If his knowledge of the known universe could be measured in drops of liquid, it wouldn't completely cover the bottom of a shot glass.
Still, he was sure that there was something different; it was in the way the astronaut stood on the poster near the restroom entrance. It was in the way the room bounced to a funk remix of some 80's synthpop song, as lights flashed dizzyingly and alcohol fuelled a crowd of college kids thunderously singing along to a chorus about happy days left in the past. Today, the astronaut held a flag ambiguously designed to look like it belonged to no country. He was almost certain that the flag wasn't there before, but he was a bit preoccupied last time. Anyway, that song didn't exist last week. It was only tonight that it became a hit over 30 years ago.
He wasn't entirely sure if numbers still worked the same way, but last time meant the party last week. Before that, there was another week that separated a previous party. Two weeks ago was also next week, if online calendars were anything to go by.
Now, if only he could skip back to his last week, which should probably be more understood as two weeks later.
The Blender was minuscule, unassuming, unkempt. Like Wonpil was sometimes, except it was a fire hazard and he was just extremely confused.
"Imagine getting a nightclub as a birthday present," Haru murmured in wonder, gazing at the said club's owner as he downed the contents of a whole soju bottle in one go, with his friend's cheers drowning out the thumping bass in the background.
"Imagine finding a shot glass that big," countered Wonpil, narrowing his eyes appraisingly at the sparsely equipped VIP section as he stood with his elbows propped on a table with their (her) drinks.
"It's just a regular glass, dummy."
He'd known of her for a whole week, so it was kind of weird to have someone so new be a part of his whole life. Was it even his life?
Last Friday, he'd woken up to his usual alarm, his curls drenched with sweat on a head swimming in the worst hangover of his life. It was his first time in the basement club since it was reopened by that one rich rich dude from the business department. Someone had held him up as he staggered out after throwing up the two beers he drank before midnight, the kind soul, bless them, graciously passing him on to a friend (what friend?) who he somehow recognised that morning in the numerous picture frames he passed as his skinny legs struggled not to give out on the way to the fridge. There, on his bedside, was the picture of a little girl twisting his arm, both of them looking mostly pristine In their first school uniforms. On the hallway and down the stairs, amongst family pictures he took no notice of daily were pictures of him and the girl in the playground, on shared family picnics, standing next to each other in birthday parties and class photos. He knew her parents, of course. But, just yesterday, they were the childless couple next door who liked to visit and gave him food whenever he came by their place. Last night, it was her dad who told his classmates not to let his son stay out too late. Wonpil thought it could have been a drunken hallucination when she strapped him onto her passenger seat with a grunt and a warning, "Don't fucking puke or I'm stepping on your balls."
As he felt the water go down unsettlingly feeling solid in his chest, he thought, it was nice.
The friends he could remember existing from before were seeing the world collectively, having scattered around different places to explore or work or study before settling into a comfortable life apart. Last he heard, Dowoon was touring with his band. Younghyun was an employee, earning an honest living as an analyst in a big city. Sungjin sometimes posted food pics when he could go online, during breaks off the cruise liner where he was a cook. Jae was in LA, probably the same as he ever was with either a skateboard or a guitar, but he couldn't be sure. It was Wonpil who had to stay. With his parents, with their quiet house, and with all the fading memories.
Now he had completely new ones, and in this one currently being made, he was trying to knock a tumbler filled with something only slightly less potent than rubbing alcohol off Haru's hands. She squirmed away, bumping into a couple making out to a remix of a JoJo Siwa song. That had to be illegal.
"Oops, sorry," she slurred, hardly audible and hardly apologetic. The two boys smiled back before resuming their exercise.
"Stop bothering other people. Let's go home."
"They don't look bothered. I think I helped them get closer actually," she grinned smugly before swallowing her rubbing alcohol in three gulps then hissing. "Shit."
"I'm other people," Wonpil sighed, holding her up by the sleeves as she fell with a loud retching noise. Thankful that nothing came out despite the sound effects, Wonpil dragged her through the crowd before setting her before the toilet bowl in the only restroom. He kneeled to help her stay up and in his mind, he replayed his pleas to the cleaning lady while Haru threw up with her full voice.
No, I swear we're not gonna fuck. She's like my sister and is very, very drunk. I'm not even sure if I like girls; look, I'm trying to figure it out.
The door slammed shut, and Wonpil held his newfound childhood best friend by her bleached hair while tears streamed down her eyes.
"Shut up," she cried, both of her hands holding on tight to the dirt-stained porcelain as he bobbed his head to Selena Gomez singing about love songs.
He scoffed, rubbing her back with a slight smile, "I haven't said anything."
Haru sniffed, her stomach still turning, "You're thinking it."
"You're dumb for trying to get alcohol poisoning, but I'm here for you and I'll take you to the hospital if you ever need it," he assured her before pausing wide-eyed at the thought. "Do you need to go to the hospital?"
At that, she let out a weak laugh, propping herself up to push the flush button
"Thanks. I'm good. Lemme just clean up, then make me some coffee with your fancy new machine."
"I have no idea how it works," Wonpil said, washing his hands. "Let's go to that new cafe."
"20fiftea? The future-themed one?"
He smoothed her hair and turned around to open the bathroom door.
Last week was three weeks ago, the week they got the big coffee machine. He would have learned how to use it, but he wasn't a fan of coffee Also, Haru had disappeared from the club restroom, from the walls of his home and from his life. When Wonpil knocked next door, he was greeted with a surprise that knocked the air out of his lungs.
The surprise still had him breathless, its arms wrapped tightly around him from behind, sighing softly in his ears.
"Jae," Wonpil whispered, elbowing the sleeping boy gently. He came in quietly around midnight; he knew that the parents from this house turned in early. In this universe, he came from LA and stayed; sort of a reverse Jae from the other version.
By this week, Wonpil had recognised that using the club bathroom on a Thursday night caused the jumps. He tried it on other days this week; he tried it last Thursday morning, before the club closed at seven in the morning, only leaving a slightly less filthy washroom for the bemused cleaning lady. For some reason, he also told Jae of the jumps. The tall boy just giggled in his face, then gave ideas to help him try to understand what was happening.
"Maybe Jackson is some sort of Time Lord, y'know. Maybe that's how everyone fits in the Blender."
It was kind of, maybe, almost probably right. Whenever he stepped out after flushing down that stupid toilet, he was somewhere else with new memories. Maybe it was puke-activated.
"Piri," Jae mumbled, his face burrowing into Wonpil's hair. "You're leaving today"
Shaken, he replied softly, "No one in this room is leaving you."
"I know you won't be leaving me. When I wake up tomorrow, the you that I've known will still be here. I won't be losing you. I just hope you won't have to lose me again."
Pil held on as he was gripped with understanding. As he moved through realities, he was just temporarily living through the lives of his counterparts. Even as he gained new memories and saw new sides to people he already knew, he lost them as he moved.
Wonpil thought back to the past four years he had in this reality. Jae, the new neighbour, struggling with sentences translated directly from thoughts formed in another language. Jae, helping him with his mother's garden through a runny nose that allergy meds couldn't help with. Jae, sneaking in kisses whenever they walked out the back door after sunset.
Then, he thought back to last week's reality, where he had a friend who never left. So, he agreed.
"It would be great if we could always be together, even in the next life."
The next life was on a week he didn't actually come to the club in all the past realities. This time (or was it this universe?) though, it was a necessity.
His high school band never broke up. They had always been together. In this reality, Jae didn't secretly hold his hand when the others weren't looking, but he was there. Younghyun was Young K now, his Soundcloud name also becoming his name on stage as they sang the words he wrote. Sungjin still cooked, though for a far less glamorous crowd at a local restaurant. Dowoon never had to see the rest of the group lose sight of their old dream, so he never had to join another band.
It was exhilarating to see the past years of endless shows play out through his thoughts. It was thrilling to rehearse with the band again, to have the same problems and worries, about wires and sound, like they used to.
Wonpil wondered if Haru would be in this life, and what it would have been like if she were a friend. What would she have said about Younghyun letting Jae sleep on his shoulder on the ride to the opening of the Blender, their fingers intertwined and resting openly on the sleeping boy's lap?
They sang about returning to the past, about wishes, about wanting to have their songs sung long after they were gone. As soon as their set was over, Pil got to test just how much of a lightweight he was. It only took a bottle for him to flush his jealousy down. They were never even together in this life.
He figured, if he jumped through realities enough times, everyone he missed in every life would come together in a Bollywood ending song and dance performance.
This week, the longing pierced more sharply as his apartment was bereft of a past to recollect. If he thought clearly enough while ignoring the searing pain in his heart, Wonpil could remember his mother's smile as his father taught him how each key unlocked a sound he could use to speak when words weren't enough. If he thought clearly enough, they could still be there.
It was strange then that the only reminder of his past lives, the other part-time piano tutor, was someone he lost in each of the other realities.
In this universe, Junhyeok shared his wishes through the keys, his voice lending itself to apologies for only ever wanting to stay.
He was back. With his parents, with his other parents next door, with his friends all gone away to see the world.
It was all the same.
Unremarkable, unmemorable; but, he was all done with having to deal with an unknown reality. He couldn't understand then why he let his classmates coax him out of his sulking. At any point, he knew that he could have turned right back into the warmth of familiarity, but there was a part of him that felt like it could be found in the unknown
"You ever notice I'm here every Thursday? See, it's a bit of a pattern that you might want to complete."
The owner of the building and the basement, Jackson Wang, looked right at Wonpil with eyebrows raised expectantly, the corners of his lips raised in a faint smile.
Wonpil stepped out of the restroom cautiously when his phone buzzed with a notification. A smiley face on the old band group chat. For years, they all shared bits and pieces of their lives while he stayed silently in the background, never appearing to open any of the messages. His last update was a photo of a guitar and a skateboard in his new room when he first moved away.
Looking up in disbelief, Pil caught a glimpse of the poster of a lone astronaut standing on a barren landscape, before the door behind him burst open.
"Fucking wow. I'm never drinking again. Does 20fiftea have coffee?"