He met him when he was seventeen going on eighteen, at a time when teenage heartbreak felt like something far worse than what it really was: a handful of weeks, heavy makeout sessions when the parents weren’t home, and awkward hand-holding that only resulted in sweaty palms.
A handful of weeks turned into a handful of months, though, and soon enough, seven years of togetherness were being celebrated with waxy candles they found at the back of their cutlery drawer, and bright pink balloons meant for a seven-year-old’s birthday party. 2,555 days were spent under the same sunset, the same moon. They counted seven as their lucky number and silently agreed it would be their best year yet.
Thousands of kisses were shared, too many to count, a number destined to be infinite. They grew greedier and greedier for kisses as the years caught up with them, neither of them losing the insatiability that found them falling into bed the first time. They added to the number every day, and it was one they were proud to lose track of. No kiss was ever the same. Even the ones planted on foreheads before bed, or the ones that were out of the front door by the time Taehyung had brewed the coffee of a morning. Each kiss came with the promise of another kiss, with words like ‘I love you’, ‘I’m so proud of you’, ‘Have a good day at work!’, and ‘Fasten your seatbelt, babe’ attached to them.
There had been a total of thirty-six arguments over the course of seven years, with eighteen of them ending in tears, usually on Taehyung’s end. He was a crier during arguments, and it always made it hard for Jeongguk to not bridge the distance between them and scoop him up into his arms. Unluckily for him, his stubbornness and pridefulness got in the way of him doing that thirteen out of eighteen times. At least a dozen of them were about nothing at all, and five of them carried on through to the next day.
One argument left them both in separate beds; sleepless, tossing and turning, and close to breaking in two.
All thirty-six of them didn’t deter Jeongguk from kissing a nose; collarbone, hand or pouting lip at three in the morning when Taehyung was fast asleep and the other wasn’t too prideful to whisper an I’m sorry against skin.
A total of four weddings and two divorces happened around them during their seven years. Growing up meant watching the people around them fall in love too fast and vow to commitments they couldn’t keep. They toasted to love four times, slow danced four times and giggled around glasses of champagne that fizzled out on their tongues as they licked promises into each other’s mouths.
Marriage was a secret they whispered into each other’s ears when their mouths loosened; when Jeongguk’s hands would wander to Taehyung’s own, and play with his ring finger almost absentmindedly, wistful sighs a language they spoke fluently. Most days, marriage was a word that sat bitterly on the tips of their tongues. They watched their friends marry and divorce within two years, and witnessed how love was tossed around and used as a weapon to destruct.
Six times. They considered secretly eloping six times. One night, while drunk—most of their outrageous plans were born while under the influence of something—Taehyung had had enough after having spent the night before consoling his broken friend over the phone while she tore the word love apart in twenty-four different ways. Jeongguk remembers lying on the bed, feet dangling in the air as he watched Taehyung drag an empty suitcase into their bedroom. There was a determination stitched between his brows, and Jeongguk always indulged him with confidence. Once Taehyung devised a plan, the only thing stopping him was their limited funds and work commitments.
(“Babe, where do you plan on going with… three pairs of speedos, a face cleanser, and an expired passport?”
“You forgot the sunglasses! The sunglasses are the most crucial part.”
“Oh, you’re right. Now that you have the sunglasses on, I can totally tell you’re ready for Cancun.”
“I also packed a bow tie for you. You should be grateful I even considered you in my plans.”
“Don’t I get a nice tuxedo for this eloping?”
“Oh, no. I wouldn’t want anything to take away from the bow tie.”
“So, naked bar a bow tie, yeah?”
“You’re finally on board with my vision!”)
With every wedding, a funeral followed.
They had experienced death together enough times for them to cling to each other harder during the nights. There was Jeongguk’s grandfather on his dad’s side, followed by the grandmother whose passing seemed to be a direct cause of heartbreak. Jeongguk had remembered reading an article back in his teens about how a broken heart could kill, and at the time he laughed, remembers muttering something like ridiculous. Now, though, he understands how a body can shut down completely due to loss; how a soul can wither when its other half is ripped away.
Death hit them six times in seven years, and each time they delved into the back of their closet for the all too familiar black blazer and dress pants that wore the same stains they did the first time.
They were a collection of numbers to celebrate, catalogue, and mourn.
He remembers the day. He remembers when six became seven, and when a whole became a half.
He remembers the date. August 7th, 2018.
There was no coffee brewing that morning, but there was still a kiss. Always a kiss. Even if everything else was jarring in its lack of routine, even without coffee or an ‘I love you’ slipped into a ‘See you later’, the kiss was there, and Jeongguk allowed it to linger a little more than he usually would.
Sometimes an ‘I love you’ would slip through fingers, and although it was rare, it would happen. Life often took from others what it wanted to, and Jeongguk came to know that all too well.
On those rare occasions, Taehyung would rush to the front door as Jeongguk was ready to drive off, and he’d shout the words from where he stood beneath the door frame, usually followed by a coy smile. Each time was a ‘fuck you’ to the bigoted neighbours that would watch from behind their curtains, their scowls always burning the back of his head as he closed the door behind.
Jeongguk always chimed in with an ‘I love you, more’ or an ‘I love you, also’ but never an ‘I love you, too’. There was never anything wrong with too per se, but as a man whose first language was love, second Korean, he always found the three letter word passive.
He drove off to work that morning with him on his lips. Taehyung sans the bitter bite of caffeine, a double shot of turmeric and ginger instead is what he remembers tasting. No more pleasant than the coffee, but he knew Taehyung was on a health kick.
They only ever lasted a few days, maybe a week tops, but Jeongguk still made a mental note to drop by the market on his way home from work. Having a kitchen stocked up on fresh produce was an excitement he never thought he’d get, but he came to understand the luxury of seeing an array of colours and smells fill their kitchen.
They would text throughout their days, both of them lucky enough to work jobs that would allow an odd text here and there, enough to string along a conversation to tide them over until home time. Their texts were another number Jeongguk couldn't make up in his head, not an infinite one—he much preferred to dial his number and hear the low rumble of his voice—but they had collected a fair few over the years, never fully out of contact with each other even when there were work commitments.
They would send links to funny videos or interesting articles through e-mail to each other, and on occasion, Taehyung would scold him later in the evening for making him laugh out loud in the office over a video of a hedgehog flailing its little arms in the air.
Yet, no texts or e-mails came that morning, minus the exchange of texts they shared right after Jeongguk had left the house. He didn’t think much of it at the time. Taehyung had… a habit of spending too long in the shower, his morning shower playlist veering on the edge of being 45 minutes long.
(“If you refuse to get out of the shower before your playlist ends, why not just make it a fifteen-minute playlist instead?”
“One of the songs is 8 minutes long in itself! So that’s what… three songs? That sounds like the saddest shower ever. I’d rather not shower at all.”
“Have fun explaining to your boss why your fingertips are wrinkled, then.”
“God, you are no fun at all. Go take your 3 minutes and 45 seconds shower which we both know sucks because all good songs are over four minutes long!”)
Five hours. He remembers he started to panic after the five-hour mark, after five failed phone calls and a dozen or so texts. He had spent his lunch break biting his nails, and that alone somehow fooled his stomach into feeling full, too full, needing emptying.
to Future Hubby:
[8:28 a.m.] here is your reminder to get gas before going to work! <3 <3
from Future Hubby:
[8:30 a.m.] *HEART EYES* you are heaven sent
to Future Hubby:
[8:31 a.m.] no sadie that’s you you’re my angel
[8:32 a.m.] what the fuck i meant baby BABY not sadie this voice to text feature SUCKS ASS send my message siri
from Future Hubby:
[8:33 a.m.] lol you’re a mess baby <3
[8:33 a.m.] shower time!!!!! get to work safely sadie’s man :p
to Future Hubby:
[8:42 a.m.] i’m in the office now! <3
[8:46 a.m.] i’m guessing yr still in the shower lol your boss will kill you babe
[9:02 a.m.] did you slip in the shower and die wtf
[9:18 a.m.] well i’m guessing you’re running late so text me when you safely can <3 <3 <3
[11:13 a.m.] i’m assuming your boss is being an ass today so when you get the chance look at your work email i sent you a link to a corgi compilation video that should cheer you up hehe <3 :*
[1:03 p.m.] hello? earth to tattieee? :(
[1:05 p.m.] DID I FORGET TO WASH AWAY MY STUBBLE FROM THE SINK THIS MORNING IS THAT WHY YOU’RE IGNORING MY TEXTS
[1:18 p.m.] did you see the news?
[1:18 p.m.] a taxi crashed and the driver survived but the passenger was pronounced dead on the scene :(
[1:19 p.m.] right next to your work building :(
[1:24 p.m.] i’m gonna call, ok? i know these things… get to you easily i’m guessing that’s why you’ve been quiet today :(
[1:28 p.m.] i’m sorry if i’m being too much but i’ve tried calling 5 times now and it won’t even ring?
[1:29 p.m.] i’m really worried now..
He still remembers the droning sound of the news reporter, the way his thumb pressed down too hard to turn the volume up.
“I’m standing outside of the office buildings where the fatal crash happened earlier this morning in the Gangnam District. No names have been released as of yet, but it seems the taxi was hit by a speeding car in a 40 miles per hour zone. The taxi driver came away with minor injuries, but his passenger—supposedly an office worker in the district—was sadly pronounced dead on the scene. Paramedics and firemen did all they could to rescue him, but little could be done. Officials say no further statements will be released until the family of the victim has been contacted and notified. Roads have been....”
He remembers how his brain couldn’t process anything beyond that point, hands shaking, fist tightening around the remote control. Knees folding, his heart somewhere stuck in his throat. There’s still the taste of metal in his mouth, now, like his heart had ended up somewhere in his mouth, choking him with guilt, beating in mockery. Telling him he should have taken the damn taxi himself, should have filled the tank up the night before, or persisted and pushed for Taehyung to skip his shower so they could travel together.
His memory is patchy in areas. Even now, looking back, there are forty minutes that are uncalled for, forty minutes he can’t find the source of, even with the kind of therapy that forces him to tap into memories that hurt too much to touch. The surface of some memories acting like new scars, healed on the surface but still sensitive to the touch, enough to want to pull your hand away like you’ve been scolded. He had twenty-something years of life experiences, of scuffed adolescent knees and chewed up fingernails; it was enough to compile a scrapbook of pain, but forty minutes of nothing seemed to be enough for him to demand therapy.
There are texts, though. There will always be the texts.
to Future Hubby:
[2:02 p.m.] thaeyung
[2:02 p.m.] taheyung please tlell me you filled the c ar up
[2:02 p.m.] please pelae i need yo uto have filled the car up and
[2:03 p.m.] you drove to workl i know you did
[2:03 p.m.] you hate taxis
[2:04 p.m.] you say they’re too expensove and take you the longway
[2:04 p.m.] baby this isntg funny namore please reply
[2:05 p.m.] im ocming
[2:06 p.m.] im ccoming to your work
He can remember blood, remnants of orange metal scattered around, with the area cornered off from the public.
Blood. He remembers there being so much blood, more blood than he can imagine filling one human body. A human, on average, has one and a half gallons of blood pumping through their body. All it takes is half a gallon spread out like an oil spill on the road. So much loss.
Loss. A word that sat heavy on his tongue, one he vowed to keep out of his vocabulary. Four letters held so much, carried him through life.
“I don’t remember, I told you everything already.”
She wears a tight smile. Her lips are lined blood red. “Can you remember what happened after you got to the scene of the crash?”
“No, no,” he sighs, his hands buried in his hair, keeping his head from falling, elbows digging into his thighs. “I went to the hospital, maybe. I think. There were sirens, blaring, red and angry. Everything was too loud, and that’s all I can remember.”
She rolls her ballpoint pen between her index and middle finger. Red. Who the fuck writes in red ink? “You saw him again after that, didn’t you?”
“Are you referring to the photo, the hospital mortuary or in my dreams?”
He looks up. She gives a pointed look. “They let me be alone with him for a while. They showed me a photo of…,” his voice turns to dust, his throat lodged with something. “I begged them to let me see him. They didn’t think I was ready to make that decision yet.”
“Do you believe you were ready? You didn’t give yourself much time to process what had happened.”
His voice wobbles. “Yes.”
“Do you remember much of it?”
“No.” It’s a lie.
He still remembers how it was nothing like what they painted on the crime T.V. shows he grew up watching. He expected to feel nauseated by the smell of formaldehyde, to feel himself shiver at how impersonal everything felt, void of colour beyond different shades of off-white.
I’m sorry, he had said. It should have been me.
He wanted to ask him about his day, ask if he enjoyed the video he linked him to. It would have been too easy to slip in a “What’s for dinner tonight?” or an “I read your most recent article; it was your best yet!”
Things he should have been asking and telling, conversations they should have been having while sat around the kitchen island, kicking their shoes off and calling it a day. There should have been routine, comfortable even in its mundanity at times.
“You know, I could make you a really great deal if you decided to sell it.”
“That won’t be necessary,” he says, biting his tongue. “How much for the engraving?”
“₩79,000. Family heirloom, eh? You don’t see moonstones like that anymore.”
He nods, doesn’t say anything again. He shakes his head when the man asks if he wants to see it first before paying. After that, he’s on his way.
“Baby?” he had asked from where he lay in Jeongguk’s lap.
“Mm?” Jeongguk had been dozing off, the Sunday sun hot against the back of his neck, filtering through with a warm breeze to accompany it.
“Promise me something?” His voice was soft; they hadn’t spoken much that day, too lethargic from the spell cast on them from the sun. They allowed themselves days like this every once in a while, where small touches replaced words and getting out of bed was only a means to reach the couch where they would spend the remaining hours of the day.
Jeongguk had held onto Taehyung’s chin and stroked it, adoring, and said, “Anything.”
“If we’re never able to mary here, promise me we’ll go somewhere else, that we’ll fly to some place pretty and far away from here…?” It came out as a question at the time, the hesitation present in his voice. Jeongguk didn’t know what he had to be hesitant about.
“Oh, darling,” he had said on a sigh, ruffling his fingers through the choppy fringe that stuck to Taehyung’s forehead. “That’s a promise I intend to keep.”
“You sound so confident.”
“I am,” Jeongguk had replied, not a hint of wavering in his voice at the time. If there was one thing he was confident about, it was how the stars aligned perfectly for him and Taehyung, how the world had intended for it to always be like this—with Taehyung by Jeongguk’s side, and Jeongguk by Taehyung’s. “I’m going to marry you up, and no land or law is going to get in the way of that.”
The smile Jeongguk had received at the time was blinding, mouth split wide open, still lazy enough for it to look goofy. His Sunday smiles were lazy and easy like that, with his eyes forming creases and his nostrils flaring. “I don’t want diamonds, you know. I feel like diamonds are overrated.” It was the most he had said all day. Jeongguk loved to hear the slow, quiet drone of his voice fill the room.
“God, you’re making my bank balance sigh in relief right now,” he had joked, Taehyung shushing him. “If not diamonds, then what?”
“Gold. I like gold bands and precious gemstones. Something antique or vintage, you know? Nothing flashy, I don’t think…” He seemed to stop and ponder for a moment. Jeongguk always knew to give Taehyung time, time to string together the words he wanted to say. “I love moonstone, even the name itself. Do you know what the moonstone’s meaning is?”
Jeongguk had laughed, always endeared by the ramblings of his lover. “I don’t, actually, but I’m sure you’ll tell me, love.”
“It’s not the most… romantic, really. It’s more so about one’s inner love and glow that they project out into the world. It’s the stone of femininity and sensuality, and you know me—I love to explore my femininity as well as my masculinity.”
“I know, baby, I know,” he remembers laughing, disgustingly in love with Taehyung’s vast knowledge of things that seemingly meant nothing to most. He had kissed his forehead then, watched how Taehyung marvelled in it once again, as always, purring almost kitten-like. He lapped up every bit of affection, just like how Jeongguk would lap up the way his heart would ignite into flames every time Taehyung’s long fingers would seek home around his neck. “I’ll get a ring on your finger someday, I promise.”
“I can’t wait for forever with you, Jeonggukie.”
And that’s how they had spent the rest of that summer evening, with idle thoughts, some left unsaid and others spoken in wistful sighs and warm breaths. He remembers, remembers how he absentmindedly held onto Taehyung’s ring finger and gently stroked it with his pinky, and how Taehyung used all of his knowledge on gemstones to educate him.
He had not minded it one bit, not in the slightest. He would go back to it now if he could, go back to listening to Taehyung pour knowledge into him bit by bit. He was like a well; a rich, deep well full of pages from books he had read, their words just ingrained in him. He was quiet in his knowledge, kept it tightly clutched to his chest in front of most people. Some days Jeongguk would ask him why he let people underestimate him, and he’d shrug his shoulders most of the time, and say ‘I impress you, and I impress myself. I don’t need the approval of anyone else.”
There’s regret. Regret over not asking enough questions, humming along happily instead of drilling him for more. He wishes he had dipped more than a few toes into the well, his body now aching to dive in and learn everything Taehyung had waiting for him.
He holds the ring in his hand now, playing with it between his fingers, feeling the cold band press into skin. The moonstone dates back to his late great-grandmother, during a time when her lover left her with the ring as a parting gift before he headed off to war. He never did return, so he was told through stories his mother shared with him when she passed the ring onto him.
He hasn’t looked at the engraving yet. It should be easier than this. Almost five months have passed, but the forgetting part doesn’t get any easier. There’s something new to remember every day. Memories unfold in his mind; originally pressed like origami; now unfolding, unravelling, coming undone from their most beautiful form to their natural form. Kisses that he swallowed down formed roses in tucked corners of his mind, each petal a kiss pressed against him. They come back up through his mouth now, unravelled, like fallen petals. He comes undone like it’s Autumn in his mind.
If he breaks down the months, weeks, days; he can account for 3,840 hours. 208,805 minutes. He can account for every thought, every action—all of it. As opposed to the forty minutes that sit somewhere, locked away in a chamber of his mind.
The room feels still when he finally brings the ring up closer, every detail now on show. He tilts it, watches the way it pulls the light into it. It reads how he had imagined it to.
30.12.91 - 07.08.18.
The numbers lack infiniteness.
It’s 2021 and Jeongguk doesn’t know what he was expecting from the dating scene. A lot has changed since he was an awkward, stumbling seventeen-year-old with wide eyes and poor chat up lines written on his palms.
He’s in some bar, one he can’t remember the name of, at a time he would usually be curled up in bed by. His palms are sweaty, sans of any black ink since he’s thirty now and has nothing to hide behind. He’s sitting on a bar stool that’s sticky from remnants of other peoples’ nights, and there’s a pretty man sitting next to them. Their knees brush, and Jeongguk is learning not to pull away in scorn, or hold his breath at the contact.
They met on a dating app, and while Jeongguk had sworn he would never go there, there had been dreams; dreams where he would see him and talk to him, and Jeongguk would reach out to touch and… there would be nothing, nothing but the faint whisper of a voice against the shell of his ear.
Please, let yourself be happy. I will always be with you, if only you just reach for your chest. It’s time, it’s time.
The man is tall and pretty, and his eyes tell a story that Jeongguk wouldn’t mind reading, maybe. Someday. His voice isn’t deep; there’s a lilt to it, like Chinese wind chimes. It’s not the worst sound, but it doesn’t bring chills that cause the hairs on the backs of his thighs to stand tall.
They’re talking about something, he isn’t quite sure of the details. He watches the T.V. from the corner of his eye, someone else at the bar asking the bartender to turn the volume up. The basement of the bar seems to quieten down for a moment after that.
“Many of us thought we’d never reach this momentous day, but today, South Korea proudly waves its flag alongside the Pride flag as we celebrate the passing of the same-sex marriage bill after many, many years of fighting for what seemed like a faraway dream.”
He’s brought back to the conversation when the man nudges his knee with his own. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? I never thought we’d live to see this in our lifetime.”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk laughs bitterly, swallowing down what threatens to come up. “Neither did I.”
Thankfully, the conversation takes a turn after that, and Jeongguk feels his heart fall back into place. They talk with relative ease, and Jeongguk lets the man—Junseo—do most of the talking, carrying the conversation into common interests; cheesy original soundtracks, sour candy, photography and the actor Gong Yoo.
They’re getting ready to part ways when he catches eye of Jeongguk’s necklace.
“Hey, that’s a cool necklace you’ve got.” He’s pointing, pointing specifically at the ring that dangles from the chain. “Was it passed down to you?”
He’s had his fair share of questioning eyes over the chain, more so the ring than anything else. He wears it proudly, every day waking up to the cold metal making pretty indents in his skin. When eyes wander and questions are asked, he brushes them off, takes ahold of the ring in his fingers and warms it up, always lucky enough to not have people push further.
It’s cold outside, the rain has stopped pelleting down as heavily as it was when he first arrived, and he brings the ring on the chain up to his mouth. His lips are numb, so numb from having spent the last few minutes making up excuses for why he can’t continue drinks back at the guy’s place. His lips meet the metal and he feels the familiar chill travel down his spine, welcoming even in its frostiness.
“My late soon-to-be husband. It was his—it was going to be his.”
“Ah,” he says, seemingly understanding now. Understanding what, Jeongguk doesn’t know.
“It’s a moonstone.”
“Hm?” He’s not the one.
“Moonstone. It’s the gem.” He points to the oval shape of the blue stone, shimmering and gorgeous. It catches his breath. “It was his favourite. He always said that when we were to marry, he didn’t want diamonds, just a moonstone.”
“Oh, that’s… sweet. It’s nice that you carry it around with you.”
Jeongguk hums in agreement, still holding onto the ring. It’s warming up in his palm. “Yeah, carrying the moonstone reminds you that darkness gives way to light,” he says, his voice fading out towards the end. “Those were his exact words, anyway.”
The man mumbles a few words in response, but by that time all Jeongguk can think about is getting home, wrapping himself up in a warm knitted blanket and spending the rest of the evening staring at the moon. On nights like this, with the moon’s lustre following him home, it feels like he’s being guided, like the moon exists as his spotlight.
He knows it sounds a little odd to some, but he believes he watches over. Whether it’s in the glow that casts light against the pavement as he traces his steps back to the same apartment he’s always gone back to, or whether it’s in the smell of coffee that lingers on his clothes despite him not drinking it—he knows he’s there, even if not in the way he would like for him to be. He’s there, in Jeongguk’s dreams when his head hits the pillow of a night; he’s in the flicker of a candle when Jeongguk wishes hard enough, and he’s there, nestled against the thumping of his heart, in the shape of an oval that sits blue and dreamy against his chest.
Once home, he digs his phone out from his pocket and opens the chat. He still messages him every day. Morning and night. It used to be more, back when it hurt more, back when the texts acted as the glue holding him together.
to Angel Hubby:
[12:08 a.m.] i went out tonight like you said
[12:08 a.m.] he was nice enough but i told him we wouldn't be meeting again under the same circumstances
[12:09 a.m.] maybe a friend is what i need right now anyway
[12:09 a.m.] oh did you hear?
[12:10 a.m.] we did it baby we got same sex marriage
[12:10 a.m.] i know you're up there somewhere celebrating with champagne
[12:10 a.m.] can angels even drink champagne?
[12:11 a.m.] anyway... my point is i...
[12:12 a.m.] will you marry me, kim taehyung?
[12:12 a.m.] if the answer is yes come find me in my dreams tonight
[12:13 a.m.] i hope to see you there baby
[12:13 a.m.] i love you and miss you more than ever
[12:14 a.m.] save a dance for me
[12:14 a.m.] yours, always... <3
He goes to sleep that night clutching the ring, the sound of wedding bells twinkling, a perfect lullaby even if just for tonight. They dance and they dance, twirling just to unravel into each other’s arms. Shy giggles are pressed into the skin behind Jeongguk's ear, and the moon follows the silhouette of their bodies as one. They kiss with every kept promise dancing between their tongues in lunacy, and it’s head-spinning, dreamy. The ghost of a voice sings in whispers meant only for Jeongguk, holding him like he wants to be held in the dusty moonlight. “And it’s worth it, it’s divine. I have this some of the time.”
Tonight, he lets himself have this.
Tonight, Taehyung lets him have this—lets them have this dream within a dream serve as a memory the next day, to tuck away in his chest with the rest of the seven years they had built together.
“I can’t wait for forever with you, Jeonggukie.”