“Only what is entirely lost demands to be endlessly named: there is a mania to call the lost thing until it returns.” - Gunter Grass
“Earth to Brian,” Sungjin says as he finds Brian staring out the window at one in the afternoon on a Thursday.
He puts the heavy box of records down on the desk in the back office. The plastic cases make a clacking noise. He flicks Brian’s ear jokingly.
The record store is relatively quiet this time of day--just after one o’clock, everyone going back to their offices right off of their lunch breaks. Stacking time, record-keeping time. The new Daniel Caesar record plays in the background.
“I’m dying here. A little help would be nice--you know, from my assistant.”
Sungjin tosses Brian one of the scanners, a roll of sticker-tags.
“Sorry,” Brian says, grinning, turning away from the window in time to catch the equipment. “I just thought I saw--”
But he doesn’t really quite know what to say. He was staring out at the main road, watching the first snow as it billowed from the sky: the first breath of winter, white against the auburn hues of autumn. Brian’s always loved that first flurry, less because he likes winter itself, but because it reminds him of the promise of Christmas and holiday cheer--of his birthday and the rustling of wrapping paper as presents are unwrapped, warm fires, cozy things. Things aren’t quite like that these days: for one thing, he’s 31 and there aren’t really presents anymore, not the way there were presents when he was younger, anyway, but his life is passionate if somewhat smaller in scale than he’d thought it would be. There are the underground gigs that he lives for, there’s his job at the record store where he thrives on recommending awesome music to their customers, there’s his small group of musician friends--Brian makes do.
He’d looked out the window to watch for the first snow but his eye had fallen on something else entirely--or rather, someone. It was only a glimpse: he was crossing the street, quick as a tear down a cheek, but slow enough that there was no room for doubt that it was him. Brian would know that tall, lanky frame anywhere. The hair is dark now, ebony in contrast to that sunshine-filled vacation’s pale blonde, pink hoodie given up for a charcoal-gray trench coat billowing in the wind, glimpses of a dark suit underneath, but it’s him alright. The pedestrian light turned green and he disappeared into the throng of people: gone again.
Brian’s heart is racing.
He’s here. In Seoul. Jaehyung Park is in my city.
“--what? Did you see a ghost?” Sungjin asks, studying Brian’s face. He looks paler than usual, keeps looking back out the window as if to make sure, as if double-checking for the absence of something.
Brian grins, pulling the first sticker from its tab and laying it flat onto one of the CDs. Daniel Caesar croons something romantic through the speakers.
Flashes of memory: hot breath, smooth hands, open-mouthed kisses that taste like honey and liquor, soft lips--the crescent moon in the distance, shining above them through Venetian windows. Brian smiles sadly.
“Something like that.”
“Yo, anyone sitting here?”
It was the smile that got him. Sunshine poured in through the train windows--Brian, hung over and still half-asleep looked up to see one of the cutest guys that he’d ever seen hovering in the aisle beside him. Platinum-dyed blonde hair falling into bright eyes under round, gold-framed glasses. Pink hoodie, ripped blue jeans.
“Nah, be my guest.”
He grinned, trying to look cool despite the fact that he was sure he had eyebags deeper than the Marianas trench--and couldn’t quite guarantee that the sweatshirt he was wearing was a fresh one, let alone that it didn’t smell like the gutter he’d puked in the night before. He thinks he might have taken a shower, vaguely recalls the taste of too-minty mouthwash, but not strongly enough to be absolutely sure.
It was the summer after he turned twenty-one: a euro trip wasn’t one of those things that he ever thought he’d do but his mom had gotten a promotion at one of the bigger firms in Toronto, had given him a chance to travel, a belated highschool graduation gift--the timing was perfect, really: right before undergraduate thesis and on-the-job training began, before he got too busy to take time for himself, before it got harder to procure a tourist visa on the fly. And so he’d accepted, dove into it headfirst: a three-month euro trip, going by train from Germany through France, and into Italy before taking a plane back home. Go see Venice before it sinks, his mom had said. Brian intended to do just that--and then some.
The rest of the trip was pretty much what he’d expected: hot, hostel nights spent with a new array of like-minded, fun-loving friends, the company changing up almost nightly as people came and went. It was casual, it was fun. There were slightly dangerous but ultimately harmless shenanigans that they got up to: smoking joints on Parisian rooftops and nearly sliding into the gutter as they played truth or dare, going skinny dipping at a lake along the French countryside, dancing at clubs in Frankfurt, high on something new every night--and most recently, getting pissed drunk in Hamburg and vomiting everything he’d eaten that day onto a concerned police officer’s shoes.
Brian could have left earlier, was supposed to if he was going to see Rome and some of Tuscany but he’d missed his train the day before last, had decided to stay to have another night out with friends he’d never see again--at that point, he’d had enough good times to sustain him the rest of his adult life, as far as he was concerned. As tempted as he was to stay a little longer and skip Italy altogether, he knew his mom would want photos of Venice, would want something touristy and cute. Seeing as how he’d forgotten about Versailles and the Eiffel tower, Lake Constance and the Monument to the Battle of the Nations, Brian figures he could do at least that as a way of saying thank you. And so despite his headache and the fact that his vision was swimming, he’d gotten up at half-past seven, checked out of the hostel, and was on the train with plenty of time to spare.
He watched as the cute guy in the pink hoodie settled in, putting his thermos of hot coffee on the pull-out tray, pulling a book out of his backpack. Brian snuck a look at the cover--Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Brian grinned, straightening up in his seat. Cute and smart. Maybe this was some sort of karmic retribution, the world’s way of rewarding him for being on time.
The PA system announcements came on, the train rumbled to life beneath them before pulling out of the station.
“That’s a pretty good book--”
Brian realized too late that his earphones were still on, the music in his ears blaring on top volume. He was yelling. The guy started, a gawky elbow hitting his thermos, the warm coffee spilling onto Brian’s lap. It took him a moment to register what was happening, the liquid soaking his jeans, underwear, his sweater. Brian’s earphones were tugged out of his ears as he made a useless attempt to avoid the already-spilled drink.
The cute guy leapt out of his seat, eyes wide. “Oh fuck--I mean fudge--I’m so sorry. Oh my god, oh my god, I’m so sorry!”
There was a flurry of hands in motion--long, pretty--as old paper towels were pulled out wrinkled from jean pockets and dabbed uselessly somewhere in the general vicinity of Brian’s lap. Brian laughed.
The cute guy looked at him, raised an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you like strangers spilling stuff on you.”
He grinned. “Not especially. But it’s kind of funny to hear a grown man censor himself. Did you just say fudge ?”
The cute guy smiled at that, shrugged. “I try not to be profane if I can help it. I usually can’t help it but when I can--I try.”
Brian shrugged. “Well. If it makes you feel any better, my balls are wet and warm and I am now very, very awake. Plus it looks like I pissed myself and all of my other clothes are dirty so I have nothing to change into--if anyone should be saying fuck it should be me.”
“Good point. Say the f-word enough for both of us, then.”
Bright eyes, sunshine, the city flashing by in the background. A call for refreshments, the hum of the train steady underneath their feet.
“Jae Park, by the way. Or Park Jaehyung, depending on what side of which ocean you’re from.” The cute guy stuck out his hand--slender, pale.
“Brian Kang--or Kang Younghyun, whatever you wanna call me, really.” Brian shook Jae’s hand with his broader, calloused one. “Nice to meet you.”
Jae smiled: fully, eyes crinkling at the corners, the whole fifty million dollars. Brian’s heart lurched in his chest.
Jae let out a little snicker. “So you do like when people get your balls wet.”
Brian laughed--sober, genuine, loud laughter: for the first time since he’s been away, high on nothing but the company.
“ That’s your idea of not being profane?”
“Like I said, I usually can’t help it.”
Fuck. Jae hurries across the street, back to his corner office: the view overlooks the design plaza, the shopping center a little white block in the corner of his vision. Brian was there, he thinks to himself, blinking at his reflection in the glass window. He was there. The past few months since he’d moved here, Jae had thought that maybe it was just a trick of light, some kind of apparition sent to torture him after all of these years, after everything that he’d been through, after everything that had happened--or rather, everything that hadn’t.
Jae had first gotten a glimpse of him during his first week, after deciding maybe his colleagues were right--that maybe he had to get to know the area a little better and he’d fall in love with the city, that maybe given some time, he’d feel right at home. He’d reluctantly moved to Seoul after getting reassigned at work--he loved California (in many ways, it’s all he knew) but was also grateful to get away especially after the fall-out with corporate, after his recent divorce. It wasn’t home but at least it was somewhere else.
That first week, he’d gone to the shopping center for lunch, had a meal by himself at one of the smaller restaurants--had looked up from his food and there he was, seated in one of the corner booths, slurping ramyun and reading a comic book. Jae couldn’t make out the title, the cover folded over as he held it close enough to his face to obscure most of his features. Jae craned his neck but the restaurant was packed, it was lunch hour. All he’d need to see were the eyes and he would know. You don’t hold onto the thought of someone like that for years and years without somehow memorizing the windows into their soul. Jae had finished his food, his break was up. The man and the magazine stayed in place.
If Brian was here, he’d thought to himself. He’d sing me that song of his.
I’m a man in a movie--when our eyes meet, it’s like we’re film stars. It’s beautiful. If only this moment were endless.
Jae knows it in his gut. Even now, ten years later, he would know.
He’d never seen him at the restaurant again. Maybe he worked nearby? Maybe he had a different shift? Maybe--well, maybe it just wasn’t him. Days came and went.
Until today: Jae had passed by the record store accidentally. Since deciding to focus more on business, he hadn’t really bought records except online. But that song had been playing--the one he’d heard blasting from one of the young couples’ boomboxes while he walked home along Cheonggyecheon stream that Sunday. Daniel Caesar--something about angels and falling and not wanting to let go. And so he’d walked in.
The manager on duty--Sungjin?--was nice enough, had rung up his items quickly, had been polite. As he handed over his credit card, Jae’s gaze fell on the employee board, and there he was: 1x1 tacked to the corkboard, name printed out plain: Kang Younghyun (Brian), Purchasing Assistant.
It was him. Brian Kang is here, in my city.
Jae looked around but the store was pretty small: there was no one else there, the door to the backroom shut.
“Thank you sir, please come again,” Sungjin had said politely, handing him his paper bag.
Jae had taken it and, checking the time, had hurried back to the office.
He sighs, leaning his head against the clear, glass window. It fogs up. He traces a question mark onto the condensation. Outside, the snow starts to fall faster. Soon, the entire city will be freezing cold. Jae closes his eyes. A flashback: Brian’s neck strong, lean, throat shuddering as he gasped under Jae’s lips as they worked their way lower and lower still, whispered tenderness in a slightly too-hot room on a summer evening. Somewhere below them, a gondolier sings a song about lost love.
Jae opens his eyes, traces the outline of the shopping center with a finger.