Jisung is sitting in a middle row on the bleachers, staring at the fogs of his own breath, when he wonders why he's even here.
On the worn football field spread out in front of the bleachers, their home team is in a huddle, and the nearest ref is standing perfectly still, like he's a statue. Across the field, the other set of old metal bleachers are filled with the crowd of students and parents who followed their opposing team all the way out here for the game. People spill out onto the grass, too, and everyone is dressed in costumes and coats.
Jisung expects that maybe half the onlookers will be heading into town at the end of the game— not going home, but to one of the parties that have surely popped up around the student housing and the frats and sororities around the edge of the town center. Jisung can't think of any other reason so many people would come out here from one of the hill towns in the cold, and he knows for a fact that that's why so many people from his school are here tonight.
The day it had first been announced on the morning PA that there would be a football game - a home field game - on Halloween night, it'd been the talk of the school. Jisung heard Soojin and Minjoo talking about it in Chemistry, about how there was no way they would mess with a college party, but maybe Yoorim from the girl’s volleyball team would be hosting something at her house in town that they could go to. He’d been stuck in the middle of Chenle and Hyejoo discussing the game - and ensuing after-events - at length in Consumer Economics instead of working on their group project.
Jaemin and Donghyuck have been babbling non-stop about it as well, about how afterwards, they'll head to Mark's party at the house he’s renting with a bunch of older guys just outside the center of town. Somehow, it had come up every single lunch period until today's, when they turned on Jisung as one and said, in eerie synchronization, "you're going, right?"
And Jisung had said no, of course, because he doesn't give a single shit about football, and isn't really sure he knows how the game even works. But then the two of them had fixed him with these unbearably pleading eyes, and Jisung had crossed his arms in front of his chest defensively. "I just want to go home and steal from our candy bowl and watch a movie in peace. Also I have homework."
"But it's a Friday night!" Jaemin had insisted, nearly chastising.
"Yeah, " Donghyuck had piled on, "do you know how rare of an opportunity this is? Come on, Jisung, we're all going— live a little!"
And so, somehow Jisung had let himself be berated into coming. Maybe it would have been okay if Chenle hadn't come down with a cold two days ago and been banned from extracurricular activities by his parents, because then Jisung could have stuck to his side and turned to him for explanations about the plays, but as is, Chenle is home, and Jisung, much to his chagrin, is not.
Maybe if Donghyuck and Jaemin were better about paying attention to anything other than the game and each other it could also be fine, because Jisung really does like them, and in more personal settings, they're fun to be around, but unfortunately here and now, they're more focused on warming their hands in each other's sleeves and hollering at plays than on the poor junior friend they dragged along with them.
And Jisung doesn't like to be dramatic, doesn't like to make a big deal of things, but he can't help feeling a bit burned by the turn of events. All around him, he can see people he knows from school, faces he recognizes from classes and the halls, but none of them are one of his people. In fact, the more he looks around and the more he thinks about it, Jisung isn't sure he has any people.
Of course there's Donghyuck and Jaemin who are right here next to him, and they are his friends, but he knows that there's a disconnect between them. He can see it now, as they seem to forget about his presence entirely.
And there's always Chenle - Jisung loves him to pieces because he's his best friend and how could Jisung not - but sometimes... sometimes he feels like they're just a little too different for Chenle to really get what going on in Jisung's brain, for Jisung to do the same for him. And sometimes, Chenle gets sick and Jisung gets stuck on his own.
Then there’s Renjun, but he cares even less for football than Jisung does and is nowhere near the game tonight. Jisung tries to put him out of his mind; he doesn’t have the fortitude to open that emotional can of worms now anyway.
Jisung has other friends too— some from childhood and another dozen kids he's been in classes with for years, but in spite of it all, there's an ever-present sense of loneliness that clings to him. He feels it quite distinctly, now, as he sits surrounded by people, all on his own.
The wind blows sharp and cold over the bleachers, and Jisung crosses his arms tightly across his chest to try and preserve the warmth of his body. He glances at Donghyuck and Jaemin. They’re huddled close together, entirely absorbed in each other. Jisung worries his lip between his teeth.
They probably wouldn’t notice if he left.
The idea bounces around Jisung’s head until the referee blows his whistle and the team meetings on the field end, players scattering back into place by one of the white lines. As the play starts and everyone in the bleachers around him seems intent on following the action, Jisung decides that he really doesn’t want to be here. Something happens on the field - he’s not entirely sure what - and as everyone around him reacts, he shuffles awkwardly to the side and weaves through the crowd of bodies until he reaches the edge of the bleachers. He jumps down to the grass without sparing another look behind himself.
A part of him worries that either Donghyuck or Jaemin will notice him leaving and call him back, mildly upset that he’s tried to slink off. A part of him wants one of them to notice and call him back so he knows he really isn’t as invisible as he feels, but he slips away without any trouble. Unnoticed.
Something settles heavy in his chest as he turns and makes his way around the back of the bleachers. The sound of cheering and chattering voices fades, and Jisung stuffs his hands into his coat pockets. If the loneliness had been hard to ignore before, it’s even harder now. Jisung wonders, as he walks away from the action, out from under the floodlights and towards the darkness that swallows the grass between the field and the street, if what he really wants isn’t to be surrounded by people or to be alone.
If, maybe, what he wants isn’t solitude, but someone with whom he can share the silence.
Jisung sighs, and a cloud of his breath billows out in front of him. He wishes Chenle wasn’t sick. He wishes he’d fought Donghyuck and Jaemin a little harder and just stayed home. He wishes he was somewhere warm and comfortable and not trekking across dying grass in the dark. He wishes he was different— could enjoy all these stupid, simple highschool things without feeling like an outsider, like he could vanish one day without a trace and it wouldn’t leave any lasting impact.
He reaches the road that cuts between the football and soccer fields, and glances both ways for cars before walking across. He reaches the sidewalk on the other side - all cracked and bumpy with weeds growing up through the concrete - and pulls out his phone, clicking on the flashlight so he doesn’t stumble. To his right, the old, rusting fence that separates the field from the street casts eerie shadows across the ground when the light hits it. Jisung stops to eye it, curious.
It’s Halloween and the moon is half-full overhead, and Jisung imagines for a moment that he’s in a movie. With the dark, shadowed sidewalk sending chills racing up his back, it’s almost too easy to picture himself as the first unsuspecting victim in a slasher. It’s always the loners who die first, isn’t it? The ones who split off from the crowd, who can be picked off on their own.
A thorn of fear pricks Jisung and he feels a bit woozy. It’s always the ones no one will miss that get written off first. Is that really him? He’s not blind enough to think that if he were to die nobody would miss him - of course his parents would be devastated and at least his closest friends would cry at the funeral - but would his absence truly leave a lasting mark? He’s spent so much time pulling away from people already that he’s sure it wouldn’t be too hard to grow accustomed to his permanent absence.
Jisung stops in his tracks, glancing over his shoulder. Across the street, he can still see the floodlights illuminating the football field. Maybe he should go back. He doesn’t want to be slasher fodder. He doesn’t want to be forgotten. Ahead of him, the road leading away from the highschool meets a main road, and streetlights cast it shades of pale yellow. It’s not a long walk to get from here to the nearest bus stop in town. Jisung could be home in half an hour if he gets lucky with the timing.
Before he can come to a decision, his phone lights up in his hand, a text flashing on the screen.
donghyuck: where are u?
Jisung panics and swipes the notification away. He rocks back on his heels. Maybe he didn’t think this through as well as he should have. Maybe he expected too little of his friends.
A gust of wind sweeps over him and he shivers. The town busses have heating— he could carry on forward and be warm in minutes, but they feel too far away now. It had been one thing to want to run off while he thought he could make it past the point of no return without anyone noticing he was gone, but now it feels almost selfish to run off when he knows his friends have noticed his absence. He sighs.
Jisung turns around, facing back towards the football field. He’ll head back to the bleachers and sit back down and try to be happy to be there. He’ll tell Donghyuck and Jaemin he just needed to leave the racket of the crowds to make a call home. He can stick it out for the rest of the game and then walk into town with his friends - a few steps behind them on the sidewalk, because it’s only wide enough for two and he’s the odd man out - and then he’ll say a proper goodbye before catching the bus back home while they head off to Mark’s party to try a drink each and then grimace and stick to candy and pretzels for the rest of the night. He’ll go home and shower in the hottest water he can stand until he can feel his extremities again, and then curl up in bed and read his book for Contemporary Lit until he falls asleep.
It won’t be a good night, but it’ll be better than running off now and having to face the consequences come Monday when he sees his friends again. Maybe that’s all Jisung can ask for. All he’s allowed to have. Better than the alternative.
Eyes trained on the uneven ground, he takes a step across the sidewalk, into the grass that divides the path from the road. Another step takes him down the curb and to the street, and just as he looks up to check for cars again, a bright light shines straight into his eyes.
Jisung lets out a very undignified noise and stumbles back, heels hitting the curb. He nearly crashes down as he screws his eyes shut against the light and throws up a hand to block it, knocking himself off balance.
“Shit! Sorry!” The light dies as Jisung’s arms pinwheel to keep him upright, and as Jisung wobbles and catches his balance - just barely - he opens his eyes again. That voice is familiar.
Halfway across the street, a figure is hurrying towards him. Jisung steadies himself and shines his phone flightlight towards them right before they reach him.
“Jisung! Are you okay? I’m really sorry— I was trying to see if it was you and didn’t think you’d look right up into the light.”
A hand catches Jisung’s, cold but gentle. Jisung blinks. It’s Renjun, squinting at him through the glare of his phone flashlight. Jisung drops his arm quickly so he doesn’t blind Renjun.
“Are you okay?” Renjun asks again, concern laced through his voice.
Jisung blinks again, staring wide-eyed at Renjun in the faint light. He knows Renjun is asking in regards to him nearly biting the dust on the ground, but the question very nearly draws tears to his eyes. Physically he’s fine, but now that he’s been asked, he knows he doesn’t feel okay. He’s inexplicably sad. He’s lonely, and he’s frustrated with himself for not being able to enjoy something as simple and cliche as a football game, as a Friday night Halloween. He feels stupid, and shakes his phone in his hand so the motion control turns off his flashlight, just in case he does something as embarrassing as letting a tear slip free— he doesn’t want Renjun to see.
“Jisung?” Renjun asks softly. He’s always been like this— careful, deliberate. Ever since Jisung first met him - a family friend of Chenle’s who’d just moved to town and stuck to Chenle’s side like they were glued together, and so, by association, stuck with Jisung as well - he’s been surprised by the quiet intensity with which Renjun carries himself. He has sharp, watchful eyes, looks around and actually sees things. He pays attention.
It’s why Jisung hopes the cover of night is enough to keep Renjun from seeing him too clearly now. “I’m not hurt,” Jisung tells him, and his voice comes out whisper-thin, but it’s not a lie— technically . Jisung’s eyes adjust a bit more to the darkness, and he sees Renjun looking at him like he can see far better than Jisung. He doesn’t let go of Jisung’s hand. “What’re you doing here?”
Jisung had been sure Renjun was staying home tonight. Donghyuck wouldn’t stop grumbling about it, and Jisung had been disappointed as well. Of course he likes all his senior friends, but - not that he could ever admit it - he likes Renjun a bit more. He certainly wouldn’t have tried to run off tonight if Renjun had been next to him on the bleachers.
“Thing One and Two begged me to bring them McDonalds,” Renjun says, notes of exasperation and fondness in his voice. “After the twentieth text I decided it would be more hellish to try and ignore them than just driving out here. Besides, they paid me double.” There’s a hint of a smile on his face before it slips away. “What are you doing all the way over here? Donghyuck said you just vanished.”
Jisung swallows. What had he decided he was going to say? All of a sudden he can’t remember. “I… needed some fresh air?”
Even in the dark, Jisung knows Renjun is staring flatly at him, wholly unconvinced. For a moment, he says nothing. Then— “You were leaving, weren’t you?”
Jisung ducks his head. He considers denying it, but Renjun has his mark. “I was gonna go back,” he says weakly. “I was heading that way when you blinded me.”
“Sorry,” Renjun says, a bit sheepishly. “I was just looking for you.”
“Well, you found me.” Jisung looks at their hands. Renjun’s cold fingers are still wrapped around his.
“I did,” Renjun agrees. He’s quiet for a moment, and Jisung can feel Renjun looking at him. “You don’t want to be here, right? You just came ‘cause the guys berated you.”
Jisung sighs. He can feel pressure building in his throat. Why is he so bad at saying no to people? The silence is answer enough for Renjun.
“Do you want me to take you home?” Renjun offers, giving his hand a light squeeze.
Jisung thinks about how guilty he’ll feel if he leaves now, and shakes his head. “That’s all right.”
Renjun considers him. “Okay.” He steps away and tugs Jisung’s hand gently. “Let’s go back, then.”
“Aren’t you leaving?” Jisung asks, letting himself be pulled back towards the light spilling around the football field.
“I’m here now,” Renjun says. “I may as well stay.”
Something seizes in Jisung’s chest. He clutches Renjun’s hand a bit tighter, comes even with him so they’re walking side by side. Renjun doesn’t let his hand go, even though he doesn’t need to hold it anymore. Maybe he never needed to hold it at all. Something light and feathery shakes in Jisung’s stomach, and he tries to tamp it down to little avail.
They reach the grass and the floodlights cast Renjun a nearly unearthly color, but it’s softened by the pink of his nose and cheeks. He glances at Jisung, and his eyes are warm despite the chill. He looks heaven-sent. Like the stars heard Jisung’s wishes for companionship and sent down one of their own to shine close to him.
“Thanks,” he says softly. There’s still a tightness in his throat, pressure behind his eyes, but this is better.
Renjun smiles, squeezes Jisung’s hand.
This is definitely better.