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hold my hand, never let me go

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“Daniel!” Jaehwan’s voice boomed all over the place, followed by his infamous laugh which made him earn judging stares from other people. It has been ten minutes since he last saw his brown haired friend and being the good friend of Daniel, he started looking for him, afraid that his friend might started doing foolish things.

He tried to go over the whole bar to look for Daniel, his steps unsure due to the alcohol that’s already taking over his system. Fortunately, he haven’t knocked anything or anyone. The bar is big, perfect for Friday night outs and its proximity to the university made it popular among students. It has two floors, the first one having the main bar counter, a few table, a spacious dance floor and a stage where bands or singers performs at times. The second floor were just tables and booths and a miniature version of the bar counter below made for people who are too lazy to go back down.

“Have you seen Daniel?” he asked someone, his words slurring, almost incoherent. The stranger just looked at him, confused, and left him quickly. Jaehwan shook his head and walked again, now towards the bar counter. A bartender is already expecting him once he arrived, his hands immediately grasping the counter top to support his body.

“Are you looking for Niel?” the bartender asks him. Jaehwan’s face lit up upon hearing the words uttered by the person in front of him.

“You know him?” he questioned. He knows Daniel is quiet famous in their university, being a back to back champion in the university’s annual dance contest for two consecutive years and his admittedly good looks and physique but Jaehwan did not expected that even this bartender knows Daniel. Daniel must be frequent here. Right. They are frequent here. Jaehwan laughs to himself.

“Jaehwan,” the bartender started, annoyance evident in his voice. “If you and Daniel did not stop drinking and haven’t leave this place in fifteen minutes, I’m going to be the one to drag your asses away from here.”

“But why? We’re having a good time!” Jaehwan reasoned, he lifted his hand and playfully hit the bartender’s chest, his hands landing near the bartender’s name plate which causes Jaehwan’s eyes to widen, his panic overpowering the alcohol in his body. “Ji- Jisung hyung?”

”Finally.” Jisung raised an eyebrow at Jaehwan, crossing his arms. “Go. My shift will end soon and if I arrive at the apartment before the two of you, I’m going to lock both of you out.”

Jaehwan gulped as flash of memories from last winter started playing on his mind. Him, Daniel and their other friend, Seongwu, got locked out for the first time and almost got hypothermia as it was the middle of winter then. Jisung won’t let them die like that but the stress they’ll bring the older, they can’t afford that. Most especially at Jisung’s workplace. Jaehwan scrambled to his feet and continued his search for Daniel.

 

I’m filled with imagination
It’ll be a good story if it was for real

 

His mind and sight are still hazy as he make his way through the dance floor, among the sea of people whose bodies are pressed against each other, moving along the rhythm of the song that is currently being performed by someone on the stage. Maybe it’s the alcohol, the smoke or the strobes of lights that made Jaehwan dizzy. Or maybe all of the above.

 

The more I pick at you, the more perfect you are
I wanna get to know you more

 

Jaehwan was being pushed, his body being dragged by the wave of people. He’s having a hard time to go against them as the crowd is getting wilder than moments ago.

After a few seconds and few pushing he’s finally out, inhaling the less smoke-contaminated air as he take a few steps backward, unfortunately tripping on something in the process.

 

Hey, just you, pretty you, just you

 

For a heartbeat, Jaehwan thought the world stopped, the stillness overwhelming him until the voice continued to sing. Without the music recording, Jaehwan can clearly hear the singer’s voice, it was smooth, like a water. No. Like the sea. It was smooth and calming yet Jaehwan can feel the power beneath. This person’s singing skill is surely no joke, Jaehwan thought.

Careful, careful, careful,” Jaehwan turned around and look at the guy singing on the stage only to found out that the guy is already looking at him, a mic stand before him and playing the guitar while he continue to sing the song Jaehwan isn’t familiar with, especially with the absence of background music. “I looked at you and just started to talk to myself.

The guy rolled his eyes at Jaehwan and returned his gaze on the crowd whose cheers grew louder as the singer continues to sing without any accompaniment but the barely audible sound of his guitar and the crowd’s cheers.

Jaehwan started to feel a tingling sensation on his left wrist, crawling up to his spine and goosebumps now cover both of his arms. His cheeks and ears started to be tinged with a bright red color. He then realizes where he is - at the very front, a couple of steps away from the barely elevated stage. If there is one thing Jaehwan is thankful as of the moment, that would be only few people are actually paying him attention.

Not until when Jisung walked towards him, people paving way for him until he reached Jaehwan and dragged him away.




“Get up, Jaehwan!” Someone yelled at him. Jaehwan stretched his limbs, his back a bit sore and then he opened his right eye to peek at the person hovering over his sleeping figure. “It’s Saturday. I made you and Daniel a hangover soup for breakfast. Get up, you stink of alcohol and gosh,” Jisung leaned towards Jaehwan and wrinkled his nose. “You really need a bath.”

“But Jisung hyung, it is Saturday!” he retorted, tossing his body to the other side of the bed as if he will be able to avoid Jisung’s early morning squabbles.

“Don’t you have a practice with Seongwu today?” Jaehwan’s eyes flew open with Jisung’s words. He quickly got up and walk outside his and Jisung’s shared bedroom, towards the dining table where Daniel and Seongwu are already seated, quietly eating the breakfast Jisung prepared for them.

He plopped on the chair beside Daniel and Jisung followed the suit, sitting across his seat, on Seongwu’s left side. He scanned the table and saw that Jisung had again taken the mom role among the four of them and prepared a big breakfast despite the humiliation him and Daniel had brought last night. It isn’t just hangover soup, there are also kimchi fried rice, eggs, sausages, pajeon and a bunch of banchan . Jaehwan might give Jisung a kiss for this.

“Good morning,” Seongwu greeted him. Daniel is just silently sitting beside him. He guess the younger is still suffering from a terrible headache. “How’s your liver?”

“Better than Daniel’s,” he answered, a mischievous grin started to show on his face and that made Daniel kick the chair he was sitting on, the spoon he was holding bumped a bit hard to the side of the bowl, causing the soup Jisung served him to spill a bit.

“I have had enough of your bullshits to last a lifetime,” Jisung said, eyes glaring, and they did stop. “Jaehwan, could you please hand me that plate beside Daniel.”

Jaehwan obeyed and did not argue that Jisung could have asked Daniel instead. Maybe Daniel is really suffering from a terrible headache. That’s how it is with Daniel, a terrible headache and his mind absent when he had so much drink. Jaehwan picked up the plate and handed it to Jisung.

“You found your soulmate?” Seongwu blurted out of the blue, surprise evident all over his face. The three of them immediately turned their heads toward Seongwu’s direction, their faces a variation of confusion. “Jaehwan?”

“What?” Jaehwan’s forehead creases, confused at Seongwu’s words because he knows, he haven’t met his soulmate yet. And if he had met his soulmate, he would have known.

Seongwu just pointed Jaehwan’s extended arm and they all take a look. There, on his wrist, written in a dark blue ink, an elegant script reads Careful, careful, careful - the first words that his soulmate will tell him.

Jaehwan slowly pulled his arm and look at the tattoo carefully. It was supposed to be written in black. It was written in black yesterday but now it is dark blue. He had met his soulmate and he was not even aware of it. How dumb he is.

When Seongwu saw his tattoo for the first time, Seongwu laughed out loud and said that the tattoo suits him. Careful, careful, careful. One word and repeated thrice. He honestly find the inscription weird but he got used to it. He knows he’s a bit foolish, happy-go-lucky to be exact but never clumsy and all of the words that can be inked on his wrist it is the word careful.

He had wondered on what manner will he meet his soulmate. Maybe he will be crossing the streets and someone will shout careful at him? It can be but wouldn’t it be weird if someone will tell you careful three times? But now, Jaehwan doesn’t even need to wonder about that as he have a bigger problem.

Who is his soulmate? He tried to recall the events that had happened yesterday and just winced as a wave of headache and nausea came to him.




It has been two weeks since Jaehwan had met his soulmate and he had stop thinking about who it might be, leaving it to the Fate that he will meet his soulmate someday.

Fate. It is a funny thing.

Sometimes, Jaehwan thought maybe Fate is just making fun of him.

Jaehwan took a seat, the last seat available on the metal bench outside the auditorium, waiting for his name to be called. Chuseok is less than 5 weeks away and that means their university’s annual Chuseok festival is approaching. That is why Jaehwan is here, to audition for a minor role in this year’s musical. He had prepared for this audition well and Daniel even teased him to just go for the major character but Jaehwan just brushed it off, saying that it should be Seongwu who should go for that character as his acting skills are as flawless as his dancing and singing.

Jaehwan softly patted his guitar which was sitting on his lap and take a glance at the line of people waiting for their turns. “Do you know what time is it?” he asks to no one in particular. Silently praying that at least one will answer him.

The guy sitting beside him slowly turns his head to Jaehwan’s side, slightly tilting his head as if asking Jaehwan to confirm that he is talking to him. Jaehwan flashed a smile, taking note of the name written on the sticker tag pasted on the guy’s chest - Jeong Sewoon, College of Music.

The guy, Sewoon, pass his gaze to Jaehwan’s wrists to confirm if Jaehwan does not really have a wristwatch before looking at his own. “It’s already 9:46 - oh!”

“Hmmm?” Jaehwan inquired as he was not able to clearly hear what Sewoon had said but Sewoon ignored it, his focus on the wristwatch, as if it grew a tail or something. Jaehwan leaned forward to also take a look, curious at what gained Sewoon’s attention.

“You,” Sewoon says softly, his eyes still on the wristwatch.

Jaehwan’s right brow rose. “What me?” Then Sewoon turned his wrist and removed his wristwatch, revealing the underside of his wrist. They both went wide eyed, seeing Sewoon’s elegantly written tattoo in dark blue ink, stark against his smooth and pale skin - Do you know what time is it?

“I’m your soulmate,” Jaehwan whispered in his almost inaudible voice.

“And you’re mine,” Sewoon answered, slowly strapping his wristwatch back in place.

You’re mine. Those two words clanged through him and for a heartbeat everything seemed to be muted, the sounds and even the color in his surrounding, his mind solely focusing on Sewoon’s words. He shifted on his seat, trying to sit properly as he could before meeting Sewoon’s gaze.

Jaehwan cleared his throat, “Kim Jaehwan from College of Music.” He introduced himself to Sewoon as his name tag is partially hidden by the denim jacket he is wearing and his guitar that is sitting on his lap. He acknowledged Sewoon’s name tag and Sewoon understood. He just shifted on his seat to let Jaehwan see everything on the tag. His name, college and queue number.

“We’re in the same college, how come I didn’t see you around?” Sewoon asked, wondering.

“I rarely linger in the College of Music’s building when classes are over. I prefer to stay at the Performing Arts’ building,” he explained. That is where Daniel and Seongwu are, as the two of them majors in dance and theater arts respectively, he might have added but these words didn’t come out of his mouth. Maybe a story to be shared later. “And I am in my fourth year already, you are?”

“Ah. I’m still in my third year. Nice meeting you, hyung.” Sewoon chuckled making Jaehwan smile shyly which was never his thing so he forced to replace it with a cheery smile, to hide his nervousness and the blush that is starting to creep up to his cheeks.

Then Jaehwan is lost for words so he just settled on fiddling the hem of his guitar case then tearing his eyes away from Sewoon.

Sewoon’s eyes. Its outer corners are lined downward, as if he’s always tired or sleepy. How would Sewoon look like early in the morning? His hair sticking out on every direction, face serene and then he opens his eyes one after another. He would be blinking the sleepiness away and then giving Jaehwan a lazy smile as a morning greeting. Jaehwan stopped his thoughts.

Sewoon’s eyes looks like someone’s eyes.

And a memory came rushing to Jaehwan.

Him, standing a couple of steps away from the stage and accidentally tripping on the wires which had ceased the operation of the sound system but there on the stage, the singer - Sewoon - is looking at him as he continue to sing, a hint of annoyance in his eyes. And the lyrics (and a warning to him) to Sewoon’s song: careful, careful, careful.

Jaehwan whipped his head on his right side only to find that Sewoon have already left his seat and is now walking towards the doors of the auditorium along with four other people. Why did they forgot to talk about his tattoo? Did Sewoon remembered his face and figured it out? Jaehwan wanted to talk to Sewoon and also to say sorry so he waited for Sewoon but he didn’t see him afterwards.

He waited for Sewoon to come out of the auditorium but he didn’t see him went out and his turn came.

He entered the auditorium, his heartbeat went to a faster pace as he saw the judges sitting at the very front of the stage. Still, his eyes go for a quick survey of the auditorium, looking at the red, chenille-covered seats, at every corner of the auditorium but Sewoon isn’t there so he moved forward, toward the stage and faced the judges, taking a deep breath as he introduced himself and performed the piece he have been practicing day and night for the past days.

Everything went well. Jaehwan is sure of that. He’s confident about his singing and executions of lines, he committed a few mistake on his expression but it wasn’t that bad. Not to mention the compliments he got from some of the judges. The results will be released after two days, the director says, after they have thoroughly reviewed everything and those who got roles will be notified by e-mail as well as a text message.

Jaehwan started to make his way outside the building, eyes still wary of the surroundings as if Sewoon would suddenly jump out of nowhere. He had reached the steps at the entrance of the building and sit there for a minute.

Five. Fifteen. Twenty-five minutes had passed.

He then decided to let this meeting go. There would be another time. A lot of time since his life is practically tied to Sewoon. Their lives woven with each other like threads of a tapestry.

How do people make this whole soulmate thing work out? Two strangers being tied to each other. What are the criteria? Why the two of them? Does the Fate knows they could be tying lives of mortal enemies? How would that end then?

Jaehwan is lucky then, for having Sewoon as his soulmate. A complete stranger, yes, but he wouldn’t ask for more. His soulmate could be anyone - someone he made fun of, someone from another country or worse, Daniel. And meeting his soulmate in the same country, in the same city, in the same university. A gift.

He slowly shook his head and started walking to their apartment. Fate is indeed a funny thing.




“I found him,” Jaehwan announced to Jisung whose back is facing him, working on their dinner tonight which is composed of kimchi stew, fried tofu, steamed rice and another bunch of banchan . Jaehwan’s mouth watered upon sniffing the scent of Jisung’s cooking so he decided to suit his grumbling stomach by munching on the kimchi and danmuji that Jisung left on the table.

Jisung didn’t dare to glance on Jaehwan, his attention focused on stirring in ingredients in his kimchi stew which is Daniel’s favorite. Jaehwan rolled his eyes, favoritism indeed. “Found who? Are you looking for someone?”

“My soulmate,” Jaehwan answered. Jisung’s stirring on the kimchi stew halted, his head slowly turning to Jaehwan’s direction, mouth gaping open. “He auditioned for the musical, too. I said the words and his tattoo changed to dark blue. We introduced ourselves but never got the chance to talk for long.”

A smile started to show on Jisung’s face. “That’s nice, Jjaeni!” Jisung set the stove to low heat and let the stew simmer. He put down the ladle and removed the apron he is wearing. Jisung walked over the table and pulls a chair out so he can sit.  “Did you perhaps asked about his name at the very least?”

“Yup. It’s Jeong Sewoon,” Jaehwan replies.

Jisung choked, or atleast made a choking sound upon hearing Sewoon’s name. “That makes sense but out of all people in the bar that night… it’s Sewoon? In case you forgot, you ruined his stage that night.”

Jaehwan sighs. “I know. I remember.”

“But Sewoon is a nice person. You don’t have to worry.”

“Sure he is.”

“Do you want to come with me after dinner? I’m not sure if he’ll still perform tonight but we will see.” Jisung offered.

As a part time job, Jisung works as a bartender at the bar nearby, the bar where Daniel, Seongwu and him frequents. The same bar where he met Sewoon for the very first time. Jaehwan shakes his head. “Next time, maybe.”




Two days had passed since the audition day and there’s Sewoon in front of him, at least ten meters away from, walking towards the College of Music’s building just like him. Sewoon’s wearing a blue and white striped button down and a pair of denim jeans, perfect for the crisp, pre-autumn breeze that is gently blowing the leaves of the ginkgo trees surrounding the walkway to the building. A backpack on his back, his guitar case on his right hand and another bag on his left. Jaehwan strides went faster. Maybe he wants to help Sewoon carry the other bag since his own bag feels lighter.

Ten steps to Sewoon but three people started to crowd Sewoon, stopping Jaehwan on his tracks. He recognizes two of the three. It was Youngmin and his boyfriend, Donghyun. He knows them because of Daniel since Youngmin and Daniel were from the same province.

Jaehwan went back to his normal pace. It looks like they are Sewoon’s friends as they started to chat and laugh with each other. Maybe another time, he thought and then his phone buzzed. A text message from director of the musical, he got the role. Jaehwan smiles.



 

The first day of the rehearsals for the musical was more on script-reading and meeting which just lasted for three hours after they have decided to add a 5-hour practice every Saturday. For Jaehwan, probably the highlight of the first meeting is learning that Sewoon got accepted too and he was one of the main characters. Somehow Jaehwan felt proud upon knowing that.

When Jaehwan’s attention is not needed on the meeting, he always found himself glancing towards Sewoon’s direction. They have acknowledge each other’s presence before the meeting had started, a brief exchange of nods and smiles. At the end of the meeting, it was Sewoon who approached him first.

“Congratulations! You got in, too.” Sewoon said, smiling at him.

“Thanks!” Jaehwan answers. He started to put in his pencil case and papers inside his bag. “Congratulations to you, too. A major role? That’s impressive.”

A flush of pink started to show on Sewoon’s cheeks. “Thank you.” He smiles at Jaehwan who is currently organizing his bag. “Would you like to walk with me? Maybe until the university gates but I’m headed to the convenience store at the corner of the third and fourth street, the one near the pedestrian lane.”

“Sure. My apartment is actually near the convenience store.” Jaehwan replies, he gathered his things and the both of them leave the practice hall then making their way to the outside of the building.

“About the thing at the bar last time…” Jaehwan started. Sewoon turned his attention from the flagstoned pavement they are walking on to Jaehwan. “I’m sorry. I mean, I wasn’t drunk but I didn’t saw the wires. There were so many -”

“Jaehwan hyung, it’s okay.” Sewoon assured. Jaehwan just stared at him, still waiting for an assurance so he smiled and nodded. “They should’ve done something about the wires. It’s near a dance floor yet they just leave those exposed.”

The atmosphere got cooler in the past days. The two of them continued to walk their way to their destinations together. They passed the different buildings of their university that were fashioned after European infrastractures, mostly made up of bricks that gives off a historical vibe. The trees are already starting to change the colors of their leaves, others started to shed their leaves, signalling that the autumn season has officially began.

Much to Jaehwan’s surprise (and relief), it was Sewoon who started the conversation and kept it going. He learned that Sewoon works at the convenience store for his part-time job and he has a freshman workmate there named Lee Euiwoong who always scold him whenever he is late. He’s also from Busan, the same province Youngmin and Daniel came from but he doesn’t know Daniel personally. Sewoon is also a part of a musical group with Youngmin, Donghyun and Gwanghyun, the other guy Jaehwan saw approach Sewoon the other day. As a hobby, Sewoon likes to compose songs with the help of Pudding, the name he gave to his guitar.

Sewoon also got to know a bit about Jaehwan. How his roommates sometimes call him mandu because of his chubby cheeks. How he likes to joke and play around with his roommates. That the reason why he joined the musical is because his father wanted to see him perform in an event at their university. He does short street performances though, when Daniel nags him to accompany him on some of his busking gigs.

“Then do you play the piano, too?” Sewoon asks.

Jaehwan nodded. “But I don’t own one. When I have a free time, I sometimes go to the music room near the lecture hall and practice there. Sometimes, I try to compose songs but I never got to finish one.”

Something in Sewoon’s eyes glimmer. “Would you like to work on a song with me? Not now but maybe after the Chuseok festival? Of course, if you just want to.”

“Kim Jaehwan!” Someone shouted his name. Both him and Sewoon turn their heads to the other side of the road. It was Seongwu and Daniel, both grinning knowingly at him, grocery bags in both of their hands. It looks like they just finished shopping for Jisung at the nearby supermarket. Fortunately for Jaehwan, the stoplight still signals a ‘ go ’ so the two remained on the other side.

“My roommates,” Jaehwan told Sewoon, a very brief explanation on who are those people who just shouted his name. He ignored them for a moment and Sewoon followed the suit but they paused on their tracks. “And about the collaboration, sure. I think that’s a nice idea.”

“Awesome.” Sewoon smiles at him. “And oh! We can join the Christmas carol event. I heard they will add a self-composition corner this year. Do I talk too much? Sorry, I think I got too excited about the idea.”

“No.” Jaehwan shakes his head and waves his hand at the same time, assuring Sewoon that everything is fine to him. “Continue talking, I would love to hear you talk about the things you are passionate about. And yes, I’m fine with joining the event if you’re up to it. It makes me excited too, to know that we share the same interest.”

In Jaehwan’s peripheral vision, he saw the stop light went from red to yellow then to green and as a cue, Seongwu and Daniel nudge each other and started walking, their steps a little hurried.

“Is it okay for you to go ahead? I’ll just deal with my roommates first, uh, they are not in their best behavior today, I think. They rarely do though.” He chuckles. “I’ll just chat you. Can I have your number? If you’re fine with it.”

“Sure. No problem, hyung.” Sewoon replies and then he gave Jaehwan his number.

“Uh, Sewoon?” Jaehwan scratched his nape and Sewoon just blinked at him in response. “If you are free on Sunday, would you like to hang out?”

“I’m in.” And then Sewoon started to walk away, walking towards the convenience store just at the corner of the sidewalk. Just in time, when Sewoon is already a good three meters away, Seongwu and Daniel arrived, teasingly tackling him.

“So, Jjaeni got a boyfriend?” Daniel teased, his eyebrows wiggle as he spoke.

He started walking again and the two followed his tracks. “He’s not my boyfriend. He’s my soulmate. I told you last time, I finally found him.”

“Aren’t those the same?” Seongwu asked, confusion all over his face. “I mean, he’s your soulmate so automatically he’s your boyfriend? You’ll end up with each other either way.”

“Is that how it works?” Daniel inquires. Now, this whole thing confuses Jaehwan too.

Him and Sewoon are soulmates but that doesn’t automatically turn them to boyfriends? They just met each other, barely know each other. Maybe they can start from here, getting to know each other.




Jaehwan doesn’t know how to start, how to approach the guy standing a couple of feet across him. Should he run towards him? Should he wave at him and say hi? Should he compliment Sewoon’s choice of outfit? He had practiced every possible ways of saying ‘hello’ to Sewoon last night yet he still can’t figure out how to greet him.

Jaehwan shrugged and just took a step towards Sewoon.

“I’m sorry if you have been waiting here for a while.” Jaehwan told Sewoon as he approaches him. Sewoon slowly turned his head towards Jaehwan and smiled. Maybe it is his imagination but Jaehwan thought his heart skipped a beat.

“I just arrived here too.” Sewoon started walking slowly and Jaehwan followed. He was thankful that Sewoon leads the way because he is not sure where to take him, where Sewoon would want to be, where he would be happy to go until Sewoon stopped on his tracks and asked, “Where to?”

Jaehwan rummages through his brain, thinking of a nice place to go with Sewoon. Of all the things he forgot last night...

Then Jisung’s words from months ago suddenly came to him, as if they are really meant for this moment: You can never go wrong with ice cream. Cookies and cream if you’re unsure. Who in this earth doesn’t like cookies?

This new journey with his soulmate started to thrill every fiber of Jaehwan’s being. He isn’t sure of what lies ahead of them but he continue walking. Now, he have someone to share his worries to, to share his hopes and dreams and he will be more than willing to listen to Sewoon’s own. Sure, this road won’t be easy but they will find a way or make one. He have his soulmate, his new friend by his side and that’s more than he could ask for.

Jaehwan smiled at the thought, at this reality as he took Sewoon’s soft, warm hands into his and intertwines their fingers together. “Would like to grab some ice cream first?”

Sewoon got a bit startled with Jaehwan’s action but he immediately regained his composure, squeezing Jaehwan’s hand when Jaehwan’s face started to show guilt and was about to pull his hand away. He nodded and returned the smile and Jaehwan’s smile became brighter. “Strawberry ice cream at Sugar Bowl’s is the best.”