Youngjae doesn’t find it to be a blessing—more of a curse, if anything. He glances idly to the people around him, biting down on the straw of his medium sized Americano, observing the thin strings tied around their pinky fingers. Some are straining, pulled until the strings are taut (he wonders if they’ll ever break. They won’t, he tells himself.) while others are loose and piled over one another. They’re always some that are knotted here and there, which after so many years of observing, Youngjae recognizes it to be the times where they’ve almost let go of one another ( almost) but still came back for each other.
He shifts the plastic cup in his hands, the sound of ice rustling reaching his ears, as he surveys the red string tied around his finger. It sits comfortably, not too tight and not too loose, leading off into the distance and further to places that Youngjae doesn’t know of. He doesn’t dwell on it much now, having gone past the days of wanting to meet his fated lover so much .
It had died down when Youngjae fell in love for the first time, a boy named Yugyeom with soft hands and bright eyes. Where he couldn’t help but pass his days where his brain was filled with the younger’s laughter and endless chanting of He’s-the-one-he’s-the-one-he’s-the-one. Except he knows that Yugyeom isn’t the one. The string at the end of his finger doesn’t connect to the string that was tied at the end of Yugyeom’s. It doesn’t stop him from falling in love; however, doesn’t stop him from thinking that they can fight against the heavens and whoever played matchmaker way above the clouds. The Old Man under the Moon, was it? He recalls vaguely from mythology class.
But when the days pass by and they fall out of love—with raging fires and crumbling buildings—Youngjae can’t help but succumb to forces beyond his control. The flames of Yugyeom’s eyes burned into his irises at the age of fifteen, the two of them overwhelmed by life and romance , saying goodbye with all the wrong words. For “ I knew we wouldn’t work out from the beginning” isn’t really the best way to break up, is it?
It confines him, brings too much rationality upon him for any possible romance when he meets people who he likes and those who like him. Because they are those who aren’t meant for him, only another passerby in life. Where even though he knows they will make a mark in each other’s lives, it’s too distressing to be confirmed of the bitter end even before they start.
He doesn’t speak of it anymore, doesn’t desire love as much these days either. It all fades out into a soft numbness as he navigates life focusing on other things: school, family, and friends. It’s nothing much, he reckons, with the way that he has never been one to prioritize romantic relationships as the utmost goal in life. Plenty of others are like him, still too preoccupied with themselves and the general happenings of life for other fanciful things. Besides, Youngjae reasons, he’s simply waiting for the right person to enter his life.
And so, the world continues, and he breaks from his thoughts to messily scribble another line upon his notes—returning his focus to his studies.
It’s only at odd delirious hours, where he’s kept awake at night despite being mentally fatigued for no particular reason, that he wonders if he’s growing all too cynical. Where even if his fated lover—his soulmate—appears in his life, his passivity will turn their relationship into a watered-down one. Is it that because they’re destined to fall in love that they will? Will it ignite instantaneously like fire around oil or is it still more on his part to accept this growing love? Or will his cynicism only bring them together like water and oil—clashing here and there but still shackled to one another in some venomous love? Youngjae reaches to the silk thread at his fingers, wondering if it would cut into his skin like a sharpened blade when pulled with enough tension.
His mind wanders, thoughts going through various pathways at the same time. He suddenly feels weightless, floating above the surface of his mattress—dissociating from the world as his conscious seeps into the night air. A tinge of excitement (or was it anxiety?) works its way into his blood where he grasps onto the blankets in an attempt to stay grounded.
It’s nights like these where when he finally does fall asleep, he’s already lost within clouded thoughts, unable to discern between his dreams and reality. Eyelids heavy and body light, sleep overtakes him like sirens beckoning to Odysseus.
It’s not until Jinyoung starts to stare his phone more and more, something so uncharacteristic of the other boy, that Youngjae’s thoughts ponder upon the idea of love again. He raises his brows, partly due to curiosity and partly due to bemusement, for when was it that Park Jinyoung was so concentrated on his phone and not another one of his many novels? It must be nice, he reminisces, to be doused in the butterflies of early romance. He throws his roommate a knowing glance before shuffling to his own deskspace, flipping open his textbook and returning to his usual mundane life.
He doesn’t miss the blatant signs, the slight sparkle in the older boy’s eyes and the constant smile after every late-night text. It brings a mixture of feelings to Youngjae’s hearts, where he is genuinely happy for Jinyoung but there’s also a tinge of discomfort that uncovers itself from the depths of his heart, for what if ( what if) Jinyoung’s romance wasn’t to last forever?
Youngjae scans another paragraph of his music theory textbook, reading up on different modal scales. He takes it in half-heartedly, mind preoccupied with other things. He’s being silly, he knows. For any encounter, is only another learning experience in life. If anything, he should be worried for himself, rejecting such encounters only to save himself heartbreak. Immature, the printed words tell him. Shush , he whispers back.
If Youngjae hadn’t believed that the heavens have cursed him before, he's fully convinced of it now, opening their door to find Jinyoung’s date—his boyfriend—at the doorsteps. A sickening feeling overtakes him, nausea seeping under his skin, as Jinyoung introduces them to each other. Youngjae nods, stomach morphing into a bottomless pit as he looks at their intertwined hands, unable to process whether the discomfort in him rises from the fact that their strings of fate do not connect to each other or from the fact that the red string tied around Jaebum’s hand leads to his own.
“This is Jaebum,” Jinyoung says happily, before gesturing to Youngjae, “and this is Youngjae. My roommate.” The vile feeling settles within him and Youngjae only has enough strength to let out a breathless “hi” before Jinyoung heads out side by side with Jaebum.
“I’ll be back later tonight,” Jinyoung tells him, voice echoing in the dorm hall. “You don’t have to wait for me!”
“Okay,” he whispers, barely audible to anyone but himself. He tightens his fist behind his back, holding on the string until it sears into his skin. He hopes that it’ll break from the tension.
Love doesn’t take him over by storm, Youngjae finds out the next day when he wakes up groggily, feeling just as horrible as the night before. Jinyoung is in his bed, still asleep in the early morning, phone clutched loosely in his hand. Youngjae turns around, shifting under his covers, to face the boy in the bed adjacent to his.
It all feels like a sick joke, a grand scheme planned by someone with perverse humour. Someone who found joy in toying with people’s lives. He wonders if it’s the Elder under the Moon, wonders if the old man finds it thrilling to tie strings around people’s hearts like it was only a puppet show.
Why him? Why me? He wonders, feeling all too wronged that this was the way that his life crumbles into pieces. For he doesn’t love Jaebum, and the other clearly didn’t love him either—heart infatuated with not just anyone else but his friend. How did they go on from here? Does he wait until they reach their destined end? Does he remain friends with Jinyoung after? Will he magically grow to love Jaebum once he hits a certain time in life? Is it the same for the other?
All the questions swim in mind without answers, a tangled web akin to the ones that Youngjae sees daily. And it only reminds Youngjae why he hated this gift in the first place, hated being the one to see how fate always ran opposite people’s wishes. Where obstacles were just as predestined as blessings. Where the heavens have given him all the endpoints but never showed him the roads to embark upon.
The nausea from the night before finds him again and Youngjae only wants to vomit until his heart also lurches from his throat. If only, he wishes, then love would never be a problem for him again.
But when he leans over the bathroom sink later that day, head pounding, all that comes up is bile.
It’s when Jaebum starts staying over in their dorm more and more that Youngjae feels as though he can’t breathe. Where even being in the same room as him and Jinyoung just doesn’t seem right. Where no matter how much he tries to focus on his studies, the black and white text only seems to taunt him.
It’s groundless thoughts.
But it doesn’t stop him from scrambling out of their small dorm room whenever Jaebum steps inside. Their red string of fate trailing between the two of them with each step he takes. When Jinyoung asks him about it later, he gives a perfunctory answer of not wanting to disturb their moments. Which wasn’t a lie on his part. He supposes it’s also the answer he relays onto Jaebum.
There’s only so many places to escape to as he slips to the university library, finding himself a secluded spot before putting on his headphones to fall asleep to the accompanientments of Buxtehude and Bach. But there’s also only so many hours that he can dwindle within the labyrinth of books before melancholy finds itself within the crevices of his mind again. And Youngjae’s left alone to all his vexations of: Why? Why does it matter? Would Jaebum even take notice of him when he’s still in love with Jinyoung? And why was he so insecure over his own feelings that he felt the mere sight of Jaebum will succumb him to the strangling hold of romance?
Because if anything, Youngjae doesn’t like Jaebum—doesn’t know anything beyond his name and face—and Jaebum doesn’t like Youngjae. Jaebum likes Jinyoung who reciprocates his affections. And maybe, it’s not until they’re well past the precarious age of youth that he and Jaebum will meet again. By then, Jaebum would have separated from Jinyoung who would have also moved on from Jaebum. By then, he would be able to have the liberty of falling in love with Jaebum without knots in his stomach and discomfort under his skin.
But then is not now.
So as the notes shift into one another, the organ sounding slightly too ominous, Youngjae thinks he’s rightful in his decision to maintain his distance from Jaebum.
One day he’ll fall in love, he vows. Someday.
“Hey, Youngjae, right?”
A voice brings him out of his own thoughts. Youngjae jerks his head towards the sound source with too much force as if the strings of fate have finally snapped and he’s sustaining the recoil of it all. He blinks nervously as Jaebum stands to the side of his seat, which only confirms his theory that the Elder Under The Moon was a sick, sick man. He stands a bit too abruptly, knees banging into the table as he mutters, “Y-yes. Jaebum, right?”
“Mind if I sit here?”
“No. It’s fine.”
He wonders if the heavens are amused at this scene where the both of them sit in awkward silence, at a loss for words now that it’s Jaebum and Youngjae and not Jaebum and Jinyoung. And Youngjae. He frowns slightly at the cup of coffee in front of him. The vapours hiss back in reply.
“You’re a music major, right? I’ve heard from Jinyoung.”
“Yeah, Piano Performance. You?”
“Classics. I’m minoring in Music Theory though,” Jaebum says with an apprehensive smile that Youngjae doesn’t know how to decipher.
“Ah,” he says, ending the conversation on a wrong note. But he really doesn’t know what else to say except, of course . Of course Jinyoung would like him, someone who’s also into literature and philosophy and the romances of years too long ago. He takes this time to survey the other, through calculated glances whenever he takes another sip of coffee. It’s his first time to sit and finally take in the other boy, noticing that this time around Jaebum’s hair is styled down instead of up. That the other’s irises were darker than he remembered, an intensity that only seems to be accentuated by the sharpness of his features.
On first look, Jaebum seems to be like that of a dagger—a sharp blade cutting through the air. The array of earrings and accessories he wears only complimenting his aura. It’s completely unlike Youngjae’s demeanor, who prefers to dress in oversized cotton blends that envelops his frame as his blankets do. They’re people of different worlds, opposing forces that Youngjae can’t help but wonder how they will blend into one another. Or maybe they won’t, and ten years down the line, Jaebum would be the loosely held dagger at his neck. Maybe the silk string will become that of iron and confine him like shackles.
But then Jaebum smiles, features softening in ways that Youngjae doesn’t expect, and looks so utterly shy—a side of him Youngjae wishes he hadn’t seen. He had expected the other to be bold, confident and stoic. But like the duality of light, Jaebum seems to be both the thundering roar and soft twinkling of piano notes all at the same time. And Youngjae. Seems to be both in love and not in love with Jaebum all at once.
One day. He reminds himself.
“You compose too?” Jaebum asks, eyes peering at the mess of notes that Youngjae has on his notebook.
“Yeah, not really good at it though. You?” He replies meekly, warmth rushing to his cheeks as he attempts to inconspicuously hide it by resting his chin in the cup of his hand.
“Sometimes. When I’m suddenly inspired.”
“It’s hard to be though,” he huffs as he thinks too much of days where he ponders and ponders but melodies just won’t come to him. He wrinkles his forehead in annoyance, “composing is always a struggle.”
“Creativity is always a struggle,” Jaebum amends, “Be it music or literature.”
“You write?” Youngjae asks, tension slowly easing from his shoulders.
“When I can. Mostly prose though.”
And they return to the soft humming of silence, Youngjae simply nods and fiddles with the scribbles on his notebook. He holds his curiosity within him, not wanting to pry too much into the other’s inner mind.
Jaebum doesn’t seem to mind the silence, taking out his own set of notes to study with while Youngjae returns to his previous actions. He hums here and there, attempting to find melodies that flowed into one another. And when he later finishes the piece, huddled relaxedly in his blankets, he tries not to reminisce too much about the comfort he feels simply sitting quietly with Jaebum. Not now, he tells himself. Not now.
He figures there’s not much that’s changed, although he now exchanges small smiles with Jaebum before he stumbles out of the older boy’s dates. Everything is still within his control. He twists the string around his fingers, pulling it as if playing cats cradle on his own. Everyone still seems to be the same, with the way that Jinyoung smiles so radiantly whenever he talks of Jaebum. Though every time Youngjae is there to witness it, a small voice gnaws at the back of his head.
It’s not that he doesn’t know that he’s over thinking the whole situation—too fixated on how Jaebum isn’t his, but Jaebum isn’t Jinyoung’s either. Well, ultimately. But he doesn’t love him, right? So what is it about knowing that one day he would that makes it so utterly perplexing?
A part of him thinks it’s the fact that he doesn’t know just when and how he’ll inevitably fall in love with Jaebum. (Neither does he know when and how Jaebum and Jinyoung will fall out of love.) And in some twisted fate, what if he misses the right moment simply because he’s betting too much that their romance is secured by their stars?
And if so, is it truly love?
Or is it just another game that the heavens are playing to pass the idle time?
Love, he contemplates on the idea, pressing his fingers onto the heavy piano keys. The notes thunder around the practice room, bouncing off the old wooden floors. The crimson red of his string clashes against the black and white of the piano, the only colour in his sight.
Red, for romance.
Red, for danger.
When the seasons shift and the earth rotates closest to the sun, Youngjae can’t help but feel that the rusted gears in his life have also begun to crank alive—slowly but surely. Jinyoung packs his bags and goes back home for the summer break, showering him with goodbyes and promises to bring back presents. Youngjae stands awkwardly at the train station, scuffing his shoe on the ground while Jinyoung bids his farewell to Jaebum. He keeps his gaze on the cracked platform surface, humming mindless tunes to block out conversations that weren’t meant to be his.
When Jinyoung finally steps aboard his train, Youngjae gives him one last wave and a big smile, which the older male reciprocates. “Take care!” He says over the rumbling engine of the train. Jinyoung gives a curt nod, pointing between the two of them as he replies, “I will, you two take care too, okay? I’ll call when I arrive.”
“Yes, mom.” Youngjae huffs with a chuckle.
“I’ll miss you,” Jaebum says with a smile.
“Jinyoung told me to keep an eye out for you,” Jaebum tells him when they walk back to campus, the both of them still confined to the walls of higher education for the summer. “He said you tend to daze out and neglect your daily necessities.”
“He’s just exaggerating. I take good care of myself.”
“Not from the stories that I’ve heard,” The raven haired male teases, throwing his head back slightly in a smile. “You seem to sleep the days away.”
“Sleep,” Youngjae retaliates, “is important.”
“And so is eating meals. You’re human, you know?”
“I’m finally free from Jinyoung’s nagging, I can’t believe he sent you to replace him,” he says with a groan, though more of his dejection seems to come from how Jinyoung—and now Jaebum—only seem to view him as child. “I’m an adult,” he says, a bit more monotonous. “I can take care of myself.”
Jaebum seems to notice his change in mood, switching the subject as they continue down the street. “Jinyoung said you’re taking summer classes too?”
“Yeah, I’m taking Music Therapy.”
“The one at 9:45? I’m taking that section,” Jaebum tells him, as if not dropping news as heavy as a boulder onto Youngjae’s arms. It only feels all too familiar when the discomfort ripples through his veins. He twists the hem of his shirt, counting duple metres within his mind, “Yeah, I’m in that section too.”
“Relax, I heard it was a pretty chill class.”
“Yeah, it can’t be that bad,” he lets out softly, though he figures it’s a statement more to himself than the other male. Certain things— this —cannot and will not worsen.
It’s his mind running off on unnecessary tangents, Alice running after the white rabbit, when Jaebum slides into the seat next to his 9:30 in the morning smiling all too bright for morning lectures. The soft scent of Jaebum’s shampoo finds its way to him, tickling his sensory neurons. Youngjae shifts forward in his seat, resting his chin on the lid of his coffee—letting the scent of caffeine take over instead.
“Morning,” Jaebum says, setting out his notebook and pen, surprisingly unorganized and lackadaisical compared to the multitude of post-its and coloured pens that Jinyoung always carried with him. But when he looks at the faint sleep marks on Jaebum’s cheek, it doesn’t seem all too out of character. Maybe he was wrong, Youngjae thinks. Maybe it wasn’t that birds of a feather flock together. Maybe it was more so that opposites attract. Or maybe it was both, but he wouldn’t be one to know. He hums a greeting back, taking a sip of his latte so that the sucrose and caffeine drown out the voices in his head.
“Ecstatic,” he deadpans to which Jaebum only stifles a laugh in response.
“ Someone isn’t a morning person.”
“I’m just your normal college student, feeling the morning lecture hate that every college student feels.” Youngjae leans a bit more into his seat, “Jinyoung-hyung ain’t a morning person either.”
“I’ve figured that one out from the scowls I get in Greek and Latin Law.”
“See?” Youngjae beams, “You’re the odd one out.”
“I,” Jaebum takes a small pause, covering his chest with one hand, “just happen to like sleeping early and morning exercise.”
“You,” Youngjae mocks, “are truly out of the ordinary.”
Youngjae figures it’s a blessing that both him and Jaebum are rather studious and they spend the two hour lectures in mostly silence. There are no small whispers here and there, no passing of messily scribbled notes. There are only the sounds of their professor, the flipping of pages and soft inhale-exhale of their breaths. But on days where the sun filters through the glass window panes, golden rays drenching Jaebum’s figure, Youngjae also hears the soft ba-thump, ba-thump of his heart. Sometimes it heightens in crescendo, other times it’s halts to a rest before continuing.
But it’s only for a small moment, and then he catches his breath and breaks his gaze. The warmth of the sun burns into his retina like light leaks on exposed film. He blinks slowly before looking back at the powerpoint slides in front of him.
The images come back to his mind at obscure moments, sepia tinted and grainy. It’s befitting, he reckons, something analog and raw about the way that Jaebum holds himself—rough edges, flawed, unapologetic. Something that feels all too precarious but intentionally so. Nothing potent enough to damage all at once, but something that stealthily lurks its way into the nooks and crannies. And before you notice, you’re already drowning in his existence.
He frowns at the thought, copying down another sentence onto his notebook. Tick tock , his watch whispers. Hush Hush, he replies. He’s counting down to an unknown number, approaching infinity backwards, walking in half steps and never reaching his destination.
He counts his days in the number of times Jaebum and him walk down the campus road after lecture—a ten minute walk where they scavenge for topics here and there. Youngjae wonders vaguely how long those minutes would accumulate to when their course ends, and so does their interactions. By then, the leaves of the campus trees would’ve fallen to the paved grounds, lifeless yet vibrant.
Crossing another day off his calendar, Youngjae reclines back onto his bed. He holds his hand into the air, letting the red string dangle in mid-air. Danger , he reminds himself.
It’s the foolishness of humans to be lured into the vices of bright colours when all of nature deems them to be a sign of caution—venom, death. We never learn, he sighs, as he thinks of all the colours that seem to morph into Jaebum’s prismatic existence. It’s so easy to fall, wanting to get just another step closer to someone so beautiful, attractive, charismatic. Where even when he paces himself to a safe distance, he takes one step too much and finds himself falling off the cliff edge. The flower at the edge of the precipice, mesmerizing and vibrant, screams of danger.
It mocks him, taunts him in his dreams with soft whispers of I-told-you-so , when his will and conscious is all too vulnerable. It claws at his heart, wrangling it as if it was a broken doll. So that when he wakes up the next morning, the guilt crawls slowly under his skin. And when it’s approaching noon, sun basking him and Jaebum in golden hues, it eats him from within.
But Jaebum doesn’t love him. (Not yet.) It’s not the right time even if it had been the right person. Jaebum shouldn’t love him. And had Jaebum reciprocated his feelings while still seeing Jinyoung, Youngjae doesn’t think he’d be able to love such a person. A pang of jealousy, bitter and helpless, strikes him in his heart. It makes a hollow thud, sound waves rippling through the air.
And maybe it’s the masochistic part of him that both selfishly wants to simply be near Jaebum (nothing more, nothing less) but doesn’t want to break the stage play the heavens have laid out. So when he diverts their conversations from them (meaning Youngjae and Jaebum) to them (meaning Jinyoung and Jaebum), he can only hope that the other won’t notice.
He wonders if such actions would make up for the ugly desires within him, so that the guilt could stop flowing through his body with every pump of his heart. In this way, he wouldn’t be a bad friend, right? This way, he can wait slowly for this play to reach its rightful end—curtains drawing to a close as the actors prepare for the sequel.
“It’s okay,” he says to no one particular, “Jaebum doesn’t have to love me now.”
If it’s one thing that Youngjae forgets about the nature of mankind, he figures it would be their unbounded greed. One gains an inch, and he wants another yard. So that he relishes in the way Jaebum greets him every morning, looks at him so intently whenever they engage in conversation, and swings his arm around his shoulder all too easily. Where for a moment, he thinks that such actions are his. And if Jaebum had lingered on for just another quarter beat, Youngjae would turn in his hold and place his arms around the other’s frame.
But he doesn’t.
He’s Icarus flying too close to the sun, wax wings melting as he plunges to the depths of the ocean below. The waves knock him over with too much force, air drawing out of his lungs and muscles aching against the tides. It depletes him, sucks all the energy out of him until he’s just another empty carcass.
Unrequited love. He gives and gives until he’s parched and dry.
He’s retreating in small steps, careful strides so that the loose gravel beneath him doesn’t slip and crumble. If anything, Youngjae reckons, he’s only trying to restore things to the way that it had once been. So he paces himself, stopping himself before every interaction so that he can gear it in the right direction.
But Youngjae also feel as if he’s attempting to piece together broken glass—cracks evident and minute shards lost—with the way that Jaebum sees through his facade. Two could always play a game of pretend, so why is it that Jaebum’s so unwilling to do so?
He nods perfunctorily, thoughts repressed as he gives Jaebum another half-hearted answer. It’s almost over, just a few more days until the sudden bloom of summer dies into muted tones. Autumn’s right around the corner, and when the green leaves fade into brown, they’ll crush underneath his footsteps as with his heart.
In some other fanciful world, it seems too much like summer romance but he knows it’s nothing close. They’re running on borrowed time and dreams can only go for so long before he’s jolted back to reality.
He wonders where they stand. Were they friends? Mutual friends? Or maybe simply acquaintances when they fall out of the spark of communication. No more early morning talks, afternoon strolls and daily texts.
Jinyoung comes back on a Sunday afternoon, cloudy and dry. Youngjae finds himself in the same spot as a few weeks back, Jaebum by his side as they wait for Jinyoung to arrive. There’s something slightly ritual-esque about it all, and Youngjae can’t help but feel that this is the moment he officially bids Jaebum farewell.
“Here,” he tells Jinyoung as they all walk back to the dormitories, “I’ve returned your boyfriend to you.”
They laugh as if it’s another joke, and Youngjae can only wish that it truly was.
He trails slightly behind, stuffing his headphones into his ears as he stomps pettily on the shadows of their interlocked hands. The string between him and Jaebum is still there although it doesn’t cast a shadow.
No one sees it but him.
When Fall Semester rolls around, Youngjae returns to his old patterns. The unpleasant feeling still resides within him, growing ever the more now that he doesn’t have to say it to remind himself that Jaebum’s in love with someone else. He wakes up to the sight of Jinyoung sleeping in the bed beside his, falls asleep to the sight of Jinyoung sending Jaebum goodnight texts.
But it’s worse this time around. For when he had only used to know that he would one day fall in love with his friend’s boyfriend, he now knows that he’s already begun falling in love with his friend’s boyfriend. Which, he knows, just isn’t right.
And whatever abhorrence he holds for himself is displaced in all the wrong ways. It turns into countless hours spent in the rehearsal room, playing melodies in all the wrong time—too fast, too loud. It turns into too many meals spent asleep, huddled in the corner of the library as Jaebum spends another day with Jinyoung in their dorm room. It turns into frustration that only translates poorly into irritation when Jaebum approaches him.
He takes in a deep breath, counting the small knots that have formed on the silk string. Youngjae really doesn’t know what to do, his initial resolve crumbling into ashes. At this point Youngjae feels as if he doesn’t know what he wants either.
He only wants everything to revert to the days before romance, before soulmates. Days where he was only preoccupied with himself in this vast world.
Youngjae knows that Jaebum picks up on his change of attitude, notices the way the other’s eyes flash small signs of hurt when he lashes out. He doesn’t mean it, but the jagged edges of his words inflict wounds anyways. It really isn’t anyone’s fault but his own—and even then, he feels so utterly wronged for thinking so. Had the heavens not cursed him like so, Youngjae figures that everything wouldn’t spiral into the calamity that it was now. But if he wasn’t at fault, who was? Who would be responsible for his actions but himself?
Jaebum finds him in the coffee shop near campus late afternoon, after so many lukewarm instances between them. He hopes wistfully that Jaebum had only been here for a coffee run, though he knows it’s not so when Jaebum scans the room before marching over to take the seat in front of him.
“Did I say something to tick you off?” Jaebum asks, sounding even more exasperated than how Youngjae feels.
“No,” he answers curtly.
“Then why is it that you’re suddenly treating me as if I’m the plague? I can’t read you, Youngjae.” The older male sighs, running his hand through his hair, “One moment we’re fine, talking about stuff, and suddenly you recluse yourself and shirk away. If I said something that made you uncomfortable, you can tell me. I can take that much, okay?”
“There’s nothing wrong!” Youngjae heaves softly, the air suddenly turning stale—pushing down his shoulders like iron claws digging into his flesh. “You’re just reading too much into it, okay? Shouldn’t you be spending time with Jinyoung-hyung instead of having meaningless conversations with me?” Though that seems to be the wrong thing to say, as it ignites something that’s been kindling within Jaebum for all too long. Small flickers of flame that finally aggregate into something he wasn’t ready to handle.
“Why is it that you’re always turning our conversations about Jinyoung? Is it so difficult for you to see me as myself and not just Jinyoung’s boyfriend?”
“Well, are you not?”
“How is that one attribute of myself is the one that you become fixated on? I’m simply trying to make friends, is that so hard for you handle? I thought I said something that made you feel bad, Youngjae. I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“And maybe the thing is I don’t want to be your friend, okay?!” Youngjae snaps, menace seeping into his words. “Can’t you just leave me alone?!” He stuffs his notes into his bag hastily, pages crumpling as he tries to dump everything in as fast as possible. And with that, he stumbles out, brass bell clanging loudly as he finally pushes the door open.
There’s a tug on his finger, and he looks down to see another knot forming on the crimson string. A warmth wells up within him, rising like the ocean tides and crashing against his chest. He brings a hand up to wipe at the tears on his cheek, pulling his hood over to conceal his face.
Forget it, he thinks. Just forget everything.
The wooden door of their dorm room slams with a close, floorboards creaking as he makes his way to his bed. He draws the covers above his head, burying himself within the soft fabric.
“Youngjae?” Jinyoung’s concerned voice sounds, muffled by his blankets.
“Not in the mood to talk right now, hyung,” he utters, voice hoarse.
There’s a small pause before he feels his bed dip and a hold wraps around his figure. “Is everything okay?”
“No,” he says childishly though he regrets it as soon as his statement leaves his mouth. “It will be though,” he amends, “I’ll be okay.”
The fabric of his covers rustle as Jinyoung shifts, moving his arms to uncover Youngjae’s face from beneath the blankets. “Is this about Jaebum?” He says slowly, “Do you not like him?”
“No! It's not that!” He says, too fast as he tries to read the unspoken words. The older male gives a soft sigh, reaching over to tuck Youngjae’s hair behind his ear. “It’s just that...you’ve always seem so avoidant whenever I bring him up or when he comes over. I thought you guys would’ve made friends over the summer but I guess it didn’t work out.” Jinyoung gives a soft smile, though it doesn’t reach his eyes. “I know I wanted you guys to get along, but I’m not as immature to insist that my friends have to befriend my boyfriend.”
“It isn’t that,” Youngjae lies, “I’m just...going through things right now. I promise I’ll be better soon.”
Fire burn his throat.
Things simmer to a slow boil, fire encaged within a controllable range. Though the tension still lies in the air like a horridly humid day. Youngjae apologizes hastily via a text message the day after, but he doesn’t find it in himself to explain anything beyond that. Jaebum seems to get the point, responding with a similarly terse response. Though in some unknown tacit agreement, they both don’t tell Jinyoung about their argument.
The days go on. The butterflies in Youngjae’s stomach threaten to flutter out.
Autumn seeps in slowly but surely, and before long the trees are barren and the campus floors are decked in shades of red and orange. Youngjae looks out the cafeteria window, fiddling through his soup with his spoon. Mark—Jaebum’s roommate—sits beside him, while Jaebum and JInyoung sit across from them. The hall is filled with chatter, individual conversations blending into static noise, but the four of them sit almost silently save for small sentences exchanged here and there.
Mark wasn’t one of many words and Jinyoung, having picked up on the aura between Youngjae and Jaebum, seemed to have piped down as well. He picks up his bowl, drinking the last of his soup before standing up. “I have to rehearse for the recital,” he says before excusing himself. He’s in the middle of returning his tray before Mark makes his way to him, waving goodbye to Jaebum and Jinyoung as they exit the dining hall.
“I can’t believe you left me to be a third-wheeler,” the older male says.
“You have your own hands and feet, hyung. I can’t leave you anywhere.”
“Sure, Youngjae, Sure.”
He lets out a hearty laugh, looking at the other male questionably as they enter the elevator together. “Where to?” He inquires.
“Following you for some post-meal music. I’ve got some time to kill before my next class.”
“Sounds fun,” he teases, elevator coming to a stop as the doors slide open. They make their way to the end of the hallway, taking a left to enter the rehearsal room. Youngjae moves towards the piano as Mark saunters into one of the stray chairs around the room.
“So, you want to tell me why Jaebum suddenly had to drag me into his dates?” Mark starts out of nowhere. Youngjae wonders if it’s a trait of those around him to be brutally honest about everything. “Why would I know? You should ask him.”
“If he’d answer, I wouldn’t be asking you.”
“Then maybe I don’t have an answer for you either,” he says, feeling defiant in his own right.
“Logic tells me that it’s to keep you company so that you don’t third-wheel their dates,” Mark continues without a care, “But that’s that thing. Why would you even third-wheel their dates.”
“I don’t,” he says while pressing on random keys, “but I didn’t want Jinyoung-hyung to think I didn’t want to be friends with his boyfriend.” There’s something oddly intriguing in the way that one feels uncharacteristically bold when disclosing to a bystander—and the courage surges within in him, bottled emotions ready to burst.
“And you don’t like Jaebum?” Mark asks, leaning foreward against the backrest of the chair as he sits in it backwards.
“Now’s not the time for free-association therapy, Mr-Psychology-Major.”
“Please continue your psychological sublimation then, Mr-I-Have-To-Rehearse-For-The-Recital.”
Mark picks up the clues and strings it together by their fourth meeting, spent at the nearby mall as they replenish their snack supplies after a movie. And while Youngjae knows that he should be more anxious about it all, he doesn’t find enough energy in him to do so. It seems to be so long since he’s been harbouring all these emotions within him. Long enough that Youngjae doesn’t even care if anyone else knows—tears him open and reads the very words on his heart.
Perhaps it’s because he’s already grown tired of pretending—where everything he does seems so telling. Or perhaps it’s just how Mark is so observant, well versed in all his psychology, that he reads Youngjae like an open book. But Mark, being Mark, was also trained in client confidentiality and Youngjae finds comfort in how Mark knows but would never tell.
“Are you just going to keep on waiting?” Mark had asked then. Youngjae doesn’t answer, though he knows that such was only a rhetorical question.
But for how long? Would he tire out before then?
Was the inevitable end that all between him and Jaebum were the strings on their fingers and their burnt out romances?
Winter comes with frosted breaths and deafening fireworks. All’s barren on the trees and they’ve all packed to go home for break. Lights dangle here and there for the Christmas spirit and they gather at the nearby beach to celebrate. There’s more than the four of them this time, a handful more mutual friends as they all revel in post-finals euphoria. Christmas carols play from the tinny speakers of the portable radio that they borrowed from the orchestra room. Youngjae huddles into his scarf, oceanside wind billowing. He takes a glance at Jinyoung, setting off yet another pack of fireworks while Jaebum stands on the side taking photos.
He chews on his lower lip, looking up to see the varying shades of the fireworks instead. In a way, they feel like his own emotions—fleeting, explosive. Little impulses that come and go before he suppresses it all down.
He huddles his way to Mark, dragging his feet in the sand. “Merry Christmas, Mark-hyung.”
“Aren’t you jolly.”
“I’m tired,” he finally makes out, thumping his forehead into the older male’s shoulder.
“Well,” Mark shivers slightly in the cold, “nothing like the Christmas festivity to make you realize how lonely you are.”
“It’s okay, we can be sad together.” Youngjae shifts his head from the crook of Mark’s shoulder, moving over to face him instead.
“Can you kiss me?”
Mark looks up at him, bright eyes that remind him like a deer’s. “Do you want me to?” It seems like forever, the sound of ocean waves crashing behind him mixing with that of the radio static. He musters the best of a smile he can before nodding, and Mark leans in.
Mark smells like his cologne—woody and light in ways that remind Youngjae of spirits beyond their existence. Though, with the way that Mark seems to read his mind, he wouldn’t be all too surprised if Mark had descended from other realms. It’s comforting, the way that Mark tastes sweet—like the peppermint candy someone was giving out earlier—the way he places his lips upon Youngjae’s but does nothing further.
He lifts his arms, about to embrace the older male, barely grazing the other’s arm before there’s a mixture of shouts and Mark’s out of his grip. He opens his eyes to find Mark rubbing his shoulder sorely and Jaebum suddenly by his side, looking at him with eyes of disbelief. Jinyoung is there a few moments later, just as confused as he was at the whole situation.
“Are you dating Mark?” Jaebum finally asks, more so interrogating than inquiring. But Youngjae doesn’t answer, still in slight shock from the earlier events. “No, we’re not,” Mark answers for him instead.
“I wasn’t asking you,” Jaebum snarls menacingly. “I’m asking you,” he says, stepping in between Youngjae and Mark, “if you like Mark.”
But what is he to answer? Yes , when he wasn’t? No , and that Mark was only a solace he’s found when he’s moping on and on about him ?
“What does it have to do with you?” He says defensively, all thorns and wounds.
“What the hell, Youngjae? I’m ju—”
“No,” Youngjae all but shouts, “Why do you care? Why do you have to make everything worse than it already is?! Why can’t you just leave me alone? Is that so hard to ask?!” It all feels too much like deja vu, air channels constricting as he gasps for air. He doesn’t realize he’s crying until Mark’s pulling him away and he falters to follow, tears falling upon the sand below.
“I guess I just always fuck up,” he mutters, when he’s finally calmed down. He swings his legs back and forth, leaning into the cushioned seats of the diner booth. “Well, judging from before, you aren’t the only one that fucked up.” Mark settles his spoon down after giving his coffee a good stir, drumming his fingers upon the table.
“You didn’t do anything,” Youngjae frowns.
“Not me,” Mark clarifies, “Jaebum.”
“What are you on about.”
“If you’re asking me, I honestly think that Jaebum cares more about you than he lets on.”
“And so what?,” He quiets down his tone, nodding a thanks to the waiter who sets down his plate of waffles. “He’s dating Jinyoung-hyung.”
“I wouldn’t be telling you this if I didn’t think Jaebum likes you back even the slightest. And after today, nothing good is going to come out of it if the three of you don’t sit down and talk about it.”
“What then? Do you think there’s some fairytale ending for all three of us?”
“You’re all adults—rational ones from what I know. You can keep avoiding the issue and hope it goes away.”
He grunts stubbornly, cheeks full of waffles and syrup—carbohydrates and saccharides. “I’ve been doing so for this long.”
Mark only gives him a knowing look, picking up his cup of coffee. “And look where it got you.”
Mark’s words resonate within his mind as he spends the rest of break huddled up in his house, refusing to step out into the cold outdoors. The holiday lights blink green and red, taunting him as he remembers the fireworks of not too long ago. Had Jaebum liked him back? Even just the slightest?
He shouldn’t, given the way that he and Jinyoung were.
But if not, then why? Why had it mattered who it was that Youngjae liked?
And even then, was this infatuation something that was inevitable? Or was it the way that he unknowingly acted, crossing boundaries even when he had tried so hard to not do so.
They’re fated, he reasons, tugging at the string around his finger and wrapping it around his hand a few times. Maybe even if he hadn’t done anything, they would still find their ways to one another. But was that love? Or was it more some innate feeling, bestowed upon them against their will.
Had Jaebum liked him back, where does leave him and Jinyoung? Where does it leave him and Jinyoung? Was this another game of forked roads and he can only pick one of the two. You give something up for everything you take—some things (some people) are bound to be lost.
But he doesn’t want to, having tried so hard so that even despite his intertwined fate with Jaebum, he wouldn’t have to lose Jinyoung. Jinyoung, who cares so much with open arms and a tender heart.
Jinyoung calls him one night, half past nine, and Youngjae picks up on the eighth measure. His phone feels heavy in his hands, and he manages a soft “hello,” before slumping down on his bed—finding support for his insecurity.
“Hey, hyung,” he mumbles.
“Can we talk? About Jaebum?” Jinyoung asks in a way where Youngjae can hear the underlying anger in his voice.
“There’s nothing to talk about him,” he sighs, rolling over in bed.
“Do you like him, Youngjae? Is that what is it?”
“No,” he replies nonchalantly, wondering if the thousands of needles he’ll have to swallow are worth the lie.
“He’s my boyfriend,” the older male states, his usual gentleness lost within the brooding storm clouds. The thunder roars and lightning cracks, the world below drenched in pain.
“I know that!” He raises his voice, feeling a headache impending. As if he would’ve forgotten such a fact that has plagued him for the past year and so, gnawing at his heart until it was rotten and hollow. “I know that he’s your boyfriend, I’ve known for all this time. And I’ve kept myself away from him. What more is it that you guys want?”
“Youngjae, you fell in love with my boyfriend,” Jinyoung inhales heavily, “how did you expect me to process this?”
“Hyung, do you think I wanted this? Do you think that I liked living knowing that I was falling in love with someone who’s already in love with you?”
“Well, now it’s so that he’s no longer in love with me. Are you happy now?” Jinyoung sounds like a detonating bomb, self destructive and bringing the world down with him. It’s something that’s so characteristic of him, someone who loves and loves so much that even if he hates, he is clawing his own heart out as well.
Youngjae takes a sharp breath, eyes closed as he grits out his words from his hardened throat, “He doesn’t like me, hyung. Not now, not yet.” He brings a hand up to tug at his hair, scalp numbing as he lets go, “I didn’t want this and I don’t know—don’t care anymore whether or not you trust me right now. I never wanted to come between you and Jaebum-hyung. I only wanted for time to pass until everything comes to an end.”
He continues, losing his pace as he slurs his words, “And it isn’t even that we’re in love, hyung? I’m slipping on the trail of one-sided love and Jaebum-hyung doesn’t even know. We aren’t even friends, not at this point. And if you won’t take my words, than so be it. I’m tired, hyung. I’ve been tired for all this time.” And with that, Youngjae hangs up the line, tossing his phone to the side while he continues to lay in bed, staring at the light above head until it burns halos into his vision.
“You win,” he says bitterly, to whoever had staged this entire play from the celestial heavens, “Take me to hell.”
Everything comes to a stop—tension overbearing as all the strings connecting them are tangled and taut. It wraps around Youngjae, red marks bearing into his limbs and silk thread choking his neck. Youngjae doesn’t think he can breathe.
He doesn’t want this, losing both of his pillars at once to some poor execution of fate. But hadn’t he known it would ultimately boil down to their current situation? Where Jinyoung and Jaebum would eventually fall out of love and Jaebum and him would eventually fall in love. So why was it that he felt so guilty of it all, feeling as though he didn’t deserve to be loved after all that has happened. He had tried so hard, walking against the will of his own heart, so hard , so that the three of them could co-exist in subtle ways. So why was it that despite his efforts, some people are bound to be hurt. What is it about life that would never let him be happy? Had it been retribution for ages past, lives that he couldn’t recall where he had angered the heavens and been cursed with wretched love?
Why was it so difficult? Why was it so complicated? That he only wanted to exist , loving Jaebum who would love him back. Had he been wishing for too much? Or was it that he was walking against the currents of fate, destined to be swept away with the crashing waves.
And he only wonders, where it leaves him—with Jinyoung, with Jaebum. Was it already to a point of no return, glass shattered into pieces. Were they only going to find reconciliation years down the line and they’ve all separated on their own roads—if they were to reconcile at all.
“Cursed,” he mutters. “Cursed Love.”
There’s a familiar sting in his eyes, warm tears that pool but never fall because he feels so utterly hollow—a void in his chest that he can never seem to fill.
“Do you believe in fate?” He asks Mark one day when he gets sick of staying indoors. He can only linger within caged walls for so long—yearning for something boundless , something free. Something akin to oceans and skies.
“That some people are destined to be together, some people destined to cross paths and never align again.”
“As lovers?” Mark asks, “or friends?”
“Lovers,” he clarifies, tugging lightly at the loose strands of his shirt.
“Is this about Jaebum?” The older male was never one to leave words unspoken. “So is it that you and his stars are fated? What makes you so confident, Youngjae?”
“I’m not,” he snaps, “It’s not about confidence, neither is it about justifying everything that has happened.”
“People fall in love and people fall out—there really isn’t someone who’s the one . They come to obstacles and new emotions. It’s just how much you’re willing to hold on. There’s little that’s passive about love, people choose to stay in love.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” Youngjae sighs as Mark gives him a skeptical gaze. “We’re fated,” he whispers under his breath.
Jaebum seems like a spell marked under his skin, running its way along his bloodstream, indigo ink that reminds him of poison. And when the night falls, blankets the world in stars, the only thing in his mind are the soft chanting of Jaebum-Jaebum-Jaebum. It brands itself to the cracks and crevices of his mind, numbing out to a soft whisper when the moon dives into the ocean and the sun creeps its way through the day.
The red string wraps around his wrist, overlapping here and there until Youngjae isn’t sure where it begins to unravel. It parallels his mind, too many twists and turns so that the string knots together and he’s lost trying to find a way out. So that the harder he pulls, the tighter the knots become.
Maybe that’s the way of things, where the harder you try to hold on to something, the faster you are to lose it. The opposite must also be true, where the more you attempt to avoid something, the more you find yourself facing it head on. One is only so feeble in the grand scheme of things.
Time slips away from his grasp as well, sands trickling down the hourglass as days weave into weeks into months. He stands on wobbly legs, hand grasping the handle of his suitcase, outside the door of his dorm room. He feels a bit too much like Alice, potion in hands, not knowing what to expect as she steps through unlocked doors. He shrinks and shrinks, until the world seems gaugantic and even the smallest of life is ready to trample him over. Jinyoung watching on as the vultures find his body, pecking here and there until they find his heart. And Jinyoung would find then that all over Youngjae’s heart are markings in a language long lost. But he would know, somehow, that the scriptures are only repetitions of a name. Jinyoung would know then, that Youngjae was helpless against the ways of the predestined.
But that wasn’t now. Youngjae’s heart nested between his ribcage, beating soft rhythms of one-two, one-two. Where no one else is able to see the red string between him and Jaebum but himself. No one knows, no one would understand the forces beyond them.
Youngjae takes a deep inhale, chest rising as he reaches out for the doorknob. The wooden floorboards creak with his steps, door opening with a click. He’s venturing out to wonderland.
Jinyoung reminds him of the cheshire cat, almond shaped eyes that stare into his own. He can’t read his emotions, not clearly. Though Youngjae can tell that Jinyoung is strung on a dainty equilibrium. One wrong move, and the world implodes.
“Hi, hyung,” he mutters, the wheels of his suitcase clicking against the uneven ground. He parks his luggage next to the closet, settling into his bed. Were they playing a game of pretend?
“We should talk.”
He guesses not.
“We’ve talked already,” he mumbles, “and look where that turned out.”
“I’ve thought about it since then,” Jinyoung says pointedly, “and I don’t think I’m in wrong for how I feel.”
“I never said you were in wrong,” Youngjae frowns, tossing around so that his back faces the other male. He knows he shouldn’t be acting so childish but he’s also too tired to care. Burning bridges, they say.
“So what did you want me to make out of it?!”
“Nothing! Nothing at all. This wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.” He slurs, intonations rising up and down as they both switch into their familiar dialects. Something about the change in tongue breaking the civil facade they were holding up. “I couldn’t help that I liked him, but had I ever done anything so far besides withholding such emotions? And even if—if —he had reciprocated such feelings, had he ever done so much as to act upon it?”
It feels a bit more like deja vu, as he regurgitates words that were forced down his throat, “People find themselves astray on roads but they make the conscious effort and choice in which path to take. Humans fall in love, in infatuation—maybe both at once—but they choose which one to preserve.” He takes a pause, breath faltering, “He chose to hold onto you . So why is it that you have to rip open my wounds.” Venom replaces the oxygen in his blood, as bitterness seeps his words.
You don’t know, he wants to say. You don’t understand.
“He didn’t,” Jinyoung makes out after what seems to be eternity. “We broke up, Youngjae.”
“I get it,” the doe-eyed boy continues, bright eyes hidden by downcasted gazes “I know that not everyone are meant for one another—that each relationship is trial and error. But he...he let me go . I wasn’t the one for him and I just feel so... angry .”
“And it’s not like he didn’t try. I know Jaebum and I can feel the strains in our relationship but even after all this time, he chose you. You, of all people, someone so close to me that I can’t even ignore the fact that I wasn’t the one for him. That he wasn't willing to try just one more time.”
“But we aren’t together, hyung.”
“But you will be. Someday.”
“Someday,” he muses. “You talk as if we’re fated.” A small warmth pulsates within him, like a small seedling suddenly sprouting as the winter melts away and spring awakens from sleep. It stirs silently—slowly mustering energy as it circles in his bloodstream. Youngjae pushes himself up from the bed, leaning back on the frame of his bed as he glances at Jinyoung. “Some people are destined to meet, hyung.” He shifts a bit to the right, pulling the blanket covers around him. “But they lack fate between them.”
“Star-crossed?” The older male asks in a tone that slowly morphs back into the calmness that Youngjae had always associated Jinyoung with. Not the fire that was just threatening to implode a few moments earlier. Youngjae wonders if Jinyoung feels burned out—turned into ashes from within and left with no more energy to even be angry or upset. That too many emotions in him had overloaded his system and turned into a fumbling mess of nothing.
“Not star-crossed,” he frowns, “just lovers that were meant to be in the past.”
“And what makes you think that it won’t be the same for you.”
“Maybe, but you can’t escape your fate. Life runs its course and we can only follow.”
“And what will become of us then? Friends? Or yet another person of the past.” Jinyoung gives a sigh, rubbing his eyelids into the palms of his hands. He gives an empty laugh, one of self-pity. “Promise me ‘jae?" Jinyoung mumbles, "That when ‘someday’ arrives, you don’t tell me.”
“Am I going to lose you?” Youngjae grasps at the heavy fabric of his blankets, heavy gaze falling upon Jinyoung. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“LIfe is always give and take, you gain something for every thing you lose. Maybe, I’m destined to only be someone in your past—in your future, but not now.”
“Do you still like— love— Jaebum-hyung?”
“Doesn’t matter now, does it?” And a meek smile makes its way to Jinyoung’s lips—as if the puppeteer had lightly tugged on his strings with a flick of his wrist. The show goes on and the characters make their entrances and exits. The stars are carved into their bones.
“Do you believe love at first sight?” Jaebum asks him with a whisper, wind blowing lightly through his hair. It’s longer now, as time slipped past by, falling a bit below his eyes. It veils the sharpness of his gaze, morphs it into something softer—gentler.
“I don’t know, to be honest,” Jaebum cocks his head slightly to the side, lips parting in thought. “Is it love then, when someone catches your eye at first sight and the curiosity inside you manifests into something so potent over so little time?”
Youngjae gives a small frown, fiddling with the invisible red string as if playing cat’s cradle. “It isn’t love then, something less profound.”
“It seems profound though,” the older male comments, “as if a force was holding us in place—displacing that of gravity.”
He huffs, blowing upwards at his fringe immaturely. “You don’t love me. Not yet.”
“ You don’t love me yet either then.” To which Youngjae only nods halfheartedly, leaning back into the wooden bench as Jaebum shifts closer and circles his arm around his back.
“But one day, we will.” There’s a look of determination in his eyes, a fire that surges and roars with his every breath. It pulls Youngjae in, as if moth to candle flame, and he can only feel too much like Icarus who craved for the warmth of the scalding sun. “We’ll grow to be in love,” Jaebum reiterates.
“Someday,” Youngjae whispers shakily, all too close to Jaebum as he gazes back into boundless irises. “Today.”
The wheel of life continues as the old man under the moon raises another glass to toast to the heavens. The alcohol leaves a fragrant smell in the air—reminding one of flowers—honey-like sweetness that wraps around the bitterness of alcohol until it melds into a soft warmth. He puts down the empty glass, pulling at the myriad of silk strings around him.
Silk strings—red like blood. Red like love.