hyannis port, massachusetts—july 4th weekend
It’s not Mark’s first time in Cape Cod, but it still surprises him how blue it gets out here.
It's the same kind of kin that bleeds over everything in the early morning, when everything is still and has only begun to defrost from the cold of the previous night. The shades can vary depending on the lack of light—the seagulls a blur of stone overhead, the sea an inky storm, Johnny’s white dress shirt on his shoulders a special shade of hurt—but in the end they’re still some sort of blue, and Mark thinks he’d be a fool to try and paint them otherwise.
A gentle sea breeze whips by and Mark shudders, wrapping his arms tighter around his body. He knows he should have come out here with something warmer against the elements, but when he wiggles his bare toes against the scratchy material of the dock, he cannot help but think that this is just another one of those things in life that you simply cannot change.
The portside city will always be one color, and Mark will always be a little stupid when it comes to Johnny. The truth is that Mark would have wrapped that man all over himself and carried his sleeping body all the way to the sea with him if only it meant that they wouldn’t have to part after so recently having made up, but it so happened that Johnny was too heavy and Mark really needed some time by himself to think. And in the end, Mark had to compromise and settle for something else of Johnny’s instead—a shirt discarded in haste at the foot of their bed happened to be the nearest one.
It still smells so much of him and the scent is almost enough to have Mark turn around and run back into the estate where he can burrow himself in Johnny’s warm embrace. But instead he stands his ground and braces himself against the cold. He spots a tree in the distance and finds himself fixating on it, head tilting at the way the leaves seem to grow like bunny ears, splitting halfway up and then falling on opposite sides like a sickly vegetable.
“Don’t you think that tree looks like a leek, Jay?” he asks.
He heard the door of the main house open and close a couple of minutes ago, and Mark knew it was Jaehyun not because of the telltale crunch of his gentle feet against the sand, but because it’s five in the morning and no one else in that family would ever go out of their way to seek Mark out at the crack of dawn the way Jaehyun does after a night of fighting with Johnny.
Mark clutches the string of pearls around his neck, bringing them up to feel their smoothness against his lips. They’re the very same ones he fought with Johnny about last night, and Mark knows that Jaehyun would have probably come to see him much earlier had the argument not turned out the way it did—with Mark and Johnny’s screaming match turning into an impromptu make out session by the east wing bay windows, which then ended up with Johnny impatiently carrying him down the hall to their bedroom where he fucked Mark so hard that his soul flew out of his body and until now has not returned.
Come to think of it, Jaehyun probably did come to visit him last night—it’s what he likes to do whenever the dust settles, and how else would he have known to stay away until the morning? Though there had been tears in his eyes from the mind numbing pleasure, Mark swore he saw a flash of red in his periphery just as he was approaching his second orgasm. Johnny never did like shutting doors whenever they fucked, and for all he knows, the blur could have been Jaehyun dropping by with a bowl of fruit like he always does whenever Mark’s upset.
“Yes,” Jaehyun hums pensievely, walking closer until he’s right next to Mark. The heat of his body comes off in waves, making Mark more aware of the chill in his bones. “I think I heard the kitchen staff complaining about their missing leeks for the celebration tonight. It must have not crossed their mind to look out here.”
It’s supposed to make Mark laugh, because Jaehyun is the type of person who would ride a wave and intentionally slip so you didn’t have to feel embarrassed about capsizing your own boat. But instead of bringing him comfort like it usually does, all the quip does is make Mark want to shrivel up under his skin.
“No, really.” Mark chances him a sideways glance, but Jaehyun’s already looking at him. “I mean, look at it. It was doing so good, you know? Growing onwards and up. And then suddenly—” he cuts himself off, looking at the tree again. “I don’t know. It’s like it hesitated, and then gravity set in and now it’s half the whole it used to be moving forward.”
It’s in that moment that Jaehyun shuffles closer, shedding off his cardigan to place it upon Mark’s shoulders. Most people would color him silly for thinking so much about a forlorn tree, but this is Jaehyun—polite, charming, respectful Jaehyun who would interrogate the tree himself if he could so long as it meant soothing Mark’s early morning sensibilities.
“That’s awfully depressing,” Jaehyun says, after a while of contemplation. “I don’t really see it that way.”
Jaehyun shakes his head, “Not as simply as that, at least.”
A ruffle of indignation shoots up Mark’s spine, a reflex he developed soon after meeting Johnny from all the talking down and over that happens by accident. Johnny always apologizes after, but still it takes Mark a cold hard breath to remind himself that Jaehyun is not his stepbrother and that his words meant no offense.
“Okay then,” Mark says. “Humor me. How does the great Jung Jaehyun interpret the fate of my leek tree?”
Jaehyun looks at him for a moment in silence, as if to gauge how serious Mark is before stuffing his hands into the pockets of his linen pants. A flock of seagulls fly overhead in formation and Mark can’t help but think that together they look like a leek, too.
“Maybe hesitation is just the wrong word, but you make it sound like they had no say in the matter,” Jaehyun begins. “I’d like to see it more as an active choice. Say, have you ever read Robert Frost?”
Mark rolls his eyes; now Jaehyun’s really pushing it. He nods anyways.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both.” Jaehyun holds up two fingers against the leek tree in the distance. “It’s like a fork in the road, you see? And there’s a decision to be made here. No matter which road you take, there’s a version of yourself that you’ll be leaving behind.”
“Half of a whole. Like I said,” Mark mutters, mostly to himself. “I don’t see how it’s any different.”
“Yes, but consider this. How many decisions do you make in a single day, Mark?”
“Uhm.” It’s too early in the morning, and some part of Mark regrets having asked. “What?”
“If you keep splitting yourself at every fork in the road like you said, don’t you think you’d have run out of parts of yourself to half by this time?”
Mark fights the urge to smile, but it’s difficult when Jaehyun looks so pleased with himself—his left cheek dimpling deeper than the right the way it does whenever he wins so humbly at a game of chess. This one’s even less of an achievement: a conversation about metaphorical leeks, but still his eyes celebrate like he’s won a case, and Mark finally smiles to let Jaehyun have his win.
“All I’m saying is that there must be something to be gained in the roads we choose to take that makes us whole again after leaving something behind,” Jaehyun says, turning to Mark to share his victory with a smile of his own. “A choice doesn’t always have to mean an expense, Mark. Because if it did then there would be nothing left of us to stand here in the flesh. Nothing.”
The sky changes in increments overhead; bright, brighter, while a comfortable silence falls over them like a blanket in the early morning light. Mark doesn’t say anything more for now. He lets Jaehyun’s words stew in the salty sea air as he reminisces in his head the events that led him to this exact moment, how many forks in the road, how many decisions made, which ones were more important, and how different life would be for him if he had loved Jaehyun instead.
things history books won’t tell you
Actually, it was Jaehyun who met him first; in a little bar tucked between 5th Street and Broadway where Mark played normal jazz on Wednesdays and Sinatras on Fridays. The place was always packed even on weekday nights which was strange, because the bar never seemed to have enough ice, but even then the trickle of customers would be constant, and by the time it was Mark’s turn to take the stage at 10 PM, the plush velveteen chairs would be dense with jaded bodies—looking for tunes and a pretty face to unwind to before coming home to their sleeping wives.
Mark isn’t a nosy person by nature, but once in a while he wondered how those old-timers’s wives looked like—loved like?—for them to drop so many fivers into his tip box at the end of every night. He never considered himself attractive in any sense of the word—pale all over and knobby in a lot of other places due to his scarce diet of bar peanuts and triangle kimbap—but once, he got a crisp Benjamin after performing Fly Me To The Moon with a new haircut, and then it really made him think, because not once has he made rent on time ever since moving to New York, and then all of a sudden he’s got enough money for an advance, a proper meal, and then some more to spare.
“It’s crazy,” he told Yuta that night, after all the customers had stumbled out of the bar. He had a rag in his hand to help wipe the tables with, but all he could feel was its wetness beginning to prune the pads of his fingers. “I mean—I’d understand a twenty on a really good day, but what idiot drops a hundred dollars on a stranger?”
“The kind that thinks you’re pretty, Markie,” Yuta said as a matter of factly, eyes not even leaving the sticky stain he’d been mopping from the floor. “Lots of people like those ‘round here. I’d say not to get used to it, but the more I stare at your face the more I think you’ll make it in this city just fine.”
“I—what—?” Mark asked, trying not to burn up at the compliment he had secretly been hoping to hear. “What does that even mean?”
“You’ll see soon enough,” came Yuta’s answer, laughing at him the way he did behind the counter when he knew something the customer didn’t. “Just promise me one thing, alright? Don’t forget about me when you make it big. I don’t know how you’re gonna do it, Markie, but I know someday I’ll have a picture of you blown up and autographed next to my cognac that’ll just reel people in.”
There was a certainty in Yuta’s voice then that scared Mark more than he’d like to admit, so he just laughed and passed it off as his boss pulling at his leg like he always did. To no one’s surprise, Yuta didn’t really press either, but for the rest of the night as they closed up and headed for the ramen shop where Mark had promised to treat him for the hire, Yuta kept him close like a guarded flame—as if memorizing the way that Mark flickered before he burned up and Yuta inevitably had to let him go.
It didn’t take long before Mark figured out what Yuta had meant that night, though, since soon enoughs always had this annoying tendency of coming sooner than expected. He hadn’t even been working for Appendix A for more than five months—two since the ramen joint incident—when Jung Jaehyun strolled into the bar one night completely unprompted, shocking everyone and their mothers into paralysis in a three piece suit, his double dimpled smile, and the single unlit cigar that hung off his lips. Well—everyone but Mark of course, because he had been too busy warming up his throat backstage to actually see the spectacle unfold. Looking back, it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. Half a year in America hasn’t taught Mark a single thing about politics. He wouldn’t have known who Jung Jaehyun was even if he looked Mark in the eye.
And as it turns out, that’s what he did throughout Mark’s whole set according to Yuta’s top secret intel, which he had obtained by blatantly staring at the newcomer from his post behind the bar. Jung Jaehyun had apparently walked up to him to ask if a certain Mark Lee was performing that night, and at Yuta’s affirmative nod proceeded to order a single Coke with a wedge of lemon—”No Jack? You sure?”—before graciously retreating to the back seats in anticipation of the main event. He didn’t light his cigar either even though smoking indoors was a common thing to do in those days, inciting other patrons to hide their lighters too whether in shame or blind idolatry, which in turn gave Appendix A its first haze-free night since it opened.
Well-mannered, charming, and incredibly handsome. Even without Yuta’s gushing—which would come later, much much later into the night when the only thing they needed to do to clean up was stack chairs because for once no one had dared to spill anything—Mark would gather just as much from the way the man walked up to him with such finesse after his performance, introducing himself with a humility that made Mark feel more important than he actually was at that time.
“Jung Jaehyun,” he had said, smiling as if he weren’t extending his hand to some ordinary bar singer. “Or Jay, if that’s easier for you. You sounded lovely up there, I must say I’m a fan.”
“Uh, thank you. That’s so kind of you to say,” Mark said. He noticed how Jaehyun’s hands held him a second longer than usual, but at the time Mark had yet to figure out whether or not he liked it. “I can’t say I’ve seen you around here before. Are you new in town?”
That question would become a point of contention in the years to come; something to laugh and debate about over eggnogs when the family all got together at Cape Cod for Christmas. What should Jaehyun have said on that fateful night at the bar? At that point, Jaehyun had really just moved to New York to work as a lawyer after getting discharged from naval service, but he had spent a lot of his childhood years hopping around the boroughs after having attended so many private schools around the area.
Whenever it came up, Jaehyun would always argue that he didn’t lie; technically he was new in town, but teenage Sungchan in his sweater vest morality would be quick to rebut saying he didn’t really say the whole truth either, and that lawyers were a different breed, and that he’d rather give up his trust fund than to grow up as deceitful and conniving as him. It’s at this point that Johnny would laugh at the sheer absurdity of the conversation from across the room—so full bodied and strong in the way it reverberates against Mark as they press next to each other on the couch—saying, “Guys, does it really matter?” because the truth is that the Suhs owned one half of the city while the Jungs owned the other, and when their parents remarried the summer the tax laws were reformed they all inevitably became the Kings of New York. How do you suppose being new in town factors into something as huge as that? Damn right. It doesn’t.
It’s a good thing though, that they never thought to ask Mark about his opinion of that night at the bar—although on many occasions Jaehyun’s gaze would meet his over their cups of warm custard for a split second as if to ask him, “What did you think?” before deciding at the last minute not to. Mark would never say this to anyone—not even Johnny, though he’s sure it would have boosted his ego very much—but if he were being honest, he doesn’t quite remember that night as clearly as Jaehyun did. Mark knew he had met him at some point and that they’d made small talk, but all the little bits and pieces escaped him the same way dreams disappear shortly after having woken up. Which is not to say that Jaehyun was in any way or form a bad conversationalist—don’t even the most interesting dreams suffer the same fate at the end of the night? It’s just that Mark wasn’t quite paying attention to anything in those days. In fact, he didn’t quite care about anything at all.
a face made remarkable by a smile
All of that changed, though, on a hot June evening, sometime after Mark passed his half year anniversary working at Appendix A. Jaehyun had been coming to the bar every Friday for about a month at that point—ordering his lemon Cokes and indirectly saving everyone from lung cancer once a week—when all of a sudden he shows up with another person in tow for the first time in his patronage. Mark hadn’t been backstage that night for some reason, so he saw with his very own eyes the way the crowd got muted into a vacuum the same way he thought Yuta had overhyped that first night, except it turns out that there was no exaggeration at all.
It was the tallness of the man that caught Mark’s attention first; not the clothes, not the chains, not the longish slicked back hair that Mark would eventually learn to tangle his fingers into after an amazing night of hate fucking. Johnny Suh—as Mark would come to learn, was half a head taller than his brother, who already towered over the average New Yorker that Mark passed by on the streets, but as if that wasn’t enough, his stance and the sure set of his shoulders boosted him a couple more inches, making him look like a god among men.
He might as well have been, Mark thought, seeing as he was an upper house senator of the state of New York, and a damn good one too if Yuta’s stories were anything to go by. He shared with Jaehyun this quiet air of sophistication that could have only come from high society upbringing, but underneath all the poise was something different; a thrum of something exciting, magnetic, a violent calamity of color hiding under the ash colored three piece that looked tailored specifically to his body.
One look at him had Mark’s entire world turning on its axis, knocking the wind out of his lungs and ringing church bells in his ears. This is it, he thought, I’m done for. Mark hadn’t even found Johnny all that attractive at first—with his hooded eyes and severe cupid’s bow lips that made him look interesting at best. But it was at that exact moment that Johnny met his eyes from across the room and smiled, and then Mark saw the way he looked in the mornings when he had just woken up, the way he looked when Mark takes him in his arms after a hard day, the way he’d look when Mark tells him for the first time that he loves him.
Just like that, it was game over. And for the amount of time that Johnny will eventually spend smiling by his side in the years to come, Mark would scarcely understand how he could have once thought Johnny anything less than the most beautiful man he has ever seen.
But that part came later. All Mark knew at that moment was the electrifying feeling of Johnny’s hands against his as he took them in an exchange of names—a revelation in and of itself.
“Johnny Suh,” he said, smiling so wide that whiskers started to appear in his cheeks. His palms were calloused and rough, and Mark couldn’t stop himself from trembling at the thought of how they would feel blazing across his skin. “Pleasure to meet you.”
“Mark Lee,” was all he could say, because it was all he had; his name, and he knew right then and there that he would gamble it all away. He nodded once, betting his entire stack on a single hand, and then he said it again like it was the last time he’d hear it. "Mark Lee."
That night, Mark sang New York, New York in a way he had never sung before—like he knew the city, like he lived it, like he believed that a part of it could one day be his. Up until that moment, Mark had resigned himself to thinking that he would be an alien in this strange land forever, but it turns out that he got it all wrong. New York was not a place. It was a person, and he was right there; sitting in front of him underneath all the bright lights, looking up at Mark like he was a promise sworn on a star spangled banner.
And if I can make it there
I'll make it practically anywhere
It's up to you
New York, New York
Everyone in that room pretended not to notice how Mark had sung directly to Johnny then instead of the audience; or maybe they did and they didn't really mind. All Mark knew was that years from now, when the presidential elections finally come around and Johnny’s team starts reaching out to this part of town, it wouldn’t be difficult to flip the votes in his favor. Not because Johnny was good at his job or because he was homegrown—both of which he was anyway, but because the people here will see his face on a flyer one day and only remember Love.
The first time Johnny kissed Mark had been the moment he climbed down the stage, his left foot not even having left the bottom step before Johnny had hauled him up by the waist and swung him around in a fit of joyous laughter. The crowd behind them cheered and Appendix A had never been so bright—Yuta even wolf whistling from behind the bar to share the crowd’s celebration.
Johnny didn’t let go of his hand once after that, letting himself be dragged everywhere Mark went even as he clocked out, got his things, and bid Yuta goodbye. Normally, Mark and Yuta would walk and take the subway together after closing, but the moment Mark’s fingers ever so much as touched the knob of the supply closet—his other hand still clutched in Johnny’s, Yuta shrieked from where he was wiping highball glasses behind the counter and asked Mark—as politely as his Coney Island mouth could manage—to get the fuck out of his bar.
“No, no no,” Yuta said, shaking his head. He leaned over the counter as if to beckon Mark to come closer, to which Mark did. “Not this one, Markie. You don’t get to win against me on this one. Listen—go, okay? Have fun for me tonight. I can close up here by myself just fine.”
Mark bit his lip. “Are you sure?”
At that moment, Yuta’s eyes softened, his playful grin toning down into a bittersweet smile. He looked like he wanted to say something more, like those King of the Hill monologues he always had prepared whenever he and Mark took a left from the ramen shop down to the station, but he didn’t do any of that and just nodded. Perhaps he thought he had more time.
“Positive.” Yuta smiled, eyes shining. “Now get your ass out of here! Your back won’t blow itself out, you know?”
“Bye, Yuta.” Mark said. His face was burning, but he was so happy. “I’ll see you next week.”
“Goodbye, baby. I told you you’d make it just fine.”
And that’s how Johnny ended up taking him home—not to the one bedroom shit hole Mark called his apartment in West Village, but to wherever Johnny happened to be in the space time continuum. For a while it meant being in the backseat of a fancy limousine, where Johnny took in the sight of him for but a moment before leaning in for a searing kiss—their second, Mark was keeping count—and then another and another, each one longer and deeper than the last.
They couldn’t keep their hands off each other. It was embarrassing. Mark was thankful for the partition rolled up conveniently between them and the driver’s seat because halfway through the journey, he discovered a new range of sounds he didn’t know he was capable of making until Johnny’s hands traveled down to squeeze him by the thigh. They fogged up the windows and that embarrassed him as well, but people always said it took two to tango—Mark knew Johnny was enjoying himself, too.
To want and to be wanted back is an exhilarating feeling, and Mark rode that high as they rolled into the gated compound, up the elevators to Johnny’s suite, and right until he was propped down the silken sheets so gently that Mark felt his very life source begin to melt away. Staring up at him from that angle, Johnny looked like a holy apparition with the glow of the chandelier casting a halo over his gorgeous head. An omen of things to come. The next ten years of his life in full technicolor beauty.
Jesus, Mark has never been so sure of anything in his life. Unlike when he had moved from Montreal to New York, unlike when he chose his majors and subsequently dropped out, unlike when the youth pastor in his hometown had asked him how his faith was holding up. For once, Mark knew where he was going—he could see his trajectory as clear as day. X marked a place called happy, and heaven was knowing he was on the way.
hyannis port, massachusetts—july 4th weekend
It’s a most terrible thing to be remembering now, of all times, the look on Jaehyun’s face the following morning when Mark stumbled jelly-legged out of Johnny’s room and into the veranda where the siblings have convened for breakfast. Jaehyun was sat across Johnny and it was the first time Mark has seen any of them in the light of the sun—having only witnessed them in the muddy dimness of the bar—that there was no way the memory could not have stuck to him like second skin, even if Jaehyun hadn’t accidentally smashed the shell of his soft boiled egg to bits when he looked up and saw Mark standing idly by the sliding glass panes.
At that moment, Jaehyun looked as crushed and as broken as his decimated breakfast, and so rarely does anything less than polite ever manages to slip past Jaehyun’s facade that for a second Mark felt like retreating back into the sheets in apology; that is, before Johnny looked over his shoulder and smiled, asking him how he slept, stretching an arm out to pull Mark onto his lap where he would stay for the remainder of the meal.
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, perhaps a sick joke—would this be a point of contention someday, too? But Mark then had been as scarcely dressed as he is now, and he realizes he isn’t remembering the memory but instead, experiencing all over again the exquisite way Jaehyun’s face falls into something so beautiful yet so pained, like the serenity of silence before someone shouts and shatters it into a million different pieces. Except now, Jaehyun has no egg to break open into tiny little fractals, only something else more fragile that Mark wishes wouldn’t beat to the sound of his bastard drum.
Mark is not blind. He knows the flame that Jaehyun carries for him, the one he lugs around the vast portside compound just to keep Mark warm. It’s an awfully heavy thing—Mark knows, so much so that sometimes it crosses his mind to share the burden with him even for just a second; a small smile, a shared joke, and on intensely precarious moments like these, the serious consideration of a life together should Mark decide to switch lanes now.
How different would it be, truly? Mark imagines he’d have it easier; no more long lonely nights, no more wondering what was keeping Johnny up or who, no more second guessing his life choices every time a simple dinner conversation turns into another heated argument. Mark has no doubt that Jaehyun would give him everything—dogs and diamonds and the stars, if only he asks. And what a charmed life it would be, except the ache inside his chest tells him he wouldn’t be half as happy as he is now—however happy that may be—even if he has to share Johnny with the country, with the world, with all the other pretty little nothings he meets on his many Asian tours.
But that last part, Mark doesn’t like thinking about. All he wants to think about is how Johnny comes back to him at the end of every month—washed clean of all incriminating scents because he owes Mark that much, not to bring another man’s perfume into their bed—clutching a new string of pearls in replacement for all the tears Mark has managed to shed while he was away. He’d fuck Mark real good, telling him how much he missed him as he preps him with two fingers, whispering in his ear how it’s Mark’s name he groans under his breath every single night they spend apart.
And then suddenly, when Johnny finally pushes into him after so long, it would scarcely matter to Mark who Johnny fucks in the time that he’s away, and how, and how much. Because it’s him who Johnny comes home to at the end of the day, and in those golden moments Mark would love him—and he will continue to love him in the years to come, bigger and brighter than he could ever imagine possible.
Jaehyun’s voice is soft, but the sea breeze carries it with a momentum so great that it bludgeons Mark from the left, filling and parching his mouth with the impossible taste of salt. He reaches out for Mark’s hand as gingerly as when they first met, and right away Mark feels his train tracks switching, gearing, swerving him back to his current reality.
“Can I ask you something?”
Mark swallows and nods. He is in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In the Suh-Jung family compound at Hyannis Port—four hours away from New York on wheels, an hour and a half by private plane. It’s his first Fourth of July with Johnny’s family, and it won’t be the last. Right now everything is blue, but later it will be red, white, and all the great colors of independence. Today, he is Mark Lee, tomorrow—
“Will you marry me?”
“Don’t—” God’s anger crashes a huge wave crashes against the sea wall and Mark heaves, his chest tightening impossibly so. The silence just now had been so perfect, the best terms the both of them could ever get in this lifetime. Why must Jaehyun open his mouth and break it? “God. Don’t do that, Jay. Just don’t.”
“I don’t have a ring right now,” Jaehyun says, more desperate than a man his stature should be. “But I need to ask, Mark, or else I’ll never forgive myself.”
Mark looks at Jaehyun now and aches. Had he been wrong this entire time? Had Jaehyun not been there last night when Mark screamed at Johnny for coming home empty handed, enveloped instead in the rich, heady velvet scents of a bar Mark once knew? Had he not heard him demand from Johnny an explanation for his pearls—the lack thereof, before Johnny called him his silly little debutante and backed him up the wall because according to him, Mark looked the most beautiful when he was mad with anger? Perhaps he didn’t hear any of those, perhaps they had been loud but not at all clear. Perhaps he was too busy cutting up watermelons in the kitchen so he had something to eat for when he inevitably watches Mark get railed so hard he actually starts speaking a language he thought he’d completely outgrown.
Now this—Mark knows very well. Because while Jaehyun is a master of keeping up airs, the harsh truth is that each and every person in that god damned family is depraved in one way or another. Johnny enjoys being watched when he knows it's all they can do and Jaehyun likes watching. And maybe this is how Mark knows he’s marrying into the right family, because he has no problems indulging both fantasies every single time.
“Je suis à toi,” Mark kept saying last night in a delirious whisper, over and over again until Johnny laughed and told him how beautiful he sounded saying the truth. At that, Johnny snapped his hips harder and then Mark cried some more, arching his back obscenely for both the pleasure and the shadow he knew was hiding behind the cracks of the door.
Jaehyun never comes around for the beginning but he always stays until the end. That’s why Mark knows that even though he couldn't see him, there’s no way Jaehyun wasn’t aware of the comedown; the labored breathing and his small whines from oversensitivity, and the way Johnny peppered tiny kisses all over Mark’s face afterwards. The way Johnny brought up the pearls again, bewildering Mark by apologizing for it, and then slipping out of the sheets as naked as the day he was born to get down on one knee, asking Mark for his hand in marriage with the most extravagant ring Mark has ever seen.
It was so ugly. Mark loved it. The ring had two bands that overlapped in a bypass of classic jewels, landmarked in diagonals by a deep sea emerald on one side and a hunking diamond on the other. It was a sight Mark could have only imagined in his dreams, cut up from those bridal catalogues he and Yuta used to pore over at Appendix A during break time when a patron happens to leave them from the night before.
Johnny slipped it on his left ring finger and Mark sobbed, big fat tears streaking down his face because it had fit him perfectly in the way nothing else has ever fit him before in his life. Everything Mark has ever owned belonged to someone else first before it was his—hand me downs from his brother or scavenged from the bottom of thrift piles in Essex Street. But not this one, no. This one would be his and his alone, a little part of Johnny he can keep, a testament of his love in stone and eventually on paper even if Johnny is in no way or form ever truly Mark’s to enjoy.
All of this, Jaehyun knew. All of this, Jaehyun saw. And yet he stands here on this dock asking Mark for his other hand in marriage anyway as if a person could split themselves in half so that one could go left the same time the other goes right. But Mark isn’t a tree. Wasn’t Jaehyun the one who said it first? There will always be a version of himself that he has to leave behind at every fork in the road. It just so happened that this is Mark’s very own diversion in the yellow wood, and Johnny is his road less travelled by.
“Jaehyun, please.” The sun is beginning to beat down on them, and Jaehyun’s everything on Mark—his jumper, his hand, his fairytale wishes, they’re all becoming a little too much. “Don’t be selfish.”
Jaehyun winces at that, making a sound at the back of his throat that sounded so guilty there was no way he didn’t see this coming. He knew it from the start. Everyone did, really. And yet—
“I’ll wait forever,” Jaehyun says, and the wind carries his defeated whispers so that they’re damp with ocean tears. “I’m going to love you forever. You know that, right?”
“I know,” Mark replies, because he does. God, does he know that. “I wish you wouldn’t.”
There simply isn’t any space for another man in the tight chambers of Mark’s heart for now, not when Johnny alone could hardly fit—his largeness bruising him from the inside and staining him in ways that Mark thinks he could never be clean again. Johnny Suh is a man so great he struggles to contain himself, so much so that Mark manages to become whole even in his excesses.
But the truth is that between the three of them, it’s Mark who’s selfish. He's the one who's always going to want for more.
“Ask me again in ten years,” Mark says, looking out at the horizon.
The cold, dead hand in Mark’s suddenly tightens in his grasp, and just like that Mark feels Jaehyun lurch back into life—holding onto Mark’s words like they were the only thing to get him through the next phase of his life.
“Ten years,” Jaehyun breathes out, and Mark nods silently. “Yeah, yes. Of course. However long you need, Mark.”
But that’s just it. Time is a fickle thing. In the end, ten years wouldn’t be enough. Not twenty, not thirty, not even a hundred. Not when you don’t get to make the decision to leave someone yourself, not when the love of your life gets ripped from your grasp without you even having the chance to say goodbye.
Ten years from now, give or take a couple more months, Mark would be holding his husband’s beautiful bleeding head on his lap, whispering, “John, can you hear me? I love you, John. I love you,” while the flags of the United States flapped around them in the wind, the car slick black, top down, just like Johnny had wanted.
No one knows this yet, but the years between now and then would be Mark’s happiest years, his most beautiful days, his most precious of hours. After all the hurt and the fanfare and the therapy, he’ll eventually look back at all his memories and learn in reverse how to count each minute so that the seconds stick to the back of his teeth, ready to be retrieved for when the nights are achingly long and the days are incredibly dark.
But that progress will take a long, long time. And in the middle of that, Jaehyun—polite, charming, respectful Jaehyun would not even dream of asking Mark that question ever again, even if it’s been a decade, or two, or a century. Because deep inside he knows that even if his brother had lived long and had not ended up in a coffin that paraded in a procession so grand, Mark would still be holding Johnny’s hand.
Mark would still be holding Johnny’s hand.