Johnny turned 24 and wanted to celebrate his birthday alone this time since he had always celebrated his birthdays with his friends and family. He woke up feeling good, even if nothing special was happening that day. He drove around the city and decided to test out his new film camera.
After taking photos, he decided to buy himself a cake. An unfamiliar sign caught his attention on his way to his favorite bakery. The sign read Neo Bar, and Johnny wondered how he had never seen this place before. It had to be a new place, even if the sign showed signs of wear and tear like it had been there for a long time. He texted Doyoung if he knew anything about Neo Bar, but his friend answered no.
Johnny was a curious man. "No, you’re just fucking nosy," he heard Doyoung’s voice in his head. Johnny always liked to know what was happening around him or the latest gossip in the office. Although it was too early for alcohol, Johnny thought it was always the right time for a martini, so he entered the bar.
Johnny entered the bar, and the interior was luxurious. The hanging lights made the place brighter and looked fancier than his usual hangout spots. The bar's interiors looked so fancy despite the bar’s sign outside being rusty and old. The air and the feeling inside were different, it was like something soothed his body, and he felt more relaxed.
He sat on one of the gray stools and noticed the bartender was still busy wiping all the bottles. Johnny couldn’t see the bartender who had his back to Johnny, but the bartender wasn't that tall and Johnny was sure he was taller by a few inches. He also had long hair compared to the pink-haired bartender who took Johnny’s order.
The guy prepared his drink, and the pink-haired guy served it to him and greeted him, "Happy Birthday."
“Wait, how’d you know it’s my birthday?” Johnny asked. He didn’t recall mentioning it to anyone here.
Although the other guy didn’t say anything, Johnny could see that this wasn’t supposed to happen, based on how the dark-haired bartender was glaring daggers at his pink-haired co-worker. Like he said something wrong; like he said something that he shouldn't have.
The other guy turned to Johnny and spoke. “Oh, he just likes to guess other people’s birthdays. Right, Taeyong?”
“Yes, Ten is right.” Taeyong awkwardly laughed before he continued. “I’m glad I guessed it right. Happy birthday!” Then Taeyong walked away from them in an instant.
“Happy Birthday!” Ten greeted Johnny too then he continued to wipe the bottles.
Johnny couldn’t express his thanks at once because he was too focused on Ten. Ten was the most beautiful man he ever saw, and his eyes reminded Johnny of a cat. Johnny stared at Ten the whole time he was at the bar. And to make things even better, the martini Ten made was the best martini Johnny ever tried. He swore there was something otherworldly in that martini.
After an hour, Johnny’s world started spinning, and before he could take another look at Ten, everything went black.
Johnny’s alarm woke him up the next day. He reached for his phone and read Doyoung’s messages asking if he had a good time in the new bar Johnny found. Huh? He didn’t go to a bar. He went around the city, took some photos and bought himself a cake. He ignored Doyoung’s messages and continued preparing for another day at the office.
Before Johnny entered the office building, he saw a cat nearby that ran away immediately when Johnny looked its way.
The cat stayed in Johnny’s thoughts all day. It was almost as though he had forgotten something.
Something about a cat.
When Johnny turned 25, he wanted to celebrate his birthday with Doyoung. They went to another city and the same bar he went to the previous year was also there. It all came back to Johnny as soon as he saw the rusty old sign. How could he forget about this place for a whole year?
They entered the bar and the feeling was the same. It was soothing like someone gently massaged their whole body and healed their souls. Taeyong took their orders, and Johnny asked for two martinis for them because Doyoung was left tongue-tied.
When Ten returned with their drinks, Johnny stopped teasing his friend. It was his turn to be left speechless. Ten felt so familiar to Johnny. It was almost as if they had met before, and it didn’t help that Ten’s beauty was unlike anything else Johnny had ever seen. Johnny kept staring at Ten, and he was sure Ten felt it even if he wasn’t facing Johnny.
“Is there a problem with the drink, sir?” Ten turned to him.
“Problem?” Johnny asked.
“Yes?” Ten replied, a sweet smile still plastered on his face.
“No! No! I just… Hm…” Johnny paused and thought of a proper excuse, “It’s my birthday today.” Johnny could feel Doyoung’s judgmental stare, but he didn’t care. He needed Ten to greet him, or else he wouldn’t be able to sleep and eat for a week.
“Oh! Happy Birthday, Johnny,” Ten greeted him, and he was about to continue his work when Johnny spoke again and made Ten’s heartbeat stop for a second.
“How did you know my name?”
Ten mentally cursed himself before facing Johnny again. “I heard your friend say it. I’m sorry for eavesdropping.”
“But I feel like we met before?” Johnny insisted and also realized it sounded like one of those pick-up lines he used in college.
“You’re mistaken, sir. W-we haven’t met before.” Ten stopped staring at Johnny and lowered his head. “I’m sorry, but I need to serve other customers. Enjoy your birthday!”
Johnny watched the subtle pink shade bloom on Ten’s cheeks as he made his way to entertain other customers. That was odd. Johnny could have sworn they had met before. He watched Ten from time to time and their eyes met a few times. Although he wanted to talk to Ten and get to know him better, Johnny also refused to interfere with Ten’s work.
Maybe he would ask Ten after his shift ended. But he couldn’t wait.
“How long have you been working here?” Johnny asked when Ten walked in his direction again. They talked the whole night. In the end, he knew that Ten didn’t like fruits, and he loved cats. Talking to Ten was so easy for Johnny, as if they had known each other all their lives.
After some time, Johnny’s vision blurred, and his head kept spinning. Before he could even ask Ten again, everything went black.
Johnny’s alarm woke him up the next day. His head was pounding so badly that he needed medicine for it. Doyoung wasn’t coming to work because he also felt sick. Johnny stared at his desk the whole day and tried recalling what they did yesterday. All he could remember was that they drove to another city, and the next thing he knew he was back in his room.
Johnny walked outside their building to smoke, and he saw a cat. He remembered it was the same cat he saw last year after his birthday.
Before Johnny could pet the cat, it ran away again. The cat looked so familiar; its eyes looked familiar to Johnny. He searched for it, but he never saw it again.
Months later, Doyoung talked about nothing other than this pink-haired guy he had been dreaming about even Doyoung was sure they never met. Johnny bet that Doyoung had some wet dreams.
When Johnny turned 26, he spent his birthday in a different city again. He was walking back to his hotel when he stumbled upon the bar with a rusty old sign. It all came back to him again. He remembered last year and the first time he went to Neo Bar. How does this keep happening? Without anything better to do, he immediately entered the bar, and it was all the same as before. He didn’t bother ordering any drinks and asked the first person he saw.
“What is this place?”
“A bar, sir.” If Ten was surprised by Johnny’s question, it didn’t look or sound like it.
“I know, but why do I always see this bar in a different place?” Johnny answered. “The first time, it was in my city. The last time, it was in a city two hours away from here. I’m confused.”
Ten said nothing, preferring to focus on anything but Johnny.
“And I remember you.”
Ten quickly avoided Johnny’s gaze and bit his nail unconsciously.
“You’re Ten, right?” Johnny continued and Ten was glued to his place. He couldn't even look at Johnny’s eyes and lie again.
Ten continued to wipe all the bottles even though they were all dust-free. “Yes, that’s my name.”
“Also, I am sure I wouldn't forget a face like yours,” Johnny continued. He saw it again. The subtle pink shade bloomed on Ten’s cheeks just like the last time.
“Are you flirting with me?” Ten blurted out before he realized it.
“Yes,” Johnny answered without a doubt. He set aside his questions and frustrations about the bar because the only thing he could focus on was Ten. Johnny could stare at Ten's pink cheeks and his feline eyes all night.
“I won’t give you free drinks, sir.” Ten continued pretending he was busy while Johnny sat on the high stool in front as he watched Ten’s every move.
“I can pay for my drinks.”
Johnny and Ten were the only people inside, and the awkwardness filled up the bar.
“Your martini is the best I’ve ever tried.” Johnny tried to start a conversation with Ten, but the bartender just smiled at him.
“So do you work in all Neo Club’s branches?” Johnny tried again. Maybe he was nosy like Doyoung said, but he really wanted to know more about Ten.
Branches? Ten thought. They only have one branch.
Oh fuck! “Y-yes,” Ten answered like he wasn’t sure. There’s absolutely no way he was telling Johnny the truth.
Minutes of silence passed between them, and Johnny couldn’t take it anymore. So he tried to talk to Ten again and learned more about the bartender. Johnny found out that Ten loved to draw and was passionate about dancing. That time, Johnny could tell that Ten was getting more comfortable around him when he kept on giggling at Johnny’s silly jokes the whole night. It was nice to know they had the same sense of humor.
“Ten, you are so beautiful.” After he said that, Johnny felt the world spinning, and everything went black again.
Johnny woke up and felt a pang in his chest. He felt empty, like something significant was taken away from him. There was something important Johnny needed to remember. He saw the number 10 everywhere as though it was important.
While his head was aching so much, it didn't compare to the ache he felt in his chest. Johnny felt like his heart was yearning for someone, and he cried every night trying to remember who they were.
A whole year passed and Johnny turned 27. He spent the year dreaming of someone with long hair and cat-like eyes. When his birthday came, Johnny decided to spend it resting. He was on his way home from work when he saw the rusty old sign. Johnny’s heart stopped beating for a moment while all the memories flashed in his mind again.
“Ten,” Johnny kept on repeating his name. When he opened the door to the bar, Johnny saw Ten again. He almost cried on the spot, but Ten was smiling so wide.
Ten’s smile faded when he saw Johnny’s condition. He looked miserable, and Ten blamed himself.
He rushed to Johnny to ask him if he was okay.
“Why do I keep forgetting you, Ten? What’s happening?” Johnny’s trembling hand was soft against Ten’s skin. He was afraid to let go because Ten might disappear from his memory again.
“Because that’s what’s best for you, Johnny. You’re not meant to remember me.” Ten removed Johnny’s hand from his face and walked back to his place.
Johnny followed Ten, but he didn’t sit on the stool. He just stood there in front of Ten, confused and frustrated. “I— I don’t understand.”
How does Ten even begin to explain this? Let alone to the one Ten had been secretly watching for the past years. How does he say anything to the one who made him understand what the word love meant, even though love wasn’t a concept for beings like himself?
Ten stopped pretending to wipe the bottles and sighed. He supposed he owed Johnny the truth. “I’m not like you, Johnny. We're here to make you happy, to celebrate with you, and to comfort you.”
Johnny couldn’t process what Ten was saying. It was like watching a foreign film without subtitles, so he just stood there, mum.
“Humans are not the only beings out there. There’s a lot you don’t know and shouldn’t know to keep the balance of all things,” Ten continued.
Johnny couldn’t talk, so Ten served his martini and let him be. Johnny’s mind drifted away. He kept on repeating the words "I’m not like you" and "beings" over and over again.
Johnny didn’t know he was sitting there for almost an hour. He looked up, and Taeyong was the only bartender he saw. Fear crept into Johnny’s skin. What if Ten disappeared? However, Taeyong assured him that Ten had just gone into the powder room.
Ten went out of the powder room, and it was clear to Johnny that Ten had been crying despite the dimness of the hallway lights.
“It’s my fault that you’re like this… It’s my fault.” Ten cried on Johnny’s chest, and Johnny held him closer.
“No, It’s not your fault. I wanted to remember you so badly, Ten.”
Ten calmed down. He held Johnny’s face with his hands and looked directly at his eyes. “I love you, John–”
Ten couldn’t finish his sentence when Johnny grabbed his face closer and kissed him passionately. Ten responded to the kiss with the same amount of passion until he could feel his back hit the wall behind him.
“Please don’t make me forget you again, please…” Johnny pleaded between their kisses. Ten could only whine when Johnny’s mouth went to his neck.
Johnny felt his world spinning again. He knew what was happening, so he grabbed Ten's body closer to his until everything was black again.
Months passed after his 27th birthday, and Johnny was still crying every morning about a certain Ten. He kept on dreaming about him every night.
"I love you. Remember me. - Ten"
It was on the tissue paper he found in his pocket. Johnny felt that he knew Ten, but he couldn’t remember him. He knew that he loved whoever that person was.
Johnny heard someone knocking, and he was about to curse Doyoung, but a different person was outside his door. He felt his legs weaken so he needed to hold onto the door’s frame to support himself.
Ten laughed at Johnny’s reaction, but Johnny wasn’t having it because he was already tearing up.
“I’m dreaming,” Johnny said out loud. Ten laughed at him some more.
After some months, Johnny still couldn’t believe that he was living with Ten. When Ten told him everything, Johnny couldn’t believe all of Ten's explanations that he needed to kiss Ten every minute to prove that he was real.
Ten chose to be a mortal and “grow old and wrinkly” with Johnny. It was a tough decision, but Ten assured Johnny he had no regrets. When he followed Johnny to his building as a cat, he knew he was already breaking the rules. He didn’t expect Johnny to remember the bar at all.
Apparently, Johnny’s desire to remember Ten, as well as Ten following him around as a cat almost altered reality as they both knew it.
“You're fucking engaged? Didn't the two of you start dating like two hours ago?” Taeyong questioned Ten when he went to Neo Bar on Ten’s birthday with Johnny and Doyoung to inform Taeyong about their upcoming wedding.
“Shut up! Just come to my wedding, okay?”
“What? As a cat? No way.”
Ten laughed at Taeyong's response. Once Taeyong stepped out of the bar, he would turn into a cat. Taeyong still chose to stay at the bar even though Doyoung was already begging and kneeling for Taeyong to give him a chance.
“Good evening, what does my husband want? Wine? Beer? A martini?” Ten greeted as Johnny entered their new home.
“Can you at least feed me solid food first?” Johnny said as he wrapped his arms around his husband’s body.
“You know I can’t cook.”
“Then, I’ll cook for us.” Johnny kissed Ten just like how he kissed him the first time.
“I’ll love you even when we’re old and wrinkly,” Johnny said lovingly, eyes twinkling while his whiskers were showing from giggling because he felt Ten melted in his hold.