“Can you stop making those noises? I can’t bring you out in public like this.”
To Younghoon’s disdain, Changmin continues to make The Noises. High pitched whines, voice cracking: signature sounds that Changmin tends to make when he’s distressed. And Changmin is nearly always in a constant state of distress, therefore Changmin’s noises are aptly coined The Noises.
“I lost my favorite pen, Younghoon! My favorite pen. It had such pretty blue ink...” Changmin continues to rummage through his backpack as they walk, looking past notebooks and headphones and cough drops and colored pencils and—
“You seriously need to clean out your bag,” Younghoon notes. “It’s probably stuck in one of those secret compartments you hide muffins in.”
Changmin huffs, “I stopped doing that in middle school, remember? There were ants. I cried.”
“You cried because your mom killed them all,” Younghoon mutters. He schools his expression and clears his throat when Changmin turns to glare at him. “I’m sure it’s in your locker. Or at home somewhere.”
“But I swear I brought it to school this morning...”
“Look, there’s no point in being down about it now,” chides Younghoon. They finally reach Starbucks, Younghoon automatically holding the door open for his best friend. “Go order for me. I’m putting our stuff down at a table.”
Changmin’s shoulders slump in defeat, but he lets out a resigned, “Okay.” He hands Younghoon his backpack and goes to the counter, readying his wallet.
After school, Changmin and Younghoon normally head to either of their houses (they live a few blocks from one another) to get homework done. Today, however, after they left school grounds, both of them had gotten texts from their parents not to go home. Younghoon’s mom is having the house cleaned for their relatives’ arrival over the weekend and she doesn’t want Younghoon’s lanky body in the way of the vacuums. Changmin’s dad, who’s working from home today, is taking important client calls and would rather not have Changmin’s indecipherable screams in the background.
So, Starbucks. There’s free wifi and refreshments, and it’s not that far from the school. Changmin likes getting the cake pops from here, when he’s in the mood for sweets and has cash to burn.
Changmin goes to the register to give his order. He’s about to tell the barista his usual, but the sight of an ever familiar face makes him choke on his words.
Chanhee, a green apron around his waist and matching visor perched atop his head, greets cheerfully, “Welcome to Starbucks! What would you like to drink today?”
In response, Changmin makes The Noises.
To understand the reaction, one must be aware of Changmin’s longtime crush on Choi Chanhee.
The two had met in sophomore year, when they were chosen to be in student council, Changmin as the secretary and Chanhee as the treasurer, positions they still hold today. Younghoon had tricked Changmin into applying for the spot, and lo-and-behold he happened to receive it. Changmin couldn’t say no, so he took to the role and went with it.
The other members of the council were Kevin, the vice president, and Sangyeon, the president, both of whom Changmin was very much acquainted with. Changmin and Sangyeon grew up together, family friends; Changmin was partners with Kevin freshman year during gym class. At that point in time they weren’t qualified as friends, but they had talked enough times to be friendly.
The only unknown was, then, Choi Chanhee.
The high school isn’t incredibly big, so Changmin heard of him beforehand. Back then Chanhee was a sophomore, like him, but in all honors classes. They passed by one another in the halls sometimes; Chanhee gave off this impression of not wanting to interact with anyone, aura cold and guarded. With dark hair, elegant earrings, and even a tattoo (on his pinky finger but a tattoo nonetheless!) Chanhee wasn’t the kind of person Changmin ever thought of befriending, let alone falling head over heels for.
See, Changmin isn’t good with people. He doesn’t go out of his way to talk with others or step out of his comfort zone. He makes friends by mutual or forced association. He has a bubble. He likes his bubble. With Chanhee, the circumstances should hardly have been different.
However, Changmin found himself getting flustered at Chanhee’s unexpected gentleness and kindness towards him as they interacted. Chanhee, soft-spoken yet a born leader, was the new treasurer in the student council, good with numbers, taking care of all the expenses. The group of four worked together in harmony for the year, organizing events and whatnot for the students. Changmin, though, was too shy to reach out and become closer with Chanhee. Sophomore year passed with Changmin growing more and more smitten for the other, unable to do anything aside from let his feelings fester.
They have one another’s numbers, are Facebook friends and mutuals on Instagram. Maybe on a good day Chanhee would consider them friends, slightly more than acquaintances. Maybe.
Changmin’s nonexistent endeavor for Chanhee’s heart has gone nowhere. Seeing Chanhee outside of the student council room has painfully reminded Changmin of his incompetence, as well as how adorable Chanhee looks in a barista uniform.
Back to: The Noises.
“I don’t believe we have that on our menu,” Chanhee says with a giggle. A giggle.
“Right. Sorry.” Changmin grins, apologetic. “Can I have one passion iced tea and an americano? For here.” He clutches his wallet and adds quietly, “I didn’t know you worked at Starbucks.”
“It’s a new thing,” Chanhee proclaims, punching the order in the register and taking Changmin’s card. “I’m working a few days a week after classes.”
“Fun,” Changmin says. Wow, what a conversation killer.
“Give me just a moment.” Chanhee hands Changmin back his card. “Your order will be right out.”
Chanhee scurries away to make the drinks, and Changmin awkwardly shuffles to the pick-up side of the counter. It’s hard not to watch Chanhee as he works the blender and appliances, especially when Chanhee has such pretty fingers and a natural pout when he’s concentrated. Changmin attempts to direct his attention to the overhead menu, making note of specials he probably won’t ever order. (Like the pumpkin spice latte. Sunwoo would like that. He has a sweet tooth.)
When Chanhee is finished, he brings Changmin’s order with a smile. Changmin takes the tray and mimics the expression.
“Enjoy your drinks!”
Changmin nods. “Thanks, you too.”
As Changmin goes to join Younghoon, he gradually realizes his mistake and grimaces to himself. He can feel his face burning in mortification. Once at the table, where Younghoon has set up his study material, he puts down the drinks and slouches, face buried in his hands.
Younghoon pats him on the back. “Changmin? Hello? Earth to Changmin? Are you dead?”
Changmin whimpers, “I said you too.” He looks up at Younghoon in horror. “He asked me to enjoy the drinks and I said you too. Why would I say that? He works here. He doesn’t even have a drink to—” He stops, on the verge of crawling under the table to die. “Younghoon, why am I like this?”
“You’re not good with people,” Younghoon says with a shrug. “That’s why we’re best friends, bud.”
Younghoon gives Changmin another pat. “Oh? I think he can see us. He’s laughing.” Changmin hastily hides his face in his arms. “I’m waving to him. He’s waving back. Who is this again?”
“You’re terrible,” Changmin moans.
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
The worst part of it all: Chanhee’s laughter sounds like a silver wind chime ringing in the autumn breeze. Changmin cannot fathom how wonderful he is.
Changmin’s printer at home is out of ink. He discovers this after printing one out of the eight pages for his literature assignment, the printer angrily beeping at him that he’s shit out of luck. It’s too late to go back to school and use the printer in the library. He could print it in the morning, but his mode of transportation (see: Kim Younghoon) won’t wake up that early to do so. He could bribe him, but Younghoon’s tastes are expensive and Changmin doesn’t want to have that looming over his head.
But! Changmin’s house is only a short drive away from a local print shop, according to the places of interest on Google Maps, so hope is not lost. He asks his mom to take him there, making sure to comment on her lovely hair and healthy glow, so she grabs her keys and starts the car.
“I’ll drop you off, okay? I’m heading to the market for a bit. Call me when you’re done!”
Changmin enters the print shop through the clear glass door, careful. It fits the image of a bland office workspace, beige carpet and white walls, artificial foliage plants perched at the corner. There are doors leading to the backroom, presumably to where the printers are. At the front desk, there sits a desktop computer and a tired-looking worker, writing in what looks to be a textbook.
“Oh!” exclaims Changmin, quickly closing his mouth when the person startles. “Sorry I shouted,” he whispers.
“Hey, you surprised me is all,” Chanhee insists, smoothing down his shirt as he stands. He lets out a laugh before he asks, “What can I help you with this evening?”
“I need to print my paper,” Changmin declares. “Well, multiple papers. It’s, um, one assignment with several sheets of paper. It’s due tomorrow.” He smiles shakily. “You get it.”
Clearly amused, Chanhee asks, “Do you have it on a USB drive?”
Changmin nods. He fishes out the drive from his pocket and hands it to Chanhee. He then realizes that he uploaded his paper onto his childishly-designed giraffe USB, which Chanhee is holding in laughter at the sight of.
“That’s not mine,” lies Changmin. “I’m borrowing it. From my... mom.”
“It’s cute,” Chanhee comments with a grin, inserting it into the processor.
“How— How long have you worked here?”
“Hm? Oh, about a year.” Chanhee smiles. “I like this job. We have a good amount of downtime, so I can get homework done during hours.” He gestures to what Changmin now recognizes as his anatomy textbook.
“Cool.” Changmin cringes. He needs to take a lesson on words not to say when trying to keep a conversation alive.
After he’s finished with the computer, Chanhee disappears into the back room for a few minutes and reemerges with a short stack of papers. “You’re all set,” he says, handing them off to Changmin.
“Thanks.” Changmin beams, relieved. “You’re a real lifesaver.”
“Don’t thank me. Thank our trusty printer.” Chanhee gives Changmin back the USB and waves. “See you at school!”
Trying to fight the oncoming blush, Changmin waves back as he goes out the door. He holds his papers with one arm and reaches into his back pocket with the other. Getting out his phone, he types in his password to dial for his mom.
A strong breeze blows past him, making Changmin stumble on his feet. His hair is tousled and he can barely see through his bangs, the wind too strong for him to resist. It happens once more, but this time all the pages he’s holding onto get swept along with the wind. He’s too flabbergasted to chase after them, stuck watching helplessly while they get tossed around the street like stray tumbleweeds.
By the time he’s knocked some sense into himself, his assignment is long gone. Vanished into the night. Food for the education-deprived wolves. Changmin sighs, spins on his heel, and heads back into the print shop.
Unfortunately, Chanhee has his eyes trained on him, resting his head on his hand, lips curling upwards.
“D-Did you see that?” Changmin stutters. Chanhee nods. (Changmin holds back a cry.) “I... I am so sorry.”
Chanhee hums, lips pursed. “Tell Mother Nature, not me.” He points out the door. “That was littering.”
Changmin, head bowed, mumbles a soft, “I’m sorry,” as Chanhee reprints his assignment. Chanhee staples it this time, too, and snickers when Changmin secures it with both hands with as much caution as bomb-handling.
Sangyeon decides to take Changmin, Kevin, and Jacob out to dinner on Saturday. Sangyeon owes Changmin for organizing the Halloween bake sale for him, owes Kevin for making posters and flyers for it, and owes Jacob... Well, Sangyeon and Jacob are dating, so he comes because he’s Sangyeon’s boyfriend.
They go to a Chinese restaurant. Sangyeon drives the three of them, letting Jacob fiddle with the radio as Changmin and Kevin complain about being hungry in the backseat. The restaurant is on the outskirts of town, not that well-known but with good reviews. The style is typical for a Chinese restaurant in Korea, red and gold decor, hanging paper lanterns. Changmin’s hand gets slapped by Sangyeon when he tries to poke one.
The group gets seated at a booth: Jacob and Kevin on the inside, Sangyeon and Changmin on the outside. Sangyeon takes the side next to his boyfriend, which leaves Changmin beside Kevin.
The waitress distributes the menus — maroon pamphlets with several pages inside a laminated cover — and utensils. Once she’s left, the group begins to browse through the options.
“Am I allowed to get anything on the menu?” Kevin asks.
Sangyeon tuts his tongue. “Look into my eyes, Moon Kevin. Do you see my gaze? Does it look like I have enough money to buy you Peking duck or something equally as expensive?” Kevin slowly shakes his head. “That’s right. I see you. Flip the page.”
As Kevin goes through the menu with a petulant pout, Changmin grins happily as he tells Sangyeon, “I’m good with anything, hyung.”
Again, Sangyeon tuts his tongue. “Look into my eyes, Ji Changmin. What do they tell you?”
“Uh, you’re... hungry? You’re sad. You have to sneeze.” Changmin whimpers, helpless. “I don’t know. I’m not good at this game, hyung.”
“He’ll order you water without ice if you don’t choose yourself,” Jacob explains. Sangyeon pinches his cheek, smiling. Kevin gags. “Hey, how about we all choose one thing and share? Family-style.”
“Oh, I’m up for it,” Kevin quips. “Can I get the spicy chicken wings?”
Jacob says, “Pork dumplings for me, then.” Changmin decides on braised beef and broccoli.
Sangyeon hums. “I’ll get seafood fried rice. And vegetable lo mein, too, as an extra.” He shuts his menu and looks around the table. “No objections?” Everyone gives him a unanimous thumbs-up. “Okay. Waiter, excuse me! We’re ready to order!”
The waitress who’d led them in is at a different table, so another server comes to their aid. He’s whistling, white shirt loose around his frame, black apron around his waist. Changmin’s mouth goes unbelievably dry, so he’s glad Chanhee also brought them a round of water.
“What’re you doing here?” Changmin squeaks.
“This is my family’s restaurant. We were short on hands today, so I stepped in,” Chanhee answers. He frowns at Sangyeon. “Did you decide to have a council get-together without me? I’m hurt, hyung. Thanks for the invite.”
“I’m here, too!” exclaims Jacob.
Kevin reaches across the table to pat his hand. “Yes, and we all appreciate your presence.” He turns to Chanhee. “Sangyeon hyung owes me and Changmin for the Halloween planning stuff, so this is our reward. No hate.”
“You still could’ve brought me along...”
“Pull up a chair,” Sangyeon suggests. “You’re welcome to join.”
“I’m working,” Chanhee sighs, taking out a tiny notepad and pencil. “Which reminds me. Your order, sir?”
Chuckling, Sangyeon tells him what they want. Chanhee jots it all down, pale fingers smoothly writing across the paper. Changmin feels weird for staring at Chanhee’s hands, but they’re just so pretty. Changmin hurriedly sips from his water to distract himself.
“Are you allowed to take a break?” Jacob asks just as Chanhee has finished writing. “Once we get our food, you’re welcome to eat with us. The more the merrier!”
“We’ll see,” Chanhee says. He walks back to the kitchen, sending a quick wave before disappearing behind the door.
“You should tell him that you like him.”
Changmin’s hand falters and spills a splash of water down his neck. He sets down his glass and, scrambling for a napkin, gapes wide-eyed at Sangyeon. “I what now?”
“You’re so flustered and nervous around him,” Kevin says. Sangyeon and Jacob nod.
“We’re talking about Chanhee,” whispers Jacob, in case Changmin hasn’t caught on. It’s a poor excuse for covertness, but thankfully the junior in question is out of earshot.
“I’m flustered and nervous when I’m around anyone! Just ask Younghoon. He can vouch for me.” Changmin pauses, lowering his voice. “Is... Is it that obvious?”
“Well, your emotions are written all over your face,” Sangyeon points out. “You’re sort of an open book.” Changmin cries.
“Chanhee isn’t very perceptive towards these things! So you shouldn’t worry,” Kevin quickly reassures. He side-eyes Jacob, who’s idly folding a napkin into a boat. “Unless someone tells him...”
When Jacob finally notices, he blinks cluelessly. “Why are you looking at me?”
Kevin sighs. “To this day, I still wonder how all those baby photos of me got leaked to Hyunjae and the journalism club.” To that, Jacob only smiles.
Sangyeon huffs, “Don’t mess with my boyfriend. He’s a perfect angel.” Jacob brightens at the praise. “Who tends to gossip every so often, but we look past that.” Jacob’s grin instantly turns into a pursed lip, but he stays silent, unable to refute.
When Chanhee returns with their food, he promises to eat with them after he serves the remaining customers. Changmin puts together a plate for him for when he comes back, rice and meat and dumplings spaced evenly. He tries his hardest to ignore the suggestive eyebrow wiggling from the others, Sangyeon being the most obvious. At least Jacob and Kevin are discrete, geez.
Two a.m. is not the most ideal time to buy chicken noodle soup, but Changmin knows it must be done. Right now, he’s nursing a fever and needs proper nourishment, food to tend to his aching head and soul. He’s shuffling between the aisles, long scarf wrapped around his neck, glasses perched on his nose, brunet hair an amateur bird’s nest.
His parents don’t know that he’s sick. If they did, they’d drive him straight to the hospital and into the ER. They’re the type to call the ambulance the second he sneezes more than twice, always worrying for his health and wellbeing. Changmin can’t tell them that he has an above average internal body temperature, especially when it’s way past his curfew, too.
(Well, today Changmin had ended up telling Sangyeon, who’s basically a proxy for a father. Sangyeon had recommended a good night’s rest and lots of fluids. He had also put him in a headlock for five minutes and scolded him for coming to school sick. Younghoon had received similar treatment, with an extra head noogie, for letting his best friend go to school in this condition.)
Right now, Changmin’s fever is at its highest. His stomach has been grumbling since midnight, an inevitable result from being too nauseous to eat a proper dinner. Now that he’s hungry, he has to quell his angered stomach. Ordering food would wake his parents and the nearest McDonald’s is too far away, which is why Changmin had decided to cook some soup for himself.
And, as luck would have it, he was out of soup. Not even a stray ramen package. Tragic. The only thing to do, then, was walk down the road and scope out the 24/7 grocery store, which now leads to this moment:
Changmin sitting cross-legged on the ground, holding two different brands of condensed milk in his hands, trying to figure out why they aren’t chicken noodle soup. It’s an untimely crisis.
“You know, we have to stop meeting outside of school like this.”
Changmin looks up and nearly tips over from how far back he cranes his head. “Chanhee, I—” He scrambles to stand, alarmed. He pushes up his glasses and tries to look, uh, presentable. “You work here?”
Chanhee nods. “Nine months to the day.”
“You can have a baby in that amount of time.” Jesus Christ. Changmin needs to jump into the ocean. Why did anyone think it was a good idea for Changmin to speak words? Communicate with humans? This is God’s fault. Changmin could’ve been a goldfish.
“A baby,” Chanhee repeats, eyebrow raised.
“Like. Not you, specifically, but a, um, generic baby,” Changmin stammers. “Boys can’t get pregnant.”
“People without uteruses can’t get pregnant,” Chanhee corrects. “A little different.” Changmin nods, repeating the line out of habit, and hides a smile.
“So, do you need help finding anything?” asks Chanhee. He puts his hands in his vest pockets, rocking on the balls of his feet, the picture of absolute innocence. Of softness.
“Soup,” answers Changmin. “I’m sick.”
Chanhee stares at him and sighs. “Yeah, I figured.You don’t look so great.” He takes Changmin’s hand and tugs him along. “Follow me. We’re going to a few aisles over.”
While Changmin tries not to focus on how clammy the hand Chanhee’s holding is, he asks softly, “What did you mean before? About needing to stop meeting like this.”
“Hm? Oh, I meant how you keep finding me at my part-jobs.” Chanhee shrugs, then chuckles. “Normal friends hang out at the arcade.”
“Do you work there, too?” The question gets Chanhee to turn to him, confused. “That... was a joke. It was bad. A bad joke. Ignore it.”
Chanhee snorts, ducking his head, and leads them to the soup section. After a very careful deliberation, Changmin chooses three cans of the cheapest chicken noodle soup brand to buy. He follows Chanhee again to the check-out, watching as Chanhee scans the items. Chanhee tells him the total and Changmin hands over the money, letting Chanhee burrow through the register for change.
“Um, sorry you had to see me—” Changmin motions from his head to his toes, noting his crooked glasses and bare face, “—like this.”
“You’re messy,” Chanhee says casually. “Nothing too serious. Truth be told, I’m not the greatest cleaner either.”
“There’s a hole in my pants. And in my shirt.”
Chanhee chuckles. “I can’t even see it. You’re fine.” He hands Changmin his money. “I know how to sew. If it really bothers you, I can fix it one day.”
The smile Chanhee flashes him makes Changmin’s brain short-circuit. “You’re an angel,” he declares. If he wasn’t suffering from illness Changmin would’ve regretted the outburst, but all he can think about is how true it is. All Chanhee needs is white wings, golden light, and a halo to make his character complete.
“Thanks, I think?” Chanhee’s cheeks go almost unnoticeably pink. He gives Changmin his grocery bag, calling out, “Get well soon!” as Changmin runs face-first into the wrong automatic door.
Changmin wants to take a nap. He’s in the school library, trying to catch up on his math homework, his notebook and study sheets scattered across the table. The other three seats are left empty. No one is free to study with him; Sangyeon is meeting with some teachers for Halloween event planning, Younghoon is working with the journalism club to report his photos, and Sunwoo has soccer practice. Changmin has a few other friends, though all in varying degrees of occupied.
So here he is: alone, tired, and neck aching from hunching over to write. He’s been here an hour and decides that now is as good a time as any to lay his head on his arm and take a break, eyes closing on his own accord.
“Hey, stranger,” a voice greets, several minutes later, making Changmin crack open an eye. He raises his head in surprise while Chanhee holds a finger to his own lips to shush him. “Before you say anything: yes, I do work here. I’m an attendant at the front.”
“Good afternoon,” Changmin says slowly, belatedly.
Chanhee grins, peering over Changmin’s shoulder. “What is that? Algebra II?”
Changmin nods. “I like math.”
“You did that entire page wrong.”
“I’m not good at math,” Changmin continues. He glances at Chanhee, shy. “Can you help me?”
Chanhee straightens his back, tilting his head to the side. “Well, I’m on the clock right now, Changmin. My time is worth money.” His lips quirk, playful. “What will you pay me?”
Rummaging through his pockets, Changmin pulls out a green package and says, “I have gum.” He reaches in again and slides the next item across the table. “And a button.” He turns his pockets inside-out and flicks away the lint, sheepish.
“I guess I’ll take the gum,” laughs Chanhee. He sits in the seat next to Changmin, unfoiling a strip of gum and popping it into his mouth.
All the while, Changmin stares incredulously at him. “Seriously? Are you sure you can leave your spot?”
Chanhee nods. “Kevin just came in. We work together.” He waves at the other junior, setting his stuff at the attendant’s desk, snapping in their direction. “Yeah, I’m good!”
“Cool,” Changmin says.
“Write down the problems or concepts you’re having trouble with. I’ll see what I can do.”
Changmin does just that as Chanhee goes to grab his backpack by Kevin. He returns a moment later, going through the backpack and taking out his pencil case. Once Changmin has written down several problems, he ghosts a look at Chanhee and widens his eyes.
“Hey, uh—” Changmin faces Chanhee, who’s gripping an a familiar writing utensil between his fingers. “That pen. Where’d you get it?”
“This? I found it in my physics classroom.” Chanhee draws a smiley face at the corner of Changmin’s paper. “It seemed too nice to get swept away by the custodian, so I kept it.”
“T-That’s my pen. I lost it last week,” Changmin stammers. “It’s my favorite pen, actually.”
“Is it?” Chanhee perches his chin on his hand, leering. “What’ll you give me to get it back? We need a fair trade.”
Letting out a laugh, Changmin scratches behind his neck. “Well, I have button,” he says. “I think it fell off my shirt in the dryer. It’s not as shiny anymore. You probably don’t want it.”
“You’re not doing a very good job at selling this button,” Chanhee chuckles. He puts down the pen in front of Changmin. “Here. No need for a button. Free of charge.”
“It— It was originally mine!” Changmin exclaims, baffled, and Chanhee’s cheeks go a little pink.
"A little teasing never hurt anyone,” Chanhee says, poking Changmin’s dimple. “Now, you’re looking to prove the volume of a cylinder? First, look at the shape of the bases...”
It’s pouring outside. Changmin stares at the falling raindrops that hit the ground and create small pools of water by his feet. He shuffles backwards to the safety of the school’s awning by the gym, tightly clutching his backpack.
Of all the days to leave his umbrella at home. Of all the days for Younghoon to be home sick. Of all the days for him to forget his phone charger. Of all the days for Changmin to be stuck at school, stranded, while his horror movie marathon is put on hold.
He plops on the ground, sighing. Most of the students have cleared out of the school by now. It’s a Friday, so everyone is eager to start the weekend. Changmin had stayed behind to talk to his literature teacher about an assignment and accidentally fell into a trap-lecture for half an hour. Now, with no one around to listen to Changmin’s woes, he decides to wait for the rain to stop and then walk home.
It’s peaceful, listening to the pitter-patter of the rain. He dips his fingers into the water that gets close to his feet, scribbling out wet lines on the pavement. In the reflection, he sees the stormy clouds overhead. Then, he sees a blurred figure appear and jumps, whipping his head around.
“What’re you doing out here?” Chanhee asks, hands folded behind his back.
“I—” Changmin coughs. “I’m waiting for the weather to clear. I have to walk home.” He frowns. “Why haven’t you left yet?”
“I have a shift at Starbucks in an hour, so I was gonna head there now, but with this rain...” Chanhee puts his backpack down and settles beside Changmin. “I’ll wait, too.” He smiles, and Changmin’s heart skips a beat.
“Hey, how come you have so many part-time jobs?” Changmin asks, curious. “Ah, is it a touchy subject? Sorry. You don’t have to answer!”
Chanhee hums. “No, it’s fine. I don’t mind.
“Money’s always been sort of tight in my family. The restaurant does okay, but I don’t get an allowance. I started working at the print shop last year for pocket change; I was saving up for a laptop.
“Things didn’t work out in my favor, though. My mom got sick early in the year. There was a surgery, a few weeks in the hospital, medicines... She’s fine now, but the bills were higher than what we could afford. I decided to pitch in and try to get some extra cash for home.”
“Wow, you’re so thoughtful,” Changmin says, in awe. He swears he can hear the fluttering of angel’s wings.
“Thanks.” Chanhee rubs his eyes. “I’ll quit the grocery store soon, I think. I work so late; my manager knows what I’ve been going through, so she’ll understand. And maybe the library, too. Since Kevin is there, Hyunjae comes by often to tease him and I don’t like being around for that.”
Changmin nods, knowing exactly what he means. “What about the other two jobs? Starbucks and the print shop.”
“I like Starbucks,” Chanhee declares. “Being a barista is fun. I get to write on the chalkboard, and I come up with super cool drinks. And the print shop is chill, so I think that’s okay.”
The conversation stops there. There’s not much else to say, and Changmin realizes that letting a conversation die isn’t always so bad. Sitting together, with Chanhee, waiting for the rain to stop — that’s nice. They end up playing hand games in silence, chopsticks and rock-paper-scissors, tiny bouts of laughter when Chanhee accuses Changmin of cheating. How Changmin could even cheat at a game of luck, that is beyond him. And chopsticks is, well, mostly Changmin trying not to look too lost adding one plus three together.
Twenty minutes pass. It’s still raining.
Chanhee lets out a long sigh, cheeks puffed, and ponders aloud, “Do you think it’ll let up soon?”
Changmin holds out a hand, letting a few cold raindrops fall into his palm, and shakes his head. “I don’t mind,” he says. He grins. “I like being here with you.”
Chanhee blinks, taken aback. “What nonsense are you saying?” He runs his fingers through his hair, twiddling with one of his earrings. “Where’s your boyfriend, huh? He would be jealous if he heard that.”
“I-I have a boyfriend?” Changmin squeaks in alarm. He was not informed of this.
“The... The really tall guy,” Chanhee elaborates.
Changmin grimaces. “Are you talking about Kim Younghoon? Brown hair, resting sad face? No. No way. He’s not...” He frantically waves his hands, furiously denying Chanhee’s claim. “We’re practically family! He’s like my brother.”
Changmin brings his hands in his lap, thinking hard. “Did... Did you think he and I were dating?” Bashful, Chanhee nods. “Seriously? All this time?”
Chanhee juts out his lower lip. “Well, yeah. You’re so close with him. You’re practically a buy-one-get-one pair.” He looks down and mumbles, “And he’s so pretty.”
“You’re so pretty,” blurts Changmin.
“Don’t lie,” Chanhee reprimands, lightly shoving Changmin’s side.
“I’m not. You really are! Your hair is so silky, your skin is so nice, and your smile is so bright,” Changmin rambles on, earnest. He flushes when Chanhee starts to redden, but goes on, “Not just your looks, too. You have a pretty personality.”
“You’re thoughtful, hardworking, smart—” Changmin falters when Chanhee chuckles, “—a-and a bunch of other things.”
Chanhee grins. “It sounds like you like me.”
“I... do,” Changmin confirms meekly. He shrinks. “Sorry.”
“Did you just apologize for confessing to me?” Chanhee says in disbelief.
“Maybe.” Changmin can’t bear to meet Chanhee’s gaze. He’s already a bundle of anxiousness; a rejection from his crush would only make him unravel into a tangled mess of nerves. Instead, he directs their attention to the sky by pointing at the clouds. “Ah, Chanhee! Look! The rain is slowing—”
“I like you, too.”
Changmin, quite harshly, bites his tongue. On accident, which makes it worse, more painful, more pathetic as his eyes water. He slaps his hands over his mouth, hissing, and manages to get out a high-pitched, “Are you sure?” as Chanhee kneels by his side.
“I am!” Chanhee says cheerily, holding back a laugh as Changmin whimpers. “For a while now, actually, if that’s hard to believe.”
“Really?” Changmin gasps.
Chanhee nods. He rests his hand on Changmin’s cheek, brushing the skin gently before placing a soft kiss there. Changmin whimpers some more. “You’re really cute. Sometimes you’re cool. And, well, you’re also a ditzy sort of charming. I like that.”
Changmin scrunches his nose, feeling his cheeks and ears burn. “You like that I’m a hot mess.”
“That’s a contributing factor,” Chanhee laughs. He rises to his feet, extending a hand to Changmin. “Do you want to walk with me to Starbucks?”
“Yes?” Changmin uses Chanhee’s hand to get up, still in a daze. “I’m? I would like that?”
“Say it with more conviction. And enthusiasm,” urges Chanhee, squeezing Changmin’s hand.
“Y-Yes! I’d like that,” Changmin amends, blushing. “Thank you.”
Chanhee rolls his eyes. He starts walking, Changmin at his side, and proceeds to tell Changmin about his misconceptions of Younghoon. Turns out Younghoon gives off really strong boyfriend vibes that had made it impossible for Chanhee to even think of confessing to Changmin. Chanhee may’ve been a little intimidated by the tall junior.
Changmin makes The Noises at this reveal, absolutely appalled at the idea of dating the same guy who cried after a pigeon stole his melon bread in grade three. Chanhee giggles. Changmin blushes, and they continue on their way.