Jeno is too busy watching Minhyung and Donghyuck across the street to notice the girl at the register holding onto his change. She clears her throat to get his attention. He snaps out of it quickly, sending a charming smile and an apology her way, making her cheeks blush a pretty rose red. Pocketing the change, he stacks the carton of milk atop his instant ramen and exits the convenience store, elbow to glass.
The cold air hits him like a brick to the face, but he’s unshaken, body already used to January’s wintry air. Jeno’s still watching them when he slides into the plastic seat clumsily, surprising his best friend when his knee rams against the table legs.
“Watch it,” Renjun murmurs over his own bowl of noodles, already tucking in. Jeno looks on disdainfully; he liked his noodles soggier, while Renjun liked them crunchier, eating them before they’re even properly cooked. “Hot soup near my face here.”
Jeno takes the milk carton into his hands, eyes back on one of his best friends across the street and his boyfriend (nearing seven months!). He watches Donghyuck brush the hairs from Minhyung’s eyes, looking delicately concerned, and Minhyung waves him off with a small smile. Donghyuck folds his arms in defiance, but grins begrudgingly when Minhyung kisses him on the cheek.
Jeno sighs loudly, kicking the legs of Renjun’s chair,
“I want that.”
Renjun blows on his noodles, unbothered, “Go buy it then.”
“No,” Jeno kicks him again. Renjun looks up with a glare, noodles close to his lips. Jeno jerks his chin, and Renjun follows his line of sight to look at Donghyuck wrapping his arms around Minhyung’s neck lovingly, “Something like that.”
“What are you talking about,” Renjun mutters, turning to take a big bite of his meal. Pulling the milk carton open, Jeno pokes a straw into the opening, sipping thoughtfully.
He wanted whatever Minhyung and Donghyuck had. Love, or maybe not quite that yet, but definitely something stronger than just infatuation. Something that could pull Jeno to the ground with a mere thought; the way Minhyung smiled whenever he mentioned Donghyuck during track practice, or the way Donghyuck flushed whenever he locked eyes with Minhyung in the halls.
High school romance, was it? Fleeting, maybe, but never so in the moment, never to its victims. There’s more to the world after high school, Jeno knows that. But he wanted something now, he wanted someone to be with, someone to care for. Short lived or not, Jeno wanted to know what it felt like to be in love. And, if he was lucky enough, maybe so much as to find his one true love, someone that would be with him for the rest of his life.
When he says this aloud to Renjun, the boy scoffs, “You mean like a soulmate? At seventeen?” He jabs at a previously dehydrated fishcake, “You do know there are a billion people in the world, right?”
Jeno purses his lips. There Renjun goes again, always so pragmatic with things like love. In all their ten years of friendship, Renjun has only really had one person he was interested in (in freshman year), and he didn’t even bother telling Jeno about it. He had to find out from Donghyuck who let slip that Jaemin was told that Renjun had a secret crush, and when Jeno tried to confront Renjun about it, he merely rolled his eyes and walked away, saying it was nothing worth his concern.
It turned into one of the biggest arguments they’d ever had; Jeno insistent that it was his concern, and Renjun not at all relenting to Jeno’s insistency on knowing who it was. They’d only gotten past it when Donghyuck sat Jeno down and told him simply to Butt out of it. It irked Jeno, not knowing who his best friend was crushing on, but he abandoned the motivation to find out who it was when Renjun refused to speak with him for an entire week. Other than that, Renjun has never mentioned anyone else. Jeno figures that romance just wasn’t one of Renjun’s priorities in life.
Still, he is Jeno’s best friend, and Jeno was going to spontaneously combust if he didn’t talk to someone about it.
“I know that,” he says defensively. “I just want a relationship, like the ones you see the movies? Ever seen ‘The Notebook’?”
Renjun bites into the fishcake, “No. Ever seen ‘Titanic’? He dies in the end.”
Jeno peels free the aluminium flap of his ramen bowl, revealing soggy noodles (to which Renjun grimaces), “That’s morbid.” He picks out the fishcakes to toss them into Renjun’s bowl; Renjun liked them, Jeno didn’t mind giving them away. “Anyway, it’s a love story. I want something like that, a relationship, you know?”
Renjun asks flatly, “Are you just being sappy because Valentines’ day is coming up?”
There was that. Also, New Years’ always made Jeno feel all kinds of melancholy.
“No,” he says, airing the noodles, cooling them down. Renjun would dismiss the conversation if he admitted it. “I mean, what if I don’t find anyone?”
“You’ll find someone,” Renjun shrugs, eating one of the fishcakes Jeno’d tossed over. “You’re still young, I’m sure you’ll find someone in college.”
Jeno sighs, “I don’t want to wait until college! Imagine going through high school without ever having a relationship?”
“A lot of people don’t have relationships in high school,” Renjun points out. “Or in life, even. It’s not a big deal.”
“I know,” Jeno takes his first bite, and it’s hot, soothing in the cold afternoon. He chews quick to speak again. “But I want one.”
“Then go find someone,” Renjun looks down at his noodles, swirling the leftover bits of scallions and noodles. “There are hundreds of people at school, take your pick.”
“It’s not that easy,” Jeno clicks his tongue. “Where would I find my soulmate that easily? How, even.”
Renjun bounces his knee, “Sometimes you just have to look at what’s right in front of you.”
Again, Renjun being all introspective. It’s things like these that gets Jeno moderately frustrated. Renjun never says what he’s thinking or what he wants point blank. There’s always manoeuvring and decoding needed when it came to Renjun. Sure, Jeno’s gotten the hang of it (he thinks), but he’s worried for Renjun too.
What if he never found his soulmate?
“C’mon,” Jeno groans, and Renjun glances up. His hand breaches the distance between them, and Jeno already knows he’s moving to swipe at whatever’s on the corner of his lips. It happens so often that Jeno doesn’t think anything of it. His fingers are cold, but Jeno lets Renjun thumb at his lower lip anyway, flicking the bit of noodle into the trashcan behind him.
Jeno continues, “Who would date me, seriously. My longest relationship so far was, what? Six days? Remember? Jeonghwan?”
Renjun snorts, “Yes.”
“I still don’t know what I did wrong.”
“Well,” Renjun arches a brow. “For one, coming to the art exhibition instead of going to her singing recital was probably a bad idea.”
Jeno glares at him, “I went to that art exhibition because you slogged over that oil painting for two weeks! Donghyuck would’ve killed me if I missed that.”
Renjun looks across the street, “Yeah, he would’ve.”
“Besides,” Jeno sniffs. “You got all those good compliments that day, it would’ve sucked if I missed that.” He doesn’t mention that the smile Renjun was sporting when he’d walked through the doors to the exhibition hall was one of the brightest Jeno’s ever seen. Renjun taps his fingers on the table. “And,” Jeno rolls his eyes. “Jeonghwan was horrible at singing.”
Renjun laughs, “She was.”
“Yeah, so,” Jeno continues to eat. “It’s not easy.”
“Maybe you just need to practice, or something,” Renjun shrugs, getting up to clear his styrofoam bowl.
Jeno blinks at the suggestion, I never thought of that. Come to think of it, that could’ve been the issue all along; Jeno never thought himself to be terribly good-looking, but he’s received enough compliments to know otherwise. Surely, it’s got to be something he’s doing wrong.
“What, like a crash course on how to date someone?” Jeno asks when Renjun sits back down, intrigued at the thought.
“I don’t know, I guess?” Renjun exhales loudly. “If you’re so hard up for it.”
Jeno kicks him, and Renjun flicks him on the shoulder in retaliation, “I’m not hard up for anything.” A moment of silence, “Think Donghyuck would let me date Minhyung?”
“Think Donghyuck would kill you if he ever heard you even thought of that,” Renjun snickers.
“Who would date me?” Jeno bemoans, giving up on his meal. Renjun takes a swig from his milk carton, seemingly in equal quiet contemplation. When he has no answer, Jeno flops back in his seat dramatically, “No one would date me. And I mean, something that’d last for more than six days, please.”
“I’m sure – ”
“Would you date me?” Jeno trains his eyes on the colourful umbrella above them; red, green, yellow.
He lifts his head lazily. Renjun is staring at him, bewildered, and maybe a little queasy, “See! Even you wouldn’t date me!”
Renjun clears his throat, “I never said that.”
Jeno sits up, “You would date me, right?”
“Sure,” Renjun puts the milk carton down, eyes on Jeno’s unfinished lunch. “If you say so.”
“I think you could do better than me though,” Jeno slinks in the chair again, long legs sprawled all over the place. He digs his heel into a pile of hardened snow, sniffling noisily. “What about you? Anyone you’re interested in?”
It’s probably considered borderline taboo for Renjun to be talking about it, but Jeno needs to know if he’s about to propose what’s on his mind.
“No,” Renjun laughs darkly.
Jeno frowns, suspicious, “You have someone on your mind, haven’t you!”
“No,” Renjun clicks his tongue, leaning away in his chair. “I don’t like anyone.”
“Good,” Jeno folds his arms across his chest.
Renjun glares at him, “What are you – ”
“Want to date me?”
Jeno doesn’t expect the weight of his words to hit him hard, but hearing it fall from his lips makes it feel like a ten-ton anchor. His heartbeat stutters, and he doesn’t attribute it to anything but the fact that asking someone out is always nerve-wracking, pretend or not.
Renjun, on the other hand, looks far from pleased, angry, even, “What are you saying, Jeno.”
It’s not even a question – a statement, more like. The ferocity in Renjun’s tone makes Jeno cower a little, but he stands his ground,
“Like fake dating! Practice, like you said, y’know?”
“With me!” Renjun hisses. Jeno doesn’t get why he’s getting mad, wasn’t he the one who suggested it?
“Who better with than you!” Jeno counters.
It made sense, theoretically.
He knew almost everything there was to know about Renjun, knew what he liked, disliked. Everything from head to toe, even if it were Renjun’s thoughts (he hated crowds and thought all subway stations should have art on the ceilings, like Grand Central) or a physical fact (he was allergic to peanuts and didn’t like to eat anything purple, like yam), Jeno was sure he knew better than no other.
“Come on, you don’t have to look disgusted,” Jeno rolls his eyes at Renjun’s frown and matching wide eyes. “Just for a couple of weeks, practice!”
“I’m not disgusted,” Renjun trains his expression to look at Jeno impassively. “I just don’t want to be involved in some weird game with you, I – ”
“Oh, c’mon,” Jeno pouts, a look he knew Renjun would falter under.
Renjun’s eyes soften almost immediately, “What if things become weird between us?” he sighs loudly. “I don’t want to – to ruin the friendship, Jeno.”
“We’ve been friends for ten years, I’m sure we’ll be fine,” Jeno insists, sensing the way Renjun was succumbing to his pleas. As always. “Also,” he adds, “wouldn’t that mean it’d be easier to, I don’t know,” he shrugs, “do like, date-y things?”
The frown on Renjun’s face is back and it seems to be engraved perpetually, “Like what?”
Jeno blanks. What did people do while they went on dates? He knew Minhyung’d brought Donghyuck to the movies on their first date to watch that new Marvel film Donghyuck was going on and on about; Donghyuck’d brought Minhyung to a breakfast place on their second date, the only place that served chicken and waffles, Minhyung’s favourite.
“I mean,” Renjun punctuates the silence. “If we’re going to do this, we’ll have to do this right, right?”
Jeno blinks, “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know,” he thumbs the buttons on the side of his phone, sounding exasperated. “Like, you have to walk me home after school?”
Minhyung did that too. Jeno tilts his head in question, “Why don’t you walk me home?”
Renjun stares at him in disbelief, “I can do that, if you want.”
“I was just kidding,” Jeno scoffs, waving him away. “I walk you home most of the time anyway, that doesn’t mean we’re dating though.”
Renjun is curious now, and Jeno triumphs at the thought of successfully hooking him into plan, “Going on dates, then?”
“Yeah, but where at?” Jeno raises his brows.
“You should plan one.” Renjun continues when Jeno’s mouth falls open to argue, “And I’ll plan one. Quid pro quo.”
Jeno squints, lips turning up into a mischievous grin, “Huang Renjun! Are you telling me that you’re ready to take me out on a date!”
Huffing, Renjun picks Jeno’s milk carton up, still half full, and tosses it into the trash can out of self-vengeance, “Worry about yourself, Lee Jeno.”
In all honesty, Jeno had nothing to worry about. He knew where he’d take Renjun on a date. Not that he’d thought about it in earnest before, but when he was planning out a date for a particularly picky boy, Jeno’s thoughts had drifted to how easy it would be to take Renjun out instead.
The art museum, an easy choice; Renjun was in the school’s arts’ program, and it’s no question that a date there would be perfect. The café on 12th street, decorated with cute trinkets and sweet cakes, both of which were Renjun’s favourite things. The zoo, even; Renjun liked animals, and his final art project last year revolved around the safari, another ideal date place.
Plus, Jeno thinks Renjun would look really cute if he’d bought him a pair of faux giraffe ears from the zoo’s gift shop.
“Are you saying yes to going out with me?” Jeno rests his elbows on the table, grinning at Renjun. He didn’t know why, but just the thought of going on a date made him excited. Maybe it’s just because it’s been long since he’s asked anyone out.
Only then does Renjun look up from staring at his hands, “As practice?”
“Don’t worry,” Jeno barks a laugh. “I won’t actually fall in love with you, okay?”
Renjun’s lip twitches as if it seemed like a factor he was actually worried about happening, Jeno thinks, before he says, “Okay.”
“Hah!” Jeno claps loudly. Then, his mind stops working. How were they going to do this? They couldn’t just up and become boyfriends in the next second. He thinks on his feet for an answer, “Wait right here.”
“Where are you going?” Renjun watches him as he prepares to leave.
His brilliant plan, “I’m going to buy something, and when I come out, we’ll just – start dating, yeah?”
Renjun shakes his head, “We need some ground rules first.”
Jeno sits back down, feeling doltish, “Okay, like what?”
“Like,” Renjun looks across the street to where Minhyung and Donghyuck are still talking, heads together, standing so close their parkas looked entwined. “Do you want the others to know?”
Oh. Was he worried about that? “I mean, if you’re not comfortable with it,” Jeno says quickly. “I’m fine with that, no one has to know about our practice relationship.”
“And, if we’re going to do this,” Renjun takes a deep breath. Jeno follows the way his chest rises and falls. “You’re going to have to stop referring to it as practice or fake, what if someone hears?”
The way Renjun tiptoed around the topic should’ve been a red flag, but Jeno’s mind is still on the idea of going on a date, thrumming with energy, “Alright, just… relationship. I’ll remember that. What else?”
Renjun’s ears are a bright red, and so are his nose and cheeks, but the thought of it being just thanks to the weather is kicked out of Jeno’s mind when he asks,
“What about kissing?”
“Kissing?” Jeno echoes.
He’s only ever kissed one girl and it wasn’t very good. It was at a park, and he was so nervous he’d missed her lips, knocking their chins together. It’s safe to say that maybe he did need some help in that department too.
Unwittingly, his eyes flit to Renjun’s lips, and they look nicer than the girl’s (Jeno can’t even remember her name, sadly). His upper lip is thinner than his lower one, fuller, but they’re a nice shade of pink, Jeno finds. They thin out even more whenever Renjun smiles endearingly without baring teeth, and it’s something he hasn’t seen Renjun do in the past half hour of their conversation.
“Yeah, kissing,” Renjun parrots, and Jeno can tell that he’s looking at his lips too. His tongue darts out to wet them subconsciously, and Renjun startles, looking away.
It’s a gut feeling that kissing Minhyung or Donghyuck or Jaemin wouldn’t be at all like kissing Renjun, so Jeno says,
“Why don’t we cross that hurdle when we get to it?”
Not a hard no, but it wasn’t a definite yes either.
He didn’t know what he expected of a reaction, but Jeno’s glad that it’s not met with disagreement. Renjun nods slowly, “Okay.”
“Anything else…” Jeno racks his brain for more, but it appears that there was nothing else that he’d have problems with if he were to date Renjun. After all, they were best friends.
“I, uh – ” Renjun adjusts his sleeves to hide his hands in them. “I don’t think so.”
Jeno coughs, feeling nervous now that it’s seriously happening, “I’m going to go in there,” he jerks his thumb at the convenience store, “and when I come out here, we’re going to start our practice – ”
“Jeno – ”
“Right, right,” Jeno waves his arms between them, trying to erase that last bit. “I mean – we’re going to be boyfriends.”
It helped a little that Renjun looked about as nervous as he was feeling, “Okay.”
Standing for the second time, Jeno grabs his wallet off the table, “I’ll be right back.”
The store is warmer than the cool air swirling outside, but it doesn’t help Jeno in calming the jitters inside his stomach. He shuffles over to the candy aisle to pick Renjun’s favourite (it’s milk chocolate that looked and tasted like chocolate coated strawberries) out, and he swings by to grab two packets of disposable hand warmers.
“Would that be all?” The girl by the cash register asks politely, and Jeno nods, eyes looking out the store, suddenly having the need to have Renjun within his line of sight. He’s still waiting, Jeno’s heart does a little odd skip, looking down at his feet.
“Can I open these now?” Jeno lifts the hand warmers as the girl rings them up. “I want to warm them up for, uh,” it shouldn’t even be bothering him, it’s just practice, isn’t it? His neck tickles anyway, “my boyfriend.”
The girl’s eyes widen for a fraction of a second, and then she’s nodding, a gentle smile on her lips.
Hastily, Jeno rips them open, rubbing them with both hands to get them warm quickly. After a moment, they start to work, and he pays for his purchase without waiting any longer. He’s so excited that words aren’t enough express just how much, even Jeno’s baffled at himself. Taking a deep breath, he grabs the chocolate and clutches the hand warmers in his hands before going back out to brave the cold again.
Jeno doesn’t know what, but it changes.
The breath he breathes, the step he takes, the moment Renjun looks up from his phone. The way Renjun is looking at him when he pushes the door open is… new. It stuns him, the way Renjun’s eyes catch his, and his lips part the same instant. Jeno’s hand is frozen on the handle, and he’s letting cold air flood the warm store, but it’s far from any of his present concerns.
It’s different, something is different, Jeno feels it down to his core, but he doesn’t know what.
Renjun watches him carefully as he shuffles back to their table.
“Hi,” is what Jeno says, which is not at all what he intended (maybe a joke or a pick-up line, he didn’t know).
Renjun bites on his lower lip, “Hello.”
It’s awkward. Painfully awkward. They’ve never exchanged greetings like this, oftentimes even forgoing greetings. Being best friends was their forte. Boyfriends? Not so much.
See, Jeno thinks inwardly, grabbing the chair he was previously in as if he’s never seen it in his life, This is why I need to practice.
Sticking the hand warmers out, he tries to smile, “For you.”
“Oh.” There’s some colour on Renjun’s cheeks. Pink. Warm. “Thank you – you didn’t have to.”
When their hands brush, Jeno feels the spark in his heart. His fingers close around Renjun’s hand, and he sits back down, “It’s alright. I wanted to.”
Renjun looks absolutely mortified, it should be comical, but it’s only a second later that his hand grabs Jeno’s back, the hand warmer between their clasped hands, “Thanks.”
“So,” Jeno clears his throat, forgetting all about the candy in his jacket pocket. “Got any art projects you’re working on?”
The new term had only begun several days ago, and Jeno hadn’t had the chance to ask Renjun so. Art students were given one massive project to work on during the term, and though Renjun’s had no problem tackling them with expertise, but Jeno hadn’t heard him talk about it yet.
“Yeah,” Renjun says quietly.
On instinct, Jeno, in his seat, still holding on to Renjun’s hand, hops closer until their chairs collide. He rests Renjun’s hand in his lap, other hand grabbing onto it as well, warming himself up.
“Sorry,” Jeno murmurs sheepishly at Renjun’s look of bewilderment. “I couldn’t hear you. You were saying?”
“Uh,” he looks at their hands, and then back at Jeno. “It’s just a new assignment.”
Jeno thinks this new Renjun is pretty cute.
Or was it because he’s never seen Renjun all flustered before? Was he only like this around people he liked? Was this how he was on dates, if he’s ever been on one? Renjun would have no problem finding someone then, Jeno’s sure. He was never like this in front of Jeno.
It’s refreshing, as if Renjun’d finally let loose a part of himself that Jeno hadn’t quite taken notice to.
“What’s it about?” Jeno probes when Renjun falters at continuing the conversation.
“It’s, uh,” Renjun’s voice is small. “It’s supposed to be a portrait of someone important in your life.”
Jeno briefly thanks the higher powers above for placing him in the sports program; he wouldn’t know how to go about making art, forget just thinking about it, “That’s pretty cool.” When Renjun is back at looking at their hands as if he’s looking at a dog with three heads, Jeno continues, “Anyone in mind?”
Renjun inhales sharply, eyes now up at Jeno. His brown hair is peeking out from under his yellow beanie, and Jeno’s fingers itch to brush them out of his eyes, “I was thinking of my grandfather, or my mother, maybe.”
Jeno hums, getting more comfortable by the second. It’s never been this easy on dates, he’s usually the one with the bundle of nerves wrung tight in him. This was different. Renjun was different. (He’s always been different.)
“What about you?” Renjun asks, leaning back into his seat slowly. “Any competitions?”
“No,” Jeno sighs, and the white puff of air surrounds them. “We’re just training for the summer ones, but there are new training days this term.”
“Oh?” Renjun barely looks concerned with their interlaced fingers now. “Why the change?”
“Yeah,” Jeno kicks at the solidified snow under their feet. Renjun edges a piece back to his side. “They’re on Tuesdays and Fridays now. Coach Choi has new commitments on Thursdays,” he rests their hands on his torso. “Probably to coach State runners.”
Renjun nods, “Are you going for practice tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” Jeno takes the risk, and he leans onto Renjun’s shoulder. He waits for Renjun to move away, but he doesn’t. “I’m pretty worried, I haven’t ran since Christmas break.”
Renjun shifts to let Jeno rest his cheek comfortably, “You’ll be fine. I’ve seen you run, you’re pretty fast.”
“You’ve seen me run?” Jeno will never pass the chance to tease Renjun, dating or not, pretend or not. “You’ve noticed me before this date?”
It takes a moment, but Renjun gets the joke eventually. Jeno thinks he’s going to be met with a sarcastic retort, so he’s thoroughly taken aback when Renjun’s voice drops to a murmur,
“I’ve always noticed you.”
Jeno’s heart, oh, Jeno’s heart. Is it even beating anymore? He tacks a mental note to tell Renjun that he’s perfectly great at flirting (or whatever it was they were doing), that he didn’t even need practice.
Unwilling to be the only one with a thundering heart, Jeno lifts his head, leaning so close to Renjun, their noses just inches apart. Renjun sucks in a deep breath, eyes shaking as they drop to Jeno’s lips, then back up.
Jeno grins, satisfied with the reaction, “Maybe you should come watch me during trainings too.”
Renjun blinks slowly, “Okay. I will.”
“You can wait by the stands, it’ll be pretty empty,” Jeno resumes his position on Renjun’s shoulder. “I’ll come get you after class?”
“I’ll be in the art room,” Renjun’s hand is warm in his. Hand warmer or not. “Donghyuck and I have to go out for art supplies, but we could have lunch together?”
Jeno smiles to himself, “I’d like that.”
They sit in silence, and it’s freezing cold, but Jeno feels warm. This. Exactly this. This is what he wanted. It happens so quick, so easily with Renjun, everything falling into place like it’s meant to be. It is, perhaps, all thanks to the fact they were best friends, and Renjun’s willingness to constantly go along with Jeno’s out-of-the-box ideas. Jeno wishes it were this easy with his past dates, but he’s never been on a date quite like this.
Renjun’s hand in his feels right, and his cheek on Renjun’s shoulder feels even more so.
It lasts for minutes more, until Renjun breaks the silence with a sheepish announcement of how he has to get home to start on another assignment.
“I’ll walk you home,” Jeno stands, their hands finally parting. He picks his backpack up, clearing his half-eaten lunch and the rest of their rubbish.
“You don’t have to.” For the first time in the past hour, Renjun smiles. He reaches for his art bag (a black messenger bag with his bulk of brushes, paints, sketchbooks, and other things), but Jeno grabs it first, slinging it onto his shoulder. “I can carry that myself, it’s – ”
“No, no,” Jeno hands Renjun his own backpack (the one with textbooks). “Boyfriend duties, I got this.”
Renjun stares at him with incredulity, but the smile on his face is growing. It makes Jeno smile too, “Thanks, then.” They tuck the chairs back under the table, and Jeno’s about to reach for Renjun’s hand again when he says, “Should we tell them we’re leaving?”
He’s referring to Minhyung and Donghyuck clearly, still deep in conversation, even though they’re standing on slippery pavement surrounded by snow. Distantly, Jeno thinks he could do that with Renjun too. They never ran out of things to talk about, and holding Renjun’s hand was child’s play for him now.
“Probably not,” Jeno takes Renjun’s hand, intertwining their fingers. Renjun doesn’t seem as distressed about it as he did earlier, “Donghyuck would kill us if we interrupted something important.”
“That’s true,” Renjun sniffs, commencing the start of their way back home. Renjun’s place is only two streets down from Jeno, so it’s always been ritual for them to walk home together, but it’s different today.
Jeno’s mind can’t stop turning the word around, different, different, different. There’s no other word for it, the change is so subtle, but at the same time, it wasn’t.
It was like a cup on a table. And the cup remained on the table every single day. But today, today, the cup is in Jeno’s hand. It’s still a cup, still blue, or maybe pink, or maybe white, or green. It’s still a cup, the same as always, the same as ever. It’s still a cup, and Jeno thinks it might be because he’s never seen this cup this close. Never regarded the cup in the way he was now. Never thought this cup would ever be in his hand, that it’d remained on the table forever. Did he ever want the cup in his hand? Did it even matter? When he was going to have to put the cup back on the table at some point?
“ – that, right? Jeno?”
Jeno is lost in his thoughts, growing by the second. Renjun studies his confused demeanour with curiosity, “Sorry, what?”
“It’s nothing,” Renjun sidesteps a strip of sleet, bumping into Jeno’s arm. “What were you thinking about?”
There’s no way Jeno was going to admit aloud he was thinking of Renjun as a cup, of all things, “Just about – training, tomorrow.”
“You’ll be fine,” Renjun squeezes his hand reassuringly, but it doesn’t explain why Jeno feels the squeeze around his heart too. “What do you want to have for lunch tomorrow? You should have some carbs or something, to pile up on energy?”
“I don’t really eat much before trainings,” Jeno shrugs. Being too full always made him nauseous during runs, especially since he ran long distances. “Why don’t you decide on a place?”
Renjun tugs on his arm, and they bump together again, “At least have a bite?” The concern in his voice is sweet. It makes Jeno melt. “What about that Chinese place nearby school? It shouldn’t be too busy by then…”
It wasn’t his favourite cuisine, but he’d be lying if he said he’d never craved those steamed dumplings once or twice before. Renjun was the one who’d introduced him to them, and Jeno’s never really ever gone for Chinese food without him.
“Should I get Donghyuck to join us?” Renjun wonders aloud.
It would make sense to, Jeno knows, but then it wouldn’t be a date. Donghyuck would definitely bring Minhyung along since Minhyung had track practice too, and Jeno wouldn’t be able to do anything with Renjun. He catches himself at the thought; not that he was planning on doing anything, but…
He rids the idea, settling with finality, “It wouldn’t be a date if we asked them along, right?”
Renjun stops in his tracks, and Jeno does too, “Would that count as a date?”
Jeno thinks Renjun might look different today too, the curve of his eyes, the slant of his nose, “If you want it to?”
He thinks it over, “You’ll have to plan the second date then.”
“Sure,” Jeno has no qualms about that. “Are you free on Saturday?”
They resume their pace back home, “I think so.” Renjun looks at the ground, contemplating. “Where are we going?”
The weather’s too cold for the zoo, and the café, while a good idea, seemed underwhelming as Jeno’s first date choice – the city just opened a new arts’ museum uptown. That should be perfect.
“It’s a secret,” Jeno smacks his lips.
Renjun frowns immediately, “You’re not going to tell me?”
“Nope,” the element of surprise thrilled him. “You’re going to just have to wait to know where we’re going.”
“What?” Renjun yanks on his hand in objection. “How would I know how to dress then?”
Jeno glances down at Renjun, “You don’t have to worry about that,” he smiles, “You look great now, even.”
Renjun’s cheeks are so red, Jeno didn’t think it’d be possible with the freezing weather.
“I – uh, I meant, were we going to be outdoors or indoors? Like how to dress, uh, temperature wise.”
Embarrassment hits Jeno in the gut, and he laughs nervously, “Right, right, I knew that, of course.”
Renjun breaks into a smile, raising a brow, “Sure…”
“Uh,” Jeno thinks his cheeks are going to fall off from all the smiling he’s been doing. “Dress for indoors.”
Renjun makes an impressed hum, “Indoors, huh? That sets an expectation, you know?”
The modest double story house belonging to the Huangs come into view just as Jeno laughs, dripping with sarcasm, “Ha ha, funny. I’ll have you know my expectations for tomorrow are set high too.”
Renjun rolls his eyes, “You’ve nothing to worry about, we’re going to be in my territory tomorrow.”
Jeno scrunches his nose, happiness fizzing in him. He follows Renjun up the pathway to the double doors, white oak with gold handles and frosted glass. He’s been in there a few times, but not often, since Renjun was almost always over at his place instead.
Turning on his heels, Renjun looks down at Jeno. He looks expectant, awaiting, like he wanted Jeno to – do it? No, it’s too quick for that, even if we are best friends.
Fighting his internal turmoil takes longer than he realises, and Renjun raises an eyebrow in question. Suspense infuses into the cold air around them. Flustered, Jeno holds Renjun by the shoulder steady, quickly pressing a chaste kiss to Renjun’s cheek –
“Jeno!” Renjun squeaks, recoiling immediately, hands flying to his cheeks. He backpedals so quick that his back bumps into the front door noisily, making the frame shiver a sliver.
They stand in silence with bated breaths, anxious, worried they’d been heard. Thankfully, no one comes by, and it’s only when Renjun’s hands fall from his face that Jeno breathes again.
“Sorry,” the apology tumbles quick. “I just thought – you were waiting – I didn’t – ”
“My bag, Jeno!” Renjun’s cheeks are even redder now, if that was even humanely possible, eyes locked on his messenger bag on Jeno’s shoulder. “I was waiting for you to hand me my bag!”
Jeno hurries to thrust the bag into Renjun’s waiting hands, “S – sorry, I just thought – ”
“No, stop, it’s okay,” Renjun says, despite looking scandalised. He fiddles with the buckles on his bag strap. “I just – I didn’t expect you to kiss me, that’s all.”
“Sorry,” he whispers again. Renjun takes a deep breath, and Jeno stares at the top of his beanie, wishing he would look up. “I read the situation wrong, I – ”
Renjun does look up then, and Jeno doesn’t expect him to cover the distance between them so hastily. His lips are on Jeno’s cheek, eyelashes fluttering against Jeno’s temple. It lasts for a mere second before Renjun skitters to clamber into his own home, shooing Jeno away, telling him that he’ll text the boy later, shutting the door in Jeno’s face.
He stands there on Renjun’s front porch for a good five minutes, and then some, the feeling of Renjun’s lips still on the high of his cheek. The sound of a car’s exhaust drags Jeno back to reality, and he huddles back onto the main street, lest someone reports seeing him loitering around with a dumbfounded look on his face.
It’s a mess when he gets home, shedding his jacket off and shoving it carelessly into the coat cupboard. He knocks into the hallway table, haphazardly tossing his keys into the bowl. His shoes are left messily, and he’s sure to get yelled at for it when his parents get home from work, but right now, all he can think of is his phone buzzing in his pocket.
Rushing up the stairs, he fumbles all the way to his room and trips on his own feet thrice. He slams the door shut and jumps into bed, having no regard for his dirty self. He opens the packet of chocolates he’d previously bought for Renjun, eating them as he thumbs through his messages,
13JAN [18:29] renjun: sorry i freaked
13JAN [18:29] renjun: you just caught me off guard
13JAN [18:30] renjun: that’s all
13JAN [18:36] jeno: im sorry too
What would a boyfriend say? What would a boyfriend say! Jeno squirms when he hits send,
13JAN [18:39] jeno: but i liked it
When the message sends, he rereads it, groaning loudly. That is definitely not what a regular person would say. He’s lucky it’s just practice. Typing out another apology, Renjun’s reply makes his thumbs freeze,
13JAN [18:40] renjun: i liked it too
Jeno’s never screamed into his pillow, but he does today, loud and out of pure elation. He isn’t lucky it’s practice, he’s lucky it’s Renjun. Renjun who made everything easy, who always knew what to do, who knew Jeno inside and out too.
13JAN [18:42] renjun: i’ve dinner soon
13JAN [18:42] renjun: talk to you in school tomorrow?
He wished they could text all night, motivated with vigour now that he’s (maybe) getting the hang of things. But he knew Renjun had a policy about texting, that he reserved his evenings for his family and art and schoolwork. The only time he’d ever let Jeno call was when he broke up with Min Youngjin, and even then, Renjun was preoccupied with a painting assignment, not so much focused on Jeno’s heartbreak.
13JAN [18:43] jeno: yeah okay
13JAN [18:43] jeno: see you
When Jeno steps into school the next morning, he expects everything to go back to normal.
He walks down the hallway like he’s wearing a set of infatuation goggles; everything reminds him of Renjun – the plush on a girl’s backpack (Renjun likes plushies), the green pair of shoes on a boy (Renjun’s favourite colour’s green), the spot of brown hair and thin-framed glasses (It’s Renjun).
His feet stumble when the boy turns, looking down and around the hallway.
Is he looking for me?
He lets himself believe so, creeping up behind Renjun when he turns the other way, clamping his hands heavily down onto his shoulders with a soft boo!
Renjun yelps, shrugging Jeno’s hands off and spinning so instantaneously that it makes Jeno laugh, “Surprised?”
“Sorry,” Renjun glares at him, straightening the woollen sweater he’s in, a dark maroon. “Did me screaming not make the shock evident?”
“It did,” Jeno leans against the locker next to Renjun’s, grinning at the way his ears are already blushing red, as if it’s been red since yesterday. “Sorry, heh.”
“Almost makes me not want to give you your gift.” Renjun mutters it so lowly that Jeno would’ve missed it if he hadn’t been tuning literally every single cell in his body to Renjun’s words and actions.
“A gift?” Jeno straightens, leaning close to peer into Renjun’s locker, trying to spot any sort of box or bow. There are neat rows of files and books, stationaries and art supplies, rolls of cardboard paper and a bucket of dirty brushes, but no gift. “You got me a gift?”
Renjun huffs, blatantly ignoring Jeno. Narrowing his eyes, Jeno grabs onto the door of Renjun’s locker, huddling the shorter boy into the small triangle he’s formed between them.
Perplexed, Renjun twists around to glower up at Jeno, “What are you trying to do?”
“You got me a gift?” Jeno repeats, a smile growing on his face when Renjun fidgets in the tiny spot. “I would like to receive the gift, please, if you did get me one.”
Grumbling, Renjun rummages through his backpack, “You’re such a child sometimes, did you know that?”
“Yeah.” Before his mind works to filter his words, Jeno says, “But you like me anyway, right?”
Instead of an answer, Renjun holds out a card, four-by-four inches. It’s of stiff paper, textured shallowly in a pretty shade of cream. Jeno takes it excitedly, stepping back to let Renjun out of his temporary confinement.
Turning it over, Jeno’s breath catches,
It’s a neat drawing of a cat, animated with curves for its eyes, and a light shade of brown for its fur. The cat is sitting lazily, clawing at a pair of black and white running shoes with red accents, drawn to resemble the ones Jeno’s currently breaking through. Renjun’s unmistakable handwriting is written at the top, Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll do great!, complete with a tiny heart, coloured in blush pink.
A simple drawing, but Jeno recognises the style of it to be Renjun’s, the clean and confident strokes of the pen is not unfamiliar to him, having seen many of Renjun’s doodles.
“It’s nothing special,” Renjun clears his throat loudly, pulling his books from his locker. “I just wanted to make you something since we – ”
“I like it,” Jeno cuts him off, pressing the drawing to his chest. “You’ve never given me a drawing before.”
Renjun licks his lips. “You’ve never asked for one.”
He says again, “I like it.” Studying the cat closely, he notices that Renjun'd drawn on a white collar, his favourite colour, with a heart-shaped pendant hanging from it, coloured in pale gold. “I really like it, thank you.”
Renjun turns up to look at Jeno, the corners of his lips turning upwards. The hallway light catches Renjun’s brown eyes, and Jeno wants to kiss him again. His heart hammers at the thought,
“Can I kiss you?” Jeno is sure to ask this time. His voice doesn’t carry, and if it weren’t for the way Renjun startles, he would’ve thought it’d gone unheard. “Just the cheek?”
Renjun glances around, “Here?”
The book in Renjun’s hand is big enough to cover both their faces. Crowding Renjun back into their previous position, Jeno grabs the book, holding up to block any prying eyes.
“Can I…?” Jeno asks nervously. Nervous doesn’t even begin to cut it.
The silence is heavy, Renjun nods jerkily. And in a whisper, he adds, “You don’t have to ask next time.”
Jeno presses a kiss quick to his cheek, pulling away before anyone can question their questionable posture. He places the book back into Renjun’s hands, pursing his lips, “Ah, I didn’t get you anything though.”
“You don’t have to,” Renjun turns away, and Jeno thinks he’s seen more of Renjun’s reddened ears than anything else in the past twenty-four hours. “I just wanted to make you something.”
“Well, thank you,” Jeno grins, slotting it carefully into his history textbook. “I’ll be sure to keep it safe.”
Renjun makes a strangled noise, hands moving to take the rest of his books from his locker, sliding it shut softly. Jeno reiterates their plan to meet after school for lunch while walking Renjun to his class on the third floor, where the art program students worked. He takes hold of Renjun’s books and art supplies, balancing them with ease, despite Renjun’s insistence to carry them on his own.
“What kind of a boyfriend would I be if I didn’t carry them for you?” Jeno holds the bucket of paintbrushes further from Renjun’s reach.
“A less embarrassing one,” Renjun jabs him in the shoulder with a pointer finger, but he laughs as they round the corner of the empty stairwell. “My class is right by this exit, I’m pretty sure I can handle it, Jeno.”
Sighing exaggeratedly, Jeno hands Renjun’s things back to him, “See you later?”
Renjun’s arms are full of his things, but he looks at Jeno with contemplation. Rising on his tiptoes, Renjun kisses him on the cheek, “I’ll see you later.”
Jeno doesn’t stop thinking about it all the way back to his own classroom, not even when Jaemin prods at his ribs with a ballpoint pen, asking if he ran to school, because his cheeks are flushed scarlet.
“Jeno.” Jaemin waves his hand in front of his eyes, but they don’t seem to focus. “Jeno, you okay?”
Blinking his sight back to clarity, Jeno turns to look at Jaemin, concern expressed obviously.
He was a friend of Renjun’s from their gymnastic days in elementary school, or something, and he was then inducted into their little friend group, making them four (Minhyung didn’t really count since he was a year older, and they all inwardly thought he hung around with the rest of them just to get close to Donghyuck anyway). They bonded well over the sports program, but Jaemin played baseball, unlike Minhyung and Jeno, both runners for the school’s cross-country team.
“Yeah,” he drops his backpack to rest against the table beside him. “I was just thinking, sorry.”
Jaemin’s smile is blinding, as it always was, “Okay, I was actually wondering if you finished the math assignment? I’m stuck on question four, and Mrs. Jung’s on my ass about the upcoming tests…”
With enough willpower, Jeno pushes the image of Renjun smiling up at him out of his mind, and focuses on the full day of classes ahead of him.
Lunch couldn’t come any quicker. Break was spent with Minhyung and Jaemin discussing the physics of landing on a skateboard from thirty feet and above, but Jeno spent it looking around the cafeteria, wondering if the art students were assigned break too (they weren’t). Classes were particularly boring, and by the end of the school day, Jeno’s brain had jumbled the concept of tectonic plates and the inventions of Thomas Edison in an odd morph of both.
Saved by the bell, but not quite.
“Hey, over here.”
It’s Minhyung, leaning against the row of lockers just outside Jeno and Jaemin’s class. Being a year older, Minhyung is placed in the classroom two doors down from theirs, but that doesn’t deter the three of them from hanging out together whenever they can.
Jeno skids to a stop, intentions of rushing over to Renjun’s class successfully halted by the inquisitive stares of his friends, “Where are you going?”
“Lunch,” Jeno says easily. “I was going to find, uh, Renjun.”
Minhyung nods, “I’ll come with you. Donghyuck’s there too.”
“Let’s go for lunch together?” Jaemin dangles his baseball bat (he had a bag for his baseball gear, but thought it was cooler to just have the bat around him like a small-town gangster). “I have practice later too.”
Uh, Jeno can’t think of an excuse, “Okay.”
Minhyung and Jaemin dive back into their conversation, moving on to some other miscellaneous conversational topic, but Jeno zones out. His palms are sweaty, why are they sweaty? The flight of stairs feels like a treacherous mountain hike, until he steps into where he was standing this morning, where Renjun kissed him on the cheek.
“What are you doing?” Jaemin asks, stepping around Jeno’s frozen self to push the door open. “Are you okay? You’ve been spacing out a lot today.”
“Yeah,” Minhyung holds the door open for them. “What’s on your mind, Jeno?”
He doesn’t reply, because they’re greeted by bright decorations hanging from a giant notice board, streamers hanging from classroom to classroom, artwork displayed out on the walls. It looks so unlike the halls outside the sports program classes, which only had informational posters tacked onto brown notice boards, and trophy cases lining the walls.
The students from either program never really crossed paths during class periods, but it’s been a while since Jeno’s stepped into these halls, never really having a reason to since Renjun’s always the one seeking him out after school.
“Minhyung!” Donghyuck is by their side in an instant, kissing his boyfriend lightly on the lips, a familiar sight and greeting.
Jeno turns to look at the direction Donghyuck came from, spotting Renjun staring back at him almost immediately. He smiles giving his (secret) boyfriend a small wave, and Renjun motions for him to come over. In a trance, he complies, hoping Jaemin and Minhyung are busy enough with Donghyuck’s presence to distract them from the lack of his.
“Hey,” Renjun smiles, biting on his lip adorably. Jeno feels the blood pump faster in his heart. There’s a spot of dried, blue paint on Renjun’s arm, but Jeno doesn’t move to help wipe it away, not with so many people presumably watching. “What are you doing here?”
“I told you I’d come get you, didn’t I?” Jeno grins, and he wants so badly to hold onto Renjun’s hand again, what with the way he’s looking up at Jeno. “I couldn’t shake Minhyung and Jaemin off, but – ”
“Let’s go then,” Renjun says suddenly, reaching into the classroom to grab his phone and wallet off the table. He grabs Jeno by the hand, dropping his coat over their interlaced fingers. “Quick!” He yanks, and Jeno scampers to follow Renjun’s unexpectedly fast pace out and down the stairwell at the other end of the hallway.
Exhilaration rushes through Jeno’s veins as they bound down several flights of stairs, giggles breaking out between them, “Won’t they get mad if we just ditch them like that?”
“If anything,” Renjun lets go of Jeno’s hand to put his jacket on as nearing the school’s main entrance. Jeno walks a few paces ahead, turning around to stop Renjun in place, helping him zip up. “If anything,” Renjun repeats, taking Jeno by the hand again, “Jaemin’s going to be mad we left him to third-wheel alone.”
The air is colder today, and Jeno’s wearing only a fleece jacket, unaware they were going to leave the warm confinements of school so quickly, “He kept asking if I was alright today,” he shares before thinking. “Because I kept spacing out.”
“Why?” Renjun pockets their hands into his jacket, making Jeno bump clumsily into him. They exit school grounds, matching footsteps as Renjun leads them to the Chinese restaurant two blocks down. “Still worried about training?”
Jeno doesn’t know if he should admit that he was thinking about Renjun the entire morning and afternoon, doesn’t know if that was normal, considering their practice relationship, so he says instead,
Renjun grips his hand tighter in his pocket, “We can do something fun after, so you can look forward to that instead?”
Jeno shoots him a smug look, “Your planned date has two parts? Is that cheating?”
“No,” he clicks his tongue. “It just means you’ve to up your game on Saturday when you bring me to…?”
Jeno shakes his head, laughing, “Not falling for that, Renjun, don’t even try.”
“Huh,” Renjun huffs, “Thought I’d give that a shot at least.”
The Chinese restaurant, as Renjun predicted, is not too busy at two in the afternoon, an hour past lunch rush. There are only office workers and gaggles of students from other schools having loud conversations over stir-fried dishes, bowls of soup, and dumplings in small bamboo steaming baskets. The elderly lady by the cashier seems to know Renjun by name, and they converse in rapid Mandarin, Jeno’s hand still in Renjun’s pocket all the while.
She leads them to a secluded table by the corner of the establishment, lit dimply with plastic lanterns and oriental-looking lamps, drowning them in a red-orange tinge. Renjun lets Jeno go in favour of taking the seat across him, unzipping his jacket while politely continuing conversation with the matron. She points at the giant menu hung on the wall (all of it in Mandarin characters, but Jeno looks at the pictures as she speaks), and Renjun orders (Jeno assumes) with ease.
With a demure chuckle, she winks down at Jeno, and Renjun responds with a nervous laugh, nodding in agreement. Jeno smiles at them affably, even though the words don’t register in his mind.
“What did she say?” Jeno leans across the table to ask when the lady finally leaves with a gentle pat to Renjun’s shoulder.
“Uh,” Renjun buffers, looking at the menu. “The chicken is good today, but the duck isn’t. She said the fried rice is good too, if you want, but I ordered other – ”
“Not that,” Jeno laughs, the urge to reach over and grab Renjun’s hand tittering dangerously over the edge. “When she looked at me – what did she say?”
Renjun busies himself with the plastic chopsticks on the table, “She said you’re very handsome.”
The compliment sparks a Disney-standard firework display in Jeno’s stomach, “And what did you say?”
“I said,” Renjun lifts his head with a tender smile and the softest voice Jeno’s ever heard, “I said I thought you were really handsome too.”
Jeno’s stomach flip-flops a hundred times in two seconds. This feels real, why does it feel so real? His mind flashes sirens, This isn’t real. It’s practice, stop… Stop whatever it is that you’re thinking. The message doesn’t get to his limbs, because he’s lifting himself off his seat in the next moment, kissing Renjun on the cheek again.
“You’re not so bad yourself,” Jeno tries to dissipate the revolt in his heart.
“Nonsense,” Renjun mumbles, adjusting his glasses tensely.
His eyes, his nose, his lips, his lips. They look different than they did a week ago, than they did seventy-two hours ago. Jeno’s never seen Renjun this close before, never had the thought of having Renjun in his grasp.
The cup is still in his hand, and suddenly Jeno doesn’t feel like letting go.
A rush of prickles covers Jeno’s arms when he says, “I really think so!” Renjun’s scoffs. Jeno picks his chopsticks up, toying with them, “What? I mean it! You can’t possibly think you aren’t good looking? Have you never looked in a mirror?”
“Stop that,” Renjun hides his face in his hands, but his smile still peeks out from between.
“C’mon, you – ” Jeno’s teases are interrupted by a waiter bringing by a cart, unloading several dishes between them both; dumplings, two baskets of them, a small plate of steamed chicken, and a rice dish Jeno’s never seen before. Renjun thanks the waiter in Mandarin, and Jeno nods in concurrence.
“This has meat,” Renjun changes the topic seamlessly, and Jeno lets him, satisfied with the blush on his boyfriend’s cheeks. Picking one up expertly, Renjun leaves it on Jeno’s plate, “The other’s just vegetables.”
“Thanks,” Jeno dips them in the vinegar provided, biting into them slowly. They’re tasty, just like how he remembers them to be, the last time Renjun brought him for Chinese food (at another restaurant, several months ago).
“Is it good?” Renjun asks, not yet eating. Jeno nods fervently, using his chopsticks to motion for Renjun to eat too, so he does.
They eat in silence, apart from Renjun quietly explaining the mysterious brown rice to Jeno (“It’s, like, sticky rice. You said you didn’t eat much, but this has peanuts and meat too, so I thought it’d be better than just plain rice.”) Jeno eats as much as he can without getting too full, which isn’t much. When Renjun calls for the bill, Jeno rushes for his wallet, and is met with a disapproving stare,
“It’s my date, I should pay,” Renjun kicks him under the table, reaching for Jeno’s wallet. “Put that away, Jeno.”
“I didn’t eat much, I feel really bad,” Jeno pouts, but Renjun looks away before the look can take effect.
“All the more I should be paying,” Renjun insists.
“What about going dutch?” Jeno offers.
Frowning, Renjun argues, “It wouldn’t be a date then, would it? At least on the first date?”
At that, Jeno slumps into his seat, defeated, “Okay, but I’m paying on Saturday.”
Renjun scoffs, “And I’ll be sure to order the most expensive thing on the menu, if that’ll make you feel better.”
Jeno makes a face, but he lets Renjun pay anyway. They leave the restaurant satisfied, holding hands all the way back onto school grounds. There’s only about under an hour left until training starts, so Jeno follows Renjun back to his (thankfully empty) classroom to gather his things.
“Will you be bored?” Jeno asks as Renjun’s packing his stationary, previously left strewn messily when they rushed out for lunch. “I mean it’s a three-hour training.”
“I’ll be watching you,” Renjun replies simply. At Jeno’s silence, he adds, “I have a sketchbook, dummy, I won’t be bored, don’t worry about me.”
Jeno gets up from the desk he was sitting on, “How could I not? I’m your boyfriend.”
Renjun rolls his eyes at the term, “And I, as your boyfriend – ” he repeats with as much mockery, “ – will be fine waiting for you to finish practice, okay?” He takes Jeno by the chin, pecking Jeno on the cheek, sweet.
“Okay,” Jeno murmurs, and his eyes are on Renjun’s lips. How long do I have to wait to kiss him? Is there a… guideline I have to follow? He cringes inwardly at his own thoughts, already resigned to the fact that he does want to kiss Renjun.
Practice or not, real or not, Jeno wants to kiss Renjun, and that fact is candidly irrefutable.
He doesn’t know if it’s because of how good Renjun is at faking it, or if it’s because he’s suddenly introduced to an idea he’s never thought about before, but it’s inescapable, how badly he wanted Renjun to kiss him on the lips instead.
The athletics arena is across school grounds, and is filled with students from the sports program. Renjun huddles close to Jeno as he manoeuvres expertly through the maze of hallways, eventually leading them up to the stands. The track is a bright blue with white lane markings, a field in the middle of it. Some of the other students from the track team wave up at Jeno when they spot him, and he lets go of Renjun’s hand, slinging his arm over his shoulder instead. It forces them to bump chests, but it seemed less intimate than handholding, in a way.
“Where did you guys go?” Minhyung is the first to speak, already clad in black runner shorts and a yellow long-sleeved dri-fit, stretching his arms out. “Donghyuck said you guys had to go out for art supplies? He was looking for Renjun.”
Renjun groans loudly, shrugging Jeno’s arm off to dig around for his phone, “I completely forgot about that, oh my god.”
“Thanks for leaving me with the lovebirds,” Jaemin grumbles, pinching Renjun’s leg, at which the latter threatens to smack him on the head. “By the way, your mom texted me, Jun,” he continues, getting up to drag Renjun to take the plastic seat beside him. Focused on texting Donghyuck, Renjun slips from Jeno’s side. Okay.
“She said you left the heater on again, and now I owe her another five dollars!”
“What? Renjun’s mom texts you?” Minhyung balks.
To Minhyung, a relatively newcomer to their friend group, that might’ve been odd, but to the rest of them, that wasn’t any unusual. Back when Jaemin and Renjun were both in gymnastics, Jaemin’s mother often worked late and was unable to pick him up from elementary school. Renjun’s mother’d taken the initiative to house Jaemin until someone was free to come by and pick him up. According to Renjun, they’d often bonded over their love for some cable cooking competition during the wait.
Renjun elbows Jaemin in the ribs, “Only because she made a big deal about it the last time he came over for dinner.”
Jeno didn’t know Jaemin still went over for dinner. He’s never been over at Renjun’s for dinner.
“Yeah, and I stood up for you!” Jaemin taps his bat against the row of seats before them. “Told her I was sure Renjun wouldn’t leave it on again, and she’s wagered with me that if he did leave it on, I’d owe her five dollars for every time! I’ve given her twenty dollars in the past two weeks, Renjun, just turn the heater off!”
Still tapping away, Renjun rolls his eyes, “Relax, she’s going to give it back. She just wanted to jerk you around, she knows I never turn it off.”
“She better,” Jaemin complains. “Can’t believe she took my money even after I baked her that tray of macaroons!”
It’s an ugly feeling, one that makes Jeno think that he suddenly doesn’t like Jaemin all that much.
“What are you even doing here?”
The hostility in his voice must’ve been way more evident than he intended to be because all three pairs of eyes are on him now.
“I mean,” Jeno clears his throat, moving down several steps to dump his things next to Minhyung’s. “Didn’t you say you had baseball practice?”
“Oh,” Jaemin swings the bat high. Jeno follows the way it spins, ignoring the look Renjun is sending his way. “They cancelled it because we don’t even have enough members for a practice game, so club practices are put on hold. Pity,” he sighs dramatically. “Baseball, a dying sport, really.”
Yeah, but why are you here? Minhyung answers the question on the tip of Jeno’s tongue, “We wanted to go check out that Japanese place after practice,” he turns to Jeno. “Dinner, want to come with?”
Jeno glances at Renjun quick, remembering the other said something about having dinner together too, but he’s not looking at Jeno. Instead, he’s concentrated on his phone, whining at how Jaemin keeps peering at his screen. Since when were they so close? Jeno’s never noticed it.
He’s never noticed a lot of things.
It’s an ugly feeling, one that makes Jeno think that he just wants to go home, “Yeah, sure, I’ll come.”
“What about you, Renjun?” Minhyung says, and Jeno grabs his training attire from his bag.
“What?” Renjun repeats, obviously having missed their conversation.
Jeno piles his things into his arms, and Minhyung extends the invitation again, “Dinner, we’re going to a new place. You in?”
He doesn’t need to look up to know Renjun’s staring at him, “Is everyone going?”
Minhyung nods, stretching his arms as he says, “Jeno just said he’s coming with. So, it’ll be us five?”
The silence is stifling.
Jeno breaks it, “I’m going to change, I’ll be right back.”
Taking the stairs two at a time, Jeno feels his stomach drop when he hears Renjun excuse himself, following him up to the first landing. He doesn’t turn around, and Renjun doesn’t call out to him, but he knows the other is right on his heels. He follows Jeno wordlessly into the vacant locker room, speaking only when the door closes,
“I thought we were having dinner together?”
Leaving his things on one of the benches, Jeno contemplates if he should change in front of Renjun. He has before, of course, but things were different now, they weren’t just friends anymore, even if it’s practice.
“Jeno?” Renjun’s hand closes around his. “Is everything okay?”
It’s an ugly feeling, one that Jeno refuses to let consume him, “I’m fine.”
“Then why’d you say yes to dinner with the rest when we were going to go on a date?” Renjun squeezes his hand, a silent request to have him look up, so he does. “Did you forget?”
An out, Jeno takes it with a sigh, “Yeah, I’m sorry.” Renjun’s shoulders drop (in disappointment? Relief?), “I was – I was worried – thinking – about training, I forgot. Sorry.”
Renjun exhales loudly, “It’s okay. Why are you so worried?” He frowns, reaching up to tuck an invisible strand of Jeno’s hair behind his ear, and the touch stirs something in Jeno. “It’s only been a couple of weeks since Christmas break, I’m sure you’ll do fine, Jeno.”
“I know.” Lying makes Jeno want to run away. “I’m just nervous.”
“Anything I can do to help?” Renjun rests a hand on his shoulder, and the concern is discernible.
Jeno doesn’t even think, enveloping Renjun in a tight hug. If he was any startled, Renjun doesn’t show it, releasing Jeno’s hand to curl his arms around Jeno’s waist. He rubs a hand soothingly along Jeno’s spine, and it’s staggering, how it helps Jeno relax. Renjun’s hair smells like a mix of Chinese food (sesame oil and some variation of orange chicken). He wishes they could stay like that for hours, but the thought of getting yelled at by Coach Choi for being late and having to do penalty runs makes him pull away.
“Alright?” Renjun asks, offering Jeno a modest smile.
Jeno’s not doing a lot of thinking lately, and he presses his lips to Renjun’s forehead fleetingly, “Yeah,” he mumbles. “Thank you.”
“Here,” Renjun murmurs, brandishing a card from his jacket pocket; same four-by-four inches, same stiff paper.
A rush of adrenaline courses through Jeno when he realises it’s another drawing. The same cat, presumably Jeno, lying on its back, its belly sticking upwards like a tiny hill. There are scatters of bamboo steaming baskets around, and several stacks of bowls piled high around the cat, expression in complete content.
Again, in Renjun’s writing, I’ll make sure you don’t eat too much at lunch!
“I drew that in class,” Renjun shares, smiling gently up at Jeno.
“Were you thinking about our date?” Were you thinking about me? Like I was thinking about you?
“Yeah,” he breathes, and Jeno hugs him again, mumbling that he’ll keep the card safe. Renjun leaves the locker room only after Jeno promises to take a deep breath and take training as it is, that he’ll be watching from the stands.
Trainings stretches over a total three hours, and they start with warm-ups. Coach Choi has them stretch and run easy laps before starting their long run, and Jeno picks Minhyung as his pacer, as per usual. Minhyung didn’t talk when he ran, apart from encouraging remarks, and he didn’t inch forward competitively either.
Jeno once had to run with another teammate, Wonjung, who had such good stamina he wouldn’t shut up, and was so competitive it made pacing difficult, a horrible experience he never wanted to relive.
They were running ten klicks today, a fixed endurance run; it was going to take about an hour, and they were going to have to make fifty laps.
By the tenth lap, Jeno’s eyes are trained to look at Renjun whenever he passed the block he and Jaemin were waiting at. His notebook is on his lap, but he’s talking to Jaemin. Jeno can barely for thoughts to imagine what they’d be talking about. The blood is too loud in his ears, and he should really be concentrating on his pace. Minhyung is orderly, checking their times whenever they pass the starting line, adjusting their speed accordingly. It’s always easy to run with Minhyung, trustworthy and reliable; Jeno doesn’t have to think much when he does.
The twenty-second lap is when Jeno’s legs feel the strain. He berates himself for eating that extra dumpling at lunch. His arms are starting to feel cold, but it’s normal when they train long distance. Renjun is watching him now, and when he looks up, Renjun waves, showing him a thumbs up. He doesn’t get to react, because Minhyung is inching forward after checking their time again.
On the forty-fourth lap, (give or take some, Jeno isn’t counting, he was pretty much relying on Minhyung to tell him when to stop), Jaemin guffaws and it echoes throughout the arena,
“Shut up, no way!”
Jeno’s head snaps up to find Renjun climbing over Jaemin to shut him up.
“Focus,” Minhyung reminds from beside him, not at all faltering to keep their steady pace.
Jeno trains his eyes back down to the blue synthetic tracks instead.
When it’s only lap left to the last, Minhyung speeds up, and Jeno follows, pushing against the pain to beat their last timing. Minhyung grabs onto Jeno’s wrist when he threatens to slow down, motivating him to make it past the starting line for the final time.
“Fourty-one minutes, twenty-seven seconds!” Coach Choi calls out leisurely from his foldable camping chair several feet away. Jeno doesn’t even hear it, completely drained by the run. Taking deep breaths, he moves from the track to let the other runners pass by, walking off to cool down by the field. Minhyung hands his bottle to him silently, then moving away to cool off too.
“Good job guys,” Coach Choi continues, as if Jeno and Minhyung weren’t about to pass out in unison. “Over a minute quicker than last time, good pace, Minhyung.”
“Thanks,” Jeno manages to say to Minhyung, taking large gulps of air. Still recovering, Minhyung waves at him, shaking his head, It’s nothing.
It always takes Jeno a longer time to get his heartrate back to normal, so he’s still a little breathless when Coach Choi calls them over. He announces that it’s going to be a month before their next endurance run, warning everyone to make sure their timings don’t worsen, that he only wanted to see improvement within the team.
By the time they’re released from practice, enough adrenaline has left Jeno’s system, and he’s feeling back to normal, sans the soreness in his legs.
“Good pace, guys,” Jaemin claps loudly when they return to the stands, sweat now dry on skin. “I would’ve clocked out, like, five laps in.”
Minhyung snorts, picking his bag by the handle, “Your insane laughter didn’t help, thanks, talk about distracting, Na.”
Renjun gets up from his seat to hand Jeno his gym towel, a small smile on his lips. Jeno takes it silently, grabbing his bag too, ready to hit the showers, “What were you guys talking about?”
The shit-eating grin Jaemin plasters on makes Jeno want to run another fifty laps, “Wouldn’t you like to kno – ”
“Shut up, Jaemin,” Renjun rams his knee hard into Jaemin’s shoulder blades. He turns to Jeno, “Just about the dumb heater thing.”
Unconcerned by the interaction unfolding before him, Minhyung trails up the stairs slowly, “C’mon, Jeno, before the freshmen take the good showers.”
“Coming,” Jeno complies, but not before sending Renjun a loaded look. What it meant to carry, Jeno didn’t know either, but the grin Renjun returns meant that the look was likely misinterpreted. He can only hope dinner would go unhinged.
Apart from the loving stares Donghyuck and Minhyung send each other all throughout their meal, dinner goes fine. The dinner place is too busy to have them seated at an actual table, so they settle for five seats by the counter; Jeno taking the seat by the wall, Renjun on his right, and Jaemin beside him. It’s an unadon place, and they all order the regular set of grilled eel served atop Japanese rice, accompanied with miso soup and several side dishes.
Jeno gives most of his eel to Renjun silently, not really partaking in their conversation about the recent slew of romance movies flooding the theatres (‘tis the season, Valentines’ day is in a month),
“Aren’t you hungry?” Renjun whispers lowly to him when the others are arguing over which movie in the past decade should be certified as best rom-com. Jeno glowers dejectedly at his own meal; he didn’t know why, but he just wanted to go home. It’s probably just the aftereffects of running six miles in under an hour, “Jeno?”
“No.” Jeno chews on a slice of pickled radish. Renjun grabs his hand under the table, and he looks up to see Renjun frowning at him. “Just tired.”
Renjun reaches past Jeno, supposedly intending to reach for the bottle of soy sauce at the end of the counter. It comes as a shock when he kisses Jeno on the cheek instead, lips lingering for a heartbeat or two longer than the ones they’ve already shared. Heart surging, Jeno holds onto Renjun’s hand tight, eyes seeking for another kiss. As if they’re on the same wave length, Renjun pours a little soy sauce into the small dish on his tray, giving Jeno another kiss to the cheek when he leans over to put it back.
“Dinner’s almost over,” Renjun scoops a bit of rice with his free hand, still talking softly. “We can leave the others after, okay?”
Jeno nods jerkily. He doesn’t know if he’s happy to go home, or if he’s happy he gets to spend some time with Renjun alone.
However, Donghyuck seems to have other plans for the lot of them after dinner,
“We’ve to go to the art supply store,” he sighs loudly, annoyed that they had to as well. With his phone in hand, he searches up the directions. They’re still loitering outside the restaurant, stomachs full from the delicious dinner. “We’re supposed to start planning our portraits tomorrow, and Renjun hasn’t gotten the charcoal he needed.”
“I can just go tomorrow during break,” Renjun shrugs casually, but the way he’s leaning into Jeno’s shoulder means something else between them both.
Donghyuck looks up and down the street, tucking his phone back into his jacket pocket when he figures the quickest route, “I need to get some paint too, c’mon, it’ll just take a half hour or something.”
And then he’s off, leading the way with Minhyung’s hand in his, and Jaemin teetering after them.
“You can go home first,” Renjun says, turning on his toes to blink up at Jeno. “If you’re really tired, I’ll just see you tomorrow?”
Jeno shakes his head, “No, I’m okay, let’s go.” He takes Renjun by the hand, just as Donghyuck did Minhyung’s, following them down the street.
Jeno doesn’t do it consciously, but he slows his pace so that they’re falling behind several feet, and Renjun doesn’t seem to mind. They walk in silence, hiding their hands in the shadows where light doesn’t hit. It makes Jeno feel a lot better, the way Renjun, just Renjun, is by his side again.
The walk doesn’t take long though, and they’re met with the bright lights of the art supply store.
“I’ll be really quick,” Renjun promises, letting go of Jeno’s hand to join Donghyuck in perusing the mass of aisles. Jeno joins Minhyung and Jaemin again, waiting by the easel section, delving back into their conversation of physics and skateboarders.
For the most part, Jeno keeps mum, starting to feel restless. He hears Renjun and Donghyuck several feet away, discussing what kinds of paint would best fit Donghyuck’s piece.
“Jaemin,” Renjun calls out, head peeking out from one of the aisles. “Come over for a second, Donghyuck needs some help with his colour scheme.”
“Shouldn’t I help too?” Minhyung sulks as Jaemin leaves to join Renjun. Jaemin, out of the three of them, is probably the most artistically inclined, Jeno shouldn’t be offended that he wasn’t called over. (He is, a little.)
“I told you it’s a portrait of you,” Donghyuck chides from behind the shelves. “It’s a surprise, so no, stay where you are.”
When they retreat behind the aisle, Jeno turns to Minhyung, “He’s doing a portrait of you?”
“Yeah,” Minhyung grins sheepishly. “It’s supposed to be of someone important to him, and he picked me.”
It’s envy, “That’s cool,” Jeno says, not really knowing what to say.
It’s sweet of Donghyuck to choose Minhyung, and no matter how often Donghyuck made jabs at Minhyung, his love for the other showed in hundreds of other ways. Pertaining to himself, Renjun isn’t going to spend weeks working on a drawing of him, and he’s fine with that. He shouldn’t be expecting things like that when it was all going to end in ashes, maybe even before the assignment is due.
Kicking the thought from his mind, Jeno inhales deeply, “Can I ask you something?”
“Mm?” Minhyung says distractedly, trying to look through the shelves to see what the others are doing. He turns away when Donghyuck catches him snooping, withering at Donghyuck’s deathly glare.
“When did, uh – ” Jeno scratches at his nape. “When did you and Donghyuck first kiss?”
Minhyung straightens immediately, bashful, “Ha, why – why’re you asking?”
“Just curious,” not a lie.
“Well,” Minhyung laughs fondly, eyes following as the rest emerge from the aisle to head to the register. “I wanted to kiss him when I confessed, so I did.”
Jeno watches Renjun fumble with his wallet, “You didn’t wait?”
“Wait?” He repeats. “What for?”
“I don’t know,” Jeno looks at their feet. Sneakers on linoleum floors. “You weren’t nervous?”
Minhyung cringes noticeably, “I was so nervous. I thought Hyuck was going to kick me in the face when I asked.” Jeno laughs too then, because it definitely sounded like something Donghyuck was capable of. “But it turned out he wanted to as much as I did, so,” he shrugs, hugging his bottle close to his chest.
“Why? Thinking of kissing someone?”
“No.” Jaemin helps Renjun to shove his things into his backpack, tugging on Renjun’s zippers playfully, making the shorter boy stumble backwards. “I was just curious.”
“If you think it’s right,” Minhyung drops his voice to a whisper when the rest start to approach them. “There’s really no harm in asking, is there?”
There is, Jeno answers inwardly. If it’s my best friend, I have a lot to lose.
“What are you talking about?” Donghyuck narrows his eyes suspiciously, sliding his arm around Minhyung’s waist.
“You,” Minhyung kisses him then, and Jaemin gags comically, turning away. Jeno turns away too, but if he didn’t, he might’ve caught the way Renjun glanced at him.
To Jeno’s utter disappointment, he doesn’t get to have Renjun to himself for the rest of the week during lunches, because the rest, oblivious as they are, insist on eating together. When there aren’t trainings for Jeno, he goes by the art room, which, he learns, is different from a regular classroom (it’s air-conditioned and resembled more like a studio with a lot of working space, meant for only a few students to use at a time) to watch Renjun work on his portrait of his grandfather. Donghyuck is there too, working on his piece of Minhyung, and he doesn’t question Jeno’s presence after the first day. Jeno takes up a tiny spot by the corner, drowning himself in calculus and chemistry, all the while taking peeks at Renjun while he worked.
It’s Thursday when Jeno is back in the art room, comfy in his brand-new routine, while Minhyung is very clearly unhappy about it,
“If Jeno can wait in there, why can’t I too?” Minhyung is standing by the door, trying his best to get past Donghyuck’s ironclad defence (a flat paintbrush).
“I already told you, babe,” Donghyuck groans exasperatedly, trying to push Minhyung’s slender limbs out the door. “I want it to be a surprise when you see it at the exhibition, okay? It’s not going to be a surprise if you see me work on it, is it?”
“Where am I supposed to wait for you then?” Minhyung tugs Donghyuck by the hem of his shirt, and Jeno wonders if he should look away.
Renjun seems to be thinking the same thing, because he’s by Jeno’s side, hands dirtied with charcoal, a tired smile on his face. Jeno lifts the iced tea in his hands silently, not wishing to disturb Donghyuck’s attempts at keeping his clingy boyfriend out of the room. Donghyuck’s only done a rough sketch of Minhyung’s portrait, but he’s just about done picking out the colours he wanted to use. Renjun takes a sip of the drink, eyes darting to Minhyung and Donghyuck by the door.
When he’s sure they’re not looking, he kisses Jeno on the cheek.
It’s something he’s gotten used to now, the way Renjun snuck kisses when no one was looking, the way Jeno did the same. He never gets Renjun alone enough for him to ask if he could kiss his boyfriend on the lips instead, but he figures that with the amount of nerves and the lack of opportunity, and in fear that Renjun might think he was moving too quick, he should wait for their date on Saturday anyway.
“I don’t know,” Donghyuck sighs loudly, brushing the hair from Minhyung’s eyes. Jeno turns to Renjun and does the same, a goofy grin on his face. Renjun rolls his eyes as Jeno mimics Donghyuck’s actions. “Go run a few laps at the track?”
“I’m not a roadrunner, Hyuck,” Minhyung rests his forehead on Donghyuck’s shoulder, and Jeno eyes Renjun expectantly. With an incredulous smile, Renjun does the same, and Jeno has to muffle a laugh. “If I sit facing the wall, can I stay?”
Donghyuck runs his fingers through Minhyung’s hair (Jeno quickly cards his fingers through Renjun’s hair, and Renjun turns to bury his nose into Jeno’s shoulder, shaking with giggles), “No, you can’t. I’ll text you when I finish up here, okay? You can go home if you want, I might be here a while.”
Disgruntled, Minhyung pulls away, and Renjun follows, sitting back up, “No, it’s okay, I’ll wait for you in the library.”
Like a kicked puppy, Jeno and Renjun watch with amused expressions as Minhyung turns to leave, but not before Donghyuck reaches to cup Minhyung’s cheek, pressing a languid kiss to Minhyung’s lips.
Jeno doesn’t dare to look down at Renjun, unsure if he should continue their little imitation game. Renjun answers that question for him, clearing his throat and standing up, walking back to his own spot just mere inches away from where Jeno is settled in.
He feels a little sick to the gut; maybe Renjun did think it was moving a little too quick.
“I’ll see you later,” Donghyuck shoos Minhyung away, who surrenders at Donghyuck’s request, but it’s not beyond him to leave while glaring at Jeno for being granted access to the art room.
“Oh my god,” Donghyuck grumbles after he’s sure Minhyung’s down and out the hallway, shutting the door, frustrated. “It’s like he has to be by my side all the time, seriously, Lee Minhyung, I swear to god,” he exhales loudly, going back to his palette stuck to the wall, resuming his work.
“You say that as if you don’t like it,” Renjun snorts, stepping back to look at his work, still only filled with faint lines. Jeno looks at it too, but it just looks like a bunch of squiggles to him. “You love it when Minhyung sticks around you, don’t even try to deny it.”
“Well, obviously,” Donghyuck picks out yellow, orange, red, and blue paint tubes from the pile he bought the other day. “He’s my boyfriend, I want him around me, of course.”
Renjun eyes flit to Jeno. His expression is unreadable, but Jeno still grins anyway, and he hopes Renjun can hear his thoughts, I want you around me too.
Donghyuck’s monologue interrupts their wordless exchange, “But he’s just going to have to wait until I’m done with this. Now, blue, but how blue?”
The conversation progresses onto further art-related things, to which Jeno tunes out of, not really understanding the semantics of art terms Donghyuck and Renjun like to throw around. Only when the conversation dies off to let them both concentrate fully on their pieces does Jeno realise how much he likes hearing Renjun’s voice, soft and smooth, calming to the ears.
He couldn’t wait for Saturday.
If Jeno thought Renjun couldn’t seem any more different, he’s very gravely wrong. His previous demeanours are nothing compared to the ones present on their Saturday date, when there’s less of a worry of being caught by one of their friends, holding hands and sneaking kisses. Renjun, as it turns out, doesn’t care if strangers stared; feeding Jeno bites of ice cream at the metro station where they met in the morning, Jeno insisting that it would feel like an actual date that way, interlacing their fingers as Jeno leads them down the street towards the city’s new arts’ museum, kissing Jeno on the cheek when he was busy paying for entrance tickets, and Renjun was already excitedly looking around the place.
Not that Jeno minded, of course, and he took any chance he got to return the affection; planting obnoxious kisses to Renjun’s cheek while he was busy studying paintings in empty exhibits, holding onto Renjun tightly even when he was deep in focus in those in-ear thing-a-majigs that they had to share because Jeno said he didn’t want one at the beginning, but felt left out when Renjun stopped talking to him to focus on the paintings and their history instead.
The arts’ museum, in hindsight, wasn’t that great of a first date idea for Jeno, considering how all he wanted to do was listen to Renjun speak, which was impossibly difficult considering how often they got shushed whenever Jeno laughed too loud. Nevertheless, Renjun seemed to enjoy it either way, and it’s when they’re back out on the street that he asks for their next destination,
“A café?” Jeno suggests, pulling Renjun close to him, so much so that he’s practically latched onto the shorter boy’s arm. A day out of school confinements and the watchful eyes of their classmates has opened Jeno’s mind to the chance of holding Renjun close, and he would be silly not to take it. “My legs are sore from all that standing around.”
Three hours of walking around five floors worth of exhibitions and collections and artworks has Jeno’s legs and back aching.
“Really?” Renjun leans into Jeno, swaying them slightly. “Aren’t you an athlete? I’m not even tired.”
Jeno pushes back playfully, but he tugs Renjun back to him again before the boy can get far, “Ha! Let’s see you run six miles in under forty-five minutes, then we’ll talk, yeah?”
“I think I could do it,” Renjun shrugs, hair brushing against the underside of Jeno’s jaw.
“Hmm?” Jeno’s preoccupied by the smell of Renjun’s shampoo, sweet like strawberries.
“You don’t think I could run six miles?” Renjun muses, pinching Jeno’s hand lightly.
“I don’t think you could run a mile,” Jeno tilts them right, walking down a street filled with adorable cafés. There’re other couples out on the street too, but Jeno isn’t able to give that much though, because Renjun’s pulling away from him, expression contorted into one of complete surprise, aghast at the minor insult,
“I’ll have you know I, too, can run several miles,” Renjun scoffs, making a move to yank his hand from Jeno’s grasp.
“You should join me one of my runs then?” Jeno is relentless with the teasing, catching Renjun by the arm, preventing him from straying any further. “A morning run with me? Next Sunday?”
Renjun rolls his eyes, “If you think having me run on a Sunday morning is a good date, you’re terrible, Lee Jeno.”
At that, he caves, laughing, “Okay, okay.” He dips down, kissing Renjun on the cheek smoothly, but Renjun still tries to step away from Jeno’s grabby hands, “I was just kidding!”
“Not funny,” Renjun grumbles, but he gives in, letting Jeno hug him tight again. “Which café are we going to?”
Jeno looks up from staring at the apples of Renjun’s cheeks, peering into several cafés as they pass by, strolling slowly, “Whichever one you want.”
“You’re really bad at planning dates, aren’t you?” Renjun looks across the street, but nothing too interesting seems to catch his attention.
“Doesn’t matter to me where we go,” As long as it’s with you.
Jeno stills when he notices a particularly busy café, diligently decorated with many potted plants and succulents. There’s a wooden sign outside the establishment, written in white, neat handwriting: Got a tinkering for crafts? Join us for a coffee, cake, and create something of your own! Even from outside, Jeno can make out that the wall on the far left is filled with various shelves of paper, twine, markers – a perfect place for the artist in Renjun.
“ – you mean?”
“Let’s go in here.” Jeno doesn’t hear the question, ushering Renjun out of the cold streets and into the warmly lit café. The interior is very well designed; everything matched the concept of nature blended with simplicity. Light wood tables scatter the relatively spacious area, accompanied with white metal chairs. The boy by the cashier has on a white apron, and a friendly smile on his face,
“Hey there, how can I help you guys?”
Jeno returns the smile, “Hey, I was wondering how this place, uh, worked?”
“Ah,” the boy nods in understanding, like he got the question several times a day (he probably did). “If you order a coffee and cake set,” he points at the cakes in the refrigerated counter between them, “you’re free to use any of the items off our craft wall to make something to take home!”
“Oh, cool,” Jeno nods, and he turns to find Renjun already enraptured by the selection of textiles. “Jun,” he murmurs, and Renjun blinks back at him. “I’ll order for us, so find us a seat?”
“Sure,” Renjun smiles, ambling away.
Returning his attention to the boy (his nametag reads ‘Hyungsik’), Jeno orders a triple chocolate cake (Renjun’s favourite) and a sweet chocolate-caramel drink to share. Hyungsik tells him that he’ll have the food brought over once they’re ready, and Jeno thanks him before moving off to join Renjun by the corner table he chose.
“The guy at the cashier said we can use whatever,” Jeno repeats, sliding into the seat across Renjun.
“Should we make something together?” Renjun rakes his eyes across the craft wall, studying the available resources intently.
Jeno laughs, shrugging off his jacket and placing it in the chair between them where Renjun’d left his, “There’s a reason I’m an athlete, Renjun.”
“Don’t say that,” Renjun tuts. “Art is art.”
A lightbulb flickers.
“Why don’t you draw me?” Jeno raises his eyebrows at the way Renjun flinches. “I mean,” he shrugs, refusing to think about Donghyuck’s unfinished five-foot portrait of Minhyung hanging in the art room. As Jeno racks his brain, he recalls Jaemin and Donghyuck both receiving small doodles of them from Renjun for their birthdays in the past year. Jeno, on the other hand, was never gifted as such.
“You don’t have to, but I haven’t seen you drawn me or anything before so…”
“Let’s do something together,” Renjun avoids the question completely. It deflates Jeno for a second, then, “What about couple bracelets?”
His ears perk up, “Here?”
Renjun tilts in his chair to get a better look, “Yeah, I think I see a basket of embroidery floss in the corner…”
“Em – what?”
“String, Jeno.” Renjun gets up from his seat to retrieve said woven basket, filled to the brim with an assortment of yarn, colours varying from pastels to neon, all of which individually wrapped by a thick piece of cardboard.
“You can make bracelets from these?” Jeno stares incredulously.
“Yeah,” Renjun digs through, picking out white, grey, and three different shades of green. “Didn’t you learn this in summer camp?”
No, he didn’t, Jeno went to an athletes’ summer camp, where they pretty much just played sports and learned new ones the entire time, water-skiing, wake boarding, team bonding games, typically camp things. Not really arts and crafts.
Renjun laughs when he says that, “Didn’t think I’d ever have a boyfriend so artistically… stilted.”
Jeno frowns. He shouldn’t be feeling hurt, it was probably a joke and it’s nothing to get sullen over, but his mind travels back to Jaemin and the art supply store. Was being good at art something Renjun wanted in a boyfriend?
Jeno didn’t really fit that criteria much, if that was true,
Renjun startles at his curt reply, “What?”
Embarrassed, Jeno shakes his head, picking his fork off table, “Nothing.”
Renjun returns the basket to its rightful position, stopping by Jeno’s side instead of taking his seat, “Jeno?” He rests a hand tentatively on Jeno’s shoulder, “You okay?”
Jeno’s ears are hot, and he hates the feeling in his gut, “Yeah.”
“Did – ” Renjun thumbs at his exposed collar, making Jeno sigh at the touch. “Did I say something wrong?”
“No.” Jeno doesn’t look up. “It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.”
“Hey, don’t – ”
“Excuse me,” Hyungsik appears from behind Renjun, leaving the plate on the table, then the drink. “Enjoy!” He nods politely, leaving Jeno and Renjun in tense silence again.
As if he was unwilling to leave it awkward between them, Renjun sits on the adjacent chair, atop their piled-up coats, taking Jeno’s hands, “Is it because I said you weren’t – artistic?”
No, it’s because I don’t fit the kind of person you’d actually like.
“Yes,” he grumbles pathetically.
Renjun murmurs, “Aw, c’mon.” He kisses Jeno on the cheek, an apology of some sort. “I didn’t mean it like that, Jeno,” he sighs, “Don’t get mad, I’ll make yours for you, okay?”
Still abashed at the way he let such an offhanded reply slip, Jeno shrugs listlessly. Renjun doesn’t say more, but he does get to work, obviously trying his best to keep Jeno as involved as possible. He measures the yarn against Jeno’s wrist, and then unravels five times the length for all yarns, then measuring his own and repeating the process. Tying a knot at the top, he holds it out to Jeno, quietly requesting for him to have it in place while he started to make complicated pleats. Jeno watches from the corner of his eyes, still smarting it from earlier, but he lets himself marvel at the way Renjun’s deft fingers worked, quick and precise, tightening every row effortlessly.
Renjun’s only about a quarter done with Jeno’s bracelet, already taking shape, when his stomach grumbles loud enough for them both to hear. He pauses ever so slightly, but he keeps his head down, working hard.
Guilty at his own actions that turned the atmosphere sour, Jeno forks a bite-sized piece with his free hand,
“Renjun.” His heartstrings tug insistently when Renjun looks up, eyeing the fork in Jeno’s hand with apprehension. “Have some.”
“Thanks,” Renjun takes the bite, humming softly in satisfaction, going back to work almost immediately.
“Do you want more?” Jeno leans forward to ask, not at all prepared for Renjun to look back up, their faces merely inches apart. It’s so close, Jeno notices everything about Renjun, the faint freckle on his cheek, the brown of his irises, the way his eyes dart down to Jeno’s lips, the way he licks his own.
“Yeah,” he nods, and Jeno tips away to scoop him another bite. Renjun’s lips close around the fork, and Jeno’s heart wants to give up. There’s a speck of cake on the corner of his lips, and Jeno thumbs it away without thinking, identical to how Renjun would do the same to him. “Jeno?” Renjun whispers, and he whispers because they’re so, so, so close.
Jeno just wants to – while the cup is still in his hand, while the cup hasn’t realised that Jeno might not be the best fit for him, while the cup is staring, as if he were waiting for Jeno to ask –
“Can I kiss you?”
Renjun sucks a shallow breath. The nod he makes is so miniscule, Jeno nearly misses it.
He closes the gap between them, kissing Renjun on the lips, just lightly, a faint press together, like he’s been thinking about over the past week. He pulls away, and Renjun is thoroughly dazed, eyes not really focusing on Jeno in front of him, lips parted slightly. Jeno waits for him to say something, anything, and he’s about to back away in defeat when Renjun releases the tight hold on the bracelet, tangling his fingers into the hem of Jeno’s hoodie instead,
“Kiss me again.”
Jeno doesn’t have to be told twice, pressing his lips to Renjun’s soft ones immediately, shutting his eyes. His nose brushes against Renjun’s, and he inhales deeply, completely intoxicated. Renjun’s kisses are soft, and they feel good against Jeno’s lips, moving ever so slightly to catch at his lower lip. Placing the fork down as quietly as he can, Jeno moves to cup Renjun’s cheek, caressing the shell of his ear gently with a thumb. They kiss until Renjun eventually breaks the kiss first, but he doesn’t move too far away, leaning his forehead against Renjun’s, keeping his eyes on Jeno’s lips.
“Was that – ” Jeno swallows his heart, dangerously close to hammering its way out. “ – okay? Was that okay?”
Renjun approves with a small nod, his hair matting against Jeno’s, “More than okay.”
The mood is lifted when Renjun initiates the kiss this time, and Jeno feels his boyfriend smile into the kiss. It makes him smile too.
Working on the bracelets is hard work, but Renjun finishes Jeno’s with ease, what with Jeno feeding him bits of cake and sips of their drink, kissing him giddily in-between. The bracelets turn out pretty, the colours complementing each other well, not too eye-catching, but the fact that they each have one is a sign of its own. It’s handmade by Renjun, and Jeno feels a surge of pride when he motions for Jeno to stick a hand out, intending to tie it on for him,
“Which side do you want it on?” Renjun studies the bracelet, adjusting the knot at the beginning meticulously.
“Which side do you want yours on?”
“Me?” Renjun picks his own bracelet up, under an inch shorter since Renjun had thinner wrists. “I think my left? Since I’m always working with my right?”
Jeno lifts his right hand, “I’ll wear it on this side then.” At Renjun’s confusion, he admits sheepishly, “So that it’ll look nice, when we hold hands.”
Renjun laughs, eyes screwing shut in disbelief, “I can’t believe you just said that.” The words hold no bite, and he pulls Jeno’s hand onto his lap, still giggling as he ties the bracelet on. It fits just right, not too tight, nor loose. “That was horrible,” Renjun leans forward to kiss Jeno’s embarrassment away. He hands Jeno the bracelet meant for himself, and Jeno ties it on for him, still reeling from his own cheesiness.
“But you’re right,” Renjun muses, taking Jeno’s right hand in his left. “It does look nice like this.”
Jeno stares down at their interlaced fingers, the way Renjun’s so comfortably woven with his, their brand-new bracelets snug, “And you say I’m horrible.”
Renjun shrugs, “We’ll just have to be horrible together, won’t we?”
Together. “I like the sound of that,” and it’s the truth.
In all honesty, Jeno probably should’ve seen it coming.
He and Renjun never got around to discussing how long their practice relationship was going to last, and Jeno’d been admittedly busy falling for his best friend that he didn’t want to bring it up, didn’t want anything to end.
Four weeks fly by, and as the days passed, they get braver; they hold hands under the tables at lunch and dinner with the rest, they kiss in school (in empty classrooms, in bathrooms, in the locker room, in the art room), they go out every weekend, each taking their respective turns to plan a date. Renjun gifts him a drawing of the Jeno-cat (an animated version of Jeno running the blue track during trainings, of Jeno falling asleep in the art room while waiting until Renjun was ready to leave for the day, of Jeno walking down the hallways in the mornings, eyes practically glued shut, all of which were accompanied with encouraging one-liners) every now and then, and he keeps them all in a new, clear folder by his desk.
It’s to the point where Jeno doesn’t care anymore, doesn’t care if they get caught, if their friends catch them kissing in empty classroom or cuddling together under their jackets. Jeno wants someone to catch them, so that he can stand up and say, Yeah, we’ve been dating. Renjun’s my boyfriend.
Unfortunately for Jeno, as much as he wanted to believe that Renjun wanted the same, it doesn’t seem the case, because even bravery has its limits; Renjun’s bracelet is always hidden well under the sleeves of his sweaters, even when Jeno parades around with his on his wrist, not really having a choice when it came to trainings (he didn’t want to take it off, even then). Renjun still hid them well enough and was sure to pull apart whenever he so much as hears the faintest squeak of footsteps or Jaemin’s rowdy laugh and Minhyung’s chuckles.
He counts the days in his head, before his falls asleep, and he holds the number close to his heart, Twenty-nine days. It’s been twenty-nine days since he’s had the chance to have Renjun as his boyfriend, and Jeno would be daft to think it was going to last forever.
On the thirtieth day, Donghyuck gets a call from Minhyung, asking if Donghyuck was really going to leave him alone in the library for the millionth time in the past two hours.
“I told you to go home, didn’t I?” Donghyuck sighs loudly. Jeno is standing by his side, holding out the phone as Minhyung grumbles through the speakerphone.
He was called over from his spot by the corner, since Donghyuck’s hands were covered in red-blue-orange paint and Renjun’s in charcoal, to hold onto his phone for when he finally called Minhyung back.
For the most part, Jeno can make their artworks out now; Donghyuck’s over-realistic take on Minhyung, a contrast to Renjun’s mere-realistic portrayal of his grandfather. Jeno marvels at the way Minhyung’s features slowly coming to life with hints of white and yellow paint, and Renjun’s grandfather with careful shading and skillful strokes of black and white charcoal.
“But I want to wait for you,” they hear Minhyung thud his head against the table, and Jeno stifles a laugh. Donghyuck glares at him, making a neck slicing motion, then pressing a finger to his lips. “Hyuck?”
“Yes, babe,” Donghyuck steps forward to continue painting, and Jeno follows, watching closely as Donghyuck works. He’s never really gotten a chance to see the painting up close, but it really did seem like it took a lot of effort, layers under layers of blue, orange, white, red, yellow, and a mix in-between. Jeno reaches out, curious to see if the paint would be dry, and Donghyuck swats his hand away immediately, “Don’t touch it, Jeno! It’s paint!”
“Sorry,” Jeno mutters, head swivelling to glower at Renjun when he snickers from behind.
“Is it my portrait?” Minhyung asks brightly. “Jeno! Describe it to me!”
“Uh.” Jeno blanks. Donghyuck jabs the paint brush in his direction, shaking his head angrily. “It’s really nice?”
Minhyung groans, “Well, you’re no help at all, huh?”
“I can’t be saying anything when your boyfriend has a paint brush in my face, Minhyung.”
Desperate, Minhyung asks, “What colour’s the paint on the brush?”
Under Donghyuck’s threat, Jeno lies, “Black.”
“Black?” Minhyung echoes. “I haven’t seen black paint on his hands though?”
Snatching the phone from Jeno’s grasp, Donghyuck turns the speaker function off, pressing the phone to his ear, hissing loudly, “Lee Minhyung, enough! Stop poking your nose into this!” Even then, Jeno can hear Minhyung whining, “I don’t care! I’m not working my butt off this surprise to have you ruin it!” Jeno inches away to Renjun’s side, and they exchange knowing looks.
Donghyuck did work extra hard on this painting, to the point Jeno’s once caught him sleeping on the floor, hugging his knees to his chest, arms covered in paint.
“If I so much as find you thinking about asking anyone about the painting, you better hope I won’t be able to find you!” As perplexed as he was, he still sighs when Minhyung says something else, “Yes, of course I still love you, you idiot. Now stop calling, I’ll see you later.”
Heavily said with a truckload of emotions. As much as Donghyuck was trying to hide it in front of them, even as he ignored the way Jeno was staring, it’s obvious. Donghyuck shakes his head, mumbling to himself, taking a deep breath to focus back on his painting.
Jeno looks down at his own hands. I love you. Did he feel the same way with Renjun? It’s too soon to tell, but it didn’t mean he didn’t want the same Renjun, didn’t mean that he didn’t want to genuinely date the boy now. He still wants what Minhyung and Donghyuck have, but he only wants it with Renjun now.
The important question wasn’t that, it was – Does he want me too?
More than just faking it, than just practice, or whatever game they were playing.
Maybe it was time to come clean.
Without looking at Renjun, he shuffles back to his spot in the corner, mind whirring incessantly, trying to sort his thoughts out. Surely, Renjun must feel something for him? Something more than just pretend, it can’t all be pretend, Jeno stares blankly at his notes, words meshing into each other. The drawings of Jeno-cat, the conversations they have on the way home, on the way to school, their dates, the kisses, the hugs, the… Everything.
Jeno didn’t want to let go of the cup.
“I’ve to get more white charcoal, I can’t find mine.” Renjun announces, exhaling loudly as he rests the black one he was working with on a piece of spare paper by the table. He rolls his sleeves up momentarily, and Jeno’s heart thuds when he catches sight of the bracelet, loose around Renjun’s wrist.
He doesn’t seem to notice, neither does Donghyuck (yet).
“Can you pass me that paint tube, Jun? The mustard,” Donghyuck points at the stack of tubes, but Renjun seems to know which one, picking it up and handing it to Donghyuck with ease.
“Thanks,” Donghyuck turns to grab it, and Jeno slinks back into his corner (it doesn’t help) when his expression morphs into one of confusion. “Uh, that – ” He peers over Renjun’s shoulder to look Jeno. “That bracelet? That’s yours, Renjun?”
Out of panic, Jeno tugs his own bracelet off roughly, slipping it into his pocket, “It’s mine.” He stands, brushing the dust off his pants. “I lent it to Renjun.”
Renjun eyes flit to Jeno’s bare wrist, and Jeno doesn’t know if he’s relieved or not. Donghyuck lifts a brow, “Why?”
“I thought it was nice,” Renjun fidgets with the bracelet. “Anyway,” he clears his throat, “I’m going to get some things from the supply room.”
Donghyuck opens his mouth to speak again, but Renjun flees from the room. Jeno follows suit, not at all caring what the other might think at that. He walks several paces behind Renjun, trailing after him as he passes the supply room, heading straight for the bathroom at the end of the hallway instead. When he steps into the bathroom, Renjun is by the sink, scrubbing his hands clean, the water turning grey against the white porcelain.
“Where’s your bracelet?” Renjun speaks first, and Jeno pulls it from his pocket, slipping it into his wallet, keeping it there for now. What is this atmosphere? Was Renjun mad? Did he not want Jeno to lie? “Sorry,” he mutters. Jeno couldn’t get any more confused. “I didn’t mean to roll up my sleeves, I just forgot.”
“Actually.” I don’t care, I want us to get caught. “I need to talk to you.”
Grabbing some paper towels, Renjun dries his hands quickly, closing the space between them to kiss Jeno squarely on the lips. It isn’t their first time, making out in the bathroom, so Jeno complies to Renjun’s wishes, curling his arms around Renjun’s waist, forgetting about his grand plan.
With much effort, Renjun manoeuvres them into an empty stall, pulling away for a second to slide the lock shut. He backs Jeno up until the back of Jeno’s knees hit the bowl, stumbling to sit on the closed seat. Tilting up, Jeno kisses Renjun, and the latter cards his fingers through Jeno’s hair delicately. Jeno hugs Renjun by the waist, nearly pulling Renjun to sit on his knees when Donghyuck’s voice floods the bathroom,
“I don’t know, babe. Maybe an hour more?” he says, obviously on the phone with Minhyung again.
Renjun jerks away, eyes widening in horror. Jeno shakes his head, motioning for him to just stay quiet.
“No, I’m not alone. Renjun and Jeno are with me. Yes, I’ll be fine. Yes, I miss you. Yes, I do, in fact, think you’re clingy and annoying. No, Minhyung, I still love you, like I said two minutes ago. Yes, I know you love me too.”
They eavesdrop with bated breaths as Donghyuck continues to reassure Minhyung tirelessly, busy by the sink. He was probably changing the paint water in his bucket, an errand Jeno’s done several times on Donghyuck’s behalf.
“Why don’t you pick a place?” Donghyuck goes on, and Jeno can make out the sound of the bucket filling up, indicating he was about done. Jeno looks up to see Renjun worriedly looking at the door. Why is he so nervous? “Dinner? With the rest? I don’t mind. Jaemin? I don’t know where – ”
The door to the bathroom squeaks open, and Renjun tenses again. Bothered, Jeno pulls on the collar of Renjun’s sweater, kissing him in hopes of relaxing his boyfriend. Don’t worry, he mouths, and Renjun nods, fingers toying with Jeno’s hair.
It’s Jaemin this time, joyful voice unmistakable, “There you are! I went by the art room, didn’t see anyone in there.”
“I’ll call you later, babe,” Donghyuck says. Then, “Yeah, hey, where’ve you been? Minhyung’s looking for you.”
“Had to retake a test for Mrs. Jung’s class,” Jaemin yawns loudly. “Where’s Renjun?”
Donghyuck shuts the tap off, “He went to the supply room. Why?”
“He left the heater on again!” Jaemin snorts. “His mother texted to have me transfer the five dollars to her bank account! Can you imagine? I need to have a word with him, honestly.”
Jeno stiffens, looking at the ground. Renjun doesn’t seem to notice, eyes trained to the door.
“Minhyung told me about that,” Donghyuck pauses. “Hey, you’re close with Renjun, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, pretty much,” Jeno can envision Jaemin shrugging. “Why?”
Donghyuck clicks his tongue, “Do you know if he has a crush on anyone?”
Jeno flinches, and Renjun definitely notices this time, cupping his jaw to have him look up. When he does, Renjun is staring at him in pure panic, and Jeno doesn’t ever recall seeing Renjun like this before. Not at all calm and collected like he usually is. He leans down to kiss Jeno, and he accepts the abrupt kiss silently, but he doesn’t like the way Renjun’s reacting, fingers gripping into his shoulder like he was afraid, What are you afraid of? Getting caught?
“Why’re you asking?” Jaemin tone fluctuates, sounding – Jeno can’t put a word to it.
“I don’t know,” Donghyuck’s is filled with curioustiy. “I think he might have someone he likes?”
Jeno’s hearts stops, and Renjun shakes his head, visibly unnerved.
“Who?” Jaemin probes, and he must’ve seemed too eager, because Donghyuck is witty enough to catch on,
“You know, don’t you?” He accuses, voice ringing loud in the vacant bathroom. A pause, “You do know! He likes someone?”
It’s Jeno’s turn to jerk away, distressed at the fact that Renjun already had someone he liked, but… That’s why he must’ve been so secretive, Jeno’s eyes him warily, a crack digging deep into his heart. He didn’t want to get caught in this game with me.
Renjun is still standing in front of him, and Jeno watches as he takes deep breaths, chest rising and falling. His eyes are glazed, and Jeno has to look away.
He wants to push Renjun away and bolt. But with Donghyuck and Jaemin standing outside, that’s not a choice. Not without rousing any more suspicious between them at least. If things were going to end today, Renjun must want things to remain as it is – a secret.
“Who is it?” Donghyuck’s voice snaps him back to reality. “Is it someone we know?”
“I can’t tell you, obviously, but you won’t believe who it is!” It’s smug, that’s what it is. Jeno pieces it together with what little energy he has left in his limbs.
Who is it, who is it, who is it?
“C’mon, just tell me!” Donghyuck huffs. “I’ll help you get them together even! Who is it?”
Renjun’s hands are cold, and they fly up to cup Jeno’s ears, a look on his face that could barely be described as worry. Startled, Jeno doesn’t move quick enough to react, so he stares up at Renjun blankly. Renjun’s hands fail to muffle Jaemin’s answer,
“No way!” Jaemin snorts. “Renjun trusts me enough, I won’t be ruining that by sharing it with you, Hyuck.”
Donghyuck tuts, “Fine, fine, I get that. But, I have an inkling? Want to know who?”
Renjun presses even harder against Jeno’s ears, and Donghyuck’s voice drops so far low into a whisper that he doesn’t catch the name. He does catch when Renjun freezes, blinking down at Jeno, fearful he might’ve heard the name of his crush. Donghyuck must’ve gotten it right, because Renjun stones, pressing so hard to make sure Jeno doesn’t hear.
He doesn’t let go of Jeno’s ears, and it feels like hours have passed until he does, the bathroom seemingly empty again.
Confused, troubled, and mildly irritated at always being left in the dark, Jeno gets to his feet, nudging past Renjun to unlock the door, leaving urgently,
“Jeno! Jeno – wait,” Renjun grabs him by the elbow, and Jeno doesn’t have the heart to push Renjun away, so he does wait. “Did you – did you hear?”
Jeno stays quiet. Maybe if he keeps mum, Renjun might let slip who his crush is.
“Jeno, I’m sorry,” he says quietly. Oh, here it comes. Jeno keeps his eyes locked to the ground beneath his feet. “I – I’m sorry, I should’ve told you earlier, I didn’t want you to find out like this – ”
He doesn’t want to hear it. He doesn’t need to hear how sorry Renjun was for just going along with Jeno’s stupid game, all the while liking, crushing on someone else. How could Renjun do this? How? The kisses, the hugs, the drawings of Jeno-cat, did they mean nothing?
Jeno yanks his arm from Renjun, his skin aflame.
“It’s fine,” he grits out. “I don’t want to hear it.” When Renjun doesn’t say anything, he squeezes his eyes shut, “I don’t want to play this game with you anymore, I don’t – this game,” he balls his hands into fists, trying his best not to say anything he didn’t mean. It isn’t Renjun’s fault Jeno’d fallen for his best friend. It isn’t Renjun’s fault for being sorry, for not being able to return Jeno’s feelings. “I don’t want it anymore.”
“What – what are you saying?” Renjun’s voice barely inches above a whisper.
“I – you – ” Jeno can’t find the words. “You’re a cup!”
Renjun balks, “I’m a what?” He clamps his mouth shut, giving Renjun a chance to speak, “Jeno, I’m – ”
“Sorry,” Jeno cuts him off. “I know now you’ve a crush, so let’s not do this anymore.”
“No, wait – ”
“You don’t have to,” he laughs bitterly. It does nothing to quell the urge to cry. “You don’t have to apologise for not liking me back. I don’t want to hear it.”
“Jeno, no, what are you – ”
Without Renjun’s hand on him, Jeno runs, and he doesn’t expect Renjun to chase after him, but it still hurts when he doesn’t.
It’s the first time in thirty days that Jeno leaves school without Renjun by his side. The first time in thirty days that Jeno realises how much of an idiot he was for bringing up such a game with Renjun in the first place. The first time in thirty days that he cries on the walk home, feeling a lot sad, but far emptier.
Thirty days together, but it only takes one to break Jeno’s heart.
renjun: missed calls (2)
13FEB [17:43] renjun: jeno please pick up
13FEB [17:43] renjun: you’ve misunderstood
13FEB [17:43] renjun: let’s talk face to face please
renjun: missed calls (3)
13FEB [17:47] renjun: pick up please jeno
13FEB [17:47] renjun: don’t be like this
13FEB [17:48] renjun: you’ve got it all wrong
13FEB [17:49] renjun: where are you?
13FEB [17:54] renjun: jeno i’m sorry
Jeno shuts his phone off.
He tries to fake it in the morning, but his mother doesn’t buy it, aware of Jeno’s antics. Begrudgingly, he dresses for school and grabs his training gear too. It’s Friday, their next timed endurance run, and Jeno’s sure the lack of energy in his system deems him unfit to run six miles. (Though, he’s positive it isn’t going to convince Coach Choi to let him off.)
He tries to text Minhyung, but his phone is completely drained of battery, considering how he forgot to plug it in last night, too preoccupied with crying and dealing with his unfortunate heartbreak. Thankfully, his puffy eyes seem to have subsided, and he’s looking less like he’d spent the entire night sobbing miserably (which he did).
Afraid Renjun might be near his locker, Jeno makes sure to enter school grounds a minute before the bell’s set to go off, jogging to his classroom without making any stops. With a stroke of god’s luck, he doesn’t bump into Renjun, doesn’t even hear Donghyuck nor Minhyung nor Jaemin hanging about in the halls.
It was going to be fine if everything remained a secret. If they didn’t talk about it, maybe Renjun might give up on feeling pitiful, and everything would return to normal.
It doesn’t prepare him for when Renjun is waiting for him outside his class. Late for class and on the sports program level, Renjun’s going to get properly scolded if he was caught. Trying to stay as quiet as possible, Jeno inches towards his classroom, watching Renjun fidget restlessly, eyes studying the noticeboards. His little adventure fails when Jeno bumps into a trophy case nosily, groaning under his breath.
“Jeno?” Renjun is quick to approach him, and Jeno straightens his back. His classroom is only several paces away, if he really ran for it, he could probably make it –
“Jeno, wait, I want to talk to you.”
Despite his state of distress, Jeno notices red splotches on Renjun’s cheeks, and the fact that he still had the bracelet on his wrist, obvious now that Renjun is wearing a button-up – no, Jeno tells himself, focus.
He points at his classroom, “I’m actually late, so, maybe – let’s not.”
“Wait,” Renjun sidesteps, biting on his lip. “It’ll be really quick, I wanted to apologise for – ”
I don’t want to hear you say you’re sorry because you can’t return my feelings.
“Look, Renjun,” it pains Jeno to even say it, as if he didn’t spend the entire night turning the name over and over again in his mind. “I don’t want to hear it, okay? I’m sorry I suggested we faked a relationship or whatever,” he barrels on. “I – let’s just leave it, okay? Forget anything even happened, I – I’m going to be late for class, I’ll catch you around.”
And he slips into class, unable to look Renjun in the eye.
Jeno doesn’t know why he thought things would blow over just like that.
Momentarily stunned, he looks around the empty classroom. Classes are long over, and time is passing ridiculously slow. Minhyung and Jaemin were confused as to why he wanted to stay in class instead of heading out to lunch with them, but left him to his own devices when he continuously refused the invitation.
If Renjun was going to be there, he didn’t want to be there either.
Track practice isn’t for another half hour, but it’s too late for him to grab something to eat now, lest he gets nauseous during the run.
“Jeno!” Donghyuck slams the door open, and Jeno stands, worried Renjun might be behind. “What did you do to Renjun?”
He waits for a second longer, relaxing at the assurance that Renjun isn’t trailing behind Donghyuck, “What?”
Donghyuck shuts the door, folding his arms across his chest, “He won’t stop crying, that’s what!” Jeno thinks he might’ve stopped breathing for a moment or two. “He won’t eat anything, won’t talk to anyone. I had to pull him away from his charcoal piece because he looked like he was going to rip it apart!”
Jeno blanches at Donghyuck’s tone, particularly shrill today. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Oh, shut up,” Donghyuck rolls his eyes. “I know there’s something going on with you and Renjun.”
“There’s nothing between us.” Jeno feels the anger boil, “And I didn’t do anything! Why don’t you go talk to him?”
“You don’t think I’ve tried?” Donghyuck frowns. “I said he doesn’t want to talk to anyone, Jeno. Whatever it is, fix it quick. I don’t want to have to deal with this when Minhyung’s already sick on Valentines’ day, okay? We’re going to – ”
“Minhyung’s sick?” Jeno echoes. He didn’t notice anything out of the blue during break. Then again, he’s been plenty distracted. “Is he still going for training?”
“No,” Donghyuck sighs. “I’m taking him to the clinic now, so please. Fix things with Renjun." Another sigh, "I feel bad enough for leaving him alone, but he insisted on waiting for you to finish practice.”
Jeno can’t help but remain defensive, “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I don’t care,” Donghyuck shrugs, turning to leave. “Fix it, Lee.”
Training without Minhyung meant training without a good pacer. On all counts of terrible luck, Wonjung picks him as a pacer. Talkative, competitive, horrible pacer, Jung Wonjung. Finding all ways to avoid Renjun waiting in the stands, Jeno’s left his things in the locker room instead, including his watch and bottle, making impossible for it to time himself.
Getting paired with Wonjung is just the cherry on top of everything that’s crumbling into Jeno’s lap.
Renjun’s in his usual seat by the stands, alone this time. Jeno tries not to make any sort of eye contact all throughout warm-up, but he knows Renjun is watching him, hugging his bag close to his chest.
When Coach Choi blows the whistle, Wonjung’s starting pace throws Jeno off immediately. It’s already far too quick for the first lap, but he lengthens his strides to accommodate.
“Dude,” Wonjung doesn’t stop talking. “Did you eat? I can hear your stomach grumbling.”
Without answering, Jeno shakes his head. He had a slice of bread for breakfast, but even that he couldn’t finish, not with all of his feelings constipating him so.
By the twelfth lap, Jeno knows something’s wrong. He’s getting too cold too fast, and Wonjung speeds up with every step, rambling on and on about whatever, Jeno can’t concentrate. Breathing starts to hurt, and a sharp pain hits him in the abdomen, a side stitch.
They cross the start line to lap thirteen, and Jeno looks up to Renjun on the stands, watching him intently. He gets to his feet just as Jeno looks away, focusing on keeping up with Wonjung. Every breath threatens to push Jeno down to his knees, but he doesn’t stop.
By the twenty-fourth lap, Jeno lets himself find Renjun on the stands again, and he’s leaning on the railings, closer to the track, and Jeno can see worry, evident on his face.
“We need to speed up to make thirty minutes,” Wonjung instructs.
“What? I can’t – ” Jeno huffs. “That’s too fast, I – ”
He doesn’t get to finish because he trips over his own feet, legs exhausted from the pace. The track is rough against his knees and elbows, and he groans loudly, rolling onto his back. Faintly, he hears Coach Choi ordering for Wonjung to keep going, and then the coach is hovering over Jeno in the next second,
“Jeno? Jeno, can you hear me?”
His head feels like it’s disconnected from his neck and shoulders, but he nods anyway. The blood rushing to his brain makes him feel faint, and if he weren’t already on his back, Jeno thinks he might’ve passed out.
“Someone get him some water!” Coach Choi waves his clipboard to cool Jeno down. “Did you eat? Jeno?”
“No,” he inhales sharply when the stitches return. “I didn’t have time.”
“Jeno, you should know better than that,” Coach Choi doesn’t let him off easy with the nagging. “You’re going to be a senior soon, you need to – ”
“Jeno! Jeno, Jeno, Jeno, what – ”
“Who are you?” Jeno’s eyelids are too heavy to keep open, but with just a whiff, he knows it’s Renjun’s hands on his arms, his face.
“Huang Renjun, coach, I’m a – a friend of Jeno’s. I was watching from the stands.”
“Can you take him to the side? All of my runners are still mid-way through their laps.”
From behind tiny slits, Jeno makes out that Coach Choi is handed a bottle of water, but Renjun takes it before Jeno can.
“Watch him. I don’t want anyone fainting on my watch, okay?”
“Okay,” Renjun grips tight onto Jeno’s sweaty arm. Coach Choi hauls him up, and he can barely stand on his own, swaying completely into Renjun’s small frame, hand finding purchase on Renjun’s backpack.
“Sorry,” he stumbles, trying to pull away.
“It’s okay,” Renjun wraps his arm around Jeno’s waist. “Lean on me, I got you.”
“Where are your things?” Coach Choi follows them until the edge of the track, holding Jeno by the arm. “Take a warm shower after you regain your balance.”
“The locker room,” Jeno closes his eyes, feeling another wave of dizziness hit him. Renjun rights him, holding him close, and Jeno has no choice but to accept the help, resting his weight onto Renjun.
“Okay, let me call someone to come and help you,” Coach Choi turns, but Renjun steps up,
“It’s okay, I know where it is, I’ll take him.”
Jeno wants to refuse, wants to do anything but be left in a confined area alone with Renjun, but he can’t find it himself to speak.
“Can you make it there?” Coach Choi sounds dubious, eyeing Renjun sceptically. “Jeno’s not a light-weight, I should – ”
“No, I can do it,” Renjun’s fingers dig hard into Jeno’s hips. “He’s my – I – I got it.”
Coach Choi relents, hands tied with no one watching the rest of the runners, he can’t just leave to follow them into the locker room, “Update me once you’re done with your shower, and get him a Gatorade from the vending machine, he needs the hydration.”
“Okay,” Renjun nods, and Coach Choi leaves, telling Jeno to rest up. Once he does, Renjun sighs loudly, staggering under Jeno’s weight. Determined, he asks, “Can you walk?”
With a nod, Renjun supports Jeno all the way into the locker rooms, pushing the door open with his foot. After leaving Jeno by one of the benches, Renjun scurries out to get him said Gatorade, and he’s back in an instant, orange bottle in his hands. Uncapping it for Jeno, he holds it out,
“Thanks,” Jeno manages to say, taking it with both hands, taking big gulps.
“Slow down,” Renjun mutters, gingerly sitting beside Jeno, leaving a gap between them.
He finishes the drink slowly, in fear that Renjun might want to talk again, now that he’s got Jeno in a difficult position to escape. The atmosphere is tense, and Jeno wishes very much the ground would crack open and eat him whole.
Renjun fidgets with the cap in his hands, the strings of his bracelet dangling as he did so.
“Well, uh, I’m feeling better now, so – ” Jeno starts, voice hoarse. He’s still breaking out in cold sweat, and he doesn’t trust he legs enough to carry his weight.
“Where’s your bracelet?” Renjun asks quietly. And before Jeno could answer, “Did you throw it away?”
Jeno recoils, “No.”
“Okay,” Renjun laughs breathlessly, but it's too strained to sound like a real laugh. “I worked hard on that, so… don’t throw it away.”
“I didn’t throw it away,” Jeno repeats, peeling at the Gatorade sticker. "I won't throw it away."
It doesn’t take long for Renjun to speak again, the silence between them too uncomfortable, “Look, Jeno, about what you said yesterday – ”
“I’m feeling a lot better now, thanks for your help, but – ” Jeno moves to get up, but Renjun’s fingers circle around his bare wrist,
“Jeno, please,” the way his voice trembles forces Jeno to sit back down. “I just want to t – talk about yesterday.”
“Yeah, no, I got it,” Jeno nods earnestly, and he tries not to let Renjun’s glassy eyes get to him. He wants Renjun to feel as little guilt as possible, “You have a crush, and I meant what I said,” he feigns nonchalance. “We can just forget about this whole game, you don’t have to feel sorry for me.”
Renjun speaks slowly, as if Jeno were daft, “Why… why would I feel sorry for you?”
Jeno shakes his head, “It’s nothing important, it’s – ”
“Why – ”
“Sorry, Renjun,” it hurts to say his name, Jeno winces. He just wants to leave. He didn’t want to explain himself, didn’t need Renjun pitying him any more than he already is. It’s his own fault for bringing up high school romances, soulmates. Screw that, he just wanted Renjun.
“I really don’t want to hear it – ”
“No, I need you to listen to me, yesterday, y – you said you liked me, Jeno, you – ”
“Knock it off,” Jeno lifts himself off the bench, trying to get out of Renjun’s reach. “I don’t – ”
Renjun is faster, yanking him down with both hands,
“Stop it!” Jeno scrambles to get away, bumping his shin into the adjacent bench. “I said I don’t want to play this game anymore! You – ”
“I like you, Jeno!” Renjun lifts a hand, threatening to smack Jeno hard if he didn’t shut up for a moment. “I’ve liked you for so long, you can’t just go around assuming things on your own anymore!”
Jeno clutches the empty bottle tight in his hands, “I – what – I don’t – what are you saying?”
“You keep saying – saying everything’s just a game, it’s practice, it’s fake,” Renjun cries, breathing heavily, eyes wet with unshed tears. “It’s not fake, Jeno! I like you, and – and,” he sniffs loudly, Jeno feels it in his bones. “You can’t just cut me off, can’t just push me away whenever you want! Not talking to me without – when I've done nothing wrong? You can’t do that to me, Jeno. Please don't do that to me.”
The pain in his lungs is different than when he was suffering on the track. It’s far worse.
“I only agreed to your dumb idea because it hurts seeing you with other people, okay?” Renjun shakes his head and he starts to cry.
Jeno thinks he’d rather take a knife to the gut, or maybe Donghyuck’s kick to the face. He deserves it.
“I – I don’t want to see you with other people, okay? It’s selfish, I know, I just – stop saying it’s fake when it isn’t!”
He doesn’t dare to speak above a whisper, not even when Renjun slumps tiredly onto the bench, looking as drained as Jeno felt, “I – I didn’t – I didn’t know you felt that way.”
“Of course not,” Renjun swipes at his tears, and Jeno inches forward carefully. “You’re so busy looking at other people, you’ve never considered me.”
It hurts to hear, proving it’s legitimacy.
“Renjun,” Jeno softens, feeling the fight leave his body. “Renjun, I’m sorry, I – I didn’t know you liked me.”
“Yeah,” Renjun props his elbows onto his knees, burying his face into his hands. “Because you’re always looking at other – ”
Jeno pipes up, “You never draw me.”
Renjun stops short, exasperated, “What?”
“You never draw me,” he repeats, and his argument feels really stupid now that he’s verbalised it. “I mean, you draw cute cats that look like me, and I didn’t expect you to pick me for your assignment – not like the five foot painting of Minhyung Donghyuck’s working on, but I just – ”
Interrupting his self-piteous sermon, Renjun grabs his bag behind Jeno, roughly pulling out his sketchbook. Skipping a few pages, he thrusts the book into Jeno’s lap irritably. Caught off guard, Jeno drops the bottle to catch the sketchbook, and it takes his mind a tad too long to register that it’s all sketches of Jeno. Of Jeno running, of Jeno smiling, Jeno eating, laughing, breathing. Not Jeno-cats, but actual Jeno, with tiny hearts littered across the pages. Within tens of pages, Jeno spots maybe one or two sketches of himself here and there, in-between drawings of inanimate objects, or hands (Jeno’s hands?), or dogs, or their bracelet.
“Don’t say I don’t draw you,” Renjun mutters, sullen. Jeno doesn’t respond, gaping open-mouthed at the details, every pen stroke of his hair, of his smile. Some of them have words beside them, but they’re either scribbled over or erased away, but the hearts are enough to convey its meanings.
“You’re important to me,” Renjun says when Jeno flips back to the front of the book, intent on studying every single page, every single sketch, drawing, doodle. “You’re an important person in my life, Jeno.”
“I – ” Jeno grips the sketchbook tight, not knowing what to say. Renjun was important to him too, growing more and more so every single day. So, he tells Renjun just that, tenderly pulling him closer, and Renjun lets him, until he’s rested on Jeno’s chest. It’s quiet, and Renjun toys with his bracelet, and Jeno so wishes he could take his from his wallet to slip it back on.
“You’re so sweaty,” Renjun complains, but he doesn’t move away.
Instead of the retort on his tongue, Jeno says, “I like you, Renjun.”
Renjun sighs, and Jeno would place good money it’s one of relief, “If you haven’t already noticed, I like you too.”
“No,” Jeno gently lifts Renjun off him to look him in eye. “I really, really like you.”
Renjun sways forward, kissing him lightly on the cheek, “I really, really like you too.”
With a fluttering heart, Jeno kisses Renjun on the lips, sketchbook still tight in his hands.
“Yesterday,” Jeno doesn’t want to ask, but he has to know. “In the bathroom, with Donghyuck…”
“He said your name,” Renjun leans into Jeno, and he accepts it again. “I told Jaemin I liked you a month ago, I couldn’t stand bottling up all of my feelings and I knew he wouldn’t say anything, and he didn’t.” Jeno feels terrible for thinking so badly of Jaemin, he blames his emotions, getting out of hand. He tacks a mental note to buy the boy some chocolates or that milk bread he liked so much. “And yesterday,” Renjun inhales deeply. “Yesterday, Donghyuck guessed it was you. I was afraid you’d heard. I didn’t want you to – to find out like that.”
Jeno presses a kiss into Renjun’s hair, “You had me worried. I – I thought it was someone else. I didn’t know what to think.”
“It’s you,” Renjun confesses. “It's always been you.”
Since freshmen year? Jeno wants to ask, but he doesn’t. He’ll leave it for another day, though he was sure of the answer.
“So?” Renjun sighs, bringing their hands together, just how Jeno wanted them to be. “Think you’ve got enough practice?”
“Oh, ha ha, you’re so funny,” Jeno says flatly, going back to perusing the sketchbook in his lap. “I don’t think I thought it to be ‘practice’ for very long.”
Renjun sits up, “What do you mean?”
“‘Dunno,” Jeno shrugs, but he knows the blush creeping on his cheeks is a dead giveaway. “It never felt fake to me, I just didn’t know if it was the same for you.”
“Since when? For how long?” Renjun pokes him in the arm.
“Er,” Jeno runs an index finger across an ink drawing of his side profile. “Since I walked out of the convenience store?”
Renjun pecks him on the cheek, “Thirty days?”
Jeno doesn’t deny it makes his heart grow ten times bigger, “Thirty-one, actually.”
(“Can I ask you something?” Renjun says over their bowls of unadon. It’s just the both of them tonight, and Jeno has his hand interlaced with Renjun’s on the counter, their matching bracelets obvious, even under the dim light.
“Hmm?” He hums, picking a few pieces of eel to place them in Renjun’s bowl.
“I can’t stop thinking about it,” Renjun takes a sip of his green tea.
“What? Is it a bad thing?” Jeno worries.
“Why did you call me a cup?”