When you're young, the years always feel like they go by very slow – you don't really realise how fleeting time is, until you're older, and it dawns on you just how much has changed, and how much has happened.
Jeongin still remembers the first time he met Felix. He was only 8 at the time, and an entire decade has passed since, but the memory is vivid in his head as if it was only yesterday – he might not be the best student, but he’s always had a good head for remembering things.
Besides, Felix isn't exactly easy to forget.
It was the start of summer ‘98 – rather, it was the last week of school before summer break ‘98. Jeongin was on the way home from school with his older brother, when they had come across the old lady who lived two houses down the road. All Jeongin knew about her at the time was that her husband had recently passed some years prior, and he only knew this because he had once overheard his parents talking about it.
The lady had a small boy with her, roughly their age, carrying a bag that was almost the same size as the boy himself. (In hindsight, that was maybe an exaggeration, but it sure looked that way to eight year old Jeongin anyway.)
“Imo!” His brother had called out, breaking into a jog as they approached the woman and the boy. Jeongin’s brother is two years older, and at ten, he wanted nothing more than to let people know that he was already a big boy. “Do you need help?” He asked, gesturing at the luggage that the old woman was carrying herself.
Jeongin, meanwhile, was a bit more cautious when he came up behind his brother; and then he had locked eyes with the new boy, who immediately shrank back and stepped behind the old lady’s skirt. He was shy, but he kept peering out at Jeongin and his brother anyway, obviously curious.
“Junghwan, Jeongin—this is my grandson, Yongbok. He’s going to be staying with me for two weeks while he’s on break from school.”
“Felix—” The boy squeaked out, his voice breathy and sort of high-pitched, that Jeongin almost laughed because he thought he sounded like his second grade teacher, who he and his classmates loved to mimic during their breaks at school because she sounded perpetually squeaky. And then he had cleared his throat, and he sounded a little less like he’d just inhaled helium when he continued. “I go by Felix. That’s what all my friends back home call me.”
Fast forward to: summer of Jeongin's junior year of high school – the term break smack in the middle of Felix's last; the last ten years has seen the growth of their friendship, despite the very short amount of time they actually spend together every year.
Two weeks out of fifty-two, during mid-July, Felix comes and stays with his grandmother just as Jeongin’s spring term ends, and his summer break starts. It's never a lot of time together, and frequently they only ever have a few days of overlapping freedom – a week at most, any given year, but Jeongin looks forward to Felix's visits anyway.
In the beginning, it was just because there was something glamorous and important about having a foreign friend. At the age of 9, or 10 – even at 11 – when you go back to school, and everyone from the teacher to your classmates ask what you did during summer vacation, it’s easy to take great pride in an answer like, “I showed my Australian friend around!” It wasn’t as impressive by the time middle school happened, but looking forward to those few days of vacation with Felix never stopped being exciting – mostly because all the changes in Jeongin’s life never really seem real until Felix arrives, and the tiny differences in his life is put under the spotlight.
Case in point: the small family-owned neighborhood minimart down the street had turned into a 7-Eleven some months ago. Jeongin thinks he mentioned it in one of his emails to Felix, but Jeongin hadn't really thought about how big the change was until his friend had gaped when he saw the new building, clean and shiny and bright with all the fluorescent lighting – a stark difference from the old store, which felt grimy, but also homier and familiar.
Jeongin also always feels much older when he and Felix reunite every year. The last time Felix was around, Jeongin had been blown over by how deep the older boy’s voice tone had gotten; while they kept contact through occasional emails and occasional comments on each other’s Cyworlds (because Jeongin had finally managed to convince Felix to make one a year and a half ago), through which Felix had relayed to him that his voice finally stopped breaking, it didn’t really prepare him for Felix’s now ocean deep baritone.
He supposes, though, considering the way the older boy’s eyes grew wide with shock and disbelief just earlier that week, when he saw that Jeongin had his braces taken out over the last year, that Felix feels the same way overall.
“Jeonginnie!” He hears his mother calling out for him, even through the loud music blasting through the computer speakers. “Your guest is here!” His bedroom door opens, and he scrambles to lower the volume on his speakers while grabbing a feather duster so he can look busy, just as his mother pokes her head in. “Did you finish cleaning?”
Jeongin sighs because his room still looks just as topsy turvy as it did the day before; it's the official first day of his summer break, but Felix – undoubtedly the guest his mother just announced – has been in town for over a week already, which means they have less than a week of vacation overlap this time around. His mother has been nagging him about cleaning his room for the last several weeks, but between exams and cram school and club activities, he really hasn’t had the time, and he had ended up putting his chores off.
“Partly—?” He offers, grinning widely in hopes that a bright countenance will help get his mother off his case. It isn’t as if he’s particularly messy, at least not usually; he used to share his room with his older brother, but Junghwan had enlisted for mandatory service a couple of months ago, and ever since then, Jeongin has somewhat neglected the room’s general upkeep.
(Junghwan being gone this summer is just another change that Jeongin has to get used to, he supposes. Granted, he stopped spending summer days with him and Felix years ago – yet it’s still another reminder that time passes quietly, but quickly.)
“I told you, you need to clean your room if—”
“‘Ma, Lix-hyung is here for just a few days more,” Jeongin quickly interjects, his expression falling as he pleads with his eyes. And I’m 18 years old, he wants to say. Almost an adult, who should be allowed to keep his room as he sees fit, but he knows that any kind of sass isn’t really going to get him anywhere with the woman who birthed and raised him.
His mother sighs, and Jeongin fights back a triumphant grin, because he clearly pinpoints this as the moment when she caves.
“I’ll help!” Felix cheerfully offers from behind her, his tone deep and rich. “Clean Jeongin’s room, I mean.” From the way his mother’s expression startles, Jeongin can tell that she hadn’t realised that Felix had snuck up behind her, and he almost laughs for it.
“Oh, Yongbok-ah—! I thought you were waiting in the living room—” Her use of Felix’s Korean given name (gleaned from the way Felix’s own grandmother keeps using it to this day) doesn’t help Jeongin keep in the chortle he’s holding back, especially because Felix himself still has to hold back a wince even though he should be used to it by now. (Jeongin supposes it’s because he has to get to used to it all over again, every year, when he visits.)
But then Felix smiles, bright and almost blinding like the sun, and Jeongin thinks that's the kind of smile no one can refuse, his mother included.
“You shouldn't,” she attempts to argue anyway, though Jeongin knows it's fruitless. His friends at school always tell him that he gets away with everything because teachers think he’s a pure angel because of his smile – and Jeongin always thinks his friends only ever say that because they've never met Felix, who definitely fits pure and angel so much more.
Granted, Felix is at least as genuine as his smile, while Jeongin just knows how to use his assets to his advantage.
“It’s fine, eomonim,” Felix assures her. “I’m flying back home in a couple of days, so I don't mind helping Jeongin out if it means spending time together.”
Jeongin throws his mother a pointed look as if to say, See? You should just let me put this off for a few days more!
In return she sighs once more, and shakes her head. “You boys do what you want,” she tells them. “But that room better be spick and span by the end of the week, Jeonginnie.”
And then she’s walking away, and Felix is closing the bedroom door behind him, and Jeongin can't help but finally let go of the laughter he had been keeping at bay during the entire exchange with his mother.
“Wait—what’s funny?” Felix asks, his eyes shining with a clueless kind of amusement.
“My mother likes you too much—but I guess that always works to my advantage when you're around,” Jeongin comments with a chuckle. “You could have asked to get me out of cleaning duty altogether and she would have probably said yes.”
Felix blinks, taking a couple of seconds before his laughter erupts and mixes in with Jeongin’s. “Should I go and ask, then?” He jokes, thumb jerking over his shoulder.
“Nah,” Jeongin shrugs. “She already gave me until the end of the end of the week and all you had to do was show up.”
Felix beams proudly, and Jeongin pushes away the thought that even he would probably do anything Felix asks him too, if it came with that smile.
For the sake of show, they do rearrange Jeongin's room a little – discarded clothes on the floor are finally gathered and thrown into a hamper, while the scatter of textbooks on the desk are either stacked together or shoved into bookshelf gaps.
Jeongin plops down on the swivel chair after, while Felix parks himself on the stripped down bed that used to be Junghwan’s.
“I just remembered something,” he announces, and Jeongin spins his seat so he can face Felix’s direction.
“Remember that summer when Junghwan-hyung got his first girlfriend and he kicked us out of the room?”
There's a brief pause below Jeongin bursts into laughter. Of course he remembers, even though he hasn't really thought of it for a while. He was 14, and his brother was 16; it was the summer of Jeongin’s first year in middle school, while it was his brother's last – that was also the first summer break that Junghwan had spent so little with him.
“He said they had to study,” Felix recalls. “But it was vacation!”
Jeongin laughs, nodding. To be fair, his brother did have to study so he could secure a spot in his high school of choosing – but he's pretty sure that studying was far from his older brother's mind when he'd kicked Jeongin and Felix out.
“'Ma made him keep the door wide open anyway,” Jeongin points out. “But I know he managed to sneak a few kisses in anyway.”
“Hyung grew up so fast,” Felix comments, like he's so genuinely in awe, that Jeongin can't help but laugh some more.
“I guess,” he nods; it dawns on him that the anecdote happened five whole summers ago, and here he is – in some ways he feels as young as he did then.
“Innie—” Felix looks at him, curiosity mirrored in his expression in a way that makes Jeongin nervous.
“Have you ever kissed anyone?”
His eyes grow wide at the inquiry; Jeongin isn't the type to blush easily, but he actually feels his cheeks warming up, and he doesn't know why.
“Don't you think I would have told you, if I did?” Jeongin shakes his head. “You told me.”
The summer before, Felix had slept over one night, when Junghwan was off at a friend's, and amidst late night conversations, he had admitted to Jeongin that he had kissed a girl from his class after they attended a formal dance as dates.
“It was nice,” Felix had shared. “A little awkward, and her lipstick tasted weird, but her lips were soft. I don't think it was her first kiss because… well. She knew what she was doing, definitely.”
It had been a reminder to Jeongin that despite Felix's pure and innocent countenance, he’s still a year – several months anyway – older, and that meant he was likely going to experience a few things in life ahead of Jeongin.
“We don't really see each other for most of the year,” Felix whispers now, and Jeongin can swear there's a hint of wistfulness in his tone. “I’d imagine a lot of things happen that you really don't get to tell me.”
Granted, there's truth to Felix’s words – neither of them are very detailed writers, and he doesn't really think it's pertinent to bother Felix with mundane details of his daily life. Yet, something about the thought of Felix hiding things from him makes him sad.
“Are there a lot of things you don't tell me?” He finds himself asking, instead of answering the original question.
Felix laughs, low but full and rich. “I tell you all the important things,” he says, and the admittance has a smile stretching wide on Jeongin's lips.
“Me too,” he returns. “All the things that matter.”
“So… no first kiss?” Felix asks in English, sporting an uncharacteristically sly grin.
Jeongin’s face heat up again, not really wanting to shine a light on his own inexperience.
“No,” he admits. “But I’m not in any hurry.”
“Let’s go out and do something,” Felix suddenly suggests.
“Except you’re supposed to be helping me clean,” Jeongin retorts, even though they both had long given up the pretense of tidying up the room and they were both now just sprawled on Jeongin’s bed, shoulder to shoulder, occasionally singing along out loud to whatever song is blasting through the speakers.
“We’re not exactly—oh!” Whatever Felix was originally going to say gets lost when DBSK’s Hug suddenly shuffles, and Felix quickly interrupts himself. “Oh!” He repeats, and even from just the periphery of his vision, Jeongin can tell that the older boy’s eyes are sparkling with excitement. “This song always reminds me of the summer we met Seungmin and Hyunjin!”
“Right—” Jeongin laughs; he can’t say the song has the same effect on him, but he immediately understands Felix's reaction to it.
Seungmin and Hyunjin are two boys from Seoul, who they first met one summer, a few years ago. Seungmin's paternal grandparents live a couple of blocks away, and he had brought Hyunjin, his best friend, along for company when he visited that summer. Jeongin and Felix ran into them at Kang Mart down the street, when Felix and Hyunjin had reached for the last bottle of Coca-cola at almost the exact same time; both of them repeatedly insisted that the other could have it, and in the end Seungmin had grabbed the drink himself, grumbling about how the mini mart should make sure to keep well stocked.
Felix and Jeongin had a little over a week’s worth of vacation overlap that year, and the four of them had primarily spent those days together, playing around from morning until evening. All things considered, a week shouldn’t feel a lot, but Jeongin has a lot of vivid memories from that summer because of those days.
Mostly, for some reason, he remembers Hyunjin’s influence on Felix; the tall boy from Seoul had taken Felix under his wing, obviously charmed by Felix’s foreign accent, but also because the two of them had discovered a mutual love for dancing. Hyunjin had taught Felix not just the steps to DBSK’s Hug, but also to H.O.T’s Candy, and Shinhwa’s Wild Eyes. Jeongin vaguely remembers a tinge of envy at how well the two of them had gotten along, but he didn’t really have too much time to think about that, considering he was constantly kept busy by his attempts to keep Seungmin’s babying him at bay. (“I don’t have a little brother, and you're as good as one,” had been Seungmin’s excuse, and while Jeongin genuinely enjoyed his friendship, it was a little too much at times – he wasn't even nine months younger than Seungmin.)
“DBSK had just debuted then, right?” Jeongin muses out loud.
“I think so—?” Felix shrugs. “I didn’t really listen to a lot of Korean music before that year,” he admits with a chuckle. “But after that year I truly considered becoming an idol, except I knew—I know—that my parents would have never let me go for it.”
Jeongin laughs, but for a brief moment he can’t help but imagine what would have happened if Felix had auditioned and made it into a Korean idol agency. He wonders if that would have meant more chances of meeting each other – he wonders if Felix would be an idol by now, even.
“SM Entertainment just debuted SHINee,” he comments randomly, a hint of playfulness to his tone. “Maybe you would have been the sixth member.”
“Yeah, right,” Felix mumbles in English, soft and self-deprecating.
“You should have auditioned, hyung! There are more and more idols debuting these days—if you became a trainee back then, who knows where you’d be right now! H.O.T had Tony An, and Shinhwa has Andy—I bet you would have done well as the foreign member.” Jeongin snickers, because now that he’s conjured the image, it’s pretty clear in his head.
“Stop!” Felix laughs and playfully shoves him; he sounds embarrassed, and normally, with most of his school friends, that’s Jeongin cue to amp up the teasing. With Felix, however, he generously acquiesces.
“I’m seeing Seungmin-hyung again soon,” Jeongin says instead, changing the topic as Felix wishes. “He’s going to be annoying again,” he adds, wrinkling his nose, but there isn’t really any bite or actual annoyance in his tone. “He nags a lot, and he hugs me a lot more than even Junghwan-hyung does.”
“For Chuseok, right—?”
Jeongin nods; Seungmin and his family always spend the holidays with his grandparents so he’s regularly seen Seungmin over the last four years. They’ve also kept in close contact, since they could text much more easily. “Oh!” He squeaks, remembering something. “I think the holiday falls on your birthday this year.”
“I’ll be at school,” Felix comments softly; Jeongin wonders if he’s imagining the envy in his tone. “Also—you don’t exactly let most people hug you, Innie. I think you actually like it when Seungminnie babies you.”
Jeongin makes a face as he holds back the urge to point out that he lets Felix do it all the time; it’s not exactly going to help his case any.
“Do you ever check Hyunjin-hyung’s threads on Haduri?” He asks, once more steering away from the topic. “I feel like he posts at least ten pictures a day.”
Felix laughs. “Hyunjin is a good looking fellow, I don’t blame him! I’ve seen your Haduri posts too, Innie—”
“Yeah, but I don’t post a hundred of them at once!” Jeongin clicks his tongue. “Hyunjin-hyung would have probably done well if he auditioned—there are a lot of ulzzangs debuting these days.”
Felix hums. “Yeah, but instead he’s going to major in Communications at Kyunghee.”
“He told you?”
“We e-mail too, you know,” Felix admits.
“Oh.” It shouldn’t be a surprise that Felix and Hyunjin have kept in contact – in fact, it really isn’t, but Jeongin now wonders just how much they’ve been sharing with each other.
“You know what else I just remembered?” Felix grins as he suddenly shoots up in a sitting position. “Remember how Seungmin always said we can easily clean out Kang Mart’s snacks because they never stocked up properly during the summer?”
Jeongin laughs, nodding – he can clearly hear Seungmin complaining even now. “We said we’ll do it one day, but then they never visited the same time as you in the years that followed.”
“We should do that,” Felix declares. “Right now! We should do it right now!”
Jeongin stares at him. “It’s a very well-stocked 7-Eleven now,” he points out.
Felix ducks his head as if embarrassed. “Yeah, well—let’s try out as many of the snacks they have to offer, at least!”
Jeongin sits up and considers it. “I guess—” he laughs and ushers Felix off the bed. “We don’t really have anything else better to do.”
They obviously don’t clean out 7-Eleven, but they do end up cleaning out their wallets. Jeongin is aware that this is probably not the best idea considering he doesn't really get summer allowance, but seize the day – or whatever it is they say. The rest of the summer never counts as much once Felix leaves, anyway.
He initially lets Felix do most of the shopping, and the older boy does not hesitate in filling their basket with mostly sweets – from a couple of boxes of Orion Choco Pie, to a box each of every Pepero flavor available. Felix reaches for chocolate bars and bags of jellied candies, until there comes a point when Jeongin starts to feel like he's going to get diabetes just from looking at all the sugar that Felix is planning on having the two of them consume. (Not that that stops him from grabbing several bags of chips and crackers off the shelves and tossing them into the basket as well – he mentally reasons that they did say they're going to try out as much as the convenience store has to offer, so he's only going by their agreement.)
The cashier stares at them, looking halfway horrified, when they dump their loot on the counter so they can pay. Jeongin simply meets her gaze, and then he breaks into a grin, knowing full well that his dimples will easily distract the part-timer from whatever judgment she has just bestowed upon them.
Felix, completely clueless, adds two more Melona pops to their purchase before they're done paying anyway.
“Let’s have a picnic at the beach,” Felix makes a declaration more than a suggestion, as they both struggle to unlock their bicycles from the bike rack just outside the store. Both of them are already halfway done with their ice pops, and at the back of his head Jeongin marvels at the fact that neither of them have gotten brain freeze yet.
He can’t help but laugh, because the way Felix talks sometimes, it’s as if a great adventure lies ahead, or just around the corner, and Jeongin always lets himself be pulled along even though he knows better.
“Okay!” Jeongin agrees, grinning as he kicks his bicycle into gear. He slides his plastic bag of snacks through the handlebars, and he laughs as he races past Felix down the road. He knows the streets better, but at this point it isn’t as if Felix needs to follow his lead either.
Ten years of quick summer moments together have allowed them to develop preferences and annual routines together, which means they both knew exactly which corner of what beach they were going to have their impromptu picnic in as soon as Felix came up with the idea.
“I went here with Seungmin-hyung during the last holidays,” Jeongin shares once they get there, and they find a spot to settle in; he can’t remember if he mentioned the brief outing from the previous year in any of his emails to Felix. “He wore rubber shoes,” he adds, laughing as he kicks his own shoes off so he can bury his toes in the sand. “Even as he waded through shallow waters, he wore rubber shoes!”
“Maybe he really hates the feeling of getting sand between his toes,” Felix offers, genuine in his attempt to try and view things from Seungmin’s point of view, because he’s just that type of person.
“Nope. He’s just weird,” Jeongin comments with more laughter, and even Felix has to snort and chuckle at that.
“You always talk about Seungmin like he annoys you, but—”
Felix shrugs, smiling. “But you’ve really gotten closer, haven’t you?”
Jeongin stares as he tears open a big bag of onion flavored Pokachips. “I guess…?” There’s no use denying that he’s gotten closer with Seungmin, because if that wasn’t the case, then he wouldn’t be as glib or sassy with his words.
“I’m jealous,” Felix admits, soft but straight to the point, and Jeongin is surprised enough that he gawks at the older boy. At the same time he's able to acknowledge that small part of him that had detected a bit of strangeness when Felix had brought Seungmin up in the first place.
“Do you mean envious—?” He asks, wondering if maybe some nuance to what Felix is trying to say has gotten lost in translation. Felix’s Korean is much better now compared to when they had first met, but sometimes he still gets his words mixed up. “Or maybe you mean something else entirely?”
“I do mean jealous—or envious?” Felix chuckles softly, nervously. “I email with Seungmin—and Hyunjin—too, but I know they get to see more of you. And I know it's easy to text them, too, because that rates aren't as expensive as international texts.” He plays with his flip phone as he speaks, snapping it open and shut as if to alleviate his anxiety. “Sorry—” he chuckles, and looks up, smiling and pocketing his phone before taking a huge bite off a choco pie. “I’m gonfa shuf up dow,” he adds, mouth half full.
Frankly, Jeongin supposes that he and Seungmin have gotten comfortable with each other over the last several years, especially since, just as Felix had surmised, they've had a fairly easy time keeping in touch. Seoul is just a few hours away from Busan if he takes the KTX; Jeongin even met up with Seungmin and Hyunjin a couple of times in Seoul over the last few years, most recently being just a couple of months ago when Jeongin and a few school friends went to Seoul for a music festival. But—it’s not like he and Seungmin are best friends; he doesn't even consider himself as close to Seungmin as he is with Felix even though the two of them contact each other fewer and further in between. Maybe it's because, despite their usual distance from each other at least fifty weeks in a single year, it feels like he grew up with Felix, as opposed to Seungmin (and Hyunjin), who Jeongin had met when he was already halfway through middle school, a period of time when he was already straddling the line between full enjoyment of his childhood and wishing he was older than he actually was.
“It’s—” not like that, Jeongin means to say, but not like what? He doesn't know, so he recalibrates his words. “I email you a whole lot more,” he tells Felix, like some kind of reassurance that he's not sure for what. Jeongin just knows that there's no reason for Felix to be envious – or jealous, nor does he want there to be.
“Do you ever think about going to college in Seoul?” Felix asks in return, and Jeongin is surprised at the inquiry.
“I guess I’ve thought about it,” he admits. “But I think I might do like my hyung did, and enlist first before heading to university.” Felix frowns, and Jeongin decides right then and there that he hates when the older boy wears an expression other than a smile. It looks so foreign on Felix's lips and Jeongin nudges him. “Everyone goes through it—it’s nothing to be upset about!”
“That’s not—” Felix sighs, deep and heavy. “That’s not it.”
It’s Jeongin’s turn to frown; he’d been trying not to think about it, but something has been different about Felix all afternoon. He’s distracted, and just a tad melancholic in a way that he isn’t usually. Felix is usually brighter, carefree and always naively living in the moment, and that’s a part of why Jeongin has always enjoyed his company.
“What is it, then, hyung?”
Felix is carefully struggling with opening yet another individually packed choco pie, but he pauses to look up and meet Jeongin’s gaze, the smile that’s curved on his lips not really reaching his eyes.
“This is pretty much my last summer here, Innie—sorry.”
That summer when they first met, Jeongin and Felix didn't have the easiest time communicating. Felix’s Korean was piddling at best, and the only English phrases Jeongin knew were “my name is Jeongin Yang,” and (courtesy of his older brother's silly antics) “your fart smells.” Junghwan’s English wasn't much better, but as the oldest, he easily took charge, and both Jeongin and Felix spent a good few days following his lead, and playing whichever games Junghwan saw fit for them to enjoy.
And then days passed, as they tend to, and by the time Jeongin also knew the phrases “how are you, mate?” and “time, first!” Felix was set to go and fly back home.
“Would you like to write? Keep in touch…? Through letters—” For some reason, it's only Jeongin and not Junghwan that Felix approaches with this request, made using a mix of English and very basic Korean.
“Okay!” Jeongin easily agreed, because that was just another thing he could brag to his friends at school – not that he expected actual correspondence to happen, considering the very obvious language barrier.
But then a month and a half later, a letter postmarked from Sydney had arrived. It was short and succinct, simply informing him that Felix was back at school, and asking how Jeongin was doing. It was written in large, blocky hangul that Jeongin could easily read and understand, and he had developed a kind of awe that only little kids really manage – and then he proceeded to ask his father if he would buy him a Korean-English dictionary so he could send a letter back as soon as possible.
After a few years, written letters easily made way for electronic mail, but letters were always just that – letters, and all they did was build the yearly anticipation for when they finally see each other again in the summer.
Jeongin has always wondered how diligent the letter writing would have been without the promise of that annual meeting.
“My parents finally convinced halmae to come and live with us in Australia—well, with them, I guess, since I’m going to be moving into the dorms after I graduate.”
Jeongin really doesn't know how to react, so he simply nods, taking the time to digest what Felix is saying, which the latter rightfully interprets as his cue to keep going.
“My parents have been trying to convince her to come and stay with us ever since my grandfather died,” Felix explains, and Jeongin can’t say that he even remembers when that was, because for as long as Felix has been visiting yearly, his grandmother has been living on her own. “But you know, she’s pretty stubborn! Though now that I’m done with secondary school, they finally convinced her.”
Oh, Jeongin repeats in his thoughts. Somehow, it escaped him that Felix is graduating high school at the end of the year. It’s another reminder than even though Felix seems like he’s the same age as Jeongin – sometimes even younger, like he’s someone Jeongin can dote on instead of the other way around – he really, truly isn’t. Felix is off to become an adult soon, and the meager half a year that separates them in age suddenly feels so much bigger.
“I’m going to miss you,” Jeongin finally reacts. Short, and to the point, but honest and without pretense.
“Me too,” Felix agrees. “I mean—I’m going to miss you, not that I’m going to miss myself, too.”
Jeongin laughs because Felix is tripping over his Korean again even though he immediately understood the sentiment being conveyed.
“I wish it was easier to visit,” Felix says. “But they talked about selling the house, too—”
“You can always stay over,” Jeongin interjects, and Felix grins like it's an idea that's to be easily considered.
“I’m going to have a different academic schedule, though,” Felix goes on to explain. “And I’m going to have to save up for airfare because it'll have to come out of my own pocket from now on—but I definitely want to visit again.”
“Maybe I’ll visit you in Australia,” Jeongin retorts, and he mostly means it as a joke – he doesn't even have a passport yet – but Felix lights up so brightly at the suggestion, like he doesn't realise that Jeongin was just kidding around, and Jeongin can't help but think that one day, he'd have to turn the comment to reality.
“You should, and then we can compare Australian beaches to Busan ones!” Felix chirps happily, absolutely vibrating with excitement even as he stuffs his face with yet another choco pie.
“Okay!” Jeongin agrees, allowing himself to be swept away by the fantasy. He really should get a passport soon, he thinks.
He munches on chips and turns to look at Felix, observing his friend's bright, but wistful expression as he chews on his snack of choice.
“Lix-hyung—” Jeongin begins, letting out a tiny exhale before he continues. “Is it weird if I say you're my best friend even though the most we see each other is ten to twelve days a year—if at all?”
Felix laughs and shakes his head; he swallows the food that’s left in his mouth, and then there's just companionable silence.
“Innie.” Felix breaks it first, his tone deep and solemn; earnest but with a hint of nervousness. “Can I have your first kiss?”
Jeongin's eyes widen, and he almost chokes on the potato chips he had just swallowed. The question feels so bold, while he suddenly feels so young. And then he looks at Felix, and he realizes that the older boy’s face is now colored a deep shade of tomato red, his freckles standing out more than ever.
“I like you,” Felix whispers, and amidst the loud thundering in his own chest, Jeongin allows himself to admit that he has long known that he feels the same.
Jeongin can't really pinpoint when he started consciously keeping his own feelings at bay, afraid of what it means and what people will say, but he knows that right now, it feels good to be able to let them out, even if just briefly, even if just for Felix.
“Okay,” he answers, nodding.
Felix brightens up again, and Jeongin, not for the first time, wonders how anyone can ever resist Felix when he always looks so eager and delighted every time he's allowed his way.
It’s awkward when their mouths first meet; Jeongin feels stiff while it's obvious that even Felix is nervous even if he has more experience.
Neither of them move initially, and thinking that he's done it wrong, Jeongin starts to move away.
“Sorry—” he mutters, chuckling out of embarrassment. He’s about to say more, but Felix cuts him off, once again pressing his lips on Jeongin's.
There's a hint of confidence in the kiss now that wasn't there a few seconds ago, and Jeongin is surprised once again by Felix’s daring as the latter leads the kiss, mouth parting against Jeongin's own.
Jeongin is unsure what to do, but he mirrors Felix, their lips quietly smacking against each other until they both pull away finally.
Felix's cheeks are still red, but Jeongin doesn't doubt that his are as well.
“I just wanted to leave you with something to remember me by,” Felix whispers shyly, and Jeongin resists the urge to laugh because Felix has long ago left an indelible mark in his life.
But he supposes there's an undeniable logic to Felix’s admittance, especially considering what people say about never forgetting firsts.
This is what happens after:
Jeongin will spend the rest of that summer working at 7-Eleven, saving money for a metaphorical rainy day, or, rather, saving for a trip that he doesn't know when he will be taking.
They will continue to write to each other, with Felix updating Jeongin about his life in university – about his roommates, and about college parties that he attends.
A year will go by, and Jeongin will graduate high school, and just as he planned, he will enlist—and suddenly the letters are fewer and fewer and further in between.
And then another decade will pass, and when Jeongin looks back, he will find that it's funny, that when you're older, the years actually start feeling like they go by very fast as opposed to the excruciating slowness from his youth. Sometimes he will get nostalgic, and he will reminisce, but it will never feel like much has changed during the stretch of time between 18 and 28, not like when he was 8 and it took forever to get to 18.
He will lose touch with Felix somewhere down the line, maybe three or four years after that particular summer; but even ten years into the future, he will continue to occasionally pass through Jeongin’s thoughts because he’s still Lee Felix, and he still won’t be easy to forget.
The image will constantly remain, vivid; that one sweet, summer evening in ‘08, the memory of his first kiss; chaste, and sweet like the numerous choco pies that Felix had been snacking on.
And then, one evening, a decade and a year later, Jeongin will finally decide to pull up the Facebook app on his phone.
“Felix Lee,” he will type in the search box.