The loud alarm blasted through the morning. A hand emerged from the thick sheets, trying to silence the clock, only succeeding in dropping the object on the floor while pressing its button.
The boy groaned over his obligation to rise before 12 PM again – just like every other day. 7 AM is an ungodly hour. No one can be happy before 10:30 AM to the very least.
He kicked his duvet away, sitting on the mattress with swollen, barely open eyes. His bleached and slightly frizzy hair pointed to every direction as he yawned, a frown of annoyance in his face as he walked out of the bed to his bathroom.
Spring, 1994. Somewhere in the east coast of United States.
Park Jimin (or Jimin Park as read in his ID card) looked at himself in the mirror with little patience before turning the sink on and soaking his face with water. He needed to get ready for another day of his senior year in high school. Being 18 already, he wished he could be excited for the end of his secondary student life, but he knew adult life was going to punch him the face sooner or later.
After finishing all of his bathroom duties, he changed from his old and overused t-shirt and shorts he used for pajamas into a sleeveless gray flannel shirt – that had maybe one hole or two –, critically ripped blue jeans and an oversized bomber jacket in khaki color and neon orange interior.
Dragging his backpack downstairs, he headed to the kitchen, sitting on the table for his breakfast. He took his chopsticks and the already prepared rice bowl, taking some kimchi from one of the many servings in the table to put over the cooked, still fuming grains.
“Good morning for you too, Jiminnie.” His mother said, in clear Korean, tone rather teasing than angry while she put a boiling pot of doenjang jjigae over the table in front of the boy, who said nothing else. His morning mood was of common knowledge in the family.
Soon after, Jimin’s father joined the table, smiling a little at the sight of his son.
“Good morning, son.” Mr. Park mumbled, and Jimin smiled to him a bit. His mood was set to get a bit better after the food. “Yah, you look just like those American kids.” He commented.
“How do you want him to look? I bet the kids in Korea are dressing like this too.” Mrs. Lee – Lee Sunhee, as Korean women don’t take the husband’s surname upon marriage – mumbled before eating a mouthful of rice.
Park Jongsu and Lee Sunhee met in the early 70s in university back in Korea, in the city of Busan. Jimin, also born there some years after his parents wed, barely has any memories of their homeland as the family immigrated to the United States when their son was two years old. Jongsu was a civil engineer while Sunhee was a accountant. Both were fluent in English, but said language was forbidden in the Park household.
Jimin appreciated every effort they made to keep their culture alive in between themselves, even if the exterior factors could make it hard to do so.
“I still remember when we all dressed in hanbok. Do you know why you were born in Busan, son?” Jongsu said to Jimin, who looked at him. He knew the story, it was the millionth time he heard it. “I was five years old when we all boarded the Meredith Victory in the Heungnam port. I can’t remember much, but it was crazy, people everywhere!” The man actively gesticulated while speaking, “We almost didn’t made it, but in the end the four of us, including your aunt, made it to Busan.”
Jimin smiled a bit while resting his cheek over his hand. His father’s usual good mood was contagious. He knew every detail of that story, but he always let him talk, he knew how difficult it was for his father’s family in the beginning.
“Dear, Jimin can already tell this story as good as you do.” Sunhee mumbled, chuckling.
“You should always know your family was born in Hamheung, okay?” Jongsu said, looking at Jimin’s eyes, as the boy nodded.
“Your father was always getting into trouble. He took this North Korean identity way too seriously.” Sunhee said, pouring a bit more of soup in her dish. “I still wonder why a communist like him ended up in this country.”
“You know that’s not how it works, honey.” Jongsu sighed. “I’m just a patriot, okay? For Korea. North and South. But that fucker Park Chung Hee…”
“Shh, no swearing at the table!” Sunhee reprimanded her husband.
“Dad must’ve been cool. Were you arrested?” Jimin finally spoke.
“Never. They never caught me.” The eldest said, proudly. Jimin smiled. He was proud that his tiny family still managed to keep their culture alive even after decades in such a polar-opposite foreign country.
“Even when I was pregnant he would go protest and leave me worried to death at home.” Sunhee sighed.
“Jimin-ah, don’t ever give yourself an American name, okay?” Jongsu looked into his son’s eyes while holding his hand over the table. “And if you need to punch someone in the face for that just—”
“Yah, Park Jongsu!” Sunhee snapped, “Shut up! Jimin-ah, hurry up or you gonna be late for school!”
Jongsu winked at Jimin, who smirked back and put one last spoonful in his mouth before standing up from the table.
“Go, brush your teeth and get out, ppali!” Sunhee exclaimed as Jimin rushed upstairs.
Jimin had his backpack over one shoulder and a face that made it clear that he was already done over school even before the class began. He didn’t have friends to make it any more fun, not that he bothered in the first place.
The students chatted around in the school yard, catching up with their peers after the weekend. As much as Jimin didn’t care about them, they also didn’t care about him and he was completely fine with that. It was the last year, he could manage to survive it.
“Hey Jimmy!” He heard the teasing tone coming from his left, and squinted his sight at the owner of the voice. A boy with pitch-black hair and bunny-teethed smile wearing an orange bomber jacket came to him.
“Do you want to die?” Jimin replied in clear Korean.
“Whoa there,” The boy giggled. “I know you’re still sad about that Nirvana guy but no need to get up in the arms with me all the time.”
Jimin rolled his eyes. “The reason why you test the hell out of my patience is that you keep pretending you’re a white boy even right in front of my face, Jeon Jeongguk.” Jimin retorted, leaving the other with a pout.
Ian – Jeongguk – Jeon, was Jimin’s childhood friend, as they used to attend the same activities in the local Korean community. Back in the time, they used to be closer, but drifted apart slightly in high school. Jeongguk found his way with the cool guys from the football team (in theory), and Jimin wanted his ass as far as possible from them.
Jeongguk’s family was the polar opposite of Jimin’s. Their son was born in American soil, they spoke English at home and ate cereal for breakfast. They were also busy businesspeople. Still, they made sure that their son was taught their native language.
It was no surprise, then, that Jimin and Jeongguk’s families weren’t really fond of each other, especially when they found out Jimin’s father was from North Korea. But they kept it very much civil in public. Those matters weren’t that important so far away from home.
“You’re fucking boring, Jimin!“
“Whatever. It’s Jimin-hyung for you by the way!” Jimin showed his tongue at Jeongguk and moved towards the main gate. Jeongguk watched him leave and sighed. He missed the times when they were closer and deep inside he knew Jimin also did.
As Jimin made his way, he sudden stopped when his vision caught someone getting to the gate before he could do so.
It was a boy he’d never seen before, wearing denim shorts, a flannel shirt wrapped around his waist, jeans jacket and a graphic tee with white background. Under his ankle-high black converse sneakers, he moved in a skateboard, effortlessly getting the attention of the other students around.
His light brown hair, almost wavy at the edges, hovered over his eyebrows and eyes slightly, but not enough for Jimin not to notice he was also Asian.
And amazingly pretty.
The boy paid attention to no one and skillfully grabbed his skateboard by the tip, putting it under his left arm as he went in, leaving the students to gossip and Jimin with his lips parted in awe.
“Wow, did you see that?” His daze was broken by Jeongguk’s voice, as if they didn’t bicker less than a minute ago.
“Who is he?” Jimin asked, still staring at the gate, even though the boy could no longer be seen.
“Some transfer student probably, never saw him around. He’s Korean.” Jeongguk said.
“How do you know?” Jimin turned to the younger boy, lifting one eyebrow.
“I don’t. But I can tell.” Jeongguk smiled. “Wanna bet?”
Jimin snorted and also went inside, leaving Jeongguk there. As there was no sight of the newcomer, he just headed straight to his locker, grabbing his books before going to his assigned classroom for the morning. Biology class.
Sitting at the second-to-last table, he was supposedly ready for another tedious day of classes. Not that he was a bad student, but he was just tired of it. He wanted to experience something else, something new, but the thing was that not even himself could tell what that was.
He was still young – 18 – but feeling like he hasn’t lived much. He liked to listen to grunge bands, but ever since Kurt Cobain passed away earlier that month, he hadn’t been enjoying it as much as he did before.
He had no plans for university either. He was afraid of being so lost that it could even make him miss school when it’s all over.
“Good morning, students.”
His stopped his thoughts when the teacher entered the classroom. Oh no, he thought. It’s the substitute teacher. He hates her. Mr. Phillips is fine but Mrs. Johnson is a snoozefest.
He listened to the attendance list call, already dreading what was to come.
“Janet Moore?” The teacher called.
Jimin rubbed his hand over his face. He should be used already, since it was nearly a daily thing in his school life, but he couldn’t help but hate it.
“It’s Jimin.” He replied emphasizing the correct pronunciation, causing the other students to laugh.
“Okay. I’ll just call you Jimmy.” The teacher said.
As soon as the attendance call finished, there was a knock on the door. The door opened, and Jimin widened his eyes. It was the skateboard boy.
“Excuse me, I was assigned to this class.” No longer with his ride on hand, he said as he shyly entered the classroom – a contrasting image from the coolness earlier displayed in the yard.
“Oh, you must be the new student. Come here.” The teacher said, and the boy stood in front of the board. “Welcome to Springs High. Can you introduce yourself to the class?”
“Um— Hi, I’m Taylor Kim. I just transferred from Rowland High.“ He said, voice surprisingly deep, and hands on his front.
He’s Korean, Jimin concluded in his mind.
“Thank god, you have an easy name.” Mrs. Johnson said and Taylor furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. “You can sit down behind Jimmy,” She pointed. “You guys might get along well, but no talking during class.”
Jimin wished he could un-hear what the teacher said, but soon his thoughts shifted to the newcomer, as their gazes met for a second. The blonde couldn’t deny to himself that his heart skipped a beat. Taylor looked unreal, even from that distance.
“Yo, finally Jimmy boy got a friend.” The boys sitting in the row besides Jimin teased.
“But isn’t he North Korean, though? They won’t get along.” Another one added, causing his friend to laugh and Jimin to glare at them both. But soon he awkwardly drifted his sight to the side when the new student made his way to the table right behind Jimin’s.
The class felt even longer with the expectation for it to finish. But then what should he do? Actually talk to the boy? That seemed too crazy already. He wasn’t ready. He was going to screw this up.
When the bell rang and the students started to pack their things out, Jimin panicked even more. He started sorting out all of the outcomes for a hypothetical conversation, until—
“Hey.” He nearly jumped from the chair when he heard the voice behind him. He turned around, pretty sure his whole persona had melted already.
“Oh, hey.” He replied.
“I’m Taylor, nice to meet you.” The boy said in English, smiling slightly as he gave a hand.
“I-I’m Jimin Park.” Jimin took his hand – the size difference evident – also managing to smile. “I’m Korean too.”
“Oh, really?” The already big eyes of the other got even bigger. “Can you speak Korean?”
“Yes.” Jimin’s smile grew a little.
“In that case, then—“ The brown-haired instantly shifted to Korean, “I’m Kim Taehyung. Wow, that feels refreshing.” He giggled. “It’s the first time I can actually speak Korean in school.”
“Really? I feel you, even though there’s another Korean kid here.” Jimin said. “Why did you transfer?”
“Punched someone’s face after they called me the g-word and quit before they could expel me.” Taehyung’s smile grew into a boxy display of teeth and Jimin’s jaw dropped. “How old are you? I want to know whether I should call you hyung or not.”
“I’m 18, born in ‘75.” Jimin said,
“Wow, me too!” He said, and Jimin knows he blushed.
Oh my god.
They were soulmates.
Up close, Taehyung looked just like a doll, even the tiny dots in his nose and lips seemed to have been planned by the gods to be put in the exact places. His eyelashes were long and even his uneven eyelids looked perfect. He couldn’t believe he was seeing such a face this close.
Jimin couldn’t even remember the last time he had a crush on someone, but he was a hundred percent sure he had a crush on Kim Taehyung at this very given moment.
“So, let’s go eat?” Taehyung invited.
They sat down on an empty corner table after getting their cafeteria food. To Jimin, it was pretty curious how Taehyung seemed to have a personality for each given situation – first the entrance, then the introduction, and now the hanging-out personality. Different from what he expected, he was pretty easygoing, at least with him.
“So, were you born here?” Taehyung asked, eating whatever burger they served at the school.
“No, born in Busan. But I barely remember it. Moved here when I was three or something.” Jimin said, sipping on his soda.
“I’m technically from Gyeongsang too. Family’s from Daegu, but I was born here.” Taehyung said carefully, as his mouth was full. “I’m actually happy I found you here, I was tired of the white kids. That was a plot twist, I thought it would be an even whiter school.” He giggled.
“I know, right!” Jimin also laughed. “Our school isn’t very diverse, but… Yeah, can’t help it. Just want to finish this soon.”
“We will.” Taehyung said. “Just a few more months.”
“Do you have plans for university?” Jimin asked casually.
“Meh, not at all. I want to skate and paint.” Taehyung sighed. “Tuition is hella expensive. I know our parents put a lot of importance on these stuffs but I don’t think it’s fair, you know.”
The more Taehyung spoke, the more Jimin’s crush grew. According to his calculations, it soon wouldn’t be enough to fit in his heart.
“You paint? That’s amazing…! I saw you with the skate, by the way.” Jimin smiled.
“You did?” Taehyung smiled as well. “It’s my ride. Makes the boring life less boring. Not that my life is actually boring, though.”
Wow, I’m jealous. Jimin thought. He wished he could say the same.
“Jimin-ssi!” Both Jimin and Taehyung were startled by the voice, with Jeongguk approaching them. “Wow, is that the new Korean kid?” Jeongguk smiled. “You’re Korean, right?”
“Yeah.” Taehyung said, standing up to talk to Jeongguk properly.
“I knew it!” Jeongguk celebrated, “Nice to meet you!”
“I’m Kim Taehyung, or Taylor Kim, nice to meet you!”
“I’m Ian Jeon.”
“He’s Jeongguk.” Jimin said, taking another sip from his soda, and making Jeongguk snort.
“Yeah, whatever.” The boy with black hair said. “Nice to have you around, I think Jimin won’t be as lonely as he likes to be.”
“You guys don’t hang out much?” Taehyung looked from one to another.
“No, he hangs out with the white kids from football.” Jimin said, “He doesn’t even call me hyung even though he’s younger, can you believe this?” He said, in a slightly joking tone, making Taehyung laugh.
“Jimin – hyung – misses me a lot so he’s pissy about it. But I think you two look like you’re getting along well.” Jeongguk said.
“Yeah, he’s cooler than you anyway.” Jimin said, and Jeongguk snorted.
“I know I’m cute, but don’t fight over me.” Taehyung said.
“Hey, Jeon!” Some guy shouted a few meters away, holding a football. “Let’s go, we gotta meet the other guys!”
“Sorry, gotta go.” Jeongguk said. “Bye, nice to meet you, Taylor!” He waved and left in a hurry, barely waiting for the other’s response. Jimin sighed.
“Sorry, this kid…”
“You know it’s us who are the weird ones, right?” Taehyung giggled. “Being full on Korean-ness in this soil, it sucks but isn’t that how it usually goes?”
“I guess.” Jimin said. As Jeongguk rendezvoused with his peers at the other side of the cafeteria, Jimin noticed the not so subtle look Taehyung had on his eyes as he watched the younger one.
“Do all the Korean kids here look this good? Me and you included, of course.” He said bluntly, making Jimin blush.
“U-Uh… We’re the only ones actually.”
“Only cute or only Korean?”
“Only Korean… And cute?”
“Oh, okay.” Taehyung said.
Jimin was going to die.
Sure, he was overreacting but he was going to die. Taehyung turned out to be the confident type and he was just not ready.
The bell soon rang and they had to return to their classrooms. As they went for math class, they realized they were not in the same class anymore.
“So, see you after class?” Taehyung asked.
“Sure!” Jimin said. “Meet me at the main gate, outside.”
“Deal.” Taehyung smiled. “Bye, see you!”
“Bye…!” Jimin said, and as soon as Taehyung was out of his sight he felt like he could finally breathe.
Too much. He was too much.
Not that he was complaining.
When all the classes were finished, Jimin waited for Taehyung at the spot they were supposed to meet. It didn’t take long, and soon the other boy showed up, skateboard back on his arm.
“Sorry, I had to go to the office. Transfer stuff.” Taehyung said.
“No problem.” Jimin said.
“Are you heading back home? I just remembered I have something to do.”
“Oh, really? Where do you live?”
“Around Pine Hills. How about you?”
“Opposite way. Near Sunflower Park.” Jimin ruffled the back of his hair.
“I guess we see each other tomorrow, then.” Taehyung smiled slightly. “By the way, is the Ian boy the only Korean kid you know overall? Besides me?”
“Yeah… Pretty much?” Jimin pondered before saying.
“This isn’t right. All my friends are Korean.” Taehyung said with a short laugh, and Jimin widened his eyes.
“Really? Where were you guys hiding all this time?”
“You should visit our side.” Taehyung shrugged, but still smiling. “We’re cooler anyway.” He said, putting his skateboard on the floor. “I think I should introduce you to my boyfriend. See you tomorrow, Jimin-ah!” He said, riding away on his skate, and Jimin barely managed to reply with a wave.
Not as in ‘male friend’, right?
Taehyung clearly said namja chingu.
Oh no, his crush had a boyfriend.