Of Love and Lactose
When Kim Seokjin entered the restaurant business at age 25, he knew there would be competition. Upon founding Eat Jin, he was met with a stack of bills and a less-than-competent staff; in two years, however, Jin’s restaurant had earned a four-star reputation with employees to make any business proud. The man practically lived at Eat Jin, and its central location in Seoul ensured there would be a number of fresh food distributors on every corner. Jin planted his entire heart into the restaurant – he loved the people, loved the location, loved sharing his food with others. And maybe eat it himself, sometimes, if customers were scarce.
The first time it happened was a Thursday night. Jin loved kids, and knew before buying the property that everything would be family-oriented. Dinnertime on weekdays brought in young children, and Jin always made sure to have small dessert pastries in stock for them, maybe a bowl of ice cream. Everything made from scratch, of course. Jin always enjoyed walking around to tables during the week, hearing children laugh and make innocent, unnecessary comments. While on one of these table visits, the new part-timer Jungkook approached him and whispered “Excuse me, Seokjin-sshi, but Jimin said there’s a problem in the kitchen. Something about milk?” What did he do this time?
Jin offered his signature ‘I-own-this-restaurant’ smile and whispered back, “Thank you, Jungkook, I’ll be right there.” He rushed to the kitchen after muttering an ‘Enjoy your meal’ to the table’s occupants. The owner was greeted with the three boys in charge of cooking doing anything but cooking—one was sleeping on the floor, another had this head buried deep in the refrigerator, and the third was just standing in the middle of the kitchen mumbling something about how more kids should be lactose intolerant. Jin’s smile wavered for half a second. He cleared his throat, causing one head to snap in his direction and another to be slammed in the refrigerator accompanied by a profanity. “What seems to be the problem, boys?”
Jimin, a young culinary student who had just been standing dumbly, explained, “Well, you see, we’re kind of… Out of milk?”
At no point in three years of owning a restaurant had they ever run out of milk. In fact, there were always at least four liters of 2% and three liters of 1% in stock at the beginning of each day. “I see,” Jin blinked, “And who was in charge of closing last night?” He already knew the answer.
“Um. Me and Yoongi.” Jimin pointed to the lifeless boy slumped against the counter.
“And why didn’t you take inventory?” Jin really hated using a stern tone with his employees, but sometimes it had to be done. These boys had very little integrity; Seokjin had not hired just three cooks, but these particular boys somehow always ended up together at the worst of times. This was one of the days he felt there truly were too many cooks in the kitchen.
Jimin tried to think back, eyes growing wide as he remembered. The boy whose head was just slammed in the refrigerator, Hoseok, started laughing at Jimin’s hesitation. Jimin tried to play it off coolly, though, “You know how it is, Yoongi and I were just—”
Jin wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the rest of that sentence. “If the answer is inappropriate, please don’t share.” Jin didn’t care what the… personal life of his employees were, but really? He’d have to make Jungkook deep clean the kitchen later.
“Of course not, Seokjin-sshi! Yoongi was sleeping, that’s all. I was concerned for my hyung’s health and caught the train with him!” Jimin offered a radiant smile.
“Sleeping, are you sure?” Jin asked, “That’s probably unhealthy, to sleep so much.” Hoseok’s head was back in the refrigerator again, not only searching for milk but also to unsuccessfully stifle his laughter.
Jimin shrugged, “You said not to give an inappropriate answer.”
Hoseok had literally cooled himself down and decided to end his co-worker’s torment, “All we have is soy milk, but if I were a kid, I wouldn’t want to drink a freaking bean or have ice cream made from it.”
One thing Jin had learned a long time ago was that important decisions sometimes had to be made quickly and with little thought. This was one of those situations. “Jimin, use the soy milk for now and wake up Yoongi to help you get orders completed,” Jin fished a credit card from his back pocket and extended it to Hoseok, “Hoseok, you go to the organic grocery around the corner and buy a liter of 2% milk and a liter of 1% as well.”
Hoseok mock-saluted Seokjin. “Gotcha, boss!” Then after a pause, “How do I get there? I don’t really know the area.”
“Make a left out the back door, then a right onto the pavement, a left at the corner and it’s like halfway down the block from there. Hurry back, though, we still have two hours’ worth of orders until we close,” Jin glared at Jimin, who was trying to wake up Yoongi, “Without those two, this time.”
Hoseok made a beeline for the employee exit, not even taking his apron off before leaving, and disappeared with the parting words of “I’m your hope!”
Hoseok didn’t come back for fifteen minutes. With a three-minute commute there and back, that left an inefficient nine minutes of actually finding milk and ringing it up. Jin knew the grocery didn’t get so much business on a Thursday night.
He happened to be passing by the kitchen when he heard the back door open. Jimin and Yoongi practically pounced on the man, grabbing the paper bag and unloading milk cartons as fast as possible. “What the hell took you so long?” Jimin asked while uncapping a liter of 2%.
Hoseok didn’t answer for a solid minute, which made Jin do a double take. If there was one person on the staff he could never get to shut up, it was Hoseok. The kid was always talking, laughing, singing girl group songs, or asking stupid questions that nobody answered. In fact, this was the quietest Jin had ever seen him. His eyes were clouded, as though he were lost and had just walked into the wrong restaurant. Eventually, Hoseok came to his senses. “I… couldn’t find the dairy department,” He caught his appearance in the steel oven’s reflection, “Why did you guys not tell me I left my apron on?”
Yoongi smacked his arm with the nearest spatula. “You’re worried about that? Get to work; Jimin and I have been hauling ass trying to get these orders in.”
Shaking his limbs out a bit, Hoseok muttered what sounded like to Jin, Yeah I’m sure you were hauling Jimin’s ass followed by a curt That doesn’t even make sense, hyung, before grabbing meal tickets and assuming his place in the kitchen. Jin sighed and decided it was time to get out of there. “Behave, boys."
Within a week, Jin had purchased a new salad bowl, two wine glasses, and a teacup—all of which broken by Hoseok. Yes, Jin knew he was clumsy. No, he was never usually this clumsy. Hoseok tried to laugh it off, saying, “It’s not my fault!” But really, who else’s fault could it be?
The other employees were beginning to worry. Jung Hoseok was largely considered the happiest worker at Eat Jin. His face was usually 50% smile, 50% actual face. The past week, however, Hoseok’s smiles never reached his eyes. He was distracted, and it made his peers distracted as well.
Namjoon, the usual floor manager, caught Jin by the arm on his way out one day. “Hey, I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” His voice lowered, “but I think there’s something wrong with Hoseok.” Namjoon never entered the kitchen (“It’s because he wants to see you more when you’re greeting tables!” Jimin had said one day with a wink, to which Seokjin had replied, “No, it’s because he would explode something otherwise.”) and even he had recognized a shift in Hoseok’s demeanor.
Jin’s hand made its way to Namjoon’s shoulder. “I think we’ve all noticed… He started acting weird the day we ran out of milk-” Jin decidedly ignored the manager’s ‘Wait, we ran out of milk?’ “-and he’s been really out of it ever since. That was like a week ago. Do you think he’s sick?”
The other man laughed, showing off a dimple, and Jin suddenly felt less ashamed that he’d hired Namjoon partly for his appearance. He did do a good job of training Jungkook and dealing with pushy customers, though. “That kid never gets sick, hyung. He pretty much absorbs sunshine. He photosynthesizes.”
Jin laughed and gave Namjoon’s shoulder a few friendly pats, paying Jungkook no mind when he whistled not-so-subtly.
This time it was Yoongi’s head in the fridge. “Hey, Jimin, looks like we’re almost out of milk… Again. This looks familiar.”
Jimin laughed, “Well, no one can blame us this time.”
Hoseok looked up from his fry pan and flushed, “Ahh, it was me, I admit it! At least we’re not totally out…” Then, as if a thought had just came to him, “To make it up to you, I’ll go get more now! We’re not busy anyway.”
“I don’t see why not; less work for me,” Yoongi immediately nudged Hoseok over and commanded the fry pan. “Just don’t let boss know you left.”
Hoseok smiled and the two other men looked at each other questioningly; it was the first time Hoseok had beamed like that in a week. He was out the door in a minute, with his own wallet “to make it up to you guys”. Of course, he remembered to remove his apron this time—and perhaps took a sly glance in the reflective oven door on the way out.
He came back twenty minutes later this time. Jin was in the kitchen when he returned. Hoseok didn’t seem to care, however, smiling from ear to ear and holding up the bag triumphantly. “Someone’s happy,” Jin commented, “Someone also needs to learn how to walk faster and ask me for money if they need it,”
Hoseok just laughed—actually, it was more of a disgusting giggle—and began unpacking milk cartons from the bag. “What can I say, boss? I forgot where the dairy section was. At least Jimin and Yoongi aren’t mad at me, and we have milk now!”
“You’re up to something, Jung Hoseok,” Jin tried to look mysterious and intimidating, but he was just glad Hoseok was acting normal again—at least, as normal as he had been. “I’ll find out what it is. You’re lucky there’s not much business tonight.” It didn’t sound as threatening as Jin wanted.
Hoseok shrugged and kicked Yoongi out of his station.
“I think I know what it is,” Jimin beamed and pulled up a stool. It was a slow day anyway. “With Hoseok, I mean. I’ve only seen that look in his eyes once, with someone else, and do you know when it was? I’ll give a hint: You were there.”
Jin racked his brain for another time an employee had looked so dumbly and unfocused, but found nothing. “No, Jimin, when was it?” This had better not be some stupid example.
“Back when I was a waiter and you were training me and Namjoon-hyung came in for a sandwich and to promo his mixtape and he saw you for the first time.” Jimin pretended to tear up. “Match made in heaven.” Every time Jin nearly forgot about Namjoon’s embarrassing and short-lived music career, Jimin made sure to remind him.
“For the last time, Jimin,” Jin turned to go out of the kitchen, “Namjoon is not obsessed with me. Also, you’re never getting a raise.”
Yoongi’s previously sleeping head snapped up when the juice bottle slammed down next to him. “What the—”
“I’m back from break, hyung!” Oh, it was Hoseok. He needed to shut up. “Want some juice? There was a good sale, so I bought two.”
“Please stop talking, can’t you see I just woke up? Respect your hyung,” Yoongi yawned, “And no, I don’t want juice. Get that out of my face.”
Seokjin clapped his hands to get their attention, phone in between his palms. “No drinking on the job Hoseok,” Before Hoseok could complain, he elaborated, “I don’t care if it’s juice; I don’t want that near my food. Also, Yoongi, you’ve been sleeping for-” he glanced down at his phone, “-eleven minutes and thirty-four seconds. That’s 11340 won off your next paycheck.” Yoongi groaned and got back to work reluctantly. “By the way, Hoseok, where did you even go?”
Hoseok’s smile slipped, and rather than making eye contact with Jin he stared at the juice bottle affectionately. “Just the convenience store.”
“Nice try,” Jin chuckled, “There’s not a convenience store on this block.”
Hoseok looked disappointed. “Dang, I picked the one store that isn’t on this block! Fine, you got me, I… I went to the grocery?”
A laugh from Jimin’s direction caused Hoseok to look over. “What is up with you and that place? Isn’t it, like, a hippy food market?” Hoseok shrugged before Jimin continued, “Also, there’s a convenience store across the street. I know you don’t know the area, but seriously, you can see it out the front window.”
Hoseok shot a glance at Jin, who confirmed, “It’s true. I just wanted to mess with you.”
Before Hoseok could strangle his boss, Namjoon and Jungkook peeked their heads around the corner. “Hi boys, have you seen Seokjin?” Namjoon asked.
“I’m right here,” Jin smiled, smoothing his hair down a bit.
“Oh, Seokjin, I didn’t see you there.” Namjoon said, then overanalyzed his own speech and backtracked: “Not that I wouldn’t have seen you normally. You’re, um, hard to miss. But not in a bad way…” Jin maintained his smile, miraculously considering Jungkook was doubled over behind Namjoon’s back pretending to vomit, causing Jimin to break into laughter.
“It’s okay, what did you need me for?”
“Ah, yes! There’s a couple kind of mad about a crying baby; they wanted to talk to you.”
Jin didn’t want to know if it was Yoongi who called “Use a condom!” or not; he ignored them all the same.
All it took was one second. One second of poor coordination on Hoseok’s part, sending him back-first into Jimin, who had coincidentally been pouring milk. A full liter of milk, which toppled to the ground and lost every drop to the floor and Jimin’s lower body. Before Hoseok could apologize, Yoongi scoffed, “Damn, why don’t we just buy a freaking cow for the restaurant?”
“It was an accident!” Hoseok insisted, but Jimin was less than convinced.
“Sure, just go buy the milk quickly; tell your girlfriend you’re in a hurry.”
Hoseok blinked. “What girlfriend?”
“The one you’ve been hiding from us. When you go to the ‘grocery store’,” Jimin laughed and patted Hoseok on the back. “It’s okay; I’ll cover for you. Yoongi-hyung, could you clean the milk up?”
The lazy boy’s concession of, “Off your pants or the floor? I’ll just get Jungkook to take care of the floor,” almost drowned out Hoseok’s protests of but I really do go to the grocery, I swear! Almost.
He really was fast this time, with a record of eight minutes. Hoseok held up the bag as if it were a trophy. “Look what I got,” He called in a sing-song voice, plopping the bag down on a spare island.
“Gee, I wonder what it could be,” Yoongi rolled his eyes and ripped the bag open unceremoniously.
The youngest chef laughed, “You know there’s a hole in the top of the bag so you won’t have to demolish it like an animal?” Jimin was distracted as a white strip of paper fluttered to the ground. He gasped upon retrieving it, and made a sound akin to a seven-year-old girl teasing her best friend about a crush. “Hoseok-hyung, who’s Tae with a heart?”
Hoseok had no idea he could turn around so fast, or turn so red in the face. “Is— is that the receipt? What does it say? Give it back, oh my God!” He wrestled the receipt out of Jimin’s hand with much struggle, only to find small, cramped handwriting in a black space on the receipt.
Have fun at work!
A number was printed below—a telephone number, as Hoseok finally gathered after about five minutes. And to answer Jimin’s question, all he supplied was, “I told you I really went to the grocery store.”
Jimin burst into laughter, jumping up and down with excitement. “So you met a girl at the grocery store?”
“No,” Hoseok returned to his station, even though he wouldn’t be able to cook any decent food in his state, “I met a boy at the grocery store.”
Yoongi let out a low whistle, “Sounds like our baby Hoseok is finally a man, Jimin. He’s found love. In a grocery store, of all things.” He put the finishing touches on a dish and queued it in to be served. “Just wait until boss hears about this.”
By the time the new reached Jin, it was ten minutes to closing. He was doing some… business talk with Namjoon, when a certain part-timer ran up to them and rudely stated, “Hate to ruin the mood, but have you heard about Hoseok-hyung?”
Namjoon smiled tightly, obviously perturbed about the interruption. “No, kid, what’s the news?”
Jungkook grinned, proud to be the one to deliver such an important story to his higher-ups. “So you know how he always goes to the grocery store and stuff? Apparently he met a hot guy there and fell ugly-head-over-heels so he’s been sabotaging your milk supply for like half a month to see this guy more. Anyway, hot grocery man gave Hoseokie-hyung his number on a receipt. Yeah, they’re pretty much married. Isn’t that cute? Take notes, Namjoon-sshi.” Jungkook mumbled something that sounded like, Mystery man must have a really nice ass.
Jin had seen it coming. Jimin did have a point; he’d seen those lost puppy dog eyes before (Not with Namjoon, but rather with Jimin the first time he met Yoongi, the little hypocrite). He couldn’t say he wasn’t happy for the cook. Hoseok would finally have someone actually interested in his onslaught of questions and animated personality. His happiness, however, didn’t outweigh the time and money spent on milk because Hoseok was prancing around love-struck.
Five minutes later, with no more customers in the restaurant, Jin decided to approach Hoseok. “So,” He started, “Did you think I wouldn’t find out about all these milk shenanigans?”
Hoseok visibly paled and let out embarrassed laughter that showed all his teeth. “Ah, was it Jungkook? I swear, that little fetus-”
“-It doesn’t matter who told me, Hoseok. You could have been honest about this.” Jin felt like everyone’s mother sometimes. “You know this can’t go unnoticed, so I decided to skip out on your paycheck this week. I hope you understand. Also, if Jungkook has any questions Namjoon can’t answer, I’m sending him to you.” Jin honestly hated being short with or punishing his employees, but it couldn’t be helped.
The other male was quiet for a few seconds, then sighed. “I understand. Sorry about this, boss, I just—you act strangely around Namjoon-hyung, right? You get how it is.”
Jin groaned, “Why does everyone think I’m crazy about with Namjoon? Don’t turn this on me, Hoseok,” It was pointless arguing. The whole lot had it in their minds that he and the manager were secretly dating, despite Jin’s efforts to change that (Now that he thinks about it, Namjoon did very little to put rumors to rest). “Anyway, the most important question: how did you meet him?” Jin was always a sucker for a good gossip session. Fortunately, so was Hoseok.
“It’s kind of embarrassing, but it’s a good story, Seokjin-sshi. You’ll probably laugh, but I’ll tell you anyway.”
Hoseok had no idea where the dairy department was. The store was obviously very organic, and by that Hoseok meant it was for people who had a lot of allergies or were on some obscure diet. Veganism was so extremely rare in Seoul, or all of Korea for that matter, and yet the grocery was still set up with no dairy in mind. Hoseok knew where produce was, he knew where the drinks were (excluding milk), and no matter which corner he turned, he was greeted by the front of the store again. Whoever set this up should seriously consider labyrinth design.
Although the man had always prided himself in being hopeful, there seemed to be very little here. There were also very little people in the store, he noted. He hadn’t seen even one employee. So much for asking directions. Hoseok was considering Apple Maps when he saw a new aisle, one which had eluded him before. It was just wheat. Maybe the aisle would take him to the back of the store, though; that’s where milk was usually located, right?
In his rush, Hoseok had failed to notice the near-empty shelf of bread to his right—and also the worker knelt to the ground, stocking more. Hoseok tripped over the employee’s feet accompanied by a less-than-quiet Oh shit! and landed… comfortably. Like a pillow, in fact. Upon looking beneath him, Hoseok was mortified to find his pillow was no less than five fresh loafs of bread, now flattened.
“I’m so, so sorry,” Hoseok exclaimed, more to the bread than to the employee, trying to pick up the loaves as fast as possible. He still had milk to buy. Maybe if he squeezed the loaf horizontally it would look kind of norm-
Hoseok’s thoughts were interrupted by a warm hand on his arm. “It’s okay,” A deep voice reassured him, “Accidents happen.” Hoseok looked up at the stranger for the first time and that was the moment his life ended. Or began.
The first thing he noticed were the eyes. Enormous brown eyes that sparkled with understanding. His light brown hair was messy and careless and swept over his large pierced ears and his skin was annoyingly fresh. He’d always thought brown was such a plain, dull color and the person in front of him was all shades of brown and Hoseok couldn’t bring himself to care. And then he smiled so wide and the huge eyes crinkled and his teeth were straight and small and his lips, perfect lips, framed a box-shaped mouth.
He was the most beautiful anything Jung Hoseok had seen in his life.
All Hoseok could do was smile back. He was suddenly conscious about his long nose and boring hair and horse teeth. They were too close together, the boy and him. About a meter apart, but it was too close. His forearm was disintegrating under the boy’s hand.
As much as Hoseok wanted to (he was reluctant to admit it, but that didn’t change that he still wanted to) stare into the boy’s eyes for at least ten more minutes, his job was most likely on the line as it was. Hoseok’s voice was quiet when he said, “I’m… still sorry. Well. If you’re sure it’s okay, would you mind telling me where the milk is located?” Yes. Hoseok was so smooth.
The employee looked at him confused, “You don’t work here?” He asked. Hoseok told him no (only to find out later the boy was confused because of the blue apron left around his waist). “Oh. It’s right there, then.” And he pointed and Hoseok felt like an absolute idiot, because how could he have missed the huge array of cheeses in an aisle not ten feet in front of him. He cursed the beautiful boy for having such distracting, black-hole eyes.
“… Of course,” Hoseok laughed (Was that too awkward?) and rose with the other boy. They were virtually the same height. “Thank you.” He bid the worker a reluctant – so, so reluctant – farewell and tried to snap out of his haze on the short way to the dairy aisle.
Finding the milk after that was no problem; however, finding his way back to the entrance was. He’d been so good at it before, too. Hoseok was eventually able to retrace his steps and find the registers. Except they were all empty. Perfect. It’s a good thing he wasn’t in a hurry, at all, whatsoever.
“Ah, milkman!” Hoseok turned to the low voice, despite already knowing who it belonged to. Beautiful Bread Boy (BBB for short) was just as radiant as ever (three minutes ago). And it seemed he had been creating nicknames of his own. Milkman? … Okay, it was cute. “Were you waiting long? Did you find everything you need? Sorry, I was just in the back, but I can ring you up now.” He talked so much, but not enough at all. The deep, rough voice, the way his lips moved…
Hoseok smiled and walked toward the newly-opened register, “I wasn’t waiting long at all.” He set the two liters down on the conveyor as casually as possible, trying not to appear in a hurry.
“What a relief,” He actually sounded genuine. BBB scanned the liters and Hoseok almost told the scanner to shut up for interrupting BBB’s voice with its beeping, “Cash or credit?”
“Uh, credit,” Hoseok pulled out Jin’s credit card and realized how stupid he looked; using a credit card on a 3000 won purchase? He swiped the card anyway.
Hoseok took one last look at BBB while the receipt was printing. He vowed, at that moment, that he would do everything in his power to make it back to the store sometime, sometime soon. And preferably at this time, as he didn’t know when the boy’s shift was otherwise. In fact, he didn’t know anything about BBB. There was no nametag; he’d checked in vain.
“Here’s your receipt.” The boy smiled so perfectly. Hoseok didn’t usually keep receipts, but how could he refuse? He took the slip of paper and their fingers brushed. Was it cliché and immature of Hoseok to feel embarrassed by the touch? Absolutely. “Enjoy your milk and have a nice night,” BBB squinted a bit at the display monitor, “Seokjin-sshi!”
It would be a complete lie to say he didn’t think about the cashier more than was appropriate. Hoseok had never been this hung up on a stranger before—an Adonis-like stranger, yes, but still a stranger. He’d been in relationships, and not one ex was as flawless as BBB. The boy was undoubtedly attractive, but over the next few weeks Hoseok found himself remembering small things like how the collar of his uniform polo was popped up on accident or how there was on light brown strand of hair just by his ear that stuck out. The little things about BBB were just as distracting as his smile and eyes.
His work performance was slipping. He’d been breaking more dishes than normal lately. Any time he touched an ingredient, he would wonder stupidly, “Did BBB ring this item up? Has he touched this exact avocado?” even if he knew exactly which market the ingredient came from. He turned to the only person he knew how: Yoongi. The man far too lazy to care about other people’s problems. He caught Yoongi at the end of a shift one day, as Hoseok was packing up and Yoongi was waking up.
“Hi, hyung!” Hoseok poked his arm and retaliated just in time to avoid a swatting from Yoongi.
“What, a guy can’t spend time with his favorite hyung?” That was the only way Hoseok knew how to get Yoongi to do whatever he wanted: Play the ‘You’re the best’ card. He’s sure Jimin had come up with another way, but Hoseok really did not want to know. “I just have a question, Yoongi-hyung, a very hypothetical question: What do you do if you see a stranger and think they’re really cute but you can’t do anything about it because they’re a stranger? Hypothetically.”
Yoongi sighed. “I’m a chef, not a therapist. Give up? I don’t know, ask Jin next time—that guy’s mushy as fuck.”
Well, that certainly wasn’t the answer Hoseok wanted to hear. He would have to take matters into his own hands. Unfortunately, this led to Hoseok sabotaging some milk the next time he closed (Hoseok didn’t even like milk, but that liter and a half was the sweetest he’d ever drank).
Although Yoongi was an atrocious therapist, he had a wonderful poker face and Hoseok was glad the older male would cover for him while he made the trek to a certain organic grocery—sans apron, of course.
Hoseok was almost annoyed that BBB had gotten more stunning in two weeks. He was manning the register and didn’t see Hoseok as he entered. The chef found the dairy department more easily, but still took his time in trying to figure out what to say once he go to the register.
After at least five minutes, he decided he would let BBB speak first. Foolproof.
It was earlier; there were actually customers in the store this time. So when Hoseok approached the entrance, two more liters of milk in his hand, he was disappointed to see that BBB’s register was occupied. More than that, two registers were completely open, so getting in line at the pretty boy’s register behind another customer would seem weird.
He got in BBB’s line anyway.
Hoseok wasn’t expecting the cashier to remember him; two weeks had passed, after all, and he probably saw a lot of customers each day. He was pleasantly surprised, however, when his turn came and BBB remarked, “Milk again? Do you like milk?”
The chef laughed, not because what the cashier had said was funny, but because he’d been remembered. “Not really,” he replied, “but I need it.”
BBB let out a sound of agreement and Hoseok thought it was too adorable. “Yeah, cereal would be so boring without it. So would cookies. I really like cows, though,” Just when Hoseok was wondering What planet is this boy even on, I want to live there the cashier gave a smile that showed all his lovely teeth. “I’m Taehyung, by the way.”
Woah. He had not been expecting such a wonderful turnout from his impromptu plan. BBB had a name. And it was Taehyung. Taehyung. It was beautiful; how fitting. The name was the only thing running through Hoseok’s mind, over and over. He was surprised he was able to reply, “I’m Hoseok.”
“Hoseok?” God, if only everyone said his name the way BB- Taehyung did. “I could have sworn your name was Seokjin.” Oh my God.
“Ah, no,” Hoseok tried not to blush. He was rarely ever embarrassed, but this guy really got to him. “That’s my boss. He gave me his card to buy milk here… I work at the restaurant down the street, Eat Jin, and we’ve been running out of milk lately.”
Taehyung’s brown eyes got even larger. “Are you a waiter? How cool! I bet you get lots of tips.” Hoseok wasn’t sure what he meant by that.
“No, I’m a chef there.” He was so glad he went to college. Glad he pursued cooking. Glad the title of ‘chef’ sounded important enough to maybe impress Taehyung.
“Wow, a chef! You must be so talented! I’m the worst at cooking; I just end up eating everything,” A man after his own heart. “I’ll have to come to the restaurant sometime. I don’t work weekends, so maybe I could. Food is so good.”
Hoseok couldn’t even imagine what he would do if he knew the plate he was preparing would go out to Taehyung. He’d probably spend an hour just making sure it looked good. Taehyung had finished ringing him up, slipping the receipt in with the cartons, handing him his bag… He was done with the transaction and had to return to Eat Jin before Jin noticed, but Hoseok wanted to stay and talk to Taehyung more than anything.
“You should, the food’s great there.” Hoseok’s grin was large and genuine, but his inner composure still had some work to do. And as much as he hated to say it… “I was actually supposed to be back a while ago. I love loitering in grocery stores all day, but duty calls.” Once again, very smooth.
Unfortunately, Taehyung might just be smoother. “I understand. If you ever run out of milk again, you know where to find me.” Was he flirting? Hoseok hoped he was flirting. One thing was for sure—Hoseok would definitely be back.
“Of course. Have a good night!” Hoseok called on his way out. He almost ran into the door from taking one long last look at Taehyung’s smile.
The chef practically skipped back to the restaurant. He was happy. This bizarre, unprofessional relationship he’d established with Taehyung had officially moved past the rank of “strangers” and could potentially move past the rank of “acquaintances”. He could dream, at least.
He didn’t care that Jin was in the kitchen ready to give him a lecture when he came back. Hoseok had learned the name of a beautiful cashier, and he repeated it like a personal mantra over the next few days, as though something terrible would happen if he ever forgot the name Taehyung.
Hoseok knew there were whispers about him. About why he was so depressed one day, and so happy the next. He didn’t listen (Especially if they came from Jungkook). He just needed to get back to that store.
It was one of those lovely times, after about two straight hours of hectic cooking. Jin would clap him on the back and say, “You can take a break now, if you want. Just be prepared to work hard when Yoongi or Jimin goes on break next.” There was a problem in that he just never knew what to do on break.
Hoseok didn’t live on this side of Seoul. Until two years ago, he didn’t live in Seoul at all; he’d come from Gwangju for a cooking program in his last year of college and decided to stay. He only came to this side of town for work, really. So he didn’t know where to grab a snack on break or go shopping for fun, and didn’t really care to look. After all, it was more fun to sit on the floor during break, right in everyone’s way, and scream over-enthusiastic encouragements at Yoongi and Jimin to work harder.
Today, however, he knew exactly where he wanted to go.
There were more people in the grocery than Hoseok had experienced before. And this time, he didn’t have an excuse to buy milk. He was a bit thirsty, though (not just for Taehyung). He tried to think back to the first time visiting the store, when he’d stumbled upon the drink section accidentally at least five times.
He eventually found it, and was pleasantly surprised to find there was a juice sale. What a lucky day. He grabbed two random juices (he wasn’t really there to buy juice, of course) and made his way to the register (he was there for the register). And the best part was there was nobody in Taehyung’s line.
Taehyung looked ravishing as usual. There was a sort of relief that came with seeing Taehyung’s face or hearing his voice, like all of Hoseok’s worries were meaningless. He smiled when he saw Hoseok, and all he could think was What did I ever do to be this lucky? “Hello! No milk this time?”
Hoseok laughed, even though it wasn’t necessarily funny. “Nope, I’m just on break. I figured I would come and see what else looks good besides milk.” And you. God, Hoseok swore he was becoming worse by the hour when it came to Taehyung.
“Juice is a classic choice,” the cashier assured him, “Healthy and delicious,” he rang up the two bottles, “And on sale, apparently. That’s the best kind of juice. So how’s work?” Taehyung was so sweet.
“Same as always,” Hoseok replied, “Just cooking the whole time, maybe a flour fight with my co-workers every once in a while.” If Jin ever asked why there was flour on the floor all the time, none of them seemed to know.
He earned a laugh from Taehyung, “Sounds better than ringing up groceries for four hours a day. My scanning arm gets a bit weak after a while.”
Hoseok decided to test the waters a bit, push the boundaries, “At least you get to talk to wonderful customers like me. I don’t get to do that at work unless we run out of milk.”
The cashier pretended to be deep in thought, then said, “I guess you’re not that bad,” That was all Hoseok wanted to hear. He was debating whether or not to instigate further flirting, when a new voice caused both of them to look in its direction.
“Excuse me, are you two quite done? I’ve been ready to ring my groceries up for some time now,” It was an old lady. Hoseok didn’t even notice there was anyone behind him in line, and apparently neither had Taehyung. “You’re both very handsome young men, but please save your affections for after working hours.”
Hoseok was slightly mortified, ready to apologize and then tell the woman she’d misread the situation, when Taehyung cut in, “Sorry, miss, it won’t happen again.” Hoseok grabbed his back and tried to make a speedy exit when Taehyung caught his eye and winked. Well. That was an image Hoseok would undoubtedly be running over in his head for the rest of time.
Hoseok couldn’t help his smile at both the wink and the old lady’s remark of I should have chosen a different register.
He arrived back at Eat Jin in an exceptionally good mood, which Yoongi was less than happy about. He’d been sleeping, as usual.
When Hoseok formulated and on-the-spot lie about buying juice at the convenience store, only to be tricked into confessing by Jin, he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep up his grocery store rendezvouses much longer.
Hoseok wanted to push the envelope one more time. Spill milk somehow, and make it look like an accident. It wasn’t hard to bump in to an unsuspecting Jimin. The whole liter was ruined on the floor; Hoseok had done a good job. Except how some got on Jimin’s legs.
When Yoongi dryly remarked, “Damn, why don’t we just by a freaking cow for the restaurant?” he remembered that Taehyung likes cows, and decided it wasn’t a bad idea.
Hoseok tried apologizing, but Jimin would have none of it. “Sure, just go buy some replacement milk quickly; tell your girlfriend you’re in a hurry.” Hoseok’s heart nearly stopped; Taehyung was by no means a woman, but Jimin was on to him.
He decided to play the What girlfriend? card, but knew he would have to be quick at the store. Damn.
Seeing Taehyung again brought a smile to Hoseok’s face. It was a bit odd, knowing that after this meeting Hoseok would never encounter Taehyung again thanks to a milk spill. His job would be in danger for sure if any more milk was sacrificed on Taehyung’s behalf.
Hoseok went through the motions of selecting milk, faster than ever this time to leave him with as long a conversation with Taehyung as possible.
Taehyung waved him over upon noticing the chef. “Hi, Hoseok-hyung!” His name sounded so beautiful when Taehyung said it, “Is there a milk drought at your restaurant again?” He said your restaurant as if Hoseok owned it—as if he were the most important person there.
“Yes,” the chef admitted, “I may or may not have spilled an entire liter all over the floor and another person.”
Taehyung laughed and it was music to his ears. “Your life is so exciting!”
“Not really,” Hoseok assured him, “Only when there’s no milk.”
“I can see you’re in a hurry,” the cashier said, “So I won’t keep you. Have a nice night! Come back soon!”
Hoseok waved as he exited. He would be back, even if it was on his own time.
The others looked surprised at how fast he’d returned. Yoongi made a show of tearing into the grocery bag, and Hoseok was ready to put thoughts of Taehyung aside and get back to cooking when he heard a dramatic gasp from Jimin, who was holding the very receipt Taehyung had carefully slipped into the bag.
“Hoseok-hyung, who’s Tae with a heart?”
Those words were all it took for Hoseok to flush and feel his heart speed up immeasurably. “Is— is that the receipt? What does it say? Give it back, oh my God!” His hands were trembling when he finally got a hold of the receipt.
Have fun at work!
Even his handwriting was beautiful. It looked like Taehyung’s face, if it were born again as a font. Hoseok was concentrated so deeply on each curve and nuance of each character, he hardly noticed the string of numbers below. Could it be? The sweetest combination of numbers that existed on Earth: Taehyung’s phone number. Oh, he would definitely be calling later. And probably texting until three in the morning.
He felt victorious, as if everything he’d done to see Taehyung more often had paid off. He was more of a man, too; wasn’t it a rite of passage to get a phone number from someone cute without asking?
“I told you I really went to the grocery store.” Hoseok’s newfound confidence caused him to smirk and look at Jimin in a smug manner.
Naturally, the other two chefs had lots of questions. Mostly Jimin, but even Yoongi wanted to know exactly how someone as individual as Hoseok had landed, well, anyone.
Hoseok told them the whole story (something he would later regret as Yoongi had a habit of telling secrets to everybody that Hoseok never knew about), from how they met with both men ending up on the floor (Oooh, get some, hyung!), to when he thought Hoseok was really Jin (“He told me his name is Taehyung,” It was the first time Hoseok had said Taehyung’s name out loud; it was so mouth-numbing he almost giggled), to when the old lady mistook them for being in a relationship.
The first thing Yoongi said after he finished the story was, “He sounds like a dumbass. Perfect for you.” Hoseok took that as a compliment.
Seokjin certainly didn’t expect Hoseok’s new relationship to gain so much attention. He doubted that Hoseok told anyone about it besides himself and the two village idiots, but the whole rest of the staff and even some regulars wanted to wish Hoseok congratulations. He became embarrassed every time.
Nobody could believe that Hoseok of all people had gotten into a relationship before Namjoon and Jin (which the owner still denied would ever happen, and the manager still had yet to comment. Jin is starting to think he’s the wrong one). Yes, the chef had walked into work two days (Jin scolded Jungkook more than once that day for using the phrase Hyung, you whore) after getting Taehyung’s phone number with a blinding smile on his face, and everyone knew he had either gotten laid or was single no longer (although Jungkook told everyone it was the former, Hoseok confirmed the latter after much prompting).
It was more than disgusting. Every free moment, every break, Hoseok was glued to his phone with a hardly-concealed grin, saying things like, “Tae is so cute,” and “Guess what Taehyung just said? He’s so thoughtful.” Yoongi devoted an entire shift to smacking Hoseok every time he said Taehyung’s name. Seokjin pretended not to notice.
They’d never seen this side of Hoseok before, this tender, vulnerable side. Jin found him pointing out the smaller things—Awww-ing at insignificant details nobody would ever find romantic. Despite that he was more mature, in a way, and spoke more respectfully to Jin and Namjoon.
To his knowledge, this boy Taehyung had never come into the restaurant. Jin thought he would notice someone as “flawless” and “beautiful” as Taehyung apparently was, anyway. Seokjin wasn’t sure of what would happen if Hoseok and the object of his distraction were in the same room together. Then one Saturday, when Hoseok was on break, Jin came back into the kitchen to find Hoseok and a boy he’d never seen before sitting side by side on the floor, fingers laced, yelling encouragements to Jimin and Yoongi, right in everyone else’s way. Jin didn’t even have to ask who this was. It was a bit low of Hoseok, he thought, to encourage his boyfriend to go along with his antics. Yoongi and Jimin would have to walk all the way around the counter just to get to the other side.
The other two chefs didn’t seem bothered by his presence at all. In fact, when Jin asked something like Hoseok why are you bringing people into the kitchen Jimin piped up and said, “Seokjin-sshi, Taehyung is awesome! We go to the same university and didn’t even know! Can we keep him, please?” Jin and Hoseok answered ‘no’ at the same time. The kid was cute, Jin had to admit. He seemed to genuinely like Hoseok as well. They looked good together, as much as Jin disliked non-employees being where they shouldn’t.
That was about the time Jungkook walked in, probably to ask some stupid question just to annoy Jin, but his motives quickly switched to ‘embarrass Hoseok’. “Oh my God, is this Taehyung? I’m a huge fan,” Jungkook acted as if he were meeting a celebrity, shaking Taehyung’s hand and everything. Hoseok shot him a half-threatening glance, but Jungkook already had a question prepared for Taehyung that nobody could stop him from asking: “Is Hoseok a good kisser?” This caused Jimin to break out in laughter, Yoongi to groan, and Hoseok to hide his face in his hands. Taehyung smiled (it wasn’t as magical as Hoseok had described) and answered ‘yes’ quite automatically, as if Jungkook had asked him if the weather was nice, and then Jungkook was once again mock-vomiting onto the floor.
Jin, meanwhile, introduced himself, said it was nice to meet Taehyung, and promptly removed him from the kitchen. Hoseok followed, of course, at least until five minutes later when his break was over.
When Jin had first heard of Taehyung, he’d assumed he was a normal, average college student, and had become confused as to why he was so taken with someone as bubbly as Hoseok. His opinion of the boy changed more drastically every weekend, however, when Hoseok somehow snuck Taehyung in through the back door with the help of Jimin. The kid was weird. He asked so many questions that Jin honestly had no idea how to answer. Everyone seemed to like him, though, even Yoongi, who didn’t tease Taehyung nearly as much as he did his co-workers. And he made Hoseok happier (remarkably). So Seokjin allowed him to stay when he came in, as long as he didn’t distract anyone or eat any food (he seemed to have trouble with the last part). When it was Hoseok’s job to close and Taehyung was there, Jin noticed some pastries were usually missing the next day.
Jin sent Jungkook back into the kitchen on one of these days, to get the jacket he’d left on a counter. The owner had gotten worried when he heard yelling, and Jungkook returned three minutes later with a horrified expression on his face. He made a bee-line for the storage closet. The only thing he had to say in passing was, “Would you mind telling Romeo and Juliet to leave already? I have to power wash the counter.”