It’s another day of sun.
Junhui spends his summers in Anshan, Haicheng. It’s been like this for the past seven years he’s been alive. It was the typical case of some distantly rich relative living in the area that offered him smiles and dumplings on the first day but wouldn’t even spare him a glance on the second day. When his family talks about politics, the whereabouts of his father, and the ever so interesting lives of their neighbors, Junhui’s left to play with his food. He’s left alone to his own devices at this point, and no matter how much he sighs for Shenzhen, for his home in Guangdong, he knows no one was taking him back.
There’s not much for him in Haicheng. There are lots of people, to which none of them he knows and to which none of them know him. When they look at his small stature, they don’t know that he’s starred in some of the commercials on their televisions, unlike all his classmates and neighbors back in Shenzhen. (Junhui only started acting that year but at least in Guangdong, someone knew who he was.)
Maybe he was being petty for having little to no recognition at all but what could he do? It’s not like even his family was paying him any attention. They could talk to him and maybe watch movies with him but they don’t. Instead, they leave Junhui in his current predicament— dropped off and left alone on some random playground for him to trip over sand. And don’t get him wrong, Junhui loves playgrounds. It’s just that all his cousins were either 2 months old or over twenty so there’s really no point in playing around if he was all alone.
Junhui sighs. Maybe he’ll trip over sand then, he thinks as he slumps himself into the discomforting grains of tan. After all, that’s what his family seems to think was best for him and it’s not like Jun had any other options. As usual. He can’t reach the seats on the high swings and his skin would be scraped off by the rustiest slide he’s ever seen. So really, lying down on the dusty sandbox was the best option. Junhui sighs again.
“What are you doing?” A pitched gruff comes from above where Junhui had laid his back over the sand. Junhui blinks. There’s another boy and he’s staring Junhui down with the kind of judgment that makes Junhui feel small.
“Nunya,” Junhui says without missing a beat. “Nunya business.” Junhui finishes because he’s seven and because he doesn’t really like how intimidating the other boy looks.
“Whatever, weirdo.” Minghao scoffs and steps over Junhui’s body just because he can.
It could have ended at that— Jun on the ground and Minghao leaving him there to go elsewhere but it doesn’t. It doesn’t because Jun, pettily irritated Jun , grabs Minghao’s ankle to pull him down and make him trip on the sand too, hearing the younger boy yelp.
Junhui tries to crawl away but when Minghao gets up, he kicks Junhui’s side. They don’t really know what they’re doing and it all goes through circles that end in bruises and scraped knees and sore cheeks. The only time their unintelligent realization of how their fight was completely useless and weird, considering they didn’t even know each other’s names, was when they were panting a few meters away from each other, worn down and too tired for pride.
The sun is watered down and it’s sighed some light off of itself that Junhui could look at it directly without getting his eyes burned. Sunsets were something he didn’t watch nor appreciate because it always meant that he had to go home soon after but as his chest heaves and his toes numb itself, he finds himself watching the world grow dimmer through the blink of his young eyes when he finally yells his Minghao his name. “I’M JUN BY THE WAY.”
Junhui yells it because he’s seven and he doesn’t know a better way to introduce himself. When Minghao barks his own name back, Junhui can’t help but smile. He thinks blissfully, that he’s met his match. When he sees Minghao again the next day, Minghao avoids him like the plague but ends up getting chased and for some reason, they end up playing tag. When Minghao gets tackled to the ground, he yells for Junhui to get off. Call me Jun, is what Jun had said in response, sweeping off sand and dust and dirt from his shirt as Minghao glares at him.
For kids, beating each other up was probably the shittiest way to get to know each other. Sure, Jun’s mom had lost every marble in her head seeing Jun’s swollen cheeks and the bruises on Jun’s knees as she scolded him endlessly, Jun you have a commercial coming up soon, how could you let this happen to yourself! To be fair though, it wasn’t half as bad as maybe vomiting on one other, but Minghao and Jun yelling mispronounced profanities and tripping over sand was their entrance to the title of ‘best friends’ and that in itself, was something a lot of people only wished to have.
A year had passed and when Jun comes back to Anshan, he gives Minghao a Beyblade— something called a galaxy pegasus he got from his manager. That seemed to be the right thing to do because almost immediately, Minghao warms up to him again. He pulls Jun to his house and they watch Tom and Jerry for the rest of the afternoon.
There were many norms everywhere Jun had gone. With Minghao, the now installed norm was to tell him everything that happened in the timeframe between the end of summer of last year and the start of summer this year. The norm with him was to buy sprite placed on plastic bags every afternoon and split the bill when buying chips behind their parents’ backs.
During auditions, Jun had to smile even as other kids were chosen for roles he had cried over memorizing into his bones, roles he wanted. In the studios, he had to keep still when they touched fine liner on his lids and smile even when his eyes watered; that was his norm. In school, the norm there was not to be a loser with lame bag designs or worn down pencil cases. For parents, however, it was the norm to enroll their kids in random classes so they can talk to other parents about it and go on a barely-concealed competition on which kid was more talented, who excelled more.
Jun was enrolled in martial arts and somehow, his mother made it fit somewhere in his schedule. Jun’s cousins were taught to win chess while his friends were taught to learn traditional Chinese instruments. His classmates were into playing the violin or piano, all while Jun was learning to stretch himself to the point the strings in his legs hurt before learning to kick higher, higher.
To be fair, a lot of kids his age were familiar with martial arts but when he meets with Minghao on the next summer in Anshan, Jun realizes that Minghao did it best. Sometimes, Jun forgets he’s the older one when Minghao was a whole prodigy, a genius at work, a kid who wasn’t disgusting or slobbery like the others (like Jun— who still sneezes without covering his mouth). While everyone was still gushing over being able to do cartwheels, Minghao was already doing backflips and whatnot. It was unreal.
What blossomed within Jun at the time was pure admiration.
“Jun, stop copying me.”
There was a tune in the background, bluesy with undulating riffs that had Minghao humming and moving his fingers to the imaginary guitar on his arms. Jun wanted to do it too.
“Oh. Sorry.” Jun blinks, ears red and at loss for words at being caught. “You’re just really…”
Minghao squints his eyes as if daring Jun to let out an insult he would no doubt, rebut to.
To Minghao’s surprise, Jun attempts to shrug nonchalantly even when his shoulders tensed under Minghao’s scrutinizing gaze. “You’re just really cool. I wanted to try it too.”
“You’re the cool one.” Minghao says without missing a beat.
“Just because I’m an actor, doesn’t mean I’m cool, Minghao.”
“Yes, it does. You’re on TV.”
“Yeah but… there’s hundreds of other kid actors. So I’m kind of no one, really.” Jun feels small in a way that even his voice suddenly sounds so weird to him.
Minghao stays silent before slapping Jun on the back (out of goodwill and camaraderie, of course) . “Whatever. You’d still be great even if you weren’t an actor.”
Whenever his mother takes his shoulder and forces him to sit up straight, whenever he wants to cry when someone tells him he wasn’t doing good at saying his lines, whenever he sees younger kids having bigger roles, bigger billboards with their smile plastered all over them, all Jun could think of was that at least, someone thought he was doing something right. At least someone thought he was enough. And with that someone being Minghao, Jun decides to never leave him to the point even the neighbors were confused as to where Jun lived due to how much time he spent in Minghao’s house, tagging along, trailing behind Minghao like he was a lifeline.
Naturally, with Minghao and his cool backflips and cool personality and Jun, the rising child actor with an eccentric personality and handsome face, the other kids had begun to pick up an interest in both of them, much to Jun’s surprise. Jun knows the other kids’ names as much as they know his but Jun knows they aren’t exactly friends, even if they play games together sometimes so he’s surprised in a delighted kind of way when he gets an invitation to Jieqiong’s birthday party. Jieqiong— the prettiest girl in their neighborhood, mind you, and for kids to be invited to costume parties with free food and games promised, it was all Jun and Minghao could ever want.
While Minghao tries to play it off, scoffing a whatever, Junhui’s eyes had excitedly lit up as he had blabbered off being invited to a party. He pretends he isn’t as excited as Jun because he’s Minghao and Minghao has a cool image to keep up, especially with Jun. He doesn’t know why that is— maybe because he likes the way Jun had obviously admired him as someone cool or maybe because Jun has this look in his eye, similar to pride that yeah, I’m friends with Xu Minghao.
Little does Jun know though, how Minghao looks at him the same way that yeah, Wen Junhui was his best friend.
There’s rapidly small knocks on the Xu’s residence and he already knows it’s Jun. Minghao acts as if this party doesn’t affect him one bit but in reality, no one would have guessed that he practically begged his mother to put red face paint on the left side of his face. Minghao, dressed like Zuko from Avatar, pats off the possible dust in his fire nation outfit, before opening the door.
“Minghao! Dude, that’s such a cool costume, what the hell man!”
“Thanks! You—… Um,” Minghao eyes Jun and feels a strange fire in his chest, the mean kind of fire telling him to make fun of Junhui’s hideous costume. God, Minghao could almost feel a miniature demonized version of him in his shoulder cackling at Jun. If it were anyone else, Minghao would have listened to it but this time, seeing the eager light in Junhui’s eyes, the genuine and vibrant smile on Junhui’s face and decides, he doesn’t have the heart to even say anything to Jun.
Instead, Minghao settles with, an albeit unconvinced, “You too?”
Jun had taken the compliment to his heart, a wide smile on his lips as he shyly shrugs, as if to modestly say, yeah, I know I look good. And Minghao’s eyes twitch but he doesn’t say anything more. Minghao has thoughts of ditching Jun, Jun and his green arm sleeves, Jun and his hanging orange shaped costume on his body, Jun and his orange bucket hat with a green leaf taped to it. Yeah, did Minghao mention that Jun was dressed like an orange?
“My grandma made it, pretty neat, huh?”
But Minghao doesn’t. He thinks about it and no, he doesn’t ditch Junhui in all his orange glory.
He stays. Stays even if his eyes hurt the longer he stares at Junhui’s ugly costume, stays even if his social status just might plummet down the drain the longer he’s beside Jun.
And as expected from judgmental children with entitlement issues, orange juice gets spilled on Jun’s orange fruit costume. On purpose, of course, Yanan was a quiet yet elitist little boy kid that whenever he didn’t like someone, he would make sure to make it really really obvious— thus resorting to a quiet oops when he pretends to lose motor control over his own hand and his orange juice gets on Jun’s costume. Jun doesn’t know why Yanan doesn’t like him, he never did, all he knows is that when he gets together with him, Minghao, and the other kids, Yanan doesn’t bother including him, treating Jun like he was some kind of intruder.
Of course, each time Minghao either flips him off or tells him to leave Jun alone. This was no different except for the fact Minghao resorts to throwing a part of Jieqiong’s birthday cake to Yanan’s face. There’s the anti-climatic food fight that does not happen because Minghao and Yanan are both kicked out of Jieqiong’s birthday party. They’d both feel like losers but the thing is, Minghao doesn’t feel like a loser because at least he has Jun to go home with.
It’s Jun that says there isn’t a point in staying when Minghao wasn’t there, it’s Jun that makes a joke about how there’s orange juice in his dreadful orange costume he was once proud of, it’s Jun that Minghao has a sleepover with. Minghao doesn’t regret what happened, even if Jieqiong’s mom phones his mom and snaps at how terrible Minghao was to disassemble the Mulan frosted cake and throw it at Yanan. His mother had sighed but when he told her he only did for Jun, her face relaxes into a smile, serving both Minghao and Jun some apple juice (instead of an orange one because of the possible distress it might induce) as they began to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender.
“Hey isn’t that the guy you’re dressed up as?”
Jun hums at the revelation. “He’s kinda hot.”
“Minghao, you’re dressed like him, you probably have a crush on him, too.” Jun cackles.
“I do not!”
Jun raises a brow. “Not even a little bit?”
“Hell no. I like Katara.” I like the girl, he seems to insist.
“Well whatever, Zuko’s handsome and you know it.”
Minghao scoffs and they continue their marathon, only using the bathroom when the commercials came on (— Minghao, hurry up, I need to pee too!) (Stop rushing me!)
They pretend they don’t stumble over each other just to hurriedly get back to TV in the case that the show began again. They spend hours and hours watching it, cursing antagonists, ‘ooo-ing’ when necessary, with Jun pretending he could waterbend when he splashes water on Minghao.
He develops a crush on Zuko and absentmindedly, as he watches Zuko struggle between the balance of pessimism and realism and well, set things and maybe people on fire with the kind of grit only hard work achieved, he thinks of Minghao. Jun laughs about it for a while, how Zuko would say, “that’s rough buddy”, as a response, and thinks about how Minghao would say the exact thing. It was just that Zuko was so cool and admittedly, handsome, that Jun feels his gut drop in realization when he finally notices that he thinks the same when it came to Minghao.
At eight years old, Jun had thought about what it meant to have a crush on a boy. The same boy that threw a Mulan cake for him, the same boy he watched TV shows with, the same boy that he always talked to and laughed with every summer in Anshan. Surely, it couldn’t be as different from having crushes on girls but Jun had an idea what it would be like once everyone found out.
He remembers his manager at that moment before Jun had to hold his breath before entering the studio of green walls, blinding lights. Jun you’re an actor, the world is watching.
He remembers his second-grade teacher that pulled him out of class. Don’t embarrass yourself like that, you’re an actor, Junhui.
A classmate that had been homeschooled flashes into his mind. Jun asked what happened. Oh Junhui, hey. You mean Xiu Ying? He’s studying at home now ‘cause he kept getting bullied.
Lucky no one’s ever gonna get you, right? You’re an actor and you’re handsome.
His mother’s grip into his forearm.
Junhui, sit up straight.
Junhui, don’t do that with your legs.
Junhui, don’t blink, please, you’ll ruin the makeup I’ve put on you.
Junhui, say that line again.
Junhui, did you forget to read the script again?
Junhui, you’re an actor, you can’t afford to make too much mistakes.
Jun was only a rising child actor but he doesn’t have to be told to know that liking boys was something people would look down on. He doesn’t have to have his mom or his manager, his second-grade teacher, or his classmates tell him not to like boys because he already a sense. He had a feeling. He knew.
Jun could be ousted in his own family rather than relatively included. Jun could make every passerby disapprovingly sigh upon recognition instead of asking for a picture. He doesn’t even want to think about school— he could be pushed in the hallways, cornered alone, spat on, excluded, and outcasted. He shouldn’t have known any of this could happen but he’s already witnessed it firsthand, just from a few classmates being subjectively ‘ugly’.
And he doesn’t know which thought scares him more— the thought of Minghao turning him away and never talking to him again or never being able to get casted for anything ever again because of what was seen as wrong.
The thought alone had Jun’s breath hitching, nails digging into the skin of his palm as he desperately tried to hide the awfully dreadful feeling in his chest. Suddenly, Jun regrets fawning over Zuko in front of Minghao. Suddenly, he feels a rush of embarrassment and shame cruelly grip the bases of his heart whenever he remembers.
Jun thinks about the thought on boys more— late at night, when he’s alone, and sometimes while he’s having dinner with his family but never says an inkling of his thoughts aloud. It’s worse when he thinks about how it all started from Minghao. It’s worse when Jun thinks about losing him. He doesn’t want to make it weird for himself or for Minghao. He’d hate himself if Minghao would wish to never see him again.
“Jun.” Jun. Not Junhui . “Jun, you okay?” Minghao’s question brings him out of his reverie, the TV show running wildly into the background. Jun blinks, a dazed whirring into his mind. Jun. He’s told people to call him but for some reason, it’s only Minghao that truly says it more often than not.
“Yeah, just thinking…” Jun murmurs, eyes boring into the ornate detail of the blanket he’s holding close. “…About how I have to leave soon.”
“Psh.” Minghao gives a light punch to Jun’s shoulder. “Don’t be weird, we’ll see each other next year. Plus, we have like… A month left to go.”
Jun sees Minghao only on the summers but to them, it was enough. Each time Jun leaves with a gaping hole in both of their hearts that wished for Minghao stay in Anshan, Jun comes back every summer with a renewed one, with more space for Minghao’s presence to easily fit itself into. They write each other letters sometimes, when they have the energy for it. A single year blurs into more and more years that the number is easily forgotten but not once, did either of them ever forget to exchange birthday cards.
June 10 2006, Jun’s birthday, he receives a birthday card from Minghao— a plain white sheet of paper with proper capitalization and doodles on the side. It was a minimalistic form of art that Jun keeps in an empty tin case where he used to have cookies in it.
November 7 2006, Minghao’s birthday, he receives a birthday card from Jun—with Voltron designs on it and Jun’s bad handwriting and bad grammar. ‘ Hope your doing ok!!!!!!!!!!!!’ — a smaller font below the gigantic and slanted letterings of ‘Happy Birthday’.
June 10 2009, Jun’s birthday, he receives a birthday card from Minghao— it’s been five years of knowing Minghao, he’s 12 now while Minghao’s 11. “Happy Birthday U Loser” is printed bold on the card when opened and Jun smiles when there’s two stickmen at the bottom of the page that look like they’re holding hands but Jun’s not sure.
November 7 2009, Minghao’s birthday, he receives a birthday card from Jun— it’s been five years of knowing Jun, he’s 11 while Jun’s 12. “Happy One Year Closer To Death AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA” is screamed on paper, like it’s the funniest, most comedic line of gold Jun thought of. There’s a heart at the bottom of the page, next to a tombstone where ‘Xu Minghao in 90 years’ is terribly placed on.
It’s their only means of communication other than their summertime hangouts and Jun wants to get his own phone but neither his manager nor his mother shares the same sentiment.
If you want to talk to Minghao that badly, you can text him through my phone.
But that’s embarrassing!
It goes like this— Minghao and Jun talking mostly in the humidity of summer air and sighing against rattling electric fans. Jun talks about the shows and commercials he’s starred in, his eyes wearing a glittering kind of tiredness as he speaks of it, as if it’s a double-edged sword that gave him happiness yet took some at the same time. Jun talks big dreams with bigger sets, talks as if he was the biggest celebrity and Minghao was his interviewer like the dork he was.
There’s an untamed passion Jun has for acting, stars bursting from the seams in Jun’s eyes when he says he was only going to go higher, to the oasis of the unreachable. Minghao usually slaps him in the face for it, literally. But when Jun’s voice quiets down in the mystifying lethargy of dawn, Minghao says he’d be Jun’s biggest fan, using the remote control as a faux microphone to interview Jun on why he was the best actor ever.
Jun talks about the Avatar, chokes up a bit, and acts weirdly when Minghao brings Zuko up again. Jun talks about his mom, how distant she is sometimes, the girls in his school that are weirdly too nice each time they find out he’s a rising actor, the girls he rejects in turn, he talks about the tests he failed, the stars and how he wants the sticky kind on his ceiling. And Minghao listens. Minghao listens and watches Jun’s short attention span, the same kind only a goldfish would have, bring Jun from one room to another, from one topic to the next.
2011, Jun gets an iPhone and so does Minghao. They don’t really know how to work their conversations out as good as they do in real life but after a series of different emoticons, stickers, and ringing notifications of ‘Jun has sent you 265 messages’ after an hour, they make it work somehow. It still doesn’t beat their summered rituals of Inseparability and constant chattering of everything they did, everything they’d do.
2013 and the rare occasion Minghao meets Jun in Shenzhen only happens twice that year— two occurrences wherein Minghao had to hide the way his chest was forcibly hollowed at the thought of how little time they had together.
Minghao pretends that when Jun leaves, it’s only another day where they could see each other again even if the reality was that it took months before Jun would come to Anshan again. He’d say ‘yeah yeah, bye Jun,’ and pretend the hurt in his chest to see Jun leave wasn’t there. The same goes for Jun too.
Ten years of knowing each other and Minghao still thinks Jun’s a fever dream every time he leaves. It’s surreal to see Jun outside of his terrible spam messages and terrible 9gag pictures. It’s surreal to know that he was going to see Jun in the summer, looking well, more grown than last year. Jun and the gold of his skin, angular jaw, high cheekbones, and low-lidded eyes that smiled along with the brightness of his own lips. The same Jun that texted him one night: minghoa i fujking sent u a picture of a cat wit a clown nose why r u not responding.
It was as if Jun was some kind of spirit, a sprite of some sort, a kind of fairy only found on a certain time and place— summertimes in Anshan. Jun was one to easily waltz into his life just as he was one to leave each time. Jun was certainly pretty as one, that’s for sure, but the way Jun was even eccentric as one added to the possibility that maybe Wen Junhui wasn’t human. It was as if he was the kind of fairy that was so fast it disappeared within a half breath, the kind of fairy with this rapid fluidity that it would only take enough luck to catch it in its place.
Minghao wasn’t as transient as Jun being in Anshan but he understands. After all, it’s not like he himself was something stagnant. Sure, his life mostly revolved around the heart of Anshan, with his occasional trips to the main cities, but he always made sure he was doing something. Something like painting, martial arts, the art of b-boying and going into competitions, dancing, sculpting even, (he’s thinking of doing photography next), modeling for small-time brands, and randomly learning useless hand tricks like spinning a pen on his knuckles.
When he sees Jun on his TV, a proud smile etches itself into his lips, into his heart.
Jun became someone that didn’t have time to stop as if he embodied the myth of the hummingbird— so small, so precious, impossible to hold, 1200 heartbeats per minute. So small, so precious, that it dies the moment its flight slows, the moment it gets tired, the moment it no longer moves.
Minghao could only watch as Jun moved, could only eat his cereals from all the way in Anshan as he watches Jun’s vlogs of his ever so bustling life. It really was like watching a hummingbird on animal planet. (Except if he told Jun that, Minghao would say change it and say watching Jun was like watching an insect squirm when eaten or something as equally worse instead because he’s secretly a ten-year-old somewhere and he’s kind of emotionally constipated, stupid with infatuation.)
Funnily enough, their summers together feel like backwaters. Minghao didn’t even know what backwater meant until his mother had told him, it’s what you call the part of a lake where the currents don’t reach. I think the other meaning is for quiet and isolated villages or places. Either way, it’s something stagnant and peaceful. Your grandpa lives near backwaters, remember?
Backwater also referred to villages with no economic progress but Minghao blocks out that definition because it was boring and instead remembered the other meaning of backwater— villages that lived in a peaceful kind of isolation and the part of a lake that stayed still.
Jun reminded him of sunlights and summers and repetitive music and cheap popsicle sticks. His two months and less with Jun was like backwater— it felt so isolated from his own life, busy with practice and b-boying and studying and trying to design his own clothes with shitty fabric markers.
It felt like a vacation with Jun, meaningless conversations among the sound of cicadas, sweat-slicked skin, patched with gold, and the shadow of leaves from the douse of sunlight. An oasis it was, from all the horrible things he felt, when Jun intertwines their fingers, holds his hand in his, and Minghao feels like the hummingbird instead, with a heartbeat going a thousand and more beats per minute. It felt like a safe haven, when he tightens his arms around Jun’s waist, when Jun holds Minghao’s head and gently lays it on his chest as a response, and when Minghao has nothing else to hear except the cadence of Jun’s hum, feeling the rise and fall of Jun’s chest. Minghao feels dumb for letting a supposedly platonic skinship get the best of him but having someone this close and having someone at all made Minghao feel precious even if it was just for a moment, even when he never really thought himself so.
When summer dissipates slowly, Jun’s lit skin doesn’t come from the sunlight as much— it came from the blinding stage lights, flashing cameras. His golden skin, washed into a flurry of white, his natural grin, pulled into a tightly tensed one.
Jun talks about it once.
It’s been years yet I still can’t get the roles I want. I’m still some rising actor people barely remember. The words leave a bitter taste on Jun’s mouth. Minghao doesn’t say anything when Jun starts crying, silently padding Jun’s cheeks with the cloth of the sweater he pulls to his palm. The sound of Jun’s sniffles is almost as thunderous as the beating of Jun’s heart— all that Minghao hears and carries as his fingers find their way into Jun’s.
I’m proud of you Jun, to fuck what they say, Jun, you’re more than that. Jun tries to drink in every word, too absorbed in drowning in Minghao’s endless warmth as their hands don’t move to let go.
When Jun wins an actor’s award for the first time, he calls Minghao first and if Jun were there, he would have been blinded by the brightness in Minghao’s eyes, in his smile.
Jun learns English and when Minghao watches him from the screen, Minghao hears words he’s never heard of. Minghao learns English too but unlike Jun, it’s out of his own will. Jun models and Minghao sees him almost everywhere. Minghao models too, but it’s for brands Jun’s never heard of. Jun’s first kiss is taken and recorded and played in a nationwide channel for the entirety of China to see, with a girl whose name Minghao doesn’t bother remembering. Minghao’s first kiss goes to Jieqiong in the empty courtyards of their school, with the sun long gone into rest.
That was how they were — living their individual lives in their own little worlds, one’s (Jun’s) world bigger than the other. But when they were together, it was only their souls that laid bare, the soul of two teenage boys, one older, one year younger, that wandered and ventured things they didn’t have a lot of time to explore.
“A girl from the show likes me.”
“Gee, Jun, like I asked .”
Summer came much faster this year.
The younger sighs and Jun pokes Minghao’s side in retaliation, which proved to be a futile effort since Minghao doesn’t even flinch his hands away from the game controller. “You could at least pretend to care.”
Minghao sighs and his eyes don’t leave the screen of his controller, “Okay then, do you like her back?”
Now that was the question. Jun doesn’t. “No.”
“Why not?” Minghao’s fingers deftly and aggressively quicken its presses on the triangle, circle, cross, square, again and again.
Why not? Because I think I like boys was easier thought than said. To tell Minghao that he maybe liked boys was like telling Minghao he maybe liked him too and Jun really wasn’t in the mood of confessing and being rejected and then facing the possible life-long consequence of losing his best friend.
In truth, it’s not like Minghao would ever hurt Jun on purpose. No, he wouldn’t. Minghao was candid and blunt with his words, with how disgusted he feels, with how happy things make him, with what he likes, what he doesn’t— Minghao’s always been honest. Honest to a fault so when he’s always said that Jun, you’re my best friend. Jun, I trust you. Jun, you better not forget me when you get into Hollywood. Jun, thank you for still talking to me. Jun, Jun, Jun.
What Jun truly means when he thinks about losing his best friend is his own selfishness, his own absence of nerve to ever face Minghao again, to be with him and have same kind of ease. What he means his own fear of living the nightmare he’s always been desperately running away from since he was a child.
Minghao’s question of why not , was almost cruel. Not when Jun knows the dreadful truth, the dreadful gravity of catching feelings for his best friend.
What do I even say?
“Ah well you know, I’m…” Jun’s heartbeat quickens at everything he could ever say right at this moment. I’m kinda fucking gay for you and I’m in love with you but it’s so scary because—
“Just waiting for the right one to come,” Ah, the perfect line from the terrible Wattpad book he had read from his cousin’s phone.
A beat of silence. “That’s kinda lame, Jun.”
Minghao was openly candid, honest to a fault, and Jun knew that. “Yeah, I know.”
“What about you though, any…” And oh god did Jun feel so awkward . “Girls?”
“Well, there is one.” Minghao says, bored when he yawns out, “She’s not my type, though.”
Then what is your type? Jun doesn’t know how to tone the question perfectly in such a way that it comes off as a genuine bro kind of question so it doesn’t let the words leave past his lips, only lets it linger and float through the crevices of his mind. He doesn’t even know if Minghao has ever even thought of liking boys so it’s all the more reason why Jun thought it was a good idea to have kept his mouth shut.
“You’re so picky, Hao.”
Minghao raises a brow. “Like you aren’t, especially when it comes to girls.”
Jun snorts at that, not paying a single thought to it as Minghao continued to play and as Jun kept on rambling on whatever he could think of. He didn’t even realize what Minghao had said before it was too late to go back to it.
It was only at 11:37 PM that night that Jun feels a heavy weight in his chest when he overanalyzes what Minghao was trying to say and the gravity of it all. Especially when it came to girls— the ringing statement printed bold in Jun’s nerves and Jun feels his heart drop to the cold abyss of his own wrenching gut at the thought that Minghao might know, that Minghao had figured him out, that Minghao could be so disgusted to the point he’d never talk to Jun again.
“Jun.” Jun, Jun, Jun.
Jun’s breath hitches but he’s acted for so long in his life that even Minghao doesn’t seem to notice. “Yeah?”
“Wanna go to the convenience store? I’ll buy you something.”
Before going out, Jun wears a mask because unlike before, his face stands out more. Now, more people in Anshan know who he is, knows through his relatives that an actor comes by every summer, and at the tip of their tongues is an awed, ‘isn’t that Wen Junhui? ’ Jun thinks his family oversells him as some big-time actor but he doesn’t really know how to correct them so he lets it.
The streets are empty when their hands find each other. Minghao’s own hand intertwines and brushes against Jun’s knuckles. The encompassing warmth that blooms across Jun’s heart has Jun holding his breath.
It’s a paradox— how Jun feels. Being with Minghao was like a warm space he can go back to, a pocketed summer where he feels so at home with and yet, here he is, feeling like he’s about to burst at the seams the longer he’s beside him. Jun’s heart was being gripped, violently so. Every pulse felt like a tick away from combustion. I like you, on the tip of his tongue yet ruthlessly caged by his lips, pulled down right back by his heart.
Minghao’s hand tightens in his, breaking the elder out of his own reverie. Jun reddens, “…What?”
When Minghao lets go of his hand, Jun almost reaches out to hold it again but he doesn’t. Minghao plucks out the drink from the plastic bag hanging from his wrist. “Your milk, sir .”
“Oh.” Jun blinks. He hadn’t realized he was spacing out. Their fingers brush for a mere second again when Jun takes his drink. “Thanks.” Jun mumbles, ripping the straw with ease as he poked it into the silver mark.
“Something on your mind?”
Under the glow of street lights and neon linings, Minghao tilts his head back in question and Jun feels his breath hitch. I like you. In the most subtle of ways, Jun takes note of how Minghao’s face was starting to get slimmer than it already was. It was only a matter of time until Minghao would grow out his features. Jun knows he’ll see the day where Minghao finally models for all the brands he’s always stared at from the other side of the glassed mall stores, Jun knows he’ll be the one to first send Minghao a bouquet, a text message, a hug, I knew you could do it. Jun can’t wait to see it all.
Minghao was slowly changing, subtly, and at the same time, Jun will always hold dear the things about Minghao that don’t change— the scar underneath his brow, his thin-lined smile, how his laughter resounds and bubbles lightly into the air, how Minghao arches his brow, the way Minghao walks, how he dresses himself in things far bigger than he is, how Minghao’s more honest, more candid than he is at 3 AM, how surprisingly clingy Minghao can be, how he cares for Jun.
“What..” Jun pauses, the stem of his straw gripped. “What did you mean when you said I was picky especially with girls?”
“Oh my god, Jun.”
“What?!” Jun crows defensively. He doesn’t even know why he asks it, regrets it even before he’s said it. There’s something unreadable with the way Minghao’s face twists and sighs. Jun’s stomach flips itself into knots, a chill brushing up the hollow sobriety in his chest.
“It’s like…” Minghao mumbles in thought and Jun could almost hear the thundering of his heart in his hears when Minghao continues, nonchalant. “You tell me a girl likes you all the time and when I ask if you like them back, you say, ‘no Minghao, I don’t like her because she’s mean’ or ‘Minghao, I don’t like her back because she gives me the creeps’. I mean, dude, if you don’t like girls, just say so.”
“That’s—!” Jun splutters. His unbidden reddened cheeks, doing nothing to help his case. Jun stutters a breath when he swallows down the burning sensation in the corner of his eyes. “So you… you know? ”
“That you like boys? Jun, you’re really—“ Minghao pauses into a sigh before finishing, “—not that subtle.”
He’s not disgusted, was Jun’s first thought as he feels every tense marrow and bone in his body deflate at ease but feels his breath quicken at the realization of something else. Jun can almost hear his own breathing, silence an overbearing weight that catches his tongue. He knows. As Minghao continues to walk, Jun halts in his steps. He’s not disgusted but he knows. There’s a rapid beat on the cages of Jun’s chest, the incessant knocking from his heart. He’s not disgusted but he—
“Hey, are you—“ Amidst Jun and his encompassing silence, Jun’s sniffle has Minghao turning his back in a second. Minghao finally notices how Jun wasn’t trailing closely behind him anymore and when he sees, from a few feet away, the downturn of Jun’s head and hears the few escaped hiccups, Minghao’s eyes widen. “Holy fuck, Jun are you crying?!”
Minghao knows and Jun thinks Minghao could know of something else too— how Jun felt about him.
“Shit, I’m—“ Jun curses beneath his breath but in an instant, Jun feels warmth, the comfort of Minghao’s arms around his waist. Jun holds a breath when Minghao shakily exhales, a quick, almost hurried mumble of, “I’m sorry,” against Jun’s shoulder.
“No, please, I’m sorry for crying, it’s fucking stupid, I know.” Jun manages a light laugh, the strained sound sounding foreign to even himself. Jun tries to stop the fall of his own tears, the hem of his sweater rubbing into the corner of his eye. “‘M sorry, Hao.” He knows, oh god, Minghao knows . Next thing Jun knows and Minghao finds out everything— the harbored feelings, the ache of his years worth of pining and he does not want Minghao to ever have to deal with that.
“Jun, don’t ever apologize for something like that. You shouldn’t even think that you have to.” Minghao sighs, tightening his hold on Jun and Jun, really doesn’t know what to focus on anymore. It’s dizzying, how tired Jun feels, how everything was happening all at once.
“I know.” Jun clenches the fabric of Minghao’s sweater harder as he breathes heavily. “I just— I’ve never told anyone. You know, being an actor and all.” Jun’s laugh is stilted and Minghao holds him closer. It was partly true, the overwhelming pressure dropped on his arms on a daily basis, the blurred standards, throned mazes of what to do, what not to do, and Jun has to navigate himself through it all or else he ends up bleeding or even worse, left behind.
“I should have known, I’m sorry. Please don’t cry, it’s okay, Jun.” Minghao mumbles, worry etched unto his features when he strokes lines into Jun’s back. Up, down, up, down. Jun feels shame when he feels the beats of his heart quicken at the touch when he allows himself to be encompassed by a gracing warmth that he feels undeserving of. I’m sorry, Hao, I’m sorry for liking you, I’m sorry, is what Jun wishes to say. I’m sorry. Litanies of apologies, unspoken, as Jun cries, as Minghao hushes him. Jun wants to let go of himself into the calming lilt of Minghao’s voice but he can’t. He knows he shouldn’t.
The elder sniffs, lightly punching Minghao on the shoulder, causing Minghao to let go of him. (Jun had broken the hug and he feels an ache because of it but it was getting embarrassing at this point; they were literally out in the streets with Jun crying like a loser.) Jun’s voice is small when he asks, “You’re not disgusted?”
“What?” If anything, Minghao sounded offended by the question alone. Minghao flicks a finger on Jun’s forehead. “Jun it’s 2015, anyone that’s disgusted can fucking suck it.”
Jun scoffs seeing the frown on Minghao’s face. Jun shouldn’t find it as endearing as he does now but he can’t help it. Minghao always had such a way with words (especially insults) and sure, it may be Jun’s whipped tinted view of everything Minghao but it really does have an effect on Jun when Minghao tells him just that. Jun meets Minghao’s eyes and Jun wants to hold him close again. There’s a surprisingly comfortable air around them when Jun mumbles with a soft smile, ’Yeah you’re right.’
‘You know I am’, comes Minghao’s following snort just right after.
“And how could I ever be disgusted?” Minghao looks at him, straight into the windows of Jun’s soul with utmost sincerity, his very heart on his sleeve when he says, “You’re my best friend, Jun.”
Best friend, it rings throughout Jun’s ears straight to the deepest chord in his heart. Jun doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, unlike Minghao but he feels as it slips and drops all the same. There’s two reasons why Jun doesn’t stop crying. Minghao only knows of one.
In the background, an anime called Brothers Conflict plays. It’s the very anime Minghao hated to the core but even now, Minghao was too tired to throw an insult at it. It’s tuned out and used more as background noise at this point. Minghao stretches his arms as he yawns for the nth time that night, “Hey, Jun?”
“Yeah?” The glow of the television on Minghao’s face has Jun staring, waiting. Minghao leans his head into the crook of Jun’s collarbone, something they’ve always done but it still leaves Jun’s heart picking up, with Jun suddenly too hyper-aware of the pace and beats of his own breathing.
Jun thinks of it now, the thought heavier than before, that it was okay his feelings were never returned. After all, Minghao was too precious for him to ever lose. If Minghao didn’t like him back because he didn’t think Jun was attractive enough, so be it. If Minghao didn’t like him back because he’s too busy with everything else in his life that the only room he could ever book for Jun was in the summer, then so be it. If Minghao doesn’t like Jun back because he’s never even had the thought of liking boys, then so be it—
Minghao murmurs it against the sound of the television but Jun still hears it, feeling his heart skip and stop into a screeching halt when he lets Minghao’s words process into him. All of a sudden, the night is feels deathly quiet to Jun when Minghao tells him, “I like girls but I like boys too, you know.”
The days go by like how they usually do, with Jun accidentally calling Minghao’s mom ‘mom’ whenever she’s around, Jun having feelings for Minghao, Jun waking up thinking it’s his house when it’s actually Minghao’s, Jun having feelings for Minghao, skateboarding but not being really good at it, going to new cafés, walking to the worn-down playground but enjoying the walk back home more, Jun having feelings for Minghao. Everything was just the same. Well, other than the fact that Jun’s kind of crippled by the idea of Minghao liking boys, Minghao, the most unassuming heterosexual in Jun’s eyes, the same Minghao that once said he wanted to live by the beach and collect seashells with his dog and his significant other and oh —
Oh, Jun realizes that he’s been assuming the entire time.
Jun was almost sure Minghao would never even like him back because Minghao was a whole het with more het things to think about like oh, Jun doesn’t know, girls and only girls. It turns out Minghao was swinging both ways, which was kind of a shock to Jun, considering Minghao doesn’t even talk about other people unless they’re either someone Minghao was vaguely irritated with or someone Minghao would kick in the face.
Jun was tempted to bring it up again but he’s never really found the right time or the right words. It wasn’t as if he could just randomly diverge the topic while Minghao’s listing down “Things That Make Me A Scorpio” with, “Hey Minghao! Since When Were You Bisexual?”
For one, Jun doesn’t want to be an insensitive little bitch just because of his curiosity because if Minghao’s never brought it up before, then it must be something pretty touchy. Secondly, Jun doesn’t want to embarrass himself further by possibly looking like the world’s biggest idiot so he keeps his mouth shut.
Jun’s hit with a pillow. “Are you even listening?”
“‘Course I am, Minghao, you’re a Scorpio Sun, Aquarius Moon, Asshole Pluto—“Jun’s hit with another pillow. “Okay, ouch .”
Scorpio Sun, Aquarius Moon, Scorpio Mercury, Capricorn Venus, Sagittarius Mars. Jun has that shit memorized to the fucking core.
“It’s what you get.” Minghao huffs, moving to rest his head on Jun’s lap. One of Jun’s hands reaches and gently card through the strands of Minghao’s hair absentmindedly. It was smooth to the tip (which was unfair, Minghao was too perfect, he should have had shitty dry hair at least, to balance it out but he doesn’t). Jun continues stroking Minghao’s hair as his other hand types away at his phone.
Minghao hums through it all, sleepy and dazed until he finally eyes Jun before asking, “Who’re you texting?”
There’s a flash of surprise in Minghao’s eyes. “Seriously, Jun? The asshole that threw orange juice all over your orange costume when we were kids?” Minghao mumbles, pressing his cheek against Jun’s thigh.
“Minghao, we were both eight.” Jun lightly laughs, pressing a finger into Minghao’s other cheek. Minghao should eat more, he thinks, as Minghao swats Jun’s finger from his face.
“So?” Minghao scoffs. “He’s still an ass for it. How’d you two even meet?”
“Saw him in Guangdong a few months ago. He lives there now and we got along pretty well over bubble tea. He’s surprisingly kinda shy but really nice for someone that threw orange juice on me.”
Minghao lets out an unconvinced, noncommittal huff and Jun sighs. He knows Minghao’s suspicious even without the latter even saying it. Jesus, just how long can Minghao hold a grudge, it’s been ten whole years .
Ten whole years but true to his words, the years had done Yanan good. Yanan turned out to be one of the most decent guys Jun’s ever met. In fact, decent was an understatement. Over a few drinks and under the streetlights nearing the street of his home, Jun found himself his platonic ride-or-die, another best friend. Well, one he doesn’t have gross feelings for, at least. Yanan was practically the only one Jun’s ever told about when it came to Minghao.
The brightness on Jun’s phone is dimmed as it read:
Jun: YANAN YANANASDA minghaos on my lap whys he so cute lol befhakjfa ayways he tolf me last night that he likes boys what should i do do u think i should tell him how i feel or hahaha just kidding maybe unless what if
Yanan: well good afternoon to u too damn
Yanan : junhui ily n yes ok he likes boys but does he
Jun : does he waht??
Yanan : does he like u </3
Jun : yanan
Yanan : yes
Jun : i hate u :/
Jun realizes he was being way too hasty, Yanan’s does he like u </3 sinking in more than Jun wants to. Just because he knows Minghao likes boys, it doesn’t necessarily equate that Minghao would be attracted to him. A wasn’t always equal to B, much to Jun’s chagrin. The reality check was depressing but it was the truth.
But still. Jun has never planned, only lingered the thought of it, but never did he ever actually think of telling Minghao how he felt until—
Yanan : <3 but if u dont confess thats also <3 cowardice <3
Jun : our friendship?? summer hangouts??
Yanan : if he breaks ur friendship off jus for THAT then hes not rly ur friend
Jun searches up ‘should I confess to my best frieiend’, slightly getting annoyed when the first thing he sees is ‘Showing results for should i confess to my best friend ’ as if Jun needed more emphasis to his face for being illiterate and in being the pining loser he is.
There’s risks and guides as Jun scrolls through his phone, along with advantages, disadvantages, forums, tips, stories. Stories with ugly shitty Tumblr backgrounds of girls skateboarding into the sunset. Most of them even sound fake —
Jun calls out absentmindedly, “Hey, Minghao.”
“Mm?” Minghao hums in question, getting up to position himself against Jun’s chest. It’s when Jun thinks with a heavy heart that, he’s so fucking beautiful, it hurts . Minghao feels so much smaller when he’s like this, lanky arms wrapped around Jun’s middle, bony fingers in Jun’s own.
“It’s nothing.” Jun ends up saying and it leaves him with an anti-climatic exhaustion the entire night. “Good night, Hao.”
“Night,” Minghao mumbles, pulling Jun closer to him until the concept of space no longer existed. Jun feels his skin alight at every touch, his heart afire at every move, his insides atwist (—it’s not a word but you get what he means), when he thinks and feels of nothing else but Minghao.
Overall, Jun feels his eye twitch tiredly when he picks up his phone again and reads the title of another confession story but feels himself feeling getting giddy when they get together. What the fuck. It’s when he decides, okay, fuck Quora and Reddit and Tumblr and Weheartit and Facebook , he is not going to confess to Minghao.
Jun doesn’t know if only fifteen minutes had passed or if it had been a whole hour. With times such as these, it’s hard to tell. Heck, Jun doesn’t even know what day it is. Jun flickers his eyes down to Minghao’s figure, asleep and sound, and he doesn’t know what comes over him when he settles his lips to the crown of Minghao’s head. Too subtle and too blurred, in between liminal spaces of boundaries Jun usually didn’t allow himself to cross. His lips are nearly touching Minghao’s forehead and yet, it is too cowardly and forcibly impartial that it hazes and disowns itself of what should have been called a kiss.
“Jun.” Minghao’s voice is barely above a whisper but it sets off every alarm and nerve in Jun at flight.
In an instant, Jun jolts into his shock, his heart pounding in his chest that he hears it ringing in his ears. “Sorry—“
Fuck, fuck, fuck—
Minghao lets out a soft sigh that only pumps the erratic blood hitting Jun’s very heart. “Jun.” Jun. When Minghao looks at him straight in the eye, Jun desperately wants to look away, he wants to run away but the gravity in Minghao’s look leaves Jun pinned, unblinking at the sight of the prettiest face he’s ever seen.
“Jun,” Minghao repeats, much quieter this time, his eyes searching something in Jun that Jun himself can’t seem to find. Minghao’s breath is held and so is Jun’s when their eyes are locked in a standstill, waiting. Minghao’s hand come up to cradle Jun’s cheek, gently pulling him closer and closer until—
Jun’s eyes are open yet fluttering when Minghao tilts his head— the same way he’s done when he asks Jun a question, when he watches strange theories late at night with Jun, when he sees something he doesn’t know whether to like or not. Minghao’s only a centimeter away from him now, eyes lowered when he pauses. Jun’s frozen at his seat when he realizes that the air he’s practically breathing is Minghao’s own. Jun’s head feels faint and he sucks in a breath when Minghao brushes his lips against Jun’s and finally presses himself into them. This can’t be happening—
Three things happen all at once— One, Jun suddenly feels too dizzy, lightheaded that he thinks it’s unreal, two, Jun feels the air knocked out of him when Minghao’s mouth moves against his, and three, his heart practically combusts on the spot that he has to pull away for a moment because fuck, he’s thought about it so much times but nothing would ever compare to the way Minghao had practically eaten up Jun’s whole heart and existence in one go.
Jun’s heart hurts, his hand reaching for the pillar of Minghao’s neck to pull him closer. Jun kisses him again and sighs into it, releasing a breath worth years and years of circled frustration, pining, and ache, almost desperate, in sound.
Jun kisses Minghao with every bit of love and exhaustion he has from years of silencing himself, pulling himself away, he kisses Minghao and it’s like a breath of fresh air yet a frantic one where Jun feels like he’s been swept up by the sea, drowning into the waves his own heart pours and beats into him at the same time. He feels like he’s a breath away from dying yet a gasp away from finally breathing.
“I love you.”
Fuck, I said it. The gravity of his confession, the very one he’s been hiding every summer, behind every text, almost has Jun crying at how much lighter he feels, especially when there’s a sound Minghao makes, light and beautiful and something he’s always wanted to hear.
Minghao’s on his lap and his thumbs are on the apple Jun’s cheeks, when he allows himself to be kissed, allows himself to drown all the same, swept up by his own oceans. “I love you too, Jun.” Minghao parts his lips for Jun to press his tongue into, a soft whine coming out at the action. Jun chases after Minghao, as he always did, deepening, tilting the angle of his jaw, just how he had ironically learned it in acting class, and gasps against the corner of Minghao’s lips. I love you too, Jun, echoing throughout the walls of Jun’s very soul when Minghao tugs at his hair and softly pants. They make out until they can’t fucking breathe, only soft presses into each other’s lips, a remnant, a reminder, a prayer, a devotion, a parting. Reddened lips that glistened and for the first time, they don’t talk. They don’t talk about it but the amount of volume when Minghao leans into Jun one final time before uttering a small, “I’ll sleep on the couch. Good night Jun,” was deafening.
Jun watches Minghao leave and in turn, it leaves him awake for almost the whole night, dread coloring the very marrow of his bone when a sense of paranoia takes over him. Did Minghao not want to sleep together because he realized Jun was a desperate whore? Okay, that’s a bit much but still. Did Minghao leave him because Jun was shit at making out? Did Minghao say he loved him too as a friend? Did he leave because he feels sorry for Jun that he doesn’t return Jun’s pathetic, wallowing feelings? Question after question with not a single answer. He’d get up and tell Minghao to get back on his own fucking bed but there’s a weight on Jun’s heart that keeps him from moving.
What just happened?
Minghao had kissed him with every inch of his life and left. Jun knows there’s nothing innately bad about it, knowing the meticulous nature in which Minghao carefully regards a situation, takes what’s best for both sides but Jun couldn’t help but think again that, no, I don’t deserve him, I don’t. It’s a thought that comes out of nowhere with a vendetta that makes Jun feel helpless.
Lifelessly, Jun types in a number and waits against the screen of his ringing phone. A shuffle from the other end of the receiver as Jun hears the gruff voice, “Jeez, Junhui. I told you could call me anytime during your break but I didn’t mean at ass o’clock—“
“Yongrui.” Jun cuts in, throat dry when he confesses, “I kissed a boy.”
“That boy… from Anshan?”
Jun’s silent yes has his manager sighing. “You know it’s none of my business what you do during your breaks.” Yongrui clears his throat, “But Junhui, you’re still a rising actor. You’ve been in the business for years but you’re still— you’re still not where you want to be. You get what I’m saying, right? What more if people were to find out that you’re …—”
“I know.” Jun’s grip on his phone hardens, trembling around the casing. “I know.”
If people were to find out in some way that Jun liked boys and kissed them, the doors to any role, even in an ensemble could be shut close in his face.
“It’s fine if it’s a one-time thing. It is a one-time thing— …” Yongrui pauses, “…—right?”
Jun’s clear-cut, sure, and unyielding when he answers.
“No. I love him .”
“That’s the problem, Junhui.”
There’s something that Yongrui says that Jun doesn’t register. His head floods with varying thoughts of Minghao, what he did wrong, what he would do now, that he almost misses the last thing Yongrui says. “This place... Your job, your home, it isn’t as accepting as we both hoped it would be. It’s brutal, really. And the same goes for him. I don’t know if I have the place to say anything about it but if it goes any longer, won’t you just both end up hurt, one way or another?”
Jun ends the call. When his back falls on his bed, unmoving, the minutes feel like hours. Jun’s eyes are a tired red from sobbing quietly throughout the night hours, held underneath a heart that was too heavy to carry. It’s the only thing that puts him to sleep.
Jun wakes up alone to the choruses of cicada, a rise in cadence from birds, and the sun. The lulling sound of running water that glittered with every drop under the hit of the sunlight, the faint droning of moving electric fans, the rustling of branches, the heat of summer, the smell of dry and floral deodorant, the taste of cheap ice cream on his tongue, and Jun wants nothing more than to tell Minghao how he feels.
He sees Minghao padding through the flooring of his own home. Time slows and stops, the light shining through the dust particles that floated gracefully in transience. By this time, Minghao’s father is still on his business trips and his mother would still be in the middle of wandering through the morning market. It’s why Minghao lets himself be backed up to a wall, with Jun’s hands on his waist, when Jun kisses him again. They both taste of mint from the same toothpaste and Jun wonders what it would be like, if he lived with Minghao.
Plastics bags drop to the floor, Minghao’s mother, who had come back earlier, standing in the doorway in silenced shock. Among everything else that happened in his life, that was probably the worst thing Jun’s ever experienced. When Jun packs his things from Minghao’s room, Minghao and his mother are nowhere to be seen, only heard through the walls as his mother’s voice trembles.
She witnessed Jun grow, once small and frail, took him in when he showed at her doorstep and cooked for him. She witnessed Jun grow heads and heads taller with each summer as he witnessed her hairs glow from the light, silver, and wise. Her picture with Minghao is aligned in the center atop a table in the living room, beside miniature statues of gods built-in jade and porcelain, the faces of dragons roaring in the small ceramic pots of antiquity, each and every one of them, staring Jun down when Jun leaves in silenced shame.
What has he done?
Jun doesn’t know how he manages to get home but when he does, he doesn’t realize how much of a mistake it was— saying too much, feeling too much. When he trudges himself through the front door and into the living room, the silence is deafening. There’s a grandfather clock, ticking and ticking against the hallow quiet, and Jun knew something was utterly wrong.
If Jun thought things couldn’t get infinitely worse, his insides turn itself inside out cruelly when he enters the living room to his summer home. Jun wants to cry. His chest tightens and his breath escapes him, as if the air in the room had thinned, running out, as if the walls were closing in on Jun’s body, encasing him, preventing escape. Jun had never wanted to run away this much in his life.
Yongrui clears his throat, an apologetic wince on his lips when he murmurs. “I’m sorry, Junhui. I just thought it would be best if you talked it out with your mother.”
There seated on the table, is his Yongrui and his mother, eyes vacantly dull, her still hands wrapped around a china teacup, untouched, cold, and brimming to the surface. There’s cracks on the ornate blue. Swirls of petals, victorian linings, and intricacies— cradled for years, insides cold, precious yet crumbling.
And Jun wonders, if he could still be as precious.
His mother doesn’t slap him.
She doesn’t give him a welcoming hug either.
He thinks of Minghao, his mom, and wonders if it was as worse or if he was lucky. Then, he thinks of his own mother, the one in front of him. The emptiness in her stare goes into the depth of the carvings and markings on their table, some Jun had drawn and doodled when he was a kid. Jun and his mother weren’t as tight-knit as he wished they would be, ever since his father had left but he knew she loved him— the way she smiles at him on his birthdays, when she takes him out to restaurants after filming, when she drives him to his sets and stays the entire time. She was strict, her fingers on Jun’s back when he slouched but she also took care of him as if he was the most precious thing in the world, as if it was the last thing she could do for him.
Her fingers detach from the teacup, a slow fall to the table when she looks up at Jun, eye to eye and Jun feels like that dumb fucking teacup that lost its value even after being treated with care for so long—
“Junhui.” Jun’s blood runs cold at the echoing void in his mother’s tone. “What do you think you’re doing?”
I don’t know.
Jun doesn’t see Minghao for the rest of the week and the only time Minghao calls, Jun pretends the ringing doesn’t make him reel. Jun heavily breathes, a shaky exhale slipping past his lips. He’s covered himself with hills of pillows and blankets, his television, a white noise, as his phone threateningly rings meters away from him. Jun doesn’t even want to look at the caller, knowing it’s Minghao; it scares him even more. The actor had sworn to himself that he wasn’t going to check his phone the entire night but as the ringing grows louder to his own ears, his hands grow a mind of its own when it apprehensively reaches out for it anyway.
The first missed calls are from Minghao, he knew, but it still makes his chest tighten in nausea.
Minghao: Jun pick up for gods sake
Jun : [ Typing... ]
Jun : Im sorry
Minghao : [ Typing... ]
Minghao : You don’t have to apologize
Minghao : I already talked to my mom about it
Minghao : She doesn’t understand and she told me to give her some time but please
Minghao : Please stop avoiding me
Jun almost jumps, his phone almost slipping through his fingers when it rings again. There’s a coil wrapping Jun’s nerves into cold knots and Jun feels himself quiver. When Jun picks up the phone, there’s silence from the other end until—
“Jun.” Jun, Jun, Jun.
“Can we—“ Minghao lets out an exasperated sigh and Jun can almost see Minghao running a hand through his hair, like he always did. “—Can we please just talk?”
There’s a pause, silence filling the air and into the receiver when Jun murmurs, “Okay.”
Jun knows where he’d go even before Minghao had told them where they were meeting up. Summer nights were colder and when Jun trembles, he doesn’t know if it’s from the weather or from what was about to happen. Their neighborhood is quiet, save from the orchestra of crickets and slow music from old bars, when Jun nears the convenience store. Ideally, they could have chosen the lake or the park but they’re both dumb so they choose the shittiest place to find each other.
There’s a familiar figure across the convenience store, illuminated by the blinding lighting of white and neon letterings. Minghao walks towards the alleyway, a silent command for Jun to follow. Jun’s heart skips as if it had a thousand miles to go when in reality, it could only stay in place, trapped within the confines of his chest, even as it desperately wanted to be freed. “Minghao—”
“Why are you avoiding me?” Minghao gets straight to the point, ruthless and unforgiving when he stares Jun down with every inch of his life. There’s the unmistakable hurt in his eyes that Minghao doesn’t try hiding and Jun feels terrible.
Jun lets out a small breath, guilt bitter on his tongue when he sighs. “Minghao… please—“
“I like you.”
Minghao was seething, glaring at Jun head-on, he no longer had the searching gaze whenever he looked at Jun. This time, Minghao looks at him straight in the eye, expecting a fucking answer. This time, Minghao says it with so much conviction that Jun can hardly believe his own ears. The longing, ache, and so much hurt that Jun had gone through for years, wanting to say the exact same thing, arrows straight into Jun’s heart mercilessly, as the hurt in Minghao’s own eyes mirror Jun’s. I like you, rolls off Minghao’s tongue in fury. Minghao was livid, as if he sensed every part of Jun’s fear, every part of Jun that wanted to run away. Minghao traps Jun, keeps Jun in his place with a single confession. You what me now? Jun wants to sob, clench his chest and sob.
“And you like me.” Minghao accuses, voice unsteady when he backs Jun to the brick wall of the alleyway. Jun’s heart thunders violently, its contusions aching from where it pulsed. “You like me,” Minghao says louder, pleading for an answer from Jun, eyes a stormed anguish. “Am I wrong?”
Minghao wavers at Jun’s perpetuated silence, his voice dropping into something quieter, smaller, more unsure when he asks, “Tell me, Jun. Am I wrong? ”
Truthfully, there are a hundred million different other ways this could have gone, each one Jun’s always thought of, but not one of them could have prepared him for the fact that it was Minghao that liked him, that Minghao actually liked him back. Jun’s always kept it hidden yet had always wanted to tell him with every fibre of his being. Every time Minghao leaned on him, his silk hair on the crook of Jun’s neck, every time Jun draws out a laugh from Minghao without really meaning to, every time Minghao had hummed when Jun carded his fingers through his hair, Jun wanted to tell him.
Minghao, I love you. Jun wanted it to be the only thing Minghao heard, instead of every white noise summer had brought upon them— the song of cicadas, the droning of television, running water, rattling fans.
I adore you, Jun had thought of replacing the stained taste of cheap popsicle sticks, cheap ice cream, cokes inside shitty plastic bags, inside of Minghao’s mouth with his own and he has, one summer night.
You like me. Am I wrong? It was a cruel remembrance. How much Jun loved him.
If Jun would focus hard enough, he would hear his manager’s sigh, ringing into his eardrums. Another remembrance, more cruel that runs tremors through Jun’s very bone. ‘But Junhui, if people were to find out that you’re…—‘
He remembers his own plead when he says, ’ No. I love him.’
‘That’s the problem, Junhui.’
“You’re not.” Junhui’s voice is a betrayal itself when it tremors, eyes burning as his nails pierce into the flesh of his palm when he rasps, “But I can’t.”
There’s a flash of hurt and shock in Minghao’s eyes that makes Junhui want to run. “I’m sorry but what happened, it—“ Junhui wants to cry when he breathes shakily, “It just can’t .”
Minghao’s quiet question, “Why not?“
Junhui had never seen Minghao look as hurt as he did now. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.
Everything feels too much all at once. His mother’s grip into his forearm. Another cruel remembrance. Junhui, you’re an actor, the world is watching. His mother’s silence, her question, her stare, her fucking teacup—
Jun can’t breathe. I need to get out of here.
Jun remembers his mom and in the rush of everything falling apart, crashing down on him, he remembers Minghao’s too. He remembers Minghao, adoring his mom, showing Jun pictures when they went biking together, Minghao’s smile when his mom had given them both oranges, Minghao’s tears when his mom had bought him a jacket with the little extra money she had. He remembers the bags Minghao’s mother drops, their voices through the echoing walls, the same ones with hanging family portraits, remembers the gods, and the jade dragons that glared at Jun when he had shamefully left.
I don’t deserve him .
Jun feels like the China teacup his mother had held. Webbed cracks on the ornate blue, swirls of petals, victorian intricacies— cradled for years, insides cold, precious yet crumbling.
He can’t do this, he needed to get away or else he was going to fucking lose his mind—
Minghao presses. “ Jun , why not?”
“ Because I’m a fucking actor, Minghao! ”
A desperate string snaps and the crescendo falls into a bitter tune that Jun regrets it even before it even slips out his mouth. Minghao’s eyes widen, as if it’s the last thing he expected to hear from Junhui, and honestly, it was the one thing Junhui would never even thought of saying, the lie easily slipping out through his lips yet crashing harshly on his chest like violent, unforgiving waves. “I—“ You’re a coward. “I have to go.”
I’m sorry, I love you.
For the first time in his life, Junhui hears Minghao break when the younger tries to reach for him, when Minghao croaks out, “Jun, wait, please —“
I love you so fucking much that I’m afraid.
An actor through and through— that was who Wen Junhui thought he was, to the very core of his being.
Minghao: You’re fucking lying.
Minghao: I know you Jun. That isn’t the reason why.
Minghao: Is that the best excuse you can do? Because if it is, you’re a fucking dick.
“Junhui?” Junhui, Junhui, Junhui.
Yongrui’s voice hollers him out and if Jun loses himself enough, his head would drop to the floor so it could stare endlessly into the walls of his room, tears blurring his vision.
“Junhui, you there?”
“Yeah.” Junhui’s voice cracks, an effect from crying himself hoarse.
“Are you still talking to that boy from Anshan?”
“No.” Junhui feels himself choke up in his throat. “Not anymore.”
“Hey.” Yongrui tries gently but it only feels patronizing. “You did the right thing.”
There’s an ugly twist in Jun’s insides that makes him want to scream and throw everything in his room, the same one that tells him to punch Yongrui in the fucking face. Jun’s afraid of it, of himself, that it makes him cry harder, a hushed sob wracking through his body and into the pipes of his throat. “Please leave.” Jun croaks, “ Please .”
Yongrui sighs but the door clicks close and Jun’s all alone again.
Minghao: Fine then .
Jun wishes he could run out in the night again, back to the alleyway near the convenience store, tell Minghao how much he has always wanted to be with him, but he doesn’t. He can’t. It was too late. Jun had already created a ravine worth of distance between him and Minghao, hollow and far, just from his own selfishness.
When Jun opens his phone, he should have expected it but it still hurts when he reads Minghao’s messages. It gives him a direct punch to his gut and Minghao had only said the truth but Jun—
Jun knows he deserved it.
Summer that year was quiet. Jun leaves without anyone to bid him goodbye in the airport. His heart has always felt heavy when leaving Anshan but this time, it’s his whole soul that feels the crushing gravity of what he had done. The flight back home was worse, with his mother taking seats away from him and depriving Jun of a single glance, as if Jun didn’t exist.
At that point, Jun had wanted to disappear, the weight on his heart too much, the silence in his ears, unbearably deafening.
It’s only when he lands in Shenzhen that he reads Minghao’s message from a day ago.
Minghao : Jun please
Minghao : Can we talk about it now?
Something beneath his chest aches and Jun has to breathe deeply to endure himself through it. The world did not do him kindness, because if it did, Jun could have read that message earlier. He could have ran to Minghao’s house and apologized to him, his mother, he could have went back to his vacation home and apologized to himself. The reality of whether or not he would do it given the chance, however, was another thing.
Jun is a person of could-have-had’s and almosts, a wearying soul of maybe and if’s. On-screen, he’s sure, he’s practiced, his soul is written for him to memorize, to embody, and to show.
But in the reality of his life off the stage lights where nothing is written for him, where he’s left raw and real, Jun doesn’t know how to find himself. Jun doesn’t know how to govern his heart, steer it against overwhelming winds and waves that starts from the ripples of his own doubts.
Jun : i’m sorry
Minghao doesn’t open his message.
November seventh of 2015, Minghao receives a message he deletes.
Jun’s phone number is blocked the next day.
Jun finds himself alone.
At the studios, his mother doesn’t come to see him anymore and when he comes home, he barely sees her come out of her room. They eat separately as much as possible and Jun can’t even talk to anyone about it anymore. He’s lost the one person he could share anything with. As if to make matters worse, there are days that Jun doesn’t stop thinking about Minghao and remembers every little bit of what he had lost because god forbid Jun to have some self-care in him. Whenever he passes by oranges and remembers his dreadful orange costume Minghao throws a cake for, Jun’s overcome with a harrowing need to reach out to Minghao and dramatically, romantically fly to Anshan to take it all back. Unfortunately, reality will always pale in comparison to the plots he’s used to enacting.
All a cruel remembrance— when Minghao had kissed him first, said he loved Jun first, had done everything Jun couldn’t. Jun keeps it all in his heart, even as the New Years resolutions begs him to let go of it. He doesn’t. He keeps them like outdated photographs he knows would only hurt him to see.
The only time Jun isn’t filled with thoughts of a boy from Anshan is when he immerses himself into shoes that aren’t his, in roles that bring him far away from home, from reality, from his own mind. It’s stupid but Jun also decides to finally put a tremendous amount of effort only in his last year of high school.
It’s probably the last time he’ll ever step into institutionalized corruption in the form of education so he figures that there wasn’t any harm in giving his all. It was hard, to act out his role on set and play the role of someone desperately trying to strive for honors at the same time. Jun has a lot of friends he keeps a lot of things from, little time, his mother’s sighs, filled notes, presentations he carries, stares from the student body he has to bear and walk under, and sleepless nights.
The door to his room slides open. Jun almost squints at the unusual sight of his mother in his doorway. This is the first time she had come to him in a while, much to his surprise, considering it was 1:07 AM in the morning. Oh and, it’s January and the last time his mother had bothered actually approaching him was in December when she had given Jun money, wishing him Merry Christmas before going back to well, ignoring him.
Jun tried to smile through it all, when he comes home and passes by his mother in the hallway, when she comes out of the kitchen as Jun’s about to walk in— he tries looking at her sometimes but she’s never looked back. It hurts like hell, when he has to place a picture of them face down the table. It hurts, how alone he feels, how he practically had no one, really.
Jun has an attempting smile that comes out as a wince. “Hi. What’s up. Mother.” What the fuck is wrong with me.
“You’re still studying?”
“Yeah.” Jun nods, eyes feeling much more comfortable on the sheets of paper on his desk instead of staring into the indiscernible look his mother always seemed to have.
There’s an awkward pause, something that shouldn’t really be there between mother and son. The sound of the crickets from outside is deafening.
“Mrs. Liu had a son.”
Jun blinks. “Oh um… she does?”
Mrs. Liu owned the apartment across them. She was the landlady of four units, the mother of two obnoxiously large plants, a dog, and a boy now, apparently. Not that Jun’s ever seen him—
“He’s gone now.”
There’s a pounding in Jun’s heart, cold and dreading. Do you… want me to be gone too? He doesn’t know where she was going or if he’s now being kicked out because she decided she’s tired of seeing Jun’s face—
“I don’t—“ The tremor in her voice. The anguish in her eyes. “—I don’t want to lose you.”
“I’m sorry, Junhui. For everything.”
I’m sorry, Junhui, a plea, the apology Jun didn’t see coming. His heart hurts again. A bit overdue but— Jun pushes down the thought in an instant. He doesn’t care that it took this long. All he cares about is the chance, no matter how small, the chance to be with his mom again. There’s a familiar well and burn in his eyes again. A small, trying smile comes up to Jun’s lips. “It’s okay, Mom.”
“I’ve been terrible, I know.”
2:10 AM in the morning and Jun’s crying. It’s been a long time since he and his mother had talked and it’s been a long time since they’ve actually talked this long.
She says things like, Jun do you still want to be an actor? You can always back out anytime. I’ll support you no matter what, things like, Jun, I’m sorry if I was harsh on you when you were younger, I just wanted you to be happy, and Jun cries even harder. For once, he feels a rush of air that fills him with relief, with assuring comfort, and resolutely, he holds her hand and tells her it’s his dream.
I’ve always wanted to be an actor, Ma.
They’re unforgiving, his mom tells him and Jun understands what she means immediately. They will watch you but that’s all they can do to you Jun, watch.
He knows once the public finds out, he’d be shamed for it. Not once, will anyone ever stop trying to throw him under the bus. But such is the life under the limelight. He can tell his mother’s worried but he tells her it’s going to be alright, even if he doesn’t know that himself.
Jun doesn’t tell her about Minghao but he does tell her he’s known he’s liked boys for a while now.
His mother, much like anyone else in their city really, doesn’t understand as much as Jun wanted her to but she tried. In her quiet and fifth I’m so sorry, Jun, in her trembling palms, Jun knows she’s trying. When his voice goes hoarse when he tells her how much he loved her, heart unlocked into the open from the spaces it was crushed in, and when his mother has her palms around Jun’s broad back as a silent response to it all, Jun knows she’s trying.
“We should have breakfast together tomorrow morning.” Jun blurts out. I miss you. I miss eating with you, I miss you so much—
There’s a gentle pat to his head. “That can be arranged.”
Jun feels weird being kissed on the forehead by his mother but he supposes, it was something other kids received on a daily basis so he tries to get himself used to it. The tears that run from his eyes and the long-awaited breath he finally releases though, was a start.
Jun doesn’t think about Minghao, at least not for a while.
For the past few days, all he’s been doing is watching Chinese dramas his mom hates with his mom. It’s a weird way to restart but Jun will take it. He smiles when his mother feigns throwing the bowls and plates of foods at the television’s way when something atrociously expected happens. They’re still easing into that once awkward tension but it’s better than nothing and Jun could cry at how grateful he feels.
Yongrui is fired that week and though Jun feels bad, his mother shrugs and tells Jun it was time he found himself a new manager. He gets a new one named Song Yi. Of course, even in the sudden yet subtle shifts in his life, the ‘not thinking about Minghao’ doesn’t last long when Jun suddenly has the itching need to text him somehow.
Like maybe a small, hey hahahahahaahahahah my moms okay wit me being gay btw but also im sorry for not telling u that and lying to u instead im sorry im a mess and im a mess in d emtoionally sense please forgive me can we hang out in the summer again i miss u pls kiss me again JSJDJDJ im joking ive been an asshole, me being an actor has nothing to do with how i feel i dont even give a shit anymore im just really really really in love with u ive never loved anyone this much and it hurts so much because ive been in love with you for the longest time and i ruined everything did i mention im sorry?? also is ur mom.. like doesshehate me because i love her too but not in the way i lvoe u because—
Jun stares at his typed out word vomit on his phone and doesn’t sleep.
He’s been awake for maybe 22 hours when the clock reads 7:13 AM. The mind works differently at this time and at 7:14 AM, Jun doesn’t really know how he ends up finding Minghao’s Instagram account. He doesn’t mean to and when he hesitantly types in xuminghao out of curiosity, he expects to see a list of empty accounts or old men with the same name. He doesn’t and gets exactly who he’s looking for at the first try. There’s endearing pictures of shoes like the dork Minghao fucking was, pictures of his family that makes Jun’s heart hurt, but when Jun goes back to the top, it’s the most recent ones that catch his attention. It was pictures of Minghao modeling hoodies from a small business and Jun’s mouth almost falls at how Minghao had grown in just a year. Moreover, it’s pictures of his paintings — abstract art that flourished in overlapping hues, splattered and lined with the language of his soul.
Jun shouldn’t have scrolled through it again, curious of what kind of captions Minghao put, unsurprised when it’s just a bunch of rare emojis but he’s always wondered how Minghao was doing, even if he knew he had no place to. Even if he felt undeserving.
He had been planning it, even from March (because he’s a bit weird like that), but he knows once November 7 strikes, Jun would muster everything in him to send at least a small— happy birthday minghao i hope you’re doing well.
It’s awful and dry and shameless but it’s the one thing Jun will hopelessly cling unto, even if Minghao had blocked him the last time. If they were to never spend a summer with each other after what had happened, Jun had hoped they’d at least send birthday messages to each other, even if Minghao would never send him one again. Even if Jun knew Minghao wouldn’t see it, he still wants to try.
— 2016, summer.
Minghao spends his summer alone in Anshan and for the first time, Jun spends his in Shenzhen.
Yanan : are you leaving for anshan?
Jun : no
Yanan : :(((((((
Jun : .
Yanan : im coming over
Jun : bring some chips n noodles
Yanan : ok <3
Jun : shut up <3
Jun : wait
Jun : omfg yanan r u seryas
Jun : yanan nooooosdfjs wtf ily
Jun : thank u : (
Yanan : anything for you
A year may have passed yet not once, did Jun ever stop thinking about Minghao. No matter how much shit songs he tries to relieve his feelings with, no matter how much times he’d have to search up poems and quotes about “letting go” (which only make him feel shittier), even if he goes on reddit with r/AmITheAsshole and scroll through stories of people being horrible to somewhat make him feel better, Minghao doesn’t leave his mind. It’s been a year and Minghao doesn’t try to contact him again. Other than Minghao’s birthdays, Jun doesn’t try that much either.
There are things in Guangdong Jun wants to take pictures of and send to Minghao. He visits restaurants with Minghao’s favorite foods and pretends it’s his own. Jun still listens to the bands Minghao had shown him, thrumming regret in his heart when he remembers it all.
It’s quiet, with no rattling electric fans, with only the air conditioning whispering in the air. Jun doesn’t turn the television on for white noise. Not anymore. There are popsicle sticks he stares at when he visits the stores but never buys.
Yanan arrives with a small bag of chips the size of his palm and Jun kind of wants to kick him in the face for it but he appreciates the gesture nonetheless. They had both just finished high school and while everyone else was celebrating their summers in Shenzhen, Junhui feels out of place in his own town.
“Minghao hates me doesn’t he?”
“He doesn’t.” Yanan sighs.
“He does. He should.”
I’d feel shittier if he didn’t, unspoken.
Jun would rather have Minghao remember him as some asshole actor, a liar, instead of someone that would give the world to him but lack the guts to pull more than halfway through.
When Yanan kisses Jun, the taste of chapstick and bubble tea lingers. It’s not the same. It never has been. Nothing had ever come close to the way Minghao had kissed him just a summer ago but Jun tightens his grip on the strands of Yanan’s hair. Jun pretends he doesn’t feel empty when he lets himself whine into the corner of Yanan’s mouth.
November 7, 2016. Jun witnesses how the message is delivered but is never opened. There’s a box he keeps inside his room, inside his heart, the ones filled with Minghao’s old birthday cards to him and he feels a crushing weight in his chest, a heat that soaks into his eyes when he rereads them over and over again.
Jun doesn’t go to a university.
The wind takes him beyond the borders of Shenzhen and into the heart of Los Angeles, Hollywood, for the movie he’s casted in. He hugs his mother in tears and boards a flight with Yanan, who also had dreams of studying in an American university (which Jun stills questions) and modeling in the city of angels. It’s the first international deal his new manager had struck him with, which just so happens to be the biggest one too. Sure, it’s a bit inglorious since his role is “that obligatory Asian best friend that appears in a white movie so the directors can flaunt how diverse they are” but it’s Hollywood and in a place like that, Jun takes what he can get. Plus, it’s not like he’s the only Asian around, there’s Yanan, and someone he meets named Seokmin on set.
It’s not so bad, he falls in love with the city, falls in love with the grand sets, the lights, the technicolor universe of sound and souls. He dyes his hair a lighter brown and wears contacts. He gets into jazz bars, clubs, gets drunk and pretends he’s in some indie movie when he stumbles home with lo-fi music playing from his phone.
Admittedly, Jun feels homesickness whenever he thinks too much, feeling sickly out of his element when he realizes just how far he is from Shenzhen. His mother said it was good for him, to stay in LA because he’s gay. Jun doesn’t even know how she got that idea but supposes it’s better than staying in a neighborhood that could eat him up and tear him apart for liking boys. At least, he grew out of the fear of having his career shredded into pieces and being hated immensely for it because the moment he’s in Hollywood, he meets other actors who were out there, with their career perfectly intact that he feels embarrassed for being ashamed of it in the first place.
So really, though he misses Shenzhen, LA was a good yet more of a tentative testing-the-waters kind of place. He makes a few Americans laugh but he doesn’t know if they genuinely find him funny or if they think he’s just weird whenever he talks. The Chinese restaurants, of course, don’t really live up to his expectations either. Traffic and smog are the absolute worst but Jun tries to wade himself through it. One extra second pause in the road has cars honking behind him, there’s times he doesn’t know whether to call the cops when he sees some random bike being stolen, and more often than not, he never exactly knows which part of Los Angeles he’s in and ends up getting lost.
It’s all apart of the process, or whatever that means, Jun thinks to himself, whenever he’s caught between the edges of an indeterminate perspective when someone asks him what living in America was like. Jun stays in an apartment of white walls, cutting edge interior design with unnecessary (but gorgeous) plants hanging inside clear balls. When he enters his home, there’s wood-top counters, sliding doors, and a small balcony where he thinks he could see the entirety of the three cities of Los Angeles and fit it all in his palm.
Everything and anything amazes him, really; it’s a trait he’s always had even back at home. Jun watches in awe at the countless plays that go on throughout the city, he squints whenever he thinks he just saw Emma Stone, smiles when he sees Jianni Dan, the main actress of the movie he’s in, fumbles when someone tries to pay him just for holding the door for them. Jun finds it amusing whenever he sees actors alike during the day when he’s on the sets of Hollywood Center Studios and seeing them at night too, when he opens HBO. There are cars with no roof and a never-ending stream of palm trees that Jun can’t help but stare at, LA boys he can’t keep his eyes off either.
There’s lots of boys, that’s for sure, and Joshua Hong was one Jun kept close to his heart.
They don’t date nor do they ever plan to, really, at least not with each other. At least the sex is great and Joshua genuinely tells him to ‘take care’, ordering some breakfast for Jun like the god tier human being he was, before he leaves each time.
Amidst the city of ephemerality, pretension, passion, lost dreams and newly found ones, Jun finds himself in the different pieces of Los Angeles he has yet to get used to.
It doesn’t snow The summered glow in Los Angeles makes him sweat. In Jun’s mind, the thoughts that he allows to run whenever it’s 4 AM and he hasn’t slept yet, wander back to the summers he used to have, ones he had with Minghao. The ones he lost.
Jun still remembers how small Minghao’s face was and wondered if it still looked the same, scared of checking his Instagram profile again, in shame of being reminded of his tragically unseen and unopened birthday messages. November seventh of 2017 and Jun sends him another birthday message, swallowing down his embarrassment he sees the unopened one from last year. Until now, Jun would always wonder. Does he still paint? Is he still modeling? Does his mother still treat him the same way? What course did he take in college? Does he still remember Jun? Does he still keep the gifts, the letters, and the birthday cards Jun had given him growing up, just like Jun did, stored away in the cabinets of his LA apartment? Has he left Anshan? Jun asks questions to the universe he knows he doesn’t deserve the answers to.
Those are nights he ends up staying awake in the most, trying to fill the voids and hollows in his chest with dumb Hollywood movies from the early 2000s, the kind that doesn’t really distract him and still makes him think. If Jun cries himself to sleep during those nights, he pats himself on the back when it doesn’t show how tired he is when he goes on set the next day.
Early January and Jun’s already tired. Granted he had too much to drink on the night before and the night before that night but still, New Years only happened only once in every year so he feels his nausea and stupidity being justified somehow.
It’s like, the second day of the year and Jun feels like shit.
Sunlight peers into the different angles of Jun’s bedroom, the silhouette of morning pulling him awake. Jun yawns, back arching when he stretches. The space beside Jun shuffles and Jun hears it lightly groan.
Huh, he had almost forgotten he had slept with Yanan the night before.
“Hey, Junhui.” Junhui.
His throat is scratchy when he clears it. “Hey.”
A comfortable silence looms over them at times like these, Jun really wonders if it was normal to fuck his best friend. Of course, he doesn’t think about it during the actual thing because for one, that fucking sucks, but it’s really in the morning, in the wake of it all where the insides of his thighs are stained and there’s remnants of the aftermath on the sheets, on the floor, that gets him thinking.
Sometimes, it’s not Yanan he wants next to him but he’ll take what he can get. It’s all he has. Jun thought Yanan had gotten back to sleep until the latter suddenly asked, “Was someone else here?”
Yanan doesn’t ask out of spite and more out of his genuine curiosity. One of the best parts of their relationship that Jun is thankful for is that one, both of them knew where they stood, even if they would never touch on the topic as much as they should have. Two, they’re not awkward as fuck even after sex, they go shopping after it sometimes. It’s fun. Three, Yanan never takes things personally, his absence of possessiveness, natural understanding, and general comfort was a relief to Jun.
“How’d you know?”
Yanan taps the folded sweater on Jun’s nightstand, the one with a small note on top that says ‘thank you’ but with a scribbled-on heart at the end.
“Yeah, Joshua Hong, a few days ago.” Jun kind of feels like a slut when he says it out loud but he’s only really sleeping with two people so does that really count?
“Oh.” Yanan’s jaw is slightly hanged when he absentmindedly nods to himself. “Oh, wow.”
“Nothing, just—“ Yanan shrugs, “—kind of surprising, that’s all.”
Jun hums, understanding that it was pretty surprising for Jun, still a rising Hollywood actor, to be sleeping with sweet Joshua Hong, one of the main casted actor for the movie he’s in. Although Jun’s pretty sure Joshua’s also sleeping with Jeonghan, their costume designer (who for some reason also became their casting director), it’s really none of his business. When Yanan gets up, Jun still stays in bed, feeling all too sore to have some fruit shake and oatmeal. Jun almost falls asleep again, if not for the gentle nudging on his shoulder, telling Jun that he had to leave for class.
“See ya,” Jun yawns again, half-heartedly waving Yanan a small goodbye.
“I’ll bring home some food for you later…?” It comes more of as a question and Jun wants to tell Yanan that he doesn’t even have to ask.
(Ah and reason number four to love Yanan, was that he always brought Jun food.) “Sure.” Jun smiles when Yanan bids him goodbye, leaving a small peck on Jun’s cheeks as if they were lovers.
But at this point, Jun had acted so much in his life that he’s unsurprised when he finds himself in another role no one asked him to play.
Later that morning, Jun meets up with Joshua in the nearby coffee shop situated in the midst of Hollywood Boulevard. It’s a pretty pretentious coffee shop with rates higher than Starbucks even if their coffee kinda tastes like shit.
Jun likes this really. Other than being a really good fuck, Joshua was a fun person to hang out with before call time. They talk shit about the other cast members they hate, rant about how tiring being actors were, all while sipping expensive coffee, and breathing in the air of brewed beans.
When Joshua’s phone rings, he picks it up rather casually but Jun catches the way Joshua’s eyes flit on him quickly for a mere second, before speaking in Korean, a language Jun barely discerns. Jun figures he doesn’t have to know Korean, to guess who Joshua was talking to, especially with the obvious way Joshua was gleaming, rose-tinted cheeks and crinkled eye-smiles, and a hurriedly, somewhat shy whisper before he ends the call.
“Let me guess. Jeonghan?”
“No, Seungcheol,” Joshua answers pointedly. Seungcheol was their production manager. He was overall a nice guy the rookies had a crush on and if Jun didn’t know better, he would have thought Seungcheol was an actor himself. He certainly had the looks of one and the kind of easygoing yet professional personality be one, that’s for sure.
“Oh shit what’d he say, do we need to get back or something?”
“No he uh— He just wants to check if we’re… doing okay.” There’s a blush in Joshua’s cheek that tells Jun the otherwise. Joshua was a good actor but never much a good liar, which was like, the ideal kind of moral being Jun wishes he was like. Jun squints when Joshua decides to look around and drink his shit coffee.
Joshua almost spits his drink out. “Jun!”
Jun remembers it’s really none of his business so he shrugs in half-apology. “Sorry, I always thought you were sleeping with Jeonghan.”
“Well, yeah him too,” Joshua mumbles, the red in his cheeks spreading to the pillars of his neck.
“Both of them?” Jun’s open-mouthed as he stares at Joshua like he had a third ear growing in his neck or something.
Joshua clears his throat, “At the uh… Same time, actually. It’s a threeway thing”
“Oh, wow. And I thought I always thought I was kind of the slut between us.”
“Shut up.” Joshua tries to throw a napkin at Jun’s way but it only ends up in his coffee, to which Jun spends the next ten minutes laughing at.
“You know, I’ll miss your dick but it’s been a great run. I think it’s best to move on to greener pastures.” Jun sighs wistfully.
Joshua rolls his eyes. “We don’t have to stop, Jun.”
“We do, I’m ending it, babe. Plus, I feel sorry for your body.”
“Fine.” Joshua shakes his head, a small smile coming up his lips anyways.
“Shake hands?” Jun extends his hand towards Joshua, making the latter scoff.
“Charming, you mean,” Jun corrects.
Joshua shakes his hand anyway and it’s a terribly ridiculous affair when Joshua pulls an acting gig after the whole thing, pretending Jun had divorced him. Jun laughs so loud that the customers on the nearby tables turn to look at him.
Joshua leaves earlier than Jun, once Seungcheol calls for the third time. Joshua pretentiously and horribly fake coughs and pretends it’s some urgent business between a supporting actor and his production manager but Jun knows better so he says, ‘ boo you whore’ and snorts when Joshua sticks his tongue out at him before leaving.
Jun stays in the orotund coffee shop, playing games on his phone for another couple more minutes before downing his coffee in one go. He doesn’t know why he feels restless. Maybe he’s not accustomed to taking long breaks, unused to the fact that he doesn’t have another scene to film that day or another facial cream to model. Jun heads to the counter to take out some cake and as soon he’s received it, he’s just about ready to go home and sleep for the next week.
Hanging off the paper bag on one hand, Jun scrolls through his phone with the other, causing him to accidentally bump against someone’s shoulder. “I’m sorry—“
Jun’s apology slips out reflexively but he freezes as soon as hears the voice. His heart drops to the floor at the mere recognition of it. Two years, he hasn’t heard it but it still rings through his ears, deep into his core.
Two years, with a name that’s only ever said once in a blue moon, painfully familiar. There’s an equally stunned silence from the younger when he takes in Jun, expression unreadable as Jun almost gapes at the sight. Minghao had a mullet now, silk black locks cascading to the base of his neck. specs hanging from the bridge of his nose— eyes sharper, almost cat-like. Gone were the fullness Minghao’s cheeks once had, the ones Jun used to endlessly hold between his hands. Everything about Minghao was so defined, from the sides of his face to the edges of his jawline, everything about him— devastatingly handsome. Devastatingly familiar.
Summer. Anshan, Haicheng. Neon linings, illumined under the night, the array of lamp posts. The noise, the quiet. The heat, a welcomed discomfort. Firsts that had been lasts, love unearthed, love obscured.
Minghao looks at him straight in the eye, the flicker of recognition kindling something far older, forbidding with hurt and Jun sees that. He sees him.
Jun tries his name for the second time and the flicker is gone. Minghao’s stare turns glacial, stone-cold and void of familiarity. Jun’s utterance falls on deaf ears when Minghao continues his way, as if he hadn’t even seen Jun, as if Jun had never even bumped into him in the first place. There’s a desperate taste on Jun’s mouth when it wished to call out for Minghao one more time but when Minghao’s figure continues on walking as if Jun was nothing but some ghost, Jun swallows it down, remembering his place. Jun’s nails dig crescents into the skin of his palm when he leaves the coffee shop with a heart heavier than anything he’s had to carry. That said heart tightens as it pounds in Jun’s ears even as he’s walked his own way, far away from that goddamn coffee shop.
When Minghao sits himself down, a plate of leftover banana bread is slipped to his side. There’s a careful method to the process of how Minghao had taken his seat— lightly pulling the chair so it doesn’t make a noise, sitting down with mindful ease, all with a seemingly unbothered expression when he picks up the coffee prepared for him on the table.
The only real purpose for having an oddly meticulous procedure behind something so mundane is so that the person across him, hopefully, doesn’t talk about it—
“Hao… Isn’t that…?”
Minghao interrupts her with a warning, “Jieqiong.”
—A warning that goes wonderfully ignored, as usual, when Jieqiong lets herself a dramatic gasp. “It’s him, isn’t it?”
Of course, none of the meticulous bullshit he pulls ever works on Zhou Jieqiong. Of fucking course it doesn’t, not with the sharpness of her own wit and vision.
Minghao chews on his banana bread, scoffing lightly. “I knew he’d be here anyway, it’s not a big deal.”
Jieqiong’s elbows are propped on the wood of the table, chin resting beneath her interlocked fingers when she narrows her eyes. She pointedly asks, “Then why are you acting weird?”
“Are too. Want me to call him back here?”
Minghao furrows his brows. “What? Why would you—“
“Wen Junhui—mmph—!” Jieqiong doesn’t get to finish her sentence when Minghao reaches his hand across the table to promptly stuff her mouth with bread.
“I was joking!” Comes Jieqiong’s muffled complaint, swallowing the lump of bread roughly with distaste. “It’s not like I was actually going to call your ex here.”
“He’s not my ex.”
“Okay then, what is he?”
He’s an actor.
“It doesn’t matter what he was. It’s not like we’re anything to each other now.” There’s an acrid taste in his tongue that nips at his throat. Minghao’s chest feels heavy when he remembers how Jun had called his name, gripping the handle of his mug tighter. Wen Junhui. An actor, that was who he was. Minghao lets an inkling of a sigh past his lips, subtle and unnoticed, unwilling to show any trace of what he had truly felt at the moment to anyone.
Jieqiong sighs, tuts to herself at the sight across her, “you scorpios are so fucking emo.”
Jun’s pacing the flooring of his apartment, teeth digging into the skin of his thumb— a bad habit he had acquired whenever he was nervous.
“Jun. Calm down.”
“I can’t. You don’t understand, Minghao’s here, Yanan. He’s here —“
“Yes, he’s here, I have over twenty messages of you recounting it.” Yanan waves his phone, his tone gentle when he breathes out a sigh. “Jun, so what if he’s here though?”
Jun halts in his tracks, groaning, expression twisting into something Yanan hasn’t seen in a long time. “It’s just that…” When Jun fumbles with his words, nails finding themselves into the hem of his hoodie, he feels ridiculous. “I— I don’t know.”
Yanan takes Jun’s wrist to sit him down on his couch. Yanan could say something about how much he feels like a school guidance counselor that Jun fucks but he winces at the thought. Instead, he sighs again, the sound twice as exasperated when he says pointedly, “You let him go a long time ago, Jun.”
Jun falters, words stuck in his throat. Even if Jun was about to say something, Yanan doesn’t hear it, only feels the way Jun goes boneless against him when Jun groans, leaning his entire body weight into Yanan’s side.
“Stop worrying about it?” It flows past Yanan’s lips as a question. Despite what he said though, Yanan knew Jun never truly let go, completely at least. The space Jun had carved for Minghao to fit himself into ever since they were young was long empty and though Jun thinks he had let go of Minghao years ago, that space was always waiting to be filled.
There was nothing Jun could do, even he himself knew there was no place for him to expect or want anything. But still, the thought of Minghao, in LA, stirs and reawakens an alarming churn in his gut.
Stop worrying about it? He leans into Yanan’s chest. “You know I can’t.”
“Yeah, I know,” Yanan mumbles against the shell of Jun’s ear, drawing lines into Jun’s sides. It makes Jun’s breath hitch when Yanan peppers light kisses to Jun’s temple and repeats, “I know.”
He’s caused you too much pain. Yanan had wanted to say. If he did, Jun would have corrected him. No. I was the one that caused him too much pain.
Yanan knows he’s something ephemeral to Jun. He’ll always be. That said however, he holds Jun close in his arms as if Jun belongs in them. He doesn’t and it feels like cheating somehow, as absurd the thought is when it comes to him. Jun feels like just who he is— the soulmate of another, heart kept in preservation, when Yanan presses his lips on Jun’s honeyed skin. Yanan’s chest tightens once he’s reminded of, not the cruel fact that he was nothing but a replacement, but the fact he was okay with it and for Jun, he doesn’t mind.
Jun kisses him and when he sighs against Yanan’s lips, Yanan knows it’s someone else that Jun longs for.
This is enough.
When Yanan fucks Jun, it reminds him of the first time Jun’s eyes had widened when Yanan kissed him, when Yanan offers Jun something Jun had never thought about before.
Yanan, you’re my best friend, I can’t do that to you.
I want you to.
Jun’s still kissing him, the intense motion, dizzying and Yanan almost forgets to pull away. When he does, Jun lets out a confused sound as Yanan sighs. “We don’t have to do this, Jun.”
There’s a pause but Jun faces him resolutely. “I want you to,” an echoing.
There’s a low glow from the dimmed fluorescence of turquoise, there’s music they forget to turn off in the background, there’s worries they push aside. The expanse of Jun’s gold skin and the way his back arches, Yanan burns them all in his mind. He holds each heated memory of Jun grinding down against him. Jun shakes, high whimpers when Yanan presses his fingers still and hard into Jun’s prostrate the same time he sinks his mouth on Jun’s leaking cock. Jun jolts, accidentally thrusting into Yanan’s mouth and crying at all the heated sensation he feels burning through his body. Jun’s light moans and pitched gasps are desperate, growing higher in tone and almost voiceless when he trembles and curses a mantra fucks from the intensity of his orgasm. Jun’s whines are airy and thin, strings of white weakly spurting out from his spent cock as Yanan fucks him through it.
“ Thank you. ” Jun breathes, voice tired and hoarse, chest undulating as he pants. Yanan kisses him on his chest with reverence.
“Yeah.” Anything for you, unspoken.
Every morning is almost the same, a slight variation of the one yesterday and the one that would come tomorrow. It becomes second nature within Jun, the routine of awaking to sunlight he can’t touch, next to temporary bodies he can’t love.
It’s a relatively quiet affair, this routine. Jun is awake and soon enough, Yanan is too. Even if Jun wakes up first, he’s usually the one to get up his bed only after Yanan picks up his clothes and kindly, mercifully, leaves him breakfast before stroking a hand through Jun’s hair. “I’ll get going,” comes out with Yanan’s small apologetic smile.
“Bye,” the sound is muffled from the pillow Jun buries himself in.
It’s another day of sun.
Another of sun brings Jun to stay in bed for the next thirty minutes so he can consequently, hate himself and then rush his entire morning routine. Jun doesn’t know why he can’t be like those yoga teachers on ads where they actually stretch and do jumping jacks when they wake up before eating their wholesome brown sugared oatmeal. Maybe it’s because he’s an actor and not a yoga dude but maybe it’s also because staying in bed falls on the boundary between self-care and self-wallowing and Jun doesn’t know which one to pick until it’s 9:18 AM and he has to get on set by 9:40.
Jun would wax poetry about the city lights, nightlife, palm trees against blues, as he drives through LA but it’s a sight he’s so gotten used to that he doesn’t. He doesn’t even want to try lines like Los Angeles, the city of angels, crawling with demons kind of line because it makes him cringe and he feels suffering just from thinking about it. Luckily, the thought no longer comes to him when Jun drives past the coffee shop he had just been in yesterday. Unfortunately for him, however, an even more torturous thought overcomes him.
He wonders if Minghao is in that coffee shop right now, wonders if Minghao had decided to stop going there forever because he now knows that Jun goes there. There’s lots of wondering when it comes to Minghao.
Jun misses him.
Misses him terribly, like a first love, which Minghao actually is, at least in Jun’s book. He misses Minghao the same way he misses the summer and Anshan, misses him like a song he forgot he had listened to every day— the song of birds in quiet neighborhoods, the white noise of television shows, the song of Minghao’s laugh.
There’s a pantomime scene with another actor, Seokmin and Jun thinks of nothing else but the gaping hole in his chest that yearned now that it knew that Minghao wasn’t a flight away anymore, that he was here, in the heart of Los Angeles, where Jun was. Seokmin gives him a concerned look. “Junhui, you good?”
“Yeah, just thinking.”
Seokmin hums, heart lips forming a thin line. “Joshua and I were going to get coffee before company call, you wanna come?”
Jun’s ‘sure ’ is convincing enough that Seokmin grins.
He doesn’t see Minghao but he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t trying to look for him amidst crowded street sides, if he said he didn’t wish to see him again. Even while walking down the streets, Jun looks around, wonders where Minghao might have been, if he was there. Gyms, restaurants, bars, salons, Jun’s been through them all and not once do his eyes rest from lingering too long and hoping too much. Even as Jun had tagged along with Joshua, Seokmin and Jeonghan (whom Joshua had to drag to come along with) to that same pretentious coffee shop, his eyes search for Minghao, even if he knew how ridiculous it was to do so.
Jun’s orders whatever they have, silently gnawing on the tip of his fingers. He’s just about as spaced out and drifted as the rest of his friends chatter away that he doesn’t even process every word, his mind far away from where it’s supposed to be.
There’s a stuttering slurp to the way Joshua practically inhales the straw through his mouth when he says, “You know, the design for the film set’s really something else.”
“Yeah, Myungho designed the one from today,” Seokmin grins. “Great, right?”
“It is,” Jeonghan nods before turning to Jun. “Don’t you think so too, Jun?”
Oh . Jun realizes that he’s supposed to at least say something instead of making it apparent to everyone within his radius how dazed and stupid-looking he feels with his head full of nothing but a certain boy.
“Yes.” Jun clears his throat hesitantly. “Yeongoh did a great job.”
Myungho, Yeongoh, “Whatever.” Jun sighs.
“Maybe you guys should talk, you’re both Chinese—“
“Nope nope nope,” Jun cuts Seokmin off, “you are not making me talk to someone just because they’re Chinese too, it’s weird. ”
Jeonghan tuts. “Aw, don’t be like that. I’m sure you and Myungho will get along just fine.”
“Yeah sure,” Jun scoffs. “And, isn’t Myungho a Korean name?”
Joshua hums in thought. “That’s not his real name though, right?”
“What was it again?”
Seokmin shrugs casually, “Ah well, his name’s actually Minghao but he told us that Myungho was fine too.”
In an instant, it’s as if Jun’s heart had fallen to the pit of his stomach at the mention of— Minghao. Did he hear that right? Jun would acknowledge he wasn’t exactly in his best mental state, he hasn’t been in a while, truthfully, but it’s not like he was delusional enough to conjure up Seokmin saying—
“Wait— Minghao ?” Jun blurts out.
All eyes were on him. It’s Seokmin that tentatively says, “…Yes?”
“ Minghao?! ” Jun repeats, his incredulity growing higher and higher by the second.
Jeonghan raises a brow. “Do you know him?”
Jun coughs, gawking. “Do you know him ?”
“Of course we know him, he helps out with the set designs. Plus, we hooked up once.” Seokmin grins, toothy and precious. Jeonghan rolls his eyes as Seokmin adds, “nice guy.”
“Oh.” There’s a gulp Jun attempts to conceal. The mental imagery of Seokmin and Minghao doesn’t come to him because Jun disallows it so, especially during broad daylight in the middle of the cafe. Jun shakes off the thought and asks instead, “What happened to the art director? Lily?” Jun pauses when they give him critical stares. What was her name again? “Andrea. Taylor. Beatrice?”
“Jun, that’s just the top ten baby names of America and nope, not even close. It’s Esmeralda and in case you’ve forgotten, she’s on pregnancy leave, which is why Myungho helps out in designing the sets now.”
Jun nods dumbly, pretending everything registers into him just perfectly fine. Does he know Jun’s a supporting actor in the movie where he crafts the sets? Should Jun have came earlier instead of constantly moping around his apartment and cramming his schedule? Is that why Minghao was here yesterday? Is that why Minghao came to LA? And Minghao’s an assistant set designer now? Jun had always thought Minghao would pursue modeling but now he’s actually going for the arts? Holy fuck, Jun’s so proud of him—
“He’s like super into arts.”
I know. “I know.”
“Yeah, he’s like a Bob Ross reincarnation but like, hot,” Seokmin says the same time Joshua squints at Jun. “Wait, you know?”
Jun feels his throat run dry when he lets out a shaky laugh. “I mean—“
Jeonghan narrows his eyes. “Is there something you’re not telling us?”
In all honesty, Jun could put his acting skills to good use but even he doesn’t know how to get out of this one. Pairs of eyes are on him and adding the fact that Yoon Jeonghan was there, Jun knows he doesn’t have anywhere else to go.
Jun groans. He can’t believe he was going to actually tell anyone about this other than Yanan. “Fine! We already know each other. We just—“ Jun flails, a soft suffering sigh escaping past his lips. His arms fall to his side hopelessly as he mumbles, “—Don’t talk. Like we used to.”
“It wasn’t even like that. We weren’t even there yet.”
A chorus of sympathetic hums goes around the table and Jun wants nothing more than to cry and hide under the table and sip his coffee in front of everyone’s knees instead of meeting their eyes. Joshua sighs with the click of his tongue and places an arm around Jun’s shoulder. Jun whines when Seokmin coos. “Lemme go!”
“Wen Junhui’s emotional support circle.” Jeonghan wistfully shakes his head with a smile, cutting up a portion of his cake before plopping it down on Jun’s.
I don’t deserve an emotional support circle—
“Okay, the hug time’s over, guys.” Jun murmurs under the increasingly crushing weight of Joshua’s arms. Jesus this guy works out—
“Do you really want it to be over?”
Jun’s about to say yes on instinct but he grumbles a curse under his breath when he meets Jeonghan’s eyes. “…No.”
Jun had been nervous for call time before. It’s a dreadful feeling of nerves set alight, an uncontrollable tremor that goes through the bases of your hands and into the clattering of your teeth. It’s something that makes Jun feel so unnerved, as if every screw that keeps him still is loosened. Next thing he knows, his voice is weird, his toes are incessantly tapping the ground, and his nails are marking moons into his palms. He feels like a rookie all over again, the incessant title of ‘rising star’ that follows him, secondary scrap roles he takes, shitshows he regrets signing into, contracts he counts the days to end.
It’s a little different in this case because for one, he now has that crippling knowledge that Xu Minghao was not only in the ‘City of Angels’, but he was also there in the same production as he was. Jun can’t help but think that the world hates him, that every god above was laughing at him as they ate from their bowl of peanuts. It’s been years and if Jun had never seen Minghao, Minghao could have been left in the blurred remnants of his memory, stored away as an extremely long and agonizing fever dream.
But of course, going back to the point where Jun was the universe’s punching bag, Minghao is very much real, Minghao is not a fever dream, and Jun just so happens to see him. Minghao. What’s worse is that when Jun finally says it to the one who holds that name and not to himself, he’s painfully ignored. Not that he doesn’t know he deserves it.
Jun drowns in his thoughts, in his little tremors, that he startles when Jeonghan pulls him to the other side of the set. Jun lets out a noise of confusion when Jeonghan grabs him from behind by the shoulders to push him on the back of the lateral foam wall.
“Is that him?”
Is that who—
“Oh my god, Jeonghan!”
“Seriously?!” Jun croaks.
“Sorry, I was curious!” Jeonghan doesn’t look sorry, fuck he never does, even as he presses, “It’s him, right?”
Jun brings his glare from Jeonghan, who shrugs unapologetically, to the designed film set. More like, to the person in charge of the set design. Holy shit , this was real. Xu Minghao was there in the flesh again, standing beside Seungcheol amidst the stretched lamp posts, phone on his hands, really pretty black hair, really pretty everything really, what the fuck —
Jun jumps when there’s a loud noise that seems to shake the ground. “What was that?”
“They’re destroying the set.”
“It’s pretty satisfying to watch, if you ask me.”
“That’s because you have an uninhibited desire for destruction and chaos,” Jun says pointedly.
“Well, you’re not wrong.” Jeonghan laughs.
It has Jun’s eyes rolling. Typical Jeonghan, he thinks endearingly. At another loud crash, it seems to have startled Jeonghan as well that it causes the latter to let out an ungodly yelp, loud enough to cut through the noise. Amidst the actual demolition happening, Seungcheol hears them probably due to the fact he knows every sound Jeonghan pulls by heart or something because when Seungcheol catches them with his eye, he starts waving. Oh, hell no—
Jun swears his heart drops to the floor. Never in his life had he ever wanted to throw a chair at Seungcheol. Never. Well, not until today. Jun’s footsteps are blocked out by the sound of prop slaughtering when he backs away but Jeonghan turns to him and raises a brow.
“Jun, where are you going?”
There’s a weighing scale in Jun’s conscience. One, wanting to actually meet Minghao to offer up his soul and heart and everything he has that can be taken as an apology about everything he’s ever done to him. The other side says that it’s too early for him and Jun has barely enough brain cells to gather a coherent thought, an explanation, the actual apology Minghao deserves.
Fuck. Jun tightly smiles. “The Bath..room.”
“What are you? Twelve? Seungcheol already said your name so it’ll be even more obvious if you avoid him now,” Jeonghan sighs at the pleading look in Jun’s eyes. Let’s go, Jeonghan wordlessly links his arm with Jun’s so it looks less awkward and again, Jun is thankful. (But also, he isn’t, considering this would have been all avoided if Jeonghan didn’t drag him there in the first place.
“Cheol!” Darling , seemingly on the tip of his tongue. Jun’s eye twitches but at the second his eyes meets with you know who, he feels breathless. In a good way. In a bad way, too. There’s a familiar creeping in his heart that crushes him whole again. Minghao’s way too handsome for his own good, always had been.
More than anything, Jun always thought Minghao was cute and at the second time seeing the ethereal definition of Minghao’s facial structure, subjectively, Jun thinks Minghao’s the most attractive person he’s ever seen. Jun knew Minghao would eventually grow out his features but to this extent was something he didn’t prepare himself for.
Jeonghan’s voice brings Jun out of his stupid-daze, his Minghao-based reverie. “So, what’s happening?”
“Set demolition.” Minghao plainly answers. Jun’s breath hitches at his voice.
Seungcheol nods. “I’m helping him oversee the dismantling process and whatnot.”
Set demolition. From afar, Jun can see the makeshift walls, painted dutifully and beautifully, get torn down and his brows furrow.
“You’re destroying it?” Jun can’t help himself from asking quietly. “But aren’t you the one… who makes it?”
“It’s my job.” Minghao’s eyes pierce into Jun’s and Jun realizes it’s the first time Minghao’s directly addressed him. As if to make a point, Minghao stares him down a second longer before flitting to the ruination of his art.
Oh . Of course it is. God, help I’m a fucking idiot.
There’s a stifling quietness that looms over them and it’s stifling, the thick atmosphere begging to be sliced open. If this were a cartoon, there had been dots lined up into three beats per second. That was how fucking awkward it was. There’s that feeling again that Jun feels the need to escape from, the same one when he had left Minghao long ago but more than anything, it keeps Jun’s body planted to the ground as if to say, not this time. Not ever again.
The long-suffering pause only Seungcheol is oblivious to is thankfully ended by the latter when he pipes up. “Oh hey, this is Myungho by the way, he’s helping out with the production design while Esmeralda’s on leave.”
You know what, Esmeralda, you didn’t have to be pregnant. Wait no, I’m happy for you, I’m sorry god what—
“Seo Myungho. A pleasure.”
It’s almost like Jun could hear Xu Minghao dangling from the tip of his tongue, unspoken for only Jun to hear. Minghao, the name of Jun’s summers, spoken above white noise, above the symphony of cicadas, swirled through the intricacy and fragility of Jun’s heart like an ornate teacup.
There’s combustion in Jun’s chest that burns when Minghao gives them a subtle bow. Jun could be dramatic for thinking it but it’s like Minghao was introducing someone completely new, someone different, someone that doesn’t know Jun, someone that never loved Jun. Fuck, I’m going to cry when I get home again.
Through the sunlights that don’t stand a chance against the gold in his skin, through the cold taste of cheap popsicle sticks, the discomfort of sweat, the comfort of water, through the idiocy brought by sleepless nights, through love— Minghao.
But Minghao’s now known as Myungho, Xu into Seo, engrained into something the same but different.
Jun has to remind himself that they’re in La La Land, the city of angels, and no longer Anshan or anywhere in China, where it’s no longer Minghao but Myungho .
Myungho. A pleasure, he said. Well, it certainly didn’t sound like one.
“Junhui.” Jun. “Uh, Jun Moon. Junhui Moon.”
Jun bows, palm on his chest like an idiot. When he looks up for a second, Minghao’s eyebrow is raised. Jun Moon. It’s the accidental mix of his Korean and Chinese name and it sounds even more ridiculous when Jun says it. Jun Moon, are you fucking kidding me. Jun wants nothing more than to be taken and swallowed whole by the ground beneath him.
Why is this happening? The scream leashed on the back of Jun’s throat is kept on a tight hold until Minghao and Seungcheol are far away from them.
“Jun Moon—“ Jeonghan’s shaking when he lets out the loudest laugh.
“You’re the worst,” Jun yells, hands on the strands of his hair.
Watching Minghao move from set to set, outside to inside, from their cinematographer to the aid of their director feels surreal.
Jun should really stop thinking about it whenever it’s time to shoot a scene and he should really stop his eyes too, whenever it instinctively flickers towards where Minghao might be.
It’s not like he could help it though. Because what the fuck , first of all, it’s practically unfair for someone to look like the son of Aphrodite or something. It was practically shoving to Jun’s face that the gods had its favorites and Minghao was definitely among them.
When Jun quietly slips away from the bustling studio, he looks around the combined pieces of the set and his jaw almost hangs. It was as if different realities had come in a shared space— a set with domesticity and vintage lamps and floral rocking chairs, another with endless specks of white to resemble stars, and one with a small chandelier, golden lighting, and draping curtains of golden cloth, glittering with ironed hummingbirds.
The movie he was in was about a small-time actress that would make it big in Hollywood, what she had to take just to get there. The production itself had a lot of budget— a filmed musical where Jun had singing lines here and there led by the movie’s music director, Lee Jihoon, dances choreographed by Lee Chan, and even the occasional stunts coordinated by none other than Kwon Soonyoung, all brought to life by their screenwriter, Jeon Wonwoo. And most of all, the designs, its precision, each detail and figure that meets the eye, by Seo Myungho .
Jun almost winces at the foreign and distant way Myungho feels to him.
He pads his way to one of the wrecked sets and wonders how Minghao really felt, having to make something only for it to be taken apart every time.
There’s sounds of chattering behind Jun and loud sounds that his ears bear the weight of, signaling that the deconstruction was still going on. Jun softly sighs. The only reason Jun was here was to see Minghao. It’s a horrid attempt but he figured that since they would be seeing each other a lot, the way they are can’t go on. Plus, Minghao deserves an overdue apology Jun still hasn’t managed the balls to give.
Where are you? Jun moves himself through the cluttered styrofoam and tape that he loses his balance the same time a crashing sound reverberates across the set. Jun barely has enough sense to register the prop scathing the skin near his elbow, the smaller of its kind pricking his fingers following suit. Fuck.
“Jun!” Seungkwan yells, rushing over to where Jun was. “Didn’t I make it clear to stay away from the sets when it’s being destroyed?”
“Sorry! I just really wanted—“ Jun yelps, swallowing down the lump in his throat. To see Minghao. “—To see it one last time!”
The assistant director tuts, gently bringing Jun’s arm towards him by his (now bleeding) elbow. “It’s from the prop. Does it hurt?”
“ Not at all.”
Seungkwan sighs. “Jun, get that checked. I’ll tell them to move on to the next scene. We can film yours later.”
“Alright,” Jun acquiesces. There’s still a disapproving head shake Seungkwan gives him that Jun only sends an apologetic smile to. Despite that, Seungkwan has his hand on Jun’s other arm and helps him get out of the mess of props scattered on the floor.
“Head to the clinic, okay?”
Jun nods, giving Seungkwan a resolute thumbs up in consolation. Head to the clinic, Jun tells himself and really, he’s about to but he stops dead in his tracks as soon as catches the sight. Minghao. Jun seems to constantly find himself in a standstill when it comes to Minghao, with the pounding of his heart the only thing ringing in his ears. Their eyes lock for a moment until Minghao’s trail down to the wounded area that Jun’s covered with his palm, the unsightly trail of blood that trickled a little bit further down.
Embarrassment prickles Jun’s nerve like ice realizing the only reason he got hurt was because he was trying to look for Minghao— the only purpose as to why he was there in the first place. He was supposed to talk to Minghao.
Jun startles, dropping his gaze to the floor as he makes his way out of the studio.
I can do it some other time.
From a distance, Jun swears he could hear Minghao’s voice but he’s too far away that he barely makes anything out. “I told you it’s not due for deconstruction until five.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” left unheard.
Jun goes to the baggage area instead of the clinic. He keeps a first aid kit in his bag and frankly, he’s kind of relieved that he finally gets to use it. There’s Betadine, the Chinese white flower oil, a long wrap-around bandage, colored bandaids because he feels special with them and regular, plain-looking bandaids to look in case he needed to look like a professionally injured adult.
He fishes the white kit out his bag and props himself on top of the counter. The gauze is long and small in his hands and it’s when Jun realizes that he’s never actually done this nor does he even know how to do it.
Well, it can’t be that hard.
Turns out he was wrong, because two minutes in and he’s a second away from throwing the bandage in the garbage bin. Why cant he just have enough competence to wrap the stupid roller bandage around his arm?
The door creaks open again and Jun swears that the world really did have a thing against him. At this rate, his heart might not be the only one that wants to crawl out his throat. His liver and kidneys probably want out too. Jun holds a breath and he’s sure Minghao knows he’s there but the latter makes a straight long stride to the baggage counter and slides a numbered card across the counter.
Jun only has a view of his back and stupidly thinks that maybe it’s a sign from the universe. A sign, another chance to talk to him. Jun subtly takes a sharp breath in. He thinks of the terrible rundown of the list of starters to say: Hi. How are you doing? Are you studying? I think you’re neat. Nice pants. I’m sorry.
In the midst of his rambling thoughts, Jun repeats rolling the bandage into his arms because it was too loose a while ago, almost dropping the entire roll in the process.
This and that is much harder than I thought.
“Do you need help.”
Jun’s neck almost snaps when he looks up.
Jun doesn’t want to gawk but the fact that Minghao was actually talking to him feels way too unreal. Minghao’s looking at the bandaged mess Jun’s got messily tangled in his arms. “Um, yeah. Actually.”
Minghao holds out his palm and Jun’s hand almost shows its tremor when he hands Minghao the gauze.
In a second, Minghao’s in his personal space and Jun’s breath hitches again. Minghao wastes no time and wraps the wide bandage around Jun’s arm tight enough for pressure. Jun’s eyes flicker towards the movement in his arms and to Minghao. There’s a lot of things about Minghao that Jun wants, that Jun misses. The smell of sun and the endless streams of summers and sunlight and warmth, skin on skin, heart on heart.
There’s a song that plays but it’s not the summertime classics they had on the radio, it’s a preppy bank commercial music that makes Jun wince.
In an instant, Jun seizes the tape and hands it over. Minghao’s hand is still pressed against his inner arm when he rips off the tape with his teeth.
“Thanks for doing this even if you…” Jun’s tight-lipped and he doesn’t look at Minghao’s way when he mumbles, “…don’t like me.” Oh god.
Minghao stays silent, one of his fingers holding down the end of the bandage as the others wrap around the afflicted area. “I don’t.”
Jun almost chokes on his spit, taken back by Minghao’s outright candidness. He’s as unsurprised as he should be, though. Jun knew that already but it doesn’t ease the searing in his chest when Minghao finally says it out loud. Jun, you’re an actor. That, he is. Jun swallows every part of what he had felt down his throat and it goes straight to his heart as an even heavier burden when he settles with a tight smile. “That’s fair.”
“Nice, nice.” Jun clears his throat absentmindedly and realizes that wait , what the fuck . Honestly, he thinks the bandage should have went to his mouth instead.
“You’re making it even more awkward.”
“Sorry.” Jun blurts out, his nails digging into his hand, the bad habit coming in on reflex. Jun watches Minghao keep his eyes trained on Jun’s arm, rewrapping some of the parts he had left way too loose. If they were in a movie, Jun would reach out to hold the side of Minghao’s face and the latter would stop to stare. There would be edited stars in their eyes, lighting that unnaturally dims, and it would paint a picture that the world outside the both of them no longer existed. Their hands would hold and Jun would lean in and—
“Stop doing that.”
“Doing what?” Jun accidentally says too loudly. Oh god, it’s the Hollywood effect. This is what Jun gets for watching too much noir movies and novelas.
Jun blinks and he flushes under being caught. “I—“ Don’t Know What You’re Talking About! “Sorry, again.” Jun murmurs, eyes darting to the corner of the room instead. There’s a burn of embarrassment that circles in his chest, as if telling Jun to rip his own heart out and eat his own teeth.
Minghao on the other hand though, doesn’t seem to be as bothered as the other and ignores Jun’s floundering as if he can’t see it and points at Jun’s hands. “You have one on your hand too.”
Jun tilts his head in confusion but when he follows Minghao’s line of sight that trails back to his own finger that had also gotten cut up in a paper cut. “Oh.” He had almost forgotten about that.
Minghao unzips Jun’s makeshift first kit and there’s two bandage boxes; Minghao picks the one on the right.
“You want this one?” Minghao asks. He sounds tired when he holds up the box of bandaids and Jun dumbly nods.
Jun tries not to let it show but his chest tightens when he watches Minghao peels the cover off and hands Jun the bandaid. Jun’s back in the summer of 2005.
“Wait don’t open that one!”
“Jun, it’s a bandaid.” Minghao had irritably pressed the box on Jun’s cheeks, to which the latter had swatted away.
“If I’m gonna have an ugly scar thing on my knee, I should have a cool bandaid at least!”
“Stop being so picky!”
“No, get me the one with a design!” Jun petulantly huffed.
“We don’t have designs!”
“Get me the one with colors then, geez!”
Minghao had picked the bandaids with colors on them. It’s nothing big but to Jun, it was nothing small either. Does he remember? Jun’s heart skips, the wishful romantic it was, stupid with hope. Here goes nothing.
“Minghao?” It comes out quieter than he thought. Jun’s voice is unsteady but he’s resolute when he finally asks, “Can we talk?”
“There’s nothing to talk about.” Minghao lets out a quiet scoff and honestly, Jun wants to pull out his own hair.
“There is.” Jun sounds unconvincing even to himself when his own ears bear the shake and tremor in his own voice.
There’s beats of silence that freckle the air like dust particles and though there’s slow, indistinct chatter behind them, Minghao’s sigh cuts through. Jun can think of the times he used to read Minghao, his seemingly singular dimple that comes out in his half-smiles, when his head tilted in question, his sighs, the puff of breath he released when he was embarrassed. Jun takes him in, drinks in the sight of him, and picks up nothing. The silence was insufferable but at the dawning realization of their distance was even more so; the even bigger enigma that Minghao was now in Jun’s eyes.
“Fine.” Minghao sighs again, resigned as rubs his temples for a while before turning to Jun. “Go.”
“I’m sorry.” Jun is half-aware that it’s his third apology but he doesn’t care. He’d apologize a thousand more times if he felt the need to. The heavy weight on Jun’s chest doesn’t help the dryness in his throat when Jun says at last, “For everything.”
“What are you trying to do?” To that, Jun has no answer to. Minghao doesn’t look at him and his voice is low when he shakes his head. “Jun, It’s been years.”
“I know. It’s just—“ Jun swallows. “I’ve always wanted to apologize.”
“Junhui.” Junhui . Minghao’s hands fall to his sides and he steps away from Jun with a frown. “You don’t have to apologize. If you didn’t like me at all, you should have said something from the start.”
“What?” Jun splutters in disbelief. “Minghao I did like you, you think I didn’t?”
Minghao gives him a stare. Are you fucking kidding me, he seemed to say. “What else was I supposed to think?”
“I—“ Jun’s voice dies down in an instant. He has a point , the guilt that had settled in his bone ages ago crawls itself alive at that. “You’re right. But I did. Like you, I mean. A lot.” I still do, unspoken. “It’s just that your mom found out and then my mom found out and then she was like Jun what are you doing which was why I was really scared of being with you and I kinda realized then and there that I wasn’t good enough for you and then my manager was actually kinda shitty and passively homophobic and manipulative that he brought up my acting career and the impacts of being gay but then he’s fired now so—“
“Your mom found out?” Minghao cuts in on Jun’s word vomit. It sounds like a genuine question, as if it was something he hadn’t expected.
Jun halts, nodding slowly. “Yeah.”
Minghao makes a sound of acknowledgment similarly close to a gruff and Jun could be wrong but the passive-aggressive hostility and hesitance in Minghao’s eyes wasn’t as apparent as it was a few minutes ago. He’s still unreadable as ever, though.
“So uh, yeah.” Jun lets out a weak laugh, strained and wrong. “Basically—“ I’ve always wanted to be with you but then everything was a mess and I was still an even bigger mess back then which is why I was always afraid but now I’m not anymore and it’s too late but it’s okay, I kinda just want us to be okay again, even if it’s impossible. “ —I don’t expect anything from you and um, if you still don’t like me, you have every right not to. I just wanted. To clear that up.”
“Okay,” Minghao repeats. “It’s a lot to take in and I have no idea why you’re telling me all that now but okay.”
“Oh.” Jun blinks. “Cool, cool.” Jun doesn’t want to tear up but he croaks a small, “Nice nice.”
Jun was still a mess, his heart still of porcelain, still of Minghao and wishful summers he wishes he had back. Minghao held grudges longer and more intensely than the average person, Jun knew that at least, remembers it when he had told Minghao about Yanan but it’s a start. Okay, was better than nothing and like always, Jun will take what he can get.
“You’re so nice.” Jun murmurs and Minghao raises a brow. “Sorry. I’m making it weird.”
Minghao snorts out a short laugh, Jun’s heart rivals a hummingbird’s and his smile reaches to his eyes.
“Okay, he said,” Jun cries out, burying his face into the cushioned softness of his pillow.
“That’s it?” Yanan yawns, eyes flickering to the blinking 4:07 AM on Jun’s nightstand. “Just an ‘okay’?”
There’s a pout on Jun’s lips at the implication, “It’s better than nothing, I’ll have you know.”
“I guess.” Yanan shrugs. “Now what?”
“What do you mean?”
“You guys gonna date or what—“ Yanan doesn’t get to finish his sentence when Jun kicks his blanket high enough to land on Yanan’s face.
“No,” Jun huffs but it’s more defensive than anything, really. “He doesn’t even like me anymore.”
Jun knows it’s not a lot— the world doesn’t split open into blue skies with bees and some shit floating around in the air. Little has changed, he has to remind himself, has to break down the facts to himself that one, that Jun was still an asshole for dealing with things the way he did, no matter what the excuse. Two, it’s not like Minghao forgives him, Jun is pretty sure Minghao still doesn’t like him that much.
“But you still like him?” Yanan snaps him out of his thoughts and for a second, Jun looks like a deer caught in headlights, but it disappears in an instant when Jun drops his gaze and doesn’t answer.
He rubs patterns into Jun’s back. “You know, you don’t know that he doesn’t like you anymore, Jun. You said so yourself, it’s better than nothing.”
“Yeah but—“ Jun’s voice quiets, “—Isn’t it kinda ambitious to want a second chance?”
“It is.” Yanan releases a long breath, “It’s worth a try, though. I could tell you never really got over him.”
Was I that obvious? Jun keeps himself from asking because even if he doesn’t want to admit it, Yanan was right. Jun never really got over Minghao and maybe it’s because it’s that first love effect. Or maybe it’s because he’s just never fallen as deep for someone in his life before Minghao. Jun doesn’t know. All he knows is that there’s a space in his heart just for him, waiting. It’s a far reach but Jun knows that place that yearns for the first love he had left, was irreplaceable and immovable.
Such is so that even Yanan knows it.
Maybe with Joshua, he could bear it, bear the actual weight of his feelings for Jun, and guise under casual shrugs. Because with Joshua, playing the part of supportive best friend was much easier. But this time, it’s Minghao. Minghao, who Jun had always been in love with. Minghao, who has Jun calling Yanan at the ungodliest hour of the day just to tell him that Minghao said this, said that. And suddenly, Yanan only thinks of one thing— that he had no chance because Yanan had never seen Jun’s eyes lighten up and gush as beautifully as he did so for Minghao. At the end of the receiver, Yanan thinks about how he’s never heard Jun this in love before.
Beats of silence hang in the air for a moment that Yanan once again, prods into. Jun hears the sigh but not the long-suffering breath Yanan releases when Yanan finally says, “I like you.”
It comes out of nowhere and Jun snorts lightly on impulse, stop joking around, almost slips on Jun’s tongue and he would have said it but one look at Yanan and Jun’s face falls. Jun waits for the punchline that never comes after a few seconds, the take-back that doesn’t reach his ears. It dawns on him that Yanan was dead serious.
“What?” Jun asks in faint disbelief. “As in—“
“Yeah.” The answer is instant and there’s a sad smile on Yanan’s lips that holds Jun’s heart at its edges.
He’s known Yanan for years and before Jun knows it, there’s a painful searing in his heart. Sure, Jun had absolutely hated him for the orange juice incident but it’s grown to be something precious to them. Whenever they went out to go grocery shopping, they would spend way too long fighting and laughing in the fruits section just from that. It’s the same way with everything they did— precious to Jun as it is to Yanan, temporary to Jun as it is to Yanan. The first time they kiss, fuck, and do everything afterwards was left in the corner of Jun’s mind, in Yanan’s heart.
“But,” Yanan sighs, taking a breath in. “As I said, I could tell you never really got over him so you don’t need to say it.”
Jun murmurs, “But still. Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“You and I both know you wouldn’t have felt the same either way.” Yanan laughs but the sound is dry and short. “Which is why I think we should stop. This— The, um, whole friends with benefits thing. I think it’s best for both of us.”
“I guess.” Jun croaks out, “I’m sorry.”
Jun apologizes the same way he had apologizes for most things— it’s impulsive and second nature that he doesn’t think about it sometimes, doesn’t know that sometimes, it isn’t his fault. He says sorry when he’s the one bumped on the sidewalk, says sorry for someone else’s heartbreak, says sorry to the cats he passes by but can’t feed, says sorry when he can’t feel the same way Yanan does. The latter knows this well and brings his hand on Jun’s neck one last time, bringing him to the slot in his chest, near his heart but not to it because he knows it’s not where Jun belongs.
Soft sighs and sniffling fill the air when Yanan admonishes him gently, “You’re always apologizing for things you don’t have to be sorry for.”
Another day of sun.
When Jun wakes up, Yanan isn’t there but he leaves Jun breakfast like he always did. We’re still friends and I’ll always be here for you, is what Yanan said, echoing in Jun’s thoughts as he munches through his pretentious avocado toast. The routine he has embedded in his muscle memory is the only thing that keeps him moving, it’s the only thing that drives him to the set.
Yanan : dont overthink it, okay?
Jun : u messaged me first thanku i wouldnt know what to say :((
Yanan : i told you, we’re still friends you moron
Yanan : now stop texting me and focus on getting Mock
Jun : mock??
Yanan : Minghao Cock
Jun : STOP
Jun shakes his head at the message— guilt and gratitude all blend into a bittersweet taste that leaves Jun smiling softly to himself. Apologies Yanan wouldn’t have wanted still wait on the tip of his tongue, on the drafts of his messages but he figures it was best that he thanks each star instead, that at the end of the day, he would still have Yanan even if the world goes to shit (more than it already is).
Mock. Jun may have an assortment of feelings right now but really, one of them for sure knows he wants to hit Yanan in the face for it. Mock is a whole pipe dream Jun will deny having and for starters, he doesn’t know where to ask help from. It’s not like he knew anyone with a situation wherein they gave up the boy they grew up falling in love with and ended up regretting it years later and seeing the said boy in the same part of the world they’re in— in LA. (It’s odd, the tangled way in which the lines of coincidences and fate are blurred.)
Nonetheless, he asks and Seokmin was more than willing to answer each of the questions Jun has stayed up late thinking about. Jun learns through Seokmin that this boy is an art student at the university downtown running on scholarships and art projects while working on an upcoming art exhibit. He helps out as the art director’s unofficial assistant because one, it’s extra credit, and two, he has a gift— talented with a sight, a vision far more encompassing than anyone could ever reach.
So he starts simple.
It’s stupid, it really is.
“Hey.” Minghao’s tone is cautious and it almost sounds questioning but Jun doesn’t blame him, really.
Small steps, Jun assures himself, small pebbles that only hope to ripple across the ocean of distance Jun rifted himself long ago.
Seokmin blinks back at him and when Jun mouths, ‘what?!’, Seokmin does nothing but laugh. Later on, the latter drags a reluctant Jun to where Minghao was starting his work— splattering paint on walls. It’s something mundane and nothing out of the ordinary but Jun can’t help but feel out of breath. In here, Minghao is in his element, focused eyes, discerning and unwavering, where paint finds its way to sink in his skin and where his hands alternate from quick flicks to gentle strokes.
Minghao flicks the flat brush harder this time when he grumbles. “Are you both going to help out or what?”
Jun feels his back pushed and left wordless as Seokmin grins. “Junhui here can help, I have to go shoot a scene, so!”
“No you don’t —“ Jun’s voice dies down when Seokmin had successfully left him alone with Minghao, who continued painting anyway, paying no heed to Jun’s openly internal and external crisis.
“Where do I, um.” Jun takes careful steps towards the inner part of the set, looking horribly out of place when he stands helplessly near the buckets of paint.
“Just splatter paint everywhere and make it look stressed.”
Only artistic people would know what you mean, Jun wants to say but he kinda doesn’t want to annoy Minghao more than he already does so he picks up a brush and silently dips it, snapping his wrist to make work of the paint.
Jun’s eye twitches when Minghao’s area bursts with vibrant lines and uncoordinated lines that make it look more artsy while his area was well, only filled with the same yellow paint he’s been using. Minghao seems to share the same sentiment when he glances at Jun’s ugly paint splatter. Which was, by the way, the stupidest thing ever— I mean it’s splattering paint, something practically impossible to mess up.
“Seriously,” Minghao mutters but Jun can see the quirk in his lips to know that he means it lightly.
If Jun were to feel dramatic, as per usual, he would say he could hear a choir of angels at Minghao’s bare minimum response that Jun considers as ‘Instances That Could Prove He Doesn’t Exactly Hate Me’. It has Jun’s heart pounding loud and clear when he laughs quietly, “Art snob.”
“Oh, please.” Minghao shifts his focus to the farther side of the wall and though Jun can’t tell, he thinks that maybe, Minghao was smiling.
I missed you, is on the tip of the tongue Jun holds. Instead, he started to spout whatever came to his mind first, “This um, reminds me of when we used to spray paint and stuff back when we were—“ Jun feels like he swallowed himself a whole rock when he pauses. Were, what? In high school, when we were okay and in love and best friends? Get a grip! “—in China.” Jun says, lamely.
Jun clears his throat. “Good times.”
Minghao makes a sound of acknowledgment from the back of his throat and once again, things are quiet. Jun dips the brush in another set of paint and starts again.
Then, Minghao stops completely. “We’re done here.”
Should I have not brought up what happened before? Jun’s stomach unfurls coldly and the apology is ready to roll off his tongue—
“The paint, I mean.” Minghao takes a quick scan of the wall and in an instant, Jun is flooded with relief.
“Oh.” Was I that obvious? Jun realizes and once again, he’s stuck with his own embarrassment. Whether Minghao notices, either way, he doesn’t make it privy to Jun.
“Thank you. For helping.” Minghao thinly smiles. “I was— I was joking at first, you didn’t have to help out but you did, so thank you. Don’t you have a scene to shoot, though?”
“I do, it starts in um, half an hour away I think?” Jun doesn’t know, actually. Then before Jun could even think twice to stop himself— “Will you come watch?” Where did that even come from? Jun now knows for sure, that he should never be allowed to talk.
Minghao is momentarily stunned by the question and there’s that pause again, the stutter in their coexistence that has Jun ready to take the question back, and hopefully his dignity with it. Minghao could say no, he’s not necessarily obligated to but— “If you want me to.”
There’s a sure smile in Jun’s lips, small and resolute. “I want you to.”
When it’s time for him to shoot, Minghao stays by the corner to watch. Jun gulps. Jun is distracted to the point he forgets a portion of his lines and apologizes profusely. There’s only light laughter from the Jianni, the actress in front of him, accompanied with silent sighs from the staff and while he thinks no one looks, he flickers his eyes to Minghao’s way for a brief moment and finds that there’s a fist that kisses and hides Minghao’s small smile. Jun would stare it all day if it weren’t for the director’s signals for the slate to slide close again.
Seokmin: yes :D
Jun: do u
Seokmin: yes :D
Jun: to go
Jun: for a drink
Seokmin: omg sure!!!! when when
Indistinct chatter, goldenly dimmed lights, and timber wood. Bubbles rise to the froth of Jun’s beer when he drinks it in one go as Seokmin sports his ‘slightly judging you but in a concerned kind of way’ look. The bottom of the glass slams into the wood of the table, empty and crawling with foam.
“I hate myself.”
“See, the journey to self-acceptance is hard but it’s not impossible—“
“No, Seokmin, I meant as in—“ Jun circles his hands in a frenzy hoping that explains it for him but when Seokmin’s expression doesn’t change and twists into even more concern, Jun drops his hands in defeat. “You know what? Nevermind.”
“Is this about Minghao?”
“No.” Jun answers too quickly, then— “Yes.”
“He’s…” Seokmin clears his throat and offers him an apologetic smile. “He thinks you’re weird but I don’t think it’s in a bad way…?”
“He thinks I’m weird?!” Jun cries, hitting the base of his forehead against wood, next to his empty glass of beer. Maybe he should get another one, he thinks to himself absentmindedly.
Seokmin has a hand behind his neck. “Well…”
Jun groans, to which Seokmin responds to in gentle forms of patting. “Give him some time. He did just find out he’s hated you for nothing.”
At that, Jun furrows his brows. “What do you mean for nothing? I hurt him, Seok.”
“For reasons he would have understood,” Seokmin tells him bluntly. It has Jun silent for a while, solemn in his (probably tipsy) thoughts that Seokmin sighs. “Besides, it’s always awkward trying to rekindle friendships. Don’t be too hard on yourself for it.”
The next day Jun doesn’t see Minghao.
“He’s working on the exhibit thing our university’s doing,” Seokmin says it for him when he hands Jun the hangover drinks he got from Korea. “Drink this.”
“Thanks, Seok.” They’re in the resting area with foldable chairs Jun wants to pass out on as he takes slow slurps from the bottle. Jun doesn’t remember much but when his glance stays on Seokmin for a little while longer, a memory he had been subconsciously repressing, surfaces.
“You and Minghao—?”
“It was a one-time thing, we’re best friends now.”
“Sorry for the question.” Jun slurred.
“It’s fine. Just don’t worry your pretty little head about it.”
Jun chokes on his drink, earning a questioning look from Seokmin.
“What is it?”
“I just remembered I asked about you and Minghao last night,” Jun lets out a prolonged groan. “God, I’m embarrassing, I’m sorry.”
Seokmin laughs at him, again. “Just think of it as a college fling, no big deal.”
Just a college thing. Jun wonders about a world where he meets Minghao in college. Minghao, an art major while he could be in the theatre arts or film studies. They could be roommates or they could meet in a party. They could have study dates and conversations in cute cafes, trips to Venice beach, they could go surfing in Malibu for breaks. Jun smiles at the thought.
Still though, nothing could ever beat the summers he already had— the raw simplicity of it all, the lack of pretension, and just two best friends bearing the weight of the world and each other’s hearts. Jun wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Jun still loves him.
In the movies Jun has acted in and watched, it’s the type of realization wherein the music, the rain, the heartbeat, and the madness stops. It’s the kind of epiphany some idiot makes when they’re boarding the plane only to waste their flight ticket to have a dramatic kiss in an airport restaurant. It’s also the kind of realization where the character completely forgets where they are— like, who cares if they’re in the middle of an earthquake or defending their divorce case in court, they’re in love or whatever.
Jun’s realization isn’t as groundbreaking or earth-shattering as a movie would want it to be but in the dead of night, Jun is awake with the epiphany.
He stares so long into the nothing of his room that his eyes adjust to the darkness and he feels like he as night vision. He waits for himself to have the energy to move in between five minutes and thirty minutes that it feels like an hour had been in passing. He’s awake for so long that it feels like he’s eighteen all over again, pining and wanting for a boy far away from his reach.
Jun still loves Minghao.
(2) notifications from xuminghao_o.
He blinks at his screen; there’s a dying noise in the back of his throat that strangles him when he almost throws his phone across the room.
Instantly, Jun sits up, eyes widened and mouth agape at his screen in his slowly processed realization. Jun’s nerves run as the small tremors to his unsteady hands when he tentatively opens the notification. There’s a breath he doesn’t know is held when he reads Minghao’s message.
Minghao : Thank you.
Minghao : Happy New Year.
Jun scrolls up to see all his pathetic happy birthday messages liked with a singular heart each and ups the brightness in his phone just to make sure he’s not seeing things. He’s not, he’s really not and Jun almost shrieks in disbelief. Minghao sends another message and it’s in Mandarin, happy new year, in ever so familiar characters that Jun’s breath hitches.
This guy, really, Jun scoffs, fondly of course. Only Minghao would think of even bothering to reply a year late. In all honesty, Jun even forgot it was Chinese New Year today and he makes a mental note to thank Minghao about it later. Jun doesn’t even realize how much he’s smiling until there’s a dull ache in his cheeks.
Foolishly, he still loves.
Jun still loves Minghao.
Jun : happy new years :D
Jun : u replied a year late thats kinda funny adbakdajlajd
Minghao : Oh
Minghao : Sorry, about that.
Jun : im joking HDKJAHSDKJA
There’s a pause where Minghao sees the message, types for one second, then stops. Jun’s fingers anxiously drums against his phone screen as he decides, fuck it.
Jun : this is kinda awkward so
Jun : (cat_image.jpg)
Minghao : You have a cat?
Jun : no but i want one :((((((((((((((((((
That’s too much sadness in a sentence, what the fuck. Jun throws his phone and screams into his sheets. It takes Minghao approximately 27 seconds to respond but no one needs to know Jun was counting, right?
Minghao : There’s a homeless cat in my Uni.
Jun : /??!?@WH
Jun : r u saying wat i think ur saying…
Minghao: … There’s a cat near my Uni and I think it needs a home.
Jun : i see
Jun : u study in the nearest film school right :3
Minghao : Yes…?
Jun : ok just asking
His manager told him once, that he had tunnel vision. It’s both the good and the bad kind where it’s good in the sense that it keeps Jun focused whenever he needs something done by the next day. Jun has the kind of determination that blocks out everything else as he heads towards a singular light. It’s bad in a sense that he puts on his tunnel vision in nearly everything, even, no especially in his impulsive decisions that are one, never thought out and two, are undeniably stupid.
It comes in situations like this where Jun is in the middle of the streets in a sweater colored in the ugly kind of yellow, along with his godawful pajamas littered giraffe-shaped numbers, whispering ming ming ming ming ming ming in faux bushes and pavement.
Minghao : You do realize I can see you from the dorms right.
Jun chokes, heart on his throat when he sees the message.
Jun : wow u dorm ?? thats so cool ive always wnted 2 dorm
Jun : o is that u omg i know where u live now
Minghao : Jun
Jun : am here for d cat n not to stalk u or anything dont misunderstand me <//3
Minghao : You did kinda stalk me whenever I was on set but okay
Jun : I DID NOT
Jun : okay mayb i tried to find u sumtimes but thats different i did it in a non creepy way
Minghao : …
Jun : wait r u going down i hear footsteps if thats not u im screaming ill actually scream
Minghao : I
Minghao : You’re unbelievable
While Jun peers his head in some other smaller spaces, like the back of the trash can, Minghao’s already on his way down the outdoor staircase from his dorm, tired eyes, and swaddled up in his hoodie. He doesn’t say anything when he and Jun see each other, the only sound enveloping them being the faint droning of crickets and leaves rustled from the night wind.
“Hey…” Jun breaks the silence with a crooked smile, tentative and a little bit delirious from the lack of sleep and the fact he’s out in the night looking for a cat.
“It’s 1:31, I hope you know that.”
Jun’s lips jut when he pointedly mumbles, “You’re awake too.”
“Oh.” Jun says, stupidly. “Me too, sometimes.”
Minghao rolls his eyes and only then, does it finally process to Jun that Minghao was holding a small box, a blanket of blue and sleeping stars overflowing the brown of the cardboard and Jun thinks of nothing else as he gapes silently. “Is that…?”
“Yeah, I keep her in my dorm sometimes even if it’s not allowed.” Minghao’s in arm’s reach now, the box keeping their distance at bay. Gently, he lays the box down on Jun’s waiting, outstretched arms. “Here.”
“Oh my god, hi baby—“ Jun gasps seeing the small patches of black and orange fur under the dim lighting. She was so tiny and precious that Jun wants to keep her on high ground at all times in fear of stepping on her. When she moves ever so slightly, Jun’s heart soars in a million different directions as he whispers in awe, “I can have her?”
“Just like that?” Jun asks weakly. He’s tearing up as he feels his throat tighten.
“I can’t look after her all the time, I have classes and I have to help out with the movie set, wait— Jun are you crying ?”
“No!” Jun says too loudly but it contradicts the way he sniffles, hurriedly wiping away the corners of his eye in haste— an act of someone totally crying.
“I just like cats and now I have one!” Jun tries to reason before muttering, “Also, I haven’t slept so I’m uh… yeah.”
Jun loved cats an unhealthy amount. It’s not just about saving too much videos on them on his phone or tearing up when they hiss at him, he just adored them but never really got the time to adopt one. And well, Jun also loved Minghao to a slightly questionable extent, too. He can’t believe what was happening, Minghao , out of all people was giving him a cat. Honestly, he could kiss him for it but Minghao was a fucking black belt and Jun doesn’t want the possibility of being thrown against a wall. But I kinda want to be thrown against a wall if it’s Minghao—
Jun flushes at the thought. Stop it, stop it, stop it! His hold on the box with his new cat tightens.
“Hey, don’t….” Minghao clears his throat, an awkward arm reaching to the back of Jun’s shoulder, long fingers coming in gentle taps against the fabric of Jun’s ugly sweater. “Don’t cry.”
Don’t cry, Minghao says but it doesn’t stop the few more tears running down Jun’s cheeks. Minghao was just so… nice, kind-hearted in folded edges one had to unravel to truly see, patient guised under a seemingly rough exterior. Don’t cry. Instead, Jun starts laughing through it, giggling when he cries even harder. He hasn’t changed a bit, it’s a bittersweet kind of endearment that has Jun’s heart in knots, wanting and yearning.
It also has Minghao taking a small step back, concerned and frankly looking weirded out, actually. Jun straightens when his deranged giggling dies down a bit in his throat. “Sorry sorry, you must think I look a little unhinged.”
Minghao snorts lightly. “You do.”
“I just…“ Jun sucks in a breath, blubbering a little when he murmurs. “You’re really nice, you know?” At that, Minghao scoffs lightly but Jun presses, “I’m serious, you’re like the nicest person I’ve ever met.”
Jun’s eyes could be deceiving him but he swears he almost sees the light blush on the apple of Minghao’s cheeks when the latter clears his throat. “Anything else?”
Minghao sighs, “Jun, you’ve already—“
“No, um, I gave you excuses, it was a shit apology. I’m sorry. I really am. You didn’t deserve that.” Jun takes another breath in. “I don’t— I don’t want you to think I led you on because I really really did like you, I’ve already said that but if you um, don’t believe me, that’s cool. It’s chill. Just wanted to put it out there,” Jun lets out a weak laugh but he bites his lip seeing how Minghao looks at him intently. “I’m sorry, especially about the thing I said before where I couldn’t like you—“
“Because you’re an actor?”
It’s a punch to the gut but nonetheless, it was true. Jun gulps dryly, it’s all too familiar, the way his insides twist at the remembrance of the pain he had brought upon the both of them. Because I’m a fucking actor, Minghao, the words he said that day, the faint lighting from the streetlights, the white noise, the night, Minghao, Jun remembers it all as if it were yesterday, feels every ounce of guilt all the same. “It wasn’t true. I lied. I’m sorry.”
“Wait, you what? ”
“I knew you enough to know you weren’t that much of an asshole to leave someone just because you were an actor.” Minghao buries his hands into the pocket of his hoodie when he holds Jun’s stare, resigned yet firm as he breathes out, “I knew.”
“I didn’t know the actual reason but now I do, I guess.” Minghao mumbles, “Sorry for ignoring you. I should have tried to let you explain. I was just—“
“The more you apologize, the closer I am to having a stroke.”
Jun laughs at Minghao’s well-intended glare. “Yeah, Yanan says I apologize too much.”
Minghao huffs at that and he reaches a hand into the box to give the cat soft strokes as she slept. She jolts at first but soon enough, she melts into Minghao’s touch, blinking in and out of her sleep as he continues to pat her gently. Jun’s heart aches at the sight and nothing stops his sleep-deprived brain-to-mouth filter when he blurts out, “I really um, miss you.”
Corny! You’re so fucking corny!
“Missed you too.” Minghao hums, like it’s the most normal thing to say and Jun hitches a breath, heart pounding in his ears when he chokes up again.
“Nice nice,” Jun croaks.
“Oh god, you’re still crying —“
“I can’t help it!” Jun sniffs, eyes downturned and away from Minghao so the latter doesn’t see its damp, red-rimmed mess.
“I forgive you, Jun. It’s— It’s okay.” And for the first time that night, Minghao gives him a reassuring smile that eats its way into the chambers of Jun’s heart.
It’s not the first time Jun has seen Minghao’s smile but stupidly, it feels like it might as well be. It’s breathtaking, the idiosyncratic way Minghao has a more prominent dimple, how his smile is thin and lined endearingly to the left most of the time. It’s small things like these that Jun remembers from years ago that he carves out from where it’s been tucked in his heart and it’s when Jun realizes, he can’t stop crying.
It’s an endless stream as his eyes burn hot, small hiccups that waves from his chest. I missed you. I love you, I still do, is a mess, just as it always been with Minghao. I’m sorry, I missed you, I love you, his soul is inarticulate as it is raw with the repetition of what it had always known within his conundrum of thoughts. His heart, the soul that rests in it, the heavy weight of it all, spills all over the place that he only manages one thing— “ Thank you, Minghao.”
“You’re walking me home, I can’t believe it.”
What’s more unbelievable really, is that Minghao had told Jun to stay put before going back and forth from his dorms to (grumpily) hand Jun some tissues for his uncontrollable tear bag behind his eyes. Sure, Jun’s still a disheveled bag of dried tears and pathetically dryer eyes but he appreciates it all the same.
“It’s midnight, I’d feel bad if the cat got robbed or something.”
“All for the cat, I’m sure.” Jun nods, unconvinced.
They’re a few blocks away from Jun’s apartment, the night wind quiet and soothing on their skin. Jun is holding the box like the careful thing it was, cradling it even closer when it moves from the inside, dreadfully afraid of accidentally dropping his new daughter to the cemented ground. Granted, she would be able to land quite well, with what being a cat and all but Jun thinks it’s better to play it safe. When they’ve arrived to the doorstep, Jun halts and so does Minghao when Jun mutters a small we’re here.
“Night, Hao.” It’s familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time. It’s been a long time since Jun had said it. It’s the same words Jun had said before he would fall asleep to the faint droning and white noise of the television, before he would bury himself on the column of Minghao’s neck, the slow, steady beating of his heart, pulling Jun’s own to sleep.
“Goodnight, Moon Jun.” There’s a quirk in the corner of Minghao’s lips like the absolute ass that he was. It burns something in Jun’s chest, embarrassed yet weirdly, slightly even happy that Minghao remembers one out of his many stumbling moments of idiocy.
Jun sputters defensively, feeling a red burn to his cheeks that crawls down his neck. “Oh my fucking god, goodbye .”
When Jun closes the door, the sight is too quick but beautiful nonetheless— it’s in the mystifying dim and unhurried way time seems to pass beneath the moon’s gentle shimmer, it’s in the twinkling of Minghao’s cat-like eyes, mischievous, in the ghost of a smile that rests easy on his lips. It’s too soon but it’s what Jun’s heart could take because the longer he looks at Minghao and how fucking attractive he is, the more his heart opens the door he thought he had closed long ago.
Jun almost drops his expensive chai tea latte, startled by the sudden greeting. “Hey, Minghao!” It sounds regretfully desperate but when Minghao shoots him another smile, Jun can’t find it in himself to care.
Jun pretends he doesn’t skip his way to where Minghao paints to help him again. In return, Minghao offers to help him practice with his script and really, who was Jun to say no? Even though Jun had already memorized it nights before, he lets Minghao take reign of his phone to scroll through the lengthy google docs.
Minghao’s strict yet gentle, Jun comes to learn. When Jun tests out making a purposeful mistake, he watches with a smile when Minghao thoroughly admonishes him for it. He also comes to learn that Minghao’s lips are very pretty. Of course, Jun has always known that but seeing it closer, whenever Minghao’s wistfully soft voice comes out, has Jun revisiting the thought in realization that yeah, it’s really pretty. Just like the rest of Minghao was as equally so.
When Minghao leaves Jun’s room, there are clips in his air and his nails are painted and glossed over— all because Jun thought he would look pretty in them. Minghao had surprisingly allowed it without much of a fight. Jun doesn’t want to feel delusional when he thinks about the way Minghao had looked up at him at one point, not with the hatred Jun always fear he would have but with curiosity as Jun’s dextrous fingers threaded through his hair to gather it under the butterfly clips.
Jun doesn’t want to delude himself on the reasons behind Minghao’s small smile when he looks at Jun but he wishes he could. He wants to but he doesn’t.
Jun : i think i have a name for d cat
Jun : wat do u think of nicole
Jun : or juliette
Jun : Stephanie
Jun : WAIT I THOUGHT OF THE PERFECT ONE
Jun : Purrsephone
Jun : or wat abt july bc i’m named jun hehehe
Minghao : Name our cat any of those and I’m taking her back.
Jun fucking screams.
Today is the last time they both get to paint together on set. There’s a company call they both decidedly ignore in favor of using all the time to paint together; neither of them say it out loud, of course, but it’s known. The silent agreement of being with each other, was more than enough.
It’s not exactly their most professional moment but Jun doesn’t regret it one bit, not when Minghao waits for him at one of the sets, the extra set of paint laid out on Jun’s side, organized. When Minghao starts, Jun follows, eyes peering to mirror the former’s motions, the painted path on white that Minghao’s incredibly steady hand creates. He glances at Minghao too, when he thinks Minghao doesn’t know he’s looking. In his mind’s view, Jun can almost trace the slope of Minghao’s nose to the subtle protrusion of his rosed lips that Jun spends an extra moment thinking of.
Everything about Minghao made sense in a way Jun thinks he’s practically perfect.
Minghao’s dotting the extra intricacies of it all when he asks it out of nowhere, “Do you want to come?”
It comes with no context, as if prompting to Jun to ask more about it. Jun on the other hand, who was busying himself definitely thinking about, maybe, what kissing Minghao would feel like, was in the middle of distractedly cleaning his brush. At Minghao’s sudden question, Jun tilts his head. “Where?”
“The exhibit I’ve been working on.” Minghao replies with a practiced nonchalance, intent on focusing his gaze to the work in front of him instead of Jun. If he’s nervous, he doesn’t let it show. “It’s an art gallery my department’s doing.”
“Yes,” Jun says in a heartbeat, all too fast and willing, he realizes. He clears his throat, easier on the tone this time. “I mean, yeah, that would be nice. I would absolutely love to go. That sounds nice.”
Jun hears Minghao let out a smile and without another thought, he asks. “You’ll be there too, right?” There’s a hopeful ring in Jun’s tone when he says, “In the movie premiere?”
“Not sure. Maybe not, actually. I don’t know if assistant college students are on the list.” Minghao shrugs and Jun pauses.
“Wait, but you should be!” Jun voices his disbelief, “Even the pianist is going, Hao!”
Minghao laughs lightly, waving Jun off with a dismissive hand. “It’s fine, Jun. I can watch the movie on HBO or something.”
“No way I’m letting you stay at home after all this. ” Jun flounders his arms to gesture around the painted walls in large circles. It’s beautiful, the seemingly uncoordinated burst of striking colors orchestrated by mostly Minghao’s hands. So beautiful that Jun’s hands tremble sometimes in fear of messing it up somehow. Jun shakes his head. “I have an extra ticket. To the premiere. Well, not ticket but I can bring one person and it’s just really unfair if you don’t go so will you um,” Jun breathes in, “Come with me?”
There’s an indiscernible way to which Minghao looks at Jun, pausing silently for a few moments.
“Like as a date?” Minghao says finally, looking straight Jun in the eye as he watches Jun go red in the cheeks to the tip of his ears, spluttering.
“No, no! I mean, we can just hang out and stuff when we’re there. Well, yes in suits before we watch the movie and eat after….” Jun’s voice quiets down at the realization that oh , it does seem like a date. “But it’s not—“ Jun wheezes. It’s ridiculous and Jun feels his own absurdity choke him up when he blurts out, “I mean you invited me to your art gallery thing, isn’t that a date!”
“I suppose it is.”
“ See— “ Jun’s heart leaps into his throat, choking him mercilessly when it finally processes to him. “Wait, what .”
Minghao doesn’t answer him and continues on with brushing strokes against the canvas. What the fuck, Jun thinks as he swallows, mouth dry from how breathless he feels. “ What .”
He didn’t mishear that, right? If you were to tell Jun that Minghao in fact, did not say ‘I suppose it is’, nor was he implying that he was asking Jun , out on a date , due to the sleepless nights Jun spent on doing nothing, due to the delusion Jun spent on too much imagining what it would actually be like to go out with Minghao in the more secretive corners of his mind; if you were to tell Jun that, yes you are imagining it, Jun, then he would have believed you.
But it strikes Jun that this isn’t another one of his delusions of Minghao Cock or Minghao’s lips or Minghao being his boyfriend or whatever , because he knows (hopes) he’s heard it loud and clear that it was in fact, a date. Which was why Jun’s brought to the stupid question—
“Are you—” Jun gulps, swallows down every ounce of the remaining pride and shame he has left. It comes out as a pitched whisper when the said stupid question leaves him, “Are you flirting with me?”
What the fuck, it doesn’t make sense that he would because as far as Jun knew, he had done absolutely nothing to even look the slightest bit attractive to Minghao despite having, well, a crush on him. Again. Just like he did when he was younger, where he was as confused as he was then as much as he was now. If anything, Jun had embarrassed himself innumerable times before and after he had tried to make things right with Minghao.
“Well.” Minghao clears his throat and that in itself was enough confirmation that maybe Jun wasn’t all that delusional. “Is it working?”
“Oh my god, you are flirting with me.” Jun groans into his palms in mortification at the flutter he feels in the pit of his stomach. “Is that what the cat was about? Did you give me July as a— seduction gift?”
It’s not what Jun means to ask but it comes out anyway in a flurried state of panic where he could muster nothing but absurdity and the top three bullshit thoughts his mind could conjure for him.
“No, what the hell , Jun.” Minghao coughs at that defensively, “I told you I gave you that cat because you looked dumb wandering around campus at midnight!”
“Like that isn’t blatant flirting.” Jun accusingly points a finger to him.
“Oh please,” Minghao scoffs, “As if ‘oh Minghao, you’re so nice! Can I put some hair clips on you? Remember when we spray painted back in China? Minghao here’s an unsolicited cat pic, happy birthday!’ wasn’t blatant flirting!”
“All of that took place in different occasions! You just mushed them all together!” Jun's breath hitches at the loud drumming in his chest. He doesn’t even realize it when he’s holding it when he breathes, “You— Do you like me again?”
Minghao looks at him this time when he says, “Pretty sure it’s the other way around.”
It’s said with no hesitation, a prodding challenge laid out for Jun to take. It feels like a test— to know if Jun even liked him before Minghao could say that he liked him back. Jun doesn’t even want to imagine the look on his own face right now but he’s sure he looks stupidly dazed, as he always is when it comes to Minghao. He’s thrown off by it but if it’s a challenge, a test, an oath, maybe even a promise Minghao wants to hear from him then Jun’s anything but a coward to take it.
“Yeah, alright.” Jun holds Minghao’s gaze and it’s heavy to the point Jun wants to look away but he keeps himself there. Jun keeps himself from running away again. Because he’s not who he was when he was younger— he’s still a mess of emotions, he’s still the same boy that fell in love with Minghao, he’s still the rising actor with big dreams and too big of a heart, he’s confused, but he’s not there anymore.
Jun doesn’t look away as much as he wants to because he knows he would end up making the same mistake. His chest tightens and he feels like his breath is taken away with every second that passes by. Even if his vision blurs with a wet heat that burns his eyes and his heart the same way, he holds Minghao’s expectant gaze and answers to the oath laid bare for him. “I do like you again. I’ve never—“ Jun swallows the crack in his voice. “I’ve never stopped liking you. I’ve said sorry too much times to count and I just can’t help it because I didn’t just like you, Minghao.”
“I loved you.” I still do. “I still do.” Jun’s cracked voice has him sniffing in embarrassment, god he can’t believe he was actually saying all this to the last person he wanted to burden his heart with.
“I love you even if you’re such an asshole sometimes—“ Jun’s heart is loud in his ears when in the split second he looks down, Minghao is in his personal space, his chest inches away from Jun’s, just as his heart is as Minghao palms Jun’s jaw to press silence into Jun’s lips with his own. Jun’s eyes widen at the sudden pressure lightly placed on his lips and makes a small sound of confusion when Minghao gently traces a hand to Jun’s jaw to kiss him again. Instantly, Jun melts into it and lets his eyes shut close. Jun breathes shakily, as much as he can anyways, because Minghao doesn’t give him the reprieve he thinks he needs.
Minghao tugs on Jun’s bottom lip, sucks on it, drinking in the light shudders that rack Jun’s body. Jun feels lightheaded, with the way Minghao makes him feel hot all over, as Jun tries to keep up with Minghao, shyly surging back into the kiss. His free arm captures the small of Jun’s waist and pulls him closer, until the concept of space is defied, defiled, when Jun parts his lips for Minghao to let out a subtle groan into, licking into Jun’s mouth unabashed and wanting.
Jun sighs into it, softly whimpering at the back of his throat when Minghao thumbs Jun’s cheek, the intimacy of being flushed against Minghao again, overwhelming all his senses that heat unfurls in Jun’s gut. There’s not a bit of rationality left in him when Jun kisses him back, fisting the sides of Minghao’s shirt as he pants when Minghao parts from him to leave a trail of gentle pecks on the corner of Jun’s lips, soft and damp in sound.
Minghao’s silent for the most part and Jun thanks the heavens the set was cleared out for the company call they both decided to ignore for the sake of painting together for the last time. Jun wants to kiss him again but with the way Minghao searches his eyes as his own windows something Jun hasn’t seen in a while.
It’s spoken in the way Minghao looks at Jun like he’s about to disappear, speaks in the way Minghao furrows his brows, waiting for his own words to tumble out. So Jun waits.
Jun swears he would wait endlessly for him. No matter how long it took, he would. Jun waits when he tentatively presses his lips to Minghao’s cheeks— mirroring the latter’s earlier actions because he doesn’t know what else to do. Minghao smile wryly as Jun does, fond when he breathes out, “I swear if you leave me again...“ Minghao doesn’t finish it because he doesn’t know either, at the possibility Jun leaves him again.
“I won’t.” Jun presses his forehead against Minghao’s, kissing him slowly when he repeats, determined, “I won’t.”
Not again. Not ever , unspoken. It’s an oath, the vow he makes before he’s bound to promise Minghao more and more as they go. Minghao sighs, the sound relieved when he places one final press to Jun’s lips.
On the night of the exhibit, Minghao’s dress shirt is flowy around his arms, glittering and billowing the light lavender whenever he moves, and the neckline dips into the gracious expanse of the melanin in his skin. Jun can’t help but notice it too but Minghao’s lips were bitten swollen too— the aftermath of what they had done in the bathroom before actually going to the exhibit, with Jun propped on the space beside the marbled sink, Minghao in between his thighs, pressed against his crotch as Minghao kissed him shamelessly, hands on Jun’s ass when Jun jolts, warm when he ends up grinding against Minghao. If the some guy from Minghao’s class ends up seeing them exit the bathroom disheveled, Jun doesn’t really care.
Minghao’s palm on Jun’s lower back pulls him close to whisper in Jun’s ear that he’ll be back. Jun flushes beneath him and nods, dazed stupid by how impossibly close Minghao was and Minghao pecks him lightly for it when no one looks before slipping away.
There’s groups of students that come to congratulate him, professors that gush about the row of paintings on the walls signed with his name on it. Minghao was so busy with preparing everything that he doesn’t notice Jun blend into the crowds, to which the latter understands, of course. He’s selfish but not enough where he would keep Minghao all to himself when it’s his night.
Jun settles with absorbing everything in the exhibit instead— there’s bright lighting planted in every side to showcase each work, a small viewing for the film majors tucked in the side, and art everywhere . As Jun strolls leisurely, he pretends he doesn’t notice people staring upon the recognition that a Hollywood actor was amidst them. Jun’s eyes twitch when he finally, dreadfully hears whispers of, it’s Junhui Wen, the actor and carries along, going as far as to squeeze himself in emptier spaces just to hide. It’s not the case that Jun’s ashamed, after everything, he could never be but it’s best if they kept it down on the low for now. After all, it’s their personal life where they’re not obligated to share everything with the public, what they have is theirs alone and it’s better if people found out naturally rather than making a big announcement scene.
When Jun’s finally hidden, he fishes out his face mask, a cap, and the extra sweater Minghao packed for him. Yes babe, they’ll recognize you, now quit being dumb and pack the cap.
As usual, Minghao was right and Jun’s nothing but thankful that his now boyfriend ( yes, boyfriend! ) was a lot smarter than he was at this type of thing. More artistic too, Jun realizes even more, because at last, he comes across a familiar signature and right away, he knows it’s Minghao’s. It gives him a sense of relief.
It’s different art styles with each canvas Jun walks through. One, is paint splatter, much like the one Minghao does on set, entitled ventricular/vernacular . The next few ones are of abstract art, a three-piece series he titles yugen. It’s three canvases of connected art that just makes sense with lines perfectly interrupted by the space, only to be picked up where it left off by the next canvas. It’s all artfully lined together that Jun could spend literal hours just looking at them.
Jun huffs a smile past his lips as pride blooms elegantly in his chest, the profound sense of it, overwhelming him the more he thinks about Minghao. There’s one more piece that Jun catches from his periphery and when he finally locks eyes with it, Jun stops. He stops as a silent gasp is unheard from him, stops as he feels his heart lurch as he recognizes the painting right off the bat.
Hummingbird’s myth, is the title of Minghao’s final piece.
Hummingbird’s myth is a portrait painting of oil, natured themes of layering olive greens in the leaves, with a mixed gold flowing in between its spaces. It’s Anshan, Haicheng’s playground and its view in the summer break. Jun can recognize it anywhere. The painting is set in a bird’s eye view among the leaves where down below is the playground near Minghao’s house, where he and Jun had first met. There’s the metal slide no one uses, the rusted swings Jun was too small for once, and the sandbox, where two silhouetted figures laid on its burnished expanse.
It was them .
There’s a hand that comes up Jun’s back, a chin that rests lightly on Jun’s shoulder, a hint of a smile that comes up seeing Jun awestruck, and the voice of home, of art and summers and everything that Jun loves that asks the question. “Do you like it?”
Jun wants to cry. He doesn’t keep his eyes off of it, unblinking and disbelieving. If possible, his jaw would be on the floor as he finally lets out a small laugh. Does Minghao even have to ask? He lets his face mask down a little to give Minghao’s cheek a faint peck before placing it back on, before anyone recognizes them. “I love it.”
There’s a secluded area outside the Museum, it’s floor dimly lit by a collection of small golden lights planted in grey concrete amongst the array of plants. It’s against that grey concrete that Jun kisses Minghao to the fucking stars, like the unseen pull of Jupiter to its moons, circling in how Minghao pulls Jun close and flush, the gravity of lost lovers, a forgotten love stirred to yawn and rise again.
He doesn’t stop and kisses Minghao harder.
It’s premiere week, as Jun likes to call it and he’s anything but calm. He’s jittery and he can’t sit still no matter how hard he tries, he impulsively checks his name on social media to see if people hate him yet, he stays up late just to do nothing, and doesn’t drink water until noon. It’s his self-deprecating habits that keep him from taking a minute off his day to meditate or some calming shit like that because all he knows is that once the movie comes out to the public, people are going to know his name. They’re going to take Jun apart, scrutinize his acting and if his character deserves rights or not. It’s up to the masses whether or not they want to tear him and his career apart through Twitter threads and Reddit discussions or actually like him.
Every time Jun racks his brain in an effort to recall what he could have possibly done wrong, he thinks of the possibilities of his expression being out of touch with the scene, the possibility that his acting wasn’t good enough despite his years and years of career on it, the possibility of the other candidate for his role having done so much better—
It’s gotten to the point that he ends up sobbing at 2:47 AM on the phone with Minghao where he feels nothing makes sense and everything just feels out of place and wrong . Minghao’s soft voice through the receiver is his only hope in calming down and true enough, when Minghao switches to talk to him in Mandarin, telling Jun that it was going to be okay, that Jun was doing great, and that he’d be there for Jun in a few minutes, Jun finds himself breathing out a sigh. When Jun opens the door, he allows himself to cry and be tucked in Minghao’s arms. And finally, Jun feels at least something was right.
Minghao had been in and out of Jun’s apartment, staying with Jun for the week of the movie premiere, making Jun swallow down each of the Yogi tea he brews, feeding him wanton noodles that taste like home. He gives Jun water first thing in the morning, tells Jun to set timers on his social media usage, fucks him to sleep, and lets Jun fuck him too when he feels up to it.
It was Jun’s big break, his first international film and though he’s naturally high strung and more prone to hate himself at the thought of somehow messing it up in a way, Minghao takes his mind off from it all.
Jun’s significantly less nervous with Minghao as a constant in his life again, where he had always been.
Instead of spacing out and losing his appetite from thinking about if he did his character well enough, Minghao brings him out of his daze and asks his roommate, Mingyu to bring them homemade meals. Jun meets Mingyu and finds out that him and Minghao have plans to open a museum together in the future and become world-class art connoisseurs.
They eat together and Jun likes Mingyu, thinks he’s cute in an overly tall and dorky kind of way. Mingyu promises to bring Wonwoo next time and have a double date with Minghao and Jun. Minghao rolls his eyes but Jun knows he likes the idea just from the way Minghao reaches to hold his hand, grazing Jun’s skin as delight dances in his eyes.
They were both just starting out the whole boyfriends thing but Jun’s heart wants to combust and explode into pieces at how good Minghao was at it. Minghao was so, so sweet to him that Jun thinks that yeah, I don’t deserve him.
He holds Minghao’s hand tighter.
Jun doesn’t know how to tell Minghao that he wants to spend the rest of his life with him when Minghao complains to him about how he’s going to go insane over arguing with some bitch on Twitter about how they didn’t have to know the stupid fucking color theory to be a good artist. Jun kisses him on the forehead and coos when Minghao threatens to eat Twitter user popdanthology69’s first born.
The actor’s heart spills all over his own apartment, in the little space he’s had Minghao all to himself as of late. It’s all over the place, everywhere, and Jun doesn’t know what to do because really, he’s never been this in love.
His heart, it spills and overflows, that Jun can’t help but let it fill the entire apartment with its warmth, its love.
Jun kisses Minghao when he pads into the kitchen, mouth minted fresh, swallowing down the quiet sound of surprise Minghao makes when Jun does it and wrap his arms around Minghao’s waist so tightly like he’s the one afraid of Minghao leaving. In the afternoon too, where the gold of sun is subdued, in the middle of watching an anime, Jun climbs into Minghao’s lap to kiss him again. They make out in the night too when they’re about to fall asleep on the same bed, when Minghao holds him to close to chest, heart thudding a rhythm for only Jun to hear.
“You’re getting obsessed with doing this to me, xīngān .”
Minghao whispers xīngān this time just because he knows Jun’s a sucker for it. He’s tested it once, after the art exhibition and watched the way the tip of Jun’s ears go red when Jun doesn’t bother denying the fact that he really, really likes it.
“You’re being sweet to me these days, I can’t help it.” Jun puffs out a breath as he shuffles closer to Minghao, his side of the bed practically empty from how he’s fitted himself into Minghao’s. “I even sleep better, thanks to you.”
Minghao narrows his eyes playfully, teasing when he laughs, “Jun, that’s because—“
“Shut up.” Jun cups both his hands over Minghao’s mouth effectively so, because Minghao doesn’t say anything and gives him a sly smile instead that has Jun’s eyes rolling.
Jun shifts his legs to tangle between Minghao’s thighs when he says. “Yanan’s coming over by the way.”
He tells Minghao because he’s told Minghao about the nature of their relationship beforehand, that one night they decided to talk about everything . (They talked about a lot of things that night, things like Jun’s thing with Yanan and his recently ended fling with Joshua, what dogs think about when they’re sad, how Minghao even got a crush on Jun when they were kids, their place in the universe, and why Voltron season 8 fucking sucked .)
“He’s dropping off some of his essential oils for stress, says I can borrow it until after the movie premiere’s done.”
“That’s dumb.” Minghao scoffs under his breath, circling an arm around Jun’s waist, thumbing Jun’s skin leisurely.
Jun sighs. “Don’t be mean , Hao. You said that you wanted to get to know him.”
“Yeah, get to know him, not open the door for him so he can drop off his essential oils .” Minghao grimaces when he utters ‘essential oils’ it like it’s the evilest, most despicable thing in the world. “It’s not even that essential.”
Jun raises a brow at the realization that, oh, so that‘s what this was about. He stifles a laugh, smug when he smiles against the shell of Minghao’s ear, “Jealous?”
“No, I just remember he threw oranges on you.” It was orange juice, technically but Jun doesn’t bother correcting him. Minghao feigns disinterest when he pointedly adds, “Ruined Jieqiong’s birthday party too.”
“Hao, you ruined Jieqiong’s birthday party, you’re the one that threw her cake.” Jun snorts.
“Yeah, I threw it for you.” Minghao placed it so bluntly that Jun couldn’t help but blush again. “And please, she’s a nightmare. She still makes me pay for her birthday cakes until now just to make up for it.”
“Oh.” Jun clears his throat. He hadn’t expected that, actually. But maybe he should have, considering Minghao and Jieqiong went to school together and lived in the same neighborhood— god, I’m an idiot . Moreso, Jun thinks when he stupidly asks. “You still... talk?”
“Mhm.” Minghao hums against the column of Jun’s neck when he dips his head to trail fluttering kisses beneath Jun’s jaw. It trails until it reaches the end of Jun’s jaw where Minghao moves to press a fleeting kiss to Jun’s ear. Minghao prods a tongue against the shell of Jun’s ear and Jun feels his blood rush south and north to his head where the intimately small action starts dizzying him. The moment Jun’s breath hitches however, Minghao stops completely just to return the question. “Jealous?”
Jun’s face falls and in an instant, he’s untangled himself from Minghao and the side of his bed is filled again. “I hate you.” Jun blurts out, burying himself inside his blanket, away from Minghao. “No seriously. I hate you, Hao, get off me!”
It takes almost an hour of Minghao’s— Jun, we’re just in the same class , and Jun’s, she’s your first kiss, don’t change the subject, Hao . An hour of Minghao hugging Jun from behind, apologizing heartily as Jun grumbles more and more of his complaints, going as far as to bring up, I get that I deserved it but you were way too mean to me whenever we were on set!
This time, it’s Minghao that apologizes even more. Minghao speaks in Mandarin for him, I’m sorry, xīngān, will you forgive me?
What can I do to make it up to you? Minghao had asked lowly, nipping the skin on the back of Jun’s neck. There isn’t any real answer to that, they both know but that doesn’t stop Minghao from eating Jun out until he’s shaking with Minghao’s tongue inside him, until he’s crying out, fuck fuck fuck, Minghao , and being rimmed to oversensitivity. It’s a start. Jun’s fucked out by the end of it, breathless when Minghao kisses him sweetly, slowly. If Jun ends up sucking him off, he blames Minghao for it.
It’s an unhurriedly gentle affair, the rest of it, when Jun hears Minghao smile and sedately falls asleep next to Minghao’s chest, next to his heart.
The premiere night comes faster than Jun expects it to. His heart hasn’t been given a reprieve as it blasts loudly in Jun’s ear from the moment he leaves his house. He gets his suit fitted on, his hair styled to the side, a few touch-ups, and a few briefing on the interview questions they’re most likely to ask. There’s a rundown on schedule, which cars come first, how long they have to keep busy socializing before actually entering the premiere, the security, and most importantly, the guest list.
Directors, sponsors, celebrities, the crew on set, and some from behind, producers, editors, and the like are all in cocktail dresses and suits, (the patterned one for some that felt the need to stand out). Jun’s opted for a much simple tailoring; a simple suit with a bowtie that Minghao had the audacity to laugh at when Jun showed it to him yesterday. He’d subject Minghao to the same outfit but when Minghao arrives at his side, maroon silk that dips his chest with a midnight black blazer that hangs from his shoulders and all, Jun forgets he’s even mad.
Sometimes, Jun thinks of Yongrui. Jun, you’re an actor. Sometimes, he thinks of everyone else in his life too. Jun, you can’t mess up when the world’s watching. Maybe it’s him, or the shit in LA that gives him the arrogance to ignore it all. The air here was different, it’s freeing and open and everything Jun had wanted to live in. It’s not paradise for sure, if traffic and smog and surprisingly, theft around the area proves it so but Jun’s come to love it. Maybe it’s the love he has for Minghao and the pain, the regret he had when he left him. Maybe it’s both. When the interviewer says that him and his boyfriend love watching Jun’s Chinese dramas, they turn to Jun’s boyfriend that simply answers that he loved it because he loved Jun a lot more.
They’re endlessly cooed at by some old people with lavish jewels hanging on their necks and Jun politely bows, a shy smile on his face when he thanks them. Minghao’s hand on him is an anchor when more and more people fill in the venue that it’s too much people. There’s stares and blatant whispers but it’s all small-time gossips about Jun and his new boyfriend apparently. Jun gets interviewed more with Minghao is right behind him, hand on Jun’s back to keep him steady.
Seokmin shrieks, hugs them both, kisses them on the cheek even— Minghao’s first then Jun’s. Jun wants to punch Joshua in the face when Joshua laughs and pulls his American accent with an incredibly loud, Congratulations my dude! Jeonghan of course, snorts and says Jun makes him want to be homophobic. They almost fight when Jun throws in the fact he’s fucking both Seungcheol and Joshua.
It feels like hours, the pleasantries of sucking up to particular people, like answering questions from a forty your old that yes, that’s my boyfriend, no you cannot have a piece of him, Angela, until they can finally take a seat inside the movie house. The thin lights are mellowed gold from the high ceiling and the first thing Jun thinks of is how cold it is, the gush of air conditioned chill running down his spine. It smells good at least, the rich and subtle clean aroma only opulence could afford, Jun thinks, when he’s seated on a cushioned red next to Minghao.
It’s all too pretentious, considering the fact that they’re just watching a movie but Jun relishes in it for a little while before promising to take Minghao to a normally domestic kind of theatre where they can both wear pajamas to and actually eat in.
Soon enough, the lights dim to vanish completely, enveloping the entire vicinity in a comfortingly dark ambience. The opening scene starts and Jun feels his eyes burn at how the movie rolls and the fact that he hasn’t even blinked. He rests his head on Minghao’s shoulder and intertwines his fingers with his.
Jun recognizes each scene number straight from the script, has every set design engraved in his mind’s eye, especially the most familiar ones. Jun moves closer to Minghao’s ear to excitedly whisper, “Hao, you painted that!”
Minghao gives him a smile in return, kissing Jun’s brow as it’s the closest to him. If Minghao thought that was the end of it, he was so wrong because scene after scene, Jun:
“Oh, isn’t that the set you designed too?”
“Minghao you painted— Oh wait you didn’t? Huh, that’s weird, I could’ve sworn it was you.”
“Yeah the acting’s great or whatever but it’s actually your marvelous placing of the lamp on the side of the scene that completes it, Hao.”
And finally, “Minghao, look—“
Minghao kisses him on the mouth, short and sweet, successfully interrupting him, the damp sound of it blocked out by the on screen action. It’s way too cold in the theatre but Jun feels himself flush, blood rushing to his cheeks as Minghao does so.
“Your scene’s coming up, xīngān .”
“Oh,” Jun laughs nervously, the shaky sound both from the cold and the dreading anticipation he has for his scene.
Here it comes, fuck .
Jun watches himself and buries his face in Minghao’s shoulder. “Oh god.”
Minghao’s hand comes up to stroke the side of Jun’s jaw. He lets out a soft laugh as Jun visibly cringes at his own voice reverberating throughout the entire vicinity. “Look Jun, it’s you.”
“I know!” Jun hisses, taking one glance at himself— big and plastered all over the screen that he groans silently, opting to look away. “Horrible.”
“Jun, you weirdo, it’s your night, I’ll break up with you if you don’t start looking.”
“You wouldn’t.” Jun looks up at him to glare and though that, yeah, Minghao wouldn’t (couldn’t, in fact) , the latter sternly hardens his gaze on Jun in a silent order for the actor to listen and actually see it all for himself. Jun tries to put up with it for a while until he gives out a defeated sigh, muttering, “Fine.”
So Jun watches. Jun watches until tears start brimming at the corner of his eyes. He watches until during the middle of it all when he realizes, I’m in Hollywood. I’m in my own movie premiere, I’m on the screen, and I’ve worked hard for it. I’ve spent my whole life for this moment. The angles shift from an ‘over-the-shoulder’ angle to an extreme close up and Jun’s... actually okay with it. Granted that he’s already monitored all of his scenes right after filming it, seeing it combined with the editing, the combination of angles, the low background music, the volume of his own voice, the sight of his own expressions, was just everything.
And then, Jun’s brought back to his child-like desire, the rush, and adrenaline of doing good, of being casted, the heart-pumping applause of the crowds when he’s awarded. It’s the raw origin of it all that drives Jun to relish in the spotlight he’s always been chasing for. Everything he has ever done was for this one moment.
Minghao intertwines their fingers again, with both his hands atop Jun’s and Jun feels like crying.
This was everything.
He was witnessing the price of his home, the price away from his mother, his summers in Haicheng, even his love for Minghao was a price he was never supposed to pay. But with him here, with Minghao carefully holding the heart Jun’s served for him on a silver platter, it’s even more than everything. It’s overflowing— Jun’s soul. It’s everywhere. He thought it’d have run out by now because he’s sure he’s left a remnant of him in Shenzhen, a piece in his Americanized apartment, more of it on the dream, his own passion that he’s watching on the big screen. He’s even offered the parts of it left to Minghao. But he was wrong. It could never run out because all of a sudden, right at that moment, it spills everywhere— it all comes back to him.
Shenzhen, Haicheng, Los Angeles, and Minghao— all of them, come back to him.
He doesn’t even have to ask Minghao for the tissues for his tears he can’t help but let flow. Minghao pads the cloth on his cheeks and guides Jun’s head back to his shoulder as the actor holds everything in just to contain his sniffling.
It feels like a blur and though Jun knows exactly what’s going to happen next, he reacts as if he’s never seen the script anyways. Soon enough, the credits are rolling and when Jun sees his name on the 13th spot, he feels breathless. That’s him.
The crowd applauds and the people around them turn to Jun and sing praises, rightfully so. Minghao watches with a fond smile when Jun bows profusely in different directions as a thank you, blush reaching up to his neck.
Minghao catches him smiling from ear to eat and looks at Jun expectantly. Jun clears his throat weakly. “I um, I actually look good?”
Minghao shakes his head, poking Jun’s cheek with affection. “Could’ve told you that myself.”
“Stop.” Jun pinches Minghao’s arm for it. Maybe because it all still felt like a dream. Maybe it was and Jun’s pinched himself too much times that he has to pinch Minghao too, just to be sure.
“Minghao?” Jun silently calls for him. Minghao turns his head to him and Jun sees the movie’s lights dancing across Minghao’s cheekbones, features lit by the screen Jun was just in. His eyes of almond in color, in shape, look at Jun with— “ love you, Hao .”
Jun watches him this time, watches the almond of Minghao’s eyes widen, mouth turned slightly agape by the sudden admission. Jun learns, that in movies, whether he’s watching them or acting them out, is that scenes are often fleshed out, dragged out, repeated in different angles as the music plays because it wants you to wait. It wants you to anticipate by grabbing it’s characters by the neck so they hesitate and eventually go through tragedies because of that singular hesitation that changed it all. Minghao is none of that. In a heartbeat, as fast as the sound of something that snaps, Minghao answers him. “Love you too, Jun.”
“I love you too, Jun.” Jeonghan nods in agreement, joining them from behind.
Minghao has the audacity to giggle as Jun snaps his neck to turn at Jeonghan when he hisses. “We were having a moment!”
He’s sure Jun can hear his heart causing chaos within itself but Minghao’s also sure that Jun’s was probably the same. Jeonghan shrugs and they all turn their attention to the movie with less fuss this time. It’s cliche but Minghao places an arm around Jun’s shoulder and leans back atop Jun’s head as they continue watching the credits roll.
Rounds of applause ensue and all Jun could think of, it’s done, it’s finally over. It’s bittersweet because though he‘s relieved that it didn’t turn out as bad as his mind envisioned it to be, though he’s glad that he no longer has to stay up memorizing every line and manifesting its supposed emotion, fleshing out every detail, Jun knows he’d miss it.
They’re both outside the theatre, where everyone else had gathered to chatter about the movie— from artful critiques on its graphics, cinematography, and musicality to ‘ Seokmin Lee’s so fucking sexy .’
The flow of congratulatory exchanges don’t end because Jun’s still overwhelmed with firm handshakes, pats on the back, side hugs, bone-crushing ones from Joshua, slaps on the back from Jeonghan for being too good of an actor, apparently, and the stolen kisses that Minghao gives him when the packed room turns away for a fleeting second.
Jun feels like he’s run a marathon from how tiring yet gratifying it all is.
“It’s...” Jun starts slowly. “Surprisingly better than I thought.”
“You joking?” Minghao says quietly, sincerely. “You were the best one there.”
Jun laughs, quietly, sincerely.
Again, he tells Minghao that he loves him, when they reach the emptiness of the car, when Jun straddles himself on Minghao’s lap. Tells him again against the corner of Minghao’s lips. And Minghao answers him each time. Answers Jun when they’ve reached their apartment and when Jun is in his arms again as Minghao lulls him to sleep with his hands threading through Jun’s hair.
As promised, Jun ironically takes him to see the movies the very next day. They really do come to the theatre in pajamas, holding hands and drinking root-beer with vanilla ice cream on top of it. Jun even buys a we bare bears stuffed toy from Miniso for the occasion. Minghao kisses him there too.
What Jun has always been afraid of, he relents. He doesn’t avoid the question but at the circulating photos of him and Minghao on cafe dates, with Minghao’s hand on his waist, or when they’re holding hands in the grocery store, Jun doesn’t deny he has a boyfriend.
6 years later.
Minghao finally opens up an art gallery with Mingyu, where they’re both art directors, with Chwe Vernon as their art curator.
Jun continues acting and has a whole movie that revolves just around his role, for the very first time. When the credits rise, Junhui Wen is the first name they see. They’re the talk in endless the galas that ensue. They go out of LA sometimes to visit Las Vegas but decidedly take a few pictures only to make a detour. To Canada. In Vancouver. Then back to their shared penthouse in LA. Their cat July gets a girlfriend, September, and Jun’s vibrating at the highest level frequency with excitement in adopting more cats to complete all the months in the year.
Minghao says no to that one.
Minghao buys ten other knitted cat dolls to make up for it. Five of them are named December and the other five is named November because Jun refuses to waste the other month names on non-sentient cats.
That year, they also go to places only loaded rich people go to and though they are rich, it’s fun pretending to be pretentious in unfamiliar countries. There’s just a certain delight they get off of pretending like they’re runaways. They watch musicals and plays all over Europe, drink every kind of alcohol there is in Korea, and dine in the most expensive hotels in Dubai. They visit a lot of hotels— Castell de Santa Florentina, Iniala beach house, Costa Rica Villa Manzu, from Barcelona to Thailand, eat and sleep and fuck in each one of them. They bring along their suits sometimes, when they feel extra pompous that trip just to visit wine shops and drink in them. They’ve done almost everything, really— joining the mile high club, parachuting, paragliding, attending pride parades from almost every part of the world, and sleeping in hammocks. (Minghao ends up getting annoyed midway at the lack of pillows and drags Jun to their 980-dollars-a-night hotel suite.)
Everything’s good. They wear each other’s clothes, they miss their flights and stay longer in the islands that keep them, Minghao wears gold watches that match sunset, Jun fucks him sometimes, it’s a beautiful mess of different luxuries that they never tire of.
They visit Anshan, Haicheng that year too.
It makes sense, really, how they spend their summers all around the world and back to Haicheng. Jun hears the white noise of the city and falls in love again.
What Jun has always been afraid of, he relents. He loves instead and though it's much harder, it's worth it because he can finally say that he's happy. Their trips, their cats named after the months in the year, the matching gold on their fingers, their passion, their drive and dreams set in the summered state of Los Angeles feel like the best movie Jun has ever starred in. The novelty and the rose tinted view of their home in LA goes on and off sometimes but Jun wouldn’t have it any other way.
Jun stars in the latest movies that end up being hits. Naturally, the public shifts their attention shifted to him and he gets more questions than usual. In interviews, Jun’s always asked about the current state of his love life as the nation’s heartthrob. When he goes outside to take out the trash, the next door lady comes out to ask Jun why he and Minghao live together. Even the cashier in the grocery store nearby asks Jun why he didn’t bring Minghao along this time as they scanned the bottles of wine Jun had checked out. And so, when Minghao posts videos of Jun in a loose polo drinking wine against the glass wall overlooking Hollywood, gold glistening in his fourth finger when he swirls the tall glass while Minghao paints in their makeshift studio, a photo of Jun smiling at him, with the kind of fondness in his eyes that only glistens around Minghao, Jun doesn’t deny he’s engaged.