If there was something that Kang Daniel wasn't good at, it had to be dealing with crushes. Since he was in elementary school he had been very obvious around the people he liked, always unable to hide his feelings. Which led him to avoid his crushes in high school, especially when he found himself looking at boys the same way he looked at girls. So he had come to college with the habit of simply avoiding his crushes in every possible way.
Well… maybe not every way.
"What's the point of coming here and spending so much money on coffee if you're going to play shy and force me to order for you?" Seongwoo asked sitting in front of him with two cups of coffee in his hand, handling the other one to his friend.
Daniel didn't respond. It wasn't the first time he had done it, nor was he thinking about stopping anytime soon. He enjoyed going to that cafe, but he never went alone. Always with a friend, be it Seongwoo, Sewoon or, when he managed to convince him, Jaehwan. The reason behind this is that he refused to talk to the barista, no matter how much he liked to stare at him.
Ah, Kim Minseok, he looked like a dream come true. Maybe he was, considering that Daniel dreamed of him. How could someone like that walk the same corridors of his university and not be part of an exhibition of a museum? Minseok was one of the most beautiful people Daniel had ever seen in his life.
But his beauty didn't end with his cat-like face. It was much more than that. It was in his gentle ways, in how he took the time to make every coffee taste just right. In the way he spoke, in his sweet voice. It was in the way his apron hugged his waist. And, oh, Minseok's body...
"Daniel!" Seongwoo kicked his shin under the table. "Are you listening to me?"
Bringing the cup to his mouth, Daniel nodded. The last thing he had heard coming out of Seongwoo's mouth was a complaint about his environmental science professor. "Yeah, yeah, what a bitch," saved.
Seongwoo raised an eyebrow, looking clearly not satisfied with that answer. Okay, maybe he was in trouble. "What are you talking about?" Daniel opened his mouth to answer but his friend shook his head and continued, "Dan, see how you're not listening to me?"
Daniel ducked his head and pressed his lips, trying to hide his smile. He had caught him. "Sorry, what's wrong?"
"I was complaining about how I hate coming here because we can't even talk, you always get distracted staring at the barista," Seongwoo wiped the side of his lips with a napkin and took his phone out of his coat pocket, "if you're going to be like this then I'll just be on Instagram."
They had an agreement between them: not to use cell phones when they went out to eat together to enjoy the moment better. And now Seongwoo seemed so tired that he no longer cared to break the rule established between the two.
"Sorry ..." Daniel said with the fakest pout in an attempt to look cute. "I'm paying attention; I'm not going to look at it anymore."
Seongwoo let out a humorless laugh. "As if you could! You look like one of his fans drooling over how cute he is," he took a sip of his coffee and continued, grimacing and imitating a high pitched voice, "Minseok! You make my nights so much better! Your voice is so soft! I'm your number one fan!"
"My nights?" Daniel asked. What kind of fans did Kim Minseok have?
Seongwoo stared at him with wide eyes, "Yes ... nights," he shook his head slightly in an attempt to signal the obvious, "you know... because of his show."
Daniel stormed into his dorm room that night, breathy from running all the way from the arts building. Night classes didn’t sound like a good idea now.
“What—” his roommate seemed to be in the middle of taking his pants off, “Daniel! You scared me.”
“Oh, Sewoon, sorry,” Daniel apologized taking off his backpack “I had no idea you would be here.”
“I’m always here on Tuesday nights,” Sewoon looked at him suspiciously, “you, though…”
“Come on,” Daniel tried to sound casual while looking for his earphones, “I was just too tired to hang out with Seongwoo today.”
Sewoon nodded, clearly not really caring too much what was going on with Daniel or why he was frenetically checking all the pockets of his backpack and then moving to his drawer.
Daniel checked the time on his phone.
“Sewoon, have you seen my earphones?”
His roommate was lying in his bed, facing the wall. Anyone could tell two things: he wasn’t asleep yet but he wasn’t awake enough to deal with Daniel’s bullshit.
A sigh was heard.
“I think I left mine in my coat.”
Success! There they were, a little tangled but at least Daniel could listen to Minseok’s show without disturbing his roommate now. And more importantly, without looking like a teen with the biggest crush on a grad student who was way out of his league.
At exactly 11 p.m. the show started and Minseok greeted his listeners.
“Goodnight everyone, this is DJ Xiumin and this is Xiuhours! Thanks for tunning in, I’ll be with you until 2 a.m.”
Okay, that was going to be an interesting night.
Or so Daniel thought until he found himself listening to the most boring music in the world. Who could have guessed that someone who looked so young and alive could have such a dead heart for music? Everything the DJ played sounded old and dull to Daniel’s ears.
“And that was I Love You For Sentimental Reasons by Nat King Cole,” Minseok announced when the third song of the night was over. “I hope you do believe me,” he started singing a line of the song and Daniel held his breath, “I've given you my heart.”
"I didn’t know Minseok could sing," Daniel announced sitting next to Seongwoo and Jaehwan at lunch the next day.
Seongwoo cringed in his seat “It’s too early..."
"He told me," Jaehwan said chewing a piece of bread, pointing with his chin at Seongwoo, "I can't believe that Kim Minseok's biggest fan didn't know about his night slot on the radio."
"I'm not a stalker," Daniel said.
"I also can't believe that you're willing to listen to the uni's radio for Minseok but not for me! I have ten times the personality and charm."
"The only person who agrees with that is Seongwoo."
"I do not have another choice," Seongwoo said, winking at Jaehwan after getting the annoyed reaction that he was looking for.
"The point is," Daniel leaned over the table, trying to get the attention of his friends, "that Minseok can sing and that almost compensates for his terrible taste in music."
Jaehwan scoffed, "Please, Daniel, you have the musical culture of a can of soda, is not Minseok's fault that you get bored listening to songs without drops or annoying beats."
"He's right," Seongwoo, the traitor, agreed with the enemy, "you should start to appreciate other genres besides... whatever you're listening to now."
"It's not my fault that everyone on this campus hates fun. Maybe you should try listening to something that doesn't sound like elevator music."
"Oh, this is rich," Jaehwan was getting ready to leave, "the guy with the most generic music taste in the world trying to criticize other people's tastes. It sounds like so much fun that it almost makes me want to skip my next class. Almost." And with that bitchy comment, he left.
Daniel stared blankly at Seongwoo, who was laughing as if Jaehwan had said something funny.
"He is right!" he emphasized again.
No, he wasn't.
"Daniel, please, if you're going to listen to that show because of Minseok's..." he rolled his eyes, "lovely voice, then you should take advantage and try to expand your horizons, get to know new sounds, maybe you'll find something interesting."
"Why do you have to defend Jaehwan's stupid way of thinking? Listening to pop does not make me less than any of you."
"No... But the top 40 gets repetitive and boring after a while, you'd notice if you listened to something different for once."
The next day Daniel refused his friends' invitations to get some drinks after their night classes and returned early to his dorm room. To his surprise, this time Sewoon wasn't there.
His roommate headphones didn't seem to be anywhere either. Oh well, he wasn't going to look for his own among all the mess of his side of the dorm, so he started listening to the radio through the speakers of his laptop.
Minseok greeted the audience cheerfully but then started to play music that, to Daniel's hears, sounded terribly dull. That night, however, Daniel decided to study because at least that boring music couldn't distract him so he either had to focus on his book or eventually fall asleep out of boredom. To his surprise, half an hour later, Minseok began taking calls from his listeners.
Daniel, who had fallen asleep before the fifth song during the previous show, was surprised by the naturalness with which Minseok greeted those who seemed to be casual callers. Unfortunately, to Daniel's desperation, none of them requested any interesting song. All the listeners seemed to have the same bland taste as Minseok.
Well, all but one.
He took his phone and dialed the radio.
Hearing Minseok’s “Good evening, you’re live now,” through his phone instead of the speakers of his computer felt strange, almost surreal. That was the first time that Minseok spoke directly to him and even though it was on the phone, it felt almost intimate. He started to freak out when the DJ interrupted his thoughts: “What’s your name?”
Daniel panicked. Should he give him his real name? Why didn't he think it through before making the phone call?
"I'm..." come on, Daniel.
Think faster, think faster.
"An unsatisfied listener."
"Excuse me?" Minseok sounded dumbfounded. Well, that was a first impression.
There was no point in backing up now. "I don't like the music you play," Daniel said, taking courage over the fact that, after all, there was no way Minseok would know who was on the other side of the line. "I would like to request a real song."
"Okay, and what is exactly a real song?" Minseok didn't sound annoyed at all, maybe just surprised or even amused; perhaps he assumed that it was just a prank call.
"Anything that makes you dance instead of fall asleep."
A soft laugh was heard on the other side of the line and through the speakers of the laptop. Daniel almost couldn't contain his joy, he made Minseok laugh.
"The whole point of this show isn't exactly to make people dance, it's almost midnight after all," touché, "so I guess you'll have to listen to real music by yourself on your phone."
"Wait, don't hang up!" The desperation in Daniel's voice was everything but obvious. "Won't you hear my song request before denying it?"
"In this show, we don't ignore our listeners... you can go on."
Really? "Okay, I would like to request Fabulous by Sharpay Evans."
The line went silent for a second too long and then a sigh was heard. Daniel was about to challenge Minseok to actually play the song when the DJ ended the phone call.
His dorm went silent until suddenly he could hear a familiar piano and then, a catchy melody.
"I need a little fabulous," he sang along, "is that so wrong?"
The next time Daniel dares to call the radio station again is only a week later. Minseok greeted him and asked for his name but Daniel was ready that time.
"It's me, your favorite wildcat."
He cringed at himself when instead of getting a laugh out of Minseok he heard a soft sigh. The DJ wasn't in the mood for another High School Musical request. "Let's get this over with," he said in a monotonous tone.
Daniel made the cutest radio host lose his patience, that wasn't something to be proud of.
But he was already on the phone, wasn't he?
"I would like to request another classic," he said, trying to imitate the tone that Jaehwan used when he talked about concertos or whatever they were called. "The most exquisite piece of the franchise if you ask me. The bilingual masterpiece that is Bop To The Top."
This time he did get the reaction he wanted. Minseok hummed amusingly to the last line of the chorus and then thanked him for his call before hanging up. Moments later, the song started playing.
When he woke up the next morning, Sewoon was getting ready for his first class.
His roommate apologized for being noisy and waking him up, not knowing that Daniel was feeling fully rested thanks to having gone to bed earlier than usual. Something that he should credit Minseok's boring show for.
"It's okay," Daniel got up and started to get ready to leave for breakfast, "I don't think I could sleep for longer anyway."
"About that..." Sewoon stared at him curiously, "when I got here last night you were already sleeping and it was barely past midnight." It was rare for Sewoon to care about Daniel's routine. They had been roommates for more than a year and the guy never once asked weird questions or acted like his mom, controlling his every movement. What was happening?
The lack of response must have given away what was going on in Daniel's mind because Sewoon sat back on his bed and stared at him the way an adult stares at a kid.
"The silence makes Youngmin uncomfortable, sometimes he likes to turn on the radio..."
"It was just a prank call."
The way Sewoon was secretly judging him was anything but discreet. "It's unusual for Minseok to receive prank calls," he said at last and held Daniel's gaze to show him he was being serious, "he's a well-respected person on campus, as far as I know only his closest friends dare to test his patience."
Daniel knew that Minseok had been a TA for one of Sewoon's classes the previous semester, but it had never occurred to him to try to get information about the graduate student from his roommate.
"Can people like Minseok even get angry?" He asked almost sarcastically.
"You've been living with me for a year now and you still don't know that you shouldn't trust the quiet ones?"
Neither Sewoon nor Daniel mentioned Minseok again for the rest of the week. Only when Tuesday rolled around and Daniel was in his room preparing to listen to the radio program, did his roommate bring back the topic:
"You like him?"
Daniel didn't know whether to take the question seriously or not. "Isn't it obvious?"
Sewoon remained silent for a few seconds. Then, he continued to make a comment that, although it sounded innocent, shook Daniel completely:
"He's a likable person but, considering that you never talked to him, I don't know how seriously you take this crush."
Daniel knew that the comment came with no intention of questioning his actions or his feelings. After all, it was kinda strange how much he liked someone that, before the radio show, he had never spoken to. Maybe Daniel's crush felt more like fanaticism than a romantic attraction. But did that mean he only liked Minseok for superficial reasons? Considering that the only thing Daniel knew about him was what was in plain sight, he had to admit that maybe he did.
Daniel cocked his head to the side, “Would you call it a puppy crush?”
"Would you?" Sewoon’s reply was a question, as usual.
And after a few moments of silence, when the clock almost hitting 11:00 p.m, he spoke again:
"You may not know this... when I found out I almost didn't believe it, but if I had to expect this from someone, it would have to be Minseok." Sewoon made a pause and grinned at Daniel, who had no idea of what to expect. "Local cutie, eternally young Minseok? He has a black belt in taekwondo."
Daniel couldn't call Minseok that night, worried about being too loud and waking up Sewoon who had classes early in the morning. But every time Minseok commented on the story behind a song or an album, Daniel couldn't help himself thinking that the nerd speaking to his hears through the headphones, could kick his ass like a pro.
On thursday night, as it was expected, there were no traces of his roommate in his bedroom, so he decided to listen to the radio through the speakers on his computer.
Minseok's show started as usual, with the same friendly greeting and the same boring songs that, to his surprise, Daniel was already getting used to.
And suddenly, a question popped up in Daniel's mind: Would Minseok answer the phone if he called in the middle of a song?
The answer, to Daniel’s surprise, was yes.
"Good evening, this is Xiumin from Xiuhours, we're not live yet," Minseok greeted him when he picked up the phone. He sounded more relaxed than usual, "do you have any requests?"
"Good evening, DJ Xiumin," Daniel said, mocking a seductive accent.
Minseok snickered, "Somehow I had the feeling that it was you."
"Were you waiting for my phone call?"
Maybe Daniel read a little bit too much into the silent reply to his question.
"What's your request for tonight?"
Daniel bit his lips, considering if bringing out the topic was a wise desition or not.
Ah, fuck it.
"Do you remember that song from the first movie in which the students confessed their secret passions?"
Minseok clicked his tongue, "It's funny how you just assume I've watched High School Musical."
"Is my assumption wrong?" Could it be possible for Minseok to have a terrible boring taste in movies too? Because Daniel could fix that.
"No," was Minseok's answer, "and the song you're talking about is Stick to the Status Quo... What's with it?"
"I think you could write your own verse for that song," Daniel said cheerfully.
"What makes you think that?"
There we go, "A little bird told me that you have a black belt in taekwondo," the second those words left his mouth he realized that if Sewoon was lying to him, he would sound like a fool.
"Well, that little bird didn't give you any confidential information," Minseok said nonchalantly.
"Well, I find it interesting, it's not something that you would expect from someone pursuing their Ph.D."
"It's not a secret though, everyone who knows me knows about it."
Daniel tried to ignore what Minseok was trying to say between those lines.
"I would like to know why you are collecting information about me," Minseok continued, "it's kinda creepy."
"It is, you sound like a stalker."
"I'm not! The little bird simply gave me the information, I didn't ask for it."
"I was going to suggest... Oh," Minseok seemed to notice that the song was about to end "nevermind, who are you?"
"A wildcat that wants to request you to play Stick to the Status Quo." Daniel teased.
"I prefer domestic cats," Minseok whispered, pretending that he was talking to himself when it was more than obvious for both of them that he wanted the other guy to hear that comment.
"Uh?" Daniel pretended to follow his game and act surprised.
Maybe it was Daniel's imagination, but he could almost hear Minseok smile, "Goodbye, Wildcat, thanks for calling." He ended the phone call and seconds later Daniel heard his voice again, coming out of his laptop this time, introducing the next song: Stick to the Status Quo
"Do you know if Minseok has a cat?" Daniel asked Sewoon the next morning.
His roommate looked at him out of the corner of his eye as he zipped up his backpack, getting ready to leave for class. He seemed to debate in his head whether to respond or not.
"No, I'm not a stalker," he said, at last, opening the door to leave, "and you better not become one."
During lunch, Daniel decided to be less straightforward, trying to find the perfect moment to squeeze some information out of his friends.
"By any chance, do you guys know if..." he started, trying to balance two spoons together to look uninterested "Minseok has a cat?"
"Okay, no, that's enough." Jaehwan snapped "Sewoon mentioned this shit this morning, it's getting weird."
Jeong Sewoon betraying him? Life wouldn't stop surprising Daniel.
"It was just a question," he defended himself, fixing his eyes on the spoons, avoiding eye contact.
"You're missing the point," Jaehwan started, but stopped when Seongwoo, who until then seemed to be paying no attention to the conversation, locked his phone and leaned across the table to face Daniel.
"Daniel ... what is the point of continuing to learn unimportant things about Minseok's life when you do not dare to ask for your coffee order anyway?" His friend was clearly tired of the situation. "What are you trying to achieve with all this?"
"He's behaving like a highschooler," Jaehwan told Seongwoo, "I always enjoy having more reasons to make fun of you but this is too much," he said, this time looking at Daniel.
"Jaehwan," Seongwoo gave him a scolding look, "be supportive"
"Okay, a tip—"
Daniel rolled his eyes, "Oh, free advice from the great Jaehwan? I'm saved."
"I'm not the loser who is single."
Daniel bit his tongue to keep himself from commenting that the only reason why Jaehwan was not miserably alone was that Seongwoo didn't have standards.
"Get your shit together. Go talk to him. In person this time, "Jaehwan advised, this time looking completely serious, he mockery left behind. Seongwoo nodded, agreeing silently, and Jaehwan continued, "It does not work the one hundred percent of the time but the one hundred percent of the relationships you see around you started with someone getting their shit together."
Daniel was ready. It had taken more than two and a half weeks to gather the courage to go, for the first time without any company, to the cafe where Minseok worked. He opened the door and the smell of coffee hit him in the face. If things ended badly, he would miss that place.
"Welcome," Minseok greeted him with that professional smile of his, "what can I get you?"
Daniel stared at the counter, avoiding Minseok's eyes. In the worst case scenario, Minseok wouldn't recognize his voice. Or worse, he would pretend that he didn't know him.
"An iced americano."
Minseok hummed, "Name?"
What game was Minseok trying to play? In that café, they didn't ask for the names of the customers.
"Daniel," He answered anyway
"Daniel ..." Minseok replied, a smile forming on his lips. "Daniel," he tried again. It sounded good coming out of his lips.
"Do you have any cats?" Daniel asked out of the blue, in a desperate attempt to know if Minseok recognized him or if he was just flirting with him, ignoring who he was talking to.
"Interesting icebreaker," Minseok said, "yes I do, his name is Tan."
"He is cute!" He sounded excited, Daniel almost melted down, "he's still a kitten though; he doesn't know how to hunt. " Minseok looked straight into Daniel's eyes for the first time, making the younger a little nervous, "so he's not responsible for anything that could have happened to your little bird that forced you to finally eat to talk to me."
That came out of nowhere.
Panic invaded Daniel's mind.
"Oh, he's fine!" Daniel said, trying to sound cool, "he should be," the smile in Minseok's face told him that there was no point in trying to hide his nervousness, "he should be in class now," Daniel continued, proud of being able to hold the barista's strong gaze.
"And you shouldn't?" Minseok asked with a smile.
"Not until after lunch."
Minseok made no comment about it, just stared at it as if waiting patiently for something to happen.
Maybe this was his chance.
"Would you like to-" Daniel started, shyly, but was interrupted.
"Like to teach you how to appreciate my music taste over lunch?"
Daniel flashed him a smile, “You just read my mind,” it didn't even sound like that big of a lie. “So… would you?”
“I would love to.”