“I’m not late!” Jisung exclaimed as he rushed in the practice room, where the others were already practicing one of their choreographies.
“Yes, you definitely are,” Seungmin retorted as they all stopped practicing, distracted by Jisung’s loud arrival.
“Ok, like less than 10 minutes late, it’s not that bad,” he countered.
“Still late though,” Hyunjin commented, clearly annoyed. Jisung winced at his unimpressed expression.
“Even Changbin was on time today,” Minho commented, and Changbin waved at him from behind Minho with an annoying smile. “Would have been nice if you were too.”
“You wanted to see me sooner, admit it?” Jisung winked at Minho who just ignored him.
“Come on, get ready, we can’t be losing any more time,” Chan told him.
They all got back to their position while Jisung quickly put his school bag and jacket away, getting ready as fast as possible. They practiced the choreography from the start and then continued adding to it. They were still working on it, and they were allowed only an hour and a half for the room every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so they were trying to complete it as soon as possible. If they were free during lunchtime, they practiced in an unoccupied classroom, pushing the desks up to the walls. There was a big competition coming and they really wanted to give it their all, especially since it was Chan’s last high school year.
After thirty minutes of practicing, they finally stopped.
“Alright, we’re progressing well with the choreo. Let’s practice the song now,” Chan decided. Instead of doing a cover, they had decided to perform their own composition, a song called Hellevator.
Even if it required a lot of time and energy, the time he spent with his friends was always his favourite. He cherished it deeply.
They all sat down in a circle and started practicing the song. They would integrate it with the dance when they became more confident with the two. Everyone did their part, some commenting and helping where there was something lacking or place for amelioration.
“You’re really doing well on that high note, Jisung,” Chan complimented him with a proud smile.
“Thanks!” He smiled brightly at that. He had practiced a lot, even arrived earlier at school so he could really master it in time for the competition. He knew it wasn’t exactly stable yet, but it was getting there.
They kept going until it finally came time to leave. They stopped by the convenience store and grabbed something cold to drink for everyone before continuing on their way. It was like a routine, and Jisung always took coffee milk. It was his favourite. He had also noticed that Minho tended to buy strawberry milk.
Jisung was the one living farther away from the school and the sport center where they practiced.
Soon enough, he was left alone with Minho, the last one he always said goodbye to before walking alone the rest of the way until he arrived home.
Jisung was talking about anything and everything, just trying to fill the silence, especially since Minho seemed a bit down.
“And then, she slapped him! Right on the cheek! You should have seen it, poor boy. His cheek was as red as a tomato!”
“You’re talking nonsense, no way Jisoo did that,” Minho doubted him with a scoff.
“She’s way more violent than what she looks like!” Jisung added. “I wouldn’t make trouble for her, that’s for sure!”
“You make trouble for everyone,” Minho replied, with a light smile, and that smile felt like it was a small victory for Jisung.
He just wanted to lift Minho’s mood, so he was telling him some story that had happened in the past between two classmates. Honestly, things didn’t quite go the way he had told him, but it wasn’t such a big deal.
To keep up the act, Jisung gasped, looking offended by Minho’s reply.
“What? How dare you say that?! I’m hurt, you know.”
“Awww, poor Jisungie,” Minho’s smile became a little wider.
“My poor heart!” Jisung dramatically collapsed on his knees on the sidewalk.
Minho sighed and walked back up to him. “Come on, you’re even more dramatic than Hyunjin right now,” he told him taking his arms and trying to help him stand back up.
Jisung didn’t have it, he tugged on his arms and forced him to fall in the grass beside the sidewalk with him.
“What are you doing? Let me go!” Minho laughed, and Jisung’s laugh echoed seconds later as Minho started playing with him.
They wrestled on the ground a bit, until Minho finally won over Jisung and pinned him down.
“Ah, I give up!” Jisung declared laughing as Minho took his time to annoy him a bit.
Minho was smiling and giggling too, and it all came to a stop as they both calmed down. They looked at each other for a moment, before Minho’s smile died down a bit and he let himself fall in the grass beside Jisung. They stayed there for a moment, enjoying the beautiful sky above, lighted by the last colourful rays of the setting sun.
“Let’s promise each other something,” Jisung offered suddenly.
“What crazy idea do you have in mind?” Minho asked, unsure.
“Let’s promise to always be there for each other, ok?”
Minho suddenly sat up and stared right at Jisung who looked scared for a moment. Was it too cringy? Was he going to get hit? But then, Minho turned away.
“Alright… I promise to always be there for you,” Minho mumbled, as if too embarrassed to say it clearly, and even if Jisung couldn’t see his expression he could hear the light smile in his voice and it made him happy.
“Yeah!” Jisung exclaimed happily, jumping on Minho’s back to hug him. “I promise too!”
And just like that, Jisung stood back up and offered his hand to Minho so they could get back on their way home. When they separated a few minutes later, Jisung still felt incredibly happy.
Jisung had never made such a promise with a friend, and he felt like he needed some security. Something deep inside him was telling him that Minho would never break the promise they had just made with each other.
Thinking about it, since the moment they had met, he had always been pretty close with Minho, as if there was something magnetic between them. And Jisung couldn’t deny that the thought of having him by his side for the rest of his life felt like a blessing to him.
This deep happiness he felt as he walked back home didn’t last long though…
Jisung didn’t move, he wasn’t even shocked. His father was this kind of man, strict and heavy-handed. When he had received the result of his last math pretest, he had known right away that his father would be angry. 89% was way too low.
“You’re lucky this doesn’t count,” his father growled taking the pretest paper and shaking it roughly in front of Jisung’s face.
“I’ll do better in the real test,” Jisung replied, keeping his head down and trying to calm his father a bit.
His father scoffed in annoyance and then took Jisung’s wrist and lifted up as if to look at him better.
“You’re disgusting, you shameless brat, walking around in such a dirty uniform. How dare you go out looking like this? You really want to humiliate me? Is that it?”
Jisung hardly held back his tears and kept his head low. He should have been more careful when he had wrestled in the grass with Minho earlier. Or at least, he should have tried to clean himself up a bit before entering. He had been too caught up in his thoughts about the promise he had made with Minho. That was really stupid of him…
“Go away. I don’t want to see you anymore,” his father finally let him leave as he poured alcohol into a glass.
He was drinking a lot more lately, and when his father drank, it was always worse, so Jisung didn’t hesitate before leaving his father’s office and going to his room. Once in his room, he closed the door silently and let himself fall on his bed like a broken doll, still trying hard to contain the tears that threatened to pour out of his eyes.
It hadn’t been as bad as he thought it would be, so he was kind of glad, but he still really hated it. He was already trying his best, at school and with the after-class extra classes and his Performing club. He really was… It wasn’t enough. He’d have to do more. He looked at his alarm for the next day. He usually studied until 12 am, so if he woke up at 5 instead of 6, maybe he’d have time to study a bit more and still have time to practice his vocals too. One more hour per day of studying would definitely lead to improvement!
He sighed as he set his alarm and stood back up. He quickly got to work. It would be ok, he could do it…
Two hours in, he took a break and used this time to shower and get ready for sleep even if he would still be studying for a few more hours. When he got back to his desk, he saw that he had received a text message from Minho.
Minho: You didn’t die on the way home, did you?
Jisung smiled at that and answered right away.
Jisung: No, I’ll still be annoying you tomorrow too.
Jisung put his phone away, feeling a little better thanks to Minho. Another three hours of intense studying to go through.
Waking up at 5 was the worst. He already hated waking up at 6, how could he think he would be fine waking up an hour earlier.
He zombied out of the room. It was still dark outside.
SKZ Group Chat:
Squirrel: Don’t wait for me 😊 Already at school!
Jisung went to his assigned classroom and started studying. Gosh, it was hard to focus on anything when he was still barely awake. Maybe he should go to bed at 1am instead? He could try it out, see if it was better.
He kept repeating to himself to stay awake and keep studying like some mantra, but it was still awful. And then, just to make everything worse the group chat started being active.
SKZ Group Chat:
Crispy: What are you doing at school at this hour? Sleep is important, you know!
Baby Changbin: Says the guy who doesn’t even know what sleep is… 😏
Crispy: Don’t know what you’re talking about 🤔
Lama Hyunjin: Oh! Changbin woke up early!
Dandy Boy: Still going to be late though
Baby Changbin: Not even gonna fight you on that, it’s probably in my genetic
Maknae: I don’t think your mother would agree on that 😅
Baby Changbin: Jeonginnie, you know I love you, but you better not tell her!
Maknae: I’m scared! Protect me!
Jisung smiled, amused by their chaotic conversation, but he didn’t reply to the messages, trying to get his concentration back to his studies.
“What the hell are you doing alone at school at this hour?” Minho suddenly shouted as he entered the classroom, startling Jisung and causing him to let out a scream.
“What the hell? Don’t you dare scare me like that again!” Jisung scolded him, a hand on his erratic heart. “I almost had a heart attack. I want to die old, you know!”
Minho rolled his eyes and entered the classroom properly. Now, that Jisung had recovered from this shocker, he noticed that Minho looked as if he was trying to calm his breathing and his forehead was also sweaty.
“Did you run to school? Gosh, you look terrible,” Jisung commented.
“I didn’t run…” Minho lied, clearly, and sat at his place right in front of Jisung. “Are you really studying?”
“I try… I got a bad score at the last math pretest, so I really have to do better for the upcoming test or my father will beat me up,” he joked... At least it was intended as a joke.
“Do you want me to help?” Minho asked.
“You’re good at math?” Jisung asked, surprised. “What score did you get at the pretest?”
“Well, I’m not bad. I got 87.”
87… For him it was good… Jisung didn’t want Minho to know about his situation with his father, it might worry him, so he faked being amazed by his score.
There were many things he hid from his friends. Like the fact that his father was wealthy and that he took extra-classes after school. He didn’t want to be seen by them like one of those rich kids doing whatever they could to ensure their family’s wealthy legacy, even if it meant betraying friends and playing dirty with everyone. They weren’t all like that, he knew it, he was the proof himself, but in high school people were separated by stupid prejudices and cliques. Everyone was easily judging others and he couldn’t be completely sure how his friends would react to him telling them everything. Maybe they would be ok with it and nothing would change, but there was also the possibility that they would try to take advantage of his financial situation or reject him altogether, not wanting to hang out with a rich haughty brat. Maybe they’d feel betrayed to find out everything too.
It was just easier to hide everything from them. On days he practiced with his friends, they all went to eat together after school before they had access to the practice room at 5h30, but Jisung never went with them. Instead, he told them he had to eat with his father, as if it was an important routine thing. But really, he stayed at school and participated in the extra-classes that ended at 5h15. Then, he ate quickly as he rushed to the practice room, and even if he really did his best everyday to get there in time, he was always late.
At least, Tuesdays and Thursdays were easier to deal with, since he only had private lessons at home with a University teacher his father had hired. He hated those lessons. Professor Byeon was a terrifying man and his father had allowed him to use any method to get the results he wanted out of Jisung. Just thinking about it made Jisung shiver. The man had a baton he liked to use way too frequently. Jisung could still feel last Thursday’s lesson on his back and upper arms.
Generally, he had a packed performance-focused schedule, but he had no other choice, or else he would have to let go of the one activity that truly made him happy. He was already very lucky he had been able to hide the fact that he was in the Perfoming club from his father. He hoped that if they finally got recognized in the next competition, he could use it as an argument against his father. Winning club competitions was a great addition to a student’s curriculum!
“Jisung? Are you listening to me?” Minho asked.
“Ah, sorry, I was daydreaming,” he answered simply.
“Are you ok?” Minho inquired seriously.
“Yeah, of course! I’m just a bit tired, that’s all!” He answered with a big confident smile, and went back to studying.
He was taken aback though when he felt fingers brush against his cheek, Minho looking at it, frowning.
“Why is your cheek red? Did you walk into a glass door again?”
Jisung jumped up the next second, covering his cheek with his hand, both embarrassed by Minho’s attention and anxious that he would think something else.
“Yeah, glass doors are my nemesis,” he stuttered. “I need to go to the washroom, check my stuff, ok?”
Jisung quickly took his phone and rushed to the closest washroom. He walked up to the mirror and looked at himself. He looked at his cheek, but even he could barely notice the lightly redder tint it had compared to the other. How could Minho notice so easily? There was no way the others would notice it too, right?
Still, thinking about Minho’s fingers brushing his cheek made him feel weird.
Was it happiness? Or anxiousness?
He splashed water over his face and wiped it, then took a few deep breaths before going back to the classroom.
Well, at least he was very well awake now.