Mino thought that it all started from Haesol's one-month conference abroad, because if Haesol wasn't absent Mino wouldn't have found neither time nor the courage to do this kind of stupid thing.
He and Haesol had been boyfriends for so long a time Mino couldn't even recall the day they had first met, as if it had been always the two of them and nothing before that. Haesol stood out in all of his important memories, all birthdays, Christmas parties, New Year's Eves and anniversaries. Family get-togethers and the events taking place in the hospital. Haesol was the only person the thought of whom stopped Mino from getting into trouble, his serious stare from behind the black, thick-rimmed glasses, eyebrows furrowed in a constant expression of judgement.
Observing Haesol pack a suitcase with neatly folded clothes and documents divided into binders and folders, each of them with the description of its content on the front page, Mino stood in the doorframe and wondered what exactly the view made him feel. Sometimes he imagined that Haesol would pack himself just like this and move out, without saying anything but letting Mino silently watch him depart until his silhouette would be no longer recognisable from afar. But the years had passed and they still lived together, and there seemed to be no possible way this long-legged, blond-haired stranger who was Mino's boyfriend would leave him.
He stirred the cocoa in his cup before saying, "Will you miss me?" and only between finishing to fold one shirt and starting to fold another, all of Haesol's shirts kept in a perfect state of no stains and no creases, in the wardrobe ordered by colour and fabric, Haesol replied:
"You know I will." Haesol's voice made the sentence sound like something obvious Mino should have known about prior to asking.
"Will you call me every day?"
Having finished with another shirt, the black, dotted one that he had worn for the last year's meeting with Mino's parents, Haesol straightened his back and looked at Mino, with a brief smile crossing his plump lips and the glasses at the very edge of his nose. He said, jokily, "You won't need me to call you every day." Then he lifted one hand, and with the back of his index finger pushed the glasses up his nose. That was what always attracted Mino to the man. His small gestures, sexy and mysterious. The lean figure of his body. His voice when he whispered and laughed. His longish hair as he tucked it behind his ears or ran through it with his fingers. But Haesol was forever staying out of Mino's reach.
He turned out to be right about the calls. Mino wouldn't need them.
So maybe it all started from Mino's new intern and the moment they got introduced to each other, January, Monday morning, in the main office with the smell of the coffee machine filling the air. Mino worked in the hospital and was supposed to be Taehyun's attendant for the first year of the young man's work. Taehyun. That young, handsome man with fresh sparkles in his eyes, who firmly shook Mino's hand, a knowing smile on his pastel pink lips. Mino realised the thing instantly. He had missed being flirted to and the feeling of someone actually trying to endear to him, impress him. It was an opportunity he didn't want to miss.
Back to the bedroom, standing with the cocoa in the cup, Mino watched Haesol close the suitcase and carry it to the corridor. When he passed by Mino, Mino could smell the man's strong cologne that he had once considered so extremely sexy and which now felt like a tease. A reminder that Haesol was unreachable, only drifting farther and farther away while staying right next to Mino, at an arm's length.
That was when Mino decided he would do it. He would cheat on his boyfriend during the month of his conference abroad because he had no other choice. Because Haesol wouldn't even kiss him goodbye before closing the door.
The thing about Taehyun that seeded the idea in Mino's head and let it grow with time was how simple the man seemed. Achievable. From the very beginning, the way Taehyun sent Mino smiles and spoke to him when they were alone, the way his posture changed in acknowledgement of Mino's presence, there could be no mistake about his intentions. For some reason, he was interested in Mino, and Mino in him, their conversations quickly gravitating towards flirt as they spent most time together, work hours, lunches, breaks. The opportunity presented itself.
Tuesday, the day after Haesol left the flat with his neat luggage, showing no emotion, betraying no thoughts, Mino met the intern on his way to the hospital's entrance. There was a booming smile on the young man's face as he quickened his pace to close the gap between himself and Mino, hands in the pockets of his brown coat, a backpack hanging from one shoulder. They greeted each other and Mino felt his own lips stretch into a grin. Taehyun had a middle parting, and the fringe of black hair fell in curls down his forehead, partially covering the eyes and giving him an overall look of carelessness that might have not been desirable for work in the hospital but which Mino found totally charming.
He asked, "Ready to save lives?" as Taehyun came up to him and they both continued the walk to the hospital. Despite the question being a joke, Taehyun frowned.
"You mean, another day of answering phones and rooming patients." His voice was bitter in a comical way and Mino couldn't stop a brief laugh. They walked through the door.
"I'll see if I can get you to attend at a surgery, but can't promise anything."
The words made Taehyun's features soften. "All the interns are dying to see some real action. I'm one of them. After those two weeks I feel like I'm less than a nurse here. Completely useless."
Mino let Taehyun walk into the lift first. There were three more people inside, one of them in a wheelchair. Mino said, "Everything takes time. Comes gradually."
The lift moved and Taehyun sighed, running fingers through his black, messy fringe. Mino watched him do it, perhaps a little too closely. "Yeah, I know. I guess I'm just not patient enough for that, Mr Song."
And the way he pronounced the words, "Mr Song", it got Mino thrilled each time it happened. Now, he played with the keys in the pocket of his jacket just to get himself distracted from the young man's face, those heart-shaped lips and long eyelashes. It was long ago that his conversations with Taehyun had lost the professional, mentor-student tone that he had established with every other intern. Here, he just liked saying things that made Taehyun smile. "You're a surgeon. You must be patient and steady." And he was also pretty determined to fuck him.
Taehyun smiled confidently as he walked out of the lift. "I will be. I just need an occasion to show off first." Mino followed his steps down the corridor.
A couple days ago, he had realised that he perceived Taehyun mainly through the lens of how much he differed from Haesol, through the collection of little things Taehyun did and small details of his appearance that contrasted him with Mino's boyfriend. Taehyun said things he really thought and easily showed his emotions, be it happiness, excitement, tiredness or disappointment, so Mino could read them and react to them properly. It was a pleasant change, to be finally able to communicate.
And when Taehyun turned his head to catch Mino staring at his butt, he responded with a sexy smile that played round his heart-shaped lips for a minute or so, innocently, making Mino only more convinced about his plans.
The first time they kissed was in a lift, a message from Mino's side which left Taehyun red-faced and half-secretly smiling all the way down the corridor and to the patient's room.
The thing about Taehyun was that the man never stopped himself from looking directly into the other person's eyes, into Mino's eyes. He always exhibited the same interest as when observing a surgery. Used every opportunity given to him by Mino to develop an eye contact, the longer the better. And then later, the moment they both had a break and found themselves alone in an on-call room, the place where doctors got to sleep between urgent messages about saving their patients' lives, things happened quickly and by a single look. Mutual agreement shown in a split of a second. Taehyun was the one to initiate an open-mouthed kiss and wrap his hands around Mino's neck, his steps forcing Mino's steps, forcing both of them down onto the sofa where they would soon free themselves of their uniforms.
Years of living with Haesol, when you never knew at which point of the game you would get rejected, taught Mino how to manoeuvre perfectly patient and alert, aware of each touch. But it all seemed to mean nothing now, with the intern kneeling in front of him and waiting to be taken doggy style on the sofa. Taehyun didn't ask questions. He didn't have to say anything. The way he trembled under Mino's touch, the way he giggled and panted, it all made Mino as excited as he couldn't remember himself being since a long time. The smell of plastic and detergents around them, thrusts made in a hurry and Taehyun's voice saying Mino's name, Mr Song.
Only when they were already finished and Taehyun stood beside the sofa, pulling his briefs back up his slim legs, time slowed back to normal. Taehyun said, "I thought I should make a point now," in a serious tone, fixing his hair. Mino assumed that he didn't want the sweaty stands to betray him when he would leave the room. For Mino, everything about the man was screaming sex.
"I wanted to let you know that I didn't sleep with you because you're my superior and I expect something in exchange." He briskly fastened his belt and locked his stare on Mino, dark hair falling back into his eyes. "I'm not like that. I just really find you hot."
Mino was looking up at Taehyun from the sofa, turning the upper part of his uniform to the right side. "You're hot too. For an intern."
When Taehyun smiled again, his eyes turned into cat-like slits, slight crinkles appearing around them. He looked young. Mino still couldn't get used to the fact that the man looked so damn young and willing.
"When I saw you first, the first day here, in the hospital, I knew I would be in trouble. That sexy attendant I would work for. But you didn't look like the type..." He trailed off. Mino thought that he must have meant the type to recklessly fuck an intern between surgeries, hoping none of the patients would require an urgent help and no other hospital worker would try to come in. He shrugged his shoulders and put the uniform on, covering his naked chest.
For a moment, they fell silent, only collecting the last pieces of their clothing in order to get back to looking normal. Completely normal. It was just a quick fuck. All Mino needed two and a half weeks before Haesol's planned return from the conference.
He checked the time on his wrist watch before saying, "You can leave first. I'll join you later."
Haesol possessed a certain grace of holding a cigarette in between his bony fingers and letting threads of smoke out of his chapped lips, Mino had to admit. Even when it was cold outside, raining or snowing, and the man's lean body trembled in the wind, Haesol acted too stubborn to say no to a cigarette. Mino's memory was full of scenes in which he had to wait for his boyfriend before going to a certain place, surrounded by a cloud of smoke escaping Haesol's mouth and nostrils. Waiting with him in front of a chapel, on Mino's sister's wedding. Waiting with him before the entrance to the house, Christmas at Haesol's parents', minus thirty degrees.
Of course having finished medical school, Mino would be the one to constantly remind Haesol of how smoking kills people, but Haesol, his arms crossed tight, hands red and stiff, would only motion with his head towards the door. He would say, "You either stop or leave me alone. I mean it."
So it took Mino a moment to shake the thought off his head at the sight of Taehyun leaning with his back against the wall. They were at the hospital's car park, late in the evening meaning the end of their shift. In the deep gloom hovering over the car park, clouds of smoke appeared to be almost white before Taehyun's face. Through the clouds, Taehyun noticed Mino approach, interest growing in his eyes. Mino said something about how smoking kills people, and Taehyun laughed. They stood for a moment without speaking, and Mino realised that even cigarettes smelt different with Taehyun.
They had been sleeping with each other regularly now, in different places inside the hospital. Bathroom cubicles, call rooms, offices. The stupidest Mino had ever been. That was how it went. Stealing kisses from Taehyun between operations, and answering calls from Haesol after coming back home. Touching Taehyun in a call room, later phoning Haesol to check on him, gradually less often. Haesol's calls were the kind of half-silent moments with the receiver by Mino's ear, when he could only hear Haesol's breathing but no words were spoken by either of them. When he walked through their flat and brought things from one to room to another. After half an hour of a phone call he wouldn't get a single piece of information about Haesol's conference, about how it went, how was Japan, how Haesol liked it there.
Haesol's long-distance breathing and reluctant replies made up Mino's long and lonely nights with a glass of whisky or valerian tea, when he really hated his boyfriend and at the same time wanted him back home as soon as possible. When he missed the hospital and its sounds, detesting his bedroom and the moonlight falling onto the floor boards. When he would fall asleep on the couch, with the glass between his thighs and in the last day's clothes, getting them wet right after waking up.
But back to the hospital's car park, to Taehyun's pink lips around the cigarette, Mino thought that there was nothing vindictive towards Haesol in the way he really needed to cheat on him. And as the darkness outside deepened and the orange sparkled at the end of Taehyun's cigarette, feeling the car key in his pocket, Mino had to ask the question.
"Can I take you home?"
What followed was a few-second-long surprise on Taehyun's face, before he considered and asked, "Mine or yours?" making Mino smile. Taehyun smiled as well, but the hesitation was palpable. "Isn't that a little against the rules of our purely sexual relationship?"
"I'm not proposing a date. I just thought that for once I could fuck you in a bed. Is that against the rules?"
Now, Taehyun's smile broadened. It seemed like he really appreciated denying it the quality of a date. He took a drag on the cigarette before saying, "Sure then. You can take me."
And it became a regular thing too. Taking Taehyun home after work, as the man clearly didn't have any other things to do or other places to be at. A week and a half to Haesol's planned return.
It might have been that they first met in some club or at some party, their mutual friends introducing them to one another. Haesol might have had his round lasses before his eyes and Mino might have asked some stupid question about them which was supposed to be funny but really wasn't. Haesol might have thought him stupid and his steady stare above the sunglasses might have made Mino feel stupid. That was likely.
He didn't remember when exactly he had fallen in love with Haesol, for what reason and at which point during their kind-of friendship. He only recalled the way Haesol one time commented on his job. A surgeon, that's very impressive. He sounded like someone whose compliments were worth twice as much as anyone else's and that was why Mino so damn wanted to get to know him better. Hear more of those damn-expensive compliments. He was two years out of school, a surgeon beginner looking for a place to live in and people to live with, coming to parties to relieve the stress from poking around in human guts. Haesol was the kind of guy you think you see for the last time and perhaps never again.
But now, five years of being boyfriends later, entering the flat they shared together like long-term couples usually do, he still wasn't sure if he knew Haesol any better. Most of the time he was a silent loner hidden in his study for eight hours a day, leaving only to get himself a glass of tea or visit the bathroom. By the kind of steps he made against the floor boards, Mino knew if he wanted to be noticed or not. When Mino could ask a question and when he wasn't allowed to. Only once the work was finished, in the evening, wearing his long, grey bathrobe, he would come to Mino himself and Mino knew if he expected a talk or a kiss. If they were about to do boyfriends stuff or not yet. But other times he had no idea what was on Haesol's mind.
As he was thinking of it all, Taehyun left the bathroom, reached the kitchen and opened the fridge without a moment's hesitation. It was the third or fourth time he was there. What Mino really liked about Taehyun was that Taehyun never asked any personal questions so their conversations had never breached the subject of Haesol. Mino suspected if he was the one to start some talks Taehyun would quickly follow, but as he didn't start, Taehyun didn't follow and they both knew next to nothing about each other. Not like Mino needed any more information.
"I'm sorry I've called you your first name today in front of the nurses," came Taehyun’s voice from behind the fridge door. He took out a bottle of beer and closed the fridge. "I hope it won't get us in trouble."
"It won't. No worries." Mino came up to the kitchen island. Ironically, Taehyun had taken Haesol's chair and was now sitting on it with his ankles crossed behind the leg. His hair still damp from the shower, he had only a towel wrapped around his waist just like Mino liked seeing him best.
"Sometimes I forget that I must be super formal with you." He tried to use the bottle opener but quickly gave up and handed it to Mino. "Plus you're not really helping me."
Smile on his lips, Mino opened the bottle with a hiss of bubbles. "I'm not?"
"You shouldn't be so sexy, Mr Song."
And just as their eyes connected in a flirty way, and Mino leaned against the island with the muscles in his arms tightening, there came a phone call. Haesol. The obligatory hour of boyfriend talk that he had managed to completely forget about in the heat of the moment.
Taehyun's question came just as Mino took the cell phone out of his pocket. "Perhaps your wife?"
Mino frowned, first not fully understanding. He shook his head no. "Boyfriend. That's just my boyfriend," to which words Taehyun smiled in a knowing way.
"You should answer then."
Half a week before Haesol's planned return.
The same melancholic ballad Haesol heard in the taxi was still stuck in his head when he climbed up the stairs, one hand occupied with a luggage, the other tapping the melody on the metal banister. His overly lean figure was hidden under a dark brown coat, so long that at times it brushed a step or two. The leather bag hanging from the man's shoulder swung back and forth and his vision was slightly blurred through the horn-rimmed glasses that were beaded with rain.
His trip had ended sooner than expected, so soon that he didn’t even have time to notify Mino of it, which was already rather unusual. In his life, Haesol liked things to be neat and orderly, predicted and pre-planned. But despite his best plans, this time the situation changed and Haesol was coming back home to make a surprise. That seemed what many people, couples especially, found pleasing.
Haesol knew that his lover was home when he reached a park nearby and saw a light on, fourth floor of the block of flats, the window on the furthest left, just next to a very obnoxious balcony full of flowers that their neighbour had always had and obsessively looked after. They were renting the place for as long as he could remember, at first as young and experimental, not-really-defined couple, and now – as a pair. Two grown men.
Before unlocking the door, he fixed his collar, pushed his glasses up and brushed his nose against the cologne on his wrist, checking, to make sure of a trackable smell.
He entered the apartment quietly, not expecting Mino to instantly come and greet him, because that was not how they did it. They always took time with everything. Even on occasions when both parties wanted something else.
Now that he closed the door behind himself with a single click, it once again crossed his mind that he wished they had a pet to clearly express its affection. Four paws against the floor and the happiness pouncing on him right at the doors. That was a small thing, an idea he hadn't yet shared with Mino.
But it got cut short as a sudden, “You are so early tonight again," reached his ears, a sentence Haesol did not expect to be greeted with. Because first of all - he was never early. And second of all, instead of saying something unnecessary like “welcome home”, Mino would take Haesol’s bags out of his hands, often give a smile or attempt to give a kiss before walking away to the kitchen to make him a drink.
And the thing was, that voice sounded nothing close to the pleasing deep baritone with a hint of raspiness whenever his partner was tired. The man in front of him wasn’t Mino at all. What stood in the middle of their kitchen was some half-naked skinny boy with bare feet and a lightly beige shirt on.
Suddenly, everything before Haesol grew still and frozen like a single picture. His thoughts sharpened and eyebrows furrowed as the mind attempted to adapt to the situation, quickly looking for the right tools for scrutiny. He put the luggage down onto kitchen counter and, without saying anything but keeping the boy pinned under his stare, he took the steps to leave the room and look for Mino. Hear him somewhere else in the flat.
The boy just stood and looked, as if Haesol was the one intruding, a bag of peanuts in his hand, the same one Haesol had bought for Mino one night he called and begged to bring him snacks on the way home. He had smooth legs and a very model-like face completely different from Haesol's, and it was almost too easy to notice he was someone Mino's type to have sex with.
The voice came again, this time changed, "He isn't home. I mean, he hasn't yet come back." A few rushed steps of bare feet against the floor boards followed Haesol to the corridor. "By the way, I'm Taehyun."
Haesol found himself closing his eyes and heaving a deep breath before facing the naked boy. Taehyun, huh.
He walked a little closer, many thoughts going through his head now that he knew Mino wasn't home, one of them, surprisingly, suggesting a punch or a slap. His eyes looked closer at the figure in front, almost scanning, while Taehyun stood completely calm in the frame of the kitchen door, clearly waiting for a response.
“Take off your shirt.” Haesol’s face didn’t even twitch, gaze only seeing the fabric and texture.
A small giggle followed and the boy named Taehyun ran a hand through his hair, lips curled in an almost naughty way. “Wow. You are way faster than Mino.”
Haesol harshly tugged at the shirt at the side and Taehyun wobbled, his chest bumping the taller’s. “That’s my shirt. Take it off.” He could feel his jaw lock itself and it was rather painful. Everything was painful.
“Right. Are you guys playing some sort of game?” Taehyun freed himself and took a step back. “Because if this is a role-play we’re doing, I want to know.”
“What.” Haesol couldn’t even allow himself to make an effort into forming a question. He wanted the boy to leave so that he could have the time and the space for his thoughts to be sorted out.
“You are Haesol, right? Mino didn’t tell me that you’d be coming back tonight,” Taehyun said that with such an ease, as if Haesol was meeting his neighbour in the morning next to the mailbox, chatting about today’s weather. Only that he winked too. “I’m up for fun, but maybe some drinks first? Before going to business, I mean. You must be tired and we really don’t have to, if that’s Mino being adventurous.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Haesol furrowed his eyebrows not because he didn’t know, but because the mere idea of this gave him a sickening feel. “You think I want to have sex with you?”
“The request of removing my clothes kind of implied it, yes.”
“Those are not your clothes. This is my shirt and I want you to take it off, put on whatever you were wearing before he touched you, and leave. Am I being clear enough now?” It took Haesol’s all will to hide the rage, sadness, hurt, betrayal. It took his all to hide something he hadn't felt much before.
“Fuck. You didn’t know.”