Mark’s fingers drum aimlessly at the side of his civics textbook, unable to currently steady his focus on the lecture that was only moments away from being wrapped up. Whether his drifting attention span was due to his newly adapted addiction to drinking a large vanilla lattes before class, the jitters caused by the mere thoughts of being late to his welcoming committee meeting, or a delightfully painful mix of both, Mark is not completely sure.
Mark’s eyes flutter to the clock hung above the classroom door, inhaling deeply at the time displayed in fluorescent red lights. He had stared at the clock enough times to figure out that nobody had ever adjusted it properly, and the time shown is always an hour and three minutes ahead. Ever since the school year started, civics is Mark’s last class of the day, and it always ends promptly at 3:55—not a minute more, not a minute less. However, the day where Mark has somewhere to be directly after class, his professor seems to want to prolong the lesson, at least by a little bit. Figures.
The more Mark gazes upon the flashing time on the clock, the more he ponders just how he’d make it across campus to the student center for the welcoming committee meeting in under a minute. Sure, he’d been an athlete for most of his life, but even for Mark that sounds like a pretty impressive feat. He is so engrossed in planning his route that he had lost all regard for the lesson and seemingly his surroundings, that he has not noticed his classmate tapping his shoulder to warn him that the professor is calling his name briskly. Once Mark snaps back to consciousness, he swallows hard.
“You have been staring at the clock for the past few minutes. Are the blinking lights on the clock more interesting than my presentation? Do you have something to share with the class regarding the clock?”
Mark’s mind goes vacant with thoughts as he feels the multitude of stares from his fellow classmates. “Well, the time on the clock is wrong?” He adds meekly, his eyes averting from the front of the room to his now empty latte cup. The gazes lessen up, but the snickers are heard around the spacious lecture hall.
“Mr. Lee, if you are trying to be a smart alec, then you could stay after class,” The professor turns to the rest of the class, shutting his own textbook. “As for everyone else, we will be having a quiz next week. We’re nearing the end of the first semester, so be prepared to answer questions from sections 3, 4, 5, and 6 of our reading. Have a nice weekend.”
All the other students are about as anxious to leave as Mark is, so everyone files out quickly as the dismissing words left the teacher's mouth. He is soon enough the only student left in the class, recollecting the items off his desk before trudging to the head of the class where his teacher sits, expectedly awaiting Mark’s presence. “Do you have something to say, Mr. Lee?”
“I’m sorry sir, I didn’t mean to get distracted. It’s just that I have a really important meeting after class, and I was hoping maybe you’d let us out early, because I kind of to run across campus to make it and I really really really don’t want to be late,” Mark rambles. “And I didn’t mean to talk back either, but the time on the clock really is wrong, it’s an hour and three minutes behind—”
His professor’s eyes bore into his own as he cuts Mark off, a look of slight disinterest sitting upon his face. “Mr. Lee?”
His teacher cocks his head towards the door. “If you weren’t such a phenomenal student, we’d have a real problem. Just go, and don’t do it again.”
As soon as Mark is given word, he shouts a quick ‘thank you’ before hastily running out of the classroom. He figures he’d make it to the student center on time if he runs across the now emptying quad, so he exits out the door that would lead him there and books it. He hadn’t felt his feet move this fast since the track meet he participated in during his senior year of high school. Even now he thinks that maybe if he’d been recording his time, he’d break his own personal records from back then. Maybe he’d consider joining the school’s track team at some point or another. Maybe.
Once Mark arrives at the building, he fumbles with sliding his ID card for entrance. With luck definitely not on Mark’s side today, it takes a few failed attempts before the light blinks back a bright green and allows him to enter. More running is needed as he made his way down the dimly lit corridor, making a few turns until he reaches room 305—where the door is already shut, signifying that the meeting had started. Mark curses under his breath, knowing the second-hand embarrassment he always feels for the people who find themselves being late to the meeting. However, this time it is his own turn to feel the chagrin of being tardy to a meeting full of upperclassmen. Taking a deep breath, Mark raps his knuckles on the door dolefully and peeks through the window at an attempt to make eye-contact with any of the members by the door.
Graciously, it is one of Mark’s favorite upperclassmen who eventually comes to his aid. Lee Taeyong offers Mark a smile as he opened the door without any haste, welcoming him to the meeting. Everyone waves at Mark, showing him wide smiles as he sat down in his designated seat beside one of the older members, Johnny Seo. As he settles, Mark can not even believe that he is nervous of showing up late to the welcoming committee; as if their whole job isn’t centered around being courteous and welcoming.
“You’re late.” Johnny whispers, leaning into Mark. “That’s a new one.”
Before replying, Mark distractedly watches as club president Jung Jaehyun made his way to his spot at the center of the room, seemingly sorting some papers. He turns back to Johnny, shrugging slightly. “Civics class ran a little bit late today, I got called out by Mr. Kim.”
Johnny seems to find delight in the statement, clapping Mark on the back with a light grin on his face. “That’s my boy!” After the words left his mouth, Johnny paused, turning quickly to Mark just before Jaehyun spoke. “Actually. I revoke that comment, you shouldn’t be getting called out in class. Be a good boy, Mark. I have raised you better than this.”
Mark doesn’t have the chance to reply, as Jaehyun officially welcomed everyone to their first meeting of the month. Typically, it usually is the most important one. It is the gathering where events big and small are brainstormed and projects were drawn up. Which is exactly why Mark was so preoccupied with being late, he genuinely doe not want to miss even a second of what might transpire when the committee’s creative minds come together.
“Hi everyone! I’m glad to see a good portion of you ended up making it here today. I want to apologize to the upperclassmen who had to come back to school for this meeting, but I also want to thank them for showing up.” Everyone looks at Mark then, as he is the only underclassmen who thought it’d be cool to join the welcoming committee. “My apologies are for the fact that this meeting won’t be very long, as there isn’t much on the agenda this month.” Jaehyun takes out his pen, scribbling something on his notepad before continuing. “As you all know, the first semester is coming to a close and winter break is approaching, which means all of the new students who transferred here are wrapping up their first few months here. The only thing I really had in mind was that I wanted to throw together a mixer for both new and old students. But, specifically for new students to make sure they’re adjusting well. Of course, I wanted everyone's opinions first before I brought it to the chancellor. Thoughts?”
“That’s a great idea, Jae,” chimes Kim Doyoung, seated in the row in front of Mark. “Probably the only good idea you’ve had the whole year—”
“—I think that’s an amazing idea!” interrupts Kim Jungwoo with a smile. He excitedly begins to prattle about how it’d be so fun to greet all the younger students, shaking Doyoung's shoulder.
“I guess it’s not that bad of an idea.” Doyoung grumbles, a very sudden change of heart. He digresses so that the attention turns back to Jaehyun
“I’ll be pretty busy with basketball this season, with championships and all coming up soon. Not saying I won’t be totally involved, but I’ll need to give the reins to someone else. Temporarily, of course.” Jaehyun’s eyes slowly sweep across the room, analyzing the seats filled with qualified candidates. Jae’s eyes meet Mark’s, and the upperclassman gives him the faintest of smiles before returning his gaze to the center of the room. “Does nobody want to volunteer?” Silence, because who ever actually offers themselves when asked? “Fine. Then I’ll go around and everyone has to nominate one other member. We’ll start from the front row.”
Doyoung unsurprisingly nominates the extremely welcoming Jungwoo. Jungwoo bashfully thanks him, but nominates the quiet and leader like Kun. Nobody nominates anyone in common nor Mark himself until the question arrives to the second row.
Johnny ruffles Mark’s hair. “Everyone is fully capable of this, but I’d really like to see Mark take the reins this time. He’s organized, knows a good amount of upper and underclassmen, and he’s the most approachable here.”
A chorus of ‘oh yeah’s’ float around the room and with everyone staring at him, Mark feels a sudden rush of dejavú. Except this time around, he doesn’t feel embarrassed. All he felt is happiness that his skills are getting appreciated.
“I think Mark should do it too!” shouts Lucas from the opposite side of the room, pumping his fist in the air enthusiastically. The two make eye contact, and the slightly older boy beams at him. “Go Mark!”
“I think Mark would be a great fit too. Actually, he would’ve been my pick if I would have had to choose.” confesses Jaehyun. ”Does anyone object to Mark taking control of this project?” With a resounding agreement among all the members, Jaehyun declares officially that Mark Lee would be taking on his first project! As the meeting comes to a close and everyone approaches Mark to congratulate him, his heart swells with pride.
He wants to make his members proud, and he knows that he’d do all in his will to make the welcoming event the best one yet. It is just a welcoming event, how hard could the planning be?
Mark isn’r sure if he’d be able to make it to finish the event preparation alive.
Mark’s closest friends Donghyuck, Jaemin, and Renjun are scattered around his dorm as the time nears 2 am. Donghyuck is sprawled across Mark’s bed with a magazine in hand, Renjun is sitting by the window with a sketchbook, and Jaemin is typing an essay on his laptop. All three are incredibly calm, doing their respective activities while simultaneously chatting noncommittally.
But Mark? Mark is everything but calm, hunched over with his fingers tangled in his own hair as he scans all the items on his desk. He has a notebook with ideas scribbled in different colors that overspread the paper, his calendar messy with potential event dates marked off in bold red ink, and vibrant color swatches from the art room strewn over the desk messily. Mark huffs out in stress. “Guys, what color goes well with lime green?”
Donghyuck sends Mark an irritated glare as he shuts his magazine. “Mark, why the hell do you think any of us would know—”
“—Fuchsia or purple-red. Those are lime green’s complementary colors.” Renjun barely diverts his attention from his sketchbook to answer the question. A beat skips, and he glances up once more. “I’d go with fuchsia, if I were you.”
Jaemin gazes adoringly across the room. “As expected from our art major!”
“You win this time, Renjun,” Donghyuck narrows his eyes at the boy. “Just wait until I become a smart art bitch too, compete with me then!”
“Hyuck, I’ve never seen you draw a circle correctly, let alone anything else art related—”
Donghyuck's lips part defensively, and he motions to himself openly. “—Come over here Renjun! Tell me I’m untalented to my face—”
Mark groans outwardly. He has never been an impatient person, but all of this intense planning was making him feel entirely anxious. There is surprisingly a lot of effort needed, considering the school they attended happened to be fairly large. Mark has absolutely overestimated his abilities this once, but he doesn’t want to succumb to asking for help. All of the members entrusted their faith in his abilities, and he wants to be capable this time. He wants to do it all himself.
Mark feels his head thump hollowly, and he pushes himself from his desk.
“Are you okay, Mark?” Jaemin asks worriedly, his eyes finding Mark’s as he watched him stand up and cross the room to the door.
“I’m going to go get some air. Planning, you know. It’s starting to get to me a little,” Mark chuckles nervously, opening the door to step out. “Can’t let it get to my head. I just need to be alone to think for a little, I’ll be back!”
Avoiding the latter part of Mark's sentence as a whole, Donghyuck calls out to the boy heading towards the door. “Hey, could you get me some M&Ms from the vending machine if you pass by it, Mark? I’d give you a lifetime supply of kisses, bro—”
“If the payment method was kisses, Mark would probably want to get you the M&Ms free of charge.” comments Renjun with a comical grin.
Mark shut the door as Hyuck lunges at Renjun playfully.
He is pleasantly surprised at how still the hallway was, little to no noise minus some ambling chatter from a few of the dorms. He instantly is calmer once he reached the door that led outside, the cool fall breeze nipping at his apples of his cheeks as he stepped out. With his notebook in one hand and the other in the pocket of his hoodie, he walks towards the quad. He figures it’d be empty enough for him to gather his thoughts. With satisfaction after some alone time, he’d go back inside to take a rest and resume tomorrow. It sounds like a great plan!
As Mark walks to a nearby bench, his body tenses as he heard a faint noise from behind him. The crack of a leaf breaking causes Mark’s head to whip to the side, holding his notebook in front of his chest defensively. He is unable to see anyone in the pitch dark night, until a figure stepped into the light brightly beaming down from the lamppost. Mark’s throat hitches at the sight.
He is going to die, and he didn’t even get a chance to leave his event plans with Jaehyun!
What stepped out is not a predator, but rather one of the handsome boys Mark has ever seen. The boy’s striking looks are noticeable even with the lack of light, which only confirms his status as a very attractive person. Only good looking boys can look appealing while wearing a thin black t-shirt and sweatpants in the dark. His soft black hair flops down by his eyes, and a genuinely friendly smile graces his lips. Mark has never understood the concept of being in love at first sight, but he is convinced he is now experiencing it first hand.
“Hi! I’m sorry, did I scare you? I accidentally stepped on a leaf while on my walk, I didn’t mean to make any noise, really.” The boy apologizes without any real need to, offering the softest of smiles to Mark.
Mark isn’t even sure how to respond back, simply gaping at the boy is was gazing at him shyly. “N-No, it’s okay! You don’t have to apologize! I just came out here to clear my mind and you just.. startled me a little.”
“Usually I’m the only one ever out here, I guess I didn’t consider anyone else would be out here for me to scare,” The other boy pauses before sticking his hand out. “I didn’t even introduce myself, I’ve never seen you before! I’m Lee Jeno.”
Mark rarely ever has anyone offer him their hand to introduce themselves, especially not an extremely cute boy with possibly the brightest smile he’s ever seen. Pinching the side of his wrist makes Mark snap back to reality, finally realizing that the other boy still has his arm extended, head cocked to the side with an adorably confused expression. There shouldn’t be so much hesitation when all Jeno did is introduce himself. To avoid coming off as odd, his lips slowly curl into a smile as he finally shakes Jeno’s hand. “I’m Mark Lee. But you could call me..” His eyes dart around. “..Mark.”
Jeno seems to find Mark’s random bouts of shyness amusing, and a small chuckle slips pass his lips. “Mark it is, then! I don’t really have a nickname, my name’s not long enough for that.”
“—I like your Mark,” Mark’s brain short-circuits then, and now he’s flushed. Jeno looks confused once again, and Mark scrambles to fix the conversation that he was slowly sidetracking into disaster. “Your name. I like your name, I mean. Not mine.” He’s kicking himself. “It’s different, I’ve never met a Jeno before!”
“Then I guess I can be your first Jeno, huh?”
Mark nods at that, saying nothing more. There’s an unsteady silence now, and Mark knows he has to fix this conversation before Jeno leaves. So aside from the fact that he came out to be alone, he asks Jeno if he’d like to sit with him for a while.
Mark wasn’t expecting Jeno to reply so enthusiastically. Or say yes at all, really. Who sits with random strangers who walk around at 2 AM? (Though that could go for either boy.) “I’d love to! I wasn’t really doing much, there’s only so many times I could walk around the quad before I want to go back to my dorm and sleep.”
They walk side by side to the nearby bench, and Mark can’t help but steal a glance at Jeno. How is his hair so perfectly bouncy, black strands swaying around with each step before falling right back into place. Calm down, Mark thinks to himself as he sits on the bench beside Jeno.
“So, what are you doing out here so late? It’s almost 2 AM?”
“Well uh.. I’m on the welcome committee, and we’re having this big mixer coming up, and I was voted to organize it. I was planning in my room and my friends were just getting loud, I needed to gather my thoughts.” Mark shows Jeno his notes and is suddenly embarrassed by the sloppy handwriting and the assorted question marks. “It’s a little messy —”
“It’s fine, I can read it! I volunteer at a shelter, and sometimes people have the craziest handwriting when they come in to adopt,“ Jeno’s eyes scan over the notes. “Color scheme? You’re not sure which color you should pick?”
“The school color is green, so I wanted to get favors and stuff that color? My friend, who’s an art major, said fuchsia or purple-red are complementary colors,” Mark rubs the back of his neck. “But I’m not really good with stuff like this..”
“I think it’d be cool if you alternated between lime green and fuchsia favors? For variety! Maybe one table gets lime green, and the other fuchsia. Where are you planning on having this mixer?”
“If the weather’s nice, I think the tennis court would be nice.” Mark already envisioned the way he wanted the mixer to function. He imagined the faint breeze and beaming sun keeping company as everyone enjoyed the food, music, and games in the open space of the tennis court. “If the weather isn’t nice then I was thinking maybe the auditorium? I haven’t put much thought into whether or not it might rain.”
“It probably won’t, it’s not really rain season! But it might be a little cold,” And Jeno is just being so positive that Mark can’t help but smile. “Let’s hope for nice weather! If it’s for freshmen and transfers, then I’m eligible to attend this mixer. I’m cheering you on, Mark Lee!”
“You’re a freshman, huh? G-Great,” Mark figured a good segway to more conversation would be to ask Jeno about school, so that’s precisely what he did. “What are you majoring in?”
Mark didn’t expect the nonchalant answer he received. “I’m not sure,” admits Jeno, with absolutely no amount of worry in his eyes. “I figured I’ll come up with something eventually. I just want to enjoy my freshmen year stress free.”
Mark stares at Jeno incredulously. Sure, it wasn’t uncommon to not know what to major in during freshman year. What was shocking to Mark was just the tranquility surrounding the way Jeno told him about how unsure he was. He’d never seen someone so calm about the uncertainty of their future, therefore something about it was.. intriguing to Mark, to say the least.
“What are you studying, Mark?” asks Jeno, sounding genuinely interested. “Tell me all about it!“
“W-Well, I’m an English major.” Something about the question lit Mark’s excitement, and he forgot that he was talking to one of the cutest boys he’s ever seen. He began to ramble about everything under the sun that was even a smidgen related to his humble English major. “— You know, I don’t think we get the appreciation we even deserve. It’s not just like, correcting the usage of your and you’re! It’s a whole bunch of things, it’s just so much work!”
Jeno seems to find Mark’s ramblings comical, but Mark’s suddenly blushing profusely and tangling his fingers in his own hair. “I ramble, it’s a habit. I’m really sorry if I’m scaring you off.”
To any other passerby however, the scene would seem like quite the opposite of what Mark humbly apologized for. Jeno was smiling gently now, and with his tender attitude there seemed to be an indisputably placid aura around him. He seems to glow as he focused on Mark’s smile, even in the pitch dark of the night.
Mark, of course, didn’t notice the fondness in Jeno’s eyes.
“Scaring me off? You’re not, actually! None of my friends are English majors, so hearing you talk about it is so refreshing. You guys deserve much much more credit.” He pauses, looking down at the hem of his sweats distractedly. “Maybe you can help me with an essay one day!”
Mark wasn’t sure if Jeno was serious or not, but he jumps at the chance without a moment’s hesitation. “If you really wanted to, I could! I’m really good with writing essays, one of the best in my class —”
Jeno leans over the bench eagerly to place his outstretched palm on Mark’s shoulders, instantly stilling the boy. “Mark, I was joking. I just met you not even thirty minutes ago, let me know you for at least a month before I ask with essay help. Besides,” Jeno leans back. “You have a lot to do for the mixer, right? I should be offering help, if anything!”
“No no! Don’t worry, I-I have it all covered, I think!” He did not have it all covered, and he certainly didn’t think he did. But of course he wasn’t going to tell the very handsome boy that! It's flirting 101, Mark wasn't that much of a novice. “How about I give you my —”
As Mark was in the process of offering his number to his new friend, his phone buzzed irritatingly in his pocket. He figures he could ignore it, but was proven wrong when it continuously went off. He spares Jeno a look of apology before glancing at the screen.
[1:55 AM] from Hyuck: hey where are my m&ms??
[1:55 AM] from Hyuck: “i’m gonna take a short walk” MY ASS! it’s been like 30 minutes, are you walking to a whole another country? america, perhaps?
[1:56 AM] from Hyuck: you owe me TWO (2) bags of m&ms now
“Everything alright?“ asks Jeno, his voice tinted with what Mark would assume was concern.
Mark nods. “It’s just that I took a walk to clear my mind off of planning, but I also was supposed to get my friend something from the campus vending machine. But then I sat down and we started talking..” His sentence trails off, and Jeno abruptly stands up in a way that catches Mark off guard.
“I didn’t mean to distract you! It’s late and all, I’m really sorry.”
Mark’s eyes go wide, and his lips part in surprise. He really was not trying to blame Jeno for his tardy return to his dorm. Even though Mark could partly consider his roaming Jeno’s fault, because without the other boy’s captivating smile and delicately beautiful looks he’d probably be back at his desk working by now. He couldn’t let the other boy know that, though. “It’s not your fault, I swear! I liked talking to you, you’re really nice.”
“In that case, Mark Lee, would you let me walk you to the vending machine?” Jeno asks so grandly, like it was some important proposal. Mark likes that. “It’s on the way back to my dorm anyway.”
He found it hard to deny Jeno in this situation, especially with the way Jeno’s head was tilted slightly as he spoke. Figuring that simply spending a few more minutes with his new friend wouldn’t be detrimental to him at all, Mark agrees and the two walk side by side towards the vending machine. Mark inputs the money accordingly, buying Hyuck one bag of M&Ms, and some chips for himself. He turns to Jeno after he retrieves the snacks from the slot at the bottom of the machine. “Did you want anything?”
“Actually, yeah!” At Jeno’s response, Mark prepares himself to take out another dollar to purchase the boy whatever snack his heart desired. What Mark was not ready for, however, was what Jeno would say next. “Your number, Mark Lee.” He said it with such a casual air emulating from the sentence, that it made Mark’s heart thump loudly in his ears for the slightest moment. He had to regain his composure quickly though, not wanting to look as bewildered as he felt.
“Yeah man, of course! Of course you can have my number, yeah! Yeah, of course, whatever you want.” And Mark is embarrassed, but he full on giggled as he pulls his phone out from his pocket to take down the number that Jeno was reciting to him. Mark reciprocates, and Jeno hummed quietly as he saved Mark into his contacts. “W-Well, now you can text me! About anything, even English help. I really could help with your papers or anything! You have to take English as a required course for first years right —”
“— Mark, I will text you but I can assure you that it will not be about English help,” Jeno pauses, cracking an almost joking kind of smile. “Unless I’m really struggling, maybe I’ll commission my local English major for some help. But, I doubt that’s what I’ll end up texting you about. I probably won’t be texting you this late anyway, because both you and I need sleep.” Jeno took a step back with his body turning away slightly. “Now, Mark Lee, I’m going to bed. You should too, alright? Don’t work too late on your project. Remember that you have a while to get this all done, don’t stress on all of it tonight.”
“Bye, Jeno!” Mark waves, a genuinely friendly smile upon his face as he watched the boy’s figure become smaller and smaller as he walked past the vending machine and into the nearest dorm building.
Figuring that there wasn’t much to do laundering around this late at night with no students around, Mark headed back to his own dorm room with snacks in hand. He remembers leaving his dorm room open when he left, but upon return he finds the door locked. With a slight roll of his eyes, he raps his knuckles on the door as he waits for entry.
“Who is it?” comes the voice of Donghyuck from behind the door.
“Donghyuck, it’s me! Who else would it be this late?”
“A murderer, a thief, an encyclopedia salesman, perhaps a Jehovah Witness with a caffeine problem!” After a momentary pause, the door is opened and Mark is allowed to enter his own room. His belated homecoming was everything but peaceful as Mark is pelted with questions as soon as he retakes his desk seat.
“Where have you been? We were worried because you were taking so long..” asks Jaemin, taking off his headphones and placing his now shut laptop aside upon Mark’s arrival.
Donghyuck looks scandalized at Jaemin’s statement. “Who was worried? Who said that! Renjun, were you worried?”
Renjun looks up from his sketchbook at the mention of his name. He offers a soft smile at Mark, who he hadn’t noticed had returned. “Oh what, I didn’t even know Mark came back! Actually, I totally forgot this was his dorm,” He waves. “Hello, Mark.”
Jaemin narrows his eyes. “Fine, you two can be terrible friends but I was worried. Mark was everything okay?”
Mark takes a moment’s hesitance in replying, unsure of how to explain his encounter to his friends. “Alright so I was walking in the quad, when I heard this noise and I was all scared, right? But when I turned around, I saw this guy and he ended up being really cute. So, we sat and we talked for a little bit then he walked me to the vending machine.”
“You were talking to someone? I take back my texts about you taking too long. This is all I’ve ever wanted, look at my best friend go!” Donghyuck cheers fondly from the opposite corner of the room, all snarky comments disregarded for the moment. “Tell me you got those digits, Mark Lee!”
Mark proudly waved his phone around, proclaiming in a sing-song type of voice that he did, in fact, get those digits! Mark, Renjun, Donghyuck, and Jaemin rejoiced and the dorm room was a mess of boisterous laughter.
“Describe him to us, Mark! You seem really excited about this.” said Renjun, finding this conversation just interesting enough to put his own sketchbook down.
“Well.. He was tall? A little taller than me, I think. He had these really really defined features, but at the same time, was kind of soft looking? His composure at first reminded me a lot of Taeyong. Like, initially stoic and sculpturesque but then really soft and smiley once conversation starts. He had black hair, and the cutest eye smile ever,” Mark sounds like he was admiring the boy more so than offering a simple description. At the thought of him, Mark eyes are full of stars. “He was just.. Dreamy.” That’s the word, Mark proclaimed in his mind, dreamy.
“You know who that sounds like? Lee Jeno from my third period English class.” points out Hyuck noncommittally, popping a candy into his mouth as he propped his legs up on Mark’s bed.
“Jeno! That was his name, Hyuck!” Mark nodded his head vigorously at the mention of Jeno’s name. “Lee Jeno, he said he was a freshman! He should be in some of your classes then, do you guys know him?”
All three freshmen in the room share knowingly glances before breaking into hearty laughter. Donghyuck is the first to say something. “Jeno is cute, obviously, but.. we’re talking about the boy who wears race car pajama pants to class and laughs at all the professor’s bad jokes.”
Mark shrugs in indifference. “I can tolerate bad jokes and race car pajama pants if it’s for a boy like him! He’s like.. the cutest boy I’ve ever seen, guys,” Mark is pouting now, and he feels the sudden urge to flop onto his bed. He does what he feels, pushing Donghyuck’s lengthy legs off to make room for his own body crashing down on the plush comforter. “I’ve never had a crush since starting here, I was doing so well.”
“Let’s call this.. the Lee Jeno syndrome. You’re not the only person suffering from it, at least,” Donghyuck chucks a pillow at Mark’s crouching figure. “Half the campus is.”
“How do I cure it, then? He’s so cute and I just met him. I’ve never felt like this over someone I just met, I feel a little pathetic at how much I really liked him even though we barely talked.” Mark groans into his pillow.
“Well, you said you exchanged numbers? Wait for him to text, and then you see where it goes from there.” advises Renjun with a slight shrug, leaning over to steal one of Donghyuck’s M&Ms. “Don’t seem too eager by texting a hundred times, Mark. When you get excited about someone, you tend to sometimes get a little impatient.”
“You’re a cute and talented boy, Mark! I’m sure he likes you as much as you liked him!” says Jaemin positively as he takes a different aim than Renjun, shooting Mark a thumbs up.
Hyuck ruffles Mark’s hair. “As long as you didn’t ramble about being an English major, I’m sure he’ll text back.”
Mark sighed both inwardly and outwardly, eyes widening. He’d just have to hope Jeno would want to talk to him again as much as Mark wanted them to.
It was almost a week since Jeno and Mark’s first and only meeting, and on Jeno’s behalf it had been total radio silence. Mark hadn’t gotten the text back that he had been hoping for.
However, truthfully Jeno hadn’t been a priority in Mark’s mind. He had fallen asleep quickly after confessing his initial reaction regarding Jeno to his friends, and woke up the next morning without half a thought of the past night’s events. And without a dispatch from Jeno, Mark wondered if perhaps he had somehow dreamt the encounter. Jeno was entirely too dreamy to be real, Mark had concluded to himself as he walked out of his civics class.
Attempting to text the number that he himself had put down in his contacts had seemed to be a thought too intellectual for even Mark Lee to grasp. Something in Mark’s brain figured that assuming Jeno was a figment of his imagination simply made more sense.
So Mark was in a considerable amount of shock when, on his way to the library, he saw a certain Lee Jeno sitting underneath the shade of a tree. If possible, Jeno looked even more alluring in the daylight than at night. Despite the fact that he was sitting under the tree to avoid the unceasing heat of sun, the light nevertheless filtered through the leaves to shine upon Jeno’s face. The light gave Jeno a glow that had been different from what the moon had given him a week before, and Mark couldn’t believe how angelic the other boy appeared.
Mark felt silly watching Jeno from afar. Something in him itched to go over to the boy and strike up a conversation, but Jeno seemed so peaceful as his eyes leafed through the pages of the book he was reading and ate what appeared to be a bowl of fruit. He decided that he wouldn’t bother Jeno this time, and as his feet were about to move and take him towards the library, he heard his own name get called.
However, Mark wasn’t looking at who called his name as his gaze unknowingly was still set on Jeno. But when Mark’s name was said just loud enough, it captured Jeno’s attention. Jeno lifted his face just enough for the sun to hit his brown eyes in the most celestial way. He proceeded to smile the most dazzling smile, and Mark could practically feel his heart palpitating loudly in his chest. Calm down, thought Mark, it’s just Jeno.
He didn’t get to make his way over as soon as he hoped, as Renjun and Donghyuck eventually caught up to him. Donghyuck slung his arm over Mark’s shoulder, and Renjun waved despite being directly next to him.
“Mark, I was calling you! Did you not hear me?” asked Donghyuck.
“Sorry, I was just really.. Distracted?” Was distracted the word? Mark thinks so.
Renjun grins, an offhand comment slipping past his lips as he nudges Mark’s foot. “Yeah, we can see that.”
“We were on our way to the library, did you wanna come with? Nana is gonna meet us there, so you’re obviously welcome to stop by.” Donghyuck pauses. “Or did you wanna keep on looking at your Disney prince from afar? You know, if you want to talk to him, it’d be better if you just went up to him. You’re gonna look kind of creepy if you keep watching from all the way over here.”
“I was actually on my way to the library before I saw Jeno, actually. What if I go talk to him for a little bit, then meet you guys in a little bit? I’ll bring snacks and we’ll study or something?” Mark offered, and both Donghyuck and Renjun nodded at the plan before bidding goodbye to Mark and going on their way.
With his friends out of the picture, Mark walked towards where Jeno was sitting. The boy seemed completely refocused on his book, or at least he was until he heard footsteps and the brittle crumbling of leaves. Jeno placed his book on his lap. “Hi, Mark!”
“J-Jeno! Hi, can I sit?”
Jeno seemed to be delighted at Mark wanting to sit with him, so he moves a few of his books and items to the side for Mark to do so. The boy comfortably settles next to Jeno, placing his own bag down as he turned to face the other boy.
“You know, I didn’t hear from you since last week! I wasn’t sure if maybe you thought I was some creepy midnight quad boy,” Jeno seemed to say this sentence with an air of humor, but there seemed to be a tiny bit of truth behind the statement. Even if there was, Jeno seemed to not hint too much at it; the smile on his face contradicted any idea of discomfort. “I wasn’t sure if I should text or not.”
“See, I wasn’t sure if I should text or not! I wasn’t sure if you thought I was some weird hyper boy who takes walks at 2 am and rambles about being an English major. I could’ve sworn that you probably thought I was the strangest boy ever!”
“So we really avoided each other mutually in fear of the other thinking we were weird? This stuff only happens to me, I swear.” Jeno’s voice drops a bit lower at the last part of the sentence, with a tiny feeling of regret in his words. “You know, I was hoping you’d text, actually. I kept wondering about you, and my friends thought I was full of it, telling them about this cute boy I saw at midnight.”
Jeno thought he was cute? Mark wasn’t sure what to say to that, and Jeno apparently picked up on Mark’s sudden short circuit and moved on quickly. “Anyway, I’m glad you’re here! I hope you don’t mind sitting with me, I was just catching up on some reading. I wanted to avoid studying for a few tests tomorrow.”
“A few? How many?”
“Um..” Jeno begins to tick his exams off his fingers, recounting them to Mark. “Well, I have one in Algebra, one in Bio, and then I have one in English! I’m also taking Japanese on the side, I have an oral exam tomorrow in class.”
Jeno seemed so calm despite all the exams he would be taking in the next 48 hours, and Mark was shamelessly gaping. He couldn’t believe one could look so carefree with all the pending grades. Mark looked silly in comparison to Jeno, only having one quiz in civics and already feeling stressed about a hundred different things regarding something he hadn’t even taken yet. What if Mark knew the answer to the question but then accidentally bubbled in the wrong choice and got everything wrong? What if the professor thought he was cheating for accidentally lending an eraser to his classmate, and then a hefty red 0 would loom over his grades?
But here Jeno was, not studying by choice and eating a fruit salad. A fruit salad in which the fruit was enviably fresh, sweet, and meticulously cut into tiny cubes that were placed in a bright red container. Somehow the fruit looked like something Mark would see with thousands of likes on Instagram, but he isn’t surprised; Jeno looks like the type to have anything he does on Instagram because he’s so immaculate.
“So you have all these tests, and you’re not studying?”
Jeno stabbed his fork into a strawberry before taking a bite. “I already studied like last week. I know everything for tomorrow like the back of my hand, Mark Lee,” He’s smiling and Mark was just so in awe. “If you continue to study what you already know due to stress, forgetting becomes inevitable. However if you study and believe that you know the material, then there’s no pressure.”
Advice like that would never apply to Mark, as he stressed over every test he took even if he was confident in his knowledge. But of course it would apply to Jeno, who seemed like he had everything in life down to a tee, from his grades to his perfectly cubed fruit. Mark should feel envious, but all he felt was a deep sense of admiration for this boy. Jeno was just so unbelievably amazing to Mark already, he couldn’t believe he didn’t befriend him sooner.
“You’re amazing, Jeno,” Mark said quietly. “Really.”
“I’m amazing? You’re pretty amazing yourself, Mark Lee! The best English major and planner extraordinaire.” Jeno nudged Mark’s shoulder slightly. “How is planning going?”
Mark recaps the past week of planning to Jeno, explaining everything he had accomplished. When it came to planning, Mark had truthfully not done too much, but he had finished enough to be satisfied. He had gone shopping for both the tables and tablecloths, ordered the favors, and finally narrowed down the dates. Despite it not being a great load of work to Mark, Jeno seemed to be wholly impressed by it. The boy is suddenly clapping for the boy, with this bright and happy smile that seemed to be reserved for only Mark in this one moment. “You’re doing great, Mark! This is going to be the best mixer because you’re the head of it,” And comments like that genuinely meant so much to Mark. He could feel his heart swell in delight at the words, but also his cheeks flare up simply because of who was praising him. “Just know I’m cheering you on, alright?”
“Thank you, Jeno. That really means a lot to me.” And Mark means that. “Thank you.”
Jeno’s phone vibrates then, and Mark’s eyes instinctively flutter to where the other boy’s phone rested on his knee. It was a timer, and Jeno reached over to silence it before glancing up at Mark. “I have to go now, actually! I have volunteering in a little bit, I should probably go get ready if I wanna make it on time.”
“Yes! On the weekends I go to an animal shelter and help with adoptions, and during the week I’m a teaching assistant at a dance studio nearby! It’s what I do in my spare time, I really enjoy it.” Jeno beings collecting his things, snapping the lid onto the container of fruit before placing it along with his books in his bag. When everything was gathered, both Jeno and Mark stand. Jeno begins to walk away, but doesn’t leave without saying goodbye. “Mark, how about I text you when I get back from volunteering?”
“Y-Yeah! That sounds great,” Mark agrees. “I’ll text back! Have fun at volunteering, Jeno!”
As promised, Mark heads over to the library after he and Jeno part ways. He stops at the campus convenience store before going to meet his best friends, who eagerly anticipated his arrival. Jaemin had shown up before Mark, and he was sitting with Donghyuck and Renjun. When they see him walk in, they wave him over.
“Hi guys.” Mark slides into the seat next to Jaemin, placing the bag of snacks on the table beside everyone’s books.
“How was your date with dream boy?” asks Donghyuck, wasting no time in rummaging through Mark’s snack bag to retrieve the lollipops that he knew Mark had bought for him.
Mark rolls his eyes, dispensing the rest of the snacks to his other friends. Renjun got the individually packaged white chocolate cakes, while Jaemin got the mini chocolate chip cookies. Mark himself rips into a bag of chips, trying to ignore Donghyuck and how he kept clearing his throat to get his attention. Mark gives in, eventually. “We’re just friends, so it wasn’t a date.”
“Right! It was a staring contest.” giggles Renjun.
“I get you all snacks and what do I get in return? Disrespect? This is why Jaemin is my favorite.”
Jaemin leans to his right, enveloping Mark in a big embrace. His fingers move upward to squeeze Mark’s cheek before leaving a big kiss there. “You’re my favorite too!”
Donghyuck gapes at the sight. “See, if I did that, he’d push me out of the chair and call me bro for hours. The blatant favoritism is hurtful, Mark,” He’s grinning. “Nana, Mark is a taken man in theory. We can’t go around giving him kisses and hugs anymore. However I, for one, am always available —”
“— I am not a taken man! I just met him, so I don’t even think I like him like that.” Donghyuck was staring at Mark skeptically then. “Even if I did, for all I know maybe I’m not his type. Or maybe he’s dating someone already and he’s just an overly nice person and I’m reading this all wrong.”
“Okay, firstly, you have to put yourself out there, Mark. Even if Jeno ends up not liking you like that, you guys could still be friends. You just have to get to know him better, figure him out a bit more.” Jaemin always took a careful approach.
“Like you said, remember that you just met him, too. Even if he does like you, he’s probably not going to be all over you in a heartbeat,” reminded Renjun. “He had some friends in one of my art electives and he stopped in one day. He seems like a really kind guy. A little reserved, but nice nevertheless. If he likes you, I feel like it’ll take time.”
“I can attest to him being really nice! He’s in my English class, and we had a big group project, and he was in my group. We all decided to watch The Notebook,” cast his friends odd glances in Hyuck’s direction. He furrows his brows and waves his hand dismissively. “Don’t ask. Anyway, he was crying by the end, we had to get him tissues and everything. He kept rambling about how it isn’t fair that they were soulmates and didn’t end up together really in the end.”
“Jeno cries over The Notebook? That’s dreamy. It means he has emotions, that’s the type of boy I need in my life!”
Despite Mark believing Hyuck, he was having a hard time connecting their two versions of Jeno in his head. From Hyuck’s view, Jeno was a cute but shy boy who cried over sentimental movies and wore silly pajamas to class — “He looks good in them, don’t get me wrong. He’s like a model, he wears the ugliest outfit and looks like a million dollars. It’s a gift”. In Mark’s mind though, Jeno was this adorably ideal boy who seemed to have his life together.
Mark was determined to find out if Jeno was actually a combination of both these perceptions.
After studying and discussing dozens of topics for hours, Mark and his friends had decided to grab something to eat before going back to their respective dorms. At around 9:30, the four friends made their way to the nearest 24/7 convenience store. They kept quiet as they all purchased cup ramen and ate on the walk back to the dorms. After, everyone went back to their rooms, vowing to meet up at some time the next day after getting some sleep.
“Actually sleep, Mark! I don’t want to text you at 4 am and you’re up.” Donghyuck had scolded him as he and Renjun walked to their shared dorms. Mark had promised him that he’d get some rest as soon as he got in.
That was a lie, as Mark had been in his room for a little more than an hour and he hadn’t attempted to rest at all. He was sitting as his desk with a glass of water, scribbling something in his journal. He was trying to figure out what type of food would be best to serve at the welcoming event. Finger food or bunches of snacks? He was writing down ideas as his phone vibrated on his desk. He placed his own down to see who it was.
[11:47 PM] from Jeno: are you asleep? closing up spent longer than expected
[11:48 PM] from Jeno: sorry for texting so late..
Mark’s heart jumped. Jeno texted just as he said he would, and perhaps Mark was already on Cloud 9.
[11:49 PM] from Mark: i’m not asleep, i was just up working. don’t worry about apologizing though!!
[11:49 PM] from Mark: how was volunteering?
[11:50 PM] from Jeno: you’re working this late?
[11:50 PM] from Jeno: you should get some rest!!
[11:50 PM] from Mark planning for the event :(
[11:50 PM] from Mark: you should sleep too though!! It’s late
[11:51 PM] from Jeno: mark lee!!!!!!!! this event can wait until tomorrow, it won’t self destruct if you suddenly decide to take some rest for yourself :(
[11:51 PM] from Jeno: is there anything i could help with specifically, like opinions or anything?
[11:52 PM] from Mark: ACTUALLY yes! i’m kind of in a dilemma, should i get finger foods or like.. full out trays of food?
[11:51 PM] from Jeno: how about a bit of both? maybe two trays of finger foods and then like the other half actual food? best of both worlds?
Mark hadn’t considered getting a mix of both, even though he probably should have. It was a perfect idea, having more than one type of food would mean he would be able to accommodate everyone’s tastes. He vigorously began to scribble on the notebook, momentarily leaving his unlocked phone to the side. He forgot that he was still having a conversation with Jeno until his phone vibrated annoyingly against his desk.
[11:53 PM] from Jeno: you okay? my idea too amazing that you were blown away?
[11:54 PM] to Jeno: I’M SORRY, your idea was so good i actually started writing down some notes
[11:54 PM] to Jeno: a little bit of both like myou said would work really well.
A pause, wondering if Mark would really dare triple text. And if so, would using a smiley face emoji be appropriate? Were Mark and Jeno past that point of friendship? Where using cringey emoticons and sending multiple texts messages were suitable for any conversation at all? Perhaps that would turn Jeno off?
[11:54 PM] from Mark: thank you :) you’re so so smart, how could I ever repay you?
[11:55 PM] from Jeno: hm……… if you’re serious about thanking me then MAYBE I have a few ideas.
[11:55 PM] from Mark: OKAY, shoot! What does the great Jeno Lee want from me, a humble English major?
[11:56 PM] from Jeno: how about you……….. Idk come on a run with me? a moooorning run?
Mark could not believe what he was reading. Was it the time that made his vision blurry and his mind fuzzy? Did Jeno really want Mark to come on a run with him? He wasn’t exactly sure how company during morning exercise would be repayment, but Mark, who was so desperately intrigued by Jeno, did not want to be in the position to deny the boy anything.
[11:57 PM] from Mark: a morning run? what exactly do I get from coming on this run with you?
[11:57 PM] from Jeno: SEVERAL THINGS, mark lee! you get so so so so many things.
[11:57 PM] from Jeno: first, you get exercise. second, it’s in the MORNING so if you have anything to do, like studying or something idk, you can get it done early. third, you get to see the sunrise and it’s really really pretty. and fourth, if you come with me I’ll make you a breakfast snack box ~~~~~~
[11:58 PM] from Mark: these are all very very enticing reasons to come with you.
[11:58 PM] from Jeno: i have ONE MORE!
[11:58] from Jeno: you get to spend QUALITY time with the one and only jeno you know. genuinely think that might be reason enough to come, don’t you think? :/
If only Jeno knew!
[11:59 PM] from Mark: idk, that snack box sounds preeeetty good!
[11:59 PM] from Mark: count me in for that run, jeno! just tell me what day!
[11:59 PM] from Jeno: definitely not tomorrow, you need some rest, and i don’t wanna ask you to wake up early on such short notice :(
[11:59 PM] from Jeno: how about sunday, does that work?
[12:00 AM] from Mark: sounds perfect, can’t wait :D
[12:00 AM] from Jeno: if it wasn’t so late, i would continue the conversation BUT you need rest!
[12:00 AM] from Jeno: i’ll see you sunday, then?
[12:00 AM] from Mark: yes!! definitely, 100%!
[12:00 AM] from Mark: goodnight jeno, sleep well!
[12:01 AM] from Jeno: you too, mark
[12:01 AM] from Jeno: :)
Mark would have liked to go to sleep then. Sure, he wished it would have been as simple as plugging his phone in to charge and falling into the land of deep slumber. However, the thought of spending time with Jeno invigorated him and he suddenly had no desire to sleep. Instead, he considers the entire conversation and its context. Jeno texted him late, was worried, and asked him out on a date, all in the same exchange.
Was it a date? Is that what the other boy had in mind when proposing the pitch to Mark? Or was Mark, as per usual, overthinking the situation?
He groans. Now, thinking like that made him tired once again. Figuring he needed a change of pace to abduct his mind from looking into it too much, Mark decides he was going to perform his usual nightly routine and head to bed. Without a moment’s hesitation though, he pushes both his notebook and phone out of arm’s length just before his head plops down onto his forearm. Maybe he'll wash his face in.. a little bit.
He needed sleep. Now. And he would absolutely not fade into dreams with thoughts of a handsome boy with the cutest eye smile.
Or at least he’d try not to.
“That’s a date. That’s a hundred and ten percent a date,” Donghyuck’s voice echoes against the diner wall. People glare from their respective booths at the boisterous chatter from the table of college age boys in the back. That is no surprise though, they were somewhat used to the scowls from strangers whenever the three gathered in public. In addition to the usual fierce foursome of Jaemin, Renjun, Mark, and Donghyuck, they had also invited some friends from welcoming committee, Johnny and Jaehyun. “You would not ask a casual bro out for a morning jog to watch the sunset if you didn’t at least did not harbor some feelings for them.”
“Don’t forget,” Renjun picks at a fry from his platter. “Jeno’s also making him breakfast.”
Donghyuck’s hands fly to the air exasperatedly. “And there’s breakfast included, yes! That’s definitely a mutual like then. Wow, can we believe that a handsome boy like that has a crush, finally? We’ve been waiting, the whole campus has been waiting. This is way overdue”
Mark blushed at the unexpected compliment from his friend. “I know, it’s been a while. Thank you Hyuck.”
“What makes you think I was talking about you?” Donghyuck scoffs at Mark from across the table, shaking his head comically. “I was talking about Jeno. He’s so handsome, if I hadn’t seen him sob over Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook, I probably would have developed the biggest crush on him.” Jaemin and Renjun both raise their hand to that in agreement.
“Anyways,” Mark turns his attention from the chatty freshmen to the juniors at the table. Johnny and Jaehyun would no doubt give him good advice. They were older, and that automatically meant they were wiser than the younger boys who were flicking fries at each other currently. “So, what do you guys think? Is this a date?”
Johnny, the resident romantic of the group, nods eagerly. “I do think it’s a date, Mark. Like, okay, the morning jog thing doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a date, but.. The fact that he said he wants to see the sunset with you and is willing to put in the effort to make you breakfast.. It just seems like a lot for someone who you just met? Like if you were friends before for a while this would be nothing, but the fact that you only recently met and he’s doing all this totally makes me think that there’s something a little more than platonic there.”
“I think so too,” Jaehyun dittos, previously being too focused into taking big bites of the fluffy strawberry pancakes. “So a date! So, so, so a date.”
With Jaehyun’s final opinion, there’d been a consensus, Mark surveys. All of the friends here were convinced that this was a date, and Mark was starting to believe it too. As if the universe was entirely, optimistically for this to work in Mark’s favor, his phone vibrated in his pocket. Wondering who would be contacting him so early in the morning, when most of his friends would be sound asleep, he checks the text under the table.
[9:55 AM] from Jeno: just wanted to make sure we’re still on for tomorrow? hope you slept well!
He texts back with so much enthusiasm that he could practically feel his heart thumping.
[9:56 AM] from Mark: OF COURSE!!! wouldn’t miss it for the world :~)
[9:57 AM] from Jeno: :~~~~~) okay, meet me where we met last time at around… 5:55? i’ll be waaaaaaiting!
[9:57 AM] from Mark: i will try to not leave you waiting too long, not in the cold!
[9:58 AM] from Jeno: wow, what a GENTLEMAN, mark lee. i’ll try to be a good date, in that case.
A good date!
“Are you texting lover boy?” prods Donghyuck, poking Mark’s banana pancakes with a dull fork. “Maaark?”
At the sound of his name, Mark glances up, dazed with a silly looking smile. “Yeah? Huh? Did you ask me something?”
“Oh yeah, he’s so texting Jeno,” comments Jaemin, pointing his index finger at Mark’s curled up lips. “That is the smile you get when you’re texting someone you like.”
“And how would you know, Nana?” Renjun asks.
Jaemin prefers to not answer, sipping on his coffee loudly. “I do not crush and tell, that’s just the Na Jaemin way.”
“I was texting Jeno, he was just confirming that we’d be going for the run tomorrow. Just being a responsible date by replying,” Mark chops up a slice of his pancake, stuffing it in his mouth as all his friends stare. “Nothing much, you know?”
Jaehyun hums. “Mhm, whatever you say,” He turns to face the rest of the freshmen. “Now, how about Johnny and I split this check and we all get out of here? I think we’ve caused just about enough noise to get permanently banned for life.”
There are happy cheers from the younger boys, graciously thanking Jaehyun and Johnny for paying the bill. After, the group exits side by side. Jaehyun and Mark walk a bit slower, hanging back from the rest of the boys on the request of the older boy. “Mark, I’m really happy that you’re going on dates and stuff, you know that? You’re always working, so I think this’ll be good for you.”
“Thanks, Jae. That means a lot, really.”
“I just want to ask — this won’t interfere too much with the planning of the event though, right? It’s in a few weeks, and I want to make sure that this won’t distract you too much. You obviously have the right to not have to worry about the event too much in your free time, but we have to make sure that a lot of the planning is done weeks before.”
It was laughable for Jaehyun to think that Mark would not be worked up over the event. In addition to delighting in communicating with Lee Jeno, Mark had been diligently preparing. Tiny notebook handy, Mark had thought of just about everything needed to pull off the mixer. He jotted down different ideas, and whenever he had not been writing an essay or studying for a test he’d be coming up with ways to improve on whatever he had thought of before. He liked to think that for a first time event coordinator, he was doing a great job.
“Don’t worry, Jae. I have most of it planned already,” Mark says, and Jaehyun seems relieved. “I’ll come by on a day you don’t have practice and we can run everything over together? How does that sound?”
“Perfect, Mark. I’m sure you’re doing just great. I knew I was right in picking you for this job.”
Mark was in a good mood for the rest of the day.
The night prior, he’d set several alarms so he’d be up early enough. Mark never woke up this early, and worst case scenario would be him oversleeping and missing the date he’d been anticipating for two whole days now. That sounded like the perfect tragedy that would absolutely happen to Mark, but he was sure his alarms at 5:35, 5:40, 5:45, and 5:50 would save him.
Surprisingly, he ended up not even needing the alarms. His body gently slipped out from slumber at just about 5:37 AM. He stared confusingly at the neon green numbers that dared to blink at him defiantly in the morning’s darkness. He sits up, leafing through the night’s missed notifications for a minute or so before shutting off the alarms he’d so strategically set up.
He’s up a few minutes earlier than necessary, and truthfully he wasn’t sure what to do with the extra thirty minutes he’d been bestowed with. He had already set up the clothes he’d wear before he went to bed last night, so there wasn’t really much to do except wait. But he was far too excited to sit still. Excitement flooded his veins as he paced around his dorm, finally deciding that washing his face would be the best way to keep busy. He grabs his phone, just in case Jeno contacts him, and fumbles into the bathroom.
The suds soothingly slide across Mark’s skin, and he luxuriously takes his time in rinsing. Jeno might have been right about how arising so early brought not only convenience to life, but a delicate form of peace to the morning’s tasks. The birds chirped outside his window, accompanied by the light chatter of students who also liked to exercise at this time.
The pale almond light of the bulbs just overhead cast a shadow on Mark’s freshly washed face. He looked, admittedly, a little sleepy with the droopy eyes and unruly hair.
He brushes his hair thoroughly, but the strands still seem to fly rebelliously. He groans, combing his fingers through his hair as he thinks of alternative options: he could wear a beanie but he never really liked the way they looked on him, it was far too early for a snapback, and a hoodie might just cover his face. Mark wanted Jeno to be able to see his adorably charming face and fall in love.
Mark scuttles over to the tiny shelf, picking out the half used bottle of gel. He masterfully works the product up and over into his now luscious looking black locks, until no stray hairs were in sight. Take that, messy hair!
Now all gelled and washed up, Mark quickly puts on his Adidas sweats and navy SNU hoodie. He takes one last look at himself in the mirror to notice any imperfections, suddenly feeling just the slightest bit anxious now but pushing the feeling back as best as he could. He grabs his keys, stuffs them in his pocket, and heads out the door.
Jeno had told him to meet him outside at 5:55, but Mark decides to get there just a few minutes before for good measure. It’s a little chilly, but he wouldn’t mind waiting for Jeno outside if he had to. That was no problem, really.
He wasn’t sure if he is surprised or not once he arrives at the quad where the two had met a few weeks ago, and a very familiar boy was already sitting down.
“Jeno! How long have you been here?” asks Mark as he approaches, a little disappointed he didn’t get before Jeno but happy to see the boy nonetheless.
“Not too long! Maybe five minutes or something?” Jeno stands, a soft smile spreading upon his lips once Mark is close enough to see it. “You’re early!“
“Well, I told you I wouldn’t keep you waiting too long. It’s a little cold, so I’m sorry you had to wait at all.”
“Don’t apologize! It’s okay, my hoodie is keeping me warm.” Jeno wraps his arms around his hoodie, squeezing himself tight. He did seem pretty warm, now that Mark took an actual look at him.
Jeno was wearing the most basic outfit, but there was something that just made it so appealing to Mark. The pristine white hoodie that cling to the boy’s chest contrasted prettily against his skin, and the loose puma sweats he wore looked extremely comfortable. His hair was down, as it was the first time they’d met, and from the close proximity they were at Mark could smell hints of peppermint shampoo. And to top it all off, his skin appeared to be glowing even in the faint light of the daybreak.
What, did he do a 10 step face routine at 5:00 in the morning? One that took at least thirty minutes or more? Seriously?
“Well.. let’s start walking?” suggests Jeno, genuinely snapping Mark out of his reverie. Was he staring? He hopes he wasn’t staring.
“I thought this was a jog, Lee Jeno?” Mark teases, as the two walk side by side down the trail designated for the morning walkers.
“See it was initially, but I had to help out last minute at a dance practice last night. And I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty sore.”
“Then in that case,” Mark grandly gestures to the gravel path ahead of them, smiling broadly. “We will walk! Walking is cool, I like that. I can check it.”
Check it? Mark inwardly sighed.
Jeno seems to find this funny though, because the tiniest chuckle passes his lips.
The two walk through the campus, admiring the breathtaking way the sky transitions gradually from a rich navy to a light yellow only brought forth from the sun’s first rise every morning. With each step they took, the darkness danced away until just about no visible traces were left. With the last streaks of blue slowly making an exit, Jeno tugs Mark’s arm to lead him to a nearby picnic table.
“Okay look, the sun’s just about to rise!” Jeno points excitedly, the younger boy in absolute astonishment as his eyes fixated upon the sun that is beginning to peek out from the low horizon.
Mark had believed that he’d become immune to sunsets, after seeing so many the magic just sometimes wears off. But watching Jeno attentively observe nature’s morning beauty makes Mark think differently. The way his eyes widen just the tiniest bit with the way the light of the sun is captured in his temporarily golden eyes, or how his perfectly pink lips part just slightly in wonder. Perhaps Mark’s favorite is how the impending sunlight emits itself over Jeno, sleek ribbons of yellow and orange light enveloping the boy in the most awe inspiring of ways.
He’s embarrassed to say that he misses the sunrise because he was too busy studying the way Jeno appeared in the morning light. Truthfully, he couldn’t say he regretted it.
“Wasn’t that beautiful?” Jeno sighs dreamily, glancing over at Mark. “I could see it a million times and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that.”
If this moment was in a romance drama, it’d be the part where the charming lead confesses to the handsome romantic interest. However Mark is in no position to be a main character in a romance drama, so he fumbles and says something about the sky being pretty. He would’ve liked to tell Jeno how much he liked him then, but he guesses he’d have to wait for another time.
Mark hadn’t noticed that Jeno had been carrying a bag throughout the entirety of the walk until he bends over and his hands dip in to retrieve the items inside. He sets two bento boxes down on the table between them.
“As promised, I made you breakfast! I hope you like it. I remember you mentioning that you liked watermelon, so..” Jeno trails off as Mark opens the box.
Colorfully cut fruit were decorated within the boundaries of the bento, the perfectly sweet scent drifting upwards. There were mini circular waffles, diced cube cheese, fresh melon and strawberries cut in stars, tiny purple grapes, and watermelon cut in hearts. The heart shaped watermelon looked so appetizing that Mark almost cried.
“Mark? Are you crying?” Jeno asks, breaking into laughter as he leans over the table. “And did you.. did you gel your hair?” More laughter erupts from him then, and Mark can’t help but reciprocate.
He wipes the tears with the back of his hands, shaking his head vigorously. “This is so much, Jeno. You really didn’t have to do all this. I appreciate it so much.” He stabs at a grape, popping it in his mouth.
“As long as you like it, then making it was worth it.” Jeno replies, sounding a little bashful as he opens his own breakfast box. They eat cheerfully, making casual conversation as the sky lightens up. Talking to Jeno only made the admiration in Mark's heart for the boy only increase.
"So what are you doing for break, Mark?"
"Do you know Johnny Seo? Him and I are going to see my grandparents for a little bit. The rest of my family is in Canada and his is in Chicago, so we don't really get to see them much. It's expensive for them to come here, and the same for us," It was the sad truth, he didn't get to see his family from the exception of one or two times during the year. Video chats were his daily dose of seeing the faces of those he missed the most. "So usually on breaks like this Johnny comes back home with me, or sometimes we go see his extended relatives. It depends."
"Oh, I know Johnny! He was in my friend's photography class, he's a really nice guy. And it's really nice of both of you to keep each other company during times where people need it the most. I miss my family and they only live in Incheon, I can't imagine if they lived in the States." In a sudden bust of confidence, Jeno takes hold of Mark's free hand, rubbing his thumb over his palm in a tranquil manner. Mark could feel his head get a little dizzy at the first actual contact they've had. "You're really strong, Mark Lee. You know that?"
He chuckles nervously, his mind slightly distracted by the way Jeno's thumb massages the back of his palm. The motion was lulling, and it put Mark at total ease. Simultaneously, it also makes him the slightest bit sad as he thinks about what Jeno is saying. "H-Ha, you're the first person who's told me that in a while, Jeno. So that means the world. I pretend to be fine a lot of the time. I really miss my family, and sometimes I hate the decision that I made to live halfway across the world without them. Not everyone wants to hear about family problems though, so I try to not think about it too much. I try to think that my family is happy for me, and that one day, we'll be together all the time again," Mark's eyes follow the fluffy clouds. "It's hard to want to be okay all the time. But, it's really comforting to know that there's someone who thinks I'm strong. That's what I try to be. Thank you."
"I think you're strong, Mark. Maybe one of the best people I know. I mean that."
Like he told Jeno, Mark had gone back home for the week break. It was nice to see the family that he didn't get to see much, and they welcomed both him and Johnny with open arms. It was a week full of relaxation, as Johnny and Mark take a break from the stresses of school and event planning. They ate delicious home cooked food, took well deserved naps, and engaged with loving family members. In Mark's case, it was also filled with a lot of engaging text message conversations with Jeno. They talked early morning, all throughout the afternoon, and even late at night. They even decided to get together once break is over, and Mark fit time in his busy schedule to get together with Jeno. ("We can do face masks, or something. You always stare at my skin when we're together. I'll show you my routine, and maybe we can have some tea or something. We'll figure it out." Jeno said, during one of the rare times they talk over the phone rather than text. Mark hushed his replies in his pillow, the room dark around him as Johnny sleeps.)
So, they do. A night or two after all the students rush back to campus, Mark goes over to Jeno's dorm. As he walks to the dorms opposite from his own, he feels anxious about the get-together itself: being alone with a boy in a dorm room, drinking tea and doing face masks? Sounds like a scenario that he'd be told to steer away from at all costs. However he heads to Jeno's room with his own face towel in hand and a bottle of sparkling apple cider — in case the two felt particularly fancy that night. After arriving, Mark knocks on the door that Jeno answers with a surprising amount of speed.
"What, were you waiting for me by the door?" Mark teases, setting his bag down on the floor next to Jeno's bed. After talking to the boy so often Mark no longer is nervous when talking to him, and feels comfortable enough to exchange friendly banter with him. Of course, sometimes the jitters of having a crush sneaks up on him and Mark gets a little flushed, but aside from that he has a pretty good handle on the situation as a whole. "Were you that eager to see me?"
Jeno grins, shutting the door. "Eager to see you? Perhaps! Maybe throughout the break I missed my favorite English major. Maybe though," He turns to Mark. "Not sure. Did you miss me, Mark Lee?"
It's this early in the night, and Mark could already feels his cheeks flood with color. Stop blushing, stop blushing, stop blushing, Mark tries training himself but Jeno's grin is simply so infectious and downright beautiful that the red tint seems to permanently take residence on his face. "Jen, we talked like every minute while we were away! Do you really think I missed you?" A few beats pass. "Of course I did. I missed you a lot. I totally miss my eye-smile friend. But none of that matters, because we're together now!"
"That's right! I ordered pizza, if that's okay? I was gonna make tea, but then I didn't eat lunch."
"Pizza sounds delicious! That's definitely okay."
The host smiles cordially, beckoning Mark to follow. "Alright, let's start then, shall we?"
They walk towards the desk where Jeno had a variety of facial care items set up. Face masks, scrubs, moisturizer, among a handful of other things that Mark didn't quite use. Mark expressed his complete and utter confusion at all these products to the other boy as they sit by the windowsill, cool air chilling their bare arms as Jeno opens two of the face masks. Jeno hands one to Mark, and the boy takes it graciously. While Jeno explains the benefits of the revitalizing face mask that contained coconut water, chrysanthemum flower water, and lotus leaf extract, Mark glances at the package, trying not to laugh when he sees it's a lion sheet mask. He ends up giggling while putting it on, and Jeno looks up from opening his own face mask. He smiles before knowing what happened. "What?"
"It's a lion!"
"Well, you mentioned how that was your nickname. So while I was on break, I ordered a lion face mask for you. You could be the cutest little lion ever, Mark Lee."
"The cutest?" Mark is practically giggling.
"Yes, the cutest one. But don't let that get to your head, alright?" Jeno warns playfully, as he lays his own sheet mask over his face carefully. His was a cat, and Mark found himself smiling just too wide at the sight. Here's this extremely handsome boy who he's been crushing on for a few weeks with a bright orange cat face mask, sipping sparkling apple cider from what appeared to be a makeshift champagne glass. The sight was comical enough and Mark couldn't help but think how all of this felt so natural, like he'd known Jeno for years and this was just a Saturday tradition. Even though that was not the case, some part of him wishes that it was. He wouldn't mind being with Jeno often, and maybe in a way that was just a little bit more than friends. "You look burdened, little lion. What's wrong?"
"Am I that transparent?" He asks, frowning.
Jeno nods, leaning over to pat Mark's thigh. "We've only met a few times in person, but we've talked enough over the phone for me to be able to kind of tell when the talkative Mark Lee is upset. I don't want you to be upset when your face is in the softest state of your whole life. Spill."
Mark bites his lip, debating. What was wrong was that he liked Jeno so much. Talking to the boy over the last month made Mark realize that this was more than him wanting to be extremely good friends with the boy. He developed such a fondness for Jeno, with his soft eye smiles and optimistic attitude. Mark would be extremely blindsided if the admiration wasn't mutual. He'd accept it, of course, but he'd definitely be just the tiniest bit sad. After the rejection, he might just have to go and eat a whole watermelon flavored bingsu — or maybe a few. So, if the issue was with Jeno himself, does he tell the boy? Or does he lie, and continue to feel conflicted whenever he saw him?
"Okay.. Jen.. If I tell you what's wrong, can you promise to not be upset? Oh, you might hate me." He cards his fingers through his hair in frustration.
Jeno holds Mark's hands in his own, squeezing them carefully. "Hey.. Hey. Look at me, Mark," The older boy had fixed his gaze on the carpet, but when Jeno calls him name softly, he feels almost obligated to look up. So, he does. "I will never hate you, or be upset with you unless you do something crazy. Considering you're here with me, doing face masks and about to eat pizza, I don't think anything is crazily wrong. So, tell me why you're upset.."
"Because of you."
Jeno blinks confusingly. He lets go of Mark's hands, pointing to himself to clarify that they were in fact talking about Lee Jeno. "Me? Why.. What'd I do?"
"Jeno, ever since we started talking that one night, I haven't been able to stop thinking about you. My mind always sometimes wanders to you, with your eye-smile and soft voice, and how your hair bounces when you walk. At first, I just wanted to know why you seemed like the most perfect boy. But then we started talking, and I found myself flustered by you. I thought it might've just been like a very very platonic infatuation, but I think it's more than that," He can't look at Jeno's blank stare anymore, so he begins to play with his hands. "Actually, I know that it's more than that. And I get if you don't like me, I'll understand if you feel uncomfortable now that I've told you this. I'm.. sorry."
With a sad sort of silence filling the air between the two of them, Mark takes no rush in glancing back up. He's expected to now have to face the rejection, to have to walk back to his dorm with the silly but soft sheet mask on and go find that watermelon bingsu. What he's surprised by is how red Jeno's cheeks were, how his face had seemingly broken out into the brightest smile he'd seen from the boy by far. Once they're making eye contact again, the freshman laughs — he actually laughs, directly in Mark's face. "You think.. that I'd be upset because you like me? You're such a loser, Mark Lee. Were you not able to tell how bad I've had a crush on you? You think I wake up at 4 am to blow dry my hair and cut fruits into hearts for every person I'm friends with? You're so dense, Mark," And Jeno seems so overwhelmed with emotion, that he slants his body forward, first pulling the sheet mask off Mark's face, second taking off his own, and third pressing his lips to Mark's. The older boy at first is surprised by the kiss, still taken aback by Jeno saying that the feelings were mutual. But after his brain adjusts to the situation, his fingers cup the curve of Jeno's sharp jaw, the cherry essence from the sheet mask still fresh and glassy on the boy's face. The kiss tastes like the apple cider Jeno had been drinking, and is soft and sweet and just about everything that Mark had ever hoped for. He feels as fizzy as the drink in Jeno's glass as the two pull away when the pizza man knocks at the door. Faces still only inches away from each other, Jeno presses a quick kiss to Mark's lips, grinning once again. "And by the way? I'm far from perfect, Mark Lee." His voice is just loud enough for Mark to hear him. "I'll be right back. Don't disappear."
Mark slumps against the windowsill. Did that happen? His brain hurts a little. The pads of his fingertips run across the expanse of his lips, smiling faintly at the memory that occurred only seconds ago. Jeno Lee liked him, and Mark Lee liked him just as much.
This was definitely a dream. Both Mark and Jeno were too happy at the sudden confessions on both of their behalves, and could barely keep their feelings off their faces throughout the rest of the night. Mark and Jeno, sitting by the windowsill, K-I-S-S-I-N-G —
With all the sweat and tears put in by Mark, nobody should have been surprised when almost a month later, Mark pulled off an amazing mixer. Both faculty and students alike enjoyed the festivities planned by the sophomore. Details to detail were executed carefully, from the set up in the tennis court (the weather had been nice enough!), to the colors, to the delicious food prepared. Mark stands in the center, simply watching everyone have a great time rather than take part himself. After the hectic time he had planning this, he was happy all his work had come to fruition in such an amazing way.
"You did a great job, Mark." Jaehyun praises, coming up to wrap his arm around Mark's shoulder. He shakes the boy, offering him a nudge. He genuinely seemed pleased with the way the party was flowing, and Mark felt a rush of comfort at the fact that Jaehyun thought he did well. That was all he wanted, to make the welcoming committee proud of what he did, to show everyone that he was capable of what they thought he could do. "This is amazing. Everything is perfect, and I am so so proud of you. When I graduate in a year or so, I'm going to feel really comfortable leaving the committee to you. You're the best, Mark." Sicheng and Yuta call Jaehyun over then, so with another encouraging smile, he walks towards the older boys.
Oh, and that wasn't the only thing he was happy about.
A familiar, handsome figure was making their way to the center of the event. Someone as handsome as that could only go by the name Lee Jeno, the boy who Mark had come to adore over the last month or two.
"Jeno, you came!" Mark's happiness is relentless at the sight, rushing over to hug the boy. The embrace is returned heartily, and Mark inhales the lingering smell of the sweet peppermint. The sweetness was no longer was a foreign scent, it was now one he could only associate with Jeno.
Jeno's thumb strokes the older boy's forehead tenderly, concurrently offering up one of the heartwarming smiles that Mark adored so much. "Of course I couldn't miss my boyfriend's event for the world!"
Mark's cheeks flood with tint as Jeno so casually drops the coveted label. An exuberant feeling overwhelmed him then, still in absolute bewilderment at the fact that Jeno was his boyfriend now. He was able to say that now. "Boyfriend! You're really going to call me that in public, huh, Jen? Are you just gonna go tell the entire campus we're dating?"
Tthe two both begin to giggle infectiously as Jeno's hands drop down to Mark's waist, drawing him the slightest bit closer. They're practically flush against each other, and Jeno's head dips down to position his lips only centimeters away from Mark's. "Maybe, this would be showy enough, don't you think?" Jeno's voice is almost as low as a whisper, his thumb tapping against the side of Mark's neck. "Otherwise, I'm happy to go one by one and tell everyone on campus if you want to, little lion."
"Believe me, I do."
Jeno grins one last time, before leaning in further. "Ditto."