“It’s another rainy Thursday evening, students of Shinhwa University. So to all insomniacs, early risers, and those pulling all-nighters, be sure to tune in here at Radio Dream. I’ll be your host, DJ Moon, live every 2 to 3 AM from Mondays to Fridays. Up next, here’s a personal favorite of mine that would go well with the weather.”
To be honest, Renjun has never heard of this song at all.
He rubs his eyes as he drags the keys up to play an indie song on a pre-made playlist. It was given to him by his senior who has long graduated, Johnny. Back when Johnny was a sophomore, he was placed in the same time slot for the college radio too. The difference is, Johnny loved hosting and had voluntarily accepted to be put in the dead of night.
Renjun, however, only agreed to do so for extra credit. Starting last semester, his grades have been slowly going downhill and it doesn’t help that he’s the only sophomore to not be preoccupied in an internship program. So when the news surfaced that the school is planning on shutting down the campus radio for budget cuts, students started volunteering to save it. Of course, Renjun saw this as an opportunity and went on board.
Initially, Ms. Park, his communications professor, had slated him for the 11 PM timeslot, but the feedback he’s been getting for the first two days has been subpar and considering it’s a timeslot with a good amount of listeners, it just isn’t going to cut it.
Renjun doesn’t deny he’s been lacking though. At first, he requested for the 9 PM slot, knowing it’s the segment with the most listeners, so when he didn't get his preferred slot, he decided to slack off.
He thought maybe doing this radio gig thing half-assed is enough to get him by– he’d get his grades back up and have something on his resumé that would make him look like a saint for volunteering. A freaking steal, if you ask him. If worse comes to worst, he supposed he would just get fired.
Unfortunately, Renjun realizes, things don’t always go according to plan. Instead of getting kicked out of the radio team, he gets bumped into the worst possible time slot– one way worse than midnight. He tried to get his way out of it by saying he had 8 AM classes but Ms. Park was quick.
Prior to accepting Renjun into the team, she already managed to get a hold of his class schedule for the semester. Renjun being Renjun, turns out chose all the classes that start past noon. There was no escape out of it, not until after the school finally agrees to fund it again.
He stretches his arms from the swivel chair as he waits for the music to finish, trying to hold back a yawn. He fishes for his phone in his pocket and checks the time: 2:35 AM. Less than half an hour to go.
It’s only his third day as a middle-of-the-night DJ (or as Jaehyun likes to call him, a night owl DJ) and so far, he feels like he’s been wasting his hours when he could be sleeping soundly back in his room instead. And his bed isn’t even remotely close to comfortable, that’s how badly he wants to leave.
A knock on the glass window jolts his spirits up awake.
He’s wearing his staple university hoodie and looks like he just got off the shower from his midnight gym time. Renjun always found it weird why someone would want to work out at two o’clock in the morning. Donghyuck, his roommate, had formulated a ridiculous theory on how Jaehyun is just using the gym as a cover-up and is actually a renowned ninja warrior training under sight. Renjun called him a fool. But as much as he hated to admit it, he did consider it for a while.
Jaehyun waves and mouths the word ‘Coffee?’ Renjun nods before returning live and Jaehyun gives him a thumbs up before exiting the studio.
The great thing about being a graveyard shift radio DJ is not having to worry about mistakes. Renjun misses at least two seconds and causes dead air as he fumbles through his script. It’s time for tonight’s phone-in. Three days in and he’s still holding back a snort because:
‘Hello? Who’s going to be calling at past two in the morning? The grim reaper?’ he asked Chenle, the freshman who handed him the notice of his changed timeslot.
Chenle shrugged, ‘I don’t know, man. Ms. Park just asked me to hand this to you so–’
'Give me that!’
“That was Fade Into You by Mazzy Star. I hope everyone who’s been meaning to sleep has actually done so, and for those who need to get some work done, you got this! Fighting, Shinhwan students!” he exclaims, trying his best not to sound too strained.
“Now it’s time for tonight’s phone-in. If you’d like to vent out, ask a question, or have a burning request, please feel free to dial 002 at our local line and I’ll be here.”
If you don’t count Donghyuck calling in every now and then with an alter ego and a made-up cliche plot of him falling in love, or Jaehyun encouraging viewers to listen to Renjun’s segment (which didn’t work), not one person has been phoning in for the past three days. Even his short-lived 11PM time slot rendered him not more than three callers, one of them being a freshman student gushing over how attractive his voice was. Donghyuck still teases him for it.
Knowing he wouldn’t be getting any for the night, he puts in another bumper song that would save him from the white noise. Jaehyun pushes the door inside the recording booth, occupying both his hands with two cups of coffee. He sits on a vacant seat across Renjun and hands him one, taking a sip on the other.
“Dude, your radio show kinda sucks,” Jaehyun murmurs in his cup as the instrumental music sounds off.
“Tell me about it,” Renjun deadpans.
“Do you want me to be a pretend-caller?”
Renjun waves him off, reading through the rest of the script. “Don’t bother, hyung. No one’s listening anyway.”
“Aww, don’t feel so down, buddy. The radio gig is actually pretty fun if you think about it. I was in your place two years ago, too.”
“You were put in the drive time, everyone was listening and phoning in at your slot.”
Jaehyun scratches his head. “Well…”
Renjun knows he’s starting to sound a bit spiteful. It’s not like he isn’t being compensated for his time, but sometimes it sucks putting so much effort only for everyone to pass you by. This is, in fact, the norm for a communications major like him. In this field, one has to fight their way up to be able to get the slightest hint of acknowledgment. Still, Renjun feels like the obstacles put up for him have been nothing but unfair.
“Look, as my apprentice for the next two months, I think you could hear something from me. People awake at this hour, they all have a lot going on in their heads, right? No one’s as vulnerable at 2 AM. So… maybe reach out to them? Encourage them to phone in. Or just to have someone to pour their hearts out to. Once you get past that, you don’t even have to do the talking because they’re the ones doing it for you. The best part is, you get full control over playing the right song at the right time. Think of it as a game.”
“A game,” Renjun says slowly, considering it.
Jaehyun nods, signaling at the computer in front of Renjun. “You don’t have to rely on Johnny hyung’s podcast for two whole months. You can make your own. Whatever you think suits the moment. Right?”
“Yeah,” he agrees silently. Jaehyun is his mentor after all. “Maybe.”
Jaemin slowly flutters his eyes open. He was just about to fully doze off before Jisung lightly shakes him awake. Of course, he isn’t about to tell him he’s been running on three hours of sleep a day for the past week now. He takes a deep breath, savoring the last few seconds he has in his bed before propping himself up on his elbows.
“Don’t you have classes at 10?”
Jaemin rubs his eyes. “What time is it?” His voice comes off raspy and Jisung furrows his brows at him.
“It’s 9. You haven’t been sleeping again, have you?”
“I’m gonna go get ready.” He stands up from the bed and heads to the shower, completely ignoring Jisung’s question. “Lock the door on your way out, okay?”
Jisung lets out a small ‘Okay.’
The day goes by pretty much the same as any other for Jaemin. He sits through his morning lectures fighting through his fatigue, trying his best to jot down some notes before realizing he’s been spaced out and gives up entirely. He can ask Jeno about those later. That is if he manages to convince him that he hasn’t been drinking coffee– something Jaemin promised him in return for lending him his notes. Jeno doesn’t need to know coffee was the first thing Jaemin downed into his system as soon as he got to the class.
“The bags under your eyes say otherwise,” Jeno says, disappointed. Still, he hands Jaemin his notebook.
Jaemin throws his arms up at him, giving him a tight squeeze that makes him groan. “Thank you, thank you. I’ll make it up to you.”
“Just get some rest!” Jeno groans, struggling to escape his hug. “Look, I know it’s hard to cut down on caffeine, but it’s for your own good. That’s the last time I’m letting you off the hook and I’m not tolerating it again. Alright?”
Jaemin gives him a short smile. “I’m trying.”
“I know.” Jeno gives him a pat on the shoulder before bidding him goodbye.
Jaemin wouldn’t consider himself well-known on campus, still, it’s undeniable that he does make a lot of friends. He’s just likable that way. His five-minute walk to his next class is received by a couple of ‘ Yo, Jaemin!’s and high-fives and fistbumps from some students in the same classes he’s taking. He masks his responses with a smile, a bit of catching up, but really, all he wants to do is just lie down.
Arriving five minutes before their grace period, he takes his spot in the middle of the room and starts catching up on Jeno's notes. Minutes later, the seats start filling up and conversations slowly start stirring around him, still he couldn’t be bothered to eavesdrop. He drowns these out by putting his earphones in, a subtle sign asking to leave him by himself.
When Jaemin starts feeling the strain on his wrist from writing, he looks up at the wall clock. It’s been 30 minutes and his professor still hasn’t arrived. Some students are already packing up to leave while some are busy gossiping at the end of the room.
Their phones collectively start beeping and Jaemin goes in to check from his pocket. It’s a group text from their professor saying he isn’t able to come to class today for a seminar. He can hear the others squeal in celebration through his earbuds, collecting their things to make the most out of their newly-given spare time.
Jaemin sighs. He could’ve used the time wasted to sneak in a power nap, restore as much energy in him as possible. His next class doesn’t start in two hours, so he heads on down to the library, stowing himself away at the corner of the last shelf. After finding a spot, he uses his backpack as a makeshift pillow and hides his face behind a book to nap.
It doesn't take long for him to gain some consciousness again after hearing some rustling and quiet murmuring. He keeps his eyes shut, trying to decipher whose voices were hissing at each other.
"You're getting him awake, you idiot!"
"No. He was sleeping peacefully until you got here and started being naggy!"
"I'm not being naggy!"
"You're doing it right now!"
Jaemin smiles to himself. It could only be Lucas and Mark. He finally takes in a deep breath, stretching his arms up from the stiffness of his position.
"Now don't fight for custody over me, I wouldn't know who to choose," he croaks. The hoarseness in his voice serves as a reminder for him to down some water for today (which he hasn’t.)
The two bickering boys stop to notice him half-awake now, sitting himself up as he dusts off his shirt and crosses his legs. He notices that Lucas has managed to sneak in a couple bags of potato chips, hence the rustling, while Mark sits across him with laptop balancing above his crossed legs.
"Dude." Lucas is the first to compose himself. "You're looking worse by the day."
Jaemin snorts at his words. He's been getting comments like those more often ever since he's been sleep-deprived and it doesn't really bother him because yes, he does look hammered.
Mark, however, takes offense for him and shoves Lucas a little too hard that sends him almost losing his balance. "Watch your mouth," he warns as Lucas gives him a bewildered look.
It's been like this with the three of them. Lucas, thanks to his charms, finds it so hard to keep his mouth from running yet still manages to get away with almost everything. If Jaemin considers himself a social butterfly, then Lucas is something way more. Despite living in Korea for just two years, he picks up on the language fast, not even caring if he messes up his suffixes.
For Lucas, no matter where he is, making friends is second nature. He even once tried to give the President of the university a fistbump when he was awarded the varsity player in basketball. Jaemin recalls Mark shrivelling beside him in secondhand embarrassment while they watch Taeyong stop Lucas from what he was about to do.
Mark, on the other hand, is much more sensible. One thing he and Lucas have in common is that they're both foreigners, except Mark moved to Korea a little earlier than Lucas did, but not much. While Lucas shines in sports, Mark has made a name for himself in music.
He plays the guitar for their local college band called Heart Track, even competing in interschool battles around Seoul. Though most of the time they don’t get to bag anything home, which Jaemin thinks is a shame because to be honest, they weren’t half-bad. That’s why when the school board announced that they were planning on trimming their budget, Heart Track is first in line for the plank. Jaemin couldn't even imagine how devastated Mark must've been.
So in an effort to keep themselves afloat, the band members have started shelling out their own money for equipment and costs for their gigs. Mark had to take double shifts at the cafe downtown to be able to survive. Jaemin doesn’t have the heart to tell Mark that maybe letting go of this one is the most practical thing to do, but he isn’t one to pry. He can see how much this means to Mark whenever he barges into his dorm unannounced, always seeing him clinging onto his guitar.
But among the three of them, Jaemin has always felt like the outcast. Not that his friends are to blame, because if Mark and Lucas are anything, making people feel out of place is definitely not them. It’s just that Jaemin thinks he doesn’t have a story. He doesn’t dance like his roommate Jisung, he doesn’t do sports like Lucas, nor play an instrument like Mark.
He’s just… him– sleepless and caffeine-addicted Jaemin. And to top it all off, he even chose Human Resource as a college degree just because he didn’t know what he wanted to pursue. It’s Jaemin in the most possibly stale way, he thinks to himself.
“How’d you two find me here?” he asks, shaking off his internal pity party in the back of his head.
Lucas shrugged. “You didn’t show up for lunch and you weren’t answering your phone. We caught you by chance, really. You're on every freshman’s Instagram story asking who the cute drooling boy at the corner of the library is.”
He murmurs, “Maybe I should’ve hid elsewhere then.”
“Or maybe you should be getting some actual sleep like a normal person,” Mark suggests.
“Gee, why didn’t I think of that?” Jaemin asks sarcastically.
Mark gives a forced “Ha ha.” He unzips the backpack beside him and throws something in Jaemin’s way. “Here.” Jaemin catches it midair, realizing it’s a protein bar. “Eat. I know you didn't."
Jaemin sighs, setting it aside. He glances at the clock on his phone and realizes it’s ten minutes before his next class. “I have to go,” he stands up, slapping his cheek awake as he reached for his bag on the floor. “I’m almost late.”
“Skip it, man. Look at yourself.”
The look on Lucas’ face is somewhat disappointed and concerned. Jaemin knows he’s not in the best shape these last few days but he hates having his friends worry over him like this. Maybe he looks much worse than he thinks he is.
“It’s just for a day, Jaemin,” Mark says quietly. It’s not everyday the two of his friends agree on something.
Jaemin admits he contemplates on it for a while, but ultimately shakes his head. “I can’t. I’m sorry, guys. I- I gotta go.”
He runs past them before they could say anything else other than Lucas hissing ‘Eat the damn protein bar!’ . Other than that, he knows what they want him to do: to go back home and sleep. Except it’s not that easy. Once Jaemin is under his sheets with his head sinking on his pillow, all he manages to do is have a face-off with the ceiling. No matter how tired his body is, his mind doesn’t cooperate. Going back to his dorm meant having to go through all that, and as much as he hates to admit it, it’s the one thing he avoids the most.
He ends his day tired and miserable, unlocking his door to find Jisung on his side of the room. His eyes are shut and he’s bobbing his head along to the beat that escapes his earbuds. Jaemin doesn’t bother him and instead shuffles to his own bed. He drops his bag on the floor and plops down the mattress as he shimmies off his shoes, dreading what he knows is about to be another sleepless night.
“Hey, hyung,” Jisung greets him, dragging his earphones off. “Are you okay?”
“Why'd you ask?”
Jisung gives him a curt nod, gesturing at him. “You look like you’re about to pass out.”
Jaemin chuckles. If only Jisung knew how much Jaemin wanted to. “Believe me, as soon as I try to, I’ll be wide awake.”
“Hyung, you should go see a doctor or something,” he suggests. His tone shifts into something more concerned. “Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I can tell you haven’t slept yet.”
“Hmm. Maybe I should try staring at you until you wake yourself up at 3AM,” Jaemin teases.
“Hyung, I’m serious!”
Jaemin laughs at Jisung’s obviously mortified face. He knows it’s no time to joke around, but that’s what brothers do. Not that they’re biological siblings, but being an only child, Jaemin treats Jisung just as much.
Jisung isn't against it as well. As a college freshman, he’s more than grateful to have Jaemin show him the ropes, even if Jaemin has only a year’s worth of experience ahead of him.
Jaemin shrugged. “He told me it’s normal. Some type of anemia.”
“Have you tried taking medication for it?”
Jaemin shakes his head. “Says I shouldn't. Given my caffeine dependency, it could make it worse.”
“Well, how about some ASMR?”
“Not the whispering kind! The one that plays raindrops falling on trees or something.”
“Jisung,” he drags in a long breath. “I tried, okay? You name anything, I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work.” He’s trying to level the tone of his voice so as not to offend Jisung.
The younger boy presses his lips together, nodding in defeat. “I’m just trying to help,” he mumbles.
“I know you are,” Jaemin reassures him. It’s frustrating. As much as he wants to help himself and allow others to help him, his stupid brain won’t. “I appreciate it,” he adds. He means it as well.
Jisung cracks an unreadable smile and sticks his earphones in again, marking an end to their conversation.
It’s not long until Jisung is snoring and Jaemin is once again left alone to pass the time by himself, waiting until he sees the sun peeking from the window blinds.
He turns to his side, reaching for his phone charging on the bedside table to save himself from the boredom. He knows it’s not wise to be using it when the one thing he needs is to shut his eyes, but still, he opens a few unread Kakao texts from Mark.
They're a bunch of links from Reddit. He doesn’t bother opening them when he catches a glimpse of the text with the words 'tips' and 'insomnia'. He sighs, sending Mark an eye rolling emoji instead.
Mark [12:03 AM]:
They might be super helpful
Jaemin [12:03 AM]:
why are you still awake?
Mark [12:04 AM]:
Lol you’re one to talk
Just got off my shift and I'm about to sleep
And so should YOU
Jaemin [12:05 AM]:
mark you get a part-time job once and think youre so much better than me
Mark [12:05 AM]:
Sometimes you deserve a good strangle
Jaemin [12:05 AM]:
Mark [12:05 AM]:
Jaemin chuckles, getting a kick at imagining a probably flustered Mark. He can already tell what’s about to happen tomorrow when he bumps into him: “Ya! Did you have to make it weird?!”
He leaves his phone on his stomach, closing his eyes shut in hopes that maybe it’ll work this time, except that all his eyes have managed to do is flutter behind eyelids. He focuses on the tiniest sounds around him– the soft grumble of the air conditioner, the faint sound of the train passing from outside, the way Jisung grits his teeth when he’s asleep. Jaemin feels more hyperaware like this, even considers it amusing at some point.
His phone chimes, disturbing his train of thought. It’s Mark again.
Mark [12:10 AM]:
Lol have you tried listening to our campus station?
Jaemin [12:10 AM]:
thought you said you were going to sleep?
Mark [12:11 AM]:
I was trying to!
I tried tuning in to see if they got to play Heart Track
These shady comms majors wouldn’t give us a chance 😒
Jaemin [12:11 AM]
you really want them to play noise at midnight?
Mark [12:11 AM]
FYI it’s alt rock
And all music is technically noise so there’s no point in using it as an insult
Jaemin [12:11 AM]
Mark [12:11 AM]
That gives me an idea actually
You know JohnD? The campus DJ from last year?
He used to have this segment called Radio Dream and he plays a bunch of hypnotic indie shit to help students fall asleep.
Idk if its still the same segment because it's every 2AM and there is no way i can stay up that late lol
Jaemin [12:11 AM]
wow you really do get lamer every passing second
Mark [12:12 AM]
You're a piece of work, you know that?
Before you say something weird….
Maybe check it out if you want
Jaemin [12:13 AM]
none of those work for me but thanks
Mark [12:16 AM]
Just try it
It wouldn't hurt right
Mark [12:20 AM]
Look im starting to doze off
But let me know how it goes
Jaemin can already picture Mark trying his best to keep his eyes open until finally giving up. Most likely even accidentally breaking his glasses in the process since he has a habit of keeping them on while he's in bed.
He brushes off his suggestion and decides to focus on tricking his mind to shut up. It, of course, does not. Instead he finds himself counting sheep. He makes a mental note to debunk this theory of falling asleep while counting because he's well passed the 100th mark and there are no signs of it succeeding.
He tosses and turns once again, then considers maybe taking a long shower so he's not confined to his bed. Checks the time after feeling like it's been a while: 12:45 AM.
He sighs in defeat. Only twenty five minutes has passed.
Right now he just feels like crying out of frustration, but the tears won't let out. He finds himself opening his phone, scrolling up to find the website Mark linked him, and skims through it half-reading. Sooner or later, he gives up on it and finds other related threads that seem far more interesting.
'What do insomniacs usually do when they're up at night?' says the heading. Jaemin clicks on it.
5 days ago 🎖
⬇ Why else do you think we're here?
That seems to get him. He tries to hold back a giggle so as not to wake Jisung. He reminds himself to thank Mark in the morning for this. It doesn't take a lot to make Jaemin laugh, and if you disregard the assholes commenting that maybe those people should turn their phones off and sleep (usually downvoted), Jaemin finds it not the least bit entertaining.
It's like a hidden playground and Jaemin feels like he belongs.
He makes a habit of checking the time every once in a while when he feels like it has significantly passed and good enough, it's 2:38 AM. Taking a quick break was a mistake because Jaemin could suddenly start feeling the strain in his eyes. He remembers Mark's last text to him before passing out suggesting he should check out the campus radio instead.
He figures why not.
As soon as he's fished out his tangled earphones from his bag pocket, he plugs it in then opens their laggy campus portal app and clicks on the radio tab.
"–really so in love with my roommate and I don't know what to do. I don't know what to dooo, DJ Moon, because I think he likes me back but I'm not sure," the guy which Jaemin assumes is the caller whines on the line.
He lets out a chuckle. Shinhwan students really are something else.
The DJ sighs. " Is there anything that you want to request.. err.. Full...?"
"That's not an obviously made-up name at all," he quips sarcastically.
"I want to request Zombie by The Cranberries."
There's a second of silence on the air. "You want me to play Zombie? For the roommate you're in love with?" the DJ deadpans.
Jaemin finds himself smiling at the conversation. It almost feels like a sitcom and he's the live audience. Maybe Mark's suggestions aren't so bad after all.
"Jesus. Okay." He barely hears the DJ mutter it, maybe moving away from the mic to rub his temple. As much as Jaemin finds it amusing, he can't help but feel bad for him having to deal with hosting an after-midnight radio station only for others to not take it seriously. "This song is requested by none other than our caller of the night, Full Sun. Here's… Zombie, I guess."
He can almost imagine this Full Sun person snickering to himself in the middle of the night, obviously messing with the radio host. The song plays through Jaemin's earphones and he bobs his head slightly to the music. It's not a bad song, actually.
As soon as the last note hits, it transitions smoothly into a much more tamer ballad. Jaemin recognizes it as a Snow Patrol song.
Miraculously, the weight on his eyelids slowly start getting heavier. He pushes the thought in the back of his head, careful not to overwhelm himself and make it go away. He lays comfortably still, allowing the fatigue to finally consume his body.
"You've just listened to Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol. Time check: 2:45 AM. Wow, we only have fifteen minutes left. Once again, this is DJ Moon your host for Radio Dream. If you have anything you want to vent out or request, our lines are always open. If you're trying to hit the sack, I...."
And just like that, Jaemin is sound asleep.