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Necessary Truths

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Jaehyun steps out of his car and into the oppressive heat, an unforgiving reminder that this marks the first day of a long two months of summer school. It was something he was forced into doing, he adds mentally as he walks up the steps from the student parking lot. Philosophy 101 is probably one of the easier humanities classes, and yet he had put it off until his final year in college. So, instead of spending hundreds on credits for the same course at his overseas university, he decided to save money and enroll at his hometown community college.

Jaehyun had been on track to graduate a semester early and this one class was the only thing between him and his sweet, sweet Bachelor’s degree. And then he could figure out what the fuck to do with an art history degree.

But not right now.

Right now, he has to find the correct building.

After vaguely tracing the campus map, he finds the science and humanities center with five minutes to spare. The perfect amount of time to pick a seat where he would interact with the least amount of people. Jaehyun was not here to socialize, and god forbid they do any sort of group work. If there was anything he hated more than collaborative assignments, it’s when he’s paired with people he did not trust or know their work ethic history. Jaehyun is first and foremost an A student, and he wanted to keep it that way. If anyone messed with this perfect GPA, he would cut a bitch.

Entering through the double glass doors, the blast of the air conditioning sends a chill down his spine. The dingy walls lining the hallway are bare, save for the scattered bulletin boards with half ripped flyers, and Jaehyun rounds the corner to find the correct room. It’s a typical lecture hall, with rows of elevated seats in a half-circle, a table and podium at the front of the room.

There are only about six students present, all of them avoiding to sit within the first five rows and scattered apart. Jaehyun walks up the steps and sits on the left side in an aisle seat. Jaehyun scrolls through his messages, mostly from Yuta and Mark.

Yuta is his best friend from high school, and Mark is a second year music major from Jaehyun’s university. Jaehyun and Yuta were trying to plan to meet up once Yuta comes back to Korea the following week, and Mark just sent him the third youtube video of the day. Another Marvel crack video. Jaehyun marks it to watch later and sends back laughing emojis.

The lecture room door opens again, and a throng of students enter, tailed by the professor. He’s a typical humanities professor; balding, pot-bellied, and stuck in the sweater vest and khakis dress code from the last century.

Jaehyun’s eyes follow a tall dark-haired guy who is climbing up the steps closer and closer to him.

Please, stop.

The guy, who has his air-pods in, decides to sit exactly in front of Jaehyun. His big gray Thrashers hoodie seems to deflate with him as he settles into the seat. 

Are you fucking kidding me.

Jaehyun glares at the back of the guy’s head and counts to ten before he slumps back in his seat. It’s only 8 weeks, not an entire semester. This is fine. Only the bottom quarter of the projector screen is covered by the clump of dyed black hair.

Jaehyun stiffens as the hair begins to move, and the guy turns to look at him. His eyes look vaguely red and Jaehyun decides to cut him some slack. If his roommate hadn’t broken his wax pen, Jaehyun would’ve taken a few hits before class too.

“Hey,” the guy says. “I’m Johnny.”

“I’m Jaehyun,” Jaehyun replies.

But Johnny just blinks at him lazily. Jaehyun makes a vague gesture to Johnny’s ears and Johnny pulls out an air-pod, wheezing a laugh.

“Ah, sorry, what’d you say?”

“Jaehyun. My name is Jaehyun.”

“Cool, cool. What’s your sign?”

“My what?”

Johnny looks around before turning back to Jaehyun as if he’s telling him a secret. “Like, your zodiac sign.” He leans in closer. “I’m an Aquarius.”

After a moment he responds, “I’m an Aquarius too.”

Johnny smiles and nods as if satisfied with that answer. “I think we’re gonna be good friends.”

“Oh, I’m not—“

But Jaehyun is cut off by the feedback of the microphone from the professor’s podium. A bright blue screen flashes onto the projector before switching to a powerpoint.

“Comic sans?” Johnny says, not so quietly. Probably because both of his air-pods are in again. “This’ll be a rough class.”

A shrill shush snaps Jaehyun’s attention to the right side of the room. A tall, skinny boy with black hair in a purple shirt has a finger raised to his lips. He glares at Johnny before returning his attention back to the professor. But Jaehyun’s focus shifts to the equally tall, skinny boy with blonde hair next to the shusher, who is staring intensely at Jaehyun. As their gazes lock, the blonde boy looks away.

Jaehyun can’t help but notice how he’s sitting perfectly straight. Jaehyun doesn’t recall if he’s seen anyone sit that straight unless they were wearing a back brace for scoliosis. Jaehyun looks away before it starts to get weird, he was already looking too long anyway. The professor taps his keyboard and brings up a ‘Welcome!’ slide.

“Welcome to Philosophy 101!” The professor says cheerfully. His voice echoes from the speakers in the back. “I’m Professor Lee. Now, before we get started, I will do roll call.” He clears his throat and begins to list names.

“Bae Irene?” A hand raises.

“Choi Sooyoung?” Another hand raises.

“Jung Jaehyun?” Jaehyun raises his hand.

From his peripheral vision, he can see the blonde haired boy shift.

A string of Kims are called.

“Kim Doyoung?” The black-haired shusher raises his hand, followed by a ‘here.’

A few more Kims are called before…

“Kim Jungwoo?”

The blonde haired boy raises a hand and straightens even more.

Kim Jungwoo.

Jungwoo looks in Jaehyun’s direction before Jaehyun realizes he was looking. He pretends to swat away a fly before looking back to the front. Johnny is looking at him.

“You good?”

“Yeah. Super.” Jaehyun whispers back.

“Johnny Suh?” The professor calls. Jaehyun kicks the back of Johnny’s chair and Johnny turns around, raising a hand and shouting ‘here.’

“And finally, Jackson Wang?” A guy on the far right of the room raises a hand. The professor sets down his clipboard and presses another key on his keyboard.

“This is an exercise I like to do before we dive into the syllabus,” Professor Lee explains, gesturing to the several headshots in terrible quality on the powerpoint slide. “How many of you know Socrates?”

A few hands go up.

“Plato? Aristotle? Confucius?”

Scattered hands for those. Jaehyun has heard all of these names and more. He’s gone over philosophers before in a history class.

“Now,” Professor Lee continues, “those are the more well-known philosophers. Could anyone offer any other names?”

After a moment of silence as no one moves, Johnny raises his hand.

“Jesus Christ?”

That got a few giggles around the room.

“Well, you’re not wrong,” Professor Lee says. “Jesus could technically be a philosopher if you think about it.”

“David Hume,” chimes in Doyoung.

“Yes, good. Good,” Professor Lee says with a smile.

Jaehyun decides to chip in too. There may be participation points after all. “Marcus Aurelius?” Someone sighs loudly, and Jaehyun turns to see Jungwoo rolling his eyes and clicking his mechanical pen against his notebook. 

What's his deal?

“Oh, great example! Tell me more.”

“Oh, um.” Jaehyun turns back to the professor. “Well, he was a Roman emperor.”

“Was he the one who got stabbed?” Johnny asks.

“No, that’s Julius Caesar,” Jungwoo interjects.

Jaehyun looks at Jungwoo, who holds his gaze steadily. There's something cold, but also something else Jaehyun can't quite place.  

“What does salad dressing have to do with Romans?” Johnny looks visibly confused and still very high.

“No, Julius Caesar was a Roman emperor,” Jaehyun explains. “The salad dressing was actually named after its creator, Caesar Cardini.”

“Aren’t they all Italian?” Johnny furrows his brows.

“I mean…” Jaehyun trails off.

“Oh my god,” Doyoung breathes.

“Marcus Aurelius focused on Stoicism,” Jungwoo pipes up, looking back to the professor.

“Good, good.” Professor Lee nods, quickly switching to another slide. “Now, we will be going over the key philosophers you have all mentioned, including lesser known philosophers that are equally as important. To give you an idea of our timeline, our last unit will be on Karl Marx and Frederick Nietzsche." He pauses. "Do any of you know Nietzsche’s most famous line?”

“‘God is dead.’”

Jaehyun and Jungwoo quickly look at each other. Their unison voices echo eerily in the lecture room and for once Jaehyun wishes he hadn’t shown off.

“Correct,” Professor Lee says, looking between Jaehyun and Jungwoo.

Jungwoo only glares back before facing the front of again, his posture now annoying. How could someone sit like that and be comfortable? Jaehyun shakes his head and focuses back on the projected screen of the terribly designed powerpoint as the professor moves on.

 

. . .

 

After a grueling hour and a half of going through the syllabus, they are granted a fifteen minute break. Johnny had asked Jaehyun to accompany him to the vending machines, which he agreed to since he didn’t even know where they were in the first place.

Now, Jaehyun watches Johnny count his loose change so he can get flaming hot Cheetos, his wax pen in his mouth. Once Johnny has the right amount, he starts punching in his order. Jaehyun leans back against the wall, his wallet in his hand.

The door opens to the small room and Jungwoo and Doyoung enter. Now that they’re standing, Jaehyun realizes how tall Jungwoo actually is. His yellowish-striped shirt hangs off his frame. Jungwoo and Doyoung’s more colorful wardrobe clashes with Jaehyun’s all-black outfit and Johnny’s gray and white outfit.

Johnny stands up from his squat in front of the vending machine, opening his bag of Cheetos and freezes when he sees the new pair that walked in. He takes his pen out of his mouth and points a finger at Doyoung.

“You shushed me,” Johnny says.

Doyoung blinks. “I did, yes.”

“Well, next time can you mind your own business?”

“Could you please move so we can use the vending machine?”

Johnny turns around and glances at its contents before turning back around. “If you wanted to get hot Cheetos, I just took the last one.” He proceeds to bite into a Cheeto. Jaehyun stifles a laugh.

“But he hasn’t gotten anything yet,” Jungwoo says. Jaehyun watches as Jungwoo steps closer to him and grabs his wallet. “Here, allow me.”

“Hey, wait, the fuck—“ Jaehyun stammers as he realizes what's happening. Johnny steps aside as Jungwoo feeds in the money.

“Relax, punch in your number first.”

Jaehyun looks at Jungwoo, who only smiles back. It’s closed lipped and makes Jungwoo's large eyes crinkle softly. Confused, Jaehyun punches in the number for the Doritos.

“Funny, I was getting Doritos too.” Jungwoo punches in the same number. As the bags bounce to the bottom, Jungwoo bends down and collects the bags, handing back Jaehyun’s wallet and one of the Dorito bags.

The loud clatter of coins draws their attention. “Keep the change,” Jungwoo says and walks out with Doyoung before Jaehyun can say anything.

Johnny crunches loudly on a Cheeto. “Well that was weird.”

“Yeah, no shit.”

Johnny gestures to the door with his pen. “He owes you $1.75.”

“Who just takes someone’s wallet to buy themselves something? Then gives it back?”

Johnny shrugs. “Apparently he does.”

Jaehyun sighs and goes through his wallet but nothing else was taken. He goes back to the machine and scoops out the change left behind.

“Hey, do you have any baby wipes?” Johnny asks, wiggling his red-stained fingers.

Jaehyun stands up and blinks at him. “No. No I don’t, Johnny.”

“Do you want a hit?” He offers the pen and Jaehyun accepts without a word.

 

. . .

 

Jaehyun stares at his unopened bag of Doritos in front of him. The professor is talking about something but Jaehyun is still trying to figure out how he had just…let Jungwoo do that. His reaction was delayed and he did nothing to fight back. That smile had been a bit disarming, he admits. Whatever had happened, Jaehyun swore it would never happen again.

“…so pass the hat around and only draw one.”

Jaehyun sits up and taps Johnny’s shoulder. “What are we doing?” He whispers.

“We’re picking partners for the final.”

“Wait, we’re doing what for the final?”

“It’s like, we draw philosopher names and then he pairs us up.”

“So we can’t pick who we want to work with ourselves?”

“Yeah.”

“Fuck me,” Jaehyun slumps back in his seat, dragging a hand through his hair. He watches the navy blue fedora snake its way around the room before it gets to Johnny, who grabs a slim piece of paper before passing it onto Jaehyun. He grabs a piece of paper and gets up, handing it across the aisle to Doyoung.

When Jaehyun sits back down, he unfolds the paper.

Rene Descartes.

When he looks up, he sees that the hat is already to the front again and is handed back to the professor.

“Alright everyone. On the back of each slip there is a colored dot. Pair up with the person who has the same color as you,” Professor Lee explains.

Jaehyun sees his has a red dot on the back. Everyone else is getting up, holding up their paper to show the color, so Jaehyun follows suit. As he walks down the steps, he doesn’t see anyone else with red. He turns around to look at those in the back and his heart nearly stops.

He sees another red dot.

Jungwoo walks down the steps to Jaehyun, pausing on a step in front of him so he is looking down at Jaehyun.

“So, partner. Who do you have?”

“Descartes,” Jaehyun tries to keep his tone even.

“Hume,” Jungwoo muses.

He eyes Jaehyun up and down before extending a hand. Jaehyun looks at him with a raised brow, but pulls out his phone and hands it over. Jungwoo types in his number and hands it back.

“Text me when you want to meet up for the project,” Jungwoo says. “I think we’re on the same page that this sucks. But you look like a smart guy, so this might not be a train wreck after all. I want to have it done early, and the sooner we start the easier this’ll be for both of us.”

Before Jaehyun could even get a word in, Jungwoo is already heading back to his seat. Jaehyun looks down at his new contact “Kim Jungwoo” and pockets his phone. Sitting back in his seat, Johnny turns to him.

“I think the universe is pulling a prank on us,” Johnny says.

“Oh, you think?”

Johnny motions with his head. “I got paired with Doyoung and you got Jungwoo.”

“Well, shit.”

“Here,” Johnny hands Jaehyun his phone. “We might need each other so we don’t die from frustration.”

Jaehyun smiles as he puts in his number in Johnny’s phone and texts himself to save Johnny’s number. A phone alarm goes off in the room, and scrapes of backpacks and notebooks are heard as everyone prepares to leave.

“Don’t forget to go over the first reading for next class! See you all on Wednesday!” Professor Lee calls out as he snaps his briefcase and shuts down his computer. Jaehyun tails Johnny as they leave and head out to the parking lot. Turns out, Johnny is also going to school overseas in Chicago, while Jaehyun is in New York. They talk about adjusting to Korea as they head to their cars.

“Well, see ya next class,” Johnny calls, walking away from Jaehyun’s car.

Jaehyun waves as he walks away. Getting into his car, he gets a text. Jaehyun smiles.

'Hey, you busy tomorrow?'

'Nope! My classes only meet twice a week.'

'See you tomorrow morning loser, I’m picking you up >:D'

'How early should I wake up?'

'4 AM bitch.'

'Bet.'

'Have your pants on by 9.'

'Aight.'

Jaehyun mutes his phone and backs out of the parking lot. As he waits at the stop sign, he sees an already familiar blonde haired boy in the rearview mirror walking to the opposite side of the lot. Jaehyun turns on his blinker and turns left.

 

. . .