It starts like this:
“Donghyuck-ah,” one of the stylist-noona’s is holding a jacket in her arms, and when she reaches him she holds it out for him to take. “Try putting this on.”
Donghyuck frowns. “Why?” The other boys are in short sleeves, shorter shorts. It’s the middle of summer, and wearing a jacket seems ridiculous. The stylist noona runs her eyes over him. She smiles, then reaches forward playfully to poke at his side.
“You’re getting a little chubby lately,” she says, lightly pinching his waist. Her smile is nothing but kind. “The jacket should cover it up perfectly.”
Biting his lip, Donghyuck takes the jacket from her with a mumbled ‘okay’. He tries not to take her words to heart, but he can’t help but glance at the other boys, who are in sleeveless jerseys and short-sleeved tees, shorts cropped high. He glances self-consciously down at himself, at his own thighs, at the tiny pouch of baby fat around his middle.
He’s never thought much of himself like that—he’s a teenage boy with a healthy appetite and a grueling schedule of dance and dance and then even more dance. Food’s never been an issue—he exercises more than enough. But he isn’t all skin and bones like some of the other boys, not like Jisung or Renjun. He isn’t as sturdy, either, not like Jeno is—Donghyuck is softer, warm around the edges. He’s never noticed before now.
He pulls the jacket tighter around himself.
“What’re you wearing, Hyuck?” He hears, and then an arm—thin, so thin—is swinging around his shoulders. He turns his head to find himself eye-to-eye with Mark.
“I was a little chilly,” Donghyuck says, and Mark raises his eyebrows in disbelief.
“Hyuck, it’s scorching out here.”
Donghyuck only laughs and leans forward to knock his forehead against Mark’s cheek—the other boy recoils—and pouts, “I’m sensitive to the cold.”
There’s a moment where Mark’s expression is unreadable. They both know that Donghyuck’s excuse is bullshit. It is sweltering outside—nobody in their right minds would want to wear a jacket. For one awful, tense moment Donghyuck is afraid that Mark will scoff and call him out on the white lie. Instead, the boy rolls his eyes and grins.
“Whatever you say, Hyuck,” he says and then withdraws his arm from Donghyuck’s shoulder, off to find Jaemin, who’s making fun of Chenle and Jisung somewhere in the distance. Donghyuck’s fingers clench in the too-long sleeves of the jacket, and crosses his arms over his middle.
And then Jeno’s calling him, asking him what do you think of my new hair, and Donghyuck says it’s kind of cute but you didn’t hear that from me, and then they laugh and Donghyuck forgets what he was even worried about in the first place.
It becomes the first of many difficult days, days where Donghyuck finds it harder and harder to love himself for him.
Summer comes, and summer goes, and Donghyuck is thankful for the respite autumn brings. There are no more shorts to wear, no more silly ankle socks or sweat from jackets meant to cover him up.
And yet, Donghyuck finds himself becoming even more uncomfortable in his skin, despite the fact that less of it is on display.
At dinner, Yuta says to Jaehyun playfully, “You’re getting fat, Jaehyun—so I’ll eat your portion instead.” Jaehyun laughs, flipping Yuta off, and Donghyuck quietly puts down his chopsticks. From his side, Mark eyes him curiously.
“Are you full?” He asks Donghyuck, voice full of doubt.
Donghyuck answers truthfully: “I’m feeling a little nauseous.” And it really is the truth. Getting fat, diets, food, they’re all topics that Donghyuck is coming to think about more and more often. It isn’t a good feeling. Mark reaches over to rub his back, and the feeling of wanting to hurl subsides—just a little.
But Donghyuck is no less exhausted, and he soon excuses himself and goes to the bathroom.
He stares at himself in the mirror. At the corner of his lips, there’s a speck of rice. He wipes it off, furiously, feels the ghost of its presence there still. All he can see in his mirror is his rounded jaw, his full cheeks. He forces himself to smile. It looks as fake as it feels, and he doesn’t bother holding it any longer. He lets it fall, and instead pulls his shirt up, over his head and off. There are no abs—a one pack, he’d jokingly dubbed a while ago. Now it feels like anything but a joke. He presses his hand to his stomach. It’s soft, and he keeps pushing until it hurts.
The word echoes, silent in the cold of the bathroom, where the ice of the tiles is beginning to seep into Donghyuck through the soles of his bare feet. Fat. Fat. You’re fat.
“I’m not fat,” Donghyuck tells his reflection. His reflection doesn’t reply, staring back—cold eyes, pursed lips. But he imagines it saying: you’re a liar. You know the truth. You’re fat. Fat, fat, fat, fat—Donghyuck has to look away. Shakily, he stumbles to the shower. Turns the water on, turns it to the highest temperature.
He’d read somewhere that if you alternate temperatures from the two extreme ends in the shower—scorching and then freezing—you’ll burn fat. He tells himself that this is what he needs. He strips down to nothing, and can’t even look at himself in the mirror. He steps into the rush of water, has to bite his lip from crying out. It burns it burns it burns. He twists the knob as far as it’ll go, and gasps into the cradle of his elbow at the sudden blast of icy cold water, stinging needles against his sensitive skin.
He does this for the next ten minutes, silently, in some sort of masochistic agony, biting his bottom lip so hard that tears well up in his eyes. He isn’t crying. If he is, all evidence washes down the drain.
Ten minutes later, he stumbles out of the shower stall, knock-kneed and exhausted, feeling all the worse for wear.
“Oi,” there’s someone slamming on the door. Johnny. “If you don’t get out of there in the next two minutes, I’m forcing my way in—I need to take a shit!”
Panic grips Donghyuck, and the hand he has clenched in the towel around his waist begins to shake. “I’ll be out in a second, calm your tits,” he manages, snarky and sarcastic as always, and then turns away from the judgmental stare of his reflection. He pulls an oversized shirt over his head—it’s Jaehyun’s—and then underwear and big grey sweatpants. Once suitably ensconced in his armor for the night, he drags the door open.
Johnny squints at him. “Dude, are you alright? You’re like, bright red.”
Before he can stop himself, Donghyuck’s hand goes flying to touch his cheek, which still smarts from the blistering water from earlier. “Took a hot shower,” he says simply.
“That explains it,” Johnny nods, sagely, and then: “Move, brat, or else I’m gonna shit on the floor right now.”
This startles a laugh out of Donghyuck. “Gross,” he quips, and Johnny just grins and pushes past him into the bathroom.
Donghyuck stands for a moment in the hallway, alone. He inhales, shakily. Steels himself.
“I’m okay,” he whispers. From behind the bathroom door, within the mirror, his reflection laughs. No, it says. That’s a lie.