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Prologue

15th December 20__

Jisung startles when his phone chimes.

He saves his document – this is the sixth time in fifteen minutes – makes a face at the paltry amount of words and closes the window. He rolls his chair back, kicks his feet up on the table and opens the message. It is from Minho; a foregone conclusion since only his number is exempt from the iron fist of the productivity app that Jisung uses. He opens it with a light flutter in his stomach.

Minho: So…

Minho: You know it’s winter holidays, I kind of don’t want to stay alone in a bare apartment when I come back 🙈🙈

Minho: It’s not been used for quite a while

Minho: So I was just thinking if I could maybe, if you are okay with it, stay with you for a day or so? 

Minho: If it isn’t too much trouble 🥺🥺🥺

Jisung doesn’t even pause to think. He texts Minho an affirmative.

───────

Jisung goes to Chan and Changbin’s apartment in the evening.

“You were over the moon because Minho was coming back,” Chan says during early dinner, sprinkling chili flakes over his omelette. Jisung notices Changbin frowning at him, but Chan smiles apologetically and picks up the ketchup bottle. “What happened all of a sudden?” He squeezes the bottle.

Jisung’s stomach clenches. “You know what happened,” he says, thinking of the way his stomach flutters every time Minho texts him. “I’ll end up making a fool of myself just like – just like before.”

“Hmm,” Changbin says over the sound of Chan whacking the ketchup bottle’s bottom. “Maybe it’s an opportunity,” Changbin turns to Chan, “Please stop, this is a serious discussion.”

“Why is this an opportunity?” Jisung demands even though there’s a tell-tale uptick in his heartbeat. Stop it , stop getting louder , he thinks, frowning. Focus. He raises his brow at Chan and Changbin who are both making faces at each other in a wordless argument.

Changbin throws his hand up. Chan attends to the bottle again, looking vaguely guilty. “You’ve been glowing for the past few weeks,” Changbin says, looking Jisung right in the eye. “And from the things you’ve told us, it seems like Minho is smitten too.”

Jisung pokes at his omelette. “He’s just being friendly. Remember what happened last time?” He cringes and stabs his omelette to get rid of the flickering reel of images.

“You were drunk. That doesn’t invalidate your present feelings. I think you should go for it.” Chan shakes the bottle. “What the hell is wrong with this?”

“That’s what happens when you buy shitty, off brand stuff because it was on sale,” Changbin says. His eyes are still on Jisung and this time he raises a brow.

Jisung sighs, fiddles with his chopsticks. “I don’t know. I mean -” he shakes his head. His skin feels tight like it is trying to delay the seepage of this argument into his body and into his mind. “I know what you all think, but I don’t want a repeat of that,” his voice cracks, “I just want for this holiday to go by smoothly.”

There is silence. Jisung can hear the traffic from the street, the impatient honks of office workers wanting to reach home. Pale sunlight finds its way past the gathering clouds, its light taking the shape of the square window frames as it spills into the kitchen.

“Can we go out later and get proper dinner?” Chan asks, breaking the silence. “This is, sorry to say, absolute shit.”

Jisung nods, relief walloping his chest. “Also can we just eat dinners at a normal time instead of doing this early dinner thing?”

Changbin shakes his head, disgusted. “Early, healthy dinners are beneficial. Also, it hasn’t even been a day yet and we’re only trying it out twice a week-”

“You’re outvoted,” Chan informs him. “Jisung and I demand proper foods at proper times.”

“I’m bullied mercilessly,” Changbin complains and splutters when Jisung throws a bit of omelette at him.

Jisung laughs.

───────

Part I

section i: cornerstone

 

Excerpt: Untitled Journal Entry

The stars that we look at are probably already dead. What we observe in the night sky is their light travelling billions of miles to be seen by us. In a way, the stars we so admire are already in the past while we stargaze in the present moment. The past intertwines with the present.

From their spots in the sky, as their light pulses through space, the dead stars look at us, wondering if this speck of a human being marvels at their former glory. They are looking at us even as we are looking at them.

I wonder if just like the stars, a part of us, a part of our soul from our past looks upon us in our present and marvels at how things have changed, how much better they are.

I hope it does because I always seem to look back at my memories, at my past, and marvel at their beauty, at all the light they held. 

───────

Year One: Semester I and II

Jisung has come to a conclusion that he is going to graduate from college without any friends. Also, that movies and books about college life are only vaguely accurate. 

He stares at his laptop and then at his room. His room is still a strange space even though he has lived here for nearly a month now. Sure, there are posters on the wall and clothes strewn around. He has even put up his stars on the ceiling, something that is a source of bemusement for his roommate. All signs of life are here. But they are all out of place, just like Jisung. They’re uncanny, even; it is unsettling to see his plushies and books in an unfamiliar, discomforting room.

And there’s no group he belongs to either. He has a couple of acquaintances, but he can’t envision them becoming friends. He knows that he is just filling a gap in their group till they find their perfect friend. They’ve gone on a few outings without informing him, and Jisung understands what it means. There’s a stab of humiliation when he recalls how he ran around trying to find his ‘friends’ only to stumble upon them thirty minutes later. They said they had been looking for him, but Jisung doubts that.

He huffs loudly to dispel the memory and put his laptop away. He stands and stretches, checks his watch. It is nearly dinner time. He then checks his messages, finds that his dad has texted him asking about his plans for the evening. He replies that he is leaving his unfriendly room to have a lonesome meal.

He switches on his ‘sad life, sad, sad’ playlist and shuffles slowly down the corridor, staring at every closed door, wondering if someone behind a door will be his friend one day. 

Let no one ever think that he isn’t dramatic.

───────

Excerpt: Untitled Journal Entry

How is it possible to ‘be’, to exist and yet not be seen? How can I walk past a place teeming with people, brush against them, and still remain unseen? It’s so strange to think that people who are flesh and bones, made of matter and mattering to some, are made invisible just because people refuse to look or decide to look but look past them.

What’s also strange is that ‘look past’ has both a positive and negative connotation. Positive: to look beyond appearances to see what a person is like on the inside. Negative: to look past their bodies and their minds and close your eyes deliberately to their existence.

Do you matter when people don’t see you; when they don’t know you or know of you? Yes, you’re taking space because you’re made of matter, but there has to be something beyond this simple existence, right? They say you have two deaths and your final death happens when you’re forgotten and your name is not spoken

───────

Jisung’s assigned partner is named Lee Minho, and from what Jisung remembers, there are two people named Lee Minho in this class. He doesn’t know either one of them and people are already pairing up in a whirl of shouted names and clatter of shoes. Jisung doesn’t shout and he doesn’t know how to manoeuvre this roiling crowd. His classmate’s chatter swells and crests all around him.

“Has everyone found their partners?” the professor calls out, after clapping to gain the class’s attention. The professor claps again, louder when the noise continues unabated. There’s an abrupt hush broken only by a stifled giggle. “Have you all found your partners?” he repeats.

The yeses are louder than the noes. Jisung is going to cry.

“Alright, those of you who haven’t found your partners, step out a little, call out their names. Raise your hands if you’re the missing partner. Let’s get it done quickly, we’ve already wasted enough time,” he shakes his head.

Jisung crosses his arms, drives the nail of his thumb into the tip of his index finger. His throat is aching and he wants to punch himself. There is no reason to cry over something so small, but he can’t control the tightness in his chest and the heat on his face. He watches people call out the names of their partners, detect the raised hand and drag themselves to a seat. They are taking turns in an order that Jisung is unaware of, so he decides to call out after the girl who is staring at the group with dejection.

“Not here, probably,” one person says and she nods and steps aside.

“Lee -”

“Wang-”

Jisung pauses, looks at the guy who spoke at the same time as him. There are scattered titters. Jisung’s eyes burn. The guy waves his hand in a ‘go ahead’ gesture. “Lee Minho,” Jisung calls, his voice thin. He looks at the group of people who haven’t found their partners, but they look at him blankly. He sees a hand waving from the corner of his eyes. His partner is sitting on a bench towards the middle of the class.

He walks towards him, blinking rapidly to clear his eyes. Lee Minho is obviously a senior. He is wearing a faded college hoodie and has a general air of lassitude about him. He has that look of ‘done-ness’ that all college seniors invariably seem to have.

“Hi,” he mumbles, slipping into the seat next to Minho. Up ahead, the professor is pairing up the people whose partners are absent with each other. “I’m Jisung.”

Minho looks at him, and Jisung is struck by the evenness of his features. He is really good looking and Jisung had definitely not expected to get such a pretty partner. His skin prickles and he drops his gaze. “I’m Jisung,” he says again without thinking and his cheeks burn when he realises that he has repeated himself.

“You passed by me thrice without asking my name,” Minho informs him, tapping his pencil on the desk. He has an odd way of blinking, Jisung notices. He blinks as if he is forcing his eyelids to close and open. Also, he has really thick lashes, and he’s just… very handsome. 

“Oh,” Jisung says. He had been so frazzled that he hadn’t really noticed anything. Even someone like Minho. “Must’ve missed you,” he says.

Minho nods, turns away much to Jisung’s relief. Not that his side profile is any less gorgeous. Jisung pokes his cheek, self conscious. He drops his hand and then his gaze to his fingers. 

The professor claps his hands again, dragging Jisung’s attention back and saving him from having to fill the silence. This is an English elective class for intermediate speakers and it is an easy one. That’s why there are so many seniors: it’s a simple way to get credits and is not too hectic. Jisung has chosen to take it in his first year itself because he doesn’t want to overwhelm himself by being too ambitious.

The assignment for the day is a speaking exercise. The professor gives them instructions: all they have to do is converse with their partners and get to know them, write a summary, submit it. It’s an easy one but Jisung is not particularly in the mood for speaking exercises, especially when it's just the second class. 

Minho turns to him the moment the professor asks them to start. “You know, it would be easier to just write a summary about ourselves and then send it to each other so that we can submit it.”

Jisung is not expecting this. He is not the most honest student, and yes, he doesn't like this exercise much, but he has never outright cheated like this either. He wets his lips, unsure of how to disagree with an intimidating senior. “Um,” he says, “you don’t want to do the exercise?”

Minho studies him. Jisung squirms and picks at a fraying thread on the knee of his jeans. He wishes he had cut class and stayed buried in his blankets. “I want to,” Minho says, “but you look like you are going to burst into tears.”

It’s an accurate observation, but he bristles anyway. He sits up straight and puffs out his chest. “I’m fine. I don’t want to cheat,” he barks and realises that he sounds too accusing. He can hear his bravado leave him in a whoosh when Minho raises a brow, but he still glares at Minho.

“Alright then, let’s get to work,” Minho says with a tight lipped smile and Jisung catches the annoyed glint in his eyes.

“Students,” the professor calls, hands folded across his chest. “This is the first conversation that many of you are having with your partners. Sit face to face and show some human spirit, for god’s sake!”

There’s a resounding groan, and Jisung again thinks, that he should’ve cut class. Why does he have to be such a nerd?

“No! Face to face,” the professor says, “come on, now.”

Minho gets up, walks to the seat in front of them, and sits backwards on it. Jisung immediately drops his eyes, the sudden eye contact overwhelming him. Minho doesn’t seem to notice, however, he’s that focused on rummaging through his bag.

“What’s your major?” he asks, opening his laptop.

Jisung sighs internally and answers Minho’s question.

───────

Dad: How was class…?

Jisung: was fine dad

Jisung: i am kinda tired, going to sleep 😪

Dad: Ok…

───────

He decides to go to the astronomy club event because he’s interested in it. The fact that the senior handing out fliers is really attractive does not factor into the equation at all. Not even a little. Jisung likes space and stars and stuff and he’ll get to meet people there. That’s all.

He regrets it the moment the meeting starts, however. Turns out the event is an academic discussion about some recent finding. Jisung, whose knowledge about space is limited to relentless and poorly informed romanticism about the stars; an obsession with parallel universes, and the fluorescent stars on his ceiling, loses interest before the third slide is changed.

He casts a longing look at the door that is being manned by two eagle eyed and stone faced seniors. The room is tiny and dark with only the pale light of the projector grudgingly offering some illumination. Hot senior drones on, throws questions, praises the ones who answer. Jisung wishes his life consisted of something other than waiting for things to be over.

He stifles a yawn and adjusts his position so that he is more comfortable. Just then, there’s a movement at his periphery. He looks around at the smattering of people and notices a boy in the row beside him staring at him. Jisung pauses, unsure of what to do.

“What the hell,” the boy mouths, gesturing towards the senior and his presentation.

For a moment he doesn’t understand what is happening. The boy leans forward and damn, his face is magnificent. What’s it with him stumbling into pretty people everywhere? The boy pretends to slash his throat with a finger. Jisung’s brain kicks into gear and a tendril of hope flickers in his stomach. He squashes it in favour of being cool. He shakes his head, “I know.”

The boy makes a shooing motion with his hand. Jisung blinks before he realises that he’s asking him to move. Jisung shifts to the side, dragging his things along with him. In a smooth flurry of movements, the boy collects his stuff and slides into Jisung’s bench and proceeds to stare at the hot senior. Jisung is left looking at him, a bit miffed by this entire production.

The boy scribbles something and then pushes the book towards Jisung. Hi. I’m Hyunjin , the boy has written, and I want to disappear right now .

Jisung grins. He doesn’t know why, but he has a good feeling about this Hyunjin and he’s going to try to keep the conversation going. It just feels like something that he’ll be glad he did at a later time. He starts writing a reply. I feel you. I’m Jisung btw. What do you study?

───────

Minho really likes weird, horrifying stuff.

“Um,” Jisung says, groping for words, “it’s really something else.”

Minho beams. “I was kind of inspired by the Tell Tale Heart.” He adjusts his headband. “I always liked the idea of body parts reflecting an emotion by itself. An ‘evil eye’, a heart that still beats in terror,” he smiles, “it is interesting and I wanted to explore that.”

“I–”

“Of course, it turned out to be difficult, so I switched to objects, and then my idea got more and more convoluted, but that’s the general idea,” Minho says. He looks pleased and his eyes are twinkling. There’s a hum of people talking around them and the professor walks past their desk, his shoes squeaking with every step.

“So you’re saying...” Jisung says, scrolling through the story, though he read Minho’s story at least five times last night and has nearly memorised it in his attempt to understand it. Jisung pauses to make a mental note. “...that objects have inherent qualities to them? And that some are inherently evil?”

“No,no,” Minho shakes his head. “I mean to say that objects don’t have any inherent meaning. We give them their meanings.” He frowns, tilts his head to the side. “Hmm, how do I put it? Like, an eye is not evil by itself even though the dude in Tell Tale Heart thought so because of his madness.”

Jisung stares at Minho. He looks really good in a headband; it fits his features well. Jisung himself is shy of wearing headbands because they expose his features too much. “I’m going to be honest, hyung,” he dispels his thoughts, turning to the task at hand. Giving feedback. “I don’t understand it at all. Why does the guy keep dreaming about potatoes? Why does he rush to a farm in the end? I read it five times and though I get your thought process now, it doesn’t come across in the story, you know.” He tugs at the knot of his hoodie.

Minho blinks, presses his lips together. “It is surrealism,” he says.

“Hyung,” Jisung says, “you can’t just use surrealism as an excuse for things that don’t make sense. That’s not how it works!”

“It is surrealism if I say so,” Minho folds his arm and glowers at Jisung.

Shit.

“Um,” Jisung stomach churns, “I mean it’s great that you wanted to explore surrealism, but – I don’t think it qualifies as surrealism and I didn’t want to disrespect you or anything, but it’s just the professor told us–” he breaks off and groans when he notices the mischievous smile that Minho is failing at holding back. “Hyung!”

Minho throws his head back in laughter. Jisung glares at him until he stops laughing. “You looked so scared,” Minho wheezes and breaks into giggles again.

“You looked really mad,” Jisung grumbles, glancing away from Minho’s gummy smile. There’s a sharp pull in his stomach.

Minho pats his shoulder. “There, there, stop pouting,” he says. His smile broadens when Jisung huffs. “I was just teasing.”

Jisung shakes his head. “You suck,” he says, emphatically.

Minho looks proud.

───────

“Water,” Minho says, “you’ve focused a lot on the purifying quality of water, I like it.”

Jisung jiggles his knee in time with the tap of his pencil on the desk. “Yeah, but more like… how it causes change, you know? Like I wanted to show how water is the thing that… well I suppose you can say it is purifying because N is a dick after all.”

“I can’t believe you just named your character N,” Minho shakes his head.

Jisung grins. “I suck at naming my characters.” He taps the pencil again. “You don’t think the symbolism is heavy handed?”

Minho tilts his head. “It’s a bit heavy handed, but I like it. You can make it subtler with practice,” he shrugs then smiles “I really like it Jisungie. You have an interesting way of thinking; you know that?”

Jisung flushes, taken aback. He never knows what to say when someone praises him and what he says usually ends up sounding rude. He settles on a simple, “thanks, hyung.” Then he casts about for a topic before this pause can veer to silence. “I have always thought about how yielding and unyielding water is.”

“Hmm?”

“I mean,” Jisung pauses. There he is, running his mouth again. He shakes his head. “Ah, actually it’s nothing. Do you have any more feedback?”

“No tell me,” Minho pokes his arm, “The last class I told you about how the way we give meanings to objects fascinates me, so tell me why water as a symbol fascinates you.”

Though Jisung is always up for impressing people with his fake deep theories and thoughts, this falls into the area of ‘I’m kind of being vulnerable right now.’ Minho’s eyes are warm, however, and his body is turned towards Jisung. Under the laser beam of Minho’s gaze, he hopes that his pimples aren’t too visible.

“It is yielding and unyielding at all the right times,” he says slowly, “unlike me. I yield when I have to resist and I am as stubborn as an ox when I should give in.” He ruffles his hair and his too long bangs fall in disarray. He fixes them. “So yeah.”

“I never thought of it that way,” Minho says, biting his lip.

“Yeah well… I always overthink.”

“It really depends on how you see things, and what you think, and what you do with them, doesn’t it?” Minho goes on dreamily, “how we interact with our world really depends on what meaning we give them.” His gaze turns considering.

Jisung resists the urge to squirm.

“I think we’ll be good friends, Jisungie,” he announces.

───────

Excerpt: Memories as a way of knowing?

Memorising something in order to understand it. If I memorise everything that makes up a person: their tics, their favourites, their likes and dislikes, their memories, their fears, etc. will I be able to understand them better and even completely?

───────

“Do you ever feel homesick?” Hyunjin asks. He has been teetering at the edge of tears for a whole week and Jisung has been politely ignoring it.

Jisung flips a page in his book. “Not really,” he says, “but I went to boarding school until I was thirteen, so I guess I’m used to being away from home.”

Hyunjin sighs, flops onto his side so that he’s facing Jisung, and tucks one hand under his head. “My mom’s birthday is tomorrow and Kkami is sick,” he mumbles into his bicep. “I just want to be back home.”

Back when he first went to boarding school and cried his eyes out due to homesickness, his mom had just said some variation of “Don’t cry” and “You’ll forget all of us soon!”  He doesn’t think Hyunjin will appreciate that. “That sucks,” he says.

“I feel like a baby being all like,” Hyunjin pitches his voice higher, “I wanna go home.” He sighs, flops onto his back. “But I can’t help it.”

Jisung plays with the dog-eared corner of the page he’s reading. “It happens. I mean there’s a lot going on, you’ll obviously want to be there.” He cringes. His words are about as comforting as a brick, but at least he said something.

"I don't think I'm homesick though,” Hyunjin continues as if he hasn't heard what Jisung said, "I like it here. It's just what's happening... "

"Hey, it's alright," Jisung closes his book and leans forward, "home is… well, home and it's just a part of you, I guess."

Hyunjin turns his head towards him. "Yeah," he smiles and Jisung can't help but smile back. "But, I make myself sad when I think about how my parent's home will not be my home soon." He sits up again and hunches his shoulders, "I mean, I have to get my own apartment and stuff soon, right? And then I'll be more attached to that than my childhood home."

Jisung squints as he thinks, "I can't actually imagine having a place of my own," he admits, "I know that you're talking about it in terms of like, ownership, but I just realised that I have always lived with someone."

"I always want someone around," Hyunjin rolls onto his back again, "it's nice to have company."

Jisung nods, then hesitates. "Do you want to… go get food?"

Hyunjin hums. “Sure. By the way, Felix said he’s going to bring a friend of his to lunch tomorrow.”

Jisung has become friends with Felix through Hyunjin and now Felix is bringing in another person. He toys with the idea of introducing Minho to his friends for a second. He dismisses it in the next breath. Why would Minho even bother? Jisung recalls seeing Minho once, surrounded by a group of people, sitting in one of the tables on the campus green.

“Sounds cool,” he says.

───────

Though it occurs to Jisung that he doesn’t have to sit with Minho all the time, Minho doesn’t seem to think so. He waves Jisung over to his seat every class, and Jisung always acquiesces. The trek to the middle row is spent in marvelling about the fact that a senior wants to spend time with. It’s not like he’s intimidated or anything. He’s just – awed?

It’s probably the strangeness of moving from school, where people are still grappling with puberty, to college where many have seamlessly wrangled it into order and squeezed the best out of it. Minho has definitely succeeded in squashing teenage angst. Jisung always shudders when he thinks of his high school years and though he can’t say that he has improved all that much, he’s just glad that he has friends now to help him with the angst. 

“What’s that smile for?” Minho asks the moment Jisung drops his bag on the desk.

“Nothing,” Jisung’s embarrassed to admit he’s smiling because he thought of his new friends. “It’s been a good couple of weeks.”

Minho cracks his knuckles then his neck. He sweeps his stuff closer to him to make space. “You’re lucky. I am dying a slow death because of my dissertation.”

“You’re always dying because of one thing or another, hyung,” Jisung says, sitting down. “So dramatic.”

“Wait till you get your third year, you’ll see,” Minho says, flicking Jisung’s cheek. “You’re young and full of hope now.”

Jisung thinks about the four assignments that he has to submit and his relentless procrastination. “I think I am just full of stupid right now, actually.”

“There should be some grey matter in here,” Minho pushes Jisung’s head to the side, “your head is pretty big.”

Jisung’s startled by the easy playfulness, the assurance with which Minho extends his friendship. It's like he cannot fathom the friendship not being reciprocated, and yes, Jisung is reciprocating with clumsy, enthusiastic alacrity, but it is still different. Unfamiliar grounds.

“You’ve hurt me,” he throws his head back and wipes a tear from his lash line. “You called me big-headed.”

“It’s okay,” Minho says, smiling into the rim of his water bottle, “it’ll get bigger once your frontal lobe develops.”

Jisung narrows his eyes. “I can’t believe you insulted me twice in the same sentence. Bullying is strictly prohibited here, you know.”

Minho takes a drink of water. Jisung has completely turned towards him during this conversation and thus he has a good view of the tendons on Minho’s neck straining, his jawline sharpening and his Adam’s apple working. Jisung swivels to face the front of the class, face flushing even as his stomach squirms in interest. Attractive is attractive, but he needs to make his staring less obvious. He hears the clink of Minho’s bottle against the wood of the desk.

“It’s just a bit of friendly teasing.” Minho’s voice is different; it has taken a sombre edge. Jisung looks at him. “If I am crossing any boundaries,” Minho’s eyebrows are creased earnestly and his eyes are warm, “please tell me to fuck off, okay? Don’t put up with me.”

Jisung feels threads of – of something wrap around them. It isn’t like when you use gentle probing feelers to find something new, but rather the settling of something new. Something finding its place. “Yes, of course, hyung,” he murmurs. “Same goes for you.”

Minho grins. “Get ready to get eviscerated.”

───────

Jisung: i am going out with my friends

Jisung: hyunjin, felix, seungmin

Dad: I told u to be patient…

Jisung: also there’s this hyung who is pretty cool

Jisung: his name is minho

Dad: good good. come bck wt an army of friends…

Jisung: you’re using a smart phone!

Jisung: type properly!!! 😤😤

Dad: ok…

Dad: gd nght…

───────

“Did you miss me so much that you turned up here?” 

Jisung squeaks and whips around, nearly falling. Both Seungmin and Minho reach out a hand to steady him. “You scared me!” Jisung snatches his hand away from Minho’s forearm. His cheeks burn when Minho laughs at him.

“He didn’t scare you, you’re just easy to startle,” Seungmin, the traitor, quips. 

Jisung nudges his side with an elbow. “And, no, I wasn’t missing you or anything,” Jisung says. “We’re waiting for our friend.”

Minho looks back at the building behind him. “Oh, you’re friends with someone who studies dance? We seniors gave them a welcoming party today,” he shrugs, adjusting his gym bag. “I think we scared them.”

“Yeah, his name is Hyunjin,” Seungmin nods. How he can speak to a stranger with such ease is beyond Jisung. “Our seniors did the same thing and–” he drops his voice, “then told us to find them if we ever want to drink our troubles away.”

Minho laughs and his eyes gleam. “Well, we didn’t because our professors were lurking, but I’ll make sure that Hyunjin knows.”

“This is Seungmin,” Jisung pokes his arm and then waves a hand at Minho, “and that’s Minho hyung. I sit with him in English class.” 

Minho staggers back a few steps and clutches his chest. “Is that all I am to you? A hyung who sits next to you in class?” 

Jisung squints at him and twists his mouth in mock annoyance. “You know you’re my friend, hyung,” he says even though he had not dared to think of it before this moment. He hopes that the heat pulsing at the top of his ears is not visible. 

“You’re only saying this –” 

“Hey, Hyunjin,” Seungmin says at the same time.

“Sunbaenim!” Hyunjin bows and then straightens up. “I’ve heard a lot about you.” He pauses. “Um – that you’re a great dancer and nothing else!”

Minho snickers, “That ‘nothing else’ sounds ominous,” he says. “Only the good things are true, okay?”

As Hyunjin nods frantically, a strange confidence suffuses Jisung. Or maybe his last brain cell turns in for the night because he finds himself saying, “why don’t you have lunch with us, hyung?”

Hyunjin who is standing crossways to Jisung, turns to face him and goggles at him. Minho raises a brow, “ah, sorry, Sungie, I have to meet my friends –”

“Yes, yes,” Jisung babbles, “Of course – just asking… makes sense, you should go–”

“But why don’t you guys, join us?” 

“What?” Jisung’s brain screeches to a halt. He gapes at Minho, unsure if it’s a weird sort of glitch where his wishful thinking is being echoed by Minho.

Minho is just standing there, the picture of nonchalance with one thumb hooked to the strap of his bag and the other adjusting his glasses. “Yeah, why not? Changbin is growing up too fast, so we would love to have a whole bunch of ducklings to coddle.”

“Is it okay if we call our other friend, too?” Seungmin asks, somehow unbothered by the fact that Minho is asking them to eat with his friends. Jisung is still unable to comprehend it. Seungmin continues talking, “then you’ll have four ducklings.”

“Yeah! Felix is real cute!” Hyunjin says, “perfect dongsaeng material.”

“Perfect,” Minho beams, “so shall we go then?”

───────

Jisung wrinkles his nose when Minho drops into the seat beside him. “Why have you doused yourself with so much perfume?” he demands.

Minho folds his hands on the desk, drops his head on them and pants. “I couldn’t shower – woke up too late.”

“It is still an unnecessary amount of perfume,” he makes a gagging sound, “do you really stink so much after a day of not showering?”

Minho straightens in his seat, and groans. His eyes are bloodshot and his skin is pale. He isn’t wearing makeup, but Jisung notices the remnants of eyeliner on his lids. Minho licks his chapped lips, “I don’t, but I don’t want to smell like I bathed in alcohol, so,” he shrugs, “deal with it.”

“Are you hungover?” Jisung scrabbles to find his bottle of water then remembers that he never carries water. “Do you want a painkiller?” he asks, a bit dubious about his ability to help. “Oh!” he snaps his finger, “do you want me to shut up so that I don’t make your headache worse?”

Minho has a strange, faraway look and his lips are pursed, but the corners turn up in a way that gives away his smile. Light finds the cracks , Jisung thinks for a moment, a long forgotten tune stirring in his memory. He is struck by the way his brain seems to be reassembling all that is familiar about Minho to provide a new picture.

Jisung startles when Minho leans forward and pats under his chin. His fingers are cold and they cradle his chin as Minho says, “It’s alright, Jisungie. I don’t have a hangover.”

“You don’t?” Jisung asks for the sake of saying something. “That’s good.”

Minho withdraws his hand, drops them on his lap. Jisung busies himself with setting up his laptop, opens the document where he takes notes.

“Do you know the secret to getting blindingly drunk and still coming to class the next? Only drinking till you regret the amount you’ve drunk and not till you think you can do anything. And  drinking a lot of water after you’re back home. It’s all about that drinking!”

Jisung frowns, considering. “Except for the water part, nothing makes sense, but I’ll keep it in mind the next time I go out drinking.” In his vast and varied experience when it comes to drinking – he’s been drunk twice – he has realised that he likes drinking because it makes him think that he can do anything.

“We should go drinking once,” Minho tilts his head, “it’ll be great.”

The professor walks in then, diverting Jisung’s attention from the excitement that is sparking in him. The professor asks them to read the short story of the week in silence and to contemplate the meaning of it without discussing it amongst themselves. Minho writes, “he’s probably hungover too,” in the chat section of the notes sheet that Jisung has shared with him.

Jisung snorts and opens the short story on another tab. Sometimes when Jisung is reading, watching or listening, certain ideas or concepts take hold of his imagination and open up a deluge of ideas. He reads the line where the mayfly says, “you may have thousands of my days, but I have thousands of moments in which I can be merry and happy,” and an idea stirs.

He is too distracted to read the rest of the story. A flurry of words swirl and take shape, then dissipate and are brought together by more words. He wishes he had his journal, wishes he could make this feeling – this feeling of his synapses flaring and gears turning and ideas taking shape on their own – indelible by putting it on paper.

He doesn’t have his journal with him, however, so he contends with jotting down the points for his idea. His feelings, however, require the sanctity of his journal.

It can wait.

───────

"What the hell are you eating?" Changbin snatches the box away from Hyunjin and picks up something green and wilted from it with his chopsticks.

Hyunjin grabs for the box but Changbin holds it away. "Hyuuung, I'm hungry."

"Look, I don't like commenting on people's eating habits, but you can't keep buying these pre-made lunch boxes from the canteen."

"You cook for me then," Hyunjin says, lunging forward and snatching his lunch away. 

Minho snorts and slaps Changbin's back. "Binnie sets everything on fire. You're better off eating this."

"I can cook for you, Jin, if you want. Like, I can do meal prep and stuff," Felix offers, peeking into the box Hyunjin's holding. His nose wrinkles. 

"Thanks, Felix, but I like eating this," Hyunjin clutches the box closer to his chest. "Maybe I like the wilted vegetables, the weird smell and overcooked rice. Have you guys ever thought of that?"

Changbin slowly turns to Chan and shields his mouth. "Hyung, that kid is weird," he says loudly. 

"You all are making fun of my food preferences," Hyunjin grumbles, "as if you guys don't eat terrible stuff."

Jisung leans forward and twists his shoulder so that he can speak to Changbin who is sitting next to Minho. “Yeah, hyung. It’s terrible but tasty.”

Hyunjin cheers and Minho rolls his eyes. “I’m reconsidering our friendship.” He slings an arm around Jisung’s shoulder, however, as if to show that he really doesn’t mean it.

And Jisung knows that he doesn’t mean it. Friendship with Minho is easy – friendship with all of them is easy in a way that startles him. It should shock him, perhaps, are things supposed to be so effortless? It seems like a dream that can only lead to a cold awakening. Yet, Jisung can’t be bothered to overthink about it because of the safety that they exude.

“You’re all jealous,” Hyunjin comments, “yeah, they say that the meat is barbecued when it obviously isn’t and yes, the vegetable is nowhere near fresh. But the salt and fat content makes up for it, okay?”

“I want barbecue,” Seungmin announces, “I really, really want barbecue now.”

Chan laughs, “we can go out after classes.”

“Or.” Hyunjin says, a smile splitting his face, “let’s skip classes and go right now.” 

Jisung agrees first, eagerness burning in his chest. As he follows the others out of the campus, he decides that this is what a good day looks like.

───────

“The greatest thing that happened to me was the ability to buy alcohol,” Changbin says, studying a bottle. He turns to Jisung, “the first time I bought alcohol, I knew I could do anything.”

Holding a basket filled with snacks, Jisung isn’t sure how to reply to that. “Same, but like you still can? With and without alcohol?”

Changbin laughs. “But it’s more fun with alcohol.”

Jisung accepts his word. That’s how he feels about alcohol anyway.  It’s halfway through the semester, and Chan has arranged a small party to get them all out of the mid-semester blues. Somehow, without him quite knowing how it happened, he’s half done with his first semester and has found drinking buddies to mark the occasion. Three hyungs and three same aged friends.

“Not that I am romanticising drinking or anything,” Changbin adds though he has a loving gleam in his eyes as he considers another bottle. “Don’t become a souse on my account.”

“Seeing you drunk is warning enough,” Jisung says drily, “there’s nothing romantic about you sniffling about your debate club’s loss in the semi-finals.”

“Hey! I was not sniffling, I was sobbing! Give my feelings some respect!”

Jisung snorts and holds out the basket so that Changbin can place both the bottles inside. He glances longingly at the chocolate display, but he can’t afford any of the good ones so he follows Changbin to the produce section where Minho is exercising his duty as an adult and buying vegetables. But what they find is Minho and Felix having an intense discussion over what looks like a carrot.

“I’ve always found the fatter ones to be sweeter,” Minho says, “and the thin ones go spongy really quick. So if you want to buy them as a snack then get the fatter ones.”

“Makes sense, hyung,” Felix beams and shovels a couple of carrots into a paper bag.

“Hyung, stop boring him about vegetables. We have a party to go to,” Changbin says, rolling his eyes. “I’m sure Lix knows how to pick his own vegetables.”

“Your Lix doesn’t know the importance of locally grown produce,” Minho says, throwing an arm around Felix's shoulder. “He was going to buy those hideously expensive foreign fruits for nutrition.”

Felix touches his pulse, face flushing. “I’ll eat carrots from now on,” he says, shaking the bag he is holding.

“You can have some of my snacks,” Changbin offers, waving a hand at the basket Jisung’s holding. “If you get bored of your carrots.”

“Sounds dirty,” Jisung whispers loudly to Minho.

No one laughs. Minho puts back the carrot he’s holding, and the three of them start walking away. “Hey, it was a joke! Laugh, dammit!”

They walk faster. 

───────

“Where are they?” Chan asks even though he is staring right at the huddled mass at the entrance of the outdoor basketball court. “It’s cold.”

“Hyunjin says, ‘fucking dumbass Choi Jimin got the wrong pendrive,’” Jisung reads out from his phone. “Oh, he also says that he wants to become an earthworm because his class is sucking out his bones, blood, muscle and,” he squints, “my fucking life force, man.”

Chan blinks, pulls the sleeve of his sweater to cover his fingers. “There’s a reason flash mobs fell out of fashion,” he says, “they’re a nightmare.”

“Is it even a flash mob if they announce it to everyone?” Seungmin asks, bare hands wrapped around a cup of coffee. He worries his bottom lip between his teeth, “I think they’re fighting.”

Jisung cranes his neck to see. He hears raised voices, but a cold breeze blows then, scattering leaves from the trees and their words around the court. It is mesmerising, the way the red and gold leaves twirl in the air before gently laying themselves on the ground. They yield so readily to nature.

Minho, who is sitting on the row below Jisung, pushes his back against Jisung’s knees. Jisung looks down at the back of his head, and notices that his ears are bright red. “Do you want my beanie, hyung?” he whispers.

Minho cranes his neck to look up at Jisung. “No,” his mouth quivers with a smile, “I just feel sorry for Hyunjin. This shit was a nightmare for me too when I was in first year.”

Felix sits up, his neck straining towards the dancers. “Ooh, someone’s coming.”

A boy marches to the centre of the court and says something. The wind whips away his words. “I am going to die of embarrassment,” Changbin mumbles. “This is worse than your class’s performance, Minho hyung.”

“We only had fainters and not an outright civil war,” Minho says, squirming back against Jisung’s knees again. Jisung widens his knees so that Minho can settle more comfortably in the space between them.

“I think he’s saying that they’re having technical issues,” Seungmin says. He sips his coffee, “that’s what everyone always says.”

A girl detaches herself from the mass and runs over to the boy making the announcement. “Should’ve known better than to befriend another dance dude,” Chan says. “You should’ve just left Jisungie to his own fate, Minho.”

The boy and the girl start whispering, heads bent together. Someone catcalls. A few others boo at the catcallers. Minho turns his shoulder and smacks Chan’s knee, “You’re the one who got attached the moment you saw them.”

Music blares and then cuts off abruptly. “They’re starting, I think,” Felix says. “Oh, Hyunjin said ‘fucking finally.’”

“I hate performing arts majors,” Changbin says, and before anyone can speak, he says, “yes, I hate myself too.”

Satisfied, they settle back to watch Hyunjin’s class’s performance.

───────

As winter sets in, Jisung’s companions to early morning classes are the gloom preceding late sunrises and the nip of chill winds. Jisung nevertheless burrows himself deeply into his clothes and trudges to class because he hates to miss classes.

Like all the other times, Minho is already in class, scribbling something in his notebook, those wireless earbuds in place. The moment Jisung drops down in his seat, Minho pushes a cup towards him, and takes out his ear buds and places them in their case.

“You’ll find eternal peace,” Jisung tells him, wrapping his stiff fingers around the mug.

Minho nods with exaggerated solemnity. “I hope so. I certainly am not at peace right now,” he gives Jisung a pointed look.

Jisung pouts. “All you ever do is make fun of me.”

“Stop being so easy to make fun of then,” Minho says with a smile. “The moment anyone teases you, you just go like…” Minho freezes, drops his jaw and raises his brow as high as possible. “And then you just go off like this,” Minho’s eyebrows dance up and down, up and down, “blah, blah, dishonour on fifteen generations of your ancestors, hyung! I hate you!”

The accuracy of it leads to some tingles. Obviously, they are anticipatory tingles for caffeine.  “Whatever,” Jisung grumbles and sips the coffee, sighing at the pleasant heat. The finest beverages always warm you up on the inside. Example: coffee, soups, gin. Minho notices you , another voice whispers in his head, drowning his musings. He squashes the voice with sarcasm, a huge feat to have achieved near the end of the semester

Unbidden, he recalls the utter shit that he had written before he had made friends. Do you matter when no one sees you? Everyone is made of matter, not everyone matters. Rendered invisible. He grimaces into his coffee.

“There are no truths or lies,” the professor says, half an hour into the class, “only interpretations of veracity and falsity.” He is puffed up and his forehead gleams as the bright light from the overhead tube light hits him. “As long as you back what you’re saying with evidence, I’ll give you points,” he continues. Jisung pities the fact that only the professor seems to be excited about the debate.

“What if there’s no evidence, but I believe that something is true?” Jisung whispers to Minho. It’s not a team debate; everyone has to fend for themselves.

“Then it’s true for you, but not for anyone else,” Minho tells him. His eyes flicker to the space behind Jisung and he blanches.

Jisung stiffens when he feels the presence of the professor behind him. He swivels his head to his laptop, squint hard at the blinking cursor, types a random word that is vaguely literary. He relaxes when he hears the squeak of the professor’s shoes as he moves away.

───────

Minho drops the plastic bag on the table with a thump. Jisung startles, his back cracking when he sits straight too fast. He pouts at the others when they laugh.

“Why?” he whines, rubbing his back. He coughs into his tissue and groans. “You aggravated my cold.”

“You’re aggravating me,” Seungmin grumbles. Even with his watery eyes and red tipped nose, he manages to look menacing.

“I didn’t give you the cold, I swear!” He swats Changbin’s hip. “It was him.”

“You’re all idiots,” Minho says, undoing the knot on the bag with deft fingers. “I can’t believe you all think chugging cough syrup straight from the bottle is going to help you.” He gives Jisung a pointed look.

Jisung blushes and slowly pushes the bottle towards Seungmin. Seungmin snatches it and thumps Jisung on his shoulder with it. “You have zero accountability,” he says with a threatening wave of the bottle.

“He’s bullying a sick person,” Jisung complains, huddling into his coat. It falls on deaf ears because Hyunjin is listening to music as he pats Changbin, who has his head on Hyunjin’s lap. Chan and Felix are engrossed in a debate, and Seungmin is hacking into his elbow.

Minho pushes a flask of soup towards Jisung. “Poor you,” he tuts with a smile, “here eat your soup so that you can get better and beat Seungmin up.”

Never to be outdone, Seungmin protests, “Hey!”

“Here, Seung - ah,” Minho passes a sealed box to Seungmin, “yours is spicier so that it can fuel your anger.”

Chan shakes his head. “Are you creating a fighting ring or something? They’re babies, Minho.”

Minho hums, and cradles his chin in the space between his thumb and forefinger. Before he can reply, Felix chimes in, “I will pay to watch Seungmin and Jisung fight. They both have that ‘secretly feral’ energy.”

“Yeah,” Minho’s lips are twitching with amusement, “imagine the drama .”

“Where’s my soup?” Changbin says, voice rough. The hair on the back of his head is ruffled and he sniffles. He looks with longing at the soup Seungmin’s holding.

“I didn’t get you any,” Minho says even as he takes out another container, “I refuse to fall for your puppy dog eyes.”

“If I fight Jisung,” Seungmin says, licking his spoon, “then I’ll obviously win because Jisung is like an overenthusiastic puppy. He’ll just flop around, so it’ll be easy to take him out.” He punctuates his claim with two sneezes.

Jisung squawks, but Hyunjin interrupts him. “Jisung and Seungmin are boring. You know who should fight? Chan hyung and Minho hyung. Two different types of intense hyungs fighting each other? Now, that’s worth watching.” He plugs his ear buds back.

Felix looks thoughtful. “I think when it comes down to it, Chan hyung has more feral energy than Minho hyung.” He gives Chan an appraising look. “I think you have potential.”

“Agreed,” Changbin croaks.

“I knew that I was going easy on all of you,” Minho’s voice rises, “the betrayal–

Jisung tunes the argument out, too exhausted to voice his strong opinions. Seungmin is staring at his empty container, deeply saddened. Jisung pushes his flask with the last mouthfuls of soup to him. Maybe this is how they got colds in the first place, through incessant food sharing.

Jisung folds his arms on the table and rests his head on them. The campus green is filling with people as lunch hour approaches. Sharp bursts of laughter along with the din of a large crowd of lunch-goers somehow makes him sleepy, lulls him into the soft static state that precedes sleep. Jisung listens to Minho defend himself as Felix and Chan heckle him. Changbin is cuddled against Hyunjin’s side now, and Seungmin is measuring out cough syrup.

A sense of rightness blankets him, tucks its corners around his frame. He doesn’t have to be anywhere else because this is where he is supposed to be. He smiles into the crook of his elbow and then coughs. After his cough subsides, he lets the peculiar warmth of this moment sink into him, settle right beneath his ribs.

This, he thinks, is everything that I ever wanted.

───────

“I am nervous,” Jisung sighs. “I am so nervous.”

“It’s just a date,” Seungmin says, not looking up from his laptop. “A first date. There’s no pressure. Just go see if you like him or not.”

Hyunjin flips through Jisung’s textbook. “Yeah, like, you’ve been making eyes at him since the second semester started.”

“Yeah, Jisung. It’s been a whole three weeks, marry him already,” Seungmin says, offering a high five to Hyunjin.

“I hate both of you,” Jisung informs them. “Only Felix is my friend.”

Felix yawns and cracks his neck. “Felix is tired of listening to you go on and on about Jaeho and his dark, dark eyes.” 

“Well, I am not tired,” Jisung pokes Felix’s shoulder. “Anyway, what if he asks me for opinions, and I say something absolutely stupid?”

Hyunjin flicks an eraser at him. “Anyone who asks for your opinion is the stupid one.”

“I am surrounded by enemies,” Jisung complains, crossing his arms. “When you have friends like these why do you need enemies?”

Seungmin gives him a flat look. “Your enemies will be nicer to you because they don’t have the misfortune of being close to you.”

Jisung gives him a simpering smile. “My tiny bed is always available for you, Minnie. You can have all the closeness you want.”

“I am leaving,” Hyunjin grumbles, “I thought we were going to study and not flirt with each other.”

“This is a study session on how to flirt because all of you are losers,” Jisung says, “the nerve of you all to make fun of me when I am the one who got Jaeho hyung’s number.”

“I hate Jaeho hyung and I have never even met him,” Felix groans, slamming his face on the book.”

“I have and he’s so pretty that–” Jisung says and smiles when the three of them groan.

───────

The car is hot and stifling. The AC hums, but the cold air doesn’t reach the corner where Jisung is crammed. He closes his eyes to quell the roiling in his stomach. A car blares its horns as it rushes past, and his head throbs in answer.

“Jisungie, you’re sweating,” Minho murmurs next to him. He shifts closer and his arm presses against Jisung’s, hot and slick. “Are you alright?”

Jisung manages a smile, tries not to grimace at the stench of alcohol on Minho’s breath. “It’s damn hot in the car.”

“It’s a car full of tens,” Chan says from the front seat and laughs. “Get it?”

Minho rustles up a tissue from somewhere. Was it in his pockets? Do his skin tight jeans even have pockets? There hadn’t been any unwanted lines. Minho dabs his forehead. “Just a little more time, Jisungie. We’ll reach the club soon.”

“You’re the best, hyung,” Jisung says, eyes caught on the glimmer on Minho’s cheeks. “I’m sweating my makeup away,” he whines.

Minho studies the tissue. “Yes, but only a little.”

“I told you to borrow mine,” Hyunjin slurs, “yours is shit.”

Jisung thinks that Minho shouldn’t be allowed to fill in his brows. They look magnificent. His stomach clenches, and he sucks in a sharp breath. “Maybe I drank a little too much.”

Chan turns to face Jisung again and offers him a comforting smile. “We’re almost there. And don’t worry about your makeup. You look fine.”

Jisung leans back. His top sticks to him in that peculiar, rough way that all synthetic materials do. If he shifts, his armpit squeaks because of the sweat. Ugh. “I hate party wear. It’s demonization.”

“What demon?” Hyunjin asks.

“I think he’s talking about the cheap whisky,” Chan says.

“I think we should pray that we get there faster because he looks ready to vomit,” Minho says.

A pause.

“Can you roll down the window please, sir?” Chan says.

Cold, smoky air slaps his face a moment later. Jisung breathes in the smell of exhaust fumes and surprisingly feels better. “Air,” he sighs. “All I want is air.”

“Yes,” Minho says, “just hold on, okay? And if you feel worse tell hyung.”

“Okay,” he says, “Hyung will help me.”

“Yes, I will.”

Jisung stares unseeingly at the traffic. Minho’s arm burns against his and he leans into it.

───────

“I don’t know what to make of Jaeho hyung,” Jisung says, winding across knots of people. He glares at all of them. “Anyone would think standing in the middle of the road is dumb,” he grumbles.

“It’s the business department,” Minho says behind him, “what do you expect?”

“True,” Jisung says, tightening his grip on Minho’s hand when a horde of people wearing business suits rush past them, “I hate it when they have their fests.”

Minho manages to find a place next to Jisung. “Yeah their competitions are all, ‘how will you help this company be more unethical?’ and ‘create this advertising plan in five seconds and get roasted for fifteen hours.’” He tuts. “How does Seungmin manage?”

“He loves it,” Jisung says with a slow shake of his head. He squeezes Minho’s hand. “He’s been over the moon about this fest.”

Minho grins and his cheeks bunch up. “I can’t wait to see what Seungmin will do to the juniors next year when the fests come around.”

“He already has a book full of ideas,” Jisung shudders, “those kids are in for it.”

“What were you saying about Jaeho?” Minho asks, nudging Jisung to the direction of the campus green with a tug of his hand. He swings their hands in the space between them.

Jisung sighs, drops his gaze. His shoes cover the concrete in a blur of black and white. “He just wants to ‘hang out’. When I ask what is going on–” He flushes.

“He acts like a dick?”

Jisung prickles because Minho sounds like he was expecting it. He clears his throat, “he says he wants some time. Which I understand.” He thinks for a moment. “Maybe I am being too pushy.”

Minho huffs. “How is asking for answers the same as being pushy.” He lets go of Jisung’s hand and sits on the table. He has a challenging look on his face and Jisung finds himself fighting off a sudden smallness.

“Maybe he is the kind of person who takes time,” Jisung says and it annoys him that he sounds so insistent. He pulls out his water bottle, unscrews the top. “I don’t know.”

“It’s been months. If it bothers you then it is an issue,” Minho says. His face is blank, smooth. “Relationships are about communication.”

“I know,” Jisung snaps and regrets it the second Minho looks taken aback. “I know what communication is and I think I just need to give Jaeho more time,” he says, trying to sound even, steady. His neck and shoulders prickle with coldness.

Minho looks at him. Jisung fumbles with his bottle and takes a sip of water to escape eye contact. When he lowers the bottle, Minho is looking at his phone. “I’m sure you’ll work it out,” he says. “Now what did you want help with?”

“Um…” Jisung is off kilter. The sudden change in topic is confusing and it is unsettling when paired with the way Minho has quietened. He is still and even his odd blinking thing is muted. Only a breeze ruffles his hair.

“With, uh – factorial experiments,” he mumbles, unsure of what to say. “I created a factorial experiment, can you just look through it?”

Minho holds out his hand in a wordless gesture. Jisung puts away his bottle to take out his laptop.

He remains silent.

───────

Minho: Hey, I am sorry for today

Minho: It’s your relationship and I shouldn’t have judged like that. I crossed a limit.

Minho: I am sorry, Jisungie

Jisung: nooo hyung

Jisung: no need for sorry, i understand you were looking out for me

Jisung: i am not mad at all

Minho: Thanks Sungie. This won’t happen again ❤

───────

“I am pretty sure that was mould,” Jisung says, wrinkling his nose. “It was horrifying.”

Felix bites his lips, pensive. “That was something else,” he says, twisting a tissue around his forefinger. “That was mould, by the way.”

Jisung shudders. “How could you even bear to touch it?” He blinks against the clear light of the afternoon as he exits the building. That building personified dingy. “How can city streets smell better than that building?” he asks, when a garbage truck rumbles past him. “Just how?”

“My budget is making me feel terrible,” Felix says. If he looked pensive in the flickering, sickly yellow light of the building, he looks grey and thunderstruck now. “We don’t deserve squalor just because we’re students, you know.”

Jisung throws an arm around his shoulder as they start walking towards the bus stop. “I know. We’ll find something. We still have to look at the building your botany noona suggested right?”

Felix nods. Jisung lets the silence stretch because he can tell that Felix is preoccupied. The city rumbles around him, sweeping the swell of people in its own rhythm. Jisung watches people hurry back to their offices after lunch, and wonders about the time when he’ll fall into their pattern as well. When he’ll be professionally dressed and quick footed, always in a hurry. Mostly to go home.

The bus stop is empty. Felix sighs and shoves his hands into his pockets. “I’m sorry. I am just tired and…” he shakes his head, “just tired, yeah.”

“I feel you,” Jisung says then grimaces because it sounds limp. “I mean – why are you tired, Lix?”

The bus arrives, horn blaring impatiently. The exhaust sighs in exasperation as Jisung shuffles into the bus. Felix drops his head on Jisung’s shoulder once they are seated. His head bumps against Jisung’s shoulders as the bus rattles around a turn, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“Everything is just too much right now,” Felix mumbles. “This semester is kicking my ass.”

Jisung doesn’t know what to say. He hums in acknowledgement, and fumbles for soothing words. “All my classes are making me feel stupid,” Felix continues, “and I am tired of feeling this way.”

“You’re not stupid,” Jisung says, sharp and immediate because he’s not going to let Felix walk around calling himself stupid. “Just because something makes you feel that way; it doesn’t mean you’re that.”

“I should’ve dropped the courses when I had time, but now I’ll just have to grind through them.” Felix rubs his eyes, “And figuring out our living situation for next year and Chan hyung leaving is just...”

“We’ll figure it out,” Jisung pets Felix’s hair, “give it some time. Things will make sense.”

“I hope so.” He burrows closer to Jisung. 

As the bus winds its way through the city to take them to their destination, Jisung thinks of how the bus itself doesn’t stay at one place for too long, how it doesn’t really have a place to call its own. We’re like that too , he thinks, constantly displacing ourselves.

He winds his fingers with Felix’s warm ones, presses his cheek to his hair. “We – all of us are here with you,” he says softly, “we’ll help you figure it out.”

Felix remains silent. A moment later, he squeezes Jisung’s fingers.

───────

“I don’t see the thing you have with Jaeho going anywhere,” Hyunjin says. “Have you met him recently?”

Jisung stops mouthing the words of a song that’s playing in the café. He digs his thumb into his forefinger and drops his head. “Please don’t.”

“It’s kind of strange though, Jisung. The semester’s nearly ending and you guys are just-” Felix wriggles his fingers, “fluttering around the issue.”

Fucking around the issue, more like , Jisung thinks, sourness burning in the back of his tongue. “I don’t know,” he says, sweeping his thumb in circles around the pad of his index finger, “I don’t know what the fuck is happening.”

“Okay,” Hyunjin says, face creasing in sympathy, “I am just saying because there are better people out there than him.”

“Yes,” Felix nods, hair flopping over his brows. “There are plenty of people out there. People who would want a relationship with you and not just hookups.” He leans back against his chair, “not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you want a relationship, right?”

Jisung flushes. “Please, let’s not talk about sex,” he says and squawks when Seungmin slams a tray on the table. “Asshole!”

“Sorry,” Seungmin says, slipping into the seat beside Jisung, “it’s heavy,” he says as he hands out their drinks. “Why do we need so many large drinks?”

“Yeah well, we need all the coffee possible so that Felix can submit his assignment tonight,” Hyunjin says as he uses a spoon to gather the whipped cream on top of the drink.

“Is his assignment about sex?” Seungmin laughs.

“Felix,” Jisung says, pointing at him, “has a submission tonight. And sadly, it is not about my love life.”

Hyunjin takes another spoonful of whipped cream. “You’re boring.”

“Your dance routine is boring,” Jisung says and ducks when Hyunjin throws a sugar packet at him.

Seungmin opens his laptop. “You lot are the most boring people I’ve ever met. I suffer every day.”

“Seungmin, you do accounts,” Jisung says, “that’s the most moring,” he shakes his head with a laugh, “the most boring thing ever.”

“Only boring people argue about what is boring,” Felix says, grinning over the screen of his laptop, “that means I am the only person here. It is difficult being outnumbered, but I’ll manage.”

Jisung grins. “You talk like that’s an achievement. It’s not.”

“Yeah, it’s like, the anti-thesis of an achievement,” Seungmin says.

“Don’t be so self congratulatory, Felix,” Hyunjin brandishes his spoon, “is this how we raised you?”

Jisung laughs when Felix whines.

───────

Excerpt: Untitled Journal Entry

Sometimes we’re just a leaf in the forest, our movement lost to the multitudes. But, sometimes for a few, we’re like the north star: the brightest among multitudes.

Doesn’t even make sense!! Or does it.

───────

Jisung: signed lease

Jisung: lix says chances of us dying are the least here

Dad: Chances are more… with u at the helm…

Jisung: please don’t forget that as your progeny, anytime you make fun of me it reflects on you too

Dad: Don’t talk back…😣

───────

Changbin shoves his can into the plastic bag. The plastic bag is bulging because of their gluttonous consumption of energy drinks. If Jisung squints enough, he can see a demented cheshire grin somewhere on that bag’s face.

“Felix, how are you even – how are you burning through your book at this rate?” Chan asks, sounding half proud, half scared. “What’s your secret?”

“The desp,” Felix says in English, teeth flashing.

“Do I need to study this?” Changbin pouts at his book. “I think they gave me a brick instead of a book.” He hefts the textbook up and holds it aloft for the others to see.

“Yes, Binnie hyung, you got a brick from the library,” Seungmin says, sarcastic even in the throes of death. He is sitting on the floor, arms thrown over the sofa seat and with his head tipped back.

“If I throw it on your face you’ll change your face.” Changbin pauses, blinks, “what?”

“I agree,” Jisung chimes in, “it’s high time Seungmin changed his face.”

Seungmin raises both his middle fingers. “Someone change my brain. It isn’t working.”

“What brains?” Jisung mumbles and shrieks when Seungmin kicks him.

Hyunjin lumbers into the Chan’s living room, a bottle of water held in his hands. “Hydrate yourselves, you goddamn desert creatures. Energy drinks are not for hydration.”

Jisung runs his hand over the bumps on his forehead. He grabs the bottle from Hyunjin and takes a swig of water. He turns to his right to pass it to Minho, but he is lost in his phone, lips quirked in a smile.

“Hyung?”

Minho looks up, startled. It takes a second for his eyes to focus on the bottle. “Oh. No thanks, Jisungie,” he says holding up his own bottle. “I’ve got mine.”

“Right,” Jisung says. He holds it out and Changbin takes it. Jisung glances at Minho again. He’s grinning at his phone now, book abandoned near his knee.

Chan clears his throat. “Let’s take a break.”

Minho perks up. “Terrace?”

Chan nods and gets to his feet. Jisung stands and shakes his feet that are tingling with pins and needles. Felix puts away his book and grabs Jisung’s hand to stand up. Seungmin drapes himself over Changbin and demands to be dragged upstairs. Jisung trails after Felix, his shoulder bumping with Minho’s as he walks next to him.

It is a weird sensation, climbing the stairs to go to the terrace in the dead of the night while no one’s around. It is lonely even though more than half the doors they pass have lights shining at the bottom. Maybe, it is because of the energy drinks and sleep deprivation, but Jisung thinks that seeking darkness under the sky is aesthetic as heck.

The door to the terrace opens without a noise and Jisung enters, head tipped back to see the stars. He stumbles over his feet and Minho steadies him as he pinwheels his arms to stop his fall. “Careful,” Minho says. In the darkness his face is fuzzy, but his grin is sharp and bright.

“Thanks,” Jisung whispers.

The stars aren’t visible. But the orange tipped glow of cigarettes and the smoky outlines of people in the terraces of tightly clustered buildings are. Beyond the parapet, highrises loom over them, twinkling and grandiose. The oily yellow light preferred by the city corporation makes everything conspicuous. There is never complete darkness in a city just as there is never complete light.

Jisung squints to glimpse the faint glow of stars. It is fainter than the stars on his ceiling.

“Light pollution,” Minho tuts beside him. His head is craned upwards too. “I can barely see the north star.”

Seungmin strolls up to Jisung, jiggling a pack of cigarettes. “Do you want one?”

“No. Where did you even get it?” Jisung asks as Seungmin waves the pack at Minho’s face.

“Girl from Building F threw it over,” Seungmin says, turning and throwing the pack at Felix when Minho refuses as well.

“Did she throw a lighter as well?” Minho asks.

Seungmin snickers, “no and I can’t wait for them to figure it out,” he points towards Felix who is turning around, searching for anyone with a light.

“One day you’ll be killed if you keep tormenting people like this,” Minho says though he’s laughing as well. “I’ve taught you well, haven’t I?”

Seungmin settles on the floor. “You’re dreaming that you’re important. Wake up,” he says and claps his hands. “You’re talking nonsense, hyung.”

Minho kneels down, crawls towards Seungmin and starts pinching him. Jisung sits on the floor and cheers Minho on, delighted that he’s not the one at the receiving end of Minho and Seungmin’s painful brand of affection. The floor is warm beneath his palms – it is nearing summer and it has been unusually hot – and Jisung likes it because it feels like the building is alive.

“I like to think that even as we look at the stars, the stars are looking at us,” Jisung says when Seungmin and Minho call a truce. His eyes are heavy, but he is also thrumming with wakefulness. He’s sinking deep into the strange intimacy of sleep deprivation. “And they–”

Hyunjin yelps and Jisung turns to see what is happening, the moment lost. Changbin is attached to Hyunjin’s back, and Hyunjin is trying to throw him off. Felix and Chan are arguing about something. Changbin falls and starts cackling as Hyunjin storms away.

“And they’re probably laughing at how dumb we are,” Jisung says drily just before Hyunjin crashes into him.

───────

Jisung keeps smiling even though his cheeks hurt. He drops it the moment Hyunjin says, “he’s gone.” It’s a wonder that there’s no crashing noise as his smile falls off his face.

“Thank god,” he huffs, running a hand through his hair. It is greasy and flops with the weight of being unwashed for two weeks. “I don’t know why he insists on everything being fine ,” he rolls his eyes. “He’s so self-important.”

“Maybe he thinks you were lying when you said you’re not in love with him,” Hyunjin says over the drone of a hundred students who have just finished their final exams of the year. “He probably wants to know if you’re okay.”

“I’m okay,” Jisung insists even though something like a bruise throbs in his chest, “the moment we decided being friends with benefits was better, I stopped...” he frowns, “I don’t know, hoping or something.” He glowers at a guy who bumps into him. “And like we’re done now, so he can stop being so sanctimonious.” He hitches his bag up. “Let’s stop talking about Jaeho.”.

Hyunjin opens his mouth to say something, but closes it. “There are other people out there,” he begins and pauses again. “You deserve better than Jaeho, you know that right?”

“Yeah.” Jisung scowls as he thinks of the pitying look on Jaeho’s face. “At the very least, I’m not an arrogant prick.”

Hyunjin drapes an arm around Jisung’s shoulder. “Absolutely. Now let's find Seungmin and Felix so that we can go get drunk.”

Jisung scans the crowd for Felix and Seungmin. He sees Seungmin standing near a trash can, and steers Hyunjin towards his direction.

The moment they arrive, Felix drops a bundle of papers into the trash can. “I am done,” he announces to his audience of three with fire in his eyes. “I’m done and I’m never doing this again and I’m ready for a coma.”

“Will you wake up in time for Chan’s hyung’s party?”

“Only time will tell,” Felix says, solemnly.

───────

“I brought us all together, and I shall see all of you off,” Jisung says, leaning forward, forward, chasing the weightlessness he’s feeling and – someone pulls him back by his collar until his shoulders thump against the back of the chair. “Hey!” he complains, twisting his neck hither and tither to see who dared to invade his space.

It’s Changbin. “You were going to fall off, brat,” he says, walking around to the table and plopping down on Seungmin’s lap.

“You are brat,” Jisung wags a finger at him, “A small brat.”

Changbin flips him off which sets Hyunjin off. Jisung winces when his laugh pierces his eardrums. He tries to push Hyunjin off him, but his friend insists on clinging to him and laughing into his ear.

Maybe we should stop drinking, the distant, rational part of his brain says, but is extinguished in a second. Jisung enthusiastically throws back his last shot from this round. Where’s the next round?

Minho peers at him over the salt studded rim of his glass. “I think you should cut back a little, Jisungie.” His voice is amused and warm and so familiar that another ball of warmth lodges itself right beside the alcohol induced one in his chest.

“Pretty hyung,” he says, leaning forward to hug Minho. His arms seem to float in the air, heavy and light all at once.

Minho gets up, pushes into the seat beside Jisung and throws his arm over his shoulder. “You really should eat.” He turns till he is facing Jisung. Jisung’s eyes anchor themselves to his lips. Minho pauses, takes a shot. Jisung tears his eyes away from Minho’s throat and he searches for the plate of fries.

“So where were we?” Minho asks.

Chan sticks a forkful of meat into Changbin’s mouth. “Jisung was getting all emo about how he brought us all together,” he supplies.

Jisung yelps when Minho pinches the underside of his arm. He rubs the spot and glares at Minho. Well, he tries to glare, but he gets distracted by the way Minho’s earrings reflect the dim light overhead. “What was that for?” he demands.

Minho flicks his nose with the hand not of Jisung’s shoulder. Jisung gasps and tries to touch his nose, but ends up bashing it with his palm. “Ow,” he complains and flushes when everyone laughs.

“I was the one who brought us all together,” Minho’s voice wobbled with laughter. “Had I not dragged you and your band of brats to our table that day, then we wouldn’t be here.”

“It was funny to see the four of them trailing after Minho like ducklings,” Chan chuckles, “remember how petrified they were?” he says to Changbin.

“That was my last moment of peace and quiet and I didn’t even know it,” Changbin complains. “And what do you mean petrified? They were hellions from the start!”

“They were petrified of respectable hyungs,” Minho says, smoothly, “which obviously doesn’t include you.”

“Hey-” Changbin says when there’s a roar of laughter.

“I suggested the idea to you,” Jisung interrupts loudly. “I said, said I, “hyungie do you want to come with us for lunch?”” Jisung actually doesn’t remember what he said because he had been terrified and about to melt into the ground, but he wants the credit.

His words set off a loud debate about who deserves more credit: Minho or Jisung and it turns vaguely philosophical the more they drink. Intention or action? What is more important?

“I’m saying that Sungie suggested it,” Hyunjin pats Jisung’s head and messes it up in the process. “Would Minho hyung have thought of it himself?”

Minho reaches towards Jisung’s other side and pinches Hyunjin. “I was going to! He beat me to it. But, remember that I was the one who asked you all to–”

“You said ‘sorry, Jisung, I’m having lunch with my friends!’” Hyunjin squeezes right into the corner of the booth to get away from Minho’s hands. “Jisung started it!”

I made a split second decision to ask and here I am with all of you, Jisung thinks. Past intertwines with the present.

That’s the last thought he has before the last of his coherent thoughts are washed away by sweet, sweet alcohol.

───────

Excerpt: Untitled Journal Entry

To be cherished and remembered, that is the aim.

───────

section ii: falling/splintering

(Jisung tackles his second year in college)

Year Two: Semester III and IV

“Minho hyung said he has a date,” Felix scrolls through his phone, “and Changbin hyung says he has to go somewhere.” He bites his lips. “It’s just the four of us and Seungmin’s duckling.”

Jisung nods as he flips through a notebook from last semester. It is half empty, so he puts it on the keep pile. “How did Seungmin already find a duckling?” he asks, “I know the business students started earlier but five days is a bit too much, no?”

“They have a mentorship programme,” Felix says as he lowers himself down to the floor. His knees crack. “Seungmin says he’s sweet.”

“I once thought Seungmin was sweet,” Jisung says, crumpling some graph sheets. “Knowing him, I don’t trust his taste.”

“I don’t trust your taste,” Felix counters, “why do you need so many hideous socks?”

“Oh, I dunno, man” Jisung taps his chin, “sometimes my ears get really cold. So I put them on my ears.”

Felix huffs a laugh and elbows Jisung in the ribs. “Just finish unpacking soon. It’ll be hell once class starts and there will be no time to unpack.”

“Fine,” Jisung sighs.

───────

“Hey, hyung.” Jisung waves at Minho and plops into the seat opposite Minho. There are a couple of people already sitting at their group’s table, laughing about something. Jisung glowers at them mentally.

Minho pushes a cup towards Jisung. “It just hit me again that it’s my last year in college,” he sighs, taps his finger on the table. “I don’t want to think about it, but I can’t stop thinking about it.”

Jisung sips his coffee, thinking about what to say. Minho isn’t one for platitudes and Jisung doesn’t want to say the wrong thing. The silence stretches and the need to say something pushes at Jisung’s throat.

“It’s just…” Minho drags his hands through his hair. The displaced hair reveals a love bite on his neck.  Jisung looks away. “I have to make decisions that I pushed away for so long.” He shakes his head. “My parents won’t say anything; in fact, they’ll be supportive, but it is such a huge risk.”

Jisung reaches a hand forward and places it on top of Minho’s. “Everyone thinks it is a great idea, hyung. You won that innovative idea thing, too,” Jisung squeezes Minho’s hand, “and more importantly I know you’ll make the programme work.”

Minho bites his lip, laces their fingers together. “A dance based programme looks good on paper, but will it work in the real world? Especially if I decide to make it a programme under my family’s charity wing. Then failure will reflect badly in front of the stakeholders.” He winces, “and not to mention the family drama.”

“Striking out on your own is terrifying,” Jisung says. A hush surrounds the table as the other students start leaving. Jisung is alone with Minho in their space; the table strong and sturdy beneath his palm, a witness to all the moments he has shared with his friends. “Hyung, I know that this isn’t really helpful, but whatever you choose, I’ll support you. And I know that whatever path you choose, you’ll be successful. Maybe not immediately, but it is imminent.” He says the last bit in English.

Minho’s smile is a slow curl of his lips, small and sweet. “Not immediate, but imminent,” he repeats. “When did you become a poet, Jisungie?”

Jisung unclasps his fingers from Minho’s and wraps both his hands around the cup. “When I read your potato poem,” he laughs. “That’s when I learned that anyone can be a poet.”

“Hey! Don’t make fun of my potato poems. They’re a tradition since elementary school and with every passing year, they get better,” Minho sniffs.

“Sure, if you say so,” Jisung snorts. He takes a drink of coffee and lets the lush greenery and hum of the campus wash over him. An odd melancholy settles itself on his shoulders. Odd, because it pleases him to feel melancholic. Maybe it is because he has something to feel like this about. “I’ll miss you, hyung,” he whispers.

“I’ll miss you, too,” Minho’s voice drops, mirroring Jisung’s. “I’ll miss the others and the college, and so many more things.”

Everything is centred on the table they are seated at. Our world is this table now, Jisung thinks. He wonders if it is only his consciousness that is entirely focused here, or if Minho is feeling the same.

“I’ll keep you updated about everything, hyung. You can’t get rid of me now. I hope you know that,” Jisung says, taking in the way the breeze ruffles Minho’s hair.

Minho sighs, but it sounds like a breath of laughter. “I suppose I have no choice.”

“Nope.”

───────

“Sometimes I want to bash myself with my laptop,” Jisung groans. He raises his hands above his head and stretches. “I hate college.”

“Keep up, I want to bash myself with my laptop all the time,” Changbin drawls. Jeongin, the duckling, looks worried. He darts a glance at Seungmin.

“Then why don’t you do it, coward!” Minho says, stabbing the air with his chopsticks.

Jeongin makes an alarmed noise. Changbin shakes his head, “I’ll do it after I get my degree. I’ve sunk money into this institution, you know.”

“I’m ready to do it right now if it means I don’t have to submit this today,” Jisung gestures at his laptop, “who even keeps a deadline at 4 P.M.?”

Minho stands up and walks over to Jisung’s side. “Move over, let me see if I can help you.”

Jisung slides away from the end of the seat to give Minho space. “We have to analyse data using a statistical software,” he says as he adjusts the laptop screen so that Minho can see the screen, “the instructions make no sense.”

“Oh?” Minho grins, “I’m good at it! Here, let me see the question.”

He purses his lips as he reads the instructions and Jisung fiddles with his hands as he waits. The others are all involved in an intense discussion about something and they’re not paying attention to the two of them. Jisung studies Minho’s face and the elegant curves of his features. Minho is mouthing the instructions silently and Jisung’s eyes snag on his lips. There’s an odd flutter in his stomach. He presses the nail of his thumb into his index finger as he shifts away a little. 

“Ah, okay. It’s pretty simple.”

When Minho starts explaining, Jisung listens, but at the same time his mind wanders. There’s that feeling again, like that time back in first year when everything about Minho seemed to reassemble in front of his eyes.

Jisung likes listening to him. Jisung realises that he likes Minho’s voice, at the way his words seem to hum with affection. At the other side of the table, Changbin and Seungmin start discussing whether mass media or business students have it worse. Jeongin is staring open-mouthed at them.

Minho squints as he waits for the output, and Jisung swallows and turns his gaze to the row of numbers.

“Do you understand?” Minho asks, raising a brow.

Jisung nods without thinking. “Yes.”

───────

Excerpt: Untitled Journal Entry

I want my writing to capture the honey slow drip of my days and the churning, furious flow of my weeks. I want to capture everything that speaks to me and I want it to speak to others too.

───────

Minho’s triceps flex when he presses the buttons on the induction stove. Jisung fidgets next to him, his eyes sweeping in a line over Minho’s brow, cheekbone and jaw. Minho turns to him and raises a brow. “What?”

Jisung’s cheeks grow hot. “Who cooks shirtless?” Jisung asks staring at the saucepan with great interest. His eyes keep darting to Minho’s chest, however, and – no. “I want an egg on top,” he hastens to say, just to silence his thoughts. He is not flustered. He is just feeling hot because of the weather.

Jisung yelps when Minho slaps his shoulder. He clutches his shoulder and pouts at him. “Why did you do that?”

“Because you’re a brat,” Minho says and raises his hand again. Jisung stumbles away. “And if you want a fried egg, make it yourself.” 

In order to get the eggs, Jisung will have to pass Minho, and Minho’s eyes glint and his fingers twitch in a way that promises pain. “I don’t want eggs,” Jisung says, leaning back against the counter.

Minho cracks his knuckles. “What do you mean, I don’t want eggs,” he says, voice a high pitched squeak. Jisung glares at him and opens his mouth, but, “I want eggs now,” Minho says before Jisung can say anything.

Jisung tries to dart past Minho, but he stumbles and while he is wind-milling his arms to regain balance, Minho stalks up to him and drags his fingers down Jisung’s ribs. Jisung spends the next couple of minutes shrieking, and defending himself by slapping and poking and pinching.

Minho leaves him in a heap on the floor and goes to check on the saucepan. “I hate you,” Jisung tells Minho’s back. Minho flips him off without turning.

Jisung wants to say something because he is staggered and talking will distract him from the persistent flutter in his stomach, but he doesn’t know what to say. He straightens out his limbs, gets up from the floor, fixes his hair and hopes that his blush isn’t obvious. He goes to the fridge and takes out eggs.

Fuck, he thinks as he unhooks the frying pan – a tiny, adorable, yellow thing – and places it on the stove. He keeps his gaze fixed on it as it heats up, then sprays oil on it and cracks an egg.

“Minseok bought this on a whim,” Minho says, waving a packet in front of Jisung’s eyes. Jisung squints at the label. “It was a smashing success,” Minho retracts his hand, the plastic crinkling. 

Jisung licks his lips. “Really?” He pokes the eggs, the edges are browning, just the way Minho likes it.

“Hmm-mm. That man has good taste.”

Jisung doesn’t need to look to know that Minho is smiling fondly. It shines in his voice. He doesn’t reply. His emotions are cresting and plunging with a rapidity that chips hollow spaces in his mind. He isn’t hungry anymore.

He still accepts his bowl when Minho hands it over to him with a, “ta-dah!” and still follows him to the living room. He talks with Minho for hours and helps him clean up. The moment he leaves; he texts Hyunjin:

Jisung: i’m so screwed

───────

Hyunjin is not sympathetic. He is just judgemental. “I can’t believe you went gaga over a bit of skin and statistics.”

“Jisung reminds me of a monk sometimes,” Seungmin settles on Felix’s bed with a mug, “reclusive, easily flustered by sexual things–”

“I am not a monk,” Jisung grumbles, “I just… well, I have not reacted to Minho like this before,” he flushes. He accepts the mug that Hyunjin hands him and studies the contents with an intensity that is unnecessary.

Felix snorts. “You should see the way you dance with him at clubs,” he says, and takes out his phone.

“No thanks.” He scowls when Hyunjin crowds beside Felix to peek at the phone. “What I meant is that I have not reacted like this while sober.”

It is a lost cause, however. He sits on his bed and watches his idiotic, annoying friends wolf whistle and laugh as they watch the video of Jisung embarrassing himself. He takes a picture of them for no particular reason then pockets his phone. He lets them have their fun with benevolent resignation, but regrets it the moment they begin imitating him.

“Oh, Minho hyung, sweep me off my feet,” Hyunjin cries, rolling his hips. A burst of laughter makes him bend forward and he nearly topples Seungmin who has his arm round Hyunjin’s neck.

“No, no,” Seungmin pouts and furrows his brow, “Minho hyung, let me sweep you off your feet so that I can feel those thighs,” his voice is supposed to be smoky, Jisung guesses, but instead the words sound like he is being strangled. He starts coughing and detaches himself from Hyunjin to get his mug.

Felix takes Seungmin’s place and Jisung decides he hates all of them. But before he can voice his sentiment, a question flashes through his mind. What if Minho knows ?

“Do you think,” he hesitates. He isn’t loud enough to be heard over Hyunjin’s raucous imitation of one of their outings, but he doesn’t want to raise his voice. If it is above a whisper then it’s real. The thought dissipates as fear prods him with icy fingers. “Do you think he knows?” he says, pitching his voice to be heard. He winces. The three of them pause and then move towards him like a wave.

Seungmin answers him. “No.”

“Yeah,” Hyunjin says, “hyung’s oblivious.”

Jisung doesn’t believe it, but he still believes it. His shoulders are tight like a cord. The most important thing right now is that Minho shouldn’t know about his crush, that he should have an illusion of dignity left. “Are you sure?” he asks. Please say yes.

Hyunjin nods. Jisung sighs and looks at his friends who are clustered in a semi-circle around him.

“There was a time when I thought–” Felix says, but then doesn’t complete the sentence. “Minho hyung is too wrapped up in Minseok hyung to notice anyway.”

There’s a smidgen of relief, as temporary as it is. “I need to get over him,” Jisung says.

Felix pats his back. “Give yourself time. It’ll be alright.”

───────

“It is fucking impossible to read books if you’re trying to find answers to your existential crisis,” Minho says. He is sprawled out on the floor beside Jisung, a hand thrown over his eyes.

Jisung drags his eyes back to the e-reader and scrolls through the books that Minho has bought. They’re in three different languages and Jisung finds it attractive as hell. He pauses. He has always known that Minho is multilingual, but he has never been so enamoured by it before.

Minho sits up. “You said the floor will be cold,” he complains, pulling off his t-shirt. Jisung’s mouth goes dry in fearful anticipation, but Minho is wearing a vest underneath.

Jisung sighs in relief. “How was I supposed to know that you’ve layered up like a dummy?” he says. Maybe realising that he has a crush has lifted the unconscious disallowing of such thoughts. Case in point: having to consciously prevent himself from staring at Minho’s arms.

“It’s science, okay? A large t-shirt for ventilation and a vest to soak up the sweat.”

Jisung stares at him. Minho has that ‘butter won’t melt in my mouth’ expression that he gets when he says something weird just to get a reaction. “I don’t think science works the way you think it does.”

Minho kicks him. Jisung kicks back. They stop after that because it is too muggy to scuffle. Jisung wriggles to another spot on the floor because his body has warmed the previous spot. The fancy residents of this building have overloaded the fuse box, so there is no electricity.

“These are a lot of books, hyung,” Jisung says after he has settled down again. “A lot!”

Minho groans. “I went overboard, didn’t I? And I can’t even bear to read any of them.”

“Why not?” Jisung clicks on one of the books. It is about 200 pages. “This one is pretty short,” he holds it in front of Minho’s face.

Minho takes one look at it and pushes it away. “It’s too much like my course work.”

Jisung scrolls to the first chapter. The light outside is dim and grey and Jisung can’t tell if the dimness is because of the cloudy sky or because sunset is fast approaching.

“It’s just…” Minho says. Jisung clicks off the e-reader, hugs it against his chest, waiting. “I get bored if the topics aren’t related to what I am feeling, and if it is related to my crisis then I can’t read it all at once because – because it is too much,” Minho continues.

“Do you think it is difficult because it has become like work?” Jisung shifts his head to face Minho. The coldness of the tiles is soothing against his shoulder.

“No it is more than that.” Minho rolls onto his side.

Jisung regrets this turn of events. The full weight of Minho’s gaze is on him, and Jisung, not having mastered the peculiarities of eye contact yet, feels himself flush. He darts his eyes back to the ceiling.

“I am constantly searching for answers in the words of others and it is tiring. And what they say overwhelms me.”

Almost against his will, Jisung looks at Minho again. But just like him, Minho’s gaze has drifted somewhere beyond Jisung’s prone form. Inexplicably, Jisung feels a stab of pain.

“What are the answers?” Jisung says to buy time. He pushes down the pain before it makes its way to his face.

Minho grimaces. The light outside dims further as the clouds flit over the sun. The flat is quiet enough that the walls gleefully bounce the squeak of Jisung’s sweaty arm sliding against the tile. “Find something that gives you purpose,” Minho brings a hand up and counts off his fingers, “have a moral… structure? Face an inspiring incident, blah, blah,” he fists his hand, pulls it back to his chest. “What the fuck. Nothing makes sense.”

Minho doesn’t say anything more. Jisung says, “one day at a time, hyung,” to fill the silence because he can’t think of anything that will make Minho feel better.

“Hmm-mm.”

Jisung guesses that the conversation is over so he switches on the e-reader, starts reading.

Somewhere in the space between two lines, Jisung starts drifting off; the heavy, comfortable silence lulling him to sleep. But, before he can give into it completely, the door slams open and Minho scrambles up to greet Minseok.

Jisung sits up, still a little dazed and averts his eyes when Minho kisses Minseok. He doesn’t know why but the floor beneath him seems to unravel and there’s a cold knot that’s expanding in his sternum. Without even knowing that he has a question, Jisung has already found the answer. He stands and searches for his bag.

“Ah, Jisung,” Minseok says, smiling kindly, “if you’re planning to leave then you should probably stay for a little while longer. It’s starting to drizzle.”

“I love the rains, they’ve saved me from this infernal heat,” Minho sighs and then frowns, “why are you still packing?”

Jisung flushes under the scrutiny. “Um, I have some work – I left my laptop at home, so…”

Minho squints at him. “Is it important? You didn’t say–”

“Yeah, deadline’s today.” Jisung shoulders his bag. “I really should go.” Why? Stop being weird.

“Okay?” Minho still looks puzzled, but waves back when Jisung gives him a jaunty wave as he steps past him and hurries it to the door.

Jisung’s stomach doesn’t stop churning.

───────

Excerpt: Untitled Journal Entry

Can you hunt for answers in the words and experiences of others? Is that the right way to find answers? Is enlightenment (in the spiritual sense??) the only way to find answers or can other’s findings be applicable to you too?

I wish there was some other way, I wish I didn’t have to know some things, I wish I had never realised, I wish I could forget

───────

“I’m not going to try anything, but it’s sad that I don’t even have a miniscule chance if I ever compete for Minho hyung’s affection.” Jisung studies Minseok’s retreating back. He has a really nice back, even Jisung with all his jealousy and leftover embarrassment can see it. He turns and catches Hyunjin exchanging a look with Felix. “I said I’m not going to do anything!”

“It’s not that, we’re just worried that you’re in too deep already.” Seungmin picks up a kimbap and inspects the filling. He places it on Jisung’s lunch box. “We don’t want you to get hurt.”

Jisung stuffs the kimbap into his mouth. “I’m already hurt. That’s how unrequited crushes work.”

Felix winces, but Jisung can’t tell if it is because of his words or because he is speaking with his mouth full. “I don’t even know what to say. Minho hyung is so happy with Minseok hyung, but then there’s you pining away for Minho hyung. A tragic triangle and two of the people involved are my friends.”

“Thanks,” Jisung says, sarcastically. He swirls the water in his cup ramyeon. The canteen lady always poured too much water. “Also, there’s no triangle, if they find out, I’ll die.”

“Let’s change the topic before he starts whining again,” Hyunjin says, ducking when Jisung throws a napkin at him. “Did you hear what this dude in my class did?”

Jisung lets his attention drift and broods into his noodles. It wasn’t like he would’ve confessed to Minho even if he had realised he had a crush last year itself. It’s just that his self-esteem is taking a beating – rather stupidly – because Minho’s standards are out of this world. Minseok is handsome, sweet, looks at Minho with goofy adoration and makes him smile constantly. Jisung feels embarrassed for even fantasizing about confessing to Minho.

After lunch he drags his sad, pining self to the rundown apartment he shares with Felix. Halfway through, he gets a text from Minho asking if he can meet him. Jisung asks him to come to his apartment.

Minho is already leaning against the door when Jisung arrives. He notices that Minho’s eyes are heavy, his face drawn. He steps away from the door when he sees Jisung.

“Hello.” Jisung unlocks the door and steps inside, Minho following him, nearly stepping at his heels. “Do you want something to drink?” he asks, squatting down to unlace his boots. Minho simply kicks his sneakers off.

“No,” Minho says and lumbers past the landing and disappears into the bedroom.

Jisung drops his bag on the ratty couch, and goes to a small area that is designated as the kitchen. It has an induction stove, a cooler, cooking utensils and a new tenant: a cactus named Fig. He checks the cooler, grabs two cans of cold coffee and goes to the bedroom.

Minho is sprawled on Jisung’s bed and is staring at the fluorescent stars on the ceiling. Jisung places the cans on the wonky little side table and prepares to shove Minho till he gets some space. But, Minho rolls away and pats at the space next to him.

It is a tight fit, and Minho seems unwilling to relinquish any more space. So, Jisung lies next to him, Minho’s warmth seeping into his side like a brand. The stars are bright because Minho has pulled the curtains closed and Jisung has shut the door and switched off the lights.

“You had stars even in your dorm.” Minho says. His voice was too quiet. Too blank.

“Yeah, it’s like a thing with me I suppose. I’ve always had them after I left boarding school.”

“Hmm. Do you leave them behind? When you move, I mean?”

He thinks of the stars glowing in the dark for a random freshman who is lying on Jisung’s old dorm bed. A constant emission of light even after Jisung has moved on, leaving the trappings of his first year behind. But, he is a conscientious tenant and scraped them off before he left. He tells Minho this and adds, “I left a tiny star behind, just for fun. A mystery for the first year who gets the room.”

“’I was here’ graffiti, but Jisungie style,” Minho says.

“I never thought of it that way,” Jisung murmurs, studying the stars. How quaint is this wish to have stars with him everywhere he goes, but how comforting. Even as I look at the stars, the stars look at me, he had always thought, but what Minho said – about these tiny fluorescent stars being his mark in a space he once occupied – it warms him.

A space that remembers me, a space that has meaning. A space for me.

“Minseok hyung met us today, he bought us kimbap,” Jisung says when Minho doesn’t reply. “I’m sorry that I rushed away like that – um I just remembered that I had an assignment.” The nail of his thumb finds his forefinger.

Minho is quiet. Silence blankets the room. If Jisung strains his ears, he can hear the susurration of life beyond the windows; lives unbothered by stars and crushes and a boy whose voice wavers when he says, “I’m so terrified, Jisungie.”

Jisung turns to his side to face him even though it makes his ass hang out of the bed. He wraps a hand over Minho’s belly. Minho is sucking in quick, painful breaths, his body trembling with the effort to quieten his tears. 

“I don’t know what I am doing. What the fuck sort of degree am I getting? Dance and psychology? I just did shit for four whole years without ever thinking about what I am doing and now this blindness has to end and I am so, so terrified of what I’ll see, of what I’ll do and myself and my lack of skills and ability and my plan for this stupid programme and…” a sob wracks his chest, the sound of it tears Jisung’s heart.

“I don’t know what I’m doing or what the fuck I’m supposed to do now,” Minho whispers. “I can’t, it’s too much.”

Jisung wants to say, it’ll be okay. But he doesn’t. 

What he wants to say is, I’m here with you in this painful time and in this uncertain space you’ve found yourself in. He wants to say, I’ll be with you in every way possible. But, he doesn’t.

He just says, “I’m here, hyung, I’m here with you.”

He holds Minho as he cries and lets him talk and talk and talk while he listens with his entire heart.

───────

“Can’t believe this is the end.” Minho picks at the label of the water bottle and stares at the sticky residue on his nail. “Ew,” he mumbles and paws at the carpet.

Jisung stares unseeingly in front of him, too drunk to focus on anything in particular. His thoughts turn and turn, but don’t register in his mind. “I’ll miss you, hyung,” he whispers, before he even realises that he is speaking.

There’s a loud boom on the screen and Felix screeches. Minseok’s booming laugh echoes in the room. “I win,” he sings.

Minho stops scratching the carpet and turns to Minseok. He smiles, eyes crinkling. His hair is in a disarray and he is sweating out his concealer. “Your skin is melting,” Jisung tells him and swipes a thumb under Minho’s eye. There’s a smear of colour on Jisung’s thumb now and he isn’t sure what to do with it.

“It’s too bloody hot here,” Minho complains. He pulls at his shirt. “I’m sweating everywhere. You know what, let’s go to the bedroom. There’s A.C. there,” he says. “Minseokie, I’ll be in the bedroom,” he calls out.

“The bedroom is out of bounds!” Jisung says loudly to get Minho’s attention.

Minho laughs and pushes his hair back. Jisung stares at the motion, entranced by the way Minho’s hair flops back on his forehead. “I was the one who said the bedroom is out of bounds and I take it back. Come on,” he stands up, wobbling only a little and offers a hand to Jisung.

“Huh?” Jisung mutters, unsure of what Minho is referring to, but he takes his hand anyway. Minho’s hands are always warm and soft.

Minho rolls his eyes and pulls Jisung up. Jisung’s legs refuse to work and his body tilts sideways. The floor rushes towards him at an alarming rate, but Minho catches him, and straightens him. “You’re a mess,” Minho chuckles, but Jisung is distracted by how good he smells.

Jisung’s feet don’t cooperate with him. They go hither and thither of their own accord which causes him to stumble, or they knock together causing him to stumble, or he steps on his own toes which causes him to stumble. The astringent smell of the cheap rot-gut gin assaults his nose when he walks out of the living room and into the short hallway leading to the bedroom. His stomach heaves.

Seungmin nods at him as he leaves the bathroom. “I’m gonna crash on the couch,” he says with a weak smile. “I’m exhausted,” he confides as if he’s  put out by the fact that he is tired after nearly six hours of revelry.

Jisung squints at him. Seungmin’s face is scrubbed clean and he is in his undershirt. The sequins on Jisung’s shirt start itching something fierce.

“Wait, let me get you something to sleep on and come to the bedroom for a while, there’s A.C.” Minho says, but Seungmin shakes his head.

“I promised that I would play a game before sleeping and Minseok hyung gave me a sheet. That’s enough for me. I’ll come later if it’s too hot.” Seungmin walks away. Felix and Minseok’s cackles float into the hallway. Changbin’s annoyed grumbling follows a moment later.

Jisung takes a step forward and his shoulder knocks into the wall. “I am not drunk, walk straight,” Jisung snarls at his feet. Minho steadies him again.

“Thank fuck,” Minho says and pushes the door to his bedroom open. 

Jisung follows him inside and collapses on the floor exhausted. His entire body aches after hours of dancing and his feet are numb. The whir of the A.C. breaks the silence. His thoughts clear a little, but there’s still the heady confidence of inebriation sizzling in his veins.

Minho walks past Jisung’s prone form without a shirt on. Jisung wolf whistles because he can. Minho looks down at him with alarm, “why are you screeching? Are you hurt?”

Jisung pouts at him. “I was wolf whistling,” he says, “cause you’re hot.”

Shut up, shut up, shut up, his last brain cell chants, but the point of being drunk is that he can ignore the foghorn of rationality.

“Yeah? Thank you.” Minho looks fond and godlike. The tasteful lighting that makes Minho look more divine than usual, Jisung thinks. The thought that it is him that is making Minho beam like that makes Jisung’s heart all warm. Minho pulls on a shirt and Jisung mourns the loss of… stop checking him out, you creep!

“I’ll miss you a lot, Jisungie,” Minho says, after the t-shirt is in place. He is still smiling and his expression is still so fond that Jisung can’t bear to look. Looking away isn’t an option either.

Jisung dislikes the unfairness of it all.

There’s nothing unfair, leave, leave, leave.

Minho settles down on the floor besides him. “I think you’re one of my closest friends,” his voice is a soft murmur. “I’m glad I took that English class last year.”

Something terrible yawns open in Jisung’s chest. A pit. The Pit and the Pendulum, he thinks nonsensically, thinks of reading a book just to impress Minho. I’ve been trying to impress him since first year. For shame. But the pit is warm and its edges spool inward, inward into a cold warmth the more Minho looks at him and the more he looks at Minho looking at him. What the fuck is a cold warmth? Love is falling, falling is scary. Huh. 

“Hyung, I–” Shut up, shut up!

A stillness like when you’re teetering on a precipice. He is up on his elbows before he knows it and he pulls himself onto his knees. He nearly falls, but grabs Minho’s shoulders. He can see the thickness of Minho’s lashes, can see the imperfections that his smeared makeup hides.

Minho’s face changes, skin pinching together in confusion.

“I love you – like you so much … want, want to be with you an’ only you always” he says – babbles. Jisung watches Minho’s face, his words slipping out without any realisation on his part. Minho’s mouth drops open when he understands.

“Jisungie–” Minho’s face is blank.

Horror, horror but also an instinct to keep talking – keep talking. Silence is horrible.

Then he is sprawled on the floor and Minho is gone.

───────

Cold warmth is burning shame and the knowledge that he fucked everything up.

───────

Minho: Jisungie, can we please talk before I leave? 

Minho: Listen, I know it’s embarrassing but can we just talk it out? I promise I won’t hurt you or anything, but we need to sort this out 

Minho: Hyung is not mad, promise 🥺🥺

Minho: Jisung, come on

Jisung: Hyung, I’m sorry for what happened yesterday. I shouldn’t have done that and I put you in an uncomfortable position. I’m really sorry. I’m sorry for my obviously unwelcome confession, for disrespecting you and Minseok hyung and for ruining your party. Though it isn’t an excuse, I don’t know what I was doing because I was drunk. I would’ve never thought of doing this if I was sober. But, I obviously need to be more responsible about drinking.

───────

Missed call from Minhooo Hyungiee

Missed call from Minhooo Hyungiee

Missed call from Minhooo Hyungiee

───────

Minho: Jisung, I understand and you don’t have to apologise for anything. But I really think we need to sort this out by talking

Minho: I appreciate your apology and I know we can put this behind us, but first we need to address it

Jisung: Please.

Jisung: I need time.

Jisung: Please.

───────

Missed call from Minhooo Hyungiee

───────

“Minho hyung called me,” Felix says. “What should I say.”

Jisung shakes his head, turns to his book. “I don’t know.”

───────

Minho: Ok, Jisungie. Whenever you are ready.

───────

section iii: inertia

(Jisung’s third year: the year where nothing seemed to happen)

Year Three: Semester V and VI

“I can’t believe I killed her!” Felix wails.

Jisung makes soothing noises, phone cradled between his ear and his shoulder. He’s balancing two plates and they’re in danger of slipping at any moment, so he scuttles to the dining table before they fall.

“– she must be so disappointed in me,” Felix’s voice is watery. He sounds like he is talking from inside a well, so Jisung surmises that he’s in the stairwell of their flat.

Jisung places the dishes on the table and shakes his hand. He takes the phone in his other hand and rubs his ear with his free hand. “Can cacti die?”

Felix makes an odd, choking sound, “I just told you that she’s dead!”

Jisung flops on the couch and puts his foot on the coffee table. He can’t quite reach it, so he slides down till his feet reach the table. “I mean, she’s a cactus, maybe she’ll get better if you water her a little more? They’re resilient, right?”

“Yeah, lemme water the corpse of my plant after ignoring her for months and sending positive vibes to her. Hey! I can use my tears right?”

“Wow,” Jisung says, unimpressed, “I am just trying to help.” He drops his foot when his mother scowls at him.

Felix sighs. “I asked botany noona on the fifth floor. She said and I quote, ‘when is the funeral?.’”

“The same noona who looked like she wanted to kill you when you asked if botanists grew better shrooms? Jisung cackles.

Felix growls and his voice is loud when he says, “fuck you! Seungmin dared me. Anyway,” he says when Jisung laughs harder, “it seems like a bad omen.”

“Bad omen?” Jisung flexes his toes. “What?”

“Death before the beginning of the new semester, you know. Like foreshadowing or symbolism or something.”

“I hope I get some foreshadowing the next time before I do something dumb,” Jisung says, tamping down on the images of Minho’s face.

“Prepare a eulogy before you get back,” Felix's voice is knowing, “we’ll bury her together.”

───────

Minho: Jisungie! I got the project!!! 🎉

Minho: We’re starting soon! And they didn’t even ask for a lot of changes! Unreal!

Minho: It is just a pilot, but I’m so excited!! ✨💫🌟🎉

Minho: How are you by the way?

Jisung: Congrats hyungie!!! Excited for you

───────

Somehow, Jisung becomes a part of a writing club.

He doesn’t quite know how it happens. He saw a flier, wrote a piece, sent it off and then he’s being interviewed (an awkward phone call where he says that he is hundred percent better than everyone because he couldn’t hear what the interviewer said. The interviewer laughed, and Jisung still wonders what that meant) and they tell him he has been accepted.

The people in this club are intense.

Now, Jisung likes competition -- the friendly sort where you rib and tease each other and it really isn’t all that serious. A lark, more like.  But, when Jisung reads out his story or shares his ideas in class, he can feel two and a half dozen pairs of eyes appraising him. The worst part is that he doesn’t even know the rubrics of their assessment.

The moment he realises that he is in over his head, he scrambles to keep up with his more polished, more serious classmates. He reads reviews upon reviews and throws around phrases like piercingly honest and dazzlingly incisive and scathing wit and says things like, “I liked how you explored the psychodynamic forces at play and how your main character’s conscious self is trying to break free of the collective frailties of human existence.”

“Do you even know what it means?” Hyunjin asks after he tells him about this line which had gotten him a smattering of confused applause.

Jisung ponders the question. He does know the meaning of the individual words. “I know it but I don’t think it applied in the context,” he shrugs. His character’s life reduces as Hyunjin’s character wallops him in the game they’re playing.

“What was it about anyway?” Hyunjin isn’t even looking at him, he’s too focused on decimating Jisung.

“A gritty tale about a man who compares himself to an animal.”

Hyunjin turns to him and wrinkles his face. “Your club is weird.”

“It was a prompt,” Jisung sighs as the screen blanks for a moment and then announces Hyunjin as the winner. His phone buzzes and he checks it, his heart crawling to his throat when he sees the notifications of the writing club group chat. “Fuck, these people don’t know how to chill.”

───────

Minho: Long time, no see. How’re you, how is college?

Jisung: Sorry for the late reply, I’m fine, college is hectic

Jisung: How are you?

───────

“Which is why I can’t text Minho,” Jisung tells Seungmin and his judgmental eyebrows.

Seungmin’s eyebrows arch higher. “That sounds like a–” he pauses and breathes out. “Can you explain what you mean?”

Jisung rifles through his bag for a pen and book. “Glad you asked,” he says, uncapping the pen and flipping top the last couple of pages of his book. “See it is like this.” He draws a circle and roughly divides it into five, unequal sections. He names the largest one 'existing.' Then, in descending order, he names the other sections as, writing, club, classes and stuff.

“Ugly as fuck,” Seungmin comments. “Is this supposed to be a pie chart?”

Jisung smacks his hand. “Do you see how much energy and motivation I have to deal with other stuff? I don’t have energy to like...” he flaps a hand, “–to suppress my memories and talk like a normal human being.”

Seungmin sips his coffee, sighs. “Just text him back. I know you’re embarrassed, but Minho hyung will never–”

“I know,” Jisung cuts him off, “I just need time to reply. It’s…” Jisung drags a finger through the crumbs of his cookie, “it’s just hard. Confronting the shame and horror again and again and it happens every time I see his texts.”

The laughter and murmur of the people in the café is juxtaposed by a soft, elegiac crooning from the speakers. Jisung crumples a tissue and studies the doodles of stars, flowers and the complaints that he has written in the back of his book. “What the fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck this dude,” he’s written and beneath it, Felix’s crooked writing asks, “is it possible for your ears to bleed because of bs?”

“Just… talk to him properly before it is too late,” Seungmin says.

“I will. I just need time.”

He needs a lot of time, it turns out. For every message Minho sends, it takes Jisung at least a couple of days to reply back. It is difficult to beat back the intrusive replay of his confession and the resultant flood of shame, hot at first and then cooling into sludge. It sticks. Oh, how well it sticks.

Then, Minho starts taking time, too. The first time Jisung notices, anger explodes within him. It is quiet, but has an intense pressure that makes his mind hazy for a moment. Why don’t you understand that I need time? Jisung asks the chat window, it isn’t easy for me. Why don’t you understand? Why are you putting me on a time limit?

Unfairness calls to unfairness. But, Jisung knows, with the certainty of searching for a mistake that you know you have made, that he is the one who is wrong.

The club and his classes demand his attention so much that it is easy to be washed smooth of overarching worries in the pursuit of everyday challenges. An assignment here, a test and a submission, a presentation there. Jisung thinks that he is like sea glass, knowing only the pattern of his routine’s constant flow

In the middle of the semester, he sees yet another flier. A company is seeking people who write content. Jisung applies because extra cash is extra cash. He sends writing samples to the company (all of them having originally written for the club, past intertwines with the present) and his CV (minimalistic due to lack and not due to stylistic preferences).

He gets the job. He gets busier than ever. Time, always in a hurry, passes swiftly. Texting the hyungs becomes a rare enterprise. Everyone is caught up in their own life.

Jisung is neither happy nor unhappy. He is busy.

───────

Seonwoo sits in front of Jisung. He is perpetually early to class and Jisung is sometimes early. During one such confluence, Seonwoo starts talking to him. At first, they only talk about notes and share opinions about the teacher – a pompous, terrible person who grudgingly shares information – and groan about the work.

Seonwoo is cute. He has nice hair and his eyes always seem to twinkle. Plus, he has dimples, so Jisung is star struck. He doesn’t seem to mind that Jisung is quiet and stiff with him in the first few weeks. He doesn’t even mind when Jisung becomes comfortable with him and unleashes his personality.

Jisung starts coming early to class just to spend more time with him, and he hopes that it is obvious.

“Why don’t you just ask him out, hyung,” Jeongin asks, raising his voice to be heard over the noise of the lunch crowd.

The breeze that ruffles his hair makes Jisung shiver. “Good question,” he nods, crossing his legs and curling them around each other for warmth, “but pass.”

Seungmin rolls his eyes. “Please don’t pine, last year was–” he freezes, mouth dropping open.

Jisung studies the scratches on the table. One of the marks here was made by him being too enthusiastic with a divider. A space that remembers me . His breath shudders. He had made the first move once like an utter dick, hadn’t he?

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have brought that up,” Seungmin says urgently.

Jisung shakes his head. “It’s fine, it’s fine,” he smiles though it is a bit stiff in the corners, “I’ll do – something.”

“There’s a play the performing arts department is putting up,” Hyunjin says before an uncomfortable silence can take over the table, “Changbin hyung said he’ll try to come.”

“Yeah, let’s go. I haven’t seen Changbin hyung in so long,” Felix says. He grimaces into his lunchbox, “will we also be so busy next semester?”

Jisung huffs a laugh. “I can already feel my dissertation chipping away at my mortal form. Will I even exist next year?”

“I don’t understand the point of having to do research in undergrad,” Hyunjin complains then pauses, “actually I don’t understand the point of anything right now.”

A gloomy silence descends on them. Jeongin waves at someone. Jisung picks at his food, having lost his appetite. It occurs to him that he is set to lose many things over the next year. Things that have taken so much time to become familiar over these past semesters will be unfamiliar all over again.

“Let’s just eat,” he mumbles.

───────

Felix drops the cigarette when Jisung opens the door to the bathroom. He snorts as he watches Felix scramble to pick it up. “Are you done?” he asks.

A table fan is whirring away on the countertop, its noise drowned out by the blaring rattle of the exhaust. Seungmin is sitting on the closed commode, protein shaker in hand, while Felix is huddled on the floor. They look utterly foolish.

“You both look like fools,” Jisung tells them because he is suddenly, irrepressibly fond of them. Or maybe he is mistaking the soothing warmth of alcohol for fondness. He doesn’t know, he is halfway drunk.

“You’ve smeared your makeup again,” Seungmin tuts. “I’m not doing it again.”

Jisung pouts and slaps his chest. His limbs are floppy. He stares at them in amazement.

“We’re nearly done,” Felix rasps. He is soft about the eyes and as languid as Jisung is floppy.

Jisung tells him this and Seungmin shakes his head. “This is a terrible idea,” he mutters, smoke billowing out of his mouth. The fan and the exhaust don’t seem to be doing anything to the smell and a part of Jisung wonders if they’re going to wake up to an eviction notice.

“Hyunjin will take care of us!”

Seungmin laughs, takes a swig from the shaker. “This is the perfect opportunity for him to murder us, you know that right? We fooled him into being the designated driver.”

“It’s his fault that he always goes with scissors,” Jisung says. “Also he’s a scaredy cat, he nearly cried when we saw that mushroom face peeling murder thingy.”

“You called out for your mom when you saw that,” Felix says. Buoyed by Seungmin’s snicker, he imitates Jisung and hides his face in his hands “oh god! Mom save me! My parent’s genes did not combine to create me only for me to go insane by watching this!”

Jisung flips them off when they start braying like a pair of donkeys.

“Ask Hyunjin to fix your makeup!” Seungmin calls when Jisung leaves the bathroom.

He stumbles to the living room, his thoughts swirling and threading through the misty euphoria that always hit him when his inhibitions dissolve. He thinks it says something about him that he spends time analysing his drunkenness too.

Hyunjin is rambling to Jeongin, who is staring stone-faced at the TV. “And they basically picked the dude with bulging muscles even though I’m elegantly wiry and sinewy,” Hyunjin whines.

“Hyunjin please fix my makeup or Seungmin won’t take me to the club.”

“I’m the one who is taking you losers to the club,” Hyunjin says, frowning. He gets up, however, and without his support Jeongin lists to the side and flops on the couch.

Hyunjin and Jisung stare at him.

“I am not as drunk as him,” Jisung says after Jeongin shows no inclination to sit up.

“Yeah? Then do your makeup yourself.”

Jisung throws himself at Hyunjin who stumbles back. Imagine being such a noodle. “No, please, please, please,” Jisung rocks Hyunjin from side to side, “you know I cannot do anything when I’m drunk.”

“I hate all of you,” Hyunjin complains and stomps to the table where he has kept his makeup box. He takes a cotton pad and moistens it with micellar water.

Jisung sits – he points his ass towards the sofa and gravity, ever generous, helps him out –  beside Jeongin and pats his hand. “How much did you drink?”

“Until my liver started crying,” he slurs.

“I wish I were you.”

Hyunjin looms over him. “No you don’t.” Jisung fails to close his eyes when Hyunjin pats the cotton pad on his eyelid and grimaces at the burn. “Stop swaying, you hellion,” Hyunjin mutters.

“Where’s the alcohol?” Felix asks. There’s a thudding sound followed by a hiss. “The protein shaker only had like, two spoonfuls of vodka.”

“Innie helped himself to it,” Hyunjin says.

Jeongin groans. “Reg—rets.”

Jisung frowns when he feels Hyunjin clean his other eyelid. “Hey! Fix it, not… clean.”

“You look like you have two black eyes,” Seungmin says. Jisung opens his eyes and sees him squatting in front of Jeongin’s prone form. Jisung leans forward and whacks him then flops down on Jeongin’s thighs.

“I want makeup,” he says, staring at the cracked ceiling. Jisung tugs at Hyunjin’ sleeve and keeps tugging.

Felix stumbles out of the kitchen, protein shaker in hand. “Seungminnie, you should ask for royalties every time we use your protein shaker idea,” he says and Seungmin replies, “yeah!”

“Why are you giving him capitalistic ideas?” Hyunjin says and slaps Jisung’s hand. “Stop it. Also we need to get going before the crowd becomes too much.”

“So that Seungmin can buy a yacht,” Felix informs Hyunjin

“Seungmin wants to go to concerts, but if you want a yacht, we can buy one,” Seungmin says, patting Jeongin, who is whining at the noise.

“I want makeup.”

“I’m booking the cab! Seungmin, please just do something to Jisung’s face.”

“Here,” Felix says, handing over the shaker to Jisung.

Jisung passes it to Seungmin who takes a swig and passes it on to Felix. Hyunjin grumbles at his phone and Jeongin sits up and demands to be a part of the circle – triangle? – square? Shapes are beyond Jisung.

But what Jisung understands even as he loses control of his body and starts shimmying and singing for no reason is this: the simple happiness of being with people who make him feel safe. What also doesn’t escape him is that in a year and a few months, this would not be a moment in time, but something lost to time.

It’s a good thing that I am going to forget this in a second, Jisung thinks, but he doesn’t. It is pushed aside when Hyunjin announces that the cab has arrived.

Fifteen minutes into the car ride, Jeongin demands the cab driver to pull over before he vomits. Seungmin, who is dozing against the window, is ready to fight when they awaken him. Hyunjin corrals them into a knot of interlinked arms and herds them back to the building. 

Jisung washes his hand in the kitchen sink and somehow sprays water all over his faux silk shirt as he takes a drink. He wanders to the bedroom and takes out his lens before collapsing on the floor. Everything spins. The ceiling and his fluorescent stars merge and unmerge and spiral on their axis as he himself seems to fall upwards towards them.

Jisung’s eyes are drooping, but he keeps them open. Past intertwines with the present and he doesn’t want to miss anything, not even Jeongin retching in the bathroom and Felix knocking things over as he undresses.

“What’re you on the floor for?” Felix asks as he settles besides Jisung.

“Duuno,” Jisung says automatically because articulation is a difficult task right now. He frowns, trying to concentration, “Jeonginnie needs the bed.” His tongue twists and wades through the syllables without sticking to their boundaries.

“Ah. Seungminnie’s conked out on my bed.”

“This will all end one day,” Jisung supplies, overcome.

Felix sighs. “I hope it does, I want to puke now.”

Jisung stays quiet. Jeongin heaves, heaves and then there’s the sound of him emptying his stomach. Underneath these sounds, they can faintly hear Hyunjin begging god to save him.

Jisung looks at the stars. He drifts off, Felix’s hand tight around his waist, the stars lulling him with their constant light. He wakes up briefly when Hyunjin joins them on the floor.

“I hate you all,” Hyunjin whispers, curling around Jisung.

Jisung kisses his forehead. “We’ll make it up to you.”

(The next morning they grit their teeth against their headaches and fawn over Jeongin. They shower Hyunjin with attention and affection and Jisung buys him food. Jeongin is catatonic with his hangover. Hyunjin pretends to hate all of them though he is obviously pleased by all the attention.)

───────

Excerpt: Untitled Journal Entry

Living the best days of your life while knowing that you’re doing so is sad at best, cruel at worst. This knowing is not an analgesic like nostalgia is; it is a sentence.

The word nostalgia was created with two words and their separate meanings. Homecoming and an ache. It brought to mind pleasant memories and the warmth associated with them. Maybe it made you a little sad, but ha – you’ll say, at least you have memories to be nostalgic about.

This knowing has two parts to it, too. Inevitability and an end. You know that the end is inevitable, yet you keep walking, keep moving further in time knowing that one day, you’ll only have the memories left. For all the warmth you feel, you know there’s a goodbye to be said. Even if it is not immediate, it is imminent.

And an inevitable goodbye's the saddest of them all.

───────

section iv : denouement

(The finish line and glimmers of adulthood)

Year Four: Semester VII and VIII

“You sound like a bagpipe,” Jisung pants. He leans against the railing for a second, then pushes himself off it. He treks onwards and upwards.

“Your ass is a bagpipe,” Hyunjin grumbles behind him. He whines when they reach the second floor landing. “Why the third floor of all places!”

Jisung groans. “Because the apartment is on the third floor. Also stop checking out my ass.”

“There’s nothing to check out,” Hyunjin says.

“As if you can talk.” Jisung slams the toe of his boot against the door. Hyunjin just whines again and rests his head against the door.

Felix swings the door open and Hyunjin stumbles inside, shoves the bag he is carrying into Felix’s arms and collapses on the sofa. “Never again shall I carry such a heavy burden,” he says.

“What will you do in the army?” Seungmin asks and scoots to the opposite side of the couch when Hyunjin tries to wipe his forehead on Seungmin’s trousers.

Jisung goes to the kitchen and puts the bags on the counter. It is around 5 o’clock in the evening and all of them have just finished their last exam for this semester. Jisung takes out the eggs and meat.

“Can you start on the eggs?” Felix says, slipping into the kitchen. Hyunjin and Seungmin’s bickering increases in volume. Felix rolls his eyes, “they’re going to be busy for a while.”

Jisung washes his hands, humming. Scissors snip away at plastic and Seungmin starts laughing. Hyunjin yells, “asshole!” and then he laughs too. The suds foam higher, slip away under the relentless stream of water. Jisung wonders how he got here, how he got to have this. A full feast ─ as full as five broke students can afford ─ to celebrate the end of the semester. Friends to celebrate it with. A last hurrah before their last year consumes them as they work to get a degree.

Jisung’s phone chimes. He wipes his fingers on Felix’s t-shirt and evades the annoyed flick of his palm.

“Seonwoo again?” Felix teases. The deep burr of his voice is soothing and it puts Jisung at ease though he hadn’t realised that he is tense.

He relaxes his shoulders, breathes in. “Yeah,” he says, thumbs hovering above his phone. He drives the nail of his thumb into his index finger. “He wants to go on a date before he leaves.”

Fat crackles in the pan, protesting the heat. “That’s great! Where are you guys going?”

“Coffee again, probably. The safest option,” Jisung types quickly, adds a peach emoji and a winking one, sends it. “I like him. He’s great.”

The doorbell rings and Hyunjin crows, “Jeonginnie!” and there’s a clatter of feet. Jeongin starts yelping the moment he enters the threshold, “Hyung, stop! Oh my god!”

“I haven’t seen you in eighty-four years!”

Jisung rolls his eyes, tunes out their argument. Seonwoo agrees and sends him a photo of him lying on his bed, his thick hair fanning out on the pillow. Heart fluttering, Jisung sends back appropriate emojis.

Jisung takes over the snacks – which in itself is a mini meal – while the other four flit in and out to help him. There’s a heaviness to his limbs that has nothing to do with the exams he has written. It is the tiredness of the end catching up, whether one wants it or not. Three years of watching his hyungs leave and now he is the one about to leave.

He puts the food on the plate, picks up the condiments and takes it to the living room. “I’ll get repetitive motion injury because of the amount of food I have to cook for you.”

“Right, cooking breakfast food once a semester will definitely give you an injury,” Seungmin waves his knife at him, “if people who have it heard you, they’ll murder you.”

“I think I have to worry more about you than them,” Jisung eyes the knife and shuffles closer to Hyunjin.

“Hyung, please, I am so hungry,” Jeongin says, trying to grab the plate, “I haven’t eaten since last night.”

Felix tuts. “I told you to have breakfast before you left for your exam.”

Jeongin doesn’t reply because he has already stuffed his mouth. Jisung shakes his head and treks back to the kitchen to get the cutlery.

They sit in a circle and eat, joking and making fun of each other. But Jisung detects undercurrents of sadness too, lurking under every syllable, peeking out more often as the evening wears on.

“What scares me is that everything will be different, but I’ll be the same,” Seungmin says, “I am not going to become more mature just because I graduate, am I?”

Hyunjin splays out on the floor. “Maybe pooling together our collective maturity will help us figure out this adulthood thing.” He sighs and rubs his stomach, “if our hyungs did it then so can we, right?”

“The last time I met him, Changbinnie hyung was twitching because he keeps drinking coffee,” Felix informs him, “and when I asked him why he drank so much coffee, he told me that he did so because it is free in his office.”

Jeongin bites his lips and shifts to lean against Jisung. “I can’t believe I am saying this, but I will miss you all.”

Hyunjin chuckles and smirks. “Ha, I knew it.”

Jisung makes a gagging noise. “Please never smirk again.”

“And the placements–”

“Seungmin, please stop talking about placements. I really don’t want to think of how my sustenance depends on rich men deeming me worthy enough for their companies,” Felix groans.

“Let’s go get drunk,” Jisung suggests, “and complain about the system we’re living in.”

“Yeah!” Hyunjin says, already on his feet. “That’s the best idea, Jisung has ever had!”

Jisung smacks his calf.

───────

Felix turns the tap off. “I wish I could move in with you and Hyunjin.” 

Jisung stops poking at the eggs. He shakes his head. “It’s understandable, Lix, you’re moving for your job. Plus, you’re saving a lot of money by staying with your uncle and aunt.”

The sponge that Felix is holding squelches as he attacks a saucepan. “Yeah, but you guys were my first preference, okay?”

Jisung laughs as he flips the omelette. “That’s nice to know.”

“And I’m going to move back to this city the moment I leave my job,” Felix says, scrubbing hard, “my uncle and aunt are nice but super conservative. I don’t want to come back at ten on weekends.”

“Wow, that’s –” 

“I know!” Felix sighs, “they don’t say anything but then pull the ‘we’re old, can’t handle the stress’ card with mum.”

Jisung adds a bit of cheese to the omelette. “Are you sure you don’t want to throw your job to the wind and join us?”

“I’m tempted,” Felix admits, turning on the tap with a forceful jerk of his hand, “but I want some savings for when I start my masters.”

Jisung switches off the stove. “Wish we were eight and didn’t have to worry about money.”

“Good old days.” Felix places the saucepan on the counter, switches off the tap and flicks water away from his hand. “You know, I’m kinda jealous of Jeonginnie. He has more time.”

Jisung yelps as the omelette burns his tongue. He screeches as he rolls the morsel around in his, fanning his hands frantically. He swallows the bite and pants. “Fuck. That was hot.”

“You just took it out of the pan,” Felix says, unimpressed. “You’re a mess.”

“Your face is a mess.” Jisung pokes Felix’s stomach with the edge of the plate. “Try some, it’s amazing.”

Felix shakes his head. “No, thank you. I–”

“I’ll have some,” Jeongin says as he enters the kitchen, hair messy and eyes still closed. “I’m hungry.”

Jisung coos and cuts a piece of omelette. “Here, you go.” He feeds the piece to Jeongin.

“I was just saying that I’m jealous of you.” Felix plops down on the floor and sits with his back against the fridge. “You get a whole year to think about your future.”

Jeongin snorts as he lowers himself to the ground and cuddles up beside Felix. “That’s unlikely. I barely have time to remember that I have to eat.”

“Yeah, but at least you don’t have to worry about taxes and stuff.” Felix thumps his head back. “Why did I have to get a job in another city?”

“Because it pays a lot,” Jisung points out. There’s worry churning in his stomach as he is reminded yet again that his semester is going to end soon and not only is his friend leaving, Jisung still doesn’t have a job. He puts his plate in the sink.

“It’ll be weird hanging out with the three of them with you, hyung,” Jeoning says. “It will be weirder than when Changbin hyung and Minho hyung left.”

Felix folds his knees to his chest. “It’ll be weird to leave.”

Jisung puts his plate in the sink and the clink of plastic against steel echoes in the sudden silence. He joins Felix and Jeongin on the floor, presses against Felix’s other side. “Don’t think that we won’t torment you even if you’re hundreds of kilometres away.”

Felix’s smile doesn’t reach his eyes. “I know, but it’s not the same. I know it’s just a year, but this is where we built all our memories together.”

“Hyung, a year will fly by quickly.” Jeongin cuddles closer and looks at Felix with wide, affectionate eyes. “And we’ll be right here.”

“Yeah, Lix. Just watch, nothing would’ve changed.” Jisung wants to laugh at how absurd his statement is because they’re discussing this because things are changing right now. Still he doesn’t have anything better to say.

“I’m holding you on to that promise,” Felix says, putting his arms around both of them. “You’d better keep it.”

Jisung nods, but there’s a leaden weight in his chest.

───────

“Minho hyung asked me to apply for the job opening he sent to our group.” Seungmin picks at the table. “So I did.”

Jisung nods, turning back to his laptop. He types a sentence. “That’s good, Seungminnie. It’s a good job.”

Seungmin sips his coffee. “Yeah. Did you hear back from that place you applied to?” 

Jisung saves the document and leans back, stretching his hand above his head. “Nah. I think it’s too difficult for them to create a standardised response saying, ‘you didn’t make it,’” he drops his hands and rolls his eyes. “But they haven’t replied in like, two weeks, so I think freelancing it is.”

“It’s tough though, Jisung,” Seungmin fiddles with the cardboard sleeve of his cup, “I know you already have clients and stuff but you’re just starting with your career. It’s risky.”

Irritation flares like a spark taking to dry grass, but Jisung ignores it. He types another sentence. “I think I can manage. I’m good at this.” There’s a brittle edge to his voice, and Seungmin’s eyes widen slightly.

“Ah – Jisungie, I didn’t mean it like an insult. I just – you know what, let’s not talk about jobs.”

Jisung inclines his head in agreement. Seungmin sips his coffee again. They’re at the table, just the two of them. Both of them have a break between exams unlike Felix and Jeongin. Hyunjin has gone for a two day audition thing. The sunset’s pink and hazy against the smog that hangs in the air.

“I’ll have to leave the city if I get the job,” Seungmin says, lacing his fingers together. “The project has moved to another city now.”

Jisung blinks, mouth dropping open. “Oh my god. Wait – so even you’ll leave?”

Seungmin rubs the back of his neck. “If I get the job then, yes.”

“You’ll get the job,” Jisung says with a flick of his hand, but even with a warm breeze blowing around them, his skin prickles with coldness.

“You know that it’s not Minho hyung interviewing me right? It’s the HR and–”

“I know you’ll do great,” Jisung insists, “Seungmin, you’re a catch, okay? You can do accounts and all in seconds!”

Seungmin laughs, shaking his head. “You know that you’re the only one is impressed, right? It’s pretty basic.”

“Ever since I saw those debit side, credit side things, I’ve never been the same,” Jisung says, shuddering. “But, you’ll leave, Minnie.” It is difficult to keep the hurt tucked tight in his heart, to banish the bewilderment from his mind.

Seungmin shrugs, tugging the zipper of his hoodie. “It’s so strange that this is all ending,” he waves his hand at the silhouette of the main building.

Jisung’s stomach drops and a weight settles in his veins. He hunches forward, suddenly weary. “Yeah. Things are changing,” he says quietly. “They’re changing too much.”

Seungmin is silent for a minute. “Some things…” he pauses, “I think there will be some things that will be the same – that will remain true even if everything else changes.”

Jisung expects Seungmin to say something along the lines of, you’ll still remain an idiot, for one, but his breath catches when he says, “I think that there’s a place for all of us in each other’s hearts. So even when we meander away because we’re too busy or because of life – and that always happens,” Seungmin exhales, “but if we choose to then we can fall into that place again. Because there will always be a place for us.”

Jisung gets up. “I’m going to hug you,” he announces, making his way to Seungmin’s side. He drops down beside him and pulls him into a side hug. “I didn’t even know I needed to hear that,” he mumbles into Seungmin’s shoulder.

“I needed to hear that too,” Seungmin says, patting Jisung’s knees. “I’ve been thinking about this a lot.”

Jisung sighs, snuggling closer. “We’ll make adulthood our bitch, Seungmin. Or at least, we’ll give it grief.”

“I hope we can do that, Jisungie.”

He doesn’t sound sure and Jisung doesn’t believe it himself, but, he reasons, sometimes when you know nothing and can’t control anything, all you can do is hope.

───────

“Do you ever think of how the stars brought us together?” Hyunjin asks, as they walk back after dropping Felix at the train station. 

Jisung adjusts his face mask, discreetly wipes away the last of his tears from his lashes. “Do you –” he clears his throat, “do you mean the astronomy club?”

“Yeah,” Hyunjin nods, linking his arm with Jisung’s, “but also like, I made a random decision to talk to you and look at us now. We’re going to be roommates!”

Past intertwines with the present. “Starting adulthood together,” Jisung says then pauses, “damn, it’s hitting me now. That we’re, you know, adults .”

“I dunno who gave you the license to be an adult,” Hyunjin grins, “but, I’m glad you’re here, Sungie. I’m glad that we’re going to be roommates.”

There’s a cold tug beneath Jisung’s navel and a prickle at the back of his neck. Everything is unravelling, and it is like watching a ball of yarn come undone. He latches on to Hyunjin’s words. “Yeah, we’ll – we’ll take over the world, Hyunjin-ah. We’ll live our best life.”

“Best life on a budget,” Hyunjin says sagely as they halt at a pedestrian crossing. “I just feel nice knowing that we’ll be doing things together,” he says, “that we’re not… that we won’t be thrown into the sea all alone and asked to swim.”

“Yeah.” Jisung chews his lips as they walk. “It’ll be easier to figure out stuff when we can help each other out.”

Hyunjin hums. “Do you want to get something to eat?”

Jisung smiles and nods. “Of course.”

───────

Minho: Happy Birthday, Jisung!

Jisung: Thank you!!

───────

Jisung: Happy Birthday, Hyung!! Have a good one!

Minho: Thanks!

Jisung: How are you?

───────

To be continued