Most humans are creatures of habit and one such human is university student Chae Hyungwon. He wakes at the same time each morning, almost always out of reluctance; he brushes his teeth, combs his blonde hair into something that doesn’t look like he just rolled out of bed, and dresses whatever clean clothes he can find. The day’s coursework, homework, and a handful of other essentials are tucked safely the backpack he slings over his shoulders before exiting his small apartment. He takes the same bus where he sits in the same seat and watches the same people until he gets off at the same stop. The same doors, the same halls, same desks, same students, same professors. Every single day.
While there are differences from time to time-- canceled classes, late buses, bad weather-- his days are monotonous and utterly predictable. The only part of his repetitive routine that Hyungwon enjoys is his after-school trips to a cafe just a few blocks from the university campus where his time there is anything but dull.
It’s late in the afternoon when Hyungwon shuffles through the doors and takes up a spot in line. While there are several people in front of him, it’s not as busy as usual and the noise is kept at a low murmur, just enough ambiance to make the cafe atmosphere comfortable. Coupled with the low light, simple but dark furniture, and acoustic soundtrack playing over the speakers, it’s quite inviting and possibly one of Hyungwon’s favorite places to spend his time. It's what he thinks a home should always feel like.
Not a few moments later, and right on time, a young university student steps in line right behind him. He’s not toting his backpack today, Hyungwon notices and deducts that he’s not sticking around very long this afternoon. Such a pity.
“I really should talk to the owner about his choice of decoration,” the boy says with an overly exasperated sigh, and though he doesn't speak to anyone in particular, Hyungwon knows the comment is directed at him. “Trees in the middle of the floor. Tsk. Really bad taste.”
Hyungwon chuckles and rolls his eyes as he turns just enough to peer over his shoulder. “Will you ever get tired of the tree jokes?”
The boy smirks, raising an eyebrow. “Are you ever gonna shrink?”
They both laugh then. It’s all in good taste, a little fun they have with each other in passing every day. They tease one another with witty remarks; even some of the baristas and servers are fond of their banter or at least tolerate it. Hyungwon has secretly grown to look forward to these moments. They’re unpredictable and always leave him in a better mood, a welcomed anomaly to his otherwise predictable days.
As always, Hyungwon turns his attention back to the menu and it’s only a moment or two more before it’s his turn to order. He orders his usual-- a medium caramel macchiato with almond milk and a small sandwich-- and when he goes to pay, he proceeds to do something he’s never done before. Quiet as he leans over the counter, he informs the barista that he’d like to pay for whatever the boy behind him orders. She smiles and nods and sends him on his way.
There’s a giddy grin on Hyungwon’s face as he shuffles away from the counter and finds a seat next to one of the large, wall-length windows. In the amount of time it takes for him to find the seat and settle in with his laptop and a book, he loses sight of the stranger, the boy he sees every day but has never bothered to ask his name. After a few moments of searching, Hyungwon gives up, thinking that the boy must have been in a hurry to get somewhere. He smiles anyway and settles back, slouched in his seat with his legs propped up on the other chair. At least the boy can't chide him for his poor posture today.
A server brings his drink and sandwich a few minutes later and after that, Hyungwon is left unbothered to do what coursework he can before the cafe closes.
For a long while, the sandwich sits forgotten and Hyungwon sips occasionally at his drink, his homework demanding every last bit of his attention. Other customers come and go, but for several hours Hyungwon is the one constant in the cafe. The employees don’t mind, though; they’ve grown accustomed to his presence and even stop by his table from time to time to offer him water or ask if he’d like to order more coffee.
It’s late in the evening, buildings and people casting long shadows on the streets and sidewalks thanks to the low setting sun, when Hyungwon looks away from the screen of his laptop and stretches his arms over his head. There’s an ache in his shoulders from sitting slouched in his seat for so long; the same ache sits in his hips and lower back, reminding him that he should really stop lounging in the cafe’s chairs. In his mind, he knows he won’t.
Satisfied with his work for the day and knowing he has until next week to finish what he hasn’t yet completed, Hyungwon saves his work and packs up his things. It’s not until he closes his laptop that he remembers the sandwich he’d ordered hours ago. His stomach gurgles, an excellent reminder that he hasn’t eaten since stuffing a protein bar in his mouth on his way to the bus stop that morning. But it’s not the sandwich that has him reaching for the plate.
Hyungwon lifts the plate and pulls out the napkin that had been tucked just underneath. It wouldn’t have caught his eye, but there’s something scrawled across the flimsy paper that isn’t the cafe’s neat script.
Thanks for the drink; next one is on me. P.s. Don't slouch.
There’s no name accompanying the note, not that Hyungwon expected one, but there’s a tiny glimmer of hope in his eyes that’s dulled as he turns the napkin over and realizes there’s nothing more. Still, he smiles, placing the napkin back on the table and filing the rest of his things into his backpack. Even in his absence, the boy is still chiding him for the poor posture he has when he occupies the cafe chairs.
“His name is Changkyun.” The voice of one of the employees catches Hyungwon off guard and he looks up and finds a young woman watching him as she wipes down another table. “He’s a student and he’s here almost every day. Sometimes he waits for hours just to say hello to you.”
Hyungwon, surprised, isn’t sure what to do with this information, but it makes him smile finally having a name to put with a face. Changkyun. He thanks the employee, packs up the rest of his things, and leaves with a happy feeling in his chest.
The following day begins just like every other day, except there’s a little more excitement to the way Hyungwon moves as he prepares for his day. Today he smiles as he rides the bus to the university and he finds himself grinning through class or as he walks the hallways. There’s nothing different about today except that now he knows the name of the pretty stranger he meets every day after school-- and perhaps he’s a little excited for his study session this afternoon. Maybe they can study together; maybe-- just maybe-- Hyungwon can get his number.
His excitement fades into anxiety when, halfway through his final class, the sky clouds over and it begins to rain. It won’t stop him from going to the cafe just like he does every day, it’s never stopped him before, but he knows it takes longer to get there in the rain and he doesn’t want to miss seeing Changkyun again. Sure, it shouldn’t bother him as much as it does because they barely know each other aside from the witty comments they exchange each afternoon, but today he had been looking forward to finally introducing himself.
Hyungwon scrambles to leave the moment the professor dismisses the class and he hurries through the halls, offering quiet apologies as he weaves in and out of other students. Outside, the rain falls steady but heavy, drenching everything and everyone it touches. Hyungwon is no exception and without an umbrella, he’s soaked within minutes, despite ducking under trees and awnings and the like when he has the chance. By the time he reaches the cafe, his clothes are nearly drenched through and he prays hard that the water hadn’t found a way through what is supposed to be a waterproof backpack. He’ll find out soon enough, but first….
Inside, Hyungwon takes a moment to survey the tables and the small line at the counter. He doesn’t find the face he’s looking for and he’s immediately disappointed that he might have missed Changkyun. Damn the rain.
Cold and eager to get out of his wet jacket, Hyungwon steps in line and waits until it’s his turn to order. When he reaches the counter, the barista behind the register seems more excited to see him than usual.
“Hyungwon!” Kihyun-- Hyungwon knows most of the employees by name-- while small in stature, has a voice that carries well over the noise of the cafe and he smiles bright as Hyungwon steps up to order. “Your friend said to make sure your order was his treat today. You just missed him, actually.”
“Oh….” It takes Hyungwon a moment to remember that Changkyun had offered to pay for him, but he hadn’t expected he wouldn’t be here at that moment. “Uhmmm… I’ll just take my usual then. But can I get it hot today? And maybe a size bigger. The rain is pretty cold.”
Kihyun smiles and nods and sends Hyungwon on his way with a promise that his drink will be brought to him shortly. Though he knows the drink has been paid for, Hyungwon walks away feeling odd without having to pull out his wallet. He shakes the feeling after a moment as he seeks out one of his few favorite seats. Today he sits along one of the inner walls, away from the windows and where he won’t be directly under one of the vents. The last thing he needs is to get sick.
Just a few minutes later, his drink is brought to him and after a few sips that begin to warm him through, Hyungwon kicks back, feet up, and settles into his usual routine. His laptop is unscathed by the rain and his books, though slightly damp in places, remain intact. And when he sets to work, he’s only somewhat distracted by the fact that he’d only just missed saying hello to Changkyun.
“Y’know, you really shouldn’t slouch when you study.” The familiar voice comes from behind and Hyungwon has to crane his neck to get a glimpse of the boy it had come from. Changkyun. All smiles and wit-- and so very, very wet. “Bad for your posture.”
Hyungwon laughs. “You look like a wet dog.” He turns a little more in his seat. “Are you gonna nag me about my posture every time you see me?”
“Yup.” Changkyun circles around to the side of the table so Hyungwon doesn’t have to sit twisted so uncomfortably. “I’m also going to tell you that it’s rude to use chairs as a footrest. Someone else could actually need that chair!”
Hyungwon chuckles again and shakes his head, dropping his feet to the floor and sitting up a little straighter in his seat. He’s quick to take notice that Changkyun doesn’t have his bag again today, dashing his hopes that maybe he’d have a study partner for a few hours, but he doesn’t quite get the chance to say something.
“Here,” Changkyun says, reaching out and setting a paper bag on the table; the cafe’s logo is printed on the side. “I knew you wouldn’t get something to eat if I offered to buy so…. I asked them what you usually get.”
The gesture is endearing. Hyungwon had purposely not bought a sandwich because they’re not the cheapest food he could order and he knows that some university students don’t splurge when they don’t have to. He didn’t want to overstep his boundaries and take advantage of someone he hopes to make friends with. But Changkyun had bought him the damn sandwich anyway and Hyungwon can’t help but smile such a fond smile.
“You’re not staying.” It’s a statement, not a question, because Hyungwon already knows the answer.
Changkyun purses his lips and nods. “I have places to be today. I just wanted to say hi.” He pauses and lifts his arm to check his watch. “I should get going.”
“See you tomorrow, Changkyun.” Hyungwon smiles, thinking he has a little advantage over knowing the boy’s name.
Changkyun returns the smile-- and for the first time, Hyungwon notices his dimples, deep set and probably the cutest thing he’s seen all week-- though the boy’s lips lift into more of a smirk. “See ya, Hyungwon.”
Hyungwon doesn’t see Changkyun the next day and he doesn’t think much of it until he doesn’t see him the following day either-- and then for an entire week after that. He begins to miss the banter and witty remarks and the bit of happiness their exchanges bring to his day. And he begins to miss things he shouldn’t: the smiles, the dimples, the boyish charm. Trips to the cafe after school start to become dull and boring. Even the employees seem to miss Changkyun when Hyungwon asks about him.
After a week, Hyungwon stops looking and stops expecting. He convinces himself that Changkyun is just busy, though part of him wonders if he’d done something wrong despite the fact that they don’t know each other well enough for him to have done anything of the sort. But Changkyun is a student, they both are, and Hyungwon has better things to do than to worry about his whereabouts and his absence from the cafe. He’s sure Changkyun does, too.
One particular afternoon finds the cafe immeasurably busy, the noise levels steady but above what he’s used to. More than a handful of students have chosen this particular cafe as their afternoon study spot. Even so, Hyungwon manages to snag the only free table and the last two open chairs; a window seat, of all things. And with headphones, he can find a little bit of peace to work on his maths assignments and the psychology paper that’s due next week.
He spends the better part of a couple hours slouched in his chair, feet propped up, typing away at his computer as he sips on his iced drink and picks at a muffin. The cafe remains busy. When a table empties, someone is quick to snatch it up and Hyungwon doesn’t dare leave his seat for any longer than it takes him to use the toilet.
Hyungwon is well into his third hour when he takes a break, stretching his arms above his head. The movement is long overdue, his muscles and joints relieved at the change, however temporary it may be. When he glances away from his computer and the books on the table, he thinks it must be fate because, at that moment, a familiar face walks through the door.
His usually dark hair is a lighter brown now and styled well; it suits his face and complexion, though Hyungwon isn’t sure what prompts such a thought. But Changkyun looks different today and Hyungwon can’t help but notice. Above all, though, he notices that the boy is toting his backpack today.
There’s a wicked grin on Hyungwon’s face when Changkyun finally catches his eye and Hyungwon gives him a little wave with the tips of his fingers. He sees the glimmer of amusement on the boy’s face before he turns away, stepping up to the counter to order and Hyungwon goes back to his studies. Hyungwon doesn’t think anything of the fact that there are still no open tables, no chairs to steal, at least not until he looks up again and sees Changkyun headed straight for his table.
Hyungwon doesn’t get the chance to move or to put his feet down. After dropping his bag next to the table, Changkyun simply picks his legs up, drops down into the chair, and sets his feet right down on his lap. He says nothing, doesn’t even offer Hyungwon a smile or a smirk or a hello, before pulling out his own laptop and getting to work. And Hyungwon? He might be just a little turned on by such a bold move.
They don’t utter a word to one another, not even the barista says anything when she brings Changkyun's drink, but Hyungwon is oddly comfortable with the silence. He opts to enjoy the few hours they spend together, studying, pretending they don’t steal glances at one another from time to time. And at the end of the night, Hyungwon is rewarded for all his hard work and worries: Changkyun’s phone number.