The crowd is good tonight.
There's a thrumming energy in the air, zipping through the exposed pipes and cutting past the curtain of hazy neon lights. When he sticks out his tongue, he can almost taste it, hanging on the tip, a word two consonants away from being formed.
Donghyuck likes young crowds for this reason. Singing at coffee shops on Thursday nights is nice and so are the on-the-house drinks. But this, the bass just shy of deafening, the smooth drip of a building high creeping through his veins, the screaming crowd. This is different.
He licks his lips, then washes out the taste with a pull of smoke. Electricity can be addicting.
Even with glazed eyes, Mark's hand is steady as he hands Donghyuck the mic. Donghyuck smiles, passing the blunt from his lips to Mark's, who takes it with surprise like a boy being asked to do drugs for the first time. Donghyuck rolls his eyes. This is not Mark's first time, and judging by the way he blinks at Donghyuck, definitely not the first of the night.
Not that Donghyuck cares-- Mark's hands never miss a note, sober, high, or dead. Donghyuck takes the stairs by twos, his guitar bouncing against his legs as he bursts onto the stage.
Feedback rings in his ears, a siren song. He lets it swell in his chest, press against his lungs, drown him in the spotlight.
"Are you all having a good time tonight?"
Donghyuck is having a great time. He's riding off the after-performance high, and the actual high, swinging from shoulder to shoulder as he makes his way through the crowd, claps on his backs, eyes trailing the curve of his hips in pants that he knows hugs his thighs like a glove. He's on top of the world, he's a young god, he's fucking fantastic, catching Renjun's wave like a lighthouse in the disco sea and sliding into a booth packed to the brim with his friends and--
Across the booth, one Jaemin Na laughs, his arm slung over Jisung’s shoulder as he whispers something in his ear. Donghyuck narrows his eyes when Jisung drops his head on Jaemin’s shoulder, only yelping to focus when a sharp elbow jabs into his side.
“You did good,” Renjun says and slides over a glass of water that Donghyuck knows isn’t optional. He gulps it down, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “Some girl nearly elbowed Jaemin in the face trying to throw her bra at the stage.”
Donghyuck snorts. Jaemin’s face could have used a broken nose. Maybe it would have given him character, a landmark other than the Cartier bracelet that hung on his wrist or his careful wisps of tousled hair. Something other than another prep school brat running off with daddy’s credit card to play with art school charity cases.
“What a shame,” Donghyuck murmurs under his breath. When he looks up, Jaemin is staring.
“What was that?” Renjun asks.
“Nothing,” Donghyuck mumbles. “I’m going to the bathroom.”
He slips out of the booth, ignoring Renjun’s call. He makes his way to the wings and the rusted hinges squeal as he shoves the door open.
Cool water feels good on his skin, washing away the sticky sheen he had worked up under the lights and some of the irate anger simmering underneath. A look in the mirror tells him he should start considering a haircut and just as he’s smoothing his fringes back with wet hands, the door creaks open.
“What are you doing here?”
For the record, Donghyuck would like to clarify: he doesn’t hate Jaemin Na. Hate is an emotion that requires effort. Between the gigs and the odd end jobs to keep his electricity on, Donghyuck doesn’t have time for that.
No, what he feels towards Jaemin is more like an allergy. Something about him, between the glossy strands of his bleached blonde head and his intentionally beat up designer shoes, makes a part of Donghyuck tick, an itch two scratches from a fire. Call it adolescent anger issues, call it an appetite for the rich. Whatever it was, Jaemin set him off, a California wildfire hurling from a spark.
“I didn’t invite you,” Donghyuck bites out. He turns off the faucet.
“Mark invited me.” In the mirror, Jaemin shifts his weight, hands deepening in his pockets like the poster child of nonchalance. His leather jacket glints dully under the dingy bathroom lights. “Is that a problem?”
In retrospect, Donghyuck can’t pinpoint how they first met. One day, Mark had said, “Hey, I met this cool kid uptown”, and the next, Jaemin was everywhere , showing up to their gigs, tagging along for dinner outings, taking up too much space on Mark’s couch with his stupidly long legs. What do you even call a groupie who pays the tab?
“I meant the bathroom, but okay.”
Donghyuck reaches for the paper dispenser, only to find it empty. He resigns to drying his hands on his jeans, squirming at the way the wetness seeps through the fabric. When he raises his head, he realizes Jaemin is staring. Again.
“What? Do I have something on my face?”
Jaemin just smiles, that stupid, dental-insured smile, and walks out, leaving Donghyuck with a cotton mouth and the wisps of a migraine.
Donghyuck groans, dropping his head. What a shit comedown.
Upper West Side kids only know how to celebrate birthdays in one way:
KUNHANG’S BIRTHDAY PARTY 4 HIS BIRTHDAY AT HIS PLACE TONITE , Yangyang texts him.
Even if he would give him up in the class war, Donghyuck still has a soft spot for Kunhang in his heart.
Dropping his phone into the pocket of his apron, Donghyuck had smiled at Johnny over the counter and asked, “Do you mind closing up tonight?”
Johnny snorted, but nodded still, not slowing as he wipes down the glass case. “Hot date?”
No , Donghyuck finds himself thinking as he narrowly dodges a girl teetering against a wall, the liquid in her cup sloshing against the brim. Just a hot room. He’s caught Kunhang on his way in, lying on the couch with an empty Ice bottle at his feet and a dopey smile that only widened when Donghyuck wished him a happy birthday.
Sighing, Donghyuck ventures into the kitchen for a refill. Aside from Kunhang and Yangyang, he’s not friends with anyone else here. Renjun only likes to show up to parties when he can’t recollect being there, and Mark has been more or less living in Renjun’s bed these days. He fumbles with his phone, shooting Jisung a where r u before sliding it back into his pocket.
Donghyuck looks up, groaning when he sees Jaemin slinking towards the counter and shaking a red cup. The stack of metal rings on his hand catches the bright kitchen lights, bounces off the marble counters. With his flannel shirt and ripped jeans, he looks simultaneously homeless and like he wore a hole through his mirror from the amount of time he spent picking out his outfit.
Jaemin smiles, all teeth. “Pleased to see me as always, I’m guessing.”
Donghyuck doesn’t bother to design him with a response. He yanks his phone out of his pocket again and busies himself with an Instagram feed that refuses to load.
Jaemin, apparently, does not get the message. He hops onto the counter, swinging his legs as he reaches for a can and pops off the tab. “Hey, Donghyuck?”
Jisung’s new puppy is cute. His Instagram story (seven fruitless segments of attempting to teach Mochi how to roll over) tells Donghyuck he won’t be expecting Jisung at this party any time soon. Maybe Donghyuck should start heading out soon.
“Do you want to get dinner sometimes?”
Donghyuck blinks. Looks up, narrows his eyes. “Are you fucking serious?”
Jaemin shrugs, fiddling with the can between his lap. “Yeah? We could try that Thai restaurant that opened near Mark’s place?”
Donghyuck looks down at his empty cup, and then reaches for the liquor bottle. “You might be hot, but you’re kinda annoying.” His hands are unsteady, and some of the vodka drips down the side of the cup.
“You think I’m hot?”
Donghyuck rolls his eyes, bringing the cup to his lips. Alcohol had a way of loosening up his tongue. “Did you miss the annoying part or--?”
Grinning, Jaemin eases himself down, and for a split second, Donghyuck wonders if the world had titled on its axis the second after Jaemin’s feet touched the ground. Like a switch had flipped, the world inverted, a parallel universe playing on the big screen.
“Aren’t you curious?”
From this close up, Donghyuck can smell his cologne, sharp, dark, a little dangerous. A shiver runs down his spine, darts through Jaemin’s blown pupils, energy a wave away from electricity.
Jaemin edges closer, closer, and it shouldn’t be that easy. “About me. You’re always staring.”
It shouldn’t be that easy, but it is.
Donghyuck doesn’t know what he expected. Jaemin’s mouth tastes sweet, an artificial tinge like a lollipop. Not the bitter grit of a day old ashtray like Donghyuck had imagined (not that Donghyuck has imagined this before).
Something Donghyuck learns: Jaemin is a lot less annoying when he can’t speak. That sharp, irritating smile is gone, and the acid edge that had followed it fizzles out as Donghyuck cards his fingers through Jaemin’s hair, yanks him closer, heat, fire, pressure. He likes how pliable Jaemin feels, one hand curling up on his thigh like he’s afraid to touch Donghyuck and the other copping a feel of his ass through the designer denim Donghyuck had stolen, from when he used to work at a boutique in Soho.
He likes the sound Jaemin makes too. He wonders if he could draw out that note sometime himself, if it would sound good in an unfinished composition. Hadn’t Mark told him to get creative?
“Your place,” Donghyuck rasps out as Jaemin works his way up Donghyuck’s neck, pink blooming like a Versailles spring in his wake. Jaemin nods, always so eager, and Donghyuck lets him lead the way.
In the haze of neon lights and the warmth circling his wrist, Donghyuck thinks he might be turning over a new leaf.
There’s a box in his closet that he hasn’t thrown out. By now, it’s been buried under a pile of sheet music and sweaters he never wears but keeps because he’s a hoarder. And maybe that’s what that was too, hoarding, putting all your hurt into four corners with a lid and then letting it accumulate dust, keeping it from the grips of time. Spring cleaning didn’t stand a chance.
Lying in Jaemin’s bed, no neighbors screaming through the wall, the ceiling above him smooth and high, Donghyuck finds himself thinking about this box. He’s been meaning to throw it out for so long, keeps telling himself he’s going to get rid of it soon everytime he comes across it in his search for an odd sock. But somehow, it’s still rooted at the bottom of the pile, an artifact to be unearthed in the next millennium.
It’s nice here. The mattress isn’t lumpy, and the blanket isn’t scratchy, just warm. Nice. A part of Donghyuck is tempted to stay, stick around and see what happens, but Jaemin’s snoring makes his decision for him.
Rolling his eyes, he slips out between the sheets, careful to not stir Jaemin.
Just as he’s zipping up his jacket, a shelf by Jaemin’s record player catches his eye. He steps closer, bending to examine the glass bottles at eye level. Of course Jaemin collects perfume like Donghyuck’s landlord collects rent. Humming, he runs a finger across the glossy wood edge and scowls when he realizes there’s not a speck of dust on his finger.
His hands twitch.
Jaded boys don’t learn new tricks.
It’s not until he’s pushing his way through the revolving glass doors of Jaemin’s building that his phone vibrates.
so about that thai place
next saturday at 7?
you can keep the cologne btw
Donghyuck scoffs and turns off his screen. He tucks the phone in his pocket, fingers brushing against the cool glass vial, and ambles towards the station, hoping he’s not too late for his shift.