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eyes on the prize

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Stretching his neck to refrain it from straining, Yangyang finally raised his head from the textbook in front of him. He had been sitting this way for hours, stressing over the mid-terms that were closer than they seemed. Along with everyone else, he wanted to get good grades. He looked at his roommate, who was supposed to be studying. Except he wasn’t, he was looking at a flyer. That induced curiosity in Yangyang. To distract this otherwise extremely focused guy, it must be something really interesting, he thought. He got up from his chair to take a look at the flyer, stretching his arms along the way. He put his hand on the other's shoulder, making him flinch. He tried to hide the flyer by putting it between his notebook, though too late because Yangyang had already seen it. He was amused by the other’s panic, but what he attempted to hide was more entertaining to him.

“You should definitely join it.” 

Dejun looked at him for a split second, turning back to the window in front of his desk right after. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, shaking his head.

“Dude, the singing competition!” Studying in a technical university, the saddest part of college life that they were robbed of was some color and creativity as there was no art department. “You should try it.” Dejun shook his head again as he put the flyer in his drawer, locking it aggressively afterward. Offended, Yangyang forced a laugh out. Dejun put on his earphones and ignored Yangyang who was looking at him in disbelief by returning to studying.

His roommate was an odd one. He never liked talking, never made eye-contact with Yangyang, whenever he caught him he was either studying or sleeping. He never connected with him, unlike his roommate from the last semester, but most of the time he was okay. He didn’t bother him or anything, Yangyang guessed that he didn’t have things in common with him and he was okay with that. But one thing for sure, this guy liked singing. Yangyang didn’t know if he was aware of this, but Dejun would sing in the showers. He would sing while studying, doing chores, he would whistle while filling his water bottle from the dispenser in the hallway, while cooking ramen at 2 AM, basically everywhere at any given time. He was extremely good too, Yangyang didn’t know why he was studying engineering when he had a gift like that, with his exceptionally beautiful face, he could definitely do better than covering himself with engine grease in the materials labs. 

Yangyang didn’t like annoying him, because why would he even annoy him, so he made his way back to his chair, disregarding his rude attitude. He couldn’t possibly say anything to his senior, anyway. As he sat back down, his mind was so far away from the past exams of aerodynamics that he was focused on a few minutes ago. He wanted to do something for this boy, just because he thought it was unfair for only him to hear his angelic voice. He wanted to change that, and he was going to change that by convincing him to join that competition. But for the time being, he had to go back to studying.

He brought up the topic once again that night. “Can’t you let me sleep,” Dejun said, exhausted from the workload and countless hours of studying.

“Dejun-ge, what could possibly happen?”

“Um, I don’t know Yangyang, maybe public humiliation?” Yangyang laughed like this was the first joke he heard in a while, stopping right after he realized that Dejun was serious. Of course, he was, Yangyang thought to himself, when was he even joking around? Embarrassed, Yangyang dangled from the bunk bed, hoping for a face to face conversation which he believed would be more convincing. At the beginning of the semester, Yangyang had assumed that Dejun would get the upper bed. He was older than him, after all, and the upper bed was always for the older or the more privileged. Yet, Dejun wanted to sleep under because he would wake up several times during the night. Yangyang was very happy with this decision, nevertheless.

Dejun was laying down with his back turned to Yangyang. He cleared his throat loudly to make him pay attention, failing. “The truth is, I heard you sing.” This seemed to do the trick. Dejun sat upon his bed, looking somewhere in the younger’s face that Yangyang couldn’t really point out in the low moonlight. He didn’t answer him, just analyzed his face to see if he was joking or not, frowning. “You can’t tell me you’re not aware that you sing the whole day.”

Lips open part way, Dejun’s frown deepened. It took him a couple of seconds to find the words. “No, frankly, I’m not aware.” He looked a bit taken back. Yangyang felt bad for the older, yet someone had to break the news to him somehow. He was glad he didn’t hear this from a person who could make fun of him because of this.

“You’re great, ge. I think everyone in this dorm has listened to you sing at least once, already. Nobody says anything ever because you just sound that good.” It was better than ‘that good’, he sounded like an angel but Yangyang didn’t want him to think he was exaggerating.  

“This doesn’t make me feel any better,” he said, putting his head back to his pillow with a groan. “I have my mechanical vibrations exam tomorrow, please let me sleep.” Yangyang clammed up, pulling himself back to his bed. He heard Dejun mumble about not being able to sleep as he dropped unconscious.

 

Yangyang tried talking to him during dinner. He had never eaten dinner with him before because he had to limit the time he spent with his roommate outside of the dorm or they would get tired of each other very quickly, this was the number one rule of his dorm-life. Unrelated to his answer, which was no by the way, Yangyang realized that Dejun didn’t have many friends. It was beyond him how he had never caught on that. One week before his other exam, Yangyang thought he would be hanging out with his friends or at least have dinner with them but he was sitting all alone in the cafeteria. Yangyang was also there, trying to convince a guy he wasn’t even friends with to join a competition he didn't really care about, so who was he to judge?

The simple and quick ‘no’ he got as an answer wasn’t enough to break his spirit though, he had continued to persuade him on their way to the room and in their room. Yangyang was constantly talking and Dejun was trying his best to ignore him. 

“I decide to rest for one day and you just,” Dejun groaned with frustration and didn’t complete the longest not-sentence he formed during their conversation. “Yangyang look, I really don’t do great in front of audiences,” he said, taking his towel and toothbrush from the wardrobe.

“That’s what I’m telling you, dude!” Yangyang jumped onto his feet to follow him to the common bathroom, ignoring the weird looks Dejun was giving. “You already had an audience. And that audience was me.” He was basically sprinting behind his back, Dejun sure walked fast. “I sometimes mute my earphones and just listen to you sing.”

“So I even sing while studying?” Dejun let out a deep sigh before starting to brush his teeth aggressively. 

“How are you not aware of this?” Yangyang stopped laughing after the death glare Dejun gave. “I am not kidding you, ge, I don’t understand why you haven’t signed up yet.” He watched Dejun spit out, with the same frowned brows, clean himself up then slow down for a few seconds. He took a deep breath, wiped his face with the towel, and turned to Yangyang. He was searching his face, just to find a piece of disingenuousness but there was none. Yangyang nodded while smiling, trying to seem supportive. 

Dejun’s frown eased down, he let out another sigh. “Are you sincere?” 

“You can’t tell?” Dejun shook his head. “I am, Dejun-ge. I don’t think anyone can match your talent on this entire campus.” Yangyang, of course, didn’t know if that was the case, but he was sure Dejun could outshine some professional singers. He saw a small twitch around his lips, too quick to fade before forming a smile. Yet, Yangyang knew he was successful. Dejun started moving, Yangyang too, behind his back.

He looked back to see if he was following him or not. “Maybe you should brush your teeth sometimes, Yangyang.” 

“Is this a yes?” He was sprinting behind him once again. He asked the same question many times by now, not getting a single positive answer. 

 

A couple of days passed by with them not talking too much, studying in silence most of the time. Yangyang had noticed that Dejun wouldn’t sing as much since they talked, which was understandable. He just wished he could hear him more. It was soothing to hear him. It would calm his nerves down, always. But if he didn’t want to, he didn’t need to. Yangyang could tell that Dejun had an anxious spirit. He didn’t want to push him too much, to make him do something he didn’t desire. So, he stopped reminding him after their conversation in the common bathroom. Yangyang was glad to just let him know that his talent was appreciated.

What he didn’t expect was Dejun starting the conversation himself a few days before his last mid-term. 

“I am going to join the competition.” He said, making the younger jump out of his seat with excitement. “But I don’t want you to be there.”

Yangyang sank back to his chair with disappointment. “What the hell, dude?” 

“I want to join. I’ve been thinking about it for the past few days but I just can’t do it if you’re there.” Dejun looked at Yangyang’s face, not making eye-contact, as always. “I feel like I am going to screw this up. I don’t want you to see it.” Yangyang was baffled. He couldn’t possibly understand his grounds but he had no reason not to respect it. He told him that he wouldn’t even let his friends talk about the competition. “Thank you, Yangyang.” He just hoped Dejun would be satisfied by the end of this.

 

Yangyang couldn’t sleep that night. He knew that the competition had ended hours ago, but Dejun was yet to be in the room, making him worried about the older. The curfew started at twelve o’clock and it was well past midnight. Dejun never being the type to be late, Yangyang wanted to call him, only to realize that he didn’t have his phone number. Awful really, he thought, he had forced him to do something out of his comfort zone, yet he didn’t even his contacts. He considered texting some seniors that were in the same class as him, but he also wanted to respect his boundaries. He had specifically asked him not to be interested in the competition after he convinced him to join. So, he waited for him, until it was an hour past midnight. Sitting in the dark, he heard the door open. Dejun was walking on the balls of his feet, careful not to make any noise. He didn’t even switch the light on. Yangyang observed him wide awake, but Dejun probably thought otherwise. 

He quietly watched Dejun in the moonlight, saw him put something in the trash bin right before changing into more comfortable clothes and leaving the room silently. Yangyang got up, switched the light on, and took the thing out of the bin. A participation trophy. Yangyang analyzed the small prize, feeling very upset for his roommate. The name Xiao Dejun was displayed beautifully. He was worried about him, especially because of how sad he looked before leaving the room, but this wasn’t a thing to be embarrassed about, he thought. He wanted to show that he was proud of the older somehow.

He raised the trophy, put it on top of the highest shelf they had between their desks. He was afraid of Dejun taking this the wrong way. It could completely fire back, yet it was worth trying. It looked pretty there, powerful even. 

“What are you doing?” 

Yangyang flinched. “You scared me.” He put his hand over his chest to calm himself down.

“I don’t want to see that ever again, Yangyang.”

“Dejun-ge, this is amazing,” he exclaimed, thrilled. He saw Dejun’s eyebrows raising, trying to make sense of the younger. “You got out of your comfort zone and joined this competition. I know you care a lot about success, but is that really important to get first place?”

Dejun shook his head, turning the other way, hand on his forehead. He took a deep breath, maybe for the first time ever looking directly into Yangyang’s eyes, he said, “I couldn’t even sing.” Yangyang froze, he had many comebacks planned, yet he hadn’t even considered this outcome. He didn’t know how he could possibly make things better. “I was on to the fucking stage. And I didn’t sing.”

An uncomfortable silence prevailed, long enough for Dejun to get tired of looking at Yangyang and start staring at his shoes. Yangyang shook the surprise off of his shoulders. He was still proud of him for getting on that stage. “What about it?”

“Huh?” Dejun looked confused as he raised his gaze back to Yangyang.

“What about it? You still did something outstanding. This prize,” choosing his words carefully, he pointed out, “displays your courage to get on that stage. What if you didn’t sing?” Yangyang stopped, waited to see if Dejun had something to say but the silence got uncomfortable again. “I am proud of this trophy, Dejun-ge. I am sorry if I forced you to do this, you can blame me all you want. But this was just the beginning of many great things you can accomplish in the future.” 

He waited for Dejun to add something, reply to him, be unbelievably mad at him, take the trophy and throw it from the window. Nothing happened. The silent look of disbelief was still on Dejun’s face, not moving anywhere. Yangyang forced himself to talk even more. “If you didn’t want me to see it, why would you throw it here? There are many trash bins outside. You wanted me to see it, didn’t you? Because deep down, you’re also proud of this. Not as much as I am of it, though.” 

Yangyang was just spitting out absolute gibberish at this point. He was scared that this silence indicated Dejun’s anger. A panic wave wrapped its arms around him. What if he wanted to change rooms after this? He didn’t want him to leave, after this week he had grown attached to him. He turned his face to the trophy, getting overwhelmed by Dejun’s stare. “I like the way it looks. Our room is very nerdy, you know, with all the textbooks and nothing else. This adds a bit of color.” 

His eyes were on the shelf, except his mind was fidgeting with thoughts. He thought that he had messed up completely, that he had ruined a guy's self-esteem further, that he made his anxiety worse. He was ready to take the thing from there and leave the room with it. He attempted to reach it right before he felt a hand on his arm. Turning his head, he met Dejun close to him. He slid his other hand under Yangyang's jaw and waited for a moment, giving the decision to leave to the other, except Yangyang didn't. First him, then Yangyang closed their eyes, losing their view of themselves, only for their lips to meet soon. It was gentle, intimate, soft, Yangyang was able to hear the other’s fast heartbeats so close to him. His was also racing alongside. His hand still on Yangyang’s jaw, he took away his lips from his. A very silent “Thank you," left his mouth. He backed away, switched the lights off, and went to bed, leaving Yangyang completely frozen.