All Jeno had ever known was the four walls of his bedroom, and the little section of back garden that was visible from his picture window. He’s lucky, he supposed, that his bedroom was spacious enough, and his family’s gardener kept the plant life out back in nice shape, making for a pleasant view.
He’s never gone to public school; his mother told him that the kids there carry too many germs. Jeno gave up on that dream after his meltdown at the beginning of second grade. His mother was only doing what was best for him, after all, by never letting him stray past the house’s front door.
Jeno had a disease that seriously hindered his immune system, and made his heart weak. Any unfamiliar antigens or over-stimulating activity might land Jeno in the hospital clinging to life, so Jeno cut his losses and accepted the inevitable monotonousness of never leaving his house.
Jeno had just finished his homeschooling just a few weeks ago, receiving his high school diploma, all official and everything. After at least a year of begging, Jeno managed to convince his mother to let him take a few college courses from home, and Jeno couldn’t wait to start them up in the fall.
“Jeno, dear, you don’t need a college education,” his mother had told him, “your father and I are perfectly able to support you.”
Jeno had huffed a sigh, “I know, mother. I just really don’t want to sit around my whole life without a purpose, you know?”
“You do have a purpose, dear, you light up your father’s and my days. Besides, it’s not like you’d be able to get a job, even after your degree.”
Jeno’s jaw had tightened. “I don’t care.” he had said, and with another sigh, his mother had relented.
Jeno wanted nothing more than to design airplanes. He got a rush from watching them fly by outside his window, the distant rumbling and the trail of vapor left in their wake. Jeno had sketchbooks stacked high on the bookshelf at the other end of his room, and while he found joy in filling them with drawings of anything and everything, his favorite thing to draw by far were airplanes.
He might never be able to design airplanes like he wants to, or even ride in one for that matter, but an impossible dream was better than none.
Today, the sun shone brightly, showering his room with natural light from his west-facing window. His windows were propped open so Jeno could hear the sound of the insects buzzing in the trees, and the gardener’s shears snipping away at a hedge below.
His father should be at work right about now, and his mother should be back in her home office after bringing Jeno his lunch. Despite her constant need to bother, Jeno did have to hand it to her for actually leaving him alone for most of the day.
He sat up in bed with his lunch tray across his blanket covered legs, a sketchbook propped open against it. Most days, he hated eating in bed, but on rare occasions he simply found himself too cozy and lethargic to move a muscle. The sun was warming his feet in such a comforting way, and he would hate to disturb his cat who had curled up on the blanket between his knees somewhere around 8 am.
Jeno had named her Amelia, after one of his favorite pilots and role models, Amelia Earheart. A small poster of the woman was pinned to the bulletin board above his desk, and Jeno liked to think that she helped him out when school got too tough.
He broke off a piece of his sandwich crust, and fed it to the feline. Her silver hair shone in the sunlight, and her green eyes glinted with interest as she snatched the bit of food from Jeno’s hand.
She looked particularly beautiful today, so Jeno began sketching a rough outline of her pointy ears. He made his way down to the hair on her back, which always stuck up in a strange way that made Jeno laugh. Amelia must have known that Jeno was using her as a subject, because she pawed at the top of his paper and meowed at him.
“You’re feeling chatty today, huh?” Jeno mused, not looking away from his drawing. Amelia meowed again in response.
The atmosphere was so calm that when a loud crash erupted from the back yard, Jeno nearly jumped out of his blankets. His motion jostled Amelia, much to the cat’s dismay, and sent his cake toppling sideways on its plate.
A disgruntled shout followed from the gardener. Jeno sat up in bed, gently pushing the cat and the tray to one side, and rushed to the windows. He stuck his torso out the window to survey the scene.
Whatever was the source of the noise disappeared right into the forest just as Jeno arrived. The only damage that had been done was a few crushed tulips and some scattered topsoil, but Howard, their gardener, waved his shears angrily nonetheless.
“Howard, what happened?” Jeno called from his window. The stout man looked up at Jeno, his face beet red, and shouted, “Someone just fell out of our trees and onto the flowers! I don’t know what they thought they were doing on private property, and look!” He gestured, forlorn, to the tulips. “It took me all morning to finish planting those.”
Jeno bit his lip in thought. What in the world was a person doing, just sitting in the trees behind their house? “What did they look like?” Jeno finally asked, “The person that fell into the garden?”
Howard scratched his chin. “I’m not entirely sure… It’s peculiar; they were wearing what looked to be black robes, and I could have sworn they were carrying a broom.”
Jeno’s eyes lit up. “Do you think it could have been a witch?” he asked. Jeno had read many books about witches; he had gone through a bit of a phase when he was ten. Sometimes he dreamed of what it would have been like if he had been born a witch; having the freedom to soar through the skies whenever he wanted, without all the hassle of attending flight school.
Howard only shook his head resolutely. “No, to my knowledge there aren’t many witch settlements on this side of the country. The ones that do live here keep quite to themselves. It was probably just some kids messing around.”
“Alright then.” Jeno shrugged, trying to hide his disappointment. “I would come help you clean up, but…”
“I know, boy.” Howard nodded, smiling up at Jeno with pity. “Someday I’ll get you down here digging in the dirt with me.”
Jeno smiled sadly down at the older man. Howard was the only one who showed any interest in Jeno that did not come in the form of hovering paranoia. He’d tell him stories on the long summer days he spent working on their yard, and would teach Jeno using his extensive knowledge of horticulture. Jeno reckoned that if he didn’t have such tunnel vision for airplanes, he might’ve developed an interest in gardening himself.
“I look forward to that day,” he finally spoke, before leaning back into his room and sliding the window shut. He suddenly felt in the mood for an afternoon nap.
“—It looks like this bad weather front is here to stay for the rest of the week, so expect a few more days of showers. Fortunately, after that it’ll be perfect beach weather! Take care folks, and don’t forget an umbrella. Now, moving on to—”
Jeno switched off his little handheld radio with a sigh. Objectively, the state of the weather did not really affect him either way; it didn’t throw a wrench in any outings to the beach, or pose a threat to his hair and outfit as he walked to work. He’d be in his room no matter what, but nonetheless… he much preferred being able to open his window and let the warm breeze and sunlight stream in, making his bedroom feel a little less like a prison.
His window was shut now, the heavy droplets of rain pitter-pattering on the panes like a car rumbling by. No natural light filled his room today, so the room was dim, only illuminated by Jeno’s desk lamp. It made Jeno drowsy, his mind fogged over as if the clouds from outside had made their way inside his head.
He was sitting at his desk, a book on aeronautical engineering propped open in front of him. He had been trying to take notes on chapter five, but after every paragraph his eyelids became heavier and heavier.
At first he thought it was the lethargy getting to him because something suddenly zoomed past the window in his peripheral vision, and it looked suspiciously like… a boy.
Jeno jolted up in his desk chair, wide awake. He rushed to his window, but nothing seemed to be there. He must have imagined it— maybe it had been a large bird, or even a heavy wave of rain; it was falling down in sheets now, and gusts of wind whipped the weather about, making it look alive.
He was just about to turn back to his desk chair when there was a loud thump, a muffled screech, and— that was definitely not a bird.
Jeno was most definitely looking at a boy right now; one that was drenched head to toe and sitting precariously on the slanted roof of their first-story sunroom. The edge of the roof just reached Jeno’s window. He had once tried to climb out onto it, but after a firm scolding from his mother he never tried it again.
He watched in bewilderment as the boy on the roof struggled to hold onto a long, narrow object— wait a minute, that was a broom — and almost fell off the roof trying to grab hold of it as it tumbled out of his hands and down to the lawn below. Against his better judgement, Jeno yanked open the window.
He tried to ignore as the wind and rain battered his face, leaving him breathless. “Hey there,” he shouted through the weather, “are you alright?”
The boy’s head shot towards Jeno. He looked speechless for a moment, his body shaking like a leaf from the torrential rain. “I’m— I’m sorry for landing on your roof,” the boy stuttered out, “but I dropped my broom. I don’t know how to get down.”
Okay, he was definitely a witch. Excitement buzzed beneath Jeno’s skin.
The one story drop from the sunroom roof wasn’t a deadly drop, but Jeno could see why the boy wouldn’t want to risk it in weather like this. Jeno nodded, and looked the boy up and down.
He wore a black robe over a very un-witch-like cropped denim shorts and blue striped t-shirt combination. His skin was dotted with moles like constellations, and his curly brown hair was plastered to his forehead.
Jeno glanced around the yard for anything at all that could possibly help this boy down. His eyes finally landed on Howard’s ladder, which was leaning against the house a little ways away.
He glanced back to the boy, who was now scooching towards the side of the house to hopefully gain coverage from the awning. “I’ll be right back,” he shouted to the boy again, “you stay right here.”
“Promise, I’m not going anywhere,” the boy snorted.
Jeno ducked back inside and pulled his window shut. He ignored the small wet patch that had formed on his carpet, instead turning around and rushing out of his bedroom.
The house was completely silent as per usual, save for the gentle ticking of the grandfather clock in the sitting room. His father’s car was gone from the driveway, and the door to his mother’s home office was shut, a faint humming coming from within. His mother’s focus wasn’t easily lost when she was in her zone, so Jeno knew that the coast was clear for now, but he’d have to be quick.
He scurried through the sitting room, heading for the back door that connected the kitchen to their back garden. His mother had never bothered to buy him a rain jacket or boots— he had never really needed them, after all— so he yanked on his mother’s, both an embarrassingly bright shade of pink.
He yanked open the door, and instantly the lenses of his glasses were covered with droplets of rain. Maybe he should be an inventor, Jeno thought, instead of an aeronautical engineer. He would invent windshield wipers for glasses in an instant.
Jeno grabbed Howard’s ladder from where it leaned against the house, careful not to hit anything, or his parents and Howard would murder him. Jeno tried to ignore the apprehensive look from the boy on the roof as he swung the ladder around a bit, trying to lean it up against the sunroom roof without taking out a shingle. Finally it fell in place, and the witch boy on the roof inched forward on his behind, finally turning around upon reaching the ladder and extending one shaky leg towards the first rung.
Once the boy was safe on solid land and clutching his broom with both hands, Jeno was fully expecting for him to fly away without another word. Instead, the boy extended a clammy hand towards Jeno and said, “My name’s Donghyuck. Sorry for landing on your roof, and for making you come out here and rescue me. You’re all wet now.”
Jeno looked down at himself. Ah, so it appeared he was. Despite the raincoat, rain had still managed to seep in above and below.
“It’s alright,” Jeno finally settled on. He looked the shivering boy, Donghyuck, up and down once again, and suddenly his heart sank a little. He would feel too cruel, sending the boy out into the rain like this, so he found himself waving Donghyuck over to the screen door of the sunroom.
“Make yourself comfortable in here,” he said, gesturing to the obnoxious floral-printed couches, “and I’ll be right back with something to warm you up.
“Oh, you really don’t need to—”
“Please, let me.”
Donghyuck finally nodded, hesitant, and Jeno was disappearing into the kitchen without a second thought.
Jeno scrounged up a few old towels from the linen closet, and was preparing two hot cups of tea when a voice from behind him made him jump.
“Jen, what are you up to in here?” his mother sang from the doorway. Her voice carried a playful tone, but it filled Jeno’s stomach with dread.
“I’m— ahh… making tea?”
His mother clicked her tongue, grinning at the two mugs sitting side by side, “Is one for me?”
Jeno swallowed. “Umm— yes?”
His mother swooped in, grabbing one of the mugs in both hands and reached up to pat Jeno’s cheek. “What a good boy you are,” she cooed before floating out of the kitchen and back into her office, closing the door behind her.
Jeno let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, and clutched his chest as his heart rate returned to normal. Crisis: narrowly averted.
He frowned down at the one mug remaining. There wasn’t enough water in the kettle for another cup, and he didn’t want to keep Donghyuck waiting while he boiled some more, so Jeno sighed and picked up the tea.
“Here you are,” he murmured once he was back at Donghyuck’s side. He eased the hot mug into Donghyuck’s hands, who held it there and closed his eyes, humming contentedly at the warmth.
They sat there in silence for a little while as Donghyuck sipped at his herbal tea. As time passed the rain slowed to a drizzle, and Donghyuck’s shivering stopped.
“So,” Jeno cleared his throat, breaking the silence, “You’re a witch, right?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Why do you keep showing up at my house?”
Donghyuck stared at him in confusion, so Jeno explained, “You’re the one that fell into our garden last week.”
Donghyuck’s mouth formed an understanding O, and he had the sense to look a little sheepish. “Sorry about the flowers, by the way,” he mumbled, a little smile beginning to form on his lips.
Jeno giggled. “It’s alright. Our gardener was a little miffed at first, but he loves planting. He got over it pretty fast, and replaced them.”
They shared a smile, and Jeno’s stomach fluttered. This was his first time actually speaking to a kid his age. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but Jeno soaked it in like a sponge.
“To answer your question,” Donghyuck began, “I just recently learned how to fly, so I’ve been exploring as much of the county as I can. Last week I just happened upon your window, and— I was intrigued.”
Jeno blushed. “Intrigued? But I just sit in my bedroom all day. What’s so interesting about me?”
“Well… for one, you look like you’re about my age, and I need more friends than just stinky old Renjun, and my brother Chenle.” Donghyuck sighed dramatically, eliciting another giggle from Jeno.
“You’re also, like, super cute, which is a definite bonus.” Donghyuck finished his sentence like it was nothing, and Jeno wasn’t choking on thin air right now. He felt the flutter in his heart again and maybe he should be more careful; this had got to be too much excitement for his fragile heart.
“Thank you, I guess,” he finally stuttered, and they fell back into a comfortable silence as Donghyuck finished his cup of tea. He handed the empty mug back to Jeno and stood up, wrapping the towel more tightly around his shoulders.
“I’d better be heading out soon, while the rain has calmed down,” Donghyuck spoke, “my mother will be wondering where I am. Hey— is it alright if I borrow this towel? I’ll bring it back!”
Jeno nodded, his heart dropping a little at the prospect of Donghyuck leaving. This had turned into the most exciting day for as long as Jeno could remember, and maybe he was being too quick to assess, but he felt like he made a new friend today.
Donghyuck laughed and poked at Jeno’s nose. “Don’t pout too much, alright? I’ll come back to visit if you’d like.”
Jeno’s smile returned to his face. “You’d do that?”
“Sure!” Donghyuck’s voice was sunny enough to make Jeno forget about the rain. “I had fun today.”
“Just be careful next time. My mom… she’s kind of overprotective. She doesn’t like me, uhh… talking to strangers.” Jeno wasn’t sure how to explain succinctly the true nature of his health problems, so he said the first thing that came to mind.
“Okay,” Donghyuck’s voice was soft now. He offered a little wave as he gathered his broom and pressed open the screen door. “See you soon… err—”
“Alright, see you soon, Jeno.”
“See you soon, Donghyuck.”
And in the blink of an eye, the other boy had swung one leg over the handle of his broom and was kicking off the ground, hurtling up into the overcast sky and out of sight.
One of the ways Jeno liked to pass time was by having picnics on his bedroom floor. He’s seen them in movies; the main character and their lover carry a checkered blanket and a basket brimming with food to the top of a grassy hill. They would lay side by side, pointing out shapes in the fluffy white clouds until the sun sets, and then kiss under the red-and-orange streaked sky. It was an arbitrary little dream, but Jeno yearned for a picnic like in the movies.
Jeno’s bedroom picnics did not have fluffy clouds or vibrant sunsets, and the only guest he ever got was Amelia, but he made do with what he could.
He picked up another sandwich corner and bit into it. It was ham and swiss; his favorite. Jeno reached over to stroke his feline companion, who had curled her legs beneath her so that she resembled a thanksgiving turkey.
His windows were wide open, letting the sounds of nature weave together with the soft and slightly static music from the record Jeno had put on. Jeno let his eyes fall shut as he took in the gentle atmosphere. He let himself be carried to somewhere far away, a grassy hillside and a checkered blanket—
“Hey there, whatcha doin’?”
Jeno let out a squeak at the sudden voice, and he jumped. Amelia, startled as well, let out an indignant meow before bolting underneath Jeno’s bed.
A familiar figure perched on Jeno’s windowsill, now doubled over with laughter. Jeno could not find it in himself to stay mad, when his laugh was so sweet, like the little bells Jeno’s mother would hang from the bannister at Christmastime.
Donghyuck’s broom was haphazardly tossed onto the roof of the sunroom, Donghyuck apparently not having learned from last time. Today he wore orange overall shorts over a crisp white shirt, and the signature black robe hung loosely off his shoulders. Jeno thought he looked adorable; his knees where all scuffed up and his hair was light and fluffy, something Jeno had not been able to see the first time they had met, when Donghyuck had been thoroughly drenched.
“Looks like you’re having a picnic in there,” Donghyuck commented, “with your cat.”
Donghyuck rolled his eyes. “Okay smarty pants,” he snarked back, “why indoors though? It’s such a nice day outside.”
Jeno swallowed, his smile shrinking. “Can’t,” was all he said.
“ Can’t? Like… your parents won’t take you? Or…”
“ Can’t as in if I go outside I’ll get sick and die.”
A moment of silence passed. Donghyuck shrunk back at the blunt words and Jeno felt a stab of guilt. “I’m sorry,” he sighed, “I didn’t mean it to come out that way. My immune system is… not great. There’s a lot of things that could make me sick if I went outside, so… I don’t.”
Donghyuck’s brows furrowed, all his features scrunching into a pout. He looked like a teddy bear. “Wait, so— you’ve never been outside? Ever?”
Jeno shrugged. “I mean, I’ve been into my yard a few times. I obviously had to when I helped you, but that’s basically it.”
“That’s terrible. I couldn’t imagine never going outside!” Donghyuck looked genuinely close to tears at the thought, and Jeno couldn’t hold back a small laugh.
“It’s really alright,” he reassured Donghyuck, “I don’t really know what I’m missing out on if I’ve never been, you know?”
“You should try going outside for a little bit sometime.” Donghyuck spoke hesitantly, as if not to overstep, “Maybe you’ve improved since the last time you’ve tried. Maybe it’ll even help you.”
Jeno sighed. “I’d honestly love to, but my mother is really paranoid. I don’t think she’d ever let me leave the house.”
“What, is she going to have you live here forever? Your whole life?”
Jeno’s throat closed up a little at the thought. “I don’t know.”
It was silent for a moment. Donghyuck must have sensed the fragile air in the room, because he quickly changed the topic.
“Well,” he began, “I’ll just have to tell you what it’s like out there, since you can’t see it yourself.”
Jeno smiled gratefully. “That sounds lovely.” He reached forward for the extra plate of cake sitting on his blanket. Baking was another hobby of his, and just this morning he had finished the most beautiful strawberry cake. There were always too many leftovers, though; his father hated sweets and his mother was a health nut, so that left Jeno to finish all of the cake himself. He had, rather ambitiously, cut two slices for himself today, but now he didn’t need to worry about stomaching it all.
“Want some?” he asked, extending the plate out towards Donghyuck, “I baked it myself.”
Donghyuck’s eyes lit up like lightbulbs. “Ooh, yes please!” He snatched the plate from Jeno’s hands, instantly stabbing a piece off with his fork and shoving it in his mouth. Jeno felt a warm satisfaction at the happy moan that Donghyuck let out. “This is delicious ,” Donghyuck murmured through his mouthful of food, “You are an amazing baker. Also, how did you know that my favorite food is strawberries?!”
Jeno giggled. “Guess I got lucky.”
Donghyuck plucked a strawberry off the top and bit into it. He hummed in thought, his lips stained red with strawberry juice, before saying, “Where should I start? There’s so much out there to see.”
“Tell me about witches,” Jeno inserted, “I’ve always been curious. Is it just you and your family? Do you live in a normal neighborhood?”
Donghyuck laughed. “Slow down there, I’ll answer all your questions! First of all, my family lives surrounded by other witch families. Our house is in the woods.” He pointed to the towering trees that bordered Jeno’s back lawn, branches leaning right over the fence.
“So you’re all friends? All the witches are friends?”
“Well, the ones that live together get along,” Donghyuck snorted, “But that’s not true for all witches. Actually, there’s one other witch settlement in the woods, and we do not get along very well. I’m always getting into trouble with them!”
Jeno did not struggle to believe that. An image of Donghyuck running away from a horde of angry witches popped into Jeno’s head, and he smiled.
“What are you thinking about?” Donghyuck asked, one eyebrow raised.
“I don’t believe you.” Donghyuck slid out of the window frame as he spoke, tugging off his leather boots and leaving them on the roof before plopping himself right on Jeno’s picnic basket in Amelia’s place.
“What are you doing?” Jeno hissed, instinctually glancing back and forth between the door and Donghyuck.
Donghyuck did not look fazed as he picked up a peanut butter sandwich. “Your mother’s working, right? If she does come, don’t worry; I’m a very quick hider.” Donghyuck winks.
Much to Jeno’s relief, his mother does not make an appearance for the remainder of their picnic. Jeno gets a good dose of Donghyuck’s smiles, and by the time the other boy was crawling back out onto the roof and mounting his broom, Jeno’s heart felt as light and floaty as a feather. He watched with a grin as the setting sun reflected off Donghyuck’s wild hair and rippling cloak. The boy leapt off the roof with a squeal, swooping up at the last minute to avoid hitting the ground, before soared over the treetops and out of sight.
A couple days later, Jeno is folding an origami hat for Amelia when there’s a sharp thump of something small and heavy colliding with his window.
Jeno clutched his chest for a moment, catching his breath. Once the shock wore off, he lifted himself from his bed to go investigate. It was most likely a bird that had flown into the glass— it was a common occurrence, and Jeno always felt a little guilty about the little creatures’ confusion.
He unlocked the latch and slid his window open. There was a small object sitting on the sill, but it wasn’t a confused bird. It was a package— something wrapped up neatly in interwoven reeds and tied neatly with twine.
Jeno picked it up. He noticed a little piece of paper folded up and stuck underneath the twine, so he pulled it out and unfolded it. There was a note written on it in glimmering purple ink.
I was going to visit today, but I had to help my mother with some errands. I wanted to bring a little something to you, as thanks for letting me crash your picnic. The cake was delicious!
Here’s a blueberry scone that I helped bake today. I’m not sure if it’ll still be warm by the time you receive it, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless. I’ll be sure to visit soon!!
Warmest Regards, Donghyuck ♡
Jeno giggled, warmth filling every cavity of his chest. He rushed to unwrap the little package, careful to not damage its contents any further but also impatient to see his gift.
The blueberry scone held the last fading whispers of warmth, it obviously having been baked that day. Jeno grinned as he imagined Donghyuck rushing to wrap one of the fresh scones up as soon as they came out of the oven, with the sole mission of flying it over to Jeno before it got cold.
Delicious smells wafted up to Jeno’s nose as soon as the baked good was freed from its wrappings. Little blueberries were embedded in its surface, along with glittering crystals of sugar. Jeno’s mouth watered.
This is what it must feel like to have a friend , Jeno thought, as he took his first bite of the scone, and it might just be the most amazing feeling in the world.
The next time Donghyuck shows up, Jeno is home alone.
It wasn’t very frequent that Jeno got the house to himself, not at all. His mother always worried about leaving him alone— worried that something would happen to him, worried that he would make some dumb decision like going outside.
His parents were away for the whole day, attending his cousin’s baby shower a couple hours away. They wouldn’t return until dinnertime, so Jeno planned to take advantage of every second of freedom. He started the morning off by making pancakes in the kitchen, creating a bit of a mess and taking up the whole space. He toted some of favorite records that his mother wasn’t fond of from his room and used them on the player in the living room.
Once he had finished breakfast and had thoroughly tired himself out from dancing in the living room, he returned upstairs. Except instead of staying in his room, he did something that would have given his mother an aneurysm; he climbed onto the roof.
Donghyuck had done it so many times he had made it look easy. Although, Jeno considered as he held his windowsill in a death grip, he did have a flying broomstick to save him should he ever fall. This realization does not help ward off his nerves whatsoever.
Amelia was curled up on his bed, watching him with judging eyes. Jeno grumbled a “what are you looking at” to the feline before reigning his focus back to the black tiles of the sunroom roof. He eased one foot onto the surface, inching forward so he was straddling the windowsill. Jeno was infinitely glad no one was around to witness this; he didn’t think he could handle the humiliation.
“If I die, Amelia,” Jeno began, lifting his other foot over the sill at a snail’s pace, “will you speak at my funeral?”
The feline blinked slowly and licked at her paw in a very condescending manner. Jeno scoffed.
Jeno became so focused with easing himself onto the roof while precariously holding a quilt to sit on that he didn’t even notice the figure that floated down from the clouds, coming closer and closer.
“Need any help there?” Donghyuck snorted.
Jeno yelped, and clutched at the roof’s ridge, his heart pounding. “Hey, don’t do that! I almost fell off the roof!”
Donghyuck laughed, his legs swinging where he sat perched on his broom. “What are you even doing out here?” He asked. “Aren’t you gonna get in trouble?”
“My parents are away for the day,” Jeno spoke through gritted teeth, smoothing his quilt out the best he could, “so I’m doing things I’d never be allowed to if they were around.”
Donghyuck hummed in understanding. He floated down until he could reach the roof, where he stuck one foot out and smoothly stepped down next to Jeno, as if he weighed no more than a feather. He made himself comfortable on the quilt next to Jeno, their knees touching so slightly, causing a blush to creep up Jeno’s neck.
“Show off,” Jeno grumbled, desperate to cover up his embarrassment.
“Don’t worry, Jeno,” Donghyuck cooed, “I have significantly more experience doing questionable and slightly dangerous things than you!”
“I cannot argue with that.”
It was comfortably silent for a couple minutes. Jeno spaced out, watching a family of squirrels disrupt the hydrangea bush below. Once he shook himself out of his stupor, he glanced over to see Donghyuck in what looked like a deep state of contemplation.
“Penny for your thoughts?” He asked, nudging Donghyuck.
Donghyuck’s eyes raised to meet Jeno’s. “Now, feel free to say no, because this is a huge thing to ask. I wouldn’t blame you if you said no.”
“Spit it out, it’s alright. I don’t bite.”
Donghyuck laughed feebly, eyes back on his feet. “I was just wondering— if, well— if you wanted to come visit. Just for the day. It’s alright if that’s too much to ask—”
“I think that sounds really fun.” Jeno took a deep breath to steady his nerves. Even he was shocked at how easily he was going along with Donghyuck’s idea. “We just need to be back before dinner, so my parents don’t come home and see I’m not there.”
Donghyuck grinned as brightly as the sun. “Alright, Pretty Boy, I can do that.”
Climbing onto Donghyuck’s broom was much more nerve-wracking than Jeno had imagined (and yes, he had imagined it before). It was uncomfortable, and much too tiny, like a motorcycle except smaller and floating high above the ground. Donghyuck assured him that he would get used to it, but he still yelped when they began ascending into the sky. His arms were wrapped tightly around Donghyuck’s waist, and he was too busy fearing for his life to feel embarrassed when he ended up with his face buried in Donghyuck’s back.
Once he realized he wasn’t going to die while Donghyuck was here, Jeno peeled his face away from the witch’s back. He gasped at the sight.
Sights he had only seen on TV spanned out below him. Rice paddies and grassy hills hurtled by below, and puffy clouds filled the bright blue sky above. He could see real cars rumbling along dirt roads, children clutching onto dogs that had their heads stuck out the windows. Houses with backyards and laundry lines, general stores with people standing out front, warding off the hot summer weather with ice cream and cold drinks.
It was beautiful, and maybe it was just the wind whipping in his eyes, but Jeno felt his cheeks begin to wet.
“Have you been into a store, Donghyuck?” Jeno asked.
Donghyuck made a noise of confusion, but answered nonetheless. “A few times. Only when I really need to. Don’t want to draw any attention, you know?”
Jeno nodded. He wanted to go into a store so badly.
After a few minutes of flying, the trees became more densely packed until they were flying over a thick canopy of trees, so tightly packed that it resembled the grassy hills they had passed on the way.
Donghyuck began to guide the broom downwards, and Jeno wondered how he knew exactly where to land, when it all looked the same. They sunk beneath the treetops and if Jeno had been in awe of the buildings they had already passed, then it was nothing compared to now.
“This is where you live? ” he whispered.
The settlement was tightly knit together. The houses and structures were situated up and down the trunks of the trees, like the playhouse his neighbors had built up in the old oak in their backyard. All of the buildings were connected haphazardly by laundry lines and staircases and little rope bridges. It didn’t seem real.
Jeno couldn’t believe that something like this existed just under everyone’s nose.
Donghyuck began to weave lazily between houses, shouting hellos to the other witches going about their business. They all wore something resembling Donghyuck’s robes, and Jeno smiled at the way they seemed so excited to see Donghyuck.
Landing was even scarier than take off, and Jeno had to squeeze his eyes shut as Donghyuck lowered them gently onto the porch of his house. Jeno quickly forgot about the terrifying experience, however, in favor of exploring Donghyuck’s house in wonder.
It was small but cozy, fascinating for Jeno who had never seen a witch settlement, not even on TV. There were little cupboards for their brooms by the door, and the walls were cluttered with shelves stacked with potted plants, jars of ingredients, vials of unidentifiable liquids of all different colors. Natural light filled the tiny space, highlighting the sink filled with dishes, the tiny kitchen table, and the squashy little couches in the living room.
Donghyuck rocked back and forth on his heels as Jeno took it all in, occasionally shooting him anticipating looks as if worried of what Jeno would think.
“I love it,” Jeno whispered, hoping that his sincerity bled into his words.
Donghyuck grinned. “I’m glad. It’s a little smaller than yours, but it’s home.”
Donghyuck’s eyes connected with Jeno’s, the warm brown reminding Jeno of a cup of hot cocoa in wintertime. It was then that Jeno noticed the little mole that sat beneath one eye, and further down there was another, and yet another one joined to form a shape like the little dipper—
Their moment was interrupted by a boy’s head popping up over the top of a ladder that emerged from the floor. “Who’s this?” the boy exclaimed.
“Chenle!” Donghyuck squawked. “Warn me next time, please!”
This boy, Chenle, broke out into giggles. “Now what fun would that be?”
Ignoring him, Donghyuck turned back to Jeno. “Jeno, this is my brother, Chenle. Unfortunately.”
Chenle quirked an eyebrow at Jeno, a smile entirely too devious on his face as he wiggled his fingers in greeting. “Jeno, you aren’t a witch, are you? Where’d you find this one, Hyuckie?”
“I may or may not have crash landed on his roof the night of the rainstorm.”
Chenle burst out into cackles, and Donghyuck looked appropriately embarrassed. “So that’s where you got that towel from!”
“Don’t tell Mom,” Donghyuck growled, trying to sound intimidating, probably, “or I’ll tell Renjun about how you used to wet the bed when you were little.”
Chenle whistled. “Low blow, Hyuckie. I wasn’t going to, anyways!”
Jeno watched the banter like a tennis match. He couldn’t help but feel a little jealous that he hadn’t even had any siblings growing up to keep him company. He had Amelia, and his old black Cat Wilbur before that, but as much as he loved them, they weren’t the same.
“Anyways,” Donghyuck sniffed, “I’m going to be showing Jeno around now. You and Renjun are welcome to tag along.”
“Really?” Chenle’s eyes lit up. “I’ll go get him now!” The younger boy proceeded to bolt for the front window, pulling aside the curtains and sticking his entire torso out to shout at the house just opposite of theirs. The green curtains of the other house shuffled a bit, and a small boy with curly hair like a poodle’s responded.
Jeno turned back to find Donghyuck puttering around in the kitchen, a woven basket hanging off one elbow. He trailed after the witch, eyes inquisitive. “Hey, what’s that for?” He asked.
“We’re taking you on a real picnic today,” Donghyuck told Jeno, a playful smile dancing on his lips.
Mounting Donghyuck’s broom was slightly less terrifying when you were doing it from flat ground and not your house’s slanted rooftop. They ascended into the sky with ease, and Jeno reckoned he was getting pretty good at this.
Chenle followed close behind, Renjun (who Jeno learned was Chenle’s boyfriend) sitting in back, clinging on to his waist.
Donghyuck seemed to have a certain destination in mind, leading with confidence. The farther they went, the more concerned Chenle seemed to get. It wasn’t until they began to sink closer to the treetops once again that Chenle pulled up to Donghyuck’s side. “Are you sure here is a good idea, Hyuckie? What if it ends like last time?”
“Chenle, it’ll be fine, ” Donghyuck spoke, exasperated, “You keep forgetting that we can fly and they cannot.”
“What are you two talking about?” Jeno butted in.
“Jeno, do you remember when I told you about the other witches that live in these woods?”
“Yeah, the ones that you’re always getting in trouble with!”
This caused Chenle and Renjun to break out into a fit of giggles. “Exactly the ones!” Chenle exclaimed.
Donghyuck grumbled. “Yes, well… see those houses down there?” He pointed to a little collection of buildings, and Jeno nodded. “That’s where they live. And we’re eating right here!” This time he points to a towering oak nearby, with sprawling branches wide enough to support several fully grown people.
Jeno wrapped his arms tighter around Donghyuck. “We won’t be caught, will we?”
“No, it’ll be fine,” Donghyuck reassured, “Besides, like I said; they can’t fly like we can. That’s part of why they hate us so much!”
Jeno was busy contemplating all the nuances of witch politics while Donghyuck landed them on the thickest tree branch. He had learned so much in the past hour about not only Donghyuck’s life but of the entire world outside his bedroom window; his head was practically spinning on his shoulders.
Donghyuck sat cross-legged on the branch, so graceful and nonchalant it looked as if he was floating. Anyone could guess that he had been living amongst the trees his entire life.
Jeno, on the other hand, clung onto the branch like a lifeline. Donghyuck shot him a sympathetic look as he handed him a lunch box of rice, which Jeno barely managed to grab with one shaking hand.
“So,” Jeno started, desperate to take his mind off the ground that was so far below, “Why can’t these witches fly?”
Donghyuck stuffed a soft-boiled egg into his mouth, speaking through the food. “Well, different witches specialize in different things. We specialize in flying and making potions. These ones specialize in magic; casting spells, the sort.”
“Woah, that’s so cool!”
Donghyuck looked mildly offended. “I still think flying is cooler.”
While they weren’t sitting atop a hill at sunset, their little picnic in the tree was everything Jeno had dreamed of and more. Sap stuck to his shorts and the summer breeze hit his legs and face in a way it never had before. Jeno had been afraid of how his body would react to all of the outside stimuli, but to be perfectly honest, Jeno felt better than he had in years.
At one point, a bird had even landed on Jeno’s knee. It was the first animal he had ever met that wasn’t a pet cat; he had almost fallen out of the tree in excitement.
Looking around at their little group— Chenle cackling at some ridiculous story Donghyuck was telling, Renjun’s head rested against his boyfriend’s shoulder as he munched on a biscuit— Jeno’s heart was light. And even though he had just met Chenle and Renjun that day, he had never had friends like this before.
Jeno didn’t want to go home.
Donghyuck was just finishing a chocolate covered strawberry and an in-depth story about his encounter with Stella, the little dog from downstairs, when sudden commotion arose from the trunk of the tree.
“Hey, it’s you again!” a gruff voice shouted (sounding eerily similar to Howard, yet not as kind). “How many times do we have to tell you to stay out of our trees?!”
All four pairs of eyes followed the trunk down to its base, where a very angry man stood. He was wearing robes in a shade of maroon that matched his flushed face, and he was holding on to a little wooden scepter that Jeno assumed was used for magic.
Jeno might’ve been a little more afraid of the man if hadn’t looked like he had jumped straight out of one of Jeno’s childhood storybooks.
“What does it matter to you?” Donghyuck snarked back. “You’re not using the tops of your trees. We’re having a nice, peaceful lunch here, not even making any noise! You’re the one creating all the disruption!”
The man growled and stomped his foot. Jeno could have sworn he saw steam coming out of his ears. “I’ll get you one day, mark my words! You’ll regret having so much nerve!”
Donghyuck did not look fazed. He instead stood up on the branch, brushing the crumbs from his hands onto his robe and gathering up their picnic basket. “Well, luckily for you we were just on our way out, old man,” he called. Jeno and Chenle followed suit, grabbing their brooms and preparing for takeoff. Donghyuck held his hand out to Jeno. “You ready?”
After a long day of Donghyuck parading Jeno all over the forest, Jeno was practically falling asleep on the broom.
They were taking Jeno home now, the sky a bright cotton candy pink as the sun set behind them. Donghyuck, sensing Jeno’s fatigue, stayed quiet, letting Jeno rest his head on his back.
It was Jeno that finally broke their silence.
“Thank you,” he mumbled sleepily, “for today. Had so much fun, don’t wanna go home.
Donghyuck huffed out a laugh. “I’m really glad you enjoyed yourself. Let’s hang out soon?”
Jeno hummed. “That’d be nice.”
The next thing Jeno knew, he was drifting off hundreds of feet in the air to the sound of Donghyuck’s melodic humming. And Jeno would be lying if he said his heart didn’t swell a little when he woke up the next morning to find himself neatly tucked into bed, his round glasses sitting folded on his bedside table.
In the days following, Jeno could not stop thinking about his day out with Donghyuck. His mood was unwaveringly cheerful, which he knew was throwing his mother off, and he spent hours with his head stuck out the window, trying to gain any semblance of what it had felt like, hurtling through the air while the winds whipped at his face and stole his breath away. It was the closest Jeno had ever been to sitting in the cockpit of his own airplane, and it wouldn’t leave his mind.
Jeno knew his mother was suspicious. Her calculating eyes would follow him whenever he drifted through a room with a little too much bounce in his step. She didn’t really say anything, though, until she had walked into his bedroom one day to find him half stuck out the window.
“What are you doing, Jeno?” She had asked, voice hard.
Jeno, too distracted by the warm rays of sun on his face, had answered with complete honesty. “I’m getting fresh air, Mama. Seeing what it’s like to be outside.”
Something had flashed in her eyes, and she had stormed over to the window, telling Jeno to get inside, now before she had forced the window shut with a slam.
Jeno’s jaw had gone slack.
“Now, Jeno dear,” she had tried, voice deceptively sweet, “There’s so much pollen outside, disease and pollution in the air. It’s especially bad right now, during the summer when everyone’s outdoors! You can’t be exposing yourself like this, it’s not good for you.”
The next morning, locks had been installed on his windows, keeping them shut from the outside. Jeno, in a rare stroke of confidence, had confronted his mother about it, and one heated argument later, she had not budged.
Jeno took to napping most of the day, or spending time downstairs. He couldn’t bear the thought of turning Donghyuck away if he showed up at Jeno’s window, so he chose the path of avoidance.
One afternoon when he was reading in the sunroom, a little piece of paper slipped in beneath the screen door to the backyard. Jeno snatched it up, thankful that his mother was once again holed up in her home office, and unfolded it.
I tried to come by but I noticed your window was locked, so I assumed something was up. I didn’t want to risk anything by trying to come hang out with you while you’re downstairs, because I know how your mother can be.
Let me know if your parents are going away again any time soon because I miss you and I want to hang out!! Leave your response in the flower pot outside your screen door!!
Yours, Donghyuck : )
Jeno smiled down at the note, written on crinkly brown paper, in red, shimmery ink this time. On the back was attached the stem of a plant, except it was badly charred on one end. There was a little caption that read, Chenle tried to bake birthday cookies for Renjun yesterday, but they caught on fire and one of our houseplants fell victim.
Jeno could picture it perfectly; the gangly teen desperately trying to save his baked goods while Donghyuck squealed over the houseplants that lined the kitchen. His heart yearned to see them again, and with that a new hope lit in his chest.
Some way, somehow, he’d see Donghyuck again, whether his mother wanted him to or not. Jeno was practically tripping over his feet as he ran up the stairs and to his bedroom, yanking a pen and some stationary from his desk drawers.
Dear Donghyuck, he wrote, my mother has been very cautious with me, so I couldn’t see you. I miss you so much!
He paused and considered. Should he…?
Sure, why not?
My parents are going on a weekend trip to the coast next weekend, he finished the letter, so I’ll get the house to myself for two whole days. Would you like to stay over?
Nearly a week of restless waiting later, and Jeno’s parent’s station wagon was disappearing down their long, winding driveway, packed full with way too many bags for a simple weekend getaway. Ordinarily Jeno would be incredibly jealous of them leaving him behind to go on vacation, but now he was only vibrating with anticipation.
Donghyuck should be here now any minute. He did another couple laps of the house, to make sure everything was perfectly in order, even though he knew Donghyuck wouldn’t mind either way.
A loud knocking echoed through the whole house, and Jeno sprinted for the front door. There, standing on his doorstep and looking very tiny in his oversized lilac sweater, was Donghyuck. An overnight bag was slung over one shoulder, and he was anxiously clutching his broom with both hands. The shyness was a new look on Donghyuck, but Jeno found it cute.
“Where’s your robes?” was the first thing out of Jeno’s mouth as he gestured Donghyuck inside. Donghyuck left his shoes by the door, and after a moment of hesitation, left his broom leaning against the bannister of the staircase.
“All mine were dirty,” Donghyuck explained, “So I didn’t bother.”
Jeno led Donghyuck into his living room, watching on with amusement as Donghyuck took in his house. Without his broom and robes, wearing just his sweater and tattered jeans, Donghyuck could easily be mistaken as your average teenage boy.
“Wow,” Donghyuck marvelled, “it’s even bigger on the inside!”
Jeno laughed, “so much space, yet not nearly as homey as yours.”
“You should invest in more houseplants. That’ll do the trick!”
Jeno led Donghyuck into the kitchen, and waited patiently as another wave of wonder washed over the boy. Donghyuck darted from counter to counter, taking in all the shiny appliances that he didn’t have at home.
“I was thinking that we could cook dinner together, then watch a movie,” Jeno explained as Donghyuck squealed over the electric mixer. “We’ve got lots of them on VHS. You can pick.”
Donghyuck looked up, puzzled. “VHS?”
“They’re little tapes that you put into a machine, and it plays a film for you. Have you heard of movies before?”
Donghyuck paused in contemplation. “Yes, I think so. They’re like moving pictures, right?”
“I think that’s so cool! It’s like your own version of magic!”
Jeno smiled, “I guess it kind of is.”
Jeno ended up teaching Donghyuck how to make his favorite spaghetti dish, which was a whole ordeal (Donghyuck readily admitted to being more of a baker), ending with flour in their hair from the homemade noodles and sauce staining their shirts. Jeno could not stop giggling as Donghyuck shook his head out like a dog, effectively covering the rest of the kitchen with flour.
By the time they had finally cleaned up and finished eating, Jeno could see Donghyuck’s eyelids begin to droop. He couldn’t let the boy fall asleep just yet— not without showing him some of his favorite movies.
“First let’s watch the Breakfast Club, alright?” Jeno told a yawning Donghyuck as he shuffled the both of them over to the living room couch. “It’s this really funny American movie, I think you’ll like it.”
“Mmkay,” Donghyuck hummed. When Jeno offered him a throw blanket, he cocooned himself and flopped onto the couch like fish out of water. Jeno shuffled through his library of VHS tapes before finding the one he was searching for. He took it out of its casing and popped it into the player.
Jeno had to shove Donghyuck out of the way to make room for himself on the couch, but as soon as the television screen lit up with the opening credits of the movie, Donghyuck shot up like a pistol. He ignored the way Jeno face-planted into the couch from his sudden movement, instead squealing, “Wow, it glows!”
“That’s how it works, yes.”
Donghyuck sat back down next to Jeno again, but he was still vibrating like he was set to combust any minute. It was amusing to Jeno how quickly Donghyuck’s drowsiness faded in favor of the pictures on screen. One by one the main cast of the movie was introduced, and Donghyuck immediately claimed Claire as his favorite.
The blanket over Donghyuck’s legs slowly migrated to cover Jeno’s as well, and about halfway through the movie Jeno felt Donghyuck’s head land softly on his shoulder.
Jeno’s eyes swiveled to the top of Donghyuck’s head, his heart rate picking up. Jeno hoped he didn’t hear it, because his head was dangerously close to Jeno’s chest.
After a few minutes, Jeno came to reckon that Donghyuck hadn’t even done it consciously, the boy being still fully enraptured with the movie. Donghyuck even continued to forget that they weren’t in the same room as the characters, yelling at them whenever they did something he didn’t like.
The credits rolled, and Donghyuck bemoaned the fact that the movie had come to an end. But if Jeno had learned anything about Donghyuck, it was that his attention never stayed on one thing for too long; as soon as Jeno revealed that he’d finally formally introduce him to Amelia, Donghyuck was outpacing Jeno up the stairs.
“She’s so pretty!” Donghyuck cooed, sitting cross-legged on Jeno’s floor. “You named her after that airplane pilot, right?”
“ That airplane pilot is Amelia Earheart,” Jeno reprimanded, tossing Donghyuck some pajamas since he’d forgotten his, “One of the greatest pilots in history, until she tragically disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. Did you know that she had been on a journey around the world for months, then she disappeared in the final hours of her journey?”
Donghyuck chuckled, completely ignoring Amelia as she mauled at his hand. “You’re really passionate about this stuff, huh? Do you want to become a pilot someday?”
Jeno went beet red when he realized that he’d been rambling. “Yeah,” he mumbled, pointing at the airplane posters lining his room, “I’ve wanted to since I was a kid.”
“Well, I’ll have to get you out on my broom more often, so you can get more experience at high altitudes!”
Jeno shrugged. “Yeah, well… it doesn’t matter anyways. I’ll never be able to fly a plane. Not in my health.”
Donghyuck’s playful excitement deflated so fast, Jeno almost felt guilty. “There’s got be some way,” Donghyuck whispered, as if speaking to himself, “I mean— there’s got to be some way, right?”
Jeno shrugged, trying a smile to relieve some of the tension. “It’s fine, Donghyuck, really. I’ve accepted it by now. Honestly, flying on your broom was more than I’d ever thought I would experience. So thank you, really.”
Donghyuck seemed to brighten a little. Fluffy strands of brown hair fell into his eyes as he looked up at Jeno, and his plush lips stretched into a shy smile.
It sounded a little crazy, but in this moment Jeno felt completely at peace with his dismal future. If he could make a lifetime career out of making Donghyuck happy like this, then that would be all he’d ever need.
Jeno cleared his throat, breaking the moment. “ Go put those pajamas on, silly, so we can go to bed. It’s late.”
Donghyuck disappeared into the bathroom down the hall, and Jeno took the time to slide into his own pajamas. He got comfortable in bed while waiting for Donghyuck to return, Amelia eventually jumping up to curl into a ball on his feet.
Donghyuck came bounding in a moment later. “Oh my goodness, you wouldn’t believe how scared I got when I flicked a switch that I thought was the light, and your ceiling just growled at me!” Donghyuck marched over to the bed, practically drowning in Jeno’s too-big sweater and sweatpants and looking extremely ruffled.
Jeno burst out laughing. This boy was too adorable for his own good. “That, my friend, would be the fan. Commonly found beside the light switch in bathrooms.”
Donghyuck pulled back the covers with dramatic flair. “Well, you could’ve warned me!”
“Sorry,” Jeno said, not feeling at all sorry.
Donghyuck was already smiling again, snuggling up against Jeno’s side. “I suppose I’ll have to forgive you. I can’t have my only friend be my annoying brother’s boyfriend, now can I?”
“That would not be ideal, no.”
Jeno let his eyes wander all over his bedroom as he waited for sleep to overcome him. Maybe it was the full moon casting a different light over his bedroom, but everything seemed to be illuminated by a sort of magical glow. Blue shadows were cast over his desk and the posters on his wall, and the dust particles floating in the air looked like pixie dust, spinning calmly as if having a life of their own.
Maybe it was just having the additional warmth of another person adhered to his side, or the gentle breaths against his shoulder offering some sort of solace, but Jeno slept better that night than he had for as long as he could remember.
Jeno was the first one to wake up the next morning. He spent a few minutes watching Donghyuck sleep (totally not creepily, by the way). The way his chest moved evenly with each breath was strangely calming, and every so often his eyelashes would flutter or his lips would move in the shape of words. He must’ve been having quite a vivid dream.
At last, Jeno forced himself to get out of bed. He wanted to do something nice for Donghyuck as thanks for being such a kind and steady presence in his life, so Jeno decided he’d make something he did best; french toast.
The sizzling of the toast on the skillet filled the kitchen, alongside the steady drip of the coffee maker. It was the little sounds like these, so quintessential to the morning time, that made Jeno the early bird that he was. It was a time that he could be alone with his thoughts, the early morning rays whispering in the kitchen window like untold secrets whilst everyone was still fast asleep.
Plating his dishes was one of Jeno’s favorite parts of cooking. Slicing the french toast into neat triangles, placing them in a neat row like he’d seen in his cookbooks and on TV; he even found some powdered sugar and maple syrup in the pantry, with which he adorned the french toast along with an assortment of mixed berries. He paused to step back and appreciate his work before climbing the stairs again to retrieve Donghyuck so they could eat.
The rest of the morning was slow and lazy. Donghyuck, unlike Jeno, was not at all a morning person, and it took until at least 10 am before he was speaking in full sentences. Jeno enjoyed this side of him; it was the polar opposite of his normally quick-witted snarky nature. This Donghyuck was soft and quiet. This Donghyuck didn’t even notice when Jeno spent an inordinate amount of time staring in his direction.
Jeno was heartbroken when the boy finally mounted his broomstick to return home. For a moment he wished that they were both far away from here, sharing a cozy apartment in the big cities that he had only seen in movies. Jeno would cook him breakfast every day, and they’d go on trips whenever they wanted to without worrying about Jeno’s health or his strict parents.
It wasn’t until later that day and his parents’ car came rolling back up the driveway that he realized that Donghyuck had left still wearing Jeno’s pajamas.
After their sleepover, Donghyuck came and visited as often as he could. On days he couldn’t, he would leave a note for Jeno in the potted plant just outside the sunroom’s screened door. At one point, Donghyuck even figured out how to pick the lock keeping Jeno’s window shut.
He managed to sneak Jeno out for a second time when his father was at work, and his mother had an art show to attend. They had taken a pit stop at one of the corner stores Jeno pointed out, and Donghyuck let Jeno pick out an ice cream from the cooler at the front. Jeno, having never tried any of them, picked a melon flavored ice cream. It had tasted delicious, but Jeno had cringed at the cold, making Donghyuck laugh.
They had then met up with Chenle and Renjun at Renjun’s house, where Donghyuck had taught Jeno his ‘famous blueberry scone recipe’, and they had nearly caused a kitchen fire.
It had been a few days since Jeno had last seen Donghyuck. Logically, it was likely that his friend was just busy, but Jeno’s mind had nothing much to do other than worry; worry that Donghyuck didn’t like him anymore, that he had scared him off by being too high maintenance or being too clingy.
Logically, Jeno knew that Donghyuck wasn’t that kind of person. But he had never had a real friend like this before, and Jeno was starting to think that what he felt towards Donghyuck was a little more than just friends — so he couldn’t screw this up.
So when Jeno finally heard the telltale thump on the sunroom roof four days after last seeing Donghyuck, he breathed a big sigh of relief. Jeno sprung up from his bed and made a beeline for his bedroom window, fully prepared to see Donghyuck there, picking the lock with his broom tucked neatly in the crook of one knee.
That was not the sight he was greeted with. Brief disappointment grew into confusion when instead of his friend, he was met with a very ruffled and confused looking Chenle.
Jeno screwed his eyebrows together, hoping to communicate a message of what in the world? Chenle only stared at him, gesturing wildly to the lock on his window.
Do you know how to pick a lock?! Jeno mouthed wildly at Chenle. Chenle just stared at him like he had grown a second head, before mouthing something Jeno couldn’t decipher.
Yeah, this was going very smoothly.
About another minute of wild flailing and over-emphasized mouth movements went on before Chenle rolled his eyes and held up one finger, indicating that Jeno should hold on a second.
Nervousness grew in Jeno’s stomach as he watched Chenle take a step back. If he had learned anything about Chenle, it was that the boy was wildly unpredictable and his ideas didn’t always have the best outcomes.
Chenle stood up carefully on the roof and picked up his broom from beside him. Oh no. He lifted it over his head, handle facing downwards, positioning it right over the lock. Oh no, oh no no. Jeno began shaking his head wildly, waving his hands in a universal sign for STOP. If Chenle planned on doing what Jeno thought he was, then his parents would definitely hear and Jeno would be in the biggest trouble of his entire life.
Too late. Chenle brought his broom hurtling down like an axe on a log, and a loud clang rang out, audible even through the thick glass of Jeno’s bedroom window.
Downstairs, the music from the record player paused. His mother called up, “Jeno, what was that?”
Jeno didn’t answer her, instead flinging open his now lockless window. “What the hell were you thinking?” he hissed at Chenle.
Chenle shrugged. “I had no idea what you were trying to tell me, and I needed your help. It’s really urgent.”
Jeno placed one hand on the windowsill to lean all his weight on, using the other to scrub across his face, exasperated. “What in the world could you possibly need me for that you couldn’t do yourself? You’re a witch! ”
Chenle whined. “It’s Donghyuck, okay? He’s gotten himself into more trouble with the other witches, and I didn’t know what to do. You’re smart, I thought you could help.”
Jeno’s heart sped up a little. “Donghyuck?”
“Jeno, what was that noise?” Jeno’s mother sounded closer now. She was ascending the stairs, and any moment she would come in to see a busted lock, Jeno’s window wide open, and a strange boy perched on their roof. Jeno turned back to Chenle and he knew he needed to make a decision now. He held one hand out to Chenle.
“Pull me out,” he hissed, “and be quick. My mom is coming, and she’s gonna go ballistic once she sees you.” Jeno knew that there was no hiding this from his mother, but the least he could do was get out of reach before she showed up. Things weren’t going to be the same after this, and Jeno was afraid of what would come, but if it meant helping Donghyuck, then he would take anything that was sent his way.
Chenle nodded, his eyes wide. He clutched onto Jeno’s hands with his own sweaty ones, and yanked him out onto the roof.
Just as Jeno steadied himself, his bedroom door burst in. His mother stood in the doorway looking concerned, but the expression rapidly changed to shock, and then outrage.
“Jeno— who is that? Get back in here!”
Jeno nudged Chenle, “Hurry!” Chenle took the cue and positioned the broom beneath them. Jeno, who was quite versed in broom-riding by now, wrapped his arms firmly around Chenle’s waist and prepared for the drop in his stomach as Chenle scooted them forward and took a leap off the roof.
“I’m sorry Mom, I’ll be back!” Jeno shouted weakly, not bothering to look back as they soared over the treetops and out of sight.
It was silent as they soared through the sky. Chenle fidgeted every now and then, as if feeling bad about the sticky situation he'd dragged Jeno into.
The trees below them became closer and closer together as they began to descend in the sky. Jeno spotted the familiar oak with the thick branches that they’d perched in only a few weeks prior.
A clearing came into view. Little cottages were scattered around the edges, and a group of witches stood in the middle, in a tight circle as if in an important meeting. The circle broke apart as soon as Jeno and Chenle’s feet touched the ground and they came to a running stop.
Jeno glanced around in awe. The settlement was much different than Donghyuck and Chenle’s— it was not suspended amongst the trees for one— but it still looked like something straight out of a storybook, with its colorful gardens and thatched roofs. Here, little glowing lanterns floated alongside pathways in the place of streetlights. Jeno recalled what Donghyuck said about these witches being able to perform magical spells.
Jeno could’ve stood there in fascination for hours if he hadn’t come here with a strict purpose. He schooled his face into a stern expression as he and Chenle marched towards the gathering of witches.
Jeno spoke first. “Where is he?” he asked, calm but stern. Jeno recognized the grumpy older witch that stepped forward as the one that had been barking up their tree weeks earlier. “I’ll show you. Follow me.”
They were led to one of the cottages. The first thing Jeno noticed was a little dog tied in the corner, only because it began yipping wildly as soon as Jeno walked in. It was a tiny little creature, with curly brown fur and a stubby tail wagging violently back and forth. For some reason, it looked strangely like—
“Wait a minute,” Jeno gasped. “Is that him? Did you turn Donghyuck into a puppy?”
“Yes,” the old man huffed, crossing his arms, “This little rascal has messed with us for the last time. He always is playing pranks on us, then flying away since he knows we can’t catch him. Well we got him this time, and he can’t fly away if he’s a dog!”
Jeno sighed, scooping Puppy Donghyuck into his arms. The little creature was trembling, licking at Jeno’s face as he tried to bury himself deeper in Jeno’s arms. “Couldn’t you at least have tried talking to him?”
“Don’t you think we’ve tried?! That punk doesn’t want to listen. All he wants to do is embarrass us because we can’t fly like he does. Well, he’s really learned his lesson this time! We’ve used our magic against him, the one thing he doesn’t have.”
“You’re right,” Jeno tried, “He’s learned his lesson now, so can’t you turn him back? I’ll even give him a talking to, make sure he doesn’t come back here again. I’m sure he’ll listen to me!”
Donghyuck yipped indignantly, and shook Jeno’s thumb between his tiny teeth.
The old witch stroked his scraggly white beard thoughtfully. “Yes, you’ll have to do that. But we still want something in return in exchange for turning your friend back to normal.’’
Dread filled Jeno’s stomach; something told him that whatever it was, it wouldn’t be easy to get. “What is it?”
“We want to be able to fly.”
Jeno’s jaw went slack. “That’s impossible!”
The man only shrugged. “If you want your friend back, you’ll find a way.” And with that, he was leaving the cabin again, leaving Jeno and Donghyuck alone.
Jeno collapsed onto the floor. Donghyuck’s tiny body wiggled in his lap, and his wet nose nudged at Jeno’s chin. Jeno suddenly understood the meaning of the phrase ‘puppy dog eyes’ as Donghyuck stared pleadingly at Jeno.
“You’re feeling awfully guilty, aren’t you?” Jeno muttered. He scooped the puppy into his arms, and began pacing circles around the cabin.
We want to be able to fly. How was Jeno supposed to do anything about that? He wasn’t even a witch himself! Chenle must have come to find for some reason, right?
His mind landed on the posters taped up in his bedroom, and the model airplanes spinning on strings from his ceiling. A lightbulb went off in his head.
Chenle sure went for a risky, out of the box move. Jeno smiled. He would not be letting Donghyuck or Chenle down today, not if he could help it.
“Chenle, I need you to fly me somewhere,” Jeno exclaimed as soon as he exited the cottage. Chenle, from where he stood awkwardly with the gaggle of witches, looked at them as if for permission.
The old man, who seemed to be the one in charge, waved them away with a smirk. “Go, do what you need to do,” he said, “after all, your friend will be stuck as a furry friend until we change him back, so you’ll have no choice but to return.”
Jeno nodded, and stuffed Donghyuck into the front of his sweater. Donghyuck yelped in surprise but went along with it, resting his head against the collar. Jeno held carefully onto the warm lump with one hand, holding Chenle’s waist with the other.
“Where to, boss?” Chenle asked as soon as they were high in the air once again.
Jeno ran through the list of things they’d need in his head. “Do you know any hardware stores close by?”
The man running the hardware supply store seemed bewildered when Chenle stormed in clutching his broom, followed closely behind by Jeno, who still held Puppy Donghyuck in the front of his sweater.
“Anything I can help you boys with?” He asked skeptically.
“Yes,” Jeno breathed, “We need PVC pipes, industrial strength wire, some rolls of canvas cloth, and any aluminum framing you have.”
Chenle looked very confused, but nodded in agreement. The man’s eyes widened. “Okay, I can do that for you.”
A half hour later, Chenle, Jeno, and Donghyuck left the store with bagfuls of supplies.
“I hope you know what you’re doing with this,” Chenle told him, “because I am no engineer.”
Jeno smiled reassuringly. He was pretty sure he’d read enough books on aerodynamics to be able to build a basic hang glider. The thing wouldn’t be safe enough to take out serious hang gliding expeditions, but he was sure it’d be enough to quell the witches’ desires to fly.
“Just trust me and do what I say,” Jeno said, “Donghyuck here will be back in his loudmouth body soon enough.”
Donghyuck yipped, and turned to nibble on Jeno’s collarbone. Jeno yanked the pup from within his sweater and stuffed him into one of the bags, alongside the wire and canvas cloth.
The trip back was a little precarious with their new weight, but they made it back in no time. Jeno put Chenle straight to work, and they began building.
The hours trickled by, and Jeno tried not to get anxious as the sun sank closer and closer to the western horizon. Donghyuck lended a hand (or paw, Jeno should say) by jumping in little circles around Jeno, yipping and wagging his tail.
The witches watched curiously as Jeno’s project took form. The closer to completion they got the more excited Jeno became, and by the end he was bouncing on his feet, shouting at Chenle to hand him another length of pipe or some more wire.
Jeno twisted the final wire into place, and he leapt back with a laugh. “I’m finished!”
The old witch approached, looking skeptical. “How do you use it?”
“I’ll show you.” Jeno grabbed his newly finished creation, and raced for the tallest tree in their immediate vicinity, which just so happened to be their picnic tree.
As he was scooting himself up the trunk, he felt a small twinge of uncertainty. If you had told Jeno of a month ago that he would be leaving his room— let alone climbing a tree to test out a hang glider he’d built that he wasn’t even sure worked for a horde of angry witches— he would’ve looked at you like you were crazy.
Jeno inched himself out onto a particularly wide limb with shaky legs. As he positioned the glider above him and put his hands into position on the handle of the A frame, Donghyuck barked up at him from below. Jeno could’ve sworn he sounded like he was telling Jeno to be careful.
“Just climb up somewhere high enough,” Jeno shouted down to the witches below, “and hold the handle like this. Then all you need to do is leap off like this, and—” Jeno pushed himself off the branch as he spoke, and prayed for the best.
Jeno finally remembered to breathe when he swooped forward, and a faint whooping entered his ear, sounding just like Chenle. He opened his eyes to see the clearing hurtling past below him, and he let out an ecstatic shout. Jeno tilted the handle to the left, and was overjoyed when the glider followed suit. He made a large loop around the edge of the clearing, and by the time he reached the ground, he had arrived back at the group of witches.
A very excited Donghyuck was there to greet him. He yipped loudly, jumping up onto Jeno’s leg, his tail going a hundred miles an hour. Jeno scooped him into his arms, giggling as the little puppy licked at his chin. He gave him a few affectionate head scratches before remembering his purpose; he stuffed Donghyuck under one arm and looked up at the head witch nervously.
The head witch scanned Jeno’s contraption from top to bottom, looking conflicted as if he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be happy or not. “I suppose that’ll do”, he finally grumbled, “now put down the dog.”
“His name is Donghyuck,” Jeno reprimanded, hesitantly placing Donghyuck on the ground before stepping away. The puppy stared at Jeno with what Jeno imagined to be a nervous call for help. Jeno did his best to give him a reassuring smile.
The head witch stepped forward, his round body precariously balanced on two bowling-pin legs. He brandished his wooden scepter and gave it a few flicks in Donghyuck’s direction.
Deep purple light came spiraling out. It surrounded Donghyuck, growing brighter and brighter until Jeno was forced to look away. It burned into the backs of his eyelids and when it finally died down, Jeno opened his eyes again.
Spots danced in his vision as his eyes adjusted. There, standing at his full height and looking very much relieved, was Donghyuck. He was beaming at Jeno, his eyes sparkling beautifully in the setting sun. Jeno’s heart seized at the sight of the boy he had grown so fond of back in his human form. Puppy Donghyuck had been cute, but Puppy Donghyuck didn’t have a laugh that sounded like bells. Puppy Donghyuck couldn’t give hugs that felt like a warm, handmade quilt or playfully scold Jeno with his plush pink lips.
“You crazy boy,” Donghyuck sighed into Jeno’s shoulder, “That was a dangerous stunt you pulled there, you know that, right?”
“Of course I do, but I’d do anything for you.” Jeno’s not sure why liquid courage seemed to surge through his veins, because he began saying things that he never would have considered saying aloud. “As cute as you are as a puppy, you’re even cuter as a human.”
Donghyuck let out a gleeful giggle. He grabbed Jeno’s face and before Jeno had even registered what happened, Donghyuck planted a searing kiss on his lips.
“Here? Are you two for real?” Jeno vaguely heard Chenle squeal from somewhere behind them.
Jeno stared into Donghyuck’s eyes, looking as sweet as the caramel candies always swimming around the bottom of his mother’s purse. “This should come as no surprise to you, but that was my first kiss ever.”
Donghyuck grinned, and quickly kissed Jeno again. “It was mine too. I hope it was good.”
“It was amazing. I can’t believe that I could have gone my whole life without knowing what that felt like.”
Donghyuck frowned, but instead of mentioning it, he pulled Jeno in for one last squeezing hug. “Thank you for saving me,” he murmured.
“Like I said; I’d do anything for you. Besides, I had a lot of fun.”
“You’re really smart, you know. You could do great things.”
It was Jeno’s turn to not respond. He shot Donghyuck a sad smile before stepping back. “Let’s find your broom and head home alright? It’s getting late.”
Chenle parted ways with them once they were up in the hair, heading straight home while Donghyuck made straight for Jeno’s house. It was quiet between them, and Jeno took advantage of the peacefulness and the amazing vantage point to enjoy the stars. He had only ever watched them out his window on especially clear nights, but now they glittered all around him, suspended in a sea of midnight black. Jeno and Donghyuck were only a tiny pinprick swimming amongst these great celestial bodies, and it made Jeno realize just how ginormous and sprawling the universe was beyond his bedroom walls. It was equal parts beautiful and terrifying, and it only made Jeno yearn for it even more.
If before Jeno could only dream of seeing the stars up close, then now he wished to reach up and grab them.
Donghyuck cleared his throat, breaking the silence. “I think you should talk to your mother,” he said. His voice was hesitant, filled with trepidation as if afraid of overstepping. “I— I really don’t think you’re sick, Jeno.”
Jeno furrowed his eyebrows. “Huh? How could I not be sick?”
Jeno felt Donghyuck shrug. “I’ve heard of cases like yours before. It’s some sort of disorder, where parents act like their kid is sick for attention or sympathy.”
Jeno suddenly felt defensive. His mother wouldn’t do something like that, right? She loved him. She wasn’t mean, or selfish; she just wanted what was best for him.
“She loves me,” Jeno echoed, lost.
“Of course she does, Jeno.” Donghyuck sounded pained as he spoke. “She’s not doing it to hurt you— like I said, it’s a disorder of the mind. But think about it; you’ve been out with me twice— and in some very stressful situations, mind you— and you’re fine. In fact, you look better. It’s been good for you.”
Jeno couldn’t argue with that. Going outside felt amazing— both mentally and physically. He certainly didn’t feel like some sickly boy who would collapse upon taking one step outside. Sure, he got out of breath pretty easily, but that’s bound to happen to anyone who spends pretty much their whole life in bed.
It all added up, but it put such a sick feeling in his stomach.
Donghyuck made a sharp turn and landed on the branch of a tree. Jeno looked up and realized they were practically in Jeno’s backyard by now.
“Listen Jeno,” Donghyuck said, pulling Jeno towards him. His brows were stitched together in concern, and Jeno knew that what he said was entirely truthful. “I’ll always be here no matter what she says, alright? She loves you, I— I love you. You’re not alone.”
Something tickled Jeno’s cheek and he realized he had begun to cry. “You’ll come back for me?”
Donghyuck smiled and pressed a warm kiss, gentle and reassuring, onto Jeno’s lips before pulling them back onto the broom. “I’ll even wait out by your window if you want.”
When Jeno slipped in the front door, his mother and father were waiting in the living room, feet tapping and faces drawn tight. Upon spotting Jeno, his mother’s face screwed up and she got to her feet.
“Jeno, where have you been? What were you thinking— ”
“Listen Mom,” Jeno interrupted, “I think we need to talk. First, there’s some things you need to know.”
Two months later
“You’ll be the talk of the university,” Donghyuck giggled, “Being dropped off at your first Advanced Physics class of the year on broomstick.”
Jeno laughed, nuzzling his cheek into the dip of Donghyuck’s upper back. The witch was wearing his best midnight blue robes today, with the gold-threaded accents. Jeno had argued that he didn’t need to dress up, but Donghyuck had done so anyway.
The tiny town flashed by below them. The October air was crisp and refreshing, and the trees were just beginning to show hints of reds and yellows amongst a sea of green. Jeno and Donghyuck had spent the entire rest of the summer discovering the little spots and getaways around the county, yet every time they soared above it all, Jeno located ten new places he wanted to take them.
His mother had been taking it pretty well. It was difficult to convince her that he could handle this newfound freedom, but Jeno supposed that the guilt eating away at her was making her a little more willing to go along with his ideas.
It felt amazing. Jeno had had no idea just how much he had been missing all those years trapped in his bedroom, but having Donghyuck by his side made everything so much easier.
Donghyuck began their descent around a regal brick building with ivy creeping up its side. Jeno could spot all of the college kids his age walking to and from their classes, and nerves spiked in his chest, mixed in with a healthy dose of excitement.
When Donghyuck finally set Jeno down, he didn’t leave without a firm kiss goodbye. Donghyuck held onto his hand a moment too long, and Jeno realized with a skip of his heart that Donghyuck was feeling just as nervous as he was.
“I’ll be right down the street at the coffee shop, waiting for you. Alright?”
“Alright, I’ll be fine.” Jeno gave his boyfriend one last wave. “I love you.”
Donghyuck grinned, radiant and beautiful. Jeno paused to take in all that was his boyfriend; his cream-colored pants and the sky blue dress shirt tucked neatly into the waist, and of course the billowing robe that made him stand out amongst the college students walking past them on either side.
Donghyuck was his, and Jeno reckoned that there wasn’t a luckier boy alive than him.