“One grande soy decaf pumpkin spice latte, please.”
Taehyung stopped scrubbing the counter and threw his towel over his shoulder. “Um, we don’t have that here,” he said, gesturing around the diner. It was small, but clean —Taehyung’s grandparents made sure of it— with mismatched chairs and a wobbly tiled floor his grandpop had laid down himself back when Taehyung’s dad was still around.
It was run by hardworking people with their hardworking grandson, and it was a nice place to stop if you wanted homemade food and someone who would remember your name. But Taehyung couldn’t help anyone with a coffee order longer than two syllables.
“What do you mean? Don’t you have coffee here?” the girl asked, one of her curls nearly falling into someone’s plate as she leaned over the counter.
Taehyung nudged the customer’s food out of the way, and put a hand on the girl’s arm to back her up. “Ah, we have coffee,” he said, coming around the counter. “But this is it.” He grabbed the coffee pot from his grandma as she walked by with a handful of orders. It was a busy morning. Taehyung liked it best when it was busy.
“That’s it?” she asked, horrified. She looked ashen; like not getting her pumpkin spice latte was the hardest obstacle she had yet to face. Taehyung sincerely hoped it was.
“That’s it,” Taehyung answered.
“There’s nothing you can do?”
“Make her that thing you make for me!”
Taehyung’s head turned at the interruption, and his cheeks colored when he spotted Jimin sitting in the corner. He was looking at them with sparkling eyes despite the early hour, and Taehyung blushed harder. Jimin was so pretty. “Ah, well, that’s not-“
“What do you make for him?” the girl asked, leaning so close Taehyung could smell her perfume.
“Well, I’m not supposed to-“
“It’s great,” Jimin interjected. He took a big sip from his mug, showing off. “It’s half coffee, half hot chocolate.”
“But that’s for you,” Taehyung found himself saying. However, the girl didn’t seem to hear him.
“That’s fine. Anything but black coffee is fine. I just have to get through my Indian Culture and Society class,” she begged.
“I’ll pay you double.”
“It’s only supposed to be for Jimin,” Taehyung whined, but he found himself pouring her half a cup of coffee anyway. He topped the Styrofoam cup off with some hot chocolate, and passed it to her in exchange for three dollars.
“Thanks!” she said as she bounced out the door.
“You’re welcome,” Jimin chimed in with a wink towards Taehyung as he followed her out. His backpack made him look like a turtle and his glasses were slipping down his nose, but he was still the most beautiful boy Taehyung had ever seen. He held his breath as Jimin walked out the door.
“So...” Jungkook said, raising an eyebrow as he cleaned out the inside of a coffee cup. “Only for Jimin, huh?”
Taehyung groaned and laid his head down on the counter, despite the customers bustling in and out of the diner faster than he could serve them. “Don’t read into it; it’s not a big deal,” he whined.
“You’re whipped, Taehyung.”
Taehyung sighed. “Don’t remind me.”
“Taehyung, dearie, would you get down another bottle of blue cheese dressing for me? Your grandfather’s running low, and I can’t reach.”
“Sure thing, Gram,” Taehyung replied, ducking back through the kitchen and into the storage room. His grandma followed him, dusting her hands off on her apron.
“Thank you so much!” she said as Taehyung handed her the tub of salad dressing, like Taehyung didn’t owe her his childhood and happy home. Like Taehyung wouldn’t be paying back her kindness for the rest of his life. “It’s so nice having a big, strong man around to help with the heavy lifting.”
“What about Pop?” Taehyung asked.
“’Big,’ ‘strong,’ and ‘man’ are not words I would use to describe your grandfather,” his grandma teased, and Taehyung laughed behind his hand.
“That was mean.”
“Old ladies get to be mean; it’s called going senile,” his grandma quipped. She walked back out into the kitchen and dropped the tub of blue cheese onto the counter by her husband. Taehyung’s grandpop caught her hand and kissed it before she could slip away.
“Thank you,” he said almost absent-mindedly as he flipped burgers.
“Anything you need, Tiger,” his grandma said, spanking him as she went out to take more orders.
His grandpop turned to Taehyung briefly as he laid cheese on burgers like a poker dealer laying out cards. “Get you a partner who’s feisty, Taehyung, and you’ll never be bored.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Taehyung promised.
Taehyung had been working since he was fourteen. As soon as he had been old enough to help out, he had hit the ground running, and now he was six years in as a server at this grandparent’s restaurant.
Every morning, he took down the chairs and every evening he put them right back up to sweep the floor. He cleaned dishes to see them get dirty, he filled cups to watch them get emptied, he wiped tables just to wipe them again, and again, and again, with no breaks, no vacations, no weekends, just work.
It was monotonous, but it stopped Taehyung from thinking too much as he was sometimes prone to do. Plus, monotony had his benefits.
There were a couple different shifts of regulars (and even a different regularity of regulars: regulars who arrived more regularly than others), but the 10am to 11am batch was by far Taehyung’s favorite.
Mostly because of Jimin.
“Staring again?” Jungkook asked, clipping a ticket to the order wheel. Taehyung hummed distractedly.
“Staring at who?” Hoseok asked. He abandoned his French toast to swivel his head around the diner. “Staring at who?” Hoseok asked again, a little louder, and that was enough to snap Taehyung out of it.
“N-no one,” he said, sitting up straight and looking pointedly down at his hands. He was supposed to be filling the salt and pepper shakers. Taehyung focused on the task at hand.
“You were staring at someone,” Hoseok said, too smart for his own good. He looked in the direction Taehyung had been staring. “Oh my god, were you staring at Seokjin? Isn’t he too old for you?”
“I wasn’t staring at Jin,” Taehyung insisted. “I wasn’t staring at anyone. I was just...”
“Spacing?” Hoseok supplied.
“No, he was staring,” Jungkook insisted. “Taehyungie’s day-dreaming face is much more squinty than his love-struck face.” Taehyung elbowed Jungkook in the ribs, and Jungkook muttered under his breath. “Somehow his love-struck face is still uglier.”
Taehyung stomped on Jungkook’s foot. They may be cousins, but Taehyung considered that grounds to abuse him rather than look out for him.
“Love struck?” Hoseok asked.
Jungkook nodded, grimacing as he held his foot. “With Jimin.”
“Jungkook!” Taehyung exclaimed, betrayed.
“Jimin?” Hoseok gushed. “But he’s dating someone.”
“I know,” Taehyung whined. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. Not only was Jimin taken, but he was incredibly smart. He went to the University of Pennsylvania. He studied during breakfast, and he used words Taehyung had to Google later. He read books Taehyung couldn’t even understand the titles of. He was a genius. And he was beautiful.
And he was taken. It would never work out between them.
“Jimin, huh,” Hoseok mused, swirling a piece of French toast around in his maple syrup. “You know, we’re roommates.”
“Which is why Jungkook shouldn’t have said anything,” Taehyung said.
“Not necessarily.” Hoseok took a big bite. “I could put in a good word for you. He’s got a test after breakfast today, or I’d go over there and talk to him now. But later when he’s a bit less anti-social I could talk you up if you wanted.”
“Yes!” Jungkook cheered.
“He’s taken,” Taehyung argued.
Hoseok snorted. “Yeah, but between you and me, that won’t last for much longer.”
Taehyung wanted to ask what Hoseok meant, but before he could, the door bells jingled and Hoseok was screaming.
“Yoongi! My favorite unpublished, underappreciated author. How are you?” Hoseok asked. Yoongi glared at him from above the top of his scarf, his nose and mouth buried.
“I have two best sellers, and you’re not real.”
“Ugh, not this again,” Hoseok rolled his eyes. Taehyung pressed his lips together and wrote up Yoongi’s order slip. He always got a cup of coffee and two scrambled egg whites at 11 and then a BLT at noon. Nutritionally, Taehyung was concerned, but he wasn’t a doctor. He was just a waiter (and a busboy, and a chef, and a janitor, and a cashier).
“You’re just mad because you can’t prove to me you exist,” Yoongi said as Taehyung clipped in his ticket.
“I may not be able to prove I exist, but I can prove that you don’t think I don’t exist.”
Yoongi shrugged off his coat and took up his usual seat. “Oh, yeah? And how’s that?”
“If everything in this world is just a figment of your imagination, then you should have no trouble walking across Route 222 blindfolded without any kind of assistance.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” Yoongi deadpanned.
“Why not?” Hoseok asked. “It’s your imagination. Just... imagine the cars not hitting you.”
“It’s too cold outside,” Yoongi said dismissively.
“Then imagine it warmer!”
Taehyung sighed and filled Yoongi’s coffee cup. Yoongi called himself a ‘solipsist,’ which was a word Taehyung had to look up in his grandpop’s giant Oxford dictionary. Solipsism is the belief that nothing exists outside of the mind, including other minds. Yoongi believed the only person to exist was himself (namely due to the unbelievable success of his first two novels).
Hoseok called Yoongi an egotistical idiot.
Egotistical was another word Taehyung had to look up.
Jimin took off his headphones and cleared his throat from the back of the diner. “Um, if you two wouldn’t mind, I’m trying to cram over here? And I can hear you over my headphones.”
“Yeah, guys, you’re disturbing the other customers,” Taehyung said, stepping in between Yoongi and Hoseok to give Yoongi his coffee. He was usually less agitated after his second or third cup, so Taehyung liked to get him his first drink fast. He cleared Hoseok’s plate and handed him his bill. “Anything else?”
“You need to get a handle on your clientele,” Hoseok said. “You’re starting to attract riff-raff.” He stuck his tongue out at Yoongi over his shoulder, and Yoongi flipped him the middle finger in response, taking out his laptop. Taehyung hummed. Either Yoongi would get a lot of writing done today and stay until closing, or he would give up after two hours. Either way, Taehyung needed to brew a fresh pot.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Taehyung said.
“Cool. Okay. On that note, I’m headed to class.” Hoseok grabbed his backpack and his phone. “Guess I’ll drag Jimin out of here.”
“Please do,” Jungkook chimed in from the front of the diner. He had paused in taking an order. “Maybe then Taehyung will get some work done.”
“What?” Jimin asked, his headphones around his neck.
Hoseok laughed. “Never you mind, kid,” he said. He threw an arm around Jimin’s shoulders as he got up from his table. “Now tell me everything you need to know for your test on the way to campus. How prepared are you?”
Jimin frowned but started prattling off information about the bees’ honey cycle and the effect on flower germination. Taehyung barely caught every other word as they left the diner, too focused on fighting down the blush creeping up his cheeks..
Jungkook frowned as Taehyung stayed glued to the spot, humiliated. “... I should stop screaming about Jimin, shouldn’t I?” he asked as means of apology.
Taehyung huffed. “That would be nice.”
“Good morning, TaeTae!”
“Good morning, Jimin,” Taehyung replied. “You want the usual?”
“Actually, I think I want pancakes,” Jimin said, unbuttoning his coat and hanging it up on the coatrack. “But only if you make them.”
“Will do,” Taehyung agreed, even though he hadn’t had enough time to go to the bathroom for the past four hours, let alone make anyone their pancakes personally. (Plus, Taehyung’s grandpop hated when he shared the grill with him; he batted Taehyung’s hands away whenever he tried to flip anything without permission.)
“Thanks.” Jimin beamed, and Taehyung’s heart fluttered. “You know, my boyfriend doesn’t get why I come here everyday, but like... it’s nice having someone who knows my usual, you know? I like having a usual. It’s homey here.”
“It is homey,” Taehyung agreed. “If you go into the kitchen, my grandma has all my artwork from elementary school taped up on the walk-in and everything.”
“Wow. I’m endeared.”
“Okay, it’s cute. My grandma’s cute. I’m cute,” Taehyung said, setting down the pot of coffee he was carrying. He pulled out his pad of guest checks out of his apron, fishing his pockets for a pen.
Jimin snorted. “I’m not arguing.”
“You’re laughing,” Taehyung pointed out. He found his pen in his back pocket.
“How am I laughing?”
“You’re crazy,” Jimin decided.
“And you’re getting pancakes,” Taehyung said, scrawling out Jimin’s order. “You like coffee with your pancakes, right?”
Jimin crinkled his flat, little nose. “Well, only if they’re-“
“Chocolate chip,” Taehyung finished for him. Jimin liked coffee when it was paired with chocolate, but not so much outside of that. Taehyung cleared his throat. “They will be chocolate chip.”
“Then coffee it is,” Jimin said, beaming. Taehyung stuck his legal pad in his armpit and flipped the upside down mug in front of Jimin right side up. He filled Jimin’s cup, and Jimin seemed to be fighting back a smile. “I love having a usual,” he said again.
“And I love having regulars,” Taehyung promised, a little more meaningfully than was maybe appropriate. The doorbells jingled, and Taehyung suddenly remembered the diner bustling around him. “But okay, I’ll get your pancakes right out for you, and you can study for your...” Taehyung trailed off, gesturing at Jimin’s massive backpack, and Jimin smiled.
“Aquatic Ecology and Toxicology lab,” he filled in.
“Right,” Taehyung said. “I’ll be right back.”
Taehyung left Jimin to the sight of him rooting through his backpack for the largest textbook Taehyung had ever seen. He heard it land on the table with a thud as he walked away to take another order. Taehyung glanced at Jimin as he headed back into the kitchen, just to see him nose-deep his notebook and chewing on the back of his pen.
Taehyung felt a flush creep up his neck either due to the heat of the kitchen or looking at Jimin; he wasn’t sure.
Taehyung’s grandpop looked away from the grill as he closed the swinging door behind him. “Hey, what’s going on?” his grandpop asked.
Taehyung wrung his hands together. “Jimin was wondering if I could be the one to make his pancakes for him,” he said like he was asking permission. “It’s busy, but—“
“I’m sure your grandma can handle it,” his grandpop promised. He nudged the ladle for the pancake batter towards Taehyung. “Don’t dawdle around, just go ahead and make ‘em.”
“Oh, okay,” Taehyung said. He rushed over to the sink to wash his hands. His grandpop never turned him down, but Taehyung was always nervous to ask him for anything. He owed his grandparents so much: it was hard to ask them for more.
His grandpop watched as Taehyung poured the pancake batter. As Taehyung started artfully arranging chocolate chips in the shape of a smiley face his grandpop grunted knowingly. “I never get to see any of the customers from back here. This Jimin isn’t a bundie, is he?”
Taehyung blinked up from his pancakes. “A what?”
“A mop-head,” his grandpop said. When Taehyung stared at him blankly, he continued. “He’s not some ugly slugger, is he?”
“Oh, no,” Taehyung said. “He’s cute.”
“So are you going to ask him out or keep making him pancakes?”
Taehyung blushed from head to toe. “Pop, I can’t—“
“Why not? You’re a handsome young man. You’ve just turned twenty. It’s about time you find a boyfriend.”
“Yeah, but he’s... He’s taken,” Taehyung said.
“Yeah,” Taehyung said miserably. “But, um, his roommate doesn’t think that it’ll last much longer. So... So until then I’m gonna make pancakes, and put my best foot forward, and Hoseok says he’ll put in a good word for me, and so I’ll be here when the timing is better.”
His grandpop didn’t say anything (but he was a quiet man, and Taehyung didn’t expect him to). Instead, Taehyung flipped his pancakes in silence and put them onto a plate. His grandpop passed him the whipped cream canister before he could move out of the kitchen. “Give him some extra whipped cream. That’s how I got your grandmother.”
Taehyung took the whipped cream canister and sprayed a moustache and eyebrows on his chocolate chip smiley face. His grandpop nodded approvingly.
“Give him hell,” his grandpop said.
Taehyung smiled weakly. “Will do.”
It was busy: the kind of busy where Taehyung had to prioritize. So busy, that Taehyung had to put off taking Jimin and Hoseok’s order because he knew they would wait. The family of five that came in two minutes after them? They were in a hurry. The commuter who downed his breakfast in five minutes every morning before rushing off to work? He had to eat fast. By the time Taehyung made it over to his two favorite customers, they were checking their phones for the time.
“Sorry, sorry,” Taehyung apologized. “What can I get you two?”
“Do you have anything vegan on this menu?” Jimin asked.
Taehyung blinked. “Are you messing with me?”
“Don’t get him started,” Hoseok warned.
Taehyung tucked his pen behind his ear. “Started on what?”
“I just feel like I need a life-change,” Jimin explained. “There’s too much negativity in my life, and I’m studying to be an environmental biologist. I know how unsustainable meat is; I know the horrors of the milk and dairy industry. I just think I should cut out everything toxic and start fresh.”
Hoseok rolled his eyes. “He acts like the FDA only exists to ban marijuana.”
“I mean, trust the government to ruin a good time,” Taehyung quipped.
Jimin beamed. “See? That’s what I’m saying,” he said cheerily. “So any vegan options or no?”
“Um,” Taehyung scratched the back of his ear. “I mean, I could offer you a fruit cup.”
“Deal,” Jimin said, snapping his menu closed.
“I’ll take just a platter of all your breakfast meats,” Hoseok said. “Ham, bacon, sausage, spam, scrapple... Give me all of it on a plate.”
“That’s going to be like ten dollars,” Taehyung warned him, pen poised on the paper.
“I’ll pay any price to annoy Jimin,” Hoseok said.
Jimin laughed, eyes scrunching. “You’re the worst!”
“I’ll just have that right out for you,” Taehyung said, grabbing Hoseok and Jimin’s menus. He switched them out for a couple plates he had to deliver to waiting customers. He was so busy, he didn’t get a chance to talk to Jimin and Hoseok until their food was ready.
Taehyung approached the table with a tray full of six different meals.
“Okay, fruit for Jimin. A whole pig for Hoseok,” he said, setting their food down on the table. He looked to Hoseok. “Enjoy your meat sweats.”
“Ew,” Hoseok said, while Jimin laughed so hard, he had to punch the table a couple times. Hoseok bit into a sausage pointedly. His nose crinkled as Jimin laughed harder. “I hate you all.”
The jingle bells on the door to the diner tinkled, and Hoseok turned just in time to spot Yoongi walk into the restaurant.
“Speaking of hatred,” he said, jumping out of his seat with a novel in hand. Jimin looked up to Taehyung, wiping tears of mirth out of his eyes.
His contacts were grey but warm. Taehyung felt Jimin’s stare like a kick to the chest.
“He’s been yelling about Yoongi’s novel for two days straight,” Jimin filled him in. He ran a hand through his hair, and Taehyung watched his soft blond bangs fall across his forehead.
“All good things?” Taehyung asked, and Jimin laughed.
“Of course not.”
“Then I can’t wait to see how this unfolds,” Taehyung said, setting Jimin and Hoseok’s check on the table for when they were ready to leave. “Let me know if you need anything?”
Jimin flashed him his megawatt smile. “Trust me, if I need anything, you’ll be the first to know.”
Taehyung almost dropped his tray. “Oh, um, yep, cool. Talk to you later,” he said, rushing away from the table to serve other guests. As he started dishing out French toast and pancakes, he listened in on Hoseok’s and Yoongi’s conversation.
“So I read your novel.”
“God,” Yoongi groaned.
“What’s this line about there being no absolute truth?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, that’s self-defeating, isn’t it?”
Taehyung didn’t have to see Hoseok’s eye roll to acknowledge it happening. “If there’s no such thing as absolute truth, then that statement can’t be absolutely true. It’s self-defeating.”
Yoongi huffed out a sigh. “I didn’t ask you to read my novel—“
“But ask yourself this,” Yoongi continued, while Taehyung almost spilled a customer’s coffee down his shirt. (He was so frantic today.) “If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it really make a sound?”
“Yes,” Hoseok said. “That hypothetical exists to disprove people like you. The whole point is that the tree obviously makes noise if it falls: no matter what. That’s absolute truth.”
“But does it?” Yoongi asked.
Taehyung’s eyes met Jimin’s and they shared a smile. “Philosophy major,” Jimin mouthed across the diner, and Taehyung snickered behind his hand. His job might be monotonous, but the customers sure were interesting.
On Monday morning, Hoseok rushed into the diner, looking windswept and out of breath. “Taehyung,” he wheezed. “Tae-hyung.”
“What do you need?” Taehyung asked, quickly serving a young family their meals and turning to Hoseok with his pen and paper in hand.
“Nothing,” Hoseok said, rushing over and grabbing Taehyung by the shoulders. “The window is open.”
“The window. Is. Open.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Taehyung asked.
“It means you have a window of opportunity,” Yoongi piped up from the corner table because —as often as Yoongi claimed to hate Hoseok— he was great at decoding him. “Jimin is single.”
“What?” Taehyung asked. “Why?”
“His boyfriend was a slimy dirt bag who cheated on him,” Hoseok said, waving his hand like the details didn’t matter. “That’s not important. What is important is that now’s your chance! You should ask him out.”
“But they just broke up,” Taehyung said, stepping away from the customers trying to enjoy their meals. Hoseok followed him to the counter. “You can’t ask someone out right after a breakup. There’s supposed to be... I don’t know, a healing period.”
“Taehyung,” Hoseok said. “I sprinted here to give you this important information so you could take advantage of it. Jimin has dated sixteen different guys this year alone, and it’s only October. If you don’t ask him out, someone else will.”
Taehyung bit his lip. “Well, when did they break up?”
“What’s the problem here?” Jungkook asked, coming out of the kitchen whilst hurriedly tying his apron around his waist. He had an early morning class that let out at 7:50, so he was always rushing to start his morning shift.
“Taehyung’s got cold feet,” Yoongi groused. He slammed his coffee cup on the counter for a refill, and Jungkook complied.
“Jimin is single,” Hoseok said. “A rare occurrence. And Taehyung won’t ask him out.”
“Okay, but they just broke up last night,” Taehyung said. “That’s not cold feet, that’s being a normal human. I think there’s an unwritten rule somewhere about waiting at least twelve hours before taking advantage of someone’s break up.”
“None of the shitty guys who’ve asked Jimin out before have followed that rule,” Hoseok said.
Taehyung drummed his fingers on the countertop. “I don’t want to be the shitty guy who asks Jimin out and only dates him for three weeks,” Taehyung argued. “I want to be the good guy who lasts.”
Everyone took pause. Yoongi broke the silence first, taking a swig of his coffee. “Fuck.”
“I’m telling you, he’s in love,” Jungkook said.
“You have to ask him out, or you’ll miss your chance,” Hoseok said, begging.
“I highly doubt anyone is going to swoop in and ask Jimin out within the next twenty-four hours,” Taehyung said. “I’ll ask him out tomorrow, when he’s ready, and I’m... prepared.” Taehyung hadn’t even brushed his hair this morning, and he was wearing his baseball tee with a hole in the bottom hem. He had to be more presentable to ask Jimin out. A beanie and a torn up t-shirt weren’t going to cut it.
“The time is now,” Hoseok said.
“Actually, I think the time was five minutes ago,” Jungkook said, pointing to the front window. On the other side of the glass, Jimin stood bundled up in his coat and scarf, giggling at something with some guy on the sidewalk.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Taehyung said.
Jimin pulled out his phone and traded it with the stranger’s. Taehyung watched as he punched in his number.
“I hate to say I told you so,” Hoseok said genuinely, offering Taehyung a wince in sympathy. Taehyung smacked his hands to his face, hiding his eyes behind his palms.
Jimin came into the diner a second later, waving his phone victoriously. “Guess who has a date with a swimsuit model,” Jimin said. “It’s crazy the people you meet on the street, huh?”
“Crazy,” Jungkook said dryly, diving into his shift so he wouldn’t have to talk to Jimin. Taehyung didn’t quite want to talk to Jimin either.
“It’s almost disgusting how you do that,” Hoseok said, eyes narrowing at Jimin as he joined him at the counter. Jimin had to climb up onto one of the stools; he was so short. His adorable, glove-covered hands splayed out on the counter.
“You’re just jealous,” Jimin chimed. Hoseok rolled his eyes, and Taehyung huffed out a sigh.
“Honestly?” Taehyung asked, biting the inside of his cheek. “Yeah, a little bit.”
Jimin beamed at him, and Taehyung forced himself to return the smile. Hopefully the date with the swimsuit model would go poorly enough to give Taehyung another chance. Next time, he’d act fast.
“Hey, Taehyung, your walk-in is looking pretty full. Where do you want these tomatoes?” Namjoon asked, stepping out of the kitchen with a boxful of produce.
Taehyung looked up from the mustard bottle he was refilling. “There’s really no room?” he asked.
“Stuffed to the gills,” Namjoon confirmed.
“Is Pop back there?”
“Maybe he’s in the bathroom,” Taehyung said, getting up from his seat at the counter. The diner was nearly empty. It emptied out around 10:00 AM on weekdays. Only Seokjin and Yoongi consistently stayed throughout the morning.
Speaking of Seokjin-
“What’s the problem?” Seokjin asked, swirling a French fry in his ketchup.
“Our fridge is too full, and grandpop is nowhere to be found,” Taehyung said.
Seokjin hummed. “Well, let me take a look,” he said, wiping his mouth with a napkin and throwing it onto his plate. Taehyung crinkled his nose when the paper fell into the ketchup. He hated touching wet napkins, and he washed most of the dishes.
As Seokjin got up from his stool, Namjoon dropped his box. Tomato juice and seeds squelched out from the busted-up cardboard.
“Jin,” Namjoon squeaked.
“Namjoon,” Seokjin said with a big smile. “It’s funny to see you today. Aren’t you stopping by the restaurant later?”
Namjoon nodded frantically. “Yep, it’s on my calendar and everything. Fingerling potatoes, button mushrooms, and... and...”
“Tomatoes,” Seokjin filled in.
“You squashed mine,” Taehyung pointed out, and Namjoon blushed and quickly doubled over to sort out the smashed box.
Namjoon was a produce supplier for most of the local restaurants, including Seokjin’s. Seokjin’s restaurant was much more refined (and much more expensive), but apparently even chef’s got tired of their own cooking, hence why Seokjin showed up at the diner almost every morning.
“I’ll swing by with more tomorrow,” Namjoon promised, his body pink with a blush from head to toe.
Taehyung pushed the conversation along. “You should still probably look at the fridge, Jin. I think our meat guy comes tomorrow.”
“Sure thing,” Seokjin said, following Taehyung through the swinging door into the back.
Namjoon collected his squashed tomatoes and hurriedly chased them into the kitchen. “I’m just... I’m going to go out the way I came. I’m sorry about your order; the tomatoes are on the house,” Namjoon said, scampering out the back door before Taehyung could even say goodbye.
Seokjin watched him go fondly. Taehyung tilted his head to the side. “I think he likes you,” Taehyung thought aloud.
Seokjin turned him, a conspiring grin clear on his face. “Oh, I know he does.”
“And you don’t like him back?” Taehyung asked.
“Oh no, I do,” Seokjin promised. “But sometimes you have to make them work for it.”
Taehyung thought about that as Seokjin helped him reorganize the open pickle jars to make more room for the ground beef shipment to be delivered. It was important to work hard for the people you loved, but he certainly wished things could be easier with Jimin.
Taehyung was tired of waiting.
Jimin walked into the diner looking flustered. He always looked flustered. He walked into the diner everyday hunched under his backpack, his hair windblown from the autumn breeze and an extra textbook or two tucked under his arm. Per usual, his cheeks were flushed, and per usual, Taehyung wanted to take his chubby face between both hands and kiss his nose until it stopped running.
“Good morning, Taehyung!”
“Good morning, Jimin,” Taehyung replied.
“How is your morning so far?” Jimin asked.
“Good. My grandma’s out getting her nails done, but it hasn’t been too busy,” he said.
“What? Mrs. Kim’s not here?” Jimin asked. “How am I supposed to make it through the morning without seeing the love of my life?”
Taehyung grinned. “Don’t let my grandpop hear you.”
“Of course not. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
Taehyung snorted, and held up a menu. “Do you even need this?” he asked.
“Absolutely not. The usual, please.”
“Two eggs sunny side up and burned hash browns; you got it,” Taehyung said, scribbling the order down on a ticket and sticking it on the wheel for his grandpop to see. It was surprisingly empty, but Jimin sat at the counter anyway. “So I guess you’re not vegan anymore.”
“No, that was the worst idea of my life,” Jimin admitted. “And that’s saying something, considering I’m great at making bad decisions.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” Taehyung said, settling into the conversation. There weren’t many customers to feed, and no one needed their order taken. For once, he could actually settle into a conversation with Jimin. “You’re obviously smart, you go to UPenn. That’s Ivy League.”
“If you actually walked on that campus, you’d realize that everyone smart enough to go to UPenn is only smart at one particular thing,” Jimin said. “We’re good at school, not at social skills.”
“At social skills?” Taehyung asked.
“Yeah, like picking dates,” Jimin said. “I mean, the swimsuit model? An absolute psychopath.”
Taehyung snorted. “How so?”
“He has nine cats, for starters,” Jimin said. “And he’s like... way too into them.”
“But hot people aren’t supposed to be crazy,” Taehyung said, pouting.
Jimin laughed. “See, that’s what I thought,” he agreed, chugging his half-coffee-half-hot-chocolate mix the second Taehyung set it down in front of him. “But no, apparently, beautiful people can be just as nutso as the rest of us.”
Taehyung hummed. “I don’t think you’re lumped in with the rest of us,” he said, leaning against the back counter. “But, um... I take it you’re not seeing him again?” He tried not to sound too eager.
“Are you kidding? Of course not. Not only did he show me pictures of all of his cats, but he also showed me ‘baby pictures.’”
Taehyung couldn’t fight back a smile. “Stop.”
“I’m not kidding!” Jimin said. “And he dresses them up, too. He talks about them like they’re his kids, and he makes them wear outfits, and like... I’m convinced while I was talking to him, he choked up a hairball. He says grooming is an important bonding activity for cats, and I wouldn’t put it past him not to lick them straight up.”
“Ew,” Taehyung laughed. Jimin took another sip of his coffee, and Taehyung bounced up on his toes, seeing his opportunity. “But, um, anyway. Jimin. Are you doing anything this Friday?”
“Hm?” Jimin set down his cup. “Oh, yeah, I’m going on a date with this guy —Mark— who goes to my gym. He asked me while I was lifting this morning, and I almost dropped a 25 pound weight on my foot.”
Taehyung deflated. “Oh.”
“Why, what did you want to do?”
“Um, nothing, just... a couple of us were hanging out.”
“Oh, well is it a big party? Maybe me and Mark could swing by.”
“Actually, I don’t even think I’m going to go. My grandma and I usually make pierogies and watch Hallmark movies on Fridays,” Taehyung backtracked.
“Then next time,” Jimin said brightly.
Taehyung frowned. “Yeah, next time.”
Jimin stared at him contemplatively for a minute, and Taehyung busied himself by wrapping up a few more sets of silverware to set out later. “You know, Taehyung... I really meant it when I said I like having a usual here,” he said quietly, staring at Taehyung with sharp eyes. He usually seemed so oblivious, but now, Taehyung could feel Jimin looking right through him. “Most people... They come and they go. But I like this diner. I like having a usual.”
“And I like having regulars,” Taehyung agreed, not sure what he was signing onto.
Jimin stared at him for a minute. Taehyung’s grandpop rang the bell behind him. “Order up!”
“Two eggs sunny-side up and burned hash browns,” Taehyung said, setting the dish in front of Jimin. The sound of the plate hitting the countertop made a jarring sound in the silence between them. “The usual.”
Jimin picked up his fork. “The usual.”
“Okay so bad news, everyone,” Taehyung announced, stepping out of the kitchen. “We’re out of bacon.”
“Oh, Lord Almighty, batten down the hatches,” his grandma said, fanning herself. She rushed off into the back —presumably to talk to Taehyung’s grandpop— leaving Taehyung alone to deal with the angry customers.
Fortunately, it was a slow morning and only regulars were dining in.
“What do you mean you’re out of bacon?” Yoongi asked, his laptop abandoned in front of him. “How am I supposed to get my BLT?”
Taehyung scratched the back of his neck. “Good question.”
“But you guys have really, good bacon,” Seokjin complained. He had a menu open in front of him, but Taehyung knew he had been thinking about the bacon, cheddar, and chive omelette. It was a Seokjin staple.
“Applewood smoked and dry-cured,” Taehyung confirmed.
“Yes, see, so then you know that I can’t live without it.”
Hoseok banged his fist on the table in a steady rhythm. “Bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon,” he chanted, Yoongi and Seokjin’s voice joining him. Taehyung looked to Jungkook, alarmed. Fortunately, Jimin cut in before their friends’ ranting could disturb any of the other regulars.
“Okay, chill, that’s enough teasing,” Jimin said, coming to Taehyung’s rescue.
“We have ham,” Jungkook offered.
“Boo,” Hoseok called, and Jimin threw a spoon at him.
Taehyung’s grandma burst out from the kitchen doors looking frazzled. She swept her hair back into a bun as she rushed to get the front door. “Wait, wait, wait, wait, don’t worry, don’t worry,” she said, opening the door so Namjoon could step through with a fresh delivery.
“Hey, I have an order of bacon for you guys?” Namjoon said.
His grandma smiled. “Yes, straight back to the kitchen.”
“Bacon isn’t produce,” Seokjin said as Namjoon walked by.
Namjoon nearly slipped on the tile when he realized Seokjin was eating in at the diner. “Oh, um, yeah, I’m branching out! Growing the business! And when the Kim’s usual butcher couldn’t make his weekly delivery, they offered to give me a shot.”
“So this is different bacon,” Seokjin said, eyes narrowing.
Namjoon winced, but then stood up straight. His chest puffed out, despite how heavy the box he was carrying must have been. “But it’s good bacon. You’ll see.”
“I don’t trust you,” Seokjin said, but there was a lilt to his voice that said otherwise.
“Then I’ll just have to stick around and prove it to you.”
“Okay, yes, great, but can you guys stop being gross long enough to get the bacon back to the man in the kitchen, or I’m going to starve,” Yoongi cut in, and Jungkook pushed Namjoon back towards the kitchen.
Taehyung’s grandma went right back to cleaning off the countertop like nothing had ever happened. Taehyung frowned. “What happened?” he asked.
His grandma waved him off. “Oh, you know. Your pop is just getting a little forgetful. I think he remembered that our usual bacon delivery wasn’t getting dropped off, but he forgot about Namjoon.”
“Oh,” Taehyung said. He paused. “Grandpop is getting forgetful?”
“It comes with age dear,” his grandma promised, patting his cheek. The frown stayed on Taehyung’s face. The last thing he wanted to think about was his grandparents getting older. He loved them too much to see them leave him behind, even if they couldn’t help it. The last thing Taehyung needed was another family falling apart around him.
The look on Taehyung’s face must have been something awful because Jimin called him over to his table. “Hey, Tae?”
“Yeah?” Taehyung asked, suddenly feeling slower than usual. He felt like he was trudging through snow as he approached Jimin and Hoseok’s table.
Jimin ran a hand through his hair. He’d curled it today, and Taehyung felt his heart squeeze. “You look upset. You okay?”
“Um… Yeah, I’m just working,” Taehyung said.
“You sure you’re okay?”
Jimin looked up at him with worried grey eyes, concern rolling over his expression like stormclouds. Taehyung’s lungs seized up, and not for the first time, Taehyung realized how hopelessly gone he was for Jimin and how absolutely useless all of his feelings were. Because as much as this meant to Taehyung (Jimin checking up on him, Jimin asking if he was okay), it wasn’t the relationship he wanted.
They weren’t friends. Taehyung was his waiter; the guy who served him breakfast. And if yesterday’s conversation was anything to go by, Jimin valued his two eggs sunny-side-up and extra-toasty hashbrowns more than he valued Taehyung as a person.
Taehyung wanted to hide in the kitchen.
Taehyung wanted to rip off his apron and join Hoseok and Jimin at the table.
Taehyung wanted to go to college, and be a real person, and have a boyfriend, and have friendships outside of his goofy cousin and his grandparents. But he was stuck in this rut where he owed everyone who loved him such a big part of himself, and he couldn’t see the way out.
He only saw Jimin.
“I’m just working,” Taehyung repeated, scrubbing his nose on the back of his wrist.
“You look like you’re about to melt into the floor,” Jimin said softly, reaching out to take Taehyung’s hand. Taehyung let him take it. “Do you hate bacon that much? Or is something else going on?”
Taehyung couldn’t verbalize what was wrong, and even if he wanted to, now wasn’t the time or place. “I’m… I’m at my job, Jimin,” Taehyung said. He slipped his hand out of Jimin’s. “I can’t talk about it right now. I’m working.”
Jimin bit his bottom lip. “... You’re always working.”
“We close for dinner on weekdays,” Taehyung pointed out.
“Thank you for your concern,” Taehyung said, ignoring Hoseok’s eyes boring blatantly into the side of his head and Yoongi’s quiet gaze from the back corner. “But I have work to do right now.”
Taehyung spun on his heel and rushed off to the backroom. His grandma and Jungkook could handle the customers for a little while, and Taehyung had been meaning to deep-clean the storage pantry for awhile. (Sometimes it was easier to dive into work and ignore his problems, rather than face them head on.)
Taehyung liked working for a family owned business. It was nice being close with his co-workers. His grandma fussed over him when he was sick, his grandpop offered him advice from the order window, and even his bratty cousin Jungkook stuck his neck out for him whenever a customer got too aggressive or demanding.
Taehyung had a very small corner of the world that belong to him. He had a small group of people that supported him and an even smaller group of people who loved him. He spent his time either in the diner or in the tiny flat above. His space was small, his world was small, but family filled every part of it, and it made the long, hard days worth it.
Lately, Taehyung found his days growing longer and harder.
“Can you stop frowning, it’s creeping me out,” Jungkook complained, flipping over another chair.
“What, like this?” Taehyung asked, offering Jungkook his most obscene pout. Jungkook picked up a balled up napkin from the floor just to throw it at him. “Okay, chill.”
“You chill,” Jungkook said. “I don’t like seeing you all…” He gestured vaguely at Taehyung with one hand.
“Descriptive,” Taehyung deadpanned.
“You know what I mean,” Jungkook said indignantly. He flipped another few chairs up onto the tables as Taehyung rolled the mop out from behind the counter and into the front of the diner. He hated mopping, but he hated flipping chairs more. It was nice of Jungkook to let him have the easy job.
(Taehyung tried not to feel bitter that Jungkook had time to go to the gym, and that he got to go to school between shifts, and that he had a social life outside of the diner, but sometimes Taehyung wasn’t the good person he tried to be.)
“Do you want to talk about it?” Jungkook asked when Taehyung didn’t say anything.
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“You always say that,” Jungkook complained.
“Well, I don’t have much going on,” Taehyung snapped, and then immediately felt guilty. “Sorry, I’m just having a tough week.”
Jungkook hummed, finally seeming to realize that Taehyung wasn’t going to say anything about what was bothering him. “Well, maybe a little music will help.”
Jungkook flipped on the radio station to the first chorus of Céline Dion’s “All By Myself.”
“Oh,” Jungkook said, moving to change it, but Taehyung stopped him.
“No,” he said. “Let it play.”
“Okay,” Jungkook said.
Taehyung went back to focusing on his mopping job, but found himself singing along absentmindedly under his breath. By the time the final two minutes of the song had passed, Taehyung had gone straight from passively singing along to full on belting at the top of his lungs, using a chair as a stage and the mop handle as the microphone.
“All by myself, don’t wanna be all by myself anymo~o~ore,” he sang with his full heart, the music swelling around him. Jungkook clapped dutifully, sitting on the cleaned floor beneath him. “All by myself, don’t wanna live- Oh-oh-oh-oh! Don’t wanna live by myself, by myself, anymo~ore!”
Taehyung’s breath gave out and Jungkook stuck his pinkies in his mouth for a proper wolf-whistle.
“What’s next?” Jungkook asked as the song faded out.
Taehyung stepped off the chair, panting. “I dunno,” he said. “Depends what the DJ decides to play.”
As Céline Dion faded out, Queen faded up, and Jungkook bounced off the floor as the opening lyrics to “Bohemian Rhapsody” flooded the closed diner. “Oh, I got this one,” Jungkook said, taking the mop from Taehyung like it was a real microphone. Taehyung happily sat down to watch as Jungkook regurgitated every line, word for word with startling accuracy.
They went back and forth for the better part of an hour, the DJ managing to play a song that one of them could recognize with every selection. Taehyung hadn’t meant to get distracted, but it was hard not to sing along when 88.5 played “September,” “You Can Call Me Al,” and “Don’t Stop Me Now” straight in a row.
“And the world: I’ll turn it inside out~ I’m floating around in ecstasy, so don’t stop me now. Don’t stop me cause I’m having a good time, having a good time-”
“I see that.”
Taehyung startled off his chair at the sound of his grandma’s voice behind him. Jungkook stood up quickly, wincing on behalf of Taehyung. “Sorry, Gram, we were just-”
“Having a good time,” his grandma filled in.
Taehyung cringed, embarrassed to have been caught singing. “We’ll finish cleaning up,” Taehyung promised. Usually, they were ready to lock up by now, but Jungkook and Taehyung had wasted all their cleaning time singing.
“Taehyung, honey, you boys can take a break every once in awhile. You don’t have to spend every minute of your time working. Teenage boys are supposed to goof off,” his grandma promised. She walked around the counter and sat down next to Jungkook on the floor. “Now don’t let me stop your fun. I heard the singing upstairs and I wanted to join in.”
Taehyung blushed. “Oh, I don’t- I mean, I’m not even good at singing.”
“Bullshit, Taehyung, you’re great at it,” Jungkook said.
“Jungkook, you’re in the presence of a lady,” Taehyung chastised, gesturing at their grandma.
His grandma only barked out a laugh and ruffled Jungkook’s hair. “Yeah, sure. I’ve been using that word longer than you boys have been alive, but shelter me. I’m old and frail,” she teased, flicking a piece of silver hair out of her eyes.
Jungkook opened his mouth (probably to say something snotty), but before he could, his phone buzzed loudly on the countertop.
“Who’s that?” their grandma asked as Jungkook got up to check the caller ID.
“Shit,” Jungkook swore. “I forgot I have a group project meeting tonight.”
“Then you better get going,” Taehyung said, moving to grab the mop bucket.
“But I don’t want to stick you with all the work,” Jungkook frowned, his eyebrows bunched together cutely.
“You always stick me with all the work,” Taehyung pointed out. “Besides I’ll be okay, I just have to clean the grill hoods and finish with the floor. That’s not so bad.”
Jungkook looked upset. “I mean, if it wasn’t a school thing—”
“Jungkook, I know your priorities are in the right place. Just get out of here,” Taehyung said, flicking the wet ends of the mop at him. Jungkook jumped out of the way.
“Okay, okay, I’m leaving,” he promised, already untying his apron strings. He grabbed his backpack. “Thanks, Taehyung. Thanks, grandma!”
“See you tomorrow, Jungkookie,” their grandma called after him. Jungkook left the diner with a big wave. Taehyung waved back as his grandma picked herself up off the floor, dusting her hands off on her jeans. “Okay, now how can I help my Taehyungie?”
“You don’t have to help, Gram. I’m okay.”
“I know I don’t have to,” his grandma replied. “But I’m going to. I’ll go wash those grill hoods.”
“Gram-” Taehyung tried to protest, but his grandma wouldn’t hear of it.
“You don’t have to do everything by yourself, Taehyung,” his grandma cut in, her voice unusually stern. “And you don’t have to work so hard. Let me take care of you.”
Taehyung flushed. He wasn’t used to getting scolded; he usually did the right thing. But lately, his grandma had been getting frustrated with him when he tried to take on too much at once. “Okay.”
“Okay, good.” His grandma squeezed his shoulder. “Now, turn up the radio. There’s nothing wrong with singing while we work, huh?”
Taehyung smiled. “No, I guess not.” He turned up the stereo before going back to mopping, singing along with his grandma in the kitchen when an old school Frank Sinatra song came on. There were a few tricks to making time at the diner pass quicker, and music was definitely one of them.
Good company was another.
Taehyung finished washing a dish and passed it to his grandma to rinse. “You missed a spot,” his grandma said.
“Where?” Taehyung asked.
“Right, here,” his grandma said. Taehyung furrowed his brow, and his grandma sprayed him right between the eyes with the sink’s hose.
Taehyung sputtered. “Gram.”
“Taehyung,” she mimicked, and Taehyung laughed, the sound surprising him. It had been awhile since he’d genuinely laughed at anything.
“You’re the worst,” Taehyung complained. He flicked dirty sink water at his grandma’s arm in retaliation.
“Go to your room,” she said teasingly, using a dish rag to wipe off her arm.
Taehyung stuck out his tongue. “Make me.”
The doorbells jingled, and Taehyung saw Jimin walk into the shop through the order window. He took off his big, yellow gloves and hung them up on the drying rack. “You got this one, hon?” his grandma asked, shifting to wash the dishes by herself.
Taehyung nodded. “Yeah, it’s Jimin,” he said, wiping his face dry before heading out front. He stopped in the kitchen doorway.
Jimin wasn’t alone.
“Hey, Taehyung!” Jimin said brightly when he saw Taehyung standing in the door. “There’s someone I want you to meet!”
Briefly, Taehyung made eye contact with Jungkook, who had looked up from the table he was serving. Jungkook looked concerned, and Taehyung tried to see as indifferent as possible, even though a bad feeling was twisting in his stomach.
“Um, sure.” He walked over to Jimin’s table, pulling out Jimin’s chair for him unthinkingly. “Hey, I’m Taehyung,” he said, nodding at the stranger Jimin had dragged into the restaurant.
“Taehyung, meet Mark,” Jimin said, gesturing between them. He sat in the seat Taehyung had pulled out for him. “Mark, meet Taehyung.”
“Gym-Mark?” Taehyung clarified, his heart-breaking.
Mark looked wary. “Diner-Taehyung?”
“Yep and yep,” Jimin answered, either oblivious to the growing tension or apathetic towards it. “I thought the two most important men in my life should meet.”
Taehyung didn’t know what to say. “What about Hobi?” he asked dumbly.
“Do you really think I care about Hoseok’s opinions when it comes to who I’m dating?” Jimin asked.
“I can’t really think at all,” Taehyung answered. He was too busy thinking about how beautiful Jimin was, and how tall and strong Mark was. There was a spark in Mark’s eye, like he was intelligent and he knew it. Taehyung was so stupid. He blushed. “But, um, I guess not.”
“Hoseok hates everyone I take home,” Jimin said for Mark’s benefit, reaching across the table to hold his hand.
Mark squeezed Jimin’s hand reassuringly. “Well, hopefully, he won’t hate me.”
Taehyung needed to get away from this table. “Let me just get you some menus,” Taehyung said, speed walking behind the counter. Jungkook followed him, cornering him by the coffee pot.
“What the hell is he thinking?” Jungkook hissed, carefully keeping his voice down so Jimin wouldn’t hear over the din of the other diners. “Why’d he bring that guy here?”
“I don’t know,” Taehyung said. For some reason, he felt really embarrassed: humiliated down to his toes. Meanwhile, Jungkook looked furious.
“He should know better.”
“Maybe he doesn’t,” Taehyung said.
“Well, fuck him,” Jungkook seethed. Taehyung didn’t know who he was talking about: Jimin or Mark. “Fuck him, fuck him, fuck him.”
“God, okay, I have to go,” Taehyung said, grabbing two menus. Jungkook took them from his hands before he could get away.
“No, you’re not serving that table, Taehyung. That’s stupid,” Jungkook said. “Why don’t you go help Gram in the kitchen? I can handle it out here.”
Taehyung bit his lip. “Are you sure?”
“Positive,” Jungkook said. He offered Taehyung a reassuring smile. Taehyung smiled back uncertainly —wobbly— and that’s when they heard it: the clanging sound of dishes dropping into the sink.
There was a thump like a sack of potatoes falling.
Both Jungkook and Taehyung’s heads whipped to look into the kitchen through the pickup window. Taehyung’s stomach dropped when his grandpop rushed away from the grill. “Miyoung!”
“Gram?” Jungkook squeaked.
“Move,” Taehyung said, pushing Jungkook’s shoulder to get him out of the way so he could run to the kitchen. Before he could take three steps forward, his grandpop called out.
“Someone call an ambulance!”
Jungkook moved ahead of Taehyung. He rushed through the kitchen door. As it swung on it’s hinges, Taehyung caught sight of his grandmother collapsed on the wet tile. But while Jungkook was running towards her, Taehyung was frozen in place. The door slammed in his face.
“Someone call an ambulance!”
Taehyung took a hesitant step forward and pushed open the kitchen door again. His grandma was sprawled out on the ground, clawing at her chest, choking on air. His grandpop had his knees under her head, and Jungkook had her feet in his lap. Taehyung was stuck in the doorway, unable to move.
“Taehyung,” his grandpop called. “Taehyung, call an ambulance!”
“What’s going on?”
Jimin was suddenly at his side. Taehyung relaxed slightly when he felt Jimin’s hand on his lower back. “My- my grandma,” he stammered. His throat felt swollen closed.
“I’m calling 911,” Jimin said, slipping his smartphone out of his pocket, but he didn’t move away from Taehyung. He kept his hand at the base of Taehyung’s spine, his thumb gently rubbing his skin through his t-shirt. Meanwhile, Taehyung watched his grandma clutch at her heart, absolutely terrified.
He couldn’t lose her.
Taehyung didn’t register Jimin ending the phone call. He just watched his grandma, hardly conscious of the tears running down his face as he tried to stop convincing himself she was dying. He needed her alive; she wasn’t allowed to die. She wasn’t allowed to collapse like this, not out of nowhere. Taehyung needed her.
In this whole world, Taehyung had three people: Jungkook, his grandpop, and his grandma. She wasn’t allowed to die.
“Taehyung, honey, you need to move so the paramedics can get through.”
Taehyung bit his bottom lip and let Jimin push him to the side as a gurney rolled past him. Jimin’s hands had moved from his back to his arms. Jimin squeezed his biceps and looked at him pointedly. “I’m going to go get my car, okay? Your grandpop’s going in the ambulance with your grandma. Jungkook is going to close up here. I’m going to drive you to the hospital.”
“What?” Taehyung asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” Jimin said. “I’m just going to be right back, and then we’re going to go to the hospital and see your grandma.”
“She’s dying,” Taehyung croaked.
“She’s not dying. She’s in good hands,” Jimin promised. His tiny hands squeezed tighter around Taehyung’s biceps. “I’m just going to get my car. Stay with Jungkook. I’ll be right back.”
Taehyung made a whimpering noise in the back of his throat. Jimin was gone.
Next to him, Jungkook cleared his throat. All eyes were on Taehyung and Jungkook standing side by side, as their grandpop followed the paramedics out to the ambulance. Their grandma was still struggling for breath as she got pushed out of the restaurant, her face scrunched up in pain. Jungkook clapped his hands together to get the restaurant’s attention. “Um… So, there’s been an emergency, and we have to close a little early,” he said shyly. Jungkook wasn’t the best at talking in front of a large group of people.
Fortunately, Seokjin jumped up from his usual table and took over. “All right, you heard the man. Please finish your meals quickly and pay at the register.”
Seokjin flipped the open sign to ‘closed,’ and started clearing his own dishes for Jungkook.
“How can I help?” Yoongi asked, leaving his laptop at his table.
Jungkook bit his lip. “Um…”
“Just the dishes need to get done,” Taehyung said. “Everything else can wait.”
“On it,” Yoongi said. He headed back to the kitchen, but stopped on the way to empty his wallet into the tip jar. If Taehyung wasn’t watching him, he wouldn’t have seen it. Yoongi stuffed a couple hundred dollar bills and a handful of twenties into the jar. At first, Taehyung didn’t know why, but then it clicked in his brain.
Taehyung’s family couldn’t afford a hospital stay. The diner was busy, but it was small. Taehyung had never gone hungry, and his grandparents always paid their bills. But at the same time, it had been months since Taehyung’s last pair of shoes or trip to the movies.
Taehyung closed his eyes, completely overwhelmed.
A car horn beeped outside.
“That’s Jimin, TaeTae,” Jungkook said, nudging him. He was standing at the register, counting change. “Go to the hospital. I’ll get my parents to take me once everything is settled here.”
“Okay,” Taehyung said. He felt like crying. He was crying.
“I got him,” Seokjin said, pausing in his temporary role as busboy to sling an arm around Taehyung’s shoulders. He walked him outside, giving his shoulders a reassuring squeeze. Taehyung squinted when the sun hit his eyes. “She’s going to be fine,” Seokjin promised. “We’ll watch the diner while you’re gone. You don’t have to worry about anything.”
“Too much is happening,” Taehyung said, putting a hand to his forehead. Seokjin opened the passenger seat door for him.
“It’s going to be okay,” Seokjin promised.
“It’s going to be okay, Taehyung,” Jimin echoed from inside the car. He held his hand out to Taehyung. Taehyung took it and let Jimin pull him into his shiny, new Audi. “I got you.”
Taehyung looked to Seokjin, terrified, but Seokjin only patted his head. “Everything’s going to be okay. I’ll watch over the diner; you watch over your grandma.”
Taehyung nodded mutely. He clenched his teeth together. Anyone else, and Taehyung would have been terrified to leave Jungkook alone, but he trusted Seokjin. Seokjin knew the restaurant business, and he had been helping around the diner and giving his grandparents advice for years. He had seen Taehyung grow up; Taehyung knew he wouldn’t leave Jungkook hanging.
Jungkook would be okay with Seokjin and Yoongi, but Taehyung was still tense.
“She’s going to be okay,” Jimin said again.
Taehyung settled into his seat and Seokjin closed the car door for him. “I hope so,” Taehyung said as Jimin put the car in drive. “I need her to be.”
“Coffee?” Jimin offered. They had been waiting in the hospital for hours. Taehyung had been a nervous ball of energy the entire time, his knee bobbing up and down like a piston. He just wanted to see his Gram.
“Yes, please,” Taehyung answered.
He had somewhat pulled himself together. He was still terrified. No one had any answers about his grandma just yet, but she seemed okay. She was lying in bed, awake, with Grandpop in the chair next to her. But while Taehyung was desperate to make sure his grandma was okay, his grandparents’ conversation seemed serious, and Taehyung didn’t want to interrupt.
Taehyung took a sip of coffee and made a face. Jimin snorted. “You know, it’s funny. You know just how I like my coffee, but I have no idea how you like yours.”
Taehyung crinkled his nose. “Well… I am your waiter.”
“Yeah, but you’re also my friend,” Jimin said. Taehyung didn’t have a good response.
“Where’s Mark?” he asked instead.
“Oh, geez, I have no idea,” Jimin said. He chuckled. “I probably messed that one up. And he was really nice, too. ...Normal.”
Taehyung closed his eyes. Today was too much. “I’m so sorry.”
Jimin put his hand on Taehyung’s knee. “Don’t be. I needed to be here for you. That’s what friends do,” Jimin promised, and Taehyung couldn’t figure out why he kept using that word.
Jimin smiled at him, so soft and gentle that Taehyung’s fingers itched to touch it.
“You really love her, huh?” Jimin asked, his thumb rubbing Taehyung’s knee through the hole in his jeans.
Taehyung blinked and then nodded frantically. “She’s my mom,” he explained. “Or, not actually. My real mom is… I mean, I don’t know where she is, but my grandma is like my mom. She might as well be.”
Jimin’s eyebrows notched together. “You don’t know where your mom is?”
Taehyung shook his head.
“...Where’s your dad?” Jimin asked.
Taehyung shrugged. He pushed away a fallen tear. “I just have Gram and Pop.” He closed his eyes, a headache blooming across his forehead. “She can’t die, Jimin. I don’t know what I’d— I mean, it’s just her, you know? It’s just Gram, Pop, Jungkook, and me.”
“And me,” Jimin tacked on.
Taehyung opened his eyes to meet Jimin’s. “And you?”
“Of course,” Jimin said, his cheeks an adorable rosy pink color. “A-and everyone at the diner, of course. Seokjin, Yoongi, Hoseok, that produce guy who comes in from time to time who loves you so much…” Jimin trailed off, trying to come up with the name. “You know, the guy who plays Yugioh with Jungkook at the front counter?”
Taehyung managed a smile. “Namjoon,” he said. Namjoon picked up cardgames fast. They used to play Pokemon before Taehyung started throwing himself into work a few years ago. “He’s nice.”
“Yeah, and he clearly cares about you,” Jimin said. “We all do. ...But I care the most, okay? I’m sure your grandma is fine, but if she’s not, then… then we’ll figure it out together, okay? What comes next?”
“Okay,” Taehyung said. A few more tears rolled down his cheeks, even though he didn’t feel like crying anymore. Jimin nudged away his tears with his knuckles.
A doctor interrupted them. “I’m sorry, family of Miyoung Kim?” he asked.
Taehyung jumped up. “Yes, that’s me.”
“Great, why don’t you come in while we go over the test results,” the doctor said, leading his way into the room.
“Okay,” Taehyung said, trailing in after despite the heavy looks on his grandparents faces. His heart tightened with anxiety, and Jimin kept a hand on his arm, pulling Taehyung close to keep him calm. Fortunately, the doctor didn’t make them wait long.
“Well, good news, Mrs. Kim. There’s nothing to worry about. You just had a touch of angina.”
“Angina?” Taehyung’s grandpop asked, concerned.
“Yes. It’s a condition where the heart muscles aren’t getting enough of oxygen, but no worries, it’s an easy fix. We’ll just have you make a couple lifestyle changes to get you back on your feet.”
“Like what?” Taehyung’s grandma asked, her hand tight around his grandpop’s.
“Easy things. No more big meals, and no more cholesterol-filled foods. We’ll get you on a new diet plan, and hopefully we can help you remove some stress from your life and get you resting a little more often. My nurses tell me you have a job where you’re on your feet a lot.”
“But she’s going to be okay?” Taehyung clarified, emotion swelling up in him all over again.
“She’s going to be fine,” the doctor said warmly, and Taehyung felt his knees nearly buckle in relief. Jimin looped an arm around his waist.
“See? I told you everything would be okay,” he said with a beautiful smile. His grey eyes looked brighter than ever despite the terrible fluorescent lighting, and his hair laid gently across his forehead.
Taehyung’s breath caught in his throat as relief washed over him. His grandma would be fine. And regardless, Jimin was here, taking care of him, watching over him, offering to be his friend. Part of Taehyung wanted to ask Jimin out: right then and there. But suddenly, he understood what Jimin meant the other day when he talked about having a usual.
Taehyung liked having a friend; he didn’t want to risk it.