!” she chirps, face bright and unassuming.
The little girl jumps, as does her father. Taehyung sees the exact moment the dad recovers and zeroes in on Gayeong’s hat. His eyes squint momentarily. Taehyung takes his daughter’s hand.
“Hi there!” the dad chirps back, waving at Gayeong. The little girl has hidden behind her father. “Haeun is really shy, so you’ll have to excuse her for now. What’s your name?”
“My name is Kim Gayeong, I’m six years old. My dad marks the calendar in the kitchen because he forgets things a lot and we don’t want to miss my birthday.”
Hearing it from Gayeong say it like that makes Taehyung feel a bit queasy. He was joking when he told Gayeong he might forget her birthday.
“Oh, that’s clever, then!” The dad crouches to a sitting position and coaxes his daughter from behind him.
“Haeun is five but she’s turning six soon.” The girl smiles timidly at Gayeong and averts her eyes from Taehyung. Taehyung can’t relate. He’s never been shy and neither has Gayeong. “We’re working on her social skills, right, babe?” Haeun nods, her cheeks growing a cute shade of pink. Taehyung feels betrayed by himself because he wants to squish Haeun’s cheeks.
Gayeong tugs at Taehyung’s pants. “What does social skills mean, Papa?”
Taehyung crouches as well. “It means Haeun here is learning to make friends.”
Immediately, Gayeong puffs up. Taehyung can see the metaphorical bulb light up above her head. “I’m good at that! I’m a friend! Can I be Haeun’s friend, Papa?” She’s squeezing Taehyung’s collar at this point, excited beyond belief that something is within her abilities.
Taehyung sneaks a glance at the other dad and daughter pair. Both are watching with careful expressions on their faces.
“Well, petal, it’s best if you ask Haeun.”
Gayeong shuffles forward and Taehyung is proud that for all her forwardness, she takes care not to startle Haeun again, taking small steps and holding out her hand. Taehyung holds his breath. When he looks at Haeun’s dad, he’s doing the same.
Haeun takes the offered hand and smiles.
And, okay, fine, Taehyung loves kids, okay? Haeun is cute as a button. Taehyung feels like the air is cleaner because Haeun is smiling.
“Can we be friends, Haeun?”
“Yes, please,” Haeun replies and then looks to her dad for support. Her father grins, and Taehyung is blinded by it. Haeun’s dad smiles with his entire body. Taehyung can’t explain it, but he just goes off, so to speak, and Taehyung is momentarily speechless.
It doesn’t quite register that Haeun’s dad has stood up and is offering his hand to Taehyung.
Taehyung blinks and stands as well, mentally calculating how long he’s been staring. His math sums it up to long enough to be embarrassing.
“Sorry, I didn’t catch what you said.”
“Jung Hoseok,” Haeun’s dad says, shaking his hands in front of Taehyung again, so Taehyung finally takes it.
“Nice to meet you and Gayeong, Taehyung-ssi.” Jung Hoseok looks him up and down, failing to be subtle about it, and it takes a lot of Taehyung’s self-control not to show any outward sign of offense.
Taking your kid to school doesn’t require dressing up, but Taehyung is suddenly self-conscious. He’s wearing a lilac long-sleeved shirt, black slacks, and white moccasins. Simple, decent and fashionable. Jung Hoseok is wearing a light blue button up, khaki pants, and Birkenstocks. His bright yellow tinted shades are perched low on his incredibly straight nose. Chic, but Taehyung doesn’t think Hoseok has any moral high ground when it comes to their outfits.
“You too, Hoseok-ssi.” Taehyung internally cringes at how uptight that sounded, and going by the soft look of surprise on Hoseok’s face, he’s noticed too.
“Yay!” Gayeong suddenly screams. Taehyung is glad his world refocused instantly. “Papa, papa, papa, Haeun agreed to be on my Instagram! It’s going to be pretty because we have matching hats and she has pretty hair!”
Taehyung gapes like fish for, like, two seconds. He’s never been invited to co-star in any of Gayeong’s OOTD photos. Ever. Even when they match outfits occasionally, Gayeong always wanted to fly solo in her photos.
Thankfully, or whatever, before Taehyung has a mental breakdown, Hoseok intervenes. “What’s going on?”
Taehyung recalibrates, and answers, but feels a little out of it. “Gayeong-ah has an Instagram account where we post her outfits.” He swishes Gayeong’s braid because he can. “She’s, like, Insta-famous.”
Hoseok makes a loud excited noise that surprises all three of them in his nearest vicinity. He faces his daughter and cups her small cheeks, fingers going all the way around her head to touch at the tips. “Did you really agree, Haeun? Are you totally fine with it?”
“Yes, Daddy. Can I?”
Hoseok bumps their noses together. “Yes, babe, of course, you can.” He whispers something to Haeun that has Haeun smiling again. The moment looks private but she looks so lovely Taehyung can’t look away.
They take a few minutes to get the two girls in front of the yellow wall again, and Gayeong is more than happy to direct Haeun. Hoseok stands behind Taehyung while he takes the pictures. Haeun and Gayeong are hand in hand and holding up V signs. When Taehyung tells them he got the perfect shot, the two hug like they won something.
The bell rings. A woman by the door announces it's time to let their kids go.
Taehyung’s earlier panic comes back and he fidgets with Gayeong’s backpack straps just to have an excuse to keep her longer. He opens every compartment and peers inside without really seeing and closes them again. His hands may be trembling a little. Gayeong places a hand atop his.
“Papa, call grandma if you feel unwell. I love you!”
Taehyung almost cries right there and then. “I’m fine, petal, I just love you so much. Give me a kiss!” Gayeong obliges and Taehyung gets to wheedle four more kisses from her before the woman announces they really must let their children go.
When Gayeong disappears into the school building, Taehyung is sure his heart went with her. It’s so weird being a parent. Taehyung thought he knew himself well because he was an explorative kid, but since Gayeong, he’s discovered a lot more. A whole entire set of feelings he never even knew existed, like the empty-full feeling in his chest at the moment.
“Thank you for that,” Hoseok tells Taehyung and it’s Taehyung’s turn to jump. He’s forgotten all about him.
“What? It was no problem, Hoseok-ssi. I’m glad they became friends so easily.”
“Me too,” Hoseok agrees, and smiles again, still bright as Sunday morning, but softer around the edges. It makes Taehyung feel a little fuzzy.
Taehyung returns the smile. “I’ll post the picture later. Her Instagram account is ‘gayeongie’ if you wanna see it.”
They shake hands again as they head back outside the school compound, Hoseok towards the opposite direction. “I’ll definitely look for it. See you, Taehyung-ssi!”
Back inside the car, Taehyung checks his phone for the messages he ignored while taking photos. Jimin has texted him thrice, asking where he is. He texts back saying he’s on his way. He takes five more minutes idling and sending Gayeong’s photos to his parents and grandparents before heading to the studio.
When he arrives, Jimin and Jungkook are already dressed and sitting in makeup. Jimin shoots him an evil eye.
“I thought I was the late one,” Jimin says by way of greeting. Jungkook grunts in agreement, unmoving while the makeup artist applies eyeliner. Taehyung graciously accepts the set of clothes shoved into his arms.
“Sorry, I had to make sure Gayeong is set for the day.”
Jimin’s and Jungkook’s faces brighten considerably.
“How was she? Was she nervous?”
“I was nervous. She wasn’t even fazed, she made a friend in thirty seconds.” Taehyung is putting on the pants when he remembers the way Hoseok eyed him critically and he’s a little offended again. “Her dad seemed a bit snobbish though.”
Jimin makes him recount the entire meeting while they prepare for the shoot. Taehyung shows them the pictures and starts editing them, smiling a little. Taehyung adores little Haeun and feels comforted that Gayeong has someone she likes with her, but withholds further sentiment regarding Jung Hoseok. He needs more assessment.
“Don’t worry, hyung, I’ll help you shop for Gayoung-ah,” Jungkook says.
Taehyung shoots them both with finger guns and a smile.
Right. Things haven’t changed—Gayeong is still the cutest kid in this city.
He will admit that it’s hard being a single dad with two jobs. It was somewhat easier when Gayeong was a littler, because then he just has to strap her securely in a baby carrier and go about his jobs as much as he can and be with her at the same time. In his museum job, people often cooed at Gayeong while he rattled on about factoids about the art and artifacts and didn’t mind that their tour guide hefted a toddler throughout the tour. When he was at photoshoots, the staff had always been kind enough to hold her while he got photographed.
When she got a little bit older and learned to walk around on her own, Taehyung found it a little bit harder to balance. He still takes her to photoshoots but has to ask her firmly to stay put and ask the staff to please, please, keep an eye on his daughter. She’s gotten lost in random dressing rooms on multiple occasions and Taehyung feels like breaking down every time. In the museum, he’ll set her up with a paint set and leave her in his office while he does the tours. It’s a good thing (the smallest of comforts) that all the museum staff has known her since she was a baby because at least Taehyung has eyes and ears everywhere in the building.
Before signing contracts Taehyung makes sure to clarify that his daughter is his priority and they’re a package deal. Non-negotiable. It’s made some agencies skip him, but Taehyung doesn’t worry too much. He’s been really lucky; the universe has been generous with him and Gayeong from the get-go and Taehyung doesn’t take that luck for granted and works as hard as he’s able. More importantly, he’s really lucky that Gayeong is such an agreeable child that taking care of her feels almost unreal sometimes.
He can’t believe he just survived his daughter’s first day of school without him by her side.
“Papa!” Gayeong breaks free from her daycare teacher’s grasp and runs to Taehyung, hugging his legs.
Taehyung ruffles her hair, his exhaustion from the day’s work dissipating. “Hi, petal, how was school?” Gayeong peers up at him and her face crumples. “Sweetheart? What’s wrong?” He looks back to the daycare teacher who just smiles and motions for him to let Gayeong talk.
“Haeun isn’t in the same class, Papa. I didn’t see her all day.”
“Oh, sweetheart, it’s alright. You can ask her tomorrow before class to find you during recess. Would you like that?”
There aren’t any tears (thank god) but Gayeong sniffles as she nods. Taehyung picks her up and waves goodbye to her teacher.
“What did you do in class, sweetie? Did you have fun?”
Gayeong rambles without further prompting, distress shelved for the time being. Apparently, after they made introductions, they had art period where the teacher let them draw their favorite animal and Gayeong had drawn the four raptors from Jurassic World because they’re her favorite. (Taehyung had been trying to get her to watch A Land Before Time, but Gayeong is dead set on wearing their DVD copies of the Jurassic franchise down.) Afterwards, the class also had nap time, which Gayeong also loves, for some reason unknown to Taehyung. And then she thanks him for the gummy bears in her lunchbox.
“You’re welcome, petal.”
By the time they reach their apartment, Gayeong has gone quiet again.
“Did you post the picture, Papa? The one with Haeun?”
Taehyung opens Instagram. The notifications are in the thousands. He shows her the photo and some of the comments. Many are well wishes for Gayeong and Haeun’s schoolyear and a lot are gushing about their cute matching hats.
“They liked it, petal, see? You’re very cute!”
Gayeong is elated. She doesn’t stop singing while Taehyung heats up the dinner they bought on the way home and all throughout the meal. Later in the evening while Gayeong is preparing for bed, Taehyung scrolls through the rest of the comments. One comment catches his attention.
Thanks, Taehyung-ssi! Haeunie is very happy with their photo. See you tomorrow!
The comment is followed by another one from the same user (junghobiyah) composed of dozens of smiling and heart eyed emojis. It reminds Taehyung of Haeun’s hair and he has no doubt Jung Hoseok and junghobiyah are the very same. He replies with You’re welcome and a dozen sparkle and smiling emojis of his own.
When Taehyung goes to look at junghobiyah’s profile, there aren’t any posts. Just the profile photo, a couple of followers, and a short bio of Hi!~~~. He’s following exactly one account, which is Gayeong’s.
Taehyung goes to sleep feeling oddly charmed by the thought of Jung Hoseok making an Instagram account solely for Haeun and Gayeong’s photo.
Dads are the best, obvs.
He dresses Gayeong in a more lowkey outfit the next day. A red unicorn-print dress (“I’ll find you a raptor dress soon, okay, sweetie?”), yellow socks that match the color of the unicorn’s mane and white rubber shoes. He packs her a tan jumper in case she gets cold.
For himself, he throws on a crimson jumper (to match Gayeong, of course) over his striped navy blue shirt and accessorizes with a blue beret. He’ll be in the museum all day and the airconditioning is arctic. If he happens to look like he’s about to tread the runway while working, then so be it.
It’s also the perfect outfit for scoping out your enemy. Not that they have enemies. Taehyung is just being prudent.
This time, they take Gayeong’s photos outside their apartment, Gayeong leaning by the bike rack while pedestrians pass behind her. Taehyung likes to think it juxtaposes Gayeong being a magical being in the middle of the busy city, because she totally is.
Taehyung holds her hand as they wait for Haeun and her father by the driveway. Gayeong already told Taehyung she wants another photo with Haeun and wants it by the school buses.
When Haeun and Hoseok arrive, Taehyung wants to scream at their outfits. Haeun is wearing a light purple and pink plaid shirt and a pink tulle skirt, looking like an actual unicorn incarnate it makes Taehyung want to coo at her. Hoseok is wearing an oversized beige plaid jumper and black drawstring sweatpants. Taehyung finds it unbelievable that someone beat him in the coziness game.
Him! Kim Taehyung invented cozy.
He almost says so when they reach them, but it’s not worth ruining his daughter’s relationship with her first BFF. Haeun is already smiling, which is definitely adding to her cuteness, while Hoseok is more apprehensive this time, looking at Taehyung.
Gayeong lets go of Taehyung’s hand in favor of running to Haeun at full speed and crushing her into a hug.
“Gayeong!” Taehyung runs as well, laying a hand on his daughter’s shoulder to reel her back in. Gayeong looks apologetic when she lets go, but both she and Haeun are giggling. Gayeong launches her practiced Invitation to Hang During Recess speech at full volume, swinging both Haeun’s hands.
“It’s okay, Taehyung-ssi, I think Haeun missed Gayeong-ah just as much,” Hoseok says.
“People are rooting for their friendship,” Taehyung says.
“Ah, I saw!” Hoseok smiles. “I’m amazed at how positive the responses were, actually, I was worried because it’s an online thing.”
Taehyung sways on his feet. “I was going to bring that up, to be honest. Gayeong gets attached easily and she wants to include Haeun-ah in her photos and it could turn into a regular thing. I told her we’re going to do it only if Haeun and her parents agree.”
Hoseok puts his hands in his pockets and grins. “I’m totally okay with it!” And then, his face grows worried. “Unless, I mean, you might not want another kid in your daughter’s pictures?”
Taehyung is a lot offended. “Don’t be crazy, Hoseok-ssi! I love Haeun-ah!” he says, and then flinches at his outburst slash confession. Being attached easily is unfortunately a thing Gayeong learned from him.
Hoseok’s laughs startles Taehyung. It’s loud and throaty and Hoseok’s shoulders pull up, making him look somewhat mischievous.
“Okay, Taehyung-ssi, if you say so!” His smile from yesterday makes a comeback, the one that is a hazard to anyone with sight.
Taehyung averts his eyes and checks his shoes to avoid going blind. If he hides a smile of his own, nobody but his Gucci shoes need to know.
When Gayeong and Haeun have finished updating each other about the past twenty-four hours they haven’t seen each other, they take the pictures by the buses. Taehyung wants to hug them both for being adorable. Their best shot is one of them laughing after Gayeong puffs up Haeun’s skirt, making the cloth fly around her.
Overall, Taehyung isn’t opposed to Gayeong’s Instagram having pictures of both of them. It’s what Gayeong wants, and Haeun wants it as well, and Hoseok doesn’t disagree. It’s a win-win for everyone.
The picture is another hit. Within an hour, the likes are within the thousands and already people are asking for more. His supervisor from work, Seokjin, chides him for being distracted but backtracks when he sees the photo. Seokjin admits he doesn’t like kids much, but admits Gayeong grew up a very cute kid and is happy for the positive response they’re getting.
Taehyung knows he gets away with things because he has a cute daughter. Another reason to be thankful that Gayeong is in his life. Another reason why he is determined to show Gayeong is the cutest. There isn’t any competition, but Gayeong is definitely the cutest.
The next day is too windy for Taehyung’s liking so he bundles up Gayeong in a powder blue infinity scarf and beanie set over her embroidered denim dress. Her knee high leather boots make her look very classy, if Taehyung may so. And he may, so he tells Gayeong she looks like a very classy model. Gayeong thanks him, smiling very sweetly, and very politely asks if the dress also comes in dinosaur designs. (Taehyung makes a note on his phone to find dinosaur clothes, because he keeps forgetting.)
Haeun comes to school wearing a blue pleated skirt, a white blouse and a light grey cardigan. She’s also wearing boots. Taehyung is proud of them for carrying their outfits so well. The photos are fantastic and Taehyung is running out of phone memory. He worries because it’s only the third day of school.
Taehyung is showing Hoseok the photos after Gayeong and Haeun have gone inside, when Hoseok suddenly claps Taehyung’s shoulder.
“Ah! Taehyung-ssi! What if we plan their outfits, like, with themes or matching items? Like with the hats the other day and the boots, maybe they have other stuff in common.”
He rubs at the sore spot where Hoseok clapped his shoulder, trying not to resent it. Taehyung already knows the kids will look absolutely adorable. But there’s a nagging feeling at the back of his head.
“Hoseok-ssi, won’t that make people start comparing them?” The last few words are mumbled because Taehyung looks up and sees Hoseok staring at him very intently, looking as if he hasn’t heard Taehyung’s question. He’s smiling without showing teeth and it looks vaguely devious. Taehyung notices Hoseok’s dimples for the first time.
Ah. So that’s how it is. The enemy has revealed himself. Taehyung wants to laugh, because there’s no way Hoseok is going to win this. Taehyung is a model. He makes cozy look fashionable, when Hoseok looks as if he dresses cozily to actually be cozy. Today’s outfit is another oversized jumper (it’s orange) and shorts. Ridiculous. His knees are distracting and are inappropriate for a school environment.
Taehyung shakes his head to shake off the thought.
“Okay, Hoseok-ssi, that’s a great idea!” Taehyung replies with a shoulder clap of his own which seems to finally snap Hoseok out of his scheming stupor.
Hoseok hands him his phone. The wallpaper is a selca of him and Haeun with a blanket over their heads. Taehyung finds himself admiring the cute photo until Hoseok laughs. “We were trying to build a fort and got distracted.”
“I understand completely,” Taehyung says. Blanket forts are serious business, but so are selcas. “Why are you giving me your phone, though?”
“Oh, sorry! I was gonna ask for your number so we can coordinate their outfits, if that’s okay.”
“Right, of course.” He enters his number and takes a selca for his contact photo, barely refraining from holding up a V sign because they’re not that close. He calls his number so he can save Hoseok’s contact details as well.
Hoseok thanks him and excuses himself because he has a class to get to, apparently. Taehyung wonders if Hoseok’s still in college, because that would explain why he dresses like a college student.
[16:41] Hello, Taehyung-ssi! What theme do you want for tomorrow? – Jung Hoseok (This is Haeun’s dad)
[17:12] Hello, Hoseok-ssi! Does Haeun have any floral clothes?
[17:14] She has a Hawaiian-print shirt somewhere, will that work?
[17:15] Mmm, I think it might too early for summery clothes.
[17:15] What about ruffles?
[17:36] Ah! I found it! Haeunie has a skirt with a suffocating amount of ruffles!
[17:39] ‘Kay then. See you and Haeun!
[15:07] I’m confused. The pink dresses tomorrow and then jeans and Converse the next, right?
[15:07] Yep! Haeunie’s very excited!
[15:08] Gayeong is, too. She’s been saying she wants to post more than one picture per day because the pictures turn out so nice.
[15:09] Oho, I’m so glad! Whatever works, Taehyung-ssi!
[17:01] The teacher said they’ll play games outside tomorrow and to dress them in comfortable clothes.
[17:03] Gayeong’s teacher said the same. Maybe all the classes will play together?
[17:04] Gayeong has a yellow tracksuit? I’m not sure if it still fits.
[17:04] I hope so! That way Gayeong-ah and Haeunie could be teammates. And, that’s perfect! Haeun has a grey and orange one.
[17:53] I hope Gayeong does okay tomorrow. She’s friendly but she’s never really had any friends, so I don’t know how she’ll do. We don’t have any neighbors who have kids.
[17:55] Don’t worry Taehyung-ssi. Gayeong-ah is nice as well as friendly, I’m sure the games will be no problem. And in any case, Haeunie will be there so she won’t be alone!
[17:56] Thank you. I worry a lot.
[17:57] Taehyung-ssi, worrying is our job.
Taehyung and Gayeong’s life finds a new rhythm: Gayeong’s school and daycare after (he doesn’t breathe until the school bus has safely transferred Gayeong from school to the daycare centre and pesters the bus driver and daycare teacher until they’ve both confirmed), Taehyung’s work at various studios and at the museum (Taehyung finds himself skipping a lot more modeling gigs, especially big projects, because he can’t be away from Gayeong now), shopping in the afternoon for more nutritious food now that Gayeong has school (Taehyung cringes at the amount of instant food and convenience store meals he’s fed Gayeong—he’s trying to learn how to cook, but he’s also trying not to burn down their apartment, so it’s difficult) and coordinating outfits with Haeun and Hoseok.
He feels like he’s about to burst some days because a lot of things have been added to their plate, but Gayeong is just thriving at all the new experiences and it eases the exhaustion of doing all of it every day. Gayeong likes school and her favorite subject is science. She always tells him about the little experiments they do, like mixing their own slime (hers is blue with dark blue Styrofoam pellets in loving memory of Blue the raptor) and creating soap bars that look like chunks of crystal. Her bookshelf is slowly filling with all the projects she brings home.
Taehyung has been using his free time to online shop for clothes for Gayeong. (Sometimes for him too, if he’s feeling generous). He’s found two dresses that are dinosaur-printed, a Jurassic Park patch he’s planning on sewing on her bomber jacket, and a button-up blouse with a Brachiosaurus extending its neck across the collar.
Surprisingly, it’s not hard to find coordinate Gayeong’s and Haeun’s outfits. Taehyung and Hoseok do not have the same style, and neither do their kids, but it’s easy to compromise. Sometimes he or Hoseok has to buy new clothes to match, but it’s really nobody’s loss.
Even more surprisingly, Taehyung finds himself having fun in his little competition with Hoseok. Both of them are yet to acknowledge it, but Taehyung knows it’s on, because Hoseok sometimes would burst into laughter when they see what each other’s daughter is wearing. Sometimes, Hoseok would pat Taehyung on the shoulder and say “Nice one,” or “Nice try,” like he’s determined the winner. Gayeong and Haeun are super cute, Taehyung admits, every day. Too bad Gayeong is just the cutest.
Within the first few weeks of their project the account gains hundreds of new followers. Jimin sends him an article from a mom blog that features their Instagram. The article praises the girls’ outfits and their creative shots. Taehyung feels so proud he shows Gayeong and sends Hoseok the article before he remembers to thank Jimin.
[19:42] Sorry for the late reply, Hoseok-ssi, we were having dinner.
[19:42] And yes! Gayeong can wear her green coat tomorrow.
[19:45] No worries! I hope you enjoyed your meal~~
[19:47] We did! We ate so much jjajangmyeon we’ve been sitting in food coma for the past 20 mins.
[19:49] [Image sent]
[19:55] [Image sent]
[19:56] Haeunie and I have been streaming whale encounter videos for the past hour.
[19:56] Even though it’s a school night ahhh I kinda feel bad.
[19:58] They could be educational, Hoseok-ssi! And it’s early still, I think.
[20:01] She says she learned a lot and is still asking a lot of questions. I’ve dug my own grave, honestly.
[20:02] Take care on your way home!
Jimin can suck it, Taehyung thinks for the hundredth time, readjusting his tie again. Parents’ Night is an important event and this is his first, so of course he has to dress up. Jimin is babysitting Gayeong for the night (“If you teach my daughter any weird stuff, I’ll cut your bangs!”) and had laughed at him when he emerged from his bedroom wearing his checkered pants and blue snake tie. (“Taetae, you’re going to talk about finger painting and, I don’t know, appropriate snacks for recess. Aren’t you a little overdressed?” “Hush, Jiminie!”)
When he enters Gayeong’s classroom, he immediately goes to the artworks posted on the walls, looking for Gayeong’s stuff. He spots the raptors first, and from there, finds several others with Gayeong’s signature. She’s drawn and painted two family photos including their relatives in Daegu, one of her and Haeun, and a landscape with a field of yellow flowers in the foreground and mountains in the distance. He takes pictures of all of them and posts them on his Instagram, feeling his chest swell with pride.
Gayeong’s teacher does talk about finger painting as an upcoming art session, but she also talks about starting a reading list. Nothing difficult, just classic children’s stories. Taehyung is on board. Afterwards, she also talks about other science projects, and a few parents find it surprising that they’re not doing the baking soda and vinegar volcano yet. And then, because it’s the first Parents’ Night, she takes the time to talk to each parent one by one. When it’s Taehyung’s turn, he sees the surprise on the teacher’s face. Either it’s because he looks young, or because he really is overdressed, and Taehyung doesn’t really mind. She talks about how quickly Gayeong picks up information and how outspoken she is. She volunteers for activities and always asks if they could be a little more dinosaur-inclined. She mentions that Gayeong talks about him a lot, and admires him and a Dr. Ellie Sattler (Taehyung has to explain who that is), and of Jung Haeun from the class next door. Gayeong is friends with everyone, she says, but she’s always looking for Haeun.
None of these are exactly news to Taehyung, but seeing another adult sing praises about Gayeong feels surreal to him, like, for once, he’s seeing him and Gayeong from outside and it’s good.
He walks out of the meeting a little dazed.
He doesn’t see where he’s going. He collides with another parent exiting another classroom. It’s Jung Hoseok.
“Taehyung-ssi!” Hoseok steadies him with hands on his shoulders. He’s already beaming and Taehyung returns it wholeheartedly. Nothing can tarnish his good mood. “Sorry, I didn’t notice you.”
“All my bad,” Taehyung says, feeling giddy. This person is the father of his daughter’s bestest friend in the whole world, unspoken competition notwithstanding, therefore, this person helps make the world a better place. Taehyung shakes his hand.
Hoseok laughs but shakes eagerly back. “Good meeting then?”
“Yeah, Haeunie’s getting better at talking to people, you know? Her teacher says she says the smartest things but she rarely talks. Lately though, she’s improved at expressing herself.”
Taehyung thinks of little Haeun’s smile and thanks the universe. “I’m glad, Hoseok-ssi.”
“It’s all thanks to Gayeong-ah! She’s such a good influence on Haeunie.”
“Well, Haeun-ah balances Gayeong, so it’s okay. And besides, you encourage her a lot, so good job.”
Hoseok’s smile softens and he looks down, bashful. But it’s true. Taehyung has witnessed on more than one occasion how effective Hoseok is when it comes to pushing her daughter without being overbearing. He always asks for Haeun’s opinion while gently nudging her towards doing more things outside her comfort zone, like asking another kid to borrow the swing or openly talking about her ideas for their outfit photos when the rest of them have run out of ideas.
They start walking towards the exit. It’s raining lightly.
Hoseok takes out a bucket hat from his pocket. Taehyung notices for the first time that Hoseok is wearing a floral bomber jacket that looks more appropriate for a night out than a kindergarten event. Still, Taehyung likes the jacket enough he considers asking where Hoseok got it. He doesn’t, in the end, because that could mean ceding a point to Hoseok in their competition.
“Ah, gotta run, Taehyung-ssi. I hope the train isn’t too crowded.” He looks like he’s bracing himself to make a run for the station, but Taehyung isn’t heartless, especially not tonight.
He places a hand on Hoseok’s elbow. “I’ll drive you home, Hoseok-ssi. If you get sick, Haeun’s mother will have a hard time taking care of her, you know she’s a wild child,” he jokes.
Hoseok laughs. “Haeun’s mother isn’t with us.” Taehyung must have flinched at his faux pas, because Hoseok waves his hands, laughing again. “We’re not together, I mean. Haeunie is staying with my sister tonight.”
“Oh.” Taehyung forces his face into a more neutral expression. “Well, the offer stands.”
“It might be out of your way?” Hoseok rattles off their address, which is, indeed, in the opposite direction to Taehyung and Gayeong’s apartment.
Taehyung shrugs. “It’s alright, traffic isn’t that bad, hopefully.”
The traffic is bad. When they exit into a highway, it takes them fifteen minutes just exiting.
“I’m sorry, Taehyung-ssi, I’m prolonging your time away from your family.” Hoseok looks mortified and is red up to his ears.
Taehyung misses Gayeong and wants nothing but to scoop her into his arms especially after the feedback from her teacher. But he’s made his bed, and all. Taehyung’s always been a fan of making metaphorical lemonade out of life lemons.
“Please don’t apologize. I’m sure Gayeong is having a blast with Jimin. Their favorite pastime is staging their own fashion shows and concerts.”
Hoseok smiles. “Is Jimin-ssi your wife? Are you both models? Haeunie mentioned you work as a model.” He quickly closes his mouth, embarrassed.
Taehyung laughs, but more because of the thought of Jimin in a pink maid outfit than Hoseok’s curiosity. He can’t explain why it’s the mental image he conjured after hearing Jimin and wife in the same sentence. “Jiminie is my best friend and coworker. So, yes, he’s actually also a model.”
The red hasn’t left Hoseok’s face which makes Taehyung giggle more.
“You can put on music, if it makes you feel less awkward?” Taehyung offers. Hoseok gratefully accepts the connector and scrolls through his phone while they wait for the light.
“I forbid you to make fun of my library,” warns Hoseok.
Taehyung rolls his eyes, feeling surprised at himself but decides they’re probably at that level of relationship where eye-rolling is okay. They’ve had minor disagreements with Gayeong’s and Haeun’s outfits after all, because Taehyung is Gucci through and through, while Hoseok is more Stussy. “I would never.”
Hoseok plays mostly hip-hop and R&B, some songs Taehyung already listen to, which is a bit of revelation. The songs have Taehyung bopping his shoulders and nodding his head to the beat as he drives.
“I’m a distracted driver right now,” Taehyung informs Hoseok as they both jam enthusiastically to One Love by Blue. Taehyung wants to sing along but is worried it’s a step too high on the friendship ladder after eye-rolling.
“Sorry, sorry,” Hoseok says, browsing his phone again, but Taehyung is already belting out SORRY, SORRY by Super Junior, earlier reservations thrown out the window.
Hoseok eyes widen, but in a second he joins in, busting out the dance moves like the passenger seat is any place to dance. Hoseok knows all the steps, and they’re lucky the traffic is so slow, because Taehyung just explodes laughing when Hoseok performs the steps for the bridge part perfectly, if a bit exaggerated, the seatbelt barely restraining his movements. It takes a while for Taehyung to calm down, and when he does, he has to wipe tears from his eyes.
“Sorry,” Hoseok says again. He hands Taehyung a tissue from the dashboard.
“That was a little wild. I see now where Haeun gets it from.”
They break into giggles. The silence comes back slowly, Hoseok’s phone playing another song (Youth by Troye Sivan, which isn’t a song Taehyung would associate with Hoseok, but it’s a good song, so he’s not complaining), but it’s more comfortable than before.
Hoseok directs him to a nice-looking neighborhood with actual houses instead of condominiums and apartment buildings. And then Hoseok asks him to stop the car, so Taehyung does. The Jung residence is a single-story building that looks like something out of a fairytale. Taehyung might be in love.
The walls could be green, but they’re not very visible under all the plant creeping all over. There are plant boxes on both sides of the door and across the entire façade, but the hibiscus in it is overflowing and heavy with flowers. There are other smaller flowers, mostly pink and white, scattered all around the yard. Instead of a walkway to the door, there are large slabs of stone planted on the grass. There’s a bright green mailbox that says Jung in what could only be Haeun’s script, unless Hoseok has really bad handwriting.
It’s the kind of house Taehyung imagined for himself when he was younger and had no plans to leave Daegu. It looks like a magical event smack in the middle of the city, right between normal looking similar houses.
“It’s a bit much, I suppose, and the yard is really difficult to maintain but Haeun really loved the house the moment she saw it.” Hoseok’s voice is quiet, like he knows Taehyung is having an epiphany.
Taehyung nods, still taking it in. “It’s, um, very patriotic.”
Hoseok’s laugh is impossibly loud inside Taehyung’s small car.