And when I call, you come home
A bird in your teeth.
— Phoebe Bridgers, “I Know The End”.
The day Donghyuck comes home, it had just rained, acid drops that sizzled as they splattered against the asphalt driveway leading up to the ranch-style one story. Renjun is washing the dishes and staring out at the neighbor’s front lawn, where the wind had knocked over the rickety patio table they’d left behind. A yard sale relic. Then a hunk of red metal slides through the street, right into the driveway, and Renjun drops the dish he’d been holding.
It splinters across the tiles, but that’s a problem for later.
“You’re back,” Renjun says when he yanks open the door. Soapy suds drip down his glove, past his wrist to the nook of his elbow.
“Where else would I be?”
Donghyuck looks the same as he did on TV, before all the channels turned into news channels that told Renjun stuff he didn’t want to know, like what time to expect the meteor. He looks the same as he did six months ago, before he went on tour, when he stood on Renjun’s doorsteps and told him that things weren’t working out. By things, he meant them. And by them, Renjun means Donghyuck.
Once he’s pocketed his keys, Donghyuck takes a step forward and then stops. He glances up at Renjun, tilting his head ever so slightly as if it’d help him place together the expression on Renjun’s face against his encyclopedia of Renjun’s idiosyncrasies. Furrowed eyebrows, the grim line of his lips softened by curved ends. The wind picks up, and across the street, the table begins to wobble. From inside, the TV blares on and Donghyuck shivers, digging his hands into his windbreaker.
Renjun sighs, widening the doorway. “Well don’t just stand there. Come in.”
In hindsight, they should have seen it coming. In reality, Renjun was sitting criss-crossed on the sofa in his boxers when he turned on late night news and the breaking news banner flashed against his dark living room. Breaking news. A meteor. Breaking news. Impending doom.
“You redecorated,” Donghyuck says when Renjun comes back with a mug of tea and sets it down on the low wooden table.
Renjun settles into the armchair, two arm spans away from Donghyuck. “I did.”
Renjun nods and Donghyuck picks up the mug, but he doesn’t bring it to his mouth. Instead, he traces the rim, runs his fingers across the thin handle. Puts it back down, before picking it up again.
“Why are you here?” Renjun asks at last. It comes out more angry than he’d expected it to be, the words barbed and coated in a barely contained snarl, and it takes him aback.
Donghyuck, though, seems nonplussed. If anything, Renjun’s tone seemed to ease him, his shoulder deflating against the patchy sofa where he used to spend his afternoons playing video games, all those years back. (It’s ugly and old but Renjun didn’t want to bother moving it out. Why fix something that isn’t broken?)
“I didn’t know where else to go,” Donghyuck says and he’s not looking at Renjun. He’s looking at the TV, where a harried announcer in a grey suit points at a map of the country lit up in red, yellow, green. Evacuation bunkers, no-go zones. Why does it matter when the space rock is coming here anyways?
“You were on tour.” Renjun had bought tickets too, even though he’d thrown them away when they came in the mail.
Donghyuck snorts. “No one wants to be on tour when the world is ending, babe.”
Donghyuck was supposed to sleep in the living room. Instead, he ends up in Renjun’s bed, in one of Renjun’s shirts that was really one of Donghyuck’s shirts. Even if he’d redecorated the living room, gutted out the frames that held their pictures on the walls, he hadn’t gotten to the closet. There’s no point now, anyways.
“Are you asleep?”
Renjun rolls his eyes, even though he knows Donghyuck can’t see them in the dark. “No.” What he omits is, because you’re here. Just when he was getting used to the spaciousness of the bed.
Whatever words Donghyuck had intended to say, he swallows. He has always been a word-swallower and he always will be, that fucking coward. Donghyuck thinks actions speak louder than words. Donghyuck thinks kissing his best friend in ninth grade is a precursor to happily ever after. Donghyuck thinks sending a gift from abroad is enough to fill the vacancy of good morning and good night and have you eaten? Donghyuck thinks and he does and now his minty breath ghosts above Renjun’s mouth as the earth spins for another night.
The words that come out instead: “Is this okay?”
Donghyuck thinks and he does and Renjun lets him.
Who’s the coward here again?
“I wish I was more scared,” Donghyuck confesses later when they hit the road. The news had said the world is ending on Thursday, so they pack on Wednesday morning and head out to the coast. Three hours in and Donghyuck’s free hand finds its way to Renjun’s knee. Renjun makes no move to shake it away, even if he should.
“Of what?” The desert heat whips through the open windows of Donghyuck’s car and in time, Renjun will ask him to close the windows and turn on the A.C, fuck the gas. But Donghyuck is a stupid romantic, so Renjun indulges him, even if a speck of dirt gets into Renjun’s eye and he has to blink through tears past the winding hills of abandoned suburbia.
Donghyuck shrugs, makes a vague gesture. “This whole thing. Dying, the end, whatever. Or just feel something. I don’t think I’ve registered it yet.”
Renjun laughs. The sound ricochets off the interior leather of the car because they’ve turned off the radio (not that there would be anything other than static, but Renjun is glad he doesn’t have to hear one of Donghyuck’s songs).
“What, you’re not thrilled about seeing the pearly gates?”
The smile Donghyuck cracks is wry. “I don’t think I’d be invited in.”
Renjun purses his lips and stares out the window. They’ve broken past the suburbia now and have merged onto the highway, a long barren strip of dark cement and newly drawn lane lines. Above the bridges, the sun sits in the sky like a salted egg yolk at the center of a mooncake. Impossibly orange, red-tinged if he squints just right. When he cups his hand into a circle around his eye, it slots into the makeshift telescope like a lens cap.
“That makes two of us.”
In ninth grade, Donghyuck picked up smoking from his older cousin. So naturally, Renjun started smoking as well, inching through packs with Donghyuck behind the bleachers at lunch. He didn’t like it, per se, but he liked the way Donghyuck’s fingers wrapped around his as Donghyuck flicked open his lighter, the lick of the flame against his palm not so different from the way Donghyuck’s shoulder brushed against his.
When Donghyuck got picked up by his record label, he quit, cold turkey. “I like singing more than I like smoking,” Donghyuck said, eyeing the outline the pack made against the pocket of Renjun’s flannel. So naturally, Renjun had quit as well. Cold turkey.
“I didn’t know you started smoking again,” Donghyuck says. Ten minutes ago, they pulled into the empty parking lot of the state beach and now they sit on wooden guard-rails, side by side, watching the radiation waves crash against rocks that must have been there before the dinosaurs. The purpling tide comes and goes, creeps higher against the seaweed covered sand. Renjun’s fingers had itched and he’d reached into his back pocket for the pack, the lighter, the movement catching Donghyuck’s eye.
“Only sometimes,” Renjun says, exhaling the smoke into the air. “When I need it.”
They used to come here often, before Donghyuck’s face graced late night show pixels and there were hashtags attached to his name. Every other week or so, Renjun would unearth Donghyuck from his studio and force the keys of the pickup truck into his hands. You look like death. Let’s get out of here.
Here the horizon seems closer. Like if Renjun reaches out, he can touch the thin line that separates the orange pop sky from the peaks of the distant mountains. They used to sit here for hours, Renjun’s head on Donghyuck’s shoulder, Donghyuck’s arm around his waist. Inhale. Exhale.
“When’d you start again?”
They both know the answer to that one.
The world ends, unspectacularly, unimaginatively, on a Thursday. 8 P.M., Pacific Standard Time, when the sun has long set and the sky has turned into an inkwell. A perfect canvas for the shooting bits of space rock that trail across the open night before they crash against the crust of the earth and humanity observes its cosmic oblivion.
But two hours before then, Renjun meets a different kind of end. The one that can only be found in the curve of Donghyuck’s mouth, in the need to lay the boy he once kicked over in the sandbox down on the backseat of his car. The end that comes after the means, and the means being the scorching heat of Donghyuck’s touch, crooked fingers trailing down the milky scar on Renjun’s stomach from the time he jumped off Donghyuck’s skateboard. The car rocks and they collide into each other, star matter shrapnel lodging between their ribs, and this, Renjun knows, is how it was always going to end.
(Fifteen hours before the apocalypse, Renjun peels Donghyuck’s arm off his torso and tiptoes out of the bedroom. He puts water in the kettle and stands at the sink with an empty mug, staring out at the window.
Then he hears the footsteps, the rustling of sheets. Arms wrap around him and tug him into Donghyuck’s warmth. A celestial body like a boiler.
“I missed you.”
Behind the neighbor’s slanted roof, the sun has begun to reveal its face. A fresh gust of wind bowls through the street, knocking the patio table onto its side. Donghyuck drops his chin onto his shoulder and Renjun sets the cup on the counter, far away from the edge.
It’s a new old day.)