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Same Town, New Story

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It’s the summer after Jongho’s junior year of college. The subway tunnels are slick with a combination of condensated sweat, spilled Starbucks, and mysterious tunnel sludge. San and Wooyoung have their arms linked as they traipse down the beach, seeking a free spot. Jongho is behind them, carrying all three towels, the large folded sheet they use as a beach blanket,a net bag filled with children’s beach toys (They’re for Wooyoung, who claims a trip to the beach cannot be complete without digging “ a big ass hole .”), as he drags a cooler of beer and sandwiches behind him. 

“Here’s good,” Jongho says, sweat already dripping like ticklish fingers down his temples and sides of his throat. 

“Wanna be closer to the water,” San yells back, over the chatter of children running circles around the lines of umbrellas and the booming cacophony of at least five different bluetooth radios in the vicinity. 

Jongho’s muscles are straining as the cooler wheels catch on a rock ( Rock away Beach, aptly named), but he yanks it over and eventually gets to stop, drop everything into the sand, and heave a deep, relieved breath.

“One day you will ask me to be your pack mule, and I will refuse,” Jongho says, panting and wiping at his face with the hem of his t-shirt. It comes away soaked. He removes the shirt and hides it in a ball by the cooler.

San and Wooyoung spread out the sheet, holding it down with their sandals and bag of toys. “We thought you relished the fact that we trust you to cart our goods for us,” San says.

“Relished,” Jongho repeats, sighing. “Okay, speaking of relish, I’m getting a hot dog. You guys want any--you know what? No. Nothing for you. Get it yourself.”

Wooyoung gives him the eyes.

San gives him the smirk.

Jongho tries not to look at either of them, but is, as always, powerless.

“You guys made me cart over your sandwiches, and you still need a hotdog?”

Wooyoung nods, still giving him the eyes. 

San nods, still giving him the smirk.

“Fine,” Jongho sighs again, grabbing his wallet. “At least these dogs are only a dollar, unlike when you assholes made me buy you the $7 dogs from Times Square.”

“We were so hungry , Jongie,” Wooyoung whines.

Jongho is so hot and so exhausted, and one time Wooyoung literally had to find a ladder in the theater department to help Jongho get down from a tree he had inexplicably, drunkenly, gotten himself stuck in, and San did help hide the fact that Jongho found an injured baby mouse in one of the music recital halls and was illegally housing it in his bathtub for months before he released it back to its family. 

So, yeah, San and Wooyoung are more than just his asshole friends. They’re his asshole family. And “I’ll get your fucking hotdogs.”

Wooyoung flops on top of San on the sheet, grinning and tan and beautiful under the summer sun. San groans under his sweaty weight. 

“Ketchup, please!”

“Ketchup and mustard!”

Jongho weaves through the groups of blankets and umbrellas towards the boardwalk where the familiar hot dog stand run by a wrinkled old man sits by the railing. 

There’s someone else there already, waiting for his dog to burn just right on the griddle. There’s the steam of grilled meat wafting off the metal plates. 

“Three dogs, please. One ketchup, one ketchup and mustard, one ketchup and onions, please,” Jongho says.

The guy in front of him turns around. 

Jongho blinks as the sun halos around the guy’s head, beaming directly into his eyes. The guy shifts, blocking the rays, and Jongho is once again blinded. 

“Holy hell,” he mutters.

“What?” the guy asks, and his voice is lower than Jongho anticipated, considering how angelic and soft he looks. His shirt could be just a multicolored breeze, that’s how thin it is, fluttering around him in the moist beach air.

He has dyed light brown hair in waves, the kind you get when you get so close to the ocean. Salt waves. They hang down in front of his eyes a bit, curls pinched at the ends with sweat or the salt of beach humidity. 

“Sorry, I just…” Jongho says, momentarily without language. “You.”

“I, what?” he seems amused, which is better than terrified, which is how some people look at Jongho when he opens his mouth and makes words come out. 

The guy’s gaze flicks down to Jongho’s bare torso, where he’s deeply bronzed by the last three weeks spent under the sun. Even when he isn’t at the beach with his asshole best friends, he goes running around his neighborhood. He isn’t ripped or anything, just bulky, thick in a way neither of his friends is. Strong in a way guys of his stature aren’t. Usually.

“You...like hotdogs,” Jongho panics.

The guy has two hot dogs wrapped loosely in a napkin. No condiments. Bare dogs? Just going in dry ? Jongho shifts uneasily.

“Yeah, I’m just taking a break from skating all morning, so I’m starved.”

Jongho takes his three dogs from the old man, cradling them close to his chest in their greasy napkins, coated in sauces. “Skating?”

“Yeah, at the park down the road,” he says, nodding at the board resting against the boardwalk railing behind the hot dog stand. It’s a nice board. Looks fancy, with stripes of different kinds of polished wood decorating the deck. 

“Oh, are you good?”

The guy takes a large bite of one of his hot dogs, chewing while appraising Jongho thoughtfully. “Why don’t you come see?”

“I--” Jongho is about to agree without a second thought, but then he looks down at his three hotdogs. “Shit, um, these are actually for my friends. We’re down at the beach.”

The guy shrugs, shoving the rest of his first dog into his mouth and chewing messily. There are crumbs of bun on his top lip. Jongho is mesmerized. 

“My friends and I are at the park most weekends in the summer,” the guy says. He smiles, and his teeth are rounded and blunt at the ends like safety scissors.

Is that an invitation? Jongho watches as he grabs his board and steps on, still eating his second hotdog. 

“Cool,” Jongho says, like an idiot. An idiot who still doesn’t even know this guy’s name. 

The guy grins a little and pushes off, skating down the length of the boardwalk back toward the skate park. The wheels roll over the planks of wood with a dull clack that draws attention from the people walking nearby. The guy doesn’t seem to mind, skating with the hotdog still clamped in his mouth.

When Jongho finds his friends’ beach spot, they’re both sitting up scanning for him. 

“What the fuck took so long? That man cranks out dogs lightning speed. He was made to crank out hotdogs. Did you get lost?” Wooyoung asks, grabbing his ketchup dog. He grabs San’s and hands it back to him without looking away from Jongho. 

“No, there was a guy--” 

San steps in, eyes flashing. He looks at Wooyoung. Wooyoung looks at San.

Jongho looks at his hot dog. Focuses on the greasy saucy onions soaking into his bun.

“A hot guy?”

“I mean. A guy. Yeah.”

“Hot guy or just a guy?” San presses, and the two of them close in on him and his hot dog.

“He’s a skater. I dunno anything about him. He said his friends come to the skate park down the road on the weekends.”

“A skater?” 

“What? Something weird about skaters?” Jongho feels oddly insulted by Wooyoung’s tone of incredulity.

“Was he our age? Most skaters I know are still in high school.”

“He definitely didn’t look like he was in high school. He asked me to come around sometime.”

San squeals in delight. “Fuck, this is amazing. You haven’t had a crush since that Professor freshman yeah.”

“What? I didn’t have a crush on Professor Hayden.”

Wooyoung and San look sadly back at him. “It’s okay, man. Professor Hayden was hot in a weird sort of...messy...artistic way.”

“How dare you? Mark Hayden owned six pairs of Carhartt overalls, and only five of them were stained with acrylic paint!” Jongho cries defensively. 

Wooyoung pats Jongho on the top of his head. San on his shoulder. “It’s okay, dude. Now you can move on, yeah?”

“Like I said, guys,” Jongho sighs, “he didn’t even give me his name.”

“But you do know where he’ll be.”

Wooyoung dramatically slaps a hand over his own mouth, gasping. “Sannie, you absolute genius! I declare a mission!”

Jongho watches as Wooyoung and San chase each other down at the edge of the water, chucking balls of wet sand at one another’s backs, skin dripping and tan and Jongho feels bad for thinking murderously about them, but honestly, the idea of approaching Hot Dog Hottie again makes Jongho wanna eat his own eyeballs at the same time, just really gag himself on them, in their eyeball slime--

“Jongho, we’re leaving ,” Wooyoung cries, gesturing at the pile of their beach gear with a frustrated but adorable flourish. “Or are you too exhausted by your own newly budding emotions?”

Jongho narrows his eyes. 

Wooyoung grins.

Jongho waddles behind the two of them, loaded up like a pack mule once again, as Wooyoung feeds San some ice cream on their way to the train. 

 

Next Saturday, Jongho has almost forgotten about the encounter entirely, when he realizes where he’s currently standing.

“You said this was a shortcut to the arcade,” Jongho whines, as San and Wooyoung shove him past the gate into the skate park. 

“Dude, if you weren’t such a space case,” San laughs, “you’d have noticed us heading in the completely wrong direction. Also, you could see the concrete ramps from five blocks down, man, open your eyes sometimes, yeah?”

Jongho is wearing black mesh athletic shorts and a loose black tank top, dressed like he was going to the arcade with his best bros (which he was ), but now he’s standing at the fence at the edge of the skate park. 

“Somewhere in one of these...bowls? Is your new love,” San declares.

“Bowls seems right,” Wooyoung agrees.

“Guys. What do you expect to happen? He’s just gonna skate up here and be like ‘hey, nice to see you again, superhottie?’” Jongho hisses. 

Just then, there’s the crash of wheels on concrete, and then the blur of an angel right in front of them. 

“It’s happening --” Wooyoung gasps. 

And it’s him. 

But then he says, “No board, no entry, sorry.”

Behind him, San snorts softly, and Wooyoung slaps the back of his skull admonishingly. 

“Oh, I,” Jongho wheezes, gripping the bottom of his shirt in his clammy hands. He can feel the beads of sweat trickling down his back like tapped sap. “I don’t know how. I just--”

“Excuse us a minute,” Wooyoung chimes in, giving a big fake polite smile. 

He and San grab him by the arms and tug him over by the grass. “You need to balls up, okay?”

Jongho shifts his hands protectively over his crotch. “Do what with my balls?”

Wooyoung grasps at his shoulders, staring deeply into Jongho’s eyes. “This boy is a 10. He’s so far out of your league that honestly just suggesting he date you should be comical--no offense, buddy, you know I love you cradle to the grave or whatever--but if you don’t go for this, you will regret it.”

Jongho feels seen . Wooyoung can do that. 

“This is stupid, guys. Let’s just go ho--”

“Is everything okay?” the guy asks, approaching them slowly, nervously. 

“Now, Jongho. Just do it,” San coaches. 

“Then we can go to the arcade?” Jongho whines.

“Yes. If he accepts, I’ll give you my tickets, too.”

Jongho’s heart swells. His friends mean well. He knows they do. But Jongho is aware of what Wooyoung said. This guy, standing in the path of the early afternoon sun, is so many things that Jongho isn’t. 

So Jongho huffs out a, “ Fine .” And walks back over. “Sorry, my friends are--”

He glances back, and they’re gesturing excitedly for him to turn back around, and Wooyoung gives him two big thumbs up. 

“So fucking annoying,” Jongho finishes, sighing. “I’m so sorry, but please bear with me a moment.”

The guy doesn’t respond, just waits.

“What would you say if I asked you to go on a date with me?”

“I would say ‘no, but thanks for asking,’” he replies, deadpan. 

“Oh, that’s polite of you, I appreciate that.”

The guy shrugs like he agrees. 

“Now, here’s where I need you to bear with me, okay? My asshole friends dragged me here so I could prove I’m over my last dumb crush on a Professor (I have a weird thing about authority figures) that they still tease me about.” The guy opens his mouth. Jongho cuts in, “Please, don’t respond just yet. Please just...Listen, you’re gorgeous,” he waves a hand at the guy’s face, “and you look really hot on a skateboard or whatever,” the guy laughs cutely behind a palm, “and you owe me nothing , but if you agree to go on a date with me, my friends will let me leave, and I just want to go to the arcade because I have 600,000 tickets, and my friend said he’ll give me his tickets, and I’m so close to winning the lifesize Charmander, and this is tragically important to me, so if you just say yes and give me your number as proof a-and then you let me buy you dinner or something once, I will do almost anything .”

The guy has a weird expression on his face, like he’s uncomfortable but also endeared. Another look Jongho is familiar with. 

“Skate from one side of this straightaway to the other, and I’ll say yes.”

Jongho looks at the guy’s skateboard. 

The guy’s eyes widen in horror, and he kicks his board up into his arms. “No! No one rides my baby but me. Hey, Yunho!” A tall, blue-haired boy skates up. “Let this kid borrow your penny board a sec.”

Yunho shrugs and toes it over to Jongho. Jongho looks down at it. Then at the other end of the park. 

“Deal,” he says. He solidifies his stance (which is probably abysmal, considering how Yunho bellows a laugh), and then pushes off. 

He glides three feet forward before crashing spectacularly, the tip of the board smashing into the concrete, Jongho flying up, tumbling in the air, smacking back onto the ground with belly flop-esque cringeability. 

The board shoots up beneath him and over the fence into the street. A moment later, a city bus passes by and drives a heavy, city-funded wheel over the plastic deck, and there’s a sound like a small explosion as it splits clean in half on the street. A wheel rolls sadly over to the sidewalk where a little kid grabs it excitedly, pockets it, and walks away.

Jongho rolls to his knees, wincing as he thumbs at two big gashes in his knees. Everyone is looking at him. He holds his arms out, declaring, “Ta-da?”

The guy walks over, offering a hand to help him up. “My name’s Yeosang. I like chinese.”

“I’m Korean.”

Yeosang laughs. “The food.”

“Right. I’m Jongho.”

Yeosang holds out a bare palm. 

“Do you want me to...shake?”

Yeosang sighs and pulls a cellphone from his back pocket. Its screen is cracked at the top near the camera. “Your number, Jongho.”

Wooyoung screeches in the near distance. 

“Fuck, right, yeah,” Jongho mumbles, shaky hands reaching for the slim, caseless old iPhone. He types his number in. Then erases it because that’s his mom’s number. Then types in his actual number and panics about what to name himself. He settles for “Jongho 👽” and nervously returns Yeosang his phone. 

“Why an alien?” 

Jongho had thought that was obvious. “I thought that’d be obvious.”

“You’re not super helping your case to get me to agree, but I guess I already gave my word. Text me a time and place, and I’ll see if I can make it.” He sends Jongho a test text to give him his number, and it’s just another alien emoji. Jongho saves him as “Yeosang 😎” because he’s hot or whatever.

“I mean...please make it,” Jongho wheezes, but then realizes, “at...your earliest convenience.”

“Right,” Yeosang says, smiling crookedly like he’s thinking too hard to really smile. “See you then.”

“Yepp.”

They stare at one another a couple seconds more. Jongho bites the inside of his cheek, waiting for the agony to end. 

San sweeps in with the save, grabbing Jongho by the back of the shirt. “We gotta get him cleaned up. Don’t want to get any infections.”

“Not that we think your skatepark is dirty or anything,” Wooyoung adds, coiling his arm around Jongho’s elbow. He can feel the blood in drying rivers down from his kneecaps to his ankles. His socks are stained with it. 

“We’re sure it’s spotless, but you know Jongho is very prone to infection and--”

“I’ll text you,” Jongho says, helpless as he’s dragged out of the park. When they’re a block from the arcade, he hisses, “Very prone to infection????”

San holds the arcade door open. “C’mon Casablanca, let’s get your Charmander.”

“Casablanca is the movie, Casanova is the hot old dead dude,” Wooyoung corrects.

“I hate you both. But also I love you, keep being you, I’ll always support you,” Jongho says, as he strides over to the token machine. “And now...let’s fuckin’ do this.” 

 

It’s the next week, and Jongho is standing outside some hipster cafe in Astoria where all the tables are occupied by freelance writers for the NY Times and young attractive multiracial couples. 

San and Wooyoung are with him, obviously, because they needed proof that Jongho followed through on the date with Yeosang. Jongho had tried to privately send the initial date request by hiding in Wooyoung’s parents’ bathroom, but he’d forgotten their bathroom door has a latch to lock it now because the doorknob is broken.

And so Wooyoung had leapt inside after Jongho lingered, sat upon the closed toilet lid, with his fingers over Yeosang’s contact info.

“I knew it! C’mon Jongie, you don’t have to hide anything from us,” Wooyoung said, slithering his arm over Jongho’s shoulders and reeling him in like a helpless crab being plucked from one of those tanks at dim sum. “Just ask him to coffee. It’s safe.”

“Safe? You think he could be like...dangerous?”

Wooyoung laughs and slaps Jongho on the back playfully, but it makes him swallow his spit nervously. “No, silly. I mean it’s safe because both of you can have an easy in and easy out. Go in, get coffee, sit and talk, and then if you had a shit time, you can just say ok bye and leave. Easy peasy.”

“Easy peasy,” Jongho recites, over and over and over until Wooyoung’s dad ducks into the bathroom to check to make sure he isn’t having one of those post-adolescent existential breakdowns. 

[Jongho 👽]: hey it’s jongho from the skate place 

[Yeosang 😎]: skatepark 

[Yeosang 😎]: did you get your charmander 

[Jongho 👽] rite rite skatepark 

[Jongho 👽]: yeah I did. He’s hanging from a string in my bedroom because my mom found him on the floor and said he was too much clutter but she said it in Korean and very bitterly so I knew she meant business and so I hung him up over my bed like a disco ball 

[Yeosang 😎]: great story jongho i’m happy for you

[Jongho 👽]: yeah me too

[Jongho 👽]: wait was that sarcasm

[Yeosang 😎]: not at all

[Jongho 👽]: oh cool cool

[Jongho 👽]: wait was that also sarcasm

[Yeosang 😎]: did you want to ask me out jongho

[Jongho 👽]: do you like coffee?

[Yeosang 😎]: I do. There’s a place near the apartment I’m staying at this summer. I’ll send you the location. 

So, yeah, Jongho is peeking through the glass of this pretentious cafe in Astoria feeling entirely out of his element. If he thinks about it, though, it doesn’t really fit the aura he’d read from Yeosang either. That gives him the little bit of confidence he needs to open the door. 

Yeosang is in the back corner, tucked into one of the booths, thick padded headphones over his ears as his head gently bobs to music. The more Jongho looks at him, the more he realizes how unbelievably beautiful he is. So incredibly soft in the moment he lifts his drink to his lips, misses the straw, pokes himself in the nostril, huffs out a laugh at himself, and then takes a sip for real. 

And then so undeniably sexy in the way he leans back against the booth and runs his fingers through his hair, swiping it away from his forehead, eyes lifting and meeting Jongho’s as he walks over. 

Yeosang slips his headphones off and smiles up at Jongho like this isn’t tremendously awkward. 

“Hey, you made it,” Yeosang says, deep voice like hot boiling caramel. 

“Yeah, sorry I’m a bit late. I didn’t anticipate the amount of time I’d be spending outside the windows, creepily looking inside to convince myself I’m cool enough to come in here,” Jongho admits.

Yeosang, clearly taken aback by Jongho’s honesty, laughs. He removes his headphones from around his neck and puts them into his backpack. Jongho takes that as a good sign. 

“Don’t spend a lot of time in places like this?” Yeosang asks. 

Jongho shakes his head. “I grew up here, so I feel like I’m so stuck in all my old high school habits still, even though I’m in university now.”

“I understand that. The guy I’m staying with, Seonghwa, he grew up here. All his friends are his high school friends, and they eat at all their old spots, and they drink the same shitty booze at parties. It’s funny.”

“For all its massiveness, New York is incredibly insular that way,” Jongho replies.

Yeosang looks at him for a moment, but Jongho can’t tell what he’s thinking at all. 

“Where...where are you from then? You said you were staying at someone else’s place?”

“I’m from LA,” Yeosang says, and Jongho sees it now. In the quiet, calm drawl he has sometimes, the way his clothes are soft blends of pastel and ripped denim. The way he oozes Different and makes Jongho’s palms sweat with nerves. 

“That makes sense,” Jongho replies.

Yeosang laughs. “Really? A lot of people don’t believe me because I’m so lame.”

Jongho blinks slowly. “Lame? What about you is lame?”

Yeosang shrugs. “How I have a hard time talking to strangers and how I’m twenty-one but still love skateboarding.”

“Skateboarding is back on the rise, you know. I see people in Zumiez every time I’m at the mall.”

Yeosang laughs again, and Jongho can’t help smiling along. It’s hard not to want to please a creature as beautiful as Yeosang. 

“Jongho, you know, I actually have a favor to ask. Since, you know, you got your Charmander because I agreed to this date,” Yeosang says, drumming his fingers in his bare kneecaps, peeking out of the rips in his skinny light blue jeans. 

“Shoot,” Jongho says casually, despite the little bubbles of panic gurgling up in his esophagus. 

“It’s my friend Mingi’s birthday next weekend, and he really wants to do zombie laser tag, but we’re short a player. I told him I’d organize everything since I can’t really afford to get him a present, and the lady on the phone said we need at least six players.”

“Oh, fuck yeah, I love laser tag,” Jongho replies easily. “You don’t know this about me, but I’m incredibly competitive.”

“This would be the second time we’ve met, so you’re right. I didn’t know that. But I’ll file it away for the future.”

For the future Jongho’s brain recites. For the future For the futureFor the futureFor the futureFor the futureFor the futureFor the futu--

“So I can send you the details, and you’ll come?” Yeosang interrupts. 

“Yeah, for sure. Are these your friends from school? Where are you going anyhow?”

Yeosang’s expression goes blank. He bites the inside of his cheek, hard enough for Jongho to see the way his skin sucks inward. “I’m not actually in school at the moment. I, uh, ran away from home?”

“...A...Across the country?”

Yeosang nods sheepishly. “It’s a complicated story, but I’m staying at Seonghwa’s place. He lives with his boyfriend, Hongjoong, and they’re really cool.”

“How are you…”

“What, supporting myself? I’ve skated in a few local competitions for some prize money, but I’ve also done a few modeling gigs for Hongjoong’s art school.”

“What, New School?”

“Yeah, he’s a fashion student,” Yeosang replies. 

“My friends also go there. The New School.”

“Oh, well, shit,” Yeosang says, with a soft laugh. “I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, considering your one friend was wearing what looked like homemade knock-off Balenciaga flip flops.”

“You knew they were fake? Shit. He really worked his ass off on those,” Jongho huffs, remembering the way Wooyoung had sat on his parent’s living room floor, piecing together bits of rubber and fabric and hot glue, desperate to fit in with his wealthy peers while donning his own version of the overpriced, gaudy Dad Shoe Flip Flop(™). “We passed a group of girls all wearing those hideous white sneakers worth thousands of dollars, and I swear I could feel him plotting all the ways to show them up with fakes.”

Yeosang fiddles with the lid of his drink. “I mean, I only knew because one of my friends pointed it out. He has the real ones, but that’s because his parents are divorced, and his dad feels bad that he left his mom for one of the ladies who gives massages at the airport, so he tries to buy their love.”

“Whoa,” Jongho says simply, unsure if he even heard most of that or was entirely distracted by the way Yeosang’s small mouth fit around the tip of his green plastic straw. “That totally sucks but also is kind of awesome? I’m always conflicted with things like these. My parents still make out in front of me all the time, but we live in a rent-controlled walk-up in East Elmhurst that always kind of smells like mushrooms? But also fire? And weed? But the weed might just be me.”

Yeosang laughs again, and Jongho has always had an addictive personality. Started with video games, then working out, then smoking, then arcade games, then smoking again, and now, apparently, making Yeosang laugh. 

“Did you ever surf? You know, out in California?”

“I went out as a kid, but one of my friends had an older brother who drowned during a local competition, and it felt weird after that.”

“Oof,” Jongho replies, unable to think of a fitting response.

“It’s cool. She moved to the pacific northwest and got totally ripped and teaches kickboxing to middle aged ladies, and she seems really happy. Well, content.”

“Still. That’s scary. The ocean is terrifying,” Jongho admits. “We know more about space than we do about what’s in our own oceans, isn’t that nuts?”

Yeosang leans back against the booth and sucks the last of the coffee from his cup until it gurgles sadly in the straw. “Space scares me more, I think. It’s the combination of heights and The Unknown. Like...falling forever?”

“I think you’d be dead before forever.”

“It’s the loneliness then, maybe,” Yeosang says, quiet. 

“Mm,” Jongho agrees. “That makes sense.”

Yeosang looks up, surprised, maybe. Their gazes meet, and Jongho wonders if maybe he’s still a little high from yesterday, because Yeosang has this weird glow around him, this radiance like maybe he absorbed so much sunlight in California that he carries it with him, in his skin. Like maybe it really soaked into him when he laid out in the sand under a cloudless sky--from all angles, too, like the sand from beneath him and the sun above him. 

Jongho is definitely still a little high. 

“So zombie laser tag?” he offers.

“We’ll probably pregame at my friends’ place before we head over. I honestly am not quite sure why he’s doing this for his birthday, considering he hates being scared, but I guess we’ll be pretty drunk or whatever.”

“Yeah just, uh, text me the deets,” Jongho says, scooting out from the booth, suddenly aware of how long they’ve been sitting (Jongho loitering, since he didn’t buy anything). “Details, I mean. I dunno if they say ‘deets’ out west.”

“I could use my context clues,” Yeosang replies, grinning. “And I’ll text you. Thanks, by the way.”

“Hey, you’re the reason I have a giant lifesize Charmander, so thank you .”

Yeosang pulls his headphones up again and nods. “Hope you like Henney green tea.”

“I live in New York, of course I like Henney green tea.”

Yeosang nods and fixes his headphones into place, starting his music back up. Jongho wonders if he’s here a lot, just sipping a single drink and sitting alone. 

When he gets onto the train, he has a message.

[Yeosang 😎]: LIC 8pm next fri. cool? [location pinned]

At home, Jongho stares at the message so long his vision blurs. Eventually his mom comes in to tell him she ordered KFC, and he realizes he’s been zoned out for two hours.

[Jongho 👽]: 💥👈👈

[Yeosang 😎]: did you just send me finger guns

[Jongho 👽]: i’m awkward everywhere

[Yeosang 😎]: see you friday

[Yeosang 😎]: thanks again 

[Jongho 👽]: don’t thank me yet i’m incredibly embarrassing to be around

[Yeosang 😎]: just make it through one more fake date and we’re golden

Jongho, seated at his family dinner table, surrounded by buckets of sweet spicy chicken, wants to keep replying. He stares at his phone, silent on the table beside him, and then again at the chicken. 

“Are you waiting for a call, honey?” his mom asks, concerned. 

“No, uh...no. I’m not waiting for anything,” he says, flipping his phone over and reaching for a crispy chicken thigh. 

“He’s definitely waiting,” Jongho’s father whispers behind a napkin.

“Should I text Sannie to check?” Jongho’s mother whispers back behind another napkin.

Jongho stands, chicken in one hand, phone in the other. “Do not text my friends to snoop on me, please! I’m fine! I’m taking my chicken to go!”

Inside his bedroom again, Jongho nibbles sadly on his cold chicken thigh and wishes he’d also stolen a biscuit. He lays back and stares up at the few glow-in-the-dark stars still clinging to his popcorn ceiling, and he wonders if being lonely in space is worse than the immediacy of being eaten by something deep-sea and wicked. He supposes being lonely in space could take much longer. Maybe even forever. Jongho wants to text his friends and ask them, but he also wants to maybe keep it to himself. Jongho only has so many secrets. He lives with his parents. They’ve seen his web browser history, so there isn’t anything they don’t know. His friends have been with him since infancy, and they know about the time he peed himself during the soccer tournament in third grade, which was supposed to stay between him and the coach, but he ended up sobbing on Wooyoung on the bus and telling him anyhow. 

Jongho doesn’t think he has any secrets. He’s never had a reason to. 

But something about today feels like a good day to start. Maybe today he can have something small that he doesn’t share. 



Yunho and Mingi have a nice apartment. One of those luxury places in Long Island City that used to be a meatpacking factory or Nabisco warehouse or something but now houses wealthy Millennials. They’re on the 2nd floor, but everyone is forced to take the elevator anyhow, so says the doorman. (They have a doorman). 

The apartment itself isn’t very large. Two moderately-sized bedrooms that comfortably fit a double bed and a dresser. The kitchen blends into the living room to the point where it kind of just feels like you’re watching the refrigerator instead of the television, which is just slightly askew from where your eye wants to go as you’re sitting.

Luckily Jongho doesn’t need to look at anything in particular, as he’s already three cups of Hennesy and bottled Green Tea in, and Yeosang is wearing one of those super soft, super thin button-downs that just barely conceals the tanned tint of his skin beneath. The top two buttons are undone, and Jongho tries not to focus on the sharp cut of Yeosang’s collarbones, but, again, he’s three HenneyGreenTeas in, and he has never had very good control of his inhibitions to begin with. 

“So, like, are all your friends super hot Korean exchange kids?” Jongho asks Yeosang, only slurring a little. 

Yeosang laughs, brushing a hand through his hair like he’s embarrassed. “I guess so? I mean, Seonghwa and Hongjoong grew up here. Yunho and Mingi went to high school together back in Seoul, though.”

“I should hang with you guys more, maybe my mom will be less embarrassed of my Korean,” Jongho replies, putting down his cup on the marble island in the kitchen. “She sent me to Korean Church school to learn, but my accent is still so abysmal she doesn’t let me order food in Korean around her.”

Yeosang finishes his drink and easily drops his cup inside Jongho’s on the island. Jongho wants to read into it, but that would be, like, literally insane, right?

“Mine isn’t great either. My neighborhood wasn’t super populated with Koreans. Much more Vietnamese and Spanish. I learned for my grandma, since she never learned English. Would be kind of awkward at Christmas otherwise, you know?”

Jongho nods. He does know that. His grandparents are the same. He remembers his cousin trying to explain her lesbian relationship to them in messy Korean. In the end, they declared, “Oh, you thrifty girls! Sharing one bed in a studio apartment! So smart. So savvy.”

There’s a barrier that can’t be crossed with just shared language, he supposes. Which makes him feel lonely in a different sort of way. 

But, here, surrounded by people speaking in an odd blend of English and Korean, Jongho feels understood. 

“What are you in school for?” Yeosang’s roommate Seonghwa asks Jongho. He’s pretty. Tall. Has one of those jaws that looks like it could clench cinematically in a sexy, aggressive way if he wanted it to. 

“Uh, you know, just business? Like, uh, marketing? I guess?”

Seonghwa laughs. “You aren’t sure?”

Jongho shrugs, looking to Yeosang to see if he’s listening. He is. Jongho doesn’t know what his narrative is supposed to be here. Is he Yeosang’s friend? Is he the stranger he went on one fake date with who Yeosang requested a favor of after? Should he get to know these people, only to never see them again? 

The thought of it makes Jongho’s chest ache. 

“I wanted to become a personal trainer, but my parents never really had any financial stability in their lives, so I kind of want to do this for them. I want to pay them back for the opportunity,” Jongho admits. 

Seonghwa smiles sadly and nods. “That’s fair. Children of immigrants mentality, I think.”

Jongho fidgets with the strings of his hoodie. “It’s cool to be around people who get it. I have friends who think it’s some big tragedy that I’m not pursuing my passion or whatever,” he makes finger quotes here, “but maybe my passion is that look on my mom’s face when I come home with my bank internship paycheck. Maybe my passion isn’t really about me.”

Seonghwa looks at Jongho for a long moment, just kind of almost-smiling, before he turns to Yeosang. “How did you two meet again?”

Yeosang scratches the back of his neck, and his shirt lifts teasingly over a strip of tan bare hip. “He fucked up Yunho’s new pennyboard at the park.”

Seonghwa’s lips part, and he turns to Jongho, laughing. “You’re the kid who wiped the fuck out hard to get Yeosang to go on a date with you!”

Jongho winces, remembering the way his palms and knees stung for days, bits of gravel probably still stuck in them from the way he skidded on the concrete. Maybe they’re in his bloodstream now. Mutating him from the inside. Maybe they’ll make him a superhumanly good skater.

Would Yeosang like to date another skater?

“Yeah, that was him,” Yeosang says, laughing at the memory. “I’ve never seen anything so catastrophic on a straightaway.” 

“What can I say, I really subscribe to the whole ‘go big’ schtick,” Jongho replies.

Yeosang’s eyes travel down his body a moment, and Jongho feels both frozen and like he’s actually caught fire. 

Seonghwa must notice the tension, because he slowly backs away, hands raised. “Hey, if watching someone crash hard and smash a board is Yeosang’s kind of foreplay, that’s chill. I will not kinkshame in this household.”

“Who is kinkshaming?” Mingi shouts over the din of tipsy chatter. “No kinkshaming in this household!”

“Just last night you told me my affinity for food play is disgusting,” Yunho cries bitterly. 

“No, I said it was unsanitary ,” Mingi defends.

They stare at one another, two massive lanky towers of handsome, and everyone is quiet around them, waiting for something.

Nothing happens, and Seonghwa cuts in with, “We should probably walk over to the place now.”

Hongjoong drapes himself over Seonghwa’s back, and Seonghwa bends down to scoop him up properly, piggy-backing him out the door and to the elevator bay. 

Yeosang hangs back with Jongho, tossing cups into the trash bag hanging on the bathroom doorknob. “Thanks, again, for coming.”

Jongho gives a tipsy half-smile, trying to find a place to focus on Yeosang’s face. His eyes. His nose. His lips--

“It’s chill. I like your friends already. They’re just like my friends but less obnoxious.”

Yeosang laughs softly, shaking his head. “That’s what you think. Just wait until they’re shooting lasers at you.”

Jongho smirks. “I’m looking forward to making up for my catastrophic skateboard failure with my profoundly sophisticated laser tag techniques.”

Yeosang holds the door open for him, looking back through the doorway at him standing alone in a stranger’s apartment, and he tips his head to the side like he’s working something out. “You don’t need to impress anyone, you know.”

Jongho and Yeosang enter the elevator, and Jongho says, “I’m glad you asked me to come, though, and I don’t want to embarrass you in front of your friends.” 

“It’s cool. You’re just doing me a favor,” Yeosang says, facing away. 

Jongho marinades in that thought in the elevator and the entire walk over to the laser tag venue. The favor. Jongho requests a favor. Yeosang requests a favor. In theory, they are even. 

Even in the way that ends. Not even in the way that plateaus, continuing on infinitly.

But, Jongho realizes, that is the other option, isn’t it.

 

At laser tag, Jongho clips his vest on tight and stands beside Yunho while watching the safety video. No jumping, no crawling, no physical tackling, and, please God , don’t run. 

The clip features two grown adults. This game, the safety video declares, is not for children. Nor is it for those who are intoxicated in any way. Jongho glances around at his party, three on each team, all six of them tipsy and smelling of Hennesy. 

The kid manning the room sighs and presses the button to open the doors. “Just please don’t run or break anything.”

Jongho feels bad for him.

For a split second. Before the alarms blare, and they all crowd into the room. Yeosang, Mingi, and Hongjoong on blue team. Jongho, Yunho, and Seonghwa on red. 

Jongho’s code name on his phaser is NAPALM. 

He feels the adrenaline. His already heightened thrill of competition is multiplied exponentially by how many drinks he’s had. Freshman year, Jongho once held a kegstand for over ten minutes because someone told him it was physically impossible. Jongho has punched through watermelons for his accidentally-knife-less family members on picnics. Jongho has no solid reason to need to compete this hard, but Yeosang is already screaming, presumably a zombie actor has found him, and Jongho’s sense of fight or flight triggers HARD FIGHT. FIGHTFIGHTFIGHT. 

He paces through the course, firing rapidly and freezing any zombie actors lumbering in his direction. A single shot each. Jongho doesn’t miss. They all sigh and leave the course, looking almost joyful about being slaughtered by Jongho’s laser.

The red base is completely empty, so Jongho kneels behind a barrier covered in fake blood and fires repeatedly at the disc that absorbs the shots. 

“RED TEAM BASE UNDER ATTACK. BASE UNDER ATTACK RED TEAM,” the overhead robotic voice bellows into the room. 

Jongho catches Hongjoong doubling back to protect the base and fires directly at his vest. Hongjoong freezes in place, vest beeping as he grumbles, “I suck at this.”

And then.

From nowhere. 

Jongho’s vest beeps.

He wheels around to see Yeosang blowing imaginary smoke off the top of his phaser gun. Jongho gasps, a panicked moment from dodgerolling behind a barricade so he can reload and then emerge to kamikaze fire into oblivion, when they all hear the scream.

Jongho doesn’t recognize it, but Hongjoong immediately grimaces. “Fucking Mingi. He always injures himself on his birthday.”

They rush over to where a zombie actress is kneeling beside a prone Mingi on the scuffed carpet. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I popped out at him at the entrance to the tunnel, and he panicked and jumped off the footbridge, and I--!”

“Hey,” Yeosang says, touching her shoulder gently, and his expression is so soft Jongho believes that somewhere a flower is blooming forreal. “It’s okay. He’s a dumbass. Nothing is your fault.”

She sniffles, clearly super worried. 

Mingi groans and sits up, rubbing at his left ankle. “I think I just twisted something, to be honest.”

Yunho smacks the top of his head. “Then why were you laying on the ground like you were dying, you big dummy? This poor girl thought you were seriously injured.”

“Don’t be mean to me,” Mingi whines. “It’s my birthday.”

“Do you think you can walk?” Seonghwa asks, as Hongjoong leaves to go talk to the manager about their party needing to clear out early on account of personal injury. 

Mingi tries to push himself up to standing, but struggles, wincing and gripping at his foot. 

“I’ll carry you,” Jongho says, and everyone whips around at the same time to stare at him. 

“Dude, no offense, but Mingi is absolutely gigantic,” Yunho says.

Mingi whines and tugs at Yunho’s pantleg. “Stop being mean to me! It’s my birthday !”

Yunho crouches down, cups Mingi’s face, and plants a big kiss on his lips. “How do you know that wasn’t a compliment?” A pause.

And then. 

And then they make out. With everyone just standing around, watching, confused. 

Or at least Jongho is.

Everyone else seems to find this perfectly ordinary. 

“They do this,” Yeosang says, after a moment of Jongho knitting his brows but refusing to look away.

You wouldn’t look away either. Trust.

“Right,” Jongho says, as the two guys separate, breathless and grinning like they just ran a very cinematic marathon together and then got engaged at the finish line. “My offer still stands.”

Mingi looks at Yunho. Yunho shrugs, physically backing away with his hands in the air. 

“Joong and I can’t carry you, and I’m pretty sure Yeosang would sooner throw you in the Hudson than have to carry you anywhere,” at this, Yeosang nods stoically, “so let the kid try. If he succeeds, maybe Yeosang will give him another date. God only knows the last time Yeosang got to a third date with anyone,” Seonghwa says. “And you know he has that super embarrassing strength kink--”

Yeosang slaps a hand over Seonghwa’s mouth, leaning in to hiss something in Korean that is unintelligible to Jongho but sounds something like maybe kill and pieces and never find you

“It’s cool, guys,” Jongho cuts in, and Yeosang turns around, expression still murderous. “I can bench, like, 210.”

“Pounds???” Yunho cries incredulously, squinting at Jongho’s short frame like he can CAT scan him for the lie.

“What the fuck else would he mean?” Yeosang scoffs, and Yunho pouts. Yeosang sighs and reaches out to pat Yunho’s cheek seemingly comfortingly. 

Jongho does some quick stretches, squatting for a second, pulling his arms behind his back, cracking his knuckles. He stands and steps over to Mingi. “Do you want me to princess carry you or would you find more dignity being piggy-backed?”

“Can you just throw me over your shoulder or something? Like I’m a fallen soldier?” Mingi grouses, shifting into a better position on the floor. 

“It’s your birthday,” Jongho replies, reaching under Mingi to get a grip under his thighs. He makes sure his hold is stable before shifting into a squat and then up to standing, Mingi’s body draped over his shoulder. He’s so long that Jongho has to make a real effort to keep him from tipping like a lanky seesaw. “Comfy? Princess carry would have probably been the most comfortable for you, since your gut would’ve been, you know, not pressed into my shoulder.”

 Mingi just groans and goes entirely pliant. 

He turns to find Yeosang staring at him indecipherably. 

“Where should I take him? Does someone wanna call an Uber?” Jongho asks, to break the weird silence. 

Seonghwa coughs into his palm, “ Strength kink.

Yeosang shoves him, and he actually stumbles under the weight of it. The two of them make eye contact. It’s quiet. Tense. But then Seonghwa smirks and Yeosang turns back to Jongho, emotionless.

“You can’t carry him the ten blocks home?” Yeosang asks, and it’s that same face. The face that said skate from one side of this straightaway to the other, and I’ll say yes.

Jongho is helpless to it. He straightens his posture, gripping at Mingi’s thighs to keep him in place. “I was considering his comfort,” Jongho says calmly, internally shouting into a megaphone, “but I can obviously carry him home.”

“His comfort,” Yeosang answers, eyes narrowed, “of course.”

Mingi waves a hand out. “Hello, I’m not unconscious, remember? I’m right here, and I’d really prefer if we call--”

“Shhhhh,” Jongho hisses, squeezing Mingi a little until he stops speaking. “It’s okay, birthday boy. I’ve got you.”

Mingi reaches out for Yunho. Yunho backs away again. “I ain’t entering that minefield of sexual tension,” he says. 

Jongho walks toward the exit, trying his darndest not to glance over at Yeosang to see if he’s still watching. 

He is. 

Jongho feels the sweat at the back of his neck. He feels it at the crease of his elbows. Behind the bend of his knees. They leave the laser tag venue, and it’s sweltering out, Jongho’s skin instantly coated in perspiration. He pants, standing at the crosswalk, and Yeosang is just silently beside him, appraising. 

Jongho tries to make himself the most precious, expensive vase--no, the most majestic, muscular stallion at auction.

Behind him, Hongjoong whispers, “I thought Yeosang said he didn’t want to date anyone until he worked out the shit with his family?”

Jongho doesn’t want to hear, but everyone is still kinda tipsy, and Hongjoong is pretty loud. Yeosang must be ignoring it, so Jongho also pretends to ignore it.

“He doesn’t,” Seonghwa replies, equally as loud. “I’m not sure what this is.”

“Sometimes I can’t tell if Yeosang is aroused or angry,” Hongjoong whispers back. 

Jongho tries desperately to erase that thought from his mind. Desperately. 

Aroused. Or. Angry.

Jongho wants Yeosang to look at him with that challenge hard in his eyes. Eyes that reflect light back at him every time he looks into them. Like they want to push his gaze out. Jongho wants Yeosang to look at him with that challenge in his eyes, and he wants to prove himself. He wants badly to prove himself. 

So badly. He didn’t anticipate how badly he wants it. 

Jongho knows nothing about Yeosang, he reminds himself. Yeosang is just a beautiful boy who let him lie about taking on a date. He’s just a beautiful boy that Jongho doesn’t know at all, and that kind of sucks.

Doesn’t it.

Jongho doesn’t really know Yeosang at all, but this all feels real. It feels known. Here, surrounded by kids he just met for the first time. Kids he doesn’t know but can communicate with in such an easy way. Just like the friends he’s had since he was in diapers. 

Jongho wants to know if Yeosang is like this about board games. He wants to know if Yeosang can cook, or if he likes being cooked for. How does Yeosang take his eggs? He seems like a runny yolk boy. A beautiful runny yolk boy.

Soft boiled.

Jongho’s stomach grumbles.

Yeosang laughs beside him. “Let’s drop him off and eat somewhere.”

Jongho wonders if he means everyone or just him.

Yeosang holds open the door to Yunho and Mingi’s apartment building. “Food? Yes?”

He means Jongho.

Jongho nods, but his head is now blocked by Mingi’s enormous body as he tries to maneuver them through the doorway. 

“Yeah, I’d like that,” he says, once they’re in the elevator, Mingi back on his feet, leaning angstily against Yunho like a miffed princess. 

They deposit Mingi into his bed, and Yunho shuts the door, leaving Seonghwa, Hongjoong, Yeosang and Jongho out in the hallway. They get back into the elevator, and everyone seems much more sober now after sweating all the booze out on the walk, Jongho especially.

“We’re gonna go eat,” Yeosang says, grabbing Jongho by the arm as the elevator doors part and guiding him out onto the street. 

“Okay, bye?” Hongjoong huffs, turning to Seonghwa. “I told you they’re dating.”

Seonghwa offers a quiet, confused, “I don’t think they are?” in return.

On the sidewalk, Yeosang keeps Jongho moving until they’re five blocks and a couple turns away from the building. He sighs, the kind of sigh that requires effort, more about the sound than the actual relief of breathing out. 

“I’m so fucking sorry,” Yeosang says, leaning back against the brick of some old taco place that only serves out a window with no indoor seating. “I didn’t think they’d be so…”

“I like them,” Jongho cuts in. 

“You...you do? But they said all that shit about dating and kinks or whatever and--”

“They’re cool. I like that everyone is so chill with one another. There’s nothing fake there. It’s nice. My best friends are like that too. They don’t bullshit around.”

Yeosang nods. “Yeah, they sure don’t bullshit around.”

They get tacos. Yeosang gets one with carnitas and one with some kind of marinated spicy tofu. Jongho gets two steak tacos and dumps hot sauce on them both. They sit on the curb, white paper baskets on their laps.

“You sure like spice, huh?”

Jongho nods. “If you can’t tell, I’m kind of intense in general. In all things.”

Yeosang smiles, lips white with sour cream, a scallion hanging on his cupid’s bow. He’s so messy, and Jongho can’t look away. “It’s nice. In California, everyone is so casual and chill and blase about everything. I got here and suddenly everyone is shouting and walking like the apocalypse is behind them--”

“Here in NYC, it very well might be--”

“That’s fair,” Yeosang laughs, licking his lips, and it’s that California casualty, isn’t it? Right there in that easy gesture? “No one really gives me shit for skating her either. Surfing is everything out there, like, you’ve got these gorgeous stretches of endless ocean, so why wouldn’t it be?”

“It’s a different feeling,” Jongho says. “I mean, I’ve never really done both, but it’s ultimately like...surfing is about staying on the board and riding the wave. Skating is like...making the wave yourself. And, you know, like, sometimes you don’t even stay on the board to do it.”

Yeosang is holding his tofu taco to his lips, frozen. Slowly, he puts the taco back down into the box. “That’s...yeah. That’s it.”

“Do you smoke?” Jongho asks, pulling his vape from his back pocket.

“Did you have that the whole time?” Yeosang laughs, reaching for it. “Indica? Sativa just makes me sleepy.”

“Indica,” Jongho replies, watching Yeosang take a pull on the little silver pen vape. He breathes out, the two of them watching the smoke flow out up toward a street light surrounded by moths and mosquitoes. “I prefer a body high to the trapped-in-your-mind high.”

“I agree. I’m already trapped in my head. I’d much rather get outta by body.”

He hands the vape back without wiping the mouthpiece. Jongho takes a pull and shivers. 

“Am I your type?” Yeosang asks.

Jongho breathes out unevenly, caught off guard, and he coughs. “What? What do you mean?”

“When you asked me out the first time. Your friends seemed really keen on getting you to do it. But with me, specifically. Why? Am I your type?” he asks without even looking at Jongho, just watching the moths bash their bodies at the street light. 

“I don’t really have a type. I guess I like the unattainable. Most of my crushes in the last couple years have been Professors or TAs or people in relationships,” Jongho admits, unsure why he’s even answering at all. The weed is 95% thc. He’s a fool.

“I’m unattainable?” Yeosang turns, and his fringe is hanging in his eyes, casting his sharp cheekbones in shadow. 

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of shaped like a lego brick,” Jongho says, taking another hit against his better judgment. 

“I didn’t notice that at all,” Yeosang replies, taking the vape and pulling smoke deep in and letting it out long and slow. 

“I’m not most peoples’ type, I guess,” Jongho explains.

“That can’t be true,” Yeosang says, and his gaze is a bit unfocused, but maybe that’s actually Jongho’s gaze that’s unfocused. In trying to focus on Yeosang’s level of focus, Jongho’s unfocused.

“Do you like eggs?” Jongho asks.

Yeosang’s brows pull together. He nods. “I do like eggs. Are you about to ask me how I like my eggs in the morning?”

“I am, actually. How did you know?”

“It’s...isn’t that a meme?” Yeosang laughs, and the sound is less restrained, his cheeks softer. 

“Is it? I was just genuinely curious.”

“I think it’s supposed to be a pickup line. Like, uh, like we’ve fucked, and now you’re asking me how I want my eggs?” 

Jongho’s brain catches we’ve fucked and slowly implodes. 

He stares off into space. Silent. Lost. Imploded. Maybe a little hard.

“Like we’ve fucked…” Jongho repeats, words salty and warm on his tongue. 

“It’s a meme. Hey, you okay?” Yeosang asks, waving a hand in front of Jongho’s face. 

Jongho startles, rising up to his feet, holding the taco basket in front of his crotch. “God, fuck, yeah I’m fucked. I mean fine. I’m fine. I’m just gonna go home and not fuck. I’m going...I’m going home where I will not be fucking. But I might make some eggs.”

Yeosang is confused, trying to catch up with Jongho’s words. He blinks slowly. 

Jongho feels like a total idiot. Yeosang was just asking him a question. Was just explaining something. He needs to go home. He needs to lay in bed and stare at the glow-in-the-dark stars left on his popcorn ceiling and seek the comfort of dreamless sleep. 

“I’m gonna go home,” he says, ordering himself an Uber, which he definitely would never do in other circumstances, since it’s absurdly overpriced, but he’s desperate for a rapid escape. 

“Are you okay? Is this because I talked about fucking? I didn’t mean...I just meant…” Yeosang mutters, confused, trailing after Jongho to the Uber Pool pickup location down the block and across the street. “You’re fun to talk to. You go on tangents, and you don’t mind that I’m quiet a lot and--”

Jongho watches as the gray Hyundai pulls up in front of him, a girl already in the backseat, apparently sobbing. It’s some kind of sign.

“Your friends think we’re dating. Doesn’t that bother you?” Jongho asks quickly, before he reaches for the door. 

“Why would that bother me? I asked you to come.”

They’re like magnets of the same charge. They keep bouncing off one another, and nothing is really making sense to Jongho. 

“But just to fill the spot. They think we’re dating dating. And you’re like…” he trails off, embarrassed as he gestures in Yeosang’s direction. 

“I don’t mind that at all. If they think that,” Yeosang says. “They can...keep thinking that. If you want to keep hanging out. I like your voice. It’s...calm.”

Yeosang is high. Jongho is high. 

He climbs into the backseat, and Yeosang is there at the door. “Do you like Lord of the Rings?”

The driver revs the engine, clearly annoyed. The girl beside Jongho is just sniveling into her purse. Jongho hands her his vape without looking away from Yeosang. She takes it eagerly.

“Of course I do.”

“My friends do a movie night once a year. We watch all the movies and make themed food and drinks and stuff. It’s super nerdy but...you and your friends should come. I’m always the only single person there.”

“But now your friends think we’re dating,” Jongho says.

“Yeah,” Yeosang says. “There will be mead.”

Jongho laughs. “Yeah. Yeah, okay. We’ll be there.”

Yeosang smiles, and Jongho is left breathless with how otherworldly he looks, backlit by golden street lamps, hair frizzing in the thick humidity around his face like a crown. 

Jongho doesn’t know Yeosang or his friends. Not really. But they speak the same language, and Jongho likes them. He likes this feeling. Something warm. Comforting. Familiar. Like sometimes he’s speaking into a void, unsure if anyone is even listening.

But this is like being heard, isn’t it?

Something attainable.

Even if Yeosang isn’t.

Maybe being around him, feeling like this...that’s enough. Surrounded by that familiar feeling, that illusion of eggs in the morning. 

That’s attainable. That’s warm. That’s enough.

The crying girl hands Jongho’s vape back to him, blowing smoke out the window. “Thank you so much,” she says, as they finally drive away, Yeosang behind them on the curb still. She wipes at her eyes and chokes out a laugh after a moment. “God, I’m so fucking stupid.”

Jongho drops his head back against the headrest, flicking his gaze up to the rearview mirror, seeing Yeosang turning to walk to the subway. He’s glowing, even walking away.

“Big mood.”