Jeongguk is seven years old when he learns a new word.
He watches eagerly from his position in front of the window the moving-van pulling up, followed by a small red car. His face lights up at the bright red of the car that looks a little like the apples his halmeoni picks from the apple farms she sometimes visits. Red’s his favourite colour, and he thinks that he likes these neighbours already.
He squishes his nose up to the window, trying to catch a glimpse of the new neighbours. He hopes that they’re nice old people who will give him lots and lots of candy (but not pinch his cheeks, because he’s seven, not four). Or maybe the new neighbour will be a cool hyung-nim that’ll take Jeongguk out for ice-cream when it’s hot and play ball with him (because Jeongguk’s actual hyung is so dumb – all he does is talk to his girlfriend on the phone). Or maybe a nice noona that will bake him cakes and make him lemonade.
Jeongguk doesn’t expect a boy around his age to clamber out of the car, his small face stretched out into a huge smile that Jeongguk thinks is the nicest smile he’s ever seen. His eyes are smiley rainbows and Jeongguk thinks that the boy might’ve trapped stars inside his eyes with the way they seem to twinkle in the late April sun. When he sees the shiny, golden trumpet tucked under the boy’s arm, Jeongguk lets out a sound of excitement, because it’s so cool that the boy moving in next door plays a brass instrument like he does. Maybe, Jeongguk thinks as he flies down the stairs, barely stopping to fling the door open, he and the boy can have a two-man band and perform in front of their families.
He runs down the steps of his house and hurtles past the gate, skidding to a stop in front of the surprised boy. Up close, the boy is even nicer to look at, Jeongguk thinks to himself as he pants, slightly out of breath. The boy looks at Jeongguk curiously, and when Jeongguk smiles shyly at the boy, the boy’s face breaks out into a smile that makes sun look dull in comparison. The boy’s eyes all but disappear as his chubby cheeks scrunch up, and Jeongguk stares at the boy in awe for a second before blinking rapidly a few times.
“Hi! I’m Jeongguk!” He exclaims. He moves to gesture at the trumpet. “You play the trumpet?! That’s so cool, I play the French horn! You know, we should play our instruments together one day, then play in my sandpit afterwards!”
If possible, the boy’s eyes brighten even more, and his smile stretches until Jeongguk worries slightly that the boy’s mouth might be in pain later. Jeongguk suddenly feels shy and looks down at the pavement, scuffing his toe. He notices the boy’s red converses and thinks to himself that they’re destined to be best friends.
“Jeongguk! Come inside, it’s time for French horn practice!” He hears his mum call from inside. He looks up at the small boy.
“I’m going to practice my French horn, and then I’ll come visit your house, okay? Do you like toy trucks? I have four trucks. You can have one, if you want!” Jeongguk says. “Anyways, I have to go, I’ll see you later, okay?”
The boy nods, his smile unwavering. “Bye Jeonggukie, I’ll see you soon!”
Jeongguk thinks he likes the boy’s voice. It’s high and mellow, and has a certain lilting quality that comforts him. He likes it, but he thinks he might secretly like new nickname the boy gave him a little bit more.
It’s only when Jeongguk runs back to his house, pausing at the front door to wave to the boy that he remembers that he forgot to ask his name.
Jeongguk’s face crumples with frustration and annoyance. He licks his lips before bringing his French horn up to his mouth again, and forces himself to concentrate. He manages to get through two bars before his fingers press the wrong keys again, blurting out a note two pitches below what’s supposed to come out, ruining his piece. Jeongguk wants to cry, but he’s not going to, because he’s a big boy and grown-ups don’t cry, so why should Jeongguk?
Except, playing the French horn really is hard, and no matter how hard Jeongguk tries or concentrates, the notes don’t flow out smoothly, and his fingers don’t press the right keys, and Jeongguk tries really, really hard not to get angry at himself, but can’t seem to help the anger that floods through him because how is he meant to become the most famous French hornist in the entire world if he can’t even play this dumb piece?
He stomps his foot in frustration, almost throwing his French horn petulantly. He looks around furtively, making sure his mum is nowhere near him.
“I freaking hate the French horn,” He whispers experimentally to himself.
“Jeon Jeongguk!” His mum’s voice startles him so hard he nearly drops his French horn, and he panics for a minute, wondering if she heard him, and if she’s going to give him the evil eye, like she does with his hyung when he says a naughty word.
“You need to practice harder. You keep making mistakes, sweetie,” His mother says firmly. Jeongguk feels relieved for a minute, before the weight of her words sinks into him, and he can feel himself physically deflating.
He wants to whine, and tell her that it’s too hard and he doesn’t want to do it anymore, because he knows his mum will look at him sternly for a minute before she gives in and lets him play with his toys (or go over to the boy’s house like he’s been begging her for the past hour), but there’s a part of Jeongguk that wants to do better, wants to make his mum proud by being the best French hornist in the entire world, so he just swallows hard, blinking back the stinging tears and nodding.
When she leaves, he quickly scrubs the tears collecting in the corners of his eyes furiously with the back of his hand, before bringing the French horn up to his lips and starting again.
Jeongguk’s playing with his toy trucks when he hears the trumpet playing. The smooth brass sails in from the open window and his head snaps up, his expression alight with curiosity. The boy is really good, Jeongguk thinks (albeit a little grudgingly) to himself. He shuffles closer to the window and he pokes his head out, looking for the source of the sound. The boy’s (Jeongguk decides to dub him Trumpet-Boy until he learns his name) window, right across from Jeongguk’s, is partially open, and he can see Trumpet-Boy playing his trumpet enthusiastically, even swinging the trumpet around for extra flair as he plays a jazzy piece.
He can hear his mum walking up the stairs and Jeongguk dives back to his trucks, before his mum catches him and asks him dumb questions like ‘Jeongguk-ah, were you spying on him? Do you have a crush on him?’ before dissolving into laughter, like she always does (Jeongguk most certainly does not have a crush on Trumpet Boy).
“Jeongguk, that must be your new neighbour, playing the trumpet! I was just talking to his mum then, he’s your hyung-ah, sweetie! Goodness, he’s good at playing the trumpet, isn’t he? See how he’s not making any mistakes?” His mum says, cooing at Trumpet Boy in a way Jeongguk’s so glad she never does to him (he’s not jealous at all).
Jeongguk pokes his head out of the window again. He can see Trumpet-Boy’s brow frowning in concentration and suddenly, Jeongguk thinks that he doesn’t like Trumpet-Boy anymore. Not when he’s better at the Trumpet than Jeongguk is at the French horn, and gets all of his mum’s attention when all Jeongguk gets is a scolding.
Jeongguk can feel his lips pushing out into an angry pout, his heart stinging from the words of praise coming out of his mum’s mouth that are directed at Trumpet-Boy, not him, and he feels like crying. He always thought those red converses he was wearing were so dumb anyways and yeah, Trumpet-Boy can say goodbye to ever playing in Jeongguk’s sandpit.
He turns around, and when he realises he’s alone in the room, Jeongguk reaches out of the window, waving furiously at the small boy in an attempt to catch his attention. After waving his arms for what seems like forever, Trumpet-Boy finally looks up, his small lips parting in surprise as he sees Jeongguk leaning out the window dangerously, waving his arms furiously at him.
Trumpet-Boy’s face breaks out into a huge smile (Jeongguk thinks it’s the dumbest smile in the whole world now), and Jeongguk’s resolve crumbles a little before he remembers exactly why he needs to do this. He can see Trumpet-Boy about to raise his hand to greet him back but before he can, Jeongguk uses his fingers to pull down the corners of his lips, sticking his tongue out and scrunching his face up in what he’s sure is probably the scariest face Trumpet-Boy’s ever seen. Jeongguk quickly blows a huge raspberry at Trumpet-Boy for extra measure, making sure it’s extra loud. He leans back, snapping the window shut with a sharp click and hides behind the curtain, before peering through the curtains to gauge his reaction.
He can feel an evil surge of satisfaction as he watches Trumpet-Boy’s smile morph into a confused and hurt expression, before his bottom lip trembles, after what seems like a lifetime Trumpet-Boy dissolves into a bout of wails, his tiny fists coming up to scrub at his slowly swelling eyes.
Yeah, suck it Trumpet-Boy.
(Jeongguk ignores the tiny pang of guilt that stabs at his heart, because it was Trumpet-Boy’s fault he got all the praise and Jeongguk didn’t get any. If he had just been worse at trumpet than Jeongguk was at French horn, then he wouldn’t have had any problems, and they could’ve been best friends but obviously that’s not happening anymore.)
(Jeongguk’s satisfaction lasts until he hears the doorbell ring five minutes later. He peeks around the staircase and catches sight of the snivelling brat half-hiding behind his mum’s legs, before he runs and hides in his room.
He gets a mighty scolding afterwards and even a smack on his bum, and in that moment, as Jeongguk cries angrily, snot dripping out of his nose onto his tear-stained t-shirt, Jeongguk thinks he finally knows the meaning of hatred.)