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A ghost you can't touch

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Winter, Week 7, Thursday night, 10:55 PM

It hits him like a wave lapping at the shore, gently rolling at the edge of his consciousness, before spilling over uncontrollably, rushing in all directions.

It could be defined as the One Singular Moment, a fantastic moment that sounds like a story to share one day at a party, but Renjun would be lying to himself if he called it that. It’s more like a slow raise of the head, a gaze that turns upwards and meets eyes with a revelation that has been there the entire time, just waiting to be recognized. An ‘ahhh’ moment, if that’s even a thing.

It’s the turning of a leaf, seeing the underside for the first time, and having the words ‘you’re an idiot’ written on it.

The moment goes like this.

His laptop has long gone black, a dark abyss swallowing and spitting back an image that Renjun wishes he didn’t see: him, slightly disheveled light brown hair and tired almond eyes, and then a head of faded pink hair resting in his lap, slightly damp bangs artfully framing a face that Renjun would like to punch most days. Thick dark lashes conceal bright eyes, a gaze that cranks hearts to beat at faster rates than normal. Jaemin’s lips are slightly open, and he’s breathing deeply, asleep after the usual slovenly night of drinking, seeking Renjun’s thin and mediocre attention like he always does.

Dots of light from Renjun’s decorations frame them like a pretty portrait, or star-crossed lovers wrapped in the indigo night sky. And that is when Renjun feels it: the ‘ahhh’ moment, the turning of the leaf, and his own idiocy. He feels his consciousness raise its head, illuminated by some recognition, and then. Renjun knows.

It washes over him in light.

Oh my god.

 

↯ 

 

A few months prior.

Summer, Tuesday afternoon, 12:05 PM

Renjun doesn’t cry in front of other people.

It’s just something that he’s hardwired to avoid, especially if he knows his tears will only take away from the pain and feelings of those who witness it. If he cries, then the person who is suffering will feel worse, or they’ll focus on making him feel better when he should be trying to make them feel better. For this reason alone, Renjun makes it a point to put on a thin, reassuring smile in front of his mom before he gets into Jeno’s car to be driven to his new apartment, a short five minute walk away from their university. It’s his first time leaving home to live by himself, but he’s entering his second year of college, leaving behind his wide-eyed freshman persona and carrying a little bit of that jaded college student demeanor.

The apartment is new, modern, and expensive. Renjun leaves Jeno to lug some of his heavier things to the apartment, figuring his best friend should put those pristine chicken-breast-fed arms and legs to good use in more ways than just looking good. The new black plastic key fob doesn’t have the charming jingle of metal keys, but Renjun already fondly calls it his own.

The new door is stubborn and Renjun can’t figure out how to use the key, but when the lock finally clicks open, he bodily pushes it open in excitement. A fresh apartment, a fresh start, more opportunities—

A door opens on one side of the shared suite. Someone is already here. Renjun can hear Jeno behind him, grunting as he tries to push in a large suitcase and the mini fridge, when someone’s bare feet pad across the hardwood floor. Carnation pink locks, fluffed and curled from sleep, appear from behind the wall, followed by a perfect nose bridge and thin red lips, full lashes and round eyes.

And a lot of skin.

His new roommate is not wearing any clothes.

“Oh my god.” Renjun whips his head back, hands instinctually coming up. Jeno pauses at the door, mouth dropped open before he closes his eyes and grimaces.

A startled sound before a laugh. “Shoot, sorry. I didn’t hear anyone come in. How rude of me.” Pink Hair traipses back towards his room. Seconds later, he reemerges in a striped shirt and some shorts. “I’m Jaemin. Na Jaemin.”

Sublime. It’s the word Renjun thinks of when he first meets Jaemin, and it’s an impression he’s buried deep in his bones, never to be spoken aloud. Renjun enjoys art and composition, and within seconds of meeting Jaemin, he can tell a few things just by looking. His features are in perfect balance with each other, harmonious and serene, pleasant to look at. Jaemin is a portrait, beautifully and lovingly painted by a kind hand.

Renjun smiles politely. “I’m Renjun.”

 

↯ 

 

Fall, Week 5, Friday, 10:00 PM

He had been warned, subtly, by unspoken clues over the past six weeks of living with Jaemin.

It’s the blatant and unabashed nature of Jaemin’s actions, his words and smiles and pointed looks, that irk Renjun the most. He speaks like every sentence is meant to tease or play, sprinkled in sugar but a little dark. He’ll call Renjun ‘babe’ to get a rouse out of him, and Renjun hates to admit that sometimes, after he slaps the offender on the arm and leaves with a huff, the pet name leaves a sting of red on his ears, heat on his cheeks. Jaemin is touchy, a hand on the elbow or a lingering hello on the forearm, or legs thrown over Renjun’s while they’re both on the couch. One time, he came up behind Renjun to grab his plate and cup from the top cupboard, and the way he leaned close nearly sent Renjun into a fury.

All of these things should tell Renjun the obvious, that Jaemin’s love is all pink glitter and smoke, but it isn’t clear until he witnesses it with his own eyes.

It’s a Friday night, and Renjun had gotten home from an art club outing an hour ago. He’s sitting on the couch, curled in his comforter and holding a pillow, eyes lazily watching a movie he’s seen many times before. Low bass thrums above his head, intertwined with shouts and trickles of laughter. The same sounds fade in and out of the hallway as people walk past the front door.

Before he can react, Jaemin bursts through the entrance. He’s wearing a new t-shirt, his dangling silver pendant, and tight jeans, the pockets of which are filled by delicate hands leading to slender wrists and a gold charm bracelet. Jaemin’s back is toward Renjun because his face is preoccupied with being latched onto someone else’s, a pretty girl as the stories go. It’s always a pretty girl.

Renjun snaps his laptop shut loudly. Leaves his comforter and pillow on the couch. Speedily slides his feet into his slippers and shuffles into his room. The door bangs closed and he doesn’t even know if Jaemin stopped to look embarrassed.

That’s when Renjun knows. Jaemin lives like a ghost, untouchable and unattainable, but Renjun is the kind of person who falls and stays, ‘til death do us part.

 

↯ 

 

Fall, Finals Week, Saturday, 1:00 AM

Of all the times to hurt someone, the asshole chose the end of the quarter.

Renjun had finished his last final—calculus, an atrocity—on Friday. It was the peak of the giant mountain he had been struggling to climb the entire quarter, the last of his tasks for this set of classes. He had made date plans with a cute boy he met in art club this year, a transfer student named Hendery, and he had been looking forward to it for a while. How foolish, to put so much weight on something made of saccharine words.

Renjun had been stood up for the first time. Even worse, he tried to think of all the possible reasons before coming to the inevitable conclusion. It’s poison in his veins, slithering and effusing dull pain. His comforter isn’t enough tonight, and his carefully selected outfit and hairstyle doesn’t feel as perfect and wonderful anymore in the dim light of his living room.

The couch is hard leather, but Renjun doesn’t want to move to his bed. The comforter is thrown over his head like a fluffy fortress, renewing the sense of security that has been stripped from him. He’s listening to some lo-fi music on Soundcloud, and his eyes are rimmed red and teary. It’s the anthem of every hopeless romantic, and Renjun is still the idiot who falls too hard.

A familiar drawling voice floats in from the door. The lock chirps and the door bursts open. Renjun chastises himself for being so foolish, besides for the obvious reasons; Jaemin has returned from that party he said he was going to. He had even invited Renjun yesterday morning, all easy smile and pretty eyes, but Renjun had told him he had a date, trying to hide his excitement. This is so embarrassing.

“What are you doing, Junnie?” Jaemin sounds sober, but his words are blurred at the edges, like he’s just come out of his drunken stupor.

Renjun’s throat is closed up, so he chooses to shift his legs under the blanket.

It’s so silent, Renjun is hoping the universe whisked Jaemin away. But then he hears the characteristic slow shuffle of Jaemin’s feet, heading away from him, and then the refrigerator opening. The feet are coming towards him again, and then the couch dips under Jaemin’s weight. There’s a strong, heated presence to Renjun’s side and then a head which leans against him. He can hear the slosh of liquid and Jaemin’s tinkling pendant.

Something is wiggling at the edge of his comforter, near his hand. Furrowing his eyebrows, Renjun watches as something pokes through the bottom of his fluffy fortress, something with a pink cap and a cute label. It’s his favorite fruit drink, the one that he only buys when he’s rewarding himself for something good—he hadn’t bought one recently. Did Jaemin buy this for me? When? Was he hiding it?

The next thing that crosses the fortress line is a small stuffed bunny. Jaemin’s dirty bunny keychain is waving at him, the black key fob attached to its backside.

A laugh bubbles out of Renjun. He takes both.

 

↯ 

 

Winter Break, Christmas Day, 12:00 AM

JAEMIN: merry Christmassss

RENJUN: thanks you too

JAEMIN: I miss seeing your grumpy face :<

RENJUN: this is not a compliment at all

JAEMIN: why not? I miss you?

RENJUN: who says I miss you?

JAEMIN: you don’t? :<

Renjun hadn’t thought about it, but sometimes he would be eating out or drinking with friends at home, and he would hear something or see something that he thinks Jaemin would like. But it doesn’t count as missing him, not at all.

He thought about giving Jaemin a gift. The idea is still being entertained. What would he even get him?

RENJUN: you can believe what you like

 

↯ 

 

Winter, Week 4, Sunday, 4:00 AM

It started out being a post Friday night drinking thing, but then suddenly, after every social drinking event, Jaemin would come home and whine at Renjun’s door.

He was relentless and pestering, like a gnat. He would act cute or bang on the door until Renjun, irritated and drained, would yank it open and let himself become Jaemin’s personal teddy bear. The first time it happened, Renjun was taken aback so strongly, both of them fell onto the hardwood floor, a string of curses erupting from Renjun and Jaemin laughing in his ear like the child he is. Renjun swears his back is still bruised.

On an abysmally early Sunday morning, Renjun now finds himself wrapped in Jaemin’s long limbs, a breath that fans out along the sensitive part of his neck, lips that are so close and hot against his skin that Renjun can’t tell what part of him is blushing or just overheating. His fairy lights twinkle above them on the walls, the bed creaking and groaning when Jaemin squirms. His arms suddenly move and pull Renjun under his chin, so now they’re folded together comfortably. Renjun is slotted nicely into all the crevices and spaces of Jaemin’s body. It’s like solving a mind puzzle where all the pieces finally click into place, beautifully and all at once.

Renjun is tired from all the shenanigans of winter midterms and club events. He usually takes the couch when Jaemin is like this because there’s no way he can drag the boy back to his own room. He’s supposed to meet Jeno tomorrow morning for brunch, but he imagines if he falls asleep here instead of on the couch, he’ll either wake up on time, trapped in Jaemin’s cagey arms, or wake up very late, still trapped in Jaemin’s arms. I should get up now. It’s for the better.

He lets himself fall asleep anyway.

 

↯ 

 

Winter, Week 5, Tuesday morning

Renjun emerges from the darkness of his room, eyes squinting at the streaming sunlight, only to have something soft and sweet shoved into his mouth.

He coughs as he removes the offending object. It’s a donut. Jaemin is standing in front of him, smiling like he’s won something. Renjun thinks he has a headache now, pulsing at the temple.

“Why.”

“Why not?” Jaemin laughs at Renjun’s sour expression.

He then drags Renjun by the wrist, who only slightly resists, to eat breakfast. Jaemin made hot coffee already, and laid out neatly next to Renjun’s steaming mug are more baked treats, things that Renjun knows he’s never openly expressed as favorites. Something flutters inside Renjun when he sees Jaemin on the other side of the kitchen island, faded pink locks almost streaked in white by the sun, face a little swollen from sleep. Jaemin has a big white t-shirt on, collar stretched, the expanse of his broad shoulders and decolletage presenting themselves to the diffused morning light. He’s sipping on his iced coffee, likely a potent concoction. His gaze flicks to Renjun’s watchful eyes, and they linger.

Renjun looks away, taking one of the pastries delicately in his hands. It’s impossibly sweet.

 

↯ 

 

Present.

Winter, The One Singular Moment, 10:55 PM

It washes over him in light.

Oh my god.

I like Jaemin.

Renjun slams his laptop closed. He can’t do this.

Jaemin stirs on his lap, face scrunching for a second before relaxing. His lashes are fanned out, quivering as he dreams. Snap out of it, Renjun. Renjun squeezes his eyes shut and mouths a curse. He feels Jaemin turn over onto his back, and when Renjun opens his eyes again, something shiny catches his eye. Jangling on a silver ball chain, glinting under the fairy lights, is a little bunny charm, the one that Renjun gave Jaemin as a late Christmas gift.

It sits a little higher on Jaemin’s chest than his usual silver pendant, smiling up at Renjun. He hadn’t really noticed until now that Jaemin wears the gift on his neck.

Fuck. The boy is awake, round eyes swallowing Renjun, wide and vast and dripping in stars and glitter. His lips are parted, red and smooth, his slender neck resting just where Renjun’s legs lay in a crisscrossed position. His chest rises and falls slowly.

Renjun can’t do this. He gives too much of himself to people who hold him in their hearts like the way they hold a temporary fixation. He’s broken, sinking in his pain and drowning in it because if he can’t have the one he loves, then he wallows in the pain, trapped and scrambling. And the person he wants is smoke, a ghost, a pretty morning fog shrouding the truth. It won’t end well.

His heart is clenched in sheer panic, but it’s racing because Jaemin is staring at him without reserve, like he always does. Piercing, like he has a read on what Renjun wants and needs. Jaemin is good at this, good at reading people and knowing them, because Jaemin is someone who can pick out the tiny details, the giveaways. But he doesn’t hold anyone close to him. Jaemin can’t be what Renjun wants, because Renjun wants him and he can’t take it if Jaemin shatters him and leaves his pieces all over the place.

Renjun breaks eye contact. Tries to calm the bass thrumming in his ears, not the bass above their heads. He feels like vomiting.

Something compels him to look back down. Jaemin is still gazing. A hand slowly rises, and Renjun holds his breath. The hand reaches his hair, a light brown that Jaemin had helped him bleach and dye, and gently, like he’s fragile, the hand pulls Renjun’s face closer. He complies, heart stuttering at the thought of what Jaemin will do, of what he himself will do.

“What’s wrong?” Jaemin’s words are breathless, like he only has enough voice for Renjun.

“I…don’t know.” Renjun lies, sheer panic pumping fast and rapid.

Jaemin is pretty, overwhelmingly and wonderfully. It makes Renjun sink to his knees.

He licks his lips. His gaze flickers to Renjun’s own. “What is it? Tell me.”

Is he still drunk?

“You’re drunk.” Renjun’s voice is small, meek. “Don’t do something stupid.”

“I’m being brave. And I’m asking you to be too.”

Jaemin looks scared now, just a brief flicker behind the shine of his eyes. Maybe Jaemin, flaunting everything like it’s his best work, is also someone who hides when the curtain is drawn, when there is no one watching. Maybe he worries too, about things that confidence can’t hide or shield. Renjun doesn’t know what those things are, but he wants to find out. It’s not easy to give yourself up to someone, and maybe while Renjun does it and hopes for the best, Jaemin is smarter and avoids it altogether, the ultimate protection.

But he’s offering now, taking steps to get closer. He’s so close, a warm breath’s away.  

Renjun closes the space between them.