Summers are tough.
Seoul is a furnace, one hundred percent humidity, and unrelenting sun piercing through clothing. Seung-gil finds himself relieved at the breeze whipping him in the face the moment he steps out of LAX. At least here in LA, the heat is dry and he doesn't feel like he's swimming through a hot spring.
Pess barks at him, two cars ahead. Miles greets him hello, and Seung-gil hugs her to his chest as her ears flop in the wind, the roof of the red sports car pulling down.
"Welcome back!" Miles says against the wind. He takes one hand off the wheel to point at the console, where an iced tea sits with his name scrawled on the cup.
Seung-gil is jet-lagged, slightly hungry and very cranky. He suffered through a long delay at San Francisco several hours ago, had to explain that the white liquid in a label-less travel container was sunscreen and nothing suspicious, sat next to a crying baby, and had a carry-on clip his shoulder when they landed due to a grandma struggling to shimmy it out of the overhead compartment. He sips the cold tea gratefully, hugging Pess closer.
They zoom back to into the city.
Carol picks him up at Miles's house fifteen minutes too early and hugs him, "So good to see you! How's your family?" She's still pale as ever, but beaming as if she hadn't pulled a graveyard shift at the hospital. Otabek rolls the windows down on the passenger's side and sticks his head out like a dog, sunglasses tilting slightly. He grins.
"They're well," Seung-gil lies, being pushed to the car. Carol tosses him a plastic baggie of apples and trail mix, saying that he's thin as ever, before speeding onto the freeway and changing lanes. Seung-gil tugs the brim of Otabek's baseball cap lower on his face as the sun glimmers through the clouds, the skies still tinged indigo.
"It's been boring without you," Otabek says, waving goodbye to his host mother and hiking a training bag up one shoulder. He'd been looking bulkier as of late ever since the GPF in Vancouver. Seung-gil follows suit, shoving as many apple slices he can in his mouth before he has to put his food away. "Guang Hong was bored. I had to do all the summer readings by myself."
Otabek shoves his shoulder into him, smiling.
Seung-gil only hears a sharp inhale of breath before something heavy slams into him, and his flings his arms out, landing on his back painfully.
"JJ," Otabek's reproachful tone is hard to miss. Seung-gil opens his eyes and glares at the sixteen year old— who doesn't look so sixteen anymore with the stubbly facial hair sprouting on his chin.
"Welcome back!" JJ shouts in the lobby, drawing the curious eyes of what seems to be half the juniors and seniors in the circuit towards them. Otabek sighs, putting down his sports bag to gather the apples that had fallen onto the ground before tossing them away. "Did you miss me?"
Seung-gil pushes him off his bladder, "You've gotten fat."
JJ swells like a puffer fish, "They're called muscles!" He jumps to his feet and to his surprise, Seung-gil finds himself being pulled up with relative ease. JJ had not only shot up a feet and some inches over six months, he now seems to be thicker in the chest and shoulders. Cathy must have recommended Nathalie the same products she told Seung-gil to buy since JJ's skin is looking fairer and less like he'd lost a battle against a pocketknife.
"I have some sunscreen in my bag for you."
"Sweet," JJ loops an arm each around Seung-gil and Otabek, not having to stretch up like he did six months before, "Now let's go! I'm dying to skate with you."
They spend the morning separated into different rinks. Seung-gil is skating with Leo in the senior's rink, chatting idly as they take a short water break from their workshop. Leo is confused but thankful when Seung-gil passes him a bottle of Biore sunscreen like it's a contraband item. When Frank skates by, Seung-gil also does the same.
He, Leo, JJ, Otabek and Guang Hong take over a corner of the upstairs lunch area, speed reading their summer reading list as Leo is forced to keep JJ entertained as the only one who doesn't have books to finish. Otabek and Seung-gil goes off to on-ice harness classes where they're swarmed by some of the younger junior girls, before cooling down with a modern dance class to cap off the afternoon. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, Seung-gil will share the late afternoon ice with Otabek and Guang Hong like he used to, but he jumps into the back of Carol's car, ancient and dusty as ever, and rolls the windows down.
He spends dinner with Otabek, sharing the souvenirs, food and some t-shirts he picked up when he passed Myeongdong with Ji-eun.
"You didn't have to buy me all of this," Otabek mumbles, smiling down at a t-shirt, "But thank you. How's your family?"
"My dad wasn't around but I had fun with the rest of my family. By the way, where's JJ staying?" Seung-gil asks, sucking on a yogurt tube as he lies on his back, staring at Otabek's ceiling. His feet and every inch of his legs are hurting. He's still slightly jet-lagged, too.
"He didn't tell you?"
Seung-gil gets an ominous feeling, and groans, not believing it until Carol drops him off to see JJ smugly opening the door to Miles's house, already wearing a pair of red shorts and looking very at home.
"You could have told me," Seung-gil shoves his feet into his house slippers and pads up the stairs, Pess wagging her tail after them. There's laughter and music coming from the kitchen and dining room area further into the house. Miles must be hosting a little dinner party. "Or we could have waited for you until you finish your on-ice lesson so you didn't need to take the bus. This house is in the middle of nowhere."
JJ steps into Seung-gil's room, peering at the bareness and the two large suitcases he still hasn't unpacked, "I wanted to surprise you, but you got me there on this house being in the middle of nowhere. Did you know the closest bus stop is 40 minutes away?"
"What's so great about surprising me?" When he came home for the summer, Umma had smiled sadly and said that his English had barely any accent anymore. Seung-gil paid no close attention to it in the beginning but he feels it in the way the words come out with more speed, more contractions flowing smoothly. She also said that he was taller with a bitter smile.
JJ sits down on his bed, wiggling his sock-covered feet as Seung-gil pull out three books on his reading list from his bag and place them on his table next to The Complete Book of Colleges, "I think it's rewarding. You're unshakable, so it's enjoyable for me to see you react."
"Asshole," Seung-gil says without barb when JJ lies down on his bed, as if he hadn't done the same thing on Otabek's, "Where are your manners, eh?"
"Hah! You said 'eh' like a Canadian!"
Seung-gil doesn't want Miles to come up and hush them for interrupting his dinner, "Shh!" When JJ doesn't stop, Seung-gil uses all his skills as the youngest child and wrestles him in a headlock, both of them wriggling on his bed as Pess barks, tail thumping on the floor. This is his preferred state for JJ, quiet and not at his mercy.
"Mer...cy," JJ chokes, blue.
There's a knock on the door, Miles raising a brow at JJ wheezing and Seung-gil's innocent expression, "I'll take that you two are well acquainted. There's desserts downstairs, come down and join us if you're hungry."
"With your lawyer friends?"
Miles smiles, "They don't bite, but they're loud." JJ doesn't hesitate, jumping to his feet and scooping up Pess, who licks his chin and barks as they zoom down the stairs.
Seung-gil flicks the light switch off and follows at a steady pace.
Though summer for others are full of trips abroad, swimming lessons, visits to the beach or cabin, training camp had never been fun to Seung-gil, who saw it as another form of competition but worse. This year is the Olympic year, which meant that the training atmosphere is more hostile.
He stands off to the sides, bending down to tuck the aglets of his laces into his boots, keeping his back to the boards ever since he caught wind of the girls trying to sneak some butt pictures. He looks up just in time to see Otabek slide across the ice, harness still attached as Frank yelps, pulled forward by the momentum.
Chris is the first one there, crouching next to Otabek and Frank, the former looking sulky and the latter looking relieved the worst outcome is only a minor scrape on the elbow. Seung-gil pulls Otabek up, patting the ice away coating his entire left side.
"What was it?"
"Left arm wasn't forward enough, next thing I knew my balance was off and I didn't know which foot to land on and ended up slipping," Otabek winces when Seung-gil pokes his elbow, "I think I'll take a break."
"I'll go with you," He races ahead and waves to one of the American junior boys to grab the first aid kit sitting on the bleachers. Otabek scrapes the wet slush off his blades and attaches his guards, walking over to where Seung-gil had already opened the box.
Otabek winces when his skin is cleaned with rubbing alcohol. The band of muscle around his forearm thickens in Seung-gil's grip, and he releases it to smear polysporin using a Q-tip and wrapping the gauze carefully like his Umma had taught him. Upon looking up, there's a dark cloud descending on Otabek's face, and he thinks quickly of what could reverse it.
"Wooow," He whistles, spreading his left hand so his index and thumb are squishing Otabek's cheeks like one when pinching a marshmallow, eliciting a glare, "Here's a good angle of you looking like a cute mandu, now how did you get this cut?"
Otabek mutters something dark under his breath as Seung-gil digs through the box to find a large enough band aid for the cut.
"We fall all the time, don't let one slip ruin your day," He says quietly, knowing that Chris is lurking somewhere nearby, doing laps around the rink in hopes to catch pieces of their discussion. He personally doesn't know if Chris is concerned or looking for a carcass to bite. Showing a mistake during training camp could be a death sentence in the future depending on how the skater takes it, more so a mentality issue than a physical one. "No one had their phones out."
Otabek worries his lip, quieter. Seung-gil pats his shoulder goes back to the ice to squeeze some quad runs before he goes across the street to the dance studio. Frank comes back on and wiggles the harness in Seung-gil's direction, and he straps on, briefly shutting his eyes before extending his leg back, becoming weightless for a split second.
He lands two footed, wobbles, and sharply curves away to avoid Chris's quad salchow. They run through his roster of quads three times before ending practice with his usual quip talk of doing his best despite it being his first Olympic year.
"Ice that elbow, Otabek," Frank says, holding the rink door open so they can file out onto the other rink where JJ and Guang Hong are practicing with some of the other skaters from the midwest, "And sleep well tonight."
Carol keeps quiet when she drives them home, having taken one look at Otabek and understanding. Instead, she plays some piano music from her phone and turns the radio in the car off, three of them sitting in rush-hour traffic and snacking on her nuts and dried berry mix.
Seung-gil religiously uses the car ride to listen to his short and long program songs over and over again. It's not a song he loves, but picking a song he really likes means listening to it until he becomes sick of it, wanting to burn the mp3 file when the inevitable frustration comes during mid-season. So. He always chooses an okay song. Something he likes enough to listen to until he becomes sick, but not the cherished pieces that he doesn't want to hate.
"Is Beka okay?" JJ asks, standing in the kitchen and pulling out his container of grilled salmon and greens from the microwave. Seung-gil pops his portion into the microwave, leaning against the sinks, his eyes flits to JJ's exposed knees, finding a blue bruise the size of a hefty mango.
"He fell out of a quad he's trying to add to his roster," Seung-gil pulls a bag of frozen corn and tosses it to JJ, watching it smack him on the chest. "Ice that knee."
Some teriyaki sauce remains on the corner of JJ's mouth as he pulls out the thinnest kitchen towel from the hallway closet near the fridge. He walks over to the formal dining room with a bag of fruit and waits until Seung-gil sits with him for dinner, the house quiet. Pess had gone to work with Miles.
JJ starts peeling some mandarin oranges from Costco as Seung-gil pulls out a book, "Have you gotten word when assignments will be out?"
"No, but it'll be the big six anyway, so I don't care."
"Oh yeah, no problem, it's just the senior grand prix right? No big deal," JJ grumbles, "Just me, Guang Hong and Otabek while you and Leo gallivant off winning international podiums."
Seung-gil hums, jotting down notes on a sticky note. The air smells like citrus, and there's a balmy breeze flowing in gently through the white curtains. It's purple outside, the clouds tinted orange and indigo as the sun sets. "It's not a race, JJ. No matter how long you take, in the end it doesn't matter as long as you reach your goal."
He looks up, raising an eyebrow.
"Will you stay here? Or go back to South Korea?"
Seung-gil considers JJ's questions, putting the sticky note between The Odyssey to mark his page, "I'll probably go back one day. The federation already picked out a coach for me, like how Denis will train Otabek whenever he decides to go back to Kazakhstan. I plan on staying here until the Olympic season finishes. Why?"
JJ scratches his hair. It's only because Seung-gil knows that JJ usually takes a shower after dinner that he lets JJ run his juice-covered fingers through his head without making a quip, "Nothing, just...anxious about the future. But you're right. It's not a race."
Miles comes home shortly after that, Pess making a bee-line to her food bowl, sitting attentively as JJ scoops some kibble from the container next to her eating area. They retreat to the living room with the promise of a Japanese cheesecake from the new bakery that opened in Pasadena, and Seung-gil lets the fluffy texture melt on his tongue as they watch the late night news. It's nice, sitting against the cushions as the white curtains dance gently from the open windows. His eyelids droop.
His phone gently buzzes, and he pulls it out to see that JJ had taken a picture before he stained his fingers with fruit juice, of Seung-gil propping The Odyssey open on his left hand, right hand holding a fork, the lighting warm. Suddenly, he's very awake.
"Another slice, Seung-gil?"
"Thanks Miles," He reaches out for the plate, invading JJ's personal bubble a little. The younger boy has his eyes fixated on the television, but if it weren't for the darkness, he could have sworn JJ was blushing.
"The Weeknd?" Otabek's voice comes muffled as Seung-gil tugs his cordless earbuds off, continuing to jog on the treadmill. Carol had picked up Otabek and JJ earlier that weekend morning, pushing a deep dish of still steaming breakfast bars into Miles's yawning figure as she drives them to the nearest LA Fitness. Seung-gil was ordered to improve his stamina and flexibility while Otabek just got out of a pilates class that left him looking like a tomato.
"Where's the annoying Canadian?"
"Bathroom," Otabek stabs the buttons on the treadmill next to him, easing himself into a fast walk. "And I never pegged you for the type of person to listen to The Weeknd. Looking for some music inspiration?"
"No," Seung-gil says, heavy rapping and electronic music in his ear. "Looking for a change of scenery."
Otabek nods, and adjusts the incline until they're running in unison, staring outside at the people walking by with their dogs, a slight breeze sweeping through the palm trees. They plan to hit the beach later on to do some resistance training on the sands, but they can always bring Pess to make it more fun.
JJ comes over and invites Otabek over to the squatting racks, where some people from their high school spot them. Seung-gil gets pulled away from his treadmill reluctantly.
"Long time no see," Kumon girl's twin brother nods. Seung-gil had to think hard that his name is Brent, which is better and worse at the same time since he forgot the twin's name.
"Yeah, it's been a while," Seung-gil says, watching Otabek adding some weights onto the bar as JJ introduces himself to the rest of Brent's friends. "This is rude, but I forgot your sister's name."
"Bianca," He flashes him a grin. "She's taking a day trip to San Fran. Got into UCLA thanks to you."
"Really? That's great."
"Full ride. She thought she was going to have to spend a few years community college, but SEAS finally gave her an offer. You were off at Shanghai I think when we found out."
"Wow, and where are you?"
Brent takes a swing of his water, fanning himself with his t-shirt. He's still flushed even though the air conditioning system is going on strong above them, "Gap year. Going to work and then figure out what I want to do. If you have Shaw for English let me know, I'll give you my old notes and quiz questions. You're still a year behind right?"
Seung-gil nods, "They've put me on the fast-track. Grade eleven curriculum the first half of senior year and then grade twelve reading after winter break."
"You only have English classes?" Brent raises an eyebrow, looking to the side as Otabek starts doing bench presses with JJ spotting him, "Makes sense I guess. You're in the senior circuit I hear."
"You follow skating?" Seung-gil smiles wryly.
"Nah, Beks told me," He turns his head left and right to see that his friends are in front of the changing room, waving to him. "Oh shoot. We're going to play some basketball later at school, come by if you're not too tired."
"Sure," Seung-gil gets the full brunt of Brent's surprise hug, "Erm."
Brent fondly ruffles his hair, "That or we might see you if Prosecutor Edgeworth brings you to the office. I'll be working there as a very junior intern. See you!"
"I'll spot you," JJ says when Seung-gil joins them. Otabek rolls off the bench and Seung-gil adjusts the weights accordingly, lying on his back, The Hills transforming into Prisoner as he tries to ignore JJ's face studying his form.
He takes Pess for a long walk around the neighbourhood, even going on the other side to where the private strip of beach that belongs to their complex is, allowing her to lead as he sighs.
"Why the long sigh, Seung-gil?"
"Ji-eun," He says, tugging the brim of Otabek's hat lower to block the sunset. "How do you know when someone's gay?"
There's silence on the other end, "Oh wow this boy doesn't sugar-coat his words," She mumbles to herself. He can hear the electric kettle boiling; his sister is probably cooking some ramyeon before her afternoon shoot. "Are you gay?"
"I'm not," He says, thinking of the pictures JJ had taken of him last GPF, the detail given to edit those pictures. On the morning of their departure flights out of YVR, Seung-gil had asked JJ if he took editing classes, surprised when the younger boy said no. He'd spent the last few minutes before boarding his flight on JJ's Instagram, critically eyeing the rest of his pictures, all of which look unedited. "But I don't know if this person actually is gay or if he's fixated on me because I'm his rival."
Ji-eun is quiet, "I don't know, I never met him before. Is he friendly only to you?"
"He's like a retriever," Pess shoots forward, ripping the leash out of his hands as she sprints forward to chase some seagulls. "Pess! Bad girl! Come back here!" She runs back to him, and Seung-gil scowls at the wet leash that he'll have to hold for the next half hour. "Like I said before, he's like a dog, friendly to everyone. Loyal to everyone."
"You know we won't think badly of you if you're gay right?" Ji-eun hurriedly says, ignoring whatever Seung-gil had said.
"Did you even hear what I just said?"
"Umma and Appa are getting a divorce," Ji-eun says strongly, like she's leaning over the kitchen counter, pressing her phone to her ear as hard as she can. "So you won't be bullied anymore, Seung-gil. He's going to be out of the picture, and Umma will win the custody."
His palms feel cold, "...They are?"
"Yes, she's going to open her own clinic and move away from him," Ji-eun continues, working herself up, "I always hated him for constantly picking on you, Seo-jung, Umma and your sport, saying that you're a disgrace when he brings shame onto his own family name. He'll have to pay for child support, the works, but— hah— you can't trust any of them, but he's going to get what he deserves. Umma will make sure of it."
He stops walking, Pess turns back and cocks her head. Ji-eun's words cuts him.
"How hard did he hit you?" He asks, voice muffled by the gust of wind.
"Hard enough," Ji-eun spits, which seems to be the final word on that topic. "Seo-jung has a bruise on her forearm, but Umma kicked him out."
"I shouldn't have left," Seung-gil says quickly, thinking of the skating academy he moved to when he started to climb podiums, leaving his home and coming to live in the skating dormitories. "Do you want me to—"
"No! Stay there, it.... It won't matter if you come anyway, Seunggil-a, that's not going to stop him. And your season starts soon, you can't miss practices—"
"Jieun-a, do you think that matters right now? I don't care!" He growls fiercely into the microphone at the base of the earbuds, Pess picking up on the change in his tone and whining. He turns in another direction so the hair flies away from his mouth, "If that asshole has been hitting you, Noona and Umma—"
His sister asks, "And what will you do?" Her voice is kind. "Fly here and physically fight him? Even if you dodge his punches, he's a raging drunk when he gets into it. He'll throw furniture at you and tell you things that you shouldn't have to hear. Umma just finished the paperwork this morning, and he's out of the house. He won't bother us unless the most famous dermatologist in Gangnam wants his face plastered all over the morning news with a restraining order."
Seung-gil digs into his pockets, clutching his cell phone in a death grip, knuckles white, seeing red.
"I see," He says hollowly.
The line stays quiet, "Everything will work out. We replaced all the locks, Seo-jung's boyfriend is going to pick her up to and from the university, my manager is going to drive me to and from my shoots, and Umma's going to carpool with Imo. And," She pauses, "And if he dares to crawl back, we're getting that restraining order."
"You should have gotten it."
"That's what I think too, but Umma.... Well."
Seung-gil feels a ghost of a smile, "I know a good prosecutor."
Ji-eun laughs, "I'm sure you do. He won't hurt us ever again."
"...I'm sorry for not being there—" He begins.
"Don't be stupid, you're just doing what's good for your career. Umma gave him a few good scratches. So, please don't worry okay, baby brother?"
"I'm seventeen," He says, looking up to where Pess has ripped her leash out of his hands again, not that he was holding it tightly as he should be. He watches her light golden fur scramble up the stairs, to where JJ is holding a bag of snacks, a blanket, and what looked to be the cones Seung-gil uses for suicide runs. "I'm not a baby anymore."
"That's true," JJ waves at him, turning his back. A second later, Bianca, Brent and Otabek are walking down the stairs, Pess wagging her tail and trying to lick as many people as she can hello. "But still, we want the best for you no matter the situation, so if you like girls, or guys, or no one, you're still our lovable brother who doesn't like vegetables. And nothing can change that."
"My friends are here, call you later?"
"Mmkay, have a good day," He takes a moment to swallow hard, his heart beating like it wants to rip out of his chest. He looks down so JJ doesn't have to see his expression.
He looks up, already schooling his expression into one of boredom, "Hm?"
JJ bounds towards him, throwing the cones on the sand as he spreads the blanket, "Thought we'd have a little picnic! Bianca's going to the grocery store nearby for some fruits and sparkling soda. Frank said that I should work on my endurance too."
Everyone else follows closely, "Cute dog," Brent says, sitting on one corner and setting down his backpack, the zipper open to reveal another blanket and frisbee. "Can I feed her if you have some treats?"
"Tell Bianca to get strawberries and watermelon from the fruit section if you want to give her some snacks," Seung-gil orders, toeing off his sandals and walking the cones away from the blankets.
He aggressively runs his one hundred reps under the blazing sun and whipping wind, whatever angry tears in his eyes blown away as Otabek and JJ are soon left lagging behind. His lungs burn, the bottom of his feet sinking into the sand and dragging, every step forward making his calves burn. He wants to scream, kick something, but he swallows his anger down and chooses to tip his head up into the sun, bending his back so his fingers swipes the scorching sand as he turns.
Once he finishes, he stands upright, breathing hard and thinking of the absent father that had never been a part of his life since he started skating, lungs burning and sand somehow sticking to the back of his knees and where the waistband of his shorts sit on his hips.
A frisbee flies by his feet. Pess comes panting a second layer, sniffing him curiously before fetching the frisbee back to where the twins are sitting on the blanket.
"Food?" Bianca calls, eyes obstructed by a sunhat when he starts walking towards them, "There are some granola bar here from Otabek's mom I think."
"Thanks," He shoves a piece of watermelon Bianca hands him to his mouth as JJ and Otabek wander around for a public bathroom, both of them so red they look like they have a terrible sun burn across their face and chest. He stares at JJ's back for too long; he probably looks like a lobster from the way his cheeks are still hot. He's licking the juice as it trails down his hands, "Congratulations, I heard about your full ride."
"Aw thanks, you're so sweet," Bianca says, smiling widely. She pushes her sunglasses back on her face as it slips down her nose bridge, "You've gotten fitter over spring, I'd always thought you were skinny."
Seung-gil looks down at his bare skin, shrugging and continuing to eat until his teeth meets the rind. His face is still too warm, "You should see the guys in ice dance or pairs. They're bulkier than us singles."
"Otabek's not bad looking," She giggles, "But gosh, it's weird to think that he'll be starting as a sophomore in August. He'll be a looker in a few years."
Brent shivers from where he's giving Pess belly rubs, "Stop that, it's weird! Otabek is my friend."
"Oh leave me alone! It ain't like I don't see you panting over some of my friends."
The twins start spitting at each other at that point, and Seung-gil just continues to sit with his legs spread, digging his toes in the warm sand and letting the breeze wick the sweat off his chest and back, reaching for more fruits. Several children near the ocean are splashing around, older siblings running between them and pumping water guns.
"They're at it huh?" Otabek says, less red and sliding down to sit next to him, JJ on his other side. "Pass me a slice."
JJ dramatically falls on the blankets, face still flushed, a small bottle of Biore sunscreen peeking out of his shorts, "God, you weren't kidding that you wanted to work on your endurance. I wanted to stop after round eighty-nine, and I'm the top of my class in the Beep Test."
"What's a Beep Test?" Bianca says, sitting on top of Brent, who's spitting sand away from his mouth.
"It's like this," JJ gestures to the cones, "You run to the other side before a pre-recorded audio beeps. Over time, you have to run faster and faster since the beeps get shorter. Past a hundred usually have people sprinting if they can last that long."
"I didn't know you still have to take gym when you're skating," Seung-gil frowns.
JJ shakes his head, "That was my first year of high school. Now that my training is longer, they've omitted a lot of classes for me, I'm only there for the morning starting September." Bianca launches a volley of questions about the Canadian school system, and JJ tries to keep up. The others take this opportunity to polish the last of the pink lemonade and granola bars as the sun starts to droop. Seung-gil is on autopilot, taking sips and alternating between the food selection as he watches the low tide sweep in and out.
There's an arm pressing against his, Otabek's curious gaze flitting between his eyes, "Doing okay?"
He thinks for a moment if he wanted Otabek to know about his family before shaking his head, "I'm okay."
They agree to call it a day, and Bianca helps Seung-gil pack his cones, waving as her car keys swing from her hand, Otabek following her with Brent.
JJ jabbers about this and that on the walk back, which took longer since they both stop to fidget at their clothes, sand turning up in unexpected places like finding a brown banana at the bottom of a school bag. Seung-gil lets him talk the entire way home, too wrapped up in his own head to contribute more than grunts and nods.
Miles is having tea on the deck, the sunset making his white dress shirt look pink when he takes one look at them and points to the backyard, refusing to let Pess in when she's so dirty and full of sand she warrants a bath.
Seung-gil gets bossed around to hold the hose as JJ does the grunt work, curling his toes and feeling the amount of sand still stuck on the skin. There's a familiar twinge of soreness starting to settle in his calves and he wants to soak them in cold water as soon as possible, "Hey, hurry up, I'm hungry."
JJ sniffs in his direction, but hurries, scrubbing Pess as fast as he can and getting shampoo all over his shirtfront. Once Pess shakes the water off, soaking the lawn furniture and her two humans, she strides through the half open backyard door leading to the kitchen where Miles had laid towels down to catch her wet paw prints.
Seung-gil ducks and sweeps JJ's legs out, tugging on an arm so he doesn't land hard on the yellowing grass and bruise himself. Once JJ's wide eyes realizes that he wasn't going to injure his tail bone, Seung-gil drops him and begins dragging the hose back to the wall mount, "Sokka, sneak attacks don't work if you yell it out loud."
He hears a gasp of delight, "So you are cultured!"
Seung-gil hoses him down.
Seung-gil drops his spoon of cereal into the bowl before JJ's phone can make contact with his mouth, going cross-eyed to see a very pretty girl with black hair tied in a loose bun pose for the camera. She's wearing a deep midnight gown with a halter neckline, the draping accentuating her slim waist, "Doesn't she look beautiful?"
He squints and pushes the phone back, "Is she your adopted sister?"
JJ laughs, Miles dropping at his seat at the head of the table, plate laden with eggs, a singular breakfast sausage and a salad with nuts sprinkled on top. Seung-gil chews his Cheerios, adding more sweetened soy milk into his bowl, "No she was my first girlfriend. We're friends now."
"That's a nice dress," Miles says, peering down on his reading glasses before he turns his attention back to the morning newspapers. There are three in front of him, all from different publishers. "Prom?"
"Yeah, she's a year older than me, so the same age as Seung-gil," JJ spreads more nut butter on his toast and shakes some of the homemade jam Carol gave them several days ago out. Seung-gil hides his shock by chewing his cereal vigorously. So he's not gay then. He would have to update his sisters and apologize for making them worry.
"Can I try?" JJ looks hopefully at his two gallon container of soy milk and his empty glass.
"Sure," Seung-gil says, snorting when JJ smacks his lips and makes a face.
"Kind of weird, but the taste is growing on me."
"Seung-gil is lactose intolerant," Miles absently says, patting his fork around until Seung-gil pushes the plate slightly so a piece of a sausage can be speared. "He likes this one better than almond milk."
"Reminds me of South Korea," He says, raising the bowl to drain the last crumbles of cereal swimming in milk. To JJ, he says, "Call me down when Brent comes over."
"Will do," JJ says, head bent and thumb a blur as he opens up the Messenger app. Seung-gil washes his dishes, opens up Kakao Talk to update his sisters, and buckles down to get through two more books in his summer reading list before he goes off to play basketball.
Umma: are you doing those practice questions?
Umma: i bought that book for you
Umma: don't slack off your studies even though it's olympic year
Her messages never clued Seung-gil that his Appa dared to hit her. Scrolling up, he sees that most of their chat history involved her wheedling him into eating vegetables and sleeping properly. Occasionally, she would send a video of his tiny self zooming out in a competition, sighing how he grew up too fast.
He takes a picture of the 7 books next to his battered Korean-English dictionary he still has to read to appease the American school system, before tacking a message how he'll get through the second year Calculus practice questions his Umma bought for him in the next few minutes. His mother seems pleased, and reminds him to drink water.
I'm glad you're getting divorced, he quickly types, throwing his phone face down. It wasn't until he finished The Odyssey and went downstairs for lunch (JJ is doing push ups in the backyard, shirtless; Seung-gil thinks he's crazy for doing so in the heat) that he saw Umma's reply.
Umma: life is better without him for us
"Much better," Miles nods as Seung-gil parallel parks next to a bakery, pulling the emergency brake and turning off the engine. JJ zealously pouts in the back seat, probably wanting to drive the flashy sports car but being unable to.
For Seung-gil's 16th birthday last year, Miles had brought him to the DMV, having gotten permission from Umma that he should practice driving. Umma, who had been nearly run over countless times ever since she started walking around Seoul, said that California drivers were better than the ones back home, and pushed Seung-gil to get behind the wheel to experience what safer driving should be. They went to the nearest Costco after closing hours and Seung-gil had fun turning, parking and narrowly missing a light pole. The opportunity to practice driving has been slim during school and competition season, but now that it's the summer, Miles would throw him his keys whenever they head off for groceries.
The plan this year was to have a quiet (non-existent) birthday since the large calendar that had Seung-gil's and JJ's schedules showed a series of long courtroom days during the weekend and the week after his birthday for Miles, but somehow JJ found out, tackled him the moment he got back from walking Pess that morning, and declared that they're still going to celebrate it even if it was a week late.
"Hot pot, hot pot," JJ sings as they enter Boiling Point, the humidity inside hitting them squarely in the face. It's loud and packed to the brim with people waiting for seats, but Miles steers both of them to follow the waitress, who sits them down in a corner next to the windows. Seung-gil pulls down the sunglasses Bianca gifted earlier that afternoon from his head, the leather corded bracelet from Brent sliding down his right wrist.
"Oh good timing!"
Seung-gil turns to see Carol and Otabek wade through the throng of people like fish moving upstream. Otabek grins at the navy blue tank top Seung-gil is wearing, a gift from him, while Carol drops onto the couch seat next to Miles.
"You boys should sit next to each other, I'll take a picture for you."
JJ doesn't hesitate, scuttling around the table and bumping into Seung-gil as he throws up a pose with his hands. Seung-gil leans forward, elbows on the table, and tries to pull his mouth up in a natural looking smile. Judging by the way Miles presses his mouth together, he must have failed.
"Don't post anything on Instagram, I'll edit it for you first," JJ says, flipping through the menu rapidly, eyes glittering, "But remember, boba's on me afterwards."
"Will you pay for mine too?" Otabek smirks.
JJ slams the front page of the menu passionately, "Birthday boy only!"
"Sure," Seung-gil says, distracted and ready to out-eat his friends.
Carol shakes her head, muttering to Miles as their waitress zips by and start taking orders, "They're going to put this place out of business." Seung-gil douses his broth in chili oil, and laughs when JJ slurps some and ends up choking as the spice hits the back of his throat. Seung-gil accepts Carol's leftover meat and tofu when she taps out, lying back on the couch chair as if she needs to be rolled out of the restaurant.
"We'll be right back," Carol says, Miles holding the door open for her. Seung-gil chirps an okay as the parental figures drive to a nearby Target for errands while leaving them at Jin Tea Shop to lounge around.
"Whew," A voice says behind Seung-gil's head, "Made it."
"Heyyy," JJ grins, leaning to another table and using his long and powerful forearms to drag and spin two chairs for Leo and Guang Hong, whose roots have grown out a little.
"Happy birthday," Guang Hong cheers, holding up some Paris Baguette pastries in a white box. Seung-gil blinks when he slides it over to him, "Eat it tomorrow when you get home, it's from the both of us."
Seung-gil didn't expect any present from them, "Oh thank you."
Leo grins, placing down a card game as he walks backwards to the till, "Cards Against Humanity right when we get back."
Otabek smiles, shuffling cards and dealing them out.
Ji-eun: this hamster boy in your ig is so cute!!!
Ji-eun: what's his name?
Seo-jung: Ji Guang Hong
Ji-eun: soooo cute! those cheeks!!!
Seung-gil: stop it, he's a rink mate
Seo-jung: youre too old for him anyway
Ji-eun: r u d e
"Remember your arms!" Frank says, and Seung-gil takes off the back outside edge, feeling his stomach drop. Immediately, he tips in midair and feels the harness pull him upright, preventing him from sprawling out on the ice as he lands shakily, spraying ice as he stops.
"Let's go around again."
Seung-gil nods, building more speed, gliding with his leg crossed, before crouching and launching himself up. Arms tight around his body, he lands on his toe pick and releases the opposite leg so it swings outward free, wobbling. Frank whoops, and Seung-gil smiles tiredly.
After jumping seven more times, swerving away from Chris, botching his landing four times and sprawling out on his last run, he glides over to the side boards to see JJ grinning at him, offering his water bottle.
"Were you here the entire time?" Seung-gil frowns. He digs around the pocket of his black jersey to fish out his lip balm. By the remains of a banana peel and yogurt tube next to JJ, he must have been here for his break. He feels a nudge by his side, turning to see Otabek raise an amused brow to their Canadian neighbour.
"Just watching you guys, one of the coaches is having a bad stomach so she told us to take a nice long break," JJ shrugs, who then points to the figure of Guang Hong cheering Leo on the ice, "He's also here, too."
The news apparently doesn't faze Otabek, who takes a gulp of water and skates over to Frank, strapping the harness on himself.
JJ angles his phone over to Seung-gil, "Look at it."
He takes the phone and sees a slow-motion version of the first time he landed the quad loop, the blade of his skates touching the ice as the rest of his foot followed, a spray of ice rising, "You look like you need to be more aware of your foot."
Seung-gil stares at JJ, feeling half-amused that a sixteen year old who had only 2 quads on his roster is teaching him the principle of the quad loop. He reaches over the barrier and rubs JJ's hair.
"What am I? A dog?" JJ gruffly mumbles.
Seung-gil shrugs, skating backwards to practice his quads, "If the shoes fit...."
Open your mouth wide
Seung-gil hovers at the mouth of the rink, blinking the sleep away from his eyes as JJ bumps into him and comes to a short stop, seeing the lone figure on the ice, a haunting voice backed up with sounds of the crashing ocean booming across the speakers.
A universal sigh, and while the ocean blooms
"It's what keeps me alive," Otabek mouths, twisting himself through an effortless looking step sequence to the untrained eye, bangs soaked with sweat accumulated throughout the day. He slides across the ice to the music, too immersed to see them standing half-hidden, the male voice above changing to a ghostly sound of a choir as the song shifts to another.
Seung-gil slowly steps back, feeling his emotions tug along to the music and of the ethereal figure spinning, the harsh overhead lights highlighting what a decade of hard work bore fruit to. While he always pushed the fact that Otabek was first and foremost his friend, this is a reminder that he is not to be taken lightly, especially since they'll be at the Olympics this year.
He feels a woman's hand gripping his elbows, turning to see Carol's eyes staring far away, amazed. It must be her first time stepping inside the rink. Her breath comes out in clouds.
"That's his exhibition piece?"
She gives a soft exhale, "What an amazing boy."
Ji-eun: have you found out which country you've been assigned to??
Seung-gil: China, Japan. Chongqing and Sapporo
"No," He grumbles, curling up and shutting his eyes even though they're still closed, safe in his cocoon of blankets. "No, it's not my turn to walk Pess! Go away JJ, and let me sleep!"
His door ricochets the wall with a loud bang, and Seung-gil wakes up to JJ diving on top of him.
"It's raining!" JJ protests, wheezing as he tries to wiggle his way out of Seung-gil's head lock of death. "It never rains in Cali!"
That would explain why his bedroom is not as bright as it usually is. JJ escapes, and Seung-gil sits up to see the overcast skies and the soft plink plink of the rain hitting the gutter, "We get rain sometimes. You don't like it, right?"
JJ turns his head, having gotten distracted by the open workbook on his table with pens and high lighters littering the wood, sticky notes stuck to the shelves attached above. There's a faraway look in his eyes, "Huh? No it's not that I don't like it..."
"I'll take Pess for a walk," Seung-gil pushes JJ's leg off of him, tugging her leash out of his hands and pulling on a hoodie and Otabek's baseball cap sitting on his desk. He changes his pants and grabs his water bottle before going downstairs to rummage around the hall closet for Pess's yellow raincoat.
JJ peers down the banister, "Are you sure you want to walk her? It doesn't look like it's stopping any time soon." There's a thunder of footsteps and JJ shrugs his windbreaker on, "I'm coming too."
"I'm giving you a pass."
"I want to see what's so great about rain," JJ says, sticking his nose up into the air as Seung-gil locks the front door. Pess sniffs around a flower bush as they make their way around the neighbourhood. "It's just wet. Your hairstyle you put so much effort into goes flat, you have to carry an umbrella everywhere you go, people are more miserable in the rain, Californians suddenly go 5 miles per hour...."
"It makes eating hotteok and sweet potatoes better, and gives the grass and greenery some water," Seung-gil says, looking around at how much livelier the grass seems in their neighbourhood. He doesn't correct JJ on the drivers in California, "And the sound of rain hitting the windows is nice, that's how I used to fall asleep when I was little."
"In Ontario we get storms, nothing like the soft drizzle in Vancouver last winter nor the one right now, but honest to god storms with lightning and thunder booming across the sky. In June it usually becomes so humid you'd wonder if you were transported to a sauna, and then, the clouds would gather and everyone would be waiting for thunder."
"One of Guang Hong's cousin's name means 'clap of thunder'."
"What does yours mean?"
"'A path to victory,'" Seung-gil says, slowing down when he sees a familiar car coming their way. Bianca waves as she crawls to a stop, hair in double Dutch braids and sporting a cozy looking cream-colored sweater, "Hey—oh my god, hello sweetie! Aw she's so cute in a rain jacket. Why does Seung-gil look like he rolled out of bed?"
"Because I did."
"Hm, interested in going to a party?" She grins, the same one that she gave to Seung-gil when they illegally pooled in her car after going to the mall. Seung-gil had heard legendary things about the parties the twins throw, and not all of them are good things, "My dad's off to San Diego after lunch to get chummy with his business partners, and my mom's flying to Belgium for some law thing or the other."
JJ, who has had his fair shares of house parties and underage drinking, nods, "Sure," He says, speaking for both of them. "We can help set up if you pick us up since neither of us can drive."
"Oh that's true, alright! Tell Prosecutor Edgeworth that you're sleeping over at Brent's house. If he asks where I am, I'm sleeping over at my cousin's in Anaheim. Pick up after seven?"
Bianca waves, says that she's going off to a pilates class and drives away. Seung-gil throws Pess's poop bag at JJ, who yelps and scrambles to catch it, "Don't make plans for me."
"You're not coming?"
"No," Seung-gil huffs, wiggling the leash as a signal for Pess to pick up her pace. Being taller had advantages, JJ soon complaining of Seung-gil walking too fast and breaking out into a jog to catch up.
"Wait, I didn't mean to make you angry!" His elbow gets tugged and Seung-gil loses his hood to the rain. "I...sorry," JJ lamely says, looking down and releasing his grip. "I thought you two were friendly with each other."
JJ looks disgruntled when he admits that. Seung-gil's senses tingles, "Just because we're friends doesn't mean that I would attend her party."
"You two aren't a thing?"
"What gave you the impression that we are?" Seung-gil says, taking a step closer and frowning. He hadn't realized it, but nearly a month has passed from the start of training camp and JJ has shot up several inches, their eyes at nearly identical height. In the corner of his head, his confidence shatters slightly at the thought of JJ beating him. When he's close enough to see JJ's pores, he hears a warning siren in his brain and stops.
Faltering, JJ's eyes whizzes left and right, "Um. Well. I heard her compliment you about your body on the beach?"
The memory sparks a slight flush to his face which Seung-gil battled away with thoughts of putting his cheek straight on the rink floor, "So?"
"ImeanIagreewithherandum!" JJ chokes on his saliva, coughing. Disgusted, Seung-gil leans back to avoid the flying spittle, "I heard from her twin that you helped each other out with school work?"
"So? It's a mutualistic relationship. She helped me with English and I helped her with Calculus."
"Ugh Seung-gil!" JJ yells, losing patience and waving his arms around, the sleeve of his University of Toronto hoodie shooting past his fingertips as he resembles a blue, flapping bird with wet bangs, "She's definitely into you! You're SO blind to not see it!"
"Quiet down!" Someone yells, sticking their head out of their bedroom. Below his feet, Pess growls in the direction of the voice and starts barking.
"No, Pess!" Seung-gil hushes her, tugging on her leash as they put distance between the cranky old man hanging out of the window and themselves. Pess stops growling once they turn right at the end of the block. They come up to the empty grass field that Seung-gil uses to build endurance, so he unclips her from her leash and tosses a tennis ball far, far away. Pess barks and dashes off.
They both stand in silence for a few minutes, watching her yellow raincoat come closer and closer until she drops the tennis ball at Seung-gil's feet. Seung-gil reflects, thinking of Bianca and not feeling anything except his slightly cold toes and the rain on his exposed legs. Pess sits on her hind legs, looking pleased.
He throws the tennis ball again, losing the yellow-green ball in the grey clouds before turning to JJ, "Look, we're not a thing, I'm not going to the party, and don't drag me into this if you come home drunk and Miles finds out."
JJ grunts an agreement, reaching down to grab the tennis ball from Pess and flinging it away. For some cosmic, unknown reason, the motion makes Seung-gil irritated, and they spend the walk back in silence.
That night, Seung-gil inevitably opens his eyes again after failing to fall asleep for the past two hours. Miles had gone to bed earlier than him, the half moons beneath his eyes so large it drooped down his face like a basset hound's. There's a quiet roll of tires on pavement outside, and Seung-gil slithers out of bed and moves one row of blind out of his way to see a dark figure crouching low, moving towards the front door as Bianca's car drives off.
Otabek corners him during lunch while Guang Hong distracts JJ and Leo with some new artist he found on Spotify. Seung-gil is refilling his water bottle, holding an ice pack to his hip while wishing that he was back home sleeping.
"Are you two fighting?" Otabek asks, taking a large bite out of his chicken wrap, leaning against the same wall that the water fountain is drilled into. Sauce sticks to the corner of his mouth as he chews, the skylight from above highlighting the dark brown of his hair.
"No," He grumbles, finding comfort that Otabek stuck next to him during morning on and off-ice practices when he usually wanders around the both of them. It's then with a slight twinge of guilt that he realizes he's essentially depriving JJ of one of his favorite friends. "Or, I don't think so. Did JJ say anything?"
"Not exactly, but you can see it on his face."
Seung-gil can see what he'd meant. JJ looks closed off and uncharacteristically quiet when they both return to their lunch table in the corner. He's rapidly texting someone on his phone and doesn't challenge anyone to any arm-wrestling matches. There's a deeper crater forming between his eyebrows as he frowns.
"He's a mini Seung-gil," A random junior says, who yelps and gets laughed at by his group of friends when Seung-gil whips around to glare at him.
The laughter breaks JJ out of his mood, and he returns to eating his mandarins before texting sporadically, staining his phone with sticky fingers. Seung-gil nearly drags him to the sinks in the bathroom, but refrains from doing so and leaves the table early so he can roll out his mat to stretch some more.
One of the junior girls waves at him, an Italian jersey around her shoulders. Seung-gil nods at her and slips in his earbuds to signal that he would like to be left alone. Down in the lobby, there's only him and a few other skaters eating quietly, huddled in groups. He starts by lying on his back and pulling one knee to his chest, his short program song playing.
"Noona?" He replies to the incoming call, switching his knees.
"Umma won the case!" Ji-eun cheers, sounding too awake for someone who doesn't wake up until the sun is halfway across the sky. "She won your custody, and he won't get any visitation rights!"
"Not that he ever visited me past my 7th birthday when I started living in the dorms," Seung-gil rolls his eyes, sitting up and stretching forward to grab his toes. "Did he even try to fight?"
"It was pretty ugly, but Umma's sunbaenim's brother is a divorce lawyer and he won her pretty much everything she wanted. The alimony is large enough to cover for your next ten years of training I think," Ji-eun giggles, "But I wanted to let you know as soon as possible. Umma spent the night at Imo's since her place is closer to the courts and she was too tired from being in clinic all day long."
"Thanks for telling me," He says softly, looking over his shoulder to see Sara peer at her reflection in a compact mirror and adjusting her make up. "You should go back to sleep, isn't it still 5?"
"5:47, I have an early shoot today anyway. Seo-jung has a midterm and I'm going to make some kimbap for her so she doesn't have to leave the library to get food. How's training?"
"Taxing. How's your drama?"
He often relates more to his eldest sister despite him and Seo-jung having a two year age difference between them. He and Ji-eun both knew the pain of starting out small and climbing the ladder to the top slowly, of early mornings and memorizing lines and programs and being in front of cameras. Ji-eun was scouted on the streets the day she was kicked out of university for failing too many classes and gave Umma a proverbial aneurysm when she broke the news. Seung-gil could still hear Umma's yelling to this day.
"You know how it is," She says, the sound of chopping filling his ears, "Taxing. I'm still a junior...but I read the blogs online and people seem to like my character execution well enough, so my agency is trying to get me another role in an upcoming drama. Who knows, maybe I'll be the next break-out hallyu star!"
"I hope you get it, they'd be dumb not to see your talent."
"You're so sweet," His sister croons, "How's your host-brother?"
Seung-gil frowns, "Miles doesn't have a wife or children. He's just hosting JJ until training camp is over." He lies back down on the mat and hears the muffled crack of his spin settling back into place.
"So you're sure he's not gay then?"
"Could still be bisexual," She says, chopping something that sounds crunchy. "One of the new dramas out has a character who left her boyfriend for a girl. Which, you know, speaks volume about the industry. I'm surprised the director allowed that."
Seung-gil doesn't say anything, the faint feeling of irritation coming back and settling somewhere near his chest. It felt like an itch he couldn't scratch, annoying and unwelcome. He just feels lousy in general today, popping out of his quads, landing two-footed, being on the receiving end of Frank's frowns during practice, and more so with how he didn't sleep well last night. He wonders if Miles would agree if he dropped by Koreatown so Seung-gil could make his favorite comfort food. He pulls out his phone and texts him.
He hums, "What?"
Ji-eun, for all he remembers of her since he was little, had always tugged him forward by the hand, looking everyone right in the eye and acted like no one in the world can stop her from doing what she wants, so her hesitancy made him listen, "...Never mind. I'm sure you know it by now. I have to take a shower soon, I'll call you in a few days?"
That might have been the vaguest thing she's ever said to him, but he drops it, "Yeah, thanks for updating me."
He lies on the couches next to Otabek, reading the last book on his summer reading list and blinking like he'll fall asleep soon. JJ is somewhere down in the rink for his private ice time, and per Carol, she would rather prefer to drop them off in one go than going back and forth in LA traffic. Seung-gil yawns.
"Brent invited us for beer at the school's track," Otabek says, looking down on his phone.
"Pass," Otabek nods, typing their reply. "He's been trying to weasel us into drinking ever since JJ agreed, I see."
His vague irritation at JJ has manifested into a small beast that rears its head too much, but he didn't want to say that since JJ hasn't done anything wrong. He wonders if this is a second wave of puberty for him and prays that he doesn't shoot up too fast that his center of gravity will be compromised once again.
"It's already July huh," Otabek muses, looking at the calendar on his phone. "Only a couple more weeks before everyone goes back."
"For good riddance," Seung-gil closes his eyes and closes his book with a forceful clap of his hands. "I haven't been able to sleep properly since JJ decided that having sleepovers on my bedroom floor and waking me up by jumping on me was a fun and normal thing to do. It's like having a mini pet that constantly takes pictures of you."
"...He takes pictures of you?"
Seung-gil opens one eyelid, amused at the gobsmacked expression on Otabek's face. "Doesn't he do that with you too? I saw some of your gym pictures."
"Well, I agreed to those ones, but did you give him permission?"
Something clicks in Seung-gil's brain, like finally landing a quad properly for the first time, "Has he always asked for permission to take your pictures?"
Otabek's face goes blank, like someone accidentally flicked his power on and off button. The blank look is quickly replaced by a usual small frown.
"I...don't know if you've noticed, but he treats you differently. And I can't say anything more than that because I've promised him not to talk further about this to you," Otabek says, looking down and avoiding eye contact. Seung-gil's head is landing many, many quads. So that's why JJ and Otabek were always talking so seriously at the weights when they're at the gym, and, and JJ must have been jealous when he overheard what Bianca said to Seung-gil.
It explained so many things.
"Oh," He says dumbly, looking at the book on his lap and running his finger along the edge of the front cover. "JJ doesn't offer to edit your pictures."
"And he doesn't lie half on top of you, or offer to pay for your drink and take Pess out for a walk when it's clearly not his turn."
Otabek looks like he shouldn't be answering more of Seung-gil's questions, and shakes his head. Seung-gil doesn't know if that meant he was the only one getting special treatment, or if Otabek didn't want to answer anymore questions verbally for the sake of loyalty.
A textbook slips off their couch and Otabek bends down to retrieve it, dusting the dirt off the front cover of his chemistry book. Seung-gil stares at it, realizing that Otabek is a few years younger than him and young people, as Ji-eun always said, are impressionable.
"You didn't betray him, but, thanks for...thanks for keeping it quiet and answer a few of my questions," He finishes lamely. Leo would have known the right thing to say— he's always a hit with the older females, the ones in his Umma's age range whenever they go out on the weekend to Venice or the beach.
"You're both my friends, I didn't know what to do," Otabek mumbles, jerking his head slightly. He's sitting with both feet planted on the ground, frowning. "What are you doing to do?"
Seung-gil stares at the patch of sunlight on the dusty floors. It's scuffed, the faded grey-blue and hideous orange tiles making him think of JJ's eyes and his obsession with things the color of Canadian Maple Leaf Red.
"I don't know if I like him in that way," Instantly after he says that, his insides squirm to revolt. What a lie, his brain hisses, bringing up the heady, jealous dragon that has been lying low in him. Seung-gil shuts his eyes, scratching his hair and opening them slowly against the glare, "Maybe I do like him a little."
"What's with that response?"
Otabek shrugs, confused and happy at the same time, "Well. JJ is loud. You always looked so disgruntled whenever he's around."
"Believe me, I know he's loud," JJ, from below, skates off the ice, signalling the end to his private ice time. Seung-gil starts packing his book, ignoring whatever Otabek said back to him, focusing his energy into making sure his book isn't crushed by his skates and lunch containers. He focuses all of his holy-shit-Ji-eun-is-going-to-have-a-field-day into remaining calm and schooling his expression to one of boredom.
Was his world suddenly different now that he realized and accepted his feelings for JJ? The skies might have looked brighter, though that could simply be just California. His training bag could feel lighter as it bumps against his hip, and JJ running full tilt at them definitely looked too happy, and Seung-gil braces himself to be slammed to the ground.
JJ comes to a stop before them, grinning ear-to-ear, "Bells is coming to California for the weekend! She said she'll give us another chance!"
"Oh," There's an insignificant pause to Otabek's surprised oh, "Where will you two go? It's Independence Day weekend, Carol's going to have a barbecue." One part of Seung-gil's brain is calculating the price of renting a car for minors in California, and he's pretty sure that neither JJ or Isabella are old enough to pay the car fee on top of being below the age requirement. He stands rooted to the ground.
"Just around the neighbourhood. We can call an Uber or Lyft," JJ says, gleefully leading them outside as Seung-gil's neck turns hot. He's not sure what he's feeling— disbelief maybe, shock definitely. "We wanted to go to Anaheim but it'll probably be super packed for the weekend and Bells is a year under the age requirement for car rentals."
"Where is she staying?" Seung-gil sharply speaks up.
"With us!" In any other moment, Seung-gil's heart would beat faster, but using 'us' in this instance made the jealous dragon in him rear its head again. "Miles says she has to sleep in a different room of course, but it'll be great! She's really smart, Seung-gil, you'll have fun talking to her— Carol!"
"Hello boys!" Carol smiles, waiting until everyone has buckled in before driving away from the rink. She swings down her sunglasses from her forehead, fighting to release it from her hair.
"Carol, my best friend from Canada is coming this weekend, can she come to the barbecue too?"
"Of course! The more the merrier, will she be staying with Miles?"
While JJ and Carol carry the conversation through LA traffic, Seung-gil's phone buzzes incessantly in his pocket. It's Otabek, showing a worried emoji.
Seung-gil swipes his phone for a blank faced yellow dot with eyes, turning it off and gazing out the window. He cranks down the windows until they're about halfway, smelling the smog and exhaust in the freeway as they speed slowly past several cars. The moon, faraway, seems insignificantly small in the purple and orange background.
Me: can i sleepover at otabek's?
Miles: if carol agrees, then yes. see you tomorrow
"Can I come over tonight?" Seung-gil says quietly as JJ slams the door, bouncing towards Miles's house without a look back. Otabek, in the front seat, turns, blinking in surprise.
Carol looks between him and JJ's figure slipping into the house, the front door left open. He can see him crouching at the doorway, scratching a yellow mutt, "Of course, did you want to hop in for a few to grab your toothbrush?"
Seung-gil didn't even think about that. He nods and hurriedly enters the house, JJ already whistling from the upstairs bathroom as he starts his shower. Seung-gil plucks his toothbrush from his en-suite, packs his towel and pyjamas into his school bag and locks the door behind him.
Carol pulls out a sleeping bag and a mattress topper from the hall closet, leaving it to them to fight for who gets the bed (Otabek obviously), before saying that she'll start dinner. Otabek changes into a pair of yellow shorts and light blue t-shirt, sitting on his computer chair as Seung-gil changes into more comfortable clothes.
Seung-gil's phone rings, and he sighs, holding it out arm-length away and pressing the green button, "JJ—"
"YOU WENT TO A SLEEPOVER WITHOUT ME?"
"Yes, good night."
Otabek laughs, watching Seung-gil flop ungracefully on his back. It quickly turns somber, "I wasn't expecting the ex to come back into the picture."
"Do you know her?"
"She was there once or twice when the junior grand prix was held somewhere in Canada. I think last time I saw her it was in Kelowna when JJ was eleven," Otabek peers down at him, "Neither you nor I know the details of the relationship so we shouldn't assume, but they did break up for a reason, Seung-gil."
"And now they're back together."
Otabek goes quiet at that, moving away and opening his closet to dig in one of the drawers. Seung-gil stares at the popcorn ceiling dully, before Otabek tickles his feet.
Seung-gil raises himself up, catching a game controller as Otabek gestures to his Wii, "I call Kirby."
Seung-gil smiles, "I call Pichu."
Predictably, JJ whines the entire day when they show up to the rink. Leo and Guang Hong are amused at this, and their group's balance is restored on the surface with Seung-gil pushing JJ's fat head off his shoulder every five seconds. In the spirit of a national holiday, Frank ends some of their classes early and Seung-gil skips out of the rink to see Bianca and Brett grinning at him.
"There's one, two and three!" Bianca cheers, tugging them to where she parked her car. Several boys from the hockey team returning from a lap around the rink hoot at her, to which she ignores promptly. Seung-gil gets a bad feeling when Brett tug their bags off their shoulders with a too enthusiastic grin.
"We won't fit," Seung-gil says, appraising the bulk JJ and Otabek have between them and the fact that Seung-gil will block the back mirror when he sits in the middle.
Brett tugs him away, pointing to the white Toyota next to Bianca's car, "Welcome abroad my friend, you can have the AC blasting on you without the other two hogging it this time."
Seung-gil gets needled into the car, giving up and strapping himself in when Brett blocks his every move with a pearly grin. Bianca is already zooming away, all the windows rolled down as some pop blast through the radio, causing several heads to turn to her from the other drivers, "Don't you two have summer jobs?"
"Took the day off," Brett breezily drives out of the parking lot, following his sister. "You've missed too many of our party so we decided that we're going to have a movie day instead. No drinks present, I promise. And if there is a beer or twelve, just ignore it. So what's new? Hot honeys to bang? More gold medals to win?"
"The latter," Seung-gil snorts, leaning against the window and moving the visor so it covers part of him. He can feel the engine below rumbling, "I don't know what lies JJ has been feeding you, but I don't do well with honeys."
"Oh?" Seung-gil can tell that Brett is arching one eyebrow from his tone. He shifts in his seat, clearing his throat, "So you're more of a...uh, beefy guy?"
Seung-gil decides to pull his leg, "I didn't realize honeys were a secret word for girls, or are they not for both genders?"
"Speaking from an English point of view, you're absolutely right— HEY!" Brett slams his horn, jamming on the brake as the car in front of them poorly merged, "Idiots. Speaking from that point of view, you're right, but I've always been nosy my entire life and wondered if you're just not interested in relationships in general or if you're interested in dudes."
"Bianca was right, you are nosy."
"She said that?! When?"
"No," Seung-gil cracks a grin, looking straight ahead of the Hollywood sign they're driving towards. The hills are brown despite it raining a week ago. "She never said that. And I'm gay, as I've found out a day ago."
"You're going to break my sister's heart."
"I'm too busy for her even if I was straight," Seung-gil rolls his eyes, pumping his hands into fists to hide how clammy they are. He takes a deep breath, "And you're not surprised?"
"Everyone defaults each other to be straight, so it's always a surprise to find out the opposite, but you're still you, a sunscreen loving freak who can out eat all of us and still stay skinny," Brett glances over at him, "They're...not so forward back in Korea are they?"
Seung-gil shrugs, "No, they're not," The mood considerably sours from the way Brett is looking like someone pinched the inside of his arm. "It's up to you to make me feel better now."
"Got it!" Brett slams the gas and laughs when Seung-gil swears and holds onto the arm rest and hand bar above.
"Hm," Carol says, looking at the three of them sitting on her kitchen table in various stages of dressing. Otabek is running a towel through his wet hair, Seung-gil is looking at her with his breakfast finished and JJ is trying to chew the remainder of his sandwich while sticking his head through his shirt hole. Outside, they can see her neighbors set up lawn chairs for the fireworks tonight.
"See you, sweetheart," Her husband waves, running out the door with a cup of coffee in a travel mug.
"I volunteer to make the deviled eggs while the rest of you go out to Costco," JJ says, spittles of saliva and mayo splattering the table. Seung-gil eyes that with disgust, throwing a tissue box at him.
"That's a bad idea," He says as JJ kicks his leg under the table, rubbing the area where his nose took the brunt of the tissue box, "He burnt instant noodles at Miles's. I wouldn't trust him with boiling water."
"Okay, why don't Seung-gil and I go do the food run and you two stay here to prep some of the easier stuff?" Carol says to JJ's loud protest. Seung-gil smirks and waves, watching Otabek roll his eyes as JJ presses his nose against the living room window while they drive off to the freeway.
"You must be sad that the end of training camp is drawing to an end," Carol pulls her sunglasses out of the middle console, slipping them on as Seung-gil tugs on Otabek's cap to block the sun. "I certainly will, it was lively to have three boys to take care of."
He shrugs, thinking of how Carol's husband will be picking Isabella up from LAX just before they start the barbecue, "I can sleep in peace, can't wait."
Carol gives him a small smile, and doesn't talk for the rest of the drive. Once they got to Costco, they fought to grab the last parking spot on the furthest edge of the lot and quickly grabbed everything they needed before going to another store for the things that aren't in bulk. They stop at Ktown to grab some soy milk and tofu for dessert, and Carol goes to a nearby house hidden in the alleyway to haggle for something. Seung-gil wasn't sure what to do so he stood outside the car, scuffing his sneakers on the dust as Carol runs towards him, arm laden with spices.
"JJ's girlfriend is coming right?"
The dragon in him no longer rears its head. Rather, it lies pathetically with its wings wrapped around itself, curled up into a tiny ball. Seung-gil composes his face as he buckles in his seat belt, "Yea, from Toronto."
"On second thought, here," Carol tosses him her keys, "We're going home now, why don't you practice?"
Seung-gil reluctantly sits behind the wheel of her battered car, adjusting everything and getting a quick overview on how to drive manual. It nearly takes all of his concentration to change gears properly, and he grips the wheel with white knuckles as they merge on the highway, knowing that her husband will probably resurrect him and kill him for a second time if they crash, "Are you sure I should be driving?"
"Miles's car isn't manual, when are you going to have another chance at this?" Carol whistles, fiddling with the radio and humming. Seung-gil swallows and nervously gulps when the engine growls beneath him.
Miraculously, they make it home in one piece and Seung-gil takes a ten minute breather sitting on the toilet before joining the chaos that is the Lee-Altin kitchen. JJ dances to the music hooked on his Bluetooth speaker, placed on the top of the fridge as he and Carol belt out choruses of songs from the 80s. He and Otabek take blackmail videos, which blew up in the group chat with Leo sending laughing-crying emojis and Guang Hong sharing it on his social media.
"Boys!" Carol shoves a tray of white ceramic bowls with brown liquid in them- chocolate tofu pudding. "Put these in the garage fridge will you? Thanks!"
Seung-gil bears the brunt of two trays as Otabek pulls the bottom part of the fridge, settling them in on top of several tubs of ice cream, "This is a lot, will it even be finished?"
Otabek shrugs, "Well, Leo and Guang Hong are coming later with their families, and Miles is bringing his sister isn't he?"
Seung-gil vividly remembers Miles adopted sister, blanching, "Avoid her at all cost, she's scary."
"I'm glad you're feeling better," Otabek laughs, swinging the garage door shut and coming back to hear JJ whooping at someone standing at the front door.
Seung-gil watches as Carol's husband wiggle around the hugging couple, kissing the top of Carol's head as he heads to the bathroom. Otabek bumps his shoulder into his, a reassuring and warm presence next to him as the girl lifts her head up and takes off her sun hat, revealing a pale face framed with black hair.
"You must be Seung-gil!"
"The one and only," JJ pulls her closer to his side, grinning. Seung-gil has a sudden urge to kick him, but swats his hand away when he tries to pull him into a side hug, "Ow!"
"You deserved that," Isabella and Seung-gil choruses. They both look at each other, and Otabek snorts.
Carol ushers them in after that, asking if Isabella would like to shower and get the airport dirt off, but she declines with a pearly smile and joins in Otabek's quiet suggestion of Super Smash, saying that Otabek grew so much from the last time she saw him.
Seung-gil feels infinitesimally small, like his first day of school where everyone is laughing at him for being a figure skater with an accent. He digs his feet into the house slippers provided and shakes it off, walking past JJ without a word to join Carol in the kitchen again.
There are pathologists and surgeons in the house, since Carol and her husband invited their work friends. Seung-gil slips out into the backyard for some alone time and digs for his cellphone when he sees two figures hidden in the shadows kiss. There's a soft whispering after that, though he doesn't stay for very long.
Back inside the stifling house, Seung-gil pulls out his phone and checks his messages. JJ doesn't send anymore pictures, and he stares at the screen until it dims and turns off.
Brett stares at him when he and Otabek come to his doorstep, the house party loud and alive behind him, "Hi?"
Seung-gil came here to forget, so he slips passes him with a quiet greeting, throws a twenty at Bianca and starts drinking whatever cocktail is in his red solo cup.
"Seung-gil!" She shouts over the music, frowning, his twenty still in her hand. Her eyes look wide and dark, amplified by the fake lashes and smokey eyeshadow, "What are you doing?"
She glances helplessly at her twin, who gives her a look of I-don't-know-what's-going-on-either, and hands him a bottle of water, "Don't get too smashed."
He pats her shoulder before slipping out from the living room to one of the quieter hallways, Otabek following him like a concerned shadow. They pass several people from their high school, all of them surprised that they showed up. They slap his shoulders and tell him that he's grown bulkier, hanging him a new can of beer as Otabek frowns. Seung-gil finally finds the little theater room they've used before and sets his cup down on the coffee table, leaning back on the cushions.
"What are they doing tonight?"
"Disneyland, an Airbnb, and probably sex," Seung-gil says, stating the facts. Miles had let him go too easily tonight, and he confirmed his suspicious when he and JJ exited the house with Isabella to have fun at Carol's. "Isn't that what teenage years are for?"
Otabek sits next to him, the white of his shirt— the one Seung-gil gave him from Myeongdong— turning blue from the mood lighting above, "JJ doesn't deserve this, you're better off not angsting over him."
"I know that!" Seung-gil spits, "But I can't help it, can I? He's all over her last night and this afternoon."
Otabek pulls out his phone and holds it in front of him.
"Why are you giving me a picture of Yuri Plisetsky?"
"Let's talk about him," Otabek says, with no room for argument. "How long will you think it'll take for him to join Seniors?"
"Otabek, you're terrible at distracting me with our competitors. I don't want to think about skating," It's only because he's been playing the entirety of The Weeknd's discography that he knows what song is reverberating throughout the house. "I can't wait until JJ leaves."
Otabek hands him a pillow to hug, "Five more days."
"Cheers," Seung-gil says, drinking some water to wash away the taste of whatever Bianca mixed. He grimaces when Otabek asks him to take a sip of the red cup again for fun, and they dissolve into picking movies to watch on the home theater's extensive selections.
"Rough night?" Leo asks sympathetically.
JJ grunts, blearily blinking as Seung-gil stifles a yawn by eating the leftover roasted chicken Carol had given him. JJ is eating the same lunch as him, like always, "Bells left last night."
"Ah, was it a nice vacation for her?"
To their great surprise, JJ remains quiet. The dragon sniffs its nose hopefully into the air, but Seung-gil quickly crushes it, choosing to grab everyone's water bottles and go for a water run downstairs. Sara waves at him when he passes, and he gives her a nod while pushing the bottles against the sensor, thinking.
It's not as if he didn't want to hear what had happened, but training camp is wrapping up quickly. It wouldn't be worth it, in his opinion, to do a long distance relationship especially now that they're into Olympic season, and JJ still has his own shortcomings to focus on as does Seung-gil.
He comes back to Leo patting JJ's shoulder, and JJ's eyes rimmed red. Seung-gil excuses himself for their exhibition gala as a wrap up of training camp, hitting the ice early and getting compliments on his new jersey. He looks up at the USA flag and spots the South Korea one nearby, leaning against the rink as he waits for everyone to show up.
The wrap up ends nicely, with Otabek and Leo doing a jazz number and Guang Hong twizzling across the ice to the Chinese ice dancing couple from his former rink in an attempt to tease them. They take many pictures and blast the top 40 hit list on stage, snacking and drinking some well deserved soda after two brutal months of being rubbed raw. Seung-gil and Otabek still have dance lessons after this, but they promised JJ to meet him in the rink again before Carol picks them up.
"Welcome back," Miles says, a pink apron around his waist as Pess greets them hello. Seung-gil could see that he's sad, his smile straining. They cook JJ's favorites, and Seung-gil makes his favorite comfort food for everyone: Samyang's fire noodle stew with enoki mushrooms, tteokbokki, shredded cheese, imitation crab and fresh spring onions for all of them.
After dessert, they take Pess for her nightly walk around the beach, Seung-gil in a sleeveless hoodie and JJ kicking the sand and sighing. The sun has just finished setting, the last pinks in the sky slowly disappearing and melding together with the blue-grey of the clouds.
"I'll miss the weather here."
"It'll still be summer when you return."
"It won't be the same," JJ looks at him, sitting down at a large piece of driftwood as Pess looks for some crabs to play with. His bangs, still damp from his shower, sways in the balmy breeze. "I had a lot of fun here."
"Don't get sensitive on me."
JJ scrunches his nose, "I wasn't being sensitive! Just grateful that I came here this summer."
Seung-gil heart twists, and he looks at the black ocean and the calm, crashing waves. He picks up a seashell and rubs the textured pattern, feeling the grooves and dips on his thumb.
"It was fun living with you," Seung-gil says in his general direction, staring at the ocean and thinking how in a few years, he'll have the Pacific Ocean separating him from JJ. It was never meant to be, he decided. Their schedules and distance won't work except for a few short days on the off chance that they might be seeded in the same competition. "I had a lot of fun," He quietly repeats.
JJ unearths his Bluetooth speaker and returns it to his pocket, the Weeknd's voice surrounding them. Seung-gil's stomach begins to churn uncomfortably.
I put you on top, I put you on top.
Pess trots by and wags her tail, dropping a stick at JJ's feet. He flings it away and watches her kick up little dust storms.
I claimed you so proud and openly.
He wants to sit next to JJ, to draw his attention to him and him only, no Isabella around. He wants to bury his face in JJ's shirt, and he definitely shouldn't, digging his nails into his palms hard enough to cause pain. He grits his teeth at the two sides of him.
JJ, the obnoxious Canadian cretin, stands up and puts his hands around Seung-gil, pulling him close.
And when times were rough, when times were rough. I made sure I held you close to me.
"What are you doing?" He asks JJ quietly, feeling the heat from his hand from the thin material of his hoodie. The wind caresses his exposed skin, and JJ looks down at his forearms, mouthing the lyrics, "JJ."
So call out my name, call out my name.
Seung-gil turns his head, JJ's mouth landing on his burning cheek. He pushes JJ away, frowning and breathing like he had just sprinted a mile, "What about Isabella?"
Call out my name when I kiss you so gently.
"That was a mistake. I...I wanted to give up and she said that she would visit me in Cali, so she agreed to pretend to get you jealous. I was hoping you would act out, but all you did was look pissed off."
He thinks about succumbing to drinking despite his dislike for alcohol, just so he could forget about JJ for several hours, "That's so childish, using someone for your selfish gain."
I want you to stay, I want you to stay
JJ looks wounded, voice cracking, "I know, I'm not proud of it. Isabella said that it would have been better to be fully transparent with you but I insisted. She wasn't happy with my decision."
"How did you know?"
Seung-gil swallows, "How did you know I'm gay?"
I want you to stay, even though you don't want me.
"You kept avoiding me, refusing to look me in the eye," JJ says, "You started touching me less too. Honestly, I picked it out easily because that's what I felt like the first few days of being here, but you probably took no notice of it."
"I had an inkling.... A lot of care went into those pictures," He still has them saved on his phone instead of deleting them like Ji-eun does whenever she goes through a breakup to make the healing process faster. "Otabek and I one day had a conversation. You never took spontaneous pictures of him, nor do you touch him as often as you touch me." He watches as Pess comes closer, a stick in her mouth, "And you always volunteered to walk her even though it's not your turn."
JJ rubs her ears and throws the stick away again, shutting off his Bluetooth speakers. It is, Seung-gil belated realizes, JJ's exhibition song.
The silence is back, and the only thing that interrupts it is the crashing of the waves. He looks up at him, eyes burning and Seung-gil feeling like he'd just thrown his heart into an incinerator.
"I like you, Seung-gil."
He shakes his head.
JJ's face falls, "Why?"
He takes a step forward, just enough so that they stand eye-to-eye. JJ really did grow while being in California, "I won't stay here forever. Like you once asked, I'm going back one day, and you'll be in Canada pursuing your own medals. It's a bad idea," He thinks of the boyfriends that broke up with Ji-eun due to her production schedule, saying she's always too busy to make time for them. "Why go through the pain when we can just avoid it?"
"You don't want to try?"
"God, JJ!" He breaks their eye contact, looking at the sand, "Our lives are dedicated to this sport. It's easy now because we're living under the same roof but you'll find it hard in a few weeks when you've settled back!"
"I've liked you since Vancouver," JJ earnestly tugs him back, "We talked back then. And yea I won't be in Seniors this year but I want to move up by the end of this year. And I'll come watch you at Sochi. And there's training camp."
Seung-gil tilts his chin up aggressively, "What if I move back to Seoul at the end of this season?"
"Then we figure out that part when we get to it," JJ smiles reassuringly.
Seung-gil stares at him, feeling a mixture of exasperation and confusion before he mumbles, "I hate you," and leans forward.
JJ knits his hand into Seung-gil's hair, longer than he usually keeps it since it's the off season, and angles his head just so, their lips meeting in the middle. JJ does something with his mouth and Seung-gil follows his lead for lack of experience, wondering why the dramas always make kissing so good when it's not. Several seconds later, it hits him, the sweet, warm feeling like drinking a cup of bokbunja ju in winter, almost addicting. His teeth clacks with how wide he's grinning.
He swats JJ's hands away, "Am not," JJ's mouth is shiny, and Seung-gil darts his tongue out to lick his lips, feeling the skin starting to dry and digging in his pant pocket for his lip balm.
"Oh no, don't do that," JJ shakes his head, eyes fixated on his mouth, "It makes me want to do bad things."
He gives JJ his most saccharine smile, the one reserved for messing around with his sisters. JJ's cheeks bloom red, "I know how to flip you over my shoulder."
JJ pouts, pulling him close, an arm around his shoulder. Seung-gil bends down and tosses the stick for Pess, murmuring, "I don't know how you can be so positive."
"You're not worried about this relationship? The time difference? The travel?"
"If a couple really wants to be together, they'll make it work," JJ says, staring out in the ocean. "My parents were long distance for a good seven years, did you know? They taught me that it doesn't matter if your best friend is halfway across the world, but you'll make time to video chat with them or meet up anytime you both can, because they're that important to you."
Seung-gil kicks off his slides and digs his toes in the sand, thinking about his parents, "That makes sense."
"Say, can we take a picture?"
Seung-gil looks at him with a dry smile, "Is this for your Instagram?"
"No! Just for a personal keepsake, unless you want to tell the world," JJ pulls his phone and fiddles with the case so it stands upright with a slight slant, tapping the screen to adjust the brightness and contrast.
"It's too dark for a picture," Seung-gil complains, getting pulled up and frowning when JJ spins him away from the camera, "Are you taking a picture of our backs?"
"Just trust me."
Seung-gil crosses him arms and stares at the coastline, leaning slightly into JJ and waiting. There's a click of a camera shutter ten seconds later and JJ breaks away to run to his phone propped on the driftwood. He angles the screen to Seung-gil, who sees a picture of their silhouettes against the darkening sky. No one can really tell who it is if they look too closely.
JJ clips Pess back on her leash, giving the private beach a last farewell look. His voice is sad, and it pierces right into Seung-gil body like an actual injury, "...We should be going."
Seung-gil grabs his hand, giving him a squeeze as he leads them back.
<3 47 likes
seung-gillee see you next training camp @Jjleroy!15
"Someone's here to see you," Frank says, dropping by his seat an hour before he's due to take center ice for the men's short program. Seung-gil finishes chewing his bland chicken breast and salad, seeing one of the Korean coaches from the federation hovering nearby. He stands up, mumbles to Yuna about how he'll be right back, and bows slightly.
Park Min-so apologizes for drawing him away from his food, leading him to a corner of the breakfast hall where several skiers from the delegation is staring at them. Seung-gil is used to be given looks by his people as the nation's first ever (barely legal) male skater to hit Olympic ice. While it gives him unnecessary stress with how many people are watching him, the stares had lessen since his first day at Athlete's Village.
"I wanted to say," She speaks quickly in Korean, "Good luck for your performance today."
"Will you be coming back after this or will you be staying in California for another year?"
"I'm not sure yet," He can see that his reply displeases her. "Why does it matter? Do you not like Frank's teaching methods?"
She fidgets uncomfortably; jackpot.
Seung-gil rolls his eyes inwardly but bows again to her, "I'll take my leave now."
Frank is sipping on his morning tea, oblivious to the general chatter of the Korean team around him. Seung-gil chalks the gossip up to the recent leak that his Appa had been caught on charges of substance misuse and adultery. Once that was revealed, his entire family's drama had been plastered on the morning news for a week before it died down. Suffice to say, Seung-gil felt a little wave of smugness when he read how his Appa's clinic had closed, and shared the article to his mother and sisters.
"We should be heading down," Frank checks his watch. Seung-gil nods and pulls Otabek's baseball cap low as he sneaks around the reporters waiting to ambush them, slipping past a side door and getting his ID checked. Once backstage, he sees people rushing about on the perimeter of the ice, a Zamboni smoothing the surface, someone adjusting the kiss and cry, several people in volunteer jackets dashing left and right with translators on their tail.
Seung-gil changes into his costume next to Yuuri Katsuki, whom, he had expected, advanced into the seniors circuit. The poor man is suffering from nerves, eyes bloodshot as his Italian coach stands next to him like a particularly fierce Doberman.
Seung-gil whips his head around in horror, and dives forward to shove his sister out of the male changing rooms before they start a ruckus. Ji-eun grumbles when Seung-gil steps on her nice shoes, glaring at her as herds her out into the hallway where the rest of his family are standing.
"Why didn't you stop her?" He shoots Seo-jung a scowl.
Seo-jung gives him a dry look, "As if we could do that. She's been acting like she's the Queen for landing another role—"
"As the main female lead!" Ji-eun smugly sings, twirling in a pretty, cream colored coat with the South Korea flag resting on her shoulders like a cape. Down the hallway, he can see a panicked volunteer trying to scout out families of the athletes to usher them to their proper seats. "Aren't you so proud of me?"
Umma steps forward and hugs him, releasing him a second later and pressing a hand warmer into his palms, "Do your best."
Seung-gil nods, just in time to see the volunteer spot them and moan about how they shouldn't run off like that before the competition starts. Ji-eun laughs as they're herded back, fluttering her fingers.
"Your sisters look like you."
Seung-gil perks up at the familiar voice and turns to see that JJ had snuck backstage, dressed in a dark blue jacket with a black baseball cap. He's grinning and Seung-gil glares at him, "Did you grow taller?"
"You betcha!" JJ laughs too loudly and gives Seung-gil a noogie, ignorant to his protests of his hair, "Four inches! How's the weather down there?"
"Great," Seung-gil stabs his guard-encased toe pick at JJ's shins.
JJ glares at him, standing on one leg and rubbing his leg, "You're so not cute. Your boyfriend came out all the way to Sochi and you act like this?"
"Alain and Nathalie's skaters are here, don't give me that bullshit, you just came with them to miss school."
JJ pouts, "Well, have dinner with me today. I'll make sure you're back in time for bed."
"No midnight pool adventures this time around?"
"Not when you have to make podium tomorrow."
"Okay," Seung-gil hears the chimes from the broadcast overhead, ignoring the Russian and French until the English filters through. The short program is starting, and with that cue, the changing rooms open, Victor Nikiforov leading the way with Chris, Leo, Michele, Yuuri, Otabek and several other skaters behind him for their warm up. Otabek raises one eyebrow and smiles at them, waiting for Seung-gil to catch up to him at the mouth of the hallway as several more athletes walk towards the rink.
JJ sneaks a quick forehead kiss, and Seung-gil pats his back and purposefully drifts his hand below, watching JJ turn pink. He grins, "Watch my short program."
"I always do?" JJ asks, watching him clunk away to Otabek.
"I've changed it last minute, I got tired of The Prince."
"Representing South Korea, Seung-gil Lee," The announcer booms above him as he comes on the ice to a frantic wave of people skating the South Korean flag, "He is skating to Call Out My Name, coached by Frank Carroll."