Chapter 1: Prologue
Jin wakes up with anxiety -- Classes start at St. Borahae High -- The new student, Taehyung, captivates everyone and is in turn captivated -- Yoonki has regrets and an outburst, unfortunately for his boyfriend -- Namjoon solves a problem in a way only he can.
Jin woke that morning to the sound of his mobile phone vibrating. The sound, though subtle, was enough to wake him, especially since he’s been having trouble sleeping the last few nights. Anxiety, his dad told him. And he nodded and went away, after listening to his various suggestions that ranged from relaxation techniques to the meaning of life, because just the idea of being anxious made him anxious, which was a problem in itself, and it reminded him of how when standing between two mirrors it seemed as if that tunnel into the world of reflections seemed to go on forever, to infinity, just around the bend. And if he could just step through – most importantly – he could escape, finally, to the Other Place, where he wouldn’t have to worry about his grades. Where his parents won’t walk in on him with his eyes closed while standing in the middle of the room, somehow preferring they caught him instead masturbating or looking at pictures of naked ladies. And most importantly where he wouldn’t be woken by his vibrating phone.
He looked at the notification. Yoonki had texted him good morning. He had started doing this when the others began to question whether he truly loved Jin, despite their mutual insistence that this was indeed the case (not a good sign when insistence comes into play at any point during a discussion about love). And Yoonki, to reassure Jin, and perhaps himself, began to text his boyfriend good night each evening after they spend their usual few hours after school texting and good morning at around six o’ clock in the morning, when he knew Jin would be up to take a shower. And it wasn’t as if Jin didn’t appreciate the gesture. He loathed to think of himself as ungrateful. But the messages were so perfunctory, so mechanical, that although alone they might have been considered at the very least thoughtful, when they served as the only purpose that he was woken when he preferred to sleep a bit longer, they became tedious, even ridiculous.
Still, he texted: “Good morning. :)”
Seokjin sat in bed. His room, although not big, was comfortably spacious. He tried to maintain a semblance of order and cleanliness, and considering the look of things that morning he determined it a moderate success.
When he went out for breakfast, his parents as usual were already bustling about their integrated dining room and kitchen. His mom was cooking, and his father was making himself a shake.
“There he is,” he manages to say, before pressing a button on the blender, turning it on and making a huge racket. The kind that intellectually should not fit into the atmosphere of the morning, but considering Murphy’s Law seemed only to make too much sense. “Shake?”
“No thank you,” said Jin, as he sat down. A bowl of milk was already waiting for him, next to a box of frosted flakes.
“How did you sleep, honey?” His mom always looked so alive and chipper in the morning that he often wondered where she got the energy. If only he knew, he’d go there more often.
“Did you do those breathing exercises I taught you?” his dad said, shouting over the noise of the blender.
“I tried. But I don’t get it. So, I stopped.” Now, he was shouting, too.
“Maybe you should take a break from the gadgets, honey.” His mom was shouting now, too. “Stop using your phone so much.”
“It has nothing to do with that.”
“What?” she said.
“The gadgets have nothing to do with it!”
“I can’t hear him, Boem,” he said, turning towards his dad. “For the love of God!”
His dad pressed the button again. The whirring stopped. He poured the green contents of the blender into a glass. “You do know that you can tell us anything, right, son?”
“Maybe he’d be able to tell us things,” said his mom, stirring the pan on the stove. “If you didn’t operate that stupid machine in the morning of all times.”
“I’m fine, dad, really,” said Jin.
“You were always a nervous child,” said his mother. “Boem, you remember Christmas of 1999?”
His dad laughed into his drink. He swallowed and said, with a smile, “I can’t ever forget Christmas of 1999.”
Jin was only beginning to check his to-do list on his phone. But he put it down and said, “What happened in Christmas of 1999?”
His mom delivered two bowls of hot soup and noodles to the table. “That was the Christmas when you didn’t know your Uncle Jae-gyu had visited.”
“Oh no…” Jin looked at his phone again, hoping somewhat quixotically that she would drop the subject.
“And he was supposed to play a little prank on you, remember?” she said, sitting down. His dad joined them at the table. “He jumped out from behind the couch,” she continued, “and you made poopie in your pants because you were so surprised.”
“Mom, please! I’m eating!”
“All I’m saying, honey, is that you have delicate nerves,” she said, her tone flat, her eyebrows raised. “And sometimes you can just get a little anxious, and I think resting a little more after school should relax you. That’s all you need.”
“And drink enough water.” His dad pointed his chopsticks at him while nodding knowingly. “People nowadays, they don’t stay hydrated enough. It causes all sorts of problems. I’m guessing about forty percent of all health issues today stem from dehydration.”
“And the other sixty percent?” said Jin.
“The Oedipus Complex.”
“Of course,” said Jin.
St. Borahae High School, like all high schools, was a delicate ecosystem always on the verge of catastrophic collapse, had it not been for the regular extinction of one generation and the subsequent introduction of another. That morning, as every morning, the migration of students began, the halls filling up gradually before the assembly, the sound of chatter rising slowly like a tide. Lights one by one turning on in the buildings that compose the campus. Teachers gathering in the break room, dreading the day just as badly as the students, although in a different way, in a more sophisticated and subtle way brought about by age, and by the fact that they too once were the migratory creatures of the weekday morning – and now, they’re part of the environment, like trees, mountain ridges, canyons.
Jin walked up the steps to the main hall that led to the assembly hall, occasionally nodding his head when he came across someone he knew, but most of the time still in the midst of his waking haze. He went through the open double doors of the assembly hall and made his way to the usual spot, where his group of friends gathered. Everyone had groups; and they all had a place where they gathered, a kind of habitat.
When he got there, Yoonki was lying on a bleacher, his hands on his stomach, his head supported by his backpack. He was asleep. Something about the structure of his face made him look angry while asleep, and the few times that they have slept together on the same bed he woke in the middle of the night to see him gritting his teeth, his face in a barely detectable but definitely present scowl. Jin sat down midway across his body and looked at him, his face inches only from Yoonki’s. Hobi, seated one row behind them, lowered his book to see the commotion that was going to take place.
Jin blew gently towards Yoonki’s nose. It crinkled, the way a rabbit’s would. Jin and Hobi laughed quietly. Jin blew again, only a little harder. His boyfriend’s nose crinkled in a more agitated manner, and he rubbed it with his right hand. Jin blew for a third time.
“I’m going to punch you,” Yoonki murmured.
Hobi and Jin erupted in laughter.
Jin leaned in and kissed Yoonki on the forehead. “How was your social studies project? Did you finish it in time?”
Yoonki reluctantly opened his eyes and spoke as if he remained in a stupor. “No. Later I’m going to tell Leeteuk to meet me outside so I can kick his ass.”
“He didn’t help you at all?”
“Not at fucking all.”
“Some people have said that he’s a freeloader,” said Jin. “I mean, I don’t want to gossip. But they do say that. As a matter of fact.”
“Yeah, well, I’m saying it, too.” Yoonki pointed at something behind him with his thumb. Sitting next to Hobi was a small diorama of a Joseon-era house, including miniature foliage, painted with meticulous detail. There was even a small pond made, Jin guessed, with resin. “I bought that thing from the internet. Thank god it arrived on time.”
“And you don’t think that your teacher will know it’s not your work? No offense, but that thing is nice enough to be in a museum or something.”
“What’s offensive about that?”
“The offensive part is you couldn’t have done anything like that.”
“Hey, you don’t know what I’m capable of Kim Seokjin,” said Yoonki, with a wry smile. “And more importantly neither does Mr. Cheong.”
“Just don’t fail, please?” Jin placed a hand on Yoonki’s arm and squeezed. “Otherwise, you won’t graduate. And that’s just going to be a mess.”
“I thought you liked me because you loved messes.”
“I hate messes,” said Jin. “You’re the only exception.”
Yoonki smiled his gummy smile. A crumpled ball of paper fell on his face. Jin saw Hobi laughing, the book pressed directly against his face as his body jolted in spurts.
“Ah…!” Yoonki took the same ball and threw it at Hobi.
Jin was laughing as well. “Stop it! That’s littering!” he managed to say.
Yoonki and Hobi began tossing the same ball of paper at each other back and forth, Jin stuck in a refrain of asking them to stop between fits of laughter.
As he did so, his eyes happened upon the people entering the assembly hall. And someone knew caught his eye. Throughout four years that he’s been a student, he more or less had an idea of the four-hundred or so people who came to the school. But a new student with blue hair came in, eyes around him within a twelve feet radius swiveling in his direction as they were drawn towards him like compasses towards true north.
“Who’s the new guy?” said Jin.
Hobi looked where everyone was looking, and Yoonki settled down again to sleep.
“They said there’s going to be a new student, moved up,” said Hobi. “He’s back from some internship in Japan.”
“He’s also good looking, isn’t he?” Jin said, almost surprised that he said it out loud.
The boy found an empty seat among the bleachers in the front row and sat down, pretending that he hadn’t notice everyone ogling him in increasingly conspicuous ways. He puckered his lips and bit them nervously, his tongue that was only very slightly peeking out from between them curling and flickering as he pretended to read something on a single piece of paper.
“If he’s that talented, don’t you think we should invite him to the Anything Club?” said Jin. “Seems like he has a lot of interesting things to say.”
“Probably,” said Hobi. “If he even cares about that stuff.”
“Of course he cares about that stuff,” said Jin. “You can’t have blue hair and not care about art, right?”
The boy, whose name was Taehyung, did care about art. And had he been given the chance, he would have instead taken up a vocational course in Paris, becoming a painter, or a restorer, or a curator – that was the only thing he ever found himself caring about. He remembered the first time he saw a Basquiat, as a print in an art store, and he stood there for maybe half an hour, transfixed and fascinated and feeling as if he had until that moment never quite ever seen anything before, had looked but never seen, much less indulged in the pleasure of seeing. He knew, from the moment that he saw it, that he was looking at the visage of eternity.
He wanted to reach through it and take whatever essence it attempted to embody, and yet embodied so perfectly. Whatever it was, he then considered himself to be its servant. He left the store without buying it, fearing that should he be able to see it everyday, he would not treasure it the way he did just then. But he knew that for the rest of his life he would be thinking about that particular painting, longing for it so long as he remembers it exists, so long as he remembers how he felt to behold such a thing.
He looked around him. Heads turned in the other direction. But not fast enough, and he saw that they were looking at him, chatting about him. He expected it. And maybe enjoyed it. A little.
Taehyung turned towards the voice. A student bowed at him. “You’re new.”
“I am,” he said, standing up. He bowed in turn. “Taehyung.”
“Jimin. Nice to meet you.” He motioned to the bleachers again, and they both sat down. “I know how hard it is to be in a place where you don’t know anyone, so I thought I’d approach you. And maybe be your first friend.”
Taehyung smiled. “Thank you. I was nervous, actually. But now that I’ve found a friend, I’m not so nervous.”
From the other side of the hall, Jin was saying, “Jimin approached him.”
“Who?” said Yoonki.
“Park Jimin. The dancer.”
Yoonki grunted, which could have meant a multitude of things.
Then, the crowds parted again, this time for someone Jin was familiar with – the boy walked in carrying a bag over his shoulder, his eyes fixed ahead of him, in a detached, almost dreamy way. From Jin’s angle, his aquiline nose, the slender profile of his body… One might have a difficult time comprehending it all, had he not observed him from afar for years.
Across the court, Taehyung also noticed that the crowd was parting to let the boy through. Jimin saw that he was distracted.
“That’s Jungkook,” said Jimin. “He’s just in his first year, but he’s already the most popular student in Borahae.”
Taehyung nodded, and he wanted to say something, to acknowledge Jimin, but he couldn’t stop looking at Jungkook. When he finally settled at the far end of the bleachers on the opposite side, took out his phone from his bag, and leaned against the wall, the light from the screen gave his face a kind of angelic glow, and as with the Basquiat… He recognized him from the moment he saw him.
Namjoon arrived only a minute before the doors were closed. They were asked to prepare for the flag ceremony that was going to take place in the field. As usual, he was carrying more books that any of them ever had to carry in a day. Or a week.
Hoseok wrapped his arm around him. “How are you this morning, Joonie?”
“I just came back from Bang’s office,” he said. “He’s going to disband our club.”
“What?” Jin said, turning around. “Why?”
“We don’t have enough members, apparently,” he said. “And he doesn’t want us to take up space during the recruitment drive, so he’s disbanding it before then.”
“That sounds a bit unfair, doesn’t it?” said Hoseok. “Why can’t he do that if we don’t get enough members this year?”
“We didn’t have enough members last year, either,” said Namjoon. “He already relaxed the rules for us then.”
“How many members do we need?” said Jin.
“We need at least ten members,” said Namjoon. “Right now, it’s only the four of us.”
“What do you mean?” said Hoseok. “What about Seungri?”
“Seungri doesn’t study here anymore,” Yoonki abruptly said, his eyes still closed.
“Why?” said Jin. “What happened to him?”
“Sex and drugs,” said Yoonki.
“Well, damn,” said Namjoon. “At least, he’s happy.”
Hoseok burst out laughing.
“Well, anyway, with Seungri gone and the others having graduated,” continued Namjoon, “there’s not enough of us. I think if we find members today, and I submit the list to him, we can do something about it. Maybe.”
“Let’s try to recruit the newcomer,” said Jin. “The one with the blue hair.”
An announcement rang out across the building. All students were directed to the field for the flag ceremony.
“I’ll leave that to you,” said Namjoon, as they all stood up. “By the end of school today, hopefully we have enough people. You know how Principal Bang can be.”
Yoonki stood up, rubbing his eyes. “Boy, do I.”
“Good morning,” Hoseok said.
“Yup,” Yoonki replied.
During lunchtime, Yoonki and Jin sat at one table, and they arranged the food they brought with them on the table without so much as a word. This type of silence between them was something they cherished, a kind of living sign of their love for each other. Of the fact that what others needed through frivolous conversation and chatter, they had in silence. And though Jin was frequently assaulted in silence by all manner of worries and anxieties, when he was with Yoonki, he felt a relief he only ever experienced during orgasm – and whether that meant he found silence orgasmic or orgasms more akin to silence, he found a question so academic that he never felt he needed to answer it.
Although he did feel an awkwardness that wasn’t there before. He felt a sharpness in the ether, the way that one might experience the cold or a loss of balance. Ever since the party…
“Do you know what I mean?” said Jenny, who was seated beside him on the couch, but was sitting sideways so that she was facing him. One of her legs was on the couch. The fact that her shoe was on the cushion disturbed him, and he had turned it into a kind of game to not pay attention to it. He was losing the game.
“Definitely,” he said. He held his beer with both hands, between his legs. “I’m happy, though, with my relationship, even if it has its flaws. No relationship is perfect, anyway, right?”
“I’ve had the perfect relationship before,” she said. “Until he left for the United States. We tried it long distance but… Well, he cheated on me.”
“Doesn’t sound very perfect,” said Jin, “when you put it that way.”
Jenny had to think about this one. “Are you happy with the relationship you have now?” she finally said.
Jin nodded and sipped his beer. “Can’t complain. Yoonki and I… we understand each other.”
“Min Yoonki?” She seemed genuinely surprised.
“He has a boyfriend?”
Jin awkwardly raised his hand. “Me?”
“I mean,” Jin said, laughing awkwardly. “I think so too…”
Jenny smiled and nodded at him, before standing up and walking to the kitchen adjacent the living room where they were sitting. It was a small apartment, and it was packed with people. Jenny met with a group of girls talking there and whispered something in a girl’s ear. Seconds later, they were all looking at him. They were trying to not make it obvious, but it was obvious. And he knew that they reveled in that power – to stare at him, if they wanted, because of who they are. And they knew that he wasn’t able to do anything about it.
He just sat there drinking his beer. And though he wanted to get out of there, he knew that if he walked away that would mean defeat. Because it would mean that he let them get to him. Although he already had.
He was looking at the corner of the room when someone sat down beside him, falling directly and heavily on the couch. He turned, and it was Yoonki, one hand in the pocket of his jacket, and another holding a beer of his own.
“This party blows,” he said. “Let’s go home.”
Jin nodded. And despite himself a tear had formed in his eye. He tried to wipe it away.
Yoonki leaned in closer when he saw this. “Are you crying?”
“No,” he said. “I’m so tired. I just want to go home.”
“Why are you crying?”
“Let’s go home, Yoonki,” said Jin.
Yoonki looked around. He too found that the girls were looking at them. He turned back to Jin. “Are they bothering you?”
Before Jin could answer, Jenny sat back down on the far end of the couch. “Yoonki, do you know me?”
He blinked at her.
“Jin told me that you were gay,” she said, in a loud voice so that others around them could hear. “Is that true?”
The other girls were looked at them now, too, along with the other people nearby. Many were still turned towards each other, as if in conversation, so that it wouldn’t be obvious that they were listening. Others had turned towards them, wanting to know. Because in any case there had been rumors – that Yoonki was gay, and that he had a boyfriend. If they were confused, it wasn’t because Yoonki didn’t want anybody to know, but because he mostly kept to himself. Even after his mixtape was played on national radio, and people began to recognize him in the hallways. Which is why he was invited to these parties.
“We don’t have to deal with this,” Jin told him. “Let’s just go.”
He stood up and took a single step towards the door.
“Whatever,” said Yoonki, and he stood up and walked out the door first. Jin followed behind him. And there was only complete silence from everyone. He realized when he got out of the apartment that only the music was playing. When he took a few steps further, there was loud laughter and chatter.
Yoonki was sitting on the last step of the stairwell that led from the upper floor to the one they were on.
“Don’t mind them.”
Jin just stood there.
“You know that it doesn’t matter what they say. I love you, that’s what matters.”
Just stood in front of him. “You’re right. That’s all that matters.”
Yoonki wasn’t looking at him. “I know I’m not good at expressing it. And sometimes I make it seem as if I don’t love you at all. But I do, Seokjin.”
“Those people in there don’t know anything.”
Jin wiped his eyes. “Yeah. I know. We don’t have to keep talking about this.”
Yoonki stood up and took Jin’s hand, something that he rarely did. He intertwined their fingers, kissed the back of his hand, and walked down the stairs with him.
Ever since then, Yoonki had texted him at night and in the morning, occasionally during the weekends whenever they didn’t meet would ask if he had eaten his lunch or his dinner. Sometimes, he even told Jin how much he loved him. But it was so different from the Yoonki Jin knew that every time it happened it would only remind him of the party, and how the only time that he needed to know that he would be there for him, he wasn’t.
It had become so unbearable, and had caused him so much anxiety (on top of the generalized anxiety that he felt was like the static background to which he life was lived) that at one point he had written several paragraphs worth of questions and his feelings and his perspectives of what had happened and his qualms about Yoonki’s sudden change of behavior on his phone, his finger hovering on the send button. He dared himself to send it. But he was scared, and so he didn’t.
He had told no one about it. And though rumors were certainly a powerful force in Borahae, it functioned more as an undercurrent that influenced most interactions, as opposed to something visible. And this served to make it more difficult to counteract, more difficult to pinpoint and navigate. So, he didn’t know really who among the hundreds of students knew about what had happened, although once in a while he would catch girls looking at him while giggling among themselves. Or at least he thought so.
“Did you forget your lunch?” Yoonki was looking at him, confused. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Don’t worry. I’m just tired.”
“You’re always tired,” he said. “Do you want to go somewhere on Saturday? Let’s do something relaxing. I found my dad’s old Atari. Do you want to play the old games on it?”
“Our club meeting is on Saturday,” said Jin.
He had never asked such a thing before. And the few times that Jin had asked, he had been turned down on most occasions.
“Sure,” he said.
Yoonki nodded and began to eat from a bento his mother had prepared for him.
“There he is.” Jin spotted Taehyung among the students carrying their trays after purchasing a meal from the cafeteria. He appeared to be looking for a table. Jin waved at him and beckoned him to come, and he did.
“Are you looking for somewhere to sit?” said Jin.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m new.”
Jin motioned for him to sit.
“Thank you,” said Taehyung. “It’s tough being new. Everyone keeps staring at me.”
“It’s your hair,” offered Yoonki. “It’s not natural.”
“My name’s Jin, by the way.” He offered his hand.
Taehyung shook it and told him his name.
They both looked at Yoonki, waiting for him to introduce himself, and when he didn’t, Jin said, “This is Yoonki.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Taehyung.
“I’m his boyfriend,” said Yoonki, without looking up from his food. “I love him very much.”
Taehyung looked at him for a moment, confused, trying to determine why he was saying such a thing, but eventually he gave up and nodded.
“Do you like art?” said Jin.
Taehyung took apart the wooden, disposable chopsticks that came with his meal. “I do. I actually just came from France, where I was an intern at a small museum in Paris.”
“We’d love to have you in our club. We talk about art. Media. Culture. Anything, really. That’s why we call it the Anything Club. I’m sure your perspective would be so valuable.”
“I’d like that.” Taehyung smiled.
Of course, Yoonki loved Jin. At least, that’s how he would put it to himself now, especially when he was saw him. That’s the first thing he’d find himself saying: Of course, I love Jin. How could it be any other way – what is any other way? When he looked at him now, chatting with the ridiculous newcomer with the blue hair, he found in his simply being there a kind of respite from the world. But he did dwell on what had happened at the party. And he wanted to know what it meant, that he did such a thing.
He spoke to Namjoon about it. He had asked him to come over, so Namjoon could go over the lyrics he had written. Namjoon was one of the few people he respected, and one of the fewer he looked up to.
“So, why don’t you just ask him how he feels about it?” Namjoon was seated at Yoonki’s desk.
He was lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling. “I don’t know. I can’t do it.”
“You can’t do what?”
“So, what are you doing now?”
“I mean talk to him about it,” he said. “It’s going to be so cringy.”
“How do you expect to know how he feels, then?”
“That’s why I’m asking you.”
Namjoon kept quiet for a while, to think about whether he had missed anything. “Well,” he said with his eyebrows furrowed. “My answer is that you two should talk about it. Honestly, I think you were just scared for people to see that something mattered to you for once.”
“Why is that scary?”
“Because when nothing matters to someone, that means nothing can hurt them. And the idea is – if you tell people you love Jin, that means Jin is your weakness.”
Yoonki was quiet for a long time.
Then, he said, “I don’t have a weakness. Jin is my strength.”
“Look at you, though,” said Namjoon. “You haven’t been out the entire weekend. You’re avoiding talking to the person you love most. This doesn’t feel like strength to me.”
“What do you think of my lyrics?”
“Let’s go out for dinner tonight,” said Namjoon. “Let’s invite Jin. And we can talk about what happened. Because I know it has bothered him.”
“What do you think of my lyrics?” he said again, a bit more forcefully. And Namjoon knew him enough not to push the issue further.
Jin was talking to Taehyung when the blue-haired boy spotted someone and waved at the person, trying to get their attention. The boy walked over and bowed.
“This is Jimin,” said Taehyung. “We met this morning. He’s the first friend I’ve made here.”
Jimin pointed at Yoonki. “I know you. You’re Min Yoonki, aren’t you? I listened to your mixtape.”
Yoonki nodded halfheartedly at him.
“And you’re Jin,” said Jimin. “You’re his boyfriend…? Those are the rumors anyway.”
“You don’t know who I am,” said Yoonki, his expression as neutral as possible, making his words all the more menacing. “You don’t know what anything is to me.”
Jin looked at the other two, who were just as surprised as him. “Don’t be like this,” he said. “Not now.”
“I’m sorry if I said anything inappropriate,” said Jimin, bowing. “I just heard these things. I thought they were common knowledge.”
Yoonki looked up at him with his eyes, sneering. “Someone like you shouldn’t bother with the idea of knowledge.”
Jin turned to face him. “Have you lost your mind?”
“I love you,” said Yoonki, looking at him so casually that he might as well have been talking about anything else. “I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you.”
Jin looked at the two, and they were just staring at them. Even when Jin was staring at them, they just looked back. And when he turned his head, he saw that other people were watching, too. He felt himself blush. He was going to say something to his boyfriend, but before he could say anything, he was talking again.
“And that night, I don’t know…”
“It’s okay. Really.”
“It’s not okay.” Yoonki looked into his eyes, and then took his bag and left, pushing through the few people who were watching them, and then through the dense crowd that always formed by the door during lunch time.
Jin looked at Jimin, and Jimin looked at him.
“I didn’t mean to do that,” said Jimin.
Jin looked at his hands. They were placed on the table, clenched tightly and shaking. He lowered them, trying to regain control. But he felt it within him, like a black hole, an all-consuming darkness that has overwhelmed him before. He breathed, like his dad taught him to. Deliberately. Slowly. “Imagine the light within,” he said. And he did.
“Are you okay?” Taehyung placed a hand on his shoulder.
Jin was staring straight ahead, his breathing becoming regular again after a moment.
And when he finally composed himself, he turned to Taehyung and said, “Yes. Sorry.”
Jimin was on his other side, his hand also on Jin’s shoulder. He looked worried at what he might have caused.
Jin looked up at him and said, “Join our club?”
“I’m sorry?” he said.
Hoseok basically dragged Jin to the infirmary after classes when he heard what had happened, and when Jin insisted with the nurse that nothing was wrong, Hoseok walked Jin himself to the row of beds and pushed him down on it.
“Really!” said Jin. “I’m alright!”
“Don’t lie to me.” He poured Jin a glass of water from a pitcher and offered it to him. “This has happened to you before, and I’m just thankful that it’s not as bad.”
Jin drank the water and before he could even place the glass on the nightstand, Hoseok took it from him and placed it there himself. “Well, what am I supposed to do now? Just lie here? Namjoon wants us to meet him.”
“We’re going to have to meet here,” said Hoseok. “I already texted him. He said he understood.”
Jin ran a hand down his face. “You know I hate being singled out like this. It’s embarrassing. I’m a little sick, I admit that. But I don’t like all this attention.”
Hoseok took a chair from the corner of the room and sat down with his legs crossed. He shrugged. “Fight me.”
Finding no other alternative, Jin relaxed, actually quite thankful that he was comfortable, and somewhere he could feel safe. Only then did he realize that he was grasping at the covers. He let go.
“What happened to Yoonki?” he said.
“He texted that he’s going to be here, so he seems fine.”
“Aren’t you afraid that he’s going to bring up what happened?”
Jin laughed. “No.”
Hoseok nodded and looked away.
“If you can count on anything with him, it’s that the things that we really need to talk about, we never really talk about. And I just kind of have to hope that it all works out.”
“Do you think it’ll always work out?”
With the same laugh as before, Jin said again, “No.”
The door opened, and somebody came in. Jin looked to see that Namjoon was at the foot of the bed.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” he said.
Jin was about to respond, but he noticed that Hoseok was bowing to someone behind Namjoon, one hand holding the backrest of the chair he was sitting on, and doing that half-standing, half-sitting pose when you had to bow while on a chair.
It was Jungkook. At the sight of him, Jin sat up, and when the young boy bowed deeply, he bowed in return.
“I found one member,” said Namjoon. “And I’m hoping that because Jungkook is now with us, others would follow. Did you guys find anyone?”
Before Jin could respond, Hoseok was bowing again. Jin looked towards the door, and it was Yoonki followed by their two recruits.
Jin motioned to them. “Two. The exchange student, Taehyung, and his friend, Jimin.”
The boys exchanged customary greetings and settled around Jin’s bed. Jin realized that it was as if everyone was visiting him while he was bedridden, and he began to hate the position he was in, although he knew that making a scene at this point would only make things worse.
“We’re still lacking members,” said Namjoon. “But I’ve been reading the school rule book, and I think I’ve found a way.”
“How?” said Hoseok.
“Why is your hair blue?” Yoonki asked Taehyung, just as he was brushing his hair back with his hand.
“I just thought it looked nice,” said Taehyung. “I wanted to stand out.”
“Clubs require a certain number of members to be considered clubs, that number being 15,” said Namjoon. “But there’s a loophole. The scouting clubs aren’t considered clubs, but are considered a category of their own. And since they only name a minimum number of members for clubs, and do not have a minimum number for scouting clubs, then we’re going to convert our club into a boy scout club.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Yoonki.
“The plan or his hair?” said Jin.
“Both,” said Yoonki. “I can’t decide which is more ridiculous.”
“Remember that this is the only way we can keep our club, as far as I see,” said Namjoon. “And of course all the perks that come with a club… The field trips paid by the school. The subsidy money. Our own room.”
“I don’t want to give up our club room,” said Jin. “Too many memories.”
“I don’t want to carry our stuff out,” said Yoonki.
“Well, now that it’s settled…” Namjoon opened the plastic briefcase he was carrying and took out a form. “I’m just going to need the names of the new members, and our new name.”
“What’s wrong with the Anything Club?” said Yoonki.
“It needs to have boy scouts in the end,” said Namjoon. “Those are rules.”
“Aish…” Yoonki moaned. “This is such a bother…”
“Simple,” said Jin. “The Anything Boy Scouts.”
Taehyung raised his hand. “I’m sorry,” he said, in the most respectful way possible. “That name sounds awful.”
“What’s your suggestion, then?” said Namjoon.
“The Avengers,” said Taehyung.
“The Avengers Boy Scouts?” said Namjoon.
“No,” said Jin.
“That’s stupid,” said Yoonki.
“Bulletproof,” said Jungkook.
Everyone stared at him. It didn’t sound very good, either. And a bit of a non-sequitur. But they just met him, although they knew who he was, and what he has achieved, and that he had just appeared on television the night before, because he had just set a new track and field record. The idea of Jeon Jungkook having said anything to them was enough to give everyone pause.
Namjoon looked around for a moment and taking the silence as no objections, finding it in any case awkward to ask for any, said, “Bulletproof Boy Scouts. Sure.”
He wrote it down, and all seven of them from then on were bound to a name, and a pact, and a destiny.
“That sounds stupid, too,” said Yoonki.
Chapter 2: The Things We're Allowed to Do
The new members ask their parents to sign their permission slips -- Namjoon wants to be left alone -- Hoseok wants someone to be there for him -- Jin has anxiety
Thank you to my beta readers/editors: Bel, Ysa, Shau, and Carl.
At night, after practice, Jungkook liked to sit in the middle of the field, where it was dark, and lie in the grass. It was quieter there, much more quiet than at home, and he felt surrounded by the means of his accomplishments. And by the things that he considered his life. The only things familiar to him, the way that not even his home was: At night, before going to sleep, his own bed felt like an foreign place, as if he were adrift in the ocean, with nowhere to go. But here, he knew he belonged. And if he could, he would tuck himself in with the soil, close his eyes, and rise only when Christ returned, and he would never have to please anyone ever again.
“Are you okay?”
He sat up. The boy with the blue hair was standing some distance away, staring at him. The light was behind the boy, and so his face was obscured by darkness, but the hue of his hair was bright and loud. “I’m fine.”
“Oh, okay,” he said. “I just saw you lying there, and I didn’t know if you’ve fallen or something.”
“You’re that boy I saw earlier today,” said Jungkook. “For the boy scout club. Right?”
“I am.” Taehyung rubbed the back of his head, a little embarrassed that he was recognized. “I’m new and decided to watch people playing sports after classes. I saw you training a while ago. What are you doing lying in the grass?”
“Oh, okay.” Taehyung laughed. “You did look like you were pretty tired.”
Taehyung bowed. “Well, I’ll leave you to it.”
He turned around and walked off, crossing the track and walked off into the parking lot of the school. Jungkook laid back down on the grass, and laughed to himself. He had heard through corridor chatter that the boy had only recently come back to Korea from France. The girls were already gossiping loudly about him. And had it been anyone else who had known how Borahae worked, he wouldn’t have approached him. For no other reason than because he was a Jeon, and that he was Jeon Jungkook, specifically.
That boy allowed him, for a moment, to not be himself, by treating him that way. It felt nice. In a way that he couldn’t put a finger on just yet.
Eventually, he got up, took a shower, and went home. The streets of Seoul were not very dangerous, even that late, although he did wonder what it would be like to get mugged. And he liked to think that if it ever happened, he would love to see if his Judo skills were actually of any use. And if the guy had a gun, if he were shot, then sometimes he thought that maybe that would be a better fate. He would like in particular to be reborn as a flower on top of a mountain, where he could watch the world amidst the clouds.
He found himself thinking such a ridiculous, stupid thing, and he quickly dismissed it.
His mother as usual was waiting for him. She was watching her dramas in the living room, and as soon as he opened the door and exclaimed that he was home she rushed to the dining room so she could heat up his dinner.
When he sat down to eat, she placed the food in front of him and just stood there beside him, watching him.
“You must be tired,” she said.
“I am,” he said.
“How was school?”
He shrugged. “Good. As always.”
“Your uncle called me. He saw you on the news last night, and he was so proud.”
Jungkook nodded and shoved some rice in his mouth.
“We’re all so proud of you.”
Jungkook looked at her. And she was so sincere that he allowed her to have some of what she wanted. “Thank you,” he said.
He had hoped that, after saying that, she would go away, as she sometimes did. But she reached over and touched him on the shoulder. And she said, “Your father is also very proud of you.”
He resisted the urge to roll his eyes, but did not respond, hoping that this is enough to indicate that he never wanted to hear such a ridiculous thing again. And it seemed like it worked, because soon she took her hand away sharply, said, “I’ll leave you to have dinner. I know you’re exhausted,” and turned to leave.
Suddenly, he remembered. “I need you to sign something.”
She turned. “Of course.”
He reached into his bag and produced a piece of paper, a consent form. She took it and read it.
“It’s a club,” he said. “They invited me to join them today.”
She smiled at him. “I’m glad you’re making friends. What kind of club is it?”
“I met the leader, Namjoon. He said that they talk about art and stuff. I’ve been meaning to get more into that. I’ve always been interested.”
“It says scouts here.”
“It’s some kind of technicality,” said Jungkook. “Don’t worry about it.”
His mother paused for a moment, but her smile was only beginning to fade, when she signed it and handed it back to him.
“Your father would have loved to know that you’re making new friends.”
Jungkook folded the piece of paper without expression and placed it in his bag. And seeing this, his mother placed a hand on his cheek, before walking off again. He hated it when he did that; the feeling of her hand against his skin was indistinguishable from pity. It sickened him.
Taehyung opened the door to his house and shouted, “I’m home!” and his mother, wearing her curlers and her face covered in a white paste appeared from a corner. She had her hands on her waist, and she looked displeased.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It was my first day, and I just wanted to look the school around a bit before I went home.”
“It’s seven thirty,” she said. “How big is that school?”
“Big!” he said, removing his shoes and socks and going barefoot. “And I watched the athletes for a bit. I didn’t think you would mind, since it’s my first day. Of course I wanted to have some time to check everything out.”
He walked past her to the dining room, placed his bag by the table, and opened the microwave. As expected, his dinner was there. He closed it again and set it to 3 minutes. Then he leaned against the counter, watching his mother as she sat down at the table.
“And you couldn’t have texted me?” she said. “Mom, I’ll be home late. Don’t cook anything, or else it’s might get cold. Don’t worry about me. Don’t think that someone abducted me. How rich do you think we are? Your father barely makes enough for all of us. You think we can pay for your ransom?”
“Somehow, I’m sure you won’t, even if you had the money,” said Taehyung.
The corner of his mother’s mouth rose in disgust. “This is what Paris did to you.”
Taehyung moaned and rolled his eyes.
“This is what that lascivious European city did to you,” she said, louder this time, while pointing aggressively at him. “It turned you into a godless hedonist with no respect for his parents.”
Her son blinked at her. “If I were that thing – whatever you just said I was – don’t you think I would have stayed in Paris? They liked me there, you know. I could have stayed there if I wanted. But I came back because I knew you needed me here.”
“And yet where were you tonight?” She made a face at him with her eyebrows raised, looking as if she begged for an answer when she knew he could only give a wrong one. “Just tell me the truth. Did you meet some friends that brought you drinking? Did you go to a strip club?”
The microwave dinged. Taehyung turned to open it, took out the tray of food, and placed it on the table. “I made a few friends, but we didn’t do any of that stuff.” He began fiddling with his food, and before he shoved some in his mouth, while looking away from his mother, he added in a low voice, “Not yet anyway.”
Just as his mother scoffed, his father came in rubbing his belly. He looked at the two of them and then opened the fridge.
“Aren’t you going to ask your son where he’s been?” said his mother.
His father closed the fridge door, and now he was sipping on the straw of a milk carton. “How’s the first day?”
“Good,” said Taehyung.
Then he walked back to the living room. When he passed his wife he said, “There’s something on your face,” and before she could say anything he was gone.
Taehyung laughed, his cheeks plump from the rice and the meat, while his mom shook her head and rolled her eyes. She stood up to leave, but Taehyung stopped her.
“I joined a club,” he said, opening his bag and taking out the permission form. “You need to sign for me.”
She took the piece of paper and read it. “There’s nothing here about what the club is. It only says the name. Is this some kind of gang?”
“You think if I want to join a gang I’m going to ask for your permission? And that the school needs a form for it?”
“Well, it says here – Bulletproof Boy Scouts. What kind of name is that?”
“Jungkook chose it.”
“Jungkook?” His mom looked up at him. “Jeon Jungkook?”
“Why would a Jeon be studying at your school?”
Taehyung shrugged. “Maybe it’s a good school. You put me there, so you should think it’s a good school.”
“It’s a good school,” she said. “But I didn’t know it was that good. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not that good. You must have made a mistake. It’s not Jeon Jungkook. I saw him on the tv just the other day.”
“I saw him just an hour ago.”
She waved at him dismissively and said, “Tell me about this club you’re joining.”
“We’re going to talk about art and stuff. The guy who recruited me told me that they’ve taken into consideration how I just came from Paris on an internship.”
“More art stuff.” She sighed. “Fine. But remember that after you graduate, this is going to be a hobby. We need you to support this family. Me, your father, and your siblings. Your father is going to retire soon.”
He learned to be quiet when she said things like this. Because he knew that if he said what he really thought, they would end up talking past midnight again, and the conversation would bother him enough so that he would lie in his bed until sunrise, tossing and turning, repeating things in his mind about the things he should have said, would say the next time the topic came up. He learned how to put a rug over the resentment and pretend it wasn’t there.
He handed her a pen and she signed it. “Remember we’ll be depending on you, Taehyung,” she said as she handed it back to him.
“Mhmm,” he said, folding the form and placing it back in his bag.
Before she left the room, she kissed him on the cheek and wiped the white residue that was left on it when she did. He laughed awkwardly, mostly because he knew that she did that to make him laugh. She could be silly like that sometimes. Which is one of the things he loved about her. Among the many things he loved about her, which lay side by side with the things he didn’t.
Jimin made airplane sounds as he slowly, with some flourish, pushed a spoon towards his little brother’s closed mouth. But he had his arms crossed and was looking away.
“How are you going to be big and strong like Jojo if you’re like this?” he said.
“I don’t want to eat. I’m not hungry. Besides, I don’t want to be like Jojo. I want to be like Dio.”
Jimin didn’t actually know who these people were, but he’s heard him talk about them. “Well, unless Dio is scrawny and powerless, you’re not going to be like him until you eat.”
“It doesn’t even taste good!”
“What are you talking about?” Jimin fed himself some. It tastes like garbage. He tried to keep smiling, but he retched.
His little brother pointed at him. “See! I want mama to cook for us.”
“We spoke about this,” he said. “Sometimes, she won’t be here to cook, so you’re going to have to start eating what I prepare for you.”
“I wish we didn’t have to eat. Then, we wouldn’t have to do this.”
Jimin laughed. “But if we don’t eat, we would have never tasted grandma’s kimchi. Which as you know is the best kimchi in the world.”
The boy thought about this. “I would be very sad if that happened. But if we didn’t have to eat, that would also mean that mama wouldn’t need to be gone all the time, right? Because she’s always at work so we can eat.”
Jimin’s smile faded. During occasions like these, which only increased in frequency as he got older, he didn’t know what to say. Jaejin he felt was going to be a lot smarter than him someday. Which must mean that things would only get worse. And the questions would only become more difficult.
“Just eat the food, young-blood,” said Jimin. He pinched the young boy’s nose, and while he whined, Jimin inserted the spoon in his mouth.
Jaejin scowled as he chewed. Jimin laughed.
“One day,” said Jimin. “You’re going to remember I did this for you, and you’re going to thank me.” He took another spoonful and readied it near Jaejin’s mouth. “You don’t understand anything yet, young-blood. Even if you think you do. But someday you will, and you’ll be grateful.”
The door opened, and a woman’s voice cried out, “I’m home. Finally.”
Jaejin jumped off the seat and ran to the door, where their mother was removing her heels. She was carrying a bag of groceries, and as she struggled with one of her shoes, it looked as though she were liable to tip over.
Jimin walked over to help her. “Are you okay?”
She looked up at him, and he could see that her eyes were swollen and bloodshot. Dark bags had formed beneath them. But she said, “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. I just had a long day.”
They made their way to the dining table. Jimin got her a bowl of rice from the microwave, some kimchi that she had made a few days ago, and egg pancake that had been cut into strips.
“I made this,” he said, sliding the saucer of pancake strips towards her. “I watched a video on YouTube.”
Jaejin climbed onto his mother’s lap. “They taste bad.”
“You shouldn’t say that,” said Jimin. “I made them with love. That’s the secret ingredient.”
“Stop doing that, then,” said Jaejin.
But his mother ate it like nothing was wrong, nodded, and smiled at him. “I’m so proud of you. You’ll be cooking for us everyday next.”
“Please have mercy,” said his little brother.
Their mother laughed. “No matter how tired I get, I can always look forward to coming home to my two funny boys.” She kissed Jaejin, and leaned forward to kiss Jimin. He leaned in and let her.
“And what have you boys been up to today?” she said.
“We did subtraction today, mama,” said Jaejin. “We needed to carry. It was hard. Jimin-hyung helped me with my homework.”
“I found a group of boys who wanted me to join their club,” said Jimin. “Can you sign the permission slip for me, mama?”
“What kind of club?” she said.
“Just a discussion group about art, they said…”
“Jimin, you know that without your dad, someone is going to have to look after Jaejin.”
He was quiet for a moment. He did know. “I promise I won’t go if I’m needed here. I just think it would be fun.”
“If you want, you can invite your friends here sometimes,” she said. “Just ask my permission. And I’ll let you. But I can’t have you committed to something like that. We spoke about this.”
“Mama, I already stopped taking dance,” said Jimin. “I just want something to do for myself once in a while.”
His mother pushed the form back towards him. “I’m sorry, Jimin.”
He stood up and took her empty saucer. She had finished all the rubbery eggs. He began to wash it in the sink, his back to her.
“I’m sorry,” she repeated.
But he couldn’t muster a response.
In Namjoon’s bedroom, he and Hoseok had put the finishing touches on the diorama Namjoon had been busying himself with for what must have been six months now. It was an almost perfect recreation of Borahae: Its main building, at the center, with two adjacent wings that extend northward, encapsulating the quadrangle behind it, and meeting with the staff offices and library building at the far end.
Hoseok leaned in to look at the windows. It had been a while since they put them in, but seeing the tiny people inside them, each figure barely three inches tall corresponding to a real student, simultaneously fascinated and horrified him.
He turned to Namjoon, who was bent over his desk, painting a new student figure with blue hair. “I’m glad I got to spend this time with you, Joonie. We should really hang out more often.”
“What are you talking about?” he said. He was wearing a loupe on one eye. His other eye was closed. “We hang out often. I mean, we just got off from summer vacation. But now we’re basically going to see each other everyday.”
Hoseok fell on Namjoon’s bed. “You’re right. I just miss you is all.”
“Mhm. I missed you, too.”
Namjoon removed his loupe and walked towards the diorama. “Now, where should we place our new friend Kim Taehyung?”
“How about in the bathroom?” said Hoseok, opening up the main building, exposing its interior, full of little details, some of which he helped to build or polish. “Locked in a stall.”
Namjoon laughed. “That’s too harsh. How about in the library? Looking at the paintings there?”
“Possibly,” he said. “That’s just about all we know about him right now.”
“You know what…” Namjoon placed the tiny figure in a bathroom stall. “Let’s say that his first day was a bad one, and that he locked himself in there to cry.”
“Foreshadowing,” he said. “I like that.”
“And with that done, I think I’m going to go in the lab.” He closed the diorama again.
“Really? I thought we were going to have dinner.”
“It’s getting pretty late.” Namjoon began cleaning up his desk, putting away his paints and brushes and the parts of the figures that he didn’t use. “We’re going to see each other in school tomorrow. And remember on Saturday, we’re having our first meeting.”
“Anyway, thanks for helping me today, and on a school night, too.”
Hoseok smiled, even if he didn’t feel like smiling. Something he’d gotten used to. “I’m always happy to help you, Joonie.”
“Alright, well.” He walked to his closet, which spanned the wall of his room opposite the door. He opened it, revealing his clothes and several drawers. “I’ll see you tomorrow. I hope you don’t mind showing yourself out.”
“Come on, Joonie. I’m not even tired yet. Let me help you do whatever you do in your lab. I promise I won’t touch anything.”
“I’m sorry, Hobi. You know the rules.”
“But Joonie, you make the rules.”
“I do,” said Namjoon, sternly. “And the rules that I made state that no one but me can go in the lab.”
Hoseok sighed. “Fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Namjoon touched Hoseok’s shoulder, and then pushed aside a few of his clothes to reveal a safe with a rotation lock. Namjoon looked at him knowingly, and Hoseok moved a few steps towards the door, before he heard a loud thud behind him. When Hoseok turned again, through the coats and shirts that were hanging there, he could see an entrance to some dark room.
“Bye, Joonie,” he said, opening the door.
Namjoon waved at him. Hoseok knew that he wouldn’t go through before he was out of the room, and so he left. Once outside, he heard the thud again. He made his way out of Namjoon’s house, bowing to his parents who he had to pass in the living room.
It didn’t take him long while walking down the street of Namjoon’s neighborhood before the loneliness crept up on him again. And he hated this feeling, against which he had struggled for too long. He took out his phone, almost a nervous tic at this point, and to assuage the loneliness, no matter how insignificantly, he sent a message to Jin: “Joonie went to the lab :( Walking home now. So bored.”
Jin’s vision was smothered completely in black, and when the text message arrived, almost at the speed of light, his room was plunged in a pale white. He turned his head. He dreaded the idea that there was something there for him. Whatever it was. He wanted instead to close in on himself, pretend that he existed on his own impulse, and so there was nothing to disturb the delicate order that held him together.
Please God not Yoonki, he thought.
He thought for a moment about whether he should look at it. Whatever it was, he could simply say that he had fallen asleep. He could simply say that the first day of school had exhausted him. That he had a nervous breakdown, in any case, and therefore needed rest. He tried to close his eyes and ignore it.
But it was too late: The idea that there was something waiting for him, that there was something out there in the world specifically only for him, had already thrown his equilibrium totally off balance. And he found that the only way he could return to the comfort of the smothering darkness is if he dismissed whatever it was that came for him.
He took his phone and read Hobi’s message. He was just happy that it wasn’t Yoonki, asking to talk about what had happened, which seems to be his most recent thing, to overcompensate for the last thing.
He began to type his response, which was practically inevitable since he had seen Hobi’s message, and it would say so in his phone. And god forbid he have to worry about whether he offended him – which in his list of things he was most frightened of that was near the top, somewhere between spiders and nuclear war.
“Sorry to hear that. We’ll meet tomorrow though.” He was about to press send, when another message came.
“Sorry about a while ago. I’m a bad boyfriend, huh?”
Jin let the phone drop to his chest. His room once again was dark, save for a dull glow that seemed to emanate from inside him.
Was Yoonki a bad boyfriend? He didn’t want to think about it. But sometimes it felt like that – that much he knew, if only because it had crossed his mind before. Not because of anything he did. But because of the things that didn’t do. Or couldn’t do. And when he did do the thing that he should have done, it was at a completely different place. Where it was wrong again. Did it make him a bad boyfriend…?
He was tired. And he entertained the idea, briefly, of maybe taking a break. From him, from the world, if possible. From social media, definitely. If only it didn’t make him look smug. He didn’t want to look smug.
He allowed himself some solace for a few minutes. And then he picked up the phone, sent the message to Hobi, and then replied to Yoonki. “Maybe we need to take a break?”
He read the message several times, as if he wasn’t quite sure what he had typed, or didn’t know how to read Hangul. And though his hands shook, he sent it. Then, he turned his phone off, closed his eyes, and promised that he wouldn’t open them until the morning. And almost immediately he fell asleep.
Yoonki somehow knew that he was bound to see this message. Namjoon spoke a lot about it: The self-fulfilling prophecy. And he always told them about how often it happens. That thing are somehow determined by their own power, as if simply by being itself a thing can bend the trajectory of all other things. And here it was. Like all things he touched, no matter how delicately he tried to do it, it was destroyed.
The door opened and his mother’s head popped in. “If you don’t come out here and eat your dinner, I’m going to throw it in the trash.”
“Then throw it in the trash,” he said. He found it difficult to keep his voice from shaking. “I’m not hungry.”
“Come out here and eat your dinner.”
“I don’t want to eat.” He looked up at her. “Are you deaf?”
“I’m not asking you,” she said. “I’m telling you. If you don’t come out here and stop giving me attitude, you’re going to be grounded.”
Yoongi rolled his eyes at her. “Whatever.”
When he sat down to eat, he found that he was unable to swallow his food. He had to drink water to push down the rice, like a pill. He brought his phone with him, and he kept reading it what Jin had said. He didn’t know what to say. If Jin wanted a break, then even if he said anything to change his mind he would still feel whatever he felt to want a break in the first place. But if he said it’s fine, Jin might think that he too wanted it. Which he didn’t.
And to make matters worse, his mother sat down across from him and started eating, too. Even if he knew she already ate.
“I want your grades up this year, okay?” she said. “You’ll never get into a good college with your performance. It’s making your dad and I worry.”
“Okay,” he said.
“Try not to spend too much time on your music.”
“Yes.” He was still fixated on his phone.
“Are you listening to me?”
He looked up. “I said yes, didn’t I?”
She just stared at him, the way mothers do.
He tried to eat some kimchi, but it wouldn’t go down, just like the rice.
“You chew like a goat,” said his mother. “Put that phone away, will you? You don’t have any manners. You’re just like your father.”
“Will you shut up?”
She put her chopsticks down and pursed her lips.
He looked back at his phone, but he knew what he did. And he knew that there was going to be some kind of reckoning. This has happened enough times before for him to know.
“Is this how I raised you?” she said. “To be an ungrateful son who can’t give his mother any respect?”
“You just won’t stop talking when I obviously don’t want to be disturbed!” he said. “I’ve had a tiring day at school. Can you just leave me alone?”
“One day you’re going to be thankful that you had a mom who loved you like I did,” she said. “You’re going to be so grateful that you had a mom who loved you, when there are plenty of people out there who don’t.”
“Well, then, be a mom to those who don’t, because I just want some peace and quiet.”
“I gave birth to you,” she said. “I took care of you when you couldn’t so much as open your eyes. And this is how you repay me. Disgusting.”
Yoonki stood up and walked back to his room. “I can’t handle this. Whatever.”
“If you’re going to be that way, then never talk to me again!” she screamed at him, before he was able to shut the door to his room.
He fell back on the door and once again read the message. He could hear his mother still screaming, until he heard his father’s voice. Then, there was only murmuring.
He wiped away tears from his eyes.
“If that’s what you want,” he finally texted back.
Chapter 3: The Things We Deserve
Jin tries to avoid Yooki -- Yoonki deserves an explanation -- Taehyung isn't in Paris anymore and is gay -- The Jeon Jungkook studies here -- Jimin is up to something -- Namjoon just wants to learn about valences.
Thank you to my beta readers/editors: Bel, Ysa, Shau, and Carl.
Taehyung ran into Jin at the steps that led to the entrance of the school. He waved at Jin, and Jin recognized him.
“What are you doing out here?” said Taehyung. “Do you want to go inside together?”
“No, I’m good,” he said.
“Oh okay.” The boy with blue hair looked away, and there was some awkwardness between them, because it was the end of the conversation and he should have probably gone. But he looked at Jin again and said, “Can I stay here with you?”
Jin shrugged. “I can’t stop you if you want to stay here.”
“It’s just that last time, people kept staring at me. It made me so uncomfortable.”
Jin looked at him. His first thought was: I know. Not only was he there, but he knew why they were looking.
He said, “Did you have your permission slip signed?”
“Yeah,” he said. “By the way, I was wondering about something. Do you know if the Jeon Jungkook that wants to join our club is – you know – the Jeon Jungkook.”
Jin laughed. “Yes. That is the Jeon Jungkook. The athlete.”
“My mother wouldn’t believe me when I told her that he studies here…”
Jin had his hands in the pockets of his coat. Although winter had ended, Seoul remained chilly. And it didn’t help that his hands were cold before he even got out of the car. He woke up with his hands cold. In a cold sweat, in fact, his dreams consisting only of walking out the house, taking the bus, and then having to meet Yoonki. Then, he’d open his eyes, and it was only his brain prepping itself, so to speak, for the actual encounter.
Taehyung had his own coat, a tan cotton coat with fur lining. With his blue hair, and his large, almond-shaped eyes…
A boy placed his hand on Taehyung’s shoulder. It took Jin a moment to recognize that it was the other new boy.
“Jimin-hyung,” said Tae. “Good morning.”
“What are you guys doing out here?” he said. “It’s so cold.”
“Your friend doesn’t want to go in because people keep looking at him,” said Jin. “But look at him. Kkk… Who wouldn’t?”
Jimin stepped back and looked at Taehyung. “Yes,” he said, nodding. “Who wouldn’t?”
“Aish…” Taehyung swatted at them, as if trying to deflect the attention. “You guys are too much.”
“And why are you out here, Jin-hyung?” said Jimin.
Jin was surprised that the boy remembered his name, even though they only met for a while the previous day. And much more surprised at the forwardness with which he spoke to him.
“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “Maybe when you’re older, you’ll understand.”
“What year are you in?” said Jimin.
“Third, my final year,” he said. “And you?”
“Second,” said Jimin. “Looks like you’re the maknae, Taehyung.”
Taehyung smiled, looking a little embarrassed for some reason. Then, he said, “Isn’t Jungkook younger than me?”
“Oh yeah…” said Jimin. “He’s accomplished so many things with his life that I forget how young he is, honestly.”
“It’s going to be weird having Jeon Jungkook as the maknae,” said Jin, laughing. “If I ask him to do something, he’s just going to remind me that he’s been on television and so is better than me despite being younger.”
“I think he’s cute,” said Jimin.
“He is cute,” said Taehyung.
“I concur,” said Jin. “I concur.”
“You what?” said Taehyung.
Jin was about to respond, in fact happy to explain a point of Korean, when he spotted a car along the road that he seemed to recognize. When it stopped in front of the school roundabout, he realized why he recognized it. It’s Yoonki’s dad’s car, and though he was usually early because his dad would take him to school, he was for some reason late today.
His mouth was already open to speak, and he left it agape as his thoughts completely disappeared. Instead, he said, “Fuck…”
“You fuck?” said Taehyung.
Jimin began to laugh so hard he had to support himself by clinging on to Taehyung’s arm.
“I have to go,” said Jin.
But before he could even take a single step, Yoonki stepped out of the car and spotted him. Jin could see his dad in the driver’s seat, and when Yoonki’s dad realized that they were looking at each other, he waved. Jin managed a pathetic one, too.
Yoonki was facing him, and so he thought Jin was waving at him. Yoongi waved at him and closed the door.
Times like these Jin wished that he died in a preemptive strike.
Taehyung and Jimin bowed to Yoonki.
“Good morning,” he said in return. And he leaned in towards Jin, giving him a peck on the lips.
Jin smiled at him.
“Can we talk?” said Yoonki.
“We’re talking,” said Jin.
“You know what I mean,” said Yoonki. “I just want to clear things up. I’m not going to try to change your mind.”
Jin blinked at him. “You’re late,” he said. “You’re not usually late.”
It was only then, while Yoonki was looking at him with the mixture of confusion, annoyance, and loving disdain – something that he could never explain but had initially drawn him to Yoonki a year ago – that Jin realized his eyes were bloodshot, puffy. He looked tired.
The bell rang.
“Nevermind,” said Yoonki. He put his hands in the pocket of his own coat and walked up the stairs.
Jin watched him. When he had disappeared from sight, he looked at Jimin and Taehyung, and the moment their eyes met, they looked away, as if they hadn’t witnessed anything at all. Which meant that they hadn’t just witnessed it all, they also had an idea that it was something tragic.
“I’ll see you guys later,” he said, before walking up the stairs himself, disappearing among the crowd of students that were now making their way inside the building.
Two prefects, members of the seondobu, appeared on either side of the door, beckoning for all the students to come inside, and telling everyone that in five minutes the second bell would ring again and the doors would be closed. They also checked the students, to see if they were wearing their uniforms correctly under their coats, and that their hairstyles conformed to the rules, and that they weren’t wearing make up.
“That was weird, huh?” said Taehyung.
“They obviously love each other,” said Jimin. “Sometimes, people who love each other do that.”
“Do you know why they’re like that?”
“There are rumors that they’re together,” said Jimin. “And now it’s obvious that they are, but that’s because Min Yoonki is trying extra hard to show Jin that he’s not ashamed of him. But before, they were very discreet about it. Until at a party, Yoonki was asked about it, and he just left Jin there without answering.”
“Wow, that’s harsh,” said Taehyung.
“And apparently, Jin was just crying there the entire party because Yoonki left him there, and people were laughing at him.”
Taehyung shook his head. “I’m sure there was a good reason. I hope there was.”
Jimin shrugged. “That’s just what I heard. And if it’s true… I don’t know what to think.”
A prefect grabbed Taehyung’s arm as he tried to pass him. “Taehyung-ah, I told you to lose the dye.”
“There’s nothing I can do about my hair,” said Taehyung. “If I die it black, then it’ll still be dyed, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, but it wouldn’t be blue,” said the prefect.
“He has a point,” said Jimin.
“Shush,” Taehyung told him, trying not to laugh, as if he just saw the flaw in his logic. He turned back to the prefect and said, “I’ll dye it next week. I have to get my mom to do it for me. And she’s busy.”
“You have until Monday,” said the prefect, pointing at him. “After that, I’m going to write you up.”
Taehyung rolled his eyes and continued to make his way to the field.
Yoonki was comforted by the fact that he and Namjoon were classmates. Namjoon usually didn’t want to talk, preferring instead to listen, and not even because he was afraid of getting caught – they usually sat in the back because they were a little taller than the other students – but because he was actually interested and took pleasure in being at the top of mostly every class he was in. But he knew that if he explained his circumstances, Namjoon would have no choice but to talk to him. The situation, in any case, was very serious. And much more serious than the valence of electrons, or whatever it was that they needed to study.
Namjoon was taking out stuff from his bag when Yoonki sat beside him. He didn’t usually do this, so when Namjoon sat upright again, he said, “Looks like I’m blessed today. Min Yoonki chose me as his seatmate.”
“At least one of us is blessed,” he said.
“I don’t like that tone,” said Namjoon. “Did you post a song online that people didn’t like?”
“Jin wants to have a break,” said Yoonki.
“What do you mean?” Suddenly, his tone was serious, too. “He wants to break up?”
“No, he doesn’t want to break up,” said Yoonki. “He wants a break – meaning, he wants to stop being together for a while. But who knows? These things sometimes lead to that. And if he wants a break, he can’t be happy.”
“Is it because of the party?”
“He didn’t say. That’s all he said. That we should take a break.”
“Didn’t you ask?”
“I didn’t want to ask. What would asking do?”
“What would asking do? You’d know why, that’s what asking would have done.”
“Look, I know Jin,” Yoonki said, with more energy that he usually had, accidentally abandoning his expressionless persona. “I know how nervous he gets, especially with these sorts of things. And I know that if I just dragged it out, he would have been worse for wear than even I am right now.”
Namjoon sighed. He opened his notebook and took out a pen. “Still, I don’t know what else you can do in this situation. You two just never talk. That’s your problem.”
“I came in late today, and I saw him standing outside the entrance, hanging out with the new kids we recruited for the club. I asked him if he wanted to talk, and he said I was late.”
“Yeah,” said Yoonki, looking away to think about it. “He was trying to change the subject. And I would have asked right then and there, but the two young-bloods were there, and I didn’t want to make a fuss.”
“Did you ask them about their permission slips?”
“No.” Yoonki turned to him sharply. “Are you even listening to me?”
“You and Jin have been together for two years with virtually no problems. I’m sure it’s going to be fine. Just talk to him.”
Their math teacher entered, and they all stood up to bow. The teacher bowed back slightly, and then asked them to sit.
The teacher announced that they were going to learn about valences that day. Yoonki saw Namjoon perk up, like he was actually excited to hear about it. He leaned in a little and said, “Anyway, what do you think I should say?”
“I can’t talk right now,” said Namjoon, his eyes remaining on their teacher. “We’re talking about valences today.”
Taehyung had math, and although he found the subject vaguely interesting – in particular, he had once been obsessed by the idea of fractals, and about how they had been used in Islamic art – he found it difficult to focus on the lesson. Today, the teacher spoke about the basics of trigonometry. There is a necessary proportion among the lengths of the sides and the degree of the angles of triangles, said their teacher.
This fascinated him, the laws that governed such things. Not the specifics, which seemed to go on and on, as evidenced by the endless calculations of his teacher at the moment, but simply the idea that there are some things that are immutable, even eternal. Surely, beauty had such things, too. Among other things.
“Taehyung,” said the teacher, who was still holding chalk that was pressed against the board. “Can you tell the class the length of this hypotenuse?”
He stiffened up. Everyone was looking at him again. He shook his head. “I don’t know, sir.”
“I thought you already mastered this subject,” said the old man. “Since you’re not paying attention.”
He rubbed the back of his head. “I’m sorry.”
“Still in Paris?”
The class laughed. And it surprised Taehyung that so many people got the reference. Later, he’d realize that maybe he shouldn’t have been surprised, given how fast gossip traveled in such a place.
“We are back here in miserable, ordinary Korea, Taehyung-ssi,” said his teacher, with a wry little smile. “Maybe it is time to stop thinking about art for a while and learn a little bit about the Pythagorean theorem, hm?”
“Yes, sir,” he said.
He looked ahead, and heard his teacher talking, but he was so embarrassed that he couldn’t focus. And he could hear the murmuring behind him, vaguely hearing referencing to himself, to his blue hair and to about how he must think that he’s better than everyone, because of where he came from, because of how he dressed. Even if they knew nothing about him. This was why he wanted to leave Korea in the first place. Why he wanted to uproot himself and be somewhere else, anywhere else.
In France, they thought he was beautiful, exotic…
He sat in a daze for the first four periods. He felt a kind of relief when lunchtime came, although the fleeting kind. He was just happy to be somewhere else, even if that somewhere else meant the cafeteria. While he was putting away his things, a boy sat behind him and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Nice hair,” he said.
Taehyung rolled his eyes. “Thanks.”
“Is that how French people dress?”
“Maybe.” Taehyung stood up and wore his backpack.
The boy stood up and followed him. “Are you one of those queer boys?”
Taehyung didn’t say anything. He thought that once in the hallway he’d shut up, but the boy just kept hounding him.
“We have a huge faggot epidemic here,” he said. “And it looks like it’s only getting worse.”
Taehyung pretended that he couldn’t hear him. He clenched his teeth, looked out the window into the field, and wondered if he was looking in the direction of Paris. He pretended he was, and that if he thought about it hard enough, like magic, he would be teleported there.
Jin sat in a stall in the men’s room, at the far end furthest from the door, with his eyes closed and his hands clenched. His anxiety was getting the better of him. And he imagined that there was some kind of limit to the amount of dread he could feel, and that once he exceeded it every pore of his body would seep blood, and while bleeding from the eyes and ears and mouth he would simply cease to exist. And no matter how terrible the image was, whenever he thought it, it granted him some relief, like cracking his bones after sitting for too long, or stretching after waking.
He realized in the middle of class that he would have to face Yoonki at some point, and they would have to talk about what had happened, especially now. Last night, he was just so frustrated, so done with it all, that he acted out of impulse. And he did entertain the idea of telling him that he was just joking – but for once he actually liked something that he did without thinking. He really did think that a break would benefit them.
The door opened. “This is the boy’s room,” he heard someone say.
He looked at the space underneath the stalls, and he saw that two people were coming in.
“You shouldn’t be here,” said the same guy. “Only boys are allowed to stay here. Faggots are supposed to take a dump in the woods behind the school.”
The stall next to him opened. “I’m going to use the toilet,” said someone else. He recognized the voice – it was low, a smooth baritone. “Are you going to follow me inside? Because that would make you gay.”
The other person walked up close to him, pushing the other inside the stall. “What the fuck did you say to me?”
“I’m just saying,” said Taehyung. “I’m going to be dropping my pants, so unless you want to see my dick you shouldn’t be here.”
The other person kept walking against him, and eventually Taehyung fell on the toilet. The bully punched him in the face, hard enough that his head also hit the side of the stall. Jin was too shocked to do anything.
“Faggot,” the bully said, before walking off and going out the men’s room.
When the door closed, and he was sure there was no one else there, Jin said, “Taehyung-ah…?”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m not actually taking a dump.”
“I wasn’t worry about that at all,” he said. “Especially because of what just happened. But that’s good to know.”
“Who was that?”
“My new best friend…” he said.
Jin could tell from the way his legs were positioned that he was leaning with his head against the stall.
“And you?” continued Taehyung. “Why are you in there, not taking a dump?”
“Do you want to know a secret that’s not much of a secret?”
“You’re gay,” he said. “I’m gay, too.”
“Well, that. But then again we’re all a little bit gay–“
“Some more than others…”
“–but also, Yoonki and I are going through a rough patch, and last night I just had enough of it all, so I asked him if he wanted to have a break. And now I can’t stand the idea of seeing him face to face and having to talk about it.”
“So you’re hiding in the bathroom?”
“Yep,” said Jin. “Hobi, Namjoon, and Yoonki are probably having their lunch, wondering where I am.”
“They’re probably worried about you,” said Taehyung.
“Maybe…” Jin knew that it was probably true. And he had put his phone on silent mode precisely because of that reason. “What would you do in my situation?”
“It’s going to be hard, but I think I’ll just talk to Yoonki-hyung, and be honest about my feelings.”
“I was afraid you’d say something like that.”
“Doing the right thing is hard sometimes,” said Taehyung, lacking the verve that such a platitude seemed to deserve. “My grandfather used to tell me that.”
“Is he dead?”
“Dead people tend to be very wise,” said Jin. “Maybe because the stupid ones, we forget.”
“He used to say that, sometimes, you can tell what the right thing to do is, because it’s the difficult decision.”
The door opened, and someone came in. The boy peed, washed his hands, and then left.
“Right,” said Jin, standing up. “We should probably get out of here.”
He walked out the stall and opened the stall next to him, where Taehyung was sitting on the toilet, his head against the stall wall, his blue hair tossed only slightly. But he had a black eye, and he was looking up at him the way his dog looked up at him. He thought it was endearing. And he felt, in a distant sort of way, that this boy was going to cause him trouble…
“Do you want to go to the nurse?”
“I just want to eat,” he said, with a pout.
Jin offered his hand and helped him up.
Hoseok saw Yoonki at their usual place, sitting with Namjoon. They usually sat in the far corner of the cafeteria, overlooking the field. They always sat here, the same way that all the other cliques at in their own designated places. To take the place of another group was a power move reserved for those who were willing to stake their lives.
He sat with them and said, “Jin didn’t go to school today?”
“He did,” said Yoonki. “But he’s avoiding me.”
“He wants to take a break.” Yoonki was eating from a bowl of rice with the most contempt a person can have while doing so.
“Like a break from being my boyfriend. He texted me that last night, and then when I saw him this morning I asked if he wanted to talk about it. But he just ignored me.”
“Oh…” Hoseok removed the cover from his bowl of rice, not knowing what to say. It didn’t seem like his place to offer any type of advice or judgment regarding this situation.
“Don’t I deserve an explanation?” said Yoonki, placing his chopsticks down. “Don’t I deserve to know why?”
Namjoon looked up from the book he had open before him. “Don’t you already know?” he said. “It’s not good to lie to yourself about these things, Yoonki-hyung.”
Yoonki just looked at Namjoon. “It’s probably about the party, or whatever, but I still want to talk about it. I deserve an explanation.”
Namjoon shrugged and returned to his book.
“I deserve an explanation,” Yoonki murmured as he took another bite.
Just then, Jin and Taehyung were standing with their trays in the middle of the cafeteria, looking at the place where they usually sat. They could see the three of them talking.
Jin breathed in deeply, like he was about to jump out of a plane.
Taehyung looked at him. “Are you nervous?”
“Bear it, bear it, bear it…” he repeated to himself.
They both approached.
Yoonki looked up at Taehyung and said, “You again.”
“Annyeong,” said Taehyung.
Then, he looked at Jin. “Can we talk now, maybe?”
“What happened to your eye?” Hoseok said, looking at Taehyung.
“Ah…” Taehyung put his hand on his eye to cover it, but it hurt when he touched it. “It’s nothing… I fell.”
“You fell on your eye?” said Hoseok.
Yoonki rolled his eyes. “We can’t just pretend nothing happened. Nor can we talk a break like this, if we’re going to see each other everyday. We need to talk. I deserve an explanation.”
“Yes,” said Taehyung. “I fell, and then there was a ball on the floor, and I hit ball with my eye, and this happened.”
“Did you get in a fight?” said Hoseok. “Taehyung-ah, tell us the truth. Why don’t you sit down?”
Namjoon looked up at Jin. “Why don’t you give your boyfriend some slack and just have a conversation about it? It’ll help you. It won’t hurt. I promise.”
Taehyung finally sat down and began to eat. “I’m actually really hungry…”
“Do you want to go to the nurse?” said Hoseok. “They know me there. You’ll get preferential treatment.”
Jin sat down. “Are we just going to talk about it out here in the open?”
“Don’t you think it’s better this way?” said Yoonki. “Wasn’t that your problem with me? That other people don’t know?”
“No, Yoonki. This is the problem,” said Jin, motioning around the table. “I don’t like how you have to do stuff like this to prove anything to anyone.”
“No, no. You were angry that I didn’t tell those girls that we were together. That I just walked away.”
“That was different. I was being attacked. At least, I felt I was… And you weren’t there for me.”
“Why does it matter what they think? Or what anyone thinks?”
“Honestly, I don’t care what anyone was thinking, then,” said Jin. “I was just humiliated. And you literally just walked off. I would never do that to you.”
That shut Yoonki up. He fell back against his seat.
“Well, I’m sorry.”
“I told you, it’s okay,” said Jin. “And that’s the problem. The problem is you yourself don’t seem to accept that it’s okay, and that I’ve forgiven you.”
“So, I’m too good of a boyfriend? That’s the problem? That doesn’t sound like a problem to me. Tell me what’s wrong, because it’s obvious something is wrong here.”
“You know what the problem is?” Jin said, leaning closer, his face in a scowl. “The problem is–“
“Jungkook-ah,” said Hobi, looking behind Taehyung.
Taehyung turned around so quickly that his chair skidded loudly against the floor, and the suddenly commotion made everyone look up.
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” said Jeon Jungkook. “I just saw you guys and thought that I should probably hand over my permission slip.”
He took the folded piece of paper out of his bag and handed it over, holding it between two fingers. They were just looking at him.
Finally, Namjoon reached over and took the piece of paper. “Thanks.”
Jungkook looked at Taehyung, who was apparently having a difficult time keeping his surprise and nervousness to himself, and the moment he did so, Taehyung quickly and entirely without grace turned back around and began shoving rice in his mouth like he was trying to see how much of it he can fit in there.
He kept doing this even if everyone moved on from looking at Jungkook to looking at him.
Hobi eventually held his hand down to keep him from shoving any more rice in his mouth. “Stop, stop. You’re killing yourself.”
“You’re that boy that spoke to me last night,” said Jungkook.
Taehyung looked up at him again, his face a contorted mess of terror and his cheeks round like a chipmunk’s. “Uhuh.”
Jungkook laughed, and then his smile disappeared just as easily as it came. “What happened to your eye?”
“He fell on it,” said Yoonki. It was obvious, to Jin especially, that he was annoyed at being interrupted.
Jungkook placed a hand on Taehyung’s chin, so that he would look up at him and he could take a better look at his black eye. “No… This one’s fresh… Like it happened this morning…”
Taehyung swallowed the last of the rice he had in his mouth. And all he could say was, “Are you the Jeon Jungkook? On tv?”
Jungkook laughed again. “I am, hyung.”
“My mother loves you,” he said.
The bell rang.
“We’re not done,” Yoonki told Jin. “Can you meet me at the bleachers after school? I really just want to talk.”
Jin sighed. And he looked at Yoonki’s hand on his, as he reached over. By Yoonki’s standards, this was pleading. He’s never seen him like this before.
“Okay,” he said.
They were all standing up when Jimin arrived, holding his permission slip. “Sorry I just came now.”
Taehyung looked at Jungkook as he went ahead. Then, he leaned towards Jimin, and said, “That is the real Jeon Jungkook.”
Jimin laughed. “I know. That’s what we’ve been telling you.”
Taehyung shook his and they began to walk towards the exit. “Where have you been anyway?”
“Ah…” He shrugged. “Stuff.”
Jungkook sat in the field again, this time watching Yoonki and Jin talking in the bleachers. He’s heard of the rumors about them, just like everyone else, and though he scoffed at it like he knew he should have, the idea of two boys loving each other in that way fascinated him – made him recognize something that he, too, on occasion, had seen in himself. The thought of it was almost enough to make him disgusted at himself…
But he watched them talking to each other. They were fighting. But he wanted to feel like that, about something. And not about how fast he could run. Or how hard he can work himself. But about someone who he loved so much that it had the capacity to infuriate him.
“I don’t know what the problem is,” Yoonki was saying. “I’m not accusing you of anything, but I am saying that – for me – I don’t understand any of this.”
“I’m sick, Yoonki,” said Jin.
“What does that mean?”
“It means that I’m anxious all the time, and all of the fuss you’re making over what happened… It’s not just unnecessary. It makes me nervous. So, if you’re going to be like this, I don’t know if I can do it.”
“Don’t you think that’s kind of selfish?”
It took Jin some time to respond. He was looking in the distance: From where they sat, at the highest row of the bleachers, they could see the buildings in downtown Seoul, the lights flush against the darkness of the night.
“I guess it is,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
Yoonki looked away and scratched his head. “I feel pathetic, like I’m begging you. I can’t help but feel you’re getting some pleasure out of this.”
Jin furrowed his brow. “Why would I be?”
Yoonki wasn’t looking at him anymore. His legs were crossed, his arms hanging loosely from his lap. “Because you’re humiliating me. You’ve won. I’m a loser.”
“This has nothing to do with that,” said Jin. He was beginning to get angry, that he should be accused of such a thing.
“You won,” said Yoonki, and he got up and began to walk down the steps. “If you want to get back what we used to have, when we loved each other, you know where to find me.”
“You ask me to come here, and then you’re just going to leave me?”
Yoonki turned back towards him. “What do you want me to do? You want me to beg?”
Jin had never seen him like this, in all the time they have been together. And he realized then that it doesn’t matter how long you know someone. There can still be a side of themselves that they haven’t shown you, no matter what you are to each other. Even if you’ve professed to be the most important people in each others’ lives.
And when Yoonki saw him just staring at him, tears beginning to well in his eyes, he got on his knees, which landed on the step just above the one he was standing on, his arms open in provocation. “Does this make you happy?”
Jungkook saw Yoonki on his knees. It made him wish he could hear them. But he was so far away from them, and in the dark, that they probably had no idea he was there.
Jin wiped his eyes and walked off, going down the steps at the far end of the bleachers. Jungkook wondered how that must feel. Not good, obviously – but what, exactly? He has never loved anything as much as Jin and Yoonki must have loved each other. And so he has never been hurt like that before.
He felt an envy that mystified him.
When Jin and Yoonki had left the field, using gates on opposite corners, Jungkook was alone again.
“I feel weird,” said Taehyung, as Jimin dabbed his eye with foundation.
They were at a convenience store, sitting on one of the stools at the table in the back. A middle-aged man was eating ramyeon while flipping through the pages of a magazine two seats away.
“Well, you said you didn’t want your mother to know,” said Jimin. He pressed a little too hard, and Taehyung winced. “And now she won’t have to know.”
Taehyung just sat there as Jimin added the finishing touches.
“There,” said Jimin. “Now you look like you weren’t punched in the face.” The little compartment the foundation came in had a mirror, and he turned it towards Taehyung.
“Not bad,” he said. “It still looks a little blue.”
“That’s because you know it’s there,” said Jimin. “When you know something is there, it stands out.”
“Thanks for doing this,” said Taehyung. “You must have tons of homework. Thank you for doing this for me.”
“I’m not doing this for free.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“I don’t want money,” said Jimin, laughing. “I want to know what happened.”
“Ah, well…” Taehyung looked around, to see if anyone was listening. Despite the shamelessness with which everyone seemed to associate him, he could still be wary. “Some boy punched me because he thought I was gay.”
“Oh… Well, are you?”
“I am,” he said. “Does that bother you?”
“No,” said Jimin. “That doesn’t bother me at all. Just like Jin and Yoonki don’t bother me.”
Taehyung opened the compartment again and looked at himself in the mirror. “They had another argument during lunch. You should have seen it.”
“I was just a bit busy–“
“Yoonki-hyung wanted to meet Jin-hyung at the bleachers,” said Taehyung. He closed the compartment again. “He wanted to plead his case. If you ask me, it’s a bit of a silly fight. People who love each other… I think they should learn to overlook some things. No one’s perfect.”
“You’re right,” said Jimin. He had this way of looking at people, like he was looking at something deep within you of which even you are unaware. “But some people are more perfect than others. Right?”
“Like Jeon Jungkook,” said Taehyung.
Jimin’s smile slowly faded away, but it was so consistent, and in such a short amount of time, that Taehyung noticed it disappear, like a sand sculpture washed away by the tide.
“…you don’t like him, or…?”
“He’s okay.” Jimin’s narrowed eyes shifted towards the store, moving in one swift motion away from Taehyung.
“Well… I saw him at lunch today, and I almost choked to death.”
“Maybe you should have.”
“What was that?”
“Nothing,” said Jimin. “Do you want to have dinner? They have the ramyeon I like here.”
“Actually, I should go home. My mom already told me to come home earlier.” He took out his phone. “See, she’s already telling me that she packed my stuff and wants me to sleep on the street.”
“Well, don’t you want to eat something before you become a hobo?”
Taehyung pouted to express that he was unamused.
Jimin laughed. “You can always live with me, Taehyung-ah. I’ll take care of you.”
“You’re really going to take care of someone you met the day before?”
“Isn’t that what mothers do one day after giving birth?”
Taehyung thought about this. “Point taken.”
“Anything your mother can do, Tae-ssi, I can do,” said Jimin.
“Will you make love to my father?” said Taehyung.
“Aish…” Jimin swatted at him as he laughed. “Why would you ask that?”
“Well, you said you can do everything my mother does!”
When Jimin calmed down, he said, “You’re right. I did say that.”
Taehyung’s phone began to ring. He looked at it and said, “I think I’d better go.”
“Alright,” said Jimin. “But you owe me some ramyeon.”
“Yes,” said Taehyung, slipping his backpack on and standing up.
"It's a date." Jimin was pointing at him like it was a joke.
So Taehyung laughed as if it were.
When they left the store, and had to part ways, Taehyung told him, “Thank you again.”
“You’re welcome,” said Jimin. “Again.”
Chapter 4: Scenes from the Panopticon
The boys add each other on social media, checking out their online lives in the process. No matter how different their lives are -- and they really are very different -- they are all bound together by their membership to the same club, BTS. During recruitment week, the Glee Club puts on a concert where a surprise awaits.
Thank you to my beta readers/editors: Bel, Ysa, Shau, and Carl.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jin scrolled through his Facebook. He didn’t use social media much anymore. Looking at what other people did only made him think of himself. And sometimes he would wonder if this made him a narcissist. But then he would realize that he was thinking about himself in the process of thinking about himself, and it’s that type of infinite recursion, that type of endless repetition, that causes him the most anxiety, his mind trapped in a kind of labyrinth where the end is the beginning and the beginning is the end, so that the moment he steps inside he is met with the impossibility of its very condition.
The real reason he came online was to check if Taehyung had a Facebook profile. He did: His profile photo was of himself, his hair already blue, gazing at the camera with a smoldering expression. It had dozens of likes, loves. A few haha’s. Comments included one from his mom saying that he looked confused. Several from his friends, many of them French, talked about how handsome he was. One French girl commented, “God was showing off the day he made you.” This comment was liked by Taehyung’s mother.
Jin looked at his other photos. They were all public, which somehow made sense given what he thought was Taehyung’s free-spirited naivete. There were photos of him next to the Eiffel Tower. Photos of him with paintings. Photos of just the paintings. Selfies.
Each photo only made Jin want to know more about him.
He added him as a friend.
He imagined his anxiety as a black, writhing mass, its tentacles gnarled, knotted, twisted, a kind of pitiful, dark, mysterious creature that lived inside the cosmos of his identity, filling him up the way darkness pervades the universe or water constitutes the sea. But now, although the creature lives, he found that someone knew how to appease it without even trying, as if Taehyung were destined to be its master.
Taehyung received the notification while looking at his phone, hoping that his mother would think he was too busy to talk. Tonight, she was mysteriously quiet about the fact that he came in late, and he hoped that she simply accepted it as a given, that he would be hanging out with his friends, or doing extra work, that he was old enough to have some pittance of a life.
Jin’s profile photo was a close-up selfie of himself wearing aviator glasses, seemingly taken slightly from below, giving it a kind of ominous appearance. Dozens of people gave it like and love reacts. There were no comments.
He looked at his posts. Most of them were things that people tagged him in, apart from the occasional selfie or photos with friends. In one of them, he was on a yacht with his friends, wearing a captain’s hat, and also wearing aviator glasses. The friends who were tagged commented on the post, thanking him for the ride on his yacht. Jin liked the comments, but left no replies.
Taehyung’s father came in the room and opened the fridge. “How’s school?” he said, as he takes a beer.
“Good,” he said, keeping his right eye out of view.
His father ruffled his hair and walked back to the living room.
Taehyung saw another photo of Jin with Yoonki. They were in a restaurant. Jin was smiling, and Yoonki pulled back the sides of his lips into a kind of wide, pseudo-smile. Jin’s head was leaning towards Yoonki, as if he was about to place it on his shoulder. Taehyung was struck by how handsome they looked. And how good they looked together. Whenever he saw couples like these, he couldn’t help but think of Paris, of the boy he met there…
He found himself, like a jump cut in a movie, with Jackson’s chat open, the words “I miss you” already written in the textbox. The last message he sent, two weeks ago, was, “I don’t think I can.” Jackson replied, in his usual way, “I believe in you.”
He closed the chat before he could see any more or, worse, send the message.
He returned to the Facebook app and liked the photo of Jin and Yoonki together.
Seeing as it looked like they were adding each other, after in any case having spent all that time together, and apparently during such a volatile time, he decided to add Yoonki, too. He was tagged in the photo, so he clicked it to see Yoonki’s profile.
His profile photo was just a black background with some English text. It took him some time to read and understand: Music is life. Below it, in smaller letters, was his stage name, “Suga.” None of his posts were public. Taehyung added him as a friend.
Yoonki was lying in bed, exploring in his mind a chord progression that came to him on his way home from school. As usual, he ignored the homework that he should have been doing. Why did they give students assignments? They already spend that much time in school, and then they also want them to come home and study all over again. Control, he thought. That way people are taught to obey even in places where they were supposed to be themselves most of all. Namjoon had a word to describe it that he couldn’t quite remember.
Out of habit he checked his phone (another method of control, but he could bear it) and saw that Taehyung had added him as a friend on Facebook. The nerve, he thought.
He ignored it and messaged Namjoon. “What was that word that you taught me?”
A few minutes later, he replied, “Pegging.”
“The other one. About oppression and control. Like they had the circular prisons with towers in the middle so the guards can see all the prisoners at once.”
“Thanks. What are you up to?”
“In the lab,” said Namjoon. “As usual. You? What did you and Jin talk about?”
“We decided that we’re going to take a break. Whatever that means.”
“What’s important is that you’re doing what’s best for each other. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
“I wish it were that easy.”
“Who said anything about it being easy?”
He returned to the home screen on his phone. He realized then that his background picture was still of him and Jin, posing side by side on the bow of Jin’s yacht. It had been his background for so long that he wasn’t able to even see it anymore most of the time. He knew that he was still going to see him. And he was confused about many things regarding the situation – what would change, really, apart from the fact that, he assumed, they weren’t supposed to talk as much? That Yoonki shouldn’t hold his hand, or kiss him. He never did much of that, until the party, when he wanted to show him especially that he did love him. That’s what Yoonki thought he wanted…
“What gives him the right to make me wait?” Yoonki replied. “What gives him the right to waste my time?”
Namjoon had just slipped into his hazmat, and was begin to start toping – that is, enriching uranium that had just arrived this afternoon. The glow of the radioactive isotope had always been beautiful to him, in way that was almost unnatural, even supernatural. When he was decided to take up the offer almost a year ago today, he thought that maybe he would regret it, especially because being being the leader of the multimedia club already took up a huge chunk of his time. But seeing sights like these, and being able to meddle with the fundamental building blocks of nature, almost made it worth it.
When he had inserted in isotopes in the enrichment machine – he had spent most of his summer working on it, and he thinks that it came out just fine, despite the somewhat flimsy materials he was afforded – he sat down and checked his phone. When he saw Yoonki’s message, he knew it was probably for the best that he doesn’t reply. But he also saw that Jimin had added him, and as soon as he accepted it he sent him a message asking if he had looked over his permission slip.
“I haven’t,” said Namjoon. “Is there a problem?”
“No problem,” said Jimin. “Just wanted to see if everything is okay.”
Jimin was in the living room with Jaejin, sitting on the couch, watching television. He had one leg up on the seat, and he was pushed up against the corner. Jaejin was singing the theme song to one of his favorite shows.
Someone in the anime punched a guy in the face so hard his teeth went flying everywhere.
“You shouldn’t watch stuff like that,” said Jimin. “It’s going to melt your brain.”
But Jaejin had his hands on his head, and he was screaming so hard that his face had turned red. He was imitating what he was seeing on the television.
“Ah, stop, you’re giving me a headache.”
His little brother stopped and laughed. “It gives you a headache whenever I scream?”
“Now, I have power over you,” he said. “I know your weakness.”
Jimin rolled his eyes. “The world doesn’t work like that, young-blood.”
But before he could say anything more, his eyes were fixed on the television again, like he was in a trance, like the lights of the television were some secret code that his soul took as a sign to leave his body.
When the commercials were on, and Jaejin’s was present again, he said, “You like spending time with Nuna Soon, don’t you?”
“Every other Saturday, do you want to spend time with her?”
“Why can’t you do it?”
“I’m going to go to school,” he said. “We have school at that time.”
The kid shrugged and turned back to the television.
“I love you, young-blood,” said Jimin, but he had lost him.
He looked at his phone. He had been looking at Namjoon’s profile. In his profile photo, he was winking, and it was cropped from a picture of him standing beside some kind of machine made of wood. The caption said that it won a young innovator’s award. Someone asked what it was, and he replied that it was a large analogue processor. Whatever that was. The friend commented, “What’s that?” And Namjoon’s response was so long and complicated that the mere sight of it made Jimin close the photo and look at his wall instead.
He liked to share news articles, documentaries, stuff like that, which only made too much sense. And he posted them with his thoughts, often in several paragraphs. None of the things he spoke about particularly interested Jimin. But he wanted nonetheless to know more about him, if only for his brilliance. Even before he joined, he had already heard of Namjoon, from rumors and chatter, as the yardstick with which the other students, especially the nerds and overachievers, measured themselves academically.
In one post about ballerinas in Moscow, Namjoon tagged Hoseok. Jimin added him, and while waiting for him to accept he looked at his profile. His profile photo was a close up of his face, smiling with such profound joy that it was an inch within being uncomfortable. His posts were public and were composed mostly of memes and videos of himself dancing.
Jimin played the latest video of Hoseok dancing. He was amazed at the skill with which he did so, and he couldn’t believe that he had never heard of him being able to dance that way. He left a love react and watched another, and another, all of them mind blowing to watch, his creativity and execution comparable to the best professionals in Korea.
Jungkook snapped back to reality when his phone vibrated. It took him a moment to see the notification on top of the screen of his phone, that several guys in quick succession added him as a friend. He wiped away the tears from his eyes. From the screen of his phone was a paused video of him and his father, doing stretches before they ran a marathon together. The video was taken by his mother, and she was marvelling -- in the exaggerated, overenthusiastic way that moms are -- at her boys and how athletic they were being, and how seriously they were taking it.
He was looking at his Facebook memories, posts he made on the same day from the preceding years. And he thought that he had deleted this video, like he did all the other photos and videos, but he remembered watching it and wanting to delete it. He probably just forgot. Because he cried so hard. And when he cried about his dad, he felt something so beyond any kind of sadness he has ever felt before, that he was some days in awe of how humans could feel such a thing – a nothingness so powerful he felt it tearing the very atoms that composed his being asunder.
He accepted the friend requests to distract himself, a kind of automatic response that allowed him to rid himself of all types of excitation. Pressing buttons and scrolling soothed him, seemingly the way it did for many other people, perhaps because it felt like doing something – always noble – while not really doing anything at all.
And almost immediately he was added to a chat group called BTS. The other six members of the Bulletproof Boy Scouts were there.
“Annyeong,” said Taehyung.
“Annyeong,” replied Hoseok, with a blushing emoticon.
“Just making this group for announcements and stuff,” wrote Namjoon. “And to remind everyone that our first meeting is on Saturday. Can everyone confirm?”
“I’ll be there,” said Taehyung.
“Yep,” said Yoonki.
“Fighting!” said Jimin.
“See you,” said Hoseok.
“Ok,” said Jin.
He thought about not replying, thinking that if he were too eager people might think that he was some kind of pushover. And he wanted to maintain a kind of distance from them, which would allow him to withdraw, whenever he wanted. Whenever he needed. This is the power he had over people, a necessary power. To disappear.
“The maknae is quiet,” said Jimin.
“It’s THE Jeon Jungkook,” said Taehyung. “We’re waiting for THE confirmation of THE Jeon Jungkook.”
Then, he said, “Confirmed.”
“Whoa,” said Taehyung. “Daebak.” Three laughing emojis.
“Stop making fun of him,” said Jimin. “He’s going to leave our club if you keep doing that.”
Three laughing emojis from Hoseok.
Jungkook added a laugh emote on Taehyung’s message and began to look at the profiles of the other members. He was impressed by what he saw, the breadth of their experiences, what their posts indicated about their character. It had been so long since he had a friend. Or in fact had any interest in the life of another person.
Before he went to bed that night, he deleted the video of him and his father that he saw. And doing so reminded him of his father’s own page, now memorialized by his mother, so that it was curated to have photos and videos of him alongside well-wishes and messages by family members and friends.
Despite himself, he looked at all of their family pictures. Their pictures together. The news articles his dad would post about the Korean economy. What he’d do to comment “you’re boring us, dad” one more time. At some point, he put his phone away, turned the lights off, and tucked himself in to sleep, hoping that he wouldn’t dream of his dad that night, even if he always did.
That Saturday, they all met at their booth in the Quad. It was recruitment day, and they were going to try to invite members to join them, after having successfully asked Principal Bang to consider them a scouting club. Jin suspected that he only allowed it because the faculty were bored and were given to any type of amusement, including seeing half a bunch of gay boys try to accomplish scouting activities, which they were mandated to do, otherwise their club would be considered illegitimate and its status revoked, and they would have to mix with other people – an incestuous and comical proposition.
Although in theory they would have to find new clubs, and therefore mix with other cliques (who so differed from them that they might as well have been difference animals), in reality they would have no choice but to disappear into the woods that border the two Koreas and live like animals until the gods deign to end their lives so they will no longer suffer.
Namjoon and Jin sat at the front of the booth, to receive anyone with questions or who wanted to join.
Jin said, “So, last night I was editing Wikipedia because I wanted to add more detail to Shenron’s entry in the Dragon Ball Characters page, right?”
“Yep,” said Namjoon, who was writing on his notebook.
“And I’m all done, and I’m actually really happy about what I’ve accomplished. And then after like ten minutes I check back on my work, just to relish the feeling of having accomplished something once in my life – you know, something I could be proud of – and suddenly it’s all disappeared.”
Namjoon didn’t look up. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I’m like what the fuck. I check the talk page, and there’s like this mini United Nations conference going on in there, talking about how whether my post was unnecessary. I contribute my knowledge about Dragon Ball Z – which by the way is one of the most important achievements of mankind in the 20th Century, so yes it is important – and these people are talking about it like I just invaded Iraq or something.”
“I hate it when that happens,” said Namjoon. He looked up and said, with sincerity, “Do not invade Iraq,” and then looked back down.
“Right. Of course. Of course. Never. But listen. They were saying that it was a lot of unnecessary information. Like, they were saying, who really needs to know whether Shenron is capable of rearranging the universe so that the laws of mathematics don’t apply? And I’m like, isn’t it necessary to know what would happen if you got all the dragon balls and you wished for a triangle to not have three corners?”
“Why would you get all the dragon balls only to wish for that?”
Jin laughed a condescending laugh and wagged a finger. “I’m glad you asked that because this is an entire section in the thing I wrote. For the reasons. For the rationale, if you will. And here: Suppose for a moment that there are three black holes in triangular formation–“
“Do you guys want some ice cream?” said Taehyung. He was holding two ice cream cones.
Namjoon looked up at him and said, “Yes, please.” He reached for one, but Taehyung moved his hand.
“These are mine. The Glee Club is giving them out. We should probably give away food, too. So we get more members.” He licked the ice cream he had in one hand, and then the other.
“You have money to make that happen?” said Jin. “Also, do you mind? I’m trying to tell Namjoon about Shenron.”
“What about Shenron?” said Taehyung. “I love Dragon Ball, too. I don’t like the newer ones, though.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” said Jin.
“Hey, I’d understand.” Taehyung pointed one of the cones towards him, and the ice cream threatened to tip over. “I know Dragon Ball better than I know anything they’ve ever taught me in school the last ten years.”
“That doesn't surprise me," said Jin. "Eat your ice cream."
“Also, I saw your photos on your yacht,” said Taehyung. “Don’t tell me you don’t have money to buy ice cream for our booth.”
Jimin appeared, also holding an ice cream cone. “Yaa, I saw the pictures, too. Jin-hyung is rich.”
“I’m not rich,” said Jin. “My parents are rich.”
“What’s the difference?” said Taehyung. “My parents are poor, so I’m poor, too.”
“Can you guys move?” said Namjoon. “You’re blocking the booth. People can’t see our signs.”
“Well,” said Jin. “That’s because you can’t give someone no money.”
“Yes, I can,” said Jimin. “Here, Tae-ssi, I’ll send you no Won in your bank account.”
“Nice,” said Taehyung. “I just received it. Thanks for nothing.”
“Hi,” said someone.
“You know what I mean,” said Jin. “I refuse to believe you don’t know what I mean.”
“Hi,” said someone again.
“We don’t know what you mean,” said Taehyung. “But I did just use the zero won to buy zero Bugattis.”
“Your ice cream is melting,” said Jimin.
“Excuse me,” said the same person.
Taehyung began to lick faster, his tongue extending to his hand where the ice cream was dripping.
Jin was trying to not look too interested.
“Hi, yes, excuse me,” the person said, taking advantage of the silence. Jimin grabbed Taehyung, moving him aside, revealing behind him some boy wearing a blue sweater on top of his uniform. “Is this what used to be the Multimedia Club?”
“Yes,” said Namjoon. “Want to join?”
“And what do you do, exactly?” he said.
“You know what we do, Eric,” said Jin. “We talk about music and movies and stuff. What are you doing?”
“Yeah,” said Eric. “But it says you’re a scouting group now, or something?”
“It’s some technicality,” said Namjoon. “Because we don’t have enough members.”
“Oh…” said Eric, surprised but seemingly disingenuously so. “Huh.”
“I fucking hate you, Eric,” said Jin. “Why don’t you go away and sing a song or something?”
“As a matter of fact, I will be singing, in the annual Glee Club Recruitment Drive Concert tonight.”
Jin groaned. “I thought last year was the last one? You had a farewell thing and stuff. You guys were crying.”
“It’s called flair, Seokjin,” said Eric. “I can tell you’ve never known what that is.”
“He owns a yacht,” said Taehyung.
Eric sniggered. “Yeah. One. One yacht.”
“Jimin,” said Taehyung. “Send me zero yachts in my bank account, please.”
“We did that already,” said Jimin.
“I don’t like it when people reference that, Taehyung-ah,” said Jin.
“Sorry,” said Taehyung.
“What was it called again?” said Eric. “Your one, singular yacht?”
“Shut up, Eric,” said Jin.
“I want to know now, too,” said Jimin.
“No,” said Jin.
“I’ve always liked the name, actually,” said Namjoon.
“That’s because you’ve always been weird,” said Jin. “Although I did name that yacht, so maybe I’m also weird.”
“What is it?” said Taehyung.
“Spiderman?” offered Eric.
“Anpanman,” said Jin. “Our yacht is called Anpanman.”
“Aren’t ships girls?” said Taehyung.
Jimin laughed, his hand on his mouth so that he wouldn’t spit out the ice cream cone he was eating. “How are ships girls? How can you tell?”
“He’s right,” said Namjoon. “That’s why we always refer ships or any vessel as she.”
“Wait, what?” said Jimin.
“What do you want, Eric?” said Jin. “Get out of here.”
“I’m just walking around,” said Eric, with a shrug. “And you caught my eye with your…” He motioned towards their banner like he was confused and a little disgusted by it. “This. I mean – scouts. Does this mean you’re going to go to the woods and gather berries?”
“You’re thinking of tribal gatherers,” said Jin. “We’re scouts.”
“So you're more comparable to the hunters?” said Eric. “You’re going to go out there and reunite Korea?”
“Maybe we fucking will,” said Jin.
Taehyung finished his ice cream with a big gulp, and while still holding his sticky hands in the air, he said, “I need to ask for my parents’ permission before I join you guys in reunification.”
Eric smiled an obviously fake smile and said, “Well, this has been nice. And also…” He opened his mouth to speak, but his mouth closed again and settled into the same, snake-like smile. “I’ll see you at the concert.”
“I hate that guy,” said Jin.
Taehyung was still standing there with his hands up. “How many yachts does his family have?”
Jin fell back on his seat and crossed his arms. Without looking at him, he said, “Just go wash your hands.”
Taehyung left to go to the restroom, and Jimin followed.
From where he was seated, Jin could see Eric at their booth. It was larger and more lavish than theirs, which was barely decorated. He wasn’t even hiding the fact that he was looking at them as he told his story, and they laughed at designated intervals a kind of fake, hollow laugh.
He wished suddenly that Yoonki was there to comfort him. Perhaps not by holding his hand or holding him – although that was a possibility ever since the party when he tried to overcompensate – but by giving a well-placed insult that validated Jin’s hatred. Yoonki once said that they probably practiced their orgasms in front on the mirror. Jin hated to admit that he’s tried to practice his orgasm face, too. So that Yoonki will never have to see him as less than perfect. That is, the way that he saw Yoonki then…
Jin looked at them again, and they were still staring at him, but their expression had changed from that of amusement to surprise, even horror, for some reason.
Then he saw Namjoon looking up at somebody. Jin looked, too, and Jungkook was there, writing on the members list. The athletes, for a variety of reasons as ancient as those those that decide the path of the stars, were a grade above the Glee Club kids, and way above the geeks, which they were broadly and effectively speaking. But Jin was never the type to mind that kind of hierarchy, even if he never shied away from the opportunity to flaunt its opposition.
Jin stood up and shook Jungkook’s hand while looking at Eric. It was Eric’s turn to cross his arms and make a face at him. Jungkook was mostly bewildered by the fact that Jin was shaking his hand for what seemed to be a two minutes.
Taehyung returned with Jimin, and when he spotted Jungkook there he did a 180 and began walking right back to the restroom, before Jimin grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him back.
“What’s wrong with you?” said Jimin, although he already had an idea.
Jin was still shaking his hand when Jungkook looked at Taehyung and said, “Annyeong haseyo.”
“Annyeong…” said Taehyung, bowing.
The formality of it made Jimin laugh and push Taehyung.
Jin finally let Jungkook go, and when he did Jungkook walked towards Taehyung.
Jungkook pointed at his own right eye.
Taehyung raised his hand in front of his own eye in turn, like he was at the optometrist’s.
“Did you put ice on it?” he said.
“No,” said Taehyung. “Make up. I put make up on it…”
Jimin raised his hand. “I put it on him. It helped you, didn’t it, Tae-ssi?”
Taehyung nodded, but he was still looking at Jungkook. He was mesmerized by his presence, not merely his looks – which nonetheless bewitched him – but his very presence, the very fact of his existing: His being himself, right in front of him…
Jungkook checked his watch. “I need to get to practice,” he said. “I’ll see you guys at the concert?”
“I’ll see you guys at the concert,” said Taehyung.
Jungkook smiled. “See you, hyung,” he said, then he walked past Taehyung towards the field.
Jimin appeared beside Taehyung. “Are you even trying to not be too obvious?”
“He’s so handsome,” said Taehyung. “He might as well be hanging on the Louvre.”
“That makes two of us who wants him to hang,” said Jimin.
“Aish, don’t be like that,” said Taehyung. “You should learn to appreciate beautiful things. It makes life worth living.”
Jin looked on, and seeing Taehyung act that way towards Jungkook made sense to him. But it brought on a dull pain in his chest that he recognized.
Namjoon looked up from his notebook and said, “By the way, I haven’t seen Yoonki all day. Have you seen him?”
“I haven’t, either,” he said. “Maybe he’s avoiding me.”
“You guys haven’t patched things up?”
“No,” said Jin.
When the sun came down, the lights of St. Borahae turned on to illuminate the Quad, and it was beautiful. It’s possible to mistake it for for a high street, especially with the number of decorated booths, and the number of people who were milling about, taking the opportunity to be together with their schoolmates at that time of night.
The entire field had been reserved solely by the Glee Club, and there were concession stands and streamers and colored lights and a fog machine. Faculty were even seen walking among them, although they mostly stayed at a cordoned part of the bleachers where they were not only segregated from the rest of them but were also able to keep an eye out for anyone who might take their liberties too far.
The students knew this, of course, and every year there would be kids in the restrooms of the otherwise empty buildings as well as in the alleys behind the school, where people got into all manner of debauched hijinks. It was a tradition so time-honored and natural, like celebrating the summer solstice or venerating the sun, that it was a stretch of the imagination to think the faculty had no idea.
Whether it was because the faculty simply wanted a break and a time to enjoy their workplace without having to actually work, similar to how the students wanted to enjoy their school without having to study, or because they believed that such festivities constituted a bacchanal during which the rules of society ceased, permitting a kind of respite from the persistence of reality itself, Jin found the phenomenon to be beyond his powers of speculation. What he did know is that spending time like this with his friends was a blessing, and it gave him a breather from the constant demands Korean society imposed on him.
Even if he had the Glee Club to thank for that.
“And he was kneeling?” Hobi was saying. “Like, just kneeling in front of you, begging?”
“Yeah, but sarcastically,” said Jin. “He was implying that the only reason I was being difficult was because I wanted him to beg. Which isn’t true. I never wanted him to beg. I just wanted things to be the way they were.”
They were seated along with many others on the grass in the middle of the Olympic-sized track. They had to raise their voices. A member of the Glee Club wearing a tuxedo was singing a Korean trot song.
“I just always wished that I’d see you both get married someday,” said Hobi. “I really hope you can still make things work. Do you still love him?”
“Of course I still love him,” said Jin. “I’ll love him forever, I think. You can’t really get over someone like Yoonki, no matter what happens. But still… Sometimes a relationship becomes impossible, don’t you think?”
“I’ve never really been in a relationship,” said Hobi. “I wouldn’t know.”
“And would you like to be?”
“Of course,” he said. “It can get lonely sometimes. It must have been nice knowing that Yoonki is always there for you and loves you.”
“Well,” said Jin with a little laugh. “Not always…”
“From my perspective, Jin-hyung, I think you two should know just how precious what you have is.”
“That’s why we’re being careful,” said Jin. “That’s why we’re taking a break.”
“It must feel so great to be in love,” said Hobi. “To know that someone thinks of you and if you’re okay and if you’ve eaten or slept or what you’re doing.”
“Sounds like my mom,” said Taehyung, as he arrived and sat beside Hobi. “It’s not as great as you’re making it out to be.”
Hobi laughed and pushed Taehyung so that he falls on his side on the grass. “You know what I mean! Haven’t you ever fallen in love, Taehyung-ah?”
“He’s in love with Jungkook,” said Jin.
“Dangerous…” said Hobi, shaking his head.
“I’m just a bit starstruck,” said Taehyung. “It’s nothing serious.”
“Jungkook came to the booth a while ago,” sand Jin, “and he was like this–“ He extended his neck and opened his mouth into a dumb, gaping frown, while covering right right eye with his hand, staring in front of him like he was hypnotized. In a low, comical, slurring voice, he said, “Are you Jeon Jungkook? Annyeong haseyo.”
Hobi laughed so hard he fell backwards while grabbing his stomach.
“Aish, I wasn’t like that at all,” said Taehyung, blushing a little.
“Oh, Jungkook-ah, hi,” said Jin, waving at someone behind Taehyung.
Taehyung quickly turned around, and seeing that Jungkook wasn’t really there, he turned back towards Jin, grabbed a handful of grass from the ground, and tossed it at him, but Hobi was at that moment sitting up so that it hit him in the face instead.
Jin hollered with laughter while Taehyung grimaced and apologized.
Hobi was attacking the boy when the trot song finished, and the MC came around to announce the next performer.
“You know him online as the rapper Suga…”
Hobi ceased his attack and looked at the stage. The constant buzzing chatter of the people around them also ceased. Jin didn’t know if he heard correctly, although he was slipping into a kind of daze by the second.
Taehyung was so surprised and delighted to hear that Yoonki was going to perform that he was clapping and exclaiming with joy.
The MC walked off the stage, and in came Yoonki, wearing a hoodie, sweatpants, and sneakers. It looked like he just woke up from a nap or something. His face wasn’t visible under the hood. He just stood there for a moment. And the student body was in quiet anticipation – they knew the Glee Club kids. They knew that Yoonki didn’t hang out with them. This was some kind of glitch in the system for which there were no protocols, and so they all wanted to know what would happen.
But they didn’t want to know what would happen more than Jin.
The music started, and Yoonki began to rap.
No matter what others say, don’t listen
Just let ’em talk, whatever they say
The more they do, the more I’m sure
All around us is a maze, different paths
We’re walking in this abyss
There’s a thin light over there
I hope we’re going toward paradise
Know this, sometimes lies will try to tear us apart
Hardships will try to deceive us but
Just focus on me then
In the darkness, just the two of us is enough
In all these lies
If we’re together, even an endless maze is paradise
And when he finished, there was a pause, before he said, “That’s for you, Seokjin.” But he said it without being sentimental, like he was the mailman delivering a package. Like he was reading from the phone book.
The MC appeared again. Yoonki handed him the mic and walked backstage.
The people around Jin, who knew he was sitting there, turned towards him, as if they were expecting some kind of reaction. He looked at them and then looked at the stage again. Even Hobi and Taehyung didn’t know what to say.
Gradually, Jin closed his eyes and he began to breathe deeply. He might as well have been asleep, were it not for his fists, which had curled into tight fists.
“And for our next performer, one of our best members and the treasurer of the Glee Club… Eric!”
“Right, time to go,” said Taehyung, standing up and taking Jin by the arm. Hobi went to the other side of him, and they were both carrying him like he had injured his leg or something, walking like that until they were out of the field, and in the distance there was only Eric crooning some song about broken hearts.
They sat Jin down at a bench halfway between the field and the Quad, beneath a light fixture that illuminated the narrow path.
“I’m going to die,” said Jin, after they placed him down. “Who does that? Who fucking does that?”
“I think it’s sweet, actually,” said Taehyung. “Kind of. In a way. Isn’t it?”
“The way he said it,” said Jin. “Didn’t you hear? He was trying to show me that he’s a good lover, and that I let him go.”
“I thought he was saying that he loves you,” said Hobi. “That he did that for you.”
“He did that to spite me,” said Jin. “He humiliated me in front of the entire high school.”
Taehyung gave Hobi the side glance, and Hobi glanced at him back.
“I know these things,” said Jin, looking up at them. “I’m older than all of you guys. I know these things.”
They all just stood there for a moment. Jin had his legs apart, his head hanging so low it might as well have been between them.
“Can we get you water or something?” said Taehyung.
“I think I just want to be left alone for a while,” said Jin.
Hobi and Taehyung walked off. On the way back to the field, Taehyung rubbed the back of his head. “I’m really worried about him,” he said. “But that was really catchy. I hope Yoonki-hyung uploads that.”
“He’ll be alright,” said Hobi. “I’ll check back on him again later.”
When they made it back, Taehyung excused himself to use the restroom. He looked around, and the ones closest to the stage were off limits, because the Glee Club had appropriated them into dressing rooms. He was directed to another restroom that was supposedly near bleachers, but there was a line, and he stood there for maybe three minutes before deciding to go inside the building and use a restroom in there instead. He knew the building was open anyway.
Before he could leave the line, Yoonki emerged from the men’s room. He didn’t seem to recognize Taehyung.
“Yoonki-hyung,” he said, walking alongside him. “That was really good. I’m one of your biggest fans. Will you upload that to your website? I hope you do, because that was so cool.”
“Thanks,” said Yoonki.
“Hey, are you looking for Jin-hyung? He’s at the bench on the way to the Quad.”
“You were with him?”
“Yeah. We were at the recruitment booth all day. Namjoon-hyung was looking for you.”
Yoonki stopped and turned towards him. “Did he see me perform?”
“He…” Taehyung didn’t know how to put it. “He certainly had a reaction.”
“A reaction? What kind? An allergic reaction?”
Taehyung grimaced and scratched his head. “Something like that.”
Yoonki looked away and shook his head. “I know what you’re trying to say.” He looked at him again. “And he’s there?” He pointed a thumb towards the direction of the Quad.
“Yeah,” said Taehyung. “Maybe you should go see him.”
But Yoonki walked off in the other direction, towards the gates on the other side of the field.
“Oh…” he said to himself.
Taehyung passed Jin again on the way to the main building, and he had barely moved. He thought about telling him about Yoonki, but didn’t think it would be his place, nor did he think that he should stress him out more about what had just happened. Instead, he placed a hand on his shoulder as if to reassure him and then went on in the building. The lights were on, but it was empty. When he was close to the restroom, he heard that there were people inside.
He went in. Some boys were hanging around, leaning against the wall and one boy sitting on the counter beside the sink, smoking cigarettes and drinking from plastic cups. The smell of air freshener mixed with that of alcohol.
The boy sitting on the counter jumped to his feet. “Well, look who it is.” He extinguished his cigarette on the sink.
Taehyung recognized him as the boy who followed him in the bathroom a few days ago. Instinctively, he moved back a step.
“What are you doing in here, queer?” said the boy.
Taehyung rolled his eyes. “Not this again. I just want to pee, alright? I don’t want any trouble.”
“You know this boy, Kwangmin?” said someone leaning against the wall. “What’s up with his hair?”
“Yeah, he’s in my class,” said Kwangmin. He was a tall boy, slender but muscular, and a little taller than Taehyung. “He wanted to show me his cock.”
“That’s fucking disgusting,” said the same boy, laughing with the others. “Did you give him that shiner?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“That’s not true,” said Taehyung. “You were following me in the cubicle. It’s like you wanted to see it.”
Kwangmin’s expression hardened, and he stopped in front of Taehyung, staring him down.
“I’m just going to leave,” said Taehyung. He turned around, and there was a boy with folded arms blocking the doorway.
“I’m sick and tired of queers like you infesting this place,” said Kwangmin. “Forcing everyone to watch you hug and kiss and do all kinds of disgusting shit. Maybe we should teach you a lesson.”
“This is school after all, isn’t it?” said the boy leaning against the wall, before taking a sip of his drink. “Teach that queer something, Kwangmin.”
Taehyung walked backwards as Kwangmin inched towards him. His hands was freezing; he could feel them beginning to shake. He moved back until he ran into the guy against the door, who pushed him and he fell on the white-tiled floor.
The boys laughed.
Kwangmin stood over him. “You ever think about me? When you’re touching yourself?”
Taehyung looked up at him. And tears began to roll down his cheeks.
The boy behind him took him by the arms and pulled him up. He kept Taehyung’s arms bound behind his back, then Kwangmin punched him in the stomach so hard as he screamed and he spat out regurgitated contents of his stomach.
“This fag’s a spitter,” he said, laughing, before punching Taehyung again.
Taehyung’s body jerked at the pain. It was so intense that he thought he might pass out.
“Now, let’s do something about that hair.”
The boy behind Taehyung let him go. He was so weak that he fell on the floor, curled up into a ball, his arms wrapped around his stomach. He couldn't breathe.
Kwangmin took him by the hair and kicked a stall door open. He dragged Taehyung inside and pushed his head into the toilet. Taehyung was too weak to do anything, but when his head hit the water he tried to push against the bowl. He felt as if he was drowning, and he was running out of air. He could hear the muffled laughter of the boys.
His head was lifted from the water, and he took a big gasp. When he caught his breath, in a shaky voice, he said, “Please… Stop…”
But his head was pushed down into the water again, this time deeper, and for longer. Just when he struggled hardest to escape, the water began to swirl around his head – the boys had flushed it, and the sensation of drowning overpowered him. He was sure he was going to die. When he finally got out, he was gasping so hard that he felt his lungs would explode.
When he caught his breath, he heard their laughter as they exited the restroom, the doors swinging shut behind them.
He was alone.
He stood up and caught himself on the cubicle wall. He was dizzy. He was dripping wet. Taehyung walked to the row of sinks and began to vomit. He looked at his own reflection. And he didn’t know who he was seeing. He had never seen himself this way before, as trash. As garbage. But he began to hate that boy he saw. His hair was stupid. And he did this to himself.
Someone walked in again, and the mere sound of it made Taehyung raise his hands in defense. But the boy didn't move. And when he looked to see who it was, he saw Jin, standing there, looking at him and the mess that had been left there.
“Taehyung? What happened to you?”
And he kept his hands in the air, this time to shield his face from Jin, so he wouldn’t have to see him like that. To see what the boys had made of him.
Jin pushed down his arms, so that he could take a look at him. “Who did this to you?”
Taehyung tried to speak. All his emotions came like a deluge, and he began to cry. Jin wrapped his arms around Taehyung.
“I’m here,” said Jin. “No one’s going to hurt you anymore. I’m here.”
Love Maze lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
English translation from Genius.
Chapter 5: Rumors, Part 1
The Bangtan Boys are surprised by the news that bullies beat Taehyung up. Taehyung confides in Jin about his insecurities.
Thank you to my beta readers/editors: Bel, Ysa, Shau, and Carl.
SAT 5:54 PM
Yoonki left the group.
SUN 9:23 AM
Jin: Something bad happened.
Namjoon: I saw it. It wasn’t bad at all. You should talk to him.
Jin: I was there after it happened. We talked.
Namjoon: And did you make up?
Jin: Make up?
Namjoon: With Yoonki?
Jin: No. Not that. Some boys beat Taehyung up in the boys’ room.
Jin: I saw him after. I think I saw the boys. They were walking out of the building when I came in.
Namjoon: This is serious. How hurt is he?
Jin: Pretty bad. The shoved his head in the toilet.
Hoseok: We need to do something. That’s too much.
Jimin: What’s too much? Are we talking about Yoonki-hyung performing at the Glee Club concert? LOL Wow that was something. Congratulations, Jin-hyung.
Namjoon: We need to talk to Taehyung first. We can’t just act on his behalf, without knowing what he wants to do.
Jimin: Wait, what happened to Taehyung?
Jin: Yes. That’s probably the best.
Namjoon: What did he say?
Jin: He didn’t say anything. We stayed there the entire time, and then he said he needed to go. There weren’t any new marks on his face. Apart from the black eye he already had. I saw him get that, too.
Hoseok: You were there? Taehyung got beat up, Jimin. In the restroom.
Jin: Yeah. Last time, he got in the bathroom just as I was already in there. And some boy punched him. At that time I just thought he could handle whatever that was, but this time… I don’t know.
Hoseok: I’m worried for him. We need to make sure nothing happens to him.
Jimin: We have to find those boys.
Namjoon: I’m not going to tag him. Since you were there, you should ask him if he wants to talk, Jin.
Jimin: I can’t believe it…
Jungkook: Do you know their names?
Jin: Whose names?
Jungkook: The boys who did that.
Jin: I wasn’t able to make out who they were. And even if I did, I don’t think I know them.
Hoseok: Do you have any idea who would do this, Jungkook-ah?
When Yoonki got home after recruitment night, and his performance during the Glee Club concert, he uploaded his new song. And the student body spoke about it incessantly that Monday, not only because of how beautiful it was, but also because of the story that came along with it: He had admitted, effectively, that he was gay, and that the rumors about him and Seokjin were true.
He heard the rumors and the constant talk about him, even if they tended to happen in private or between people who were trying their best and failing not to look at him. He only felt bad that he wouldn’t know what Jin felt about it, because he decided that he would stay away from BTS. He wanted to give Jin the break that he wanted and that he had reluctantly agreed upon.
In class that Monday, while they were waiting for first period, Namjoon told him, “I liked that rap you did.”
“Thanks,” said Yoonki. “Don’t tell me what Jin thinks.”
“Because I wrote that for him, but I didn’t perform for him,” said Yoonki. “There’s an importance difference. I wanted him to hear that, but what he felt while hearing it doesn’t matter to me. I said the truth. There’s nothing he could add or take away from that.”
Namjoon nodded. “I agree with that. The truth is important. But don’t you think that what you have with Jin – that’s a kind of truth?”
“Is it truth if we have to work like this? If I have to beg like a dog? I know we had good times. I’ll cherish that all my life. But I don’t think I can keep worrying about this. I’m letting go. And that was my last gift.”
“I just want the two of you to talk,” said Namjoon.
Yoonki looked at him. Namjoon said it with authority, and although it wasn’t an order Yoonki could tell from the way he said it that it practically was. He respected Namjoon enough to heed his advice, and to know that it was for his own good.
Before their teacher came in, Namjoon said, “Love isn’t a business, rather like a fitness.”
Yoonki tilted his head and thought about this. About a minute later, he said, “I don’t know what that means.”
“Have you heard about what happened to Taehyung?”
“No,” he said. “What?”
“Some guys beat him up in the bathroom. It happened just after your performance.”
“Blue-hair boy from France.”
“He got into a fight or something?”
“No, not a fight. The boys were bullying him. For being different. For being gay.”
Yoonki thought about it for a moment. And then he said, “Well, that’s fucked up.”
“I know,” he said. “It is.”
“Are you going to Bang about it?”
“We’re going to ask Taehyung how he wants to proceed first. Jin was the one who found him.”
Yoonki turned towards Namjoon. “What happened?”
“Seemed like people just don’t like Taehyung because of the way he looks.” Namjoon shook his head. “I think it’s disgusting that people can be so closed minded.”
When the lunch bell rang, Taehyung waited for everyone in class to leave. Kwangmin had looked at him that morning when they all came in the room, his mere stare enough to fill him with dread like he’s never known. But he left without bothering him. And when he was sure he wouldn’t bump into him in the hallway, he placed his things in his locker and walked out.
Jin was leaning against the wall, waiting for him.
“I wanted to make sure you’re okay,” he said.
The sight of him comforted him, the way that it did that Saturday. The fear was still there, but Jin’s presence brought a light that blinded him to that fear, so that at present he could at least ignore it.
“You didn’t have to,” said Taehyung. “You must be hungry. I’m sorry you had to wait for me.”
They began to walk down the hallway, which was now mostly empty.
Jin said, “Are you okay?”
“I am,” said Taehyung. “Mostly.”
“Is there anything we could do for you? I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it’s like… But we’re all friends now and…”
“I’m just happy that you can be with me,” said Taehyung. “And know that you guys have my back.”
This answer stunned Jin, though he didn’t know why. “Of course,” he said, finally. Awkwardly, he placed a hand on Taehyung’s shoulder, and the blue-haired boy smiled and placed a hand on his.
They reached the entryway to the cafeteria. Taehyung hesitated. He scanned the faces of the students in there, going about their lunch period, chatting, eating, laughing. Jin observed Taehyung in turn, and knew exactly how he felt. Knew exactly the living, breathing thing that now occupied him. The impending sense of doom. The vigilance.
“Do you have a packed lunch?” said Jin.
“I do,” said Taehyung.
“Do you want to have lunch somewhere else?”
“I’d appreciate that, actually. Do you know a place?”
Jin took a moment to buy his lunch, and then navigated the corridors with Taehyung, making sure to look past corners in case any prefects were lurking, as they tended to do. Taehyung followed Jin to the seventh floor of the building, the highest, to the end of the hallway.
“We’re going to eat in a classroom?” said Taehyung.
“No one goes here,” said Jin, pushing the door open.
Inside, the desks were all pushed aside, leaving an empty space in the middle of the room. It was dusty, and looked as if no one had even gone there to clean for a while.
“Weird, huh?” Jin walked inside, and when Taehyung went in, too, he closed the door. “I guess it’s an extra room or something. I don’t know. But sometimes after class I come here, when I can’t bear to go home yet and I just don’t want anyone to bother me.”
He walked to a locker and took out a blanket. “I even left this here,” he said, as he then laid it down on the floor.
They both sat down. Taehyung produced a bento, the contents of which were neatly and carefully prepared. Rice, vegetables, some meat. Jin ate from the paper container the noodles came in, with the flimsy, wooden chopsticks that came with everything from the cafeteria.
“Yoonki-hyung did a really great job,” said Taehyung. “I’ve always wanted to be able to rap like that…”
“Yeah? You enjoy listening to music?”
“When I was little, I wanted to become an idol.”
“Like on tv?”
“Yeah.” Taehyung laughed. “I know it’s silly.”
“It’s not silly at all,” said Jin. “You’re very handsome.”
Taehyung looked up at him, some carrots barely touching his lips. “Really? No, I’m not… Thank you…” He smiled as he chewed, embarrassed.
“Not as handsome as me, clearly.”
“Clearly,” Taehyung said with a giggle. “I also play the saxophone. I thought that if I can’t find a job or don’t do well in school, I can start a music career playing in a band.”
Jin nodded as he chewed. Then said, “You should let us listen to you play sometime. When we have our club room.”
“I would love to collaborate with Yoonki-hyung,” said Taehyung. “And maybe you could sing the hook.”
Jin was tickled by this idea. “Maybe…”
They had some silence for a while, a kind of space for their presence to recognize each other – for them to know that they were there, the two of them, and for them to appreciate that.
“About last night,” began Taehyung. He hesitated. The memory itself was like a wound on the exterior of his soul – but even the memory of the memory pained him. “Thank you. If you hadn’t found me…”
“You don’t need to thank me,” said Jin. “I was just coming in to use the bathroom. And I just did what anyone would do.”
Taehyung tried his best to smile. “Even so. Thank you.”
“You’re a Bulletproof Boy Scout now, whatever that means,” said Jin. “But at the very least, that means that we look out for each other.”
“But Taehyung – what they did to you was serious. Why would they beat you up like that?”
He had feared this: That Jin wouldn’t merely acknowledge the wound, but investigate it, check for any signs that it might fester or burst with pus. And it humiliated him.
Jin saw his nervousness. “If you don’t want to talk about it, I understand. I also have things that I don’t want to talk about. That I don’t want to acknowledge. Trust me. I know more than anyone. But what you tell me here, if you don’t want anyone else to know, then we don’t need to let anyone know. You’re safe here, just as I was safe here.”
Taehyung looked at Jin, and after a breath, he said, “They thought I was different. Because of my hair. Because I just came back from Paris. Because I’m gay.”
He looked up, and saw that Jin was watching him, quiet. Without judgment. Or any sort of statement or question.
“They punched me in the stomach, and then forced my head in the toilet…” He realized only then that he was beginning to choke on his words – the memories themselves stuck in his throat. He had to push them out. But they were barbed. “And when they were done I felt like garbage.” He wiped tears from his cheeks with his sleeve. “I came back to Korea thinking that people will like me because I’m different. Because I’ve been to all of these places, where they liked me and listened to what I said and thought I was smart and handsome. And then now people who don’t even know me beat me up just because I’m different. And it hurts to be so wrong like that. I feel like an idiot to think that by being like this people would like me. That they would feel I have something to say. That I’m worthwhile.”
Taehyung covered his face with his hands. He was beginning to sob. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry, Jin-hyung.”
“Don’t apologize,” said Jin. “That’s nothing you should ever, ever apologize for.”
“And now I’m afraid. That I don’t have anything to offer anyone. That they’d look at me and think – look, he wants to be different because he knows he’s pathetic.”
“You’re not pathetic, Taehyung. Don’t say that.”
“I’m sorry,” said Taehyung, wiping his tears with his hands.
“And stop apologizing.”
Taehyung nodded, to show that he understood. He wiped his tears and looked at Jin. A little embarrassed at his outburst. His head throbbing a bit, the way it does after you cry.
“I know what it feels like to be insecure. Trust me,” Jin said. “Sometimes, I feel people can see right through me. And that they see the same thing that I see when I look at myself.”
“I’ve never really saw you as anything apart from a good man,” said Taehyung. “I’m sure Yoonki-hyung feels the same.”
“I’m here for you,” said Jin. “Remember that. All of us are. And on Saturday, when we have a discussion about art or whatever I’m so excited to hear about what you have to say, and your experiences in France, and everything. Never think that you’re anything less than spectacular to us, okay? Those boys that did this to you. Honestly, they’re the garbage. And when they see someone like you, it just reminds them of that.”
“Thank you,” said Taehyung. “For saying that. And for saving me.”
“Yaa, I didn’t save you. I just happened to be there at the right time. I actually passed the boys that did this to you, in the hallway. Do you know any of them? Or recognize them?”
Taehyung hesitated. Then, he said, “No. I don’t know any of them.”
“Do you want to go to Principal Bang about this?”
“What? No, no. I don’t want to cause any more trouble…”
“What if they do it again? You can’t just let these people get away with this, Taehyung-ah.”
“Jin-hyung. I’ve been through enough. I understand that you want to make this better for me. But I don’t know if I can go through anything else right now.”
Jin understood immediately what he meant. The feeling that the world itself was too much, was beginning to become too real and encroach upon him, threatening to blot him out. Drown him. And so he let the matter go and said nothing.
After school, Jungkook had practice. His coach was easy on him. He could tell because of the way he treated the other players. And though he knew that there was something wrong with it, he also knew the things that he had accomplished, and the things that came with such accomplishment. One of those things is his coach’s respect. And his fear that Jungkook could quit, should he ever feel disrespected.
He worked hard, but he liked knowing that.
Usually, he showered and changed, while the others sat around chatting. He didn’t join them, and generally avoided them, just as much as they avoided him, but this time he sat at a bench in the locker room and just listened. They were talking about recruitment week, and about how they were going to make the new athletes suffer, the way they had to suffer when they joined.
Sangbin, who was talking, noticed that he was sitting there, and said, “Are you going to be at the initiation, Jungkook-ssi?”
“I’ve never seen you there,” said another, a taller boy.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “Will you guys go?”
“When I joined the track team, they paddled me so hard I couldn’t walk properly for two weeks,” said Sangbin. “So you bet I’m going to take this opportunity to make other people suffer.”
“Let me tell you something,” said the other boy. “In this world, you either make other people suffer or you suffer. Like in any game, someone wins and the others lose.”
“I’ve always wondered what it’s like to hit someone,” said Jungkook.
“Alright.” Sangbin clapped his hands before placing one on Jungkook’s shoulder. “I’ve always wanted to be your friend, Jungkook-ssi. We’ve always just worried about whether you wanted to talk to us at all.”
“I’m going to be honest,” said the other boy. “We’ve always thought you were a bit… snobby.”
“He said it, not me,” said Sangbin.
“I’m sorry,” said Jungkook. “What’s your name?”
“Kwangmin,” said the other boy. “See? He doesn’t even know me.”
“Why would anyone know you?” said Sangbin. “You run so slow.”
“Shut up.” Kwangmin laughed and lightly punched Sangbin on the shoulder. “I’m getting better. Hey, Jungkook, maybe you can teach us how you do it?”
Jungkook hesitated. “Maybe.”
“We guys need to stick together.” Kwangmin opened his locker and took out a towel. “Especially with all the fags around here.”
“Excuse me?” said Jungkook.
Kwangmin closed the locker and leaned against it. “You can’t tell me that you haven’t noticed.”
Sangbin shook his head. “You better watch yourself, Kwangmin. Treating other students like that is going to land you in trouble one of these days.”
“What are they going to do? Fuck me?”
“You beat someone up recently?” asked Jungkook.
“As a matter of fact, I was just about to tell Sangbin here that I met that blue-haired queer from class last Saturday in the men's room,” he said. “And you wouldn’t believe what happened.”
Sangbin approached his own locker. “You sucked his dick.”
“Fuck you,” said Kwangmin, laughing.
“You can’t stop talking about that guy,” he said. “Are you obsessed with him or something?”
“You know how much people like that annoy me,” said Kwangmin. He removed his shirt and his pants, so that he was only in his underwear. “These perverts are going to fuck up everything one day. Trust me.”
“I’m not even going to ask,” said Sangbin, who also began removing his clothes. “Are you going to shower, Jungkook?”
Jungkook looked at both of them. “I’ll be there after you guys.”
That Friday, the kids weren’t given much homework, and they had the Saturday off. They get two Saturdays off every month, the second and the fourth. Naturally, after school, they split into various groups, into different locations, the body of St. Borahae once again splintering into tiny pieces, just as it had when during his martyrdom he was supposedly crushed by a boulder pushed from a very high precipice, making his body explode into tiny little giblets, upon order of the Roman Emperor Domitian.
Jimin and Taehyung were on the way to a Samgyupsal place. They met Jin in the hallway and brought him with them. Yoonki, Namjoon, and Hoseok went to a cafe they frequent. Saturdays were open mic night in What’s Up Brew, and they liked to listen to the music. It would have been awkward to hang out without Jin, but Jin didn’t like going with them when they went to that cafe because he didn’t like the noise and the darkness that made the crowd look a lot more suspicious and sinister than it actually was. Not to say that things didn’t get suspicious and sinister sometimes. But in Jin’s mind, it happened a lot more times than it actually did, and it made him nervous.
The meat had barely arrived when Jimin brought up the beating, which they haven’t addressed ever since it happened, and they haven’t spoken on Facebook Messenger if only because no one really knew how to follow up a hate crime. At least not until they had a set way to consider the event.
“If only I was there,” Jimin was saying, “I would have run around trying to find the bastards that did this to you and beat them right back.”
“There were three of them,” said Taehyung. “And they were big. Like athletes.”
“So? I would have smacked them across the face.” He slapped a wide swath of air, emphasizing it with a crisp, “Pak!”
“They were way taller than you,” said Taehyung, laughing.
Jimin looked very displeased.
Taehyung just kept laughing.
“Well, you’re lucking Jin-hyung found you,” said Jimin. “And that he was able to help you. I’m very thankful to him for that.”
Jin received two plates of raw meat from the waitress and placed it on the table. “I’m sure you would have done the same.”
Taehyung took the tongs and began placing the meat on the grill. “I’d rather talk about something else, if it’s okay. I’d really just rather forget about the entire thing.”
“I just want the people who did this to you to pay, Taetae,” said Jimin.
Taehyung ignored him, as if he heard nothing, and continued to fiddle with the food on the grill.
Jin said, “Were you at the concert, Jimin-ssi?”
“I was,” said Jimin. “There were some carnival games there, and I played a few. I had just finished playing that game where you throw hoops onto bottles when I turned around and Yoonki-hyung was on stage. That was surprising.”
“You weren’t the only one surprised,” said Jin.
“And that thing he said in the end,” added Taehyung. “That made everyone even more surprised.”
Jimin giggled. “I wish someone would love me the way Yoonki-hyung loves you.”
“He didn’t do that to flatter me,” said Jin. “He did that to spite me.”
“You said that at the time,” said Taehyung. “But I still don’t understand how you could feel that way. At all.”
“If someone did that for me,” said Jimin. “I think I might just marry that person right then and there.”
Jin shook his head. “He was trying to admonish me. He was trying to say that I was acting the wrong way, and that I should have acted differently. That I should have been a better boyfriend.”
Taehyung shrugged. “Is that such a bad idea?”
The waitress arrived to place a bowl of soup in front of each other them. Jin reached for a spoon in the wooden box where they kept them and said, “I’m not like this because I choose to be like this. I’m not an anxious mess by choice the same way that Taehyung isn’t gay by choice. Or that I’m not gay by choice for that matter. Or that Yoonki is gay. Wow, are we all gay?”
“I’m gay, too,” said Jimin. “I don’t know if Jungkook-ssi is gay.”
“I’m sure Taehyung wishes he were,” said Jin, before sipping some soup, his eyes pointedly turning towards the boy.
“That’s none of my business,” said Taehyung. “It would be interesting to know. But that’s none of my business.”
“Well, they used to say a few years ago that he may be.” Jin received kimchi, and lettuce, and pancakes, and steamed eggs from the waitress. “Just because of how aloof he was, I guess. And how gracefully he moves. I guess.”
“How does he move?” said Jimin, wrapping the meat in the lettuce with other condiments to make a meticulously arranged ssam. “Like a snake? Or a worm?”
Jin blinked at him. “I was thinking more like a hawk or something…”
Jimin shrugged and shoved the ssam in his mouth. His eyes roamed the room, avoiding Tae or Jin, while he chewed.
“Well, whatever your feelings for Jungkook-ssi are,” said Jin, “I hope it works out.”
Taehyung said, quickly, “How did you and Yoonki-hyung meet?”
As soon as Jin heard this, he sighed. He finished his soup and placed the bowl aside. “We met three years ago. It’s a long story. A long and tedious story.”
“I want to hear it,” said Jimin.
“I don’t mind long and tedious stories,” said Taehyung. “Sometimes, I feel like I’m trapped in one. With a shitty title.”
Jin hesitated, but Taehyung pouted with his lower lip hanging out.
“Alright, fine,” he said. “Three years ago, when I was still a freshman, Yoonki was just beginning to become famous for his first mixtape…”
“What was it called?” said Jimin.
“Agust D.” Taehyung removed the pork from the grill, and began working on his own ssam. “It’s also the name of his sidekick.”
“Not sidekick,” said Jin, laughing. “Alter-ego.”
“That,” said Taehyung. “I listened to it when it came out. He’s so good.”
“I thought it was a bit egotistical,” said Jin. “But that’s what I liked about him. He spoke his mind. He was confident in himself, even if he had insecurities. That’s the kind of person I want to be. And I admired him. And I also saw his profile photo at the time, and he was so handsome…”
“Did you slide into his DMs?” said Jimin.
“I wish I was that kind of person.” Jin helped himself to the pancake, and after a moment of chewing continued, “But I’m not. For a few months, I contented myself with listening to his music and looking at his profile picture. Which is kind of desperate and sad, if you think about it.”
“If that’s true,” said Jimin, “then a lot of us are desperate and sad.”
“I think a lot of us are,” said Taehyung.
“Well, thankfully, we both went to the same school, so I had that in my favor,” said Jin. “I would spot him sometimes during assembly. Naturally, I would look at him at every opportunity. At some point, I realized that he was friends with someone that I knew. Hoseok. Apparently, they knew each other for years.
At that time, I heard that Yoonki wanted to shoot a video for one of his songs. So, I told Hoseok that maybe he would be interested in filming–“
“…on a yacht!” said Taehyung, his ssam touching his lips as he was in the process of shoving it in his mouth. “Oh my god. Was that your yacht in his video?”
“That was Anpanman?” said Jimin.
“The yacht in that video was Anpanman,” said Jin, with a wry smile. “And that’s where we met.”
“Okay, but how did you fall in love?” asked Jimin.
Chapter 6: Rumors, Part 2
During the weekend, Jin and Yoonki recount the story of the day they met.
Thank you to my beta-readers: Shau and Bel.
Jin had always wanted a boyfriend. He imagined that boy lavishing him with attention, taking his side on arguments with others by default, showing up at random times to his house with cake. Making love to him. Watching television at night, when everyone else is asleep, then holding his hand, and he would feel thankful, and happy, and content. But most of all he imagined that whenever he felt like he wanted to jump off a window or harm himself or that he wasn’t worth any of the love he was given, that boy would sense it in his PMs and the way he would respond in calls and he would come to him and protect him, remind him that he’s loved and safe. That someone would fend for him when he can’t fend for himself.
He was thinking about this while he and Hobi sat at the pier. And the breeze, and the empty expanse, and the sound of the waves made him sentimental.
“Are you Seokjin?”
He looked up, and there he was, Yoonki who he had only seen previously in pictures, although he has heard his voice dozens of times. To hear that voice utter his name gave him such pleasure that he wanted to hear him say it again.
“Yes,” said Jin, standing up, bowing.
Hobi greeted Yoonki, and they bowed to each other, too.
“Thanks for doing this,” said Yoonki. He was wearing a wide-brimmed hat and shades. “Honestly, I was having second thoughts, given that we don’t really know each other, and this seems like such an imposition.”
“Please, this is no imposition at all,” said Jin. “It was my idea. I’m a huge fan, really.”
“Yeah? You listen to my music?”
“Of course. I think everyone in Borahae has heard your mixtape.”
“What’s your favorite song?”
Yoonki chuckled half-heartedly. “I like that one, too.”
“Well, now that you’ve found each other,” said Hobi. “I have to go. I have practice in half an hour.’
“Wait,” said Jin. “I thought you were coming with us.”
Hobi was already beginning to walk away. “I just had to make sure that you guys met,” he said, and then waved.
Jin looked at Yoonki and scratched his head. “I hope you don’t mind. This is a bit awkward.”
“Oh, I knew this was going to happen. I thought you were fine with it.”
“I’m fine with it!” said Jin, with almost too much enthusiasm. He saw Yoonki staring at him, with a small smile, one edge of his mouth turned upwards. “I’m… fine with it.”
Yoonki nodded. “Good.”
Jin helped them to the yacht and introduced them to Daeho, who had several responsibilities in the Kim household, including sailing Anpanman for Jin whenever he needed it.
Anpanman was a double-decker yacht, although the smallest of its class. Which was still pretty big. It had a bedroom, an integrated living room/dining room/kitchen, and a bathroom that had a bathtub. Yoonki took his time looking around and was polite enough to comment on the luxury of it all. And Jin made sure to smile and thank him whenever he did, even though his family had owned the yacht since he was a baby and he had spent so much time in it that, at that point, he was as familiar and bored with it as he was with his own thumbs.
“Shall we start?” Yoonki said finally.
Yoonki placed his bag on the table and produced a camcorder. “I kind of assumed that you were going to help me, since it’s just the two of us. And Daeho-ssi. Unless you want me to ask him?”
“No, no,” said Jin, taking the camera, hoping that he didn’t appear to eager. “I’m happy to.”
They went around the yacht while Yoonki rapped, moved around the way people expected rappers to move in their videos. Snarling, moving his arms up and down. Staring at the camera like he wanted to kill Jin. With the exception of his mother, he had never had anyone look at him like that, much less anyone like Yoonki, and he savored the feeling of being in the presence of a dangerous man. He surrendered himself to him through the lens of the camera.
Yoonki performed the entire song in every possible location, the best among them, Jin thought, is when he sat in the empty bathtub, and rapped the entire song from there. Jin had to place the camera between Yoonki’s legs, and swaggered and rapped at it. And that’s where he felt it, really – the feeling of belongingness that had eluded him his entire life. That feeling that refutes the idea that he should be away from his world, or beyond it, or simply not in it. Because this is where he belonged, he thought: Between Yoonki’s legs. And if it were up to him, he would have curled up like a fetus, cried as babies do, and be born again. A new person, now without the fear, or angst, or anger, all of those things replaced instead with purpose and wisdom. The wisdom that between Yoonki’s legs is home.
Eventually they finished. The last shot was in the cabin, Yoonki lying in bed, reciting his verses like it was nothing to him. Like it meant nothing to him. Like the song disgusted him even. He’s moved on, he wanted to say. He’s moved on, and he’s got something else even more interesting to say. But his fans adored him so much that he was doing them this favor. Jin was happy to receive this favor, although there lingered the feeling that he wanted more than Yoonki could give.
“How was that?” said Yoonki, after the last line, still lying in bed.
“Amazing,” said Jin. “I’ve never done anything like that before.”
“I’ve had some experience,” said Yoonki. “I think you did well. What’s important is that you enjoyed it.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
Yoonki smiled his half smile. “I did. Thanks for being adventurous, and doing all that just for me.”
“I’m exhausted. I can’t believe you go through all that.”
“I guess I'm used to it.”
“I can tell.”
Yoonki nodded. “I can tell,” he repeated coolly.
It was only then that Jin realized he was here, with him. And no matter what happens, he can tell his friends and occasionally remind himself that he was in a room with Min Yoonki, close enough to touch him, if he wanted. And between his legs, simply looking up, a view that he’s tried to imagine many times before. Although under slightly different circumstances.
Yoonki yawned. “Do you mind if I take a nap? I’m really exhausted.”
“No,” said Jin. “Not at all.”
“Aren’t you exhausted?”
“A little bit, yeah,” said Jin. He was beginning to blush. He didn’t know why. But he could feel his face getting hot, that he was blushing.
“Come here,” he said, tapping the pillow beside him. “Let’s take a nap.”
Jin was taken aback by this, although he wanted nothing more (or maybe he wanted only one other thing more), than to lie beside Yoonki, and close his eyes, so he did that. The bed was only just able to fit them both. They were on their backs, and Jin was looking at the ceiling, and he noticed that their arms were touching. He didn’t say anything. But he’s never tried to focus on one part of his body so much his entire life, just feeling Yoonki’s presence through the skin of his arm, assuring him that they were really there.
They said they were going to nap, but they were just lying there in bed, feeling the motion of the yacht as it traversed the water. And Yoonki said, “Do you think I have what it takes to be a rapper?”
Jin laughed at this question. “You’re already a rapper.”
They were both looking the ceiling, only pressed together by a small patch of skin…
“No, I mean a real rapper, like someone who appears on tv and releases records.” Yoonki sighed, and was quiet for a moment, like he was gathering the strength to say what he wanted to say. But finally he said, “I know I say a lot of tough shit in my songs, but most of the time I feel like I say that to convince myself. And I need to convince myself because I feel like all my dreams are too far away from me. And that none of them will come true, no matter how hard I try.”
“You’re the most talented rapper I know,” said Jin. “Better than anyone on tv. You speak the language of our generation. Of kids like us, who are just as lost and confused and miserable and belittled. Not many rappers can do that. And among the rappers that can – only you do it the way you do it.”
Yoonki smiled and looked at him. Jin felt him turn his head, and so he did, too, and they were both looking at each other, smiling. A bit awkward.
“As far as I’m concerned,” said Jin, his voice quieter now, like he was telling Yoonki a secret. “You’re the best rapper in the world.”
Yoonki’s eyes lit up at this – like he was a mystical creature that heard its true name – and he leaned in, and they kissed. And it was the first time that Jin felt that way: Felt that another person’s body was no different from his own, so much so that he could wrap his arms around him, and as they kissed he felt Yoonki’s body against him, and his breath against his face, and his hands on his back.
And a few seconds later Yoonki pulled back and looked at him. Months later, when there were problems, he would wonder about this stare: Did he regret what was happening? Did he realize he was making a mistake, but went on with it anyway? But in that moment all Jin saw was the face of someone who by pressing his lips against his had changed his life forever.
When they were done, and they were lying in each other’s arms, Jin asked, “What now?” And he asked this in a voice more pathetic and desperate than he wanted. Yoonki laughed at him.
“Do you want to see where this takes us?” said Yoonki.
“I do,” said Jin. It wasn’t lost to him that he just said that as if they were getting married. This made him laugh.
Yoonki was laughing, too, and he said, “Then let’s do that.”
Taehyung had the bulgogi pressed against his lips for about ten minutes at that point, since Jin told him about Yoonki in the bathtub, and when Jin finally finished the story he finally slipped the thing in his mouth and chewed slowly.
“Whoa…” he said as he chewed. “Daebak…”
“So let me get this straight,” said Jimin. “You met for one day, and then you just started making out?”
“I mean, that was Min Yoonki,” said Jin. “Wouldn’t you have done the same?”
“Absolutely,” said Jimin. “I wasn’t talking about that. I was speaking from his perspective.”
Taehyung spat out his drink. And he tried to pour himself another one, but he was laughing so much that he couldn’t pour straight.
“You’re being hurtful,” said Jin.
“But you were a stranger to him, hyung!” said Jimin. “Didn’t you just meet that day?”
“What can I say?” Jin shrugged. “I guess he thought I was cute.”
The two dongsaengs laughed. And Jin was happy that they could be like this. Suddenly, he was very aware of how much time has passed, and how different things have become. How that sensation of something new, and exciting, and almost unbearable happiness had become, from this distance, so small. Not different, but small, so that what once engulfed him now fit in the palm of his hand, and he could look, and point, and see things together where once he was merely part of it, the different between showing someone where you stood on a map and actually being there.
“I like that story,” said Taehyung. “And you’re really lucky – to have that moment with Yoonki-hyung. He’s so handsome.”
“He is very handsome,” said Jimin. “I’m sad that I never saw you two together.”
Jin nodded, and he was looking in the distance. He was sorry, too. Especially now that he was thinking about all these things, about how happy he was. About how he came home that evening and just laid down on his bed, and there was only gratefulness. There was only the anticipation for what the future meant not just for him but for both of them.
But he looked at Taehyung, and he knew that whatever that was – whatever he and Yoonki shared – that was in the past. Whatever it was they had, he had no qualms about never finding out “it” was. All he knew is that it had come and gone.
“No matter what you feel about him now,” said Taehyung. “At least you have the good memories.”
Jin nodded. And with a weak smile he said, “I’m ready to make new ones.”
In What’s Up Brew, the open mic had just ended. Yoonki sipped his coffee, and the noise of the cafe disappeared in the cacophony of his thoughts. He knew that Hoseok and Namjoon were talking about the performances, and about how hip hop felt like it was going to have a renaissance in Korea. People their age wanted change, wanted the adults to listen to what they have to say, wanted to live in a place where their opinions mattered, and they realized that hip hop and rap were instruments that allowed them to do that.
“Lots of great new rappers out there,” Hoseok was saying. And he couldn’t help but think of Jin – everything nowadays reminded him of Jin, and specifically of how much he loved him – and how when they first met he said that about him. That he was a great rapper. Or, the best rapper in the world. Up until he had never believed it, even if he told himself that, and strangers on the internet told him that, and his friends told him that. When Jin, who he barely knew, told him that…
He felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up, and it was Namjoon.
“Are you alright?” he said.
“Yeah,” said Yoonki, sitting up and shaking his head as if to rid himself of a stupor. “Sorry, I’m just tired.”
“What were you thinking about?” said Namjoon, as if he didn’t know.
Yoonki knew it was a trap, but he did want to talk about it. Because he knew that if he didn’t talk about it, the thoughts would fill his head, like a dark, viscous fluid, until he wanted to make it explode, to pop it like a zit.
“The last time someone called me a great rapper,” said Yoonki. “And it meant something.”
“I’m sure people tell you that all the time,” said Hoseok. “Especially since you released that song.”
“They do,” said Yoonki. “And I’m thankful for that. But there was only one time that it really meant something to me.”
“Tell us,” said Namjoon. “When?”
Yoonki’s gaze shifted, and he was looking at something else, to avoid looking at his friends. “When Jin and I first met, that’s one of the things he said to me.”
Hoseok beamed at him. “I remember that day. Too bad I wasn’t around to hear it. When did he tell you that?”
Still, something in him resisted. But he forced himself. “We had just finished filming. And we were in bed together.”
“On the first meeting?” Hoseok was somehow taken aback and was making a face.
“When was this?” said Namjoon.
“Haven’t I told you about when we first met?” said Yoonki.
“You told me that you met in Jin’s yacht. And that you shot your video there. But that’s about it.”
“Start from the beginning,” said Hoseok, raising his hand for the waiter. “I want to know everything, in order.”
Yoonki straightened up in his seat and scratched his head. “I don’t know what I just got myself into…”
Hoseok ordered all of them their usual (a cheeseburger for Hoseok, a double patty burger for Namjoon, and a Korean BBQ with Kimchi slaw for Yoonki).
“I just had a feeling,” he said, “that this is going to be a long story.”
Yoonki snickered. “Not too long.”
Yoonki jolted awake and immediately took his phone on the side table so see what time it was. He was late. His alarm didn’t go off, and he realized that he had set it for 2 AM as opposed to 2 PM. He rushed to get ready. Thankfully, he had already prepared the stuff he was going to bring the night before.
His mom was in the living room, watching television, when he walked past her on the way to leave the apartment.
“Where are you going?” she said. She was lying on the sofa.
“I’m going to meet my friend,” he said, still walking.
“Hoseok,” he said. He reached the door, but had to turn towards her with his hand on the handle.
“Shouldn’t you be studying?” Yoonki realized that she had curlers on her hair. “You keep going out and writing songs when you should be studying.”
“I’ll study tomorrow,” he said. His eyes narrowing because of his exasperation at these kinds of conversations.
“No,” she said. “You’ll study today. You’re not allowed to leave.”
“They’re already waiting for me,” said Yoonki. “I’m already late. I’ll study when I get back.”
“Don’t make me call your father,” she said.
“Call him. I don’t care. I have to go.”
“Min Yoonki.” His mother stood up. “Go back to your room now.”
He tightened his grip on his bag, as if he was trying to protect it. “You don’t understand how important this day is for me. I have a lot of work to do.”
“Work?” She had her hands on her hips. “What kind of work?”
“For my music,” he said.
She rolled her eyes. “You can do that when your exams aren’t coming up.”
“My exams aren’t even coming up. You don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
“Do you think you’re going to amount to anything, wasting all your time with that music nonsense?” Her mother was beginning to scream at him. “Your grades have been slipping. You should be working harder.”
He wanted to respond. To say something. To defend himself. But nothing came to mind that he knew she would understand. You don’t know how much my music means to me, he wanted to say. And if I can’t have my music, then I don’t care if I don’t have anything to eat or anywhere to live. But that would have meant nothing to her.
“Whatever,” he just said. And he turned around and left, slamming the door behind him.
All his life his mother had antagonized him about his music, and at some point he got the sense that whenever she took every opportunity to remind him that his music wasn’t worth anything, and that he should abandon it. And this wasn’t because she actually understood his potential – because she actually understood that he wasn’t talented. His mother knew nothing about music, as far as he could tell. She resented him and his music because it came to represent his stubbornness, his unwillingness to bow to her authority.
On the bus, he thought about this, and resolved that the moment he could afford to do so, he would leave their home. He would never return. And he would pursue the things in life that mattered to him. If this meant that his mother would never be proud of him, would see the years that she raised him to be a waste, then so be it. So be it.
Later, on that yacht with Jin, the way that he followed him with that camera made him feel that his mother was wrong. That he was doing something important. That people did care about him, and his music, and that they wanted to see him perform and succeed. That he did indeed have something to offer them, something that involved more than regurgitating pages upon pages of equations and science trivia and dates of when kings of ancient times were born and died…
He didn't remember much after shooting the video, because he was tired and sleepy. But he remembered asking Jin if he could sleep there in the bedroom. Jin said yes, but he didn't move. Like he wanted to say something. To make it less awkward, and so he could finally sleep, he suggested that Jin should just take a nap with him. It was only half-meant, and he was a little surprised when Jin actually squeezed himself beside him on the bed.
And when Jin said what he said, he knew he’d remember it forever. Him, that moment. And that’s why he kissed him. Because whatever he was looking for – whatever thing he hoped to beckon with his songs – Jin had it.
Maybe, he even thought, Jin was it.
Jungkook knew that sometimes Kwangmin stayed around in the locker rooms, even when everyone had already gone home, because he practiced twice as hard as anyone. And this is one of the reasons he knew Kwangmin resented him, despite being friendly towards him. He knew it from the way Kwangmin spoke to him about his accomplishments; they were slanted, poisoned: "Of course you won, right?" or "Yeah. What's new? You're supposed to be the best." But this was nothing new to Jungkook, and had long accepted that the world was full of such people -- people who hated themselves because they didn't have something and so blamed it on those who did.
He stayed on campus until it was late. It was nearing 9:30 in the evening. They allowed athletes to use the facilities for as long as they needed. But even so, everyone had already left, and he thought even that maybe Kwangmin won't be there, since it's a Friday. The door to the locker room was locked. But the coach had given him a key in secret, one of the manifestations of a favoritism that he secretly relished, and he opened the door slowly, in case Kwangmin was there as he suspected.
And he was. Kwangmin was playing some music, soft enough so that only he could hear it, and he was naked except for a towel around his waist. Jungkook observed him: Tall, broad shoulders. Handsome. And in this state, seductive. For a moment he entertained the fantasy of walking inside, and being caught that way Kwangmin would abandon all inhibition and allow Jungkook to have his way with him...
Kwangmin walked into the shower, and only a few seconds later emerged again, holding a white cloth. He pressed it against his nose while walking around towards the benches. When he sat down, he placed what seemed to be straps over his head. And that's when Jungkook realized that Kwangmin was holding a jockstrap. He wondered if it was his own, but when Kwangmin stretched his legs as he leaned back in what looked like ecstasy, Jungkook saw that a locker was open, one that he knew wasn't Kwangmin's.
Jungkook took out his phone and began recording what he was seeing. Kwangmin began to touch himself, and he inhaled so strongly that it was audible. After a while, without coming, Kwangmin stood up and removed the jockstrap from his face. He looked towards the door, and Jungkook quickly closed it. He backed away and left the building.
He remembered, on the way home, what his dad used to say about bad people. Some boys were making fun of him, and he asked his dad what to do. "These people are ashamed of themselves, Jungkook," he said. "And so they make other people ashamed, so they won't feel different." And though he thought he knew what he meant then, now he understood what he meant more than ever.
Chapter 7: The Unconscious
They got their old club room back the following Saturday afternoon. It was two PM, the time they all decided to meet. Namjoon and Jin were the first ones there. It was a fairly big room. There were lucky enough to get one with a broom closet, which during their second year they tore down to make more space. The room had a meeting area, with two tables put together end on end to make one long one, and chairs all around it, as well as a viewing area, designed to look like a living room.
There was a television, various media players for all media types, a couch, began bags, surrounded by shelves of toys and trinkets and photos. A tall three-drawer coffee table behind the couch separated the two areas, and contained a line of reference books on movies, architecture, anime, &c. To the older members, it felt like home.
Jin was putting up the trinkets that they had stored away. Namjoon was lying on the couch, watching episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion on the television, a 20-inch flat screen that was barely above shitty in terms of quality.
“I never understood why so many people liked this show,” said Namjoon. “I mean I kind of get it… But it’s definitely overrated.”
“There are people on the internet who are going to crucify you for that,” said Jin. He was putting everything just the way he remembered it.
“I’d love to be crucified for what I believe in,” said Namjoon. “I think about that shit all the time.”
“Yeah, we need to find you a girlfriend,” said Jin. “Or whatever you’re into.”
He reached into the box and took out a figurine of Cloud from Final Fantasy VII. He bought it for Yoonki, because that was his favorite game, and Yoonki insisted on leaving it in the club room rather than taking it home. So that everyone can enjoy it, he said. And Jin was a little hurt by that because it didn’t look like he wanted to keep it at all. Jin placed it on the shelf, and thought that now that things are different, he wouldn’t have to worry about those kinds of things anymore.
“Where are the others?”
Namjoon tore himself from the television after some delay and looked at his phone. “Looks like they’re on their way.”
“Where were you last Saturday?” said Namjoon, his eyes stuck to the television. “I wish you and Yoonki would just make up. It’s not the same without you.”
“I was with the new members,” said Jin. “I thought it would be good to get to know them.”
“We went to Brew,” said Namjoon. “Yoonki told us the story of how you two met.”
“And he really loves you,” said Namjoon, without affectation, like he was describing what he was seeing on tv. “He loved you then. He loves you now.”
“That’s nice,” said Jin. He realized how mean it was only after he said it.
“Also realized that you and Taehyung weren’t eating at cafeteria anymore…”
Jin froze. And he was only about to open his mouth when the door slid open, and Hobi stood in the doorway yelping a high-pitched wail.
Jin looked, and Hobi had his knees bent and his arms up excitedly.
“I missed this room!” he said, before ambling inside and placing his backpack on the meeting table. Then he pulled out a chair and fell onto it. “Annyeong. What are you watching Joonie?”
“Neon Genesis Evangelion,” he said. “Have you seen this?”
“Ooh, going straight for the soul and the psyche,” he said. “Those kinds of things aren’t for me. A flower wilts in a movie, and I cry. I’m just as sensitive as Jin-hyung.”
“I’m not sensitive,” said Jin, looking over his shoulder. “I’m fragile and weak. Important difference.”
The door slid open again. It was Taehyung. Jimin was behind him, looking at his phone.
“This is the right one now,” said Taehyung, as he entered.
Jimin put his phone in his pocket. “Aish, we were lost.”
“Yeah,” said Jin, moving Namjoon’s feet so he can sit on the couch. “The older parts of the building are like a maze, since they just kept building and building new wings without a plan…”
Jimin was walking around, looking at everything. “This is a really cozy room. And huge, too.”
Taehyung had parked himself in front of the figurines that Jin had just put up. He was going to touch one, but Jin started going, “eh, eh, eh.”
“I just put those up,” said Jin. “Be careful. And put them back.”
Taehyung picked up a figurine of All Might and began inspecting it. “I’ve always wanted one of these…”
“All items in the club room are collective property of the members,” said Namjoon, still distracted. Now looking more interested in what he’s watching. Jin looked at the television, and it was just a series of shots of people and building with melancholy narration.
“What the fuck is this,” said Jin.
The door opened again. Everyone except Namjoon turned to the door, and it was Jungkook, who took one step and bowed to them all.
“Annyeong haseyo,” said Hobi.
“Annyeong haseyo,” said Jungkook, as he closed the door. He walked to a chair at the table and motioned towards it. “Do I just sit down?”
Hobi smiled and nodded. “Relax.”
Jungkook sat down and just looked at all of them, like he was expecting for a seminar on air conditioning unit maintenance to start.
“What do we do here?” he said, when he realized that no one was really doing anything.
“Normally, we’d watch something,” said Hobi. “Or look at pictures or something. And then discuss them. Sometimes, we just slack off. Like what we’re doing.”
“Oh,” said Jungkook.
“What did you do last Saturday, Jungkook-ssi?” said Jin.
“Training,” he said.
There was a click, and then a whirring sound. They looked towards Taehyung, who was holding an old Polaroid camera. A photo was being ejected from its slot.
“It still works!” Taehyung said, as he took the photo and began to fan it. “I’ve always wanted to see a camera like this.”
“You don’t really need to do that, you know,” said Jin. “That may destroy the photo.”
Taehyung stopped. He looked at the product: A photo of Jungkook, his arms crossed while sitting on the chair, looking at Hobi who had his back to the camera. “I love the way this kind of photo looks…”
He then turned towards the other Polaroid photos already posted on a cork board. Photos of other members, most of them he didn’t recognize, but he also saw Namjoon, Jin, and Yoonki in many of them. Sitting around in the club room, the quad, in houses, the malls, cars, outside…
“Can I put this up?” said Taehyung.
“Anyone can use the Polaroid,” said Namjoon. “Our club fees takes care of the film. Just remember to put the photos up.”
Taehyung used a pushpin to place the photo he just took among the others. And he took some time to admire it. It felt good, to be part of something. To know that he shared now with the people in that room whatever was shared between the people in those photographs.
The door opened. They all turned towards it.
Yoonki stood there, looking as always like he wanted to fight somebody. Jin immediately turned away, though slowly, deliberately.
Hobi said, “Annyeong.”
“Finally,” said Namjoon. “We’re all here.” He switched the television off. “Let’s have our first meeting.”
Yoonki said, “Guess we got nobody during recruitment.”
“No one can beat ice cream,” said Taehyung.
He walked to the meeting table and sat at the head. Hobi and Jungkook straightened their chairs against the stable. Taehyung, Jimin, and Yoonki sat down. Jin stood there standing for a moment. Then, Taehyung pulled back the seat beside him and beckoned Jin.
He followed and sat down.
“First of all,” said Namjoon. “To our new members, welcome. We used to be called the Anything Club – but apparently now we have to call ourselves the Bulletproof Boy Scouts, due a technically of which you are all aware. Regardless of the name, the idea is simple. We’re here to appreciate art. And we define art as anything that can be appreciated. It can be paintings, literature, sculptures, installations, architecture, film – but also anime, furniture, your favorite vegetable, a dance, a person. Basically, anything.”
“Even a smell?” said Taehyung, raising his hand slightly as he spoke.
“Yes, Taehyung-ah, even a smell.”
Namjoon continued, “One person gets to pick what we discuss. The order is determined by drawing lots. And that’s basically it. Usually, if it’s something that we can see or listen to in a relatively short amount of time we experience the chosen thing together. So, for example, if it’s a movie, we watch it here. Or if it’s an anime, we watch several episodes here. We can talk during or after. Often both.”
“This sounds really fun,” said Jimin. “I’m excited.”
“And,” said Taehyung, his hand raised again, “we can come here in this room whenever?”
“As long as the last person to leave always locks up,” said Namjoon, “yes.”
“That’s basically it. Does anyone have any questions?”
And when no one said anything, he took out a small jar that already had small strips of paper in it. They drew lots. The order was: Jungkook, Taehyung, Hobi, Jimin, Jin, Namjoon, and Yoonki.
“Since we have no other business for the day,” said Namjoon. “We can just do whatever until it’s time to leave. I’m going to continue watching Neon Genesis Evangelion, because I feel guilty whenever I don’t finish stuff I started.”
He walked off to the couch and turned the television on again.
Jin turned towards the tv, and Yoonki was staring right at him, like he was about to say something. But suddenly they both looked away.
Taehyung made a beeline for the camera. “How about a picture of us? To commemorate?”
“Great idea,” said Hobi. “Let’s all go to the living room.”
“Does this thing have a timer?” said Taehyung, flipping the camera around.
Jin walked to him to show him how to do it, while everyone sat in place. Namjoon and Yoonki sat on either ends of the couch. Jungkook sat on the bean bag chair. Hobi sat on the floor, his arms resting on the coffee table. Jimin was also on the floor, a bit closer to the tv, his hands flat on the floor, like a cat.
“Ten seconds!” said Jin, placing the Polaroid on the spot on the shelf they used for taking photos like this.
Taehyung ran to the floor beside Jimin, resting his hands on the coffee table.
Jin realized that the most natural seat would be between Namjoon and Yoonki on the couch. He hesitated for a second.
But the Polaroid continued to tick.
Namjoon began pounding on the seat beside him. “Hurry up!”
So he did.
The Polaroid clicked, and Taehyung ran towards it to collect the photo.
Yoonki leaned in towards Jin. “Can we talk?”
“Of course,” said Jin. “We can always talk.”
“Really? Because it didn’t feel that way.”
Jin sighed. “Well, we’re here now. So, I guess we better get everything out of the way.”
“I love this photo!” said Taehyung, as he waved it around. He turned around and pinned it on the cork board.
“I’ll call this…” He began to write on the bottom border of the photograph. “Bangtan Boys, Dark & Wild.”
The boys took polite interest in Neon Genesis Evangelion for the whole of five minutes, before gradually like a demonstration of entropy that rules the very nature of the universe itself they began to splinter off, into different parts of the room, with their own partial concerns that had nothing to do with the principle of the club. The older members knew that this always happened; that occasionally they would lose interest in following the letter of what must be done, and instead find themselves pursuing their own agendas for the weekend. Namjoon didn’t mind this. Because he knew what art was about – that art turns into pretension or meaningless form whenever it does not exist within the context of a lived life.
“Yaa…” Taehyung exclaimed in the corner of the room, just past the meeting area and beside the sink. “Is this a fridge?”
“It’s pretty clearly a fridge,” said Hobi, who was still on the floor. “I think it’s empty though. Unless they brought snacks.”
“Yep,” said Jin. “I already refilled that when we came back.”
Taehyung opened the fridge door and bowed down to look inside. Then he lifted his head with a wide, satisfied smile. “Do you mind I have a soda?”
“All food in the fridge is taken from the budget,” said Namjoon. “It’s free for every member.”
“I love this club,” said Taehyung, taking a Coke and opening it while shaking his head.
“Why don’t you pass around drinks for everybody,” said Hobi, walking towards Taehyung. “So we can all relax.”
Taehyung obeyed, taking Coke cans and pinning them between his arm and his body precariously. He gave the first one to Hobi, who then walked to the meeting area and took out his tablet from his backpack.
Jin received one and said, “Thanks.”
Yoonki got his. “Anyway,” he was telling Jin. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.”
Taehyung moved on towards Jungkook.
Jin just nodded in the direction of the Coke can that he was opening. Like he was having a conversation with it instead.
“Actually, I told Namjoon and Hobi about the day we met,” said Yoonki. “It really reminded me of… what was important to me, during the time that we were together.”
Jin looked at him. “I told the new guys about that, too. What a coincidence.” A smile had formed on his face. “Don’t you think that’s interesting?”
“Maybe it means something?”
Jin thought about this for a moment. “Yeah. Maybe it does.”
Yoonki nodded, turning his eyes away from Jin, and opened his Coke can. He threw his head back as he sipped, and then held the can between his legs with both his hands, looking at the television.
Jin said, “You were saying…?”
Taehyung gave Jungkook the lost Coke can. He bowed and said, with feigned formality, “Jungkook-ssi.”
Jungkook smiled at him. He took the can and opened it. “I shouldn't,” he said, looking up at Taehyung. “But I don’t want to ruin the mood.”
“It’s just one,” said Tae. “What’s one?”
“Your black eye is healing nicely,” said Jungkook, before taking a sip.
Taehyung crossed his feet and sat down on the floor in front of him. “Thanks. It wasn’t so bad. After the second day I didn’t have to make Jimin put make up on it.”
“I’m sorry to hear about what happened,” said Jungkook.
Tae scratched the back of his head. “I was a bit embarrassed to see you guys talking about me like that… But it’s good to know that you care about me. So thank you.”
“We were worried,” said Jungkook.
“Everything is alright now,” said Taehyung.
“Did you find out who did that to you?”
“He’s in my class,” said Taehyung. “His name is Kwangmin. Do you know him?”
“Yeah. He’s an athlete.”
Taehyung nodded and sipped his drink.
“Do you know why he did it?” said Jungkook.
Tae shrugged. “Because I’m different. Because I’m gay.”
“But why do people hate others just because other people are different or gay? Don’t you find that stupid?”
“I do find that stupid…”
“Maybe he has a secret,” said Jungkook. “Something that warps his worldview and make him act like that.”
Taehyung thought about this for a moment, but he just shrugged and giggled, not knowing what to say.
“I just thought,” Yoonki was saying,“that if you want to break up, then let’s do that. It’s hard for me. It really is. But I realized when I thought about that day that we met – I just want you to be happy.”
The story he told Tae and Jimin remained fresh in his mind, although it had been seven days since he had told it. Still, the images, and sensations, and feelings that he conjured up to tell that story lingered in his mind, like freshly blown dust that had not yet settled. Namjoon took up considerable space on the couch, and he became aware of just how close they were sitting. And he was comfortable sitting that close to Yoonki because, despite what his mind says, his body was still used to him, still accepted his closeness. He remembered that once he loved Yoonki so much that it was as if he wanted nothing more than to step into him and disappear, as if his body was a doorway to somewhere else.
Jin said, “We had a good run, didn’t we? And we loved each other. Doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.”
Yoonki offered his hand, and they awkwardly shook. For a long time they had done more than that – a lot more than that – and now having to settle for a handshake felt ridiculous. But now, as friends, for these types of situations, it felt like the most appropriate.
Taehyung saw this, and found it weird, and even wanted to laugh because of how ridiculous it looked, but didn’t, because he was listening to Jungkook, who was saying, “I think it takes a really messed up person to do what he did. And if we don’t do anything, he might hurt other people.”
“Everyone has their own problems,” said Taehyung. “I don’t think it’s my job to judge them.”
“Even the person who hurt you?”
Taehyung shrugged. “I’m sure I also hurt other people. My mom, for example.”
“What did you do to your mom?”
“Well, for one, she also didn’t like my blue hair,” he said. “She also wants me to take up business or something in university, but I don’t really want to do that. And I can tell it hurts her.”
“You know that’s not the kind of hurting I was talking about,” said Jungkook, a little confused about this example. “Hyung, what if you hit your head and you got seriously wounded?”
“Jungkook-ssi,” said Taehyung. “Don’t worry about me. I’m really thankful that you care, but it makes me worried that you’re worried. I promise you everything is going to be okay. I guess they were just drunk. They were smoking and drinking beer.”
Jungkook fell back against the beanbag chair. “You’re just going to let them get away with what they’ve done?”
Taehyung’s smile disappeared, and his lips turned downwards towards a pout. “I think what happened to me is enough punishment, don’t you think?”
For a moment, Jungkook had his mouth open, like he was about to say something. But he realized that it was no use. So he shut his mouth and sighed.
“You’re a good person, Tae-hyung,” he just said.
Taehyung flicked his chin and giggled.
Namjoon turned off the television. And the sudden disappearance of sound made everyone look at the tv, and then at him.
“Well,” he said. “That’s two days I’m never getting back.”
“It’s just deep, Joonie,” said Hobi. “You have to let it rest in your mind for a bit, so you can get its meaning. You know, some people say he died in the end.”
“Yeah.” Namjoon was only opening his can of Coke. “By the end, I kind of wanted to die, too.”
They all went home by six thirty. They thought about eating out, but they decided to postpone that, since the previous Saturday they were all out, and they didn’t have the money. Jimin was relieved. He had to take the bus back to his house, passing first by the house of his old dance teacher.
She was waiting for him. When he told her that he was running late and that he should go home, she insisted that he sit down. And he knew that he shouldn’t argue with older people, so he sat down in her living room. It was musky and everything was wrapped in plastic. She had a collection of dusty figurines on one shelf, and in a locked cabinet there was an extensive collection of fine china. It looked like it had never been used.
She leaned over towards the living room and said, “Jaejin-ah, your brother is here. It’s time to go home. Pack up all your things.” Then, she went to prepare some tea for Jimin.
She sat down and resumed drinking her tea. Nuna Soon was in her late fifties and lived alone. She looked frail, but Jimin knew that in her youth she was one of the greatest prima donnas in Asia. Photos of her were all around the house, including one right beside the door, a large full body portrait of her en pointe, her hands above her head, her body gracefully bent, her face an expression of pure tranquility, like her body was about to drift in the wind.
“What a well behaved boy,” she said, placing the tea cup in front of him on the coffee table. “Have you ever thought of sending him to dance school?”
“Unfortunately, we don’t have any funds for that right now,” said Jimin, sipping the tea politely. “That’s why I’m so grateful that you looked after him for free.”
“It’s no problem at all. I just thought that since he was your brother, what you had in you would be in him.”
“Really? What’s that?”
“Talent,” she said quickly, with a broad smile.
“That’s really nice of you to say,” said Jimin. “Our mom has just been having difficulty with our budget recently. Ever since our dad left us.”
“What happened to him? I hope you don’t mind my asking.”
Jimin thought about it. He knew what happened of course. And could tell the story in a heartbeat, just because he’s thought about it so many times. But he had to think of how to tell it carefully, politely.
“I don’t really know what happened,” he started, tentatively, slowly, his grip on the delicate tea cup tightening. “It’s a little over a year ago. Our father just stopped coming home. And for a few days we thought it was normal, because he already used to do that. He would just disappear for days. He would come home and tell us that work was so bad he had to sleep in the office. But after a week, my mom… She just began crying while we were having dinner. And she said that dad had left. And we were going to have to get by without him…”
Nuna Soon shook her head, with a pathetic expression on her face. “That’s so terrible. I’m sorry to hear that. Is this around the time you stopped going to the dance academy?”
Jimin nodded. “I have to help mom a lot. And watch Jaejin. Not to mention the fact that we don’t really have the budget for that anymore…”
“What a shame. What a dreadful shame. I’m sorry that I couldn’t have taught you myself in that academy. But when I did teach you, when you were much younger – maybe Jaejin’s age? or a little older? – even then I knew you had tremendous talent. Just tremendous.”
“Thank you, nuna.” Jimin bowed deeply.
Jaejin emerged from the other room, with his yellow and orange backpack, the very front pocket of which had a Pokemon whose name Jimin didn’t know, and a blue baseball cap.
Jimin looked at his watch. It was nearing seven. He knew his mother would be home by eight. Sometimes she was home by seven thirty.
He stood up. “We really need to go. But thank you so much for watching over Jaejin, and for the tea.”
She also stood up. “No problem, Jimin-ah. I’m happy to look after Jaejin so you can study dance again at your high school club.”
“Let’s go, Jaejin,” Jimin said. “Say thank you to nuna.”
“Thank you, nuna,” said Jaejin.
They both bowed, and left.
That Tuesday, Jungkook watched as Kwangmin ran the hurdles after school. He had agreed to help him after training. Both of them had been running and leaping for more than half an hour at that point, and had decided to take a break. They were alone, and almost the entire city around them had become dark, but the lights around the field were still harsh enough to make it seem as if it were day.
“I see your problem,” said Jungkook, still a bit breathless. “Your form needs work. A lot of work. Not only are your legs in the wrong place when you jump over the hurdles, but you tend to slow down when you land.”
Kwangmin had his hands on his hips. He nodded, his head bowed down a bit, and his eyes directed up towards him. He was trying to hide it, but he seemed displeased with Jungkook’s assessment.
“What should I do, then?” said Kwangmin.
“You know how to do it, don’t you? We just did drills a while ago during training. You just have to practice. Like everyone.”
“So, why can you do it but not me?”
“That’s something you should ask yourself.”
Kwangmin still had his hands on his hips. He looked away and walked towards the bench, where they had their stuff. Jungkook followed.
Kwangmin began wiping himself off with a towel. “Guess I’ll never be like you, then.”
“I never said that,” said Jungkook.
“I’ll never be the golden maknae, right? I’ll never be Jeon Jungkook.” Kwangmin drank from his water bottle while looking out towards the St. Borahae building. Most of the lights were now turned off, apart from those in the first and second floors, where some staff continued to work. “But you know what. That’s okay with me.”
He took a step closer, and they were within an inch of each other. They were about the same height. And his first thought was if Kwangmin wanted to tackle him he easily could, because they were so near each other. He could feel Kwangmin smelling him, inhaling his scent. And Jungkook let him.
Kwangmin placed his hands on Jungkook’s hips. “You’ve got perfect form, haven’t you, Jungkook-ah?”
“Let’s do another lap,” Jungkook said quickly, looking directly into his eyes. “Let’s work on your form.”
The other boy chuckled, as if not knowing what to say. Then, he let go and walked to the starting line.
Kwangmin stretched his legs as Jungkook approached. Jungkook walked to the third hurdle and said, “Whenever you’re ready, go.”
After a moment, Kwangmin went, running towards the first hurdle, which he cleared. And then the second. And then he approached the third where Jungkook was.
Just as Kwangmin jumped to clear it, Jungkook kicked the hurdle where Kwangmin would have landed. His leg hit the hurdle a second time, throwing his entire body forward and then down towards the ground. He screamed. And he didn’t have the strength to push himself up.
“What the fuck are you doing?” he shouted, before screaming again. And Jungkook saw that his hands were clenched into fists over his head.
Jungkook stood there over him for a while. And then said, “Leave Taehyung alone.”
“That blue haired fag?”
“I saw you last Saturday in the locker room. You were sniffing jockstraps like a pervert.”
“What are you talking about?”
“And if you so much as brush elbows with Taehyung, I’ll send this to your family and the school and I’ll post this online. And your life will be over. Do you understand?”
Kwangmin was crying now, and his head was beginning to be surrounded by a halo of his own tears. “I’ll fucking get you for this,” he managed to say. “You and your pack of faggots.”
Jungkook regarded the pathetic piece of shit that was lying on the ground. And he wasn’t satisfied or happy or anything. All he felt was a twang of disgust, at this semblance of a creature. At this failed, weak thing.
He walked away. He made his way to the bench, took his stuff, and went home.
On the bus, he checked the group chat. Yoonki had rejoined. And they just happened to be talking.
“I just don’t get it,” Namjoon was saying. “I guess I’m just dumb.”
“No, no. No one’s dumb,” said Hobi. “All I’m saying is that those last episodes – they were metaphors. They were representations of his psyche. Of his unconscious.”
“Wow, okay,” said Taehyung. “I understand none of this. Great.”
“HAHA,” said Jimin. And then he added a heart react to Taehyung’s message.
Jungkook was smiling as he read this.
“What even is an unconscious?” said Taehyung.
“It’s the part of the human mind,” wrote Jungkook, “that can’t be accessed. It is the store of all kids of animalistic impulses and desires.”
“Ah…,” said Taehyung. “Ok. Thanks, Jungkook-ah.”
Taehyung sent three hearts.
“You’re welcome,” wrote Jungkook. "Don't worry about it. I got you.”
Chapter 8: The One
Thank you to my beta-reader, Shau. And thank you for your comments of encouragement and support.
Jin had gotten into the habit of waiting for Taehyung during lunch time. He would quickly buy his lunch and wait in front of Taehyung’s classroom, knowing that he always went out after most of his class had gone out, probably to fix things in his locker. Maybe to avoid the crowd of people at the door and hallway.
He wanted to be sure that he didn’t get in trouble. Not only because of bullies, but because of the prefects, who still hounded him about his hair. And who were still deeply suspicious of him. Prefects hated trouble, but they also thrived on it, secretly relished it. And Jin imagined that the prefects secretly read macabre stories of crime and death after school, touching themselves, descriptions of how people were murdered and mutilated bringing them to orgasm.
Taehyung came out and they both walked to the club room, where they had been eating lunch since that Saturday. He would miss eating in the abandoned classroom, where he and Taehyung were alone together, where over the course of the days they were able to get to know each other better, and they had even begun to listen to music, introducing each other to the songs and groups they liked. But he didn’t want to ask that they eat alone together, lest Taehyung get any ideas – accurate as they may be – regarding his feelings.
While they were walking there, Taehyung said, “Tell me if this is none of my business. But I saw that you and Yoonki-hyung were shaking hands last Saturday.”
“Yeah, we were,” said Jin. “I know it was pretty awkward. Just the heat of the moment, I guess.”
“Does this mean you’ve made up?”
“Kind of, yeah. We’re not back together or anything. But we decided that we’re going to remain friends and move on.”
“Oh okay… Because that story you told us, about how you two met. That really touched me.”
“It made me feel like I want that kind of encounter… Something that’ll make me fall in love…”
“That’s never happened to you before?”
They reached the door to the club room. They could hear talking from inside.
Taehyung placed his hand on the handle and, before sliding it open, said, “Once. Just once.”
Jin wanted to ask more, but Taehyung opened the door. And everyone was already there, talking, their conversation ceasing only as soon as they heard them coming in.
The two of them bowed and Taehyung closed the door.
Hobi and Namjoon were sitting at the couch, watching some kind of ballet performance. Hobi was talking a lot, while Namjoon nodded and ate.
Jungkook, Jimin, and Yoonki were at the table. Jin and Taehyung joined them.
Jungkook and Yoonki were seated on one side of the table. Jimin sat on the other. And the newcomers sat at Jimin’s side, so that the distribution won’t be too lopsided.
“Yorubun,” said Jin, unpacking his lunch. “Taehyung-ssi was just telling me about his first love.”
“Ah… Jin-hyung…” Taehyung shook his head.
“Come on,” said Jin. “Love is a beautiful thing. Don’t be ashamed of it. We’ve all been in love. It’s like a butthole.”
Yoonki rolled his eyes. “I thought you promised never to make that joke again?”
“What?” Jin laughed. “Love is like a butthole. Everyone has one, and it makes a lot of shit.”
“Everyone has a love?” said Yoonki. “That doesn’t even make sense. Love is an experience. It’s more like taking a shit, don’t you think?”
“Hyung,” said Jimin. “I’m eating.”
“Like you’ve never taken a shit,” said Yoonki.
“Not while I’m eating!” said Jimin.
Yoonki turned towards Jimin. “Do you know what an egg is?”
“I feel like you want to tell me an egg is a chicken’s shit,” said Jimin. “And it’s not.”
Yoonki turned towards Taehyung while pointing at Jimin. “They don’t teach biology to lower level students anymore?”
“My grandparents live in a farm,” said Taehyung, his cheek bulging from food that he had set aside there. “And there are chickens there, and there’s a really big and pretty one. He used to be my favorite. I called him Stuart Little. After the mouse.”
Jin blinked at him. “Why not Chicken Little?”
“What’s that?” said Taehyung.
“The sky is falling?” said Jin.
Taehyung looked at him for a long while as he chewed. “I’m not sure what we’re talking about now.”
Jin addressed everyone. “Aren’t you all wondering the name of the boy who had this gem of a person for a lover?”
“Now I’m curious,” said Jimin.
Taehyung looked up at them with a bowed head, his eyes turned upwards, as if saying: Are you really going to make me do this?
Jin began banging his fists against the table, chanting, “Tell us! Tell us!” and the others began doing it, too. Until Taehyung eventually rolled his eyes and said, “Fine. Fine. Ah…”
“Relax,” said Yoonki, “and just start by telling us his name.”
“Jackson,” said Taehyung.
The boys burst into laughter and began to clap, like he just did a backflip.
Taehyung was getting redder.
“American?” asked Jin.
“No,” said Taehyung. “From Hong Kong but I think his dad was an American. Or something. We went to Paris together.”
“Wow,” said Jin. “How did that happen? Was it a coincidence…?”
“In middle school we used to be best friends. He taught me how to draw. How to paint. And we both got the invitation to go France for a year. They called it the Little Artists Grant.”
Yoonki laughed. “That’s cute.”
“And I don’t know what to say…” Taehyung shrugged. “It’s not like we sat around in a yacht and kissed.” He smiled a fiendish smile and side-eyed Jin.
Jin pointed his chopsticks in Taehyung’s direction. “That’s not fair. I bared my emotions for you, and that’s not fair.”
Yoonki shrugged. “I like it. That’s high praise. I’m flattered.”
Taehyung laughed. And when the snickering subsided, he licked his lips, shifted his gaze, and said, “Well… Let’s just say that Jackson taught me everything.”
Jin was about to say something, when the door slid open. They all turned to look, and it was Eric.
So, instead, Jin said, “What the fuck are you doing here…? We were just about to hear the good part.”
“Well… I’m here,” Eric said, shrugging. “So, Seokjin, this is the good part.”
“I swear to God,” said Jin. “One of these days I’m coming to your house while you sleep and shit on you. You better sleep with your mouth closed.”
“I’m eating!!” said Jimin.
“That’s the kind of class I expect from someone with only one yacht,” said Eric, waving around his forefinger like a baton. “Anyway, I’m just here visiting your quaint little hovel of geekery to inform you that the Glee Club will as usual be sponsoring the high school musical this year.”
“What’s the musical this year?” asked Namjoon from the couch.
“Oedipus Rex,” said Eric. “Stravinsky.”
“…isn’t that in Latin?” said Namjoon. “And that’s an operetta, not a musical. That doesn’t seem appropriate for a high school.”
“Yes,” said Eric. “We want to take some risks this year.”
“How the fuck are you going to manage that in a few months? With amateurs?” said Jin.
“This is the problem with you multimedia kids,” said Eric. “You have no ambition. You’re fine with just sitting around watching tv and singing your rap songs.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” said Yoonki.
Eric stepped back, legitimately startled. “Sorry, sorry. You know what I mean. You’re just – a bit complacent. We want something grand. Extraordinary. And if that means training a bit harder, then we’ll do that. Flair, boys. Have some flair.”
“Who can I pay to kill Eric?” said Jin.
“Ahe,” Eric said, with sarcastic laughter. “Scripts will be available online tonight. Songs will also be up there, so if any of you want to audition you can practice that. Sign up there, and you’ll be emailed an audition date. Okay?”
No one said anything.
“And with that,” he continued. “I’m off to pretend the RPG club has any interest in this, or that I have any interest in inviting the RPG club to audition. Stay hydrated, you guys. Love yourselves.”
He closed the door and disappeared behind it.
“Okay,” said Namjoon. “That was weird as fuck.”
“I want to bathe my soul,” said Jin. “I need a wet nap for my spirit.”
“What’s Oedipus Rex?” said Jimin.
“It’s an old Greek play,” said Namjoon. “A composer named Stravinsky made an operetta about it. In Latin.”
“Ah…,” said Jimin. “Um, fun?”
“The only reason they’re doing this,” said Jin, “is because they’re pretentious blowhards who think that doing this will make them look smart and sophisticated.”
“They should just all go on stage, form a circle and lick each other’s genitals,” said Yoonki.
“What will they call that play?” said Taehyung.
“Richard the third,” said Yoonki.
“Don’t you owe those guys a favor?” said Jin. “I mean, totally, I agree. But also…?”
“I called in a favor,” said Yoonki. “Now, the Glee kids and me are even.”
Jin narrowed his eyes at Yoonki. “What kind of favor?”
Yoonki shrugged and just looked at him.
“Do you think I have a chance if I audition?” said Jimin.
“If you want to do it,” said Taehyung. “Then, you should.”
Taehyung was on his way home from the library when he spotted Yoonki on the stands, watching Jungkook as he practiced with the other athletes. Taehyung waved excitedly, and Yoonki waved back. He took this as a personal invitation to approach him. On the way, Taehyung waved at Jungkook, who walked towards him and gave him a high five. Which was nice of him.
Yoonki kept staring into the distance as Taehyung sat beside him. He looked ahead, and from where they sat there was a view of the sky above the Seoul, which was only beginning to turn orange. And beneath that, on the field, the athletes jogged around the track.
“I recognize those boys,” said Taehyung, softly so that it was almost as if he was only talking to himself.
“Your classmates, maybe?” said Yoonki, his hands in his jacket.
He thought about saying it. And decided that Yoonki over the few weeks have become a friend to him. So, he was honest. “They were the boys who beat me up.”
“What?” Yoonki was taken aback, and he looked at the athletes and then back at Taehyung. “Have you told anyone about this?”
“One of them, Kwangmin… He’s my classmate. I don’t know where he is. He hasn’t gone to school for a few days. But the other boys, they’re there.”
“Tell Bang about this,” said Yoonki. “These assholes need to be taught a lesson for doing that to you.”
“I’m over it.”
Yoonki just looked at him, before turning his head and looking at the sky. There was a calm about them: Because they were sitting at one of the top bleachers, Taehyung almost felt as if they were looking down at creation, and from here, with his hyung, he was safe. But still the memory of that night haunted him.
“You don’t need to go home?” said Yoonki.
Taehyung took out his phone and looked at the time. It was getting late. And he knew his mother didn’t like it when he wasn’t home as soon as school was over. But still he said, “No. I don’t.”
“Okay. Come with me.”
He stood up, wore his backpack, and walked down the bleachers. Taehyung followed him to the side; the stands were open, and there was a large space beneath the seats. There were cigarette butts, beer bottles, snack wrappers…
“Annyeong,” said Yoonki, as he passed a boy who was smoking. Beside him, a boy and a girl were making out, the girl’s legs apart and the boy’s hand up her skirt.
The smoker waved at him lazily as he passed by and then looked at Taehyung.
Taehyung bowed towards him, but the smoker just kept staring.
Yoonki went to a gap in the chain link fence and out towards an alleyway. Then, they walked down the alleyway to a ladder, which they climbed. And when they reached the top he realized that they were at a water tower, so high up that they could see the entire field, and the tops of most buildings downtown. And they sat down with their legs dangling from the railing as the sky over Seoul bled a neon orange that painted them, too. The boys going around and around the field were so small, then, but he could still barely make them out.
“Jin and I used to come up here,” said Yoonki, leaning back against his outstretched arms, his body towards the sky. “But eventually he started becoming afraid, and so we stopped. But before then we would come up here, and we would just talk.”
“Anything. After that first time at his yacht – well, I kissed him, but I wasn’t in love with him or anything, you know.”
“No, of course not… You don’t just kiss someone and love them. That’s not how it works.”
“I thought it was love at first sight?”
“The first time I saw him was at the pier, and trust me I felt nothing.” He thought about this. “Well, I thought he was cute, because I have eyes, and I’m not dumb. But I wasn’t in love. Not at all.”
“Maybe when you were there on the bed, and you two were looking at each other, that’s really the first time that you saw him. The first time that you didn’t just notice him, but really looked at him, for what he is.”
Yoonki looked at him for a long while. “You look like one of God’s accidents, Kim Taehyung, like one of his experiments gone awry, but you know more than you let on. Or maybe even more than you think you do.”
Taehyung smiled and blushed, looking down to hide his embarrassment.
“Maybe… But still, I needed proof – maybe to myself – that I really loved him. So I took him here, where we can be alone, and just talk. And we did. Fuck, did we talk… We spoke for hours. Until we had to sleep. So we’d run home, tuck ourselves in, and do our homework in the car. And then after school we’d do the exact same thing again.”
“You still love him, don’t you?”
“Of course I still love him. After all that? After everything we’ve been through? I’ll always love him. And I couldn’t forget him if I tried. Even if I live for a thousand years, Seokjin will always be on my mind, just as he was today, and yesterday, and the rest of the three years we’ve been together. No matter who else I love, I will always know that I loved him first.”
Taehyung knew what he meant. And by this time the sky had turned into the deepest purple, and lights turned on downtown, each illuminated window a star in the darkness of the city. They switched the lights on in the field as well. The boys were still training there. And the moon shone above it all, full and timeless and indifferent to their tiny sufferings, to their petty woes, each second indistinguishable from eternity.
He heard Yoonki sniffle. He was crying as he looked off in the distance. As if he was silently calling out to God. Making demands that he couldn’t hear. Calling out for some truth, some closure, some reason that made sense to him.
“Why did it have to end this way, Taehyung-ah?” Yoonki wiped his tears away with his forearm. “Should I have stuck up for him? Maybe. But even say that I should have, that I definitely should have – he couldn’t have forgiven me? We couldn’t have worked it out some other way?” He sighed. “Do you know why I decided to let go?”
“I honestly don’t,” said Taehyung.
“Because I realized that if he loved me, he would have forgiven me,” said Yoonki, looking straight at him. “If he loved me at all, no matter what I did, he would have said that no sin can amount to what I meant to him. But in the end that’s all I was worth to him – one mistake. Even if to me he meant everything.”
“I’m sorry,” said Taehyung.
“Isn’t that how you feel about that guy you spoke about today. What was his name?”
“Jackson.” Taehyung looked out onto the road, focusing on the headlights that went back and forth across the circuit of streets. “Maybe. I don’t know. We decided that it’s better for us this way. We weren’t good for each other.”
“But did he mean everything to you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then he didn’t,” said Yoonki. “Because if he did, you would know it. You would definitely know it.”
Taehyung didn’t know what to say, and so instead just nodded. And having no other words either, Yoonki placed his arms on the railing and laid his head down on them, allowing himself to sob, letting go of emotions that he had kept inside him, only allowing enough for songs, and to be angry, and to think about what was happening – but the rest, keeping it trapped, for fear of his own weakness.
And as he sobbed, Taehyung placed a hand on his back, consoling him with his presence. Even though he knew there was nothing he could do beyond this. For the kind of wound lost love inflicts, there is only time, which the universe can only give in measured, steady amounts. And even then it does not heal the wound – it only numbs the pain, so that at some point it doesn’t hurt as much as before. And for all of them that will have to do.
Jin found a Jackson in Taehyung’s list of friends. He was looking at his profile while having dinner with his parents. Jackson was handsome, masculine. Everything that he expected a boy like Taehyung would want in a man, and someone he deserved. Some of his photos were public, but none of the things on his wall were. In one photo, he stood in front of a large painting that was taller than him. Jackson was wearing a black leather jacket, his hands in his pockets, looking proud. The painting was a multicolor mishmash of what appeared to be what happens to toilet paper when you make it wet and then throw it against the wall.
There was only one photo where he and Taehyung were together. Along with several friends, they were seated at a small table (a little too small, for the group of eight), and Taehyung and Jackson sat side by side. They were closer to each other than the other people in the photo, but that’s all. And their smiles were pleasant and generic.
“How’s school, Jin?” said his mother.
“Good, good,” he said, fiddling with his noddles. He becomes self-conscious and takes a mouthful.
“And that new club you joined,” said his dad. “Are you having a good time, making new friends?”
“I am, yeah,” said Jin. “It’s some new people. And my old friends. Namjoon. Hoseok. Yoonki…”
“It’s been a while since Yoonki’s visited us,” said his mom. “How is he?”
Jin shrugged. He couldn’t look at her. “Good.”
“More importantly,” said his father, leaning in a bit. “How’s your relationship…?”
Jin looked up, and even his mother was leaning in towards him. He lowered his eyes to the bowl. “We broke up.”
His parents fell back on their seats simultaneously. And there was silence in the house for a while.
Then, only the sound of Jin slurping his noodles.
“He was such a nice boy,” said his mother. “And he made you so happy. Remember when he brought him to our trip to Japan?”
“I don’t really want to think about that right now,” said Jin.
His mother smiled in consolation and placed a hand on his back. “Well, I hope you parted on favorable terms. But this is normal. This is just how love goes. Until you find the one, that is.”
“I hope this doesn’t contribute to your already off the charts stress levels,” said his dad. “If you’re feeling anything, I want you to tell us, okay? You know your mother and I will never judge you.”
“Thanks, dad. But I’m fine. I really am.”
“Are you sure, darling?” said his mom.
Jin smiled at her, to reassure her. “Yes, mom. I promise.”
Taehyung’s mother was too tired to scold him. And instead when she came to the dining room while he ate, she asked where he had been and when he said the school doing his homework she didn’t even make an effort to refute it. She simply walked away.
He decided that he was going to take a bath. He had bought some bath bombs from France and hadn’t yet had the opportunity to use them. Bath bombs that were supposed to make his bathroom smell like the Roman baths. As far as he knew, Roman baths were cesspools of filth and disease. He filled the tub with water and dropped the bombs. It smelled like old oak, and saltwater. Nothing like the real baths, which he read actually smelled especially to a modern person like a big vat of sewage.
He contemplated this as he sat in the hot water, and decided that this is what nostalgia does to a person: It distorts the past, makes it into something beautiful, when it wasn’t. The bomb had turned the water into swirls of pink, purple, and blue – he imagined himself a God, sitting now in the cosmos, whereas only a while ago he merely viewed it. He pretended to look down at the Earth, staring directly at his minuscule, previous self, and watched it with a hand on Yoonki’s back.
And with his new omnipotence he tried to reassure these miserable creatures that everything will be alright. He moved his palm over where he imagined the Earth would be and through the pure power of his will he ceased all the wars, and the pain, and the tears. In its place, only love most true, most beautiful. And when he heard only content silence from this tiny planet – smaller than a speck of dust – he came back to his own body, sitting in a tub, naked as the day he was born.
Taehyung reached over to the counter beside the sink, using his other hand to support himself over the edge of the tub, only barely managing to not fall to the floor. He then placed a little table that extended over the two sides of the tub that he used sometimes when he read magazines or wrote while taking a bath. He rested his hands there while using his phone.
He saw that he had a message from Jungkook: “Hyung, do you have any recommendations for Saturday? I’m first… I don’t really know what to bring for the club…”
He looked at it for a moment, before closing the notification.
He opened Jackson’s chat.
“I don’t think I can,” Taehyung wrote last time, over a month ago now.
“I believe in you,” he said.
That was the last message.
He wrote, “How are you? Are you back in Seoul?”
He pressed send and sat back against the tub, the phone falling to the table as he released it.
He closed his eyes.
Then, he heard the ringing of a bell – a single ding.
“Yeah,” Jackson wrote. “You?”
Chapter 9: ...That Got Away
Thank you to my beta-readers: Bel and Ysa.
When Jimin returned home that Tuesday, his mother was already in the living room waiting for him. Usually, he had an hour and a half for himself. He was dismissed at 2:30. Jaejin was dismissed at 4, by which time he waited for him at the bus stop.
“You don’t have work today?” he said, placing his bag down and going to the kitchen. “Do you want me to make you something to eat?”
Jimin put water in an electric kettle and left it to heat up. He took two cups of ramyeon from the cupboards. When his mother didn’t say anything, he looked out towards the living room. She was just sitting there, her eyes stuck to the television, with an expression that he was beginning to recognize as dismay.
“Is anything wrong?”
When her eyes shifted towards him and her expression didn’t change, he knew he was in trouble.
“Hyebin Soon called me this morning,” she said. “Asking if I’d like to send Jaejin to her house, in case you’re busy and can’t look after him.”
He didn’t say anything. He walked back to check on the water. And he just stood there, looking at it.
“Do you know anything about what I’m talking about?” she said, the sound of her voice coming closer. Then, she was standing there, just outside the kitchen.
He began to pour the hot water into the cups of ramyeon. His hand was shaking. Then he placed both in the sink.
“Answer me, Jimin.”
He said, “I needed someone to look after him while I was at the club meeting.”
“Didn’t I say you can’t join?” she said. “Did I or didn’t I?”
“You did.” He turned his head towards her, his hands still on the edge of the sink.
“So, why did you do it? I know she was your dance teacher, but that was years ago. You don’t know her that well. What if something happened to Jaejin?”
“Nothing happened to him… I know Nuna Soon. She’s a good lady.”
“You can’t just leave your brother with people you barely know,” she said, her voice getting louder. “You haven’t seen that woman in years. Who knows what could have happened?”
“Well, Jaejin is fine, isn’t he?”
“That’s not the point!” Her eyes were wide open. He had never seen her things angry in a long time. “I thought I could count on you. Especially now that we’re all alone. We only have each other now, Jimin.”
Jimin didn’t know what to say and kept quiet. He opened the packets and mixed its contents with the noodles.
Then, he placed the ramyeon on the table and sat down. “It’s ready,” he said, without looking at his mom. And he began to eat.
Eventually, she sat down. And she just sat there quietly.
“You’re food’s going to get cold,” said Jimin.
“It doesn’t matter to you at all that I work two jobs just so you and your brother can eat, does it?”
Jimin couldn’t help but roll his eyes.
And when his mother saw this, she leaned back against her chair. “When your father left, I thought that we didn’t need him. That we could all be strong together without him. But this isn’t what’s happening.” She stood up quickly. “I’m going to call him.”
“How could you do that, knowing that he did what he did?”
“Well, tell me what to do!” She smashed her fists on the table. And the noise startled Jimin, freezing him in place. “I’m so tired, Jimin. And I want you to help just a little bit. But you can’t even do that.”
“Jaejin is just fine!” said Jimin. “Isn’t it better this way, so I can have my activities? The rest of the week, I’m here to take care of him.”
“No,” she said, standing up. “You don’t think of anyone but yourself. I can’t believe I raised such a selfish child. I’m late for work. Remember to pick Jaejin up from the bus stop.”
She turned towards him before turning the corner to the living room. “I could expect you to do that, can’t I?”
Jimin didn’t say anything.
Taehyung sat on the toilet of Cafe Paris with his pants still on. He had just gotten changed out of his uniform, which was now lying on top of his backpack. The cafe was fancy, and so the restroom resembled the bathroom one would have in a house. On the wall opposite him was a print of The Bed, a painting by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Two women faced at each other while lying in bed, the covers up to their necks. Their eyes were closed. It looked as if they had just made love and fell asleep after what must have been rigorous exercise.
Beautiful, thought Taehyung. Just looking at it, through the strokes of the brush and the reds and the blues and the whites mingling harshly within the otherwise calm scene allowed him to feel the pleasurable tiredness that comes from lust and passion exhausted. He used to know that feeling well.
He took out his phone and looked at the time. Jackson was going to arrive any minute. He stood up and looked in the mirror. His roots were beginning to show, a small puddle of black in the middle of the bright, silvery blue. He looked at himself in the eyes, observed his face, his features – despite what they say, and despite what he knew to be true, he had difficulty seeing himself as handsome.
When he was content that it was as good as it gets, he stuffed his uniform in his backpack and wore it before heading outside. He looked around for an empty table. Jackson was already there.
“Shit…” he murmured to himself.
He wondered if he could just run. Say that he had the flu, or that his dog died, or that he fell down a well. Something.
But Jackson looked up and waved at him. And he knew that there was no escape.
He walked there, placed his bag beneath the table, and sat down. He didn’t know if there was a word for the feeling of seeing someone you love again, after you believed that you would never see them again, and after so many things have changed. After you don’t even feel like the same person. But that’s what it felt like.
“Hi,” Jackson said in English.
“Hello,” said Taehyung.
“I came in just as you went to the restroom, actually,” said Jackson. “And you were there for a long time. Like a really long time. I hope things worked out?”
Taehyung scratched his head. He looked up at him, and Jackson looked eager to here what he would come up with. But he was lost for words.
“Should I get us some coffee?” Jackson said.
“Yes, please,” said Taehyung.
He stood up and placed a hand on his shoulder when he tried to follow. “My treat. Americano, right?”
He nodded, and Jackson went to line up at the counter.
It surprised him a little that Jackson remembered the kind of coffee he always got, but that was the way he was, and what he loved about him most of all. That he remembered. Would sometimes start conversations by reminding Taehyung about things he had said months, even years before, and about how he had been thinking about it. The way one does a work of art…
Jackson had a slice of chocolate fudge cake when he returned with the coffee.
“So, where’d you end up?” said Jackson. “Let me guess – art school?”
“Borahae,” he said. “The one in our district.”
“The old Christian school?”
“It’s not Christian anymore,” said Taehyung. “But for some reason they kept the name. St. Borahae was call that because he wore purple robes. And he was a saint during Medieval times who came to Korea to convert people. The King found out and crushed him with a boulder.”
“That’s a sexy way to die,” said Jackson. “I wouldn’t mind dying like that.”
“You would like that, wouldn’t you?”
“What happened to art school?”
“My mom didn’t think that it would be practical,” he said. “I can still take lessons or anything like that, if I wanted. But she wanted me to get a diploma from there.”
“As if you have a better shot at a future at Borahae…”
Taehyung snickered. “I know…”
“Anyway,” said Jackson, taking a bit of the cake with a fork. “What made you think of me all of a sudden?” He slipped the cake in his mouth.
“I was just sitting at a water tower the other day,” he said. “And the sky was all orange and then purple and I just thought about Paris all of a sudden. And the art. And what we used to do there. And all the fun we had.”
Taehyung paused. “And you.”
“And what happened to that promise we made each other,” he said. “That we wouldn’t do this anymore? That we cause more pain to each other than whatever this relationship is worth?”
“I’m not asking to get back together,” said Taehyung, insulted at the presumption but embarrassed nonetheless. “I just wanted to know how you are.”
“We said we’d forget each other.”
“How exactly was I supposed to do that, Jackson? How do you spend a summer in Paris with someone like you and just forget it? I tried. Believe me.”
“You could have started by deleting my number.”
“This isn’t the Bronze Age,” said Taehyung. “I messaged you on Facebook. And you can’t expect me to unfriend you. That’s just… I don’t know. Unspeakable.”
“We’ve done unspeakable things before, haven’t we?” Jackson smiled at him.
“Aish…” Taehyung sipped his coffee and didn’t look at him.
“Well, what are we doing here, then?”
“I just wanted to know how you are. I just wanted to catch up with you.”
Jackson nodded one of those long nods, those long mysterious nods that told Taehyung he was planning something. Something ridiculous and outrageous. He did that before he ordered 200 dollars worth of food in some streetside cafe one evening. And again when he simply too Taehyung’s hand and ran away without paying the bill. And he did that when Taehyung said they should part ways forever. Before he simply said, “Alright then.”
“My girlfriend won’t be entirely happy with that,” said Jackson.
“Oh. You have a girlfriend now. That was quick.”
“I didn’t think I’d see you again, Taehyung,” he said. “And I’ll be honest. I was lonely. And I felt like you abandoned me. What was I supposed to do? Wait for something that wasn’t going to come back?”
Taehyung said, despite himself, “And yet here we are.”
“And yet here we are,” said Jackson. “Yeon has been good to me. She’s not you. But she’s been good to me.”
“Was I good to you?” Taehyung realized what he had just said. “I’m sorry. You don’t need to answer that. I don’t know what I’m saying.”
“As far as I’m concerned,” said Jackson. “You were the best. Despite it all…”
At the outskirts of Paris, Taehyung awoke. His clothes were on the floor, and he was completely naked. The air was sweet with sweat. Through the open narrow terrace door he could see the city cloaked in darkness – that eternal city veiled in night.
He stood up, walked to his underwear, and wore it. The room was small, but was connected to another. The original occupant, his designated partner, traded placed with Jackson, and now it was his, though they more frequently slept together in the queen-sized bed in the room Taehyung was in. The other room they used exclusively for painting, so that the fumes wouldn’t disturb them when they slept.
He opened the door to the adjacent room. Jackson was there, in shorts and a shirt stained with paint, working on his painting, a mishmash of colors on a seven foot canvass that lay flat on the floor, using a mixture of paint so thick that it was almost plaster. He dripped the paint from his brush, which he hung over the canvass as he moved around.
Jackson had been working on this for almost two weeks, and it was his work in progress that was going to be the final output for their program. The artist with the best output would be given a scholarship to the École des Beaux-Arts.
“Good evening,” said Taehyung.
Jackson looked up. While still allowing the paint to drip on the canvass, he moved towards Taehyung and kissed him on the lips.
“How does it look?” he said.
“I still don’t understand this abstract expressionist thing,” said Taehyung. “Is it supposed to look like someone took a real painting and destroyed it?”
Jackson paused at this comment, as if trying to determine whether Taehyung was being serious. And he finally said, still with a smile and taking it as a joke, “Something like that, sure.”
Taehyung shrugged. “Okay.”
“And how’s your painting?” Jackson leaned over a can of paint and dipped a different brushed into it.
“I scrapped it,” he said. “It’s just not right…”
“At some point you’re going to have to start.”
“I know that.”
Jackson shrugged. “Alright.” He kissed Taehyung’s frigid and unamused face. “You’re always so cranky after waking up, jagi-ah… How about we have some dinner? Maybe some coffee?”
Taehyung walked around the canvass, his arms folded, the sides of his lips down-turned. Then, he looked up at him, and said, “This is a mess. I can’t believe you’re spending so much time making this.”
Jackson folded his arms. “I guess there’s no accounting for taste.”
Taehyung walked to a chair in the corner of the room and sat down lazily. “Work on something better. Something that’s not so ugly. You only think it’s pretty because you keep reading those pretentious books. And watching those boring stuff.”
“Well, have you read any of those pretentious books or watched any of those boring stuff?”
“I don’t want to,” said Taehyung. “They’re pretentious and boring.”
“Maybe you’ll understand the point of abstract expressionism better if you do?”
Taehyung rolled his eyes, the gesture so grand and exaggerated that he moves his entire head. “You keep using these words that don’t mean anything to justify having to make something so ugly.”
“My art is ugly. I get it. Should I also jump off the balcony for you?”
“Maybe after dinner,” said Tae.
“Perfect.” Jackson laughed and shook his head. And he returned to his work, while Taehyung watched.
He watched the man that dripped paint onto the canvass: His body carved by the hands of God, using the same exact proportions with which he crafted all of creation, in a manner more precise than many others. It was easy to love him, as it is easy to love anything beautiful. Sometimes, too easy. So easy that he does it despite himself.
For such a beautiful creature to make something so ugly sickened him. And even more so the stupid arguments that he would make in support of such terrible ugliness. But people fawned over Jackson, precisely because he was beautiful, and they were unable to see how fake he was. How empty his words were. And because of this Jackson himself, Taehyung was convinced, didn’t know about his own failure.
Later, they had dinner at a small restaurant, where they’ve eaten many other times before, and the waiters knew them by name. They ate fries with their steak. Taehyung asked for ketchup, and when it arrived he offered some to Jackson. Jackson said that he didn’t like ketchup.
“Why?” said Taehyung.
Jackson shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“That’s really weird,” said Taehyung. “I mean I wouldn’t put ketchup on everything. I wouldn’t slather a carrot cake with ketchup. But it goes so well with certain things.”
Jackson nodded absentmindedly while chewing, his eyes wandering around restaurant.
Taehyung was waiting for him to say something. And when he didn’t say anything, he said, “Don’t you think so?”
“I just never really thought about it that much.”
“I know the real reason you don’t like ketchup is because you see people eat it all the time, and you want to be different, so you refuse to eat it.”
Jackson laughed. “I don’t observe whether people eat something and then decide what to eat that way. That’s weird, Tae.”
“Mhmm, it is weird,” he said. “That’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s pretentious.”
“Okay,” said Jackson, shrugging. He ate a fry. “I guess I’m weird, then.”
“Yeah,” said Taehyung. “I guess you’re weird. And pretentious.”
When they went back to their apartment, they laid down on the bed. Taehyung wrapped his arms around Jackson and placed his head against his chest. “Sing me a song,” said Taehyung, and as he sang he listened to Jackson’s voice reverberating in his own body, and felt the rise and fall of his chest…
They fell asleep after making love. But Taehyung awoke later to the sound of rain pattering against the roof. It was still the middle of the night. Jackson had turned in his sleep, so that he was facing away from him.
He walked to the other room, where Jackson's painting was still on the floor, so big that it almost took more than half the entire space. Garbage, he thought. But one that would get the praise that he wanted simply because he was Jackson, and people adored him. And he hated how people lied to him, and how he lied to himself, and so he had to make stupid things like this. All the while he had work for his art, and even then he felt misunderstood and under-appreciated and ignored.
Taehyung took the painting that he had most recently thrown away. It was only around the size of an ordinary sheet of paper. The beginnings of a painting of Jackson as he slept in the bed where they had just been laying. It was still in the outline stages, but the proportions were off, and the composition was all wrong. And he knew it was garbage. No better than Jackson's. Somehow, maybe, even worse.
If he returned to Korea without that scholarship, he knew his mother would leave him to rot in some public school. They didn’t have money for anything else. And he used to believe that this trip to Paris would be the moment his life changes forever. Now that he’s here, he wasn’t so sure…
He sat down and with one of the brushes that was laying around he tried to paint the outline, observing Jackson through the open door, the image in real life almost exactly as he drew it from his mind’s eye. He gathered other hues from cans around the room, improvising, counting on his instincts, instincts that he had always been sure he had – he knew he had, because he knew he was an artist.
When he was done, he held the picture out in front of him, and realized that he had failed. Just like the other times. Just like with the other paintings. In his frustration he smashed the canvass against his leg, splitting the painting in two. He threw it on the floor and just sat there, listening to the rain. When lightning illuminated the room bright as day, he saw Jackson’s painting. A huge mess on the floor. A piece of shit that required no effort to make.
Taehyung took a sharp piece of broken wood from his painting that he just destroyed and drove in into the middle of Jackson’s, tearing a hole right in the middle of it. And he dragged it through the canvass, tearing it apart, stabbing at what he could not tear, imitating the sound of thunder as it started and stopped, taking it as manifestations of the divine will to destroy such decadent foolishness.
“Taehyung-ah… What have you done?”
He looked up at the door, and Jackson was standing there, naked, his hands on his head.
Taehyung looked down at Jackson’s destroyed painting. And only then did he realize what he’d done. The gravity of it. How brutal and insane and cruel it was.
He stood up straight and dropped the piece of wood. “It was just so ugly…”
“I don’t care what you thought of it,” said Jackson, shouting in a way Taehyung had never seen him do. “You can’t just destroy someone’s work like this. Are you crazy? Fuck…”
Jackson looked at the mess, until it looked like he couldn’t bear looking at it anymore. Then, he looked at Taehyung and turned around and went into the small bathroom in the other room.
Taehyung followed. Jackson was standing at the sink, and through the mirror Taehyung could see that his eyes were closed, his lips curled in anger, his hands gripping the edges of the sink.
“I’m sorry,” said Taehyung. “I don’t know what came over me.”
“Please don’t talk to me right now,” said Jackson. “Not now.”
“Maybe we can fix it.”
“We can’t fucking fix it. Just go away.”
“I’m sure you can make something better,” said Taehyung. “I’m sure you–“
Jackson smashed his fist against the mirror, startling Taehyung, and shattering the glass. His fist lingered there, until blood began to drip onto the white porcelain sink.
Taehyung walked away and curled up in bed. He closed his eyes and remained still and stayed like that until he fell asleep. And when he woke that morning, Jackson was gone, and there were only the broken paintings, and the shards of glass on the bathroom floor, and the blood on the sink, and Paris outside the window.
Jimin looked at the time on his phone. It was 1:30 AM on a Friday. It infuriated him that he wouldn’t be able to go to meet the Bangtan Boys that Saturday. And it made him madder still that his mother was going to do something as dumb as see his father again, even after what he’s done. He thought of this as he ran the razor across the length of his inner thigh, the pain calming him. At its best it was indistinguishable from pleasure. And at its worst, he felt it was a kind of justice that he inflicted on himself, like a bloodletting ritual that allowed him to purge his body of sin, of moral corruption. Of his own weakness.
He was already sitting in a pool of his own blood in the bathroom, and he was sprawled just beside the sink with his back against the tub. And the wound that he had made was beside several others. Some much older. Others new. Others still as recent as a few minutes ago.
He thought about Jaejin. And his mother. And how disappointed she was with him. When his father left, and she said that they were all alone now, he told himself that he would repay her for everything. For being there always for him. For being his mother, and doing everything that a mother does for her child. And now he felt like he had let her down, because of his selfishness. Because he overestimated his own capability to do the right thing.
Was he just like his father? Did he abandon Jaejin, just as his father had abandoned them?
The thought that he was just like his father made him drive the blade in deeper, and the pain became so sharp and excruciating that he gasped through gritted teeth. He bit his arm, suppressing the urge to scream. He could feel the blood dripping down his leg. And he felt calm, and at peace, and safe. Most of all, it felt right.
He woke up to the sound of screaming. He jolted awake: His mother was screaming his name. He had fallen asleep. He looked at the time on his phone and found that he was about to be late for school. He used an alarm clock, but he couldn’t hear it from the bathroom. At that point, it had already stopped ringing. He had never fallen asleep there while cutting himself before...
He heard the door to his room open. Then, a loud knocking on the bathroom door.
“Jimin-ah, for the love of God,” screamed his mother. “You’re going to miss your bus. Hurry up in there.”
“I’m almost done,” he said.
“No, you should already be done,” said his mother. “Hurry up.”
He was relieved when she left. He scrambled to clean the floor by using the showerhead to wash off the blood. His legs were still sore and painful. It had been years since he last did this to himself. And for a while he thought that all of it had been behind him.
By the time he had finished cleaning the bathroom and getting ready, he had already missed the morning bus. His mother passed the school anyway, and she was already prepared to go to work, so she gave him a ride, like she always did when he was late. Though he hasn’t been late since he was in third grade.
“I don’t know what’s happening with you,” she said in the car, without looking at him. It looked like she was saying it to no one in particular. “I just don’t understand, Jimin…”
He felt how disappointed she was at him. Especially now that they had to sit there in silence.
“Are you meeting with dad today?”
“I am,” she said. “If he doesn’t want to come back home, that’s fine. We just need some money. To survive. And then I can stay in the house and watch Jaejin, since you’re unwilling to do it.”
“I wanted to do it,” he said. “I just also want to have a life.”
“Then go,” she said. “Go have a life. Do whatever you want.”
He looked out the window. He knew that she was right. That she had every right to be angry. His hands tightened around his thighs, and he relished again in the pain, in fighting against his own selfish impulses and his own stupidity.
He wanted to apologize. But he was too prideful for that, thought that it would humiliate him. And above all wasn’t ready to accept the responsibility of being sorry, accept the burden of having to change. And so he pressed harder. Until he could feel himself beginning to bleed.
They reached Borahae, and he left without saying a word. Taehyung, Jin, and Jungkook were standing around and talking by the entrance. Taehyung spotted him and waved hi, but he was in a daze and tried to ignore him.
Taehyung blocked his path, and Jimin pushed him away, almost tipping him over in the process.
“What’s wrong with you?” said Taehyung as Jungkook caught him and helped him right himself.
Taehyung held on to Jimin’s hand, preventing him from walking further ahead, but Jimin remained standing in place, looking away from everyone.
“Someone’s in a mood this morning,” said Jin.
But Jungkook looked serious. “Hyung, are you okay?”
“His mother forgot to make him scrambled eggs,” said Jin.
Jungkook pointed at his Jimin’s feet. His right shoe had blood dripping onto it.
“Jimin-ah…” Taehyung rushed in front of him and it looked as if he had wet himself in blood.
They stood there in stunned silence for several seconds, before Jin pressed a hand against Jimin’s back and began walking him to the men’s room.
Taehyung and Jungkook followed a little ahead, blocking other people’s view of Jimin.
“What happened?” said Taehyung. “Jimin, what's wrong?”
Jungkook peeked inside the men’s room when they got there. “Wait,” he said. “There’s too many people.”
Taehyung suggested instead that they go to the club room. And when they got there, it was empty. They pulled up a seat from the meeting table and asked him to sit.
They stood around him, and Jimin looked into the distance right through them.
Jungkook got him a bottle of water from the fridge.
“Do you want us to call the nurse?” said Jin.
“No,” said Jimin. “Please just leave me alone.”
When Jungkook handed him the bottle, he slapped it away onto the floor.
Taehyung was about to say something, but Jin raised his hand. “Let’s go. Let’s just leave him alone.”
“Let’s go,” Jin said, his voice louder, more insistent. He herded everyone out the door.
And when they were all outside, Jin looked at Jimin once last time. Tears were rolling down his face. And then he closed the door.
Chapter 10: Chuseok
Thank you to my beta-readers: Ysa and Bel.
Keep up to date and contact me by following me on Twitter: @augustus_ao3
During lunch Jin rushed to the club room, without waiting for Taehyung like he always did, to check if Jimin had left. He knew that he couldn’t go to class like that, unless he had somehow foreseen what had happened and brought extra pants. He opened the door and saw that no one was there, and the chair where Jimin sat was now empty. But when he stepped inside, he heard someone say, “I’m sorry for making you worry.”
Jimin was lying on the couch, hidden from view. Jin went to look at him. His pants were still stained with blood, but it had dried, and were now only streaks of red down his pants.
Eventually, everyone arrived, and the three older members – Namjoon, Yoonki, and Hobi – had to be told what had happened. Hobi took it the least well. Whereas Namjoon and Yoonki came together, and walked over to the couch calmly after the others explained what had happened by the door, Hobi dropped everything he was holding including his lunch and rushed to Jimin to check if he was alright.
While kneeling in front of Jimin so that Hobi could see him better, he kept insisting that they should go to the nurse.
“I don’t want to go to the nurse,” said Jimin. “I just want to go home.”
“If you have wounds,” said Hobi, “they need to be dressed.”
“I don’t want to go to the nurse,” Jimin said again.
“Jiminie, listen to me…”
“I DON’T WANT TO GO TO THE NURSE!” shouted Jimin, and he took a throw pillow, pressed it against his face, and began to scream into it.
Hobi looked at the others who were standing behind the couch, and they looked at him. None of them knew what to do. And Jimin continued to scream so hard that they thought he might die or his head might explode.
“Okay! Okay!” said Hobi. “Calm down. Can I see it, at least?”
Jimin removed the pillow from his face. His face was all red. “I’m fine, Hobi-hyung.”
Hobi looked at him a long while. And despite himself he placed a hand on Jimin’s face. “Tell me if you ever need anything, okay?”
“Okay,” said Jimin.
“Do you want me to get you something to eat?” said Taehyung.
Jimin turned so that he’s facing the backrest of the couch. “Just leave me, please…”
The door slid open. It was Eric.
“What the fuck is going on in here?”
“Yaa…” Yoonki walked up to him and pushed him out onto the hallway. “Stop barging in our room like that.”
Eric fell back against the window at the opposite end of the hallway, his hands in the air. “I just heard screaming! I didn’t know what was happening. Sounded like someone was getting murdered in there.”
“Barge in one more time,” said Yoonki, “and someone will.”
He started walking towards Eric, but Jin lifted his arm to block his way.
Jin said, “Everything is under control.” Then, he slid the door closed.
The boy didn’t have club that Saturday, club being on alternate Saturdays, although despite this they would often congregate in the club room. But there would be no presentation, and often they just hung around, able to allow their parents to assume that they were studying or doing something educational (since they were in school), while actually doing nothing of the sort. Most of the time, in their minds, it was the complete opposite. Although through the years the time the students spent together but outside of class functioned as a kind of education in itself, and affected them in ways more bitter and more terrible than the chemical structure of water or the date when the Ottoman Empire fell.
It had been several hours since six of them had arrived. It didn’t seem like Jimin was going to come.
Taehyung was sitting at the meeting table, drinking a soda. He said, “Should we do something? About Jimin?”
“We should check if he’s okay,” said Jungkook, who sat at the meeting table beside Taehyung. “And tell him to get some help, if he’s harming himself.”
“We should check if he’s okay,” echoed Jin from the couch between Jungkook and Namjoon, “but we should ask what he wants to do, as opposed to doing what we think is right for him. We don’t really know what’s right for anyone but ourselves.”
“Maybe we can go to his house?” said Taehyung. “Or we can talk to him the next time we meet.”
“No,” said Yoonki, who was supine on the beanbag, his phone hanging precariously over his face as he held it with both hands. “Just leave him alone. He obviously doesn’t want to be bothered about that. He was already embarrassed enough as it is.”
“We can’t just let him keep hurting himself,” said Hobi, also at the meeting table. He was bent over a book and taking notes for an exam he had.
“Sure,” said Yoonki. “But you can’t just stop someone from hurting himself because you asked. Embarrassing him like that might even make him hurt himself more… And then at that point he’ll just lie about it. So, we’ll be powerless.”
“That makes sense…” said Jin.
“I feel powerless as it is,” said Taehyung. “No one deserves to feel that way. And we don’t even know why. Isn’t it our business?”
“I think we should let him know that we’re here for him,” said Namjoon. “And that if he needs anything, he should come to us. But we shouldn’t force him to do something he doesn’t. Even if that something is accepting our help.”
With this, the room fell quiet. And there was only the hum of the air conditioning. And they were happy to be there, all of them. To go through this together. And that whatever pain they were going to go through, someone would be there for them. This was their pledge. And having just had that conversation, it was a reassurance among all of them that that pledge was real, and true.
Taehyung turned to Jungkook and Hobi. “What do you guys do usually for Chuseok?”
“My family celebrates it the traditional way,” said Hobi. “It’s a bit of a pain actually… And they always ask me to dance afterwards.”
“I’d love to see you dance,” said Taehyung. “I have to be honest. I’ve binged all of your dance videos.”
“I know,” he said. “Because you liked all of them.”
“Can you blame me?” said Taehyung. “Someday, you should teach me to dance like that.”
“Too dangerous,” said Hobi. “If someone as handsome as you ever learns to dance, the boys and girls will all fall in love.”
Jungkook eyed Hobi and wondered if he had somehow heard his thoughts or had a vision of his fantasies.
“Aish…” said Taehyung, blushing and shaking his head. “Don’t say things like that…”
“Yoonki-ah,” said Jin, prodding the beanbag with his foot. “You know what my mom said to me this morning?”
“That she regrets not having an abortion,” said Yoonki, still looking at his phone.
“It’s your turn this year to come with us for Chuseok,” said Jin.
“Ah… Why are you bringing that up here… It’s not like I can still come with you.” He finally peeked at Jin from behind his phone. “Right…?”
“My extended family might find it weird that the boy I broke up with still came, yeah.”
“Well,” said Yoonki, returning to his phone. “They would love to laugh in my face, that I’m sure of.”
“Don’t say that…”
“They hated me,” said Yoonki. “And frankly I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that they hated you, too.”
“They just don’t know how to handle gay people. There’s really no protocol.”
“Well, whatever the ‘protocol’ turns out to be, I’m sure it doesn’t include your aunts talking about what they want our children to look like and then going – oh wait, you can’t have children, can you?”
“You’ll never let that go? What about the times when I’d go to your house?”
“What about it? My parents would put food by the sink, open the window so the ghosts of our ancestors could taste it, and then bow. There’s not much to like or dislike about it.”
“That’s what I’m talking about,” said Jin. “We’d do that, and then we’d just hang out in your room, and I don’t know. It just felt weird and incomplete.”
“Oh please, Seokjin,” said Yoonki. “We’d do a lot more than just hang out in my room, and you loved it.”
Namjoon coughed conspicuously and increased the volume of the television.
“How about you Jungkook-ah?” said Taehyung. “How does your family celebrate Chuseok?”
“Very traditional,” said Jungkook. “We’re going all the way back to Busan, meet all of the family, prepare all the food, and then go through the entire charye ritual.”
“Looks like our families are the same,” said Taehyung. “I can’t wait to have my grandmother’s songpyeon. What about you, Jungkook-ah?”
Jungkook shrugged. “I can’t wait for you to have your grandmother’s songpyeon either?”
Hobi laughed while Taehyung made an exasperated face at him.
That Monday, the boys and all of Korea undertook the ancient tradition of coaxing the dead back to Earth, so that the living might honor them with food and revelry – a cruel, ironic thing, thought Jungkook, as he rode the train to Busan. First among the questions: Do the dead need to eat, or are they just supposed to be happy about the gesture? Should they just think, in any case, that it’s the thought that counts?
Secondly, and more importantly, of what use are the consolations of the living to the dead? Wherever they are, if indeed the dead continued to exist, he suspected that they viewed their Chuseok ceremonies with a kind of amused indifference, tainted less and less by longing each passing year. And at some point, to the dead, Chuseok must appear a farce at best. And at worst, a mockery of their powerlessness…
They arrived in their Busan ancestral home just after lunch. It was in the countryside, and even the air was different, suffused with a freshness that reminded him always of his youth. Over the years, his grandparents’ children purchased more and more of the surrounding land, increasing the size of the house and adding a pavilion, a pool, even a parking lot for his ten aunts and uncles.
The family was having lunch in the pavilion, most of the adults sitting around the table, having different conversations that diverged, merged, coagulated, and disintegrated. His younger cousins were running around, in some invisible adventure to which he was old enough to be a party.
“Sorry we’re late,” his mother said, bowing to the people already there. And he bowed, too, and there was much fussing over their appearance, and how they should be feeling, and how hungry they must be after such a long and terrible trip.
He and his mother sat at the table to have some of the lunch that was already prepared. He looked around at his family, and he felt among strangers.
He was sitting beside his uncle Kyusang, the youngest among his uncles. He was smoking and drinking tea.
“How are you, Jungkook-ah?” he said. “I keep seeing your name in the newspaper. When are you going to the Olympics to make Korea proud?”
“For the love of God, they just arrived,” said his aunt Munhee, a plump lady who looked much weathered for her age. She had never married. “Are you really going to put the burden of a nation on this poor boy?”
“It’s never too early,” said Kyusang. “Your cousin Baekhyeon…” He was referring to his son. “I don’t know. Maybe I was too lax on him. Maybe I should have been more strict. But I have a sad prediction. His life is going to be a waste.”
“Aigo…” His aunt rolled her eyes. “Maybe if you gave him some love and affection instead of saying things like this about him behind his back.”
“Love, affection, cars, a new computer – trust me, I’ve given that kid everything.” His uncle used his chopsticks to stick a rice cake in his mouth. He chewed for a while then added, “Talk to him Jungkook-ah. Maybe just by being near you he’ll absorb your power, and it’ll make him strong.”
His aunt shook her head. “Aigo…”
When he finished eating, his aunts and uncles kept repeating that his other cousins were in the living room of the house that he decided finally to take the hint and go there. From the main door, he could see that his cousins were running feral in the house.
For a moment he considered going into the bathroom and staying there for as long as possible. Even when they realize he’s missing, he can buy time by remaining as quiet as possible. And when they come knocking, he could say he just came in there, and the entire time he was lost they just couldn’t find him. That should buy him more time. And finally when they knock a second time to wonder what he’s doing there, he would have already successfully removed the toilet, climbed into the sewer, and emerged somewhere else entirely, where he could change his name, and he wouldn’t have to be Jeon Jungkook, or necessarily anyone or anything. And he would start the long, arduous process of rebuilding his life from nothing – but this time according to who he decided to be. Who he wanted to be.
But his cousin Jeongho saw him, and he knew that it was too late. It was all too late. The instant those eyes were laid on him, somehow he knew that that he will always be who he was. And there would be no hiding in the toilet, no crawling through the sewers, no rebuilding his life from scratch. There will always be something – something already there that he neither chose nor wanted but he had to take, because if he didn’t there would be nothing else.
Jin was in front of his computer when he heard the door open and the first of the visitors arrive. They’ve gotten used to seeing him very late, when the party had already started, because he didn’t want to get into the tangle of having socialize in that uncertain way when the guests were only beginning to arrive. One minute, you’re talking to this person, and then this other one arrives, and you don’t know if you’re supposed to leave, or stay, or ask that person to join you. Small things like that, which most people have never even considered, tended to confuse him and make him anxious. Thankfully, his father was a psychoanalyst, and he understood.
Out of boredom, and seeing that Taehyung had already sent pictures of his house in Daegu, he messaged him. The first message that he ever sent to him outside of the group chat.
“Nice house,” he said. “Looks old and meaningful.”
And he didn’t expect him to reply, at least for a while, but almost immediately he wrote, “Meaningful?? How is a house meaningful?”
“You know,” he wrote back. “Like… a lot has happened in there.”
“Well,” wrote Taehyung. “A lot has happened. And is happening! Even if I’m not really in the mood right now to join them…”
“Same,” said Jin. “But I feel like that every year.”
Jin saw that Taehyung saw this message. But he didn’t reply. At first he thought that maybe he had to do something, given that it was Chuseok, but after twenty minutes, when he realized that no reply was forthcoming, he added, “Was it Jackson?”
He replied almost immediately. “Yeah. I tried to see if there was still something there.”
“There is still something there, sure. Resentment, pain, and shame.”
“I take it things didn’t go very well.”
“They didn’t, no.”
“Anything else among the debris?”
Taehyung typed for a long time. And eventually sent, “I don’t know. Probably not.”
The door to his room opened. It was his mom. “Seokjin, everyone’s settling down for dinner,” she said.
In Taehyung’s house, on the other side of the Korean peninsula, he sat in the living room with his other cousins. And though a while ago they were talking excitedly, now they ran out of things to talk about, and they were simply waiting for something to happen.
His conversation with Jin had reminded him of Jackson, and he took one final look at his Facebook profile. There was a solid stretch of time when he thought that he would never find another boy handsome again – that all boys, by some divine mystery, were merely shadows of Jackson, the original of his kind that the imitators tried in vain to replicate.
He realized too late that it was jealousy: That if this was the case, then he too must be merely Jackson’s shadow. And at the time he simply loved himself more than he did Jackson. But he surrendered to his own feelings only after everything was lost.
“Taehyung-ah!” a voice called out. His grandmother was calling him from the kitchen. He realized that even his cousins had left the room.
He went to her, and saw that everyone had begun helping out making the food. Out of boredom, no doubt.
“Come help,” said his grandmother, pointing at dough and different rice cake fillings on the table. One of those low tables that made you sit on the floor.
He washed his hands then sat down and began making the songpyeon. He had learned how to do it a long time ago, and he liked doing it. His other two cousins Mingsoo and Yongsook were also engaged in other menial tasks around the kitchen, being ordered around by their mom, the wife of his dad’s only brother.
His grandmother was in her late 80s. Her skin was wrinkled and tanned from having worked under the sun all her life, tending to the farm with his grandfather up until the very day he died. Although his two sons send her enough money to sustain herself, she chooses to work, selling her produce in the market herself for a tiny profit, and hopes that one day she will keel over on the field the way her husband did. When he was young, he thought that this was silly, and later on he found it noble, and now he realized it must be because she doesn’t really know anything else. Or maybe there is nothing else.
“Taehyung-ah,” said his grandmother, as she performed some operation on the samgyeopsal. “When can I see your paintings? Are they in a museum?”
“Not yet grandma,” he said. “Sorry. Honestly, I don’t think I’m good enough for any of that after all…”
Her grandmother began to whine, placing her wrists to her head, some of the marinade of the meat getting on her hair as she did. She moved her head side to side and made whining noises like she was in excruciating pain.
“What’s wrong?” said Taehyung, starting to rise. Everyone also stopped what they were doing and looked at her.
But she calmed down and lowered her hands again. “I hate hearing nonsense, Taehyung-ah,” she said with a childish pout. “And whenever I hear it, I feel like my head is going to explode. So, don’t you dare say that again, unless you want to kill me. Do you understand?”
“Aish, grandma, please,” said his aunt. “You really scared me. Someday, something’s going to really happen to you and no one will believe it.”
“Yes,” his grandma said. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Taehyung’s aunt turned back to the stove. His grandma winked at him.
Taehyung laughed. And he realized that it’s the first time he’s laughed in a few days.
When Jimin woke up that Monday, the eve of Chuseok, he went out his room to find his father sitting at the table, with his mother preparing breakfast. He immediately turned around and locked himself in his room. He stayed there under the covers, looking out the window, watching television, checking his phone, doing nothing all day – except rehearsing in his head what he would say when he finally had to leave the room and face him. All the while, his legs throbbed and bothered him.
When the sun had set, he heard a knocking at his door. He ignored it. Then, Jaejin’s voice came through, and he said that their parents were calling him for dinner. He knew that there was no use fighting it; he wanted to get it over with, and he wanted to find out if he was strong enough. And if he should be humiliated, then he deserved it…
When he was just outside the kitchen, there was a moment when Jaejin, his mom, and his dad just looked at him, and he looked at them. And there was something beautiful, ethereal about the way they were sitting: The father, the mother, the son. Something almost religious. Divine. And they were all looking at him, the excess, the refuse, that will throw them off the delicate balance.
He was waiting for his mother to beckon him, but she didn’t. At some point they just continued eating. And Jimin walked towards them and sat down. He was hungry. And for problems that won’t go away he knew the only way is to deal with them – to dine with them, in a sense.
His father was a burly, bulky man. From far away, he looked almost like a rectangle with a head. He had thick lips, and beady eyes, and a large nose that seemed to grow much too large for his face. They never spoke much, and so until then he felt like someone he didn't know. Even an imposter.
His father said, “Your mother tells me you’ve been skipping class. The principal called.”
Jimin said nothing.
“That’s not like you at all, Jimin-ah,” he said. “I don’t want anything like that happening again, am I making myself clear?”
Jimin put food on his plate and began to eat. He motioned towards the pitcher and said, “Mom, can you pass me the water, please?”
“I’m asking you if you understand,” said his dad again. “You were late and then you skipped class. God knows where you’ve been the entire day. Running around with those new friends of yours, I’m guessing.”
Jimin wanted to ignore it, to feel nothing despite the fact that he went on and on, but he couldn’t. And he wanted to hurt himself. But he also knew from last time that he would bleed, and they would know.
“What’s this club your mother told me you wanted to join?”
“It’s nothing,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Remember that your most important duties are to this family, Jimin. And if you go to school, it’s not because we want you to do whatever you want. It’s because we want you to be able to serve this family, and later on a family of your own.”
Jimin couldn’t hold it in. He laughed. He laughed a boisterous, sardonic laugh, his head hung over the table, his eyes fixed to the bowl.
His mother stood up and reached over the table and slapped him across the face.
Jimin looked up at her. And she was just standing there, looking at him, with disgust, and contempt, and fury.
“Sit down,” said his father. And she did.
They ate dinner in silence.
Everyone in the house went to bed, but Taehyung couldn’t sleep. And so he began to look at his phone, going through the chats, the pictures of people spending time with their families for Chuseok, the status messages and tweets of boredom, happiness, frustration. And when he got tired of doing that, he went out the room to look in the fridge. There was nothing there for him.
When he closed the fridge, he saw through the screen doors just beyond the living room that the light in their back porch was open. He approached and saw that his grandmother was sitting on a lawn chair, drinking out of a cup, an open bottle of soju on the floor beside her.
She spots him. “Come out here, Taehyung-ah.”
He slid the doors open and walked out. There was a slight breeze, and the moon was large and bright, making visible the waving green grass all the way to the hills in the far distance.
“Sit,” she said, and Taehyung sat on a lawn chair opposite her’s. “Your grandfather and I would sit here every evening to look at the stars. Do you remember?”
“Now, he’s among them,” she said. She turned to the sky. “You’ll get your meal tomorrow morning, jagi-ah, you lazy wreck. Even if you did leave me here, while you’re out there in who knows where…”
She laughs, and Taehyung laughs with her.
“He was proud of you, Taehyung-ah.” She poured himself another glass of soju. “Our handsome grandson, an artist, someone who thought about the universe he so loved, and the tiny, miserable creatures that inhabit it. He loved you so much. And I hope you remember him that way.”
“I do, grandma…”
“Good.” She drank and continued to look in the distance. “Your father tells me that your mother always worries about your future. If you're ever going to get a good job with a good salary. But don’t worry about her. Follow your heart, Taehyung-ah. And even if you don’t bring much money to our family, I know that at least you will bring us much honor.”
“Thank you,” said Taehyung.
“Of course,” she said. “It might be difficult once you get married. Especially when you have children.” She turned towards him. “But I’m sure you’ll have it all worked out.”
He nodded and thought about telling her. All his life, his grandmother has been nothing but supportive of him, vicious towards anything or anyone that dared to doubt him, even when this was himself. And he thought not telling her was a betrayal of his own loyalty to her.
“I’m not sure if I’ll ever get married, grandma,” he said, although he words came out softly, as if secretly he didn’t want her to hear.
“Oh? And why’s that?”
Both hands were on his stomach, and as he spoke his right hand clenched the left. “I’m gay, grandma… I like boys…”
There was silence. And during that silence all he could hear were the rustling of the grass against each other, and he was suddenly aware of the song of the cicadas, like a vessel that contained the quietness.
“The moon is beautiful tonight, isn’t it?” she said. “I know your father has told you about the dream he had when your mother was pregnant with you. But I haven’t told you the dream I had.
I dreamt that I was walking by a stream, and a ring slipped off my finger. It fell in the water, and before I could get it back, a large, golden carp poked out of the water and swallowed it. And it was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen.
I ran after it, so I can get my ring, and the stream led to a lake, where the other carp had gathered. And I noticed that wherever the golden one tried to join the group, they would all swim away, almost like they were afraid. The beautiful one was too different. Too unfamiliar to them.”
She turned towards him. “Seven months later, you were born. And I believe that you have within you something priceless and beautiful, Taehyung-ah. Even if sometimes people don’t understand you.”
“Your ring?” he said.
His grandmother looked at him, at first almost worried. But this worry gave way to a smile. She reached and grasped his hand.
“Something more precious than any old ring,” she said. “And I have a feeling that whatever I lost that day in my dream, I will find again one day through you.”
A feeling of peace came over Taehyung, an easiness with himself that he hadn’t felt in a long time. And he made a promise to himself that he would never forget this moment, this very moment. He tried to take in every detail from his senses, so that in a year, and two years, and ten years, and fifty years, up until the day he died he could conjure up this memory, and how it felt. To be loved so brazenly, so truthfully.
“And tell me, is there anyone special?”
Before he could speak, he had already felt the world change. And whatever words he spoke, it would come from a new mouth, called forth by a new tongue.
“There used to be someone, but we realized a few days ago that maybe it’s not a good idea. I wasn’t very good to him. I wish I was. Maybe we’d still be together.”
“Do you know why we celebrate Chuseok, Taehyung-ah?”
He thought about it. He’s been asked this in school, for civics, so many times. “It symbolizes the end of harvest, and the start of the lunar calendar.”
“Yes,” she said. “But what does it mean? Why is that so important to us? Why don’t we celebrate the second, or the last?”
“During this equinox, when the day and the night are equal, and the middle of the Earth meets the middle of the Sun, we are reminded of two things – the night of our past, and the new day when we start again.” She turned to him. “Have the courage to start again, Taehyung-ah. When the night comes, be strong -- and soon you will be woken by the new morning. Do you understand?”
He observed her as they sat there. And when she ceased to be aware of his presence, her smile disappeared, and he could see a loneliness about her. She had never been the same – happy the way that she used to be – ever since his grandfather had passed. Taehyung knew that he could trust her about these things, because she had definitely been in love once. And now this love is lost. He supposed that this happens for everybody, no matter how wise. No matter how strong.
He began to wonder about her: When the sun rises, how does she start again, when the man he loved was gone forever, no matter the sunrise? But he couldn’t bear to ask her, and so he sat there quietly, and waited for a new morning.
At first light, Jeon Munhee knocked on all of the rooms of the house, waking everybody up. Jungkook woke to the sound of shuffling. He sat up on his cot and observed his cousins as they shuffled around, preparing what they were going to wear, deciding who gets to shower first, as the orange light streamed in from the windows. He was barely able to sleep, and spent the entire evening half-awake, occasionally getting stuck in the space between reality and whatever was beyond it. And he found refuge in that place, even if he wasn’t meant to be there and so soon enough was banished by some force. And before he knew it, he was him, and he was here, and his life was his life, and he longed to go back there, in that other place…
Jungkook showered last. And they all wore their best clothes. One by one, the cousins went out to the living room, where every member of his family had gathered. There was silence among them. He walked towards his mother, who held his hand.
Munhee opened the front door and bowed to no one.
His grandfather went inside the dining room, where the jesa table had been set with various food they have been preparing the previous day, all meticulously placed according to tradition. In front of the table was a paper screen, depicting mountains, the heavens, and dragons.
Among the food, and the candles, and the incense, was a photo of his great-grandparents and his father – a black and white photo that he had never seen before, although he looked at all his photos over the previous year that he had been gone. His father was young in that photo. And Jungkook imagined running into him in the hallways of Borahae, and being his friend.
The Jesa began. There were so many of them in that room that he usually couldn’t make anything out. And he and his cousins would make smartass remarks as they knelt and bowed and just stood there. But this time his mother led him to the front.
The ritual was old, repetitive – meaningless, he thought. But even if they were only playing make-believe, there was some happiness, some reassurance, perhaps the kind felt by many others during this time, that he wasn’t really gone, that his father was here, unseen, invisible, just across the table. And his dad is looking at him now, close enough to touch him.
“Jungkook-ah,” he liked to say, “working so hard again? Have some tea with your father. Be a filial son. Talk to me about your day.”
They bowed and knelt. Jungkook’s grandfather lit incense and stuck it in a bowl of sand. His wife handed him a cup of liquor. He circled the incense with the cup three times and poured its contents in the sand. He stuck chopsticks on the mounds of rice in the three bowls in front of each portrait and invoked the spirits of his parents and his son.
“On this day,” he said. “We the filial sons of the Jeon family dare call upon Jeon Bansun, a devoted father, and Kim Seongja, a loving wife, and Jeon Kyuwon, a father. With eternal love, and with gratefulness for your mercy, we offer you this feast of food and wine. Please partake.”
His grandmother offered the ancestors wine using the same movements, pouring the liquor into bowls beside the portraits. Then, his uncles, all five of them, did the same. When they finished, the grandfather turned towards Jungkook and motioned towards the cup, which was filled again by his grandmother.
Jungkook looked at his mother. She only nodded at him. He took the cup, circled the incense with it three times, and poured it in the bowl. He did this for each portrait. And when he finished, his grandfather placed a spoon on the bowl of rice in front of the portrait of Jungkook’s great grandfather.
They left the room. They do this so that the dead can eat in peace, they say. Jungkook stared at the door, imagining with all his might that his father was there, enjoying the food, speaking with his great grandparents, talking about how he has to get used to his new life as a ghost. And he imagined that his father was looking at the door, too, wishing to meet and talk to Jungkook just as he did with him. And how he hoped that he could just open the door and catch his father there, sitting at the table, a spoonful of rice on its way to his open mouth. Then, he could say goodbye one last time. This time he knows what it at stake. He knows the pain that he will have to endure. And so this time, if he is only able to say goodbye, then he will be ready – to live life without him. To go on.
His grandfather coughed, to signal to the spirits that they were about to come in. When he opened the door, Jungkook saw that there was nobody there, and the food was undisturbed. When they entered the room again and bowed deeply to finish the ritual, he began to weep while his head was still pressed to the floor. And he couldn’t rise to his feet. He could hear them still going through the motions, and when it was done there were footsteps that only got softer and softer until there was nothing.
When he looked up, his family was standing around him. His mother was holding a piece of rice paper, the jibang, on which the name of his father was written.
“Say goodbye, Jungkook-ah,” said his mother.
Jungkook stepped forward and took the piece of paper and the lighter. He knelt at the table, and his mother knelt beside him and wiped his eyes. He burned the jibang above the incense, his father’s name disappearing as it was consumed by rings of fire, until there was nothing but embers. And once again, his father was gone, and he was alone. In a room full of people who knew his name and who he was and everything else, but he was alone.
Chapter 11: Supermarket World, Part 1
After Chuseok, the Bangtan Boys visit Supermarket World, a theme park. They enjoy the attractions but beneath the surface of their enjoyment their desires and fears threaten to bubble over and ruin the fun -- if not change the course of their lives entirely.
Thank you to my beta-readers: Ysa and Bel.
The boys apart from Jimin were in the club room, having lunch at the meeting table that Wednesday, and Yoonki was saying, “We leave the food out and go to the living room to watch TV. That’s how we celebrate Chuseok. The dead can eat whenever they like, and we come back whenever we like.”
Jin was nodding knowingly at this story, but Taehyung wore a face of perplexed disgust. “Your ancestors come back from the land of the dead, and you’re not even going to treat it as a special occasion?”
“If the ancestors had any manners,” said Yoonki, “they’re going to ask us if they could come.”
The boys except Taehyung laughed.
“Right? If they had any manners, they would write a letter, and we’d consider it, and then if it’s convenient, we’d say yes.”
Among the sniggering, Taehyung wasn’t saying anything, but his lips were pursed and his eyes were narrow.
“Anyway, listen… We leave the food out and open the window to let the spirits in, right? Like we always do. Jin knows. And we’re watching television. And finally after the movie ends at around two hours my dad finally does this thing where he coughs. Like, to tell the spirits – get out of there. You’re done. Our turn to eat.
We stand and go to get the food, and my mom just started screaming, because the food was eaten. One fish was eaten to the bone. Half the rice was gone. The cup of baekju had been tipped over. And my mom goes, ‘Holy fuck, had I known they were really coming, I would have pretended to give a shit.’”
And Yoonki laughed, and everyone laughed, and even Taehyung laughed.
“That’s some freaky stuff, isn’t it?” said Hobi. “I would have run out of that house as soon as I saw that.”
“Yeah, well,” said Yoonki. “It was a mystery to us until the two cats came in through the window again and we had to chase them out.”
They laughed again, but this time Taehyung laughed the loudest.
“Aish… That’s what you get,” said Taehyung. “Your ancestors sent those cats to mess with you since you weren’t respecting them.”
“We had to throw the food out,” said Yoonki. “We don’t want to eat cat musk. We don’t know where those cats have been.”
“The underworld, apparently,” said Jungkook, eying Taehyung.
“In all honesty,” said Jin. “I’m surprised this is the first time this has happened.”
From the head of the table, Namjoon turned to Jungkook. “Do you have any idea what you’re going to present this Saturday?”
“I do,” he said. “Supermarket World.”
Namjoon thought about this for a moment. “The theme park?”
“Yes,” said Jungkook.
“What about it?”
“You want us to think about it?” said Yoonki. “You want us to think about a theme park?”
“No, I want us to go to Supermarket World,” said Jungkook. “And appreciate it.”
Taehyung clapped and made an excited noise.
“Yaa…” Jin shook his head. “That’s too expensive.”
“I was hoping we can use our funds,” said Jungkook.
“I don’t mind,” said Hobi. “I like going there.”
“Wow, we can really do anything here, huh,” said Taehyung.
“Even smells?” said Yoonki, imitating Taehyung's low voice with a dumb look on his face, his lips all crooked.
When Taehyung giggled, Yoonki giggled mockingly, too.
“Shall we vote?” said Namjoon.
“You’re really going to consider this?” said Jin. “Weren’t you telling me the other day about how we need to have a jamboree or something?”
“What…?” said Yoonki.
“According to the rules, because we’re a boy scout club now,” said Namjoon, “we need to participate in a jamboree or sponsor one once a year. That’s something we’re going to have to think about in the future.”
“Well, this is now, not the future,” said Yoonki. “And honestly I haven’t been to Supermarket World in a long time. So, I vote yes.”
“Yes to vote,” asked Taehyung. “Or you assumed we started, and you’re voting yes?”
Yoonki pointed at Taehyung. “He said yes.”
“I said yes?”
“He said it again.”
Taehyung scratched his head.
“Stop it,” said Hobi. “You’re confusing the poor boy.”
“Well, how about you?” Yoonki told Hobi. “Do you want to go?”
“Yes,” said Hobi. “Of course. Who wants to stay here when they can go to Supermarket World?”
“That’s four yeses,” said Namjoon. “I guess we’re going.”
“Yaa,” Yoonki told Jin. “Why would you even not want to go? You’d rather stay here and watch anime or something? We’re going to have fun.”
“I just think it’s going to set a bad precedent,” said Jin. “We’re just going to keep going out and using our money.”
“Money is meant to be used,” said Yoonki. “You can’t just put it somewhere and let it rot. And that money you spend becomes someone’s dinner. Who are you to deprive someone of their dinner, Kim Seokjin?”
Before he could say anything, the bell rung. And rather than say something, he decided to just keep quiet. They all packed up and left to return to their classes.
After school, Taehyung went to the club room and saw Namjoon sitting alone on the couch reading a book.
“What’s that?” he said, approaching the couch.
“It’s a book of haikus by an important American poet called John Kerouac,” said Namjoon.
“Is it any good?”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“Did you need anything?” said Namjoon, without lifting his head. “I assume you need something because otherwise you would have sat down by now.”
“Do you have Jimin’s home address? I want to check up on him.”
“Well, after what happened, I just can’t stop thinking about him. And I got some money for Chuseok from my grandma, so I was hoping that I could buy him a present. To make him feel better.”
Namjoon closed the book and looked at him. “Are you sure you want to do that? You don’t know how he’s going to react. Why don’t you text him first, and find out that way where he lives.”
Taehyung shrugged. “I want it to be a surprise.”
Namjoon went to a drawer and took out a logbook. He wrote down Jimin’s address and handed it to him.
Taehyung thanked Namjoon and left. On the way to Jimin’s apartment, he passed by the store where they had bought make up and applied it to Taehyung’s black eye. He didn’t know what an appropriate gift would be for such a situation: Flowers? A card? Chocolates? After much staring at the merchandise, he found a teddy bear clutching a heart that said, “Get well soon!” and that seemed appropriate.
He reached Jimin’s apartment building, went to the ninth floor where he lived, and knocked on his door.
A woman answered.
“Good afternoon,” he said, bowing. “Is Jimin there?”
“He’s inside,” she said. “He’s not feeling well. Are you his friend?”
“Yes, ma’am. I was just hoping to say hi.”
She regarded him for a moment, and when she spotted the bear she paused. But finally she took a step back and allowed him in.
Taehyung entered, removed his shoes, and was led to the living room. There was a boy there, eating cereal dry from the bowl, picking at the individual pieces with his fingers and popping them in his mouth, while watching One Piece. The boy was so engrossed in it that he didn’t even notice Taehyung as he sat beside him.
“Hello,” said Taehyung.
Jaejin looked at Taehyung. “Hello.”
"I'm Taehyung," he said. "What's your name?"
“You like One Piece? I love that show.”
“It’s okay,” said Jaejin. “It’s not as good as Jojo.”
Jaejin ate a piece of cereal. Taehyung wasn’t sure if he got there reference.
“I like your bear,” said Jaejin. “Are you here to see Jimin-hyung?”
“Yes. I’m his friend.”
“He hasn’t been feeling good. My mom and dad are angry at him.”
Jaejin shrugged. The television made a loud sound and he turned towards it.
Jimin’s mom peeked into the room from the hallway. “You can go to his room. He’s waiting for you.”
Taehyung walked past her. Jimin was holding the door to his room open. He looked more embarrassed than happy to see him.
Jimin closed the door. “Ah, jinjja… I had no idea you were going to do something like this. How did you even know where I live?”
“I got it from Namjoon-hyung’s records…”
They just stood there, not really knowing what to do.
Then, Taehyung remembered. “And I got you this.” He thrust the bear towards him.
Jimin took the bear and looked at it. Then he looked at Taehyung with his lower lip sticking out in a pout. “Thank you. I really appreciate this. You didn’t need to do this, you know. I’m fine.”
“Well… You were my first friend in Borahae,” he said. “And you were there for me when… you know.” He pointed at his right eye. “So, I’m here for you, too.”
Jimin smiled at him. An overwhelmed kind of smile, when kindness and comfort and happiness are too much, and there is only gratefulness. For a moment – only a moment – none of it mattered.
But he snapped out of it eventually, and he said, “Please, please… What am I thinking… My room is a mess.” He started picking up clothes from the floor and stuffing them in a drawer. Textbooks and notebooks on the bed. “I’m usually very neat you know. It’s just that I’ve been a bit of a mess recently…”
Jimin removed a ball of towels on a chair and motioned towards it. Taehyung sat down. Then, Jimin tossed the ball of towels in what Taehyung assumed was the bathroom.
Jimin placed the bear on his bedside table and then curled up on the bed, his face against the mattress, half hidden by his weight, his eye eagerly pointed at Taehyung. “Did anything interesting happen today in school?”
“Yes, actually,” said Taehyung. “Jungkook has chosen what he wanted to present to us.”
“And what’s that?”
“He wants us to go to Supermarket World,” said Taehyung. “The theme park.”
“Yaa…” Jimin sat up. “Can he do that?”
“Namjoon said it was okay. We’re going to use the club funds. Yoonki-hyung said something about money rotting, and someone’s dinner, and cats eating their jesa food…” He spent a few seconds trying to see if he had the power to piece it all together. Eventually, he decided, “You had to be there. And I wish you were.”
“I’ve just been unwell. But I’m better now.”
“If there’s anything wrong, Jiminie, I hope you know that you can tell me. And if you want to keep it a secret, then we’ll do that. But you should let me be here for you, if you need someone.”
Jimin nodded. “Thank you, Taehyung-ah.”
“Can I ask what happened?”
Jimin was quiet for a long while. And though he did it slowly, Taehyung could see his hand going down his thigh. Just as Taehyung was beginning to lower his head and say something about it, Jimin said, “Maybe next time.”
“Alright,” said Taehyung.
The door opened. Jimin’s dad. Taehyung stood up and bowed.
Jimin’s dad ignored him. “It’s time to eat. Let’s go.”
“This is my friend from school, Taehyung,” said Jimin.
The man looked at Taehyung. “Isn’t it a school night? You two should be studying. Not sitting around here gossiping like girls. Jimin, dinner. You – “ he pointed at Taehyung “ – go home.”
He left without closing the door.
“I’m sorry about that,” said Jimin, standing up. “I’m so embarrassed.”
“Don’t be,” said Taehyung. “I’ll see you in school tomorrow.”
Jimin walked Taehyung to the door. On the way there, Taehyung saw the three other members of Jimin’s family, in the sharply lit kitchen and dining room. And bowed to them, but it was as if they didn’t see him, and Jimin motioned towards the door to move him along.
Taehyung wore his shoes and walked out the door.
“Take care, okay?” he told Jimin. “Text me.”
“I will,” said Jimin.
Taehyung and Hobi were sitting together on the bus to Supermarket World. They were looking at the list of attractions on the theme park website.
“I can’t ride roller coasters,” said Hobi.
“You’re kidding…” said Taehyung, his finger poking at his screen to scroll through the different rides. “They have the highest and fastest roller coasters in Korea. Aren’t you curious?”
“Curious what it’s like to die? No.”
“You’re not going to die.”
Hobi was about to something but Taehyung added, “Actually, you’re going to die. Someday. We all are. But not on the Crash Register.”
“Why would they name it that?” said Hobi. “Who wants to feel like they’re about to lose control, crash, and burn to death?”
“It’s the only way I can really feel like I’m alive,” said Taehyung. “Is that sad?”
A row behind them, Namjoon was sitting with Yoonki. And Yoonki was saying, “You think Jin would ride the tunnel of love with me?”
“There’s a tunnel of love?” said Namjoon.
“I don’t know, but there’s bound to be one, right? A ride for couples that goes in the dark and stuff.”
“Why would you want to go in there with Jin?”
“I’ve been meaning to ask him something,” said Yoonki.
“…is it help with your math homework?”
“You know what the problem with you is? You’ve never been in love. Your heart is made of stone. You’re really smart, but when it comes to these things you just don’t understand.”
“Didn’t I kind of hear you break up with finality over Neon Genesis Evangelion?”
“God, you’re so rude, listening to other people’s conversations.” Yoonki turned the other way, towards the window. “But what you weren’t able to overhear is Tae-ssi and I talking about Jin and me, and realizing that maybe it’s worth one more try.”
“You do what you have to do, Yoonki-hyung,” said Namjoon. “Knowledge ends when the human heart begins. No one can really say what Jin would say or do or how he would feel except him.”
Yoonki was about to say something but he was slapped in the face with a giant candy bar.
“What the fuck…!”
“Sorry!” said Jimin, who was reaching out from the row behind him. “Pass it on. I brought snacks for the bus ride. One per row.”
Jimin handed over two candy bars, and Namjoon passed one of them to Taehyung in front of them.
When Jimin sat back down, Jungkook was smiling at him. “You did that on purpose.”
“I was waiting for him to talk so I can shove it in his mouth,” said Jimin, who was sitting by the window. “But I think he would have kicked my ass right here while the bus was moving.”
Jungkook chuckled as he bit into a piece of chocolate, taken from the same type of candy bar but was opened that he was holding in his other hand.
Jimin was closing up his bag. But before he did so he took out a bear and showed it to Jungkook. “Can you believe Taehyung-ah came to my house just to give me this the other day? He said he was worried because I didn’t go to school.”
Jungkook stopped chewing, like he was surprised. He swallowed and said, “Tae-hyung went to your house?”
“Yeah,” said Jimin. “To check on me. And to tell me that we’re going to Supermarket World today. Isn’t that nice? I’m going to surprise him that I bought this, and maybe we can take a picture with it together.”
Jungkook smiled. “That’s nice.”
“Maybe on the Ferris wheel, right?” said Jimin, turning the bear towards him so that they were eye to eye. “Just as we’re on the highest point, I’ll bring this out, and we can take a picture. It’ll be such a nice picture.”
Jungkook wrapped the candy bar up again as he nodded.
Jimin placed the bear back in his bag, then took the candy bar from Jungkook when it was returned to him. “No more?”
Jungkook shook his head and looked out the window on the opposite side of the bus.
They waited a bit in the parking lot for Jin to arrive. He woke up late and advised everyone to head there before him, as he could just get the driver to bring him there. Ordinarily, he hated giving hints of his wealth like this, and did whatever the others did, but a difficult math exam that week robbed him of so much sleep that, by Friday, he couldn’t help but oversleep.
When he arrived, they went in line, which wasn’t too long. It was about 10:30 in the morning, early enough to beat the crowd. They decided to purchase the ticket that allowed them to get on only certain rides for free – the silver tier. Anything more expensive and the administrators might have something to say about the entire thing during the biannual audit.
The first thing they saw was a giant can of pickled radish. At its center, inside a circled that framed it, was another can of pickled radish, but with eyes and crossed arms. A ribbon beneath it had the words, “WELCOME TO SUPERMARKET WORLD.”
Beneath that banner was the park's motto: Things Don't Always Make Sense in Supermarket World™
Taehyung held a map open and he kept looking at the giant can and the map, going back and forth.
“Apparently, this is the world’s largest can of pickled radish,” he said gleefully. “Whoa… daebak. It is pretty big.”
“Fine, but why,” said Namjoon. “Why does this need to exist?”
“Because it’s amazing,” said Yoonki. “Sometimes, that’s the only reason that something needs to exist. Because it’s beautiful. Because it reminds you you’re alive.” He was talking a lot louder than he needed to.
“This is beautiful?” Namjoon motioned to the thing. “This can as big as a building is supposed to remind you you’re alive?”
“It makes me feel like I’m an ant,” said Taehyung. “I’ve always wondered what it felt like to be this small.”
“You’re not really small, you know that, right?” said Jimin. “The can of pickled radish is big.”
“Which means that compared to it,” said Jungkook. “He’s small.”
Taehyung pressed his lips together and pointed at Jungkook with his thumb.
“Have you been here before?” Hobi asked Jin.
“A few times,” said Jin. “When this first opened, it was so popular that I begged my parents to take me and my cousins. The only problem is when you first get in, you don’t really know where to start.”
While talking they had started moving, like constituents of a single organism, towards no particular direction. But at the head of the group, the unconscious decider, was Taehyung, who was making his way to Produce Aisle Land.
At some point, they reached the place with vegetables for buildings and a farmland vibe. Carrots as tall as three people lined the entrance to the area, ultimately leading to a grassy park area with benches made to look like wood and various concession stands made to look like carts with fake cows.
“For the love of God, Taehyung-ah,” said Yoonki. “Close your mouth. A fly might swoop in down your throat and you could choke to death.”
“But it’s just so amazing!” he said. “This is a magical place.”
“Guess there’s no Supermarket World in Daegu,” said Jin.
“I hope you all know this is a capitalist paradise,” said Namjoon. “There is no more obvious, blatant, and shameless display of capitalism.”
“There it is,” said Yoonki, looking at Namjoon with his arms crossed. “Someone flipped the switch on the Namjoon-bot.”
Taehyung handed the their Polaroid to Jin and ran to one of the carrot pillars. “Take a picture of me!”
He pretended he was biting into it.
Jin laughed as he took it. Taehyung ran back, removed the photo, and began to fan it.
“I told you,” said Jin. “You shouldn’t do that. It’s going to ruin the picture.”
“What should we do?” said Hobi. “Are we just going to wander as one group the entire time?”
“Let’s ride something together,” said Namjoon. “And then we can split up.”
“Crash Register!” exclaimed Taehyung. “Let’s ride the Crash Register while the lines aren’t too long.”
“Oh, I’m not riding that,” said Hobi. “But you guys have fun.”
Taehyung pouted. “We need to ride it together, as a group.”
“Do we?” said Hobi. “Do we really?”
“It’s safe,” said Jungkook.
“That’s nice,” said Hobi. “No.”
In the distance there was screaming, and they realized that in the distance they could see it: roller coaster cars modeled to look like a long bag of groceries going up slowly to some peak, and then a flash of light and the sound of a scanner beeping, and then the car rushed down out of view, obscured by a large building that looked like a rundown shack and was actually a restaurant.
Taehyung had his mouth open again. He ran towards the roller coaster, and everyone reluctantly followed, but none more reluctantly than Hobi.
They rode the Crash Register, despite the continued and sustained protestations of Hobi, which only made the ride all that much sweeter.
On the long way up the incline, Hobi started saying “please, please, please,” over and over the entire way, until Yoonki who was beside him screamed at him to shut up. But he never did until they reached the summit.
“It’s beautiful up here!” said Taehyung.
Yoonki turned to Hobi, and he was quiet, his face the picture of dread itself. The beep of a scanner, a flash of light – and before the mind could even register it, they were falling, and then turning, and then upside down, and during the loop they slowed down, and it felt like they were either going to go backwards or they were going to fall from their car and die. Hobi was screaming bloody murder at this point, and Yoonki was beginning to lose his hearing in his one ear from it.
The speaker beside them said, “Price check! Baby carrots in a coaster car!”
And they went the rest of the way down, where after a few sharp turns, they were back where they started.
And when they exited the ride Hobi seemed to be so excited at having escaped the clutches of death that he began dancing around and clapping whenever they went.
It was right about lunch time, so they ate at a restaurant at Produce Aisle Land called Farmland Fresh.
“See,” said Taehyung, biting into a burger that was just about as big as his head. “Wasn’t that fun?”
“I’m just happy to be alive,” said Hobi, eating a fry. “Wah… I really thought I was going to die.”
“What was that?” said Yoonki, cupping a hand around his ear towards Hobi.
“I said I really thought I was going to die.”
“What?!” Yoonki leaned in closer across the table. “You’ve made me deaf with all your screaming – what??”
Hobi hit him over the head with the free bread, and he sat back down.
“Do you guys want to split up, so we can all go to the attractions we want?” said Jin.
“That sounds like a good idea,” said Namjoon. “How do we do this?”
Taehyung spread his map of Supermarket World in front of them, and they all decided where to go next, and therefore who should be with whom. Jin and Namjoon wanted to check out the ice dome in Freezer Land. Though Jimin wanted to stick with Taehyung, out of fear of being seen as too clingy and obvious he decided to go along with them. Taehyung and Hobi wanted to go around the entire park, to see everything and take pictures.
“I don’t know what I want to do,” said Yoonki.
Jungkook sheepishly pressed a finger on the map, his gaze remaining on Yoonki as he did so.
Yoonki looked. “No. What’s wrong with you?”
Jimin looked at where he was pointing. Then, he looked at everyone else. “Jungkook-ah wants to visit the haunted house… Ah, jinjja…”
Laughter and applause.
“If you’re going to be that way,” said Yoonki. “Then I’m just going to walk around on my own.”
“How different is this from that roller coaster?” said Hobi. “If you enjoyed that, then you should enjoy the haunted house.”
“Where the hell would a haunted house even fit in a grocery store theme park?” said Namjoon.
Jungkook leaned in towards the map and said, “Meat Section Land.”
“I fucking hate this place,” said Namjoon. “I change my vote. We shouldn’t have gone here.”
“It’s a bit too late to change your vote,” said Yoonki.
“I change it on principle,” said Namjoon.
“Pfft, principle…” Yoonki looked away and scratched the back of his head. “Right…”
Taehyung finished his burger, stood up, and said, “Let’s go. I’m too excited. I want to see everything.” He took the map.
Hobi ate his last fry and stood up. “See you guys later.”
They walked out.
Jin, Namjoon, and Jimin also stood up.
“They probably have coats for rent there, right?” said Jimin.
“Last time I went, there was,” said Jin. “I’m excited to see the penguins.”
“I hope they take proper care of those animals,” said Namjoon. “If I see they don’t have everything they need, I’m going to call the police immediately.”
And eventually Yoonki and Jungkook were left sitting there across from each other. And only then did they realize that they’ve never really shared any time together until that time, nor did they feel like they really had anything in common. It felt like a mistake. But it was too late to do anything about it.
Yoonki stood up. “Let’s just get this over with…”
In the Igloo, Jin, Namjoon, and Jimin were given coats, and at a leisurely pace they were allowed to explore a cold, icy, snowy area that was made to resemble the North Pole.
Immediately, Jin said, “Why do we have to go inside the igloo to see things that are outside of one?” if only to get the obvious question out of the way. Even if they knew that things didn’t always make sense in Supermarket World.
They gravitated towards the penguin enclosure first. Glass walls separated them from a colony of penguins that went about their business.
“Do you think any of these penguins are gay?” said Jimin, leaning on the railing that stuck out of the glass. “I’ve read somewhere that penguins can be gay.”
“I think all animals can be gay,” said Namjoon. “But of all animals only humans really make a big deal out of it.”
“How can you even tell a penguin is gay?” said Jimin.
“They own a Bed Panic CD,” said Jin.
“I didn’t know you were into boy bands,” said Jimin.
“I’m not,” said Jin.
“Idol groups are a sham,” said Namjoon.
Jimin shrugged and watched the penguins. “I like Bed Panic. I have the biggest crush on Yeong. I think he’s the perfect man.”
“More of a Page by Page fan,” said Jin. “But whatever.”
Jimin looked at him like he had just uttered a slur. “You’re so pretentious.”
In Meat Section Land, Yoonki and Jungkook looked at the haunted house. It was a four storey building, all bloody, and rusted, and decrepit, a ruined urban structure that looked as condemned as it was cursed.
It was called the Human Abattoir. An explanatory sign right before the line contained the back story: The president of the abattoir company became insane and began slaughtering his employees the way that they slaughtered the pigs and cows. He was killed by a police raid days later, but his ghost and the ghost of his victims continue to haunt the abattoir.
“You’re a demented lunatic, Jeon Jungkook,” said Yoonki. “Are you really set on going on with this?”
“I want to push my limits today,” he said. “I want to see how far I can push myself.”
“Why not jump off a cliff?” said Yoonki. “You survive that first, and then we go inside that building.”
Jungkook laughed and continued walking to the entrance, where they had to line up. There were television sets hanging from the ceiling of the shed where they had to line up, and they showed clips of people being scared half to death by the various actors and traps and mechanisms and noises.
“I’ll never forgive you for this,” said Yoonki. “If I die of a heart attack, remember to tell people that I blame you for my death and that you should go to jail for it.”
“Hyung, if you don’t want to go,” said Jungkook, “you don’t have to.”
“And give you the satisfaction?” Yoonki laughed sarcastically. “Hell no. I actually wish I convinced Jin to come with us.”
“Did he like getting scared?”
“No, he hated it,” said Yoonki. “That’s why I want him to be here.”
They inched closer to the Haunted House.
“Tell me something,” he said to Jungkook. “You think Jin will ride the tunnel of love with me? Or whatever ride they have for couples here.”
“Are you two a couple again?” he said.
“No,” said Yoonki. “But I’ve been meaning to ask him something.”
“Ask him what?”
Yoonki’s lips moved, but he wasn’t making any sounds, nor were his lips moving the way they should if he wanted to say anything – he tried to search for the words, but none would come.
After a while, he sighed, and said, “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
Jungkook’s eyes lowered, like he too was disappointed.
“But if I’m brave enough for this haunted house, I’ll be brave enough to ask him, right?”
“Ask him what, hyung?”
“I don’t know!”
Jin was posing beside a penguin inside the enclosure. Namjoon was taking the picture.
Jimin asked the trainer, “Do you have any gay penguins?”
“Of course,” said the trainer. “His name is Ostrich.” He looked around and pointed at a penguin, indistinguishable from all others. “That’s him.”
“That’s amazing,” said Jimin as he stared at the animal.
Ostrich the Penguin waddled along in the ice towards the water. And when he reached the edge of the ice, he just looked at his reflection, as if hesitating to jump in. Or wondering about his place in the universe.
“Aw, look. He’s being melodramatic,” said Jimin. “Which is probably the gayest thing, honestly.”
“Jimin,” said Jin. “Stop fawning over the homosexual birds and come take a picture with me.”
The trainer offered to take their picture and took Namjoon’s phone. Namjoon went on the other side of the penguin they had just been feeding fish to, opposite Jin. Jimin went behind the animal.
The trainer said, “Say kimchi!” and then began making a clicking noise, and the penguin pecked Jin on the cheek. Just as he winced, the trainer took the picture.
In the Abattoir, Yoonki found himself holding onto Jungkook’s arm as they navigated the dark corridors of the building, whining like he was about to be eaten alive by some beast.
“I’m going to die!” he said, as they walked on. “I’m going to die, and it’s all your fault, you stupid son of a bitch. Why did you force me to do this?”
They reached a narrow corridor that they had to squeeze through. It was only narrow enough to fit both of them if they were so close together that they were almost hugging. They knew that going one at a time was not an option.
Wigs were strung across the ceiling, so they had to push through long strands of black, oily hair while passing through. They took a tentative step, and through invisible holes in the walls arms suddenly emerged, grabbing and flicking at them.
Yoonki screamed so loudly that Jungkook had to cover his ear.
They climbed up a flight of stairs to the next level, and had to go through a room that resembled a meat storage area, with gutted and split open cows hanging from the ceiling. There were screens and tables where someone could jump out at them.
As they went through, Jungkook said, “Hyung, what did you want to tell Jin-hyung?”
“You dumb asshole, you can’t really be asking me that now.”
“I’m just… I’m so curious.”
They were huddled together, and talking softly like if they heard them they would pounce and tear them apart and eat them.
One of the hanging cow corpses shook violently, and Yoonki screamed again.
“Are you going to ask him to get back together?”
“Shut up! I’m dying here!”
They had to pass through translucent strip curtains to exit the room. They could see the outline of what was either mannequins or people ready to scare them when they stepped through.
Yoonki and Jungkook stood there, neither wanting to risk it.
“Why do you want to get back together,” said Jungkook, “even after everything?”
“Will you shut up about that? Can we just enjoy this horrific place in peace?”
Upon being rebuffed, Jungkook took his arm, this time to keep it in place above anything else, and walked towards the curtains. Yoonki’s legs inched along, but Jungkook was intent on going through. And the moment that they disturbed the long, thick strips of PVC they heard a noise like an engine starting.
“You love him, don’t you?” said Jungkook, pulling his ear close to his mouth, so he could hear him over the noise. Jungkook was taller than him, and he was manhandling him.
“Holy shit, the fear has made you insane – Help! Help!”
And just as Yoonki broke free and turned to run another way, he crashed into a man holding a chainsaw, laughing and hollering into his face. So he began to scream again, his mouth wide open like Taehyung’s, until he was red in the face.
When he tried to back away, he fell over. The man wielding the chainsaw approached, turned his prop off, which was really a vacuum cleaner with cardboard sticking out from under it, and removed his mask.
The man bowed. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you. I mean, I did, but...”
Jungkook stood by his head and looked down at him.
“I want another chance…” said Yoonki, breathlessly on the floor. “Don’t kill me before I can have another chance…”
Hobi and Taehyung were trying to find the best angle to make it look like the Crash Register was going into Taehyung’s mouth when Taehyung received a text. Jungkook was asking where he was. The haunted house was fun, he said. But now he wanted to ride something else and Yoonki wasn’t interested. He wanted to ride the Ferris wheel, called the Rotisserie.
Taehyung read this message again and again with some amazement: Could it be true – that Jungkook wanted to ride the Rotisserie with him? A cabin only held two people; he had passed by it earlier. And he had imagined what it would be like, to sit on one of those things with someone you secretly loved. Surely that was the purpose of such a mechanism. It was either that or a painful death.
Taehyung walked with Hobi to the Ferris wheel, without even telling him why, and making it seem as if he simply wanted to wander in that direction. And Jungkook was already standing there, going back and forth on his heels with his hands in his pockets. Taehyung observed him from the distance, while he was unaware of his presence. Jungkook always looked as if he had something profound in mind. As if he was working out a problem not meant for mortals.
"Oh look," said Hobi. "There's Jungkook."
Hobi screamed Jungkook's name and rushed towards him. Jungkook smiled and greeted Hobi.
"You're going to ride?" said Hobi, pointing at the Ferris wheel.
"Ah..." Jungkook lowered his head and kicked at the empty ground. "I was just hoping to ride with Taehyung..."
Hobi took a moment, and then he formed an O with his mouth and looked at each of them in turn. "Yes, yes. You two should go. I'm hungry anyway. I'm going to get a hotdog."
He smiled at both of them, with the knowingness of someone older, and so someone who knew exactly what was going on, and left with a wave.
Jungkook and Taehyung looked at each other for a moment, not knowing how to act or what to say during these types of situations.
Taehyung said, "Let's go?"
"Let's go," said Jungkook.
They rode in a cabin. The glass enclosed them, and they could see all around, even beneath their feet.
"I should probably tell you," said Taehyung. "I'm can be scared of heights. Especially when I can see below me."
"Are you going to start screaming like Yoonki-hyung in the haunted house?"
"Probably. I'll try not to. Yoonki-hyung was screaming in the haunted house, was he? Even after he gave Hobi-hyung all that shit about screaming on the roller coaster."
"I guess given enough reasons," said Jungkook. "We can all be the kind of people we hate. That, and it was really scary in there."
"Looks like it's my turn to be scared."
The wheel began to turn, and they were very slowly lifted into the air. They were so close that their shoulders touched, and they laughed at nothing in particular as they rose from the ground.
Jungkook said, "He asked me if I thought Jin-hyung would want to join him in the tunnel of love. I didn't know what to say."
"Are they back together?"
"No. That's why I was so confused," said Jungkook. "I kept asking him why he still wanted to do it, but he didn't want to answer me. Until he fell to the floor when an actor jumped out at us, and he said that he just wanted another chance. When we got out, I asked him again. And he said that some things are just worth fighting for. Even if you lose."
"I believe that, too," said Taehyung. "Yoonki-hyung and I spoke about his relationship with Jin-hyung, and he didn't seem ready to let go. And I always thought that if he really loved him, if he was really the one, then he shouldn't let go, while there's still a chance."
They were raised halfway to the pinnacle of the wheel. And Supermarket World, in all its absurdity, presented itself before them. From that height, the overlarge set pieces of the park were beginning to become more realistic in scale, and the people looked so small as to look as if they were promenading between carrots, and canned goods, and boxes, and plastic bags.
"Recently, I lost someone I loved, too," said Taehyung. "But when I visited Daegu during Chuseok, my grandmother reminded me of what's important."
"What did she say?"
"She said that we celebrate Chuseok because it reminds us to try again," said Taehyung. "To wake to a new morning after the long night. And I think Yoonki-hyung has the right to try again. To love and be loved again."
"And Jin-hyung?" said Jungkook.
"I guess right now it's all up to him..."
A few seconds passed in silence. And Jungkook said, "You're lucky to have people in your life that would give you such wisdom. About what to do in life. About what direction to take."
"I'm sure you have your family, too. They must be so proud of you."
"I do, and I'm grateful," said Jungkook. "They love me so much. Sometimes, I don't recognize myself when they talk about me. Sometimes, even I get confused about who I am when I hear them..."
"Do they say that you're an intelligent, handsome, kind boy with great potential -- someone who has the world in the palm of his hand?"
"Yes," said Jungkook. "Those are some of the ridiculous things they say."
"Then they really are talking about you," said Taehyung. "Because that's what I see when I look at you, too. And you are you, aren't you? This person beside me -- you are Jeon Jungkook?"
He blushed and looked out into the landscape. "Yes I am. And I'm here. With you. You are Kim Taehyung?"
"Kim Taehyung imnida," he said, with a wide, boxy smile. "Annyeong haseyo."
Jungkook laughed and smiled at him.
"Do you remember when you found me on the grass, those first few days of school?" said Jungkook.
"You were lying there like a snake ready to strike, yes," said Taehyung. "I was a bit worried, too, because you weren't lying on a blanket or anything. You were just on the ground."
"I've been doing that for a long time, and no one ever noticed me," he said. "I was so surprised."
"Why do you do that?"
"I feel like people see me whenever I do all of these things, like track, and sports, and being on tv, and they say my name. They call out to me. But all the other times, when I'm just myself... It's like they don't know me. And never have."
"Do you get lonely?"
"I do," said Jungkook. "And last year, when my father died..." He trailed off. Taehyung could see that his grip on the handle bars ahead of them had tightened.
"I'm so sorry."
"I feel like only he knew who I really am. Who really cared to know," said Jungkook. "And now that he's gone, despite everything, I'm nobody."
Jungkook turned towards Taehyung. "But you saw me. And that really meant a lot. I guess, like your grandmother said, I'm still trying to be strong during the long night. And waiting for the morning."
"Well..." said Taehyung, trying to think of something to say, and as Jungkook revealed more and more of himself to him, feeling like he too needed to be truthful. Then, he looked at Jungkook in the eyes. "Good morning."
His laughter was interrupted by Jungkook's lips against his -- their kiss was brief, merely a peck, and when Jungkook pulled back, his hands still around Taehyung's head, Taehyung was red, and his eyes were wide open, and his mouth was agape in surprise, and one of his hands gripped the railing while the other were pressed against the back of the car, as if he had lost all bearings.
"Did you mean to do that?" said Taehyung.
"I did mean to do that."
Jungkook took Taehyung's hand, and he looked out at the park below them: The big made small, the small made big. The illusion sufficed, too, for Taehyung's inner life, where everything in that instant had changed in scale. And what was once his greatest fears were now so minuscule that he couldn't find them if he tried.
Only then did they realize that they were at the highest point, looking down at everything. And when they alighted from the ride the world itself was renewed. Familiar, recognizable, but not the same thing. It all looked the same, but Jungkook held his hand, and this time whatever wilderness revealed by the rays of the sun they would brave together. And that made all the difference.
Chapter 12: Supermarket World, Part 2
My sincerest thanks for your encouraging and kind comments.
Jimin separated from Namjoon and Jin to check out the Ferris wheel after they had thoroughly explored the Freezer and even went ice skating. He found that he was good at it, and that his lessons in dance would prove useful if he ever decided to become a figure skater. Although his legs now bothered him when he executed what he considered the most beautiful and technical of his moves. Nonetheless, his two hyungs couldn’t stop praising him. His beauty, his grace. It made him feel happy, appreciated, and ready…
“Jimin!” said Hobi, waving at him. They walked towards each other.
“Where’s Taehyung?” said Jimin.
“He’s back there at the Ferris wheel with Jungkook.” He leaned in and said, “I have a feeling things are about to get romantic.”
“I’m going to get myself something to eat. Want to come with?”
“I think I’m just going to explore this way,” he said, pointing in the direction where Hobi came from. “I’ll see you later with the others.”
When they parted ways and Hobi was far enough away, Jimin ran to Ferris wheel, which he saw in the distance. He ran as fast as he could, though his legs were strained and tired and still sore.
And when he got there, he saw them: As their cabin rose to the top of the wheel, Jungkook’s lips pressed against Taehyung’s, whose arms were stretched across the cabin. And when they pulled themselves apart, their happiness tore through Jimin like a bullet. And the pain was so excruciating, none like he’s ever felt before, that he wanted to collapse. He found a bench and sat there, resting his head in his hands at first, and then pounding at his legs, like a more familiar pain would drown out the new one, the more potent one.
Namjoon and Jin were walking towards the arcade in Electronics Aisle Land, and Namjoon was going on and on about the merits of Metal Gear Solid, and about how the story is a kind of metaphysical recursion and should be enjoyed as such, with the confusion an integral part of what it means to enjoy that story, which itself is about confusion, when he turned and found that Jin wasn’t there anymore. He looked behind them, and Jin was holding the phone to his face, like he was reading very small letters on it.
Namjoon walked towards him. “What’s wrong?”
Jin looked at Namjoon. “Yoonki wants to ride the tunnel of love with me?”
“Why are you asking me? You’re the one who got the text.”
“Ah, I know what he text,” said Jin, rolling his eyes and shaking his head. “I’m not understanding why.”
Namjoon shrugged and placed his hands in his coat. The day was ending, and it was beginning to get cold.
“Well,” he said. “Shouldn’t you go to him, then?”
“You’re the genius,” said Jin. “You tell me.”
“Aish, this has nothing to do with me,” said Namjoon. “If you want to go, then go. If you don’t want to go, then don’t. It’s that simple.”
“You think this is simple? Nothing about this is simple. This entire thing, I’m getting tired of it. I’m getting so tired of it.”
“Did you know about this? He looks up to you. He must have told you.”
“On the bus,” said Namjoon. “He said he wanted to ask you a question. That’s about it.”
“Does he think he’s being cute? Does he think that he can come and go in my life as he pleases?”
Jin was waiting for a response, and Namjoon was thinking of one, when Hobi appeared in their field of vision, shoving a hotdog in his mouth while he walked.
For a moment they were all just looking at each other, Hobi chewing as they alternately eyed the others.
When Hobi swallowed, he said, “Hi.”
“Where’s Taehyung?” said Jin.
“He’s at the Ferris wheel, with Jungkook-ah,” said Hobi. “They’re having special time.”
“Special time?” said Jin.
“Yes,” said Hobi. “I’ve always suspected they had a crush on each other.” He shrugged. “I guess I was right.” And then he shoved the rest of the hotdog in his mouth.
Jin looked away for a second. And then he walked off.
“I’ll go with Yoonki,” he said, passing Namjoon.
And then Hobi and Namjoon were alone.
“Is he okay?” said Hobi.
“Yoonki wanted to ride the tunnel of love with him,” said Namjoon, looking behind him, and then back at Hobi. “He’s confused and frustrated at this whole thing. He just wants to put it all behind him.”
“Isn’t that for the best?”
“Only he knows what’s the best for him,” said Namjoon. “But he’ll only know if he works through it, rather than trying to avoid it.”
Hobi stood there nodding. “The sun’s about to set. You want to ride the Ferris wheel? The view’s bound to be nice.”
“Sure,” said Namjoon, and he went with him.
The sun was only beginning to set when Jin stepped up to Yoonki, who was leaning against a tree by the tunnel of love. Yoonki straightened up.
“Hey,” he said. “I’m glad you came. I honestly thought you weren’t going to.”
“What are we doing here?” said Jin.
Yoonki pointed behind him with his thumb. “I thought it would be nice to ride the tunnel of love. Or. Well. The Funnel of Love.”
Jin just stood there, looking at him. And then looking right through him, until it was obvious that he was thinking of something else entirely.
Yoonki scratched the back of his head. “I just thought,” he said, looking away, “that we can give it another shot. Because I really missed you, Seokjin.”
Jin began nodding absentmindedly. And he blinked hard, his entire face contorting, but only for a split second. Yoonki knew he did this when he was stressed for any reason. And under the circumstances it was ordinary behavior.
“I will say this before we get on,” said Jin, looking at him once again. “I can’t make any promises about what this means, or how I’ll feel, or what will happen. No promises at all.”
“After what we’ve been through over the last few weeks, Seokjin,” said Yoonki. “I’m done with promises.”
The conceit of the ride was they were going to go through a funnel into a bottle, while riding a boat specifically made to carry only two people. From the outside it was impossible to tell what they would encounter there; it simply looked like a giant soju bottle with a funnel going into it.
The attendant was a bit confused about them going together. And when the attendant hesitated, Yoonki wagged his finger between himself and Jin and said, “Us. One boat. People are waiting. Now please.”
They were finally let on, and off they went through an opening that became narrower, and narrower, and narrower, until they felt like their heads would brush against the ceiling. Then, they passed through curtains made of several long strands string and beads into some kind of magical world, where trees were made of jade and amber and lapis, and the sky was a dark teal, and over artificial hills were mystical flowers and mushrooms.
“Wow…” said Jin. “This is really beautiful.”
Among the landscape, there were items strewn about that suggested the existence of people, merely hinted at it – an abandoned picnic, clothes and shoes left by the bank, an easel and a stool by a tree…
“You wanted to ask me something?”
“Well…” Yoonki began, but he was quiet for a long time. And it seemed, almost, like he had forgotten what he was going to say, and had decided against answering altogether. But eventually said, “You know what I wanted to say.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Here’s what I know,” said Jin, turning towards him. He was a bit taller than Yoonki, and he had to look up at him because they were seated so close together. “I know we’re in a cursed place with giant foodstuffs and groceries, and we’re inside a gargantuan soju bottle. And honestly I’ve been enjoying everything, but the one ride I want to get off of is this relationship. Or whatever this is we’re supposed to have.”
He could see that Yoonki was hurt, and Jin had to turn away. There was a large, ancient tree with a tire swing, and tall grass in which fireflies played. “I’m tired. And I don’t know what to do. And I don’t know what I feel. And I don’t know what I want. And when it comes to those things, I try really hard to know. I try really hard. But sometimes I’m afraid that there’s nothing – that there’s just nothing in there anymore.
And whenever we do this, Yoonki… It just reminds me. It reminds me that I’m empty inside.”
“So, that’s what you feel when you’re around me now…” Yoonki laughed and shook his head. “Since when? Since the party?”
“Do you remember what you said? That I wanted to humiliate you, that I wanted you to beg?” Jin turned back towards him. “I’ve thought about that every night since that day. Because I would never, ever want that for anyone, and much less you. But I did want one thing from you, Yoonki. I wanted you to be there for me at the only time when no one else could have. But you weren’t… And if I didn’t have you, who supposedly loved me so much – then who did I have?”
“Then, I’m sorry, Seokjin,” said Yoonki. “I really am sorry. I made a mistake. I was wrong. But our love is more than that, isn’t it? And if that’s not enough then we’ll work to make it better. I’ll work to make it better.”
“Yoonki, I just don’t know.”
Yoonki took Jin by the cheek so that they were eye to eye. “You say you feel there’s nothing in there…” He placed a hand on Jin’s chest. “I know how that feels. That’s how I used to feel before I met you. Up until that very second on that bed, when you saw through that emptiness. That’s why I kissed you. That’s why I fell in love with you.
And throughout this entire thing, I realized that even if I know it’s there, I don’t care who sees the best in me. It only matters when it’s you.”
“But why me?” said Jin. “I don’t understand, Yoonki. Why does it have to be me?”
“Does it matter? Do we need to know everything?”
“Yes, it matters. And if I don’t find out why, that question will haunt me forever. It will gnaw at me until I know. And I thought I knew. I really did. Until you did what you did… Until what happened happened…”
“I know because I still feel it, Seokjin. I know because when I see you, and you look at me, suddenly wherever I am I want to be there. And when I was at the water tower with Taehyung–”
“You spoke with Taehyung?” Jin turned towards him.
The scenes around them continued to change, and the sky became a more violent shade of blue that reflected off of the water, and cast their shifting rays onto their faces. The scenes changed from idyll to Gothic mansions and churches and monasteries.
“And? What did he say?”
“Nothing. He just kept saying sorry. Sorry that this happened. Sorry about what I’m going through. Even he knew we lost something that we shouldn’t have.”
“He said we should try again?”
“Something like that, yeah. He understood. He knew what I was talking about. He’s been in love. He knows.”
Jin looked out into the waters ahead. And after a moment he said, “Tell you what. Why don’t you come to my parents’ charity event this Saturday. You can help out like you always do.”
“Well, that’s not a yes,” said Yoonki. “But I’ll take it.”
“It’s a start…”
Yoonki took Jin’s hand. And he was so startled that he almost pulled his hand away. But Jin remembered the sensation with fondness: Only then did he realize that he missed him. Or, at least his body did, despite the objections and doubts of his mind. And he squeezed Yoonki’s hand, though he looked on at the scene before them.
The scene had now been dominated by ruins, and smoke, and debris, and the sky was darker still. And over the hill there was an ancient clock tower, its hands stuck forever at minutes before midnight.
They passed through the curtains again, and the ride was over.
The boys convened for dinner at the giant box of Chinese takeout in Oriental Foods Land, at the insistence of Taehyung, who was so enamored by the building that upon seeing it he fell to his knees and began worshiping it as if it were a god. And Jungkook, at first perplexed and then fascinated and then grateful, fell also on his knees, and worshiped. And to this new god, this false idol, regardless of its deception and lack of power, he gave thanks – in his happiness, he didn’t mind showering his thanks to anyone, to anything.
Taehyung sent a message in the group chat. Hobi and Namjoon came first, after a trip to the arcade, and the four of them sat for the others waiting.
“All food in Korea is oriental food,” said Namjoon. “This place should just be called food land.”
“Ah, hyung…” said Taehyung, who was now wearing a cap shaped like the end of a carrot with leaves sprouting from the top and said “Supermarket World” on the front. “Why don’t you just enjoy it? You take things too seriously. You’re going to get an ulcer.”
“Did Yoonki-hyung get to talk to Jin-hyung?” said Jungkook.
“Yoonki texted Jin about going on the tunnel of love a while ago,” said Namjoon.
“The Funnel of Love,” said Taehyung.
“No,” said Namjoon. “I’m pretty sure the ride is called the tunnel of love.”
“Yes, but in Supermarket World,” said Taehyung, his finger in the air. “It’s called the Funnel of Love. You go inside a funnel into a soju bottle.”
Namjoon began patting his pockets and looking around like he was desperately searching for something. “Has anyone seen my will to live? I think I just lost it.”
Hobi was on his phone. “We should stay for the fireworks display! They have one at midnight.”
Namjoon turned his head from Hobi slowly to Taehyung – and like a horror movie his mouth was wide open again and his eyes were larger than he had ever seen them.
Jungkook slipped a fry in the boy’s mouth and he didn’t flinch.
“Guess we’re staying,” said Namjoon.
A little while later, Yoonki and Jin came to them, and though they weren’t holding hands, or touching, they sat close together. The signs were subtle, but conspicuous.
Yoonki said, “I’m hungry.”
“Let’s go Chinese,” said Jin. “I hadn’t had Chinese in a long time.”
“There’s no Chinese food here,” said Jungkook. “We checked already.”
Yoonki blinked at him. “But–“
Then Yoonki’s head slowly turned towards Taehyung and his hat. As soon as he saw what he saw, he closed his eyes, just to let the darkness consume him.
“I like your hat,” said Jin, with a bit of a laugh. “If we bury you underground, you’ll really be like a carrot.”
“One day,” said Namjoon, “we’ll all be underground, and this place will be in ruins, a testament to the hubris of a civilization who dared to make a giant can of pickled radish for no other reason than so it could exist.”
“Glad to hear you’re having the time of your life,” said Yoonki.
Namjoon asked Taehyung to message Jimin, to see if he was coming or lost or possibly in a ditch somewhere and needed help crawling out. And when there was no reply after five minutes or so, they decided that it would be harmless to buy the food then rather than wait.
When they all went back to the table, the weight of the day rested upon them, and only then were they able to realize how tired they had become. Although they exchanged words about the food, and asked polite questions about what they bought and how it tasted, there was silence for most of the meal.
Taehyung made a wrap and, with a hand beneath the other to catch it if it fell, he moved it towards Jungkook. Jungkook opened his mouth to receive it, and there was some miscalculation with regard to the size of the ssam and Jungkook’s mouth, so that it took a few more seconds than necessary.
It was during this intervening moment when a backpack fell onto the table, making the plates and bowls bounce, sauces and rice spilling onto the surface.
They looked up, and it was Jimin.
“What the fuck is your problem?” said Yoonki, dusting off his lap.
Jimin sat on the bench and rested his head on his hand, facing away from Taehyung and Jungkook and towards Namjoon.
“Are you okay, Jiminie?” said Taehyung. He knew something was wrong.
Jimin didn’t speak.
“Is something wrong, Jimin?” said Jin.
“Do you want me to get you something to eat?” said Hobi. “Go ahead, look around and tell me what to get you.”
“I want to go home,” he said. “I’m tired of this stupid place.”
“We were actually hoping to watch the fireworks,” said Namjoon. “It’s at midnight. Don’t you want to see it with us?”
“Jiminie, what’s wrong?” said Taehyung.
He reached for Jimin’s arm, but Jimin snatched it away and looked at him. Taehyung saw that there wasn’t only anger, but disgust.
“How was the Ferris wheel, Jungkook-ah?” said Jimin. “You two have fun?”
Taehyung looked at Jungkook, who faced Jimin for a moment before keeping his eyes down to his food.
“Well, did you? Answer me. When someone older is talking to you, you should answer them.”
But Jungkook was pretending he couldn’t hear him.
“I guess the Jeon Jungkook doesn’t have to answer to me. He gets anything he wants and gets to choose who he listens to.” Jimin stood back up and took his bag. “It doesn’t matter.”
He took another glance at Taehyung and Jungkook, who still wasn’t looking back at him, and left the table.
“Jimin, wait,” said Hobi.
“I’m going home,” said Jimin, without looking behind him. He said this loud enough that other people began to watch them.
“Don’t make a commotion,” said Yoonki. And Hobi turned back towards the group.
When Jimin was out of the building, Yoonki said, “What did you two do to him?”
Taehyung looked genuinely confused. “I don’t know. Jungkook-ah, what was he talking about?”
Taehyung stood a bit to look out the door. “Should I go after him? I’m really worried about him. He’s been acting so strange lately.”
“Text him first if he wants to talk,” said Yoonki. “Maybe he just wants to be left alone. Maybe he just wants to go home.”
“Jungkook-ah, what did you do?” said Jin. “Why was he so angry at you?”
Jungkook shrugged again and continued to eat while avoiding everyone’s gaze.
Taehyung texted Jimin and looked visibly perturbed, the ends of his lips down-turned as if he were moments from crying.
When they boys finished eating, an announcement came over the loudspeakers that the nightly parade was about to start, and everyone interested should park themselves in the main walkways of Produce Aisle Land, Electronics Aisle Land, Meat Section Land, or Oriental Foods Land. And given that’s where they already were, and they had four hours until the fireworks display, they decided to watch.
The boys sat on a bench and around the concrete barrier around a large tree, among all the other people who had come to watch. And before long music began playing, and floats bearing different products sold by Muso Inc. – the corporation behind Supermarket World – began to roll by, with mascots that were anthropomorphic, nightmare figures of the products dance beside the item, like the spirit of the thing made visible.
“Is this the lamest thing ever?” said Jin to Yoonki, who both sat on the bench, squished together. “This has to be, by far, the lamest parade I’ve ever seen.”
A float of humidifiers went by, on which there was an air purifier with legs and legs and an excessively happy face was dancing while steam emerged from it.
“Only 60,000 Won for a humidifier is a steal, though,” said Yoonki. “I mean, realistically speaking.”
“You see, you can laugh at that, because your allowance is probably a lot more than the price of that humidifier. For people like me, that’s a miracle.”
“You’re a spokesman for Muso Inc. now?” said Jin.
“Yeah, well… One day Muso Inc. is going to have an endorsement deal with me. And I’m going to have a commercial where I emerge from the smoke of fifty humidifiers while rapping about how sensible the price is.”
“I look forward to the day.”
Yoonki smiled at him, and he smiled at Yoonki. And although the song that was playing on the speakers was overproduced and grating, the lyrics amounting to nothing more than an extended advertisement on loop, and although only floats that showcased the new line of bladeless fans drifted past them, and although in the recesses of their hearts there still clung the charred crust of resentment and hurt and shame, Jin rested his head on Yoonki’s shoulder. And Yoonki kissed the top of Jin’s head.
A little behind them, on the concrete barrier, sat Taehyung and Jungkook. And Jungkook saw them. He remembered the sight of them a few weeks ago, fighting on the bleachers, and how he wished to feel the way they felt – to feel something as much as they felt it.
But he didn’t need to want that anymore, because he had it. And like them he took Taehyung’s hand, and held it. Taehyung looked back towards him, and he was still sad.
“I wish Jiminie was here with us,” said Taehyung. “We don’t even know what he’s going through, but I know he’s having a difficult time.”
“He’ll be alright,” said Jungkook.
They walked around, took pictures, and rode other rides until fifteen minutes to midnight, at which point all of the visitors of the park were asked to come to Home Improvement and Gardening Land, the largest section at the very edge of the park, where there was also a large man-made lake.
In the middle of the lake stood the mascot of Supermarket World, an anthropomorphic can of pickled radish called Mumu, dancing along with a small battalion of female backup singers in tube tops to generic music.
Jimin watched from a bench far away from the crowd, but he spotted the boys as they made their way to stand as close as they can to the railing beside the water. His feet were on the seat, and he hugged his legs; sitting like this made him feel small, invisible. Close as he can to disappearing, which he wanted to do, if he could only do it. If only he were brave enough. If only he knew Jaejin wouldn’t look for him.
He saw through the crowd that Jungkook and Taehyung were holding hands. The white-hot pain within threatened to drive him insane. Had he only been more handsome, he thought. More athletic, more famous. Had he only come from a rich family. Maybe then he would be holding Taehyung’s hand. And more importantly – what it meant: That in Taehyung’s life, he would occupy a special place, and for Jimin every smile and caress and kiss would be more special, more meaningful, because they were only for him.
And if someone like Taehyung loved him, then that must mean he is not at all what he thought of himself. But he doesn’t. And so what does that mean?
For the first time in his life he truly felt like there was nothing else for him.
The music heightened, and the fireworks bloomed in the sky, explosions radiating with splendid, neon fire, washing the land and up-turned faces in changing colors.
Jungkook and Taehyung hugged each other, face to face, and the other four boys turned towards them, surprised, but smiling, joyful, only happy that they were happy, and found each other. And again they kissed, this time deliberately, passionately. The four other boys clapped, and Yoonki and Jin wrapped their arms around each other, before turning back to the sky. And Jimin closed his eyes and never wanted to open them again, and for him there was only the darkness, and the explosions, and the pain that had at that point become familiar and his best friend.
Chapter 13: Lovers
Thank you to my beta-reader, Bel.
They bought a figure of Mumu and placed it on the shelf, along with Namjoon’s silver ticket, on which they all signed their names. All of them except Jimin, who wasn’t there that evening on the bus to do so. Taehyung placed these things on the shelf, and he reminded himself to ask Jimin to sign. And on the cork board, he placed their two pictures, the first when they first entered, and the second one, during the fireworks, the night sky illuminated with many hues. Jimin wasn’t there, either.
It was Monday, after classes.
“So tell me,” said Jin, who was lying on the couch while tossing a ball in the air and catching it. “Are you and Jungkook, like, in a relationship now?”
“We decided not to worry about labels,” said Taehyung.
“Strange thing to say after you kiss someone on a Ferris wheel, and then during a fireworks display.”
Taehyung walked to the beanbag and fell on it. He looked at Jin and shrugged. “Things don’t always make sense in Supermarket World.”
“Don’t say that,” said Jin. “Please don’t ever say that.”
Namjoon came in the room and approached them. “Jin-hyung, you must be so happy.”
“If this is what happiness is like,” said Jin, “then life really isn’t worth living.”
Namjoon placed his bag by the couch and sat on the armrest. “Page by Page is playing here two Saturdays from now.”
Jin just looked at him. “I think I’m experiencing withdrawal from the anxiety medication my dad used to prescribe to me. I thought I heard you say Page by Page is playing in Borahae next Friday.”
“That’s what I said.”
Jin sat up straight like an erection.
Namjoon began to talk slowly, partly because he was confused, and partly because he was afraid of detonating Jin if he said the wrong thing.
“I heard from you and Jimin last time that you liked that band, so I thought I’d tell you. The drama club is raising funds for Oedipus Rex.”
“Where do I get tickets?”
“The Glee Club room,” said Namjoon. “I passed it on the way here, and on the door it says tickets are almost out.”
Jin rose to his feet and ran off. At the door, he passed Yoonki, who tried to talk to him, but he was too much in a rush, and Jin just shouted, “Good afternoon” instead.
Yoonki looked at Tae and Namjoon, and they looked at him.
When no one said anything, he came in the room, slid the door closed, and placed his bag on the table.
“Page by Page is going to be holding a concert here,” Namjoon told Yoonki. “He’s off to buy tickets before the Glee Club runs out.”
“I don’t know what that is,” said Yoonki, sitting down.
“Me neither,” said Taehyung.
“It’s an indie band,” said Namjoon. “Very few people know them, but they have very dedicated fans. And I think someone in the Glee Club knows one of the members or something.”
“Are you and Jin-hyung back together?” Taehyung turned a bit on the bean bag, so that he was on his side, his blue hair hanging down.
“No,” said Yoonki. “But we’ve decided to work on it. Whatever that means. I hope things work out on Saturday when I help out during his parents’ charity thing.”
“I’m just happy that you two are working through it,” said Namjoon.
“I can’t stop thinking about Jimin, though,” said Yoonki. “About how he wanted to kill your boyfriend.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” said Taehyung. “We’re dating.”
“Yeah,” said Yoonki, laughing sardonically. “And Jin and I are getting married.”
“What kind of analogy is that?” said Namjoon.
“The best,” said Yoonki. “Shush.”
The door opened. It was Jungkook.
“Is something wrong with Jin-hyung?” he said. “I ran into him back there. He almost shoved me out the window.”
“Honestly,” Yoonki mumbled to himself, “you guys wouldn’t believe how strong Seokjin can be when he’s passionate.”
“Mumble softer,” said Namjoon.
“The band he likes is going to have a concert here,” said Taehyung. “And he’s running to get tickets at the Glee Club office.”
Jungkook nodded and took a seat at the meeting table.
“Tell me something,” Yoonki told Jungkook. “And I’m begging you to be honest with me. Really. What happened the other day in Supermarket World?”
“Ah, hyung… I really don’t know. I think he was just being mean. And he just happened to see me, so he said what he said.”
“I saw him during lunch at his locker,” said Yoonki. “I guess he’s been avoiding us.”
“By the way, Taehyung,” said Namjoon, “two Saturdays from now, it’s your turn to present something. Have you given it any thought?”
But Taehyung just laid there on the bean bag, looking at the ceiling, and didn’t seem to hear anything.
Everyday after school, Taehyung would sit in the bleachers and watch Jungkook during practice. He had told his mother that he was engaging in permanent after school activities, and that she shouldn’t expect him home until late. She continues to complain, but the complaining had become harmless. And eventually he got used to it, so that if he tried just a little her voice disappeared, even when he could see her mouth moving or his father in the background on the way to the fridge rolling his eyes and cupping his ears.
One of the first days that he brought Jungkook to practice, after spending the hour that separated last period from track practice in the club room, he saw Kwangmin among the boys warming up. And instinctively, Taehyung held Jungkook’s hand as he stopped; his fear allowed him no step further: The mere sight of Kwangmin’s face enough to remind him of the sensation of air-starved lungs, of drowning, the smell of piss and bleach…
But Jungkook pulled him along. And in front of everyone, Jungkook kissed his cheek. And without a word Taehyung walked up the bleachers. Having done that, and realizing that he needed not be afraid – it freed him. He looked at Kwangmin, and like the carrots and cartons of milk and vegetables carts from the Ferris wheel he now looked so small, so insignificant. Like he could step on him, and he would be nothing more than a smear on his shoe.
After practice, sometimes, they would go to the club room and just talk. Or sometimes they would watch something on television. There was an interesting collection of DVDs, although they never ended up remembering anything they watched.
One night, they were there, leaning against each other on the couch while watching a variety show. And Jungkook out of nowhere said, “Do you think you can tell me now who beat you?”
Taehyung didn’t even look at him. “I don’t think that matters anymore. Watch this part. It’s funny.”
“Of course it matters,” said Jungkook. “What if it happens again?”
Taehyung finally looked at him and, with a mischievous smile that looked rehearsed, said, “Of course it won’t happen again. I have you now.” He looked back at the television. “I have you to protect me.”
Taehyung wrapped his arm around Jungkook’s.
“Do you still think about that night?”
“Aish… Kookie, please…”
Jungkook looked at the television. He knew the group, but the name evaded him, and they engaged in ridiculous tasks they pretended were, at that moment, the most important things to them. When in fact, he knew, the most important things were only that people paid attention to them, and loved them, and this charade they called celebrity. He knew the feeling well.
But he looked then at the blue-haired boy, who now pressed his head against his chest. And he pressed his fingers together to feel Taehyung’s there in his hand. His warmth and presence. His being here.
“I just want to know,” he said, “if it still bothered you. If you still think about that night.”
He waited for him to answer, thinking that if he didn’t, then he would let the matter go, maybe never ask about it again. But eventually he said, “Yes. It does.”
“Promise me that you’ll tell me if that guy bothers you again,” he said. And when he didn’t answer, he said, “Taehyung, promise me.”
Taehyung looked up at him, his expression blank, with only a hint of confusion and annoyance. He looked back at the television and said, “I promise.”
That Saturday, Yoonki took the bus and then walked to Jin’s house. The neighborhood was familiar to him at that point; he had been there many dozens of times. But he never got used to seeing such ostentatious houses, such wide, ornate lawns. Expensive cars in driveways. He always thought to himself that he would rather have a small apartment with lively family and friends than a big house where the parents are always gone and the children are lonely.
But he didn’t know if he just told himself that because in his family’s apartment the couch had to be propped up by a stack of magazines because one of its legs had broken almost six years ago. And the television is so old and broken that they have resorted to politely asking it to work as they smacked it in different places, hoping the green bars blocking their view would go away at some point.
He reached Jin’s house. In the front lawn, there was already a small area set up for where people can sit and wait, and another area with a table and a tarp for a roof where there doctors would be and where they would hand out the free medicine and food.
He texted Jin that he had arrived, and Jin opened the front door for him.
When they walked inside, Yoonki headed straight for the staircase, but Jin grabbed his arm and led him to the living room where Jin’s parents were talking with several other people wearing white coats.
When Jin’s father saw him, he immediately approached, smiling widely as he did.
Yoonki bowed. “Annyeong haseyo.”
“It’s been such a long time, Yoonki-ah,” he said. “When Jin told me that you’re going to be helping out today, I was so glad. Not least because we need all the help we can get.”
He was a slight man with a round, friendly face and large glasses that took up over half his face. Jin was already much taller than him, and he was about Yoonki’s height.
“I’m happy to be here, sir,” he said.
“You two have lunch. The buses will arrive in an hour or two.”
In the dining room, there was a spread, like every year. And they walked around the table with precariously on one hand, handling the serving spoons with the other.
“Do your parents know what happened?” said Yoonki, as he waited for Jin to finish taking some kimchi.
“They do. Not the details, though.”
“And what did they say?”
Jin shrugged and moved on. Yoonki began taking some.
“They were sorry to hear about it.”
“And now? They’re not confused that after all that I’m here?”
“Given the way my life has gone,” said Jin, now further down the table, putting fried chicken on his plate, “I think they’re used to being confused. Besides, they like you.”
They walked to the garden, where plastic tables had been set up, and they sat at an unoccupied one.
“I don’t think I’ve ever asked you this,” said Yoonki. “But when did you come out to them? It just seems as if they just always knew.”
“They knew the night I brought you home,” said Jin. “Do you remember?”
Yoonki was smiling the wide smile that Jin loved seeing so much. “You said this is Yoonki, my boyfriend. And I remember they looked at each other. But that’s about it. I thought they were just wondering why you’d pick someone like me.”
“Could be both…”
Yoonki conceded this point and nodded to the idea.
“You know,” said Jin, “I have been thinking about what you said, in the Funnel.”
“Just all of it. And I want to tell you that I appreciate all of it. I appreciate everything.”
“I hope that doesn’t replace I love you,” said Yoonki. “But for now ‘I appreciate you’ is good enough for me. Did you get those tickets for Gay by Gay?”
“It’s Page by Page, and you know it, and yes.” Jin took out his wallet and placed the tickets on the table.
Yoonki sifted through them. “There are three in here.’
“Yeah, I thought I’d invite Taehyung.”
Yoonki looked at Jin. “Are you joking? And what’s the other one for?”
“I mean, we’re going together, of course,” said Jin. “But I also thought that he might enjoy it. Is that so bad?”
Yoonki dropped his chopsticks on the plate and fell back against his seat. “What’s happening here, Seokjin?”
Jin laughed. “Nothing!”
Yoonki was motionless for a long while. And then he leaned down over his meal again. “Okay.” And he ate with his head down.
“Oh, come on, don’t be like that.” Jin sighed. “Look, if you’re just going to be like this, then fine.”
He reached over, took one of the tickets, and ripped it to shreds. Then, he threw the bits of paper on the grass.
“Happy? We’re all good?”
Yoonki didn’t speak, and they ate in silence until Jin’s dad called on them.
When Taehyung brought Jungkook to his house that Friday, his mom didn’t know he was there with him, and starting mouthing off on him from the bathroom while he set another place on the table so they can have dinner. He had messaged her about him coming only an hour before coming home, when he knew she wouldn’t be watching her phone (as she rarely did). But due to some freak accident, she did see, and she replied while they were already on the train. He pretended to not have seen it.
“You kids don’t do anything but see each other and play and gossip – do you even study anymore?” she was saying.
Jungkook tried to help with the table, but Taehyung motioned for him to sit.
“We do study,” he said simply, loud enough so that she would hear it from the bathroom.
“Yet your grades are so low you won’t even be allowed to operate a cart so you can sell trash on the street in the junkyard?”
Taehyung put a placemat in front of Jungkook, a plate, chopsticks, a glass. He scooped rice into two bowls and placed it on the table, where his mother had already placed other food in anticipation of Taehyung and his friend’s arrival.
“Why don’t you come out here and say hi to my friend, mama?”
Finally, the door opened. His mother came out, her face white as a geisha’s, her hair a tangled mess of curlers, and she made a beeline for the living room.
Taehyung ran in front of her and refused to let her pass.
“Move! I don’t want your friend to see me like this.”
“Just say hi to him.”
“Hi,” she said, curtly, without looking at him.
Taehyung took her by the shoulders and turned her towards Jungkook.
“What are you –“
Her mouth fell open, and she just stood there looking at him as if the recognition had petrified her.
Jungkook stood up and bowed deeply. “Annyeong haseyo.”
She just stood there for a few more seconds, before she turned and rushed past Taehyung. “Yusung! Quick!”
Taehyung laughed and shook his head. He took the gogi and the pancake and put them in the microwave to heat them.
“Is she going to be okay?” said Jungkook. “Is there anything I need to do?”
“Just wait,” he said, leaning against the counter.
Several minutes later, Taehyung’s parents emerged from the other room. Jungkook stood again and bowed to them. They bowed in return. Tae’s mother now had a clean face, and she had removed her curlers. But she was still wearing a night gown, and his father was still wearing a tattered sleeveless undershirt that exposed his left nipple when his arms were positioned in a particular way.
“Taehyung-ah,” said his mother. “You didn’t tell me your friend was Jeon Jungkook. I thought he was just one of your other classmates.”
“You didn’t ask,” said Taehyung. “And he’s been here for like fifteen minutes. But you just walked past him.”
“That’s nice darling. Jungkook-ah, do you mind if we take a picture?”
“We’re going to eat, mama,” said Taehyung.
“Take our picture, Taehyung-ah. Make sure it’s above the shoulder. And then post it on the Facebooks so your aunts and your brother can see it.”
“If you don’t mind, of course,” said his father.
Jungkook said, “No. Of course not. I don’t mind at all.”
Taehyung and Jungkook walked with Taehyung’s parents to the living room, where they posed for a photo the way they would during the New Year when Tae’s brother came home from the Philippines where he worked.
His parents sat in the middle, and Tae and Jungkook sat opposite them, and they it took a few tries before Tae found the right place where to put the coffee table and where to put his phone on it.
They all ended up sitting at the table afterwards. Taehyung’s dad drank a beer. He offered either of them some, but Tae’s mom eyed him until he admitted, retroactively, that he had been joking all along.
“I told her that you went to our school,” said Tae. “But she wouldn’t believe me.”
“Because it was such an honor,” she said. “Because I was so incredibly grateful for the honor, that I didn’t want to believe it. I was in denial.”
Taehyung casually popped a piece of kimchi in his mouth and rolled his eyes.
He caught the eye of his dad, and they both snickered. They knew this behavior from his mom well. And they knew that it was harmless.
“How do you two know each other anyway?” said his dad after a swig. “Jungkook-ah must be from a lower batch. You can’t be classmates.”
“Club,” said Taehyung.
His mom reached over and touched Jungkook by the arm. “Talk to Taehyung. Inspire him to do better. Inspire him to be more like you.”
“I’ll try my best,” said Jungkook, laughing a little.
They left them alone, Taehyung’s dad ruffling Taehyung’s now-pale blue hair as he left with his mom.
“By the way,” said Taehyung, turning towards the living room, twisting his body on the chair. “Can Jungkook stay for the night?”
“Why not?” said his mom.
“If you were anybody else, she would be livid.” Taehyung laughed.
Jin and Yoonki did the boring stuff during the charity drive. They made sure everyone had somewhere to sit, answered questions, directed people to where they should be lining up. The people come in through buses in the inner city rented by Jin’s family. At some point, they stop taking people in, and the people there to receive food packages and medical-dental check ups eventually thin out right about the time it gets dark. And by the time the streetlamps were on, there was no one there apart from the volunteers.
They had dinner, this time as an entire group, Jin’s parents, the volunteers, Yoonki, the bus drivers. And to cap off the night, Jin’s mom invited Yoonki to play the piano for the guests as they had coffee in the living room – a kind of unofficial tradition that also illustrated to the guests the place Yoonki had in their family.
Jin sat there on the couch, alone, watching Yoonki as he played one of his own compositions, a slow piece, almost romantic, reminding him of maybe the later Beethoven or even Debussy. People milled about around them, making empty conversation that faded in the background. The laughter was loud and hollow. Pictures of children and grandchildren were wielded like weapons, with the counter strike being empty praise, kind reassurances, compliments that dissolve into nothing the moment they make their way to the ear.
Jin observed Yoonki and only looked at him and only listened to his music. It was only then, after a long time, and definitely after the party when he denied him, that he truly how important Yoonki was to him. And supposing they should ever be apart, for whatever reason, then it would not be at all like taking out a piece of his soul and patching in another.
Where Yoonki goes, a piece of him goes, the same piece that anyone gives anyone they’ve loved and loved truly, and cannot be returned. Because in being given its value becomes beyond measure. It becomes invaluable. A part of him will go missing, and he will be bringing around a part of Yoonki forever.
It’s sad, Jin thought, that humans should spend their lives a burden to each other like this.
When everyone had said their goodbyes, Yoonki stopped playing, and Jin’s parents thanked them for their work.
“Why don’t you spend the night?” said Jin’s mom to Yoonki. “You must be so tired. You don’t have to make the trip home. Plus, it’s late.”
Yoonki looked at Jin, and when Yoonki began to shake his head, Jin said, “It’s fine. I think she’s right.”
So, they went to Jin’s room, and Yoonki sat on the bed while Jin sat on the nook beside the window.
And for a while they just looked at each other with strange, tired, ironic looks on their faces.
“Do you want to take a nap?” said Yoonki, with a wry smile.
Jin laughed. Then moved to the bed with him.
Taehyung led Jungkook to his room. It was relatively neat, probably owing to his mom, but there were all manner of posters on the wall – prints of paintings that he liked – as well as Taehyung’s own paintings that looked as if they were placed anywhere he can put them. One was propped up on the night stand. Another was hanging on the bathroom door. The other peeked out from beneath the bed.
Jungkook stood in front of the one on the bathroom door. It was an angular, simplistic, almost cartoonish drawing of a face, reminicent of a Picasso, but with thick, textured lines, and bold, almost blinding, colors that clashed and made the sight of it almost difficult. The eyes, although similarly drawn like a caricature, stood out in that they were plain, and kind. As if the character drawn was tolerating the viewer with an infinite patience.
“I’ve kind of just accepted that I’m not very good,” said Taehyung from behind him.
Jungkook turned towards him, and then the painting again. “I like it. Is this someone you know?”
Taehyung shrugged. “It’s not important.”
“So it is,” said Jungkook. “And you don’t want me to know about it.”
Taehyung laughed and fell back onto the bed, his arms stretched across its length. “It’s not important.”
Jungkook sat on the bed beside him.
“Is it that Jackson boy you were talking about?”
“Do you want me to pinch you?” said Taehyung. “I’ll pinch your mouth closed.”
Jungkook smiled and stopped talking. If only because he looked like the threat was serious.
“Your parents,” he started after a while. “Do they know about you? That you’re…?”
“No,” said Taehyung. “I think they might have an idea. Maybe.”
“Not important,” he said sheepishly, and Taehyung reached towards him and pinched his side so hard he had to bend sideways like his kidney had ruptured. “Okay, okay…! My mom doesn’t. But I think my dad had an idea.”
They tried to find something to watch on Netflix to pass the time. But they couldn’t find anything that sustained their interest. And while the video of a drama played in the background, lying side by side on Taehyung’s narrow bed, the mere intensity of their touch was enough to preoccupy them beyond the ability to comprehend any other sensations. They might as well have been tumbling in space, like the Earth had melted away, illusion that it is.
Their lips found their way to each other, and while they kissed with passions that they’ve long hidden from anyone else their hands explored the body of the other. Taehyung began to undo Jungkook’s trousers, and bent over towards between his legs, when Jungkook held his shoulder as if to stop him. He’s never done this before, he said. Taehyung told him not to worry and bowed his head, and for once in his life he was powerless, and ignorant, and vulnerable.
When Jungkook’s pleasure was about to peak, Taehyung stopped and undressed him. And Jungkook undressed him in turn. In their nakedness, Taehyung slipped under Jungkook and received him, his fingers curling against the pillow until finally Jungkook climaxes inside him, his body rattling as if his soul had broken free. And for a moment it might as well have. They tried to be quiet, their moans and gasps as soft as they could make them.
Jungkook fell beside him. “What about you?”
Taehyung took Jungkook’s hand and wrapped it around his penis, and with his own hand over it he began to pleasure himself. He looked deep into Jungkook’s eyes; where there was once shame, there now only laid surrender. Even in essence they were naked to each other. He bit his lower lip, and their breaths mingled, the heat enough to make beads of sweat linger on their brows.
Taehyung came, and he threw his head back in perfect ecstasy. He let go, but Jungkook continued to stroke him, and he burst into fits of pleasure, uncontrollable, scratching at the threshold of pain, until Taehyung forced his hand away, and he looked at him with those shapely eyes panting, his stomach rising and falling streaked with the white of his seed.
“All my life, I’ve never felt like this,” said Jungkook. “I never knew I could feel this way. That a person could feel this way.”
But Taehyung was still breathless. And he took Jungkook’s hand instead, and they both just laid there, the sound of the television in the living room seeping through the wall faintly, mixed with a ringing like too much blood had risen to his head.
On the laptop, Netlix asked if they were still watching. But the nameless portrait on the bathroom door never stopped, and saw everything.
The lights in Jin’s room were turned off, and the light from the bathroom spilled over onto the carpet in a contorted rectangle, in the middle which was the elongated shadow of Yoonki, who stood there still in the light, naked. Jin was lying also naked on the bed, his dark figure a dim vision of manly beauty. He removed the towel from beneath him, folded it into a ball, and tossed it to him.
Yoonki tossed it in the hamper behind him as if it were a basketball, and then made his way to the bed, wrapping his arms around Jin and settling in against his body snug like a puzzle piece. Jin reached down and put the blanket over them.
“I was scared that I’d never be able to be with you like this ever again,” said Yoonki. “I know that someday it’ll be inevitable. Even if we stayed together for the rest of our lives, one day we will have to be torn apart. But I was angry at myself for not savoring it every moment, so that if this is the last time, then I won’t have any regrets. That I took it for granted.”
“I’m sorry I took you for granted,” said Jin. “And that I had such little faith. That I doubted you.”
“You don’t need to apologize for anything. I should have told those people they can rot in hell for saying what they said. I should have told everyone right then and there the truth. That I love you.”
“That’s behind us now.”
They were silent.
Yoonki said, “I love you, Seokjin. Until everything that happened, I never really knew how much I love you.”
All Jin could say was, “I don’t know what to say.”
And all Yoonki could say was, “I understand.”