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you give me courage (to love straight-forward)

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There’s a boy waiting outside Renjun’s shop, body unsure of whether or not he should come inside; he’s fidgeting.

Renjun takes a look from the cashier box—the old silver knickknack that a somebody once bought for him—and looks back down, trying to see whether or not the boy would take his leave. Renjun points at the sign outside the shop; all of the opening hours are clearly marked in gold and silver ink.

“There are two minutes until closing time,” he says, tired from the long day. Renjun has the cashier box close with the slightest movement of his fingers, the silver ringing loud and clear. “You can come back tomorrow if you want. We’re open on Sundays.” Renjun pauses, hoping that the boy gets the hint he’s not willing to stay after hours. “Limited hours of course.”

The boy doesn’t leave. He stands there in the white noise of the moving bodies and cars passing by. A planted gloomy sad plant, that’s what the boy is. Renjun doesn’t like how he’s attuned to sadness in the shop, already feeling the yellow hue of his favorite curtains transitioning to blue.

“I can’t stay outside,” the boy yells out, clear through the glass. Renjun’s surprised he can hear the boy. He had charmed his shop so that he can’t hear the loud noises of the street outside. “It’s dangerous here,” the boy continues reasoning, and it makes Renjun scoff indignant. “Please, you’re the only one who can help me.”

“I said that we’re open—”

Renjun doesn’t get to finish his sentence. Behind the boy comes along a golden goose that pecks at him with a fury never seen before.

 

- - 🦢- -

 

(There’s something about the way the stars don’t tell Renjun he’s going to meet a boy who’s chased by a golden goose that makes him laugh for the first time in months since his heart has been wounded.)

 

- - 🦢- -

 

The first thing that Renjun learns about the boy is his name. He had introduced himself as Yangyang, and there is no magic running through his veins. He has lived in this town for all his life, no spells ever tricking out like the limbs of a tree in all of his years of existence. Sometimes magic skips a generation or two and Renjun isn’t really all that surprised he comes upon someone so deeply affected by this malady. (Although he supposes it isn’t quite one considering that a person can live without magic.) 

“It’s a curse,” Renjun states after taking in all of the information Yangyang gives him. 

“I guess so.”

“I guess so?” Renjun parrots with a scoff. “Seriously, what kind of dumbass gets cursed in this century?”

“It’s not my fault okay. I didn’t know that—”

“You didn’t know that your ex was a witch,” Renjun finishes for Yangyang. “And now you’re cursed to be chased by a golden goose.” He laughs. Out of all the things Yangyang could be cursed with, he’s cursed to be chased by a goose the color of gold. Renjun wonders if he can sell the goose at an auction, thinking about all the bills he’s very behind on paying. “You’re very funny and very lucky I want to help you.” 

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

It’s been a full week of this: Renjun reading the stars as midnight strikes each night. Silver and gold, they glitter all bright and light, never really coming to any conclusions other than the golden goose that persists and persists without end. The stars have never lied to him, they wake up weak and slow during the night, and only when the sun rises, they finally gain power. They tell him an answer he doesn’t expect.

“Wow,” Renjun says with wonder that there’s someone cursed to be chased by a golden goose as long as he lives. “The bird really won’t let you go, huh?” 

“Tell me about it,” an injured Yangyang answers back, eyes still filled with horror at his poor flannel. Back against the shop, Renjun makes out the color of Yangyan’s hair. It’s the color of twilight, all faded out. Cold seeps through his shirt, apparent by the way he shivers. “Fuck this was my favorite flannel.”

“You shouldn’t have risked it.”

“Touché.” Yangyang groans, the crown of his head covered in goose down. He still has no way of leaving the shop without risking being pecked again. 

“Not my problem.” 

Yangyang huffs before holding his tongue. He finds patience an alternative to anger. “I’m still rather curious how the goose hasn’t broken into the shop.”

“Has it done that before?”

“Yeah.”

Interesting. 

“If you didn’t already know, I’m the strongest witch in town. A magic goose can’t just walk in through the door.”

Yangyang looks at him confused.

“This shop is my vessel,” Renjun starts explaining. “If I don’t want you to come in, the door would never open even if you tried forcing your way in.”

“So, what you’re telling me, I’m stuck here.”

“Not quite.”

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

(Strangely enough, the shop never shoos Yangyang away from its heart. 

It’s only ever done it once when Renjun was in love years ago. But that’s a long time since now. Renjun knows better than to start hoping.

Witches like him don’t take flight when they fall in love.) 

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

“Stand here,” Renjun commands. Yangyang stares at him, feet solidly planted at the shop’s doorstep. 

“I refuse to come out,” Yangyang replies. “The moment I step out, I’m going to be fucking pecked by the damn goose again.”

“That’s your fault, not mine.” Renjun frowns. “Just trust me on this.”

“Fine.” Yangyang steps out coming close to Renjun who throws golden dust from his hands and blows it into the wind. It starts flying all around, enveloping Yangyang in its pretty hue. There’s a flickering second where Renjun finds Yangyang a bit handsome. And that’s all it stays. An ephemeral moment in time.

“There you go,” Renjun smiles for the first time. “Now come along, we don’t have all day.”

“Huh? That’s it?” Yangyang blinks. “What about the goose?”

“Do you see the goose anywhere?”

“No, but—"

“Didn’t I tell you I’m the strongest witch in town?” Renjun begins. “That spell should be enough to trick the goose that you’re on the other side of town as long as you stand next to me.”

“Thank you,” Yangyang says. “I haven’t been able to walk out of my own house for weeks now without the damn goose chasing behind me.”

“You can thank me once this curse is solved,” Renjun plainly responds. “Now let’s get going before the sun sets.”

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

“I didn’t expect to see you here,” a man with dimples smiles at both Renjun and Yangyang. Renjun had taken Yangyang walking all the way across town—much to Yangyang’s charging—to what seemed to be a small bookstore all the way at the top of the hill that oversees the ocean.

(“Couldn’t you have transported us?” Yangyang huffs, trying to catch his breath. He holds onto his knees.

“You’re the one who needs saving not me.” Renjun sniggers, finding amusement in Yangyang’s perilous journey up the hill.)

“Are you referring to me or Yangyang, Kun?”

“Both, I guess,” the man named Kun replies with a smile. “What brings you here.”

“Well, this guy is cursed.” Renjun points at Yangyang.

“I assumed as much.”

“And I want to find out a way to lift it.”

“Okay. I’m guessing you want my help to do so. Am I correct?”

“Wait, didn’t you tell me you’re the strongest witch in town?” Yangyang yells out, causing Renjun to get annoyed. “Why do we need his help then?”

“I said I was the strongest witch,” Renjun retorts. “I’m no curse-breaker. Those kinds of spells are far more complicated than the usual magic. If I try breaking the spell without fully comprehending it, you could end up dead.”

Yangyang looks at him with dread at his revelation.

Renjun sighs. “You’re very lucky I brought you to the best curse breaker I know.”

“You flatter me,” Kun smiles. “Now let’s see what we can do about that curse.”

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

(Curses are interesting in the way they’re never of the malevolent type. They have answers that you’ve never found, no matter how much you’ve tried.)

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

They look for all the curse books against the exposed sky, with the sea waves weathering the grain of the hill, small rocks falling, down and down, all drowned letters with bleeding letters. The sea is interesting today, pretending to be calm as the sky above it, taking with it the seamen. Renjun keeps trying to enchant his way to the answers he’s looking for, but he’s met with no response. His magic doesn’t work in this context. It isn’t his home after all. Yangyang on the other hand seems to struggle with the ladder that Kun had given him. 

“Try holding your center better,” Renjun suggests after Yangyang almost falls down. He manages to enchant the air to help Yangyang find some sense of balance; it works. Yangyang’s search fares much better, but he looks back at Renjun.

He asks, “Wouldn’t it be better to enchant the ladder?”

Renjun shakes his head. “I would but I can’t.”

Yangyang looks at him blankly. “What do you mean?”

“This is Kun’s house,” Renjun begins, finding a book about geese and he puts it down for later reference. “This. All of this you see here is his heart. For witches like us, our magic is harnessed in our hearts. I can’t possibly hope to enchant anything grand here.”

“And where’s your heart? Your shop?”

Renjun laughs. “I’d like to think so, but my ex took it with him.”

“I’m—I didn’t—”

“It’s okay,” Renjun stops Yangyang’s apology with a bittersweet smile. “I’d rather my heart be elsewhere too.”

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

(There’s something about the way that he thinks Yangyang smiles dangerously, almost like Jaemin did once before.

It’s a name Renjun would like to forget, the way it tugs at his ribs, all brittled down and worn from protecting love from being watered down like small candlelight during the winter night.)

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

“Do you believe in soulmates?” 

“Huh?” Both Renjun and Yangyang automatically respond to Kun’s statement. “What do you mean by soulmates?”

With a flicker of his fingers, Kun opens a book. Its cover is a light blue, with yellowed pages at its core. On a closer inspection, it doesn’t seem that Kun has enchanted it any more than commanding it to open for viewing. There are pop-out geese coming out, made out of gold-leaf covered paper, that spring to life.

“What does that have to do with the goose?” Yangyang asks, looking at the book just presented to them all. 

“This curse,” Kun turns the page. “This curse isn’t as malicious as you think it is.”

“Well, I wouldn’t consider a golden goose chasing after me to be great,” Yangyang tries his best not to swear. Renjun can tell by the way his smile comes out half-sincere half-laced with fake pleasantries. 

“I wouldn’t either,” Kun smiles. “But you need to find where your heart has found a home in if you want to get rid of the goose.”

“I’m not following.”

“This type of spell,” Kun points at the book again. “This type of spell will only end when the goose senses that you’ve found your soulmate.”

“Let me get this straight,” Renjun attempts to summarize all of the facts presented to them. “You’re telling us the only way that this curse will end is if we find Yangyang’s soulmate?”

“That’s correct,” Kun replies before adding on, “My guess is that the witch had hoped that by casting this type of spell, Yangyang would eventually find his way back to them and my guess is that obviously didn’t work since Yangyang is still here.”

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

“Well, what are we going to do about you,” Renjun comments as they tread down the hill. They would have stayed longer at Kun’s place had it not been for the fact that Kun’s boyfriend had been coming to visit. Renjun has never feared anyone more than Ten, but he would like to refrain from explaining himself further. As the most powerful witch in town, it isn’t a great look for him to be afraid of someone. (Even if it is very much warranted.)

The poppies are dancing along with the wind, the sea waves deciding to rest from their upbeat parade. There’s peace and peace Renjun is willing to break my asking, “Are you sure your soulmate isn’t your ex?” 

“Oh, god. No,” Yangyang heavily emphasizes the last word. “Why in the world would my soulmate be—never mind.” Yangyang turns beet-red and turns away, a failure to change the subject. “I just think maybe if there is a way to track my soulmate that wouldn’t be great. Maybe a spell or—”

“Isn’t that the very reason you’re cursed?”

“It wasn’t cast right.” Yangyang defends.

“Well, it certainly doesn’t look that way,” Renjun deadpans. “That ex of yours really did a number on you with all of this soulmate nonsense they’re making you undergo.” He flicks his fingers, a checkered cloth appearing out of thin air. “Sit. We should evaluate the list of possibilities.”

“Possibilities?” 

“I think we should discuss the list of possibilities of who your soulmate might be. You’re more than likely to already know them considering that the goose has kept you stuck in this town all this time.”

“True.” Yangyang takes a seat right across from Renjun, stuck in pensive thought. “Well, there was a girl I liked back in the eighth grade. That didn’t work out.”

“Do you think things could have worked out differently?”

“She turned into the moon.”

“Wow, that’s rough buddy.”

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

(On the hill, Renjun laughs, all unrehearsed and all, the sea waves all soft and unwavering in their journey across the world.

It’s pretty.)

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

(He learns that Yangyang’s ex is a boy that he grew up with. The type of friend you love in the way that never burns. The love is long-lasting and permanent, but ebbs against the tides and never goes beyond that. 

That is what you call first love after all, and Renjun wonders if he would ever be capable of such a thing.

Yangyang tells Renjun he's not that type of person.)

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

April comes in weak, the spring season never quite matching its nervousness. Unlike the freshly blooming flowers from the cold earth, there’s no confidence in its step. Renjun is still standing at the mouth of his heart, the steps of the shop, washing it down with old water, Yangyang trailing behind him. It’s been another full week of this: Renjun walking all around town, Yangyang his shadow, never quite his imitation; his steps never quite match Renjun’s pace.

His robe is gleaming golden underneath the late-afternoon sun when he commands open the door for customers to come in. He would spend more hours helping Yangyang track his soulmate, but Renjun has responsibilities that don’t align with friendship.

“Don’t worry, I’ve made sure to place a protection spell on you. The goose can find you, but it can’t hurt you,” Renjun reassures Yangyang before he takes off again.

“I’ll be back then,” Yangyang smiles.

Renjun laughs. “I hope you don’t anymore.”

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

(Yangyang comes during the night, right before the stars start singing again.)

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

“So, you have a new boyfriend,” Ten says one day he walks in through the door. He says it like it’s a truth, confidence all honeyed and mellow. He sneaks his way through Renjun’s heart without a care, a feline about to entrap its prey. That’s why Renjun is so afraid of him. He’s honest in all the ways Renjun will never be. Ten doesn't need to hide his heart in a shop like Renjun does. He’s already given it to Kun. “He’s cute. Nice too. Nicer than that Jaemin-guy you kept around.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Renjun says. “He’s just my friend.”

“But you wish he was your boyfriend.” 

Renjun shrugs. 

“Think about it. I don’t think Yangyang is the type to break your heart the way Jaemin did.”

“How do you know that?”

“He always comes back, doesn’t he? Even without the damn goose, I think he would always find his way back to you.”

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

“I wonder what would happen if I don’t place that protection spell on you,” Renjun says out of the blue one day, right before opening shop, to Yangyang. “Do you think you’d find your soulmate faster that way?”

Yangyang laughs. “Then I would just find my way back here again.”

“I’ve never asked, how did you even know where to look for me? There’s a lot of witches in this town. Even if they’re not as strong as me.” Renjun adds in the end.

“Hmm.” Yangyang pauses right before he takes a hold of the doorknob. “A boy told me about you. He saved me from the goose when I first got cursed. He said a lot of good things about you.”

Renjun laughs, the shop starting to feel slight tremors in its foundation, but not enough to cause permanent damage. “I should have known. But do you think you’re up for it? Going outside without my protection?”

“You’re the strongest witch in town, right? I doubt a pesky little goose can beat you.”

 

- - 🦢 - -

 

(There’s something so awfully powerful about the way curses always have answers the heart has been searching for. Renjun knows this because of the way Yangyang smiles at him wide, wide like the starry night, when he opens the shop door again, all unbruised.)