Jeon Jeongguk was broke.
Life as an artist wasn’t always that easy if you asked him. Barely having a few crumbs of the slice every time he performed in a roughly speaking «nice place», meaning some dirty dive bar in the suburbs of the city that, at least, had some kind of regular concurrence and -on a good night- a few tips that would do and a missing cigarette left to chance among the empty beer glasses.
Oh, what a façade, the «big city of dreams».
Sitting on the street lace, counting the misery he would have to use to survive another week. In the distance he could see the shiny lights of the splendorous city –the true city he had dreamt with when he first moved there-, from his lonely spot on the highway down the boulevard of broken dreams the fake artificial lights looked like stars, stars he was never going to be able to catch if he kept living like that.
An intermittent orange light enlightened his tired features. The big violaceous eye bags on his haggard face, his parted dark brown hair smelled like tobacco and it was a bit greasy due the general environment. The borrowed tartan suit jacket itched so much but the night was too cold to get rid of it, nothing less his giant doe eyes were the only think that spark with the same intensity than those shinning dots above his head.
There weren’t many things he could do to change the current situation he was living. He couldn’t save money to move somewhere else, he had lost that privilege a long time ago when a swindler promised he was going to turn him into a hit singer. Jeongguk was just a gullible teenager who had moved from Busan right after graduating high school; he had great expectations and the savings of all his life with him, it wasn’t much money but he had never had so many bills on his hands like the day he left his hometown. Even his grandparents contributed.
He couldn’t comeback just after a year, his parents were proud of him for chasing his dreams despite the drawbacks that meant for the young boy moving by himself to an unknown place in the metropolis. He had hope and hope was something it was hard to lose for a stubborn like him.
Nowadays, after almost two years, hope might not be broken but it was awfully damaged, scratched and trampled. The boy started to think on giving up that same night. The decision wasn’t easy to make, he hadn’t made any progress since he arrived but he couldn’t stop thinking about his parent’s sparkly eyes the day he left, trusting he was going to make it, that he had the talent enough to come back next time like a winner not a tramp. Nevertheless he was closer to the second option and no son want to disappoint his progenitors.
The cigarette remained without being lighten up, trapped between his lips.
He wasn’t a great smoker but the damned addiction had found its way filtering through his worries and anxiety for the uncertain future that awaited him. Most of the nights, he just smoked half cigarette and went back to work, didn’t need something else like lungs cancer added to his current situation, specially taking in count he needed his voice untouched to survive.
It was also truth the poisoned smoke gave him a smooth tone, raspier in some notes, perfect for the songs he was already used to sing. That night, however, he was having a much harder time questioning himself either to smoke or not. Maybe the fact that his break was taking an eternity was the reason, he needed time to think and the fresh air helped better than the crowded little space called bar he had at his back.
In just a matter of seconds one of the usual drunkards of the shift would appear next to him tapping his shoulder and asking for another song of Frank, because drunken people liked to refer to foreigner jazz singers as if they were their best friends in the world.
He rolled the nicotine cylinder on his fingers acknowledging he didn’t have much time left.
Maybe he should flip a coin.
Jeongguk held the cigarette on his left hand while scanning his pockets looking for the only coin he carried with him. A foreigner had given to him as a tip the previous night asserting it was a lucky item. The boy sniggered due the sudden memory. One side of the coin had the face of England’s Queen and the other had graven three three-leafed shamrocks and two flax flowers. None of the shamrocks had four leaves, what kind of joke was that? Just another customer who didn’t want to give him proper tips. At that point he was almost entirely sure lucky had abandoned him a long time ago.
Maybe he had to go back home, perhaps die was already casted.
Face, he went back home.
Maybe that was the city of his dreams… his tiny dreams, destroyed and left into pieces that only had a fading light shining inside them.
Shamrock, he stayed in that miserable frame.
At least he could still being a believer.
A starving emaciated believer or a resigned sorrowful loser. Neither of the options seemed very optimistic but one of them was about to be his life after a few seconds and a spin in the air.
Jeongguk placed the cold metal object upon his thumb and right when he was about to flip it, luck appeared in his life for the first time in months. He never knew it was going to look like a burglar running down the street without paying attention where he was heading.
The twenty years old boy was nothing like a hero but in that moment, he happened to be at the right place at the right time.
He saw the man running down the street and the indecipherable screaming that followed him like a swarm. It was an instinct; he stood up right away and just needed a short low kick to stop the criminal in the act while he tried to escape. -Kids, always look where you’re running… specially in a persecution.-
The man flew right up the street and landed in the hard concrete, unable to stand up fast enough. Not long after that, the police officer that was chasing him was able to immobilize his body on the floor. Right away, two more cops appeared at the end of the street followed by a robust round shaped man with white hair and glasses that were too small for his chubby face.
“You got him! Thank goodness!” The old man spoke after catching his breath while whipping the sweat off his face with a handkerchief.
“That young man over there did the entire job. Thank you, kiddo.” The officer, who still had the thief on the floor, nodded towards Jeongguk direction who was thinking about getting back in and avoid all the police drama.
“Ah, that’s nothing I was just here.” He shyly spoke; he wasn’t good receiving compliments and got instantly flustered. The boy kept kicking an imaginary rock on the floor deciding what to do next.
“Nonsense. He’s a strong kid, I have seen it everything. That bastard was running trying to escape when Jeongguk here kick him effortlessly.” Mrs. Lee, the obtrusive neighbor upstairs who happened to be also Jeongguk’s landlady, yelled from her balcony.
The dark chocolate haired boy limited himself to shrug.
Jeongguk ended up accompanying the police back to the station so they could take his testimony for the records. Apparently the guy he just helped to catch was a well-known burglar with some sort of reputation on the neighborhood; he had stolen several times on the street to distracted passers-by and even broke into a few houses the past weeks. Still, police wasn’t able to catch him until the young boy stepped into the scene.
The dark haired boy just wished he wouldn't have been stupid enough to get involved with police matters, instead he might have returned to the bar. After midnight all the customers got extra melancholic and extra generous with tips and now he was missing all that abundance of shiny coins.
The police was thankful but the latest victim of the thief was by far the most grateful person in the station. The man kept patting the hero’s shoulder expressing how fortunate he was for crossing paths with the young –strong but still young- buddy.
At some point Jeongguk felt like he was about to cry. That was the nicest someone had been with him in months and the sudden gratitude took the boy by surprise becoming overwhelming and all those things he had been saving for so long abruptly emerged to the surface. All the words came like a stampede, he told that stranger about his departure from Busan, his hard life as the broke musician who worked at the latest hours of the night, he told him all and he didn’t even know why but that gentle old soul decided to listen word by word while they were stuck in the station.
“You are a singer?” He asked while rubbing his chin, thinking. “I might have a job for you if you are interested.”
His itchy tartan jacked rested on a chair, Jeongguk was sitting with his head down between his knees holding back the tears after opening the Pandora box inside his chest. The proposal was like a cold shower back to the reality, the young boy thought he was being mocked while sitting there.
“I’m sorry, Sir. I appreciate it but I don’t think switching from one bar to another will make any big improvement.” Jeongguk tried to refuse politely. He was sure that man was another bar owner who needed a halftime naïve singer who didn’t charge much.
“No, I think you’re mistaken me. I don’t have a bar in the area. I was actually picking a piece of jewelry from a friend of mine nearby when that scoundrel came out of nowhere to steal it.” He showed Jeongguk a beautiful and delicate watch with graven flowers everywhere. “It belonged to my mother in law and now it will be for my granddaughter, if I had lost it my wife would have murdered me with her bare hands. You have saved my life tonight.”
“What do you need a singer for?” Jeongguk asked with an intricate puzzled expression on his face.
“The former singer of the main act said she couldn’t continue the shows due her pregnancy and there’s nothing I can do. I needed a singer for tomorrow’s morning and I didn’t think I was going to be able to find one. It seems like it’s my lucky night after all.”
“Sir, I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“I have a job for a singer in one of my restaurants; I can offer you a good payment, three meals daily and accommodations so you could stay comfortably without worrying about tedious rents but there’s just one condition for this job and it’s not negotiable.”
Jeongguk bit his inner cheek. It was all he had been looking for in that time, he wasn’t sure if he should have trust that old man he just met but his instincts told him he was trying to help him and that help seemed to be sincere. He didn’t have much to lose, just a job in a restaurant what could possibly be so bad he couldn’t negotiate?
“Mr. Choi? Thanks for your collaboration.” The police bowed politely. “And you too, Jeon Jeongguk. The police are very thankful with your help. You both are free to leave; we will take care of the rest.”
“Oh, it’s almost five a.m. I guess time actually flies when you're having interesting conversations with friends.” He laughed while looking back at the watch on his hand. “We must leave now to pick your luggage right away.”
Jeongguk was a bit astonished but he followed that peculiar human who said to be in a hurry but walked as if time was just at his fingertips.
The young boy ended his deal with his landlady right away. Luckily he didn’t owe her anything as he had managed to pay rent weekly without delays. He just gathered the few possessions he had with him in that rented room, a picture of his family, an old guitar he refused to sell even on the worst day and a few clothes he packaged easily in one suitcase. After that, he said good-bye properly to the gossip woman and jumped back into the car where his new boss and benefactor, Mr. Choi was waiting.
He even had a driver who didn’t even wait for Jeongguk to tie his belt before violently pressing the accelerator. Mr. Choi remained immutable and cheerful on his own seat as the young boy tried to adjust before the ride killed him.
“Mr. Choi, I already packed my belongings. You told me you were going to explain the peculiarity of the job as soon as we left the neighborhood.” Jeongguk gulped.
Maybe he was too naïve after all. He could be fooled twice at this point, what if that work involved dirty business or if Mr. Choi had one of those restaurants that worked as a façade for a gang? Looking again at that old man that could’ve been his grandfather he couldn’t raise the littlest assumption surrounding his person.
Jeongguk liked to trust people blindly.
“Ah, yes, yes of course. You see, Jeongguk, the neighborhood you lived in isn’t the best place for a young man like you. Places like that can inflict wounds that are hard to scar, especially at that age. I know it might seem a bit rushed but you reminded me another boy like you, just an outsider who came to the city looking for an opportunity, back then things weren’t easier either.”
There was a halo around that man, something nostalgic but irremediably sad at the same time.
“I worked at the constructions and I must admit I wasn’t the sliest kid out there but I had something I believe you have too.”
“Hope?” Jeongguk asked with a spark on his eyes.
“Stubbornness.” Mr. Choi laughed. “When my mother died I had no one left to take care of me and I learnt at a very short age what the streets really looked like. My old boss, Mr. Jung was the only man who saw potential on me and offered me a better place. Slowly I started learning more and more, not only about constructions but about life, about people. Sometimes is that kind of knowledge what can save your life rather than things you learn on school nowadays.” Mr. Choi blanked out. “Don’t drop school.”
“I’m not in school anymore, sir. I graduated before coming here.” Jeongguk finally connected the two pieces of the seat belt right in time for the driver to take a dangerous curve.
“A privilege you can presume of, trust me.” Mr. Choi reached for a ruined black and white picture on his pocket, he showed it to Jeongguk. The young boy stared with curiosity the skinny boy with black soot all over his face. Indeed he looked a bit like Jeongguk. “You might ask how a scrawny kid like me ended up like this. That’s a story for another day.”
The old man said just in time when the car suddenly stopped and Jeongguk almost flew off his seat regardless the seat belt.
“Until then…” Mr. Choi didn’t even move when the engine stopped. “…you should know even if you have to stand for yourself sometimes, there’s always someone who will root for you.”
It was definitely too much a piece of advice for someone he just met a few hours ago but Mr. Choi had kindness enough to fill a swimming pool, maybe even an ocean, or that’s what Jeongguk thought. Why suddenly he was thinking about the ocean?
Maybe because he was hearing the sound of the waves outside the car.
Wait. Why was he hearing the sound of the waves outside the car?
“Ah. I always over speak. We have arrived.” The driver was already opening the car door.
Jeongguk ran behind the man while the driver took his belongings off the trunk.
Jeongguk didn't attribute the hurry of Mr. Choi to a specific reason. He just assumed the man was calmly fast, someone so used to be in a hurry that it didn’t disturb him anymore, the kind of person who'd arrived early for to avoid bothering someone else or perhaps he was already late for a morning appointment. He did seem to be the kind of man who was continuously busy.
However when the car stopped near the river shore he started looking for a considerably large building, the street behind the port was deserted.
“Sir, Mr. Choi where...?”
He didn't even have time to complete the question when the horn sounded at his back.
It was the largest cruise ship he had ever seen in person on his entire life. Scratch it, not even on his mother magazines. It was immense, gigantic, taller than any building he was looking for before.
“Ah, here it comes. Do you like it? I wanted to call it Choi III but my wife insisted it was too much after the Choi I and Choi II sank down.”
“Choi I was a fishing boat so I guess it was destiny to perish but the Choi II might uh...have been an accident. So I made sure the third was colossal in comparison.” Mr. Choi spoke proudly.
“That's right the word to... describe it...” Jeongguk gulped.
“I'm glad it leaves you speechless as well. Most of my employees run away when I tell them they have to spend three months on the sea."
“Three months… what?”
“Ah. That's right. I haven’t tell you yet. That's the «not negotiable part» of the job. The restaurant I’m looking a new singer for is inside the cruise. My guests enjoy having the best entertainment while dinning.”
“Mr. Choi I don't think I can... I mean... I'm...”
Jeongguk was about to reject the offer when he contemplated the magnitude of the ship at his back. He gulped again as he knew he had to make a decision soon. Maybe too soon.
He had nothing to lose.
He had something to win.
He had never been in a boat of those proportions. He had never had a stable job or the chance to travel like that.
On that morning without sunlight when the grey clouds inhabited the skies like people populated cities, where he could taste the salt on the air and travel back to a distant memory of a childhood moment when happiness flooded the environment, he saw clearly the answer he was looking for written on one side of the cruise.
The cruise was called «Lucky Strike».
Mr. Choi was still waiting for his response. “I can understand if you want to decline. I should apologize for my impulsive behavior and...”
“I'll take it.” Jeongguk cleared his throat before speaking again. He didn’t want to sound so anxious even if that man had heard his entire story from left to right and from right to left. “I mean... I accept the job, sir. And uh... thank you.”
“Excellent! We should be embarking in... ten minutes. Between you and me, I should be breaking a bottle against that boat in five minutes.” Mr. Choi cackled carelessly.
Jeongguk grabbed his suitcase and followed the man. As they got closer to the port, the young man started noticing the crowd surrounding the place. It looked smaller with all those persons arriving with their expensive suits and luxurious profiles, some of them greeted the old man that walked ahead. Suddenly Mr. Choi met the glance of an infuriated lady who was among the crowd, Mrs. Choi, Jeongguk assumed as the man shrugged like a teenager caught escaping home.
His wife kept angrily taping her foot but at the end she sighed and took place next to the owner of the boat who didn't make the people wait and after a brief welcoming he, -indeed- broke a perfect pricey bottle of champagne to celebrate the inauguration of the trip.
The crew was already walking on the inside like ants on their anthill, bees on their honeycomb, working and working to make the honey flow. And Jeongguk was about to become another piece of that organization, maybe he wasn’t a clave column holding everything into place, he was more like a new wallpaper on an old damaged wall, bringing life again to a desert and unnoticed corner.
The driver that apparently followed Mr. Choi everywhere without saying a word opened every door they meant to cross. The owner of the cruise, on another hand, kept exaggerating Jeongguk’s story from the past night, changing the proportions of his acts, justifying why the rich man arrived late to his own cruise. The woman –believe it or not- kept covering her mouth and squishing the younger’s shoulder whenever her husband mentioned the burglar.
“And you stopped him by yourself? Didn’t your mother teach you anything? It’s dangerous!” She had a natural talent to reproach people.
“It was nothing, ma’am. You don’t have to worry about it.”
Instantly, five seconds later Mrs. Choi would mention it again. Her husband seemed to be pleased she wasn’t angry anymore. The true story was that Mr. Choi picked the watch at ten but going back to the neighborhood once was his home brought back a lot of memories, and the watchmaker was an old childhood friend and –according to his wife- a bad influence for a thirsty soul like her husband who never said no to a glass of whiskey, or a bottle.
Bad habits are always hard to forget.
Jeongguk on the other hand felt like a guest of honor, so far the boat’s interior hallways felt like walking inside of a picture, every step he took left him more and more perplexed. The ornamentation inside the salon was as exquisite and splendorous as the interior of a palace. The floor’s carpet was a mixture of burgundy and camel colors chasing each other and creating the most complex geometrical figures in consequence. The young boy had the feeling that if he kept looking at it, he would start to get dizzy soon or later.
Above his head the biggest and brightest chandelier he had ever seen, with that size it could easily fill his old dusty room back in Seoul entirely. He couldn’t stop staring at the walls full of paintings marked by gold and elaborated frames, for a moment he thought he was on a museum. All the remaining surfaces were made of caramel wood, including the walls’ panels with all its Art Nouveau curve adornments and the pieces of floor where he was able to catch a glimpse at the extremes where the carpet ended.
Every head on the room turned around to salute the man who walked ahead the singer who suddenly felt even more insignificant with every step he took. People, passengers were about to embark as well, the entire salon was going to overflow with life in the matter of minutes and that big monster was going to cross the sea. With the proportions of a building Jeongguk was still concerned about how that gigantic piece of metal engineering was even floating.
Following the boss, Jeongguk got himself abstracted of time and space when his brown doe eyes looked above one more time, overpassing the chandelier there was a marvelous crystal dome with an iron structure supporting the heavy construction, what had the young boy so mesmerized was the stained glass near the base, there were like a hundred of drops that had detached from the immaculate transparent center. Blue, red, yellow, all the colors stained his face as sunlight passed through the colored glass.
For an instant he almost forgot to breath due the overwhelming feeling produced by the sight of the wonder that place had but the upcoming hubbub increased and became louder by every second he stayed there. Then he remembered he was supposed to follow Mr. Choi.
Right away, Jeongguk passed from zero to hero and his reward came along faster than he could say «paid cruise trip». The millionaire did as he had promised; his driver slash secretary or loyal employee, a skinny serious man who looked like a shadow with a curled black mustache and parted slimy hair showed him the way to his room as the old man had other business to attend –considering the doors had just opened-.
The room –as the assistant that presented himself as Mr. Han had explained to him- was the only available room for employees since Jeongguk’s arrival was a complete surprise after all. Mr. Choi had expressed his concern since he couldn’t offer a better accommodation but the young singer was more than comfortable. Even for the proportions of a sardine can, a bed that was not placed on the floor, clean sheets and electric light were more than enough. He even had a tiny wood desk and a lamp placed on it next to the closet.
“Bathrooms are at the end of the hallway. Bed clothes’ laundry is every Thursday before seven thirty, if you need to wash your clothes the laundry is open on Fridays after midnight, timetable for service employees. Meals, three times a day, breakfast is at six o’clock, lunch eleven thirty and dinner at seven thirty. If you’re not sitting at the table by those schedules, consider yourself on a diet until the next meal. The kitchen remains strictly closed in-between. Letters are sent every Monday. No pets and no loud music after ten.”
“And what about pets before ten?” Jeongguk tried to make it a bit less awkward soothing the stiff environment created by the presence of that intimidating man with a joke but it didn’t change anything at all.
“No pets. At any time.” The man adjusted his round glasses. “If you have any other worries or doubts any member of the crew will answer them at the moment, if you have further deeper problems inform me right away. I recommend you, Mr. Jeon, to take this extraordinary opportunity and use it for your benefit as much as you can. Don’t waste it.”
“Y-yes. I understand… sir. I will do my best.”
“I also recommend you to sleep a few hours since Mr. Choi’s little adventure kept us up all night. No need to add it would be unacceptable to present a new performer all haggard on his first night on board. Be in the dinning before eight.”
Jeongguk gulped. “Yes, sir. I will not disappoint you… or Mr. Choi.”
“I guess you won’t. Until then, have a good rest.”
The man abandoned the room without making a noise. It seemed his words were more like an order than a suggestion because he fell asleep as soon as he touched the soft sheets that were covering the bed. He didn’t even took off his cigarette reeked clothes, he just landed on the mattress and napped as if the world had stopped spinning for a few hours.
Indeed, more than a few hours.
He almost overslept. He felt like he had slept just for a moment but when his eyes were opened and he barely spotted the clock on the wall he realized it was almost seven twenty. His big eyes were full of terror. Jeongguk had slept for more than ten hours in a row and now if he wanted to be clean for the first night he needed to groom himself quickly. Also he was starving but he had to get ready, what he was going to sing and most importantly where was even the dining room?
God, he was so lost.
He was done.
Jeongguk ran towards the bathroom –which luckily was empty- after a cool shower that woke up all his senses he saw it all like crystal clear.
He was done.
On his way back to the bedroom, he realized he only had that ugly suit almost like a premonition, at the moment he entered to the room he noticed someone had left something for him during his absence; a gift from Mrs. Choi. Jeongguk stared at the clothes that were lying on his bed. Just the white starched poplin shirt worth more than all the belongings he had with him right there, not even mention the dressing pants, tuxedo and bright leather shoes. Did he need to wear that bowtie along? Apparently, yes.
Minutes later when he was finally able to get inside that suit without looking like a stiffed penguin, he ran in the direction Mr. Han had accompanied him from earlier. He had to find an elevator –that boat had more than one and still kept floating, what a wonder, human’s inventions- he was following his instincts but most importantly, he followed the flow of people to wherever they were heading, surely they were looking for a bite to grab at that time.
He was in a rush, barely got to the time to get into the service’s elevator before the doors were closed. Inside there were a pair of ladies chatting lively without even notice him. The bell rang but still he didn’t know which button he should press. The young singer stared blankly to the buttons deciding what to do next.
He descended one floor, the doors opened allowing the only company the boy had –the old ladies that looked like a pair of maids- abandoned the elevator. He was about to be on his own when a voice came from across the room.
“Stop the elevator! Please stop the door!”
A girl that seemed to be in the same hurry than him waved her hands towards Jeongguk’s direction which gave him a second to realize she was talking to him. The boy frenetically pressed the button and opened the folding iron door until the girl was able to reach it.
“Ah, thanks. God, I can’t breathe. Thank you so much.” She said while trying to direct some air to her lungs. “You…you’re supposed to close the door and… press a button now.”
“Oh, yes, right. Sorry I…” He truly didn’t know which floor to go.
Jeongguk looked at the girl; she had short straight dark hair, wide brown eyes and a baby facial structure. She was at least ten centimeters shorter than him but still it felt she was older just by looking at her. The girl was wearing what he considered it was some sort of uniform, a black skirt and a plain white shirt along with black stilettos as well. Also, she was using the same elevator as Jeongguk which meant she was from the service’s area too.
“The sixth floor, that’s where I’m going. The dinning is there.”
“Ah, yeah, sure…” He awkwardly moved and pressed the number the girl had just pointed.
“You’re new.” She finally recovered her breath. “I don’t think I have seen you around before.”
“Uh, yes. I’m covering the main singer during this trip, Mr. Choi hired me… twelve hours ago.”
“Nice, a rookie. We haven’t had one in a while, you’ll get used to it. My name is Hyeri, Lee Hyeri.” The girl extended her hand and showed a bright smile that made her face wrinkle. A discrete ring with a precious rock shone on her ring's finger.
“Jeon Jeongguk.” He awkwardly shook her hand.
“So you’re the new singer. You’re the current gossip of the cruise; well I’m intimidated I have never been in presence of a hero.”
“No, I’m… I’m not a hero I just… I’m so done…” He sighed covering his face with his hands.
“Nah, relax kiddo. You’ll do it fine. It’s not like this is our tourist and high class high season or something.”
“The… high what?” His suit started feeling itchy and his palms sweaty.
“Ignore what I just said. You missed dinner, didn’t you? I didn’t see you there.”
“I didn’t… I overslept and I couldn’t…”
“Don’t worry; I’ll steal something from the kitchen for you in the meantime. The ladies there are nice and the chef it’s a pretty decent human being but be careful with the warehouse lady, she is super cranky and won’t let no one pass, believe me. Don’t touch her fruits, there are precious for her.”
“I haven’t had time to warm my vocals. This is bad.” He bit his thumb fingertip as he counted the floors they still had left.
“On Sundays we have the mornings and evenings free. We usually organized a big brunch the night before and then you can rest a bit. I don’t know about you, probably you’ll have a few nights off as well. Ah, I’m so envious your work is so glamorous.”
“I don’t think I can do this, I told Mr. Choi I could but to be sincere I’m starting panicking.”
“Nonsense! You’ll do spectacular I’m sure. Mr. Choi wouldn’t have brought you if he thought otherwise.”
“He did it because he felt he owed me something. Mr. Choi didn’t even hear me sing, Hyeri. What if I let all the guests down?”
Well, now he was panicking.
And possibly hyperventilating.
“You’re pale, no, something yellowish. You’re not going to faint, are you?”
The door rang before he could think an answer. They were in the dinning.
“Hey, follow me. I’ll show you around, maybe get you a drink or something. Will that be okay?”
Jeongguk just nodded in response.
“Alright, this is the dinning where, guess, people come to have dinner.”
That girl was really kind; she acted like an older sister as she showed everything around continuously tapping the younger’s shoulder to obtain some sort of response. Shortly after they arrived, more people started appearing, guests and waiters. Soon enough before he could notice, the place was as crowded as the port had been that morning. He gulped a few times before locating the velvety stage.
“I should go over there, shouldn’t I?”
Hyeri gave him one last encouraging smile. “I’ll get some food for you during the break. Don’t be too nervous, they are usually focused on the food until the dessert time. Then you can boast. I’ll be cheering for you!”
Sure. He had done that a thousand of times; he had sung in front of all sorts of people it didn’t have to be different this time.
It was just a different setting, different environment… he was floating in the middle of the ocean going to God knows where because he had overslept and by that time they probably were crossing to international waters where he was going to be sell as an illegal worker as soon as he failed in that ridiculously red velvet stage and his parents were never going to know what happened to him.
No pressure at all.
“You must be Jeongguk.” A tall guy with a similar tuxedo offered him a hand to climb into the stage. “I’m Kang Younghyun, bass player and vocals. Piano man over there’s Kim Wonpil, Yun Dowoon percussion. And guitars, one and two Park Jae and Park Sungjin.”All the members of the band were adjusting their instruments but nodded towards the younger’s direction when he approached. Younghyun stared at Jeongguk for a moment with a perplexed expression on his face. “Actually you remind me of someone but I can’t tell… never mind.”
“Nice to meet you… Uh… what shall I do? You guys seem to have everything under control.” The young boy nervously played with the buttons of his suit.
“Mr. Choi says you’re good, you must be if you’re replacing the old singer.” Jae said before moving his glasses. “Just relax they aren’t fussy about music when food it’s on their plates.”
Jeongguk was surprised of the proximity and good relationship the millionaire maintained with all his employees. After all he was the owner of everything inside there but apparently that didn’t take him time to chat a bit here and there with the people. He nodded in response but still wasn’t sure of what to do next, they didn’t even have time to practice one song.
“What… what are you guys going to play?”
“Whatever you want to sing, we are really good at keeping trace.” Jeongguk’s expression must have been really perplexed because the guy named Sungjin was in the necessity of clarifying his words. “We don’t usually rehearsal before performing covers; instead we just… go with the flow.”
Later that night Jeongguk was going to find all the members of the aggrupation were in a real band back in Seoul, they needed a boost for their careers and in the meantime they were in the same situation than the young boy, in need of a benefactor who recognized the talent when he saw it. It wasn’t their first time in the cruise, in fact they were regulars there, used the time to write songs, play with melodies and give a little twist to old classics that those punctilious millionaires liked to listen to. The young singer assured them he wanted to hear one of their original songs someday, maybe even play it one evening but Jae insisted it was going to «blow their wigs away».
At that moment, however, Jeongguk wasn’t feeling as lightly as feather weigh, he was closer to wear brick on his feet, in fact. He continued gulping, sweating and breathing heavily. Things weren’t better when he stood in the middle of the stage and for the first time could contemplate the amount of people in that room, at least two hundred commensals not counting all the people from the service. It was a larger crowd than what he had seen outside in the port, and it definitely was the biggest crowd he had ever performed in front of so far. That expensive tuxedo felt imprisoning around his body.
Not only the people sitting there but also the proportions of the salon were intimidating. In the center there was the largest chandelier hanging from the ceiling, full of tiny Swarovski crystals shaped like drops falling like cascades, like gods’ teardrops, marble statues which prizes would be scary to hear. There were a ton of trees without leaves –trees in the inside! - with tiny light bulbs placed on them that looked like the littlest fairies money could buy. Carpet was everywhere, and the furniture seemed directly taken out of a design magazine like the ones his mother used to read in the hair salon. The dark wooden tables were covered with three layers of tablecloth and all the cutlery was silver shining.
His mouth was completely dried.
What an audience.
“What’s your strong point, kiddo?” Sungjin asked while placing a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, you’re not shaking, are you? You have done this before, right?”
“Y-yes but not in front of a crowd like this.”
“They are not that bad, I would suggest you to imagine them in their underwear. However, there are a few men quite old… I wouldn’t want to see like that.”
That made Jeongguk laughed. A nervous awkward laugh, but it was a bit of a tranquilizer.
“Sinatra and Elvis… I used to cover them a lot in the bar, will that do?”
“Sure. Is Fly Me to the Moon okay? My mother loves that song.”
The young singer nodded in response and, in the matter of seconds he was communicating the song choice to the other members of the band. Sungjin grabbed the microphone and introduced Jeongguk to the audience as the first time performing for them. Mostly clapped from their seats and some of them even cheered in the distance; Jeongguk saw Mr. Choi sitting in one table and Mrs. Choi shushing everyone around, even Hyeri, lifting her thumb up nearby.
He got that, he had done it before; there was nothing to be nervous about it.
The music started and he got frozen.
With a broken raspy tone he sang the first part.
Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On a, Jupiter and Mars
In other words, hold my hand
In other words, baby, kiss me
God that was awful. He knew it was bad, it was terrible. Not even in the dirtiest bar back in Seoul he had sung so dissonant and disconnected from the music. The band was playing flawlessly, that was what they had meant when they said they went with the flow, the instrumentation was coordinated and accompanied the environment excellently, it was as if they were playing a lullaby even for a jazz melody.
Things weren’t better for him during the second part, or the chorus… it wasn’t better until the song ended and he felt like it was ending the listeners’ agony by shouting his mouth. He could tell in the face of the people there was something similar to pity mixed with discontent. It was, maybe, the worst time to realize he was starving; all his internal organs were tied into a knot.
The audience clapped for pure courtesy.
“That was good.” Sungjin cheered him.
“It wasn’t.” He contradicted.
“It was! It wasn’t bad or something just…”
“Stiffed.” Jae completed the idea.
“No, it’s not the word I was looking for.”
“It is. Loosen up.”
“Maybe we could try something more… Elvis, you said?” Younghyun approached with his bass. Can't Help Falling In Love? Everyone loves that one, no matter if you’re bad… which you’re not.”
“Okay. Yes. Let’s do it.”
“Hey, if you’re still have that pitch on your stomach, try to focus in one point in the distance.” Woonpil who hadn’t say a word so far encouraged him.
Dowoon just nodded agreeing.
The second time it was supposed to be better, it was a beautiful song. His grandma loved Elvis, even proclaimed she could have married him at some point in her youthful years, one of her many stories. Now Jeongguk needed all the strength from those memories when she played the vinyl discs on the turntable those unbearable summer days when his grandfather would comeback from the market with a giant watermelon for them.
Even with the memory helping and after locating Mr. Choi once again in the crowd, the first lines were still blurry.
Wise men say
Only fools rush in…
He sounded like a robot, not even moving with his hands grabbing mechanically the microphone in the center of the stage. He was going to blow that opportunity the first night. What was the worth of a singer who couldn’t even hit a classic like that?
Jeongguk was supposed to open his mouth and let the words out but in that moment, when he lifted his gaze trying to focus in some point in the distance, the world stopped for a second.
He was located on solid ground in the middle of the sea.
The band, the crowd, the people around, everything banished like erased drawings. The only colored area that moved around was him.
That boy in the bar -the bartender, he assumed- who was serving a drink and giving away a smile for free to the client that ordered a glass of whiskey. Smiles like those shouldn’t be given away so easily when they worth millions even more than that boat they were on.
Suddenly the emptiness of his stomach was filled with the flutter of golden butterflies fighting to get to the surface of his throat. Jeongguk only could see him, with his dirty blonde hair and his tanned honeyed skin wearing a white shirt, a vest and a bowtie. As simple as it sounded he wanted to be heard.
He wanted to sing to that person and to that person only.
He wanted to be heard by him and no one else in that empty crowded room.
Because there were no one left beside them.
No one else besides him, Jeongguk and his voice.
Elvis’ lyrics filled the blank spaces of what his heart wanted to announce aloud, butterflies were freed and overflew the salon transforming themselves into velvety elixirs following the melody until they reached every guest like a feast of ear’s ambrosia.
But I can't help falling in love with you
Shall I stay?
Would it be a sin
If I can't help falling in love with you?
Every member of the audience noticed the change, those who were eating dropped their forks, the ones that were chatting so cheerfully were silenced after the first word was released and some started balancing their heads due the memory of some slow dance that remained covered with dust until Jeongguk sang it again.
Like a river flows
Surely to the sea
Darling, so it goes
Some things are meant to be
A man, who was sitting among a large group of friends couldn’t help seeing the tears rolling down his cheeks as the vivid image of his deceased wife visited him one more time through that song. And he wasn’t the only one, Mr. Choi kindly grabbed the hand of his wife who was already about to flood the cruise with her emotional cry.
Take my hand,
Take my whole life, too
For I can't help falling in love with you
The young singer had never meant the words of a song so much until that moment, when his eyes followed just one spot, when his gaze travelled all around to be attracted by a gravitational force he wasn’t able to control. That was what having his heart struck through with an arrow felt like? Why wasn’t he bleeding? The only thing he could felt was warmness expanding all over his body, he was so full of it without knowing he was empty before.
And everything due one single human who burst into his field of vision, he didn’t even violently come across his periscopes, he was just there. He was there, smiling to someone else, casually doing what he did in a daily basis without even knowing he was demolishing an entrance with his presence only. He wasn’t aware of everything happening around him but Jeongguk felt he could reach him with his voice; he could also break a door with music.
He loosened the neck of his shirt, unbuttoned two buttons and grabbed the microphone as if he was about to talk to someone’s heart directly. All the nervousness, all those worries he had had earlier were gone. Jeongguk was finally able to listen to the music, colors became more vivid and vibrant, he could feel the presence of the people around him, not like something intimidating tumult anymore but more the way other experiences also connected with the song he was singing.
At the end of the second verse, when music stopped people were clapping as if they were in the theatre and they had witnessed the most wonderful performance of a newly discovered actor. Perhaps they had. Plates were half eaten and cold when the song finished and, after a few more tunes, Jeongguk felt like a fish back in the water. Of course, he only had eyes for one particular bartender, who hadn’t lifted his gaze even once.
Jeongguk had lost count of the songs he had sung when the band stopped playing to drink something and recommend him to take a break and grab something to eat. It was the time before the dessert right after finishing the second dish, while people were still listening to music the feelings it had evoked made some of the guests start deeper conversations and bring back some anecdotes to the table, chatting was flowing naturally.
Jeongguk was intercepted by a group of people who were there to congratulate him for the amazing performance he had offered when he was off the stage. Mr. and Mrs. Choi were at front of it and they were the firsts into place, rubbing the shoulders of the young man, Mrs. Choi even hugged him with her still wet face. Soon he was sunken in a sea of flatteries, the singer was getting dizzy.
Right when he excused himself, Hyeri signaled him to follow her at the moment he was off the spotlight. Jeongguk needed to speed up the pace if he wanted to catch up her quick walk. She guided him through a combination of swinging doors that guided, somewhere and somehow, to the kitchen.
“This is the kitchen, as you can appreciate it.” Hyeri mentioned while raising her eyebrows to state the sarcasm.
“Wouldn’t have guessed it otherwise.” Jeongguk added in the same ironical tone.
The environment of the kitchen was –as the girl assured- way calmer after all the dinner’s bustle. By the time of the dessert, the ones that had the labor of serving the last dish put all their effort on the final details, usually their busiest hours were in the morning and evenings but there were always people on the kitchen.
“Yunyi, Youngok and Miran are usually part of the fixed decoration but I also call them Flora, Fauna and Merryweather but don’t tell them about it or forget about free snacks. And… what else, oh, the chef Sungwook doesn’t say much but he’s in charge of everything.”
“How long have you been working here? It seems you know everybody.”
“About four years, you get to know the names, the faces.”
Jeongguk was thinking in one specific face.
They walk in inside the kitchen where everything was made of steel, desserts were being prepared and three ladies were adding the last details to a chocolate lava cake, one of them added sprinkled sugar, the other a slice of caramelized orange and the last one a leaf of mint. They were chatting like parrots when Hyeri stole one strawberry from a near bowl.
“Ya, this little brat she is not going to change.” Expressed one of them. “I told you, after all these years she is still the same.”
“Hi ladies, did you miss me? I have brought here our newest addition to the cruise. Singer Jeon Jeongguk from Busan as I had heard.”
The boy shyly pronounced a low. “Hello, good night.”
“Look at him, he’s adorable.” One of the ladies pinched his cheek. “And a good singer as I had listened to. But darling, don’t you ever dare to sing a Sinatra’s song like that or I’ll pull your eyes off with a spoon.”
“I understand.” He gulped.
“My new friend here hadn’t have dinner tonight and I was wondering if you had some leftovers for him.”
“Ah, there she goes. I knew her presence here wasn’t casual.”
“What are you talking about? I’m always here to see you…”
“Shouldn’t you be working, Hyeri?”
“Maybe… but I can’t let our new singer starve to death. He hadn’t eaten anything since he stepped into the cruise. Pretty please?”
“Fine. This is the last time.”
Obviously it wasn’t. Hyeri was the apple of their eyes and by association Jeongguk became the orange of their eyes? Whatever was the case, they were charmed by the singer’s bashfulness and youthful expression.
“Yonghee heat up some chicken for the kid.” Ordered the one who looked the oldest, Youngok, while she sprinkled some more sugar.
“So, Jeongguk, this is your first day on board, how’s been so far?” The one with the oranges, Miran, asked.
“A swirl of emotions. I don’t know where to begin with… it’s just overwhelming. Yesterday I was singing in a rotten bar and now…” He sighed. “It’s… wonderful.”
“I know that tone… is it possible?” Yunyi inquired while placing the plate in front of him. “That you already had posed your eyes on someone?”
The other three ladies emitted a high pitched squeak.
“Who is it? Who is it?” Insisted Hyeri who sat in front of Jeongguk placing his cheeks on her palms, the other ladies gathered around.
“It’s not…” The young singer blushed and avoided the question putting a piece of chicken on his mouth.
It was the first meal he had in the day but also the first decent meal he had had in a while. His stomach emitted a cry of happiness as he devoured the food quickly. Sadly for his fast romance with chicken and sweet potatoes he was interrupted by an authoritarian command.
“Spit it out, kiddo, you’ve already lifted the lid.” Said one of the women.
“Well… I was… starting singing Elvis Presley’s song… the first one I actually sang properly.” He coughed. His heart was pounding fighting to trespass his chest remembering. “When I lifted my sight and there he was…”
The ladies were hiding their smiles as the tale continued.
“Blondish hair like oatmeal and his brown skin… I have never seen someone glowing like the sun, I could see the crepuscular rays coming of his body I swear… while he was standing there in the bar serving whiskey…”
Hyeri’s face went down. “The bar you’ve said?”
“Y-yes… I… saw him there.”
“Oh no.” Miran lamented. “I’m sorry for you kid.” She returned to her labors.
“Lord might help you now.” Yunyi followed her.
“If it’s not true love make them blind…” Youngok even patted his back.
Jeongguk’s eyes travelled back to Hyeri’s face. “Did I say something wrong?”
The girl kept biting her bottom lip as if she was questioning if she should’ve say something next.
“Well… finish your dinner and I’ll explain. I should… uh… help with the dessert.”
And they left Jeongguk alone, finishing his dinner with a confused cloud of thoughts above his head.
Just when Hyeri and he went back to the salon the girl grabbed his arm and pulled him to a hiding place where she forced him to kneel next to her. They were hiding behind a clothed table and then Jeongguk realized they had a perfect vision of the bar from there.
“That’s Kim Taehyung, he’s the bartender.” She pointed.
Angels could have precious names.
“Kim Taehyung.” He pronounced letting every letter softly sliding of his lips, almost like a sighed after a dream.
“Yep, I wanted to confirm what I was afraid of.” Hyeri lifted an eyebrow. “This is bad… if that’s the guy who takes your breath away…”
The young boy was even more perplexed than before. “Why would be a bad thing? He looks very charming…”
“Oh, don’t doubt about it. He would do anything for a generous tip, flutter his lashes, giggle nonsensically, stare into your soul… but it’s all an act. He rejects everyone and when I say everyone I mean, everyone.”
“No! No, I… have a boyfriend in Seoul well… now I guess I should call him fiancé?” Her face lightened up right away as a delicate blush covered her cheeks. “I’ll tell you later, now we have to focus. You can’t like him! He’s heartless I swear…”
“You’re exaggerating. Maybe he’s just… timid.”
“I’m one hundred percent sure I have seen him rejecting suitors with a smile on his face.”
“Maybe he was just in a bad mood…”
“Maybe he hadn’t found the right person, that’s it.”
“And what makes you different? I’m telling you this because you look like a decent guy, someone with prospects and goals… don’t fall in love with Kim Taehyung, please.”
How bad he was already half way through.
“Oh God, I know that stupid look in your face, don’t you d-”
“Hyeri.” A girl with long hair and bangs that was wearing the same outfit than her called for help. “It’s time to serve the dessert.”
“I’m going.” She turned her face to Jeongguk. “Listen up, stay away from jazz and liquor, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard it.”
Hyeri walked away while keeping eye contact with the young singer as she was trying to state clear her message: No Kim Taehyung.
When she was at some considerable distance where she couldn’t get a glimpse of Jeongguk’s position, he stood up and walked directly to the bar. The younger needed to verify it by himself, the waitress didn’t need to know.
Taehyung, Taehyung, was there; backwards preparing what looked like a glass of a Scotch on the rocks for a filthy rich man, he didn’t see Jeongguk as the boy tried to recompose his smooth voice tone to order something. What he was going to order? He didn’t have any physical money with him, but it didn’t matter. On his imaginary conception, Taehyung would turn around and fall in love at first sight just like him, no need of a plan b.
But that didn’t happen.
Right when Taehyung turned around for real, a man came across and pushed Jeongguk out of the frame. Apparently he was the guy who had asked for the whiskey and he did seem to be wealthy as hell, he also had a commercial smile that made the younger jealous just by staring at him. His chance was gone.
“Ah, thank you. Here, for you.” The guy pulled out a bill from his jacket without even looking at its value; Jeongguk’s eyes were exorbitant just by looking at it. Instead, the man kept looking at Taehyung directly as if he was going to miss a detail of his face if he didn’t, this also made the younger fervently wish to punch him.
“Thank you.” Taehyung spoke for the first time and damn his voice was velvetier than the fabric. “My pleasure to serve you, sir.” He was being polite but as the waitress had said, it was all part of a façade to obtain such benefits. He obviously knew where to pull and tight to have what he wanted on the palm of his hand.
“I hope I see you here often, it is hard to find a quality service nowadays.” The man slipped a presentation card gently through the wooden surface of the bar, again, without breaking the eye contact.
Taehyung grinned. “I will do my best.” He grabbed the card without picking it up completely and remained like that until the guy was gone.
Then, Jeongguk could see it, the way he sighed and rolled his eyes as he wanted to reach the back of his head to meet his brain. He turned to one girl who was serving drinks with him. “Can you believe it, noona? It’s day one and vultures are already flying in circles.”
The said woman chuckled. She had long wavy dark hair and sparkly pearl eyeliner on her waterline. “You’re so mean, Tae. What is it? His room number?”
“In the back of the presentation card, classy.” He sounded embittered.
Jeongguk now doubted if he should’ve approached after witnessing the whole scene, maybe he just needed an excuse to talk with him, telling him how he had seen the boy from across of the room while he sang. Perhaps he was going to be able to pass that hard shell around the bartender.
“I-.” He attempted to pronounce but his voice got lost among the mumbles.
“I swear, if another person comes here and gives me its presentation card or I don’t know… Tells me the old tale they have fallen in love with me at first sight I’m just going to lose it. Same old lines and same old song.”
Yes... Good point and good time to leave and no look back.
Jeongguk ran away, just in time to climb back to stage for the dessert.
From afar, while singing another love song he kept watching how Taehyung poured some more drinks and displayed fake smiles to the clients who, at that point, where queuing for a glass of alcohol, wondering how many of them were trying to flirt with him. Nothing different from what he had tried to do not so long ago.
Maybe Hyeri was right, he wasn’t different from the others who had tried to win over Taehyung.
Most humans would get burn and blind after chasing a star.
He needed to bring sky down to Earth instead.
A few days later, Jeongguk was already used to the schedules. Time for eat, time for work, time for sleep. Everything worked like clockwork inside there. As time passed by he even got to forget he was inside a giant cruise. He didn’t see sunlight until one morning Hyeri dragged him with her for some client’s special request in the surface; otherwise he might’ve locked inside forever. From that day on he’d go to the deck for fresh air in the evenings, before dinner time.
Mr. Choi made him called one afternoon, invited him to join for tea. They talked for hours, the millionaire wanted to know if the young singer was adjusting to life on board. Among other subjects, they chatted about the ups and downs of the boat, and Mr. Choi didn’t lose opportunity to flatter him once again. Jeongguk was tempted to ask about Taehyung but at the last second he regretted it, there was things he’d have to find out on his own.
Two weeks had pass like waves in the ocean and so far Jeongguk hadn’t made any progress. He kept singing every night –except Sundays- but every time he tried to approach to the bar, a throng would gather towards his position, whether they were thirsty for drinks or just… thirsty. Whatever was the case, the younger always watched with a heavy heart how the bartender would simply accept the compliments and flattering with a smile on his face nevertheless at the moment the clients were gone; his face would drastically change allowing seeing his true colors.
Hyeri wasn’t helpful either but at that point; she was already used to deal with Jeongguk’s immanent crush. She tried to dissuade him several times but it was just unavoidable, recently, in the last days, the girl’s interest had raised more for scientific/psychologic purposes.
“But why does he reject everyone? No offense but I have seen attractive rich people fluttering around him like bees to the honey. He could be off this cruise course to Polynesia if he wanted to.”
“That’s… more than I have to offer but you’re right. What if he truly… doesn’t like anybody?”
“That’s a possibility. I guess we won’t know until…”
“I speak with him.”
“No, you have the socializing skills of a sloth. We’ll have to inquire with one of his close relatives.”
“You mean… the girl who works with him?”
“Sunmi? Good luck with her…”
Jeongguk let out a frustration sigh.
“We are working with assumptions though.” She tried to cheer him up. “Listen your shift is over but I have to stay and help clean a bit, why don’t you go and take a shower, have some proper rest and will discuss it better in the morning?”
“Are you sure you don’t want help?”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll see if I can catch some gossip about your beloved bartender.”
“Sure… please don’t…”
“Good night, Romeo.”
Jeongguk let out a different kind of sigh.
He was a stubborn, yes but he didn’t want to hit one extreme and become a stalker knowing how badly Taehyung despised all romantic intentions others had –or intended to have- with him. Maybe it was just with the people who were on the other side of the bar, the clients, the guests, the rich people who made him turn everyone down. As far as the first nights everyone were delighted with Jeongguk’s singing, when the interest for the new toy slowed down, the exteriors cracked and not everyone was as nice as the Choi’s.
On his way to the elevator, the deserted hallway was only decorated with the small rectangular windows that, during the nighttime, resulted useless. Not a soul was awake, he supposed. However, a quick shadow that ran through his legs scared him to death in the twinkling of an eye. The dark haired boy contained himself of letting the biggest curse he had ever pronounced.
It was a cat. A grey stripped cat with big eyes moved its fluffy tail with metronomic ability.
“You scared me.” Jeongguk recriminated but the feline proceeded to lick its paws carelessly.
Why there was a cat there anyways?
When Jeongguk tried to touch its ears, the elusive animal had already jumped and moved to the left.
He remembered the words of Mr. Han: no pets.
“Hey! Come here! What if someone sees you?”
The cat had fled and if he didn’t follow it, Jeongguk was probably going to lose it from his sight.
“Wait… Kitty, kitten!” He whispered but it was like only the walls could hear him.
Chasing the creature was going to take more time than he thought, he had already deviated from the elevator and there was no trace of the animal. The boy then remembered he had a piece of bread he had saved for later on his pocket; maybe he could try bribing the little rascal with a treat.
“Kitten… where are you? Kitten?” Jeongguk kept roaming around the hallways when he thought he had heard a low meow somewhere nearby.
He followed the sound turning in one corner.
“Kitten?” He attempted once again while kneeling on the floor.
“Well, it’s a bit soon for pet names if you ask me.”
Jeongguk gulped. When he lifted his gaze, he realized the figure standing in front of him wasn’t other than Kim Taehyung. His long legs suited in black pants, his slim waist surrounded by a black belt and his white work shirt with a few loosen buttons that showed his tan radiant golden skin and sinful collarbones.
“I… I was looking for the cat.”
“What cat? There’s no cat here.” Taehyung frowned.
A meow that came from behind betrayed him. The animal rubbed affectionately on the elder’s legs.
“That cat!” Jeongguk pointed.
The younger quickly stood up and tried to find an answer on the other boy’s eyes.
“Oh, you mean this cat.” Taehyung carried the feline on his arms as if it was the first time he ever heard of a cat on his life but of course he buried his face on the animal’s fur. “This is GoGo, she’s the warehouse’s cat.”
GoGo meowed in response as if she had recognized her name perfectly.
The boy coughed before mumbling. “For Vincent Van Gogh, the painter? Everyone else wanted to go with Gong but I won.” Taehyung spotted the piece of bread on the younger’s hand. “She’s not supposed to be fed… she eats rats and mice that might be in the cruise.”
His tone was like a reproach and Jeongguk blanched for a moment. Was his first conversation with Taehyung going to be like that? Him being scolded like a child? For a moment, it seemed like until a can fell from the elder’s back pocket. When Jeongguk grabbed it, he read on the label. “Star-Kist. Solid White. Albacore Tuna.” Then he couldn’t hide the grin on his face. “I see she’s not supposed to be fed.”
“The key word is ‘supposed’.” The bartender stole the can from his hands faster than lighting. “Now if you excuse us…”
Taehyung turned around and started walking in the opposite direction but Jeongguk wasn’t going to let go that chance so easily. If there was something he had learnt in the last month was that whenever he saw an opportunity, a chance opened for him, he had to take it.
“Wait!” He followed the boy as his lips articulated before he could regret it.
Taehyung stopped. Jeongguk didn’t expect him to turn around again. The younger stopped a centimeter away from his face, definitely invading the space of his personal bubble, casually breathing the same air than the other boy.
“My…uh…” His gaze dropped. Don’t stare at his lips, is that a mole on his nose? He took a step back before speaking again. “My name is Jeon Jeongguk, I’m the new singer.” He stupidly extended a hand acknowledging Taehyung was carrying the cat in one hand and the can of tuna in the other. The younger slowly pushed back wishing he hadn’t noticed.
“Yeah, I know. I have heard about you and I have heard you.”
“Ah, for real?”
“Yeah. Usually I can’t listen to the music in the background properly but, I think there’s a moment between the entrance and the serving of the main course when I’m free to listen to a full song.”
So Taehyung had heard him singing then?
“And… did you like it?”
“No offense but you’ve been singing La Bamba for four consecutive nights I stopped paying attention.” He shrugged. Even if Jeongguk could feel the corners of his mouth curling down, Taehyung maintained a perfect expressionless –defensive? - face.
Oh that was right.
“It was a request…” Jeongguk started blushing, unable to look at the boy. “Those four times…”
Taehyung nodded. “I see. Good night. Jeon Jeongguk, the singer.”
Jeongguk was definitely cut before he could add something else. His heart kept beating to a mad rhythm when he spotted the figure of the elder fading away in the distance. He was never going to be able of shake the sound of his voice off his head.
“I might throw myself off the board as well.”
“You did sing La Bamba four nights in a row.”
“Hyeri, not helping.” Jeongguk pressed his fingers against his skin, massaging his temple.
“Poor thing, look at him.” Miran placed a piece of apple pie with a big scoop of ice cream on top. She wasn’t afraid to say she held some sort of favoritism towards the singer.
“Hey! Why does he get pie for screwing it?” Hyeri asked obviously hit by the loss of her privilege.
Miran sighed and placed a replicated plate on her side of the steel worktop.
“So what are you going to do next?” Yunyi inquired while delicately drawing a swirl of caramel on top of the white canvas of ice cream.
“I don’t know.” He rested his face on the cold metal trying to get an answer for his numb thoughts.
The more he thought about it the less sense it made. Taehyung seemed to have a natural charisma and acted like a social butterfly with the guests and his coworkers but in reality he wasn’t a fan of those interactions as he pretended to be to obtain benefits. But then again, Jeongguk couldn’t close his eyes without seeing the image of the bartender holding the warehouse’s cat, protecting her, stealing a can of tuna for her with no further interest beyond than caring about the fluffy animal. And for that exact reason Jeongguk knew he couldn’t give up so easily, because there was a face of Kim Taehyung he wanted to unwrap.
“I can always poison his food.” Youngok mentioned casually.
“What? No!” Jeongguk was horrified right away. “You can’t kill him!”
“Who’s talking about kill him? I wouldn’t risk my neck and go to prison for you. At most he would have a stomach ache and that’s it. Now, calm down and eat your pie.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The young singer reluctantly started chewing the dessert without tasting its flavor. His words kept echoing on the back of his mind.
«Usually I can’t listen to the music in the background properly but, I think there’s between the entrance and the serving of the main course when I’m free to listen to a full song. »
He almost choked with caramelized apples.
Why he hadn’t thought about it before?
“I got it!”
Four heads turned into his direction as he displayed a triumphal smile.
“Why this song? I mean, I like it but all suddenly and during this specific moment.” Younghyun asked without letting go of his bass that was as part as his body as any of his limbs.
“Just… I know we have a lot of requests but I want to sing this song in the interval of the entrance and the serving of the main course.”
Younghyun raised an eyebrow but before he could add something else, Sungjin was already agreeing. “Fine by me.” He shrugged. “You used to sing these songs on that bar you worked on?”
Jeongguk blushed as he got flustered. “No, no. Not at all… My parents have a turntable inherited from my grandparents back in Busan and they play this songs… well that.”
What an awful liar.
“Of course yes.” Jae added not trying to hide his grin. “We’ll play your little song. Go ahead.”
The young singer nodded and after a brief hesitation he stood up in the middle of the stage as he had done many nights before. As usual, the environment was good; they had already played a few songs that made the guests get in the right mood, their repertoire was a balanced mixed of old hits and new jams that kept the audience pleased and content.
However, since a few days ago Jeongguk had been giving a lot of thought until he came to an epic conclusion. He needed to perform a song that could reach Taehyung’s ironclad heart, one that would transmit the feelings Jeongguk had every time he spotted his slim figure from across the salon, a song that could make him heard not only his voice but also the sound of his heart skipping a beat.
The band starting playing the mellow melody, Jeongguk saw the bar indeed was way less congested than before the dinner and on time for dessert. He didn’t know if Taehyung was paying attention –he was probably not- but that didn’t discourage him at all. He had a feeling that night.
Since there were diverse bars all over the giant boat Taehyung was hard to find during daylight. All the bartenders tended to rotate their positions but the blonde boy and his female coworker were regulars on dinner time. Jeongguk was also busy during day time, he had been invited several times to sing to exclusive meetings, once he even sang for a woman said to be from China’s royal family –he got a generous tip whether was the case or not. - Thus, this was the younger’s time to show off, acknowledging the elder was going to be –presumably- listening among the audience.
He wetted his lips before opening them; taking a deep breath he started singing:
It's a little bit funny, this feeling inside
I'm not one of those who can easily hide, I
Don't have much money but boy, if I did
I'd buy a big house where we both could live
Ironically he did not have as much money as any of the people inside that salon but everyone seemed to be enchanted by the song without completely relating to the feeling as much as Jeongguk did. No matter what, Elton John’s Your Song fitted perfectly.
So excuse me forgetting
But these things, I do
You see, I've forgotten
If they're green or they're blue
Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean
Yours are the sweetest eyes I've ever seen
The young singer’s gaze travelled all over the room looking for those eyes, the sweetest he had ever seen indeed but for his great misfortune they were somewhere else on Earth as the boy was chatting with his coworker, Sunmi, without paying the littlest attention to what the younger’s heart sang.
And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but
Now that it's done
I hope you don't mind
I hope you don't mind
That I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you're in the world
He had reached the last verse of the song already without getting the bartender to pay attention not even once during the whole song; it was like all of his words just passed next to him, surrounding an imaginary force shield.
I hope you don't mind
I hope you don't mind
That I put down in words…
In a quick recuperation, as if the very Sir Elton John himself had possessed his body, Jeongguk took the microphone and with the most looseness he had ever shown on stage, he extended a hand towards the bar’s direction following the trace of his eye’s that were always stuck on Taehyung’s silhouette.
…How wonderful life is while you're in the world
The last part was magical, impeccable but was the last sentence, right when Jeongguk pronounced “you” what made an echo on the room. Taehyung was standing sideways but at that right moment, at that very moment his head slightly moved and his brown almond eyes met Jeongguk’s halfway through the room.
It was a small winning, the tiniest thing he could aspire but it was something, and that simple fact made the younger display the brightest beaming smile in the entire cruise. That didn’t go unnoticed by the elder who, as much as he would’ve liked to hide the remote curvature of the corners of his mouth, he couldn’t. Although he shook his head trying to fade it and resume his conversation with Sunmi, Jeongguk had already seen it.
He knew that song was for him.
The first of many.
The drum and the bass began playing.
A pair of doe eyes with a discrete eyeliner and a brown shadow was already in position.
He grabbed the 55 style microphone and sliced it under his lips as he pronounced the first lines.
Imagine me and you, I do
I think about you day and night, it's only right…
Same scenario, same time, same public.
What had started like a very subtle peek slowly moved to a few curious glances and then proceeded to be a full thirty seconds gaze during the same time interval.
Me and you and you and me
No matter how they toss the dice, it had to be
The only one for me is you, and you for me
So happy together
Oh. But Jeongguk had seen it. Those brown eyes were inquisitive that night, wondering things, asking questions that were replied through music, in the perfect time for the chorus.
I can't see me lovin' nobody but you
For all my life
When you're with me, baby the skies'll be blue
For all my life
The band owned the song as if it was theirs and Jeongguk wasn’t left behind, all together reached the “ba-ba-ba-ba” and as if it was a game they joined like a group of usual loud drunk men who attended to the same bar every night. They roused some glares from the distinctive long neck madams in the audience but surprisingly the song had an effusive response in general.
So happy together
As usual when the song was over, Taehyung was already surrounded by a horde of waiters and commensals claiming for booze.
Every night in the cruise was a different frame. A kaleidoscopic buffet to the eyes, refined ladies from Seoul’s highest elite with their invaluable jewelry and mink fur coats they wore proudly, millionaires and billionaires discussing their invest system with the dollar sign on their monocles, the daughter of an foreign petroleum digger who looked more like a 1920’s Chicago cabaret dancer than a heir, spouses with their noses powdered and wavy curls falling like cascades, long lashes under layers of mascara and beauty marks painted in the last second before leaving, slimy hair and aviator glasses, suits and ties accompanied of Golden Cadillac’s and Bourbon, velvet dresses and Pink Ladies chatting cheerfully, big hoops and colorful vibrant pieces of fabric that moved vaporously with the flow of the night, socks and pumps & cigarette holders so the dirty tobacco wouldn’t touch their gloves but still stained their lungs. A mysterious man sitting in the corner with a ruined stripped grey suit and matching hat and a girl that could’ve been Edie Sedgwick whose husband could’ve been her grandfather, a mother with a bee hive above her head and her tiny Pekingese that kept barking to the waiters that passed next to him. Mr. and Mrs. Choi, probably one of the richest couples there but with the finery and elegance aura needed, although Mrs. Choi liked to wear scandalous giant drop earrings from time to time.
Jeongguk’s shift was over and while the band picked up their instruments he noticed Taehyung wasn’t around either. The bar had closed the accounts before midnight and many clients had gone back to their rooms already. Sunmi stayed serving a few more glasses of whiskey but there was no sight of the bartender anywhere to be seen.
The singer climbed the elevator alone and when the doors closed he felt the weight of working nonstop the whole week, fortunately the following day was Sunday, his yearned free day. Before reaching his room’s floor he heard a fuss coming from a stop before his, the singer quickly and repeatedly pressed the door’s button because in the middle of the vociferation he thought he had heard Taehyung’s voice.
“I already told you, punk. Get out of my warehouse if you want to keep all of your fingers.”
So that was the infamous warehouse lady Hyeri had warned him of. A sixty something year old woman with white-gray hair and permanent disgusted expression on her face, she was half limped due an old lesion and some assured she was actually blind but she knew the exact quantity, position and place of every single object inside that room. Others even assured she slept inside during the nights so no thief could enter and steal from her. Whatever was the case, she corresponded with the vile conception people had of her.
“Mrs. Lim I’m begging you. I’ve run out of fresh fruit and now we can’t serve drinks, not even Tequila Sunrise. People are drinking pure alcohol we’re going to run of it before we touch land again.”
“I have counted the boxes of oranges and it will go only for the kitchen needs, no for your beverages. How dare you to come here after you fed my cat? Now it’ll become a useless huntress for the plagues of this place.” Mrs. Lim hissed.
“Fine. What about strawberries?” He attempted in a suicidal move.
Get out of my face, scum and don’t you dare to ask anything from me from now on.” She spitted.
Jeongguk rushed his pace but he reached the place in time to see how the keeper kicked the boy out of the hallway with a straw broom. The boy lolloped down the hallway in a different direction just to get away from the cranky woman.
“Pretentious brat.” She mumbled without much secrecy. “What? You want some too?” She threatened Jeongguk who only had time to shake his head.
He followed the path Taehyung was transiting just to find the elder a few meters away from the scene, hiding in a corner, crouched down petting GoGo.
He spoke softly low. “I’m sorry GoGo, now she had expelled both of us.”
The feline purred as Taehyung touched its ears.
“That cat hates everyone.” Hyeri had told him. “Everyone but him.”
The bartender slightly turned his head towards Jeongguk. “Singer, have you heard that? Stop feeding her or she’ll come fat and lazy.” There was bitterness on his voice but not directed to the younger. “Don’t think for a second I don’t know you keep bringing snacks when I’m not around.”
Guilty as charged.
Jeongguk shrugged. “She doesn’t like me anyways. Her affection is only based on interest.”
“She’s clever.” Taehyung stood up and the cat passed ghostly next to Jeongguk as she hadn’t even seen him.
“See? I told you…” Suddenly he was aware there were just the two of them on the hallway. He cleared his throat trying to make some chit chat. “What’s the deal with the warehouse lady?”
It felt surreal. Talking with him in a short distance after so long… after all those previous nights.
“That… witch… is holding against me her anger since there are too many vermin trying to infect her precious shipload. It’s not GoGo’s fault, she did nothing wrong.”
Surprisingly the conversation was going well but as usual, Taehyung was the first to leave.
“Did you like today’s song?” Jeongguk murmured out of the blue when the boy was passing next to him, unable to decide whether he wanted to be heard or not.
Taehyung suddenly stopped. He just turned his head to face Jeongguk.
He was as every day, wearing his work uniform that consisted on a white shirt and black pants. Still he looked dashing even after a long working day. His chestnut brown eyes positioned directly on Jeongguk’s dark chocolate doe eyes without hesitation.
“Jeon Jeongguk, are you trying to seduce me?” Stripped off of all subtlety, his voice sounded deep and somber but not as dark and desolated as those words insinuated in the first place, it was a sensuousness insinuation.
Their eyes couldn’t break the parallel conversation they were having, beyond the verbal expressions and connoted words, electricity and transversal meanings were creating a separate language.
Jeongguk wetted his lips before replying. His mouth felt dried.
“It depends. Is it working?”
Taehyung arched an eyebrow.
“Let me ask you something else, Jeon Jeongguk.” Taehyung faced the younger directly. “Do you think I’m just wearing a mask?” He advanced one step making the singer move back.
“Do you think I’m good looking, don’t you?” One step, another step. Jeongguk felt the wall of the hallway on his back. Taehyung’s hand was touching his face; it stopped on the base of his earlobe.
The younger gulped. The bartender’s eyes were almost as black as the night sky.
“Wouldn’t you like to come to my room tonight if you could?”
He didn’t even notice the light’s intermittent scintillate above them.
“I…” Jeongguk was speechless. Was that the only thing he wanted from the elder? Absolutely no. But the younger couldn’t think straight with those dark eyes staring at him, inquiring.
Taehyung didn’t take the lack of a coherent response very well. His hand dropped like death weight.
“Then you’re just like the others.” There was a hint of disillusion on his voice that broke the younger’s heart.
Taehyung dragged his feet back to the hallway, guiding them towards the elevator’s direction.
“No, it’s not true.” Jeongguk shouted. The blonde stopped, listening to his words. “I’m going to prove it.”
“Is that so?” Taehyung displayed an ironic smile. “If you think you can, try it. I dare you.”
Jeongguk surpassed his pace and climbed into the elevator first, he closed the iron door letting the elder out.
“Good night, Taehyung.”
The mechanic doors closed before their eyes that didn’t break contact until they were separately completely.
Jeongguk felt the sound of his heart pumping blood rumbling on his ears. He hadn’t noticed until then his hands were shaky and he was breathing difficulty.
If Kim Taehyung didn’t think he was going serious, he was going to prove how serious he was.
“Mr. Jeon.” The butler? Mr. Han called his name on the hallways. “Mr. Choi would like to have lunch with you.”
It was Monday’s midday and conveniently Jeongguk was heading to the dining room where he had promised Hyeri and the ladies of the kitchen he would tell them everything that happened the day before. Apparently, they would have to wait.
“With me? Why?”
It wasn’t that Jeongguk hadn’t spent time with Mr. Choi since he arrived to the cruise; he even had had dinner with the millionaire a couple of times, but until that day he hadn’t been invited to share a meal during light time. Not that he felt offended somehow, Mr. Choi was a busy business man but he still had time to congratulate Jeongguk on some great performance every night he had dinner with his wife on the salon.
“He didn’t specify the reason. I believe it’s the first lunch Mr. and Mrs. Choi don’t have to share with investors since we set sail. Over here.”
The younger didn’t have much choice.
The Choi’s stood in one of the superior floors of the ship; they had a deluxe suite bigger than Jeongguk’s childhood house designed by Mr. Choi himself. It was hard to keep his mouth shout when all he could do was gape at every turn.
Mr. Choi was a renowned architect before a millonaire. He had told Jeongguk his wife loved interiors and so she was responsible for all the decoration inside their suite, candles everywhere he laid his eyes on, inclined wooden roofs made of thin planks painted in different shades of varnishes, a chimney made of rustic grey and brown stones, those yellow circular shaped couches in which the younger had almost got stuck the first time he visited the marriage, a giant aquarium that might or might not contain as many fishes as the ocean outside, geometrical wallpaper covering the surfaces with vibrant colors and intricate figures, plants hanging from the less thought places and sculptures the singer wasn’t completely sure he knew what they were but oddly enough, he liked them.
The suite smelled like chamomile tea and the burnt sugar with orange peel they used with whiskey and there was always a turntable playing music on repeat. Mrs. Choi was incredibly adept to Blondie’s music while Mr. Choi preferred traditional Korean music, as Heart of Glass was playing in the background it wasn’t difficult to guess who had won the argument that day.
“Darling!” It was Mrs. Choi’s voice.
Mrs. Choi had short black hair and enjoyed wearing silk purple shirts and long skirts that only allowed a sight of her colorful heels, often her neck was adorned with a kerchief or a heavy gold necklace. Her husband on the other hand would chose reserved outfits but never too dissonant of his wife fashion sense.
Mrs. Choi had adopted Jeongguk, she had said he reminded her one of her little brothers who now wasn’t that little and in fact had a pastries’ factory in China. She always kissed his cheek leaving a lipstick mark that quickly was faded with her own thumb. After that Mr. Choi appeared from one of the many doors and shook the singer’s hand as in fact he had saved his life recently.
The couple sat with the younger in one table that was in the middle of the room, not so long after that, dishes started circulating. Jeongguk always felt out of place when he shared meals with them, not because of their company but because he had never imagined on his life he would be eating Bœuf bourguignon with a fifty years old wine or Moules Marinières with blond Belgian ale. The first time he had dinner with them when the chef had offered Soupe de Poisson à la Rouille he naively had refused arguing he was too young to die, which of course had made the marriage bursting into laughter.
“Jeongguk, it’s been almost a month since we have sailed. It’s good to know you haven’t been discouraged yet.”
The young singer almost choked with a piece of Magret de Canard.
“Most of our singers quit after the first month since the life on the cruise tends to be… monotone or repetitive.”
“Uh… No… I don’t think I have felt that way. I guess it depends if you find a way to keep being busy.” He took a long sip of water.
“Currently we have already passed the Yellow Sea and we are in the middle of the East China Sea with destiny to Okinawa Prefecture, Japan where we’ll make a quick stop before heading back to Jeju Island.” That’s what the sailors had told them. He had a few more weeks on board but he had never considered being tired or bored while being in the ocean.
“Wonderful, meaning we’ll kept having you and your voice on board until we return to Korea.”
“Dear, don’t forget to give him the envelope.”
“Ah, that’s right. This week is pay week for our employees but we didn’t want to miss the chance to invite you for lunch.” Mr. Han appeared on his back with a silver tray that contained a white common envelope.
Inside there was more money than what Jeongguk had seen together on his life.
“This is… this is too much I can’t… you’ve already done so much for me. It feels wrong, Mr. Choi. I can’t accept it.”
“Nonsense, since you’re the main singer the guests get off their rooms more often. Usually, they would have dinner inside their suites but now they go out to hear the live music of the salon. And the bar sells have also increased.”
Good to know.
“When you sang Feelings the other night I got goosebumps. You’re undeniably a talented singer many of my relatives have already asked for your phone number for their daughter’s weddings, charity balls and other events in the city.”
“Wow… I don’t know what to say. Thank you. I don’t think any of this could’ve been possible without your help, I’m truly grateful.”
“Don’t even mention it. We’ll be listening tonight.” Mr. Choi assured.
“Sing another pretty love song. Those are very popular these days.” Mrs. Choi smiled.
“I will. I will.” The younger promised.
Tonight you're mine completely
you give your love so sweetly
tonight the light of love is in your eyes
but will you love me tomorrow?
Jeongguk even winked when Taehyung spotted him. He was particularly cheerful that night. He felt his feet as light as blown dandelions in the wind and the courage he had needed to intone a ballad like that.
Can I believe the magic of your sighs?
Taehyung shook his head as he had done the previous day. That night people were a bit more loosen than others and they paraded through the bar looking for something icy with twice the spicy. The bartender was right; he was in need of more ideas to satisfy the clients’ exigencies. But even with the inescapable orders of the socialites, Taehyung dared to look at the stage a counted amount of times.
Tonight with words unspoken
you say that I’m the only one
but will my heart be broken
when the night meets the morning sun?
That exchange of glances didn’t go unnoticed and when the song finished and Jeongguk was off the stage for his break, Hyeri dragged him –abducted him- to the kitchen where three more ladies were waiting news. After all sort of gossip where drained off his body in an interrogation that lasted fifteen minutes and a salty caramel brownie, Hyeri repeatedly hit his arm with another idea on her head.
“Tomorrow’s film night. You have to invite him, ask him out already.” She encouraged him.
All of sudden, that confidence he thought acquired vanished like a cloud in a clear sky. His shyness took place in the center once again.
“We are not there yet… we are not even friends I helped him once and we’ve spoken just a few times.”
“Do you really go on stage every night and sing him a song in front of all that people but you can’t invite him to watch a movie?” Youngok recriminated.
“Melt the ice. Some like it hot, kid.” Yunyi insisted.
Jeongguk blushed furiously unable to hide his embarrassment.
“Stop bothering him, you harpies. He has reasons to be scared of Kim Taehyung.”
“I’m not scared! He’s not… he’s not that bad.” The younger noticed how much he had overreacted before the comments of the women around him. “He might have work to do tomorrow’s night.”
After that, Jeongguk changed the subject right away. He didn’t mention Taehyung again but he couldn’t stop thinking about how it would be inviting him out someday.
When the singer was returning to his room, he heard the sound of a riot coming from the warehouse. He ran towards the direction where the noise came from to found Mrs. Lim waving a broom, chasing away what Jeongguk didn’t want to know what it was. The younger got ahead and helped her with another broom to get rid of the vermin. Even GoGo collaborated at the end although she appeared just for the applause.
The old lady mumbled something similar to a “thank you” and the boy went back to his room.
Right when he was about to fall asleep, an idea woke him up making him restless for what was of the night.
“Do you know where can I get some planks? And wires? Maybe a hammer and a pair of tweezers?” Jeongguk sat next to Hyeri who was trying to chew a toast for her breakfast.
“Good morning to you too.” She answered with her mouth still full.
“Morning… do you?”
“Why in the world would you need that? Wait, I don’t think I want to know.”
“Dirty mind. Just tell me where I can get some tools and supplies.” The younger insisted while shaking her arm making difficult for the girl to keep eating her toast.
Hyeri got rid of his hand. “Have you even slept last night?” The waitress slipped her cup of coffee to the boy with dark circles under his eyes.
“I did… intermittently.”
“Is this about Taehyung, again?”
“No… it’s not. Not completely.” Jeongguk took a sip of the coffee.
“Fine. Ask Yunyi, her husband works in the maintenance of the boilers, he should have some tools for you to play.”
“I’m not playing. I need them for…”
In that exact moment, Kim Taehyung appeared through the door with a puffy sleepy face making Jeongguk forget where he was siting.
“Hey! Taehyung! Over here!” Hyeri called for him while waving both of her hands joyfully with a grin on her face.
On the other hand, Jeongguk was horrified. His eyes expanded three times its size and his mouth dropped until almost reached the floor. At that moment he felt the imposing betrayal and while trying to recompose his person and glaring his to be called friend, Taehyung blinked a few times and then proceeded to sit in front of them in the table with a cup of coffee and a freshly baked croissant.
“Morning...” He quietly greeted without opening his eyes completely.
Perhaps he was still asleep and that’s why he sat with them.
Jeongguk gulped. “Good morning.”
Hyeri looked at Jeongguk and back to Taehyung all over again. Then when she noticed the conversation wasn’t going anywhere, she interrupted once again.
With a classic Cheshire smile on her face, she asked. “So I heard tonight is movie night …”
Jeongguk had never wanted to stab someone with a butter knife so badly like at that moment but Hyeri was –sort of- the person he was closest to it and he couldn’t dispose of her company even if he wished there was a hatch to throw her to the ocean. Ah, so many good ideas and he ended up just elbowing the girl who dropped what was left of her toast on the floor.
“Hyeri! You’re cleaning that.” Miran pulled her ear and the waitress cried out like a little girl.
“Ouch! Yeah, I’m going… aish. See you later.” She left while rubbing her sore lobe.
And just like that, Jeongguk was alone with Taehyung in the table.
And –damn it, Hyeri- he was dying to know if the elder was going to go to watch the movie or not.
“I didn’t know you two were so close.” Taehyung babbled while gobbling up the croissant.
Jeongguk distinguished something on the bartender’s voice, was it interest? Curiosity? Even… jealously? He told himself he was crazy.
“Hyeri is a friend; she has even asked me if I could sing at her wedding.” The younger made sure there was a special emphasis on the word wedding.
Taehyung kept eating breakfast in silence.
And then, without further planning, the singer asked. “Are you coming tonight to the movie night? I’ve heard they’re playing The Graduate. Though, it won’t be the first Mrs. Robinson I see on board.”
“Scandalous.” Taehyung chuckled.
The younger was paralyzed, had he truly made him laugh?
“Unfortunately and even if I liked the movie I can’t. There’s a private meeting tonight and those loathed fishes like their Martinis as dry as the Sahara. And since is Sunmi’s free day, I cover her with brunch too. A thousand of Bellinis since I can’t make Mimosas anymore.”
“Warehouse’s dictatorship.” The bartender clicked his tongue.
“I understand.” The younger couldn’t hide his disillusionment behind his words.
But it’s a shame because I really wanted to ask you to come with me. He wished he had said.
“Be careful with the Robinsons of the world, Jeon Jeongguk, one of them could try to snatch you one of these days.” He tapped his shoulder before leaving after finishing eating breakfast.
And he left Jeongguk there, wishing those fingers had stayed a little bit longer upon his skin.
“What happened to your hands?” Miran asked while serving his usual ration of dessert. That night, a glass of zabaione with strawberries.
The younger stared at his hands; under the artificial light of the kitchen they looked worse than before, chipped full of scratches, little-reddened cuts and a few loosen band-aids.
“This? It’s just… crafts.”
“He’s been working with Yunyi’s husband all day long in a project he doesn’t want to unveil.” Youngok complained.
“He’s been all secretive and mysterious even if his favorite bartender has not come tonight.” Hyeri stole a spoonful of his glass. “Everyone is leaving for the movie and I’m trusting you’re not heading back to the carpentry shop.”
“I have finished already and you, ladies, should stop talking as if I’m not here.” Jeongguk took a look at the clock on the wall of the kitchen. “My shift has ended, see you tomorrow.”
After saluting the entire kitchen’s personal, the singer was out. He repeated the sequence of climbing to the elevator but once he was inside he felt something was missing. Even if he had sung from the bottom of his heart once again, Jeongguk missed the presence of a cold hearted boy with warm eyes.
He was already used to see the bartender on a daily basis and he found himself missing him more than a few weeks of meeting and a couple casual chats allowed him to. Even questioning himself if he wasn’t missing an imaginary construction more than a real person, a representation of the illusion of his dreams. Did Kim Taehyung meet all his expectations in real life as he had dreamt of?
After crawling to his bed and hiding under the fresh sheets he sighed loudly. His body was tired and his eyes were closed but he couldn’t fall asleep once again. Darkness wasn’t dark enough, he could still see everything, he could hear every single one of his thoughts and decided that his mind was way too active to be lying in bed. For the first time since he had departed from Seoul he wanted to hold a cigarette on his hands and have a few puffs to and get back to a place where all the dreams came true instead of facing the reality of the disillusion.
In the absence of tobacco, he just went for a walk on deck to get some fresh air that would be in perspective better for his lungs. Under the starry night and in the surprised company of a cat named like a painter that joined on his way to the elevator but refused to be touch by the singer, Jeongguk stood in the edge of the railing and looked at the moon with a heavy chest.
“GoGo, do you mind if I sing you a song? What you say?”
The feline moved its tail from left to right and lick its paw without minding, a sign the younger abided as a Do whatever you want, equally translated to a «sure».
Even if he had been singing all night long for weeks, he was in wish of singing one more time before going back to bed.
Stars shining bright above you
Night breezes seem to whisper, I love you
Birds singin' in the sycamore trees
Dream a little dream of me
The ocean waves rocked the cruise and the stars twinkled like fiery pupils on the sky, the moon melted a little after hearing his voice and the clouds decided it was time to find another place to rest for the night. Next to him, a loner cat stared curiously and its whiskers bristled after the melody flowed of his lips.
Say nighty-night and kiss me
Just hold me tight and tell me you'll miss me
While I'm alone and blue as can be
Dream a little dream of me
The salt floating on the air impregnated on his skin quickly, he could taste the sea on his mouth and his nose every time he inhaled to keep singing. The lights of the sky reflected on the unsteady mirror that was the waters below, the golden mist invaded all the surroundings, for a moment he thought he had never left his room and was immerse in a dream. It was a bewitching night.
Stars fading but I linger on, dear
Still craving your kiss
I'm longing to linger till dawn, dear
Just saying this
Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you
Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you
But in your dreams, whatever they be…
The song was interrupted by the familiar sound of the guardian of the warehouse who was playfully moving its tail when it recognized a figure nearby.
“Shhh! Shhh! Go away GoGo.” The voice that came from the gloom whispered.
But the cat kept purring and meowing until the visitor revealed himself under the moonlight.
“Apparently I can’t spend one day without listening to one of your songs.” Taehyung announced while carrying the tell-tale cat.
Air couldn’t reach Jeongguk’s lungs. From that day on, he decided there were no words to describe the feeling he had every time he saw Taehyung, words will never make justice to something that was more than a heart skipping a beat, more than a song, more than all the music in the world. It was him and him along that could produce that, a presence that evoked all the doubts whether life was real or a dream, a tragic fantasy or a magical encounter, an endless hallucination or a limited experience.
If he was chasing an illusion he didn’t want to face reality; if he was condemned to live in a cloud of a dream, he didn’t want to be awakened; if he had to wait for a flower that only bloomed when no one was looking at it, he was willing to create roots on the dirt.
“Hi.” Was all he could say after catching his breath again.
The elder was holding an unlit cigarette between his fingers as his lips formed a perfectly enticing smile, a full smile like a full moon in a midnight.
If eyes were the window to people’s soul, Taehyung’s had curtains covering his. However, the more Jeongguk looked at them he felt he was staring from the outside of the glass where the fabric moved a little as the inside was revealed little by little and the light inside started shining like a warm relief.
“Sorry for the irruption.” GoGo escaped from his hands as the matchmaker that has already done her part. Taehyung shook the hairs off his clothes with one move as the cat disappeared like a spell.
“What are you doing here?” Jeongguk asked while holding the tube of the metallic railing at his back.
“It’s time for my break.” He pointed the nicotine cylinder on his hand. “I guess you don’t have a lighter, do you?” He tested.
In fact, as the most unusual regular smoker, he did have one on his pocket although he hadn’t used it in a while it still had a sigh of benzene inside. The discovery left the bartender astonished.
“Do you smoke?” He asked while approaching to the flame with the cigar in the corner of his mouth.
“Occasionally.” Jeongguk said without getting further into the subject.
The wind was blowing on deck and the weak flame needed protection to survive. The younger extended his hand to create a barricade while holding the lighter in the other, Taehyung’s face was so close he could almost touch his soft cheek with his fingertips. The elder held the cigarette between his middle and index and brought it closer to his lips without breaking visual contact with Jeongguk at any moment. His blazing eyes glinted at the whitish light of the lighter, one of the extremes of the white cylinder was caught in flames as it turned orange as the ripe orange, a subtle grey ash trail fell on the floor.
Once the cigarette was enlightened, Taehyung tilted his head a little backwards without taking his eyes off Jeongguk’s and with a smirk on his face, he gave a long strenuous puff that lasted more than average time in mortal’s lives. The younger wasn’t going to hide his interest on the dirty blonde boy’s long tanned neck and protuberant Adam’s apple and collarbones, visible due the loosen buttons on his shirt’s neck.
He didn’t realize he was biting his lips until Taehyung let a big cloud of smoke off his chest. There was a funny look on his face, almost a grimace.
The second puff was less monumental but equally sensual as the elder held the cigarette on the left corner of his mouth. Time had stopped indefinitely.
“You didn’t go to watch the movie, why?”
Jeongguk lifted his gaze. “What?”
Taehyung smirked, satisfied. “I asked why you didn’t go to watch the movie.”
The younger needed to shake his head once before answering. “Right, the movie. I…”
I didn’t have a reason to go anymore.
“I have watched it before. Not my favorite, I must admit.”
“Great soundtrack though.” The elder opined.
“Simon and Garfunkel’s fan?”
“I wouldn’t call myself a fan but I always appreciate a good song at the right moment.”
Jeongguk felt he was about to hyperventilate. He thought he was the only player on the board but apparently the bartender had a few plays that were hard to ignore or decipher.
At that point he didn’t know what he was craving the most, a puff of that cigarette or the taste of their mouths colliding.
“Can I have a puff?” He probed.
Taehyung wetted his lips at an incredibly painful slow pace before answering. “Sure.”
But instead of passing the cylinder he put it back on his lips, gave a deep inhalation making the tobacco inside burn like a bonfire in the woods consuming a few millimeters of it, then he stepped closer, with his freed hand he reached the railing, closing his hand at a short distance of Jeongguk’s, almost imprisoning him, and then he released the smoke directing it to the younger’s lips. Jeongguk had just a moment to catch the nebula and again, Taehyung wasn’t going to break visual contact with him while sinfully staring at his eyes as if he could read his mind at that exact moment.
“My break is over.” Taehyung mumbled with a sweetened honeyed voice that made the younger’s legs tremble. “Good night, singer.” Taehyung’s hand slipped to the younger’s cheek but as soon as it touched his skin as soon it was gone.
As the last act of the night, he put what was left of the cigarette on Jeongguk’s mouth; the cigarette’s end was still wet. When the silhouette of the elder faded in the distance, Jeongguk held the cylinder with his thumb and index, while filling his chest with was left of the bitter smoke, he decided, between smoking and his lips, his lips were the most desirable.
Oh my love, my darling
I've hungered for your touch
A long lonely time
The night after, Jeongguk kept singing but unlike the other days, that one was very different.
Time goes by so slowly
and time can do so much
It was a fact Taehyung had already taken the hint those previous nights but still he liked to play a little game where he ignored the singer’s indiscrete insinuations. After singing Grease’s iconic You’re the one that I want the younger had thought he had made an statement but what he had forgotten was that the elder –just like a cat- liked to play with its catch before eating it.
Are you still mine?
That night, Taehyung had changed his strategy completely. Instead of firmly ignoring him he didn’t take his eyes off the singer not for a single beat. Perhaps he had thought he was going to make him nervous, even making him stammer at some point but that wasn’t the case.
He had desired that attention for a long time.
I need your love
Jeongguk was so determined no matter how heavy and piercing his stare was. There was something between them that was already indelible, those daring words, the feeling he couldn’t forget of Taehyung’s hand resting against his cheek, that contact that kept radiating warmness all over his skin… his touch… his touch alone was reason enough. All was part of the impulse he needed to keep singing for the elder.
I need your love
Taehyung’s stare wasn’t indifferent anymore, it was analytical, it was defiant and Jeongguk couldn’t stop thinking how sexy he looked while he was watching him perform.
God speed your love to me
Their staring game was strong and no one was willing to give in. The elder had noticed and couldn’t help but making a move in his favor. He passed his thumb through his lower lip at a painfully slow speed, enjoying every second of it as he didn’t break visual contact with the singer not even blinking. Taehyung’s flaming eyes melted Jeongguk’s with one sight.
But it takes two to tango.
I need your love, I,
I need your love
God speed your love to me
The singer was sure he was going to be kicked out of the cruise after dragging the words like that. His voice ended up being a mix of a growl and a moan; he knew how raspy his voice could go. And just like that, Taehyung gulped and closed his lips into a thin line making the younger return to his usual rhythm.
After finishing the song, Jeongguk did what he had wanted to do since the first day and he took a sit on the bar, waiting, expectant to get a reaction for a great performance, probably one of his best so far.
A glass of Cuba Libre appeared on the counter.
However, Taehyung just smirked.
“I need your love? I’ve heard that before too, sweetheart. I’d suggest you to try something else.”
After saying that, the bartender had the audacity of winking, fucking winking in front of Jeongguk as if he wasn’t already too whipped to think clearly. The singer drank the beverage in one gulp.
“I’ll be waiting.”
The following day however, before heading to the stage Jeongguk monitored from afar how two big boxes arrived to the bar.
“Mrs. Lim, I have something I thought it could be useful for you.” He had addressed to the cranky old lady from the warehouse with his best innocent smile.
“What do you want? Go bothering somewhere else.” The woman refused.
Just then, Jeongguk displayed half dozen of handmade mousetraps he had crafted himself.
“I know your cat is not fulfilling her duty, however I hope this helps.”
Mrs. Lim glared at Jeongguk, doubting of his true intentions.
“What do you want in return?”
“We are arriving to Naha in a week and a half, until then there’s no fresh fruit for the bar, give them a few boxes of oranges and… strawberries a box of strawberries for the bartender of the night shift.”
The woman clenched her teeth before extending her hand to seal the deal.
And then, that day, two boxes of fruit appeared on Taehyung’s counter.
His eyes sparkled and his mouth dropped to the floor when he opened the box revealing the content of it.
Jeongguk heard the sound of his own heart beating louder than the drums of the band when the elder showed his particular square shaped smile that made the skies bluer every morning.
Then he knew it was more than a simple desire, his affection was growing faster than Jeongguk had thought, it hit him with intensity as he found out how happy he was, just contemplating at him with his own little happiness.
It was Sunday morning when Jeongguk woke up with the need of going to deck again. For some particular reason he felt extra optimistic. He had had breakfast with Hyeri and even saved a bit for GoGo –who was still not supposed to be fed even after the traps were set-, if he found her somewhere in the hallways.
Usually all the people from the services spent the majority of their time several floors under the surface; they didn’t get to see much sunlight on their daily routines thus Jeongguk didn’t spend much time outside either during daytime. That morning in particular, however, he felt in the extreme necessity of feeling the sunlight touching his face.
He picked one of his white t-shirts and a clean pair of jeans then, he walked directly to the elevator after hearing the sound of the machinery working, he lied comfortably while waiting to reach his correspondent floor.
Before arriving, the elevator stopped in one floor and when the door was opened, the folding iron door revealed the presence of Kim Taehyung who didn’t look as impressed to see Jeongguk as the younger did.
“Good morning.” Jeongguk pronounced with a melodic tone, a subtle pink blush covered his cheeks.
“Morning.” Taehyung replied with the same neutral elusive voice he used when he was not serving drinks, although his fingers moved more than usual until the point he ended up crossing his arms on his chest.
“Do you have to work today?” It was like last night hadn’t happened at all.
Taehyung looked at the younger and noticed his casual appearance. “You’re not singing today?”
“Why? You wanted to hear me?”
Taehyung simpered. “Let’s say it’s that. I already got used to hear you while I’m working, the band is good too.”
“You can say you like it, it’s okay.” Jeongguk held a smirk.
“Hmmm… no need to stroke your ego but how you ended up singing here anyways?”
“It’s… a long story but I thought it was already divulged. Mr. Choi «recruited» me after helping him…”
“No, I know that. Your story, you’re not from Seoul neither am I, an outsider recognizes another of their kind.”
They arrived to the deck before Jeongguk could answer.
Both of them exchanged a look.
“I don’t… I’m not busy today… if you want company.”
“It’s Sunday, let’s call it pause?” Jeongguk coughed trying to hide his awkwardness.
“Fine.” The bartender sentenced. “You’re opening cans of peaches, squeezing oranges and breaking ice.”
“Alright.” The younger kept smiling like an idiot.
“Don’t do that.” Taehyung warned. “Or I’m kicking you out.”
“It will be hard but I’ll do my best.”
The elder just rolled his eyes in response.
Taehyung worked on deck for the brunch, there was a hexagonal bar made of wood close to the pool, the sunlight reflected perfectly on the surface and there were a few guests already sunbathing around it, it was a perfect day to be outside. For Jeongguk, the sea meant so much, it reminded him of Busan’s sea, his grandfather’s fishing boat, shoes full of sand; the sea was a direct link back to home and it felt so good breathing the salty air once again.
By ten Taehyung had to be prepared for the waiters, champagne in glasses and open requests for some extravagant idea at midmorning. He tried to hide it but having more ingredients for his drinks made the bartender a bit more joyful.
“Why the warehouse lady didn’t want to give you oranges for the drinks? I mean, I don’t see anything strange on that.”
“We are in the middle of the ocean, people used to die crossing the sea because they didn’t have fresh food. It’s the same for us, until we arrive to some port, fresh food is scarce. And they are using it for the orange juice in the mornings not drinks and definitely not Mimosas. But she has changed her mind these days.”
“You got me crying for all those lost Mimosas.” Jeongguk faked cry while hiding his face dramatically behind his hand.
Taehyung pushed him lightly. “Ha ha. Very funny. You better go and grab the cans before I change my mind.”
Taehyung rolled his eyes again. “Please.”
“It wasn’t that hard, was it?”
All that flirtatious disses had come naturally as if they had known each other for years.
The people started appearing and the bar suddenly was over-flooding with life. Baked croissants, salmon canapés, expensive champagne at ten in the morning and luxurious coffee too strong for regular mortals served on silver trays. The waiters paraded with glasses but once the majority of the guests were served they would retire as well, the casual vibe of the Sundays was supposed to mean some rest for everybody.
After midday the work on the bar lessened considerably except for some requests of drinks that could be set on fire, it amused the commensals as Taehyung had explained earlier. Jeongguk could answer the elder’s question, he told him about his life back in Seoul and his childhood in Busan. He told him stories about his parents and grandparents, about the crooked doorframe on the room he rented in the city and the story about the lucky shamrock coin in the bar.
But whenever Jeongguk asked something about Taehyung’s personal life the elder never got into details, just superficial details and simple answers. However, that was more than what Jeongguk had ever expected for that day.
When he noticed, the sun was already setting and they kept chatting, they could’ve done it until the moon rose if they had the chance.
Jeongguk was so happy he kept humming some melody until he finally started singing.
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun
Taehyung gave him a dirty look, the one that warned him he wasn’t supposed to be singing, at least not that day; it was part of their deal.
And I say
It's all right
Jeongguk didn’t stop singing, he looked at the elder with his big brown eyes like a little puppy.
“C’mon, it’s the Beatles.”
It's been a long cold lonely winter
The younger stared, expectantly.
It feels like years since it's been here
He completed the phrase and puckered his lips before speaking again. “My shift is over.” The bartender announced when he finished cleaning the last glass. “I should get going.”
“Right… Can I take the elevator with you or would that be too much?”
Taehyung shook his head, there was a tiny grin on his face. “See you tomorrow, Jeon Jeongguk.”
“See you tomorrow, don’t forget to listen at ten, same channel.” Jeongguk attained to say before seeing Taehyung’s body slipped into the elevator.
He just waved in response but the younger knew he would do as he had asked.
That day while taking the clothes for laundry, Jeongguk found the shamrock coin among his clothes on the drawer and he decided it was going to be a good day.
Of course, he didn’t expect he would end up with an ice pick nailed on a wooden bar right between his middle and index fingers by 09:00 pm.
“Jesus! What the…” He lifted his gaze to face Sunmi’s threatening eyes.
“You come here often nowadays.” She made an observation with a relatively calm voice tone, not like she had just stabbed a table at a dangerous close distance of his hand.
“I do?” She didn’t blink. “I mean, yes, I do.” Jeongguk gulped.
“What are you intentions, tenor?” She removed the ice pick with one move while glaring at the young boy sitting on the stool in front of her.
“I… wanted something to drink… ha ha.”
Sunmi didn’t laugh.
Jeongguk cleared his throat; she still had the tool slash weapon on her hands. “I came to see Taehyung before dinner begins and the salon is overcrowded.” He confessed.
The girl behind the bar displayed a candid smile. “Aw, is that so?”
“Y-yes.” For some reason he still felt uneasy about the conversation.
Yet, Sunmi approached with a smiling face closer to him, her silky dark hair moved like waves. “If for a second you think you can mistreat my angel boy I will pull out your eyes and give them to the kids to play with them like marbles. Understood?”
“Yes… Wait, not. I won’t I mean… I like him. I really like him… a lot… a ton.”
“I see.” She seemed satisfied by the answer.
“You won’t believe the odyssey I had to make to get some ice…” Taehyung arrived to the scene with two buckets full of transparent cubes; he immediately repaired in the presence of the younger. “Hi.” It was hard to guess his emotions through his voice tone; he always sounded so measured…
“Hi.” Jeongguk replied, his eyes were instantly shaped as hearts.
Sunmi pretended to gag. “Bye.” She took the ice away.
“Can I ask what are you doing here? There are no guests yet and the band hasn’t arrived.”
“I was hoping seeing you before the show.” He shrugged. “You’re usually very busy afterwards.”
Taehyung smirked. “Look, Jeon Jeongguk, just because you stalk me day and night doesn’t mean I have to give you all my hours.” Ah, there it was, that flirtatious hint.
“Actually I was thinking since we’re landing in Naha tomorrow, maybe you could lend me just a few of them.” Jeongguk could hear his own heart beating louder than his words.
The elder stared directly at his eyes in the same way he had done when they were on deck during nighttime.
“Perhaps.” The bartender bit his bottom lip. “I should think about it.”
People started arriving, Taehyung’s shift was about to begin.
“What should I do to convince you?”
“Surprise me, singer.”
“So… perhaps.” He heard the members of the band crossing the doors of the salon. “I believe I’ll see you later.”
He left the bar feeling encouraged and ready to perform, especially during the elder’s break.
Surprisingly Dowon did have managed of several percussion instruments and the rest of the band knew how to deal without a violin.
You won't admit you love me
And so how am I ever to know?
You always tell me
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps
Jeongguk could see Taehyung rolling his eyes from that distance.
A million times I've asked you,
And then I ask you over again
You only answer
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps
“Once.” The singer read on the bartender’s lips.
With a smirk on his face, Jeongguk raised two fingers pointing the two occasions he had said «perhaps» during their conversation.
Taehyung tried to contain a grin while crossing his arms on his chest.
If you can't make your mind up
We'll never get started
And I don't wanna wind up
Being parted, broken-hearted
And then, Jeongguk did something he had never done before; he went down the stage and slowly moved around the tables, singing the following verses of the song. The public clapped cheerfully that move and even if he couldn’t reach the bar due the short cable, it was enough to cut the distance a little bit more.
So if you really love me
Say yes, but if you don't dear, confess
And please don't tell me
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps
Excluding the immanent success of the song, the bartender felt specially attacked that night. Jeongguk was being something else with that song and if he wanted to state something he definitely had reached the target, although certain boy with dirty blonde hair was never one to lose the battle.
“So…Will you join me tomorrow?” He asked while sitting on his usual spot, breathless and forehead covered in sweat after singing three Depeche Mode songs in a row for the audience.
The elder sighed trying to find a validated excuse. “Just because you helped me yesterday with some ice and…”
“Got you five boxes of oranges…” Sunmi appeared out of nowhere while shaking a cocktail.
“Got me five boxes of oranges… wait, what? He did what?” He looked towards his coworker and then back to Jeongguk. “You what?”
“I went for some more to the warehouse just now. And the adorable Mrs. Lim told me «no more fruit for you or that corny singer…» then of course, she sang like a bird… This kid over here built half dozen mouse traps for her since you had spoiled her cat.”
For the first time, Taehyung was speechless and Jeongguk was blushing harder than the bottle of grenadine next to him.
“You did what? W-why?”
“Why you think? Genius…” Sunmi snorted.
“You…” Taehyung was trying to find the right words where not even a song would fit.
Hyeri was passing nearby and Jeongguk took the chance to be a completely coward and run away.
“I have to go… see you tomorrow.” He abruptly spit and turned around leaving a thunderstruck bartender behind.
Taehyung babbled some incoherent words and stole a glass of gin he drank in one gulp.
Sunmi was wearing a perfect combination of an emerald green crop top with geometrical lines in white and blue and a pair of bell-bottoms pants, baby pink pumps and red lipstick. While moving her clutch, she puffed her cigarette and went around Taehyung, inspecting him.
Both of them were in the port, the cruise had reached Naha earlier in the morning before sunrise but with all of the arrangements most of the crew and the passengers had decided to have lunch inside the ship. By noon, most of the guests were already descending from deck to the obligated stop on the beautiful city located on Okinawa Prefecture, Japan. Most of them spent a day touring and wandering through the streets, looking for the emotion of being one day on Earth as if it was their last, others would lock themselves inside the next luxurious bar, like the following girl.
“Honey, even if you’re not coming with me, you still are too well dressed up for just perambulating.” She sentenced moving the lighted cigarette creating a swirl of smoke.
Usually during their free day in land, Taehyung and his coworker and friend Sunmi would go to –ironically- get some drinks and have a few laughs, it was a tradition, the only day of the trip none of them were serving drinks but getting drunk themselves. But that year, it was different. Taehyung, for the first time in three years, had decided to break that tradition, he had other plans.
“Can you leave already?” The boy adored her but in that exact moment he would have paid a crazy amount of money just to banish her from earth for a few hours.
“I’m not your friend unless I got to tease you a little before your date with lover boy, choir’s child, Frank Sinatra’s nephew.”
“It’s not a date.” He glared the girl who hid a smile behind some nicotine.
“Going back to the outfit, for something that it’s not a «date», you have put a lot of effort on it; it is your finest clothes so far.”
He was wearing his favorite high waisted light blue jeans, a yellow mustard shirt with a few unbuttoned gold shinning metal buttons and a brown leather jacket with a lot of fringes covering it. Not only that, he had used his secret weapon: his white platforms with a multicolor base that gave him an extra three centimeters to his already long legs. On top of his head his blue rounded John Lennon-like glasses and a brilliant medal hanging from his neck.
She offered him a puff of her cigarette before leaving.
The boy shook his head in response.
“Want one for later?”
She was pulling her gold rose metallic box already when the voice of the boy interrupted her.
“No, I’m fine. I don’t want to smell like tobacco.” He played with one loosen fringes of his jacket, unusually quiet and shy.
Sunmi stopped with the cigarette almost falling from her red wine lips. “No way. You don’t want to smoke because you’ll taste like tobacco.” Taehyung avoided her gaze. “You want to kiss him.” Her mouth fell and then curled in the corners forming a giant grin.
Taehyung remained silent.
“Oh my God! You do want to kiss him! I knew it!” She was jumping like a little girl before Christmas.
“Shhhh! Sunmi you’re too loud. I don’t want to kiss him no… well yes… no… maybe.”
“There it is. My work here is done.” She plated a kiss on his cheek, staining his skin. “Good-bye baby boy, have fun in your date.”
Taehyung rubbed his thumb where the red lipstick was marked. “It’s not a date.” He remarked but he wasn’t sure either.
“Sure, it’s not.”
“What if he doesn’t come? Or what if he had gone already?” Jeongguk kept biting his nails.
The girl next to him sighed. She was ready to roam around the city with other waitress colleagues, but she didn’t want to miss the chance of seeing legend Kim Taehyung, Moby Dick, the unattainable and mythical creature on his full human form.
She kept chewing her bubblegum and curling her short hair under the beret, a turtleneck cream sweater and camel plated skirt with her long leather boots, she looked like a Seoul seventies’ girl from head to toe.
“Then I must be blind because I swear that guy with the camera hanging from his neck while trying to look all cool and smooth is not Kim Taehyung.” Hyeri pointed as they walked through the wooden ramp.
And there he was.
Taehyung was waiting for him, lying against the railing of the port looking as flawless as he could be. Jeongguk’s heart didn’t even skipped a beat, it made a 360º acrobat and a reverse black flip all at the same time.
“You’re late.” He claimed.
Jeongguk kept looking at him with his eyes wide opened and his mouth dropping lower than a cartoon character. He was too used to see the elder wearing his uniform or just casual clothes around the boat during the breakfast and other meals but seeing him on his entire splendor fully dressed up like a fashion god flowing with the groovy vibe.
Jeongguk –who had considered his white snickers, plain t-shirt tucked on his washed jeans and denim vest in the same color palette appropriated for the occasion and the capital- reconsidered his whole concept of fashion and mentally revised all he knew about Kim Taehyung’s figure.
“Wow. You look…” Ravishing, enticing, gorgeous, stunning, captivating, handsome, glamorous… “Wow.” No need to translate. Good-bye to all those intelligent words.
Hyeri elbowed the younger and mumbled. “You’re drooling.”
He shook his head. “Sorry.”
“Well, this is my invitation card to leave. Have fun you two.” She winked and pinched the younger’s cheek before walking away.
Taehyung cleared his throat. “By any chance, do you speak Japanese?”
They were in Japan so the question made sense, luckily all of the cruise employees had their respective passports and papers up to date, even Jeongguk –he never asked how Mr. Han had obtained his since he was afraid of the possible answer-. Since he was the one who offered the invitation he was supposed to plan something for their… date? Was it a date?? He wanted to believe it but he truly didn’t know anything about the ground they were standing on.
The eyes of the elder sparked with mischief.
Taehyung grabbed the younger from his wrist and pulled him, leading, knowing perfectly where they had to go as if he had founded the island himself.
“How many times have you skated before?” Taehyung asked while untidying his shoe laces.
“Well… the enormous amount of times sums… zero.”
The first stop on the bartender’s magic planning was something he could show off a bit of his secret skills. Even if he didn’t have the need of verbalize all of himself, he thought it would be interesting developing little pieces of his personality; he was starting to feel more and more comfortable around the singer every time he blinked.
Disco music was rumbling from all the walls and tons of figures were either dancing or gracefully sliding on the floor like professionals. People was laughing and chatting, the whole vibe detached from that colorful place was in general chirpy except for a confused Korean boy staring from the distance at those skaters with terror peeking from his pupils.
Jeongguk put on the heavy white leather skates with giant yellow wheels and stumbled right away when he stood up. He looked like a new born baby deer with those Bambi eyes and shocked expression.
“Easy there.” Taehyung stood up with perfect equilibrium and an expert’s posture.
“This is not fair, you just want to presume it and make me look bad in front of all these people.”
“Maybe… Don’t be a cry baby, c’mon. One step at the time, right and left.”
Jeongguk centered his vision on his feet, slowly sliding to the skating rink, when he thought he was making some progress, his legs trembled and a wrong move almost made him end on the floor. Taehyung was fast enough to catch the younger’s forearms with his hands, he would’ve been lying if he said he wasn’t impressed by how strong he was. The younger lifted his gaze to find a pair of almond eyes warm as cinnamon looking at him.
“I won’t ask you to do a spin or something but you better watch out your distance from the floor. Now, try it again, first you have to…”
He was sure the information that was coming out of his mouth was vitally important if he didn’t want to end up leaving Japan with a plaster but he couldn’t focus. He kept staring at his precious lips, his bitable and full upper lip, his little mole in one inferior corner marking a spot he wanted to kiss. Maybe Hyeri was right, maybe he was drooling.
“Do you understand?”
“Uh. Yeah… sure.”
“You didn’t hear a word of what I just said, did you?”
“Right, left… I think I got it.”
The elder rolled his eyes and Jeongguk tried to follow his pace on the rink. Fortunately the people around them left a reduced site for him to practice a bit. Either was the younger’s determination and his quick learning or the fact he didn’t want to make a fool of himself in front of the boy he had been singing about in every song of his repertoire.
“Am I doing it right?”
“Perfectly.” His teacher assured. “Now you have to let go of the railing.”
“I feel like a toddler learning how to walk.”
“You kind of are.”
“Ha ha, very funny.”
The bartender took a deep breath and without saying a word, he extended his hand so the younger could lean on him.
Jeongguk didn’t open his mouth either, he thought if he said something maybe he’ll end up babbling or stuttering. He hesitated at first but then grabbed Taehyung’s hand without knowing after he did that, there was no point of return, he would never want to let him go after holding it once. Taehyung’s hand was soft, even if he had some cuts result of his work as bartender and some unhealed scars that made it a bit gritty in some areas, still his grip felt like the tenderest thing in the world.
“The singer is not that confident when he’s out of stage, huh?”
“You should know upfront, that’s the only place I’m confident… most of the time.”
“Are you talking about that time the first day on board you paralyzed singing that Sinatra’s song?”
“Eh…” He coughed. “Yes... Wait, do you remember that? Or rather, were you listening to me?”
“It was difficult to ignore, it was like listening a robot synthesizing a song.”
Jeongguk glared at him. “Thanks. It was the first song I sang on board, I think I have redeemed myself since then.”
The singer hesitatingly gave his first steps in the rink trying to keep the balance, it wasn’t as difficult as he thought it would be once he understood the mechanism. Not that he would dare to do some acrobatics or something right away but it was enough for them to start rolling at a relatively calm pace.
“The following song was splendid.” Taehyung admitted once he had let go of the younger’s hand.
It was for you. All of them were for you. Jeongguk wanted to say but the words were caught on his throat.
No matter how loud and cheerful was the music on the background –some Boogie Wonderland vibe mixed with something else-, no matter how happy people around them were, or how loud and vibrant were their outfits and voices, they were trapped apart, inside of a tiny box on top of a chest of drawers, like a hole in a tree lost in the woods, like a pearl in a shell. When their eyes met, there was no before or after, just now.
Unfortunately, they were caught in a round of «conga time» and the crowd caught them in an infinite centipede that had no end or beginning, they had to go with the flow. Of course after that both of them were breathless and a little bit dizzy after spinning around the rink for a long time.
“That... was… fun.” Taehyung was still trying to catch his breath.
The younger was in a great disadvantage for his lack of knowledge of the language in the island that was clear since moment zero but he never thought the elder would use it so much to his own.
“After three years of serving Japanese executives you have to learn a thing or two.”
The sky was too grey for a day in the beach but still they walked for the sidewalk, admiring how the waves broke against the sand, feeling the mist flowing among them. Each of them with a cone of ice cream on their hands while their other pair of hands stood inert on their sides while their minds battled in the interstice of the indetermination of deciding whether they should join or not.
“I haven’t eaten a cone of ice cream in about three years.”
The younger nodded. “Don’t laugh but it was the first thing I bought when I got off the bus from Busan.”
The singer sat on the edge of the sidewalk, his feet floated above the sand that was a few centimeters below him. Soon the elder also joined. The sea breeze blew as calmly as a lullaby while the seagulls flew above their heads trying to steal something from distracted tourists and some absentminded passerby.
“That’s adorable. How old were you?” Taehyung tried to hide his smile behind a napkin.
“I was recently graduated from high school. Still, as of this day that was probably the most expensive ice cream I’ve ever paid. I was young and naïve and I just wanted a cone.”
The bartender chuckled. “It’s been like two or three years right?”
The younger nodded again. “Yeah…” He was focused on the sweet taste of the cold chocolate cream.
Taehyung raised an eyebrow and smiled with malice. “How were you able to practice abstinence for so long?”
Jeongguk almost choked. Were they still talking about ice cream?
“I wasn’t in abstinence. I could have ice cream but I had other priorities…”
“Have you ever… have you ever had so much of something that you just… gorge? Because I did, I had so much ice cream I couldn’t taste it anymore… it felt like emptiness, a bite of nothing. Something that I used to love suddenly was ordinary, insipid… dull.”
Jeongguk was paralyzed.
“You’re eating ice cream right now.” He made an observation and the gaze of the elder was directed to the cone on his hand.
He stared at it for a few seconds before looking at the dark haired boy again. “I thought after a while, I could give it another try. See if something had changed since then.”
“And… what’s the verdict?”
Taehyung thought about if for a second, he was quiet and serious like a living picture. His eyes sparked with a thunderbolt.
“It feels good.” He displayed a tiny smile shyly.
Taehyung grabbed his camera after finishing his cone and quickly snapped some shots at the ocean. Jeongguk, for his part, started walking through the improvised wooden dock; there were a few missed planks or holes where he had to step carefully if he didn’t want to end up completely soaked by the end of the afternoon. Some clouds were disperse high in the sky like travelers that went lost on their wandering, the younger thought he had distinguished some shape in the middle of those amorphous creatures when without warning an enchanting voice reminiscent from a mermaid called his name.
He turned around just in time to hear the click of the camera.
“Ya! I wasn’t ready!” He complained, blushing furiously after realizing Taehyung had taken a picture of him.
“I’m just checking the focus. Don’t worry; it’s probably a little blurry.”
“Still, you should tell me before. I could strike a pose.”
“Really? Like what?” The elder mocked.
“Hum… I don’t know. I could…” Jeongguk exaggeratedly put a hand on his waste and tried to look like a cover girl without much success.
Taehyung burst into laughter.
“Marvelous, Iman. Cosmopolitan is missing so much.”
Jeongguk laughed as well. After that they walked through the sand barefoot, according to the blondish boy, that was one of his favorite things on Earth, walking through the beach with no shoes on, or being barefoot in general. The sand grains touched their skin in both ways, roughly and delicately, it was one of those feelings that was genuinely comforting, it was a simple thing that lingered on their skin long after taking another step.
Even if they could’ve spent the rest of the day like that, Taehyung had other plans. After a quick shaken of the remain sand among their feet and clothes, the elder leaded the way once again, knowing perfectly which direction take and which turn at the end of any empty alley.
“You know the island too well.”
“I know the pathway like the back of my hand. Don’t stay behind or I’ll leave you.”
Taehyung said he knew where they were going but in one turn he stood still in front of a billboard with his eyes wide open, reading the words written on it. It wasn’t on his plans but he couldn’t resist as soon as he saw the announcement in a shady alley where people didn’t stop very often.
“Here. We are going inside.”
“What is this place?” Jeongguk asked trying to comprehend.
From outside, it looked like a cinema but no cinema he had ever visited had red curtains and black walls everywhere, not to mention how somber and heavy the atmosphere was.
“I thought this movie was forbidden in Japan. Huh, maybe the restriction didn’t make it to the prefecture. C’mon.”
Taehyung shamelessly grabbed the singer’s hand and pull him inside the suspicious room.
«In the realm of senses»
Put the poster outside the ticket office where the elder paid for two tickets before passing through one of the scarlet curtains.
“Taehyung, what’s this about?”
“It’s just a movie.”
They went inside the dark room where the movie was already started. It was almost empty and strangely enough, there was certain vibe inside that place that made it look intimate and also illegal somehow.
“Why did you say this movie was «forbidden»?” He whispered closer to the elder’s ear.
“A silly restriction. Art shouldn’t be forbidden in any way.”
As soon as the movie advanced to the next scene, Jeongguk whole expression changed 180º degrees.
“How explicit did you know this movie was?” The younger asked, unable to take his eyes off the screen.
Taehyung giggled. “I heard things about it.” He answered with a gelid mumble.
After fifteen minutes of the almost two hours long film, Jeongguk felt the familiar warmness covering his face, dying it red totally. It was like he finally was conscious about the entire situation, the person who was next to him and the movie playing in front of their eyes. He felt in need of covering his entire face and run away from there as fast as he could.
His embarrassment couldn’t be missed, as soon as Taehyung noticed the light blush intensifying on his face he exploded into laugher, generating a collective shhh among the remaining viewers.
Once they were kicked out –invited to leave- since the older boy couldn’t endure a second more inside the room without cackling like a madman due the younger’s flustered expression,
“Don’t laugh! I can’t believe you brought me to watch a pornographic film.”
“The correct term is «erotic», and don’t act all innocent now, I saw your face a few times little pervert.”
The conversation was so entertaining they hadn’t noticed how dark the sky above their heads was.
“I was tricked by you.”
“I’ll tell you what, you can choose the movie the next date.”
Taehyung automatically bit his tongue after allowing that word out of his mouth. He could hear Sunmi’s hysterical laughter on the back of his head.
“Date?” Jeongguk’s eyes twinkled like stars.
“I mean… it depends…” The bartender tried to excuse himself. “I won’t say this is a date until…”
“Until I hear tomorrow’s song.” He saved his skin quickly.
“I think you had let it clear already… this is a date.” Jeongguk beamed as the shiniest sunset.
“Why are you so happy about it? It’s annoying; I want to punch you in the face right now I swear.”
“Are you kidding me? It took me almost two months and ten songs to have a normal conversation with you; you can’t placate my happiness that easily.”
A thunder roared in the back but none of them were aware of it until the downpour came, heavy raindrops fell from the dark clouds and after just a minute with no ceiling they were completely soaked. Taehyung used his body to cover his camera inside a little bag and Jeongguk ran ahead looking for a place to refuge.
The only deserted place where to shelter around was a small awning outside a closed greengrocery. The rain wasn’t going to cease and it seemed they were stuck in there until the unspoken words came out to the surface.
After reaching that save heaven, both of them laid against the wall and when they exchanged a gaze they laughed once again. Taehyung slid slowly until he reached the floor and after that, Jeongguk did the same. For a silent moment they observed the rain falling and scrolling through the awning before jumping and bursting into puddles of water.
“I think this could be considered a pretty good first date.” Jeongguk reflected aloud.
“Now you just want to keep saying it.”
“Why is it so hard for you?” The younger didn’t mean to sound rough but the words came out way harsher than he expected them to be, instantly feeling guilty after that.
“I…” Taehyung’s lips closed into a thin line. “I stopped believing in people long ago, Jeongguk. And I don’t know if I can… give myself in completely. You’re good, too good and I don’t know if I deserve such treatment, I don’t know if I will be able to be what you want me to be.”
“What you are right now, sitting next to me… it’s perfect.”
Jeongguk’s heart was as sonorous as the raindrops falling, as clear as a million songs that didn’t need translation.
In the middle of that noisy brawl, he heard the sound of something breaking.
It was the last of that shinning façade, the same he had seen in the city of lights, something he thought he was only able to contemplate from afar, from beyond, from a privileged position where the sun couldn’t burn him. Broken, destroyed, the imagined image was gone. But at difference from the disillusion found on the reality of grey dreams turned into nightmares, this dream became vivid and tangible, it was a disordered symphony of all the colors of the fireworks at the same time.
It was beautiful and it was real.
It was him.
Taehyung cocked his head in a position he was able to being separated by millimeters one from the other. His eyes travelled all over his face as if he was a map to the stars he needed to memorize, his hands traced the curse and on his eyes, the entire world to be discover. Jeongguk grabbed his wrist and with the tip of his thumb he caressed the front of his hand right where it ended his face.
“Why me?” He asked with a heartbreaking tone. “Why among all that people… why me?”
Jeongguk thought about it while he immersed on those almond eyes.
“I knew… I just knew. I had been unlucky for months, years almost… I felt grateful when I was rescued by the Choi’s but I didn’t feel lucky until… I saw you.”
Taehyung blinked a few times, the street light was reflected on his face.
“I could fall in love with someone who says things like those…”
Jeongguk tilted his head and approached slowly, as if he was asking for his permission when the magnetic attraction of his face was already moving the two of them closer and closer. When their lips were apart by an inexistent distance, tickling each other, the door of the shop opened all of sudden.
Taehyung moved his head and the two of them were caught.
The owner of the shop, an old lady mumbled something in Japanese only the elder was able to understand. He lost no time and stood up right away, answering her questions and nodding energetically.
“Hai.” That was all Jeongguk could get.
“What did she say?” The younger asked with the confusion plastered on his face.
“She’s the owner of the shop and she’s about to open, offered us an umbrella for the rain.”
“What did you say?”
“That there’s no need but she insisted so went back inside to bring it.”
When Taehyung finished the sentence, the old lady from the store returned from the interior with a black umbrella big enough for the two of them. She asked if they needed anything else to what the elder answered it was more than enough and tried to give her a few coins for the item. She refused and wished them a good day.
While wandering through the streets of Naha, Taehyung guided him once again to a place he had assured it was the best restaurant in the entire island. He didn’t let go the younger’s hand after they left the greengrocery, timidly joined at their sides like something that was supposed to go unnoticed without succeeding.
Before entering to the restaurant he bumped into a stranger who was already leaving, after a quick apology and a confused glare from the man there were no further disturbs. Just then he noticed how moonstruck he was.
They sat in a bar where the dishes of sushi were displayed ready for the commensals to pick them. The elder saluted the workers and Jeongguk politely bowed trying to extend the gesture. The chef kept sharpening his blades and skillfully shaping the fish as if it was a sculpture. Some clients were already sitting having their respective meals and they sat on a reserved cubicle next to a window where the rain kept falling.
When Jeongguk took a bite bigger than he thought and his mouth was so full he was unable to chew, the bartender laughed again. Who could’ve told he was going to laugh so many times that single day? Perhaps it didn’t depend on the reasons to laugh but the person sitting next to him.
The chef gave them a bit of sake on tiny cups and after the alcohol burnt their throats they laughed some more. It was a joyful environment until…
A young man that looked more like a messenger than a worker brought a folded piece of paper from the outside the restaurant on a tray, and indicated it was for the elder. His mood and his face went down altogether.
“Taehyung, what happened?”
The elder shook his head in response. “It’s nothing… I just… I’m not feeling very well.” He was pale.
“Oh. I… I’ll pay and we could pass for the pharmacy… buy some medicine, will that be okay?”
“I just need to lie for a moment. I’m sorry; I think it will be better if we go to the cruise ship already. Besides it’s dark already.”
In the way back to the cruise, their hands didn’t touch not even once. Taehyung had his head set somewhere else, he was absentminded.
There was no kiss at the end of a perfect date.
Jeongguk sighed for the eleventh time that morning. In response, the girl in front of him finally had to ask the question.
“What’s wrong with you?” Hyeri couldn’t keep eating her breakfast in peace.
They were already back in the ocean and the familiar rock of the waves brought some tranquility to the guests. Unfortunately it wasn’t the same for a singing sailor who thought he had left his mind back in Japan now they were furrowing international waters once again, he felt like a fish out of them once again.
“I haven’t seen Taehyung since yesterday. I’m worried.” He looked like a little child while mixing his porridge with a pout on his face.
“Wait, but I thought the date went well.”
“Yes. Everything went so smoothly, I mean we got along so well, I feel he was being his true self with me. No sarcasm shields or direct rejection but then… when we were having dinner someone brought a letter… actually I don’t know what it was, just a piece of paper and the mood changed completely.”
“Well, you don’t need to be a genius to discover that the reason behind the drastic change.”
“I know is because of that note but…”
Jeongguk didn’t want to say it aloud; their way back to the cruise was silent. All that distance they had cut the entire afternoon, more, all the time they had spent together had vanished in a cloud of dust under the heavy rain. Taehyung didn’t raise his head not even once, he sleepwalked without being aware of it, in one occasion even a car stopped right in front of him and Jeongguk had to pull him one step back otherwise he might had caused an accident or worse.
The elder heavily climbed the ramp, shuffling when walking and making the younger’s heart clutch due the lack of knowledge of the situation, he didn’t know what to do next. It was clear Taehyung didn’t want to talk about it with him, he said goodbye at the door of his cabin and then closed the door without adding anything else. All the nice words Jeongguk had prepared for the end of the day were taken by the bang of the door.
Taehyung didn’t appear that morning for breakfast and he didn’t show out for lunch either. At dinner the younger caught a glimpse of the elder but he was already leaving and when the singer was able to get out of the room, the other boy had disappeared in the elevator.
Jeongguk hurried and didn’t touch his meal just to being around the bar earlier. He asked Sunmi if she had seen Taehyung that day and she only answered he had some sort of headache but the fake smile she gave to the younger assured him her words weren’t fully sincere.
“I’ll tell him you were here. I think he’s going to make it for the dinner.” She tried to comfort him with soft words and a pat on his shoulder.
“Sure. Please let me know if he needs something.”
At least they would always have a song.
Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence
Among the crowd, the singer raised his voice once again. Each song he intoned was distracted by a moving target. Unlike what Jeongguk had seen the night before, Taehyung was radiant, smiling, once again the corners of his mouth were curled into those wonderful smiles that cross the entire room. The younger felt the relief too soon just to find that anew, the bartender was avoiding his gaze.
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
He thought his mind was playing some twisted game but that wasn’t the case. Taehyung had plenty opportunities to look towards Jeongguk’s direction but he chose not to. He deliberated look away.
Maybe he’s just busy.
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence
The show was over and the curtains fell down after dessert. Once again when Jeongguk approached to the bar he discovered the blonde boy chatting lively with the clients with no intention to repair on the singer next to him.
Maybe he’s distracted.
Jeongguk didn’t know what to do next so he waited for the elder’s shift to be over. Perhaps Sunmi was right and he only had a headache. The singer sat on a free stool in one corner of the bar, he needed to exchange some words to have a confirmation everything was alright.
“Hey.” The younger whispered when Taehyung passed next to him.
“What do you want to drink?” His tone was hermetic, nothing was impregnated on it.
“Uh… nothing. I just wanted to…”
“If you’re not drinking then please let the seat free, I have other clients to serve.”
Just like that, he was dispatched. Taehyung didn’t even look back.
“Tae…” He wetted his lips before speaking, his throat was dry. “Can we talk?”
“I’m in the middle of my shift. Sorry, I can’t.”
Jeongguk felt the poisonous sting of jealousy pricking him when the elder returned to some client and displayed a full squared smile at some stupid comment he had said. Those barriers he thought were fully destroyed had been reconstructed, reinforced and armored and Taehyung had hidden behind them without doubting.
Jeongguk lifted his hand to attract the elder’s attention.
“I’ll order. A Cuba Libre.”
The bartender prepared the cocktail skillfully fast, he could’ve done it with his eyes closed. In less than a minute a glass appeared in front of Jeongguk.
“Enjoy.” His tone was dry as the Martinis he was serving.
He drank it in one gulp, the alcohol didn’t even give him the burning sensation on his throat. He just felt the bitterness of something that wasn’t poured on his glass.
Jeongguk observed the way the elder moved inside the cubicle of the bar, balancing glasses and enlightening fires with matches and Cointreau, the Blue Blazers were his specialty. The younger found himself intoxicated by his calculated moves and hurt by his abrupt indifference. People would call him a mad man if he recited all the memories they had created so far. Without noticing he had asked a refilling and Sunmi went ahead.
“Go to bed, kiddo. We still have a few more hours here.”
He nodded and finished his drink without saying a word. Jeongguk left the bar feeling the lightness of the beverage on his interior but the heaviness of a rock on his chest.
“Did I do something wrong?” He asked Hyeri the following morning. “I keep trying to remember…”
“Dear, don’t. You did nothing wrong. Maybe he was having a bad night, everything will be fine tonight.”
The younger kept biting his thumb nails when Taehyung passed the thresholds of the salon with a cup of coffee on his hand and dark circles under his eyes. He sat in a remote corner by his own with a large amount of caffeine and a sullen expression that irradiated shadows around him.
Jeongguk sat in front of him but all he obtained was a low mumbled greeting.
“What’s wrong?” The younger’s voice reflected all his concerns. He was desperate to know if there was something he could do.
“Nothing is wrong.”
“Then why you keep ignoring me?”
“Jeongguk I’m not ignoring you.” The elder took a sip of his coffee without flinching.
“You’re lying. Yesterday you didn’t even look at me when I went to speak to you. You’re not even looking at me right now and I’m in front of you.”
Taehyung sighed but still he avoided the dark haired boy’s eyes. “Listen, Jeongguk. We had fun, it was nice but that’s all. I don’t have the time to spend it with you.”
“I don’t believe you.” The singer’s voice trembled and threatened with breaking at any second, an ocean of tears was being holding back with all his strengths. “This has something to do with the note you received in the restaurant.”
Jeongguk tried to reach his hand on top of the table but Taehyung push it away too harshly.
Was that the same hand that had held him so tightly just two days ago?
“Can you stop? Don’t act like you know me because you’ll sing a few lines every night thinking about me… what about that? Nothing I haven’t heard before, same old lines I hear every night. Wake up. Life is not like that.”
“There must be something I can do to help you. You’re not alone… Talk to me, please.”
Sunmi’s voice interrupted the dense cloud between them. “Hey you two, is everything alright?”
Taehyung stood up, unable to look back. “I’m leaving, I’ve lost my appetite.”
He left the room like an unnoticed breeze.
Jeongguk’s watery eyes didn’t focus. He was so lost.
That night he didn’t sing any love song.
“How are you, sweetie?” Miran had brought a giant piece of apricot crumble to cheer him up.
Jeongguk looked terribly, haggard and heartbroken.
“I… don’t know.” The sweet dessert was tasteless; everything else was in a grey shade.
“I don’t want to tell you I told you so but…” Youngok began but got cut by Yunyi who elbowed her. “What? I’m right.”
“I know Taehyung is not your favorite but you don’t have to be so sincere right now.”
The younger wanted to silence their voices; that wasn’t Taehyung at all. He had seen the boy’s true colors and he was convinced what he showed to the world was the other face of the prism. His theory, of course, was rougher to demonstrate nowadays but he had learnt the last thing he could lose in that rotten world was hope.
Almost a week after their great «fight», the younger hadn’t sing anything special during the interlude of the dinners. He didn’t even direct his gaze towards the bar where he knew Kim Taehyung was still serving drinks and smiles for tips.
And when he less expected it, their paths crossed again.
Jeongguk was in a hurry because he had taken a nap and overslept like his first day on board. He ran towards the elevator and begged it to go faster when it stopped in one floor before its destination. There Kim Taehyung, who immediately froze due the sudden encounter.
“Hey.” Jeongguk mumbled.
“Hi.” He answered without moving his eyes aside from a little notebook he was carrying.
“How are you?” He asked trying not to connote something on his voice.
That was it.
Was that the end? Were they condemned to live the rest of their lives like that?
The little bell of the elevator’s door rang announcing they had reached the floor. Jeongguk opened the door and allowed the elder to pass first when something fell from his notebook without him to realize. The younger was about to yell something when he grabbed the lost item and stared at it.
It was his picture. The one Taehyung had taken of him when they were in Naha, on the back the date of their date and a little doodle of an ice cream cone. He was carrying it around like that.
He hadn’t imagined it, that day and all relative to Kim Taehyung was a reality that was somewhere hidden under layers of fake speeches and elusive eyes. But undoubtedly was there and if he had dig it out once, he could always achieved it twice.
As the music started playing, Jeongguk shyly approached to the microphone. He had a feeling of déjà vu from the first night and he tried to refresh the image on his head of what had happened that night.
He was confused and a bit disoriented, everything was too fast and in front of him a crowd of people had posed their eyes on him, judging every move he made and every word that came out of his mouth.
Maybe he was right and all those songs were shallow and almost automatic for his taste but not a single ballad that was meant for Taehyung had that nature. All those magical words that came from someone else’s mouth had a moment and a meaning in their context.
I know I stand in line, until you think you have the time
to spend an evening with me
The lines came out so naturally off his mouth that the entire salon was summited into a wave of silence like an auditorium ready to hear the sermon. But Jeongguk’s voice still had something that reflected the timidity of someone who had been recently hurt.
…and if we go someplace to dance, I know that there's a chance
you won't be leaving with me
Taehyung was somewhere inside that room and he knew deep down he was going to receive the message loud and clear. He was singing his lungs off and music had always had a magic charm people weren’t able to run away from, after all, there wasn’t a single human soul that had ever been immune to a captivating song.
And afterwards we drop into a quiet little place
and have a drink or two
and then I go and spoil it all, by saying something stupid
like: «I love you»
Jeongguk waited and tried to locate the elder with his eyes until, there they were, a pair of almond brown eyes that were stuck on his.
I can see it in your eyes, that you despise the same old lies
you heard the night before
and though it's just a line to you, for me it's true
it never seemed so right before
He didn’t move. The butterflies on his stomach were paralyzed with fear, he kept wondering if he was doing the right thing by insisting once again. And then when his hope was starting to decay, a halo of light invaded the place.
In the moment he caught his eyes looking for his face.
Then he saw it. A single tear scrolling down Taehyung’s cheek, he was crying. Then he disappeared of the scene as the boy finished the song.
The time is right
Your perfume fills my head
The stars get red
And oh, the night's so blue
And then I go and spoil it all
By saying something stupid
Like: «I love you»
Jeongguk looked around but he didn’t spot the boy who had gained his affection anywhere. He just sighed and walked towards his room after finishing his shift. And then, when he was not paying attention to his steps, he saw Taehyung, lying against the wall next to the door of his cabin.
He didn’t say a word after being spotted. His eyes were swollen and redden.
“Can we talk?” He mumbled so softly his words seemed to be delicate enough to be broken.
“Not here.” He titled his head pointing the younger’s room.
The singer gulped but then he turned the key on the lock and opened the door.
“What…?” Jeongguk begin but he was quickly cut.
Taehyung dropped his shoes and climb to the bed, before the younger could even react to it, he was completely covered by the sheet.
“Come here.” He called for him.
Jeongguk took off his shoes and proceed to do as he had requested. He found the elder laying face up with the white sheets falling on his face. He cocked his head towards Jeongguk and opened his mouth to speak.
“When I was a child I was scared of thunderstorms and my father once told me nothing bad would happen to me under the sheets of my bed. I guess it’s a habit.”
“Silly boy.” Taehyung shook his head and smirked. “Why you had to fall in love with me?”
The question had caught the singer off guard.
Taehyung lifted his gaze and stared for a long minute to all his factions. Jeongguk couldn’t concentrate to formulate a coherent sentence while having the boy’s dark brown eyes looking at him as if he was going to pierce his soul at any second.
“Because… I love to sing and there’s no one else I want to sing to.”
Taehyung was breathing heavily again.
“Can I ask you a question? Why you keep trying to push me away? Did I do something wrong?”
“No, you did everything perfectly… too perfectly. I’m the one whose life is a mess. I've yold you...” His voice broke during the last second.
“Tae? What is it?” The younger inquired.
“No, you wouldn’t… I don’t want you to deal with this. It’s not your fight. You’re not with me to be involved into problematic things. I’m sorry.” He avoided the other boy’s gaze.
“Are you crying? Tae, look at me. Please?”
Taehyung sobbed a few times.
He wiped away the tears that were scrolling down the sides of his eyes before speaking again. “I’ll tell you everything. That note I received in the restaurant was from Seoul, and it was from my older brother. He… he’s in trouble again, always liked to gamble and waste his life but right now he owes much money to some dangerous people and he needs my help. He has a daughter, my niece whom I love the most and those thugs are threatening him to hurt her and my sister in law… And I need money… all I can get.”
“And why in the world you thought I would react badly to that?”
“Because… My family is not the best and with that background I would understand you wouldn’t want to spend time with me… I’m ashamed of it and you have a brilliant future as a singer, all I would do is going to be holding you back.”
“Silly boy. You imagined that all by yourself? In case you haven’t noticed yet, I don’t want to be with you just to be physically with you, I want to be with you, in every sense of the phrase.”
“Do you?” There was something on his voice that Jeongguk recognized right away.
“Of course I do. Ah. What can I do? You’re handsome even when you cry. Please don’t, you can talk to me about anything. I’m willing to listen.”
“Also… I guess I’m scared because I used to be with… ugly people from my brother’s environment, Jeongguk. And I didn’t like who I was when I was with them, they didn’t treat me right and you appeared out of nowhere with your velvety voice and your generosity, your romantic gestures… you.”
“You don’t have to go back there. I’ll help you.”
“God I wish my brother’s wife had left him already. He doesn’t deserve to be the head of a family.”
“It’s okay, Tae. There must be a way out of this.”
“Thank you. And… I’m sorry, I was being an idiot, you didn’t deserve such treatment.”
“You’re right. I didn’t.”
“But I forgive you.”
“I like you Jeon Jeongguk but you should stop singing songs to me from a distant stage and start singing closer to my ear instead.”
“Right now?” The younger asked still in awe.
Taehyung just nodded.
Jeongguk intoned then, with a raspy mumbling, a song that turned into a lullaby and a ballad at the same time. When the melody decreased, the singer found the elder was still observing him, his pupils had expanded twice its size. Then Jeongguk understood that was the way he always looked at Taehyung, in the moment of realization his chest exploded from an agitated heartbeat.
“Your voice is angelic.” Taehyung declared under the comfortable warmness of the white sheets.
“I like you too. A lot.” Jeongguk needed the words off of his chest and on his lips or it might have blown up.
The spontaneity of the younger gave Taehyung a genuine round of giggles. He ended up pulling him from his shirt neck and placing a sweet kiss on the boy’s forehead.
“Oh.” Jeongguk felt the burning mark on his skin.
Taehyung lifted an eyebrow. “You don’t look happy about that.”
The dark haired boy blushed furiously. “It’s just…” He didn’t want to say he was expecting more, when he actually was; that would ruin everything.
“I’ll try again.”
This time, Taehyung cupped his face with his slender tan fingers and with no rush, as he had all the time in the world, he kissed the corner of his mouth, then the top of his cupid’s bow without touching the rosy skin of his plumped lips. Again he took some distance to contemplate the singer’s fascination and devour all of it, after that, he allowed the clash of their mouths. It was gentle at first, so fragile any disturb could break it but when Jeongguk finally felt his knees had stopped shaking he entry to the whole experience of kissing Kim Taehyung with his mouth fully opened.
They filled the silences with one action that concatenated it all.
Breathless, with a thin coat of shiny sweat covering their foreheads, the younger removed the sheet in desperate need of air for his lungs.
“I’ve been intending to do that… for so long.” Taehyung confessed with remorse.
Jeongguk bit his lip hard enough to make it bleed. As their feet tangled still under the sheets, the younger got on top of the other boy; his mouth pursued the entrance of his lips and unlocked the secret code of his tongue. Taehyung plunged his fingers inside his locks and pulled his hair tightly until the space between them was reduced to the minimum, if they had been a little closer they might have merged as one.
“You can’t just say things like those and don’t expect me to do nothing about it.” Jeongguk’s mouth was dried as he breathed heavily.
“I think you might have dislocated my jaw.”
The younger burst into laughter after falling on his back on the mattress.
“I have to go.” Taehyung declared with no intention of leaving.
He threatened with standing up but failing terribly after Jeongguk grabbed his waist with both arms and attacked him back like only gravity would want it to. They exploded into a bubble of uncontrollably giggles.
Jeongguk traced the lines of his hands with his fingertips. “If I lull you to sleep, would you stay?”
And once again the younger intoned a sweet melody with no lyrics but the same feeling he put every time he sang.
The elder found his place on the world on the crook of his neck and closed his eyes while immersing into the melody that vibrated on the younger’s chest and gave him more comfort than the sheets of his childhood during the stormy nights. Jeongguk stroked his hair with delicacy with his fingertips. After a few minutes both of them had fallen asleep.
Under the sheets and with those arms around him, Taehyung was right, nothing could hurt him anymore.
“Tonight is movie night again, why don’t we go?” Jeongguk pressed his elbows on the counter of the bar.
Taehyung beamed when he spotted the younger’s vision.
“Well, hello to you too… talking about the devil.”
“You were talking about me?” Jeongguk clicked his tongue.
“Just how much I wanted to see you.” Taehyung stuck out his tongue.
That comment deserved a kiss, no matter how public and short was, stolen kisses in the light always were better.
“Get a room you two!” Sunmi yelled from the bar.
Just then they remembered there were actually more people inside the room.
“I don’t know, maybe we should. I have already watched Manhattan twice.” Taehyung purred on his ear then he proceeded to bite his tender earlobe.
“Yeah… her ideas are… really good.”
“I’ll close the bar with her and we’ll meet upstairs in… twenty?”
“Make it fifteen.” Jeongguk placed a quick hunger peck on his lips making the elder giggle.
“Wait for me.”
Then, and just then their hands separated.
And Jeongguk waited for fifteen minutes that turned into twenty and he thought it was normal but when thirty minutes had passed… he decided something was wrong. He couldn’t shake the feeling off his head. He climbed the elevator feeling uneasy, his hands were shaking and when he walked the hallway he noticed there was no one else awake.
It was passed midnight already.
The singer sneakily walked inside the salon where the dinner was held every night to find the light of the bar was the only one still on. Sitting on the only occupied seat there was a man Jeongguk had seen a few times before but since they had returned from Naha he had appeared more often in the dinning. Definitely he would say he didn’t match with the rest of the guests of that luxurious cruise ship.
He seemed to have the worse smoking habits because Jeongguk always found him smoking in the hallways no matter if there was a window nearby. His hands were always filthy and he frequently had dirt under his nails, his shaving wasn’t prolix and he had something repulsive surrounding him, he often covered his face with a hat or just avoiding people's gaze.
Then, under the disguise Jeongguk saw, the man that years ago, with clean clothes and a better haircut, had convinced him to invest all his money to become a singer. That was the swindler that had fooled him in Seoul.
Blood boiled under his skin as he got closer.
The shorten the distance got he realized he was holding a gun on his right hand and Sunmi held a tray with a glass of the most expensive Bourbon among all the other liquors served on it. He met Taehyung’s eyes that were full of fear just next to her. He shook his head in a way that went unnoticed by the ruffian.
“I got tired of waiting for my money; I want all the cash so I can flee from this obnoxious boat and all that refined people.” He spitted the words before grabbing violently the glass of golden liquid in front of him.
“I have already told you I will give you the exact amount as soon as we are back in Seoul. That’s where I have my savings.”
“I’m surprised you even have ten thousand of the grands with you in the capital.”
“Ten? Your note mentioned just eight.”
“It’s my commission, for expending all this time inside this sardine can hiding on the shadows, following you around in Naha.”
“I don’t have ten… I’ll need at least two more months to collect them.” There was panic on the bartender’s voice as he recognized the younger under the shadows.
Jeongguk took advantage of the conversation to approach slowly towards their direction. He didn’t know if the fear on the elder’s eyes were due the man holding the gun in front of him or for Jeongguk going closer to that awful situation they were into. That’s exactly why he didn’t want the younger to get involved in all that.
The man burst the glass on the counter without even blinking. Taehyung and Sunmi squealed due the thunderous noise Right after leaving no time to recovery, he jeered loud and irritably and lighted up a thick cigar.
“Do you think I have time for this? Have you seen the people around in here? There’s money overflowing everywhere.”
“Are you suggesting me to rob someone to pay you?”
“It won’t be as low as the things your brother has done for a few grams of glass.”
“You told me you weren’t selling him drugs again. We had a deal.”
Taehyung clenched his fists at his sides.
“We also agreed you’ll pay me in time and form but here we are, aren’t we? Damn you should use that time you spend getting lovey dovey with your little boyfriend to squeeze those riches some juice.”
“Fuck you, Wonsang.”
“Watch your mouth, filthy bastard. You’re lucky your father is a respectable man otherwise you’d have a shot in your head already.” He shouted with full insolence intended. “Now pour me more whiskey you, baby doll.” He winked at Sunmi who had to contain her wish to gag.
Curious how people could change so much after just a few years.
When Jeongguk had met Hwa Wonsang he spoke like a visionary, he was so well disguised he would never had guessed he was a swindler until it was too late. He had a prepared speech loaded of eloquence that sweetened ears and attracted deluded and naïve with facility, he made seem dreams and stars were within reach of a hand. He used to style his hair with a lot of gel that made it shiny and so fixed not even the strongest wind would disarrange it. Also, the man had an storage of suits as expensive as the ones the passengers of the cruise wore and gave him a «business» credibility.
However, two years after, he looked emaciated and neglected. His teeth were yellowish, stained with tobacco that Jeongguk instantly felt an emetic repulsion and no wish of ever touching a cigarette again on his life. His once lustrous greased hair was now a magpie’s nest with white locks everywhere and his expensive suits were full of holes.
Once again, he couldn’t help but thinking about the image he had of the city when he had arrived for the first time. Don't judge someone by their appearance.
“This isn’t cold as the last one.” He blurted out and grabbed Sunmi’s dark locks pulling them with strength and making the girl cried in pain.
Jeongguk tried to make the less noise possible, he wished he was as silent as little mouse, the nerves and the impulse of the growing rage against him. Without noticing he stepped on a loosen plank on the floor that grinded at a most inopportune time.
Wonsang turned around and it took him a few seconds to realize who was in the dark, however he had let go the woman’s hair and was already pointing at him with the stir.
“Well well… Look what the cat brought. What was your name? Wait, I’ll remember… Jeon.” He rubbed his forehead with the grip of the gun. “Jeongguk.”
Taehyung gulped. “You know him?”
“Of course I do, I told him he was going to be a star.”
“And then he ran away with all my money.” Jeongguk completed with bitterness on his voice.
“But you did well kid. You sound better than before I must say, you also have age a little no longer have that innocent face of yours it made me want to punch you.”
“Well? I lose it all after you left, I had to take hundreds of part time jobs in factories and bars to pay my meals. I won’t call that «well».”
The man extinguished the smoking cigar against the ashtray before jeering.
“Business is business, and if you didn’t learn it with me you were going to learn it sooner or later. Be thankful you were smart enough to give me the cash with no hesitation or maybe you wouldn’t be here right now.”
Jeongguk saw red. His nails were so pressed against his skin on his clenched fists it was going to leave marks of crescents on his palms. Of all the things the singer could ever forgive he was sure that wasn’t one, not especially with that rat boasting in front of his eyes.
“Let him and Sunmi go, he has nothing to do with this.” Taehyung kept looking nervously at the gun on his hand while biting the interior of his cheek to avoid screaming.
He wasn’t thinking clear when he lunged against the older man with one of those closed fists. It hit him so hard and surprisingly he needed a moment to process what happened and how he ended pulled on the floor. Even Jeongguk blanked out after punching him, it was like after that punch most of the anger was drained off his body and replaced with fear now he that he was charging the bullet, ready to turn the trigger.
“No!” Taehyung yelled and jump off the bar and tried to restrain his right arm.
The bartender received a violent poke on the stomach that left him immobilized. Then Wonsang grabbed the younger of the shirt and started punching him with no mercy on his face but flames on his eyes. Sunmi was frozen with her eyes wide opened and her soul paralyzed with fear.
When he stopped, he stood up and pointed the muzzle directly towards his direction.
“No! Please!” Taehyung started crawling but he was too far away from the scene, as he was out of the frame.
The sound of the mechanism of the gun was engraved on Jeongguk’s memory after hearing it for the first time. The sound of the trigger being pulling was also somewthing he was never going to forget, the din of the shot combined with glass being broken.
He was too scared to open his eyes and everything happened too fast.
The sound of the glass exploding was from a bottle of vodka that collided against the back of the head of the swindler, Jeongguk never knew if the crystal was too thin or if Sunmi hit him with so much fury and strength that she actually broke the bottle against his skull. Whatever was the case he only saw the woman, breathless, with the broken transparent bottle on her hands and horror painted all over her face.
With an extra confident tone she attempted to say. "I'm not your baby doll."
The next he remembered is Taehyung hugging him so hard he thought he was going to lose consciousness due the strong grip. At first, he didn’t understand why he was crying so much when the man was clearly unconscious on the floor and all of them were out of danger, but then he remembered the bullet had left the stir at some point and it was directed towards him.
There was something that didn’t fit. The bullet did hit him, didn’t it? Then why he wasn’t hurt at anyway? He had felt a light impact sticking his left pectoral before but he never expected it was a bullet. Apparently, a bullet had hit him but he never noticed since it hit something else.
He was carrying on the left pocket of his shirt the coin with the graven three three-leafed shamrocks and two flax flowers. The same he had flipped before ending on the cruise ship. The impact of the shoot was greatly diminished by his expensive gifted suit jacket and had knocked against the metal object, leaving a more or less dramatic wound but nothing that couldn’t be solved with a pair of bandages and some repose.
“Tae! Tae! Stop crying! Look at me! I’m fine!” He kept repeating while the boy trembled on his arms.
The singer kissed his temple a hundred times before he could break away from his chest.
“He shot you!” He kept crying with his cheeks wet as the rocks under a waterfall.
“But I’m okay, look!” He unbuttoned the top of his shirt showing off a bloody injury that wasn’t that deep to kill someone. “This… saved my life.” He held the coin proudly on his hand. It was a bit bent but just that.
Then Taehyung started cry again.
“Why are you crying now?!” The younger inquired.
“It’s just… I’m so happy… you’re not dead… because… you’re so hot and if you died I was never going to see you naked.” He spluttered while staring and subtly feeling his chest around the wound.
“I agree.” Sunmi said on the back, grabbing a bottle of the strongest whiskey on the storage and drinking a long sip directly from it. A Killer Queen with all the letters.
Jeongguk just shook his head and hugged him some more.
He couldn’t believe his luck; something he thought lost a long ago.
Or maybe it was something more…
The lights hanging on the trees twinkled like stars and the tables opened a path for the boy to walk through until he was right in front of Jeongguk. With his big eyes that contained all the secrets of the universe and all the costumes of the store but still that couldn’t trick a young soul’s in love heart.
We can beat them
Just for one day
We can be Heroes
Just for one day
He shamelessly stood up right in front of him while shaking his head in disbelief. Jeongguk wasn’t going to abandon his little songs not even after they claimed to be a thing.
And you, you can be mean
And I, I'll drink all the time
'Cause we're lovers, and that is a fact
Yes we're lovers, and that is that
The elder displayed a giant squared shaped smile.
Jeongguk had decided those were his favorites and he started seeing them more often those days.
Though nothing, will keep us together
We could steal time, just for one day
We can be heroes, forever and ever
What'd you say?
A week before, they had created some fuss that woke some of the guests, especially after hearing the sound of a bullet shot. Not much time passed until someone called the crew to take care of it.
Hwa Wonsang wasn’t dead but he had a hell of contusion. He was quickly apprehended by the cruise’s security and threw into a cell inside of it –they hadn’t used it since 1951- where he could rot until they were back in Seoul and the justice would decide what to do with him.
Sunmi was by far the most vainglory of the story. After all she was the one who stopped the bad guy that was holding a gun, and it wasn’t less. Now men who approached to the bar thought it twice before calling her «baby doll» and she enjoyed that as much as she enjoyed retelling the story every time.
Jeongguk, on the other hand, needed some stitching and Mrs. Lim had offered to do it herself, she didn’t even blink while doing it. Taehyung waited outside of his room biting his nails with GoGo sitting comfortably on his lap while hearing the younger complained about the woman’s lack of touch. Hyeri, the members of the band, the cook ladies and Mr. and Mrs. Choi with him, not wanting to miss any second of how the story proceeded.
However, that night was the first he was able to perform again, the wound had finally scarred and they had only a few more weeks in the ocean before arriving back to Korea and he wasn’t going to miss the chance of singing with the amazing band behind him, in front of the audience that at that point, knew the whole story and of course, his favorite smile in the world.
Jeongguk had been abducted by his boyfriend as soon as he climbed down the stage that night.
“People are staring.” Jeongguk whispered to his ear.
They were in the middle of the dance floor where a few couples shared their enthusiasm for dancing.
“Let them. I don’t care anymore.”
Taehyung crossed his arms on the younger’s neck and attracted him, he stared at his lips before pressing his mouth against Jeongguk’s. The younger never knew what warmness was until those lips joined his, he never knew what fly was until he felt his feet leaving the floor he was standing on and he never knew he could kiss someone in front of around two thousand strangers clapping without even realizing.
Oh, he liked him a lot indeed.
Three months later…
It was not polite to arrive late for a white veil occasion.
Especially when he was the guest singer for the wedding.
That’s why Jeongguk was relieved when he arrived and the bride and her husband hadn’t entered to the salon yet.
He looked at himself at the mirror once again. That was the first suit he had bought himself and the insecurity had invaded his body in the last minute. He had chosen a nice burgundy necktie at least; it matched the dark suit perfectly.
“Jeongguk!” Hyeri hugged the younger so tightly he almost sniffed a flower from her bouquet. “I’m so glad you could make it.”
“I wouldn’t miss it not even for all the money in the world, you look very beautiful.”
After the traditional ceremony the couple had decided to have a celebration for their closest friends and Hyeri had choosen to wear a draped short white shell dress with sleeves of the same length as the totality of the dress, along with a delicate veil and a baby breath’s flower bouquet. She looked radiant.
Next to her, her already husband who was introduced as Junyeol, he didn’t say much but he couldn’t stop looking at his wife with the eyes of a man deeply in love, which means a little bit stupidized translated as «moonstruck» for aesthetic purposes.
“I haven’t seen you in two months and… where is Taehyung?” She asked while looking above his shoulder.
“Oh, we split after we came back to Seoul.”
“What?!” Her eyes were as opened as if she had just been told she got married with a squirrel instead of a human.
“Yeah, I guess it wasn’t the same after we stepped on firm land.” He shrugged.
“But… just like that… what about… and…” She was so confused she almost had a collapse. “And how you can be like nothing had happened?!”
“Well, we ended in good terms and…”
“Sorry, I couldn’t find a better place to park the car… What happened to you?”
A boy with pretty brown eyes and long low eyelashes appeared for the party.
Just then Hyeri understood she had been fooled.
“Ya! Little brat, you’re not supposed to scare to death a newlywed bride. It’s rude!” She scolded the younger who was dying of laughter.
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I swear I just saw the opportunity and I had to take it.”
The girl wearing white threatened him with her fist aloft.
Taehyung was still puzzled, he blinked a few times. He was wearing a lighter suit with an ocean blue shirt; his hair was messily arranged in a way that only worked on him.
Jeongguk held his hand and both of them entered to the salon while the couple prepared for their great entrance. Meanwhile, both of them starting greeting friends from the cruise they hadn’t seen in a while.
After they landed several weeks ago, things had started falling into place.
Hwa Wonsang went to jail and was in process of being condemned after the police tracked a long history of crimes committed by him. Taehyung’s brother was exempted of his debt after that and he started a long tortuous path of recovery from his addictions, at least not everything was lost yet.
Jeongguk started working a few nights in one of Mr. Choi’s hotels in Seoul and one week something extraordinary happened and an agent offered her business card, she said the younger was good enough to sign a contract at the end of the month. Since then, both of them had had meetings with many discographies until one of them was the one.
He still worked in the hotel a few nights per week until his first album was ready since the place had the best sights of the city: a panoramic view from a remain window of the lights reflection on the river right next to them and a boy with tan skin and warm chesnut eyes who served drinks in the bar in front of him.
Taehyung had started working on his own photography project since he didn’t have the worries of his brother’s debts anymore. It was just the beginning but a new start always brought renewed energy and positivity and with that, the opportunity and success were around the corner.
Both of them had rented a nice cozy flat and slowly the place was looking more like theirs. Taehyung’s pictures hanging on the walls, Jeongguk’s vinyl’s records, GoGo who was undoubtedly part of the decoration before everything else. During the first month and after paying the first two months in advance they didn’t have extra cash to spend, and they slept on a mattress on the floor with no bed and no other furniture, at least they had cat.
The just married couple entered to the salon full of friends and family, claps and cheers, flower petals and confetti over flooded the environment in just seconds. After another round of congratulations the band united and the sound of the music invaded the place.
Jeongguk and Taehyung sat on one table with a few familiar faces ready to hear all the good news. Time flew as the conversation advanced and after dinning, the younger was invited to sing a song for the husband and wife.
Taehyung grabbed him from his sleeve and stole a quick kiss from his mouth before he had the time to climb to the stage.
“Let Hyeri know this is the only time I’ll lend you.”
“Let’s see… something blue, something old, something borrowed...”
The elder pressed his lips against his once again.
“I love you, you know?”
And then Jeongguk saw it all, the lights of the city he had dreamt of weren’t in a physical place, they were inside those eyes.
“I love you too. And even if there are many things I’m not sure about, where we will, whether violets will still be blue or even if the sun is going to rise in the morning but one thing is certain… All of this is not coincidence…”