Luhan’s mother is a formidable woman. She has a MBA and a JD, and does something extremely important at work, the specific nature of which Luhan has never been able to ascertain. Still, even her considerable talents are insufficient to persuade the evil Mrs. Kim in the guidance department to let Luhan switch out of Performance Art (which is where the sad rejects of the Drama department end up) and into Musical Theatre (where his friends are -- where he belongs).
It’s just not possible. They can't make any adjustments. The set of his mother’s face gets harder and harder. She keeps trying to speak, but Mrs. Kim is the counseling equivalent of a M1 Abram. There’s no interrupting her.
"There is unfortunately no room in any of the other courses in the Drama department -- not even for one additional student. Your son will have to endure, Madam," Mrs. Kim says. "If he plans on pursuing a career in the arts he’s certainly going to need to put up much worse than this."
“I understand that, but … “
“Really, there’s absolutely nothing we can do. I’m very sorry.”
Then, a dial tone.
His mother slams the handset down on the receiver. She squeezes her eyes shut. “Honey, I’m really sorry, but it doesn’t seem like they’re going to let you change classes.” She taps her fingernails against the counter. “I can call the principal if you …”
“No, no,” Luhan says. “I understand, Mom. You called and asked, and they said it wasn’t possible. It’s fine. I’ll manage.”
He’s trying to show her a strong face, but after she kisses him on the forehead and leaves he lays his heavy head down on the marble countertop. It’s not fine, really. Yixing and Wufan and everyone are together in Musical Theater class, and Luhan is going to be all alone with a bunch of weirdos who want to do spoken word pieces about. It's just not fair. His life is ruined.
In the end, it turns out to be more boring than not fair. Most of the kids in Performance Art class seem to know each other from way back. They seem equally content to ignore their new classmate, even in spite of his good hair and nice clothing and kind manners. Luhan sits in a desk in the middle of the room at the end of a row in lecture and doodles hearts and flowers and little forest scenes in his notebook during the lectures. He doesn't answer one question. He isn't called on.
Beside, he still gets to see his friends during study period. One afternoon during the second week of school Zitao is going on and on about the stage fighting unit they're going to do in Musical Theater.
" ... and he said the best three or four from the class are actually going to get to act out some swordplay when we put on Pirates of Penzance at the end of the year. I think I’m a shoe in, with my experience in ..."
"Hmm," Luhan says, not really paying attention.
Kris hits him in the back of the head. "You could at least pretend to care," he says, scowling.
Well, maybe he's scowling. It's kind of hard to tell when it's a scowl and when it's just the natural unhappy set of his face.
"Sorry," Luhan says, trying hard not to be sulky. "That sounds very cool, Tao."
Lay widens his eyes. “You really are a talented actor, Luhan. Why, listening to you right now, you’d almost think you really did care.”
“Hey!” Luhan punches him in the arm, not too hard, but Lay overreacts and starts rubbing the wound. Kris and Tao crack up laughing, and Luhan does too, just because Lay’s face is so funny, until the monitor at the front of the class comes over and tells them all to be quiet unless they want to get detention.
The next day in class Luhan stares out the window. At the front of the classroom the instructor drones away. It's cold out, and the clear winter sky looks very blue and very far away. There are some trees across the street, and the black skeletal branches dance back and forth in the wind. A kite has gotten caught in one of the branches. The pink paper is torn. The tail of orange and green ribbons twirls and waves in the wind, and shines in the sunlight. It must be some consolation, Luhan thinks, that the kite can still look so pretty, even thought it didn’t get to fulfill its kite destiny and fly in the sky.
" Luhan and Kim Minseok ..."
Luhan looks up, sharp. The instructor is still going on, staring down at a sheet of paper, but Luhan knows he heard his name. He pokes the girl sitting in the next desk in the arm.
"Hey," he whispers. "What is he announcing?"
She looks at him with some disdain. "Our partners for the project. You'd have known that if you were paying attention."
Luhan rolls his eyes. "Hmmph," he says, and he leans chin on his hand. "Stupid project."
He's not that worried about any project. Of course, he doesn’t have any idea what the project is. More pressing is the fact that he’s never heard of Kim Minseok -- and in fact isn’t even entirely sure that anyone by that name is in Performance Arts class. It would be just his luck to get paired up with someone who doesn’t exist at all.
Luhan’s luck isn’t quite that bad, but the reality of things isn’t much better. As class ends and everyone gathers up their things, a short stocky guy with pudgy cheeks and a terrible haircut walks up to him and stands waiting, his books pressed to his chest.
"Can I help you?" Luhan asks politely.
The boy clears his throat. "Ah," he says. "Right." He's got thick glasses on and his teeth are kind of funny, like they were the last set they had at the teeth store and this kid bought them although they were a size too small. "I'm Kim Minseok."
Luhan resists the urge to sigh. Great. He's been paired up with the nerd.
"Ah," he says delicately, holding out a hand. "LuHan."
"I know," Minseok says, tilting his head. "I'm the one who came to talk to you, remember?"
Startled, Luhan says, "Right, of course." That does make some sense, actually.
Minseok sighs. "So," he says, "I think we should try to meet once a week. That way we won't be stuck rushing at the end to get everything done. What do you think?"
Luhan blinks. He still doesn't know what 'everything' is. "That's ... fine," he says, after a pause.
Minseok nods. He takes a little book out of his pocket. "How about we meet at Wednesdays after school. I can meet you out front after classes get out. Does that work?"
Luhan tries to think of what he could possibly use as an excuse to avoid a standing appointment with this dork every week, but his mind is totally blank. He nods, slowly. “We can meet at my house, if you want,” he says slowly. If he’s going to be roped into this at the very least he wants to meet somewhere comfortable.
"Okay," Minseok says. “Cool. I guess I'll see you then." He smiles for the first time.
It’s a pretty cute smile, Luhan thinks, too-small teeth and too-round cheeks and everything.
“So what’s your problem exactly?” Lay is sitting on top of the kitchen counter, cross-legged.
Luhan shrugs. “We have to do a stupid group project, and of course I got paired up with this dorky kid who never says a word."
Lay lifts an eyebrow.
"Kim Minseok," Luhan says. "He's ... you know ... sort of helpless. And short."
“You’re not tall,” Lay says.
“Hmph,” Luhan says. “I’m not short, though.” He sighs, and leans back in his chair. “Lay, it’s not funny. This kid is a big nerd. What if he’s terrible and untalented? This project is worth sixty percent of my grade for the quarter!” He squeezes his eyes shut in frustration.
Lay lays a consoling hand on his shoulder. "It'll be fine," he says. "You're fabulous enough for two, Luhan."
“Gee, thanks,” Luhan says half-heartedly, not feeling especially consoled.
Wednesday comes too quickly. Luhan keeps forgetting he’s got to meet this Minseok kid after school and then remembering, as dreams of bubble tea at a cafe with the guys come crashing down. By the time the final bell rings, he’s stupidly nervous. Luhan knows he’s a talented singer and a decent dancer. He’s confident in his talents, and he has no reason to doubt himself -- but he is. He throws his books in his locker too forcefully, and slams the door shut
Minseok is waiting under the flagpole when Luhan finally makes his way out of school. His hair is a mess, his overcoat is as baggy a canvas sack, and his thick glasses glint in the sunlight.
"Sorry," Luhan says airily, as he comes up. "I got held up by ..."
Minseok shakes his head. "Don't worry," he says. "It doesn't matter."
Luhan frowns. It's not polite to cut people off, he wants to say, but he's trying to avoid having this start off on entirely the wrong foot. Minseok is wrong-footed enough as it is. He doesn't need help. He takes a deep breath and smiles as politely as he knows how.
"So, let’s do this.”
After a painfully silent bus ride, they’re finally at Luhan’s house. Minseok stands to the side, hands folded into each other, while Luhan gets the door. The key sticks in the lock. Luhan frowns, and jiggles it, and then kicks the door. Luhan gives the one more kick, just to let it know who's boss. It gets the message, because when he next turns the knob, it opens.
They step into the foyer and Luhan flicks on the light. Minseok's eyes are wide. Luhan forgets, sometimes, how his house might seem to people who aren't familiar with it. To him, it’s just home, but he gets how the big living room with cathedral ceilings and expansive eat-in kitchen might seem kind of ostentatious.
"My parents are both lawyers," Luhan explains, even though it's not like he owes anyone any explanations about why his house is a little bit bigger than average. "They're at work right now."
Minseok nods, slowly. "Ah," he says. "And are you an only child too?"
"I have an older brother," Luhan explains, "but he's at college right now."
Minseok's eyes go even wider, but his smile falters. "That must have been really cool. I always wanted a sibling. I was kind of lonely growing up.”
Talk about oversharing. Luhan smiles, because his mother taught him that a smile is the best grease for a stuck conversation. In a practiced tone, he asks, "Can I get you anything to drink before we start working?"
They sit at the kitchen table. Luhan takes out his Moleskine, ostensibly to take notes.
"So," Minseok says. "What do you think we should do?”
Luhan looks up. "Oh," he says. "I don't know."
Minseok bites one side of his lip. It makes his puffy cheeks look lopsided. "I really want to get a good grade," he says.
Luhan rolls his eyes. He might not dress like a nerd, but his grades are excellent. He's been ranked in the top ten percent of his class every single year. His parents wouldn't accept anything less. "Well, I do to," he says. He draws a little round face with crossed out eyes. "What are you good at?"
Minseok shrugs. "I can sing pretty well," he says. He looks up, like somehow this question requires deep deliberation. "I guess I'm probably best at dancing, though. So I think we should do a dance, since I really don't know what you're good at, because you never say anything in class and we were never in class together before and ..."
"Hey!" Luhan says, indignant. That’s definitely the most he’s ever heard Minseok say at one time, if they’re going to bring up people who don’t speak in class. "I speak in class."
Minseok frowns. "No, you don't."
Luhan feels his cheeks heating. "Well," he says. "I don't always have much to say."
Minseok thinks a moment, and then nods. "Okay, I understand." He blinks. "So, dance?”
Luhan says, miffed, "I'm a really good dancer too, you know. I guess we should go with that."
Minseok smiles suddenly, all gums and tiny teeth. It makes his cheeks puff up like white buns sitting in the steamer.
It’s kind of cute.
After heated negotiations, they agree they’ll do a dance piece on the theme of ‘The Transience of Human Sentiment’. Luhan proposes that title, but he’s not really entirely sure what he means by it.
“It sound like it means a lot, though,” he says. “I think teachers like that kind of thing.”
Minseok frowns, his round little mouth pursing. “That’s true, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to, you know, actually come up with something meaningful.”
Luhan rolls his eyes. “I’ll reserve one of the dance rooms for us next week,” Luhan says. “We can start working on it then.”
Minseok nods. “Okay then.” He drums his fingers on the table, and looks around.
“So …” Luhan says, closing his notebook. “I guess that’s it, then.”
Minseok nods. “Oh,” he says. “Oh, right.” He stands up. “I think we’ll do a good job.” He smiles, and grabs for his bag. He bows and he’s out the door almost before Luhan knows what’s happening.
Only after he’s left does Luhan realize that it maybe, kinda sounded like he was trying to get rid of him, which he hadn’t. Luhan knows how to be a gracious host, and it’s not like the kid is that bad, after all.
"What are you doing?"
A week has passed, and Luhan is standing in the doorway to the dance room.
Minseok pauses, sweater vest tucked up around his armpits. His eyebrows are drawn together.
"You're not going to practice in your uniform, are you?"
Luhan shakes his head. "No ... well, no."
Minseok gives him a weird look and keeps getting undressed, like that's a thing that people just do without any consideration for other parties in the area. Luhan opens his own bag and takes out his sweatpants and tee shirt, his sneakers. He takes off his own jacket, slowly unbuttons his dress shirt. He definitely does not pay any attention to Minseok's bare chest, his flat stomach, the surprising difference in breadth between his shoulders and his narrow waist. He's frighteningly pale and not at all muscular, but well ... Luhan really doesn't like that kind of thing anyway.
"What are you doing?"
"Huh?" Luhan looks up.
"You were just staring off into space ...." Minseok frowns. He's dressed now. Thankfully. "Do you need some coffee or something before we get started?"
Luhan blinks. "No, no. I'm fine." He shoves his feet into his shoes without untying them and jumps up. "Come on. I've got places to be later. Let's get started."
With his hands on his hips, Minseok asks, "Well, what did you think?"
Luhan blinks. Sweat is running down his forehead and into his eyes. It stings. "Uh, it was okay, I guess."
Actually, it had been better than okay. Minseok hadn't been kidding about being a good dancer. Luhan's expectations hadn't been high, but somehow, once the music started playing his hunch-shouldered lax posture had tightened up. He'd stood straight and his movements had been crisp and elegant.
Minseok puffs his cheeks out. "Oh," he says, "okay then."
"It wasn't bad I mean," Luhan says quickly. He wipes his forehead again. "We're just starting, so of course it still needs work."
Minseok's face brightens. "Oh, right." He grabs his water bottle and takes a long drink.
Luhan stands. "Well," he says, "I guess I'll see you next time, then."
Minseok looks up and blinks. "Same time, same place, right?"
"Are you hungry?"
It's the third time they've met to work on the project. The clock over the door is ticking quickly towards eight o'clock, and they're just about done. They have a lot more work to do, but things are coming along pretty well.
Minseok looks up, his eyes wide. There's something birdlike about his motions, something fluttering and quick that Luhan likes. "Me?"
Luhan sighs. "Who else?"
"Oh," Minseok says. "Well, you could have been talking to yourself."
Luhan rolls his eyes and flings one of his balled-up socks at him. It lands on Minseok's arm. He stares at it for a second, grimacing, and then shakes as wildly as a wet dog.
"Eew, ew! Get it off!"
The sock falls to the floor. The hairband Minseok uses to keep his hair back slips down around his neck, and his bangs flop in front of his eyes. His cheeks are red, and the collar of his tee shirt is low enough that Luhan can see his chest is a little red too. Panting, he drops to the floor.
"That wasn't nice," he says. "Trying to poison me with your dirty socks."
"Hey!" Luhan tries to kick him, but Minseok is too far away. He ends up sprawling flat. "My feet smell lovely."
"Hmph," Minseok says. "Is that what they tell you?"
"Who? Is that what who tells me?"
Minseok shrugs. "I don't know," he says. "Your adoring fans."
Luhan sits up, propping himself up with one arm. "I don't have adoring fans." He knows he's kind of popular, but he's really just a regular kid. It's not fair at all of Minseok to assume he's some kind of egomaniac or something.
"What about those guys I always see you with?" Minseok asks.
Luhan narrows his eyes. "They're my friends," he says, intentionally a little nasty. "You know what those are?"
Minseok's round cheeks go even redder, and he stares at the floor. "I have friends," he says, quietly. "I mean, Jongdae is my friend ..." He shakes his head, and starts again. "I was just trying to make a joke."
The clock ticks. The one window to the outside shows a night sky already dark and thick with stars. Winter is coming, and nights falls early and cold.
"Oh," Luhan says, blank. "Sorry."
When they'd finished dancing everything had felt good, and the distance between them not too far to bridge, but now there's a stiff awkward space again.
"Maybe we can get something to eat next time," Minseok says as he gets to his feet, all smiles, "but I've got to get home now." Quickly he grabs his bag and his thick-soled school shoes. He gathers everything up and zips himself into his ridiculous oversize jacket. "Bye!"
He's out the door before Luhan can even say a word. He's left sitting on the dirty floor of the practice space feeling like a big jerk without even knowing exactly why.
It's a Monday, so no practice with Minseok. Luhan has his Algebra book and his notebooks spread out on his bed, but no homework is getting done. He's on his back staring at the ceiling. He had a meeting with his guidance counselor (not the terrible Mrs. Kim) about college choices. He's a junior this year, so that means he's got to start thinking about these things. He'd taken the brochures the counselor had offered, and promised to investigate schools that seemed like they suited his academic talents and abilities.
But now, dozing in his room, Luhan's thoughts of college don't concern those things much at all.
He's thinking of his dorm room. It'll be in some old building with wooden floors and a slanted ceiling. He'll have decorated it (with no protest from his unknown future roommate) with fairy lights and posters. His bed will have plenty of pillows. He thinks about going to class and being so caught up in the thrill of learning that he and classmates will retire afterward to a cafe to continue their discussion. There will be parties with too much alcohol and too loud music. And ... he hopes ... there will be a boy -- someone tall and handsome who maybe lived abroad. He'll have great taste in music and be really smart. He'll be the kind of boyfriend that everyone will envy, and he'll be Luhan's ...
It's not that he couldn't date now, exactly. His parents know that he's gay, and there are a few other gay kids at school. It's just they're not what he thinks he wants. They're teenagers, pimply and crack-voiced, still awkward post-growth-spurt. They're not anything like the man of Luhan's dreams.
His phone rings, and he's so startled he nearly falls off the bed.
It's Kris. "What are you doing?"
"Hello to you too," Luhan says. "I'm not doing anything."
"Hmm," Kris says. "We're all over at Tao's house. You should come."
Kris is the de facto leader of their group of friends, and he likes to keep things well organized.
"I've got homework though," Luhan protests weakly.
Kris snorts. "You can just do that tomorrow," he says, "or you'll make big eyes at the teacher and say your bag was stolen from you on the bus and the police report you filed was blown out of your hand by a gust of wind and a passing car kicked up a spray of water that turned it into paper pulp so can't you please have another day for the assignment?"
Luhan laughs, delighted. "My excuses are never that bad."
"Come over," Kris says again. "We haven't seen you in a while."
"Well, I've been busy," Luhan says, thinking of his practices with Minseok, which, although they're just one day a week, seem to take up an inordinate amount of space in his mind. He sighs. "Fine, I'll come."
"Good," Kris says. "We were beginning to think you were in a secret relationship or something. That's how little we've seen of you, Luhan."
Luhan snorts, and hangs up the phone.
"But we reserved the room!"
Minseok is getting angry. His fists are balled, and his eyes are narrowed, but the senior year girl who's leaning against the door frame seems oblivious to his ire.
"I know," she says impatiently, "but I have to film an audition video, so Mr. Choi gave me special permission." She looks from Minseok to Luhan slowly, her eyes narrow with disdain. "I'm sure your little dance is very important, but you're just going to have to wait until I'm done."
Minseok's mouth goes tight, and Luhan senses that it's time to step in. He puts a hand on Minseok's shoulder without thinking ... and Minseok stills then. He pulls away from Luhan quickly, like he's been startled.
It might be, Luhan realizes, the first time they've ever touched outside of the dance studio. He wonders suddenly if he's being too forward.
The senior year girl is still staring at them. Luhan feels unsteady, like he's been thrown off course. In times of turmoil, he thinks, the best course is to be polite. He bows.
"We understand," he says. "We'll come back when you're finished, senior."
Minseok's eyes narrow, and he looks like he's going to protest. Luhan grabs him by the wrist, bows again to the senior, and takes off down the hall. When they're safely around the corner, he slows down. His hand is still wrapped around Minseok's wrist, which is narrow enough for his fingers to fit comfortably all the way around.
"What was that for?" Minseok asks, snatching his hand away.
"You looked like you were going to punch her in the face," Luhan says.
Minseok's eyes go wide. "What? No, I wasn't going to do that. Why would you say something like that? I mean, it really isn't fair she's using the room to practice when we reserved it, but I wasn't going to do anything stupid like punch her. I know how much trouble I would get in if I did something like that. Do you think I ..."
"You're really bad at disguising what you're feeling," Luhan says, suddenly. It's true. As Minseok's speaks his nose scrunches more and his cheeks get redder and every ounce of his frustration is written on his face.
"You're just kind of obvious," Luhan says. It's funny, really, how oblivious he is. "Do you want to come over to my house?"
"Do you have a practice studio at your house?" Minseok asks.
Luhan rolls his eyes. This kid is too much. "Of course not," he says. "I just thought we could hang out." He swallows. Luhan isn't even sure why he invited Minseok to his house. He has other friends who he's been missing, and two free hours on a Wednesday should be a welcome respite ... but somehow it doesn't seem all that much like school work when he and Minseok get together.
"Oh," Minseok says, all in a rush. "Right. I'd like that."
Luhan has to go to a fancy work dinner with his parents. He protests, saying he’s got something for school, but they aren’t budging. He’ll have to dress up in his nicest slacks and suit jacket and sit quietly all night, except when he’s spoken to. Then he’s allowed to speak pleasantly about school. It’s not exactly a good time, and it’s worse because it’s on a Wednesday and he’s going to have to cancel his practice with Minseok.
Minseok is at his locker when Luhan finds him, and surprisingly he's not alone. There's a taller boy with him. The stranger is handsome, although his hair is a little unfortunate and his ears are kind of big. Luhan pauses at the end of the hall to watch them. It's weird, seeing Minseok with a friend. In class he doesn't say much to anyone else. In fact, Luhan isn’t sure if he’s seen him speak to anyone in class at all. The tall boy says something, and Minseok laughs, his smile wide and his eyes narrow. He hits the taller boy in the arm, playful, and the taller boy reaches up and brushes the hair off Minseok's forehead, casual and intimate.
Luhan frowns. He skirts a group of freshman girls and head down the hall.
Minseok and his friend both look up, startled. When Minseok sees who it is, he relaxes. "Oh, hello Luhan."
"I can't practice tomorrow," Luhan says.
"Oh," Minseok says, frowning. He glances quickly up at his friend. "Um, this is Jongdae by the way."
"Nice to meet you," Luhan says. Jongdae murmurs something so quiet it's nearly inaudible. They shake hands politely.
"So," Luhan says. "Do you want to practice today instead?"
Minseok's eyes go round. "I can't today," he says. "I've got fencing practice."
Minseok waves his arm around dramatically. "You know, fencing ..."
"You're on the fencing team?"
Minseok nods. "Yup."
"Oh ..." Luhan feels annoyed he didn't know that already. "Huh. I'll have to come to one of your matches sometime."
"That would be great!" Minseok sounds way too excited and he's grinning again. "I can tell you all about the rules, if you don't know. People think it's complicated but it's really not that complicated at all if someone explains it to you ...
Then, the warning bell rings.
Jongdae curses. "Minseok, I've gotta go. I have History and it's all the way on the other side of the building."
"Okay," Minseok says. "I'll see you later, then!" He waves, the too-long sleeves of his blazer covering half his hands. "Luhan, I'll see you later too!" He slams his locker door shut, and heads down the hall.
Luhan is left standing at Minseok's locker feeling strange. There's a flush on his cheeks and a nasty dark smudgy feeling in his heart that he doesn't understand.
"It's coming along well, boys," the instructor says. "Conceptually it's very strong, and individually you're both performing well, but I need to feel more of a sense of integration between the two of you."
It’s a third of the way into the term, and they’ve performed their piece for the instructor for a preliminary review.
Luhan nods. Beside him, Minseok fidgets.
"It's beautiful, but when you each move you need to be aware not just of yourself, but also of your partner."
"We'll work harder, sir," Luhan says.
The instructor nods, dismissing them, and asking them to call in the next set of partners on their way out.
"I think that went well," Luhan says diplomatically. He kneels down and reaches for his bag.
"Hmph," Minseok says. "How are we supposed to have a 'sense of integration'? Does he think we can read minds or something?"
Luhan looks up. "I guess we just need to get to know each other better," he says.
Minseok frowns, his mouth twisting tighter, and the dark feeling in Luhan's chest pulses. Face down, he says, "Sorry that's such a terrible prospect for you."
"It's not," Minseok says quickly. "It's not. Sorry. I just know you don't ..." He trails off.
"What?" Luhan demands.
Minseok shrugs. His hair is damp from sweat and hangs stringy around his face. "I'm sorry you had to do this project with me. I'm sure it would have been easier with someone else."
Luhan ... well, he can't disagree. It would have been easier to work with a friend. It would have been even easier to get placed into Musical Theater and not be in this stupid class at all. And yet, he can't help but feel a little annoyed. The instructor praised them. He said they were good.
"You're really dumb," he says, standing, his hands on his hips. "Weren't you there just a minute ago? He said we were doing well. If we've only been working together for a month and we're already getting praised, we must make a good team, right?"
Minseok's eyes widen. "I didn't think about it like that," he mumbles.
"I guess not," Luhan says, shoving his sweatshirt in his bag with a little more force than is needed. "Now, come on. If we need to have better teamwork you should come over to my house so we can hang out."
"Let me give you a hair cut."
Luhan is laying on his bed, head hanging off the side. They're supposed to work on their choreography, but it's raining and he could only book the practice room from six until eight, and he doesn’t want to walk back to the school. Minseok is sitting on the floor, back against Luhan's dresser, doing his math homework. His glasses are off, for once, and his mop of black hair is falling in his face. Every few minutes he brushes it out of the way, only to have it fall back again.
He looks up. "Huh?"
"You're driving me crazy," Luhan says. "You can barely see anything. Let me give you a haircut."
Minseok looks up, wide-eyed and lips pursed. "You know I'm older than you. You shouldn’t boss me around so much."
Luhan rolls his eyes (even though he had been surprised when he found out). "Not even a whole month older. We're practically the same age." He rolls over so he's on his stomach. "Let me cut your hair!"
Minseok runs his fingers through his bangs. "Do you even know how to cut hair?"
Luhan shrugs. "I cut Lay's once." It had turned out surprisingly well, even though they'd both gotten in trouble. All the hair that Luhan had washed down the drain ended up clogging the sink.
Minseok considers. "You're not going to try to get me to dye it some weird color, are you?"
"You'd look good in green, I think, but it would clash with the uniform. Such a shame."
Minseok throws a wad of paper at him, but he relents. “Fine, but if I end up looking terrible for our dance, it’s all your fault.”
"Why aren't you saying anything?" Minseok frowns. He sounds as nervous as Luhan's ever heard him.
"Shhhh," Luhan says. "The artist is contemplating his work."
"I don't think I want to be your work any more," Minseok says. He bites on his lower lip, which makes him look about five years old. "What did you do to my hair, Luhan?"
"Calm down," Luhan says. "You can see when I'm finished." He takes up his comb and scissors and snips a few longer strands at Minseok's collar, trims another centimeter from his bangs.
He takes a step back. "Well," he says, "I think it's a masterpiece."
Minseok turns finally and looks at himself in the mirror. Luhan really has to say that he did an excellent job. Minseok's hair is short on the sides and in the back and still long in the front, but Luhan's slicked it up away from his face. Without all that hair in the way, you can see his jawline and his high cheekbones. He looks a lot older.
He looks really good, Luhan thinks.
"My neck is going to be cold," Minseok says, frowning. He rubs the back of his neck with his hand.
Luhan scowls. “That’s all you have to say? I did such a good job."
Minseok rolls his eyes. "It's just shorter," he says, "but thanks anyway, Luhan."
Luhan snorts. "'Thanks anyway'? How ungrateful."
He folds his arms. Minseok raises one eyebrow and meets his gaze in the mirror.
"It's just a haircut."
"Hmph!" Luhan really can't believe this kid. "Your old haircut was a disgrace. It made your face look like a steamed bun."
Minseok scowls and tries to punch him, but the angle is wrong, and he just ends up flailing and nearly falling out of the chair.
"It wasn't that bad!"
"It was bad," Luhan says. "You had a mullet, and not an 'I'm so ironically ugly I'm cool' mullet either. If you got rid of those awful glasses people might actually realize how cute you are now."
Minseok's mouth is half open, and his eyes are narrowed. He looks confused. "I look ..."
Luhan knows his cheeks must be bright red. "Well, you know, cute for a piece of dim sum." He unties the sheet from around Minseok's neck and shakes it out. Little snips of hair flutter to the floor. "Now hurry up and help me clean up before my mom gets home.”
The next day, Luhan is disappointed.
"That's not it!"
Minseok looks up, eyes wide and startled.
"Oh," he says. "It's just you." His hair is combed down flat over his forehead, and sticking up in the back. It looks OK, but it’s not the way he’s supposed to wear it.
"All of my hard work was for nothing, then?" Luhan asks, hands on hips.
"Huh?" Minseok blinks. "What are you talking about?"
"Your hair, Minseok. Why didn't you style it like I said?"
Minseok tilts his head back and looks up, like he's actually going to be able to see his own hair. Seriously, what a weird kid.
"I know you told me to put that gel stuff in it, but I need to get every extra minute of sleep that I can. Otherwise I'm not going to grow any more and I'll be short forever."
Minseok rolls his eyes and reaches into his locker for another book. He's got extra little shelves in there, and a color coded schedule taped to the door. The organization is a little scary. "Ah, don't make that face," Minseok says. "Maybe I'll style it tomorrow, if I wake up on time."
Luhan grins. "Victory!" He throws his arm over Minseok's shoulder. "You know I have your best interests in heart, don't you?"
Minseok sniffs. "Sure, yeah." But he doesn't throw Luhan's arm off his shoulder, and they walk that way to the end of the hall, where Minseok needs to turn left to go to the science classrooms. Luhan heads to Algebra class with a grin on his face -- although why he’s not exactly sure.
Unsurprisingly, fencing matches aren't the best attended athletic events. Luhan chooses a seat about two thirds of the way up the nearly empty bleachers. He sets the sign down next to him. There are people down on the floor of the gymnasium wearing those weird jumpsuits, but he can't see Minseok. He takes out his phone. There's a new text from Lay.
What are you doing? I know where there's a pretty great party tonight.
Luhan frowns. It's been awhile since he's hung out with the guys, and even longer since he's snuck out to go to a party. He's been stressed lately, and a night to let loose might be just the cure. Nobody's even seen he's here yet. He can just tell Minseok that he got held up ...
But then he glances down at the floor and Minseok is beaming up at him. His helmet is under his arm, and his hair is a mess, and he waves so hard Luhan thinks he might hurt himself.
Luhan holds up the sign he made and waves back. Minseok turns to speak to the coach and Luhan texts Lay back.
Sorry, Lay. Busy today. Definitely let me know next time.
Luhan's parents are going to a cocktail party for work tonight, and he has a six pack of Calypso Colada wine coolers. Kris bought them for him, because Kris has been able to buy alcohol without getting carded since he was fourteen years old. The drinks are an unnatural color blue, like toilet bowl cleaner, and he expects they're going to taste horrible. He’s excited.
After his parents leave (Mother wrapped in fur and Father in black tie) Luhan sits the six pack on the corner of his desk and takes out his phone.
A few hours later, he's rolling the empty bottle of his second wine cooler between his fingers. His head is resting on Minseok's stomach, which is very comfortable even though it's not as squishy as Luhan would have once guessed.
"You really don't drink much, do you?" Minseok asks. He’s nursing his own wine cooler. Luhan’s kind of miffed that he didn’t react to the offer of illicit alcohol with much enthusiasm.
Luhan shakes his head. "Nope." He swallows. He's pretty sure he's drunk, but his surroundings aren't spinning and he's not slurring his words, so he can't be that drunk. "Sometimes Grandma lets me have some wine at holiday dinners. And sometimes Kris will buy me a real Shirley Temple if we go out. I mostly just like the cherries though. And if they put umbrellas in them. That’s the best.”
"Hmmm," Minseok says. "I thought you and your friends were wild party animals."
Luhan scowls. "Not at all," he says. "Why would you think that? You don't even know my friends."
Minseok shakes his head. "Nope,” he says agreeably. “I don't know them at all."
Luhan blinks. "It's kinda dumb," he says, turning onto his side and pressing his nose into Minseok's belly. "Mmm. Your shirt smells good."
Minseok laughs. "My mom always uses fabric softener," he says.
Luhan can feel the vibrations every time Minseok speaks. It feels nice. "I like it," he says, closing his eyes.
Minseok's hand settles on his neck, his fingers working into Luhan's hair. Luhan goes very still. He should say something, or shake Minseok's hand off, or ...
He doesn't do anything because it feels so good and he likes Minseok so much, which is a dumb thing to feel, but he can’t help it. He presses into Minseok's hand. Minseok scratches at his nape. Luhan wonders if this counts as flirting, or if they've just skipped right over all of that.
"If this were a movie," Luhan mumbles, "you'd be soooo in love with me." He rolls over. Minseok's hand slides up and rests against Luhan's jaw. He grins, showing all his little teeth.
Luhan nods. "Yup. I mean, I'm the rich, popular handsome kid and you're the seemingly dorky but secretly cool loner. You should be swooning over me."
Minseok scrunches his nose, like he's trying hard not to laugh. "Oh, is that how it's supposed to be?"
Luhan nods. "It is."
"I'll try to work harder at being overcome by your mere presence," Minseok says. He's holding his own half-empty bottle of day-glo wine cooler.
“You don’t have to,” Luhan mumbles. “I can be overcome by yours.” He’s hoping that Minseok won’t have heard, but he grins hugely, so Luhan knows he has.
"Are you gonna finish that?" Luhan asks. He's not sure quite why, but he thinks he needs another drink to come to grips with the reality what he's just said.
Laughing, Minseok shakes his head and passes it over. His other hand never leaves the nape of Luhan’s neck.
Luhan's phone rings one afternoon while they're at his house. Ostensibly they're working on their project, but it's gotten to the point where they don't really even bother using that as an excuse.
"Woah. You actually answered your phone."
"I answer my phone all the time," Luhan says.
Lay doesn't say anything.
"Okay, okay, fine," Luhan says. "I know I've been kind of out of the loop lately."
"You're not kidding," Lay says. "Hey, come out tonight."
"Yes, tonight," Lay says. "Someone I know is deejaying at this club downtown and he said he could get me and a few friends in."
Luhan bites his lip, and glances over at Minseok, who is absorbed in contemplation of his math homework.
"I'm hanging out with Minseok tonight ..."
Luhan frowns. He can't remember now if he's ever mentioned Minseok to any of his other friends, other than 'the dorky kid I'm stuck working with in Drama class' way back in the beginning, when Luhan had actually thought that was true. "He's a friend from school."
"Oh," Lay says. "Well, bring him too then."
Luhan glances over at Minseok. He’s playing Angry Birds on his phone, and his tongue is sticking out, which apparently is a concentration aide. His unstyled hair is sticking up in the back, and he’s still wearing his school uniform. He really does look sort of dorky.
“Yeah, sure,” Luhan says.
"This isn't it," Minseok says, his hands crossed over his chest.
Luhan tuts. "What are you saying? You look great! I dressed you, after all."
"Luhan," Minseok says, in a pleading tone. "I can't wear this. I look dumb."
He does not look dumb. The oversize tank top hangs low, but Minseok's collarbones are pretty and his chest is broad and smooth. It must be all that fencing, but his arms are lot more muscular than Luhan would have guessed. Luhan's black jeans are a little snug around Minseok's solid thighs and his...
But yeah. He looks great.
"You look great," Luhan repeats, reaching for his eyeliner. "Trust me. Now for the finishing touch."
The music is penetrating -- pounding bass, twinkling electronic notes, nonsense lyrics sung in airy voices. Luhan isn't sure if he likes it, but it's definitely the right kind of music for the setting. He takes another sip of his drink, and closes his eyes.
Minseok, who is sitting mostly in his lap, finishes another one of his long, exaggerated jokes. Lay, Tao, and even Kris burst out laughing.
Over the music, Lay yells, "Luhan, why didn't you bring this kid around before? He's hilarious."
Luhan shrugs. "Dunno," he mumbles.
Minseok, grinning wide, says, "He thought you wouldn't like me because I'm a nerd. Can't you see the glasses?" He taps a finger against the frame of his stupid black glasses.
"Hey!" Luhan shouts in protest. "That's not why. Minseok, that's not why!"
Kris snorts. "It's a bit rich of you to call anybody a nerd, Luhan. I know you've still got a big box of Legos under your bed."
Luhan puts his drink down on the table. Lay, across the booth, is laughing broadly, all his white teeth bare. "What are you even talking about? I don't have ..."
Minseok twists agilely and puts hands on Luhan's shoulder. "What? Legos? You have Legos and you never told me?"
The eyeliner -- Luhan's finishing touch -- makes his eyes look even bigger than usual. Luhan's arm is around his waist and his fingers brush Minseok's bare skin where his shirt has ridden up.
"Sorry," Luhan says, hanging his head.
“What a bad friend,” Minseok says. “Withholding Legos! The only way you can make up for this is by dancing with me."
He slides out of Luhan's lap, but keeps hold of his hand. They trod over Tao's toes. Lay is grinning and Kris is giving them a knowing look and Luhan feels giddy and really not at all embarrassed. He can't even remember why he would be. Minseok threads his fingers through Luhan's. They press through the crowd towards the dance floor, not that there's really any particular place where the drinking stops and the dancing begins. It's all mixed up together, which, funnily, is just exactly how Luhan's heart feels.
The end of the semester -- and the date of their performance -- approaches. The days are longer, and the weather is fair. Luhan skips History on some days because he has History at the same time that Minseok has lunch. As juniors, they have privileges to go eat in the courtyard. Minseok takes the lunchbox his mother packed and they go and sit in the far corner, under an ancient sagging willow tree. Sometimes, if there's been rain, the ground is damp. Minseok spreads his stupid old blazer on the ground for them to sit on. It's not so big so they need to sit side by side. Luhan has no problems with that.
Minseok acted surprised the first day that Luhan showed up.
"What are you doing here?" he'd asked, his eyes wide and his little precious mouth pursed.
"I wanted to see you," Luhan said, honestly.
"Oh," Minseok said. "Oh!" He'd smiled then. "Okay."
Luhan had rolled his eyes and grabbed his hand and led him outside.
After that first time, Minseok hasn't looked surprised, and his mother starts packing him double portions for lunch.
They practice their performance piece for hours. Luhan grows used to Minseok's firm hands on his waist, on his shoulders, guiding him through the poses. He gets used to watching Minseok dance: the smooth precise way he moves, the serious look he gets in his eyes when he's dancing. It's always distracting, because wow ... Minseok is kind of beautiful and Luhan wonders if there's something wrong with his eyes for not realizing it right away. But he knows Minseok so well know -- knows his stupid laugh and his implausible shyness -- that just his physical beauty doesn't seem to matter much.
A week before they're due to perform in class, they are in the rehearsal room at school. It's late, and they've been practicing for many hours, going through and through the routine. Minseok's cheeks are red, and Luhan is sweating through his shirt. He sinks down to the floor.
"No more!" Luhan rests his heavy head against the mirrored wall. "No more, Minseok. I yield!"
Minseok frowns, his hand on his hips. "Ah, come on. Just one more time."
"I can't do it," Luhan whines.
"Yes you can," Minseok says, grabbing for Luhan's hand. He tugs, but Luhan is a dead weight. He doesn't want to stand up. He doesn't want to dance any more.
"Ah, I don't want to," Luhan says. "Why are you such a perfectionist?"
Minseok shrugs. "I'm not," he says. "I just want us to do a good job."
"We're going to do fine," Luhan says. "Geeze. You realize you're probably the best dancer in our entire class, right?"
Minseok looks at the floor. "I don't know about that."
"Well I do," Luhan says, cross. "You don't need any more practice, and I can't handle any more. Let's go get some food. I want a strawberry milkshake." He looks up, and meets Minseok’s gaze in the mirror. His face is unexpectedly solemn.
"I just don't want to let you down."
Luhan gets to his feet, lurching. "Ugh, my back," he mumbles. "Hey," he says, grabbing
Minseok's hand. "You're not going to let me down, you know? No matter what."
“Even if we fail?” Minseok asks.
“We’re not going to fail,” Luhan says, rolling his eyes. “You’re so weird.” He reaches out and grabs Minseok’s hand. “But no, not even if we fail.”
They perform their dance interpretation about the transience of human sentiment to general acclaim. The instructor spends ten minutes after they’ve finished done talking about how well they've embodied the philosophical underpinning of their subject matter. It sounds like a lot of nonsense. Minseok’s cheeks go really red. Luhan kind of spaces out after a while, and ends up watching the way the sunlight plays against the linoleum floor. Minseok jabs him in the side when the professor finishes, and they both bow low.
It's weird -- if it weren't for this dumb assignment, they never would have spoken a word to each other, and now it’s all done. Luhan collects his books when class ends, and heads off to his Algebra class, but inside he's terrified that now everything is going to change.
When the final bell of the day rings he throws his things in his locker and goes outside to stand under the flag pole. His heart his pounding. A not-insignificant portion of his brain is telling him that of course Minseok is not going to show up. The performance is over, their grade is in, and Luhan doesn’t have to waste his time with this random nerd any more. He doesn’t need Minseok any more, and Minseok doesn’t need him.
He can’t even bring himself to believe that for a minute. He scrunches his eyes shut.
"What are you doing?"
Luhan opens one eye. Minseok is standing in front of him, his bangs combed stupidly down over his forehead, his baggy blazer hanging off his shoulder.
"Oh," Luhan says, "Nothing."
Minseok rolls his eyes. "Riiiiight," he says. "So, your place or mine, today?"
“Yours,” Luhan says, decisively. He reaches for Minseok’s hand and thinks that there are some types of human sentiment that really aren’t so transient. There are some kinds, he thinks, that aren’t going anywhere.