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you were beautiful

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The sunlight that passes through the glass windows casts a warm glow inside of the apartment. The sky is clear, pale blue with barely any clouds, there’s faint noise coming from the bustling streets of downtown Seoul, people are going to their points of purpose, and cars are racing through the traffic. It’s the usual morning Donghyuck has grown to witness. He’ll miss this.

He takes a good look at the sight in front him; there’s boxes of all sizes everywhere. It has been a few days since he started cleaning up yet the clutter doesn’t seem to end. Fair enough, it has been an accumulation of five years’ worth of belongings.

Placing his coffee cup on the counter, he stretches his arms and treads toward the spare room. There’s a box sitting atop of his then college work desk; he grabs it and settles on the ground, in front of the wooden cabinet he hasn’t used for years, nose tingling from the onslaught of dust upon opening it. Inside, he takes out the trinkets—some keychains, figurines, enamel pins, scratch papers—and places them one by one inside the container. His eyes land on a packet of chocolate, which from the looks of it, is an old version of the packaging. Donghyuck scans the item further and notices a small handwriting beneath.

  1. 02. 14 | Lee Donghyuck confessed to me!! AAAHHH 

He smiles as he remembers the faded memory of the date.

It was snowing, its breeze sending chills to his frail body. His mother already equipped him with layers and layers of clothes, yet the winter air was unforgivable. Nevertheless, sixteen-year-old Donghyuck braved the weather and went to their neighborhood park, a few blocks away from their house, with a mission.

As soon as he reached the place, he immediately ran towards the young boy, who was sitting on one of the swings, boots playing with the piling snow.

“Sorry I’m late. Mom made a fuss about my clothes,” he grinned.

The boy in front of him pouted. “I thought you’re not going to come. You were the one who invited me here, out in the snow, where I could have frozen to death.”

“Don’t be dramatic.”

“You know very well how I hate the cold.” The other complained and hugged himself, there was a whiff of cold air, making him shiver. “Why did you message me to come here? Don’t tell me you’re just here to brag about your latest SHINee album because I swear—”

Donghyuck didn’t let him nag anymore. Pulling out a box of chocolate, he cleared his throat and meekly handed it to him. “Renjun, here.”

The little boy, Renjun, halted his rambling as he stared at the gift in front of him. “Happy valentines, Renjun. I... I asked you to come here because I want to confess... I l-like you, Jun.”

Both boys turned pink at the confession, the feeling sent inexplicable warmth within their freezing bodies.

Renjun gave him a chocolate in return at White Day. Donghyuck remembered shyly trailing his hand to intertwine with Renjun’s as they went to their favorite arcade.

The sound of the rice cooker setting off brings back Donghyuck to the present time. He gives the chocolate another once over before setting it inside the box. With a grumbling stomach, he pauses packing and heads to the kitchen to prepare for a quick lunch. In search of ramen, his hands frisked the cupboard, where he’s sure there’s still a piece left, however, his hand lands on a soft object instead. Curious, Donghyuck pulls it out and is greeted by another item he hasn’t seen in a while.

Renjun’s handmade apron.

He remembers the times they spent in the kitchen. After deciding to move in together to save rent, just a little over two years in their relationship, they settled easily on their new living arrangement. Both didn’t like the experience of living in the stuffy university dormitories where they shared the room with three other students. “We couldn’t have cuddle times because of the ugly dorm rules,” Donghyuck complained during the night he opened the idea to Renjun, who didn’t need much persuading. 

The unit they leased was decent; it had an affordable rent, pleasant surroundings, and spacious rooms. Apart from the bedroom, Donghyuck’s favorite place was the kitchen, where he could always watch Renjun fumble about new recipes he saw on YouTube whenever he’s not swamped with his studies.

“Babe, I told you we can just order in,” Donghyuck murmured, circling his arms around his boyfriend’s thin waist, and tucking his head on Renjun’s nape, inhaling the sweet smell of lavender and peppermint.

Renjun remained busy stirring, crafting another experimental dish. He grunted as Donghyuck bit his ear, elbowing the mass behind him. “Can’t you see I’m focusing here? I want this to be perfect.”

“But you’re already perfect,” Donghyuck whispered, turning Renjun around to make the shorter face him. His hold on his boyfriend’s hips loosened as his hand skimmed on the apron Renjun’s wearing. “This is cute on you. You’re so cute baby.” 

Leaving a kiss on his forehead, he grinned, “Can I just eat you for dinner?”

“You’re so gross!” Renjun slapped him and continued his cooking, Donghyuck laughing behind.

Donghyuck chuckles as he recalls such memories. Oh, how time flies. 

Going back to his wits, he folds the apron neatly and fixes himself a meal. Once done, he grabs the apron and goes back to the spare room, stuffing the item inside the box as well.

He looks around the room and sighs, it has been really a while since he stayed here for long. This room used to be busy, the light never seemed to shut off because Renjun liked holing himself here, where there’s peace, where he could fry his brains as he finished his majors. Donghyuck only came here ever so often; sometimes when his production classes demanded him to write an analysis, sometimes when he just wanted to check if his boyfriend’s still breathing, dropping a freshly made coffee on his desk and picking up the emptied cup.

It used to be busy... until three years ago.

Donghyuck saunters towards the shelf beside the worktable. There’s still plenty of clutter in this room. He purposely avoided tidying this room after what happened, only using it as a storage room where he stocked his old university belongings and broken household items.

Now though, he’s come to face the inevitable.

The stuff on the shelf is separated into three—straight to trash, up for sale, and for return. He tries to quicken his pace, throwing each item to its respective designations, noting his scheduled meeting a few hours from now. If he wants to make it by then, he must clear this room, make it void of any living evidence.

The figurine at the topmost sill catches his attention. It brings him back to the time where he dragged Renjun to an impromptu out of town vacation. Given their meager budget as college students, they couldn’t afford to travel and visit the places on each of their wish lists. Their parents only gave them enough to cover their daily expenses; Donghyuck had to work as a leg man to a prod house every weekend and Renjun had to tutor high school students just to allow them to have enough money for their dates and school requirements. Hence, during the summer break he forced Renjun to pack his things because he had booked a flight to Jeju.

“Where the fuck did you get the money to afford this?” Renjun hissed, loosening Donghyuck’s grip on his hand by shaking it. “If you sold the drugs Johnny has been telling you I swear I’m gonna break up with you right at this moment!”

Astounded at Renjun’s sudden outburst, Donghyuck calmed his boyfriend down by cupping his cheeks, thumb circling on the prominent bones.  The airport is busy with people and flight announcements, the two of them are standing out, two lovebirds quarrelling near the check-in booth. 

“Hush love, no I didn’t sell drugs, I saved money for this. I asked my professor for any side jobs he might know, okay? I prepared for this already so just sit back and allow me to take the lead.”

He was able to console Renjun then and they boarded the plane for a four days and three nights trip. It was fun and freeing. They went to swim at the beach, ate lots of local food, and had great sex. As they passed by the Dol Harubang park, Renjun insisted buying a small version of it as memorabilia of their first ever trip together.

“As far as I know, only married couples who want a child buy that thing. Unless, you want to have a child? Darling, that’s too soon. Let’s graduate first.” Donghyuck hugged his boyfriend on the side and grinned at him, brows raising up and down at the teasing.

“Shut up this is just a souvenir! God, you and your mind really. I’m done. Bye.”

“Hey, wait for me!”

 They went throughout the rest of the trip with bright smiles and intertwined hands, promising themselves to travel more in the next years and fill their shelf with souvenirs.

That did not come true, sadly.

Donghyuck looks up at the sill where the figure sat; there’s nothing but that item. There was never a next time, not even next year, for everything went downhill after their trip.

The miniature Dol Harubang is placed in the box labelled with ‘for return’.

He’s almost done emptying this room. There’s just one spot left—the wardrobe. Renjun’s wardrobe.

Once he started living alone in this apartment, he moved the wooden storage from the bedroom to this room, since there’s no purpose for it anymore. It’s probably empty, he saw Renjun throw all his clothes in his large luggage before he exited the unit, from Donghyuck’s life, forever.

But it doesn’t hurt to double check, Donghyuck thinks as he opens its doors wide.

Different from expected, he finds a few remnants in the wardrobe. A few clothes strewn all over, Renjun might have forgotten them in a haste to get out, totally understandable. Donghyuck picks up the clothes and reevaluates; he doesn’t know if he has any right to put them up for sale and he couldn’t just throw them away, thus he decides to place them in the box for return.

As he picks up the last piece of shirt, he uncovers a notebook underneath it. He inspects it and realizes it’s Renjun’s journal. He had seen the man jot down earnestly on that notepad many times, not minding him after getting reprimanded one time he decided to snoop on its contents.

He intends to still do the same, yet some pieces of paper folded inside fall on the floor, and Donghyuck, as clumsy as ever, makes the journal fall as well while he stumbles on gathering the mess he made.

As he stacks the papers together, he notices that they are filled with doodles. Of Donghyuck. On papers he had been drawn on various positions—while eating ramen, sleeping on the couch, studying at the library, among others. Renjun apparently doodled him while he was unaware and preoccupied with other things.

He smiles at the thought. Renjun has always been a great artist, ever since they were young, he has always seen Renjun ace every arts project and poster making contest. He was sure Renjun would take any arts-related major in university but was surprised to know his boyfriend took a degree in political science instead.

“I’ve been interested in social science for a while,” Renjun replied to Donghyuck’s question. Indeed, the latter’s sure that whatever field Renjun would take, he’ll shine, he’s that intelligent, yet there’s a tug in his heart that believes Renjun would grow even more if he followed his heart, not his parents.

He never saw Renjun make art again once they stepped in university; he just had thick books on constitutional law and justice everywhere with him.

Therefore, it’s like a breath of fresh air to see Renjun’s artworks again. He’s mesmerized. It’s been so long, so he decides to open the journal in hopes of seeing more of his art. Though, he’s welcomed by something else.

The journal was filled with Renjun’s notes, drabbles, and prose. Some were just Renjun making a list of to-buy for his next grocery run and a few commentaries on the Netflix shows he’s watched with Donghyuck. He flips the pages, looking for more, and reads about Renjun’s bucket list with Donghyuck, finding them half done. At the end page were a few polaroids glued beside each other. They were photos they took on their fourth anniversary, faces close to each other, lips locking, and giddiness obviously visible. Underneath it was a short letter.

  1. 05. 08.

My love, my baby, my darling, and most importantly—my sunshine.

I can’t believe it’s been four years since you choked on the kimbap we’re eating at our favorite store and asked me out as soon as you got your breathing back. It’s been a wild ride. I’m so, so, so happy we’ve found each other. You’re perfect to me, you complement me in ways I cannot imagine. I cannot imagine my life without you now. I love you so much! I’m gonna marry you, just wait!

Donghyuck smiles as he finishes reading. His eyes become warm, glistening with forming tears. He looks up to halt any impending tears from falling. He shouldn’t cry, it’s been years. He has cried enough for years. He has healed now; he shouldn’t be affected anymore.

It’s just sad looking back at the pieces of him that they shared, while knowing it has ended in an instant, when Donghyuck knows he could have done something to prevent it from happening.

Swallowing the forming lump on his throat, he reaches for the box and gently puts the journal inside, along with other pieces of him he wishes to return.

There’s a ping from his phone. He reaches for it from his pocket and opens the message.

Right, the meeting.

He tidies the box and tapes it, fully closing it and never wanting to open it again. Rushing to the bedroom, he changes clothes and fixes his hair. Once he deems himself presentable, he walks outside, with the box in tow.

 

The drive to the cafe is short since it’s just nearby. He finds an open parking space and quickly alights his car. He’s just on time but he doesn’t want to seem late. He’s not like that anymore.

Seeing the cafe again makes Donghyuck nostalgic. It hasn’t changed one bit since the last time he remembers it. The exterior is still painted white; however, a few visible chippings can be seen, and the sign is still the handwritten one posted at the entrance. 

As soon as he steps inside, he’s greeted by the intoxicating smell of coffee. The counter has been renovated, it now looks more sophisticated, yet it still feels like home.

“Donghyuck.”

His eyes search for the owner of the voice and it is met with a pair of beautiful, dazzling brown eyes. It’s still the same.

“Renjun.”

He walks towards Renjun, carrying the box with him and placing it on the ground. He makes himself comfortable on the seat in front of the man.

“Hi, how are you? Long time no see,” Renjun starts, fumbling his hands as he speaks.

Indeed, it’s been a long time. That night, that fight, that was the last they saw each other. It didn’t end prettily, and they both thought it’s better to not meet again. Hence, they’re here right now, at the cafe they used to frequent together, three years after.

“I’ve been well. You?”

Donghyuck’s black jumper and jeans pale in comparison to Renjun’s brown coat over white polo. He looks smart, the glasses sitting on his nose makes him even more intimidating. Gone is the Renjun who used to drown himself in oversized clothes.

Renjun bites his lip and nods. “I’m good. Is that it?” They both glance at the box. 

Ever since then, they haven’t contacted each other. Their friends tried to make both talk it out, but they remained indignant. Now, Donghyuck took the courage to message Renjun first, after so long, to tell that he wants to meet up to return some of his belongings.

“Oh, yeah. I’m moving out soon so I ought to return them to you,” Donghyuck explains.

“I see,” Renjun swirls the straw of his iced coffee. “It’s been five years already, so the lease is about to be up. In November, right?”

Donghyuck tries to hide his surprise. Renjun still remembers. “Yeah, in November.”

Renjun sits up right. “Listen, Donghyuck…” he starts, furrowing his brows and looks directly at him. “I know this is long overdue, but I just want you to know how sorry I am for everything that happened.”

It feels like there’s a small thorn that is pulled out of Donghyuck. He heaves a deep sigh and nods at Renjun, the corners of his lips pulling upwards.

This is bound to happen. Eventually, they will meet up again and it’s inevitable to talk about it. They both need this too.

Donghyuck shuffles and leans closer on the table. He grabs Renjun’s hands and stares at them; these are the hands he used to always hold, they seem the same but they are not. They’re not anymore for Donghyuck to hold.

“I’m sorry too, Renjun, and thank you. For the four years, for this.”

 

The sun is even brighter today and the streets are quiet. Donghyuck unloads the final box in his trunk. He takes one last glance at the building of his now former apartment. He looks back once more at the memories they shared. There were good and there were bad, but all of them, to Donghyuck, were beautiful.