Every college kid knows that if you’re going to walk your dog on campus, you have to be prepared to stop every thirty seconds or so – not because your dog wants to stop and smell everything, but because your fellow students have to pet your dog, or else implode from the cuteness.
It takes five seconds for someone to see your dog, another five for them to work up the nerve to come over, and then you’re stuck for at least twenty seconds of petting. Take that process and multiply it by the number of people out at one in the afternoon, and you start to see the problem.
After being stopped twice, Seung-gil’s polite smile had started to fade. By the sixth person, he’s not even trying anymore.
By the time fifteen different people have stopped to coo over Jin, he’s ready to punch the friendly sorority girl in her stupid face.
“Omg she’s sooo cute!” She leaned down to pet Jin behind her ears, who pushed her head into it, the traitor. “Is she a husky? My cousin used to have a husky!”
“Ahaha,” Seung-gil weakly laughed, cringing at how fake he sounded. It wasn’t even the appropriate response, but the girl didn’t even seem to notice. Jin was too cute for anything less than one’s full attention, and not for the first time Seung-gil wished he had an uglier dog. Or maybe that he hadn’t taken Jin’s comfort into mind and just forced her to wear the typical noticeable vest of a service dog. God, someone save him.
“There you are!”
Seung-gil turned to look at whoever was addressing this girl, ready to thank them profusely for taking her away. Instead he was surprised to find a warm pair of brown eyes locked with his own.
The boy was… well, pretty. That was the only word Seung-gil could think of as he stared him down.
“Come on, we’re going to be late!” He turned to the sorority girl, smiling and looking apologetic. “I’m sorry, we’re in a bit of a hurry.”
“Oh, no problem! Your dog is just so cute, I couldn’t help myself. Have a nice day!” She waved as they walked away, around the corner into the shade of the physics building – wait, why was Seung-gil walking? Was he being pulled?
Was this mystery stranger holding his hand and tugging him around? What the actual fuck?
“Um, excuse me but…” He had no idea how he was supposed to end that sentence. “What?” That seemed adequate.
The pretty boy turned back and grinned at him, his smile ten thousand times brighter than the one he’d given that girl. Seung-gil had to squint, unable to look at him directly.
“I’m sorry, I just impulsively thought I’d – you’ve been stopped by like a million people. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super funny how every single time you stop and let them pet your adorable dog until they’re good and ready, but I mean really. You pretty obviously want them to go away so you can walk your dog in peace – I’m rambling, hi. I’m – no I’m Phichit, and I’m also rambling. Hi.”
Good god. What an intense person.
“Hi,” he muttered, glancing nervously down at the dog in question. He latched onto the only part of that diatribe that had made any sense. “You think she’s adorable?”
This weird Phichit person – what kind of a name was that? Filipino? – scoffed, cheeks coloring. “Please, I know she is.”
“Thanks…” He didn’t really know what he was supposed to do now. Jin was looking up at him, probably sensing his elevated heartbeat and worrying over it. Seung-gil pat her on the head once, and she panted up at him. He liked to think it was her way of smiling.
“…I guess.” Seung-gil shuffled his feet, reluctant to just leave without saying anything. But honestly, what was the social etiquette in this kind of situation? He didn’t know what else he was supposed to say to this boy who'd watched fifteen people stop and pet his dog. He seemed to be some sort of weird, extroverted stalker.
“So I know this is going to sound creepy, but… you live in the international dorm right?”
Seung-gil’s eyes widened in shock. Oh god, he was a stalker. “What."
He started flailing his hands around, face apologetic. “I mean – sorry, I know how it sounds! It’s just, well I live there too! I’ve – I’ve seen you around. Mostly because your dog stands out. And I mean, this college is big but the international dorm is pretty small, and you weren’t here last year, so I mean. You’re noticeable, that’s all.”
Seung-gil was speechless. Absolutely dumbfounded at this complete lack of social grace, and his own capacity to find it endearing.
“Oh god, look – I swear I’m not some stalker, it’s just – say something so I know I’m not totally crazy?”
“I think you might be… totally crazy.” Seung-gil found himself muttering, unable to maintain eye contact for some reason. “But I know Jin attracts a lot of attention.”
“Oh, that’s her name?” It seemed this Phichit guy wasn’t going to comment on the crazy remark. “Well yeah, yeah, it’s your – it’s your dog. Definitely. She’s adorable, and I noticed her.”
“You already said that.”
“Well…” He swallowed, perhaps finally showing his nerves at this bizarre situation. “It’s still true.”
“Well, thanks. Again, I guess.”
Was he done now? Could Seung-gil leave now?
“Are you heading back to the dorm now?”
“Yeah.” Perfect, now he knew that Seung-gil had somewhere to be, and he’d let him go with minimal fuss. Seung-gil could continue on his way, but this time he’d keep his head down as he wove through the throngs of students.
“Perfect, so am I! We can walk together!”
Seung-gil regretted ever wishing to be rescued when faced with a mere sorority girl. Clearly he should’ve saved that wish for this moment.
Phichit led them away from the shade and towards the main quad, Jin loyally bringing up the rear. He turned, heedless of the walkway and stepping directly onto the grass. This trajectory would take them diagonally through campus, into the heart of the student body in the middle of lunchtime.
Seung-gil sighed. “This way is faster, but I’d rather go where there’s less people.”
His uninvited companion turned to smile back at him. “Don’t worry, no one will bother us!”
“Oh really? That’s a pretty bold promise to make.”
“It’s okay, my friend Victor has a dog. As long as you do as I say, no one will bother us or Jin.”
“Really now?” He had to admit, he was genuinely curious. If there was some secret technique for him to make it through a single walk with Jin unbothered, he’d take it. “What is it?”
Phichit smirked playfully. “Are you in?”
He nearly rolled his eyes. Nearly. “Whatever, sure.”
“Alright then!” With that, Phichit took his free hand in his own, grabbing on and swinging their interlocked fingers happily as he led them through the grassy quad.
Seung-gil felt his face heat up. “What – what’re you doing?”
“What?” Phichit giggled. “No one is going to stop us if they think we’re a couple!”
He swallowed nervously, hand feeling sweaty and head buzzing under the pressure of having his personal space invaded. “I’m not sure if that’s – if that’s entirely accurate.”
“Holding your hand is phase one. Want to know phase two?”
Seung-gil blinked rapidly, brain trying to process how he got to this point. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know about any other phases. “Okay?”
Phichit turned his big brown eyes on him, giving Seung-gil his undivided attention. “Now we have to be looking at each other. We don’t have to stare, but you have to at least make sure not to make eye contact with anyone else, okay?”
Seung-gil nodded, mouth suddenly dry as he immediately averted his eyes to Jin. As they walked, he glanced intermittently between Jin and his own feet, only every so often looking up to see Phichit staring at him. Thankfully, Phichit could talk enough for the both of them, making Seung-gil’s stress-induced muteness far less awkward than it usually was.
He learned a lot about Phichit Chulanont on that walk across campus. He was really good with animals, and had three hamsters of his own, but couldn’t justify having a dog on campus. He was friends with the guy across the hall from Seung-gil (“Ahaha, isn’t Michele hilarious? So serious, all the time!”) and his sister Sara (“She’s so pretty! It’s impressive how much she knows about makeup.”). He was living on the third floor of the international dorm (“So many stairs.”), which meant he’d technically been walking past Seung-gil every day since the start of term.
Phichit was a Taurus, something he stated and moved on from, as if that properly explained anything. He wanted to be a social media coordinator one day, but wasn’t entirely sure about that plan. His roommate Yuuri Katsuki loved to dance, but balanced his passion with pursuing a degree in mathematics.
By the time they were walking up to the International dorm, Seung-gil wasn’t just tolerating his presence anymore. Even as he automatically committed every new fact to his nearly flawless memory, he found himself tuning out the rest of the campus. They made their way inside, winding their way up the main staircase. Phichit still hadn’t dropped his hand, which was thankfully no longer sweaty.
They got to the second floor, where they both paused, Phichit finally falling quiet about the pros and cons of Nashville as an Instagram filter (a set of words that Seung-gil didn’t wholly understand).
Seung-gil coughed to restart his voice. “Thanks for walking with me.”
Phichit nodded, body language inexplicably bashful all of a sudden. “Sure thing, any time.”
Jin whined, making them both watch as she sat looking up at Phichit. Her tail was beating against the ground, and she panted up at him expectantly.
“I think she wants you to pet her,” Seung-gil sighed, giving in to his pent up tension and rolling his eyes. “I swear she just wears the bandana for attention.”
Phichit laughed, the sound light and warm. “I’ve been holding back this whole time, you know that right?” He was speaking directly to Jin, which was ridiculous because she couldn’t speak English. Seung-gil spoke nearly fluent English, despite their previous one-sided conversation.
Phichit bent down, finally dropping Seung-gil’s hand in exchange for cupping Jin’s head in his hands. He rubbed his palms back and forth over her fur, tan brown half-hidden in white and gray fur.
For some reason, Phichit cooing over his dog didn’t make Seung-gil impatient or agitated. In fact, he could feel his cheeks heating up at the boy’s wide smile and warm eyes.
Suddenly uncomfortable, Seung-gil cleared his throat. “We should go.”
“Ah,” Phichit glanced up, running his hands down Jin’s neck one last time. “Sorry, I’m doing exactly what you’d been trying to avoid.”
“No, it’s fine,” he rushed to excuse. “It’s fine when – you earned it. I guess.”
Phichit smiled, straightening up and extending his hand. “Thanks! It was nice to officially meet you Seung-gil.”
Seung-gil reflexively took the hand extended to him, eyebrows high and mouth pressed in a thin line. He nodded, then lightly tugged on Jin’s leash to get her on all fours.
“Um… bye,” he muttered, unable to look this new acquaintance in the eye.
Seung-gil was unlocking and stepping through the door to his floor when Phichit blurted out, “I’ll give you my number! In case you need to walk Jin during peak foot-traffic hours!”
Phichit’s cheek were a light pink as he stared him down, and Seung-gil had absolutely no idea what he was trying to accomplish. “What?”
“Or maybe – I don’t know, I can make a get-together with the people in our building? We were already thinking about doing once since the term just started two weeks ago. We’re all pretty close and you’re new, so maybe it’d be easier to meet them all… at once?”
In what universe would that make sense? How could that sort of an overwhelming interaction be anything but pure torture? “It’s fine, I’ll just see them around.”
Phichit nodded, biting at his bottom lip and staring intensely. “Okay, that’s – I guess that makes sense.”
Realizing how rude he’d sounded, Seung-gil added, “I’ll see you around too.”
That comment made Phichit freeze, then nod tightly. Suddenly he was averting his eyes, and Seung-gil felt bad for whatever he’d said to evoke that kind of response. “Sure, okay. Alright, that’s good. Okay, bye.”
As he watched Phichit half-run up the stairs before he could say anything else, Seung-gil had a strange, out-of-body experience. He thought about the weird, maybe Filipino boy who’d saved him from overly friendly students that loved his dog by holding his hand, staring at him, and talking at him for the entire fifteen minute walk back their shared dorm, Seung-gil found himself tentatively hoping to see him around.
College in a new country would be far less lonely with a human companion, and while Phichit seemed a bit odd, he was nice enough. No, kind was a better word. He was cute, talkative, and fun – everything Seung-gil wasn’t.
Well, Jin seemed to like him, anyway.