Sadly, Sunday was Jihoon’s last day in Surrey. He woke up at half five for some reason and gave himself an hour to enjoy the comfort of the king sized bed, spread out like a star fish and then nestled cosily beneath the sheets, hugging the duvet to his chest.
Finally Jihoon got up, overcoming the strange anxiety he had over being the only one awake in this massive house that wasn’t his. He found himself in the library and scanning the titles on the shelves. There were far too many for Seungcheol to have actually read, but some had fallen over as though the one they were leaning on had been taken out.
To his surprise, most of the books were actually aimed at teenagers. There were the “modern classics”, as Jihoon called them, such as The Hunger Games and the Divergent series. Then there were multiple titles by authors like John Green and Michael Morpurgo, Wonder, The Mysterious Benedict Society, and various others that made it seem like more of a school library than a celebrity’s. Jihoon was a slut for The Mysterious Benedict Society though so he picked it up and started reading it. He only meant to go through the first page but he stood for a while as he got through the first two chapters, then he settled on the nearest sofa.
“Comfortable, are we?”
Jihoon jumped. He looked up with the same expression as a deer in headlights. Seungcheol was leaning on the doorframe, still in a white tee and plaid pyjama bottoms.
“No, it’s fine. I don’t mind. Sorry, I shouldn’t have said it like that. What are you reading?”
Jihoon held the title up for Seungcheol to see. He nodded his approval.
“Sorry that it’s all kids books,” he said.
“They’re good books, to be fair.”
Seungcheol nodded. He rubbed the back of his neck. “I can’t… I really struggle with adult books. I liked reading as a kid but then I got too busy after about thirteen, so my reading level got stuck there. I can manage scripts, they don’t tend to be complex, but then with entire adult books...”
“I get you,” Jihoon reassured him, “it’s okay. They’re still good books. I loved this one when I first read it. I bought it again a while ago and finished it in a day.”
“Yeah, that’s a favourite,” Seungcheol came over to sit next to him. His ears were red and he fiddled with his hands. Bravely, Jihoon rubbed his arm.
“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” he told him.
“Yeah. I don’t know, Mingyu gives me shit for it.”
“Oh, fuck Mingyu. He’s a pretentious twat. Old money, right?”
Seungcheol couldn’t help but chuckle. “Yeah, he is. I shouldn’t gossip but he and Wonwoo haven’t really been getting along lately. They keep arguing. I was here for a day until I got a text from Wonwoo asking if he could stay at my place whilst it’s empty to get away from Mingyu.”
“Oh, that sounds bad.”
“It is. I was up texting him last night. Wonwoo, not Mingyu. You’re not meant to take sides in these things but I’m taking Wonwoo’s side.”
“Can I ask why they’re arguing all of a sudden?”
Seungcheol sighed. “I think Wonwoo’s just growing sick of him. Both bored in the relationship and also because Mingyu’s really two faced. He treats Wonwoo like a prince and he’s nice to me, but then he looks down on everyone who’s even slightly less rich or famous. Like he sees everything as a hierarchy. It’s partially why I don’t see Chan often anymore - Mingyu likes to swing by and he targets Chan almost as badly as he targets you.”
“So Chan used to visit a lot?”
“All the time. He’s coming over tomorrow actually - he’s staying for the week and Seokmin’s joining on Wednesday.” Seungcheol suddenly turned to Jihoon then. “Do you want to stay tonight? Then you can meet Chan at last and I can ensure that you do ring the doctor and I can help if you struggle… sorry, am I being weird?”
Jihoon chuckled fondly. “I don’t know. I-it would be nice to stay an extra day. If you really don’t mind.”
“Of course I don’t. I really like your company, Hoon. You’re one of the only people I don’t feel pressured with.”
Jihoon smiled. “Really?”
“Yeah. You’ve pretty much seen the worst of me already so I don’t have a lot to lose.”
The boy was bright red. He fiddled with the page of the book as he tried to gather some words.
“I always feel better when I’m with you,” he said softly, “like… I feel more assured when you’re around. Which is weird, really, because going to see you used to really stress me out and I do always worry about whether I look too scruffy when I’m with you and that I’m not on your level, but then I’m actually with you and we’re talking all of those worries go away and I feel okay. And also… you’re the only person who’s ever been able to help with my panic attacks.”
“Really? I just googled it.”
Jihoon smiled again. “Then thank you for googling it. I-I really appreciate what you do for me.”
“I just care about you.”
“And I appreciate it.”
A comfortable silence fell between them. Eventually Jihoon turned back to his book whilst Seungcheol read over his shoulder.
“They’ve turned this book into a Disney+ series,” he said eventually, “but I’m too afraid to watch it because I don’t want it to ruin the images I have in my head.
“I don’t even have Disney+.”
“You can have my login. I’ll text it to you.”
He did it right away. Jihoon glanced at the notification and smiled at Seungcheol’s password: CheolChanSeok2000. It was the start year of Three & Us and of course, the cast.
Jihoon downloaded the app and logged in whilst he remembered. Seungcheol told him to make his own profile in addition to the four already there: him, Chan, Seokmin and fucking Vernon. Seungcheol’s picture was Sully from Monster’s Inc which made the boy laugh, Chan’s was Forky from Toy Story and Seokmin’s was Doug from Up. Jihoon opted for Baby Yoda.
“Oh, a Star Wars fan?” Seungcheol asked.
“No, I just think Baby Yoda suits me.”
There was also someone called Vernon on the account with the profile picture of Stitch. Jihoon asked who it was and it turns out he was just someone Seungcheol worked with once. Jihoon moved on.
Jihoon checked out the adaptation of the book and frowned. The characters had been portrayed terribly, in his opinion. He complained about it and Seungcheol agreed.
“We could watch it together later,” he suggested anyway.
“I’d like that.”
Seungcheol smiled. A moment passed until they spoke again.
“Do you want to go out for lunch today? Rather than stay cooped up here all weekend. I googled some cafés and there’s plenty of Jihoon-friendly ones to choose from.”
“You can choose one. I’m indifferent.”
“I always choose. It’s your turn.”
Eventually Jihoon did choose and a few hours later (it was early when they discussed it) they were in Seungcheol’s car driving into town. It was thirty minutes - Seungcheol lived very out of the way. He didn’t even have neighbours.
It was a lovely café in a quiet town. They sat in a corner outside to avoid any attention and luckily the waitress didn’t recognise the star. Seungcheol ordered a bacon salad whilst Jihoon just panicked and asked for “the same as him”.
“I haven’t been out like this in years,” he said quietly, tugging his ear.
“Why’d you stop?”
“Uh… my boyfriend broke up with me. I haven’t had a reason to go out for lunch since.”
“Not with Soonyoung?”
“He prefers takeaway.”
Seungcheol hummed. “What was your last relationship like?”
“It was nice while it lasted,” Jihoon shrugged, “but I spent the entire thing worrying about how I came across. Then I was absolutely crushed when he broke up with me, got over it within six months and now I think we were a terrible match. What about you?”
“My last relationship? Uh… I don’t know. I didn’t really like her but she liked me and she was really sweet. I think I only ever liked her as a friend and I mixed it up.”
“How long ago was this?”
“A year ago now? We broke up last year in March. I’ve had, uh… plenty of one night stands since. One was a man actually.” He lowered his tone at that part. “But I stopped all that a few months ago. Got bored. Sex is boring. Surely everyone’s exaggerating it.”
“They have to be. It’s shit. I asked Wonwoo and he was all like ‘no it’s great, I love it’ but I just don’t get it.”
“Me neither,” Jihoon said, nerves suddenly growing, “but that’s because I’m asexual.”
“You’re what now?”
“Asexual. I don’t experience sexual attraction.”
“That’s a thing?”
Jihoon nodded. During that short window of silence as Seungcheol stared confused at the table, the waitress brought their food over. They both thanked her.
“But you’re still gay?” Seungcheol asked.
“Well, yeah. You have the romance and then the sexual stuff. I only get the romance.”
Seungcheol now looked deep in thought as he slowly dug into his food.
“I think I’ll save that thought for later,” he said. Jihoon chuckled.
“Take your time, it’s okay.”
Silence fell as the two ate. The food was good, and thankfully not too expensive. It was quite humble for Seungcheol.
“You’re cute,” Seungcheol said suddenly. Jihoon looked up with an almost fearful look.
Seungcheol wore a pretty smile that made the boy feel nervous. He thought he was cute. And he was looking at him like that. Jihoon’s head began to spin ever so slightly.
“Th-thank you. So are you.”
Seungcheol beamed and Jihoon’s heart fluttered.
“You look like you’re about to pass out,” he said softly and Jihoon managed to laugh. Seungcheol rubbed his arm comfortingly, but he was chuckling too.
“You just caught me off guard, that’s all.”
“Aren’t you used to compliments?”
“Not really. You must be, though. You don’t need me to tell you you’re pretty.”
Seungcheol shrugged. “A comment from you feels more real than teenage girls screaming at my “duality” or something. Like yeah, sometimes I’m frowning and sometimes I’m smiling, what do they expect?”
“You’re literally an actor.”
“Exactly!” He laughed. The feeling of making Seungcheol laugh was like no other and Jihoon decided that he wanted to live on it. He practically melted before him.
They chatted comfortably as they ate and then went on a walk around town. The pair stuck close to each other, their hands brushing, occasionally nudging the other with a playful grin. A part of Jihoon wanted to hold his hand but the idea of it almost made his heart explode, so he decided against it.
The town was pretty. It was quite old, shown by Tudor style buildings of black wood and white paint. Ivy crawled up most brick buildings and nature calmly took over front gardens too, so that it looked more aesthetic than messy. They only passed a few people and none of them took any notice of the pair.
“Do you come here a lot?” Jihoon asked. Seungcheol shrugged.
“Sometimes with the boys. I only come here with close company, really.”
“And no one bothers you?”
“Only the odd person. They mostly leave me alone which is lovely. I think they all know me by now so they don’t make any fuss. Plus there’s a lot of old people who have absolutely no idea who I am and I love it. Sometimes I’ll nip into the post office to send something and the old lady there gives me boiled sweets and calls me a “sweet young lad”. I love her.”
They kept walking for a while. The town fizzled into a cute village, characterised by small schools and pretty fields filling spaces. There was one field quite hidden by trees but when Jihoon peered through the wooden gate, he noticed it was actually a playground with swings, a large slide, a climbing frame and a roundabout. Surprisingly, it was quiet.
“It’s a hot day, where are the kids?” Jihoon asked.
“The beach probably.”
“Did you ever have the time as a kid to go to playgrounds?”
Jihoon raised an eyebrow. In return, Seungcheol rolled his eyes but he was smiling anyway. He opened the gate.
“Welcome to childhood,” the boy said as they wandered in, “where first?”
Seungcheol went for the climbing frame. It was bright red and formed a dome that was a little taller than even him. He mumbled something about how little kids were allowed to climb so high. He put a foot on the first rung and scrambled up to the top. Jihoon was afraid of heights but he followed anyway.
“The swings were always my favourite,” he said, “but I was always scared that I’d swing over the top. I’d get too high and scream.”
“Did you ever fall?”
“No, but I jumped off of a climbing frame from the top once and broke my arm. I cried my eyes out and the other kids laughed at me. But of course I cried - my arm was literally bent and it really hurt. I’ve been scared of heights ever since.”
Seungcheol put an arm around him with a soft chuckle. “Sorry, is this bringing back bad memories?”
“It’s okay,” the boy laughed, “it’s been a while.”
“How do you get down, actually?”
Jihoon shrugged. “That’s why I jumped.”
Seungcheol looked around. Of course the solution was to turn around and just climb down, but he wasn’t sure how to go about turning around - he had no experience.
“Well, we’re bigger now,” he concluded before standing himself up a little, edging himself down to a less spherical point, and jumping. He landed smoothly on the ground.
“Eight year old me could never,” Jihoon called.
“How about twenty-four year old you?”
The boy didn’t reply. He was calculating. He really didn’t want to try and turn around from up here. Sure, they were only about six feet off the ground, but it was still nerve wracking for him.
Jihoon edged himself down a few rungs like Seungcheol did. From there, he stared at the ground and gulped.
“Three,” he mumbled, “two, one…”
The boy leaped forwards. He didn’t land as well as Seungcheol did (he fell on his knees), but his limbs were all intact and nothing was even grazed. Seungcheol lent him his hand to pull him up.
“You did it!” He exclaimed. It took a second for him to let go of his hand. “You’re not hurt, right? Shit, your leg’s bleeding.”
Jihoon looked down. It was just the knee he had cut when he fell off his bike several days ago.
“Oh, that was just a scab. It’s okay.”
“So you’re good?”
Seungcheol chose the swings next. There were four in total, so he just went for the closest ones with the blue frame. Jihoon followed happily.
He felt safe in Seungcheol’s company now. There was something so warm about him, something that allowed him to relax. Maybe it was how keen he was to help with his anxiety or maybe it was how vulnerable Seungcheol had been with him once or twice before, or vice versa. Either way, here with him in Surrey, Jihoon felt like weight had been taken from his shoulders.
“There’s this one film of yours,” Jihoon said as he sat down, “and I don’t remember anything about it except for this one scene on some park swings. I don’t know when it came out, what the plot was, not even a single word in the title, and to be honest I’m not a film person so I didn’t even like the movie as a whole. But I remember this one scene of you and this girl and I’m sure that I only remember it because you looked so good in this red and white outfit: white jeans and a red button up tucked in, and your hair was longer and curly. You looked so cool and you weren’t even trying. You were everything that I wanted to be - I wanted to be you so badly.
“In my early teens I developed this need to be liked by everybody that then eventually turned into anxiety after I realised that that was impossible and retreated to my room. Then in my first year at university, there were five of us in this flat, right, and three of them - two girls and this really cute boy - watched so many of your films. They always talked about how hot you were and how much they loved you whilst at this point, I barely even had Soonyoung. I probably would have been better if they weren’t racist and kept saying I looked like you. I looked at you with so much jealousy, like you had everything I ever wanted. I thought you had it so easy and now I see that you’ve never had it easy at all and that’s really strange to me. You’re a really good actor, Cheol.”
Seungcheol was swaying gently back and forth, listening intently whilst keeping his eyes on the ground. He looked at Jihoon then.
“We’re very different, aren’t we?” He said. Jihoon agreed.
“I think that’s partially why I like you. I just… think you’re interesting. Not in the “ooh, he’s rich and famous” way. Call me an English major, but you seem complex to me.”
“You would say that, you write biographies for a living.”
“I’ve only ever done one, actually. Usually I write fiction. And the autobiography I did was someone old and boring.”
“Mine’s boring too.”
“That’s why we need anecdotes,” Jihoon teased, beginning to rock himself back and forth. Seungcheol did the same.
They swung for a while, trying to see who would get the highest. It was Seungcheol, of course - Jihoon scared himself.
“We should go,” the actor said as they slowed down. He glanced over to a bush but Jihoon couldn’t catch what he was staring at, so he assumed it was a squirrel or something.
“Bit hot, isn’t it?” He said cheerfully.
“Are you feeling okay?” Seungcheol checked, eyes wide with concern.
“Fine,” the boy shrugged, standing up.
Seungcheol put an arm around him as they walked now. Jihoon liked to think that he was using worry as an excuse to get close but of course his self esteem wouldn’t let him believe it, so he shrugged the thought off.
They stayed intertwined nearly all the way back to the car, only letting go because it was getting too hot. Once they were home they dipped their legs into the pool and then Seungcheol served some ice cream, suddenly very worried that Jihoon would overheat.
“Have you told Soonyoung that you’re staying an extra night?” Asked Seungcheol. He had already updated Chan of the new plans.
“No. I think he’ll be annoyed.”
“Then maybe don’t tell him. Be reckless or whatever.”
“Then he’ll be really annoyed. Either way I think I’ll have a panic attack.”
“I can do it if you want,” offered Seungcheol with a mouthful of strawberry ice cream, “through your phone.”
Jihoon shrugged and handed his phone over. “You know my mannerisms well enough?”
Seungcheol ended up with a simple “hey, staying an extra night now” which sort of embarrassed Jihoon. Was it really that easy?
“Not enough typos,” he critiqued jokingly.
“Okay, hang on.”
He switched some letters around so that instead of “now” it said “nwo” and Jihoon gave him his approval with a laugh. Then it was sent and the boy tried to focus entirely on his cold treat and the water on his legs.
“How’s your little acting break going?” He asked.
“Well, I’ve not had a drink for a week since I’ve been here,” Seungcheol said, “so I’d say I’m doing better.”
“Do you drink everyday? Or did?”
“Pretty much. It wasn’t an addiction - I was just always trying to feel something. Usually I feel quite indifferent with everything, you know?”
“And how are you now?”
“I’m happy. Thanks for making my weekend good.”
“Any time,” Jihoon smiled.
They watched the series on Disney+ that they had mentioned earlier. It was tolerable to Jihoon but then he didn’t like watching many things, so his bias wasn’t the best to rely on. Seungcheol couldn’t even make his mind up. Too many little things went against what the book said but as a whole, it was alright.
The day finished beneath the stars because it was a clear night and Jihoon was a Londoner, so the stars were a luxury. He flopped on the back garden’s grass and stared up at them with awe and wonder.
“I went through this rocky phase where the only time it felt like I could breathe was by stargazing,” Seungcheol said quietly, “I tried to kill myself around then.”
Jihoon turned to face him so fast that he almost pulled a muscle in his neck. “Jesus Christ, Cheol–”
“Don’t make a fuss. I don’t want a fuss.”
“So why did you tell me?”
“I don’t know,” Seungcheol mumbled, “only Chan knows so I guess I just… wanted someone else to know.”
“How’d you do it? If you don’t mind me asking?”
“A shit ton of ecstasy. Mingyu left some behind and I just… went for it. It wasn’t planned, I just suddenly thought about my life and decided I couldn’t do it anymore and swallowed a load of tablets. But nobody had heard from me for a few weeks so Chan was really worried, came over to check on me, and found me almost dead in my room.”
“How long ago was this?”
“Uh… three years ago? It was in the Kensington flat.”
Jihoon was staring with a pitiful look that Seungcheol hated. He avoided his gaze.
“Are you doing better now? You got help?”
“I never got help but I’m getting better,” Seungcheol said, “Chan always begged me to go to therapy or see a doctor but… I don’t know. I’ve always been too scared to. I just feel ungrateful, you know? My mum pushed me into acting jobs so that I could have a good life with lots of money only for me to hate acting and hate fame, even though without her doing that I would probably be dirt poor right now. It’s ungrateful. And I’m honestly this close to talking to some money person about whether I could retire now but then I’d let her down. I’d let everyone down. So instead I just plod along being ungrateful for everything I’ve got.”
“It’s not ungrateful,” comforted Jihoon, “you’ve been forced into a life you never asked for. You’re allowed to be upset.”
It was a while until Seungcheol said anything. Eventually he wriggled closer to Jihoon so that they were almost touching.
“Okay, well,” he said, pointing up to the night sky, “that’s Sagittarius…”
Jihoon couldn’t help but laugh, amazed by this man who could switch the conversation from his suicide attempt to constellations. He took in every word he said until finally it was revealed that Seungcheol didn’t know shit and “they’re just stars, see what you want to see. Draw a frog or something”. They drew a frog together. Its result was playful bickering over where the eyes were as they tried to figure out what each other were seeing.
Jihoon fell asleep after a while, his head nestled against Seungcheol’s shoulder. Seungcheol did plenty of rambling before he noticed soft snores escaping the boy’s lips. He didn’t mind. He found it sweet. Carefully, he scooped him into his arms and carried him up to his room. It was difficult to open Jihoon’s bedroom door with him in his arms but he did it in the end, only to knock the boy’s head on the doorframe. Jihoon’s eyes fluttered open.
“Shit, sorry,” Seungcheol apologised softly, “you fell asleep outside.”
Instead of responding, Jihoon just hummed and tucked his head into Seungcheol’s chest. He was asleep again in an instant.
Seungcheol tucked the boy into bed with the window wide open and the fan on since it was still boiling even at midnight. He tiptoed out of the room without a sound.
“Sleep well, Hoon,” he whispered, and gently shut the door behind him.