Kibum isn’t sure if Donghae was lucky he was offered a place in the English department in the same university Kibum was, or if the Fates were playing a cruel joke on him. His spoken English was barely conversational, and most of the English he wrote seemed to be plucked out of tacky romance novels.
Perhaps Donghae had gotten in because of his application essay. It was, after all, about Franz Kafka’s timeless style and gripping narration, discussed in an unbiased and partial manner that acknowledged a whole variety of assorted viewpoints and written in, of course, perfect English. Kibum would know; he wrote it.
“Hae, maybe it’s better if you don’t accept,” Kibum suggested as he read through Donghae’s letter of offer.
“But you’re in that university!” Donghae exclaimed, grabbing the letter back from him. “We could be roommates!”
Kibum let out a long-suffering sigh. “Hae, it’s English.”
Donghae looked at him expectantly.
“I’m not helping you. I’ll have my own work.”
Donghae let out the smallest of pouts, and Kibum felt himself caving.
“No, Donghae. If you’re accepting English you’ll have to do it on your own.”
“That’s not fair. You said English would suit me and that I’d definitely get in if you write my application essay. And now I did, so you’d have to bear with the consequences.” Donghae complained, and ended with an all-out pout.
Kibum buried his head in his hands and groaned.
A few weeks ago, the pair had received their exam results. Kibum had done fantastically well, as expected, and could get into any Engineering course in any university he desired. Donghae, on the other hand, didn’t do too well. But it didn’t really matter to him at first since he didn’t have a specific course he was aiming for.
It was only when they were pouring over university catalogues in the backyard of Donghae’s family home did he realise that his grades couldn’t stand a chance in majority of the courses available. He pushed away the thick booklets, rested his head on the table and stared blankly at the endless blue ocean beyond the fence.
The booklets fell to the grass with a soft thump, and Kibum looked up from his application to see Donghae’s blank eyes, his face devoid of expression. He knew he had to do something, because seeing Donghae like this twisted his heart into tiny knots and sent a lump to his throat.
A quick glance assured him that Donghae’s mother wasn’t in sight, so Kibum rested his chin on the top of Donghae’s head and stared out at the sea as well.
“Hey, Hae. Let’s go to Seoul,” He said.
“I can’t. I suck,” Donghae mumbled.
“No you don’t,” Kibum countered in a desperate attempt to raise Donghae’s spirits. Making people happy clearly wasn’t his forte – it was Donghae’s.
Donghae shifted under Kibum’s hold and buried his head in his folded arms. “I do. You’ll go to Seoul and do your engineering and I’ll be stuck here, far away from you and you’ll probably forget about me and break up with me and – ”
“I won’t!” Kibum cut in. He let out a sigh. “Stop that. I won’t forget you. And I won’t break up with you.”
There was a long pause as they sat, Donghae tangled in Kibum’s arms, feeling Kibum’s breath tingling the hairs on the back of his neck and Kibum’s heartbeat dub dub dub-ing through his chest, breathing in Kibum’s scent and wondering: wouldn’t it be nice if we could have this forever?
“You can try English. Your grades qualify. I could write your application essay and help you out,” Kibum suggested, breaking the silence.
“It would never work,” Donghae, ever the pessimist when depressed, mumbled under his breath.
“It’ll suit you, with your idealism. Once you get a hold of the language you’ll be fine.”
Donghae considered his suggestion. It was tempting, since Donghae had always loved languages, but had trouble grasping English because it was just so different from Korean, Mandarin Chinese and Japanese. Plus, Donghae loved reading; he loved being so absorbed into an alternate fictitious reality, loved putting himself in the characters’ shoes and living their lives instead of his own. So if he could have that and get a degree at the same time, then why the hell not?
“You’ll help me, right? With my grammar and stuff,” He confirmed.
“Of course,” Kibum replied.
“Okay then. Okay,” Donghae said, relieved. His fingers gripped Kibum’s tightly as they sealed the promise of a shared future.
Kibum watched as Donghae sealed the last of his boxes with heavy-duty tape and kicked it in the general direction of his bedroom door.
“You’re done,” He said.
“We’re done,” Donghae corrected. “We’re all packed. We’re moving to Seoul. We’re finally getting out of Mokpo.”
“Yes, Hae, that too,” Kibum said, chuckling, and fought the urge to lean over and place a peck on Donghae’s lips.
The next morning, they sat side-by-side on the backseat of the minivan Kibum’s father had rented to drive them to Seoul. An endless string of what ifs flowed through Donghae’s thoughts as the dizzying rush of fluffy white clouds and endless green fields of the countryside surrounded them.
He closed his eyes, and felt only the comforting warmth of his hand in Kibum’s as he waited for Seoul to come to him.
“This is the most offensive-coloured curtains I have ever seen,” Kibum drawled as they swung open the door to their shared dorm room.
“It’s brown, Kibummie. It matches the walls!” Donghae chirped, and proceeded to rub a length of the curtains on one of the walls.
“No it doesn’t,” Kibum deadpanned, and squinted at a tiny square of wall next to their cupboards. “The paint is peeling.”
Donghae scurried over and, after a close inspection, agreed that the paint in that particular corner of the room was most definitely peeling. They stared at the section of peeling paint on the wall for a short while before Donghae jumped up and hopped over to his boxes.
A bit of tape tearing and rummaging later, he pulled out a roll of wallpaper and held it up victoriously. “Kibum! Look! Finding Nemo wallpaper! We can use this to patch up the paint!” He said.
And that was how they had ended up with a strip of Finding Nemo wallpaper on their wall.
For Donghae, the first two weeks of university were a complete blur. He was not used to being surrounded with so much English, both in written and spoken form, even after years of English cram school and Kibum’s two-week crash course. He came back to their dorm room in a daze after lessons everyday, his eyes glazed over and his face devoid of expression. Kibum would then discuss the texts he was doing for a few hours over instant ramyeon and chips, after which Donghae’s vacant eyes would regain some semblance of life.
“Antonio loves Bassanio, doesn’t he, Kibum? But he can’t because Bassanio is straight and is married to Portia! Oh poor Bassanio he’s just like Jungsu-hyung when he taught Youngwoon-hyung was straight,” Donghae rambled in rapid Korean after two hours of discussing the Merchant of Venice with Kibum.
Kibum felt the urge to facepalm, but fought it. Instead, he levelled his gaze on the other boy and pursed his lips. Donghae’s face dropped into a frown.
“I mean, Antonio loves Bassanio. But! Bassanio married Portia. So! He is like Jungsu-hyung when Jungsu-hyung thought Youngwoon-hyung likes girls,” Donghae repeated slowly, this time in English. He paused, searching for a word. “What’s that word again, Kibummie? The one you taught me yesterday,” He whispered in Korean.
Kibum rolled his eyes but didn’t answer. Donghae stared intently at his face.
“Ah! He is pathetic!”
As autumn passed and the trees continued to rid themselves of their crimson leaves, Donghae grew more and more proficient in the English language. This was, of course, mostly thanks to Kibum and his refusal to speak in any language but English to Donghae, and fervently ignoring the other boy when he spoke in Korean, Chinese, Japanese, or Gibberish. This, combined with Kibum’s walkthrough of every text Donghae did in class, gave Donghae a big jumpstart.
After a while though, Donghae began to have discussions with his fellow classmates instead of relying on Kibum to explain everything to him. Kibum was, of course, thankful for this semi-independence, though he had to admit that he was rather jealous of Choi Siwon sometimes, especially when he learned that he had spent hours alone with Donghae pouring over Chaucer and Beowulf.
Donghae’s increasing proficiency in the English language also came with a never-ending flow of weird English phrases that Donghae coined himself. Kibum referred to them as Haenglish, or Haebberish if it made close to no sense (he didn’t tell Donghae about these nicknames though).
It all started when Donghae came back after a lesson on Astrophil and Stella (or some other literary work equally full of tragic love, Kibum couldn’t remember; it wasn’t important) full of feelings. He tackled Kibum haphazardly down to the ground while whispering nothings (that were most definitely not sweet) into his ear.
“Kibum, our love, it deepens like a coastal shelf,” Donghae drawled as he wrestled with the buttons on Kibum’s shirt.
KIbum pretended that he did not hear that, because although Donghae’s English was incredibly sensuous, he did not want to know that the sentence only half made sense, and knowing Donghae, he probably didn’t understand it himself.
“A fire’s burning in me, Kibum. The flames of passion,” Donghae murmured in Kibum’s ear. Kibum couldn’t help but let loose a full body shudder. Now that was such a turn on, even if it was an utter cliché. He surrendered himself to Donghae’s ministrations, feeling so completely engulfed by everything that they shared, and everything that they were.
Afterwards, Donghae, ever the snuggle monster, clung onto Kibum like a leech as they lay in a post-coital haze, watching the rain slither like silver streams down their window.
“Kibummie, you are my everlasting friend,” Donghae whispered into Kibum’s ear, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand. He didn’t reply, simply because he knew Donghae could fill their comfortable silence with light, fluffy chatter, just like he usually did.
“We learnt everlasting today. It’s a bit like forever but with more permanence,” Donghae explained after a moment of silence.
“But, we’re more than friends, aren’t we?” Kibum mumbled as Donghae huddled closer.
“Everlasting lovers, then,” Donghae said. He grinned up as Kibum before burying his face once more in Kibum’s neck.
Kibum felt his heart doing a few somersaults in his chest.
“Your smile makes my heart beat funny,” He whispered softly, and was glad that Donghae was already half asleep.