“Okay, Kun, can you tell me what falling in love with Johnny was like for you?”
“I first fell in love with Johnny for his smile. I saw him standing at the entrance of the restaurant we’d been forced to meet in and we locked eyes and—well, his smile lit up the room. I wanted him from the moment I met him.”
“Like fate, yeah.”
SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
Index No.: 9546
ACTION FOR DIVORCE
JOHN J. SUH.
Plaintiff herein/by, KUN QIAN-SUH, complaining of the Defendant, alleges that the parties are over the age of 18 years and;
[ X ] The Plaintiff has resided in Illinois State for a continuous period in excess of two years immediately preceding the commencement of this action.
The Plaintiff and the Defendant were married on JANUARY 27, 2010 in (city, town or village; and state or country) COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS.
[ X ] The marriage was not performed by a clergyman, minister or by a leader of the Society for Ethical Culture.
(If the word “not” is deleted above check the appropriate box below).
[ ] To the best of my knowledge I have taken all steps solely within my power to remove any barrier to the Defendant’s remarriage. OR
[ ] I will take prior to the entry of final judgment all steps solely within my power to the best of my knowledge to remove any barrier to the Defendant’s remarriage. OR
[ ] The Defendant has waived in writing the requirements of DRL §253 (Barriers to Remarriage).
[ ] There are no children of the marriage. OR
[ ]There is (are) ___1___ child(ren) of the marriage, namely:
Name Date of Birth Address
JISUNG QIAN-SUH JUNE 2, 2010 2519 NEO PEARL DRIVE, GLENWOOD, CHICAGO
The Plaintiff resides at 2519 NEO PEARL DRIVE, GLENWOOD, CHICAGO.
The Defendant resides at 13 OAK BRIDGE APARTMENT, NORTHFIELD, CHICAGO.
FIFTH: The grounds for divorce that are alleged as follows:
[ X ] Irretrievable Breakdown in Relationship for at Least Six Months (DRL §170(7)): That the relationship between Plaintiff and Defendant has broken down irretrievably for a period of at least six months
There is no judgment in any court for a divorce and no other matrimonial action between the parties pending in this court or in any other court of competent jurisdiction.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff demands judgment against the Defendant as follows:
A judgment dissolving the marriage between the parties and joint custody of JISUNG QIAN-SUH.
[ ] equitable distribution of marital property; OR
[ ] marital property to be distributed pursuant to annexed separation agreement / stipulation; OR
[ X ] I waive equitable distribution of marital property; any other relief the court deems fitting and proper.
[ ] Plaintiff
[ ] Attorney(s) for Plaintiff Address:
STATE OF ILLINOIS, COOK COUNTY ss:
I KUN QIAN-SUH, am the Plaintiff in the within action for a divorce. I have read the foregoing complaint and know the contents thereof. The contents are true to my own knowledge except as to matters therein stated to be alleged upon information and belief, and as to those matters I believe them to be true.
Subscribed and Sworn to before me on ________________
_____________ Plaintiff’s Signature
Kun sits hunched over the dining table with his forehead propped up by his hand. His glasses slip down the bridge of his nose as his eyes become unfocused, the crisp white paper and the typed-out words and Times New Roman font blurring in and out of view.
He doesn’t expect the divorce papers to throw him as much as they do. He’s the one filing for it, his name written out in bold lettering under the words “Plaintiff”. He’d known when he spoke to his lawyer that they were on the way to him, ready to be served to Johnny at Kun’s own time.
And yet staring at the actual words is throwing him for a loop. This is a reality that he’d never, not once, imagined when he’d said his vows ten years ago.
Kun rests his hand next to the envelope. His wedding ring glints dully in the white light overhead.
Kun is startled out of his reverie and sits up straighter as Jisung patters into the kitchen in a shirt that’s too stretched out for him and pajama bottoms that have started to get too short, falling just shy over his ankles. He really got his father’s genes, Kun thinks, and he’s only nine years old.
“Hey, kiddo,” Kun says, wiping his face surreptitiously and hastily folding up the papers, stuffing them into the manila envelope they’d come in. “What’re you doing up so late?”
“Ten p.m. isn’t late,” Jisung says, walking over to the refrigerator and pulling it open. “And I’m hungry. Do we still have cookies?”
“We’ve got like, Chips Ahoy I think,” Kun says, pulling his glasses off and rubbing his eyes, too tired to argue that a growing kid like him should be sleeping unless he wants to stunt his growth.
“Cool,” Jisung says. “Want some?”
Kun stretches his neck left and right, and sighs.
“Yeah, sure, why not?” Kun replies, and sees Jisung nod once before pulling out two mugs from the dishwasher that they use as a glorified drying rack.
“What’re you doing down here anyway, Baba?” Jisung asks, setting down the carton of milk and the cookies on the table before pulling a seat out next to Kun.
“Just checking the mail,” Kun says. He hopes his inquisitive son doesn’t pry too much, but Jisung has always sort of pushed his boundaries and has always been so much more perceptive than a kid should be.
Jisung chews on his cookie thoughtfully and then says, “Was it about Appa?”
“Something like that,” Kun deflects. He’s always done his best to give Jisung the truths that he felt their son could handle, but what’s coming is so much bigger than anything Kun is equipped to explain, though there’s really no beating around the bush here, not when Jisung’s future with him is so uncertain.
Not for the first time, Kun inwardly curses his soon-to-be ex-husband for putting them through this, but the last five years really have been too much for both of them. The last thing they need is to keep letting it seep into how Jisung is growing up.
“Is he gonna stay at the apartment?” Jisung asks, taking a sip from his mug. “Are those divorce papers?” Jisung nods toward the envelope under Kun’s hand.
Kun is taken aback by his son’s words. His kid is growing up too fast.
“When did you get this quick, huh?” Kun asks, smiling a bit despite the hollowness he feels in his chest.
Jisung shrugs. “Baba, half the kids in my class bounce between parents every other holiday, and I see Appa every other week. So it’s sure then?”
Kun bites the inside of his cheek.
“Don’t want you thinking about that kinda stuff yet, kiddo,” Kun says. “Let’s save that for a different day, yeah?”
Jisung just looks up at Kun, and the expression reminds Kun so much of Johnny’s that it makes his heart clench all over again.
Jisung sighs, like Kun is being the insufferable one. “Okay, Baba,” Jisung says before nudging Kun’s mug closer to him. “Come on, you haven’t even touched your milk.”
Kun smiles and acquiesces, taking a sip and pulling out a cookie from the opened bag in front of them.
The day Johnny moves out of the house happens on the heels of Kun getting his promotion at Welter and Cochrane, a promotion he had been working towards for nearly two years.
It blindsides Kun, of course, because he’d come home with his Airpods in and Jungwoo screaming his congratulations at Kun over the phone, and Kun had fully expected to be able to come home to his husband and kid and take them out for a nice dinner to celebrate.
That isn't what happens.
What happens instead is that Kun steps in through the front door, and Johnny is there behind it with his coat on, one suitcase in one hand, and a key in the other, removed from the Chicago keyring that he’d attached it to when he and Kun had first moved into their bungalow, nearly eleven years ago.
(When Kun looks back on this moment later on, he kicks himself for not getting the clue sooner. He spends a lot of time doing that.)
Kun halts in the doorway, telling Jungwoo that he’ll message him later, eyes fixed on Johnny who looks at Kun stone-faced.
“Baby?” Kun says, the pet-name sounding foreign in his mouth. He hasn’t used it in a while. They haven’t spoken much, really, in a while. He approaches Johnny like Johnny is a spooked animal, setting his briefcase down on the wooden foyer slowly and slipping his phone into his pocket. “Where are you going?”
“Away from here,” Johnny replies, voice flat. “I’m done, Kun.”
It feels like a wave of ice-cold water is doused over Kun’s head, as well as a wave of irritation.
“You’re leaving? Baby, don’t leave, we have something to celebrate! I got the promotion!” Kun says, trying to brighten his voice.
Johnny purses his lips, sucks on his teeth, and scoffs. “I’m telling you I’m leaving you, and your fucking job is still the thing you want to bring up,” Johnny says, rolling his eyes and sneering. “Typical.”
Kun frowns, frustrated that Johnny’s decided to pull a tantrum on what’s supposed to be a good day for the entire family. Leaving him? Is he serious?
“Johnny, what’s going on?” Kun starts, walking over to his husband to try to gentle the suitcase away from Johnny’s hand, but Johnny brushes him off, pulling back like he’s been burned.
“Jisung is over at the Lees,” Johnny says stiffly. “I made packed meals for him, they’re all in the freezer and should last about a week. You’re on your own for your cooking. I already paid off the bills, and I’ve taken my share of money from the joint bank account. I’m going.”
“What do you mean, ‘you’re going’? Where are you going? You’re really leaving me? You’re leaving your son?” Kun asks, trying not to raise his voice, trying to quell the panic that is only just starting to rise inside of him. This isn't the first time that Johnny’s decided to head out, but those were short, just weekends back to the Northbrook house with Kun’s in-laws.
Johnny’s never mentioned their joint account before.
“Kun,” Johnny says, voice still cold, eyes even colder. “Let me go.”
“Johnny,” Kun starts, and the desperation in his voice begins to show. This is bad. This is worse than the other fights. Kun feels it in his hands, in his gut, feels the worry begin to crest. “Baby, no, hold on, let’s talk this over. I’ll go make us something nice and we can break open the Glenfiddich and we can talk this over--”
“There’s no more talking, Kun, I’m tired, and I’m going,” Johnny says, pulling his suitcase back from Kun’s grip.
Kun tries to hold on to the suitcase more, fear starting to creep into his lungs as he looks up at his husband’s face. He tugs on it, and it throws Johnny off balance, making him stumble a bit before he straightens up, taking hold of the handle again and stalking over to the front door.
“Johnny--” Kun tries to block the door with his body, and Johnny’s eyes burn in a way Kun has never seen before.
“Kun!” Johnny says, and he’s raised his voice, making Kun flinch. “Kun, I have been trying to talk to you for years now. I have been trying to tell you how unhappy I have been and you’ve never, ever listened to me, so I’m through. The time for talking is done, I’m done, this is over. Now let me go.”
It shocks Kun so much, the way this Johnny looks at him, with barely restrained anger and disgust. The sound of metal on wood echoes in the foyer where Johnny’s slapped the key to their house down on the table by the door, right in front of the oval mirror. The framed photos of their wedding day, Jisung’s birthdays, their trips around the country and abroad all rattle from the force of it.
Johnny takes one last look at Kun, wrenches the door open, and gets into his car--the one Johnny had insisted he pay for all on his own. It all happens quickly: Johnny shoving his suitcase into the trunk, Johnny walking over to the driver’s seat, Johnny pulling out of their driveway, Johnny leaving. Leaving. Leaving.
It’s only when Kun closes the door and the glint of the key on the dark stained wood catches his eye, that he sees Johnny’s wedding ring lying next to it, cold to his touch when he cradles it in his hand.
Kun falls in love with Johnny when he is twenty and Johnny is twenty-one.
They meet for the first time on a blind date set-up by Sicheng and Jaehyun, their meddling best friends, at a time when neither of them were really looking for anything, only to find that he and Johnny? A perfect match.
He remembers the way Johnny had looked when he’d walked into the restaurant, dressed in sinfully tight black jeans and a light floral button-down, looking around and towering over everyone, including the maitre d’, until he found Kun raising his hand. Kun had hoped that his trembling wasn’t visible from where Johnny had been standing.
Johnny is tall, charming, and so stupidly handsome that he nearly trips when he rises hastily to greet him, leaning up on tiptoes to kiss the air beside Johnny’s cheek.
“Hi, Kun,” Johnny says, his eyes bright, like there are promises and secrets there that Kun can uncover if he shovels in and digs deep enough.
“Hello, Johnny,” Kun says back, unable to contain his smile or the jittery tick of his shaking leg.
Johnny makes Kun laugh so much harder than he had expected or prepared for. After the introductions are pushed out of the way, they choose what to order from the menus, and get to talking about their jobs, about Jaehyun and Sicheng, about where they went to university, and their families, and their hobbies.
It’s only after Kun sees the couple at the table next to them leave, and get replaced by a family of four, that Kun frowns and asks Johnny why the fuck it’s taking their food so long to get to them, and so Kun raises his hand and calls the waiter over, only for them to be informed that they hadn’t, in fact, ordered yet.
Johnny laughs this hearty, heavy thing, and Kun’s face burns from how gorgeous it makes Johnny look, as well as the embarrassment that they’ve been sitting there for nearly an hour without ordering because they’d been so enthralled by their conversation.
They order too much food, and close out the restaurant, the small little Spanish place warm and cozy with its yellow lights and its exposed red brick walls. Kun listens and hoards the information Johnny gives him like a dragon hiding its treasure. Johnny’s favourite food, favourite color, his least-liked day of the week, everything.
The bill is split evenly, the remainder of their food put in takeaway boxes for them to bring home, but in between placing their credit cards into the little tray for their payment, and Johnny looking up at Kun while he pushes some hair away from his face, Kun blurts out, “Come home with me tonight,” and Johnny blinks once, twice, and then says, “Okay.”
Kun gives Johnny his address, and Johnny follows him back home, Kun in his sensible little Kia Picanto and Johnny in his shitty old Honda. It takes them twenty minutes to get to Kun’s place, and there’s a little bit of awkwardness when Johnny follows Kun up the steps from the garage of the apartment complex, but it dissipates when Kun locks the door behind them, and Johnny’s stepping closer, closer, until Kun’s back hits the door.
The moment Johnny’s lips touch Kun’s, he knows he’s a goner. That first kiss has Kun closing his eyes and imagining marriage, kids, a nice bungalow for them to live in. That first kiss shakes Kun to the core, changes him in a way that he won’t ever appreciate until it’s far, far too late. The slide of Johnny’s cherry lips on that first night seals their fate together, and as Kun loses himself in it, he thinks, “I never want to be without this again.”
The first month without Johnny is the hardest.
Kun spends hours for a week trying to send messages that go unanswered, trying to make calls that go straight to voicemail. He’s lashed out in them, as ashamed as he is to admit that. He’s tried remorseful, he’s tried blind anger, he’s tried absolute shambles, but it’s impossible to get any sort of word from his husband.
When he calls his in-laws, Eomeo-nim just tells him placatingly that Johnny isn't with them. She tries to mediate but sounds helpless when she does.
“How is Jisungie?” she asks, which makes Kun feel equal parts touched and resentful, as if he isn’t capable of taking care of his son.
But in Kun’s silences, in the few moments of quiet that he has to himself, he finds that he’s almost always on the brink of tears.
His mornings start out much earlier than they used to, because Johnny always used to be the one to help Jisung get ready for school. Johnny had been the one who would set his alarm for five in the morning to prepare breakfast for all of them, the one who would wrestle their son into the shower because he’d always wanted just a few more minutes of sleep, the one to have him squeaky clean and smelling nice by the time Kun had to wake up for work.
It’s hell trying to manage getting Jisung ready, getting him to school, and getting to work on time, worrying about the Park account now that he’s been made the project head for it, and making sure that Jisung isn’t left alone and waiting for hours after school lets out.
Jisung fights him, that first week.
He throws a tantrum when Kun burns the pancakes, telling him that his appa taught him how to make them, and insists on trying to get onto the stool to cook it himself. It punches Kun in the gut to know that there is an entire world that Jisung and Johnny shared that he isn’t privy to.
Jisung lashes out in the car when Kun picks him up thirty minutes later than Kun had said he would.
“appa is never late,” Jisung says, his arms crossed over his seatbelt, looking out the window. Kun watches him from the rearview mirror and clenches his jaw.
When Kun tries to get his son to do his homework, Jisung just sits there in front of his math sets, and demands for his appa.
Kun holds him while Jisung pushes him away, takes the beating from his fists on Kun’s back when Kun hauls Jisung’s arms over his shoulders, and holds him, something that he realizes he hasn’t done in far, far too long.
“It’s you and me, Baobei,” Kun had whispered into his son’s hair. “I’m sorry I’m not appa, but it’s you and me now.”
“When will he come back?” Jisung asked dejectedly, his voice so small, Kun felt like his boy was a toddler again.
“I don’t know yet, baby,” Kun had replied, pulling away to look Jisung in the eye.
They’d come to a truce that day. Jisung had held off on the tantrums, was better about listening to him, but it had resulted in Jisung getting much quieter.
Kun kind of wished that Jisung would go back to the kicking and screaming, but as the weeks wore on, as he figured out how to handle the late nights at the office, paying off Mark Lee to babysit Jisung when he had meetings that dragged on, Kun found a rhythm.
And a newfound respect for the husband who’d walked out on them.
Kun plans his proposal from the start of the day all the way up until the point where he’s supposed to pull the ring out. It takes him three weeks to arrange for the catering, to find the perfect rooftop to set everything up, to determine what day in the coming month promises no rain.
Jaehyun makes fun of him, and Taeyong helps him choose the menu for it. It takes three different evenings where Kun tells Johnny he has to work late at the new firm he’s starting out in for him to sneak away and meet Taeyong to taste-test the entree and the dessert. Taeyong says, “God, if this is how you are for the proposal, who knows what you’ll be like for the wedding itself,” which of course makes Kun panic a little bit more, until Taeyong helpfully reminds him that he will have Johnny to handle half the load when the time comes.
Kun has had the engagement ring for months at this point, something that he’d prepared when he’d last gone home to Fujian to see his parents on an emotional trip that had Kun sobbing into his mother’s shoulder after she’d offered his late grandfather’s garnet ring for him to use. His father, someone who had not spoken to him in years, had begrudgingly clapped him on the shoulder and squeezed tight.
“You are a good man, son,” his father had said. “I hope he is a good man, too.”
Kun had flown back home, tired and wrung out and elated, the engagement ring safe inside his leather backpack (to be resized later, in secret) when Johnny had picked him up at O’Hare, and he’d told Johnny everything that had happened, save for Kun’s plans to ask him.
He’s a little jittery, nervous about pulling the surprise off, nervous about the possibility that the catering or the weather or the waiter or something will go wrong, and more importantly, nervous about the off-chance that Johnny will say no.
He shouldn’t be this worried about that last bit, though. They’ve talked about marriage enough for Kun to know that it’s something Johnny wants, too. Eary, very early on, Johnny had told him that he’d envisioned himself getting married by twenty-five.
He had the whole thing planned out: find a man or a woman to marry, get a nice bungalow, maybe have a kid or two. Neither of them have siblings, and they’d both shared stories about what it was like growing up without one. All the pressure. All the loneliness. All the having to take the brunt of their parents’ anger because there wasn’t anyone else that could deflect it.
It makes sense for Johnny to want more than one, and over time, Kun has started imagining it, too. All of it. The wedding, the house, the kids, plural.
Kun is sure about Johnny now. He’s generally been decisive for most of his life, certainly more than his go-with-the-flow boyfriend, but on this matter, Kun had had to warm to it.
It’s a good thing that Johnny is like the sun.
[Johnny: 6:47 p.m.]
> Hey baby, I’m nearby
> Where am I supposed to meet you?
Kun paces around the rooftop, one last sweep with his eyes. There’s a massive white tent set up, with fairy lights strung around and overhead, above the table that sits in the middle of it. Catering is warming their food in stainless steel containers with little burners under them on a table set up behind the tent where the fairy lights don’t reach. He’d chosen this rooftop for the view of Millenium Park, Cloudgate visible and illuminated in the park from where he stands.
[Me: 6:48 p.m.]
> Hi darling, I’ll meet you at the lobby :)
[Johnny 6:48 p.m.]
> Okay! See you soon [kissie]
The ring is safe in his pocket. Nothing fancy like putting it in the dessert or in the wine or anything. That’s never made sense to either of them, and they’ve watched enough rom-coms and heard enough horror stories about people accidentally swallowing the ring for that to be in either of their dream proposals.
There are no family or friends here, just the two of them and the soft breeze and food that Taeyong had sworn was just as good, if not better, than Babbo NYC’s tasting menu.
He’d pulled out his best suit for this and had told Johnny to dress accordingly. He’s pretty sure that Johnny’s got some idea of what’s meant to happen tonight, but if he has, he hasn’t let on. He’d told Johnny that there was a new restaurant that had opened in this building, really low-key, still on its soft-opening. They’re no strangers to trying out pretentious little holes in the wall, but those don’t usually call for black-tie.
“I’ll go fetch my boyfriend from downstairs,” Kun tells Alejandra, one of the two servers that he’s got for the evening. She’s a nice, lovely woman, curvy in all the right places with a bright smile and even brighter eyes.
“Your fiance, you mean?” she replies, laughing lightly.
“Don’t jinx it!” Kun smiles, pushing his coiffed hair out of the way.
“Sure, sir, we’ll be ready to receive him,” Alejandra says, instructing her colleague to plate the appetizer, the mozzarella di bufala with pumpkin seed pesto and spaghetti squash meant to sit on a white porcelain dish. Kun had even chosen the plates, unwilling to leave any stone unturned. Taeyong was right. He’s gonna be a menace at his own wedding—assuming, of course, that Johnny says yes to having one
His hands have gone cold, but he walks over to the door that leads to the stairwell and makes his way down quickly to the topmost floor with elevator access. They’re not too high up, just fifteen stories, overlooking the city that Johnny loves the most.
Kun catches his reflection in the elevator doors, stares at himself to readjust the knot of his dark-blue tie, smoothing down the jacket and his sleeves, worrying at the creases in his pants before the bell dings and he steps out into the lobby that has just a handful of people milling about. This is a residential apartment with a lobby that doesn’t seem quite sure if it wants to be sophisticated or shabby chic, but it’s filled with a warm yellow light that emanates from the high ceilings, and when Kun looks to the front door, Johnny steps in, like a scene from a movie.
Kun has to will himself to breathe. He’s had four years to marvel at Johnny’s handsome face, at the fact that he towers over most of the people he passes by, but the time that has passed has only served to heighten everything that Kun had come to love so very quickly.
People part before him as he makes his way toward the man he hopes to call fiance before the night is through, and he strides forward, his leather loafers click-clacking on the marble floor. Johnny watches him make his approach, a sly little smile break out across his face, plump lips stretching out before Johnny bites his lower one. This is Kun’s favorite tell, the thing that gives Johnny away whenever he’s thinking raunchy thoughts about Kun.
“Hello, handsome,” Johnny says, before leaning in and brushing his lips against Kun’s. “Where’s this super-secret restaurant you’re taking me to?” He asks like there’s a conspiracy going on here.
“Just follow my lead, baby,” Kun replies, holding his arm out for Johnny to take, hamming it up for his cheesy boyfriend, adding a little bow and everything.
The elevator ride is tense only because Kun is tense, and Johnny, ever attuned to him, presses a kiss onto Kun’s temple where Kun is sure there’s sweat starting to bead there, but he doesn’t ask if anything’s wrong.
They make their way up the stairwell, and Johnny remarks, “You’re not gonna murder me on the rooftop, are you? I’m in my Armani and getting blood on it would be a shame.” Kun nearly considers kicking him down the stairs for the shitty joke, but Johnny’s laugh floats up as he pushes on the door and opens it to night air.
“Holy fuck,” Johnny says, stuttering to a half when he takes in the spread. “Well, I can see why this restaurant’s exclusive.”
Kun bites the inside of his cheek, and spreads his arms out, a feeble, “Surprise?” escaping his lips now that his heart’s hammering against his ribcage, less from the climb up the stairs and more from the nerves now that Johnny’s here for real.
He and Johnny have shared many, many meals together in the time they’ve been committed to each other, and every big and small moment has had a sense memory attached to it. He still remembers how the chocolate mousse had tasted on their first date; the smell of the burnt cheese that had stayed in Johnny’s apartment for days after he’d tried to make saganaki for Mediterreanan night because he’d been planning on asking Kun to officially be his boyfriend. He remembers the saltiness of the instant ramen that they’d eaten for dinner the day Johnny had lost his job because the studio he worked for had tanked and Johnny couldn’t muster up an appetite.
Tonight will be one of the best meals they’ll share together, if things go right.
Under the glow of the strung-up fairy lights, Johnny’s eyes look even more amber, and the gaze he fixes on Kun is soft and open. His hair’s getting longer, but he’s styled it out of his face, the way he knows Kun likes. Johnny’s got diamonds in his ears, and the pretty silver dangly one Kun had gotten him when they’d flown in to Korea for Christmas last year.
He’s in his black Armani suit that he’d gotten a few years back, a surge he’d allowed for himself when he’d settled long-term in his photography job at ROGUE Magazine. It’s fantastic how trim Johnny’s managed to keep his figure since they first met. God, he’s gorgeous.
“What’s all this about, darling?” Johnny asks, narrowing his eyes as he twirls the truffle pasta in his fork.
“Am I not allowed to treat my boyfriend to nice things once in a while?” Kun asks lightly. He looks away from Johnny’s astute stare to cut up a mushroom on his plate and pop it into his mouth, the savory thickness of its juice coating his tongue and mixing with the cream sauce.
“Mhmm,” Johnny replies, and gets back to his meal. “All right, deflect from my question. Did you hear about Jaehyun and Sicheng?”
“No, oh God, what happened?” Kun asks worriedly, suddenly guilty that he hasn’t kept tabs on his friends in his scramble to put this engagement dinner together.
“Oh, no, calm down baby,” Johnny laughs. “So you know how they have Lulu, right? And she was such a handful to potty train her at the start?”
“Yeah, God remember when she peed on me that first time—“
“You deserved that one,” Johnny interjects. “You can’t call a pug ugly and not expect her to pee on you.”
Kun scoffs, feigning shock even though he’s well aware that he did, in fact, deserve to get peed on by his best friend’s dog.
“Well, anyway, they decided that they wanted to give Lulu a companion,” Johnny says, dabbing his lips with the red napkin and continuing his story. “And got a fucking shih tzu, which would have been fine if it wasn’t for the fact that Tobi—that’s what they named him, don’t ask me why—is even worse than Lulu is, and is so territorial about everything that he’s peed on their couch, on all of Jaehyun’s shoes, and on one of Sicheng’s huge watercolour pieces that he’d left on the low table to dry. He was livid. Jaehyun had to sleep in the guest house with Tobi last night.”
Kun’s laugh is punched out of him because there honestly is never a time when dumb shit like this doesn’t happen to their friends, who are a lot of the reason why Kun is as enamoured with this city as Johnny is.
After the next course is served, the fancy little rose pink porcelain sitting with cheeses that Kun can’t even begin to pronounce, Kun clears his throat, stands up, and pulls the little red velvet pouch from his jacket’s pocket. Johnny tracks his movement with his eyes, the shocked mirth already dancing in his scotch-colored irises.
Kun gets on one knee, and holds the ring out.
“Johnny Suh,” Kun starts. “You walked into my life in the most unexpected of times, when I hadn’t even decided that I was looking for someone to be with. But you waltzed in with your big shoes and your big heart and your—well, big everything,” Kun cuts off, laughing to hide how shaky his voice is.
“And you swept me off my feet. I think I loved you before I even knew what the word meant to me.” Kun pauses and takes a breath. “Before I even knew what you would come to mean to me. You’ve changed my life, Johnny. Now I’d like to keep you in it, if you’ll have me. Will you marry me?”
A myriad of emotions flash over Johnny’s face before settling on Kun’s favourite, the one that Johnny had hit him with the morning after their first date, the one that Johnny throws his way when Kun leans in to dig his thumbs into Johnny’s shoulder blades after a long day. The one that tells Kun he’s grateful, that he’ll do anything Kun asks.
“Yes, baby, I will marry you,” Johnny says, moving off his seat to cup Kun’s face in his hands and kiss him. Kun feels something inside of him unravel like a corset coming loose, like he can breathe again for the first time in weeks, because Johnny kisses like a tide coming to shore, and his tongue brushes against Kun’s over and over as he mutters, “Yes, yes, yes,” in between every crash of their lips.
Kun slips his grandfather’s ring on Johnny’s fourth finger, and like fate would have it, it fits.
They finish all the food Kun had prepared, and the tiramisu that ties everything together makes Johnny moan out obscenely. He makes a show of running his left hand over the column of his neck, the polished gold and garnet glinting in the fairy lights. Johnny smacks his lips and smiles at Kun blindingly.
“I’m engaged!” Johnny yells, loud enough for his voice to carry out over the edge of the building. He stands up, his arms out, and runs to the ledge. “I’m engaged, Chicago!” Kun covers his face with his napkin, stifling his laughter as his fiance—fiance—shouts his joy from the literal rooftops. Kun wonders if the people taking photos around the Bean can hear Johnny, if some video will surface of some random guy screaming from somewhere that he’s engaged will make it to local Twitter.
“I’m gonna make you the happiest man alive, baby, just you wait,” Johnny says, pulling Kun up by the wrist and bringing him in close like they’re about to waltz on the concrete floor.
“You already do, darling,” Kun replies. “Why do you think I put a ring on it?”
Johnny’s laugh is big, bigger than this city, bigger than life itself. Kun loses himself in the coffee-cream kiss and lets himself be lifted.
Later, at home in their little apartment, after they’ve made love and Johnny’s cleaned them up, Kun bundles himself up in their massive grey comforter, pulling on his boxer briefs and Johnny’s old Cornell shirt, and watches Johnny pull something out from his drawer.
Their room is bathed in the soft orange light from the old lamp Johnny had brought in from his place, and Kun sits up in bed, while Johnny gets down on one knee, clad in his stupid overpriced sweats and his hoodie on.
Kun fixes his gaze on the thin silver band, a sliver of blue cutting through the circle, resting in a bed of black velvet.
Johnny is glowing, his eyes wide and bright and hopeful. His hair is pushed back with a headband, the ends sticking out every which way. There’s a pimple on his chin now that his foundation is off.
He’s never looked more beautiful to Kun than in this moment.
“Darling,” Johnny says. “I wanted to make a big affair out of this, but as I was washing my face and getting ready to hold you tonight, I figured that I didn’t want you to wake up tomorrow without a ring to match mine.”
Johnny takes his hand, and presses a feather-light kiss on Kun’s knuckles.
“I want you, I want this life with you, every day, for however long you’ll have me,” Johnny continues. “I’ll fight with you and fight for you and love you and choose you from sunrise to sunrise, if that’s what you want with me too. Will you marry me?”
Kun nods and nods and says, “Yes, of course, you beautiful brute,” and pulls Johnny in for a kiss, his entire body soft like taffy after Johnny had spent what felt like hours bending him in half. Kun’s ass is sore, his lower back even more so, but Kun laughs into Johnny’s kiss and he chases Johnny’s lips when Johnny pulls back to slip the ring onto his fourth finger.
They kiss until both slip under, sleep claiming them as he drapes his arm over the gentle curve of Johnny’s waist, pressing his chest to Johnny’s back, their rings catching in the dark while their hands remain intertwined.
It takes a week for Johnny to finally take Kun’s calls.
Kun hadn’t expected Johnny to answer. He’d just tried his luck, to see if maybe tonight, maybe tonight, Johnny would answer.
Kun is in bed on a Friday night, the clock reading 11:19 p.m. His neck is killing him, stiff from having slept wrong for days now, and the pain shoots down to his back from having been slouched over the iMac in the office all day. The Park account is gruelling and the biggest client they have at the moment.
Kun is on the brink of falling apart, and he’s too exhausted, too wrung out, too angry to really be bothered with taking care of himself.
He leave the phone next to him on loudspeaker, listening to the ring-ring, ring-ring, ring-ring, until—
“Hello,” Johnny says.
Kun sits up in bed, scrambles to get the phone, mumbles a, “Johnny? Hold--hold on, hold a--” while he tries to take it off loudspeaker. He’s been running lines in his head all week, trying to figure out what to say. Trying to decide if he’s not above grovelling.
“Johnny?” Kun says, finally bringing the phone to his ear. “Hi. I’m sorry—I didn’t expect you to answer.”
There’s a sigh on the other line.
“Why’d you call, Kun?”
Johnny’s voice is soft and flat. Nothing of the vibrance with which Johnny used to speak to him seems to remain. Kun has to quell his annoyance, pissed off at the fact that Johnny taking his call seems to be such a massive burden for him, considering that he is the one who walked out on them.
“I haven’t heard from you in over a week,” Kun says. “I tried your parents, but they won’t give me anything. Excuse me for being worried about my husband and the father of our child.”
It’s bad. It’s the wrong thing to say.
“Rich that you care about me all of a sudden now that I’m not around,” Johnny replies. He doesn’t raise his voice at all, but Kun recoils from his words nonetheless. “How is Jisung?”
“I—We’re going to go back to that later, but Jisung is fine,” Kun says, clenching his jaw. “He misses his appa, but he’s fine.”
There’s a sniffle on the end of the line. “Good. Please tell him I miss him and that appa loves him.”
“How can you expect me to tell him that when you walked out on him?” Kun asks, and Johnny tsks.
“If you’re going to keep talking to me like this, I’m hanging up,” Johnny warns.
Panic floods Kun’s insides. He needs to reel it back. None of this makes any fucking sense. None of this. But he knows he needs to try, if not for him then for Jisung.
“Okay, okay,” Kun says, pressing his index and thumb against his closed eyelids. “I’m sorry. I’ll… get it together. Where are you, Johnny?”
“I’m in New York,” Johnny says, and Kun clenches his jaw further, biting hard on his tongue. He knows New York. He knows who lives there.
“With Ten?” Kun asks stiffly.
“Yes, with Ten, who else would I be in New York with if not my best friend?” Johnny replies. “I’ve just needed to get my head right. Change of scenery. Change of everything, for a while.”
“When are you coming home?” Kun probes further, stemming the small, steady tide of jealousy that now bleeds into his guts. Johnny has always had a soft spot for Ten, more than any of their other friends. Ten, who has always sort of felt out of reach to Kun, for reasons that Kun has never been truly able to comprehend.
There’s a heavy pause on the line before Johnny answers.
“I don’t know yet,” Johnny says. “Kun, there’s something in me that’s broken, and there’s something between us that’s broken. I know you probably hate me right now for leaving, but I had to get out. Our bed felt like a fucking tomb, and I didn’t know if I’d be good for Jisung anymore if I did not get out when I did.”
“Why couldn’t you talk to me?” Kun asks, but with lead in his stomach, he already knows the answer.
“I’ve been trying for years,” Johnny replies. “Seems like you only want to listen now.”
“I’m trying to listen now,” Kun bites back, his anger making him irrational. “But instead you’re off doing God knows what with Ten.”
Like that, he’s set off a harpoon directly into the heart of this conversation. He knows it the moment the words leave his stupid, stupid mouth.
Johnny gasps, his voice wavering, wobbly like a top trying to keep spinning on its axis.
“Who the fuck are you, Kun?” Johnny asks, and pain lances through the line and into Kun’s chest as Johnny takes a breath. “Who do you think I am? Because you’ve clearly lost sight of me if you think for a second that I would do that to you. I can’t believe you. I’m done with this conversation. Tell Jisung I love him. Goodbye.”
The call ends, and Kun tries to ring him again, but the call no longer goes through. In his frustration, Kun tosses his phone to Johnny’s side of the bed and grabs his pillow to sink his fist into.
How the fuck had things gotten this bad? He and Johnny had been so good at talking to each other when they first started dating. Nip it in the bud, don’t let it get to this point. Never go to sleep angry.
He falls back against the pillows, his frustration spilling over again and bringing tears to his eyes. All he does is cry anymore, and he wonders if his body will run out of them.
He curls in on himself, presses his face into his pillow again, and prays that Jisung can’t hear him screaming.
Kun doesn’t think that there is any singular event in his life that can ever match the unmarred joy he’d felt on his wedding day, when he’d stood in front of the man who made living easy, breathing easy, loving easy, and pressed his lips to Johnny’s in front of their family and friends in a binding ceremony that meant that forever rested in them now.
That is, until the day comes that he meets his son.
Chloe, their surrogate, had called them up when her labor pains had begun, her water still intact, to inform them that she was going to be taken to the UChicago emergency room already. Johnny had been on location at a short for ROGUE, and Kun had thankfully had been home for the day when they’d been informed of her status.
Kun’s had the baby box in the trunk of his car, ready for this day, for nearly two weeks now. In it, a bunch of bodysuits, and leggings and hooded bath towels, bath thermometer, nappy cream, washcloth—everything that they could think of in the event that baby and mother might have to stay in hospital for much longer than intended.
Kun rushes from home to pick Johnny up. Johnny, with his cameras and tripods shoved into the car, climbs into the passenger seat before they stare at each other, kiss excitedly for a second, before Johnny’s telling him to hurry the fuck up and get them to UChicago.
Kun’s thrumming with nervous excitement, and Johnny’s hand is clammy in his.
“Can you believe it?” Johnny whispers as they turn on Wabash Avenue. “We’re going to be fathers, baby.”
Kun keeps his focus on the road, but steals a glance at his husband, whose knee is bouncing in anticipation. Johnny pulls Kun’s hand to his lips and presses kisses along every knuckle.
“We’re going to be fathers,” Kun replies.
They park quickly, and rush up with Chloe’s wife on the phone telling them to calm down, that she’s still in labor, that she’s only two centimeters dilated yet, and that it will still be a while.
They arrive in Chloe’s room breathless, and see her face twisted in pain but glowing.
“Hey, Pops,” Chloe says affectionately. “What’s up?”
Johnny goes over to her and wipes the sweaty bangs away from her forehead, her face flushed from another contraction. There are two elastic bands strapped around her belly, with sensors attached to them leading back to the tocometer that monitors the baby’s heart rate, as well as Chloe’s contractions on a digitized graph on the machine.
A steady, fast heartbeat fills the room, and Kun digs his nails into his palm like he can’t quite believe that he’s here, and that in a few hours, they’re going to meet their child.
Alma, Chloe’s wife, takes Kun by the hand, and leads him closer to Chloe, who reaches out with the hand not currently being held by Johnny.
“You ready?” Chloe asks, her eyes bright.
“I don’t know if there’s any sure way to answer this, honestly,” Kun laughs, letting out a breath and leaning in to press his lips to her temple.
Chloe had been wonderful, an absolute godsend when she’d come into their lives, when they’d been matched with her at the fertility clinic in Downtown Chicago.
“Let me make your dreams come true, yeah?” Chloe had said.
Chloe and Alma have two children together, and when they’d met her, she’d said up front: “I’m twenty-six, I’m of Chinese descent, and I’m the perfect candidate for you guys. Alma and I aren’t going to be having any more kids of our own, but I want to help you have yours.”
It takes a couple more hours before Chloe is wheeled into the delivery room, and then the three of them are left to wait.
Alma sits in the seat next to the hospital bed, reading something on her Kindle, the bangs from the little bun she has on the top of her head coming loose while Kun and Johnny pace around the room.
“Guys,” Alma intones, her voice teasing. “I need you both to calm down. Chloe has really easy pregnancies, and the baby’s been healthy from day one.”
Johnny lets out a nervous laugh and takes a seat on the bench by the window, holding his hand out for Kun to follow suit.
They’re both clammy-handed and nervous, because despite having an unremarkable and illness-free nine months, the literature they’ve both consumed has given them the worst of the worst possible outcomes and Kun has bitten his thumbnail down to stumps in his worry.
“How are you this calm?” Johnny asks Alma, who looks up from her Kindle and smiles gently at him.
“The first time was nerve-wracking. I was worse than you,” Alma says. “I was pacing outside the delivery room the entire time and ended up making the nurses jittery. I’d wanted to be in there with her, but they’d been really strict about sanitation protocols and everything, patient privacy and all that, so I’d had no choice but to wait it out. But Chloe’s a trooper, guys. And so is your baby.”
It takes three hours, seventeen minutes, and four seconds for Chloe to be wheeled back into the room from the post-anesthesia care unit, and forty more seconds for the bassinet and lamp to be wheeled in after her. In it, a swaddled bundle in white, and the most glorious sound Kun has ever heard.
The nurse wheels the bassinet over to the left of Chloe’s hospital bed as she’s transferred back into it, awake but groggy, her purple hair in a messy bun. Johnny has his Pentax out, and Kun hits record on phone as the nurse lifts the wailing bundle up from the clear carrier.
“So, who wants to meet their son?” the nurse says.
Johnny sets his camera aside and gently takes the infant in his arms, and Kun’s heart breaks and rebuilds itself with every pump of blood.
“Hello, Jisung,” Johnny whispers, tears falling from his eyes, and holds their baby close to his chest, head cradled against the crook of his elbow. “Hi, baby, I’m your appa.”
Kun is frozen in place, keeping his phone tracked on the tiny bean of a bundle before he feels Alma gently take his phone from him and whisper, “Say hello, Pops.”
Kun takes one slow step, and then another, and then reaches out to cup Jisung's head in his palm where it fits exactly, the fine, tiny strands of hair soft and downy to his touch. He’s calmed down, his crying coming to a slow stop, his eyes still closed, his chubby cheeks full where Kun traces over them with his thumb.
Kun doesn’t even realize he’s crying until Johnny’s reaching up to wipe one of his tears away. His glasses fog over, and Johnny says, “Here, carry him.”
They manage to change hands with minimal jostling of their baby, and when Jisung is safely in his arms, Jisung opens his eyes.
The moment is devastating, his heart racing and so full that he doesn’t think there are any words, not in English, Korean, or Mandarin that can encompass how he feels, looking into the honey eyes of Johnny in this fragile, beautiful, resilient tiny human.
Kun had thought it was just in the movies, those cliches about a child coming into your life and all of a sudden everything makes sense, but the second that Jisung takes Kun’s pointer finger and wraps his entire tiny fist around it, Kun knows that he’s going to shape his entire life around his son. He will move heaven and earth, work however long, do everything in his power to give Jisung whatever he’ll need in this life.
He looks up at Johnny, whose face is hidden behind the Pentax, before Kun hears him say, “I love you.”
Kun hears the whirr of the camera just as he feels his cheeks hurt from smiling.
Life shapes and reshapes itself within the walls of the Qian-Suh household like the passing of the moon, like the slow steady growth of the vines that begin to creep over the terrace in the backyard.
Kun will wake up, on the dot, at five in the morning, and knock on the door to Jisung’s room where he waits a minute before knocking again, tap-taptaptap-taptap, until his son groans that he’s awake. He’ll prepare his coffee—nothing fancy, just a sachet of a coffee mix, nothing like the French-pressed stuff Johnny used to make—and start on breakfast, at which point he expects Jisung to already be in the shower.
Some mornings, it’s still a struggle to convince him to get ready, but they’re fewer and far between now.
He’d bargained with Jisung about their breakfasts, because in that first month, the nine-year-old had gotten much too accustomed to all the sugary shit that Kun had, in his haze, allowed Jisung to eat. Now, pancakes and waffles are limited back to twice a week, as had used to be the case when Johnny was preparing them. He’d gotten a stern talking-to from Johnny about it, when Johnny had decided to once again start taking calls from Kun, on the agreement that their conversations would be about Jisung, and that Kun had to give Jisung privacy when Johnny would call to speak to their son.
Kun takes out the little plates, lays them out on the counter, and sets the garlic cloves onto the marble cutting board. He sighs. Johnny had insisted on this, said that it was worth the investment to have one set into the counter.
He closes his eyes and feels the waves of longing and regret once again, until they pass, and he equilibrates.
Muscle memory and a small exercise in letting him retreat back from his mind allows Kun to get to work on the breakfast banchan for him and Jisung. He makes quick work of the garlic and slices them into small slivers before tossing them into a bowl with the mirin, honey, and soy sauce.
The garlic browns in the wide frying pan quickly, and he uses the same pan for their eggs—sunny-side up, just like Johnny used to always make—before plating those and adding spring onions on top.
“Baba?” Jisung calls out from his room.
“Yeah?” Kun replies, pulling out last night’s leftover jasmine rice from the refrigerator.
“There’s a parent teacher’s conference thing next week. Like, Monday I think?”
Kun freezes, setting the cold rice on the counter. “Okay, Baobei, I’ll be there.”
“‘Kay!” Jisung yells back.
Christ. He’s going to have to call Johnny again. He hasn’t attended any of the PTA meetings since Jisung started school. He’s not sure what to expect.
He’s been thinking about his husband a lot, and the role Kun himself has had in the breakdown of their marriage. It’s been almost two months, with sporadic calls to Johnny, who still remains in New York. Kun isn’t sure what Johnny’s been doing, how he’s been paying for things, if he’s burned through his savings already.
Kun has had to do a lot of self-reflection, something he’d completely lost sight of doing as the years between their wedding and at present began to wear on.
Jisung appears in the hallway in his uniform, with his blue Jansport bag dragging on the floor before he sees Kun’s raised eyebrow and carries it properly to perch it on one of the free seats at the dining table.
“Baba, I have a question,” Jisung asks through his bowl cut fringe. “Do you miss appa? I mean, you’re sad a lot, but I wanted to know.”
Kun nearly drops the plate in his hand. Jisung’s always been inquisitive, only ever shy around people who were complete strangers to him. He swallows and sets white porcelain down on the table gently.
“I miss him all the time, baobei,” Kun says quietly.
“Does he know that?” Jisung asks, reaching out for his wooden chopsticks with the little frogs on them.
“No,” Kun says, smarting from the reminder. Johnny would not take kindly to it, he’s sure.
“Maybe you should tell him,” Jisung replies before shovelling some rice into his mouth. “I tell him all the time. And he misses you.”
Kun chopsticks miss his mouth completely at this, and it’s a sucker punch to his guts.
“How do you know that?” Kun asks, steadying his voice. “You can’t make assumptions about what Appa says.”
“I asked him,” Jisung says, and it hits Kun just how simply kids work, and how much adults complicate things along the way as they get older. He and Johnny used to talk about things without everything getting muddled. “He said so.”
Kun pauses, sets his chopsticks down. He watches the condensation on the side of his cold glass of orange juice trickle down as he lets the words sink in.
“Okay, baby, I’ll tell Appa I miss him,” Kun says softly, before reaching for the glass and taking a sip from it.
The rest of breakfast is a chatty affair, Jisung telling him about how much he hates History class, doesn’t understand half the food they serve in the cafeteria, and how Marie and Habin, his two best friends at Rosehill, were chasing after each other when some fifth-grader had stomped over and tried to get in their business.
“And I was like, ‘Hey! Leave them alone!’ and he thought that I was older ‘cos I was taller than him,” Jisung says he takes his empty plate and brings them over to the sink and runs it under the warm water.
“You sure showed him,” Kun says, amused.
It’s incredible to him how resilient Jisung has been through all of this. He’s adjusted in ways that Kun is still trying to understand, and he feels his age in his bones, the disparity between who he was before Johnny left and who he is now.
He’s missed so much of their kid’s formative years, wrapped up in his desperate need to bring home the bacon, especially after everything they’d paid for to have Jisung, especially since ROGUE had had to lay people off and Johnny had been left to do freelance work.
They’d been okay, in the first year that they’d had Jisung, taking him home and taking care of him, the both of them gladly losing sleep to handle their growing infant. Kun’s in-laws helped out a lot, Johnny’s mom coming over every so often to spend time with her grandson, or gladly take him for the weekend when Kun and Johnny needed a small break. But the bills had started to pile up, and as much as Johnny wanted to help out, Kun knew that his job was what was keeping them comfortable.
He’d made a promise to himself, to Johnny, the day he’d held Jisung in his arms, and again the day that his adoption had been made official, that he’d give everything to make sure his family was provided for. It’s only now, shamefully, after years of Johnny trying to tell him so, that Kun realizes he has neglected everything else that made up having a family.
Jisung settles himself back at the dining table to go over his notes while Kun steps into his room and prepares for the day. He has a meeting at ten in the morning, lunch with Sicheng at noon, and then the rest of the afternoon is free for him to work on the designs for the Johnson & Johnson campaign they’re taking on.
He steps into the shower, the water running hot almost instantaneously, sluicing over his head and his eyes, his mind once again fixated on Johnny and the shambles of their marriage.
Kun wishes he had slowed down, wishes that he’d actually taken the time to listen when Johnny had all but given him the signs. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but even then, there’s still so much that he has to sift through.
He’s been trying to parse his memories, but they all seem half-baked, like he’s only seeing echoes of them and never the full, clear picture, because his mind hadn’t been present then, and it’s harder to reconstruct them now.
Fights and almost-fights and cold shoulders, Johnny’s resigned sighing, Johnny’s back turned to him in bed, Johnny’s cold, cold stare the day he’d left.
Kun needs to talk to him, really talk to him. Needs to know what this is, where they’re going.
Kun finishes his shower before he realizes it, so lost in his thoughts, his limbs having worked on auto-pilot, except that he’s messed up in his inattention. Johnny’s bath gel, the one he’s been pointedly ignoring for the last two months, turns out to have been the one he’d reached for, and now he smells like wood sage and sea salt and exactly like how his husband smells, and Kun’s knees nearly buckle at the loss of him.
He doesn’t want this. He doesn’t like who he’s become, doesn’t understand how they’ve gotten to this point, that he’s become so reprehensible that his own husband had seen fit to walk out on him.
Kun towels himself off and looks in the mirror. He’s lost weight, so much of his muscle mass having gone from the sleeplessness and the worry. His face is thinner now, the lines around his eyes more pronounced. He runs the towel through his hair and sees more white than he’s expected, and he realizes that he needs to get his shit together. Own up to his mistakes. Take better care of himself.
He makes quick work of getting dressed, pulling on his slacks and his pale blue button-down, running mousse through his hair and grabbing his jacket on his way out.
“Ready, kiddo?” Kun asks, his son looking sleepy at the dining table.
“Mmmm, yeah,” Jisung says, yawning and sitting up before flipping his notebook closed and shoving it into his backpack.
The drive to Jisung’s school is quick at this time of the morning, and Jisung unbuckles his seatbelt to lean in from the back seat and press a wet kiss to Kun’s cheek.
“I’ll see you later, Baobei,” Kun says. “Wo ai ni.”
“Love you too, Baba,” Jisung says. He exits the car in a rush, running into the school where two of his other friends join him.
Kun exhales, and puts the car in drive.
“Baby,” Johnny says from the kitchen. “I’ll be over at five later, you’ll meet me there right?”
Kun looks up from his iPad, his stylus poised over a new logo design he’s been working on for three fucking days now. Five? There? Jesus, did he miss his anniversary or something?
“Uh,” Kun says absentmindedly. “What’s happening later, babe?”
There’s a sigh from the counter, and then a tsk.
“Jisung’s parent-teacher conference,” Johnny says flatly. “You know, the very meeting I have been telling you about all week?”
Kun looks up, and his heart sinks, already knowing that this is going to turn into a fight, because he’d forgotten, again. Or rather, he’d never really intended on going, but he’d held off at the last minute, and then failed to tell Johnny he wasn’t going.
“Sorry, darling, I have a dinner meeting with the men from Saito and Sons tonight,” Kun says, turning back to his tablet. He needs to get this logo approved today, otherwise he’s fucked.
“Do you realize that you have a family to take care of?” Johnny asks, his voice low, annoyed, the one that he uses on Kun when he’s trying to reel his anger in, the one that he uses when Jisung is near, so that he doesn’t pick up on anything being wrong.
Annoyance pricks at Kun’s skull like a crow, its talons tight on his shoulders, making him tense up.
“What do you think I am doing at my job, Johnny, if not to take care of our family?” Kun replies. Slow. Measured.
They keep having small tiffs like this, and it’s really starting to grate on Kun’s nerves. They have next semester’s tuition to worry about on top of the last of his fucking college debt, and he’s been bending over backwards trying to pick up the slack since Johnny’s lost his job. Johnny’s income isn’t steady anymore, and Kun’s never held that against his husband, not since Johnny got laid off, but what he does resent is Johnny making it sound like Kun doesn’t care about their family when that’s what he’s worrying about ninety-nine percent of the time.
Johnny walks over from the kitchen to where Kun is seated, looking at him imploringly.
“You can slow down, baby,” Johnny says, frowning, his eyes wide and begging. He takes Kun’s hand, the one with the stylus, and holds on. “We’re not in the reds, you know? We’re doing okay.”
“Darling,” Kun says, his voice tight. “I don’t want us to ever get in the reds. This is why I’m working my ass off here.”
Johnny pulls his hand back.
“I know that part of this is because I don’t have a job yet but I’m looking, okay? The market just hasn’t been great and—”
“Johnny, baby,” Kun reasons, dropping his stylus and taking Johnny by the hand. “I’m not holding this against you. But I can’t have you nagging me about my job every day like this. I’m gonna lose my mind. And besides, you’re so much better at that PTA, parent-teacher’s conference thing than I am.”
Kun means for it to be a compliment, means for it to be reassuring that Johnny’s doing an excellent job of taking care of Jisung. He’s active in the Parent-Teachers Association at Rosehill, works well with the other parents, attends all the bake-sales and sports fests and everything.
But Johnny’s expression hardens.
“‘That PTA, parent-teacher’s conference thing’, right,” Johnny says, rising from the seat just as Jisung walks into the hallway, already dressed in his uniform, the pressed white shirt tucked into his little plaid trousers. “Well then. Forget about later.”
Kun holds his breath and exhales long and steady as Johnny resumes cooking, Jisung coming around the table to say hello.
“Hey, kiddo,” Kun says, scooping Jisung up and holding him in his lap. “Sleepy?”
Jisung just nods, eyes drooping even though Johnny will be leaving the house soon to drop Jisung off at school. Kun presses a kiss to the crown of Jisung’s head. Soon, his five year old will turn six, then seven, then eighteen in a blink of an eye. Kun worries about college even before he thinks about high school, wondering if going private school all the way is feasible, and then remembering that both he and Johnny went Ivy League, and their son will do the same.
He and Johnny haven’t discussed baby number two yet, their hands still full with their first one, but Kun figures once both of them have managed to find stable footing financially again, it might be on the table.
After breakfast, after Johnny’s left him with a kiss to his temple and a, “I’ll see you later,” Kun rushes to get dressed for work, and heads out with the logo only just barely ready for presentation.
He doesn’t think about the conversation at breakfast for the rest of the day, but it comes unbidden once he’s driving back home, belly filled with filet mignon and risotto and whatever the hell else Saito and Sons deemed worthy of ordering. He has a takeaway bag from the restaurant, a fresh order of risotto he’d ordered knowing it’s Johnny’s favorite. A peace offering of sorts, even if he’s still a little miffed at the tone Johnny had taken with him.
It’s nine forty-five in the evening when he gets home, stepping out of his shoes in the foyer and dropping his keys in the little bowl they have by the door. Johnny is at the dining table on his laptop, back turned to Kun. Over his shoulder, Kun can see him post-processing photos from a shoot he’d done the other week.
“Hey, do you have room for food?” Kun asks, coming up behind Johnny and pressing his lips to the dark brown hair.
Johnny turns to face Kun, and his gaze is soft, so much less pinched an expression compared to this morning.
“Depends on what your offer is, mister,” Johnny says, and Kun’s shoulders relax. Johnny’s in a better mood, and he hands over the paper bag, letting the smell waft under Johnny’s nose before setting it on the table next to his laptop. “Is that risotto?”
“Mhmm,” Kun says, moving to stand behind Johnny and wrap his arms around Johnny’s shoulders and his neck. “I’m sorry about this morning.”
“I’m sorry, too,” Johnny sighs, his hand coming up to squeeze Kun’s forearm. “I shouldn’t have said what I said. I know you’re working hard to take care of us. I just miss you. I miss us doing things together.”
Kun rakes his hand through Johnny’s hair, some of the day’s oil and sweat making it shine and slick in Kun’s hands, but he doesn’t mind. He breathes in deep, smells Johnny’s wood sage under the earthy scent of him, and noses at his neck, the spot behind Johnny’s ear.
“Is Jisung asleep?” Kun whispers. He feels the shudder go through Johnny.
“Yes,” Johnny replies, the end of the word lilting up like it’s a question, like it’s a suggestion.
Kun’s tongue licks along the shell of Johnny’s ear.
“Leave that and come to bed with me,” Kun says, his hand snaking down Johnny’s chest, resting over his heart where Kun can feel its beating kick up.
These moments come so few and far between for them now, but it only makes Kun savor them even more, reminds Kun that at the very heart of it, this is still who they are, that some semblance of who they used to be before the house and the marriage and their son still remains somewhere inside of them, between them.
Johnny does the responsible thing and tucks the takeaway into the refrigerator before taking Kun by the hand and pulling him to their bedroom at the end of the hallway, closing the door behind them and locking it as Johnny presses Kun against the thick white wood.
He can’t even remember the last time they did this, can’t remember the last time they’ve had the time or the energy, but as Johnny’s tongue slides against his, Kun allows himself to get lost in it, to have Johnny’s teeth rake over his jugular while Johnny’s deft hands undo Kun’s belt, undo his trousers, before falling to his knees.
Johnny is a vision with his mouth stretched around Kun’s cock, his eyelashes fanning across his cheeks as he hollows them out, sucking up and tonguing at Kun’s slit while spreading Kun’s ass with his hands, his fingers toying with Kun’s entrance while Kun remains almost fully clothed, his necktie still snug, his shirt still buttoned up.
Domesticity has eaten up most of what’s made making love to his husband sexy, but Kun still comes down Johnny’s throat like that first night together. When Johnny bends him over the bed and fucks him into oblivion, necktie wrapped around his hand while he tugs on it and, Kun starts to lose his breath, his second orgasm of the night cresting higher and higher, he gives himself over to the feeling, lets himself pretend that there isn’t anything to worry about—not the bills, not the shortened tempers they’ve both acquired over the years, not the constant fear that he’s going to lose everything he’s worked so hard for.
Johnny holds him close as he spills hot and wet into Kun’s hole, and when they both drift off, still dressed, uncaring of the mess between them, Kun closes his eyes and figures: they’re okay.
The word lodges itself into his mind like a parasite, rests there and wiggles around like he’s the unlucky host. Kun doesn’t want divorce, but he wonders if it’s what Johnny wants. If this is the ultimate end-point for them: divorce with joint custody. Surely, Johnny isn’t going to hide away in New York forever?
Sicheng had asked, over lunch, what Johnny’s plan was, and what Kun was going to do about it, except that Kun had no answers for him. He doesn’t know what Johnny wants because Johnny won’t speak to him, not properly, anyway.
He thinks back on how the last few years have played out, thinks about how bad the fights had progressively gotten, how he and Johnny have seemed to have lost all concept of what communication used to mean to them, and worse than that, what they used to mean to each other.
“Do you think Johnny wants one?”
It’s a question Kun hadn’t even considered, but now that it’s there, it’s all he can think about, especially if things had gotten so bad that Johnny thought the only way out was to leave him and Jisung.
He can’t do this on his own, can’t make this decision on his own. Kun’s had to function on assumptions for the last two months, filling in the void of Johnny’s absence with what his nervous mind supplies.
Kun steps into his car just as the rain begins to splatter on the wind shield, and he closes the door the moment it begins to pour in earnest. He rests his forehead on the wheel before starting his car, and wonders if Johnny would be willing to talk to him tonight. He needs to find a way to go about it, find a way to get through to him that won’t involve Johny hanging up or being short with him. The other attempts haven’t been met with much success, and Kun has tried to be patient.
He digs deep and desperately recalls how they used to work through fights, back when it was just the two of them, when the stakes weren’t this high, when it did not involve breaking their family up into islands.
He starts the car up, straps himself in, and makes his way to Rosehill to pick Jisung up, his head full of scenarios, trying to play every conversation out.
He could suggest divorce, or at least ask Johnny what he wants, if that’s something he wants. He needs to know where Johnny’s coming from, and he won’t get answers to that by trying to guess with what clues and crumbs he gets.
There is a lot of dirt that they’ve swept under the rug, too much that the rug has finally started to rise from the mountain they’ve made of all the unsaids and the not-dones.
When he parks the car in front of the main entrance to Jisung’s school, Kun pulls out an umbrella from the back seat and runs out to meet his son, who rushes out of the wooden doors already in his old blue raincoat, the one that Johnny had stuffed into his backpack years ago and hasn’t stopped using since, though the hem of it now rests by Jisung’s knees when they’d been at his ankles the first time he’d worn it.
“Hi, Baba,” Jisung says as Kun crouches down to accept the kiss on the cheek Jisung offers.
“Hey, baobei,” Kun says, laying the umbrella flat on the floor and securing the hood over Jisung’s head. “Let’s get us home, yeah?”
Kun unfurls the umbrella. Jisung takes his hand, and Kun wonders when his kid will stop wanting to do that, when Jisung will start telling him he’s too old to be carried, or too old to kiss his old man on the cheek in greeting, or too old for nicknames like baobei.
A shiver runs through him, a sickly tart desperation and fear in the back of his throat at the possibility that he and Johnny could end up divorcing. What if Johnny asks for sole custody? What if Johnny cuts him out of Jisung’s life for good?
It wouldn’t make sense for Johnny to do that after having left Jisung with him in the first place, but then again, nothing much makes sense anymore lately.
He helps Jisung into the back seat and makes sure that he’s buckled in safely, tears beginning to prick at his eyes as he takes Jisung’s hand and pushes his bangs away from his little face.
“You know Baba loves you, right?” Kun says, his voice cracking under the weight of his fear.
Jisung looks at him like he’s grown a second head, his eyebrow raising, and Kun spares one hysterical moment to think about where he’d picked that particular habit up.
“Yeah, I do?” Jisung says, confused. “I love you, too, Baba.”
Kun leans in, the rain sluicing off the umbrella falling onto the back of his shirt, soaking through, icy cold on his skin.
“And I’ll do anything for you, don’t you ever forget that, okay?”
Jisung just nods, still completely at a loss. It makes Kun chuckle a little, and he wipes the tears from his eyes before straightening up, closing the door, and walking over to the driver’s side.
Jisung’s chatter fills the car, and Kun does his best to respond earnestly, oohing and aahing at every new story that he jumps into. Kun keeps his eyes on the road and glances at Jisung in the back seat only once in a while, mindful of his speed limit and the shitty visibility that he has to work with as the rain comes down over the car like it’s the end of days.
It’s when they’re home and Jisung has settled at the dining table to pull his books out and do his homework, a plate of carrot sticks and cheese dip next to him—“Carrot sticks are yummy, Baba!” Jisung had said—that Kun manages to take some time to himself, pulling his soaked-through polo off and leaving it over the back of the chair next to the door to dry before throwing it into the wash.
He decides to try calling Johnny, and he mulls it over as he towels his back dry and slips into a more comfortable shirt sitting on the pile in his half-empty cabinet. He doesn’t know how he’s going to convince Johnny to listen, but he figures that his two months of self-reflection surely have not been for nothing and hopes that is enough to at least keep Johnny on the line, even for a little.
Kun just knows that this isn't sustainable, that they need to somehow, by some fucking miracle, arrive at a middle point where they can make a decision about what they are, what this marriage is, and who they’ll be to Jisung from this point on.
He pops his head out of the door, and calls out, “Baobei, Baba’s got an important call to make, but just knock if you need me for anything, okay?”
Kun’s hands are shaking, and it breaks his heart. He’s known and loved Johnny for over fifteen years. He shouldn’t be this afraid to talk to him, and yet here they are. Here he is.
Besides, he’d told Jisung he’d tell Johnny he missed him. He’s gotta start somewhere.
He sits on the edge of the bed, finds Johnny’s contact, and attempts a video call, which is a deviation from their agreement to keep it voice only if it’s them and video for when Jisung is on the call with Johnny, but he tries anyway.
Johnny answers on the fourth ring, and on camera he sees Johnny’s worried face. He looks and sounds out of breath, and Kun wonders if he’d run out of somewhere important to take the call.
“Kun? What is it? Is Jisung okay?” Johnny asks, his voice panicked. Kun sees him close the door behind him, and Kun figures Johnny must be in Ten’s apartment.
“Hi, wait, sorry, fuck, calm down,” Kun says in hurried succession. “Catch a breath. Jisung is okay, he’s outside doing homework.”
Johnny’s expression breaks, and crumbles, then morphs into carefully studied placidity.
“Jesus Christ, do not scare me like that!” Johnny says, hunching over, the camera obscured for a second before Johnny brings the phone back up to his face. “Why did you call?”
“I’m sorry, hey,” Kun says. “Can we just talk?”
Johnny sighs, closing his eyes, before saying, “Kun, I’m really tired—I had along day and—”
“Johnny, do you want a divorce?” Kun asks quietly, figuring that there isn’t any point in beating around the bush when Johnny’s on the brink of hanging up again.
Johnny’s last word is cut off mid-sentence, and he watches whatever fire is in Johnny’s eyes get put out.
“What?” Johnny asks, as if Kun had stuttered.
Kun closes his eyes, counts to three, and says, again, “I asked if you wanted a divorce.”
Johnny stares and stares, and Kun allows him the time to reply, waits for Johnny to say something, anything instead of just gaping like Kun’s pulled the rug right from under him.
“I—what… You want a divorce?”
Kun wills himself to steady his voice, but he can already feel the tears coming. He’d gone into this telling himself that there was no need for fancy arbitration when all he needs to offer his husband is the truth.
“I don’t want a divorce, Johnny,” Kun says, trying to get it all out before Johnny spooks. “I don’t want that at all, but I am asking you if it’s something you’ve thought about. If it’s something you want, because you've kept me in the dark for two months, but I’ve allowed myself to stay in the dark for nearly four years now.”
Kun slumps over himself, takes a breath, and continues.
“I realize that that is fucked up, that I was the one who allowed us to get to this point and let things get this bad between us. I don’t know what you want, Johnny, and I know that to you it probably feels too late, but I’m right here and I’m willing to listen if you’ll just… let me in again.”
Johnny takes a seat and rests the phone on something to prop it up. Kun can see framed paintings behind him, no doubt Ten’s. Johnny looks like he loses all fight.
“Why… I—I’ve been going to therapy,” Johnny says quietly, in lieu of answering his question.
Kun sits up straighter, desperate to show Johnny that he’s really listening, and this is a massive revelation. “Therapy, that’s really good, Johnny,” Kun says. “I mean, does it feel like it’s helping?”
Johnny nods twice before verbalizing it, before saying, “Yeah, it’s been good for me. I’ve had a lot of stuff to sort out. I’ve lost all sense of who I am these last couple of years and I’ve just had to figure out where that starts when I’m not thinking of myself as a father or as a husband.”
Kun swallows around how dry his throat is, his nervousness finally starting to abate, but only just.
“I’m glad,” Kun says. “I—Didn’t know it had gotten that bad for you. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for so many things, and I can fill in a lot of the things I need to apologize for but—Johnny, baby, I need you to tell me, too.”
Johnny leans back in the seat. He’s in his old Cornell shirt, too big and too stretched out over the years of wear and tear. Kun remembers how the fabric felt in his hands the first time Johnny had handed it to him to wear, one week into them dating.
“I really should start bringing a spare change of clothes if I’m gonna keep this up, huh?” Kun had said, completely butt naked, sprawled out on Johny’s bed.
“No,” Johnny had replied, crawling over him. “I like you in my clothes.”
Kun watches as Johnny runs a hand over his tired face. Kun tries to map out the differences, cataloging them one by one, but his view is limited by the pixels on the screen.
“What happened to us?” Johnny asks, and there’s so much pain in his question that Kun can tell it’s something that’s probably run through Johnny’s mind as much as it has through Kun’s. “When we said, ‘for better or for worse’, I didn’t know it would be a string of just… worse. I kept trying to be patient, kept trying to tell myself that things were okay, that we were okay, that all couples went through rough patches, but every time I tried to talk to you, every time it felt like I was drowning. I just couldn’t reach you. I couldn’t make you listen. I thought, ‘well, fuck, there must be something wrong with me if he thinks we’re okay but I don’t’, you know?”
Between him and Johnny, Kun knows that Johnny’s the bigger crier, but Kun sits there and listens to Johnny speak and all he is is an endless well of sorrow, disappointment and regret colliding inside of him to make a black hole.
The image of Johnny blurs as tears fill Kun’s eyes, catching on the lower lid until they make their slow descent down his cheek.
“I’m sorry, Johnny,” Kun says. His voice cracks and shatters like glass on marble, the three words now scattered from his mouth over the microphone and speakers, travelling at lightning speed to reach his husband. “All these years I thought that I could make up for my absence by making sure that we were always comfortable, that you and Jisung never had to worry about anything, that you’d never have to want for anything. But—”
“I needed my partner, Kun,” Johnny says firmly, his voice thick. “I needed the man who looked me in the eye fifteen years ago and told me he’d stand by my side as my equal. I don’t know when the scales started tipping, but I sure as hell know that things haven’t been balanced for a long, long time.”
“You’re right,” Kun says. “You’re right, Johnny. I should have been there.”
He watches Johnny chew on his bottom lip, an old habit that he’d developed in college and lost in the four years they’d dated before they had proposed to each other.
“Why did you ask if I wanted a divorce?” Johnny fixes his eyes on what Kun assumes is his screen to look at him better.
“I saw Sicheng today,” Kun says. “He asked me what our plans were, how long you intended on staying in New York, all that. I told him I didn’t know. He was frustrated with me, said I wasn’t being proactive enough, and he’s right, too, but I’ve just been trying to respect the space you told me you wanted. I don’t think I’m wrong for doing that, do you?”
Johnny shakes his head. “No, I told you it’s what I wanted and you followed through.”
“Unless that was a test for me to do otherwise?” Kun asks, timid. Knows that it’s a dangerous question to ask, but Johnny just folds.
“No,” he says, sighing. “That wasn’t a test.”
“Okay,” Kun replies. “Okay. Well. Sicheng asked me if it’s what you wanted, and I wanted to lash out at him, you know? Like, you know how he and Jaehyun are, how they’ve always been, nosy and meddling but with good intentions, and I just… I said I didn’t know. I’d have to ask you.”
“And you arrived at that conclusion that I might want a divorce because I left,” Johnny says, saying out loud what Kun’s been hesitant to say.
Kun nods. “I’ve been trying to figure out where it went downhill for us, but it wasn’t a steep fall, was it?”
“It was a lot of small ones, Kun,” Johnny says. “I think I lost myself along the way, and I kept waking up and looking at you and not recognizing who you were, either.”
Kun doesn’t think he’s ever had to hold hurt like this before. His chest is a gaping wound.
“Maybe we did it all too fast,” Kun says, bringing his legs up to the bed, pushing himself to rest against the headboard. “Got caught up in everything, we didn’t even have a chance to just be married and learn what that change meant for us because we had Jisung so early. We got married in January and then had him in June, and we thought, ‘why not?’ We were so sure.”
Johnny pushes his hair back. It’s gotten so much longer, the ends curling around Johnny’s neck gently.
“Are you regretting having gotten married to me?” Johnny asks, and Kun watches Johnny’s expression crumple as he says it, Johnny’s voice wavering before he covers his face, and his shoulders start to shake. “Are you regretting Jisung?”
Kun feels a jolt of panic, wishes that they weren’t having this conversation over fucking FaceTime, wishes that he could reach out and hold Johnny the way he used to.
“No, God, Johnny, no, that’s not what I meant,” Kun says, his own voice trembling from the tears he can’t hold back. “I regret how I treated you, how I left you to handle him on your own. I thought that I was doing it right, you know, I thought that it would be fine ‘cos you were just so—so naturally good with Jisung and I never really was, and I allowed myself to just accept that instead of working harder to actually be there for our family. For you.”
Johnny pulls on the neck of his shirt, tugging it up to wipe his face that’s gone splotchy red.
“But I don’t want you drowning in a sinking ship, Johnny, if you think it’s too late,” Kun continues. “I don’t want you to stick around because I’m begging you to stay, you know? I don’t want you to feel like—like you’re shackled to me.”
Johnny just looks at him with sad eyes. His mouth, normally so lovely when pulled into a smile, is limp and downturned, and Kun can’t believe that he’s managed to get them here, where Johnny was so unhappy he needed therapy, away from Kun, away from his own son.
“Can you get Jisung for me?” Johnny says after a few moments of silence.
Kun sighs, knowing that there are still so many questions that need to be answered, but says, “All right, I’ll go fetch him.” The mention of Jisung jogs his memory, and Kun says, “Before I go, I—I miss you. I just needed you to know that. And also I promised Jisung I’d tell you.”
Johnny’s laugh is watery and thin, but he does wipe under his eyes, and Kun thinks that that’s enough of a response. He goes out to the living room, phone in hand, and says, “Baobei, Appa’s on the phone for you.”
Kun means to leave, to give them their time alone, but Johnny says to Kun, “You can stay. For this.”
So Kun slips into the seat next to Jisung, who takes the phone from Kun’s hand and looks up at Kun, narrowing his eyes.
“Baba, why are you still here?” Jisung asks. He’s already gotten used to the set-up, knows that Kun isn’t supposed to be around, but Johnny says, “Be nicer to your Baba, Sungie. I told him he could stay with you today for this.”
Kun drapes his arm over the wooden back of the seat, fingers tickling the back of Jisung’s neck.
“How are you? What are you working on now?” Johnny asks, leaning in closer to the camera.
“I have a speed test next week so I’m doing math,” Jisung says. “Baba will help me with the flashcards.”
Kun nods quietly along.
“Okay,” Johnny says.
“Appa, when are you coming home?” Jisung asks bluntly. “There’s a parent-teacher conference next week.”
Kun watches Johnny bite his lip.
“What day, baby?” Johnny asks. It’s on Wednesday. Kun’s already marked it in his Google calendar, but he waits for Jisung to answer.
“Uh, Wednesday? I think. Right, Baba?” Jisung turns to Kun, his face angled towards Kun.
“Yes, baobei, at six in the evening,” Kun says, directing his voice at Johnny.
“I’ll be home before then, baby,” Johnny says, leaning forward. “Appa’s gotta go, but I’ll see you soon. I love you, Sungie.”
Warmth fills Kun’s veins at the prospect of Johnny coming back. Nothing about them is fixed. They’re still both standing in the blast radius of their fallout.
But it’s a start.
When Kun gets back to the room after making sure Jisung’s gone to bed, he sees a message waiting for him on his notifications.
[Johnny 10:35 p.m.]
> I miss you, too.
Johnny flies back into Chicago on the following Monday, and Kun is there to pick him up. He’d offered for Johnny to stay in their house, or at a hotel at Kun’s expense, if he wanted, if Johnny didn’t feel like coming back to his parents’ house.
“I’m coming home,” Johnny had said, and that had been that.
Kun waits at arrivals and scans the crowd for the tallest man amongst them, and soon enough he spots Johnny stepping out, his massive luggage in tow. Johnny is clean-shaven, new haircut and everything, and Kun goes weak in the knees, his heart hammering against the cage of his bones, calling out, “Johnny! Johnny!” with his arms up.
The gaze that Johnny fixes him with is warm before it becomes guarded, and Kun wishes that the walls had stayed down in that one second, but he knows that it will take time. It’s a miracle that Johnny is back at all.
In all the years and in the trips that they’ve taken without each other, airport reunions used to be momentous, these massive displays of them running into each other’s arms, kissing like they rely on each other for breath.
Today, Johnny approaches him slowly, and Kun takes a tentative step forward, neither of them quite sure what the protocol is for greeting your husband from whom you’ve been separated for a while. It ultimately lands in a sort of one-armed hug that Kun usually reserves for distant relatives and meeting clients for the first time. He hates it. He hates this.
“Hi,” Johnny says, a little breathless.
“Hi,” Kun says, popping the trunk open. “Welcome back.”
Johnny just gives him a small smile, helps him adjust the luggage, and says, “Thanks.”
“Where’s the rest—”
“At the Northbrook house,” Johnny says. Kun nods, mutters, “Okay,” and walks over to the driver’s seat.
The ride from O’Hare is quiet, but Kun refuses to fill the void with aimless chatter or the radio, so he tells Johnny that he can play his own music if he wants, but Johnny just waves the offer off, preferring to sit in silence, his face turned away from Kun to watch the city outside pass by.
Jisung is still in school and doesn’t know that Johnny’s come back already. It’s meant to be a surprise, something Johnny had asked for, and so Kun has kept mum, tidying the guest bedroom in secret so that he can take the master’s bedroom, assuming that Johnny wanted to stay in it.
Kun clears his throat.
“Ah, I changed the bedding in our—in the master’s, if you wanted to stay there,” Kun says, looking straight out onto the road, his hands at the ten and two, clenching tighter than normal, hating how he can’t seem to address his own husband without being afraid that their tenuous truce will fall apart.
Johnny frowns. “This sounds like you’re offering the room for me to stay in alone,” he says.
“Well,” Kun starts, thrown off. “Yeah.”
Johnny sighs. “And where will you stay if I take it?”
Kun glances at him, and then back to the traffic ahead. “The guest room.”
“Oh, okay,” Johnny says. He’s pulling on a hangnail, and Kun knows that’s going to hurt and bleed if he keeps at it.
He dares to reach out, to rest a hand on Johnny’s fidgeting fingers. “You’re going to hurt yourself,” Kun says, letting go.
It’s the first time he’s touched Johnny in any capacity since he left, and it burns him where his palm had made contact.
There’s another long stretch of silence as Kun turns into the highway, his back tense, shoulders tight.
“Ten thinks that maybe getting divorced would be a good idea,” Johnny says. There’s hesitation in it.
“But do you?”
“I can see why it would be,” Johnny says. “I don’t want to resent you, Kun.”
The admission is heavy as lead and sour on Kun’s tongue.
“I’ve been angry at you, disappointed in you, resentful of your job, jealous that you had one, jealous that you spent more time there than with us and just—” Johnny cuts off at a sigh. “I don’t want us to get to a point where we can’t even be in the same room together.”
“I don’t want that, either,” Kun says.
Fifteen years together, compressed into a car where the air is stifling, where they’re walking on eggshells around each other, contemplating the end of something that they’d both sworn to commit to for life, contemplating the possibility that they’ll have to split their son’s time between them.
“Do you remember the rule we used to have?” Johnny asks, cutting through the silence. “That we’d never go to bed angry?”
Kun nods. “Yeah.”
“When did we stop sticking to that?”
Kun aches for miles and miles. The years catch up to him, the way Johnny would get short with him, the way he’d brush Johnny off. Small things, like the decision to eat at the same restaurant they’d been ordering from for years instead of trying a new one just a little bit further into the city; Johnny making the kitchen explode in a flurry trying to get cupcakes ready for the bake sale that Kun miraculously had time to help out for.
Big things, like Johnny walking out in the middle of an argument about Kun’s late hours; like Kun telling Johnny he was too tired whenever Johnny would try to get him to make love; like Johnny whispering, “You don’t even touch me anymore,” into the darkness, while Kun pretended to sleep.
“It’s like we got married and turned into the exact people we told each other we’d never be,” Kun whispers.
“Yeah,” Johnny says, his voice flat. “Exactly.”
There’s no work on the weekends, no reason to be awake this early.
Well, maybe there are some.
The kiss that’s pressed into the back of Kun’s neck wakes him up, and the hand that snakes under his shirt to run up against his belly and then down into his boxers rouses him further, before he’s turning in Johnny’s arms and catching Johnny’s lips in his while Johnny shifts positions and braces himself over Kun.
He can feel Johnny’s cock hard and pressing against his own growing erection, and he sighs into the kiss, the onslaught of lips and teeth on his neck delicious and perfect while he runs his hands along Johnny’s toned back.
“Mmmm, good morning, Daddy,” Kun whispers, which makes Johnny break away into a small fit of giggles. “What? I can’t call you that anymore?” Kun asks, laughing as well, trying to keep his voice down.
“It just feels weird ‘cos we’re literal dads now,” Johnny says, his eyes full of mirth. Their baby monitor tells them that Jisung is still asleep, which is a miracle for seven in the morning, though Kun doubts they have a lot of time to work with.
“Oh my god, please stop talking,” Kun groans. “Don’t talk about our son when you have your morning wood pressing into my thigh, come on, dude.”
“God, what a demotion from Daddy to Dude,” Johnny teases, but leans in to kiss Kun again, nipping at his jaw. “Come on, I wanna take you apart.”
Talking ceases then as Johnny throws the covers off of them and makes quick work of pulling Kun’s boxers down, all but ripping Kun’s shirt off before he strips down as well. The thrill of it is in their hurry, the need to get naked as soon as possible like their baby monitor is a ticking time bomb.
The lubricant goes on Johnny’s fingers before he’s sliding one into him, and it burns, Kun’s entrance tight from having gone days without being filled to the brim with his husband’s cock. One finger becomes two, and two becomes three before Kun’s cock is leaking all over his belly, the clear precum coating his erection while Johnny strokes his length and scissors him open.
Kun’s breathing is erratic. He’s normally loud when Johnny fucks him, but he keeps his mouth pressed into the pillow, biting down when he’d usually be calling out for Johnny to hurry the fuck up, but Johnny gets the message anyway, holding the blunt head to Kun’s entrance and pushing in slowly, allowing Kun to accommodate him once again, Kun’s legs wrapping around Johnny’s waist when Johnny bottoms out, hips flush against Kun’s.
He’s so full he can barely form words, Johnny holding his hips down and fucking hard and fast into Kun like he’s breeding him, and Kun runs his mouth, bites along Johnny’s trapezius, teeth marks deep into Johnny’s shoulder, his tongue wet as he plays with Johnny’s ear lobe, breath hot as he groans, “Fill me up, Johnny, that’s it, put a baby in me,” and Johnny’s losing control, hips torquing in syncopated movements.
“Fuck me harder,” Kun says, and he’s so close, so fucking close, could come on Johnny’s dick just like this, and when Johnny reaches between them to jack Kun off, Kun pulls his hand away, tells him, “No, just keep fucking me,” every stroke pressing a jolt into Kun’s prostate, before Kun’s taking Johnny’s clean hand and sucking his fingers into his mouth, tonguing between Johnny’s pointer and middle finger like the valley between them is the sweetest thing he’s ever tasted. Kun feels it build in his legs, feels the cramp begin, feels the orgasm rip out of him from his skull to his cock, ropes of white shooting across his chest and belly as he continues to fellate Johnny’s fingers, squeezing tight around Johnny’s cock before—
“Fuck, baby, you have no idea how beautiful you are,” Johnny groans, spilling hot and frenzied into Kun’s ass, and Kun can feel it, how full he is, can hear the disgusting squelch of the cum being fucked into him, and then out, with every thrust.
They lay there, Johnny’s face pressed against Kun’s forehead as they catch their breath.
Johnny pulls out gently, but Kun remains folded in half, holding his knees to his chest as Johnny sits back on his haunches and admires his handiwork, thumbing along the rim of Kun’s stretched-out hole and pushing the cum back in, the way Kun loves to have done to him.
“God, Kun,” Johnny says, slipping what feels like two fingers back into his entrance and prodding slowly against Kun’s prostate, making his softened cock twitch. “You’re perfect for me, baby.”
Kun knows his smile is dopey and stupid, but Johnny leans in and says, “I love you so much,” and Kun whispers, “I love you forever,” just as the baby monitor pings and Jisung’s crying begins.
“I’ll be the one,” Kun says, kissing Johnny on the cheek for good measure. “Let me take care of you both today.”
He uses his shirt to wipe himself down while Johnny just basks in his Saturday-morning afterglow. Kun pulls his boxers on before stepping into the bathroom and washing his hands thoroughly with soap and water.
Kun steps into Jisung’s room right across from theirs and sees his little bundle’s arms moving, reaching out, wanting to be carried. Jisung’s hair has grown so much in the four months he’s been with them, and it’s his favorite thing to carry him and bury his nose there, taking in the smell of their baby boy.
He takes Jisung into his arms, lays him on the counter to check his nappies, and sure enough, there’s the rank stench of his poop, but Kun smiles to himself, going through the motions of wiping Jisung down properly, replacing his diaper, adding rash cream, and doing it up again.
“All right, baby baby, let’s go say hi to Appa,” Kun says, securing Jisung in his arms, holding him close to his chest, his hand supporting Jisung’s head, before crossing over to their room where Johnny steps out of the bathroom, wiping his hands on a small towel before he spots them and coos, going, “Hello, my darling boy,” and pressing kisses to Jisung’s forehead. “Hello, little one!”
There’s no work on weekends, but Kun will gladly wake up early for this, for his perfect little family.
Kun knows that Johnny and Jisung are home when he hears the garage door open. Johnny had taken Kun’s car to pick Jisung up, and he smiles to himself when he can hear Jisung’s loud, endless chatter in the garage, Johnny filling in the spaces with, “Oh, really?” and “So you’re kicking everyone’s butt in English?” and “Hey be nice, my cooking is just as good as Baba's,” before they both step into the kitchen and Jisung toes his black leather shoes off by by the door, walking over in his socked feet to hug Kun around the middle.
He bends down to press a kiss to Jisung’s forehead, and Jisung launches into what appears to be a retelling of his day in school, something that Johnny no doubt is hearing for the second time now. Kun glances up, and catches Johnny’s soft smile before his husband looks away abruptly.
It makes his heartache something awful.
They’d had a long, quiet talk when they’d gotten home from the airport, Kun having put in a leave of absence for today and tomorrow. Kun had stayed in the living room, sat on the Crate and Barrel sofa that they’d spent four hours play-arguing over before Johnny had handed his credit card and they’d walked out hand-in-hand beaming from the purchase.
He’d run his hand over the upholstery, over the spots where the suede had gone smooth and faded until Johnny had sat opposite him on the sectional, leaning on his elbows, his back hunched over.
“Why did you leave, Johnny?” Kun had finally asked.
“I couldn’t keep it up, Kun,” Johnny replied. “I couldn’t keep waking up and asking for something and being brushed off or made to feel like I was alone in this. I’ve been yours since I was twenty-one, thrown everything I’ve ever had into this relationship and into our family and I just didn't know where I was in all this anymore relative to all that.”
“Have you found him, then?”
Johnny had looked away, frowned and ran his hand through his hair.
“I’m getting there,” Johnny had said. “I want to be here, I want what’s best for Jisung, and—I loved who I was in New York, you know? I missed you, and I missed him, and I don’t know how I’m supposed to have that, allowed to have that sort of… freedom?”
Freedom, Johnny had said.
Kun shakes himself out of it, tries to compose himself as he pulls it together.
They’ve agreed to the divorce, with joint custody. The days that Kun has Johnny in this house are now numbered, and he has no idea how to grapple with that, but he supposes that the two months without Johnny around have given him some sort of crash course.
He barely has time to mourn the end of things because Jisung is still talking to him and Kun has to pretend things are okay. It’s too soon to tell him. He needs to talk to a lawyer, they need to figure out how they’re going to split their assets, how he’s going to give spousal support, everything.
Johnny had said that this is the best for them both, that it’s good they’re deciding to do this while they’re still on amicable terms. Most couples expect a bitter fight when they’re settling divorce matters, and they’d both seen what a shitstorm the dissolution of Taeil and his wife’s marriage had been, though it certainly hadn’t helped that he’d caught her in bed with David Lindhagen from Accounting.
Kun wants to think they’re lucky, that maybe this really is the most ideal solution to the jagged edges that they’ve had to dance on for the last couple of years.
Nevermind the fact that all Kun wants to do is beg Johnny to stay.
Nevermind the fact that even when Kun has hated Johnny for leaving, for nagging, for all the passive-aggression over the years, he still very much loves him.
“Baba, are you making cong you bing?” Jisung asks, peering over the counter to scrutinize the scallions that Kun had been in the middle of chopping.
“Yeah, Baobei, you wanna help?” Kun replies, moving the bowl of flour for the pancake’s dough.
Cooking with Jisung has become such second-nature to him that he doesn’t expect Johnny to think it odd, but his voice drifts from behind Kun as Johnny leans on the door frame, his arms crossed, his face amused.
“This is a sight to see, I gotta say,” Johnny says, and Kun feels the sting of it, knows that it’s just another one of Johnny’s barbed remarks about how absent Kun has been from Jisung’s life in the years leading up to this, but Johnny adds, “It’s nice.”
Kun’s insides squirm, unsure of what to make of it.
“I told you Baba’s cooking is better now,” Jisung says matter-of-factly, his tone almost suggesting that Johnny is slow on the uptake, and it makes Johnny and Kun laugh.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence baby,” Kun says, rubbing his forearm on Jisung’s hair. “But no one makes galbi-jjim like Appa does, so I’d say we’re pretty evenly matched, yeah?”
Jisung hums, and then takes the bowl in his hands to bring it over to the dining table. “I guess.”
Kun throws a look over his shoulder, and he knows that the soft smile on Johnny’s face is a concession.
He holds on to it like a lifebuoy.
“Baby, do you think we’re ready to start a family?”
Kun shifts in Johnny’s arms that are bracketing him against the counter while Kun presses down on the handle of Johnny’s French press. Johnny kisses along his jaw, distracting him.
They’ve been engaged for four months, and they’re still planning their wedding, but Johnny asks, and Kun closes his eyes, and imagines what it would be like to have a little one running around in this new house.
“Yeah,” Kun says, pouring the coffee into his white mug and Johnny’s blue one. “I think we’ve been ready for a while, honestly.”
They both love children, adore being around their god kids. Johnny had always had the vision of marriage and kids at twenty-five, and as the date draws nearer, Kun finds himself giddy at the prospect. They’re both young, both successful, both madly in love. There’s nothing they can't do.
“Let’s start a family,” Johnny says softly, and Kun turns in his arms to face him.
“Let’s start a family,” Kun repeats, tilting his chin up to pull Johnny into a kiss.
In the succeeding month and a half, Johnny moves into a one-bedroom apartment in Northbrook, and Jisung spends time with him there every other week, as a trial separation. Kun’s in-laws had wanted Johnny to move back in with them, but he’d respectfully declined, and, good-natured as they always were, trusting him with his decisions, they’d let it go.
They’d both sat down and explained to Jisung that Appa and Baba needed more time away from each other, and that it would be like that for a while. Jisung had looked at them with wide eyes, and asked them if they didn’t love each other anymore. They’d been quick to dispel that notion, at least.
Eomeo-nim invites Kun out to coffee one afternoon, and Kun goes, even if it means driving up to Northbrook on a Friday. He finds her sitting outside the cafe, her legs crossed and her feet in her Louboutins giving her the four inches that she otherwise would have had to tiptoe when she finally sees him and stands up to embrace him.
He hasn’t told his parents about the divorce yet, and he knows he should, but he shelves the thought because Eomma Suh looks at him with kind eyes, and takes his hand after he’s finished off his espresso.
“I hate this,” she says. “I don’t want you two to break it off, but I don’t think you’ve gotten to this point without giving it serious thought, so I understand. But what I need you to understand is that you’re still my son.”
Kun doesn’t expect this, or his reaction to it, which has him folding himself over and hiding his face in his hand because he feels like a puppet with its strings cut loose. He feels alone in this, but it seems like Johnny is happier with this course of action, and more than anything, he hates the thought of Johnny staying in a marriage where he feels like he’s trapped and suffocated.
Kun doesn’t want to wake up next to someone who hates him, too.
“I still want you around, Kun,” Eomma Suh continues, and Kun has to pull a bunch of tissues to his face to mop it up. “You’re good to him. You’ve always been good to him and good for him. I don’t think he’s stopped loving you, either, but my son has always been much more headstrong that I am.”
Kun huffs a wet laugh at that, manages to get his tears under control. He never used to cry this much, Jesus.
“Eomma—eomma you have no idea how much that means to me,” Kun says quietly, her hand still in his. “I just… I’m trying to do the best thing for Jisung and for Johnny. I love them both too much to want to make this harder than it has to be.”
“I know,” she says, finally releasing his hand. “You promise me that when you need anything, you call me, okay? If you want to come over for a weekend or anything, use the pool, want my cooking which I know you love, just let me know.”
Kun feels like he’s twenty years old again, meeting her for the first time at the Northbrook house and being so stiff, so scared that he was meeting Johnny’s family after just the fifth date, but she treats him now the same way she had then: with open adoration, gentle understanding.
Kun’s spoken with a lawyer, someone that Mr. Welter Jr. had suggested.
(“She handled my first and second divorces. She’s fantastic and it’s never a bloody affair,” he’d sworn, giving Kun the calling card for Stein, Weinberg, Steinberg and Jimenez. “Look for Joohyun.”)
The papers will be sent over to the house in a week.
He and Johnny are cordial, pleasant enough with each other when they drop Jisung off at each other’s place. Johnny lands a job with a new magazine, a local one that focuses on food and recipes, and Kun trawls through the internet to see if there are any classes that Johnny can take for food photography. He strikes gold, finds a quick five-session course held in Downtown Chicago near the Art Institute, and pays for it as a surprise. (Refundable, should it not be received warmly.)
He tells Johnny about it when he brings Jisung over on a Saturday morning, and tells Johnny not to worry about it, it’ll be good for him, and the look Johnny gives him is indecipherable, but Johnny stutters out a thank you, and that’s enough for Kun.
He tries not to think too hard about the lingering hand on Kun’s back when Kun had said goodbye, or the smile on Johnny’s face before Kun had made his way back to the car.
The weeks when Jisung stays over at Johnny’s are long, and quiet. A stark reminder that he lives his life sectioned off now. Time with Jisung, time without.
And, endlessly, time without Johnny.
Kun keeps the bedroom the same, even if the bed is too big for him. Johnny had wanted a California king but compromised with a queen instead when Kun had told him that he didn’t want all that space between them.
He misses his family the most in the silent pockets of the house that would have otherwise been filled with noise and laughter if Kun had only just gotten his head out of his ass when he still had the chances to. Johnny had given him all the signs, all those years. He hadn’t blindsided Kun, he’d given Kun every chance he had left, until there was none.
He misses the weekends in the park, and Jisung’s obsession with cartoons that changed from week to week. He misses the sureness with which he used to wake up, knowing that next to him, Johnny would be there, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, all of it.
And most of all, he misses his husband. He misses who they used to be to each other, before the pressures of the world got to them and drove a wedge between them. He misses how Johnny used to egg him on, how they used to play devil’s advocate and argue politics while the Democratic National Convention would be playing on t.v.; how loving him felt like swimming through the clearest lake, how they used to reach out for each other across the vast expanses of bedding and table cloth, always drawn to each other.
They are both so far now from the two kids who’d met in a Spanish restaurant fifteen years ago, but Kun wishes that he could hold on to a sliver of that, or find a way to relearn each other.
He’d known from the first kiss that Johnny was it for him. Why had he allowed himself to forget that?
[Johnny: 4:31 p.m.]
> Hey. I just wanted to thank you again for the photography class
> They taught us food styling today which like
> There are usually food stylists on set but we need to know the basics of it if we wanna capture it right so i'm really grateful you got me this course.
> I can pay you back for it
Kun stares at the message while he sits at his desk, pushing his office chair away from it so he can swivel around and look out over the city. A corner office. Better pay.
God, what a fucking trade-off.
He sighs, and unlocks his phone to type out a response
[me: 4:33 p.m.]
> It was a gift, Johnny. I don’t want to be paid back for it.
> I’m happy it’s helping you
He hesitates to add more, but he figures: he’s got nothing left to lose.
[me: 4:34 p.m.]
> You always were really good at it to begin with, I’m just happy this will help you ease into the new job :)
[Johnny: 4:39 p.m.]
> Thank you for being so supportive about this, kun :)
> I’m honestly a little scared cos it’s a new magazine but hey, the pay is good
[me: 4:40 p.m.]
> Hey if some rich kid wants to put up a pretentious magazine and pay you handsomely for it, and the hours are good? there’s literally no reason to say no
> get that coin ;)
[Johnny: 4:41 p.m.]
> haha thanks :)
> take care.
Kun locks his phone, hands shaking a little bit as he pockets it in his trousers. He brings his hand up to his face, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, pushing his glasses up and out of the way.
He really shouldn’t be putting too much stake in a little text exchange, but he’d be lying to himself if he didn’t admit that even this one has him floating a bit. He catches his reflection in the glass paneling as the sun begins its descent, and he’s smiling, before reality comes crashing back down and he remembers that he is still, in fact, getting divorced from this man.
He mutters to himself: this is for the best.
He doesn’t quite believe it, but he’ll get there. Maybe.
“Hey,” Johnny says over the phone, clearly on loudspeaker from the sound of it.
Kun sits up in bed, phone pressed to his ear. “Hey, morning,” he replies, his voice still rough from sleep. “Fu—shoot, what time is it? Is something wrong?”
“It’s nine-eighteen,” Johnny replies. “I’m sorry I woke you! Nothing’s wrong, Jisung and I are just on the way to H Mart and I wanted to know if you needed anything for the house?”
Kun opens his eyes, his brain trying to catch up to the conversation.
“Sorry, hold on—” Kun says, rolling out of bed, his feet landing just shy of his bedroom slippers before he slips them on and pads out into the kitchen to check the pantry. He can hear his son singing ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me’ in the background. “Did you let him watch Toy Story again?”
“Listen, it was either that or Ghostbuster’s, and we both know how you felt about that after day three of him singing it,” Johnny laughs, and it’s genuine, a response to a happy memory of when Jisung had been seven and fixated on the movie. They’d gotten him the full jump suit and backpack and everything. Kun had had to deal with Jisung jumping out from behind cabinets and corners going, “Who you gonna call!” for a week.
“Okay, touche,” Kun replies, peering into the cabinets and the refrigerator to see what he needs. “Alright, I need mirin, and—Jisung baby, Baobei, how are we feeling about enoki mushrooms?”
“Sungie, Baba is talking to you,” Johnny says, and the singing in the background stops.
“What?” Jisung says loudly.
“How do you feel about enoki mushrooms now? Do you like them again? The stringy bits that I wrapped in bacon last time?” Kun asks, raising his voice so his kid can hear him.
“Yeah, Baba, I like them,” Jisung says.
“I’m sure it’s the bacon he’s remembering, Kun,” Johnny’s voice supplies, and it makes Kun laugh while he leans against the kitchen counter, relaxed for the first time in a while.
“You’re not the only one sneaky about vegetables in his meals, baby,” Kun says, before he freezes on the spot, and has to backtrack. “Ah—uh, sorry, I mean. Johnny.”
Kun’s glad he doesn’t have to see Johnny’s face at the moment. There’s a beat of silence, before Johnny says, “Is that all you need, Kun? Mirin and enoki mushrooms?”
“And oolong,” Kun says faintly, his knuckles turning white where he’s gripping the counter too tight.
“Alright, see you later, say bye to Baba, Sungie,” Johnny says.
“Bye, Baba!” Jisung calls out, and the call ends.
Christ. Kun’s slipped up, and now he’s got approximately three or four hours to stew in his worry that he’s gone and pissed Johnny off again, or offended him, or something.
It’s the weekend, and Johnny’s set to bring Jisung home this morning, hence the stopover at H Mart. The house has been pristine all week, but he sets himself loose in the house to go over cleaning it again, making sure Jisung’s sheets are fresh, that all his toys are in order, that the laundry’s been attended to, if only to take his mind off things.
Except that he finishes all that in an hour, and when he checks the time, he sees that it’s nearing brunch, so he figures he might as well make something quick to eat for himself, and maybe something to offer Johnny when he comes by.
Maybe he can get Johnny to stay for lunch.
He hasn’t made yukgaejang since Johnny left, but he’s had the beef for it in the freezer for a couple of weeks now. Today seems to be as good a time as any to make Johnny’s favorite, especially since Eomma-nim had taught him the recipe.
Kun sighs, and takes his phone, typing out his message before he can chicken out.
[me: 10:22 a.m.]
> Hey, don’t have lunch out. I’m making yukgaejang for you guys
> I mean, if you want to stay for it.
> No pressure though
Kun pulls the gosari out and soaks it in the pot of water before bringing the stove to life, pretending that he isn’t nervously waiting for Johnny’s response.
It’s when he’s halfway through boiling the fernbrakes that he hears his phone go off.
[Johnny: 10:48 a.m.]
> Wouldn’t miss it for the world :)
Kun breathes several breaths in relief.
The conference room of Stein, Weinberg, Steinberg and Jimenez is too cold for Kun’s liking, despite the fact that he’s got a suit on. His hands are frozen, and if Johnny’s fiddling with his fingers is any indication, so are his.
His lawyer, a gorgeous and austere-looking woman named Bae Joohyun opens up the blue folder before him, and hands him a fountain pen with a gold nib, explaining where he needs to affix his signatures on the divorce papers.
Kun has been mentally preparing himself for this every single day since Johnny came from New York, but it doesn’t make it any easier. He feels the weight of the pen in his hand, steels his resolve, and makes the first movement.
On the last page, Kun bites down on the inside of his cheek, and adds his last needed signature.
Johnny’s lawyer, a young man with sandy brown hair and too-large glasses whose name sounds like Wilbur but also might be Filbert, takes the folder and turns it to face Johnny.
It’s the first time Kun is allowing himself to look at Johnny’s face properly all morning, afraid that he’d lose his nerve if he did, but when he looks up, Johnny is looking directly at him.
The pen is poised in Johnny’s hand, but he keeps his eyes fixed on Kun, his back ramrod straight. His lips part before closing again, voice not even having a chance to make its way out. Johnny inhales, and sets the pen down.
“Kun, would you hate me if I told you I didn’t want to go through with this?”
The room is deathly silent. Kun gapes at Johnny.
“I’m—What?” Kun stutters, and the first bubble of hope he’s felt in nearly four months starts to balloon inside his chest.
“I—I know, I know I’m being such a hot fucking mess right now but I keep going over it in my head trying to picture my life where I don’t call you my husband anymore and I just,” Johnny says. “I laid awake in bed all night and I just wanted to come home.” Johnny swallows. “I’m sorry, but I still love you so much and I want to come home, if you’ll have me.”
Kun gapes at Johnny, as do the two other lawyers in the room.
“I think we’re going to take a break here while you both discuss this, Herbert, shall we?” Miss Bae says, nodding toward Johnny’s lawyer.
They’re alone within a few seconds.
“Johnny, are you sure?” Kun asks, and the hope grows and grows and grows, He folds his hands before him.
“Do you think you could love me again?” Johnny asks, his voice steady, his eyes pleading.
“Darling,” Kun says. “I never stopped.”
Johnny slumps in his seat, elbow on the table and head in his hand, pushing his hair out of the way.
“Fuck,” Johnny laughs, before wiping a tear away hastily. “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know that I don’t want to sign these papers.”
“I didn’t want to sign them, either, but I told myself that I needed to support the things you wanted,” Kun says. “Even if it was this.”
“We’re crazy,” Johnny says. “God, what the fuck?”
“We’re human,” Kun replies, but he can’t keep the smile from his face.
“Therapy,” Johnny says, straightening his back as he does whenever he has a new idea, except those usually mean things like camping trips and buying new furniture, not a game plan to save their marriage. “Can we do that? Can we try that maybe? And then see where we go from there?”
From the very moment he’d met Johnny Suh, Kun had known that he was going to throw caution to the wind over and over for this man, trusting him implicitly to hold his hand through the rest of their lives together.
Kun had met his soulmate at twenty years old. Of this, he was sure. He was going to fight to keep it that way.
“Okay, baby,” Kun says, beaming at Johnny. “I’ll do anything for us.”
Dr. Sloan’s clinic is on the 27th floor of Park Place along Michigan Avenue, overlooking Late Michigan from where Kun and Johnny are both sat on a couch that Kun is sure costs at least ten thousand dollars on Anthropologie. They share a look when they get a feel of the upholstery, and Kun knows that Johnny’s thinking about that day in Crate and Barrel again.
Their therapist is a small woman with hair like Anna Wintour’s, and her glasses are so aggressively thick that she looks a little bit like a bug, but she’d come highly recommended. (“She saved my third marriage, she’s fantastic!” Mr. Welter Jr. had said.)
“Okay, Kun,” Dr. Sloan says from where she’s perched on her purple loveseat across from them. “Can you tell me what falling in love with Johnny was like for you?”
Kun glances at Johnny, throws a wink his way, and says, “I first fell in love with Johnny for his smile. I saw him standing at the entrance of the restaurant we’d been forced to meet in and we locked eyes and—well, his smile lit up the room. I wanted him from the moment I met him.”
Dr. Sloan smiles, writing something down in her massive black leather notebook. “Like fate?”
Kun twists his wedding ring with his other hand, and thinks about all the things that brought them here to this sofa, in this clinic. He hasn’t given much thought to the cosmos in a while, but he takes this moment to say thank you.
“Like fate, yeah,” he smiles.