one week prior to homecoming, justin had received a message from lingchao, the contents of it being a homecoming invitation that was probably forwarded from some high school group chat. it was held on a wednesday and justin signed up after checking his schedule, realising that there was no class set on that day.
lingchaos: you're actually signing up this time round?
jjjustin: i mean, why not.. i don't have class next wednesday
lingchaos: so you mean that you had classes on teachers' day for the past 3 years?
jjjustin: what, no, i just didn't feel like going or maybe i had a schedule on that day
jjjustin: at least i'm attending homecoming once after graduating, plus university is tiring, ok?
lingchaos: i know how goddamn exhausting university is, justin, you don't have to tell me. we're literally in the same university, just taking up different majors!
jjjustin: i'll meet you outside your dorm next wednesday?
lingchaos: sure, dress properly idiot
jjjustin: why would i show up to homecoming in pyjamas?
lingchaos: why would you not
after that conversation with lingchao, justin only kept his phone away and got ready for bed, pulling up the sheets and turning to lie on his side. he was met with the framed photograph of a few high school friends, with lingchao pulling an ugly face and zhenghao on linong's back. a laugh escapes from him as he observes lingchao's expression one more time, then his eyes drift to a familiar yet painful face, and the laugh disappears within a second, as if the air consumed it entirely.
up till this day, those words are still part of his memory, tucked away somewhere in the corner of his mind, the words already burned and had turned into scars left on his heart.
it is not as if justin erased chengcheng's number from his phone that day, or even went further and blocked it. he still sent messages to the other weeks after chengcheng's departure from the country, but the long conversations slowly turned into one-liners, those hour-long calls were shortened into 3 minute chitchats and now, plainly voicemails. then the daily one-liners turned into weekly ones, then progressed to a "hi" being replied to only a few months after with "i'm so sorry, i didn't see your message" which was similarly replied to months later.
they then stopped communicating.
justin has to admit that he misses chengcheng and wants to just call him once, ask him how he is doing or maybe just text him. those tasks are always on his list but he forgets them by the end of the day, being buried under tons of university work and projects, being forced to attend fraternity parties by his friends (mainly lingchao), having to replenish the fridge before he starves to death. it had probably been a year or two ago since they last texted, and probably three years since they had a good call.
he stares at the photograph, eyes still focused on chengcheng's face. sometimes he wonders how is chengcheng doing in america, if his studies are going well, how different are the people in america, if he is actually eating and having a sufficient calorie intake, and where is he exactly? what are his plans? is he going to continue his education in america or come back to china? most importantly, did chengcheng think about him? did the other boy forget about falling in love again and saying that he loves justin forever? now, justin just wants to scream from his dormitory, wants to ask chengcheng how he is doing, does he still love him..
and is he attending homecoming?
but justin does not do it anyway, he just pulls the sheets up even more and shelters himself from the reality, letting himself fall asleep.
thirty-first august, 2022.
lingchao only delivers an apologetic smile as justin parks the car, a small frown etched on that charming face of his. it was no doubt that lingchao made justin wait for him to dress up again, and had the latter judge his outfit choices (justin was no help at all). they were almost late to homecoming, but the clear roads saved them. if it was not for the carless roads, lingchao would probably have suffered a beating.
"don't frown anymore, justin. i already apologised! i'll treat you to dinner later, alright?"
at the mention of free dinner, justin's expressions soften and he nods, unbuckling his seatbelt and getting out of the car. he ignores the scream that lingchao lets out at the sight of their high school after such a long time. justin stays in his spot for a few seconds to observe from afar. the school logo is still sitting with pride, the banners of recent events hanging around, the cherry blossom trees still around after so many years.
"let's go, let's go! i want to see miss zhou and mr zhang again! they'll be excited to see you after years of me coming alone, justin!" lingchao says, voice full of excitement as he tugs on justin's jacket, already walking towards the school compound.
justin follows the shorter boy into school, and lets lingchao show the security guards their entry they got from signing up online, and he only smiles slightly when he notices the foyer. it is still the same marble tiles that cover the concrete floor, the general office's glass doors still shining like previously, but this time the area was decorated with banners and balloons for the alumni. there is a table that specially provides gifts for the alumni, and of course lingchao drags them over to claim it, throwing gift packs into justin's hands.
"justin! lingchao!" a familiar voice calls out their names from behind and justin turns behind to see zhenghao jumping up & down, waving both his hands in the air. he pulls lingchao away from the gifts table and advances towards zhenghao and then lets go of lingchao to hug zhenghao.
"haohao, how have you been?" justin asks, ruffling the shorter boy's hair.
"i've been good, you? did you grow taller or something? you're so tall now! wait, i sound like a relative, don't i?"
a laugh escapes from justin the first time ever since he picked lingchao up from his dormitory and he shrugs, joking about having a habit of drinking milk like linong and lingchao butts in, stating that justin never drinks milk, mainly alcohol these days and they almost end up in a small fight, which stops because linong hops over all cheerful and happy, greeting them.
they sit down at one of the tables and talk for a while, mainly about university stuff and lingchao has to mention how justin consumes more alcohol than water, so in return, justin mentions how lingchao has been going on many dates that lingchao himself cannot even keep count of how many guys he went out with anymore. zhenghao and linong laugh at their words, the laughter similar to last time and it honestly warms justin's heart.
"how about we go around the school? maybe we'll be able to find some of the girls in our class! i kind of miss sunnee." linong suggests and they all set out to cover every part of the school again, pointing out the details that have not changed as they walked. they of course meet sunnee and the other girls on the way, stopping in the middle of the corridor and talking, catching up with each other.
lingchao is the first to run away from their "team", after spotting those people from his club back in high school. they slowly go down to linong and justin after zhenghao is held back by a bunch of girls from some other class who all used to have a crush on him, and the two only let out small laughs, letting their old friend drown in the hands of the girls. and of course, linong leaves justin after xukun calls him over. there is an apologetic expression plastered on linong's face as he walks away but justin only waves him a goodbye, understanding that the two are in a long-distance relationship since the start of college and it was a good time for them to bond.
he walks around, receiving gifts from previous classmates and even some from teachers who are way too happy to see him, especially miss zhou, who showers him with tons of gifts, telling him how terribly she wanted to see that "handsome face" of his during homecoming for the past few years but was only given disappointment. justin gives her an apology and they converse for a while, their conversation filled with tips and advice from the older one, which the university student of course finds useful and thanks her before she gives him one last pat on the back and walks away.
in his arms sat a small mountain of gifts and justin tries to stuff them into a random bag a teacher had given him, but the gifts only drop down to the floor one by one. his cheeks flush slightly in embarrassment but fortunately, the areas which are concentrated are the foyer and teachers' offices, so he picks them up, stuffing them into the bag.
justin does not realise nor takes note of the figure approaching him until he looks up and is met with a face he had stared at not too long ago, merely a week ago. he looks into the person's dark orbs, seeing his own emotions in it.
"h-hi," justin manages to croak out after seconds of silence.
"hey," chengcheng replies cooly, as if he was not affected like justin was. his emotions were evident in his eyes. "how have you been?'
"good, y-you?" the shorter replies as he picks up the bag and stands up, watching the other boy stand up as well.
"i'm fine. can't believe i'm seeing you at homecoming. haven't seen you in this school for 3 years."
"o-oh, yeah. university is pretty busy. my professor is shit."
"mine too. wished i could be in an american university for at least half a year."
justin looks away and bites his bottom lip, and mumbles, "thought you would be studying in america."
"yeah, but i came back after graduating from college. somehow managed to get into an university here quickly, quick enough that i wouldn't miss the introduction classes." chengcheng replies, somehow managing to hear justin.
"was america fun? you should tell me about it. seems like a nice place, you know?" justin asks, looking into chengcheng's eyes.
"yeah, it was a good experience. how about we go somewhere else and talk?"
part of justin wants to reject, because he is afraid of chengcheng telling him about his new partner that he found in america and how they are in a long-distance relationship, surviving well when the two of them could have done it as well but the other part of him misses chengcheng so much. he wants to talk to chengcheng, hold his hand, be in his embrace, cry into the other's chest when all the bad feelings are building up in him and have chengcheng just comfort him.
so he takes a deep breath, and he says yes.
and he lets chengcheng lead him.
whatever that comes out of chengcheng's mouth, he will accept it.
instead of running through the corridor and speeding past the shops, they walk in silence through the familiar place, justin looking around at the surroundings. nothing had really changed, except some of the stores had been replaced with other businesses.
they seat themselves on the same bench again, and justin looks down, not speaking at all. their hands are placed awkwardly beside each other's on the benches. none of them say or do anything until chengcheng decides to play a song from his phone and justin looks at him, then down at the song.
jay chou's spare me the time of a song (给我一首歌的时间).
"look at the sunset, isn't it beautiful?" chengcheng asks as he interlaces his fingers with justin's, just like last time.
"y-yeah, glad we got to actually see it this time." justin replies, red slowly appearing on his cheeks. chengcheng's hand feels so warm on his, and it has been so long since he had felt that warmth he could recognise anywhere.
"america was painful without you," chengcheng speaks up first, and justin tears his eyes away from the sunset, looking at chengcheng. so the former continues, "everyday i thought about you, i was always asking myself if you were hurting or if anything bad happened to you. many times i wanted to just leave america and go back to you, but i know i can't because of my parents. they even had people watch me when i wasn't in school, and even tried to get my lecturers to persuade me to continue university in america. there were many times i wanted to text you, but then i deleted every single message because maybe you started hating me, maybe you lost interest. but then everytime i remember you crying right here, and all the words i said, i realised i had to come back to you. so i argued with my parents and told them i'll come back here for university, because i already went over to a goddamn foreign country and suffered enough, and that i had already completed their wish of me studying abroad. i came back here because i missed you, i wanted to see you again. we were not able to submit our university applications together, but now i want us to graduate from university together, even if we aren't in the same one. i want you to come running to me with that scroll in your hands after your graduation party is done and for us to just go back to last time. i want us to fall in love again, justin. i want us to be together again. but, would you want to?"
just like last time, tears are already flowing down and the lyrics if you want to forget, then i will lose my memory play in the background. justin knows what those lyrics mean. if he does not want to accept chengcheng, chengcheng will gladly take it as nothing had happened and will just disappear. but no, justin does not want chengcheng to be away again.
"i missed you so much. every night i ask myself if you forgot about everything, if you had someone new, if you ever thought of me and if you still wanted to fall back in love again. university kept me away from messaging you and asking you how you have been. but now that i got all of my answers, i'll give you my answer too.
i want us to be together again too."
so they kiss, lips clashing against each other and tears flow down. they both can feel how much they missed each other, and chengcheng smiles as they pull away, hand going up to wipe justin's tears.
"i missed you a lot, justin. i love you. forever and always."
"i love you too, cheng." justin replies. "i'm glad i attended homecoming this year."
"does it feel good to be back home after 3 years?"
"yes. it'll always feel good. after all, home is where you are."