“This day can’t possibly get any worse,” Mark muttered under his breath. He was drenched in sweat, and the sweltering sun beat against his skin mercilessly. It was bad enough that he had to work the entire summer, but school wasn’t even out for the season yet, and Mark was absolutely terrified that he’d run into someone from school while on the job. He’d already had to duck behind a trash can to avoid being spotted by Donghyuck, the star pitcher of the baseball team, while cleaning out the athlete’s pool, and it had been a very close call. Keeping this in mind, Mark ducked his head as he continued walking to his latest gig.
Checking the address scribbled on his hand one more time to be sure, Mark approached the Lees’ house. His eyes widened as he saw the perfectly tended lawn, the shiny white picket fence, and the massive, two-story, white house. Do people really live like this? Mark shuffled towards the door, and before he was even halfway there, a tiny brown dog ran headfirst into his leg. The dog stopped for a second, dazed, then continued its mad dash around the yard. A smile tugged at Mark’s lips— a smile that quickly faded as he stepped across the porch and walked right up to the door. His knuckles almost reached the wood, but a sudden pang of emotion froze Mark in his tracks.
Rich people made Mark nervous. People who had two parents and enough food in the house had quite a nasty habit of looking down on people like him. They could never quite grasp the fact that Mark had to work in order to pay rent, buy food, and do other things that everyone else took for granted. Once Donghyuck and his baseball minions caught wind that Mark was cleaning pools, they started following him around after school and harassing him. Hence, the trash can incident. Considering that Donghyuck’s house was right down the road, Mark was pretty sure he’d be doing some hiding today as well. Masking a grimace as best he could, he knocked sharply on the door.
No sooner than Mark pulled away, a dainty woman swung the door open enthusiastically. Her pearl earrings matched her necklace perfectly, and the rosy silk of her modest dress matched her pink cheeks and crinkly eye smile just as well. Mark took a breath and started to introduce himself, but the grinning woman beat him to it.
“You must be Mark!” she exclaimed, and her high-pitched voice was exactly what Mark had expected. She fit the stereotype perfectly.
“Mrs. Lee, right? It’s nice to meet you.” Mark tried his very best to reflect Mrs. Lee’s cheery energy, even though he felt foolish smiling so much.
“It’s lovely to meet you as well, Mark! Beautiful day, isn’t it?” Mrs. Lee gestured widely at the cloudless sky.
“Oh, uh, yeah,” It was getting harder and harder for Mark to maintain this act. He just wanted to clean the pool, get paid, and go home. “It’s a little hot, though.”
“Oh, of course, how rude of me!” Mrs. Lee facepalmed lightly. “Please, come on in! Would you like anything to eat or drink?” She stepped aside and waved vigorously for Mark to come inside. Hands in the pockets of his loose, ripped jeans, Mark shuffled through the doorway.
“Are you sure I can’t get you anything to drink?” Mrs. Lee asked with concern. “Water, or iced tea, or a soda?” Without waiting for a response, the slight woman rushed off to the kitchen. She returned with a glass of cola, and shoved it at Mark. He figured refusing would be more impolite than taking the glass, so he muttered a brief “thank you” and clutched the drink awkwardly.
At the insistence of Mrs. Lee, Mark sat down at the dining room table to sip his cola before getting on with the job. He stared blankly at the flawless, white paint on the weirdly large table. Mrs. Lee had disappeared off to somewhere; in lieu of the woman’s bubbly chatter, Mark could hear the faint melody of Blue Suede Shoes by Elvis Presley floating down the staircase. The song was way less staticky than it usually sounded on Mark’s borderline-defunct radio. The Lees probably had a pretty new radio. Mark sighed, wishing he could afford that luxury. Alas, eating was more important than hearing music clearly. Mark sat in silence, enjoying the tune while he still had the opportunity. His glass was now filled only with rapidly melting ice cubes; still, he lingered to hear the rest of the song. With the last notes still ringing in his ears, Mark made his way to the backyard.
Clearing the debris from the pool took what felt like years. Mark had to stop halfway through, as even his thin, beige, sleeveless turtleneck had become too stifling for the weather. Mark was tempted to take off his shirt, but he didn’t want anyone catching him like that: sweaty, shirtless, and working in someone else’s yard. Furtively, he glanced at all the windows in the house. If he didn’t spot anyone through the glass, he would give himself a little break and air out. Mark’s gaze scanned the first floor; so far, so good. His eyes flicked up to the second floor windows, and he exhaled disappointedly as he spotted the toned, muscular back in the window. I should probably keep cleaning, Mark thought to himself. He tried to turn back to the pool, but quickly realized something: he couldn’t for the life of him tear his eyes away from the broad-shouldered, tan body in the window.
Clearly, Mrs. Lee had a son. Mark watched, unable to look away, as the body in the window turned around. Mark’s cheeks heated at the sight of the perfectly toned abs that were now on display, and even more so when he realized that the perfect stomach in question was attached to a person— a person that was looking straight at Mark. Mark stared on in abject horror as the boy in the window caught his eye, winked, and then disappeared.
Finally, Mark returned his attention to the pool. He had imagined the wink, right?
Wait... Mark began to panic. I’ve seen that guy before. At school. This is NOT GOOD. Had Mark not been so flustered, he might’ve realized earlier. He may have put a name to the face before the boy in question walked outside, still shirtless. The boy that had winked at him was Lee Jeno, head of the cheerleading squad, and the most popular boy in the entire school.
Jeno strutted right up to Mark, running a hand through his hair and smirking. Mark didn’t think he could possibly blush more, and yet his face grew even hotter.
“You must be the poolboy,” Jeno said, breaking the silence. Mark opened his mouth to speak, but he couldn’t manage to say anything. He nodded wordlessly instead.
“Do you have a name?” Jeno’s smirk widened.
“M— Mark,” the terrified boy mumbled.
“Alright then, Mark,” Jeno took a step towards Mark. “You’re not too terribly great at your job, are you?”
Mark shuffled backwards nervously. “I— it’s not done yet,”
“That’s not what I meant, Markie,” Mark gulped at the nickname. Nobody had ever called him that before, not even his mom. Jeno continued, “Instead of cleaning the pool, you were just staring at me through my window.”
Mark couldn’t even begin to formulate a response. He couldn’t exactly tell Jeno that he’d been admiring the boy’s impressive musculature, could he? People at school were already awful to Mark; if anyone ever found out about his— to put it delicately— disinterest in girls, he had no idea what would happen. He just had to hope Jeno didn’t understand the full implications of what he’d seen.
“Markie, you didn’t answer me,” Jeno whined, pouting over-dramatically.
“What?” Mark didn’t even know Jeno had spoken.
“I said, do you think I’m hot?”
Mark choked, then started coughing violently. Jeno chuckled.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Jeno grinned. “Now, before you get all cagey, let me tell you something. I think you’re hot too. I wouldn’t have come down, otherwise.” Jeno stepped towards Mark again, and this time, Mark didn’t step back. Jeno placed his hands on Mark’s shoulders, and continued to slowly move forward. When Jeno stopped advancing, his chest was pressed against Mark’s.
“Your mom...” Mark starts quietly. “What if she sees—“
“If anyone else finds out—“
“What if they do? People already hate me, but what about you? What about your reputation, and your position as the captain of the cheer squad, and all your friends, and all the girls hanging on your every move?”
“Kindly shut the hell up.”
Mark opened his mouth to protest, but Jeno brushed a thumb over his bottom lip, and Mark found himself unable to speak even after Jeno’s hand had fallen back to his shoulder.
“Better,” Jeno cooed. “Real quick, let me address part of that nonsense that you felt the need to spew. All the girls ‘hanging on my every move’, as you put it, are wasting their time. As you may be able to tell, pretty boys like you are far more to my taste.” For a second, Jeno’s cocky facade seemed just a little too strained. His grip on Mark’s shoulders tightened and a strange expression came across his face. It suddenly occurred to Mark: he had never once, in all his time as a wallflower at school, seen Jeno take anything seriously. The boy’s usual sparkling grin was gone, and Mark had to admit that Jeno really wasn’t Jeno without his bubbly disposition.
“I— You know as well as I do that we’re risking a lot right now. Please, please, never tell anyone.” Jeno’s eyes widened fearfully. “It’s not even the cheer squad or my friend that I’m worried about— you should hear the way my parents talk about homosexuality. If they found out, I’m terrified of what they would do.”
“I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone,” Mark breathed. “I could never do that to you.”
The fear in Jeno’s eyes faded, and his usual air of playfulness and confidence returned. “Thanks, sugar.”
“It suits you.”
With every word, Jeno’s lips drew closer to Mark’s. Mark felt his heart rampaging in his chest, trying in vain to escape his restrictive rib cage. Jeno’s nose brushed against Mark’s, and the older boy found himself gripping Jeno’s slender waist. His eyes fluttered shut as Jeno finally closed the gap between them.
As his lips connected with Jeno’s soft ones, Mark felt a rush of adrenaline. Never before had he been so blatant about his sexuality; he generally kept to the shadows. He never in a million years would’ve guessed that he’d end up kissing another boy in broad daylight, especially not in said boy’s yard where anyone might see. That’s just the effect Jeno had on him, Mark supposed. They’d only been personally acquainted for a few minutes, yet Mark was ready to risk everything— scratch that, he was already risking everything.
He knew he should pull away. Oh, Jeno knew. If he left now, he could forget all this. He could keep on living, keep his home and his parents; he could forget Mark for both of their sakes. There was just one problem: after years of pining after Mark, there was no way that Jeno was going to forfeit this newfound closeness. He’d gotten too far to break things off now. Maybe he and Mark could never be everything he wanted them to be, but Jeno wasn’t thinking about that right now. Neither, it seemed, was Mark.
As a matter of fact, Mark had all but forgotten about the concepts of the future and consequences. Up until now, he’d only been able to steal little glances at Jeno. Any more than that, and people would’ve started talking. Now, it was just the two of them. Nobody could see, so nobody would talk. They were safe, for now at least.
Every second that Mark’s lips stayed on his, Jeno felt more and more like nothing else existed. He could very well have been inside a bubble, a bubble where there was only Mark, the golden sunshine, and the fragrant breeze. Jeno never wanted to leave his bubble. Maybe, he thought, maybe he’d get lucky and float away.
Finally, after a blissful eternity, the two boys pulled away. Mark panted, quite out of breath. He still gripped Jeno’s waist, and Jeno’s arms rested on Mark’s shoulders. Their foreheads rested against each other and Mark couldn’t tear his eyes away from Jeno’s. The younger boy was grinning widely.
“I’ve been wanting to do that for some while, you know,” Jeno breathed.
“No, as a matter of fact, I didn’t know, but I’m glad you enlightened me,” Mark replied with a smile to rival the sun itself.
As the haze faded from Mark’s world, a thought struck him.
“What do we do now?”
“Long-term, I have no idea.”
“How about short-term?” Mark smirked.
Already leaning in, Jeno smirked right back.
“I have an idea or two.”