when i meet you after time passes
i’ll know you protected me
i’ll know i desired you.
It has been a long while since the last time summer for Minghao smelt of the same scent of salty sea water that used to wash over his skin when he was a child. A long time away from the endless afternoons spent laying on the white sand of this little island shy of the southern coast of South Korea, where the sun always seemed to shine a little bit brighter than anywhere else on Earth, and where the memories most treasured by Minghao had been made by a much younger version of himself he can barely recognise now. It feels like a lifetime, even if six years might not seem like it.
Minghao is twenty-eight years old, now, his fingers gripping the railway tightly. He’s standing on the balcony of an apartment that once felt like his home, seemingly a lifetime since the last time he stood there — a twenty-two years old Xu Minghao whose life was about to change forever —, when he sees Seokmin and Soonyoung walking into the community pool together, a little two-year-old girl in tow. Something tugs at the bottom of his stomach, his throat closing up in a tight knot at the sight of his childhood friends, who have overcome so many difficulties in all their years together and built a family of their own. Fighting to right a relationship so clearly dysfunctional for such a long time, to defeat all the fears that had haunted them for years; a clear display of all the things Minghao and Junhui had always been too scared to do, to try, to feel.
Minghao doesn’t dare to look over at the balcony of Junhui’s house, oriented to the right from where he stands.
Mingyu wraps his arms around Minghao from the back. Tall, sweet, real Mingyu who keeps Minghao grounded, who pulls him out of intrusive thoughts that fill his head sometimes even if he fights them not to do so, who presses his lips to the top of Minghao’s head and holds him close enough to feel the rising and falling of his chest with the racing of his heart.
“Everything is okay,” Mingyu says softly, like it’s the blatant truth, like Minghao hasn’t been running from his past for the past six years, “Seokmin knows you. I know you. It’s alright.”
His life is different now. He’s grown, has matured and found himself, and has learned the hard way that feelings are sometimes untameable, too. He looks down at the engagement ring sitting on his left hand, his most cherished promise, and subconsciously searches to hold Mingyu’s hand, where another ring sits, mirroring his own. Minghao had always been scared of change, of uncertainty. But standing in the place where he thought the beginning and the end of the world collided, where he believed himself resilient to change, he finds himself proven wrong.
Turning around to look inside the apartment, where he can picture his own self growing up in every single crevice, Minghao nods.
In another life, Minghao never goes to Seoul, never stops going to the island in summer, never stops talking to his childhood friends (except Seokmin, who tries to keep in touch with him no matter how difficult that turns out to be), and gets to savour the taste of Junhui’s lips under the summer night sky.
In another, he confronts Junhui about his feelings when they’re still teenagers with nothing to lose, and his rejection hurts like a thousand knives digging into the raw flesh of Minghao’s heart.
In another life, maybe, Mingyu still finds him and helps him find himself, and they fall in love again, too.
if there’s two Earths,
it could be a different me too.
Minghao comes to the island seeking for reconciliation with his own past; with a part of him so inherent to his existence that he had never thought believable an scenario where things turned out like this.
He returns to the place where he was once so happy, and where he found himself falling not only once, but twice. Falling in love with Wen Junhui, way before he was old enough to understand the feelings growing bigger and stronger in his heart with every day that went by, and vowing to cherish him forever. And falling, too, into a pit so deep he thought he would never be able to escape again; so dark that life had been almost completely drained from his body, his energy stolen, his happiness crushed.
In this same island, in this same room, he remembers Minghao, nineteen years old, coming from his awful first year of university in Seoul to find the worst summer of his life unfold right before his eyes, an unknown family renting Junhui’s apartment for that time; and a recurrent nightmare, haunting his dreams enough times to make Minghao question his own sanity. A single invitation to Junhui’s wedding, with his name written in flourish calligraphy on the top, and his own heart wretched right out of his chest, turned to dust.
Remembers Minghao, twenty, lonelier than ever, watching Junhui bring his girlfriend to spend a weekend with his parents before returning with her to China and breaking his heart once again. Recalls twenty one-year-old Minghao, starting to heal, bringing along some friends newly found in college, with the promise of starting over, of giving happiness a chance. (Jeonghan always said that with a soul as pure Minghao’s, nothing should ever hurt him again).
when i take one step closer, the flower path grows thorns
then you reach out to save me.
Minghao comes to the island to make up with his past self. To make up with Minghao, who is twenty-two years old, and is staring at the sea from the very same balcony where he stands now, a sad smile tugging at his lips as he wills tears to stop welling in his eyes. Mingyu, video-calling him from his home in Anyang, tells him that he misses him and can’t wait to be back in Seoul with him.
He comes to make up with Wen Junhui, confronting him after a lifetime together, looking at him in the eye to tell him, “I’m not with her anymore, it wouldn’t work”, and Minghao understanding. Seeing past his words, transparent as the water that lapped at their feet where they had stood at the shore, and feeling nothing. Minghao, who had been waiting all his life for that moment — dreamed of hearing Junhui tell him, hint at him that he liked him, that he felt the same as the younger did —, numb and indifferent under the life changing realisation that they could have a chance, now, after time has passed. Now, that Minghao has found himself growing and evolving in the freedom that Mingyu’s strong arms and stronger soul provide for him, that he has realised that maybe, after suffering for so long, he too deserves to be loved. Now, that he has placed all his bets on a new start and a tall, dark haired boy who manages to make his heart race again after a lifetime of disillusions.
if i don’t deceive myself
i won’t be lost or sad.
“I’m sorry it wouldn’t work, Junnie,” Minghao had said at the beach, wrapping his arm around the other’s shoulders in a brotherly gesture. “Sometimes, the person we first believe to be our only turns out not to be made for us.”
“I miss you so much, too”, Minghao had told Mingyu on the video-call, later, his head swimming with confusion about his own previous reaction to Junhui’s words. “Let’s spend next summer together, somewhere. I’ll start working this year, we can save some money for a trip.”
Minghao tells Mingyu he loves him for the first time a year and a half into their relationship, when he is twenty-three years old, on a warm summer night by the sea in Jeju; their hands intertwined and the night sky shining with hundreds of stars and a crescent moon. “I’m in love with you”, he says softly, to both Mingyu and the ocean opening up in front of them, dark enough to swallow all his fears and insecurities and set him free.
“You know I’m in love with you, too”, Mingyu replies just as gently, and Minghao can see from the corner of his eyes just how his face lights up with pure, utter happiness.
Minghao doesn’t miss summers at the island. He doesn’t miss the heartache, the sadness, and after decades of feeling otherwise, he doesn’t miss Junhui anymore.
Mingyu’s smile, so bright that it should make the sun jealous of him, is enough to make Minghao the happiest person on the face of Earth; is enough to make him understand that hearts can be mended, and wounds healed, too.
Minghao is twenty-five, building his life block by block from the bottom to the top, a smile so sincere almost permanently etched on his lips that he sometimes wonders if he has been, perhaps, lucid dreaming for the past few years.
He has a job he loves, the photographer of a magazine so important he had never even considered it a plausible work option; a group of friends which he cherishes with all of his being, people who have shown him that real friendship entails giving without expecting anything back, and yet receiving what he gave multiplied tenfold. He has a boyfriend, so sweet and caring that it sometimes brings tears to his eyes, to find himself so loved, so important to somebody.
Kim Mingyu is the best thing to ever happen to Xu Minghao. He tells him so, hunched underneath a blanket on their couch on a cold autumn afternoon; waking up next to him on a winter morning with frost licking at the glass of the windows in their shared bedroom; walking with him alongside the Han River in the spring, hand in hand as the first cherry blossoms fall over their heads.
He tells him when summer arrives, when they both hop onto a plane headed for Tokyo and afterwards catch a train destined for Kamakura, where they spend their short-lived summer holidays.
Sitting by the sea with Mingyu, with their feet buried in beige sand and the sun reflecting on the water, Minghao finds himself lost in a seconds-long moment in which he wonders, briefly, how it would be like to go back to the island where his family still spends the summer; and the realisation that bringing Mingyu there would be the key to show him that which used to be Minghao’s biggest weakness opens a hole in his heart that he spends weeks trying to mend.
Coming back to the island feels like redemption. Minghao, bringing along his fiancé, his fiancé, to meet the people who have known him since he was born. To meet Lee Seokmin, who remains one of Minghao’s closer friends despite how hard it is to talk — and meet — lately, one busy with work schedules and the other with the exhaustive chore of taking care of a toddler. Kwon Soonyoung, Seokmin’s boyfriend and Chan’s older brother — he would come along, too —, to whom Minghao hadn’t spoken in almost a decade and that had managed to still capture once more the heart of a Seokmin that would not be fooled by toxic behaviours ever again.
He’s brought Mingyu to the island so he can finally meet Wen Junhui: Minghao’s first friend, first love, first heartbreak.
Some things in life, Minghao reckons, deserve closure.
Minghao has no doubts about his relationship with Mingyu. He no longer wonders if they are good enough for each other, like he used to do when they first started dating, way before the taller boy showed him that he was capable of healing, of becoming a better version of his own self. He knows Kim Mingyu is the man he wants to marry, would never dream of things being any different for him.
By bringing Mingyu with him to meet one of the few parts of his life that Minghao hasn’t shown him yet, he is laying himself bare before him one more time, fearlessly, proudly. Mingyu knows all about how summers used to be for him. He knows about Seokmin and Soonyoung, and he knows every single detail about his feelings about Junhui, too. They don’t hide anything from each other, and Minghao couldn’t, wouldn’t even if he could, not tell the man who would soon become his husband about the person he once believed to be the one destined for him.
Minghao talks to Junhui again a couple of months before summer starts, and exactly six years after the last time they spoke, facing each other on that beach when realisation dawned upon Minghao. He finds it to be the only possible way to bring peace to his mind, when he is so sure about marrying Mingyu that he cannot bear to let thoughts of the past intrude with his happiness.
Junhui’s voice hasn’t changed in all the years they have gone without talking to each other. He sounds so grateful to talk to Minghao again, so excited to be invited over to the island for a weekend-long reunion with their old friends, so happy to be telling him that he will be bringing his boyfriend Yanan along with him.
The notion of the older bringing someone with him doesn’t spark any painful feelings in Minghao’s chest, doesn’t make him jealous, doesn’t make him wish it was him instead, doesn’t make him hope for a life he has long known he would never have; and he feels so relieved to have overcome all the suffering he had for a long time associated to Junhui’s existence that he can’t help but laugh, overwhelmed by happiness.
“I’ve missed talking to you, Xiao Hao”, Junhui tells him before they hang up, and Minghao replies with a smile on his lips, unwavering.
“I’ve missed you too, Junnie.”
When he looks out of the balcony again, it is to meet Seokmin’s stare from beside the pool, a smile so wide it makes his eyes crinkle into crescent moons.
“Minghao!”, he calls out to him from below, waving excitedly. “Come down here with us! Heejin wants to play with her uncles again!”
It takes a moment for Minghao to register time running for him again, life still going on even if his mind seems keen on sticking to certain moments in existence. When he does, Mingyu is waving back at Seokmin, and Soonyoung is scoffing up at them with the little girl in his arms.
“Yah, Minghao-ya! I haven’t seen you in years, come down here right now!” The older yells, and if there’s a wide grin tugging at the corners of Minghao’s lips when he grips Mingyu’s hand again to lead him down to the pool, well. He really doesn’t have it in him to care.
“Prepare to meet the people who’ve known me the longest, Gyu.”
He’s closing a circle, Minghao believes. He’s facing his past and his future at the same time, making them collide and fit against each other like puzzle pieces. And he is doing it with Wen Junhui and Kim Mingyu by his side.
Junhui, who Minghao once thought to be the only person he would ever love, who remains a loyal friend after time has passed and went by.
Mingyu, who he loves with the entirety of his heart, who has made possible for Minghao to keep existing, to keep feeling, to keep living.
He is doing it by surrounding himself with the people he has cared about for the longest time, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
when i meet you after time passes
i’ll know you were my future
i’ll know i was your yesterday.
Minghao knows, now, that happiness comes in letting go of things that will never be his, comes in allowing himself to mourn, learn and heal, and in the form of the people who make up his world, loving him in ways so different that, when they all add up, he could not wish for anything else.