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The Dinner Party

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Yoongi can hear your family laughing and shouting. He can’t believe he’s talking to you on the fucking phone. You really have set precedent in ways you can't imagine.

He looks out at the dark, empty parking lot. The sun set a few minutes ago, and there is still an unearthly glow surrounding the quiet street. It’s cold out. It smells like the sea and the harsh cleaner his mother uses inside the café. It smells like his childhood, he thinks. He stubs out his cigarette. His mother still keeps a pack, poorly hidden, by the back door.

You’re arguing with your cousin. You might have even forgotten he's on the phone.

Yoongi had excused himself from the quiet, Christmas dinner at his parent’s small flat above the café. It was just the three of them at the table, the fancy candles burning and the nice dishes at each setting.  The dinner was almost over, anyway, he reasoned. Besides, after your many texts it was clear your family's Christmas dinner involved quite a bit more wine than his did.

Yoongi had already heard (read) about your uncle's bafflement that librarians needed to go to graduate school, your cousin's baby spitting up on your ugly Christmas sweater (which had won the annual family contest), and your mother's comment about the fact that you didn't have a date.

This text had been followed by numerous short declarations clarifying the statement -- that this wasn't a passive aggressive attempt at communicating regret at not inviting him, that you weren't trying to say anything about introducing him to your parents, that you knew it was too soon for that sort of thing, that you were only recently exclusive anyway, and confirming you were, in fact, exclusive. Right?

Yoongi should have put you out of your misery sooner, but it was sort of charming. He let it go until his mother's disproval at the beeps caused him to respond.

He agreed that you two were exclusive. He knew it was too soon to meet your parents. (Far too soon, he thinks, but doesn't add.) If you kept this up, then he was going to start texting about ghost sex.

If anything, he was doing his parents a favor by answering your call. They had stared at him with twin looks of astonishment when he did, however.

 It was comical, really, considering his father was a tall, barrel chested man who always looked a little too large for whatever chair he occupied, and his mother was a petite woman with pale skin and neat short hair. Her strength hidden at first glance like a ballerina in street clothes. There had been a time he hated taking after his mother, shorter than the other boys, his features almost delicate. He's embarrassed to think about what an idiot he had been. Thankfully he had given up such adolescent regrets.

When he stood up from the table and excused himself, his mother even cleared her throat, so there's that. When he returns to the flat there are going to be Questions and he will need to offer Explanations, but he won't make you leave a rambling voicemail.

You ask come back on the line and ask about some music trivia.  He gives you the answer.

"I fucking knew he lied," you mutter. "Frank, you’re a fucking liar."

Yes, Christmas dinner at your parents' house is a bit different than his. Frank, apparently, didn't take the news well. He yells back until a baby cries loudly and unrelentingly.

"Oh shit, let me hand off the baby."

This must be successful, because you're back shortly.

"Sorry, I really don’t want to get puked on again."

Your voice is pleasantly slurred and soft. He wishes he could picture your family's home. Are you curled on a couch or tucked into some corner of the staircase? You've described your family's rambling house as an old, falling apart thing, but always with a note of happiness. It must be a nice change from your small, shipping container of an apartment.

"How are your parents?" You ask, sounding like your eyes are closed. "They must be happy you're home."

"We worked in the café today."

Yoongi isn't sure why he blurts this out, but he needs to tell you, somehow. This isn't a Christmas of crying babies, presents piled beneath a Christmas tree groaning with ornaments and drunken uncles singing forgotten Christmas carols. This is the Min family Christmas. It has always been a little different. He doesn't know if his mother misses her family on this holiday or wants to purge them from her memory.

"It's nice your mother keeps it open. Must be good for people to have a place to go, if they aren't with anyone else."

He should’ve known you would get it.

"It's hard to imagine you making sandwiches and serving coffee, though."

"I'm a good cook." Yoongi says, unable to keep a bit of pride out of his voice. Nothing fancy, but his mother taught him to be self-sufficient.

"So, you keep saying."

"I'll prove it to you."

"So, you keep saying."

"I am." He insists.

"Does your father help at the café too?"

"Mom doesn't like him behind the counter or in the kitchen or making the coffee."

"What’s left?"

"He gives up trying to help eventually and sits at the counter and drinks coffee."

"It sounds nice."

He wonders what it sounds like, really. It must be so different from the cacophony he hears through the phone. "What did you get me for Christmas?" He asks instead.

He would rather fall back on old jokes than think too much about what he would do if he was there, what your family might think of him. Too soon, too soon, the chorus repeats in his head.

You snort. "Nothing."

"I held it in my hand, so it was something."

"It wasn't worth the wrapping."

"You know, I don't – " he scratches the back of his neck. "I don't care about money like that."

"It's not that."

He can picture the look of consternation on your face.

"You found that book for me, and my gift wasn't like that."

"I don't want a book, so that's fine."

"Just give me a chance, okay. Just let me try better."

"Come on, tell me."

"No." Your voice is firm.

It must really bother you, he realizes. He didn't think it was that big of a deal. You had mentioned an out of print book. It didn't take long to find, a few different booksellers, a few emails. Maybe he paid a little more than he should have, but it wasn't that big of a deal.

"It wasn't that big of a deal," he says. Was it?

"So, you keep saying."

The cacophony on the other end of the phone grows louder. "I don't want to hold the baby."

But he can hear the shuffle of the phone, so he is pretty sure you lost.

"Fuck. Shit. I really shouldn't swear in front of the baby."

"I think you already did."

"Goddamn, I do not believe this." You sigh. "We're going fucking caroling."

Yoongi starts laughing. "Have fun."

"It's freezing out, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to carry this baby because no one else is."

"Put a hat on it, it's cold out."

"Any other advice?"

"Don't swear in front of the baby."

"Okay, I'll try."

Yoongi looks at his reflection in the window of the dark café. What would you think of the fading paint and the old-fashioned tables and chairs?

"Thanks for picking up. I know how you feel about the phone."

"It's not a big deal."

"It's just hard to remember when I'm home that this isn't my life. It’s nice to remember that I'm not just an almost librarian who once puked on the baby Jesus in the church nativity, you know?"

"Not exactly, but I get it." He knows what it’s like not to fit in anymore – even in the places you know best that you can recite from memory like a poem. "Stay warm."

"Merry Christmas, Yoongi."

"You too."

Yoongi finishes his cigarette. Well, he better get ready to Explain Himself. He trudges up the stairs. The whole place needs a new coat of paint, so maybe he can do that next year.

He enters the flat. The music is off, and his parents are standing in the small kitchen, huddled together.  They have twin looks again, but this time it isn't comical. There is only one thing that make his mother nervous and his father scared.

His mother wrings her hands. "Your grandfather wants to talk to you."

***

Yoongi has only met his mother's father once.

He had been ten years old. As he washed the front windows of the café, a fancy, ink black car pulled into the lot. It moved like an oil stain over the uneven pavement under the hot, summer sun. The rotating fan whirred behind him. Even when the mechanical breeze passed over him it offered little relief.  No customers today, but his mom never closed the café, not even when Yoongi begged her to.

Yoongi pushed open the door, the heat suffocating him as he walked outside. An old man got out of the car, steps careful and face lined like a wizened truth teller. He asked to speak to Yoongi’s mother, using her full name. The strange visitor's voice was gravelly, his words precise.

Yoongi had been excited. This was something different. Different from sweeping floors and washing windows, different from dreaming about a skateboard his parents told him he couldn't have. Maybe something good was finally going to happen, maybe his life would finally start.

The man looked behind Yoongi at the café. As if a demon possessed the old man, a look of utter disgust washed over his wrinkled face. The old man tried to wipe it away, but Yoongi saw.

Yoongi knew that look.

It was the same look the rich boys at school gave Yoongi's sneakers. So now Yoongi knew two things – one, he knew something good wasn't going to happen, and two, he knew he didn't like this man.

This man looked the boys who were mean to Yoongi only when the teachers weren't watching. Those boys were cowards. Yoongi always hit back when a teacher could see. He might be dumb, and he might get called to the principal's office, but he wasn't a coward.

Yoongi thought the day couldn't get any odder, and he was just about to tell the man to go away when his dad walked out of the café. Yoongi's dad didn't talk to people much. He was quiet, a good quiet, the kind of quiet that his dad chose because his size might scare someone or intimidate them, so he hid it in plain sight.

But today was different. Yoongi didn't recognize him. His father stood at his full height, his shoulders no longer hunched, his mouth set in a firm line.

The old man scowled. "I'm here to talk to my daughter, not you."

"No."

"I won't leave until I talk to her."

"You'll leave if I make you leave."

Yoongi's father didn't threaten anyone, not even the people who deserved it. 

"It's about the boy," the man said.

Yoongi looked at his dad expecting him to tell the man off, but instead his dad looked scared. That never happened.

"Get inside, Yoongi."

He couldn't move. He stared at the old man who didn’t hide his disdain now. What was going on?

"Get. Inside." His dad yelled.

Yoongi moved quickly. The door opened as soon as he reached it. His mother walked out, wringing her hands.

"Get inside, Yoongi." She said, voice soft.

Everything was wrong, everything was topsy-turvy. His mom was the one who yelled when Yoongi didn't do what he was told. Now she sounded small, like those moms who baked cookies and picked up their children from school, not a mom who ran her own café and yelled when Yoongi didn't wash his hands.

Yoongi went inside and stood at the window. The old man talked to his mother. She bowed her head. Finally, the old man got back in the car but didn't leave.

His parents came back into the café arguing. Everything was topsy-turvy.

"I will never let him live with that man."

"I didn't have a choice. He will have one. We don't make his decisions." His mother said over and over again. "We don't make his decisions."

"He's ten!"

"I was seventeen when I left. That's not that far away. We don't make his decisions."

Yoongi's father sighed and crossed his arms in front of his chest.

His mother wiped her eyes. "Yoongi, that's your grandfather out there."

"I know, Mom."

"He wants you to come live with him."

"Why haven't I met him before?" Other kids saw their grandparents all the time, got presents, went on trips. He had never met any of his grandparents.

"Smart boy," his father muttered.

"When I left home, I wasn't allowed back."

"Why did you leave?"

"My father didn't agree with my choices, and if I stayed, then I had to do what he said."

"Why would I go with someone you left?" None of this makes any sense.

"Well," his father announced. "I'll go tell him the good news."

"Wait," his mother said, her voice coming back. "He has a big house, Yoongi, and he can give you a lot of things we can't."

"Like what?"

"Like that skateboard you want and the fancy sneakers. Things we can't afford."

Yoongi really wanted those sneakers and his own skateboard. For a minute it sounded nice. The other boys wouldn't make fun of him.

"That's not the whole story." His father added, sounding desperate.

"I would have to do what he says?" Yoongi asked.

"Yes," his father declared.

"That's not so different from here," Yoongi considered.

His father huffed.

"You couldn’t come back to the café," his mother added, voice quiet. Sad quiet.

Yoongi looked around. No more doing dishes. No more washing windows. No more sweeping. His life would be like those kids on tv, but then he looked at his parents. The way his mother was small and quiet, and the way his father was loud and big, and everything was topsy-turvy.

"I'm not going."

Yoongi's mother wiped her eyes.  

"You don't have to talk to him again."

Yoongi and his mother watched from inside.

"Did Dad rescue you?" Yoongi liked the thought of his father being like a knight in a story.

"No," she said. "I rescued myself, but when I wasn't sure if I could keep going, he showed me how."

"That sounds boring."

"Did you finish the windows?"  

Yoongi watched his dad return to the café. His mother made him a cup of coffee and he sat at the counter. Yoongi finished washing the windows and that was the only time he met his grandfather.

***

Now standing in his parents' doorway, he feels ten years old again, trying to make sense of everything, trying to right a topsy-turvy world.

"No." He shuts the door behind him.

"He's dying," his mother says.

Yoongi moves to the kitchen table to pick up the dishes, giving himself something to do.  "I don't care."

"He might be able to help you with your career. He’s well connected."

Yoongi knows. He googled the man once to see who he was, and then he never looked again.

"Who gives a fuck?"

Yoongi startles at the anger in his father's voice. This is only the second time he's heard his father swear. The first time Yoongi had been so disrespectful, he had been lucky not to get slapped.

Only his grandfather, even after all this time, has the power to create such unhappiness in their small family. It feels like battle about to start. Topsy-turvy.

"I don't need his help." Yoongi drops the dishes on the counter. "Are you going to see him?"

"Maybe," his mother admits.

His father clearly did know this. He runs his hands through his thinning hair and grabs the cigarettes Yoongi tried to hide on his way inside.

"Dad smokes?"

"Only when he needs to." His mother sighs. "You get to decide. We don't make your decisions."

We don't make his decisions, Yoongi remembers hearing his father say over and over again to his mother that weekend senior year of college. Yoongi had his head in his hands and he hadn’t eaten in two days and he was so anxious, he thought he might pass out. We don’t make his decisions.

It was the weekend he had come home to tell his parents he had changed his major from engineering to music. His mother was so disappointed. His father, too, but Yoongi hated disappointing his mother more. She had been so proud of him. But that semester he hadn't been sleeping, living on coffee and cigarettes. Hoseok had been so worried about him, bringing him food and reminding him that he could pursue what he wanted. It wasn't going to be the end of the world if Yoongi switched majors, but Yoongi couldn't keep going on this way. Yoongi told his parents, turned in the paperwork and put himself through an additional year and a half of school to finish with a music degree. He tried to remind himself that he had done the right thing.

"We don't make your decisions." His mother repeated. "If you want to see him, you can."

Yoongi leans against the counter, all pretense of washing dishes gone. "What happened, really?"

His mother sighs. "I was his favorite, the youngest. I thought that meant the rules didn't apply to me. I wasn't going to have an arranged marriage like my sisters. I was invincible. I even imagined him handing the keys to the kingdom to me, instead of one of my brothers. You don't understand, you can't even guess, what it's like to have that much money. We were so rich it is incomprehensible to me now. Life was so easy." She shakes her head and looks up at the ceiling. "When I realized that he was selling me off like a pig to the slaughter to a terrible man, I left. I was such an idiot. I had never worked a day in my life, but Granny took me in."

Yoongi remembers her, an old woman who his mother took care of when he was little. They weren't related Yoongi knew, but he also knew his mother respected the old woman more than any other.

"She was my laundress. We were so rich I had a servant just for cleaning my clothes. She was the kindest woman I've ever known. She let me live with her. I started working at the café and I saved every penny so I could buy it when the owner retired, and then I met your father."

His mother smiles. Yoongi knows this story well. They've both told it to him, separately, together. He's heard it so many times he can tell it himself.

"I'm not talking to my grandfather." Yoongi declares. "It's my decision."

His mother doesn't mention it again. He and his mother carefully wash the nice dishes. They wait. His father returns late, hacking and coughing. His mother is so relieved she doesn't make fun of him, so something is definitely wrong.

Yoongi stays awake that night in his old twin bed, and he can hear the mumble of his parents talking quietly.

He thinks about the story of how his parents met.

His father had a handyman job nearby, and he came to the café for lunch one day. He didn't say a word, and he ate his mother's sandwich and then he came back the next day. Again and again, no matter where in the city his odd jobs took him, he came back for lunch. His father asked his mother if she minded having a tall man, shy and awkward, sitting in her café for lunch day after day. She didn't.

Yoongi wonders what they talked eventually talked about, and how they eventually fell in love.

His parents love telling that story, and Yoongi doesn't understand it or them. He's never understood his parents.  

***

"I fell in love with your mother over her sandwiches," his father had said one day when Yoongi was seventeen years old.

The two of them stood behind the counter, wearing matching aprons and making sandwiches. Yoongi was angry at the world, wondering why he didn't go live with his rich grandfather when he had a chance. Instead, he was spending another hot summer in this fucking café while his best friend, Hoseok, went to the beach. Hoseok's mom wasn’t like his. She didn't have bad days when she couldn't get out of bed, so his father put on an apron and canceled his work for the day. We don't close the café, he reminded Yoongi.

"Do you really need to tell that story another fucking time?" Yoongi wondered how far he could push his dad. "That is the stupidest story I've ever heard. Are you even my fucking dad? Christ, if I had gone with my grandfather I wouldn't have to put up with this shit."

His father wiped his hands on his apron, slowly, carefully. He stood tall, shoulders broad. He could still be intimidating when he wanted. "Son, you need to leave now and don't come back until you can apologize because I don't want to do something I'll regret for the rest of my fucking life."

Yoongi left. He wandered the city, feeling like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. He came back after midnight. Since his mother was having one of her bad days, she probably didn't even know what happened.

His father waited up for him, reading in the corner chair by the lone lamp, glasses perched on his nose.

"I'm glad you're back." His father said. At the time Yoongi thought his father was so weak. He had no idea the strength his father possessed.

"Yeah, well, I live here."

His father smothered a laugh.  "I know what people say, but I'm your dad."

"I know."

"Good."

"I asked mom 'cause I wasn't sure."

But his dad didn't take the bait this time, just shook his head. "I'm glad your home."

Yoongi had wished at that moment his father wasn't so kind, his parents weren't so hard working. Then he could hate them and have a reason for all his anger, but instead he was just angry at nothing.

Yoongi realizes he never actually apologized.

***

The next morning, the day after Christmas, Yoongi's mother drives him to the train station in the small, dented car his parents have driven ever since he can remember.  She's quiet. Not small quiet, not the topsy-turvy quiet but content quiet.

"You haven't told us about this girl," she says, when they're almost there.

"I don't know what to tell."

She glances over at him, hands perched perfectly on the steering wheel with its rips and faded fabric. "But it's something?"

"It’s something." He agrees.

"Is she good enough for you?"

He laughs at the absurdity of it. "That's not what most people would ask."

"Most people aren't your mother." She sighs. "I know you think you take after me."

Yoongi rolls his eyes.

"Don't roll your eyes."

She pulls into a parking space, the car still running. She has to get back to the café. She doesn't like leaving it. He gets it now, the way he didn't when he was young. It is the one thing she made on her own.

"You don't take after me, not really, and thank God."

He grabs his bag from the back. He's not excited about this conversation. He's most happiest when he knows what his mother is going to say, when she’s scolding him about washing his hands or moping the floors. Not this. He can't imagine anyway that he is like his father, not really. She puts out her arm to stop him from leaving.

"You are like your father." She insists. "You're good and kind, and I hope you choose someone worthy of you. When you fall in love, you aren't going to fall out of it."

It's too much, his mother's words. He can’t have this conversation. All he was supposed to do was have Christmas dinner with his parents. Not this. Too many revelations one after the other.

As if she senses his distress, she forces a laugh and adds. "Not even if the woman is total bitch sometimes."

He wonders if that's what she thinks of herself. "You haven't had it easy."

"I had it too easy, and then I had such a difficult time I didn't think I would make it, and then I met your father and I knew everything would be fine. We have a simple life, but it's ours."

Yoongi nods, and he pretends to understand, but he doesn't. He's always wanted more. He doesn't see an end to what he can accomplish, and it frightens him sometimes.

His mother grips the steering wheel in one hand and the gear shift in the other. He guesses she's ready for the conversation to be over too. She's quiet again, quiet nervous.

"I know, I'm not… I'm not like those other mothers, the ones who are friends with their children."

"Thank God."

She laughs, her eyes watering. "You make your own decisions, but we aren't going anywhere, if… if you decide you want to introduce her to us."

Does she think he wouldn't? Maybe she does, after everything she's been through. The only way she could survive was to leave, but he's not like that, not anymore. He no longer wishes for parents to rebel against, he just hopes he can help them. "Of course, I will. If it is . . . I don't know what it is." He's glad he doesn't know, because he isn't ready for all this. That's one thing he's learned this holiday. "But if it's that, yeah."

This time when he grabs his bag from the back, she doesn't stop him.

His mother pulls out of the parking lot without another glance, without a hug, without any further words. His mother usually foregoes emotional scenes, and he's glad their conversation is over.

On the train back to school, Yoongi thinks about all the things he doesn't know.

He doesn't know what it's like to fall in love in a café over sandwiches and a cup of coffee. Day after day, coming back to just sit and be content with such a small life.

He doesn't know what it's like to be a wealthy socialite, with designer dresses and diamonds falling from your neck. To run away with no plan, no idea, nothing but your own limited knowledge of the world and a small seed of hope wrapped in what little strength you can muster.

There are so many things he doesn’t know, he could catalog them in y/n's library and the shelves would wind for miles.

He doesn't know why he broke up with his last girlfriend. He hasn't thought about her since he met y/n, but the memories rush back as the scenery floats by the train window.

The way she was perfect for him. everyone had said so. She was sly and sardonic and wore the perfect lipstick and the perfect clothes and the perfect laugh. They had been dating for six months – his longest relationship. Then he woke up one morning and he knew it was over. He didn't think she would care. She would find someone like her, someone perfect. He sent her a text. The first twelve hours she was conciliatory, and the next twelve hours she was pissed. He never responded. He had the lingerie artfully left in his bedroom delivered to her door. He never spoke to her again. Three days later he met y/n at Namjoon's.

He does know one thing. He’s not sure he wants to know it.

If he brought y/n home to his parent's small flat and smaller café, she wouldn't notice the peeling paint or the smell of industrial soap or the marred floors. She would be too nervous for any of that. It would be a good nervous. His father would talk more than usual, and y/n wouldn't know for a long, long time what an effort he had made. His mother would be quiet, and y/n would stumble a bit over her words. Y/n would fill up the negative space, and she wouldn't know that his mom's quiet would be a good quiet, a contemplative quiet because Yoongi finally brought someone home. She would be checking to see if y/n was good enough for him. His mother would like the nervousness, he thinks. His mother would know what it meant.

But he knows he's not ready for that. Not at all.

When Yoongi steps down from the train, he calls y/n's number without thinking.

"You talk on the phone a lot for someone who claims to hate it."

"Are you home?"

"I'm back at the cell block."

"What are you eating for dinner?"

"Suspicious yogurt and stale crackers."

"Come over, I'll cook." As he waits for you to say something, he reminds himself this isn't a big deal.

"That would be fucking awesome."

"I know. We're having steaks."

"I can't cook."

"I know. You don't have to help."

"I can bring drinks."

"Bring you and your drinks."

He gives you his address. He doesn't know why he waited, and he doesn't know what this is, but he was right, it is something.