“Once upon a time when fairies were born with the first children's laugh and princesses kissed every frog hoping that it'd become a prince, there was -”
The boy tries to wriggle out of his bed and his mother closes the picture book she has just begun reading. She puts it on the nightstand next to a Mickey Mouse clock and a lamp radiating milky light as shadows dance on the walls.
“Oh Yoongi,” she sighs, fixing the blankets around her little one. An impatient child, he is; always wanting to know the end before the beginning and never rooting for the good guys (“But Mom, they always, always win. It's not fair!”).
“Don't you want to know how the story ends? Whether the boy defeats the dragon?” she asks gently, tucking him in.
The boy looks at her, heavy eyelids threatening to close at any second, a yawn escaping his mouth before any words could roll off of his tongue. He's sleepy and sweet dreams are ready to take him in their embrace.
“Maybe tomorrow,” she says, kissing him goodnight.
She gets up, ready to leave, but then she notices an open window; night breeze caught in the silk curtains, cold air gushing inside. Before she closes it, she looks at the sky, at millions of stars twinkling on the indigo infinity. Maybe she should glue plastic stars on the ceiling above his head. An artificial night sky twinkling in the darkness during the times when the clouds are heavy and not a single star can be seen on the horizon.
They said that the summer rains would come soon, but tonight the sky is clear just like during the first days of June, stars watching over children soundly sleeping in their beds. They're keeping the bad dreams away and Yoongi's mother closes the window and turns off the lights with a wish that one day, her little boy would be surrounded by friends just like every child deserves.
Every Friday, Yoongi's mother dressed him up and packed some of his clothes, toys, and a picture book that they hadn't finished reading.
After breakfast and before nap time, his father stopped by to pick him up. Yoongi didn't want to go, as per usual.
At first he cried and tried to free himself from his father's embrace. He fought and fought, but this wasn't a battle that he could win. He was too little to understand why his father didn't live with them and why his mother's eyes were full of tears every Friday morning.
After some time he stopped crying. However, that didn't mean that he looked forward to going away for the weekend. It was just that he grew up a little; that he understood a little more.
His father lived in a house by the ocean. The air smelled of salt and sand felt odd between Yoongi's toes. The lady waiting for them at the stairs of the beach house wore a fake smile and never read him stories. Her manicured fingers prepared awful food and her voice was high-pitched and unpleasant to the ear.
“Yoongi, sweetie, leave the kitty alone” was the sentence he heard too often and it was only natural that after some time he stopped caring. Her cat had white fluffy fur, blue eyes, and an awful temper, just like the majority of cats. It was inevitable that the child liked to pester the poor animal, but sadly, cats aren't dogs and even though they loved attention and cooing and all delicious snacks, they hated being carried around and treated as play buddies, or even worse, as toys.
“Yoongi, put the damn cat down!” she shrieked and for once Yoongi was happy to oblige. He dropped the kitty in a warm bath full of bubbles.
When his father returned home from work, his girlfriend begged him to take the little spawn of Satan back to his mother before she lost her mind and her precious Snowflake needed to recover from the shock.
The ride back home was spent in silence and on the backseat Yoongi fell asleep. He woke up in his mother's arms and to the scent of vanilla that lingered on her skin.
At the age of five, Yoongi is the one telling stories to his mother as she dances around the kitchen making dinner for them. He's sitting on a high stool by the counter, his feet swaying in the air. His left sock is pale red, his right one pale blue, and once they were white. His mom smiled when she saw it, but she said nothing.
“And then that fatty came by and took Kibum's pudding,” Yoongi exclaims and his mom gasps.
“He didn't,” she says, shocked.
“He did, he did!” Yoongi says, bouncing on the stool; his hands balled into tiny fists.
“What did Miss Jung do?” she asks while adding a pinch of salt to the dish.
She takes a spoon from the drawer and sauce from the fridge. “Oh no!”
“Yes, Mom, yes. She sent us out to play. It's not fair, Mom,” he complains.
She pinches his cheeks as she goes to grab something from the top shelf.
“The bad guy won. Didn't you always want that?” she asks. From the floor, all jars on the top shelf look the same and she's not quite sure which one is pepper.
Yoongi's shoulders drop. “Yeah, but that's in tales. This is different!”
“How, pumpkin?” she asks, intrigued. Her little one always has so much to say, the wheels in his head are always spinning; sometimes in the right direction, sometimes in the wrong one leading to troubles and pranks.
“Well,” he begins. “Good guys should always win, like that boy that defeated the evil magician. That's the right thing. And Mom, in stories you can always change the ending.”
“Then, should we turn the wolf into a rabbit so that he doesn't eat the Red Riding Hood?” she smiles at him. A soft, fragile thing, her smile is.
“No, Mom, that would ruin the story.”
“What about turning him into a pixie or a Lost Boy?” she asks as she sets up the table.
Yoongi jumps off the stool and heads to the sink to wash his hands. The tap is still out of his reach, so his mom turns it on.
“What's a Lost Boy?” he asks as he blows at the foam bubbles. The water is lukewarm and the soap smells like vanilla.
“A Lost Boy is a boy who doesn't want to grow up. He wants to be a kid forever,” she replies.
“What about his friends?”
“They grow up,” she says. “His friends forget about him when they're big.”
“That sucks,” Yoongi says as he wipes his hands.
“Why, baby? Their wish is to be young forever and it comes true.”
“Yeah, but aren't they lonely? I'm lonely during nap time when all other kids are asleep and I'm the only one up. And after their friends grow up, they're all alone.”
“But that's their wish.”
“Yeah, but it still sucks. Maybe they should grow up as well, or ask some of their friends to stay little,” he says, sitting on the chair and waiting for his mom to pour him soup.
“That's not how things work, Yoongi.”
“If they were my friend, I'd stay with them.”
In the third grade, Yoongi gets in a fight for the first time. It's nothing serious, there's no split blood, just a bruise on his chin and scrapped knees. His mother gets called by the school. She listens to the teacher who explains in a hushed voice what had happened.
The ride back home is filled with popular music coming from the radio and sounds of horns ripping the air. Yoongi's mother nervously taps her fingers on the steering wheel as she waits for the street light to turn green. Yoongi stays silent and finds needed distraction in a blur of colors behind the glass.
When they reach the building, he jumps out of the car, slamming the door behind him. His mother takes a deep breath and follows him inside.
“Yoongi, come here,” she demands after taking off her coat and leaving it on the armchair along with her purse. Yoongi kicks off his sneakers and drops his backpack near the shoe rack. His school uniform needs washing after today's fight. He goes in the living room and sits on the sofa facing her.
“Let me see,” she says, lifting his chin. He winces in pain as her fingers touch the corner of his mouth. There are no cuts, just dark blue blooming under his pale skin. After examining it, she says “It's not a big deal.”
Yoongi expects her to shout, maybe even slap him. He's seen mothers doing it in the series airing in the evening hours. She caresses his cheek instead.
“Don't do it again. And there won't be a bedtime story tonight. Mommy is tired. Okay?”
The blue bedding with images of Pororo scattered on it smells like lavender and sweet dreams, but Yoongi can't fall asleep. He's properly tucked in; he's not too hot or too cold. A band-aid is on his chin and the swelling has stopped. He's tired and yet he can't fall asleep.
The night lamp on his nightstand is turned off; he doesn't really need it anymore. On the ceiling above his head, fluorescent stars are glued. His own night sky, constellations shining in the darkness of his room. The only difference between these stars and the ones he sometimes sees through the window is that these stars don't twinkle. They just shine. A dull, yellow light that makes them seem more like fireflies than stars.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, the reason for his wide open eyes is hiding. A boy said that he's weird and he would never have real friends because nobody likes kids whose parents aren't together. A soft whisper reaches his ears.
“You shouldn't have fought,” it says. “You were a bad boy.”
And then, a notch lower, barely audible, “You made Mom worry.”
Yoongi twists and turns, knocking his pillow on the floor. It lands with on the carpet with a soft thud. He pulls the blankets over his head, but the newly made tent is too dark and Yoongi has trouble breathing under the covers.
“Silly boy,” the voice says. High-pitched and so impossibly young. “It's your fault that nobody got a story tonight. Now I don't know if I will defeat the dragon.”
The words Yoongi hears should be reprimanding, but the syllables are too round and soft to be understood as anything other than teasing.
When Yoongi peeks from under the covers, he's not sure what to expect. The truth is that he thinks that he's dreaming even though there are no robots shooting laser beams from their eyes and there are no dragons flying above his head spitting fire. There are many types of dreams and this must be a new one he's having. He's not really fond of it so far, but at least he's dreaming. He pushes the blankets and opens his eyes. Stars are still shining on the ceiling and pale moonlight is coming through the window. He sees shadows on the wall and one of them waves at him.
“So, you're awake after all?” the shadow says. Slight amusement is lacing its voice.
“I'm dreaming,” Yoongi responds, more so to convince himself than to reply.
Night breeze gushes in the room, ruffles papers on Yoongi's desk, dances with the curtains. It brings the scent of cherry blossoms and spring rain; it tickles Yoongi's nose.
Yoongi wonders how that's even possible with the window closed because he knows that his mother never leaves it open. She always closes it after finishing the story and …
“Oh,” a sigh escapes his lips and Yoongi turns his head in the direction of the window. There, on the sill, a boy is sitting. Yoongi can't see his features, just his silhouette.
“Who are you?” Yoongi asks. Suddenly he feels cold.
“Hello to you, too,” the boy says in return.
His feet sway in the air, in the unsteady rhythm of Yoongi's heart. Then the boy jumps off the sill and lands a few feet away from the edge of the bed. Moonlight is illuminating one side of his face. One round cheek, one brown eye. He's young, just an ordinary boy. Maybe Yoongi's age, quite possibly younger. Yoongi stares at him for what seems to be eternity.
“Who are you?” he repeats and the boy laughs. High-pitched, bubbly, careless, oh so careless.
“I'm Jimin,” he says, hand outstretched for a handshake. Yoongi doesn't take it.
“Rude,” Jimin remarks.
Yoongi tries to glare at him, but night has this magical power to make every look seem less threatening.
“You're in my room.”
“I know,” Jimin says cheerfully. “It's pretty. I imagined it diffrently.”
Yoongi pulls the blankets closer to his body as if trying to protect himself from the intruder. He should call his mom or wake up. Waking up seems like a better idea, so he pinches himself as hard as he can. It hurts, so this isn't a dream. The boy is looking at him all this time, his lips quirked upwards and his eyes glinting with amusement.
Oh so young, he is.
“What do you mean by that?” Yoongi asks.
There are questions swirling in his mind, buzzing like bees. If he called his mother, he'd never get an answer to any of them. Jimin pretends to be thinking, arms crossed, lips pursed, eyes locked to a spot on the floor. And then he moves. One step, two steps, three. Out of Yoongi's reach, closer to the window.
“Your mother tells wonderful stories. I've heard many before, but hers are the best because they're about a boy who's just like me. And tonight I heard none. It's all your fault,” Jimin says; too much in a single breath. The tone of his voice is accusing, in an all too familiar teacher-he-took-my-red-pen way. Yoongi looks down, biting his lips.
“But he started the fight. It's not my fault.”
“Did you win?” Jimin asks, all hurt disappearing from his tone. Yoongi nods.
He did win, but just because the other boy ran away when things started being serious. As usual, the teacher made a drama out of it and proclaimed Yoongi is a problematic child. That's why his mother got angry at him, disappointed even, and now Jimin is...
Jimin has stopped talking. Yoongi lifts his gaze and sees that nobody's there. The window is closed, a room dark like it was all evening. Yoongi falls back in the soft cushions and fails to see one of the plastic stars twinkling above his head.
Jimin doesn't come the following evening or the one after that. Yoongi entertains the thought of everything having been just a dream, a fairy tale he had told himself. It's all make-believe.
His mother sits on his bed, reading the last few paragraphs of the latest children's book she picked up from the shelves in the library. They've passed the time of books with more photos than words, cardboard cutouts popping to life when they turn the next page. The pirates have come, ships with black sails and a fearless crew, their captain bathing in golden coins they stole from a commercial ship. Yoongi likes them – brave and careless. His mother says that the times have changed and that the Caribbean is nothing but a tourist attraction. Yoongi doesn't quite understand her words so she continues the story.
“That's all for tonight,” she says, closing the book. Yoongi yawns.
“Mom,” he mumbles as she leaves the book on the nightstand and turns off the nightlight.
“Don't close the window.”
Another yawn interrupts his words like strong waves crushing against a pirate ship on a stormy night.
“It's warm, Mom.”
It is. April has come, spring has settled in; made a nest between the tree branches rich with leaves. It knocked on frozen doors in early March; shook awake the grass and tulips.
She brushes the overgrown bangs from his forehead and kisses him good night.
“I won't,” she says.
Yoongi dreams of traveling with Gulliver across the seven seas and fighting captain Hook in the Mermaid Lagoon. His dreams are filled with vivid colors. They're a mosaic of tiny pieces collected from various tales and glued together to make a perfect picture, but the reality is that it is far from perfect – it's cracked, some pieces are missing.
In the middle of the fight, he hears a familiar tune and a war cry, and then boys who he doesn't know are running to help him. With wooden swords and bows and arrows in their hands, they're advancing towards him.
A moment before waking up, Yoongi recognizes the boy leading them. It's Jimin.
Yoongi spends his tenth birthday at his father's house. He has a new girlfriend now. A dog lover this time so there are no cats running around for Yoongi to pester. Her hair is short, features pixie-like. Hyoyeon moves around the house with grace. A former ballerina, she is.
Unlike all his father's girlfriends before, she acknowledges Yoongi's existence and showers him with affection. She's curious as well, asking what he likes and why. When he says that he hates carrot, she smiles and says that they'll get along just well.
The cake is bought at a pastry shop. It tastes good but not like his mom's. When the time for opening the presents comes, she fidgets with the hem of her shirt as if it were her birthday.
“I hope that you'll like it, Yoongi,” she says as Yoongi unwraps the gift. “Your father was of no help,” she sheepishly admits.
The gift is a collection of all games released in the Final Fantasy franchise. Yoongi has played one or two of them with his babysitter, so he decides that he likes the present. Maybe he likes his father's new girlfriend as well. She's way younger than his mom, but her smile is warm.
After the birthday party, during which his father hasn't stopped talking on the phone to even sing a birthday song to his son, they go for a walk on the beach. Hyoyeon preys the cell phone out of his hands and convinces him to leave it in the house.
In March, there aren't many people at the beach. Nobody's approaching the water and the sand is cold under their feet. But scenery is breathtaking and Yoongi wanders around leaving Hyoyeon and his father behind. When he goes so far that they become just stick figures in the distance, Yoongi notices a boy playing in the water. He's running away from the waves, then trying to catch them. His high-pitched laughter fills the salty air; it mixes with the sounds of the waves and seagulls flying above their heads. There's something awfully familiar about this boy, but Yoongi can't really pinpoint what it is.
At the end of the beach, the sea is deeper, sand whiter and warmer. Yoongi drops his sneakers in the sand and sits on the rock at the edge of the beach, on invisible line between sea and sand. He's waiting for his father and Hyoyeon to catch up. His eyes roam from the shore to the boy who's still as joyful as he has minutes ago. He's kicking and splashing water all around, drops caught in mid-air reflecting last rays of the setting sun. When he notices Yoongi, he stays still for a moment and then he's running towards him, a giant smile taking more than half of his face.
“Yoongi,” he yells and Yoongi freezes.
The boy's hair is wet, bangs falling in his eyes, his tee and shorts are drenched and yet, he's smiling. A mischievous grin pulling the corners of his lips upwards.
“Do I know you?” Yoongi asks, cautious.
“Of course,” the boy chirps. “We've met almost a year ago. I've grown a little, but I'm still me – Jimin. Don't you remember?”
Yoongi remembers him, through blurred images and pale moonlight that cast long shadows on the walls of his room. This is Jimin, the boy who sat on the window sill.
“Yeah, I do,” Yoongi says and Jimin's smile grows a little wider if that's even possible. “Why are you here?” he asks.
“I live here. Right,” he turns around and points at the place where sky and earth meet on the horizon, “right there.”
There are houses lining the beach and Jimin is probably pointing at them, but all Yoongi sees are two tiny stars just above the horizon and Jimin's chubby fingers trying to grasp the one to the right.
Yoongi doesn't see Jimin every time he visits his father, but the memory of a boy playing with the waves is so vivid that he can't forget it.
Summer comes with people heading to the beach in early hours and children playing in the sand. Yoongi spends his holidays building castles with Hyoyeon and calling his mom every Friday to tell her that everything's great and that yes, Hyoyeon is treating him well even though she doesn't read him stories before bed. They've passed that time anyway. Pirates don't excite him anymore, printed letters don't offer the same adventures as the last episode of Digimons did.
Sometimes, they come to the beach in the late afternoon hours before the sunset, and there's almost nobody there. Plastic buckets lay forgotten in the sand, colorful ice-cream wrappers fill the trash cans, and castles stand proud at the edge of the ocean until they disappear with the first big waves that come. Waves wash over the beach, erasing footsteps and children's games, words written with wooden sticks and preserved for memory.
Hyoyeon stays behind, talking with old friends, as Yoongi wanders around.
Except, it's not really wandering if you know the final destination; if a smile welcoming you when you finally reach the edge of the beach is familiar and warm.
Down the beach and behind the rocks, there's a small cave made by waves crashing against the shore and that's where Yoongi usually finds Jimin with feet splashing water all around him and hands drawing stick figures in the wet sand.
“Hey, Yoongi,” he says with a smile and Yoongi returns it.
Never is an awfully long time, but Yoongi doesn't know it, at least not yet.
He measures time in the weeks that are left to the summer vacation, in days before the weekend, in hours before the school bell rings announcing the end of the days. Yoongi keeps track of time, of minutes that pass too quickly when he's having fun and seconds that drag to eternity when he has to study. Time is all around him, always shifting; hands of a clock always moving.
But Jimin makes him forget all about the seconds that have slipped between his fingers and grains of sand still in his palms. It's 3 o'clock in the morning and they're still talking about the latest Spiderman movie, Yoongi hiding his face in his palms when Jimin tries to impersonate the villain and Jimin laughing, oh so brightly, at Yoongi's slurred words about the lack of real storyline.
Yoongi glances at the clock and he really should go to bed and Jimin should head home, but the stars glued on the ceiling of Yoongi's room are twinkling and silence of the house is comforting when they run out of words to say, when all that's left is their breathing and dogs barking somewhere in the distance.
They're lying side by side on a small bed and window is opened. Night smells like dew and freshly cut grass. Summer is just around the corner and pink of Jimin's cheeks is still visible under the dim yellow lights. Or maybe Yoongi's mind is playing tricks on him when he looks at his friend.
Yoongi's not sure when talking to Jimin became so easy, natural, with no restrictions and no swallowed words. Jimin knows all his secrets and wishes whispered upon falling stars and constellations so far, far away. Jimin cherishes Yoongi's words and things he was afraid to tell his mother – his mother who worries about him and scolds him and too often works double-shifts to keep the food on their table. She returns home with dark circles under her eyes and a tired yet warm smile on her lips and Yoongi tucks away all meaningless words in the back of his mind because a school fight among kids isn't something she should worry about and he will make sure that his grades are decent enough and that the teachers don't have to call her. She ruffles his hair and heads to bed only to wake up four hours later and leave for work long before Yoongi stumbles out of his room in the morning.
Somewhere between coming home to an empty apartment, food stacked in the fridge and a note saying “I made your fav food. Eat and do your homework. Mom will return late” and locking the front door before going to bed because his mom is still working, Jimin has slipped in his life and remained a permanent fixture.
“What do you wanna do when you grow up?” Jimin asks on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
It's a warm spring day, cans of juice cover the carpet and the bowl with popcorn left on Yoongi's desk is empty. Breeze ruffles the posters on the walls and one of them nearly falls on the floor. Traffic noise comes through the open window, chatter of idle housewives and children's laughter.
A bright red flashes on the screen, a “Yon won” in bold letters, and Yoongi puts down his game controller. They've been playing video games since the morning, the difference in the score never passing five points and Yoongi finally won the last round. 3:2 is written in the corner and a satisfied smile creeps up Yoongi's face. He didn't go easy on Jimin and Jimin surely put up a fight.
“Huh?” he responds, sitting on the floor, back leaned on the edge of his bed.
“When you grow up, what do you wanna be?” Jimin repeats his question and flops down on Yoongi's bed. The blue bedding with Pororo changed to dark green with gray stripes when Yoongi was twelve and cartoons became a thing for little kids.
“Rich,” Yoongi laughs, throwing his head back. If Jimin reached out his hand, he could ruffle Yoongi's hair.
“What else?” Jimin asks, his eyes on the stars above his head. Years have passed and they're still there. Constellations in place, not a single star missing. Jimin often wondered how come none of them peeled off during the years.
“I don't know, Jimin. Why are you asking me this?”
The world is upside-down, he can barely see Jimin and make out his round cheeks, his messy hair and the bridge of his nose, and maybe Yoongi shouldn't be staring like that. After all, he has seen Jimin every day for the last few years.
“I'm curious,” Jimin replies, tinge of something, something in his voice, before he rolls on his stomach to stare down at Yoongi. “Up for another round?” he proposes after a minute of comfortable silence and Yoongi grins.
“You mean ready to kick your ass again? Hell yeah!” he cracks a smile and Jimin laughs along.
Yoongi is fourteen years old and three centimeters taller than Jimin. His grades could be much better, his behavior as well.
The new school uniform he's wearing consists of an indigo blue blazer and slacks with a white shirt and red and blue tie that feels suffocating around his neck.
“Be good,” his mom says, fixing his collar, straightening out creases and tying his tie properly. “It's a new school, so try to make some friends. Okay?”
Yoongi nods just to please her. He doesn't need friends, he already has Jimin. Sure, they don't go to the same school and don't have the same activities, but Jimin is always free when Yoongi is and Yoongi likes to think that the time they spend together is a time well-spent.
Yoongi's former school had awful green uniforms with beige shirts and the one before that had ugly gray ones that made his skin itch. From the former he was suspended for talking back to the teacher, and from the latter for smoking on the rooftop. Yoongi doesn't smoke. He just wanted to try it, he saw other boys doing it and maybe there was something about the smoke slipping past young lips that made them seem like adults. Growing up was always a plan so he bought a pack of cheap cigarettes, climbed to the roof then he had a free period and lit up the cancer stick. Smoke filled his lungs, choking him and Yoongi coughed out gray snakes curling around his lips. He got caught and suspended because it was outrageous for a young boy to do something like that
His mom runs her fingers through his messy hair and says “We have to go, we'll be late.”
The car ride to the other part of the town is spent in silence. There's no music or traffic reports coming from the radio and his mom is too deep in thought to notice anything other than traffic signs. Yoongi has his backpack in his lap and when he reaches in the front pocket, he pulls a piece of paper instead of his phone. Unfolding it carefully, he sees Jimin's neat handwriting and remembers all notes that Jimin has written to him over the years.
Jimin has a thing for endnotes and what he really wanted to say in all paragraphs is hidden in that single sentence, so Yoongi skips lines and lines of text, glancing at words, but not reading them. He reaches the last line and there are hand drawn hearts and smileys.
“Good luck today! I'll be cheering for you.”
Yoongi can't help but smiling as he reads the note over and over again.
“What are you smiling about?” his mom asks as they wait at the crossroad for the light to turn green. There's a matching smile on her face. Like this, with small wrinkles around her eyes and a bright smile, she seems younger, like the life hasn't kicked her every time it got the chance.
“I'm just excited,” Yoongi lies.
Every school he's been to looks like it's made based on the same blueprint – a gray building with two stories, small classrooms with desks neatly arranged in five rows, teachers talking about the same things, focusing on the details and never on the big picture. They don't care about the things happening in the back rows because by now, their ears are deaf to whispers and muffled laughter.
After the school bell rings for the end of his first day at the new school, Yoongi doesn't remember much about the place where he'll hopefully spend the entire school year. He doesn't have much to say to Jimin except that the place looks like any other. Jimin doesn't press it, his heavy eyelids staying closed a little longer every time he blinks. Yawns are escaping his lips instead of question marks and he falls asleep on Yoongi's shoulder only to wake up in the morning pressed to Yoongi's side.
Jimin leaves before sunlight filters through the thick curtains with a kiss to Yoongi's cheek and a whispered “Sleep some more”.
Jimin says “I've been thinking” and Yoongi looks up from his notebook. Putting his pen down, he slow claps.
He's writing an essay about the book called “The Little Prince” and if Yoongi were honest, it's going nowhere. How is he supposed to write about friendship like it's a solid thing, set in stone, when it's falling between his fingers and curling around his heart with every one of Jimin's giggles.
“Why are you clapping?” Jimin asks, scrunching his nose.
“You were thinking. That's a huge achievement. Much excitement. Such honor,” Yoongi teases and Jimin jabs him in the ribs. Before he could do any more damage, Yoongi grabs his hands, long fingers curling around thin wrists.
Yoongi says “Chill, I'm just joking. What is it?”
Blue veins are branching on Jimin's wrists, roads untraveled leading to his heart. Yoongi's cold fingers are pressed on soft skin and he should be able to feel Jimin's pulse, but maybe his grip is too light because he feels nothing.
“Don't you think,” Jimin says, eyes downcast and lips quivering, “that to die would be an awfully big adventure?”
“What? Why?” Yoongi frowns and his grip on Jimin's wrists tightens. He still can't feel his pulse.
“We're growing up and doing all these things, but what if all that is nothing but the preparation for the biggest adventure of our lives, the final one?” he says and gone is the innocence and childlike behavior.
“You're thinking too much, Jimin,” Yoongi replies and lets go. Jimin's hands fall in his lap and he looks at his empty palms. Taking the pen again, Yoongi continues writing, ink scrapping on white paper, letters crooked and barely legible. Definition of friendship hidden between the lines.
“Yoongi?” Jimin says after another minute.
Without stopping writing or looking at him, Yoongi replies with a distant “Yeah?”
“Can you promise me something?”
Jimin bites his lips. He's not used to asking things from Yoongi.
“Grow up with me.”
A wise man has once said that being alone felt good, but it never felt right.
Yoongi doesn't know who the man was, but he returns home on the sixteenth birthday to an empty apartment and dark rooms and he figures that the man was right.
On the kitchen table, wrapped in shiny paper with notes hidden under big bows, the presents are waiting for him. One from his dad and who ever his new girlfriend is, two from his mom. There's chocolate cake with vanilla icing in the fridge and a box of matches and unlit candles on the kitchen counter, but Yoongi passes by the kitchen and goes straight to his bedroom. Slamming the door shut behind him, he takes off his blazer and throws it on the floor. His tie is choking him and he tugs it off. He pulls a pair of washed-out jeans and a black hoodie from his closet and changes quickly. He can't stay in a place that feels less and less like a home with day that passes.
He manages to find his sneakers in the dimly lit hallway and after putting them on, he takes the keys from the shoe rack and heads out.
Yoongi doesn't wait for the elevator to come. He runs down the stairs and half a thought about calling Jimin to meet him forms in his mind, but he abandons it when he remembers that Jimin probably has exams coming up soon and that he's studying, drilling important information in the roof of his mouth while hoping for the best results.
Once he's in front of his apartment building, Yoongi pulls his phone out of his pocket and stares at it for a minute, debating whether to call Jimin or not. Bright bold letters mock him and Yoongi deletes the message. He's a big boy now and big boys can solve their problems alone.
Yoongi's not sure how long has he walked before reaching a small park somewhere in suburbia. There are no children playing in the sandbox or running around the flowers beds even though the sun is still on the horizon. He sits on the swing and tries to organize his thoughts, but a mess is a mess and some things can't be untangled.
“Aren't you too old to be playing in the park?”
Yoongi looks up from his dirty sneakers only to be greeted with a smile almost as bright as Jimin's.
“Aren't you too young to be acting like a mom?” Yoongi retorts and the boy in front of him laughs, loud and obnoxious.
“Point taken,” he says as he sits on the swing next to Yoongi. “By the way, I'm Hoseok, fifteen years old and not planning to be a parent soon.”
“Yoongi and today's my sixteenth birthday,” Yoongi replies.
Hoseok claps his hands and sings him a birthday song off-key. Yoongi laughs and it feels nice.
“Happy birthday, man. May the future be yours.”
On his sixteenth birthday, Yoongi makes a friend and when he looks back at it a few months later, it seems like that was the best birthday gift he got.
Jimin's rummaging through the drawers in Yoongi's desk. There are too many notebooks filled with schoolwork and doodles drawn during boring classes and Jimin pulls a math textbook while trying to reach the corners of the drawer.
“What are you searching for?” Yoongi asks, amused. He's lying on his back, looking at the ceiling. Plastic stars have started to peel off; constellations are slowly losing their definition. The incomplete night sky leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. Like he grew up too fast and didn't make enough wishes for the future.
“A red pen,” Jimin mumbles, hands digging in books and colorful markers.
Jimin turns around. There's a smile on his face when he says “To draw a treasure map.”
“Aren't we too old for a treasure hunt?” Yoongi questions and Jimin shakes his head.
“You are never too old for that,” Jimin grins, his fingers wrapping around something small. When he pulls it out, he realizes that he's holding a photograph, one of those cheap ones you take in a booth somewhere on the street or the train station and add ugly stickers to it.
Jimin looks at the smiley faces of the two boys in the upper half of the photo and at the weird expressions they're pulling off for the camera in the lower half. As he traces his fingers on glossy surface of the photograph, something breaks and he asks “Who's this?”
His voice is small, barely audible.
Yoongi lifts his head from the mattress to look at him.
“Who's who?” he asks in return and Jimin shows him the photo.
“That's Hoseok,” Yoongi says.
“Is he a friend?”
“I guess,” Yoongi shrugs and the smile disappears from Jimin's face. He puts the photograph on the desk and grabs his jacket from the chair.
“I have to go,” he mumbles on his way out.
Yoongi says “What about the map?”, but Jimin is already gone.
Jimin likes endnotes so Yoongi buys colorful post-its and writes him notes.
“Going to the basketball game with Hoseok. I can meet you after that.”
“Hoseok asked me to help him with a project; we'll stay at the library after school.”
“A new video game came out. I have to kick Hoseok's ass.”
“I'm sorry, Jimin. I can't meet you today.”
A week passes and he doesn't see Jimin. It feels almost surreal being away from somebody with whom you spent years of your life, but sometimes change is necessary and even though Yoongi feels like a part of him is missing, he blames it on pouring rain and bad mood that has the town in its embrace.
A month passes and Jimin's smile is still so bright in his memory that Yoongi doesn't think much of the time they haven't spent together. They're busy, Yoongi says to himself as he writes yet another note and pastes it on the wall before going out to meet Hoseok.
Yoongi is seventeen and the height difference between him and Jimin is one centimeter.
“You're getting taller, brat. Stop growing!” Yoongi says the next time he sees Jimin.
There's something different about the boy that's sitting in his chair and looking at his hands and not at Yoongi as he drops his bag near the bed.
“It's not my fault,” Jimin whispers.
It's soft and fragile, his voice; like crystal bells falling to the ground and shattering to a million sharp pieces that cut Yoongi's hands when he tries to pick them up.
For the first time in years, Yoongi doesn't know how to respond, what to say to fix things. He's not even sure if there's something that needs to be fixed, but the way Jimin looks at him in the next second, tells him that he fucked up.
“Listen,” Yoongi says. “I'm sorry, Jimin.”
“It's okay,” Jimin replies.
It's not okay because Jimin's voice cracks at the last syllable and he bites his lips. Yoongi sits at the edge of the bed and reaches to take Jimin's hands in his. Jimin pulls back and Yoongi's hands grip the blankets instead.
They stay like that for a while. Not talking, not looking at each other. Yoongi throws his head back and stares at the ceiling. Not a single plastic star is still glued there. They peeled off with months that passed and nights without moonlight.
Silence is heavy and weighs them down. Through the open window comes in spring breeze and it ruffles Jimin's hair with gentle fingers. His bangs fall in his eyes.
Yoongi's phone vibrates – a message from his mother or Hoseok – but he doesn't read it.
“You promised,” Jimin finally says and Yoongi looks up from his calloused fingers. “And you forgot all about it.”
“When we were kids, you promised that we'd grow up together, remember? I believed you. What a fool I was,” Jimin half-laughs, half-chokes and things break. Fragile things like trust and friendship.
“I'm sorry," Yoongi says. He means it.
“Don't be, Yoongi. You have a new friend now. You're not alone anymore and it's time for me to go. It was nice, it really was, but maybe people like me can't grow up no matter how much we want to. It was selfish of me to ask you to promise me just that, but I wanted to be a part of your life for a little longer. It was foolish.”
Jimin runs his hand through his hair and Yoongi sees tears on his eyelashes. Before they fall, Jimin says “It was really nice while it lasted. A bit short maybe, but still nice.”
Yoongi licks his lips, he wants to say something, anything, but Jimin is getting up. As he passes by Yoongi, Yoongi grabs his wrist, tightly. There's no pulse, never supposed to be.
“Thank you, Jimin. For everything.”
Jimin smiles. A soft, broken thing.
It's a whisper of spring breeze caught in the curtains, a soft murmur of rays of sun casting long shadows on the hardwood floor.
“Goodbye, Jimin,” Yoongi says. His hands are empty.