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Early Morning Light

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"Jooheon? Jooheon, we've gotta go."

Jooheon felt two hands shaking him awake like an earthquake. He groaned and rolled over, not wanting to be awakened. In his state of subconscious mind, he did not remember why he was so reluctant to wake up. He opened his eyes and saw Minhyuk standing above him. He was dressed in an all-black suit. Upon seeing Minhyuk, Jooheon instantly remembered why he did not want to wake up. He felt a weight on his chest like a thousand bricks, breaking apart his ribs and sternum and crushing his heart into a million pieces. A pain welled up inside of him that emerged through the flow of tears in his eyes. He remembered. He wished that he didn't.

Changkyun was gone.

Minhyuk sat down on the edge of the bed and rubbed Jooheon's back softly. "We have to go, Jooheon. You were supposed to be awake half an hour ago to get ready, but I couldn't bring myself to wake you. We have to leave in thirty minutes."

Jooheon didn't respond, he couldn't, even if he wanted to. There was nothing to say. With shaking hands, he wiped the tears from his eyes. He nodded in response. Minhyuk stood up and left the room. Jooheon stood up and steadied himself, weight resting upon his shaky legs. He told himself that he wouldn't look, he wouldn't look, but then his eyes wandered to the bunk where Changkyun was supposed to be, but he wasn't. Jooheon knew that he wouldn't be there, but his eyes still searched. Changkyun's fox stuffed animal that a fan gave him still lay across his blanket, just as he left it when he had gotten up three days ago. It was exactly how Changkyun left his bed.

It was just another day when Changkyun collapsed in the middle of rehearsal. The members instantly crowded around him, trying to wake Changkyun up, yelling and panicking. By the time the ambulance got there, he was already gone. They said it was an undetected heart condition. Changkyun was there one second, and the next, he was gone.

Refusing to give in to the weight on his chest, Jooheon tore his eyes away and opened the closet doors. He wondered what he should wear. Black was funeral appropriate, he thought, but when he reached for a black button-down shirt, he remembered how Changkyun had always preferred wearing white over black. Changkyun's portion of their shared closet was filled with a wide variety of colors, but Jooheon always watched him reach for the same white shirts, white hoodies, and white jackets day after day.

"You know that white isn't actually a color, and it's just the absence of color, right?" Jooheon said that last morning after he saw Changkyun slide into a white shirt before practice. The sun had just risen, and the early morning light shone across their room.

Changkyun turned to him with a smile. "Well, then I guess it's my favorite absence of color."

Jooheon wrapped an arm around Changkyun and closed the space between them, holding him tightly. "Our maknae is something else," he said, "I love you." When Jooheon released Changkyun, they met each other's eyes and smiled goofily.

"I love you too, hyung."

Jooheon wondered when the exact moment was that he fell in love.

Or maybe it wasn't one moment at all. Maybe it happened in between the late nights in the studio writing raps, early morning schedules, and shared beds. Jooheon didn't know.

He realized, as he was brought back to the harsh reality, that it didn't matter when he fell in love. His love that had grown like flowers under sunlight was never going to be given to the person whom it had grown for. Jooheon's legs wanted to give out from underneath of him, but he had a funeral to go to. He at least owed Changkyun that. Without hesitation, Jooheon reached for Changkyun's favorite shirt, white and oversized. He pulled it on and was instantly enveloped in the scent of Changkyun's perfume. Wiping his cheeks with the sleeves, Jooheon finished getting ready and met the other members in the car.

The car ride to the church was silent except for the occasional sniffle from the other members. Minhyuk started sobbing the instant that Jooheon got into the car, realizing that Jooheon was wearing Changkyun's favorite shirt. Eventually, they all realized and started crying as well. However, while the others understood, the manager did not.

"Jooheon, do you think that you could change into something more appropriate?" Their manager asked, turning to Jooheon.

Jooheon wanted to laugh at how ridiculous that statement was, but then he wanted to hit their manager in the face for asking such a question. There was nothing appropriate about going to the funeral of his best friend. If there was anything that could be considered appropriate for this occasion, Jooheon thought that there was nothing more appropriate than wearing Changkyun's favorite shirt.

Kihyun was the one who spoke up. "That's Changkyun's shirt," he whispered, as if speaking too loud would break everyone in half. Jooheon thought nothing that could break him more than he was already broken. "Please, let him wear it. The fans will understand."

With a pained look in his eyes, the manager nodded and turned around in his seat.

Jooheon pulled the collar of the shirt up past his nose and breathed in Changkyun's scent.

 

 

A few months later, Jooheon awoke from his short-lived slumber and checked his phone for the time. It was 6:30 AM. Deciding that he wasn't going to sleep anyway, he put his shoes on and slid his phone in his pocket. Jooheon didn't know where he was going, but he couldn't stand to just lie in bed anymore. He found himself walking to the cemetery where Changkyun had been buried a short three months ago. By the time he got there, the sun was starting to rise. He saw the gravestone. It was the first time that he visited Changkyun since he died. There were fresh flowers surrounding the grave.

Im Changkyun
1996-2017

Jooheon sat down in front of the grave, not knowing what to do. The tears that he thought he had ran out of flowed down his cheeks. He sat in silence for a few minutes.

"Changkyun," Jooheon breathed out. He hadn't said the name aloud in months. "Changkyun," he repeated. He felt some of the weight lift off of his chest.

"I miss you," He cried out. "I miss you so much. Nothing is the same," Jooheon rested his head in his hands. He was silent for a few minutes once again.

He lifted his head up, staring at the grave. "I love you. I really love you."

As soon as Jooheon said this, a ray of sunlight shone down upon him. Jooheon closed his eyes and remembered his last morning with Changkyun, when the early morning light bled in through the window of their room. It was the last time that he told Changkyun that he loved him. When he closed his eyes, Jooheon could still see Changkyun's open-mouthed smile. He could still see the goofy look that Changkyun gave him. Jooheon could still hear Changkyun.

"I love you too, hyung."