The soft synth of his favourite lofi playlist drifted from his headphones as Seungmin glided down the street, slipping through the bustling crowd like a fish through water. Clutching his notebook to his pounding heart, the brunette tried to focus on the familiar weight of his phone tucked into the light blue fabric of his jeans pocket. Keeping the volume up and his head held down, Seungmin tried to ignore his nerves. The young writer sighed as his breathing evened out, despite his quickening pace. He hated running late. Besides, the cold air biting into his skin through the thin white-knitted hoodie draped over his sky blue t-shirt was enough to remind him that the city streets weren't exactly the place to be when under the glow of the moon.
When Woojin, a senior at his high school and the introverted boys only friend, first told him about the underground poetry slam happening downtown, he wasn't going to go. Pissing off his overly strict, Catholic parents was something that Seungmin actively tried to avoid. It was bad enough that his parents already disagreed with his writing, and his life choices, and just him in general. He didn't need to give them any more reason to despise his very presence. But he couldn't stay in that house tonight.
Sneaking out had been almost to easy. Being the forgotten middle child had its perks. He held nothing against his brothers of course. Minho and Jeongin hadn't done anything wrong. On the contrary, his brothers were the most supportive people he had ever meet. His parents were just... difficult.
A stinging on his wrist broke Seungmin out of his train of thought as he absentmindedly snapped a familiar rubber band against his wrist. Looking up, the teen noticed that he had arrived at his destination. The bar that sat before him had clearly seen better days. Dark green paint had chipped off the concrete exterior, leaving dusty grey in its wake. The windows spilled warm yellow light out on to the cold city streets, illuminating the puddles left from a previous splattering of rain. A flickering neon sign above the door spelled out the letters open in bright red lettering, and the dark brown doors stood ajar before him, spilling the sound of joyful patrons into the gloom of the night behind him. Pushing his glasses up nervously, the young poet stepped over the invisible line, leaving behind any thoughts of turning back.
A rush of warm air greeted Seungmin, enveloping him with open arms. Looking around cautiously, the teen examined the decor. The wooden floor meshed perfectly with the forest-green walls, which were decorated with newspaper clippings and photos from across the years. A collection of wooden tables and leather-seated booths were spread around the abode, all of them occupied by various strangers. To his right Seungmin spotted a tall wooden bar counter, guarding the rows upon rows of liquor behind it, as bartenders busied about making drinks for chatting customers.
One of the said bartenders looked up just in time to catch Seungmin’s gaze. Smiling sweetly, the man beckoned for the teen to come closer. The strangers softly curled blonde hair stood out against his all black clothing. Seungmin hesitantly walked towards him as the strangers' dark brown eyes twinkled kindly under the bar's lights.
“Hey Kid, you here for the slam? I’m Chan, the organizer”, the man said, holding out his hand.
“Um, yeah. I’m Seungmin”, the teen mumbled, tucking his notebook under his elbow before gentle shaking the elder's hand, failing to note the spark of recognition in the bartender's eyes.
“Nice to meet you Seungmin. Now you see that black door over there? It leads to some stair. Just head down those and through the door at the bottom is the theatre. There should be a signup sheet at the bottom of the stair too, in case you want to sign up. If you do, feel free to sit in the performers' area. If not just find a seat. We should be starting soon”, Chan smiled, pointing towards a black door opposite the bar. Nodding his thanks, Seungmin rushed off.
Chan’s directions had been perfect. Seungmin’s footsteps echoed as he briskly walked down the worn concrete stairs. Dingy overhead lighting cast the stairwell in shadow. The space seemed to be abandoned but chatter could be heard the closer Seungmin got to the bottom. Right where Chan said it would be was the signup sheet, hanging next to a blue pen, tied up with string. Quickly scribbling his name at the bottom of the list, Seungmin slipped through the door.
Before him, a number of people sat in rows of cheap fold-out chairs facing a small stage. Said stage was actually just a raised platform, painted black to match the surrounding concrete walls, with a single microphone near the front. To the left of the stage was a separate seating area with a sign that read “performer seating only”. Quickly, Seungmin walked over to the performers' area, while quietly snapping the rubber band the hugged his wrist. He managed to snag a seat in the abandoned back row just in time, as the overhead lights dimmed, leaving only the stage lights to illuminate the room.
“Ladies, gentlemen, and variations thereupon. Welcome to another of our monthly poetry slams”, Chan said, smiling out from the stage. Seungmin couldn’t force down the smile that crept onto his face.
“Now, this mouths one is non-competitive so it is more of a poetry reading but we’ve got an excellent line up for you tonight, folks”, Seungmin sighed, relieved. He loved poetry but slam level he was not. Seungmin watched in anticipation as Chan announced the first performance. For once, he was doing something for himself. God, it felt good.
As the night wore on, Seungmin watched as poet after poet graced the stage. They were all great, Chan hadn’t been kidding about how good the line up was, but none, in particular, stood out. Well, until this one.
“Now, our next poet is a personal favourite of mine and one of our most loyal performers. Please welcome, Hwang Hyunjin”, Chan said, sweeping an arm towards the figure walking towards the stage.
Seungmin’s breath caught in his throat as the light illuminated his face. Hwang Hyunjin was the most popular kid at his school. Everyone wanted to either, talk to Hyunjin, be friends with Hyunjin, or fuck Hyunijn. And here he was, performing poetry at an underground gig.
Seungmin began to hyperventilate. If he was here that meant that he would hear Seungmin’s poem. What if he hated it? What if he-
Seungmin snapped the rubber band harshly against his wrist several times, trying to ground himself in reality. It would be okay. Everything was going to be fine. Taking a deep breath through his nose, Seungmin absentmindedly rubbed the skin of his forearm.
The younger poet snaps back into reality as the boy on stage begins to speak.
“This poem is entitled ‘Ten Things They Don’t Tell You About the Popular Boy”, Hyunjin said, a notebook held steady between his fingers as he began, voice soft but firm. Seungmin stares, enthralled, as the boy begins to speak.
He never wanted to be popular,
He entered school on the first day,
He never asked for the followers,
Or the favours,
The constant spinning cycle of smiling and waving,
and smiling and waving,
The pressure to show up to every party,
Been seen at every football game,
He never wanted to be popular,
He hates the taste of beer,
Or any type of alcohol really,
He drinks it to keep up appearances,
He could never let them know that,
Each time the sharp taste of liquor hits his tongue,
It reminds him of his father,
And the nights spent crying in bed as he hears the man who was meant to love him,
Stumbling drunk up the stairs,
Looking for his personal punching bag,”
Frowning, Seungmin remembering the times Hyunjin had shown up to school with bruises, claiming that he was just clumsy. He listened to the harsh tone in Hyunijn’s voice, as the volume and emotion grew.
They won’t tell you of the nights spent listening to his parents yelling,
Curse after curse,
Before the sound of glass shattering causes silence,
They won’t tell you about the day he woke up,
And found his mother was missing,
Or the day,
When he finally had the chance to fall in love,”
Hyunjin’s tone was now softer. Full of care and love. Like the spring coming to melt the icy winter that he wove with the words before.
They won’t tell you about how he loves his boyfriend's eyes,
Or about how their fingers would perfectly interlock,
Like puzzle pieces,
Or strings of fate,
About how they kissed behind the bleachers,
While the rest of the school watched the football game,
The day he brought his boyfriend home,
Only to find his dad lying in wait,
They never mentioned the bones his dad broke before throwing them out,
Onto the street,
Or how the boy he thought he’d marry,
Left him lying in a pool of his blood,
They will never tell you about how long he spent,
Learning to love again,
I could never tell you.”
As the poem ended, the room erupted in applause. Seungmin clapped along, smiling sadly. The teen was so overwhelmed with emotions, he barely heard Chan announce the next poet. Hyunjins words had been so filled with truth, so wrought with emotion. For once Seungmin’s brain seemed lost for words.
“And, finally, a new poet to our slams. Please give a warm welcome to Kim Seungmin”, said teen’s eyes widened. He had been so lost in thought, he hadn’t noticed how close they were getting to his turn. Forcing his legs to cooperate, the teen stood and quietly made his way towards the stage. Standing in front of the mic, his hands began to shake as they opened the bookmarked page in his precious notebook.
“Um, this poem is called Moonlit Suicide”, He began. Taking a deep breath Seungmin focus on his scrawled writing on the page. He grounded himself one more time, before commencing.
As the words tumbled from his lips, Seungmin grew more and more comfortable. Even as he could feel the adrenaline rushing through his bloodstream, a sense of calm washed over him with every syllable. Every vowel. He spoke his own writings into existence with such emotion and description, the audience might as well have experienced it themselves. He drew on his memory. Speaking with all the weight of the tears that had stained this very page as he wrote.
When he was done he didn’t even care if the audience liked it. The teen smiled as the audience cheered vigorously. He felt at peace of once. He knew what he was destined to do. This was his passion. This is what he loved.
He barely heard as Chan closed out the night. Seungmin simply went on auto-pilot. He was floating on a cloud of ecstasy. Nothing could bring him down. Or at least he thought.
Maybe if he had been paying attention, he would have seen the man lurking in the shadow cloak. Maybe he could have seen it coming and prevented it but that hardly mattered now. But, as the hand reached out from its shroud, there was nothing he could do.