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Late May.

The car parked in the driveway of the house across from Jeongguk’s is what tells him that this summer is going to be different. It’s a shitty station wagon, the kind with wood-paneling on the sides, the kind that only grandpas drive. Jeongguk hasn’t seen it out of the garage in two years, since its owner left for college.   

Namjoon is back, and the wood-paneled station wagon belongs to him, and this realization hits Jeongguk somewhere below his kidneys. His across-the-street neighbor since second grade, his SAT prep tutor all throughout Sophomore year of high school, and his most debilitating, paralyzing crush to date.

It’s been two years since Jeongguk last saw Namjoon. He had thanked him for tutoring, awkwardly, and wished him luck at college, and then hadn’t seen him since.

Jeongguk has grown up considerably since then, though, he thinks. He’s gotten taller, broader. Started parting his hair in the middle so his forehead shows, instead of maintaining the bowl cut he had the first two years of high school. He’s kissed four people (and yes, Taehyung might be one of them, but it still counts) and he’s gotten drunk at least, like, seven times. Which makes him basically an adult.

He turns eighteen in a little over three months, and he would very much like to kiss a boy. A boy who is not Taehyung.  

From where Jeongguk sits sprawled out on the floor of his living room, with a convenient unobstructed view of the driveway across the street through the bay window, he shivers on instinct.

This summer is Jeongguk’s last before college. Something about being on the cusp of the rest of life makes him feel delirious. He’s seventeen, and as he pokes his big toe through a hole in his sock, he thinks to himself that this summer must be really, really important.

\

Later May. Not quite June.

At first, he rides his bike around the neighborhood just to give himself something to do. And then, if he just so happens to see a wood-paneled station wagon pulling out of the driveway across from his house, well. It’s an added bonus.

He and Taehyung take turns riding on each other’s handlebars, even though they both have their own bikes. Jeongguk just thinks it feels like something you’re supposed to do with your best friend when its your last collective summer fucking around in the tiny town you grew up in before everything changes, for better or for worse.

For better or for worse, everything is changing, and it makes Jeongguk feel dizzy.

They lie sprawled out in Jeongguk’s front lawn when they get tired, bodies draped over each other.

“I think I’m gonna get a job this summer,” Taehyung says, picking at his chipped black nails absently.

Jeongguk looks alarmed. “Dude, why?” Doesn’t Taehyung realize how important this summer is?

“Want money for when we leave. My parents sat me down last night, all serious and stuff, and told me they weren’t going to finance my, like, leisure time during college. So, I think I need a job. New York’s expensive,” he says, flopping over onto his stomach so his chin rests on Jeongguk’s thigh.

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says, ripping off the head of a dandelion and tossing it into the growing pile of dandelion heads he’s been adding to for the past fifteen minutes. “That makes sense. Where are you gonna apply?”

“I don’t know,” he replies. “Like… Baskin Robbins? Gamestop? ”

“Don’t fucking work at Gamestop. They only gave me like two bucks for Ocarina of Time.”

“You sold Ocarina of Time?”

“Yeah, dude, my Nintendo 64 broke.”

“Absolute shit.”

Jeongguk hums absently. If Taehyung gets a job then Jeongguk can kiss goodbye the summer plans he had carefully crafted. They might have consisted of not much other than eating popsicles, riding bikes, and getting into general mischief for the last three months before the rest of their lives, but they were still plans nonetheless.  

Maybe he’s being selfish. He’s definitely being selfish.

It’s just that everything is changing -- for better or for worse -- and Jeongguk feels so anxious sometimes that he can’t see straight, and all he can feel is a sick pulsing in his ribcage that makes him want to scream and cry (and he can’t tell anyone this, not even Taehyung) but he sometimes wishes it would just stop. He fantasizes about his heart just simply ceasing to beat, no fanfare.

And he can’t tell anyone this. Because it’s bad and stupid and you’re not supposed to want to die when you’re on the cusp of the rest of your life. So he can’t tell. And he doesn’t.

“Hey,” Taehyung says, so soft, almost sleepy, pulling him from his reverie. “It’s golden hour.”

He looks up, and it is.

It starts from in-between the tree-branch gaps, a rosy glow. And when Jeongguk turns his head, it’s everywhere. It bounces off every blade of grass, reflects off the cherry red paint of his dad’s car. Even the whites of Taehyung’s eyes look tinted gold.

He takes a picture with his Motorola Razr, but it looks shitty, and so he snaps it shut.

“I need a fucking camera,” he says, flopping his phone in the grass next to him.

“Get a job with me,” Taehyung pleads. “You can save up before we go to school. There’s gonna be so much cool shit to take pictures of in New York.”

“I don’t want a job,” Jeongguk says, defeated. “It’s our last summer.”

Taehyung looks like he gets sad for a minute. “It’ll be part time. We’ll still have time to get into mischief.”

Jeongguk sighs. Crosses his arms over his chest. Closes his eyes and feels the warmth of the golden hour in the tips of his eyelashes. He hears a car pull into the driveway across the street doesn’t need to open his eyes to know who it belongs to.

Everything is changing, and Jeongguk is scared.

\

Early June.

Taehyung gets the job at Gamestop, and Jeongguk doesn’t. Not that he wanted to work there anyway, but when Taehyung gets a call back and Jeongguk gets a “we’ll keep your application on file” it still stings.

So he applies to the arts and crafts store next to Gamestop. And doesn’t get it. So he applies at the smoothie shop that’s on the other side of Gamestop, next to some law firm, and he does get that one.

He has to wear a purple baseball cap with a little cartoon smoothie on it, and they can only schedule him for two days a week (while Gamestop scheduled Taehyung for five), but they don’t say anything about the stud in his nose or his glitter nail polish, and he and Taehyung have breaks at the same time, so he counts it as a win.

“Welcome to The Juice Box. Would you like to try our new drink, the Green Latifah. It’s cucumber, lime, kale, and spinach with a protein boost.”

“Great, Jeongguk,” his shift manager says encouragingly. “Just say it with a little more excitement next time.”

He says it again, as excitedly as he can physically muster when he’s busy mourning his summer plans.

The bell rings above the door, and the manager winks at Jeongguk, indicating that it’s his time to put what he’s learned to the test. So he sighs, and says, “Welcome to The Juice Box. Would you like to try our new drink, the Green Latifah? It’s cucumber, lime, kale, and spinach with a protein b--”

“Hey, Jeongguk.”  

He looks up and it’s Namjoon, of course it is, and he’s wearing a short-sleeved button down.

“Dude,” Jeongguk splutters, so nervous, and so shy, and still so fucking gay, but trying so hard to not be any of these things. “H-hey. Long time no see. How’s college?”

“Weird,” Namjoon says, pulling his earbuds out of his ears and wrapping the cord around his thumb absentmindedly. “Summer here kinda sucks. I’m interning at the law firm next door.”

“Oh, congrats,” Jeongguk replies awkwardly. He’s so out of his fucking depth. He imagines Namjoon next door with a team of lawyers huddled around table covered with manilla file folders, figuring out their defense. The image is so hot and Jeongguk is so overwhelmed. “That’s so cool.”

Namjoon shrugs and puts his hands into the pockets of his khakis. “I don’t want to be a lawyer.”

“Why are you working there then?”

“I didn’t get into the writing program I applied to in New York, so,” he says, smiling almost sadly. “Had to come home. Had to do something.”

“I’m sorry,” Jeongguk says, nervously clicking one of the pens on the counter that separates them. “This town fucking sucks.”

“Yeah.” Namjoon laughs. “Are you gonna be a senior next year?”

“I actually already graduated,” Jeongguk says awkwardly. “I’m going to NYU this fall. Should be okay.”

“Woah,” Namjoon says, looking genuinely surprised. “Congrats, man. We’ll be neighbors.”

“Aren’t NYU and Columbia, like, on opposite sides of the city?”

Namjoon shrugs. “Only a thirty minute train ride if you take the 1.”

And Jeongguk just thinks he’s so fucking cool. There’s no public transportation where they live except for a bus that goes from one of the main neighborhoods, to the tiny city center, to the mall.

He imagines taking the subway to meet up with Namjoon somewhere in the city and getting smoothies that he didn’t have to make himself. Being completely independent and self-reliant. The thought is so surreal, and for a second Jeongguk can’t wait for the rest of his life.

Eventually Namjoon orders a MiKale Jackson (kale, blueberries, orange, blackberries -- Jeongguk files this bit of information away for later) and waits while Jeongguk makes it with one earbud in one ear, listening to something on his iPod Classic. Jeongguk wishes he knew what he was listening to.

Jeongguk hands the smoothie over the counter, hoping Namjoon won’t notice he might have accidentally overdone it on the kale.

“Thanks, Jeongguk,” he says, smiling, taking the smoothie with one hand and putting his change in the tip jar with the other. “What time do you get off?”

“Like, five, I think. You?”  

“4:30 usually. Do you need a ride home?”

Jeongguk does not, in fact, need a ride home. He rode his bike here. His bike is, in fact, chained up out back as they speak.

“Sure,” he says, so fucking nervous. “I don’t want to make you wait though.”

“Nah, that’s fine,” Namjoon says, taking a sip of his smoothie. He doesn’t gag, so Jeongguk assumes that he hasn’t fucked up too badly with the kale. Either that or Namjoon is just really really considerate. “I’ll see you.”

Jeongguk can do nothing but nod.

For the rest of the day, Jeongguk thinks about the barely-there proximity between himself and Namjoon. He wonders what he does at his internship. Just the word “internship” sounds alien, like something that belongs completely to a specific group of people, a cult that he will never be able to infiltrate.

On his break, he tells Taehyung. They’re downtown, and the park is a block away, so they walk over and sit on a bench, facing the big pond. Jeongguk gets one free smoothie per shift, so he made an extra large, with as many fruits as possible, to share with Taehyung.

“Namjoon works at the law firm next to us,” Jungkook says casually, sipping the smoothie and offering it to Taehyung.

“What the fuck?” Taehyung says, throwing a piece of crust from his sandwich to a group of ducks. They fight over it, and Jeongguk feels bad. “Isn’t he like, nineteen?”

“Yeah, well. He’s not a lawyer. Just an intern.”

“I was gonna say. He was always smart, but no one’s that smart.”

“Doesn’t having an internship sound so, like, old?” he asks, taking another worried sip. “Like, something adults do.”

“Yeah. I’m sure we’ll probably get them some day. It’s like a collegey thing.”

“Doesn’t that scare you?”

Taehyung rolls his eyes and throws the rest of his peanut butter and lettuce sandwich to the ducks, who promptly devour it. “If I sat here worrying about the future every minute I’d never have any fun. I want to have fun. Who cares if I do or don’t get an internship when I’m like, twenty. I’m eighteen now. And I work at Gamestop. That’s all I need to know.”

Jeongguk sighs, and throws his head back. Groans. Taehyung makes a sympathetic noise, and tilts his head back to mirror Jeongguk’s, in an act of solidarity.

“He came into work. We talked. He’s giving me a ride home,” Jeongguk says nonchalantly, his head still tilted over the back of the bench.

At this, Taehyung snaps his head up. “Hello?”

“What?”

“Why didn’t you start with that, stupid?”

“He’s just giving me a ride home,” Jeongguk says, like it’s nothing.

“Are you hearing yourself? I had to listen to you tantrum about him, like, every Tuesday night Sophomore year when he tutored you. You wanna suck his dick in the station wagon so bad.”

Jeongguk exhales deeply. It’s silent for a good two minutes.

“Yeah. I do. So bad.”

\

5:09 PM. In the station wagon.

Namjoon pushes a cassette into the tape deck.

“How was work?” he asks, looking over his shoulder as he backs out of the little parking lot in the alley behind the row of shops. He puts his arm on the back of Jeongguk’s seat as he looks through the rear window. “Make a lot of smoothies?”

“Too fucking many,” he says, trying desperately to get his mind off Namjoon’s arm, that has not yet moved from the back of his seat. Like, three inches from the back of his neck. “I’m saving up for a camera.”

Namjoon laughs, and nods. “Good call. At least you’re getting paid.”

“They don’t pay you?”

Namjoon shakes his head, pulling out onto the main road. “They’re paying me in experience,” he says, rolling his eyes. “And it’s only Tuesdays and Thursdays. But the concept of an unpaid internship in itself is classist. Remember that.”

If Jeongguk weren’t deathly afraid of looking uncool in front of his massive fucking teen crush, he’d be taking notes. He just nods.

“So what do you do there?”

“Hmm. So I come in at 8:30, and talk to my boss, who tells me to make myself a cup of coffee before we talk. I do it, even though it makes my hands shake and makes my mind, like, go nuts.”

Jeongguk laughs. “You don’t drink coffee?”

“I rely on it too much at school. It genuinely makes me feel crazy.”

“Weird,” he says. “So then what do you do after you make coffee?”

“Oh, yeah,” Namjoon says, smiling. He turns down the volume on the music, Jeongguk assumes so he can hear himself better. “So once I’ve made my coffee, my boss gives me the breakdown for the day. She tells me about the cases they’re working on or whatever. Then I do research about, like, case law until lunch. After lunch I do whatever they have for me. Filing, or like, copying. And then I do more research, or look at police reports, and take notes on all that. On a legal pad. And at the end of the day I give all my notes to my boss to review in a manilla envelope, and leave.”

“Sounds… Interesting,” Jeongguk says, even though he thinks it sounds boring, and unfulfilling.  

“It sucks,” Namjoon says, laughing. Like it’s the first time he’s actually said it out loud.

Jeongguk laughs too, forgetting for a second that he’s supposed to be nervous. “I’m sorry.” He laughs again. “What would you rather be doing?”

“I applied to this writing program through school. But, like. It’s super competitive and everyone’s fucking smart,” he says, running his left hand through his brown hair while he keeps the right one on the wheel. Jeongguk notices he has little hoops in his ears.

“If it makes you feel better, I did really well on the SAT because of you,” Jeongguk says.

“Hm,” Namjoon says. “Yeah. I think it does.”

They sit in silence for a little bit, as Namjoon turns up the volume on the music again. It’s a Death Cab for Cutie song . Jeongguk’s heart is beating immeasurably fast.

“Do you know what you’re gonna major in at school?” Namjoon finally asks.

Jeongguk makes a little strangled “aahhhh” noise, which seems to suffice as an answer.

“Got it,” Namjoon says. “You know, you’ve got, like, a lot of time.”

“I know,” Jeongguk says. “Doesn’t feel like it, though.”

\

Not quite early June anymore. Not quite mid June yet.

It’s a Wednesday, which means that it’s one of the days that Taehyung is working and Jeongguk is not. It’s hot, and he puts on a pair of jean cutoffs and almost, just almost, goes outside topless. He decides against it at the last minute. He shrugs on a black and white striped t-shirt that’s starting to get holes in the collar.

He grabs his backpack, a granola bar, and a bottle of water before all but sprinting outside to his bike. He rides around in circles in front of his house for a little, eating his granola bar with one hand, keeping his eyes fixed on the second window from the left on the second floor of the house across the street, which he happens to know, for reasons, is Namjoon’s bedroom.

He puts in his headphones, presses shuffle on his iPod, and waits.

He listens to two and a half songs before the front door opens. Jeongguk pulls one of his headphones out of his ear like he’s surprised.

“Hey!”

“Hey.”

“Do you have to be a lawyer today?”

“Nope.”

“Wanna go somewhere with me?”

Namjoon pauses in the doorway, lips quirked up in a half-smile like he’s surprised. “Yeah. Let me get my bike.”

Jeongguk waits propped up on his own bike, biting his nails in the rhythm of the song he’s listening to, not quite breaching Namjoon’s front yard. It’s so hot, and he can feel the thick and heavy atmosphere pressing into him from every angle.

“Ready?” Namjoon asks, having just appeared from the garage with his backpack in one hand, pushing his bike with the other.

Jeongguk nods, pulling both of his headphones out and stuffing them in the pocket of his cutoffs.

“Race you to Waffle House?”

There’s nowhere else to eat breakfast in this town, so they do. Jeongguk wins.

Namjoon shoves his bike down against the side of the square building, panting.

“It’s so hot. Fuck you.”

Jeongguk ignores him in favor of the water bottle he has just pulled from his Jansport, drinking so fast the water runs down his neck and into the collar of his shirt. He shoves the bottle into Namjoon’s hands after finishing half.

“I’m a fucking fool,” Jeongguk finally breathes out, leaning against the side of the building and tilting his head up to the sky. “Sure I won, but like. At what fucking cost.”

“Can we go inside?”

They go inside. The only people inside are the usual suspects: one man in his 60s wearing a flannel shirt and a red baseball cap sitting at the bar, and two guys in overalls and work boots sitting at a table near the door.

They pick a booth in the back.

“So weird being here,” Namjoon muses, turning the plastic laminated menu over with his long fingers. “I used to come here in high school.”

“Me too,” Jeongguk says.

“You were in high school until like, last month.”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes. “Okay. So?”

“You’re a kid. I’m sure they know you by name here.”

“Am not. And no fucking way --”

Jeongguk is interrupted by the waitress coming over to their booth, who promptly ruins his life, and says, “Hey Jeongguk. Who’s your friend?”

“I’m Namjoon,” Namjoon says, grinning.

“Cute,” the waitress says. “Can I get you two some drinks?”

Jeongguk orders chocolate chip waffles, bacon, hashbrowns, and orange juice. Namjoon orders regular waffles, two eggs, sunny side up, and a glass of water.

“You know, if you put a piece of bacon underneath those eggs it would be a smiley face,” Jeongguk says, pensively, leaning his head on his right hand. He gestures to his remaining bacon strips. “Do you want one of mine?”

Namjoon laughs. “As cute as that sounds, I don’t, like, eat meat.”

And for the fifteenth time today, Jeongguk thinks that Namjoon is just so fucking cool.

“Shit, you’re a vegetarian? My bad. Should I not eat this in front of you?”

“I mean… I wasn’t going to say anything. But. That was a little pig once.”

Jeongguk looks sadly at his bacon. “Yeah. It was, huh.”

Namjoon shrugs, smiling, knowing he’s won. “Do what you’re comfortable with, like, ethically.”

“Fuck you,” Jeongguk says, but laughs anyway. He wraps the bacon in a napkin and puts it to the side of the table. “How long have you been a vegetarian?”

“Since my freshman year of college,” he says. “I had a giant crisis almost instantly after I moved out. I felt so fucked up and sheltered moving straight to New York after living in this town for eighteen years so I like, joined a socialist band and tried to go vegan and kissed my first dude.”

Jeongguk thinks he should probably ask about the socialist band that Namjoon mentioned, because that sounds really cool, or maybe ask him why he didn’t stick with veganism, but. All he can fucking focus on is the fact that he said part of his college rebellion included kissing boys, which Jeongguk would very much like to dabble in, preferably with Namjoon, but is so scared, and so sheltered, and so fucked up. He feels nauseous with the implications of this conversation. The light beating down on the window makes him feel like he’s an ant under a magnifying glass, on the sidewalk in the hot sun. Any second he’s going to fucking burn.

He finally chokes some words out, somehow. “Woah,” he stammers. “So are you, like…”

He trails off, and realizes a second too late that he sounds like a giant homophobe.

“Not that it would, like, matter,” he quickly backtracks. “Just that, like.” Silence. He swallows. Breathes in, and out. Swallows again. “You know. Me too, so.”

“I’m bi,” Namjoon just says, like it’s nothing. He looks at Jeongguk like he understands, and for some reason, in that split second of eye contact, Jeongguk feels so much. He wants a hug, he wants to cry, he wants to feel better, and okay, and not be scared.

“That’s really cool,” he chokes out. “I’m… like. I think I’m --”

Namjoon interrupts. “You don’t have to label yourself, you know.” He smiles. “At least not now, in this Waffle House.”

Jeongguk laughs, and he’s suddenly grateful for Namjoon in a way that transcends any stupid high school crush.

“Well, thank you,” Jeongguk starts. “But like, I think. Like, for the record. I think I’m. Gay. So. As of June 2006 I officially am gonna say that. Yeah.”

Namjoon smiles, and drinks his water through his straw, staring at Jeongguk. “Cool.”

“Yeah.”

He takes a deep breath. Yeah. Very cool.

\

They stumble out of the Waffle House an hour later to discover that the heat has only gotten worse, and they’re once again reminded of the brutal fact that there’s nothing to fucking do in this town.

“What did you do during summers around here when you were in high school?” Jeongguk groans, leaning against the side of the building.

“I spent most of my summers wanting to get out of this place. And like, reading.”

Jeongguk snorts, and rolls his eyes. “Okay, me too. Too bad I can’t fucking read.”   

“We could go to the lake,” Namjoon finally suggests. “Would your parents mind?”

“They don’t even know I exist. And they work until late. Can we take your car?”

So they bike back to their neighborhood, this time at a leisure pace. They’re not racing. Summer has just begun, and college is intangible, and maybe June will never end.

They drop their bikes off in Namjoon’s garage and get into his car, and Namjoon starts driving north.

“What’s your friend doing this summer?” Namjoon asks. “The funny one. Why haven’t I seen him around?”

“Taehyung?”

“Yeah.”

“He works, like, a lot. His parents told him they weren’t going to give him any money at school.”

“That’s shit. College should be free, anyway.”

“True. Can I listen to your socialist band? Are you guys good?”

“We made, like, an EP. It’s here somewhere.”

Jeongguk shuffles through Namjoon’s messy cassette tape collection. His music taste is good, and weird, and makes Jeongguk feel a certain type of uncategorizable way.

He notices what appear to be mixtapes made by Namjoon himself. Some have just blank white covers, while others have been given titles like “for cryptid hunting” and “nighttime necromancy” scrawled hastily on the covers in sharpie. Namjoon’s handwriting is messy, like his brain moves at too fast a pace for his muscles and his hand just can’t keep up. Like there’s a lag between the speed at which he thinks and the speed at which he writes, making his letters weird and kind of jumpy. Jeongguk likes it.

He eventually finds what he assumes is the EP, titled “moth sweat, pt 3: seizing the means of production” and pushes it delicately into the tape deck. The first song starts with the sound of a cacophonous electric guitar and Namjoon snorts.

“That you?” Jeongguk asks.

Namjoon nods, laughing.

“Cool. I like it.”

\

They reach the lake, which is situated in the mountains just north of their little town, in about an hour. It’s in a wooded area, surrounded by tall trees that cast a lot of shade. People usually come here for hiking, or picnicking. Jeongguk knows that up the mountain a little further is a small waterfall, hidden behind some rocks, but he has only been there once before. He’s not sure if he remembers the way.

They sit on a grassy spot a little bit away from the water, which is completely still.

“I’m surprised no one’s up here,” Jeongguk says, leaning back and using his backpack as a pillow.

“People are at work, I guess. It’s Wednesday,” replies Namjoon, kicking off his scuffed checkered vans.

Jeongguk sighs. “Doesn’t it suck that people have to work over the summer? Like, once you get a grown-up job you’re basically signing the rest of your life away and conceding to no free time. Maybe a week off a year if you’re lucky. It’s fucking bunk.”

Namjoon looks up from where he’s fumbling with his iPod classic to give Jeongguk a glance, quirking his lips up in a half-smile. “You’re right. And you know they’re grooming us early, too. You’re what, seventeen, and already learning how to toil for a shitty wage? Fucking bunk indeed.”

Jeongguk laughs. Then drops in casually, “I’m almost eighteen, you know. My birthday’s in September.”

Namjoon raises his eyebrows. “Oh? Mine too.” He looks at Jeongguk. “Virgo?”

“Mhm.”

“Cute.”

Jeongguk’s cheeks flush at the way the word rolled off his tongue like it was nothing. He looks away. Namjoon goes back to fiddling with his iPod, untangling the headphones.

“You wanna listen to this song I found?” Namjoon asks, breaking the silence. “I downloaded it off Limewire this morning.” He offers one of his earbuds to Jeongguk.  

“So... I’m the first one to listen to it?” Jeongguk asks playfully, reaching out his hand and accepting the earbud.

“Yeah. Other than me. And the other thousands of people who downloaded it.”

Jeongguk kicks Namjoon’s bare calf with his foot. “You know what I mean.”

Namjoon laughs. Jeongguk puts the earbud in his left ear, pretending that sharing headphones with Namjoon Kim is not the most monumental thing that’s happened to him all year.

The scene reminds him of when he and Taehyung were little and would sit in a tent in Jeongguk’s dark basement, whispering secrets into soup cans connected with a piece of string.

He wonders if he if he concentrates hard enough, he’ll be able to hear what Namjoon is thinking.

Namjoon leans down, now using his own backpack as a pillow, next to Jeongguk. Close enough so that their arms are almost touching. The hairs on Jeongguk’s arms, he thinks, are able to touch the hairs on Namjoon’s arms.

Namjoon fiddles with his iPod and suddenly Jeongguk hears gentle music flooding his ear. The singer’s voice is soft, and the song is relatively acoustic. The trees above them sway delicately, the breeze running through the branches like little whispers. This place might be magic, Jeongguk thinks.

The singer starts on the chorus, and suddenly Jeongguk feels like this moment is really big.

And all day it seems we’ve been in between

A past and future town

We are nowhere, and it’s now

We are nowhere, and it’s now

Jeongguk whispers, after the song is over, so as not to unsettle the slightly eerie, enchanted mood that falls over them like a thick blanket. “That was really good.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m usually shy about sharing music,” Namjoon says, not looking at Jeongguk, but at the sky and the swaying branches instead. “So. Thanks.”

\

They splash around a little bit in the lake, but the water is too warm and stagnant and they realize that it’s cooler under the trees.

They climb up the mountain a little bit further, eventually stumbling upon a secluded grassy alcove far enough from the main path for Jeongguk to feel like he’s living off the land, away from civilization, and as far from the rest of his life as he can get.

They sit down, leaning against a big rock. Namjoon starts rummaging around in his backpack.

“Do you smoke?” Namjoon asks, pulling something out of his backpack.

“What. Like, cigarettes?”

Namjoon laughs. “Not exactly. You smoke cigarettes?”

“No. Gross.”

“Good,” Namjoon says. “The tobacco industry is like, the number one example of the worst kind of exploitative corporate deceit. I was asking if you smoke weed.”

Jeongguk almost chokes on his own saliva, but he catches himself. God, he can’t wait to get out of this town. If Namjoon is a product of what being in New York for two years can do to a person, Jeongguk is ready to book his flight right fucking now.

“Not really,” Jeongguk says, shrugging like it’s nothing, but twisting his hands nervously in his lap. “I play soccer, and they drug test you, like, every month, so.”

“Shit, yeah,” Namjoon says, eyes lighting up, playfully teasing. “I forgot you were a jock.”

“Stop,” Jeongguk laughs. “I’m not like other jocks. I’m nice to people and have good taste in music.”

“Hm. You’re just like other jocks, I think,” Namjoon says, laughing. He puts his hand on Jeongguk’s upper arm. “Could you bench me? Flex.”

Jeongguk pretends like the place Namjoon just touched him isn’t burning.

“Dude, soccer. Leg sport. My arms are useless.”

Namjoon just moves his hand from his upper arm to the outside of his thigh, instead. Jesus fucking Christ, he almost feels his dick twitch.

“You don’t play soccer anymore, though,” Namjoon says. He doesn’t take his hand off.

Jeongguk shakes his head.

“So... do you wanna try?”

Jeongguk nods.

\

Namjoon carefully packs the colorful glass bowl he extracted from his backpack while Jeongguk stares at his fingers, which are long and dexterous, with wide eyes.

“Do you wanna watch me do it and then try?”

Jeongguk nods again.

“You don’t have to, though. I really don’t want to pressure you.”

“Dude, I’m gonna try it sometime,” Jeongguk says, rolling his eyes, gaining his confidence back by the second. “Why not now, with someone I trust, rather than at some party in some gross basement with some people I just met?”

“You trust me?” Namjoon asks, grinning.

Jeongguk rolls his eyes again. “Not anymore.”

Namjoon just laughs and brings the bowl up to his lips, which are really fucking pretty, and uses the blue lighter in his right hand to set the contents of the bowl on fire. He removes his thumb from the little hole on the side and inhales (at least, Jeongguk assumes that’s what he does -- he’s only seen it in movies).

After he holds it in for a few seconds, the smoke escapes his lips in a hurry, and Jeongguk is sweating.

“Your turn?” Namjoon asks, after all the smoke has been exhaled.

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says, taking the bowl and lighter from his outstretched hands. “One question though. What did you do with your thumb and the little hole? When do I put it on and when do I take it off?”

Namjoon laughs and scoots closer to Jeongguk so that this time their thighs are definitely touching, pressed firmly against each other from where they sit cross-legged in the little clearing.

“I’ll do it for you, okay? Just watch.” He grabs the materials out of Jeongguk’s hands. “Just breathe in when I tell you to.”

Jeongguk doesn’t know how he’s going to inhale when he’s having enough trouble already taking regular breaths with Namjoon this close to him, but he’s never been one to shy away from a challenge.

And when Namjoon lifts the bowl up to Jeongguk’s lips, he has to will himself, with all the strength he can muster, to not get hard.

Namjoon lights the contents of the bowl again, covering the hole on the side. “Okay, breathe in,” he says, releasing his thumb. And Jeongguk does, suddenly feeling a rush of what he assumes is smoke into what he assumes are his lungs.

“Hold it in,” Namjoon instructs gently. Jeongguk does his best to “hold it in” -- whatever that means.

“Now exhale.” And he does. And then he coughs.

Namjoon laughs, rubbing his back, like it’s something he’s allowed to do. Jeongguk coughs even louder. “You okay? You did good.”

When his coughing fit finally subsides, he asks: “So am I high now?”

“Not yet,” Namjoon says. “Sometimes people don’t feel it their first time. You can have one more hit, if you want, but then I’m cutting you off.”

So Namjoon has another hit, and then Jeongguk has one more hit, holding the bowl by himself this time, and waits.

And eventually, he does start to feel different. It’s like his head is heavy and his limbs are light, or maybe the other way around. He thinks that the inside of his body, where his organs and blood and muscles are kept, feel very light also. It’s a welcome change from the usual jagged feeling that Jeongguk has been feeling in his chest area as of late.

“I think I’m high now,” he says. And then he laughs. And then Namjoon laughs. And that’s when he knows he’s high, because everybody knows that the first sign of being high is that you laugh a lot. Or at least that’s what they show on TV, which Jeongguk has watched a lot of.

Either way, he feels different, and his future seems less pressing, and he likes it.

He thinks about the way that the birds are chirping now, and the cicadas are hissing. They’re nowhere to be seen, but he knows they are there, because he can hear them.

He thinks that he wants to be able to hide in the trees, and the tall grass, and still be heard.

He wonders where they hide.

He wonders if they’re as afraid of the future as he is.

He feels anxious now, all of the sudden, lying in the clearing that is too small to hold the both of them and all the birds and cicadas that he knows are there but that he cannot see. He wishes he could see them.

“You okay?” Namjoon asks from where he is lying, in the tall grass, next to Jeongguk.

Jeongguk doesn’t know what to say because this is Namjoon, lying next to him. This is his high school crush -- but neither of them is in high school anymore and so it feels wrong to call him that. Jeongguk doesn’t know what to call him. He doesn’t know what to call himself, or anyone else. He’s so fucking scared.

“I think,” Jeongguk begins, his voice not matching the turmoil raging inside him. “I just, like, had a panic attack. Maybe. Sorry.”

Namjoon sits up so fast it makes Jeongguk flinch. “Fuck, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, it’s my fault, smoking can kind of do this sometimes if you’re not used to it, um. Fuck. Are you still panicking?”

Jeongguk just shakes his head. “No, I don’t think so. I’m okay. Don’t be sorry. It was just, like. Really weird.”

“I should take you home. Panic attacks are shit. Do you want to talk about it?”

“We can stay,” Jeongguk says quickly. “Unless you want to go.”

“I just,” Namjoon begins, awkwardly. “Don’t want you feeling bad.”

Jeongguk just shakes his head and smiles, sitting up. “I was thinking about how you can hear the cicadas but you never see them. But you just know, like, there are so many here right now. And they’re so fucking loud and they felt so fucking amplified in my head. It freaked me out.”

Namjoon just rubs his shoulder blade, lightly. They sit in silence for a few minutes while Jeongguk regulates his breathing.

After what seems like hours, Namjoon, very softly, speaks. “You know there are cicadas that only come out every seventeen years? And they just like, just chill underground eating xylem fluids until then.”

Jeongguk didn’t know. “So they’re my age.”

Namjoon nods. “They live underground and eat their tree root fluids for seventeen years and then they come up, after spending almost, like, two whole decades preparing. And then they live for like, two months, mate, and die.”

Jeongguk snorts. “Fuck.”

“I think it kind of feels like that when you’re seventeen. Or like, I felt that way, at least.”

Jeongguk just quirks his eyebrows, like he doesn’t believe it, giving Namjoon an excuse to keep talking. Jeongguk likes to hear his voice.  

“Like… you spend your whole life in school or whatever, preparing for something that’s, like, totally intangible, because otherwise all your efforts would serve absolutely no purpose. But then you graduate high school and you’re shoved out of everything you used to know and you kind of feel like all that’s left for you to do is mate and die.”

“Are you trying to teach me a life lesson?” asks Jeongguk, trying not to smile.

Namjoon shrugs, laughing. “I’m just saying. Just because cicadas only live above ground for one shitty summer when they’re seventeen doesn’t mean you have to.”

They drive back not long after that. It’s the golden hour as they make their way down their mountain and back to the suburbs, and the blushing pink light floods the windows of Namjoon’s station wagon, and Jeongguk feels alright.

\

Late June.

Jeongguk is working an early morning shift when he hears the bell above the door jingle.

“Welcome to The Juice Bo-- oh, hey,” he says, noticing that it’s just Namjoon, in his slacks and blue short sleeved button down.

“Hey,” he says.

“The usual?”

Namjoon nods, handing him a five dollar bill, and, per usual, stuffing the change into the tip jar.

“How are you?” Namjoon asks.

“Work sucks,” Jeongguk whispers, so his shift manager won’t hear him, and hands Namjoon his drink. “I get off early today though. You?”

“Work also sucks,” Namjoon says, sipping the dark green smoothie. “And I don’t get off early.”

Jeongguk pouts. And then catches himself.

“I guess I’ll just…” Jeongguk begins dramatically, “Take the bus home.”

Namjoon rolls his eyes. “Are you free tonight though? I wanna go somewhere.”

“Where?”

“Are you scared of ghosts?”

“Dude, what?”

“The place I want to take you is a place that has ghosts. That’s all I’m saying. So yes or no?”

“I’m not scared of ghosts. Fuck you. What time?”

“I’ll pick you up at eight. It has to be dark.”

“Seriously, fuck you.”

\

Golden hour has come and gone by the time Jeongguk hears the horn of Namjoon’s station wagon outside. He pulls his backpack over his shoulder, slips into his ratty vans, and slams the door behind him.

“Hey,” he says, opening the passenger side door and stumbling into the seat.

“Excited?” Namjoon says.

“I love ghosts. Too bad I’m still too poor for my camera, or we could make a documentary.”

“The spirits would be upset if we tried to film them. It’s probably for the best,” says Namjoon, sagely, turning onto the main road outside of their neighborhood.

“So where are we going?”

“Have you heard of Baker’s Church Road?”

“I don’t think so. Is it near here?”

“It’s like half an hour away. It was a Catholic church from the 1700s, I think. The lore is that, like, in the ‘30s, the church was taken over by devil worshippers, and they sacrificed a bunch of young girls there. But then suddenly the church burned down under mysterious circumstances. Like, no one knows if it was because of the rituals, or if a bunch of townspeople like, came and burned it down, but. It burned down.”

“Woah. So the girls haunt the place? Or the devil worshippers?”

“Mainly the girls, I think,” Namjoon says, thoughtfully. “So the church is gone, right, because it burned. But there’s still a little cemetery, and like a giant oak tree in the middle of it. And they used to apparently hang the girls from the tree. Like, for the sacrifices. And it’s the girls who apparently haunt it. And you can apparently see them hanging, sometimes.”

“Shit. Are you sure this is real?”

“I found it on hauntedplaces.org, so. Believe what you want. But a bunch of kids I went to high school with would go there and claim they saw a bunch of shit. And I’ve never been. So I want to go.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says. “It sounds sick.”

The car feels charged with something that Jeongguk can’t entirely categorize as they drive the rest of the way. They’re entering farm country now, and the headlights of Namjoon’s car illuminate nothing but tall grass and corn.

“Is that it?” Jeongguk asks all of the sudden, pointing to a giant tree to their right. Namjoon slows the car down.

“Are there any graves there?” Namjoon asks. “Can you see?”

Jeongguk squints. “I think so. Let’s get out.”

So Namjoon parks the car, and they get out. And lo and behold, there is a tiny graveyard surrounding the tree. And suddenly everything feels kind of eerie.

“Are you scared?” Namjoon asks, using the light from his flip phone screen as a flashlight.

“No. Are you?”

There’s a slight pause. And then Namjoon just replies: “Kinda.”

“Aw,” Jeongguk says, finally feeling like he’s the one with the power. “Do you wanna hold onto me?”

It’s just that Jeongguk isn’t expecting him to actually do it.

He grabs Jeongguk’s hand in his, like it’s nothing, and looks at him from where he stands, a few inches taller. He’s so much taller, and he’s touching his hand. Jeongguk can’t breathe.

They walk closer to the tree, hand in hand, cautiously. Every branch that cracks underneath Jeongguk’s sneakers makes him flinch. Namjoon shines his phone light onto one of the weathered gravestones.

“Woah,” Namjoon says softly. “This girl was only three when she died.”

“You think she was one of the girls they sacrificed?” Jeongguk asks.

“Nah. She died in,” he pauses to look at the dates on the stone, “1841. The devil worshippers didn’t take over until the 1930s.

Jeongguk lets out a breath he had subconsciously been holding. It soothes him to know that this girl, at least, hadn’t been hung from a tree. Although dying at age three is never good under any circumstance, he thinks. He’s more sad, than scared, at this point.

“This is kind of just sad,” Jeongguk says.

“Yeah,” Namjoon says. They’re still holding hands.

Jeongguk’s breathing has almost returned to normal, when something rustles in the woods behind them.

“Holy shit,” Namjoon says, gripping his hand tighter. “What the fuck was that?”

Jeongguk is about to answer logically, because he is a virgo after all, and he thinks that Namjoon might think it’s cute that he’s being brave, but then something giant and furry emerges from the woods and he fucking yells, loud. It comforts him that at least Namjoon does too.

They run back to the car at top speed. At least their hands stay intertwined until they have to break them apart to get inside.

They slam the doors shut, and tumble into the seats, breathless.

“Dude, that was like… some beast,” Jeongguk says. And when he hears himself say it out loud, he realizes it’s kind of funny.

And so does Namjoon, apparently, because soon enough they’re both in hysterics, laughing at nothing, or maybe everything.

When he has enough courage to look out the window towards the woods, he sees the beast.

“Namjoon,” he says, tugging on his sleeve. “Look.”

And Namjoon looks, and promptly dissolve into hysterics for the second time.

“A fucking… cow,” Namjoon says, eventually, through his choking laughter. “We’re in the goddamn countryside. Surrounded by farms. Of course there are fucking cows here. Oh my God. I hate this place. Can we please leave?”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says, grateful. “This was fun though.”

“Yeah? I feel like I hyped up coming here and it was a giant bust.”

“Nah, I liked it,” Jeongguk says. And for some reason, maybe because of the adrenaline running through his veins from their little run, he says something he would never have said under normal circumstances. “Got you to hold my hand, so.”

Immediately he feels the tips of his ears burn.

Namjoon just looks stunned, his eyes blown wide, staring straight ahead at the road. Jeongguk wants death.

“What?” Namjoon finally asks.

“What?” Jeongguk echoes, eyes wide. “I didn’t say anything.”

“You said you wanted to hold my hand.”

“What? No.”

“You did.”

“You’re losing it. Get your hearing checked.”

“You…have… a crush on me,” Namjoon eventually says, the corners of his lips quirking up, the way that they do. The way that Jeongguk notices every time, and loves. Fuck.

“What?” Jeongguk says. “No.” He looks out the window. The cow is still there, in the distance. He wonders if she can feel the misery he’s feeling. He decides that she probably can. He pities her.  

“Jeongguk,” Namjoon says, still smiling. “You know. if you wanted to kiss me, I’d be okay with that.”

Jeongguk almost gets whiplash from the speed at which he turns his head to face Namjoon. “What did you just say?”

“Because if you wanted to kiss me, I would want to kiss you too.”

“Is this a fucking prank?”

“Do you think I’d mess with you like that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. You probably didn’t know this but I’ve had a crush on you since sophomore year of high school.”

“Oh. I knew.”

“What the fuck?”

Namjoon laughs. “Okay, that sounded mean. I mean, like, I knew you had a crush on me when I tutored you. But that was like, baby stuff. You’re a whole adult now. And I didn’t know if you still liked me.”

“Well,” Jeongguk mumbles. “I wasn’t gonna do anything about it. I like being your friend and I didn’t want to make things weird.”

“Aw,” Namjoon says, grinning. “I like being your friend too. But you’re also, like, cute and funny and smart and I would like to kiss you. If that’s okay.”

Jeongguk just sits there, in the front seat, facing forward, ears flaming. This is a lot of information to process. He wants to ask Namjoon if they’re going to be boyfriends for the summer, or if he just sees him as someone to kiss and hang out with, but he honestly doesn’t really see the difference, or how it matters. All he knows is that this summer is really important and so is Namjoon and that yes, he would like to kiss him. So he does.

He leans over the console dividing the two seats, grabs Namjoon’s neck with trembling hands, and presses his lips against Namjoon’s lips.

It’s his fifth kiss, so Jeongguk kind of knows what to do, but also realizes that the person he is kissing is Namjoon and so he kind of forgets.

He does, however, know that:

  1. Namjoon’s lips are very soft. He’s noticed that he has a compulsive habit of putting on chapstick when he’s nervous.  
  2. Namjoon’s tongue is in his mouth,. His vegetarian tongue. Jeongguk suddenly feels bad about eating a burger on his lunch break today.
  3. Namjoon’s mouth tastes like menthol. He wonders if he had a cough drop in there earlier.

Namjoon suddenly bites Jeongguk’s lower lip and breaks him out of his reverie. Jeongguk gasps into his mouth and he’s suddenly very hot, and Namjoon is hot, and everything is hot, and he wants to be somewhere that is not in the car next to a haunted cemetery.

Jeongguk breaks the kiss. “Can we go somewhere else?” he whispers into the crook of Namjoon’s neck. He feels his quickened pulse, grounds himself in the sensation of his rising and falling chest.

Namjoon laughs. “Is the cemetery not hot enough for you?”

“Anywhere’s hot, trust me,” Jeongguk says. “I’m just scared. Don’t want an angry farmer to come out and kill us.”

“Or the ghosts of the sacrificed girls,” Namjoon reminds him.

“Or the ghosts of the people who used to go to this church,” Jeongguk says thoughtfully. “Homosexuality is a sin, you know.”

“Hey,” Namjoon says, sounding serious all of the sudden. “You know this is nothing to be ashamed of, right?” he asks seriously.

Jeongguk just looks at him. And he thinks to himself -- does he really know? He knows that he’s gay. He’s kissed enough girls at parties and on lackluster first dates to know that he’s definitely gay. And he’s never really thought about whether or not he’s ashamed -- he just knows that he likes boys and there’s nothing he can do to change that. He certainly knows, though, that there’s no way he could ever come out while he’s living in this town. There was one openly gay kid at his high school and he got kicked off the track team.

He’d never really thought about it before. It was something he had pushed away as a problem he would have to deal with in the future (if he didn’t kill himself before then, he used to tell himself). He used to tell himself that in college -- if he made it -- he would be able to be unapologetically himself, and the transition from closeted to uncloseted would be seamless.

But now, just hearing Namjoon say these words that he hadn’t even known he needed, he feels absolved. Like everything bad has been bleached away and he has been acquitted, entirely. Tears prick at his eyes involuntarily, and... fuck, Jeongguk thinks. He can’t cry after making out with his dream boy. He just can’t.

But then Namjoon says one word -- “Jeongguk?” --  and suddenly he’s got one tear falling from his right eye, and then another from his left.

Namjoon wraps his arms around Jeongguk’s body, pulling him into a hug. He pets the back of Jeongguk’s head lightly as it’s buried in the crook of his neck.

“Hey,” Namjoon says gently, so fucking gently. “God. I’m sorry for kissing you. That was fucked up, and I used the fact that you had a childhood crush on me for my own personal gain, fuck. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m gonna take you home, okay?”

Jeongguk laughs, but more tears come out, because he hates that Namjoon thinks that he’s done anything other than be the best person he’s ever known.

“Namjoon,” he mutters into his neck, keeping his eyes closed. “I’m crying because I feel... happy. And good.”

“What?”

He lifts his head out of Namjoon’s neck area, situating his body so he’s sitting up straight, no longer draped over the console. He sighs, willing himself not to stutter. “No one has ever, like. Told me that it’s not bad to. Like, be gay, or whatever. And that was a lot to take in.”

“Oh,” Namjoon just says. “Fuck.”

“Yeah. So. I still like you a lot.”

“I like you too, dude.”

“Is it weird to kiss again after I just cried?”

“Kind of,” Namjoon says, smiling. “I’m gonna drive us somewhere else and then maybe if you’re still feeling it we’ll talk. This place has evil energy.”

“Agreed.”

Jeongguk’s feeling like he’s got nothing else to lose at this point, and so he grabs Namjoon’s hand before he turns the key in the ignition, brings it up to his lips, and kisses it lightly. “This okay?” he asks.

Namjoon just grins. “Jeongguk Jeon. Kissing my hand.” He shakes his head like he can’t believe it. Jeongguk just sits in his seat, awkwardly pleased with himself.

Namjoon starts the car. He doesn’t let go of Jeongguk’s hand.

\

Later June. Not quite July.

“Bro, I won’t say it again. Knuckles would beat Sonic in a fight. Hands down,” Taehyung says from where he’s sitting on the couch in Jeongguk’s basement, eating two Twizzlers at a time.

“Dude, Sonic literally runs faster than the speed of light. The speed of fucking light ,” Jeongguk replies, moving his feet so they rest on Taehyung’s lap. A forgotten episode of America’s Next Top Model plays on the TV in the corner of the room. He holds his hand out for a Twizzler.

“Yeah, okay, but we’re not talking about a race,” Taehyung says exasperatedly. He hands him two Twizzlers. “We all know Sonic would win any race. I’m talking about a good old fashioned fist fight. Knuckles is literally called Knuckles for a reason.”

“But your point, Tae, is fucking invalid,” Jeongguk says, voice rising in volume. “Sonic could literally outrun Knuckles before he even had the opportunity to get his hands on him.”

Taehyung’s mouth is open to reply, when someone opens the door to the basement. It’s Jeongguk’s mom, and she peeks her head down.

“Hi, boys,” she says. “Didn’t know you were here. I need to use the computer for a little, okay?”

“Okay, we’re going,” Jeongguk says, already getting up from the couch and taking Taehyung with him.

It’s Saturday and it’s hot and there’s nothing for them to do but eat popsicles on the floor of Jeongguk’s room, so they go upstairs to Jeongguk’s room and do just that. Jeongguk’s Razr vibrates beside them.

“Is that Namjoon?” Taehyung asks, peering over at the tiny display screen. Jeongguk squirms.

“I don’t know. But do you wanna know something weird that happened the other day?” Jeongguk asks. It’s the first time he’s hung out with Taehyung since the kiss and he needs to get it off his chest, ASAP.

“Fucking duh,” Taehyung says, licking a little river of popsicle juice that had dribbled down the side of his thumb.

“Namjoon and I went to Baker’s Church Road and kissed and then I cried.”

Jeongguk is not expecting to have a popsicle stick thrown at his face.

“What the fuck?” he yells.

“Jeongguk. You kissed in the fucking station wagon -- which has been your absolute biggest dream since you were like, fifteen -- and you waited until now to tell me , your best friend?”

“You work all the time,” Jeongguk says, frowning. “I wanted to tell you in person.”

Taehyung sighs. “True. Fuck. Well tell me about it. Why did you cry? Was he a bad kisser?”

“No. He was good. I think. I’m not really sure how to tell. But I didn’t cry because of that. He randomly told me that like, kissing boys was okay, or something like that. Like, it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. And no one had ever told me that before.”

“Hey. I’ve told you that before.”

“Yeah, but you’re my best friend. And like, probably my soulmate. You have to say that to me.”

“Hm,” Taehyung says. “Yeah. I’m glad he said it though. I knew he was smart. I can see why you’d cry. How’d he handle it?”

“He like, gave me a hug. And apologized.”

“Ugh,” Taehyung says, wistfully. “The perfect man.”

“So you think things will work out?”

“Don’t think about that right now,” Taehyung says. “There’s two whole months of summer left. Think about what’ll happen then when you get there.”

Jeongguk groans.

“Also, I’m happy for you about your hot graveyard kiss, but I’m really fucking pissed you went to Baker’s Church Road without me. I’ve wanted to go there for years. Did you see the ghosts of the sacrificed girls?”

\

Early July.

It’s the hottest day of the summer so far and Jeongguk’s contemplating digging a deep hole in his backyard and lying in it. He’s drawn all the curtains in his living room, and is sprawled out on the floor with a fan pointed at his head, playing Mario on his Nintendo DS Lite.

It’s Wednesday, and no one is home, and Jeongguk is starting to think that no amount of Mario will save him from being alone with his thoughts.

Half of him is trying to fight the urge to want to spend every waking moment with Namjoon, because he knows that it’s not healthy for your life to revolve around your partner, or crush, or summer fling, or whatever. But the other half is reminding him, every thirty seconds, that summer’s almost halfway over, and the rest of his life is there waiting in September, taunting him.

The biggest part of him just wants to kiss Namjoon again, and wants to not have to think about anything. So he’s about to text him and ask him to come over when the doorbell rings.

He pauses his game, drags his sweaty body to the door, and answers it. And there’s Namjoon looking shy on his front porch.

“Hey,” Namjoon says.

“Hey,” Jeongguk says back. “I was just about to text you.”

“Yeah? I hope it’s cool that I came over. It’s hot and I’m bored and I know your parents work.”

“So you wanted to get me home alone, huh?”

Namjoon blushes. “No, oh my god. I didn’t mean it like that. Just that I know you probably wouldn’t want to hang out when they’re here.”

“I knew there was a reason everyone says you’re smart,” Jeongguk says, gesturing for him to come inside. “I can offer you like, a popsicle. I’m not really sure if we have anything else. I haven’t eaten real food in, like, two days.”

They end up sitting on the couch in front of the fan, bodies touching just enough to have a sense of closeness without bursting into flames from the heat. Jeongguk puts on some movie, but it’s more background noise than anything else.

Namjoon’s reading, and Jeongguk’s playing Mario, and their legs are just short of being intertwined. And then, making a very concerted effort to be casual, Jeongguk slides down on the couch so his head is closer to Namjoon’s. They go back to their respective pursuits.

And then, five minutes later, Namjoon slides a little bit to the left, so Jeongguk’s right side is pressed against him. Jeongguk looks up, just to find Namjoon looking at the pages of his book intently. He goes back to Mario.

Five more minutes pass. And Jeongguk can’t fucking take it. He suddenly tosses his DS down on the floor (and he’s sure there’s a dent in the carpet where it landed a little bit harder than he meant it to) and pushes Namjoon’s book out of his hands.

“Hey,” Namjoon whines. “I lost my page.”

“Do you wanna make out or not?”

Namjoon’s eyes widen, and then he just laughs, and pulls Jeongguk on top of him where he’s sitting so he’s straddling his lap. Jeongguk almost chokes. This is new.

Jeongguk leans down to meet Namjoon’s lips with his own. Their mouths are languid against each other’s, finding a slow and lazy rhythm that matches the heat of the day outside. Namjoon puts his hands on either side of Jeongguk’s waist, digging his fingers in lightly.

Jeongguk’s got his arms resting on Namjoon’s shoulders, his hands knotted in his dyed-brown hair, holding on for dear life. He opens his mouth slightly and Namjoon’s tongue finds its way inside like it was made to.

The stirring in Jeongguk’s stomach becomes incessant. He’s still so shy, but when he feels Namjoon’s sturdy hands with their long fingers pressing firmly into his sides, his hips stutter ever so slightly. And Namjoon lets out a tiny moan into Jeongguk’s mouth. He swallows it, breathes it in like it’s good, and natural, and necessary. And all he can think about is how much he wants to hear it again. So he rolls his hips into Namjoon’s, deliberately this time.

“Oh my God,” Namjoon breathes, his open mouth pushed up against Jeongguk’s open mouth. They’re both getting hard, and Jeongguk thinks that the weight of Namjoon’s dick, hidden by his cutoffs, feels so fucking good against his.

“Jeongguk,” Namjoon says after the third roll of his hips, pulling away from his lips momentarily. “How far do you wanna go?”

Jeongguk is dumbfounded. He doesn’t really know how to handle this situation. What does he even say to that? “Can you, like,” Jeongguk begins, cheeks beginning to flush, “touch me.”

“Yeah,” breathes Namjoon. “Okay.” He leans up to kiss him again, beginning to build up to where they had been when he interrupted.

Jeongguk grinds down on Namjoon’s lap, hard this time, and clear in his intentions. So Namjoon moves his hand and runs his thumb softly over the bulge in Jeongguk’s pants. Jeongguk audibly gasps, a shiver running through his entire body.

“Sensitive,” Namjoon mumbles against his skin, his mouth now having moved to Jeongguk’s neck. “Can I take your pants off?”

Jeongguk nods, and unbuttons his shorts as quickly as his slightly trembling hands will allow him. He lifts one leg off Namjoon’s lap, pulling his shorts off completely, and then sits back down. Now that there’s one less layer separating his dick from Namjoon’s, he feels more sensitive by a thousand.

He lets out a tiny whine when Namjoon’s hand reaches down to grip his dick through his boxers. It’s not his first sexual experience, but it’s his first one with a boy, let alone a boy he’s had a crush on for years. So forgive him if he gets a little bit excited.

Jeongguk is still so shy but he wants Namjoon to touch him so, so bad. So he demands, so softly in Namjoon’s ear, “Touch me, please.”

So Namjoon reaches inside his boxers and grabs his dick, gently spreading the mess of precum around the head. Jeongguk gasps, his mouth staying open as he buries his face into Namjoon’s neck. Namjoon reaches up with his unoccupied hand, snaking underneath Jeongguk’s ratty t-shirt he got from orchestra camp in middle school until he finds his nipple. He squeezes it lightly, and Jeongguk’s legs clamp around Namjoon’s like a vice. His whole body tenses.

“Is that okay?” Namjoon asks, taking his hand away.

“Oh my God,” Jeongguk whines. “Please don’t stop.”

So Namjoon’s hand reaches up to squeeze his nipple again, harder this time, and Jeongguk can’t help from letting out a loud series of “ah ah ahs”. He thanks his lucky stars his parents are at work. Their youngest son, getting jerked off on their living room couch by the neighbor kid.

With Namjoon stroking his dick with one hand and pressing on his nipple with the other, Jeongguk realizes he isn’t going to last much longer. “I’m super close,” he pants into Namjoon’s neck.

Namjoon just speeds up his hand, squeezing in all the right places. Jeongguk is starting to see white when Namjoon tweaks his nipple so hard he thinks he loses consciousness for a good three seconds. He cums with a loud whine, all over his orchestra camp shirt. Namjoon strokes him through it.

“You okay?” he asks.

“Fuck you.”

“Me? Why?”

“You’re so fucking,” Jeongguk pants, trying to find the right words, “hot. And like, that was… woah. You know?”

“You look cute when you cum,” Namjoon says, grinning.

“God,” Jeongguk says. “How can you just say that with a straight face? That’s straight out of some shitty porn. You’re gross.”

“It’s true, though.”

“Shut up. Take your pants off.”

That actually sounds like it’s straight out of some shitty porn.”

\

After Jeongguk gets Namjoon off (and feels shy about it for ten minutes after) he changes his clothes and they spend the rest of the day sprawled out on the floor of Jeongguk’s bedroom. Which seems to be one of his favorite hangout spots lately. Namjoon flips through an old photo album he found under Jeongguk’s dresser, while Jeongguk rests his head against Namjoon’s thigh.

“Where’s this picture from?” he asks, pointing to a photo of Jeongguk when he was about thirteen, holding his cello case tightly in both hands and grinning for the camera.

“Orchestra camp,” Jeongguk says, peering over. “Middle school.”

“Can you still play?”

Jeongguk laughs and shakes his head. “I begged my parents to let me quit when I started high school. I wanted to do sports and orchestra practice was at the same time as soccer.”

Namjoon frowns. “You really are a jock.”

Jeongguk shrugs. “Is that a dealbreaker?”

“No. It’s kinda hot.”

\

Mid July.

Jeongguk’s parents take him on a trip to the beach for two weeks in mid-July. His brother, who works “in finance” (whatever that means) and makes a lot of money, lives in the city, but takes time off to join them on the coast for “family vacation”. Jeongguk is grateful, because even though his brother is considerably older, and they don’t really have much in common, he’d rather not be alone with his parents for two whole weeks. Sometimes he’s not even sure if they remember his name.

He’s bored, and frustrated. Does no one realize that summer is almost over and he hasn’t even come close to making the most of it? Does no one realize that Namjoon Kim is at home and wants to kiss him and he’s missing out on fourteen days of precious makeout time?

As he lies shirtless on the beach in his swim trunks, his head propped on a book that he hasn’t even begun to think about reading, he flips open his phone. He texts Namjoon.

Jeongguk

10:39 AM

heyyyyyyy

After five minutes without a reply, he throws his phone into the sand with a sigh. He knows, logically, Namjoon is probably busy doing internship stuff. But he’s also bored and selfish and he doesn’t want to admit that maybe he misses him, but he does. He texts Taehyung half-heartedly, but knows he’s also at work right now.

Jeongguk sighs. The chains of capitalism really do bind them all.

Jeongguk

10:58 AM

beach freaking sux wish u were here rofl

Jeongguk

11:03 AM

I know u r @ ur internshp so not expecting a reply im just boreedddddd lol

Jeongguk

11:05 AM

U knw i am shirtless rite now and u r missing it ^.^

Eventually Jeongguk gives up, and takes a nap.

He wakes up to some kid he’s never seen before in his life shoveling sand onto his -- now very sunburnt -- back.

“Hey,” Jeongguk says to the kid. “What’re you doin’ there?”

“Playing buried alive,” the kid says.

“And you’re burying me alive?”

“Yeah,” the kid says, like it’s obvious, heaping another shovel of sand onto Jeongguk’s back and packing it down with his hands. “You looked dead anyway.”

“Well, I’m alive now.”

“Is that your phone?” the kid asks, pointing to Jeongguk’s Razr that’s currently vibrating on top of the towel on which he’s lying.

“Maybe. Why?”

“Does it have games?”

“No.”

The kid gives him the most scathing look he’s probably ever received -- the kind that says “well what the fuck are you even good for, then?” -- and proceeds to dump the rest of his bucket full of sand on Jeongguk, and then leave.

He doesn’t even bother to brush the sand off his back before he grabs his phone and flips it open. It’s 12:28 PM and he has eleven unread texts.

Namjoon

12:01 PM

sry late reply just got on my lunch break! miss u cutie

Namjoon

12:01 PM

Wish i were at the beach with u lol :(

Namjoon

12:06 PM

So weird havin someone else make me a smoothie thts not u

Namjoon

12:08 PM

Jusr saw ur text about being shirtless…… send a pic? Hahahaha

Namjoon

12:08 PM

I  am kidding

Namjoon

12:08 PM

Seriously

Namjoon

12:13 PM

U know  i value u as a person right?  

Namjoon

12:14 PM

I mean u look good shirtless dnt get me wrong

Namjoon

12:14 PM

But dont think thats all im talking to u for

Namjoon

12:20 PM

Jeongguk????

Namjoon

12:22 PM

?????????????

Jeongguk laughs. He reads each of the texts in Namjoon’s voice, and it’s easy to imagine him saying all of it. It almost tricks him for a second into believing he’s here.

Jeongguk

12:32 PM

hahahahaha i was napping sorry

Jeongguk

12:32 PM

some kid jst poured sand all over me n i also  got sunburnt :(((

Jeongguk

12:33 PM

also u apologize 2 much lol!!!! Id send u a shirtless pic but sunburn D:

Namjoon

12:35 PM

Awwww sleepy o:)

Namjoon

12:35 PM

Im sorry u r burnt! :(

Namjoon

12:36 PM

O and sorry for apologizing again ….lol

Jeongguk

12:37 PM

ur funny….. how is internship? :c

Namjoon

12:38 PM

Boringggg . The firm is defending a guy charged with first degree assault tho so thats kind of interesting. He stabbed someone. Im researching past cases like this 1

Namjoon

12:38 PM

How is beach??? And ur family?

Jeongguk

12:40 PM

omg…. who did he stab

Jeongguk

12:41 PM

Its hot. my brother sux and jst talks about work and his gf

but my parents think hes rly cool for whtever reason

meanwhile they have said like 5 words 2 me in the past 2 days

Namjoon

12:44 PM

his stepdad!!!!! he is saying it was self defense

Namjoon

12:45 PM

:(

Namjoon

12:45 PM

Im sorry thats so shit. Wish i were there

Namjoon

12:46 PM

Its only temporary….u will be back soon tho and ill be able to kiss u again lo l

But seriouly soon u will be in college and wont even have to deal w them at all

Jeongguk wants to ask the question that’s been nagging at him in the back of his mind ever since he realized they are going to be at school in the same city, so, so soon.

He begins to type it out.

do u think we’ll still talk when we r both in new york

He deletes it. And types it out, again.

r we still going 2 hang out after summer ends?

He deletes it. Again. Throws his phone down in the sand. Then picks it up, again.

Jeongguk

12:52 PM

thank god :(

Jeongguk

12:53 PM

gtg eat now…. have fun at internship :D

\

“So, Jeonghyun,” his father asks Jeongguk’s brother at dinner one night. “Why haven’t you brought your girlfriend home to meet us yet?”

Jeonghyun chuckles. “We’re both just so busy with work, I think. It was hard enough to get the firm to let me have these two weeks for vacation. And Jiyoo is a new employee, so she naturally has to be careful about asking for things like time off until she gets more established.”

His parents nod understandingly, while Jeongguk is almost falling asleep in his plate of salmon.

“Well,” his mother says. “I’d love to meet her when you’re both able to get away. What does she do at the company again?”

Jeongguk stabs his salmon with his fork, sighing. As if his brother hasn’t told them all about whatever boring and meaningless business positions they both hold at their investment firm at least three times.

And Jeonghyun, like a dutiful son, explains, again. Jeongguk zones out of the conversation at that point; he’s honestly surprised he made it this far in the first place. He’s daydreaming about how much World of Warcraft he’s going to play when he gets home, when he hears someone say his name.

“What?” he asks.

“Jeongguk,” his father says, sternly. “Don’t speak to your brother like that. It’s rude.”

“I didn’t hear him.”

“I asked if you had a girlfriend, Jeonggukkie,” says his brother, grinning. Jeongguk is starting to regret ever being thankful for his brother’s presence on this vacation.

Before Jeongguk can even get out a scornful “no way”, his mother chimes in, knowingly, “Jeongguk is too busy spending time with the neighbor boy to think about girls.”

“Is that the skinny kid who wears nail polish?” Jeongguk’s dad asks, wrinkling his nose. And Jeongguk knows he’s talking about Taehyung, as if he doesn’t know that Taehyung and Jeongguk haven’t been best friends since elementary school. And it’s true, he probably doesn’t know, after all. Although he would, most likely, if he paid even the remotest amount of attention to Jeongguk in the first place.

“No, no,” his mom says dismissively, as though he isn’t at the table to answer for himself. At this point, even Jeonghyun looks at Jeongguk awkwardly, almost apologetically. “That’s Taesung. I’m talking about the one across the street, who tutored Jeonggukkie a few years ago.”

Jeongguk doesn’t see the use in pointing out that his best friend’s name is not, in fact, Taesung, but he really doesn’t see it doing any good.

Jeonghyun finally pipes up. “Namjoon Kim? I remember him. He was always reading.”

“I talked to his mother a few weeks ago,” his mom says. “He has an internship at one of the law firms downtown.”

His dad perks up at that. “What’s he doing wasting his time with Jeongguk, then?”

In any other situation, Jeongguk would have checked out of the conversation at least five minutes ago. But because of the unfortunate fact that he is the subject matter, he forces himself to stay present. And of course, he regrets it. His parents not paying attention to him is one thing, but when they do pay attention to him, well. It usually goes like this.

Jeongguk finally gets to participate in the conversation. He shrugs, staring intently at his plate, and says, “I don’t know. He goes to Columbia. It’ll be nice to know someone in New York when I move there.”

His dad laughs, and although it’s probably meant to be lighthearted, to Jeongguk it just sounds cruel. “Columbia and NYU are on very different levels, Jeonggukkie. He’ll be working very hard. And the schools aren’t exactly close to each other.”

And the thing is, Jeongguk knows this. He knows that Columbia is an Ivy League school and that NYU is not and he knows that it’s on the complete opposite end of the city and he knows that Namjoon is going to be working hard. But to hear his biggest fears said out loud, by his dad of all people, it hurts. But it’s true and Jeongguk knows it and that’s the worst part.

Some tiny, optimistic, naive part of him had just thought that maybe... It would be like Namjoon said the first time they spoke this summer at the smoothie shop -- it’s only 30 minutes away if you take the number 1 train.

But that’s stupid, and he knows that now.

His brother eventually saves him from having to reply. “Public transportation in New York is really good, Dad. You never know.”

“Jeongguk needs to focus on studying, and picking a major, and then his career. Not trekking all around Upper Manhattan with some kid.”

He’s right, he’s so fucking right, and Jeongguk knows that now.

\

Jeongguk is playing Mario on DS in the hotel room he shares with his brother when he hears the door open. He doesn’t look up.

He hears someone clear their throat above him. He ignores hit.

“Are you ignoring me?” Jeonghyun asks, finally.

“No,” Jeongguk replies, not taking his eyes of the screen.

“Then what’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing’s wrong with me.”

“Is it because I asked you if you had a girlfriend at dinner?”

“No.”

“I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

Jeongguk finally snaps his DS shut and looks at his brother. “Oh?”

“You think I was trying to embarrass you?”

“I don’t know,” Jeongguk shrugs. He’s afraid that his brother will accuse him of pouting, so he wills his lips not to fall into a frown. “Felt like it.”

“It’s a normal question to ask.”

“It’s an embarrassing question. Does it look like I share my life with mom and dad?”

This time Jeonghyun shrugs. “I don’t know. You never talk to me.” He sits on the corner of Jeongguk’s hotel bed. Jeongguk feels like he’s talking to his dad.

“It’s not like we have a lot in common,” Jeongguk says, aggressively picking at his nails. “What would we talk about? The economy? Stocks?”

Jeonghyun just laughs, which doesn’t help his case in Jeongguk’s opinion.

“Seriously,” Jeongguk says before his brother can reply. “You kinda suck.”

“Maybe I think you suck.”

“I don’t suck. I’m cool. I bet you haven’t even noticed but I got my nose pierced.”

“I noticed. How’d you talk mom and dad into letting you get that?”

“They don’t care. I don’t even think they realize it’s not, like, a freckle.”

“Don’t you have to be eighteen to get one without your guardian?”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes. “Yeah, if you’re lame. There’s like five places downtown that don’t even card you.”

“You know, we don’t have that much in common,” Jeonghyun says, after a pause.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

“We’re brothers, though. Can’t we be that at least?”

“Who said we weren’t?”

“You, basically.”

Jeongguk frowns, and narrows his eyes. “Tell me a secret then. Isn’t that what brothers do?”

Jeonghyun looks shocked for a minute. And then he just laughs. “I broke up with Jiyoo three months ago. And I’m afraid to tell mom and dad. Your turn.”

That takes Jeongguk by surprise. It was the last thing he had been expecting to hear coming out of his perfect brother’s mouth. And something about him being here, on his hotel bed that does not belong to him, or anyone else, with his brother, who he’s never felt close to before this moment, makes him want to share a secret back. So he does.

“I’m gay.” Silence. “And I’m afraid to tell mom and dad.”

More silence. Jeongguk is going to die.

What seems like hours pass. His brother hasn’t responded and Jeongguk needs to break the stillness somehow. So he asks, looking straight ahead of him at the electrical socket on the wall, “What do you think about that?”

“I…” Jeonghyun begins, looking as though he’s thinking very hard about the choice of his words. “I understand why you’re afraid to tell mom and dad.”

“That’s it?”

“And I… support you?”

Jeongguk just groans and buried his head in the standard white hotel comforter.

“Listen,” his brother says. “I really do support you. It must be hard living at home with mom and dad in that town.”

“It is.”

“I think college is gonna be good for you.”

A seagull outside the window squawking. The low murmur of the hotel TV on in the background. The pounding of his heart against his ribcage.

“I’m scared.”

“That's normal. I was scared before I went.”

“But you knew what you wanted to do. And you weren’t gay.”

“Yeah,” Jeonghyun says. He sighs. “But sometimes I wish I hadn’t just assumed I had it all figured out when I was seventeen.”

“Is this your convoluted ass way of telling me you hate working in finance? It’s about time.”

Jeonghyun laughs. “No, finance is fine.” Jeongguk makes a face. “I just wish I had explored my options a little bit.”

“That’s easy for you to say now. You’re making six figures.”

“Listen. All I’m saying is it’s good and natural to be scared. Everyone else is. And I will tell you… all the gay kids who don’t know what they’re doing with their lives really thrive in college.

“You’re making that up.”

“Seriously. It’s the business majors who have no fun.”

“Well, yeah. Obviously.”

\

Namjoon

10:26 PM

Bro…...Front page of people magazine…. Lance bass just came out of the closet today

Jeongguk

10:30 PM

no fcking way

\

Early August. Less than one month until summer ends.

Taehyung’s neighbors have a pool in their backyard. Taehyung’s neighbors are also, coincidentally, out of town. And Taehyung is being paid twenty bucks to water their plants while they’re gone, and so it just makes sense to him that he has temporary jurisdiction over their property, for the time being.

Or at least, that’s what he says to Jeongguk when he texts him telling him to come over and bring his bathing suit.

Taehyung

1:13 PM

com ovr bring yr bathng suit and namjoon if u want ^.^

Jeongguk

1:15 PM

im not gna bring namjoon over just so we can swim in ur kiddie pool

Taehyung

1:16 PM

No stupid the neighbors r in aruba n they left their pool uncovered

Jeongguk

1:16 PM

:O

And so Jeongguk subsequently texts Namjoon, and that’s how they end up here, in the deep end of Taehyung’s neighbor’s pool, splashing around like they’ve never seen water before today.

And it’s true, Jeongguk has never seen water like this before today. Bright blue and chlorinated, strong enough to contain the powerful individual forces that are both Namjoon and Taehyung. Jeonguk feels awkward to admit that they are the two most important people in his life right now, so he forces himself to think of the water that holds them all in. The way the sunlight filters through all the way to the bottom, making patterns on the pool floor. Namjoon’s bare feet sliding against Jeongguk’s. Taehyung’s wet hair in his eyes. His own slippery arms around Taehyung’s shoulders.

These are things that he knows are real, and that he knows are good. And maybe nothing will be the same again after this summer, and maybe everything really is ending. But maybe it’s not a bad thing. And maybe he won’t hate what life has in store for him.  

He’s said himself how little this town has to offer. And the more he thinks about it -- as he’s lying in his bed at night feeling sun-tired and sore after a day outside with Namjoon, or sitting comfortably alone in his basement when Taehyung leaves after playing video games with him all night, or right now splashing like his life depends on it in Taehyung’s neighbor’s pool -- the more excited he is to start the rest of his life.

He wants to see New York and to love it, or maybe hate it, but to exist there and explore there just the same. He wants to get lost on the subway. He wants to meet other gay people, and other Korean people. He wants to learn Korean. He wants to kiss, all the time. He wants to love and be loved.

He wants it all, but at the top of his to-do list, he thinks that maybe, just maybe, he wants to live.

\

Mid August. 15 days until summer ends.

On August 17, 2006, Jeongguk finally buys his camera, and quits his job. He spends the first half of the day taking pictures of bugs in his backyard, figuring out how to focus and zoom and control the contrast. It feels good, like he’s doing some sort of noble work by capturing things that he thinks are beautiful. He feels good, and valuable.   

When it starts to get late, he puts his new prized possession carefully in its case, and puts the case carefully in his backpack. He goes outside to his bike, and rides in lazy circles in the street between his house and Namjoon’s.

Like some fucked up mating ritual, he thinks. He’ll ride around in front of Namjoon’s house with his earbuds in, never waiting longer than the duration of about two or three songs. And as if on cue, Namjoon will stumble out onto the porch with one shoe on, or his shirt half buttoned up. Jeongguk will wait, usually half a song more. And then Namjoon will come out of the garage on his bike, and they’ll go.

And today is no different. Right after the third song begins to play, Namjoon’s front door opens and there he is, and this time he’s in the process of pulling on a t-shirt. Jeongguk snorts. He wonders if he did that on purpose.

“Where are we going today?” Namjoon yells from the garage.

“Don’t get your bike. We need your car. And it’s a surprise.”

“Oh?” Namjoon says, emerging with a smile on his face. His shirt is just too short to cover the entirety of his long torso, and the strip of his tan stomach that Jeongguk is privileged to see makes him feel like everything in the world is happening all at once.

“Yeah,” he says, throwing his bike down in Namjoon’s garage. “Can we?”

“Sure, but you’re gonna have to give me directions.”

“Duh.”

They get into the car, but before Namjoon can start the engine, Jeongguk stops him.

“Wait!”

Namjoon just gives him a confused look before Jeongguk quickly leans over the console to kiss him. It’s over just as soon as it started.

“Okay, you can drive now. Make a left when you turn out.”

Namjoon just smiles, and starts the car. The sun begins to set as their neighborhood grows small in the rearview mirror.

\

Jeongguk leads him to the carnival. And when they pull into the makeshift parking lot that’s really just some spray-painted rectangles in a big field full of dead grass, he feels almost shy. The lights from the nearby ferris wheel sting his eyes, and for a second, he squeezes them shut, only to quickly open them again, in fear of missing something important.

“Are you taking me to the carnival?” Namjoon asks, putting the car in park.

“Yes.”

“Are you gonna win me shit?”

“I’m gonna try.”

“Are you gonna kiss me on the ferris wheel when we get to the tippy top?”

“Fuck off.”

Namjoon just laughs, and reaches for him, and Jeongguk immediately complies, melting his lips into the older boy’s without even having to think twice. They kiss lazily for a minute, lightly nipping at each other’s lips and giggling.

“Can I take a picture of you?” Jeongguk asks, pulling away.

Namjoon snorts. “With your Motorola Razr?”

“I got my camera today. And quit my job.”

“Woah,” he says, smiling. “Congrats. Am I gonna be your model?”

Jeongguk nods.

“Your muse?”

Jeongguk just pushes him away, bending forward to fish the camera case out of his backpack.

“Okay, so,” he says, taking the lens cap off. “I don’t really know how to take pictures in the dark but I’m gonna try. Just turn on this, um, the light on the ceiling, yeah. That’s good.”

He aims the camera at Namjoon where he sits opposite him, one knee up on the seat and his arm curled around it. His face takes up almost the entire viewfinder, but that’s exactly how Jeongguk wants the picture of his first human subject to look.

“How do you want me?” Namjoon asks, seriously.

“Shut up,” Jeongguk says. “Just look normal.”

“Looking at the camera or away?”

“Hmm. Away.”

“Sorry I’m not very pretty. You should take pictures of Taehyung instead.”

Jeongguk frowns and flicks Namjoon in the chest. “You’re pretty and also my muse. Can I just take this picture so we can get out of this car and I can go win you shit?”

Namjoon just laughs and nods and Jeongguk takes the picture. It’s kind of blurry and the saturation is weird but Jeongguk is too embarrassed to admit to that he hasn’t exactly mastered the art of photography, so he just laughs and tells himself he has plenty of time to learn.

\

At the carnival, Jeongguk does win a bunch of shit. Namjoon stands off to the side, dutifully holding Jeongguk’s backpack, while Jeongguk yells at top volume to no one in particular at the ring toss because it helps him concentrate.

“You want a goldfish this time?” he asks after his fourth consecutive win.

Namjoon just looks at him, holding a stuffed panda under one arm and an inflatable guitar under the other. The temporary frog tattoo on his cheek shines under the neon lights.

“I’d kill it,” he finally says.

“Shit, you’re right. How about those sick glowstick bracelets?”

So they leave the ring toss, each wearing a glowstick bracelet on their wrists -- red for Namjoon and blue for Jeongguk. And when they hold hands, the bracelets bump against each other and the light between them, for a second, is almost purple.

They walk around for a little longer, Namjoon somehow puncturing the inflatable guitar and getting sad before ultimately conceding that it was probably for the best. Jeongguk gets a temporary tattoo of a spiderweb on his neck and says he wants to get it tattooed for real as soon as he moves out.

He takes picture after picture of Namjoon under the trembling neon lights, holding cotton candy, feeding Jeongguk a piece, laughing, then ultimately dropping the cotton candy, and looking crestfallen. Not all of the photos are great, some fuzzy, with nothing discernible in them but the vague shape of the ferris wheel in the background, but Jeongguk treasures them all the same.

As it nears 11 PM they figure it’s time to finally ride the ferris wheel and get out of here. So they wait in line, lazily sharing a brand new cotton candy.

“I think cotton candy is, like, a fourth state of matter,” Jeongguk says. “Like, it’s not gas, it’s not water, it’s not solid. It’s something different. Is this a breakthrough?”

“My, like, gut feeling is kind of inclined to say it’s solid but now that I think about it…” Namjoon begins, rubbing a piece of cotton candy between his fingers and watching it disintegrate, “I think you’re making points.”

“Right? Like, it’s probably closest to solid realistically, but what other solids do you know that can behave like this?”

“It just appears from the abyssal whirlwind, somehow, on a stick.”

“Next,” the carnival guy working the ferris wheel suddenly yells.

“Oh,” Namjoon says, dropping the cotton candy in surprise. “That’s us.” He apologizes for dropping the cotton candy, again, and throws it wistfully in the trashcan before Jeongguk gives the guy their tickets.

Namjoon has to keep his stuffed panda with the attendant, but Jeongguk gets away with bringing his backpack on board. It’s not like they’re going to be doing any flips or anything.

They get strapped in, and they hold hands, and then suddenly they’re going up. For a local carnival in the middle of nowhere USA, this particular ferris wheel feels very tall. And as they climb up and up and up, Jeongguk begins to see the little lights of their town, sporadic and dim. Nothing’s really open this late, and the town itself consists of nothing but various scattered strip malls and suburban neighborhoods, so the lights are weak.

It’s ugly and Jeongguk really can’t think of anything other than that really hates that he grew up here. But for some inexplicable reason, he tugs his hand away from Namjoon’s, to take a picture. In the viewfinder, the scene is even less impressive, but he thinks that maybe he doesn’t completely regret taking the picture.

He sets his camera down, letting it rest on the strap around his neck.

“We’re at the top,” Jeongguk says.

“This town is really shitty,” Namjoon says, looking at the same scene Jeongguk is looking at, his tone bordering on awestruck.

“Do you regret coming back?” Jeongguk asks.

“No.”

“Liar.”

Namjoon just shakes his head, and laughs, loud. And the noise is swallowed by the cavernous sky above them, so he laughs even louder, and for longer.

When he’s done laughing, it’s silent again, and there’s no echo.

He just says, again, “I don’t regret coming back.”

“I don’t think I ever want to come back.”

“That’s a good choice.”

“So why did you want to?”

“I didn’t!” Namjoon says, his voice raising in volume as he exhales. “I dreaded the idea of coming back, and having to sleep in my shitty childhood bedroom and walk around in this shitty town full of people who know me and have some shitty unpaid job I didn’t want just because I wasn’t smart enough for the shitty unpaid job I did want.”

Jeongguk is about to say “then what’s your point?” but Namjoon starts to speak again.

“I didn’t, like, want to come back, but. I don’t regret that I did.” He pauses, looking straight ahead of him. “I think you’re really special. And also I think I, like, might love you.”

“Oh,” Jeongguk says. “Shit.”

Namjoon just tilts his head back and laughs again.

After a minute or two, Jeongguk holds his hand.

“I might,” he chokes out. “Do that too. You know. Love you.”

This time, he’s the one laughing loudly into the night above them. “Is this ferris wheel fucking stuck? We’ve been up here for so long.”

“This is so weird. I’ve never said that to anyone before,” Namjoon says.

“Me neither. Except Taehyung but we’re soulmates.”

“What do we do?”

Jeongguk shrugs. “Does this change anything?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Can we kiss then?”

Namjoon nods, and they kiss, and suddenly the ferris wheel lurches and they know they’ve started their descent back down to earth. Jeongguk smiles into the kiss, such a big smile that it’s impossible for their teeth not to knock together.

\

They don’t want to go home after that and so Namjoon drives them to the lake again. There’s a certain area where people can pitch tents and camp and parking is free overnight so Namjoon parks the station wagon there, and while they don’t have a tent, he’s pretty sure there’s a blanket in the backseat somewhere.

The backseat is where the two of them find themselves as soon as Namjoon puts the car in park, scrambling over long limbs to taste each other’s lips, everything somehow different now that they both know that between the two of them they now share something more profound than simply the street their parents live on.

Namjoon’s shirt is pulled off first as Jeongguk straddles him, fingertips slowly ghosting down either side of his torso until they find the waistband of his cutoffs. He plants kisses up and down his chest in between labored breaths.

The night has gotten colder and they both can feel it through the walls of the station wagon, see it in the goosebumps that prickle up on both of their bodies. Jeongguk kisses them away, or tries to at least, while Namjoon winds his hands in his hair.

Jeongguk finally can’t take it anymore, and his hands move to unbutton Namjoon’s pants.

“Can we have, like, full sex?” he asks.

Namjoon can’t help but snort. “Full sex?”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes. “Like, your dick, inside of me, but not my mouth.”

“I don’t have lube in here. So unless you have it in that shitty backpack, then, no.”

Jeongguk groans from where he sits on Namjoon’s lap. “What kind of man doesn’t have lube in the glove compartment of his station wagon?”

Namjoon just shrugs, putting his hands on either side of Jeongguk’s torso. “Didn’t think this would happen in the car.”

“Okay, well, I’m gonna get soft if we keep talking. But we will fuck later for sure, yeah?”

Namjoon just nods, and pulls him down for a kiss, and keeps nodding into the kiss. “Can I take your shirt off?”

Jeongguk has it off within five seconds.

“Would you be okay with it if I called you something?” Namjoon asks.

“What?”

“Can I call you baby?”

“Oh my god, what is wrong with you? That’s like, a normal thing to call me.”

“You don’t think I’m infantilizing you? Or abusing our age gap?”

“Dude, what age gap? I turn eighteen in like, two weeks, and --”

Namjoon just kisses him again. “Okay. I get it. Baby.”

Jeongguk, who had, one minute ago, been afraid his dick was about to get soft, literally cannot control the way his hips grind against Namjoon’s or stifle the moan that escapes his throat at the sound of the petname.

Namjoon giggles and guides his hips against his own, until they’re both panting and whining into each other’s skin.

Jeongguk gets Namjoon off first, taking him into his mouth and working him with his tongue and his lips and his soft hands until he’s shaking with his fingers wound tight in Jeongguk’s hair, whispering “so good, baby” in his ear. He finally cums in Jeongguk’s mouth and he swallows it all.

Then it’s Jeongguk’s turn, and he’s suddenly being flipped so he’s on his back, with Namjoon hovering over him, kissing his lips, and then his neck, and jerking him off at the same time. And he’s already close, he’s been close since Namjoon first called him baby, so he tells him.

“I’m seriously close,” he says, eyes closed.

The pressure on his dick is suddenly gone and his eyes spring open, but before he can whine or say a word, Namjoon is licking into his mouth and running his thumbs over his nipples and Jeongguk doesn’t think he’ll be able to see straight ever again.

Namjoon’s mouth moves down his neck to his chest, and it soon replaces his fingers on his left nipple, and Jeongguk actually cries out. Namjoon pulls off.

“Too much?”

“No, no, good, please go back.”

So he does, taking his time with his tongue on both of his nipples until he’s begging for him to touch him again. So he does, and finally takes Jeongguk’s dick into his mouth, and Jeongguk is gone.

He barely even remembers cumming, but soon enough Namjoon is wiping him off with some Wendy’s napkins he found in the glove compartment.

“Was I good?” Jeongguk asks with his eyes closed, still trying to stabilize his breathing.

“Whether or not you were good depends on what system of ethics I choose to apply.”

Jeongguk pops his eyes open just to glare at him.

Namjoon laughs. “You were good.”

“I can’t believe we just did that in your car. You know this seriously has been my dream, like, all summer.”

“You could’ve just asked. We’ve been in this car like every other day.”

“In my fantasies it was spontaneous.”

“So how did this measure up?”

“Better.”

They eventually push the back of the backseat back, because you can apparently do that in this car, and curl up under the blankets that Namjoon knew he had in here somewhere. Namjoon lies on his back with Jeongguk against his chest, carding his hand through his fucked up hair.

“Summer’s ending, huh,” Namjoon says.

“Yeah.”

“I’m gonna miss it, I think.”

“Me too.”

\

September 1st, 2006. The last day of summer.

It’s Jeongguk’s eighteenth birthday and Jeongguk’s parents’ car is all packed up. They’re leaving later that evening -- Jeongguk’s dad likes to drive at night so that there’s less traffic. Taehyung and his parents left yesterday, and Namjoon is going next week, because Columbia’s first day of class is later.  

Something about the town feels different, like even the birds know he’s leaving. They’re chirping more quietly than usual, and the breeze is softer. The cicadas still hiss the way Jeongguk knows them to do, although he also knows that their days are numbered. Soon the weather will be too cold for them, and they’ll die.

He and Namjoon get started early in the morning. The feeling of finality lingers between them and it drives Jeongguk crazy. He really doesn’t know what will happen after today.  

They drive to the lake, and they actually swim this time. Jeongguk thinks about the first time they hung out here. Namjoon had made him listen to a Bright Eyes song on his iPod and they shared headphones and Jeongguk had freaked out about their arms almost touching.

Now they’re here in the shitty lake, half naked, laughing and kissing and intertwining their wet hands and Jeongguk wishes they could just stay.

They share some grapes and a bag of chips for lunch on a picnic blanket. Namjoon rolls a joint and they smoke it, and it feels good but rushed. The inevitability of tomorrow lingers over them like a thick blanket. Tomorrow Jeongguk will not be here, and summer will be over, and he really doesn’t know what will happen then.

They get antsy and restless earlier than they expected, so they get back in the car and drive down the mountain listening to one of Namjoon’s weird mixtapes. They go to Namjoon’s house, which is surprising to Jeongguk, since it’s not one of their usual hangout spots, and he can probably count the number of times he’s been inside on one hand.

His parents aren’t home, though, and Namjoon just takes him upstairs to his bedroom, which is another one of Jeongguk’s fantasies brought to life, and then he carries him -- with some difficulty -- to his twin bed, and he fucks him slow, stroking his hair and whispering “happy birthday, baby” in his ear when he cums.

Afterwards they lie intertwined on Namjoon’s bed, sweaty but somehow still shivering.

“That was the best birthday present,” Jeongguk mumbles into Namjoon’s neck.

“You think that’s all I got you?”

Jeongguk gets all shy suddenly, not expecting to hear that at all. At the rate this day is going, he’s not going to make it to the end without crying.

He opens his mouth to protest, but Namjoon’s already pulling on his boxers and walking up to his bookshelf. “It’s kind of shitty so like, don’t get your hopes up. Remember my internship was unpaid.” He pulls something off the bookshelf wrapped in newspaper, and it’s shaped suspiciously like a book, and Jeongguk’s heart swells. He knows that anything Namjoon gives him he will probably frame, or like, put in a shatter-proof glass box.

He opens it and it’s a little journal, with a plain black cover.

“I just like, feel bad a lot and writing about shit makes me feel less crazy sometimes,” Namjoon says. “And I thought that maybe it could do that for you too. Not that you’re crazy. But like, um. Just maybe writing your thoughts down or something. It really helps.”

Jeongguk tries to pull him back down onto the bed to give him a hug but he tugs away. “Wait, there’s like, one more part.” And he goes into one of his desk drawers, emerging with a tiny little stuffed thing.

“Okay, this is kind of like, a not serious gift, but I saw this at Target and it looked like you.”  

Jeongguk looks at it more closely and realizes its a little stuffed rabbit. He laughs. Namjoon throws it at his face, and finally lets Jeongguk pull him down into his arms.

“Thank you,” he murmurs, wrapping his arms tightly around Namjoon’s shoulders. “You didn’t need to get me shit but you did. I really feel good.”

They lie like that, wrapped around each other in nothing but their underwear, until Jeongguk’s phone vibrates on the floor. He glances at the clock and it’s 7:30. He looks out the window and the sun is setting.

He answers the phone. “Mom?”

“Jeonggukkie, you have to be back here by eight. We’re leaving after dark.”

“Okay.”

They lie in bed again, wrapping even tighter around each other, until the last possible moment.

“You should probably go now.”

“Yeah.”

Jeongguk stands up and puts his clothes on.

“Thanks for driving me around this summer. And like, putting up with me.” He feels so awkward. He doesn’t know what to say. He feels so much and he wants to say it all, he wants all of his feelings towards Namjoon and towards this summer to spill out of his mouth and fill up the tiny room and drown them both, but he doesn’t know how, and so he doesn’t.

Namjoon just inhales, pulling Jeongguk into a hug as they stand by the door of his bedroom, as if they haven’t been hugging horizontally for the past, like, two hours. He rests his chin on Jeongguk’s head and it feels nice, and that’s all he thinks about.

Everything is changing. I’m scared. I love you. I’m in love with you.

He wants to scream. He doesn’t.

“You know everything is about to change,” Namjoon mumbles into his hair. “But nothing is ending.”

“I know.”

“I’m proud of you. I love you.”

“Please don’t say that. I can’t handle it.”  

“Okay.” Silence. “Text me when you’ve moved in.”

Namjoon presses one final kiss to Jeongguk’s hair, and Jeongguk leaves.

He walks outside, across the street to his own house, and golden hour is over.

\

September 16th, 2006.

College is so weird, and different. Jeongguk has been there for two weeks and he wonders if living on the thirteenth floor of a giant building will ever feel natural to him. He and Taehyung share a room, though, and the other kid in their suite is cool.

He’s also Korean, so part of him wonders if whoever assigns roommates at NYU thought they were doing them all a favor by putting them together, but he doesn’t mind. Taehyung and Namjoon were the only two Korean people he had met outside his family before coming to school, and it was on his wishlist to meet more of them. So he can already check that off.

His name is Jimin and he’s also a freshman. He’s very tiny and the first thing he said to Jeongguk was “have you seen my lube? I can’t find it anywhere” and so he thinks they are going to get along very well.

There was supposed to be another person in their suite to who was rooming with Jimin, but after the first day, he mysteriously moved out without a trace. Jeongguk thinks it was because Taehyung played his “ABBA’s greatest hits” CD too loudly on the first night, but it really could have been anything.

He wonders how Namjoon is doing. Of course they text, and they’re both so busy with starting a new school year that it doesn’t hurt too much being apart. But Jeongguk feels it. When he has a minute of downtime between his sociology and literature classes, or when he’s standing in line at Starbucks with his headphones in. It’s strange to go from spending every day to someone to feeling so disconnected from them.

It’s his second saturday in New York when he gets a text that makes him smile and bury his face in his pillow.

Namjoon

10:21 AM

can we hang out today?

“What’s wrong with you?” Jimin asks from where he’s sitting on the floor, painting Taehyung’s nails.

“His boyfriend probably texted him,” Taehyung says, rolling his eyes.

“You have a boyfriend?” Jimin asks, pouting. “I was gonna make a move on you.”

Jeongguk throws his pillow at them both, and Jimin screams, because he almost knocked the bottle of nail polish over.

“I’m kidding!”

“He’s not my boyfriend, anyway.”

Taehyung rolls his eyes. “They’re basically dating. They’ve, like, told each other they love each other,” he says, nodding wisely. “And they had a whirlwind summer romance. But he goes to Columbia and they could hang out at literally any time, so like, it really doesn’t have to be a summer romance. Jeonggukkie is just dramatic.”

Jeongguk

10:25 AM

:)))) yes

Jeongguk

10:25 AM

where?

Namjoon texts him the address of some smoothie shop on West 43rd Street. Jeongguk looks at his subway map before he leaves and sees that he can take the A, or the 1.

He remembers what Namjoon said in their first encounter of the summer.

“Aren’t NYU and Columbia, like, on opposite sides of the city?”

Namjoon shrugs. “Only a thirty minute train ride if you take the 1.”

He decides to take the 1, even though it’ll probably be a longer ride. He hopes that he can take it all the way uptown and actually visit Namjoon at school soon.

The subway hasn’t lost its thrill yet for Jeongguk. Something about being packed in a tiny rectangular car underground with a bunch of people who’ll never know his name, or anything about him, makes him giddy. He puts his headphones in and tries very hard to act natural.

He wonders if he’ll ever feel like he belongs in this city. He thinks he will, soon. Once he memorizes the subway map.

Luckily, he remembers his stop, and easily folds himself into the group of people rushing to get past the turnstiles and off to wherever they have to be. It sends happy chills down Jeongguk’s spine to think that he’ll never know where they’re going.

He finds the smoothie shop easily enough after a couple minutes of wandering, and sort of just lingers on the sidewalk in front while he texts Namjoon he’s here. He doesn’t know if he should go in or not.

Two songs play in his earbuds before somebody tugs on one of them, pulling it out. Jeongguk jumps, and turns his head, and suddenly there is Namjoon, wearing jean cutoffs and a red shirt, grinning.

He doesn’t know what to do. Do they kiss? Is that not something they’re allowed to do anymore? He figures a hug is a safe bet, but will Namjoon be hurt if he just gives him a hug? What’s the protocol?  

He’s fretting for too long apparently, and Namjoon decides for him. He pulls him to his chest and wraps him in a hug.

“College boy,” he murmurs, and although Jeongguk can’t see his face from where it’s buried in his neck, he knows he’s smiling.

Jeongguk would have been happy with a hug, would have been happy with a firm handshake, honestly, and so he’s surprised when Namjoon releases him only to lean back in and kiss him on the lips.

He pulls away. “Is that okay?”

Jeongguk just nods and kisses him again. They’re kissing in public on the streets of Manhattan. He laughs into the kiss. “Oh my God.”

“What?” Namjoon asks, pulling back. He snakes his hand down to hold one of Jeongguk’s.

“Missed you. It’s weird seeing you here and not in our, like, cul de sac.”

“Bad weird?”

“No. Definitely good weird.”

They go inside holding hands. Jeongguk feels like this day is really special, and he knows, at least, that this place is really special, because as soon as he looks at the chalkboard menu above the counter, he sees that there’s a smoothie called “the golden hour” and he knows he has to get it. He almost laughs out loud.

They order and their drinks are so expensive and Jeongguk is grateful for his job at the smoothie shop back home. Funny, he thinks, how things come full circle.

They sit down, and suddenly Jeongguk has to reckon with the fact that Namjoon is no longer just a concept that exists in his abstract memoriam of the summer of 2006. He exists here in New York City just as much as, if not more than, he existed there. And maybe he’ll never be back ever again. And maybe everything did change, and will never be the same, but Jeongguk realizes something now that he had never considered before.

There is more than the town that he grew up in. Maybe he’ll never go back, but maybe he’ll make a new home somewhere else, and it’ll be better than it ever was in that town. A part of him and a part of Namjoon exist there, and probably always will, but he’s only eighteen and a part of him already exists here in this city too, whether he likes it or not. And he will probably continue to scatter parts of himself all over the earth for the rest of his life.

He feels at peace, and he can’t believe it only took him one look at Namjoon’s stupid, grinning face in an overpriced Manhattan smoothie shop to figure it out. He takes Namjoon’s hand, and holds it on top of the table. Everyone can see, and he wants them to.

Namjoon asks him how college is going, and Jeongguk smiles, and tells him.