缘分 yuanfen: (n.) a relationship by fate or destiny; the binding force between two people.
It’s the stirring tingle that engulfs his hand, crawls all the way up his arm and settles around his neck, all from a gentle brush of fingers, that effectively stops Mino in his tracks. He looks up from his snow-stained phone screen, urgent message be damned. Seunghoon can wait, contrary to his claims of growing bald before Mino gets to their designated meeting place or that his patience is wearing thin due to Mino’s incapability to reply to any of his messages.
He’s always been exceedingly dramatic. He can wait.
In fact, everything else can wait, because of the three seconds it takes for Mino to realize exactly what it is; a frisson of contact that feels, at first, like static electricity. Until it’s something more. What follows is the click of an innate turn switch that is undeniable, almost biological. There’s a flush that overtakes his entire body, electrifies his bones and his muscles all the way to his fingertips, and he could hear the thumping of his heart against his chest, feel the rush of blood to his brain – adrenaline, that’s what it is. The stories talk of the same thing, all vacant words before this moment.
And suddenly Mino is skittish and exhilarated and he wants. As though he’s never wanted anything else.
He turns around three seconds too late and becomes painfully aware of the chaos surrounding him as he frantically searches the sea of people for its source. It’s five in the afternoon on what is the busiest day of the year – streets swarmed with last minute shoppers and frazzled workers trying to get home to their families, the occasional carolers, and those who simply wish to drink in the festive spirit before it dies out into the new year.
Mino’s feet take him to the opposite direction of the restaurant where he should be meeting Seunghoon, going completely by instinct. He thinks maybe he hears bells, not the Christmas kind that fill the streets with jovial noise, but the kind that leads up to something majestic. Final. And he'll know it when he sees it because he believes it, finally.
Bumping shoulders, scanning every street, every nook and cranny his eyes could reach, Mino hunts for a face – unknown, distinct, perhaps beautiful. Soulmates are always beautiful.
He trips on what appears to be a small box in shiny wrapping and careens to a wall palms first, a few passersby offering him fleeting, worried glances before going on their way. Mino shakes it off like he would the snow dusting his hair and trudges on, still seeking and eager.
One. Two. Three. Four blocks. Across a crowded corner with toys on sale is a bakery about to close, with one last customer inside whose forest green parka stands out in the yellow lights. Fate works amorously and with as much romantic flair, Mino thinks to himself, strides in, and reaches for her hand.
She’s striking when she turns in surprise, possibly irritation, but Mino feels nothing.
It takes a while before his heart drops as more faces pass and not one elicits the jolt he expects. He’s too far from where the contact was made, phone buzzing incessantly in his pocket, face numb from the cold. His hope is fading fast as the effervescence inside him wanes, until the bells stop ringing and all he hears is the sound of a child’s cry above raucous chatter and Santa Claus is Coming to Town coming off of cheap speakers.
* * *
Mino’s family is special. This much he learned from his grandmother who loved to tell stories of fated meetings and entwined paths. He had been too young to fully grasp the entirety of it, and every new tale was but a bedtime story for him and his doe-eyed sister who swooned at every word to roll off their grandmother’s tongue.
Each story began the same way. Many, many years ago, in an era of royal bloodlines and lands brimming with enchantment, a man was bestowed a gift by a powerful god as a reward for his extraordinary kindness. The gift of clairvoyance, their grandmother would tell them proudly, and it would carry on from generation to generation, for as long as his blood runs in their veins. A day later, the man meets the woman of his dreams, and their souls live on, together, even in the afterlife.
Mino grew up with this lore, with the knowledge that while they weren’t much different from everyone else, there is something they possess that others do not. He was ten years old when he complained why their power couldn’t be more grand, perhaps something that could turn him into a superhero who fought bad guys, instead of a useless ability he couldn’t even brag to his friends about.
There is nothing grander than finding your purpose to live, his grandmother would tell him, her voice always soft, full of wisdom and unwavering faith. There is no greater triumph than finding your other half.
It manifests with a touch.
Mino had never let the idea consume him the way it did Dana, who spent most of her young life running after her destiny. And it wasn’t that Mino didn’t believe, how could he not when there were countless proof in the form of childhood memories, including his parents who, to this day, are very much in love?
But Mino has dreams of his own, plans that do not only revolve around finding the one destined for him. Besides, there are things that are best left to fate.
And fate, it seems, has caught up with him after twenty-seven years.
* * *
Mino unravels the thick scarf wrapped around his neck as he enters the cafe, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee improving his mood only slightly. The snowfall had been brutal all morning, and he supposes it would have been wiser to stay home and spend the rest of the holidays bundled up in front of his flat screen TV, marathoning the films he’d been meaning to watch and gorging on leftovers his mother had brought over on Christmas morning.
But since his brush with fate, he’d been feeling restless, and there’s a buzzing that had taken permanent residence under his skin which causes him sleepless nights or vivid nightmares, both of which only leave him feeling awful in the morning. His apartment feels emptier than it is, than it should be, really. As someone who’s been living alone since college, there’s no reason to yearn for conversations over a meal, or a body to snuggle next to when he refuses to get up from bed.
Dana had told him in a rather excited tone how all of this was only normal. Once he’s made contact, it’s hard not to long for it. She proceeds to gush about being happy for Mino, that he’d finally felt it, and isn’t it fantastic? Mino wishes he could say the same, but all he feels is a barrenness that leaves him glum.
Work is Mino’s temporary way out, something that keeps him busy so his mind doesn’t wander off, pondering what ifs and going mad trying to conjure images of someone he has never even met.
He clips the case for the blueprints under his arms as he walks over to his usual table at Café Filorosso. It’s a quaint find, not one of those bland franchises that sell soulless drinks. Fortunately, it’s only a three minute walk from his office building and the most convenient spot to get his morning coffee.
It’s nearly ten o’clock and the café is empty. Understandable, since most people aren’t due for work yet and would much rather stay home in this weather.
He opens his iPad as soon as he sinks into his seat to go through emails he’d ignored for the past few days. He clicks one from Seunghoon and downloads the schematic designs for the small two-bedroom house he had sent him for closer inspection. They’d landed several clients in December, a strange yet welcome occurrence that Seunghoon attributes to humans’ inherent need to spend money when the holidays roll in. Thank God for Christmas.
It takes a while before he notices a figure hovered over him. He peeks at the trademark brown apron and mumbles, “the usual,” without bothering to look up, keeping his slight annoyance to himself at the interruption. In the two years he’d been coming to this café, baristas had stopped asking him for his order.
“Sir,” a deep, audibly guarded voice says. Mino sighs and tears his eyes away from the screen, to its owner. The face that greets him is unfamiliar, his smile a little too cheerful to match Mino’s mood.
“I’m sorry for bothering you. Jongup over there told me you always have an Americano, one shot of espresso,” the man continues, beaming without fail. “But can I interest you in a latte?”
Mino gives him a hard look, brows furrowed as he takes in the mussed hair, white button down and ripped jeans. Not the customary black uniform the baristas wear; Mino would have assumed he was a customer if not for the apron tied to his waist. Mino eyes the nameplate on his left chest: Kang Seungyoon.
“You’re new.” Not a question. The employees there never bother to approach Mino anymore, unless it’s him who beckons.
The man’s smile widens and Mino notes how his soft, rounded features are punctuated by sharp, piercing eyes. The contrast is nice, from a professional standpoint. It gives his face a charming balance.
“It’s my first day,” he supplies without being asked.
Mino raises a brow. “Your first day on the job is a day after Christmas?”
“It beats staying at an empty apartment.” He flashes Mino a knowing expression that almost looks probing, like he expects Mino, of all people, to understand. Mino thinks he might as well have tattooed the word lonely on his forehead and it makes him flush in embarrassment. When he doesn’t respond, Seungyoon speaks again, as though he, too, knows Mino needs help changing the topic.
“I’m a latte artist. The boss thought it would be a nice quirk.”
“So you want me to order a latte instead.”
“Only if you want to.” His smile is all desire to satisfy. “It’s just– I’ve been itching to make one since we opened, but as you can see, we have an empty house and you’re our only customer.”
This one is extra friendly, Mino decides, and he doesn’t know whether he likes it or not just yet. Something tells him maybe this man shouldn’t be talking to customers this way, like he’s a friend rather than someone who gets paid to make coffee.
Then again, he was hired for the quirk.
“Okay?” A thumbs up and glinting eyes. Like the man had just been told he won a thousand dollars. Mino couldn’t help the small twitch in his lips that’s nearly a smile. He nods and Seungyoon turns around excitedly, only to come back after three steps. “Any preference? Favorite animal? A flower, perhaps?”
Mino ponders this. He has to admit, this is sort of interesting. “Surprise me.”
Seungyoon gives him another smile, (he gives them away a lot), but this is less I-want-to-please-this-customer, definitely more sincere and one that reads approval of Mino’s answer.
Mino shakes his head as he turns his attention back to his iPad, not giving the odd man any more thought. It takes minutes of scrolling up and down before Mino realizes he’s staring at his own fingers, conscious to the sensation of skin against the surface. He runs a finger over the band aid at the base of his palm from the scrape he got while running aimlessly at Myeongdong just two days ago. When his mind drifts off further, he fixes himself on the present and concentrates on the words on the screen once more, shaking off the lingering prickle in his hand.
He’s halfway through his emails when a barista sets a mug in front of him, along with the usual two oatmeal cookies he gets with his Americano. Setting everything aside, he leans forward to take a look at the latte artist’s handiwork. He can’t help the soft gasp that escapes his lips when he lays eyes on what appears to be a skyline of skyscrapers made entirely of foam.
He’s never seen more beautiful coffee in his life.
Stuck to the saucer is a yellow note, scribbled in neat strokes.
For Architect Song. On the house. :)
* * *
“I say we switch. If we want to finish by Chef Park’s deadline, we have to work with a head engineer who actually knows what he’s doing,” Seunghoon pipes, looking more worked up than when he started this monologue twenty minutes ago. Mino gives him a cutting look before pushing the door of the café open. The bells chime above him and they’re greeted by the muted chatter of patrons and a heavy scent of cinnamon that perks Mino up instantly. God, he loves this place.
“You’re just pissed because Kim Jinwoo said something about your design.”
“He thinks it’s amateur. Like he can do better? There’s a reason why he’s just the one who executes, and I’m someone who actually has a vision.”
Seunghoon’s ears are beet red and Mino smirks as he throws his coat over the chair before taking a seat. The weather hasn’t calmed down one bit, and they’re expecting snowfall until after the New Year. Unfortunately, work couldn’t wait any longer, not with their deadlines looming in the horizon. Seunghoon is still grumbling when he sits across from him.
“He only said the design needs more research,” Mino shrugs, taking pleasure in pushing his friend’s buttons. Insecure Seunghoon is actually amusing, and he can’t believe it’s the innocuous, unassuming engineer to bring out this side of his friend. “This is your first restaurant. He has five under his belt. To be honest, I trust him more than I trust you.”
A look of pure offense flashes across Seunghoon’s face, but whatever he’s about to say is cut short when a server slides next to their table, giving Mino a smile before handing the menu to Seunghoon.
“I’ll have a steaming, piping hot Americano to go with my feelings of rage,” Seunghoon tells the woman with a smile. “If in case it’s too hot to drink, I can just throw it at my ex-best friend and soon to be ex-business partner over here.”
The girl claps a hand over her mouth to stifle a chuckle and Mino rolls his eyes. “I’ll have the same–“ he pauses, taking one curious glance at the coffee bar. Hmm. “You know what, I think I’ll have a latte today, double shot of espresso.”
He turns to the bar again as the girl walks away and pushes the door to what should be the kitchen. Mino spots the two regular baristas busy at work, but where is… what was his name again?
“Are you ever going to tell me what’s going on with you?” Seunghoon asks, his tone more serious. Mino cocks a brow when he turns back to his friend, pretending not to know what he’s talking about. Seunghoon sighs, seeing through Mino, of course.
“You look like you haven’t gotten any sleep in a week, and you’ve been distracted a lot. You spaced out for a good five minutes in our client meeting earlier. This isn’t like you. What’s wrong?”
The coffee couldn’t come fast enough when Mino is avoiding these talks with Seunghoon, but it’s hard to hide anything from someone who’s known him for almost ten years, only made worse by the guy having more intuition than most people. The soulmates issue has never come up in the past, he never had any reason to tell Seunghoon before now. But how is Mino supposed to explain what’s happening to him without sounding like a deranged person? Even to Seunghoon.
“Just the holiday blues, I guess,” Mino tells him, putting on his most honest face. Seunghoon cannot easily be fooled, the guy detects a lie from a mile away, but Mino tries anyway. “I’m starting to feel my age this time of the year. It gets lonely, too.”
To his surprise, Seunghoon nods. “I know what you mean. I can’t believe I spent Christmas with my sister again. If I don’t find someone soon, I’m going to die an old, bitter man with amateur architecture skills.”
“How about Kim Jinwoo? He’s not half bad.”
“Shut the hell your mouth, Song.”
Mino is still laughing when the server arrives with their coffee. She sets down Seunghoon’s first, and Mino finds himself anticipating his mug, even though he isn’t sure the guy is even around. When he looks down at his latte, he sees an intricate snowflake stamped in foam. A much simpler design than the last time, but Mino finds himself smiling wider when he sees the small ‘hi’ scribbled in chocolate syrup.
When he looks at the bar again, leaning languidly against the metal surface is the latte artist whose smile conjures the name Mino commits to memory this time. Kang Seungyoon. Right.
* * *
The dreams become less nightmares, morph into bursts of color that are more lucid than Mino remembers dreams to be. He still wakes up panting, a heavy feeling at the pit of his stomach and a profound sense of incompleteness that sends him staggering his way to the fridge for a glass of water, then to the kitchen sink to splash some more on his face.
Mino is learning the hard way exactly how much the encounter during Christmas Eve affected him – it’s burned at the back of his head, seared in his skin, growing exponentially stronger in the silence.
He should have turned around sooner. He wishes they had never shared contact more so.
Through phone calls that grow more frequent by the day, Dana continues to assure Mino that they’re inevitably going to meet again. It’s destiny, she tells him boldly, with little trepidation. Sometimes Mino thinks Dana’s belief numbs her to all else. But it’s her confidence in fate that spills over to him in increments – when they talk, when he recalls all his grandmother’s stories, and when he convinces himself there must be, written in his stars, a definitive end to all this.
* * *
Today, he gets a woman in a hat sitting by a window, and Mino could swear her chocolate eyes look sad. When he glances up, Seungyoon is hunched over a cup at the bar, his fringe hiding half of his face as he works on someone else’s coffee. His lips are pursed in concentration, cheeks slightly flushed pink, likely due to the heat from the coffee machine.
Mino finally tears his eyes away, to the window beside him where snow lightly falls. Not as beautiful a view, but it will do.
* * *
It’s New Year’s eve when the dream changes, when colors swirl and take the shape of a faceless man. This doesn’t take Mino by surprise.
He takes in the lean figure, taut shoulder muscles that slide up to a long, immaculate neck. Then there are slender fingers that touch his waist, burn his skin. Mino reaches for the man’s arms but he recoils before Mino could catch him, moves in willowy steps until he disappears into nothingness.
Mino is smitten.
He wakes up with a faint headache. It’s getting worse. Or better, if it’s any indication that he’s closer to meeting him. He can’t know for sure.
And like most days when the residual shivers creep up and down his spine, when he longs for someone he shared but a brief contact with, Mino decides to immerse himself in work, pushing away urges to melt into recollections of the man in his sleep.
* * *
He develops an attachment to Seungyoon’s latte.
The visits to the café become more frequent; he forgets his old, bland drink, cultivates a fondness to a certain taste after several combinations. A shot and a half of espresso for the extra kick, with just a hint of nutmeg and a swirl of chocolate, as per Seungyoon’s suggestion.
But it’s the sight of foam curved in various, unique shapes every day that brings his ordinary morning coffee to life.
Seungyoon has outdone himself today, as two beady owl eyes stare into Mino’s soul, feathers expertly contoured almost too realistically he has to stop himself from running a finger over the milky froth. Mino doesn’t know how Seungyoon does it, and something tells him he’d enjoy watching the man at work. Creating art is all passion and intensity, things that Mino very much appreciates.
He thinks maybe Seungyoon wouldn’t mind. He mumbled something to Mino in passing the other day, about how he gauges whether his creation is good or bad based on Mino’s initial reaction.
Mino wonders just how much Seungyoon observes him from the bar to pick up this ability, but he doesn’t ask.
Mino looks up at the voice and sets his mug down when Seungyoon’s face comes into view, having slipped into the chair across from him almost too casually. Something about his smile appears mischievous today and Mino is curious, but he doesn’t pause to ponder how and when he began telling the man’s different smiles apart.
“Uh, hi?” Mino squeaks, unable to mask the query in his tone as to why Seungyoon had suddenly made himself comfortable in front of a customer.
Mino looks around the café filled with patrons. Seungyoon has made quite an impact with his creations and word travels around. All the more reason for him to be busy, which right now, doesn’t seem to be the case.
“I’m off the clock,” Seungyoon pronounces, an answer to his unspoken question.
“It’s eight in the morning.”
Seungyoon sucks in a breath before his shoulders slump animatedly. “Okay, I’m not off the clock. But I’ve been dying to talk to someone. I’ve run out of topics to talk about with Jongup,” he juts his chin towards the bar where the young man with blond hair looks to be making a fortress using paper napkins.
“The boy barely speaks. And you look like you need a friend.”
Mino’s brows furrow, and his finger flips the lid of his iPad, a click sounding very much like Mino giving in to what should be an unwelcome disruption, but isn’t. Not even close.
“I look like I need a what?” Mino sets aside the feeling that he was just insulted and lowers his voice. “Wait, wouldn’t you get in trouble for this?”
Mino scans the room on instinct, in search of a seething manager or a disapproving co-worker, but gets distracted when Seungyoon leans forward, propping his chin atop his knuckles supported by elbows that are anchored to his thighs. And suddenly he looks so much younger, like a kid, or he’s acting like one, and Mino finds himself amused instead of appalled – a far cry from his reaction when it’s Seunghoon who tries to look cute.
“I have a small confession to make,” Seungyoon starts, lower lip sticking out and yeah Mino doesn’t mind so much. “I’m close to the boss. Actually, I sort of used to live with my boss.”
It’s too late when Mino realizes he’s mirroring the owl on his coffee, eyes nearly bulging out of their sockets, and only when traces of a smirk appear at the sides of Seungyoon’s mouth that Mino recovers and pulls his expression together. But if Seungyoon was trying to get a reaction out of him, he’s successful, and smug. He doesn’t even hide his amusement when he says next, “My Mom– she’s the boss, and she loves me a little too much to fire me over this.”
“Huh,” Mino reaches for his mug and takes a sip. Something like relief washes over him, but maybe the warmth in his cheeks is just the coffee. “You own the place.”
“If we’re being technical, then no. Not yet? But I do manage it now.”
“Okay,” Mino regards Seungyoon curiously again, shifting in his own seat anxiously. More often than not, he wouldn’t really exchange work for a conversation with a stranger, but Seungyoon somehow no longer feels like one. “What do you want to talk about?”
“I don’t know, politics? The situation in Africa? Why McDonalds charges people for gravy when they take out but gives people who dine in access to unlimited amounts?”
“That’s awfully specific.”
“I was just thinking about it on the way to work and it still baffles me,” Seungyoon chuckles. It’s the first time Mino hears it and it’s melodious and hearty, Mino’s cheeks heat up some more. Coffee. It’s the coffee.
“Or we could talk about ourselves, if you want.”
“That, you wouldn’t want,” Mino waves him off. “I lead a very boring life.”
“Oh I highly doubt that,” Seungyoon grins. “You look like someone who’s lived on the edge at least once or twice.”
Mino bites down on his lower lip, sifting through his limited arsenal of anecdotes prepared for when he has to talk about himself – to be funny, to be sociable. But he smiles a genuine smile when he turns to Seungyoon.
“When I was sixteen, I vandalized on my Chemistry teacher’s desk after class, a very lewd sketch. The old fart was failing me.”
Seungyoon gives him a look of pure bewilderment and Mino nearly shrinks in on himself for failing to be funny. Embarrassing. He makes a mental note to keep his mouth shut next time, that is, until Seungyoon puts a hand over his chest, bunching some of the crisp white fabric into his fist.
“Ugh. Bad boys make me weak.”
Mino swallows the lump in his throat at a brand new smile Seungyoon gives him after that.
* * *
Holidays have come and gone, but winter is as cold as it’s ever been, dropping to negative twelve when Mino leaves his apartment shy of fifteen minutes before he typically does – to account for the weather, and maybe add just a few extra minutes at the café. A blanket of normalcy envelops the city, Christmas trees and decors that used to be littered in every street replaced by renewed vigor that comes only with the beginning of a new year, when most people are still eager to fulfill resolutions and leave old woes, committed to being better people than they used to be.
Mino finds out that when he talks to Seungyoon, he doesn’t think of the dreams as much.
He smiles behind his mug as he takes in the arcs Seungyoon’s eyes have been reduced to as the younger man laughs at the latest development between Engineer Kim and Architect Lee. Not very effective code names, but Mino couldn’t be bothered with subtlety, especially when the story is that good.
“And what did Engineer Kim say?”
“What do you think? He told Architect Lee that if he can’t design a restaurant, there’s no way in hell he’s getting dinner with him in one.”
“Ouch,” Seungyoon wrinkles his nose, something he does a lot, Mino noticed. “Your friend needs to step his game up.”
Mino doesn’t remember when Seungyoon began bringing his own cup of coffee with him during their talks, or when Mino stopped bothering to get a head start on work at the café. But that’s what happens anyway, as natural as two old friends who meet up regularly to catch up. And those twenty to thirty minutes he spends drinking fantastic coffee and listening to Seungyoon’s boundless stories before the stress of work are easily the highlight of Mino’s day.
Seungyoon, Mino discovers, is a year younger, but insists that they’re the same age since he was born early in the year, and Mino doesn’t put too much effort arguing with him about it. Besides, he can’t really imagine Seungyoon calling him hyung, not when he seems infinitely more mature than Mino at times, more eloquent with his words and his silences. He’s certainly seen more of the world than Mino will ever dream to see.
Seungyoon comes from a relatively well-off family, graduated with a business degree that, according to him, he begrudgingly finished only because he’s the type to never half-ass anything he starts. He’s creative at heart, having dabbled in sculpture and music, something his family never quite understood. But Seungyoon decided he’s a filial son first and foremost, and there’s a right time and place for his dreams. After two years working at his uncle’s company, he ups and travels the world with money he saved up since he was twelve years old.
It was a small coffee shop in Venice that drew him into latte art, when the owner prepared Seungyoon’s coffee in front of him with the most passion he’s ever seen from any one man. Next thing Seungyoon knew, he was living in a tiny apartelle in Italy on student visa, learning the art from the master himself during the day, and sweeping floors for a living at night.
Mino listens with rapt attention to Seungyoon’s stories, observes the way his eyes light up when he talks about the music he loves, the places he’s been, and the people he’s met.
* * *
“Why don’t you ever talk about yourself?”
Mino thumbs the handle of his mug before he meets Seungyoon’s eyes, the younger man’s lips in a taut line as he looks at Mino through the rim of his cup. Mino can’t say it’s a question that blindsides him; he’d proactively avoided conversations that focus on his life, and Seungyoon is too quick-witted not to notice, but kind enough to never pry.
“I told you, my life is boring.”
The look Seungyoon gives him is almost offended, setting his cup down. “You create buildings for a living – your sketches on paper come to life before your eyes, and these structures can last lifetimes. You design houses that become homes to families and hold countless memories. And that’s just what you do, not even who you are. There’s nothing boring about that.”
“You make it sound so romantic,” Mino chuckles, a weak attempt at lifting the mood, but his eyes don’t waver as he holds Seungyoon’s gaze. He acknowledges the earnestness there, and he’s never met anyone who’s wanted to know about him this much without needing many words to say it.
“I've been told I have that tendency,” Seungyoon says, a resigned smile on his lips that doesn’t puff his cheeks. “But I believe in the power of perspective. How you see things affects how you live your life. I guess I like how it makes things more interesting.”
Mino reads the disappointment that etches onto Seungyoon’s expression and it cracks something inside him. Truthfully, he’s a little scared of how this is happening more and more with Seungyoon. He kneads his hands, looking at the faint snowstorm outside the glass walls.
“I like drawing,” Mino says before he turns to Seungyoon again. “I can lock myself inside the room and just draw all day without stopping. It was a cause for concern to my parents, but it wasn’t really anything serious. I just liked to draw, you know?”
Seungyoon nods, shifting to a more comfortable position in his seat, and Mino chuckles at the excitement coloring his cheeks at something as mundane as Mino telling a story.
“And my family,” Mino continues, “they can be quite free-spirited themselves. We moved around a lot on my mother’s whim, made more and more friends, you can say. But I’ve always gravitated towards permanence. Something constant. I think that’s why I chose architecture. There’s art to it, the element of creation and whimsy. But there are rules, structure. And like you said, buildings last lifetimes. The balance between those two drew me in. And here I am now.”
Seungyoon takes another sip from his cup, hiding what Mino knows is a victorious smile. “See, that wasn’t boring,” he chirps. “Maybe one of these days you can even tell me why you always have that look.”
“When you look outside the glass,” Seungyoon says, his gaze dropping to Mino’s cup. “Or when you look at your hands. You have that habit, you know. It’s like you’re trying to understand something, or you’re searching for answers.”
Seungyoon responds with a shrug. “You know how people say bartenders are the best type of listeners? Well, baristas are better. They’re not drunk, they’re fully awake and rational, thanks to caffeine. But Latte artists are the best.”
Mino scoffs, humoring him. “How so?”
“We have patience. And we know messing up the art doesn’t change the taste of the coffee. It only means we can try again.”
“Wow. That’s deep.”
This time, Seungyoon laughs and it rings in the space, louder than the buzzing in Mino’s skin.
* * *
Mino’s dreams are a tangle of sinuous limbs and music. The music is distinct, notes that dance on the softness of the piano, curve at the thrum of the bass. At some point there’s the elegance of a violin and the strength of a cello weaving into an entire string orchestra as Mino presses his lips on the man’s skin – exploring every inch until he feels the softness of lips, and the music fades into the faint drumming of bongos that resemble quickened heartbeats.
Dana hadn’t kept her promise, Mino finds out, when he opens the door of his apartment to his mother the morning after, worry etched in the lines of her forehead and sympathy in her tired eyes. She promptly cancels all his appointments and drags him to their seer, an intimidating old woman he remembers from snippets of his childhood. Mino voices a last minute protest, half-hearted. He recognizes the traces of fear in his apprehension. Why and where it stems from, he isn’t sure.
They enter a small room where trinkets and amulets line the walls, the scent of burnt incense in the stale air. The woman takes Mino’s outstretched hand and draws circles in his palm, the movement hypnotic and otherworldly. Mino feels the energy in the room shift, converge in the spot where two lines meet. The recurring dreams flash in his head and he shuts his eyes on instinct, lost in the sensations that fill him to the brim.
He doesn’t know how long it lasts but when he opens his eyes, the old woman is staring at him shrewdly, as though she knows more than she’s willing to say.
“Your sight is weak,” she tells him, sounding every bit an accusation as she runs the tip of the brush over the yellow fabric, the red ink seeping underneath. She pushes it towards him after offering a silent chant. “This will help you find what you are looking for. Carry it with you at all times.”
Mino draws the lines of the talisman with his eyes. He doesn’t know why he isn’t more excited, even when his heart is beating as fast as it can.
* * *
He gives the talisman one long, hard look before he tucks it in between two books in the second drawer of his cabinet. He doesn’t take it out again.
* * *
The word falls from Seungyoon’s mouth without a trace of mockery or laughter, eyes narrowed as his slim fingers drum against his cheek in consideration. Conversations have flowed more effortlessly between them after Mino put his walls down bit by bit, revealing more things about himself than he ever thought he would to someone who, up until three weeks ago, was only someone who made him coffee.
“Well?” Mino is more anxious than he wants to be, than he appears.
“It’s a beautiful concept,” Seungyoon says finally. “The thought that everything is predetermined and you are where you are meant to be at this very moment because there’s an invisible hand that led you to this point – very romantic. Sounds right up my alley,” he hums, candid. “But to be honest, I’m more of a ‘we-choose-our-destiny’ kind of guy.”
“But what if we don’t?” Mino chimes, carefully studying him for any signs that Seungyoon thinks he’s crazy. It’s not a conversation he’s had with people other than his family especially for that reason. “What if we are afforded choices, like, whether to get coffee in the morning, which tie to wear, but some aspects of our lives, bigger, more significant aspects, are predestined?”
“Like what?” Seungyoon raises a brow, but Mino can tell Seungyoon knows what he’s getting at. He confirms it when he says, “Like who we end up with?”
Mino breathes out and leans back in to his chair just a little more, giving Seungyoon a nod. “Yeah.”
“Why are you asking me?”
“Just,” he shrugs, hopes he doesn’t give too much away. “Something that crossed my mind.”
Seungyoon lets out something between a scoff and a laugh. “Whether to get coffee in the morning, which tie to wear, those are things that crosses someone’s mind. You speak of this as if it’s something you’ve thought about for a long time.”
“Are you going to give me an answer if I say it’s true?”
“I’m going to give you an answer either way, Mino,” Seungyoon smiles, and it eases just a little tension in Mino’s stomach. But he still fidgets with his hands and taps his foot.
“I believe it’s possible to love someone long enough to last a lifetime. If you’re asking me if I believe that some people are meant to be, then yes. Do I think it’s fate’s handiwork? Not so much.”
“So you don’t believe in soulmates?”
“You want to talk about soulmates?” Seungyoon gives Mino a baffled, equally amused look. “I didn’t peg you for the type.”
Before Mino could reply, Jongup comes up to them and hands Seungyoon an order slip that has Seungyoon excusing himself, back to the bar. Mino takes that time to ponder Seungyoon’s answers, his heart beating a mile a minute while watching Seungyoon from meters away. Why he’s telling the man all these things, Mino isn’t quite sure.
But the urge to finally divulge a secret he didn’t give too much thought before but now weighs heavily on his shoulders, hits only when he’s with Seungyoon.
What’s the worst that could happen? He’ll think Mino is a nutcase.
But Mino would like to believe the man is better than that. In fact, he hopes, for some reason, Seungyoon is better than that.
When Seungyoon saunters back, he doesn’t sit down, glances at his watch, and turns to Mino ruefully. “Sorry about that. You have to leave in five minutes, right?”
Mino could just say yes, go and get to work, forget about saying anything – but he stays rooted in his seat, staring up at Seungyoon who stares back with interest.
“Soulmates are real,” Mino blurts out all too abruptly, with a conviction in his voice that takes Seungyoon by surprise. “I know this, because I’ve met mine.”
Seungyoon looks absolutely perplexed, even when he forces a snicker out of his mouth. “Is this a pick up line?”
“I’m serious. Our family is… we’re a little different.”
Seungyoon tilts his head, and slides down his seat again. “Different, how?”
The next half hour is comprised of Mino’s nervous sputters as he tells Seungyoon the beginning to every bedtime story he grew up with, the family lore, the secret. And not once did Seungyoon say a word, letting Mino talk on with nothing but nods to signify that he’s still listening.
He tells him of the touch, the one that hasn’t left his skin, the reason why he always has that look, like Seungyoon observed. Then he describes the dreams, more vivid every day, and the talisman. How he should be carrying it with him, but he isn’t. Even when he knows it will bring him closer to his soulmate. And yet.
“You,” Mino exhales aloud, exhausted as if he’d run a marathon. The latte art on his cup that was once a pair of shoes is now an indistinguishable blob. “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
Seungyoon doesn’t answer right away; he runs fingers over his lips and looks down at his coffee, as though searching for the right words to say. When he looks up at Mino after a long stretch of silence, his expression is one that Mino has come to associate with him. Sincere.
“No. I think you’re fascinating.”
That’s it? Mino frowns, unsure of what he means. And he hates how everything as of late, especially when it comes to Seungyoon, is unsure.
“I’ve heard some very interesting stories in my travels, but this one,” Seungyoon smiles. “This one is the best.”
Mino deflates. “You don’t believe me.”
“That’s the thing. You could be shitting me right now but I believe every word of it.”
“I’m not shitting you.”
“I know.” Seungyoon reaches for his cup and Mino waits for him to laugh or walk out, but he doesn’t. Instead, Mino tries to read into Seungyoon’s sighs in between his sips, tries to understand why Seungyoon isn’t saying anything more.
The silence between them ends when Mino’s phone rings, and it’s a frustrated Seunghoon on the other end. Mino is almost an hour late to work and it’s getting ridiculous, Seunghoon screams in his ear.
“I have to go,” Mino says begrudgingly, putting his phone away, body heavy as he rises from his seat. With each day that passes, he spends just a little more time at the café but still thinks it’s not enough.
“Mino,” Seungyoon calls out before he could put on his coat. “I’m closing the café on Sunday for an exclusive latte art class. Are you interested?”
Mino gives him a hesitant smile as he picks up the rest of his things from the table. “I’ll be here.”
* * *
Mino peers through the glass door and finds the place locked and empty. Maybe before he told Seungyoon his deepest, darkest secret, he really should have gotten Seungyoon’s number first. He stands and waits by the entrance for about fifteen minutes, shriveling in his coat, when he hears the soft knock on the door. He turns around to a beaming Seungyoon, dressed in a burgundy sweater instead of his standard white button down. Mino thinks he looks even better with a pop of color.
“Sorry,” he pipes, stepping aside to let Mino in. “I was getting things ready in the kitchen.”
Mino uncoils his scarf, scanning the empty cafe. Seungyoon had told him to come at nine thirty, and it’s almost ten o’clock. “Am I the first one here?”
“Uhh, yeah. I mean, you’re the only one who should be here.”
“Didn’t I mention this was a very exclusive class?” Seungyoon smirks. “Oops.”
Seungyoon doesn’t wait for Mino to respond and he’s walking away, leaving Mino to trail behind, shaking his head at having been conned, but really, hiding a smile.
Mino plops himself on a stool across from Seungyoon who’s behind the bar, rolling his sleeves while looking over everything he’s got on the wooden surface. Mino preoccupies himself with watching the other man’s every move with rapt attention, even when the “class” hasn’t technically started.
“I’m going to teach you the most basic one first,” Seungyoon says after a while, spreading his arms and gripping the edges of the bar as he leans forward just a little. Mino is only slightly startled as Seungyoon looks up, and he discovers how much more intimate the setting feels than he initially thought, definitely something he didn’t prepare for when he was getting ready this morning.
“Okay,” Mino sounds uneasy, and he hopes Seungyoon hadn’t noticed.
“The Rosetta leaf,” Seungyoon changes his tone to something more professor like and it elicits a laugh out of Mino. Seungyoon hisses at this, like only a strict professor would, and Mino makes a show out of zipping his mouth and throwing away the invisible key.
Mino would be lying if he says that every word to come out of Seungyoon’s mouth is registering in his brain when he’s enthralled by Seungyoon’s lithe movement, the fluidity of his fingers as he grips the cup, pours the frothy milk with control and refinement. Mino’s eyes flit from his slightly pink hands to his laser focused eyes, his fringe nearly obstructing his view when he dips his head. And then to his mouth as it moves, saying things that Mino doesn’t completely hear. Saying his name.
He stiffens for a second, guilty, when Seungyoon tilts his head in exasperation. “Are you even listening to me?”
“I’m… paying attention.” Not quite a lie.
Seungyoon sighs and pushes a fresh new cup towards him. “Then show me what I just did.”
It’s only then that Mino notices the cup Seungyoon had just set down, a perfect Rosetta leaf perched on top. Mino squares his shoulders and tries to recall how Seungyoon had done it, but all he remembers are fingers and slight jiggles, and sharp eyes, and lips.
“Fine, let me do it again,” Seungyoon relents when he notices the distress in Mino’s face, reaching for the cup. Their fingers almost graze, but they don’t – something Mino doesn’t even notice until Seungyoon withdraws his hand sharply he nudges the cup and some of the coffee spill out.
“Shit,” Seungyoon gasps, turning around in one quick move to retrieve a towel to wipe the surface clean.
“Are you okay?” Mino suddenly feels like standing from his stool and rounding the bar to help Seungyoon but something tells him to stay put.
“Yeah,” Seungyoon replies, distracted, before putting away the towel and facing Mino with a deep breath. “Yeah, of course,” he says again, firmer, putting on the smile again that wavered earlier. “Where were we?”
It takes a full hour before Mino creates anything decent – some kind of flower – but that wasn’t really the point, was it? Not when Mino can’t recall laughing as much as he did in that same hour, taking pleasure in how exasperated Seungyoon could get, how bossy he is, and how Seungyoon pretends to be angry but can’t stop himself from giggling at every little clumsy move Mino makes.
“You’re an architect and you can’t even do this?” Seungyoon’s voice fills the café in faux anger, all hidden enjoyment.
“I didn’t study in Italy so…”
“My ten year old cousin did this last week!”
The banters die down, they end up drinking all the coffee instead, declaring the class a total failure with Seungyoon claiming that Mino is the worst student he’s ever come across – but that’s okay because at least he can make buildings instead of coffee and yeah okay he still wins.
“How about lunch instead?” Seungyoon suggests, already getting up from his seat.
In the same way Mino watched Seungyoon make coffee, he just stood back in awe of Seungyoon’s cooking skills, the younger man claiming it would be a shame if he lived alone in Italy with nothing to show for it in the kitchen. Mino was relegated to setting up the table, Seungyoon refusing any sort of help in case Mino accidentally burns down his Mom’s café.
They feast on pasta and this steak dish Mino could swear is better than most steaks he orders from restaurants in Seoul and they continue talking (it seems they never really run out of things to talk about). Until it’s time for dessert and Seungyoon wordlessly fetches a small cake from the kitchen fridge. He sets it down on the table, Mino puzzled when Seungyoon retrieves a lighter from his pocket to light the lone candle in the center.
“I also have a secret,” Seungyoon tells him, settling back on his seat. Mino squirms a little at the mention of secret but Seungyoon’s smile puts him back at ease. “Today is my birthday.”
“What?” Mino’s eyes widen. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I don’t know, I thought it might be too much to… ask you to celebrate it with me,” Seungyoon stammers, and Mino sees what looks to be self-consciousness in the other man’s features and it’s unusual, really, because Seungyoon is always all warm smiles and effortless confidence. “It’s just another day. No big deal.”
Mino stares at him dumbfounded, recalling how Seungyoon told him his birthday was early in the year. “You gave me free lessons, you cooked the meal, and I didn’t even get you anything.”
“It’s fine,” Seungyoon says, avoiding Mino’s eyes still. “When I came back from Italy, my friends and I have become a little distant. They’re busy with work, their families and all, I couldn’t bother them for something as silly. You’re doing me a favor by being here.”
“Your birthday isn’t silly.”
Seungyoon doesn’t respond and simply flashes him a smile before blowing out the candle, not even giving Mino a chance to sing him the birthday song, or ask him to make a wish. It’s all hurried and overwrought, like Seungyoon is chasing something, and it leaves Mino wondering what the other man isn’t telling him.
“Happy birthday,” Mino greets instead, and means it.
“I’ve been thinking about what you told me the other day,” Seungyoon starts to say, tentative. Suddenly it makes sense why the mood has changed.
Mino feels something in his stomach drop. He wondered when Seungyoon was going to bring it up, if he even will or if he decided it was a conversation that’s better left unfinished. Seeing the uncertainty in Seungyoon’s face, Mino decides maybe it would have been better that way.
“About what you felt when you…” Seungyoon trails off, hesitant.
“When I touched my soulmate,” Mino supplies for him. Seungyoon nods. “What about it?”
“I hope you don't get it the wrong way, because I believe you. But it sounds a lot like being in love.”
Mino searches Seungyoon for any indication that he’s joking but when his face remains somber, Mino finds himself shaking his head. “It’s not,” he counters, a feeling of defensiveness welling from inside, like generations of family pride rests on this one explanation. He didn’t really expect Seungyoon to understand, but– “It’s different.”
“Is it?” Seungyoon quirks a brow. “Have you tried? Loving someone, I mean.”
Mino is caught off-guard by the question and he’s unable to speak, like a rock is lodged in his throat.
The prospect of love has never interested him – not in the way it should other people. His life is a string of tales that convince him there’s someone waiting for him, someone born for him, whose soul is intertwined with his, perhaps, beyond this lifetime.
And love – falling in love with people that might not be that someone has never crossed Mino’s mind, because what’s the point?
“I have,” Seungyoon declares, as if it were the easiest confession in the world. “The hitched breaths when the person is close to touch, the trembling when you actually do, the heat that washes over you like a wave when you kiss,” he pauses, as though searching for something in Mino’s eyes. “The yearning that’s more than simply missing someone. It’s like a piece of you is lost. The need that manifests itself in many ways like,” Seungyoon shrugs, “dreams.”
Mino keeps silent as Seungyoon fumbles with the fork in his hand, like he’s contemplating, weighing whether to continue or to stop speaking. Mino can’t take his eyes off him, off the forlorn look that has never appeared on his face until now. Seungyoon seemed like he doesn’t run out of energy, someone who never has a reason not to smile, but there’s a brokenness there, a vulnerability Mino is seeing for the first time.
“I thought Taehyun was my soulmate,” Seungyoon speaks after what seems like forever and Mino’s heart constricts inexplicably. “We grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same high school, same university, different majors. He’s an artist, a painter,” Seungyoon adds, a small smile of nostalgia on his lips. “I would have gone mad in college with all the rigid business courses if it weren’t for him. I lived vicariously through his art, you see. Watching the person I love carry out his passion, somehow, it was enough.”
“What happened?” Mino asks, but a part of him wishes he hadn’t. He dreads the answer.
“It didn’t work out,” Seungyoon answers in a heartbeat, the words hollow as if they’ve been drained, repeated again and again until it didn’t hurt anymore. “He loved his art, more than he loved me. He decided to study abroad, and he didn’t see me in his future anymore. I was shattered,” he adds, almost a whisper.
When he speaks again, his voice is resolute. “But I guess that’s what happens when your whole life revolves around someone. I thought I couldn’t breathe without Taehyun. It turns out, I was suffocating myself by closing the doors to all the possibilities because I thought Taehyun was the one.”
Mino swallows the lump in his throat, along with words of comfort. Seungyoon isn’t telling him this to find solace in his company, rather, to send a message to Mino. Clear as day.
“That’s when I decided to broaden my world. Travel. Find myself without him. Maybe if I had the ability you have, be able to tell the one with just a touch, I would have saved myself the heartache. But would I want it?” Seungyoon meets Mino’s eyes, and Mino realizes he’s holding his breath. “No. I wouldn’t trade anything for the memories I have with Taehyun. He was my soulmate at one point, because I loved him.”
Mino stares at his feet as he walks to the café door, his footsteps heavy, his chest heavier. There are a million things running through his mind, all of which involve Seungyoon, all of which shouldn’t involve Seungyoon. He snaps out of his reverie when the other man clears his throat and Mino turns around abruptly their bodies nearly collide. But Seungyoon steps back, hands firmly clasped at his sides.
Mino lifts his gaze at Seungyoon, no longer a stranger. A confidante, perhaps. But a vague presence all the same. “Aren’t you… curious?”
Seungyoon bites down on his lower lip, brows creased. “Curious about what?”
“About what happens when I touch you.”
Seungyoon doesn’t answer right away, and when he does, he sighs. “I am. I’m so curious it’s fucking killing me.”
“So why are you going out of your way not to touch me?”
“Because,” he pauses. All at once, Seungyoon looks so small, his eyes failing to meet Mino's. “I’m scared of what will happen when you touch me and you realize I’m not who you’re looking for.”
Mino feels a pang in his chest. The next words to come out of his mouth has him regretting for the next few nights, hoping he can take them back.
* * *
Mino doesn’t come back to the café.
The roar of the truck blares in his ears as he lifts the coffee cup to his mouth, grimacing at the aftertaste, watching the workers unload some of the materials from the vehicle onto the rock hard ground. It’s hard to start construction in winter, but the cold is dying down, and they hope to finish Chef Park’s restaurant by mid spring.
“Don’t you think he looks better when he’s at work like this?” Seunghoon says next to him in a hushed tone, discreetly tilting his head to the direction of Kim Jinwoo who’s barking instructions at his men.
“I really don’t know,” Mino huffs disinterestedly, crumpling the styrofoam cup in his hand. “It never crossed my mind because I was busy actually doing work with him instead of checking him out.”
“That’s what makes us successful partners. We divide tasks. You work, while I–“ he stops when he sees Jinwoo approach them and puts on his widest smile. Mino is invisible again. That's been happening a lot when the three of them are in the same vicinity. “How does it feel to be working on what’s going to be the most aesthetically pleasing restaurant you’ll ever have the honor of building?”
“I’ll tell you when I start working on the project with Architect Pyo,” Jinwoo snipes.
Seunghoon starts fake-laughing aloud, falling in step beside Jinwoo as the engineer surveys the area, all while having to endure Seunghoon telling him about that time he beat Jihoon at a design competition in college.
His best friend can be such an idiot, but he wishes him well, really.
Working on the restaurant means reporting at the construction site for the next two weeks to make sure all design requirements are met before they can leave the rest to Jinwoo. It’s an hour drive from Mino’s apartment and naturally, leaves no time for casual conversations over beautiful lattes.
Mino misses it. Maybe misses him, if he's more honest with himself. But perhaps this is for the best.
The truth is, he could have touched Seungyoon the first time they met. The second time. The third. Sometime ago when Seungyoon’s smiles hadn’t meant much more, when he hadn’t grown fond of their conversations just yet. Way before he found out how amazing Seungyoon is, how earnest.
But something had always stopped Mino.
Perhaps it’s because he knew deep down that Seungyoon isn’t it. There was no jolt. No bells. No grand reveal that promised anything other than a man with a handsome face, a breathtaking smile, and beautiful, delicious coffee.
Mino only wanted a reason to stick around, even if it meant delaying the inevitable. But fate catches up sooner than later, broken hearts be damned.
* * *
Today, Mino wakes up with no headache. No recollections of the faceless man with slender yet strong arms. No yearning, no lingering ripples in his skin.
He wakes up from a dreamless sleep, the most rested he’s ever been in more than a month – and yet he feels emptier than most days. The first thought on his mind is what Seungyoon’s latte could have looked like yesterday, if he had made the stop on the way home. It’s been two weeks. Two dreadful weeks.
He thinks of Seungyoon with a prickle at the base of his throat, or maybe lower, somewhere closer to the heart.
And suddenly he’s skittish and exhilarated and he wants. As though he’s never wanted anyone else.
* * *
It takes Mino twice as long to get to the café because of the heavy snowfall – the last for this winter, according to the early morning news. He chuckles at the thought that it could be a sign, but he discovers he doesn’t really care. He could be turning his back on hundreds of years of family tradition but surely he isn’t the first one to go rogue?
He pushes the door open, bringing with him a gush of cold wind and a wisp of hope. The chime of the overhead bell rings in the empty café, much like the first time he met Seungyoon, who, at that moment, materializes from under the bar. Mino watches, with amusement, how Seungyoon’s eyes widen as he dabs his hands on a towel and moves hesitantly, closer and closer with slow steps, until he’s facing Mino.
“I thought you weren’t coming back,” Seungyoon says, a speck of hurt in his brown eyes despite the smile he wears. “I thought maybe… you found your soulmate.”
“I’m not sure,” Mino says, folding his arms. “Were you in Myeongdong around five o’clock PM, Christmas Eve?”
Seungyoon frowns in confusion at first, then his brows smooth in understanding. “I went there to buy apples. It was in the afternoon, but I’m not sure what time.”
“Hmm,” Mino hums, rubbing his hands together. “I wish there was a way for me to find out if you’re the one.”
Panic flashes in Seungyoon’s eyes, but before he could take a step back, Mino reaches out and grabs his hand.
Seungyoon’s fingers are cold against his skin, but a warmth spreads up his arm from where their hands connect. Mino’s stomach is a mess of butterflies and backflips when Seungyoon squeezes just a little, his heart thunders in his chest when Seungyoon offers him a smile.
“Well?” Seungyoon asks, his tone guarded, if not a little hopeful. “Am I your soulmate?”
Mino answers him the only way he could: he takes one step closer, his hand sliding up Seungyoon’s arm, settling against the underside of his jaw. Mino’s thumb slides over Seungyoon’s cheek while he takes in all of Seungyoon’s features before he leans in to kiss him. Slowly, deeply. Mino melts despite the cold. Seungyoon tastes, in every sense, like his morning latte.
Maybe Seungyoon is the one destined for him. Or maybe Mino is simply in love.
Either way, Mino thinks he can spend the rest of his life drinking this man’s coffee, and collecting all the smiles as he could – between conversations, over as many winters, for an entire lifetime.
And that makes Seungyoon his soulmate by choice. To Mino, that’s enough.
* * *
“Don’t be nervous,” Seungyoon tells him, tugging at the collar of Mino’s coat and dusting his shoulders. Mino thinks Seungyoon shouldn’t really be saying this, not when he’s the one whose hands are trembling. Mino allows his husband to keep fumbling with his hair and his clothes for a minute more before he finally pulls his arms to clamp Seungyoon’s tense hands down.
“Don’t be nervous,” he echoes Seungyoon’s advice, and Seungyoon looks like he’s about to protest, but he sighs and closes his eyes.
“Do you think she will like us?” Seungyoon asks, leaning into Mino for support. “What if she doesn’t like us?”
“She will,” Mino whispers into Seungyoon’s temple as he slides an arm around his waist. Mino wishes he could be more convincing, but he’s probably just as nervous as Seungyoon, only better at hiding it.
The wait took nearly six months – six months of counseling, processing documents, having to deal with frustrating government workers. It’s harder for couples such as themselves, but not entirely impossible. They had almost given up, but it was the little girl’s photo that had kept them going.
Today they were going to meet her for the first time.
He’s pinching the bridge of his nose with eyes closed when Seungyoon’s voice rouses him. He promptly looks up when the orphanage worker emerges from the door. Mino’s chest is a roaring mess, that is, until he looks down at the small bundle beside her, gripping the woman’s hand. He takes a sharp breath and everything else stills.
All he sees are soft black locks that frame a small face, almond-shaped eyes, a button nose, dainty lips. Mino has never seen a more beautiful girl in his life.
It’s Seungyoon who walks closer, tugging Mino’s hand and pulling him to come to her. In that short walk, Mino tries to remember why he insisted on the girl when they were reading the children’s profiles, exactly what he felt when he saw her face on the photo.
This little girl had been abandoned as a baby three years ago. At Myeongdong. On Christmas Eve.
The next thing Mino knows, he’s crouched down in front of the girl and it’s hard to breathe. Seungyoon is right beside him, holding onto his arm, and he can almost hear Seungyoon’s heartbeats with his own.
“Hi,” Mino says. And slowly, he holds out a hand. The little girl doesn’t look terrified, only curious.
She takes a small step and shyly places her tiny hand over Mino’s palm.
And it’s the stirring tingle that engulfs his hand, crawls all the way up his arm and settles around his neck, all from a gentle brush of little fingers that makes Mino cry.
He gently pulls the little girl to him, enclosing her in a tearful embrace. “I’m going to love you until the day I die,” he whispers. Mino feels another set of arms that settle around him and through his tears, sees Seungyoon, the love of his life whose smile is more magnificent with tears streaming down his cheeks.
“I love you,” Mino utters and Seungyoon says it back, giving him a peck on the cheek, and another one on top of their daughter’s head.
* * *
She grows up with stories of fated meetings and entwined paths.
She grows up knowing of love, above all.